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[03] First Words

Nikola leads her through the castle. Regina follows obediently. He shows her places from the kitchen area (where servants bustle about) to the throne room, all with that smile that Regina is quickly getting used to. She trails after him and nods whenever he explains something. She should be pleased to see her future home for the first time.

And it is her future home. If she married Nikola, this palace will be hers. And there's really no 'if' about it. Regina's role has been laid out clearly for her. This is her home now— or at least, she might as well start seeing it as such.

The castle turns out to be larger than expected. Even after seeing it from the outside, the countless twists and turns of the interior are far more complex than the mansion where she grew up. Navigating this place is going to be tricky. Regina commits as much of what she sees to memory as she can, even though it feels almost futile to try. She's bound to get lost, at first.

"Would you like to see the gardens next?" Nikola asks sweetly. He's not holding her hand anymore, but he's also careful not to get too far ahead of her.

"Yes, please. I'd love that."

"They're beautiful, I assure you," he tells her. Of course they are. This is a palace. Nothing isn't lovely.

And from there, he takes her down a flight of stairs, a couple of turns to the right, and back outside through an entirely different door than they entered through.

Just as Nikola promised, the gardens are stunning. Clearly well maintained. There are more scattered flower patches and blooming bushes than plain hedges or carefully sculpted paths, but the winding trails through the display are all the more eye-catching for how few there are. Regina steps out into the midst of it all and inhales. The roses smell sweet even from where she stands.

"Stunning, hm?"

"Yes, quite. There are more flowers than I'm used to and fewer walking trails. Is there a reason?" she asks sweetly.

"My mother liked flowers. Father keeps plenty growing for her. Girls love flowers, don't they?" he laughs, tipping his head back to stare up at the sky. Somehow, it seems like a sorrowful gesture.

But Regina, thinking of her own opinions... can't help but laugh as well. She giggles behind a hand politely held to her mouth. "You have no idea. I guess you could say... I've always had a passion for them. Such pretty things."

The two wind up on a bench a short way into the garden, near a patch of white lilies and across from one of red roses, Regina's long skirt tucked around her knees and her hands folded in her lap. The light breeze blows a couple of locks of her dark hair out of its updo and into her face, so she brushes them behind her ear.

"So..." Nikola starts. "To go with a harmless topic, magic. Are you learned?"

"Of course," Regina replies. "Aren't all nobles these days? Father taught me a few things of his own, and I've of course had private tutors. I'm as skilled in my specialty as anyone of my status, although I'm certain I still have much to learn."

"Very nice. I'm glad I won't be the only one of us who knows it."

"Oh? What kinds do you use?"

"Curses are my specialty," Nikola says with a hesitant quirk of his lips. "Sounds scary, I know. They were my aptitude when I was young, so I practiced a lot and learned how to control it. Better that than letting the talent run wild. It made people nervous, but it's not like I ever misused it."

"Of course. The type of magic matters far less than the wielder. It says nothing against you that you work with such a kind. I'm actually quite impressed. I've never met anyone who works with curses in depth."

Curse magic is... intimidating. Its reputation isn't exactly good. It's hard to picture this sandy-haired boy with his wide smile and casual mannerisms being someone to misuse cruel forces and torture people with his power, but the rumors are difficult to shake. Regina thinks on it for a moment. She's not going to judge, at least not out loud, but it's interesting that someone like him would have an aptitude for that.

"I also use lightning! I'm nowhere near as good at it, but you know, basics. A few bolts here and there, enough to split a tree or make someone's hair stand on end, depending on how much I use," he says teasingly. "Movement manipulation too. Archery is a hobby of mine, and I've gotten quite good at directing shots."

"Isn't that cheating?" Regina jests in return.

"Not at all! There's a boy in my usual group who uses magical strength to pull his bow back and one whose eyes are twice as keen as a man's should be."

"Oh, so it's an even playing field."

"Indeed. And... you want to marry me, right?" The question comes out of nowhere.


"Our marriage. You want it, don't you? You're not afraid? I've known girls who wed just because they're told to and don't like it at all. I wouldn't want to do that to someone."

Naive, Regina thinks. There's no room for want in the world that they're in. "My lord, of course I do. I barely know you yet, so it's hard to name my favor, but you seem to be a kind person and this union will be good for both of us. I'm not hesitating. I've been waiting for a chance to meet you for years."

Nikola looks satisfied with her answer. The conversation sways again to their parents and to life, and before Regina knows it, the sky has begun to turn pink and orange on the horizon.

From there, Nikola stands and takes her hand. He offers to lead her to where she'll be staying so she can get some rest. The travel must have been exhausting, of course, so it makes sense that she'd like to retire for the night. Regina thanks him. It does sound nice to get some sleep after the trip she's had.

More confusing hallways later and she's brought to a lavish room decorated with red, purple, and dark wood. The bed is large and every part of it is spotlessly clean.

It's a room fit for a princess, which makes her close her eyes and sigh. They're definitely treating her well.

"Is it to your liking, my lady?" Nikola asks.

"Yes, of course. It's lovely."

"Good. A servant will bring you your evening meal shortly, and after that, there will be people to attend to you whenever you need it. First thing in the morning, we'll send a serving girl to your room to help you with anything you need," Nikola explains.

"Thank you. I'll get some rest now. I appreciate the tour and our conversation. Hopefully, we'll get more time together tomorrow."

With one last smile, Nikola excuses himself. Regina is now alone in the room that'll be hers for at least the next couple of weeks. The plan is that she stays here for a month or two to start, then her father will decide if they'll return home for a bit or have Regina stay for longer, depending on how she feels about Nikola and the situation as a whole. There's time to develop the relationship and go slow, but also room to make a snap decision.

Regina changes out of her clothes and prepares for bed. She's thinking all the while about the boy she's to wed. As she undoes her hair, she stares into the mirror above her vanity. Her reflection is the picture of the lady she's meant to be. A lady who will soon have a husband and a territory to help rule.

She turns away from the mirror and doesn't look back.

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