Outside the Castle
Elaine returns to work. As in, she spends the next couple of days in a state of utter terror while trying to do her job.
By some miracle, no one caught her sneaking away. Margery scolded her for taking so long with the pots, but compared to what could have happened, that feels incredibly minor. Even so, that part of things isn't as comforting as it should be. Elaine is much too worried about what's happening with another person.
Or, better put, two people.
Regina found them. Of anyone who could have, that might have been the worst. If Elaine had been some nameless servant who she didn't know, it could have been better, but no. Regina knows who Elaine is and she remembers. Now, there's no way that she'll let it slip her mind. If Regina so chooses to tell anyone about what happened, Elaine will be truly, completely doomed. When she worries about it, she wonders if what she's done would be enough to get her kicked out of the castle altogether.
It's not like can be demoted, and she's heard of people being sent away and forced to live on their own. If that happened... Elaine knows she wouldn't make it. She's never done anything by herself before. She wouldn't know how to live.
So she spends those couple of days dwelling in pure anxiety. Did Nikola stand up for her? Or did he lie to make himself look better in his betrothed's eyes?
There's no way to know.
Just thinking about it makes her hands tremble, and Elaine's work suffers for it. She gets clumsy, obviously so— to the point where a couple of the other serving girls ask if she's feeling alright. Elaine brushes off their concerns, but even she knows that she must look like a wreck.
With no idea of what else to do, all Elaine can manage is to hope for the best and try not to let herself spiral too badly.
And then, everything gets worse.
She's just getting up, just slowly eating her morning meal in the hopes that even this small amount of food won't upset her stomach (as things have been lately), when one of the other girls approaches her, looking serious.
"What?" Elaine asks. She knows she sounds dead and snappy, but there really isn't any turning it off.
"Um... you've been requested. Lady Regina is going on an herb hunting trip today, and she sent a message for you to attend her," the girl says simply.
Elaine almost gags on the bite of bread in her mouth.
"I don't know. I'm just passing on the message." The girl shrugs. "I'd get going if I were you. They want to leave soon."
And Elaine has no choice. She hurries to finish her food, even though it makes her stomach lurch, and... readies herself to leave. Regina had invited her before, but after what happened with Nikola, Elaine would have assumed that the invitation had long since expired. But she doesn't appear to be quite so lucky, and now, she's going to have to face Regina once again.
From there, she follows the other girl's directions and heads to the front gate of the castle. There's a small, plain carriage waiting outside, and another servant fills her in that Regina will be leaving shortly in her own personal transport. Elaine gets into the carriage nervously, almost flinching as she does. She's never been in one before. And she's especially never been outside the castle— at least, not that she can remember. The thought that this will be her first time in the outside world is vaguely terrifying.
And even worse, the thought that she'll soon be in Regina's company with no escape. Out in the woods, even if she wants to, there's no way to escape. She'll be trapped with Regina until the other girl decides it's time for them to leave.
Elaine wonders if this might be an attempt at punishing her.
The carriage starts moving soon enough. Through the small window beside her, Elaine watches the scenery move past. It leaves another wave of nausea hovering low in her gut.
This is her first time outside. That thought won't go away. The harder Elaine tries not to think about it, the more she winds up stuck on the idea that she's outside. Her heart won't stop pounding. She can barely sit still. Eventually, even looking out the window becomes too much. For all she feels like a coward for not being able to face it, she can't get herself to calm down.
And the threat of Regina doesn't make that any better.
The rest of the trip is misery. It's not far, maybe an hour of travelling at most, but Elaine is feeling downright sick by the time the carriage pulls to a stop.
The driver opens the door for her, and Elaine sees her first glimpse of the world outside what's always been her home.
They're pulled up on a road just on the outskirts of a thickly wooded area. The trees aren't huge where she stands, but when Elaine looks deeper into the land in front of her, they only seem to get bigger and more intimidating. The air smells dark, heavy, and earthy, like plants that Elaine has never been near before, and the faint calls of birds can be heard above her and all around. Wind rushes through the trees' leaves in a sudden gust that blows Elaine's hair into her face and leaves her skirt whipping around her legs.
All in all, it's terrifying. Elaine stands there for a moment or two, and with permission from the driver, eventually perches on the step of the carriage. All she has to do now is wait for Regina to arrive— and to see what kind of misery is on its way.