In the Land of Ever After

In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 29 - Coming Home

They’ve finally returned to Valeureux, but it isn’t an entirely happy homecoming.


They had to travel more slowly to get home than they had leaving it, because John just wasn’t able to go the same distance in a day as he had been before. And that even though he was aggressively pushing himself – he had insisted on pushing himself, in fact, because he felt that if he didn’t he wasn’t going to regain his former stamina at all. Adam and Elsa didn’t entirely agree with him about that, but they had privately agreed that getting back to Valeureux quickly would be better for John anyway, so they pretended to go along with him.

Their entrance to the tiny village below Adam’s castle was, surprisingly, greeted with a good deal of enthusiasm – and not just because the stock in the ice house was running low. “Let me guess, either Cogsworth has been driving you all crazy or my wife has?” Adam asked the third overly-ebullient shopkeeper who greeted them when they stopped to let the horses get a drink from the fountain. “I wasn’t gone that long, really.”

“It was long enough. Please don’t ever leave us again!” the woman exclaimed, impulsively throwing her arms around him. “Oh Prince Adam, please don’t ever leave us again!”

Adam gently put her away from him. “My dear lady, hopefully I won’t ever have to go on a quest such as this one again in my lifetime; once was definitely enough. But it’s King Adam now, and I’d be obliged if you passed that around for me. We found my parents, and the bad fairy who had lured them away, and Princess Elsa imprisoned her in a block of ice so she can’t do it again. Twice was more than enough, I think.”

The woman’s eyes went round. “Twice…”

“Princess Elsa is my sister,” Adam informed her gravely. “They were her parents as well, which means Arendelle is our sister-kingdom and we shall certainly be establishing some stronger ties with them because of it. And I came across some others we might be able to do some trade with as well, so things will be improving a great deal in the time to come – we’ll see the return of the famous Rubis Marché.” He gave her a smile. “In light of all that, I hope my absence will prove to have been worth the aggravation it caused my subjects.”

Her response was to hug him again, nearly squeezing the breath out of him, and then she hugged Elsa as well and John for good measure before running off down the cobbled street calling out that she had news and it was wonderful and they had a king again! Which had the effect of drawing everyone else to her, thereby allowing the three travelers to continue making their way up to the castle without being stopped again.

Adam had, in fact, planned his re-entrance to his kingdom most carefully before he’d gotten there; he meant to surprise his people with his reappearance and immediately give out the story he wanted them to go on with. This tactic seemed to have worked in the village, he’d see if it was the same within the castle. With that in mind, he pushed open the large doors and strode into the marble foyer calling for Cogsworth, who came at such a run he very nearly fell down the stairs. Adam leveled a long look at the fussy little man while he was still stammering out his surprise and dismay. “What I want to know,” he interrupted in a firm voice, “is whether or not our defeat of the bad fairy who cast the original curse has cured Belle of her…condition. Has it, Cogsworth? Because if it hasn’t, other steps will have to be taken.”

Cogsworth wrung his hands. “I don’t…oh Your Highness, I don’t know! She’s not here!”

Adam felt a pang of dismay. He’d accepted that Belle didn’t love him as he was – and that he was unwilling to indulge her bestial obsession even though it was now within his power – but he had loved her, and at least a small part of him had hoped she might have come to her senses while he was gone and possibly even missed him. “She…left?”

Cogsworth shook his head violently. “She simply disappeared! The hall maid heard her scream one night, but the door to Lady Belle’s chambers wouldn’t open and then she heard voices inside and there was a flash of light. The girl screamed for help herself, but when we got there the door wasn’t even locked. Every other door in her ladyship’s chambers was open and her…statue had melted and all but flooded the sitting room. There was nothing missing, no way she could have gotten out or anyone could have gotten in to abduct her. It had to be magic!

“Yet the girl said she heard voices, as in more than one?” John asked, and sighed when Cogsworth nodded. “The other fairy, do you think, Adam?”

Adam nodded slowly. “I think it may have been, yes. But as she’s a good fairy rather than a bad one…”

“She may have come to see about the curse, and taken it upon herself to help,” John finished for him. “We met her in the kingdom of Asher,” he explained to Cogsworth. “King Adam rather accidentally stumbled into a plan she had going and then helped it come to a satisfactory conclusion. She’s the one who broke the second curse which had taken away the name of his kingdom, in fact.”

“That we noticed, yes.” Cogsworth had finally picked up on the obvious. “K-King? Your Highness, you can’t…”

“As I’m wearing my father’s royal signet, yes I most certainly can,” Adam cut him off, holding out his hand to display the ring he’d found carelessly tossed in with the rest of his father’s ornaments. “I’ve his crown as well, I just didn’t think it was a good idea to go riding around the countryside with it on. As I already said, we found my parents and defeated the bad fairy who’d lured them away from both of their kingdoms. Their other kingdom was Arendelle. Princess Elsa and her sister Anna are my younger sisters.”

“So, your parents…”

“Were destroyed by the bad fairy and their own weakness,” Adam told him, shaking his head. “I don’t wish to speak of it, and I know Elsa doesn’t either. Suffice it to say that chapter in our family history is over now, and it was not a happy one. The one we write for ourselves will be better.”

“Of course, Your Hi…Your Majesty.” Cogsworth bowed, and seemed to regain some of his usual fussiness. “My apologies for keeping you standing about in the hall after your highly successful journey. Will you retire until supper, or…”

“You’re back!” Mrs. Potts had appeared, beaming. “Prince Adam, you should have let us know you were…”

And then she stopped, hand flying to her mouth in shock and horror. It was apparent to Adam and Elsa that she had just caught sight of John, although this wasn’t apparent to John at all because he immediately became confused and looked behind himself as though expecting something awful to have materialized there. “What…”

“You’ve…lost some weight, John,” Adam reminded him gently; he was trying not to smile. “I believe she’s surprised by your changed appearance.”

John snorted. “These clothes are just too big, I haven’t lost that much weight…”

Elsa patted his arm. “Yes, you have. Hasn’t he, Mrs. Potts?”

The motherly cook had gone red, then white, and then red again; she looked like she wanted to cry. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness,” she fluttered, and then descended on the still bemused John all at once and started to gently chivvy him toward the stairs. “Oh my dear…to bed, you must go to bed at once! However did you get into such a state…”

“The bad fairy tried to kill him, and then we had a very difficult time getting away from that place,” Adam helpfully provided, and this time he did smile when John scowled at him. “She’s right, you should go rest. We’ll see you for supper, John, you’ll not be missing anything that can’t wait until then.”

“But I…”

“Must go to bed now!” Mrs. Potts insisted. She had that look on her face, the one John particularly disliked because he wasn’t able to get around her when she wore it, and he resented that fact all the way to his room until he sat down on his bed to take his boots off…

…Where he promptly fell into an exhausted sleep and thereby escaped the rest of the dreaded fussing by virtue of simply not being aware of it anymore.

 

Adam was still downstairs speaking to Cogsworth when Mrs. Potts finally came back down, pulling Elsa along with her. “I knew it was a bad idea!” the cook was insisting. “None of you should ever have left, and now look what’s come of it!”

Adam saw at a glance that his sister was somewhat annoyed, but not enough that she was willing to forcibly free herself from the older woman’s grasp. “Adam, she won’t listen when I try to explain. Can you…”

“Of course.” Adam drew himself up, just a bit. “Mrs. Potts, please unhand my sister and tell me what you’re going on about.”

She blinked at him, and he realized that at least part of what was manifesting as anger was actually worry. “Your Highness, you don’t have any siblings.”

“I do,” Adam corrected. “Two of them – Elsa and her sister Anna.”

“And it’s ‘Your Majesty’ now,” Cogsworth put in. “They found their parents, Agatha.”

She frowned at him. “Not you too! He can’t be king…”

“Unless I find my parents. Which I did,” Adam told her. “And they’re dead, and I have my father’s signet and his crown to prove it. And a good part of his former wardrobe,” he indicated the suit he was wearing, “which I have to admit I’ve grown to like quite a bit.”

“He’s the king now,” Cogsworth confirmed again. “And Princess Elsa is his sister – our former king and queen were apparently up to a good many things they shouldn’t have been. Like conspiring with the fairy who cursed us.”

“Not to mention abandoning two kingdoms and three children,” Adam said. “And I realize you hadn’t been informed of all the new developments, Mrs. Potts, but that still does not explain why you were manhandling the princess like that.”

“She was in John’s room, and she argued with me when I told her it wasn’t proper for her to be there,” the cook insisted. “And when I pulled her away from him, she tried to say they were to be married. Tell me you didn’t let an idea like that get in her head, Your…Your Majesty. She’s a princess and he’s a commoner, it just isn’t done.”

“It was when I married Belle,” Adam reminded her. “But John never was a commoner, actually. His father was Sir Jonas Kepperson, and through his mother’s side he’s head of his family line – a lord, Mrs. Potts, with lineage which goes all the way back to the founding of Arendelle. Not to mention I named him Comte de Valeureux at my coronation, in recognition of him saving my life and my sister’s on multiple occasions. And yes, he and Princess Elsa are betrothed; she requested it and I and both of the kings who presided over my coronation ceremony approved the match. And since the coronation magic was still in effect when I made the announcement…well, that promise is extremely official, let’s put it that way.”

Cogsworth cleared his throat. “That must have been a very exciting ceremony, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it, Cogsworth.”

Mrs. Potts huffed. “And just when were you going to tell me we’re to have a wedding?”

Adam raised an eyebrow. “When you came back downstairs, Mrs. Potts. Which you hadn’t done until just now. But we won’t have the wedding until John is recovered from our journey, and I’d like to have it at the height of the Rubis Marché, so probably not until mid-autumn, I think. But in the meantime yes, Elsa has the freedom of John’s room and his person; she had to help me take care of him after he was nearly killed, forcing her to pretend they don’t already have that level of intimacy between them would just be silly, don’t you think?”

She huffed again. “Very well, Your…Majesty. But I still don’t like it, all these changes – I knew you shouldn’t have gone, everything was fine and normal before that.”

She stalked off to the kitchen, muttering to herself, and Elsa at once pulled her devastated brother into a reassuring hug. “Oh Adam, I’m so sorry.”

“We probably should have expected…something like this,” was his broken reply. “Curses are apparently foul beasts to deal with, they just…don’t let go easily.”

Now Cogsworth was worried. “Your Majesty?”

“It’s probably quite a good thing Belle isn’t here, after all,” Adam told him, straightening; he still kept hold of Elsa’s hand, though. “Part of the curse is still with us, Cogsworth. One of the effects of the thing…was making people resist change, making them wish to keep everything just the same as it had been.” The steward’s horrified gasp said he’d made the connection, and his king nodded. “Yes, that was what caused it. It really wasn’t Belle’s fault, she truly was cursed.”

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