In the Land of Ever After

In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 3 - A Job

The prince used to be a Beast, but he’s better now. Pity his wife doesn’t think so.


<span class="wpsdc-drop-cap">The village, when they finally reached it the following day, was quite unlike Arendelle, all cheerful little cottages and neat but worn storied buildings that held shops selling everything from dresses to cakes. It was set along a road that twisted up the side of the mountain whose slopes it resided on, and up that road they went without stopping, although John did nod to several people who stopped what they were doing to stare at them. It was a bit of a ride to reach the top of the mountain, but once they did they found a broad yard before them which circled a pretty stone fountain. The castle was quite small compared to Elsa’s own – either of them – but it was pretty as well and there were vines with heart-shaped green leaves crawling up over the stones and wrapping themselves around shuttered windows. The castle doors were huge wooden affairs dominating the top of a wide marble staircase, though, severely out of proportion to the structure itself, all thick beams and heavy iron bands. John left their horse at a conveniently placed post and helped Elsa dismount, then led her straight to the doors and used the iron knocker as politely as an iron knocker could be used. They waited a few moments, and then there were some creaking and banging noises and finally a plump, nervous-looking middle-aged man got the door pulled back just enough to peer out at them. “Yes, may I help you?”

John smiled and bowed. “I’m here to offer my services to your prince; I heard he was in need of a capable bookkeeper…”

“Oh by all the gods YES!” came a voice from somewhere inside. “Cogsworth…”

“I shall guide them to your study, Your Highness,” the plump man – named Cogsworth, apparently – called back. He smiled an even more nervous apology. “Prince Adam will see you, of course. Do come in…”

“John Kepperson, and the Lady Elsa.” John ended up shoving on the door himself to make the crack wide enough for himself and Elsa to slip through, and shoving some more from the other side to help the plump little man close it. He then assisted Elsa off with her cloak and gave that and his own cloak to Cogsworth, who in turn handed the items off to a suddenly appearing footman and led the two visitors down a hallway to a much smaller and more manageable door which opened into a smallish room which held a fireplace, several large bookshelves, and a sturdy mahogany desk piled high with papers and books. “Your Highness, John Kepperson and the Lady Elsa to see you.”

Prince Adam was standing on the crimson rug in front of the fireplace, and he nodded regally to accept the introduction. He was taller than John, Elsa noticed, and had pretty blue eyes and golden hair that was a much warmer shade than her own. He was quite handsome, in fact, a good deal more handsome than Hans had been, and she thought that her sister would likely be very much taken with him if she were there. “Tea, please, Cogsworth,” the prince requested in a pleasant tenor, and then once the man was gone he waved John and Elsa to seat themselves and took his own seat behind the desk with a sigh. “He’s fussy and it’s silly, but if I don’t go along with it he gets huffy instead. Now, I don’t know how you heard I needed help, but your timing couldn’t have been better – I’m starting to fear this mess is going to be the end of me. I don’t understand half of what I’m doing.”

“If I understand correctly, Your Highness, you haven’t been trained to do this sort of work,” John advanced politely. “It’s not the sort of thing a person can just ‘pick up’ by doing it, not on this scale. I can start this very day, if you like.”

“I’d more than like,” the prince agreed fervently. “I don’t suppose you have references?”

“I do, but only the one you can contact at present,” John told him. “Your Highness, please allow me to re-introduce Her Highness Princess Elsa of Arendelle – my former employer. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want to give her full title at the door.”

The prince’s eyes had widened. “No, of course not – perfectly understandable. So the two of you are…”

“On a quest,” Elsa told him. “We’re trying to find my parents, but John says we need to earn money to continue our travels.”

The prince looked confused for a moment…and then John gave him a meaningful look and realization dawned. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, yes, of course. Travel can be quite expensive, and this sort of quest…can take a very long time before you’re able to return home?” John nodded at that; the prince nodded back. “As you are here to recommend Mr. Kepperson, then, my lady, I feel confident in hiring him on the spot. And while he is saving my people from my lack of knowledge, you…”

“The princess is able to reimburse you for her keep while we are here, Your Highness” John interrupted. “I’m sure that after such a mild winter your ice houses are looking rather bare?”

“They are, but…” The prince’s eyes widened again when John nodded to Elsa and she produced a small icicle for him. “Oh my, you can really do that.”

Elsa nodded happily. “I can make ice for you. Do you want it in blocks or sculptures or…”

“Blocks,” John cut her off quickly. “Ice houses are designed to hold stacks of blocks, Princess. But Prince Adam might not object if you wanted to make him a small ice statue or two – just ask first so he can tell you where it should go and how big it should be.”

“Of course.” She blushed, blinking at Adam with guileless blue eyes. “I promise, I won’t make anything unless you ask me to.”

“I shall endeavor to think of something suitable,” Adam promised her in return. “And in the meantime the castle has a very large library…” John was shaking his head. “No?”

“Your pardon for being blunt, Your Highness, but Princess Elsa has had a similar lack of upbringing to your own.”

Elsa nodded gravely. “I’ve spent most of my life locked in my bedroom.”

“From the time she was about six until last year,” John put in.

To their surprise, Prince Adam smiled widely. “In that case, we can definitely help each other,” he declared, and held up a hand for silence. “OH NO,” he said loudly. “SOMEONE WHO CAN BARELY READ…”

A different door in the wall flew open and a pretty dark-haired woman rushed in. “What? Who? It’s mandatory, I made it a law! Where…”

The prince smiled at her. “Belle, darling, I’d like to introduce you to our new bookkeeper, John Kepperson…and his companion Princess Elsa, who apparently lacks even more education than I did. As they’re going to be staying here at the castle while Mr. Kepperson gets things running smoothly for us, I thought you…”

“Oh yes, of course.” Belle cocked her head, giving Elsa a speculative look. “Wait, Princess Elsa from Arendelle?”

Elsa nodded, eyes wide. She wasn’t sure what to think of this woman who moved and spoke so quickly, the way Anna did, but who seemed much more…intense. “Yes, John and I are on a quest to find my parents.”

“This is a short but necessary stop along the way,” John added.

Belle gave her husband a questioning look, which he answered with a nod, and she immediately went into bustling mode again. “Well, in that case Princess Elsa and I will have to make the most of the time we have! Come along, my dear, and I’ll show you the library. Cogsworth will let us know when your rooms are ready.”

Elsa stood up, but gave John a worried look; he smiled. “Princess, it’s fine. You can go with Lady Belle while the prince and I discuss the books – that way you won’t have to sit here and be bored. And you’ll like the library. I’m sure there are books about science there.”

Elsa lit up. “Science? I just found out about science last month!” she told Belle, who managed not to be completely horrified, but just barely. “There are books about science, more than one?”

Belle recovered herself. “Oh, yes! The science books are the big ones, they have ever so much in them!” She held out her hand; Elsa cautiously took it and was almost immediately being pulled out of the room. “You are going to love the library, it has books on everything imaginable. Although sadly they don’t shelve themselves anymore, or come when I call them …”

Once they were well out of the room, Adam leaned over the desk and raised an eyebrow. “So, hostile takeover or torches and pitchforks?”

John sighed. “Torches – I had to whisk her out of the palace in the middle of the night, an ‘urgent quest to find her parents’ was the only plausible thing I could come up with. As I’m sure you could tell, she’s rather more of an innocent than you might expect a young woman her age to be; I don’t know how I’m going to tell her what the real reason was behind our sudden departure from the castle that night. Our kingdom has a…problem with magic,” he explained. “Elsa doesn’t know – her parents never explained it to her or her sister, and I hadn’t been able to make her understand before the situation came to a head.”

“Didn’t I hear that her parents…”

“Took off on a trip one day and never came back? Yes, quite. And we may actually end up on a quest to find out what happened to them, because her darling subjects have been passing around rumors that she killed them – rumors her scatterbrained idiot of a sister was halfway to believing when we left, if the rumors I heard were correct. If they’re alive and we can find them, though, bringing them back to Arendelle would solve a lot of problems.”

“If I can help you discover anything about that, I will,” Adam told him. It was his turn to sigh. “I’d join your quest, if I could. My parents disappeared the same way, just went off on a trip one day when I was ten and never came back – and then, of course, after the fairy cursed me the entire castle was sealed for ten years and none of us could leave the grounds. But without knowing if my father is still alive or not, the law says I can’t name myself king – a law someone passed way back when to keep ambitious sons from burying the bodies and taking the throne, I suppose.”

“No doubt. I hear there’s a scandal of that sort going in one of the eastern kingdoms, claimants to the throne just keep dropping dead while the current queen sails about ruling as regent for her infant son.”

Adam shivered. “Ugh, I’ve heard about that woman. I hope she realizes the boy will eventually grow up enough to be persuaded she’s a threat and then it’s off to the dungeon for her. Hopefully they have rats.”

John had to smile. “Probably. So, literacy is the law here?”

“Making it one kept her busy for a while.” There was a knock at the door, and a servant swept in with tea. Adam waited to speak again until the servant had left. “Belle is…well, she’s very quick, as you saw, and easily bored. In a way it was better when the castle was enchanted, because the castle itself kept her entertained every minute of the day. But once the curse was broken…well, life as lady wife to a prince who can’t become king hasn’t been nearly so exciting as living in an enchanted castle with transformed magical servants and a rampaging Beast in charge, let’s put it that way. I’ll admit to being more than glad you stopped here, not just because I desperately need your skills but also because having Princess Elsa as a project will hopefully keep Belle from being so frustrated by…other things.”

John was giving him a very penetrating look, and then his eyes widened. “Oh no, not…”

“Unfortunately, yes. I married her and then realized too late that the one she’d been in love with was the furry me. And now she’s ‘bored’ again – on all fronts.” Adam took a very glum sip of his tea. “It’s not like I’d have…I mean, my beast form was huge, it had claws…I just don’t understand why she seems to wish I’d stayed that way. I’m certainly glad I didn’t.”

“I’m sure your staff is as well,” John agreed. “Perhaps it’s…just a passing thing, Your Highness. Maybe once we’ve got things in order the two of you could take a short trip, do something to reconnect. I’ll work on it.” John was privately starting to wonder if perhaps handing impressionable Elsa over to bestiality-minded Belle was a good idea after all, but he put that thought aside. Elsa had less than no clue about sex, he’d figured that out early on – the very enticing ice dresses she liked to wear were more about her wanting to feel unconfined and not be hot than anything else. And if Lady Belle tried to explain her furry obsession to Elsa, his princess would probably equate it with wanting an animal as a pet and start telling stories about her sister’s husband’s obnoxious reindeer. Which was also named Sven, come to think of it…

 

That night, Adam was somewhat surprised when his wife slipped into his bedchamber and then into bed with him. He knew better than to assume that meant she wanted…well, what he would have liked to have had right then, because he’d assumed that in the past and been proven wrong, but she did cuddle up to him and he was prepared to take what he could get. “Are you sure he didn’t kidnap her?” she whispered.

Yes, he’d been right not to assume. “Yes,” he said. “He got her out just before her darling subjects were going to come drag her from her bed to kill her. Apparently magic is something they don’t very much like in Arendelle. She has no idea.”

Belle laid her head on his shoulder. “She has no idea about most things, Adam – she’s like a child in a woman’s body. After she came back from almost turning the whole country into a frozen wasteland, he was the one they sent to ask her questions about what had gone on and tell her what was happening to the kingdom because of it. Probably because someone had decided he was expendable. He’s not afraid of her, though. Do you think he has magic?”

“No.” Adam shifted so he could rest his cheek on her hair. “I think he must have realized early on that he was dealing with a child’s level of understanding rather than an adult’s and changed his approach to her to suit. He’s very protective of her in that respect – he says he doesn’t know how he’s going to tell her why they really had to leave so suddenly. He wasn’t lying about the quest, though, just the timing and the urgency of it; there are rumors being spread that she killed her parents, he wants to prove the rumors false by finding out what really happened to them.”

He could feel her frown against his shoulder, the little puff of warm breath against his skin as she huffed. “He’s barely more knowledgeable about the outside world than she is, Adam. She said he defended her at an inn they stopped at with what she thought was a knife but he told her afterward was actually a letter opener from his desk. And they brought nothing with them except his bag and the clothes on their backs. He must have been in a blind panic the night they escaped.”

“Whatever her subjects were up to must have been worthy of one,” Adam countered. “John seems level-headed enough, though – I’m given to understand bookkeepers usually are – so I think the blame for that should most likely fall on the subjects rather than him.” He smiled. “I shall be hard-pressed not to laugh if he takes to keeping the letter opener on his desk here, though.”

“Does he have a sense of humor?”

“Yes, he seems to. Oh, and the princess is going to be filling the ice houses for us, and she’d quite like to create some ice statues as well – but she promised she wouldn’t unless given permission.”

“She did make a tiny one for me when I asked,” Belle said. She snuggled in even closer with a sigh. “You’re warm. I think I’ll sleep here tonight.”

Adam smiled. “I’d like that.”

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