Across the hundred seas
She needs to escape.
Emma squirms on the floor, pulling at her restraints. The rope bites into the tender flesh of her wrists and the gown hikes up high enough to leave her ankles bear; scuffing against loose bits of rope as hard as dried straw. She squeezes her eyes shut, pulling her right hand with as much vigor as she possesses. She moans at the strength it costs her and bites through the tears that threaten to spill. Giving up is not an option. She wrings her left hand so the palm is facing upwards, endeavoring to use the fingertips and push her right hand out and past the rope.
It hardly budges, leaving her skin raw and sore.
She groans, looking around the bleak room. Piled barrels lay scattered across; a splintered and broken wooden mast prompted against one of the barrels in a vacant corner, its scabrous end tugged against the ceiling. The room is made out of brown, faded wood, not much color. It's dark aside from a score of light peeping out of the door Captain Hook had disappeared behind.
She eyes the wooden mast, thin and thick, ten feet away.
''All be damned if I die captive on a boat,'' she mutters.
Emma presses her back against the wall, the wood beneath her crackling. Prompting her feet on the floor and using her hands as leverage she pushes herself up, wincing as her sore wrists grace the rope. Balancing her weight against the wall she pushes high until she's standing upright.
Now comes the trickiest part: moving.
Suddenly she halts, a throaty rumble above her head.
She cups her head up, the boards above her creak, footsteps and voices she has never heard before bellow, and dust as white as snow, shimmer down and land an inch away from her feet. Holding in her breath, she awaits their passing.
Surely they'll pass.
The feet move, the voices carry further until only the song of winds and seas ring her ears.
It's a cruel game, she thinks, as she lands on her knees and crawls wracked and bruised towards the broken mast. She must be the crocodile Captain Hook was talking about. Less vicious, she reckons, but hunted down just the same.
Her knees move tortuously slow, her feet depraved of all motions. She leans on top of her forearms, uses her belly to scatter across like a snake stricken by the scent of blood, huffing and groaning through the sprouts of pain shooting down her arms and legs.
Her head bumps against a barrel, the sound carries heavily across the silent room. Emma winces and clamps her mouth shut. Not good, not good at all. Her eyes move towards the door, awaiting the blue eyed pirate with the glinting hook to step in and throw her off the ship.
But no one comes barging in.
Wasting no time, she stares up at the mast.
Now how to get it down?
She can't climb. That's for sure. She stares at the barrels; the smooth sides and bumps circling the lid, not large in length, piled on top of each other as they stretch to her collarbone.
She gazes around the room and takes in the quantity of barrels.
She crawls to the nearest piled barrels, leaning her shoulder against a wall to prop herself up. She watches the course to the mast. Not too long, she reckons. Leaning her back against the barrels and placing her feet steadfastly underneath her, she pushes. Her feet shift, almost causing her to trip. She regains her balance and hops up, gazes at the barrels behind her and pushes again. She hears the light screeching of the cylinder; the counterfeit off-tuned melody it sings, and hops into place when her back loses contact.
It becomes a continuously rhythm. Push, hop. Push, hop. Push, hop.
When the barrels meet each other, she leaves them be to hunt down other set of barrels and to perform the same conduct; pushing and hopping until finally, she has a trail of barrels that stretch long.
She hops to the mast, her hair jumps around her face every now and then and moves widely across her midriff. A hard push, a thud will do the trick.
She wrings herself past the barrels and to the mast, jutting her shoulder against the wood. It's not nearly as heavy as she had thought it to be.
She listens to the silent air and watches the door. There's a lump in her throat that she manages to swallow down and a clench in her heart she finds unable to do anything about. Once the mast falls on top of the barrels, there's no doubting the ringing thud it will make and there's no way they won't hear a thing. If she hurries and unties her wrists and legs, she may be able to fight them off.
But what then and dammit, how does she plan to escape?
Emma hesitates. They do still think she's the princess, so they won't hurt her. At least, she hopes they won't. But if they catch her, they'll tie her up again, and most definitely tighter. She involuntary winces at the thought of tighter ropes around her wracked flesh; she'll be bruised for weeks. And how does she plan on fighting pirates off? She, with a broken mast she'll barely be able to keep up against them; skilled sword fighters. It would have been amusing, weren't she actually living the damned situation.
And if, by off-chance, she manages to escape, what is stopping the pirates from going after her? Even worse, what's keeping them from finding out she's not really the princess? She's loathed to think, but if she knows the Princess at all, she's convinced Princess Belle is helping the King and Queen and – Emma shudders – Gaston to find her. Princess Belle is a self-sacrificing person, to keep the pirates from going after Emma she would surely sacrifice herself in exchange.
All would be for naught; the pirates would actually get the person they wanted.
Emma closes her eyes, leaning back. Whatever she does, someone's going to get hurt.
It's a big unless, something she knows Princess Belle wouldn't agree upon, but if it's the only way to protect her… Then so be it.
But first, she thinks, pressing her shoulder against the mast, these ropes need to come off.
The hallways were dark; an orange gleam ghosted the palace's floors past the cracks in all the four doors aligning her sides. She treaded lightly, moved like the silent rustling of the trees beyond marble and gold. She did not know the castle walls as well as the servants whom had dwelled here for years, but for the shallow year Emma had lived here she knew that the next left lead to the palace's kitchen and the coming right to the evermore, high tailed royal garden.
It was the garden she was after.
She held the purse tightly against her side, forestalling the clamor of gold and high valued accessories within. Her shoes, comfortable but practical and different from the tattered and worn ones she wore when the King and Queen took her in, and the breeches she had stolen from a boy, a year or so younger than her and son of a knight, were a perfect fit for a crime she had scheduled months ago.
She slammed her back against the right, outer wall and peeped around the corner. It was not a long run and there were no opened doors or people insight. Around this time, everyone was asleep save from the cooks up and ready to make breakfast for the Royal family.
Emma blinked at the sudden tears forming in the corner of her eyes and inhaled deeply. The sun would not be up for another three hours, if she hurried no one would know of her absence until she was well on a ship to the next land and starting a life of her own.
No one would notice her departure, except Princess Belle.
The thought was so sudden it squeezed at her heartstrings and threatened to blur her sight. Emma slammed her head repeatedly against the wall, endeavoring to remove the doubt from her mind. It was now or never. Pushing off the wall, she twirled and ran out of the heavy double doors and into the crisp night air.
Before her was the renowned garden and indisputable maze; for anyone who had never been inside the palace. But even the King and Queen wouldn't know their way around the convolutions and insularity if they ever dared to step a foot into the make-belief wilderness. The garden was invented for anyone who longed for a place to hide in the presence of nature and its mysteries; how artificial it may seem. It was a garden made for Princess Belle and since Emma's stay in the palace and her friendship with the one day Queen; it had also become her garden and she knew its mysteries as well as Princess Belle knew her books. When the maze reached its ending there was a door, locked it was, but with a hairpin no lock could keep her in.
Emma wouldn't get lost.
She hiked the purse over her shoulder, starting her walk, but the stern cough a few meters away paled her and stopped her in her path.
She closed her eyes, contemplating if a quick run into the maze would deter her pursuer. Surely this person couldn't master the tricks the maze had to offer?
Her heart clumsily tripped over a beat.
No, a quick run wouldn't save her.
She tersely turned around, dropping the bag of gold onto the grass. It clamored and Emma winced at the lacerated silence and at what the girl before her could possibly think of the noise.
Princess Belle's eyes shifted to the bag. Even in the night Emma could see the anguished look on her face.
''Emma?'' She whispered.
The brunet was shivering, but her arms never came up to keep in some of her body warmth. The meager, but woven out of fine silk gown, was too thin around her bony shape.
She didn't utter a word and her shivering knees were torn between bending over, ripping the purse from the ground and taking off into the maze. And falling to her buttocks, tired of running.
In the middle of the night there were stars inside Princess Belle's eyes. They shimmered like the ones inside the sky and fell like the fallen ones the Princess had gushed over when she narrated stories and ushered Emma to make a wish.
''Why,'' her voice broke into a whimper and it seemed as if the Princess was about to fall and Emma cursed her everlasting need to run.
She cupped her head up to level the Princess with a glare. This family cannot keep her. This family did not own her.
Emma did not have a family.
But her eyes softened and her heavy head bowed forward to the dew immersed grass.
''This is not my home,'' she whispered to the grass, to the sky, to the air, to the Princess.
Princess Belle sniffed hard and when Emma looked up, she saw the Princess' trembling hand move swiftly across her face.
''This never felt like home to me either,'' Princess Belle hiccupped, ''until you came.''
Sailors' curses and boots as heavy as falling bricks chime above her head, dust shimmies to the floor in heaps and the once scorch of light peeping through the door brightens as if someone has started a burning yellow fire.
There's the sound of jingling keys and the squeak of an unlocking lock, but no one steps in. She can hear shuffling behind the door, low whispers of men that kedge of cautious steps, tread lightly and watch out for the: ''vixen of a princess with a wicked right arm,'' then the door slams open and Emma stares right at the point of a gleaming sword.
The pirate holding the sword scrutinizes her and when he's aware she's unarmed he yells, ''Grab her!''
''Wait!'' She exclaims at the sudden burst of men and hands flailing over her arms and pushing her down on her knees. There's a jab between her shoulder blades and several of faces, but all seem to come down to scarred and wild.
She does not resist, but her hands shake and she cannot stop her eyes from shooting across the room and into the light for a way out.
The men around her murmur and Emma catches faint conversations where one man asks where the bloody hell the Captain is and Emma shivers because she knows that means facing the blue eyed, hooked and – admirably – handsome pirate, and another man mutters in awe at the torn rope on the floor, earning agreements from different, unseen ends.
The sword that had been facing her moves dangerously closer towards her windpipe, the point but a hairsbreadth away from pricking her skin. She looks at the pirate's eyes, dark they are, brown like the planks she's kneeling on.
The pirate looks around, his eyes finally falling on the rope she had discarded on the floor. ''I don't know how you did it,'' he starts with a gruff voice. ''But rest assured, fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us. There will be no second time. Rope!''
She squeaks at the pull on her hands, the thought of more rope around her bruised skin has her baulking back, ignoring the point gracing her throat every now and then. She pulls her head back to keep the sharp weapon from tearing her apart, but the pirate inclines his hand and the point finally pinches her flesh.
He won't actually slice her throat off, will he? But despite the threat pressed against her neck, she does not for once quiet her baulking, even managing to claw and draw out blood out of the hands of one of her attackers.
The voice that jeers at her head sounds exactly like the abductor she had punched.
''Matthew, easy on that thing you're waving around, will you?''
Her eyes shoot up and she's momentarily pulled out of her struggle to break free.
She does not know whether to be relieved as the pirate with the sword steps down or anxious because Captain Hook could do far more worse if the stories have any hearsay to live up to.
Her moment of pause ensures the men behind to grab a firm hold of her painful wrists. She winces and shudders when another set of rope graces her skin.
''Enough with the rope!'' She exclaims, scrunching her nose as she feels the binds.
She searches her brain for anything courteous to say. ''What will they – my parents have to say if they find out I've been treated so brutally?''
''We're a bunch of barbarians?'' A man behind her says.
''Pirates,'' another wistfully throws in.
Captain Hook slowly draws out an eyebrow and she can't help but look at him with what she hopes is her best piteously face, and for someone who had lived on streets crawling with thieves, outlaws and fallen magicians of the worst sort as a young, very short of her age little girl, it had been easy to acquire pity from all corners.
Captain Hook smiles, making her huff, her shoulders slump as she gives up the fight.
For now, at least.
''Make sure the rope is tighter,'' Matthew juts his sword behind her. The rope digs into her skin. ''Three double knot – six double knot it. Throw in sailor's knots, four different kinds of rope. Don't shy away.'' He narrows his eyes on her. ''I don't care if she bleeds. You make sure its tigh–''
''Hold up now, lass,'' Hook interferes. She winces as another knot tugs her wrists together. ''She won't be so useful if she doesn't have any hands.'' He grins, whipping out his hook. ''Some of use aren't so blessed at being skilled one-handed, let alone handless.''
He rakes his eyes over her body, making her bite her lip to keep from saying anything un-princess-like with a very unladylike tongue.
''Though, I must say, I like my women tied up.''
''Is that the only way you can have your women at all, pirate,'' Emma gnaws.
Hook laughs, ''I promise you Princess, all my women come freely.''
And she can't help the shiver that shoots through her body at the look he gives her. She had seen the ocean from afar, a soft blue, much like the morning sky. But this pirate hasn't the eyes of the morning sky or the calm sea – it is night, with him. Dark and dangerous and Emma is intrigued, she has never admired the night as much. It is the stars that were captivating, never the night.
Though today, the night is as promising.
She looks away, biting past the ache in her wrists.
This cannot all be for naught. She chants; this cannot all be for naught.
''Wait,'' Hook says. The binding stops and leaves the lull of a dull ache. Matthew looks at his Captain as if he's trying to unfold a secret.
Captain Hook walks across the room; he watches the boards on the floor, the scars on the walls. When he reaches the barrels and the mast on top, he scratches the point of his hook over the hewn surface.
''Clever,'' he mutters, than he levels her with the same seeking gaze. ''Very clever.''
''Captain,'' one of the pirates behind her starts, ''what do you propose we do to her?''
The hook cups his under lip. He takes a few contemplating steps towards her, until he's close enough for her to see the tops of his knees and it to require strain in her neck to look up at his face.
''Take the rope off.''
''Captain?'' Matthew replies puzzled.
''Aye,'' he says. ''And bring her to my chambers.''
Hook turns around, already making way for the door, leaving his crew and her, thunderstruck.
They push her inside his room abrasively, one of the pirates leers at her, but instead of folding, she glares as haughty as she can. She assumes it's not much of a princess' glare, too cold and too dangerous, too much Emma and far too wild.
The door shuts behind her.
She looks down at the small treads, lets her eyes roam around the room. It's not much of a presence, as bare as the chamber she was to sit in. It doesn't look like Hook has any treasured possession, but on a ship, can one really carry much possession? Her hand touches her right wrist. With the bright light in this room she is able to see her bruises, blue and red, with cracked skin and bloodshot curst. Her stomach twists unwelcomingly.
''There you are, love.''
He sits at a desk she had not yet seen, propped near a window overlooking the sea. It's a terrifying occurrence, as she looks around. She's hostage on a ship with a renowned pirate not far ahead, but there's a beautiful sea not far behind either and Emma is delirious of this danger and that beauty so pesky entwined. His long jacket is hanging over the chair, his shirt has been unbuttoned ever further. Captain Hook looks much too comfortable for her taste.
She descends the stairs and he rises, she makes sure to stick to his closet and bed lamp, anything really that could serve as a weapon if things took a turn for the worst. On his desk, for example, are pens and an ink jar, even papers could serve as a method of diversion if she aimed right.
He walks around her and she makes sure to touch his desk, let her fingers roam not too obvious to the pen he was using. Curiously her eyes drift to the paper on the desk, the scribbles of what she can only presume is his handwriting. There's a date above it, his journal perhaps, torn and loose instead of tucked and vast in a book. Another odd thing, she reckons.
''What you did was quite remarkable.'' His voice continues to baffle her, the drawl and the refine; he can make any sentence sound fair.
But Emma has always been able to pick out a lie.
''Was it?'' She humors him, twirling past him so the desk lies in between.
He has a glint, a dangerous glint, in his blue eyes.
''Aye,'' he crosses his arms across his chest, and damn him – damn her – but her eyes move to his biceps and his chest involuntary. ''Using a mast to free yourself from those awful binds,'' a slow grin spreads across his face. ''You look like a princess, the fairest of them all, ay, but your heart is wilder than the seas, your wit sharper than a blade and your heart as much as a pirate as any of us.''
She snorts at the insult, ''I am none like you!''
''Not even close!''
He's still grinning, watching her carefully.
''You're blonde,'' he says and she frowns.
''And here I thought I had been a redhead all my life,'' she howls sarcastically.
Captain Hook walks around the desk, until he's close enough for Emma to see the faint scar aligning diagonal across one side of his cheek.
''The King and Queen are brunets, I seem to recall.''
''And I am blonde.''
''And you are blonde.''
She tries to stifle the panic rising inside the pit of her chest as she raises her chin, leveling him up with what she hopes is a proper glare.
He raises his hook, brushing the cold metal against her cheek. A gasp bubbles in her throat, but she suppresses the urge as she gnaws her teeth together.
''Do I frighten you, darling?''
''I do not fear anyone.''
His eyes move across her face, the hook still in place. ''You are somewhat of an open book,'' he hums. ''You have eyes that speak of tales as mysterious as the yet unknown hundred seas.''
He suddenly pulls away from her and she's struck by the confusing cold he leaves.
It's as she inhales a deep breath that she realizes she's been holding it the entire time.
''Tell me, Princess Belle,'' he aligns his papers from her view and stacks them into the corner. ''Have you ever been to Storybook?''
''Storybook?'' She curses the breathy sound of her voice.
''Aye, It's an island, a few hours away. Quite forsaken, but beautiful, I was told,'' he watches her face, licks his lips.
She shakes her head. ''I've never been outside of my castle.''
He nods. ''I was told so,'' than he shrugs. ''For someone so unafraid of the unknown, I reckoned you had seen quite a few things in your life.''
But Princess Belle would have loved to sail on a ship and move across the seas and find adventure beyond her castle walls.
She feels a haul of chagrin for the Princess.
''It's alright, darling,'' he says, having thought her vexation was for herself and not the actual Princess Belle. ''You'll see it soon enough.''
She frowns at that. ''What are we going to do at Storybook? I thought you were trying to get… your crocodile?''
''This is for my crocodile, love.'' He steps closer, watching her hands, her chest and her face. Damn that gown. ''Though, I suppose, you'll experience some adventure and that is for you,'' his voice has become breathier, sweeter, intoxicating like a glass of wine.
''Please,'' she starts. ''This was your plan all along. None of this is for me.'' Her fingers move subconsciously towards her right wrist. ''Can I go back to my chambers or was there something else you wanted to discuss with me?''
He looks between their hands and his inches closer towards hers, with fingertips looking for bruises and cuts. Then he notes what he's doing and pulls it back and presses it against his side.
''You may be excused. I simply,'' he looks into her eyes. ''Wanted to bask in your beauty.''
''You are too kind,'' she flattens, but there's an annoying little pull in her chest that makes her push away from the pirate and walk towards the door.
''I'll tell them not to bind you anymore,'' he doesn't turn around. ''It's the least I can do.''
She scowls, as if he cares at all about her health.
She knocks on the door, but before it opens and reveals the abrasive men who had pushed her into this room, she spares one last glance behind her to meet those eyes again. To find the dark night or the cold sea or simply the blue that leaves her with no words.
But when she looks, he still hasn't turned around.
Emma didn't run away after Princess Belle's confession.
The Princess found her family when the King and Queen came back with a street rat and the street rat found her kin when a girl offered to read her a story and she acknowledged that before books and tales, she had never heard a real story before.