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A Year in the Court of Misthaven

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~A Year in the Court of Misthaven~
"A Year in the Court of Misthaven"
By: snowbellewells

Part I: “At the Yule Ball”

{Enchanted Forest, Lieutenant Duckling AU ~ Regina never cast the curse sending them all to Storybrooke, Emma was raised by Charming and Snow as a Princess, with Killian as a young lieutenant in the Royal Navy whom Emma has grown up with – and grown to love…}

 

Crackling flames in the large, stone fireplace fought back the chill winter air in the cavernous open ballroom of Queen Snow White and Prince Charming’s castle at the heart of Misthaven. Though a breathtakingly lovely kingdom of generally mild and steady climate, the true winter months boasted their fair share of bitterly chill winds and thickly falling snow, and the afternoon of Christmas Eve was turning out true to its season.
All around the stately chamber, the Queen was busily putting the finishing touches on decorations throughout the long space from one end to the other, with the help of several maids and butlers, when her daughter, Princess Emma, joined her. Several large fir trees had been brought into the room and decorated, each with various colored bows and balls and candles, and were scenting the air with a crisp pine odor. Snow White herself balanced atop a ladder, stretching on her tiptoes to attach garland in evenly spaced festoons along the walls and arches. However, the quiet and tentative way her daughter Princess Emma entered the room and watched, biting her lip in wistful deep thought caused Snow to come back down the ladder and over to her no-longer-so-little girl to see what was troubling her. Lying a gentle hand on Emma’s shoulder, her mother inclined her dark head with curious concern, hoping to read her beautiful young lady’s thoughts and mind simply by peering into her clouded green eyes. She had a fairly strong suspicion she knew exactly what her daughter’s dilemma was already, but Emma had always been stubbornly, fiercely private, and even with her mother, it took a bit of persuasion for the princess to share. “What is it, Sweetie?” Snow kept her voice soft and light, though no one else seemed to register that she had spoken at all, and her tone inviting – though she hopes not too overtly curious.
“Are you sure you have time, Mama?” Emma asked in return. Her eyes rose from where she fidgeted, lacing and unlacing her fingers, only briefly before skating away to various other spaces in the room. Though she was twenty-one years old, Emma still sought her mother’s favor, her good heart aiming to please and someday prove herself as fair, dedicated, and successful a ruler of her people as her parents have been.
However, Snow White was not about to let her baby girl suffer in silence if there were some way she could ease what concerned her child. Quick to say as much, she soothed Emma’s reluctance. “Of course I do! You’re my daughter, Emma. I only have these garlands yet, and decorations for the ball tonight will be complete.”
“Oh!” Emma exclaimed, her eyes brightening to twinkle playfully and glancing up quickly once more at what her mother had already done, “if that’s all you need…” She flourished her hand with a little whoosh of air and the garland was all perfectly arranged and strung with a second’s burst of magic. She turned back to Snow with a pleased smile stretching her lips, anxiously awaiting her mother’s response.
The Queen wanted to remind her princess daughter that they have spoken before on her using her magical abilities frivolously – and especially in front of others when so many mistrust it – but at the satisfied smile on Emma’s face, and how much happier her daughter seemed than she had for days, Snow bit her tongue to hold back the correction and calmly thanked Emma for her help instead. “Well, that certainly saves me some time spent wobbling around on a ladder,” she managed gratefully. Snow studiously forced herself to put out of mind the fright some of Emma’s magic usages had given herself and Charming over the years; like the Christmas when six-year-old Emma had perfectly lit the tree at a clap of her hands and they had discovered her powers in the first place, or the time when 10-year-old Emma had keeled over from exhaustion after putting out a sudden kitchen fire before any of the cooks or scullery maids could be hurt.
Emma nodded, then took her mother’s hand and pulled Snow to sit by the fire. “There is something on my mind, Mama,” she offered at last, returning to their previous topic of conversation. “It isn’t really anything to trouble anyone else over. I know it can’t be helped.” She sighed, looking down at their joined hands in her lap, to which Snow gave her fingers a gentle squeeze and patted her daughter on the knee comfortingly. “I just…” Emma tried before trailing off helplessly.
“You merely wish your lieutenant were here for the Yule Ball tonight,” Snow supplied knowingly, her mother’s intuition more certain than ever that she was right. Her eyes narrowed to study her daughter’s face, but there was a mischievous twinkle in her gaze despite the careful scrutiny.
Emma’s eyes flew up to meet her mother’s in shock. “How did you know that?”
Snow winked conspiratorially at her daughter, smiling to let Emma know she understood her pain and could commiserate with being separated from the object of one’s affection. “Sweetie, you forget that I was young once too. Your father and I would be blind not to have seen the way Lieutenant Jones looks at you with such devotion, the way your eyes brighten whenever he manages to slip a letter for you into the progress reports his brother sends from their ship. I have seen the way you two have always understood each other – even when playing together as children. Now that you are both of age, I see the way you both slip away discreetly to speak in private whenever you gain a chance…and I know that you have not seriously considered the marriage suits of any other princes or officers.”
When Snow paused, her daughter did at least have the good grace to look chagrined and to blush prettily at how easily her secret had been figured out, but she didn’t deny any of the Queen’s observations.
“Beyond all of that,” Snow continued, “you must know from your father’s and my story that I understand exactly what it is like to have circumstances keep you from someone you care for desperately, how much you miss them and ache to see them, every second you are apart.”
“If only Papa’s scouting mission could have waited until the New Year…or if the mission could have been completed by now. Killian is so set on his ‘good form’ as he calls it…on proving himself worthy to ask for my hand…when he is already the best man I know! All I really wanted for Christmas was to have him here to dance with me in my first Yule Ball waltz as an eligible young woman…”
Emma blinked rapidly, her chin trembling as she forced herself not to cry over something she felt frivolous. Her mother leaned in, her forehead resting against Emma’s, smiling gently before she sat back up and chucked her daughter under the chin. “Keep hope, Emma,” she murmured before leading her daughter to the stairs they both needed to ascend to start getting ready for the evening’s festivities in their respective rooms. “You never know when you might receive a holiday miracle.”

~~~~000~~~~~000~~~~~~000~~~~~~~000~~~~~~~000~~~~000~~~

Some hours later, Emma stood at the railing of her private chamber’s balcony, looking out over the starlit sky and restless dark ocean waves spread before her, just before the ball was to commence. She wished she could see the sails of Killian’s ship returning; or if nothing else, that he could hear her words as she whispered her love into the wind. However, her sailor was not present, and wishing would sadly not make it so. Duty and honor hold high place in this world she lived in, had grown up in; being born royal and the weight of responsibility along with the privilege made that clearer to Emma than most. She must make the most of the ball and the holiday for her parents, loved ones and friends. There would be others – others which she could hopefully spend with the man she loves. She only desired his safe return, so she might finally say the words out loud and he would finally feel he could pledge his troth. Then they could make their love known at last.
Smoothing the ball gown she’d had made in the hopes of seeing Killian’s reaction to it, Emma sighed, but then squared her shoulders and affixed a smile. It was still Christmas, and even if her sailor’s absence put a damper on her spirit, she did not truly wish to make her father feel guilty or cause her mother to fret. She loved this dress, their annual Yule celebration, the music, food, and dancing. She could make the best of things, though she hated to think of Killian lonely on some ship in the frigid winds, Christmas Eve passing him by just like any other night. She glanced down once more at the pure white satin of her dress, accented with sparkling, pale blue snowflakes, the same icy-clear hue of his beloved eyes, blew out a breath, and let the memory of his devoted gaze upon her – with her – go along beside as she stepped from her room to the grand staircase.
Upon reaching the head of the stairs, Emma paused, gazing down at the crowd gathered below and drew in another tight breath meant to steady herself. She might have been born a princess, feeling the weight of the glittering crystal tiara with aquamarine stones perched atop her upswept curls more heavily than usual as she stoically held onto a contented face, trained to carry herself with poise, fully practiced in acting with diplomacy and exuding grace and confidence, but inside she would never love having all eyes on her. She could only too well picture herself tripping and tumbling down the stairs to land in an inelegant sprawl before all their guests. If Killian were here, he would be waiting at the foot of the stairs – as closely as he was allowed – to meet her, gazing up at her and nodding minutely in encouragement, knowing her discomfort and fear without her having to speak or explain. They have practiced sword fighting and archery, horseback riding and tracking together for years. He knew that though she is strong and brave, smart and tough, the idea of parading before judging eyes in a fancy dress and sedate shoes, making only pleasant, correct conversation, is almost beyond the limits of her patience and skill. He understands it (though he is actually quite good at those more sedate skills as well) and only smirks at her squirming in these types of situations, making her want to laugh as well as feel almost immediate relief from the pressure.
She had so dearly looked forward to taking his sturdy, work-calloused hand and letting him escort her into the ball. She had been excited to have him sweep her into his steady arms, off her feet, and into the dance. Instead, she finds her father, King David, as charming as her mama still playfully calls him with a gleam of affection in her eyes, standing at the bottom of her descent, arm out for her to take. Her papa gave her a quietly proud yet gentle smile when she reached him and broke royal reserve and pomp to press a loving kiss to her hairline as she took his arm at his crooked elbow.
“You’re doing great, Sweetheart,” he whispered, low enough that none of the nobles and guests around them could hear. “You’re a vision…beautiful, just like your mother.”
Emma dipped her head, a grateful blush coloring her cheeks. “Thank you, Daddy,” she replied, not vain, but glad to know her nerves and disappointment weren’t showing on the outside.
“Shall we?” her father offered gallantly.
She nodded, and they turned to lead the way into the ball and open the dancing. Normally, that would be he and her mother’s first dance, but this year was different. With it being the Yule Ball that marked her passage into adulthood and announced her preparedness as the future queen of Misthaven, Emma had been designated as the one who would open this year’s dancing with the very first waltz. She had intended it to be hers and Killian’s; one that she had dreamed would begin a night that might even culminate in his at last asking for her hand in marriage. She could still see his flushed fumbling when she had asked him to be her partner and the stutter of embarrassed awe in that usually smooth, flawless voice as he had said that he would be honored, would love nothing more – as long as they returned from their mission in time. He had sailed with his brother and the rest of the Jewel’s crew the very next day. Naturally, she would share the waltz with no other eligible young bachelor – could not even bear to try – but instead was in the arms of her papa, the man who had taught her to waltz so long ago.
She beamed up at King David, not merely a ruler of Misthaven at this moment, but also the doting papa who had once let her stand on his feet as he swirled her around the nursery floor, had taught her to duel as well as curtsy, held her up as she learned to float in the lake in summer, and who had never forgotten his plain roots as a shepherd, teaching her that all people were equally important and allowing her to nurture the feelings she felt for her childhood friend, a simple naval officer, when those feelings had blossomed.
David chucked his daughter under the chin, much as his wife had done that afternoon, tilting her face up to his gaze and laughing quietly while they continued their dance. “So, you don’t hate me because Jones isn’t here to dance with you instead?”
Shaking her head, Emma didn’t attempt to deny her earlier disappointment, but she could not imagine being truly angry at her beloved papa for such an inadvertent injury. It had not been his intention to keep her lieutenant away from the event, nor to crush her holiday cheer.
“Good,” the King smirked, picking up their steps to whirl in even more large and lively circles, “I’m glad to hear it.” Soon the song reached its crescendo and ended with dramatic flourish; Charming swung his daughter out and held her hand steadyingly as they both took a bow to the applause of the gathered dignitaries, other royals, and assorted friends.
Sending her a playful wink as the next song, a faster, jauntier tune began, the King asked his only child, “Do you have one more dance for your father, Emma? I know your mother is anxious to take a spin around the floor, and that you want to go hide somewhere from overzealous suitors who stand no chance and take off your heels…” He eyed her at that, entirely too knowing in Emma’s opinion. Yet there was the sparkle of some surprise he had for her, something he was pleased about, and she couldn’t deny him. Nodding, Emma allowed her papa to gather her into proper dance hold once more.
Others had since taken to the floor and spun and dipped around them in happy celebration. Her mother’s best friend – her godmother, Ruby – danced with the Huntsman – her godfather, Graham, who had at different times saved both her mother’s and her father’s lives. Ruby batted her eyelashes prettily at Graham, and Emma grinned to see a flush spread across his face and neck. Her “uncle” Grumpy and Nova danced together awkwardly, both looking as embarrassed as they did entranced. One of Grumpy’s brothers, her “uncle” Doc, the palace physician, had even convinced Ruby’s prickly Granny to join him on the dance floor. The two of them tromped heavy-footed but happy along with the rest of the crowd.
So Emma was distracted at first when her father began to ease them steadily toward the longer, less crowded end of the ballroom where the largest fir tree stood overlooking the celebration and almost taking up the entire wall. Her father’s eyes were still glimmering with mischief and love as Emma looked up into his face curiously, realizing that he had a definite plan with the loops he was guiding them in.
To her surprise, they actually danced around the gigantic tree and disappeared behind it, hidden from the rest of the room and its revelers. They paused, and Charming bent to kiss his daughter’s forehead, smiling at her softly. “Merry Christmas, Emma,” he whispered, then let her go to step aside, allowing someone waiting in the shadows whom she had not even noticed to sweep her up in his arms.
Blinking rapidly in disbelief, “Killian!” was all she could gasp out as she stared, awestruck and drinking in the beloved face she had missed so. Nearly breathless with astounded joy bubbling up in her veins, Emma forgot all propriety and threw her arms around his neck, pulling him much nearer than the dance called for. She simply couldn’t help herself. Suddenly, it seemed as though he had been gone for ages, and despite the good face she put on for her parents and guests, now that he stood before her once again within reach, she could not hide her affection, nor keep herself from touching him.
Even as Killian kept them moving seamlessly through the steps of the allemande, he was clearly drinking her in as well. Smiling broadly, a flash of white teeth briefly taunting her, he settled on saying, “Well, my love, did you miss me?”
Emma knew he was teasing her, that just how much she had missed him was written large on every fiber of her being. Lovingly, she stroked a hand down the side of his face, fingers tickled by unshaven beard that had grown since he was with her last, she didn’t spare a thought for those who might see the gesture, nor what they might say. “What do you think, Jones?” she murmured in response, a jesting smile of her own quirking up one corner of her mouth.
Chuckling low, he nodded at her words, the sound rumbling in his chest and the vibrations thrilling her as she felt them. There was no denying his happiness at being there for her, his amusement at the surprise he and the King had accomplished, and despite the standards of honor and good form to which he held himself, Emma felt him drawing her closer as well. Killian would never risk opening her up to censure or reproach, would be appalled if anyone could criticize her for her affiliation with him; yet, if she was determined to make her choice known, he certainly would not deny her. It was altogether too wonderful to be back in each other’s arms.
As Emma rested her head on Killian’s chest, comforted by the sound of his heart thumping in her ear, she snuggled into his embrace and finally felt her holiday complete. Closing her eyes to savor the blissful moment, she smiled at how very right her mother had been; she had received a Yuletide miracle after all.