Before, it was girl, princess, prisoner. Now, it is Your Highness, Your Majesty, Queen.
She thinks sometimes to forget her own name.
The taste of it, clumsy in her mouth; the sound of it, awkward in all their voices and tones; she clothes and armors herself in the lack of name, the titles only. Princess, Queen, Hero – these are tools for her, as she rebuilds a broken and dying kingdom and coaxes magic back into the land and into the air. In the open air of the courtyard and among her people and in the throne room and in every nook and cranny of the castle she reclaims in the name of the father and mother lost too early, and the childhood she was robbed off, she is the Good Queen, and that is all.
It is a form of armor, the titles; it keeps her focused on the mountains of tasks at hand. She can forget she is a woman of flesh and blood with needs and wants; rather, she is a warrior-queen rising from death to save a kingdom, and succeeding.
She lingers in the open and empty courtroom, full of torchlight and starlight dancing on the stone floors. Outside the courtyard is quiet, as peacefully silent as the castle halls. There are no screams from young girls to echo in her ears, no reason to sleep with a nail in her hand and fear in her heart; the kingdom is growing, growing strong.
Her hands skim the heavy linen of her gown, blue today, as her eyes. The diadem is heavy on her brow, though it is the lightest of those for her use. The spring breezes are cool in the heavy length of her hair, loose down her back.
“A queen needs her rest.”
She glances over her pale shoulder, at the Huntsman. He stays in the castle, advisor and protector and friend (more, perhaps more, always more, she thinks, with the memory of warm lips and tears on her skin), but does not kowtow to the directives of her lords and dukes in terms of dress and speech and courtesies. He is still the roughhewn man of the woods, dark in eyes and manner and sharp when need be, but he is the first to treat her as a woman rather than a symbol.
“I may rest when I am dead again,” she says lightly.
He moves into the open air of the receiving room, scowling. The heavy oaken doors shut behind him, and they are quite alone. “You reckon you’re rather funny.”
“I do try,” she says with a shrug. Her hands rise to the diadem, the jewels there.
Silently, he comes up behind her. His hands cover hers and lift the crown from her hair. She feels the shiver run down her spine, the flush of blood to her pale throat and cheek.
“There is very little a queen can do at night,” he says quietly, his voice a low rumble. It is coarse and thick in her ear and she wets her lips.
“I do not think that is true at all,” she breathes as she turns to face him.
He holds her crown in his broad hands. In the loose tunic and breeches, she sees a man bereft, with purpose once more. She thinks she has always seen it in him, what she has needed; steadiness even when he was not sure of himself, a gentle heart guarded too hard. There is a hollowness in him she may never fill, is not sure she wants to fill; but he is here, and that is a start.
“Do I still remind you of her?” she asks after a moment, watching carefully.
His gaze darkens, then settles, his jaw tight under the stubbled skin. “No. You are a woman unto yourself, Snow,” he says.
The sound of her name startles her. It is not because it is from his lips, rather than William’s, or any other prospective suitor; it is because it seems as if it has been so long since someone – anyone – has said it.
Slowly, she takes the crown from his hands and sets it aside, on the stone ledge near the wide windows. Her fingers brush his and she feels it again, flesh and bone and blood, shivers. The queen could not have her heart, could not take her heart; but Snow gives it to him freely, as it was his that brought her back from death.
“You should rest,” he says, eyes too dark on hers.
She smiles, still a tremulous motion, unfamiliar. She has the dwarves and the village women to thank for teaching her how, the young girls who need not mar their natural beauty any longer.
“Stop telling me what to do. I am a queen, you know,” she says, teasing. Her hands wrap around his broad wrists and pull, pull him into her until she is pressed back against the cool stone, and he is a heavy weight against her.
He follows, as he has for weeks and months now, his hands rising and settling at the curve of her cheek, fingers tangling in her loosened hair. “A warrior, if memory serves correctly.”
“Briefly,” she says, tilting her head back.
“You looked well in that armor,” he says with a sharp piece of smile. Hair falls across his brow, out of the tie at the nape of his neck.
“I still have it somewhere,” she says even as she blushes with it. Sometimes, she still feels as if she is a young girl.
A ghost of a smile softens his hard face. “You’re fetching in the blue too, Snow.”
As she startles out a laugh, he leans in and kisses her, and it feels familiar, warm and soft and just the press of teeth and tongue. Her eyes fall shut and she parts her lips, her fingertips pressing into the jutting bones and firm tendons of his wrists. She arches against him, no longer the timid girl startled by woods; she has tamed trolls and taken a kingdom. She can take a man, as well.
Snow, he murmurs against the thin skin of her throat, his tongue warm and wet on her skin. She is gathered between stone and flesh, his hands under heavy skirts of silk and linen, as she pulls her thighs up around his hips. Her face drops to the strong curve of his neck and she breathes in, smelling spice and dirt and woods, her first tastes of freedom.
Snow, he says over and over, low and gravelly. His hand is warm between her thighs and she feels it, feels the blood and flesh crisscrossing her bones; there is life to her yet beyond titles and armor and he breathes it into her, he reminds her of it, just as she does for him. They are partners that way, she thinks as she takes his mouth and pulls him in close. The stones dig into her spine as the sound of her name is murmured into her ear, thick and heavy; she cares not of the imprints and grooves.
Snow, he moans, too hoarse, and she shuts her eyes and breathes.
Later, she slips the blue silks from her skin as he watches from a bed reclaimed. She does not sleep in the king’s chambers; there is blood on the walls for her there. Instead, she takes new chambers, higher in the castle keep. Eric’s are lower, but he rarely sees them at night. A queen may have her prerogatives, if she has delivered a land, it seems.
“These are no chambers for a queen,” she says out loud, only in her shift and linen undergarments.
Eric looks at her with heavy eyelids, stretched out and loose in a way she hardly ever sees, unless they are alone. “Eh?”
“Sparse, lean,” she says, toeing over to the large bed.
His hand is at her waist as she curls into the large bed. She feels small for it, still used to the tiny cot of ten years’ time. But he is a presence enough for it, for her; he spreads his broad hand over her ribs and remains an anchor.
“It is plenty for Snow White, though,” he says at last, voice thick with sleep.
She nods after a moment, and tucks her cheek into the hollow of his bare shoulder. His hand skims the length of her spine.
Here, she sheds the armor and title; here, she is only Snow.