Bittersweet Destiny

Chapter 16

Regina hated violence. It was one of her mother's favourite kind of punishments, and while Regina didn't consider herself a victim nor scared for life by it, she did her best to avoid watching any kind of maltreatment to any living being. The King never insisted for her, nor Snow White, to attend to these kind of events; the peasants, however, loved the spectacle - unless, the person being sentenced was close to them.

It came by surprise to the King that his wife wanted to go to the execution; but he didn't inquire her reasons, he just smiled at her and offered himself as escort. Regina sat next to Leopold in the Royal grandstand, she had never been there before. From the comfort of her chair, she could see the whole square, where a platform had been built just for the occasion. On the platform there was one a man - a religious scholar wearing a purple tunic, he was standing next to a table, waiting for the hangmen to arrive with the sentenced man.

Below the grandstand, the courtyard was swarming with people, they had all come to see Robin Hood, the legend, die. Most of them were sad and had come to say their last farewell to the Prince of Thieves, some of them were thrilled to be part of their Kingdom's history. The countrymen's seething could be felt in their silence - the crowd stood noiseless while they waited.

And then, the people started parting, and the clop of hooves - eight hooves: two horses, Regina realised - announced Robin's arrival. Regina fought the urge to stand up, she could see the cart being pulled by two brown horses from her seat but somehow she felt that she would feel better on a standing position. Next to her, the Queen felt her husband tense up.

She looked down at the people, and understood the reason behind Leopold's stiffness: the plebeians were throwing roses in the path, before or as Robin's cart advanced amongst the crowd. It made her heart clench inside her chest and the pain became almost unbearable - not only she was losing the love of her life, but the people were losing their hope.

When the horses reached the platform's stairs, two men dressed as executioners jumped out of the cart and pulled Robin with them. Robin was shirtless and his legs and hands were tied up. His head was covered with a bag that looked a lot like a potato sack, but Regina knew it was him, his back was marked with the lashes' scars that he had gotten last time he challenged a king. Regina returned her attention to the two hangmen, she couldn't see their faces due to their black masks, but by the way they dragged Robin up the stairs, she knew they were not Will and Arthur.

Impatiently, Regina scanned through the crowd, searching for the two merry men who had been with Robin las night. She found them standing among the crowd, wearing their merry men clothes and a dreadful expression on their faces. She held her gaze for a while, to see if they would make eye contact with her, but it seemed like they were avoiding her. Their behaviour made Regina worry whether it was true that Robin and his men had a plan or not.

The Queen tried to calm the anxiety that was growing inside of her and averted her gaze to somewhere else. Up in the platform, the executioners had already unmasked Robin. He was standing on a small stool, a rope around his neck.

"Robin Hood, you have been accused of acts of high treason against your King and been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered," the religious scholar said, clear and loudly, as he stood next to Robin "Do you have any last words or wishes?" he asked.

"The man behind the idea might die today, but the idea will never die," Robin yelled to the King. The crowd remained in silence, too afraid to cheer, "Robin Hood is not a man, it is the voice of the people that kings have decided to silence. And it will live on, long after we are all dead, there will always be someone who will stand up against the tyranny, who will stand up for what is right,"

Then, Robin Hood shut up, he had never been the kind of person to give a long speech. His words, though, had touched more than one person standing in the crowd. Following Robin's silence, the scholar started reciting the text which was usually read to people before their deaths. Regina noticed the man knew the sentences by heart, and she wondered how many times had he said the words. The drums started playing shortly afterwards, providing a bizarre musical accompaniment to the scholar's words that made Regina's heart beat faster and harder.

When the scholar finished with his memorised paragraphs and the drums stopped playing, one of the executioners kicked the stool in which Robin was standing. And Robin's body plummeted few inches - enough to make the rope tighten around his neck. Immediately, the hanged man tried to gasp for air, and his face turned red.

Regina tried to look away, but at that moment Robin's eyes connected with hers and she knew she couldn't leave him alone in this moment. She knew that by holding his gaze she was doing the only thing she could: assure him that he was not alone.

That didn't stop the Queen's chest from hurting, or her breathing from becoming short and rapid. This was the end, she admitted to herself as Robin turned purple, this was how their story was going to end. She would once again, be alone and heart broken - mourning for a second time, a life filled with what ifs?. Regina felt dizzy at the realisation; in front of her, Robin still hanged from the rope and his skin was slowly turning into all shades of blue.

But dying by asphyxiation was a merciful death in comparison to what fate had prepared for Robin. His sentence had just started.

Regina couldn't help the chills that ran down her spine, nor the nauseous feeling in her throat, while she watch the executioners cut the rope by which Robin hanged and dragged him to a table. The Thief hadn't even recovered from the air deprivation and the hangmen were already preparing for their next task: drawn. She didn't know if she could handle it, to see Robin cut alive in front of her eyes and all his internal organs showed to the spectators.

"Stop!" she announced before the executioner could go further with Robin's sentence, she turn to speak to the King, "I'm pregnant," the Queen blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. It took everyone by surprise, even herself. She didn't know where that lie had come from - it was a terrible lie since it was hard to forge, but it was already out and she had to play her cards now.

Leopold's face lightened up, "Are you sure?" he asked, and the tortured man who laid on a platform few meters away was suddenly unimportant to everyone.

"Yes, my King," Regina replied and took his hands on hers. She needed to act the part of a loving, pregnant wife, "I had my doubts when my bleeding got delayed, but yesterday I started with my sicknesses as well,"

The King let a joyful laugh out, "Did everybody hear that? I'm going to be a father!"

Everyone in the crowd clapped, but it didn't feel completely cheerful. Regina shifted, her eyes from the man she despised, to the man she loved with all her heart. Robin's eyes locked with hers for few moments and then he looked to the ground: Regina's betrayal was killing him in more ways than Leopold's sentence had and it shattered Regina's heart even more.

The story about Robin Hood's last heartbreak vaguely echoed in Regina's mind. He had already gone through something like this, and he couldn't handle it a second time. He had given up because of what she had done, Robin looked defeated and it was her fault - she had broken Robin's spirit.

"My Queen, this is motive for celebration. Ask for anything, and it will be yours," she heard Leopold say, and his words brought her back to reality, back to the reason why she had done this.

Regina turned her back to Robin and kneeled in front of King Leopold. She had never kneeled in front of anyone and it felt degrading; but for Robin's life, she would do that and so much more. "I want you to forgive this petty thief's life. And I want the shepherd out of the castle," the Queen requested, trying to inject as much venom as she could.

"So be it," the King nodded, "I've decided to pardon your life, Robin Hood, you shall return to the dungeons, where you'll life the rest of your days," he said in a commanding voice, "And I grant full pardon to the Shepherd, he shall return to his house today," Leopold announced to the crowd, not standing up from his throne.

"Thank you," Regina whispered and kissed Leopold's hands before she stood up, "Thank you, your Majesty," she repeated, bowing to him and then asked to be excused, saying that the execution had tired her and she needed to return to her room to rest.

Regina couldn't believe this scam had actually worked, she had saved Robin and freed David. But at what price? She knew what this stunt had done to Robin, and now she needed to fix that.

She also needed to find a way to fake a pregnancy, maybe Tinkerbell would help her cover her lies. But that was not important at the present time. She needed to find Robin Hood and tell him the truth.

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