In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 28 - Coronation

As it turned out, Adam really did need another king’s help – and so did John.


They walked the short distance down to the beach, and Sebastian guided them to an area of freshly-swept sand and showed everyone where he wanted them to stand – Adam on one side, John and Elsa on the other. He was just barely finished fussing them into position when there was a disturbance in the water and King Triton swam up and then walked the rest of the way out on two legs just as he’d done during their first visit to the beach. Another tall, powerful man came out with him, quite obviously also a king as he was wearing a crown of silver and carved ivory, and quite obviously also usually a merman as he, too, was completely naked and seemed to think nothing at all of it. He was somewhat taller and hardier-looking than King Triton, with long silver-black hair and a beard to match, and his skin was several shades darker. He was carrying a heavy spear. Adam bowed to the two kings, and Triton nodded. “Prince of Valeureux,” he acknowledged formally. “You and yours did me a great favor, and now I shall return it. First, however, this is King Sel, of the Northern Waters. He knows of Ragnarok. Tell him what you told me, and anything else you may remember about it.”

Adam bowed again. “I had never heard the word before, until the Fairy Marguerite used it – she claimed to be trying to start it, the end of the world in ice and snow, and to that end she had made a bargain with mine and Princess Elsa’s parents. She said she had placed the power to start Ragnarok into my sister at birth. She then…removed John and I from the palace, casting us into the snowfield we had crossed to get there. A storm was raging, and by the time I found my way back she appeared to be trying to upset my sister enough to trigger this Ragnarok by telling her that John and I were dead. There was a pattern in frost spreading across the room from beneath Elsa’s feet, and when she saw us…well, she thought John was dead, because he looked it at that point, and she screamed and the pattern filled up with blue light. The fairy and our parents were immediately encased in a large block of clear ice.”

The other king was frowning. He waved his spear at the sand, and a small, round design appeared there. “Did it look like this, her pattern?” Adam nodded, and another wave erased it. “That was the sigil to open Ragnarok. Did you hear a sound, like the tolling of a distant bell over the water?” Adam shook his head, and King Sel seemed relieved. “Then it was not yet ready to open – the sigil must have its song to be complete.” He turned to Elsa, who was looking frightened now. “Did you hear the song in your heart, child? Did you wish to sing it with ice and snow?”

Her blue eyes filled with tears. “Yes. She showed me how horrible our parents were – it was like they had no feelings at all! She said they only loved themselves. And then she told me she’d killed John and Adam. I was all alone!”

His face darkened, and John put himself between them. “It isn’t her fault that awful fairy made sure she’d lived most of her life in frightened isolation,” he said. “Or that she tried to finish her plan by murdering Adam and I and exposing the former king and queen of two abandoned kingdoms as the shallow, heartless fools they were.”

John’s tone was polite, even respectful…but his body language was quite openly saying ‘if you want her, you’re going through me’, and Adam caught his breath. Sel, however, got a very curious look on his face. “It isn’t her I was angry with, boy. Who is your family? I can tell by your voice that you’re of the northern waters.”

“My father was Sir Jonas Kepperson of Arendelle,” John told him. “He was a bookkeeper, as his father and grandfather had been before him. I never knew my mother’s family. I’m sure they were from somewhere in the kingdom, but they…never saw fit to make themselves known to me.”

“Hmm. Did the fairy know you?”

“No, Your Majesty, she didn’t appear to. Although she did yell at their mother for causing me to be born.”

Sel hmmd again, looking even more thoughtful, but didn’t comment. King Triton, however, looked immensely pleased by something. “Well, Sel?”

The other sea king nodded. “Yes, you are right. I concur.”

“Then let’s get on with things. Prince Adam of Valeureux, kneel,” Triton ordered; Adam immediately took a knee. “You have proved yourself worthy, son of the unworthy dead. By my kingdom I swear to your valor, and assert your fitness to rule the kingdom that is yours by blood and claim.” He clapped his hands, and Sebastian brought the ruby-inlaid golden crown to him, handing it over with a bow and a swish of his fan-shaped tail. Triton took the crown and placed it upon Adam’s bowed head, then stepped back and touched each of his shoulders with the tip of his trident; King Sel did the same with his spear, and then they both touched the crown, which glowed briefly golden. “Rise, King of Valeureux,” Triton intoned. “May you rule wisely and well, and may the weight of your crown never lessen.”

Adam stood up, swallowing hard, and bowed to each of the sea kings again. The magic was still there, he could feel it, and he knew what he needed to do. He drew his sword. “My first act as king shall be to repay a debt, and right a wrong. John Kepperson, kneel.”

John started, but he dropped to one knee. “For the loyalty you have showed me,” Adam said, touching the sword to one shoulder, “and the friendship you have given me,” touching the other, “and for the love I bear for you, as though you were my brother by blood. Rise, Lord Kepperson, Comte de Valeureux.”

John stood back up with some little difficulty, but he did manage it and bowed as well. His eyes behind his glasses were filled with tears. “Your servant, Your Majesty.”

“My brother,” Adam corrected gravely, sheathing his sword again and giving his friend a hug. “I have plenty of servants; someone has to make sure my crown stays on straight.” He put John from him gently, patting his back and surreptitiously making sure he had his balance. “One thing more, as I have seen that it cannot wait any longer. Princess Elsa, my sister.” She blinked at him. “Princess, you are always welcome in my kingdom, and you will always have a place in my home and my heart…but you have a kingdom of your own which fear and greed took from you. And you cannot retake your rightful throne without a king at your side – a man who knows how to rule subjects such as yours, who knows how to run a kingdom, and who is of high enough station to take your hand. You must be married as soon as possible after we have returned to Valeureux, as Arendelle has already been too long without its rightful ruler. You and I have already spoken on this subject, and agreed upon the best solution, but I would make it official. So will you accept my decision in this matter as being what is best for Arendelle rather than based on sentimentality or friendship?”

John kept his face very blank and looked at his shoes, but Elsa nodded. “Yes Your Majesty, my brother, eldest born of our parents, I will accept your decision. My first duty is to Arendelle.”

Adam nodded. “Very well. Then on our return, as soon as suitable arrangements can be made, you will be married as I had already promised you…to the Comte de Valeureux.”

He would swear later that he’d had no idea this announcement would cause John to faint dead away.

 

John woke up with his head in Elsa’s lap; he knew it was Elsa’s lap because he could smell snow and flowers, and he could feel her cool, slender fingers playing with his hair. He blinked at the green silk canopy above them in puzzlement. Hadn’t they been on the beach? And then Adam squeezed his hand – which he had apparently already been holding – to get his attention. “After everything else that’s happened, you faint because I told you you’re marrying my sister? I am sorry, though.”

John blinked at Adam this time. “I…” He glanced up again; Elsa smiled at him. “Where are we?”

“In a very pretty silk tent, which Elsa sacrificed one of our mother’s dresses to some royal magic to make,” Adam explained. “Although I agree with her, this one wasn’t her best color anyway.”

“Luckily…your mother had at least one of every color.” John seemed to be having some trouble catching his breath. “I don’t understand, Adam.”

“What’s there to understand? Elsa made this request of me back at our parents’ palace, and I agreed to it because how couldn’t I? You love her, she loves you – who else was she going to marry?” Adam’s grip on his hand tightened. “King Triton agrees with me, John; you’ve got it in you to be a good king, you’ve already claimed those people as your responsibility. You did it that night with the fireflies, remember? You said your responsibility was to your people, and I felt those words all the way down to the soles of my feet. And that wasn’t the first time it had happened, or the last. Both of these elder kings have confirmed that was a sign.”

Which was when John realized the two sea kings were in the tent with them – and very much more naked for being so close. He sat up. “Your Majesties, my apologies…”

“None necessary, and you stay right where you are,” Sel ordered mildly. “You’re half dead, boy, and we were only standing on ceremony in the first place to make sure the magic would take – it can be finicky sometimes when you’re crowning a new king, especially in a situation like this one.”

“A situation…”

“I’m the first born of our parents, and the eldest son as well, so technically I could have claimed both thrones – Valeureux and Arendelle,” Adam explained. “Hence all the questions being asked first, making sure I didn’t need to.”

“And that you didn’t have any designs in that direction,” Sel added. He cocked his head at John. “You’re one of mine, I’m sure of it now. Your mother never told you of your birthright?”

“My mother died when I was not quite two, Your Majesty. I have no memory of her at all, my father kept no mementos and no one else in the castle ever spoke of her.” John swallowed. “I’ve never known her family, not even the name. Their marriage was arranged by the queen, because she…because she was bored.”

Sel nodded. “People like that often are; amusements wear thin when there’s not work in equal measure. So you’d no idea your mother was eldest?” John gasped, and he smiled grimly. “That would be a ‘no’, then. I thought as much.” He saw that the brother and sister didn’t understand. “He should be head of his line,” he explained. “If the eldest is a girl-child, her first-born son is the head.”

“So they’ve never introduced themselves to John as family…”

“Because then everyone would have known they’d usurped the line.” That got him hugged from both sides, which he didn’t protest because he was feeling distinctly faint again. “So they…pretended I didn’t exist, and since no one in the castle really ever saw me until I was old enough to help my father…”

“Everyone must have forgotten by then,” Adam agreed, although he wasn’t entirely sure he believed it; John had said before that everything in Arendelle was about politics, and King Sel had already mentioned a strong family resemblance. He turned his attention back to Sel, but kept a supportive arm around John just in case. “So is this something we should look to rectify, or is it best left alone?”

Sel snorted. “It’s good you know to ask that question. And the answer is two-fold: You boys are to leave it alone – and you too, little girl – because it was my law they broke and I’ll deal with them in my own way. As to rectifying, however,” he grimaced. “Well, that we’ll need to talk about. I would mark you as the head of the line,” he told John. “It should be done, and it will only help you when you return with your bride to take the throne; they’d be like to kill you without it.” Adam and Elsa gasped, but John just nodded. “I thought you must know. If you bear my mark, though, any who are mine must support you, it’s my law. But we’ve another problem which is much more immediate: the weather.”

“The storms which drove you from that little northern cove will soon be making their way south,” Triton informed them; he, also, looked troubled. “Here it doesn’t get very cold, but we have monsoons instead, and sometimes even larger storms than that. Even magic won’t keep you alive on this beach once those storms get here, and as they do sometimes move a considerable distance inland you’ll have to be well on your road back home before the first one hits. Which will be in about four, maybe five days.”

“And you’re weak right now,” Sel told John bluntly. “The marking is a trial for a man at full strength; for you, right now, it would be just short of torture and weaken you further besides.”

“And we have to ride out again in three days, four at the most.” John considered that, biting his lip…and then his back straightened. He held up his hand for Elsa to take, which she did. “Your Majesty, if this is what must be done to save our kingdom…then it’s simply what must be done. Arendelle won’t fall if I can at all prevent it.”

The words resonated, and again Adam felt them all the way down to the soles of his feet. Sel’s eyebrows went up, and then he smiled a slow, proud smile. “Very well,” he agreed. “In that case, we’ll do it now. Take off your shirt.”

John swallowed, but he started unbuttoning his shirt; Elsa quickly moved to help him, which made him falter just a bit. “Princess…”

She gave him a sweet smile and kissed his cheek. “I helped Adam take care of you for three whole days after you almost died, remember?”

He blushed, rather dramatically thanks to his pallor, the color very visibly going all the way down his chest. “I don’t, actually.” He caught her hand and kissed it. “I remember you being there, though.”

“I’ll be here this time, too.” She helped him shrug out of the shirt, laid it neatly aside. Then she frowned, because Adam had taken off his sword belt and crown and handed them to King Triton and was now unbuttoning his shirt as well. “Adam?”

“He has to change,” Sel told her. “Usually we’d be doing this on a ship, and the one being marked would be tied to the mast to hold them still – and we’d have plenty of strong seamen to help if necessary. In his other form, however, King Adam should be enough on his own.”

“Assuming I’ll actually fit in this tent,” Adam said. “I’m not sure that I will.”

“I can adjust things if need be.” Triton was watching him closely and so was Sel, although the Northern sea king also had one eye on John. “Have you done it since that day?”

“Once, because John screamed in his sleep and scared me into it. I haven’t changed just to be doing it, though.” Adam toed off his boots, got a look on his face like he was thinking hard about something…and then turned into the Beast with a roar and shook himself. “Oh good, it still works. And I do just barely fit in here after all.” John was staring at him, openmouthed. “That’s right, you’ve never seen this – you were rather incapacitated both of the previous times.”

“You’re…you’re huge.”

“And you’re getting skinny.” Adam used a curved ivory claw to gently poke at his ribs, which were a good deal more visible than they had been before the encounter with the bad fairy. “All right, now what?”

“Stand behind him and hold his arms,” Sel said. John stood up with Elsa’s help, and Adam moved to stand behind him, taking hold of his arms. Sel tipped John’s head up and looked him in the eye. “You’re sure?”

John took a deep breath and nodded, swallowing. “I’m sure.”

“Very well, then.” Sel stepped back and raised his spear so that the tip rested in the center of John’s breastbone. “John Kepperson, I mark you as head of your family line. My blessing will be on you and yours so long as you keep my ways and mind my laws, your enemies shall be my enemies, and you shall call on me as your lord in time of need. All those who swear allegiance to me shall know each other by my sigil and my song, shall hold the enemy of one to be a common enemy, and shall be as family to each other regardless of rank or station. So it has been, so it shall be.”

“So it has been, so it shall be,” John echoed, and then the point of the spear pressed into his skin, piercing it, and his back arched – not just from the pain of the spear’s sharp bone tip breaking his skin, but from the added pain of the magic which had gone in with it and just kept going, etching itself into him so deeply he felt like it was marking his very soul. He clenched his jaw to keep from screaming, and when the magic finally subsided he was drenched with sweat – in fact, between what had come out of his skin and what had leaked out of his eyes, he was relatively certain there was no water left in him at all. He was limp and drained and trembling, and the Mark was a raw burning sensation that stretched all the way from his breastbone up to his shoulders…but he could also feel something else. Someone else. He forced his eyes open with a gasp and tried to sit up – although he wasn’t sure when he’d lain down again – fighting the restraining arms that tried to hold him back. “No, I have to…My Lord Sel, I must…”

Sel came back into his admittedly fuzzy line of vision – where had his glasses gone? – and very gently pushed him back down into Adam’s hold; John only barely registered that the arms and hands holding him were human again rather than being furred and clawed. “No, John,” Sel told him, his voice vibrating along the raw lines of the Mark. “You don’t need to kneel, it’s all right.”

“But…”

“I know, I know. But the only thing you attempting to kneel to me right now would accomplish is you falling to the ground and most likely getting sick.” Sel sounded amused, and something…something else, something John didn’t quite understand. Also, his eyes seemed to have fallen closed again, and it felt like the couch was spinning under him. A murmur of deep voices, and then something cool and wet that smelled like green seawater was being laid across his chest, across the Mark, taking a good deal of the raw pain away. A large, strong hand patted his cheek. “John, sleep now. And know that I am very proud of you; when I marked your ancestor to begin your line, he yelled so loudly he shook his ship’s sails.”

“He…”

“Was a seaman, yes – a very bold, brave man.” The hand tousled his curls. “You’re very like him, very like him. And he’d be proud of you as well. Sleep now, John.”

That last had been a command, albeit a very gentle one, and John had no choice but to follow it so he let sleep take him down into dreams of the sea.

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