In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 37 - A Stormy Wedding Day

The day dawned with a storm…or is it a gift?


The day of the wedding dawned wet and stormy, with rain lashing down from dark clouds overhead in sheets rather than droplets of water. John would have been at work in his office if he’d been allowed to, but when he’d come down that morning after being awakened by thunder he’d found the office door locked and no one willing to give him the key. In consequence he’d been somewhat sulky at breakfast until Elsa had come down, at which point a kiss was all it had taken to restore most of his good humor. “They did that to me on the day of my wedding,” Charming commiserated with him. “No one would let me do anything. Just be glad Valeureux doesn’t have the custom we do, where you’re not allowed to see your bride at all on your wedding day.”

“Oh, supposedly we do,” Adam said, taking a drink of his tea. “I wasn’t sure at first, because there was a very good reason I didn’t get to see Belle before we were married – they were trying to finish our wedding clothes, we both spent most of the day being fitted. That’s not an issue today, though, and I thought the custom was silly, so when Mrs. Potts told me Elsa had refused to go along with it I told her what I thought and said we wouldn’t be doing it.” Another sip of tea. “You may notice I’m the only person at the table who has burnt toast this morning as well.”

“You can have mine,” John offered, and contrived to be highly offended when everyone sitting within reach of him stopped the plate of toast from being moved. “Stop it, I am not that skinny.”

“I’ll give you credit for actually thinking you’re telling the truth,” Adam told him. “You aren’t, though, and you ought to know it by this point. Now eat your breakfast and then we’ll go find something to do that won’t get us all yelled at. I was going to suggest going out in the garden before it started to rain.”

“It is coming down in buckets right now,” Charming agreed. “Do you often get sudden storms like this?”

“This one was something of a surprise,” Belle said, taking some of her own toast down to her husband. “I’d have sworn it was going to be clear today. But then, we can’t see what’s coming over the mountains until it gets here.”

“Very true,” Kristoff agreed. “This one doesn’t look like it’s going to be blowing itself out any time soon, either. Hopefully the road won’t wash out, or we’ll be out pulling wedding guests out of ditches to entertain ourselves.”

That made Adam snicker. “The villagers wouldn’t know what to think if we did, I’m sure. Hopefully we won’t get that much rain, though.”

 

Breakfast eventually ran its course, and for lack of anything better to do they all went to amuse themselves in the castle’s library as it was about the only large room on the ground floor not taken over by wedding preparations. Nobody really much wanted to while away the entire day reading – not even Belle, much to the wonder of her husband – but once they’d moved the heavy central table to one side the large open space proved to be ideal for playing ninepins. Cinderella settled into a comfortable chair and kept score, as she wasn’t able to bend far enough to throw the ball, and once they’d shown Kristoff and Anna how to play the party became quite lively and stayed that way until Lumiere brought in a light lunch and very pointedly put the table back in its place.

Everyone scattered back upstairs after lunch in order to prepare for the wedding party that evening. John was extremely relieved to finally be back in his room – he was that tired. His protests over random bouts of fussing about his health were in truth mostly for show, part of the plan he and Adam and Cogsworth had come up with to control the rumors both in Valeureux and beyond her borders as well. Because it would just not do to allow word to get around that the future king of Arendelle still wasn’t able to make it through each day without stopping for a nap. He was regaining his strength, just slowly; Mrs. Potts had assured him that he’d be back to normal by spring so long as he didn’t overtax himself, slept when he needed to, and didn’t forget to eat. Although John wasn’t sure when he’d ever have a chance to forget to eat, as everyone else in the castle was doing so very well at remembering it for him. His protests over that were mainly for show too, of course. It might still be a bit strange to him sometimes, but he truly did appreciate the fussing for what it was – proof that he was a much-loved member of the tight-knit family that inhabited the Castle of Valeureux.

He’d just sat down on his bed and was trying to decide if he wanted to take off his boots or just sleep with them on when there was a businesslike knock at his door. John frowned. The servants all knew not to wait for him to call out or come to the door, they would only knock softly to warn him before coming in. So, one of the guests? He hadn’t thought any of them knew where his room was, and no one in the castle would have told them even if they’d asked. Something felt…wrong. “One moment!” he called out, and forced himself to stand back up, straightening his clothing, his frown deepening when he felt a growing warmth in the area of his chest followed by a sensation like a tiny bolt of lightning running over the lines of his Mark. Lord Sel had told him before they’d left the beach that the Mark would warn him of danger or disloyalty…but he’d also done something to dampen that reaction until John had fully regained his strength, telling him that until that time he should rely on Adam and Elsa. And John had agreed that he would do so, as when the Lord of the Northern Seas gives you instructions you could be certain there was good reason to follow them.

Adam and Elsa weren’t here now, though. So he went to the door and opened it, finding a little maid on the other side who he was sure he’d never seen before – and he had seen them all, regularly, because he was the one who paid them. This one was quite young, with pale blue eyes and dark hair just peeking out from beneath her ruffled cap, and she was carrying a small silver tray with a steaming goblet on it. “Compliments of Her Ladyship, my lord,” the girl said, holding out the tray. “She said to drink it all while it’s still hot, as it would help you rest.”

“Of course,” John told her, taking the goblet and ignoring the much stronger bolt of pain from the Mark when his fingers touched the stem. “Please convey my thanks to Her Ladyship for thinking of me, and tell her I shall thank her in person after I’ve had my nap.”

She bobbed a little curtsey, then turned and went back down the hall, and John closed the door. He placed the goblet very carefully on his dressing table, not wanting to spill any of its contents and risk getting the liquid on his skin. It smelled strongly of apples and spice, but there was a cloying note to that scent which was making his eyes feel heavy…he moved away quickly, going to the window and throwing it open, letting the cool, damp air rush in along with a scatter of raindrops and clear some of the spinning which had started in his head. And as he turned back, in the steam rising from the goblet he could have sworn he saw…

Pounding footsteps in the hall betokened his door being thrown open. Adam was there, looking rather wild-eyed. “John?! What…”

“Stay back from that,” John warned him, indicating the goblet. “A girl dressed as one of the maids brought it, but she wasn’t anyone I’d ever seen before – she said ‘Her Ladyship’ sent it, and it would help me rest. Considering that just standing over it made my eyes feel heavy, I don’t think she was talking about having a nice nap. And when I opened the window, I could have sworn I saw the shape of a skull in the rising steam.”

“You did, because I’m seeing it now,” Adam said grimly. He moved into the room, moved John farther away from the dressing table. “My Mark…well, went off I guess you could say, it felt rather like lightning had struck me in the chest and I just knew you were in danger.”

“Mine went off too, when she knocked at the door,” John told him. “And then again stronger when I took the goblet from the tray. I felt I had to take it, though, as I wasn’t sure what might happen if I refused.”

“Good thinking.” Adam started to move closer to the goblet, then stopped. “Wait, is it…shivering?”

John adjusted his glasses, squinting. “Actually, I think it may be melting. I need something…”

I need something,” Adam corrected. He snatched up the towel that was lying on the dressing table and used it to pick up the goblet, which felt far too pliable in his hand. John was already at the window, looking down. “Should we…”

“Nobody’s down there, and it’s just bushes on this side anyway.” They poured the contents out, aiming for the bushes, and then dropped the goblet down after…and were horrified when it dissolved into a puff of foul-looking green-tinted smoke in midair. “What in the world…” Adam pulled John back from the windowsill, noticing that the smaller man was shaking and so was he. “Magic,” he said. His head was spinning, and he slid down to the floor, as did John. Who was leaning against him rather heavily. “Unless I miss my guess…very very bad magic.”

He wasn’t sure how long it took before his head cleared, but Adam didn’t think it had been very long at all because some rain was coming in and he wasn’t all that wet. John was already stirring as well, and Adam hauled him up off the floor and made him sit on the side of the bed. “Well, if that was what happened just from breathing in the steam, I shudder to think what might have happened if you’d actually drank any of it.”

“I probably wouldn’t have woken up again,” John told him. “And as the goblet would have disappeared…no one would ever have known what happened.”

A chill ran up Adam’s spine. “Who would do such a thing?”

“Nobody here.” John shook his head, putting one hand to his temple in a way that Adam hated to see – his friend had done it for weeks following the resolution of their quest, trying to steady his spinning head when dizziness overtook him, and before that every time he’d run afoul of the curse. “But perhaps…someone who wasn’t too pleased about how things worked out. In that lonely northern cove, maybe?”

Adam blanched. “You don’t think…”

“I don’t want to. But no one else has that sort of magic.” John sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m going to take my nap – if the girl is still here somewhere, she’ll doubtless decide the plan worked.” He gave his friend a wan smile. “And it’s not like I don’t need the rest.”

“No, you definitely need it – in fact you look like you need it twice as much now.” Adam hesitated, though. “I need to go warn the servants, and Elsa…but I’m not sure it’s safe to leave you alone, John. She might not be fooled.”

“My lord…oh, Your Highness, I did not know you were here.” Lumiere was standing in the open door, looking more than a little alarmed. “I saw the door open and thought something might be wrong.”

“It very nearly was,” Adam told him grimly, straightening. “Thank goodness you’re here, I didn’t want to leave him alone.”

Lumiere had gotten a good look at John by this point, and that look had him in the room in a flash. “What in ze world…!”

“Someone tried to kill me – or something very like it, anyway,” John told him. “We think it may have been a fairy. A girl dressed like one of the maids brought me a goblet and said ‘Her Ladyship’ had sent it to help me rest.” He couldn’t hold back the shudder. “Considering Adam and I both saw a skull in the steam, and the goblet dissolved into green smoke when we dumped it out the window…I don’t think that was a nap I was meant to wake up from.”

The taller man tipped his chin up, looking into his eyes with a frown. “You did not drink any of it? Or get it on your skin?”

“Neither one of us did,” Adam told him. “This is just from breathing in the steam as we disposed of it – we both ended up on the floor afterwards, I’m not sure for how long. I wonder…” He went back to the window, holding onto the frame tightly as he leaned out over the sill to look down. “Oh dear. Hopefully nobody was overly fond of that bush.”

Lumiere pushed in beside him, looking down, and then pulled his king back from the window and closed it up again. “Zis girl, what did she look like?” he asked John.

John shrugged. “Small, young. She had very light blue eyes and fair skin, and where I could see her hair under her cap it was dark. I’d never seen her before.”

“No, we have no one here who looks like that,” the butler confirmed. “I will warn everyone to be on their guard, Your Majesty,” he told Adam with a short bow. “Quietly, of course. Ze other guests?”

“I doubt one of them would touch Charming or Cinderella,” Adam said. “It was a fairy who set that match up, after all, and she’s already declared herself godmother to the twins they’re going to have. And Anna is with Elsa, I’m sure, so she’s safe.” He had a thought. “Get King Kristoff for me, please, and escort him here, to John’s room. He’s used to dealing with a different kind of magic, but perhaps he’d have some ideas about keeping these types of intruders out of the castle.”

“I will fetch him at once,” Lumiere said. “Sleep,” he told John. “You know you need to rest before ze wedding. I will bring up tea when it is time for you to get up – I will pour it with my own hands and bring it up myself.”

John smiled, and relaxed. “Thank you.”

The butler smiled back, then hurried out of the room. Adam pushed John over on the bed and pulled off one of his boots. “He’s right, you need every second of sleep you can get. I’m not sure you realize this, but the…wedding night festivities can be rather taxing for a man who’s not used to them.”

John kicked at him, which only resulted in the other boot being pulled off. He rolled over onto his back with a sigh. “Lumiere actually took it upon himself to make sure I knew…well, what I was doing,” he said, a faint flush rising up in his cheeks. “He said women don’t expect perfection, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an obligation to try to deliver it.” Adam choked, and he laughed. “I appreciated the advice, believe me. I only had the very vaguest idea about how…that was supposed to be done, and it turned out there was a bit more to it than I’d thought.”

“He gave me the same talk before my wedding night,” Adam told him, settling into the room’s only chair and stretching. “Go on, go to sleep.”

He found the fact that John already had somewhat less than reassuring.

 

When John woke up sometime later, Kristoff had taken Adam’s place. The King of the Rock Trolls was reading a book, but he put it aside when John sat up. “Our brother-in-law is off checking the castle with the steward,” he said. “There’s no sign of the girl, but then, there wouldn’t be. Prince Charming says that in his experience – or rather, his wife’s – fairies like to create servants as-needed through transformation, so the ‘girl’ might have been a mouse or a bird or some other creature she found and changed to suit her purpose. And the bush you poured the contents of the goblet into is dying slowly, right down to the roots by the looks of it.”

John swung his feet off the side of the bed, putting a hand up to his temple when the movement made his head spin. “Dammit. So the plan was to make it look like I’d fallen prey to some sudden illness, which would have slowly killed me over probably a matter of days. Did you have any suggestions for Adam about keeping her out?”

The larger man nodded. “I had a summoning stone with me for emergencies, I called on the trolls. The two who came couldn’t tell for sure who it might have been, because there’s been so much fairy magic done here in the castle already, but they did seal the stones against any more of it being done – not just the castle, but the cliff walls that surround it. The rest of the valley, however…well, just be very careful whenever you leave to go down into the village.” He cleared his throat, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “The trolls were also giggling about fairies not having much love for falling water, so this suddenly-appearing storm may have been a wedding gift from someone.”

“Or possibly a favor to someone else.” John nodded gingerly. “When we go back, I’ll need to make a formal request of you for the trolls to do the same to the castle there, Your Majesty.”

Somewhat to his surprise, the bigger man looked rather discomfited by that. “I’d planned to offer anyway, and I’d rather that you just called me Kristoff,” he said. “We are about to be related, after all. And I’m…I am truly sorry for misjudging you, Lord Kepperson.”

“It’s just John, please.” John waved the apology away. “You’d already apologized, Kristoff, it’s all right. And it’s not like I don’t know why you had suspicions about the situation.” He sighed. “I didn’t have any way to contact you, you know. And the rumors…well, I’d been hearing things that led me to believe you and Anna might have been taken in by some of the nastier rumors, so I didn’t dare come running to the Rock Kingdom that night and risk encountering another bonfire.”

Kristoff winced. “You wouldn’t have, but I don’t blame you for having suspicions either. I’d been keeping my distance from Arendelle, I admit it. I don’t usually understand all the politics, and when I do I’m disgusted. That’s not the way reasonable people go about things.”

“No, it’s not,” John agreed. “I grew up with it, with my father teaching me to recognize the games being played without playing them myself unless I had to, but it’s still disgusting to me too most of the time. Sir Andrew has promised he’ll spend the winter teaching Elsa and I about other countries’ political stratagems, it’s our hope we’ll learn some things that can help us set Arendelle back to rights. I already know what people will expect us to do, of course, but I really don’t want to start off our rule by ordering multiple executions.”

“I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either.” Kristoff made a face. “Although at least Elsa has the means to do it quickly, unlike some others.”

“I wouldn’t allow anyone to ask her to do that,” John told him, shaking his head. “That’s what a hangman is for – or my own sword, if it comes to that.” He raised an eyebrow. “Although if that was a subtle way of trying to ask me who killed the king and queen…well, in all honesty, the person responsible for those deaths is me. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I did cause it to happen – they’re buried so deep in a glacier the sun won’t see their bones for a thousand years. So if you’re looking for a murderer…”

“I wasn’t. And I wouldn’t call you that even if you had done it on purpose,” Kristoff disclaimed. Especially as he knew just how easy it could be to die on a glacier – one wrong step could do it. “Adam said the queen was responsible for your mother’s death. I’d not have been able to hold back from avenging my mother, had that situation belonged to me.”

“Thank you for that,” John said. He moved to stand up, and had to catch onto the bedpost to help maintain his balance; the fact that Kristoff had moved very quickly to catch his arm, and that he did not seem at all surprised to have needed to do so, made John sigh again. “Thank you. He told you?”

“Yes, but he didn’t need to.” Kristoff shrugged. “Once I knew what had happened…well, a man doesn’t shake off nearly freezing to death in the space of a few days, and especially not if he has little chance to rest afterward. The fact that you made it back here still on your own two feet is a feat in itself, it’s the sort of thing they write poems about.”

“Not if I don’t tell them about it,” John said. “Have you seen my boots?”

Kristoff smirked. “I have, but I was told not to give them to you.” He made sure John was steady, then rang the bell. “My instructions were that you were to stay in here until you’d had some tea, and then you were going to be getting ready for the wedding. And as those instructions came from Adam and Elsa…well, I’m obeying them. My kingdom is going to need heirs at some point.”

John chuckled. “I truly did tell her not to do that anymore. Those highwaymen who tried to accost us let out screams so loud and shrill you’d have thought they were being gutted, and after that they just fell on the ground and cried. Poor Elsa was horrified, and then Adam and I had to have a very embarrassing discussion with her about the…delicacy of the male anatomy. I’m afraid she may have utilized that information in the opposite way from what we’d intended, so for that I’m sorry.”

Now that he thought about it, Kristoff realized the man was entirely correct about that – because Elsa’s frost bolt had hit him just hard enough to make him scream, but not enough to actually damage him. “Don’t be,” he said. “I deserved it. I should have talked to you first, and to her, but I didn’t.” He couldn’t help but smirk himself. “And I now have proof of just how much control she’s gained over the power, don’t I?”

That made John laugh out loud, which had the effect of making him sit back down on the bed. “Sadly, yes.”

 

A few hours later, John was back downstairs and so was nearly everyone else, and except for the servants keeping rather more of an eye on him than they had been doing earlier that day it wasn’t readily apparent that anything untoward had happened. A hot bath had taken care of his lingering headache as well as Adam’s, and now he was mingling with the guests who’d come up from the village while waiting not at all impatiently for his bride to make her appearance.

Adam envied him. Unlike at his own wedding, when he’d been nervous and unsure, John seemed calmly certain of himself and his bearing was dignified and regal as befitted both the position he now held and the one he’d eventually go on to assume through his marriage to Elsa. Not that John was doing this on purpose; Adam knew he wasn’t. But John was accustomed to being the person who projected an air of calm competence to reassure the less-certain people around him, and being stuck in a room full of nervous, excited people with a great storm lashing at the walls of the castle to boot had caused his habitual behavior in such situations to kick in. The fact that it was making him seem impressively lordly was merely a side benefit.

Finally someone indicated that the bride was ready, and the guests settled into a more controlled disorder as Adam took his position on the dais, seating himself on the throne he really never had much opportunity to use – if he wanted to speak to someone from the village he usually just rode down and found them, and if they came to speak to him he just took them to the office or one of the studies. He was looking quite impressively kingly himself today in his very rich formal clothing, all crimson velvet and heavily embroidered ebon silk as well as his ruby-studded gold crown, and on her throne beside him Belle was dressed to match in a gown of crimson velvet embroidered with gold and embellished with black silk ribbon, and her gold crown held a single large ruby centered on its central point. There wasn’t going to be an officiant. They’d had a priest in Valeureux once, the very old man who had married Adam and Belle, but he had died not long after and no one had ever taken his place. And the kingdom’s laws did say that both the magistrate and the king had the authority to perform such ceremonies, so Adam had decided to do this one himself.

John had gone to the throne room’s doors and waited for the footmen to open them, looking equally as fine as his king in a suit of ivory silk trimmed with gold braid and crossed by a tasseled crimson sash on which was fastened a heavy gold pendant bearing the royal seal of Valeureux. And then the doors opened and he bowed low as Elsa swept in, and the assembled guests gasped as one. A veil of silver frost fell down over her unbound white-gold hair from a crown of faceted ice crystals, and a bodice of frost and snowflakes cascaded into a full skirt with a rippling hem and snowy train…which was being borne along behind her by pretty white snow-birds which were animate but thankfully not alive. She was every inch the Ice Queen of Arendelle, more elemental goddess than mortal woman, and when John took her hand and kissed the back of it before wordlessly offering to escort her to the foot of her brother’s throne, her smile was warm but her nod was cool and regal.

Adam watched them coming with a lump in his throat; the last time he’d seen his sister look like this she’d just imprisoned the fairy who had tormented them and he’d been a Beast carrying a near-dead John in his arms. Belle took his hand and squeezed reassuringly, and he squeezed back. “Princess Elsa of Arendelle, my sister, and Lord Kepperson, Comte de Valeureux, why have you come before me this day?”

Elsa’s chin lifted. “To claim the boon which was promised to me twice, Your Majesty, my brother – once on the finding of our parents, and once again at your coronation.”

“Yes.” Adam nodded. “You requested of me that you be allowed to marry your true love, the Comte de Valeureux, and my permission was seconded and confirmed by two powerful sea kings. My decision stands that he is the only man I know whom I would trust to take your hand…and to ascend the throne of Arendelle as king to your queen.” He turned his attention to John. “Lord Kepperson, are you in agreement with this arrangement?”

John bowed. “My king, I would give my life for your sister’s happiness, both willingly and gladly.”

“And the throne?”

“I have promised to stand by her side in all things, and sworn with her to return glory and honor to our homeland before the founder of our natal country: King Sel, Lord of the Northern Waters.”

Outside thunder cracked and a great shower of lighting flashed across the clouds, and it was all Adam could do not to smile; the trolls had been right, someone was very obviously doing King Sel a favor with the timing of this fairy-defying storm – he would further consider the warning implicit in this ‘gift’ after the festivities were over. He stood up and walked to the edge of the dais, and Cogsworth stepped forward bearing a cloth-of-gold pillow on which lay a cord formed from crimson and burgundy ribbons braided together with gold thread to symbolize the joining of Valeureux and Arendelle. “Very well, as all are still in agreement, my promise to my sister stands. Hold out your hands that I may join you as man and wife, lord and lady…and someday, king and queen of the kingdom whose throne I ceded to you, my sister: the Kingdom of Arendelle.”

That wrung another gasp from the guests. John and Elsa held out their still-clasped hands, but when Adam lifted the cord from the pillow Elsa pulled their hands back; her brother was startled and it showed, and John paled slightly. “No,” she said in a clear voice. “Not yet.” She turned to John, letting go of his hand; another gasp went up. “You would marry the Ice Queen because this was the guise I chose to appear in this day, and you know it to be merely that, a guise, a pretty costume which embodies my acceptance of the deadly power which was forced upon me at my birth. But it is not the Ice Queen who loves you: it is Elsa of Arendelle.” The dress of snow and frost shivered into nothingness, the snow-birds became a flurry and disappeared, and the crown of ice shattered into a shower of melting stars against her hair…leaving her standing before him in a court dress of gold-embroidered ivory silk with an underskirt of burgundy velvet, a plain gold crown on her head…and around her throat, a white velvet ribbon from which depended a dainty silver snowflake centered on a polished white stone. “The woman you gave everything you’d ever known to save, the woman you never failed to protect even when it meant offering your life…the woman who would have given herself over to the power of Ragnarok had you not survived.” She dropped a deep, obeisant curtsey, looking up into his eyes. “Will you marry me, my lord? Will you share my heart and my throne?”

There were tears in John’s eyes, and for a moment Adam was somewhat worried they might have another fainting incident; out of the corner of his eye he could see Cogsworth readying himself to move quickly and realized he wasn’t the only one. It didn’t happen, though. John held out his hands to his princess and lifted her to her feet, his eyes never leaving hers. “My lady, we share one heart. And as to the throne, I swore to return you to it and that promise shall be kept. I will not leave your side unless death takes me.”

The cord Adam was holding glowed faintly golden; he quickly wrapped it around their joined hands. “As the King of Valeureux, I pronounce you joined in marriage. And I present you to these witnesses as Lord Kepperson and Princess Elsa, Comte and Comtesse de Valeureux, with all good wishes for your future life and happiness together.”

The cheer that went up from the guests was nearly deafening, and Adam took the opportunity to swipe at one leaking eye when John leaned in to kiss his bride. The round frost pattern he could see beneath their feet feet sparkled briefly golden as well and then faded and vanished, and he just stopped himself from shivering. In spite of his sister’s words, it was apparent that the power of Ragnarok, the frozen magical heart of the Ice Queen, had accepted John’s promise as well.

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