In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 27 - Lobsters and Kings

None of them had ever seen a lobster before. Especially not like this one.

The following afternoon, Adam was startled out of making plans for future renovations to his castle – by way of building a rather unspectacular sandcastle – by the sight of something large and red walking out of the water and making its way up the beach. It had a long shiny red body terminating in a wide fan-shaped tail, six spindly legs, and two very large claws in the front. It looked dangerous, and when its small black swiveling eyes saw their little camp it started heading right for them.

Elsa had seen it too, and she broke off her underground burrowing ice attack on her brother’s sandcastle to stand up and get a better look at the thing. It stopped in its tracks with an alarmed squeak when it saw her raise her hand, however, and she put her hand back down. “I don’t think it’s a bug, or a crab. Excuse me!” she called out to it politely. “But what are you?”

The red thing huffed and sat up on its tail, waving its claws in an annoyed fashion. “Not a crab!” it called back. “Do I look like a crab to you?”

“You don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,” Adam answered. “It’s all right, you can come closer. We won’t hurt you unless you try to hurt us.”

“Well of course I’m not here to hurt you!” It dropped back down and made its way closer, although it stopped just out of reach and climbed on top of a small rock. Then it stood back up on its tail and bowed. “I am Sebastian, King Triton sent me to see about tings for him. I be a lobster. You never seen a lobster before?” Brother and sister both shook their heads. “Well, I guess dat means you won’t be wantin’ to eat me, so dat’s not a bad ting.” He looked around the camp they’d set up and rolled his eyes. “Really? Dis is how humans set up a place to sleep? I tought you built houses an’ tings.”

“We do, just not on somebody else’s beach,” John said, sitting up with a yawn. He’d been helping with both the sand castle and the ice attack but had dozed off when Elsa had retreated to rethink her strategy because Adam had put in a moat which he’d claimed was filled with fire. He pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked at the lobster. “You look really dangerous.”

Sebastian preened. “I can be,” he agreed, clacking his claws just a bit. He looked around some more, then waved a claw at the horses. “What be dose?”

“Horses,” Adam told him. “We rode on those to get here – they help us travel. Don’t go over there,” he warned quickly when the lobster looked like he might be considering getting a closer look. “They have hard hooves, they could hurt you.”

“Do dey talk?”

“No, they don’t.”

“Hmph. Well, den I guess I don’t be needin’ to ask them if dey need anyting. Why are dey eatin’ de grass?”

“That’s what horses eat – grass, hay, oats,” John explained. “We have other food for them, but they’re liking the grass right now because it’s fresh.”

“Dey don’t eat meat?”

“Oh no, never. Horses only eat plants.”

Sebastian clicked his claws, which made one of the horses look at him. He pointed a claw at it. “Dat one’s lookin’ at me.”

Adam smiled. “Because you made a noise he wasn’t familiar with. Horses are easily startled.”

“If I was dat big, I wouldn’t be startled by notin’ at all.” Sebastian slid down off his rock and came closer, examining the rugs they were sitting on and the little fire pit ringed with stones and sand. He gave Adam’s sandcastle a once-over, as well as the melting remains of Elsa’s previous attacks on it, and then moved on to have a look at John’s rug and the neat pile of saddles and other things just beyond it. Then he came back and stood up on his tail again, shaking an admonishing claw at Adam. “Dis not be acceptable, Your Highness, not acceptable at all. Dis be a picnic you havin’ here, not a proper place for you to sleep.” The claw indicated John. “And dis one looks sick.”

John shook his head. “I’m fine, I’m just tired.”

Sebastian fixed him with a surprisingly stern gaze, shaking the claw again and this time giving it a little clack for emphasis. “De last time I saw a fish lookin’ as fine an’ tired as you, he was floatin’ belly-up de next mornin’. You stay right dere until I come back, you hear?” And then the lobster gave Adam a short bow, dropped back onto his spindly legs and hurried back down the beach to disappear into the water.

John was staring at the swishy trail the lobster had left in the sand with a perplexed look on his face. “I am really not sure what to make of that. What do you think he’s going to do?”

Adam smiled and went back to his sand castle. “I think that was King Triton’s Cogsworth, so he’ll likely do whatever he thinks is best. Elsa, I saw that. The moat is full of fire, you can’t cross it!”

She smirked at him, and the burrowing ice surfaced inside his shell-lined courtyard and made itself into a tiny, conquering flag. “I went under the moat, not over it. Now move your hand so I can fix that tower, it’s crooked.”

“Can you make a mosaic in the courtyard? I’m out of shells.” She did, and even put a fountain in the center of it. He nodded. “See, that’s pretty.”

“You can’t put a mosaic there, because that’s where horses come in from the road,” John pointed out. “The tiles would break. Maybe gray and white cobblestones? That way there’s no mud, and they’d last longer.”

“True.” Elsa made that change, and Adam went to work adding a third wing onto the side of his castle. “There isn’t anything on this side, might as well make some guest quarters out of it. And maybe add a conservatory…”

“I don’t think a conservatory would get enough light on that side,” John said. “There’s nothing on that side because nothing will grow but trees. Guest quarters might be a good idea, though.”

“You could put the conservatory on top of the guest quarters,” Elsa suggested. She moved Adam’s hand again, erecting a little ice structure atop his addition. “See, that way it would get more sun.”

“That way it also leaks water down into the guest quarters,” John disagreed. “You could have it as a sun room, though, with a few plants in pots.”

Adam made a face. “But then we’ll have to make one on the other side or it won’t look balanced, and there isn’t room.”

“Let me try something.” Elsa did away with the ice structure, then made a narrow sand extension behind the sandcastle and put a longer, narrower ice structure on top of it. “There! Now if it was connected by two doors in the center and another door on each end, everyone could use it but no one could see it from the road or the village.”

“I like it, but it would cost Mrs. Potts her cucumber frames on that side.”

“No, you could move those.” John frowned. “Although that might give them less sun during the day, because the mountain’s shadow would cover them earlier.”

“True. Did you have one of these in Arendelle?”

John shook his head. “We’re too far north for that – it would be uninhabitable for most of the year, and it would be a waste of money the kingdom doesn’t have to try to heat it.”

Adam left off considering his sandcastle and considered that instead. “You know, I don’t understand that. Arendelle has plenty of trade, from what you’ve told me, but you’ve mentioned how many pennies you had to pinch on multiple occasions. It almost sounded like the kingdom was dying.”

“It was, in a manner of speaking.” John shifted around to get more comfortable – but not so comfortable he’d fall asleep again. “We had a lot of trade, it was something of a tug-of-war between the two nearest kingdoms with the Northmen thrown in to make things interesting. But Svarsbaard broke off trade with us when the king and queen disappeared, and the Danes are paranoid idiots who feared Svarsbaard had withdrawn from the competition because they were trying to set one or more of the smaller Danish fiefdoms up for a fall – not to mention even the worthless politicians we had left as councilors had refused multiple offers from the Danes for either princess’s hand due to what they were offering.” Elsa looked curious. “Crass, mercenary old men, sweetheart – they weren’t even trying to pretend they wanted anything but access to the throne, it was such a blatant insult nobody could ignore it. Anyway, though,” he continued to Adam, “we’d still been dying even before all of that. The king and queen had stripped the treasury bare, the queen had even taken the money from the Royal Pension funds and used it to…you know, I don’t even know what she did with it, I just know that nobody was able to convince her not to do it. And then they disappeared, and after that nothing could be done. No one could be given rank, new laws couldn’t be made, the tax couldn’t be raised or lowered. The councilors even stopped paying the castle’s staff after a time as a cost-saving measure, we were working for our keep and nothing more.”

Elsa appeared puzzled by that. “Then where did our quest funding come from, John?”

He blushed. “Well, that was…it was mine. From the time before the remaining councilors decided to stop paying us – although they didn’t stop paying themselves, or rather having me pay them. I hadn’t been able to save as much of it as I’d have liked, because we all still had to maintain appearances. Only the kitchen staff and the maids had any of their clothing supplied to them, as it was by law included in their wage – their uniforms all have to look alike,” he explained. A very slight smile. “But the steward and the butler and I had to get very creative with barter to maintain our own wardrobes to the standard the councilors demanded.”

She was still looking at him, the beginnings of a frown making its appearance. “But if there was money to pay the councilors, why couldn’t we just take a bit of traveling money from the treasury, like Adam told you to do before we came on this quest?”

John bit his lip, looking down at the sand. “Because we weren’t supposed to be going, so it would have been stealing. That’s why we took the one horse that didn’t belong to Arendelle in the first place; the way I saw it, the bastard owed you some sort of recompense for all the trouble he’d caused, and getting you…giving you a good horse to use was the least he could do.”

She put her hand over his. “I agree with you, about the horse – it was the least Hans could do, and Sven is too good a horse for him anyway. He’d be better suited to ride a narwhal.”

John choked, and now Adam was confused. “A what?”

John got control of himself; he was flushed again, and Elsa was hiding giggles behind her hand. “It’s…a small whale. With a very long, sharp horn, like a unicorn. We fish them sometimes, for the meat and the oil, but they’re quite dangerous.” He shook an admonishing finger at Elsa. “I can tell by the look on your face that you know ‘riding a narwhal’ is a…naughty thing to say, Princess. You heard it from those seamen, didn’t you?”

She nodded. “I told them about Hans.”

“Lucky for him they’re dead and can’t come after him,” John said. Adam still looked confused. “Adam, you’ve got him riding the wrong part of the narwhal.” This time Adam went red. “Yes, exactly. Not an expression a princess should use, Elsa.”

She blinked at him. “You don’t think they’re right?”

He snorted, turning his hand over to squeeze hers. “Yes, sweetheart, I think they’re more than right; riding a narwhal would be the least of his worries if I ever got hold of him. But there’s…a secondary meaning to that expression which you don’t understand, and that’s why it isn’t appropriate.”

“You can’t explain it to me?”

She actually batted her eyelashes at him, and he blushed but shook his head. “I could, but I’m not going to. Because that would be highly inappropriate and then I’d have to go drown myself in the sea immediately afterward.”

“So would I,” Adam agreed. “And then you’d have to rule Valeureux, Elsa, and let your sister have Arendelle.”

“I might have to do that anyway. They did already try to kill me once, after all.”

This time John went really alarmingly white, so much so that Adam moved to steady him just in case. John didn’t acknowledge or reject the support, though, just took a deep, shuddering breath and picked up Elsa’s hand in both of his. “Talking in my sleep?” he asked, and she nodded. He shook his head. “Princess, that throne belongs to you. I took you away that night because…because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to save you from them if you stayed there. I’m not sure about the other two, but I’m positive the Chief Councilor, Tarben, was in on it,” he explained. “He was awake that night, watching – I saw him. There was no one I could go to for help, and I didn’t feel I’d be able to make you understand what was happening without upsetting you…so I lied.” Another deep breath, and he squeezed her hand and put it back down. “It is within your right to banish me for that, but first…Your Highness, if you truly want to return to Arendelle, please allow me to accompany you. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure your safety and return you to your throne, even if it means my life.”

Elsa’s response to that was to throw herself into his arms, which probably would have bowled him over backwards if Adam hadn’t already been prepared to catch him. The end result was a three-way hug with a very astonished John in the middle, and although his arms automatically went around his princess he gave Adam a confused look. “I don’t understand.”

Adam sighed and tightened his own hold. “You didn’t talk in your sleep, John – you screamed. Over and over again, thinking you hadn’t been able to save her. Not that I didn’t already know, of course, since that was what the fireflies showed you that night in the forest.”

Elsa sniffed. “I went outside after we’d gotten you calmed down and called for Olaf’s snow, and once the winds had brought it to me he told me what had happened. He was so happy you’d been there to save me.”

John raised a shaking hand to stroke her hair. “So was I, Princess, so was I. I’ll…I’ll always be there, until you don’t need me anymore.”

Startled blue eyes lifted to his. “Why wouldn’t I need you?”

He found a smile, although Adam wasn’t sure how, and tried to disentangle himself. “Someday you’ll be married, sweetheart. Then looking out for you will be your husband’s job.”

“I’ve actually been thinking about that,” Adam put in before his shocked sister could say anything. He’d meant to wait to have this discussion until some other things had been finalized, but at this point not saying anything would just be cruel. “Since Elsa will have to be married sooner rather than later, and it will have to be someone we can trust implicitly, I think…” And then out of the corner of his eye he saw Sebastian pop out of the water and start coming back up the beach at a fast clip, and he groaned. “Oh bother, he’s already back and he looks agitated. Something must be wrong.” He stood up, John and Elsa standing up with him although he would really have preferred that John hadn’t. “Sebastian?” he called out. “What’s wrong?”

The lobster was muttering to himself, and he swarmed up on top of the rock he’d used earlier and waved his claws. “De king is comin’!” he announced. “And another king besides! I told dem give me ten minutes to make sure you was all presentable.” He clacked his claws. “Dey’s comin’ to do your coronation ceremony, Your Highness!”

Adam’s eyes went very wide. John was glad of the distraction, though. “Princess, he needs a clean shirt, and a jacket, and I’ll get his sword…”

“You aren’t getting anything,” Adam countered, snapping out of it. “Although you’re going to need a clean shirt and a jacket too.” He waved Sebastian down off the rock and pushed John over to it instead. “Sit down and stay there, that’s an order.”

“Stay,” Sebastian added, reinforcing that order with a warning clack of his claws. “And you don’t need a jacket, Your Highness, dis be de beach. Not to mention, dis one over here don’t need to be gettin’ overheated, he sick enough now.”

“I’m not sick,” John corrected tiredly. He had sat down on the rock, as ordered, and he was still nearly as white as his shirt. “I keep telling you I’m fine.”

“And I’m tellin’ you to quit lyin’,” the lobster scolded. “You look like you is about to fall off dat rock right into de sand.”

John surreptitiously made sure he was going to do no such thing. “Adam, do you need help with your sword belt?”

“No, I can do it.” Adam was already pulling on a gold-embroidered white silk shirt Elsa had dug out for him, and then he wrapped the sword belt around his waist and fussily adjusted it the way Charming had taught him so that the sword wouldn’t bang against his leg when he walked. Elsa had handed John a blue silk shirt, and Adam helped his friend finish with the tiny pearl buttons that fastened it before pulling him to his feet. “Do we need my father’s crown, Sebastian?”

“I has it,” the lobster reassured him. “Princess, is you…” Elsa did something that coated her blue silk dress with frost and then shook it out, leaving the dress fresh and unwrinkled. “Well dat’s handy. All right, den, all of you follow me. We be havin’ royal business to attend to.”


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