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[21] The Truth

Over the next couple of days, Regina tries her best. As in, she does everything in her power to reach out to Nikola and get closer. He may be distracted by Elaine, but she's determined to do what's needed to steer him back on track.

It means ignoring the jealous little voice inside of her, of course, but Regina can do that.

When she's not working on her embroidery, her potions, or skimming through one of the textbooks she brought with her, she's trying to see him. This mostly involves attending Nikola's archery practice, sitting in on his magic practice, and requesting to have meals with him. It works... to a certain degree. While Nikola is as polite as can be, Regina can't help but get the feeling that his mind is elsewhere.

He smiles when he sees her. He's always welcoming when she wants to be close. Nikola never turns her away or treats her like anything but a welcome companion... so why does she feel so much like he's displeased?

It's frustrating. There have been very few people before who haven't liked her, and even then, it wasn't Regina's job to get on their good sides. This situation is just plain difficult.

And of course, knowing (or at least, being able to guess) that his mind is on Elaine is the worst part.

Technically speaking. Regina could report the situation. She could tell her father, have the servant girl removed, and get rid of the problem with ease. It wouldn't be hard. Nikola would never have a chance of seeing Elaine again, and that would make things much simpler.

The problem there, though, is that Regina doesn't want to cause unnecessary spite. If she removes Elaine, Nikola will surely resent her, and then, she'll be no better off than where she started. On top of that, she likes Elaine. Even if it's laced with envy, Regina doesn't hold an active grudge against the girl. Before the mess with Nikola became apparent, she'd even thought of requesting for Elaine to accompany her back home as a personal servant. Harming her doesn't seem fair.

But the issue of Nikola stands, and Regina has little she can think to do about that.

"Nikola, good morning."

Once again, Regina has stopped by the prince's morning archery practice. She's been careful to keep herself in pristine appearance and the smile that she wears is one of her best. To anyone else, it would appear that she's the picture of poised contentment.

"Good morning, Regina. You look well," he replies. They're past the point of 'Lord' and 'Lady' by now, but the casual attitude somehow seems more distant than ever before.

"I am, thank you. How goes the practice?"

Nikola draws back his bow before he answers. With a deep, slow inhale, he lets the arrow loose. It hits the target perfectly.

"Quite well," he grins. "As you can see, I've been keeping up my usual pace."

When Regina looks past him, there are five more targets, each pelted with arrows that are embedded with terrifyingly precise accuracy. Not a single shot is more than six inches away from its mark. As always, Nikola is impressive.

"I can see that. Are you tired? We could go inside for a bit and rest... maybe talk for a while?" She brushes some of her hair out of her face and gives the sweetest smile she can muster. It's the kind of thing that charms even the sternest noble lords and sets everyone around her at ease.

Nikola merely smiles back. "Perhaps in a bit. I'd like to get through the rest of these before I take a break."

There's a small pile of arrows next to him. Regina doesn't let her expression falter. He hasn't said anything wrong. There's no rational reason for her to be frustrated. She'll go inside, spend some time in her workshop, and drown out all of this. Nikola will come around. He has to.

But before she excuses herself, she finds one more thing to say. One more question to test.

"Nikola... are you still thinking of her?"

An arrow flies loose and completely misses its mark.

"Well, to some degree," he laughs, unnervingly casual. "Elaine is my friend, Regina. I'm not bothered by keeping my distance, but I would like to see her again at some point."

"...I'm worried."

"What about?"

"Your mind is wandering," she says, internally sickened by the way her voice falters. "We're engaged. All of this time waiting, all of our fathers' plans, and now, I'm watching you be preoccupied with another woman." It's far more honest than she meant it to be, and Regina could all but curse herself inside. She isn't supposed to let on so much. Insecurities aren't right for someone like her to show.

"Regina, please, set yourself at ease," Nikola says tenderly. He sets his bow down for a moment and turns toward her. "You don't have to worry. There's no need to be concerned about the boys I go hunting with, is there? Elaine is no different. She's a servant. I'd never have feelings for her of the same nature as what I hold for you. It's impossible."

He reaches out and pats her head at that point. Regina closes her eyes at the feel of his strong hand against her hair. Even though he's being kind, she's consumed by the feeling that this gesture isn't for her. That something, someone else is in his mind.

"You're right. I'm worrying for nothing. I should have more faith in you, after all." Regina lets a smile return to her lips.


Regina excuses herself after that. When she's inside the castle again, surrounded on all sides by cold stone, she lets her shoulders drop and her smile fall away.

It really isn't fair.

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