When he had been asked to attend court upon the orders of the king, Lieutenant Jones had been surprised to say the least. All his three years out of the Naval Academy and he had only met the King in person once, on the day of his promotion, and then together with several other young sailors.
It was Liam who had told him that his presence was required immediately and Killian could only assume that his brother had something to do with this strange request.
Nevertheless, here he was, standing outside the great hall, feet swaying from one to the other as he nervously looked around the empty hall. Every now and then, a hand would come up to the lapels of his collar and tuck and then drift up to his messy hair in a vain attempt to sooth it down.
He jumped when the great doors behind him suddenly opened and the guard that had escorted him there stepped through, expectantly holding out his hand in the direction of the room in a rather bored manner.
Killian swallowed and nodded his head at the guard before dutifully following him into the room.
He had only ever been there once before, in the company of his brother at the time and was once again astounded at the sight of it, looking nearly doubled the size from before now that only the Royal family, himself and a surprisingly small amount of guards occupied it.
“Your Highness.” Killian bowed, relieved when his voice didn’t waver despite the heavy pounding of his heart.
“Lieutenant” the King nodded and Killian raised his head to meet the kind eyes of the king as he hesitantly rose from his position on the floor.
He had always felt immensely grateful that he had the luck to serve such honourable people as the king and queen in front of him, their tales of bravery and loyalty famous all over the land. The fact that it was their flag he sailed under never failed to make him proud of his job.
Next to King James was his wife Queen Snow, who despite her age still had her beautiful pale skin and long dark hair.
What really captured his attention though, and made his heart stutter in his chest was when his eyes fell upon the princess Emma, who unlike her parents were looking anywhere but him with an unpleasant frown upon her face and arms crossed in front of her chest.
She turned her head then and stared right back at him, looking extremely bored with the whole situation.
Killian flushed and quickly averted his eyes, silently cursing himself for staring.
He missed the slight curl of the princess’ lips.
“I apologize if your summoning is keeping you from any of your duties, but we needed someone trustworthy for this task and Captain Jones has told me great things about you.”
Killian’s blush deepened but before he had the chance to answer the princess spoke up.
“Father, please.” Killian chanced a glance in the girl’s direction again and couldn’t help the frown from creeping onto his face when he spotted the distress on hers.
Queen Snow turned to look stern at her daughter.
“Emma, there’s nothing to discuss, you know very well of your situation.” The princess looked like she wanted to say something but kept her mouth shut and instead turned her glare on him. Bloody hell. He had no interest in getting in the middle of what appeared to be a family fight.
Just what had Liam gotten him into?
Killian inwardly groaned.
“What we mean to ask is if you could, please, accompany Emma to the market today.” The Queen turned to him, looking as kind as her reputation made her out to be.
Killian bowed again. “It would be my honour.” He heard himself saying before he could think and he heard the unmistaken sound of a scoff coming from the princess.
He put on a fake smile before raising his head again and nodded respectfully to the King and Queen before addressing the fuming princess.
“Your Highness?” He asked and stretched out his arm for her to take.
She huffed and ignored him, immediately taking off for the door.
With a quick look back at the royal couple, who were exchanging glances with each other, he hurried after his companion for the day.
Bloody hell, indeed.
Princess Emma had made it all the way to the gardens by the time he reached her. The guards he had passed on his way there, had done nothing to help him, simply shaking their heads with stupid pitiful smiles on their faces.
When he stepped out into the fresh air he paused for a moment, looking around the green area.
The King would surely have his head.
To his relief, he didn’t have to walk very far before spotting her. She was standing with her back to him, looking out over the water of a small lake.
He straightened his back before pursuing her, and head held high cleared his throat when he was a few steps behind her, all the while ready to reach out and grab her if she tried to run again.
“Your Highness? Are you ready to leave, milady?”
The princess turned around with a mischievous smile and he narrowed his eyes. The sun danced on her blonde hair from behind, making its curls turn golden.
She took a step closer to him, still smiling and for a moment he found himself spellbound by how all her features seemed to light up because of it.
“Yes, thank you. I just have to do something first.” She said, surprising him with her soft tone and another sweet smile sent in his direction.
He nodded and was just about to open his mouth again when suddenly the girl tackled him.
He let out an embarrassing yelp (of all things) and fell to the ground, feet swaying dangerously trying to stabilize him and then -
He was hit with a wet, very cold feeling, eyes snapping open in shock as he fumbled, trying to reach the surface and had she really pushed him? What the -
Furiously he pulled his damp hair out of his eyes and tell the girl (the damn princess or not) just what he was thinking at that moment.
She was gone.
Bloody buggering hell.
Emma smiled to herself when the contours of the small little town came into view and dismounted her horse to walk the rest of the way, pulling a dirty cloak she had snatched in the stables over her head to avoid any unnecessary stares and simply swelling in happiness that no one paid her a second thought.
This is what she wanted. The freedom to anonymously and by herself roam the roads of the town, watch how the everyday life of her people went by and just enjoy the fact that she at this moment was no one at all. Nothing was expected of her.
An old lady was selling jewellery at one of the stands and Emma strolled over there, not really looking to buy herself something (she had enough of that glimmer, thank you) but still happy to observe the beautiful handmade objects.
Killian had abandoned the royal guard’s horse he’d borrowed at one of the town’s stables and was now making his way through the thick crowd that surrounded the market place.
All around him people were calling out prices for some kind of auction.
Ignoring the stares and snickers he got for his still very much drenched clothes, he turned his head around in all directions, all the while ducking his head whenever the royal guard would pass by. It was stupid. He should have informed someone of the princess’ departure, but had been way too stubborn (and just maybe slightly embarrassed) to do so. She couldn’t have gotten very far, he thought desperately. The sentence echoing in his mind like a mantra. He stepped closer to the marketplace, ignoring the calls coming at him from the merchants all around him.
“Some new textiles for you, sir? Very suitable for clothes.”
“My, don’t you look a mess! And cold too! Here have a mantle made from the finest of dragonskin, only 300 gold pieces, eh?”
Killian held up a hand to block the view of the pestering salesmen and tried to focus his attention to the crowd. A loud clunk got his attention and his head jerked in the sound’s direction. Immediately, he pushed his way through the mass of people that had also been drawn by the sound. He heard an excited woman question her companion if there would be a fight. Killian closed his eyes in silent prayer, before finally managing to get to the front.
What he saw was not of comfort, but still he made a sigh of relief when his eyes landed on the elusive princess he was charged to guard that afternoon.
“Let go off me, you sick bastard.” She princess snarled and looked as if she was about to spit on the chubby, but large man who was gripping her arm, hard by the looks of it. Killian’s blood ran hot.
“Let me show you where your place is, wench.” The man growled and raised his other arm, ready to strike. Killian’s right fist connected with the man’s nose and pumped with pain afterwards. He clutched at it with his other hand.
“What the hell?” The man proclaimed loudly.
“That is not how you address the princess of this land.” Killian said between heaving breaths of anger and adrenaline. Beside him he could feel his protegee going very still. He turned to look at her and was not received with proper thanks for saving her from the butchering hands of the man before him, but with fuming anger. Her green eyes were blazing. Killian had no time to question her or reprimand her for running away, dumping him in the pool or getting into trouble for the townspeople around him had begun to get closer to them. Murmur of “the princess” was raising among them and the thirsty looks in a lot of their eyes gave him a sinking feeling in the stomach. Ah.
“Fool.” The princess spat and while Killian kind of agreed with her he was not about to lose the last shred of his dignity in front of this girl.
“Come on,” he said and grabbed her wrist, tugging at her to follow him. “We have to get out of here now. Quickly.” The princess huffed.
“Yes, someone made that very urgent” Killian almost stopped in his tracks, but tugged onwards, leading them into a stray alley.
“Yes, I was the one who started a fight and drew the whole town’s attention to myself.” The princess laughed.
“I don’t think you need to do something to draw attention to you, your dripping clothes are doing a nice job for you.” He glared at her, and they turned in the alley which lead them to a dead end. Fuck. “You look quite dashing, actually.” The princess continued in her sweet voice and his heart nearly jumped in his throat but as he turned to look at her in shock he noticed the deviant smirk on her lips. “I especially adore the smell, is it something new that you bought here at the market? I simply must have it.” Killian bit his lip in annoyance.
They heard a scuffling of footsteps outside the alley and a few men shouting orders to each other.
“Has anyone checked in here?”
Killian’s breath hitched and pressed a finger to his lips for them to be quiet, and unconsciously pressed them closer to the wall behind them. His hand found the hilt of his sword. The sound of the feet became more distant and he breathed a sound of relief and turned to look back at the princess, and startled at how close she was. Her face was mere an inch from his and he could feel her breath tickling his chin. She stared at him. Slowly, she lifted her hand that wasn’t still gripped in his and raised it toward his face. He cleared his throat and awkwardly stepped back, face reddening.
“My apologies, your majesty.” He said, eyes downcast, looking away from her and letting go of her arm.
“Don’t be stupid.” She surprised him by saying. “I’m fine. I think we lost the men and my maidenhood is still safe and untouched.” He reddened even more.
“Let’s go.” She said, commanded, and started for the road again. He quickly followed and insisted on checking the road from behind the corner before allowing her to step out.
“I think we should return to the castle, before more of them show up.” Either she didn’t listen or she pretended not to hear him for she walked on, posture straight and head held high. He wondered at how no one had recognised her before, for she had royal grace in her every step.
She might have agreed with him after all, he realised, for they had left the town behind and had stepped into the woods. Killian felt himself relax a bit. Here it would be easier to keep track off her and stay clear of unwanted stares.
The princess smiled softly at the shades of green surrounding her, and Killian watched her from the corner of his eye while he stood guard. She seemed to delight in the comforting shades of green around them and the sound of a running river nearby.
“Lieutenant.” She called and he looked to her. Determination shone from her eyes.
“Yes, princess?” He replied, not daring to guess what she might be planning. Was it another escape? He was not as familiar with the forest as he was sure she would be. He glanced behind her and was not happy to see that the tree trunks became thicker and stood closer together further into the woods.
“Please, don’t call me that. I simply wish to be Emma when I can.”
“Er, alright. Emma.” Her name tasted foreign on his tongue. Almost forbidden. But he was being ridiculous. He was glad that despite the princess’ many appearing talents, she was not a mind reader.
“I would like you to teach me how to sword-fight.” She spoke these words very clearly, but he still had to ask her to come again.
“Teach me,” she repeated. He must still have looked utterly baffled for she rolled her eyes.
“Every day I’m stuck within the walls of the castle because my parents believe it’s dangerous for me to wander by myself. But” Here she pointed at the sword hanging at his belt. “If you can teach me how to fight and defend myself I won’t need to have an escort wherever I go.”
“If you wish to learn to fight, why haven’t your parents taught you?” Emma frowned.
“They fought all their lives and believes that by not teaching me, I won’t ever have to.”
Killian regarded her for a moment. He liked to see how she sort of squirmed under his gaze but tried to hide it the best she could by scowling openly at him. A bird whistled in the distance.
“Alright.” He said and was rewarded by a smile that nearly sent him toppling to the ground. If only she could fight off all her attackers with those, he thought humourlessly.
Emma’s first attempts were slow and clumsy and the stick she used for a sword sent blisters into both of their hands.
Still, they carried on and then the sun had gone down, its last rays disappearing behind a treeline.
They were both heaving for their breaths when they at last gave it a rest for the day. Emma’s forehead shone with sweat and Killian could feel his shirt, which had dried under the sun’s hot gaze, clinging once again to his skin.
“That was a good start.” Killian praised her, and Emma smiled widely back.
“You’re a good teacher.” She returned and he felt the corners of his lips tug upwards. All too soon they reached the castle and Killian was surprised at the twist of regret in his stomach as she turned to bid him goodbye in the garden. In the flickering light of the lit torched on the wall, her golden hair glimmered pleasantly.
“Will I see you tomorrow, lieutenant?” She spoke softly and for the first time that day, Killian thought that it might not be sarcastic. Hope rose in his chest.
“I certainly hope so, milady.” He replied, smiling.
“Emma.” She corrected, scrunching up her nose at the title.
“And I am Killian” He said, delighting in her disgust of his use of pet names. She returned his smile. “I know.” She whispered and disappeared into the castle walls.
Killian watched her run off with a smile on his face and no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t rid it before he returned to the docks, not even when Liam playfully smacked him on the head with the ship’s logbook. All he could think of was how much he longed to be on Princess duty again.