"I realize this is just pomp and circumstance, but I could do with a bit less of the pomp." Killian set down his empty wine goblet, unstoppered his flask and poured a healthy dose of rum into it.
"I'll take some of that," David said, nudging his own goblet over. "And one thing I've learned about Regina - she can never have enough pomp."
"How bloody long can they argue over the varying shades of crimson and gold?" Killian asked.
"Who even knew there were varying shades of crimson and gold?" Robin interjected, reaching for the flask. "I don't think we've made an inch of headway."
"If you three are quite finished," Regina said, raising her voice. "We could use a little guidance."
"Is it regarding color schemes, china patterns, flatware designs, draperies or sconces?" Killian asked.
"No, it's -"
"Furniture placement, carpeting, water closet availability or floral design?" Killian continued, ticking the items off on his fingers.
"Enough!" Regina snapped. She took a breath. "It's a matter of decorum."
Killian raised a brow. "Well, don't look at me."
"I'm certainly not qualified," Robin said, pouring himself another drink.
Killian rolled his head toward David, who was staring glumly at the wall with his chin in his hand. "That leaves you, mate."
"Huh?" David snapped to lethargic attention. "What are we doing?"
"Pay attention," Regina bit out. "If everyone just pays attention, this will all go a lot faster."
"Do you promise?" Robin asked. He held up his hands at the look on Regina's face. "Kidding. I'm kidding, Regina."
"Well, I'm not," Snow said, taking up where Regina left off. "We've got so much to do before the coronation and we're going to need everyone to pitch in. Please don't make this any more stressful than it already is."
"You're arguing over whether the 'more-red-crimson' or the 'not-as-gold' gold work better than the 'clearly-lighter-crimson' and the 'much-deeper-gold' gold," Killian growled. "And you've been at it for over an hour."
"Kings aren't crowned every day!" Snow protested.
"No, they are not," Regina said, through clenched teeth. "And it all has to be perfect. Nothing less than perfect for our son. Isn't that right, Emma?"
Emma jerked at the sound of her name.
"Yes. Right. Absolutely."
"You see?" Snow said. "Emma gets it."
"She's said the same thing every time you've woken her up," Killian said flatly.
Emma's mouth opened, and then closed again. She gave Killian a look that said he was going to pay for that. "I have not," she defended. "I'm just...thinking. And I think we should go with whatever they decide."
"Fine," David sighed, raising a hand in surrender before he used it to rub some blood flow back into his face. "Let's just get this done. What was the matter of decorum?"
"Fealty," Regina said.
"What about it?"
"When Henry's knights kneel to pledge fealty, I think it would be nice - just as a decorative touch, you understand - to have them kneel on velvet pillows," Snow said. She reached into a bag at her feet, pulling out a few small crimson velvet pillows embroidered in gold. "I've had the local seamstress mock up a few with Henry's crest."
"Pillows?" Robin looked confused.
"You see?" Regina waved a hand. "No man - no real man - is going to swear fealty while kneeling on an embroidered pillow."
"David...?" Snow looked over at him expectantly.
"Pillows." He looked at her like she'd gone mad. "You expect knights of the round table to kneel on pillows?"
"They won't scuff their armor," Snow replied. "Right, Emma?"
"Yes. Right. Absolutely." Emma nodded.
"They won't be wearing armor," Killian said. "They're feasting, not jousting."
"Well, they won't bruise their knees," Emma said with a shrug.
Regina gave an eyeroll that should have tossed her eyes out of her sockets. "Gentlemen?" she asked.
"No pillows," they all answered.
"Definitely no." Robin added.
"No." David agreed. "No pillows."
Snow gritted her teeth. "Fine. No pillows. And now that we have that settled, we can move on."
"Wonderful!" Killian said, swigging rum directly from the flask now.
"Hallelujah," Emma said. "What's next?"
Snow smiled. "The menu. I've narrowed it down to sixty-eight options, but we really need to get that number into the thirties somewhere."
David leaned forward, putting his face in his hands and Robin's head dropped back, hitting the stone wall behind his chair. Killian couldn't take it anymore and rose to his feet.
"I need more rum," he said.
"I'll help you." Emma got to her feet. "Can I get anyone else anything?"
"Something to drink would be nice," Snow said with a smile. "We have to taste-test all the varieties of dinner rolls."
"And how many are those?" David asked, opening his fingers and looking between them warily.
Snow scribbled something else down on her list with a flourish, and David folded his arms on the table in front of him, and laid his head down.
"It's after midnight," Robin said with a yawn. "Can't we take this up tomorrow?"
"No." Regina and Snow were adamant.
"I'll be right back," Emma said, moving quickly after Killian. She followed him into the kitchen, then flattened her back against the wall and leaned against it.
"I thought we'd never get out of there," she groaned.
Killian pulled her in, letting her rest her forehead against his chest. "Shore up, Swan" he said. "Only six thousand more decisions to go."
"I am not cut out for this royal stuff. My mom thrives on it. Henry was smart, telling them he had official duties."
"He had a much more pleasant evening arranged," Killian said. "Can't fault the boy for wanting to spend some time with his love. Soon enough he'll be king and suffering through all the pomp and circumstance with the rest of us."
"Suffering is right."
"Not much longer," he said, rubbing her back.
"Hmmmm," Emma rubbed her face back and forth into the skin at the vee of his shirt. "How long before they notice we're missing?" she asked, planting a kiss at the base of his throat.
He brought his hand up, tangling it in her hair. "Perhaps we can convince them that the rum is on the ship," he murmured, leaning in and nudging her face up by tugging on her hair. He'd just brought his lips down to hers when a child's voice, at ear-splitting level, delivered one word:
Emma jumped, bumping into Killian's face and causing him to stagger back, with his fingers pressed to his sore lip.
"Finn!" she admonished. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"It's loud," he repeated. "I can't sleep."
"What are you talking about?" Killian asked, dabbing gingerly at his lip with his shirtsleeve. "What's loud?"
"The lady?" Emma looked at Killian, then back to her son. "Finn, I think you're dreaming. Now let's get you back up to bed -"
"Papa!" Meriel's voice now, and coming from the top of the stairs in the main hall. There was no mistaking the fear it carried, either. Killian was moving before she'd finished the word, and Emma grabbed Finn's hand, following close behind.
Once he'd raced up the stairs, Killian lifted Meriel up into his arms and she wrapped her gangly legs and arms around him. Her dark hair was a tangle, and he pushed it out of her face.
"Now then," he said tenderly. "What's this all about, little love?"
"There's a ghost outside. She's frightening me."
"She's loud," Finn said, pulling free of Emma's grip. "Come on, I'll show you."
"Finn!" Meriel called in a panic. "Papa! He can't go in there. It isn't safe. K-" she stopped herself. "I just have a feeling."
"I've got him," Emma said.
"Let's all go have a look," Killian said.
"We could all use a break," David suggested, coming up the stairs behind them, along with the others.
"Could be an animal," Robin said. "We'd better check it out."
They followed Finn through the door of Meriel's room. It was a warm night, so the doors to the balcony were open. The moon was full, but the room was flooded with a nearly unearthly light, casting a yellowish glow.
"What the...?" Emma's voice trailed off as the sound began, low at first, more like a vibration or a hum that raised the hair on your arms and the back of your neck, growing louder and seeming to come from all directions. Then it shifted into a soft and heartbreaking lament, expanding and becoming more intense until it became shrill enough that they were all clapping their hands over their ears. Emma pulled Finn back from the window, pulling him behind her, and Meriel buried her face in her father's neck as he turned, facing her away from the danger.
At last the noise began to ebb, back to the lament again, then the hum, then...silence.
"What the hell was that?" Emma asked, pulling Finn closer.
They all looked at each other - all except Robin. His eyes were wide, his mouth open in a look of abject horror.
"Robin?" Regina recognized something was wrong instantly. "What is it?"
His eyes were filled with dread and the word was a bare whisper.
"It's a banshee," he said. "I've only heard it once before. I'd hoped to never hear it again."
"A banshee!" Killian's face now matched Robin's. "No!"
"What does it mean?" Snow asked. "When a banshee sings?"
Killian's eyes met Emma's.
"It means someone in your family is going to die."