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.


20. Chapter 9

The rest of the ball had been a blur to Ella, and she didn't care a bit.

Casin didn't comment on her having acted like Snow badly, so she supposed it didn't matter much. But Ella wouldn't have thought much of it anyways.

Because Ella was completely, totally, and irrevocably in love.

The fireworks hadn't gone away this time. They were still bursting, in her and around her and all over the world. Ella fought not to smile. She fought not to stare at the Huntsman. She fought to ignore the feelings.

She failed miserably in the final account.

"So now that the balls are over," said Casin. "Your work will be a little less difficult. The three of us can handle most affairs, and you'll just have to show your face once in a while so no one suspects anything is amiss. Then Snow can come home, you can go home, everything will be as it was."

The fireworks vanished. Ella hadn't given much thought to the real Snow that morning. But in time, Snow would return, and that would be the end of it all. The Huntsman would see that she had lied, and that she wasn't the warrior he loved.

She had to explain. She had to tell the Huntsman that she wasn't who he thought she was. But just thinking of it flipped her insides more than the carriage. did.

She felt as cold as she had last night. They had shivered outside in the frigid night air, huddled to one another as warmth, so hot inside that it hardly seemed to matter. But the wind seemed to be back, making itself a home at the bottom of her stomach and ready to set her limbs shaking.

It had only been an hour of kissing and holding. But Ella had given away all her heart in that time.

She looked out of the window, tears stinging at her eyes. It could never be. Not for her, and not for the Huntsman. She had to tell him that the real Queen did not love him, and that she was not the woman he truly loved.

But when they made their camp that night, she couldn't. She stood in the dim firelight as long as she dared, feeling the heat on her pale skin. But Jehanne whispered the hour to her, and brought her into the tent before it could darken. And when the morning sun rose, red and flaming, she couldn't tell him. All the people seemed to be crowding her her.

But in truth, she simply couldn't bear to. To tell him the truth seemed to be an impossible task. Her tongue grew heavy, her mouth grew dry, and her stomach grew cold. What she truly wanted was an opportunity to cry. To weep away her sorrows for a time before mending them. But for now she was in the carriage with Casin and with nowhere to go.

Casin seemed to notice that something was amiss, hwoever. He was eyeing her oddly, and she knew that she woudl ahve to distract him somehow. Ella couldn't even begin to imageine the fury that Casin, Oudin, and even soft-spoken Jehanne would have for her.

"Where is your head this morning?" Casin asked.

"Aren't the mountains pretty?" Ella asked quietly, watching the sun rise, casting a new shadow every moment. Casin harrumphed, looking away.

Around midday, the carriage came to a stop. Ella opened the door. But outside, Jehanne and the servants were not setting up a meal. But the rock-side bandits were.

Ella froze. "Move, girl," Casin snapped irritably from behind her. Ella didn't move, hoping he might tell something was wrong.

"Come on out, m'lady," said a bandit with a leer, eyes raking over her body.

Casin fell silent. Ella very slowly stepped down, looking around desperately for soldiers or the Huntsman.

"You wont' find anyone of your party here," sneered the bandit. "That driver is one of us. It's a different carriage what's with them."

Ella gathered a bit of hope. When the party stopped for midday, they would find something was wrong and send someone after them. With any luck, bu-- they might be here very soon. Ella clung to the strand of hope.

"What do you want with me?" Ella asked. "She did everything in her power to stop her voice from shaking. She was a warrior! She could kill these men as soon as she chose to, and they ought to know that.

Ella and Casin only needed more time.

"How did you switch out the two carriages with no one noticing?" she demanded.

"Our driver went just fast enough to disappear behind a turn and we switched out," he said, proud of his accomplishments. Something rattled in the carriage behind us.

"You!" said the bandit. "The fat one! Come out of there."

A hand snatched Ella's arm, yanking her roughly into the carriage. Casin pulled the door shut.

"What are you doing?" Ella cried. The men outside shouted, and someone yanked the door handle.

Casin sniffed. "Not trusting anyone. With one of the best weapons available to man." He let out a specific whooping call, and the carriage lurched forwards. Ella grabbed at the walls, nearly falling into the merchant's lap. He seemed to be smiling.

"What do you mean?" The carriage was lumbering away. Something--likely an arrow--thunked into the back of the carriage. Then they were flying, horses galloping away from the bandits.

"Do you really think I would trust someone I don't know to drive my car for me? For nine days, no less? Absolutely not. Those are my horses-" He jabbed his walking stick towards the front of the carriage. "-who are trained to run like a bat out of hell if I tell them to. They'll get us far enough away from those rock-side bastards for now." The merchant looked very satisfied with himself.

Ella had never been happier to see an old man distrust everyone around him.

The horses slowed to a walk after some time, following unknown paths through the mountain. Ella disliked the lack of a driver, but Casin assured her that they had enough sense of self-preservation to keep from falling off a cliff-side.

"And if that Huntsman fellow is as good a tracker as Malif was always claiming, he'll have found us before the bandits do." Casin nodded, satisfied.

The horses began to pause once in a while between bouts of walking before stopping all together. Ella could hear something not far away. At first, she mistook it for horse-hooves, and was both fearful the bandits were returning and hopeful that it was the Huntsman and soldiers. But the sound never got louder, and it was too whispery.

"What is it?" she said in a whisper, as though the bandits were still outside.

"Oh, likely a waterfall, if we've gone low enough," he replied.

Ella threw open the carriage door.

"Careful," Casin warned. "You're leaving one of the finest weapons we've got. Weighty, fast and armed with sharp hooves."

"I want to see a waterfall," Ella said stubbornly.

With Casin grumbling behind her, she stepped out of the carriage and onto the rocky ground. She followed the sound of the water, the rushing growing louder and louder with each step she took.

Ella saw the river first. She picked up her skirts and ran towards it, then followed the water to thee edge of the massive cliff they were on. There it was, tons and tons of water cascading down to crash on the earth below. Ella had never seen something so powerful. The muddy water turned white from the force.

Ella lifted a hand, comparing the tones. Snow was white as the waterfall, and just as powerful. She wouldn't have frozen before those men, and she wouldn't have let herself go any father than she was supposed to.

Ella shook her head. But there was no use in worrying for that. She was seeing a waterfall! As the thunder filled her ears, she soaked in the vista before her.

Then she spotted something. Small dots, near the river at the end of the falls. She recognized the number of wagons below; it was their group.

Ella flew back to the carriage, babbling as loudly and coherently as the falls.

"Slow down!" Casin ordered. "What are you saying/"

"The rest of our group!" she said. "They're camped just below the falls."

"And what are you going to do? Jump with the water?"

Ella shuddered at the thought of being at the mercy of those waterfalls.

"No sir," she said. "Throw one of these down." She snatched up one of his silk-embroidered pillows with a grin, then ran back to the falls before he could protest.

She cast the pillow over the edge and watched as the purple satin cushion tumbled through the frothy falls. It vanished, falling far into the stream below where she imagined it bobbing along, a scarlet flash in the mud.

One of the tiny dark dots below, who had been in the water, waded to the others with what Ella hoped was the cushion in hand. more dots gathered. In case they were looking up, Ella stood at the very edge and waved her arms.

The dots scurried madly. Ella watched for a moment, then returned to the carriage.

Casin looked at her beaming face. "And?" he asked gruffly.

Ella placed a kiss on his cheek. "And we saved the day," she answered.

Casin tried--and failed--to hide a smile.

The day drew on, saved or not, and the sun sank low. It was nightfall when there was a knock and the voice outside the carriage.

"Your Highness?" The voice was worried. The voice was the Huntsman's.

Ella opened the carriage door. He was alone, with something dark smeared on his face. Suddenly overcome, Ella embraced him tightly, out of Casin's view.

"I'm alright," she murmured into his ear before pulling back. He looked stunned. "But are you? Is that your blood or someone else's?"

"A little bit of both," he said, looking at her in a way that made Ella's heart feel like a sea-ship with the sails full of wind and laden with love.

"Tell me," said Casin, shifting in the carriage. "Are the bandits..."

"Dead," said the Huntsman darkly. He looked at Ella. "All dead." He looked as though he would kill all of the Black Kingdom for her.

"Brilliant. Then I shall go to sleep. We'll join the rest in the morning. Be a dear and toss down another cushion to let them know the Huntsman found us, eh?" Casin's hand held out another pillow, this one embroidered with green silk.

Ella took the cushion and held it to her bodice, watching the Huntsman. Casin shut the carriage door, and they were alone.

She began walking slowly towards the waterfall, her heart gone mad in her chest.

"I feared they had killed you." The Huntsman's voice was thick.

Ella turned, giving him her slyest smile. "Me? You realize who you are conversing with, don't you?" She placed the cushion in the river and watched it being carried to the waterfall's edge before tipping over, disappearing form sight.

"I certainly do," said the Huntsman. The words dripped with affection as he took her in his arms.

No, Ella realized sadly. You do not. 

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