A Satisfied Mind
"Money can't buy back. All your youth when you're old
A friend when you're lonely or peace to your soul
The wealthiest person, is a pauper at times
Compared to the man, with a satisfied mind"
-A Satisfied Mind, Porter Wagoner
Baelfire shouted back over his shoulder to her, his deep brown eyes twinkling with excitement, laughing into the wind as they raced out of the kingdom. Emma was close behind him, giggling too, tightly clutching the satchel containing the crown jewels they'd just swiped. She stole a quick glace behind her, two guards were on their heels.
"We've been made!" She shouted to her accomplice.
Baelfire looked back, smiled widely and shouted, "Come on Swan, we can outrun them!" he threw his head back bellowing with laughter.
He lived for these moments, fuelled by the adrenaline pumping through his veins, always craving the next adventure. For 2 years now they'd pillaged and plundered, stolen from royalty and nobility, sailing the seas living on the edge taunting death almost on a daily basis. It helped to have Emma by his side, she was as skilled a fighter as she was easy on the eyes, and the fact that she captained her own pirate ship made her a valuable asset. Joining her on the Jolly Roger meant he now had a wider reach for his crimes, it was easier to outrun the law, and she came with a full crew and a few other perks too! She warmed his bed at night much the same way that their abundant supply of rum warmed his belly, both scratched an itch, provided a pleasurable distraction. It was their curse as pirates that they were never satisfied; not with their treasures, their lives, or each other so they kept searching, kept raising the stakes with their hearts and their lives trying to find some sort of fulfilment. They made a great team, they were kindred spirits, both abandoned as children, both left to fend for themselves, both survivors, and both searching for more. It was that search that led them to Aaralyn, a wealthy seaside kingdom; they had heard tales of the treasures contained in the castle. Rumours had spread of how the crown waiting to grace the head of their next queen held some of the rarest stones in all the realms, and now it was in Emma's possession.
They made their way into the woods to try and lose the guards, they whipped through the trees and overgrown ferns, ignoring the slight sting of vines and low branches scratching their arms as they flew past. Eventually they came to a cliff overlooking the kingdom where they stopped to catch their breath; they could no longer hear the sound of footfall behind them, so concluded they'd gotten away from their pursuers, for now at least, luckily the guards hadn't been on horseback. Emma took a deep breath as she looked out onto the ocean view, "wow", she exhaled, taken aback by the beauty of the morning sun glistening on the water, illuminating the castle that looked onto the sea. They had a prefect view of the walled castle gardens, immaculately landscaped with beautiful weeping willow trees hanging over a man-made lake with a fountain in the centre, a family of swans had made it their home and they gracefully glided across the water's surface. Outside the castle walls was a field of pink middlemist flowers; she could see village children running through it giggling and fighting each other with sticks. Ships bobbed up and down on the harbour; her own ship floating proudly among them. It was a serene scene and she couldn't help but smile. "So this is what a quiet life looks like", Emma thought to herself, she sighed, as picturesque as it looked she couldn't help but wonder if it would ever truly satisfy someone like her. Not that it mattered; she was a pirate, a quiet life wasn't exactly a possibility.
Neal glanced at her, she looked beautiful standing there with her back facing him, her long golden curls cascading down her shoulders, her slim yet athletic frame silhouetted against the morning sun. He walked towards her until he was standing by her side, uninterested in the view she was so taken by he turned his attention to one he preferred; eying her striking features he couldn't help but raise his lips into a slight grin, he remembered the first time he saw her in that dive of a tavern back in Tortuga.
He'd been pickpocketing the patrons and just as he was about to turn to leave he felt the tight vice-like grip of a large hand on his shoulder. Turning around he saw a man who could only be described as a giant, scowling at him.
"What do you think you're doing?" he bellowed, Baelfire felt the eyes of every person in that tavern fall on him.
"He's with me, leave him be!" a firm yet feminine voice broke through the tense atmosphere. Baelfire turned in its direction and was surprised by the sight of a beautiful blonde completely dressed in pirate attire with steely green eyes narrowed focusing intently on the man confronting him. Despite her small frame her stance was intimidating, and to his amazement the giant slowly backed away.
"I don't want any trouble Captain!"
She held his stare and just gave a nod of her head then tilted it to the side to signal for him to leave and the giant hurried off.
Ever since that day they'd been a team, and a bloody good one at that! Now as he watched her face he noticed the lines formed on her forehead as she frowned, deep in thought.
"Swan?" he asked her tentatively, he'd long given up trying to figure out what went through that mind of hers.
"mmhmm" she murmured.
"Is everything ok?"
"huh? Yeah…sorry, just taking in the view. We should make our way to the Jolly, before they catch up to us!"
Prince Killian took a deep breath before pushing open the council room door; he was not looking forward to this meeting! He slowly walked towards the empty seat at the table and slumped down, looking up grimly at the council members gathered around him. "I shouldn't be here" he thought, "this was always supposed to be Liam, not me!"
"Your highness; we need to discuss how we move on as a kingdom, with a new ruler." An elderly adviser began.
"Move on…" Killian said quietly. Perhaps it was a poor choice of words. He was calm, almost indifferent; it was a far cry from the bond the two brothers shared when they were children. As eerie as his indifference was they understood why he was unable to show any emotion over his brother's death, unable to grieve. He slowly rose and stood before them, a shadow of the man he was before, he looked down at the large oak table they sat around, his dark hair flopped into his face, he'd long given up worrying about his appearance and keeping himself groomed, days old stubble covered his jaw making him look older, his vivid blue eyes, once so vibrant and full of life now seemed darker, he was still a handsome man underneath it all but a darkness hung over him, instead of his mischievous smirks he brooded, his playful nature had been squashed by the weight of responsibility that now rested on his shoulders. He was no longer the boy they knew, the man he replaced that boy with was distant, lonely, uninterested, and unsatisfied. They didn't agree with his decision, but they understood it.
"Forgive me, Prince Killian, I simply mean that 6 months have passed since King Liam and Queen Elsa were taken from us and the people are growing restless. The surrounding kingdoms are watching us closely and we need to send a message that we are strong and resilient in the face of tragedy."
"And how do you suggest we do that?" the prince asked sceptically.
An older woman, affectionately known as 'Granny' cleared her throat, "It's time you took your place as King, you know Summer Solstice is coming up…"
Killian lifted his head and glared at her, he knew exactly where this was going. It was tradition; the crown prince was to pick a wife to marry on the Summer Solstice of his 25th year and then become King. He'd never given the outdated tradition much thought, mainly because Liam was the King, he was the one who was supposed to rule the kingdom, with his Queen, and have an heir who would take his place as King; it was never supposed to be Killian. He was unprepared, and frankly, unwilling to rule.
"You want me to pick a Queen."
He wasn't surprised, it made sense; he just had little interest in matters of the heart, not since that day he sought out the great sorcerer Merlin and begged him to remove it.
"Are you sure you want this? If I remove your heart you'll be unable to forgive, unable to move on…"the sorcerer pleaded with him.
"I don't want to bloody forgive!" Killian hissed. "That 'crocodile' killed her, in front of me! I watched her die in my arms and now I want to skin him alive! There will be no moving on, I will never love again; Milah was it, my one chance to be truly happy. Now that is gone forever and I can't have the excruciating pain that has been throbbing in my chest since that moment, distract me from ripping out his spine and getting my revenge!"
"But what about your kingdom? You're needed here!"
"They have Liam; he's their King, besides I can't do anything for them in this state!"
Merlin sighed, "The pursuit of revenge never ends well, and you cannot know peace, or love until you learn to forgive."
"That's not going to happen. Now, Merlin, I am commanding you to remove my heart!"
"You think choosing a wife will make the surrounding kingdoms think that its business as usual in Aaralyn?" Killian asked, mulling over the suggestion.
"Well it would certainly help!" Granny replied, "We have received many letters from princesses interested in marriage."
Killian raised his eyebrow suggestively, "A bit forward, no?"
Granny rolled her eyes, "They see the benefits of joining kingdoms."
"More like they have schoolgirl crushes!" Killian's best friend Robin added, amused by all the female attention his friend received whenever they would hit the taverns together. Yes, wherever Killian was, women would follow and he didn't take advantage of it nearly enough for Robin's liking. He always complained that the attention of beautiful women was wasted on his friend, who almost always dismissed them. The ones who were lucky enough to go home with him were sent on their way the next day with some sort of compensation after signing a confidentiality agreement, all result of his court frantically trying to protect the prince's reputation. "Giving him a princess would be like leading a lamb to the slaughter!"
Killian glared angrily at his friend's choice of words, though he did agree to a certain extent. He sighed. "No princesses!"
The voices around the table began to object. Killian raised his hand to silence them.
"I don't wish to disappoint anyone; you have to understand that whoever I choose I'll be condemning to a loveless marriage…"
"With all due respect Prince Killian, most royal marriages are loveless…" The observation came from King Arthur, Killian's old friend and ruler of their sister kingdom, Camelot. Killian often called on him for advice on matters.
"That may be so, but I don't want a wife who is expecting me to love her. This needs to be a business arrangement; I need to find someone who is willing to live without love if it means protection and comfort provided, someone who benefits from the arrangement as much as I do so they don't grow to despise me for my lack of heart…"
"So where do you suggest we look?" Robin asked.
Baelfire and Emma walked side by side through the forest. There was a path down the cliffs that led to the harbour about a mile ahead; they wanted to avoid the village just to be safe.
"So what next?" Emma asked.
He smirked, "Already itching for another adventure, Captain?"
She blushed, not sure how to proceed with her line of thought.
"Do you ever wonder what it would be like…to not be on the run?"
He frowned "Are you serious?"
"This crown is the biggest score we've had, we now have more money than we could ever spend, why not just find a deserted island somewhere and live off our spoils?" she suggested.
He chuckled, "Next you'll be telling me you want to settle down and raise a family…"
Emma grew silent. She wasn't thinking about starting a family at the moment, but down the line…perhaps!
Their steps slowed and he reached out to her, "Emma? Emma is that something you want?"
"Would it be so bad if I did?" she challenged, getting aggravated with his reaction.
He let out a long sigh, "Emma we have a really good thing going here…why would you want to change that?"
She was a fool to think there was any chance he might want this. She didn't know much about love but she was certainly attracted to Baelfire, they got along well, made a great team, and she cared for him…and thought he cared for her too, wasn't that what love was?
They were interrupted by the sound of horses approaching.
They bolted through the forest for the second time that day; Emma tripped over a large root and went over on her ankle, pain shot through her leg but she hobbled on. She felt a little disoriented, and then she remembered she hit her head against the tree when she fell; she pushed herself forward but started to stagger.
"Emma? Emma, what's wrong?" Baelfire's voice was the last thing she heard before everything went black.
She groaned as she opened her eyes slowly, everything was blurred. She shut them again tightly as she tried to concentrate on her surroundings. Her head was throbbing, as was her ankle, in fact there wasn't a part of her that wasn't aching. She tried opening her eyes again, someone was there beside her.
Her eyes began to focus, it wasn't Baelfire, it was a man, a man with the most piercing blue eyes she'd ever seen, he had dark dishevelled hair that fell slightly over his face, his chiselled jaw was covered in stubble, and he wore expensive clothes, suggesting to her that he was some kind of nobility. He eyed her curiously, there were mixed emotions in those eyes, unanswered questions, maybe anger, and was that…concern?
"What's your name, lass?" he asked coldly.
Her eyes darted around the room, it was a cell; she sat up quickly trying to get her bearings. "Damnit! I've been caught! Where's Bae? Where am I? Who is he?" questions started to race through her mind at breakneck speed. She tried to jump up and realised her hands and ankles were bound, she pulled against her restraints, then immediately regretted it as pain shot through her leg, and she let out a cry, tears filling the corners of her eyes.
He didn't move, just watched her with his eyebrows raised.
"Where is the crown?" he tried a different line of questioning.
"Where is the crown? Where is my satchel? Where the hell is Bae?" Her face dropped as she realised that Baelfire had taken the crown and escaped, leaving her to pay for their crime.
"Look, you're under arrest for stealing the crown jewels, the punishment for which is death by hanging."
Emma stared at him defiantly.
He smirked, "You're brave, I'll give you that…tell me where the crown is and I can have someone see to your ankle."
"What's the point if I'm just going to be hanged anyway?" she shot back.
"Maybe the Prince could be convinced to be lenient…since you are a…woman"
"The Prince can sod off!"
Killian chuckled then stood up, smiled at her and said "As you wish", then walked towards the cell door.
His hand was on the lock when she sighed and admitted, "I don't know where the crown is, that's the truth, and if that seals my fate then so be it, I've nothing to live for now anyway."
He watched her carefully, she seemed to be telling the truth, but she was still holding something back.
"You were working with someone"
She fixed her gaze on the floor, her lips tightly sealed. "Brave and loyal" he thought, "very admirable qualities!" He walked towards her and squatted on the floor so he could look her in the eyes.
"You realise your accomplice took the loot, left you to take the fall and sailed off on your ship?"
Emma's head shot up but she remained silent. "Baelfire took the Jolly Roger and fled?!"
He smirked and pulled a folded up wanted poster from his pocket, opening it in front of her she saw her face. He read the words aloud to her.
"Captain Swan wanted for piracy! You have to admit it really is a very good likeness, though I'm sure even the most talented artist would struggle to capture your beauty on paper, you really need to see it in the flesh to fully appreciate it."
She rolled her eyes, "Ok, so you know who I am, why ask my name?"
"I thought we could have a civilized conversation, besides this wanted poster doesn't tell me your first name."
"Emma" she said through gritted teeth. Her answer immediately caused his whole body tense up and his eyes quickly darted up to meet hers desperately searching for something, his reaction threw her off slightly but she continued anyway, "And if a civilized conversation is really what you're after you could start by telling me yours!"
He stood tall and gave a theatrical bow, "Prince Killian Jones, milady"
Emma's jaw dropped, then she quickly composed herself and narrowed her eyes suspiciously, "I didn't think it was customary for the prince to interrogate prisoners, surely you have henchmen who do that for you"
He smirked and raised that damn eyebrow again at her, "Yes but our prisoners don't normally look as fetching as you!"
She ignored the comment, there was something else going on here but until she knew what, she was keeping her cards close to her chest. Perhaps if he needed something from her it would be enough to keep her alive. She decided to see how this game would play out.
"I'm sure you have plenty of women throwing themselves at you…" she watched the smile spread across his face and decided to bring that ego down a few pegs, "…after all, you're rich!"
His smile faltered "Ha!" she thought smugly.
His demeanour shifted and he started to scratch behind his ear, she'd played enough cards to know that was a tell, he was nervous!
"I do have a lot of wealth…the reason I'm here Ms Swan…"
"Captain Swan!" she corrected.
He couldn't help but smirk again, strangely attracted to the fire that burned behind her eyes. She was strong willed, independent, fearless, and feisty, not to mention a wanted criminal, all good reasons NOT to do what he was about to. He couldn't help himself, something drew him to her.
"Apologies, Captain Swan, I have a proposition, one I think could benefit us both."
She raised her eyebrows, "I'm listening"
He swallowed, suddenly feeling unsure of himself.
"What?!" she practically spat out. Even years of perfecting her poker face couldn't hide her surprise at his request.
"Erm…I'm asking you to marry me…"
"We've just met; you want to marry a complete stranger?"
"I don't want to marry at all but I have to, so I might as well marry someone who has no expectations of me being a doting husband…"
"Charming…so you're asking me because you think I'd be willing to settle…"
"I've never heard anyone who married a prince be accused of settling?" He sounded wounded.
"He's mad!" she thought, "a stark raving lunatic!" She shook her head in disbelief at the situation, "Surely what you do know of me would make me an awful candidate"
"I don't know, you're brave, loyal, and not bad to look at…" he grinned at her wickedly.
"You'd just give a stranger, a convicted pirate no less, the throne to your kingdom!"
"Let me be very clear Emma, once I marry you I will be King. Understand that by agreeing to be my Queen you would have no power or say over matters of the kingdom."
It was the first time he said her name, and she couldn't ignore how it sounded leaving his lips; so familiar and comforting.
"What makes you think I'd agree?"
"It beats the alternative, you're a pirate with no ship, a captain with no crew, I imagine your partner in crime has run off with all your treasure never to be seen again, you're in a castle dungeon facing trial for your crimes and even if I waver your death sentence you're looking at a lifetime in prison."
Emma swallowed hard, how could Baelfire do this to her? How could he be so selfish; all that time…after everything she'd done for him! She could feel the anger of betrayal rising inside her.
"You'd never want for anything" he added, "You would have my protection and my wealth…surely as a pirate this would be your greatest plunder…" He raised his eyebrow suggestively.
She thought it over, "And an heir…?"
He looked away awkwardly, "I have no intention of forcing myself on you so please understand what you would be agreeing to. An heir would be expected…but…if after that you do not wish to grace my bed again that is your choice…you need to understand that I could never love you, I'm not capable of love Emma, but I would never hurt you and I'd do everything in my power to make you…if not happy, then at least content…so what do you say?"
"When would the wedding be?"
"In 3 weeks, it's tradition for the crown prince to marry on the summer solstice of his 25th year."
"3 weeks" she repeated to herself, considering her options…at the moment those options included marrying this arrogant, selfish, pompous prince or hanging on the gallows.
"And people are just going to be ok with their future king marrying a pirate?" she asked, still sceptical.
"The law states I can marry who I want but since you're a wanted felon I suggest we give you a different name and backstory, you'd have a clean slate."
Emma tried to imagine what it'd be like having a clean slate, no more looking over her shoulder, the notion was certainly appealing but could she be happy cooped up in a castle wearing ridiculous dresses and watching the days slowly slip by. At least death would be an adventure, she looked at the prince, could she bring herself to be with him? She was no stranger to using her womanly wiles to extort men, the only difference this time was he was in on the con. He knew she didn't love him and he didn't love her, apparently he couldn't love, whatever that meant! All he wanted was his precious throne and an heir. This was about survival, Baelfire had abandoned her and now she could see her mistake, love was weakness; it blinded her to how self-centred he really was. He chose to save himself at her expense, at the cost of her life! Well Emma was a survivor and she would do whatever it took to survive!
"I accept!" she exclaimed with a determination that surprised him.
"Very well, I'll draw up the paperwork and have you escorted to your room." He gave a small bow and left.
"Well Emma, you wanted to know what the quiet life was like..." she thought to herself, "be careful what you wish for…"