It was closer to one hour before they reached the fork in the road Regina had mentioned.
Emma had talked to Robin but he wasn’t convinced about her argument. To him it was unlikely that the people in the camps reported back daily to the base and he thought they had a good chance of surprising them - if they moved in quickly. Going uphill now would cost them hours of daylight in which they would probably see any attack coming. He had good arguments, but Emma had her haunch.
“All right,” Emma said as they were standing at the fork. She leaned over her saddle horn, closer to the tall man. “I’ll take a few of my father’s men and go uphill. You wait here two hours, and I’ll send a signal if I see anything like a trap on the way. How’s that? If there’s nothing there, you head out and I’ll catch up with you as fast as I can.”
Robin thought about this plan.
“Two hours, Robin,” she repeated.
“All right. Take a dozen men. Everybody else, we take a break but I want everyone ready to go in two hours.”
“A dozen? I thought I’d just take four--” Emma started to argue.
“Your father entrusted me with your life, Emma. If something should happen to you, there’s going to be another king hunting me. I’m not going to take that risk.”
“Neither will I. I’m going with Emma,” Regina chose that moment to say.
Both Emma and Robin turned to her in surprise.
“But we’ll need you to lead us,” Robin argued.
Emma kept quiet.
“We’ll have caught up with you long before that point. Just follow the way we took yesterday. It will be helpful if I can take a look at the terrain we’re going to travel. It should look a little different now,” Regina told Robin. She turned to Emma and just caught her smiling. “Are we ready to go, savior?”
Emma smirked. “If you follow me.” She looked for her father’s men, but twelve of them had already assembled and now build a formation that would allow the women to ride between them, six men in front, six behind.
They set out at a fast pace but as they were going uphill, Emma soon ordered them to go slower so as not to tire the horses too much.
“Thank you, by the way,” she said after a while riding in silence.
“For?” Regina asked, not bothering to look at her.
“For giving me the vote of confidence,” Emma said and saw Regina suppress a grin.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, savior. We should hurry, we only have two hours,” she said.
Emma knew it was just to change the subject. Regina didn’t spur her horse.
“Is savior your new nickname for me? I’ve never heard you say it without a hint of sarcasm before.”
“What do you mean ‘new’ nickname. I’ve never had a nickname for you, none that I called you to your face, at least,” she added, now smirking.
Emma laughed. “Oh, come one, just confess that calling me ‘Miss Swan’ held just a little bit of affection,” Emma teased, or maybe she was actually flirting with Regina. She couldn’t tell and as long as Regina didn’t resist, she would also not stop. And by the laugh that came from her, Regina didn’t mind the banter at all.
“You’re delirious, Miss Swan,” she gave back, emphasizing the address just like she used to. It actually gave Emma goosebumps to hear her say it.
She grinned mischievously. “That sounds like you’re daring me to call you ‘madam Mayor.’”
“Well, considering where we are a ‘Your Majesty’ would completely suffice, dear,” came the answer.
They exchanged a look, long and lingering. Once again, it was Regina who broke it by blinking. Then she turned her attention back to the road and Emma could see the walls were back up.
Emma sighed quietly. ‘Just once...,’ she thought already knowing that once wouldn’t be enough, she wanted forever.