Previously in The Collar

"I must not linger here," Red realising the swift passage of time. "I wished to ask for your advice on how to help Emma understand her feeling, it seemed you understood her when you were at the palace. You did not speak of it but your eyes followed her."

"Yes," the warrior sighing heavily. "She carries a weight but then many do," a shrug. "The Queen must choose the path and I believe Emma will follow of her own accord, given time."

"You believe that to be true?" Red searching her companion's face for the answers she sought.

"I do," head nodding solemnly.

"Then I will return and keep the palace running while they come to their senses!" Red groaning loudly but allowing herself another few minutes to relax in the water before preparing for the run home.

Xxxx

"My Queen!" Eva leaping to her feet and brushing herself off having been caught taking a quick luncheon in a quiet corner of the garden. "I'm sorry, I will leave."

"Why are you here?" Regina suspecting she knew the answer but wanting it confirmed. They were out of the more public gardens in a spot few knew existed.

"My father brought me here on my first visit to the palace, I often take a few quiet moments here when the day has been full," Eva explaining, trying to judge the queen's mood.

"I see, does it help?" Regina curious.

"Yes, always. I feel close to her, as though she was just around the corner," Eva confessing softly.

"Well put, young one. Before your mother died she gifted me an item imbued with her magic. It is buried here and the garden has never grown so well." Both looking around at the luxurious climbing roses and other flora that surrounded them.

"Oh!" Eva taken aback by the revelation. "I believed it to be wishful fantasy, My Queen. Only a simple remembrance alcove."

"No, it retains a feint essence, nothing compared to the reality but it brings me comfort."

"Then I shall leave you alone," Eva sensing that her presence would be unwanted if the queen was seeking solitude.

"You may return freely," Regina studying the faye closely before stepping into her personal space. "But first, come here," a finger beckoning and Eva taking a step so they were almost touching.

The kiss a surprise to Eva who gasped but held still as fingers laced through the hair at the base of her neck to hold her and a tongue plundered her mouth.

Regina pulled back, experiment complete. Even though the girl's magic was strong it was -, lacking, unsatisfying.

"Hmm, leave now!" A wave of the queen's hand and Eva bowed before retreating, extremely confused!

Xxx

After concluding their discussion Emma led 116 back through the kitchen and began her search for the young slaves, a task that was easier than expected when they ran into Lucy who informed her that they had been assisting her inventory the queen's stores but had been granted a break for luncheon and could be found by the ponds.

"Thank you," Emma leading them outside and soon finding the pair sitting on the far bank of the ponds away from the bustle.

"Emma!" Both Greta and Belle jumping to their feet as they saw her approach.

"Sit, here," Emma passing 116 a small parcel of food she had swiped as they navigated the kitchen, it was a small meal designed for the scouts to take in their packs.

"Thank you, Emma," 116 grateful for the food, she had been getting hungry and eyed the wrapped linen curiously.

"Meals often go unmarked on the busiest days. Unless the Queen has forbidden you eat you must make sure you find some food around the standard mealtimes. Cook is always approachable and now she knows your face. If you're assigned with Belle or Greta they will find you food. They have a knack for it," Emma narrowing her eyes at the pair who could tell she was teasing them.

"Yes, Emma. I will," 116 replying dutifully.

"When you've eaten take her on a tour of the things we missed. She should know her way around inside and out for errands and safety's sake. On the third bell report to Miss Eva's rooms. If we are not there wait and I will send for you unless I am required by the Queen."

A chorus of 'yes, Emma' followed from all three.

"Behave!" Emma pointing to Greta and Belle in turn. "The Queen and I will not be so tolerant of errors or other situations you both seem to find yourself in. Mistress Red will be informed of any issues I feel she needs to address with you."

"Yes, Emma," Belle nodding and taking the words to heart.

"Right, third bell!" Emma giving them an intimidating glare before stalking back towards the palace, feeling her body protest as she did, the painkiller she had taken this morning wearing off but she would deal.

"I don't know how she does it!" Greta remarking as the trio watched her go, the wolf having scented Emma's pain.

"She is the strongest woman I've ever known," Belle remarking thoughtfully before retaking her seat on the grass as they had only half eaten their food. "Sit, it is permitted. Our mistresses like us to be strong," the Amazon now sitting cross legged on the grass. 116 sitting similarly and focusing on her food rather than the other slaves, an apple, a seeded roll of bread and some hard cheese. It looked good. Tasted good too she thought as she took her first bites.

"We are permitted to speak," Greta breaking the quiet, never silent for long.

"I don't really have anything to say," 116 shrugging.

"Tell us about yourself?" Belle voicing her curiosity, she was intrigued by their companion.

"I am the Queen's slave, nothing more," 116 shrugging and concentrating on her food. She could see what Emma meant about their discipline, it was distinctly lacking.

"What is your name?" Belle trying a different tack.

"The Queen knows me as 116." A blunt reply and she didn't look up.

"Don't you have a name?" Greta pushing. "Do people not have names where you are from?" 116 sighing, now understanding that she was not just new, she was literally otherworldly to them.

"It is permitted to speak?" Needing to be sure.

"Yes, as long as it is respectful we are allowed to speak freely as we were before Emma took you away. As long as we are careful not to be overheard that is. Many would pay good coin to to know even a scrap of what goes on in her private rooms," Greta snorting.

"If you're certain?"

"Yes, Emma would have made it clear before leaving it that were not the case," Belle adding. "She's good like that."

"Alright, you may ask me your questions," 116 agreeing but still wary, the other slaves seemed friendly and Emma had not warned her they could be malicious.

"So, what's your name," Belle repeating her question

"Cleo."

"Why do they call you by a number?" Greta.

"Because it is the number I was given when I joined Mistress Emma's club. See," Cleo first checking her hands were clean and turning her collar around so the other slaves could see the aged brass disc with the number stamped on it.

"Oh! Are there that many slaves there?"

"Not at one time but that is the number I was given," another shrug.

"You're very beautiful, I can see why you were chosen," Greta remarking thoughtfully, head tilted as she observed the newcomer.

"There are many attractive slaves in Mistress Emma's club. I am nothing special."

"You must be or they would not have chosen you," Belle disagreeing. "I ended up here because of an accident. Greta is the prettiest wolf in the palace and to be Red's second when she is grown. Her magic is also very strong and the Queen likes that."

"A lot," Greta nodding. "She uses her magic on me often and it's very strong." Cleo screwing up her nose, not sure how that could feel good given the only demonstrations she'd seen so far.

"Oh, it's amazing," Greta seeing her uncertainty. "It fills you up from the inside and she uses it to fuck you until you just fall apart," she finished with a sigh. "But, it can also hurt, it depends what mood she's in."

"Emma warned me to be careful and to expect violence."

"Yes, the Queen is volatile but overall we are treated very well. Belle is Mistress Red's slave so the Queen does not touch her, only Red, but I have been shared by both the Queen and Emma. Emma took my maidenhead," Greta volunteering with another sigh.

"She did?" The fact surprising Cleo who thought the queen would be the one deflowering virgins.

"Yes, it was a power-play but I enjoyed it very much. It wasn't the sweet time most girls wish but I have only ever wanted to serve the Queen, I am a strong wolf, I did not want gentle. They broke me but it was just-." Cleo nodding as she knew first hand how Greta had felt and her expression catching Greta's attention. "But you already know this. Then you are lucky to have been selected. You must be the very best to have caught Emma's eye."

"I am good at what I do. I have trained for several years," Cleo sharing a little with the other slaves.

"Were you born a slave then?" Belle asking.

"No!" Cleo startled by the question. "In my world slavery is illegal although it does occur criminally. You have to choose to be a slave when you work at a club. You sign a contract and they must take care of you in exchange for your service, the better clubs will often pay you very well too. Or you could sign a contract with an individual. My only individual contract was with the same Miss -, the same Emma signed with before she owned the club," Cleo catching herself, it was so hard not to use Emma's title.

"Oh!" That information intriguing both slaves.

"Was she very beautiful, like the Queen?" Greta wanting to know.

"She was not unattractive, not too old either. Maybe the same age as the Queen, a few years older at most but she was not a strong mistress. That is why I joined Emma's club."

"The Queen is very strong, she rules this kingdom well and the other kingdoms fear her," Greta noting proudly.

"Is the kingdom large? Cleo having no context to work from.

"Reasonably so, around two hundred leagues in each direction but the palace is close to the border with the White kingdom, one side borders the Amazon territory which falls under the Queen's protection as does the does the Mountain kingdom where the dwarves and dragon live, some wolves too and giants and trolls. They guard the passes and the herds but all are loyal to the Queen." Greta providing an overview that left Cleo stunned.

"We have no magic and all the -," she paused for the correct term as not to offend, "races are mythical."

"Emma says you have si-ence instead of magic," Greta nodding wisely and that made Cleo smile.

"Yes, the world is much more advanced but this sounds more interesting. I didn't believe what Emma was telling me until I saw them open the portal."

"Now, you're here," Belle smiling.

"Now I'm here."

"Come, we will show you around the palace but we must see Lucy first to tell her so she doesn't come looking or tell Red we were absent," Greta standing as she spoke and brushing off her skirt as the waited for the others to gather the remains of their lunch.

Xxx

Emma left the young slaves, knowing they would do as they were told. They were rambunctious but not intentionally disobedient. There was no sign of Red in the queen's study, the room locked and no answer when she knocked. Regina felt -absent, their connection feint and uncrackable within the palace so Emma thought it best to leave that alone for now, instead intent on finding Red who hopefully had some more medicine as her body was now remembering the abuse it had taken last night and the lack of sleep that followed. Not to mention the emotional distress she was burying from Regina's confession this morning. Fuck! Why did things have to get so fucking complicated?

Her routine here had been good, bar the near death experiences, she snorted to herself as she kept up her search. She and Regina had developed an understanding of their rules in both worlds and this -. Emma didn't want to upset that by changing anything but it seemed Regina did and she was at a loss as to how to respond without upsetting Regina and potentially fucking everything up! More than her emotional shut down this morning had at least.

"Emma!" The slave jolted out of her brooding by Cook, who was just about to enter the kitchen. What's up lass?"

"I'm looking for Red," Emma smiling at the woman and stating her business.

"She's not around at the moment. She's either gone to find the Queen or some other errand of hers, not seen either of them since the council meeting."

"Oh, thanks," that left Emma at a loose end and she frowned, wondering what to do with her time.

"Are you alright, you look worn out," Cook stepping closer to get a proper look at the slave, she was pale with dark circles around her eyes and was moving stiffly. "Come, I've got something that will help," the woman assuming that Emma had taken the brunt of the queens mood, one that seemed to be continuing today and causing her absence.

"I'm Ok, it was just a long night, didn't really sleep," Emma shrugging as she walked beside Cook down a hallway she knew of but had no reason to frequent often.

"Here, come in," Emma was ushered through a door and into a suite to rival the queen's own. "Sit, I'll get you something for that."

"I'll be fine, don't go to any trouble."

"It's no trouble, Emma. I'd not be doing my duty if I let you wander around like that, what would the Queen say?" Cook approaching with a jar and a bowl of broth she'd procured from an adjacent room. She had her own kitchen? It wouldn't surprise Emma if she did and had been granted such by Regina. "Right, let's see what the problem is then you can eat."

"I'm fine, honestly!" Emma standing to leave only to be faced with such a disappointed look she sat right back down on the padded bench she'd been resting on.

"That's better, shirt off!" Emma blinked, unsure. "I can't help you through your shirt and the way you're moving you've taken a beating." A nod and Emma went to lift her shirt off only being caught by a wave of pain as she tried to lift her arms, a hiss escaping and nimble hands reaching in to take over the task.

"Oh, Emma," Cook surveying her bruised torso in dismay. "She's done a right number on you," Cook surveying the sharp bruising and welts obviously caused by a cane, a harsh weapon indeed.

"It wasn't the Queen," Emma wanting to be honest. "I baited Red, this was my punishment."

"That bloody wolf, forgets how strong she is!"

"She gave me some medicine this morning that really helped, and apologised. It was both our faults. Do you have anything to wrap my ribs with, I think one is cracked."

"Hasn't the Queen given you any of her potions?" Cook frowning as she busied in a nearby drawer to pull out a length of linen.

"We've not really spoken today, she left early." A half truth.

"Hmm, she's probably avoiding you because she feels guilty," Cook hypothesising and Emma's brows rose, surprised by the remark. "Oh, she's come to care for you, if she admits it or not." Emma flinching but as Cook hadn't even touched her it got the other woman's attention and she stood back to study Emma. "I see. Well -. That explains a lot. And when are you going to tell her you feel the same? Hmm?" Trapping Emma with a steely glare.

"What if I don't," Emma challenging and it was a stand-off.

"Then you don't and you're just very good at your job." Cook the one to concede although she didn't believe it, not for one single moment! "Arms out to the side." Emma obeying and grunting in pain as the linen was passed around her ribs and tightened. "You get her to fix this the minute you see her? Understood?" Emma didn't reply, it was not a promise she could make.

"There," a final tug and Cook tied the wrap off and helped Emma put her shirt back on. "You come see me again if you don't get anyone else to help you out but I know Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee would assisted you out if you thought to ask.

"You know of them? "Emma curious about the reference

"No! Don't be daft, nothing but a children's tale," Cook shaking her head at the suggestion. "What nonsense!"

"In my world all this is 'but a children's tale'," Emma informing her rescuer as she stood and gave her rib cage a tentative stretch. "Oh, that's a lot better. Thank you."

"Down that cup of broth before you go, it's seasoned with a herb mix the Queen concocts and does wonders for the constitution."

"Thanks," Emma downing the proffered cup in one draught. "Not bad, I've been given a lot worse!" She grimaced at the memory of some of the queen's nastier potions.

"I bet you have," Cook shaking her head at the thought of what Emma had endured to date. "If you're on your way check in with Miss Eva, she asked for food not too long ago and is probably still drowning herself in scrolls and ledgers. She's smart as a whip that one, I can see why the Queen wants her around."

"It's not the only reason," Emma commenting, unsure of whether Cook knew of the Queen's plans for Greta.

"I know she has deviant tastes and eyes for the pretty ones, but she is a good woman at heart," Cook misinterpreting Emma's words but the slave left it at that.

"Thank you, it's really helped," Emma offering a genuine smile on her way out.

"Any time, Emma," a nod of her head and Cook was bustling down the hallway in the opposite direction, back on her original mission towards the kitchens whilst Emma sought Eva.

xx

Next in the Collar

"You're solely to blame for that action!" Eva's attack immediate. "Had you stilled your tongue I imagine your evening would have been a lot more pleasant, instead you acted like a child for whatever your reason was! You're still a slave, she could not let it slip from you or any other in the kingdom, free or otherwise. Thinking on it like that you got off lightly, she has killed for less."