In the Land of Ever After

In the Land of Ever After

Table of Contents

Chapter 34 - Wedding Visitors

Anna is excited about this trip. Kristoff, not so much.


It took six days for Anna and Kristoff to ride from Arendelle to Valeureux on the route the Rock Trolls had recommended for crossing the mountains, and Anna was on pins and needles the entire time – not that she hadn’t already been beside herself with excitement for weeks beforehand. Her sister was getting married! To the former Royal Bookkeeper of Arendelle, who had whisked her away because some of their people had killed Olaf and he’d feared she was going to be next. And then they’d gone on a quest with the Prince of Valeureux, and in doing so had found out that the prince’s missing parents were also Elsa and Anna’s missing parents, he was their older brother! And Elsa had fallen in love with the bookkeeper who had taken such good care of her, and her now-king brother had approved the match. It was like a story in a book of fairy tales!

Except for the part where their parents had been working with the bad fairy to end the world, that was. And where they’d abandoned their children and both kingdoms, and where they’d sat there laughing when the bad fairy had tried to kill everyone. Almost everyone had survived, though, and made it back to Valeureux. John, the bookkeeper-now-comte, had apparently taken some little time to recover from nearly having been killed, but everyone else was fine. And alive, and happy. Except for their parents, of course, who were now confirmed to be dead.

Anna had peppered her husband and their guide with questions for the entire trip, although she’d finally stopped asking Kristoff anything because he’d never been out of their country himself and so didn’t know much more than she did. And he’d been getting progressively grumpier the more they’d traveled, which she attributed to him not having been able to bring Sven and having to ride a horse instead. Not that their horses weren’t nice; they were large, shaggy-maned horses with hooves as wide and round as plates, very sure-footed on the mountain paths and large and strong enough to have no trouble fording streams or discouraging predators which might otherwise have been looking for a meal. The stableboy at the inn they’d stopped at had been astounded by them, in fact, and had asked Kristoff endless questions of his own…until he’d realized he was speaking to a king, and then he’d become much less talkative.

Kristoff had confided to her that night that he didn’t much like having people react to him that way. “I was a plain working man before the trolls decided they needed a human king to interact with the humans for them,” he said with a shrug while they were getting ready to go to bed. “It’s…odd, to have people treat me as though I were above them just because of a title.”

Anna considered that while she re-braided her hair. “It isn’t odd for me, because I’m used to it,” she admitted. “It’s probably odd for Elsa’s John as well, though – he was just a bookkeeper, I don’t think I’d ever even seen him before.”

“You wouldn’t have,” Kristoff grunted, taking the braid from her and finishing it. “Didn’t you say your sister had never seen him herself until her councilors sent him to tell her about the damage her winter had done?”

“Yes, but he came back almost every day after that to help her.” Anna sighed happily. “She said in her letter that he was kind and ever so patient and he helped her when no one else would. And he did rescue her, he didn’t have to do that.”

“No, he didn’t,” Kristoff agreed, although it might have been argued that his expression put a different meaning on those words than the one his wife assigned to them. “Well, it will be an interesting visit, I’m sure.”

Anna turned around when she felt him tie off her braid. “It’s an interesting trip already,” she said, cuddling against his chest and sighing in pleasure again when strong arms wrapped around her. “Just think, it’s the first time either of us have ever seen what’s on the other side of the mountains.”

“True, it is.” Not that he’d been overly impressed so far. The mountains were the mountains, and although some of the views had been beautiful they weren’t anything he hadn’t seen before either. And the inn! Kristoff felt he could have happily lived his whole life without encountering such a wild, weird mixture of people all under one roof. The more dangerous-appearing ones had given him a wide berth, of course – which he hadn’t been at all upset about. Men like that knew better than to cross a man who was large and strong enough to beat them, whether he was carrying gold and had a pretty little wife with him or not. He wondered if the bookkeeper had stopped here with the princess, and if she’d used her powers to get them away. Or if they knew that the castle had told nearly everyone their not-quite-queen had gone into seclusion within the castle itself rather than having been whisked away in the middle of the night – part of the reason Anna had been nearly hysterical after receiving the wedding invitation, of course. That thought made him frown, and to dispel it he kissed Anna’s hair. She loved her sister and she was excited, he understood that. He didn’t mind being the one who kept a clear head and considered that all might not be as Princess Elsa’s letter had portrayed it. Assuming she’d even written the letter herself, that was. He had his doubts…

 

A few more days of riding brought them to the valley which housed the Kingdom of Valeureux, which was nothing like Anna had expected. Having lived in a craggy, mountainous port city surrounded by stately evergreens and deep mountain meadows all her life, the rolling green and gold hills and plump, vibrantly colorful trees seemed entirely fantastic to her. The tidy farms and the little village itself were equally so, picturesque buildings framed by more pretty trees and wide golden fields. People were bustling around in the village, which had at its center a splashing rock fountain, and up above a road twisted up the side of the mountain to a sturdy, pretty castle perched between towering rock cliffs. The echoes of a tolling bell followed them as they wound their way up this road, which terminated in a gray and white cobblestoned courtyard that boasted a pretty fountain of its own. The little castle was something of a surprise as well; although considerably larger than the palace Anna currently shared with Kristoff, it would still easily have fit inside the one she had grown up in with room to spare. It had never occurred to her to think of Arendelle’s castle as excessively large, but apparently it was.

Almost immediately a tall man and several boys appeared from the stables to take charge of their mounts, although on seeing said mounts the man shooed most of the smaller boys back and he and one older-looking one took on the task themselves. Anna allowed Kristoff to lift her down off her horse’s back – the creatures were so large she couldn’t get up or down on her own – shaking out her skirt and petticoats to try to straighten them once her feet were on the ground. She liked the horses, and she’d enjoyed the trip, but it was good to be standing instead of riding after days upon days of doing it. She wondered how Elsa had liked it, riding double with her John over what the trolls had said was a much rougher path…

That was when the castle’s massive front door began to open, being pushed by a servant who looked like he was having a hard time doing it.  “Oh, she’s here, she’s here!” her sister’s familiar voice sang out, and then Elsa was on the castle’s steps, pretty layered skirts falling around her like the petals of an upside-down flower, her white-gold hair braided into a coronet from beneath which it flowed down her back like a waving river. She was so happy she was glowing, and Anna clapped a hand to her mouth, feeling tears prick at her eyes. She’d never seen her sister this happy – in fact, she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her sister truly happy at all, as the Castle of Arendelle wasn’t the happiest of places and really never had been in most of Anna’s memories. She ran to hug her sister. “Elsa!”

“Anna!” Elsa’s embrace smelled like snow on flowers, and her dress was as soft as the petals it resembled. “Oh, you have to meet our brother! Adam…”

Anna pulled back reluctantly. Two men had come out of the castle behind her sister, both of them smiling although the shorter one’s brown eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles looked somewhat worried. The taller of the two bowed just slightly. “So this is my baby sister. I think I recognized the squeal, Elsa makes that sound quite often.”

Well, there was really nothing for that except to hug him too. He seemed startled at first, but then he laughed and hugged her back. The shorter man was bowing much more formally to Kristoff, who had followed her up the wide stone steps after having a quiet word with the groom – no doubt he’d been letting the man know to come find him if the horses proved troublesome, the same way he’d done at the inn. “Your Majesty, welcome to Valeureux. I trust you had a pleasant journey?”

“Once we were out of the mountains, yes.” Kristoff bowed to Adam. “King Adam.”

Adam disentangled himself and bowed back. “King Kristoff. I don’t believe you’ve met Lord Kepperson?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.” This time the bow was much briefer. “Comte.”

“Still getting used to hearing that, but yes,” John acknowledged. And then he squeaked, because Anna had decided to hug him too. “Queen Anna.”

“You saved my sister, thank you so much. And she looks so happy…” She pulled back to look at him, saw that he looked even more startled by that, and hugged him again. “Thank you.”

He very tentatively hugged her back. “I would do anything to make Elsa happy, Your Majesty.”

“Anna.”

The hug became less stiff, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “Anna.”

 

Kristoff was pleased with the accommodations they were given in the West Tower, and with the food which was served at that evening’s dinner although a good many of the dishes were strange to he and Anna both – there wasn’t any fish, for one thing, but Kristoff supposed fish must be something of a rarity in a landlocked kingdom. He was also somewhat horrified with himself for thinking of it all that way, as though he personally had standards the ruler of another kingdom should be expected to meet. Honestly, he blamed the trolls; they’d decided to teach him royal etiquette before he’d married Anna, and although he’d thought most of it silly and pointless at the time apparently the lessons had stuck all the same. In ways that made him uncomfortable. And he’d noticed that in spite of Anna’s idea that the former Royal Bookkeeper of Arendelle must be having the same problem himself, Kristoff just wasn’t seeing it in the smaller – much smaller – man. Although ‘Lord Kepperson’ didn’t really seem to be putting on airs, either, merely acting comfortably normal…it was just confusing, it didn’t make sense.

When the stablemaster had sent a boy with a note for him after dinner, letting Kristoff know the horses were well-settled in but that he’d like to speak with him at his convenience about the specifics of their breed, Kristoff had been more than please by the potential distraction from his jumbled thoughts and worries. Not that he knew anything about breeding horses other than just letting them do it, but apparently there was a similar horse already in Valeureux’s stables and the stablemaster wanted his opinion of it. And so he sent back a message that he would be happy to come to the stables after breakfast the next morning, and went to bed anticipating that meeting with pleasure.

He would need to have a meeting with someone else later in the day on a much more important matter, but he was trying not to think about that one any more than he had to. He had a feeling it wasn’t going to end very well, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to explain the expected outcome to his happy little wife. Her sister’s reaction might be another thing entirely, but he was trusting that the trolls had made provisions for that eventuality as well. Even though they hadn’t said anything to him about it…

 

Breakfast was equally as good although somewhat more familiar than dinner had been, and then Anna went off with her sister and Kristoff went out to the stables. He was able to confirm that the large black horse they had may indeed have been bred from one like his. “The king used to have a matched pair like him, if I recall correctly,” he told the stablemaster. “I believe they sold them off after the Royal Coachman died, he’d been the only man able to manage them.”

“I’m not surprised.” The stablemaster’s name was Fabron, and while he was properly deferential he didn’t fawn or seem to hold himself back very much at all, something Kristoff greatly appreciated. “Cauchemar was chosen to be King Adam’s mount by our former stablemaster, who’d been…none too pleased about the effect the curse had on him.” He saw that Kristoff was confused by that and explained delicately, “It turned everyone who was here into a living version of whatever they’d been touching or holding at the time the curse fell. I can’t be sure – he wouldn’t tell anyone – but as this is a stable I have my suspicions about what he may have been transformed into. Still not a good excuse for trying to kill the prince, though.”

“No, this beauty wouldn’t have been a good mount for someone who was at all unsure,” Kristoff agreed. He put out a hand and Cauchemar tossed his head but allowed his nose to be stroked before snapping and then looking put out that he’d failed to bite. “Yes, I knew you were going to do that,” Kristoff told him, giving another gentle stroke. “Does your name mean Sulky One?”

“Nightmare,” Fabron corrected, and smiled when the young king’s eyebrows went up. “The old stablemaster wasn’t subtle about his intentions in the least, I’m afraid. Cauchemar is a fine creature, though; we keep him for stud, as I’m the only one who can ride him without being pitched off the side of the mountain. And speaking of stud, your lovely boy with the golden mane was showing some interest in one of the mares last night, so I wanted to make sure you wouldn’t mind if he went there, so to speak. I already spoke to Sir Andrew, and he said we would of course pay whatever stud fee you usually charge for that service. We’re in need of some new blood in the herds around here.”

It took Kristoff a moment to process that. They expected to pay him for letting his horse mount one of their mares? “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” he said slowly. “Usually people are telling me to keep him off of their mares, to be honest. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to…well, if you turn him loose in the paddock, you’ll have more trouble getting him to stop than to start, is what I’m saying. He likes doing that quite a bit.”

Fabron immediately realized he’d made a mistake in thinking this king to be more experienced than their own when it came to horses, and at once set about repairing the damage. “I understand,” he said. “Cauchemar is the same way. In that case, perhaps we can strike up a deal. I’ll let him entertain our mares all he likes if that’s what it will take to keep him happy while he’s here; but if you are willing, Your Majesty, I know several farmers in the valley who would definitely want to introduce their mares to him as well, and they will expect to pay a stud fee for that, the same as they do when I take Cauchemar to visit. Would the fee we receive for Cauchemar’s ‘attentions’ be acceptable for Otto’s as well?”

“Of course,” Kristoff responded, unsure what else he could say. It still seemed odd to him to be paid for letting his horse do that, but things were different here. Although he thought he’d make a point from now on of telling every person who wanted his Otto kept away from their mares that in other places he’d been paid for that service, thank you very much. “Let me know if he causes trouble, he’ll listen to me when he won’t obey anyone else.” He thought of something. “Do you know where I could find Lord Kepperson at this time of day? He wasn’t at breakfast, and I wanted to speak to him about some things before the wedding.”

“He’s most likely in his office,” the other man told him. “It’s the third door off the main hall on the right.”

Kristoff thanked him and headed back to the castle, unaware that Fabron was frowning after him. The stablemaster hurriedly scribbled out a note and sent one of the boys with it to find the king or Sir Andrew forthwith. He wasn’t sure what had been in King Kristoff’s mind when he’d mentioned speaking with Lord Kepperson, but the expression on his face had been rather disturbing and everyone had been concerned about possible ‘reactions’ from the princess’s family. Hopefully they weren’t about to have an incident.

 

Kristoff found the office with ease, and the door was open as well. The small man sitting behind the desk sighed and stood up when he saw him, then waved a hand to indicate that Kristoff should follow him and left the room through a side door, going out into the garden before turning around and raising an eyebrow at him. “You’re about as subtle as your reindeer, Your Majesty – the unpleasant looks you were shooting my way all through dinner last night and breakfast this morning spoke volumes. You wanted to speak to me privately, I believe?”

The King of the Rock Trolls raised an eyebrow of his own. Straight to the point, then; that suited him. “I want to speak to you about what you’ve done, deceiving the princess and trying to steal the throne of Arendelle.”

“Becoming king actually wasn’t my idea, believe it or not – not, I’m guessing,” John added when the larger man snorted. “Still, Adam and Elsa rather surprised me with all of this at his coronation. I love your sister-in-law, I want to marry her, yes, but not because I had designs on the throne of Arendelle. I honestly wasn’t sure we’d ever be able to go back at all, to tell the truth.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Of course you don’t.” John sighed, squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin. “Fine, go ahead, do what you feel you need to do. It’s not like I’m capable of stopping you.”

Kristoff’s response was to fish in his pocket and pull out a deeply red fruit nearly the size of his thumb. He held it out to the smaller man. “The trolls gave me this. If you’re telling the truth, nothing will happen when you eat it; but if you’re lying…well, your death will be slow and painful.”

“And yours would be just the opposite shortly thereafter.” John took the fruit from him and sniffed it, then shrugged and popped it into his mouth. He spit out the pit into his hand a few seconds later and looked at it – it was blue – then put it in his pocket. “All right, now what?”

“We wait for you to start dying.” Kristoff folded his arms across his chest. “It shouldn’t take long.”

“You’d best hope it takes fifty or sixty years,” said a new voice, and Kristoff jumped. The King of Valeureux was standing behind him, looking annoyed. “John, what in the world were you thinking, coming out here alone with him like this?”

“I was thinking that it was better to let him have his say privately, before the wedding,” was John’s answer. “I anticipated there might be a certain amount of physical violence involved, I didn’t think he’d flat-out try to kill me.”

“I’m not, your own lies will do that,” Kristoff scolded. “We’re just waiting,” he explained to Adam. “The trolls gave me the Magic Fruit of Testing, it will kill him horribly for lying to the princess and trying to steal her throne.”

“You probably should have talked to the princess about this plan first,” Adam told him. “Because unless the trolls also gave you the Magic Fruit of Being Ice-Proof, this may be the last stupid thing you ever do.” He stepped aside and gestured peremptorily. “I suggest you go find your wife and beg her to save you from your sister-in-law, because nobody else here will, trust me. Not to mention, it looks to me like he passed your magic fruit test, unless ‘dying’ has a different meaning for trolls than it does for other people.”

Kristoff turned back to John and gave him a long look. “You aren’t dying horribly?” John shook his head. “Are you sure?”

“Considering I’ve almost died horribly once before? Yes, I’m sure.”

“You…” Kristoff shook his head like he was trying to shake something back into place. “So you didn’t kidnap her and lie to her?”

“I rescued her from the people who had just killed her snowman friend by throwing him into a fire they’d obviously built for burning someone far larger – in the castle’s inner courtyard, in the middle of the night,” John told him. “I know she told her sister this, Your Majesty. Did you not read her letter?”

“I thought you wrote it.”

Adam strolled the rest of the way over, putting himself beside John. “No, she did – I know because she wrote most of it while we were waiting for John to recover from the aforementioned ‘almost dying horribly’ incident…and from being marked as the head of his family line by King Sel.” The bigger man actually paled, and Adam smiled. “Didn’t I tell you to go find your wife? You should do that.”

He’d put a little more force – and menace – behind the ‘suggestion’, and Kristoff backed off a step, bowed to him and nodded to John, and then took off at a fast clip back into the castle. Adam raised an eyebrow at John, who pulled the blue pit out of his pocket and held it up. “Wasn’t a test for me, I don’t think.”

Adam chuckled. “No, I’d guess not. Didn’t we eat half a bushel of those blue-stone cherries between us when they were in season last year?”

“And Mrs. Potts almost killed us for doing it, yes.” John tucked the pit away again. “I’d like to know where the Rock Trolls got it, though, because it was a fine large one. I’ll head that trade delegation myself.”

“You mean while you’re delivering the popsicle that used to be their king back to them?”

John smirked. “She won’t kill him.” A very high-pitched male shriek sounded from somewhere in the castle. “See? Although I’m guessing this means Anna didn’t protect him either.”

“Even if she’d meant to, she probably wasn’t fast enough.” A fat tendril of frost snaked out into the garden from one of the castle’s windows, drifted around John and Adam both and then melted into nothingness. The two men took that as a sign that Elsa was looking for them and went back inside, meeting up with her, Anna and a very red-faced, red-eyed Kristoff in the main hall. “Aw, somebody just blurted it out, didn’t he?”

John pulled out the pit again. “It was a blue-stone cherry, Elsa – they were testing him, not me.”

She frowned at the little blue pit, then raised an eyebrow at Kristoff. Who had managed to position himself just enough behind his much smaller wife to protect his more sensitive parts from another ice blast. “I didn’t know!”

“You still did it,” she huffed. “John, are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine, I promise.” He gave her a kiss. “Although I may ride down to the village to get more fruit.”

She kissed him back. “Mmm, you taste like a cherry. Bring back enough for me too?”

“Of course, sweetheart. Adam, want to go for a ride?”

Adam snorted. “Like I’d let you go without me.” He thought of something. “Come on, Kristoff, you can come too.”

Kristoff hesitated, but his wife stepped out of the way and gave him a push. “Go,” she ordered. “You’ll all three be related soon, you have to learn to get along.”

“I can…!” She gave him a look, and he melted. “Do you want fruit too?”

“Yes.” She dimpled at him, then stood up on tiptoes to give him a kiss. “Behave.”

“Yes, Anna.”

 

If Kristoff had needed any more of a wake-up call than he’d already gotten, their trip to the village was it. The other two men had marginally included him in their conversation on the ride down, and Adam had introduced him to the villagers in the market square as ‘my brother-in-law, King Kristoff’ without any other explanation. The cheerful little village was decked out with banners and flowers everywhere in honor of the Ruby Market and the upcoming wedding, and the villagers seemed happy and quite obviously loved their king. And their comte as well, although he was coming in for a good deal more fussing from the goodwives of the village than Adam was. Kristoff bought the fruit he knew Anna would want – and hadn’t he been embarrassed to see jars and pies full of his ‘Magic Fruit’ for sale all over the market – and wandered back to the fountain while Adam and John finished, just taking it all in. One of the women dropped him a curtsey and he smiled and bowed in return. “Good woman, may I ask you a question? I’ve noticed that you’re all fussing quite a bit over Lord Kepperson, but I don’t know the reason for it.”

She looked startled by that. “You didn’t know he nearly died, Your Majesty? Why, he’s half the size he was when they left on the king’s quest to save Lady Belle, we almost didn’t recognize him when they came back.” She lowered her voice confidingly. “I heard he collapsed almost directly after they reached the castle and was abed for days afterward; the castle’s cook was near beside herself at the state he was in, she couldn’t so much as say his name without getting tears in her eyes. At least now he’s got color back in his face, though, even if he hasn’t regained the weight he lost; he was white as fine linen before.”

“He isn’t a very large man to begin with,” Kristoff allowed, feeling rather more ashamed of himself now – and rather more impressed with the comte for facing him down the way he had in the garden earlier. “I’m afraid I’d never met him before, and I hadn’t heard many details of the quest he’d been on,” he explained. “Lady Belle?”

Her face twisted. “The king’s wife,” she told him, in a near whisper this time. “I’m not surprised no one’s said anything. She was…afflicted, by some remnant of the original curse, in a fairly horrible way. The king went off at once to find a cure, but while he was gone Lady Belle was whisked away by magic and no one knows where she might be. If I may be so bold, Your Majesty…I’d not mention her unless he does. He loved her so very much.”

“You don’t think she’ll come back?”

She started to shake her head, then shrugged instead. “The rumor is that it was a fairy who took her. And even though they’re hoping it was a good one, trying to help…well, it was a fairy who cast the original curse on our kingdom as well, so we aren’t all so certain any of them can be trusted.”

“I’d feel that way myself,” he agreed. “Thank you for explaining it all to me. For obvious reasons, I was…uncomfortable asking at the castle.” She curtsied again and went on about her business, and Kristoff stayed where he was until Adam and John came back and they set off back up the mountainside to the castle. The road wasn’t wide enough for three to ride abreast, but he didn’t mind as the rear position gave him the opportunity to observe and think some more. Valeureux was a pretty, prosperous kingdom, and part of that appeared to be due to the efforts of John Kepperson – Comte de Valeureux, now, and eventually King John of Arendelle if he and Elsa ever came back. King Adam obviously thought quite highly of him, and he appeared to have shown some valor on their quest. He wasn’t at all what Kristoff had expected when the letter with its scream-inducing invitation had been delivered, letting them know Arendelle’s heir had fled the country with the Royal Bookkeeper and was going to be marrying him in her long-lost brother’s kingdom – and that after the councilors had been telling everyone, including Anna, that Elsa had gone into seclusion and refused to see or speak with anyone. Perhaps the ones who needed to be tested with ‘magic fruit’ were Arendelle’s councilors…

Once they’d arrived back at the castle the fruit was taken in and distributed, along with a bag of pretty snowflake cookies the baker had sent up for Elsa – which had been another shock for Kristoff, finding out that everyone in the village apparently knew about what she could do – and then it was lunchtime and he and Adam both received evil looks from the cook for going down to the market until John informed her that it had been his idea and then she’d been all right with it. John and Adam had both rolled their eyes the minute she’d left the dining room, and Kristoff had been hard-pressed not to laugh. They acted very like a pair of brothers, and the servants were obviously close as family to them as well. He was liking the way things were done in this foreign kingdom more and more, and feeling more and more ashamed of himself for acting too quickly in the matter of the ‘magic fruit’ he’d been given. An apology was definitely in order, as well as the conversation he should have had with John Kepperson before deciding to judge him a conniving liar.

Kristoff went back to the office after lunch with the intention of making his apology, but instead of John he found Adam there, doing something with the ledger. The king looked up when Kristoff came in, running a hand through his disordered hair and waving him to a seat. “I hope you weren’t looking for John,” he said. “The quarterly tax came in just before you arrived, so he’s hard at work in the treasury; we won’t be seeing him again until supper.”

Kristoff gingerly settled himself into the chair, which seemed almost too small to a man of his bulk. “He isn’t what I was expecting.”

“John isn’t what most people expect – himself included,” Adam told him. “I don’t know if you realize this, but he hadn’t much more experience than Elsa with the outside world when he rescued her. He was ‘armed’ with a letter opener from his desk,” he held it up, “this one, in fact, and he was going off what he’d read in books or heard someone else say to manage the rest.”

The larger man blanched. “I truly didn’t know.”

“You didn’t want to,” Adam pointed out, but tiredly rather than angrily. “And he certainly expected nothing good to come of this visit, as he’d heard that you and your wife were halfway to believing the rumors.” That got him a blank look. “The ones about our parents never returning to Arendelle because they’d never actually left, because Elsa had killed them with her powers?”

Kristoff grimaced. “Oh, that. I’d heard those rumors, yes. I won’t deny I’d thought it was possible. Not very likely, but possible.” His natural stubbornness rose back up. “You weren’t there, you don’t know what kind of power she has – or what it can do to people.”

Adam tossed himself back in the chair. “I have seen it, actually, on both counts. And in all honesty, she wasn’t at fault for what happened. When John rescued my sister she was a child in a woman’s body who’d spent most of her life locked in a room, too terrified of her own powers – which she did not understand at all to begin with – to interact with anyone because our father had told her not to. Her councilors knew that, and they still tried to kill her.”

“I know many in Arendelle were afraid of her,” Kristoff felt obliged to point out. “She did almost destroy the country.”

“I’m not sure the country didn’t deserve it,” was Adam’s response. “I realize you don’t live in the kingdom yourself, but the place is apparently riddled with corruption. John was raised almost the same way Elsa was, his own mother’s family has never come forward to so much as introduce themselves to him and he knows they live in the kingdom – that marriage was arranged by your former queen, our mother. Of course, the reason they kept their distance was because they’d usurped the family line from him, as his mother was eldest so he was the rightful head of the family by birth. King Sel was considerably less than pleased by that.”

Kristoff grimaced, nodding. “Yes, he would be – my family was of a different line entirely, from farther North, but under the old laws that’s punishable by banishment at the very least. So you met…”

“Yes, another sea king we’d become acquainted with introduced us to King Sel, he took part in confirming me as my father’s successor. He quite likes John, says he’s very like his sea-faring ancestor who was the founding head of that family. My ancestor – and Elsa’s and Anna’s, of course – was a seaman as well. He was the captain of a ship King Sel led to safe harbor in what would become the port of Arendelle, and he founded the kingdom on that spot.” He held up one hand when Kristoff’s mouth opened. “Before you say it, the reason I had to have two kings confirm me as ruler of Valeureux was because our parents made such a tangled mess out of the family lines of succession. I know you must know there’s a certain amount of natural magic involved in a true coronation, and we had to stand on a lot of formality to make mine stick just to Valeureux because by blood I was the heir to both kingdoms.”

Kristoff knew that quite well; at the height of his own coronation, he’d felt like someone had released a geyser inside of him. “Do you know which side of the family the princess’s magic comes from?”

Adam rolled his eyes, privately wondering if that was the reason Kristoff and Anna hadn’t had children yet. “Neither of them. My sister only has ice magic because of the bad fairy – who was a very, very bad fairy in that she was trying to bring about something called Ragnarok,” he was gratified when that word made the other man’s eyes widen with horror, “and she played on our parents’ weaknesses to that end. That sort of power doesn’t run in the family, it doesn’t run in any family.”

“So she isn’t a witch?”

“No, she isn’t. She’s a very sweet, curious princess who’s about to marry a man who loves her more than he loves his own life. Which, sadly, I know to be a fact and not just pretty words. And thanks to him she’s not afraid of the elemental power that was so cruelly made a part of her anymore – which means now she can control it instead of the other way around.” He saw the realization dawn. “Now do you understand?”

Kristoff sighed. “Yes, thank you. I apologize…”

“I’m not the one you need to apologize to.”

“You are, because I insulted your judgment,” Kristoff countered. “I thought you were just ignoring the danger she posed to your kingdom, or that you didn’t understand it. But I’d originally come in here to apologize to Lord Kepperson; I’ll do that as soon as I see him again.”

“That is acceptable to me,” Adam conceded. “Make sure you do it where Elsa can hear you. In fact, I’d advise you not to try to be alone with John…well, at all, for the rest of your visit. She’s very protective of him, as you already found out.”

Kristoff crossed his legs, rather compulsively. “That…wasn’t nice.”

Adam couldn’t help it, he snickered. “No, which is why John told her not to do it anymore after the last time. We encountered some highwaymen on our trip back to Valeureux, Elsa was very surprised by their reaction – a seaman we’d met had told her that was the proper way to ‘discourage’ men who acted inappropriately toward her. You probably should have talked to she and John before trying to kill him, hmm?”

“Yes, I realize that now,” Kristoff admitted. “I did speak to the Troll Council about it before we left, I told them I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation if it turned out to be what I suspected. Their response was to give me the fruit and tell me how I was supposed to use it.”

Somehow Adam didn’t doubt that. “I don’t suppose they said anything about the part they played in helping the bad fairy’s plans along, did they?”

Kristoff shook his head. “I asked about that too, actually – I was there, you see, but I was a child and didn’t really understand what was going on. And after reading over the letter Anna received, I wanted to know the truth. They refused to tell me anything, even my adopted mother; they said it was a great embarrassment and part of the reason it had been decided that their lands should have a human ruler.” He shrugged. “I’m basically a gatekeeper, to be honest. Me being there keeps people from approaching the trolls, and from trying to take their lands. When people come now, they come to the castle first.”

“I can see how that could be necessary,” Adam agreed, nodding. “We have the opposite problem, of course – travelers come wanting to see the infamous Castle of the Beast, and some of them aren’t content to view it from the village. The magistrate has been stopping them when they try to come up, but he wants me to have a gate built at the foot of the road to make that job easier.” He made a face. “Of course, he requested something quite elaborate, plated with gold and inlaid with jewels, so I suspect part of his request is as much about impressing the travelers as it is about discouraging them.”

The other man considered that. “It would be pretty, but the winter wouldn’t be kind to it.”

“That’s what I thought as well – gold is impractical as a building material.” Adam shrugged. “I spoke with the village stonecutter, he says he can make pillars which would match the castle’s stonework, and he was going to speak to the blacksmith for me about sturdy gates which will suit the design. They’re supposed to bring up some drawings for us to look at after the wedding, and estimates of how much it might cost to build.” He smiled. “John’s response to the magistrate’s original request on that score was extremely loud, and it went on for quite some time – here in the office, luckily, rather than to the man’s face. I believe Sir Andrew relayed some of it, though, because the magistrate was much subdued the next time we saw him.”

Kristoff realized something. “The stablemaster told you I was looking for Lord Kepperson this morning, didn’t he?”

Adam nodded again. “Of course he did, Mr. Fabron is quite fond of John. Ever since he and my sister first arrived here, John had made a habit of going out every day to exercise her horse and make sure it was being well cared-for. Not to mention he got me back on a horse again when no one else had been able to.” He did not quite smile. “Elsa named her horse ‘Sven’, by the way, and I’m given to understand that’s all because of your reindeer. She seems to have become quite fond of it in the short time they knew each other, it must be a remarkable animal.”

He managed not to laugh at the look this put on the other man’s face, but it was a near thing.

itlandofea_story-footer

Table of Contents