I ride up to the queen's castle on the horse Rumplestiltskin is letting me use to take me back and forth from the castle to his. If I'm lucky, our plan will work, and I will be able to discover the Queen's secrets and use them against her. From what I heard about her from the people my family did business with, it's time for a new ruler.
As I ride I look at the people walking the streets. Some look half-starved while others are simply skin and bones. Their eyes are hollow, as if they no longer have anything to live for, or they have stopped living years ago. Sorrow and pity for these people blooms like a deadly flower inside my heart. No one should live like this, and I will be the one to make sure that happens.
A guard stops me once I reach the gate.
"Name your purpose."
I'm tempted to say that I am here to overthrow the Queen, but I hold my tongue and tell him the tale Rumplestiltskin told me to say: I was an orphan with no means of supporting myself and I was hoping to seek work. Somehow the guard did not see anything suspicious about me, or I was getting better at lying. Either way, he let me in. Once I am inside I am lead by another soldier towards the stables where I dismount and am guided through the castle.
I look at the high ceilings, the dark stone walls, and the windows that look to a dismal world. I feel as if I am in a luxurious tomb as I walk towards the unknown. I only pray that my mother is not here. She is light and warmth like the sun; a place like this would only kill her. Like her husband's betrayal.
A man with grey hair and clothes of black velvet stops me and the soldier.
"What is she here for?" the man asks.
"She is here for work," the soldier says.
"Has she a reference?"
The "reference" is part of a deal Rumplestiltskin made with a wealthy noble in exchange for a potion of unknown contents. The man took it and looked it over. He seems like a kind man, why is he here in such a dismal place?
He looks up at me with a soft look in his eyes. Judging by his gaze, I'm not sure if he sees me anymore, instead a piece of his past long gone is most likely in his thoughts.
"Follow me," he finally says, and I do. We stop at a large door that could lead to anywhere from a suite to a prison.
"Wait here," the man says and he leaves me standing alone.
Fear rears its ugly head and feasts upon my heart. Where would he need to go? Did he notice something in the letter? Did one of the guards sense something in my actions? Have I been found out?
My fear and dread numbed me to the cold that seemed to emanate from the walls themselves. I know that if I have been found out, then I will surely be put to death for treason. It would be the noose for me, or the executioner's blade.
A rough hand grabs my shoulder and drags me away. I am sure that I am being lead to a dark cell to await my fate. When I look to see the profile of my captor, my blood turns to ice. It's Maxim, and I know that he is not going to imprison me. My fate will be far worse.
"Think you could run from me, eh? I made a deal with your father and I intend to get what is mine."
I will die before he touches me. He must have a weapon on him in case of an ambush. He must, or I will suffer for the rest of my life.
"What is going on?"
Maxim stops and I nearly run into him. I am glad that for now I seem safe, but for how long?
A woman in a dark purple and black gown that seemed to shimmer in a certain light stood there, looking at Maxim and then at me. Hair that is dark and short, ruby lips that must certainly tantalize any man and eyes as black as night bore into my soul as if to condemn me for even my most insignificant sin. Maxim stood there facing her, still holding me in his deadly grip. From the look in his eyes I knew that this must be the Queen.
"Maxim," she spoke, "I will not ask you again, what is going on?"
"Your Majesty, I was…I was only…"
"Why are you treating this girl as if she were a prisoner? Has she done something that warrants her to be punished?"
"As a matter of fact," Maxim said, his eyes sweeping over my body in a way that sickened me, "she has. You see, your Majesty, I made deal with her father a few days ago, one that we both agreed upon. I was to speak to you about his wife becoming a seamstress to you, and since the woman is now living as one in your castle, his daughter, who you see before you, is now in my possession. Unfortunately, she has not accepted her fate and escaped me once I came to collect her. She has eluded me until now, and since she is my property I shall-"
"You're property? Since when have I allowed my people to become mere objects?"
Maxim is silent, and words he would have said were taken from him with that single question.
"If she does not wish to belong to you," continued the Queen, "then I believe you should respect her decision."
"I would have hired her mother without you brining her to me, so whatever deal you made with her father is worthless. She will live in the suite I have prepared for her mother, and if you ever dare to lay a hand on her, I will show you the same mercy you give to the men you've met in battle. Now release her before I replace you."
He did as the Queen bid him and let me go.
"Now go do your duty and train your men. From what I have seen, they need it."
"Yes, your Majesty."
With a bow to his Queen and a single hateful glance towards me he walks away. I look to the Queen, the woman who not only saved me but is willing to go to great lengths to destroy the happiness of anyone she desires to harm. How can one person be like two sides of a coin?
"Thank you, your Majesty," I manage to say, falling to the ground with both gratitude and dread. From what I have heard, she can easily strike me down with her dark magic if I displease her.
"There is no need, my dear. Maxim is a good soldier, but he is a dreadful human being. Now, shall I bring you to your mother?"
"Yes, your Majesty. I will be forever in your debt." As soon as the words have escaped my mouth I want to take them back. I have no with to be indebted to this cruel yet kind woman, who I know I shall deceive very soon.
"Call me Regina, and there is no debt. I know what it is like to lose someone you love, and to be betrayed by a loved one."
I am not sure if she is only trying to manipulate me into obeying her and thus creating a new debt, but the look in her eyes told me that she is telling the truth.
I walk beside her as she leads me though the castle. I know that her kindness will not always reveal itself to me, so I stay silent and will remain so until the Queen, Regina, bids me to. This and other things I have learned to do to please the Queen so that I may go by unnoticed when a secret of hers or a plan is revealed in my presence. Although, with her knowing who I am now, there may be a chance that she will trust me enough to confide in me. Either way I will be able to get what I learn to Rumplestiltskin.
The Queen stops and opens a door, revealing a suite of such grandeur that at first I believe I am dreaming. When I see my mother creating a beautiful gown of black fabric, I am sure that I am.
She looks in the direction of my voice and I can see the color drain from her face.
It is then that I know that I am not dreaming, that my mother is real and is before me. I do not hesitate and run into my mother's waiting arms. I weep for so long that I am sure there are no more tears to cry.
The Queen leaves us and I tell my mother how I was able to escape Maxim without telling her about Rumplestiltskin. It does not matter to her, all she cares about is that I am safe. When I ask her about Father and Aurelius, she tells me that my father is gone and so is my brother, who went into the forest to find me.
When my mother and I begin work on the Queen's gown, I use the time to write a letter to Rumplestiltskin when her back is turned. I use the paper he gave me that will send the words I write to him from a similar piece of paper. It's not long, just a short sentence.
It has begun.