In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 25 - When the Wind Blows

No one had thought about where their parents’ pretty palace must have come from.


Five days after they had arrived at the palace of the long- and doubly-lost king and queen, John was downstairs looking out into the courtyard, watching the wind whip the snow into fantastic aerial shapes, when he heard a sharp crack. He looked around, frowning, hanging on to the windowsill for balance as he still wasn’t entirely steady on his feet. It had almost sounded like glass breaking, and it had been loud enough to be heard over the howling gusts of wind which were currently buffeting the palace. Another crack sounded, and then another. They echoed in the open space that was the palace’s airy atrium-like entryway, making it hard to tell which direction the sounds had come from, but finally something small clattering onto the floor led his eyes upward to the vast open space of the hollow tower above.

Another gust of wind, another crack and more clattering, but this time he saw the source of the latter two occurrences: The high windows of the tower were giving way under the onslaught of the storm outside. Magic, he realized with horror, or rather the lack of it. The palace…the bad fairy must have been maintaining it with magic, perhaps she had even built it from magic, like the sea witch Ursula’s sand palace had been. But the fairy was gone now… “ADAM! ELSA!”

The fear in his voice had been more than audible, and almost immediately running footsteps were heard. Adam came skidding into the entryway in a panic. “John?!”

A particularly forceful gust roared against the outer walls, and with a crackle like breaking ice one of the windows came raining down in shards. John launched himself away from the window and threw himself against his friend, shoving him back into the corridor he’d just come out of. John almost immediately lost his balance, of course, ending up in a heap on the floor, and Adam went to one knee trying to catch him. The prince’s face had gone white. “My god, what…!”

“It’s the wind, the storm – magic must have been holding the palace together!” Another window came down, large shards shattering into a hail of smaller ones and John pulled Adam the rest of the way down to shield him. This was followed by a higher-pitched shriek, and John yelled back. “ELSA! THE TOWER!”

The storm roared outside, marble and stone groaned…and then something howled in a higher key in the entryway. There was a whooshing sort of noise, and a fiercer crackle…and then silence, or at least it seemed like it as a good deal of the storm’s noise seemed to have been cut off. A fine layer of ice lapped into the corridor, stopping just at John’s feet, and then quick, light footsteps pattered across it and Elsa rushed in and dropped to her knees beside them. “John, Adam!”

“We’re fine,” John told her. He sat up as best he could with Adam’s help, feeling more than a little drained; apparently the sudden burst of exercise had been a bit much for him. “That was…very close.”

“Much too much so, yes,” Adam agreed. “The tower, Elsa?”

“I’ll fill it in once we’re on the other side, and leave just a passage for getting across,” she said. “We should go now, what I did may not last very long.” She stood back up, and then she and Adam pulled John to his feet as well and helped him maintain his balance crossing the sheet of ice blanketing the glass-strewn floor. The formerly open entryway had central pillars now, and a tower of thick ice rising up from them to coat the inner surface of the visibly disintegrating tower of marble and glass which had been the room’s main feature. It was beautiful, but the ice pillars were shivering under the onslaught the tower was still receiving so they hurried across and Adam hauled John back up the stairs to the king’s bedchamber while Elsa saw to making sure the palace wouldn’t fall apart around them any time soon.

By the time Elsa reappeared, Adam was in the outer part of the bedchamber scowling out the window at the storm, the storm of emotions churning inside of him almost as tumultuous. “Should we move downstairs?”

“No, this tower is fine for now – we’re not on the side the wind is hitting hardest.” She came up beside him and looked out herself, then gave him a hug which he returned with a sigh. “I can keep the palace up for a while,” she said. “A little while, anyway. After a week, though, or maybe less, I think most of the palace would be ice and you and John wouldn’t be able to live in it. Is he…”

“Just some scratches from the glass hitting him, nothing more serious than that. And I made sure I got all of the glass off of both of us before we came in here. He was completely worn out, though, he fell asleep in the middle of telling me he was fine and to stop fussing.” He smirked. “If he thinks this is fussing, just wait ‘til we get home.”

That made Elsa smile. “Mrs Potts is going to yell, probably at you and John both.” She looked up at him. “What should we do now?”

“I don’t know.” He sighed again. “John said he thought magic had been holding the palace together, but I’m guessing that’s not all it was doing – it was ‘taking care of all their needs’, after all. There’s only so much food left, for us and the horses, and the storms are apparently going to rip this place apart sooner and not later. So we can’t stay here. But if we try to ride out, we’ll either get caught by the storm out in the middle of the snowfield and die…or we’ll ride out hard and fast during a lull, fast enough to cross the snowfield before the storm comes back, and kill John doing it.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” Elsa told him. “While I was reinforcing the towers and the walls on the other side, and the ice block the fairy is in so a stone falling on it won’t crack it and let her out.”

Adam looked immediately alarmed. “You think…”

She shrugged. “I don’t know anything about fairies, but I know she had a lot of magic and you and John both said she probably wasn’t really dead.”

“True, we have no way of knowing. And I really don’t care to find out any time soon,” Adam agreed. “So you were thinking…?”

“We ride out during a lull in the storm. I’ll make us a hut out of hard ice to shelter in when it comes back, and then we’ll continue on during the next lull.” She held up her hand and a little mound of snow appeared which then shaped itself into a tiny dome of ice with a small hole high up on one side. “If it’s round, the wind won’t push on it as much. And we’ll have all of the horses in there with us, so it’s not going to be cold the way an entire palace of ice would be.”

“So we can start out at an easier pace, and stop when we have to.” Adam was nodding. “That is an excellent plan, I think. So really our biggest problem is going to be getting John home safely so Mrs. Potts can throw a huge fit about me not protecting him like she told me to.” Elsa blinked at him, and he smiled and shook his head. “Before we left, she told me to be sure to protect John because he couldn’t protect himself even as well as you and I both could. And I told her I would, because the kingdom would fall apart without him.”

She hugged him again. “I won’t let her yell at you too much. And we’ll stop often, so he should be better by the time we get home. I thought maybe we should stop at the mermaids’ beach again for a little while, in fact, to thank them for helping us find our parents.”

He hugged her back. “You’re getting really good at this plan-making thing, little sister. And we can laze around on the beach where it’s warm, that should be good for John and us and the horses as well.”

 

They left just three days later, riding out on two horses the same way they’d ridden in, but this time leading three as there was no way they’d have left the king and queen’s two fine mounts behind. Or anything else of the king’s and queen’s, in fact. They’d packed up all of the clothes and jewels they could carry – the former being more of a necessity than the latter, since the three of them hadn’t a single stitch left of the clothes they’d been wearing when they’d first arrived. Their parents’ ridiculously extensive royal wardrobes supplied this need almost perfectly for Elsa and Adam, but proved a bit awkward for John; the king’s clothing was too large for him, especially now, and according to him ridiculously fine for a bookkeeper to be wearing. He had declared the small hoard of jewels and coin they’d found to be more than acceptable as reparations and inheritance, though, and had even counted it all out and marked it all down in a makeshift ledger, allotting one third each to Elsa and Adam, with the last third set aside for their sister Anna. He hadn’t set aside any for himself, which had somewhat illogically displeased both of them, so they’d gone hunting through the disintegrating palace for more and had squirreled what they’d found away in a sack to be John’s share – and Adam had written it into the ledger with the rest while John was napping.

Which he still was doing frequently enough that if they hadn’t absolutely had to go they wouldn’t have budged for another week at least. They had no choice, though, so they set off during a break in the onslaught of winter storms and started making their way across the vast white expanse of the snowfield. Elsa had filled the rest of the palace with ice once they were out of it, making the marble and stone crumble off. Once she was finished, a palace of solid ice was left standing amidst a heap of rubble which was quickly disappearing under a layer of snow as they rode away from it.

The snowfield might have looked to be an impassible ocean of snow, but the hard winds had kept that snow at a passable height, at least in spots. Still, though, the snow was deep and therefore made for slow going, and they had barely made it halfway across before sharp, icy gusts of wind and rapidly darkening clouds began to herald the approach of the next storm. So they dismounted and gathered the horses into a rough circle Elsa carved out in the snow all the way to the hard-frozen ground beneath. At which point she began to build up the walls of her dome one side at a time, with the first side toward the oncoming storm and the second being built after, at which point they were joined together with a fountain of ice that left the outer surface smooth as polished marble. John quickly lit a lamp while Adam calmed the nervous horses, and then they all sat down on the fine thick rugs they’d brought for the purpose and waited to see what the storm would make of their shelter. The ‘window’ of clear ice Elsa had created on the southern side of the dome showed darkness falling quickly under the clouds, and the howl of the wind grew louder and louder…but that wind blew over the little ice dome with a sound like a hissing kettle, and even saw to thickening the outer walls by washing layer after layer of snow over them which then froze one atop the other.

The storm was still blowing when they awoke the next morning, but by that afternoon was seeming to blow itself out and they quickly prepared to be on their way again. Elsa dissolved the southern side of their shelter and blew a path in the now much deeper snow, and they rode out to see how much ground they could cover before night began to fall. Moonrise saw another dome of ice growing out of the snow, this one buried even deeper, and the moment the sun rose they were on their way again, fleeing the boiling black clouds which were already haunting the northern horizon. This time they rode harder, making for the bend in the eastern cliffs which would mark the end of the snowfield. The storm was already whipping them with driven snow by the time they reached it, and howling in impotent fury that it could not reach them by the time their shelter was constructed under an overhang of rock – they were protected from the direct assault of the hard winds, but all of them feared that some rock above them might be dislodged by it and come crashing down onto their shelter during the night. Which did indeed happen, stones from above crashing into the overhang and bouncing off with such frequency that nobody got any sleep at all. They left that place as soon as there was light and rode until they simply couldn’t ride any more, finally making their camp in a winter-stripped thicket far from the rocks. This camp they stayed in for all the next day and night, having abundant fuel for a fire and needing to rest the horses before striking out again toward the warm, sunny beach where the sea witch had set up her castle several weeks before.

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