In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 10 - Back to the Quest

Belle gets Elsa to make her an ice statue, and Prince Adam decides he must set out on a quest.


It was a lovely spring day and Adam was conferring with John over possible ways they might manage to set up a trade agreement when Elsa came bursting into the office. “John…oh, Adam! I think something’s wrong with Belle, she’s…well, I don’t understand what she’s doing, but…”

“Whoa, calm down.” John had immediately left the desk to come to her. “Slowly now. What’s happened?”

Elsa wrung her hands, a scatter of snowflakes fluttering down. “I don’t understand it! She asked me to make her a statue. She had sketches, and she showed me how big she wanted it to be, and she wanted me to put it on the little closed balcony off her sitting room…but once I’d made it she started to act strange! She kept touching it, and then she got something to put over part of it – it was a part I didn’t understand, I’ve never seen a thing like it before but she had very good pictures so I was able to make it quite easily – and then she started rubbing up against the statue and…and…”

“It’s all right, Princess, I…think Adam and I both know what she did next.” John gave Adam a helpless look. “I’m not surprised she didn’t know what it was.”

“I’m not either,” Adam groaned. He ran a hand through his dark blond hair. “God, on the balcony? The entire village can probably hear her. Who knows what they’ll think…” And then he stopped, eyes widening. “Wait, I know exactly what they’ll think.” He put his hands on Elsa’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Elsa, what say you and I and John get back on that quest to find your parents, shall we?”

John’s mouth dropped open. “Adam…”

The prince gave him a meaningful look. “I’m sure everyone in and around the castle can hear her, John – and quite possibly the entire village too, thanks to the way the rocks echo. She’s obviously fallen afoul of some curse or enchantment or something, I have to go find the villain who did it and wring the cure from them. And perhaps while we’re out I’ll find some clue to the fate of my own parents as well.” He let go of Elsa, playfully smacked John’s arm, and dashed for the door. “Go pack, I’m going to let Cogsworth know! And John, get us a generous bag of quest funding from the treasury, this might take us a while.”

John sighed. “Well, this is going to be interesting.” He saw Elsa looking at him with a question in her eyes – looking at a certain part of him, anyway – and he squeaked and directed her attention back up to his face with a violent shake of his head. “Don’t even ask, it would be absolutely improper for me to answer a question about…that.”

“But you have one?”

His face flamed. “Princess…all men have one, that’s what makes us men.” He turned her around, gave her a little push toward the door. “Go right to Mrs. Potts and repeat what you told Adam and I word for word, and then tell her what Adam said – she can help you pack for this trip while I take care of my end of things.”

Elsa resisted the push. “We didn’t pack when we left Arendelle.”

“Because it was urgent when we left Arendelle, we didn’t have time to pack,” he told her. “This time is different, and this time everyone is not only going to know we’re leaving, they’re all going to help us.” She started to glance down again, and he lifted her chin back up with one finger. “Mrs. Potts will explain why I can’t explain…that, all right? And why it’s not proper for you to stare at it. Now hurry, before she hears what’s going on from someone else and heads upstairs to scream at Lady Belle.”

“Belle is doing something wrong?”

The sudden change in his expression startled her; it went from embarrassed and worried to…angry, and a little something more, something she didn’t understand. “Yes, very. But that isn’t your fault, she tricked you into helping her. Which I didn’t think she’d do…so maybe she really is cursed.”

“I’ll go tell Mrs. Potts,” Elsa told him, and then hurried from the room.

 

Mrs. Potts’ reaction to the tumble of words that flowed out of the confused princess who invaded her kitchen was sheer horror. She’d known about Lady Belle’s…problem, of course, they all had, but she’d never expected anything like this to come of it. “We’ll make sure everyone knows she’s not well,” she assured Elsa. “So she…drew you a picture?”

Elsa nodded. “I don’t understand why John was so upset. And then he was angry, but not at me.”

Oh dear. The older woman sighed and steered her to one of the kitchen stools, sitting her down on it. “He’s angry because she used you to do it,” she explained. “And because she’d be humiliating the prince in the eyes of our people if he hadn’t thought of a solution so quickly. But mainly because of you, my dear. She knows you’re an innocent. You should never have seen…one of those until your wedding night.”

Elsa blushed. “John said it wasn’t proper to stare, but I was curious.”

Mrs. Potts couldn’t help but smile, imagining the nervous bookkeeper’s reaction to that. “It isn’t proper to look, no, but I understand why you’re curious.” She was cursing Belle for it, too, but that would come later when Elsa was safely away. “Here’s what we’re going to do: You need to pack, and I need to get some provisions ready for your journey, so I’m going to send Annette upstairs with you to show you how packing works. And while she’s showing you, you can ask her all the questions you like.”

“She knows about that?”

The motherly cook almost lost her nerve right then. She was going to kill Belle, curse or no curse. But she nodded. “Yes, because she’s married, my dear – she’s married to Lumiere, so she knows all about it.” She spotted Annette and waved her into the kitchen. “Annette, have you heard…” The maid’s wide, shocked eyes said she had. “Yes, well, the prince is heading off to see about finding a cure for this…curse his wife is under, and he’s taking John and the princess with him as it’s high time they got back on their quest as well. I need you to help her pack, and to answer some questions.” Annette’s finely arched eyebrows went all the way up. “Lady Belle had the princess make her an ice statue to…use. It involved a certain body part the princess had never seen before and didn’t understand the significance of. Lady Belle drew her a picture.”

“John said it would be improper for him to explain it to me,” Elsa elaborated. “He was very embarrassed.”

“I can understand zat, yes,” Annette agreed quickly. “Mozt men, zey would be. Come, we will pack and I will explain. Iz not complicated.”

“Don’t forget that princesses must live by…different rules of behavior than the rest of us?” Mrs. Potts reminded quickly, and Annette nodded just as quickly back before whisking Elsa out of the kitchen by way of the back stairs. The older woman frowned up at the ceiling. “Gruel,” she said ominously. “You’ll be eating gruel every day until they come back, you horrid girl, just see if you don’t.”

Adam came blowing into the kitchen, saw her face and grimaced. “Oh, you’ve already heard.”

“John sent the princess to tell me. There were some things he…couldn’t explain to her.”

His eyes widened. “She didn’t…”

“Ask him? Yes, quite – you might go check to make sure he hasn’t drowned himself in the fountain or something over that, he’s nearly as innocent as she is.” She gave him a hug. “And as you were. That was good, quick thinking on your part. It will stop talk.”

“Or at least slow it down,” he countered. He kissed her forehead much the same way he had Elsa’s earlier. “Provisions? And be sure to leave room for us to stop in the village to buy something we ‘didn’t have’, would you please? That way John can spread the story where gossip will carry it faster.”

“I will, but you be careful with him,” she warned. “As I said, he’s nearly as innocent as she is – he may be clever, but he’s less able to protect himself than either of you and less likely to think he needs to.”

“I know – I’ll make sure the letter opener stays on his desk this time,” he told her. “And I can’t let anything happen to John, I’d have to go back to doing my own accounts and things and then our kingdom would fall apart again.”

He blew back out again, doubtless off to find John, and she shook her head. She didn’t think it was just the kingdom that would fall apart if something happened to John Kepperson on this ‘quest’; hopefully they wouldn’t have to find out.

 

Two hours of packing and conferring later, Adam, John and Elsa were riding down the mountain road to the village. The echoes bouncing off the towering granite walls of the mountains were indeed very telling, and entirely upsetting to Adam, but the rather desperately upset look the prince didn’t realize he was wearing when they rode into the village was, to John’s way of thinking, all to the good so far as convincing people that their prince truly did think his wife was cursed. There was no way he was going to allow Adam to be questioned by the villagers, however, so as soon as they reached the village fountain John reined in his horse and told Adam and Elsa that he’d be out with what they needed directly.

John was more than a little upset himself, of course, not only because of the way Belle had involved his princess but also because of the pain she was causing his prince. And so he probably shouldn’t have been surprised when the baker’s wife took one look at him and paled. “Oh my goodness, what’s happened?!”

He bowed. “Something dreadful – Lady Belle has been afflicted by a terrible curse, we’re riding out at once in hopes of finding the source and ending it. The day’s bread wasn’t risen yet, though, so I need to buy some to start our journey with. Two loaves?”

“A loaf and a bag of hard rolls,” the baker corrected. “The loaf for today, the rolls will keep better for the morrow.” He bustled around getting that together, refusing the coins John tried to give him. A chance look out the window, however, had him stopping dead. “The princess is going with you?”

“We don’t dare leave her here,” was John’s answer, which happened to be the truth – he didn’t want Elsa anywhere near Belle, not after what had already happened. “And the princess was already on a quest to find her parents when we came to this kingdom, perhaps this search will turn up something of help to her as well.”

“One can only hope,” the baker agreed. He handed over the bag with the loaf and rolls, refused the coins a second time, and then took the little bag his wife brought to him and handed that over as well. “For the princess,” he said. “And all best wishes that this will be solved speedily. Tell the prince our love goes with him.”

John found a smile. “I will.” The baker’s wife hugged him tearfully, and he patted her plump shoulder. “We’ll be back, my lady. These things have a way of working themselves out, you know – we only have to take action to start it off.”

She went to the window and watched him tuck the bread away safely and hand the princess the little bag of cakes before getting back on his horse, and then the three horses moved off down the road that led out of the village, out of the kingdom.

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