They come like whispers from the trees. Men from shadow. A band of outlaws. Come to plunder the royals who have only just arrived in this realm for the first time in almost thirty years. At least, that's what Regina assumes when she sees the cloth masks and drawn arrows.
"Tis a dangerous place you enter my friends."
Friends? Regina's eyebrows arch delicately. This man has some nerve. Or a death wish, neither she cares for at this point in time.
He lowers his mask and drops the hood on his cloak. Piercing blue eyes take them in, wise, inquisitive, and if Regina doesn't know any better, nosy. "But perhaps we are the ones who should be fearful, for both Snow White and the Queen have entered our forest. No one has seen or heard from either in years. Is it wise to assume you bring trouble in your midst?"
"How dare—" A calming hand finds its way to her shoulder. Regina looks over at Snow and sees the smallest of head shakes. She is jealous of that poised calm her step-daughter seems to emulate when they are in trouble. That doe-eyed innocence that causes her to pause before acting, give allowance, where Regina would simply act.
She turns back to the assuming stranger. She would show him what trouble was. Her hands already burn. Fire seething her veins. Power clawing for release. Waiting—wanting—to wipe the cocky smirk from his face.
"Please," Prince Charming begins, interrupting her silent, deadly musings. They do make quite the pair, Snow, so patient it's almost poetic, and her Charming, the charismatic leader. It's no wonder they found each other. Continue to find each other. "We want no trouble, only safe passage to our castle."
"Then you have indeed stumbled upon the right place." The outlaw turns with a crooked smile, gesturing widely with his arms. Drawing in a breath, as if they should bow down in reverence of the dirt they stand in. "Welcome my friends," he says, "to Sherwood Forest."
It is after hours of trudging behind a band of grimy men that Regina considers the Saviour's partiality for jeans and high boots. Without a carriage to transport her, a gown of this magnitude is just a nuisance and she wishes to just poof it away and find herself in something akin to sweats, but that would mean acknowledging the world and the life she has just lost and that she cannot not do. Not only for her sake, but for Snow's. These thoughts put her in a sour mood.
"I don't know why you've enlisted the help of criminals to get back to our castle," she says. She's irritated and hungry and has sweat more than a Queen ever should in her lifetime. The trees grow thick around them, the trail steep, and all the while it appears they are turning in circles, being led on a chase by a band of fools. Maybe it was them who were the fools then, to have agreed to this in the first place.
"They are not criminals, Regina." Snow's voice is quiet, her eyes darting, afraid some sudden offence might cause the band of ragged men to toss them out.
Regina gestures to the man up front, the leader it seems. The one who speaks and whistles and gives orders with a flick of his wrist. She watches the men disappear and reappear between trees at his wishes. Scouts she presumes, much like the ones Charming continuously sends out, though they tend to take longer and longer to find their way back to the group. She watches the leader of these merry men again. He smiles and nods and it feels very calculated, like he knows he's being watched. "He is a thief," she whispers hoarsely.
Snow sighs, one of her forlorn and painfully annoying sounds. To make matters worse she reaches for Regina's hand and squeezes it between her own. "I was not very different from him once." This does nothing to assure Regina. "Besides, we've been gone a long time. The Enchanted Forest is a different place than we remember."
Regina hums as she considers this. The place they called home for all those years felt no different to her. She could sense the majesty and magic of the place. It may be full of all sorts of forgotten creatures and mislead people, but this place remained as it always had, ancient and enchanted. She feels it in the depths of her feet, coursing up through her veins.
She cuts across the caravan with her eyes once again, gaze lingering on the fair-haired leader with the bow strapped to his back. He's watching her from under his hood. And now that he's been caught, he smiles. The gesture freezes her for a moment as she stares, stunned. His smile is breathtaking. The dimples in his cheeks deep. His chin wide and strong. She can feel a blush. A stupid, unprovoked rush of blood to her cheeks and she swears she sees him laugh.
She turns away, silent annoyance beading at the base of her throat. She does not wish to talk to Snow or to stare at the stranger any longer. But one of the two she can't avoid, and she wonders silently who this Robin Hood really is.
And why his smile has her heart beating wildly.
It is nearly nightfall when they finally stop and the outlaw camp is still nowhere in sight. A day's journey yet, she overhears.
Gods she misses her car.
And her mansion.
And everything else this world seems to be missing, most of all Henry. She would trade it all just to have him back in her arms. To feel his face between her hands and run her fingers through his hair, insisting he get it cut. And watch as he struggles with his math homework, waiting for the inevitable moment when he asks her to help. To see him smile. And to hear I love you fall from his lips as she turns out his lights before bed.
She would trade her heart for that in an instant. Make a deal with the devil.
While contemplating such a deal she stands awkwardly, watching people bustle around her. People who seem to be at ease, knowing exactly what to do as night falls and blue becomes navy inked with flickering stars. She missed the stars of this world. The quiet peace of the night, and when she looks up she is content, until the grumbles of tired people who are hungry for a meal they cannot prepare and fighting over sleeping arrangements reaches her ears, and suddenly she's very much out of place. In the way. She uses the grumbling chaos of the moment to make an escape. She wanders a little ways, peeking back over her shoulder. No one would notice, nor would they mind if she slipped away for awhile. She wants time to think. To understand. To just miss Henry without Snow looking worried or concerned or heartbroken, because he is her family too. And Regina must come to terms with that now too, they are a family. Strange and mixed up and not always understanding, but a family. Through blood. Through love. Through everything.
Regina has stopped on the edge of a ravine, overlooking a deep, dark lake. It is not without reason that she has stopped. She crosses her arms and twists her lips, still undecided on a smirk or a frown. "Is there a reason you insist on following me?"
"Pretty ladies shouldn't wander alone."
She looks over her shoulder to find the thief. Robin Hood. She is not surprised to see him. She's sensed him for a while now, despite his quiet footfalls and shadow like movements. "I am not afraid," she tells him.
"There are things that wander the night alongside you, Milady. Darkness you cannot see."
His words are not meant to scare, at least she doesn't think so, and either way she is not frightened by his words or his tone or the fact that his bow is drawn. "Darkness does not worry me as it does you. I am the Evil Queen."
He grins under the stars and it is just as bright as it had been earlier in the day. Just as deep and just as wide. His head tilts thoughtfully as he assess her, making a circle around her. The movement sends shivers up and down her spine. "Evil doesn't seem to become you here," he says finally, seemingly satisfied with his inspection.
"It did once," she says wryly. "I'm sure it will again." Her voice is saddened. "In time."
"Something's are lost to us in time. They cannot be what they once were." There is a silent wisdom to the words that Regina cannot argue because, for everything she knows, Henry is lost to her and they will never be what they once were because she had sacrificed the thing she loved most to save them all. With few words he escorts her back to her tent, the one Snow has made sure is ready for her. For she is still the Queen and it is assumed she still expects such things. The man bows low as they part. "Good night, Milady."
"Good night, thief." She leaves him at the mouth of the tent, with what she thinks is a smile still on his lips. She is confused by him and intrigued and immensely tired, too tired in fact to deliberate such confusing things, so she thinks sleep is the best solution to all her problems for one night.
Regina has barely removed her cloak, folding the heavy fur to the side of her sleeping roll when the first screams echo in the night. What now? she thinks. The day has been long and tiresome enough.
She emerges to the smell of burnt linen and smoke. It is everywhere, engulfing the camp, thick and heavy on her lungs. It burns her eyes, ash and soot clouding her sight. There is chaos outside her tent and arrows spinning on the night air. They soar past her head, breaking time and space. The camp is under attack, she realizes. There are things that wander the night alongside you. What sorts of things, thief? she now wonders.
A set of heavy footsteps invade her space from behind. She is aware of the men, only men, but it still causes her fear, perhaps because they invade in the dead of night, in a camp full of woman and children, and the hair on the back of her neck is standing up, before she has even turned to face their slimy grins.
"Look who we've got here," says the gravely voice, that cuts like ice. "Why it's the Queen."
The blow to her back is what sends her to the ground. Sprawled out on her hands and knees she coughs.
Another to the side of her head sends her mind spinning. Angry hands grab for her waist, yanking her up and dragging her towards the trees.
"Regina!" a voice calls. It is deep and worried. The Prince has seen.
She makes to cry out but a crushing hand wraps around her windpipe. She struggles for breath, never mind to talk. There is only darkness where they take her, mouth gagged, hands bounds. No doubt they have cruel intentions waiting for her in the darkness of the night. If only she could keep her eyes open, remember how to work the magic that is springing at her fingertips, but her mind is fog and rain, and all is lost.
When she wakes it is to a rough slap across the face. The hours must have waned in the dark for the birds are up, twittering in the trees above, and it reminds her of Snow for a blinding moment before the pain sets in. The force of the slap sends her head spinning in the wrong direction, her ears ringing. The skin along her cheek is on fire, white and blistering. She feels the hot tears stream down her face.
But with the tears comes clarity, sudden and sure and a flaming ball of fire erupts from her bound hands, slamming into the chest of her first captor. The fire melts the bonds on her hands, frees her from her restraints. She pulls the gag from her mouth, tasting fire and salt and anger on her tongue.
She argues within herself now. She can kill these men. With thoughts and magic they will be no more, just another distant memory she longs to forget. They deserve it. For tonight alone, the attack on the camp, the damage they have caused there, the way they have treated her. She can take revenge for it all. Right now. But a still small voice halts her. Asks for pause. It is Henry, or disguised as such, speaking right in her ear, beginning for a chance.
Perhaps like her, these men deserve a second chance. Perhaps they have already taken it. Wasted it. But who is she to make that decision. A free woman. She is no longer their captive. With shaking legs she backs up from the two remaining men. Curious, dangerous expressions crossing their faces. "There doesn't need to be any more bloodshed," she says, still backing away, almost tripping on the body of the scalded man. "Just leave," she tells them, turning from them, praying they do the same. She keeps walking, head held high, between the trees, feeling disoriented and tired and scarred.
She walks briskly, as steadily as she can with weak knees and a throbbing heart. When she's put some distance between them she pauses for a breath, one to clear her mind, prepare her to transport herself back to the group. Finding people in a forest she knows very little of, concealed in a cloud of purple magic will be a task on its own, requiring all her will power. It is in this steadying moment that the arrow strikes her true, whistling between two bent birches. It drives beneath her rib cage, somewhere near a lung and she doubles over screaming. Her hands fly out, looking for stability, some way to starve off the pain, but the only thing she manages is to send fire back across the forest. She knows her aim is on target when the men scream their death, flesh falling from bone under the curse of her fire. She doesn't even flinch when they beg, can barely breathe for trying with the arrow cutting her so deep.
With the last of her strength she disappears under her magic, searching for a clear landing spot. She does not know where she falls, does not care enough to look. The pain is too much to handle out here on her own, and for a moment she wonders if death will be the cure she seeks. The balm for her bruised heart, the salve for her tainted soul, the remedy to her sorrow. The one escape from a love she can never have again.
Henry, she thinks as the world fades to black once more. The break of dawn happens just as her eyes close and there's warmth and light behind her eyes and she thinks that this indeed is better than anything she might have otherwise hoped for. Alone in the dark she is warm and Henry is here, in her mind, and maybe she feels happy.
Or maybe death is simply making a fool of her.
For she is a villain and she can never be happy.
So . . . reviews are always nice :D