02 March 2021
The sun is low enough now to create twisted shapes in the shadows it casts through the trees. Warming my hands on the small makeshift fire, I watch as the ash continues to coat the ground in the remnants of the nearby villages and towns. I know we can’t stay here much longer. Soon the fire will become too noticeable to the hunters.
Alexander stirs slightly. At least one of us can sleep. His clothes are torn, frayed and stained with dark patches and with the cuts he has suffered, it’s not all mud. Tied around his arm, strips of what used to be a royal blue coat is now only recognisable by the gold piping left at one end. I make a note to replace the bandage with something less identifying when we can. What was sandy blonde hair looks prematurely grey where mud and ash have settled. For a moment, he looks so peaceful. Like the boy he was a couple of days ago – but with a much better grasp on reality. I’m hesitant to wake him.
A howl splits the air. The boy jolts awake, suddenly alert. I quickly divert my gaze away, stuffing what little I have into my bag. I check that I still have the deer heart and wrap it back up carefully in its cloth, placing it at the very top of the bag.
“We have to go”, I urgently tell him. The hounds are close, which means that the Huntsman and the Queen can’t be too far behind.
He nods, gathering the few items he has as I hurriedly put out the fire. I hear twigs snapping nearby. The hounds are closer than I had realised.
“Theres a river down here – we should be able to lose their scent.” He grabs my hand, pulling me behind him.
As we get closer to the stream, the ground grows softer, and the water surges around my ankles and fills my shoes. The hounds are drawing in; their barking is relentless. Alexander winces next to me as he tries to dislodge his leg from the deep hold of the mud, and blood seeps from the re-opened cut at the top of his leg.
“I’ll just slow you down; you have to keep going”
“I can’t leave you, Alexander, not now.” I look at him desperately, “I promised”.
“No.” He points at my bag. “Give it to me. Its what she wants, right? She wants your heart? If I give the deer's heart to him-“
“I won’t let you.” I interrupt.
“You must, Snow. It’s too risky to try and give it to the hunter yourself. If the Queen spots you, she’s never going to believe it’s yours. Is she?”
I open my bag and gently pass him the cloth-covered deer heart.
“I’ll meet you at the North East edge of the forest at sunset. If I’m not there by moonrise – you have to keep going alone.” He stares at me, forcing me to agree. “Don’t wait, okay?”
“Okay.” I reply before running off into the stream.
As I leave Alexander on the stream’s bank, I hear the guards and the Huntsman, Marcos approaching him. I hope desperately that Marcos will keep up his end of the deal. I pray that the Queen is so desperate in her quest for my death, that she will believe the heart Alexander holds to be truly mine. Perhaps it is.