The first year was a blank.
Regina was married to Leopold. She knew she walked down the aisle. She knew she rode the carriage through the city. She knew that she attended the feast. She knew that in the night, Leopold climbed into their marriage bed, pushed up her nightgown and took his husbandly rights.
It was as if there was a wall between her at the world.
She wore a mask of a Queen, smiling and welcoming, but behind it, she picked through the shards of her life. Her mother glowed with pride, but her father - when she saw him - looked at her with sorrow. He had no idea what she had lost, but he was the only person who could always tell when she was unhappy.
Her husband didn't seem to notice that she was little more than a pretty statue gracing his halls. He rarely came to her, but when he did, she lay silent and still and let him do what he wished. She tried not to think of Daniel, of the warmth of his hands, the taste of his lips, of the scent of hay and horses.
Snow, the child, had no idea. She only saw her stepmother's smiles, and never noticed that they didn't reach her eyes. She prattled about nonsense, and hugged Regina, unaware that her every touch was a reminder of the touch she had taken away.
Regina walked and talked and smiled and bowed. She was a Queen. Everything about her was pristine, perfect, elegant, but it was if she was walking in shoes of metal, heated beyond endurance. Every step was pain. Every movement exhausting. Every bit of it a lie.
The second year was worse.
Her mother grew unbearable when the King's seed did its work. She would be grandmother to a King, Regina knew. Snow would barely get a glance, if her mother had her way, no matter how much Leopold loved his daughter. Regina remembered her own childhood, remembered Daniel, remembered the sight of his body in her arms. All for the good of the child.
She was not an apothecary, but she was capable of reading.
The remedies were simple.
When the bleeding came on her, she knew her mother suspected her, but she would and could not allow her child to be used as she had been. For the good of the child.
She lay among the sheets and pillows, staring out of the window. It would be better to be free, to leave everything behind. Even if she was forced to live in the gutter and beg for scraps, it would be better than this existence where she was nothing but a brood mare for her mother's ambition.
Only when she was alone did she let herself weep for the child. It should have been Daniel's. They should have had half a dozen, all excellent riders like their parents. They should have been loud and happy and tumbling.
Snow brought her flowers and bright red apples. The girl hoped she would be better soon, and that she was sad that she was sick. Regina wondered about telling the child that she wasn't sick. But no. Leopold no doubt shielded his precious, darling, dearest Snow from the fact that he was trying to breed another heir and that heir had now gone.
Weeks later, she tried to make her escape.
It was futile, but she was desperate.
Unfortunately, Leopold had displayed her so often on the balcony and at gatherings that she was spotted almost at once. She was caught on the road out of the city, and when she fought and screamed and struggled, the guards struck her to silence her.
She woke in her chambers, and mother was there.
Regina knew she had been a disobedient daughter, but obedience only can go so far.
She apologised, of course, pleaded, begged, and her mother - ever merciful - finally unbound the shackles of magic that held her. That was when Regina understood that the only way to have any freedom was to loosen the chains that bound her one link at a time.
The first had to be her mother, who was by far the cruellest of teachers.
So, she was a good girl, obedient, learning the ways of power and duty. To her husband, she was a pretty little doll. To Snow, she was the perfect stepmother. To herself, she was nothing more than an automaton, moving jerkily through life, as if fate was pulling her strings.
By the third year, she was starting for forget what happiness felt like. There was another child forced into her womb, and this one was dealt with just as quickly. There were ties enough to be severed. She needed no more, and no more threads to be added to her mother’s growing web at court.
Her skill was growing, in the privacy of her chambers. Her mother taught her only the basics of magic, but she was learning that it could be fuelled by determination, and that was all she had left, when all of her world and liberty had been stripped from her.
She remembered the spell her mother used to take Daniel from her. She knew she could never forget it, even if she tried, even if she wanted to. It was one of the more powerful and dark twisted spells. She made herself think on it, on every moment, even though it made her break and weep time and time again.
It could be used to take the life.
But it could also be used to take the power and control of another.
The first time she tried it was when a guard tried to stop her leaving her allocated wing of the castle. Ever since her escape attempt, they watched her like a hawk. The man tried to force her back into her chamber, and she reached for the magic. It went wrong. She didn’t know how, but it did, and his heart stopped.
She fled back to her chambers, feigning sleep and shock when the news was brought to her.
Her mother visited her that evening, and there was pride on her face, as if she had watched the whole thing. She probably had, Regina knew, somehow, from her own private chambers in another of the many towers.
The second time, she did it right. The man bowed to her every whim, and it was only when he was slain while stealing her own jewels back from the royal treasure house that the power was broken.
The third time was the last time she saw her mother. It was whispered that Cora was the most powerful sorceress in the Kingdom, though it was mere speculation. That power was the one thing standing between Regina and the first step to freedom.
She took it.
Her mother’s heart sang in her hands, and she laughed, and then, her mother - always thinking, always planning - smiled too, malevolent and triumphant. Cora caught Regina’s wrists and thrust her own beating heart into her daughter’s chest. Regina screamed in shock, but the power spread through her.
“Make me proud, dear,” Cora whispered, before her head fell back.
Regina stared at her empty hands and her mother’s body. She was still there when the guards came to take her to breakfast.
A day of mourning was declared. Snow and Leopold donned black, as if they had the right.
Regina chose to wear white, uncaring of the whispers. She was not her mother. She would not be like her. She would do what she needed to seek her freedom, and then, she would be gone.
Her mother’s magic proved as treacherous as the woman herself. It would not bend to her, would not break, and she found herself bound to Leopold even more closely. Her mother’s passing and the reminder of his own mortality seemed to instil in him a desire for more heirs, and he came to her bed time and time again.
The more he did so, the more Regina came to hate him. She tried to dissuade him with gentleness, which he expected, and when that failed, she closed the door to him, but a King is not to be refused, and so she would find the door broken open and her husband in a dangerous humour.
He was not a violent man, nor naturally cruel, but he was possessive and presumptuous and that made him much more dangerous.
Only once did he hold her down, his hand at her throat, and had his way with her. She did not weep. She was too proud for that, but she turned her face from him. He caught her chin. It was simple, he explained. She was his, whether she wanted to be or not. As Queen, she was to do as the King commanded, and the King desired heirs, so she would provide them.
Her rebelliousness was curbed in simple ways: she was forbidden from riding, she was not allowed to walk abroad in the city unescorted, she had her personal servants replaced with Leopold’s own, she was to attend on the little Princess Snow at all and any times that the Princess demanded, and if she refused, the punishment would be further curtailment of the few freedoms she had left.
She learned, as she had with her mother, that cooperation made life much simpler.
There was little shame left in opening her legs and lying on her back, and letting him rut like an animal. She would think of a thousand other things, each more terrible and violent that she would do to him once she learned to better control the power within her.
She knew she could slay him, cut him to ribbons while he had his way, but in spite of all that had been taken from her, she knew she wanted to live beyond him. If he died at her hand, she would never see the light of day again. At least, if he died obviously by her hand.
Matters were only made worse by the child, the little liar.
She believed her father and stepmother to be happy. She believed them to be in love. She was foolish enough to think that Regina revelled in her imprisonment and delighted in every moment spent remembering that she was here because Snow had been unable to hold her tongue for a single day.
Regina stood by, watching the little Princess ride, and hating her. The child was allowed anything and everything she pleased. She could do no wrong in her father’s eyes. A father’s love for his daughter was a most precious thing, he said. The bastard’s most recent punishment was the exile of her own father from court.
There was only one person in the world who cared for her and happiness after Daniel, who always had, and now, even he was torn from her by the man who professed himself to be her faithful and loving husband.
Her mother would have sneered that she should be grateful to be in such an elevated position, but Regina knew that position was only worth something if you could use it.
She was a Queen, but it was a Queen in a gilded cage. She was not permitted to speak or even consider delving into the politics of the Kingdom. She was not allowed to approach any other men for fear she would be unfaithful to the King. She was not allowed to approach any other women for fear she would spread rebellious ways among them.
The cage was large and grand and lonely.
If the girl hadn’t broken a promise, if her mother hadn’t been so ambitious, if the world had been a kinder and fairer place, Regina knew she could have been happy. Instead, her world was bars and solitude and unkindness. It was enough to drive anyone mad.
She watched. She waited. There was little else she could do as they years crawled by. Her power was growing, still careful and still controlled, and she knew a time would come when she would be handed the means to make her escape.
When one has nothing else in the world, one will become focussed.
Regina’s will was diamond-hard and burning, like sunlight directed through a shard of crystal. She watched, waited, smiled, laughed, was a good girl, was an obedient wife, was a docile bedmate, and when the time came, she knew she would set the world ablaze and finally, finally be free.