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[20] Regina's Reflection

When the carriage door closes behind her, Regina sighs.

What a shame. There’s a bit of guilt weighing on her for what happened with Elaine, but... she had to do it. If she doesn’t snuff out Elaine and Nikola’s budding connection before it takes route, it won’t end well for either of them.

The carriage begins to move. Regina adjusts the two baskets of plants beside her to make sure that they won’t overbalance with the unsteady pace. The one that Elaine collected, she was quite short on. It grows more commonly in this area, and she hadn’t been able to get it imported for a good few months. Her own basket is packed with a greater variety. After all, she knows far better what herbs to pick and which ones have no use.

It’s been a long day already. For all Regina enjoys going hunting for ingredients, she’s not quite as athletic as the job requires. In all honesty, Elaine is probably far better off.

Elaine is built petite and is shorter than Regina by a good few inches, but she’s stocky in a way that implies the benefit of hard work. When Regina looks at her own stick-thin arms and delicate wrists, she’s almost a bit envious. She understands that Elaine’s life isn’t easy, but having a bit more strength would be nice.

And... that gets into a topic of its own.

When Regina closes her eyes, the same thoughts press at her. Nikola is showing interest in Elaine. Too much.

It’s not safe for anyone, least of all Elaine herself.

The world passes by outside the carriage. Regina glances out at the trees and blue, slightly cloudy sky. Where they’re at is in between cities, so it’s mostly nature.

And the trip goes quickly. Even though it's about an hour to get back, the time seems to fly. Regina stares out the window, hums to herself, and adjusts her plants from time to time, and before she knows it, the carriage is pulling up at the castle once again.

"Thank you," she smiles at the driver as he helps her out. Politeness is a virtue, and a good nature is one just the same.

"Do you wish for someone to accompany you, my lady?" he asks.

"No, thank you. I'm returning to my workshop. If my father asks, I'll be to dinner on time. I'd like to get these herbs put away as quickly as possible," she explains.

The driver nods, and Regina slips into the castle.

It's a short walk back to her workshop. Regina spends it thinking, as she has been for quite a while now. The two baskets of herbs, one held in each hand, are a familiar weight. How long has she been making potions? How old was she when her father gave her the first textbook?

She shuts the door behind her when she steps inside, then locks it... for a reason that she can't exactly place. Being alone sounds good right now, and she wants to make sure that no one interrupts her. There's too much going on in her head for her to deal with keeping a smile up and responding to servants or simply other people properly. The tiredness of a day out is sinking in, and Regina wants to rest and tend to her potions for now.

As she begins to file away the plants Elaine collected, bagging them, and making sure no stems are crushed, her mind wanders to the situation at hand.

Nikola is clearly fond of Elaine. Too much so. Whether there's romantic intention there or not, Regina doesn't like it. Nikola is her betrothed, yes, but Elaine is also someone that she's beginning to consider to be a friend. Well, as much of one as a servant can be to someone like her.

And Elaine would get hurt if anyone knew. If Lord Cornelius or her own father were to find out that a mere servant was becoming close to the prince, there would be trouble. Not just for Elaine, either. Nikola's consequences would be nowhere near as severe, but her father wouldn't be pleased if the person his daughter intended to marry was spending too much time with another girl.

That's just the reality of it.

If she could be sure that nothing would develop and that no one would be punished, Regina wouldn't mind the two of them being friends. But again, the reality is that relationships escalate quickly between men and women— and that isn't safe for anyone.

It's her duty to marry Nikola. Regina's known that for a while now. Growing up, she always thought she'd marry the person her father would choose for her, fulfill his wishes, and be happy.

That was all there was to it. Her purpose as a daughter is exactly that, and she's never assumed anything else.

Nikola was chosen for her. Lord Cornelius is her father's closest friend. Everything about the union is perfect, and by marrying into the Braegon family, Regina herself will be guaranteed the life of a queen. She'd live safely and contentedly forever. It's the kind of thing she's thought about since she was a little girl, and the kind of thing anyone in her place would dream of.

Elaine can't be allowed to get in the way. It's common sense. No matter what, Elaine can't interfere with what needs to be done. Not only would it impact Regina herself, but her father and Lord Cornelius as well would be displeased.

Regina continues bagging up her plants. The ones that Elaine picked are neatly put away, and she moves onto her own.

The variety of herbs she gathered is good. There are new things in this area, so she'll be able to experiment with equally new recipes while she's visiting. It brings a smile to her lips. Even when she's filled with doubt and concern, the plants, crystals, candles, extracts, and everything else she needs stay the same. Her magic never leaves her. For years now, when she can't do anything else, she throws herself into the work of making things.

It's always been calming for her to see something piece together under her hands. Embroidery, painting, and other such pursuits are good, but nothing compares to her potions.

Regina's fingers trail over a soft, slightly fuzzy plant with a greyish hue to its leaves. She glances down at it for a moment, mentally running through its uses. This one's main purpose, remembered as perfectly as everything else in the room, is the primary ingredient in a strong sedative.

The crystal beside her can be used to enchant a weed killer, and the bottle of fermented juice from a particular berry is excellent for repelling pests.

Running through the uses of her ingredients in her mind is comforting. Even though she knows she did what she had to, a vague sense of guilt at how she frightened Elaine is still nudging at Regina's thoughts. As much as she knows she's an intimidating person, doing something like that to someone she almost considers to be a friend isn't Regina's favorite.

She just hopes that what she did will be enough.

And as for Nikola, the person who this all centers around... Regina's having her doubts there, just the same.

He's a kind person, of course. As Lord Cornelius's son, there's nothing to dislike about him. Eloquent in speech, skilled with magic and athletics alike, kind to everyone around him, and good-natured almost to a fault, Nikola seems all but perfect.

Regina knows by now that he's not.

In the short time she's known him, Regina has gotten a distinct impression that the beloved prince is selfish. It's the simplest way to put it. What he said about Elaine, his simple honesty... it somehow rubbed her the wrong way. Was he not aware that saying exactly what he thought could easily get Elaine in trouble? Regina can't help but see how much harm could have been caused by the blunt admission of the truth.

However, that's if it was the truth. Regina's found that with Nikola, that's not always the case.

It hasn't been anything major yet, but she's caught him in a couple of lies in their short conversations. They're subtle and harmless ones, barely noticeable to anyone less attentive than herself, but they're the sort where the untruth is told for convenience and an easy way out. Claiming he's busy when he's not. Saying he remembers something when he doesn't. Things like that, which hardly mean anything in the long run, somehow set Regina's instincts on edge.

And on top of that, what he said about Elaine leaves her with questions. Nikola claimed that he has no feelings for her beyond friendship, but with what Elaine's seen of him so far, she can't help but have her doubts.

Would he tell her the truth if he did have them?

She doesn't know if she can believe him or not, and that makes her all the more tense. The situation with Elaine and her prince is getting to her. Regina doesn't like the sound of things so far. The idea of being pulled away from her duty by a servant girl stepping in where she doesn't belong isn't a pleasant one.

Then comes the last of her problems. Regina, sitting by now, has been idling organizing crystals for... a while. She's not sure of how long she's been doing it, just that she's been chewing her lip sore for a few minutes as well. It's not good for her to lose her composure like this. She's been raised better. Something like jealousy shouldn't get the better of her so easily.

And that's the worst part of all. She's jealous.

There's no reason why she should ever be jealous of a servant who's as low as one can be. Elaine's life and Regina's own couldn't be more different, and there's nothing there to reasonably envy.

Even so, Regina catches herself with those annoying, unwanted feelings more often than she'd like.

There's something honest about Elaine. Regina herself always has to be who she needs to be. She smiles always, treats everyone like a lady should, and carries herself with dignity. And looking at Elaine, there's a blunt, unhidable openness that catches her eye and makes it so she can't look away. Even Nikola sees Elaine in a completely different way than he does her. For all Regina knows, he might like the serving girl better altogether.

And it leaves her bitter. She doesn't want to threaten someone who she'd rather have as a friend, but when those jealous feelings get the better of her, Regina can't help but feel the need to push back. To remind herself that what she has is better.

She knows it's weak of her.

Eventually, after what might be a couple of hours spent in the workshop doing whatever menial tasks she can think of, Regina has to tear herself away.

Dinner is soon, and her father would have questions if she didn't attend. She needs to pull herself together and be the Lady Adaire she's meant to be. No matter what goes on inside her head, expectations weigh on Regina's shoulders, and nothing, not even whatever kind of feelings she has for Elaine, will get in the way of her living up to them.

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