The Heart Of A Wolf
Regina first meets her as she rides Rocinante through the forest. Her mother has left that morning, so her father gives her permission to ride as long as she pleases. She forgoes the open fields that she takes her lessons on, and enters the forest that surrounds her father’s lands. Cora’s stinging lashes of magic and the feeling of being suspended helplessly in the air still lingers from the previous night, her punishment for disappointing her mother. They’re becoming more common these days, and each punishment seems harsher.
She dearly loves her father, but he has no backbone when it comes to Cora. When Regina is punished, he looks away or leaves her to her mother’s violent ministrations. Regina wonders if he soothes his conscience with the fact that the magic leaves no visible marks. Only marks that reach down to her heart and scar her soul.
Regina blinks away her tears, and focuses on the trail she has discovered into the forest. It is narrow, and deer likely use it as they travel, but she finds it challenging, with enough low branches and fallen logs to keep her attention. As the forest around her becomes denser, and some of the broad-leafed trees give way to pines and other needled trees, she forces down her anger at her mother and the betrayal she feels from her father. She bends lower, closer to Rocinante’s back, and the air that whips through her hair and flaps and snaps at the tail of her riding coat also dries her eyes.
Ahead she sees a large tree trunk, freshly fallen across the trail, its bark not yet matted with lichen and fungus. She urges Rocinante faster, and as he nears the log, he leaps, and this is when she feels most alive, soaring through the air for these precious seconds as if she were a bird. He lands gracefully, and she feels the leaves of a low branch slap her face as the trees close in even further.
They ride through the morning, and she knows she should stop to eat the lunch she has packed in her saddlebag, but the sight of a massive tree lying across the trail ahead catches her attention. For a brief moment she feels a frisson of fear at how tall the fallen trunk is, but she knows that Rocinante can make the leap.
It is only as he clears the top of the tree that she realizes the mistake of making that leap. She sees a flash of red, and realizes they are about to land on a young woman in a bright red cloak who had been kneeling next to a wicker basket.
“Look out!” She shouts, and the woman’s head snaps toward her.
Regina can see the girl’s eyes widen, and is relieved when she throws herself backwards, sending her basket tumbling. She reigns in Rocinante after they land, and trots him back toward the woman. As she nears, she slows him to a stop, and quickly dismounts and fastens him to a nearby branch.
She rushes over to the girl, who is slowly sitting up from where she had thrown herself. “I am so very sorry; I didn’t expect anyone to be out here. Are you injured?”
“I’m alright,” the girl says in a light voice as she accepts Regina’s hand and uses it to help her stand.
Regina holds her arm as she catches her balance, and takes in the sight of her. She looks younger than Regina, perhaps sixteen years of age to Regina’s own barely-eighteen. She wears brown leather boots, quite similar to Regina’s own, though they are a much rougher cut of leather. A deep green corset covers a white peasant blouse above her long brown skirt, but what catches Regina’s eye the most is the beautiful red brocade cloak that the girl wears.
The girl smiles at her with full pink lips, and Regina feels something inside her flutter. Warm green eyes, the color of the crashing waves on the coast Regina’s father had once taken her to, flick up to meet Regina’s own brown eyes. “Thank you,” the girl says.
Regina allows a thin smile to her lips, though she feels it tremble slightly. “Don’t thank me, dear, I could have killed you!”
The girl squeezes Regina’s hand that is still holding her own. “Really, it’s okay,” she says with a pretty laugh. “You couldn’t have seen me, and I got to learn that I probably should avoid the trails while I’m foraging.”
Regina nods slightly, and this time the smile on her lips is more confident.
“Everyone calls me Red,” the girl says suddenly.
“Oh,” the word comes softly from Regina. “I am Regina. It is nice to meet you, Red.”
Red lifts her hand up to her long brown hair – Regina thinks it may be even longer than her own – and brushes at it hands gloved in red leather, sending twigs and bits of leaves that had caught in it during her tumble, fluttering to the forest floor. “Do I look a fright?”
Regina shook her head. “You are slightly dusty, but you look fine. Just let me…” she trails off, and takes off her riding gloves and helps the girl pick a few leaves from her hair that she had missed.
“There, better,” Regina says, stepping back.
Red looks shyly at her, and then her eyes drift over Regina’s shoulder. Regina sees a pained look flit across Red's face, and a whimper escapes her lips. “Oh, no,” she groans.
Regina turns to follow her gaze, and feels guilt pool in her stomach when she sees the wicker basket the girl had been using was upended. Berries and mushrooms lay on the forest floor, and she realizes that Rocinante crushed most of them beneath his hooves when they landed.
“I’m sorry,” she gasps, a hand rising to her lips as she turns back to Red. “I’ve ruined your entire day, haven’t I?”
Red sighed, still looking mournfully at the crushed goods that she had likely spent all morning collecting. “It’s alright, really, I… my granny won’t be happy about it, but at least I didn’t get squished by a horse,” she says, trying and failing to smile brightly.
Regina rests her hand on the girl’s arm. “Come, I’ll help you gather more, and your granny won’t have to know.”
“Really?” Red asks, her eyes scanning Regina’s face hopefully.
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Okay, thank you, Regina,” Red says, resting her own hand over Regina’s.
She lets go moments later, and then shifts her hands onto her hips, surveying the damage to her harvest. “Right, um, have you ever gone mushrooming?”
Regina shook her head. “I can’t say that I have.”
Red chews on her lip for a moment. “Okay, I’ll gather the mushrooms, because some of them out here can be poisonous if you haven’t learned what to look out for, and many of those look similar to good mushrooms. Could you gather berries?” At Regina’s nod, she continues. “The wood strawberries are ripe, and there are many patches around here, and many of the blackberries have turned, so if you could gather those?”
“I believe I can handle that,” Regina smiles, and tucks her gloves into the pockets of her riding coat.
They talk as they go to work, the basket in between them as they kneel in the forest soil.
“Do you come into this forest often, Regina?” Red asks as she spots a clump of small white mushrooms near a rotted-out log.
“When I am able to. I believe this is the farthest I have ventured in, though.”
Red nods to her, and gestures to the east where the forest becomes denser. “I live in the forest in a cabin with my granny. It’s beautiful out here, but we’re half a day’s walk from the nearest town, so I don’t get to meet many people, unless she sends me into town to buy something. So, it really is nice that I’ve met you.” She cocks her head as she places several of the mushrooms in the basket. “Where do you live?”
Regina points in the opposite direction that Red had gestured. “I live on the land just to the west of the forest, with my mother and father.”
“Ah, so, on Prince Henry’s land? Where – uh, what is it that –“
Regina chuckles as Red stumbles over the question, and takes pity on her. “Prince Henry is my father.”
“Oh!” Red gasps, her eyes going wide. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, Your Majesty, or is it Your Grace? Your Highness? Should I have curtsied?”
Regina leans over the basket, and rests her hand on the girl’s knee. “No, please, you were perfect. I have enough of the bowing and honorifics at home, it gets quite tiresome. It is… refreshing talking with you like this. Just call me Regina, and no curtseying.”
For a moment, Regina wishes she had not told the girl who her father was, but she has found herself unable to even wiggle around the truth while talking to her. Her fears that Red might now begin to treat her differently are wiped away the next moment when Red nods, and takes a deep breath, the look in her eyes the same as it was before the revelation.
The basket is filling quickly as both young women work, and when Red has enough mushrooms, she scoots the basket over and kneels down next to Regina, joining her in gathering berries.
Regina eats a berry for every ten she picks, and finds the blackberries quite juicy. Red glances over at her as she pops another into her mouth, and she winks at Regina and does the same with a strawberry. They talk about simple things – things they enjoy – but do not speak for long about their families. Regina wonders if Red is as dissatisfied with her life as she is.
Red is fascinated by Rocinante, and Regina tells her how her father picked him as a babe and gave him to Regina for her birthday, and how he helped her raise and train him. Red tells Regina of warm winter nights curled up next to the fireplace in her grandmother’s snow-covered cabin, and the sense of wonder she feels on the nights she hears the forest’s wolves howling together.
As the basket reached its capacity, Regina can already feel her stomach has been stuffed full with her snacking. She is thankful her mother will not be home, as she does not think she will be able to eat dinner. Regina glances at Red, and finds herself staring at the other girl, whose lips are no longer pink, but stained red from strawberries.
Red seems to sense her gaze, and turns her head fully to look at Regina. Regina sees her eyes drop down to Regina’s own lips, and a giggle escapes Red’s lips, making Regina realize her own are likely stained purple by her stomach-full of blackberries. Regina’s lips spread into a wide smile and she finds herself chuckling right along with her.
Warmth bubbles in her chest, and it is as if their laughter is contagious, each setting the other off until they practically collapse against one another, laughing breathlessly. Regina isn’t even sure what they’re laughing about, but she doesn’t bother to think about it – she feels even more free here in this moment than when riding Rocinante.
Their laughing fit dies down eventually, leaving them red-faced and breathless, lying on their backs. Regina’s arm is intertwined with Red’s, and she isn’t certain why this feels so good, but she doesn’t dream of complaining.
“This has been the most fun I’ve had my whole life,” Regina admits aloud, lolling her head to the side to look at Red.
The other girl glances down shyly, toward their arms. “M-me too. I don’t exactly get to meet many people, and most of the ones I do are older than me, or little children.”
Regina nods slowly, “Yes, I know how that is. Most of the time I’m meeting older suitors asking for my hand,” she rolls her eyes. “And the few girls my age are either my maids, or obnoxious daughters of local lords or my cousins. It’s quite a chore to even talk to them without wanting to pull out my hair. With you… it’s been relaxing. I’m very happy I met you, Red.”
Red grins jubilantly, and rolls on her side to pull Regina into a tight hug. When she lets go, Regina is blushing and happy. As evening approaches, they bid one another farewell, and promise to meet again in a week. Cora will be going to the capital each weekend, Regina knows, gaining influence among the other nobles, working toward making Regina into the queen that only Cora wants her to be.
They meet the next two weeks, earlier and in the morning, and they spend each day together romping through the woods. They pick berries again the first week, and Red begins to teach Regina about mushrooms, and how to tell them apart. Regina isn’t sure she’ll ever get it, especially after Red shows her a poisonous one that has the barest of visual differences from a safe one. Regina feels she’d be terrified of making a mistake and killing someone if she ever had to forage and cook with them.
By the second week, many of the berries have been eaten by the wildlife, and they merely snack on them as Red leads them on a hunt for a plant called bugbane. Red’s grandmother apparently spends her spare time making remedies and medicines that she sells in the village, or to people who come to her for special medicines. She needs the bugbane for a medicine to help with a woman who is having a difficult pregnancy. Regina enjoys every second of their hunt, and finds herself looking forward to the next week even as they part ways.
So it hurts the next week when she arrives at the spot they had first met, and Red is nowhere in sight. Minutes turn to hours, and still Red does not appear. Regina stands, sobbing into Rocinante’s fur, and wonders what she had done wrong, what she had done to drive her new friend away. And why it hurts so much.
She realizes then that she has been falling in love with this girl who has become her best friend. And that makes it hurt all the more as she remains until evening falls and she is forced to ride back in the dark, with only the distant howls of wolves to keep her company.
She considers not going the next week, but she needs to know, to see if Red has changed her mind on whatever had kept her from coming. When she nears the fallen log – she and Rocinante trot around it after that first day – she feels her heart bounce in her chest at the sight of Red’s beautiful cloak.
The girl is resting against a tree, and it appears she was sleeping. The noise of Regina’s arrival wakes her, and she is standing by the time Regina ties off her horse and races to her friend. She collides with Red, tacking her to the ground, her arms hugging her tightly as tears run unbidden down her cheeks.
“Red, oh Red, I was so worried that you wouldn’t be here. I’m sorry for whatever I said –“
Red squeezes her tightly and Regina’s next words disappear in a squeak of exhaled breath. “No, Regina, you said nothing wrong. I wanted to be here last week, but Granny would not let me leave the house. I tried to get even a few hours away, but she watched me like a hawk. It’s Wolfstime, and there have been several killings of livestock the last few months near the village. They say a large and vicious wolf prowls the area. This Wolfstime, Granny wouldn’t even let me set a foot outside, even to draw water from our well.”
“You… you did want to come?” Regina asks, her voice small and unsure.
“More than anything. You’re my best friend. Granny is getting worse, trying to control everything more and more. It’s so frustrating, especially around Wolfstime. Sometimes I feel like a rat in a trap,” Red sighs, and reaches up with a long-fingered hand to brush away one of Regina’s tears. “I should have told you, even if she usually isn’t that strict, so you weren’t worried.”
“I was,” Regina admits. “I stayed here until dark. I’m just glad that you are okay, and that we’re still friends.”
Red’s eyes softened at her admission of how long she had remained here. “Let’s promise, we’ll never do leave for good. We’ll always come back.”
“I swear it,” Regina says solemnly as she grabs Red’s hands and holds onto them tightly.
The next week is almost worse than Red’s absence. Her mother was worse the day before than she ever has been, angry at Regina’s supposed lack of effort to find a suitable suitor or keep up with her studies. Her mother’s magic leaves no marks, true, but the next day the nerves in her body still scream out in agony. It is torture with every step Rocinante takes, but Regina cannot stand another week without her friend.
Red knows something is wrong the moment she sees her, and questions Regina. Regina holds out only a few minutes, and gives in, unable to keep even this shameful secret from her. Red holds her gently as she sobs everything out, tells her it will be okay as Regina admits to every year of abuse – first verbal, then both verbal and physical.
They don’t move from that spot all day, Red refusing to because she can see the pain each movement causes Regina. Even if it will get her a serious scolding by Granny for not collecting the mosses she was supposed to. Red doesn’t look at her with pity, only with understanding and flashes of anger toward Cora.
Their first kiss happens two weeks later, and it’s everything Regina ever dreamed of. They are holding hands after a long day in the forest, and Red leans closer to her for a moment, peering down at the book Regina has brought, which lies open on their laps as they read together.
Regina turns her head, and her breath leaves her lungs as the rays of the sun emblazon her best friend’s hair with hues of golden-brown and red where it shines through her locks. Red’s eyes rise to hers, and her tongue flicks out, moistening her pink lips. The next moment they are less than an inch away from one another, sharing the same breaths.
Red’s lips on hers are smooth like silk, brushing lightly against hers at first. Regina parts her own lips slowly, and curls a hand up behind Red’s neck and pulls her into a firmer kiss, one that is fully returned. Their kisses that follow are tender and slow, each of them savoring the moment until their lungs interfere and they pull away gasping and wide-eyed.
Regina feels her stomach clench as she realizes what she has done. “I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have, I should have asked you-“
Red shakes her head, and grabs Regina’s hand, their palms pressed together, and interlocks her fingers with Regina’s. “Don’t be sorry. I’ve wanted to do that for a while now.”
“Really?” Regina asks, her voice coming out strained.
Red doesn’t answer with words, she just leans forward and kisses her again.
Regina’s heart beats fast and loud enough in her ears that she imagines she could march an army with it. When Red finally pulls back, Regina looks down at their joined hands, and then up to Red’s face, and knows her own grin is just as wide as her friend’s.
“I’ve wanted it for some time as well,” Regina finally says. “I do believe I’ve fallen in love with you, Red.”
Red gasps, and her free hand rises to her heart as tears slip past the corners of her eyes. Regina finds herself flat on her back the next moment, pounced on by her friend who peppers her face with soft kisses, each one followed with a murmured “I love you too.”
They are blissfully happy for the next month or so, spending much of their time kissing until their lips hurt when they aren’t looking for some new medicinal plant or ingredient for a meal Granny is going to make. Then, once again, Wolfstime falls on their weekend. This time Regina rides on her own, and still visits the part of the forest that has become their own, in the off-chance that Red’s grandmother lets her leave this time. But she doesn’t show up by noon, and Regina spends the rest of her day exploring new parts of the forest, finding cold streams and a beautiful clearing filled with vibrant wildflowers that she plans to show Red the next they meet.
Regina is frustrated as she rides out the next weekend. One of her suitors – a Duke from a foreign kingdom – has stayed longer than he had planned, and despite Cora being gone, he remains there. She finds him repulsive – not in looks, but in attitude. As she prepares to leave that morning, his lecherous speech turns to groping touch until she slaps him and calls for her father.
Prince Henry may keep silent with his wife, but here for the first time she sees him enraged, calling his guards and having the Duke dragged kicking from his lands. If only he had that fire in him around her mother. He suggests she stay home, to make sure she is okay, but she assures him she can ride, and that she needs to get away for the day. He lets her go after hugging her tightly. She can feel his apology to her for not stopping her mother, but it’s just not enough.
Her mood brightens as Red comes into sight, the red-cloaked girl sitting on the fallen tree, swinging her legs. Regina dismounts, and greets her love with a hard kiss, one that Red readily returns.
When Red lets go and begins to kiss down her neck, she inhales deeply against Regina’s skin. The next moment a loud growl rebounds around the clearing, and Regina jerks upright, her eyes searching the woods around them for the wolf she believes has stumbled upon them.
There is none, however, and when she looks back at Red, the girl is blushing brightly, and looking sheepish.
“Uh, sorry, I think that was me. I’m not sure where that came from, it just sorta slipped out of me.”
Regina grins, and presses her forehead against Red’s. “It’s okay. I actually liked it. It sounded… exciting. Shall we see what other sounds I can get you to make?” She asks, dipping her mouth to Red’s cheek, and then down her neck.
Red shivers against her, and threads her slender fingers into Regina’s tresses. “Yes,” comes a whimpered reply, but Regina is already at work on her goal.
Regina is the first to their spot a full month later. She’s sitting with her knees pulled to her chest, gripping her legs until her fingers turn white, while tears run in rivers down her cheeks. She wonders how everything had gone so wrong. How could doing something good and right turn into a nightmare that threatens to tear down everything she has?
Red is there before she ever hears her, slipping a comforting arm around her shoulder. She lets Regina bury her face in the beautiful red cloak and cry until it is soaked. She slowly and gently coaxes the story from Regina’s numb lips.
Regina tells her of the adorable and frightened girl that she rescued from the back of a runaway horse. Of the short time in which she befriended the girl. Of the fact that she was the daughter of King Leopold of the White Kingdom. Of Leopold, a man twice her age, asking for her hand in marriage, and of her mother’s acceptance of the marriage proposal without even listening to her daughter.
‘You will be Queen, Regina’ has become her refrain, not caring in the least that Regina wants no such thing.
“I’m sorry, Red, I’ve ruined everything for us. I don’t know why I’m being punished so for saving that girl.”
Red’s fingers stroke Regina’s cheeks, and she smiles a watery smile. “Regina… I had hoped to do this in a few weeks’ time when I worked up the nerve.”
Red reaches down, and lifts her skirt. Regina’s eyes widen for a moment until she realizes she is digging in the leg of her boot. The woman’s fingers come out grasping a small leather pouch. “I’ve been carrying it there since yesterday, I didn’t want to lose it or for Granny to find it. I’ve been saving up the money she gives me to spend in town, and I… I bought this for you.”
Red opens the pouch, and a silver ring bounces out onto her palm. Regina isn’t sure if she can breathe, or if she is simply not feeling her chest move, as she stares at it, and raises her gaze to the hopeful visage of Red.
Red fiddles with the ring, bringing it from her palm to her fingers, and then grasps Regina’s hand. “Regina, I’ve loved you since I met you. You’ve brought me more joy than I think I can ever handle. We don’t need to stay here and let our families dictate our lives. This ring is my promise to you that I will never leave you, and that I am willing to leave my life behind and run away with you, far from their reach. Will you accept it?”
Regina feels Red’s hand tremble against hers, and she nods blindly through tears to the younger woman. “Yes. Yes. I will go with you always, Red,” she says, and Red slips the cool metal of the ring on her finger. It is only after drying her eyes that she sees the small blood-red ruby in its setting.
Regina removes the ring, and turns it in her fingers, a smile of wonder on her face when she sees a small engraving on the inside of the band: R&R
She scavenges a leather string from spare length she keeps in her saddlebag, and loops it through the ring and ties it into a necklace. “I cannot wear this on my hand until we leave,” she explains softly, “so I will keep it here.”
Red nods, and grins toothily, reaching out to rest her hand against where it hangs down to. Right above her heart.
“We will need to run soon. I fear what my mother might do if she finds out about you, let alone this,” Regina says, settling her hand on top of Red’s.
“I can be ready quickly. We could even leave when we are to meet in a week,” Red says. “But where shall we go?”
Regina sighs as her mind races through the options. If they remain too close, her mother can have them hunted down and hauled back – Regina to her upcoming prison of a marriage and Red to a prison cell or worse. Her eyes light up as she recalls something she has read, perhaps only shortly before their first meeting.
“Red, I know of a place. It is a land far from here, across the northern seas. I read of it in one of my books. It is a place where we could be legally wed, if we wish, unlike so many kingdoms here. I can get us enough money to leave by this next weekend, and buy us passage on a ship.”
Red’s eyes are alight with joy, and she pulls Regina to her, nuzzling her neck. “We’re really doing this,” she whispers, almost disbelieving, lips against Regina’s skin.
Regina isn’t sure how she found out. Their plan works flawlessly – they meet in the woods, and Regina takes her to her home. They are careful to not be seen in the low light of the night, and they make it into the stables, where a second horse has been readied for Red.
Then Cora comes, her eyes flashing, her voice raised in anger, looking in disgust at the woman Regina loves. Regina is not sure how long she argues with her, shouts and defends Red against her mother, until finally her mother seems to relent, seems to finally accept that this is who she loves and wishes to be with.
She even has a moment in which she thinks her mother might truly have changed, as the woman pulls Red into a hug, and tells her that there is a lesson that she needs to impart on her. “You always need to do what’s best for your children,” Regina hears her say. She realizes just how evil her mother truly is the next minute, as her hand plunges deep into Red’s chest and encircles her heart.
Cora’s arrogance is her downfall. She thinks herself the most powerful sorceress in the land. But she doesn’t know all. Had she happened upon the right book, she might have known, and not made her mistake. The essence of the werewolf is in its heart. And the werewolf – especially a werewolf with pure love for another, for its lifemate – won’t stand for anyone trying to destroy that.
Sickening cracks of bones reshaping, and tearing of flesh and clothing to reshape a body fill the air, and Cora finds her hand trapped in the chest of a woman who is fast turning into a creature many still consider legend. It is over in moments, as – on the night of the new moon – the enormous wolf bursts out from under the red cloak that had once contained it, and rends her throat.
Regina stares in a mix of horror and wonder as the wolf’s blood-soaked muzzle turns toward her. A frisson of fear jolts down her spine when a low growl escapes its snarling lips, and she slowly lowers herself to her knees, her hands out in supplication.
“Red, please, it’s me, Regina. Be calm, I won’t harm you. I know you would never be able to live with yourself if you hurt me while you’re like this.”
The wolf’s brown-furred head cocks to the side, and then it slowly moves toward her, nose sniffing each step of the way, until it is right next to her, massive and deadly.
She closes her eyes as its snout nears her face, but after a moment she only feels its hot breath against her nose. When she opens her eyes again, she finds herself staring straight into the yellow eyes of the wolf. It whines, and sits in front of her, and as she gazes into its eyes, it is as if she can see Red herself in them.
And the next moment, after several loud and rather unsettling sounds, she is there, kneeling in front of her, as nude as the day she was born, with blood smeared across her face.
“Oh God,” she whimpers. “I- I didn’t know. I didn’t know I was… I am... Granny, she lied to me all this time. The wolf that terrorized the livestock, was me.”
Her shoulder jerks away when Regina tries to touch it, and then she seems to notice the warm, drying blood on her mouth, because the next moment, she is doubled over, heaving into the hay-covered ground.
Regina’s hand moves to her back, and rubs in wide circles as the woman she loves sobs and scrubs desperately at her bloody skin. Her gaze moves over to her mother, the woman who was supposed to love her, to care for her, to support her. The woman lying there was not that person, perhaps never had been that person, and while a part of her soul weeps for the loss of that ideal figure, the rest of her feels no sadness for the death of the woman who has hurt her for so long, and tried to take away the one person she loves more than anything.
Regina rises and grabs a horse blanket from one of the racks nearby, and carefully cleans Red’s face and hands, removing the blood, until no speck is visible. “Come, Red, we must leave. It would not do to be found in the stables with her.”
Red jerks back from the arm placed around her shoulder. “No! How… how can you be so calm! I just killed someone, in front of you – your own mother! I could have killed you. I’m a monster, Regina,” she sobs.
Regina grabs her chin, and kneels down, straddling a leg on either side of the vulnerable young woman. “Red, my love, I am not calm. I am scared and upset. Mostly that this had to happen to you. Yes, you killed her. You defended yourself. She’s abused me all my life, and she was about to kill the one thing I love more than anything. You’re not a monster, Red. You’re unique and beautiful, even more than I could have imagined.”
After she tries to fight Regina’s grip on her face for several long moments, Red seems to collapse against her. “But Regina, I could have hurt you. I.. I can’t-“
Regina shakes her head, and fishes the leather cord from under her shirt. She rips at the knotted cord with her teeth until it comes undone, and slides the ring it had held onto her finger. “This was your pledge that you would never leave me. And I promised I will go with you always. I will not break that promise, Red. You could have harmed me, but you did not. I could see you in the wolf, and I know that you recognized me. You won’t hurt me.”
Red nods slowly, and sinks down against Regina, into her embrace. “I love you, Regina. Thank you… for reminding me.”
Long minutes pass, and Regina knows that they are at risk each further minute that goes by. She gently eases Red up, and walks over to their saddlebags. She finds the trousers and shirt that she asked Red to ensure she packed plenty of, and she returns to her side and helps her dress in them.
Regina gathers her red cloak, and folds it small enough to fit into the saddlebag where the clothes had come from. She guides Red to her horse and helps her mount it, and then leaps onto Rocinante, leading her from the stable and out into the dark night.
“We’re… we’re still doing this?” Red asks, her voice small and unsure. Regina can hear the fear of rejection in it, despite what she’d said to her earlier.
She reaches out, letting go of her reigns for a moment, and grasps Red’s hand, stroking her thumb across the back of it. “Yes, my love, we’re still doing this. Nothing has changed that.”
Red shudders out a breath. “Together?”
Regina watches her from the corner of her eye as they urge the horses to move faster. She knows that the guilt of killing someone will haunt Red for a long time, but she won’t let her face it alone. She looks out at the road ahead of them, and knows that they can build a new life, far away from this wretched land, and as long as she has Red, she will never want for anything else.