In the Land of Ever After

In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 5 - Cogsworth

Cogsworth comes to talk to John about a rumor – and not the ones he was spreading on purpose.


The next day, Cogsworth sought out John, who was as usual in his office hard at work. “Mr. Kepperson…”

“Is this about the accounts, the tax lesson, or the truthful rumors I purposefully started spreading yesterday?”

“None of the above, but…oh dear god, you aren’t trying to teach him to figure the tax, are you?”

John shook his head. “No, but I do want him to understand how I do it on a very basic level – that way, if one of his subjects ever asks him about it, he can give them an appropriate answer.” He finished what he’d been writing and put his pen down, setting the sheet aside to dry before wiping off the nib. “My apologies, I don’t like to stop in the middle when it’s ink – it almost always blots when you come back to it, and that’s a waste of paper.”

“We’ve plenty, because they make it out of dried corn husks here, but apology accepted.” Cogsworth came the rest of the way in, looking the younger man over with a critical eye. “I have heard the rumors already, yes; good job on that. You’re planning to take the prince with you next time?”

“I think I should, yes,” John told him. “I think it would make more of an impression if we came to Master Beauchard’s farm to discuss the matter rather than commanding him to come here. And that would also give Prince Adam a chance to see more of his kingdom and his people.”

“And they him as well,” Cogsworth agreed, nodding. “Another good idea, although he’ll need to practice getting on and off his horse before you go. Horses didn’t much care for him…well, before, for obvious reasons, and he’s rather nervous around them now.”

“I can take him to the stables with me the next time I go exercise Sven.” Cogsworth gave him an odd look. “I know, I know – the princess named him, and I’d already told her she could call him anything she wanted so…well, she named him Sven, I believe after her sister’s husband’s reindeer.”

“Rain-deer?”

John blinked. “Oh, I suppose you wouldn’t have ever seen one here, would you? A reindeer is…well, it’s like a regular deer, but considerably heavier and with a thick, rather shaggy coat. You can ride them, but usually they’re used to pull a sledge.”

“Hmm, interesting. It sounds like a very useful animal. Speaking of coats, though…I did come in here because of a rumor I heard, and not one you started on purpose. Stand up, please?” John stood up, looking more than a little surprised by the request, and the older man frowned. “Well, that explains it. Mr. Kepperson, I’m sure I don’t know what the standards were like in your previous appointment, but ours are rather higher than that.” He waved a hand at the somewhat faded burgundy wool jacket John was wearing, which although nicely brushed was showing quite a bit of wear. “That is perfectly appropriate for digging around in the treasury or exercising a horse, but not for going out on official business for the kingdom.”

John bowed, coloring up just a little. “I do apologize, I simply didn’t think. I shall rectify the problem as soon as I’m able, of course.”

“Before taking His Highness down to the valley.”

John nodded quickly. “I…we can postpone that trip, certainly.”

“Very well, then…” And then Cogsworth stopped. “Wait, why would you need to postpone it? The royal tailor keeps a pattern cut, and you’re not that far off my size; I’m sure he could have something sewn up within a day.”

The younger man colored up quite a bit more. “I…shall have to wait for quarter-day for that, Mr. Cogsworth,” he said gravely, and then bowed again. “Was there anything else?”

Cogsworth’s mouth dropped open. “Wait, you thought…” And then he slapped his forehead. “I am an idiot. It’s been so long since we’ve had a new person in the castle, I didn’t even think to tell you…well, anything, did I?” He was feeling rather more than embarrassed himself now. “Mr…may I call you John?” John nodded. “You may just call me Cogsworth, of course, like everyone else does. John, I do apologize for my oversight: Your wardrobe is part of your keep. We used to have a seamstress resident here in the castle – she just loved dressing Lady Belle – but she went down to the village to live with her old mother after the curse was broken. We have her or the tailor come up if we need anything, because it isn’t considered seemly for the castle staff to go down for that. So in your former position…”

“The under-servants had their work clothing provided each quarter, but the rest of us were responsible for our own,” John confirmed, looking probably more relieved than Cogsworth thought he meant to. “It wasn’t all that seemly for us to go down into the town for it either, and the royal tailor was prohibitively expensive, so usually the butler would find some goodwife or landed seaman who wanted to earn a few coins to do for us.” A very slight smile. “The royal councilors had quite high standards, in fact, but even they had to make some compromises due to the state of the royal treasury. Silk and satin may look impressive, but wool wears better and means you have to heat the castle less.”

“Of course,” Cogsworth agreed. “They didn’t bargain for velvet?”

John snorted and sat back down. “They did, until I pointed out that velvet required special care to maintain its appearance, and that meant paying an extra washerwoman – the threat of extra staff expense shut down all the arguments very quickly, believe me. So will the tailor be coming any time this week? I wouldn’t want to cause him to come up specially, but I don’t like to put this tax matter off any longer than necessary.”

“He should be coming tomorrow morning,” Cogsworth told him. Which was true, because he was planning to send for the tailor and tell him to come right after breakfast. “I agree that anything to do with the tax shouldn’t be put off. And in the meantime…well, if you can get His Highness to actually look like a prince on his horse instead of looking like he thinks the creature is planning to turn on him at any moment, that would probably be for the best.”

That made John smile. “I should be able to do that. I’m not much on a horse myself, but I was able to teach the princess enough to get by. If Prince Adam is free this afternoon…”

Cogsworth assured him that he could find time in the prince’s schedule – something he knew he could do fairly easily, since their prince didn’t actually have a schedule unless somebody else set one for him – and left the office with much on his mind. He spoke to a few of the other members of the staff, then rounded up Lumiere and took him to his office, closing the door so they wouldn’t be overheard. “Lumiere, I think I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

The former waiter, now the castle’s butler, sat down in a chair and raised one saturnine eyebrow. He was a tall, thin man with a narrow face, sharp dark eyes, and graceful, long-fingered hands which were in constant motion when he was speaking. “Well, zis is a first.”

“Stop, I’m serious.” Cogsworth sank down into his own chair. “It’s our new bookkeeper. I didn’t think…Lumiere, what do you know about his former kingdom, Arendelle? I’d gotten the impression that it was quite a bit larger than ours…”

Lumiere nodded. “Oui, that it is. Ze princess has mentioned that ze castle there was much larger than this one.” He smiled. “But she says ours is much prettier.”

Cogsworth snorted. “Well, we do have that going for us – the entire kingdom is too lovely for words, whether we can put a name to it or not. But if their kingdom was larger…something is very wrong there. I went to…well, I went to scold young John, because someone said something about the state of his clothing when he went down to the village yesterday. He thought he had to pay for his own clothes, Lumiere! He said his kingdom’s councilors had very high standards, but he and the rest of the upper staff couldn’t afford the royal tailor – and he’d convinced the councilors to compromise on fabrics by citing the extra staff expense anything but wool would incur. I just don’t understand.”

“I believe I may – a bit, anyway.” Lumiere sat back in the chair, stretching out his legs and steepling his fingers in front of him. “Ze princess, her parents have been gone a verry long time, just as our prince’s have. And she just came of age herself less than a year ago. So, no king. No queen. Ze princess, she was locked in her room; her little sister is several years younger. And our bookkeeper, he had to spirit her away in ze middle of ze night – verry suddenly, you understand, on zis ‘quest’ with only one horse, verry little money, and a small, small bag of supplies to keep them. What do you think has happened there? To me, it is obvious.”

“Dear god.” Cogsworth shook his head. “They were coming to kill her. And he lied…”

“To keep her from getting upset, of course. She has ze mind of a child, she is an innocent, yes? And ze last time she got upset…well, ze princess she is still verry sad about what happened in her kingdom because of ze long winter she caused. She says John, he was trying to help her fix what zey could.” He gave Cogsworth a meaningful look. “She also says he was ze only one zey ever sent to talk to her.”

“Because if he were killed…well, that would save some expense in the staff, wouldn’t it?” The steward was horrified. “He…when I came to see him just now, he was writing something in ink and didn’t stop for me; he apologized once he was finished, saying he didn’t like to stop because an ink blot would mean a waste of paper. He’s so young, barely older than his princess is, he’s likely never known his kingdom when they weren’t having to watch every coin.”

“And so here, he does not assume,” Lumiere pointed out. “It is not a bad thing, just one we must remain aware of, no?” He stood back up. “Shall I send for ze tailor to come? I have need of some new pants myself, so that way he will not feel as though zis is unusual.”

“Yes, do that – have him come tomorrow right after breakfast if possible. Maybe we’ll have him fit a new jacket for the prince as well while he’s here, since young John means to take him down to the valley to speak to someone about the tax.” Lumiere’s eyebrows went all the way up, and Cogsworth had to chuckle. “John was actually teaching him about the tax yesterday, if you can believe it – he said His Highness needed to know enough to answer a question if one of his subjects asked about it.”

Lumiere shook his head. “Next you will be telling me he is going to get our prince on a horse.”

Cogsworth just smiled. “Well, he did say he was going to try.”

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