Battle may never end, for there chaos thrives;
And only in chaos can we live our lives.

After Snow takes the Assassin's curse, she leaves to rebuild the Four Kingdoms. But she finds the Beast impossible to control and will do anything to get rid of it and spare her kingdom carnage. Enter Rumplestiltskin, one of seven equally enigmatic and long-named dwarves. Their requirement for breaking the curse? Snow must live with them for a year. She leaves a serving girl in her place, who must lie to--and fall for--an unwitting Huntsman.

But curses can never be broken. Evil can never be killed. And Snow can never stop fighting.


7. Chapter 7

"I thought I was going to kill him. I thought I was going to kill everyone there," I said. 

The carriage around us was rattling menacingly, as though it would give up and fall to bits right on this patch of road. Casin used the momentum of a particularly bad jolt to shift is weight before replying. 

"But you didn't kill anyone." He rubbed a pearl button, eyes locked on mine. 

"I left," I said simply. I looked down at my hands. They had gripped swords, spears, daggers, bows and arrows. They had stabbed, shot and strangled. I had come to no longer fear death for myself or others. But now I was terrified. Terrified of what I could do. And fir the first time, I was coming to understand what the Assassin had told me about the curse. 

"I'm afraid I fall to understand," Casin said. "Just don't kill anyone." 

He sighed, as though this were a mere inconvenience during a business deal. 'Dearie me, what a setback in this little transaction. I suppose it won't be as easy as I thought to unite the four kingdoms.' 

"I should return to the others," I told Casin, feeling claustrophobic in his lavish carriage. 

"Should I call for the rider to stop?" asked Casin, hiding a grin. He knew what my reply would be. 

"I could do with a rush of battle-frenzy." I snatched the door handle and flung it open, letting in a stream of daylight and the views of farmlands bouncing erratically. I whistled, standing with my hands braced to the frames. 

A fewq moments passed before my horse came loping to the door, head bobbing. I ducked below the carriage frame, making the smale leap from carpet to stirrup before swinging up into the saddle. My blood was up, breath coming quickly. 

The feeling had been dubbed battle-frenzy, centuries back. You could feel it when your sense were afire and your heart pounded in your ears. It could be addicting, despite the horrors of war. 

After a short time, we changed from our quick pace to a walk to keep from straining our mounts. We could hear Casin complaining about how slowly we were going even from inside the carriage. 

"So tell me, Snow," asked Jehanne after a time. "Have you and Casin been keeping secrets?" 

There was a serenity to her voice, calm despite suspicion. 

"Is Casin ever not keeping secrets?" I asked. I knew I would tell Jehanne about the curse in time, but I was still concerned with how she would take it. But the woman had borne her own sort of curse, and had managed while I was at war. 

I still didn't understand why I felt such a need to rationalize every time I told someone of the curse. Everyone would know eventually. And there was no one I trusted more than Jehanne, Oudin and Casin. 

Perhaps it was that I was simply tired of explaining it, even to myself. Or it could be the certain voices warning em to trust no one, even old mentors. Or perhaps it was because the Beast, the focal point of the curse, was not so new a voice to me. 

The pressure to attack the vulnerable. The awareness of my ability to strike the weak. The urge to kill. The Beast made it nearly impossible to resist the push, but that push had always been there. 

I looked at Jehanne. "I'll tell you tonight," I said. She nodded before looking back to the road ahead. 

This was to be an easy journey- only two days of riding to the castle of what was once the Red Kingdom. It was smooth riding through a well worn path in the forests and farmlands, busy and safe. We passed market-men and goose girls, as well as the carriages of traveling nobles. Soldiers returning home or to the army might fall in with us for a spell, happy to keep company with the Queen's caravan. Even the weather was pleasant, boding well for the rest of the journey. 

We stopped halfway to the Red Castle at an inn, which Oudin and I didn't like much at all. 

Casin accused us of wanting everyone to suffer in tents, while Oudin argued that an inn could be unsafe. Jehanne finally said that we couldn't very well force Casin to sleep outdoors, and it would be ridiculous to pitch camp beside a very respectable inn. Casin added that showing 'the peasants patronage' would look good, so Oudin and I finally gave in. 

"But no one gets a room to themselves," I decreed. Casin seemed to find it unfair, but even he couldn't deny it would be safer with Oudin in the room. 

I finally gave in and told Oudin the very basics of taking the curse from the Assassin and defeating Malif with the Beast, but he told me to tell him more once we were on the road the next day. 

When we were in our room, I told Jehanne a watered-down version of the story, making the Beast seem far more manageable than he really was. I disliked lying to Jehanne as much now as I did when I was a child, but worrying her with details would do just as much good as worrying me- not at all. 

We slept without interruption and had a hearty breakfast. After thankful farewells with the inn owners, we were off once more. 

"Any assassination attempts?" Casin asked almost nastily as he hauled himself into his carriage. 

"Not a morning person, I take it," said Oudin, mounting his horse. I chuckled. 

I mounted my own and we fell in behind the others. 

"I want the details," he said in his strategy voice. It was commanding, but thoughtful. "Strengths, weaknesses, and why in hell you took such a risk." 

Jehanne= had to be protected. Casin couldn't be entirely trusted. But Oudin could hold my very soul in his hands and I wouldn't have the least fear. 

"I had been working with the Assassin for some time," I said. "You were in the north, at the Stream Campaigns during that time. I had hired him as a last resort against Malif." I hesitated. "And a few other enemies." 

Oudin was looking straight ahead, calculating the risks of that alliance. 

"Malif got the better of me after he lost the curse. When the Princess of Tearian and Prince Gaston came for their emissary visit, she took it from him. By accident, no less. In any case, she put me under the sleeping curse." 

Oudin nodded. "Jehanne lost her temper quite a bit around that time." How uncharacteristic of her, I thought. "I had come back to guard you, but Malif wasn't letting me or your strongest allies out of her sight." He said it bitterly. 

"The Assassin got the curse to break," I continued. 

"How?" Oudin pressed. 

I gave a bitters mile. "It's child's play. A touch from someone who loves the cursed person will transfer symptoms momentarily. A kiss will shift it entirely." 

Oudin shook his head. "Impossible. All one of us had to do was kiss you?" 

"With these curses, it seems. Whatever strain Malif uses can be countered with love." i was almost disgusted at the sentiment. 

Oudin turned his head to face me. "Then that's how you took this curse?" 

I looked at the pommel of my saddle. "As I said, he had a guard break my curse. It was weak compared to his own. He asked me to help retrieve his curse. I agreed, but I told him he had to help defeat Malif and repair the damage done in his absence. Over the course of our work together, I came to..." Have feelings for was overdone. Grow fond of was weak. "To love him. At Malif's fortress, he took it from Belle. But before Mali could take it from him, I took it instead with the curse's help, defeating her was sheer simplicity." 

"And where is the Assassin now?" 

"With his wife." 

It came out far more bitter than I had intended. I half expected a fatherly, "Oh Snow, I'm so sorry dear." 

Oudin burst out laughing. "I- I'm sorry, Snow," he said, cackling. "But of course after swearing up and down that you would never marry, the one man who catches your love is married." 

"He wasn't at the time," I muttered, choosing to listen to the voices describe every person on the trade route instead of Oudin's laughter. 

"So," said Oudin. "The curse itself." I watched him for a moment to ensure all traces of mirth were gone before plunging into another explanation of the tools and drawbacks that the Beast provided. He listened, perfectly still and silent. 

"He's getting stronger, Oudin. Jehanne doesn't know, and Casin underestimates. But I fear I may become the first queen to refuse having a court constantly in her presence out of the fear that I'll end up skinning them all alive." 

"Was he so hard to control at the beginning?" 

"I think... I think it may be different depending on the host. For me, he began weak and servile. But he's only grown in strength and control. The Assassin could not control him for nearly half a century, but then his mastery of the Beast was nearly perfect. Belle never had a moment the creature wasn't tame, it seems." 

Oudin grunted. "I'm sure someone has a theory for why that is. For me, it leaves a question. What will happen when I take it?" 

My head snapped up, eyes piercing his profile. He didn't move. I opened my mouth. 

"Don't ask a question that you already know the answer to, Snow," said Oudin. 

"I don't know what will happen if your love for me is strong enough," I said carefully. "But Oudin, you can't just take it." 

"And why not?" Oudin turned to race me, expressionless as ever. 

"I think," I said slowly. "That the more trained you are in the art of killing, the harder it is to ignore the Beast once he's in your head." 

"You are the Queen, Snow. And as yous aid yourself, it is only getting harder to control. Share this burden so it's not weighing down the kingdom as well." He said it imploringly. 

"I cannot know how you will react under it," I said, looking straight ahead. "And I must fight this battle on my own." I tried to put it gently. Even Oudin had feelings. 

"Fool," sang a voice. "Fool fool fool of a girl. He looks away he rides behind fool fool fool." "

I must fight this battle on my own. 

"Do you really want to fight me?" The Beast's snarling voice settled in my ears like a trickle of cold water, pressing into my mind. I shivered into my saddle. 

I must fight. 

"Fight fight them kill them fight!" 


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