“Regina?” Emma asked, not believing her eyes.
Regina just smiled sheepishly and nodded. Emma’s mouth flopped open a few times, doing her best impression of a fish. The King and Queen were doing the same. The King snapped out of it and jerked his head towards her.
She felt them coming before she ever saw them. Regina didn’t resist as her fellow guards grabbed her. She knew how this would end. There was still a little time before it would all be over soon. Royal decrees were written in stone. They’d have to find a loophole or have her agree to dissolve her end of the deal. She wouldn’t do it until Emma found herself a husband, one that she could live with, damn the cowardly council and trying to save their own hides at the price of Emma’s happiness.
“Take her to the dungeons until we decide a course of action,” The King said.
Regina walked with the guards, head high. The crowd roared their disapproval as she walked out. Well, at least she had someone on her side, if only it was the peasants. The guards kept sending her glances. They didn’t quite understand why she’d done this, she could see it in their eyes. She didn’t quite understand it herself, but that was of no consequence.
The dungeons were a dark and dreary place. She supposed all dungeons were, but for the dungeons of the local “good guys” she thought that their dungeons were quite barbaric. They gave her one of the better cells. Better being a relative term. The bottom of it wasn’t filled with two inches of slimy sludge and instead was covered in dirty straw and it only smelled a tad bit like death. She walked over and sat in the corner quietly and leaned against the wall. She was going to be here for quite a while she figured, might as well catch a nap. The fights had left her a little tired. She closed her eyes and tried to tune out the groans of the other prisoners. With a little trouble she managed to fall asleep a little while later.
She was startled out of her nap when a loud tapping came from the front of her cell. Regina squinted against the darkness and tried to see what was going on. There was a figure standing in front of the bars. Regina stood up and walked over.
“Princess? What are you doing here?”
“I found the dungeons preferable to the council chambers.”
Regina snorted. “That’s not hard to believe. The atmosphere down here is much better.”
Emma laughed quietly. She stopped and looked at Regina for a long second. “They’re trying to find a way to kill you for what you’ve done.”
“I know. I knew that would happen when I started this.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“Because I didn’t want you to end up like me, not when I could stop it. The only way out of their decree is to get me to break my end. Well, the only way they can do it without looking weak or having the peasants revolt. You can find a husband that’s actually worth you and the kingdom. You can choose.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“I think that this is the only time that you can say that to me and it actually be right. Enjoy it, Princess.”
Emma reached through the bars and grabbed Regina’s shoulder, pulling her flush with the bars. “I’m not enjoying this.”
She let go of Regina and turned, striding from the dungeons, head held high. Regina smiled, even if she did die for this then some of her would remain in the Princess’s bearing. There was a measure of comfort in that.
Regina wasn’t sure how much time past. The dungeons in their perpetual twilight weren’t exactly conducive to keeping track of time. Meals were served whenever the guards felt like it, so they weren’t exactly indicative of time either. She figured it had to be at least a few days though no more than a week and a half when Emma swept down the stairs once again. Regina had taken to watching them. It was the only thing that provided her with a modicum of entertainment to pass her day, watching the guards come and go.
Emma made her way to Regina’s cell, steps purposeful. Regina stood and walked over, but not too close. She knew how she looked and smelled after days in the dungeon. She wasn’t exactly her well-coiffed self.
“You did this so I could choose.” Emma grabbed the bars, looking at Regina, eyes burning through her.
“Yes.” Regina’s voice cracked from disuse.
“What if I choose you?”
Regina’s eyes widened. “You can’t choose me, Princess. I’m not someone who can rule a kingdom. I’m not someone who can ward off other kingdoms who think we’re weak.”
“That’s bullshit, Regina, and we both know it. The only reason I know to act like half the princess I am is because of what you’ve taught me in the last month and a half. You know politics, you know the main players in the kingdom and what they want, you know how to deal with other kingdoms, you know everything.”
“I thank you for the compliment, but I hardly know everything. I’m not marriage material.”
“You’re a Princess.”
“Who’s been disinherited. I’m no better than a regular knight.”
“Your mother hasn’t disinherited you.”
Regina stepped forward. “She would have had to.”
“She didn’t. She framed it to make the man from Nordia look like he killed all of those people and then kidnapped you but was killed along the way and you’d run off, terrified or already dead somewhere they couldn’t find.”
“But the stories…”
“Are just stories told by the peasants. Officially that is the story your mother tells.”
“I can’t marry you for that reason, then, Emma. My mother can’t know I’m alive.” A shiver wracked her body.
“She doesn’t have to. You just have to be some sort of royalty to appease the council and their stupid sense of blood purity.”
“They’ll never accept it. Besides the fact that I’m from the Dark Kingdom, I’m a woman. We could produce no heir.”
“There are ways. I’ve looked into them.”
“Emma.” Regina stepped forward and placed her hand on the girl’s. “You can’t marry me. It’s a stupid move. More stupid than running away from enemies who think that you’re weak.”
“Isn’t that what you’re doing right now? Running away? You’re better than every single man I’ve seen. I know. I’ve spent every day with you for the last month and a half. I know you better than I ever would any other person who would seek my hand. We agree on most policy and you have a grip on politics that surpasses my own. I have the blood right to rule the kingdom. You have the knowledge. If we pair up we could be the greatest set of rulers this kingdom has ever seen.”
“The people would revolt.”
“The people would revolt if you were killed.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’d be surprised how many fans you made during the competition. They’ve been outside the palace letting us know.”
“Who roots for the person from the Dark Kingdom?”
“The people who don’t like seeing page boys and horses abused. The kind that hands over extra food to poor peasant girls passing. The kind that overcomes the odds to beat an opponent three times their size. Peasants don’t miss much.”
“Neither did you it seems.”
“Well I…” Emma blushed.
“You were watching me the entire time.”
“You were the most interesting one there. Every one of the others passed the written test, but only barely. Your test was the only one that showed true potential. Then you were the best one in the physical competition. I watched you everywhere you went because I couldn’t quite figure you out. I still can’t fully, but I get a lot more now. And I just—” She locked eyes with Regina. “I choose you not just for political reasons. I think…I think I really could be happy with you, Regina. I’ve been happier in these few weeks than I have been in a while.” She swallowed hard. “When you took off your helmet a few days ago…I felt like I couldn’t breathe, you were just so stunning.”
Regina stood there, speechless. She didn’t know what to say. If Emma was implying what she thought…
Her heart sped up.
“So I choose you, for more than one reason. And I don’t care what the idiots say. They can’t find a way out of the decree. If I don’t want out of it and you don’t want out of it they have to swallow their damn pride and accept it. I’ll just get rid of all of them when I take the throne and damn the political backlash. I need forward thinking people anyway.” She took a deep breath. “So what I need to know is if you choose me. And I don’t want you to choose me just because it’s your duty, but because you think this could work out.”
Regina reached through the bars and rested her hand on Emma’s cheek. “I chose you the moment I entered the competition.”
Emma smiled widely. She reached up and squeezed Regina’s hand. She stepped back and turned towards the nearest guard.
“Unlock the door. My fiancée and I have an announcement to make.”
The guard hesitated just slightly but unlocked the door and Regina stepped out. Emma grabbed her hand and started to drag her up the dungeon stairs. Her face scrunched as she caught a whiff of Regina’s odor.
“Something to announce after a bath, anyway.”
Regina laughed and followed Emma up the stairs, feeling lighter than she had in a very long while.