"Good morning your majesty," the guard greeted Snow as she climbed the last five steps to the landing. She stopped for a moment to chat with the guard before moving on; there were still a few more flights of stairs before she reached the top.
"The weather is good this morning at least," Snow said with a smile. The guard nodded, with a sideways look up the steps. Snow chose not to look, so as not to think about what lay ahead of her for the moment. "Galen, was it?" she asked, trying to remember his name. She had only met this man a few times in her life, but she tried to make a point of remembering everyone she lived around, whether they were noble or servant.
Galen nodded with a smile. "You have a very good memory, my queen," he said. He rubbed his graying head and laughed. "I wish I could say the same for myself, but age does funny things to your mind."
"My father used to play word games every day, before breakfast," Snow said. "He said it helped him keep his memory intact."
Galen nodded at this advice, and Snow decided she had best move along and get this over with.
The last dozen steps felt like such a long, long way. The air seemed colder, and she imagined she was so high up that it was thin too. She wished she had brought Etta along, but even Etta didn't know about what was kept in this tower. It was something she could never tell anyone, something she couldn't even understand herself.
She pushed the door open and was nearly knocked over by the wind.
"Ah, my daughter decides to visit me at last," Remore got to her feet and held her hands out to Snow, but Snow was unmoved. She stared at the woman who called herself a mother, and she felt no love, no pity even. She couldn't understand why she had been unable to execute Remore when she took back her throne. She supposed it was some misplaced sense of honor or family.
"Have you finally seen things my way?" Remore asked, stepping towards Snow. "Have you forgiven me yet?"
Snow slid her right foot back, preparing for a fight. Remore stopped moving towards Snow, and looked towards the windows suddenly. "Oh dear, it's freezing in here! Are you alright my dear?" she asked, moving to close the windows. Snow watched her closing them, and watched as Remore paused before closing the last window to stare down at the ground, far, far below. If she wanted to, she could end it all herself at any time. Snow had wanted to give her that option at least. Maybe that was why she hadn't had Remore executed; she still believed that everyone should have a choice about their life and their death.
Remore shook her head and shut the last window and the wind died away, and she turned back to Snow. "Please sit down," she said, gesturing to a chair set against the wall. "What brings you here today?" She moved about the room, arranging curtains and furniture nervously, trying to impress.
"I'm getting married in a couple of months," Snow said. Remore stopped her frantic fluttering and was still, facing the wall.
"Whom are you marrying?" she asked, turning to look at Snow over her shoulder.
Remore flinched away, as though Snow had slapped her. She was quiet a moment, and then she turned on Snow with anger in her eyes. "Why are you doing this? Are you doing this to spite me? I don't understand – why do you hate your mother?" she yelled, coming towards Snow.
Snow got to her feet and held her fists out, but Remore stopped. She sighed and held a hand out to Snow, helplessly.
"You still don't understand do you?" she asked. "You still don't understand that I only ever wanted to help you."
"Help me?" Snow asked, laughing at the ridiculous notion. "By ordering my murder? By usurping my throne? How exactly were you helping me?"
"Yes, by doing those things I was saving you! I just wanted you to see! You were so innocent, so guilelessly ambitious. You couldn't see how politics would corrupt you, how men only seek to cheapen you, and how they will always succeed. I wanted so much for you, my daughter, my only beautiful little girl. So much they could never give you. I – I was too twisted by the world already; I didn't know how to show you my love; there was nothing I could do without men and politics twisting it into something emotional; what they would call weak. Please, don't you see now, how I tried to save you from all that?"
Snow looked at Remore, and thought for the first time how small this woman was. She wasn't strong at all, but she was dangerous. And she was still hateful to Snow.
"Do you know why I couldn't order your execution?" Snow asked.
Remore smiled tentatively and held out her arms. "Because I'm still your mother, no matter what happens," she said.
Snow shook her head. "No." Remore dropped her arms. "That's not it at all," Snow went on. "I didn't let you live out of compassion, or for some obsolete familial nostalgia." Snow lowered her voice so that the guard standing outside Remore's cell would not be able to hear. "I let you live because I know that death would be a relief to your poor sick little mind. I let you live so that you can spend the rest of your life with your paranoia and your jealously eating at you from the inside, and I can smile, knowing that that is causing you more pain than death ever could. I let you live because I am like you in that one respect; I can be cruel too."
Snow went to the door. She didn't know why she had come here anymore.
"At least I taught you one thing."
Snow turned around slowly, knowing that Remore was baiting her, and taking it anyway. Maybe she had just come looking for a fight. "And what is that? How to ruin a country? How to mistreat those less fortunate than me? What? What is this wonderful lesson you taught me?"
Remore was smiling, a half crazed smile as she imparted her wisdom. "Never trust anyone," she said.
Snow stared at Remore, and after a second she laughed. "You know, you are almost right," she said. "You almost succeeded with that one victory, but even that you could not have. You are a failure, and you may rot with that knowledge. Goodbye Remore."
Snow nearly ran down the stairs. She felt a little sick, a little elated. She hoped Remore jumped; she would have nothing more to do with the woman who had once been her mother.
She saw Ilona in the hallway, walking towards her with a purpose. Before the page could tell Snow anything, she asked, "Where is Gregory?"
"I believe he's in the library," Ilona said, and held a paper towards Snow. "I have here-"
"Not right now please!" Snow said, cutting Ilona off with a hand gesture. "I am not to be bothered for the next hour thank you!" She walked briskly towards the library, leaving Ilona standing in the hall.
Gregory was not in the library when Snow arrived, but Carabas was.
"My lady! I have hardly had a chance to speak with you since the announcement!" he said, walking up to her. "May I personally give you my congratulations." He took her hand and pressed his lips to her fingers.
"Thank you," Snow said, impatient to be away. "Speaking of which, have you seen my husband to be?"
Carabas stiffened, just a little, at the mention of Gregory. Snow knew he didn't care for Gregory, but he was going to have to fix that attitude. Carabas was never going to have gotten the crown anyway; Snow just wished there was a way to show him.
"I believe I saw him heading towards the sitting room," Carabas said, and Snow nodded and was off again.
When she discovered that Gregory was not there either she began to feel a little frustrated. She wasn't in the mood to chase him around the castle; she just wanted to see him now.
"Good morning Snow," Etta said without looking up from her embroidery. "Shouldn't you be in a meeting or something?"
"Etta have you seen Gregory?" Snow asked. She didn't need to be polite around Etta; they understood each other well enough.
"He took his horse out this morning," Etta said. "He said he was going to the forest."
"You are certain?" Snow asked.
Etta looked up from her embroidery, gracing Snow with a withering look. Snow smiled apologetically. Of course Etta was certain. She wouldn't say something she wasn't certain about.
"Thank you Etta," Snow said and ducked out to the stables. She was a little annoyed that she had to bring guards with her into the forest, but of course she was used to it by now.
When they got into the forest Snow got off her horse and walked through the forest, hoping to maybe sneak up on Gregory. He had left a trail behind; seemed like he was in a hurry to get somewhere. Starting to feel a little anxious, Snow picked up the pace. She felt she was gaining on him, but suddenly the trail stopped. His horse was there, but Gregory was nowhere to be seen.
Snow felt a little flutter of panic in her chest. What if something happened to Gregory now? She knew he wasn't the most popular man in the kingdom, what if someone disproved of her marrying him and wanted to do away with him? She didn't know what she would do if anything more happened to her Gregory.
She wondered, in the back of her mind, when she had started calling him hers.
"You're much quieter than you used to be," he called, and soon after he jumped out of a tree and landed at her feet. He grinned up at her. "It doesn't help if you bring those trampling guards with you though."
Snow just smiled at him. She loved him; she really loved this man. Any other reason she had made up to marry him was just an excuse. Royals weren't supposed to marry for love, but she was the one making the rules now.
"Please, leave us for a moment," Snow said to the guards. They bowed and tramped back out into the trees. Snow waited until they were quiet and then she turned to Gregory. "I wanted to talk to you about the wedding," she said.
Gregory nodded and sat down on the ground with his legs crossed. "What is it?" he asked.
Snow sat down beside him. There was a little sun filtering through the trees, and the leaves made a dappled pattern on Gregory's skin. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but she didn't dare. She was afraid of touching him now; because of that despicable woman she had to be afraid of hurting him.
"Do we really have to wait two more months?" she asked.
Gregory burst out laughing and Snow turned to look at him. He smiled at her, and explained, "I was afraid you were going to call it off! But of course you just want to get it over with!"
"We've had to wait so long for everything in life," Snow said. "Why do we have to wait for this now?"
Gregory shrugged. "Waiting is just a part of life. That's part of the fun; it's the anticipation," he said.
"I guess…" Snow conceded. They sat peacefully for a moment, Gregory looking at the trees, and Snow looking at Gregory. She reached out tentatively and touched his knee. "I wouldn't call it off," she told him quietly. "I would never call it off unless you asked me to."
Gregory turned to her and he smiled. "That's too bad, because I don't want to call it off," he said. "So I guess you're stuck with me after all." He put his hand on hers, and her heart leaped against her chest.
Someday she would tell him how much she loved him. Someday when there was less work to be done, when things weren't so confused. After all, Gregory was right. If there was one thing she could do; she could wait.