Disclaimer: The Little Mermaid, in any of its forms, does not belong to me. Nor does The Mermaid in the Millpond. Emma and Dominic do, in fact, belong to me. If it was up to me, they would be very much alive…
The wedding feast was over and no blood had been spilled.
Not quite a conventional beginning for a fairy tale, but this is no conventional fairy tale! In fact, for the two people most involved in it, it was not at all a fairy tale, but real life.
"Emma!" a voice called from the bottom of the stairs.
"Coming!" rang the response from the top.
A flurry of footsteps and frou-frou, and the Lady de Winter appeared at the foot of the stairs, where Lord de Winter, né Prince Dominic, was waiting.
"You needn't always rush down like that, you know," he casually commented as she caught her breath.
"Force of habit," she replied, between gasps.
"I know it," he said and looked away sadly. The thought that his beloved Emma should have endured so many years of misery and servitude was not something he liked to think about.
"Whose ball is this?" she interrupted his thoughts.
"A cousin of mine," he abruptly answered.
"Do you like him?"
"Oh. Well, do you like her?"
"She is kind enough."
"A palace brat," he said with another sigh. "We are all of us palace brats. We know nothing of what it is to actually work."
"Dominic, please, don't start up with this again!"
"And why not, Emma?"
"Because… because you can do nothing about it. It is past, that is all!"
"If I had only known! I might have done something—"
"Love," she whispered, placing a finger across his lips. "All that matters is that I am no longer a servant. Nor am I married to a homicidal maniac," she added with a wink.
"I don't understand how you can joke about that," he grumbled in response.
"I learned a long time ago that if you don't know how to laugh, even at your own misery, you are a lost soul," she replied, casting a glance at the door.
Dominic followed her stare and offered his arm to her. She took it and they walked through the foyer and out to the carriage. The subject was dropped for now. It disturbed Emma, however, just how much Dominic liked to bring it up.
During the ride to his cousin's palace, Dominic was writhing with discomfort. A thought nagged at him that something was not quite right.
He had given up his throne for Emma, true, which had made his family dislike her immensely. He did not yet fully understand why she had asked it, but he knew there was a reason. Meanwhile, he was glad that she had done it. He knew an ordinary life now, free from the constraints of royalty and its obligations.
Life as a lord was certainly different from life as a prince, though he still had not given up all of his previous comforts. The de Winter estate was quite vast, so he and Emma would never want. Perhaps this was what bothered him.
"I'm the husband!" he tormented himself. "I should be the one to provide the fortune, not the other way around!"
Suffering and experience had not changed Dominic completely. He was still, in many ways, an impetuous boy. Thus, many of his beliefs had remained nothing short of medieval.
Now they were going to visit his cousin Beatrice. She was not a bad woman. In fact, she was quite sweet when she wanted to be. She was a decade older than Dominic and married, with a handsome son of four years. Dominic had not seen his nephew in quite a while and was eager to meet with the boy. There was one man he had absolutely no wish to see, however.
This man was the husband of Beatrice, Duke Ernest of Forsythe. While a supposedly good landlord, husband, and father, Dominic knew that there were unpleasant stories about the man. These always created an unpleasant atmosphere whenever Dominic was around him. Something was wrong about the man and, while he had never figured it out, Dominic disliked being in his company.
It was this list of things that made him rather surly for the duration of the carriage ride. He smiled only once, glancing over at his beautiful wife and seeing her adorned in the finest dress he could find this side of the Channel.
"What is it?" she enquired, seeing him staring at her, a faint smile upon his lips.
"I was just thinking about how fortunate I am to have you by my side."
"Well, we all know what would happen if I wasn't by your side…"
"I would be throwing snowballs at you from the other side!" she teased.
He grinned and remembered the fateful day when he had first met this girl. A faint headache surfaced, reminding him of the painful throb of love at first sight. Or, in Emma's case, first toss.
The carriage had rolled up to the entrance and the pair exited. Emma ducked her head as they stepped out, to avoid getting her extravagant hat caught on the carriage door.
"I don't understand why you like these ridiculous head-dresses so much!" Dominic said and clucked his tongue disapprovingly.
"I spent years tying ribbons for Maria; now I can tie them for myself!"
"Still…" he shrugged, eyeing the ridiculous thing.
"It's the latest fashion, Dominic!" she finally proclaimed, exasperated by the mock-seriousness of the argument. They had reached the gates and were being beckoned inside by servants in fine livery.
"Are you ready?" he asked her, as they crossed the threshold together.
"Of course," she said with a smile.
All of the lost years that might have been spent at balls were deeply regretted by Emma, who now took every opportunity to make them up. And with good reason!
Emma was, in every way, the belle of the ball. She was perfectly charming, lovely, and she always made an entrance that was dazzling enough to draw every eye to her.
Many who saw Lady de Winter for the first time at a ball understood why a prince would give up his throne for her.
She danced a polonaise and two waltzes with Dominic, then wandered off to speak with fellow lords and ladies. Dominic watched her mingle, amazed. Years of scrubbing floors had not stolen her charm; indeed, they seemed to enhance her sparkle. Everybody who spoke with her was enchanted, even if they had originally bristled to meet a woman of such ill reputation.
Duchess Beatrice of Forsythe was especially courteous to her new cousin, extending a special invitation to the young lady.
"Tell me, what do you think of my cousin?" she asked, smiling down upon her. The Duchess was a very tall woman.
"He is a terrible tyrant, a sulking, spoiled child, and perfect in every way," Emma responded without a second thought.
"I'm glad he found someone," Beatrice said. "I often feared he would wind up alone."
"Many resent me for robbing him of a throne."
"Oh, I know, child. But do not think of them. You were quite right in doing what you did."
"Well, yes. He was not fit to be a king, I should think."
Emma bristled at this.
"Of course he was fit!"
"My dear girl, no need to shout. I am merely stating the obvious. I, in fact, am very glad he is not to be king. He leaves it in far more capable hands," she stated amiably.
"His brother is still young…" Emma began, but was cut off.
"Not his brother! Oh, dear, is that what you thought?"
"Who, then?" she asked, bewildered.
"My husband, of course!"
A/N: Here it is! I told you! Isn't it wonderful? I like it so much, I'm probably going to start the second chapter tonight… Review and let me know what you think!