Regina had been the first to rise. She had risen early- a little too early perhaps, for the sun had not fully risen yet and the others remained sleeping heavily on the forest floor. Getting up to her feet, Regina decided to take a stroll around the area, hoping to find some of the berries Red had picked the night before.
She felt good today. She had slept well and the journey so far was going along very smoothly, much more than she'd originally thought. It also helped that Belle and Red were nice people, Regina figured. She still wasn't sure where she stood with Red. They hadn't hit it off at the start but last night's conversation held promise for their relationship as…allies? She wasn't exactly sure what to call the two girls she'd been teamed up with spontaneously. As for Belle, how could one help liking her? She was so warm and kind and accepting. Regina recalled the way Belle had fretted over her when she'd returned to the inn trembling from the crisp night air. The way she seemed so genuinely worried had caught Regina off guard.
It wasn't the first time Regina nearly caught cold from not wearing her cape while she wandered around past sundown. One time, when she was about six or seven, Regina had snuck out of the house to see her pony. She had heard his crying from her bedchamber and could not fall asleep with the thought of him in distress fresh on my mind. So she scurried off out of the palace and visited him in the stables, stroking his hazelnut mane until he finally quieted down and fell asleep. Not long after, Regina has fallen asleep too. She woke up the next morning feeling as though she'd been buried under a pile of snow. All she wore was her silk nightgown and matching slippers- neither of which had provided any warmth or protection from the cold whatsoever. Because it was still early, Regina decided she'd be able to sneak back into her room without anyone taking notice of her late night escapade. She was greatly mistaken; however, and realized as much when her mother's domineering figure was the first thing to greet her on her way from to her bedroom.
"You look ill, Regina. Your skin is as white as the winter snow. And your lips have lost their color. Oh- are you trembling too?"
Cora's tone was so sweet it made Regina feel sick to her stomach. Like she'd eaten too many mint candies at once.
"I feel fine, mother. Really."
"Well you don't look fine, dear."
"I just woke up."
"So did I, but do you see a single hair of mine out of place? Am I waltzing about in my night dress for all the servants to see? Honestly dear, if it takes you this long to look presentable perhaps you should rise before the sun itself."
"And the next time I find you lying on a pile of hay will be the last time you ever see that horse of yours again. Princesses don't let their hair touch the ground. Understood?"
Regina began walking ahead towards her room- the place where she'd finally be safe and far away from her mother's disapproving eyes, until she was stopped by the sound of her mother clearing her throat. Regina slowly spun around.
"Have my ears failed me, or did I not hear a proper apology for your misconduct?"
"I'm sorry mother, it won't happen again."
"Of course it won't. I'll see you at breakfast, dear."
Regina began walking as quickly as she could now, picking up the pace more and more with every step, so much so that by the time she reached her bedchamber she was already running. Quietly closing the door to avoid being discovered, Regina collapsed on her bed and brushed away the hot tears that came spilling from her almond shaped, brown eyes. She buried her face in one of the decorative pillows lining her bed, praying for at least one day of peace where her mother wouldn't reprimand her for being inadequate and her father was actually there to protect her when she so desperately needed him.
Stumbling upon a bushel of blueberries, Regina picked and picked until none more could fit into the palm of her hand. She began walking back to the campsite, eating one blueberry at a time in order to prolong their permanence. The truth was enjoyed being in the woods. They were the place where she always sought shelter from her life at the palace- from her mother. The woods and the stables. Those were her real homes. No palace full of servants and gold and windows as high as towers could ever change that. Not for her anyway.
By the time Regina reached the camp site everyone and their horses had already woken from their slumber. Belle was tracing a path with her index finger on the map the witch had given them while Red fed Penelope.
"Regina! We were wondering where you'd run off to," Belle said when she heard the girl approaching. The dried leaves that covered the forest floor made walking quietly impossible.
"I didn't go very far," she shrugged, "just got hungry."
"Belle was showing me where we are on the map. The village isn't very far, we'll be there in no time," Red said walking over to where the other two girls were seated on logs around the now put out fire.
"Good. With enough luck we'll be in and out of there in just a few hours. I don't think finding what we're looking for will prove too difficult," Regina said with unmistakable confidence and determination.
"No, I don't think it will either. Milk of the purple poppy is fairly easy to come by so long as you're looking in the right places," said Belle.
"I think Granny uses the milk for her skin. She pays a merchant from Brightblade to bring some to her every month," Red recounted.
Suddenly, the sound of hooves pounding on dirt and rocks went from faint to loud enough for all three girls to also able to distinguish the voices of several men having an animated discussion.
"Quick, get your horses and hide behind the bushes!" Belle cried.