"Good deal." Goldan clapped Alan on the back, pleased that he wouldn’t be working alone with his father. It was always easier with extra help.
"You’re gonna love the carnival, Grace. It’s a lot of fun… don’t mention it to our mom, though, okay?" Bramley whispered with a charismatic wink.
Emily liked that Alan wasn’t making a big deal about it, or acting as though he might snitch and sell them out. Pepper, however… he looked extremely disappointed. His face was set with a frown and his stubby arms were crossed in clear defiance. He knew they were going to get in trouble, and he also knew that he would not be invited to go and have fun with them.
"Oh, Pepper… it’s gonna be okay. I’ll bring you back a toy, okay? Win ya something nice." she promised. "You’ve gotta stay and make sure no bad guys come after Mama."
Well. That seemed like a big job. The toddler felt a little less insulted now, and went back to finishing his oatmeal.
After breakfast, the children all retired to the common area to play; or in Emily’s case, PLAN. She rolled out a map she’d drawn herself when they had been to this area a year or so before. It wasn’t perfect, but it was clear enough and one could hardly get lost with such a thing.
"Papa showed us the underground places last time we were here. He says that nobody bothers the adults, so it was okay to visit the carnival while he was with us, but I didn’t see anything to weird or bad down there. I think they’re being a little too worried an stuff is all." she explained, smoothing out the edges of the parchment.
"Well… maybe cuz your Dad’sth tho big ith why nobody scary came up. Justh thayin’." Cornelius winced. "But ith kinda exciting, though! I’ve neva been out thisth way before. We justh have the basic map in the c… back home. I didn’t know the land extended thisth far."
"Oh, yeah. It extends WAY past the basic map, and there’s islands everywhere on the outskirts." Emily replied happily. "I wanna know them all one day."
"I know sthome placesth. Otha Kingdomsth an stuff across the ocean from my Dad talking about them. We get visitorsth from thoseth placesth sthometimes." the Prince noted, hoping that might impress her a bit.
"Oh? That’s kinda cool!" she laughed, causing the boy to blush brightly. "Have you guys done a lotta travelling before? Or just kinda stayed home?" Emily asked the other kids.
A short while later, the boat came to a shuddering halt as some pier hands helped to tie it in by a dock. Goldan tossed out extra sweaters for everyone as they filed out onto the main deck. He scooted Alan off to the side next to his father while everyone else followed Mama Von Schweetz onto the docks.
"See you guys later!" Emily called out with a wave.
Grace smiled and nodded - but couldn’t help but feel an odd prickling sense of something at all this. Getting into trouble? A bit, perhaps. She wouldn’t want to see the Von Shweetz angry with her. But… she frowned. No. It was something else.
She didn’t have much time to ponder it as everyone finished their food and was moved into the play room.
"My dad’sth got all kindsth a mapsth. He doesthn’t let anyone sthee them or anything, but I’ve caught glimpstheth of em here and there." Alan nodded, having done his fair share of sneaking around the castle.
"I don’t usually ever make it thisth far out for thisth long. The gu-…guysth in town usually drag me back home after I’m missthing an hour or stho. I’ve explored the town by the casthle pretty well by now, but that’sth about it."
"I’ve never been away from the orphanage… we had a census m-man from Candy Castle come by once. Little popcorn ball, he was very fancy." Grace mused.
"Rodrick ain’t stho bad." Alan mused, and Grace gave him a confused look.
"That’sth histh name-ah, stho-stho I’ve HEARD." he added hastily.
After both he and Grace put on the sweaters, he found himself blushing a bit again as Grace gave him a short, tight hug as a goodbye.
"Be careful, Grace?" he asked her with a shy smile, and she nodded.
"You, too! Bye, Alan - bye Goldan, bye Mr. Von Shweetz!" she waved to the other two with a smile.
"I’ll catch a crab stho you can sthee one!"
In fact, the peach themed breakfast had been something that the two adults had discussed the evening before. As it had come to light for Papa Von Schweetz that Alan was a royal in their earlier conversation, he wondered if the fruit would trigger a response of some kind either with him or the Alt they had fished out of the river. As he’d met the Queen personally, years ago to offer potions for morning sickness with the unborn Prince of their Kingdom, he knew her to be themed with this particular fruit.
The scent DID stir a bit of a response from Cornelius. He hesitated to sit down at the table, if only for a moment, then stirred his bowl somewhat dolefully. Not wanting to be rude, the little Prince ate his portion and thanked his host quietly with a practiced diplomatic smile.
Emily gave the boy a curious look, but before she could say anything, her mother had put a hand on her shoulder to silently discourage it. The woman had noticed what she needed to know. Mother to mother, she would be contacting the Queen when they made port. She needed to be in town for errands anyway.
"We should be there in about two hours, everyone. You may make your own decisions about whether to go with me into town, or to stay on the boat and help with the crabbing expedition. Pepper is going with me regardless. There won’t be running off in this town, I’m afraid. Some of the areas outside of the main square can be dangerous, and I don’t want anyone getting hurt." she announced, pouring out glasses of orange juice and then sitting back to sip a cup of sweetened coffee herself.
"BUT MOOOOOOOM!!! Those are the EXCITING parts of town!!!" the twins whined. Their fussing was short lived, however. The gentle woman’s eyes flashed bright green for a brief second in a glare over her cup as her Mana activated as a warning sign. The boys hunched their shoulders and muttered an apology, staring into their bowls in embarrassment.
Emily waited until her mother had exited the kitchen to bring her father some breakfast and grinned.
"We could always… accidentally get lost there. You never know what could happen in a busy street." she whispered. "I don’t wanna smell like fish two days outta the week anyhow from crabbing."
"I’m not pushing my luck, thanks. I’m staying with Papa." Goldan shuddered.
"I’ll ditch if you’re gonna." Bramley shrugged, giving his sister a wink.
Cornelius wiggled uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t want to get in trouble. It would have been the smart move to stay on the boat and help out with the crab fleet. Then again, if the waves were too big in the ocean, he didn’t want to chance nearly drowning again. On top of that, he didn’t want Emily to think he was a chicken.
"I-if you’re sure it’ll be okay… I’ll go with you. For protection." he stammered, not looking up to meet the girl’s eyes.
"Protection? If that’s how you wanna look at it." Emily laughed. "Grace? Alan? What about you guys? Up for an adventure? They have an underground carnival this time of year!"
Alan just tilted his head curiously at the other Prince, not sure what was wrong with peach oatmeal. Grace was clearly enjoying hers as well, eating it with a pleased smile on her face. Both of them shared a glance - Alan noticed they did that a lot, but couldn’t say why. He wasn’t complaining, getting to look into those pretty gray eyes of hers. They were oddly comforting, even though he was pretty sure he had never come across another sprite with that colour before.
"I kinda wanna try n’ at leastht work a little bit for my sthtay here." Alan explained with a shrug - not that he didn’t think wherever they would go wouldn’t be fun, but he knew he should at least try to do something to pay them back, and if this helped them make some money, then that worked for him.
"Oh, but…" Grace frowned a bit, wanting to go into town again, but she was hoping Alan would go with her. He smiled at her, his cheeks a tiny bit red.
"Go ahead, Grace. Bring sthome taffy back though, huh? Ya didn’t sthpend your coin yesthterday." he asked her, and she smiled and nodded.
"O-okay then, I’ll go with to town!"
The rain was still beating steadily against the boat, driven by the heavy winds in shifting droves across the dim skies. If Grace were to listen closely, she might hear Papa Von Schweetz humming loudly in the steady white noise as he steered them along the river, getting ever closer to the ocean inlet.
This also might have covered the soft footsteps behind the little girl, sneaking closer and closer. Mama Von Schweetz gently covered Grace’s eyes playfully with one hand for a few seconds.
"Guess who? Hmhm… you’re up awfully early." she whispered, not wanting to wake the other children if they weren’t ready just yet. Pepper rubbed his face sleepily and slumped a little on his mother’s hip as she walked into the kitchen. "Are you hungry? I was about to start fixing breakfast: peach oatmeal this morning. It should help keep the chill out of everyone’s Code a little better. The winds are not particularly merciful today."
Pepper wiggled to show that he wanted to be set down. When he was, the toddler wrapped his hand around two of Grace’s fingers so he could lead her to the table himself. He wanted to prove that even a tiny boy could be a gentleman, so he struggled a bit with the bench to pull it out so that she might sit down.
"Sit down?" he asked her bashfully, then ran off to wake his sister.
Emily’s first reaction was thinking that Pepper might have had a bad dream, so she yawned and tugged him into bed with her. He huffed and threw the blankets off.
"Emmy, it’s FOOD." he insisted.
"Mmmm… Okay, Pep. Go on, I’ll get dressed." she whined through the pillow.
As soon as he’d bolted out, the girl reluctantly shuffled out of her cozy bed and slipped into her overalls and cotton shirt, topping it with a sweater for the day’s weather. It seemed that the boys were still sleeping soundly, so she left them as they were for now.
By the time she sleepily trudged into the kitchen and slid next to Grace, her mother was spooning out helpings of oatmeal into bowls around the table.
"Choo sleep okay?" Emily yawned, giving her friend a little nudge.
Now that breakfast was out, though, it seemed time to wake the boys. Never having been fond of shouting for people across the house (it was a startling way to be jolted into consciousness anyway in her opinion), Mrs. Von Schweetz gave each child at the table a nod which suggested they should begin eating and made her way into the washroom. She dampened two washcloths with warm water and knelt first by Cornelius’ bed.
The little Prince stirred ever so slightly when he felt the cloth rub over his cheek and forehead. His eyes slowly blinked open, forgetting where he was for a moment. It was a pleasant way to wake up.
"G’morning, Missesth Buttercream… Oh! Ah… sthorry, I… G’morning, Mrs. Von Schweetz… not used to… n-neva mind." he spluttered, thinking one of his nannies had come to rouse him for breakfast. With a sheepish smile, he shifted out of bed and accepted the clothes she passed to him to get dressed as she woke Alan.
"It’s time for breakfast. Up and at ‘em, little one." she said softly, using the other washcloth the same way on the other Prince. "Get dressed and we’ll meet you in the kitchen."
Grace let out a small peep in surprise, but she smiled - she knew that game from watching the other children. She turned and smiled up at her, nodding her head a bit.
"Good morning, ma’am. Morning, Pepper." she replied softly. She gave him a curious look as he took her fingers, before she smiled and placed her other hand shyly over her mouth. She waited patiently for him to pull the bench out, hands clasped in front of her politely.
"Thank you, Pepper. T-that’s very nice of you." she thanked him, before she took a seat - she watched him run off, before she turned to watch Mama Von Shweetz make the oatmeal with interest.
When Emily came out, she gave her a friendly smile as well.
"Yes, I slept fine, t-thank you." she replied, now watching the oatmeal being delivered. She thanked Mama Von Shweetz once more and eagerly picked up her spoon at the signal that they should start eating.
Alan stirred with a soft groan, and put his hand on hers as though he had intended on pushing it away.
"M’ not thsick, missth Keylime…” he grumbled, but didn’t push her hand away as he opened his eyes. He blinked once or twice, before he gave her a sheepish smile.
"S-sthorry, ma’am…eheh, w-will do.." he nodded his head, before he yawned and started to get up as well. He got his clothes on, and rubbed his eyes a bit - the girls were already up, it seemed. He yawned once more, before heading to the kitchen, the smell of peaches making him smile. It wasn’t something they had around the castle much, but he often found peach themed candies in the royal gardens when he snuck out at night.
He smiled to Grace and Emil as he came in, and took his seat, yawning once more.