In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 31 - Brand New Day

John isn’t sure how long he was asleep, but it’s probably longer than he’d like to think.

When John finally awoke, it was morning – he wasn’t entirely sure what day, because he’d been unsure of the day when he’d gone to sleep to begin with – and he stumbled into the only clothes he found and made his way downstairs to his office. He could only imagine the hash Cogsworth had made of the books while they were gone, it was most likely going to take him the entire day to straighten it out. He politely asked the first servant he passed to bring tea to the office for him, dismissing the maid’s wide-eyed startlement as surprise that they were back. Adam was in the office when he got there, looking over the books himself, and after a small start of his own he smiled and stood up, vacating the chair he’d been sitting in. “Well, it’s about time – but I’m not getting between you and Mrs. Potts, or you and my sister, when they realize you’re down here.”

“I’m sure I’ve slept enough,” John told him, taking his customary chair and stretching. “I certainly feel like I have, anyway. So, is it a disaster or just a mess?”

“Just a mess, and not even much of one.” Adam took the chair across from the desk, stretching himself. “Nothing really unusual happened, so the system pretty well ran itself –– just like you said it should before we left. I think Cogsworth let Lumiere help him, honestly, going by the handwriting.”

“Hopefully Cogsworth didn’t let Lumiere do anything else in here but write,” John snorted. “I saw Annette when I came down just now, looks like number three is well on his or her way.”

“I did accuse him of trying to repopulate my kingdom yesterday,” Adam agreed. “He just laughed and said of course.”

“He probably took it as encouragement.”

“I doubt he needs any. The man was even amorous as a candlestick, John.”

That made John laugh, which made him put one hand up to his temple as a small wave of vertigo rolled over him. “I will be so very glad when that stops happening. Now, let’s see about this mess…” He turned back a few pages in the ledger and started perusing the entries dating from the day they’d left on their quest, making little notations here and there in the margins with his pencil and occasionally jotting down something on a piece of yellow paper he’d pulled out of the side drawer.

By the time he reached the last page – and the bottom of the mug of tea Annette had brought him – he was feeling much better about things. Cogsworth had actually done a decent job, from what he could tell so far. Lumiere’s entries were for things Lumiere himself had charge over, so that was fine. The quarterly tax had come in without incident, as had the rents, and the numbers all seemed to be adding up. It was entirely possible, he reflected, that Valeureux didn’t really need a bookkeeper anymore. The kingdom wasn’t very big, and now that the finances were all straightened out after a decade of neglect things were running quite smoothly. He said as much to Adam, who just snorted into the remains of his own tea before draining it. “I wouldn’t tell Cogsworth that, he’d run screaming right out of the castle. And right now we’ve other things to deal with which I most certainly do need you for,” the prince told him, putting his empty mug on the corner of the desk. “That last set of entries?”

John frowned and turned what he had thought was the last page, finding quite a few unusual entries, some of which even looked to have been made by Adam himself. He pushed aside the related and troubling realization that, going by the dates, he’d apparently been asleep for considerably more than a day. “What…this looks like a very elaborate party.”

Adam just spread his hands noncommittally. “She is my sister, John. Luckily I was able to put my foot down with Cogsworth about the guest list, he’d have had everyone within ten leagues here for it.”

John snorted. “Cost aside, they wouldn’t fit – in the castle or the village, we’re simply not large enough to host that kind of gathering. Why did he want so many?”

“He says royal weddings are supposed to be grand occasions. And since she’s my little sister and technically a queen in her own right, he does have something of a point – just not enough to make me forget how many guests we can comfortably fit without making people sleep in the ballroom or camp out in the fields.” John opened his mouth…then closed it again. “Don’t you dare faint,” Adam warned him. “You’ll have Mrs. Potts after us both if you do.”

“I’m not going to faint. I was just…surprised that those preparations were already so well underway.” John went back to the ledger, noting that there was a list already compiled on a separate folded page detailing upcoming expenses for the wedding and the dates on which they would be incurred. “Fittings? You know Elsa will make her own dress…”

“Those are for you and I and Cogsworth. The tailor has already been in once – you may have noticed that the clothes you’re wearing actually fit now?”

“I noticed when I put them on, but I didn’t think very much about it.” John took stock of what he was wearing. “Hmm, he did a nice job on this one.”

“I’m glad you think so, because that’s the only one he did. He said you’ll have more next week, but as you weren’t expected to be up and around all that much this week one set of clothing was deemed to be enough.” John opened his mouth. “If the words ‘I’m fine’ come out of your mouth, John…”

“They weren’t going to.” He was blushing. “I was going to say…he’s probably not wrong. If I hadn’t woken up worrying about the books, I’d likely still be upstairs.”

Adam stretched, getting a little more comfortable. “Well, I’m sure you’ll rest better for knowing the kingdom isn’t about to come crashing down around us.” He winced at the same time John did. “Probably a turn of phrase I shouldn’t use for a while.”

“No, probably not.” John shuddered, closing the ledger on the folded sheet and settling back in his chair as well. “So, what else have I missed?”

“I gave Cogsworth a title, he’s Sir Andrew now. Then we went down to the village to make some announcements, and I made a ‘sir’ of Master Beauchard as well, which delighted almost everyone in the village – although not half as much as my announcing you were marrying my sister did. I’m surprised that cheer wasn’t heard up here at the castle.” He smiled at his friend’s look of shock. “You are well-liked here, John. You helped put the kingdom back on its feet, you helped them get to know their prince and stop being afraid of him, and then you accompanied him on a ridiculous quest which saw to breaking the last of the curse the kingdom had been under…and came back half-dead for it, which Mrs. Potts is still giving me evil looks for. Sir Martin wished you a speedy recovery, by the way.”

“Sir…oh, Master Beauchard. I’ll have to thank him for his good wishes later.” John picked up his mug and looked into it. “Do you suppose if we rang the bell she’d bring me more tea and not a lecture? I don’t really want to go back to bed just yet – after the tea, definitely, but not just yet.”

“That sounds like a reasonable request to me.” Adam rang the bell, knowing that someone was doubtless just outside the door, and Lumiere almost immediately stuck his head in. “Lumiere, we’d like some more tea, please, before John goes back upstairs.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“And congratulations,” John told him. “I saw Annette on my way down.”

The tall man smiled and bowed. “Thank you, my lord. Just tea, nothing else?”

“I can’t really think of anything…”

“Surprise us,” Adam told him. “John left most of his appetite behind at the conclusion of our quest, I think, and we’ll have to tempt him into finding it again.”

That made Lumiere smile even wider. “Leave it to me, Your Majesty.”

He sailed out of the room, and John sighed. “I’m really not hungry, Adam.”

“Because you haven’t been eating,” Adam scolded lightly. “And I know you’ve been too tired to care, but we’re home now and the servants are going to fuss you to death. And you’re going to let them, because I’m the king and I said so and no one is allowed to contradict me.”

“I contradict you all the time.”

Adam smiled. “Yet another excellent reason for you to be my brother-in-law, don’t you think? You can argue with me day and night and no one can say a thing about it. Except me, of course.”

John chuckled. “Of course. But you won’t, because it’s my job to help you keep your crown on straight.”

“That it is.” Adam waved a hand at the ledger. “And it’s Cogsworth’s job to handle most of the wedding business, thankfully – I wouldn’t have known where to start, much less known what had to be done when to make it all come together properly. Apparently we’ll need to begin sending the invitations within the next few weeks if we’re going to have the wedding in mid-autumn. Getting one to Asher won’t be a problem, of course, but do you have any ideas on how we should go about sending something to King Triton? I know he wouldn’t be able to come, but I believe we should send him some sort of token in thanks for all his help.”

“Yes, and to let him know we made it home and all is well – assuming Lord Sel hasn’t told him already, since I’m fairly sure he knows.” John considered it. “I believe you said Elsa let him know we were back on his beach by dropping a note encased in ice…perhaps one encased in glass, or coated with a thick layer of wax?

“Or both, just to be safe,” Adam agreed. “I can speak with the glassmaker in the village, I’ll tell him it’s for a king who lives near the shore. Which is the truth, I’m just not going to tell him which direction off the shore King Triton and his daughters happen to live in.”

“Probably for the best, yes.” John tapped his finger on the desk. “We’ll also need to take some special precautions getting an invitation to Elsa’s sister, Queen Anna. I’m…not sure what sort of reception a messenger from here, with a message like that, is going to get.”

Adam nodded. “I hadn’t forgotten you saying you weren’t sure if the lies had been believed in that quarter or not, so I’ve already got Cogsworth pondering over the best way to see that invitation delivered. Will there be anyone else in Arendelle who needs to know?”

John shook his head. “My father was the last of his line, it appeared to have just…died out, like a vine withering as winter draws near. And of course my mother’s family wouldn’t be on the guest list even if I did know who they were. Not to mention they’ll likely be gone by the time Elsa and I return anyway.” Adam raised an eyebrow at that, and he shrugged. “Lord Sel will most likely exile them. They broke his laws, yes, and knowingly at that, but that’s not an offense punishable by death under normal circumstances. If they’d sought my death it might have been, but they didn’t – they just ignored my existence, and that with the agreement of the queen.”

The eyebrow stayed up. “What about the royal councilors?”

“I can’t prove they were trying to kill me,” John pointed out. “Not that I’m not fairly certain they were, because I am…”

“And so is Elsa.” Adam chuckled when his eyes widened. “She figured that out before we encountered the fireflies, while you and I were digging the old man’s grave – she told me it was the first time the frost pattern for Ragnarok tried to form, in fact, right there in the middle of that meadow. She was much more displeased with the councilors for trying to use her to kill you than she was over them wanting to kill her.”

“Of course I was.” Elsa swept in through the side door, smiling when John and Adam both jumped. She kissed John’s temple, then perched on the edge of the desk. “That isn’t something you need to worry over right now, though. We have the entire winter to figure out what to do with Chief Councilor Tarben and the others, John.”

“True,” he agreed, taking her hand. “The answer will still probably be exile, though – I’d prefer our first official acts to not be ordering multiple executions, it sets a bad precedent. We’re not the Northmen.”

This time Adam’s eyes widened. “I take it they’re…rather harsh?”

John smiled. “Rather, yes. My father told me they’re honorable in their own way, and that once you’ve gained their respect they’ll deal fairly with you unless you do something to lose it. I’ve only met a few of them, but from what I saw he was right. And that’s another thing I want to do, strengthen Arendelle’s ties with them. We need an ally the Danes are actually afraid of, but one with no current interest in co-opting us themselves…”

Elsa cut him off by putting her free hand over his mouth. “I said stop,” she ordered gently. “You can work on the books, you can offer your opinion on the plans for the wedding, and you can help Adam and Cogsworth and I figure out the invitations. But you’re not to worry over politics until after we’re married – and then, we’ll worry together.”

He nodded agreement and removed the silencing hand, kissing it, the smile it had hidden both happy and proud. “As you wish, my princess.”


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