On the Road
Emma lost sight of Regina as they left the courtyard. But she spotted Mulan and waved her over. The two women rode together for the first hour. Mulan told Emma about Aurora’s children, three by now. She said they were showing promise which was high praise coming from Mulan.
“Where is your friend?” Mulan asked at some point.
Emma looked at her blankly before realizing that the other woman talked about Regina. “I’m not sure. She should be around.” She turned in her saddle, but still couldn’t detect Regina as the road they were on was narrow, restricted on both sides by dense wood.
“Robin talked about her this morning.”
Emma’s head whipped back around. “What did he say?”
“He said she was graceful,” Mulan answered.
“Well, she is,” Emma returned in a level voice, even though her pulse beat a little more insistent than a moment before. It annoyed her that Robin talked about Regina, it also annoyed her that it annoyed her. It wasn’t really her business if Robin liked Regina – or if Regina liked Robin. He had made her laugh when they had talked earlier and that didn’t happen often with her. Emma usually succeeded at it now but it had taken time for them to be that comfortable with each other. Of course, they had a complicated history… Robin could just waltz in, be charming and make Regina laugh.
“Did he say something else about her?” Emma asked, wondering why she kept torturing herself. Already she could hear the first chords of ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ from Funny Girl in her head. She really didn’t need this.
“That she seems very serious and mysterious.”
Emma huffed. “Mysterious,” she grumbled to herself.
“You don’t trust Robin. Why not?” Mulan was nothing if not direct.
Usually Emma appreciated the other woman’s straight forwardness. This question, however, merely made her glare into the distance.
“He’s very brave and good-hearted, Emma. Regina would be very lucky if he asked her to marry him.”
“Marry? Who says anything about marrying? Regina can’t stay here anyway, she has been exiled from the Enchanted Forest.”
“And yet she is here now. It’s where these things usually lead to, don’t they? A man and a woman meet, they like each other, they get married.”
The thoughtful note in Mulan’s voice wasn’t lost on Emma, but she didn’t think about it, because she now started looking in earnest for Regina. She had promised Henry to look out for her and it might be a good time to start. “She’s not going to marry Robin Hood,” Emma said before she turned her horse around to go looking for Regina.
Emma made slow progress through the throng of riders and foot soldiers. Some of her father’s men greeted her and she talked to them. She came to notice the different colors of the different kingdoms - her father’s colors were red and white, Phillip’s blue and black, while Eric’s were green and gold. The banners and armors of their men paid tribute to that, of course. It was all very princely and made a spectacular noise.
Robin’s men were garbed mostly in soft leather and were easy to detect among the princely guards. They seemed indeed ‘merry’ as many of them talked to whoever was around, there was a small group of them making music, and a golden-haired boy sang to it. Emma had an inkling that they would use Robin’s men as lookouts once they came closer to where the criminals were supposed to camp.
As she neared the end of the procession, she finally spotted Regina in a group of Merry Men who were on horseback. One of them was Robin and Emma frowned on seeing him. She had expected that he would ride at the head of the column.
Emma pulled her stallion to a halt and watched the interaction between Regina and Robin from the side of the road. They didn’t talk to each other, instead they were both listening to a dark-skinned man whom Emma hadn’t met yet. She noticed with unease, that Regina and Robin rode next to each other, Robin looking over at Regina quite frequently, seemingly to see how she reacted to what was being said. Regina looked at him, too, Emma noticed. Less often and more covertly, but she did look.
Emma took a deep breath and steered her horse close to Regina’s as these last riders rode by. She didn’t say anything to her, she merely took her place at her side and started listening to the dark-skinned man also. He told them about the men they were searching for. They seemed unusually well organized for a band of thugs, they had better weapons than was to be expected, they were also more vicious than was necessary. Azeem, as Robin called the man, said that he assumed that they wanted something, something other than just raiding villages. What this something might be, Regina asked him.
Azeem shrugged his shoulders. “We all have something we yearn for. Sometimes a group of men with the same yearning comes together to reach their goal. That’s usually the beginning of political unrest.”
Regina looked at him thoughtfully.
“What is it called when women come together to reach a goal?” Emma asked into the silence that followed Azeem’s words.
“I’m sure some of my friends would say ‘gossip,’ but in my experience it’s called education,” he said seriously and nodded at Emma.
Emma nodded back.
“Emma, I’m glad you decided to join us. Azeem, here, is our declared expert on our adversaries. He’s talked to everyone who had information about them and Regina tells me that you usually find your targets through... what did you call it?”
“Intel,” Regina said.
“Yes, intel. You collect information?”
“Intel is short for intelligence. We use it for any kind of information we can gather about a person,” Emma explained.
Robin nodded. “Azeem could help you with that.”
Emma smiled at Azeem in acknowledgment, then she looked back at Regina. “You’re going to be all right?”
“Of course,” Regina answered with an amused smile.
“You told our son that we were looking out for each other. If something were to happen to you it would be on me,” Emma explained her worry.
“You know why I told him that.”
“Yes, but I also know that you’ve got my back when we’re in a tight spot and I want you to know that I got yours.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, Regina frowning at first, but then accepting Emma’s words with a nod.
“We’re still a little ways away from trouble, Emma. I’ll be fine for the time being,” she promised her.
“I’ll make sure of that,” Robin said and both women turned to see him smile reassuringly.
Regina turned back to Emma. “I’ll be close.” She smiled.
“Good.” Emma steered her horse over to Azeem.
He greeted her easily and started telling her about the marauders in great detail.