In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 35 - More Wedding Visitors

More visitors are coming…but not all of them were expected.

The next time the village bell was heard pealing, indicating that someone was coming up to the castle, Adam was closest to the front door so he pushed it open himself and went out to meet whomever it was before anyone else could get there. He smiled broadly when the pretty coach from Asher drew up by the fountain; he could see Charming inside, and Cinderella, and someone else he assumed was probably her maid. He moved to the carriage door when one of the stableboys opened it, prepared to give Cinderella his hand out…and then his eyes rounded and he offered her both hands instead to make her descent from the carriage as easy as possible. “Princess Cinderella, I do apologize. I told your husband practice makes perfect, but I had no idea he was such a perfectionist as this.”

“You have no idea,” Cinderella told him, holding on to his arm so the other occupants of the carriage could get out. She was wearing another pretty blue dress, this one in a very soft, warm velvet and cut in a comfortable loose style to accommodate the king of Asher’s very obviously coming future grandchild. She put her hand on the large bump. “It’s twins. The king is over the moon, of course, and between he and the servants fussing I fear I’m becoming the most spoiled thing in the world.”

Charming had handed the other woman out, and he came to his wife’s side and kissed her cheek. “You deserve to be, darling. She’s the most patient creature on earth,” he told Adam, accepting and returning the congratulatory hug. “Father has redecorated the nursery twice already, and he talks about nothing but babies – luckily most of our trading partners are grandparents themselves, so they don’t have a problem indulging him. Although we’re already being drowned in baby presents. And speaking of presents…” He took the arm of the woman who had been in the carriage and gently drew her forward, pulling down the hood she’d pulled up to hide her face. “Brought you something I believe you’ve been looking for?”

All of the color drained out of Adam’s face. She was thinner, and paler, and her chestnut hair was pulled back in a very plain knot, but…“Belle?”

Belle dropped to her knees. “My lord…” She couldn’t meet his eyes, she just couldn’t. She’d hurt him so very badly…

And then the shared feeling from the curse went from shocked recognition to something painful as broken glass…and he was lifting her to her feet and she had to look. His eyes were full of tears; his hands where they clasped her shoulders were shaking, and his grip was as tender as though he were holding a newborn babe. “Belle…oh god, are you all right? You’re not…she didn’t hurt you?”

He knew about the fairy? Belle shook her head, and Adam immediately pulled her into an embrace that came with a flood of feeling so strong she gasped. Love, it was love. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed for the pain of it, not just the shared feeling but also the knowledge that it had always been there. “I didn’t…I thought you wouldn’t want…”

“You’re my wife, of course I want you. I’ve…I’ve missed you so much, Belle.” He looked up, blinking away tears. “Charming, I don’t know what to say. Where…”

“She was on the road we started off on, her horse had picked up a stone.” Charming was not entirely dry-eyed himself. “Once I realized who she was, I knew she had to come with us.” He smiled. “After all, you returned my bride to me.”

“And look what you did to her,” Adam admonished with a watery chuckle. He swept the rest of the tears away with the back of his hand, still keeping a tight hold on his Belle as though he were afraid something would snatch her away from him. “Shall we go inside? You’ll want to freshen up, I’m sure, after such a long trip.”

“Yes, and we must pay our respects to the bride and groom…” Elsa appeared on the steps, John close beside her, and he blinked. “My god, Adam, he’s…surely you’ve been forbidden from taking him on any more quests after this!”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it – Mrs. Potts didn’t speak to me for the first three days we were back, and she all but burst into tears every time someone said his name.”

Belle turned in his hold to see what they were talking about, and her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my god, what happened to John?!”

“A bad fairy and an over-long trip home,” Adam told her. “He’s fine, really.” He waved his openmouthed sister down. “Look who they found on the road!”

“BELLE!” Elsa rushed down to hug her, much to Belle’s surprise. “Oh Belle, you’re back! Are you all right? Did she hurt you?”

“No, she didn’t.” Belle accepted the hug with complete astonishment; this she hadn’t expected. “She took me away so the curse could be broken.” She drew back and looked back and forth between Adam and Elsa. “So you really are brother and sister?”

“We really are,” Adam confirmed. “And Elsa’s little sister Anna as well. She and her husband are already here.”

John had followed his princess down the steps, albeit rather more slowly. He had already bowed to Charming and Cinderella, but his bow to Belle was deeper, less a matter of greeting and more of fealty. “Your Majesty, welcome home.”

Belle was confused. “Wait, I…”

“We found my father and he’s dead, so I’m officially the King of Valeureux,” Adam told her, just a bit unsteadily. He raised an uncertain hand to touch her hair. “Which means you’re my queen?”

Belle’s response to this was to fling herself back into his arms. She felt the wavering knot of uncertainty dissolve, felt his confidence return…felt his happiness wash over her in a warm, gentle wave. Please, she begged silently, please, let me keep this part of the curse. I never want to hurt him again

“Granted,” a kindly voice said through the whoosh of a wand-trail of sparkles, and Adam’s arms tightened around Belle so much it was a wonder she could breathe. “Oh let go of her before you squeeze her in two, dear boy – she had to break the curse herself, I just put her in a place where she could do that. She may not have known it, but she was completely safe the entire time.”

Adam sucked in a breath…and bowed. “Then I thank you, Good Fairy, for returning my wife to me.”

The fairy smiled and pinched his cheek. “She did that herself. And no blame for you or your sister from any of us for what happened in that northern cove; Marguerite was never quite right in the head to begin with, and she had done some terrible, terrible things when the rest of us weren’t looking. A long nap will do her good.” She extracted Belle from his grasp, looking her up and down. “Well, the poor things did try, didn’t they?” she observed. “Not suitable for a queen returning to her kingdom, though.” The wand swished, a shower of sparkles rained down, and Belle gasped as her rather plain gown became a sumptuous creation of embroidered silk which perfectly matched the suit Adam was currently wearing, while her hair was caught back by jeweled clips to fall in a cascade of perfect curls. “There, better.”

Elsa clapped her hands at that, and the fairy turned to look at her; John immediately moved closer, although he did bow rather nervously. To his very great relief, the fairy merely nodded at him before looking Elsa up and down the way she had Belle. “Oh my, that’s pretty.” She used her wand to lift a translucent silken petal of the overskirt. “I shall have to remember this style; we’ve a princess coming up in one of the southern countries who would look just beautiful in it. Spin around for me, dear? I want to see how it moves.” Elsa obliged, and this time it was the fairy who clapped. “Oh yes, that will be perfect! She’s a graceful girl, but she moves very quickly and this skirt will move with her instead of hindering her. Thank you, child. Now, Cinderella…”

The fairy turned around…and her eyes widened. Cinderella blushed a very fetching rose color. “The…royal physician says it’s twins, Godmother.”

“And for a wonder, he’s actually right,” the fairy told her. She raised an exasperated eyebrow at Charming, who was looking rather worried himself now. “You know, I’d set a threshold on…that so she’d have time to settle in before this happened. You’re not a rabbit, boy! I know you love her, but show a little restraint.”

Charming turned bright red, and Cinderella blushed even harder. “Um, Godmother…that wasn’t entirely his fault.”

Her godmother looked at her for a long moment, and then she broke into a laugh and gave the very pregnant princess a hug, kissing her forehead. “Of course it wasn’t, dear, of course it wasn’t. And I’ll come to the christening for these little angels; with all the trouble twins can get into, they’ll need a fairy godmother even more than you did. Now go get those feet up! King Adam has a lovely garden you can sit in, and a servant who is very well trained in taking care of women who are with child.” And then she swished her wand over her head and vanished, a rain of tiny star-shaped sparkles cascading down in her wake and leaving a faint smell of lilies and lavender behind.

Belle looked up at Adam, who had put his arm back around her. “Annette?”

He nodded. “Number three, well on its way.”

“Is he trying to repopulate the kingdom?”

“He won’t confirm or deny it, but John and I think so, yes.” Adam smiled at Charming and waved toward the steps. “Come on, we’ll all retire to the garden while the servants take everything up to your rooms. It’s a lovely day to have tea outside.”

He preceded them up the stairs, keeping his arm around Belle. He knew she was nervous, and he knew why…but he’d also made sure that all the servants knew there really had been a curse. Cogsworth met them in the entryway, his mouth dropping open when he saw Belle. “I…” And then he bowed, deeply, the way John had. “Your Majesty, oh my goodness, you’ve returned! That would explain what just happened upstairs.” Adam raised an eyebrow. “There was a great spray of magic, frightened one of the maids half out of her wits. The queen’s rooms have apparently been…redecorated in honor of her homecoming, Your Majesty.”

Adam smiled. “I’m sure we’ve the good fairy to thank for that, Sir Andrew; she was just outside. And she admitted to being the one who whisked Belle away before, to facilitate the breaking of the curse.”

“Oh thank goodness.” He bowed again, to their guests this time. “Prince Charming, Princess Cinderella, welcome to the Castle of Valeureux. I am Sir Andrew, the Royal Steward, and if you’ve need of anything while you’re here you have only to ask. Shall I have someone take you to your rooms?”

“We’re going out to the garden for tea first,” Adam told him. “Have Lumiere bring a footstool, please? The princess needs to put her feet up.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“I’ll see everyone out to the garden, Sir Andrew,” John told him. “I know you’ll need to be letting the rest of the staff know that the queen is back.”

He’d cast a pointed look in the direction of the kitchens, and Cogsworth swallowed and nodded quickly. “Yes, you’re right, of course. Thank you, Lord Kepperson. I’ll have tea sent out.”

He bustled off, making a beeline for the kitchens, and John took Elsa’s arm. “It’s just this way.” He led everyone to a pair of filigreed doors, and out through them into a pretty round garden fenced in by low rock walls and tall evergreens, beyond which the craggy rock walls of the mountains climbed skyward in stark splendor. There were seats here, comfortable ones arranged around a little tiled portico – Adam hadn’t been willing to let go of the idea of recreating the pretty tiled courtyard from his parents’ gilded cage of a palace – and the autumn garden was awash in color all around it. Several small trees with gold-coin leaves and white bark whispered in the light breeze, and here and there bushes bore clusters of bright crimson berries. Lumiere came hurrying out just a few moments after they’d settled in, bringing a plump footstool which he very solicitously tucked under Cinderella’s feet, smiling when she sighed in pleasure. And then he bowed to Belle. “Your Majesty, it iz a great pleasure to have you back. Our king, he has been lost without his one true love.”

He whisked out again while Adam was still blushing, smiling to himself. He’d no doubt Lady Belle had needed to hear that.


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