Regina walked down the hall, armor clanking gently. Sweat poured down her back. She hated summer. Wearing a metal can wasn’t exactly cool, even with the few subtle enchantments she’d put on her armor to keep her as cool as possible.
She slipped into the council chamber, tapping the guard on the shoulder that she was to relieve. He shot her a grateful smile and scurried out of the room. Regina tried not to roll her eyes. Half the guards here weren’t worth anything. They could barely defend themselves let alone anyone else and forget about acting in a decorous manner even while on shift. Her mother had been right about the White kingdom taking in strays, but that also meant they’d taken her in when she needed it. So she supposed she couldn’t complain.
Regina surveyed the room carefully. Old noblemen surrounded the King and Queen, blathering on about this and that. She’d heard it all before years ago. None of them were a physical threat to the King and Queen so she relaxed just slightly. She set her face in her typical indifferent mask and scanned the room every few minutes while her mind wandered elsewhere.
Two hours later even Regina’s limit of boredom was being tested. Usually there was some random happening in the kingdom that drew her interest, but this meeting was all talk of the princess and suitors and who was best for her to marry. They needed someone who was noble and could defend the kingdom, but perhaps a prince from another kingdom was too much. They needed to concentrate on their own kingdom, not have interests split between two. Regina rolled her eyes. Of course they needed to concentrate on their own kingdom. Snow White had practically driven the kingdom into the ground financially with her overly compassionate ways.
That idiot princess wasn’t going to be able to fix it either. Regina felt her face shift into a scowl. Stupid girl always made her job that much harder, running off or insisting that she had to go out at a moment’s notice to ride around the countryside. Didn’t the idiot know that there were people that would gladly kill her so they could take her parent’s throne more easily? Of course not, that would take brain power.
So Regina tuned out yet again and tried to find something else to occupy her mind. Hopefully the meeting would end soon so she could at least walk around with the King and Queen while they attended to their business for the day. At least that would give her feet a slight break. Metal shoes were not exactly the height of comfort. There were some things about her old life that she missed, and comfortable shoes were definitely one of them.
The meeting ended an hour later and the King and Queen swept out of the room. Regina followed at a respectful pace behind them, thanking the gods for the change in pace.
The captain of the guard came up to her a few days later. Regina cocked an eyebrow and waited for the man, just a step up from a wolf, to gather his wits to speak. Everyone in this guard was slow, she was sure of it.
“Regina, the King and Queen are assigning more guards to the Princess on a permanent basis since suitors will be arriving soon.”
Regina hoped and prayed he wasn’t saying what she thought he was. There was no way she could guard the princess every single day and not kill her. She was much too foolish not to drawl Regina’s ire. She knew what being a princess took and the girl did not have it in her. She liked her job now, filling in in the blank spaces in the guard. She changed places frequently, if not every day. It kept her sharp and kept her from biting people’s heads off. All she had to do was think that she wouldn’t be there the next day and she could manage to hold her tongue. A permanent assignment was the opposite of that.
“You’re one of my best, so I’m assigning you to one of the new spots.”
Regina could scream. Of course. She had a slew of expletives ready.
“It would be my honor,” was what came out instead.
Graham nodded. “Good. Your shift starts tomorrow at dawn and ends at sunset.”
“I’ll be there.” Regina turned on her heel and fled towards her bunk. No, she couldn’t be stuck on night shift. Of course she had to be on the shift where the pretty little princess was going to want to go on one of her little adventures every other day. When she finally entered her small room she threw a fireball at the stone wall.
As it fizzled out on the stone she felt slightly better. Slightly. She sighed heavily and started to remove her armor. She threw her sword on her bed for later. Cleaning her sword, the blade she’d named Noir long ago, cleared her mind and relaxed her. With the last of her armor kicked off she stood and took a few deep breaths, feeling cool for the first time all day. She desperately needed a bath, but she’d attend to that later. She sat on bed and unsheathed her sword and grabbed her cleaning cloth.
The blade already shone from the attention she gave it. It was the only thing that was truly hers in this life, the only thing that had come with her from her old life. The black blade acted like a mirror it was so polished, but still Regina started polishing it again. She’d have to sharpen it again soon, the edge felt slightly dull from the practice fields, but that could still wait a few days. Leave it for a day when the princess inevitably pissed her off beyond all reason. She’d need a consuming task so she didn’t kill something.
Regina sheathed her sword again when she was done. Her mind felt clearer, at least marginally so. She’d survived much worse than guarding a thoughtless, stubborn princess. She could survive this for however long was necessary. She had survived her mother for eighteen years with her only solace being sword and riding lessons. This would be a walk in the park comparatively. It would all be over after the princess found a good match and married. Then she could ask to be switched back into the rotating order and no one would deem her unworthy. And knowing how quickly royal match making went, she’d be free again before month’s end.
The thought comforted Regina enough for her to slip into a restful sleep.
The first crow of the rooster woke her. She pulled herself out of bed and quickly got ready for the day. No matter how much she was not looking forward to this post, it wouldn’t do to be late to a day of protecting the crown princess. When her last piece of armor was in place and Noir secured to her hip she strode from the room and made for the princess’s chambers. She wouldn’t be out of bed until the sun was much farther in the sky. She’d have a least a few hours of peace and quiet to prepare herself for the day, thank the gods.
She relieved one of the other guards who shot her a tired smile and walked off. At least he hadn’t been gleeful about being relieved of his post. Regina always did hate when they almost did a little dance after being relieved of their post. It should be an honor to them, not some kind of burden to be joyful about getting rid of, to serve their King and Queen.
Regina shook her head and stood by the doors to the princess’s rooms, quickly falling into her normal demeanor while she was on duty. An hour later a handmaid approached the doors. Regina gave her a once over quickly but carefully. She’d seen the girl before around Emma, so she allowed her in without a fuss once she saw no weapons hidden on her person. People thought there were prime spaces on a body to hide weapons, in the curve of their back, strapped to their legs, but they were all obvious if you had had any experience protecting someone. The girl nodded at the guards before pushing into the room.
An hour later a still yawning princess was ushered out of her rooms.
“Why do I have to be up this early?” the girl whined.
Regina had to suppress the urge to roll her eyes. The girl didn’t know what early was.
“Because your parents have invited a suitor to visit you today. I’ve already told you this three times, your highness. Is your memory alright?”
Princess Emma rolled her eyes. “It’s fine, Ruby, and you know it. Just. Suitors. Before noon. Not sure I can do it.”
Ruby didn’t say anything but tugged the princess down the hall gently. Regina sighed and followed. She was sure that whatever man had come to court the princess would spout so many sickly sweet comments that it would make her sick.
Regina entered one of the many parlors and surveyed the room quickly. A man stood at the window, bedecked in all sorts of finery, clothes screaming wealth, sword at his hip, but the scabbard and hilt had no marks on it so Regina deduced it was more for ceremony than actual use. An old matron sat in a seat in the corner for propriety’s sake, but since the woman was about two minutes from falling asleep Regina wasn’t quite sure how guarded propriety would really be. These meetings were exactly as Regina remembered them.
She found her place along the wall and set to steadfastly trying not to snort every time the git in front of her quoted a line that was so contrived anyone with a brain could see through his advances.
“Why, Princess, you look stunning today.” The man bowed, taking the Princess’s hand and kissing it. “I’m Lord Marberry, at your service.”
The Princess drew back her hand as soon as was proper. “I’m well aware of who you are Lord Marberry. You’ve made quite the name for yourself at court.”
“All good things I hope.” His face broke into a roguish smile.
Regina had to hold back a snort. Even she had heard of the cocky air head in front of her. People with good reputations didn’t attract the gossip of the guards. They tended to like more…improper gossip.
“I suppose if your version of good is that you’re very friendly with all manner of ladies, then yes it’s all good.”
The man paled. “Princess, those rumors are untrue. I am nothing but a gentleman.”
The princess pinned him with a skeptical look, but continued on. “So you’ve come to seek my hand.”
“Indeed I have. You’re the most beautiful woman in the land. When your parents sent a summons out to the nobility of the land for eligible suitors I was overly delighted.”
“Ah, I’m pretty and that’s why you seek my hand. Of course.”
The man started to sputter, “But, that’s not all your Highness. There’s also, um…”
The Princess rolled her eyes. “I think that’s quite enough, your Lordship. It was a pleasure meeting you.” She turned to exit the room.
“You would be lucky to have such a man as me!” His hand twitched to his sword.
Regina was in front of him in a second, eyebrow cocked, daring him to make the next move. His hand stilled almost immediately, but the look of anger on his face remained.
“We all know how you are in the outer reaches of the kingdom. You’re barely worthy of being called a Princess. You surely act nothing like it. You aren’t fit to run the kingdom. I am! You should marry me so this kingdom has a fighting chance.”
Regina took a step forward. “Lord Marberry, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but I do believe you should hold your tongue before it gets way from you. You verge on treason.” Not that she didn’t agree that the princess was not fit to run the kingdom, but such statements were not allowed. Besides, this prat was not fit to run anything either, even less so than the princess.
Lord Marberry stepped back and bowed his head. “Excuse me, my temper gets the best of me at points.”
Regina nodded her head and turned to find the princess, but she was nowhere to be found. She sighed heavily and hurried to the door. It wouldn’t do to lose the princess on her first day. Of course she had to run like a small child. The girl really did need to learn how to take an insult.
She made her way down the halls, asking other posted guards which way the princess had gone along her way. Regina ended up in the gardens just as she saw a flash of golden hair disappear into the woods on the edge of the property. She rolled her eyes and broke into a jog. Gods only knew what kind of trouble the girl could get into in those woods. She would probably find a bear or worse and get eaten. That was just what Regina needed.
Regina caught up with her easily. Dresses were not fit for a walk in the woods and the skirt got caught on a branch every few steps. Regina stepped up and freed her dress from a particularly eager branch. The princess turned around and glared at her.
“I do not need your help. I do not need to be babysat.”
Regina couldn’t hold back a snort this time. “Of course not, your highness. I forgot that you had the training, not to mention the weapons to fend off one of the many assassins who would love to see your lifeless body on the ground, forgive me.”
The princess stepped forward. “I could have you killed for saying such words to me.”
“I’m only trying to do my job, which you make incredibly difficult running off into the woods. You should realize by now that as the only heir to your parent’s throne you need to be extremely careful with running off unescorted. Someone kills you they could have your parent’s crown easily.”
“You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t know that they’re trying to marry me off to someone who will help save the kingdom from financial ruin? You think I don’t know I’m just some sick sort of show pony? Do you think I want to be a pretty face while someone else does the job I was raised for because of course no man in this kingdom sees me as an equal?”
Regina stepped forward. She was only a few inches from the princess at this point. “Then you have to make them see you as an equal. And this,” She gestured around the woods around them. “does not make you seem like an equal. It makes you seem like a weak woman who cannot take an insult. Lord Marberry has any number of weak points that you could have used to strike back and put in his place, bring up the illegitimate children he has and he would have been putty in your hands. But no, you ran. Politics means being one step ahead of everyone else, Princess, and being good at politics is the only way they’ll see you as anything more than a weak little girl.”
She stepped back. “And now you will get back to the palace and make it seem like you never went on this little adventure and that Lord Marberry was not worth your time and that’s why you left so quickly.” She motioned for the princess to go in front of her.
The princess just glared at her. “You aren’t the boss of me.”
“Until you actually decide to take command, what’s stopping me?”
“You think you know everything, don’t you?”
“Well, I certainly know more than you at this point. That job you’ve been ‘raised for your whole life,’ well princess you’re not very good at it.
The princess stepped into her personal space again. “One word from me and you’re dead. Why aren’t you afraid?”
Regina just smiled. “Death is only a motivator for those who fear it. I haven’t feared death for a long time. Besides, Princess, the only one of us who is in real danger of being killed is you and I’m the only one standing between you and the arrow destined for your heart. I’m the best guard here, you might want to keep that in mind.”
The Princess continued to glare but stepped back and stalked towards the palace. Regina smiled and walked behind her. Well, perhaps this assignment would not be too horrendous. She could get used to arguing with the Princess and winning.