Chapter 4: Open Book
There was something in the way he was looking at her which made her hold his stare. Maybe it was because his gaze was so intense; looking into these bright blue eyes was somehow soothing. She nodded and walked to the beanstalk, and waited for him to start climbing before following him. It was easy to grip the beanstalk, and Emma surprised herself as she was able to follow the lieutenant. She caught up with him; they were now climbing side by side.
Climbing was easier than she had expected, but it was also very long; looking up, she saw the clouds high above. She then looked down to check how much they had progressed. They had been climbing for a while now, but they were still much closer to the ground than to the clouds, though they were high enough to give her chills; she clutched the beanstalk tightly and closed her eyes.
"Are you alright?" When she opened her eyes, she saw Killian right beside her, with a hint of worry in his eyes. She smiled softly.
"I'm fine. I just stupidly looked down." Since he kept staring at her, making sure she was fine, she gave him another smile. "I assure you I'm alright." And she started climbing again, Killian following her.
"Emma? I know I've been with you only for a few hours, but from what I've seen, you don't seem to dislike adventure. Am I wrong?"
Emma stopped climbing to look at him. His eyes were full of curiosity. She didn't know what to answer. The only reason why she was there was that she wanted to find a way back to Boston. She was lost and a magic bean seemed to be her best chance to go back home. But he was right. Since the morning, when he had knocked on her door, she hadn't felt so lost. She had even enjoyed the horse ride, and climbing the beanstalk was not as terrible as she had expected.
"Once again, tell me if I'm wrong, but I feel like you're alone in your realm."
"How would you know that?" Her question had come instantly, mostly because he had hit a nerve by being right on that point.
"I know this look. You're something of an open book, and this is what I can read in your eyes. Tell me, Emma: if there's nothing waiting for you there, why would you want to go back?"
Emma frowned, unwilling to answer this. "Just keep climbing."
Killian didn't insist and it was in silence that they kept climbing. Emma had lost track of time, though the sun was giving her a mere idea about what time it was; probably the early afternoon. Finally, they found themselves in a damp fog. To Emma's relief, the layer of clouds was thin and the top of the beanstalk was just there. She sat down on the low wall surrounding the top and looked around. A stone fortress was standing in front of them.
"Do you reckon the magic beans are in there?"
"If there are some, aye. You're ready?"
Standing in front of her, he held out his hand, which she ignored as she got up by herself and headed towards the entrance surrounded by two gigantic statues. A hand on her shoulder made her jump and turn around instantly to face the lieutenant.
"Killian, you really should stop doing that."
"My apologies. I just wanted to warn you before you go in: giants are not the friendly type of creatures. The best would be to avoid an encounter with one of them. You may want to be quiet and not to touch anything."
"Great," she replied in a hushed voice, again wondering where she was and whether she would wake up soon. "Let's find a bean and let's get the hell out of here."
The fortress was probably the largest place Emma had ever been in; probably because it belonged to giants. The ceiling was really high and the end of the room was barely visible. All over the place, treasures were piled up.
"How are we supposed to find a bean in all that mess?"
"Just by keeping your eyes open and looking. All I know is that, despite the appearances and all this gold, magic beans are the giants' most valuable possessions. If I had so many treasures, I know I would keep the most precious ones as far as possible from the entrance, in the least accessible place. I suggest to keep walking for now."
To Emma, the hypothesis was plausible. She followed Killian across the room, zigzagging between the piles of golden treasures, careful not to touch anything. The beanstalk was enchanted; Emma imagined the treasures could be as well, and she didn't want to drown in treasures flooding the room by replicating themselves at the slightest touch.
Focused on the piles of gold on both sides of the path, she wasn't careful enough about where she put her feet; she walked on the wrong paving stone and, with a crash, a pile of rubble separated her from Killian.
Though startled by this sudden event, she was alright; feeling the paving stone sink under her foot, she had instantly jumped back and ducked right in time to avoid the considerable amount of rocks falling down at the precise spot where she had been. Hearing a distant noise, she stayed on the ground a few more seconds, wondering if that sound could be a growl. She preferred to pretend it was an echo of the stones falling down, and stood up. Killian appeared in front of her and looked relieved to see her on her feet.
"Came to check if you needed some saving. You're alright?"
Emma nodded and flashed her a smile. "No need for a saving. The only one who saves me is me." That was how it had always been.
"We're lucky no giant came here with all this racket. They could come anytime, we better hurry."
Without waiting, she followed him, looking ahead of them, wondering whether the wall at the end of the room was not moving back while they were coming closer; it still seemed as far as before.
Emma was pulled sideways by the arm and she looked at the floor; Killian had made her avoid what looked like another tricked paving stone. She followed him more closely. Killian was starting to pay more attention to the treasures around them, looking for a magic bean. Emma's eye was caught by something else.
Grabbing his arm, she quickly pulled him back, so quickly that the next second he was against her, his arms instantly wrapping around her. She could see the look of surprise in his eyes, and could also feel, again, the intensity of his stare. She momentarily forgot about why she had stopped him, or even about where they were, until he pulled her from her thoughts.
"In what honour do I get to hold you in my arms?"
With a tilt of the head, Emma indicated the string right behind him, a few inches above the floor.
"A trip wire. Quite a security system," she said.
Killian followed her eyes up to the ceiling. A cage was linked to the trip wire.
"That's a plausible excuse for grabbing me." Again, his eyes were locked on hers. He didn't seem eager to let her go. "I have noticed how you seem to prefer doing things on your own, and I don't mean to upset you, Emma, but I think we make quite the team, helping each other to avoid traps like this."
Emma simply couldn't take her eyes off of him. Only after a moment, he looked down at their bodies pressed against each other. She also looked down, and blushed when seeing the view her red tank top was offering him. She was about to step back and break the embrace when they were interrupted; a loud growl resounded and the floor quaked, accompanying each footstep: a giant was coming, it was too late to escape. Emma felt Killian's arms securely tighten around her while her arms went around his waist. He pulled her sideways and stopped near the end of the trip wire, hiding behind a high pile of golden treasures.
Emma furtively craned her neck from behind the treasures to cast a glance and opened wide eyes when she saw him arriving; the ceiling didn't look so high now that the giant was running across the room, coming closer. He would find them, and probably kill them; not the friendly type, Killian had said, and indeed, a simple glance at him left no doubt on the question. Emma ran her hand down Killian's side and found what she was looking for: the hilt of his sword. She waited a few more seconds, slightly squirming in his arms so that he would loosen his embrace, and unsheathed the sword to hit the trip wire as hard as she could. She pushed him away, stepping back just in time to avoid the cage, before looking startled at the giant lying down, trapped. The sword still clutched in her hand, she was wondering how she had done this or how she had even thought of doing it.
"That was brilliant. You're amazing." She heard Killian say behind her.
Without thinking, she dropped the sword and went to stand in front of the giant. His head was so huge that, even though his cheek was against the floor, she was still shorter than him.
"I need a magic bean, where are they?" she asked. The giant stared at her in silence. "Where are the magic beans?" Emma asked again, insisting on each word, not sure he was actually speaking English.
The giant was not looking at Emma anymore, but at Killian, protectively standing right behind her, his hand on the hilt of the sword he had picked up.
"You humans are all the same,” he finally said. “Taking what you want and killing everyone on your way."
"Tell me where the beans are," Emma said again.
"No. If you're going to kill me, do it now, before I escape from this cage."
"Look, I'm not from this realm, I need a bean to go back home."
"Not my problem, you won't get one. You humans don't deserve to live."
"Watch your words, giant." Killian stepped forward to stand next to Emma, sword in hand.
"You humans have destroyed everything. There is no magic bean left. The last beans are dried and unable to open portals."
"He's lying," said Killian.
"I don't think he is." Emma squatted in front of the cage, her eyes at the level of one of the giant's.
"Emma, giants are not trustworthy."
"He's telling the truth." Emma looked up at Killian. "I know when someone is lying to me. If you don't trust him, trust me."
Killian didn't hesitate long. "Let's go away." Grabbing her hand, he pulled her away and they ran towards the way out. "It's only a matter of time before he escapes from that cage."
Accepting the idea that the beanstalk was the only way, Emma followed him down. Though not as exhausting as the way up, going down still required her full attention; they didn't talk, trying to go down as fast as they could. They had climbed down more than a half of the beanstalk when it started to quiver, making it even more difficult: the giant was following them down the beanstalk. They hurried up, but the giant was faster; he seemed to be closer and closer. About two meters above the ground, Killian jumped down and waited for Emma, who was looking down, wondering whether she could jump from there. She happened not to have a choice as another tremor made her fell down and Killian, catching her, fell flat on his back, Emma on top of him.
"Third time since yesterday. I'm going to think you do it on purpose." He flashed her a teasing smile before becoming serious again as he looked over her shoulder. "We better go now. The horses, quick."
"Killian, hurry up!"
Emma was now on her saddle, as the lieutenant had told her, but he was still untying the horses while the giant was coming dangerously close to the ground. The ties were too tight. He freed Emma's horse first.
"Go without me, I'll catch you up," he said, now working on untying his own horse.
"No way! Untie your horse and let's go, together!"
A growl rang out. The giant had reached the ground.
Seeing the giant coming towards them, the lieutenant changed his methods and broke the tie with his sword. Only a few meters left. Killian hit the croup of Emma's horse, making the animal suddenly gallop towards the forest. He quickly mounted his horse and followed, leaving before the giant had time to lean down and grab them. He growled again. The quakes of the floor let them know he was running after them, destroying the trees on his passage.
"We're faster. Just keep galloping, he'll give up soon."
After a few minutes, as Killian had said, the giant gave up. This wasn't enough for Emma to stop galloping; she didn't slow down, and Killian followed her. Soon, they reached the village and stopped at the stable. Emma sat down on the ground and Killian, after exchanging a few words with the man who took the horses back, joined her.
"Are you alright?"
"I will be. I just need some time." Sitting with her arms around her legs, she kept her head in her knees.
"At the foot of the beanstalk, when I said it was time for you to live your own adventure, I never thought it would be such an adventure. But you're a tough lass, you've been amazingly brilliant."
Sitting next to her, he waited for her to feel better. After a few minutes, she lifted her head up.
"You need to eat or drink something,” he said. “Am I allowed to take you back to this tavern where we were yesterday night?"
Emma nodded. Seeing she needed some time, Killian didn't make her talk. It was only after two large glasses of water and half her dish eaten that she looked up.
"With this giant running after us, I didn't have time to show you this." She brought out of her shoe a small object that she placed in the palm of her hand and showed him. "Do you think this could be one of these dried magic beans he was talking about?"
"It definitely is," said Killian, examining the bean between two fingers. "How did you get this?"
"When the giant fell down, trapped under this cage, one of his rings opened with the shock. He didn't notice several of these were scattered on the floor. This one was close to me, right behind the railings. When he talked about the dried beans, I supposed it could be it. It made sense; you told me you would keep your most valuable treasures in the safest place, and that the beans were the giants' greatest treasures: what is safer than on him? I bent down, looking him in the eye, and took the bean. Even if it's dried, the giant seemed to be keeping them preciously; maybe they're still valuable?"
Killian looked amazed as he listened to her. "Point taken. And very smart move. I saw nothing."
"Practice," she said. Killian raised his eyebrows, curious. "Some bad habits from my past, I've learned how to thieve without being seen. The bean is not the only thing I've taken up there."
Reaching for her shoes again, she brought out some golden coins which she placed on the table. She also took some out of the sides of her bra. Stealing had never bothered her before, but now that she was facing Killian, who seemed to have such good manners, she was looking at the handful of golden coins feeling ashamed.
"All this gold everywhere, I couldn't resist, I have nothing here,” she said as if she was trying to find an excuse. “They won't notice a few missing coins, right?"
"You stole that from the giants? Bad form, Swan." Though his tone was teasing because he was more amused than anything, Emma felt even more ashamed and looked down at the coins, gathering them up. She stopped when his hand reached for hers. The contact didn't last long as he quickly took his hand back, but it was enough to make her look up at him. "Emma, that's alright, you don't have to feel ashamed. Don't think I would judge you for this." Emma stared at him; what he had described corresponded exactly to how she was feeling. How could he know so much about her? It was like he was reading her thoughts as he added, "I told you, to me you're like an open book."
Emma opened her mouth to answer, but no word came out. Since she didn't reply, Killian changed the subject.
"This dried bean, I'm not sure we can do anything with it."
"Maybe some sort of magic can make it work again?"
"Not that I know of." A smile stretched his lips. "Look at who became a believer."
"After everything I've seen these last two days, I don't think I have a choice anymore."
"Again, point taken." Killian paused a few seconds, gazing at her. "Emma, I know that you wanted to go back to this Apprentice, but please consider this other option: you could come aboard and stay with me and the crew, until you find a way back to your realm."
"Your brother told me women were not welcome on board," she replied almost instantly, trying to hide how disconcerted by this second option she was.
"If Liam and I decide to invite you, our men won't have anything to say. You could stay in my cabin."
Emma opened wide eyes at these last words. She had wondered what his motivations to help her could be. Was this what it was all about? Was the lieutenant just willing to find a woman to share his cabin? Killian noticed her expression.
"My apologies, I didn't mean it to sound like this. If you come, you will have my cabin and I'll find a place in Liam's quarters, or with the crew. Emma, I will make sure you're safe. Life on sea is generally more peaceful than anything you've been through these past two days: no beanstalk, no giant. Consider this option: stay with us, at least for one week. If we don't find any way for you to go back to your realm, we can take you back to the Apprentice."
"How is being in the middle of the sea supposed to help me find a way back home?"
"There are in the captain's quarters many books. Perhaps one of them will tell us what to do. Emma, you don't have to decide now. Book a room here for tonight, and take advantage of the night to think about it. The Jewel of the Realm leaves tomorrow morning. If you decide to join us, you're welcome aboard. If not, well, I hope you will find what you're looking for."