All is darkness, all is haze. Furious clouds hurl forth spears of rain, flashing lightening and cursing every living thing beneath with deafening peals of thunder that crack and rumble and echo, shaking the earth.
Her little heart trembles with cold and fear. So wet has she become that her tears no longer show. The forest looms and howls around her, clothes clinging to her skin, and solitude to her soul.
Then there are gentle arms. Big arms, that reminded her of her father's. They draw her close, and suddenly she can't feel the rain anymore, pressed against a warm, broad chest and covered by a thick cloak and firm embrace.
She recognizes the scent; he'd always smelled like woodsmoke and soil. Her step-mother's huntsman.
Why he's here, Snow doesn't think to wonder. Her small fingers curl into his jerkin and she buries her face against him.
"You're safe now." She hears his deep voice in his chest. "Don't cry."
But all she can do is sob, though now not from fright, but from the overwhelming relief and gratitude that safety brings. Soon they subside, and in his arms, protected from the anger of the skies, she falls asleep.
Her dreams swirl in her mind, vague and intangible, and when she awakes, she forgets them all. It's not raining anymore, and she's not wet. Sitting up, she looks around with wide eyes, and finds herself within a little hollow surrounded by trees. Through the treetops, the sky is blue, as if the storm had never been there, and for a moment Snow wonders if she had dreamed it.
The leaves rustle beneath her as she gets to her feet. Her legs are wobbly. Glancing around, she searches for the huntsman. Had she dreamed him, too? A wave of loneliness washes over her, and tears sting her eyes.
Then she sees him. He's lying on his side a few feet away against the hollow wall; the textured brown of his cloak had hidden him.
Joy fills the little one's heart, and in spite of her shaky steps, she hurries over to him and drops down to her knees beside him, resting her hand on his broad arm.
Yes, he's asleep. His chest rises and falls with each breath. Reaching over, Snow carefully pushes back his hood to see his face.
He'd always reminded her of a bear, an effect especially amplified by his unkempt brown hair and close cut, scruffy beard. He has thick eyebrows, too, and Snow knew that if she ever saw a bear, it would remind her of the huntsman.
She smiles, staring at him, making sure he's really there. All together the loneliness is gone.
Patting her hand on his bearded cheek, she whispers, "It's morning!"
A moment passes before he stirs, eyebrows first. They twitch into a frown, and then his eyes squeeze tight, and finally open. Snow smiles at him when his gaze swivels toward her.
"It's morning." She repeats.
He just blinks at her, and grunts. Shifting, he pushes himself up. Snow scoots back; he really is big as a bear, she thinks, looking up at him from her place on the ground beside him.
He looks down at her, inspecting her before asking, "Are you all right?"
Snow bobs her head up and down. "I was scared, but I'm not anymore."
This makes him look longer, and there's something in his tree trunk colored eyes that makes her frown.
"Were you scared, too?"
Instead of answering, the huntsman shifts his gaze. He reaches into his cloak to his belt, and slowly slides his long hunting knife out of its sheathe. She'd seen it before, once, when she'd gone by his hut with her nanny and he was using it to skin a rabbit. Now he grasps the hilt, and with a glance at her, stabs it into the ground.
"No," He answers.
Snow smiles. "Thank you for finding me."
"You're welcome," And a smile makes a tiny curve in his beard. He puts a hand on her shoulder. "You can't go home, now, Princess."
Somehow she knew this, so she just nods, her smile fading a little. "Where can I go?" But more importantly, "Will you come with me?"
"I will take you to a safe place," He says. "But I cannot stay."
"Will you visit?"
He hesitates. "We'll see. Now come."
He stands, towering over Snow White even as she shuffles to her own feet. She grabs his hand before he can walk away, worrying that his long legs would carry him away faster than she could run, and thus the two set off.