Today was not meant to be a particularly exciting day. Emma would disagree with that despite pulling the covers over her head with a low groan. Why did the palace servants always insist on throwing the curtains open the exact moment the sun would be directed right at her face? "Come on your Highness. We have to get you dressed before you're briefed on all of visitors we're expecting today. And of course breakfast with your parents and Scarlet."
Emma just looked out from her blankets. "My first law when I'm queen is to outlaw mornings. The day will begin at noon and not a second earlier." She stifled a yawn and just tried rolling over and hugging her pillow. "Make a notation of it Cosette while I get five more minutes?" She knew it was pointless to try, but it was almost routine. On the rare occasion, as apparently today was going to be as her clothes were laid out, she actually won after all.
It also put her in a better mood then to not argue as much while her hair was brushed up and braided in places before being woven into her diadem. It had been a gift of "Aunt" Aurora for her sixteenth birthday and a favorite for these days that required her on official duty. Being a princess was a lot more fun in theory than it was in practice. Some girls, like her sister, probably enjoyed the idea of being the envy of the kingdom and dressing up daily. Emma took far more after her father and would have preferred going riding this morning.
Instead, she was being dressed up to get one of her larger lessons in future responsibility today. Then their kingdom was probably one of the few where the crown was expected to go directly to the first-born child rather than necessarily being the first-born son. She could easily be in here for another hour though while they make sure they had her face painted and powdered to perfection and then expect her not to smudge it in the slightest before eating… As soon as the last hair pin was in however she was on her feet and headed for the door.
"Princess! The dining room is in the opposite direction! And you have no shoes on!"
Oh, like any of that was actually going to convince her. Today she just had an excuse at the ready. "Well then you better remind them that as Queen for the day that I am automatically never late to anything." Emma just grinned, continuing down the hallway and into another bedroom.
The curtains were drawn open, but being on the opposing side meant the room was not tossed into such a harsh glow. No one in here was being rushed around as the teenaged boy looked smaller than usual in the huge bed. His dark hair was plastered against his head with sweat, but at least he was looking back at her with a weak smile. Emma just sat on the edge on the bed though, returning the smile.
"How are you doing today, Jamie? Cosette didn't mention you for breakfast." Emma just smiled faintly, brushing his hair back.
"I'd think you were worried if I didn't know any better. My big sister never worries or doubts." He let out a laugh that soon dissolved into a small coughing fit while she got him water and got him sat up to drink it. His usual nurse was nowhere to be seen, causing Emma to just sigh slightly. Of course she needed time to do normal things like anyone else around here. "I'm fine, Em… At least there wasn't blood this time?" James smiled slightly and just sat back against his pillows.
"You're my only concern right now." She turned on the bed and just put one foot up on the bed, hugging it against herself. Improper, yes, but where was the advantage of so many skirts if it didn't keep everything covered while she rested her chin on top of her knee. "Might just stick around and steal the bacon off of your plate and forget about rushing down for breakfast just to listen to a bunch of people telling me about what they're expecting for the day."
"No stealing food from the Crown Prince… And you do look nice today even if you are ruffling up your dress just sitting here with me. And you know mother will come after you eventually to pull you away and have someone fetch you a real pair of shoes."
"Fine. I'll go grab half a loaf and a pitcher of wine and see how long I can hide out before she finds me… Then half the petitioners can just assume I decided they weren't worth my time."
James was suddenly sitting forward in surprise. "You have to go though!" He groaned slightly from the effort and sat back again. "I'm going to have to show up then and just accept the ones I want… Then there's supposed to be someone here with another idea for me that just gained a spot on your list… You have to go, Emma."
She tried not to roll her eyes and just looked at him skeptically. "I don't like giving in to hopelessness, but what could be different about this one? I really don't like them coming in here and just poking around for as long as they think they can manage and sapping off us with false promises before declaring they still have no idea what to do."
"I have to believe… It's the one thing I've got going for me for sure and I don't mind the poking if it gives me a little more hope. Some day after all I'm going to go chasing after you on one of the horses and we can race even." He grinned and just reached over to take her hand. Emma just took it, squeezing it gently.
"My precious Jamie."
"You're as bad as mom sometimes, Emma. Go on and finish getting ready before they drag you away and I'll try to make it just to come and see you being all perfect."
She got up with a small sigh and just got up and kissed him on the forehead. "Only if you feel up to it. Otherwise I'll be here for dinner with you and we can talk all about it. Maybe even invite Scarlet."
"Alright, your majesty." James just grinned though as she swatted him before heading out and down for the dinning room.
Emma could already hear her parents talking before she got down to the table and just took her seat before someone automatically had her plate thirty seconds later. "Good morning."
"Running off already this morning, Emma?" Snow just sighed lightly barely glancing down at the bare feet. "You have obligations and responsibilities."
Emma just poked at her eggs, looking up. "To James as much as anyone else in the kingdom. Do you really think anyone is going to come and care if my hair isn't perfectly in place or I look like I can still breathe in my dresses?"
"A Princess' appearance is an example of the state of the Kingdom itself. If we do not carry ourselves with dignity and grace, then what sort of example are we setting for the people that we are in control?" Scarlet just licked off her spoon to punctuate her sentence and soon found three sets of eyes on her and none seemed to quite appreciate the interruption. "Then, a princess also knows when she is among her superiors that sometimes it is better to just keep quiet and let them do the talking…"
"Smart little princess," replied Emma, still just poking at her food before finally eating a little.
"The point is though that you have responsibilities. Obligations to uphold and this is an important deal no matter how much you keep waving it off like it's nothing. Some day you are actually going to be the one responsible for the kingdom. No one ever said it was an easy job, but they're looking to you for guidance. And it isn't going to look good if you're all disorderly. Your brother isn't going anywhere and I'm sure even he would prefer you take the time to prepare for the day." Snow just sighed, waving her hand slightly for them to remove her plates. "Tomorrow you can go out riding and doing whatever you want, but today you're trying to show us what you've learned."
Emma knew she was right, which is also what she hated the most: the fact that she could be this old and still have mother knowing best. "And what about this petition for James?"
"You weren't supposed to hear about that… One at least you don't have to sit through though because your father and I will be taking care of it and hearing him out."
"We don't even know what he's going to suggest for sure and we know how close you two are. It would be unfair to make you decline him if it doesn't seem all that… Sound," David added. Emma just looked between them questioningly. Here James had hoped for a miracle and both of them were sounding like it was unlikely that there would be anything worth hearing.
"I can still deny him. It got added in for today and they're still all of my petitions. What's the point in trusting me if you can't trust me with everything?" Emma just looked at each of them in turn. Really, there were times she wondered if she cared more about James than anyone else around there considering how much time she spent with him as opposed to the others. It wasn't that they didn't love him and spend plenty of time. The King and Queen just usually had more obligations that they needed to take care of first and expected James to know that. "Please… If anyone hates people coming around poking my brother, it's me."
Snow sighed, not feeling much up to arguing with her at the moment. "We'll be staying by, regardless. And it's not just because of this extra one, but we also don't know what to expect there."
Emma just grinned happily, taking a piece of toasted bread and hugging each of her parents before heading off to get ready to the sounds of her father laughing while her mother was calling after her to get some shoes on already.
Scarlet finished off the last of her oatmeal and just looked at both of her parents. "If she completely screws this up can I get a chance? I might be younger, but at least you'll know that I'll be completely ready before I show up to eat breakfast?"
"Your sister just has a lot of spirit in her… And a lot of responsibility that she has to deal with. It tends to make people want to go back against the authority. When it comes down to it though, she's still every much the future Queen."
"Or go and chase known criminals through the woods and get into fights with trolls over silly little rings." Snow just smiled though, twirling around her wedding ring. "It's amazing what some people will do just to try and annoy their parents."
Scarlet just frowned, getting up and shaking out her hair the slightest. "Well I'm getting out of here before you two decide to start kissing on the table or something and I end up with a little brother or sister that I get to train on how to be a proper member of royalty." She just flounced off, curls bouncing behind her while doing her best not to accidentally trip on her way out. Nothing like leaving only to end up flat out on the floor embarrassed to no end...
Peace and quiet... It was one thing he oddly appreciated about the castle town. Just after dawn there were only a few people moving about and the smell of fresh bread permeating the air. Things were quiet at the manor, but it always felt more like an awkward silence that reminded him more of death. Here things were about life. Not always the cleanest life forms, but he was never left with that foreboding feeling of dark magic. He paid for two loaves, exchanging a few words with the baker, and headed off for his destination.
The house at the end of the street was rather unimpressive and even the two occupants seemed rather normal unless you happened to know them or need their services. Well unless you really just knew them as the Hat Maker and his daughter. He knocked twice and just waited patiently for the answer.
"Well good morning, Bae. Wasn't sure if you'd make it before I left."
Baelfire just offered up the loaves with a small grin. "I come bearing breakfast and thought only Grace and I were running off to anywhere today." He walked into the house, quickly averting his eyes from the blond still in bed with a patched up rabbit toy. She likely hadn't meant to leave her door open after all. "Is she out?"
Jefferson just smiled slightly and shook his head. "Knocked out if anything, but even I just got up to start the fire."
Bae had a hard time believing that considering the Hatter was in his best clothes and dressed fir the day. "Leaving" was probably going to mean a bit more than walking down to buy more cloth. He pulled out a seat at the table and helped himself to a cup of tea while waiting for the rest of the household to join them.
"So where were you headed today?"
"Who knows with her?" Bae just smiled, relaxed. "I'm just along for the ride and carrying assistance with her plants. Occasional swordsman, but mostly here for the journey, not the destinations."
"Truly, you are a poet at heart. Just without a patron to keep you in bread." Jefferson had to say that he honestly did like Baelfire. Perhaps in part because he got along so well with Grace as two children who had been abandoned by their fathers. Grace was far more willing to forgive out of the pair. Maybe it was also due to the amusement he found that Rumpel had kept his daughter away from him for those first several months trying to adjust to being home only to have his reason for keeping her prefer their company to his own family.
In truth, he was still waiting patiently for the day Bae came to see him to request to officially become part of the family. Even if both did insist they were just terribly good friends.
"I'm sure if you had the funds you would be more than glad to sponsor me." Bae looked up with a smile and almost stumbling to get out of his chair fast enough to pull out a seat for Grace.
"Perhaps... Sleep well, little mouse?"
"Perfectly, papa. Just a long night of drying flowers."
Jefferson just nodded and got up, soon returning with a jar of apricot preserves and honey before cutting into the bread and serving it around. "You should be careful about not getting enough rest if you're going to be off collecting anywhere outside of the kingdom. I'd rather not have you fall into some world and not be able to find your way home."
"You have to admit it would make for one epic game of hide and seek though." Grace just grinned a little, covering her piece of bread in preserves and taking a less than lady-like bite.
"I think we're quite bad enough even just in town after dark. It would be a pretty long game, but then you'd have an easier time of following me around. You have to have a few limits or the game goes on for a bit too long." Jefferson smiled just a bit though at the whole idea. "Coming with me this morning then or are you going to run off and leave me to battle the royalty on my own?"
"That's what all the dressing up is for? An audience at court?" Bae just looked a little doubtful, but obviously curious. Then the only person he really knew that got called to the palace was his father and that was a rarity. More often than not, Rumpelstiltskin just knew where he was needed and showed up without needing to be asked.
"And not an easy thing to acquire either. I've been trying for weeks and finally just gave in to the idea that they didn't care to hear my proposition and now Grace is busy most of the time collecting plants to sell and there's only so large of a window for that before they get too mature. Or in a few worlds, freeze back over and kill everything." Jefferson was sure he could find someone else to take along with him, but the idea of someone other than his Grace just bothered him.
Grace just smiled and shook her head. "I think having me there isn't going to do much for your case… And I'm looking forward to just hearing all about it. I think this is one time my history with the queen isn't going to do you much good. You did kind of threaten to kill someone with a pair of scissors after all."
"It's in the past though…" He couldn't help the slight blush that came to his cheeks though just remembering those first months and years just dealing with everything from Wonderland. It was enough to drive anyone mad, but then to come home again and still be denied the one person he had been working for years to return to… Rumpel had almost as much of a hand in the hatter's questionable sanity these days as the Queen of Hearts and her daughter. At least they were safely tucked away where they couldn't trouble him any further.
And, at least now, he had Grace.
"The hard part is over really. Convincing the King and Queen is going to be the easier part." Jefferson leaned back in his chair with the tea cup looking far more confident than he felt. His history with the House of White was questionable at best considering all of the jobs he had done for Regina before she had left him in Wonderland with no hope of escape.
"And you know I'll try to help if you get refused. Though really it's just their loss at this point."
Grace knew how important this was to him however. Another step closer to actually feeling like he belonged around here and people trusted him again. Then she also knew he would be happy to get back to his usual work of procuring items across worlds. Not necessarily by theft either if there could be a legitimate business made out of it. "Bae and I should be going though. Seems like every minute here is a day in another world." She got up and gave him a kiss on the cheek before wiping off a bit of smeared apricots.
"Stay safe… And you better bring her back in one piece, Baelfire."
"I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise, sir." Bae just grinned, grabbing his other loaf and added it to his pack and tightened the sword by his side. He would almost gladly follow Grace to the ends of the worlds if it meant another adventure. Admittedly sometimes peace and quiet was just the slightest bit over rated.
Jefferson just waited for them to go before climbing up to the second story and the spare room. There on the chest at the foot of the bed sat his most precious possession. It was a love-hate relationship he had developed over the years as it had taken away so much and yet the wanderlust was always going to be there. He had almost tossed it in the fireplace as soon as he had gotten home again if Grace hadn't stopped him. Now there was always that innate fear of being trapped somewhere and unable to leave again or knowing who might have stolen his hat on the other end. There was still the pull however… The pull to go exploring and just see other worlds without there having to be any sort of profit behind the journey. The world here was vast, but when you had so many other places that you could go and visit, eventually it became the slightest bit dull. Grace had gotten bitten by the same desire to explore and turned it into something of an education and career. Apparently all those years of collecting mushrooms had made her quite the talented flower and herb finder for the apothecaries and occasionally known users of magic.
He debated with himself taking it along. He was going to have to wait out the week as it was for Grace to return now, so it was not as though he was going to need it today. Jefferson still unbuckled the case and just flipped open the top. There it was, same as it had been any other time he looked in the hat box but he still felt the need to pull it out and just look it over. The perfect hat that had never failed him in all the years he had been journeying through every known world. There was a feel you got when it was just right. He didn't need to spin it or even put it on to know that it would work as long as there was still enough magic in this world to make it go.
And yet to anyone else it was just a hat. To Jefferson it was freedom and a way of making a living, and, for today, a way of repaying a debt he had been feeling on his shoulders for five years.
He opened the chest and just placed the resealed hat box inside before heading down and out of the house. It was only a short walk to the palace from there, but better to be early than late and be called upon before you arrived. There was really no reason to be nervous though. Like his daughter had said, it wasn't any harm to him if they decided to reject it.
He adjusted his collar along the way and just did his best to stay calm. He had gotten past the vanity about the scar that went completely around his neck. Most people were used to the concept of magic, but something that could actually severe your head from the rest of your body was still a shock after it was done to you. It didn't mean he appreciated people staring and whispering over it. At least he was in some of his best clothes. "Dressed for the occasion" as Regina would have put it which just sent a new set of shivers down his spine as he presented his credentials at the gate and waited to be allowed to pass. Regina was gone from here…
He just made a small pause at the door with the other petitioners before being pressed forward. It had been quite a while since he had seen her up close, but that was definitely not Snow White who was sitting front and center. Jefferson was suddenly wishing for his hat just to have something to busy his hands with while frowning to himself. The Princess was sitting in on everything today… It didn't explain why he had been moved up at the last minute as he was already relatively sure that there was nothing wrong with their King and Queen in terms of illness. Gossip had a way of traveling rather quickly around town when it came to the royal family. He already knew he would be low on the docket as various lords and ladies were called. Over time it became obvious some were just there to watch the happenings of court, though the younger princess was also sitting calmly just listening..
She was calm, thoughtful, and at least not afraid to inquire things of her advisor who for the day was apparently her father. He had to admit that she pushed off those that needed further consideration while answering the easier cases and listened patiently. There was no sign of frailty in the current monarchs, but assumingly one day she would be in charge without anyone to help her. He had to admire that from the young woman.
And suddenly Jefferson was realizing he hadn't taken note of one important matter while walking forward: he had no idea which was the proper address in this case. Was it just him or was she sitting up the slightest bit taller than before? Nothing like feeling like you were being scrutinized all the more. He just made the most of the moment though adding the slightest bit of extra flourish to his bow and deciding to stick with just the proper for her position of "Your highness".
"You're making a claim of a possible cure for Prince James' ailments?" Well so much for hoping for a warm reception. The term "ice queen" seemed more appropriate at the moment for the princess and the pale blue dress wasn't doing anything to counter that thought.
He just tugged lightly at the seams of his coat trying to remind himself that this was not the Queen of Hearts and no one's head was about to be chopped off for an incorrect answer. "Without any action truly needed by the crown other than to allow my associate to come examine the Prince. His payment comes from me and his general wish to solve what so many others have been unable to do thus far… One here might consider him a wizard, but his magic is far different from anything we have in this world."
Emma just looked pensive for a moment, sitting back in the throne. "And why do this when you also know the palace treasuries should be able to cover any possible costs?"
"Princess… Your parents once did me a great favor that was not something I believe many would have agreed to for one of their subjects if we had been in any other kingdom. Especially considering the other people involved…" Jefferson smiled gently, not even having to try to play at humbleness when the whole thought of what happened still filled him with unspeakable gratitude. "My only hope is to be able to use my unique skills to be able to aid your family in return. This wizard of a sort has wonderful credentials, but I don't want to spread my resources to bring him here if he's only going to be turned away."
"I'm afraid you're still going to have to explain what you mean by "resources" and "unique skills", Master Hatter." The story was only sounding vaguely familiar to her, but then there were so many cases from over the years and more often than not just dull courtiers wandering around the hallways hoping for a word with the Queen or King. It was nearly impossible to actually remember everyone and if she was even supposed to do so.
"My unique skills are something I believe is only shared with one other person in the kingdom to the best of my knowledge, and that would by my daughter… I am, what would generally be referred to as, a portal jumper."
"Wonderland." The memory suddenly hit her of the girl a few years younger than herself and her mother telling stories of the place where she had gone. It was the sort of thing that could fuel a young girl's imagination for quite some time.
"Not quite as wonderful as its name might suggest, your highness, but that would be correct." Jefferson stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid the feeling that was overcoming him to make sure his collar was still up high enough. "My associate is one that has been to this world before, albeit several years ago, but would not mind another visit and is rather interested in the case. His magic, as I said, is different from what we have here, and he would love the opportunity to prove it to in fact be superior… Like I said, any additional costs though would be taken up by me as I'm hoping this to be an acceptable act of gratitude on my part."
Emma just barely glanced at her father, barely avoiding biting her lower lip while considering the idea. What had her parents been expecting from him? All in all it was sounding like a fine idea that could only end up giving them false hopes if anything. That was nothing new to the family however. She started to reply only to find her voice was only escaping at slightly over a whisper and coughed before trying again. "When would you be able to bring him?"
He smiled again and she was still finding it difficult to see what was potentially wrong with him or if her parents were simply worried over nothing. "End of the week or the beginning of next at the latest."
The week had only just started and now they were going to be put on hold to wait for this potential miracle? "Why the delay?"
"Well there is the problem of the mode of transportation. Only as many can leave as originally enter the portal. As such, I need to just await the return of my companion in order to bring him back here and then she'll come back with me when he returns home once completed with his work." How wonderful it might be to just have Grace's usual mode of going from one world to the next, but the business of getting what she needed had been less than acceptable and even then she had a tendency to end up in the wrong place and needing to find another way through until she got where she really intended to go… Hence why he also knew she might be delayed in her return.
"And this world is really so dangerous?"
"Not with the usual precautions. I mean if you go looking for trouble, you're likely going to find it, but it's the same way here. And I trust her not to go wandering off too far while left to her own devices…"
Emma just sat up again. It was a crazy idea and one she knew that her father would start to pick up on if she even looked over for any sort of approval or disapproval… She was supposed to be the one in charge today though and whatever she declared would be law.
"The crown accepts your offer, Master Hatter… However, you can leave immediately, and you will take me as the second."