Bittersweet Destiny

Chapter 4

It had been almost one week since the Queen's kidnapping and there was still no word from the King. Regina didn't know whether to feel relieved that the King didn't want to rescue her, or be mad due to the same fact. She was, after all, his wife and his Queen; she was his daughter's stepmother. That had to count for something. Maybe he was already looking for a new bride, after all, if it had taken him one year of mourning to replace his first wife, the one he really loved, how long would it take to replace her? She wondered if the people who really loved her were worried, her father, for example; or if Rocinante missed her.

Regina was sitting on the stiff bed looking into the nothing, she was still not used to the Merry Men's way of living. The mattress was hard, and they didn't have much variety of food, but they had horses. Sometimes, when Robin let her walk around the camp, she would go and feed the horses. Of course she was not allowed to ride them, but at least she could pet them. Horses always took her mind off her problems. She had also grown fond of they Merry Men's nights around the bonfires, telling jokes or ghost stories.

That day, her usually boring morning was interrupted by Robin stepping into the Royal Tent carrying spare clothes with him. "Here," the outlaw said handing her a pair of riding pants, a shirt and a jacket, "I thought you would be more comfortable if you got rid of that dress."

Regina stared at the clothes that he had just given to her, they were similar to the clothes she used to wear when she went riding with Daniel. The jacket was pastel green coloured and looked a little bit worn out and the pants were khaki coloured, and she could already see they would be a little bit long, but it would do. Anything was better than the dirty dress that she had worn for almost a week now.

"Would you... I - Um - uh. " the thief struggled formulating the next sentence.

"Eloquent as usual," Regina pointed out and raised an eyebrow, "Would I what?"

Robin swallowed, "Would you, maybe, want to bathe?" he asked, and couldn't help but slightly blushing, hoping she didn't take this the wrong way "There's a place, upstream but not far away, where you could bathe in peace."

"Oh," she let out, "I don't know." the queen admitted, a bathe sounded wonderful, but she didn't want to be naked if the Merry Men were close to her.

"I would keep watch while you bathe, your majesty," he stated, "If anyone tries to lay eyes on you, I would kill them."

Regina had to refrain herself from smiling, would he really go to such extent to protect her reputation? Of course not, he was probably protecting his ticket out of poverty. After all, she was the Queen, and any bandit could hold her for ransom. So, instead of thanking him, she just said sarcastically "My hero!" and walked out of the tent, closely followed by Robin.

They walked out of camp, Regina leading the way, not really knowing where she was headed to, but too proud to ask the outlaw that followed her for directions. She stopped for a while and tried to listen; she was supposed to bathe in a river, rivers had flows, and flows made sounds. She was trying really hard on excluding the other sounds, like birds singing or the wind blowing through the trees. She heard nothing, except Robin cracking the dry tree branch that he had just stepped on. Regina rolled her eyes and tried harder, Daniel had taught her this, she could do it. She closed her eyes and listened to the nature.

When the only thing she heard was Robin chuckling, she opened her eyes and shoot him a glare, "Are you done?" Robin asked her, "Or do you want to stay here until the sun goes down and the water gets cold?"

Regina tightened her jaw muscles, "If you would be so kind and let me listen to the river, I could -."

"You can't listen the river from here," Robin interrupted her. By her face, he could see no one had interrupted her in a while, so he quickly added, "Your Majesty," to try to sound more polite and respectful. "It is three miles to the north and then one to the northeast."

They had to go north. Regina smiled to herself, that was something she could figure out. She walked towards the nearest tree and studied it, looking for moss. "Moss only grows in the north part of a tree, Regina," she heard Daniel's voice in her head, just as he had explained her when he was teaching her how to navigate through the nature. "You see, if the sun goes out on the east, and goes to the west, it leaves the north side of the tree in the dark for most of the day, specially during winter days."

"We go that way." Regina pointed out with her index finger, feeling confident about her decision.

Robin pursed his lips into a half-smile and nodded in approval, "You really are a box of surprises, aren't you?"

The Queen didn't say anything, she already felt enough satisfaction on proving him wrong: she did know how to orientate herself in the woods. Back when Daniel had taught her how find the cardinal points, she thought it would never come in handy, that she would have him to guide her forever. But she had been wrong, about the first thing at least. About the second, she had been partly wrong, because even after his death, Daniel was still taking care of her.

Daniel had told her once that 2200 of her steps were a mile, since she wouldn't count until such a high number, she divided it by four. 550 steps per quarter of miles. They walked in silence the three miles north, Regina counting every step and Robin too interested in the Queen, studying each frown and each smirk - she was really something.

"Three miles!" Regina said, sounding happier than what she had intended to. "Now one to the northeast." she added and looked up to the sky.

"Place your body facing the north," Daniel's voice echoed in her mind, and she could feel the phantom of his body behind her, gently holding her shoulders, "Your right hand will be the east, and your left hand, the west." She knew where she had to go next, not completely towards the side her right hand was pointing, but between the north and the east.

She started walking without telling Robin the direction they should take, she was only one mile away from taking a bathe and she could only think about the water cleaning her skin. She felt filthy and the idea of finally washing her body and her hair stirred her. The excitement almost made her lose the step count; but when she was finally able to hear the water running, she stopped counting and ran, guided by her hearing. Robin had first been confused when he saw Regina running off, it took him a while to understand that she must have heard the river. The outlaw couldn't help but smiling at the Queen's happiness for such a small detail.

By the time the thief had caught up with the Queen, she was already sitting on a rock and dipping her feet in the water. She was smiling, and it made all this walk worth it for him. Regina stopped smiling as soon as she noticed that Robin was with her, as if she didn't want to let him know that she was enjoying herself thanks to him.

"I'll be sitting there," Robin said pointing a tree few feet away, "If you see or hear anything that frightens you, yell and I'll be here as quick as a wink."

After Regina nodded, understanding the order he had just gave her, Robin turned on his heels and walked towards the tree he had pointed moments ago.

"Thank you." he heard, and it took him off guard. Not her voice, but the words she had spoken.

"You are welcome, your Majesty."

"Regina," the Queen corrected him, "You may call me Regina." she added with a smile that made Robin's heart skip a beat.

Robin nodded and continued his way towards the tree, where he sat. He didn't know how long it would take Regina to wash herself, but he knew it would take a while. He better keep his mind occupied from imagining Regina's naked body, he better find something to distract himself or he would ended up sneaking a peek. And he had just earned Regina's trust, so he wouldn't ruin all his work because of some his body's stupid need to see Regina bathing. He dropped his gaze to the floor as he let a breath out, this had been a bad idea.

Then a carpet of flowers caught his attention. He smiled to himself, he had the perfect idea about how to keep his mind occupied as Regina took a bathe.

Before Regina stripped of the clothes she looked around, studying the plants that grew besides the river. Daniel had shown different plants' properties, she had learnt with him that some plants could be used as soaps, of course it was not the same thing as a soap, and some of them smelt pretty badly, but at least she would be clean. So she scavenged the region.

First she found a bunch of a white flower that people call Soap Lily, it was generally used for washing hair, since it was effective against dandruff. Then, Regina found tree of Horse Chestnuts, those were good for cleaning the skin, but it stank. Luckily for the Queen, she also found a bed of Soapwort, a pink flower that she would use for washing her body from the Horse Chestnut's odor.

Once she was done cleaning herself, she dried her body with the old dress and put on the clothes that Robin had brought her. The thought of the man who had brought her the dress made her realize that Robin hadn't made any comment since he let her take the bathe alone. Had he left her? She didn't want to admit it to herself, but the thought made her panicked a bit.

"Are you still here?" she asked, unsure if she was actually talking to someone.

"Are you done?" she heard Robin reply and exhaled a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"Almost." Regina replied getting dressed.

The pants were, indeed, a little big for her. She had to fold the ends so she wouldn't step on them. But it felt so nice to be on pants again. The shirt and the jacket fit perfectly on her body, she looked down at them, wondering how had been the previous owner. The only thing she was truly missing now where her riding boots, but luckily, she had not been traveling in heels but in flat shoes, so at least it was not unbearable.

She started walking towards Robin as she braided her damped hair. This is how she was supposed to live, wearing pants and having her hair braided, walking in the forest with no worries. No high buns and dresses, no tiaras and high heels, that was just not her.

"You should braid your hair more often." Robin said when he saw her.

"Thank you," she replied, noticing it was the second time in a day that she said those words to him. Maybe he deserved to be treated with kindness, after all he had been nothing but gentle towards her, "I haven't braided it since I married the King. I am not allowed to wear this hairstyle at court."

"Too bad, it suits you," he commented with a shrug. "I made you something." the outlaw spoke after a while.

"You made me something?" Regina asked, and he couldn't decipher if she was shocked or disgusted by the fact that he thought he could make something worth of being hers.

"Well, don't sound so shocked," he defended his actions, "I got bored, you took an awful amount of time to bathe." Robin explained, not wanting to tell Regina the real reason behind needing to occupy his mind with something.

"It's not that," the Queen shook her head "It's just... no one has made something for me in a long time ago."

"Except the hundred chefs that cook you dinner," Robin mocked her.

"They hardly do that because they feel like doing it, it's their job."

And there it was: the sadness that tried to hide behind the toughness of the Queen's voice. "Here," he said, wanting to put an end to her sadness, and handing her a flower crown "It's probably not as pretty as the ones you have back home." Robin added.

"It's beautiful." Regina replied and her smile made her eyes look shinier. She didn't take the crown from Robin, instead she bowed her head a little and let him put the crown on her head.

He had not expected that reaction. Not the Queen telling that the crown was beautiful and even less allowing him to place it on top of her head. Robin set the crown gently over her hair, which smelled like flowers already. Had she made soap out of flowers? Did she even know how? There was a whole side to Regina that remained hidden behind the regal appearance that a queen is expected to have. A side that he was dying to know.

When Regina raised her head to meet his gaze with hers, she stole his breath. The Queen was a beautiful woman; but seeing her in his world, dressed as one of his own, with her beautiful hair braided and a flower crown on her head was a sight that would mesmerize any man.

"Now, you look like a true queen." he commented, a smiled at her.

"The Queen of the Woods." Regina said in a teasing tone. The tone was so foreign to herself, the feeling of be enjoying with someone else as well; but it also felt good, it made her feel happy.

"Queen of the Woods, indeed," he smiled at her, "Now, let's go back to the camp, I don't want the Merry Men to worry about us."

"About you, you mean." she corrected him and the smiled disappeared from her face. The feeling of not being loved by anyone took over her mind again. The outlaws didn't really care what happened to her, she was just a part of their treasure, ready to be exchanged by cash, nothing less and nothing more.

"You would find that some of my men are really good company if you would give them the chance," Robin said, trying to make her feel better. He hated seeing her so fragile and broken. "I could put you on kitchen duty with Little John, if you want."

"I don't know how to cook." Regina replied, staring at the ground.

"I've heard Little John makes an excellent culinary teacher," the outlaw said, and he dared to lift the Queen's chin with his index finger. She didn't move away, nor protest about his touch; she stood still, "Just try to enjoy yourself while you are with us."

Regina pursed her lips into a thin smile and nodded. The problem was that she feared she'd like it too much; and then, her heart wouldn't be able to survive once the King paid the money the Merry Men were asking for her.

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