The Queen is ill, and rumours circulate the castle, spreading like wildfire; some say she fell into the stream by accident, others say she was trying to commit suicide due to the loss of her son. Regina knows nothing of these rumours, having spent the past hours tossing in bed, sometimes thrashing violently, within the grasp of a burning fever. She knows only the excruciating sensation of being enclosed within Hades’ personal hell, surrounded by flames burning with the fury of a thousand suns.
She knows nothing of the chaos ensured when the search party arrived back at the castle in the early hours of dawn, both woman and child swaddled in blankets – her on the Prince’s steed and the boy on his father’s horse. She knows nothing of the worry that encased the Prince’s mind, the silent prayers he made on her behalf, when he held her against his chest, cold and pale in the moonlight. She knows nothing of the Princess’s lack of sleep and constant pacing, nor her demanding the physician to save her stepmother’s life. She knows even less of the pleas and whimpers fallen from her own lips while in the throes of her nightmares, of words that incited expressions of guilt and pity from those close enough to hear, looks that if she were conscious of them would make her cringe with discomfort.
When she wakes, she finds herself in her own chambers, the sound of running footsteps fading in her ears. The air is cool, soft rays falling across the room. Her throat is parched, but she can barely lift her head from the pillow, much less find water to quench her thirst. She exhales, trying to clear the remaining vestiges of sleep clouding her mind, when she remembers.
The forest. The stream. The little boy.
Footsteps echo in the corridor, more than one person this time. A man with a weathered face and colourless eyes lays a hand on her forehead. She inhales sharply and turns her head away, partly to break contact but more so to hide the spike of anxiety shooting through her at the unfamiliar touch.
“The Queen’s fever has broken,” the stranger says. His voice is curiously deep, as if it emerges from within the ground. “But she will need much rest to recover, as well as a sufficient diet, to build up her immune system. If it pleases Your Highness, I’ll have the prescription sent to the kitchen for preparation. They will have the necessary herbs to aid the Queen in her recovery.”
“That will do just fine, Eli. Thank you.”
The rest of the conversation fades out as sleep claims her once more. The next time she awakens, it is to a gentle shaking and a voice sounding suspiciously like Snow calling her name.
“Here, Regina, drink this. It’ll make you feel better.”
The herbal concoction is pungent and bitter, and threatens to make its way back up her throat. She shuts her eyes, fighting back the nausea. She will not suffer the embarrassment of a Queen who can’t even keep her medication down. When the wave of nausea passes, Snow helps her back down onto the bed. She lets out her breath in a sigh, exhaustion weighing her eyelids down. “Roland?” she manages, voice barely above a whisper.
“Fine, and bugging his father to go out to play.” She hears a smile in the princess’s voice. “I don’t know what you did or how you did it, Regina, but it’s like that little boy never fell into the water at all.”
Autumn is about to descend upon the Enchanted Forest. The trees on the verge of changing colours, and on the wind is the sweet scent of the blossoming flowers in the fall. After being cooped up in her chambers for more than a week, Regina wants nothing more than to venture out, even if it is but for a short walk outdoors, it is better than nothing, and so, she does, miraculously not bumping into anyone on her way there. Not that anyone would have prevented her from accomplishing her will.
Until she reaches the gardens, where she sees him.
Irritation flares. She stiffens, pointedly ignoring him as she steps past him into the gardens.
“Will Your Majesty spare me a moment of her time?”
It is not his plea, but a sudden wave of light-headedness that gives her pause, causing her to sway on her feet. Blindly, she reaches out for something, anything, to keep from toppling over. When his hand grasps her arm, she wants nothing more than to shake it away, but finding a lack of strength to do so, she squeezes her eyes shut instead, willing herself to stay conscious. His fingers tighten on her arm, holding her up, and she finds herself grudgingly appreciative of his assistance. When she’s certain once more of her ability to stand on her feet, he steps away, allowing distance between them, and it isn’t right that such a simple act should evoke the mixture of conflicting emotions within her.
“What do you want?” she asks shortly as she attempts to regain her composure.
“I merely wish to thank you for saving Roland.”
She stares at him. “I didn’t do it for you.”
His eyes are the colour of Daniel’s, she realizes with a start. As soon as the thought comes to her, she drops her gaze. How absurd to be comparing a common thief to the man she loved.
“Perhaps it’s time you take better care of your child,” she adds, an edge to her voice.
He does not bother fending off her accusation, but nods instead, which surprises her. Snow mentioned that the thief had been out on patrol that day, leaving one of the Merry Men to watch over his son. Roland’s evading his caretaker hadn’t been the result of Robin’s lack of care, but of a child seeking his own will. She ought to know. After all, it wasn’t so long ago when Henry stole a credit card and ran away to Boston on his own.
Still, one doesn’t always manage to regain what one loses; the thief ought to learn that.
“The boy is all right?” she asks.
“Thankfully, yes. He suffered no ill side effects. He would like to thank you personally, if Your Majesty permits. He’s been asking to meet you, but we heard you were battling a fever. I promised him, perhaps, when you were feeling well enough, he could drop by to say thank you.” His lips twitch, threatening dimples. “He’s very excited.”
She cannot help the pleased curving of her mouth. She would not say no to seeing Roland again. She lifts her gaze to the thief, noticing how his eyes dip to linger at her smile, and a flush comes to her face. But she is a Queen, not some starry-eyed seventeen-year-old girl.
She turns away, hiding the redness of her cheeks. “Roland shall have what he wants,” she says, keeping her tone neutral as she sweeps past him. “I will see him at dinner tonight.”
Torches flicker on the walls, with a fire roaring in its usual place behind the Royals’ table. Voices amplified by the acoustics of the castle, echoing and pounding in her head. The Great Hall at suppertime is more than what she bargained for, though she can tell it pleases the Charmings that she is eating with them instead of holing up in her room. Were it not for Roland, she would most certainly be back in her chambers instead of putting herself through suffering another public appearance.
“Regina, you’re not eating.”
Yet another reason to have dinner brought to her chambers. She would have her meal – or in this case, not have it – if not in peace, then at least in blissful silence.
“Enough with the mothering, Snow,” she says, reaching for her goblet of wine. “Last time I checked, it’s still my body, and free will does exist in the Enchanted Forest.”
A crease forms between Snow’s brows. “We’re only concerned about you. You’ve barely had anything to eat at breakfast, you didn’t show up at all for lunch and weren’t in your chambers when we went looking for you. Thank goodness Robin had the good sense to—”
Regina grinds her teeth, irate. “The thief. Of course he would go running to you the moment he found out where I was. Dull-witted peasant.”
“Hardly. You fell into a stream and nearly drowned, Regina. You were delirious for nearly 48 hours and bed-ridden for almost a week. Did you think we wouldn’t panic when you went missing?”
“I didn’t fall in,“ she corrects. "I jumped in.” As if realizing she’s made it sound worse, she straightens, adding loftily, “To save his son.”
“Regardless, we just want you safe.”
"I’m perfectly capable of protecting myself, thank you very much.”
“Recent events prove otherwise,” David mumbles from his seat, and she glares at him. He opens his mouth as if to defend himself when Snow places a well-aimed nudge in his side, and he stays silent, shoving a spoonful of potato and meat stew into his mouth.
“Point is,” Snow continues as if her husband hadn’t so rudely interrupted. “You’re part of our family, Regina. We care for you, and all we want for you is—” she pauses. “Is to be happy.”
“Snow, if you are about to let loose with another one of your hope speeches again, I swear to God—”
The conversation comes to a halt. There, with his mop of curls barely showing above the table, stands Roland in his brown tunic and pants tucked into his boots, a bunch of flowers in his hands as he shifts nervously from one foot to another.
“Roland,” Snow greets with an encouraging smile. “How are you today?”
“Very well, Your Highness,” the boy replies with a form of a bow, which is more of a stiff dip of his head, an unusual, but somewhat humorous gesture coming from a four-year-old. As David chuckles out loud, Roland blinks at the Prince, eyes darting from the blond-headed royal to the ladies. “F-for Your M’jesty,” he says, stuttering slightly, stretching out his arms in the direction of Regina as he presents his collection of wildflowers. “Thank you for saving me. I am forever in-indeb-indebt—” he pauses, frowning.
“Indebted?” Snow offers, a twinkle in her eyes.
The little boy smiles with relief. “Yes,” he says with another half-bow. “Thank you.” He glances up, an expression of stunned awe and pleasure crossing his face as Regina takes the colourful bouquet from him.
“Looks like the Queen has just gained herself a little knight,” David remarks once the three of them are alone again at their table. He nods in the direction of the Merry Men’s table, where Roland had returned only a few seconds ago. Now back in his father’s embrace, the boy is stiff and formal no longer. He wraps his arms around his father’s neck, his shy gaze on Regina, and when his mouth curves up, she can’t help the responding smile that spreads across her face.