“Have I charmed you yet?” he asked, eyes still too bright.
“Ask me again when you’re able to walk unaided,” Snow White responded.
He huffed out a breath. “I told you, I’m feeling much better. In fact, I suspect that you’re only keeping me around because I’ve enchanted you.”
“Entrapped me into taking care of you, more like,” she retorted. Although she would never admit it to him, Prince James had scared her when she found him on the ground. She’d half-carried him back to her lair, huffing and puffing with exertion within the first mile.
She realized too late that she had touched upon a sore subject, as he frowned and struggled to sit up. “Snow–” he began, both face and voice serious.
“Hush,” she said.
“I didn’t mean to burden you.”
“If you were a burden, Charming, I wouldn’t be taking care of you.”
“I’m perfectly able to leave,” he said, twisting slowly and reaching for his boots. Stubborn man. Earlier this morning he’d tried to stand and she’d been forced to sit on him to stop him.
“Nonsense,” she said swiftly. “You wouldn’t make it past the second clearing before passing out.”
His lips tightened. Remembering how he’d followed her throughout the woods without complaint on their way to the trolls, she suddenly realized how much it must bother him, being at the mercy of someone else and unable to even stand without feeling faint.
“Besides,” she added in a lighter voice, “it’s raining again. You go out in this weather and you’ll end up slipping and twisting your other ankle.”
She held his gaze until he broke eye contact and looked away, knowing then that she had won the argument.
“Fine,” he said curtly. “But as soon as the rain stops, I’ll leave.”
“And how do you plan on returning to your kingdom? Hopping on one leg the whole way home?”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid you’re too late. I’ve already arranged to have you picked up tomorrow morning by some friends.”
“I doubt I can make it onto a horse.”
“Don’t worry,” Snow said. “They have a cart.”
“A cart,” he repeated. “And what exactly do these friends do?”
“And you trust them?”
“With my life,” she said simply. “They would never give me away.” Unlike many others in this kingdom, she noted silently.
“You needn’t worry,” he said, as though following the flight of her thoughts. “I’ve had my men destroying the Queen’s posters whenever they come across them.”
For a moment, she had no words. Then she took a breath and asked, “Why?”
“Because you told me they were lies,” he answered simply.
“And you believed me?”
“I was once blessed by a fairy – a good fairy. She gifted me with the ability to always tell when someone’s lying to me. You never have.”
“No, I’ve only robbed you and hit you with a rock.”
He touched his chin absently. “Too true. But you were very upfront about it all. I hate lies. I hate people who show one face to the world and another to you.”
“So do I,” she said, thinking of her stepmother. Which in turn made her remember her manners. “Thank you for destroying the posters. That will help me.”
“You’re welcome and I certainly hope it will. Though,” he added, “I suppose there’s nothing to be done about your appearance.”
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Lips red as blood, hair black as night. The most beautiful maiden in all the lands.”
“Still not following you.”
“That’s how they’re describing you. The current rumor is that the Queen is jealous of your beauty and that’s why she’s so intent on finding you.” He titled his head to one side, studying her face. “You’re surprised.”
“I’d certainly never thought of it that way. The Queen has reason enough to hate me, far beyond the way I look. Besides, that description doesn’t fit me.”
“Oh, I think it does.” He noted, “You don’t have a mirror.”
“There are a lot of things I don’t have here, Charming. But that’s has nothing to do with vanity. The Queen has a magicked mirror. She can use it to spy on anyone else with a mirror.”
Frowning, he said, “I find that highly disturbing.”
“My being here has kept you from your work,” he said. “From your dreams of escaping to another realm.”
“No,” she said quickly. “That’s not my plan anymore.”
“Then what is?”
She turned away to the small fire, picking up her only bowl and filling it from the pot. “Time to eat.”
He made a face. While he would eagerly accept water, getting him to eat had been more of a challenge.
“I’ll make you a deal,” the prince said. “Tell me what changed and I’ll eat all the soup, with no complaints.”
She had been shamed by his actions, when he saved her from the Queen’s guards. She had never stopped to consider that he might not be able to swim and when he would not have been faulted for refusing to help her, he had done so nonetheless.
Handing him the bowl, she returned to her seat. He paused with his spoon halfway to his mouth.
Snow said, “I realized that I was being selfish.”
As soon as she’d started to speak, he’d taken his first spoonful. He made a face and swallowed. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I put myself before the kingdom. The Queen–” she paused, reconsidering. “Neither of us has behaved with honor, in all that has occurred. But the kingdom does not deserve it. My kingdom needs a ruler who will put the interests of the people first.”
“And that ruler is you?”
“I don’t know,” was her simple answer. “But it’s not the Queen.”
They sat in silence until he'd emptied the bowl. Taking it from him, Snow got up and fetched a cloth, then dipped it in the bucket of fresh water.
“Here, lean your head back and close your eyes,” she said. He obediently followed her directions and she draped the cloth over his forehead. “Let’s see if this helps.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” he asked.
There were several possible answers. The most obvious was that she would do this for any person wounded. Additionally, although they had not started their acquaintance off on the best footing, Snow knew that making an ally of Prince James, who would soon be heir to Midas’s kingdom as well as his own, was a smart tactical move.
None of those were the real reasons and she valued him too much to give him a fake one.
“I suppose it’s because you’re so charming,” she said at last and watched his lips curl up in a half-smile.
“I am, aren’t I?”
She couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped. “Rest,” she said softly. “I’ll still be here when you wake.”