Fandoms: Snow white and the huntsman/ the Hollow crown x-over
Main characters: prince Hal and Erik the Huntsman (neither is mine)
Author: well, me.
Warnings: slash in future chapters, graphic depictions of violence, and lots of mistakes.
Disclaimer: all what is written is done not for the profit, but for the pleasure of my wicked heart.
Summary: Prince Hal, eldest son of the King, returns home after decade and a half spent in war campaigns to see his dying father. However, the welcoming reception he gets is far from what he had hoped for.
Pale pinkish disc of mid- summer sun lazily crawled down the horizon, lavishly pouring evening blush onto the countryside roads. The streets of the city emptied, the market place seemed lonely and deserted, and the cool wind was sneaking between the dark stone houses, making the strangers of the late hour hurry up their steps.
The city was small and not at all noteworthy- a twin sister to numerous others scattered across the kingdom. It was so small, in fact, that each city dweller could not only name any person on the street, but as well recite their family history up to the grandpas and grandmas.
Although, it was not neighbors people locked their doors at night from- those were the strangers, men without names and faces, hiding under long hoods and lurking in the shadows in search of easy prey.
Social life, if you allow calling the drunken heart-to-heart exchanges so, smoothly flushed from the streets to the only tavern in the city.
People could have gathered in the temple too, of course, and on the place of executions, (which, mind that, hasn’t been used as such for quite a long time), but only in tavern could people let their tongues loose and freely revile the name of the king and his kin without fear of losing their heads.
The tavern was buzzing with the biggest news that season brought so far: the oldest son of the king, prince Hal, was heading home after decade and a half spent in the war campaigns in far remote and foreign lands.
He had made quite a reputation for himself while still a boy- since early years he fancied taverns and wenches over the king’s court and high society. Young prince was quick to become a patron of many dubious establishments in the capital and made all kings physicians cringe in horror by the impressive length of the list of names of those who fell to his romantic conquests.
Some gossiped the young prince, such an unworthy heir that he was, was sent upon the king as punishment for his sins.
Others of more reasonable folk argued that all the debauchery was just in the spirit of youth and would dissipate when the right time comes.
Prince Hal was truly his father's son- the old king himself was not famous for frugality or celibacy.
Sympathetic folk, mostly women, of course, excused the prince for escapades, concluding he simply longed for warmth after his mother's untimely death, and looked for it in all the wrong places since there was no one to teach him otherwise.
The suspicions took stronger root because the king's mourning didn't last long- soon after funeral a new, young queen took place beside him on the throne to people’s greatest disapproval.
Since that dreadful day, the prince went feral, like there was no place for him in the palace, like he was not of kingly blood and nothing but a stray dog, but only in the depths of city slums, alongside with criminals, whores and thieves he found his peace.
What was the truth no one ever agreed upon, and one day everything changed in an instant.
Fifteen years back from this very day the king's patience burst like an overstretched guitar string, and the prince was given an army, a banner and a glorious purpose- to lead the war on behalf of his people and rebuff all greedy neighboring kings.
It was no doubt done to please the queen, but done with good intentions nonetheless- war was a tedious and full of hardships undertaking, and made men out of boys in shortest time.
If only did not kill them before that.
At least, everyone thought so.
But to the common folk's great surprise, the prince simply vanished.
No, he did not desert his troops, nor was he killed - he simply faded from the news as if he had never been born.
No tales of victories, or defeats, no echoes of war or weapon clashes- nothing. The only time his name surfaced was when the tax collectors came.
Whatever adventures the prince embarked on each year, they grew more and more costly, sucking the kingdom's people dry.
The men's backs now were not only bending in the fields now, they were cracking under the weight of exactions, and resentment grew over the country, like thunderstorm clouds, threatening to break out into the storm.
When the unbearable tax burden came, the drought followed, the famine spread and murrain was not long in coming.
The lavish fields gilding under the sun in the days of past were overgrown with weeds, the rivers dried out and the impassable mist cloaked the forests.
A wise ruler would have long ago heeded the entreaty of his subjects and longed to help, becoming gleam of hope in the burdening darkness and leading people away from the gathering storm.
But the old king grew more and more senile, distancing himself from the matters of state and instead indulging in countless balls and hunting parties, shying away from the problems of his people.
And now, when his old man's flesh gave in and the death lingered at his bedside, the king sent a messenger to his son with an order for immediate return.
When the gossip spread, the peasants cherished an idea of throwing Prince a welcoming party, adorned with torches and pitchforks, but last summer month was at the door
and all the political squabbles lessened before the time of gathering the scanty harvest.
The work however did not stop people from exercising their tongues.
The tavern rested in the sultry warm twilight, lit only by the dim light of candles that cast long dark shadows onto the old wooden walls.
The air, heavy with smoke and sweat and steam from the kitchen, enveloped all and everyone inside as a thick sticky blanket.
The clouds of vapor escaped a huge cast-iron pot placed lovingly over the fire in the center of the room. There were no cows in the city, and the pigs were only few- so nobody
Knew what meat exactly the cook threw into the old cauldron covered in soot, and nobody dared to ask- lesser you knew, more sound was you sleep at night.
In between the wooden tables, pushing the customers aside, scuttled the owner of the tavern, a corpulent woman of middle age.
The tavern was full and she, perhaps, was one of the few who secretly rejoiced over the prince's coming back. The return of prince Hal was a fertile soil for gossips, and the more people gossiped, the less happy they became, and the less happy they became, the more they drank, and the more they drank- the heavier her pockets hanged.
With great effort, the woman made her way through the roaring crowd, grabbed two jugs of ale, pushed an unfortunate drunkard aside with her voluptuous bosom, and finally appeared before a big table with a throng of hunters.
The men cheered, the oldest one for trouble and diligence rewarded the woman with two copper coins and a loving slap on the lower back, and when the ripples from the impact subsided, she giggled and wondered off.
The old hunter poured some mead into his cup and glanced at his variegated men.
"So, what do you think, how does he look like?"
"Fat and pale."
The leadsman sipped the stale brew and hummed approvingly, licking away the foam mustache with great satisfaction.
One of the men to his right shrugged, scratching his short tousled beard, "Well, I bet he just rubbed the holes in his pants in pubs and marquees while his army was doing the fight I mean, what else prince does at war other than eats?"
Another man punched the speaker into the side with a meaty fist, "All you think about is food! I think he is pale and thin."
The Leadsman squinted at the other, bristling his bushy eyebrows, "Why thin?"
"Well, they don't take women with them to the war, do they?"
"No, no, god forbid," echoed from all sides of the table.
"So, instead of chasing women's skirts he had to chase men all this time."
The man threw hands in the air, "What do you mean so? The men are faster runners!"
The hunters burst out laughing, shaking the table and leaning closer to clap the man's shoulder for a good joke.
The leadsman smiled lazily and concluded, "Therefore I assume we had agreed upon the matter that our prince is fair-skinned."
"Absolutely! Sun is an enemy of fair skin and no prince can allow his face to be as dark as one of the peasant, he is obliged to keep it nobly pale."
"Yeah, right, pale as the winter snow! Prince the snow white!"
"Yeah,"- the other picked up," skin fair as snow, lips pink as rose petals, hair black as the raven's wing!"
"Behold, my brethren, we have a poet among our midst!" The hunter backed away from the one who spoke with a mocking horror on his face, "Are you describing your wife to us?"
"No, I'm describing yours."
"Do you even remember how my better half looks like?"
"Only by touch."
"You son of a..."
The laughter intensified, and the oldest hunter stood up, holding up his cup to draw attention back to himself.
"Let us then drink to the health of our dearest prince Hal." - He stopped for a moment, then added, "And to the fairness of his skin!"
All men rushed to stand up, overthrowing chairs, clinking clay cups and splashing the mead all over themselves.
All but one.
The young huntsman with pleasant face and long light hair put the cup down and pushed it aside, looking away.
"I'm not going to drink to that."
The men exchanged confused looks, "Why not?"
The young man kept silent, staring into the fire.
The leader frowned, lowering his cup, "Erik?"
His inquiry undid it. The man exploded, his cup flew into the wall and showered the sleeping in the dark corner drunkards with the remains of the mead.
The pile of filthy bodies did not wake up though; the men just licked the drops away from their lips blissfully and continued snoring.
"Why in the devil's name would I drink to his health? For fifteen years, he had sucked our blood dry, our blood! Do you really think it will change upon his return?
It will only get worse, you fool!"
Erik smashed his fist onto the table, sending a web of fractures to all sides of the impact.
"I am not going to drink for this bastard!"
"Sit down and shut your mouth, boy!" The leadsman was long used to the drunken quarrels and insults, fumed by the charm of good or bad mead, but even then, there were boundaries no one dared to cross.
"What is wrong with you?"
The young huntsman scowled, his eyes gleamed with fury from under the frowning brows.
"Prove me wrong, I dare you. Come on, tell everyone how good the life of the common folk is, how easy is their burden, how joyous are their days! Look around you, look how
fat and lazy your people are! Look at them- they are barely standing! They work from dawn till dusk and then some more, like criminals in the mines, and barely see the fruit of their labor!"
"And you think it is king's - or prince's fault that we suffer from draught? Or from cruel frosts? Or from pestilence? King is a man, Erik, not a god."
Erik waved him off, "Indeed, a man. A man, whose evening dress - should he sell it- would provide food for a village for the whole winter! The king's duty is to care for his people and our king- had he ever done anything for us. He thinks of you as dirt under his feet, and his son is no better."
"How do you know that?" The leadsman lowered himself back into the chair and stared at Erik tiredly, "Prince Hal had been to war for quite a long time, he might have
learned a lesson or two."
Erik growled, "I beg you, stop! What could he have learned, hiding out behind the backs of his knights? Warrior? Hero? I bet he does not even know how to hold a sword! He would cut himself if only took it out of the hilt!"
"Stop what? I swear he would not know how to strike a blow if it came to defending himself! He would probably burst into tears like a fearful maiden if somebody punched him ever so lightly!"
"He is a coward and a thief, unworthy of the throne, that's what I think of your prince dearest!"
While the man's blood boiled and spilled out in the flow of foul words, it had completely missed his attention that the bar suddenly fell silent and all the people’s eyes stared at the entrance.
All quarrels stopped and the hall grew quiet like a forest before the storm, and even drunkards woke up and gazed the door, blinking rapidly.
Erik continued spitting out threats and insults until a heavy hand laid onto his shoulder, cutting him mid-sentence and spinning him around.
The Huntsman suddenly faced three newcomers- knights, he concluded at the first sight. Kings guard, his thought was- only those three were not dressed in gold suits of armor, new and covered with elaborate ornaments and gleaming in the light brighter than the best mirrors in the kingdom.
They instead were wearing old steel plates, covered in multiple layers of cracks, scratches, dirt and something that looked very alike dry blood.
The grip on Erik's shoulder tightened and the owner of the hand grinned ferociously,
"Consider yourself lucky today, hunter. You can tell the prince all your claims personally."
The hunter did not have time to respond- the knights seized him up and dragged him outside. All his attempts to fight back or show resistance were cut short by well-aimed blows to the stomach.
While the body protested in pain and brain ringed from the aftershocks, Erik mused what exactly did the prince forget in such a back of beyond place and why did the fate decide again to play a bitch with him?
When the trio carried Erik out and imprinted face down into the dirt, forcing to kneel, he stole a glance around the street.
There was a small group of cavalry in the middle of alley way- five people total, and unmounted guard of honor consisting of all the city watchmen. All four of them, to be exact, who formed a sparse circle around one of the riders, topping a fine white stallion, and stood there humbly lowering their eyes.
That was the person of importance.
Erik tried to take a good look at the prince but failed since the veil of mud and horse shit completely obscured his view.
The prince considered the man standing before him with a mix of tiredness, boredom and irritation,
"And what is this?"
The talkative one of the knight's trio responded,
"My prince, this peasant..."
"Hunter," Erik argued and earned a hard kick to the bosom.
"You only speak when spoken to! My prince, he threatened you and soiled your name before his friends.
I suggest," he made a pause and grinned, "We hang him."
The other two knights started arguing if they should cut his fingers off first, sick bastards.
Erik growled in anger, trying to break free, but the grip was too strong and the mead he drank was too plentiful for the hunter to fight in his full force.
Prince Hal looked at the man for a moment and guided his horse closer.
In an instant the Huntsman was free and he got up to face the prince.
The royal kin was glancing down at him with stern look upon his face. He looked weary, but haughty, his velvet voice carrying weight of power and pride.
"If you have anything to say, do it now, looking me in the eyes."
Erik felt like he was suddenly five and reprimanded for an act of mischief, only this time his punishment might cost him head.
He stood silent, flexing his fists. Hundreds of thoughts were flowing through his mind like bugs over the flower fields.
The common sense advised to ask forgiveness, but pride pushed away from safety and guided promptly into the ways of fool.
It was so hard to choose the right one under cunning gaze of prince's cold eyes.
"Answer to your prince! Or cat got your balls?"
Erik pushed the loudmouth away and glowered at the prince,
"Prince Hal, you are not welcomed here! My people don't need another blood sucker on their necks."
The white stallion snorted and bared his teeth as if in remonstrance against the insult, and prince's leather gloved hand stroke its neck to calm it down.
"They are my people too. And besides, why do thee carry animosity so deep if we haven't even met before?"
The Huntsman faltered for a moment, confused with obvious question, but the mead and old anger took their toll.
"Because you are a coward and a thief."
The city mayor who was standing near the prince, squealed, plump sweaty face
distorted with the sheer horror, lips trembling, "Are you mad? What are you saying? Shut your stupid food hole or I'll do it for you!"
Hunter shot the mayor a challenging look while the Prince waved off the protest.
"No, why? Let him speak his mind, I want to hear all."
He turned back to Erik.
"So, you say I'm a thief and a coward? Prove it than, for I shalt have you soiling my name without proof."
"Isn't it a way of the king- always hide behind other's back, away from his people, war or time of peace, matter not?"
Huntsman suddenly felt a rush of bravery, looking over the prince's lean body, noticing a finely forged blade at prince's waistband under the armor.
"You have a nice sword there, your highness. Do you know how to use it?"
Hal’s stare intensified,
"No one had ever complained."
Whether the prince intended the double meaning or not, didn't matter- Erik still felt blood rush to his face, fueling up his indignation.
"Why don't we test that?"
With that Erik launched at the prince, aiming at the sword. What he was going to do if he grabbed it, we will never know, because Prince swiftly pulled his foot out of the stirrup and smacked the huntsman in the face with his boot.
The force of the blow was enough to send Erik flying back into the dirt.
The man saw stars and felt blood gushing from his nose with each heartbeat.
He never thought the prince would have flash-like reaction, and realization that
the coddled princess his friends were laughing at a minute ago just broke his nose only
added shame to the deep regret.
While Erik rested momentarily in the welcoming mud, waiting for the world to stop spinning, the Prince got off the horse, strolled to him and put his boot onto his chest.
"You are very quick with words when you know nothing of the subject."
Erik focused, finally getting a chance to look closer at Hal's face. Sharp features, thin lips, hair of ripe rye color, strapped with a leather ribbon, and the cold eyes like two pools of steel, piercing through flesh and bone right into the soul.
The hunter shivered.
"It is very easy to argue about war sitting in the safe warmth of the tavern, far away from horror and blood."
"My lord, he threatened you, it has be punished by death."
Hal didn't take his eyes off Erik's face.
"No. I don't want to start my homecoming with blood."
He squatted and bended over, close enough for Eric to feel a touch of royal breath on his skin, but far enough not to get himself dirty.
"Consider yourself lucky, Huntsman. Next time I won't be so merciful, I'll personally break every bone in your body before I feed you to the dogs, and I will find a great pleasure in doing so. Mayor," Hal turned around and motioned to the old man, "you said you had a man who could guide us through the Dark Forest, where is he?"
The mayor shrank where he stood, trying to blend in with the horse's rear and become invisible, and mumbled,
"My prince, you are standing on him."
Hal looked back to Erik and rolled his eyes, "Splendid."
He walked away without looking back and mounted the horse, shaking a finger at the mayor,
"Find me another one. And fast!"
The party immediately moved on, ignoring the motionless hunter and left him alone, soaking in the filth and gazing at the starless sky.
He stared up without blinking.
His heart was beating madly into his ribs, threatening to break through and escape the body.
It was not because Erik finally sobered up and realized, that he just walked on the edge of death.
And not because he just wasted the only opportunity to change somehow his sorry life.
It was because he could not forget Hal's cold eyes looking straight into his heart.