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Life to the Kingdom

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When the kingdom of the north had been freed and the mirror's shards taken to Sanctuary, Eric and Sara returned to Snow White's kingdom. They parted ways with the dwarves once inside the borders, and presented themselves at the castle.

They were admitted to the throne room where the King and Queen held court. Eric went to one knee before the Queen. After a moment, Sara went to one knee beside him.

"Huntsman," the Queen said. Her voice did not hold the fullness it had.

"Princess." Eric rose. "This is my wife, Sara."

The Queen smiled, though it was fainter than it had been. "She lived."

"Yes." Eric's face lit up with his smile. "She did."

"Welcome to my kingdom," the Queen said to Sara. "Will you serve as my Huntswoman alongside your husband?"

Sara lifted her chin. "If I find you worthy."

Eric suppressed his laugh, but not his smile.

The Queen met Sara's gaze for a long moment. "I hope that you will."

*

Sparring with Sara in front of a new cottage that was not his alone was fun, as well as practical. It stopped being fun when the sound of thundering hoofbeats reached them. They stood together, weapons up, and waited, until the white horse came into view. Snow White was on its back, hair and skirts streaming out from behind her.

The horse came to a stop in the clearing in front of the cottage. Horse and rider panted for breath, and Eric stepped forward to catch Snow White as she dismounted lest she fall.

Sara went to the horse while Eric asked, "Princess?"

Snow White heaved in a breath, then stood steady on her own two feet. "I could not stay in the castle another moment."

"Well, you're out of it now." Eric swept out a hand, the motion encompassing the clearing, the tree stumps they used as makeshift chairs in it, the cottage. "Welcome to our home."

One side of Snow White's mouth tilted up in a smile and she swept into a curtsy. "I'm honored by your hospitality."

Eric bowed. "It is we who are honored, Princess."

"You've not harmed your horse," Sara said. She stood behind Eric, arms relaxed at her sides, open where she could grab a weapon.

"No," Snow White said. "I would not." She wavered on her feet, and let Eric guide her to sit on one of the tree stumps. "Forgive me for interrupting your day."

Sara made an unimpressed noise and turned to Eric. "Sword up, Huntsman."

Snow White watched them spar, and laughed when Eric turned a defeat into a dramatic stumble across the clearing.

"Princess," he called, "you would laugh at my defeat?"

"Only when it is at the hands of your wife who means you no real harm," Snow White called back.

In Snow White's grin, Sara could begin to see the queen her husband had chosen to follow.

*

Snow White came every few days to the Huntsman and Huntswoman's cottage. Some days she watched them train and spar. Some days she stared off into the forest. Some days she gripped the stump she sat on with white hands and kept her face turned up to the sun as if desperate for its light.

On one of her better days, when she watched them spar and cheered on Eric, then Sara, then Eric again, Sara glanced at Eric, then pointed her sword at the Queen.

"Get up, Princess." It was the same term Eric used, if said in a less affectionate tone. "Let's see how well you can protect and defend yourself. I'll go easy on you the first time."

Eric stayed still, letting Snow White make her own decision. When she stood, he gave her his sword, and his knife.

Sara came at her slowly, then slightly faster when Snow White parried her blows.

Snow White waited for her moment, then slipped under Sara's guard and held Eric's knife to her neck.

They stilled together for a moment before Sara put her hands up and they stepped away from each other.

"Very good, Princess," Sara said. The "Princess" was more respectful that time. "Where did you learn that?"

Snow White stilled, voiceless for a moment.

"I taught her," Eric said. "In the Dark Forest."

Snow White regained her speech. "I used it on Ravenna."

Sara looked to Eric, and then back to the Queen her husband had chosen to serve. "Very good, Princess," she said with more warmth. "Now let's make sure it's not the only killing blow you know."

*

The Queen grew stronger with afternoons spent sitting or training in the clearing before the Huntsman and Huntswoman's cottage. When she sat with her face to the sun, her visage was peaceful and her hands were soft in her lap.

The magpies came first, two of them. They winged through the trees and into the clearing, circled it and perched near Snow White. Sometimes, once they'd caught her attention, they swooped up again and flew to circle around her horse. On those days, Snow White urged Eric and Sara onto their horses and they rode through the forest or galloped down the roads through Snow White's kingdom.

The magpies were not the only ones. Rabbits came out of the forest, and foxes, to sit at Snow White's feet while she leaned over and stroked their fur gently.

A doe and her fawn came out of the forest on a day when Eric and Sara were doing quiet mending and cleaning of their gear. The doe led her fawn across the clearing, where they both dipped their heads and let Snow White rest her palm on their noses.

Sara watched with widening eyes, her hands going still on her work, then turned to Eric in mute question.

Eric smiled, softly. "She is the heart of the land itself." He kept his voice soft so as not to scare the deer.

Sara turned back and watched Snow White with the deer, the magpies flitting about.

When the deer had gone, Sara set aside her work and went to one knee before the Queen. "I would be your Huntswoman, Princess."

"You honor me with your service." Snow White's hand against her cheek felt like a blessing.

*

The dwarves came, too, to the clearing before the Huntsman and Huntswoman's cottage, singly or in twos or threes. They came to sit with the Queen, to speak with her, to spar with the Huntsman and Huntswoman.

They came in a group late one afternoon, the men who had journeyed with Snow White and the Huntsman, Doreena and Bromwyn, other women Eric had not met before. They brought with them their children, precious and few. They brought food and ale. They brought music, too, and made a ring around the center of the clearing while they played.

Nion swept into a low bow before Snow White. "Would you dance with me, Your Majesty?"

Snow White smiled and took his hand, and they swept into the circle of dancers. Snow White threw back her head and laughed, looking vibrantly alive, when he swung her in a circle.

They separated, and Snow White called out, "Huntsman, come and dance."

Eric glanced at Sara, who gave him a wry look in return and said, "Your Queen asks you to dance."

Eric pressed a kiss to Sara's cheek before he joined Snow White amongst the dancers. They whirled in time to the music, through the paired off dwarves with the magpies flitting through the air.

Eric handed Snow White off to Coll and bowed low before Sara. "Would you dance with me, lady?"

Sara's lips turned up at the corners, and she accepted his invitation.

The King arrived as it grew dark. He came alone on his horse with no attendants or fanfare. He left his horse with the Queen's and slipped into a seat between Muir and the Huntsman, the Huntswoman on the other side of her husband.

"William." Eric greeted him with a firm grasp of arms. "You've not yet gotten to know my wife."

"The Huntswoman," William said. "I have heard much of you."

"I have heard little of you," Sara rejoined.

The King was not offended, and looked instead to the circle where Bromwyn impatiently directed a smiling Snow White through the steps of a dance.

"She is healing," Muir said.

"Yes," William murmured. "It is good to know the mirror's corruption can be undone." Still his countenance was troubled.

"Be pleased, friend," Eric said. "Snow White is herself once again."

"What worries you?" Sara asked.

William looked between them, then spoke frankly. "She does not yet carry a child. The kingdom is at risk as long as she has no heir."

Eric slapped him on the back. "Then go dance with your wife that she may be pleased to bed you."

"That is not the problem," William said ruefully.

Snow White herself came out of the dancers with her hands outstretched. "William, we are dancing."

The King did not hesitate to join her.

When the King and Queen had returned to the castle and the dwarves to their homes, Eric and Sara closed themselves into their cottage.

"We should bed her, your Queen," Sara said, the glow of the fire in the hearth casting shadows across her face.

Eric took her in his arms. "You are my wife. I love you."

"She is your Queen, and you love her too." Sara stroked his cheek. "I'll not bear a child. She might."

*

Eric and Sara rode to the castle one afternoon, when the tide was going out. Sara fetched the Queen's horse from the stables while Eric fetched the Queen from the keep.

They rode down the beach, first riding together, then racing, letting the horses have their head. They rounded a curve into one of the coves and came to a stop there. They let the horses nose among the rocks while they sat in the sun.

"Are you well, Princess?" Sara asked.

"Well enough." Snow White turned her head to let the wind blow the hair out of her face. "The mirror accomplished what years in Ravenna's prison could not. It is not easily recovered from."

"No," Sara said. "Nothing involving their powers is." She let the silence rest for a moment before she said, "Your husband worries that you do not yet carry a child."

"Sara," Eric warned.

"We both worry," Snow White said. "It is the future of the kingdom."

"We," Sara began.

"Sara," Eric said with more force.

Snow White looked between them, Sara's stubbornness and Eric's concern. "What would you say, Huntswoman?"

"We could bed you," Sara said. Her gaze did not waver from Snow White's.

Snow White's gaze did not waver either. "You do not carry a child."

"I will not bear a child," Sara said. "My husband's love gave you life before. It may again."

Snow White turned her attention to Eric. "You would do this?"

Eric dipped his head in a nod. "I would do much, Princess, to bring life to you and your land."

They met each other's eyes for long, still moments while she saw the truth of that. Then she turned to look out at the sea. They did not speak of it again until the Queen came to the Huntsman and Huntswoman's cottage of an evening.

Eric opened the door to her knock.

Snow White looked up into his eyes. "I would bear a child."

Eric held the door wider. "Then come in, Princess."

*

The seasons turned and turned again as the Queen grew heavy with child. When the apples were ripe on their trees, the Queen gave birth to a daughter she named Hope.

Snow White came alone but for her daughter to Eric and Sara's cottage. They welcomed in mother and child, and unwrapped Snow White's fur cloak from around her.

Sara crossed her arms over her chest. "I'll teach her to fight when she's older, but I'm not one to hold babes."

Snow White put the babe in Eric's arms instead, and they stood together looking down at her daughter.

"Those who knew me as a child say she is the very image of me," Snow White said.

"She would do well to take after her mother." Eric lifted Hope to kiss her forehead. "She is a beautiful babe."

"She could not be otherwise," Sara said. She watched her husband with Snow White's daughter, then touched her hand to Snow White's cheek. "Truly, you have done well, Princess."

Snow White smiled, at Eric and Sara and her daughter. "Thank you, Huntswoman."