Never After

Originally published at as a free short story.

Never AfterTheir story started with once upon a time just like all the others, but they never quite managed to find their way to happily ever after.

Snow knew that seeing Hilde, especially tonight, wouldn’t change the outcome of their story. Nonetheless, she let her feet guide her silently through the long, dark corridors. The smooth ridges of stone felt familiar against her soles. She’d followed this path many times since Hilde had come to live in the castle.

Originally, her quarters had been with the rest of the court; however, Hilde had recently transitioned to the upper level where Snow and her father resided. The same day that Snow’s father, the king, had announced his engagement to Hilde, the servants had moved her belongings. She wasn’t surprised that her father wanted Hilde for himself, but she certainly wasn’t pleased about it either. She couldn’t fathom Hilde as her step-mother. The very idea was an unholy contradiction to Snow’s own feelings for her.

She paused at the top of the stairs and listened. The guards were well trained but couldn’t help make noise as they moved. The armor her father insisted they wear refused to remain silent. It was a statement, he said, a show of force to make his enemies fearful. How many of his enemies had seen the guards’ armor gleaming in the moonlight? None, so far as Snow knew. Prior to Hilde’s arrival, Snow thought the requirement was silly. Now, she appreciated the forewarning. The chink of metal on metal, the scrape of heavy boots against stone signaled that the guards were close, allowing her to change course slightly. The alternate route delayed her, but didn’t deter her completely.

It was likely her last night to see Hilde, the last night she could claim Hilde as hers and hers alone. Tomorrow would change everything, but Snow clung to hope. Until the vows were taken, there was a chance that she could convince Hilde to change her mind. She had to make her see the madness of saying yes to him when she should only ever say yes to Snow.

The door lay ajar and Snow knew she was waiting for her. She slipped quietly inside and closed the door behind her, then slotted the bar over for good measure. She wanted privacy every time she entered this room, more so tonight than ever before. She pressed her fingers firmly into the wood, drawing on the sturdy, rough surface to ground her before she was able to turn and face her.

Hilde stood at the end of her bed, one hand wrapped around the tall corner post, the other fisted in the brocade overcoat she wore to protect her from the chilly night air. She stared at Snow with an intense, almost feral, heat in her eyes. Her fingers glowed purple, the signature of the power the coursed through her.

“You came.” Hilde took a few steps away from the bed, not releasing the post until the last possible moment, as if she needed support, too.

“How could I not?” Snow maintained her position at the door. She was desperate in her churning need to be with Hilde. She couldn’t have stopped herself from coming here tonight, and what that said about her character displeased her greatly.

Hilde closed her eyes and nodded. “How could you?” She said the words softly, barely a breath, but Snow heard her. The words cut, probably deeper than Hilde intended, but not deep enough to dispatch her desire. Not even the threat of being caught together was enough to quiet her feelings.

“I’ll go.” She went to unbar the door. If Hilde was strong enough to rebuff her, then she would be strong enough to respect that. She would do anything for her, including denying her own heart.

“No! You can’t.” Hilde stepped forward. She reached out for Snow, her magic extending beyond her fingertips. A charged purple stream hit her and sparks danced over her pale skin. Goosebumps rose to the surface. Hilde lowered her hand and said in a much more dignified voice, “Please stay.”

Snow came slowly into the room, moving to within reach of Hilde but without actually touching her. From of the corner of her eye, she saw the white gown draped over the dressmaker’s mannequin in the corner. It was adorned with lace and decorated with intricate, delicate stitches. Every bride’s dream, and Snow despised the very sight of it. It represented the point of no return. After Hilde wore it down the aisle and said “I do,” she and Hilde would be miserably shackled together forever. She was tortured by the thought of Hilde being close enough for her to touch, but not allowed to do so.

“You don’t have to do this.”

Hilde laughed. It was a bitter, dry sound that held no humor. “You can’t possibly be that naive.”

“You don’t.” Snow took Hilde’s hand and clutched it to her breast. She stared into her eyes, laying herself bare. Surely Hilde wouldn’t go through with this farce if she were able to see the depth of her anguish. “You can run away. We…we can go together, right now.”

A plan formed in her head and the more she thought about it the easier it was to make herself believe. Maybe they could find their way to a fairy tale ending of sorts. The kind Snow dreamed of, before Hilde arrived with her devastating, vulnerable beauty and her powerful magic that made men, including Snow’s father, want to possess her.

Hilde stroked her hair, her expression stricken. “It would never work.”

But the idea had taken hold and Snow was desperate to make Hilde believe along with her. She wanted her to grab at the possibility of escape, even if only for a moment. The thought of freedom and a life together made Snow giddy with excitement and her words came out in a rush. “But it could work. We’ll go into the forest tonight. By the time they know we’re gone, we’ll be far away.”

“And what would happen to us, do you think? The world is not kind to a woman alone. The risk is no less when there are two instead of one.”

Hilde sounded resigned, as if she’d already given up and the only thing left was to accept her fate. Snow gripped her hand tighter. This woman knew her. Knew the intimate contours of her body, knew the deepest desires of her soul. To have Hilde dismiss the possibility of a future together clenched at her heart, squeezing it harder than when her father had announced his engagement to Hilde.

“No, we could…” The words died on her lips, not because she didn’t believe them, but because the look Hilde gave her was filled with such contempt. It shot through her like the poisoned tip of an arrow.

This wasn’t a foolish notion. She knew it wasn’t. She was good with a sword, better than most men. And she was a decent archer. All were traditional, well-respected means for protecting one’s self, even in the deepest forest. And Hilde? Hilde had boundless power sparking through her fingertips. She didn’t need a crown. She didn’t need to be queen and command armies to defend her delicate female form. She could lay her enemies to waste with barely a thought.

Snow shook her head, wiping away tears that threatened to fall despite her promise to herself that she wouldn’t cry. “Why won’t you just try?”

“Try what, Snow? The world is not made for us. You’re a princess, destined to rule the kingdom, and your father wants me as his queen. We would be fools to throw away such providence. We are lucky.”

Snow let the tears fall. There was no possible way to hold them back, yet she resented her own weakness. Hilde cupped her cheek with her palm, the first look of love crossing her features.

“I wouldn’t have you lost to me forever and that’s what would happen if we took up this foolish plan. We can’t hide from our destinies. We’d be caught and I’d be killed, executed like a common thief. Or worse, banished,” Hilde whispered.

Snow stiffened. Why did her love make Hilde feel so vulnerable? Snow was strong, not as strong as Hilde, but shouldn’t their love magnify that strength, not deplete it?

“It’s not foolish.” Her protest was weak and she tasted the falseness of the words even as she spoke them. “I cannot bear the thought of you with him.”

“Oh, Snow.” Hilde kissed her tenderly, chastely. “I wish there was another way.”

Snow nodded, too tired to continue the fight. “I know.”

Snow knew all the reasons their being together was a terrible idea. Every argument had rolled through her thoughts like flotsam on the waves. When she’d constructed her plan to run away together, she knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince Hilde, but she hadn’t been prepared for her stark view on the matter either.

Snow had prepared arguments designed to convince her that they were strong enough to withstand whatever lay before them. She hadn’t prepared for the eventuality that Hilde might feel unequal to the task. It was unnatural for this beautiful, strong woman to be timid and afraid. Snow had brought that to her and the realization made her stomach churn.

“It doesn’t change the way I feel.” Hilde gathered Snow into her arms, her words caressed Snow’s skin, traveling over her body, igniting a passion laced with fury.

“Then why are you afraid to try? Why have you given up on the possibility of us before we even start?”

Maybe Hilde felt strong for refusing to take action with Snow, but to her it felt as though Hilde was a coward, too afraid to embrace her own feelings. Snow’s heart filled with grief.

“Strong or cowardly makes no difference in the end. What we share can only end in sorrow. The only variable is whether I’m still breathing when it’s over.” Hilde said sharply, reminding Snow that her magical gifts weren’t limited to the purple essence flowing from her fingers. No person’s thoughts were ever truly safe when someone as powerful as Hilde stood so close.

“I…we…” Snow couldn’t find the words. Hilde was right. Snow had an entire kingdom to lose, a kingdom that she never really wanted in the first place. Hilde, on the other hand, would be gambling with her life. It was too much to ask.

“Then what? Can’t you see how hopeless it really is? When I think of how much I want you, I feel myself sliding into an abyss. I’m on the verge of madness. Seeing a man look at you as though he might one day own you, fills me with jealousy, with rage, until all I want to do is let it spill from me and destroy everything around me, including myself.” Hilde’s eyes grew wide with desperation. A fine sheen covered her skin, and the magic in her fingers grew so heated Snow had to pull away or combust. Hilde breathed raggedly, her emotions raw and frayed and more exposed than Snow had seen before.

“This fantasy you’re trying to push on to me,” Hilde said. “Where we ride off into the sunset together, only makes it worse. It makes me desire you all the more. As much as I don’t want to, I am helpless to change my feelings. Nothing will quench my yearning for you. Nothing. Please don’t tempt me further with dreams that can never be fulfilled.”

The image she painted was stark in Snow’s imagination. She could see it all, armies leveled, black smoke rising to the sky. At the center of it was Hilde, her grief all consuming as she seared everything within her reach. In that moment Snow finally understood Hilde’s fear and she sagged with the knowledge that she could noh hold it against her.

“I will never be able to call you mother.”

“I should hope not.” Hilde answered wryly, her eyebrows arched as she pulled Snow into the circle of her arms.

“My queen.” Snow wasn’t sure she could manage that either, not the way her voice broke and turned queen into a two-syllable word.

Hilde nodded, but the motion was stilted and her grip on Snow tightened almost painfully as she spoke, “Yes, I suppose I will be.”

“But not tonight.” Snow pressed a hot, open-mouthed kiss to Hilde’s skin and loved the way her breath caught in her throat when she nipped the flesh between her teeth. “Tonight you’re mine.” Snow let the world “still” die on her lips, but it hovered between then nonetheless.

She loosened the sash on Hilde’s gown with one long pull, and let the cloth fall open to reveal her naked, supple body. Snow was struck by her beauty. It wasn’t long after Hilde’s arrival at court that they realized she was only a few years older than Snow, despite being expected to behave as someone much older.

Once, a man of her father’s age had petitioned for Snow’s hand. Her father had refused, saying she deserved someone with youthful vigor. As king, it was his duty to protect her, and carefully select his future son-in-law. At the time, Snow was suspicious of his declarations. If her suitor had offered land and riches along with his family name would her father have decided differently?

Her suspicions proved true when he’d claimed Hilde for his bride despite their age difference. When Snow challenged him, he’d said dismissively that Hilde was older than both their ages combined. Snow still was uncertain what he’d meant, and she didn’t care to dwell on it any further. It hurt enough that her father was taking her future happiness from her.

Hilde let her garment slip from her shoulders to the floor. Snow remembered the first time she had seen Hilde naked. It had been by accident.

It was early afternoon, and Snow was desperate for distraction. Court conversation was tedious. It would have been much more interesting if Hilde were there. So, Snow went in search of her, coming to her chambers in the middle of the afternoon and entering without knocking because she was the princess and allowed to be spoiled and rude.

Hilde was fresh from the bath, the glow of magic alive on her skin, flooding her with an ethereal glow. She was surrounded by maidservants, each seemingly unaware of their mistress’s beguiling beauty. Snow, however, was not. She stood immobile, enchanted. Her breath caught in her throat and she was unable to look away.

The servants departed, leaving Snow alone with Hilde in a bedchamber that suddenly felt far too small. Hilde regarded her with a seductive smokiness to her eyes that Snow had not seen before.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” Hilde asked.

Snow had felt her face flush and had the decency then to avert her eyes, too late to make a difference. She couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Very much.”

She knew right then that she would take every opportunity to repeat the event. Beauty such as Hilde’s was a narcotic she was unable deny herself. That day the craving began, and the deep, clawing need had never abated.

Tonight, though Hilde was as beautiful as the first time Snow had seen her, the bloom of their beginning had given way to the bitter gall of an ending. If it was meant to be their last night together, Snow wanted to spend it curled in the deep, downy bed, and feel Hilde pressed against her, gently stroking her hair. If she could have that, it would be enough to sustain her.

It had to be.

Hilde’s fingers worked the ties on Snow’s clothing, stripping her bare with practiced ease until she stood naked as well. The sharp catch of Hilde’s breath and the tightening grip on her arms as she was pulled in for a kiss, changed Snow’s mind on how to spend the evening. Their parting was to be as fiery as their coming together.

“If only…” Hilde breathed the words against her skin, her exhalation skittered over Snow’s flesh.

“If only what?” A hot tear ran down Snow’s cheek. She made no attempt to hide her sorrow as Hilde brought her mouth to hers in a soft, sweet kiss.

Hilde laid her out on the bed, her fingers already working between Snow’s legs drawing deep, soul shattering, moans from her. Snow let herself be carried along, drifting ever higher by the demand in Hilde’s touch and the possession in her eyes. She kissed Hilde softly, her lips full of love, of pleading, of understanding. Perhaps they were damned by destiny to never truly share a path, but Snow could take this memory of the coiling heat and breaking wave of Hilde worshiping her body, as she walked down her own.

After, with the evidence of Hilde’s love drying on her skin and chilling her body, Snow lay awake and dreamed of a different life in a different world. There, love as bright as theirs wasn’t forced into dark corners, an illicit meeting of tongues and flushed bodies. She dreamed of a world where Hilde’s power could do more than ignite her body, where it would be enough to save them instead of damn them.

Images of them happy together, of lazy embraces and contentment, drifted through her mind only to fade. Hilde’s resolve destroyed her hope so completely that Snow was left with only shadows.

She rose from bed. The remnants of Hilde’s magic clung to her body, clutching at her insides in a way that made her know she’d never, ever find that kind of love again. Hilde poured herself into and around her, saturating every part of her until she was a strung out mess. In the end, she was a hollow version of herself, a chalice aching to be filled once more.

Snow dressed silently. Hilde moaned her name in her sleep, and reached for her in the empty space next to her. Snow pressed a tender kiss to Hilde’s head and held her hand. She smiled in her sleep, relaxed and at peace, and whispered, “I love you.”

Snow hardened herself against the words. They were meaningless in the face of reality. All the love in the world meant nothing in the wake of her loss. She kissed Hilde one last time and, even though she tried not to, said, “And I love you.”

As she rode her horse away from the castle she wanted only to look toward the forbidden forest, but she couldn’t. Her resolve was undone by the strength of their shared bond pulling her gaze back. She halted her horse, and gazed at the castle’s torch-lit facade. She found Hilde’s window easily. It flashed with streaks of purple lightning as Hilde stood gripping the wooden sill. The ground below was scorched and furrowed with resonant purple energy dissipating into the night air. Hilde stared at Snow, her sight easily piercing the dark and the distance.

“Come back to me.” Snow heard the words clearly, as if Hilde had whispered them directly into her ear.

“I can’t.” She shook her head, and held the horse’s reins tight as the earth cracked and split all around them. “Not like this.” Snow spoke aloud, unsure how Hilde could possibly hear, but knowing she would.

“Snow…” Hilde sounded so fractured, broken in ways that Snow had never heard before.

“I can’t watch you become his queen, his wife. I love you more than life itself, but I’m not strong enough to suffer that.”

She didn’t look back. The canopy of the forest swallowed her, and she pushed her horse to carry her farther from Hilde and her home than she ever thought she’d go. She was exhausted an all she wanted was lie down and sleep. She would decide how to proceed tomorrow after she awoke. Things always looked different in the clear light of day.

Never After
Jove Belle

Copyright © 2015, Jove Belle

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, print-outs, information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. E-books are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared, or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Editor: Gill McKnight
Cover: Dirt Road Design


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