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Arranged Marriage

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"Regina!" A woman in an elegant maroon dress tailored by the latest noblewomen's fashion trends in the kingdom purposefully strode through the well-lit hallway leading to the South Wing of the Manor, where currently the only child of Lord Henry presided. Huffing in annoyance, the woman pursed her lips as she managed to put more speed in her graceful steps, knowing that if they did not set out soon, they would have to travel during the night to get to the White Kingdom's capitol by the noon, where she and her husband were to present their daughter to the their Royal Majesties, King James and Queen Snow.

At the very thought of needing to bow down to the impostor and a whelp that had become a queen only because her fool of a father had formed a contingent of the very best guardsmen to protect her, the woman sneered in displeasure, but quickly her face straightened out, presenting a quite pleasant outlook. Only her dark eyes still glowed with her annoyance and disdain, one reserved for her daughter and the other for the royal couple they were to meet the next day.

"Regina," the woman said opening the door to her daughter's quarters, her keen eyes searching for the wayward girl, "I will not be embarrassed by your insolence." The threat in her voice might have been disguised, but it was very real and the young woman knew it, deciding that hiding from the woman would only incur her wrath – and it was not worth it, not after the last punishment she had received from her mother.

The young brunette stepped out of her hiding place, her eyes demurely pointed downwards as she fiddled with the gloves, still on her hands from her riding lesson she had with the stable hand, Daniel, along with her outfit she had donned that morning, having hoped she would have had the strength to run away on the back of her faithful steed, Rocinante. However, it had been kind Daniel that had dissuaded her, pointing out many dangers and lurking menace in the world, especially for a lonely woman like her. Therefore, she had returned to her rooms, refusing to take off her favorite jacket and shirt, knowing that the first thing her mother would do with them was order them burned the second they were out of the house. So, she had spent hours staring at the dress her maid had left out for her, scowling at the ridiculous pink bows hanging of it, absolutely refusing to put it on. She knew that her mother would not be pleased either way, whatever she did, so why not spend some time in the familiar and comforting clothes for as long as she could.

"Oh, what are you wearing?" the older woman scowled at the manly ensemble the girl had, and with one swirl of her wrist, she turned it into a most beautiful baby blue court dress. The dark hair suddenly had ringlets in it and the dark leather gloves transformed into shimmery white sateen ones. "There, much better," the woman nodded to herself, completely ignoring Regina's utter disappointment.

"Mother," the girl tried to speak, the fear of the formidable woman obvious in her trembling voice. "This dress is not suitable for travel."

"Then, next time you will not wait for me to dress you properly, dear." After a pointed look, the woman turned around and started toward the front of the large house, where her useless husband and the carriage awaited. "Come along now, dear. Enough dawdling."

The brunette followed her mother, several steps behind, knowing that any sign of dissent from her now would be severely dealt with. With a longing look, Regina glanced around the halls of her home, knowing that it was quite probable that she was seeing them for the last time in a very long time. All because her mother had brokered a marriage to a royal heir, in desire to spread her base of power. It was something Regina had learned long before – for her mother, the only worthy goal in life is to better one's social standing, and the only way for Regina to do so was to marry into Royal family, as she was already a nobility, her father being a son of King Xavier. It did not matter that she didn't want this marriage, that she was quite happy just riding and enjoying life, wanting to be free, away from the influence of her mother. Therefore, when her mother had come with the news of the royal engagement, and the deal made by her and the royal couple of the White kingdom some years before, Regina had spent several days not leaving her room, sobbing into her bedding, knowing that her life was ruined.

"Ah, Cora," the somewhat short older man spoke seeing the two women cross the threshold. "My dearest Regina, you look quite beautiful." He raised his hands reaching for his daughter, gentle smile lighting up his face.

"No time for nonsense, Henry," came the sharp rebuke from the older woman as she stepped into the carriage.

"Pay no attention to her, dear daughter," the man whispered to the young woman, offering his hand to help her into their ride.

"Thank you, Daddy," Regina replied softly, her dark eyes crinkling in pleasure at his doting, happy that she wouldn't be alone with her mother for the length of this tedious journey.

Right after his young daughter, Lord Henry climbed in and gave the order to move out, steadily ignoring his wife's pursed lips, knowing that with a bit of luck and good handling of their horse master, they would reach the White castle by nightfall, sparing all of them of traveling at night, or greeting their majesties tired, the next day. Winking at Regina, he watched her turn away, her eyes going toward the fields and manor she had spent her childhood in. With a sad but unnoticeable sigh, he contemplated her fate, not pleased with his wife's machinations either, but he had no power over the woman, never able to reign her in, although he wished many times that he had the courage to stand up to the sorceress, especially in the defense of his daughter, but his own cowardly heart would betray him each time, leaving him to only comfort the young woman afterwards. He sincerely hoped that this marriage would be an opportunity for Regina to have a happier life. At least, a life away from Cora.

A shadow passed over the root of the oak tree, deep in the forest by the castle. Right after, a soft leather boot landed gently on the ground, careful not to touch any of the dried leaves or branches. After several seconds, the second boot joined the first, and their owner started treading through the dense foliage, remembering every lesson they ever had about tracking and sneaking upon their prey. Deftly, the person avoided the shrubbery, paying attention to the sounds of the forest, looking around for anything that stood out of the normal life in the woods. Stopping several hundred feet later, the person slowly notched an arrow and pulled back the string of the bow, making sure that the faithful weapon did not creek and alert their prey. After several moments spent on steading their breath, the person aimed and released the arrow, following its trajectory until it met with the target, downing a large buck down and startling the rest of the herd, making it run away frantically.

The person then placed the bow over their shoulders and stepped toward the fresh kill, not more mindful of their steps as there was no need to be silent anymore. Moving into a shaft of sunlight streaming through the crowns of the trees, the person suddenly gained more defined shape, the blonde hair, twined into a practical plait, shining in the light and revealing the gender of the person. It was a woman, a young woman, dressed into trousers and loose shirt with a form fitting vest over it, and with a forest green cloak resting on her shoulders. Her pale face had intelligent green eyes that missed nothing and aristocratic features that most would call beautiful, even enchanting, but the woman herself would only shrug those words away, thinking them empty flattery.

"That was a marvelous show of skill, your Highness," another woman spoke from behind, joining the first one, inclining her head in respect. The brunette had the similar style of clothes on, except her cloak was eye catching red.

"Now, Red, how many times have I told you to call me Emma?" the blonde spoke in exasperation, the gruffness of her complaint showing that they had had this conversation many times before. "There isn't a soul around, no one to lecture us on proper etiquette or such." Then, the princess looked at her companion and smiled widely. "It was a great shot, wasn't it? Like we practiced."

"Yes, but you are still dropping your elbow," Red remarked gently, patting the woman at the back, before she let out a shrill whistle. "Now, we need to start toward the castle, lunch time has passed, and if you miss dinner, your mother will have my head." As soon as they stepped away from the carcass, three men stepped out of the shadows, looking down at the bounty in awe, before the front man glanced up the older woman, waiting for instructions. "This for the larders, compliments of the princess," the brunette spoke with authority, and after she received a nod and a respectful bow, she let the young companion out of the forest.

"I just don't understand, Ruby, why are they doing this?" the princess spoke after several minutes spent in silence, trekking over the fields toward the castle. "I mean, I know I am at the right age to marry and all that, but mother told me my fiancée is Lady Cora's daughter. A girl." Confusion was quite evident in the woman's face, the frown marring her forehead.

"You know that marriage between two women, and two men, is legal in the White Kingdom," her companion remarked.

"Yes, but I thought that the Royal couple was supposed to present stability and a way to prolong the ruling line," the princess replied, remembering quite well her boring lessons. "I don't see that happening if we are both women, and not True Loves. It just doesn't make sense."

The red cloaked woman considered the point before she shook her head. "This is the question for your parents, Emma. I am afraid I don't have any answers for you."

The girl only hummed in response, throwing her legs in front of her, not caring about the dust she was raising. She had tried talking to her mother about it, but the Queen had kept putting it off and deflecting, so she didn't hope for much different results that night. However, she would try once more. Perhaps understanding the reasoning behind such decision of her parents would make this affair much easier to deal with. Emma had learned very young that being a royalty had a certain responsibility, and being Heir Apparent, that responsibility was much larger, accompanied by duty and sacrifice. When she had been a little girl, she hadn't minded it then, thinking that she would be just like Mommy and Daddy, taking care of all the people in the kingdom, bravely defending it from all enemies. But, as she grew, she had started to comprehend the full extent of the duties placed upon good monarchs, learning that things were not quite so simple. After her seventeenth birthday, she had resigned herself to being married off to some obnoxious prince, or nobleman, and ruling with that particular man beside her, and if she were lucky enough, he would have sense to let her do what she had been born to do.

However, learning that she was to be married to a woman presented a conundrum, a novelty in something that she had assumed was already done traditionally, and it intrigued her, enough to lessen the resentment for her fate.

Greeting the guards at the side entrance of the castle, having snuck by the outer walls, Emma and Ruby walked inside, parting in front of the door leading to the private wing of the castle, reserved for the royal family. Most days, her parents insisted on cozy small dinners, avoiding the pompous production the official dinners would have. Not only that it was highly unnecessary, it was a waste of food and money – both commodities that could be used to help the poor of the kingdom, her mother would often say with full support of her husband.

"Are you running tonight?" Emma asked the woman, glancing toward her turned back, knowing that the woman had heard her perfectly clear.

"Yes, it's the first night of the Moon," the brunette replied, looking over her shoulder, noticing the slight slump in the princess's shoulders at the information. Usually, the shifter would join the blonde at the evening strolls in the Royal gardens, except on the nights of the full moon, as the Wolf would be too dangerous, in Ruby's opinion, to be anywhere near the princess. "Sorry, pup. You are on your own." She added gently, her use of her nickname for the young woman bringing back the smile. "Now, go in, you're late as it is."

"Yeah, yeah," Emma grumbled in response, her purposefully exaggerated grouchiness making the shifter laugh, the exuberant chuckle following the princess as she entered the wing, the door opened by the ever present guard standing there. Nodding in acknowledgement, the princess rushed off to her parents' quarters not sparing a moment to change, as they were already all too used to her wild nature.

"Oh, Emma!" her mother greeted her cheerfully, already nibbling on the cold dishes served for dinner. "How was the hunt, sweetie?" the Queen asked, as the blonde kissed her cheek in affectionate greeting, her own hand going to a smudge of dirt on Emma's chin.

"Very successful," Emma said as she sank into warm hug her father bestowed on her, before she sat at the remaining place at the small table. "Venison would be on the menu one of these days," she added, pleased, her proclamation greeted with James's proud pat on her shoulder and Snow's beaming smile. Their celebration of her hunting expeditions came as no surprise for Emma, as the royal couple had always encouraged her to do what she liked, after finishing all the court obliged duties first. Of course, she received the proper upbringing, worthy of the royal princess, and she knew how to wear dresses, walk in those ridiculous shoes and command the attention of the entire grand hall with her poise, but she would rather spend her time with Ruby and Graham, former the Royal hunter and personal friend of the Queen, and the latter the captain of the king's guard. Emma was no stranger to weapons, capable of holding her own in a duel, however it wasn't all she had learned from the kind soldier. Many days, he would teach her about military formations, tactics and strategies, showing her the defensive maneuvers and secret passages throughout the castle. By the age of eighteen, she knew her home as the back of her hand, capable of simple appearing where she was needed, using the network of secret tunnels.

While they ate, James and Snow talked about their day, the meeting with the councilors, holding audience for the people, often retelling the stories they had heard during those times, amusing their daughter with anecdotes and enjoying hearing her reasoning at the difficult subjects presented by the villagers. Often, the king and the queen would share a proud look while their daughter would explain something, quite pleased that the child had such a keen and compassionate mind. However, the conversation turned toward the impending nuptials and the preparation for it. Seeing that particular subject as a perfect opening for her inquiry, Emma showed more interest than usual in all the details that went into the organization of the royal wedding.

"How come my betrothed is a woman?" the princess asked, having exhausted the previous topic. When her mother sighed, lowering her goblet of wine to the table, Emma closed her eyes, thinking that, for sure, another deflection would come her way. However, that wasn't the case as Snow rose from the chair and taking the blonde's hand, she guided them into the small library of to the room they were in, James following them with his drink in his hand, knowing that, yes, it was time to share the truth with Emma.

The Queen took a small book of the side shelf and directed Emma to sit in front of the fireplace, as she and James sat on two very comfortable chairs in front of her. It was a placement that they had used many times before, during the story times or simply enjoying the evening together. Emma would sit at the fur covered floor, enjoying the immense heat rolling of the fire, sometimes even lying down and listening to the soft conversation of her parents. But, that night, she crossed her legs and leaned her elbows onto her knees, holding up her chin and watching her mother carefully as the woman fiddled with the small book in her hands.

"You, of course, know that your father and I share True Love, and that it is the most powerful form of magic in these realms," the Queen started, looking down at her daughter, the eyes the girl had inherited from her glinting in the soft light of the fire.

"Also, it is the rarest form of magic," the King added.

"But, what only four people in this kingdom know is that you, my child, are the child of True Love, not only born of parents who shared the bond but you are, essentially made of it."

"What do you mean?" the blonde asked, the bewilderment obvious in her tone, frowning at her parents and eyeing the book Snow was holding in her hands.

"You are very special, my girl," James spoke gently, sitting forward and smiling at his daughter. "It would seem that our love was so powerful that, in turn, you are the embodiment of the love we have for each other. As you are created of magic, it is expected that you will have some of your own, and that your magic would be Light and powerful."

"Blue was quite surprised when you were born, gasping in wonder and telling us that we can expect great things from you, and that she would be more than pleased to tutor you if you ever show any interest in magic." Snow reached out and placed her hand onto the blonde's head, gently passing through the free locks hanging out of the plait, smiling as the child leaned into her touch. "And, because you are what you are, it does not matter who you marry as you will be able to produce an heir, if you want, regardless of the gender of your spouse."

"But, why am I different from Alexandra, or Phillip Junior? They are also the children of True Loves." Emma asked after a while, remembering those two and their parents.

"No one really knows," the King replied. "The fairies tried to find the answer, and we even asked the Dark One, but it seems it would remain a mystery for a while longer, Emma." Then, glancing at his beloved wife, he continued. "But, the fact remains that you have certain latitude in who you can marry. We have talked about this many times and we are aware of your fears that if you were to wed a man, he would eventually try to usurp you. Therefore, we decided to find you a female consort."

"Well, that makes sense," Emma agreed, leaning against Snow's knee. "But, why Cora?" she asked after a while, lifting her head up and meeting her mother's startled eyes. It seemed that the silence was a bit longer than she had thought. "We all know that you suspect that woman to be the culprit guilty of your mother's death. Why would you ever want anything from her?"

"Didn't Graham once tell you – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?" James spoke before the Queen could answer. "The sorceress has been trying to undermine us for decades, and I am afraid she will not stop unless we do something. As assassination was out of the question, the council suggested asking for her daughter's hand in marriage. After all, Lady Regina is of noble birth, seeing who her father is, and if her own flesh and blood was in this court, perhaps that wretched woman would not be so adamant to bring us down."

"But, they don't know her," Snow shook her head sagely as she directed her daughter's attention toward herself. "That woman has no heart, and all she wants is more power. Nothing, not even her own child would ever stop her." It was more of a promise than a warning, but the princess took it to heart. "But, do not be afraid, Emma. While she is here, she cannot harm you, for you are protected by many enchantments."

"If you knew that Regina being her would not stop her, then why insisting on it?"

The older woman sighed, before she spoke once more. "I want to help that child escape her mother," she said softly, looking into the softening eyes in front of her. "That girl is kind and compassionate, and also has some magical talent. I fear that if she was to stay with that creature she has for a parent, that she would be destroyed. Or worse, turned evil." Placing her palm over Emma's cheek, Snow continued. "Can you accept those as my reasons?"

"Did you use fairies as spies?" Emma asked suspiciously, but her assumption was proven wrong.


"Well, they did tell us that Regina was magical," James unhelpfully added, suffering a reprimanding slap to his shoulder from his wife. "Hey," he complained, but it went unnoticed as Snow explained the things to Emma.

"I have spies, yes, but I would not ask the fairies to lower themselves to do my bidding, Emma. You should know better." Seeing that the girl was properly rebuked for even thinking something like that, the Queen pursed her lips, wondering if she should answer the question. "Two people in their household are working for me."

But, before Emma could ask any more questions a servant entered with apologies, telling the monarchs that Lord Henry's carriage was approaching the gates. Snow dismissed the young man graciously, telling him to follow the previously settled arrangements. She had a small surprise for Emma, and only James knew the details of it, leaving the matter in his wife's capable hands, understanding that if her slight meddling worked out perfectly, the nuptials would be a huge success.

They arrived at the late evening, at the displeasure of Lady Cora, whose countenance worsened by the hour spent on the dark roads. However, when Regina exited the carriage, two finely dressed servants whisked her away immediately, while several others were in charge of helping her parents. Not even having time to admire the shadowy halls of the immense castle, the young brunette was shown to a beautiful and spacious room with one side having an artistically done glass wall.

"Wait, what about my parents?" she asked one of the retreating servants, realizing that she was to be alone in these quarters.

"They are in the guest wing, Lady Regina. Queen Snow thought this would be more suitable for you, my Lady." As soon as she nodded in understanding the servant disappeared, remarking that if she needed anything, there was a guard posted in front.

Honestly, it was a relief to be alone after the whole day spent in tense silence with her parents, and finally having the freedom to discard the heavy dress and change into something more comfortable, Regina wasted no time to do just so. As soon as she changed into a light dress she had found in her things, scowling at the apparent lack of riding gear or anything that was not proper for a noble woman, the girl started exploring her room. All too quickly, she had seen every nook and corner of it, and being cooped up for most of the day, she needed to get out. With unrestrained glee, she realized that the window panel had a door, the door that led onto a stone balcony, and farther, into the gardens. Delighted by her discovery, she left her room and almost flying over the stone terrace, she stepped down the short stairs, slowing down only when she found herself on the gravel covered path leading deeper into the garden. With no light but the rising Moon, the young woman strolled down the path admiring the various rare plants and trees that were obviously expertly cared for.

Soon, she wandered into an inner section boasting with a small but glorious fountain, shaped in a form of a swan. With a thoughtful expression on her face, the brunette sat on the stone edge of the pool, her hand dipping into the slightly cold water and tracing circles, while she looked up to the clear skies, letting the Moon shine her face.

If she was to spend her life in this place, this garden was a good selling point, she thought with an absent quirk of lips on her face. The next day she would meet her betrothed and, maybe, just maybe, he would not be hideous or too spoiled. There had to be a reason for hiding him from the eyes of public, Regina considered, as the people only knew that Snow and James had a child, but not even the most skilled information gatherers her mother used were able to come up with a name, let alone a description. The only thing they could discern was that the child would be twenty one in two months' time, nothing more.

At least, he wasn't much older than her, as she had celebrated her eighteenth birthday that winter.

Restless about the next day, Emma entered the inner section of the Royal guards, her feet automatically guiding her to the place her father had had it built for her, her mind swirling with all the information she had gained from the conversation with her parents. Her mother had given her the book she had held the whole evening, and as soon as she had been left alone she had read the title, instantly understanding why she had been given that particular volume. It was a book on True Love, written in one of the older dialects of the White Kingdom. It had taken some time to at least get some gist of the content of the book, understanding more about the True Love, but even the book could not keep her inside on that evening.

But, there, in her favorite place, a young woman was seated, her eyes closed. The beautiful creature was alit with the Moonlight, reminding Emma of the many stories she had read about apparitions and guiding spirits. The long dark hair flowed in gentle waves over the woman's shoulders, drawing attention to the elegant poise and uncovered neck. Emma knew who it was instantly, for she had been familiar with every person in the castle, and this creature she had not seen before.

She was frozen. She could not move, afraid that if she blinked the beautiful girl would disappear from her sight. And, she wanted to look upon this woman for as long as she could before the brunette was whisked away, disappearing like a ray of Moonlight on the cloudy night. Emma was no stranger to lust, or to admiration for beautiful things, but this, this emotion that was flooding her was so much beyond simple lust, simple admiration. It was so much more. Elation, adoration, exultation – no, she could not find words to describe her feelings, and she didn't even try, thinking that trying to put it in words would only diminish the feeling.

Unfortunately, her leg shifted, and the sound of grating pebbles echoed loudly in the silence of the summer night, startling the guest out of her trance, her face whipping toward the intruder, a trace of fear passing over her face, before her eyes took in Emma. The brunette straightened up, but made no move to get up, her eyes carefully watching the stranger in front of her.

"I apologize, my Lady, I did not mean to intrude," the blonde spoke, her mind quickly devising a plan to get to know the guest without the pressure of the engagement, adopting the attitude of a helping hand, genuflecting awkwardly, unused to the motion. "Forgive me," she added, before she stepped back, the intent to leave portrayed quite clearly.

Despite the surprise of no longer being alone, Regina did not mind the company, even if it meant to be joined with a tall woman dressed like a man, in practical garbs, telling the brunette that her new companion was used to spending time outside the city walls. "Wait," she spoke as she took in the glimmering eyes looking her way. "Please, join me," she implored softly, quite aware that she was alone in the new environment, and perhaps making some friends that evening would make the stay that much easier.

The blonde inclined her head before approaching the guest, her moves deliberate and slow, making Regina smile, as it was clear that the newcomer was purposefully being careful not to startle her again, her moves comically exaggerated. After she patted the space beside her, Regina watched the woman sit down.

"I assume you know who I am, but you have me at disadvantage," the young brunette spoke clearly but softly, aware of the night silence. The stranger before her didn't seem like a servant and she did not wear their uniform either. Most of the nobility she knew liked to adhere to certain standards, and the woman before her didn't seem to follow them. And, she sincerely doubted an outsider would be allowed in the private Royal Gardens, especially at this time of night. The only feasible answer was that the woman was a daughter of an important official of the court, granted the freedom to do what she wanted with herself.

"Emma," the princess replied, before she glanced toward the sculpture of the fountain. There was a reason her father had insisted on that particular bird for his daughter's tribute. "Emma Swan," she added, telling the guest the name her parents had established for her, as not many people knew that she was the Heir. Only the guards and the closest friends to the Royal couple were in on the secret, sworn to protect the identity of the child – while the others knew her as Emma Swan, a ward of the couple, given all the respect her invented station demanded. But, the lie had one more function beside the apparent one – as a ward, Emma was much closer to the people, able to form real friendships and to see how the rest of the people lived and behaved, learning much more of her kingdom this way than through tutoring. "And, yes, I know who you are, Lady Regina," Emma added respectfully.

"So, you must be close to the Royal family to wander in their garden at night, Emma," Regina spoke, the question obvious in her dark eyes. The blonde only shrugged noncommittally, more or less answering the guest's inquiry. "Any word of advice for tomorrow?"

"You are willing to trust a word of complete stranger?" Emma asked in wonder, looking at the girl beside her.

"I know not to follow any advice blindly," Regina replied smartly, before her haughty countenance changed into a much softer one. "But, not going into it blindly would help."

"Well, you will meet tomorrow only the King and the Queen. The Royal Highness is away for the moment." The princess remarked silently to herself to remember to tell her mother of the change in plans before the introduction.

"So, you know the prince?"

"Prince?" Emma prevented herself from snorting in delighted surprise, disguising it as a soft cough. "You could say that," she added at the slight frown on Regina's forehead. Oh, this is going to be marvelous, Emma thought with slight annoyance, as no one seemed to inform the lady that she would be marrying a woman. Her mother had her reasons, she knew, and not wanting to spoil them, Emma kept the secret, her decision to hide her identity for as long as possible even firmer. "But, my Lady, we are forbidden from talking about the Royal Highness," she added before Regina could ask any questions, strongly suspecting that the brunette would be interested in his looks or brains, and if she indulged the guest, she risked getting tangled into a web of lies that would only hurt her in the future, especially when her future wife realized all the lies.

"Such an odd decree," Regina spoke after a moment of silence, having thought as much, as she had listened to her mother's ranting on the subject.

"It's said, it's for protection," Emma replied with another shrug.

Accepting it, Regina directed their conversation toward the life in castle, the happenings, hoping to glean into everyday life of her future, and chuckling at Emma's humorous telling, she realized that it wouldn't be so bad, especially with someone like Emma as her friend, enjoying the blonde's quick wit and sharp tongue, their talk interceded with many jokes, designed to make the brunette laugh.

As the Moon started setting, Emma jumped up from her seat, realizing that they had spent hours just talking. "My Lady, it is nearly dawn," the princess warned, offering her hand to her betrothed, deciding to escort her to her quarters, knowing where they were as Regina had described them some time before.

"Oh, Mother would not be pleased," Regina murmured as she hurried toward her room, but not breaking the hand hold the blonde had instigated. "She will reprimand me for not getting enough sleep. I'll look hideous in the morning." The brunette frightfully commented as she climbed the stairs of the balcony, Emma following her in step.

Making her pause at the still opened door into the quarters, Emma looked into Regina's face and gently pushed away an errant lock of dark silky hair off her face. "That is simply impossible, for you, my Lady, are beautiful," she spoke softly, her green eyes meeting the surprised caramel ones, unused to honest compliments. "Sweet dreams," Emma whispered blushing, before she vaulted over the rail of the terrace disappearing into the night, leaving Regina to stare helplessly after her, still dazed from the admiring look she had received from the woman.

Entering inside, Regina sank into her bed, her wild thoughts slowly tapering off into nothingness as the sleep claimed her. The next time she opened her eyes, the room was alit with the Sun, and judging by its position she deduced that it was still morning, about five hours after she had fallen asleep. Quickly jumping of the bed, she asked for a bath, a maiden to help her with the dress and a light breakfast, pleased to at least seem busy for when her mother came knocking.

However, by some mercy, her mother was allowed to see her only minutes before the Lord and Lady were escorted to the throne room, and as there were maids and the guards, her mother did not comment on her appearance, despite the tightening of her eyes and pursing of her lips.

Later, when the Captain of the Royal Guard came to escort her to meet the Royal couple, the kind soldier told her that the Queen had ordered the servants and the soldiers stationed around her quarters to allow in only the people she had summoned, hoping it would ease the stress of the day. As they walked through the lavish halls of the castle, Regina looked over the Captain, noting the pristine state of his silver embroidered uniform, his gentlemanly offer of his elbow reminding her of the woman she had met the night before. She was more than intrigued by the stranger, the blonde being perhaps the only person of the similar age she had conversed that long with, apart from Daniel. "Do you know Emma Swan, Captain?" Regina asked quietly, as they were nearing the throne room, using the conversation to distract herself from the impending event.

"I do, my Lady," the captain smiled with affection at the mention of the princess's alias, wondering where the guest had heard it, but as her quarters were open to the gardens, he could easily assume that the princess herself was the one giving the brunette that name. "Very well, if I may say so," he added, as he stopped her before the large, gold inlaid doors flanked by two guardsmen in full armor and with spears in their hands. "If you have made friends with her, my Lady, I will tell you this – a better and more loyal friend you cannot find within these walls," he said honestly, smiling encouragingly at her tremulous questioning look. Then, after she looked over her dress, making sure that everything was in its place, and that her hairdo was still elegant, the Captain gave a nod to one of the guard, the signal to open the doors. Once more he offered his arm, and guided the future spouse of the Heir into the grand and extravagant throne room, filled with nobility and kingdom officials, while an old man in elegant robes announced her entrance.

At last, Regina was instructed to approach the dais alone, and walking those several steps by herself, extremely aware of the watchful gazes directed at her, she curtsied before the Royal couple with grace that had been drilled into her since the day she could walk.

"Lady Regina," the Queen spoke, her regal voice heard in every corner of the room, "I am glad to finally meet you."

"The pleasure is mine, your Majesty," Regina replied, her eyes including both the King and the Queen, following the protocol perfectly.

"However, We must apologize for the absence of our child, Lady Regina, as the Royal Highness has been called away on urgent mission for the Kingdom," Snow continued, having met with Emma beforehand and after hearing the girl's explanation of the evening before told in dazed and lovesick tones, she was more than glad to indulge in Emma's plan, it coinciding with her own perfectly. The Queen did not react to Cora's obvious displeasure, and gesturing to the girl to join her and her husband up the dais, she loved the murmur that spread throughout the room, speaking of her acceptance of the bride, as introduction had apparently been a success.

As she received an encouraging wave of the hand from the King, Regina somewhat relaxed, pleased to be done with the hard part of the day, and climbed the steps and sat at the offered seat beside the Queen's throne, the place usually reserved for the Heir. As soon as she sat down, music started playing and the guests started mingling, often nobles approaching the dais and introducing themselves to the future Queen Consort. Snow pointed out the officials, denoting their stations and duties, her light voice putting the girl more at ease. After some time spent in learning about the inhabitants of the castle and the city around it, Regina heard Queen Snow's amused tone as she spoke to her.

"A little bird told me you enjoy riding," the Royal said softly, and Regina blinked. The stories of the Queen's ability to speak to the animals were very widely spread and confirmed by many. However, after noting the lips crinkling in silent laughter, the young woman realized that the monarch was talking about her late night excursion, and blushed. She was hoping that her meeting the blonde would not endanger the arrangement. "No need to be flustered, child," the Queen continued. "I was going to suggest an afternoon outside, as no young person should spend their days cooped inside with the stuffy old creatures like us."

"You are not old," Regina spoke with insistence, not realizing that she had given James perfect ammunition for teasing the young woman.

"But we are stuffy?" he asked, chuckling at the horror on Regina's face.

"No, your Majesty, I didn't mean…" she tried but the King waved her off, before he leaned over his wife's lap to be closer to the disconcerted girl.

"Relax, dear child," he spoke softly to her as he patted her hand. "As my darling wife was saying," he continued after a moment he had given to Regina to settle down. "You should enjoy yourself, Lady Regina, while you are still young and able."

"I am afraid I have nothing to wear for such occasion," Regina replied after a while, relieved that the monarchs had not been insulted with her clumsy retort. A day outside was tempting, but she had nothing but proper court dresses in her luggage.

"Worry not, everything is being taken care of as we speak," the Queen added with reassurance, as she summoned the Captain to approach them. In short conversation with the man, Snow relayed her instructions and with a short speech, she sent off the young woman to her quarters, while she intercepted her mother, involving her and Lord Henry in long conversation about the nuptials that were set to take place in two weeks' time.

When Regina entered the stables, the kind Captain leaving her only seconds before, she looked around hoping to find someone who would help her out. She had found a riding gear fitting to her frame when she had entered her room, strewn over her bed, the materials of the finest quality, but it had been evident that they had belonged to someone before getting to her. A note written in elegant script left beside the clothes only had six words on it – Until you had your own made. In minutes, she was out of her dress, her hair let loose and she quickly donned the new clothes, plaiting her hair in a braid that she had used when she had been out riding at the manor. The Captain had waited for her and had taken her to the stables, telling her that someone would wait for her with horses.

She passed through the clean structure, admiring the steeds housed inside, before she walked out on the other side, almost colliding with another person, recognizing the blonde tresses instantly. "Emma," she gasped, her balance precarious as she had tried avoiding slamming into the other woman. If not for stabilizing hold of Emma's hand on her elbow, she would've fallen. "Thank you," she added smiling at her new friend. "You are here?" she spoke after a minute, letting the other woman regard her clothes before her interest overcame her.

"The King wanted me to keep you company," Emma replied, guiding Regina toward the two already saddled horses. "He hoped a familiar face would be beneficial," she added, as she repeated her father's words, almost verbatim. "I mean, don't get me wrong," the blonde hurried to explain, before Regina could interpret her displeasure personally. "I would love nothing more than take you riding, but did he have to say it so…"

"Properly?" Regina supplied after Emma's words tapered off to silence, chuckling at her grimace.

"Yes!" the blonde agreed wholeheartedly with the word, before she patted the first horse, a chestnut coated mare. "This is Cara. She is mild mannered and well trained, but really fast. I thought she would be perfect for the start, until you meet the others." Pleased that Regina immediately scratched the long forehead of the offered steed in greeting and received a pleased neigh in return, she offered to help the girl up. However, Regina only threw her a disapproving glance and expertly vaulted herself over, mounting with grace and experience, looking at Emma with arrogantly curved eyebrow, making Emma chuckle in response, as she mounted her own horse. "This is Karim," she said, patting the black stallion's neck from her seat, before she clucked her tongue, setting him off into a joyful gallop, already used to his owner's antics.

"Hey!" she heard Regina shout after her, before making the mare follow in her stead, quite quickly matching the stallion's pace. "You're cheating," the brunette spoke sternly, but she couldn't hide the ecstasy of being on the horseback, racing over the fields, laughter evident in her voice.

Days passed, and with each new morning, Regina was looking forward to a new adventure Emma would lead her on. Some days they would ride, Emma showing her the surroundings, some days they would explore the city, the blonde girl showing her the hidden secrets only a local would know. When the weather did not permit any outside entertainment, they would spend their time in the library, the silence just enjoyable as their talks. And, with every new day, Regina realized that she was feeling more than simple friendship with the blonde ward, slightly starting to dread the day when the Prince would return and all the fun would stop.

Emma sat on her balcony, looking somewhere in the distance as she fingered a flower Regina had picked for her that morning, before the young brunette had been summoned to go to her parents, to spend some time with them as they would leave right after the wedding, which was the day after. She had tried so many times to tell Regina of her betrothed's identity but she would always give up at the last minute. However, that morning she had found the young woman in tears because the honorable girl didn't want to stop meeting Emma, and after the marriage ceremony it simply would be too improper for it to be possible. Her heart breaking at Regina's distraught expression, Emma was about to tell her, but Graham had interrupted them with apologies. As a goodbye, Regina had given her friend a beautiful rosebud, pinkish red, still covered in morning dew, before leaving her alone with no words spoken.

"You should tell her," a soft voice of her Wolf friend interrupted her thoughts. "She should not spend the night thinking she was being married off to someone she doesn't know, let alone like." Coming closer to the princess, the older woman placed her hand on the blonde's shoulder. "Go, pup. Use the skills you have and visit her."

"She is probably asleep," Emma tried to say before realizing the stupidity of her excuse. "You really think I should?" she asked her friend, but before Ruby could reply another answered.

"You should, Emma," her father spoke as he and Snow entered Emma's quarters. "Do not leave it for tomorrow. It is stressful enough as it is, do not make it harder."

"Go, sweetie. She'll forgive you." Snow added, hugging her daughter firmly, before gently pushing her out of the door.

Regina sat on the sofa, her eyes looking through the glass wall into the starry night, having lost all hope that she would be able to sleep. The whole afternoon her mother had used to reprimand her for spending so much time with Emma, calling her 'vagrant orphan' all the time, and when Regina had stood up for the girl, a magical punishment came, cutting off the air and making her skin burn. Through the pain she could hear her father begging Cora to stop, but the woman had been unrelenting. "You will not endure her presence any more, do you hear me," the woman had spoken harshly at her, releasing from the spell only when Regina had begged for forgiveness. Sending her off to her quarters, Cora had threatened her to behave.

Even now, her skin was still feeling the lingering burn of her mother's punishment, although there were no visible traces of it. The sorceress had always been so careful not to leave marks, except for the one time, Regina thought as her fingers passed over the scar over her lip. Too lost in ruminations about her past and future, she didn't notice Emma entering her room or walking toward her. Only when the blonde kneeled in front of the sofa and took one of her hands, she realized that she was no longer alone.

"Emma? What are you doing here?" Regina said softly, her voice portraying all the emotions passing through her – the fear of the woman being found in her room, the elation for seeing her one more time, sadness for having to say goodbye one more time, and nervousness about the wedding, among many others.

"I need to tell you something," the princess said seriously, her green eyes imploring Regina to stay quiet. "Something very important. But, first I need to apologize. I am truly sorry for letting this go on for this long."

"What? Emma, I…"

"Please, let me explain." Taking both Regina's hands into her own, she remained on her knees, but now the brunette was fully facing her. "The reason you haven't still met the prince is because he doesn't exist," Emma said quickly, gesturing to the other girl to stay quiet despite the surprise and many questions roaming through her mind. "King James and Queen Snow have a daughter, and you know her." As Regina's eyes narrowed in suspicion and anger, Emma closed her own, unable to face the rejection in the kind dark eyes she thought she would find.

"You?" Regina said harshly, before she sighed, realizing that her sharp tone had made Emma wince, still having her eyes closed. Spending several moments on trying to understand why the deception, Regina remembered all the talks she had had with Emma on the subject of the protection of the Heir, and realized that Emma had not once confirmed that there was a prince, always using gender neutral designations. So, in essence, Emma had not lied to her. And, the secrecy she could understand, especially with her mother's attitude toward the same sex marriages. "You?" she asked much more warmly, freeing her right hand out of Emma's clasp and placing it gently on the woman's cheek, pulling the face upwards, the tender touch of the thumb imploring Emma to open her eyes. "You are my betrothed?"

"Yes," Emma spoke so silently that if Regina had not seen her lips move she would have thought she had imagined it.

"Which means that you are the Royal Highness," Regina suddenly spoke, pulling Emma upwards, off her knees. "Oh, forgive me, I didn't…" she tried to apologize before a soft finger was placed over her lips, silencing her instantly.

"No, I will not have you stand on ceremony, Regina. Not after all this time. Not after..." All that they had shared, she was going to say but she couldn't. However, Regina understood, her eyes softening as she looked over the blonde, now fully acknowledging the resemblance to the Royal couple, feeling somewhat dimwitted, as she was faced with Snow's characteristic green eyes. "Do you forgive me?" Emma asked after a moment, her voice cracking with the emotions of the moment

"Why now?" Regina avoided answering.

"I was going to tell you this morning, but…" Emma knew that Regina remembered that moment very clearly, not needing to elaborate. "Do you forgive me?" she asked again.

"You do realize my mother would be furious. Oh, the things she said about you and to you…" It was splendid watching Regina's face getting brighter by the second at the humiliation her mother was about to endure when she realized who actually the Heir was. "Emma, she will stop the wedding!" a grim realization changed her outlook completely, as she grabbed the princess by her upper arms.

"She cannot. Not anymore. The only ones who can stop it are you and me, and honestly I do not want to. Do you?"

Regina looked into the familiar face, seeing all the affection the princess held for her in the softness of the eyes, the gentle smile and tender hold on her hips. The truth was that she could not imagine the life without the blonde by her side, the woman winning her completely over in the previous days. "No," she whispered softly, enjoying as pleasure alit Emma's face. Following her answer the princess pulled into a firm embrace, chuckling as the emotional tension dissipated. Then, deftly, the princess guided the younger woman to bed, tucking her in before kissing her forehead. However, she did not leave, but sat on the floor in the line with Regina's pillow, looking at the beautiful girl giving her an adoring look.

"You know, you still have not answered my question," Emma murmured after a while, knowing that Regina was not sleeping just yet. In answer a warm hand landed on her cheek, turning her face toward the prone woman.

Regina smiled as the woman leaned into the tender touch, but when the green eyes focused on her, she only nodded. "Good night, my dear," she said after a moment, knowing that she would not be able to sleep a wink with the woman in her quarters, wanting to spend what was left of the night looking at her.

"Good night, beautiful," Emma replied as she rose, and intertwining their fingers she smiled down at her wife to be. "See you at the altar." As often before, the princess disappeared into the night, but this time Regina fell asleep instantly, soothed by the immensely brighter future waiting for her.

The day of the wedding came, and the weather was perfect. Snow looked out her window, a light melancholy catching her as she thought of all the times she had with her daughter. In a few short hours her only child would be married. Her thoughts were interrupted by strong arms enveloping her from behind and she sighed happily, sinking into her husband. "In the end, it worked perfectly," he murmured into her ear, remarking of how both the princess and Lady Regina seemed taken with each other.

"They just needed a little nudge," Snow replied demurely as she smiled.

The ceremony would be a small affair, as Emma's identity was still secret, and only the closest friends were invited. However, at the ceremony at Emma's twenty first birthday, her wedding would be more widely celebrated and acknowledged. And, as all but Cora and Henry knew that Emma was the Heir, it would come as no surprise to them, and if need be their calmness would prevent any major disruptions from the sorceress, as the woman knew that she could no longer interfere and Blue had placed various enchantments over the castle to prevent the woman from using magic. All in all, Snow concluded, it was going to be a good day.

With lightness in her steps, she walked into her daughter's quarters, carrying something she had ordered to be made for this day, and gasping in wonder at the picture Emma presented. In white jacket embroidered with gold, similar to one James had had on his wedding day, and white leggings with gold lines on the sides, the princess looked quite dashing, her clothes not taking away from her beauty, only pointing out her uniqueness. Her golden tresses had been arranged into an elegant hairdo, the waves of it falling freely down her shoulders.

"You are breathtaking, sweetie," Snow spoke after a moment, joyful tears in her eyes. "Here, let me look at you," she twirled her finger at the blonde, in awe at the details the tailor had placed. When she had let Emma deal with her own wedding suit, she had thought that the end result would be too masculine or militaristic, but she had been wrong. "The only thing you need to complete the ensemble is this," she added after a while, showing an intricately done circle of gold inlaid with diamonds and one large emerald at the widest point. Affixing the circlet on Emma's head, she nodded in affirmation that it was simply perfect. "It's nearly time. Are you ready?"

"More than ever," Emma said happily, hugging her mother with joy. Right after, James joined in, sharing his daughter's exultant mood. "Come, I should be in place when she gets there," the Heir spoke with exuberance as she pulled her parents toward the throne room where the wedding was held.

"My Lady, it is time," Regina heard the voice of the familiar captain. She opened the door and smiled at him, silently accepting his hand. As arranged, he would lead her to anteroom where her father was waiting for her, alone, to take her down the altar, as it was his duty.

"How is it that you are my escort every time, Captain Hubert?" she asked him as they walked toward the anteroom.

The captain chuckled at the slight teasing note in the woman's voice, despite the well hidden nerves. "Her Royal Highness ordered me to watch out for you, my Lady, as you are very important to her."

Regina felt her nerves settle at the odd reminder that Emma had cared for her since the day they met, and thanked the captain for his candor as he left her in the capable hands of her father. Now, Regina had made a choice to tell the identity of her spouse to be, hoping he would be able to at least caution her mother against making a scene, and in short sentences she told him everything, more than pleased by his reaction, as he only asked her if she was happy with it. At her beaming smile, he only replied that he wanted only happiness for her, regardless of who was providing it to her.

And at the start of the wedding tune, the grand doors opened, and the bride entered the throne room, amazing everyone with the extraordinary white dress, covered in small glittering diamonds, accompanied by a tiara the Queen had given her that very morning. And as she walked, her eyes were pinned to the blonde standing aside to the dais, her position not yet indicative of her role in the proceedings, but most of the people there knew that she was to be wed. Regina felt her eyes tear at the beauty her betrothed radiated in her uniform, and the emerald on her circlet only making her eyes stand out more. Only when Regina came to the dais, Emma stepped toward her, respectfully greeting Lord Henry and taking her betrothed's arm into hers before climbing up, smirking when they heard Cora's harsh exhale. At the top of the dais, the chief of the fairies waited to officiate the wedding, smiling at the both of the bridal pair.

"You look breathtakingly amazing," Emma whispered to Regina as she leaned to her, her eyes roaming over the dress and the glowing face, squeezing the hand in her hold gently.

"So do you, your Highness," the brunette replied, her voice nothing but a breathless whisper, blushing as Blue cleared her throat, drawing attention of the couple back to the ceremony.

It was fair to say that neither remembered much of the words there were spoken, but their vows had been forever engraved in their memory, knowing that it was only the beginning of their exciting lives. At the end of the ceremony, they kissed and to surprise of most, a shimmering circle of magic burst out of them, spreading over the guests, announcing that they, too, were the True Love couple.

Finally free from her mother's influence, Lady Regina learned the light magic and along with her wife she became one of the most celebrated Queens of the Enchanted Forest, and after several years of their marriage, their happiness was doubled at the news that Queen Emma was bearing a son.