Chapter 9 - An Uncommon Christmas
The holiday as celebrated in Adam’s kingdom is a perplexing new experience for John and Elsa.
The snow was thick upon the ground by the time Christmas rolled around, making travel between castle and village a somewhat difficult proposition as the horses had no sooner dragged the road clear than a new storm would roll in and bury it again. Despite the weather, though, both village and castle were extensively decked-out for the holiday and a good deal of traffic was going up and down the road. Mrs. Potts had very definite ideas about what was proper and necessary for a royal Christmas celebration, and Cogsworth rather surprisingly was equally definite on the subject himself. And after confirming that this was the way they always celebrated and not an ill-considered reaction to having a full treasury, John allowed for the steady stream of holiday-related entries in the books by putting them on a separate sheet that they might be added as a group later and thus kept separate from the daily accounts.
If John was somewhat surprised by the size and exuberance of the planned celebration, he kept that to himself. He was aware of Christmas as a holiday, of course, and he had a vague idea that people celebrated it with their families and that it involved a lot of food and drink and merriment being shared, but his father had never taken part in any such celebration so neither had he. John was also aware that some made it a custom to give gifts at Christmas – Princess Anna had always left one at her sister’s door, for example – and had overheard enough to know that the custom was generally practiced by the staff in his current location. Which had presented him with something of a conundrum. He knew what Prince Adam and Lady Belle were giving everyone because he’d had to write that expense down on his list, and he had already obtained a present for his princess, wanting to make up for the absence of the one her sister would not be there to give her. When it came to giving gifts of his own to everyone else, though, he was at a loss. The books couldn’t tell him anything about what the other servants did as those were personal expenses which didn’t go in the royal ledger, and he rather cringed away from the idea of asking anyone.
Or at least he did, until Princess Elsa came to him in a very upset state of mind caused by that very same conundrum. The only thing she knew about Christmas was the very personal and often handmade gift she’d always gotten from Anna, which had usually been bundled up in a handkerchief tied with a hair ribbon. John had given her a hug, ignoring the frost that whitened the edges of his jacket, and offered what reassurance he could. “It’s all right, Princess, it’s all right. I don’t know anything about all of this either, in fact I was just trying to figure out how to get more information about it without offending anyone – they’re all so excited.”
Elsa sniffed into his shoulder. “I would have asked Belle, but she’s planning a party. I don’t like parties.”
“That…event you ran away from in Arendelle wasn’t a party, sweetheart,” John assured her, patting her back. “And what little I already know about Lady Belle’s party from the accounts tells me it isn’t going to be very big. It won’t be frightening, I promise.”
Another sniff. “And people keep talking about presents.”
“Yes, the people here give each other presents for Christmas,” he confirmed. “I believe most of them are small things, probably handmade…” An idea struck him and he tightened the hug briefly before pushing her back so he could look her in the eye. “Princess, I think I know what we can do. How would you like to come do a little bit of shopping with me down in the village?”
“I don’t have any money.”
“No, but I do, and we’re not going to need very much. Remember how your sister used to make your gifts? That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to make some things.”
She pouted. “I make things out of ice all the time, that’s not a present. Presents are supposed to be special.”
“I’m going to show you how to make something special,” John assured her. “Think, Princess: You can shape and freeze things that aren’t ice. Now run get your cloak and boots and I’ll go saddle Sven, we’ll have to hurry if we’re going to get to the village and back before the next storm hits.”
That got him another hug, this time minus both tears and frost, and she ran to get her cloak. John quickly checked the contents of his purse, determining that there should be just enough for what he needed to do, and then threw on his own cloak and hurried out to the stables, letting Lumiere know when he passed him that he was taking the princess down to the village to ‘finish her Christmas shopping,’ a phrase he’d been hearing other people use over the past few weeks. And which might have passed without notice had Elsa not come dancing through some five minutes later and very excitedly told the butler that John had ‘figured out what to do about Christmas’ as neither of them really understood it.
Lumiere returned the happy hug and told her of course John had, then went to get into his medicinal stash of sherry before going to let Cogsworth know that they’d forgotten something again.
Christmas morning dawned rather bleakly snowy – there was in fact quite the storm raging outside the castle – but inside everything was light and color and people bustling to and fro. Some of the staff were down in the village with their families, the rest were happily getting ready for the day’s festivities and exchanging presents. Elsa had left hers on each person’s breakfast plate the night before, with the cook’s permission of course; beautiful crystalline butterflies made from the sack of violet sugar John had gotten from the village baker and melted in a pot held over the fire in his office. She’d also made Belle a bag of exquisitely tiny sugar roses to use in her tea, and Adam was to receive a similar bag only his were tiny horses which bore a distinct resemblance to Cauchemar.
Elsa had actually felt a little sad coming out of her bedroom that morning, because she’d known there wouldn’t be a present from Anna waiting outside her door. And so she’d been completely surprised to find a present there where one hadn’t been expected, a small package done up in plain paper but tied with a blue silk ribbon. It couldn’t be from Anna – her sister was still back in Arendelle, after all – so it had to be from someone else. John, maybe? John knew about the present Anna had always left at her door on Christmas morning, it would be like him to remember that there needed to be a present and put one there for her. She took the package back into her room and untied the ribbon, unwrapping the paper – which was yet more proof that it had been John, because it was the same kind of pretty golden-hued paper he’d bought to make his own Christmas presents out of – to reveal a small box. And inside the box was a pendant, silver filigree in the shape of a snowflake holding a prettily polished white stone. Elsa lifted it out of the box and found it connected to a white velvet neck ribbon which had a silver snowflake clasp. It was a very dainty, pretty piece of jewelry, and once she’d put it on she was quite happy with the way it looked around her neck. She’d never had jewelry of her own before except for her crown, and after admiring and further inspecting the pendant in the mirror she decided that it had most likely been made just for her.
That thought made her feel quite warm inside, and as she was still looking in the mirror the expression she saw on her own face rather startled her. It was happy, definitely happy, but something else as well. Something…different. Elsa considered that for a moment, and then put it aside for later consideration. Today was Christmas and there were many things to do; she could wonder about confusing things later that night when she went to bed.
At the bottom of the stairs she ran into Adam, who dutifully admired the necklace and then sent her to fetch Belle down to breakfast while he went to get John for the same purpose. He had a rather determined look on his face about that, in fact, which was another thing Elsa set aside to wonder about later.
Adam, for his part, had already been to the kitchen and had received a rather alarming report from Annette about John – namely that John seemed to think he was spending Christmas Day in his office and had taken several apples and a biscuit in, along with some extra tea, to do for himself over the course of the day. Coming in the door showed Adam that this was indeed the case, as his bookkeeper had these items neatly arranged on the table by the window. John looked rather more than surprised to see him there, and quickly stood up. “Your Highness, is something the matter?”
The prince waved a hand at the desk, where the ledger was open as it was every day when John was working. “What are you doing?”
“The holiday accounts. Christmas is the day when we do them.”
John looked rather puzzled by this. “In Arendelle, yes – and I’d assume everywhere else as well. You haven’t had a bookkeeper here in quite a long time, I know, but…”
“No, there’s no but about it,” Adam told him. “And no, not everywhere else.” He raised an eyebrow. “You know, I’m starting to think you’re better off not being in Arendelle, John, you and your princess both. Now close that up and come on, if we’re late to breakfast Mrs. Potts will kill us, and we have to eat well anyway because we won’t be getting anything else until dinner.” He indicated the apples. “I’ll be wanting one of those around lunchtime, so we’ll just leave them here.”
John had gone from puzzled to dumbfounded. “I…you mean, we’re all eating breakfast together?”
“And dinner as well, and being a party this evening, yes – it’s Christmas and there aren’t that many of us, it would be silly not to celebrate together.”
“Point,” John agreed. “You’re sure?”
He sounded so worried about it that Adam stopped being irritated – or rather he didn’t, but he wasn’t irritated at John anymore so he tucked the feeling away to indulge in later. “Of course I’m sure. The servants have always included me in their celebration, as I was usually the only member of the royal family here. And after the curse was removed we just kept doing it that way because it only made sense.” He made sure the ribbon marker was in the ledger and closed it, then drew John out from behind the desk. “Now come on, I want breakfast.”
The Christmas breakfast was noisy and cheerful, and there was much oohing and aahing over the sugar butterflies as no one had ever seen anything quite like them before. Adam and Belle had left a chit for the village shoemaker under each plate, Cogsworth had gifted each person with a rich bonbon wrapped in a square of fine sugared paper, Lumiere and Annette had placed a sweet-smelling nosegay of dried herbs and flowers in every cup, and Mrs. Potts had hung a pair of mittens or a knitted scarf on the back of each chair. Like hers, John’s gifts had been of a practical nature; he’d made each person a small notebook with a cleverly folded paper cover, the leaves of which were sewn together in a way that left a long tail on either side for tying the notebook shut.
John had meant to return to the books after breakfast, but had instead ended up pressed into service with Adam to help finish readying everything for the festivities that evening. They hung more swags and garlands of fresh evergreen branches with Lumiere, put decorations on a large tree in the ballroom with Cogsworth, ferried in endless armloads of firewood for the kitchen, and hauled things up and down stairs and in and out of the cellar until they were both tired – at which point Mrs. Potts had Elsa chase them both upstairs to get cleaned up and dressed for the party. On coming back down they were put in charge of entertaining Lumiere and Annette’s son while the child’s nurse got ready for dinner herself; neither man was entirely sure what to do with the one-year-old baby except for not letting him crawl into the fire or eat stray fir needles, so they ended up taking him into John’s office, giving him a sliver of apple and then showing him how to make marks on a piece of foolscap with a pencil. The baby quite enjoyed this, clapping his chubby hands and demanding pictures of seemingly every word in his thankfully limited vocabulary, and finally fell asleep on John’s lap while Adam was attempting to draw a horse for him. John was not entirely sure what to think about this at first, the small trusting weight of the sleeping child in his arms giving him a wholly unfamiliar feeling of contentment, but as he was rather stuck where he was he decided not to worry about it and amused himself by encouraging Adam to make increasingly ridiculous additions to the already not very accurate picture of the horse and the other things they’d drawn.
He did not know that the expression on his face was an unusual one for him and Adam didn’t either, so when Annette came to reclaim her child with Elsa right behind her neither man understood why the two women reacted as though they’d seen something surprising. “Didn’t you think we could take care of him?” Adam asked. “We gave him some apple and then he had us drawing pictures for him, and then he fell asleep.”
Annette had to smile. “Zat was exactly right, Your Highness,” she assured him, sweeping around the desk and patting the baby’s rosy cheek. “Wake up ma petit, Mama iz here for you.”
The baby woke up with a pretty little yawn and then squealed with excitement when he saw her, which made John laugh. “Yes, Mama knows better what to do with you than we do, I’m sure,” he said, handing the baby over. “Are we needed for something else now?”
Elsa recovered herself – she was pushing aside so many confusing thoughts and feelings today! – and nodded emphatically. “Mrs. Potts wants you both to come help carry plates out to the hall, and then she said she’d be done with you until after supper.”
“Which I’m sure is when we’ll be carrying those same plates back to the kitchen,” Adam observed, standing up and stretching; John did as well. “What does she have you doing, Elsa?”
“Going up to get dressed as soon as I’ve chased you both out of the office,” she told him, which made them both laugh and quickly move to follow her out the door. She hesitated before leaving them, though, and then all at once threw herself at John to hug him. “I love my present, thank you so much for remembering.”
If the bookkeeper’s brown eyes behind his glasses grew a little misty, only Adam saw it. “Oh sweetheart, you’re welcome. It’s your first Christmas away from home, I wanted to have something special for you.”
“It is. I love it.” She pulled back, blushing. “I don’t have anything for you.”
“You made me a butterfly,” he reminded her. “And I helped you eat all the ones we broke, remember? You even made apple snow and we ate it with those little cakes the baker gave you – that was very special to me.”
That got him another hug, and then she was hurrying off to get dressed and Adam kept the very startling new thought he’d just had to himself as he and John quickly made their own way to the kitchen before Mrs. Potts could start yelling for them. Because the look he’d just been seeing on the princess’s face had not been the expression of a happy child…but more the look of a very pleased woman.
The Christmas feast and the party afterward were a very jolly experience for everyone involved, even to the cleanup which everyone also had to pitch in to help with, which meant it was quite late before John finally made it back to his office. The following morning he slept rather longer than he normally would have because of that and was quite startled to wake to find Adam in his room. “What…”
Adam was looking irritated again. “Were you really up all night doing the books, John?”
John rubbed his eyes. “The holiday expenses have to be done on Christmas Day, I told you – they have to be done by midnight. I got them done in time, but just barely.”
“So it’s a tradition.”
John shrugged, reaching for his glasses. “It’s the way my father taught me, which is the way we’d always done it.”
“That would be a tradition, yes.” Adam personally thought it was a very sad, strange tradition, but he didn’t say so. “Well, I hope you’ve slept enough, because it’s time to come down to breakfast or Belle will be upset.”
John stretched and got out of bed, pulling up the bedclothes before stumbling over to get his pants. “Is she waiting? I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“So you didn’t have Boxing Day in Arendelle either, I take it?”
“And that’s a no. Well, today is going to be quite the wonder for you, then.” He moved in and got John’s shirt, holding it out to help him put it on. “The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, which is the day all the servants have off and we do for them instead of the other way around. So Belle has made breakfast, I get to wake everyone, and Elsa is pretending to be Annette. Oh, and Lumiere is king for the day, because Cogsworth had it last year.”
“And you do this every year?”
“The way I always understood it, everyone does it every year.” Adam helped him on with his boots. “It’s rather fun, and the way they always explained it to me when I was young was that it also helps those in charge remember what it’s like to not be.”
“So a learning experience.” John seemed to like that idea. “Princess Elsa is pretending to be Annette?”
“Elsa was having so much fun with Annette’s feather duster that Annette swore she was going to get her one for her very own – and do watch out, she discovered that the feathers tickle.”
“The princess does like to tickle,” John told him, going to wash his face in the basin, which had been filled with fresh water. “She got me a few times when we were first starting out on our way here, Sven was not happy about the way I jumped.” He dried his face and put his glasses back on, then quickly combed his hair and tied it back with a braided twist of brown leather. “All right, I suppose I’m ready.”
“You look ready enough,” Adam approved. “Cogsworth is downstairs in his dressing gown and slippers, so you’re a good deal more dressed than he is. Now come on, Belle really does get cranky if the food gets cold.”
John went down the stairs with him – or rather in front of him, as Adam dropped back a step the way Lumiere would have done – and made his way into the dining hall when Adam steered him away from the kitchen. Most everyone else was already there, and John murmured an apology which Lumiere waved off from the head of the table. “You were up late last night, John; we did not expect you to get up early.”
John responded to this with a bow, and gave one to Annette as well where she was sitting in Belle’s usual place. He took a seat by Cogsworth, who was indeed wearing his dressing gown and who pushed the pot of tea down towards him; Adam intercepted the pot and poured the tea for John, a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes when John did not seem to know what to think about that; even on a regular day, John had the habit of serving himself and rarely asked anything of the other servants. “I’ll just be getting more tea, this pot is nearly empty,” Adam told Lumiere. “Has Belle been out yet?”
“Yes, and she’s grumbling, dear,” Mrs. Potts told him. She wasn’t wearing her ever-present apron or her cap, and John had to think that the blue dress she had on was quite becoming. “You’d best go see what she needs.”
“She needed John to come down,” Cogsworth said placidly; he seemed amused. “Best hurry, Your Highness.”
“I should have chosen to be Mr. Fabron for the day,” Adam observed, making a face. “Grooming Cauchemar is looking a very pleasant occupation just now. Is he…”
“Mozt likely mucking out while ze stableboys watch? Yes, I am sure he is.” Lumiere waved him toward the kitchen. “Ze longer you wait, ze worse it will be.” Adam trudged off into the kitchen, taking the teapot with him, and the butler-turned-king winked at John. “Do not worry, ze Lady Belle will only yell at him a little.”
“She’s quite impatient when she’s in the kitchen,” Mrs. Potts observed, sipping her own tea.
John added sugar to his – he normally didn’t, but it was there so he took some and settled in to see how the situation played out. Everyone was looking very relaxed and amused, and he was rather unsure of how he should conduct himself. “Relax, John,” Cogsworth told him. “It’s just for the day, and it’s good fun. Why, your princess is having so much fun Lady Belle almost took the feather duster away from her.”
John had to laugh. “So I heard. I’d never thought to warn anyone that she likes to tickle.”
“It’s good she’s playful, that means she’s happy,” Mrs. Potts told him. “She’s such a sweet child.”
John decided to try to make conversation. “Have you had a letter from Chip, Mrs. Potts?”
She beamed at him. “I have! He’s liking the apprenticeship my sister found for him, they’ve got him working with the groundskeeper and he’s apparently quite good with the dogs. And my sister sent a letter saying I’d not believe how much he’s grown, he’s nearly as tall as she is now. She said she’d send him for a visit in the spring if she could be sure of him finding his way here.”
That was a problem, of course; since the kingdom had no name, finding it could be rather difficult. Even Master Beauchard had told John that some people were never able to find their way back to the village after leaving it. If only they had some clue as to how to bring about the end of that part of the curse! The thought made him wince, and Cogsworth smacked him on the arm. “Stop that, no thinking about the curse,” he scolded mildly. “I agree with what you and the prince decided earlier this year, it’s probable that none of us here can do anything about it, we’re likely waiting for someone else to get involved. So, we’ll wait.”
John sighed and raised his cup to the older man. “We’ll wait,” he echoed, essaying a slight smile. “I’ll not like doing it, though.”
“Of course not, you’re a young man and young men are all about action,” Cogsworth told him. “Once you’re our age,” he indicated himself and Lumiere, “you’ll go at a slower pace.”
“I think this is the slowest pace I’ve ever seen you go at, Cogsworth,” John ventured, and was pleased and relieved when that made the steward laugh. “Very handsome dressing gown, by the way.”
“Why thank you. I’m quite fond of it.”
Breakfast ended up being a very leisurely affair, and very generously served as well; just like on Christmas Day, there wasn’t to be another meal served until dinnertime. So John ate well and took his time the way everyone else was doing, and afterwards would have headed back to his office but this time Cogsworth and Lumiere got in his way. “No, no work today,” the ‘king’ informed him. “Come along, we are going to ze study, you will come too.”
John sighed but went with them. “Are Mrs. Potts and Annette joining us there?”
Cogsworth snorted. “No, they’ll have retired to one of the sitting rooms to do fancy-work and gossip – which is exactly what we’re going to do, of course, just minus the fancy-work. Unless you’re feeling like embroidery today, Anton?”
Lumiere laughed. “No, not today. Were you feeling like doing ze mending, Andrew?”
Cogsworth snorted again. ‘I quite like not having to sew on my own buttons, thank you very much. Although young John here seems to be in good practice with his needle – those little books yesterday, that was a clever bit of needlework.”
“I’m glad you liked it.” John had actually been quite a bit worried that the little notebooks he’d made wouldn’t be up to par for gifts, so the compliment relieved him. “It’s something the steward in Arendelle taught me to do, it was how he made tally books to use when he and the butler did the shopping.” He covered a yawn with his hand. “There’s…a page in the center that folds out, it’s like a pocket you can keep the money in.”
They’d reached Cogsworth’s comfortable study, and the steward immediately went to his desk where the little book was laying and had a look at the center, folding it open and closed in astonishment. “My goodness, that’s a useful thing, isn’t it? You’ll have to show me how you did it sometime, John. Have you ever thought of making the outer cover of leather, to protect the inner pages?”
John nodded, taking the chair nearer the fire because Lumiere already had the one nearest the desk. “I’d have done it this time, but I couldn’t find the right leather – it needs to be thin for that.” Not to mention leather cost rather more than he could have afforded, but he wasn’t going to mention that. He covered another yawn. “My apologies. If you have some old leather lying about, though, I can make you a cover out of it. I covered one of mine with part of an old hat once. It was wool, not leather, but it did very well for keeping the odd splash that got inside my cloak off the pages.”
“I’ve probably got an old jerkin somewhere.” Cogsworth had stretched back out, putting his slippered feet up on a conveniently-placed footstool. He patted the rounded front of his dressing gown. “Being able to eat again hasn’t done me any favors so far as my wardrobe is concerned.”
Lumiere snorted this time. “Do not listen to him,” he told John. “He was even round as a clock.”
Cogsworth did not appear to take issue with this; he laughed. “Yes, but as a clock I didn’t need to worry about outgrowing my clothes and having Mrs. Potts scold me for taking seconds at supper.”
This time there was no answer from John, who had fallen asleep in the chair. Lumiere rang the bell for Adam, who smiled and shook his head when he saw his bookkeeper. “He said the holiday accounts had to be done by midnight on Christmas Day, so he stayed up and did them. He thought everyone did it that way.”
Cogsworth shrugged. “Perhaps where he’s from everyone does,” he allowed. “Or at least everyone he’s ever known to do such things, anyway. Arendelle has most of her contact with others by way of her harbor, I believe; she’s rather cut off by the mountains from other kingdoms on land.” Adam looked surprised to hear this, and the older man smiled and stretched to reach down a map. “You’ll want to be impressed by this, I think,” he said, spreading the map out on the desk. “This is an old map of this whole part of the country, it was made for couriers’ use. Young John here must have rescued his princess by using one of the routes that wind up through the mountains. It’s no wonder they didn’t follow him, I doubt anyone who wasn’t a courier knew that old path was still there.”
Adam’s blue eyes widened. “You knew about that? That he rescued her, I mean?”
Lumiere snorted. “It was rather obvious, Your Highness. And I inquired of my cousins, zey say there is no gossip from Arendelle save zat their future queen, she has gone into seclusion to protect her people.”
“So she was…”
“She apparently can’t fully assume the throne until she’s married, so even though they tried to have a coronation once she came of age to clear up some problems with the governing, she’s still a princess,” Cogsworth explained. “It was rather clever of them, in fact. I believe they realized she hadn’t the training to rule on her own, and marriage prospects might be limited due to the…situation, so they arranged things so that she could marry anyone with rank and the marriage would elevate both of them.” He inclined his head to his prince. “Rather like your own situation, in fact; the day we’re able to clear things up so you can officially take the crown, Lady Belle will immediately become queen to your king.”
“Is it that way everywhere?” Adam wanted to know. “I could have sworn Belle told me…”
“It iz not that way everywhere,” Lumiere told him. “It iz in most of ze kingdoms in this part of ze country, but there are others where marriage does not confer rank. My cousin François, he told me of one kingdom in ze east where this is true. Ze queen there, she is forced to rule as regent for her infant son.” Adam made a face, and the ‘king’ laughed. “Oh, you have heard of her?”
“I think everyone must have. John even mentioned her once – apparently claimants to the throne in that country don’t last very long under her regency.”
“No, as I understand it she’s rather vicious,” Cogsworth confirmed. He tapped the map again. “But you see what I was talking about? He made that ride in three days, Your Highness – on one horse, with no supplies to speak of, and riding double besides. And it was still winter there until he came down the far side of the mountains.” He sat back in his chair again. “I was impressed, when I saw that. You made a good call hiring him is what I’m saying, Prince Adam,” he explained. “Men who just do what’s necessary regardless of whether it’s impossible or not don’t come along every day, you know.”
Adam smiled. “I do realize that, yes – I just find myself wishing sometimes that Arendelle had.” He recalled himself to the reason he’d come in and bowed to Lumiere. “I’m sorry, what did you need me for?”
“I was going to ask you to bring a footstool for John,” Lumiere told him. “So he will be more comfortable. And some of ze mulled wine for myself and Andrew, if you would.”
“Of course.” Adam bowed again and hurried out, then came back directly and placed the footstool; John didn’t wake at all, although he did sigh in his sleep. Adam brought the mulled wine in shortly after that, and he might have lingered to look at the map some more but Elsa came in looking for him. “Oh Adam, Belle wants you!” she told him. “I offered to help, but she says I make the dishwater cold.”
Lumiere raised a saturnine eyebrow. “And you are doing zis by accident?” She blushed, and he laughed. “I thought not. Go back to what my Annette showed you, Princess. Lady Belle, she is very fussy when she is in ze kitchen.”
The doubtful look she gave him said ‘fussy’ might not be a strong enough description of what Belle was currently being, and Adam groaned and hurried off to be yelled at. But then Elsa saw John, and her expression changed – dramatically, and to the two older men’s eyes, very tellingly. She raised a hand to the pretty silver snowflake pendant at her throat, smiled a singular little smile, and then curtsied to the two men. “I’ll listen for the bell, in case you need anything,” she told them, and then left the room, closing the door behind her.
Cogsworth stared at the door with his mouth open. “Oh dear god, I was afraid that might happen.”
“I was not,” Lumiere told him, looking just a bit amused. “He is her protector, Andrew, and she is young – and in exile, whether she knows it or not. And he does not encourage this change we see, in fact I do not believe he even has noticed.”
The steward reached for the map, rolling it back up. “She’s growing up – and no, I don’t think he has. But if they go back…”
“No, ze question should be: What if they do not?” Lumiere sipped his wine. It was a bit heavy on the clove, but still enjoyable. “She may never be ze queen she was born to be, Andrew…but perhaps that iz not so great a loss? Our prince, he is not ze only one who thinks Arendelle does not deserve ze return of what it had so little appreciation for.”
Cogsworth quirked a smile and stowed the map back on its shelf. “True, he’s not.”
John woke up after a few hours of much-needed sleep in the chair in front of the fire and was pressed to join Cogsworth and Lumiere in a game they called ninepins which was played in the ballroom and involved a lot of mulled wine and creative invective, especially after Mrs. Potts and Annette joined them. John had never played a game before, nor had he ever seen or heard of adults doing so unless it involved cards or a chessboard, but in spite of that he very quickly found that he enjoyed playing and was even tolerably good at it. Nowhere near as good as Mrs. Potts, however, who had absolutely uncanny aim with the ball and who just smirked when Cogsworth accused her of practicing with cabbages in the kitchen when no one was watching.
She didn’t deny it, but she did reference something called ‘croquet’ that John didn’t understand, and was slightly horrified when he asked for clarification. “It’s a game you play outside, dear, you hit wooden balls with a mallet to knock them through hoops,” she told him. “We can’t do it in here, we’d have half the windows broken and scratches all over the floor, not to mention dents in the walls. But if you didn’t have this, or that, then what sorts of games did you play where you’re from?”
John shrugged. “I’d never seen anyone play at anything outside that didn’t involve throwing snowballs,” he admitted. “Sometimes the stableboys would pelt them at each other, although I’m not sure if they were actually playing at something or just doing it to be doing it.”
“Probably just to be doing it,” Mrs. Potts confirmed. “My Chip had done it to everyone but the prince, I think.”
“Lady Belle did it to the prince while he was still enchanted,” Lumiere reminded her, chuckling. “He was most surprised, to be hit in ze face with snow.”
“He was most surprised by almost everything she did.” Mrs. Potts took the ball they were using – which was sewn leather stuffed with horsehair – and readied herself to roll it across the floor to the place where the carved wooden pins were standing. She managed to knock all of them down, and was very cheerful about it when Cogsworth went to set them back up again – they were all taking turns to keep it fair. “So what did you do for amusement, John?”
John shrugged again. “I would read sometimes, but there wasn’t much time to spare for that during the day and not enough lamp oil to spare for it at night. The butler played cards on occasion, but he went someplace in town to do that so I’m not sure what exactly it entailed – I only knew he was doing it because he’d be rather bleary-eyed the next day and the steward would be cross with him. I got the idea that there was a good deal of drinking involved along with the playing.”
“He was most likely playing in a tavern or some other disreputable place,” Cogsworth agreed. “I’d have been cross with him too. You don’t have to drink to play cards, though. Lumiere and I can show you after supper. Some of the games involve counting, you’d probably be quite good at those.”
“In which case we will have to teach you ze ones you will not be so good at, so zat we will not always lose,” Lumiere chimed in, which made John laugh.
Adam had leaned in the door to see if anyone needed anything, and he smiled as he headed back to the kitchen to his very demanding wife. He ran into Elsa dusting and dodged the feather duster that tried to tickle him on his way past. She was having so much fun she was practically glowing, and it warmed his heart to see it. The Castle of Arendelle had to have been a very strange, sad place. On a whim, he tickled back and then ran, and she squeaked and chased him into the kitchen; he dodged Belle’s scowl by wrapping his arms around her from behind and kissing her hair. “People in Arendelle don’t have games,” he murmured in her ear. “The others are teaching John to play ninepins, get a cabbage and we’ll teach Elsa.”
She scowled up at him. “You want to play ninepins. With a cabbage. In the kitchen!”
He kissed her again. “Yes, and afterwards we can feed the cabbage to the horses.” He waved Elsa over. “Come here, we’re going to play the game the others are playing in the ballroom. It’s called ninepins, you roll a ball across the floor and try to see how many pins you can knock over. Although we’re going to be using a cabbage for the ball…”
Supper that night was a jolly affair, and Belle, Adam and Elsa joined the rest of them at the table by the ‘king’s’ request. Belle had only scowled once, because the lower end of the table had started up a miniature game of ninepins using a cherry for the ball and tiny pins made of ice, but Mrs. Potts had given her a quelling look and she’d concealed her irritation. That hadn’t stopped her being more than a little cross about the whole affair, though. Adam had of course been playing with them – she suspected he’d been the one who had gotten the game started, in fact, and that had made her even more irritated although she wasn’t sure why – and Lumiere and Cogsworth had been openly amused and encouraged the game to go on by betting on the outcome of each round with the contents of a bowl of sweetmeats. She’d been prepared to work out her bad temper cleaning the kitchen once supper was over, but to her surprise John had come into the kitchen and rolled up his sleeves to do the washing up with Elsa, saying that as he normally didn’t do any manual labor around the castle he should certainly help out with the supper dishes for the occasion of the day.
Belle couldn’t help but notice that the water stayed hot while Elsa was helping John, and finally came to the very unwelcome conclusion that he’d inserted himself into the kitchen to protect his princess from her apparently not so well-concealed irritation. He did an excellent job on the dishes, however, being rather more of a perfectionist than Belle had realized he would be, and he even cleaned the basin after they were done. “This really was a lovely day, I’ve learned to do so many new things,” she heard him say. “I’ll be glad to get back to the books tomorrow, though. It feels very odd to be in the castle and not have seen the inside of my office for the entire day.”
“Since you’d been in there until midnight last night, I’d think you’d earned a day out of it,” Adam told him, and hastened to explain when Elsa gasped. “It’s a tradition, Princess – the holiday accounts have to be done by midnight on Christmas Day. Next year I’ll pitch in to help so he doesn’t have to stay up doing them until the very last strike of the clock.”
Elsa cocked her head, frowning. “What happens if they aren’t done on time?”
Adam shrugged. “No idea. John?”
John appeared rather surprised by the question. “Honestly, I don’t know that anything does. I was always told that they had to be done, though, so I’ve always made sure they were.”
Elsa’s eyes went round. “The Yule Cat wouldn’t come for you if they weren’t, would it?”
That was new. “The Yule Cat?” Belle wanted to know. “What’s that?”
“I’m not sure, I just know that it’s bad. I’d heard some of the servants at home mention it, it comes for people in the night and eats them!”
John was shaking his head. “No, it doesn’t,” he countered. “That’s a fairy story, Princess, and a rather horrible one – they must have been talking about the Jólaköttur, it’s supposed to be some sort of demon cat that attacks people who didn’t receive new clothes for Christmas. It’s a fairy story someone made up a very long time ago to shame masters into making sure they provided their servants with warm clothing in the winter.”
“But why would they need to shame them into doing that?”
“Because some people don’t spare a thought for the well-being of those who serve them,” Adam explained. “Remember, that’s why we celebrate Boxing Day in the way we do here – so we don’t forget that every job has value and every person, regardless of their station, is deserving of care and respect.”
Her blue eyes were still wide. “People forget that?”
“All the time,” John told her. “You won’t, though, the same way Prince Adam and Lady Belle don’t. Only very selfish people would need something so horrible as a servant-eating cat demon to remind them to have a thought for the well-being of others, don’t you think?”
She nodded, then swept over to the chair where he’d hung his jacket and brought it to him, holding it out for him to put on. “You need to go to Cogsworth and Lumiere now, all the dishes are done and they said they’d be waiting for you.”
John smiled at her, shaking his head, but he did let her help him on with the jacket once he’d rolled his sleeves back down and then allowed himself to be hustled out after bowing to his very amused prince and the very startled Belle. Who came up beside her husband once they were alone in the kitchen. “What kind of place has demons for Christmas?”
“A very cold one.” Adam gave her a one-armed hug. “I suspect they have happier customs in Arendelle, in fact I’d be surprised if they didn’t; it’s just that I don’t think John and Elsa have ever experienced any of them. Not all castles are cheerful places like ours is, you know.”
Belle knew that – she did read, after all – and it made her feel rather ashamed of herself. She hugged him back. “I’ve been crabby all day, I’m sorry.”
“You just wanted everything to be perfect.” He smiled, dimples showing. “I don’t hold that against you.”
Belle wished for just a moment that Adam would hold it against her; when he’d been the Beast he’d have snapped back at her if she snapped at him, and she rather missed that. Among other things. She detached from him, not missing the fact that he really hadn’t wanted her to, and pointed to the worktable. “If you’ll scrub that, I’ll start on the floors and then we’ll be done. I’d really like to read for a while before I go to bed.”
“Of course.” His disappointment was plain – probably he’d been hoping she’d want to do something else tonight, but Belle hadn’t any interest in indulging him that way and hadn’t for quite a while. Not that there was anything wrong with Adam per se…he just wasn’t the Beast.