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09 August 2012 @ 05:19 pm
The man of the hollow heart, chapt 1  
Title: the Man of the Hollow Heart
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.
Rating: NC-17
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.




Erik finally emerged from the land of the dreams when the Sun was already high above the horizon.  He would have slept into the middle of next week if only the Mayor’s old mare hadn’t mistaken his dirty coiffure for the bale of hay and wasn’t chewing on top of his head so enthusiastically.

The Huntsman barely escaped the advances of a hunger struck animal and jumped to his feet, looking around.

The city life went on and bared no trace of the last night events.  In fact, Erik even started to question whether all that confrontation with Prince Hal was simply a dream born from the drunken stupor, but the moment the Huntsman bended over the bucket with rainwater to wash off the filth from his face and saw his bloodied nose, all doubts evanesced as does the morning fog under the rays of unforgiving dawn.

The Huntsman took a sip of water and leaned on the door of the tavern from which he was so lovingly carried out for delectation of the Prince the night before.

 Finally, the stupidity and the gravity of the mistake crashed upon him, and Erik rubbed the bridge of his nose in powerless desperation, cursing himself and thinking, how he could redress a wrong before Prince Hal.

Can you believe that? Since the early years Erik had dreamed for the fate that had been so cruel to him to give him a chance, to transform from the hateful stepmother into a loving mom, and when it finally did- when the fate smiled at him, presenting a real miracle- he wasted it.

All because of an old grudge, of a wounded pride of a boy who didn’t get accepted into the prince’s army fifteen years ago because he was just an orphan without kin or name.

And now, when the prince- Prince Hal himself- was in need of Erik’s assistance, instead of leaping at the opportunity, Erik chose to throw it away just to soothe his vanity.

If he could, he would beat himself bloody into oblivion only to get rid of the pigshit that occupied his skull.

Erik clenched his fists, grinding his teeth in the onslaught of anger, when the door he was leaning on shook from the push and a stream of billingsgate rushed from the inside.

Erik stepped aside and the eatery proprietress stumbled onto the street, miraculously stopping a huge cauldron with slops from falling out of her hands. The cauldron, however, tilted, and a spurt of reeking liquid splashed right under the feet of a by-passer. The man cursed elaborately and hurried away.

“Have you completely drunk your brains out?”

The woman put the cauldron on the ground and gave Erik a loud slap on the shoulder. The Huntsman petted the sore spot and smiled guiltily, “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t know you were cleaning.”

He lifted up the heavy load and looked at the woman, who in her turn nodded and motioned to the closest gutter.

Apparently, a timely provided help earned Erik forgiveness, as the woman smiled at him, wiping her hands on the soiled apron.

“I bet you must be hungry, haven’t had a breadcrumb in your mouth after yesterday’s brawl. Want some cheese…”

“Please, don’t bother. Tell me better, where did the prince go?”

“How should I know? You truly think the kingly kin let me into their plans? Like hell.”

“They might or might not, but all the rest of the folk in need of help or advice always goes to you first, because you are the smartest person in the town.”

It was an unconcealed lie, and they both knew that.  The smartest person in town was the old astronomer who dwelled in the temple’s tower and didn’t leave it for weeks, watching stars and dusting old books with his long crooked fingers that so often got stuck in the long white beard. But then again, who would ever refuse a compliment?

“I don’t know, really. They left soon after midnight, think they were headed to the Kings Road, but Prince Hal wanted to hurry and get to the capital sooner, so they might cut the way through the Dark Forest.”

“Dark forest?! There’s no path there, who’s going to lead them?”

“Pig Face volunteered. Hal was very displeased, but what he was supposed to do- wait until you wake up sober, my sleeping beauty?”   The voluptuous body shook with the ripples of laughter. Erik pursed his lips and tsked, and turned away.

“Thanks for telling me.”

He didn’t make it far though; he didn’t even make one step, when heavy palm stopped him.

“Where exactly are you going, huh? What are you up to?”

Erik met the worried eyes of the woman with calm and resignation.

“I need to talk to the prince.”

“About what? You have already told him everything, much more then you should’ve for my taste.”

The Huntsman lowered his gaze, biting on his lip as anger and shame rushed the blood to his face.

“That’s exactly what I shell speak to him about.  I want to apologize.”

The woman sighed and shook her head, putting her palm to his chest. “Such a fool you are, Erik. Leave this alone, I beg you. You have a good heart, but a very bad tongue, you know that. One bad word from the prince- or any of his knights, and you’ll again start a quarrel- and you can’t do that, they are not our men, you have to understand. They won’t punish you by dipping your head into the shit pit; they will gladly cut it off and play it like a ball. “

Erik looked at the woman’s face, where weary and care deepened a web of wrinkles around glistening eyes and pulled the corners of the mouth down. The young man petted woman’s cheek, feeling his heart falter in his chest. It was weird – he long time ago had made peace with fact that he will never know his mother- but yet even now he was missing her.

“Do not worry; it will not happen again, I’ll be careful. But I have to find the Prince and apologize- I accused him of things he did not deserve.”

“True that. But how exactly are you going to keep up with them? They were riding horses, weren’t they?”

“Yes, so?”

“So? Erik, you are, no argue here, a whacking steed, but even you can’t chase a horse that has galloped for all nights long.”

Erik waved her off, putting the buckles on his jacket in order.  He even managed to glance inside the tavern hall, noticing lovingly piled on the bench knives and axes, that were taken off his unconscious body overnight, and pulled them out, arming himself for the journey.

“They aren’t galloping, they are walking.”

The woman pushed his hand away and fixed the last buckle herself, making it tight enough to keep it close but loose enough not to strangle the man.

“And why is that, if I may ask?”

“You said yourself, that they are led by Pig Face, right? Do you remember how fine he smells?”

Woman involuntarily coughed, cursing, “How could I forget?”

“See. No knight will let him close to their horses, and Pig Face doesn’t own one, if I’m right. So they will walk with his speed, they can’t ride faster than their guide.”

“You are so smart when you are sober. All right, fine, go on, but promise you will return alive and in one piece.”

Erik looked over an accusing finger pointed at his nose and flashed her flirty smile, pinching woman’s bosom. “Of course I will, we still have children to make, you and I.”

Woman laughed and pushed the sneaky hand away, “Get out of my sight, you buffoon!”

He nodded her good bye, wrapped unconditionally given him loaf of bread in the piece of old leather,  put it away into his inner pocket, and headed out of the city.

                                                                               

*****

The road lead the Huntsman through the fields and meadows, gilded with the heavy oceans of ripen barley. The hot wind rushed through the ears, driving lazy waves on both sides of the road. With each step a small dusty cloud burst from the feet, and the blistering veil of heat floated over the dried soil.

The Huntsman carefully observed each and every detail, trying to stay on track of the horde that came there earlier. There was only one pass to the Kings Road, but the group decided to cut the way and who knows what trail Pig Face chose to lead them.

Erik considered borrowing one of the hunters hounds to speed up the search, but all the dogs were given out to the peasants for the time of the harvest- to protect the scarce and hence valuable crops from hungry animals and thieves, eager to profiteer from other’s labor.

There was only one dog left at the hunter’s  cabin in the middle of the fields- old, glabrous cur who had become completely useless a long time ago. He once rushed to the aid of his master and attacked a wounded dare wolf, lost almost all of his teeth and broke almost all of his bones at the process but saved his human. Since then no one could bring themselves to kick him out or put him out of his misery, and so here he was, beating up the dust with his wiggling tail at the sight of the Huntsman. The huge brown eyes glimmered with hope of a new adventure, but Erik only petted the dog on his head and promised to take him to the hunt another time. The dog gratefully licked Erik’s nose and went back to sleep.

Now Erik depended solely on his skills and eyes in his search, and they didn’t let him down.

The sun was already setting, when Erik reached the fork and turned right.

The main pass continued left, twirling and twisting between the hills, fields overgrown with weed and  small groves, crossed the small shallow stream near the old mill and stretched onwards, widely rounding several villages. After six or seven days of foot work it finally poured into the broad and stone laid Kings Road.

To the right the other trail went- a small barely visible pass leading into the forest.

Nobody used it- there was nothing between the road and the forest except for the couple of hills, wind breaks and a thicket, half-dried and half-burned in the past years fires.

Only fools or daredevils walked at the edge of the forest- or those, who was in such a hurry they wanted to cut the way by playing with doom.

Truth to say, were you to follow the edge of the forest, you would reach the Kings Road in a day and half – a dashing advantage.

But only if you stayed away from the forest itself.

The coppice that marked the way was no different from other copses scattered all over the lands- light, scarce, emerald green, boasting with abundance of mushrooms and berries. But if the unlucky wayfarer lowered his guard for a moment, he instantly found himself in a different forest- thick, unpassable, dark and hungry.

People whispered that long time ago, in the years of ancestors, wizards and witches lived in the forest,  looked after the trees and helped the forest folk. Wise, calm and respectful, they sometimes shared the knowledge and treated with herbal potions those who were suffering.

But something happened, something terrible, and evil rooted in the forest, poisoned the earth, sucked the life out of the trees, scared away the animals, turned the pure forest lakes into swamps swallowing everyone who comes too close to the marshes.

Since then only drunken wondered into the forest- and no one ever returned. No, one had returned, once – a fool who spent three nights there on the bet- but when a healthy strong man entered, a pale old cripple came out, with feverish eyes and rambling tongue.

Erik concentrated.

Hooves tracks went on through the hills to the edge of the forest- but it wasn’t the hooves prints that caught Erik’s attention.  Aloof from the verge of the road the grass was pressed down to the ground as if someone walked on it not long ago.

The Huntsman jumped off the road and walked alongside the new track , bending and squatting down often,  examining juicy stems. It seemed that several people – about thirty, no less, had threaded their way through the brush woods about two days ago. They walked light and fast and carried no luggage, since the footprints were shallow and barely visible.

But the Huntsman was alerted for a reason- what had a huge herd of people forgotten in the forest? Why would they struggle through the high grass and fallen trees if there was a decent way right at their sight? And, most importantly, why didn’t they scatter around like peasants did on their way to the fields- but instead followed each other in single file, stepping into each other’s footprints?

Erik wouldn’t have noticed that if he hadn’t hunted the animals for the last fifteen years of his life.

Whoever those people were, they were up to no good since only dark thoughts people try to conceal from the eyes of the other.

Erik returned to the trail and speeded up his pace, fighting back a bad premonition.

He traced the Prince and the riders to the edge of the grove- to the patch of the land where Hal ordered his men to dismount and followed his guide into the forest.

Erik rubbed his chin and mused why Pig Face dragged the royal men into the deep, when he knew exactly there was nothing there for them but death and despair, plus it was completely off the way. And even if the men decided to make a camp for the night- there was a nice looking meadow not far from there, one side of which was basked in sunlight and the other hid under the shadows of the birch trees. And all was covered in soft young grass.

The man wasn’t bashing, he was cursing and hating himself for his drunken outrage – of malice pretence or by the birth given stupidity, but Pig Face was leading the Prince and his men to their doom.

Erik in the depths of his stubborn heart wouldn’t mind to challenge prince Hal into a fight – just for a pleasure of a good brawl and for a chance to rub his fists into the princely flesh. But he would never do anything to truly hurt the prince- and more than that, to be a reason for his death.

The Huntsman rushed forward, warily looking into the shadows and petting the hilt of the favorite knife he hid under his belt.

He passed the grove and walked into a stretch of the open space between the road and the forest, when a strong gush of wind hit him in the back.

Erik wasn’t afraid of the breeze, but when it scared a flock of the birds from the forest depths into the evening sky, his blood turned into ice.

For a city dweller or a by passer that was just a flush of the crows- whirlwind of pitch black birds roaring into the sky over the forest meadow concealed from the view by the trees.

But for the hunter that was a flock of the scavengers – night thieves and  loners, ransackers the graveyards and slaughter houses that only flocked together in the broad daylight at the sight of abundant death.

Erik grew numb for a split of a second, feeling his heart thrashing inside his chest, pulled his axe from his back, and ran.



 
 
cancerjanuscancerjanus on August 10th, 2012 03:50 am (UTC)
Hopefully Erik will find the Princeand his party before anyone gets too badly hurt.
Missis Joker: Loki  semissisjoker on August 10th, 2012 06:39 am (UTC)
I'm afraid Erik is a bit late to the party, but its ok, Hal can take care of himself. Sometimes. ;p
Saltnamejunesaltnamejune on August 11th, 2012 08:22 am (UTC)
Run, Erik run! Go save the princess!