His little chest sat on the floor of his closet for weeks now. Weeks, meaning twelve…three months since he brought the weathered thing into Emma’s –correction his—err their house. To say Killian was still getting used to living without the sea under his feet was an understatement. And it’s not to say that he hadn’t lived on land before, he had, but not without knowing that his permanent and rightful home was the Jolly Roger. Now, it was not. She was his vessel for travel and that was all. This was his home.
A creak of the floorboard announced Emma’s arrival to the bedroom. Killian lifted his head. She came bearing coffee, handing him the steaming mug as she sat next to him at the foot of the bed.
“Are you just going to stare at that thing or finally open it?” she asked, nudging him.
Killian gave a one note chuckle. “I don’t know.”
“And I thought I was the stubborn one. What’s going on, Killian? Don’t you like it here?”
She was on his right. He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Of course I like it here, love. But one thing you don’t know about this trunk is that it has never been off the Jolly Roger. I’ve never opened it other than aboard my ship. It belonged there.”
“And it doesn’t belong here?”
He lifted a shoulder. “It wants to, but along with opening it comes a sense of permanence.”
“Ahh. I know exactly what you mean. And I get it. You should’ve seen how many boxes I had before I moved here all those years ago,” Emma said, sipping her coffee, then setting it down on the nightstand.
Instead of returning to where she was sitting, she stood before Killian, gathering his hand and hook. “I had clothes, some books, tons of shoes…” she giggled. “But that was it. No photographs, no scrapbooks, no keepsakes…nothing personal. And those boxes littered my mom’s loft for a week before she made me unpack. You’ve got to do the same, Killian. I dreaded it too, but this isn’t some random house you’re living in. It’s one full of love and hope for our future. It may not have the ability to float, but it does have a cave system running underneath.”
Her green eyes twinkled as she spoke the last sentence, and Killian pulled her to him, kissing her before rising off the bed. “You’re right. Would you like to help me?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” She beamed up at him. Barefoot, she was shorter than he was more than any other time, making him feel like a giant and protective of her despite the fact she was an adult woman who could, quite honestly, take care of herself better than he ever could.
Kneeling together, Killian lifted the lid and began setting the few items inside upon the dresser, on the nightstands, or tucked into drawers if need be. Like magic, with each piece removed he felt the sense of dread leave his soul.
At the bottom, only one thing remained: a leather pouch. It was his brother’s, Liam’s…his older brother Liam’s. Killian took an extra second holding it, picturing the way Liam would carry this ratty trinket holder everywhere he went. He’d had it since he was a child. After he died, Killian had stuffed it away and never picked it up again. Placing it atop the shelf in the closet would be only the second home it had since being in Killian’s possession.
“Is that an L on the flap?” Emma asked. “Was that Liam’s?”
“Aye. Our father gave it to him when he was young. Liam carried it always.”
Killian shook his head. “To tell the truth, I don’t know. I’ve never rummaged through.”
“Are you going to now?” she asked. Soft, serene eyes gazed at him, waiting for an answer.
“Why not.” Killian handed it to her. “Would you do the honors?”
“Me?” Emma was taken aback.
Taking it, she opened the flap and pulled out several things a child would own: a rock, a dried starfish, a bit of string, a toy wooden knight, and oddly enough a scrolled piece of parchment tied with a ribbon. The last she held up to examine. “There’s something written on it,” she said unrolling the centuries old paper. “Brennan sailed the seas as a cabin boy…” she read. “Brennan? That was your father’s name.”
“Aye, it was.” Confusion took over Killian, reading ahead over Emma’s shoulder.
“Killian, do you know what this is? It’s his story. No other paper or ink could survive this long and not be from the author. Do you know his story?” Emma was already on her feet, excited to uncover what was written on the page.
“No, I don’t. I never cared to. Hell, I still don’t. He doesn’t deserve to have his story told.” Nothing would ever heal the bitterness he held for his scoundrel father who’d abandoned him on the high seas to a life of servitude.
“How about your mother? Do you know about her? Reading ahead, it seems to be their love story.”
“She left us too. That’s all our father ever said.”
Emma flipped over the page. Her jaw dropped, scanning the story further. “Killian… you need to read this.”
“Emm—” he began to protest.
Grabbing his hand, Emma hauled him down the stairs. “Nope, we’re going to read this. Come on.”
“Where are we going?”
She paused only to slip on a jacket and handed him his in the process. “We’re going to pick up lunch and read this. You can’t hold on to bitterness all your life. I won’t let you. New house, new life, new rules. We’re reading it.”
After a quick stop at Granny’s, Emma drove Killian to the Storybrooke Park and flung out a blanket from the back seat of that death trap she called a vehicle. “Sit,” she said patting the space next to her.
Killian sat looking out the tranquil reservoir, the lapping waters calmed his uneasy spirit.
“I would’ve taken you to the docks, but I thought a nice picnic on the water here would be better,” Emma said. “More private.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
Clearing her throat Emma unrolled the scroll and nestled herself comfortably in place. “Once upon a time…”
Brennan sailed the seas a cabin boy, performing all sorts of tasks for his father and his crew. They called themselves merchants, but Brennan knew better. They were pirates. He hated pirates; despised those rotten creatures. Always smelling of alcohol and decaying fish, Brennan stayed away from them as much as possible, preferring to read alone in his room.
As the years went on and he reached manhood, Brennan grew tired of always living amongst men. His heart grew, longing for someone to love…a woman. But he hadn’t met one in all his life. His mother died of some kind of flux during one of his earliest sails and from then on women had only been mentioned in tales or seen in port when the ship docked for supplies. Those women were not what he’d expected from the many stories he’d read. No, they were dirty, hard-worked, and too eager to please a man.
The image he had in his head of the perfect woman drifted through his mind as he sat above deck staring out at the waters below. She’d be beautiful, lovely, bright as the sun that rose in the east. Her heart would be kind and true. He filled his lungs with the warm ocean air wishing for such a maiden somewhere amongst hills of green they sailed along.
“Oy! Brennan!” his father called. “You wastin’ your days away again? Meanwhile me crew is ‘ere workin’ like scurvy dogs. Get off your arse and get to work!”
Brennan could only look to the sky and put his dreaming aside. It was time to go to work.
At night they docked. The crew and his father took to the nearest tavern for a night of drinking and debauchery. If there were ever a chance to disappear, now would be the time. And so he did. Stealing a horse, he galloped as far away from the docks as he fast as the animal could run. He urged the mare into the woods, deep in canopy cover until the smell of the ocean was taken over by moss, and leaves, and dirt. And when the old girl had had enough, he stopped and made camp. He was finally free.
Morning came and Brennan wandered the forest for hours in search of food and water. He found not but a few berries and some nuts, eating them without satisfying the empty pit in his belly. He needed more. Perhaps a shelter or a small village would pop up soon, he thought and continued to walk with the horse by his side.
As he’d wish, the forest opened to a field. A great castle stood before him. Finally, he was saved. Yet as he edged closer he saw the castle was set on a small island in the middle of a lake. Brennan could see that a drawbridge could be lowered to cross the water and gain access into the castle. He called and called for someone to drop the plank, but not one of his cries were heard. The castle couldn’t be empty, he thought, it was massive. Hundreds must live on the other side of the wall. Someone was bound to come out sooner or later.
Busying himself with giving the horse water and brushing its mane, he waited what seemed like forever for someone to come along. No one did. Not one single soul. He sank into the grass, lying his head back amongst the yellow and purple flowers, and staring at the sun crossing the sky. Before he knew it, a song drifted on the wind. Brennan sat up, seeing a beautiful woman emerge from the forest. Her hair was long and golden, flowing down her back like the cascading falls he’d seen in his travels. As she neared, she glanced at him smiling; two blue eyes twinkled in his direction. “Hello,” she said. “Are you lost?”
Brennan bowed. “I am, my fair maiden. I came from the forest via the docks two days ride from here. I have been calling for someone inside to open the gate, but no one’s heard me.”
She giggled in a girlish, spritely way he’d never heard before, reminding him of the dolphins that played along the bow of a ship. “That’s because no one lives here but me. Come, I will take you in. I’m sure you’re in need of a good meal and a proper roof over your head.”
“Thank you, I would. I’m Brennan Jones, former sailor.” He kissed the back of her hand like he’d read gentleman do in storybooks.
“Ondine is my name. I’m delighted to meet you, Brennan.”
Walking to the edge of the lake, Ondine stepped on a stone half buried in the earth. A cranking sound filled his ears, and Brennan watched as the drawbridge was lowered. What kind of magic was this, he wondered, but not for long as Ondine reached for his hand and led him inside. Together they crossed the courtyard and stabled the horse before closing the bridge behind them. They then continued inside the foreboding stone fortress she called home.
“Here,” she said entering a large hall draped in tapestries and adorned with tassels. A heavy table made of fine scrolled oak stood in the center surrounded by twelve chairs. “Wait for me here, and I’ll make you a fine meal.”
“You’ll make it? Do you not have servants? Surely, a woman who lives in a castle as grand as this has maids, cooks, and other staff to assist?”
“I do not. It is only I who resides here, and that’s the way I like it. Now please, sit, dear Brennan and I’ll feed you a supper lavish enough for a king.” With that, Ondine left the room.
A short time later she returned with a beautiful roast, cakes, and many other delicious things. She set the table and invited him to help himself. He did not need to be asked a second time.
After they’d eaten, they sat together in front of a warm fire and goblets of wine between them, talking as if they’d known each other a lifetime rather than a few passing hours. Brennan sensed Ondine was lonely, like he was, hoping to find solace in the arms of a true love. “Do you believe in the Fates?” he asked.
“Yes, three deity sisters who have the ability to control two souls, entwining them together for a lifetime?”
Ondine shifted her gaze, hiding a coy smile from him. “And you believe these Fates have brought us together?”
Brennan inched closer, eliminating the gap between them. “I do.” He brushed a finger along her porcelain cheek, so fair and soft he felt as if he were touching a feather.
“Even though we have not met each other before?”
“Aye.” He could not tear his sight from her sapphire eyes, even if he was told he would die if he didn’t. “The Fates know how to bring lost souls together.”
“Then the Fates are very powerful,” Ondine whispered, leaning into him.
“That they are,” Brennan replied and pressed his lips to hers, rosy and full.
One day at the castle led to two; and two days led to a week; a week became a month until Brennan asked Ondine to marry him and live together as husband and wife. She agreed, but with one condition, he must promise to let her go every Friday and never ask questions about what she was doing or ever follow her.
As odd as the request was, Brennan agreed, promising her freedom and privacy every Friday until the end of their life together. And for five years he kept his promise. Then one day, as Brennan played with their sons, four-year-old Liam and eight-month-old Killian, a voice could be heard shouting from the field.
Startled and curious, Brennan gathered the baby and ran with Liam to the drawbridge, lowering it for the stranger outside. When the man crossed, joining them in the courtyard, he introduced himself as Sir William Perrault saying he’d come to see his daughter.
In the five years Brennan and Ondine had been married, not once had she mentioned having any parents. He’d assumed all these years they’d been dead, and she left orphaned, forced to live alone. He stood aghast. “I’m sorry. I was not aware my wife had a father.”
“We all have fathers. Now where is my daughter?” the older man said sternly.
“It’s Friday,” young Liam said. “Mother goes away on Friday.”
Sir William cast a glare toward Brennan. “And you allow this? Allow your wife to galivant about alone? Where does she go?”
“I know not. She goes where she wants.”
“Ha! What kind of man are you? What kind of man not only let’s his wife out of his sight, but does not know where she’s gone? Are you not angered? Are you not curious? Nothing good can come from a life like this.”
His father-in-law’s insolence was too much to bear. “I’m the man I want to be, and that is a husband to my wife. Now, be gone with you.”
“No.” Sir William stood his ground. “I have come for my daughter and I will have her. She needs to be with her family.”
He tried pushing past Brennan, but Brennan held him back with a firm palm against his chest. Sir William glared at the forceful hand holding him back. “No,” Brennan bellowed. “We’re her family.”
“Get your hand off me.”
Killian cried at the harsh grumble that bellowed from his grandfather.
Bouncing the boy, Brennan quieted him before handing him to Liam. “Find mum. Go, and take care of Killian.”
Liam did as he was told, running away into the castle.
“Come back here, child!” Sir William started after Liam. Brennan yanked the man to a stay, only to be met with a right fist to the jaw.
After all his years aboard ships and amongst rowdy men, Brennan knew how to fight and threw a punch into the man’s gut. William doubled over, gagging at the sharp quick pain. Taking the stunned moment, Brennan landed a swift kick to his head, sending his knighted father-in-law to the cobblestone unconscious.
Not wasting the moment, Brennan ran after his son. “Liam,” he yelled.
“Here, father,” a small voice came from the lower stairwell.
Brennan embraced the boy the second he found him. “Did you find mum?” he then asked.
Liam shook his head. “No. I did hear a noise though. Down there.” He pointed down the wooden stairs.
“Good lad,” Brennan patted his head. “Let’s take a look, shall we?”
Liam nodded, fear glistened in his eyes that so mirrored his mother’s. “It’ll be all right, son. Hold on to your brother tight.”
Together they descended the stairs to the lowest part of the castle. Like Liam said, there were noises coming from behind the closed door. Splashes, as if someone was bathing or swimming, to be more exact. Opening the door, the sight that greeted him was like no other. There, in a steaming spring swam his wife with a green flowing fin instead of legs. Brennan’s jaw fell slack, shocked.
Ondine swam to the surface with a screech. “Brennan! I told you never to search for me on Fridays…never to follow me.”
“I’m… I’m…sorry. I had to. Your father, he… he…” Quizzical words came jumbled from his mouth.
“Mother, that man means to harm you,” Liam warned for him.
Ondine’s eyes filled with terror, widening at Liam’s statement. “Brennan, what is he’s talking about?”
Taking a deep breath, and ignoring for the moment that his wife was half fish, he answered her. “Your father has come. He means to take you home.”
Reaching out of the water, Ondine held out her arms for the baby, cradling him to her wet body as he cried. “His kingdom is not my home. This is. And if he’s found us, then we must leave.”
Brennan shook his head. The man upstairs, prone on his floor, had introduced himself as sir, which would indicate a knighthood, yet Ondine said his kingdom. “He’s a king?”
“Yes, and a ruthless one. He cursed me this way with his knowledge of dark magic, because I would not marry the prince of a kingdom he wanted to conquer. I ran away from him and found this abandoned castle, taking it as my own. But still, every Friday, just like the day I was cursed, I’m a slave to the water. If he’s already done this to me, who knows what he might do if he finds me—us now?”
From the floor above, shouting could be heard for Ondine. It echoed through the empty halls, travelling through the castle. Footfalls started down the stairs they’d descended mere minutes ago. Brennan knew not what to do.
He knelt beside the water, kissing his wife. “I will not let him have you. You must get away.”
“How? My fin. I’m trapped in the water until midnight.”
Suddenly, Brennan remembered something an old man he’d assisted once on the docks of a town named Misthaven told him. If ever you find yourself in trouble, use this key and it will take you away from your problems. Then the man pressed a key attached to a thin leather strip into his hand. Brennan thought the man was senile, but took the key as payment since it seemed to be made of some precious metal. He’d wore the old thing around his neck and yanked it off, handing it to Ondine. “Here. This is how we can get away. It unlocks any door to another realm. Think of water and it shall appear. That’s how portals work.”
Brennan kissed her, breathing in her essence deep. “We’ll be right behind you. But you go first. We’ll keep your father away.”
Lifting his wife from the water, heavy tail, baby Killian, and all, he rushed her to the door for dry storage at the end of the hall.
“Wait! Stop,” Ondine cried. “Liam, come son.”
Liam ran up behind them, and Brennan knelt as Ondine handed him his little brother. “Hold him. Keep him safe, always,” she said, and kissed the little boy. “I love you.”
“Love you too, mama,” Liam said, wrapping chubby arms around her neck.”
“Stand back, son.” Brennan stood and Ondine opened the door with the mystical key.
A swirling vortex of purple, blue, green, and pink appeared instead of the solid wood that once stood in its place. “I’m frightened, Brennan.”
Pressing his lips to hers, he parted saying the only thing he remembered his mother saying to him as a child. “Look inside. We’re all braver than we think, if we just look deep enough.”
Ondine nodded, holding back falling tears. “I love you.”
“And I love you.”
Pounding on the cellar door startled their farewell, breaking them apart. Liam screamed. Killian shrieked. “Go,” Brennan urged and Ondine leapt from his arms into the unknown aura of magic.
She disappeared and William lunged through the opposite door with a great yell. “No!!!”
With both hands he shoved Brennan to the ground. “You stupid fool! Do you know what you’ve done? My kingdom. My reign!”
One after another the king threw punches into his face, neck, chest…whatever he could touch, he hit with the force of a cannon ball being shot. Brennan had to protect himself and his wailing sons, and reached the sash at his waist. Inside he had a dagger tucked and thrust it deep into the gut of the vicious king. He repeated the strike over and over until finally blood bubbled from the king’s mouth, spilling upon him. William grunted and growled, and knotted both hands above his head, ready to slam down a doubled-fisted blow into Brennan breastbone.
Thinking quick, Brennan did the same and sank the knife directly into the heart of the king with a great yell. William was dead. The body of the old man fell to the side, finally allowing Brennan to be.
“Father!” Liam cried.
Brennan crawled to him, collecting both boys in his arms. “Hush now. Gather all you have, for now we must leave. Your father has murdered a king.”
The child ran, leaving Killian in Brennan’s arms, and when he returned Brennan opened the storage door hoping to see the same swirling portal on the other side. But there was nothing. The magic gone, leaving a dirt floor, and shelving stocked with gourds, onions, and potatoes.
“What?” he said to himself. “This can’t be. No!”
He had to find her, and hitched the wagon, securing the children inside. He head toward the ocean. Once there, the king’s army surrounded the port, searching for their leader. Brennan looked down at his linen shirt stained with royal blood. If he were caught, he’d be killed. No, that was not going to happen. He had to be free. He had to find Ondine, she was the one who he loved, even more than the children she bore for him. Without her, they wouldn’t even exist. He needed her, and silently brought the boys on board one of the ships; the soldiers unaware of their presence. He’d sail the seven seas, and every realm to find her, even if it meant hiding from the soldiers the rest of his life…he would find her.
Dropping the scroll to her lap, Emma shook her head. “Killian, I’m so sorry.”
Giving her a tight smile, Killian pulled her over to kiss her forehead. “It’s all right. It happened a long time ago. Funny, I always thought father was a thief, not a murderer.”
“Who told you that?”
“The man my father sold Liam and I to. Apparently, my father lied to save his own arse. Doesn’t surprise me.”
Emma’s brows knitted together in the middle. “You’re only focusing on your father, but what about your mother? Killy she could be here.”
“In Storybrooke, are you daft?” Surely she was if that’s what she thought.
“No, think about it. Your father gave her a key to unlock a door, sending her to another realm. Beans take you to where you’re thinking, but keys take you to the…”
He was following. “…to the Land of Untold Stories.”
“Right, and time is frozen there. Everyone who’s come through is exactly the same as they were the last day they were seen in their original realm. If that’s where she went, then there is a possibility she could be right here after all those years.”
Killian understood Emma’s need to be hopeful. It was in her blood. But he was always skeptical and despite seeing hope flourish in this town, he still couldn’t grab hold of it. This was his mother, a woman he’d wanted to know since he was a child. Father never spoke of her. Liam was too young to know her. Yet still, Killian dreamt of the woman who gave birth to him, but she never had a face. More than anything he’d love to meet her.
Lifting Emma’s hand, he kissed the back of it. “Perhaps. But I don’t want to think of that. Too painful after all these years. Come now, let’s go home. It’s Friday and I don’t want to spend it wallowing out in the cold. I want to spend it with the family I do have… you and Henry.”
“I’d like that too,” Emma said with a smile, then stood and kissed him, weaving her fingers through the back of his hair.
Returning to the yellow bug, Killian heard a splash behind him. Whipping around, he caught only the flurrying tips of a green fin diving under the surface of the placid water. Cocking his head to the side, he wondered… Nah, he was dreaming… or perhaps Emma’s sense of hope was getting to him after all. Either way, he followed his love to the car, and together they drove to their home.