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The Queen's Knight

Chapter Text

Emma wanted to scream and even if she did no one would care. The man she was currently dancing with was the son of a noble who hoped to win her favor and be the one to convince her parents into marrying off their only child. However, since they were approaching year ten of the war a nobleman’s son wouldn’t be an ideal match for them. A prince of a neighboring kingdom, or one of the White kingdom’s allies, but not a nobleman’s son. There was no benefit to marrying him. And yet, as Emma danced with the young man all wanted to do was scream. She hated that her parents had forced her to come to another ball. Hated the fact that she was shoved into a dress that she wanted to burn. But she played the part even as a major part of her died. If anyone knew, or cared to know, how she really felt they would tell her that it was all in her head and that she would eventually grow out of it. She wasn’t going to grow out of it. At nineteen she was certain of what she was feeling, but in the end, no one would care.

The dance with the nobleman’s son lasted until the song came to an end. Emma went through the motions of being gracious and thanking him for the dance. The man had just left when Emma saw her mother approaching her. Behind her was the prince of one of the kingdoms that the White kingdom was allies with. Her mother’s display of exuberant enthusiasm as she introduced the man to Emma only made her desire to scream at the top of her lungs worse. The man laughed appropriately at her mother’s desperate attempts at humor while Emma only forced a smile on her face. Her mother departed and the next thing Emma knew the two of them were dancing. Emma’s night continued in the same manner, sometimes the men would approach her without her mother, until she excused herself from the ball feigning too much excitement.

Emma made a hasty exit from the ballroom and rushed down the corridor of the main floor of the castle. She sent curt nods to those that bowed and curtsied as she passed by them on her way to the stairs. Emma quickly went up the stairs and when she reached the wing that held her chambers she all but ran to them. As she approached the doors she dismissed the guards that stood outside them. Telling them that her mother had requested their presence at the ball. The two men acknowledged the order, which was a lie, and left their post outside of her chambers. Emma pushed the heavy wooden doors open then slammed them closed once she was inside her personal sanctuary. She started to rip off the dress that suffocated her and as she did tears of frustration started to fall from her eyes.

Emma had torn the dress to shreds and when there was nothing left of it she headed for her wardrobe. She ripped the dresses out of it and focused all her anger and frustration on the beautiful gowns until there was nothing left of them. She cried, screamed, and swore as she tore through the delicate fabrics that made up the dresses. She couldn’t live this life. It was a life that had brought her nothing but hell and torment. Emma had gone on anger and self-hatred rampage that destroyed not only the elegant dresses that had filled her wardrobe, but also her room. Emma was sitting on the floor wearing nothing but her under dress surrounded by broken fragrance bottles, shattered mirrors, torn books, and everything else that she had taken her anger out on.

She couldn’t do this anymore. It was taking everything out of her and she didn’t want to live a life where she was shell of herself. Emma glanced at the broken mirror and stared at it for a moment before picking up a shard of glass. Emma held it up and examined it. If she wasn’t going to be able to live life as the person she truly was then there was no point in her being alive. Emma brought the glass to her wrist and pressed it down hard as she dragged it down her forearm. The sight of blood mesmerized her as she pressed it down deeper. The elation she felt outweighed the pain. For once she was in control of how her life went. The blood started to flow quickly from the open wound and Emma felt herself growing faint. She fell to the floor and Emma watched as the blood ran from her arm and down to the ornate rug that covered the floor. Her eyes drifted closed and a faint smile appeared on her face. She was going to be free from a life that she didn’t want and that brought with it a sense a peace that she hadn’t felt since she was younger. The world faded to black but faintly Emma heard the sound of her mother’s voice before losing all consciousness.

Emma ran her finger over the raised, angry, red scar that was on her forearm. It had been a month since she had almost escaped this wretched life, but the fairies had saved her. She hated them for it. “Oh, honey, I know that ugly scar upsets you. The fairies are working on a way to conceal it,” her mother said as she walked into the sitting room of Emma’s chambers carrying a tray of tea and cookies. Emma had been hiding in them since the day she had tried to kill herself. She thought if she stayed hidden the she wouldn’t have to face a life that she wanted no part of.

Emma glared at her mother. “I don’t want them to conceal it,” she spat. “I don’t want the fairies anywhere near me.”

“Emma, if it weren’t for the fairies then you’d…” her mother trailed off and tears glistened in her eyes as the thought of losing her only child hit her. Emma – on some level – wanted to care, but she didn’t. Her mother didn’t care about the person she truly was, and in return, Emma felt no sympathy or guilt over what she did. She was completely unaffected by what effect her attempted suicide might have had on her parents. Emma watched as her mother set the tray down on the low table that was in front of the couch then she sat down next to Emma, taking her hand. “I think you’ve taken enough time to work through everything.” She paused then continued with some hesitation. “Your father and I are holding a ball tonight, and if you’re not up to it you don’t have to come, but you should start getting out again.”

Emma scoffed and remarked, “I’m not getting out again. I’m not going to another ball.”

Her mother sighed. “Emma…”

“Don’t speak to me like I’m a child,” Emma countered when she heard her mother’s exasperated tone.

Emma got up from the couch. She needed to get away from the woman. She could tolerate her mother most of the time, but now – after everything – she wasn’t going to be able to do so. The woman only added to her self-hatred and the loathing that she had for her life. “I wouldn’t treat you like a child if you would only talk to someone. You haven’t spoken to anyone. Not me, not your father, and not even the castle priest.” She got up and took a step towards Emma, and when Emma took a step back she didn’t try to get any closer to her. “No one understands why you did what you did.”

Emma turned away from her and went to the doors that led to the balcony off the sitting room. “Leave me alone, mother. I don’t want to talk to you.”

She walked out onto the balcony and closed the door behind her. Emma leaned back against them and let out a slow breath as tears blurred her vision. She couldn’t stay here anymore. Emma no longer had the desire to kill herself, but she knew that living in this castle with her parents, would only result in her trying again. Emma drew in another breath and walked over to the stone wall that enclosed the balcony. She leaned on it as she looked at the vast forest that went beyond the castle grounds. It was while she was in her wistful thoughts did she formulate a plan. It was one that she was going to execute tonight while her parents were at their ball.

Emma had cut her hair and bound her breasts. She was wearing pants that were a size too big and a loose linen shirt. The boots on her feet were ones that Emma had worn when she and her father used to go hunting. Emma had a black cloak around her and the hood of it was up to hide her face. She had cleared the castle and now she was making her way to the stables to get a horse. Emma was opening the door when someone shouted behind her, “Hey, what are you doing in the royal stables?”

Emma turned and there was a guard behind her. She cleared her throat then lowered her voice as she replied, “The princess said that she was going for a ride and ordered me to get her horse ready.”

“At this hour?” The guard questioned.

“Yes, go ask your majesty herself,” Emma stated hoping that would get the man from asking her more questions.

The man walked closer holding his torch higher. “What’s your name boy?”

It didn’t take long for Emma to come up with something because this was something she had been thinking about since she was younger. “Emery.”

“Emery,” the guard repeated. “And who do you report to?”

Emma pressed her lips together then said, “Nicolette.”

The man pointed at Emma and said, “Don’t go into that stable until I speak with her. Do you understand, boy?”

Emma nodded. The man walked away and once he was out of sight Emma ran into the stable to get a horse. Emma had chosen a horse that wasn’t the one that she had gotten for her twelfth name day. As she put a saddle on the animal there was a grin on her face and an excited glint in her eyes. This was how she was going to start her new life. Once she was out of the White kingdom, she would no longer be Emma White, princess of the White kingdom. She would be Emery and was going live her life as the man she always knew herself to be. Emma mounted the horse squeezed the stallion’s sides with her knees, making it take off. When they were out of the stable Emma urged the horse to go faster taking her closer to the freedom that she had always desired.

Emery veered off the main road that he was on and took his time as he navigated his horse through the dark forest. He had been riding for awhile and Emery knew that he wasn’t in the White kingdom anymore. He was deep in the heart of King Stefan’s kingdom. He wouldn’t be able to stay there for long, but his horse needed a rest and his ass was getting sore. Emery came upon a lake and decided to stop there for a break. He dismounted the horse then rubbed his sore ass cheek and grimaced. This would be the last time that he would ride a horse for two hours straight. Then again if he hadn’t been pampered all his life his ass wouldn’t be this sore. Emery took the saddle off the horse along with his packs. He patted the horse’s neck and said, “All right boy, go get some water and we’ll catch some sleep then we’ll decide what to do next.”

The horse trotted off to the lake and Emery moved to go sit under a tree that was by it. He had to figure out what to do next and where he was going. Being who he was caused some complication and would only allow him to do so much, and that’s if he didn’t get killed first. Emery then had a thought come to him. The best place for him to hide was in the Evil Queen’s kingdom. The White kingdom had been at war with the Mills kingdom for almost a decade and there were no signs of it stopping anytime soon.

Emery didn’t know the full extent of how the war had started, but the most he knew was that the Evil Queen had done something to his mother’s father. He scoffed. The Evil Queen probably had her reasons. The White kingdom wasn’t as upstanding as others assumed it to be. It was going bankrupt because of the war and his mother’s stupid indulgence to keep up pretenses. Emery snorted and chuckled to himself. From where he sat the Evil Queen in this narrative was his mother. Then again he had heard tales about the queen of the Mills kingdom chopping off heads and torturing soldiers and civilians that were from the White kingdom.

Emery fished an apple out of one of his packs and began to eat it as he looked out at the lake. Getting to the Mills kingdom would mean he would have to ride for a few more hours, but once he was in the kingdom he was going to find some village to hide away in. Possibly become a farm hand or an apprentice for one of the shops. Emery sighed. He would figure everything out once he found somewhere to spend the rest of his life.

 Emery smiled at the thought. He was going to be able to live out his life as the man he was and not have to deal with judgments from his mother. The only issue he faced was that if anyone found out the truth it could lead to a number of problems. Ones that ranged from him being sent back to the White Kingdom to his death, but it was a risk Emery was willing to take. He was now living his life.

Emery finished off his apple then watched the lake. It was going to be hard for him for awhile. He grew up in a castle, never having to do anything on his own, but now he was going to have to do everything. Luckily he was resourceful and a quick learner. Emery would manage to get through this somehow. Emery dozed off underneath the tree with thoughts of how he was going to spend his new life running through his head. He was excited, but also cautious about what was going to happen to him.

Emery woke up to the sun shining brightly on his face. He opened his eyes then closed them instantly and covering his face with his hand. He groaned then let out a tired breath. He dropped his hand then got off the ground and headed over to his horse. Emery saddled him up and put his packs on the horse then they were on their way. He was upset that he had slept through the rest of night, and it was obvious that he was going to have work on his stamina. Traveling during the day put him at risk for someone recognizing him, so Emery took less traveled trails and kept the hood of his cloak up. He managed to get through most of Stefan’s kingdom when he had to stop again to give the horse another break.

Emery was leaning on a tree munching on a hunk of bread as he waited for the horse drink some water and graze when he heard voices. Emery shook his head and muttered, “Damn it.” He put the hunk of bread into his pack then walked over to get his horse. He led the horse into the forest and waited for whoever was headed his way to pass by. A few minutes later an older couple showed up on the trail. Emery rolled his eyes in annoyance. It was going take them forever to go by. He sat on the ground and waited, pulling out his knife so he could sharpen a stick for entertainment. When the couple was close enough Emery heard the man say, “Ingrid, we have to hurry or it’s going to be dark when we get home. We still have to prepare for tomorrow.”

The woman waved her hand at the man. “You’re always such a worrywart when we’re traveling back from Stefan’s kingdom and we always do fine.

The man scoffed. “You always say that, then you complain when we have to get up early cause we didn’t make dough the night before.”

Ingrid shook her head. “Joe, we’ll get home early enough to make the dough.”

Emery snickered at the old couple then he had an idea. He took hold of his horse’s reins and came out of hiding. He approached them and said, his voice lower than what he normally spoke, “Excuse me, sir, ma’am,”

The woman started and shouted, “Joe, get your sword we’re being robbed.”

Emery held up his hands and said, “Ma’am, no. I’m not trying to rob you. I want to help. I uh….I’ve recently had to leave home due to a bad living situation and I have no job or anything. I was hoping to assist you in getting to your destination.”

The woman looked at Emery then at her husband before looking back at Emery. “Where’s your family?”

Emery pressed his lips together as he thought of an answer. He replied with the most obvious answer,  “I’m an orphan. I’ve been on my own since I was thirteen.”

“Oh you poor dear,” Ingrid said with a small gasp. “Wait, thirteen? How old are you?”

Emery bit his lip then replied, “I turned nineteen six months ago.”

Ingrid grunted then said, “We need to put some meat on those bones of yours.” She pointed to the front of the cart. “Hitch up your horse and get in the back of the cart.”

Emery grinned at the woman. “Thank you ma’am, sir.”

Joe chuckled and remarked, “No need to thank us. It’s just like Ingrid to take in a stray.” He climbed down the bench of the cart and helped Emery hitch up his horse. “Did you steal this horse, son? Because he is a mighty fine stallion.”

Emery grimaced and told another white lie. “Possibly. I found him roaming around.”

The man nodded. “What’s your name?”


“Emery,” then man repeated as he studied him. After another moment he smiled. “Sounds honest enough. I’m Joseph, Joe, Swan, and that’s my wife Ingrid.” He said as they hitched Emery’s horse to the cart.

Emery smiled and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you both. Do you both live in Stefan’s kingdom or –“

“We live in the Mills kingdom. We have a bakery. One the queen herself likes to order from frequently,” Ingrid said from her perch on the cart.

Emery was surprised that the woman was spoke positively of the queen since the woman was supposedly cruel and unjust to her subjects. Joe put his hand on Emery’s shoulder and commented, “You sure are a scrawny fellow. Well, no worry. After a few of Ingrid’s home-cooked meals, and working at the bakery, you’ll be fit for hard labor.”

Emery chuckled and smiled at the man. “Thank you, Joe.”

“All right you two get on up here. We got to make it back to the village before dark falls,” Ingrid ordered with a small chuckle.

Emery climbed onto the back of the cart while Joe got up on the bench. Luck had dealt him an amazing hand and now he was going to help the Swans until they were done with him. It was the perfect thing for him to do until he figured out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Emery grinned to himself. He could be a baker. He did like to eat.

Emery grunted as he lifted the heavy tray that was full of fresh baked bread. He rested the edge of it on his shoulder and walked over to a large cooling rack then slid the tray into it. He blew out a deep breath then went back over to the oven. He opened it and the scorching heat of it hit him in the face. It was a feeling he had gotten used to over the last six months and he was starting to enjoy it. He actually enjoyed being a baker’s apprentice in general. The first couple of months had been grueling because he wasn’t used to lifting bags of grain and flour or heavy trays of bread, but as his body got used to the heavy lifting, and mixing dough, the work became easier. Emery had even managed to put on some weight and most of it was turning into muscle. It was changing the way he viewed his body and he actually liked how his body was developing because of the strenuous work. It was surprising because he had hated his body since it had gone through its natural development.

Emery got the wooden, flat shovel and slid it into the over to get the two loaves that were baking. He placed them on the cooling rack then closed the oven. Emery pulled a cloth out of his pocket and wiped at his forehead. Other than him gaining weight and improving his upper body strength, he was fitting into the small village that was on the edge of the Evil Queen’s kingdom quite well. Thanks to the proper haircut that Joe had given him, and getting clothes that he had Ingrid alter to fit him right, no one was able to tell who he was. He was just the scrawny boy that helped the Swans.

“Emery, if that bread is out of the oven I want you start mixing up a batch of cookies. We’ve got that village celebration coming up,” Ingrid shouted from the front of the bakery. “Oh, and I need you to go to Leonard’s farm and pick up those eggs I ordered.”

Emery groaned. He didn’t like going to the old man’s farm. Leonard had lost his wife about three years ago and he was lonely. He was willing to have a conversation with anyone and would talk until you had to come up with a good enough lie that the man couldn’t con you out of. Emery always got suckered into an hour long conversation with him which always had him behind on his chores, and as a baker that wasn’t pleasant. Because depending on how much he got done the night before, the later he could sleep in. “Ingrid, do I have to? You know he’ll talk my ear off.”

He heard the woman laugh. “He talks everyone’s ear off, dear.” Emery heard her laughter die down then she said, “Fine. I’ll send Joe, but I want you to start the dough for tomorrow.”

Emery rolled his eyes. He was already a step ahead on that because he made the water and yeast concoction already. “Okay.”

He went back to finish baking the bread that they gave to the local orphanage when he heard Ingrid swear then she called out, “Emery, can you come mind the store? I need to go upstairs and change my apron. I got milk over this one.”

Emery scowled at the pile of dough in front of him. He hated running the store. Even though he was fitting in with the village well enough he still had a deep fear of someone from the White kingdom potentially recognizing him which he knew was absurd because not only did he look nothing like his former self, but he was in the Mills kingdom. No one from the White kingdom would travel there. Another reason he didn’t like working the front was because everyone called him boy or son. He was a grown man and he wasn’t as scrawny as he had been when he got to the village. He sighed and made his way to the front. Ingrid smiled at him. “I know you don’t like being up here, but it should only be for a couple of minutes.”

She walked by and gave his cheek an affectionate, but gentle pinch, then headed for the stairs that went up to their house. Emery snagged one of the cupcakes off the tray that was sitting on the counter and ate half of it in one bite. Living with Joe and Ingrid wasn’t as complicated as he thought it would be since he was trying to hide the truth about his body. But he had his own private room and they respected that he was a private person who avoided talking about his past. There had been times where he caught Ingrid looking at his scar but she never asked him about it. Emery ate the rest of his cupcake. He didn’t know if he would tell them the truth one day, but he felt safe with Joe and Ingrid. They were the best adoptive parents he could have.

The door to the shop opened and in walked two of the queen’s guards. One man walked over to the counter and said, “We’re here to collect tax for her majesty. The queen has also requested that the Swans make the bread and sweets for her next engagement.”

Emery wiped his mouth with back of his hand and chewed up the rest of the cupcake that was in his mouth. “I-uh-“

“How old are you, boy?”

Emery didn’t know how to answer the question. The guard was wearing all black armor and had a sword. He figured the only answer he could give him was the truth. “I’m nineteen.”

“You’re new around here aren’t you?” Emery nodded. “There is a law that all men over the age of sixteen are to serve a mandatory two years in the queen’s army. Did you know that?”

Emery shook his head no. Ingrid walked through the opening that led to the back of the bakery and when she saw the two guards she started a little. “Oh, my. We have guests I see.” She moved to the drawer where the money was kept and asked, “How much is it this month?”

“Two hundred,” the guard that had been questioning Emery replied. “How long has this boy been working at your shop?”

Ingrid glanced at Emery and remarked, “Oh, I don’t know. About six months I guess.”

“Six months and you haven’t had him enlist?” The guard exclaimed as his eyes narrowed that the older woman. Emery suddenly felt protective of Ingrid and he moved closer to the broom that was leaning on the counter. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it, but he was going to protect Ingrid if the man got violent.

Ingrid got the money and slammed the drawer closed. “That law is absurd. And I figured he didn’t have to enlist since he wasn’t from this kingdom.”

The guard held out his hand and stated, “All men, no matter where they’re from, enlist in the queen’s army if they are living in her kingdom.”

Ingrid scoffed and dropped the money in his hand. “If she would stop this foolish war then there wouldn’t be such an asinine law in place.”

The man let out an exasperated breath. “Mrs. Swan, please don’t challenge me on this. If the captain finds out he is here he will be forced to enlist and you and Mr. Swan will be fined.” He gave her a small, crooked smile. “You know the queen favors your bakery over all others in the kingdom.”

Ingrid rolled her eyes and remarked, “Of course she does. I’ve been her choice of baker since she was a young queen.” She glanced at Emery then asked, “What if I tell the captain that, because of Joe and I’s old age, we need him around?”

The guard let his head drop back and groaned. “Ingrid, I have known you since I was still suckling on my mother’s bosom, but I cannot relent on this. The boy needs to enlist or you and Joe will get a fine, or – even worse - you will all be thrown into the queen’s dungeon.”

Ingrid then pointed out, “Liam, do you believe Emery would survive the Queen’s army? Look at him. He’s a runt.” Emery scowled at the comment. “He would get eaten alive by the other men.”

The guard, Liam, snagged a cupcake off the tray and said, “The captain will be here in a week. If he is still here you, him, and Joe will be imprisoned.” He took a bite out of the cupcake then stated, “The captain also received a letter from the queen. She would like you to make the bread and sweets for her next state dinner.”

Ingrid grunted and the guard shook his head before looking at Emery. “Report to the commandant at the beginning of the next week. Do not run because we will find you and the punishment for avoiding your service is death.”

Emery gave a slight nod then watched as the two guards left the bakery. “Damn it,” Ingrid muttered under her breath. “Well at least we were able to keep you off their radar for the last six months.” She looked at him and there was sadness in her eyes. “If you want to leave, I understand. Serving the queen during a time of war can be dangerous, especially for a boy like you.”

Emery didn’t know what she meant by that but he took a deep breath then said, “This is my home, and my queen has ordered me to serve her army.” He flashed Ingrid a charming smile. “So I’m going to do it and I’ll be out of the way for awhile.”

Ingrid chuckled but tears came to her eyes then she moved closer to him and gave Emery a tight hug which he returned. Serving in the Queen’s army was going to be interesting considering his secret, but he would risk it so that Ingrid and Joe wouldn’t face any harsh backlash from the queen and her guards.

Dinner that night was quite tense. Ingrid had told Joe about the queen’s guard coming into the bakery that afternoon when he got back from making deliveries. She then told him about Emery needing to enlist or they would all get in trouble and that’s when Joe went quiet and went to his workshop. He didn’t come out of it until Ingrid called him for dinner. Emery stabbed a potato with his fork and looked at Ingrid then at Joe. He ate the vegetable then took a drink of his water. As he sat his cup down Emery cleared his throat and said, “I know you don’t approve, Joe, but I don’t want you and Ingrid to get in trouble. The two of you have been done a lot for me.”

Joe glanced up at him then took a drink of his ale. He set his mug down and stated, “You’re not a boy meant for war.”

Emery sighed and shook his head. “What do you mean I’m not meant for war? And I’m not a boy. I’m nineteen and I can handle whatever they put me through.”

Joe frowned and stared him down. “I don’t think you are, Emery. When you got here you could barely lift a bound of grain.” He picked up his slice of bread and tore a hunk off it. Joe pointed it at Emery and said, “Sure you can lift bags of flour and grain with no problem now, but you’re not solider material.”

 “Joe…”  Ingrid said in a cautious tone, warning him to not to push Emery too much.

He shook his head. “Ingrid, I’m sorry but I’m not going to sit by while he does something foolish that’ll get him killed.”

The three of them fell quiet and Emery finished eating. It was nice to have someone care about him and his wellbeing, but he was still going to do it because it was better than the alternative. He got up from the table and got his plate and the bowl that the vegetables had been in. “I was thinking, if it was okay with the both of you, that I would serve under the last name Swan.” He put the bowl in the dish basin and looked back at the dining table. Ingrid looked at him with tears in her eyes, but there was smile on her face and there was a thoughtful expression on Joe’s. “I mean if you two don’t want me to then I won’t. I figured it was better than coming up with something because my actual last name isn’t worth serving under.” He bit his bottom lip then said, “It was just a thought.”

Joe sighed and leaned back in his chair. “You’re going to force me to accept this and you’re going to do it with my last name?”

Emery took a step closer to the table. “Only if you and Ingrid agree to it. Either way, Joe, I’m going to do it.”

Joe blew out an exasperated breath then got up from the table. He walked over to Emery and stood in front of him. “I’ve never been big on having kids of my own. It’s probably the reason why Ingrid and I never had any of our own, but you’re probably the closest we’ll get to having a son.” He chuckled. “You’re stubborn as mule, but a quick study, and nice kid.” Joe put his hand on Emery’s shoulder. “I would be honored if you served as a Swan.”

A huge grin came to Emery’s face and he gave Joe a big hug. It lasted for a moment then Ingrid said, “The two of you don’t get to have a moment without me.” She walked over to them and enveloped Emery in a tight hug. She kissed his cheek then whispered, “Don’t do anything that would get you killed.” Emery chuckled at the remark, but he also hoped that he wouldn’t do anything that would get him killed either.

Chapter Text

Getting to the queen’s castle was a two-day journey from the village and Emery had left the previous day after a tearful goodbye with Ingrid and Joe. Ingrid did most of the crying, but he and Joe might have gotten misty-eyed. Leaving the two people that were basically his parents had been a hard thing for Emery to do, but leaving them for a short while was better than them being on the receiving end of the queen’s wrath. Emery frowned as he thought about that. He was starting to wonder if her wrath was nothing but a myth. He didn’t think of her as evil anymore because he hadn’t seen any evidence of her evilness. He had lived in one of her villages for six months now and there was nothing heinous about how she ruled. The village was managing, considering the war, and the people were happy. They complained about taxes, but at the same time they didn’t mind paying them. It was a little odd, but Emery enjoyed it. In the White kingdom everything was so fake and full of pretense that he couldn’t stand it.

Emery stopped to give his horse a break and as he leaned against a tree he thought about how he was going to keep his secret hidden. He supposed there would be places for him to change and wrap up his chest, or he could wake up early to avoid being caught. His monthly rags he could burn. At Ingrid and Joe’s he would just toss them into the river and make new ones. He sighed as irritation over his body came over him. He couldn’t stand it, but his life was significantly better than it had been in the White kingdom. Emery sat down on the ground and pulled his pack closer to him. He fished out the sandwich that Ingrid had packed for him, and after he unwrapped it, he took a big bite out of it. He chewed up the bite and looked around the clearing that he was letting his horse roam in.

Emery couldn’t help but to be a little curious about how he would fare in the queen’s army. In regards to manual labor and heavy lifting he could do that now with ease, and it had improved his upper body strength, but that didn’t mean he would make a good soldier. He had never wielded a sword; never worn armor; and had no experience in fighting. Emery swallowed the bite that was in his mouth. He was as good as dead. He wasn’t going to last a week in the queen’s army. Emery cursed his mother for not letting him take up sword fighting like he wanted to do. He sighed. If it got too bad for him he could possibly runaway. There was a kingdom across the sea that was rumored to be covered in ice. Emery grinned to himself. Or he could go to the one that was ruled by a dragon. Emery took another bite of his sandwich and gave his head a slight shake. He didn’t want to runaway. He wanted to live a quiet life - a life that was a sharp contrast from the royal luxury that he had grown up in at the White kingdom. Emery began to find the life of farmer quite appealing and put it on his list of things he could do after he served in the queen’s army. That’s if he didn’t end up dead.

Emery finished his sandwich then he got an apple out of his pack. He got off the ground and whistled for his horse. He ended up naming the stallion Felipe after deciding he needed a proper name for the beast that was surprisingly loyal to him. Felipe came trotting over to him and Emery fed him the apple. They had to get going soon. Emery hoped to be in the village that was ahead of the queen’s castle before nightfall. Ingrid and Joe had told him the name of their friend that ran an inn at the village and he was going stay there before he reported to the training commandant tomorrow. Emery had declined the offer at first, because he wanted to spend his last night outside before he was subjected to whatever training he was going to have to endure, but Ingrid threatened him with mundane chores if he didn’t promise to stay at the inn. Emery sighed. He was going to miss Joe and Ingrid, and being at the bakery, but it was clear that whoever dealt with fate had other plans for him and he wasn’t meant to be a baker.

Felipe finished his apple and Emery patted his neck. “Okay, let’s get back on the road.” He put the saddle back on him then mounted him. Emery guided him back to the trail and he and Felipe made their way to the village. It was late afternoon when Emery saw the looming towers of the Mills castle. It wasn’t as dark and ominous as he thought it would be since the Queen was supposedly evil. Emery’s face contorted with slight confusion. The further he traveled into the Mills kingdom the more he realized that everything he had heard and learned about the kingdom was a lie. The closer Emery got to the castle the worse his anxiety got. Tomorrow morning he was going to report to that castle and serve in the queen’s army. It was a surreal moment for him. He would be serving the queen that was currently in a decade long war with his home kingdom. Emery drew in a deep breath. He had a few more hours before he would resign two years of his life to the queen’s army so he was going to try and relax.

It didn’t take him too long to reach the main road that went through the village. Emery dismounted Felipe and led him through the village, looking for the inn that Ingrid and Joe’s friend owned. After awhile Emery grew frustrated and he walked over to one of the merchant stalls where a rotund man with a graying beard stood behind it. Emery stood to his full height and walked over to the stall with a confidence that he didn’t actually feel. He cleared his throat then said, “Pardon me, sir, but could you tell me where Oliver’s tavern and Inn is?”

The man eyed him and asked, “Why are you going there? That’s not the best inn in the village.”

Emery forced a smile on his face. “He is an old friend of my parents.”

The man rolled his eyes and pointed down the main road. “It’s on the left, last building before you reach the grounds of the queen’s castle.”

Emery gave the man a slight nod and walked away from the stall. He led Felipe through the crowd of villagers that meandered on the street and as he took in the people he noticed that they were all pretty jovial and in good spirits. This was weird since his parents told their subjects in the White kingdom that the people in the Mills kingdom were miserable living under a tyrant’s rule and were struggling to survive because of the war. But as Emery excused himself from almost walking into an older woman carrying a basket he noticed that was far from the case. In fact this village, like the ones further from the queen’s castle, was thriving and people were happy, even during a time of war. Everything about the Queen’s kingdom contradicted what he had heard about the woman and her kingdom. Emery scoffed and rolled his eyes. It didn’t surprise him considering his mother was a woman who would say and do anything to get her way.

Emery got to the tavern and after he dismounted Felipe he tied his reins to the post then went inside. The tavern was dimly lit and it seemed like a questionable establishment. There was an older woman behind the bar laughing with one of the three men sitting at it. There were a few more patrons in the tavern that were either eating a meal or having a drink. Emery walked up to the bar and the woman glanced at him then told the man in front of her that she would be back. She walked over to Emery and said, “What can I do for you?”

Emery went into this bag and said, “I’m looking for Oliver. Ingrid and Joe said that he’d let me have a room here for the night.” He smiled at the woman. “I’m supposed to report for training tomorrow.”

The woman studied him then let out a hearty laugh before she asked, “You’re going to go train in the queen’s army?”

Emery tried not to scowl at the woman, but his irritation towards the question still showed on his face. He chose to ignore it and held up the pouch that held the money Ingrid had given him. “I’m supposed to give this to Oliver.”

The woman chuckled and remarked, “I’m sure you are. Who sent you again?”

Emery resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but he minded his manners and drew in a slow breath before replying, “Ingrid and Joe. They live in a village to the west that’s a two days ride from here.”

The woman shrugged. “Don’t know ‘em.” She then turned a little and shouted, “Ollie Anderson get out here. There’s some kid looking for you.”

“He ain’t mine, Shelia! I swear,” a man shouted from the back of the tavern. The men sitting at the bar started to laugh. An old man, who looked like he knew his way around a good fight or two, came rushing from the back of the tavern and he looked at the older woman who had an amused look on her face. She nodded her head towards Emery. The man looked at him and scoffed. “Ah, yeah. He definitely ain’t mine. Not a single blond in my line. All dark haired scoundrels.”

Shelia shook her head then walked over to Oliver. She hit him with the bar towel that was in her hand and remarked, “He ain’t yours you idiot. He says an Ingrid and Joe sent him.”

“Ingrid and Joe,” the man muttered to himself several times then he snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Oy! I know ‘em.” He frowned. “They ain’t got no shrimp of a son.”

Emery cleared his throat and said, “No, sir they don’t. I am their apprentice at the bakery. The queen’s guards found me there and said I had to report to serve my two years or they would be thrown in the dungeon.”

Oliver shook his head. “That’s a stupid law.” He sighed. “Suppose the queen needs young men for this senseless war.” He tilted his head and studied Emery. A grin came to his face. “They won’t be able to do much with you. Probably make you an errand boy.”

“I’m nineteen,” Emery told the man hoping that would get him to stop calling him boy. He irritated him when people called him that. Joe and Ingrid would call him son, or by his name if he was doing something they didn’t like.

Oliver chuckled and remarked, “Awful small for nineteen. By the time I was your age I was as big as a tree. Out on my own and serving the crown.” He chuckled again. “Then again I guess they’re making you fellas smaller these days.”

Emery furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. He had no idea what the man was talking about. “I’m sorry what?”

Oliver chuckled and pointed to a young man who was around Emery’s age. He had wild brown hair on his head and seemed to be about the same size as Emery, only taller. That caused Emery to feel a little bit better about his slight frame. “If he wasn’t so tall, he’d be the same size as you, but he’s reporting to serve too. Inn’s never been so busy.” He looked at Emery. “I know my sister didn’t send you all the way out here empty handed.”

“Ingrid’s your sister?” Emery asked unable to keep the amazement from his tone. Then he exclaimed, “But you couldn’t even remember her.”

Oliver shrugged. “I don’t see her too often so I tend to forget she exists.”

Emery was baffled by the man and his relationship with Ingrid. However he was confused as to why she didn’t’ mention that Oliver was her brother. But it was clear that she had gotten the brains in the family. Emery handed over the pouch with the coins then he went back into his pack and pulled out a wrapped package. “She also wanted me to give you this.”

Oliver took the package and unwrapped it. When he saw the loaf of sweet bread he began to laugh. As he caught his breath he exclaimed, “The old bird remembered how much I love this bread.” He looked at Emery. “You know, I’m the reason why the queen is one of her best customers. I took her a loaf of this bread and she was instantly hooked on it.” He chuckled. “Fine price to pay. Better than being in the stocks for two days for being drunk in public. Let me out a day early because of this bread.”

This further confused Emery about the queen. If she was so ruthless a loaf of Ingrid’s sweet bread shouldn’t have been enough to sway her to let a drunk out of the stocks a day early. Curiosity getting the best of him Emery asked, “How did you do that?”

Oliver shrugged and said, “Went to see her at court and told her I couldn’t afford to have my tavern closed for two days. Offered what gold I had on me and a loaf of this bread. Heard from one of the guards that it was because of this bread that she let me out early.” He grinned. “Course had to admit to ‘em I couldn’t bake worth shit and that my sister saved me arse.”

Emery grinned and remarked, “Well if you find yourself in a situation where your ass might need saving again, Ingrid taught me how to make the bread. But she made me promise to take the recipe to my grave.”

“Ah, the evil wench,” Oliver said with a smile. “If you survive training then you are more than welcomed to come here and make some bread for this sorry lot.” He raised his voice and added, “Help them absorb all the alcohol they toss down their gullets.”

“Oh, piss off Anderson,” a man sitting further down the bar shouted.

Oliver chuckled then looked at Emery. He slapped the bar and said, “Shelia will let you know what room you’re in. But sit, have an ale on me, and I’ll grab you some food.”

The man sitting close to them said, “You’ll be shitting all night if you eat the slop they serve here.”

Oliver pointed at the man. “Don’t stop you from shovellin’ it down your throat ya fat bastard.”

The man shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to it. He’s a young man. Got a long life to live. Don’t want to see it ended so soon.”

Oliver stuck his middle finger up at the man then hobbled off to the back of the tavern. Emery was starting to see some similarities between Ingrid and Oliver and that was beyond the dark hair. Emery looked around for a place to sit and he saw the man that was around his age who was also reporting for training. Emery took a deep breath then walked over to the man’s table. He cleared his throat and the man looked up from his bowl that had something that resembled a stew in it. There was wary, but intimidating expression on his face. “Yeah?”

Emery swallowed nervously then said, “I…um….Oliver told me you were headed to training.”

The man nodded then ate a spoonful of stew. “Yeah. Shouldn’t have came to this kingdom. But it’s better than being in the White kingdom, and definitely a whole hell of a lot better than Stefan’s.” Emery tensed upon hearing the White name, but relaxed as the man continued. “This is the first time running away has gotten me in trouble.”

Emery grinned and said, “Me too. How long have you been running away for?”

The man shrugged. “Not sure. Going around from kingdom to kingdom, I lost track. How about you?”

Emery stuck with the lie that he had told Ingrid and Joe. “Since I was thirteen.”

The man nodded. “Surprised I haven’t seen you around. Then again, I don’t stay in one place for too long.” He grinned. “This will be an exception though. I like my head attached to my body.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “How old are you? You don’t look like you’re over sixteen.”

Emery scoffed and rolled his eyes. “It’s not my fault I’m aging well. I’m nineteen.

“Aging well? Right. You got to let me in on that secret.” The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Neal.”

Emery took hold of his hand and tried not to wince when Neal squeezed his hand in a tight grip and shook it. “Emery.”

Neal grinned. “Nice meeting you, Emery. So you think you’ll be able to survive the Queen’s army?”

Emery shook his head. “Hell no.” He smirked. “I’m too pretty to fight.”

Neal laughed then remarked, “Yeah, sure. You ain’t no damsel in distress.” He scooped up a bite of stew onto his spoon. “They’re going to make you fight and you’re going to go running the other way.” He ate his stew and chuckled.

Emery laughed with the man and remarked, “You might not be wrong there, but you’ll be running next to me. You don’t seem like the army type.”

Neal shrugged. “I might be. You never know.”

Emery grunted. “If you are then I’m going to be a model soldier.”

The two of them laughed and they were still laughing when Oliver came over with a bowl of stew and a mug of ale for Emery. He set the bowl and mug down. “Good to see you two getting along. Best to have friends before going into a situation like this.”

Emery chuckled and commented, “I’m sure it is, but I’m certain as soon as Neal finds a more capable person he’s going to forget about me.”

Neal took a long drink of his ale then scoffed. “No I won’t. I’ll still need a scapegoat to blame all my shortcomings on.”

Emery picked up his ale and said, “Ah, a height joke. Such an original.” He then took a long drink from the mug as Neal laughed. The ale was a lot stronger than he was used to and he began to cough as he set the mug down.

Oliver whacked him on the back a few times as he said, “Easy there, lad. That’s not the swill they handout in Ingrid’s village. We serve stuff that’ll probably put some hair on that chest of yours.” He chuckled. “The Queen’s men won’t drink the weak stuff. Frankly, they’re the only reason I’m still in business.” Oliver began to walk away. “Eat up boys. This will probably be the last decent meal you’ll get in a while.”

Neal grunted and muttered, “I think he’s overestimating decent.” He grinned. “I’m certain the food the soldiers eat will be several times better.”

Emery chuckled. “The food here can’t be that bad, can it?” He picked up the spoon that was in the bowl then ate a bite of stew. Emery slowly chewed it up. The taste of it was less than stellar, but palatable; however the meat was somewhat questionable. He finally swallowed the food in his mouth and grimaced. “All of a sudden I’m more excited for the food that they’ll serve us as soldiers.”

Neal laughed and Emery joined him. He was glad to have met Neal. He would have someone to joke with and someone that would also be going through the same torture as him. Neal pushed Emery’s ale closer to him. “Drink some more of this and soon you’ll be able to eat that slop.”

Emery grunted and picked up his mug. “I’m certain it will take several more ales before any of this is edible.” He washed down the terrible aftertaste of the stew with his ale which was bitter and strong. Emery lowered his mug and groaned. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get used to that.”

Neal lifted his mug and said, “You get used to it after four of them.” He took a sip of his ale then grinned as he lowered his mug. “By then the stew is like a royal feast.”

Emery chuckled and shook his head. He picked up the spoon and remarked, “If I start thinking that then I know I need to stop drinking.”

Neal scoffed and waved off the comment. “No, you’ll be fine. It’s your last night as a free man, enjoy it.”

Emery smirked and remarked, “You’re right. We should enjoy it.” He lifted his mug. “To our last night as free men and let’s hope we don’t get killed in the queen’s army.”

Neal lifted his mug and tapped it against Emery’s. “Here, here.” The two of them took long drinks from their mug and both of them made a noise of disgust as they set them down. Neal chuckled and Emery laughed along with him. He was going to have a carefree night with his new friend and later he would worry about the queen’s army and his secret.

Emery groaned. His head throbbed. It felt like he had eaten a pound of cotton, and he believed that if he moved he was going to relive that awful stew that Oliver had given him. Emery groaned again and drew in a deep breath. His chest bindings were twisted around and were making him uncomfortable, but he just wanted to go back to sleep. Emery squeezed his eyes shut and tried to go back to sleep, but the reason for why he woke up happened. Someone pounded on the door to his room. He didn’t even remember going up to his room. Emery would gladly accept death in this moment.

He rolled out of bed and landed on the floor. His feet didn’t even make contact with it. Emery fell out of the bed and landed on his back with a hard thud. He closed his eyes and groaned then he whined a little. He just wanted to lay there until he felt a little less like death, but it was obvious that fate had something different planned for him. “Swan, wake your ass up,” Neal shouted through the door. “We’ve got to report to the commandant.”

Emery rolled over to where he was lying face down on the floor. He inhaled deeply through his nose then pushed himself onto his hands and knees. He had managed that, now all he had to do was make it to his feet. Emery stayed on his hands and knees, still hoping for death. He drew in several deep breaths and hoped that he would be able to stand without falling, vomiting, or any other unpleasant surprise. There was another bang on the door and Neal called through it, “Emery, if you don’t get up you’ll be dealing with something much worse.”

Emery took deeper breaths then tried standing. He managed to get to his feet, but he swayed on them, and his head throbbed. He stumbled to the basin that was in the corner of the room and splashed the frigid water onto his face. He only stopped twice when he thought he was going to vomit. Emery pulled off the shirt that he was wearing and dried his face with it. He dropped his shirt on the floor, but stood still when his stomach lurched. He was going to vomit. Immediately after he thought that he threw up in the basin. There was bang on the door and Emery groaned then shouted, “Piss off, Neal.” His voice was hoarse from throwing up and his night of drinking.

Emery heard the man laugh on the other side of the door then he shouted, “Oh don’t be such a weakling. You’ll be fine.” He banged on the door. “Now come on. We have to report because if we don’t do it by the end of the day the commandant will have the guards come looking for us.”

Emery drew in a deep breath through his nose and found the mental fortitude to push through his hangover. He redid the bindings around his chest then went over to where he dropped his bag in inside the door. He picked it up and pulled out a clean shirt to put on then he fixed himself up so that he didn’t look like he had just woken from the dead. When he felt presentable, and packed up his belongings, Emery opened the door and glared at Neal. “I feel like a herd of horses are going through my head and that I am a few breaths away from death.”

Neal laughed and placed his hand on his shoulder. “You’ll be fine. We need to report.”

Emery continued to glare at the other man for several long seconds then he turned to get his bag. The two of them went down to the tavern and Oliver was manning the bar. He saw them and smiled, “Shelia said you boys were up late drinking. Gonna make for a rough day.”

Emery grunted then said, “Can I get some water?”

“You don’t have time. We’re late and I’m certain we’re going to get our asses handed to us,” Neal pointed out. Even though there was no set time for them to report to the commandant, Emery and Neal decided to report first thing in the morning because they wanted make a good first impression.

Emery shot Neal a dirty look then headed out of the tavern. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Neal being a pain in the ass. He headed to the stables that were behind the tavern and got Felipe. He mounted him once his saddle was on then they made their way to the queen’s castle. The ride didn’t make him feel any better, and he felt like he was going to throw up again, but Emery was proud of himself for staying upright in his saddle. He reached the gates for the queen’s castle and the guards stopped him. The one on the right held out his hand and asked, “What business do you have at the queen’s castle?”’

Emery drew in a deep breath then said, “I’m new to the kingdom and I was told to report so I could serve my mandatory two years.”

The guard nodded and pointed to the left and said, “Go down that trail and the first building you come to is the commandant’s. He should be in there. If not, he will be in the barracks where the new recruits are.”

Emery gave the man a slight nod then made his way to the path of the left. As he rode down it his hangover was slowly replaced with nerves and he began to think about the number of things that could go wrong with him being in the queen’s army. He tried not to let his fears intimidate him into running away and escaping to another kingdom, but the pit in his stomach grew the further he and Felipe went down the trail. Eventually the thick forest that surrounded him on the trail thinned out and soon he was in a wide open field where there were several buildings, but most of it was taken up by various spots for training. He could see several groups of men training with swords; engaged in hand to hand combat; and shooting bow and arrows along with some other training that was going on

A wide smile formed on Emery’s face. He was going to enjoy being in the queen’s army. He was going to be able to do everything that his mother had denied him from doing when he was growing up. Emery wanted to do everything and be good at it all. It sent a boyish excitement through him and he urged his horse forward, eager to start his training. There was a sharp whistle behind him and Emery looked over his shoulder to see Neal heading towards him. Emery chuckled to himself and pulled on Felipe’s reins to get him to stop so that he could for the other man to catch up to him. When he was closer Neal pointed at him and exclaimed, “You left me.”

Emery grinned. “I did. You were being a pain in the ass.”

“I’m always a pain in the ass.”

Emery dismounted his horse and remarked, “It was hard for me to tell with the hangover which I am still suffering from.” He glowered at him. “Which is your fault by the way.”

Neal scoffed and remarked, “No such thing. You could have quit at anytime.”

Emery rolled his eyes and began to lead Felipe. “I’m sure I could have, but I’m certain you would have called me a wimp or something.”

“I would have.” Neal flashed him a grin. “But that’s nothing.” He looked around and remarked, “This place is pretty impressive, huh?”

Emery nodded with a grin on his face. “It is. Then again the queen’s army has been quite formidable against the White kingdom for almost ten years from what I hear.”

Neal chuckled. “I hear the war was started because she took some land that was owed by the White kingdom and Snow killed the queen’s mother as payback which started the war.”

Emery’s looked at Neal, baffled by the story. There was no way his mother would have started a war, and killed a former queen, over some land. The White kingdom had more than enough land. But then he remembered that this was his mother and she had done some undeniably questionable things before. He sighed. “It doesn’t matter why it started. We have to focus on protecting the Mills kingdom and the queen that reigns over it.”

Neal gave his shoulder a shove and said, “Look at you being the model soldier already.”

Emery glared at the other man then shook his head. He looked at one of the buildings that was in the distance and shrugged. “We have to be a part of this for the next two years so might as well be the best at it, right?”

Neal laughed and clapped his hand on Emery’s shoulder. “I like that. That’s optimism isn’t it? I should give it a try.”

Emery shook his head at the man’s brand of humor and the two of them continued their way to the commandant’s quarters. When they reached the building Emery looked at Neal and motioned towards the door with his head. “Knock on it.”

Neal scoffed and remarked, “This is your show.”

“You’re spineless.” Emery knocked on the door and he glanced at Neal when he heard heavy footsteps on the other side of door.

It yanked open and a tall man with a thick beard, wearing full armor, and a sword around his waist filled the doorway. He appeared to be a seasoned soldier and looked as though an army would be needed to take him down. He eyed Emery then Neal and the two of them stepped back as he exited the building. “Blimey, you two just fall off your mothers’ teats? I’ve had young soldiers but you two look like your bollocks haven’t even dropped yet.”

Neal scoffed and countered, “I’ve had twenty-one name days and I’m probably a better soldier than any man under your command.”

“Shut up, boy.” He glowered at Neal. “First rule of being a soldier is to speak only when you’re told to speak. Even then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.” He looked at Emery. “You’ll need to surrender your horse with the stables. Hope you aren’t fond of him because you probably won’t be seeing him again.”

Emery wanted to protest about giving up his horse, but then he remembered that he was only to speak when spoken to, and even then he wasn’t certain if the commandant was speaking to him, or giving him an order. The man narrowed his eyes at him. “I do believe the response you’re looking for is: yes, sir, or yes, Commandant, sir.”

“Yes, Commandant, sir,” Emery repeated because it wasn’t like he could give another answer.

The Commandant nodded. “You, go surrender your horse then report to the barracks.” He looked at Neal. “You, go to the barracks. Sergeant Wilmore is who you will be reporting to. He will assign you to your bunks, then he will show you around before you join the others. You two will be joining the group that started two weeks ago. They’re still in piss poor shape so the two of you will be on the same level.” He eyed Emery and Neal. “Though I think the two of you might be worse. Have either of you picked up a sword?” Emery and Neal didn’t say anything then the Commandant said, “The two of you can answer.”

Emery cleared his throat then said, “No, Commandant, sir.”

“I picked up one once, but didn’t do much with it,” Neal answered with a slight smile on his face.

The Commandant nodded. “Yeah, you two are on the same level as the current lot. Sorry excuse for men that will be terrible recruits who will probably die their first time out on the field.”

The man’s blunt and straight to the point nature along with his no nonsense attitude made him hard to figure out and Emery didn’t know if he liked him or not. One thing he was certain of was that he did find him quite irritating. The Commandant waved them off then turned to go back into his quarters. “Boy, go surrender your horse then report to the sergeant. Your friend can go there.” He opened the door and said, “Welcome to training boys.”

He entered the building then slammed the door closed behind him. Emery swallowed then chuckled a little. “He isn’t that bad is he?”

Neal scoffed. “He’s going to kill us. Better go surrender your horse before he runs you through.”

Emery grimaced then said, “He probably has ways of doing it so that it looks like I did it myself.”

Neal chuckled and he walked away from Emery. “I’ll see you at the barracks.”

Emery watched him leave then he and Felipe made their way to the stable. He walked by a group of soldiers doing hand to hand combat and he stopped to watch them for a moment. One man punched the other in the face then a third stepped in-between them to make sure they couldn’t continue fighting. He could get used to hand to hand combat. Emery knew he was quick with his feet, and thought he had fast hands, but he wasn’t sure how they would whether fighting another person. The two men resumed fighting and Emery grinned as he watched the two men fight. He stood there several minutes before someone shouted behind him, “You there, boy, what are you doing?”

Emery turned around and there was bald man with a clean shaved face looking at him. He seemed to be someone that might be a high ranking official and Emery didn’t know how to behave. He gestured at Felipe and said, “The commandant ordered me to surrender my horse with the stables. I’m a new a recruit.”

The man eyed him and remarked, “These aren’t the stables. Clearly you can see that boy, or did your parents send an idiot to serve the queen?”

Emery narrowed his eyes at the other man and tried not to let his anger and irritation get the best of him. “No, sir.”

“Then get your horse to the damn stables then report to the barracks,” the man ordered in a biting tone that grated further on Emery’s nerves.

“Yes, sir,” Emery bit out before he turned to take Felipe to stables.

The stables were close to the area that the men had been practicing hand to hand combat at. He entered the stable and a young man came over to him and asked, “Are you a visiting soldier to train the recruits?”

Emery chuckled and replied, “No. I am a recruit.”

The young man grimaced and an apologetic look came to his face. “I’m sorry you’re going to lose your horse. I’ll be sure he’s treated good.”

Emery gave him a small smile then reached out to rub Felipe’s neck. “Thanks for saying that. We’ve been through a lot over the last few months.” Emery smiled. “You be good and don’t give them a hard time.”

Felipe whinnied and Emery chuckled before handing the reins over to the stable boy. He sighed. He had left Joe and Ingrid and now he was giving up Felipe. The only other living being that he felt close with. He sighed and left the stables before he got emotional. Emery walked to the barracks and when he entered a man with brown skin approached him. His hazel eyes bore down on Emery and he demanded, “Who the hell are you?” Emery stammered to give him a response, but he wasn’t able to and the man bent forward, demanding again, “Who the hell are you?”

“Em-Em-Emery Swan,” he managed to stammer out.

The man’s eyes continued to pin him down then he stood up straight and said, “You’re the second recruit that came in with the other shit stain?” Emery nodded and the man bellowed, “Use your words, Swan.”

“Yes, sir,” Emery replied, raising his voice.

The man nodded. “You and the other boy will be assigned to the corner bunks at the end of the hall.” He narrowed his eyes at Emery. “You can drop your packs on your bunk then go down to the tailor to get your uniform. After that you are to report to training field for training.” Emery nodded again. “If you don’t start using your words I’ll make sure the first thing you do is a hundred push-ups in the mud.”

“Yes, sir,” Emery replied to the man prior order.

A devious glint came to the man’s eyes and he said, “Go to the tailor.” He chuckled. “You’re going to be my favorite recruit, Swan.”

Emery swallowed hard, nervous about what the statement meant, but he followed orders. After he dropped his packs on his bed, Emery left the barracks and went straight to the tailor. On his way to the building that the tailor was located Emery ran into Neal. He was wearing black wool pants, black boots, and a black tunic. There was a sword buckled around his waist. He looked odd wearing one. Emery chuckled and said, “You still look like a shit stain.”

Neal got a wide grin on his face. “Ah, but I’m a better looking one than you. These are the training outfits. In a month or so we go back to get our leathers.”

Emery smiled. Leather was going to be incredible. The Queen’s army was more intimidating and dark than the White kingdom because of they dressed in all black and leather, but Emery found it exhilarating. “Good, because I’m not certain I can pull off those pants.”

Neal scoffed and remarked, “Speak for yourself. I think these do well on me.”

Emery rolled his eyes. “I need to go get my uniform or the man with the intense eyes might make me his bitch.”

“Oh you mean he hasn’t yet? He was there when I went into the barracks and he almost ripped my throat out,” Neal said with a small chuckle. “That is the man that gets to dole out our punishment when it’s not coming from the commandant.”

“Sergeant Wilmore?”

Neal nodded. “Indeed. Go get your uniform. I have to report to the training field or he’ll make me his bitch.”

Emery chuckled and watched as he ran off. He went to the building that the tailor was in and there was an older woman stitching up a pair of tights and he cleared his throat. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’m here for a uniform. I’m a new recruit.”

The woman glanced at him then went back to stitching up the tights that were in her hands as she said, “You’re a scrawny one aren’t you? I don’t have anything small enough, so you’re going to have to make do. Stand up on the platform. I need to get your measurements for your leathers.”

Emery looked at the wooden platform that was in front of several looking glasses then said, “I don’t need –“

She scoffed and remarked, “You will be wearing these leathers day in and day out for the foreseeable future. They need to fit you right or you’ll risk chaffing, poor mobility, or even getting killed.” She put down the tights she was stitching up. “The queen’s guidelines for her soldiers’ uniforms are strict, and just because you think you’re some special flower, doesn’t mean you can work around them. Now get your ass on that platform so I can take your measurements. Take your tunic and pants off.”

Emery swallowed several times. He wasn’t expecting this and he didn’t know what to do. He looked around then asked, “Is there some place I can undress?”

The woman let out an exasperated breath. “Are you one of those men that doesn’t care for undergarments?” She winked at him. “I’ve seen it all, son.”

Emery felt his cheeks heat up as began to blush. He scratched the back his head and said, “I um…I am wearing undergarments.”

“Then take off your clothes,” The woman ordered and Emery could hear the irritation in her voice. “If you don’t hurry up I’ll get Wilmore in here, and his method for dealing with unruly recruits is putting them in the stockade,” the woman threatened with a challenging look in her eyes.

Emery gave her a slight nod. “Right, yes ma’am.” His hands shook as he reached for the belt that was fastened around his waist. He knew his time in the queen’s army was going to be short, but he didn’t think it would be this short. Emery’s stomach churned as his nerves began to get the best of him. He pulled off his tunic then he undid the leather laces that kept his trousers shut. He stood there in his linen shorts and his sleeveless linen shirt. It was the close to the end of summer, and the days were still warm, but he wore the layers to hide his secret. Emery stood there waiting for the woman to scream, or yell for the guards, but nothing happened. He was looking down at the floor but he glanced up at her and the woman had an annoyed look on her face. “Are you going to get on the platform or are you waiting for me to hold your hand?”

Emery couldn’t stop the surprised look that came to his face, but he moved over to the platform and got on it. The woman stood in front of him and studied him for a moment then hummed. “I’m certain I can guess your sizes, but I haven’t improperly dressed a queen’s soldier in almost three decades, and I’m not going to start now.” She took out a long piece of leather strip from the basket that was on a stand to the right of the platform. “Arms out.” Emery held out his arms and the woman went to work measuring him. “Where are you from, son?”

“A small village to the west. A village called Wyndham,” Emery replied as he tried to relax as the woman measured him. It made him nervous to have her so close and scrutinizing his body.

The woman got another strip of leather then stood in front of Emery. “I haven’t been beyond the village walls. My family has worked for the royal family for a long time. It’s rumored that our ancestors designed the original crown.”

Emery let out a small uneasy chuckle. “That’s definitely a claim you would want to have for your family.”

“Its feed us well,” the woman commented as she put the strip of leather with the first one. “What did you do back at your village before coming to serve?” She picked up another strip of leather. “Arms up.” She wrapped it around Emery’s chest and he was certain she would have noticed his real chest. She hummed then remarked, “Not as scrawny, as you look, eh? Got some muscle hidden don’t you?”

An uncomfortable smile came to Emery’s face and he muttered, “I suppose.” He didn’t know what else to say. He knew it wasn’t muscle, but he appreciated the woman saying that he had muscle.

“So, your village, what did you do there?” The woman asked, continuing their conversation.

Emery cleared his throat and focused on it rather than the woman that was sizing his chest. “I was a um…I was an apprentice. My parents own a bakery.”

The older woman smiled at him. “Surprised you were able to say so thin with all those delicious sweets and breads.”

Emery chuckled. “My mom was quite strict in regards to eating the food that was baked.”

The woman chuckled. “Ah so you were reared by a strong hand then?”

Emery grinned. Ingrid might not have raised him but she had helped him evolve a lot more than his own mother would have. “I was and she would have given you a run for your money.”

The woman let out a bark of laughter that faded into a light chuckle. “Bring her by and I’m certain we’ll find out.”

She went through three more leather strips then when she picked up one more Emery rolled his eyes. He was anxious to have this entire ordeal over with. It made him uncomfortable and he felt exposed. The woman must have caught his annoyance because she commented, “I know you’re eager to train, but this is the last one. I’m going to measure your in-seam and then you’ll be set. I’ll give you some wool pants and a tunic.”

Emery nodded, but then he began to freak out when the woman bent down. “Whoa, what are you doing?”

The woman chuckled and replied, “Measuring your in-seam. One important thing to know, to make sure you have enough room, is how do you rest?”

Emery’s eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

She glanced at his crotch and said, “Do your bits rest to the right or to the left?” Emery still didn’t understand what the woman was getting at and she let out an exasperated breath. “You penis does it rest to the left or the right?”

Emery was flabbergasted by the question and his mouth opened and closed several times before he stated, rather quickly, “Right, to the right.”

The woman shook her head and muttered, “You young soldiers need more exposure to the world.” She began to measure the inside of his thigh and Emery tensed up, singing a song in his head that Ingrid used to sing around the bakery. The woman stood up and said, “We’ve got you measured. You’ll get your leathers in about a month. Come with me so I can issue you pants, tunics, and your boots.” She began to head to the back of the small building. “Sergeant Wilmore will issue you, your armor and sword. Questions?”

Emery was still recovering from having the woman be so intimate with his nether regions. He didn’t care if it was in a professional capacity. It was still unsettling. He shook his head. “No, ma’am. Not at all.”

She disappeared behind a black curtain. Emery let out a breath of relief. That was the most stressful thing that he had gone through and he had only been there for an hour. He let his head drop back and let out a silent groan. He had no idea how he was going to survive training. Emery brought his head down when he heard the woman come walking from the back of the small building. She walked through the black curtain and said, “I got you the smallest pants I had and the tunic might be a little loose but the belt of the sword should fix that. Get dressed and report to the training field.”

Emery took the small stack of clothing from her along with the pair of boots that she was holding. “Thank you ma’am. I appreciate at it.”

She smiled at him and stated, “Don’t thank me now. You still have to get through training.” She snapped her fingers. “What your name?”

“Emery. Emery Swan.”

“All right, Swan. Get dressed and report for training.” The woman told him then she went behind the counter where she resumed what she had been working on.

Emery put on his tunic and pants, which were more snug than he expected, then he left the building. He rushed to the barracks to put his stuff in the trunk that was at the foot of his bunk then he ran to the training field, excited to join in on the actual training.

Emery got to the training field and saw Sergeant Wilmore standing in front of the recruits as they went through sword drills. Emery had to admit they did look rather pathetic, but he also knew that he was no better. Wilmore spotted him and shouted, “You there, outlier, on the ground thirty push-ups. Right now.”

Emery dropped down and began to do the workout that the Sergeant ordered him to do. He was ten in when his body began to betray him and he started to struggle with pushing himself up. Training was going to kill him, but at the same time he was going to push himself to get through it, just like he was going to push through these push-ups.

Chapter Text

Emery ducked to the right so that he could get out of the way of the oncoming punch that Neal was trying to land. He made a swift recovery and delivered a left hook that caught Neal in the ribs making him double over in pain. He had used his momentum and full weight behind the punch so the hit had been a lot harder than Emery had intended. Neal groaned and dropped down to one knee as he drew in several deep breaths. “That was a harder than a normal punch,” Neal said between each breath.

Emery grimaced and shook out his hands. “Sorry ‘bout that one. I went with my momentum and couldn’t stop it.”

Neal stood up and said, “Go find someone else to train with if you want to kick the shit out of somebody.” He drew in another deep breath. “Your hands are too quick and engaging in hand-to-hand with you is impossible.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “It is not. If you weren’t so focused on going to the village every other day, you would be able to be at the same level as me.” Emery smirked. “I happen to be focused on my training.”

Neal scoffed and remarked, “Having a good time doesn’t mean I’m not focused on my training.” He grinned. “I just know how to unwind. Unlike you.” He chuckled and said, “You should go ask Robin if he wants to duel with you before we have to go to strategy.”

Emery groaned. He hated the classes that they were forced to take. The recruits had strategy, map reading, and other classes that were essential for them as soldiers, but they bored him to death. He also didn’t want to duel Robin. The other man was five years older than him and Emery had managed to embarrass him in a hand-to-hand demonstration a few weeks ago. Emery was also good with a sword, except he was a lot quicker than the other recruits, and that was another thing Robin didn’t like about him because of their training officer. Sergeant Wilmore enjoyed making Emery the star recruit and praising him in front of the others. Anytime he did something impressive the sergeant would announce that he was going recommend for him to be knighted after training. Emery knew that he wasn’t going to do that, but the sergeant’s praises earned him more enemies than he wanted.

Emery scoffed then remarked, “Dueling with Robin would be like fighting a child. I’d rather fight a dummy.”

He and Neal shared a laugh and as they calmed down Neal commented, “I think the dummy kicked your ass last time.”

“Most likely did,” Emery countered with a grin. “Let’s go find Graham and study for that stupid maps test. I honestly have no idea what is a river and what is a mountain on that damn thing.”

Emery and Neal walked over to their pile of stuff. Since they were no longer new recruits their training class had been upgraded to different uniforms. They now wore the uniform that the other soldiers wore when they didn’t have their armor on- black shirts, leather pants, and swords. However, most soldiers wore their armor all the time. Armor was supposed to be issued to Emery and his class at the end of the week. Neal picked his undershirt off the ground and put it on while Emery picked up his shirt. Neal had taken off both this undershirt and shirt, and Emery had just taken off his shirt – for obvious reasons. Emery pulled it on then put his sword on.

They were two months into their training, and next month would be their last, then they were going to be assigned to their units where more training awaited them. Emery was amazed by how far he had come and that his secret hadn’t been discovered yet. There had been several close calls, but he was able to avoid them. To ensure that he didn’t have too many of them Emery only bathed once a week, and that was several hours after lights out. He also never removed his chest bindings. Other than that, Emery enjoyed training the last couple of months. He had gained more muscle and the definition of them sculpted his body in a way that he actually liked it despite the physical attributes that he loathed. He was stronger, and even though he was Sergeant Wilmore’s favorite recruit to pick on, he secretly liked being the star recruit. It was the kind of attention Emery always wanted from his parents, but never received.

“I don’t think Graham is up for studying maps either. He’s too busy learning scouting techniques,” Neal pointed out as he fastened his sword around his waist.

Emery scoffed. He hated scouting. He figured out in their third week of training that he was a man of action. Engaging in hand-to-hand combat, sword fighting, and anything that had him in the middle of a scuffle got his blood racing. That’s where he belonged and that’s why he couldn’t wait to be in the queen’s infantry. “Scouting is as boring as strategy and map reading.” He pulled his sword from his scabbard and demonstrated several well executed movements then grinned. “Sword fighting is an art. It’s an intricate dance and one wrong move could have you skewered on your opponent’s blade.” He pointed the tip of his blade at Neal. “Care to dance, Cassidy?”

Neal pushed his sword away and scoffed. “And end up dead by your hand?” He scoffed again. “I don’t believe so.”

Emery laughed and sheathed his sword. “You wouldn’t end up dead. I’d only scratch you. A flesh wound really.”

Neal chuckled and remarked, “You would run me through.” He pointed at Emery. “Do I need to remind you that not just minutes ago you punched me in the ribs and knocked the wind out of me?”

Emery shook his head and chuckled. The two of them were walking off the training field when Robin and his lackey, Killian, were walking out of the barracks. Robin saw them and a wide, false smile appeared on his face. “Swan, Cassidy, leaving so soon? We were just coming out to train a bit.” He looked at Emery. “Swan, why don’t you let Jones and I give you an actual challenge?” He grinned. “I know Cassidy’s skills are rather lackluster.”

Neal let out a small chuckle and countered, “At least I know when to walk away so I don’t receive a thorough ass kicking. You, on the other hand, like to be embarrassed. Repeatedly.”

“Neal…” Emery warned in a low voice. He was not ready to deal with Robin’s arrogance and Jones’s stupidity. However, Neal had his own brand of stupidity that was going to get the both of them in trouble.

Robin and Killian approached them. Robin glared at Neal then his eyes flicked over to Emery before going back to Neal. “Is that a challenge? Because I’m certain the only one who would be embarrassed here is you and Swan.”

Emery gave Robin a pointed look. “Robin, we’re leaving. We don’t want to train with either you or Killian.”

Robin’s eyes snapped over to Emery. “What’s the matter, Swan? Don’t think you can take me without Wilmore around to protect your ass?”

Emery narrowed his eyes at the other man and remarked, “We’re going, Robin.”

Robin chuckled and said, “That’s what I thought. You’re too chicken shit to face me like an actual man.”

That statement, for some reason, got Emery. He was a man, despite the body he inhabited. If Robin wanted a fight then he was going to give him one. “Fine, you insufferable asshole. You want to fight me? Without the sarge around? Then you can fight me. Hand to hand.” He smirked. “That way we can actually see who is not only the better soldier, but also the better man.”

A haughty smile came to Robin’s face. “Indeed we will.” He moved to take off his sword. “Open hand or closed fist?”

Emery wasn’t looking to get hurt so he said, “Opened hand.”

Robin nodded and handed his sword to Killian. “Sounds like a plan. Hand your sword over to Cassidy.”

Emery took off his sword and as he gave it to Neal he muttered, “Thank you for this by the way, mate.”

Neal grinned. “Cheers.”

Emery rolled his eyes then he and Robin walked away from the two of them so that they had more space to move around. Emery watched Robin, his hands loosely at his side, waiting for the man to make the first move. He concentrated on his breathing and watched Robin. That’s all he cared about. Even when Robin began to taunt him he didn’t register it. “You’ve been Wilmore’s favorite ever since you showed up, but your papa isn’t here to protect you now. You’re a runt whose only gotten lucky. If it were up to –“ Emery slapped him in the face. He saw an opening and he went for it. Robin was too busy running his mouth and his defenses were down. The man scowled. “You’re going to pay for that.”

He lunged at Emery and Emery did a quick step to the side. He shoved Robin behind him then turned on his heel so that he could keep an eye on him. He didn’t want to be caught off guard if the man made a quick recovery and tried attack him. Robin came at him again and he blocked his oncoming hit before backhanding him in the face. The two of them engaged in this back and forth for ten long minutes with Emery landing hits and Robin not landing any. Soon the other man growled in frustration and said, “Enough of these childish games. We fight like men.” He brought his hands up and balled them into fists. “What do you say Swan?”

Emery knew this wasn’t going to end well, but walking away from the fight wasn’t an option. Not only because of his pride, but because the other recruits had formed a crowd and were now watching him and Robin. He balled up his hands and raised them. “If that’s what you would like to do, then so be it.”

“It is,” Robin remarked with a sneer then he came at Emery, ready to land a jab on his jaw, but Emery moved his head to the side at the last second. Robin fell forward and his momentum made him fall into Emery’s punch which landed in his gut.

Emery stepped back and waited to see what the other man would do next. Robin lunged for him and this time Emery didn’t take a defensive position. When the man charged at him Emery brought his fist around and punched him squarely in the jaw. The hit landed hard considering he had to reach to make it and Robin’s head jerked back. When he brought his head up there was a trickle of blood coming from his nose. Emery took a breath then said, “We needn’t have to take this any further. We could stop right now.”

Robin spat out blood and glared at Emery. “Shut up and fight me.”

Emery made the decision to wear Robin down so that the fight would end sooner rather than later. His change in tactics caught Robin off guard and he was able to use it to his advantage. Emery’s fist made contact with the underside of Robin’s jaw then his other fist was driven into the man’s side. Robin was able to land a punch in Emery’s gut but he managed to get away. Emery hooked his leg around Robin’s right one, then pushed him back which sent him falling to the ground. He moved away from him and said, “Do not get up and surrender.”

Robin pushed himself off the ground. “I don’t surrender to runts.”

Emery clenched his jaw. The man was being relentless and it was going to get them both in trouble. Luckily he didn’t have worry about that because the commandant’s booming voice resonated across the field. “What the hell is going on here?”

Emery rolled his eyes then walked over to where Neal was. He snatched his sword from the grinning man and muttered, “This is all your fault, and I swear on any deity that’s listening, if I end up in the stockade I’ll piss in your food for a month.”

Neal snickered and the commandant shouted, “I asked a damn question now one of you bottom feeders better answer it.”

Emery turned to face the commandant who was now breaking through the crowd of onlookers. He was about to respond when Robin walked over and stood in front of the man. “Sir, Swan and I were training and things got a little heated. I think it drew a crowd.”

The commandant eyed Emery then looked back at Robin. “You two will end your training session.” He glared at the recruits that were around them and ordered, “The rest of you get back to what you were doing.” He focused his glare on Emery then Robin. ‘If you two don’t mind yourselves for the rest of training you’ll end up in the stockade.”

Emery cleared his throat and said in unison with Robin, “Yes, sir.”

The commandant walked off and Emery rolled his eyes. He may have been the sarge’s favorite recruit, but the commandant favored Robin and Killian. Emery didn’t know why, but he did, and Robin and Killian were able to get away with things that other recruits wouldn’t be able to. Robin walked over to Emery as he adjusted the belt of his sword. “Next time, Swan, it’ll be you and I and there will be no one stopping me from kicking your ass.”

Emery glared at the man and the two pinned each other down with hard gazes. “Robin, let’s go. The commandant is still within hearing distance,” Killian said next to Robin.

Robin stared at Emery as he said, “Aye.” Then he turned around and walked away.

Emery glared at the man’s back as he walked away. He wanted to get out of training without having another altercation with Robin. Emery glanced at Neal out the corner of his eye. “Do not get involved in any matter that is between Robin and me.”

“Oh, Emery it’s –“

Emery turned to face him and snapped, “No, Neal. I’m not going to spend the rest of our training getting in fights with Robin and getting put in the stockade.” He drew in a deep breath through his nose. “Let’s go find Graham so we can get this blasted studying out of the way.”

Neal mumbled an okay and the two of them walked off the training field. Emery wasn’t angry with Neal, but he didn’t appreciate the fact that the man had only added to the animosity was between he and Robin. Emery was going to make sure that he didn’t find himself in any situations that would give Robin the opportunity to corner him. Emery sighed. It was going to be a long month.

Emery wanted to collapse on his bunk and fall asleep, never to wake up again. Today was the day that his class had been issued their armor and it felt like training had started all over again. The commandant and Sergeant Wilmore had spent the day making them march, fight, and do everything possible in their new metal confines. Emery’s body ached and he just wanted sleep, but he stunk and it was time for his weekly bath. After lights out Emery snuck down to the lake to bathe. It was the only time of day that he was able to clean himself without worrying about anyone catching him.

He hiked down the path carrying his pack which held his soap, towel, change of clothes, and a set of cloth strips that he used to bind his chest. When he reached the lake he dropped his pack and undressed. This was the one time during the week where he didn’t have to be on constant alert. He was able to let his body breathe and he could relax in general. Emery got into the lake, shivering a little as he submerged his body into the water. It was getting colder since fall was ending and winter would be happening in a month or two, but Emery was able to withstand it for the short amount of time that he was going to be in it. He bathed then spent some time enjoying the water and the peacefulness of the night before he got out. He was drying off when he heard voices on the path leading to the pond. Emery began to panic when he saw two figures heading towards the lake. He realized that he had waited too long to figure out what he was going to do and that they had probably had noticed him.

“Robin, you see that?” Emery heard Killian say as he lifted the torch in his hand. “I think someone’s already at the lake.” Emery groaned. The one night where he knew no one would be at the lake these two imbeciles were the ones to test his streak of good luck.

“Hey you, what are you doing down at the lake at this hour?” Robin shouted. He sounded drunk which meant he and Killian had snuck into the village.

Emery cleared his throat and replied, “I’m having a bath.”

The two men walk closer and Killian chuckled as the light from the torch illuminated the area around Emery. “Swan is that you? I didn’t take you for a night time swimmer.”

Emery rolled his eyes. The man took daft to an extreme level. “I said I was having a bath you idiot.”

As they approached Robin snapped, “Hey you don’t –“ He stopped short and a slow smile formed on his face. “My, my, my….what do we have here? You hiding something behind that towel?”

Emery swallowed several times then said, “I’m actually heading back to the barracks so if you two will excuse me.”

He picked up his pack and tried to take a route that would let him avoid Killian and Robin, but the two men ran over and blocked his exit. “Ah, ah there, Swan,” Killian said with a grin. “What’s with all the cloak and dagger theatrics just to take a bath? We’re all men. We all have the same parts.” His grin widened. “Some of us have more parts than others, but doesn’t mean anything.” Killian chuckled and asked, “You got a small pecker, Swan? You don’t want the other blokes to see it?”

Emery’s nerves started to run amok, and it took every bit of willpower he had to not let them turn into fear, but he didn’t know how he was going to escape this situation. There were two of them and one of him. He had no sword, or dagger, and with only a towel covering him, he felt vulnerable. He clutched the towel tighter in his hand. “I prefer to bathe alone.”

Robin chuckled. “So do I, but I don’t go taking baths in the middle of the night.” He elbowed Killian in the ribs. “Hey, hey you think he might be one of those men that prefer the company of other men?”

“I do believe the term you’re looking for is queer.” Killian smiled at Emery. “Are you queer, Swan? Does showering with other men make your pecker hard?”

Emery pressed his lips together then gritted out, “No, I’m not queer. I do prefer the company of women.” He wasn’t going to let the conversation continue any further. “If you gentlemen are done badgering me, I would like to go get dressed and get some sleep before morning call.”

The two men looked at him then looked at each. Robin shrugged then moved out of the way. He gestured for Emery to walk by. “By all means. We didn’t mean to keep you.”

Skeptical, Emery eyed the two men. He didn’t believe Robin and Killian would let him leave without incident, but there was currently nothing else that told him otherwise. He was also anxious to get to the safety of his bunk and wipe this whole incident from his mind. He began to make his way through the gap that was between the two men and just as he cleared them Killian grabbed his towel and yanked it away from his body.

Emery made a quick, futile attempt at covering his naked body, but it was worthless to do so. Both, Killian and Robin, moved to stand in front of them and their eyes widened in surprise before Killian started to laugh. “Oh my…” he couldn’t finish his sentence because he was unable to control his laughter. He drew in a deep breath. “A woman has been kicking your ass.”

“I am not a woman,” Emery grounded out as he clenched his teeth together. He reached for the towel that Killian was still holding, but the man pulled it back from him.

Robin sneered and shoved Killian. “Shut the hell up.” He looked at Emery. “So you think you can infiltrate the queen’s army and what? Be a spy?”

Emery glowered at the man. “I am not a spy.”

Robin pointed at him. “A woman dressing up as a man and training with the queen’s army during a time of war sounds like a spy to me.”

“Which I am not,” Emery repeated.

Robin took hold of the long hair at the top of Emery’s head. “I don’t care what you are or what you aren’t. I’m going to report you to the commandant and I’m going to enjoy watching your head be severed from your body.” A sick grin came to his face. “But I think Killian and I are going to have a bit of fun first.”

Emery began to struggle to get away but was unable to thanks to the firm hold that Robin had on his hair. Robin jerked his head towards Killian. “Take hold of her. I’ll go first, then you, and once we’re done we’ll take this bitch to the commandant.” Killian wrapped his arm around Emery’s waist and laughed.

Fear seized up Emery’s body and mind as he realized what was about to happen. He couldn’t move. None of his training was coming to mind and all he could do was watch as Robin unbuckled his sword from around his waist then moved to the leather string that was on his pants. Just as the man’s pants hit the ground Emery began to scream as loud as he could. He managed to drive his elbow into Killian’s gut and that caused the hold the man had around him to loosen. Emery broke free and started to run but he didn’t get far. Robin managed to grab his arm and pulled him down to the ground. The other man pinned his arms above his head one hand while the other covered Emery’s mouth. When Robin chuckled it sent fear down Emery’s spine. “Don’t worry this won’t hurt a bit. I’m certain after a while you’ll come to enjoy it.”

Emery struggled but he stopped when he heard someone shout, “Hey, what’s going on down here? We heard screaming.”

Robin got off Emery and moved to the shadows of the forest as the guards walked down the path. The three guards all carried torches and the light from them lit up the area by the lake as bright as day. Emery found his towel and wrapped it around himself, grateful for some covering. Killian pointed at him and said, “We found a spy in the queen’s army. This woman has been training with us for the last two months, posing as a man. We believe she is serving the White kingdom.”

Emery scowled and glared at Killian. “I’m not a –“ His sentence was cut short when the guard rushed over to him and backhanded him across the face.

“Shut up girl,” the lead guard shouted. Then he said to Killian and Robin, “Go back to the barracks. We’re going to take her to the commandant.” Emery was rubbing his sore cheek and he tasted blood in his mouth. The guard walked closer and pinned him down with a hard, cold gaze. “Get dressed. I’ll be surprised if you make it to morning.”

Emery got dressed under the scrutinizing gaze of the three guards watching him. They took his pack then escorted him up to the commandant’s quarters. The lead guard banged on the door and when it flew open the commandant barked, “What the hell is it?”

“Sir, two of your recruits have discovered that one of the trainees is a woman who may be working as a spy for the White kingdom,” the lead guard quickly explained to the man that was now looking at Emery with pure disgust.

The commandant eyes hardened as he ordered, “Take her to the dungeon. I will speak with the queen on how she would like the handle this matter.”

The lead guard nodded. “Yes, sir.” He pulled roughly on Emery’s arm. “Come along girl.”

Emery complied and allowed himself to be pulled along. The walk to the castle was a long one from the training camp and Emery spent the time thinking about how two months of being careful, and not letting his guard down, was ruined in an instant. Not to mention the humiliation the suffered. Emery didn’t register the murmurs of the three guards escorting him. All he could focus on was the hopelessness and despair that caused his soul to go numb.

When they got to the castle the guards wasted no time taking Emery down to the dungeon. They tossed him into an empty cell then slammed the heavy wooden door closed. The sound of the lock sliding into place echoed in the stone enclosure. The guard looked at him through the small window of the wooden door and remarked, “You’ll be dead by breakfast so don’t get too comfortable, spy.”

The guards laughed and it echoed down the corridor as they walked away from Emery’s cell. Emery pulled his knees up to his chest and laid his head down on them. He wanted to cry, but no tears would come. The most devastating thing about this whole ordeal wasn’t that he had been caught and labeled a spy, but that he was going to die as some woman that was a spy for the White kingdom. He wasn’t going to die as Emery the apprentice baker, or Emery the army recruit, but as some unknown woman that was a threat to the Mills kingdom. That hurt him on a level that he hadn’t felt since the night he had attempted to kill himself. A solitary tear ran down the corner of his eye and Emery wiped it away. The only solace he had was that he had been able to spend eight months of his life as the man he knew he was.

The sound of heavy boots hitting the stone floor of the corridor outside of his cell caused Emery’s eyes to fly open. He scrambled to get off the cold floor then pressed his back against the wall. A guard’s face appeared in the small window. “Time to meet your fate, girl.”

Emery clenched his teeth together and the guard opened the door then came in to the small cell. He took a firm of hold of Emery’s arm and put a manacle around his wrist then did the same to the other one. The guard took a tight hold of his upper arm and pulled him out of the cell. The two of them made their way out of the dungeon and Emery looked down at the ground as they walked. At some point during the night Emery had come to terms with the fact that his death was imminent. What he was still struggling with was that he was going to die as a woman. Tears burned his eyes but he took several deep breaths to repress the feeling of anguish.

The guard jerked his arm to bring him to a stop. Emery looked up and saw the commandant standing in front of him. A smug smile was plastered on his face. “Oh, this is going to be a glorious day for the queen’s army.” He turned around and walked through the double doors that were in front of him.

The two guards who had a hold of Emery’s arms shoved him forward and they trailed behind the commandant. A loud booming voice announced, “Commandant Mendez.”

Emery took a chance to look around and he realized that they were in the throne room of the castle. Many nobles flanked the aisle and he swallowed hard. He hoped none of them recognized him, but he wasn’t certain they would since business and political dealings between the Mills and White kingdoms had soured long ago because of the war. One of the guards forced his head down and Emery stared at the ornate rug that covered the stone floor. They came to a stop and the guards forced him down to his knees. “Your majesty, two recruits brought to my attention that this woman had been posing as a man and had managed to infiltrate the training camp.” He paused then continued, “We believe that she is a spy sent from the White kingdom.”

There were murmurs around the great hall, but then it fell silent. “How long has this individual been training at the camp?”

“Two months, you majesty,” the commandant replied with some hesitation.

“Two months,” the queen repeated.

The smooth, dulcet sounds of the woman’s voice wrapped around Emery’s mind and lulled him into a false sense of security. It sounded wonderful. He took a chance and glanced up. Emery’s eyes widen in surprised. The woman perched on the throne was not the same woman he imagined when his mother spoke of her. Emery had expected the Queen of the Mills kingdom to be some old hag who looked to be every bit of a tyrant as his mother had said she was. However, she looked nothing like that, quite the contrary actually. The queen was stunning.

She was older than him, but it didn’t look like it was by very much. Her hair was coiffed in an elaborate pile on top of her head that was accented by tiara she wore. The red and black dress that she wore was intimidating, but it exuded a level of sensuality that Emery didn’t think was possible for a monarch to do. His own mother was prim and proper and didn’t show any bosom like this queen did. This queen displayed a glorious amount of bosom and it made Emery salivate a little. The queen’s eyes met his and the intense brown ones looked at him for a moment then they looked away when the commandant started speaking.

“Your majesty, he-she-they trained quite well. In fact, Sergeant Wilmore in his reports states the he-she-they are an exemplary recruit.” He stopped and instead of speaking positively about Emery he explained why they weren’t able to catch him. “There was no reason to believe that there was a spy among our ranks.”

“There was nothing about this recruit’s behavior that seemed off to you?” The queen asked the commandant. The man fumbled to find an answer but before he could say anything the queen ordered, “Leave the prisoner and everyone vacate the throne room.”

The commandant stepped forward and said, “Your majesty are you – “

The queen flicked her wrist and the man went flying back. “Do as I say or you all will be hanged for your insolence.”

Emery went back to staring down at the rug as the sounds of people leaving echoed through the hall. It took several long moments before the hall was quiet again. Another moment passed but then he heard a rustling sound. “Look at me,” the queen ordered. Her voice closer than it had been before. Emery raised his head a little and the queen waved her hand which caused the manacles around his wrist to fall off. “Why are you here?”

Emery swallowed to moisten his dry throat then answered in a hoarse voice, “The guards that maintain order in the village I was in ordered me to report for training and I did.”

The queen didn’t say anything then she wondered, “So you have been dressing as a man for a while then?”

“I have,” Emery replied. “Since I ran away from home.”

“What are your intentions for doing so? Were you hoping to join my army as a spy?” The queen inquired pressing Emery for answers.

Emery looked at her directly and shook his head. “No, your majesty. My intention is to live my life as the person that I’m truly am.” He scoffed. “It appears that I have come to the wrong kingdom to do so.” He dipped his head slightly and apologized. “No offense, your majesty.”

“None taken,” the queen remarked before she rested the tip of her finger on her bottom lip. She lowered her hand then asked, “What do you mean you want to live your life as you truly are?”

Emery lowered his eye and looked down at the floor. “My –“ he paused as he tried to vocalize something that he had been feeling since he was a young child.

“Speak,” the queen shouted at him.

Emery drew in a deep breath then said in a soft voice, “My, my body…it isn’t my own.”

“Your body isn’t you own?” The queen repeated in a confused tone. “What does that mean exactly?”

Emery exhaled a frustrated breath through his nose then said, “The body I was born in isn’t one that I identify with.”

“But you identify with a male body?” The queen asked tilting her head slightly. Emery saw a curious look come to her face.

“Yes,” Emery answered quietly.

The queen hummed and studied Emery. He lowered his eyes to escape her scrutinizing gaze. “If I am to get this right, you ran away from where you came from so you could live your life as you wished to live it. However, my guards threw a kink in that by saying you needed to serve the mandatory two years?”

“Yes,” Emery replied as he continued to look down at the carpet.

Silence enveloped them and Emery heard the rustling of the queen’s skirts then she said, “Look at me.” Emery met her gaze. She was standing closer to him. The faint smell of her perfume was intoxicating and being so close to such an attractive woman caused his heart to beat faster. “What is your name?”

Emery swallowed then asked, “The name that was given to my female form or the name I wish to go by?”

The queen flicked her hand in the air and remarked, “The name that reflects who you really are.”

“Emery. My name is Emery Swan,” he told with some pride in his voice.

“Emery,” the queen repeated in her sultry voice then she smirked at him. “I’ll call you Swan.” She turned around and made her way back to her throne. “You are to continue your training and I will have accommodations made for you so that another incident like this doesn’t occur.”

“With all due respect, your majesty, but the special accommodations are not needed.” Knowing that she wasn’t going to kill him, Emery gave her a small smile. “I have been able to handle my current living situation for the last two months quite well.”

The woman’s eyebrow went up. “The events that occurred last night prove a fatal flaw in your plan wouldn’t you agree?” Emery remained quiet because she did have a point. A disgusted look appeared on the queen’s face. “I want you to go to the castle tailor to be properly fitted for clothes. Those are hanging off of you and no member of my army will be unkempt.”

Emery was overwhelmed by what the Queen was doing. It certainly didn’t align with the image that his mother and father had told him about when he was growing up. He smiled at her and said, “Thank you your majesty. I appreciate it.” Encouraged by his excitement of not being executed and her allowing him to continue to serve as himself Emery added, “I will be the best soldier in your army.”

The queen let out a light laugh that caused Emery’s heart to race in his chest. She caught her breath then said, “I highly doubt that.” The mirth in her eyes was replaced with a severe look that sobered Emery up. “However if you are spy, I will kill you myself in a public execution then I will hang your body on the border as an example to those that dare to make a fool of me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, your majesty.” Emery then said, “But I am not a spy, and if I was my loyalty is now yours.” He smiled a little. “You are allowing me to continue something that I enjoy doing and you’re letting me do it as the person I know I am. I will never betray you, your majesty. Not after the kindness you’ve shown me today.”

The queen waved him off and said, “Sergeant Wilmore is a hard man to impress, so I figure you must be useful to my army somehow.”

Emery smiled and gave her a slight nod. “It is possible, but again, thank you…your majesty.” He bit the inside of his bottom lip then asked, “Your majesty, if I may ask, the two men who found out about me….what will happen to them?”

A slow smirk came to the woman’s face. “They will be taken care of.”

The expression on her face frightened Emery, and he didn’t ask any further questions. He gave her a slight nod. The queen dismissed him. “Leave. Tell one of the pages to escort you to the tailor. When you see the commandant tell him I would like a word with him.”

Emery gave her another nod before he bowed. He turned and walked down the long carpeted aisle that lead to the double doors at the back of the throne room. Emery had managed to come out of this not only with his life, but with his actual life. He was also getting better clothes and accommodations. He began to worry about what the special treatment would mean to the others in his class, but for the moment he couldn’t find the ability to care too much about them. He had lived. Emery walked out of the throne room and found the commandant pacing nearby. He came to a sudden stop as soon as he saw him. Emery approached him and said, “The queen would like to speak to you.”

The commandant glared at him and Emery knew right away that he had just ended up on the man’s shit list. Emery went over to one of the castle pages. “Hello there, my name is Emery.” He smiled a little. “The queen has requested that I be taken to the castle tailor to be properly fitted for some clothes. Would you do me the favor of helping me with that?”

The young woman looked a little uneasy and Emery nodded. “I understand. If you would like to go speak with her majesty, you certainly can.” He grinned. “I would like it if you hurried though. I have training to get back to."

The young woman nodded and said, “Yes, sir. It’ll be a moment.” She hurried to the double doors of the throne room and slipped inside the room.

Emery folded his arms across his chest because without his chest bindings he felt exposed. He looked out the window and sighed. Everything had changed for him in less than a day. He felt exhilarated and scared because he wasn’t certain what the queen’s new found interest in him could affect. Emery turned to face the double doors of the throne room when he heard one of them open. The young woman who had gone in came over to him and said, “Right this way, Swan.” Emery smirked and followed the young woman. Apparently the queen had told the young castle page about how to address him. He chuckled to himself. His life had gotten very interesting. He now wondered if it was for the best or for the worst.

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand why you’re being secretive of your whereabouts this morning.” Neal shouted as he leaned against the fence and watched Emery and Graham run through sword drills. The drills would be easy on a normal day, but their class had received their armor earlier that afternoon and they were anything but easy. Then having Neal interrogate Emery about his morning wasn’t helping him any and he couldn’t keep his focus.

He blocked Graham’s oncoming blow with his sword then pushed him back. “If he doesn’t shut his mouth I will run him through,” Emery muttered under his breath.

Graham chuckled. “You haven’t satisfied his curiosity, Swan.”

Emery rolled his eyes and charged at Graham who blocked the blade that was coming towards him. He wasn’t going to satisfy Neal’s curiosity. There was nothing to tell him. At least nothing he wanted to tell him. Emery was determined to focus on his training and forget about the events of the prior night. After his impromptu fitting, Emery had gone back barracks to get dressed in his usual clothes then went out to the training field. Sergeant Gilmore had been surprised to see him walking onto the field, but his astonishment had only lasted a brief second before he ordered Emery to retrieve his armor. While he was being taught the proper way to put on his armor Emery had noticed that Killian and Robin weren’t on the field. It had made him wonder where they were, but Sergeant Gilmore shouting orders at him prevented him from dwelling on their disappearance.

Emery and Graham went through a series of sword strikes and movements that had them dancing all over the field. Neal shouted, “You weren’t at morning roll call; Robin and Killian were taken from the barracks and have yet to return; and the commandant seems to be more irritable. If that is even possible. What the hell happened?”

Emery deflected Graham’s swing and used the momentum to send a blow to the man’s back with the hilt of his sword. Graham stumbled forward but he didn’t fall to the ground. He turned to face Emery and sheathed his sword. “Enough.” He grinned. “You seem to have gotten used to the armor.”

Emery shrugged and sheathed his sword. “It’s still heavy but I’m learning to include it in my movements.” The two of them walked over to where Neal was standing. “Neal, whatever happened to Robin and Killian, has nothing to do with me. This morning I was dealing with something that honestly, you don’t need to know about. Whatever is going with the commandant is his problem. You know the man goes through mood swings.” Emery narrowed his eyes at him. “Now are you done with all your incessant questions?”

Neal eyed him warily then shrugged. “I suppose. Are we going to practice or did you let Graham wear you out?”

“I want to eat first then the two of us can practice,” Emery said as the three of them walked to the barracks. He had to get out of his armor. There was no way he was going to eat an entire meal wearing it. That would be unbearable.

They had just entered the barracks when the commandant stormed into the building using the other entrance. He paused a moment to look around and when he spotted Neal, Graham, and Emery he took long strides to walk to where they were. He looked at Graham and Neal. “You two go elsewhere.” He narrowed his eyes at them. “Now.”

Neal and Graham disappeared and Emery stood at attention as the commandant glared at him. After a short silent spell the commandant said, “I forgot your name the moment you reported for training, but in less than half a day I’ve had to deal with you more times than I would like to deal with a trainee.” Emery remained silent and the commandant continued. “I see you’re not a complete blithering idiot. Just a fraud that has somehow fooled the queen.”

“I haven’t fooled her majesty,” Emery countered and there was a slight edge to his tone.

The commandant leaned in and said in a low voice, “I would watch it if I were you. You might piss the wrong person off and they might feel justified in killing the abomination that’s tainting the queen’s army.” His brown eyes bore into Emery’s and they were hard and angry. Emery didn’t break his gaze with the man. In fact he wanted the commandant to do something so he would have to defend himself. “The queen may have taken you on as her little pet project, but doesn’t mean you are any better than the rest of the grunts around here nor are you special. Do you understand?”

Emery glared at the man and lifted his chin as he clenched his jaw. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” the commandant said as he stood up straight. “I have received word that your accommodations have been prepared and I am to show you to them.”

Emery hated the preferential treatment that he was receiving but he knew better than to question the queen. He nodded and asked, “Can I get my belongings?”

“Be quick,” the Commandant snapped. “Should have thrown out your belonging while you were in the dungeon.”

Emery glowered at the commandant a second longer then turned to go to his bunk. He got his bag and packed up his clothes and other belongings that were in his trunk then he and the commandant left the barracks. They started walking towards the castle and it wasn’t a long trek to get to it since there was a path in the woods that was between the training camp and the castle grounds. They made their way to the east tower and the commandant opened the door. Emery saw the several flights of stairs and quietly groaned to himself. He was still wearing his armor and walking up numerous flights of stairs while wearing it was probably going to kill him. He and the commandant went up the stairs and they were only halfway up the tower when they stopped in front of a door. The commandant turned and held up a key. “Enjoy your special room,” he said with a sneer etched on his face. Emery took the key from him. The commandant turned and walked down the stairs, mumbling under his breath about the queen’s proclivities and her being blinded by them. Emery wasn’t certain what the man meant by that, but he did get the urge to push him down the stairs.

Emery shook his head then put key into the lock. He unlocked the door and opened it. When he entered the room a smile came to his face as he took in the spacious quarters. It was the same size as the bedroom he had back at his parents’ castle, however he also had a whole wing to himself there, but this was definitely a lot nicer than the barracks. He dropped his bag on the floor and looked around the room. There was a small couch and table in front of fireplace which was set in the middle of the room. Behind the couch was a desk and chair. The bed was off to the left of the couch and Emery could tell from looking at it that it was comfortable than the cot he slept on in the barracks. Only other things in the room were a wooden tub in a far corner opposite the bed and books case that was to the right of the room.

Emery spotted a small, brown parcel sitting on the foot of the bed. His eyebrow went up as he wondered what it could be. He walked over to the bed and began to open it. He unfolded the brown paper to reveal the clothes that had been made for him by the queen’s tailor. Emery grinned. He was excited to have new clothes that fit him well and to make sure they were a good fit Emery decided to try them on. He took off his armor then took off his uniform shirt. He had just taken off his linen undershirt when the other door to his room opened and the queen walked in. He scrambled to put the shirt back on, and once it was covering him, Emery studied the queen to see if she had seen anything of his actual body. The neutral look on her face told him nothing and that fed the anxiety he felt over her seeing him.

Emery bowed and said, “You majesty.” He stood up straight. “Did you need something from me?”

She looked around the room and said, “No. I was checking to see how you liked your accommodations.”

Emery smiled at her. “They are quite exquisite. A bit more lavish than the –“

“Were you about to put those freshly laundered clothes on your disgusting body?” The queen asked interrupting Emery. He gawked at the woman as his mind rapidly went through all the responses he could say, but he couldn’t come up to anything. Emery saw the irritation on her face before she walked over to the door that she had come through. She opened it then called out, “Elizabeth!”

A young woman appeared in the hall and she curtsied as she greeted the queen. “Yes, your majesty?”

The queen glanced at Emery, her lip curled in disgust. “Draw the castle’s newest occupant a bath.”

“Certainly, your majesty,” the young woman replied with a slight bow of her head then she scurried off.

Emery was confused but then he shook his head. “Your majesty it is unnecessary for-“

The queen held up her hand. She moved further into the room, but not closer to Emery. “If you are going to live in the castle, and this close to me, you will bathe. And it will be on a daily basis. Do you understand?”

Emery almost rolled his eyes at the order, but he was able to stop himself when he remembered his place. He didn’t understand why he had to bathe every day, but it was her castle and she was queen. He gave her a slight nod. “Yes, your majesty.”

The woman eyed him for a moment then said, “When you have finished bathing, and are dressed in clean clothes, have a page bring you to my chambers.”

Emery nodded and the queen exited his room, the skirts of her dress rustling as she left. He still didn’t know what to make of the woman. She was mysterious in a way that it piqued his curiosity, but at the same time he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know more about her since he found her strikingly beautiful. Emery chuckled to himself. Being attracted to an emotionally detached queen would only bring him nothing but heartache. He was brought out of his thoughts when Elizabeth came into the room, with several other castle pages, carrying buckets of steaming water. When the young woman emptied her bucket in the wooden tub she came over to Emery and asked, “Did you need assistance bathing, sir?”

Emery’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, but then they shot up when realized what she was asking. He shook his head furiously. “No, no, no. I will be quite all right.” He forced a smile on his face even though he felt like he was on display for everyone to see. “I appreciate the help, but I am quite all right. Thank you. Thank you for drawing my bath.”

The young woman curtsied then left his room along with the other castle pages. When the door closed Emery let out a breath of relief then shook his head. Not only was he going to have to learn the rules of a different castle, he also needed to figure out a better way of declining the castle pages’ help. Emery walked over to the wooden tub and grinned. He hadn’t had a hot bath in the longest time. Emery stripped out of his undergarments then got into the steaming water. He let out a loud moan as he rested his head against the back of the tub. The water felt amazing on his exhausted muscles and he thanked whichever deity that was watching over him for giving him this perfect moment.

Emery took his time bathing and since he was meeting with the queen afterwards he made sure to cleanse every crevice of his body, not once, but twice. He got out of the tub as soon as he was finished - since he didn’t want to lounge around in the murky water - and Emery felt like a different man. He hadn’t been this clean in months. He got dressed in his newest clothes then pulled on his boots and strapped his sword around his waist. He left out of the door that led into the castle. He approached an older woman that was in the hall and asked, “Excuse me ma’am, might I bother you for some assistance.”

She gave him a kind smile. “Of course, child. How can I help?”

Emery returned the smile with a polite one of his own. “The queen has requested to see me in her chambers, but I am not certain on how to get to them.”

The older woman chuckled. “Take the stairs all the way to the top and you’ll be right outside her majesty’s chambers.”

Emery chuckled. “Ah, yes. Thank you. I appreciate the help.”

He walked to the stairs and made his way up them. He took in the castle as he went. This castle was different than the one he had grown up in. The style of it was darker and there weren’t a lot of vibrant colors. The only colors that added to the décor were red and purple hues that were common in the Mills kingdom. Emery liked this castle because he felt it matched his personality, unlike the bright colors of his home castle. He reached the top floor and walked down the long quite corridor. Portraits hung on the wall and Emery wanted to stop to find out who the people were in the paintings, but he kept his eyes forward and continued down the hall. The corridor tapered out into a wide open area and there were a set of double doors at the end. Standing in front of them were two guards in full armor. The one of the left eyed Emery and asked, “What are you doing up here, boy?”

Emery cleared his throat then said, “The queen requested that I come see her in her chambers.”

“Your name?”

Emery drew in a breath then said, “Swan. Emery Swan.”

The man gestured with his head towards the doors. “Go see if her majesty is expecting him.”

The other guard nodded and entered the queen’s chambers. Emery kept his eyes forward and waited. The door opened and the guard said, “She is expecting him.”

The other guard nodded. “You can go in.”

Emery went through the door and the guard left, closing the door behind him. Emery walked further into the sitting room of the queen’s chambers. He found her sitting in a straight backed chair looking elegant and beautiful. Emery stopped breathing for a second. How someone who was supposedly a ruthless tyrant could be so considerate and breathtaking was beyond him, but he wasn’t going to question it. The queen gestured to the couch. “Have a seat.” Emery bowed then made his way over to the couch and sat down. “Have you eaten?”

Emery shook his head. “No I haven’t, but I’m going to go down to the dining hall after we talk. I still have more training to do for the day.”

The queen nodded. “Right. I suppose I will make this quick then.” Emery nodded as he sat on the edge of the couch with his back ramrod straight. “You require special circumstances and to make sure it remains a non-issue for the rest of your training I have some stipulations for you.” Emery opened his mouth to protest, but the queen held up her hand. “Don’t think I’m coddling you. If you think that then you need to have your head examined. With that being said, I want you to report any mistreatment to me. This means every night after you train I want you to report to my chambers.”

She may have said that she wasn’t coddling him, but to Emery it seemed like she was doing exactly that. “With all due respect, you majesty, but I don’t need to report every night. My training was going quite well until last night. I appreciate, and understand your concern, but it is unnecessary.”

The queen pinned him down with a hard gaze. “This isn’t about what you want. This is me showing that ignorance has no room in my army. I have no tolerance for stupidity in my ranks, especially now.” Emery set his mouth in a firm line. Reporting to the queen was going to put a larger target on his back, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He let out an inaudible sigh and resigned to the fact that he had effectively become the queen’s lapdog. The woman sitting in the chair next to him continued, taking his silence as a yes. “Are there any other changes that you would like me to make in regards to your training?”

Emery shook his head. “No, your majesty.” He chuckled a little. “The armor is a bit heavy, but I’m getting used to it.”

He had only meant the comment as a joke, but – as he was starting to realize – she took it as a literal grievance. “Go to the blacksmith when you’re done training for the day and inform him that I have requested lighter armor for you and a lighter sword.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Emery replied in a stiff tone. He was grateful for her generosity, but he wasn’t her pet, nor was he some oddity that she could mold into whatever she wanted him to be. Emery was a soldier through and through and he was going to make her see that. “Your majesty, again, I appreciate your kindness. But this is unnecessary. I am fine.”

The queen got a matter of fact look on her face. “Are you not my loyal subject?”

“The loyalist subject you have, your majesty,” Emery replied quickly with a bow of his head. “I will dedicate my life to serving the crown because of the generosity that you have shown me.”

The queen let out a small, dry laugh. “Do not confuse my generosity as some sort of goodwill.” Emery couldn’t stop the confused expression coming to his face. “I have plans for you, and you will find out what they are in due time, but until then focus on your training.”

“Yes, your majesty.” Emery bit the inside of his lip as he thought about what possible plans she might have for him, because until the last day, the two of them had never met. He had only heard rumors about her. Emery couldn’t understand how she had plans for him. “Whatever plans you may have for me, your majesty, doesn’t deter me from my duty. You see me for who I am. You don’t cower or look at me in disgust because of it. You have my loyalty off of that alone.”

The queen looked at him for a moment then rose from her chair. “If there is nothing else, Swan, you are dismissed.”

Emery was confused by her sudden dismissal of him, but he stood and bowed. “Yes your majesty. Thank you for all you help.”

He made his way to the door of her chambers and Emery resisted the urge to look at her over his shoulder. He walked out of the queen’s chamber and ignored the two guards that were standing by them. He made his way down the stairs and to his new room. After entering it Emery put on his armor then went through the door that led to the stairwell that went down the tower. On his walk back to the training camp Emery thought about his new relationship with the queen. It was generous one, and one he appreciated, but at the same time he knew it was going to make his life difficult and he felt like he was her spy or something. He blew out an irritated breath and shook his head. All of this because of a stupid bath in the pond.

He got to the training camp and walked around looking for Neal and Graham. He found them in the barracks polishing their swords. He grinned and said, “I always thought that was a euphemism.”

Graham and Neal looked up at him and Emery chuckled. Neal walked over to him. “Where the hell have you been? Did you bathe?”

Emery chuckled and ignored the question. “Let’s go to the dining hall because I’m starving then we can get in some studying. We’ve got that stupid test  in a couple days.”

Graham raised his eyebrow and pointed out, “That didn’t answer the question.”

Emery rolled his eyes. “Can’t think too well on an empty stomach.”

“Are you certain it’s an empty stomach?” Neal asked with a small grin. “Only reason to bathe and disappear would because of other reasons. Womanly reasons.”

Emery shook his head and scoffed. He shoved Neal’s shoulder. “If I was seeing a woman I wouldn’t let you know.”

Neal chuckled. “It would be about time.” He slapped Emery on the back and said, “Let’s go eat then we’ll study for that test which I’m certain we’ll all fail because Graham had us thinking a road was a creek.”

“It was blue,” Graham exclaimed.

Emery scowled at the man and countered, “We were looking at a map of Stefan’s kingdom. The roads are blue.”

Neal chuckled and Graham mumbled out an apology as the three of them headed out of the barracks to go to the dining room. Emery didn’t think about what he was going to tell Neal and Graham when he didn’t go back to the barracks with them later that night. He knew he was going to have to come up with something because they were definitely  going to ask, especially Neal.

Emery blocked Neal’s oncoming blow, but the other man recovered quickly and managed to slice Emery’s arm thanks to one of the gaps in his armor. Emery grunted in pain then charged at Neal. His movements were quick as the two of them swung their swords at each other. Neal was still pissed at Emery and that made him more focused in his attacks. Instead of his anger making him sloppy it made him better. Neal blocked Emery’s approaching blow, but it was enough of a distraction that it allowed Emery to punch him in the face. Neal stumbled back and dropped his sword then held up his hand as the other went to his now bleeding nose. “Ay, stop, stop.” He snorted then spat out a glob of what appeared to be blood and snot.

Emery walked closer to him and examined his nose. “S’not broken you chicken. Just a little bloody.”

Neal grunted. “Easy for you to say. I cut you and you just keep pushing forward. Nothing stops you.”

Emery chuckled and shrugged. “I want to be good at this. I want to be the best soldier in the queen’s army.”

Neal glared at him. “You can stop trying now. You’ve already made it to that point since you’ve got a room at the castle now,” he commented in sarcastic tone that caused Emery to let out an annoyed sigh.

He gave the man a pointed look. “Come off it will you? I don’t know why they moved me.” Emery scoffed. “If you want to know so damn bad go ask the commandant yourself. I’m sure he’ll be more than willing to have that conversation with you.”

Emery and Neal stared each other down then Neal sighed and shook his head. “You know that ass wouldn’t tell me anything and would put me in the stockade for questioning him.” He smiled a little. “It’s just weird. You’re not in the barracks and you getting moved all of sudden is…I don’t know. It’s off. Especially since Jones and Hood’s bunks have been cleared out.”

Emery didn’t like lying to someone who was one of his best friends. But the alternative was telling Neal that the queen had given him special accommodations because he was less than male and that she may have killed Killian and Robin for finding out. He scoffed in his head. That was something that he wouldn’t be doing. “It is, but the commandant has his reasons for doing so. Also we weren’t going to be in the barracks much longer. We get assigned to our units and start training with them in a couple of weeks.”

Neal grinned and said, “I know. I can’t wait. I’m hoping to be a part of the guard. I don’t want to be a part of the action like you and Graham.” He chuckled. “Put me in a lively village full of women and I will be happy.” He pointed at Emery. “And they need to have good ale. Not that shit Oliver serves at his tavern.”

Emery chuckled as he twirled his sword. He was going to miss using it. He’d gotten used to its weight in his hand but he would be glad for a lighter sword. It would help his mobility. “Oliver’s ale is nothing but poison in a mug. You would want a fluff position like the guard.” He pointed his sword at him and grinned. “It won’t –“ He stopped short. Emery felt like someone was watching him so he turned around. The only thing to his back was the castle. They were a distance away from it, but he stared at the castle hoping to see someone or something watching him and Neal.

“What’s the matter, Em?” Neal asked as he walked over to him.

Emery frowned as he continued to look at stone building. “I –“ He stopped then asked, “What a part of the castle is that?”

Neal chuckled and remarked, “I’m surprised you don’t know since you live there now.”

Emery glared at him then he glanced back at the castle before shaking his head. “If you cared more about your training instead of drinking and terrorizing the village women then you too would probably have a room in the castle.”

Neal shook his head. “Nope. I don’t think so. Being that close to the queen would make me nervous. She would kill me a day later because I would probably deflower her favorite handmaiden or something.”

Emery chuckled and decided to change their conversation. “Would you like to engage in some hand-to-hand combat or have you had enough?”

Neal scoffed. “Just because you bloody my nose doesn’t mean I’m done kicking your ass.”

“You wish you were kicking my ass.” Emery sheathed his sword then began to take it off. “Let’s go a few rounds then we can go track down Graham.”

Neal took off his sword and tossed it on the ground. “He’s in the woods.”

Emery started to take off his armor and said, “I know he is. I literally meant we’re going to track him down because we don’t fare to well at it.”

“If we get lost and starve, I’m blaming you,” Neal said as he tossed his armor to the ground.

Emery smirked and countered, “At least that will get you off the subject of me living in the castle.”

Neal came at Emery and the two of them began to engage in hand-to-hand combat. It was enough to distract Emery but he still was getting that sensation of someone was watching them. The feeling left him off and Neal was able to get in a few good hits, but eventually sensation left him and he was able to concentrate on kicking Neal’s ass.

When the two of them had exhausted each other they called a truce. Both of them were sporting some sort of bleeding wound. Emery had a cut above his eye that was bleeding and Neal’s lip was bleeding. The two of them decided not to go find Graham. Instead they went to go clean up their wounds. After they cleaned up Emery and Neal went to the camp’s library to study for their strategy course. Graham joined the two of them eventually. Emery and Graham were in a heated debate about what plan of attack would be best when an opponent has you surrounded when the commandant’s booming voice shouted, “Swan!”

Emery groaned and muttered, “Wonder what brand of personal hell is about to put me through today.”

Emery, Graham, and Neal all stood up and when the commandant was in front of them he examined each of them with nothing but a look of pure disdain on his face. “The three of you are always together.” He drew in a deep breath then smiled. “But now that comes to an end.” He narrowed his eyes at Emery. “Swan, as of today, you will be training with the archers.”

Emery couldn’t hide his surprise as his eyes widened with shock. Both Neal and Graham looked at him. The archery unit of the queen’s army was one of the most elite units. Emery didn’t understand why he was being put with the archers. He was good at archery, but hand-to-hand and sword fighting was what he liked and excelled at. He shook his head. “Sir, I appreciate the opportunity, but why?”

The commandant muttered something under his breath then glared at him. “In all my years of being the training officer for the Mills kingdom, none of the monarchs have interfered with a recruits training.” He drew in a deep breath then continued. “However, the queen has taken an interest in your training and has ordered that you be trained as an archer.”

Emery’s surprise turned into anger and he balled his hands into fist at his sides. He couldn’t say anything about the armor and sword, or her moving him to different quarters, but this – this was interfering with his training and he wasn’t going to tolerate it. But before he could storm off to the castle and put on the world’s biggest display of disrespect for the queen the commandant ordered, “Get your ass to the archery field now, Swan.”

Emery gave the man a slight nod. “Yes sir, commandant.” He walked by the man and rushed out of the library. As he moved quickly to the field Emery began to think about what he was going to say to the queen that night when he reported to her. He was going to let her know that she couldn’t keep interfering with his training. She had no idea what he wanted and this was something so far off base that it pissed him off. Emery huffed out a breath. That was something he was going to deal with after he was done training. Right now he had to worry about the lieutenant that trained the archers. He was almost as bad as the commandant.

Emery tripped over a step as he was going up them and groaned. He wanted to collapse on the stone stairs. He was tired, hungry, and couldn’t lift his arms. The lieutenant was worse than the commandant. The lieutenant had him run drill after drill after drill and it was worse for Emery because he was jumping into the training. On top of that he had missed dinner. Emery managed to get up to his room and the moment he saw his bed, he zoned out and went through the motions of getting undressed. He collapsed onto his bed and as soon as he landed on it, he was out.

Emery was torn from his sleep when his body slammed into the wall that was opposite his bed. It took his mind a long time to register what was happening, but then he registered the pain and groaned. Emery looked around, but the room was too dark for him to see anything. He struggled against the invisible restraints that were hold him against the wall. The candles in the room ignited and Emery saw the queen standing in the middle of his room. Her eyes were fixed on him and she said in a controlled voice, “I’m glad to see that you were only sleeping. It means I now get the pleasure of killing you myself.” She walked closer to him and reached out to take a tight hold of his throat. The queen leaned in then asked in a low voice, “Do you have a death wish?”

Emery’s brain wasn’t fully functioning since it had been ripped from a deep sleep and was still processing everything that was going on. This meant his professional and logical thinking were nowhere to be found when he responded. “I don’t, but it’s good to know you have no reservations about killing me.”

The queen tightened the hold she had around his throat and a low growl came from her. “I have no intentions of killing you, but since you are set on disobeying direct orders from me then I feel more inclined to do so.”

Emery had no idea what she was talking about. He couldn’t remember any direct orders from her. It’s while looking into her intense brown eyes that he remembered that he was supposed to meet with her after he had finished training for the day. “Your majesty, I’m sorry. I-“

“Silence,” the queen ordered. Emery shut his mouth and didn’t say anything. He felt like an idiot for not remembering, but then he also recalled that he was pissed with her for interfering with his training. “Do you want to spend the night in the dungeon?”

Emery shook his head. “No your majesty.”

“Then tell me, Swan, why you didn’t report to my chambers after training tonight?” She demanded with a deep scowl that accompanied the severe glare that pinned him down.

Even when she was this close and angry at him, Emery still couldn’t help, but to be attracted to him. He really had to get control of that or he was going to do something stupid that would make him end up in the dungeon. “I was exhausted your majesty. I had my regular training on top of you ordering me to train with the archers. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my room. I apologize, but you have only yourself to blame for this.”

“I have nothing to take the blame for.” Her eyebrow arched up. “And are you saying that you’re ungrateful for the promotion?”

Emery stared into her eyes and his irritation rose to the surface. “I appreciate the promotion your majesty, honestly, I do. However, your special attention towards me is going to make my life harder than it already is. The commandant already has it out for me, but when the others find out it will only get worse. You can’t keep doing this.”

The queen squeezed his throat and leaned in to where their noses brushed one another. “You don’t tell me what I can and cannot do. I am queen. Do you understand?” The queen threatened in a low voice. Emery nodded. “I’m glad you understand. Next time you believe you have some sort of sway over me, stop yourself or you’ll end up in the dungeon. Or possibly dead.” She shoved him back and his head hit the wall. She continued to glare at him as she took a few steps back. “You will have to deal with the jealousy from those individuals on your own. Your training will not change.”

Emery returned her glare with one of his own. He was starting to regret this entire arrangement, but then again he didn’t have much say in regards to any of this. The queen turned around and gestured with her hand which caused Emery to fall to the ground. He landed on his ass and groaned. Emery grimaced and rubbed his aching posterior. He decided to press his luck and smirked as he asked, “Can I have access to the kitchens?”

The queen tilted her head. “Have you not eaten?”

Emery shook his head and replied. “I haven’t. The basic training recruits eat after everyone else. I was ordered to train with the archers before I had a chance to eat dinner.”

The queen stared at him a moment longer then turned around and headed to the door that led to the castle. “No, you can’t have access to the kitchens.” She chuckled a little. “That will teach you to plan more thoroughly.”

Emery chuckled and shook his head as she left his room. He wasn’t surprised by the response, but it did make him feel better about the encounter. Emery stood up and shook out his sore body then sighed. He was going to have to fend for himself for the night. He grabbed his cloak which was hanging on the back of the chair that was sitting at the desk. He put it on then grabbed his bow and arrows. He couldn’t draw another bow, but he was going try. His stomach grumbled. He was going to have to try because he was more than hungry.

Emery left out the door that led to the stairway that went down the tower. When he was outside he took a deep breath and smiled. Being outdoors invigorated him for some reason and he didn’t care about his sore body or the fact that he was more than tired. He was ready to go hunting. Emery smiled to himself and ran to the forest that surrounded the castle grounds. As soon as he was surrounded by the thick trees Emery stopped running and looked around. He wasn’t much of a scout, but he did all right. He closed his eyes and centered himself.

Emery heard rustling off to his left. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and notched it on his bow. His steps were light as he moved closer to the sound. The culprit for the rustling was a rabbit. It was enough to get him through the night. He pulled back his arrow then let it fly through the air. It landed in the rabbit’s chest. Emery walked over to the dead animal and picked it up. Emery found nice spot so that he could skin and cook the rabbit. He started a fire then went about skinning the rabbit and cutting it up.

Once he had it roasting over the open flame Emery sat on the ground and laid back against a log. He sighed and smiled. It wasn’t a bad way to spend the night, and he would have stayed out there all night if he didn’t have to get up before the sun rose so that he could go to his normal training. Emery groaned as he remembered that he had a test for strategy. He wondered if he would be able to get away with cheating. He got rid of the idea when he recalled who he sat by in strategy.

Emery flipped over the stick that his meat was roasting on. His mind wandered to the queen and he chuckled to himself. The woman was an enigma. Everything that had been told to him about her was a huge contradiction from the woman that he was dealing with. She wasn’t evil. Yes, she did have a side of her that could be perceived as evil, but on the contrary she was aloof and detached. That intrigued Emery more than anything, especially when she interfered with his training. He was still curious about her interest in him and this plan that she had. Emery picked up the stick that the roasted rabbit was skewered on. He blew on it then took a bite from one of the hunks of meat. He was going to eat then he was going to focus on his training. Not think about the queen and her peculiar behavior.

Emery woke the next morning and as he stretched under the heavy blanket that covered him, he smelled food. Emery relaxed and sniffed again. There was food in his room. Emery sat up and on his desk was a tray of food that was full of meat, bread, and fruit. Emery chuckled and lay back down. He cuddled up to the pillow that was next to him and closed his eyes. “I’m starting to grow on her,” he mumbled as he drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Text

In a rare display of vanity, Emery stood shirtless in front of the full length mirror that was in the corner of his room. He had on his undershorts, but his breasts weren’t bound. His body had developed to a point where he could block them out mentally in order to admire it. Emery was pleased with his muscle definition and the mass he had gain. He was more solid than he expected to be. Emery flexed his bicep and chuckled to himself. This level of vanity was new to Emery and he was thoroughly enjoying it. The door to his room flew open and Emery scrambled to find a shirt, but there wasn’t one lying around. He rushed over to the dresser that was next to the mirror and glanced over his shoulder. The queen entered the room and her eyes instantly found Emery. He thought she had given him the once over, but he wrote it off as his imagination playing games with him.

Their interaction over the last two weeks had been interesting. It was the only word Emery could use to describe it. He would report to her chambers after he finished training for the day and bathed and the two of them would talk about his training. Sometimes there was a glass of wine, other times it was a formal run down that ended with the Queen dismissing him. Their meetings had become shorter since basic training was ending in a week, but even when he was done running through his report –which wasn’t that eventful – the two of them would sit in silence. Sometimes it would last for awhile before she eventually dismissed him. Emery didn’t know what to make of it all, but he had secretly come to enjoy the nightly meetings which didn’t help his attraction to the woman.

Emery pulled on the shirt that he had taken out then turned to face her. “Why don’t you knock like a normal person?” The queen arched her eyebrow and looked him over. He hadn’t been imagining that. Emery went into another drawer and retrieved a pair of pants which he took his time putting on. He chuckled and tied them closed. “I guess since it is your castle you can enter any room you want.”

The queen was quiet for a moment, but then she met his gaze. “You’re being placed with my guard. Effective immediately.”

The news stunned Emery, but the feeling didn’t last long as he thought further about it. He got angry. “I told you to stop doing this,” Emery exclaimed as he took a step closer to the queen. “You discredit me as a soldier when you do this. I have to work my way through the ranks like everyone else, but I can’t do that if you keep meddling in my training and promoting whenever you feel like it.” He pinned her down with a hard stare and continued. “I have no idea what you plan is for me, but I refuse –“

The hand wrapping around his throat cut him off. “I’m not certain who you think you are, but ever speak to me like that again and I will see to it that you never see the light of day again. Do you understand?” Emery nodded. “I’m glad you understand, Emma.” Shocked, Emery stared into the queen’s eyes. He wasn’t sure if he had heard her correctly, but the pointed look that remained on the queen’s face as she let go of him gave Emery the confirmation he needed. She did call him that name.

All the fight left Emery and he asked in a soft voice, “How long have you known?”

The queen examined her nails in a bored manner. “It doesn’t matter how long I’ve known, but do know that I’m quite aware that you are the White kingdom’s missing prince.” Emery frowned. He didn’t understand why the queen was calling him the missing prince since she knew who he was. “This is why I have interfered with your training and have placed you with my guard.” A sadistic grin came to the queen’s face. “To ride into the White kingdom with you as part of my personal guard will be exhilarating on so many levels.”

Emery scoffed. “My mother wouldn’t notice. She barely noticed me when I was there.”

A brief silence fell over the room, but it didn’t last long. The queen continued their conversation as if the tense moment hadn’t occurred. “I can’t do that if you aren’t a part of my guard. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be properly trained.” She scanned Emery with scrutinizing gaze then smirked. “You are an adept soldier so I don’t think the task will be too daunting for you.”

Emery was too surprised by everything that had happened during their conversation to think about the queen’s eyes roaming over his body. Instead he focused on something that didn’t make his head hurt, and didn’t cause his heart to beat its way out of his chest. “Why do you even have a personal guard? You have magic.”

The queen waved her hand. “It’s a pretense I have to tolerate.” Emery smirked, but it vanished when the queen glared at him. “Report to the captain of the guard tomorrow. The commandant already knows of these arrangements.” She turned to leave his room, but then stopped. The queen turned and her eyes met Emery’s. There was a slight grimace on her face. “I…I’m sorry I called you that. I know you no longer identify with that name, but I had to let you know that I knew who you were.” She cleared her throat then quickly added. “It won’t happen again.”

The queen rushed out of his room and Emery stood there astonished by everything that had happened. He was still working through everything when he started to get dress properly. He couldn’t believe the queen apologized. The fact that she respected his identity surprised him even more. It moved him and in that moment Emery made the decision to live for the queen. She knew who he was, and still she saw him as Emery. He was willing to overlook her interferences with his training, and the agenda she had for him. The respect she showed him further instilled his dedication in serving the queen.

 “What the hell am I supposed to do on the back of a horse?” Neal whined as he and Emery tossed a ball back and forth. “Don’t you two know that the soldiers on horseback are the first to die since they’re easy targets for archers?”

Emery caught the ball and rolled his eyes. “And you’re going to whine through your death.” He threw that ball back to Neal. “Honestly man, suck it up and deal with it for six months then see if you can be moved to one of the villages.”

Neal scoffed and argued, “I’m not going to suck it up. I asked to be put in a village guard and what do they do? They put me on a horse. Absurd if you ask me.”

“Neal, maybe they think you would be better suited with the cavalry than in a village guard,” Graham pointed out. He was sitting on his cot reading a scouting book that he had gotten his hands on.

Neal scoffed. “You only say that because they put you where you wanted to be.”

“He’s the best scout in our class,” Emery countered. “Of course they’re going to put him with the scouts. You have done nothing to show that you belong with a village guard. So stop your whining. It’s giving me a headache.”

Neal narrowed his eyes at him and shot back with, “At least I was placed somewhere, unlike you. Where are you going to be?”

Emery shook his head. It really was starting to hurt because of Neal’s whining. He sighed. “Since I’m training with the archers I won’t get my assignment until I am done with that.” He hoped Neal would to let go of the conversation. Emery didn’t tell him or Graham about being placed with the queen’s guard. He was still figuring out how to approach the subject with them since they didn’t take him moving into the castle to well.

Neal grunted then remarked, “I’m certain the queen already has a position for you. Rumor has it that you’ve already found a position in her bed.”

Emery scowled at the other man. He wanted to punch him. Not only for speaking out of turn about the queen but also insinuating that something was going on between them. It wasn’t even remotely possible, for many reasons, and that was something Emery was painfully aware of. Emery drew in a deep breath through his nose then stated, “Clearly I was the best soldier for the position.”

Neal chuckled and countered, “I don’t see how since you never join on us when we go into the village for some merriment.”

“Maybe that’s why. She knows I don’t sleep with random women,” Emery retorted with a smug smile.

Neal waved him off and said, “They’re not random. Just women who enjoy a good time.” He grinned. “I hope her majesty is satisfied with the brief interludes that you provide her.”

Emery glared at him. Again, he wanted to punch him, but rather than getting into a fight with Neal, Emery threw the ball at him with as much force as he could muster. It hit Neal square in the ribs. He yelped in pain and both Emery and Graham laughed at him. They were catching their breaths when the commandant came storming into the barracks. “Swan!”

Emery heard Graham mumble, “Every time he comes in here he is looking for you.” He glared at him and Graham gave him slight apologetic smile.

Emery went over to the commandant and said, “Yes, sir?”

“The captain of the queen’s personal good would like to meet you,” the commandant informed him. The man didn’t even bother to hide his annoyance.

Emery sighed. There went his chances of finding a good way to tell Neal and Graham that he had been placed with the queen’s guard. He didn’t look at his friends as he followed the commandant out of the barracks. They went out the main doors and standing on the path that led to the barracks was a dark skinned man. He was wearing his armor and even though his face was serious there was a playful glint in his eyes. He looked Emery over then grinned. “Menendez, you’re making the recruits puny these days.”

The commandant growled then countered, “If it was left to me, this runt would have been drowned and tossed into the river.”

The captain raised his eyebrow and remarked, “Good thing it wasn’t up to you.” The man moved closer to Emery and held out his hand. “I’m Lancelot, captain of the queen’s personal guard.”

Emery shook his hand. “Emery Swan.”

Lancelot nodded. “You have a good grip and your small frame hides that. You can trick the enemy.” He hummed. “Let’s spar. I want to see how your skills are.” The two of them started to walk down the path to get to the open area that was across from the barracks. “The queen told me you were training with the archers. We have no use for archers in her majesty’s personal guard, but most of us have various training background so it doesn’t really matter.”

“I’m not certain if the commandant or sarge has told you, but I am good with a sword and I’m one of the best at hand to hand combat in our training class,” Emery pointed out, excited that he could talk to someone about what he was good at instead of having the queen appoint him to a position.

Lancelot nodded. “Wilmore did inform me that you are a capable soldier, but I like to find out for myself by sparring with the soldiers that are appointed to the queen’s guard.” He glanced at Emery and there was a curious look on his face. “I’m usually the one that appoints a soldier to the queen’s personal guard, with her approval of course, however this time her majesty has appointed you herself. Any reason as to why?”

Emery shrugged. “I have no idea, captain.”

The man hummed then added, “I also heard the queen was the one to appoint you to the archery unit after she placed you in the castle.”

Emery pressed his lips together and figured out what to say. He looked at Lancelot and said, “Captain, I’m certain you have been in charge of the queen’s guard for quite some time, does she look like the type of person who discusses her every whim with people? Even those she is making rash decisions for?”

The captain was quiet for a moment then he began to laugh. He caught his breath and said, “You are astute for a soldier, Swan.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “No, I know the queen doesn’t like to be questioned about her decisions.”

“That definitely is a quick way to end up in the dungeon,” Lancelot said with a small chuckle. “Still her interest in you, Swan, is baffling. But since I like my head attached to my body, as well as walking around freely, I’ll hold my tongue.” They reached a good, open spot for them to spar and Lancelot pulled out his sword. “Now, Swan, show me your skills as a swordsman. Even though the queen rarely needs the protection of her personal guard, we are still the best fighters in her kingdom and we train more intensively than other soldiers or knights.”

Emery pulled out his sword and grinned. “This I have no doubt about, captain. Would you like to test my offensive or defensive skills first?”

Lancelot smirked. “I think I’ll surprise you.” He charged at Emery and Emery managed to block the oncoming swing. The two of them engaged in an energetic sword fight and Emery couldn’t help but to show off a little when he managed to get the offensive. Lancelot nicked him on the neck at some point during the match, but Emery didn’t let it affect him. The captain held up his hand almost thirty minutes later. The two of them were covered in sweat and breathing hard. He nodded as he sheathed his sword. “You are quick, and light on your feet. You also think quickly, which is more than I can say for some of those currently on the queen’s guard.” Emery smiled at the critique. Lancelot let out a heavy breath. “Let’s take a quick break then I would like to see your hand to hand combat skills.”

“Yes, sir,” Emery said with a slight nod and a smile on his face. He walked away from the captain and headed for the water barrel.

Neal and Graham came jogging over to him. Neal said, “The queen’s personal guard?”

Emery got himself something to drink then shrugged. “Yes.”

“And you have no idea why you’re being placed there?” Graham asked sounding just as confused about the whole situation as Neal was.

Emery sighed. He took another drink of water from ladle then put it back into the barrel. He looked at his two friends and decided to give them a trimmed down version of the truth. “The queen has taken an interest in me for a special reason, a reason I can’t tell you because I don’t even know what it is.” He pinned Neal down with a hard gaze. “So if you are up risking your head, you can go ask her. As for me, I’m going to go with it until she’s realizes that she should have chose Graham over me.”

The two other men were quiet then Neal scoffed. “I’m a better soldier than Graham. He’s always off playing in the woods.”

Emery shook his head then cuffed Neal over the head. “You are never satisfied.” He began to take off his armor. “Will you two be staying around to watch me and the captain do hand to hand combat? I’m sure it will be interesting.”

Graham chuckled softly. “The entire training camp will be watching. The sword fight was amazing. The two of you were all over the place and you couldn’t not watch the fight. It was incredible.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “Easy, Graham, you’re starting to show emotion. Wouldn’t want the others to think you were human would you?”

Graham took a swing at him, but Emery ducked. By the time he had his armor off Lancelot was ready for their hand to hand fight. Emery was too. There were recruits he enjoyed fighting, but fighting an experienced soldier like the captain was an exhilarating challenge. Knowing he would be able to hold his own only added to Emery’s confidence. Emery walked into the open area where the captain was waiting. The other man grinned at him and said, “Let’s see if your hands are as quick as your feet.” He charged Emery and Emery smiled ready to face the man.

Emery stood in front of his mirror for the second time that day, but this time he was cleaning a cut on his neck. A nice reminder left by the captain’s blade. He sported other minor cuts and bruises on his face, but despite them, he was actually happy. He had finally gotten a place in the queen’s army, and yes she may have placed him there, but he proved he was a good enough to be a part of her personal guard. Lancelot, after ending their sparring match, told Emery that he was going to be placed on the scouting team of the guard. That meant if the queen were to go to another kingdom, or traveled to a village he would be going out in advanced to make sure everything was secure for her and those with her. It was a position that he gladly accepted. It would provide Emery the chance to prove himself without the queen being around.

Emery dabbed at the cut on his lip with a damp cloth when the door to his room flew open. He glanced at it in the mirror and the queen entered his room. He was shirtless and wearing nothing but his pants, but Emery felt no inclination to put on a shirt. Not after her reaction the last time she barged into his room while he was half naked. He continued to tend to his wound as he remarked, “It seems the only time you burst into my room is when I’m in various stages of undress.” He smirked. “I’m starting to think you may want to see me naked.”

Emery turned around, and instead of going to the dresser to get a shirt, he walked over to his bed. He leaned against the post at the foot of it then folded his arms over his bare chest. The smirk on his face turned into a grin when the queen didn’t say anything. Any discomfort he felt about his body being on display was overshadowed, by his attraction to the queen and it didn’t prevent him from flirting with her. He chuckled then commented, “However, as I said before, and at some point I will learn this, it is your castle and you can go wherever you please.”

The queen seemed to remember herself and she cleared her throat. “See that you learn that sooner for your sake.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Lancelot said he met with you today. How did that go?” Her impassive face gave away nothing. It was as if she expected Emery to forget that she had been staring at him unabashedly. That would never happen. The queen waited for his response, not acknowledging the fact that his upper body wasn’t covered.

Emery smiled and shrugged. “It went as well as it could go.” He pointed to his neck wound. “Almost got me good with his sword. He is definitely worthy to be the captain of your guard.”

The queen moved closer to him and examined the wound. She probed at it and Emery winced as she did. He waited a moment longer then whispered, a playful smirk on his face, “My queen, this certainly is a scandalous position we find ourselves in.”

The queen’s eyes meet his and Emery’s heart began to pound in his chest. The woman was captivating and it didn’t help that she welcomed of his advances. A coy smile spread across her face. “I am a queen. There is no such thing as a scandalous position for me.” She waved her hand over his neck. Emery felt a pleasant, tingly sensation where the cut on his neck was. The queen waved her hand over his face and he felt the same tingling sensation again.

Their eyes stayed locked on one another and the queen trailed the tip of her finger down Emery’s jaw. He had to make a conscious effort to control his breathing as his desire for the woman began to rush through his system. The queen leaned and whispered in his ear, “Would you do anything for me, Swan?”

Emery felt a delightful chill go down his spine. He had to swallow several time then hurried to answer her question. “Yes, your majesty. I am a loyal servant of yours.”

The queen hummed in his ear, but it sounded more like a purr and Emery fought hard to resist the desire which ran rampant through him. She stood up straight, face as indifferent as ever, and not caring that she had almost made Emery spontaneously combust with sexual arousal. The queen turned and headed for the door of his room. “Get dressed, including your armor, and be at my chambers in twenty minutes.”

Emery was still in a lust induced haze as she left.  When the door to his room was slammed closed he was able to snap out of it. He stood there for a moment completely baffled, by not only his own behavior, but also the queen’s. Emery had openly flirted with the woman with no reservation, and what confounded him even more was the fact that she had flirted back. Emery rubbed his jaw a few times, remembering the way the queen’s soft finger ran across the skin of it. He shook his head to bring himself out of his reverie then started to get dressed. Emery had no idea what his new found confidence was making him do, but he definitely needed to get a control of it or the rumors around the castle would soon become fact.

Emery stood outside of the queen’s chambers fifteen minutes later. He was standing with his back ramrod straight as he waited for the queen. He had no idea why she requested him to come to her chambers, so he used his military training to guide him through this unusual situation. One of the guards had gone in and told the queen that he was waiting for her, and he had come back out stating that the queen would be out when she is ready. Emery had no idea when that would be so he stood there staring at the dark wooden doors that had intricate carvings in them.

The doors were thrown open and the queen arched her eyebrow as she looked Emery over. “I was expecting you to be late.”

Emery bows then stood up straight. “It is unbecoming for any member of her majesty’s royal army to be late for an engagement.”

The queen’s mouth twitched a little, and Emery was almost certain it could have been a smirk, but it vanished too fast for him to tell. “It’s good to see that you have learned something from your training.” She glanced at the two guards that were standing outside her chambers. “You two are to remain here. This soldier will be escorting me to my meeting.”

Emery chanced a glance at the two guards who looked as uncertain as he did. It was obvious their orders were to go wherever the queen went. The guard on the right answered, but Emery could tell from his tone that he wasn’t certain if it was the right answer. “Yes, your majesty.”

The queen smiled and began to head down the corridor. Emery followed behind her at a respectful distance and the two of them were quiet. He was completely out of his element. Emery had no training in guarding the queen. The only thing he could rely on was what he remembered from his old kingdom. Emery tried to recall how the guards acted when they escorted his mother anywhere. He and the queen reached the main floor of the castle and as they walked by castle staffed bowed and curtsied as she passed. Emery couldn’t help but to be enamored by the power and respect the woman’s presence demanded. It was incredible and sexy all at the same time. They reached the doors of the council room and before they entered the queen ordered, “Stand to the left of me.”

Emery gives a slight nod. “Yes, your majesty.”

The queen walked into the room, not breaking her swift stride, and made her way to the head of the table. The council members seated at the table scrambled to their feet so they could bow. The queen walked up the left side of the table and Emery took long steps to keep up with her. They reached her seat and he pulled out the chair before pushing it in for her. Doing as she instructed, Emery stood on her left, and the queen began the council meeting.

Emery spent most of his time looking around the room and making lists in his head. The council meeting was almost as boring as his strategy class had been, in fact, it was worse than strategy. Emery couldn’t even pretend to be interested in the topics the council and the queen were discussing. It was all about budgets and taxes. Emery was almost tempted to run himself through with his sword. He almost pulled a jaw muscle as he tried not to yawn. The meeting had gone on for an hour and Emery thought he was going to go running from the room while screaming.

The queen was bringing the meeting to a close when Emery saw movement on his right. He looked up in time to see an assassin perched in the corner of the room then an arrow came flying towards the queen. Emery, with no hesitation, shielded the woman from the arrow and it embedded itself in his shoulder. He gritted his teeth as the queen pushed him away and stood from her chair, a fireball appearing in the palm of her hand. The commotion of the council members fleeing caused the other guards to come rushing into the room. They ran over to the queen and Emery. He managed to stand and tell them what happened. “There was a man in the south right corner. I’m not certain if he was there the entire time, or if there is a way for him to get access up there, but he did try to assassinate the queen.”

The other guards ran out of the room while two helped Emery. One of the men said, “We’re going to have to push it through.”

“You will do no such thing,” the queen said behind them.

The two men looked at her and the one that was about to push through the air countered, “Your majesty, if we fail to remove the arrow he’ll risk an infection.”

The queen scowled at the guard. “Don‘t you think I don’t know that, you imbecile? I will tend to his wounds. Take him up to my chambers.”

“Your majesty-“

“Do you wish to spend the rest of your days in the dungeon?” The queen asked with a small smile that was incredibly false.

The guard gave a slight shake of his head. “No, your majesty.”

The smile disappeared and she narrowed her eyes at the man. “Then take him up to my chambers.”

The two guards nodded and Emery cringed as they helped him leave the council room. He really wanted the arrow out of his arm. Not only was it painful, but it also pissed him off. He had scanned the room more than a dozen times during the meeting and hadn’t seen anything in that corner. He gritted his teeth together as he tried not to think about it. But the weight of the oversight rested heavily upon him.

Emery, the two guards, and the queen made it up to her chambers. The guards helped Emery onto the couch in the sitting area then the queen sat down on the edge of it. She started to take off his armor. Emery cleared his throat then muttered, “We have an audience.”

The queen gave him a confused look. Emery glanced at the two guards still standing near the couch. She realized what he was talking about and said, “You two have done enough. Go join the rest of the guards in finding the miscreant that tried to kill me today.”

The guards nodded making a hasty exit from her chambers. When they were alone the queen went back to taking Emery’s armor off. She removed his chest plate and said, “Had you been wearing the armor that fit you properly this wouldn’t have happened.”

Emery chuckled a little. “I’m all right. I like the weight of this armor. The other one feels too light and I think I’m exposed.”

The queen huffed in annoyance then looked at him. She frowned a little. “I have to push the arrow through.”

“It’s about time. I thought you were going to wait until my arm fell off before you did so,” Emery joked with a grin on his face.

The queen scowled at him and stated, “Just for that I won’t be gentle.”

Emery chuckled. “I didn’t think you would.”

The queen moved to undo his shirt but she stopped short. “Is it okay if I take your shirt off?”

Emery looked into her brown eyes and the uncertainty in them took him by surprise. The queen was always sure of herself, and to see her at a loss of what to do was almost adorable. She was trying to respect his boundaries. Emery couldn’t stop the smile that formed on his face as he nodded. “It’s fine your majesty.”

She opened his shirt then got up to walk around the couch. When she she behind it the queen took hold of the arrow that was sticking out. Emery clenched his teeth together. “Ready?” Emery nodded. With no hesitation the queen pushed the arrow through. Emery bellowed in pain and sweat instantly formed on his brow.

He wanted to rest back on the couch, but the queen wasn’t done yet. She broke off the arrowhead then pulled out the rest. Emery felt excruciating pain, but then he felt a tingly sensation where his wound was and it began to subside. A few moments later the queen helped him lie down on the couch. She took off his boots and the rest of his armor. Emery chuckled and asked, “I’m guessing this means I won’t be joining the other guards in looking for your assassin.”

The queen shot him a pointed look and remarked, “You would only end up getting in the way, then one of them would kill you and I can’t have that.” She sighed. “I healed as much as I could, but you have some internal injuries that still need healing.” Her eyes dropped down as she admitted, “I’ve never had to heal a wound like this before.”

Emery gave her a small smile. “I’m grateful for everything that you’ve done for me.” He bit the inside of his lip then added. “I can’t help but to wonder why you’re doing all this for me. The castle physician could have looked at me and the other guards could have taken me to my room.”

The queen scoffed. “I can’t very well parade you around in front of your parents if you’re injured or lame. “ She rolled her eyes. “They would think the worse and that really would change the direction of this war.”

Emery scoffed and closed his eyes. “That would be a refreshing change of pace from the war of attrition that the Mills and White kingdoms have been in the last ten years.”

Emery opened his eyes and the queen had a severe scowl on her face. His mouth had gotten him into trouble. Again. “You do not get to speak about things you have no understanding of,” the queen snapped.

Emery sat up and winced as he tried to challenge the queen. “Then tell me, your majesty. Help me understand why this war has gone on for so damn long.”

The queen stared at him, a pointed expression on her face. Emery knew she wasn’t going say anything, and when she began to walk away from the couch he scoffed. “I will have food brought up. Until then you will rest.”

She conjured up a blanket that dropped on Emery as she continued to leave the sitting area. Emery tried to look behind him to find out where she was going, but he only aggravated his shoulder. He sighed and resigned to the fact that he had pissed the queen off. Emery covered himself with the blanket then stared up the ceiling. Even though he hated being coddled over, he had to admit being under queen’s watchful eye wasn’t the worse thing ever. Emery rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Don’t be an idiot, Swan.” But even as he burrowed under the blanket that covered him he knew very well that he was being an idiot. The biggest kind of idiot ever.

Chapter Text

Emery groaned and rubbed his face. The last thing he remembered was eating then falling asleep not long after that. He had no idea getting a shot with an arrow was this exhausting. He drew in a deep breath then released it. Emery rolled his head to look out the double doors that led to the balcony. It was almost dark out. He groaned. Emery had slept the rest of the day away. Deciding he needed to leave, or the rumors that were already flying around would only get worse, Emery sat up and stretched. The queen had finished healing his shoulder after he had eaten and it felt ten times better. He scooted to the edge of the couch to put his boots on.

Emery stood up and looked to his right. One of the doors that were on that side of the room was opened slightly and soft light seeped through it. Emery chewed on his bottom lip as he tried to figure out if he should bother the woman or not. He sighed and began to make his way across the sitting room to get to the door. It would be rude of him to leave without saying anything to the queen. Despite her feeding him and healing his shoulder, Emery was certain she was silently planning ways to kill him. She hadn’t spoken to him since their conversation earlier.

Emery reached the door and peered through the crack. The queen sat at her desk and she was writing something on a piece of parchment. A small smile came to Emery’s face as he watched her. Under the subdue glow that came from the candles that lit the room the queen looked magnificent and serene while she worked. A wistful sigh escaped Emery. He shook his head and broke himself free of trance he was falling into. Having an attraction to the queen would only lead him to heartache. Emery pushed the door open more and cleared his throat. The queen glanced up from her work. She looked over him with a scrutinizing gaze then asked, “Did you sleep well?”

A small chuckle escaped Emery as he nodded. “I did. I’m sorry for drooling all over your couch.”

The queen sat back in her chair. “I don’t think you’re truly sorry.” She waved her hand. “In any case, I will just have to get rid of it.”

Emery smirked and leaned against the doorway. “If that’s what you would like to do.” He rubbed the back of his neck then dropped his hand. “I typically don’t sleep that heavy. It’s a little weird.”

The queen smiled and said, “The sleeping powder in your wine is probably the reason for that.”

“You put sleeping powder in my wine?” The queen gave him an imperceptible nod. Emery stared at her for a moment then he started to chuckle. He wanted to be mad at her, but at the same time it had been the best sleep he had, had in the longest time. Emery dipped his head graciously and smiled. “Well thank you for that.” He sighed. “I’m going to go back to my room. You can have the castle staff throw out the couch now.”

The queen grinned. “I’ll have them take care of it first thing in the morning.”

The two of them stared at each other a second longer then Emery said, “I’m going to head to my room now. I just wanted say thank you for everything and tell you goodnight.”

“Oh,” the queen remarked. Emery was confused by the reaction, but dismissed it. The woman was one big puzzle he was never going to figure out. He gave her a small smile then as he turned to leave the queen said, “The guards found the assassin. He was a man from the White kingdom. Blamed me for the war along with the death of his father and the loss of his family’s farm.” It was the audible sigh that had Emery turning around. “He blamed everything on me.”

Emery studied her and the weariness on her face was unexpected, but at the same time it didn’t stop him from asking the obvious. “Isn’t that the truth?”

The queen gave him a pointed look, but then it went away, the weariness coming back to her eyes. “It depends what side of the story you believe.”

“My loyalty lies with you, your majesty” Emery said hoping the woman would continue with the subject.

The queen hummed. “I know that, especially since you took an arrow that was intended for me.” She glanced down at her desk then back up at Emery. “But that doesn’t change the fact you were born and raised in a kingdom that has told you, since the day you were born, that I am an evil ruler.”

A grin came to Emery’s face as he went back to leaning on the doorway. “After spending almost a year in your kingdom, it is hard for me to take that ‘evil’ moniker to heart.”The queen’s eyebrow went up and Emery shrugged as he began to explain why he didn’t believe her to be evil. “Your kingdom is prosperous. Your taxes, though high, don’t leave your subjects broke. And yes some of your punishments can be quite extreme, but they aren’t unjust.” He pushed off the doorway and walked further into the office. “You also haven’t killed me, and even though you have selfish reasons behind why you’ve done everything for me, you have still done it.”

Emery crossed his arms over his chest and admitted with some hesitation, “I’ve never felt out of place in your kingdom and you haven’t treated me like some abomination.”

The queen eyed him in silent contemplation. “I appreciate you saying that, but the fact still remains, I am the evil queen and I am the one to blame for everything.”

“But you can prove them wrong about you being evil,” Emery stated as he took a step closer towards her desk. “End the war and be the benevolent one in all of this. Make Snow be the terrible one.”

Whatever walls the queen had let down in order for her to have this conversation went back up and she said in a clipped tone, “That is not possible.”

“Why isn’t it?” Emery implored as he stared the queen down. He knew she was shutting him out and trying to end the conversation, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

The Queen narrowed her eyes at him and said in a hard tone, “Because it isn’t and how dare you think you are in some position to question your queen.”

Emery returned the hard gaze that was directed at him. The comment affected him more than he wanted to let on. He bowed and as he straightened he said, “I apologize, your majesty.” He stared at her for another second and realized there was nothing left for either of them to say. “Have a good evening.”

Emery turned and walked out of her office. He got his armor and left her chambers. Emery had a permanent scowl on his face. He felt like an idiot. Believing that he and the queen had developed some sort of friendship was stupid of him and it was obvious that would never be the case. As he went down the stairs to get to his room Emery mentally continued to berate himself for not only thinking he might be more to queen, but also the feelings he had towards her. Thinking the queen might have seen him as more than a soldier and some pawn for her to use was a foolish thing for him to do.

Emery got to his room and dropped his armor in the middle of the floor. He walked over to his bed and sat down on it. He covered his face with his hands and groaned. He felt beyond stupid. Not only did he think that him and the queen were friends, but he was also developing feelings for the woman. He groaned again. Emery felt like an idiot, and not in a small way, but in a big way that had him thinking he should fall on his sword. He sighed and stood up from the bed. Emery took off his shirt. Tomorrow he was going to train until he couldn’t remember who he was anymore. He nodded to himself. That sounded like a solid plan.

Emery was tying up his pants when someone started to knock on the door that led to the stairwell that went up the tower. Since it was that door it had to have been either Neal, or Graham, or the both of them. Which made no sense since the two of them should have been training. Emery walked over to the door and answered it. When he saw the Lancelot standing in front of him he straightened his posture and exclaimed, “Sir.”

The captain smiled at him. “Swan, the queen has requested that you join her on her ride to the north. There will be stops at a few villages, but the end destination is the Queen’s castle in that region. She’ll be up there a few days.”

Emery scoffed and retorted, “I don’t think I should be around the queen. I’m surprised she even requested me.”

Lancelot chuckled. “You did take an arrow for the woman. I can see why she would request you.” He smiled. “I see you have recovered quite well from that.”

Emery rolled his eyes and ignored the comment. He wanted to protest the order but it was a direct one that had come from the queen so he was going to obey it. “Yes, sir. When do we leave?”

“Now,” the captain replied with a grin. Emery scowled at the man. “Finish getting ready, Swan. Then report to the stables.”

Emery said, “Yes, sir.” Lancelot turned to go back down the stairs and Emery rolled his eyes. His day was ruined. Instead of training he was going to have to spend most of his day sitting on a horse with a woman who irritated him, but at the same time he was completely enamored with her. He scoffed. This was not how he wanted to spend his day. Emery got dressed then packed up his saddle bags before putting on the armor that the queen had made for him. He secured his sword around his waist then grabbed his helmet. Emery left his room and rushed down to the stables.

He barged into the stables and the royal procession was all set to go. The queen was already on her horse ready to leave. She looked down at him, waiting for his apology. Emery bowed. “I apologize, your majesty. I only received –“

“I have no time for your sorry excuse of an apology.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Now can you hurry up and get on a horse so we can leave. We’re already late. This means I won’t be stopping at the first two villages since I want to get to the north castle by nightfall.”

It took every bit of willpower that Emery possessed in order for him to not scowl at the woman. He went over to one of the stallions and placed his bags on the animals back then mounted him. Emery moved to the back of the processional. The captain gave the order and they started to make their way out. Emery rolled his eyes. This was going to be a wonderful way to spend his day.

Emery’s head dropped to his chest and he jerked it back up when he realized he was falling asleep in his saddle. He looked around to see if anyone had seen him. He sighed when he was certain no one had caught him. They had to have been travelling for more than two hours, but it seemed like an eternity to Emery. Being at the back of the processional meant he was basically the ass of a really long horse and no one cared about what he was doing. Emery could have broken away, taken a piss, napped, then caught up to the processional and no one would have known that he had disappeared. Emery let out a bored sigh. For once he wished Neal was with him. His incessant chatter would have entertained Emery enough to keep him from falling asleep.

Emery was humming a jaunty tune to himself when Lancelot shouted, “Swan!” Emery saw that the man had broken away from the head of the processional and was waiting on the side of the road.

Emery groaned internally. He wasn’t interested in whatever brand of torture Lancelot had come up with. He rode over to where the captain was and said, “Sir?”

Lancelot smiled at him. “I’m taking three scouts and we’re going ahead to make sure everything is okay in the first village we’re passing through and let them know that the queen won’t be stopping. I want you to ride with her majesty.”

Emery had been excited when he heard the captain say that he was taking scouts, because that’s what he was, but that excitement quickly evaporated when he heard his true order. Emery stared at the man. He silently swore at him for a quick moment in his head then said, “Yes, sir.”

The Lancelot nodded. “Take your position now.”

“Yes, sir.” Emery then rode up to the head of the processional and he kept his heard forward, but his eyes were always moving and taking in the forest that surrounded them. The queen didn’t even acknowledge his presence when he brought his horse to a trot next to hers.

The captain and the three scouts travel ahead of the processional and once they were out of sight Emery went on high alert. Even though he wasn’t the one in charge, he was the closest to the queen and in his mind that made him responsible for her. “Your shoulder seems to be doing well,” the queen stated, breaking Emery’s concentration.

“It’s fine,” Emery replied trying to keep his response as short as possible. He didn’t want to engage in actual conversation with her. It would only play into his deluded thoughts, and it was bad enough he had deluded thoughts to begin with, but playing into them was a special torment that he had no interest putting himself through.

The silence between them lingered then the queen made another attempt at conversation with him. “The riding grounds at the north castle are some of my favorite grounds. It’s one of the many reasons why I enjoy going to this castle. Even when it’s this close to winter.” Emery continued to stare straight ahead. He made no attempt in acknowledging the fact that the queen had said something. Of course the queen didn’t take being ignored to well. “Along with your complete disregard for time, did you also forget who you were riding with?”

Emery glanced at her out the corner of his eye. The severe look on her face had him second-guessing his decision to ignore her. Emery knew that if he didn’t answer the queen she would send him flying off his horse with a wave of her hand. He cleared his throat then pointed out, “I’m not riding with you. My captain gave me an order, and I am following it.”

Emery could feel the anger radiating off of the woman and he was certain that the queen was going to murder him on the spot. When she spoke again, there was a lethal edge to the threat that she gave Emery. “Your queen is talking to you, and it would do you well to respond.”

Emery turned his head and looked into the intense eyes that were boring into him. “Apologies, your majesty,” Emery said and every word dripped with sarcasm. “I can’t wait to see the north castle since it is my first time to it.”

The two of them stared at each other for a moment then Emery focused his attention to the road in front of him. He silently made peace with the fact that the queen was going to murder him while he was in his saddle. However, when it didn’t happen he chanced a glance at the woman. She looked as poised as ever and unperturbed by the fact that Emery had been borderline rude to her. That was something that scared Emery more than her outright anger and he kept his eye on the queen as they continued their ride in silence.

Before they made it to the first village the captain and the three scouts were waiting for the processional. Lancelot dismissed Emery and he went back to his original spot at the back of the processional. Emery glared at the queen’s back. He was relieved to be away from her, but at the same time he missed being near her. Emery groaned and the soldier in front of him glared at him over his shoulder. He displayed his middle finger for the man and scoffed. The other guard returned the gesture before turning around. Emery sighed. His feelings about the queen were making him surly and he didn’t like feeling this way. But it allowed him to compartmentalize his feelings until he was able to deal with them properly. Emery drew in the deep breath and sat up straight. He was going to get through this then he was going to disappear once they arrived at the north castle.

The processional came to a stop in front of the main entrance for the castle. It was late in the day and the sun was about to dip below the horizon. The journey had been a long one and was made even longer thanks to the village appearance stops the queen wanted to make. Emery was glad to be able to get off his damn horse, but he had to wait a moment longer because they weren’t allowed to dismantle until the queen was inside the castle. Emery watched her dismount, and for someone who had been in a saddle all day, she walked as elegantly as ever with her long, fur-lined cloak trailing behind her. Emery found her stunning and his eyes followed her until she went into the castle with members of the guard escorting her.

When the heavy wooden doors closed the captain shouted, “All right men, help the castle staff unload the queen’s luggage. I’ll need one of you to help the stable boys with taking the horses to the stable.”

Emery shot his hand up and said, “Captain, sir, I would like to volunteer for tending to the horses.”

Lancelot nodded. “Very well, Swan. This doesn’t get you out of unloading the queen’s luggage.”

Emery didn’t think it would get him out of anything, but he wanted to be as far from the castle as possible. He dismounted his horse and moved to the cart that held the luggage for the handmaidens that travelled with the queen. It wasn’t exactly her luggage, but at least he was helping. He took several bags then brought them into the castle. Emery made several trips before he and the stable hands brought the horses to the stable.

Emery helped the young men unhitch the horses and remove their saddles before they brushed them down. He enjoyed spending time with the young men who were at the most five years younger than he. They wanted to know what it was like being a knight in the queen’s guard and Emery had crushed their amazement when he informed them that he was nothing but a soldier in her army. After that the young men left him alone, but he promised to be back in the morning to show them some hand-to-hand moves which seemed to brighten their day a bit.

When he and the hands finished with the horses, and put away the wagons, Emery took a horse that was stabled at the north castle and headed for the wide open field that was behind the castle. As he squeezed his knees harder into the horses side urging him to go faster Emery couldn’t help but to admit that the queen had been right about the castle’s grounds. It had the best terrain for riding. He was almost tempted to go further than the grounds but with the sun setting, and him not being familiar with the area, Emery stuck to open field.

After awhile he dismounted his horse and retrieved his bow and arrows before letting the animal roam. He had hoped to get in some practice since the queen ruined his day of training, but with daylight waning, Emery knew that he wasn’t going to be able to train for long. Emery walked over to a tree then counted a dozen or so paces away from it before he began shooting arrows into it. He managed to find a good rhythm and was in the zone. He was about to fire off his fifth arrow when his concentration was broken by the sound of the queen’s voice. “You’re avoiding me.”

Emery let the arrow go sailing into the air and it sunk into the bark of the tree with a loud thunk. “I am,” Emery said as he started to walk towards the tree to retrieve his arrows. The queen followed him.


Emery began to pick up the arrows that were on the ground and replied, “It would be best for the both of us if you didn’t ask me questions like that.”

He could hear the irritation in her voice when she snapped, “And what does that mean? You will tell me why you are avoiding your queen.”

The phrase "your queen..." caused Emery to lose control of whatever hold he had on his emotions. He turned and pinned the queen down with an intense stare. “That is why, your majesty. You are the queen and I am a soldier in your army.” He scoffed and began to walk over to where he dropped his quiver. “I shouldn’t be developing a friendship, or whatever this is with you. It’s blurring all these lines for me and I –” Emery stopped and drew in a deep breath. He had almost admitted to having feelings for the woman. He would rather swallow his own tongue than admit such a thing.

Emery heard the queen’s steps behind him then she demanded, “What were you about to say?”

Emery scoffed and shook his head before he turned to look at her. “It doesn’t matter.” He took a deep breath then let out it out. “I’m certain you had a purpose to come looking for me.”

The queen stared at him for a moment then stated in a matter of fact tone, “I had a room set up for you in the east tower.”

Emery shook his head. “Thank you, your majesty, but no thank you. I will be sleeping in camp during our stay here.”

The queen glared at him and argued, “Don’t be an idiot, Swan. You risk something happening to you if you stay in camp with the other men.”

“I’m not being stupid,” Emery shot back not caring that his tone bordered on disrespectful. “You playing favorites with me is stupid. It causes whispers among those in the castle and among the other soldiers. People treat me differently because they know that you have some special interest in me.” Emery exclaimed, “They call me the queen’s pet because of all of this.”

The queen pinned him down with a piercing gaze. “You will give me the names of those that dare whisper rumors about their queen. I will have their heads for this.”

Emery let out a frustrated growl then shouted, “You don’t get it and you’ll never get it because you only care about you.”

The queen was taken aback by his accusation, but the momentary lapse in her indifferent demeanor didn’t last long. She folded her hands in front of her and straightened her posture. “I do get it, quite well in fact. But the difference between you and I is that I don’t get the luxury to let the thoughts of others affect my duties as queen, and I don’t care what they say. You would learn to do the same.” She fell quiet then added, “I expect to see you in the dining hall for dinner.”

A cloud of purple smoke enveloped her and when it had disappeared the queen was no longer there. Emery scowled at the spot that she had been standing in. The woman didn’t care that she was making his life harder than it had to be, but he also knew that. It wasn’t like he didn’t know her plans for him. She had her own agenda. The thing that bothered him most was the fact that her indifference about what affected him actually hurt.

Emery packed up his arrows then got his horse. He rode the stallion into the forest, not caring that he had no idea where he was going. He wanted to get far from the castle grounds, and far away from the queen. The forest was thick and after his horse got caught in some brambles for the second time, Emery stopped and dismounted him. He freed the animal then rubbed the horse’s neck and said, “Sorry, boy. We’ll stop for the night then when it’s morning we’ll head back.”

The horse whinnied and Emery chuckled. He got his pack and his sleeping roll then removed his saddle from the horse’s back. Emery found a good spot to start a fire and once he had that going he walked back to a river he had come across. He spent a good while trying to catch dinner and all he was able to catch were two measly fish. Emery cooked them up and after he ate he rolled out his bed roll and his blankets. Because winter was bound to happen at any moment Emery spent a fine price for fur blankets that were thick and covered him from head to toe. He was still trying to earn that money back.

Emery sighed and looked at the star filled sky that was above him. He was going to get in trouble when he returned to camp tomorrow. He had left without telling the captain where he was going and now he wasn’t reporting back to camp. Emery was aware that he was a dead man, but he couldn’t go back to the castle or be that close to it knowing that the queen was right there, and so unattainable. Emery rolled onto his side and covered his head. He just needed to keep reminding himself that she was the queen and had no actual feelings for him. That he was just another pawn in this long, drawn out war that she was engaged in with his parents. That didn’t make Emery feel any better, but the thought forced him into reality. He sighed and closed his eyes; hoping sleep would come easy for him that night.

Emery groaned and turned over. When his arm landed on another person he sat up and started to reach for his knife, but then he saw the brown hair. He brought his hand to the edge of the blanket and lowered it to reveal the face of the queen. Emery was confused as to why she was in the middle of the forest sleeping with him, but he was too tired to wake her up and ask questions. He lay back down and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling the woman closer to him. The queen nuzzled his neck and a slow smile formed on Emery’s face. It wasn’t long before the pull of sleep was taking him again. He didn’t think about the confusion he was going to have to deal with later or the way the queen felt in his arms. At that moment Emery was content to fall asleep with the queen in a blissful ignorance.

Chapter Text

When Emery woke in the morning, he was alone. He felt a dull ache in his chest when he realized this, but ignored it. He would have believed the queen sleeping with him had been a dream, but knew that wasn’t possible. He still remembered the way the scent of her hair filled his nostrils as he fell back to sleep and how the queen felt close against him. Emery groaned and rubbed his face. How he was supposed to stop himself from getting emotionally involved was going to be a challenge especially when the woman showed up in the middle of the forest to sleep with him. He still didn’t understand why she did it in the first place.

Emery got up and folded his blankets then got his horse ready to go back to camp. He wasn’t too excited to go back to camp, considering he was going to be in trouble, so he took his time. Emery mounted his horse and as they began to make their way out of the forest he pulled out some dried meat for breakfast. He munched on it as he guided the horse through the trees hoping to find an easy route back to the castle grounds. It wasn’t long before he found a trail that would take him back to the castle. It was something he would have easily found last night had he not been involved in his emotions.

Emery sighed. His emotions were getting in the way of his rational thinking and it was the queen’s fault. A slight scowl appeared on his face. Emery decided then and there that he was going to get his head on straight and  do everything possible to avoid being in the queen’s presence often. If that meant he would have to beg Lancelot for things to do or hound the lieutenant to be sent away then he was okay with doing that. Anything that would help him get over his feelings for the queen.

Emery reached the stables a half hour later and once he unloaded the horse he headed to camp. He was lost in his thoughts as he walked into the encampment and Emery was startled from them when one of the men shouted, “Swan, captain’s been looking for you.”

Emery let out a deep sigh. He still wasn’t ready to face the consequences of him not returning back to camp last night. “Where is he?”

The man pointed to a small stone building that was off to the left. Emery nodded his thanks then headed to the building that Lancelot was using. He stood in front of the door for a moment then he drew in slow, deep breath as he went to go knock on it. He heard the captain’s footsteps inside then the door swung open. The slight smile that had been on Lancelot’s face disappeared and it was replaced with a scowl that was accompanied by a hard gaze. “You didn’t report back after helping the stable hands last night.”

“That is correct, sir. I went for a ride,” Emery said in a direct tone that wasn’t apologetic. That would have only added insult to injury.

Lancelot’s eyebrow arched. “A ride that had you out all night?”

Emery answered with a half-truth. “Sir, I got lost in the forest and since there was no daylight out I thought it best for me to camp in the forest until this morning.”

The captain eyed him then he said, “You should not have gone riding in an area you are unfamiliar with. That would have been the intelligent thing to do.” The man fell silent then continued. “For your stupidity, you will be subjected to a day filled with chores. You are to groom the guards’ horses, help in the dining hall, polish the swords, and help repair some of the lodgings in camp.”

Emery remained at attention though he already loathed the day of chores that was ahead of him. “Yes, sir.” He then asked, “Do I have time to drop my belongings off in my quarters?”

Lancelot scoffed. “You didn’t report and now you think I’m going to give you the opportunity to run off again. You’ve must have gone mad. No, you can leave your belongings in my quarters then report to the stable.”

“Yes sir,” Emery replied. He removed his pack off his shoulder and dropped it in the corner that was inside the door. He looked at Lancelot. “Dismissed, sir?”

Lancelot gave him the once over then waved his hand. “Dismissed.”

Emery turned and walked away from the captain’s quarters and made his way to the castle stables. He wanted to be pissed, but he knew it was his own fault. Emery was going to do his chores then he was going to come back to camp and do whatever else the captain had for him. Emery ran his hand through his hair. It was going to be a long day, but with him being busy it would keep him away from the queen. That was the only silver lining to his punishment.

Emery walked away from one of the buildings that were being converted into barracks for the soldiers to use when they were at the north castle when the captain approached him. “Swan,” Emery stopped and stood at attention. “You have watch tonight. You are to report to the head guard in the east wing before the sunsets tonight. He’ll assign you to your post and you’ll be there until sunrise tomorrow morning. Understood?”

Emery wanted to groan. That was torture. Standing watch in the east – He then realized that he was going to be in the east wing. The queen kept her chambers in the east wing of the castle. Emery did groan upon realizing that and Lancelot snapped, “Is there a problem with the orders I’ve given you?”

Emery remembered who was in front of him and promptly answered, “No, sir.”

Lancelot’s dark eyes bore into Emery and studied him. As if he was waiting for him to be defiant again. Emery didn’t like the order, but he wasn’t about to heap more trouble onto himself, so he stated quiet. The captain gave him a curt nod. “I would advise getting some rest before you go on watch.”

“Yes, sir,” Emery replied then Lancelot walked away from him. When the captain was a good distance away, Emery relaxed and muttered, “The man hates me. This is why he has me standing watch in the east wing.” He headed to Lancelot’s quarters to retrieve his belongings then made his way to the castle. He went through the kitchen so he could get something to eat first.

Emery entered the massive kitchen and an older woman was giving out orders to some of the kitchen staff. She wasn’t being mean, but her tone brusque, in an affectionate way. A few of the staff members looked at Emery and that resulted in the woman to look at him too. A scowl formed on her face and she started to lay into Emery as she moved closer to him. “I told the captain that my staff will bring out meals and food to the dining hall at the appropriate times. You soldiers don’t get to march in and out of the kitchens like you own the damn place. Wait until the queen hears about this.”

Emery didn’t want to get the captain in trouble, and he didn’t want to get into further trouble with Lancelot. He held up his hands and said, “Madam, I’m sorry, but I missed lunch and I am very hungry.” Emery dropped his hands and sighed. He shook his head and muttered, “Lydia definitely wouldn’t have treated me like this.”

The woman gasped then smiled at Emery. The sudden shift in her attitude toward him was a little unnerving. She wrapped her arm around his and asked, “You’re the queen’s knight?”

Emery frowned and replied, “Other than being a soldier in her majesty’s army, I am not anything else to her.”

The woman chuckled. “That isn’t quite the story I’ve been told.” Emery glared at the woman. Her teasing only irritated him. She introduced herself. “My name is Gloria. I’m in charge of the kitchens here at the north castle. You are welcomed to come and go as you please and if you have any requests come to me and I will be sure to take care of them.”

Emery wasn’t certain what rumors were going around about him and the queen, but he couldn’t be too mad about them since they got him access to the kitchens. A right he had gotten at the main castle his second week there. He and Lydia had a wonderful relationship and she sometimes reminded him of Ingrid. Emery decided in that moment that he was going to see his adoptive mother once they returned to the main castle. Emery smiled at the woman and said, “Thank you, Gloria. I just need something eat then I will be on my way.”

The woman nodded and moved away from him. She went over to one of the counters and said, “Of course. I will make you sandwich. If you go in the storage room in back there is some fruit in there for you. I had some of the lads stock your favorites and I’ll be done with your dried pork sandwich –“

“I’m sorry to be rude, Gloria, but how do you know my favorites?” Even though it saved him from telling the woman what he wanted, Emery was perplexed about how she had gotten this information. He then had a thought come to him. “Do you have the yellow spread that Lydia likes to put on my sandwiches?”

Gloria chuckled and looked over her shoulder at him. “I had to make it special, but I do have it. She sent the recipe along with the list of your favorites that the eueen gave to me.” She winked at him. “queen’s knight.”

Frustrated, Emery rolled his eyes but he didn’t argue with Gloria about the nickname she had for him because it would be pointless. Plus she was making his favorite sandwich. Emery forced a smile on his face. “Thank you, Gloria. I’m going to go get me some of that fruit you were speaking of.”

“Just walk down the hallway and it’s the first door on your right,” she instructed as she went back to making his sandwich.

Emery followed her directions as he thought about everything that had happened. The queen had gotten a list of his favorite foods from Lydia and made sure they were at the north castle. This confused him further about the queen, and it also irritated Emery. He was trying to ignore and rid himself of the feelings that he had for the woman, but when she did things like this it made the task difficult to do. Emery entered the storage room and found the fruit that Gloria had been talking about. He grabbed a bunch of grapes and one of the apples that seemed to be in abundance in both castles then left the room.

Emery went back to the main room of the kitchen and Gloria was almost done making his sandwich. He munched on his grapes while he waited and tried to figure out what was going on with the queen. He couldn’t make sense of any of her actions. Something he hadn’t been able to figure out since the day he found himself in trouble. Yes, she had other plans for him that involved his parents, but this – making sure his favorite foods were in the north castle, finding him in the woods and sleeping with him – that made no sense whatsoever. Emery sighed. The queen was a confusing woman and she wasn’t going to help him figure her out.

Gloria wrapped his sandwich up in a cloth then handed it to him. “If you’re still feeling hungry before dinner let me know and I can make you up a small snack, but it should be ready in a few hours.”

Emery smiled and said, “Thank you, again, Gloria.” He left out of the kitchens and was making his way to the stairs when he stopped a young castle page. “Excuse me, the queen said I had a room in the castle. Is there any way you could take me to it?”

The young boy got a huge smile on his face. “You’re Sir Swan! Some of the stable boys were talking about you and how you were going to show them how to fight.”

Emery chuckled at the boy’s excitement, but he corrected him. “I’m not a knight, but I did tell them I would show them some hand to hand combat moves. I won’t be able to do it today, but tomorrow will definitely be a fine time to show you and the stable boys some moves.”

Emery didn’t think it was possible, but the boy’s smile grew. “That would be fantastic.”

Emery laughed. “I’m glad you think so. Now, if you could show me to my room that would be appreciated.”

The boy started towards the stairs and he glanced at Emery and said, “Her majesty has put you in the chambers that are on the east wing of the second floor. Miss Augustina said that if the queen was ever to give birth to an heir they would be the prince or princess’s chambers.” He shrugged. “Guess the queen wants to use them for her knights.”

The boy continued talking while Emery got lost in his thoughts as he followed him. The queen was putting him in the prince’s chambers. He wasn’t certain what statement she was trying to make, but it was annoying him, and she was becoming overtly transparent about her knowing who he was. Emery and the young boy, Jacob, got to the second floor of the castle and they walked to the main door for the chamber of rooms. Jacob smiled at him and said, “Here we are Sir Swan.”

“Jacob, I’m not a knight. You can call me Emery,” he said with a small smile.

Jacob giggled and remarked, “You might be a knight someday. I have to go or mistress Augustina will have my hide. It was a pleasure meeting you Sir Swan and can’t wait to learn from you tomorrow.”

Before Emery could correct the boy, Jacob took off down the corridor. Emery shook his head and sighed. He blamed the rumors that were circulating about him and the queen for his unofficial title. At some point he was going to talk to her and let her know that her involvement in his life was sending a different message that neither of them wanted. Or at least the queen didn’t want. Emery entered the chambers and looked around. The rooms were in excellent condition considering they probably hadn’t been used in some time. Emery headed for the couch that was in the sitting room and set down his tray of food. When he finished eating Emery kicked off his boots then lied down on the couch. Emery wanted to get as much sleep as possible since he had to be up all night.

The stone wall in front of Emery had a minute crack in the mortar that kept the stones together. That had to be reported to someone on the castle’s staff. Emery blinked a couple times to regain his focus. He had been on watch for an hour and was ready to go insane. Emery groaned in his head. His break wasn’t for another five hours and standing in the corridor that led to the queen’s chambers wasn’t the most exciting place to be. He rolled his eyes and tried to think of something to think of that would occupy his mind and alleviate his severe boredom.

Emery had gotten up an hour before he was to report to the head guard so he could have a bath and eat a quick dinner. Even though he still smelled good and had eaten two plates of food, he was now getting hungry. He couldn’t move or do anything. He had to stay at his post unless the head guard or someone higher told him otherwise. It was going to be the most excruciating night of his life.

Emery heard the rustling of her skirts before he saw her. Out the corner of his eye he saw the queen walking down the corridor and when she was in his line of sight Emery’s breath caught. As usual she was breathtaking and poised and had the ability to render him speechless. Emery swallowed to moisten his dry throat. He was certain the queen had cast a quick glance towards him out the corner of her eye, but he also thought it was wishful thinking. The queen stride never broke and she didn’t stop. She headed for her chamber doors without giving Emery a second consideration. It relieved and upset him. Emery heard the heavy doors open then close. He took slow, deep breaths in and out of his nose to get his heart to calm down. It had started hammering the moment he heard her in the corridor. Emery mentally berated himself for his reaction towards the woman. It was foolish and he was going to get hurt if he didn’t get his feelings under control.

Thoughts of what he would do to avoid the Queen consumed Emery’s mind and it wasn’t until he saw the castle pages walking around extinguishing the candles that lit the halls of the castle did he notice how late it had gotten. He didn’t realize that much time had passed, but then again he had let an insufferable woman, who happened to be a queen, consume his thoughts. Emery continued to mentally berate himself for his lack of focus when heard the queen demand, “Swan, my chambers now.”

Emery scowled. Of course the queen wanted to see him. He left his post and headed for the queen’s chambers. As he walked by the guards one of them mumbled, “Queen’s pet.”

Emery kept his face neutral even though he wanted to punch one, or both of them, in the face. He closed the door behind him and walked into the sitting room. The first thing Emery noticed was that the chambers were smaller than the ones at the main castle. He then realized that queen wasn’t wearing her normal attire.

She wasn’t wearing one of her extravagant dresses. She didn’t even have on the leather pants that she was fond of when she wasn’t dealing with kingdom business. What she was actually wearing was enough for Emery to forget himself and stare openly at her. The queen wore nothing but a black silk robe that exposed the upper part of her chest. The olive skin was taunting Emery. Her hair was down and the natural curl of it framed her face in stunning way that highlighted all her facial features. Emery wanted to bury his face in the long, brown locks and play with them. He was snapped out of his trance when she said, “Where were you today? Avoiding me still?”

Emery swallowed several times then replied, “The captain ordered me to do some chores. I didn’t report back to camp last night.”

The queen took a sip of her wine then smirked. “We’re you being a bad boy, Swan?”

The smirk on her face, the playful tone of her voice, and sensuality radiating from her caused Emery’s libido to respond and that wasn’t good. “Did you need me for something, your majesty?” He asked his words coming out brusquer than he intended. Her toying with him was going to make it impossible for Emery to get over his feelings towards the queen.

The queen eyed him over the rim of her goblet then lowered it. There was studious expression on her face as she looked him over. “What the matter?”

Emery let out an exasperated sigh. “Nothing. It has been a long day your majesty, and now I’m on watch until dawn.  I’m a little short and I apologize.”

The queen placed her goblet on the low coffee table that was in front of the couch. “I can have you taken off watch since it is causing you to be short with me.”

Emery lost his military bearing and shook his head. “You know what? This is what’s wrong with me. You keep interfering with me and I told you last night to stop doing it, but you’re not.” He ran his hand through his short hair. “The castle staff calls me your knight, the other soldiers call me your pet, if they don’t call me your bitch, and you don’t care. You have me placed in the rooms of the royal heir. What type of message are you trying to send here?”

The queen retrieved her goblet off the coffee table then took a long sip from it. She stared at him for a moment. When she spoke next her tone was sharp and direct. “They were the only rooms I had available. If you couldn’t tell, this castle isn’t as large as the main one.” She folded her hands on her lap. “And as I told you last night, I don’t care what people think or say; and neither should you. But it is obvious it is causing you some distress. So tell me, Swan, what would you like me to do?” The queen’s brown eyes bore into Emery, as she brought the goblet to her lips, waiting for his reply.

Emery opened his mouth to respond and it continued to hang open when he realized he didn’t have a response. Emery didn’t know what he wanted her to do. The thought of the queen not interfering was a lot more unsettling than he wanted to admit. The more Emery dwelled on it, the more he realized he didn’t want her to leave him alone. Between their meetings, the queen seeing him for who he really was, and her support – which was really her meddling – it helped him find his place in a world where he thought he was going to be killed. All fight left Emery and his shoulders dropped. He blew out an aggravated breath and looked down at the rug that covered the floor.

Silence lingered between them and after a long minute the queen asked, “Well, Swan, what do you want?”

Emery drew in a deep breath then looked up at the woman. He couldn’t tell the queen to leave him alone. She had become too important to him, and not because of everything that she had done for him, but because the two of them had developed this awkward friendship even though he was a soldier in her army and she was the queen. He sighed then said, “Can you embarrass me in public?”

“Excuse me?” This was the first time Emery heard her be surprised by something and it caused him to grin.

“It will show everyone that you don’t give me any special treatment,” Emery began to explain, “and that I’m another bug underneath your heel.”

A throaty chuckle came from the queen. She drank a sip of her wine then said, “I’ll think about it.”

They two of them fell silent then Emery wondered, “Did you ask Lydia for a list of my favorite foods and meals or did she give them to you?”

The queen’s eyebrow arched. “How did you know about that?”

Emery chuckled. “Gloria told me that you gave her the list from Lydia. I just don’t know if you asked for it or if she gave it to you.”

The queen took another sip of her wine then remarked, “I’m not going to answer that.”

Emery chuckled again and nodded. “I didn’t think you would.”

The queen eyed them then put her goblet on the coffee table. She got up and said, “Now that I know you aren’t going to be running off to the woods, you are dismissed.”

“I’m certain if I had any inclination to do so, you would be able to find me,” Emery stated with a small smile. He wanted to let the queen know that he was aware of her coming to him last night.

Instead of acknowledging the statement, the queen walked to a door that was at the back of the sitting room. “Enjoy your watch,” the queen called out to him before she went through it.

Emery grinned and stared at the door for a second before making his way out of her chambers. He didn’t know what was going on with him and the queen. All he knew was that whatever was going on was becoming more than friendship and dangerously crossing into something that was probably going to end with him getting hurt once she got what she needed from him.

Emery walked out of the queen’s chambers and made his way back to his post. He didn’t know what to think about this new development in their relationship, but it did make him nervous and excited all at once. Emery stood up straight and stared at the stone wall that was opposite of his post. Rather than bore himself to death thinking about the crack that was in the wall, he thought about his relationship with queen and what happened to cause this shift between them.

It had been a while since Emery’s break and he was back to being bored. He had gotten something to eat then took a walk before returning to his post. He would have napped for a bit, but he knew that if he had done that he wouldn’t have gotten back up. So he stood there and stared at the crack in the wall. Another thing he had done on his break because the crack was irritating him. The young page told him that someone would be up in the morning to fix it. Emery wondered if the crack had been put there by a bored soldier who had been standing watch and need some sort of entertainment. He got lost in his thoughts about how to make watch more interesting when he heard a scream.

Emery looked around then he saw the two guards standing outside of the queen’s chambers turn their heads towards the two wooden doors that were behind them. They didn’t move. Emery couldn’t figure out why they weren’t doing anything. He assumed they would have at least gone in to see if the queen was all right. Emery flexed his jaw muscles as he tried to figure out what to do. In the end, his feelings towards the queen won out and he walked towards the doors of her chamber. One of the guards stopped him. “Where do you think you’re going?” He asked with a sneer. “You may be the queen’s pet, but no one enters her chambers without an invitation from her majesty.”

Emery scoffed and pointed at the doors. “Because of some asinine rule you’re not going to do what you were posted here to do? Which is to protect the queen in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Listen, runt, I don’t give a fuck what kind of relationship you have –” Another scream came from the queen’s chamber and Emery shoved the man aside. As he opened the door the guard said, “I’m going to be reporting this to the captain.”

“Then fucking report me,” Emery spat before he went into the queen’s chambers. He slammed the door closed then drew his sword. Emery did a visual sweep of the sitting room. He didn’t see anything out of place, which was a relief, but that meant he was going to have to check on the queen. In her room.

Emery made his way over to the door that he believed was for her bedroom. He put his hand on the door handle. There were two ways the situation could possibly end and Emery hoped it would end with queen being all right and using her magic to toss him out of her bedroom. Emery drew in a deep breath and opened the door. His eyes darted around, and other than the window being opened a crack, there was nothing else that seemed off about the room. Emery heard the queen whimpering in her sleep while she tossed and turned in bed. As he approached the bed, Emery bit the inside of his lip. His training told him to do one thing, and his feelings told him another. He didn’t know what to do. The queen started muttering in her sleep and she sounded afraid. The made the decision for Emery.

He sheathed his sword then removed it from around his waist. He then took off his armor and boots before moving closer to the edge of the bed. Emery looked down at the queen. She still fought whatever demons her subconscious was forcing her to deal with and he couldn’t watch her go through it alone. Emery eased onto the bed then he took the thrashing woman into his arms. He rubbed her back and murmured, “Easy, Regina. I’ve got you. It’s okay. It’s just a dream.”

The woman clung to the front of his shirt and he continued to rub her back. Emery didn’t think about the fact that he had called the queen by her name or that he was in her bed holding her. All he cared about was comforting the woman and making sure she was okay. It took a while for her to calm down, and when Emery felt her breathing even out he began to move away from her, but the queen tightened the hold she had on his shirt. “Please, don’t go,” she whispered in a voice that sounded small and afraid. It tore through Emery’s heart.

He tightened his hold on her and said softly, “I won’t.”

The two of them were silent for a while, and Emery was close to drifting off, when then the queen muttered, “At least you aren’t bringing offensive smells into my bed.”

Emery softly chuckled as he rubbed comforting circles on her back. “I bathed before I came on watch. Knowing that I was going to be close to you reminded me that I had to bathe or you would throw me out of a window.” As if it was something he did every night, Emery placed a soft kiss on her forehead then murmured against it, “Go to sleep, Regina.”

“You won’t leave me?” She asked. Her voice taking on that same tone that had Emery wanting to protect her from everything in world.

Emery placed another kiss on her forehead. “Never.” He continued to rub her back even as she relaxed in his arms and the telltale signs of her falling asleep could be heard in her breathing. When Emery realized that the queen had fallen asleep he soon joined her and there was a contentment that came with the moment that he never wanted to forget. But even as sleep took him, Emery knew that this was only temporary.

Emery woke up to the queen shaking him. “You need to leave.”

He stretched and rubbed his face. “All right.” Emery rubbed his eyes then looked at the queen. “How did you sleep?”

“Fine,” she replied in quick, clipped tone.

Emery noticed that she didn’t look comfortable talking about it so he moved to get out of her bed. He walked over to where his boots and armor were and as he pulled on his boots he asked, “Can you yell at me for being in your chambers? I’m going to get a ton of crap about this if you don’t.”

The queen sighed. There was a haunted look in her eyes, but Emery didn’t know if he should address it or leave alone. The woman ran her hand through her wild hair and said, “I don’t feel like it right now.” She sighed again. “Later I will publicly humiliate you.”

Emery stood up straight after tying his boots and grinned. “You promise?”

She stared at him for a second then gave a slight shake of her head. “Yes.”

Emery studied her and chewed on his bottom lip. She didn’t look or sound like herself and it worried him. “Do you want to talk about it?”

The queen wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. “No.”

Emery nodded and put on his armor. Once he had it on he watched her for a second then said, “I’m going to go.”

The Queen only nodded and he sighed as he turned to leave her room. He didn’t want to leave her to deal with whatever was going on inside of her mind, but he also wasn’t going to push her to talk about it. As he exited the queen’s chambers the guard to his left said, “The captain would like to see you at his quarters.”

Emery blew out a breath. Of course he wasn’t going to get out of this without getting in some sort of trouble. As he started to make his way from the queen’s chambers the guard on the right muttered, “Queen’s pet.”

Emery ignored the man. Things weren’t going to change in regards to how the queen treated him and he didn’t want them to change. For once, he was going to do what the queen told him to do. He left the third floor of the castle and made his way down to main floor. Emery went through the kitchen where he grabbed a muffin and an apple before he left through the door that led to the farm land for the castle. He walked to the encampment and headed right for the captain’s quarters. He was already anticipating a day of chores and building repairs.

Emery knocked on the door of the captain’s quarters and he waited for the man to answer. The door swung open and the man narrowed his eyes at him then moved out of the doorway. “Come in, Swan.”

The fact that Lancelot had invited him into his quarters wasn’t a good sign. Emery walked into the small building and the captain closed the door. He moved to stand in front of Emery. “Did you neglect your post last night?”

Emery gave a slight nod. “Yes, sir. I believed the queen was in danger.”

“Did the queen explicitly request for you to enter her chambers?” Lancelot asked as he pinned Emery down with a hard gaze.

Emery squared up his jaw. “No.”

He saw the muscles in Lancelot’s jaw bunch together then he shouted, “So you disobeyed a direct order from her majesty then?” Emery doesn’t say anything because he wasn’t sure how to answer the question. The queen had told him to stay, so he hadn’t disobeyed anything, but there was no way he could tell Lancelot that. The man shook his head and walked over to his desk. He picked up a folded piece of parchment then walked back over to Emery. “I want you to go back to the main castle. Take this letter and give this to the commandant when you report back.”

Emery stared at the letter that Lancelot was holding out for him. He glanced at the man then took it. Emery believed sending him back to the main castle for this small indiscretion was an overreaction, but he wasn’t going to question his commanding officer. “Yes, sir.”

Lancelot went to go sit behind his desk. “Go get your things. I want you gone before lunch.” Emery turned about to leave the man’s quarters when the captain said, “And Swan…” Emery looked at him. “You are not allowed to see the queen.” A concerned look came to Lancelot’s face as he continued. “I’m not certain what is going on between the two of you, but it needs to be stopped.”

Emery narrowed his eyes at the man. The only person who would be able to stop what was going on between him and the queen was the queen herself. Lancelot sighed then added, “It is for you own good, son. You’ll thank me later for intervening like I have.”

Emery was unable to bite his tongue any longer and he retorted, “With all due respect, sir, only I can decide what is for my own good.” He stormed out of the captain’s quarters. Emery couldn’t believe he was being ordered to go back to the main castle because the captain thought he knew what was best for him. Emery scoffed. The man didn’t know a damn thing, but he was going to follow orders.

Chapter Text

The moment Emery reported to the commandant he knew that his punishment was going to be a vicious one, however what he didn’t expect was for it to be this brutal. He and another recruit were in the enclosed area that was used for demonstrations and tournaments, and they were engaged in an intense swordfight. The commandant had sent every available recruit to fight Emery over the last two hours. When he bested one another was already taking their place. Emery had several superficial cuts on his arms; a deep cut on the back of his right thigh; and bruises marred his back from being hit with the pommel of several swords. Pain coursed through him but he pushed it to the back of his mind. The commandant showed no signs of easing up on this form of relentless punishment, and even though Emery was tired he stood strong.

His current opponent was a good swordsman who had him on the defensive. The other man’s blade struck against Emery’s as he blocked an oncoming swing, but at the same time Emery lost his footing, giving the other man the opportunity to land a hit. The razor sharp blade of the other recruit’s sword sliced Emery’s forearm. Emery dropped his sword and grit his teeth as the pain consumed him, but he didn’t scream. He refused to give the commandant that satisfaction. The commandant stopped the other recruit from advancing. “Can you hold a sword, runt?”

Emery moved his injured arm around and even though it was beyond painful it seemed to function fine. He picked up his sword, tested its weight in his injured hand then moved it around. He nodded at the commandant. The man stepped back and shouted, “Advance.”

Emery and the other recruit traded blows that aggravated his injured arm and blood dripped down and up his arm, but he ignored the pain and managed to get the upper hand. Emery swung his sword with such quick precision that his movements confused the other recruit and he couldn’t get a good read on what his next move would be. Emery saw an opening and advanced on the other recruit before driving his sword into his side. They weren’t wearing armor because the commandant was trying to prove to Emery that he was as dispensable as the other recruits, but it was proving the opposite. Emery was a better soldier than the man anticipated. Before his adrenaline drove him to kill the other man, two other recruits stopped Emery. He broke away from them and turned slowly to take in the circle of onlookers and challengers. “Who’s next?” Emery shouted. No one moved and a stillness settled upon the area. Adrenaline continued to rush through Emery’s veins. “Is there no one willing to face me?”

Emery turned once more, waiting for someone to come forward and challenge him, but none of the recruits did. With no one willing to confront him, Emery set his sights on the commandant. He stared him down. Anger began to mix with his adrenaline. “You have had a problem with me since the queen started to show an interest in me.” A smug grin slowly appeared on Emery’s face. “It isn’t my fault she sees something in me that you fail to see.” He stalked over to the commandant and said in a low voice, “She knows that I will be the best soldier in her army.”

The commandant looked down at him and warned, “You do not want to go down this road, boy.”

Emery scoffed. He did want to go down this road. If the commandant was trying to kill him, he wanted to die by his hand and not by some barely trained recruit. “We’ve been going down this road for awhile now, sir.” He brought the tip of his sword up to the commandant’s throat. “You have dreamed of this day,” Emery stated loud enough for the man in front of him to hear. “It’s just you and I. No queen.”

The commandant continued to stare down at him. He shoved Emery away then pulled out his sword and pointed it at him. “Today is the day you die.”

Emery wasn’t able to prepare for the commandant’s initial strike, but he managed to block the blow that would have no doubt taken his arm off. He knees buckled under the force of hit. He took a second to adjust his stance and the commandant growled. “I should have killed you the night we discovered the truth about you.” A sadistic grin came to his face. “Better late than never. I will rid the queen of this abomination.”

Emery mustered all the strength he could and shoved the commandant away. Again, the man advanced on him faster than he could recover. The fight was no longer about how worthy of a solider he was; Emery was now fighting for his life. The commandant came at him again and again and all Emery could do was block the strikes that were meant to kill. For a brief moment Emery and the other man exchanged blows, Emery had even gotten the up hand for a few seconds, but the commandant managed to take it away from him. The man used his height and brute strength against him and Emery hoped he would be able to tire him out. However, as minutes went by and the fight continued, Emery realized that his plan only tired him out. It had no effect on the commandant and that proved to be his folly.

Unable to block a swing that was meant to eviscerate him, Emery jumped back to avoid the murderous strike, but the tip of the blade sliced through his abdomen leaving behind a deep flesh wound. A bark of laughter came from the commandant and his mouth formed into a sinister smile as he looked at Emery. “It is going to bring me such joy to kill you.”

Emery used his anger to get more adrenaline to pump through his body then lunged at the commandant. The timing of the attack wasn’t in his favor and the commandant stepped to the side to avoid his sword. The move gave him the advantage to deliver a hard blow to the back of Emery’s head as he rushed by him. Emery fell to the ground and his sword flew from his hand. He heard bones crack when a boot connected with his side and lifted him into the air. Emery landed hard on the ground, a cut formed on his eyebrow. The commandant used the toe of his boot to roll him onto his back. Blood started to seep into Emery’s eyes and his vision blurred while the world spun around him. He could to make out the grin that was on commandant’s face as he stood over him. The man raised his sword and said in a low voice, “Enjoy your death, girl.” Emery closed his eyes. In the same thought he thanked and apologized to the queen and made his peace. He waited for the blade to run through him, but it never came.

Emery cracked open one of his eyes then opened them fully. The commandant’s sword was suspended in midair then his body was thrown from Emery’s sight. He let out a relieved breath when the queen demanded, “Commandant Mendez, what exactly is going on here?”

A weak smiled came to Emery’s face as the commandant stammered to answer the queen. “Th-This-This recruit is being punished for disobeying an order.”

“And what order has he broken?”

Emery closed his eyes as he listened to the commandant’s response. “He broke a direct order from her majesty.”

“And what direct order of mine has he broken?” The queen inquired with a slight bite to her words. Emery would have chuckled if he wasn’t so weak. She knew exactly what rule he had broken, but she was playing with the commandant to see if he was a stupid enough to say it out loud.

The commandant cleared his throat then said, “He was in forbidden areas of the castle without your consent.”

The tone in which the queen spoke next was polite and unnerving, and Emery imagined the hesitation that was on the commandant’s face. “And what forbidden areas of the castle was he in?” Emery smirked because he could hear underlying dare in her question. The queen enjoyed toying with the commandant, and had he not been injured Emery would have been amused by it. The commandant had yet to answer the question and the queen shouted, “Answer the question or you can spend the rest of your insipid life down in the dungeons.”

“He was…” The commandant paused then cleared his throat. “He was in your chambers, your majesty,” he answered with some reluctance.

The queen scoffed. “He was there on my orders, and had you used the few brain cells you have to come ask me, I would have been able to clarify that. However, you and I know there is more to this story – and I will deal with it accordingly, but you will be spending some time in dungeon until I figure out how to deal with you.”

There was silence for a moment then the queen ordered, “All of you will go find something better to do or I will do unspeakable things to each and every one of you.”

Emery smiled weakly when numerous sets of feet ran away from the demonstration ring. He then heard the queen walking towards him. He opened his eyes a little and saw her standing over him. There was an exasperated look on her face, but there was also worry in her eyes. She sighed. “You idiot man.”

Emery tried to smile, but failed. “You came for me,” he said using most of the strength he had.

“Yes and we will talk about that when you are better,” she remarked, feigning to be upset with him.

Emery couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, but as he started to lose consciousness he mumbled, “Not mad at me.” Then the world went black.

Emery’s head throbbed as he regained consciousness. He grimaced and kept his eyes shut as he tried to sit up. The slight movement caused a wave of nausea to go through him. He lay back down and groaned. The soft, dulcet sound of the queen’s voice made him relax even more. “Don’t try to move. What do you want?”

Emery slowly brought his hand up to his head and groaned. “Can you make the two ogres in my head stop fighting?”

The queen chuckled. Emery took a chance and cracked one of his eyes open to see the smile on her face. The risk had been well worth it. It was a small smile that was full of fondness and it made Emery’s heart flutter. She sat in an arm chair that had been pulled close to the bed and there was a book resting on her lap. He opened his eyes fully and swallowed to moisten his dry throat. “Have you been here the whole time?”

The smile remained on her face as she replied, “No. I am queen after all, but I did check on you as often as I could.” She paused and the smile disappeared. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to wake up,” she admitted in a soft voice.

Emery’s eyebrows furrowed, but he relaxed his face when it aggravated the ogres in his head. He sighed. “How long was I out for?”

“A day and a half.”

“A day and a half?” Emery exclaimed as he sat up in the bed. He instantly regretted the movement and his body revolted. He became nauseous and started to dry heave, but since he hadn’t eaten in a while there was nothing for him to throw up. The pounding in his head intensified.

The queen gently pushed him back on the bed and said, “Don’t be stupid. Lie down.” Emery rested back and closed his eyes. He felt a cool, moist cloth mop his brow as she explained his injuries to him. “Emery you were close to dying. The injury on her abdomen was deep and bleeding profusely. Several of your ribs were broken. You were bleeding from a massive injury on the back of your head.” The queen stopped and Emery heard her draw in a deep breath before she continued. “You hadn’t woken up after I healed you. I had the castle physician examine you and he believes the blow to your head caused an injury to your brain which caused you not to wake up. I didn’t try to heal it because I didn’t know how the magic would affect your brain.” She stopped dabbing the cloth on his forehead and sighed.

Emery opened his eyes and gave her a weak smile. “But I’m awake now.” He took hold of her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Regina. I would have most likely died had you not come.”

The two of them share an emotion filled gaze that said so much, but it was also too much for the both of them. The queen cleared her throat then said, “Regina?”

Emery felt his cheeks warm up as he explained, “I thought it would be okay since no one else is around.”

She moved to place the cloth in the small bowl that was on the table next to the bed. “In private you can, but if you say it anywhere else I will have your tongue for it.” Emery chuckled a little and pulled up the blanket. He then realized that he was topless. He lifted the thick blanket that covered him. He was completely topless and only had his undershorts on. Emery looked at Regina, eyes wide with shock, and she said, “I had to remove your shirt and bindings to get to the wound on your abdomen, and I removed your pants to get to the one on your thigh.” Emery was okay with Regina seeing him topless – he couldn’t even think about her seeing him without pants - but it was anyone else that may have seen him that made him uneasy. Regina must have seen the distress on his face because she added, “Anytime anyone was in my chambers you have been properly covered.”

Emery relaxed a little, but he was still anxious about being exposed while unconcious. He chuckled a little and joked, “Being in your chambers is what got me in this trouble to begin with.”

Regina sat down on the edge of the bed and took his hand. “Emery, had I known the trouble you would have been in I wouldn’t have asked you to stay. Or I would have gone to Lancelot to prevent this.”

Emery tried to be as direct as possible since he wasn’t in a good position to defend himself, but he was going to try. “My queen, Regina, I don’t regret what I did. I will do it again if necessary. I took an oath to protect you from any force that threatens you. Whether it is an external or internal one, I will be there to protect you from it.”

Regina stared at him a second longer then averted her eyes. She gazed down at their hands then looked Emery in the eyes. “Thank you.”

Emery smiled in response and the two of them shared a silence that was uneasy, but also comfortable. Regina released his hand then rose from the bed. “I’m going to have a bath drawn for you and have fresh linens put on the bed.”  She smirked at him. “Having your filthy ass in my bed has driven me to sleep on my own couch.” Emery wanted to chuckle but he was too exhausted to do so. She placed a hand on his shoulder and murmured, “Rest, Emery.”

Hearing her say his name made Emery’s heart thunder in his chest and all he could do was nod at the gentle demand. Emery watched her leave the room and there was a faint smile on his face. Being under the queen’s care gave him a warm, fuzzy feeling and it added to the ones he already felt for her. He never wanted to leave the little protective bubble that they were in, but he knew it would end once he was back to himself.

Emery’s bath never happened since he slept the rest of the day away, but he did have one before he and the queen shared a late dinner. Regina had helped him to the table because she refused to let him eat in her bed. Emery argued that he was still recovering from his injuries, but she still refused. When they sat down at the table Regina warned him to go slow, and Emery did with the soup, but now he had something in his stomach and was ready to devour everything in front of him.

Emery bit into the leg of some roasted meat and moaned. It was the most delicious thing he had ever eaten, but then again he hadn’t eaten in almost two days. Regina sat across from him eating her food in a more reserved manner and after she finished her bit she remarked, “You eat like a slob. We’ll have to work on your table manners before I can take you anywhere.”

Emery took a long drink from his goblet of water and as he set down the cup he belched. Regina shot him a glare that would have killed him if she actually put any malicious intent behind it. A sheepish smile came to his face and Emery apologized. “Sorry, my queen.” He grinned and said, “I mean what do you expect? I’ve been living with hordes of disgusting men, who come from various parts of your kingdom, and they don’t have the best manners.” He shrugged and picked up the leg that he had been eating. “Did you really expect me to have table manner?”

Regina wiped her mouth. “Remind me to talk to the lieutenant and tell him that table etiquette will be now be a part of the training program.”

Emery chuckled and took a drink of his water. He set the goblet down and remarked, “Good luck with that.” He took a bite of the leg that was in his hand then asked, with his mouthful, “Can I ask you a question?”

Regina narrowed her eyes at at him. “You can if you don’t choke on your food. Or if I don’t’ choke you first for your lack of decorum.”

Emery rolled his eyes and chewed up the bite that was in his mouth then he wondered, “What did you do with the commandant?”

Regina took a dainty bite of the food that was on her plate and after she ate it she took a drink of her wine. She set the goblet down and said, “I can let you know that he will not be returning to his post. Not after the way he treated you.”

Emery pressed his lips together then asked, “Did you kill him?”

Regina at more of her dinner then stated, “I’ll be heading back to the north castle once I know you’re okay, but you’re going to stay here to finish your training with the archers.”

Emery took the change of topic for what it was – she wasn’t going to answer it. He nodded. “Yes, my queen. I will continue my training tomorrow.” Another glare was directed towards him and Emery backtracked. “Right, still recovering from almost being murdered. I guess I’ll wait a day or two.”

A false smile appeared on Regina’s face. “That sounds like a splendid idea.” A true smile formed and she added, “If you are feeling better then we can go for a ride after I hold court tomorrow.”

Emery grinned. “Then I will be the best invalid that you have ever taken care of.”

Regina chuckled. “You are the only invalid I have ever taken care of.”

Emery picked up his roll. “You are doing quite well at it, your majesty.” He really meant it. Being an invalid was going to drive him crazy, but he wasn’t going to do anything that would cause Regina to worry. The two of them shared a smile then went back to eating their dinner.

After he finished eating Emery realized how exhausted he was. He thought he was going to fall asleep at the table. He yawned and Regina said, “Go to the bedroom. I’m going to get a page in here to clean up then I’ll join you.”

Emery stared at her for a moment, blinked, then asked, “You want me to go to your room?”

Regina gave him a curious look. “Yes? Where else would you go?”

Emery opened his mouth then closed it. “I’m not certain, my queen.”

She chuckled. “You’re still not yourself, so I want to keep an eye on you.” Regina stood up and gave him a half-hearted order, “Go to bed, Emery. I’ll join you momentarily.”

A stupid smile came to Emery’s face. He would do whatever she said as long as Regina continued to say his name in the affectionate manner that she had given the order in. He got up and started to bow, but became dizzy and had to grab hold of the edge of the table. Emery grimaced and brought his hand to his head. “I was going to bow and be a respectful soldier, but it is obvious that I am not up for that.”

Regina walked over to him. She rested her hand on his back. “Until you are better you are not allowed to do any bowing.”

Emery was hyperaware of where her hand was. He swallowed then replied, “Yes, your majesty.”

She kept her hand on his back as she said, “Go lay down.”

Emery smiled at Regina then headed for her bedroom. He walked over to the side of the bed that he had been sleeping on the last few days. He picked up a book that was on the side table and started reading it. A few minutes later Regina came into the room carrying a goblet. She walked over to Emery and held it out for him to take. “Drink this.”

Emery took the goblet and Regina headed for the washroom that was attached to the room. “What’s in this?” She walked into the washroom and closed the door behind her. He sniffed the water that was in the goblet. It didn’t smell weird so he drunk it. There was a weird bitter taste to it, but it wasn’t that bad. He finished it off then went back to reading his book.

Regina came out of the washroom and Emery glanced up - not really taking her in - then went back to his book. His brain told him to that he should look at her again, so he did. Emery lifted his eyes and they widened a little when he saw that Regina was wearing the silk black robe again. He watched her as she walked over to her vanity that was on the far side of the room. Feeling guilty for gawking at the queen Emery glanced down at his book, but the need to look at her one more time had him disregarding it again. Regina had taken off her robe and was rubbing some cream on her arms. Emery watched her completely enraptured by how beautiful she was. When she was done with putting the cream on her arms Regina moved on to brushing her hair. The desire to run his fingers through the thick dark locks went through Emery and he bit hit bottom lip as his thoughts turned to more lustful ones. “That must not be an intriguing book,” the queen remarked as she looked at Emery in the mirror.

Heat rushed to Emery’s cheeks and he looked down at the open book on his lap. “It’s interesting enough,” he mumbled loud enough. Emery lost the war of keeping his eyes on the book and looked back up at Regina. She continued to look at him in the mirror, but there was a devious smile on her face. Emery went back to his book, but he wasn’t able to fully focus on it since he was highly aware of the queen’s presence. When she was done getting ready for bed Regina came over to the bed and got in on the other side. She organized her pillows and said, “I’m going to go to sleep, but you can still read.”

Emery closed his book and placed it on the side table. “I’m getting sleepy anyway, so I think I’ll call it a night too.”

They both got comfortable and the candles that were lighting room were extinguished, but the fire in the fireplace casted an orange glow over everything. Emery rolled his head and looked at Regina’s back then back at the ceiling. There was a massive chasm that was between them in the oversized bed. Emery sighed. He was acutely aware of the fact that he was sharing the queen’s bed with her. He wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep. Emery cleared his throat then said, “Regina, I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me the last few days.”

The woman was quiet, but then Emery heard her sigh. “I refuse to have the blood of the White kingdom’s prince on my army’s hands.”

Emery rolled his eyes, but he wanted to thank her. “I know, you have your reasons for doing it, but I wanted to thank you. It means a lot to me.”

Regina was quiet for a long moment and Emery thought she had fallen asleep so he pulled the covers up to his chin. “Go to sleep, Emery.”

Emery grinned. “Goodnight, your majesty.”

Regina mumbled her goodnight and the two of them fell silent. Emery thought going to sleep was going to be difficult, but the moment he relaxed into the comfortable bed sleep took him quickly. As he dozed off he wondered if Regina had slipped something into his drink, but he wasn’t able to develop the thought fully.

Emery woke up when he felt a sharp kick to his thigh. He sat up quickly, and his head and body protested the movement, but his instincts told him to protect the queen. Luckily there was no one trying to get to Regina. She was having another bad dream and ended up kicking him because she was tossing and turning. Emery scooted closer and took her in his arms, the same way he did a few nights ago, and held her close to him. He rubbed her back and whispered, “It’s okay, Regina. I’ve got you and nothing is going to hurt you.”

It took her a moment, but eventually the woman calmed down. Emery continued to hold Regina as he comforted her. He didn’t go back to sleep but eventually her breathing evened out and it sounded like she had fallen back to sleep. Emery pulled back to make sure. In the glow that came from the fire that was still going her brown eyes met his green ones. The vulnerable look in them pulled as his heart and he brushed back a lock of hair that was in her face. Regina traced his jaw with a feather like touch then leaned in to kiss him. The kiss was tender, but full of enough emotion that the beating of Emery’s heart sped up. She quickly pulled back and murmured, “I’m sorry –“

Emery placed a finger on her lips. “It’s okay,” he whispered.

They gazed at each other for a moment then apprehension began to shine in Regina’s eyes. “Can you hold me until I go back to sleep?” She asked in a soft voice. Emery didn’t give the question a second thought as he held the queen tighter and held her closer to him. He placed a soft kiss in her hair and rubbed soothing circles on her back. The movement lulled them both into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

Emery woke the next morning to find that the queen wasn’t in bed with him. He stared at her side then rolled onto his back to look up at the ceiling of the room. The queen had kissed him. Regina had kissed him, and it hadn’t been something he had dreamed up or imagined. Several times during the night he had woken up and thought about it. Emery brought his fingers to his lips and for a moment – a brief, brief moment – he thought he could feel Regina’s lips on his. Emery dropped his hand and sighed. He couldn’t get lost fanciful thoughts. They would do more harm than good.

Regina hadn’t kissed him because she felt some sort of attraction towards him. The vulnerable emotions her nightmares had stirred up had been the reason why she kissed Emery. That was the cold, hard truth. The queen didn’t feel any actual affection towards him. Emery drew in a deep breath then released it. His stomach growled and Emery frowned. He was going to have to get up and find food. Emery sat up and his body objected to the movement. Even though Regina had healed his wounds his bodily wounds, it still needed to recover from the beating he had taken. He did fight ten other recruits before taking on the commandant.

Emery saw the clean pile of clothes that was on the chair next to the bed and smirked. He took his time getting off the bed, and the moment he stood the room began to spin. He sat down on the edge of the bed, cradled his now throbbing head in his hands, and drew in deep breaths. He hoped the flow of oxygen would stop the room from spinning. It took awhile, but eventually it did. He tried standing again, and even though the room didn’t spin, he was a little unsteady on his feet. He reached the pile of clothes and started to get dressed.

Getting dressed had been a challenge in and of itself, and by the time Emery finished exhaustion had taken hold of him. He didn’t even bother with his bindings, he just put on the loose linen shirt and hoped for a quick death. He sat on the bed then laid back on it. He hated feeling weak and feeble. Not for the first time, Emery called himself an idiot for going against the commandant. Not only was the man taller and bigger than him, he also had more experience. Idiot didn’t fully convey Emery’s stupidity for challenging the commandant. He was a jackass.

 Still mentally berating himself, Emery’s thoughts were interrupted when the queen walked in carrying a goblet. “Even if you are injured, it doesn’t mean you get to lie around like a lazy oaf.” Emery wasn’t in the mood for her sarcasm and he put up his middle finger. “Charming.” Regina walked over to where he was lying and nudged his leg with her knee. “Take this and drink it.”

He eyed the goblet and asked, “Is this the same thing you gave me last night?”

“Possibly,” Regina remarked in a dry tone.

“What’s in it?”

Regina smirked. “If I told you, then you wouldn’t drink it.”

Emery scowled at her and said, “That doesn’t make me more inclined to drink it.”

Regina released an exasperated breath. “Emery, take the goblet and drink it.” A sly grin came to her face. “It’ll make the two ogres in your head stop fighting.” She was using his pain against him and that wasn’t fair.

Emery scowled at her for a second longer then sat up and took the goblet. He took a sip from it. The drink didn’t taste bad, but there was an underlying weird taste to it. “This tastes weird.”

Regina brushed his hair out of his face and chuckled. “It’s going to because of the medication that’s in it.” She sighed. “You need to get back in bed. It’s obvious you’re not up for moving today.”

Emery took another drink from the goblet and ignored the caring touches he was receiving from the woman. He held up the goblet and said, “We just need to wait for this to kick in. Once it does I’ll be ready to go pick a fight with Lancelot.”

“That’s not funny,” Regina said in a firm tone. She shook her head and added, “When that kicks in, it will render you unconscious.”

Emery glared at her. “You’re trying to kill me aren’t you?”

Regina rolled her eyes and remarked in a dry tone, “Yes, I’m trying to kill you while you’re in my bed.” She gave him a pointed look. “Don’t be an idiot. The powder in the drink is going to make you sleepy.”

Emery finished off the drink and remarked, “I think I passed idiot a long while ago.” He put the goblet on the night table then looked at Regina with a slight pout on his face. “I want something to eat.”

Regina scoffed. “Don’t whine. It’s very unbecoming for a prince.”

Emery grunted then countered, “I’m not a prince. Not only do my parents probably think I’m dead, but they definitely wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that I am a man.”

Regina moved to pull back the thick blankets that were on the bed and said, “Those are minor details and regardless of them, you are still a prince. Get in bed.” Emery sighed and moved to lie down. “We’re not going riding today since you’re not up for regular activity. I’m also keeping you from training another day.”

Emery wanted to pout, but Regina was currently tucking him into bed and he couldn’t find the energy to be bothered by it. “Yes, my queen.”

“I meant to tell you that one of your urchin friends had the gall to ask me about you.” Emery chuckled at the affronted expression on her face. She scowled. “I am queen, Emery. The fact that he approached me means I’m clearly losing my edge.”

“If it was Graham, or Neal, it makes sense. They’re worried. You can’t blame them,” Emery said with a small smile. “The three of us are best friends. What did you tell them?”

Regina hummed then remarked, “Be that as it may, you don’t approach the queen and ask about things that don’t concern you.”

Emery chuckled then grinned. “It was Neal. Surprised he didn’t ask for proof that I was alive.”

“Considering I was close to having him thrown in the stockade for approaching me, he was smart enough not to ask such a thing,” Regina pointed out as she picked up the goblet that was on the night table. “But I did tell him that you were okay and that you would be back in training in a day or two.”

Emery chuckled and teased her, “I know you want to be the mean, evil queen, but you’re anything but that.” He grinned. “You like a soft stuffed animal.”

Regina glared at him. “You are lucky I don’t have you thrown in the stockade.” She straightened out the blankets that covered him. “I’ll have soup and bread brought up to you, but the medication should be kicking in soon.” Emery got a playful pout on his face, but it vanished when he yawned. Regina bent down and gave his cheek a quick peck before she whispered, “Rest, Emery.”

Like always, the velvet tones of Regina’s voice turned him into putty in her hands and the kiss to his cheek made him more compliant. He hummed and said, “Yes, my queen.” Emery closed his eyes and was surprised by how quickly he drifted off. Even though she wasn’t trying to kill him, Regina was definitely trying to make sure he wasn’t awake for a majority of his healing.

“What exactly are you doing at the north castle?” Emery asked before he took a bite of the food that was in front of him. He and Regina were having a late lunch since he slept the morning and early afternoon away. Regina had woke him up to eat, if she hadn’t he would have slept the whole day away.

While she ate Regina read over a piece of parchment between bites. She glanced up at Emery and there was an incredulous look on her face. “Are you kidding right now?” Emery raised his eyebrow and slowly shook his head. She sighed then mumbled, “I blame your moronic parents for you lack of brain cells.” Emery scowled as she set down the parchment. He could tell by the expression on her face that she was annoyed with the question, but he wanted to know. “Since the blow to your head has made you forget, I will remind you. I am currently in the middle of a ten year war with your parents.”

Emery narrowed his eyes. “I know that, your majesty. What I want to know, is why are you at the north castle while you’re in the middle of this war?” He scoffed. “There is no reason for you to be there when your enemy is a four-day ride to the west.”

The queen picked up the piece of parchment and stated in a nonchalant tone, “I know where my enemies are, Swan. I’m quite aware of them.”

Emery decided not to ask any more questions about what she was doing in the north castle. It was clear Regina wasn’t going to tell him anything - a fact that further irritated him and not because of the queen herself. Emery’s irritation stemmed from him being under the impression that things had changed between them. He finished his meal then got up and went over to the bowl of apples that were on the table by the double doors that led to the balcony. After getting one headed to the couch and plopped down on it. Emery pulled out the knife that was in his boot.

He began to peel the apple as he got lost in thoughts about what he was going to do tomorrow. Regina said he looked tremendously better after getting more rest so he was going to report back to training tomorrow. Emery felt a lot better too, but he also knew some of the medicine still floated around in his system. Either way he couldn’t wait to get back to training. Regina got up from the small dining table and made her way to the sitting room. Emery didn’t look up from the apple as she sat down on the other end of the couch. “I have something I need to talk to you about.”

As he got nervous Emery focused harder on the apple in his hand, but his mind began to run through the possible topics Regina wanted to talk about. He drew in a deep breath then said, “Now you want to talk to me?” Emery tried not to sound bitter about their previous discussion, but it upset him that she wasn’t going to give him the slightest information about what she was doing in the north castle.

He heard Regina take a deep breath. “In due time you will find out what I am doing in the north castle, until then we’re not talking about it. Understood?” Emery grunted. She took hold of his chin and made him look her in the eye. “Understood, Swan?”

Emery jerked his chin out of her hold and retorted, “Yes, your majesty, I understand.”

The piercing gaze that cut into him added fuel to Emery’s indignation. Regina rolled her eyes as she remarked, “You act like a child sometimes.” She sighed. “This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Then what do you want to talk about, your majesty?” Emery didn’t hide the irritation in his voice. He honestly wished she would go away so he could sulk in peace.

When the Regina spoke next, she was every bit the queen and not a trace of the woman existed. There was no subtle tenderness in her voice. Only an authority that reminded Emery that outside of her chambers he was nothing but a disposable soldier and chess piece in the war she was currently engaged in. “The council has recommended that I try peace talks with your home kingdom again. I told them that I would take it under advisement, but I’m not certain I’m ready to reveal that you are alive and well to your parents and that you have sworn your allegiance to me.”

Emery stared at Regina. The calculated tone of her voice added to his anger, but it wasn’t directed at her. He had known Regina’s motives for awhile now, but like a fool, he still developed feelings for her. It was those feelings that angered him the most. Emery scoffed and shook his head as he muttered under his breath, “I really am a fucking idiot.”

“No input?” Regina asked.

Emery grunted then retorted, “It doesn’t matter what I say or think. You’re the queen, and you’re going to do whatever you want. So no, your majesty, I don’t have any input.”

A tense silence filled the room, but it was broken when Regina snapped, “You are correct. I am queen and I will do what I want.” She got up and made her way out of the sitting area. As Regina headed for the chamber doors she said over her shoulder, “You are to stay in my chambers and rest for the remainder of the day.”

Emery wanted to make an obscene gesture towards her but didn’t because it would piss her off, and with him already in a foul mood, it wouldn’t do either of them any good. He listened as the chamber doors opened then closed. Emery got up and headed to the doors that led to the balcony. He opened them and went out on the balcony, walking over to the stone rail that enclosed it. Emery looked down. The drop was a long one and would result in him breaking both of his legs if he jumped off of the balcony. He thought about using sheets, but there weren’t enough in the room. For a quick second Emery thought about using the queen’s dresses to help him escape, but that was his spite talking. Emery let out a frustrated breath. He just wanted to go for a walk to clear his head. Emery went back into the sitting room and closed the doors behind him. He made a beeline to the main doors of the chamber and once he opened them the guard on the right turned to face the doors, an amused smirk playing on his face. “We’re really going to do this, Swan?”

Emery scowled at the man then shut the doors in his face. He hated the guards, but was happy they had stopped calling him the queen’s pet. Emery stalked over to the door that led to the queen’s bedroom. He searched the room looking for something - a long sheet, a secret passageway, anything – that would help him leave the queen’s chambers. Emery was rummaging through her vanity drawers, not sure of what he was looking for, when he noticed a folded piece of parchment buried under various trinkets and jewels that were in it. Emery’s curiosity piqued. He pulled it out and unfolded it. As soon as he read the opening line, Emery cursed his curiosity.

The letter was dated a little after the war had started and the opening line read, “My dearest Regina….” Emery swallowed hard as he continued to read. Reading the letter that had been written by a knight that had been madly in love with Regina, felt like an intrusion, but Emery couldn’t stop reading it. He read it several times then studied the parchment in his hands. Tear stains marred some of the words that were on the page and his heart began to hurt for the woman he was currently upset with. Emery slowly let out a deep breath and folded up the parchment. He put it back where he found it then walked out of the bedroom. Emery went back into the sitting room and sat down on the couch. He stared at the fire that burned in the fireplace in front of him. It would take him most of the night to process what he had read, what he was feeling, and most of all his perception of Regina.

Emery knew it was late, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He had tried going to sleep, but his mind filled with thoughts and dreams of the queen and the mysterious knight that had written the letter. He wondered what happened to the man and if Regina was still was in love with him. The letter held so much promise - as if the writer had every intention of coming back and giving Regina the happy ever after that had been promised in it. However, something prevented that. Emery sighed. He wondered if what had happened to the knight played a part in Regina being a harsh ruler, and why she fought demons when she slept. Emery’s heart hurt for the woman, and he had no idea if she would welcome the compassion he had for her. Emery had never known love, and had never lost it, but he imagined recovering from heartbreak would be hard and not something one would recover completely from.

Emery watched the fire dance in the fireplace as he thought about Regina. He hadn’t been able to ask her about the letter because she rushed off to the north castle before dinner. Emery probably wouldn’t have brought up the letter anyway. He didn’t want to make her relive and open old wounds to satisfy his curiosity. If she wanted to talk to him about it one day in the future he would listen, keep his mouth shut, and most regrettably, leave his heart open for her. Emery propped his feet up on the coffee table and sighed. He cared too much about the queen already, but learning this about her, made him care even more about her.

Emery’s mind wandered from thought to thought and soon he was buried underneath them. It wasn’t until Regina called his name did he realize that she was in the room with him. He looked at her. She was wearing tight black pants, leather boots, a long leather overcoat, and underneath that was a plum blouse that had first couple buttons undone. Her hair was pulled back into a severe ponytail and it seemed like she was ready to go to battle and worry about the consequences later. It brought a small smile to Emery’s face. Regina walked closer to the couch then bent down next to him. She placed a tentative hand on his thigh. “What are you doing up? Are you in pain?”

Emery shook his head and gave her a faint smile. “No, my queen.”

She moved to sit on the edge of the couch next to him and took hold of his hand. “Then what are you doing up?”

Emery studied her for a moment then replied, “I couldn’t sleep.”

The concern on her face caused a pit of emotion to form in Emery’s chest and he had to take several deep breaths to get from under the weight of it. “Is there anything you need that will help you sleep? Warm milk perhaps?”

Emery smiled then chuckled softly. “No thank you.” He sighed and kept looking at her. In the soft glow emanating from the fireplace the woman looked stunning, even in her intense attire, and it made him feel privileged to be able to see this side of her. Emery swallowed to moisten his dry throat then he reached out to gently cup her cheek. He caressed the pad of his thumb across her cheek bone. Her soft skin felt amazing under his toughened skin. Regina’s eyes fluttered closed and she covered his hands with her own. The two of them were silent, reveling in the delicate contact between them, Emery broke the quiet. “What’s going on between us, Regina?” He asked in a hushed voice.

The woman opened her eyes and Emery saw vulnerability shining in them. An emotion he only witnessed when he comforted her from the nightmares that terrorized her. Emery moved closer towards Regina and gave her an arm a gentle tug, a sign for her to come close so that he could hold her, and she did. As he held her neither of them said a thing and Emery was okay with that. He was content to sit in silence, holding Regina, and being whatever they were until the fire died out. A deep sigh came from Regina then she said in a soft voice, “I think I might be developing feelings for you, Emery.”

Emery stopped breathing for a split-second, but then continued. He waited a few seconds then asked, “You might be?”

Regina nodded. “Yes. Between all that’s happened to between us, I’ve come to have a slight fondness for you.” There was a long pause before she admitted, “I’m trying to stop it.”

Emery insecurities rose to the surface. “Is it because of who I am?”

Regina let out a short scoff. “Just because you are the child of two dimwits doesn’t mean anything. In fact, if I knew it wouldn’t cause a political uprising I would ride into the White kingdom tomorrow and the two of us would do lascivious acts while on the back of a horse.”

For a moment Emery’s mind wandered to the type of lascivious acts she had in mind, but he shook his head to prevent himself from getting distracted. He smiled and remarked, “Don’t sound too happy about that, or I’ll start wondering if you might want to do it.” The two of them shared a chuckle then Emery sighed. He didn’t want to talk about it, but he had to know because it was beneficial for them both. “I wasn’t talking about my parents, Regina. I was talking about me.” Emery bit the inside of his lip then added, apprehensive to do so, “Is it because of my outward appearance?” Regina sat up and looked at him. Her expressive brown eyes held nothing but confusion. Emery let out a frustrated breath before he blurted, “My body, is it because of that? I would understand because it isn’t complete –“

Regina pressed a finger to his lips and said, “I’m going to stop you before your fool mouth causes you to get into trouble and I will make you spend the night in the dungeon.” She removed her finger from his mouth then stated, “Your body has no bearing on how I feel about you. What does is your heart. You are loyal, kind, funny, and a gentleman when you’re not eating. You are in every since of the word, a prince.” She sighed and broke their gaze and looked down at their hands as she admitted in a quiet voice, “What’s stopping me is fear.” Regina looked back into Emery’s eyes. “The fear of falling for someone again.”

Emery held his tongue even though he wanted to blurt out the name of the knight that had written Regina the letter. She was feeling a lot right now and he didn’t want to add more to it. Instead he leaned in and pressed his lips gently to hers. He let it linger and when he pulled back her eyes remained closed as he murmured, “Whatever you want, my queen, I will be happy with.”

Regina slowly opened her eyes and stared at Emery. “Thank you.” She gave him another delicate kiss then moved away, a small smile playing on her lips. “You need to go to bed Emery and so do I.”

Emery returned the smile with one of his own. “I will go to bed only if you agree to come with me.” The queen nodded and the two of them got up and made their way to her bedroom. Emery climbed into bed and waited for her to get ready for bed. When Regina was just Regina, and not the queen, she climbed into bed with him then extinguished everything but the fireplace with her magic. Emery held her close to him and the two of them fell into a peaceful sleep, content with the conversation they just had.

Chapter Text

Graham came towards Emery with his sword raised, ready to strike. At the same time Neal also advanced on him. He blocked both of their oncoming swings then focused on Graham. He knew the man would get the upper hand if he continued to let him stand, but while he focused on trying to disengage Graham he still had to block Neal’s oncoming blows. Eventually Neal started to annoy Emery like a pesky fruit fly so he blocked Graham’s strike and shoved him away. He engaged Neal in a quick fight that involved two precise blows before he kicked his feet from under him. He turned his attention to Graham and the two of them fought an intense fight that lasted several minutes before Emery managed to knock Graham’s sword from his hand. He pointed his blade at the other man’s neck. “Surrender?”

Graham stared at him then began to chuckle. He knocked Emery’s sword away. “Ay, I surrender.” He shook his head and walked away from Emery. He retrieved his sword and said, “You take on the commandant and all of a sudden you think you can take on the damn world.”

Emery sheathed his sword and let out a tired chuckle. He didn’t feel like he could take on the damn world. In fact he felt like the world was sitting on top of him and trying to kill him. He drew in a deep breath and stretched. “I did a piss poor job against the commandant.” He went through several defensive and offensive hand to hand movements. “I need to train harder because I can’t be taken off guard like that again.” He sighed and shook his head. “It made me feel weak and I didn’t like it. I still don’t.”

Neal scoffed and countered, “You went up against the commandant; a man who is bigger than any of us and he is also a seasoned soldier and knight. You weren’t going to win no matter what.” Emery scowled at Neal. Even though what he was saying was true it didn’t make him feel any better. His desire to be the best in the queen’s army overshadowed rational thought and Emery felt like he should have been able to defeat the commandant. Neal chuckled. “At least there was some good from all this.” Emery looked at the man and arched his eyebrow up in confusion. Neal grinned. “You got to be under the care of the queen’s physician.”

Emery scoffed and remarked, “Her physician is like any other physician in the kingdom.” He motioned for Neal to engage him and the two of them went through a tame round of hand to hand movements then Emery signaled for him to stop. He was ready to pass out.

Emery sat down on the ground and he was about to ask Neal and Graham about training when Graham asked, “Swan, are you the queen’s consort?”

Emery’s mouth fell open as he stared at the man completely stunned. Out of the three of them, Graham normally didn’t pay attention to the gossip that floated around the training camp. The question, and the bluntness of its delivery, caught Emery completely off guard. He continued to stare at him and Graham started to explain why he had asked such a question. “I know it seems like a peculiar question, but I’ve been thinking about it and it’s the only logical explanation for her interest in you. I mean she has placed you with her archers, in her personal guard, and let’s not forget the special room.” He shrugged. “Like I said it’s the only logical explanation.”

Emery continued to gawk at Graham and Neal exclaimed, “Him? The queen’s consort?” He began to laugh hysterically.

Neal’s laughter brought Emery from his shocked state and shot the man a scowl before looking at Graham. “I am not the queen’s consort,” he stated adamantly. Emery got off the ground and said, “She gets reports from the sergeant and commandant. She decided I would do well with the archers and in her guard.”

Graham chuckled and shook his head. “If you believe so Emery, but there is something else that’s going on here that you’re not telling us. Or she’s setting you up for something that will potentially get you killed.”

Emery scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Fine, don’t believe me. But if you’re set on believing that I am the queen’s consort why don’t you ask her yourself?” He started to walk away from his two friends and he shouted over his shoulder, “I have training with the archers. I will see you two at supper. Maybe.”

Emery frowned as he walked to the field the archers typically trained in. He wasn’t the queen’s consort. In fact, he wasn’t the queen’s anything. But he did have feelings for her and she felt something, or other, for him. He sighed. They were going to have to figure out how to keep this hidden or he was going to have to deal with the unending rumors. Emery shook his head. Again, he was going to do the one thing that Regina had been trying to drill into his head, which was ignoring the rumors. He was going to block out what people said, focus on his training, and not worry about anything else. Emery nodded. His irritation lessened and a small smile formed on his face as he stepped onto the archery field.

Emery nodded to the page that had opened the door for him and thanked the young woman, his mouth full of food. “Greatly appreciate the help.”

The young woman giggled. “You’re welcome, Sir Swan.”

Emery shot her a playful scowl as he swallowed the food that was in his mouth. “I’m not a knight. Now go back to your chores before Constance comes looking for you.”

The young woman giggled again as she ran off down the hall. Emery shook his head and kicked the door closed. He walked over to his desk and put down the tray of food that he was carrying. He dropped his helmet on the floor then tossed his bow down before he removed his sword. Emery’s body ached, his head throbbed, and he was ready to collapse on his nice comfortable bed. Emery had spent the rest of the day training with the archers and for most of it they had run drills on horseback which required more muscle than one would think. He sighed and leaned his sword against the desk. He picked up the sandwich that was on the tray and took a big bite from it.

“Not only are you a slob, but you smell like a manure pile,” Emery heard the queen say behind him in an offended tone.

He turned and grinned at her as finished chewing the bite he’d taken. After he swallowed it he asked, “What are you doing here? Other than the fact that it is your castle.” He took another bite of his sandwich then said around it, “Aren’t you supposed to planning the demise of the White kingdom in the north castle? Which still makes no sense to me.”

Regina got up from the where she was sitting at the foot of his bed and glowered at him. “If you ever talk to me with your mouth full again, I will make sure you choke on it.” She moved closer towards him and there was irritation written all over her face. Emery knew it wasn’t because he had spoken with his mouth full. “I came to check on you and it’s obvious that you ignored the order I gave you.”

Emery turned to get the goblet of wine off his tray. “That was an order?” He looked back at her and took a sip from it. After he swallowed the wine a small grin appeared on his face. “I thought that was you being the concerned Regina I know. Making sure I didn’t do anything exacerbate my condition.”

Regina gave him a pointed look. “That was an order from the queen. An order you clearly didn’t follow. Were you looking to be thrown into the dungeon tonight?”

Emery brought the goblet to his lips for another sip and to hide the smile that he couldn’t stop from forming on his face. He took a long drink from it and when he was certain he wasn’t going to smile he lowered it. “No, my queen. However,” he grinned, “if you do intend to throw me in the dungeon you may want to add in a good whipping to make sure I really learn. A punishment that should be delivered by her majesty in those delightful leather pants she wears.”

Regina eyed him as a devious smile slowly spread across her face. She stepped closer towards Emery and took the goblet of wine from. She set it down on the desk that was behind him then brought her hand up to his face. She trailed her painted, well manicured nail across his jaw then, in a soft voice that was almost the equivalent of a purr, she said “Does the charming prince of the White kingdom like it rough?”

Emery captured the roaming digit then gave the tip of it a kiss before he replied, “That is something that you will have to find out, my queen.” He kept his eyes locked on hers. He saw the tempting seduction in them for a moment longer then it vanished.

Regina freed her hand from his loose grasp then dragged her fingers slowly through the long hair that was on top of Emery’s head. “How are you feeling?”

Sensing the shift in their conversation, and the end of their flirtatious banter, Emery sighed. He tried to ignore the insecurities that wanted to make their way to the forefront of his brain, but the fight was a hard one when Regina turned the conversation to safer topics. “Do you want the truth or an answer that will make you happy?”

Regina’s eyebrow arched up. “Either one, but both better be the truth.”

She started to take off his armor and Emery watched her for a moment before expelling a tired breath. “I’m tired, my queen. My body aches, my head is throbbing, and honestly - I’m surprised I made it through the day.”

Regina removed the armor that covered Emery’s front and back. She set it down next to the desk then Regina removed the pieces that covered his arms and hummed. “This is why I told you to take it easy, Emery,” she chided in a gentle voice. “Your body needs proper time to ease back into the strenuous activity.” She chuckled. “But it’s obvious the dimwitted traits you inherited from your parents outweigh common sense.”

Emery scoffed and argued, “I can’t afford to take it easy. I want to be the best in your army and I can’t do that if I’m lying around taking it easy.”

Regina sighed in resignation. “And you can’t be the best if you don’t give your body the proper rest it needs.”

Emery scoffed and shook his head. He moved away from her and finished taking off his armor. “I don’t need a mother.”

Regina pinned him down with a hard look and shot back, “I’m not trying to be your mother, and trust me if I were, I would be a thousand times better than Snow White. Now drop you attitude or you will see a side of me that you will not like.”

Emery stared at her for a long moment then he blew out a breath. He ran his hand through his hair and walked back to where she was standing. “I’m sorry, my queen. I’m tired and it makes me grumpy. You’re also hovering and that’s a little too much for me.”

Regina glowered at him and folded her arms over her chest. “Then what do you need, Emery?”

Emery rubbed his face with his hands and groaned in exasperation. He dropped his hands and released an exhausted breath. “I want a bath, bed, that disgusting drink you give me to get rid of my pain,” he paused then added with some hesitation, “and you.”

Regina held his gaze for a moment then rolled her eyes. “One day you will learn to use your words like an adult and not get upset like some insolent child.” She sighed then said, “Finish eating and I will get one of the pages to come draw you a bath.”

Emery smiled at her. “I will learn to use my words better.” He looked into her brown eyes a moment longer. Emery felt everything at once, and even if she had irritated him for a second, she was able to get him to calm down. Looking into her eyes gave Emery a serenity he never realized he needed before. “Thank you, Regina.”

She reached out and placed her hand on his cheek and smiled. “Go sit and eat.”

Emery finished taking off his armor then he grabbed his tray of food and went over to the small couch that was in his room. As he enjoyed his late dinner Emery watched Regina as she left his room. He chuckled to himself when he realized that she had come all the way from the north castle to check on him. It warmed his heart. Emery made a silent vow to take it easy for her sake.

“You’re going to shrivel up. You’ve been in there for a while now,” Emery heard Regina say as she walked closer to the tub.

His eyes were closed and his head rested against the back of it. Emery chuckled and said, “I’m okay with that. Especially considering the day I’ve had.” He cracked his eye open to look at Regina. He smirked. “You know, your majesty, you could join me if you miss my company.”

Regina scoffed. “I do not miss your company.” A disgusted look came to her face. “And I would rather be assassinated than get into that filthy water with your disgusting ass.” Emery laughed and she said, “I’m serious, Emery. I’m half tempted to call the pages in here to draw you another bath before I let you go to bed.”

Emery continued to laugh then as he caught his breath he said, “Please, Regina, don’t. I don’t think I can bear another bath. I already smell like…” He trailed off then lifted his arm to smell his armpit. He grimaced. “Flowers. I mean it isn’t bad for a flower, but definitely not something I would have gone with. Don’t you have oils made from fruit? I would love something in an apple.” He grinned and winked at her. “I’d always think of you if I had some.”

He snickered as Regina rolled her eyes. “If it means you’ll care more about smelling like apples and less like horse shit then I’m certain I can make something up for you. Now can you get out of the tub so you can drink your medicine?” She turned to get the towel that was hanging on the wall in front of the tub.

Emery rolled his eyes, and without thinking twice about it, he stood up. It wasn’t until Regina was facing him, a stunned expression on her face, did he become highly aware of the fact this was her first time seeing him fully naked. It made him uneasy. Emery quickly reached for the towel and wrapped it around himself. That caused Regina to snap out of her surprised state and she frowned. “What’s the matter?”

Emery shook his head and stepped out of the tub. “Nothing. I’ll get dressed quickly then we can go to bed.”

“Emery,” Regina stated in a firm tone as she blocked him from getting away from her. “What is the matter?”

Emery couldn’t look at Regina, afraid of what he would see, but he quickly glanced at her. He saw determination in her eyes, but concern was mixed in, and that gave him enough courage to give voice to what he had seen on her face. He sighed. “You were bothered by,” he gestured towards himself, “me.”

Regina’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“My body, Regina,” Emery stated, exasperated by the conversation. “It bothered you.” He wanted to hide and go to sleep. Possibly even tell Regina to leave because he didn’t feel comfortable in his skin. Emery couldn’t bear the thought of Regina witnessing his fall into the bleak place he went whenever he was at war with his body.

Regina held his gaze and placed her hand on the back of his neck then pulled Emery’s head forward so their lips met for an intense, but passionate kiss. As they kissed, for a moment, Emery forgot about his insecurities and held the woman closer to him. She was intoxicating in every possible way and he wanted to be caught up in the untamed beauty that was Regina. She pulled away and they both took a moment to recover, but Regina’s hand remained on the back of Emery’s neck. She looked into his eyes and Emery watched as uncertainty and emotion filled them. “I am never going to understand the tumultuous relationship that you have with your body, or the insecurities that plague you about it, but you need to understand one thing, Emery. You need to start believing in the man that you are.”

Emery let out a soft scoff and countered, “That’s easier said than done. This body isn’t my own. How am I to start believing in something that isn’t even true?”

Emery anxiously waited for Regina to say something, hoping she had some miracle answer to ease his insecurities. She drew in a deep breath then admitted, “I don’t know.” She moved that hand that was on the back of his neck to his cheek and rubbed his cheekbone with the pad of her thumb. “All I can tell you is that your body has no sway over the feelings I have for you.” She leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss then whispered, “You have to find some way to make peace with the man you are, Emery. Because I already see him and he is good man.”

Emery drew in a deep breath and he was quiet for a moment. It was hard for him to accept what Regina was telling him because everything in his mind told him the opposite. He drew in another breath and released it. “I have to get dressed.”

Regina nodded. “Do you want me to stay or go?”

Emery looked at her and as much as he wanted to wallow in his self-hatred and despair alone, he did want her to stay. He swallowed then replied, “You can stay.” He paused and bit his bottom lip. “I just can’t have you look at me.”

Regina nodded again then said, “I understand. I’ll look at one of the numerous books on your desk.”

She headed over to it and Emery watched her for a second then headed for the wardrobe that was on the opposite side of the room. He dried off and got dressed then once he was done he walked over to the desk. Regina looked at him and Emery gave her faint smile. “All dressed.”

Regina smiled and put down the book she was holding. She took hold of his hand and led him over to the couch. The two of them sat down. Emery still felt unsettled about everything, and his turbulent emotions were getting worse, so he didn’t say anything as Regina handed him the goblet that contained the medicine. He drank it and Regina massaged the back of his neck with her hand, but it didn’t relax Emery. It made him tenser.

He leaned forward to place the empty goblet on the table in front of the couch. Regina gave his arm a slight tug and murmured, “Lay down.”

Emery gave into the gentle command and lay down on the couch, his head rested in her lap. Regina snapped her fingers and a blanket covered him as the candles in the room were extinguished. The light from the fireplace only illuminated the room. Regina started to run her fingers through Emery’s hair and she said in a soft voice, “I’m not going to beg you to talk to me, Emery, but do know that I am here if you need to talk. I’m willing to be the silent audience you need to work through all the doubts, fears, and contempt that you have about yourself.” A soft chuckle came from her. “And if you need me to be a vocal one then I’m willing to be that as well. Just don’t….” She sighed. “Don’t shut me out, Emery.”

Emery swallowed hard and his vision blurred as he watched fire burn. His throat was tight with emotion and he didn’t know what to say. Emery never had willing confidant before. He had his nanny when he was younger, but he stopped telling her things about himself when his mother threatened to fire the woman. Yet, here was Regina, the supposed evil queen of the Mills kingdom offering to be that and more. Emery remained quiet and as he started to feel drowsy from the medicine he asked in a small voice, “Can you excuse me from training tomorrow?”

“No,” Regina answered. Then she explained, “I’m not going to let you wallow in whatever darkness is threatening to consume you. If you can give me a valid reason, or tell me why you need to be excused then I will consider it, but if you can’t then you will go to your training.”

Emery couldn’t give her a reason, so he remained quiet. The effects of the medicine and the ministrations of Regina running her fingers through his hair eventually lulled him to sleep, but he knew his dream would be full of nightmares and pain.

Emery squeezed the horse’s sides with his knees in order to guide him as he sent the arrow flying to the target. He didn’t hit and Lieutenant Cavanaugh shouted, “Swan! You’re not moving quick enough. Now take the damn shot again.”

Emery took hold of the horse’s reins and gave them a gentle tug to get the horse to stop. He turned the animal around and headed for the start of the course. Emery did his best not to scowl at the lieutenant. The man was being unyielding in regards to him taking this stupid shot and it pissed him off, making his foul mood worse. Emery reached the head of the course and the lieutenant yelled for him to go. Emery snapped the reins for the horse to go and he spurned him to go faster. As they got closer to the target Emery reached for his quiver of arrows, and before he could get one, Cavanaugh shouted, “You’re moving too slow, Swan.”

Emery took hold of the reins and turned the horse around so that he was looking at the lieutenant. He glared at him and yelled, “If I’m not taking the shot as you would like, sir, why don’t you fucking do the shot yourself since I’m not doing it well enough.”

Cavanaugh stared him down. “What did you say?”

Emery narrowed his eyes and repeated himself. “I said why don’t you take the fucking shot for yourself. Sir.”

Cavanaugh stared at him then he snapped the reins of his horse and started riding towards Emery. When the man was close enough he said through gritted teeth, “I don’t care if you are the queen’s pet, but you will obey your training commander. Now take the fucking shot.”

Emery’s mood was driving his insubordination. “Fuck you.” Then he snorted and spat a wad of phlegm in the lieutenant’s face.

The air grew tense on the training field as the other archers watched the two of them. When the lieutenant punched Emery, he wasn’t expecting it. He had been expecting for him to order him to the stockade, or to the dungeon even, but a direct jab to his face he didn’t anticipate. Emery wiped the blood that trickled from his nose with the back of his hand. He glared at the lieutenant a moment longer then he gave the horse a nudge in the ribs to get him going. He urged the animal to go faster as they headed straight for the forest that surrounded the castle grounds. Behind him Emery heard the lieutenant shout, “The captain and the queen will hear of this!”

Emery ignored the warning and kept going. He didn’t care about the captain or the queen. He continued to slip further down the pit of despair and self-hatred that he had begun falling into the previous night and it made him hate everything and everyone around him. He didn’t care about the lieutenant and his fucking impossible shot. Emery didn’t care that the captain would punish him to the point of exhaustion. Lastly, he didn’t care if the queen tossed him in the dungeon for the rest of his life. At least if she did no one would have to see him and the abomination he was.

Emery rode deep into the woods. His thoughts grew darker, and the loathing for his body became something that consumed him. He would never be the man he truly wanted to be and he hated everything for it. He hated his parents. He hated the world, but the one person he hated the most, was himself. Emery couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just be happy in the body he currently occupied. It was frustrating and it ate him like acid. He wanted to like his body, but any time he looked at it or had to bind his chest, it only made him angry at the fact that he even had to do such things.

Emery pulled on the horse’s reins to get the animal to stop then dismounted from it. He pulled out his sword and began swinging it at a tree. He used wild, frantic sword movements that caused his blade to hack away at the tree’s trunk. His emotions driving his actions. Grunts of exertion and frustration came from Emery, and even the occasional scream, but none of it alleviated his frustration or anger. His violent emotions faded away and a crippling hopelessness came over him. Tears began to fill Emery’s eyes and his vision blurred. His swings became half-hearted and eventually he stopped attacking the tree altogether. Emery fell to his knees as sobs racked through his body. He dropped his sword and lay down on the ground curling into a ball as he cried, feeling nothing but anguish and contempt over his body.

Emery didn’t know how long he had cried for, but the sun was high in the sky, and the tears had stopped. The despair and self-loathing continued, however, and Emery stared at the cloudless sky. He felt hollow and numb. As if nothing would ever fix this. Emery felt like the happiness he found over the last year had vanished and he would never get it back. He released a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. He wanted to escape the feelings.

“Get up.”

Emery continued to lay on the ground with his eyes closed and ignored the demand. Another second went by then his body was sent through the air. When he hit a tree the air was knocked from his lungs, and before he could recover, he was being sent into another one. He began to cough as he remained pinned against the tree. The queen made her way over to him. “I said I wasn’t going to beg you to talk to me, but I will not tolerate you not obeying orders. Nor will I tolerate you spitting in the faces of high ranking soldiers.”

Emery stared at Regina. She was beyond pissed, that was as evident as day, but he could still tell there was some concern behind her fiery rage. He wanted to talk to her, but he didn’t know how. This was a side of himself that he had never shared with anyone before and he was too scared and ashamed to open up to her. Emery didn’t want Regina to see the darkest parts of him. He was afraid that if he showed them to her she would come to realize that she couldn’t handle everything that came with being with someone like him. The two of them continued to stare at each other. The queen held up her hand and said, “Maybe a few days in the dungeon will help you figure out why you disrespected a lieutenant in my army.” She waved her hand and a cloud of purple smoke enveloped Emery.

He landed hard on the cold stone floor of the cell. Emery rolled onto his back and the dark, dank environment that surrounded him was the perfect setting for him to fall deeper into his depression. Emery felt the stinging sensation of tears and he tried to fight them, but they fell anyway. Emery couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get out of this. Other than his body, his life was more than livable, but the crippling depression and hatred – something he hadn’t felt since coming to the Mills kingdom – was proving to be a hard thing to work through this time around. When he had been in his parents’ kingdom he believed nothing would change and had already been sinking further into his misery, but now that he had been living his life as he wanted it felt even more devastating. Emery rolled onto his side and curled up into a ball as soft sobs shook his body.

Chapter Text

The sound of the queen’s shoes echoing through the corridor outside of Emery’s cell pulled him from his deep thoughts. He drew in a deep breath and sighed as he sat up. Emery no longer felt as if he was in a never ending pit of despair, but he still wasn’t back to his normal self yet. He waited for the cell door to open. Emery had no idea how long he had been in the dungeon. He had counted six meal deliveries and one earlier, so by his calculations he was nearing the end of day two. The sound of a key going into the lock of the door resonated throughout his cell then it turned. The heavy wooden door swung open and Emery lifted his head. The queen’s body filled the doorway. He squinted against the light that came from the torch in her hand. He tried to see if she was still upset with him, but he couldn’t see her face clearly.

Neither of them said anything and a heavy silence filled the small cell. Emery knew Regina wasn’t going to be the first one to say something. In her mind she hadn’t done anything wrong, and she hadn’t. This was his fault. Instead of trying to talk through what he was feeling, Emery allowed his emotions to get the best of him and he spat in the lieutenant’s face then ran away. Emery sighed and got up from the hay pile that served as a bed. There was a moment where he was unsteady on his feet, an effect of him not eating the food that was brought to him, but he stood fast and moved towards the door. When he got to it, Emery knelt down in front of Regina and dropped his head to his chest. “I am sorry, my queen. I accept whatever punishment you, the captain, and the lieutenant have for me.”

Emery kept his head down even as Regina remained silent. After a moment he felt her hand on top of his head then the two of them teleported to her chambers. “Stand up.” Emery stood, but kept his head down. The queen placed the tips of her fingers under his chin and lifted it. Their eyes met and she asked in a direct tone, “What is wrong?”

Despite his urge to jerk his head away and leave her chambers, Emery continued to stare into Regina’s eyes. His mind raced through the number of things he could tell her, but there were no words adequate enough that described the anguish, misery, and anger of living in a body you wanted no part of. Emery tried to turn his head but Regina took a firm hold of his chin and pinned him down with a hard gaze. He blew out a tired breath. “I’m going to try to answer your question, my queen, but I need to pace in order to help me think. I’ve never talked about this with anyone before, at least not to this degree.” Regina stared at him a second longer then released his chin. Emery sighed and ran his hand through his filthy hair as he moved away from her to pace. For once he actually wanted a bath. He was also desperate for a meal, but he knew wouldn’t get either of those things until he shared something with the queen.

Emery walked over to the double doors that led to the balcony then turned. He smiled a little when he saw the expression on Regina’s face. She appeared to be seconds away from throwing a fireball at him. Emery let out a small chuckle. “I am not that dumb, my queen. Not only would you send me flying through the air, but I know if I jumped off the balcony I would end up breaking my legs.”

“Emery….” Regina warned.

He blew out an explosive breath and nodded. “Okay, I know.” He sighed. Emery let his head fall back and he stared up at the ceiling. “It’s suffocating,” Emery stated. He brought his head down and looked at Regina. “All the dark thoughts I have about my body, and not being in a body that isn’t exactly male, it’s suffocating. And when I get caught up in those debilitating thoughts I get angry. The anger then turns into me not caring if I live or die because dying would be a thousand times better than living this life of perpetual torment.”

Emery pressed his lips together and blinked a few times to stave off the tears that threatened to come to his eyes. He drew in a deep breath through his nose then let it out. “I have no connection to this body, Regina, and it is the most damning thing that I have to live with day in and day out.”

The severe expression on Regina’s face disappeared and compassion, sadness, and concern filled her expressive eyes. Emery hated that she was looking at him like that because compassion and worry wouldn’t fix this. Nothing would. Regina opened her mouth to say something, but then she closed it and broke the gaze she shared with Emery. She gave her head a slight shake and looked back at him. “Did me seeing you - in the tub - did that cause you to feel this way?”

Emery wanted to lie and tell her it was something he had always dealt with, but that wouldn’t have been fair to either of them. Because she did, inadvertently, trigger his insecurities about his body. However he also blamed himself because he had gotten too comfortable with Regina and did something he wasn’t ready for. Emery nodded. “Partly. I have been dealing with this for the longest time, Regina, so you aren’t entirely to blame here.” He sighed and ran his hand over his hair. “I’ve also fallen into this false sense of security since I’ve been in your kingdom. My body has changed in ways that has made it more tolerable for me, and being around you, there is a level of trust and comfort that makes me forget my insecurities. However I can’t ignore them all the time and that’s what happened. When you saw me, and had that surprised look on her face, my insecurities and self-hatred got the best of me.” Emery drew in a steadying breath because he was on the verge of tears. “This is one war that I will never win,” he admitted in a quiet voice thick with emotion.

Hesitance crossed Regina’s face for a moment then she walked over to where he stood. She wrapped her arms around Emery and he resisted the hug at first. He knew giving into it would break whatever emotional wall he had erected to protect himself. “I’m here for you, Emery.” She rubbed his back and sighed. “I may not know what to say, or have the best response, but I will do my best to make sure you know that I am willing to face this with you and that you don’t have to do it alone.”

Hearing Regina say that caused Emery to relax in her embrace and he rested his head on her shoulder. Silent tears fell from his eyes as she continued. “I have seen the scar on your arm, and I’ll admit to trying to heal it, but I never want you to ever reach that point again. If you get angry, or frustrated, or depressed about what you’re dealing with I want you talk to me. And I’m not saying you have to talk about your feelings – you do that when you’re ready – but if you need to take that frustration out on someone then let it be me. I don’t want you to go to those dark places where you don’t care whether you live or die because –“ She stopped and Emery felt her body tense then it relaxed. Regina sighed. “I want you to know that you do have me.”

Emery nodded and the two of them stood in silence. He held onto Regina as if she were the tether that kept him from falling further into the all-consuming despair that had been haunting him the last few days. Emery drew in a deep breath. “What happened on my arm was the darkest point in my life, and even though I do have moments where I don’t care if I live or die, they don’t get that dark anymore. This is actually the first time I haven’t been able to shake my insecurities since being in your kingdom.”

Regina continued to rub soothing circles on his back and asked with some hesitation, “Do you want me to be more respectful of your space?”

Emery lifted his head and smiled at her. “No, my queen. I enjoy you invading my space.”

She returned the smile with a smirk. “I’m certain you do.” Regina’s smirk disappeared and she bit the corner of her lip. “Will you tell me when I’m doing something that will fuel your insecurities?”

Emery nodded and admitted, “I will do my best to tell you, but as I said, I don’t have much experience in voicing this to another person. My mother passed it all off as a phase and discouraged me from talking about it.”

Regina scoffed. “Your mother is a moron.”

Emery chuckled then studied Regina. He couldn’t believe she wanted to stand by and support him while he dealt with the tumultuous emotions that his body caused him. It made him feel an overwhelming amount of appreciation and adoration for the woman in front of him. Emery sighed. “I’m not a hundred percent yet, Regina, but I’ll get there.”

“Take your time, Emery. If you need anything from me please tell me,” Regina said and there was a deep concern in her eyes that surprised him. Emery held on tighter to her and closed his eyes. The intense connection developing between the two of them scared Emery, and he began to wonder if the feelings he felt towards Regina were true or if they were due to the acceptance and compassion she continued to show him. It was something he would have to figure before either of them became further invested in what was happening between them. “You need a bath,” Regina muttered in his ear.

That caused Emery to laugh and his spirits lifted a little. He pulled away from Regina and grinned. “I’m surprised we were able to have an entire conversation without you demanding I take bath first.”

Regina rolled her eyes. “Trust me, it took a lot of willpower not to.”

Emery shook his head. Even though he desperately wanted a bath, and food, he couldn’t help but to be a pain about it. “What is it with you and baths? Must I be clean all the damn time?”

She glared at him and replied, “If you wish to remain in my presence, yes.”

Emery laughed again. “Fine, my queen, I will submit to a bath as long as you promise to have food also brought up.”

“That reminds me,” Regina narrowed her eyes and took a firm hold of his chin. “Do not ever refuse to eat again. If you’re trying to be the best in my army you will be well fed. Do you understand?”

Emery took the threat for what it was - concern for him. He nodded. “I understand. I understand a lot of things now.”

He and Regina shared a look that expressed the unspoken concern she had for him. Regina released his face then made her way over to the chamber doors. “It is nice to know you can still be taught. I’ll get someone to draw you a bath.” Emery watched her leave and the smile on his face widened. He didn’t know what he did to deserve Regina, or her acceptance and kindness, but it helped him see that life was more than hopelessness and despair. That he truly wasn’t alone in all of this. He sighed as a faint nagging continued in the back of his head. Emery just needed to find the time to make sure his feelings were genuine before him and Regina’s emotions further entangled them to one another.

Emery pulled up the collar on his cloak and looked around at the others standing with him. He, some of the castle staff, and a few guards were waiting for the royal procession to arrive. Today was the day the queen officially returned to the main castle. Emery grinned. His excitement to have Regina back at the castle full time grew with each passing second, but at the same time he was nervous. It had been a week since he had fallen victim to his insecurities and self-loathing, and in that time he been able to refocus his energy into more positive activities that made him feel better about himself.

The day after she had brought Emery from the dungeon Regina had gone back to the north castle, however before she left, she gave him a small, enchanted mirror for him to use if he needed her. Though Emery appreciated the thought behind her giving it to him, he refused to use it. He didn’t want to burden Regina with his issues despite her reassurances. Luckily, he didn’t have to use the mirror. Emery had spent the week working out and training in order to get his mental health back to where it had been before the dark thoughts about his body had taken hold of him. The distraction prevented him from thinking too much about his body and what it wasn’t. The lieutenant had put Emery through every trial and challenge he could think of to punish him for spitting in his face and abandoning his training. Most of the tests were impossible, but Emery had put all his focus into them. He even managed to accomplish the shot he had been having trouble with, showing up a few of the more seasoned archers. When he was focused and not hating himself, Emery was a damn good archer. He rubbed the neck of the horse standing next to him and smiled. Feeling more like himself was a tremendous relief considering Emery didn’t think he would be able to get out of his despair.

“Emery, were you ordered to come meet the royal processional?” Neal asked as he approached the other man.

Emery smiled at him. “I was not.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Neal asked as his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

Emery chuckled. “I’m meeting the queen.”

“She ordered you to meet her? For what reason?” Neal wondered as he tried to figure out the reason for why Emery was there since he hadn’t been ordered to meet the procession.

Emery glanced at Neal then back at the road that led to the castle. “It’s best you don’t think about it, mate.”

Neal’s answering silence lasted too long which meant he was doing the opposite of what Emery had told him to do. “What’s going on with you and the queen?”

Emery grinned and looked at him. “As a loyal soldier of her majesty’s army I am to never discuss the queen.”

Neal appeared to accept the answer for a second then exclaimed, “Hey, I’m in her army too.”

Emery hummed to himself then tried a different response. “As a member of the queen’s personal guard I cannot discuss her.”

Neal scowled at him. “You’re full of shit, Swan. Now tell me what is going –“

“The processional is coming,” Emery pointed out as he looked at the road and stood at attention.

He heard Neal grumble next to him, “I’m not going to let this go.”

Emery chuckled to himself then regained his composure as he watched the processional travelled down the road. When it came to a stop the captain saw Emery and asked, “What are you doing here?”

Emery moved to open the carriage door for the queen and replied, “I came to escort the queen to her chambers of course.”

The captain stared at him and Emery wanted to get a smug smile on his face, but refrained from doing so as he opened the door. The queen stepped out of the carriage and stated, “I do not need an escort to my chambers.”

She took hold of Emery’s offered hand and he bowed slightly. “Of course you don’t, your majesty.” He straightened then said in a voice low enough, only she could hear him, “But perhaps you would like to join me for a ride.”

The queen cast a side long glance at him then looked at the captain. “I will be going for a ride.”

“Your majesty, are you certain that now is the time for you to be –“

“I’m certain now is not the time for you to question me, captain. Especially if you enjoy your position as the head of my personal guard,” the queen said as she walked down the steps of the carriage. Emery did his best not to smile as the two of them made their way over to the horses he had waiting for them. They mounted them then took off down a path that went to the riding grounds behind the castle. When they were a good distance from the castle the queen said, “You have some nerve doing what you just did. Where the hell are we going in the dead of winter?”

Emery chuckled and an overconfident grin remained on his face. “I know, but I wanted to do something to say thank you for what you’ve done for me the last few days.” He chuckled again. “And it’s a surprise.”

The queen scoffed. “I don’t do well with surprises. We better not be out in the cold for long because I will have your –“

“My queen,” Emery said as he glanced at her.


Emery grinned at her. “Please be quiet.”

Regina scowled and countered, “I should send you to the dungeon for that.” Emery continued to grin at her and Regina rolled her eyes before smiling at him. She reached for his hand and Emery took it with a permanent smile glued to his face. It wasn’t long before they reached a small wooden building. “You have taken me to this hovel for what reason?”

Emery got off his horse then moved to help Regina off hers. When she was on the ground he chuckled. “Your surprise is in this filthy hovel, your majesty.”

Regina glared at him. “I don’t like it when your charming nature comes out. It irritates me.”

Emery laughed and gestured towards the building with his head. “Come on, Regina.”

They went into the building and Regina said, “I see when you put your mind to something you can do impressive work.”

Emery chuckled as he shut the door. “You are the queen and only the impressive is going to work for you.”

Emery had spent the last week cleaning out what used to be temporary lodging for hunters. When he found out that no one had used it since the start of the war Emery decided to use it for his own personal gain. He cleaned it out, put some furniture in it – with the help of Graham since Neal had been stuck in training – and made it something the queen wouldn’t have turned her nose up at. There was a fire going, food laid out on the table, and a comfortable couch for them to relax on after they ate. Emery didn’t expect them to stay the night, but he did want to have a relaxing evening with Regina, for several reasons.

Emery helped Regina take off her coat and she asked, “Is this what you’ve been doing while I’ve been up at the north castle? Commandeering royal hunting buildings for romantic overtures?”

Emery hung up the heavy fur coat and replied, “No, your majesty. You know perfectly well I have been training and working out.”

Regina turned to smile at him. “I do indeed know that.” She closed the small gap that was between them. She ran her hand through his hair. “You got a haircut.”

Emery shrugged. “I did. I had Neal take a pair of scissors to the top because it was starting get in my eyes then I had Graham take a blade to the sides and back to make it presentable.”

Regina chuckled and asked, “Why didn’t you have Neal do it all?”

Emery scoffed. “The man has unsteady hands. He’d end up killing me somehow.”

Regina laughed, “I’m glad you had Graham take care of it then.”

He smiled. “Me too.” Emery took hold of her hand and led her over to the table. “I tried to get Lydia to make things you would like; however she said I only needed a small meal and some snacks since I didn’t plan for us to be out here for long.”

“You told her what you were doing?” Regina asked raising an eyebrow.

Emery shook his head. “No. I told her I was trying to woo the young daughter of a baron.” He tried not to grin at the piercing stare Regina directed at him.

“And is there?”

Emery poured her some wine. “Is there what?”

Regina took the goblet Emery offered and said, “Young daughter of a baron.”

Emery laughed and smiled at her. “No, my queen. Only a stubborn woman who seems to have an affinity for baths.” Regina glared at him over rim of her cup. He chuckled.  “I tried putting everything together myself but she told me since I eat anything my eyes land on I wouldn’t get anything for you.”

Emery pulled out the chair for Regina and she sat down it. “She would be correct in that assessment.”

Emery scoffed. “Only a little bit.” He went over to his seat and once he was seated he began to make them plates. Once they were settled and eating, Emery took a drink of his wine and said, “Like I said earlier I wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me the last few days and putting up with my inconsistent moods. I know it isn’t easy, and at times frustrating, but I wanted to show you how much it meant to have you there with me.”

“Emery, I know you want to say thank you, but it’s something –“

Emery held up his hand to stop her. “I know it’s something you would be willing to do no matter what, but I still want to let you know how much I appreciate this. Not many would be willing to handle something like this or me.”

Regina reached for his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “When it comes to you, there is nothing you will face that will make me say I can’t do this. This is a part of you, and I have accepted that, and the rest of you.”

The intensity in her eyes caused Emery’s throat to tighten up with emotion and he drew in a deep breath. Emery smiled. “This is also why I did this.” He took a drink of wine then sighed. “I haven’t had someone fully support me like this and it’s new, and kind of weird, but I’m going to learn to be more open when my insecurities get the best of me.”

Regina smiled at him. “As long as you’re trying that’s all that matters.”

Emery stared at her for a moment then gave her hand a final squeeze. “We should eat.”

The two of them ate and while they did Emery approached a topic he was almost eager to talk about. He ate some dried meat and said, “I know what you’re planning.”

Regina took a bite of her cheese and cracker and after she ate it she said, “What are you talking about?”

Emery took a sip of his wine and grinned. “At the north castle. I know why you were up there.” Regina raised her eyebrow at him as she continued to eat, so he explained what he meant. “The north castle is near a river that flows through Stefan’s kingdom which eventually empties out into the ocean by the White kingdom.”

“Some time ago, I do recall you whining about military strategy and planning.” She took a drink of her wine then held up her finger. “I do believe you stated that you would rather be run through with a sword than attend another military strategy class.”

Emery laughed and nodded. “I do remember that, and the sentiment still stands, but I had to do something while you were off at the castle during the day.”

Regina chuckled and remarked, “Next time I leave you to your own devices I’ll be sure there are no maps around for you to look at.” She waved her hand towards him. “What is this crazy strategy you have concocted?”

“I haven’t concocted anything,” Emery countered with a smile. “This is all your planning.” He smirked and leaned back in his seat. “You’re building a navy to attack the White kingdom. Had I been able to stay at the north castle a little longer I probably would have gotten confirmation.”

Regina surveyed him with a skeptical expression then smiled. “Since you are entertaining thoughts of military strategy, why do you think this?”

Emery sat forward and rested his elbows on the table. “Because the White kingdom wouldn’t be expecting it. A majority of the altercations and fighting between the two kingdoms has been on land because your army, and the main castle, is landlocked. I’m still not certain how Stefan’s kingdom is involved in all of this since he separates the two kingdoms, but I’m certain you plan on killing him or something.”

“Killing another monarch?” Regina said, feigning to be shocked at the statement. “I would never.”

Emery scoffed and took a sip of his wine. He set his goblet down. “You’re right, what was I thinking? I must have you mistaken for a different queen.”

Regina chuckled then looked at him for a moment before she asked, “Do you have any reservations in regards to being a part of the army that will be attacking your home kingdom?”

Emery shrugged. “You have no plans to decimate the kingdom do you?”

“Not at this moment,” Regina remarked before eating a piece of dried meat.

Emery eyed her for a second. Regina didn’t look like she was serious, but there were times where her playful nature was still serious. He slowly nodded. “Okay, so if you don’t decimate the kingdom, and only conquer it, then I have no reservations.” Regina pressed her lips together and Emery could tell she was thinking about something, but he didn’t know what it could be. “Ask, Regina.”

The woman sighed then took a long drink of her wine before asking, “And you have no feelings of uncertainty because of your parents?”

Emery scoffed and got up from the table. He paced next to it then went over to the couch and sat down. He stared at the fire for the moment then turned on the couch to look at Regina over the back of it. “I can’t believe you asked me that. Why would you think that? They never saw me, and never cared about who I really am, so why the fuck would I care about them?”

Regina got up from the table and walked over to the couch. She sat down next to him and began to rub the back of his neck. “I’m sorry I asked.”

Emery glowered at the fire in front of the couch then sighed and cuddled up to Regina. She ran her hand through his hair and he sighed again. “I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn’t have blown up like that.”

Regina hummed then pressed a kiss to his forehead before she said, “I probably shouldn’t have brought them up since it’s only been a week since you’ve managed to pull yourself out of that darkness you had been in.”

Emery sighed. “Still, I shouldn’t have gone off like that.”

Regina pressed another kiss to his forehead. “I told you I’m okay with you going off on me when it comes to things of that nature. I’d rather have you do that than bury everything.”

The two of them fell quiet and Emery stared at the fire as Regina continued to run her fingers through his hair. This was something that had become more commonplace with them over the last week. She would come to his room after she was done with her business at the north castle and they would cuddle and talk about his day then go to bed together. It was weird at first for Emery because he never would have imagined Regina to be a cuddler, but soon he got used to it, and it became the highlight of his day. This reminded him that he had something that he wanted to tell Regina.

Emery sat up and moved away from her. He looked at her for a moment then said, “I have something I want to talk to you about.” A concerned look came to Regina’s face and he quickly added, “It’s not something bad, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about since that night you took me out of the dungeon.”

“What is that?”

Emery sighed and stood up from the couch. He moved to stand in front of the fire place. When he looked at Regina he could tell she was confused as to why he had moved away from her. He drew in a deep breath then admitted, “I am conflicted about my feelings towards you.”

Regina’s eyebrows scrunched together. “You’re conflicted?”

Emery nodded. “I can’t tell if my feelings towards you are genuine or if they are the product of the kindness, support, and understanding that you have shown me.”

Regina narrowed her eyes and folded her arms over her chest as she crossed her legs. “What have I told you about calling me kind?” Emery shook his head and Regina sighed as the severe look faded from her face. “I can’t help you figure that out, Emery.”

“I know.” He bit his bottom lip then revealed with some hesitation, “This is why I’m leaving with the battalion that’s going to Stefan’s kingdom.”

Regina stared at him. Emery knew the news would be a shock to her, but he hoped being away from her would help him sort through the feelings he felt and he would be able to find out if they were genuine or not. The battalion was supposed to be gone for two weeks or that’s what the lieutenant had told him. “Do you really think this will help you sort out your feelings?” Regina asked with slight apprehension.

Emery shrugged. “I don’t know, but I think this is something I need to figure out before either of us gets hurt.” He sighed. “I don’t want to be the reason why you get hurt, Regina. I care too much about you.”

Regina blew out a breath then forced a smile on her face. “I guess there is nothing I can do. You have made up your mind.” She chuckled a little. “The battalion will not be leaving until two weeks from now, so I have to deal with you being a pain in my ass until then.”

Emery grimaced. “I’m going to be leaving with the advanced party that’s going at the end of the week.”

The moment Regina’s mask of indifference slid into place Emery knew the conversation was over. He had pissed her off and he understood her reaction. He had given her all this news and information at once and with no warning. Regina had every right to be pissed because he would have felt the same way too. When the cloud of purple smoke enveloped her, he still wasn’t surprised. Emery blew out an explosive breath and ran his hand over his hair. That went as well as it could have gone.

Chapter Text

Emery wasn’t in the best of moods, but he only had himself to blame for his current state of mind. He sighed and pulled an apple from one of his saddle bags. He polished it on this cloak then took a bite from it. He currently was on his way to see Ingrid and Joe since Regina refused to see him. Emery had made the decision to go see his adoptive parents when no one would tell him where Regina was. He knew she was still at the castle because the staff had told him she had gone on a rampage and most of it was about him. Emery took another bite out of his apple.

Emery was fine with Regina not wanting to see him and had accepted her anger since he had sprung his departure on her. But if they ever got to place where the two of them could talk about everything Emery didn’t want Regina to be able to use this time apart as a weapon against him. He had even tried telling her that he would be going to see his parents for a few days, but when Emery had gone to her chambers the guards had prevented him from going in. So he left without telling her and without saying goodbye. Emery rolled his eyes. In his mind he knew he was doing the right thing, but other parts of him said otherwise.

Emery had left the castle a couple of days ago and was almost to the village. He could barely contain his excitement about seeing Ingrid and Joe again. He really did miss them. Emery smiled to himself. He knew once he entered the bakery Ingrid would put him to work while Joe would want to hear all about his training. He sighed. This was his family. Not the people that occupied the White castle. Emery urged his horse to go faster, eager to get to the village. When he got to the village a few people recognized him and he stopped to talk with them, but he kept the conversation brief.

When he reached the bakery there was huge, permanent smile on Emery’s face. He dismounted the horse and headed for the front door. He walked in and Ingrid had her back turned to him as she stocked one of the baskets with fresh bread. Emery approached the counter and said, “I hope one of those loaves of sweet bread has the queen’s name on it.”

Ingrid turned around and when she saw him she exclaimed, “Emery!” She dropped the tray she was holding onto the counter then rushed around it to give him a tight hug. Emery may have bulked up a bit because of his training, but Ingrid was still able to squeeze the life out of him. “What are you doing here? I thought they actually did kill you in training.”

Emery managed to let out a weak laugh then he said, “I would love to tell you, but you need to let me go first.” She released him then swung the towel in her hand at his shoulder. Emery chuckled. “I got leave to come here before I reported to my battalion in Stefan’s kingdom.”

Ingrid sighed and shook her head. “Don’t tell me your majesty has decided to go against Stefan while still in an endless war with the White kingdom.” She scoffed. “A majority of our profit comes from Stefan’s kingdom.”

Emery shook his head. “No, no, no. It’s just negotiations. The battalion is an intimidation tactic.” He grunted. “She’d be stupid to start a war with Stefan while dealing with Snow.” He sighed. “However, I did hear rumors around camp that something big might be happening soon.” Emery shrugged and smiled. “We’ll see. Where’s Joe?” He asked as he started to make his way to the back of the bakery.

“He’s making deliveries. He’s going to be glad to see you’re here.” Ingrid said as she followed him to the back. She chuckled. “He’s been worried about you since the day you left. That reminds me…” Emery felt a swift, but firm, hit to the back of his head and he turned around to look at Ingrid. A bewildered expression written on his face

“Ow, Ingrid! That hurt.” He scoffed as started to rub the back of his head. “What was that for?”

“You have been away for three, four months and not a single letter, or a message, telling us that you’re okay?” She narrowed her eyes at him and put her fists on hips. “I know I taught you better than that.”

Emery wanted to let out an exasperated breath, but she had a point. Emery rubbed the back of his head one last time and dropped his hand. “I’m sorry, but training exhausted me and by the time I was able to relax I had to be up again.” He gave her a small grin. “I’ll be around more now that training is done.” He grimaced. “Well that depends. I’m in the queen’s personal guard, so it might not be as often as I would like but –“

“The queen’s guard,” Ingrid said with small gasp. She wrapped Emery up in another tight hug that forced the air out of his lungs. “Emery, I am so proud of you. I remember when we first met you, and you were this runt of a thing, but now look at you. A soldier and a member of the queen’s guard.” She gave his cheek a big kiss then let him go. “This is cause for a celebration. We’ll invite the neighbors and a few others over and we’ll have a big ole feast in your honor.”

“Ingrid, I appreciate the thought and sentiment, but –“

“Nonsense.” She gasped. “I have to go to the market. “I don’t have any of the foods you like around, plus we could use some meat.” Ingrid headed for the doorway that led to the front of the bakery and Emery followed her. She was a woman on a mission and nothing would deter her from it. “Emery, mind the bakery. There is an order in back for the orphanage. The two women who run it should be in to pick it up soon. Don’t charge them full price. Only take two minor coins for the order. They refuse to take it for free.”

Emery nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

Ingrid untied her apron as she continued to give him instructions. “There are two loaves of sweet bread resting in back. Put them in the oven when the others are done, which you should check on once I’m gone.” Emery nodded and moved to help Ingrid with her shawl. She tied it close and beamed a smile at him. “I am quite proud of you, son.”

Emery returned the smiled. “I’m glad I could make you proud.”

She gave his cheek an affectionate pinch then pointed at him. “Rearrange the back so we can host. Make sure the fires are going and be prepared to help me to cook when I get back.”

“Yes ma’am,” Emery replied with a grin on his face.

Ingrid gave his cheek an affectionate pat then left the bakery. When the door closed behind her Emery shook his head. He hadn’t been expecting this sort of a welcome, but it warmed his heart, yet at the same time it made him miss Regina. He drew in a deep breath then headed to the back of the bakery to check on the bread currently baking in the oven.

Emery leaned against the wall that was behind him. Next to him the door which led to the open area behind the bakery was cracked open a bit. It may have been cold, but the number of people having a good time in the back of the bakery made it unbearably hot inside. Emery took a sip of his ale. It was his second one and he still felt sober. Emery chuckled to himself. He knew he’d been in the queen’s army too long when he started missing the ale from Ollie’s tavern. His impromptu homecoming was in full swing and it seemed as though Ingrid had invited everyone in the village. Dinner had been an amazing event. Not only did Ingrid cook enough to feed most of the queen’s army, but everyone who came brought something with them. It was overwhelming. Emery had never felt so welcomed before. He took a sip of his ale just as Joe walked over to him. “Come on, son.”

Emery arched his eyebrow up, but followed the man out the back door. The two of them were quiet as they walked back to Joe’s workshop. They went in and Emery closed the door behind him. Joe went over to the small table in the corner and picked up his pipe. He began to pack it with tobacco and he grinned at Emery. “It’s sure good to have you back around, Emery.”

Emery raised his mug. “It’s good to be back. I’ve missed both you and Ingrid.” He grimaced. “I’m sorry I didn’t write, Joe. Training was intense, and not only that, life is quite hectic in the queen’s army.”

Joe lit his pipe then waved Emery off. As he blew out the smoke he said, “Ay, don’t worry about it. I just wanted to make sure you were alive.” He chuckled. “And it turns out not only are you alive, but you’re in the queen’s guard. You do me proud.”

Emery smiled. “I tried my best to. I have to put some honor on the Swan name.”

Joe chuckled. “That you do, lad. That you do.” He took a hit off the pipe then wondered, “How long you here for?”

Emery took a drink from his mug. “A day or two. I have to meet my battalion at Stefan’s castle.”

Joe nodded with understanding then smiled. “After that?”

Emery shrugged and said, “I have to report back to the captain that leads the queen’s guard then I guess I find out from there.” He smiled. “I would love to come back home and help you and Ingrid out. Not only do I miss working here, but I also miss the food.”

He and Joe shared a laugh. Joe nodded. “That is one good thing about being home.” He grinned. “You know you’re welcome to come back home anytime you’d like, Emery. I know we ain’t your blood, but we’re family.”

Emery studied the man with a fond smile on his face. Joe was right about that. He took a drink from his mug then held it up. “I’ll bring some of Ollie’s ale with me when I come back.”

Joe scoffed. “Heavens no. That swill is worse than poison.”

Emery laughed and shook his head. “It’s not that bad once you get used to it.”

Joe pointed at him. “Then you’ve been hanging around that tavern too frequently if you think that.” He grinned. “You need to find yourself a nice young woman to settle down with instead of doing gods only know what at that place.”

Emery felt the heat come to his cheeks and he gazed down at the floor of the workshop. “I’m too busy to –“

“Oh, don’t start lying to me now, boy.” Joe chuckled. “Who’s the luck young woman that has garnered the affections of the aloof Emery?”

Emery scoffed. “I’m not aloof. I’m reserved.” He drew in a deep breath then reluctantly admitted, “I may have met someone, but I’m confused, Joe.”

“It’s a woman, son, confusion comes hand in hand with them,” Joe remarked with a slight chuckle.

Emery shook his head and chuckled along with him. He didn’t know if most women were as confusing as Regina, but she definitely ranked high on the list of confusing women. Emery set his mug down on Joe’s work bench then began to pace the length of the small room. “I get that, I think, but this confusion is my own.” He sighed. “I’m afraid I’m mistaking her benevolence for something else.”

Joe hummed. “That is interesting. Why do you think that?”

Emery stopped pacing then looked at Joe. He bit the inside of his lip then sighed. He was going to have to share some of his past with Joe in order for him to get some decent advice. He sat down on the stool by the bench and said, “My childhood wasn’t a good one and since I was younger I’ve been desperate for someone to just see me and love me for me, but I never got that. Not until I met you and Ingrid. But this with the – “ Emery stopped. He almost said who the confusing woman was. He cleared his throat and when he found a suitable nickname for Regina he continued. “This thing with Gina is different than what I’ve experienced with you and Ingrid. You two are the parents I’ve always dreamed of. She…” Emery trailed of and sighed. Finding the words to describe what he felt around Regina was hard. He picked up his ale and took a long drink from it.

“She sees me,” Emery said as he lowered his mug. “She understands me, supports me, and a bunch of other things; but I’m afraid one day I’m going to realize my desperation made me blind to the fact that this isn’t what I thought it was.” He took another long drink from his mug then stared into it. “I don’t want to hurt her like that,” Emery admitted softly.

Emery lifted his head when he heard Joe walking over to him. He held out his pipe and Emery grimaced at it. Joe chuckled. “It ain’t gon’ hurt you none. Just relax you a bit.”

Emery took wooden pipe and took a small pull off it. He choked on the tobacco smoke that filled his lungs. He finished off the rest of his ale to soothe his burning throat then coughed out, “Now I see why Ingrid wants you to quit smoking that thing.”

Joe chuckled again. “It keeps me sane.” He took back his pipe and after he took a hit off of it and blew out the smoke he remarked, “Only you can figure this out, Emery. You’ve got to think about this woman and what you two have been through then decide how it would make you feel to be without her.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been with Ingrid since we were kids. I couldn’t imagine my life without.” Joe put his hand on Emery’s shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. “Either way, son, do what you think will make you happy.”

Emery stared at Joe then gave him a quick hug. “Thanks, Joe.”

Joe smiled at him. “I didn’t do anything.” He put his pipe on the work bench. “All right let’s go back in before Ingrid comes hollering for us. Then we’ll have to hear about how we weren’t being social and so on and so forth.” He grinned. “That’s the last thing either of us wants tonight.”

Emery chuckled as he and Joe headed out of the workshop. He liked talking with Joe. The man wasn’t like his own father. David was a man who followed Snow’s orders and didn’t have many thoughts or opinions that were his own. But Joe, on the other hand, formed his own thoughts and opinions and didn’t follow Ingrid’s lead. In fact the two of them bickered back and forth until one pointed out why their way was the better way. Emery chuckled to himself. He imagined Regina would be something like that with him. Emery rubbed his hand over his chest. Thinking about Regina caused an ache in his chest and it made him miss her even more. Emery took a deep breath hoping to alleviate some of ache. Tonight he would focus on celebrating with Joe, Ingrid, and the rest of the village. There would be numerous days ahead of him where Emery could ponder about his relationship with Regina and his feelings towards her.

Emery had stopped pouting about still being in Stefan’s kingdom after the third week had ended. When the scheduled two weeks had gone by he had accepted negotiations were going to take a bit longer, however it was now a month later and there was no indication of the battalion being able to go back to the Mills kingdom. Emery knew going into the assignment it wasn’t going to be an action intense one, or that anything exciting would happen while the battalion was in Stefan’s kingdom, but a man could only take so much before he would snap. Emery did everything possible to preoccupy himself. He took almost every other watch; organized battalion rations; made sure the soldiers stayed out of trouble when they were in the village; and somehow he had become the battalion captain’s right hand man. A position which had now become a curse in disguise.

Emery considered it a curse because all the annoying things he had learned in strategy were starting to make their way into his everyday life. He had begun to formulate theories about the queen’s strategy and how she planned to end the war. The captain and general were in constant meetings with the king and his advisers about forging a tentative truce. What Emery could gather from the few meetings he had been in was that the queen wanted Stefan to decline any allegiance the White kingdom would offer him. Emery had been surprised to learn that the White kingdom hadn’t offered him one to begin with, but he found out the Mills kingdom and Stefan’s kingdom had a mutual respect for each other that went back longer than any of the current commanding officers could remember. Regardless, the truce told Emery that the queen was planning to make a move against the White kingdom.

Another thing that Emery, begrudgingly, found himself thinking about was the location of Stefan’s kingdom. It was between the Mills and White kingdoms, and even though he remained neutral, the war still had an effect on his kingdom. Emery could tell the kingdom was going broke. Not as broke as the White kingdom, but it was showing signs of getting to that point. A lot of resources were being directed to the castle and what was directed to the villages wasn’t a lot. When he had travelled to meet the battalion, Emery went through a couple villages which were not the best and people seemed as close to destitute. Even though a lot of the battles, small and big, happened on the lands of the White kingdom or the Mills kingdom more often than not some of them would cross into Stefan’s kingdom.

Emery looked around camp then went back to his musings when he realized everything was in order and no threats seemed to be upon them. He started to believe the queen was the reason for why Stefan’s kingdom was going broke. Emery wasn’t sure how Regina had a hand in it, but it was feeling he had. The feeling along with him overhearing one of the other soldiers say they weren’t fighting on their own land added to Emery’s suspicion about Regina doing something to bankrupt Stefan’s kingdom. He had heard the same thing before, but at the time it had come from a drunken soldier. Either way Emery had thoughts and theories about strategy, and it was driving him crazy, but it was the only thing to keep him from missing Regina. He blew out a deep breath.

“Hey, Swan!” A wide eyed man with big ears called out to Emery and he shook his as the man approached him. When the other man was close enough he tossed Emery a hunk of bread. “Have ya heard the news?”

Emery bit into the bread and chewed up the bite a little then said around it, “You’re going to stop terrorizing the women in the village, Will?”

Will flashed him a wide smile. “Never. I heard a fantastic rumor that we’ll be going home at the end of this week. Splendid news, yeah?

Emery grunted as he took another bite from his piece of bread. He ate it up then said, “The queen hasn’t gotten what she wanted.” He chuckled and pointed his bread at Will. “Bet your ass we’ll be here another month.”

Will scowled and punched him in the shoulder. “Why do have to be such an arse? I’m bleedin’ tired of this place.”

Emery grinned and wondered, “What’s the matter, Will? Have you run out of random women to sleep with?”

Will rolled his eyes and ate his chunk of bread. “I mean once you sleep with one village broad, you’ve slept through them all.” He sighed. “I’m just tired of being here. I want my own bed and not the cold hard ground.”

Emery laughed and asked, “Did something happen, Will? You were having a good time going to the village for your merriment.”

Will shrugged. “I was but it gets old.” He grinned. “It would be more fun if you joined us instead of staying up here suckling on the captain’s teat and being a priest.”

Emery scoffed and reached out to give him a less than gentle shove. “Hey, someone has to watch you drunks so you don’t get killed. And I’m not talking about Stefan’s men. I’m talking about the queen.”

Will scoffed then remarked, “Ah, her majesty can blow me. She’s all bark with no bite.”

“You won’t be saying that when she has your head on a pike at the edge of the kingdom,” Emery countered even though he wanted to punch the man in the face. For the most part he tolerated Will because the two of them got along well enough, but most of the time Emery found him annoying.

Will grunted. “Sure she will.” He smiled and moved the conversation to something else. “You should come join us, Swan. It’ll be fun. You, me, and a few of the other men. We might find you a lucky lady that has yet to have the delights of Will Scarlet.”

Emery shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not interested, Will.”

“Why not?” Will grinned. “Is it because you’ve promised your heart to someone already?” Emery scowled at the man and looked down as he tried not to blush, but he knew he failed when Will started to laugh. “Swan, you dog. Who is it?” Will exclaimed as he gave Emery a gentle shove.

Before Emery could find himself in one-sided conversation with Will about his love life the captain called him. “Swan, have Scarlet cover your post and come here.”

Emery shot Will a grin then slung his bow over his shoulder as he rushed over to the tent serving as headquarters. He came to a stop in front of the captain. “Yes, sir?”

The captain eyed him. Emery knew the man liked him. He liked his professionalism, his military bearing, and how he conducted himself in a manner that would impress the queen, but Captain Griswold was a stern man. Emery was certain when he wasn’t in the field Griswold was an easygoing man who probably enjoyed smoking his tobacco pipe in peace. The captain cleared his throat then motioned with his head toward the tent behind him. “Someone would like to speak with you.”

Emery’s eyebrows furrowed together. He had no idea who would want to speak with him. Most of the commanding officers were already doing other things or mounting their horses to go into the village. “Sir, have I done something wrong?”

“Don’t ask questions, Swan. Go in the tent. Now,” the captain ordered and Emery followed the demand even if it was a peculiar order.

Emery went into the tent and the canvas flap closed behind him. He took a few more steps and looked around. There was no one in the tent. All he found were a few cots the commanding officers slept on, a table covered with maps, and a mirror that was in front of the table. Emery became even more confused because the mirror hadn’t been there the last time he had been in the tent which had been a few hours ago. Emery frowned and shook his head. “I’m not certain what the hell is going on,” he muttered.

He had turned to leave when he heard the queen remark, “Impatient as ever.

Emery turned and looked around the tent. He didn’t see her. “Where are you?” Emery asked as his heart began to race.

Regina scoffed. “I see you letting your dimwitted traits run wild in my absence. The mirror, you fool. Did you forget that I have enchanted mirrors?” Emery walked over to the mirror and the instant he saw Regina a smile formed on his face. She was as breathtaking as ever. Emery’s heart thundered in his chest. He had missed her so much. “I didn’t think it was possible, but you look even filthier than normal.”

Emery chuckled and reached out to touch her face, but dropped his hand. He was filthy. A grin came to his face. “I will bathe thoroughly when I return, my queen.” He let out a soft sigh. He wanted to stand there and stare at her all day so he could take in her magnificent elegance. It had been too long since he had last seen her. Emery swallowed then said in a soft voice, “I miss you.”

“Are you sure about that?” Regina shot back and there was a bitter edge to her tone.

Emery sighed. She was still mad about how he had informed her of his leaving and Regina was probably mad that he had taken leave before reporting to the battalion. “I know. I should have told you that I was leaving better, but I didn’t, and I’m sorry.”

The queen scoffed. “A rabid beast has more tact than you do.” She then narrowed her eyes. “And where did you take leave to?”

Emery bit the side of his lip then replied, “I went to go see the couple that took me in after I ran away.” He smiled a little. “They’re my parents.”

The queen deflated a bit. “Oh.” She was quiet for a moment and Emery was okay with that. He was still stunned by seeing her again. He had brought his piece of enchanted mirror, but hadn’t used it because he thought she didn’t want to see him. Emery was brought from his thoughts when she said, “You said you missed me. Does this mean you’ve sorted through your feelings?”

Emery could tell Regina was trying to be nonchalant, but she wasn’t succeeding too well. He smiled. “They are genuine.”

Even as she scoffed, Regina blushed. “Of course they are.” He chuckled lightly and she cleared her throat then said, “I’m glad you were able to work through them since you are about to become a knight.”

Emery started and repeated, “A knight? What?”

The queen let out an exasperated breath. “The captain won’t shut up about you.” She smirked. “I think he has a secret attraction towards you.” Emery scoffed and shook his head, but she continued. “You have managed to impress him, and he wants you knighted. So, Swan, when the battalion returns you will be knighted.” The queen rolled her eyes. “I was going to do it of my own accord, but it is obvious you seem to be an adequate soldier.”

Emery grinned. Not only was that the best compliment he was going to get from her in a semi-private space, but he finally got a promotion based on his merit as soldier and not because of the queen. He laughed. “For once I was able to do something without your interference.”

Regina got an irritated look on her face. “Don’t be too eager. I told you I was going to do it at some point.”

Emery grinned. “But I was able to do it before you.” He sighed. “Thank you, my queen.”

The queen looks at him and there is a tenderness in her eyes that makes his heart pound even more. She smiled. “You don’t have to thank me. Your commanding officer put in a request. I just approved them.”

Emery tilted his head a little and smiled. “In any case, thank you my queen.” He bit the side of his lip then said, “My queen, could you possibly arrange for my parents to be invited to my knighting ceremony? The tavern owner, Ollie, he knows where they live.”

Regina smiled at him. “I will see to it that your parents are at your knighting ceremony.”

The two of them shared a gaze full of emotion for a few moments then Regian drew in a deep breath. “I have to go. I’m meeting with the council about Stefan.”

Emery continued to smile at her. “Okay.”

Apprehension shone in her eyes before she blurted, “I miss you too.” Then she was gone.

Emery was confused by her sudden disappearance, but then a huge grin broke out on his face. He was getting knighted and he had talked to Regina. That changed his mood tremendously. He was now anxious to get back to the castle. Emery stared at the mirror a moment long and whispered, “Soon, my queen.” He turned around and began to walk out of the tent. Emery hoped the rumor Will had told him had been true. If it wasn’t he would soon become irritable because now that he and the queen had spoken, he wanted to be back in the kingdom with her.

Chapter Text

If Stefan hadn’t been a reigning king, Emery would have killed him. He would have murdered the man with his bare hands and would have probably found great pleasure in doing the act. Emery currently sat on his horse, next to Will, and they were traveling back to the Mills kingdom. The battalion had spent another two weeks in Stefan’s kingdom and he was excited to be going home.

Stefan had refused to agree to the terms of negotiation because the bastard king wanted to extort money from the queen in exchange for him staying out of the war. That didn’t sit well with Emery, but the queen’s commanding officers had agreed to it. He wasn’t certain why they, or Regina, would agree to such an arrangement but this was one of the reasons why he wasn’t involved in negotiations. One thing he had been involved in was strategy meetings. Despite his utter disdain for strategy, Emery had become a willing participant in the meetings ever since Regina had told him he was to be knighted.

Going to strategy meetings and thinking about what the queen was planning prevented Emery from dying of severe boredom when he wasn’t doing his other duties. He still believed Regina was going to end the war soon and she was going to use the newly formed navy to do it. Emery still didn’t know if the navy truly existed. He had tried speaking with some of the commanding officers about it but they laughed at him and sent him away. This was another reason why he had gotten so involved with the strategy meetings. He just wanted to know he was right.

Distracting himself with strategy meetings and studying maps didn’t prevent Emery from missing Regina, and he missed her greatly. His longing to see her had put him in a terrible mood the last few days, but now he was anxious to see the woman again. Emery started to think more about the queen and sighed. He couldn’t wait to be back at the castle. “Swan!” Captain Griswold shouted as he rode over to where Emery was.

“Sir,” Emery said as she straightened up in his saddle.

The captain turned his horse so he was travelling in the same direction. “When we get to the kingdom there is a strategy meeting and I want you there.” The order piqued Emery’s interest. “The commanding officers and I will be updating the other officers about what happened in Stefan’s kingdom. Nothing too interesting, but I feel since you will be knighted it is best for you to gain some exposure.”

Emery nodded. “Yes, sir. I appreciate it.”

Griswold grunted. “It was going to happen regardless. Report to the meeting room down the east corridor of the main floor.”

Emery gave the man another nod. “Yes, sir.” The captain rode back to the head of the battalion.

Will leaned over and clasped his hand on Emery’s shoulder as he chuckled. “Sounds like you’re going to have an exciting day, Swan.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “Perhaps. Hopefully this meeting will be more informative than the last few I have been in.” Or so Emery hoped. The only thing he learned in the last meeting was Stefan agreeing to the terms of the negation and the battalion’s departure from the kingdom. Emery drew in a deep breath and adjusted the way he sat in his saddle so he could get comfortable for the rest of the battalion’s journey back to the queen’s castle.

The battalion arrived at the queen’s castle late in the afternoon and those on horses headed for the stables. Emery was turning his horse over to one of the stable boys when he noticed a group of handmaidens standing near the entrance that led to the castle. Emery handed his horse’s reins to the young man and asked, “Who are they?” The boy shrugged and Emery chuckled. “You have been much help. Thank you.”

Emery headed to the entrance the handmaidens were standing in front of and one of the young women broke away from the group to approach him. “Mr. Swan…”

Emery looked at her with an uncertain gaze and said. “Aye, that’s me.”

The young woman gave him a slight curtsey then said, “I am Eleanor. Myself, and the other handmaidens, are to show you to the royal baths for you ceremonial cleansing.”

“My ceremonial cleansing?” Emery repeated slowly as he his eyebrows furrowed. Why the hell did he need a ceremonial cleansing? Then a thought came to him and Emery started to chuckle. He shook his head and remarked, “I’m not going to the baths. I’m going to my meeting.”

“But, sir –“

Emery held up his hand to stop Eleanor from speaking. “I’m not certain what orders the queen has given you, but let her know I have a meeting.” He grinned at Eleanor. “I will deal with her anger if necessary.”

Will muttered next to him, “Just go to the damn baths, Swan. No need to deal with the queen’s wrath over some silly bat.”

Emery scowled at Will. “I’m not going. I have a strategy meeting to attend.”

He started for the exit, but Eleanor blocked his path and said, “This is part of the knighting ceremony and it needs to be done so there isn’t a delay in the process.”

Realizing the young woman wasn’t going to let him leave Emery blew out a frustrated breath and decided to compromise with her. “Okay. I will have my ceremonial cleansing, but,” he held up his finger, “I will do it after my meeting. I’m not going to it now. Ending this war comes before the pomp of this circus.”

Will chuckled and shook his head. “Em, get the bath over with so you, and these gorgeous young women, don’t meet an untimely death.”

Emery rolled his eyes and scoffed. “I am not concerned with the queen.” He looked at Eleanor and said, “I will bathe later. As for now, I will be going to my meeting.”

Emery began to make his way out of the stable and Will called out, “Swan, just speak with the captain about the meeting later.”

Emery chuckled to himself then shouted over his shoulder, “This takes precedence, Will. Now go into the village and do what you do best. I will take a bath when this meeting is over.”

Emery shook his head as he made his way down the path that lead to the back of the castle. He wasn’t going to waste his time indulging Regina with a bath. This ceremonial cleansing was a ploy created by her to get him to bathe. Emery laughed to himself. The woman was determined to make sure he was clean no matter what. He would deal with her evilness later and would be compliant about this bath, but it would be after his meeting. Right now he wanted to know if she had a navy at the north castle.

The general in charge of strategy currently spoke about the various avenues the queen could take to capture the White kingdom since Stefan was no longer a concern. Emery believed the king could still possibly renege on the agreement that had been drafted, but it seemed the officers of the queen’s army weren’t concerned about that possibility. It became evident to Emery that their primary concern was ending the war as quickly as possible.

Several of the potential strategies that had been presented were ingenious and Emery couldn’t help but to be impressed by them. He wondered if the plans had been Regina’s doing or if they had been created by those leading her army. Either way what he had learned so far in the meeting fascinated him, but the one thing to intrigue Emery the most was the reserve battalion which didn’t have any special or general purpose. He had started to suspect they were being trained for the queen’s navy. Nothing was going to make him believe it didn’t exist.

The general had moved on to attack routes that went through Stefan’s kingdom when Captain Griswold said, “Swan, the soon to be appointed knight, brought to my attention a river which runs through Stefan’s kingdom and goes to the sea. He suggests it could be used to drop men off at various locations in the forest for an ambush style of attack.”

Emery put his hand up and added, “I only deemed it a logical option since using the sea itself doesn’t seem like a feasible option.”

General Robinson stared down at the map that was on the table in front of him then looked up at Emery, his face emotionless. “I, and the other commanding officers, will bring this to the queen and her council for advisement. Right now, we are looking at all opportunities before making any final decisions.”

Emery gave the man a slight nod. “Of course, sir.” Deep in his gut he knew Regina would use the sea as part of her plan to end the war, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to get any confirmation about it in this meeting. The general began to discuss his next point which was about training and recruitment. Emery’s fascination about the meeting faded, but he still paid attention. General Robinson had asked a question about recruits with sailing experience when the doors of the meeting room flew open. Regina entered and began to take quick and determined strides into the room.

The commanding officers all scrambled from their seats to bow, but the queen wasn’t interested in them. Emery knew why she had barged in and as he bowed he rolled his eyes in irritation. She had horrible timing. He was still bent at the waist when black, leather, heeled boots entered his field of vision. “Do you not want to become a knight?” the queen demanded to know.

“I would, your majesty,” Emery answered as he continued to look down at the top of her boots. He tried to keep a smile off of his face because he knew if he cracked the slightest one Regina would send him flying across the room before locking him in the dungeon.

“Why do you believe you can skip one of the most scared aspects of the knighting ceremony?” Regina demanded to know.

Emery stayed in his bow as he replied, “I was invited to sit in the strategy meeting, your majesty. I thought –“

“You thought?” Regina scoffed. “That’s the problem with you soldiers. Always thinking and never following orders. Maybe a change in the training regiment is called for.” She stepped closer to Emery even though he continued to look down at the ground. “I am using vital resources in order to prepare for your knighting ceremony and celebration, resources that could be used for the war or in the villages. Not to mention I am disrupting my busy schedule for this. What do you have to say, hm?”

Before Emery could answer Captain Griswold risked his tongue by speaking up. “Your majesty, he can go. Swan was merely observing. Had I known he was to be else where I would have sent him off. He wasn’t useful anyway.”

Emery glowered at the floor. He believed he had been quite useful. No one else seemed to be considering the river which ran through Stefan’s kingdom as part of their strategy. The room went silent for a moment then the Queen said in a low voice, “You better be in the royal baths in ten minutes or there will be no knighting ceremony.” Emery heard the smile in her voice as she finished and it sent a delightful chill down his spine. “Instead we will have a beheading.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

A purple cloud of smoke appeared then disappeared. Emery stood up straight and looked at Captain Griswold. The man grunted and it was all Emery needed to leave the meeting. When he reached the main corridor of the first floor of the castle he found a page and asked to be shown to the royal baths.  Emery and the young boy made their way towards the kitchens and Emery began to wonder how he never realized there were baths in the kitchen, but then the young boy turned to the right and headed down the hall which was opposite the one that led to the kitchens.

Despite living in the castle, Emery hadn’t explored a lot of it. He knew of a few secret passageways – thanks to the castle pages – but other than that it was still possible for him to get lost if he found himself in a wing or hall that he wasn’t familiar with. The young boy stopped at a door and opened it for Emery. “Take the stairs all the way down, sir, and you will find the royal baths.”

Emery smiled at the boy. “Thank you for your help.” He walked through the door and made his way down the stairs which were lit by wall torches. When he reached the bottom of them he entered an open, stone chamber that only contained several high marble tubs which were placed at random intervals. Stunned, Emery looked around the cavernous chamber. There wasn’t much to it, but there was a relaxing element to the spacious room which Emery felt. A slight fragrance hung in the air and he found it soothing and familiar. It smelled like the flowers his bath water normally smelled like. There were marble pillars around the chamber and from what Emery could tell in the low light it was beautifully, yet simply, decorated with vines that had white flowers on them. He started to regret not coming to the royal baths sooner.

A young handmaiden stood by one of the tubs and Emery approached her. He forced a smile on his face and said, “So here I am. Ready for my ceremonial bathing.” He rolled his eyes. “Whatever that is.”

The young woman giggled then said, “You actually have three: one on the eve of the ceremony, one in the morning, and then one before the ceremony.”

Emery groaned then remarked, “Unnecessary baths. Great.” He sighed. “So do I just pick a tub and hop in?”

The hand maiden shook her head. “Not exactly. We handmaidens typically help the knight undress and bathe him.” Emery couldn’t stop his eyes from widening in shock and the young woman quickly added, “But the queen has stated you are to bathe and undress yourself in private.”

Emery slowly let out a relieved breath. He was thankful Regina had taken care of that particular detail and prevented it from happening. He gave the young woman an uneasy smile. “Ah, thank you for telling me that.” Emery pursed his lips and looked around. He looked back at the handmaiden. “Guess I’ll take that bath then.”

She nodded. “If you need anything you can call up the stairs.” She pointed to a wooden shelf which had towels on it. “Dry towels over there and soaps and sponges are in the basket on the ledge of the tub.” She curtseyed and said, “Enjoy your bath, Sir Swan.”

Emery was about to correct her, but stopped himself. Since he was about to become a knight in less than a day she technically wasn’t wrong. The young woman headed for the stairs and went up them. Emery waited until he heard the heavy door at the top of the stairs close. He blew out a breath and ran his hand over his hair as he moved closer to the marble tub. He put his hand in the water and it felt amazing. No matter how much Emery wanted to dislike taking baths they had grown on him and were probably the best part of his day. Emery started to disrobe. He was unbuckling the belt for his sword when he heard Regina behind him, “Leave it to you to disregard a tradition that predates either of us.”

Emery turned and the moment he saw her, his heart faltered then resumed its normal rhythm. She was beautiful. Regina made her way over to him and finished undoing the belt for his sword. “I thought it was some ploy created by you to get me to bathe,” he said with a small chuckle. Emery added, “I have also developed a fascination for your military strategy, so I was excited to attend the meeting.” He then remembered a question he had for Regina. “Do the commanding officers to most of the strategy planning or do you have a hand in it as well?”

Regina let out a low chuckle and it caused the grin on Emery’s face to widen even more. “I do miss the days when you hated military strategy.” She grinned at him and replied, “I do make the final decision on all military strategies.” She placed his sword on the table located behind the tub. Regina turned back to face him and began to undo the arm protectors he wore when he didn’t have on his armor. “I also don’t need a ploy to get you to bathe. Telling you, you would not be allowed to see me until you did seems to work quite well.”

Emery chuckled and the smile remained on his face as they looked in each other’s eyes. He wanted to kiss and touch Regina but knew he needed to bathe before she’d let him rest a finger on her. He also felt uncertain about how forward he should be towards her. Emery sighed and settled on telling Regina how much he missed her. “We are not allowed to go a month without seeing each other. It is excruciating.”

Regina arched up her eyebrow and remarked, “We wouldn’t have gone a month without seeing each other if you had more tact.” She placed the arm protectors on the table with the sword.

Emery nodded in concession. “Yes, my queen. I will be mindful of that from now on.”

Regina smiled at him. “Good.” She looked at him a moment longer then started to undo the buttons of his vest. “Your parents arrived yesterday.”

A wide smile broke out on Emery’s face. “Did they?” Regina nodded. He chuckled and said, “I hope Ingrid wasn’t too much of a bother. She may have you beat for stubbornness.”

Regina scoffed as she continued to undo the buttons. “She is no worse than her son.” She grinned at Emery. A fond smile came to his face as he watched her finish with the buttons on his vest. Regina amazed him on so many levels. She accepted Ingrid and Joe as his parents even though she knew who his real parents were. “Though both of your parents are equally stubborn and they refused my invitation to stay in the castle.”

Emery nodded. “Understandable. They wouldn’t want to impose.”

Regina arched her eyebrow up at him. “I told them they wouldn’t be imposing and they still denied my offer,” Regina said sounding put off by the idea of being told no. Emery pressed his lips together and tried not to laugh, but Regina could read him easily and she glared at him. “I was close to ordering them to stay in the castle instead of going to that disgusting little tavern, but then I remembered they were your parents.”

Emery laughed a little. “Thank you, your majesty, for not doing that and not sending them to the dungeon.”

“It’s still a possibility,” Regina countered as she pulled off his vest.

Emery chuckled. “No it’s not. And Ollie is Ingrid’s brother, so I understand why she wouldn’t want to stay in the castle.”

Regina hummed. “Either way, they have arrived and are staying in that wretched tavern.”

Emery wanted to kiss her for getting Ingrid and Joe to the ceremony, but he still knew he couldn’t. He smiled at her. “I will visit them later.”

“Of course you will,” Regina commented as she moved her hands to the top button of his shirt.

Emery leaned away from them, confused by what she was doing. “What are you doing?”

Regina’s eyebrows furrowed then they relaxed when she realized why he was alarmed. She made an idle gesture and explained, “It’s a part of all of this. Pampering the soon to be knight and such.”

Emery nodded, understanding a little, but the response didn’t explain their current situation. “Okay, but why are you undressing me?”

Regina stared at him and she opened her mouth to answer before closing it. Emery saw concern come to her face and kicked himself mentally for it. He didn’t mean the question to come off as it had. Regina asked, with some hesitance, “Do you have a problem with me undressing you?” Emery looked at her for a moment. He didn’t have a problem with it, but he didn’t get the why.

“I don’t. I just don’t know why you’re doing it.”

Regina brought her hands back to the top button of his shirt and said, “Being a knight is a sacred position in the kingdom. Only those who have proven themselves to be loyal to the crown, admirable, and dedicated to the queen receive the title.” She moved to the next button on his shirt. “Knights are the highest ranking members of the military and are a part of the nobility.” Regina chuckled and smiled at Emery. “However you are already a noble yourself since you are a member of a royal family.”

Emery rolled his eyes. “Minor detail.”

“Indeed.” She continued to tell him about becoming a knight. “Since you are becoming a part of the nobility you will be getting a parcel of land, a seat on the council, and a battalion to command. The last you get because of your military background.”

Emery stopped Regina from unbuttoning his shirt further and frowned. “Regina, I don’t want any of that. I will accept the title of a knight, but becoming nobility, and all this responsibility… it’s not what I want. I’m a soldier, and sometimes a baker, but that’s it.”

“It comes with the title,” Regina stated in a blunt tone. “All of it is steeped into you becoming a knight.” She narrowed her eyes at him and Emery wondered what he had done. “Consider this your one warning. Since you will be a noble, and among other nobles, you will be expected to act as such.”

Emery scoffed and walked away from her. He finished unbuttoning his shirt. He didn’t want to become a knight if it meant he would have to spend his time being a part of something he hated. Emery looked at Regina and it caused all the fight to leave him. There was no way he could be angry and surly towards her especially after their long separation. He blew out a deep breath then went over to her. “If I must be a noble then I will accept it, unfortunately.” He pointed at her. “However, I will do this on my terms.”

Regina smiled. “I honestly didn’t think you would do it on anyone else’s.”

Emery chuckled and shook his head. “You still haven’t answered why you’re undressing me.”

Regina pulled off his shirt and said, “I was getting there, but your stubborn personality decided to make an appearance.” Emery playfully scowled at her and she chuckled. “In preparation for the knighting ceremony the soon to be knight takes a bath in waters that come from the natural springs that are located under the castle. Handmaidens typically help the knight undress and bathe; however since you pose a unique situation - for numerous reasons - I have decided to take it upon myself to fill that particular position.”

The moment Emery’s brain had processed what she said his heart began to race wildly in his chest and his mouth went dry. He swallowed a couple of times then asked in a soft voice, “You’re going to bathe me?”

Regina nodded, but trepidation came to her eyes. “I am, but that’s only if you feel comfortable enough for me to do so. I don’t want to push you, Emery.”

Emery was more than comfortable with her bathing him. He had come to realize Regina saw him for him and his body wasn’t something she cared about. She understood how much it distressed him and was considerate about respecting his boundaries. Emery smiled. He trusted her on a level he didn’t trust anyone on. He nodded and said, “I am comfortable with you bathing me. I trust you, Regina.”

Their eyes remained on one another for a moment longer. Sharing and conveying intense emotion which caused Emery’s breath to catch in his throat. Regina finished undressing him and silence fell over them as she did. A shift occurred between Emery and Regina and it was a sexual one, but there was also something else mixed in with it. Something deeper and much more profound. Every time Regina’s fingers grazed over Emery’s skin or she touched some part of him it was as if the innocent caresses added to a slowly building storm which would capture the both of them when it came to a head.

When Regina finished her dark eyes met Emery’s. He could see the desire in them and was certain she could see the same in his. Regina’s eyes flicked down his body and back up to his eyes. Emery didn’t feel the panic to cover his body nor did he feel vulnerable. This time when Regina took in his naked form Emery felt wanted, and it was an entirely new feeling for him. Regina cleared her throat then asked, “Are you okay?” Emery, too moved by the moment to speak, nodded. She smiled. “I did not get a chance to tell you this the last time I saw you without clothes but,” she stepped closer to him and ran her finger over his collarbone as she whispered, “you have a body that makes want to disregard my sensibilities.”

That caused Emery to laugh a little and it alleviated the weight of the heavy emotions which had filled the room. As he caught his breath Emery grinned and asked, “Does that mean you find me attractive, my queen?”

A wicked grin played on Regina’s lips and she ran the tip of her tongue over her top lip. The seductive display almost made Emery lose his own sensibilities. She then winked at him and countered, “I most definitely do, Swan.” The desire to take the woman right then and there went through Emery, but he didn’t act on it. Regina took hold of his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Get in the tub.” Emery obeyed the order and moved to hop up on the ledge of the marble tub. As he eased into the water Regina said, “There are stairs on the other side.”

Emery let out a soft groan and closed his eyes as he rested back against the tub. “I will use them next time.” He sighed and kept his eyes closed as he luxuriated in the warm mineral water that surrounded him. He groaned. “We should get the bath water from the springs.”

Regina chuckled and said, “I do get my bath water from the springs. I’m not certain where yours is gotten from.”

Emery chuckled and just as he opened his eyes the simple dress Regina wore fell to the ground. Emery’s eyes grew large, but then he quickly averted them. His voice came out as a squeak when he asked, “What are you doing?”

“I have to bathe you,” Regina replied. The tone of her voice told Emery she didn’t see any problem with her current state of undress. “I thought you were okay with that?”

Emery studied the ceiling and said, “Uh-huh, I am, but I uh…I-um-I- Do you have to be naked in order to do that?”

Regina was silent for a moment, but then she stated, “I suppose I don’t, but it would be simpler if I joined you in the bath.” She paused then asked, with slight apprehension, “Are you not comfortable with me joining you in the tub?”

Emery let out a frustrated breath as he studied the wall next to the tub, finding it quite interesting as figured out what to say. He sighed. “No, my queen. I am comfortable with you joining me it’s that I um…” He couldn’t finish his sentence. Emery could feel his already hot skin start to burn as he admitted, “This is the first time I’m seeing you like this and I uh….” He blew out an aggravated breath. He felt very much like an inexperienced teenager at the moment. Emery drew in a deep breath then blurted, “I don’t feel worthy of seeing the queen like this.”

Silence filled the bathing room for a short moment then Regina started to laugh softly. The melodic sound instantly drew Emery’s attention towards her and he glanced at her, but quickly looked back at the wall. Regina chuckled and Emery could tell she was moving closer to the tub. She took a firm hold of his chin and moved his head so he was looking at her. Regina smirked at him and said, “The situation warrants me to be nude, but you’re right. You are unworthy to look at my naked body, but that is something we will both have to suffer through.”

She let go of his chin then walked around the tub to get to the steps Emery had bypassed. Emery watched her every move and as she made her way up the stairs that led to the edge of the tub he couldn’t help but to be enraptured by her. Regina was a beautiful goddess who left him speechless. When he could speak again Emery said, “If I were to go blind at this very moment, I would be fine with it. The sight of you is a vision no man or deity could ever duplicate.”

Regina smiled and remarked, “A blind knight would have no use in my court.” She grinned. “I’m not sure if you’re trying to compliment me.”

“I am most definitely am trying to compliment you,” Emery said as he moved closer to her. He had to touch her. Having gone this long, even with the innocent touches the two of them had shared before, made the need unbearable.

He brought his hand from out of the water and reached out to cup her cheek but Regina swatted it away. “Until you are thoroughly bathed, and no longer smelling like the backside of a horse, you are not allowed to touch me,” she said in a tone that sounded less serious than she probably intended.

Emery could barely suppress the smile that wanted to break out on his face. It took a lot of willpower for him to prevent it from appearing. He dipped his head and said, “Yes, my queen.”

He watched as Regina reached for the basket which contained the soaps and sponges. She got a sponge and lathered it up with soap. She looked at him and bit her lip before she said, “If you get uncomfortable at any point you can let me know.”

Emery smiled. Regina had always been courteous and contentious when it came to his body, and he adored her for it, but he also trusted her more because of it. He reached for the hand that held the sponge and brought it to his chest as he looked into her eyes. “You can touch me anywhere you would like. I trust you, Regina.” Emery gave her a tender smile.

Regina returned the smile and they shared another moment where they stared into one another’s eyes. This time a silent conversation of understanding and acceptance was exchanged then it was over. Regina started to wash Emery and the silence lingered as her hands carefully cleansed his body. It didn’t take long for the peaceful silence to get to Emery. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy it, but he had questions he wanted to ask Regina and information he hoped to get from her.

“How long are you going to allow King Stefan to extort money from you?” He asked as he watched Regina wash him. She continued to bathe him and didn’t answer the question. Emery realized this was going to be a one-sided conversation between the two of them, but this was something he wanted to talk with her about since negotiations had ended.

“Since his kingdom is going broke from the war - which I’m still not sure how you know that - and his army isn’t big enough to defeat either you or the White kingdom he poses no real threat. They only thing that is useful in that kingdom is the river that runs through it.” Emery tilted his head to the side and watched Regina. She was focused on washing his leg and seemed to be ignoring him. He shook his head before resting it against the tub, gazing at the ceiling. “I mean the only real reason why you would agree to give him money to keep him out of the war was if you believed you’d be getting it back.” As soon as the words left his mouth Emery jerked his head up and looked at Regina. He drew his leg out of her grasp then leaned forward to catch her eye. “My queen, do you plan to take Stefan’s kingdom while taking the White kingdom?”

Regina drew in a deep breath and stared at him. The look on her face was impassive and revealed nothing to him. “Turn around.” Emery gawked at the order, but when her eyebrow arched up he followed it. Regina started to wash his back and asked, “Did your mother, the queen of fancy, read you an abundance of fantastical tales when you were younger?”

Emery didn’t understand where the question was coming from, but he answered it. “She didn’t. My nanny, Nicolette, did since my mother was too busy to do such things.”

“Then I will blame her for reading you stories which have developed your overactive imagination,” Regina said with a small chuckle.

Emery grinned. “Possibly, but that doesn’t mean my theory isn’t true.”

The queen didn’t say anything and Emery stayed quiet. He didn’t like when she paused the conversation. It was dramatic and unnecessary in his opinion. She sighed then asked, “What do you know of the war exactly?”

Emery furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lip as he thought about the question. Again, he wasn’t sure where this sudden turn was taking them, but he went with it. “I was nine when it started, but my mom sent me away with the dwarves to go stay in a cottage which was protected by fairy magic. I just know you did something to my grandfather or something.”

Regina scoffed and muttered, “Of course Snow would want to shelter you from the war.” She let out an exasperated breath. “You are right about your grandfather’s death triggering the war, but that isn’t what started it. The Mills kingdom and the White kingdom have been at odds for several lifetimes now. It is a feud that is rooted in backstabbing and underhanded tactics over trade routes and natural resources.” She ran the sponge over Emery’s bare shoulder. “My mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, and my father had been working to fix that. Your mother had been young at the time. I think she was a year or two younger than you, but definitely older than me. She had met your father and I remember my mother ranting about how Leopold and Eva were weak for letting her cohort with a shepherd because he was her true love.” She chuckled. “A clear sign of how spoiled Snow was.”

Regina sighed. “My mother didn’t want anything to do with the treaty that was being drafted by the two kingdoms, but my father did because he saw what it could do for both our kingdoms. It would give the Mills kingdom access to sea trade and the White kingdom would get access to our natural springs, vast forest, and mines. This dragged on for many years then your grandmother died. Your grandfather left the treaty up to Snow before anything could be decided because he was too grief-stricken. Snow began to make changes to the treaty which angered my mother. So she killed your grandfather. It took them awhile to find out it was Cora, but they eventually they did.”

Emery rested back against her and took hold of her hand under the still warm water. Regina idly ran her finger across his collarbone as she continued. “One day the White kingdom ambushed the royal processional on their way to Stefan’s kingdom to discuss my marriage to the king.”

Emery sat up and turned to look at her, surprise and horror written on his face as he exclaimed, “You were supposed to marry Stefan?” He scoffed. “The man is old enough to be dead by tomorrow. I’m surprised they don’t have his funeral plans on standby.”

Regina laughed and nodded her head. “He is quite old. Almost forty years my senior, but it never happened because of the ambush.” She brushed a wet lock of hair out of Emery’s face. “The White kingdom killed my mother in a public execution, and my father I haven’t heard about in ten years.”

Emery frowned and asked, “Did you declare war or was it the White kingdom?”

Regina smiled a little and replied, “I did. Not because of my mother. She was a ruthless tyrant and wasn’t much of a mother.” Sadness came to Regina’s eyes. “I did it because of my father. He didn’t deserve to be a casualty in all of this. He wanted peace between the two kingdoms and Snow refused to listen.” Tears glistened in Regina’s brown eyes and Emery’s heart ached at the sight of them. Regina blinked a few times and they disappeared. “I haven’t heard anything about him in the last ten years, and I haven’t done anything which would put his life in danger, but I’m starting to believe he isn’t alive.” Emery tried to think about anything he might have heard or seen while he lived at the White castle which would alleviate her worries and sadness, but he didn’t. Regina looked at him and her eyes were cold and hard. “Because of that, the White kingdom will be mine since they took my father from me.”

“When do you plan to do this?” Emery asked. For several reasons he was eager to be a part of the battalion which conquered the White king and queen.

Regina frowned a little. “I have to meet with your parents first. One final attempt at peace then I will come to a decision.”

Emery took hold of both of her hands. “My queen, when you make the decision let me lead the charge that takes the White castle.” A slight sneer formed on his face. “Snow White makes herself out to be some sort of righteous good when it is quite obvious she isn’t and is unfit to reign.” Emery gently squeezed Regina’s hand and pleaded. “Please, Regina, promise me you will let me lead the charge.”

Regina stared into his eyes and there were a number of emotions Emery saw in them before her eyelids drifted close and she nodded. Regina opened her eyes and cupped his cheek. “I promise, when the time comes, you will lead the charge against the White castle.”

Before Regina leaned in to give him a brief kiss Emery saw a flash of pain, but he wasn’t able to ask her about it. When the kissed ended Regina was Regina again. She smiled at him and said, “We have to finish. Turn around because I don’t think I did a good enough job of washing your back.”

Emery studied her for a second. Something had upset Regina but he didn’t know what it could be. Emery turned around and Regina finished bathing him. He thought about everything she had told him about the war. There was a lot of bad blood between the two kingdoms, but it would soon be coming to a swift end, and the result would be the demise of the White kingdom. Emery felt Regina press a kiss to the back of his neck and he smiled. He was going to get Regina the vengeance she deserved then he would help her recover from whatever information they found out about her father.

Chapter Text

“We need to get out,” Regina announced an hour later. Emery groaned. He didn’t want to leave the bath. He was content and close to falling asleep in the water which was still warm. However, Regina became insistent when he didn’t move. “Emery, I still have things to do for your knighting ceremony.” Emery blew out a defeated sigh and moved to get out of the tub. This time he took the stairs. They got out and after Emery had dried off he put on a thick cotton robe. He was wrapping it around himself when Regina said, “We’re having dinner in my private dining room tonight.”

Emery tightened the sash of the robe. He stared at her for a moment then wondered, “May I ask why?”

Regina smirked. “Only if you want to risk losing your tongue.” Emery couldn’t help but to be exasperated by the response and he rolled his eyes. She chuckled and moved closer to him. Regina gave his cheek lingering a kiss and when she pulled back there was a small smile on her face. “It is a surprise. Just be there at the normal time.”

Emery became suspicious about the surprise Regina had for him, but nodded and said, “Okay.”

Regina continued to smile at him as a cloud of purple smoke enveloped her then she was gone. Emery didn’t know what to make of this sudden dinner with the woman. He usually ate with the other soldiers or in his room when he wasn’t feeling social. And the last time he and Regina had dinner together was when he had been injured. Emery stood in the empty bathing chamber thinking about this dinner for another moment then he made his way to the stairs. When he pushed open the door at the top of them there was a young woman standing opposite of it and she moved to help him with the stuff in his arms. Emery began to decline her help. “Oh, you don’t have to help. I can manage quite fine.”

The young woman ignored him and Emery let her do whatever she was instructed to do. The two of them walked a short distance then they went through a secret passageway located near the kitchens and it led to a set of stairs that went up the east tower. They headed up to Emery’s room and after he thanked the young woman she left through the door which led back to the castle. Once the door was closed Emery went over to his wardrobe and got dressed.

He was fastening his sword around his waist when someone began to knock on the door. Emery answered it and found Captain Lancelot standing on the other side. He stood at attention and ignored the anger that rushed though him. Memories of what the man had done to him tried to force their way to the forefront of his mind.

Lancelot’s decorum remained professional as he said, “Since you are becoming a knight I’ve come to inform you, you will no longer be a part of her majesty’s guard. You will have other, and newer, responsibilities because of it.”

“What?” Emery exclaimed as he gawked at the man. Lancelot thinking he knew what was best for Emery had been the reason why the commandant had almost killed him, and now he was removing him from a position he actually wanted to be a part of. Being a part of Regina’s guard alleviated his worries about her safety. “With all due respect, sir, but haven’t you been responsible for enough in regards to the orders you have given me?”

Lancelot narrowed his eyes at Emery then shook his head. He pushed him back and stepped into his room. The other man closed the door behind him and pinned Emery down with an earnest gaze. “I did not order the commandant to kill you. He was to punish you appropriately then you were to finish your training.” Lancelot sighed. “What he did to you was his own vendetta.” The man shook his head and said, “Trust me, I have learned the queen’s affairs in regards to you is a topic which will only end in my death.”

Emery briefly wondered what Regina had done to Lancelot for what had happened to him, but Lancelot continued. “I don’t know what her interest is in you, or what is going on between you two, but it is no longer my concern. My concern is the queen and her protection.” Lancelot let out a deep sigh. “Dismissing you from the guard has nothing to do with that. You will be a knight, Swan. You will have knightly duties, you will have rank, and you will have your own battalion. You will no longer be a soldier instead you will be a commanding officer.” He chuckled. “I can’t do anything with you, so must be removed from her personal guard.”

Emery couldn’t believe he was being removed. He shook his head. There had to be some way around this. “I cannot be removed from the queen’s personal guard.”

The captain shrugged and said, “That is something you will have to speak with her majesty about.”

Emery scowled and muttered, “Of course I do.” He sighed and nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

Lancelot dipped his head. “You’re welcome, Swan.” He paused for a moment and an apologetic expression came to his face. “Again, about everything with the commandant, I’m sorry.”

Emery smiled at him and said, “Thank you.”

The captain left his room and Emery sighed. Knowing Lancelot didn’t have it out for him was a relief to Emery because he actually liked the captain. He ran his hand over his head and blew out a breath. He was going to have to talk to Regina about being removed from her guard and Emery didn’t want to do that, but he had to especially after the assassination attempt. He drew in another breath and sighed. Emery left his room and headed down to the main floor of the castle.

His first stop was the kitchens. When he entered the massive room Emery was taken off guard by the organized chaos which was occurring. Lydia barked out orders to the kitchen staff and they ran around cooking, preparing, or cleaning up whatever she ordered them to do. Emery walked over to where Lydia was kneading dough and said, “Need a hand old lady?”

Lydia looked at him and a bright smile came to her face. “You’re home and you’re going to be a knight.” She wrapped him up in a big hug. “I’m so proud of you.” She moved back and grinned. “I’m glad you were able to show the queen how good of a soldier you are.”

Emery chuckled and shrugged. “It was the captain’s doing really. I just happen to show everyone else up.”

Lydia chuckled then a stern expression appeared on her face, but it wasn’t a serious one. “What are you doing in here?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “You better have not come looking for food.”

Emery clasped his hands together and pleaded, “Please, Lydia? I’m hungry. I spent all day on a horse then I had to take a bath and I haven’t eaten a thing since this morning. Please give me something to eat.” Emery put on his best doe-eyed look. “Please?”

Lydia shook her head and chuckled. “Emery, you are a thorn in my side, but you’re too damn adorable.” She wiped her hands on her apron and moved away from the counter.

Emery rolled up his sleeves and moved to where she had been standing. “What are you making?”

“That’s going to be the crust for a pie I’m making for the celebration tomorrow. I’m making several of them and they might be your favorite,” she replied as she got some bread to make him a sandwich.

Emery picked up the rolling pin and started to flatten out the crust. “There better be at least three berry pies because two are mine.”

Lydia chuckled and glanced at him over her shoulder. “I forget you’re a baker’s son. Not too thin, and I will make you a separate pie for dinner tonight.”

“How could you forget that? As many times I’ve come to help you.” Emery wasn’t certain if he could tell Lydia he was having dinner with the queen. Instead he grinned and said, “And I can’t wait for those pies.”

By the time Lydia finished making his sandwich Emery had thinned out the pie crust for her. He took the sandwich from her and Lydia remarked, “You did a good job. I’ll have to get you in here more often.”

Emery chuckled. “You need an extra baker, I am your man.” He grinned. “I can also make the sweet bread the queen likes.”

Lydia looked at him and asked, “Wait, I’ve never thought about this. You’re related to Ingrid and Joe Swan?”

Emery nodded. “Yep. Those are my parents. They’re actually in the village staying with Ingrid’s brother, but they will be at the ceremony.”

Lydia chuckled and said, “We will have to them over for breakfast in the morning.”

Emery laughed. “Good luck with that one. Ingrid doesn’t like a fuss to be made and Joe’s too prideful.” He took a bite out of his sandwich and said around it, “Do you happen to know where the queen is?”

“Oh, I will have them at this castle for breakfast. I’ll notify the queen.” Emery started to worry about what Lydia had up her sleeve. Regina made him leery, but Lydia scared him. She was a resourceful woman. Lydia got a knife out of the block that sat on the counter. “About her majesty, one of the boys said she was driving everyone crazy in the great hall.” She smiled at him. “He’s now scrubbing pots in back.”

Emery chuckled. “Serves him right for speaking ill of the queen.” He smiled. “I’m going to see if she is still there. Thank you for the sandwich, Lydia.” Emery gave her cheek a kiss. “You’re the best.” He walked out of the kitchen and headed for great hall. Emery was curious about how the celebration and ceremony would go. He knew it would be a boring event, and he would probably want to run himself through with his own sword, but it also intrigued him. As he approached the great hall Emery heard Regina barking out orders and exclaiming how nothing was as it should be. Emery chuckled to himself. He could hear the frustration in her voice and he wondered how long she had been planning this.

Emery strolled into the great hall and the elaborate, but stately, decorations impressed him. It also made him realize how convoluted the whole affair was going to be. Emery hummed then muttered, “I’m certain this means I’m going to be stuffed in some suit.” He sighed. “That’s going to be annoying.” Emery finished off his sandwich and walked over to where Regina was standing. He bowed and said, “Your majesty.”

He stood up straight and Regina eyed him with a scrutinizing gaze. “Mr. Swan. How may I help you?”

It took every bit of restraint Emery had to keep himself from smiling. “I have some business I would like to speak with you about if you wouldn’t mind.”

The queen hummed. “I do indeed mind. Do you not see I am trying to plan a knighting ceremony along with the celebration that is to occur after it?” She glared at him. “All for you benefit I might add.”

Emery gave her a slight nod. “I understand, your majesty, but there are some questions about my knighthood I would like to address if you wouldn’t mind.”

Regina released an exasperated breath. “Caroline,” she called out and a dark haired woman who was been speaking with a few men that were setting up tables walked over to them. When the woman was close enough she bowed then Regina said, “I’m going to be speaking with Mr. Swan. If you could make sure these idiots don’t destroy the setup that would be nice.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Caroline answered as she took the piece of parchment from the queen. She then added, “Don’t forget you have a late meeting with the council.”

Emery saw Regina’s impassive mask slip a little, but it quickly reappeared as fast as it had disappeared. “Very well.” She made her way out of the great hall and Emery followed after her. The two of them were silent as they walked down one of the side corridors off the main hall. They reached the door to her office and Regina opened it and invited Emery in. As he closed the door Regina said, “You have some yellow stuff on your face. Dinner is in two hours. You couldn’t wait?”

Emery scrubbed at his face with his hand. “I haven’t eaten since this morning and I was hungry.” He chuckled as he walked closer to her desk. “You seem to be happy about this meeting later.”

Regina glared at him as she sat down in her desk chair. “Careful, Swan, or I’ll make you escort me to this meeting.”

Emery held up his hands and sat down in one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Please don’t. I have to go through a daunting knighting ceremony tomorrow.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Do you not want to be a knight?”

Emery scowled at her and replied, “I would like to be a knight, but I could do without the overture.” He rolled his eyes. “This is the reason why I wanted to see you.” Emery cleared his throat then said, “I’m not going to be removed from your guard.”

Regina scoffed and countered, “Yes you are. You will be a commanding officer with your own battalion. It makes no sense for you to be a part of my guard.”

Emery argued, “Who took an arrow for you? I don’t trust leaving your safety to anyone else.”

The queen sighed and she gave Emery a pointed look. “Yes, you took an arrow for me, but I can handle any threat that comes my way.” He and Regina shared a gaze and Emery’s was defiant one which caused Regina to let out an irritated sigh. “Emery, you will have other duties as a knight so you will not be in my guard.”

“No, Regina,” he exclaimed as he stood up from his chair. “There has to be some way for me to remain a part of your guard.”

Regina massaged the bridge of her nose. “You’re giving me a headache.” She dropped her hand and met his eyes. “I will tell you this: because your duties as a knight will always come first, you are allowed to appoint a lieutenant to lead your battalion when you aren’t able to.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “But I have to approve of them.”

Emery chuckled. “Of course you do.” His eyebrows furrowed as he remembered something. “Lancelot mentioned my knightly duties, and now you’re talking about them, what exactly does that mean?”

Regina waved her hand around and replied, “Duties the knights handle. Might be something concerning the military. It may be political. Or it might be something that comes from me personally.”

Emery groaned. “Maybe I should reconsider accepting my knighthood.

Regina chuckled and said, “It will not be that bad, and it is too late for you to reconsider. I’ve already planned the ceremony and the party.” Emery chuckled and he looked at her for second. He could look at her all day long. She sighed. “You need to get to the tailor. They had your prior measurements to make your officer’s uniform, but they need to make sure it fits you well.”

Emery rolled his eyes then pushed out of the chair. “I knew I was getting shoved in a suit for this.” He grinned. “But it is better than the alternative.” He smiled at Regina and said, “I’ll be on my way then, my queen.”

He turned and headed for the door. His hand was on the door hand when Regina called out, “Emery….” He turned his head to look at her. She smiled and silence lingered between them before she said, “I’ll see you at dinner tonight.”

Emery nodded and returned the smile. “I’ll see you at dinner tonight.” He walked out of her office and as he stood in the corridor Emery wondered if he should have given her kiss. Then again he wasn’t certain where everything stood for them and he didn’t know the rules for it all. Emery blew out a frustrated breath and ran his hand over his head. This was probably something the two of them should have talked about, but he wasn’t certain how to go about it since this was his first real relationship. Emery shook his head. The confusion around what was right and wrong around Regina was going to give him a headache along with the titling of what they were, so he wasn’t going to think about it.

Emery walked down the corridor and he thought about going to see his parents, but since he had dinner with Regina, and it was getting late, he decided to postpone the visit until tomorrow morning. Instead Emery decided to go down to the training camp to see if you could talk Neal into being his lieutenant. He had no plans to run his own battalion. Emery was going to convince the queen to let him stay in her personal guard. He snorted to himself as he ran down the stone steps which went down the back of the castle. He wasn’t going to be able to convince Regina of anything.

Emery tripped over the top stair and fell to the ground then he scrambled to get to his feet. He rushed down the long hallway that ran down the middle of the east wing. He was headed to the main doors of the queen’s chambers when he heard someone call his name. “Emery, in here.”

Emery skidded to stop and turned around. One of the handmaidens who helped the queen, Elizabeth, stood outside a set of double doors which were open. He rushed over to them and asked, “Is she pissed?”

Elizabeth chuckled and said, “Breathe. She’s not here.” The woman grimaced. “You’re sweaty and your clothes are drenched.”

Emery glared at her. “Yes, Elizabeth, I know.” He blew out a deep breath. “Do I have time to at least go change?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Afraid not.”

Emery groaned and walked into the private dining room. The setup of the room was intimate and cozy. Emery began to panic. “Oh, no. No, no, no,” he muttered as he started to pace. He and Regina were having romantic dinner and he wasn’t prepared for that. He had to mentally prepare for romance and he definitely wasn’t clean or dressed for it. He stopped suddenly and looked at Elizabeth. “Quick, I need something to hide the smell of me.”

Elizabeth got an uncertain expression on her face. “I don’t think I can find anything strong enough.”

Emery scowled at her. For someone who was one of the queen’s favorite handmaidens, she was no help. “Well there has to be something, Elizabeth. I can’t have dinner with the queen smelling like….a barbarian.”

“Then I will have to sit down wind from you,” the Regina’s velvet-like voice drawled out as she entered the room. Regina looked at him and shook her head. “What did you get into?” Emery was about to answer, but the queen held up her hand and looked at Elizabeth. “Thank you for setting up dinner, but you may leave us.” Elizabeth curtsied then she, and the other pages who were in the dining room, left closing the doors behind them. Emery watched as Regina walked over to her seat and he quickly walked over to the chair to pull it out for her. Regina smiled at him and said, “You knew we were having dinner tonight.”

As she sat down Emery pushed her chair in and got an apologetic smile on his face. “My apologies, my queen.” He sat down in the chair that was off to her right. “I had gone to the barracks to speak with Neal about him becoming my lieutenant and we ended up training. He isn’t doing so well with sword fighting on horseback.”

Regina gave him a direct look. “You do know whoever you choose I have to approve of.”

Emery rolled his eyes. “I know, my queen.” He grinned. “Neal will be an excellent lieutenant. When he isn’t complaining and whining he is actually not a bad soldier. We might even have Graham transferred to so he can be his second in command.”

Regina shook her head and chuckled. “You just want your friends in the same battalion.” She began to put food on her plate. “Remember if anything happens in your battalion that embarrasses either me or the kingdom it will all fall to you.”

Emery stabbed several pieces of meat and put them on his plate. “I understand and I will be strict with them, but Graham and Neal have good heads on their shoulders. They are excellent soldiers who follow orders and don’t cause too much trouble.” He chuckled as he scooped some vegetables onto his plate. “Well Neal doesn’t cause too much trouble if he stays away from the tavern.” Emery frowned. “I guess I will have to talk to him about that. And I’ll speak with Graham –“


Emery looked at Regina and tilted his head a little. “My queen?”

She took a sip of her wine then said, “This dinner will be a business free dinner.”

Emery grinned and dipped his head. “Apologies, my queen.”

Regina chuckled. “And stop calling me that. We are in private.” Her smile turned into a seductive smirk. “However it does give me great joy to hear you say it.”

Emery studied her for a moment. He didn’t know if she meant to put a double entendre behind the statement or if she was playing with him. Emery smiled and said, “I will keep the ‘my queen’s’ to a minimum then.” He poured some wine into his goblet and asked, “May I ask, why we’re having dinner in here?”

Regina took a dainty bite out of the roasted chicken on her plate and after she ate it she replied, “To celebrate your knighthood.”

Emery found it a little odd for the two of them to be having such an intimate dinner to celebrate his knighthood, but he went with it because questioning Regina meant a guaranteed trip to the dungeon. The two of them ate in an amicable silence then Regina said, “I’m glad the captain saw what a remarkable solider you were. You deserve it.”

Emery shrugged and said, “I’m not certain I deserve it since I’ve only been out of training for a month.”

Regina scoffed. “You showed great promise as recruit. I didn’t put you with my archers, or with my guard, because of everything that happened. I knew you would be a good fit for them. Are you not?”

Emery couldn’t argue with her because she was sort of right. He had taken an arrow for her with no hesitation. Was one of the best archers, but he only believed that because of the lieutenant. Emery smiled at her and downplayed the compliment. “I thank you for all you have done, Regina, and I do appreciate it.”

Regina took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze as she returned his smile. “You don’t have to thank me. I only sped up the inevitable.”

Emery stared into her eyes for a moment longer then the two of them continued eating. He tried to eat in a reserved manner, but he was starving, and couldn’t contain himself. Regina, however, wasn’t going to let him get away with eating like a slob. “If you don’t mind your table manners I’m going to make you take etiquette classes.”

Emery swallowed the bite that was in his mouth and gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry.” He took a drink of his water then added, “I’ll have the best table manners at the celebratory dinner tomorrow night.”

Regina pinned him down with a hard look. “It would do you well to remember your table manners tomorrow.” She let out a soft scoff. “I won’t tolerate a newly appointed knight making me, or my kingdom, look bad in public.”

Emery belched the expression that came to Regina’s face would have incinerated him if it were possible. He gave her a small smile and apologized, “I’m sorry. It slipped out.” Regina scowled and Emery made his smile bigger hoping it would disarm her. He let out a relieved breath when she went back to eating. “I didn’t used to have bad table manners. I used to have great ones, but after getting out of my mother’s control and living with men who were….men, proper table manners don’t come as natural as the once did.”

Regina glared at him and said, “I will be there to remind you of them, if need be.”

Emery grinned. “I have no doubt that you will, my queen.”

That got her to smirk and Emery’s grin grew. He took a bite of his food and he got lost in his thoughts when a question came to him. Emery took a drink of his wine and set his goblet down on the table. “Regina, I’m curious to know something,” he said with some hesitation.

“Of course, dear.” The term of endearment caused a silly grin to appear on Emery’s face.

He watched her eat as he got swept up in his feeling towards her then Emery took a deep breath. “How did you know who I was?”

Regina stared at him then lowered her utensils to her plate. She took a drink of her wine then cleared her throat as she set it down. “Your eyes. They are a shade of green neither David or Snow posses but your grandmother Ava did.” She smiled. “Then there were the portraits of you I saw when we traveled to the White castle for negotiations. Again, you have distinct eyes which favor your grandmother.”

Emery smiled. He knew of his grandmother, but his mother didn’t speak of her too often because her death was something Snow had never recovered from. Emery went back to eating and nodded. “Okay. It’s something I’ve been wondering since the night you called me by the other name.”

Regina chuckled. “Of course you have. You could have asked me sooner.”

“Right, I’m sure I could have,” Emery countered with a grin. “You would have been so forthcoming with the information.”

Regina laughed a little. “All right, you have a point. Then I will tell you this.” Emery waited for her to continue. “Your parents came looking for you a month after you disappeared. It almost led to their deaths.”

Emery’s eyes widened with shock. “What happened?”

Regina picked up her wine and took a long drink from it. Emery wanted to let out an exasperated breath, but he waited and allowed the woman her dramatics. “Snow and David came charging into my kingdom with an army demanding for your return,” Regina started as she set the goblet back on the table. “I had received word about their arrival days prior thanks to my scouts in Stefan’s kingdom. I met them head on and told your insipid mother I didn’t know where you were. But Snow being Snow, she didn’t believe me. We battled for days and before my army decimated hers I allowed her the chance to leave. A decision I made because of my father.” A disgusted look came to Regina’s face. “I even allowed her disgusting fairies to see if I told the truth about you. When they cleared me your parents left.”

Emery stared at Regina. He couldn’t believe she had the chance to kill his mother and she didn’t. What surprised him even more was her allowing the fairies to use their magic on her.  Emery’s lip curled in disgust. Stupid fairies. He reached for her hand and gave it a firm squeeze. “Regina, I’m sorry.”

She gave him a small smile. “You have nothing to apologize for, and it doesn’t matter. Snow still believes you are here.” She grinned. “Except this time I do know where you are.”

The two of them shared a laugh then continued their dinner. They were almost done when Regina wiped her mouth and said, “I have another motive for our dinner together.” Emery tensed up and looked at her. He had known there was another reason for their dinner. His heart began to race as he grew nervous about what she was going to tell him. Regina took a sip of her wine and as she set the goblet down she pressed her lips together then said, “I also have done some thinking while you were away.”

Emery felt his chest tighten and his heart pounded so hard he thought he could hear it. He swallowed. “Oh. O-Okay,” he said in a shaky, uncertain voice

The queen took another drink of her wine then drew in a deep breath before she remarked, “I haven’t felt this out of sorts in a long time.”

Emery had moved his hands to his lap and balled them up. The more Regina stalled the more anxious he became. Emery was certain he was going to stop breathing in a few seconds. However, his insecurities had other plans for him and each one grew worse as they crashed into one another inside his mind. Despite what they had shared in the bath earlier, Emery still had doubts and believed Regina would one day realize she couldn’t be with him.

Regina blew out a frustrated breath and it surprised Emery because she was always poised and collected in how she presented herself. The unusual action made everything he was feeling worse. “This is the hardest thing for me to do.”

Emery felt his stomach drop and his breath caught in his throat. He knew what Regina was going to say, and he decided to make it easy for her. Emery nodded. “It’s okay, Regina. You don’t have to do it.” He glanced down at the plate in front of him then back at her. There was confusion in her eyes, but he continued. “I get it, and I understand.”

Regina’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Emery, what are you talking about?”

Emery took his napkin off his lap and placed it on the table. He was going to make a graceful exit for the both of them. “I appreciate everything you have done for me, and I will be forever grateful for it. You have my loyalty, but I know that since I am not a proper man you don’t –“

“Shut up.”

Emery didn’t hear the order so he continued to speak. “I guess in the back of my mind I knew you getting involved with someone like me would be a very –“

“Shut up, Emery,” Regina shouted and Emery clamped his mouth closed. He noticed the slight scow on her face and wondered what he did wrong. Regina pressed her lips together then said in a slow, careful manner, “This will be the last time I tell you this.” She drew in a breath then let it out. Her eyes softened and Regina held out her hand for him to take. Emery placed a tentative hand in hers. The sincerity burning in her eyes made his stomach knot up. “You being a proper man, whatever that may mean in your head, will never — never have any bearing on my feelings toward you.” She paused for a second then a small smile came to her face. “To me, you are a proper man, and you are the man I want to be involved with.”

Emery sat in his seat staring at Regina in a stunned silence. She wanted to be involved with him and she wanted to be involved with him as he was. As the man he currently was. Emery had no idea what to say. Regina gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and chuckled as she sat back in her seat. “This isn’t the way I wanted to do this. We were supposed to have a nice dinner then I was going to tell you, in a graceful manner, I wanted to pursue a relationship with you.” She shot Emery a playful glare. “However, you and your dimwitted nature caused me to express myself in an uncouth way.

Emery swallowed several times as his mind began to slowly wrap itself around the concept of Regina wanting to pursue a romantic relationship with him. He swallowed again then said in a soft voice, “You want to be involved with me? Romantically?”

Regina rolled her eyes. “Yes, but now I’m questioning my intelligence in doing so.” Emery chuckled a little and Regina sighed. When their eyes met he saw apprehension in the ones that looked back at him. He gave the hand he was holding a light squeeze and Regina smiled. “I’m still trying to overcome my fear of falling for someone again, but I would like to try. With you.” She drew in a deep breath then slowly let it out. “The last man I truly felt for, Daniel, he was killed in the first charge against the White kingdom.”

A sad smile played on her lips. “Like you he was soldier through and through, and had promised to get my father back for me.” Tears began to shine in her eyes and Emery’s heart broke at the sight of them. “We had plans to run away together because my mother didn’t approve of me marrying a peasant. Daniel had worked his way up the ranks but my mother always saw him as a peasant.” Regina picked up her napkin and dabbed away an errant tear that rolled slowly down her cheek. “When he died I mourned him for a long time, and eventually I closed my heart off. I had lost both my father and Daniel. I couldn’t take losing another person because of the war.”

Emery let go of Regina’s hand and stood up from his chair. He moved closer to Regina’s seat and bent down next to it. He reached out and cupped her cheek watching as her eyes fluttered closed. “Regina, I’m not going to hold you to the promise you made earlier.”

Regina chuckled then sniffed before wiping at her eyes. She smiled at him even with the tears in her eyes. “I’m queen, you can’t hold anything to me.”

Emery softly chuckled. “This true.”

Regina covered his hand with hers. “I wasn’t going to stop you.” She sighed. “You are a brave person who will do anything for those you care about.” Regina smiled. “However, I’m not certain if you are trying to be noble or if it is because of your stubborn nature.”

Emery returned the smile and ran the pad of thumb across her cheek bone. “It could be a little bit of both, but you’re more stubborn than I am.”

Regina gave him a half-hearted scowl. “Watch yourself, Swan.”

Emery chuckled as he held her gaze. “I’ve never been in a relationship before,” he admitted in a quiet voice.

Regina removed his hand from her cheek, but she held onto it as she placed their hands in her lap. “This doesn’t surprise me.” Emery scowled and she quickly added, “I only say that because of everything you’ve been dealing with.” She bit the corner of her mouth. “I will admit I can be impatient at times, but I am willing to pursue this with you, Emery.” She brushed a rouge strand of hair out of his face. “You have brought something into my life I haven’t felt in quite some time.”

Emery smiled. “I would like to pursue this as well, my queen.” He rose up a little and captured her lips for a soft, tender kiss.

When he pulled back they shared an adoring gaze which caused a wide smile to form on Emery’s face. Regina placed her hand on his cheek and said, “Let’s have dessert.”

Emery nodded then moved back to his seat. He got the berry pie which sat at the far end of the table and asked, “What will I be to you?”

He glanced at Regina and there was a smirk on her face as she replied, “I could call you my companion, but that sounds a little scandalous.”

Emery cut a piece of pie for Regina. “You think? That’s almost as bad as you calling me your lover.”

“In order for you to be my lover, I do believe there has to be a physical aspect to our relationship,” Regina quipped, her face was nonchalant, but humor glinted in her eyes.

Emery stared at her. He wasn’t certain what all her teasing was about, but it was going to potentially lead to his spontaneous combustion. He gave her, her piece of pie and let the comment die. Regina continued their conversation as if nothing happened. “I do request discretion so we have time to figure out our relationship in private before it becomes public knowledge.”

Emery nodded in agreement. “Yes, our relationship becoming public knowledge after you have made me a knight would definitely cause a scandal in court and in the ranks.”

Regina grinned and remarked, “But a good scandal keeps the kingdom happy.”

Emery scoffed then took a bite of his pie. He hummed a little. Lydia’s berry pie was his favorite right after Ingrid’s strawberry pie. He pinned Regina down with a pointed look. “I refuse to be a part of any scandal which keeps the kingdom happy.”

Regina chuckled. “If you insist.”

The two of them ate their dessert and discussed the events that would be occurring tomorrow for Emery’s knighting ceremony. When they were done Regina stood up from her chair and Emery stood to pull it out for her. She sighed. “I have to go to that dreadful meeting.”

Emery took hold of her waist and turned her so she was facing him. He leaned in and the two of them met for a slow kiss that lasted a moment. Knowing where they stood made it easier for him to kiss her because there was no more uncertainty about their relationship. The only thing which confused him now was how he was supposed to act in public with Regina. Emery pulled back and smiled at her. “I will go to my room and have a bath. Then I plan to look at a few maps so I can come up with a few theories.”

Regina chuckled. “Be careful or I’ll put you with the chief strategist.”

Emery grinned. “If you do that then maybe I will learn about your navy.”

Regina rolled her eyes then sighed. “Why don’t you bring your maps to my chambers and have a bath there? My meeting shouldn’t’ run too long.” She pursed her lips and ran her fingers over his shoulder as she admitted with some reluctance, “Since you have returned I have found it difficult to be away from you.”

Emery chuckled softly then gave her another kiss. He was becoming quite addicted to her lips. “I will go get my maps, books, and some clothes. Can you have the pages draw me a bath?”

“Absolutely,” Regina replied with a smile. She gave him a final kiss then moved away from him. As she headed for the dining room doors Emery smiled as he watched her leave. Regina was a woman who had changed his life in so many ways and he was thankful for every one of them. Emery let out a happy sigh then snagged a roll off the dinner table before leaving the dining room himself. He was going to get his maps, books, and some clothes then he would have a relaxing bath in the queen’s chambers. Emery grinned. It was a great way to end the day, but it would be even better once he was in bed, and falling asleep with the queen in his arms.

Chapter Text

Emery drew in a deep breath then slowly let it out and turned the page of the book he was reading. He was lying on the couch in the sitting room of the queen’s chambers and close to falling asleep. Emery had taken a relaxing bath and looked over a few maps, but eventually his eyes started to hurt so he decided to read a book of poetry. His eyelids had just drifted close when the doors of the queen’s chambers opened then slammed close. It startled him, but Emery quickly recovered when he heard how fast Regina was walking. He sat up and looked over the back of the couch. “What happened?”

Regina walked to her bedroom and left the door open. Emery tilted his head curious to know what happened at the meeting. He stretched and put his book on the table then got up and headed for the bedroom. Emery entered the room and found Regina standing at the foot of the bed getting undressed. He smiled and watched her for a few seconds then shook his head as he made his way over to her. Emery moved her hands and helped her undress.

They were quiet for a few moments then Emery tried to alleviate some of the tension which radiated off the woman. “As many times you’ve helped me undressed I find it refreshing to help you for once,” Emery said with a slight smile. Regina didn’t respond and he sighed. As he unhooked the last couple clasps on the back of her dress Emery said, “Your majesty, if our relationship is to beneficial for either of us you will have to see me as someone you can open up to.”

Regina sighed and turned to look at him. “Emery, it’s not you. I’m too angry to speak right now.”

He studied her for a second then asked, “What can I do to help?”

Regina stared at him and drew in a deep breath. “Can you give me some time alone, please?”

Emery gave her a slight nod then placed a soft kiss on her cheek. He murmured, “I can give you that.” He left the bedroom and went back into the sitting room. Emery sat down on the couch and picked up his book then he lied down. He was worried about what had taken place in the meeting, but at the same time he knew Regina would try to work through most of it on her own before she would tell him anything. Emery resumed reading the sonnet he had been reading. He didn’t even get through half of it before he dozed off.

Emery woke up when the book was moved off of his chest. He cracked open his eye and watched Regina set it on the table. She wore a black, silk nightgown which went down to the middle of her thighs and the neckline of it was low enough to where he could see her chest. Regina lay on top of him and Emery wrapped his arms around her then kissed the top of her head. She didn’t say anything and Emery wasn’t going to make her talk. If all she wanted was his physical presence then it was the only thing he was going to give her.

Sleep was about to take hold of Emery again when Regina said, “I have never felt the need to share my bed with anyone before, but after sharing it with you a few times, I find it to be quite lonely.”

Emery let out a tired chuckle then kissed the top of her head. “Are you asking me into your bed, my queen?” He asked in a soft whisper

Regina lifted her head and there was an annoyed scowl on her face. Emery chuckled and she let out an exasperated breath. “You don’t have to make it sound so scandalous.”

Emery’s chuckle turned into a soft laugh and Regina continued to scowl at him. He calmed down and said, “If you would like me to join you in bed then I will.”

Regina smiled at him. “I would like you to.”

Emery continued to gaze into her eyes. He sighed and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Do you want to talk about what made you so upset earlier?”

Regina rolled her eyes and shot him a pointed expression. “I don’t.” The severe look in her eyes disappeared and Regina shook her head. “I am queen and I refuse to be threatened with ultimatums from people who hold little to no power. They only have their power because I gave it to them.” Her eyes took on a lethal glare. “Not only can I take their power away, but I can have them all killed if I wanted to.”

Not caring about the dangerous tone her voice had taken Emery smirked and pointed out, “Then you really would be living up to that evil moniker of yours.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at him. “I could have you killed.”

Emery grinned and countered, “But then who would keep your bed warm at night?”

A devious grin came to Regina’s face as she replied, “I could replace you with another soldier.”

Emery gasped, feigning to be hurt by her words, but then he started to chuckle. He smiled at her and remarked, “But you wouldn’t be able to find a soldier who would be like me.”

Adoration filled Regina’s eyes as she looked into his. She smiled. “No, I wouldn’t.” Regina pressed her lips to Emery’s for a lingering kiss. She pulled back and whispered, “We should get some sleep since we have a busy day tomorrow.”

Emery groaned. “Our day is filled with so much royal overture it’s nauseating. I’ll be surprised if I’m able to stay awake for most of it.”

Regina glared at him and remarked, “You better or you will not like the consequences.”

Emery smirked. “My queen, are you making promises which I hope you will be able to fulfill?”

“Possibly,” Regina said with a grin. She gave him another kiss then got off him to stand up. She held out her hand. “Let’s go to bed, Emery.”

Emery groaned again, but he took her hand stood up. He followed Regina into the room. As they got into bed Emery’s annoyance about the next day was put on the back burner. Falling asleep with the queen took precendence over everything else. He was going to enjoy his night with Regina then tomorrow he would be a pain in her ass about all of the pomp and circumstance he was going to have to go through.

Emery’s sleep came to an abrupt end when someone gave his shoulder a less than gentle shove and called out his name. “Emery, you have to wake up. You need to get dressed for the ceremony and breakfast is being served.”

Emery covered his head with his pillow and groaned. He realized Elizabeth was the one waking him up, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t ready for a day which would be filled with pageantry and royal overture. “A few more minutes,” Emery mumbled to the woman.

“I don’t think your mother and the queen want to be kept waiting any longer,” Elizabeth remarked.

Emery tossed the pillow to the side and looked at her. “My mother and the queen?” Confused beyond belief, his face screwed up. “Why is my mother having breakfast with the queen?”

Elizabeth grinned. “Your father is also at breakfast.”

Emery gawked at her then shook his head. Definitely not how he expected to start his morning. Then a thought came to him. “Did Lydia speak with the queen last night before she retired to her chambers?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “I’m not certain but the queen said if you don’t come to her private dining room in the next ten minutes she will make your life, and your day, a living hell.”

Emery grimaced. “Did she say that in front of Ingrid?”

Elizabeth shook her head and said, “No. She said it to only me.”

Emery released a heavy breath. “All right, tell her majesty I will be there shortly once I am dressed for breakfast.”

Elizabeth gave him a nod then exited the queen’s bedroom. Regina had probably sent her to come wake him up because she trusted her not to say anything about him sleeping in her room. Emery sighed and moved to get out of bed. He was going to talk to Lydia about this. She didn’t give him enough time to mentally prepare for breakfast with Regina and his parents. However, she did tell him she was going to be speaking with the queen to have them at the castle for breakfast. Emery shook his head. At least Lydia was a woman of her word.

Emery found a pile of clothes sitting on the foot of the bed. He figured Regina had instructed Elizabeth to go get him something to wear before coming to wake him up. He dressed then headed for the queen’s private dining room. When he entered and smelled the delicious food, Emery disregarded his irritation towards Lydia. He began to make his way to the table when Regina remarked it, “It is nice of you to join us, Sir Swan.”

Emery stopped and turned to face her. He gave a slight bow and said, “I apologize, your majesty. After yesterday’s long journey sleep was a most welcomed gift.” He smiled at Ingrid and Joe. “I hope you two haven’t been tarnishing my name with the queen.”

Ingrid got up from her seat and walked over to him. “Oh, as if there was much to tarnish.” She gave him a tight hug and a peck on the cheek. “You have to be well-behaved since you’re becoming a knight,” Ingrid said with a proud smile on her face and tears came to her eyes. “You’re becoming a knight.”

Emery gave her another hug and whispered, “I am.” He walked Ingrid back to her seat next to Joe and after he pushed in the chair for her Emery gave Joe’s shoulder a quick squeeze. He grinned. “See what I’ve done with the Swan name? And here you thought it would die out.”

Joe chuckled and said, “Well you had me worried when you went off to training and didn’t write.”

“You didn’t write to your parents?” Regina inquired and her tone was a stern one.

Emery sat down in the chair which was off to her right and scoffed. “You try writing when you’re going through recruit training.”

“Emery, you are to respect the queen,” Ingrid exclaimed. “Becoming a knight doesn’t mean you get the right to be caviler towards her.”

Emery stared at Ingrid then at Regina, who took a sip of her drink, but he could see the amusement dancing in her eyes. He opened his mouth then closed it. He gave Regina a slight nod and apologized. “I’m sorry, your majesty. I had no right to speak to you like that.”

Regina smiled at him. “Apology accepted, Sir Swan. Do mind yourself in the future or I may have to punish you.”

Emery wanted to scowl at her when he saw how amused Regina was by the situation, but he didn’t and moved the conversation along. He cleared his throat then said, “Yes, my queen.” He began to make his plate. “Your majesty, I hope my parents haven’t been a nuisance.”

Ingrid scoffed. “You’re a nuisance and we have been most gracious towards the queen. We were surprised when we received the invitation early this morning.”

Emery nodded and said, “I was also surprised to hear we were having breakfast this morning.”

Regina smiled at him. “I figured since you didn’t have time to see them last night you should at least have breakfast with your parents. Your day is going to be filled with ceremonial activities and you may not have a chance to see them.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Emery said with a small smile.

The three of them began to eat and Joe said, “When we received the invitation to the knighting ceremony we had told everyone in the village. Ingrid and I were proud to let everyone know our boy was becoming a knight. Then when the royal carriage came to pick us up it did cause a bit of a stir.”

Emery focused on his food. However, knowing Regina had sent the royal carriage to pick up Ingrid and Joe made his heart fill with more affection towards the woman. Regina let out a small laugh and replied, “When an exemplary solider gets a promotion we make sure all those who have supported them are here to witness their accomplishment.”

“And we appreciate it, your majesty, however it still seems a bit off,” Joe said with some reservation. He then added, “Emery is an extraordinary person, and I’m certain I can tell you this, but he isn’t our son. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t ours. We have adopted him as our own and want what is best for him. That being said I want to make sure you aren’t setting him up for failure. He has grown tremendously since he began living with Ingrid and me, and now within your army, but I won’t allow you to make him a fool because of some hidden agenda you may have because of this war.”

Tension filled the room and Emery glanced between Joe and Regina. Joe was being the protective father he had always wanted David to be and Regina was being tested by the father of the man she was seeing, but he was testing her as the queen. Regina picked up her cup and took a drink from it. She set it down and said, “Mr. Swan –“

“You can call me Joe, your majesty. Considering the conversation we’re having I think it’s best you call me by my first name,” Joe stated as he continued to look at Regina.

She nodded. “All right, Joe and you can call me Regina since we are discussing your son after all.” Regina held out her hand towards Emery and he glanced at it. He met her gaze and Regina quirked her eyebrow. Not understanding what she was doing, Emery took hold of her hand. “My interest in Emery is a personal one, as personal as yours are. We have gotten to know one another well which started when he took an arrow for me. He is a member of my personal guard and we have gotten closer. This has now formed into a romantic relationship.” She paused then continued. “Emery’s promotion was given to him by his commanding officer. I only approved it. There is no ulterior motive here. I simply want to see him succeed which he is doing.”

Emery looked at Ingrid and Joe who both look shocked by the revelation. He was a shocked as they were. Regina had told his parents they were seeing each other. His brain was having a hard time processing it all. A warning from Regina would have been appreciated, but that was a discussion the two of them would have later in private. Emery picked up his goblet of juice and took a drink from it. As he set it down he said, “Joe, Ingrid, I know this is a surprise but we would appreciate it if this was kept between the four of us.”

Tension continued to linger in the dining room and Joe and Ingrid remained silent as they processed everything which had been told to them. Emery glanced at Regina who looked as composed as ever, but he could tell she was uncertain by their silence too. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and she returned it. Joe blew out an explosive breath then reached for his goblet of juice and took a long drink from it. “Your majesty, I know it’s only breakfast, but do you have anything stronger than juice?” Joe asked as he set the goblet down.

Regina nodded and said, “Yes, of course.” She looked at Emery. “Do you mind going to my chambers and getting the liquor in there?”

Emery got up from the table and left the dining room. He was more than glad to be out of the room. As he walked down the hall towards the queen’s chambers Emery ran his hand over his hair and blew out a breath. He definitely did not want to start his day this way. He went into the queen’s chambers and got her apple cider liquor then headed back to the dining room. Things were still tense and silent and they remained so as Emery poured everyone a glass of the liquor. After taking a small sip from her glass Ingrid said, “This is unexpected, Emery, but is this what you want? She isn’t forcing you to do this is she?”

Emery quickly shook his head and said, “No, not at all. I know people believe the queen is a lot of things, and will do anything to get what she wants and to have her way, but not this. Our relationship is a byproduct of me getting to know her and her getting to know me. She is someone I have come to trust and depend on.”

Joe sighed and pointed out, “She’s the queen, Emery.”

Emery chuckled. “I know she is, Joe, but that doesn’t make her any less of a person. She is a woman wanting to share her life with someone. Who she is irrelevant to me. To me she is just Regina.”

Ingrid shook her head and chuckled. “Stubborn as always. We will support you in this Emery, but your majesty,” she narrowed her eyes at Regina, “do not hurt him.”

Emery was taken aback by the threat and was further stunned when Regina allowed it. She gave Ingrid a gracious nod and said, “Mrs. Swan, if I hurt him then it may be my own end.”

Ingrid studied the other woman then picked up her fork to resume eating. “Very well then. What are we to expect from this knighting ceremony?” Emery glanced at Regina and there was a smile on her face. The four of them continued their breakfast despite the massive revelation Regina had dropped on his parents.

Emery currently stood at attention and stared at the painting which hung on the wall behind the council table. Today all twenty members of the kingdom’s council and the queen were sitting on one side and he stood in front of it. Usually ten members sat on one side and the other ten sat on the opposite side while Regina sat at the head of the table. This special occasion required all of them to sit on one side with the queen sitting in the middle. Regina had little interest in the inspection and review the council was putting Emery through and he couldn’t blame her.

Being asked a million questions about his familial line, his adoptive parents, and so forth was tedious and boring, but it was a part of the knighting ceremony. For the hundredth time since starting the process, Emery regretted accepting the promotion. The process wasn’t worth the hassle or the fancy title. He drew in a deep breath and tried to be discrete when he exhaled. Emery just wanted to be done with it all. He glanced at Regina who read a piece of parchment which lay in front of her. She paid no mind to the council’s discussion on if Emery’s bloodline was suitable to carry on the legacy of being a knight since he was an orphan.

Emery fought the smile that wanted to form on his face as he looked at her. Their breakfast with Ingrid and Joe had been fun and interesting once they moved on from him and Regina’s relationship. They had discussed the knighting process and Regina had told him what to expect. Of course Emery had whined about it but she told him it wouldn’t change anything since the ceremony was rooted in tradition. Emery didn’t realize how into tradition Regina was until this ceremony.

Regina had given him the name of the woman who would be in charge of every detail of the event as well as him. Her name was Jeanette and she was a nice woman, but strict. She also wasn’t susceptible to Emery’s charm. It had been disappointing for him to find out because it meant he wouldn’t be able to use his boyish charm to convince her to skip parts of the ceremony. However, he accepted the fact that Jeanette was a professional and lived to serve the queen while helping soldiers become knights.

After breakfast Ingrid and Joe left to go get ready for the day. Regina had invited them to all parts of the ceremony, excluding the closed-door review by the council, and being the proud parents they were Joe and Ingrid gladly accepted the invitation. When they were alone in the dining room Regina told Emery he had to go take a bath in the royal baths before his inspection with the council. Emery had complained but she shut him up with a kiss and every protest he thought of flew from his brain.

Emery resisted the urge to shift where he stood as thoughts of Regina’s lips on his made him think about doing other things with her. He was infatuated with her lips and kissing her, and he wanted to further their relationship, but at the same time he wasn’t certain if Regina wanted it to advance into something more. That uncertainty started to play on his insecurities and Emery began to question if she would actually want to be intimate with him since he wasn’t a proper man. Emery, despite wanting to maintain military decorum, scowled. He hated how his insecurities had the ability to ruin anything which made him remotely happy. It made him feel needy and weak and he didn’t like to feel either of those things.

As if sensing the shift in his moods Regina looked up from the parchment and their eyes met. Concern appeared in hers for a slight moment then her neutral mask returned as she said, “Lord Renauld, going back and forth on if Mr. Swan’s lack of a family makes him unfit to be a knight is getting us nowhere and I am going to put a swift end to it.”

“Your majesty, it is important he comes from a strong and noble bloodline –“

The queen cut the old man off. “Mr. Swan has already proven that he comes from a strong and noble bloodline. Speculating the mystery around him being an orphan doesn’t do anything to prove otherwise.” She stood from the ornate chair she was sitting in and directed a pointed expression towards Emery. “Mr. Swan has taken an arrow for me and has proven great loyalty to me.” Regina turned her head to the right and looked at Lord Renauld. “Putting him under harsh scrutiny because you believe an orphan is unworthy of being a knight is unacceptable.” A triumphant smile appeared on the woman’s face. “He is worthy by my standards, and those are the only standards which should matter to any member of this council.”

A small grin appeared on Emery’s face as he watched the queen leave her spot at the table and made her way out of the council meeting room. The council members scrambled to stand and bow as she exited. Emery bowed slightly and chuckled to himself. Regina had effectively shut down any argument or objection the council members might have had about Emery becoming a knight. At the same time she proved they were insignificant to her and reinforced to them that she was the one in charge. Emery had a feeling a little of her tirade and abrupt departure was retribution for them pissing her off the previous night.

Lord Renauld cleared his throat and said, “It appears that the queen has given the final say on this matter.” He looked at Emery and gave him a tight, condescending smile. “Congratulations, Mr. Swan. We will announce to the court of your advancement. You will be meeting with them next and they will of course have questions of their own.”

Emery dipped his head and said, “I eagerly await the next part of the process, my lord.” It was the biggest lie he had ever told. He knew it would be as boring as getting evaluated by the council. Emery tried not to roll eyes. He’d rather be tortured by the queen. Emery grinned to himself. Her brand of torture probably would involve something which would be enjoyable for both of them. Before he was able to get caught up in inappropriate fantasies of him and the queen Jeanette approached Emery. “We will be going to the throne room so the rest of the court can appraise you.”

As they began to make their way out of the meeting room Emery raised an eyebrow and wondered, “Will the queen be in attendance?”

Jeanette nodded. “She will be, but she – as she did here – will have no input.” She chuckled. “Unless the upset her. Like they did here.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “That is something they enjoy doing.”

“I believe if it didn’t cause such a political uproar, she would kill them all,” Jeanette commented and Emery laughed. The woman looked at him with a horrified expression on her face. “Please do not tell the queen I said that.”

Emery held up his hand. “Your secret is most definitely safe with me.”

Jeanette let out a relieved breath then she went back to business. “After the meeting with the other nobles you will be doing a display of your skills. Which means you will need to get dressed in your armor and report to the arena as soon as possible once we are finished here.”

That piqued Emery’s interest. Engaging in some action was going to be exciting and he couldn’t wait for it. Emery and Jeanette headed to the throne room. When they entered the noble men and women were milling around making small talk. There were light refreshments out and Emery was about to rush over to a table which held breads, cheeses, wine, and fruit when a guard announced, “Her royal majesty, Queen Regina.”

Emery groaned under his breath and properly greeted the queen as she came into the throne room. After she had walked by him, Emery made his way to the table on other side of the room which held more food. He was making himself a small plate when he noticed a lot of the food on the table were mostly his favorites. Emery glanced at the throne and Regina was looking in his general direction and when a faint smile appeared on her lips he grinned. Of course this was her doing.

Emery shook his head and went over to sit in a chair which was far from everyone. He was going to enjoy his snack then he was going to get this tedious meeting over with. Emery took a bite of his bread and cheese and started to think about what he was going to ponder about while the nobles spoke about him. Falling asleep during this meeting would not only cause a scandal, but also result in a visit to the dungeon. Emery glanced at the queen and grinned. “It would be worth it,” he muttered under his breath as he began to think about things which didn’t pertain to his knighting ceremony.

The man screamed as he charged at Emery and swung his sword at him. Emery blocked the blocked the blow and shoved him back. The clanging of the swords rang out around the arena as Emery advanced on the man, getting the upper hand. He was relentless in his attack and made sure he didn’t give the man an opportunity to overpower him. The other soldier wasn’t any match against Emery’s speed and he stumbled backward before falling onto the ground. Emery shoved the tip of his sword under the man’s helmet and pressed it against throat. “Surrender?”

The man nodded and Emery pulled his sword away from him. He took off his helmet and held up his sword. There was a triumphant smile on his face as he looked around the arena. Those in attendance applauded the demonstration they had seen. Emery had shown off his competency with a bow and arrow then engaged in a few rounds of hand to hand combat, which resulted in him getting a bloody nose and a black eye, but Emery had bested the soldier he had fought. Now he had defeated his sword fighting companion and was ready to fight someone else, but unfortunately there were no other skills the council wanted to see.

Emery walked over to balcony the queen was sitting in. He dropped down to one knee and bowed his head. The arena quieted down then Regina said, “This soldier, Emery Swan, has shown he has the bravery, strength, and skill to defend the Mills kingdom and its reigning queen. He has also proven that he is loyal to his kingdom and to his queen. All skills and attributes any knight serving the Mills kingdom should have. He will make an honorable knight.” She took a moment to let the applause which went through the arena to die down then announced, “Lunch will be served then we will move forward with the knighting ceremony.”

Emery glanced up to see Regina leave the balcony. He stood up and made his way to the entrance of the arena. Jeanette came walking through the archway and said, “You are quite the skilled fighter.”

Emery chuckled and titled his head. “Thank you for the compliment, but I have trained quite hard in order to reach this level.”

Jeanette rolled her eyes. “A humble knight. You are definitely different, Mr. Swan.” She turned around and said, “Come along. You’re going to see the castle physician so he can clean up your injuries then you’ll have lunch before going to the royal baths.”

Emery arched his eyebrow. Another bath, but this one he wouldn’t mind. He wondered if Regina would be joining him in the baths, but he dismissed the idea. He was certain she was doing things for his knighting ceremony. They went to the changing room he had gotten ready in and Emery took off his armor with Jeanette’s help. Once it was off the castle physician came in and tended to his wounds. None of the cuts were too serious and all the woman did was clean them up and there was nothing she could do about the bruises he had gotten.

 When the physician finished she and Jeanette left so Emery could change his clothes. After he was dressed Jeanette escorted him to the dining hall where lunch was being served. Emery found Joe and Ingrid sitting at a table with Neal and Graham. He had asked the two men to keep an eye on them because Emery knew being at some grand ceremony would put them out of their element.

Emery found Regina at a table where she sat alone, but several of her guards were standing near it. He decided to figure out where he was going to sit after he got his food. Emery headed right for the buffet table which had a vast assortment of food on it. He piled food on his plate then found a small table which was nestled in a quiet corner. He chose it over sitting with his parents and friends. He wanted a moment to himself. Emery concentrated on eating his food when two attractive women made their way over to his table.

Emery picked up his goblet of wine and the woman on the left, a redhead, asked, “Do you mind sharing your table with us? It seems finding one is quite impossible at the moment.”

Emery gave the women a slight nod and gestured to the two other chairs at the table. “Certainly.”

The women sat down and the dark haired one said, “I’m Cassandra, and this Judith.”

Emery smiled and said, “Pleasure to meet you both. I’m Emery.”

The women laughed a little and Judith remarked, “We already know this, Sir Swan.”

Emery felt his cheeks warm up. Getting used to being called Sir Swan was going to take him some time, but having two attractive women flirt with him was a new experience and Emery felt unsure of himself. He chuckled and said, “I apologize. After engaging in combat I tend to lose my head.”

A coy grin appeared on Judith’s face. “If you need any help finding it, I am available to assist you with that.”

Cassandra playfully glared at Judith. “Not if I don’t help him first.”

Emery chuckled uneasily as he glanced back and forth between the two women. He was completely out of his comfort zone and had no idea how to handle the two women who were flirting with him. Emery swallowed a couple times then said, “I….um…” He chuckled. “If I uh-I’m not certain it is the kind of thing that requires assistance.”

Judith smirked. “Of course it does. That’s not something a person should do on their own.”

Emery continued to smile even though he had no idea what to say. Luckily he didn’t have to come up with anything because one of the men from the queen’s personal guard walked over to the table. When he was closer he said, “Swan, the queen has requested you join her at her table.”

Emery nodded and he picked up his plate and goblet as he got up from the table. He gave Judith and Cassandra an apologetic smile. “Ladies, I apologize.”

Judith smiled and remarked, “I will only accept your apology if you promise me a dance at the ball later.”

Emery stared at the woman for a moment then chuckled. “Certainly.”

“And what about me, Sir Swan?” Cassandra asked with a playful grin on her face.

Emery nodded. “Of course, Miss Cassandra. It would be rude of me to not dance with you.”

The women smiled at him and they both accepted his apology before he departed the table. Emery walked over to the table that the queen was sitting at and he bowed when he was in front of her. “Your majesty.”

Regina took a sip of her goblet of wine then directed a pointed gaze at him. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Emery frowned. “I’m not certain what you’re talking about, your majesty.”

The queen’s hard gaze didn’t change as she said, “What were you doing with those women?”

Emery shook his head and said, “Nothing, your majesty. I was eating and they needed a place to sit then they started to flirt with me.”

“So you were flirting?”

“No, my queen, I was not flirting,” Emery argued

The queen scoffed. “Yes you were. I know your style of flirting. It’s just you being a bumbling fool.”

Emery opened his mouth to argue some more, but then he realized something. “My queen, are you jealous?” Emery asked in a low voice as he took a step closer to her table.

“You know very well that jealousy is beneath me.”

Emery grinned. “You were jealous.”

Regina glared at him and countered, “It would do you well to watch what you say or I will have to punish you publicly.”

Emery couldn’t help but to flirt with her. Flirting with Regina came naturally to him because their attraction to one another was natural. “If that means you’re going to whip me publicly then I might keep it up.”

Regina arched her eyebrow, but then her face turned impassive. “And does that turn you on Mr. Swan? Being whipped?”

Emery opened his mouth and felt a rush of heat come to his face. Regina wasn’t able to fight the smile which tugged at the corners of her mouth so she picked up her wine and took a drink from it. As she set the goblet down she stated, “To ensure you won’t tarnish the image of knighthood with your brazen overtures towards strange women, you are to finish your meal at my table.”

Emery smiled at her and bowed his head slightly. “Yes, your majesty.” He sat down in the empty chair which was off to her left. “And might I say the only brazen overtures I make are the ones I make towards you, my queen,” Emery whispered to her.

Regina hummed. “I have yet to see them.”

Emery stared at her for a moment then went back to his meal. Regina had challenged him and he had no idea what to do with it. As the two of them finished their meals and Emery wondered in a soft voice, “I am to have a bath after lunch, will you be joining me for it? You did miss the one from this morning.”

Regina wiped her mouth then said, “If you would like to keep your tongue, you wouldn’t ask questions like that in public.”

Emery pressed his lips together and tried not to chuckle as he apologized. “I’m sorry, my queen.” He continued to eat and tried to focus on his meal. Emery did his best not to think about the bath and if he would be able to have some time alone with Regina.

Emery had his eyes closed as he relaxed in the bath. He had a full stomach and being surrounded by the warm water caused him to drift closer to sleep. Emery sighed. Bathing in the royal baths was one thing he could get used to. Emery drew in a deep breath then let it out. After he had finished eating Jeanette found him and brought him down to the baths. Once he was finished Emery had to go to his room and get dressed in a suit which made him as stiff as a dummy. But soon the knighting ceremony would be done with and Emery would be able to get back to his normal life. Emery hummed to himself. He couldn’t wait.

A nail scratched across his collarbone and a slow smirk came to his face. “And here I thought I was going to be bathing alone.”

“You might be still if you’re not able to keep your eyes off my breasts,” Regina countered and Emery’s eyes flew open. She was already undressed and making her way up the three stairs which led into the bath. He watched her ease into the warm water and Emery couldn’t help but to do the very thing she had accused him of. It wasn’t his fault she had such plentiful bosom which were exquisite to gaze upon. Regina was stunning and Emery felt he could spend hours looking at her and taking in every detail there was about her. “My eyes are further up, dear,” Regina remarked and it knocked Emery from entranced state.

He felt his cheeks heat up and Emery opened and closed his mouth several times as he tried come up with an excuse or an apology, but he wasn’t able to. Emery ran his hand over his wet hair then gestured towards her. “I’m sorry for staring at you, but you are so beautiful.” He scoffed. “I seriously mean it, Regina. It’s like you were crafted by artists or something.”

Regina let out low, throaty chuckle which only worsened the desire Emery was already feeling. She moved closer to him and said, “Are you trying to talk your way out of being punished for staring at me?”

Emery grinned. “No I am not, but if you do plan to punish me make sure it’s something which will be a pleasurable experience for us both.”

Regina eyed him for a moment then she got the sponge and soap from the basket on the ledge of the tub. As she worked the soap into the sponge she wondered, “Are there any limitations, for when we get physical, which I should know about?”

Emery’s face scrunched up in confusion as he thought about the question. There weren’t any limitations he could think of at the moment. Overall he felt completely at ease when Regina touched him. Even as she began to bathe him he didn’t have any reservations about her touching him or her seeing his true form. Regina saw and believed in the man he was and it alleviated any insecurity he had about their physical relationship. He smiled at her and said, “No, I don’t believe there are any.” He met her eyes. “I trust you completely, Regina. I know you won’t force me to do anything which will make me uncomfortable.”

Regina smiled at him then leaned in to give him a soft kiss. She pulled back then resumed washing him. “When you say things of that nature you change the direction of the conversation.”

Emery drew in a deep breath when she dragged the sponge down the center of his chest then dragged it back up to run it over the top of his shoulder. “My apologies, my queen. How was I supposed to answer the question?”

Regina chuckled and focused on washing him. Though she was cleaning him, her movements were more sensual and Emery’s excitement grew as the sponge raked across his body. Emery wanted to feel Regina and to feel her body pressed against his. He swallowed hard as his eyes found her breast again. He was going to have to make a conscious effort to not stare at them. Regina cleared her throat. “Again, my eyes are not down there, Swan.”

Emery’s eyes met the playful brown ones which were looking at him and mumbled, “Sorry.”

Regina chuckled. “I will excuse this behavior considering the way you look at me.”

“And how is that, my queen?” Emery wondered with a small smirk.

Regina arched her eyebrow and replied, “As if you would like to devour me whole.” Emery’s eyes widened. “And I just might let you if you continue to look at me like that.”

Emery wasn’t able to come up with a flirtatious remark, or joke, instead he continued to stare at Regina and think about how much he wanted to touch, taste, and feel her. It made his heart race faster. Regina moved closer to him and their bodies were barely touching. She brought her wet hand up to his face and trailed her fingertips over his bruised cheek. Emery let his eyes slip close as a pleasant tingling sensation went through him. Then he felt the same sensation where the cut on his eyebrow was then she healed his lip. Regina kissed him then trailed her finger over his jaw as she murmured, “Do you want to touch me, Emery?”

Emery opened his eyes and looked at her. He wanted to. With her being so close and exuding the same sensuality which drew him to her in the first place Emery wanted to touch her in every way imaginable, but this wasn’t the time or place for him to do that. He wanted to take his time when they finally gave into the desire between them. Emery wanted to worship Regina and make sure she knew how much he appreciated her. This wasn’t something he could do in the bath and moments before his knighting ceremony.

Regina must have seen the hesitation in his eyes because she gave him a quick kiss then said, “One day, Emery, very soon, I’m going to bed you properly.” A devious grin appeared on her face. “And then afterward I will have you at my mercy.” The onslaught of arousal going through Emery rendered him speechless. She told him to turn around and he did. Regina washed his back and the two of them were silent, but an undercurrent of sexual tension remained between them.

Emery ducked under the water to rinse the soap from his hair when he emerged he took hold of Regina’s waist and pulled her close to him. He gave her a deep kiss. It lasted a moment then he broke it and said with a slight grin, “You may not have to wait long, my queen, to get what you desire.” Regina returned his grin with one of her and she leaned in to resume their kiss.

As they kissed Emery began to formulate when he was going to give in to both of their desires. It was obvious neither of them would be able to contain themselves for much longer. However he knew Regina wouldn’t do anything until he was ready. And he was ready, more than ready. Even though it would be Emery’s first time he believed as long as he initiated then everything else would follow, and he couldn’t wait for that to happen.

Chapter Text

The man officiating the knighting ceremony had been talking for so long Emery didn’t know what he was talking about. Though, to be honest, he had stopped paying attention the moment the man opened his mouth. The ceremony took place in the throne room and it was filled with nobles, lords, soldiers, and whoever else attended knighting ceremonies. The actual ceremony itself was as ridiculous as everything else Emery had gone through that day. He was dressed in a finely tailored uniform which made moving damn near impossible. Hanging off his shoulders was a black, velvet cape which made Emery hotter than he normally was despite it being the dead of winter.

Emery had almost fled the room at the start of the ceremony but he hadn’t and now he suffered through the man’s monotonous tone. Emery was close to falling asleep where he stood and the only distraction he found to keep him awake was Regina. She sat on her throne which was on the upper part of the dais. The dress she wore had a corset which was a deep shade of purple and a long black skirt trailed down from it. The style of the corset exposed an astonishing amount of cleavage. It was something only Regina was able to get away with and Emery was certain other queens wouldn’t dare to be so bold at an official ceremony. She was sexy, intimidating, and majestic all at once and he had no idea how one woman managed to be all those things at the same time, but he found her captivating. Emery felt the beating of his heart pick up.

Their bath together made him realize something he had been aware of, but Emery noticed something else about Regina. She was a sensual woman. A fact he had known since the first time he met her, but aside from fleeting moments, she wasn’t overtly sexual towards him. He was certain she had been downplaying that part of herself for his sake but witnessing it in the bath earlier, and when they flirted with each other, made Emery determined to bring out that side of her more often. It made Regina so damn alluring and he craved for more of it.

Emery’s eyes travelled from her breast and up her chest before moving along Regina’s exquisite neck. He drew in a slow, deep breath as they took in her elegant jaw line and moved to her full lips which he wanted to kiss and nibble on. The moment their eyes met Emery fell into the depths of them. Regina’s eyes were soulful, but held a power in them which intimidated the weak, and it only drew Emery further into them. Regina’s eyebrow arched and for a brief moment he was confused by the expression. Then his brain registered someone was calling him. “Mr. Swan.”

Emery focused on the official in front of him and said, “I’m sorry what?”

The man narrowed his eyes. “I asked if you will uphold the honor of being a knight in the Mills kingdom? To live and die by the crest of the queen?”

Emery moved his gaze from the man and met Regina’s eye as he answered. “I promise to uphold the honor of being a knight in the Mills kingdom. I will spend my entire life protecting it and its queen.”

Regina gave him a slight nod and the man moved to the side to address her. “Your majesty, you can bestow upon him the title of knight.”

The queen rose from her throne and walked down the three steps to get to the lower part of the dais. She picked up the ceremonial sword which rested on the pillow being held by one of the castle pages. She tapped Emery’s shoulders with the tip of the blade and said, “I, Queen Regina of The Mills kingdom, bestow upon you, Emery Swan, the title of knight.” She placed the sword back on the pillow and ordered, “Rise, good knight.” Emery stood then she announced, “I present, Sir Emery Swan.”

Those in attendance stood as they applauded and Emery couldn’t fight the grin from forming on his face. He glanced at Regina out the corner of his eye. She wasn’t smiling, but he could tell by her eyes she was happy for him. Emery had several medals pinned to him then he was given the ceremonial sword. When all was done he walked down the aisle and exited the throne room. The ball was next and Emery couldn’t wait for it to happen. After enduring a day filled with royal frivolity he was finally going to get the chance to relax and let go for the rest of the night. He smirked. Emery also hoped he would be able to get a dance in with the queen, but only the night would tell.

Amelia giggled as she and Emery danced around the ball room. “You know, for a knight, your size is quite deceiving considering your strength. You are also quite handsome.”

Emery smiled at her. “Thank you, Lady Amelia.” His smile turned into a grin. “And the most honorable knights in the queen’s kingdom are the smaller ones.” She giggled and Emery chuckled. Amelia was the daughter of one of the earls who lived in the kingdom. She was a young, attractive, raven haired beauty and if Emery hadn’t been involved with the queen he would have made the night somewhat interesting for the young woman.

The ball celebrating his knighthood was an exuberant affair full of drinking, food, and merriment. It was the type of celebration Emery enjoyed and he had partaken heartily in the festivities. He had danced with Ingrid; fulfilled his promise to dance with Cassandra and Judith; and it was during one of his numerous ale breaks did Amelia approach him for a dance. Emery hadn’t crossed paths with Regina during the celebration, but he was sure she had kept an eye on him.

Amelia smiled at him and the challenging glint in her eyes piqued Emery’s curiosity. “I think in order for me to go along with that statement I would have to see how honorable you are for myself. Don’t you agree, Sir Swan?”

Emery grinned at her and replied, “Yes, I would have to agree, Lady Amelia. But alas, you will have to use your imagination in order to figure out how virtuous I am.”

The woman stared at him for a moment then laughed a little. “You are a bit of a rogue aren’t you?”

Emery chuckled. “Never. The queen wouldn’t allow a womanizing rogue to be a knight in her kingdom.”

“You would be correct in your assumption, Sir Swan,” Emery heard Regina say behind him in a tone which wasn’t clipped, but there was a slight edge to it. Emery smiled at Amelia then released her in order to turn and bow at Regina. Amelia curtsied as he stood up straight and Emery chuckled to himself. Regina inspected the young woman with a scrutinizing, almost dangerous, glare. She cut her eyes to Emery. “Would it be rude of me to request a dance from the newly appointed knight?”

Amelia shook her head. “Not at all, your majesty.” She smiled at Emery and placed her hand delicately on his forearm. “Come find me when you are available.”

Emery only smiled politely at the woman. He took his place to dance with the queen as soon as she departed. He and Regina started to dance to the lively music and she asked, “Have you suddenly developed a taste for questionable women? Not only did you dance with those women from earlier, you are now dancing with giggling morons. Might I also point out that moron’s father is in debt to me?” She scoffed. “No more ale for you. You are clearly drunk and it is making you stupider by the second.”

Emery laughed. He wasn’t drunk, but he did feel relaxed and content now that he was dancing with Regina. He smiled at her. “I have not developed a taste for any women. I have developed a taste for one woman and that is you, my queen,” Emery said in a low voice. He chuckled. “But if you would like me to dispense justice on your behalf, please let me know. I will make an example of the both of them just for you.”

Regina eyed him and contemplated his offer. She sighed. “No, now is not the time for that. I do not want to ruin your celebration.” She smirked. “But I will save the offer for later.”

Emery laughed a little. “I’m certain you will.” They continued to dance and the tempo of the music slowed down. Since they were in public Emery couldn’t hold Regina close to him, but he moved into her space. He was certain the rumors about them would further be fuelled by his action. “I think you wore that dress to provoke me,” he stated in a low voice so no one could overhear them.

“What do you mean, dear?” Regina asked as she looked into his eyes. The expression on her face was nonchalant, but there was a playful gleam in her eyes. Emery dropped his eyes to the tops of her breasts then met her gaze. The neutral expression remained on her face as she said, “If you are provoked it is only because you are weak minded.”

Emery studied her face for a moment then murmured, “Then I must be severely weak minded. All I can think about is taking you up to your chambers and having my way with you in front of the fire. Hearing you moan with pleasure.” Regina’s face remained neutral, but Emery did see a slight color come to her cheeks and chest. It was a beautiful sight for him to behold. Emery, feeling emboldened by her response, continued with his whispered promises. “Your glorious body naked before me and the glow of the fire making you more stunning than you already are. Makes me want to touch and kiss you in all the places you want me to and then some.”

Emery let out a soft groan then murmured, “Hearing you cry out my name as I pleasure you over and over again will be all you can do for the remainder of the night. There will be no stopping, my queen. I will only stop until exhaustion hits us both.” Regina stepped on his foot and Emery chuckled which caused her to scowl at him. He couldn’t help but to tease her a little. “My queen, your footwork is a little clumsy if I may be so bold to point out.”

Regina pinned him down with a hard stare and snapped, “If anyone has clumsy footwork it would be you, Sir Swan, along with your two left feet.”

“Ah, yes, that must be the case,” he said with a slight smirk. The song came to an end and Emery moved away to bow. “Thank you for the dance, your majesty.” He stood up straight and there was a genuine smile on his face. “I would also like to thank you for the title and the celebration.”

Regina eyed him, still nonchalant as ever, and said, “I’m certain this is something which would have inevitably happened to you, Sir Swan. The captain carried on about you as if you were my army’s salvation.”

Emery smiled and gave her a slight nod. “This may be true, but I wanted to show you my gratitude for everything, my queen.” Regina eyed him a moment longer then moved to walk away from him. She glanced at him as she walked by and Emery knew from that one glance she wanted him to make good on all the whispered promises he made during their dance. Emery was going to fulfill them, and he would possibly do it on this very night, but first he had to stay an appropriate amount of time at the party. Emery groaned. He hated pretences.

Emery made his way over to the long table which held food and drinks on it. He got some meat to eat and a mug of ale. He was drinking down his ale when he felt someone press against his back and murmur against his ear, “Sir Swan, do you plan to show me how honorable a knight you are or will you leave a fair maiden to wonder about such things?”

Emery choked on his ale a little. He coughed and cleared his throat as he turned to face Lady Amelia. There was a coy grin playing on her lips and temptation in her eyes. If Emery were a weaker minded man he probably would have taken her to one of the many hidden alcoves off the main hall and given in to his attraction towards her. However, he wasn’t a weaker minded man and Regina would not only Amelia, but also him. Emery cleared his throat and said, “Lady Amelia, I know I flirted with you during our dance, but I am not interested in pursuing this, or any other avenues, with you.” He drew in a deep breath. “I am involved with someone.”

Amelia stared at him for a second longer then scoffed and shook her head. “I can’t believe this.” She directed a hard gaze towards him. “Wait until my father hears about this. He will have you stripped of your knighthood.”

Emery took a sip of his ale then smiled at her. “Ah, yes. I would very much enjoy a conversation with your father. He and I can discuss his outstanding debts to the queen.”

Amelia’s eyes widened with surprise. “How do you know about that?”

Emery glowered at her. “I am a knight in the queen’s army. I know things which pertain to her majesty and her kingdom.” He smirked. “Outstanding debts are one of them.”

Amelia stared at him then turned to make a quick exit. Emery got a satisfied smirk on his face and finished off his ale. He placed his mug on the table then scanned the crowd for the queen. It didn’t take him long to find her because Regina was looking right at him. During the brief exchange of them staring at one another Emery came to a decision. He wanted her and he wasn’t going to wait any longer.

Emery made his way through the crowded ballroom and went to the main corridor. There weren’t a lot of people in the hallway, and anyone he did pass, he ignored. Emery took long, quick strides down the hall. His mind was focused on one thing. He turned and went down one of the small passageways which off the main hallway and stopped in front of a tapestry. Emery looked around to make sure no one was watching him and lifted it. He pushed a stone on the right and a hidden door popped open. Emery walked through it and walked down the dimly lit tunnel which led to the ballroom.

Emery stopped by the door which went to the ballroom. It wasn’t long before the door opened and piercing brown eyes stared him down. “Did you have fun with your harlot?”

Emery shook his head and closed the gap between them. He placed one hand on the back of Regina’s neck and the other on her waist. He guided her back to the stone wall of the passageway. Emery pressed his lips to Regina’s for a passionate, intense kiss which further fuelled the desire building between them. Emery broke the kiss and breathed, “I have to have you. Right now.”

“Are you certain about this?”

Emery nodded. “I have never been more certain about anything in my life.” The queen stared at him for a moment then pulled his head forward for a forceful kiss as a cloud of dark purple smoke enveloped them.

Emery woke the next morning and tried to stretch under the thick blanket which covered him, but wasn’t able to. He realized Regina was all but sleeping on top of him. He chuckled. Emery turned his head to watch her sleep for a second. She snored softly and it made him snicker. Emery brushed a strand of hair out of face then leaned in to kiss her forehead.

What he shared last night with Regina was something he would never find words for. He had never felt such a deep connection with someone before and he had seen a side of Regina he had never experienced. She had been caring and attentive, but also guarded in the way she had touched him. However, once he approved of something it caused stars to erupt behind his eyes.

Emery on the other hand had been apprehensive on how to touch her because he lacked experience, despite all of his bravado. But he listened to Regina and learned how to touch her. The one thing he did notice was that she didn’t do slow and gentle. She did it for a little while, but then her needs made her want more and at a faster pace. Emery learned what made her quivering mess and what frustrated her and caused her to issue threats. Emery chuckled to himself. She didn’t make good on any of the threats. He also caught a glimpse of some of the darker proclivities Regina liked. They intrigued him, but at the same time, he hoped they would wait before delving into them.

Emery exhaled softly and smiled. He was happy and it was a foreign concept to him - at least not with another person. Before Regina he had begun to find a place where he was okay with himself and his life, but this went beyond what he was expecting. His body was something he could tolerate most days and his life was tremendously better. The smile on Emery’s face grew as he watched Regina sleep. It was all because of her. Tears formed in his and he drew in several deep breaths to curb the overwhelming emotions which wanted to overpower him. He drew in one more deep breath then sat up to place a soft kiss on Regina’s shoulder.

Emery maneuvered her off of him then got out of the bed. He pulled the cover over Regina then picked up his linen shorts which were on the floor. He didn’t bother with putting on a shirt. Emery stretched and made his way into the sitting room. The table which was by the balcony doors had breakfast already set up on it. Emery’s stomach grumbled as he walked over to it. He picked up a biscuit and smothered it in honey. He ate that while he poured himself some tea. Then he made himself a plate which was mostly meat and biscuits. He sat down on the couch and ate his food.

Emery was almost done eating when he heard Regina shout, “Emery.”

He got up from couch and walked into the bedroom. “Yes, my queen?”

Regina groaned and cuddled up to his pillow. “Why aren’t you in bed?”

Emery chuckled and walked over to the bed. He got on it and she cuddled up to him. Emery rubbed her back as he said, “I generally wake up at an early hour. You know this. Also the castle pages set up breakfast and I couldn’t help myself.”

Regina chuckled and tiredly remarked, “Of course food would make you disappear.”

Emery kissed her forehead then murmured, “There are other things which could make me forget food all together.” He gave her a kiss. “I did enjoy myself last night in case you were wondering.”

Regina smiled at him and hummed as she ran her fingers through his hair. “I also enjoyed your company last night.” She bit her bottom lip and hesitation came to her eyes. Emery wondered what she was thinking about. “And everything was okay? In regards to…” She trailed off but glanced down at his body.

Emery smiled at how considerate she was about him being comfortable. It was something she did the entire time they had sex, but he hadn’t felt any discomfort. He only felt the need to touch and be touched by Regina. He gave her a lingering kiss. “It was all fine, Regina. I would have stopped you if I got uncomfortable.”

“Okay,” she said in a soft voice. Regina sighed and smiled. “By the way you still have a long way to go before you know how to satisfy me without me telling you.”

“Really?” Emery wondered as his eyebrow went up.

Regina nodded and traced his jaw. “Yes. You’re inexperienced, Emery. I’m not holding that against you, but I do plan to teach you everything you need to know so you know how to pleasure me.” She kissed him then smiled. “Who knows you might teach me a thing or two.”

Emery smirked. “Possibly.” He pulled Regina close to him and kissed the side of her neck. “I am more than willing to learn the number of ways to please you, my queen.”

Regina smiled at him then kissed him. It wasn’t one which was supposed to get his desire going, but after last night, Emery was ready to take the woman all over again. Regina pulled back and he leaned in to chase after her lips. She chuckled. “I do believe breakfast is waiting.” Emery pouted and Regina gave him a quick kiss. “If you behave at breakfast then you might get what you want.”

Emery grinned and watched her as she got out of the bed. His eyes followed her as she moved to the robe which was hanging over the footboard of the bed. Emery frowned when she put it on. Regina’s body was something he was going to spend every moment memorizing because it was a thing of beauty. She made her way out of the room and Emery jumped off the bed to follow her. He sat down on the couch and picked up his tea cup as she went over to the table. While she made her plate she asked, “What are your plans for the day?”

Emery propped his bare feet up on the coffee table and replied, “I’m going to put in my formal request for Neal be promoted to my lieutenant and the one to have Graham transferred to my battalion.”

Regina sat down at the table and scowled at him. “If you do not remove your disgusting feet off my table you will spend your day in the stockade.”

Emery grinned at her. “And what crime will I be serving for?”

Regina took a sip of her tea. “Annoying the queen first thing in the morning.”

Emery chuckled. “Then I will take my chances, my queen.”

Regina continued to scowl at him and the grin remained on Emery’s face. She began to eat her breakfast. “Have you given any thought to what land you would like bestowed to you?”

Emery laughed then said, “No, I haven’t. I have no idea about the land in your kingdom, nor do I know about the land you have to give to newly appointed knights.”

Regina finished the bite that was in her mouth. “I’ll make you an appointment with the kingdom’s surveyor. He will be able to help you and you can pick out whichever parcel of land you want.”

Emery groaned. “That’s sounds as thrilling as going through the knighting process again.” He sighed. “Do I really need to have land?”

“Yes. It signifies your status as a noble in my kingdom,” Regina stated with a pointed look.

Emery scoffed. “I hate royal overture so much. I hated it when I was child and I hate it even more as an adult.” He scowled at his feet which were still on the table and grumbled, “I don’t want to be a knight anymore.”

Emery heard Regina let out an exasperated breath then the sound of her chair sliding away from the table. He tried not to smirk as she made her way over to him. Emery tilted his head to the side as she lifted her robe so she could straddle his lap. More of her thighs came into view and Emery bit the corner of his lip. By the time she settled onto his lap the silk fabric of her robe had ridden up to dangerous heights. Emery placed his hands on the tops of her thighs and rubbed them up and down the soft skin. “You’re unbearable do you know that?” Regina asked in a soft voice, but there was sultriness to it which caused him to bite the inside of his lip.

Emery met her gaze and remarked, “I can’t be too bad if you’re sitting on my lap.”

Regina smirked and rested her forearms on his shoulders. She leaned in and ran the tip of her tongue over Emery’s top lip. He chased after her lips as she pulled back in a futile attempt to kiss her. Regina chuckled. “You do know as a knight in my court you can request a private audience with me to discuss matters in regards to your battalion or some concern you have about military strategy.”

Emery grinned and slipped his hands underneath her robe. He glided them across her hips to get to the soft, yielding flesh of her ass. “That is the best thing you have told me about being a knight.”

Regina chuckled. “There are more benefits to being a knight, but I figured that was the most important one at the moment.” She moved her head forward to where their lips were barely touching and nipped his bottom lip. Regina got off his lap and as she headed for her bedroom she glanced at him over her shoulder. “I have court in an hour.”

Emery groaned. She had provoked him and left him beyond frustrated. He let his head fall against the back of the couch. “You are definitely the evil queen and I am trapped in your clutches.”

“If you would like to further ensnare yourself in my clutches,” Emery rolled his head along the back of the couch so he was looking at her. Regina was undoing the sash on her robe. “You will come to the bedroom with me,” she said as she turned around and let the silk fabric fall to the floor.

Emery didn’t have to think twice about the statement. He jumped off the couch and ran to the room, stopping to pick up Regina’s robe. He kicked the door closed then wrapped his arms around her waist. Emery kissed the back of her neck and Regina tilted her head to the side to give him more access to the sensitive skin. Emery turned her around in his arms and the moment he saw the burning passion in her eyes he knew she was going to be late for court.

Emery had some time before his meeting with the kingdom’s surveyor so he decided to ride down to the tavern with the royal carriage which would be taking Ingrid and Joe back to the village. When he and the carriage came to a stop in front of Oliver’s tavern Emery chuckled to himself. Ingrid wasn’t going to be happy about the carriage. He had told Regina this, but in true Regina fashion, she didn’t change her position on the matter. She even ended the conversation with her tired, but true, reason for why she did anything he didn’t like. She was queen.

Emery continue to chuckle as he dismounted his horse. He couldn’t argue the point and it didn’t help they were lying naked in bed. Emery shook his head as he walked up the two steps and entered the tavern. Lust driven thoughts about Regina around his parents weren’t appropriate. On so many levels.

“Oi, if it isn’t the queen’s newly appointed knight, “Ollie shouted from behind the bar.

Emery shook his head. “And where were you yesterday?”

The man scoffed. “Like I’m going to spend my day in the castle for some boring ceremony. I’d rather spend my time cleaning up the vomit from your fellow soldiers when they can’t hold their ale.”

“That’s because your ale is poison,” Joe said as he came from the back of the tavern. He saw Emery and smiled. “Son, what are you doing here? I thought the queen would have you doing something knightly.”

Emery walked over to him and gave Joe a quick hug. “I am doing a knightly duty. The queen has sent a carriage to take you and Ingrid home when you feel like it.”

Surprise came to Joe’s face for a second then he chuckled. “We appreciate how considerate her majesty has been towards us but she doesn’t need to do this. We’re fine with taking a couple of Ollie’s horses.”

“I want those horses back ya bastard,” Ollie interjected before he went to the back of the tavern.

Emery chuckled and said in a low voice, “It’s nice to know Ollie treats everyone like that. No matter who you are to him.”

Joe chuckled. “Aye, it is. Whether friend or foe, Ollie will treat like crap no matter what.” He sighed and smiled at Emery. “You’ve put me in a bit of situation since we both know Ingrid won’t get in a royal carriage for a second time.”

Emery grinned and countered, “I’ll tell her it is a direct order from the queen for her to use the carriage.”

Joe laughed and nodded. “I’m not sure you want to do that. She might go marching into the castle and tell the queen where to shove her order.”

Emery laughed with him and said, “You are not wrong there. Then it would be a battle between two stubborn women.”

Joe shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t think either of us is prepared for that, so I will tell her get in the carriage and shut her mouth.”

Emery sucked air in through his teeth. “I hope you have enjoyed living, Joe. I was proud to have you as an adoptive father.”

Joe laughed and Emery joined him. As they laughed Ingrid came from upstairs and she walked over to where they were standing by the bar. “What are you two fools laughing about?”

Joe’s laughter subsided and he waved her off. “Nothing.”

Ingrid eyed him skeptically then shook her head before looking at Emery. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you being doing something knightly?”

Emery chuckled and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I actually have a meeting to go to, but I came to inform you that her majesty has insisted you take the royal carriage back to the village.”

Ingrid blew out an annoyed breath and Emery grinned. He knew she didn’t want to take it, but the carriage was from the queen. “This woman is going to be a thorn in my side isn’t she?”

Emery nodded. “Quite possibly.”

“Are you certain she hasn’t done any weird magic on you to make you and her you know?” Emery chuckled at her choice of words. Ingrid was trying to be mindful of disclosing Emery’s relationship with the queen.

He shook his head. “I am certain. The only magic to happen is her being herself.”

Ingrid released a defeated sigh. “Fine. We will take the carriage, but tell her majesty we appreciate the courtesy, however, in the future we will arrange out own travel arrangements.”

Emery pressed his lips together and nodded. He would pass the message along to Regina, but she would still do this because they were his parents. The woman valued family over almost anything and she would do anything for them. “I will tell her that but,” Emery smirked, “get used to it. Family is important to Regina especially since the whole thing with her father. She is also aware of my lack of a family and wants to make sure you two are well taken care of because you took me in.”

Ingrid sighed and Joe placed his hand on Emery’s shoulder. He gave it a squeeze and gave Emery an affectionate smile. “Don’t worry, son, as long as she treats you okay then I think we can be a little less set in our ways. Isn’t that right, dear?”

Ingrid scowled at him and Emery bit his tongue to keep from laughing. She shook her head. “I will try, but you need to tell her it is unnecessary.””

Emery dipped his head in acceptance. It was the best he would get from Ingrid. “I will talk to her majesty about her kind gestures.” He smiled and moved to give Ingrid a hug. “I have to get going, but I’m glad you two were able to come to my knighting ceremony.”

“We will be here no matter what it is for, just make sure you tell us earlier enough so we can get here,” Ingrid said as she hugged him back.

Emery let go of her and nodded. “I will.” He gave Joe another quick hug. “You two travel safe on your way home. The queen also has two guards travelling with you, so you will be safe.” Ingrid scowled at him and Emery held up his hands. “She is the queen. I can’t stop her.” He gave Ingrid’s cheek a quick kiss. “Love you both.”

Emery walked out of the tavern and got on his horse. There was a wide smile on his face as he headed back to the castle. Joe had been right about one thing, the two of them were going to have a time with two stubborn women in their family. Emery felt warmth go through him as he thought about Regina being a part of his family. It was a scary, but welcoming feeling. He repressed it because his fear won out. He drew in a deep breath and focused on his ride. Emery wasn’t going to entertain whimsical thoughts.

Chapter Text

Emery glared at the man sitting across from him. Sir Milton, the royal surveyor for the Mills kingdom, spoke in a flat voice which had no personality to it but he insisted on giving Emery a history lesson about the Mills kingdom and the land in the queen’s domain. The man was a fossil and Emery had half the mind to run from his office and interrupt Regina’s council meeting so he could lay into her for making him meet with this boring, old man who had probably seen the creation of both the White and Mills kingdoms.

Emery jerked to attention when Sir Milton began to cough. It was a rattling cough and it sounded like something was trying to make its way out of his body. The coughing stopped. Emery slumped further down into his chair. Today wouldn’t be the day Sir Milton died. He sighed and began to wonder if the queen kept the man around because he was basically an artifact himself.

Milton cleared his throat and as he was about to continue whatever he had been talking about Emery said, “Sir Milton, I appreciate the lovely history lesson about the kingdom, but I do have other things I need to do today.”

The ancient man scowled at him. “You young knights always think the queen is going to hand you an army.” He grunted. “You’re in for a rude awakening.” Emery wanted to roll his eyes, but didn’t. Despite Sir Milton’s age he didn’t deserve to be disrespected. He also didn’t want the man telling Regina he had been rude and ungrateful towards him. That would provoke a conversation Emery wanted to avoid.

Sir Milton stood from his seat and went over to a storage shelf which held what appeared to be hundreds of maps to Emery in tiny cubby holes. He pulled one down and walked back over to the table. Sir Milton rolled out the map using various objects as paper weights to keep it down. It was an impressive map and Emery’s eyebrows went up as he took it in. Even the army didn’t have maps which were this impressive. “This map shows the royal property near the castle. I have four other maps which show royal property in other parts of the kingdom, but new knights tend to stay close to the castle in hopes of getting in the queen’s good graces.”

Emery pressed his lips together and studied the map in front of him. He didn’t want to make a comment which Sir Milton would consider rude. He spotted a piece of land which was south of the castle and it had a pond. “Is this one available?” Emery wondered as he pointed to it on the map.

“No,” Sir Milton replied, his face blank of expression. He then changed his answer. “Yes.”

Emery’s eyebrows furrowed. He found the man’s response interesting, but not as interesting as the piece of land. Emery began to run through the numerous reasons why the piece of property was unoccupied. It had a pond, was in an open field, and the forest wasn’t too far from it either. The land also appeared to be close enough to the castle. A great thing for him in case he needed somewhere to go and be alone. It was an ideal piece of property. Emery frowned and inquired, “Why?”

Sir Milton straightened his posture and the neutral expression remained on his face. “I am not at liberty to say.”

Again, the response was peculiar and it only intrigued Emery further. He studied Milton for a moment before looking down at the map. “I would like to make this piece of land my own,” Emery announced as he glanced up at Sir Milton.

For a brief second apprehension shone in Sir Milton’s eyes then he said, “Very well. If you’ll excuse me, Sir Swan.”

He turned and made his way out of the office. The response further raised Emery’s suspicion. He knew Regina was involved in this piece of land besides her being queen, but he couldn’t figure out how. Time dragged by as Emery waited for Sir Milton to return. Soon he wasn’t able to keep his hands to himself and Emery started wandering around the man’s large office. He stopped to study the massive map which hung on the back wall of Sir Milton’s office.

He found Arendelle which was across the ocean from the White kingdom. To the north was the kingdom whose ruler was rumored to be a dragon. Emery grunted. Even if he had decided to go to that particular kingdom when he ran away getting to it would have been a headache. A wide river separated it from the Mills, White, and King Stefan’s kingdoms.

The office door opened and Emery was pulled from his thoughts. He turned as Sir Milton walked in. The man nodded to him. “You have been granted the land.” Emery pursed his lips as his face screwed up with confusion. He was certain Regina had something to do with the piece of land. Milton went over to his cluttered desk and said, “I’ll draw up the official paperwork, but between you and I, this parcel of land is yours.”

Emery was tempted to ask Sir Milton why he had to get the queen’s approval, but thought better of it. Instead he asked, “Have you been to it?”

Sir Milton gave a slight nod as he scribbled something on a piece of parchment. “I have. It’s a forty minute horse ride from the castle.” He looked at Emery and smiled. “You should go see it before you get swept up in whatever duties you get assigned to.”

Emery mulled the suggestion over in his head. He did have things he needed to do, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t put off until later. He gave Sir Milton a small smile. “I may do as you suggest.” He watched the man for a moment. “Do you need anything further from me?”

Sir Milton waved him off. “You are all set here. This will only require the queen’s signature.”

Emery nodded. “All right. Thank you for all your help, Sir Milton.” He hoped he wouldn’t have to see him again after this. Emery left the man’s office at a quick pace. When he reached the main hall of the first floor of the castle he paused to figure out what he would do next. He contemplated on interrupting Regina’s meeting with the council, but he wasn’t that stupid. Emery drew in a deep breath and headed to the kitchens. He would pack a lunch then take a quick trip to the piece of land which was now his.

It actually wasn’t a bad day to go for a ride. With the sun being out, it warded off some of the cold and Emery found the crisp winter air refreshing. It put him in a pleasant mood. He had taken one of the older mares for his ride and the horse ambled down the road, adding to Emery contentment. He took a bite from the piece of dried meat Lydia had packed for him and chewed on it as his mind wandered listlessly from one thing to the next.  Emery reminded himself to put in the formal request for Neal to become his lieutenant along with Graham’s transfer request. He planned to meet with the battalion he would be commanding. Probably do an impromptu inspection. He was curious to find out what troops he would have command over. Emery hoped the battalion would be a mixture of archers and infantry.

His mind the wandered to the queen, and it surprised him he had managed to go several minutes without thinking about her. Emery grinned. Their night together had been amazing, but their morning activities had teetered on animalistic. As soon as he had started touching Regina Emery hadn’t been able to find the restraint to take her slowly. His desire made him take her fast so he could hear her moan and quiver beneath him. Emery drew in a deep breath and tore off another hunk of dried meat with his teeth. Thinking about sex with the queen was more dangerous than the woman herself. Emery frowned. He should have interrupted her meeting so the two of them could have a brief encounter. He began to formulate a plan which he would use to convince her to take some time out of her busy afternoon.

Emery continued his appropriate thoughts about Regina as he reached the small side road which branched off the main castle road. It would lead him to the land he now owned. Emery noticed two men further up on the main road and his eyebrows furrowed. They were on foot, but they led their horses behind them. Emery found them suspicious, and instead of turning down the road he approached them. When he was close enough he called out, “Excuse me gentleman, but I do have to inform you, you are trespassing on castle grounds. Do you have business on the property?” Emery knew that much thanks to his morning with Sir Milton.

The two men looked at each other and the taller, younger man replied, “Nothing that concerns you, boy.”

Emery swept his cloak back to reveal the hilt of his sword. He usually wore it because he felt naked without it, but it seemed he would have some use for it. There went his relaxing afternoon ride. “State your business on her majesty’s property or leave.”

The older man scoffed. “We’re not threatened by some runt soldier who’s under the Evil Queen’s spell.” He stepped closer to Emery and glared at him. “We’re going to find the missing princess even if we have to kill you to accomplish that.”

The Evil Queen reference was enough to rile Emery’s anger, but the mention of a missing princess gave him pause. He looked between the two men and stated, “The Mills kingdom has no princess.” If it did Regina had a lot to explain.

The men laughed and the shorter man said, “Not the Mills kingdom you idiot. The White kingdom’s princess.”

Emery stared at the two men, still confused, but then realized who they were looking for. They were looking for him, not him exactly, but he and the princess were the same person. Emery scowled. He had to know what had driven these men to the Mills kingdom to find the White princess. “And why do you believe the princess is in the Mills kingdom?”

The tall man gawked at Emery. “Are you completely daft? Why wouldn’t we think that? The Evil Queen will stop at nothing to see the White kingdom fall. Including kidnapping the princess.”

The man had a point, but Emery wasn’t going to tell him that. Instead he dismounted his horse and when he stood before the two men they laughed. “The queen can’t get real men to fight in a war she’ll lose so she is using boys.”

Emery didn’t let the comment deter him. The men were taller than him, but fighting against men who were taller than him was something Emery was used to. He drew his sword and pointed it at them. “This is your final warning…the White kingdom’s princess is not here. Leave this kingdom or die in it.”

The humor written on the men’s faces disappeared when they saw how serious Emery was.  The shorter man took a step closer to Emery and pinned him down with a determined gaze. “We are not leaving until we get Princess Emma.”

Emery scowled at the man. There was no Princess Emma, there had never been one, but that was a road Emery wasn’t going to go down at the current moment. Emery changed his stance, readying himself to be attacked. “That is your decision, but you will not get past me.” He let his eyes land on each man, lingering for a second or two, and stated in a firm tone, “The princess is not here. Go back to your kingdom.”

The tall man spat on the ground and pulled out his sword. “To hell with you. I am not going to let a runt bastard stop me from getting my reward. I hope your bitch of a queen is worth dying for.”

Emery’s breathing picked up as anger coursed through his veins like fire. The man was going to regret his words. The man lunged at Emery and he didn’t take his eyes off him. He found an opening right away and it didn’t take Emery long to bring him down. He blocked the man’s initial blow then kicked him in the stomach. The man’s right side was completely exposed and Emery drove his sword into him. He looked into the man’s eyes and jerked the sword up.

Emery pulled his sword out of the man’s body and pointed its bloody blade at the older one. “Leave and do not come back. If you return, you will die.” The man glanced at his accomplice’s body then back at Emery. He nodded. “Tell those fools who are looking for the White kingdom’s princess that she is not in the Mills kingdom and has never been. Anyone who dares to set foot in this kingdom looking for her will die by my hand. Do you understand?” The man nodded again. Emery stared the man down with a piercing gaze fueled by his anger. “Leave.”

Emery watched the man as he ran back to his horse. He was almost inclined to kill the him on principle, but didn’t. He wasn’t a murderer but their reason for being in the Mills kingdom, and on the queen’s property, almost made him not care about the man’s life. His parents were offering a reward for the missing princess and they were telling people she was in the Mills kingdom. Emery clenched his jaw and watched until the man’s horse became a dot in the distance. He sheathed his sword and got back on the mare. His mood had turned into a foul one and his afternoon had been ruined.

Emery sat under a tree which was close to the pond on his property. He stared at the ice covered pond as thoughts of his parents and the war consumed his mind. If people from the White kingdom were risking their lives and coming to the Mills kingdom to rescue the White princess then the reward had to be a substantial one. Though Emery knew his parents barely had enough money to stay in the war. He then wondered if the reward wasn’t money. He shuddered with disgust. If Regina found out about this the war would get even more vicious. Members of his training class had been sent to villages where the fighting had supposedly gotten worse, and at the time he thought nothing of it, but now he wondered if the increased fighting had something to do with him.

A cloud of purple smoke appeared several feet away from him and Emery sighed. Regina made her way over to him, a wide smile on her face. “I knew you would pick this parcel of land. It suits your personality.”

Emery tried, and failed, at smiling at her. “What do you think I should do with it?”

She chuckled. “Proper housing would be an excellent start.” The smile on Regina’s face disappeared and a slight frown replaced it. “What’s wrong?”

Emery looked out at the pond and remarked, “Nothing is wrong.”

She scoffed. “Do not lie to me, Swan. Lydia has packed you your favorite lunch and you haven’t even touched it.”

Emery glanced at the unwrapped sandwich sitting off to his right. He looked at Regina and a small smile came to his face. “You know my favorite lunch?”

Regina rolled her eyes. “Don’t try changing the subject.” Her eyebrow arched as she stared him down. “What’s wrong?”

Emery sighed and picked up the apple which sat on the cloth the sandwich had been wrapped in. He polished it on his sleeve then took a bite out of it. As he chewed up the bite Emery knew Regina’s patience would only last so long before she got irritated with him for not answering her. He swallowed the bite of apple then drew in a deep breath. “On my way here, I ran into some men on the main road to the castle.”

The lethal expression which filled Regina’s face scared Emery and he wondered if he hadn’t answered quickly enough. “If they hurt you –“

Emery scoffed. “They were barely a match for me.”

Regina stared at him a second longer and remarked, “Do not interrupt the queen.”

“My apologies, my queen,” Emery said with a small smirk. He sighed. “I killed one and let the other one leave with his life.”

“You should have killed him,” Regina snapped, her rage getting the best of her. Emery didn’t know if her concern for him or because they dared to trespass on her property fueled her anger. He decided to believe it was the former.

Emery chuckled a little. “I’ll remember that next time.” He took a bite out of his apple and pretended not to notice the glare which was directed towards him.

Regina waved her hand and a small stool appeared. She threw back her long black coat and sat down on it. Emery watched her as he finished off the apple. Regina studied him and said, “I’m certain there is a reason why you mentioned these men or are you trying to irritate me?” She narrowed her eyes at Emery. “If you’re trying to irritate me it will only end badly for you and you’ll end up in a compromising position which will not be fun.”

Emery got a playful pout on his face. “That’s mean, my queen.” He drew in a breath and took a final bite out of apple. He threw the core in the direction of the pond and looked back at Regina. “Those men were looking for the White kingdom’s missing princess.”

Regina stared at him. While she processed what he had said, Emery picked up his sandwich. He took a bite from it and watched her face. Regina’s face didn’t change much in regards to what she was thinking, but Emery paid careful attention to her eyes. They would tell him everything he wanted to know. A small detail he had begun to notice about the woman. The brown eyes took on a severity which almost frightened Emery but then a burning anger consumed them. Emery had been expecting anger. He almost thought Regina would have gone to his parents’ castle and killed them herself, but she didn’t. Instead the anger in her eyes was replaced by a question. Regina was quiet a moment longer then asked, “Did they not recognize you were….her?”

Emery shook his head as he finished the bite he had taken. “They did not. My appearance vastly contradicts with who they are looking for.” He scoffed. “They expect a young, helpless woman. I am definitely not that.”

“No, of course you’re not,” Regina rushed to assure him. “You look nothing like a princess.”

Emery sighed. He knew she didn’t mean anything by the comment, but considering the day he had it an unexpected effect on him and irritated him more about the situation. “They believe the missing princess if being held captive by the queen.”

Regina stared at him. “I’m sorry what?”

Emery drew in a deep breath then repeated himself. “I do believe a rumor, or perhaps it’s by deductive reasoning, those searching for the missing princess think she is being held captive by you.”

The corner of Regina’s mouth turned up in disgust and anger filled her face. She got up from the stool and began to pace in front of Emery as she went off. “Of course those mindless idiots believe that. It’s a good thing my guards have been killing these idiots as soon as they cross into the kingdom.”

“You knew people from the White kingdom were looking for the princess?” Emery asked. This was the first time he had heard about this.

Regina nodded. “When the confrontation with your mother ended I ordered my army to be aware of those coming into the kingdom. It’s obvious someone will have to be killed for their lack of regard.” She scoffed. “No matter, I am going to change the direction of this war. When it is over your insipid mother and her moron of a shepherd will be nothing but a memory and notated in history as a failed rulers.”

Emery pressed his lips together and tried not to do two things. The first thing was laugh. Regina had gotten the Evil Queen moniker for a reason and he didn’t want to witness that side of her first hand, but he did find her tirade amusing. The second thing he wasn’t going to do was interrupt her. Regina needed to let this out. This was another charge levied against her from his mother and he was pissed as much as she was.

Snow White wasn’t the benevolent queen she made herself out to be and her continuing to paint Regina as some monster was unacceptable. Regina sighed, and shocking the hell out of Emery, she sat down on the ground next to him. “Regina, what’s the matter?” Emery knew she was angry but her sitting on the ground next to him spoke of something deeper.

Regina took hold of his hand. “Nothing is wrong.” Skeptical, Emery studied her trying to find the truth. She sighed. “There is nothing wrong, Emery, but there is something I would like to speak to you about.”

“I hope you know this doesn’t alleviate any of my concern,” Emery pointed out as he continued to watch her face thinking it would give him some warning about the discussion they were about to have.

Regina smiled at little and remarked, “I know it doesn’t but if it makes you feel any better it has nothing to do with your duties as a knight.” She paused and Emery tried to remain patient. He picked up his sandwich and took a bite from it as he waited. “Do you remember the night I had that late meeting?”

Emery swallowed the remaining bite in his mouth and replied, “You mean the one where you threatened to kill people because you are queen?” Regina glared at him and Emery grinned. “I may recall that night.”

Regina stood up to pace. Her restlessness worried Emery but he wasn’t certain if it had something to do with whatever she was about to tell him. “That night the council addressed me ending the war. They want me to put an end to it and they would like me to do it in a way which doesn’t affect the kingdom.”

Emery smiled at her and asked, “Did they forget you are a woman who likes to make a statement?”

Regina smiled down at him. “It’s comments like those which assure you a place in my bed.”

Emery chuckled. “I will be sure to remember this in the future.” He took another bite of his sandwich then said around it. “So, my queen, what is the statement you wish to make to the White kingdom?”

Regina lip curled in disgust. “Do not act like you were raised in a barn.”

Emery swallowed his bite then belched. Regina retaliated by throwing a small fireball at him and it hit Emery in the arm. It didn’t do any real damage but Emery yelped anyway and swatted at his sleeve as if the whole thing was aflame. “You could have burned me,” he exclaimed as he looked himself over to make sure no other part of him was on fire.

A sinister grin came to Regina’s face. “Hopefully this will help you remember your manners.” She chuckled as Emery continued to look for fire. “You are not on fire. Do not be such a child, Emery. That fireball could not burn hair, much less harm you.”

Emery scoffed and glared at her. “I highly doubt that.” He picked up his sandwich and took a bite from it. He was still upset she had thrown a fireball at him. It was jarring as it was unbelievable.

Regina moved closer to him and knelt down to where their eyes met. The fireball had been jarring, but this was terrifying. Emery swallowed the bite in his mouth as Regina reached out and ran her fingers through his hair before cupping his cheek. The uncertainty in her eyes caused a pit to form in his stomach. “Regina, what’s going on?”

She sighed. “If you do not want to do this then you do not have to. I do not want you to ever do anything for me which would make you feel uncomfortable or miserable.”

Emery didn’t understand where she was headed considering the disclaimer, but he said, “Okay.”

Regina stared at him for a moment then asked, “Do you want to escort me to your parents’ kingdom for a final round of peace talks?” Emery’s eyes widened and Regina rushed to explain. “I mean I would be delighted to rub the fact you’re happy with me and being in my kingdom in Snow’s face, but I also know being back there with them in that castle would do you more harm than good. I would rather go by myself than hurt you just because I’m feeling vindictive.”

Emery continued to stare at Regina as he thought about the question. He wasn’t the same person he had been when he had left his parents’ kingdom almost year ago. He was in a better place, confident, and sure of himself. He was happy. He saw the concern in Regina’s brown eyes and smiled. He was more than happy and with someone who wanted to be with every aspect of him. Emery chuckled. He didn’t care what his parents thought. If bringing him brought Regina the slightest joy then he was going to do it because his parents meant nothing to him. Emery leaned forward and captured Regina’s lips for a soft kiss. “I would be honored to escort you to my parents’ kingdom.”

“Are you sure?”

Emery nodded. “I am more than sure.” He sat back against the tree. “I’m almost certain Snow won’t even recognize me.”

Regina moved to where she was sitting on his lap and Emery wrapped his arms around her waist. She kissed him and it lasted longer than the previous one. When she moved back there was a smile on her face. “Thank you for doing this.”

Emery grinned and gave her a quick squeeze. “I’m only doing this so you can gloat.”

Regina chuckled and kissed him. This one had more fire behind it, and a purpose which got Emery’s libido going. She broke the kiss and her lips brushed across his jaw leaving light, feather-like kiss along it. Regina reached his earlobe and took the sensitive flesh between her teeth, giving it a slight tug. “I appreciate you doing this for me.” Her hand made its way to the buttons of his shirt. “I’m going to show you how much I appreciate you doing this for me.”

Emery nodded. It was all he could do. Arousal coursed through his body and the only thing he could think about was feeling Regina against him and doing everything imaginable to her. The cool air hit his skin then her nails scratched over his shoulder. Emery had a thought. It was a very good one, but he had to figure out how to make his mouth work again. Teeth nipped at his neck and he moaned as he held on tighter to Regina. “Winter,” he mumbled.

Regina pulled back and smirked. “Yes, dear, it is winter.”

Emery drew in several deep breaths to focus himself. “It’s winter, and we’re not having sex on the cold ground.” He smirked and added, “You would kill me afterward.”

Regina pursed her lips then grinned. She wrapped her arms around Emery’s neck then kissed him. She pulled back a little and murmured, “Lucky for us, I have magic.” A cloud of purple smoke enveloped them both. Emery had numerous thoughts, but they vanished as soon as they appeared. Regina’s lips on his neck made it impossible for Emery to make a single, coherent thought. He hoped whatever he had been thinking wasn’t too important because the moment they landed on Regina’s bed he had one thing on his mind, which was the woman underneath him.

Chapter Text

Emery grunted and shifted in his seat. He rested his head against the side of the carriage and when it hit a bump in the road his head bounced off the wall and hit it, hard. Emery scowled and sat sideways so he could lay his head on the headrest behind him. He wasn’t in the best mood at the moment. Emery had been forced to get up earlier than he was used to, shoved into his dress uniform, and ordered to sit in a cramped carriage which hit every bump in the road. Emery released an irritated breath through his nose. Going with Regina to his parents’ castle was probably the worst idea in the world.

It had taken Regina and the council a week to plan the meeting with Snow and David along with the four day journey it would take to get to the White kingdom. After the arrangements were made and had been confirmed by the White kingdom the queen, Emery, and the rest of her majesty’s entourage had left the kingdom the previous day before the sun had risen. Yesterday’s travels had made Emery equally as miserable, but he had managed to get through it and had been relieved when the procession stopped to set up camp.

Last night they had setup camp in a clearing but tonight Emery and Regina would be staying at Stefan’s hunting lodge. The king had gladly invited Regina to use his lodge after he had heard about the upcoming peace talks with the White kingdom. Stefan even made sure the inn located in the village near the lodge had cleared out rooms for members of her majesty’s entourage. They were due to arrive at the village before sundown. Emery huffed when the carriage hit another bump.

He tried to find a new position which would allow him to sleep comfortably, but he couldn’t find one. Frustrated, Emery growled. An irritated sigh came from the queen who sat in the seat across from his. “What is your problem?” She asked as she closed the book she was reading.

Emery scowled and snapped, “I can’t get comfortable. This stupid carriage hits every fucking bump on the damn road. Being in this stifling uniform doesn’t help matters any.” He scoffed. “I see no reason to have me wear the damn thing since we’re travelling most the day. And I’m hungry.” He flung himself back against his seat and pouted.

Regina stared at him, annoyance written on her face. She clasped her hands together and rested them on her lap. “Stop being a child,” she ordered.

Emery scoffed and glowered at her. “I am not being a child.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “I didn’t know escorting you to my parents’ kingdom meant I had to dress up like some pretentious noble and sit in a cramped carriage.”

“You are a prince,” Regina stated in calm tone. Emery knew she was being as nice as possible but his annoyance outweighed his logical thinking.

“I am not a prince,” he countered as he sat up in his seat. Emery began to unbutton his uniform jacket. “I have been a baker’s apprentice, a soldier, and now a knight – which I am regretting on almost every possible level – but I, Emery Swan, have never been a prince. Some person people thought I was, was a princess, but I have never, and will probably never, be a prince.” Emery took off his suit jacket and flung it to the floor of the carriage. He sat back in his seat and sighed. He felt better but the expression on Regina’s face told him he could have done without the rant.

Regina eyed the jacket on the floor of the carriage. She met his gaze and the hard stare directed towards him had Emery wanting to apologize right then and there, but he felt justified in what he had said and done. She stared at him for second longer. “You know I hate repeating myself, but I will say this again so the words can get through that pathetic brain of yours,” she stated in a clipped tone. Her gaze cut into Emery and he clenched his jaw. “Stop acting like a child.”

Emery knew there were moments where he shouldn’t cross the queen, and this was one of those moments, but his annoyance and grumpiness about everything prevented him from holding his tongue. “I am not acting like a child,” he argued as leaned forward in his seat. He gestured down at his uniform jacket. “I couldn’t stand that stupid jacket anymore.”

Emery watched Regna draw in a controlled breath and release it. When she spoke again she was the queen, not Regina. “There are appearances you have to maintain when we are outside of the kingdom. You are knight serving me. Behaving like a child not only makes you look bad, but it also makes me look bad. I refuse to have others believe I have no control over the knights in my kingdom.” She paused and the anger burning in her eyes told Emery he should have kept his mouth closed. “It would do you well to remember this or the consequence will be ones which will make you long for my mercy.”

Emery heeded the warning for what it was, which was change his behavior or he would end up somewhere worse than the dungeon or the stockade. He sighed and begrudgingly admitted to himself, he was being ridiculous. Emery leant forward to pick up his jacket. He dusted it off and apologized to Regina. “I’m sorry, my queen. I don’t do well with small spaces.”

He caught her looking around the carriage. “The royal carriage is quite spacious.”

Emery put on his jacket and remarked, “I’m certain it is for someone who is used to travelling like this.”

Regina reached up and pulled the cord which rang the bell to tell the driver to stop. Emery’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Button up your jacket and go ride with your battalion.”

“Are you kicking me out?” He asked as the carriage came to a stop.

Regina’s face remained expressionless as she replied, “In a way.” Her eyes roamed over his appearance. “You have to wear your insignia.”

Emery frowned but dug the medals out of his jacket pocket and pinned them to his jacket. He reached for the door handle. “Are you mad?”

“Oh, I am more than mad at you but if we continue to ride together, you won’t make it to our destination,” Regina said in a sweet tone which scared Emery more than when she went into her queen persona.

He opened the carriage door and Lancelot rode over to it. “Is there a problem, your majesty?”

Emery stepped out of the carriage and the queen replied, “No, captain, there isn’t. My escort seems to be a petulant child who cannot stand being cooped up in a carriage.”

Emery kept his face neutral and fought the scowl which wanted to form on his face. He glanced at Lancelot and there was an amused glint in his eyes. The man dipped his head. “I understand, your majesty. We should reach the village before King Stefan’s lodge right as the sun is setting.”

“Very well.” Regina looked at Emery. “Go join your battalion, Sir Swan.”

Emery tightened his jaw and bowed. “Yes, your majesty.” He slammed the carriage door closed and made a quick exit. Regina probably took it as an act of insolence and he didn’t want to give her the chance to make an example out of him. Emery got on one of the extra horses and rode back to where his battalion was. His men followed behind the royal procession some several feet away from it led by Neal. The battalion would camp outside the village which was before the White castle. Emery didn’t think they would see any action but it was a formality Regina had been transparent about when she informed Snow about her interests in conducting peace talks.

Emery reached the front of the battalion and took his spot next to Neal. Graham was on the other side. Neal grinned at him and asked, “What happened to you escorting the queen?”

Emery scoffed. “I seem to have irritated her majesty.”

Graham chuckled. “I can see that.” He then wondered, “How did you even get to be her escort?”

Emery grinned at him. “I picked the shortest stick among her knights. Plus I’m the only one with the pretty face.”

The three of them laughed and Neal commented, “Lancelot can be handsome when smiles.” The three of them laughed again. Emery felt himself relax. He wasn’t meant to ride in carriages. He was supposed to be on the back of a horse joking with his friends and fellow soldiers.

Emery walked down the stairs to get to the main floor of the hunting lodge. He had just taken a bath and felt amazing, but he felt even better being out of that stupid uniform. Emery glanced to his left and saw the table in the dining room had been set and candles lit the room. Emery furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lips. He searched the main floor to ask someone what was going on, but he didn’t find anyone.

Emery ended up in the den where he found a bookshelf and a bottle of liquor. He poured himself a glass of the liquor and found a book about war strategy. He headed into the sitting room and sat down on the couch. Emery took a drink of the amber liquid floating in his glass. He grimaced. The alcohol wasn’t the best and was weaker than a glass of water. He set the glass on the small table next to the couch and propped his feet up on the one in front of it. He opened the book and found an interesting section about the methodologies on different offensive tactics.

After Regina had allowed Emery to ride with his men for the remainder of the trip his mood stayed pleasant, but before they reached the village she made him get back in the carriage. Despite him not liking the carriage, Emery had been the perfect gentleman when the procession stopped in the village. The lodge itself was in the middle of the forest with nothing else surrounding it. Other than the village, which was some distance away, it was completely isolated. Emery was tempted to ask Regina if they could come back once they were done dealing with Snow. It was such a peaceful setting.

“You better not be drunk,” Emery heard Regina say behind him as she walked into the sitting room.

He scoffed and looked up at her as she walked over to the couch. “My piss is stronger than this liquor.”

Regina frowned a little. “As charming as ever.”

Emery grinned. “What happened to everyone?”

Regina sat down on the couch and Emery stretched his arm along the back of it so she cuddle up to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and said, “I dismissed them so we can have some privacy.” Emery kissed the top of her head and hummed.

The two of them fell silent and Emery watched the fire as he enjoyed sitting with Regina without the royal etiquette between them. When they were alone it was only the two of them and Emery couldn’t have been happier. He picked up his glass of brandy and took a sip from it, pulling a face when he remembered how bad it was. His eyebrow went up when Regina put her hand under his shirt and began to lightly scratch at his stomach. It was an unusual display of affection for her. He was still getting used to cuddling with her. Emery didn’t think she was someone who cuddled, but other than that and light touches, she didn’t show him much physical affection. Emery felt his heart falter a bit because of it. He kissed the top of her head again and finished off his glass of brandy.

Emery set his glass down on the small table. “Are the guards still posted outside?” Regina nodded and he stared down at her head. The silence from her was a little disconcerting. Regina would soon be in the same room as his parents and she was going to have their beloved child standing with her. He figured she would be preening with excitement, but she wasn’t. Instead was cuddled up to him and quiet as if she were a docile kitten. Emery cleared his throat and asked, “Are you okay?” Regina responded with a soft hum. “Your majesty…” She still didn’t look at him and he sighed. “Regina, what’s wrong?” Emery asked again, adding softness to his tone.

She sighed and lifted her head. Regina’s eyes met Emery’s and she smiled a little. “I do like it when you say my name.”

Emery rolled his eyes, but leaned forward to capture her lips for a soft, lingering kiss. He pulled back from it and ran that pad of his thumb over her bottom lip. “What’s going on in that beautiful head of yours?”

Regina drew in a deep breath and her gaze dropped down. “It’s nothing to be worried about. I’m chasing foolish thoughts.”

“What does that mean?” Emery wondered with a slight frown. There was something in her tone which concerned him. There was a slight vulnerability to it and it had him wanting to protect her from whatever was going through her mind.

Regina shook her head and smiled at him. “Can we go have dinner?”

Emery stared into her eyes hoping he could find the answer as to what she was thinking about, but as expressive as Regina’s eyes were they didn’t tell him anything at that moment. He returned the smile. “We can.”

The two of them get up and went to the dining room. Emery pulled out Regina’s chair then pushed it in as she sat down. He started to fix her plate and Regina said, “You don’t have to do that.”

Emery grinned at her. “Your majesty, I do believe it is unbecoming for a reigning queen to fix her own plate.”

Regina smirked. “It may be, but I think having the man she’s involved with fix her a plate may be taking things a bit far.”

Emery put a scoop of vegetables on the plate and chuckled. “Ah, I think it might be enough.” He finished making her plate then made his own.

The two of them were eating when Regina said, “When we get back to the castle you’ll be getting your own horse.”

Emery gawked at her for a second. “A royal horse or an army horse?”

“Royal,” Regina replied as if his question was the dumbest thing Emery had ever asked her.

Emery opened his mouth to ask a question, but then closed it. He decided since she had already made the decision to give him a horse there was no harm in asking the question. “Why am I getting a royal horse?”

“Do you not want a royal horse?” Regina shot back before picking up her goblet of wine.

Yes, Emery wanted a royal horse. The black horses which were bred by the queen’s personal breeder were some of the most beautiful and elegant horses in the kingdom. They were also incredibly powerful animals. “Of course I want a royal horse but those are your horses, my queen.”

Regina smiled. “They are my horses and I can bestow one, or two, to you as I please.”

Emery sat there completely bewildered by the gift but there was a grin on his face. “I’ll be sure to thank you properly for the gift. They are magnificent horses.” Emery could tell from the glint in Regina’s eyes she was thinking of the number of ways he could make it up to her. Emery felt his body respond to the seductive look and swallowed hard. He picked up his wine and took a long drink from it. The woman was hazard for his libido. He set down his goblet. “I’m going to begin working on the plans for my house when we get back. It’s going to be something simple. Queen appropriate.”

“Queen appropriate?” Regina repeated with a confused expression on her face.

Emery nodded. “Yeah, I want it to be up to your standards, but I will remind you it is my house.”

Regina chuckled. “I will remember and I’m certain it will fit my standards. I can have you speak with the kingdom’s architect if you would like.”

Emery shook his head. “Thank you, but no thank you, your majesty. I have a simple plan.”

Regina nodded. “All right. I will not impede on your house building.”

Emery chuckled and shook his head. Regina wanted to impede, but she was going to let him do it his way because it was his property. Speaking of his land…”Regina, may I ask a question about my piece of land?”


Emery bit the inside of his lip and drew in a deep breath. “Why was it available? A piece of royal land like mine would have been taken by the first knight who saw it.”

Regina stopped eating and looked at him. A number of emotions came and went from her eyes then she sighed. Regina took a drink of her wine. “That was Daniel’s land,” she replied softly.

Emery kicked himself for asking the question. He should have known. He shook his head and quickly said, “We don’t have to go into it if you don’t want to. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Regina cleared her throat. “I couldn’t give it up. Besides personal mementos it was the last reminder I had of him. I didn’t - couldn’t - bequeath it to another knight.”

“Then why let me have it?” Emery asked before he could stop himself.

A fond smile came across her face. “Because, Emery, you remind me of him so much but you’re also so uniquely different. Besides I would have had to give it up eventually.”

Emery nodded and let the answer stand as it was. He didn’t want to ruin their dinner by bringing up the ghosts from Regina’s past. They were almost done eating when Regina asked, “How do you feel about the next couple of days?”

Emery mopped up some gravy with his bread then put it in his mouth. He ate it up then said, “I don’t feel any particular way. I haven’t seen my parents in a year and I have been through so much. I’ve changed, significantly.” He took a drink of his wine. “I honestly feel no connection to them,” he admitted as he set goblet down.

Regina nodded. “I used to feel the same about the mother, but I still wanted to please her.”

Emery smiled a little. “You don’t have to please anyone, but yourself.” Deciding to change the subject he said, “Can we talk about your guard for a moment?”

He snickered at the confused look that came to Regina’s face. “My guard? Why do you want to discuss my guard? There is nothing wrong with it.”

She was correct about that. The queen’s guard was compromised of the best soldiers in her army and led by an excellent knight, however, Emery had a personal reason for why he wanted to discuss her guard. “It is fine, but I would like to be in charge of it.”

Regina laughed. Emery scowled at her reaction. It wasn’t the one he’d been expecting. He had been expecting her to say no and move the conversation along, but her laughter was unexpected and he didn’t like it. Regina caught her breath. “You are not going to be in charge of my guard.” She took a drink of her water and set the glass down. “Not only do you have your own battalion, but I trust Lancelot and know the men on my guard well.”

Emery stared at her, unable to process everything. Her reaction had caught him completely off guard, but his mind was able to cling to a couple things she said. “Are you saying you don’t trust me? And how well do you know the men on your guard?”

“First, do not misconstrue what I said. Trusting you, and trusting Lancelot are two different things and you know this, Emery.” She sighed. “My guard is a pretense, a façade I need because I am queen. However, I can handle any threat which comes my way and protect myself. If you were in charge of my guard we would bicker all the time because I do not need protecting. If anything, you are the one that needs protection.”

Emery pressed his lips together and stared at her. She had made several valid points he couldn’t argue against. She knew magic and could protect herself. He on the other hand was almost murdered by the commanding officer of the training program. “You didn’t answer my other question,” Emery said deflecting her first response while hoping her response to his second question wouldn’t cause him to run from the lodge.

Regina gave him a pointed look and stated, “I will not be answering that question.”

Emery pressed his lips together and they stared at each other. He came to a decision. Who Regina was involved with in the past was no concern of his, but the present was another thing. “Will you answer this question then, your majesty? How about now?”

Regina picked up her wine and took a drink from the goblet. She set it down and replied, “At this moment you are the only one I am involved with physically and romantically.”

Emery felt the beating of his heart pick up and his cheeks grew warm. He picked up his wine and took a long drink from it. He cleared his throat as he set the goblet down. “Well that is good to hear.”

Regina rested one of her elbows on the table then leaned forward as she rested her chin on her palm. “Are there any annoying daughters of rich, or indebted, nobles I should be concerned with?” She reached out with her other hand and dragged her nail across Emery’s jaw. “I don’t share what is mine. It leads to a vicious jealous streak. People might get killed because of it.”

Emery laughed. He took hold of the roaming finger and kissed it. “No, Regina. You know you are the only woman I am with and I plan to be involved with only you until you tire of me.” He grinned. “It is good to know you will go to such great lengths for me.”

Regina smirked. “I will never tire of you, Emery.” She sat back in her chair and picked up her wine. “Anyone who has the audacity to touch what is mine deserves to be executed.”

The blatant jealousy and possessiveness triggered Emery’s arousal and he wasn’t able to stop his mind from going to places which were completely inappropriate to have at dinner, but Regina was more than attractive when she was laying claim to him. The smirk on her face only made matters worse for him. Regina finished her wine then rose from her chair. Emery did the same. She smiled and said, “I’m going to bed. I suggest you do the same since we will be leaving early in the morning.”

Emery gestured to the table. “And who is going to clean up?”

Regina began to make her way to the stairs which went up to the second floor. “The house staff will come in and take care of it.”

“All right, I’m going to read for a bit then I will go to bed.” Emery said as she walked out of the dining room. He followed her out of the room and gave a slight bow as she made her way up the stairs. He went back into the dining room and poured himself a little more wine then went into the sitting room to get the book he had been reading earlier.

Emery took his time as he counted down the seconds in his head. When Emery figured it had been long enough, he went upstairs. He walked by the door for his room and headed for the double doors at the end of the hall. Emery didn’t acknowledge the two guards standing outside of them and they didn’t bother him as he entered the room.

Emery smiled when he saw Regina unbuttoning the linen shirt she wore. He placed his wine on the side table next to the bed then walked over to her. He moved her hands and finished the task. He kissed the side of her neck and up it. When the shirt was fully unbuttoned he slipped his hand inside of it, caressing up her side. Their lips found each other and met for a slow kiss which became more intense as their desire rose. Regina broke the kiss and murmured, “This isn’t going to be an all night affair like last night. You were unbearable today and I will not tolerate you acting like a petulant child.”

Emery grinned after he kissed the top of her shoulder. He began to untie the loose pants she wore. “I will be on my best behavior tomorrow and will make up for my earlier behavior at this very moment.” He palmed her left breast and pinched its erect nipple between this thumb and forefinger. “Will that work, my queen?” Emery asked as a soft gasp came from her. Regina nodded and Emery captured her lips for a kiss that was nothing but passion. Regina may not have wanted to have sex all night long, but Emery was going to take her as many times as he could. He was completely addicted to the woman and couldn’t get enough of her. If it happened to take most of the night for him to get his fill then so be it. Emery guided Regina back to the bed so he could atone for his earlier behavior.

Chapter Text

Two days later the royal procession made its way through the village which was before the White castle. Emery sat next the queen and his posture was rigid and his stomach churned. The anxiety he felt about being back in his home kingdom wreaked havoc on him. His mind flitted back and forth between possibilities which would or would not occur. He wondered if his parents would recognize him. He was worried that these so-called peace talks would lead to a confrontation of epic proportion. Then there was the possibility of the war coming to a head within the White kingdom. Everything Emery thought of made his stomach churn more.

Emery drew in a deep breath and took hold of Regina’s hand and she gave it a gentle squeeze. He bit his bottom lip then, with some hesitance, he whispered, “I’m nervous.” As soon as he gave voice to the admission, Regina’s hand went up and pulled the cord which rang the bell that told the driver to stop. The carriage came to a gentle stop and Emery looked out the window. They had come to full stop in the busy square. “You can’t stop the carriage in the middle of the square, your majesty,” Emery exclaimed.

Regina scoffed and turned to face him. “Soon you will understand that I am queen and I will do whatever I please.” She sighed. “What are you nervous about? Are you having doubts about doing this?”

Emery glanced out the carriage window again and let out a frustrated breath. He opened the door and called out to the driver, “Excuse me, driver, you can continue on.” The carriage didn’t move. Emery sat back in his seat and closed the door. He scowled at Regina. “Tell the driver to go and I will talk to you.”

She stared at him. “And I have your honor, as a knight, you will talk to me?”

Emery contemplated the promise. He knew Regina wasn’t going to back down until he talked to her. He ran his hand over his face and groaned. “Fine you have my honor, as a knight, that I will talk to you if you get this blasted carriage going.”

Regina stared at him a second longer then pulled the cord. The carriage continued to make its way through the village. Emery sank further into his seat and ran his hand over his hair. He glanced up at Regina and saw the slight frown on her face. She had given Emery a strict order to maintain a neat appearance. She should have known the order would have been a pointless one. He couldn’t stay orderly on a normal day, and because his stress caused him to fidget more, there was no way he would be able to follow it. Some of Emery’s anxiousness was about seeing his parents again, but most of it was caused by his worries of them recognizing him and Regina going off on Snow and David because they did something stupid. He blew out an aggravated breath before meeting Regina’s intense gaze. Her patience would only last another moment. “What if these so called ‘peace talks’ only make things worse?”

Her eyebrow arched. “Worse how?”

Emery scoffed and muttered, “There are several ways.” He sighed. “What if they say something stupid? What if this is a trap to capture you? Even worse, what if they recognize me and try to kill you or something more idiotic?”

Regina placed her hand on his thigh. “Emery, look at me.” Certain she was going to laugh at his overactive imagination, Emery reluctantly met her gaze. A playful glint danced in her brown eyes and there was a confident smirk on her face. “Those two idiots are incapable of killing me. You know the power I wield.” Emery gave a slight nod. She was a pretty powerful enchantress. Regina’s eyes softened a little. “But I do understand your concerns and they are valid.” She paused. “There is something I’m not telling you.”

“What is it?” Emery wondered as his eyebrows furrowed together. Uncertainty crossed Regain’s face but then it was replaced by an expression which was a mixture between hope and defeat. She dropped her gaze and stared down at her hands. Emery reached out to cup her cheek. “Regina, what’s the matter? What are you not telling me?”

Silence stretched between them the longer Emery’s question went unanswered. It worried him, but what worried Emery more was the lack of a sharp retort and Regina telling him she is queen and he doesn’t get to question her. Regina sighed. “I need to know if my father is still alive.” She glanced up at Emery. “I need to get this closure. This is the reason why I am even doing these peace talks. I need to know what happened to him, Emery.” She drew in a deep breath and Emery brushed the pad of his thumb across her cheek. When her eyes met his they were hard and lethal. “If I find out he was killed I will not hesitate to kill your parents where they stand.” Emery stared at her and before he could respond, Regina continued. “But I need to know what happened to my father before ending this war.”

Several realizations came to Emery as he gazed into Regina’s eyes. The first realization he had he realized the course of the war would change while they were in the White kingdom. His men would see action if Regina found out her father had been murdered. The second and third realizations happened in the same thought. Emery wanted Regina to get her closure. She deserved to know what happened to her father and he was going to do whatever it took to make sure she got it. No matter if the news turned out to be good or bad. Emery took gentle hold of her hand and brought it up to his lips. He brushed them over her knuckles. “I will do everything in my power to get you the closure you need.”

Regina gave him a small smile. “Thank you.”

Emery released her hand and moved it back to her cheek. “You don’t have to thank me.” He grinned. “It is one of the numerous duties which have been bestowed upon me as your knight.”

“And not as my lover?” Regina inquired. A teasing gleam took the place of the sadness Emery had seen in her expressive eyes and his grin turned into a smile.

“As your lover,” he began, “I will give you my mother’s head on a silver platter.” Regina chuckled and Emery’s heart fluttered at the sound it. He would do anything for her. “But since it would cause a political uproar, and most likely end in my execution, you will have to settle for stolen kisses and passionate sex.” He pressed his lips to hers.

Regina melted into him as the kiss deepened. Emery placed his hand on Regina’s waist and pulled her closer to him. Her fingertips trailed across his jaw then she pulled back. A small smile played on her lips. “As much as I enjoy the stolen kisses it’s the passionate sex which intrigues me.”

“My queen, are you saying you want me to have my way with you? Right here, in the carriage while we go through the village square on our way to see Snow White?” Emery wondered with a mischievous smirk.

Regina hummed and trailed her finger down the side of Emery’s neck, her nail pressing into skin. He knew there would be a mark. “Do not tempt me whilst I’m plotting against the very woman who gave birth to you.”

Emery leaned in and took her bottom lip between his teeth. He gave it a gentle tug then moved in further to whisper in her ear. “Do not play coy, your majesty. You and I both know plotting Snow’s death turns you on more than when I take you in a less than gentle manner.”

Regina smiled. “You are becoming an expert on saying things which will make me forget I am queen.”

Emery let out a low chuckle then lowered his head to place a soft kiss on her neck. He murmured, “That is the point, my queen.”

Regina pushed his shoulder and Emery moved back. She looked into his eyes and smirked, “When all this is said and done, you and I will be spending some time together.”

Emery couldn’t stop the grin which appeared on his face. “That sounds promising.”

Regina straightened out her clothes then pulled out a mirror from her handbag. She looked at herself in its reflective surface. “It will be. Let’s just hope you’ll be able to function afterward.” Emery gawked at her as his brain stopped functioning. Regina chuckled.

All Emery could think about was the delightful and wonderful torture she was going to put him through when the two of them were alone. The lascivious and inappropriate thoughts preoccupied Emery for the remainder of the ride and it wasn’t until the carriage stopped did he realize they were at the White castle. Emery looked out the window and swallowed hard. Regina took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Are you okay?”

Emery nodded. The carriage door opened and he climbed out then bent the waist before holding out his hand for Regina. As she emerged from the carriage several horns blared then a man announced, “Her majesty, Queen Regina Mills, and her companion, Sir Emery Swan.”

Emery had been admiring how beautiful and magnificent Regina looked when the announcement went through the reception area. He stiffened. Regina took hold of his arm and gave it a firm squeeze in order to get him moving down the red carpet which covered the stone path that led up to the main doors of the castle. His mind bounced all over the place. Regina had brazenly announced to his parents, the White kingdom, all those in the royal procession, and his battalion that they were romantically involved. He was happy but at the same time he wanted to throw up. This was something he and Regina would have to talk about when they were alone.

When they reached Snow and David near the main entrance of the castle, Emery bowed while Regina gave them a cordial nod. When he straightened Emery found Snow’s eyes on him. He looked ahead and didn’t do anything as she inspected him with an uncertain gaze. The silence between the four of them didn’t last long. Regina, in her queenly fashion, said, “We require rest before being subjected to whatever nonsense you have arranged for us.”

The statement pulled Snow’s attention from Emery and wherever she had gone in her head. She narrowed her eyes at Regina but remained cordial. “Of course. You have been on the road for the last few days.” Emery caught David looking at him. The man appeared to be lost in the same thoughts Snow had been. As if they recognized him but not certain how they knew him.

The four of them made their way into the castle and Snow said, “I have held off the peace talks until tomorrow morning, but there will be a dinner welcoming you and your representatives tonight. Tomorrow evening there will be a ball celebrating the peace talks.”

Regina chuckled lightly. “I am surprised your kingdom can afford such hospitality.” The predatory smile which spread across her face almost made Emery feel bad for his parents. “Do not forget, Snow, I have to travel through several of your villages to get here. The ones we travelled through were close to being impoverished, and yet here you are throwing a dinner and ball to welcome me.” She hummed a little. “It certainly lets your people know where your priorities lie.”

David stepped forward and Emery positioned himself so he was between Regina and the king. David glowered at him before directing his fiery gaze towards Regina. “It is your fault our kingdom struggles as it does,” he shouted. “There will be a day when this war is over, and when it happens, it will be the end of your reign of terror.”

Regina stepped around Emery and stood face to face with the king of the White kingdom. “Dear, your humble background doesn’t make you equipped to go toe-to-toe with me, so I would watch it if I were you.” She turned her head and looked at Snow. “And this war will end soon enough.”

“Will you return our daughter when it does?”

Emery tensed up. Regina cocked her head a little as she stared at Snow. “Will you return my father?”

A tense silence filled the air around them. Snow, in a controlled tone, stated, “We do not have your father, Regina.”

“Then I don’t have your daughter,” Regina said as she turned to walk away from the other woman.

“That is a lie and you know it,” Snow exclaimed. “Your mother killed my father and now you have taken my daughter hostage.”

Regina spun around and pinned the woman down with a hard stare as she stalked closer towards her. “And it is your fault your father is dead,” Regina snapped. “You believed your kingdom was entitled to the resources in the Mills kingdom and offered nothing from your own.” She scoffed. “If I did have your daughter I do believe she would not want to return since you would marry her off to the highest bidder.” Emery tightened his jaw to keep his mouth from dropping open. “You are self-centered, Snow. The only person you see beyond yourself is that shepherd standing next to you.”

The two stared each other down and Emery, much like his father, waited to see if their respective queens would need protecting. Emery knew Regina wouldn’t, but he was prepared to step in if necessary. The entire conversation had been surprising and Regina showing the restraint she had left him speechless. Emery was also surprised he hadn’t intervened and killed his mother for the way she spoke to Regina. She held a grudge against her for something Regina had no hand in, but Snow believed she should pay for her mother’s sins. Snow glared at Regina a moment long then said, “Show Queen Regina and her companion to their chambers.” She then added, “Dinner will be in a few hours. I will have the castle pages come get you when it is time.”

Snow eyed Regina then Emery before she and David left them. A castle page approached Emery and Regina and escorted them to the stairs which went up the west wing of the castle. As they walked down the main corridor there were portraits of his family hanging up and among them were portraits of Emery and his parents. The castle was the same, the staff was a little different, but other than that nothing seemed to different to Emery. They entered the chambers he and Regina would be staying in and she ordered everyone to leave. When the last person had exited Emery closed the door and asked with some hesitation, “When were you going to tell me about the announcement?”

“Announcement?” Regina repeated as she took off her long coat. Her tone held an edge to it which told him she was still recovering from her encounter with Snow.

Emery began to unbutton his uniform jacket. “Yes, announcement. The one which herald our relationship throughout the entire White kingdom.”

Confused, Regina stared at him for a moment then she realized what he was talking about. “I had to label our relationship due to a formality.” She then wondered, “Do you not wish to be involved with me? Was me going off on your mother too much for you to handle?”

Emery gawked at her then he knew what was going on. He took off his jacket and walked over to where Regina stood. He placed his hands on her waist and said, “You know that is not what I want. It surprised me is all I’m trying to say.”

Regina stared at him then sighed. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you. I had the information sent to your parents and once it was out of my possession I didn’t give it a second thought.” She sighed again. The two of them stood there in silence for a moment then she muttered, “I hate your mother.”

Emery chuckled softly and kissed her head. “I know you do.

“How are you doing?” Regina asked as she lifted her head.

Emery chuckled and shook his head. “I’m going back and forth between this being quite surreal for me, to wanting to hurt my mother for being ridiculous, to wanting to bolt.”

Regina took hold of his face. “If at any point this gets to be too much for you, let me know. I can pull an Evil Queen and we can leave. I’m not going to make you suffer because I want to torture your mother.”

Emery smiled and gave her a kiss. He pulled back and said, “I will let you know, but there is more to this than you wanting to torture my mother. We also need to find out about your father.”

Regina nodded and moved away from him. “I am hoping something will come to light during the meetings over the next few days.” She sighed. “I’m going to go take a bath and review the documents the council and I drew up for ending the war.”

Emery found the trunk which contained his belongings and pulled out a pair of leather pants. “All right, I’m going to go find Neal and Graham so we can get some training in.” He unbuttoned his trousers and asked, “Did you ever sign off on their official transfers to my battalion and making Neal my lieutenant?”

Regina gave him a pointed look. “Do not wrinkle you uniform.” She began to make her way into the bedroom. “I will do that when we return. I was dealing with far more pressing matters.”

There is a knock on the main doors for their chambers and Emery let out an exasperated breath. He walked over to them and opened one. “Yes?”

A young soldier, holding more of Regina’s luggage, said, “The rest of her majesty’s belongings, Sir Swan.”

Emery nodded and moved out of the way. “Right. You can place it in the bedroom.” He followed the young man and asked, “Do you know where Lieutenant Cassidy is?”

The soldier nodded as he set down the queen’s trunk. He turned to face Emery. “He and some of the other men went into the village.”

Emery shook his head. He should have known Neal wasn’t going stay in camp. “Has camp been setup for the battalion?”

“Yes, sir,” the soldier replied.

Emery nodded. “What about the queen’s processional? Horses and carriages were stowed?”

The soldier answered again with, “Yes, sir.”

Emery hummed then nodded. “All right. Have a castle page bring up bath water for her majesty.”

“Right away, Sir Swan,” the soldier replied before he rushed out of the room. He stopped to bow at Regina as she came out of the bathing room.

Emery smiled at her and said, “I’m going to head to the village. I have to make sure the men don’t cause a riot while they are there.”

“Are you certain it will be safe for you to be in the village?” Emery could see the concern in Regina’s eyes and it caused his smile to grow.

“I am certain, my queen.” He chuckled a little. “I lived a sheltered life while I was here so most of the villagers wouldn’t recognize me.”

Regina studied him for a moment then said, “If you say so, but don’t do anything stupid.”

Emery grinned. “I won’t.” He gave her a quick kiss then said, “I have the castle pages bringing you your bath water.”

Regina smiled and rolled her. “It won’t be as nice as the spring water, but I’m certain it will do.” Emery chuckled and headed back into the sitting room so he could get the clothes he was going to change into. All they had to do was get through their time in the White kingdom without incident, but even as Emery formed the thought he knew it wasn’t going to be possible. He picked up his leather pants off the couch and sighed. If the queen didn’t find out about her father there was a chance his mother wouldn’t survive the peace talks. Emery decided he was going to have the battalion run drills tomorrow morning to make sure they were prepared.

People stared at Emery as he walked through the busy square of the village, but he ignored them. There were numerous reasons for their stares and they ranged from him being a knight in the queen’s army to the magnificent black stallion he was leading, either way it didn’t bother him. Emery scanned the village for any of his men to make sure they weren’t causing trouble. He had ordered them to keep a low profile and to stay of trouble during this tenuous time. However the soldiers and knights who made up the queen’s army were a prideful lot and would defend their queen to the death.

Emery let out a relieved breath and shook his head when he saw several of the army’s horses at the tavern. He guided his horse over to it then hitched the animal to the post. Emery walked into the bar and two loud whistles sounded then Neal shouted, “Attention drunks and peasants, Sir Swan, the queen’s companion has entered.” Emery narrowed his eyes at the other man who sat at a table in the corner with a few other soldiers. As he walked over to it Neal grinned at him. “We’re hoping you’ll regale us with the tale of how you managed to woo the queen over a pint.” Neal held up his mug. “We’re also thinking if we get you drunk enough you may tell us what her majesty is like in bed.”

Emery sat down at the table as the barkeep brought him over a mug of ale. He picked it up and glared at Neal over the rim of it. He wanted to kick his ass but Emery decided deflecting the conversation would cause less of a problem. He was an honorable knight after all. Emery set down his mug said, “I am a gentleman and will not be telling stories such as those. More so since they involve her majesty.”

Neal scoffed and waved off his remark. “Nonsense, you are among trusted friends here.”

The soldier next to Emery grunted. “It’s not like you’re the first soldier or knight to enjoy the hidden treasures between the queen’s thighs.”

Emery granted Neal a hint of civility when he made crude or inappropriate remarks about Regina because they were friends. But a soldier, in his battalion, would not be given such leeway. Emery shoved the man off the bench they were sitting on, making those around them scramble away. He pulled his dagger out of his boot and stood. He placed his foot on the soldier’s chest. Emery bent down and held the tip of his blade against the man’s throat. “No man in my battalion will speak of the queen in such a cavalier manner. Do it again and I will slice you open like a wild pig. Do you understand?” The man nodded quickly, but Emery pushed the blade harder against his neck. His voice dropped to a dangerous tone. “I think the correct response is ‘yes, Sir Swan’.”

The man swallowed several times then repeated, “Yes, Sir Swan.”

Emery glared at the man a moment longer then stood up. He resisted the urge to kick him in the ribs. Emery sat back down in his spot at the table and picked up his mug of ale. He took a long drink from it then set it down. “Em, he didn’t mean anything by it. I know you are aware of the rumors –“

“I am aware of the rumors, Neal, and as my lieutenant you will to make sure the men don’t entertain them.” Emery looked around at the soldiers at the table. “We all serve the queen. If you believe you cannot focus on doing that, please, let me know. I will make sure you head to the front line of the closest battle.”

The men at the table, and those around them, were silent. Emery’s actions and words were the result of his anger and fierce protectiveness of Regina. There was no way he was going to let rumors and vulgar discussion about her become commonplace among his men. He would transfer them if he needed to. With his mood ruined, and no longer wanting to drink with the other men, Emery stood up. “Tomorrow, before the sunrises, we’re going to run drills. Do not get into trouble tonight. If I hear of any problems while the queen is negotiating this peace treaty you will be sent to the dungeons of the White castle.”

Emery walked out of the tavern and he was readying his horse to go when a woman close to him gasped. Emery looked around and his eyes landed on a woman he would be able recognize no matter how much time had passed. It was Nicolette. Her dark eyes began to shimmer with unshed tears and she stepped closer towards him. Emery stiffened. He wanted to hug her and tell her about his life the past year, but all he could do was stare at her. She had been his nanny, tutor, and was the mother Snow would never be. When she was close enough she reached out to place her hand on his cheek and murmured, “Emma…”

Emery swallowed several times as he tried to get his mouth to work, but it wouldn’t cooperate. The door of the tavern flew open and Neal shouted, “Swan!” Emery jerked his head away from the woman’s touch as Neal ran over towards him. “Oh, come on now, you know how the men are. Plus Wickman was already on his third ale.” He placed his hand on Emery’s shoulder and gave it squeeze. Neal then noticed Nicolette who still stared at Emery. “And who is this?”

Emery swallowed hard and shook his head. “No one. A lost villager.” He rushed to get on his horse and once he was on the animal he gazed down at Nicolette then took off. Emery didn’t know what think. It had taken Nicolette a second to recognize him when his own mother couldn’t figure it out. Emery headed out of the village and to the forest. He knew several trails which would lead him to places where he could think. There were several questions running through his mind. He wanted to know if she was okay and why she wasn’t at the palace, but he didn’t know if he would get the answers to those questions.

Regina stood behind Emery pretending to make sure the suit lying on the bed was orderly for the welcome dinner which was about to take place. He knew she was pretending because every so often she would glance up at him and he would catch her eyes in the mirror then she would look away. She was hovering. It annoyed him since he wasn’t in the greatest mood, but at the same time he found her hovering endearing. Emery went back and forth between the two.

He had been in his head ever since he came back to the castle a half hour ago. Emery wanted to go searching for Nicolette but he didn’t know what to say or what to tell her. He sighed and Regina came walking over to him. Emery was surprised she had managed to leave him alone for this long. She took the strip of cloth from him and finished wrapping his chest. Emery was relieved he wouldn’t be shoved into an obnoxious dress for this state function; instead he was being put in a suit which made moving almost impossible. “I went looking for you earlier,” Regina stated and Emery noted the irritation in her voice so he avoided looking at her.

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” Emery apologized but it lacked any genuine sincerity.

She pulled the cloth tight and pinned it closed. “Too tight?” Emery shook his head. “I would actually believe that if you sounded like you meant it. Your lieutenant, the oafish man, told me about what happened at the tavern.”

Emery moved away from Regina and walked over to the bed where his clothes laid. He picked up his undershirt. “Again, I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” He paused before pulling on his shirt then met Regina’s gaze. Annoyance was written all over her face. He sighed. “I didn’t mean that nor am I sorry about it. If someone dares to speak ill about you and your personal affairs in public do know I will take matters into my own hands if I can.”

Regina stared at him for a long moment then sighed. Emery reached for his pants as she walked over to him. “Defending my honor, as admirable as it is, is unwise especially when we are in hostile territory. And I wasn’t talking about that. He told me about the woman who seemed to have spooked you.”

Emery put on his pants. “It’s nothing. She is no one.”

Regina placed herself between Emery and the bed and there was a hard look in her eyes. She drew in a deep, measured breath then said, “I’m trying not to get upset or irritated with you but I am finding it difficult.”

Emery scoffed and buttoned his pants. “That’s amusing since I have found an infinite amount of patience with you, so you’re not trying hard enough.”

Regina grabbed hold of his jaw and forced Emery to look at her. The barely contained anger in her eyes had him rethinking his tone towards her. “Trust me, Swan, I have an unending amount of patience - more for you than others. But I’m starting to reach my limit when you give me non-answers after I’ve asked you about your whereabouts for most of the day.” Her eyes narrowed. “If you are looking for an argument then I will happily give you one, but it won’t be the one you are trying to provoke from me.”

Regina’s brown eyes challenged Emery to try her but he didn’t. Emery closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath though his nose then slowly released it. He tried to free his jaw, but Regina’s nails dug into his skin. “Ow, Regina.”

“Will you talk to me?”

“Yes, now retract your talons, your majesty,” Emery replied with a slight scowl. He was going to talk to Regina eventually, but he didn’t think she would resort to breaking out her claws - literally and figuratively. Regina let go of Emery’s face and he rubbed his jaw. She crossed her arms over her chest and continued to pin him down with a hard stare. Emery ran his hand over his hair and sighed. He dropped it and watched her for second before leaning in to give Regina a soft kiss. He pulled back and said, “I’m sorry. I mean it this time. I shouldn’t have run off and I shouldn’t be an ass to you because I’m worried.”

Emery witnessed the mental fight Regina went through with herself and he almost chuckled, but didn’t. He had already pissed her off enough. “You are an ass regardless.” She shook her head and her eyes softened as she met his gaze. “What are you worried about, Emery?”

He reached around her and picked up the long sleeve shirt he would wear underneath his suit jacket. He pulled it on and as he tucked it into his pants he said, “The woman Neal told you about, she was my nanny. Her name is Nicolette. She raised me, tutored me…everything.” Emery sighed. “When I ran away, she was still in the castle. She’s the only person who was able to talk me into wearing some unbearable dress or getting me to go to a ball my mother was throwing.” A small smile played on his lips. “She used to give me boy’s cloths when I was younger and tied my hair in a way which wasn’t extravagant and let me be myself.” Emery swallowed hard. “I think they fired her. Snow hated it when Nicolette used to encourage me to be myself. I used to catch them arguing about it. I think they blame her on some level.” His eyes met Regina’s. “I want to make sure she’s okay. I don’t want her life to be terrible because of me.”

Regina placed her hand on his cheek. “We will find her and if you want her to come with us when we leave then she can come.”

“I just want to make sure she’s okay.” He smiled at little. “I doubt she would leave though. She’s as stubborn as I am.”

Regina returned the smile and countered, “I highly doubt that.” She gave him a brief kiss. “I’ll have Lancelot go and find her while we’re at dinner with your insipid parents.”

Emery got his suit jacket and put it on. “You will need to restrain your ire, my queen. Wouldn’t want you to cause a political nightmare.”

Regina scoffed. She grinned as she started to button his jacket. “Oh, I’ve already started one my dear. Your parents are too stupid to realize it.” She leaned in and gave him another kiss. “Finish dressing. I have some things to attend to, and do take your time.”

Emery grinned and dipped his head. “Yes, your majesty. I know you like to make an entrance.” Regina chuckled as she sauntered out of the room and he watched her completely mesmerized by the woman for several reasons. Out of all of the people who could be his confidant, he never thought it would be the Evil Queen, and she was a willing one at that. Emery realized he didn’t have this level of comfort with anyone else. He sighed and chuckled a little. Again, Emery didn’t know how it happened, but he was grateful it had.

Emery finished getting dressed and once he had his insignia affixed to his suit jacket he walked out to the sitting room. Regina dismissed the two handmaidens she was talking to then approached Emery. She ran her hand over his shoulder and remarked, “You almost pass for a respectable knight?”


Regina grinned. “We both know underneath this finely tailored suit and insignia lies a vulgar, untrained man and this is nothing but an act.”

Emery chuckled. “If you would like to see how vulgar I can be, your majesty, then I am more than willing to show you,” he suggested, a seductive smirk on his face.

Regina hummed and stared in his eyes a moment longer. “Maybe later. For now we must attend this dreadful dinner.”

Emery chuckled again and offered her his arm. “And I thought you wanted to make an entrance. Taking you before we arrive at dinner would be an excellent way to make an entrance.”

“Do not tempt me, Swan,” Regina said as she slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. Her stern voice enticed Emery further.

He bit his bottom lip then leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Oh, but you can’t say you won’t think about it, my queen.” He stood up and Regina glared at him out the corner of her eye as the two of them made their way out of their chambers. Emery continued to smile as they walked down the hall. Maybe dinner wouldn’t be a boring affair. It was possible he could have some fun after all.

Chapter Text

The tension which filled the dining hall existed alongside the hospitality Snow and David showed Regina and her emissaries. A few of the higher ranking officials for each kingdom had also been invited to join the monarchs and Emery for dinner. Conversation at the long table ranged from talks of the treaty to hunting to even how harsh the winter had been in a vain attempt to fill the hall with some noise since the silence only made the room unbearable. Regina, who looked comfortable eating at her enemy’s dinner table, was unbothered by it and Emery followed her lead. The two of them ate in relative silence and didn’t engage in any of the idle conversation which occurred around them.

Emery forced himself to eat the meal in front of him but it was hard to do so. The food was less than ideal and didn’t meet the high standards which Regina demanded of her kitchen staff. He began to wonder how he had managed to eat it when he was younger. Emery felt he was being watched so he glanced up and found Snow staring at him. He held her gaze until she looked away. Emery sighed quietly as he took a bite of his food. This wasn’t the first time he had caught Snow looking at him. Emery had caught her several times before and the expression on her face was always the same. It was as if he was familiar to her but Snow couldn’t place where she had seen him before. When he caught her staring a final time Snow asked, “Sir Swan,” Emery looked at her. “I feel as though you are familiar to me, but I’m certain we have never met before.”

Emery forced a shadow of a smile onto his face. “I suppose I have one of those faces which may be common around your kingdom, your majesty.”

“Stop selling yourself short, dear. It is unattractive,” Regina remarked as she picked up her wine to take a sip from it.

Emery smirked at her. Snow cleared her throat in a delicate manner and said, “I have to say I am surprised you are involved with someone, Regina. I hadn’t heard anything about it.”

Emery tensed as he focused on the meal in front of him. Snow mentioning Regina’s private life was like putting live prey in a lioness’s cage and it wasn’t going to end well. Regina fixed her gaze on Snow. “Unlike you, I am focused on the war my kingdom is currently engaged in and I keep my private life private.”

Emery saw Snow stiffen in her seat. “I am focused on the war as well.”

“I’m sure you are,” Regina commented with a brief chuckle.

Snow glared at Regina then looked at Emery. “Where does your family come from, Sir Swan?”

Emery felt a shift in Regina’s mood. He took a drink of his wine and cleared his throat. He thanked whatever deity was listening for Regina having to maintain appearances. She would have killed Snow at the dinner table and wouldn’t have thought twice about it. “I’m from a small village to the east of the Queen’s castle. It’s close to Stefan’s kingdom. My parents are lower nobles who don’t believe a life at court is all that thrilling.”

“Ah, I see.” She stared at him a moment longer then wondered, “And you have no family here in the White kingdom?”

Emery gave a slight shake of his head. “No, your majesty I do not. My family has served the Mills crown for several generations. Take this as you will, but living in the White kingdom considered a betrayal to my family.”

A small cough came from Regina but was muffled by her napkin. Emery knew the lie was a subtle insult towards his mother but he wanted Snow to know where his loyalty stood even as she tried to figure out how she knew him. Regina rose from her seat and Emery rushed to get to his feet along with everyone else at the table except Snow and David. They took their time standing. A false small appeared on Regina’s face. “I think I shall retire for the night. It has been a rough few days of travel and I would like to get adequate rest before we spend the day hashing out the details of the peace treaty.”

Snow returned the smile with a fake one of her own. “I understand. We will begin the talks around midmorning. I will have someone come get you.”

Regina tilted her head and Emery bowed at Snow and David before following her out of the dining hall. When they were in the main hall she murmured, “I don’t want you around them for too long.” Regina scowled. “I saw how Snow was looking at you, and though she lacks the brain function to run a kingdom, I do believe she would have figured out who you were the longer you were there.”

Emery nodded in agreement. “You knew this would be a possibility when you asked me to escort you to the White kingdom,” he pointed out in a hushed voice.

“I did, but I still haven’t found any information about my father and I need to get that first before revealing who you are.” She glanced at Emery as they made their way to the stairs. “Do you understand?”

Knowing her reasoning made sense to Emery and he said, “Yes, my queen. Thank you.”

Regina’s face remained impassive but Emery swore he saw the corner of her mouth quirk up as if she wanted to smile. “Why are you thanking me, Sir Swan?”

Emery grinned. “I know you are not one to reveal your inner thoughts so I appreciate you informing me of your line of thinking.”

Regina glanced at him then focused on going up the stairs. When they arrived at their chambers Lancelot stood outside of the doors. Emery wondered why he was there. As they approached he bowed and said, “Your majesty, I have an update on the task you assigned to me.”

“Not out here,” Regina stated in a clipped tone. The three of them went into the suite of rooms and she looked at Emery. “Go get ready for bed. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Emery opened his mouth to protest, but shut it. Arguing with her in front of others was the dumbest thing he could do. He nodded and bowed slightly before making his way to the bedroom. Emery shut the door behind him once he was in the room and there was deep scowl etched on his face. One moment Regina was sharing her thought processes with him and the next he was being reduced to nothing. It frustrated him.

Emery started to get undressed and he was hanging up his suit pants when Regina came into the room. He didn’t say anything to her as he took off the long-sleeved shirt he was wearing. He tossed it into his trunk then pulled off the sleeveless undershirt he had on. Emery began to undo the bindings around his chest. Regina watched him and asked, “Do you need some help?” Emery shook his head. Regina sighed. “Stop being a petulant child and ask.”

Emery scoffed. “It doesn’t matter if I do ask, you won’t tell me anything.” He stopped unwrapping his chest and looked at her. “It amazes me how you can be one way towards me then, in the next instance, I’m just the body that keeps your bed warm. But that’s what I get for thinking us being in a relationship would change things between us. Again, I am the idiot.”

“If you are done with your display of stupidity, I can explain to you what is going on,” Regina said as she approached him. She took hold of the cloth strip and finished unbinding his chest. “I have Lancelot searching for information about my father. I also have him finding out information about your nanny.”

“Oh.” Emery felt like a jackass. He sighed. “Regina, I’m –“

“Telling you about a particular plan, or something I have another doing, is something which may not be feasible at times,” Regina continued interrupting Emery’s apology. “That is due to confidentiality and also because I want all the facts first.” She pinned Emery down with a hard gaze. “You are a number of things to me, Emery, but there are some topics I cannot discuss with you. If this is something you cannot deal with then you need to reconsider your involvement with me. I am queen. I have to protect my kingdom. You do not get to come before it.”

Emery took the verbal lashing for what it was and he felt even more like a jackass. Regina shouldn’t have felt the need to admonish him for something he already knew. The kingdom would always come first. She pulled the cloth away from his body and placed it on the edge of his trunk. Emery took hold of her face and placed a soft kiss on her lips. It lingered for a moment then he rested his forehead on hers. “I’m sorry,” Emery whispered. “I know the kingdom comes first. I let my stupid emotions get the best of me and I came up with the worst. You know I always think the worst when my insecurities get involved.”

Regina nodded. “I do, but you need to give me the benefit of the doubt.” She sighed. “If I can tell you, Emery, then I will. If I cannot then you need to respect that.”

“And I will, Regina,” He pulled his head away from hers. “It was stupid of me to do. I will be more understanding about what you can and cannot tell me.”

Regina stared at him for moment then gave her a head a slight shake. “Get that sad puppy look off your face.” She pointed at him. “This is the only time we’re having this conversation.”

Emery nodded. “Yes, my queen.” He grinned. “Since you mentioned it, can I have a puppy? I’ve always wanted a dog but the only ones my mother got me were those annoying little dogs and they all hated me.”

Regina glowered at him. “That was not an opening for you to ask if you could bring a mangy beast into my castle.”

Emery began to help her out of her dress and grunted. “Fine. I’ll get one for my house.”

Regina glanced at him over her shoulder. “I thought your house was going to be queen friendly?”

Emery smirked. “It is, but it’s also going to have a dog.”

Regina scowled at him. “You are not allowed to have a dog that close to the castle property.”

Emery scoffed and muttered to himself, “Watch me.”

“If you have a death wish, dear, I can make it a reality for you,” Regina stated and Emery shook his head for not keeping the comment to himself. “What are your plans for tomorrow?”

Emery scowled at the laces on Regina’s corset. Why the infernal things took so much concentration to undo irritated him. “I have to wake up early and go down to camp. The men pissed me off so I’m torturing them.”

Regina chuckled. “Don’t run them to hard. In case something happens your battalion is the closest one around.”

Emery nodded. “I will remember that.” He managed to get the corset loosened then he helped Regina out of it. She turned and looked at him. The smirk on her face told him she was plotting something. “What are you doing?”

Regina trailed her fingers across his collarbone and down the center of his chest. “I do believe promises were made before we left for dinner.”

Emery grinned. “No such promises were made, your majesty. Suggestions, perhaps, but not promises and they were only good for that time.”

Regina glared at him and pressed her finger into the center of Emery’s chest. “Don’t make me hurt you, Swan.”

Emery leaned forward and whispered, “Maybe I want you to hurt me.”

He stared into Regina’s eyes challenging her and it wasn’t long before a devious glint shone in her eyes and an evil smile accompanied it. “If you want me to show you the rougher side of my personality, all you have to do is ask,” Regina murmured as she leaned in closer to Emery, their lips barely touching.

Regina’s lips grazed over Emery’s and his breath caught. He drew in a slow, deep breath then said in a soft voice, “Your majesty, I would like to see all of you.”

Regina smiled against his lips as she reached up to grab hold of the longer hair on top of Emery’s head. She jerked his back and ran her tongue down the length of his neck then bit the crook of it before pressing a kiss to the area she had bitten. Regina kissed her way up his neck then took Emery’s earlobe between her teeth, giving it a firm tug. Emery groaned.

The desire to be at Regina’s mercy, in every sense of the word, sent a chill through Emery and the thought of where they were made his desire spike. “Then you will have all of me, Emery.” She breathed against the shell of his ear and Emery’s arousal doubled. “However, it will be on my terms.” A low chuckle came from Regina. Emery struggled to draw in a complete breath. It was going to be pleasurable and torturous night for him but he was more than ready to do this with Regina. She captured his lips for a hard kiss which obliterated all thought from his mind. All Emery was aware of was Regina and the control she had over him.

Emery muttered under his breath as he wrote down a note. He currently sat on his horse and watched the battalion go through formation drills with Neal. They were sloppy, and as the morning progressed, they showed no signs improvement. A few villagers came to watch the drills, but Emery paid them no mind. He was making notes about what they needed to work on. He was going to spend the next several months training his men in order to get them to his standards.

Emery was making a note on his slip of parchment when he heard the sound of a horse riding up to him. “These are your men?” David asked as he came to a stop next to Emery.

Emery glanced over at him then back to his parchment. “They are.”

Silence followed after his response then David remarked, “They are well trained.”

Emery grunted. “If you believe sloppiness is well trained. Their footwork isn’t precise, they’re slow, and they don’t seem to understand the concept of moving as a unit. “

David chuckled a little. “You are harsh for a commanding officer.”

Emery had a remark on the tip of his tongue, but he held it in. He continued to make his notes. “Is there something you wanted help with? Aren’t you supposed to be in treaty talks?”

“I am, but our generals had concerns about this battalion mobilizing against us,” David replied as he turned his horse around to face Emery.

Emery rolled his eyes. The generals of the White army were as stupid as their king and queen. He rolled up his parchment and put it, and his quill, into his saddle bag. Emery looked at David with a hard stare. “If this battalion, a battalion of her majesty’s army - an army the White kingdom has yet to defeat - were mobilizing you would know. My men have not drawn a single blade this morning.” Emery tightened his jaw and said, “If you will excuse me, I have to go speak with my men.”

Emery rode down to where Neal was and said, “Do not have them go through weapons drills. We are under heavy scrutiny since we are in enemy territory.”

Neal glanced behind him and chuckled. “King David spoke with you?”

“He did.” Emery sighed. “I’m not going to do anything to threaten these peace talks. The queen will have my head if I jeopardize them.”

Neal chuckled. “I’m not certain she would. She announced your relationship and I think killing you would ruin all her future prospects.”

Emery laughed with Neal and as he caught his breath he said, “These men are horrendous. What did they do, send the worst men from the current battalions to make up mine?”

Neal nodded. “That appears to be the case.” He laughed and said, “But you did make me your lieutenant so how much better do you think they’ll get?”

Emery shook his head and watched the men. He had to go meet Regina for lunch then the two of them were going to go for a ride. Emery didn’t want to be anywhere near the castle since Snow was preparing for the ball which would be held that evening. He grunted. His mother would never change. She would use the slightest reasons to throw a ball. Emery sighed. “Have them do two more formation drills. Tell the men I said they’re sloppy and that they will be going through nonstop training once we return to our kingdom.”

Neal groaned and remarked, “Since you were knighted you’ve become a hard ass.”

Emery clasped his hand on Neal shoulder. “If the men look good then you’ll look good and if you look good I’ll put in the recommendation for you to get knighted.”

Neal laughed and shook his head. “I do not want to be knighted. After seeing all the crap you have to go through, I am not interested. Also I don’t want to have to deal with this shit. Let me be your lieutenant and I’ll make sure we both look good.”

Emery grinned at his friend. He and Neal had been through a lot, and other than Graham, he was the one person Emery could trust to make sure the three of them and the battalion stood out. Emery sighed. “I have to go. I have lunch with the queen.”

Neal stifled a laugh and cleared his throat. “You have fun with that.”

Emery reached out and gave his shoulder a not so gentle shove then turned his horse around to make his way back to the castle. He didn’t mind having lunch with Regina, in fact he was more than excited to have lunch with her, but it was having to deal with her after she had been in meetings for most of the morning with Snow he wasn’t looking forward to. She was going to be unpleasant. Emery pursed his lips as he pushed his horse into a gallop. Maybe he could persuade her into other activities which would prevent her from going off about Snow. Emery remembered the slight pain on his back and grinned as he recalled the way Regina’s nails dug into his skin as they scratched down his back. He was certain he could come up with a number of ways to distract her.

Emery had tried. He had made a number of sexual overtures while helping her out of her dress. He had even made playful jokes as she pulled on the leather riding pants which she had changed into. He even made his intentions obvious to her, but Regina hadn’t taken the bait. She continued to go on about Snow, the peace talks, and how she wanted to lay waste to the entire kingdom.

The two of them were riding on one of the trails which was behind the castle and they had been riding for the last half hour. Emery sighed. Regina was still on her tear about Snow. “She wants to give us limited access to sea trade, and to add further insult, she says my military cannot guard my people. How stupid does she think I am?”

Emery sighed again. Regina wasn’t going to let this go until someone fully engaged in a conversation with her about it. Resigning to his fate he asked, “Did she offer protection for those from your kingdom who utilize the sea trade? Also utilizing the sea trade means utilizing the river which runs through Stefan’s kingdom. Or have you forgotten this, your majesty?”

Regina glared at him. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying Stefan’s kingdom should probably be involved in these peace talks as well or can you only handle one thing at a time?” Emery pointed out with a slight smirk on his face.

“Do you have a death wish?”

Emery let out an exasperated breath. “I don’t, but when you asked me to lunch this morning I thought it would be to relax with me and spend some time together. Instead you have gone on, non-stop, for the last half hour about these stupid peace talks which we both know is a farce.”

“What do you mean?”

Emery didn’t want to have this conversation but it was obvious it was going to have to happen since Regina wanted to rant about something which had no bearing in what she had already decided. “You’ve already stated you’re only doing this to find out information about your father. Once you have found that, you will be doing one thing – no matter what – and that is taking the White kingdom. That is the only end to this war in your mind.”

Regina stopped her horse and turned it around so she could face Emery. He knew being blunt and honest with her could end a number of ways, but it was the truth. Peace had never existed between the two kingdoms and this was a culmination of the bad blood which lay between them.  This meant one of them would cease to exist. Regina continued to stare at Emery. “Since you believe –“

“Regina, this is not what I believe,” Emery exclaimed. “These are facts. Based off the history of the two kingdoms, the war itself, and what I know about you; this is the truth.”

Regina lifted her head and straightened her posture. “Since you believe to know what is the truth then you can go tell your mother who you are and find out where my father is so I can be done with these pretenses.”

Aggravated, Emery exhaled through his nose. She had used a condescending tone which irritated him. She used it when she thought he was being stupid. Emery pulled on the reins for his horsed and guided the animal to turn around. He squeezed the horse’s sides with his knees and got it to break into a full gallop. If Regina was going to act like this then he didn’t want to be around her. It was her fault they were even discussing this. Had she not continued to rant about Snow and the peace talks their ride would have been fine. Emery shook his head. The woman took unreasonable and stubborn to astounding levels.

Emery was almost around the bend in the path when heard fast approaching hoof beats behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Regina riding up on him, closing the gap between them. Emery slowed his horse into a trot and Regina rode by him then turned her horse around. She rode over to him and the scowl on her face told Emery he had done the wrong thing by riding away from her. “How dare you ride away from me?”

Emery scoffed and countered, “And how dare you use your queen personality on me when you ruined what was supposed to be a pleasant ride with Regina. Not the queen, but you - the woman.” He scoffed. “I understand why things are the way they are. I get it and understand the pretenses which go with everything but it has no place being discussed by you and I when we are alone.” Emery threw up his hands. “I want something which is ours and isn’t tainted by this stupid war or the White kingdom. Is that too much to ask for?”

Regina stared at him and the longer the silence dragged on the more upset Emery got. He would be glad for this war to be over because then, maybe, they would have a chance at a normal relationship. Emery shook his head. “Nevermind, Regina. Your focus is on the war and on the kingdom. I understand.” Emery began to ride away and as he passed her he said, “Please, don’t follow me. I need some space.”

Regina pursed her lips, but she let Emery leave. He urged his horse to go faster and he turned down a path which went to the left and through some dense forest which would end before he got to the beach. Emery focused on his ride instead of his feelings. If he focused on them he would realize he was hurt. He knew while they were in the White kingdom Regina would be focused on finding out information about her father and pretending to care about the peace talks, but he also thought they would be able to put all that away and have some time for them, however, it wasn’t the case.

Emery reached the beach and dismounted his horse. He led the animal as he walked down the beach. It was bitter cold by the water, but Emery didn’t care. There had been countless times where he had come down to the beach to escape his life in the castle. Emery sighed as he watched the water. It was stupid of him to feel this way, but at the same time he felt having at least an hour alone where he and Regina could be themselves wasn’t asking for much. Emery shook his head. He was starting to understand why Neal slept around. Relationships were annoying.

After walking for a while Emery sat down on a piece of driftwood and watched the ocean. He was freezing but he wasn’t ready to go back to the castle yet, nor was he ready to be around Regina. Emery didn’t think about much as he stared at the water and he was only aware of the ocean in front of him. He didn’t know how much time had passed when he felt an arm wrap around his shoulders. Emery rested his head on Regina’s shoulder and remained quiet. He knew it was her because, despite what he had told her, she wasn’t able to stay away from him for long.

Several long minutes passed and he said, “I always wondered what it would be like to get on one of the ships and just set sail. I used to want to know if there was kingdom out there which would accept me as I am. I also used to dream of going on voyages searching for a wizard or dark fairy who would be willing to change me.”

“A dark fairy?”

Emery nodded against her shoulder. “I asked the Blue fairy to change me when I was younger and she said such magic went against the natural order of things. She told me dark practitioners of magic and dark fairies were the only ones who went against the natural of order of things, but it resulted in horrible consequences.” Emery sighed. “I honestly didn’t care what happened as long as my body was the body I always wanted.”

Regina pressed a kiss to his forehead then wondered, “How old were you?”

Emery shrugged. “I can’t remember. It’s whatever age children are when they begin to notice the differences in each other. I just know instead of learning to swordfight I was being taught to be a princess and it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be a prince and sword fight.”

Regina squeezed him and said, “You are a prince. You’re my prince.” She sighed. “I shouldn’t have let your idiotic mother ruin our time together. I was frustrated and angry with her.”

Emery chuckled a little and sat up. He tilted his head and smiled at Regina. “She has that effect on people.” IT was the best apology that he was going to get from Regina so he leaned over and captured her lips for a soft kiss. “I shouldn’t have been so irritated with your ranting.”

Regina chuckled and remarked, “You had every right to. If our positions had been reversed I would have locked you somewhere until you were done talking about it.”

Emery grinned and countered, “Or you would have thrown me in the dungeon.”

Regina returned the grin. “I would have.” She reached out brushed a wayward strand of hair out of Emery’s face. “You need a haircut.” Her eyes met his. “Are you still upset with me?”

Emery studied Regina’s eyes. He saw the guilt in them and the silent apology she would never say out loud. He gave a slight shake of his head. “No, I’m not. But I do want you to make it up to me.”

“Oh?” Regina stated as her eyebrow went up.

Emery smiled. “Yes. I would like an uninterrupted hour with you. Out of the cold and with a mug of warm cider.”

Regina’s eyes twinkled as she smiled. “I think I can arrange that.”

Emery leaned forward and kissed her. It lasted for a few seconds then he pulled back a small smirk playing on his face. “Then, my queen, you are forgiven.”

Regina chuckled. “I don’t believe I apologized, but it is good to know.”

Emery stood up and held out his hand. “I’m not even going to bother with a comment. Let’s get out of the cold before I lose an important extremity.”

“It was your idea to go riding,” Regina pointed out as she took his hand and stood.

Emery scoffed. “You know who my parents are. Good ideas aren’t in my background.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Regina said with a grin. She wrapped her arms around his waist.

Emery glanced at his horse. “What about the horse?”

Regina waved her hand and a cloud of purple smoke enveloped it. She smirked. “Taken care of. Anything else?”

Emery moved his head closer to hers and whispered, “No, my queen. I just need you.” He captured her lips and a cloud of smoke enveloped them as the kiss deepened. It was the truth. All he needed was Regina and the happiness which came with being with her.

Chapter Text

Emery took a long drink from his mug of ale as he watched Regina work the ballroom. The woman talked to nobles, representatives, and everyone else who made up the upper echelon of both kingdoms. Emery was captivated by the way she commanded the room. Snow and David couldn’t hold a candle to Regina when it came to being royalty. She made it look like an art form. Regina’s eyes met his as she entertained two women with idle conversation. Emery smirked and held up his mug to her. A playful glint appeared in her eyes then she focused on the woman who was speaking.

Emery took another drink from his mug and scanned the crowd. He found David and Snow and they were speaking with a few of their advisors on the other side of the ballroom. He found it suspicious. Instead of supposedly celebrating the peace talks, the two monarchs were away from the crowd having an in-depth discussion with several members of their council. Emery made his way to the edge of the room and walked over to where Lancelot stood. Lancelot smiled at him and remarked, “You starting to look like a respectable noble.”

Emery grunted and countered, “And you still look like a horse’s backside.” He took a drink of his ale. “The king and queen of the White kingdom seem to be engaged in a deep conversation with their advisors. Do you know anything about that?”

Lancelot cleared his throat. “You know very well I cannot discuss these matters with you. If you have concerns or questions, you know who to address them to.” The man smirked. “Unless you don’t have the queen’s ear like you want others to believe.”

Emery scowled at him. “I haven’t forgotten the part you played in regards to me almost being killed. I’m certain if I bring it up to her majesty, along with you dismissing my concerns about the king and queen of the White kingdom, you may lose some of that favor you have with her.”

“Swan, what has occurred in the past, is in the past.” Lancelot narrowed his eyes at Emery. “Go enjoy your ball.”

Emery walked away from Lancelot with a neutral expression on his face. The two of them were going to truly work out everything in regards to the captain’s role in Emery’s almost death one day. He went over to a buffet table which held an assortment of food. Emery was picking at some roasted meat when he heard Regina behind him. “If you are done stuffing your face, I would like a dance.”

Emery wiped his fingers on a cloth napkin and took a drink of his ale before turning to bow. He straightened and smiled at Regina. “Of course, my queen.”

He set down his ale and took hold of her hand, leading Regina to the center of the ballroom. The two of them started to dance to the fast paced music the orchestra played. Regina smiled at him and asked, “How are you faring, dear?”

Emery shrugged. “I’d rather be doing other things.” He lowered his voice and added, “I’ve noticed Snow and David have been speaking with their advisors for quite some time now. I brought it to Lancelot’s attention and he dismissed me.”

Regina hummed. “I noticed that myself.” She met Emery’s gaze. “Do not worry about Lancelot. He has been a second set of eyes for me. As much as I may try, I cannot pay attention to all that goes on in the White kingdom.”

Emery scoffed. “You’re going to defend him no matter what aren’t you?”

Regina sighed. “Emery, please do not do this now.”

Emery drew in a deep breath and nodded. “I’m sorry. I’m still a little bitter about him trying to have me killed.”

“And I have dealt with that.” She sighed. “He will not cross that line again.”

Emery shook his head. “All right.” However everything wasn’t all right and Emery didn’t like the way she constantly defended the captain. He pushed the jealous thoughts from his mind and smiled at Regina. “My queen you are stunning, even more so when you are entrancing the room with your presence.”

Regina grinned and remarked, “It becomes second nature when you have been doing it for so long.”

Emery scoffed. “You and Snow have been rulers of your respective kingdoms for the same amount of time and she can’t command a room like you do. You, my queen, are in a realm of your own in that regard.”

Regina chuckled. “I do enjoy it when you say things like that.”

“I have other things I can say to you, but I don’t think they are appropriate for our current location,” Emery commented with a grin. “But I will give you a hint.” He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “It involves you not wearing this beautiful dress.”

Regina let out a low chuckle and hummed. “You are quite mischievous, Sir Swan.”

Emery grinned and countered, “When I am in the presence of a woman who’s as breathtaking as you are, your majesty, I tend to acquire a mischievous streak.” He lowered his voice to where he couldn’t be overheard and said “Your majesty, we have made the required appearance here. Why don’t we go off and have our own celebration?” A devious grin played on his lips. “We could go up to my old chambers and desecrate them.”

Regina drew in a slow, deliberate breath as she stared at him. “You certainly do know how to appeal to some of my....” she smirked, “baser needs.” Regina glanced over Emery’s shoulder and smiled. “But it seems you have caught the interest of another woman.”

Emery frowned. Another woman and Regina was smiling? He was going to be murdered. “What are you talking about?”

Regina turned them so Emery could see who she was talking about. He scanned the ballroom and didn’t notice anyone who was interested in him. “Regina I –“ Then he saw who she was talking about. “Nicolette.” Emery glanced at Regina. “I have to go speak with her.”

Regina nodded. “I will go entertain the two morons who gave birth to you while you do.” She leaned in and placed a demure kiss on his cheek. “If you believe I would let some woman stare at you and keep my mouth shut, you are very mistaken,” she said in a quick whisper.

Emery chuckled and grinned at her. “Ah, there is the Regina I know.”

She smirked at him before making her way over to Snow and David. Emery waited until Regina had engaged them in conversation. He watched her for a few seconds. The way Regina could effortlessly hold a conversation with anyone was incredible. He shook his head and chuckled. Emery walked over door on the other side of the ballroom which led to the open hallway outside of it. He found Nicolette pacing near the door. Emery smiled and said, “I thought the only time you fretted was when I used to do daring stunts.”

Nicolette stopped pacing and grinned at him. “I see you are still capable of doing daring stunts.” She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “The Evil Queen?”

Emery shook his head and walked over to hug her. It was long hug which allowed him to let out a breath of relief. He loved and cared about her so much. He pulled back and smiled. “She isn’t evil. It is a front she puts on and it has been fuelled by the lies my parents have told those in the White kingdom.”

“If you say so,” Nicolette said as she ran her hands down his arms. The smile on her face widened. “Look at you. A knight in her army and as handsome as ever.” She let go of him. “I presume you’re going by Emery?” He nodded. “I thought you would. You choose the name a long time ago.” She chuckled. “It’s good to know you are alive. When your father and mother found out you were missing they searched for you non-stop. They still have soldiers searching for you, but here you are.”

Emery nodded. “I’m sorry to have worried you, but I had to get out of here. You knew how I was living and how much I suffered. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Nicolette smiled. “I know, I know. It makes me happy to know you are living the life you’re meant to live. You had to do what you needed to survive.”

“I did, and I would have told you but it was so sudden.” Emery grimaced a little and wondered, “How are you doing? I should have known Snow would have blamed you.”

Nicolette chuckled and remarked, “Blame is putting it lightly. She lost her temper on me and demanded I be escorted from the castle.” She sighed. “She stated since I encouraged you to be yourself I was to blame for you trying to…”

“No, you had nothing to do with that.” Emery scoffed. “Dammit. I’m so sorry, Nicolette.”

Nicolette shook her head and held up her hand. “No, no. Emma – I mean Emery, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. I should have alerted you about me running away,” Emery said with a small sigh.

Nicolette smiled. “It’s okay, Emery. It was for the best actually. I’m living with my daughter and her husband. They’re grateful to have me around.” She laughed a little. “I’m set to be a grandmother in the spring.”

Emery grinned. “Congratulations.” He chuckled. “I’m glad everything worked out. I was going to suggest you come back to the Mills kingdom with me and the queen.”

Nicolette chuckled and shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but it won’t be necessary. I’m happy. However, I’m glad I no longer have to worry about you. Not knowing if you were dead or alive is what worried me day in and day out.” She glanced over to the open ballroom door and said, “I know we don’t have enough time, but I want to hear about everything.” She smiled and placed a hand on his upper arm. “How you became a knight in the Mills kingdom and how you managed to become romantically involved with the queen herself.” She chuckled. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around that particular detail.”

Emery chuckled and said, “I have to agree.” The two of them shared a quiet laugh then he added, “Before I go back to the Mills kingdom I will come see you to talk.”

Nicolette smiled. “I would like that, yes. Meet me at the royal stables the day after tomorrow. We can go down to the beach and catch up.”

Emery wrapped his arms around her and gave her another hug. “I will be there.”

She returned the hug and hummed. “You’ve gotten so sturdy.” Nicolette rubbed his back. “I am proud of you, Emery.”

Emery grinned. She let go of him and he said, “You say this now. When you find out what I’ve been doing you’ll tell me to go help the stable hands.”

Nicolette scowled at him. “I should have you go help them now to curb any punishment you will need.”

Emery chuckled and smiled. “I feel better knowing you’re all right.”

“I’m doing fine. Thank you, Emery.” She gave his hand a quick squeeze. “I have to go.”

Emery nodded. He watched her walk away, but before she turned the corner, a thought came to him. He rushed after her and said, “Nicolette, I have a question.”

“What question could you have?”

Emery bit his bottom lip then asked, “Have you heard anything about the queen’s father? Queen Regina’s father?”

An uncomfortable expression came across her face. She sighed. “There is a shed behind the stables…”

Emery nodded. “I know of it. The hands said it used to be some old hunting house.”

Nicolette set her lips in a firm line then said, “You should go to it.” He frowned, but it turned into a smile when she placed her hand on his cheek. “Again, I am proud of you and I’m happy you are living life as you were meant to.”

Nicolette left and Emery walked back to the open door which led to the ballroom. He hung in the shadows and watched Regina. There was a smile on her face as she talked with people, but Emery could see right through it. She was annoyed, ready to leave, and probably close to killing someone. He chuckled. He decided she could wait a moment longer while he went and checked out the shed behind the stables. Emery headed over to the steps which went down the back of the castle. He stayed in the shadows and managed to get to the stables undetected. He moved to the back of it and saw the most peculiar thing. There were three guards guarding the front door of the shed. Emery wondered why that was.

Deciding he wasn’t going to take on the three guards, though he figured he could win the fight, Emery turned to leave. He also thought it wasn’t wise to engage in a fight when there was a castle full of people. It would incite a political nightmare. Emery continued to make his way back to the castle and ball. At some point he was going to find out what was hiding in the shed and why there were three guards keeping watch over it.

Emery laid in bed thinking about what he was going to do in regards to the shed. When he had returned to the ball Regina asked him what had taken so long, and instead of telling her about the shed, Emery told her he had lost track of time while talking with Nicolette. He didn’t want to tell Regina he had gotten information about her father because he wasn’t certain if he actually did. Emery turned his head and looked at Regina. She was in a deep sleep, softly snoring, and Emery chuckled. He looked back at the ceiling. The two of them had left the ball, feigning exhaustion, and had gone up to their chambers. He and Regina had talked about his conversation with Nicolette and how they made plans to meet up. Then their conversation had taken a turn and led to them engaging in several rounds of sex before Regina said she needed to get some sleep since she had to endure another day with Snow.

Emery had managed to doze off, but wasn’t able turn his brain off. He kept thinking about what was potentially hiding in the shed. Everything from Regina’s father being alive to it being his corpse ran through his mind. Emery didn’t think his parents would torture the man, but they also had done some questionable things in regards to the war and it was possible that they had, even if they thought themselves above such behavior. Emery glanced at Regina again and sighed. He had to find out for her. Choosing now to be the perfect time for him to investigate the shed, Emery slipped out of Regina’s possessive hold and carefully got out of bed. Regina groaned in her sleep and Emery stood next to the bed waiting to see if she would wake up. When she didn’t Emery exhaled slowly then moved to his trunk to get some clothes. He dressed quickly, but silently, and snuck out of the room.

Emery put his boots on in the sitting and once he had them on he headed for the chamber doors. He checked the bedroom door every other step to make sure Regina hadn’t woken up. He crept out of their chambers and whispered to the two guards standing outside the doors, “If the queen asks you where I am tell her I am in the kitchen getting a quick snack.”

The two knights give him a quick nod and replied quietly, “Yes, Sir Swan.”

He turned to leave, but then Emery looked back at the guards. “Where is Lieutenant Cassidy?”

The guard on the left replied, “He’s guarding the queen’s horses.” The man grinned. “He lost the competition.”

Emery shook his head. Bored soldiers were nothing but an annoyance. “Thank you.” He walked down the corridor and went down the stairs to the second floor of the wing. He moved silently and listened out for anyone in the hallway. He pressed a stone which was next to some extravagant tapestry in the middle of the hall. The sound of stone grinding on stone reverberated through the hallway and Emery looked around to see if the noise had gotten anyone’s attention. He rushed into the hidden passageway, pulling on a torch which hung on the wall close to the stone door. Emery took the torch and rushed down the stone path. This was one of his favorite hidden pathways because it led right to the kitchens. As a child, when he hid in the west wing he would use it.

Emery reached the end of the passageway and put the torch in the holder. He pulled it down. A wooden door swung open and he stepped into the cold storage room. Emery shivered a little. The room was colder in the winter since they left the windows open. He walked out of the room and as he snuck out of the kitchen Emery tried not to catch the attention of the staff who worked late preparing tomorrow’s meals. He exited through the door which led to the castle farms and ran to the stables the queen’s horses were occupying. When Emery entered the building he didn’t see Neal. He searched around eventually finding him in the second to last stall sleeping on a pile of hay with a blanket covering him. He used one of the horses as a pillow. Emery shook his head and grinned as he kicked him in the leg.

Neal yelped and jumped off the ground. Emery barely contained his laughter as the man fumbled to draw his sword. He chuckled and said, “It’s nice to know you take your duties seriously.”

Neal scowled and shoved him back. “I should kill you. What the fuck do you want?”

Grinning, Emery reached out to pull a piece of straw from his hair. He met the man’s furious gaze. “I thought you would like to get into some trouble with me since it’s been awhile.”

Neal glowered at him, but then a smirk slowly appeared on his face. “Trouble, eh? But you’re the queen’s lapdog now, you can’t get in trouble.”

Emery glared at him and countered, “I am not her lapdog.”

Neal rolled his eyes and smiled. “I’m sorry, you’re right. You’re worse. You’re her companion.” He visibly shuddered. “That’s like saying she pays you for sex.” Neal gasped. “Em, are you the queen’s whore?”

Emery scowled at Neal. Why he thought to enlist his help instead of Graham’s he would never know, but he regretted his choice. Emery cuffed him hard on the back of his head. “Do you want to fucking come with me or not?” He asked, annoyance clinging to every word.

Neal rubbed the back of his head. “Aye, I’ll come but you have to fix that attitude of yours.”

Emery scoffed. “You’re the one who’s being a bastard.”

Neal shrugged. “I mean what do you expect?” He grinned. “I am a bastard.” Emery chuckled. This is why he chose Neal. The man was a complete jackass, but he was entertaining. His antics would keep Emery from dwelling on thoughts about what was inside the shed. Emery began to head out of the stable and Neal followed him. “What are we doing anyway?”

Emery glanced at him and said, “I need to check something out.”

“Did the queen ask you to do this?” Emery shook his head and looked at Neal. His eyebrows were furrowed. “Then why are we looking for trouble in enemy territory?”

Emery grinned at him and remarked, “Because I’m Emery Swan and looking for the worst kind of trouble is what I do.”

Neal laughed and nodded. “That sounds accurate.”

Emery chuckled. “We have to stick to the shadows so the White guards don’t catch us, and Neal, for all that is sacred keep your mouth shut.”

Neal scoffed. “I would take offense to that, but I know I have a big mouth.”

The two of them fell silent as they walked. They had to cross an open area where horses roamed, but they reached the royal stables as quickly possible. Neal and Emery quietly made their way to the back of the building and Emery saw the shed, but there were only two guards watching over it now. “Why are there guards in front of a shack?” Neal whispered.

Emery continued to stare at the shed as he murmured, “That’s what we’re going to find out.” He looked at Neal. “Which one do you want? The one on the right or the left?”

Neal softly chuckled. “Oh, you didn’t say we would be getting into this kind of trouble.” He smirked and studied the two guards. “I’ll take the one on the left. The one on the right looks like your type.”

“My type?” Emery repeated not sure what the man meant by that.

Neal put his hand on Emery’s shoulder. “Twice your size and looks like he could kill you.”

Emery scowled and pushed Neal’s hand off his shoulder. “For that I’m going to take care of them both.”

Neal scoffed. “And have me deal with the queen’s wrath? I think not. She almost killed me when I asked about you after the commandant tried to murder you..”

Emery chuckled. He stared at the two guards and drew in a deep breath. “Ready?”

“As much as I’ll ever be,” Neal replied as he drew his sword.

Emery pulled out his sword and said, “Let’s go start some trouble.” Moving swiftly, he and Neal approached the shed. Since there wasn’t enough coverage between the stables and the shed the guards noticed the two of them right away. Emery engaged the man on the right. He knocked the sword from his hand and punched him in the face before kicking him in the back of the knee. The man dropped down to his good knee and Emery delivered a swift, but effective, blow to the back of his head with the hilt of his sword. He watched the man fall to the ground and waited to see if he would get up. When he didn’t Emery checked to see how Neal was doing.

The other man leaned against the shed with a wide grin on his face. “Took you long enough.”

Emery rolled his eyes and sheathed his sword. He glanced at the guard lying on the ground behind Neal. “You didn’t kill him did you?”

Neal pushed off the building and shook his head. “Nah. But he’s going to be missing those good teeth of his.” Emery chuckled and headed for the front door of the shed. He placed his hand on the handle and drew in a deep breath. He looked up at the wooden door. Emery hoped whatever was on the other side of it didn’t have the capability of hurting Regina. “You gonna open that thing or are you going to stand there and memorize its lovely features?”

Emery glared at Neal. He drew in another deep breath then pulled the door open. He walked into the shed and enough moonlight filtered through small front window to illuminate it. It was empty. Emery walked further into the one room shed, turning to check every corner and he found nothing. He had been expecting to find something, anything at all, but there was nothing. He paced around and said, “This can’t be right.”

“What can’t be right, Em?” Neal asked from his spot in the doorway.

“This. It’s empty. There should be something, anything.”

Neal walked over to him and wondered, “What’s supposed to be in here?” Emery continued to pace as he ran his hand through his hair. He couldn’t tell Neal what he was looking for because telling him he was looking for the queen’s father would lead to more questions. Emery sighed and he was about to respond when Neal exclaimed, “Stop.”

Emery stopped pacing and looked at Neal. “What?”

Neal moved to where he was standing and pushed Emery out of the way. He walked around and tapped the heel of his boot on the wooden floor. On the fifth tap it sounded hollow. Neal grinned at him and Emery returned it. He bent down and felt the wooden planks which made up the floor. He found one which had a different texture than the others and it was slightly raised. Emery pulled his knife out of his boot and used it to pry up the board. When he pulled up the knife to bring the board up a bolt of magic shot through him and sent him flying across the shed.

The shock of magic surprised Emery, but anger replaced it in an instant. He had felt magic like that before. It was a type of magic that he was intimately familiar with. As he got up Neal came rushing over to him and asked, “What the hell was that?”

The deep scowl on Emery’s didn’t go away. “Fairy magic.”

He turned and made his way out of the shed. The longer he thought about it the more enraged Emery became. When he and Neal were back in the stables which housed the queen’s horses Neal placed his hand on Emery’s shoulder to prevent him from storming out of the building. “Wait, Em. What does this mean? Why would Queen Snow need fairy magic in an empty shed?”

Emery glared at the other end of the stable as he thought about the question. Of all the appalling and offensive acts Snow and David could do, this was the most abhorrent of them all. They kept a man, a reigning king, captive for what reason? To incite a war and try to capture the Mills kingdom? He scoffed. The thought was absurd. Emery turned and looked at Neal. “The White kingdom is holding the queen’s father hostage and they’re using fairy magic to keep it secret.”

Confusion came to Neal’s face. “How do you know this?”

Emery shook his head. “It doesn’t matter how I know this.” He blew out a frustrated breath. “If anyone asks, you’ve been here all night. I have to go back before the queen notices I’m missing.”

Emery stalked out of the stable and took the same route he had taken to leave the castle except this time he didn’t use the secret passageway. He walked through the kitchen and took the main stairs up to the west wing. Emery went through several ways of how he would tell Regina what he knew, but every one of them ended with him being thrown across the room. Not only had he not told her about Nicolette’s information he also went down to the shed without her. There was no good way for them to have this conversation. Emery reached the third floor of the west wing and when he was closer to the chamber doors he heard one of the guards cough, but he was deep in his thoughts. Had he been paying attention Emery would have heard the word trouble as he entered the chambers.

Emery started to take long strides towards the bedroom door, but came to a halt when he heard, “Where have you been?”

Regina’s voice was low, menacing and Emery had to make sure he answered in a way which didn’t end with him being flown across the room with magic. He turned to face her. Regina sat in the straight backed chair which was to the left of the couch. In the glow of the fire which dimly illuminated the sitting room Emery saw the piercing gaze which was directed towards him. He took a few steps forward and held his hands out towards her. “I have something I need to tell you, but you can’t overreact.”

Regina rose from the chair and took slow steps toward him. Emery swallowed hard. “The only way I will overreact is if you don’t give me a plausible answer for why you are sneaking around this abysmal castle at all hours.”

Emery chewed on his bottom lip before expelling a loaded, frustrated breath. He ran his hand over his hair and decided the best approach to tell Regina about her father would be a blunt, straightforward approach. He closed the gap between them, and despite the scathing glare she was giving him, Emery took hold of her hand and met her eyes. “There is no easy, or best way to tell you this – “

“Then you better find the words quick or I will make sure this night becomes a nightmare for you,” Regina interjected as impatience and anger filled her eyes. “I think I’ll start by taking your tongue.”

Emery couldn’t stop the smirk which came to his face as he remarked, “If I remember correctly you are fond of my tongue.”


He nodded. “Right, dealing with a pillar of patience.” Regina raised her hand and Emery blurted, “I have information about your father.” Her entire body froze as she stared at him. He gently placed his hand on her upper arm and lowered it. “When I spoke with Nicolette earlier I asked about your father since she was around during his capture.” He sighed. “She told me to go to the shed behind the royal stables. That’s where I was.”

Emery felt the muscles in Regina’s arm tense beneath his hand. “Neal and I went and when we entered the shed it was empty, but Neal noticed a section of the floor which didn’t sound like the rest of it. I tried prying up the boards and,” Emery’s lip curled up in disgust, “fairy magic went though me.” He scoffed. “I knew it was fairy magic because it was the same magic used to heal me when I tried to kill myself.”

Emery stopped and watched Regina. She appeared as poised as ever except the expression in her eyes let on to something more, he just didn’t know what. Regina took a step back and lifted her hands. A cloud of purple smoke enveloped her and when it dissipated the silk robe had been replaced by a pair of leather pants, knee high boots of the same material, and a deep red corset which had gossamer material that covered her upper body. A leather coat with a high collar completed the ensemble.  Regina took hold of his hand and teleported them to the royal stables. The two guards had been joined by a few more and as one of them started to say something Regina lifted her hand and flicked it towards them. Emery’s eye widened as the guards fell to the ground. “Did you kill them?” He asked trying to keep the amazement from his voice.

Regina didn’t answer the question as she made her way to the door of the shed. She picked up a still burning which had been dropped by one of the guards and entered the small building. Emery followed her and Regina searched the one room building. She looked at him. “Show me where you tried to pull up the board.” Emery walked over to where he had been and tapped the heel of his boot on the floor until he heard the hollow area. “Move.”

Emery moved away and as soon as he was out of the way Regina flung a pulse of purple magic at the floor and it bounced off the fairy magic which flashed blue. She sent another pulse of magic, this one stronger than the last, and the fairy magic brightened before disappearing. Regina sent another pulse of magic out to the area and no fairy magic repelled it. She cut her eyes to Emery. “Try it now.”

Emery moved to where the boards were and bent down. He pulled out his knife and felt for the slightly raised board he had been trying to lift earlier. He slipped the tip of the knife under the piece of wood and pried it up. It lifted easily and as it went up the other planks of wood surrounding it lifted, revealing a stairwell. Emery looked over his shoulder at Regina. A flurry of emotions reflected in her eyes, but the two emotions Emery could see as clear as day were hope and anger. He stood up and went over to her, placing a tentative hand on her upper arm. “If you want, I can go down first.”

Regina looked at him and she stared through him for a second then her eyes focused. She narrowed her eyes and snapped, “I do not need to be coddled. I can handle whatever is down there.”

Emery drew in a deep breath and tried not to meet her anger with his own, “Regina, I’m not trying to coddle you. This your father. You haven’t seen or heard anything from him in ten years. I’m trying to help you.”

Regina scowled at him. “I do not need your help.” She pushed her way pass Emery and headed for the stairs. Emery shook his head. He should have known Regina was going to do this as the queen. The queen was detached from her emotions, cold, and could handle terrible news. Regina on the hand...Emery sighed. He’d be there for her no matter what. Emery went after Regina and she was almost at the bottom of the stairs when you caught up to her. When they reached the end of them Emery and Regina walked into a cavernous lair which was well decorated despite it being underground. Emery spotted a man sitting in a straight back leather chair. He closed his book and a wide smile came to his face. “Regina.”

“Daddy?” Regina said in a breathless whisper.

Emery glanced at her to make sure she was all right. He saw the tears shimmering in the woman’s eyes as she stared at her father. King Henry stood from his chair and Regina rushed over to him. A huge smile broke out on Emery’s face as he watched the two of them hug. Regina’s father was alive. Henry had his eyes closed and when they opened he looked at Emery. “And who do we have here?” He asked and his brown eyes twinkled with playfulness.

Regina broke away from her father and wiped at her eyes as she chuckled. “Oh, yes, I should make proper introductions. Daddy, this is Sir Emery Swan.”

Emery moved closer to them and bowed. When he straightened he smiled. “It is a pleasure to meet you, your highness.”

Henry smiled and remarked, “You must be someone important if she’s introducing you to me.”

Emery chuckled. “No, your majesty, I am nothing special.”

Regina smiled at him then looked at her father. “I wish we had more time to talk and catch up, but I’m certain the guards have woken up and have alerted Snow and David to us being here.” She sighed. “I have to get you back to the castle.”

Henry gave her a solemn nod. “I know, my dear. This changes everything.”

“It does,” Regina said softly.

Henry drew in a deep breath and slowly released it. “I understand that. I thought things would change but it’s obvious Snow is letting her personal feelings drive her decisions in regards to this war.”

A dangerous expression filled Regina’s face. “She’s trying to take our kingdom, but I refuse to let that happen.”

Henry stared at her for a moment. “You’ve changed.” He reached out and cupped her cheek. “This war has changed you.”

Emery bit the inside of his lip. The war had changed Regina, some for the good and some for the bad, but she still loved her father and was the same person he had raised her to be. He hoped Henry would see that. Regina covered his hand with her own. “I have and it has.”

Henry wrapped her up in a hug. “It’s okay, my dear. I understand the circumstances were less than normal, but it will never change how I feel about you. You are my daughter and the love I have for you is endless.”

Emery smiled. It wasn’t until he had met Joe and Ingrid did he know the love of a parent, but seeing Regina and her father together made him realize parents who truly love their children would love them no matter what.

Regina pulled away from her father and said, “All right, I have to get you to the castle.” She turned to look at Emery. “I want you to escort him –“

“No, Regina. I’m not leaving you to handle the storm which is about to come by yourself,” Emery stated in an adamant tone. He wasn’t going to leave her to face Snow and David on her own.

Regina narrowed her eyes at him. “You will escort my father back to –“

“No,” Emery stated his eyes boring into hers. He wasn’t going to let Regina talk to him like he was some other knight or soldier. He was her lover, or companion, and they were in a relationship. Somewhere in their agreement to have a relationship he had also agreed to be by her side no matter what. “I will have Neal escort your father, but you and I will face Snow and David together.”

“Regina, sweetheart,” King Henry started, “this fine knight wants to stay by your side and protect you. Let him. I’m certain this Neal fellow is capable of doing as good of a job as Sir Swan is.”

Emery smirked and Regina turned to gawk at her father. “Daddy.”

Henry shrugged. “I can’t help it. I’m an old king who believes if a knight wants to protect my daughter then I will let him and thank him graciously.”

Emery couldn’t stop the arrogant smile from forming his face. Regina’s gaze focused on him and she scowled when she saw it. “Fine, but this is only because I know his absence will be questioned if I send him.” Regina narrowed her eyes at Emery. “If anything happens to my father – “

“I know, I know, “ Emery interrupted, “you’ll kill Neal then kill me. Then you’ll find some way to bring me back and kill me again.” The lethal expression on Regina’s face told Emery to ease up on the sarcasm. He smiled. “If it makes you feel better, I trust Neal with my life. But you are more than welcomed to take your anger out on me if something does happen to your father, however, it won’t.”

Regina continued to pin him down with a hard gaze and threatened, “I will pay you back for the arrogance you are showing. You seem to have forgotten I am queen.”

Emery grinned. “I will never forget you are queen.”

Regina stared at him for a moment then turned to look at her father. “We have to get going.” She waved her hand in front of her father and changed his clothes.

The three of them made their escape up the stairs and just as Henry emerged from the hole in the floor of the shed Snow and David entered. Behind them Emery saw a group of soldiers standing outside of it. This encounter wasn’t going to end well. He just didn’t know for whom.  Regina took a step towards them, a false smile plastered on her face. “Why, Snow, it seems I have found my father and didn’t need your help after all.”

“How did you know where to find him?” Snow snapped as she looked at the three of them. She focused her attention on Regina.

Emery could almost see the anger radiating off of Regina as she took another step towards Snow. “It doesn’t matter how I found him, but you, holding a reigning king hostage, is deplorable and you should lose your kingdom for it.” She chuckled a little. “Oh, wait. You will be losing your kingdom for it and the other crimes you have committed against the Mills kingdom.”

At this, Snow closed the gap between her and Regina and David pulled out his sword. Emery did the same. “I have committed no crimes against the Mills kingdom. If anything, your kingdom has done far worse than what I have done in retaliation. Your mother killed my father after he lost his wife. You have killed innocent villagers and soldiers all because you won’t end this war -“

“You kidnapped my father,” Regina exclaimed her voice rising above Snow’s. “Was I supposed to sit there and hold peaceful negotiations with you?” She narrowed her eyes at the other woman. “That is an act of war and you know it.”

Snow scoffed. “And this war will continue until you return my daughter.”

The grip Emery had on his sword tightened and his jaw muscles tensed. Regina straightened her posture and a demure smile casually spread across her face. “Unlike you dear, Snow,” her smile widened, “holding my adversary’s family hostage is beneath me. I respect family.”

A short, loud laugh came from Snow. “What exactly would you know about family? Cora was your mother.”

Regina’s eyebrow went up. “I know who my mother was you naïve simpleton.” She drew in a breath. “Yes, my mother was a power hungry, almost tyrannical ruler but she – on some level – loved me in her own twisted way.” Disgust filled Regina’s face. “Unlike you. You’re blinded by your ideologies and selfishness and it made you see your own daughter as a means to elevate your kingdom’s status. Not realizing you were doing tremendous harm.”

It didn’t take long for Snow’s eyebrows to furrow with confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Regina chuckled softly to herself for a second then smiled at Snow. “That is something you will have to figure out on your own. In the meantime, I will be taking my father back to his kingdom.” The smile disappeared, a deadly glint appeared in Regina’s eyes, and her voice lowered to a timber which sent chills down Emery’s spine. “Then I will return with my army and lay waste to your insipid kingdom.”

David moved to block Snow from Regina and shouted, “We are not afraid of your threats, Regina. I will kill you if I have to.”

Emery copied his movements and stood in front of his Regina, determination to protect her etched on his face. “If you kill the reigning queen of the Mills kingdom not only will you have an army on your head, but there will also be political ramifications which you have never dealt with before.”

David narrowed his eyes at Emery and retorted, “I would be doing her subjects a favor. Whatever spell you’re under makes you blind to her cruelty. Not just to her own people, but to those in surrounding kingdoms. She has done decades of damage that –“

A soft gasp interrupted David and he looked over his shoulder. Emery kept his eyes on the man in front of him. Whatever Snow was dealing with was unimportant. In his periphery Emery saw Snow move from behind David and step closer towards him. “Emma…” she said in a soft, breathless whisper.

Emery tightened his hold on his sword and focused on the man in front of him. “Snow?” David inquired as he looked between his wife and Emery.

“What has she done to you, sweetheart?” Snow asked. She at least had enough sense to not move closer to Emery while he had his sword drawn.

Realizing he couldn’t ignore her, and she would possibly do or say something which would cause him to kill her, Emery looked at the woman who gave birth to him. “Regina has done nothing to me.”

“Emma?” David stated, disbelief enshrouded the name as he said it. He was having a hard time understanding what was going on. Emery rolled his eyes in his head. Regina was right. His parents were dimwits.

Snow scoffed and pointed at him. “To hell she hasn’t done anything to you. She has you dressing up as a knight and pretending to be a man.” Snow glowered at Regina. “Is this to insult me? To make me look like a fool in my own kingdom?”

Emery clenched his jaw tighter as his anger toward his mother grew to a violent level. He drew in several deep breaths then stated, “You are such a delusional, self-centered woman.” He scoffed. “Are you too stupid to see what is right in front of you?”

The shock on Snow’s face was instantly replaced with anger and she snapped, “I see what is going on, Emma. She kidnapped you and has placed under some spell which has you doing her bidding and going against your kingdom.”

Whatever control Emery had on his anger, he lost it. Hearing the irritating name after having not heard it in so long, felt like having salt poured into an open wound which had yet to heal. “My name is not Emma,” Emery shouted and pointed his sword at his mother. “It is Emery, and if you want to live to breathe the next second you will remember that.” He paused for a second then continued. “Regina has done nothing to me and she doesn’t control me. The only person here who has ever tried to control me is you. All you have ever done to me, under the guise of love, is make me into something I will never be. You never listened, and you still don’t listen. Regina listens. She sees me. The actual me.” Emery scoffed. “You didn’t. You punished me when all I was trying to do was find some happiness in a body which tormented me day in and day out.” Emery’s voice strained on the last word as his throat tightened with emotion. He felt a reassuring hand on the small of his back. Emery let Regina’s silent support steady him and he took several deep breaths.  “I will not let you ruin my happiness. Or Regina’s for that matter.”

Snow stared at him for a moment then cleared her throat as she stood up straighter. “It is obvious the spell you are under is stronger than you can fight. You have no idea who you are.”

Emery emitted a low growl and said, “I know who I am and, again you imbecile, Regina has done nothing to me.”

Snow continued on as if he hadn’t spoken. “We will have the fairies break her spell and once it is broken you will see how evil she truly is.”

Emery had had enough. He moved forward and pressed the tip of his sword against his mother’s throat. “Speak ill of Regina again, or call her evil, and I will kill you.”

Snow glanced down at the blade of the sword then at Emery before looking at David. “We have to save our daughter by any means. We have to kill Regina to get her back.”

David nodded and charged for Regina, but Emery spun and blocked his sword strike with his own. He shoved the man backwards and David stumbled out of the shed. Emery followed after him. He didn’t even give David enough time to recover. Emery swung his sword and right before it landed in David’s side he blocked it. The two of them engaged in a one-sided sword fight. David being on the defensive while Emery delivered one offensive sword strike after another. “Emma, please. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Emery growled. Hearing the name only spurned him on. He became more precise with his sword strikes, his feet were quick, and he blocked out everything which surrounded him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he’d register that Snow was yelling, but he didn’t know what she was yelling about. Time dragged on as the fight became more vicious. Emery used his anger and hatred to fuel his actions. He swung his sword at the other man and David had blocked it, but doing so caused him to make a critical error. A miscalculated step left his midsection open. Emery drew back his sword and with all the strength he could muster he drove it forward. David’s eyes widened and he gasped. “Emma…”

Emery stepped forward and sneered at the man. “My name…is Emery,” he responded through gritted teeth. He jerked the sword up and watched as the life left his father’s eyes. Emery shoved the man off his sword and David’s body dropped to the ground. Emery stared at it as adrenaline continued to race through his veins. Snow rushed over and began shake David while she called out his name between sobs which shook her body. She looked at Emery and tears streamed down her face as she cried out, “You killed your father. How could you do this?” Snow laid her head on David’s unmoving chest. Emery wanted to be rid of the both of them. He wanted to have a life with Regina where Snow and David were no longer a threat.

Emery lifted his sword and focused on his mother’s body. “Emery,” Regina shouted. “Do not do this.”

Her voice broke through the years of torment and anger which had consumed him and Emery turned his head to face her. “I can end it all, right now, for the both of us, my queen.”

Regina took careful steps as she moved closer towards him. “I know, but now is not the time. The White kingdom’s army will be mobilizing. The men Snow and David had with them ran off. I need you to go get your battalion.” Emery stared at her then focused on his parents. Regina placed her hands on his and guided the sword down, “Emery, listen to me. There are things I need you to do, focus.”

Emery closed his eyes and drew in several deep breaths. When the adrenaline and desire to kill his parents subsided a little he opened his eyes and turned to face Regina. “I’m sorry.”

Regina shook her head and placed her hand on his cheek. “Do not apologize. You did what needed to be done. Let me take care of your mother, but it will be quick. This war is about to get worse before any resolution is to happen.” Emery nodded and sheathed his sword. Regina turned and moved to stand on the other side of David’s body, a triumphant smile on her face. “This is the end of the feud between our kingdoms, Snow.”

Snow’s head lifted and she wiped her eyes. “Are you going to kill me now?” She asked bitterness and defeat lacing her words.

Regina chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, no dear, your fate will be determined by Emery. Until then you will enjoy an imprisonment which will reflect the way you kept my father caged.” She turned and with a wave of her hand a wagon with a steel cage materialized. Regina smiled at Snow. “Get in.”

Emery watched as his mother rose. There was no conscious effort to her movements and she seemed to be detached from herself and the situation. He didn’t think about what Regina had said. All he cared about was making sure Snow was locked away for good. When the other woman was in the cage Regina closed the door and hit the metal enclosure with magic. She stood there for a moment then turned to make her way to Emery. Regina placed her hand on his cheek. The contact made him focus on her and not the woman who stood several feet away in a cell. “Emery, darling, are you okay?”

Emery nodded. That was lie. He had no idea how he felt. He had killed his father, allowed his mother to be imprisoned, and he would do it all again. How was he supposed to feel about that? He was an emotional mess. Emery cleared his throat. “What do you need me to do?”

Regina studied his eyes. He didn’t know what she would fine, but whatever it was it was enough for her to answer his question. “I need you to go get the captain and your lieutenant. I want your lieutenant to ride out with my father and snow back to the castle. Also a messenger needs to be sent to mobilize the army. Can you do that?”

Emery nodded. “Yes, my queen.”

Regina sighed. “I’m not the queen right now.”

Emery placed his hand over the one that that was on his cheek. “I need you to be the queen right now.”

Regina drew in a breath and nodded. She removed her hand from his cheek and took a step back from him. “You are dismissed. Do your tasks quickly and efficiently. Any mistakes or errors will fall on your head and you will be punished for them accordingly.”

Emery bowed and said, “Yes, your majesty.” He ran off to go do what she needed him to do. Being another knight to Regina was something he didn’t have to think about. He used his training and military decorum to keep him focused. If he didn’t, he would drive himself mad thinking about the actions he had taken tonight and what they meant for him as person.

Chapter Text

Exhaustion wanted to render Emery useless, but the adrenaline racing through his veins overrode his body’s desire to pass out which he was grateful for. Emery currently fought a villager - who was good with a sword - and the man seemed relentless in his attack, but Emery was better. He overpowered the man with several quick blows then drove his sword through the villager’s torso. To make his death more permanent, Emery pulled out the dagger which was sheathed on his belt and sliced the man’s throat. Blood spurted from his neck and splattered Emery’s face. A gurgling noise came from the man then he dropped to the ground.

Emery released a tired breath and looked around the field. Some of his men still engaged the enemy, but a majority of the soldiers and villagers who made up the group of rebels who fought against them laid on the ground dead, or dying, or they were being rounded up to be sent to the dungeon. They would be executed publicly.

It had been two weeks since David’s death and Snow’s imprisonment by Regina. When the news spread through the kingdom about the loss of its rulers violence and riots erupted throughout the land. Emery was currently in the north commanding three battalions of men. The rioters in this region had been the most violent compared to other areas of the kingdom. Emery would have to leave a battalion behind in order for peace to remain and to stop any future uprisings.

Neal rode over to him and Emery looked up at him. “Should we stay in the area?”

Emery looked around the open field and said, “I want Larson’s battalion to stay behind to keep the peace. I want continuous patrols in the villages.” He scoffed. “I don’t trust these morons. Put Graham in charge of organizing the patrol rotations. I want you in charge of cleaning the field.” Emery ran a hand through his dirty hair and grimaced. “We’ll be meeting before the sun sets. I need to meet with the other generals first then we’ll go from there.”

Neal nodded and smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth as he replied, “Yes, sir.”

Emery scowled up at the man. “Don’t pull that shit.” He shook his head. “Just because I’m now a general doesn’t mean you’ll start calling me sir. We all know I didn’t deserve this.”

Neal scoffed. “No, but sleeping with the queen has to get you some benefits somewhere.”

The scowl on Emery’s face worsened. It formed into a smirk as he turned to look for his horse. Neal was back to being an asshole and he was actually amused by it. He was right. Sleeping with the queen did have its benefits but this wasn’t one of them.

Emery whistled for his horse. The beautiful all black stallion came riding over to him and Emery grinned. The horse had been a present from Regina and she had given it to him before he left. The animal came to a stop next to him and Emery mounted him. “Give Graham the order,” Emery instructed as he got comfortable in his saddle. “I will update everyone –“

“Sir Swan,” a young messenger shouted as he rode over to Emery.

Emery turned his horse to look at him. “Yes?”

The young man held out a piece of parchment which had been sealed with the queen’s seal. “A message from her majesty.”

Emery took the folded piece of parchment. He broke open the seal and unfolded it. Emery read the message and a wide grin broke out on his face. Neal moved closer to him. “What is it?”

Emery chuckled as he folded up the parchment. “It seems her majesty’s navy will be here by the end of week, bringing another four battalions and supplies.”

He and Neal laughed and Neal grinned. “I guess I’ve learned my lesson about questioning you in regards to the queen.”

Emery returned the grin. “You shouldn’t have questioned me to begin with.” He put the message into one of his saddle bags. “We’ll meet in an hour to update everyone and give out assignments.” He smiled. “Soon we will be done with this frivolous fighting and back to our lives.”

Neal laughed and remarked, “I, for one, cannot wait.”

“That’s only because you want to get drunk and have sex with random women,” Emery remarked as he turned his horse.

“You wouldn’t be wrong there,” Neal shouted as Emery began to leave.

 “Give out the orders, Neal,” Emery called out over his shoulder. He rode to camp which was east of the field and before the seaside village his men had taken control of a week prior. His battalions separated the rebels from the ocean. Other than the field there was nothing but forest surrounding them and the queen’s men were well versed in fighting among the trees. Emery rode through camp, stopping occasionally to speak to some of his men, and headed to his tent. He hitched his horse up to the tree next to it then entered. Emery stopped in his tracks when he saw Regina sitting on his cot. Her posture was stiff, but perfect.

He chuckled and headed to the small table which had pitchers of water and wine on it. He poured himself a cup of wine and remarked, “I’m surprised you are sitting on such furniture.” He smirked at her. “And with a straight face.” Emery poured water into a basin and washed his face.

As he dried it off Regina rose from the cot. “I haven’t been sitting on it for long.”

Emery picked up his wine and took a long drink of it. He lowered the cup and with a smile on his face he said, “I just received word about the navy.”

Regina remained nonchalant and stated, “I was going to send them anyway.”

Emery lifted his cup. “In any case, thank you, your majesty.”

The two of them fell silent as he continued to drink his wine. The silence between them was a tense one because there was a lingering topic he and Regina needed to discuss, but Emery refused to talk about it. “How are you doing?” Regina eventually asked but she didn’t move closer towards him.

Emery shrugged and replied, “I’m doing all right considering I’m fighting against people who have yet to realize what they’re fighting for is never going to happen. They want to save their queen and honor their king, but it’s pointless.”

Regina chuckled a little. “You parents, though complete fools, instilled a type of loyalty among their subjects which is quite irritating.”

“It is. In time they will show you that loyalty.” He grinned. “You have it from me.”

Regina studied him for a moment and remarked, “I’m certain I have more than loyalty from you.” She sighed. “I’m not certain they will ever show me loyalty. The thing which keeps them fighting and resisting is hope.”

Emery’s eyes widened when he heard the word. “That’s not a word I ever expected to hear from you.”

Regina scowled. “Trust me when I say it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Emery chuckled then sighed. “Whatever they’re fighting for, hope or Snow, it’s annoying and I would like to be back home, sleeping in my own bed.” Regina tilted her head slightly and there was a question shining in her eyes. “What?”

Regina pressed her lips together then wondered, “And where is your bed?”

Emery’s eyebrows scrunched together at the question. It was a weird one. He shrugged and remarked, “I’ve been sleeping with you, but if you no longer want to share a bed then I suppose I’ll stay in my room until my house is built.”

Regina huffed in exasperation – an unusual action for her. She moved closer towards Emery. She picked up the damp towel and wiped at his neck. “Leave it to you to take the fun out of flirting. You also have blood covering you.” The statement confused Emery further because he didn’t know she was flirting with him. Regina dropped the towed and met his gaze. “Are you ready to talk to me?”

Emery finished off his wine and turned to place his cup on the small table behind him. He knew what she wanted to talk about, but he didn’t want to discuss it. There was nothing for them to discuss. Emery cleared his throat and clenched his jaw before relaxing it. “There is nothing for us to talk about.”

 “You’re lying,” Regina snapped. She drew in a deep breath. “I have let you lie to yourself for the last few weeks because of the fighting. But if you continue to lie to me I will be forced to take action.”

Emery turned and argued, “What is there to talk about, Regina?” He moved to the other side of the tent as he continued to go off on her. “I killed my father, helped imprison my mother, and now I’m fighting against the stubborn fools of their kingdom because they refuse to see the White kingdom has fallen.” He glowered at her. “There is nothing we need to talk about, your majesty. It is all there, clear as day.”

Regina stalked over to Emery and took hold of his jaw, her nails dug into his skin. “Do not take that tone with me.” She drew in a deep breath then released it as she let go of his face. “They were your parents, Emery. You are allowed to feel for them. You are allowed to feel the loss of your father and whatever you may feel about your mother. You can do that. It is normal.”

Emery clenched his jaw so tight his teeth began to hurt. His feelings about his parents were all over the place and went from one extreme to the next; and instead of addressing them Emery suppressed his feelings refusing to talk about them. Regina’s persistence didn’t make him more inclined to talk to her and he grew angry. “I don’t feel shit towards them,” Emery said and his voice rose. “You are a stupid woman for thinking I feel anything for them. David’s death means shit to me and fuck Snow. They never saw me so why should I care about them?” he shouted. Emery’s anger along with the other violent emotions which roiled through him fueled his tirade.

Regina took a tight hold of his throat and pulled him closer to her. Their noses brushed one another. “You must have injured your head if you believe you can talk to me like that,” Regina said in a low, dangerous tone and through gritted teeth. She continued. “I am queen, Sir Swan, and I can have you killed for your lack of respect.” Her fiery gaze bore into him. “Until you have come back to your senses you will treat me as your queen.”

Emery stared into the hard, brown eyes which held his gaze and his jaw remained taut even as Regina tightened the hold she had around his neck. “You are angry about something,” Regina started, “and you need work through it because if you believe I am going to let your take your anger and frustration out on me then you are more delusional than your idiotic parents.” She gave his neck a final squeeze then released him, shoving him backwards. “Work through your issues, Emery, or I will find a way for you to join your deceased father.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you understand?” Emery nodded. Regina smoothed out the skirts of her dress as she ordered, “You need to put a quick end to the fighting. I’m giving you until the end of next week.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Emery responded, his voice hoarse from her choking him.

Regina’s cold, hard gaze remained as she continued to stare him down, but a softness came to them when she said, “I am here for you, Emery. I will always be here for you and I’m willing to listen.” She sighed in frustration. “You don’t have to go through this alone.” Regina continued to look at him and sadness and uncertainty shone in her eyes. She then disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke.

Emery stared at where Regina had been standing and tears began to form in his eyes. The emotional wall he had built around himself the last couple weeks started to crumble. Emery placed his hands on top of his head and tugged at his hair as every emotion he had been repressing forced its way to the surface. Frustrated, he flipped the table the pitchers were on and screamed. Sadness and anger about his parents wasn’t what frustrated him. What frustrated him was the fact he felt nothing at all and it drove him crazy. Emery believed he should have felt something. They were his parents. He knew he had developed a disdain towards them because of their mistreatment of him, but Emery didn’t believe his contempt had turned into something which made him not care about his father’s death and be unbothered by his mother’s imprisonment.

Emery kicked a stool and began to pace back and forth. Nothing about his feelings was right. Only driving himself further into insanity, Emery began to shout Regina’s name. She reappeared in his tent and she looked around at the disheveled tent. “Emery, what’s –“

“I don’t feel anything,” Emery said as he moved closer towards her. “I feel nothing, Regina. It isn’t a lie when I tell you this. They were my parents and I don’t feel a damn thing. I feel guilty for not caring, but even still, it isn’t a strong emotion.” He stared at her hoping she would have an answer for his question. “Does this make me a bad person? I mean your mother was ruthless and killed for whatever she wanted, but you still felt something for her. You loved her. I – I – “ Emery’s breathing became erratic as his frantic thoughts overwhelmed him.

Regina moved closer and gently took hold of his face. “Breathe, Emery. Slow, deep breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth.” Emery followed her instructions and let the sound of her voice soothe him. Soon his breathing returned to normal. Regina ran the pads of her thumbs over his cheekbones. “Are you better, my darling?” Emery nodded. He closed his eyes when she placed a soft kiss on his forehead. She pulled back and said, “I did love Cora and in her own demented way she loved me, but the relationship and turmoil you had with your parents wasn’t because they were controlling. It was because they didn’t respect you and refused to see what was in front of them. They caused you nothing but unhappiness.” Regina sighed. “Cora did the same to me, but I also had my father.” Sadness came to her eyes. “I am not certain you even had that.”

Tears filled Emery’s eyes as he realized he hadn’t. There had once been a time where David had tried to teach him how to swordfight, but stopped because of Snow. She believed it wasn’t proper for a princess to fight. No matter how much Emery begged him to, David refused to teach him. The only thing Emery was taught was how a princess should behave and how he would have to marry to secure the kingdom’s future. Teachings Snow enforced and David went along with. He never tried to stand up for Emery or went against her in defiance. A silent tear slid down his cheek as he said in a strained voice, “I didn’t.” More tears fell as he asked, “Am I bad person?”

“No,” Regina answered, her tone adamant. “You are not a bad person, Emery. The circumstances being what they were caused you to make decisions which you believed were right.” She paused then wondered, “Do you regret them?”


“Then they were the right choices if you are able to have peace of mind about them,” Regina stated.

Emery took his bottom lip between his teeth when it began to tremble. Hearing Regina validate his decisions and telling him he wasn’t a bad person caused his emotional wall to fall away completely. Emery started to cry. He wasn’t wrong for the decisions he made and they didn’t make him a bad person. He had handled the situation to the best of his ability and it was okay if he felt nothing over his parents. Regina held him and rubbed his back as she whispered, “It’s okay I’ve got you.”

It took a while for Emery to get his emotions under control. Having someone care for him while he was an emotional mess still surprised and overwhelmed him. When he was no longer crying Emery pulled back and apologized. “I’m sorry for how I acted earlier. I didn’t – I’m still not used to sharing my deeper feelings with someone.”

Regina sighed. “I understand, but no matter what you tell me or what has happened, I won’t run away, Emery.”

Emery nodded. “I know.”

She smiled a little. “And if you hadn’t come to your senses I would have chained you up in the dungeon and whipped you until you were a broken man.”

Emery chuckled then sniffed. He wiped at his eyes as he said, “You’re not allowed to turn me on while I’m still dealing with morons who won’t surrender.”

Regina smirked at him. “That will give you some incentive to shut down these uprising sooner rather than later.”

Emery laughed a little. He sighed and placed his hand on her cheek. Emery studied her eyes, grateful for everything she had done and continued to do for him. He leaned in and placed a delicate kiss on her lips. He rested his forehead on hers and whispered, “Thank you.”

Regina moved her hand to the back of his neck. “You don’t need to thank me. I’m here for you, Emery, and you don’t have suffer alone.” She kissed him. “I can handle whatever you’re going through and then some.”

Emery closed his eyes and nodded. He used her strength to focus himself some more then gave her one more kiss. He pulled back and stood up straight. “I have to go back to dealing with those peasants, my queen.”

Regina chuckled. “I will let you get back to your battalions.”

She raised her hand and before she teleported out Emery called out, “Regina…” She dropped her hand and looked at him. “Do I have to deal with my mother right now?”

Regina placed her hand on his cheek. “No, you do not. You can take all the time you need.”

Emery smiled. “Okay.”

She returned the smiled. “Get back to your fight, Sir Swan.”

Emery bowed with flourish and said, “Yes, my queen.”

Regina chuckled as she teleported out. Emery grinned at the spot she had been standing in. For the first time in two weeks, he felt better and lighter. He found his quiver of arrows and slung it over his head. Emery grabbed his bow and rushed out of his tent. As he got on his horse he had made a personal goal for himself. He was going to have the fighting over with and the uprisings under control before the navy arrived at the end of the week.

The slight annoyance Emery felt at the moment wasn’t something he had been expecting when he had gotten back to the White castle. What he had been expecting was a bath, food, and sleep – in that precise order – however, he stood on the steps of the White castle and listened to Regina address the people of the White kingdom. The crowd was a mix of soldiers who had surrendered from the White army and villagers who either lived in the village before the castle or they had traveled from other parts of the kingdom. Regina was giving a formal speech announcing the fall of the White kingdom and her conquering it. Emery had tuned out five minutes into the speech. This was the last thing he wanted to do.

It took his battalion two weeks to settle the north after the queen’s navy had arrived with more men and supplies. Then the commander of the army had ordered him to take his battalions west to help settle a large faction of villagers whose rebellion was spreading in the area. Settling the rebellion resulted in Emery not being able to sleep in his bed, well the queen’s bed, for another few weeks. He was looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed instead of his cot. Most of the larger uprisings and bigger rebellions had been taken care of, but minor ones still occurred and there were battalions dispersed throughout the kingdom to keep the peace. Emery tried not to fidget in the stiff dress uniform he wore.

He glanced to the right then to the left. He stood with the other generals of the queen’s army along with some of the lieutenants. Emery was a little shocked to be among them, but he had earned his place to be there. Emery smirked to himself. It was a far cry from where he thought he would end up when he had first joined the queen’s army. Emery heard his name and he focused on Regina who was looking at him. A flash of irritation crossed her face, but it vanished. He approached her and she muttered under her breath, without moving her lips, “You weren’t paying attention were you?”

Emery kept his voice low when he answered, “No, your majesty.” She exhaled a slow, annoyed breath through her nose. He looked at the applauding crowd, though they appeared to be less than thrilled about whatever Regina had announced. Emery had no idea what’s going on. “What happened?”

Regina drew in a breath then said, “I have announced that you will be the prince regent of the White kingdom which will be a province of the Mills kingdom.” Overwhelmed by the news Emery stood next to Regina as she finished addressing those in front of the castle. His brain struggled to find a reason as to why she would appoint him to such a position. It was political and Emery hated politics. It was going to be dull and boring and he was going to go insane.

Regina turned away from the crowd and the other commanding officers cleared a path for her and Emery. They bowed as they walked into the castle. When the other generals had filed into the castle Regina turned to speak to them. “I want daily reports of the rebellions occurring in the province. I will pass along how I want them handled to General Stevenson. I trust him to do the rest.” She looked at each man who stood in front of them. “Before you are dispatched to your respective battalions, you will be assisting the men here at the castle with maintaining security for tonight’s council dinner. Captain Lancelot will be in charge of castle security until Prince Emery has appointed someone else to the position.” A few of the generals glanced at Emery before looking back at Regina. He didn’t like being charge anymore than they didn’t want him to be in charge. Regina eyed the men then said, “You are dismissed.”

Regina turned and began to head for the stairs which went up the west wing of the castle. Emery followed her. He held his tongue as the two of them ascended the stairs. He didn’t speak until the door closed behind him. “What have you done?”

Regina walked into the bedroom and Emery followed her. She sat down at her vanity and removed the tiara from her head. She rested it on the velvet pillow which sat on the table. “I have done nothing. This was going to happen eventually.” She glanced at Emery in the mirror. “You are the prince of this of this kingdom whether you like it or not.”

Emery scoffed. “Be that as it may, I am not fit to rule. I do not know how to govern a kingdom or a province. I don’t want to rule. Not to mention the fact the subjects of the White kingdom hate anything associated with the Mills kingdom since we’ve killed their king and imprisoned their queen.”

Regina stood up and turned to face him. “They knew this would be the outcome if they lost. After ten years of war they knew this war would end one of two ways.” She sighed. “I know you are upset I sprung this on you –“

“Sprung? Regina, you fucking blindsided me with this,” Emery argued. He shook his head. “I can’t do this.”

Regina started move closer towards him. “Again, I know you’re upset, but do remember who you are talking to.” Emery scoffed and she narrowed her eyes at him, but continued. “You are prince regent. You may rule and make decisions for the province, but I make all final decisions. You have very little reign here, Emery.”

Emery scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not only am I under your thumb, but I’m still ruling, Regina. I have to make all initial decisions about this ghastly kingdom before they even reach you.” He scoffed again then left the room.

“Where are you going?”

Emery headed to the main doors of their chambers. He jerked one open and shouted, “Page!” Then slammed the door shut. “I need a bath, your majesty. I have been on a horse for the last three days.”

Regina headed back into the room and said, “I don’t understand why you are arguing this, Emery. It is your birthright. This is your kingdom. You are the prince of the White kingdom.”

Emery walked over to the doorway of the bedroom and snapped, “I am not the prince of White kingdom.”

Regina chuckled and smiled at him. “I’ve come to find you endearing when you’re being petulant.”

“You can kiss my petulant ass,” Emery snapped. He turned around when he heard the door of their chambers open.

A young boy walked in and bowed. “Sir Swan?”

“Yes, I would –“

Prince Emery,” Regina hissed behind him.

Emery turned his head and narrowed his eyes at her. “Do not correct him.” Regina glared at him and he stared at her for another second before returning his attention to the boy. “I apologize. I would like water for a bath please.”

The boy glanced at Regina then back at Emery. He nodded and said, “Yes, your highness.” He bowed and rushed out of the room.

Emery turned and glowered at Regina. “It has only been ten minutes since you have announced that I am prince regent. You do not get yell at innocent boys for something they probably don’t know.” He then added, “You also don’t get to belittle me while we’re arguing about something you have never discussed with me.”

He pushed passed her to enter the room and crossed over to the bed, taking his sword off as he approached it. He tossed it onto the bed and sat down on the edge of it to take his boots off. The scowl remained on his face as he untied the laces. Regina moved closer to him and said, “When you learn to stop acting like a child and learn to express yourself like an adult then I will stop belittling you.”

Emery glanced up and glared at Regina. He pulled off his boots and tossed them to the side. He stared at her for a moment then scrubbed at his face with his hands releasing an aggravated growl as he did. He dropped his hand and blew out a deep sigh. “I am not cut out for a life at court.”

Regina sighed as she sat down next to him. “I know you’re not, but you are the rightful heir to this kingdom. These peasants also need to know I’m not a bad queen. If they see you, the heir to the White kingdom, obeying me then they might give up their foolish rioting and violence.”

Emery grimaced. She had a point, but there was one thing he had to know. “We’re going to tell them I’m the White kingdom heir? How?”

Regina nodded. “I am going to tell the council you are the heir, and don’t worry about the how. I have figured it out, and though I may hate myself later for it, it will be beneficial for the both of us.”

Emery studied her for a moment then asked, “So we will be here until peace has settled?”

Regina met his gaze and there was a reluctant expression in her eyes. It did not sit well with Emery. She sighed and said, “I can’t stay in the province. I have to go back to my own castle to rule. I have to make sure all is peaceful in my domain.”

Emery stared at her. He wanted to know what that meant for them, but before he could ask there was a knock on the main door for their chambers. He got up and walked out into the main area. Emery answered the door and the lead page said, “Your bath water, your highness.”

Emery rolled his eyes at the title. He let the pages in and said, “Thank you.” He headed back into the room and closed the door behind him. “I had barely gotten used to being called, Sir Swan. Now I have to get used to being called Prince Emery and your highness.” He scoffed. “Thank you for that.”

Regina got up from the bed. “You are welcome, not because I’m answering your sarcasm with my own.” When she stood in front of him she reached out and placed her hand on her cheek. “Twenty years,” she began, “that’s how long you’ve waited for someone to call you a prince. That’s how long you’ve waited to be seen as a prince. You deserve that title.”

Emery couldn’t be upset with Regina because she was right. He had spent his entire life wanting to be seen as a prince and she had given him that. Emery wrapped his arms around her waist then leaned in to give her kiss. It lasted for a moment then he said, “Thank you.” He smiled. “I genuinely mean it this time.”

Regina chuckled. “You’re welcome.”

Emery drew in a deep and closed his eyes as he continued to hold Regina. She rested her head on his shoulder and he smirked. The two of them stood there in silence and he reveled in being back in her presence again. He took another breath then asked, “If you’re going back to your castle, and leaving me here, where does that leave us?”

Regina held on tighter to his waist and replied, “I won’t be gone from the province permanently. I will be back once I have gotten everything in order with my own kingdom. And when I am gone, I will come back to you every night.”

“How long will this be for?”

Regina sighed. “I don’t know.”

Emery scoffed and let his head fall back against the door. “We should have signed the treaty.”

Regina turned her head bit Emery’s neck, making him hiss in pain. “Over my dead body would I have signed that treaty.” She kissed the area she bit.

Emery smirked. Regina probably would have burned down the whole kingdom before signing a treaty. He ran his hand up and down her back and moved the conversation to a safer topic. “How is your father?”

Regina lifted her head and grinned at him. “Daddy is happy to be home.”

“That is good news,” Emery remarked with a smile on his face. “I’m happy to hear that.”

Regina chuckled and said, “He would like the three of us to have dinner together.”

Emery opened his mouth then closed it. “Oh. Dinner…with your father?” His panic over having dinner with Regina’s father was slow to build.

She nodded. “Yes, he wants to know more about you.”

“Right,” Emery responded. He started to panic. “And he wants to know if I’m good enough for you because why else would your father want to have dinner with me and you?”

Regina laughed and as she caught her breath she said, “Even if daddy believed in such an archaic line of thinking he would still allow me to see whomever I wanted. He understands I am the only one who makes choices about my life.”

Emery chuckled and said, “Then he is a wise man and I have a lot to learn about him.”

There was a knock on the door. “Your highness?”

“Yes?” Emery called out loud enough for the young page to hear through the door.

“Your bath is ready,” the page replied.

Emery smiled. “All right. Thank you.” He moved away from Regina and began to undress.

She smirked at him and remarked, “I rarely have to tell you to bathe these days.”

Emery laughed. “I have to admit, I’ve grown fond of smelling clean. It’s a lot better than smelling like a pile of horse manure. I do believe you’ve said that once before.”

Regina chuckled, but she paying rapt attention to Emery as he undressed. The hunger in her eyes provoked a need inside of him. Emery took his time removing his clothes and when he stood fully naked in front of Regina he placed his hands on his waist, a smirk playing on his lips. “See something you like, my queen?”

Regina stalked over to him, a seductive, predatory smile on her face. She stopped in front of Emery and lightly trailed her fingers across his collarbone then down the center of his chest. She kept her eyes locked on his. She bit her bottom lip then leaned in to place a feather light kiss on his lips. Regina moved her head to where their lips were barely touching and murmured, “I see something I want to devour.” She pushed Emery backwards and he moved back until his knees hit the edge of bed. Regina shoved his shoulder and he willingly fell back onto the bed. Regina lowered herself to the floor. The sight caused Emery’s arousal to spike and made all the right parts throb in anticipation. Her mouth made contact with the sensitive skin on the inside of his thigh and Emery’s eyes slowly closed as he let his excitement consume him. It had been too long since he and Regina had been together and he was going to make the most of it even if the woman liked to blindside him with unexpected titles.

Chapter Text

For the tenth time, Emery checked to make sure he had easy access to the dagger on his belt. Tense was an understatement for the atmosphere of the dining hall. The hostility felt in the room was a living and breathing entity which weighed heavily on everyone. It made Emery anxious and he had been checking access to his weapon to make sure he could draw it quickly in case a fight broke out or one of the council members decided to do something stupid. Emery glanced around the dining hall. It brought him some relief the other knights and guards in the room looked as uneasy as he did. His eyes landed on Regina. She appeared to be unaffected by the tension and ate a leisurely pace, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. He envied her for it but at the same time her casual demeanor amazed him.

Due to his nervousness about the hostility in the room, Emery hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation at the table but his attention was drawn back to it when he heard his name. “Emery’s role as prince regent will be –“

“Excuse me, your majesty,” an older man spat out with a sneer. “Do you really expect us to believe that this stranger is the prince of the White kingdom?” He scoffed and slammed his hand down on the table.” He is an imposter and you’re a lying con-artist! The king and queen only had one child and that was Emma.”

Regina sat down her utensils and pinned the man down with an intense gaze. “Emery is the heir of the White kingdom.” Her eyes cut to the fairy that flittered around the table. “If you do not believe me then you can ask that dolled up gnat floating above you.”

Everyone sitting at the table looked at the fairy. When she didn’t say anything the man asked, “Blue, is this true?”

Emery glared at the fairy that gazed down at him. He hated her for several reasons, but he mostly hated her for interfering with his suicide. However, he was also grateful for her interference because if he had died then he wouldn’t have met Regina. The fairy caused him a number of conflicting emotions. Blue looked down at the man and answered. “Yes. Emery is the true heir of the White kingdom. His birth was kept secret and he was sent away due to him being different.”

“And what is this difference?” A woman asked at the far end of the table. Everyone else joined her, demanding to know what Emery’s difference was.

Regina rose from her seat and placed her hands on the table. She leaned forward and the lethal glare in her eyes silenced everyone. Emery wanted smirk but his face remained neutral. His eyes occasionally dropped down to look at the cleavage Regina had on display. He was certain her breasts were going to fall out of their confines. Emery bit his tongue to stop himself from laughing. He sobered up when Regina began to speak. “Prince Emery’s difference is no concern of yours. What is your concern is answering to him. Any defiance to him would be a sign of disrespect towards me, your new queen.” Her eyes took in those who sat at the table. “And I do not take kindly to those who disrespect me.”

No one said anything for the longest moment. Then a brave soul took the lingering silence as an opportunity for him to ask a question. “And what of Princess Emma?”

Regina sat down in her seat and remarked, “Princess Emma isn’t here. If she were to ever return then we would have a delightful discussion. Until then, Prince Emery is the reigning monarch of this province.”

Another tense silence occurred. Questions about Princess Emma were going to plague Emery. He had half the mind to tell those sitting at the table that she was dead, but that would only further complicate things for him and Regina and they already had enough on their plate. Emery picked up his goblet of wine and took a drink from it. As he set it down he cleared his throat. “I know finding out I exist brings up speculation about the king and queen, and even myself, but this isn’t what’s important. What’s important is showing the province that the downfall of the White kingdom isn’t seen as an end. The queen is a fair and just ruler. I have spent enough time in her kingdom to know those under her rule are happy. We want to see the province returned to its glory days. The years of war and violence – “

“Which was caused by your queen,” a woman interjected her tone harsh and angry.

Emery glared at her and continued on. “The years of war and violence have left this region riddled with debt. Outlying villages are destitute because of the fighting and their resources were redirected to the castle and army. However Snow still held balls.” Emery tightened his jaw and took a moment to reel in his anger towards the woman. He drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Whatever you may think of about Queen Regina, I can let you know she will not let the province suffer and neither will I. Yes, I am her majesty’s most loyal servant, but I will do my damnedest to make this province the most prosperous one in her kingdom.”

He sighed. “But I am not naïve enough to think you all will fall in line overnight. Some of you will try to form a coup; some of you will lead rebellions; and some of you - the stupider ones of your lot - will try to defy the queen out right. You will be tried and killed for any acts of treason,” Emery shrugged, “that’s all there is to it. But before anyone starts accusing me of issuing threats, or before you plot your coup, I ask you to view this with an open mind. We’re all tired of the violence which has happened the last ten years, why add another ten more to it?”

Those sitting at the table were amazed and Emery picked up his wine and took a sip from it. He was tired of the war, and even though he enjoyed a good fight, he was tired of the fighting too. This entire affair between the Mills and White kingdoms had gone on for far too long, and now that Regina had conquered the kingdom, he wanted the transition to be bloodless and without incident. However, he was no fool. He knew it wouldn’t happen. Regina reached for his hand under the table and Emery glanced at her. Regina’s face was cool and impassive, but he could tell she was proud of him. He squeezed her hand and returned to his dinner. It was possible he could come to tolerate leading, but only for a little while.

Emery and Regina walked down the long corridor of the main hall. Dinner had ended moments ago and had finished without further incident. Before they left the dining hall Regina had told the council she wanted to meet with them tomorrow before passing everything regarding the province over to Emery. The thought of him being in charge of the province tomorrow made Emery nauseous. “I can’t believe you’re going to hand things off to me. I have no idea what to do, Regina.”

Regina gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “I will be leaving a detailed list for what you need to focus on.” She smiled at him. “I will ease you into ruling since throwing you into it is ill advised.” Regina chuckled. “You impressed me tonight.”

Emery grinned. “You, impressed?” Regina playfully scowled at him. “My queen, the thought of me being able to impress you does make me excited in an exquisite way.”

Regina eyes took on an expression which only fed Emery’s excitement. The hall bustled with castle staff and even though they spoke softly to one another Emery held his tongue. Deciding not to tell Regina about the sexually charged thoughts which now floated in his mind. Emery leaned over and right as he was about to make a suggestive comment they heard someone call out for Regina behind them. The two of them turned to see Blue, in her human form. She approached them and asked, “May I speak with the both of you please?”

Regina eyed her then glanced at Emery. He sighed. If he was going to have to be a ruler then he would have to exhibit diplomacy at some point. Emery nodded and the three of them made their way down the hall. They went down a side corridor which led to the offices of the king and queen and a small parlor. They went into the parlor and as Emery closed the door Regina wondered, “And what do you have to speak with us about gnat?”

Emery tried not to get an exasperated look on his face, but he knew he failed when Regina narrowed her eyes at him. He walked over to the cabinet which held bottles of alcohol and Blue replied, “I wanted to tell Princess – I mean – I –“ She sighed. “Forgive me, Prince Emery.”

Emery poured his drink and took a sip of it before turning to face the woman. “You want me to forgive you?” He scoffed. “You told me to stop with my silly nonsense. That no decent practitioner of magic would turn me into who I really am. That was fine by me. Magic was, and still is, one of things which is beyond me but you were my mother’s advisor. She listened to you. You didn’t tell her about me and you did nothing to stand up for me. Instead you told her what I was doing, what Nicolette was doing, and she punished me. Now you want forgiveness?” Emery scoffed and took a drink from his glass. “You don’t deserve it,” he said, disdain etched on his face.

Emery took another drink from his glass and moved to the window. It looked out to the vast open field behind the castle. “You’re right. I should have done more to help you, but I didn’t.” Blue sighed. “If I could have told your parents do you think they would have let you lived how you wanted? Especially during the war?”

Emery continued to stare out the window. He knew they wouldn’t have but it was the principal of the matter. “Even if they didn’t, you had my mother’s ear. She held your opinion above all others, and yet, you remained silent when it came to me.” He turned away from the window and narrowed his eyes at her. “Your guilt is your own.”

Blue gave him a solemn nod. She met his green eyes. “Do you believe Regina will treat the White kingdom fairly?”

“I do,” Emery stated with no hesitation.

Blue turned her attention to Regina. “I know you won’t accept it, but I am sorry about the hand I had in your father’s captivity. I thought it would be beneficial, but instead it led to a decade long war which killed so many.”

Regina hummed. She remained quiet for a moment then announced, “I will be signing a law which will banish fairies from my kingdom.”

Blue gasped. “Banishment? Regina – “

“Your majesty,” Regina snapped. “It doesn’t matter what you call me because you’ll never see me again. I don’t care for you excuses.” She looked at Emery. “Had the fairies not interfered this entire war could have been avoided. But what’s been done, has been done.” Regina focused on Blue and there was a sadistic smirk on her face. “My kingdom will be a fairy free kingdom. Any fairies left in it, or found in it, will be subjected to a special form of punishment.”

Blue stared at Regina then turned her attention to Emery. “I hope you do well in leading your kingdom.” She waved her wand over her head and shrunk down to her fairy size then Blue was gone in a blink, leaving a faint of amount of fairy dust behind.

Emery set his glass on the small table next to the couch and walked over to Regina. “Banishment?” He inquired as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him. “You do know if it weren’t for those magical gnats I wouldn’t be here, right?”

Regina nodded. “I do, but they also had a hand in my father’s imprisonment and I’m not going to forgive them for that.” She rested her head on his shoulder and took a deep breath. Regina didn’t say anything and Emery didn’t try to continue the conversation. They both needed the moment. “This is why I didn’t call for their death. You saved them from that,” Regina said moments later.

Emery kissed the side of her head and held Regina tighter. He didn’t want to argue with her about it, but he was glad she told him the reason behind the decision. This was Regina being kind towards the fairies, and honestly, he thought she was being too kind. Emery gave her a quick squeeze and murmured, “You know at dinner when you stood up and leaned over the table to threaten the earl?” Regina hummed her acknowledgement of the moment. Emery grinned. “I honestly thought dinner would become a show. Your breasts looked like they were about to fall out of your dress.”

Regina’s head snapped up and the grin on Emery’s face grew. She studied him and her eyebrow arched. “You were staring at my breasts while we were in public?”

Emery smirked and nodded. “I certainly was, my queen. How could I not? They are exquisite to gaze upon.”

Regina moved away from Emery and turned to leave the parlor. “If you would like to see them in their full splendor then I suggest you follow me.”

Emery didn’t have to be told twice. He followed Regina out of the parlor and into the hall where she headed for the stairs which went up to the west wing of the castle. The coming days were going to be a nightmare for him, and he was going to have to learn so much at once, but for the moment he was going to lose himself in Regina for the second time that day. Emery would worry about everything else when it happened.

Emery stood at the top of the front steps for the provincial castle. He chewed on the inside of his lip. Joe and Ingrid were coming to the province and he was nervous for several reasons, but the main thing which worried him was their safety. He had sent the royal carriage along with several soldiers he had handpicked himself who were being by Neal and Graham, but he still felt uneasy. He didn’t want anything to happen to them as they traveled through territory which was still hostile a month later. “I can see you fretting all the way back here,” Regina remarked behind him.

Emery turned around and gave her a small smile. He held out his hand. She took it and walked closer to him. “They’re coming all the way from your kingdom to the province. I have every reason to fret.”

Regina softly chuckled and said, “The uprisings and violence have diminished and –“

“You don’t let your father travel to the province by carriage,” Emery interjected with a smirk. “You teleport him back and forth.”

Regina didn’t say anything. She sighed. “Did you want me to teleport them?”

Emery laughed and shook his head. “No. It’s already bad enough with the carriage. The magic thing would probably convince Ingrid that you do have some spell over me.”

Regina hummed and reached out to play with the back of his neck. “I do have some spell over you, but it’s not the one your mother thinks.”

Emery chuckled as he moved his head around to get away from her roaming fingers. She was trying to make him forget he was worried about his parents. “Not now, your majesty.” Emery said as he glanced at her. Regina had become more affectionate with him in public and he didn’t know what it was, but Emery didn’t say anything because he didn’t want her to stop.

“Are you certain you want to do this? I’m sure word has already spread about you being the prince of the White kingdom,” Regina wondered as her hand drifted down his back.

Emery nodded. “I do. I want to tell them everything and I’m going to take whatever comes.”

Regina sighed and took hold of his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “They will respond like they have always responded in regards to everything with you. With open minds and acceptance.” She brushed his knuckles with the pad of her thumb. “If they respond otherwise then we will deal with it. Together.”

Emery turned and stared at Regina. He was overwhelmed by her willingness to stand beside him if Joe and Ingrid didn’t take the revelation well. He then broke one of the silent rules which was between them. He leaned over and gave her a soft kiss. “Thank you.”

Regina gave him a playful glare. “You kissed me in public.”

“Yes, I did, my queen,” Emery said with grin. “You will have to punish me later for it.”

Regina chuckled and remarked, “Do not tempt me, Swan.”

Emery grinned and risked giving her another kiss. Regina pushed him away and he was about to say something when he saw the carriage approaching. Emery took hold of Regina’s hand and the two of them waited for the carriage to come to a stop in front of the castle. Before the footman could open the carriage door it flew open and Ingrid shouted, “Emery Swan, you better have a good explanation as to why your father and I are only now getting to the kingdom you run.”

A wide smile broke out on Emery’s face. Ingrid had called Joe his father and he couldn’t resist running down the stairs to go hug her. He wrapped his arms around her and she slapped his arm. Emery let go of her so he could give Joe a quick hug. He smiled at them and said, “I was busy with getting the rebellions and fighting under control along with getting used to being prince.” He sighed. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Ingrid gave him a smile. “Yes, we do. Did her majesty have something with your new title?”

Emery grimaced a little and replied. “Kind of.” He chuckled. “Let’s go inside. I have lunch setup for us in the parlor and we’ll talk about everything.”

The three of them went up the stairs and when they reached the top Joe and Ingrid bowed at Regina. She walked over and gave them both a hug. “It is good to see you again Mr. and Mrs. Swan.”

“It is a pleasure seeing you again, your majesty.” Joe remarked with a grin. Emery chuckled. The three of them at some point were going to have to get pass their formalities, however it wouldn’t be during this visit.

The four of them went into the castle and headed for the parlor. When everyone was settled Regina said, “I have to admit, Emery not inviting you sooner was my fault. The uprisings in the province have been a nuisance since I captured the White kingdom.”

Ingrid smiled and remarked, “I’m just glad the war is over and he didn’t get hurt too badly.”

Emery grunted. “If anyone thinks they can hurt me then I would like to see them try.”

“And here I thought you were a humble prince,” Regina commented in a dry tone.

Emery grinned at her. “In public I am, but in private don’t expect such nonsense from me.”

“All we expect is nothing but nonsense from you, son,” Ingrid added with a small chuckle.

Regina and Joe laughed with her and Emery scowled. “Your majesty, I’ve heard some gossip in the village and I wondered if it would be okay to ask since it does pertain to you personally,” Joe said once he caught his breath.

Regina nodded as she took a drink of her water. “Certainly, Mr. Swan, you can ask almost anything from me.”

Joe gave her a gracious smile. He pressed his lips together then asked, “Is it true, King Henry is alive?”

A broad smile broke out on Regina’s face and it caused a small one to form on Emery’s. “It is. Daddy is at the castle in our kingdom and he is happy and safe.” She grinned at Emery. “He has even taken a shine to the rogue you have claimed as your own.”

“I am not a rogue,” Emery exclaimed after he swallowed the bite of chicken in his mouth. “It’s not my fault I have a charming personality.”

Regina scoffed. “I will not comment on that.” Emery glared at her then went back to his meal. “Daddy has suggested we all should get together for dinner. I told him I would see, but at this time it isn’t feasible since Emery and I are still settling everything here in the province.”

Ingrid got a stern expression on her face. “The two of you better find some way to make it happen because if you and Emery decide to get married, and I haven’t met your father yet, I will not give my blessing to it. “

Emery opened his mouth then closed it. Several thoughts flashed through his mind as he stared at everyone at the table. The word marriage had caused his brain to seize, but he ignored it completely. It was an absurd thought since everything was still new for him and Regina. Then there was the stern tone Ingrid had taken with Regina. The woman was all about respecting the queen’s title and position. Regina chuckled and stated, “We will have dinner together before then.” She smiled. “Can you refrain from mentioning things like marriage? Emery looks like he might run out the door.”

Ingrid and Joe glanced at him and Emery cleared his throat. “I’m not going to run,” he mumbled. “I was just taken off guard.”

Regina, Joe, and Ingrid laughed. The three of them spent the rest of lunch catching up and near the end of it Ingrid said, “Are you going to let us know how you are a prince or is this a title bestowed upon you by her majesty?”

Regina glanced at Emery and he bit the inside of his lip. He drew in a deep breath and decided the best way to explain everything was to be forward. He took a large gulp of his wine and blew out a deep breath. It would be now or never. “Ma, pop I am an actual prince. In fact, I am the heir of the White kingdom.”

Joe and Ingrid stared at him and Joe’s eyebrow furrowed as he tried to figure out how it was possible. “How?” He asked.

Emery cleared his throat and began to explain everything to him. “I am the child of King David and Queen Snow. I –” He couldn’t continue. Emery didn’t want his relationship with Joe and Ingrid to change. They had been actual parents to him and he didn’t want to lose their love because it meant too much to him. However, he had to tell them because of it. He drew in a deep breath and Regina took his hand under the table. Emery squeezed it gently and continued. “The missing princess, Emma, I am her.”

Joe and Ingrid sat in a stunned silence as they tried to wrap their minds around what he had told him. Ingrid then asked, “How? And this whole time?”

Emery nodded. “Yes, this whole time and there is no how to it.” He ran his hand through his hair and tried to figure out how to explain the unexplainable. “How I was born, as a girl, I don’t identify as that person. I identify as this. As a man and as Emery. This is who I am.”

A long moment of silence filled the parlor and the longer it dragged on the harder Emery’s heart pounded in his chest. He was certain he was going to lose the only parents he loved. Joe took a drink of his ale and cleared his throat as he set the mug down. “Emery, why are you telling us this?”

Emery drew in a deep breath and said, “Because you and Ingrid have given me the one thing I’ve always wanted, which is loving parents who love me for me.” He sighed. “I wanted you and Ingrid to know everything there was about me before we got further entangled as a family.”

Ingrid shook her head and smiled. “It’s too late for that, son. Joe and I love you as if you were our own. If you are the same person who we’ve taught to be a gentleman, hard-working, and kind then everything else does not matter. You are our son, Emery, and we love you.”

Tears came to Emery’s eyes and he got up from the table. He rushed over to hug Ingrid and she returned it as fiercely as ever. He pulled away and Joe placed a hand on his shoulder, a proud smile on his face. “I was afraid you two were going to disown me. Snow and David they...” He sighed. “They weren’t good parents.”

Joe grunted. “They weren’t good rulers so of course they weren’t good parents. Idiots the both of them.”

“I would have to agree, Joe,” Regina said from her spot at the table.

All of them laughed and Ingrid wondered, “And her majesty is okay…”

Regina scoffed. “I am more than okay with who Emery is. It is his petulance which may cause him to become a dead man.”

Emery scowled at her and Regina only smiled. He looked back at Joe and Ingrid. They didn’t care and still loved him for him. He had stumbled upon the best adoptive parents in the world and he was going to make sure they were well taken care of for the rest of their lives. Emery shook his head and remarked, “Ingrid wouldn’t let you kill me for that.”

“I might,” Emery gawked at her. “I have seen your stubborn nature a time or two and I would have tanned your hide, but I didn’t. Instead I worked you to death.”

Emery frowned but then he began to chuckle. The four of them went back to talking about the province and Regina’s plans for it. As Emery sat down at the table Regina placed her hand on his thigh and gave it a gentle squeeze. The one thing he had been worried about for the last week had been a non-issue in the long run and he still had the best parents in the world. Emery picked up his wine and took a drink from it. Running away had been one of the scariest things he had done, but in the end it had been the greatest decision Emery had made. He was truly happy with parents who loved him and a woman who understood him. There was nothing more Emery could want.

Emery let out a loud groan as he walked into his chambers. He took off his sword, tossed it on the couch, and started taking off his armor - leaving a trail of metal behind him as he walked to the bedroom. He had been up hours before the sun rose training the men who had made up the former White kingdom’s army. The task had been torture since the men of the White army had less skill than those of the Mills army. At this point Emery was ready to run each and every one of them through with his sword.

Emery then had to go to meetings he honestly didn’t want to be at after dealing with those imbeciles. There had been a meeting with the provincial council about the state of the province; a meeting with the castle staff to make sure his cuts to the castle budget didn’t leave it in dismal conditions; and then he had court. Emery was surprised he didn’t call the nobles and farmers who came before him idiots and he was proud of himself for not bolting from the throne room. He had done it a couple times before when he was annoyed. Regina hadn’t been too thrilled to hear about those incidents. Lastly he had a meeting with the advisors who had come from other kingdoms in regards to new alliances needing to be formed. These alliances also meant a ball was being held at the end of the week to celebrate the newest allies to the Mills kingdom. Emery wanted to run away from it all.

Three months of ruling the province was starting to get tedious and Emery was tempted to tell Regina he had had enough. Emery walked over to the bed and fell onto it. However tempted he was to tell Regina he wanted quit, Emery was glad to be helping the people of his home kingdom. He had made cuts to certain expenditures and invested the money back into the province. Some of Emery’s decisions did lead to heated arguments with Regina, but he was able to prove his point and get her to understand why he had made them. People were starting to see Emery wasn’t Regina’s puppet and was putting the province first doing what was best for it.

Within the last month Emery had started recalling troops and sending them to more problematic areas of the province or sending them back to the main castle. Peace was something which was becoming more apparent as the days went on and the province began to flourish. Since Emery had cut expenditures which were being used for frivolous expenses at the castle, he had put the money back into the province and lowered taxes. His generosity did lead to an intense argument with Regina when he had given away castle farmland. She didn’t want the villagers close to the castle and gave him no leeway in regards to it. No matter how absurd Emery found her to be. To get back in her good graces Emery took back the land which was close to the castle and traded it for parcels which were further from it and for some pieces of land on the outskirts of the village which were owned by the castle.

All in all Emery didn’t mind ruling, but there were some things about it he could do without. When he wasn’t defying Regina, which surprised a lot of people, she also believed him to be a good ruler. Emery cuddled up to the pillow Regina used and took a deep breath. Their relationship was an uncomplicated one as long as provincial business didn’t get in the way. The last few months Regina had been living between the two castles and in the last month Emery had being going to the Mills castle for week long stays. It was exhausting but as long as he was falling asleep with her at the end of the day it was all that mattered.

The scandal of Emery being the secret heir of the White kingdom and being Regina’s lover had died down after two months, but every now and then a new rumor would fly about them. It didn’t help that Emery had gotten bolder about what he would say to Regina in public. There had been times where he had said a suggestive remark or innuendo to her when they were at a state dinner or around others in a small setting and depending on her mood it would either be a good or bad response. Emery showed Regina the proper respect but sometimes he would lace it with innuendo. The wild thing about it all, and what caused people to gasp and stare at Regina like she had grown a second head, would be when she flirted back with him or laughed. It was a side of the queen only Emery or her father saw and it scared most others.

Emery heard a knock on his chamber door and groaned. He just wanted sleep. The knock came again. He pulled Regina’s pillow over his head and prayed that whoever it was would go away. The door of his chamber opened and closed and Emery groaned loudly. There was only one person who dared to enter his chambers without permission. “Emery?” Neal called out. “Your highness,” he vocalized and Emery could hear the shit eating grin on his face. “Ah, there you are. The royal procession will be pulling up shortly.”

“Procession?” Emery repeated as he sat up. He didn’t understand why the procession would be coming. Regina was at the Mills castle for the month.

Neal nodded. “Yes, the procession. Probably coming to a stop as we speak.”

Emery was still trying to figure out why Regina had brought the procession instead of teleporting. He then realized Neal had said it would be arriving soon. Emery got off the bed and began to put on his armor. As he did he remarked, “I’m going to tell the queen you entered the prince’s quarters without permission.”

Neal scoffed. “Like you would dare. She would be more upset with you than me because she would point out how you shouldn’t allow me to do such things.”

Emery scowled at the man. He had a point. “Where is Aldous? I still haven’t told her about him yet. She is going to put me in the dungeon for a week.”

Neal laughed. “Remind me to be around for that tongue lashing. He’s hovering by the door of the kitchens hoping one of the pages or kitchen staff will take pity on him.”

Emery rolled his eyes. The dog was spoiled and Emery had only had the pup for a week. He had found him wandering around the village hungry and without his mother. He figured Aldous had been the runt of his litter and his mother had abandoned him. Emery instantly grew a fondness for the puppy. He typically stayed in his chambers lounging in front of the fire, but every now and then he would explore. Emery really wanted to tell Regina about Aldous before she stumbled upon him.

He and Neal left his chambers and as he ran down the stairs he called for Aldous. Right when he and Neal reached the main corridor Regina walked into the castle. When the doors closed behind her she turned around and inquired, “No announcement?”

Emery walked over to her and gave a slight bow. He straightened and said, “No. I’ve moved him to a different position in the castle. The announcements gave me a headache and I found them annoying.”

Regina leaned in to give him a quick kiss. “You may find them annoying but having everyone who arrives at the castle announced is a formality and a layer of security.”

Emery dipped his head. “I will reconsider putting him back in that position.” He smiled. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to be at the main castle for the month.”

“She has been driving me insane,” King Henry said as he entered. “When you aren’t around she is in the worst mood and sulks about.”

Emery pressed his lips together and bowed at Henry, greeting the older man. As he stood up Emery found Regina scowling at her father but it wasn’t a serious one. She drew in a deep breath and said, “Despite what my father says, the council and I had a meeting and we believe my presence will be more beneficial here. Show the people of the province I am not some distant queen. It will also tell our enemies I am aware of all which goes on in the province.”

Emery nodded. “I was going to address that at the next joint council meeting.” He frowned. “I, though I am not complaining, not understanding why you believe your presence is needed now.”

Regina exhaled, exasperated by the comment. “You have a larger presence here. The people know you and see you. They, however, don’t see me. I’ve been told my presence is needed to show the people of the province who their true ruler is.”

Emery smirked. “Does this mean you will be joining me for strolls through the village?”

Regina arched her eyebrow and narrowed her eyes at him. “I will be too busy running a kingdom.”

Emery chuckled. “Of course you will be. How long will you be in the province for?”

Apprehension shone in Regina’s eyes then she replied, with some hesitance, “I’m moving into the castle.”

“Oh,” Emery said surprised by the suddenness of it all. Then again he shouldn’t have been surprised. She was queen and this was now her castle. His eyebrows furrowed. “If you’re moving into the provincial castle who will be running the main part of the kingdom?”

Henry chuckled and raised his hand, waving his fingers at Emery. “That would be me.”

Emery smiled at the man. He liked Henry. The man was a delight to have around and he approved of Emery and Regina’s relationship. The one thing Emery hadn’t been expecting was Henry’s playful personality, but it did explain where Regina had gotten her sense of humor from. There had been many times over the last few months where he offered to rule the main part of the kingdom in order for her to spend more time in the province with Emery, but Regina had declined. It was nice having him around and willing to help her. However, he had been hinting at the two of them getting married as of late. The first time he mentioned it Emery almost swallowed his tongue and Regina admonished him for trying to kill him. Emery still couldn’t believe the man had such a thing, but then he remembered Ingrid’s threat a few months back and shook his head. He and Regina hadn’t even told each other their true feelings about one another but their parents were talking about weddings. Emery sighed. He and Regina were going to have to have a discussion about it.

Emery turned his attention to Regina and grinned. “So you gave your father the easiest job then?”

“Running my kingdom isn’t easy,” Regina countered, sounding completely affronted by the question. “Also my father is king, so it made sense.”

Henry smiled at the two of them and remarked, “The kingdom practically runs itself. Regina has made sure it runs that way.”

A haughty smile appeared on Regina’s face and Emery covered his mouth and cleared his throat to hide the smile on his face. “I think I will go help the pages and handmaidens with your luggage.” He turned to leave but Regina placed her hand on his arm. Emery looked at her.

She opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it. Regina sighed. “I would like my luggage brought to your chambers.”

Emery stared at her as he realized what was actually going on. Yes, Regina was moving into the castle, but she was moving into it and his chambers. She was moving in with him. “Oh.”

“If you don’t want us to have the same rooms then we can keep things as they are,” Regina said quickly to ease his shock. Then she explained, “It makes sense though. I rarely use my rooms when I’m here since I am always in yours and when you’re at the main castle you’re in mine. But if you need your own chambers then I understand and take no offense.”

Emery leaned in and kissed her. He let it linger for a few seconds then pulled back. “I would be honored to share rooms with you,” he murmured a smile playing on his lips. They stood there smiling at each other, however, the moment was short lived when a bark interrupted it. “Oh, there is something I need to tell you,” Emery said just as Aldous ran into the main hall. He gave Regina his most boyish smile. “I got a dog.”

Regina glared at him. “You….got…a dog?” She asked through gritted teeth.

Emery turned and bent down. When Aldous was close enough he jumped into his arms. He chuckled when the eager puppy began to lick at his face. Emery turned the black Labrador around so Aldous could meet Regina. “Regina, Aldous Swan. Aldous, Regina. She’s your mommy.”

Regina glare turned into an expression which would have incinerated Emery on the spot. “I am not that mutt’s mommy.” Her face took on a look of horror. “Has this creature been in our bed?”

Emery quickly shook his head. “No, no, no. He has been trained to not get on the bed or I am training him.” He cringed. “It’s a work in progress.”

Regina eyed the dog and Aldous let out an excited yip. She glowered at Emery. “He is not allowed in our chambers.”

“Regina, Aldous has been in my chambers since I’ve gotten him,” Emery explained hoping it would keep the puppy in their chambers.

Regina sighed. “Fine. He can stay in our chambers but he is not allowed in our bedroom, Emery.”

Emery grinned. “Fair enough.” He placed the dog on the ground then kissed Regina’s cheek. “Thank you, my queen.”

Regina glared at him. She wasn’t going to be moved by his use of her title. “Since I am allowing you to keep your creature we will be redecorating your chambers.”

Emery opened his mouth to protest but instantly closed. He had won this one since he had gotten to keep Aldous and he wasn’t getting kicked out of their chambers. This was Regina’s way of saying she still was queen and could do whatever she wanted. “Okay, if that is what you want.”

A slow devious grin spread across Regina’s face. “It certainly is what I want. You have dreadful taste, dear.”

Emery shook his head then he gave her another kiss. “I’m going to help bring in your luggage.” He glanced at Henry, who was having a ball with Aldous, and chuckled. He motioned with his head for Neal to follow him.

The two of them walked out of the castle and as they went down the stairs Neal chuckled. “She let you keep the dog and she’s moving in with you.” He elbowed Emery in the ribs. “Will we be seeing a royal wedding any day now?”

Emery groaned. “Not you too.” He shook his head. “King Henry has been dropping hints about marriage and I don’t need it from you too.”

Neal laughed. “It’s the next logical step since she’s moving in.”

“It is her castle,” Emery pointed out as they reached the cart which held Regina’s luggage. “The next step isn’t marriage. The next step would be horses or perhaps another dog.” He grinned at his friend.

Neal got one of the queen’s trunks and remarked, “I highly doubt the queen will allow you to get another dog.”

Emery smirked as he picked up one of the trunks. “By the time spring rolls around I will have another dog.”

Neal chuckled. “Or a baby.” Emery dropped his trunk. The man looked at him and grinned. “From what the guards have said, you and the queen are a very boisterous couple.”

Emery stared at Neal. The guards talking about him and Regina were one thing but the baby thing shocked the hell out of him. He picked up the trunk and moved over to Neal. “Do not talk about me and the queen. Do not let it get back to the queen that the guards talk about us. Because if she does find out not only will she kill them and you, but she will also kill me.” Neal laughed and Emery shook his head as he pushed by him. As annoyed as he was Emery was more upset that he wasn’t able to get the queen pregnant - despite the thought scaring him. Emery sighed and shook his head again. He would deal with his feelings about it later. Life was going to interesting enough since the queen was moving into the provincial castle.

Chapter Text

Emery walked into his chambers and sat down the last trunk Regina had brought with her. He looked around the sitting room. It was piled with Regina’s trunks, dresses, and all the other things the woman had brought with her from the main castle. They were actually going to be living together. In the same rooms. It made Emery happy, but he still needed to process it a bit. Having Regina’s belongings take over sitting room made it a little overwhelming. He chuckled to himself. It was going to take Regina months for her to go through it all. At least that’s what Emery thought as he tripped over one of the trunks while heading to the bedroom. He entered the room and said, “We’re not going to be able to sit in there for a month. I’ll have to take my dinner in the washroom.”

Regina glanced at him and gave her head a slight shake. “You can be quite dramatic sometimes.” She smiled at him. “I will have it all put away by dinner tonight.”

Emery moved to the chair which was in a corner by the bed and sat down. “You bring out the worse in me.” He began to take off his boots. “You need to talk to your father.”

“About?” Regina asked as she continued to put her clothes in the wardrobe. They were going to need another one Emery thought as he pulled off his boot.

Emery tossed it to the side and replied, “Marriage. Every other conversation he brings it up and I struggle with finding an appropriate response as to why I’m not ready for such a thing.” He pulled off his other boot and stood up to pull off his shirt. “I’m too busy to think about it and marriage is the last thing from my mind.”

Regina took a seat in front of her vanity and began to take off her jewelry. “Then what are we doing, Emery?”

He looked at her in the mirror and Regina directed a pointed gaze at him. “What do you mean what are we doing? We’re in a relationship. What else is there?”

Regina started to take her hair down and as she did, she worded her question differently. “Where do you want our relationship to go? It seems we may have two different desires.”

Emery didn’t understand the line of questioning. He wanted to be with Regina, for as long as she would have him, why she couldn’t — Emery’s mouth formed an “O” when he finally understood what Regina was getting at. He walked over to the vanity and stood behind her, a small smirk playing on his lips. Emery started to undo the buttons which ran down the back of her dress. “You want to marry me?”

Regina’s face remained nonchalant as she replied, “Perhaps. I still need time to see if I can tolerate your dimmer moments and whining.”

“Should I be thinking about marriage?” Emery asked his smirk turning into smile. Her answer had warmed his heart in a way he couldn’t describe. She wanted to marry him.

Regina met his gaze as she looked at him in the mirror. Again, her answer was indifferent but her eyes told another story. “If you would like, but do know it is something you should start thinking about.”

Emery grinned. “Then I will, my queen.”

“See that you do.”

The two of them fell silent and Emery continued to undo the buttons on Regina’s dress. The soft caresses he trailed along her exposed skin along with the seductive glances Regina casted in the mirror shifted the atmosphere of the room. Once Regina was out of her dress a suggestive smirk came to Emery’s face. “Do you plan on getting dressed?”

Regina walked over to the bedroom door and closed it. “Go sit on the bed.”

Emery followed the order and sat on the bed, waiting eagerly to see what Regina had planned. She walked over to the bed and rested her arms on Emery’s shoulders as she straddled his lap. Regina leaned in and ran the tip of her tongue over his top lip. “At this moment, I have no plans of getting dressed. I have needs which require your attention.”

Emery placed his hand on her thighs and moved them up and down, lightly touching the soft skin. “And what needs do you have, my queen?”

A wicked grin came to Regina’s face. “Ones which will have you indisposed for the rest of the afternoon.”

Emery let out a low chuckle. “It a good thing I cleared my schedule then.” He leaned forward, hoping to capture her lips for a kiss, but Regina moved her head back.

She chuckled and ran her finger down his throat. “What do you want, Emery?”

“A kiss,” Emery replied without a second thought. “Let me kiss you, my queen.”

Regina bit her bottom lip for a second and leaned in, her lips hovered over Emery’s. “When you say things like that,” she murmured, her breath tickling his lips, “it makes me want to have my way with you. To keep going until you are begging me to stop.” She took Emery’s bottom lip between her teeth and gave it a firm tug before releasing it. “Will you beg for me, Emery?”

Emery felt himself getting lost in his growing desire. He nodded and whispered, “I will do anything you ask of me.”

Regina placed featherlike kisses across his jaw, making her way towards his earlobe. She flicked the delicate flesh with the tip of her tongue and gave it a gentle suck before freeing it from the warm confines of her mouth. Regina let out a shuddering breath which grazed across the shell of Emery’s ear. He gripped her thighs tighter as the effects of her teasing elicited a rush arousal throughout his body. “I like it when you say you will do anything for me,” she whispered. “And I will be sure to collect my reward for you saying such things, however, I do believe you wanted a kiss.” Emery nodded. Regina raked her fingers through his hair and took hold of it to jerk his head back. Emery grunted but did nothing else. He wanted to see if Regina would give him a kiss.

Regina leaned forward as if she were going to kiss him but then her head moved to the right. Emery felt her tongue glide up his neck and she gave it a firm bite. Emery’s grip on her thighs tightened as he moaned. The seductive sound of Regina chuckling turned him on more. She sat up and pushed him back. Emery fell onto the bed and his eyes remained on Regina. She bent forward and placed her hands on either side of his head. “You’ll get your kiss eventually,” she said in a soft voice and a sickly, sweet smile appeared on her face. Emery knew it would be awhile before he would get his kiss. “But until then I have better uses for that mouth of yours.”

Emery thought of the number of things he could do with his mouth and there was only one thing which was acceptable at the moment. If he didn’t get what he wanted Emery was going to subject Regina to a brand of torture which neither of them benefitted from. When Regina began to move up his body Emery’s excitement intensified and he licked his lips in anticipation. It would be an exhausting afternoon for the two of them since Regina was in the mood to prolong their suffering and delay their pleasure. Emery groaned in his head. He hated when she was in those moods, but he also enjoyed them because it caused him to crave her something fierce.

Emery felt the pull of sleep as he combed his fingers through Regina’s hair. He felt nothing but contentment and satisfaction. Regina’s head rested on his chest and her fingers traced his hip bone. The motion tickled but it was also lulling him to sleep. The sun was beginning to set and Emery was hungry, but he didn’t want to move. True to her word, Regina had indisposed him for the rest of the afternoon and Emery had no complaints about it. He actually wanted more of her but needed to take a nap before doing so. Starting something and falling asleep in the middle of it would end badly for Emery. Regina lifted her head and kissed his shoulder. “I love you,” she murmured against it.

Emery’s eyes flew open and met the brown ones which were looking at him. Hesitation and vulnerability were displayed in them and he took a moment to decide how he would respond to this new turn in their relationship. Emery lifted his head and kissed her - softly, but passionately. He rested his head back on his pillow and smiled. “I love you too.” He chuckled. “This is the first time we’ve said that to each other.”

Regina smiled and remarked, “I know.” She sighed and laid her head back on his chest. “I feel like I can say it now and not have worry about something happening to you. With the war going on and everything being so unstable I did not want risk it. But the war has ended and the province getting settled, so I have no reason to not tell you how I truly feel.”

Emery gave her a quick squeeze. “I’m glad you feel safe enough to tell me that.” He grinned. “However if you had never told me I still would have known.”

“How is that, Sir Swan?” Regina wondered as she lifted her head and there was a smile on her face.

Emery chuckled and replied, “Your eyes.” He bit his bottom lip and tried to figure out how to explain it to her. “When you look at me, it’s different. Your eyes get this gleam in them that…” Emery trailed off and sighed. “It’s hard to explain but you look at me differently, my queen.”

Regina gazed into his green eyes then moved up to give him a lingering kiss. When she pulled back, Regina’s fingertips skimmed across Emery’s jaw. Their eyes remained on one another a moment longer then she moved to get out of bed. Emery’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to figure out why she had gotten out of bed. Not that he minded. Watching Regina walk across the room to get to her vanity stoked a new wave of arousal in him.  He had yet to meet a woman whose confidence and sensuality matched hers, and even now as she strode naked around their room, Regina was every bit the queen as much as she was herself. “Your majesty, I request you come back to bed. Seeing you on display, and out of reach, does nothing for my arousal.”

Regina glanced at him over her shoulder and grinned. “My dear prince, maybe that’s the point. Tantalize you until you take matters into your own hands.”

Emery sat up on his elbows, ready to accept Regina’s challenge. “Is that what you want, my queen? For me to come and take you? Sit you on your well organized counter and have my way with you until your voice is hoarse from crying out my name?”

Lust filled Regina’s face as she stared at Emery a moment longer then she gave her head a brief shake, looking away from him. Emery grinned. He was about to climb out of bed and make good on his promise when Regina turned around. She made her way back to the bed and Emery noticed the small, black velvet bag in her hand. Regina sat down on the bed next to him. She started to open the bag, but stopped to cup Emery’s cheek. “I love you and I love you the way you are. No matter what body you are in, you will always be Emery to me. The charming prince of the White Kingdom who has managed to show me how to love again.”

Confusion marred Emery’s face, but he turned his head and placed a delicate kiss on Regina’s palm. “I appreciate you saying that, my love, but I’m not sure why you’re saying it.”

Regina pulled open the bag and said, “Because of this.” She tipped it over and a clear vial, containing a red liquid, fell into her hand. Regina held it up between her thumb and index finger and showed it to Emery.

Emery remained confused as he took the vial from her and examined it. “What is this?” Regina didn’t answer the question and Emery looked at her. “Regina?”

She drew in a deep breath and expelled it. “I hve been working on something to make you feel more at ease with yourself. I um…” Regina stopped and Emery still didn’t have a clear understanding of what she was trying to tell him. “I contacted a mentor of mine after you had told me about what Blue had said in regards to a dark practitioner of magic being able to give you what you wanted.”

Emery’s eyes focused on the vial in his hand. She hadn’t…had she? “Regina are you saying…” He couldn’t finish the question because if he did then she would have to answer it and he didn’t want her to answer it. If she did then he would get his hopes up about something he had deemed impossible a long time ago.

Regina nodded. “I owe a favor to this mentor, but it was a price I was willing to pay in order to get you this.” She sighed. “There is a caveat to this potion, Emery.” He met Regina’s gaze and apprehension shone in her eyes.

“What is it, Regina?”

The frown on her face worsened the longer the silence stretched on between them. Emery sat up and took both of her hands into his, a reassuring smile on his face. “Whatever this stipulation is I will gladly accept it. You have given me the one thing no one else has been able to give me and that alone makes me grateful.”

Regina gave him a small smile. “I know you are but the stipulation to this potion is I’m not certain it will work.” She sighed. “It is one which has never been used before. Variations of it have been used, but this is changing you altogether and that is new.” Regina grimaced. “Over the last month I have fought with myself about giving you this potion. However, knowing I had it and not telling you about it did not sit well with me.”

Emery turned and set the potion down on the small table next to the bed. He moved closer to Regina and took her in his arms, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Thank you for telling me. If it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work.” Emery didn’t dare to think about the emotional and mental fallout which would occur if it didn’t. “You trying to help me has a bigger impact on me than the potion working. Regina, this is more than anyone has ever done for me and beyond what you have already done to help me. I love you for it, and my gratitude is endless because of it.”

Regina pulled back and searched his eyes. “But, Emery, if it doesn’t work and you’ve gotten your hopes up –“ Emery pressed a finger to her lips.

“I will deal with it, my queen.”

Regina opened her mouth and bit the tip of his finger. “We will deal with it. I refuse to let you handle any of the negative ramifications on your own - even more so since I gave you the potion.”

Emery smiled and nodded. “I understand.” He gently placed his hands on her cheeks and kissed her. “Thank you, Regina.”

Regina sighed. “We still have to see what it does, Emery. I would rather you hold off on thanking me.”

Emery shook his head. “I will thank you now because of the thoughtfulness. You did something you didn’t have to.”

Regina’s intense eyes stared into his. “I had to do something, Emery. You struggle with your body and the insecurities you have about it, and watching you go through it makes me hurt for you. I want you to have a happier life in a body which is yours.”

Emery felt his heart double in size because of the love he felt for Regina. He kissed her again. This time it was passionate and Regina held onto him as it deepened. He no longer wanted to talk about the potential ramifications of the potion or why she did what she did. Emery wanted to love and appreciate Regina for being the kind, considerate, and selfless woman he knew she was.

The two of them fell onto the bed and Emery broke the kiss to kiss across Regina’s jaw and down her neck. Before he moved further down her body, Emery placed his mouth near Regina’s ear and murmured, “I love you, my queen.” She turned her head and captured his lips for a searing kiss which caused their desire to surge and overwhelm the both of them. Thoughts of the vial and what the potion did, or didn’t do, vanished from Emery’s mind. His entire focus was on the woman underneath him and showing her how much he loved her.

Emery stopped pacing and began to chew on his thumbnail as he stared at the vial filled with red liquid. Aldous whined behind him. He hadn’t taken the potion yet because something held him back. When he had woken up that morning and saw the vial excitement went through him. What he had always wanted was literally right in front of him. Emery hadn’t taken it then because he still had to go about his day. If there were adverse effects he didn’t want them to affect his schedule. However during his morning meeting something began to slowly make its way through his mind and it continued to eat away at him. He didn’t know what it was. Emery’s penetrating gaze bore into the vial and he believed if he stared at it any harder the vial would break but it didn’t. Then like a sluggish idea which is reluctant to form at first, but instantly pieces together, Emery realized what had been nagging at him all morning.

He spun around and made his way to the bedroom door, snagging his cloak off the back of the chair as he rushed out of the room. He put it on and headed to the table he had placed his saddle bags on. He went back into the room and packed quickly. When he was done Emery left his and Regina’s chambers and went down to the kitchens. Emery bundled up enough food for his journey and somehow managed to get Lydia to make him a sandwich without telling her where he was going. Once he finished there, and fought with Aldous to stay in the castle, Emery headed to the stables. He prepared his horse and mounted it before taking off faster than usual.

Emery traveled for several hours and it wasn’t until the moon was high in the sky did he stop to give his horse a break and to catch some sleep. Emery rested against the sleeping horse and stared up at the star filled sky. His mind was filled with thoughts which collided into one another. As soon as he managed to focus one, another sprouted out of nowhere and sent him on another path. His current line of thinking involved his life and how happy he was despite his body. Yes, Emery did experience severe bouts of anger and self-hatred about it, but it wasn’t as constant as it had been before. In fact, he had come to an okay place about his body as long as he didn’t dwell on it or have a moment which sent him spiraling into the dark places of his mind. But people viewed him as Prince Emery, not Princess Emma, and most people didn’t know he and she was the same person.

Then there was the fact he had found someone who loved him for who he was, and saw him as the man he was. Never in a million years did Emery believe he would be able to experience love, or find someone who would love him, because of his body. When he was younger he never entertained the thought of love, or a future, because he didn’t think he would live long enough to have either of those things. And yet, here he was proving himself wrong on all accounts. Emery sighed and smiled as he thought about Regina. She would kill him once he returned to the castle, because he hadn’t told her where he was going, but it was something he needed to do in order for him to be at peace with himself.

Emery pulled up his blanket and sighed. The fact he was doing this at all annoyed and bothered him. He had a potion which would hopefully give him the body he had dreamed of since childhood, a feeling which turned into a yearning as he grew up, yet he had doubts. Not only were there no guarantees about what the potion would do, Emery also wondered if it would bring an alignment of his mind and physical body. He didn’t want to alter his body and still feel the same disconnect with it. Emery burrowed under his blanket and forced the troubling thoughts from his mind. He would try to get some sleep and hopefully by doing this he would get some clarity for his thoughts.

Three days later Emery rode into the stable of the main castle, surprising the stable hands. He dismounted his horse and one of the stable boys rushed over to him, taking the reins. “I want my horse fed and well rested by the time I’m ready to leave in the morning, Oliver.” Emery said to the young man who had taken the horse from him.

Oliver bowed slightly and replied, “Yes, your highness.” Emery still wasn’t used to hearing the title despite him being called it over the last several months.

He left the stable and went to the kitchens. When he entered Harold, the man who was now in charge of the kitchens since Emery begged Regina to move Lydia to the provincial castle, bowed and exclaimed, “Prince Emery! I didn’t receive word you would be arriving today. Had I known I would have prepared a meal.”

Emery smiled at him. “Thank you, Harold, but this trip was a sudden one and I won’t be here for long. If you could please make me something quick and have it sent to the queen’s chambers it would be appreciated.”

Harold dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Yes, your highness.”

Emery exited the kitchen and went up to the main floor of the castle. Even though Regina wasn’t there the castle still buzzed with activity to make sure it remained as orderly as usual. He turned down one of the side halls which led to the offices of the commanding officers of the army. Not all of the officers used them. Most stayed in the military camp or in the village. Emery approached the office for the lieutenant of Regina’s guard. Since the captain was with the queen, he was in charge of security at the main castle. Emery knocked on the door and a gruff voice called out on the other side, “Come in.”

Emery opened the door and entered. “Lieutenant -,” he started but stopped short when the man rose to his feet.

“Your highness,” Lieutenant Shields said with a slight bow and Emery chuckled as he closed the door.

“You used to beat my ass in training and give me shit all the time when it completed,” he remarked with a slight grin.

Shields dark eyes sparkled as he smiled. “I would still give you a hard time if I knew it wouldn’t piss the queen off.”

Emery nodded. “Fair enough.”

The other man remained standing with his hands clasped behind his back. “How can I help you, your highness?”

Emery bit his bottom lip and drew in a deep breath through his nose then released it. “I want to see Snow White.”

Shields’s eyes widened with surprise. “The queen has forbidden anyone from seeing her.”

“I will deal with the queen, Shields. Take me to see her,” Emery demanded not bothering to hide the irritation in his tone.

An uncomfortable look crossed the other man’s face and he sighed. “Your highness, though I would love to see the argument between you and the queen about this matter, I still would not be able to assist you. The former White queen is imprisoned in the south tower by magic.”

Emery scowled. Not because of Lieutenant Shields, but because Regina had made it difficult for him to do what he needed to accomplish without her. He gave the lieutenant a quick nod. “Thank you, lieutenant.” He left the man’s office and walked down the hallway. Emery shook his head and muttered, “She, of course, would make me involve her when it came to this.”

Emery went to Regina’s office which was on the other side of the main corridor and down a long hallway. When he entered the massive office he looked around to find the object he needed. Emery spotted the mirror in the corner of the room. He hadn’t brought his own piece of enchanted mirror because he wanted this to be something he did alone, but Regina had forced him to change his plans. Emery drew in a deep breath and called out Regina’s name a few times. Her body appeared in the mirror several minutes later and rage burned in her eyes. Emery pressed his lips together. He started to second guess his decision to leave without telling her and should have, perhaps, left her a note. “Where are you?” Regina asked. He could hear the barely contained anger in her tone. Knowing now was not be a good time for him to be an ass, Emery quickly responded.

He cleared his throat. “I am at the main castle. I had to –“ He stopped when she disappeared from the mirror. Emery grimaced. He was going to have to do damage control.

Seconds later Regina appeared in her office and before the cloud of purple smoke could dissipate she took quick strides over to Emery, coming to a stop in front of him. She slapped him and shouted, “You cannot disappear for days and not tell me or leave your mirror behind. Do you know how worried I get when you do that? I am afraid something will happen to you and I will not be able to protect you.”

Emery grimaced and looked down at the rug which covered the floor. He hadn’t thought about how worried Regina would be for him disappearing. He kicked himself for it. Emery raised his eyes and met Regina’s gaze. She still looked upset, but at the same time he could see the relief in her eyes. Emery moved closer towards her and took Regina into his arms. He kissed the side of her head murmured, “I’m sorry, my love. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I am fine. I needed to do something.”

Regina held on tightly to him and they stood there holding each other for awhile then Regina lifted her head and exhaled a tired breath. “I am not accepting your apology, Emery. Leaving without telling me is something you will end up in the dungeon for.”

Emery gave her a slight nod. “Yes, my queen.”

Regina sighed and asked, “What are you doing here? What is it you need to do?”

Emery swallowed hard then said in a soft voice, “I came to speak to Snow.”

Any anger which remained in Regina completely evaporated and she placed a gentle hand on Emery’s still stinging cheek. “Oh, Emery…” He waited for Regina to sort through her thoughts. He knew she would have questions. “Why?”

Emery drew in a deep breath through his nose then slowly released it before answering. “I-I need to know if she’s capable of getting over her own self-importance and would have been able to see me for who I am and accept me. I need to know this before taking the potion.”


Emery moved away from Regina and started to pace. “I have this thought stuck in my head which requires me to know this before I take it.” He met Regina’s gaze. “I also need to tell her why I tried to kill myself.”

Regina flinched upon hearing that. The two of them danced around what Emery had done, but they never spoke of it directly. Apparently it had more of an effect on Regina than Emery realized. “And then what, Emery?  The reason why you did what you did is because she caused you nothing but misery.”

“I know.” Emery sighed. “I need to know this, Regina.”

Regina let out a sigh which echoed his. “I can’t help but to wonder if you would still have these doubts if I had let you kill her when you wanted to.”

“They’re not doubts, Regina,” Emery quickly countered. “I need closure. I would still have these questions even if you had let me kill her when I killed David.”

Regina sighed and closed the distance between them. “All right. I will take you to go see her.” She brushed her thumb over his cheek and started to apologize. “I sorry for –“

Emery pressed a finger to her lips. “Don’t apologize. You were worried and scared. I shouldn’t have left without telling you.” Two emotions which made her the most reactive. He smiled a little. “I won’t do it again.”

She gave Emery’s cheek a light tap and narrowed her eyes at him. “I am certain you will not. If you do I will make your life a living hell.”

Emery chuckled and wrapped his arms around her waist and gave her a lingering kiss. He pulled back. “If I do decide to leave without telling you, I will not return.”

Regina smirked. “Smart man, but I would still find you.”

Emery smiled. “That I have no doubt about, my queen.”

Regina chuckled a little then sighed. “When do you want to see your mother?”

Emery took a deep breath then replied, “Now?”

Regina nodded and a cloud of purple smoke enveloped them. When it cleared they stood in the south tower in front of a door. Regina waved her hand over it and the door shimmered with the purple of her magic then disappeared. She turned to face Emery and held out her hand. A key appeared in it and she held it up for him. Emery stared at it. He was hesitant because even though he wanted to have this closure with his mother Emery still worried about the conversation and what the woman would say to him. Regina placed a hand on his cheek and Emery met her concerned gaze. He gently placed his hand around her wrist. “She has done so much to me and it destroyed me to the point where I tried to end my life over it.” Emery noticed the slight twitch to Regina’s eye. He sighed. “I’m afraid she’ll still be able to make me feel like all this is nothing. That I’m some girl pretending to be a man and that I’ll never be one.” Tears began to fill Emery’s eyes. “I don’t want that, Regina.”

Regina sighed. “I am wholeheartedly against you doing this. Who you are now, has no place for Snow White.” She paused and a long moment passed before she continued. “But if this is something you need to do then I’m going to support you. Emery, don’t expect me to talk you out of this because I’m not going to. How you proceed is up to you. You will only have my love and support.”

Emery stared into her eyes then closed his, squeezing them shut. He loved Regina so much and knew she was right. This was something he wanted to do. He didn’t have to do it. Emery didn’t owe Snow a damn thing. But a part of him, a small part, wanted to know if it was possible for her to accept him. Emery wanted to be seen by his mother. It was all he wanted. He drew in a deep breath then kissed Regina. He kept his lips pressed to hers, drawing from the strength she had, then pulled away. “I love you.”

Regina caressed his cheek and whispered, “I love you too, my darling.”

Emery smiled and drew in another breath. He held out his hand and said, “Can I have the key please?”

Regina placed it in his hand and asked, “Do you want me to come in with you?”

Emery shook his head. “No. I have to do this on my own.”

She kissed his cheek. “I will be waiting.”

Emery smiled at her. “I know you will.” He moved away from her and walked over to the door. He slipped the key into the lock and turned it. Emery glanced over his shoulder at Regina and she gave him a reassuring nod. He faced the door and placed his hand on the door handle. Emery drew in a deep breath and mentally prepared himself for seeing his mother and the conversation ahead of them. He turned the door hand and pushed the door open.

Emery entered the room and as he did the appearance of it took him by surprise. He had been expecting something which resembled the cells of dungeon, but it didn’t. The well decorated room had a grand four post bed in the center of it. A small table sat on one side of the room and on it was a vase full of beautiful flowers. A bookshelf full of books stood near the small couch of the sitting area. The thing which really surprised Emery was the balcony. Regina allowed Snow to see daylight even when the woman had held her father captive underground. Emery chuckled quietly to himself and shook his head. It was another way Regina had proved to Snow she was above the underhanded tactics the former queen had employed. “Emma?”

Emery found Snow in the small sitting area of the room. She had stood from the arm chair she had been sitting in and began to make her way over to him. He closed the door and stood up straighter as his piercing gaze cut into her. “My name is Emery. It has always been Emery, and it will remain so until the day I die.” He took a deep breath and added, “It would do you well to remember to call me by my proper name or this conversation will come to a quick end.”

Anger came to Snow’s eyes. “I see you are still under the queen’s spell. Why aren’t you trying to fight it?”

Emery chuckled and shook his head. “There is no spell. I am being myself, who I truly am.” He met Snow’s eyes. “Regina has done nothing to me. If anything she has done the one thing you have never done for me which is love and support me.”

“I loved you,” Snow countered. “Everything I ever did was out of love for you and for your –“

Emery started to laugh, interrupting Snow’s speech. He continued to laugh as she stood there perplexed by his laughter. “Snow, you and I have drastic interpretations of what love is,” Emery said as he caught his breath. He cleared his throat. “You never did anything for me. You always put your kingdom before me, and you know what, I can’t even say you put the kingdom before me because your own standing came before it.” Emery scoffed. “If you loved me you wouldn’t have put me through the mental torture you subjected me to and would have seen your only child was not happy, but you didn’t.”

The confusion on Snow’s face told Emery she didn’t see anything wrong with what she had done to him when he was younger. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about.”

Emery moved to go pace and he gestured towards her. “Of course you don’t,” he stated. “All you care about is yourself, Snow.” He stopped pacing and turned to face her. “What I’m talking about, you simpleton, is you failed to see the boy – man that I am, and did everything possible to discourage it. You punished me when I refused to wear dresses; punished me when I destroyed said dresses, because I hated everything they stood for; and forced me to take lessons on being a lady.” Emery took a step closer towards Snow, but stepped back. He didn’t want to be too close to her. Instead he jabbed his finger towards. “You did everything possible to make sure I knew I was born in the wrong body and I hate you for it.” He scoffed. “You told David to stop teaching me to sword fight because you found it unladylike, but you know how to use a sword.” Emery clenched his jaw and took a moment to calm down. “You knew what you were doing, Snow. This is the reason why I tried to kill myself. I wanted to die rather than live a life you forced me to live.”

Snow stood in front of Emery stunned by the confession. She shook her head. “No, no. None of this is true. It’s a lie. This has to be some plan by Regina to make you –“

“Regina has nothing to do with this,” Emery shouted and this time he did close the gap between them. “And you will leave her out of this. Every wrong in your life is not attributed to her. This conversation is between us and about you and your failure as a mother.”

Emery turned to put some distance between him and Snow and she wondered, “My failure as your mother? Emma –“

Emery snapped. “If you call me that godforsaken name one more time,” he warned, “I will kill you right where you stand, Snow.”

Surprised, Snow’s eyes went wide and she waited before saying another word. “I don’t believe you will do that.”

Emery shook his head and scoffed. “You refuse to believe a lot of things.” He drew in a deep breath and sighed. “You shamed me for being myself and I decided to run away.” Emery met her gaze. “Would you have accepted me? Like this?” He asked waving his hand over his body.

For a brief second it appeared as if Snow was going to say what Emery wanted to hear, but she wasn’t able to. “No, I wouldn’t have.”

Emery tightened his jaw. He had his answer. No matter if he had stayed and tried to live his life as he wanted she wouldn’t have seen him as a man. Emery gave her a slight nod. “I understand.” He turned to head for the door.

“Emma, wait,” Snow called out, and much to his disproval, Emery stopped walking.

“Do you have a death wish?” Snow shook her head. “Then stop calling me that name. My name is Emery.”

“No, it’s not. Your name is Emma. Whatever spell you are under it is a horrible one. You are not a man sweetheart,” Snow said as she moved closer to Emery. “You have to fight this or you will be lost to Regina. This isn’t your life.”

Emery turned and took two quick strides to close the gap between them, and taking a page right out of Regina’s book, he grabbed hold of Snow’s throat. He sneered and spat, “This is my life you fucking idiot and I am a man.” Pure fury coursed through Emery’s veins. He wanted to kill her. “Regina has done nothing. It is you who has done everything. The war, being a terrible mother, everything.” He glowered at her. “But you won’t be able to ruin things any longer.” Emery gave her throat a squeeze then shoved Snow away from him. “You are no longer a concern of mine and it’s obvious you are too set in your fantastical ideologies in order to be of any use and the queen has no room for you in her kingdom.” Emery stared at her and when he spoke next his tone was emotionless and cold. “I have no remorse in killing David, and I for damn sure feel no remorse in sentencing you to death.”

Emery turned and headed for the door. Snow called for him, still using the wrong name, but Emery blocked her out. He opened the door and walked out of the room slamming it closed behind him. Regina pushed off the wall she leaned against and looked at him. Emery closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the door. He had confronted Snow, and on some level, knowing she would have never accepted him hurt. It wasn’t a devastating pain, but it still hurt. Emery always thought it was possibility she would accept him, a feeling which had probably been left from his childhood, and now he felt foolish for having felt that way.

He felt arms encircle his waist and Regina rested her head on his shoulder. Emery wrapped his arms around her and held onto her. After they stood in silence for a few minutes Regina asked, “Are you okay?”

Emery took a deep breath and the smell of Regina’s hair filled his nostrils, bringing a sense of calm with it. He exhaled. “I will be. I’ve come to realize Snow would have killed me one way or another.” He paused then continued. “She is to be executed.”

Regina lifted her head and met his gaze. “Are you sure?”

“I am.” Emery sighed. “Snow is a toxic woman and she would have done nothing, but bring misery to the both of us.”

Regina nodded. “I agree.” She placed her hand on his cheek and said, “I will have her moved to the dungeon. Do you want to stay?”

Emery took hold of the hand on his cheek and shook his head. “I don’t. I want this to be over with and get on with our lives. I’m done with Snow White and the White kingdom.” He grimaced. “The province still needs a name.”

Regina smirked and replied, “Swan Kingdom has a nice ring to it.”

Emery chuckled and remarked, “I will never name it that and it’s not a kingdom.” He let out a tired sigh. “I want to go home and take a nice long bath.”

Regina smiled. “Do you want me to teleport us there once I’ve dealt with the arrangements in regards to your mother?”

Emery returned the smile then leaned down to place a soft kiss on her lips “You can teleport. I think I’m going to use the ride to clear my mind.”

Regina nodded and a cloud of purple smoke covered them. She had teleported them to the main hall of the castle. “I’m going to speak with the lieutenant about your mother and her execution then we can have a meal together.”

Emery smiled. “That sounds like an excellent plan, my queen.”

Regina kissed him then made her way down the hall. Emery watched her for a few seconds before making his way to the kitchen to tell Harold the queen would be eating with him and would require something in a leafy green with the meal or she would kill them both. Emery felt lighter since he had gotten the closure he needed. He could now move forward with his life which included him taking the potion. Emery smirked as he walked down the hall. The potion would work. He would have a body which would be his. Emery’s smirk turned into a wide grin as he got excited about taking the potion.

Chapter Text

Emery took his time getting back to the provincial castle. A trip which typically took four days to travel ended up taking him five days because Emery felt different. He felt lighter, and if possible, happier. A potion which would give him the body he wanted actually existed and it would change him. Emery was more than excited to take the potion, but he didn’t feel the need to rush back to the castle to take it. A soothing calm had come over him about his body because he knew wasn’t going to remain in its current state much longer.

When Emery arrived at the stables the stable hands came over to greet him, but he waved them way. “You lot go away. I’ll tend to Cassius.” The young men looked uncertain and Emery chuckled. “That is an order from the prince. Now carry on with your jobs and leave me to my horse.”

Emery dismounted and began to take everything off the horse so he could brush him down before putting him in his stall. When finished with his horse, Emery grabbed his saddle bags and headed for the castle. He stopped in the kitchen and Lydia saw him enter. “You’re just in time, your highness. I have made a stew and biscuits. I’ll make you up a plate.”

Emery grinned and walked over to the woman. He gave her cheek a big kiss and said, “You are the best, Lydia.”

She chuckled. “That’s only because I keep you well fed.” She pointed over her shoulder. “Go in the storage room. There should be some fruit in there for you.”

Emery gave her cheek another kiss then scampered off to the storage room to get some fruit. When he went back into the main part of the kitchen Lydia had a tray set up for him which held a large bowl of stew, two biscuits, and a slice of berry pie. Emery groaned quietly to himself. He went over to the counter to go get the tray and asked, “What did I do to deserve a feast?”

Lydia turned and smiled at him. “You would have to ask her majesty that. She said to have your favorites prepared for your return.”

Emery grinned. Of course Regina had a hand in this. “I will be sure to thank her properly for her thoughtfulness, but thank you, Lydia, for everything.”

“You’re welcome,” Lydia replied with an affectionate smile. “All right get out of here so I can prepare tonight’s dinner.”

Emery picked up his tray of food and left the kitchen. As he went up to his and Regina’s chambers he wondered where Aldous was. As he approached the doors one of the guards remarked, “Your highness, it’s nice to see you’re alive.”

Emery grinned at the man. “It was a close call, Higgins, but the queen is no match against my dashing appearance. Have you seen Aldous?”

A wide grin broke out on Higgins face. “He has been a thorn in the queen’s side while you have been away. The pup doesn’t like being alone when you’re not here and whines.” The man snickered. “The queen has taken him to court. On the condition he is well behaved.”

Emery stared at the man. He was tempted to go see this spectacle himself, but he didn’t want to ruin Regina’s bonding time with the puppy. He grinned. Emery knew she was going to warm up to him eventually. However, he didn’t think it would be this quick. Emery chuckled and remarked, “I’m certain he will be on his best behavior. Thank you for telling me, Higgins.”

“You’re welcome, your highness,” the man said as Emery walked through the open door.

The door closed behind Emery as he headed over to the sitting area. He set his tray on the table in front of the couch then went over to the small cabinet on the other side of the room which held pitchers of wine and water along with a decanter of Regina’s apple cider liquor. Emery poured himself a goblet of wine and headed back to the couch to enjoy his meal. As he ate, Emery wondered how long Regina would be at court for. He would probably have to go down to the throne room to get Aldous and take him for a walk. People liked to drone on and on which could cause it to last forever.

Emery wiped up some stew with his biscuit and took a bite out of it. He would go check on them once he finished eating and drank the potion. His eyebrows furrowed and Emery lifted his arm to sniff his armpit. He was going to need a bath if he was going to be around Regina in public. Smelling like horse and sweat was one thing in private. In public she would have him sent to the stockade for the offensive way he smelled.

Emery finished off his stew and biscuit then gulped down the rest of his wine. He let out a belch and got off the couch, heading to the bedroom. He entered the room and his eyes fell to the vial which still sat on the small table next to his side of the bed. Emery walked over to the table and picked up the vial. He held it up between his forefinger and thumb and grinned. This potion was going to complete him as a person. Regina may have had her doubts about it working, but Emery believed in her and trusted her. It was going to work. He uncorked the vial and brought it to his lips. The red liquid didn’t taste bad. It tasted like a fermented strawberry drink. When he finished the potion, Emery licked his lips then smacked them together.

A frown formed on Emery’s face when nothing happed after a while. “Well I guess it –” Emery clutched at his stomach and groaned in pain when it started to cramp up. He doubled over and his face contorted with agony as the pain worsened. It originated in his stomach and radiated out to the rest of his body. Emery could no longer stand and he fell to the ground writhing in pain. He felt like he was being burned from the inside out. Emery thought he could feel parts of him changing, but he didn’t know if his body was actually changing or if the pain was making him delirious. The immense pain lasted for an excruciating amount of time before it ended abruptly. When it did Emery lost consciousness.

Emery slowly regained consciousness. The first thing he noticed was the pounding in his head then he felt how sore his body was. He had to swallow several times to moisten his dry throat. With some trepidation, Emery opened his eyes. It wasn’t dark so he hadn’t been passed out for too long. Emery groaned and the deep rumble which emanated from his throat caused his eyes to widen with surprise. It didn’t sound like his normal groan. Though his body wanted to stay on the hard floor Emery struggled to stand up. He stumbled over to mirror in the corner of the room and his mouth dropped open when he saw his reflection.

The changes in his face were subtle ones, and if he hadn’t been painfully aware of what it had looked like before, he wouldn’t have believed the potion worked. His jaw was more angular and defined. The softness it once had had vanished and a hardness replaced it. Emery scowled. The expression seemed more menacing with the masculine features his face now had. He chuckled and the depth of it made him laugh even more. “I have bass,” Emery exclaimed, ecstatic with this change. He no longer had to alter how he spoke to others or have them wonder why he still spoke like a prepubescent boy.

Emery noticed the lump on his throat and ran his hand over it. The thickness of his neck had also changed and he could barely wrap his hand around it. Before he had a scrawny neck and it made him self-conscious. Emery noticed how broad his shoulders were and wondered if they had always been that wide or if it was another effect of the potion. Either way it was one more change which delighted him. Emery examined his body in the mirror and brought his hands up to his chest. It felt flat, but feeling the flatness didn’t give him the confirmation he needed. Emery pulled off the linen shirt he had on and the cloth he used to bind his breast dropped down to reveal a smooth, muscular chest. Emery gawked at his exposed upper half. His chest was actually flat. The one thing he had always dreamed about, day in and day out, he finally had. Emery brought his hand to his chest and ran it over the defined pectoral area. The area consisted of nothing but solid muscle. Emery stood there and stared at his body in silent awe. He finally had the body he always wanted.

“Emery,” Regina called out bringing him out of his trance. He heard Aldous bark and Regina shushed him. “I know you are home. I went to the kitchen and Lydia said you got a tray full of food. Why have not you come to see me? Aldous do not go into that room.”

Emery snickered when he heard Aldous whine. Right as he turned to face the door Regina walked in. She stopped in her tracks. Emery instantly felt self-conscious but he pushed it down. “Well?”

Regina smiled at him. “Well nothing. My opinion doesn’t matter, yours does. How do you feel?”

A wide smile broke out on Emery’s face and he exclaimed, “I feel fantastic. I have a flat chest, my voice is deep - I’m certain it’s lower than Neal’s, and look,” Emery pointed at his throat. “I have an Adam’s apple.”

Regina chuckled as she approached him. She came to a stop in front of Emery and reached out to trail her fingers down his throat. “I see.” Her fingers moved across his collarbone and Regina bit her bottom lip as she commented, “I knew you were in impeccable shape, but I didn’t think you were this muscular.”

“I think the potion added more – Oh, goodness.” Emery gasped as Regina’s nail scrapped over his sensitive nipples. The action sent a shot of arousal between his legs and the response wasn’t his typical one.

A devious grin appeared on Regina’s face. “Dear?” She grazed her nail over his hardening nipple again and Emery closed his eyes, biting his bottom lip as he moaned. The same reaction happened, but this time Emery felt a stirring in his pants. His eyes flew open and he moved Regina’s hand to where she cupped the front of his pants. Her devious grin transformed into a wicked smile. “Well hello,” she purred in a voice which further excited Emery.

All other thought flew from his mind and all Emery wanted was to have his way with the woman in front of him. The longer he thought about the more aroused he became. “Regina…” he said in hoarse whisper which sounded like a soft plea.

Regina removed her hand. “No, Emery, we are not going to do this right now. We have a meeting with the councils then we are having dinner with some of the nobles of the province.”

Emery found it difficult to care about any of those things because was turned on, and he wouldn’t be able to focus on any of it until he received some satisfaction. Emery followed after Regina and his hands on her waist. He pulled her back against him, making she felt how excited he was. “But, my queen,” he whispered softly in her ear. “I have the body I’ve always wanted and I’m happy. Really happy and I want to share it with you.”

Regina tilted her head to the side and glared at him out the corner of her eye. “Fine.” She held up a finger. “But we’re only having sex once and you have to behave at the meeting.”

Emery grinned and began to leave a trail of kisses down her neck. “I will be the most well behaved prince at the meeting.” He began to undo the buttons of her dress. Emery had a hard time getting them undone because his arousal had begun to overwhelm him. Thoughts of being with Regina in his new body and not having to worry about discomfort caused him to feel a level of excitement he hadn’t felt before. Emery drew in a deep breath and focused on the task at hand. Once he finished it then he would be able to think about having sex with Regina.

The potion had a side effect. It was a side effect which Emery hadn’t been expecting and he was certain Regina hadn’t been expecting it either. This particular side effect currently had the two of them sequestered in an alcove located near the library on the third floor of the castle and they were indulging themselves in one another. Emery and Regina had been touring the castle discussing the various renovations they were going to do to it when his baser needs overwhelmed him. Emery had managed to seduce Regina into giving in to them, and after threatening him about getting caught, she let her passion meet his.

Emery held on tightly to Regina’s waist as he buried himself further into her. He kissed her with fervor as he felt his orgasm approach, but Regina broke it when she came - a whisper of a gasp escaping her as she did. The feeling of her tightening around him triggered Emery’s own climax and he squeezed his eyes shut as a wave of euphoria and pleasure swept over him. When the height of his orgasm faded away Emery dropped his forehead to Regina’s shoulder. She kissed the side of his head and murmured, “You are going to have to move.”

Emery drew in a deep breath and moved away from Regina after he carefully withdrew from her. He helped her with her pants and said, “I hope this doesn’t last forever. I can’t function as a person if I’m going to let my,” he glanced down at his crotch, “control me all the time.”

Regina chuckled and remarked, “You are a man, Emery, it is going to happen. However this will be the first and only time we do something of this nature.”

Emery grinned and leaned in to give Regina a kiss. He pulled back and there was a smile on his face. “Yes, my queen, never again.”

They continued to make their way to the library and Regina said, “Do not think I haven’t forgotten about you missing court this morning.”

Emery tried not to roll his eyes, but failed. “The inspection of the royal army is something which needed to be done. The former White army isn’t ready to be integrated with the Mills army. They are a liability and half of your well trained men would likely get killed by them rather the enemy.”

Emery glanced at Regina just as she let out an inaudible sigh. He chuckled and Regina said, “You can’t expect them to be at my army’s level. It takes time, dedication, and a certain creativity which my generals employ.”

Emery grunted a little. “I’m quite familiar with the methods of your generals, my queen.”

Regina glanced at him. “Mendoza was a rare case.” She sighed. “In any case, do not push them too hard, Emery, or they will start an uprising. Remember, we only seized their kingdom four months ago.”

Emery nodded, but he didn’t agree with her. He believed the men of the former White army could barely start a riot let alone an uprising. However, Emery wasn’t going to get into an argument with Regina about it. It would become a one sided argument with him doing most of the arguing. Emery drew in a deep breath and said, “I will come to court the next two days.”

“It was important for you to be at court this morning,” Regina stated. She then pointed out, “We have visiting dignitaries who are interested in meeting the missing White heir who has appeared from nowhere.” The slight annoyance in her tone told Emery he was going to have to atone for missing court later.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I’m sorry for missing court,” he whispered. “I will be there for the next two days and for whatever else you need me to be at.”

Regina gazed at him out the corner of her eye. “You are to attend the state affair tomorrow. Dressed in your princely attire, wearing your crown.”

Emery tightened his jaw. He hated wearing his royal garments but he hated wearing his crown even more. He never liked the attention which came with it. He drew in a deep breath. “This will be the second event this week where you have dressed me up as a prince.”

Regina chuckled and wondered, “What will happen when your position becomes more political?”

Emery glowered. “Regina…”

“I am not trying to annoy you, Emery,” Regina countered. “You have become the physical link between the former White dynasty and the Mills kingdom.” She turned to face him. “You have a greater purpose than you realize.” Regina sighed. “I need you present at these events and court because of what you represent. It makes it easier to deal with those kingdoms who were allies of the White kingdom.”

Emery drew in a slow deep breath and stared down the corridor. He knew Regina was right and though he hated politics, he was an embodiment of them because of who he was. He met Regina’s gaze. He wasn’t going to tell her she was right, at least not yet. He took hold of her hand and smiled. “I’m not disregarding what you have said, but I do need to think it over more.” Emery gave her a quick kiss. “I have to get to the training field. Neal is training a battalion of the White army and I want to see where their progress is.”

Regina brought her hand up to trace his jaw. “You do remember there is a ball tonight and your presence is required at it.”

Emery chuckled. “I remember. You have been reminding me for the last week about this ball.”

Regina hummed. “Since it has been pushed back twice I did not want you to get the impression I had cancelled it again.” She frowned. “You need to shave.”

Emery opened his mouth, stunned by the statement. “How dare you.” He scoffed. “You know how long I’ve been waiting for facial hair.”

“It’s rather unbecoming at moment, dear,” Regina pointed out with small chuckle. “It’s a little patchy.”

Emery scoffed. “And you say you love me.” He chuckled and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I will clean it up before the ball tonight.”

Regina placed her hands on his shoulders and released a dramatic sigh. “If that is the best you can do for the ball then so be it.” She grinned. “You are such a barbarian.”

Emery returned the grin. “But I’m a barbarian you seem to have a fondness for.”

Regina rolled her eyes and gave his shoulder a gentle shove. “Go attend to your army.” Emery gave her another kiss then turned to leave. “You need to be in our chambers early enough so you can bathe and shave.”

Emery faced her and gave Regina a deep bow. “Yes, my queen.” His eyes lingered on the tops of her breasts. He shook his head. Emery had to go or he would have them in a situation where Regina would shut him down and he would be left to suffer for the rest of the day.

Emery headed for the stairs and rushed down them to leave the castle. Training the men helped him work off the excess energy which seemed to be another effect of the potion. Emery could sit still but if the subject matter bored or annoyed him he would fidget or get up to pace. It was something Emery had noticed the last couple of meetings he had been in. He had yet to be in a meeting with Regina so she didn’t know about his extra energy. However, she did know about his inability to focus. They had been discussing the council meeting Regina had gone to a few days ago and the subject matter bored him to death so he started playing with Aldous. She had gone off on him and told him it was important for them to discuss the matter at hand. It was then Emery had learned he needed to do a better job of focusing when she was around.

Emery walked through the castle grounds and made his way to the training field. He found Neal and the battalion he had assigned him to train. Emery stood at a distance and watched the men. They were terrible and Emery wanted to run them all through with his sword. He walked over to where Neal stood and shouted, “Stop. All of you stop.” The soldiers stopped the sword drills they were going through. Emery folded his arms over his chest. “You are all terrible, an embarrassment really. For three months we have been training to integrate you into the Mills army and at this point I would rather kill the lot of you rather than train you anymore.” A grumble went through the crowd of men and snickers came from those who were a part of Emery’s battalion.

He drew his sword. “I’ve decided to become more creative in my methods.” Emery smirked. “Something from my days as a recruit in her majesty’s army.” He twirled his sword around and began to pace in front of the group of men. “Lieutenant Cassidy will become more hands on with your training and those of you who do not improve will be left to spar with me, which will result in your death.”

An eerie silence came over the training field, but it had no affect on Emery. He briefly wondered if he was picking up Regina’s habit of not letting uncomfortable moments affect him. Emery stopped pacing and pointed his sword at one of the men. “Attack.” The man didn’t move and Emery stepped closer to him. He pressed the tip of the blade against his throat. “If you do not attack me I will slice you open and this field will become your grave.”

The man knocked his sword away and lifted his, charging at Emery. The oncoming swing didn’t have enough speed behind it in order to take Emery off guard and he was able to deflect it. “You’re slow,” he shouted as he engaged the man. “You focus on the wrong aspect of your opponent and you do not study the way they fight.” Emery swung his sword and it seemed as though he were going to lunge it into the other man’s side, but at the last second Emery maneuvered it to where he slammed the bottom of his sword into the man’s ribs instead. Emery heard and felt his ribs crack. “Which leaves you open to receive your death.”

The man fell to the ground and held onto his ribs as he groaned in pain. Emery stared down at him. The fight had gotten his adrenaline pumping and he was ready to take on another one, but he knew fighting the men of the White army wouldn’t help his cause any. Emery turned to address the group of men. “Lieutenant Cassidy, and the men of my battalion, will no longer spare you. If you do not learn to fight and defend yourself against them then so be it. Because if it comes to the point where you must duel me then it will be your life. Is that understood?” The men of the former White army had a mixture of expressions on their faces. Some looked fearful and others had expressions of anger, resentment, and disdain. Those were the ones which fuelled Emery’s adrenaline. He wanted to show them the power and strength he possessed along with the power of his men. He wanted to show them how formidable the Mills army was.

“Your highness,” Neal hissed behind him in a low voice. Emery turned to face him. “Do you think this is the best way to handle the situation?”

Emery glanced over his shoulder at the men then replied, “If you can come up with a better way, lieutenant, then I will be receptive to it. Until then, this is how I want the men of the former White army handled. We have been training them day in and day out for the last three months and still they are the worst men I have ever seen.” Neal couldn’t argue his point. He had told Emery the same thing at the beginning of the month.

Emery turned to address the men of the former White army. “The queen has high, almost impossible, standards for her army. The men of the former White army are subpar. How you managed to engage the Mills army in a ten year war is still a mystery to me, but whatever the case, you will now have to strive to meet those impossible standards. Because if you don’t it will not be me you answer to, it will be her majesty. Your lives, and the lives of your fellow soldiers, are on the line.” He looked at the men a moment longer then faced Neal. “I want you to continue to train them until nightfall. I want the names of anyone who hasn’t shown the slightest improvement.”

Neal nodded. “Yes, your highness.” He lowered his voice. “Em, is this how you really want to do this? Remember things are still not settled in the province.”

Emery pressed his lips together and studied his friend’s face. Neal had grown as a leader since becoming the lieutenant of Emery’s battalion. It sometimes concerned Emery with how serious he was about his position. In this case Neal was fully aware of the situation in the province and his concerns mirrored those of Regina. Emery sighed. “Provide me the list and I will go from there, lieutenant.”

Neal gave him another nod. “Yes, your highness.”

Emery walked by Neal and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I expect to see you and Graham at the ball tonight.”

Neal groaned. “I hate balls.”

Emery chuckled. “Me too.” He squeezed Neal’s shoulder. “Continue training. I have to go prepare for the ball and a council meeting.” He had almost forgotten about the meeting. It was a meeting with the provincial council. They had concerns they wanted to address with him and Emery had reluctantly granted the meeting because they would rather meet with him instead of Regina. Emery sighed and began to make his way back to the castle. It was going to be a long night.

Under the long table Emery’s leg bounced up and down as he listened to one of the dukes drone on about civil unrest in one of the villages and possible courses of action to take. Emery drew in a deep breath and picked a piece of lint off his sleeve. He wore his black royal suit and it was an intimidating outfit especially when he escorted Regina anywhere. It only annoyed Emery because it felt stifling, like most of his uniforms, but soon he would get over it. The one thing he wasn’t going to get over was the ridiculous crown on his head. He hated wearing one as a princess and hated it even more as a prince.

The conversation then turned to the name of the province. “Your highness,” one of the men said a few seats down from Emery. “Have you had any thoughts about the suggestions given to you in regards to naming the province?”

Emery wanted to scoff, but didn’t. Regina had been making him take etiquette lessons because his military bearing only carried him so far and she refused to let him be unrefined in her court. He drew in a deep breath and answered, “No, Lord Iverson, I have not. In case you and the others of the council have not noticed, I’ve been too busy doing other things in the province. Establishing farms, rebuilding villages which were damaged by the war, training the army – you know things which are vital for the province.”

Lord Iverson glared at him and Emery narrowed his eyes. The two of them didn’t have friendly conversations, but Emery minded himself when speaking to the man. He was one of the most respected members of the provincial council. Lord Iverson dipped his head. “I understand you have a full schedule, your highness.” Emery could hear the condescension in his tone. “However, it has been four months since the Mills kingdom has captured the White kingdom and the council thinks it would be wise to name the province soon. We run the risk of other kingdoms thinking it is unclaimed territory.”

Emery laughed. “Anyone thinking that deserves to have their head severed from their shoulders. Everyone in the realm knows of the war between the White kingdom and Mills kingdoms and I’m certain they know the queen has made the White kingdom her province.” He shook his head. “Lord Iverson, there is no concern here.”

“I would be quick to agree, you highness, however it bears addressing. The province needs a name and it needs one soon,” the man countered in a polite, but direct, manner.

Emery sighed. “I understand your concern, and I will address it, but tonight if we try and discuss the topic it will only bring me more frustration.”

“I do not understand why we cannot call it the White province. You are the heir of the White kingdom,” a woman said at the far end of the table.

Emery’s jaw tightened and he stated in a hard tone, “The White name died with Snow and David.”

“But you are the heir, your highness. The White name –“

Emery slammed his hands down on the table and stood up from his seat. He leaned over the table and stared down the members of the council. “I may have blood relations to those two people, but I am not associated with them or the White kingdom.” Emery’s eyes scanned the table and he waited for someone to say something stupid so he could have a reason to kill them. When no one said anything he stood up and declared, “The province will be called the Swan province. Any objections?” No one said anything. Emery nodded. “Very well then. If you’ll excuse me I have a ball to –“

“Your highness,” Lord Iverson interrupted. “There is one more matter to discuss.”

Emery, forgetting himself, groaned. He didn’t want to be in this meeting any longer. Dealing with the council gave him a massive headache which he was trying to avoid since it would make him cranky and Regina would have his head if he were unpleasant to any of the visiting dignitaries. Emery slumped down onto his chair and sighed. “What is it now, Lord Iverson?”

The older man cleared his throat and Emery’s eyebrow arched when an uncomfortable tension began to come over the room. He started to think about the unaddressed issues in regards to the province and none of the seemed dire enough, but there could have been something he could have possibly overlooked. Lord Iverson drew in a breath and said, “Myself, and other members of the council, have expressed concern about your relationship with the queen.”

That got Emery’s attention and he sat up in his chair, glowering at the man. “My relationship with the queen is not a topic which is to be discussed by this council.”

Lord Iverson continued to stare Emery down. “I understand, your highness, however you involvement with her is a unique one. You are the prince of a conquered kingdom and you’re involved with the queen who has conquered it. It is unprecedented and raises concerns about impending political fallout if the relationship should ever dissolve.”

Emery’s nostrils flared in anger. The council discussing his relationship with the queen and having the audacity to ask him what would happen if they ever decided to end their relationship made him furious. Emery started to believe they were trying to figure out their options in order to get from under Regina’s rule. Emery’s gaze continued to cut into Lord Iverson. They had no option. He stood from his seat and said, “I will say this once and we shall never discuss it again. Should my relationship with queen ever end I would remain, as I am now, a loyal subject of her majesty.” He looked around the table. “There will never be another war like the one which has happened over the last ten years. It destroyed the region and both kingdoms suffered. I refuse to see it happen again.” Emery clenched his jaw and glowered at everyone sitting at the table. “Are there any other questions?”

No one at the table said anything and Emery left the council room, not addressing any of members sitting around the table. He stalked down the main corridor and his irritation ate at him as he made his way to Regina’s office. He entered the room and slammed the door close behind him. Regina looked up from her paperwork and arched an eyebrow at him. “I see the council has managed to upset you before the ball.” She sighed and sat back in her chair. “Wonderful.”

Emery scoffed and started to pace around her office. “They are idiots. All of them. I hope you kill them and it better be a slow and torturous death.”

Regina smirked at him and amusement glinted in her eyes. “Slow and torturous?” She hummed. “I see you are trying to turn me on.”

Emery stopped pacing and stared at her for a moment before shaking his head. “You know you can’t say things like that to me. It leads to a predicament which neither of us are in any position to take care of.”

Regina chuckled and grinned at him. “That was the point, dear. What happened at your council meeting?” Emery flopped down in the chair in front of her desk. Aldous got up from his pillow in front of the fire and walked over to him. Emery scratched the dog behind the ear as he scowled down at the floor. He was becoming more Regina’s dog than Emery’s. Traitor. After a long moment Regina sighed. “Emery, we both know my patience is not the best. This is your one warning.”

Emery would have smiled if he wasn’t so irritated. He blew out a frustrated breath and looked up at Regina. “What’s the purpose of the council? Really? If you and I are making the decisions then why have them at all?”

Regina studied him and replied, “A number of reasons. They provide a different perspective in regards to the kingdom. The council also bridges the gap between us and the people of our kingdom. They let us know which areas need more help financially.” She smiled. “I could go on if you would like.”

Emery scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t expecting an answer.”

“I know you weren’t,” Regina remarked. “My patience, Swan….very thin.”

Emery drew in a deep breath. “It was a normal meeting where they droned on and on about the farms, the people, and we came up for a name for province. Then they asked about our relationship.”

Regina didn’t say anything and Emery got up to pace. He knew she wouldn’t be too thrilled about the council discussing their relationship. “What did they ask?” Regina asked. Her tone was calm and Emery found it more unnerving than her outright anger.

Emery went to go run his hand over his hair, but stopped because it was neat for the ball. He sighed. “They wanted to know if our relationship ended what effect it would have on the province.” He scoffed. “Basically, what they wanted to know is if I would be willing to go against you.”

Regina stood up and asked, “And what did you say?”

Emery looked at her and replied, “I told them if our relationship was to end I would remain loyal to you as I am now.”

Regina made her way over to Emery and when she stopped in front of him she ran a hand over his uniform jacket. “I admire the loyalty you have for me, but I do understand their concern.”

Emery scoffed. “Their concern is asinine and one we won’t have to deal with because our relationship will not come to that.”

Regina hummed as she took in his uniform. She smiled at him. “You look rather handsome.”

Emery rolled his eyes. He knew what she was doing and he refused to let it work. “Don’t try to distract me from the fact that I am irritated.”

Regina let out a low chuckle and ran her finger down his throat. “But you like it when I distract you,” she said in a low voice. “Is it working?”

Emery wanted to remain surly and tell her it wasn’t, but didn’t. Instead he leaned forward and captured her lips for a soft kiss. He let the feeling of Regina’s lips on his erase the rest of his annoyance. He pulled back and gave her a small smile. “Maybe.” Emery wrapped his arms around her waist. “Would you like to hear the name of the province?”

Regina grinned at him. “I would because I know how excited you were to do it in the first place.”

Emery shook his head. “You’re doing it next time.” Regina laughed softly and he chuckled. “We’ve decide to name it Swan province, but I don’t think it will stick. I hate having something named after me.”

Regina laughed some more and remarked. “Oh it will stick. You have been annoyed with the task since I put it in your domain.” She gave him a brief kiss and smiled. “It’s a good name.”

Emery rolled his eyes. He wasn’t going to say she was right about him being annoyed with the task. “What were you doing?”

Regina moved away from him and went back to her desk. “I’m reviewing the security reports given to me by the generals about the province.” She looked at him and narrowed her eyes. “I received a report from one of training officers about your creative, new way to motivate the soldiers from the White kingdom.”

Emery groaned and sat down in the chair in front of her desk. “Do we have to discuss this now? It pisses me off, Regina. We have been training them for three months now and they are worse than when I first reported to training.”

Regina studied him for a moment then waved her hand. “Very well, we will not discuss it now but we will later. You dueling them to the death is not beneficial.”

Emery sighed. “Yes, I know, my queen.”

Regina chuckled and smiled. “As long as you know then I will not say anything further. Can you do me a favor?” Emery raised his eyebrow. “Can you go make sure my father is ready for the ball?”

Emery nodded and rose from his seat. “I will. I’m certain the king and I can find some trouble to get into before the ball.”

Regina scowled and pointed at him. “You two are not allowed to step into the kitchen. Lydia, told me about you and my father raiding the food before events.”

“But the food is so fresh,” Emery said with a grin on her face.

The scowl on Regina’s face worsened as she glowered at him. “Do not step foot into the kitchen, Emery.”

Emery dipped his head and said, “I will not step foot into the kitchen, my queen.” He leaned over the desk and gave her quick kiss. “Now if you will excuse me, I must go check on your father.” Emery headed for the door and there was a devious smirk on his face. She could tell him not to go into the kitchen, and he wouldn’t. King Henry was a different story. Sure, Regina would try to scold him, but the older man had her wrapped around his finger and Regina would let him get away with anything. Emery walked out of her office and chuckled to himself. It paid to have the queen’s father on his side.

Chapter Text

Emery stood off to the side of the ballroom and pretended to be engaged in the conversation a few wealthy land barons were having. They were talking about the upcoming spring and trying to get Emery to tell them about the queen’s plans for the trade routes. He hadn’t been forthcoming with the details since he didn’t know. Correction, Emery knew what Regina was thinking but he didn’t want the information to be public knowledge yet. Emery wanted to talk to the farmers first then he would give the land barons the details. He wanted the local and smaller farmers to have a chance at earning a profit. If the land barons were offered trade treaties before the farmers then they would obtain all the money for themselves and leaving none to the farmers. Regina would probably argue against it, but it was Emery’s province and he would do whatever he wanted to make sure his people prospered. Emery frowned when he remembered she would have final approval. He searched the crowded ballroom and a small smile formed on his face when he found Regina.

She currently had the attention of a group which consisted of nobles, lords and ladies, and other members who made up the upper echelon of the province. Regina didn’t like to make small talk, and hated having to be this pretentious even more, but she laughed and paid rapt attention to the conversation which was going on. Emery tuned out the discussion around him as he continued to watch Regina. She was gracious and smiled as if she actually meant it, but Emery knew the woman was a remarkable actress when she had to be. He bit his bottom lip to stop himself from laughing when Regina placed her hand on the arm of the man closest to her and leaned further into him as they spoke, showing him more of her exposed cleavage. The man’s wife had an expression on her face which would have killed Regina. Emery chuckled quietly to himself. The woman had no reason to be jealous. Regina only became overtly sexual when it worked to her benefit and wanted to lure some unwilling victim to their doom. Emery had witnessed it a number of times.

He would have been jealous by it, but Emery knew the way she interacted with those she pretended to flirt with vastly differed to when she flirted with him. When Regina flirted with him it wasn’t flirting. Their flirting was an unspoken conversation which was conveyed by the words they didn’t say to one another or how they would look at each other. Even the simplest of touches told a thousand tales between them. Emery’s breathing hitched when Regina’s eyes met his. Devotion, love, and desire flashed in them for a brief second then a playful glint played in her dark eyes and it brought a smile to Emery’s face. However, the reason why the playfulness appeared in the first place made itself known. Next to him, Emery heard someone clear their throat and he was brought back to his surroundings. The barons who had been around him had left and the only person standing with him was a smiling King Henry.

Emery chuckled and gave the man a slight bow. As he stood up straight he said, “It seems you have caught me, your majesty.”

Henry laughed and moved closer towards him. “The only thing I have caught you doing is showing the kingdom how much you love my daughter.”

Emery let out a small laugh and commented, “It may soon become fatal if I don’t stop. I know she is trying to be the queen and such.”

Henry scoffed. “She can be queen for the rest of the ball, but for this moment, she can be the woman you love.” He grinned at Emery. “And if it is fatal I’m certain you could not think of a better way to go.”

Emery laughed then took a sip of his wine. He raised his glass. “To this, your highness, you are correct.”

Henry laughed again and the two men took a drink from their respective glasses. Henry lowered his glass and sighed. “I know I have said it before, Emery, but I’m glad she has you.” The man turned to face him. “I know the last ten years have been hard on her and I know she hasn’t been happy.” The older man glanced over to where Regina stood. She was talking to some older women. “Daniel, may the gods rest his spirit, he gave her a light and I’m certain it was extinguished when he died.” Emery nodded and King Henry frowned as he continued. “And I’m certain my disappearance didn’t help her either.”

The man drew in a deep breath and took another drink of his wine. There had been sadness and guilt in his eyes, but Emery didn’t know what to say in order reassure him. Henry lowered his glass and smiled at Emery. “But you have managed to bring out the light in her once again along with so much more.” He chuckled. “I find it surprising she has found love with her enemies’ son.”

Emery chuckled and remarked offhandedly, “It helped that we both had the same enemy in common.”

Henry studied him for a moment, perplexed by the comment, but he moved the conversation along. “Despite your background knowing Regina is happy is all I care about as her father.”

Emery nodded and took a drink from his wine glass as he watched Regina. He lowered it and a small smile formed on his face. “I may give her happiness, your majesty, but she has given my life meaning.” He met Henry’s kind eyes and sighed. “Before Regina, I honestly didn’t know where my life was headed and if I would even make it to the next day. But knowing her has given me purpose and falling in love with her has given my life meaning.” Emery chuckled. “Simply put, no matter what life may throw at me as long as I have her the rest of it does not matter.”

Henry placed a hand on Emery’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Emery took a drink of his wine using it to swallow down some of the emotion his admission had brought up. What he had said was all true. Regina had managed to turn him into the one thing he had always wanted to be and she didn’t do much beside interfere with his training. Emery chuckled to himself. “You may want to write that down since you might need it later,” Henry said with a small chuckle.

Emery rolled his eyes and shook his head. He turned to face the king. “Your majesty, with all due respect, the marriage talk has to cease. It is too soon for Regina and I to be having such discussions. For now, we are enjoying our time together.”

Henry laughed. “I will be less relentless in wanting to see my daughter married.” He grinned. “However, the way you and she look at one another I’m certain it won’t be long before we’re planning some extravagant royal wedding.”

Emery groaned. He couldn’t do extravagant. He had a hard time dealing with the overture of his knighting ceremony. Emery began to imagine how outlandish a royal wedding would be and visibly shuddered. There would be no way for him to get through an over the top ceremony sane and sober. He grinned. Perhaps he would be able to talk Regina into buying some of Ollie’s ale. Emery shook his head. He had just said it was too soon for him and Regina to be speaking of marriage and here was planning to get the most potent ale in the kingdom as a beverage for it. Regina began to head over to where Emery and her father were and when she was close enough she smiled at her father. “Daddy, are you pestering Emery again about the two of us getting married?”

Henry chuckled and remarked, “You can’t blame an old man for trying.” Emery grunted and took a drink of his wine. Trying was one thing. Being relentless was another. “I would like to see Emery make an honest woman out of your before you give me grandchildren.”

Emery choked on his wine. He coughed hard several times and he gasped as he tried to recover. “Grandchildren?” Henry had begun to laugh.

“Daddy,” Regina admonished her father as she rubbed Emery’s back. “I understand you enjoy the reactions you get out of Emery, but could you refrain from trying to kill him with your talk of marriage and grandchildren? You may scare him to death.”

Henry laughed harder and pretended to wipe a tear away from his right eye. “My dear, if he didn’t make it so entertaining I would have quit long ago.” He patted Emery’s shoulder. “I will leave you be for now, Emery. Though I doubt it won’t be for long.” Henry smiled at them. “If you two will excuse me I do believe there is a piece of berry pie with my name on it.”

Emery scowled at the man’s retreating back. Not only was he going to capitalize on Emery’s berry pie, but he had come to realize that even though Regina’s mother hadn’t been the greatest woman her father had a mean streak of his own. Regina took hold of his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Are you okay?” Emery shook his head and Regina chuckled. “If you didn’t make it so much fun for daddy he wouldn’t give you a second thought.”

Emery chuckled and smiled at her. “I will try to be less reactive when he’s talking of marriage and…” he tried to say the word but couldn’t. He shook his head and grimaced. “I’m can’t say it.” Regina laughed softly and Emery smiled. She was absolutely beautiful when she laughed. As Regina caught her breath Emery offered his arm and asked, “My queen, would you like to dance with me?”

Regina glanced at his arm and smiled. “I would love to dance with you, Prince Emery,” she said as she took hold of his arm.

They made their way onto the dance floor and the two of them fell into the slow rhythm of the music being played. Emery enjoyed the feel of holding Regina close to him and the world fell away as they swayed together. He released a sigh of contentment. “It’s nice to have things getting back to something which resembles a normal life.”

Regina hummed in agreement, but added, “In the immediate village, and a few to the east, they are settling into what is becoming the new normal, but further out in the province I have received reports about possible uprisings the last two weeks. The captain and generals are reporting murmurs of unrest.” Emery pulled his head back, a frown marring his face. Regina gave him a reassuring smile. “Do not worry I have them looking into these reports and finding out if these murmurs are rumors or if they have actual merit.”

Emery continued to frown as he stared at her. He wasn’t frowning because he was worried about the province - not to say he wasn’t because he was – he was frowning because the province was his domain and Regina didn’t feel the need to tell him about the potential unrest which was occurring in it. Emery scoffed. “And you didn’t think it was important to notify me of such things?”

Regina appeared to be stunned by the question then her eyes narrowed. “You are not in charge of my army nor are you involved in keeping the peace in my kingdom.”

“But I do have to run your province and in order to make sure I can do what’s best for the people in it, I have to know about the rumors involving potential uprisings,” Emery countered as their dancing came to a halt.

Regina continued to meet his gaze with a pointed one of her own. “Emery, nothing has been founded and I have yet to receive clarification about these rumors. There is nothing to tell you.”

Emery glared at her and shook his head. If Regina wanted to exclude him from knowing about information which pertained to the safety of the province then he would let her. It would be her problem when a riot happened since she decided not to tell Emery information which could have prevented it. Emery tightened his jaw and resumed their dance. “Fine, Regina.”

Regina sighed. “Do not pretend to be fine with it. I know you are not. You have that look on you face which says you are going to do something stupid.”

Emery scoffed. “I am not going to do anything stupid.” He grunted. “As you said, your majesty, I’m not in charge of your army or the safety of your kingdom so I will be leaving it to those who are in charge of it.” He rolled his eyes shook his head. “I’ll worry about other details in regards to the province like farming or the streams flooding.”

Regina sighed and Emery didn’t say anything. The two of them didn’t have any further conversation as they danced. Emery knew it annoyed Regina, but there wasn’t anything else for them to talk about. Regina had made her choice. After awhile Regina drew in an annoyed breath then released it. “I will start having you sit in security and military meetings.”

“If you’re only doing this to appease me then don’t do it.” Emery scoffed. “It’s obvious you had made the decision to exclude me from those meetings for a reason, you might as well stand behind it.”

“Do not take that attitude with me, Emery,” Regina countered. “I did not think you would want to go to those meetings, so I did not bother to include you in them since I have an entire security and military council.”

Emery narrowed his eyes at her and argued, “I don’t like going to meetings in general, but this is different. This is about the safety of the province and those in it.” He shook his head. “The fact you believe my irritation ranks higher than knowing about civil unrest or an angry group of villagers shows how mistaken you are, your majesty.” Emery moved away from Regina. He was too upset to be in her presence and still show her the proper respect. He bowed then turned to leave the hall.

A permanent scowl was etched on Emery’s face as he walked through the crowd of people. Regina had her reasons for not telling him about the possibility of uprisings happening and Emery was going to leave it at that. However, he found it stupid of her to do so. Emery walked down the main corridor and headed to his office. When he was in it and sitting behind his desk he decided to read about farm predictions for the spring and what it would mean for the upcoming trade negotiations.

Emery sighed and rubbed his chin. Why he thought reading about farm crop yields would be relaxing was beyond him, but he was about to fall asleep. He picked up the parchment which listed various farms in the west and drew in a deep breath. He had barely made it through the first sentence when the door to his office opened. Emery glanced up as Regina entered the room and closed the door behind her. He looked down at the parchment in front of him, but didn’t register any of the words on it. Emery looked at the clock on his desk. A half hour had passed since he had left the ball.

“I expected you to be in our chambers,” Regina said as she walked closer to his desk.

Emery put down the document in his hand and looked up at her. “I didn’t want you to find me easily.”

She sat down in the chair in front of his desk. The two of them stared at each other then Regina let out an aggravated sigh. “Why are you so stubborn?”

“Oh, you are one to talk, your majesty.” Emery softly grunted and directed a pointed gaze towards her. “Why did you come to the conclusion that the man running your province doesn’t need to know about the rumors in regards to potential uprisings? Other than you believing I would loathe another meeting.” Regina stared at him and Emery returned it. He wasn’t going to let this go. “You put me in charge of this province. I have to ensure it prospers to make your kingdom look good, but when you think I don’t need to be involved in its security then I can’t do that. Regina, I need to know information like that so I can protect the people. If you don’t want me know about the province’s security then you need to find someone else to run it so I can go back to my battalion.”

Regina stood up and placed her hands on top of his desk. She leaned forward. “Stop being dramatic. I said I would start including you in the security meetings.”

“I’m not being dramatic, Regina,” Emery exclaimed as he stood up from his seat. He gestured to the side. “This is the truth. That is all.” He glowered at her. “And you’re only including me in those meetings because it upsets me. I don’t think you have comprehended the true reason why I’m upset.”

Regina stared him down before walking away from his desk. Emery watched as she headed over to the fireplace. He sat down as she gazed at the flames which danced in front of her. Emery was familiar with getting the silent treatment from Regina. What he wasn’t familiar with was what she said next. “You’re wrong,” Regina said as she continued to look at the fire. She turned to face him. “I do understand why you’re upset and it may be possible you might be correct in your anger.” Emery’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. Regina admitting he was right? He placed his hand on his chest. His heart continued to beat so he wasn’t dead. Emery could tell the words had left an awful taste in Regina’s mouth by the way her face turned up with distaste. He began to chuckle. “Do not laugh at me, Emery.”

Emery got up from his office chair and made his way over to her. He placed his hands on her waist and smiled. “I’m not laughing at you, my queen, but I am certain it took every bit of strength you possessed to say those words.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at him, but then she rolled them. “You are a nuisance.”

Emery grinned and pulled her closer to him. “Aye, I suppose I am but I’m a nuisance you’re in love with.” He gave her a soft kiss. “I’m glad you understand why I am upset though.”

Regina sighed and placed her hands on his shoulders. “I knew why you were upset, Emery. It’s having you shove the logic into my face which is the most damning.”

“Trust me, my queen, I’m certain it will be another lifetime before such an event shall occur again,” Emery remarked as he laughed.

Regina laughed with him and after they caught their breaths she leaned in and gave him a lingering kiss. There was a smirk on her face when she pulled back. “It’s a good thing you know this will never happen again.” She then added, “Since we are talking about province matters behind closed doors…” Uncertain about what other matters she wanted to discuss, Emery’s eyebrow arched up. “Do not pretend to know what I’m talking about, Swan. You are not allowed to duel the men from the White army to the death. What did I tell you about that?”

Emery groaned. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about this.” He now had an idea on how Regina would have found out about his new training tactics for the men from the White army, but he would deal with it later. He also couldn’t be too mad. Neal was only concerned.

“You may not want to talk about it, Emery, but we’re going to,” Regina countered.

Emery groaned again and sighed as he ran his hand over his hair. “Regina, if you came to watch them you would want to kill them yourself.”

Regina frowned a little but sighed. “Be that as it may, you know I said not to push them. This is going beyond that.”

Emery drew in a deep breath then released it. “Fine, I will find some other way to motivate those men.” A thought came to him. “I can exile them to the far reaches of the kingdom and have them waste their pitiful lives on a pig farm.”

Regina laughed. “That is a fate worse than what I can come up with and I am the evil queen.”

Emery smiled at her. “You’re not the evil queen.” He placed his hand on her cheek and caressed her cheek bone. “You never were.”

Silence fell over them as they gazed into one another’s eyes. After a long moment Regina placed her hand on the one Emery had on her cheek. “Are you all right in regards to everything?”

Emery nodded and smirked. “I am for the moment.” He chuckled. “I’m certain something will come up which will have us arguing again.”

“You don’t have to always argue with me. Life would be much simpler if you just agreed,” Regina commented with an arrogant grin.

Emery leaned in and nuzzled her neck, murmuring, “But what would we use as foreplay?” He kissed her pulse point and whispered, “Ever since you put on this dress all I have been thinking about is getting you out of it.”

Regina placed her hand on the back of his neck and let out a low chuckle. “And you will have to continue to think about it.”

“But I have a predicament, my queen,” Emery mumbled as he kissed across her jaw. “It requires your immediate attention.”

Emery felt Regina grab him through his pants and he drew in a sharp breath, holding it in when her hand started to move. All the blood in his body began to rush to the organ between his legs. The feeling was one he still was adjusting to, but he never thought too much about it. Regina hummed then said in a soft voice, “You do have quite the predicament. I might even say it’s getting worse.” She squeezed him and Emery inhaled another quick breath. “You’re going to have to wait. We must return to the ball.”

Emery exhaled a shuddering breath and swallowed. “I can’t return to the ball like this. I will be proudly on display for everyone to see and won’t be able to focus.”

“That does pose a problem,” Regina stated as she watched him respond to her touch. She smirked. “However, I don’t need you to focus. I just need you to appear by my side.” Emery moaned softly. He was ready to take her in his office. Possibly bend her over his desk and – All thought flew from Emery’s mind when he felt Regina’s hand wrap around him.

“Regina.” He gasped. She had undone his pants and put her hand down the front them, giving him direct skin to skin contact. She began to stroke his hot length and Emery knew if she kept it up he wouldn’t be able to hold back for long. He reached out and took a firm hold of the mantle above the fireplace as his hips began to move in time with Regina’s hand.

Regina chuckled in his ear. “Imagine what it would feel like to be inside of me while the nobles of the province mill around outside your office door.” She took hold of Emery’s earlobe with her teeth and tugged on it. “Having dignitaries within hearing distance while you fuck the queen of the Mills kingdom like some cheap harlot.”

Emery bit his bottom lip and squeezed his eyes shut as his hips moved urgently. Regina’s erotic dialogue further turned him on and he was so close to his orgasm. It wasn’t long until Regina had coaxed a climax from Emery. He gripped the mantle tighter as he fell into an orgasmic bliss and unleashed its effects into his undershorts. As he recovered Emery grimaced. “I think this is worse than going back to the ball with an erection.”

Regina chuckled and gave him a kiss. “I doubt it. At least you will not have to walk around with your hands in front of your pants.” Emery nodded his head as he still recovered his mental faculties. “Now you can get through the rest of the ball.”

Emery drew in a deep breath and fixed his pants. He grinned at her and countered, “I’m not certain about that, my queen. I won’t be completely satisfied until we are alone.”

Regina smirked at him. “Then I suggest you find some way to entice me to leave the ball early.”

Emery gladly accepted the challenge. He made sure he was presentable for attending the remainder of the ball then offered Regina his arm. As they made their way out of his office and back to the ball Emery began to come up with a number of ideas which would make Regina want to leave the ball. However, in doing so then he began to think about what they would do when they were alone. The indecent thoughts caused a stirring in Emery’s groin.

He drew in a breath and began to think about farms as he released it. Once he and Regina were alone in their chambers he was going to have his way with her. He didn’t plan to stop until they were both satisfied. Emery glanced at Regina and she smiled at him. The smile revealed her inner thoughts and Emery knew she had the same lewd thoughts as he did. They would be leaving the ball in less than ten minutes. Emery chuckled to himself.

Chapter Text

Emery slammed the door of his wardrobe close and walked over to the chair which was in the corner of his and Regina’s room to put his clothes in his bag. He shoved them into it and fastened it close. He was going on a trip to several northern villages which were primarily farming villages. Emery wanted to talk to the farmers about the upcoming spring and trade negotiations. It was something he had planned months ago and he had been excited to speak with the farmers because he wanted to help them, but at the moment he loathed the trip. Emery didn’t feel like himself. He felt irritable, off, and lethargic. He wanted to spend the day in bed and not be bothered. Emery had no idea what his problem was, but he was done with it.

Regina walked into the room and inquired, “You have not left yet? I thought you would have been gone by now.”

“Don’t worry, your majesty,” Emery snapped as he finished packing his bag. “I will be gone soon enough.”

Regina moved over to where he stood and in a firm tone she said, “I will ask you a final time, Emery, and if you do not give me an answer which will give me better understanding of what you’re going through I will send you to the dungeon.” Emery heard her draw in a deep breath. Regina had been showing him tremendous patience the last week because his attitude had been the worst lately. “I cannot help you if you do not talk to me.”

Emery sighed and dropped the bag in his hand. He walked over to the bed and slumped down on it. He looked at Regina and said, “I don’t want to go, Regina.” He huffed out a frustrated breath and ran his hand over his hair. “I don’t feel like myself.”

Regina sat next to him on the bed and took hold of his hand. “That is a start. Why do not you feel like yourself?”

Emery stared at their joined hands and took a moment to organize his thoughts. “I’ve had all this energy since taking the potion and have been so happy, but for the last week or so I’ve been a listless, emotional, irritable mess.” He paused then admitted, “I haven’t even wanted to have sex.” Emery met her gaze. “It’s as if I’m becoming a shell of myself or something and I don’t know why. I don’t like it, Regina.”

Regina stood up and Emery’s eyebrows furrowed. There was a concerned expression on her face. “You are not going on this trip,” Regina said. “It is obvious there is something wrong with you and I do not want you getting ill while you are away from the castle. I will have the castle physician come take a look at you and make sure it is nothing serious.”

Emery smiled and stood up from the bed. He loved her protectiveness of him and her concern but he had to go on this trip. “Regina, it’s all right. I’m certain this is all because I’ve had a terrible week.” He chuckled a little. “I have been in meeting after meeting and really haven’t done anything I actually enjoy this week.” Regina scrutinized him. He may have been trying to brush off her concern, but he had to. This trip was important.

A slight frown remained on Regina’s face as she placed her hand on his cheek. “Are you certain?”

“I am.” Emery nodded and turned his head to place a kiss on her palm. “If I feel worse, I will come home. Negotiating with the farmers is too important for our trade treaties.”

Regina laughed a little. “Hearing you use the phrase ‘trade treaties’ is enough for me to order you to bed.”

“Funny, your majesty.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss. Emery smiled at her. “Now if you will excuse me, my queen, I have to finish packing and get to the stables. If I’m late Graham and Neal will start saying lewd things about us which you will have their heads for.”

Regina scowled and countered, “You are a prince. They are your subjects. They are not allowed to be crude and disrespectful towards you and our relationship.”

Emery chuckled and shrugged. “It’s entertaining and they are my friends, Regina. My best friends.”

Regina rolled her eyes and sighed. “Be on your way, Swan, before I send you to the dungeon for irritating me.

Emery chuckled again and gave her a kiss. “I love you.”

Regina sighed. “I love you too.” She raised an eyebrow and added, “I’m going to be keeping an eye on you.”

Emery walked over to the chair and retrieved his bag. “That isn’t creepy at all.” He went back over to Regina and gave her cheek a kiss. “I will be back in a few days.” As he walked out of their room he went over to Aldous and scratched the dogs head. “Be good for your mama, Aldy.”

“Emery, if you continue to call me that dog’s mother I will send you to the stockade and leave you there for a week.”

Emery chuckled as he left their chambers. He made his way down to the royal stables. His mood was a little bit better since he had seen Regina, but he still wasn’t entirely himself. Emery hoped as the day continued he would be able to shake disquiet which seemed to have taken a hold of him. He stopped at by the kitchens to get something to eat then went out to the stables. Emery walked into the building and Graham, Neal, and Stanley, a council advisor who would be helping Emery with negotiations; were waiting for him. They began to bow and Emery snapped, “Don’t. We have to get going.

The stable boy brought Emery’s horse over to him and as he put his saddle bags onto the animal Neal laughed. “It seems our fair prince got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

Graham chuckled and remarked, “Perhaps he has pissed the queen off.” He gasped and Emery scowled at him, his dour mood coming back in full swing. “Maybe her majesty has withheld carnal delights from our dear prince.”

The comment bothered Emery more than it should have. He knew Graham didn’t mean any of it. But his mood had his response jumping to an extreme one and Emery drew his sword, pointing it at Graham. “If you continue down this vein of conversation I will kill you.”

Graham and Neal laughed. Graham knocked Emery’s sword to the side and Neal pointed out, “This trip isn’t going to be any fun if you’re going to be this cantankerous.”

Emery released an irritated breath and sheathed his sword. “If you and Graham are going to continue to act like asses it will only irritate me more.” He mounted his horse. “Let us be on our way. I do not want to be travelling for long.”

Graham scoffed and pointed out, “Your highness, since we will be going to the farming villages in the northwest we already have a rough trip ahead of us. The terrain in that part of the province is a bit more challenging to travel.”

Emery tightened his jaw. He could still back out of the trip or postpone it. Emery shook his head. “We have to get going.” He continued to scowl as he urged his horse forward.

Emery’s foul mood was still prevalent an hour into their trip and it annoyed and bothered him. He didn’t understand why he was feeling like this. Yes, his week had been filled with never ending and headache inducing meetings but Emery had weeks like it before. Talking to Neal and Graham only irritated him more so he didn’t engage or join them in conversation. However, they weren’t going to let him stew in his petulance for long.

Clearly an hour of him not saying anything had been long enough and Neal came riding up to him. “All right, Swan, we have allowed you enough time to sulk. You either need to go kill something or turn around and head back to the castle so you can fix whatever is going on with you and the queen.”

Emery sighed. He had been a terrible travelling companion and his friends didn’t need to be punished for his bad mood. He blew out an exasperated breath and told Neal a terrible half-truth. “It’s nothing to do with the queen. It has been a horrendous week.” He smirked at Neal. “You know how much I hate meetings and I’ve been in so many of them this week it has put me in a dreadful mood. I’m surprised I haven’t gone insane.”

Neal laughed and quipped, “I’m not certain if the queen will allow you to go insane. If you did she would probably lock you in dungeon until your sanity returned.” The two of them laughed, and Emery heard Graham laugh with them. He nodded and Neal continued. “I’m glad I only have the one meeting a week. I couldn’t bear being in a room with officers and nobles. I’d probably fall asleep.”

“Trust me, I have almost fallen asleep in a budget meeting or two.” Emery remembered one instance where Regina had been in one of those meetings and had caught him. She had not been happy with him and they didn’t have sex for a week. Emery sighed. “We need to do something to break up the monotony we’re starting to fall into.”

“We could go for a hunt,” Graham suggested as he joined them.

Emery scoffed. “The province has terrible hunting grounds. We’d have to go to the main castle for good hunting and the queen won’t allow me to leave for that long since we’re in the middle of trade negotiations.” He pressed his lips together as he thought of what they could do. Maybe doing something proactive would get him out of the funk he had fallen into. An idea came to Emery. “I have it,” he grinned at Neal and Graham, “war games.”

Both men got wide smiles on their faces. Neal exclaimed, “We haven’t done war games since we were in training.”

Emery nodded. “I know. It would be good for us and the men. Can’t get rusty while were waiting for the next war to happen.”

Graham wondered, “Where would we have them at?”

Emery rubbed his chin as he thought about it. They could have the games down at the beach, but he had a different idea. “There is a clearing when you’re traveling to Stefan’s kingdom from the provincial castle. It’s a large clearing.” Emery grinned as a plan began to take shape in his mind. “We can spend a week there and I’ll send word to the training lieutenant of the new recruits to have them join us.” He chuckled. “We can see how they do against the province’s army.”

Neal laughed. “They’ve gotten better.”

Emery grunted. “I wouldn’t let them protect my dog.” Though the only person he trusted to protect Aldous was King Henry and Regina - if he hadn’t made her angry. Emery sighed. He should have bought the mutt with him. He shook his head and said, “I have to speak with the queen about this first, and a few of the senior officers, but by the end of next month should be good. Trade negotiations should be close to finish by then.” Or so Emery hoped. He was done playing diplomat. It wasn’t something he wanted to do but Regina said he had a natural talent for it and Emery, begrudgingly, agreed with her.

Neal chuckled and clasped his hand on Emery’s shoulder. “Sounds like a good plan.” He glanced over his shoulder and asked, “Stanley, would you like to join us for some war games? I think you would have a good time.”

Emery looked back at the man. Stanley wasn’t military material - even for a week. He spent most of his time working with diplomats from foreign kingdoms. He was the only noble from the province to gain Emery’s trust during the trade negotiations. When the negotiations had first started Regina had told him to find someone whose opinion didn’t favor their interests and get them to see what they had planned for the province. Stanley fit the bill well enough. Emery chuckled as the man held up his hand and declined the invitation. “No thank you, sir. I’m certain if I was to step onto the field I would possibly end up dead.”

Neal, Graham, and Emery laughed. As Emery caught his breath he said, “Oh nonsense, Stanley. I would assign Neal to be your personal guard.” He grinned at the man riding next to him. “He’s a great guard.”

Neal reached over and cuffed him on the back of the head. “Aye, I am. I’ve been watching this bastard’s ass for too long now.”

 “Well it was either that or have the commandant kill him,” Graham chimed in with a grin.

Neal took hold of Emery’s chin and turned his head so he was facing him. The man inspected his face. “Still wondering how you managed to get out of that confrontation without a scratch.”

Graham scoffed and smirked. “He has a witch at his beck and call, why does he have to heal like the rest of us?”

The quip didn’t land well with Emery and he narrowed his eyes at Graham. “Do not call her a witch. Call the queen a witch again and I will personally deliver your punishment myself.” He stared at Graham another second then focused on the road ahead of him. Emery mentally sighed to himself. His temper was out of control. He tried to bring back some levity to the conversation. “Her magic doesn’t heal all. I have a terrible scar from when I took an arrow for her.”

Neal began to laugh and Emery faced him, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He didn’t understand why the statement was funny. Neal drew in a several deep breaths and said, “That’s when you fell for her like a fool.”

Despite himself, Emery grinned. Neal wasn’t wrong. Being shot by the arrow had been the event to not only change his life, but also the beginning of Emery falling in love with Regina. He chuckled. “For once, Neal – and this will be the only time it happens – you are correct in your assessment. However, ask me again and I will deny until my grave.”

The four men laughed and Emery felt some relief from the constant irritability he had been feeling. He still didn’t feel like himself but the distraction of Neal, Graham, and even Stanley; alleviated the unsettling feeling he had been dealing with. Emery hoped it would soon pass so he could be less grouchy and stop snapping at the people he cared about.

Emery punched the pillow under his head and scowled at the ceiling above him. He couldn’t get comfortable and it made his constant annoyance worse. He flipped onto his side and curled up into a ball. Emery desperately wanted to get some sleep. After the day he had rest was something he greatly needed. Emery had become more surly and agitated as the day had progressed, and the thing which bothered him most, was he had no logical reason for why he felt this way.

He and his travelling companions had reached the first village late that morning and Emery had been in a friendly mood, but anxious to get this part of the negotiations over with. The farmers they had met with had been agreeable and willing to contribute a portion of their crops to the trade route. They had also met with several merchants who were eager to be a part of the trade agreement. They wanted to see the kingdom prosper. The second village had also been accepting of the agreement terms, but there were a few farmers who were still leery about the queen. However the gold from the trade route along with the royal incentive caused them to disregard their dislike of her. The meeting with the last village, however, did not end well and Emery had lost his temper. The farmers and merchants wanted more money and were offering less of their crops and products because they also did business with Stefan’s kingdom. Emery had issued numerous threats and had threatened the lives of several people

The meeting had been doomed from the start. Travelling for most of the day had started to get to Emery and he didn’t want to have another meeting, but the village was the last one he had to speak with. The meeting had started off pleasant enough but then the farmers had begun to demand more money once they heard the terms of the agreement. Emery had lost it. To have some farmer in a village no one cared about try and strong arm him into giving them more money,  on top of an already generous agreement, caused him to issue out several threats. Not only did he issue out threats of death sentences to those who challenged him the most, Emery had also threatened to tax the farmers and merchants of the village so heavily they would lose everything. In the end it led to a fight and Neal and Graham had to drag Emery out of the village before he killed someone or they killed him.

The four of them had gone to the next village to find a tavern to stay at and Emery had eaten a quick dinner before retiring to his room. The run in at the last village on top of whatever was going on with him didn’t make him a good dinner or drinking companion. Neal had suggested he get a good night’s rest and they would go back to the village and meet with the farmers and merchants in the morning. Emery let out a frustrated breath. He hated feeling like this and he just wanted to be himself again. Tears of frustration formed in his eyes and Emery squeezed his eyes shut. His emotions were all over the place and if Neal thought he would be better in morning then he was in for a surprise.

Emery flopped onto his back, and even though he had no desire to do so, he reached down the front of his pajama bottoms and began to stroke himself. After several, emotionally trying minutes he stopped and rolled back onto his side. Emery brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Silent tears began to fall from his eyes. He couldn’t take feeling like this anymore. He wanted to be himself, but he couldn’t do that because something was wrong with him. He just didn’t know what. Tormented by thoughts of what could be wrong with him Emery fell into a restless sleep.

Hours later Emery bolted up in bed as a sharp, intense pain went through him. He fell back onto the bed and began to writhe as the unbearable ache coursed through him. It took awhile for it to subside and when it did Emery could tell something wasn’t right. He drew in a deep breath and sat up. Emery felt movement on his chest and he ran his hand over it. Sheer terror came over him. He had breasts. Emery began to check everything else. He had his beard, his Adam’s apple, and even his penis. He couldn’t figure out why he had gotten his breast back. Emery began to hyperventilate as a panic started to come over him. He was turning back into a girl. Tears filled his eyes and his chest tightened. He couldn’t go back to being that. He would die before going back to that body.

Emery scrambled to get off the bed and stumbled over to the chair he had dropped his bag on. He rummaged through it, frantic to get to what he needed. He pulled out the small piece of enchanted mirror and even though his voice was tight with emotion and tears streamed down his face he called out Regina’s name. “Regina, please. Please wake up. Regina….” The words caught in his throat but he managed to get them out. “I need you, please.”

“Emery,” Regina’s tired voice called out before her sleepy face filled the mirror. “What’s wrong?”

Emery drew in a shaky breath and more tears fell from his eyes. He closed his eyes and whispered, “I need you. My body is wrong and it’s not mine, Regina.”

He opened his eyes and Emery could see the confusion on her face. “What do you mean?”

Not willing to give life to something he couldn’t believe was actually happening Emery pleaded, “Regina, I need you here with me. Something is wrong.”

The drowsiness vanished from her face and nothing but worry and alarm was on it. Regina gave a slight nod. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Okay,” Emery whispered as he made his way back to the bed. He lay down on it and curled up into a ball as he continued to deny what was going on. Emery felt detached from himself and his present surroundings. He murmured, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.” The phrase became a mantra to him and soon it was the only thing he could process.

Minutes later Regina appeared in his room and she turned around, searching for him. When her eyes landed on Emery she rushed over to the bed. Regina knelt down and placed her hand on his cheek. “Emery, darling, tell me what’s going on.”

Emery struggled to find the words, and when he did they proceeded to get stuck in his throat. He couldn’t say them. If he said them then they would be true, and if they were he would die. He couldn’t go back to that body. Not after having the one he had always wanted since childhood. Emery took hold of the hand on his cheek and placed it on his chest. Regina’s eyes widened when she felt the mound of flesh under his linen shirt. Emery closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “I-I-I’m a girl,” He managed to choke out before a sob escaped him.

Regina moved her hand and Emery held his knees closer to his chest. She was quiet for the longest moment and Emery was desperate for her to say something – anything- which would give him some sort of answer because the thoughts running through his mind were dangerous ones. Emery started when Regina brushed a lock of hair out of his face. His eyes met the gentle brown ones which gazed upon him. They held nothing but empathy for what he was going through. The expression in Regina’s eyes only upset Emery more. He rested his forehead on his knees and tucked his chin into his chest. The last thing he wanted was her empathy because it only made him feel worse. Regina combed her fingers through his hair as she spoke to him in a soothing voice “Emery, sweetheart, I know this is unexpected and causing you to go in a downward spiral, but you need to listen to me. Can you do that for me?” Emery squeezed his eyes shut and drew in a deep breath. He could do this and not to fall apart. Emery nodded his head. Regina never stopped running her fingers through his hair. “The potion is wearing off.”

Emery’s head snapped up. “No. No, don’t say that,” he said. His voice rising as fear made its way down his spine. “It can’t be.” He sat up and took hold of Regina’s hand, gripping it tight as desperation and panic overwhelmed him. “It can’t be, Regina. I can’t go back to that body. I won’t. I will kill myself before I become that again.” Emery’s breathing became erratic as thoughts of reverting back to his former body filled his mind. He couldn’t do it and his thoughts, already careening down a dangerous path, turned to ways of how he could avoid the inevitable

Regina took hold of his face and pressed her forehead against his. “Emery, look at me.” He didn’t meet her gaze and Regina demanded, “Emery Swan, look at me.” The use of his full name brought Emery back to the present and he met Regina’s brown eyes. They glistened with unshed tears and fear shone in them. If Emery had been in the right frame of mind he would have realized this was the first time he had ever seen Regina afraid. “Take slow, slow deep breaths,” she instructed. “Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” Emery followed her directions and they went through the process a few times before Emery felt like he had a better hold of his emotion.

Regina kept her forehead against his as she started to explain what was going on. “It seems the potion only lasts for a month. With this being said, I can make you more.” Emery pulled his head back and his heart thundered in his chest. This wasn’t permanent. Regina could fix. Regina held up her hand and added, “But it will take some time. The one vial itself took a week to brew. Since I plan to make a larger batch to make sure this doesn’t happen again, it will take longer.” Emery’s heart sank. He was going to have to revert back to his former body until the potion was done. He dropped his gaze and Regina placed her hand on his cheek. “Emery, look at me please. I don’t want to have to break out the queen for this, but I will if I need too.” Emery drew in another breath and returned his gaze to hers. “What is happening doesn’t change who you are. You are still a man and you are still the man I love. I will take you anyway you are. Yes, this is a setback neither of us foresaw, but it is fixable. You just need to give me time.”

Emery knew Regina was right, but everything he had become the last month had been taken away from him and it was a hard thing for him to work though. The one thing he had always wanted had been ripped from him and now he felt raw and exposed. Emery bit the inside of his lip then asked in a soft voice, “Can we go home?”

Regina caressed his cheekbone with the pad of her thumb. “I have a better idea, but you need to leave a letter for Neal. Tell him something came up and you need him to finish the negotiations. All right?”

Emery nodded and moved to get off the bed. He felt disconnected from his body as he walked over to where his bag was on the floor. He picked it up and pulled out the leather book which contained his stationary. He wrote a letter for Neal then left the room to slip it under his door. He went back to his room and found Regina had packed up his bags and waited patiently for him. Emery felt so uncertain about himself, but the one thing which would get him through the despair, hurt, and insanity was Regina. He walked closer to her and Regina gave him his bags and wrapped her arm around his waist. Emery rested his head on her shoulder and Regina pressed a kiss to his forehead, murmuring, “I will take care of you, my sweet prince.” Emery snaked his arm around her waist and held on tightly to her as a cloud of purple smoke enveloped them.

Chapter Text

Emery pressed his knees harder into his horse’s sides, urging it to go faster. Behind him Aldous barked as he tried to keep up with him. They were chasing down a massive stag that wanted to live to see another day, but Emery other plans for it. He dropped the reins and pulled an arrow from the quiver which hung from the horn of his saddle. Emery guided the horse with his knees as he lined up the shot. It wasn’t going to be a good one, but if the arrow managed to land it would slow the deer down for a second. Emery let go of the arrow and it embedded itself into the deer’s back flank. The animal let out a sharp bleat and Emery quickly took hold of the horse’s reins to get it to stop.

He jumped off his horse and pulled another arrow from the quiver as he rushed to catch up with deer which had slowed down a bit. It took four of his arrows to bring it down. Emery walked over to the dying animal and pulled his knife from his boot. He ended the deer’s suffering then whistled for his horse before calling for Aldous. Emery worked quietly as got the deer ready to transport it back to the castle. He loved hunting at the main castle.

He and Regina were at the main castle and they had been there for the last two and a half weeks. Regina had brought him to it the night Emery’s body had started to change back to its former self. For the first week Emery had locked himself in his room in the east tower and had shut Regina out. He had regained his breast, but other changes were slow to happen. The more his body reverted back the more distraught he became. Regina had given him the time and space for him to process what was happening to him, but at the same time she worried a great deal about Emery. He knew she had kept a watchful eye on him using her mirrors, but it wasn’t the same as physically being with her and after that first week Emery began to miss her. He started to go to their chambers at night in order to fall asleep with her.

Emery had spent most of his days thinking about what was occurring to him and hating himself for not being strong enough to deal with it. It was this particular aspect which ate at him the most. Instead of being able to deal with it he continued to fall deeper in despair. Emery had told Regina this late one night when they were on the couch in the sitting room. He had shared with her that the loss of his actual body had left him feeling like a shell of himself and how he felt like an imposter. As if the prior month had been nothing but him playing pretend. Regina, of course, had been supportive and empathic to his plight but the words had felt hollow to Emery. Or they had until Regina’s whispered admission of failing him fell upon his ears.

Hearing her revelation had pulled Emery from whatever pit of darkness he had fallen into and he had let Regina know she did not fail him, but like him, the words were a hollow comfort. Regina had argued with him, stating she should have factored in how long the potion would last but she didn’t because all she thought about was getting Emery the body he deserved. She blamed herself for his suffering because of her short-sightedness. Emery couldn’t handle a number of things about his body, but he refused to let Regina berate herself over something neither of them had thought possible to begin with. Emery had repeated those words to Regina, but he knew she still felt some guilt over his body reverting back to its former state.

The late night discussion had been the start of Emery sharing his thoughts and feelings with Regina. The two of them would walk around the castle grounds or go riding and they would talk for hours on end about what Emery was feeling or the kingdom. Trade negotiations were winding down but there were rumors that some kingdoms were reconsidering doing business with the Mills kingdom. For now Regina was letting the council and her security advisors handle the situation or that’s what she had told Emery. He had brought up the negotiations as an attempt to get out of the loaded discussion they had been having about him and his body.

The conversation had been an intense one and it had to be finished on the balcony of their chambers. Having such an in-depth and intimate conversation about his body had left Emery feeling raw. Regina had confessed she couldn’t guarantee his body wouldn’t revert again and told Emery she would do her damnedest to prevent it from happening in the future, but she advised him to find an outlet in case it did ever occur again. What she had shared with Emery next had devastated him. Regina’s admission of witnessing Emery’s fall into the darkness of his mind had produced a quiet stream of tears which had a profound impact on Emery, but when she had said he had frightened her because of the despair he felt over his body, Emery didn’t know what to say. All he could do was hold Regina close to him as she had continued to share the thoughts which had gone through her mind the further he retreated from her. She even told Emery she had considered chaining him up in the dungeon so he couldn’t hurt himself.

Emery’s mind had raced in the silence which followed Regina’s revelation. He had made a silent vow to himself to change how he thought about his body and how he dealt with it. He never wanted to scare Regina and he didn’t want to put her through this type of pain again. He may have hated his body, but his love for Regina outweighed the hatred he had for it. Emery had told Regina he would try to find a better way to deal with his body; however, he had also reminded her it would be a battle for him to do so. Regina understood and told him she only wanted him to try. So Emery hunted.

He found solace in hunting because all he had to focus on was his next kill. Emery didn’t have any reservations about his body when he was out in nature. He knew what it was capable of no matter what form it was in. It was upon realizing this he found peace about the sudden change his body had gone through. Whenever he grew frustrated and angry about it he would grab his bow and arrows and leave the castle thinking only of his next kill. He always took Aldous with him because the dog had been his silent, but reassuring, companion when he couldn’t do anything but lie in his bed and wallow in self-hatred.

Emery tied the rope which was attached to the canvas he rolled the deer onto to the horn of his saddle and mounted his horse. He and Aldous made their way back to the castle. It had been a nice day to go hunting, but as the sun set it was getting cooler. The days had begun to warm since spring was drawing closer but the evenings still were chilly. Once Emery had gotten into a better place mentally being at the main castle had started to feel like a vacation and he didn’t want to leave, but with things still being unstable in the province Emery knew he and Regina wouldn’t be able to stay at the main castle for much longer.

Emery stopped by the butcher’s building and made arrangements for the deer. A portion of the meat was to go to the castle and the remainder would go to the village. The village had seen an increase of meat since Harold couldn’t do much with the game Emery killed. The head of the deer was going to be stuffed and mounted then put in his office at the provincial castle. His final stop was at the stables. Emery unsaddled his horse and brushed him down then put him in his stall. He gave the animal one of Regina’s prized apples and left the building. Emery saw Regina standing on the back steps of the castle as he and Aldous walked up the path which led to them. He came to a stop in front of Regina and gave her a slight bow. “Your majesty.”

Regina’s lip curled in disgust. “You’re filthy.” She glared at Aldous. “Do not jump on me mutt.”

Aldous barked at her and Emery grinned at the two of them. He scratched Aldous behind the ear and remarked, “I will accept my fate because the deer I took down was a magnificent kill.”

Regina wasn’t able to maintain the look of disgust on her face and a small smile replaced it. “It’s nice to see you smile again.”

Emery walked up the few steps which separated them and said, “It is nice to smile again.” He chuckled. “I’m just happy you didn’t leave me.”

Regina placed her hand on his cheek then leaned in to place a soft kiss on his lips. It lingered for a moment then she pulled back and whispered, “Leaving you was never an option and it never will be.” Emery’s heart sped up. “The only way you will be able to leave our relationship is death,” Regina added with a devious grin.

Emery laughed. “I will remember this for the future.”

“See that you do, Swan.” She held out her hand and Emery took it. The two of them headed for the outside corridor which went around the back and side of the first floor of the castle. “We will need to head back to the province by the end of the week.” Emery sighed and Regina glanced at him. “I know you like it here at the main castle, but there is still work we have to accomplish with the trade routes. I do believe once the negotiations are finalized, and the kingdom’s farmers are comfortable with their contributions to it, we might be able to come back to the main castle permanently.”

Emery snapped his fingers. “Damn there goes my chance at being a sailor.”

“Don’t sound too happy,” Regina countered with a smirk. “I haven’t made a final decision in regards to that yet.” She held out a black velvet pouch and Emery raised his eyebrow. “Take it.”

Emery stopped walking and took the small bag from her. He pursed his lips and wondered, “What’s in it?”

Regina chuckled as she turned to face him. “Something which will make you less insufferable.”

Emery began to laugh and he asked, “Did you come up with a spell or potion which will shut me up?”

Regina let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, how I wish that were the case.” She gestured toward him. “Open the pouch and you will see.”

Emery began to open the couch and grinned. “Is this the key to my office here at the main castle?”

Regina scoffed and countered, “You are not getting an office, Swan. When you are here, you do not work. All you do is go down to the barracks and harass the training commandant and the recruits.”

Emery chuckled because it was true. No matter how much he wanted his own office he felt more comfortable with the recruits and helping them become outstanding soldiers. He poured the contents of the pouch into his hand and out fell two vials which held a red potion. Emery’s eyes grew wide and he closed the gap which was between him and Regina, capturing her lips for a passionate kiss. When it broke they were breathless, but Emery had something he wanted to say. “I’m going to marry you.”

Regina chuckled softly and ran her finger across his jaw. “You only say this because I can give you the one thing you desire most in the world.”

Emery shook his head. “No, that isn’t why. I am grateful for it, but I am more grateful to have you.” He smiled and cupped her cheek. “You have been with me through a number of dark moments and have not cowered away from them. Instead you have faced them with me, given me a swift kick in the ass to deal with it, and then loved me after. No potion will give me such a companion in life.” Emery’s smile grew when tears began to shimmer in Regina’s eyes. “You are an amazing, cunning, and incredible woman who I love with everything I am and I cannot live without you.”

Regina wiped away a wayward tear and sniffled. “It is not the time for you to be a sentimental fool.”

Emery leaned in and gave her a soft, lingering kiss. He pulled away and murmured, “When it comes to you I will always be a sentimental fool.” He gave her another kiss and grinned. “You will have to get used to it.” Emery took hold of Regina’s hand and said, “Come, my queen. I do believe there is a bath calling my name and dinner afterwards because hunting for most of the day has left me ravenous.” He whistled for Aldous who had run off while they were walking.

They made their way back into the castle and Regina asked, “Are you not going to take the potion before you do all that?”

Emery glanced at her and chuckled. “I will wait until tomorrow morning to take the potion. It wasn’t the best experience to go through the first time and I’m thinking it will be no better this second time around.” He smirked. “I will take it in the morning, probably after I eat breakfast. I hope you have nothing planned for the rest of the day.”

“As if I’m going to let you take up my entire day so you can release your sexual frustrations,” Regina countered sounding affronted by the idea. However, Emery knew better and she wasn’t fooling him.

He turned to face her and guided her back to the closest wall. Emery captured her lips for a fervent kiss which had her grasping at him. It had been a while since he had kissed her like this. Showing Regina affection had taken a backseat to his depression and dealing with his body’s sudden change. Emery felt guilt over it and deepened the kiss. He never wanted to do that to her again. She deserved to be kiss as though she were the very thing which kept him alive, and on some level, it was true. Emery pulled back from the kiss and whispered, “I love you and I’m sorry what my mental state has done to us.”

“Emery, you don’t –“

“I do, Regina. I can only imagine what you go through when I pull away from you but trust me, my love, I do want you.” He sighed. “But when I can’t stand myself I can’t understand how you could possibly want to touch me.” Regina opened her mouth to argue but Emery pressed a finger to her lips. “I know. It’s an irrational thought, but it is what I think.” He moved his finger and placed his hand on her cheek. “If this were to happen again I will not let it affect us as it did this time. You have my word.”

“Emery….” Regina in a soft whisper.

He gave her a soft kiss then said, “Let me go bathe then we will have dinner.” He smiled. “I hope you don’t have plans for the rest of the night either. Showing you how much I love and appreciate you will be the only thing we will be doing.”

Regina returned the smile and gave a slight shake of her head. “No, my darling, I don’t have anything planned.” She placed her hand on his cheek. “I could not think of a better way to spend the night.”

She gave him another kiss and it lasted a moment before they pulled apart. He and Regina made their way up to their chambers. Emery felt better and more connected to Regina. This had been the most trying point of their relationship and the two of them had managed to weather it together and get through it together. Emery smiled at Regina. There was no one else he trusted to show every aspect of himself to and he didn’t believe anyone would be as steadfast in their support as Regina was.

As consciousness slowly made its presence known to Emery, he held on tighter to Regina and pressed his lips to the back of her neck. He held her for a moment longer then sighed and rolled away from her. As usual he was up right as the sun was rising, and even though he wanted to stay in bed longer with Regina, he knew it would be impossible. He would get restless and start finding ways to wake her up. Emery smirked to himself as he got out of bed. He did have a great idea about how to wake her up this morning.

He went and relieved himself then he went over to the nightstand to pick up one of the two vials before leaving the room. The moment he smelled breakfast his stomach rumbled. Emery headed for the breakfast table and made himself a plate and a cup of tea. There was a permanent smile on his face as he ate. He and Regina had a night filled with love and passion and they reacquainted themselves with one another. Never again was he going to allow a chasm to develop between them because of his body. It wasn’t fair to Regina or their relationship. He took a long drink of his tea and sighed. He knew thinking was vastly different than putting his determination to practice, but he was going try.

Aldous sat down by his feet and Emery gave him a piece of sausage then continued his musings. Regina never saw him as anything else but who he was and pulling away from her caused Emery to feel a tremendous amount of guilt because he didn’t want her to think she was at fault. None of this was her fault. Emery finished off his tea and bit his bottom lip. He wanted to be with her, but first he wanted to be himself before he returned to bed. Emery picked up the vial and inspected the liquid inside of it. He grinned and pulled the cork out of it, bringing the glass vial it to his lips. Emery licked his lips as he lowered the empty vial. The red liquid tasted the same as it did the first time he took the potion.

Emery managed to get to the couch before it started to work. He laid down on it and groaned as a searing pain coursed through his body. He may have gone through the pain before, but it didn’t prepare him for going through it a second time. Aldous whined in front of him and licked at his face. He couldn’t reassure the dog due to the excruciating pain. Like the first time it lasted for several long minutes then Emery lost consciousness.

Emery woke to a cold, wet nose nudging his forehead and he groaned. “Aldous, stop. I’m okay,” he muttered to the fretting dog.

“Then I don’t feel bad for doing this…” Emery felt a firm swat to his shoulder. Regina scolded, “Why didn’t you tell me the potion made you pass out?”

Emery groaned again then sat up. He cleared his throat then remarked, “It’s a minor side effect and it doesn’t last for long.” He grinned at Regina. “And when I wake up I look like this.” He held out his arms and Regina rolled her eyes. Emery chuckled. “Also this completely ruins my plans for waking you up.”

Emery began to check himself over to make sure everything was as it should be. He felt like he had more facial hair, but other than that, everything else was the same. Emery, once again, felt comfortable in his body. Regina took hold of his arm and stopped his hand from roaming all over his chest. "You look as you should, Emery.” He smiled at her and Regina chuckled. “I wouldn’t have woken up had you not sent your dog into a panic. He wouldn’t stop whining.”

Emery bent forward and took hold of Aldous’s head. The dog licked all over his face. He laughed. “You are a good boy, and one day your mommy will realize you are the most perfect dog ever.” Emery sat up and grinned at Regina.

She scowled at him. “I am not that dog’s mother and you are not allowed to kiss me until you have thoroughly washed your face.”

Emery leaned closer to her, a wide grin on his face. “Oh come on, Regina. You know you can’t resist me.”

Regina scoffed and got up from the couch. “I see delusion is another side effect of the potion.” She turned and looked at him. “But you are okay besides that?”

Emery got up and walked over to her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and smiled. “I am fine, my love. I feel like I did after I took the potion the first time.” He grinned. “Including the one side effect which drove us both insane.”

Regina shook her head and let out an exasperated breath. “You’re going to have to let me eat breakfast first before you completely exhaust me.”

Emery moved to kiss her neck, but Regina leaned away from him. “I told you, Swan, you are not putting your lips on me until you no longer smell like dog breath.”

“Regina,” Emery exclaimed as she moved out of his embrace. “He didn’t even lick my mouth.”

She moved to the breakfast table and said, “I do not care and did you eat most of the biscuits?”

Emery pressed his lips together then held up his finger. “I think I will summon a page to run me a bath.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at him. “I swear it’s like I’m living with an overgrown child most of the time.”

Emery headed for the bedroom door and said over his shoulder, “At least you will be prepared for if we ever do have children.” He stopped in his tracks and repeated what he had said in his mind. Emery turned to face Regina. “I-I-I-“ He stared at her unable to come up with anything to say.

Regina continued to make her breakfast plate. “I do believe you were about to summon a page to run you a bath.”

Emery let out a relieved breath. Regina wasn’t going to put much merit into what he had said. Marriage was one thing, but children, they were another. Emery continued to make his way into their room so he could put on a shirt. He picked up the one lying on the bedroom floor and pulled it on. He walked back into the sitting room and Regina sat at the breakfast table eating. Aldous sat obediently next to her waiting for her to share some of her food. Emery shook his head. The dog always tried and Regina always ignored him. “Aldous, go lay down.” Aldous looked at him whimpered. Emery sighed. “You know she’s not going to give you anything. Go lay down.”

Aldous whimpered and trotted off to the rug in front of the fireplace. He lay down and watched Regina pitifully. “One day he will stop trying to get food from me,” Regina remarked.

Emery headed for the chamber doors and countered, “If you stop feeding him food behind my back then he wouldn’t bother you, or you could just feed him outright. I wouldn’t even gloat if you did.”

“If I did that then you would think you will have won something.”

Emery scoffed softly and muttered to himself, “No we wouldn’t want that now would we?” He rolled his eyes and opened the door so he could ask the guard to get a page for him. He closed the door and walked over to the breakfast table. He sat down in the chair across from Regina and picked up a piece of fruit. As he ate it he found himself watching Regina - completely enraptured with her. She wasn’t her usual put together self when she was being the queen. Instead she had disheveled hair; appeared as though she could fall back to sleep; and wearing a thick purple robe. Emery never found her more beautiful than he did in this moment.

He placed the remaining bit of fruit onto the table then got up and went over to Regina. He gently took hold of her chin, tilted her head up, and kissed her. The kiss conveyed all the emotion he felt for her and then some. Regina resisted at first, but then she melted into it and placed her hand on the back of his neck. They broke apart when there was a knock on their chamber doors. Emery stood up straight and smiled at her. “I know, you will make me pay for that.”

Regina cleared her throat and gave him a slight nod. “As long as you understand there will be repercussions later.” Emery chuckled and walked away from the table to go answer the door. He couldn’t wait for the repercussions because he was certain they would be interesting ones.

Emery gave the sensitive flesh between his lips a final suck then he moved up Regina’s body, taking his time to kiss, lick, and nibble on her damp skin. He lingered at her left breast giving the hard nipple a firm tug with his teeth before swirling his tongue around it. He continued to kiss up Regina’s chest, emerging from the thin sheet which covered him. His lips continued their way up her neck. Regina turned her head and met his lips for possessive and all consuming kiss which further drove the passion between them.

Emery effortlessly glided into Regina moaning into the kiss. The feeling of having her wrapped around him was something which would always amaze him and he would always crave to feel it. He began to move against her and the light sheen of sweat covering their bodies made the movement easy. Emery took his time, but he didn’t know how long he would be able to hold off his inevitable climax. He wanted Regina to have another before succumbing to his own. Regina soft moans and breathless gasps drove him closer to the brink of insanity and the nails which raked down his back spurned the movement of his hips.

Emery held onto Regina’s waist and drove himself deep inside of her. Regina arched her back off the bed and called out his name. The muscles surrounding him tightened and a delightful shudder went through Emery. He was close and he knew Regina was on the verge of having her own orgasm she just needed the right attention to get there. He reached between them and found the sensitive organ which would give Regina the right stimulation to get her to climax.

Regina grasped at Emery’s back, her nails digging into his skin, while shuddering breaths escaped her as she came. Feeling her go through her orgasm was enough to trigger Emery’s and he came with her. He held Regina close to him and softly whispered her name as a euphoric rush went through him.

Emery loosened the hold he had on Regina and relaxed on top of her. She ran her hand up and down his back and Emery nuzzled her neck. The two of them silently recovered then Regina kissed his temple and whispered, “You better not fall asleep.” Emery grunted and she pinched his side. “I am serious, Emery. We have dinner with my father in an hour.”

He nuzzled her neck some more and gave it a soft kiss. Emery lifted his head and wondered, “Why did we agree to have dinner with your father? This doesn’t constitute to us staying in bed all day like we had discussed.”

Regina gave him a gentle push and Emery rolled off of her. She cuddled up to him and said, “You agreed so you only have yourself to blame.”

Emery laughed and wrapped his arm around her. King Henry had caught him on his way up from taking Aldous out and asked if he and Regina would have dinner with him. Emery couldn’t tell the man no. Not only was Henry a man you couldn’t say no to, but Emery enjoyed spending time with him. He was going to have to have Joe and Ingrid up so the five of them could spend some family time together. “You are absolutely right,” Emery said as he gave her a quick squeeze. “But you try telling your father no.”

Regina chuckled and remarked, “I certainly will not be accepting that challenge.”

Emery moved Regina so she was on top of him and he kissed up her neck and murmured, “I have another challenge for you, my queen.” He palmed both her breasts in his hands, giving each a gentle squeeze before pinching the hard nipples on them. Regina drew in a shuddering breath.

“How are you ready to go again?” she wondered as Emery lifted his head.

He took her taut nipple between his teeth and gave it a gentle tug before sucking on it. He released it and slid his hands up her back. Emery buried them in her hair and pulled her head down. Their lips were barely touching when he whispered, “Side effect of the potion.” He kissed her deeply. Emery’s arousal swiftly made its way through him and he could feel his excitement grow from a slight hum to an all consuming need. He broke the kiss and added, “Or it could be you, Regina.”

Regina continued their kiss but then pulled back. “We can’t do this. We have to bathe and get ready for dinner.” Emery ran his hand up Regina’s side and before he could reach her breast she stopped it. He pouted but then a lascivious thought fill his mind. Emery smirked at Regina and a wary expression came to her eyes. “Do not look at me with that smile on your face, Swan. Nothing good comes from it.”

Emery rolled them to where she was laying on the bed and he was on top of her. He kissed across her collar bone and between the teasing caresses he said, in a singsong voice, “Oh, your majesty….”

Regina lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at him. “Emery, whatever you are about to say I will say no to it.”

The wicked and inappropriate thoughts going through his mind further fueled Emery’s arousal and as he settled between Regina’s thighs he grinned down at her. She continued to scowl at him, but Emery had a plan which would get rid of it. He lowered his head to where his mouth was close to her ear and drew in a deliberate, sensuous breath through his mouth then bit his bottom lip. Emery ran the tip of his tongue around the shell of her ear then a soft, breathless exhale escaped him. He knew the sound had an intense effect on Regina. “Regina,” he murmured against her ear. He paused to build up her anticipation. “I want you.” Emery drew in another measured, but unsteady, breath. He made sure to wait an appropriate amount of time before continuing. Though Regina had never told him, Emery had come to notice when he used that particular phrase during sex she became more enthusiastic and passionate. It made for an incredible lovemaking session and she would tease him in the most delicious of ways. Even now as he teased her, her hips rolled as she yearned for him to touch her. “I want you here, but I want you somewhere else.”

Emery’s hand slowly made its way between them, reaching between her legs. He felt moisture of her arousal and smirked to himself. Emery caressed the hypersensitive flesh and Regina’s hips rolled into him again. “Where else do you want me, Swan?” Regina asked and her voice quaked slightly as she asked the question.

Emery teased her and kissed the underside of her jaw. He whispered, “On your throne. I want to take you sitting in it. Over it. Behind it. I want to take you on the very seat which shows the realm you are in charge.”

Regina’s breathing had grown heavy and she swallowed hard. She then stated in a low voice, “I will not let you talk me into desecrating a throne which has been a part of this kingdom for the better part of three hundred ye –“

Emery drove himself inside of her causing Regina to cut her sentence short. She moaned and grasped at the bed sheets underneath her. He held onto her waist as he began to move against her. Emery shut his eyes and relished in the feeling of being inside Regina for a moment then he began to whisper the lascivious and sinful things he would do to her on her throne. It further charged the lust between them. Taking Regina on her throne had been a secret desire of Emery’s since the first time he saw her sitting on it. However, he never thought he would actually be able to bed the queen - no less be in a relationship with her - so he was going to fulfill his fantasy. Emery moaned when Regina’s nails dug into his back and she cried out his name. It made his movements more enthusiastic and it wasn’t long before Regina climaxed and he went with her. The two of them fell into an orgasmic bliss which only contained the two of them.

Chapter Text

Emery and Regina rushed into the dining hall and Regina cast a lethal glare towards Emery as she apologized to her father. “Daddy, I am so sorry we are late. Emery and I were discussing a matter in regards to the province and time escaped us.” She walked over to where he sat.

King Henry rose from his seat and smiled at her. “Nonsense, Regina. I have only arrived myself.” He gave Regina’s cheek a quick kiss and added, “However, I almost sent the guards to go looking for you two since no one has seen you for most of the day.” Emery stopped in his tracks and bowed at the king. Henry smiled at him. “Prince Emery,” his smile grew, “were you and my daughter discussing matters which pertained to the province under your domain?”

A cheeky grin appeared on Emery’s face. “Yes, your majesty, we were.” He didn’t mind lying to the king of kingdom. It was better for everyone involved and the truth would have been worse for him and Regina.

Emery moved to pull out Regina’s chair and as she sat down Henry wondered, “And if I were to ask the guards they wouldn’t tell me anything which would contradict your story?”

Emery felt his cheeks warm up. He muttered to Regina, “We should probably have the guards executed.”

Regina chuckled and placed her napkin in her lap. “Oh, I don’t think so. I think I will let my father interrogate them.”

Emery scowled at her as he sat down at the table. “You truly are an evil woman.” Regina laughed. The two of them were only a half an hour late. It wasn’t his fault Regina exuded a natural allure which he was easily susceptible to. However, it wasn’t entirely Emery’s fault for why they were late.  When they had gotten into the bath he had been determined to ignore his lustful desires, but Regina - on the other hand - wasn’t able to ignore hers. They ended up having sex in the bath and Emery realized he would bathe more frequently if it meant he could have sex.

“Emery,” King Henry started, interrupting what would have been a pointless back and for the between him and Regina. “I saw the rack of the deer you killed. Impressive.”

Emery took a drink from the goblet of wine which had been poured for him and nodded his head. He grinned at Henry. “You should have seen the majestic beast it came from. I almost didn’t have the heart to take it down, but a kill like that was hard for me to resist.”

Henry and Emery laughed and the older man wondered, “And how did you take down such a creature?”

Emery began to entertain Henry with the story of how he had taken down the stag. He told the story in an animated manner and Henry was fully enthralled by it. Emery also noticed Regina was paying attention to him though she feigned to be disinterested in the story. Most of the time she didn’t care to hear about his hunting excursions. She only tolerated Emery’s love for the sport because of the therapeutic affect it had on him, but other than that, Regina wasn’t interested in hearing about how he had killed some wild animal.

The conversation moved to the kingdom and trade talks after Emery had finished his story. Negotiations and writing up the contracts had taken a momentary pause because they were at the main castle, but were going to finish once Emery and Regina returned to the province. Regina and Henry were talking about the kingdom north of theirs when Emery remembered what he had planned for his battalion and the new recruits. “Pardon me, your majesties, but my queen I have a question for you.” Regina arched an eyebrow at him and Emery smiled. “Before our departure to the main castle Neal, Graham, and I had discussed taking the battalion and the new recruits to the edge of the province to engage in war games. I need your approval before planning anything.”

“War games,” Henry repeated with a smile. “It has been awhile since I’ve engaged in those.”

Emery grinned at him and offered, “You are more than welcome to join the men and me when we have everything planned.”

“I have to approve of your childish activity,” Regina reminded Emery with a slight scowl. He didn’t understand why she would be against it. He would be out of the way and she could finish the negotiations without hearing him complain or threaten to swear at everyone in the meeting room. “Are you forgetting we are under great pressure to get these negotiations finished? Not only have we made deals and arrangements with the merchants and farmers in our kingdom, but also our allies expect us to commit to the terms we have given them.”

Emery held up his hand. “And we will, my queen. The war games will not happen until that is done.” There went Emery’s plan to avoid the rest of negotiations. He would be a dead man if tried to talk his way out of them now. “I am planning this in advance because the men need something to do and this is the best I can offer them.”

Regina’s eyes bore into him then she went back to finishing her dinner. “We will see how the rest of the negotiations work out.”

Emery gave her a slight nod. It was the best answer he would receive on the matter and he decided not to exhaust his luck on it. He would get his war games one way or another. If she didn’t approve of them then Emery would recommend the idea to the other generals and tell them how the army needed to go through training exercises before integrating the provincial soldiers. It would probably piss Regina off, but it would be one way around her stubborn nature. However, if she found out Emery had a hand in it his life would be a complete nightmare. Emery sighed quietly to himself and continued to eat his dinner. There was no way for him to get around Regina.

Henry cleared his throat. “Other than trade negotiations, I hear the farms in the kingdom will have a prosperous spring and summer.” Emery smiled at the man thankful for the change of conversation.

The dinner conversation went from the kingdom to hunting to what King Henry was doing to preoccupy his time since he didn’t have to actually run the kingdom. Somehow the man had gotten on the topic of Regina’s childhood and how one apple tree had transformed into a massive orchard which supplied the kingdom with some of the best apples. Henry was trying to catch his breath as he told a story about how a young Regina had climbed into one of the apple trees to escape her language tutor. He chuckled. “Regina stayed in this tree for hours. Her mother had gone off on some excursion, so it was just her and I in the castle. The poor woman comes in frightened to death - thanks to Cora - and is close to tears as she tells me Regina has disappeared.” Henry’s laughter resumed. “I had the entire guard looking for her and by the time we had found her she had fallen asleep in the tree she was hiding in.”

Emery laughed with the man and glanced at Regina. She shook her head at the story, but there was a smile on her face. “How old was she?” Emery asked.

Henry took a drink of his water and sighed. “Couldn’t have been more than nine or ten since we had found her in one of the older trees.”

Emery chuckled. Hearing stories about Regina’s childhood and having another enjoyable dinner with Henry made Emery feel a contentment he wanted to feel all the time. He loved the small family he had created with Regina and Henry. It made him want to convince Ingrid and Joe to move closer to the castle so he could have his own parents nearby. It would be ideal for when they decided to have children. Emery’s eyes widened at the thought. He wanted to have children with Regina. Actual offspring who could, or could not, have her personality. Emery looked at Regina. She was listening to whatever King Henry spoke about and he smiled. He wanted a lot of things with Regina. Not just children and a family, but a life with her. Emery reached for her hand under the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. Their eyes met and the happiness shining in Regina’s eyes further solidified the decision Emery had already made.

The three of them finished dinner and when they were done they retired to the parlor. Emery and King Henry sat at a small table and continued to play the game of chess they had been engaged in for last couple of days while they nursed glasses of wine and enjoyed cigars. Regina sat on a small couch and as she read her book she took sips from a glass which held her infamous apple cider liquor. Emery drew a in a bit of smoke and allowed the flavor of it to roll around his tongue as he contemplated his next move. A slow stream of smoke expelled from his lips. King Henry sighed. “Emery, I will have died before you have moved.”

Emery chuckled. “Fine, your majesty, I will move.” He moved his pawn up a space and grinned at the man sitting across from him. “I only did this because I refuse to be blamed for your death.”

Henry chuckled and contemplated his next move. Emery took a sip of his wine and sat back in his chair. He glanced over at Regina and his eyes remained on her as he became captivated by her natural beauty. She looked completely relaxed and engrossed in her book. A small smile formed on his face. He watched her and memorized every nuance of her face along with the slight expressions which came and went from it. Emery was brought from his reverie when he heard King Henry clear his throat, loudly. He looked at the man and Henry grinned at him.

Emery leaned forward in his seat to study the board then moved his chess piece. His face burned with embarrassment but it wasn’t the first time Henry had caught him staring at Regina. Henry hummed and remarked, “I do have to say it is good to see you in better spirits these last few days.” He placed his hand on his knight then removed it without moving the white piece. “I was worried about you. Whatever you were going through had a terrible effect on Regina.” He sighed and moved his rook. “When she wasn’t locked in her study, she was locked in her rooms with books and any mention of you set her off.”

Emery sighed and chewed on the inside of his lip before drawing a long hit off his cigar. He held the smoke a moment then released it. “I apologize for worrying you and her.” Emery let out a deep breath. “I will try my best to never worry her like that again.”

Henry waved his hand and shook his head. “Nonsense, Emery. She told me you were dealing with something which would drive a person insane. I’m not brining this up to judge or condemn you. I wanted you to know the amount she does care for you.” He gestured for Emery to move.

Emery moved one of his chess pieces without actually being aware of where he was moving it. “When I am in a depressed state I forget she loves me no matter who I am.” He took a drink of his wine then lowered the glass. “It is something which is easily forgotten when the enemy you’re fighting is yourself.”

Henry hummed and sat back in his chair as he stared at the chess board. His eyes met Emery’s. “This is true.” He moved his knight. “I know how you feel on some level.” The older man sighed and took a hit off his cigar. After exhaling the smoke he admitted, “I used to fight with myself all the time when Regina was growing up. I questioned the values and morals Cora was teaching her because they conflicted with my own. A young girl should not grow up with her mother telling her the only thing which mattered in the world was power and controlling it. However, no matter how much Cora’s teachings conflicted with my beliefs I rationalized it as her teaching Regina to become an effective queen who would do anything for her kingdom and the people in it.”

Emery moved his chess piece as Henry continued. “Despite my rationalizations I knew Cora’s methods were extreme, but I did not speak up.” He sighed. “Instead I made sure Regina knew how to love on top of the tyrannical teachings Cora tried to instill in her. That people aren’t meant to be used and manipulated.”

Emery studied the man across from him. Regret and guilt were written all over Henry’s face. He could tell the lack of interference on the king’s part ate at him, but it didn’t need to. Regina was a kind, loving woman who – despite her ulterior motives at the start – had done a number of things to make sure Emery was successful and happy. “You did a wonderful job, your majesty. Regina is a generous and caring person.”

Henry gave him a contemplative nod and moved one of his pieces. “I suppose.” He smiled at Emery and it reached his eyes. “She did fall in love with a scoundrel like you.”

Emery finished off his wine then stubbed out his cigar. He moved his queen and grinned at Henry. “Well, your majesty, this scoundrel just won this round.” He laughed. “Checkmate.”

Henry laughed with him and they toasted Emery’s victory. As they were catching their breaths Regina said, “If you two are done talking about me as if I’m not in the room, Emery, can you escort me to our chambers, please?”

Emery stood from his seat. “Certainly, my love.” He bowed at Henry. “Your majesty. We can get another game started in the morning.”

Henry rose from his seat and said, “Perhaps. Or we could go on a hunt before you and Regina leave for the province at the end of the week.”

Emery smiled at him. “We can arrange that.”

Regina walked over to Henry and gave his cheek a kiss. “Goodnight, daddy and stop encouraging him to run wild in the forest. We’ll never get him back.”

Henry chuckled and remarked, “I’m certain no matter how far Emery travels from you he will always find some way to get back to you.” He gave her cheek a kiss. “Goodnight, Regina.”

Emery and Regina left the parlor after he told Henry goodnight. They walked down the main corridor on the first floor and a companionable silence lingered between them. With them being alone Emery had something he wanted to ask Regina, but couldn’t figure out how to word the question. Unfortunately for him, he still lacked tact and Emery blurted it out startling Regina a little. “Have you ever thought about children?” He quickly added, “I know I joked about it earlier, but I…um…I-I just want to know.”

Regina glanced at him then looked back in front of her. She softly chuckled. “Before - once upon a time - when I was with Daniel, I did contemplate children.” Emery knew by her tone there was more to it. “However, when he died the thought of a future - which included marriage and children - died with him.”

“Oh.” Emery’s insecurities rushed to the surface and he swallowed them down. He knew they were only trying to ruin his happiness. Regina had told him, on several occasions, she wanted to be with him. “And now?”

Regina eyed him out the corner of her eye and smirked. “I will not consider children until a proper proposal and wedding have taken place.”

Emery wanted to argue the point, but he realized they weren’t heading to the stairs which led to their chambers. They were approaching the throne room. Emery’s heart began to race as excitement and arousal pushed their way to the forefront of his mind. Emery grinned at Regina. “My queen?”

Regina continued to focus on where she was going and as they approached the doors to the throne room, she addressed the guards. “You are dismissed. Take the other guards in this corridor with you. Go patrol the south side of the castle.”

The guard on the left gave Regina slight nod. “Yes, your majesty.”

The guards left and Emery and Regina entered the throne room. The door closed behind them and the eerie silence of the cavernous room enveloped them. Emery was awed by it, but at the same time he also found the silence a little unsettling since there was no one else in the room. As they approached the front of the room Regina walked in front of Emery and climbed the three steps which went up to the first tier of the dais then turned around. “Stop walking.”

Emery stopped in his tracks and raised an eyebrow. Regina made her way up to the upper part of the dais and stood in front of the throne. “Approach.”

Emery gave her a slight nod. “Yes, my queen.”

He climbed the three stairs and made his way closer to the throne. “Stop,” Regina ordered right before he climbed the steps which would put him on the platform the throne sat on. Regina stared at him and the look in her eyes was an authoritative one, but desire danced alongside it. Emery felt his anticipation grow. Regina’s eyes roamed his body. Her brown eyes met his green ones. “Kneel.”

Emery followed the command however the position only worsened the tightness in his pants. Regina clasped her hands behind her back. “You would do anything for you queen would you not?”

“Yes, my queen,” Emery replied. He didn’t know what game she was playing at but it intrigued and excited him all at the same time.

A wide grin spread across Regina’s face. “Good.” She walked down the steps and came to a stop in front of Emery. She moved her hands in front of her and in the left one was a riding crop. Emery swallowed hard as arousal and curiosity flooded his system. Regina lightly tapped the palm of her right hand with the leather end and hummed. “You see, Swan, I have fantasies and desires as much as you do. You want to do unimaginable things to me on my throne, and I want to do unimaginable things to you with this.” She held up the crop and smiled. “What do you say we forge a deal?”

Emery bit his bottom lip. His knew his desire to take Regina on her throne was going to get him into something he wouldn’t be able to back out of, but Emery wasn’t certain he wanted to back out of it. Regina had begun to slowly ease him into the more sadistic side of her sexual personality and most of the time Emery was able to endure whatever she gave him, however, this seemed to be something different all together. It intrigued and excited him. “And what deal would that be, my queen?”

Regina pointed the riding crop at Emery and ran the supple leather down his neck as she smiled down at him. Emery knew he was going to accept whatever deal she came up with. The wild desire in her eyes was something he could not say no to. “All you have to do is follow my every command and you can take me on my throne.”

Emery swallowed and nodded. “It sounds fair enough.”

A wicked grin played on Regina’s lips. “It’s more than fair in my opinion.” She walked closer to him and grabbed hold of Emery’s chin to lift his head. Her eyes softened. “You know what to do if this becomes too much for you.” Emery nodded and she gave him a delicate kiss. Regina stood up straight and transformed back into the authoritative figure she had been. “Take off your shirt,” she demanded.

Emery slowly unbuttoned his shirt and his eyes never left Regina’s as he did. When the final button was undone he took it off and tossed it to the side. Regina’s eyes scanned his now exposed upper body. Emery waited for her next move. She brought the riding crop up to his neck and slid it down across his collarbone. The feel of the leather felt interesting against Emery’s already excited skin. It glided down the center of his chest and over his nipples which further excited him. Regina swatted his nipple with the crop and Emery tensed up, but didn’t make a sound.

The sadistic grin on Regina’s face told him he had the right reaction, but she wanted to make him scream and beg, and Emery was willing to hold out because it drove her crazy. A dark chuckle came from the woman standing above him and Regina bent down to whisper against his ear, “You are about to get everything you wanted and more.”

The low timber of her voice doubled Emery’s arousal. He couldn’t wait for the things Regina would do to him along with the things he would do to her. It would be a night where they would give into the carnal urges which drove them before they would return to being the gentle and attentive lovers they typically were with one another.

Emery jogged over to the barrel of water and held out onto its sides. He drew in a deep breath and submerged his head into it. He held his head under the water for a few seconds then pulled it out. He wiped his hair back then cupped several handfuls of water into his mouth. Once he had quenched his thirst he headed for his tent. Even if he was hot it was still cool out and catching a cold during the war games, which he organized with Neal and Graham’s help, was not something he wanted.

Emery grinned as he looked around the clearing they were setup in. It would be a week filled with competitions which ranged from hand-to-hand combat to strategy to military style of attacks. Emery had just gotten done defeating one of the top recruits in hand-to-hand and was now heading off to judge the archery competition. Being in the games as a competitor and an official was annoying, and slightly exhausting, but Emery enjoyed every moment of it. The games were a welcomed break for him considering the last two months he had been through.

Emery had been surprised a political and domestic crisis hadn’t occurred over the last two months. Trade negotiations with the foreign kingdoms had resulted in numerous threats from Regina; and Emery had to deal with difficult farmers in the province who had somehow found out the farmers in the heart of the Mills kingdom were getting offered more in regards to exports. Emery had discovered a disgruntled council member had leaked the information to the farmers. He had to make an example out of the man for disclosing confidential information about the province and kingdom to those not on the council.

Emery walked into his tent and blew out a tired breath. To his displeasure his role had started to become more political the last couple of months and he had been given more responsibilities – including being present at court with Regina. He had put up an argument about the decision and in turn Regina withheld sex. Emery pouted. The moment had been an educational one for him and Emery learned when he should keep his stupid mouth close.

On top of dealing with negotiations, increased diplomatic responsibilities, and training the province’s troops; there had been a surge of uprisings. The kingdom’s commanders had come to the conclusion that the people in the villages where the uprisings had happened had been planning them for some time in secret. A fact Regina hadn’t been too happy about and executions had been ordered for all those involved with the uprisings. Emery couldn’t handle executions. The first one he had gone to almost caused him to vomit. When he told Regina he wasn’t going to another one she explained to him there was an expectation for her as a queen which meant there was an expectation for him as prince regent. Emery was still trying to adjust to this requirement, and lucky for him, Regina didn’t have him go too many executions. However, they were still dealing with those from the uprisings and Emer