In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 22 - Out in the Cold

Will love be the beginning of the end of the world?


Elsa felt like her entire world had just been ripped away. Her parents were horrible people – and they were also Adam’s parents, and they’d been working with the bad fairy who had just made John and Adam disappear. She picked up John’s cloak, clutching it to her breast. Icy tears formed in her eyes; beneath her feet, an intricate pattern of frost like a round of fine white lace began to take shape. “Why?” she whispered. “Why?”

The despairing question was directed at her parents, and Astrid sighed. “I’m sure you wouldn’t understand, dear. Being a ruler…it isn’t fun, it’s dreary and difficult and often quite unpleasant. And being the last remaining ruler in Arendelle was even worse.”

“After my grandparents died?”

“They died in a plague, and so did my brother and sisters.” She didn’t sound upset about it. “Half the population died, in fact, and what was left of the Royal Council…well, they were all such stiff little men, all rules and don’ts and necessities. They were trying to find me a prince to marry who was just as dull and awful as they were, and then your father came along. They hated him, of course,” she said confidingly. “He was lively and fun and not some dour old man. I refused to marry anyone else, however, so they had to give in.”

“I whisked her away right after the wedding,” her father put in. “My kingdom wasn’t nearly as dour and lifeless as Arendelle, but my subjects were just horribly provincial and the place was unfortunately somewhat famous, which was almost as confining. I went off traveling whenever I could to get away from it.”

Elsa frowned, the frost pattern becoming an even more intricate circular design that spread out across the floor. “But…that’s not a king!”

He snorted. “So my father said as well; I wasn’t at all unhappy when he was gone, believe me.”

She had a horrible thought. “Did you kill him?”

“Of course not.” He, too, sounded bored by the idea rather than upset or angry. “I was away when he died, in fact. But it was after that I just happened to run into our benefactor here, the fairy Marguerite, and she told me to go to Arendelle and the princess there would be just the sort of girl I’d like to marry. She came to us later to explain that there were some prophecies involved and things needed to be done to make them work out, but she promised that she’d give us everything we wanted if we only followed her instructions. Have an heir for Valeureux, have the next child in Arendelle. We slipped up on that one by having your sister Anna in addition to you, but that ended up working out even better after you nearly killed her – that little incident even made the rock trolls fall into line with the plan. We’d every excuse in the world to lock you away after that, and to resume traveling as we pleased instead of just going back and forth between the two kingdoms.”

Elsa raised her hand to her mouth, horrified. “You…you wanted me to kill my sister?”

“Well, not right then,” the king admitted. “It was too soon, you weren’t old enough to start off the prophecy.”

The tears had started again. “Didn’t you…didn’t you love any of us at all?”

The king and queen looked at each other, and the fairy Marguerite snorted. “Asked and answered, my dear. They’re shallow creatures, they don’t love anyone but themselves. Hence our deal: Hector married Astrid, and they provided a female heir for her kingdom who I could imbue with the elemental power of the frozen North. It had to be someone born to power and of the old blood, and someone whose situation could be manipulated early and then let to run its course without further interference from me – the other fairies might have noticed if I’d had to keep my hand in things over there on a regular basis, or the rock trolls might have. And in return…well, they wanted to remain young and be free from responsibility, so here they are: two worthless birds in a magically gilded cage that takes care of all their needs, with nothing to do but amuse themselves.”

“And Adam?”

The frost pattern was nearly ten feet in diameter now, and although Elsa didn’t recognize the pattern’s significance the fairy did and was delighted; her little project was in its final stage, she just had to edge it carefully into completion to set Ragnarok in motion. She shrugged. “I needed to keep anyone from discovering the link between Valeureux and Arendelle – your brother was a convenient distraction. Settling my favorite curse on him sealed the castle and kept anyone in his kingdom from trying to find out where their king and queen might have gone, and to keep anyone in Arendelle from doing the same I removed Valeureux from everyone’s memory.” She made a face. “The curse wasn’t supposed to be broken; it never has been before. Luckily I’d included a warping effect in it to make everyone resistant to the idea of changing anything and resentful if something did change, but in that bookish girl’s case it seems to have made her…well, something must have been wrong there to begin with is all I can say.”

“John says that wasn’t her fault!” Elsa countered. “He says it’s because of what the curse did to her father, and that having to take care of him since she was a little girl made her used to always having her own way. He said our mother was the same sort of spoiled, but in a bad way.”

“ ‘John’ says entirely too much,” the queen sniffed. “Thank goodness he’s gone now, I can’t bear underlings who’ve forgotten their place.”

The frost pattern grew another layer of complexity, spreading out toward the room’s walls, and the fairy laughed. “Your John was right about that, wasn’t he, Princess? He was a smart little peasant while he was alive.” She saw the dismay rising again in Elsa’s blue eyes and drove the point home. “Yes, he’s already dead, or at least dying slowly and painfully, and so is your brother. Even if you could find them, you couldn’t save them…”

Which was when something hit the chamber doors and they burst open with such violence that one actually came off its hinges. And Elsa screamed.

 

For their parts, after the bad fairy had waved her wand Adam and John had found themselves outside in the middle of a violent snowstorm. Snow was deep on the ground here, and getting deeper as the wind blew the falling snow into sharp drifts and heavy dunes. John pulled off his glasses with a curse; the lenses had already frosted over, so he tucked them carefully inside his shirt and squinted into the sheets of blowing white. “I think…I think we’re back in the snowfield! Which way? The wind…from the North?”

“It was earlier,” Adam confirmed, squinting as well, not seeing anything but snow. He took the smaller man’s arm. “We don’t dare get separated, we’ll never find each other again in all this! We’ll head back toward the castle, try to find a place to shelter from the storm so we can figure out what to do next…”

John agreed with a nod, and they turned into the wind and began struggling through the snow. The storm howled and pushed at them, the wind circling like a live thing, tearing at their clothing and biting the skin underneath with invisible claws and teeth.

John succumbed first. Smaller than Adam and without his thick woolen cloak to provide protection against the cold, the former Royal Bookkeeper of Arendelle finally folded into the snow in a silent heap. Since they’d been arm in arm Adam very nearly went down with him, winding up on one knee. John’s face was blue-white, and he didn’t respond to shaking or shouting or even a very indelicate pinch which Adam had essayed in frantic desperation. Trying to pick him up didn’t work either, as although John was the smaller of the two men he was also more solidly built than Adam and was already stiff from the cold besides.

And that was when Prince Adam felt something he hadn’t felt in several years: Wild, bestial rage that boiled up in his chest and erupted from his throat in a deep, angry roar. And then there was a ripping sort of sensation and quite suddenly he wasn’t cold anymore.

Because he was once again covered with a thick coat of fur just a few shades darker than his hair had been. Adam roared again, triumphantly this time, and scooped John up in furred arms corded with muscle which terminated in fearsomely clawed paws. “We are not mentioning this to the wife,” he murmured to the unconscious man, then lifted his muzzle to scent the wind and pelted off in the direction where he now knew his parents’ castle was at, and also the bad fairy. The bitch had a Beast to deal with now.

 

When Adam burst open the doors of the audience chamber – in truth he knocked one of them off its hinges completely and was rather delighted by having done it – the tableau was still as it had been when he and John had been so rudely removed from it, except that now the floor was covered with an intricate pattern of frost and Elsa was tearful and looked even more devastated than she had that night in the haunted forest.

Or at least she did look that way until she saw him standing there holding John, who was very still and rather more blue than not. Her eyes got very wide, her face went very white…and then she screamed.

In rage.

Adam knew without having to be told that what he was now seeing was not the frightened, angry woman-child who had run away from her coronation in Arendelle to build an ice palace and play with snowmen. This was the real Ice Queen, gowned in flurries and crowned with ice crystals, a force of nature in her own right. She turned an icy blue glare on the fairy, and the frost pattern glowed with unearthly blue light in response. In the time it took to blink, king, queen and fairy were all encased in a block of solid ice, thick as a stone dam and clear as fine glass, shock and horror frozen upon their faces. And then Elsa turned back to Adam.

There were frozen tears on her white cheeks, and he found his voice. “He’s…he’s not dead! Not yet, anyway.”

“He isn’t?” She glided forward, extending a white, shaking hand to touch John’s cheek. The tears thawed, her skin pinked again, and the pattern on the floor stopped glowing and began to melt. “He isn’t! But…”

“Come on, we have to get him warmed up again,” Adam insisted, and winced when her eyes widened at the growl. “Sorry. Hopefully I can change back, I just…panicked.” Her eyes widened even more and she started to look over her shoulder; he stopped her. “No! That had to happen – they were evil, Elsa, they’d have killed all three of us. The fairy did mean to kill John and I, she threw us out into the storm, into the snowfield; we could barely tell which direction the castle was in, much less find any shelter. Now, we need to find a bed, and a fire – quickly!”

Small flurries of snow curled and darted across the floor, searching out what their mistress required. Elsa grabbed his massive, fur-covered arm and pulled. “This way! The king’s bedchamber, it has a good fire going…”

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