In the Land of Ever After

In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 42 - A Somewhat Exciting Coronation

Still not nearly as exciting as Adam’s, though.


The Royal Audience Chamber in the Castle of Arendelle was a huge, echoing room with a smoothly laid stone floor and high vaulted ceiling, paneled with fine wood and hung with heavy draperies in strategic places in an attempt to keep back the chill which emanated from the thick stone walls. The two thrones on the step-high dais were of intricately carved cedar inlaid with ivory, gold and gems and cushioned with velvet, and the hangings which backed them were velvet as well and embroidered with gold thread. It was apparent on closer examination that there had once been some sort of stones attached to this embroidery, but they had long since been plucked – and in one place cut – away, and some of the threads were also missing. John had just shaken his head over that particular desecration, saying that was what happened when you stopped paying your staff, and Elsa had sent for the Royal Tailor and tasked him with repairing the damage to the embroidery and mending the fabric where needed. And when he’d refused, saying that task was beneath him, she’d called Jor, requested that a suitable replacement be called in, and summarily fired the Royal Tailor at the same time. The seamstress Jor had found was a seaman’s widow with a young daughter and an even younger son, and she had been overjoyed to be offered the position. And she had also been full of approval for the comfortable cut of her new mistresses gown and the fine workmanship which had gone into its making, which of course had made Elsa very happy with her.

Aside from her satisfaction with the new additions to the castle’s staff, however, Elsa was still quite nervous. Her last coronation ceremony had been unpleasant and frightening! She knew this time it would be different, this time she knew what she was doing and she wasn’t alone, but it was still making her nervous and being nervous caused the baby to make her feel ill. Luckily John had already anticipated that and thought of a solution. He’d taken her down to the audience room before breakfast that morning, waved his hand at the dust- and smoke-grimed, cobwebby ceiling and said, “Do you think a good frost would fix that?” And then he’d stood behind her, his arms around her waist, while she let her frustrations go on the ceiling until it was as pristine as the day the castle had been built. After which she’d called up a briskly cold breeze and swept all of the debris into a pile – scouring the stone floor clean at the same time – then froze the pile into a little block of dirty ice which John was happy to carry out of the room for her and put outside so it could melt. Then he took her for a walk around one of the gardens, and by the time they’d come back inside Elsa was happy and able to eat her breakfast, and therefore their coming baby was also happy and John was able to stop worrying that his wife would become ill during the ceremony while Councilor Erling was trying to crown her.

Not that he would have been very much upset if she’d gotten sick on the man, in fact he’d have found it funny and quite fitting, but Elsa would have been embarrassed and he wanted this to be a happy occasion for her. It wasn’t going to be too happy of an occasion for the disgraced councilor, but Erling was the one who had come crawling to John wanting to apologize and make amends, as apparently going insane or having to exile himself weren’t either one to his liking. John and Elsa and Adam had discussed it and decided that the man might also be hoping to stage some sort of coup during the ceremony itself…but if he did it probably wasn’t going to go well for him, and not just because everyone standing anywhere near him was going to be armed and observing his every twitch and grimace.

They had decided to hold the ceremony just past midday, and the day had happily dawned sunny and bright to accommodate them. Although Adam was definitely finding Arendelle’s idea of ‘sunny’ to be rather strange; just like John had told Claude, a fine spring day in Arendelle was more like a fine winter day in Valeureux. The castle gardens were just starting to show touches of green, and a mist lay over the tall firs which covered the sides of the mountains that rose up behind the massive stone walls. But of course, to Adam’s eyes everything about the Castle of Arendelle was massive. “It’s no wonder you’re not able to heat all of it,” he told John as they were getting ready to go down for the ceremony. “You might as well be trying to heat the town, or the side of a mountain.”

That made John laugh. “It’s not quite as large as that. But you’re right, that is part of the problem with heating it – that’s why we don’t bother with the rooms that aren’t in use.”

“Do you heat the dungeon?”

“No, there’s no need. It’s underground, it’s going to stay about the same temperature in any season except maybe the very deepest parts of the winter.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m counting on you to be able to break us out of there if something goes wrong, you know.”

Adam rolled his eyes. “Nothing is going to go wrong, John. Here, let me straighten your sash, it’s caught on your belt.” John obligingly turned around and let him fix the sash – the same one he’d worn for his wedding, with the gold medallion bearing the image of a branch heavy with apples, the royal seal of Valeureux, affixed to it. His suit this time was black, however, and done in a thick merino wool – the royal tailor had tactfully avoided suggesting velvet, although he’d wanted to – which had been embroidered with the same branch-and-fruit pattern in black and gold thread on its turned-out crimson cuffs and collar. Adam was wearing a suit of identical cut, only with reversed colors and a great deal more gold-thread embroidery, and his sash and boots were lined with black fur. His gold medallion was also larger, and studded with small rubies, and of course he had his crown on as well. He adjusted the sash, and then the sword belt and then the sash again in consequence, letting out a huff of frustration. “I’m missing Lumiere right now. And my coronation was so much less fuss than this.”

John laughed again. “That’s because we had your coronation on a beach, and the other kings involved were both naked as the day they were born. If we’d tried that here I don’t think you’d have liked it much.”

“King Sel lives here,” Adam pointed out. “But yes, you’re probably right. Where’s Claude?”

“Awaiting us in the corridor, and two guards are stationed at the end of it. Kristoff?”

“Downstairs with Anna, looking twice as imposing as we do and he’s not even trying.” Adam knew this because he’d gone down earlier to make sure Captain Dezhnev and his men were admitted and given a place of honor where they could easily see and hear the ceremony. “I saw Councilor Fritjof skulking around whispering to people, and Councilor Erling doing his best to pretend he was too important to speak to anyone, but I didn’t see the former chief councilor. Waiting until everyone is assembled so they’ll all see him being brought up in chains?”

John nodded. “Yes. I feel we’re being extremely lenient otherwise. I even had the guards take down a clean robe for him, so he’ll be dressed for the occasion – he’ll just have manacles as his only ornaments.” He twitched at the sash again, resettling it, then went to the door to his wife’s chambers. “Elsa, are you ready?”

“Almost!” The door opened and Elsa swept out. Her gown was of deep burgundy silk, and it was topped with a black overdress covered with gold embroidery. The gown’s skirt was of a much narrower cut than the ones she usually wore, which had the effect of emphasizing the evidence that a royal baby was well on its way – as did the finely-worked leather belt with its jeweled knives which were the match to John’s fine sword. The ‘almost’ turned out to be the fastening of a necklace she was trying to put on, one of the gifts the seamen’s ghosts had given her, and once Adam had attended to that and John had straightened the knife belt, he stepped back to look and smiled, shaking his head. “You look like quite the barbarian queen today,” he teased. “The worthies of Arendelle will no doubt forget all about the cut of your dress and only speak of whether or not it’s fashionably correct to go armed to your coronation.”

“The queen sets her own fashion, she doesn’t bow to that set by others,” she told him, taking a kiss. “The crowns?”

“The other two guards from Valeureux are watching over them, although I’m told there’s still a line of people trying to get a glimpse.” As well there might be, of course, since the crowns had vanished when the old king and queen had – yet another lucky find from among the hoarded treasures in the bad fairy’s ‘gilded cage’, and proof that the former king and queen of Arendelle had indeed been found and were no longer living.

 

The assemblage of worthies in the royal audience chamber was quite a bit smaller than it had been at Elsa’s first coronation, if not quite so small as the crowd which had attended her wedding to John. This time there was no mingling with the guests, however. John and Elsa and Adam entered the room through the ‘King’s Door’, a little door which was partially concealed behind velvet curtains to one side of the thrones. Kristoff and Anna – who looked twice as pregnant as her sister, for obvious reasons – were standing on one side of the dais with several grim-looking Rock Trolls as guards, and Adam quickly took his own place on the opposite side with two of his own guards and Claude. John gave Elsa his arm and the two of them walked sedately to the front of the dais, and then as the crowd stilled itself into attentiveness he nodded to Councilor Erling that they should begin.

Which did not happen immediately, as that was when two guards led the former Chief Councilor of Arendelle into the room and took him to the place assigned to him. He looked shaken and somewhat unwell, his skin a little too pale and his eyes a little too wide. The richly decorated robes he was wearing only made his broken state more apparent; John had picked out the most ostentatious, elaborate outfit the man owned for the occasion, and so in comparison to the much more sedately dressed royal family he looked more than a little ridiculous.

Councilor Erling was doing his best not to take that spectacle in. He knew Tarben deserved it – he’d known it would probably come to this the moment the fool had tried to use one of the guards’ swords against John Kepperson in their own nicely appointed audience chamber two days earlier and had it slapped out of his stupid hands before being rebuked like a misbehaving child and dragged off to the dungeons to think about what he’d done. Which of course meant Tarben hadn’t been free to burn or hide the evidence of his treason, or even to just try to escape with as much gold as he could carry, and so they’d found it all and decided to thoroughly shame him in front of the very people whose support he’d been courting all these years. Who were also mostly all fools, so maybe it would be a good lesson for them – if any of them had the wit to learn it, that was. He doubted most of them did.

Not that he really cared one way or the other, of course, being much more occupied with his own concerns. Like the burning mark of dishonor hidden beneath his robes. He was doing his best to pretend that it hadn’t happened, even though he knew the guards who had been present had doubtless told as many people as had been willing to listen to them. No one would believe that story unless Erling himself somehow confirmed it, however, which he wasn’t going to do, so he had hope it would be put down to gossip and fade away as other scandals real or imagined came to the fore. In fact, the ridiculous, broken spectacle Tarben was making as he stood there shaking in his overly-fine robes and coarse iron manacles had probably driven it from most people’s minds already – that, and the way the princess was dressed, of course. Not to mention the presence of five well-dressed – not to mention well-armed – Northmen standing proudly in a position of honor at the front of the assembly, as well as the reappearance of the royal crowns which had been lost when King Hector and Queen Astrid had vanished. The golden orb had vanished some time after the disaster that had been their last coronation ceremony, so now all they had were the scepter and the crowns. Doubtless one of the former guests now had the orb sitting on their mantel as an ornament, probably that loud fool of a duke from Waselton.

Erling picked up the velvet pillow the scepter was lying on and held it out to the princess. “Princess Elsa of Arendelle,” he intoned. “Eldest daughter of Hector and Astrid. Are you here to claim the throne of Arendelle, as is your right by birth?”

He watched as she picked it up to see if the gold would grow a layer of frost like it had the last time, and was somewhat disappointed when it didn’t. “I stand before the people of Arendelle to claim the throne,” she said in a clear, strong voice. “I lay my claim to it by birth, as the eldest child of Hector and Astrid born on this soil, my right of inheritance ceded to me by my elder brother, King Adam of Valeureux, with the approval of King Sel, Lord of the Northern Waters and as witnessed by King Triton, Lord of the Southern Waters.”

Erling almost dropped the pillow. Two sea kings? He recovered himself quickly, handing the pillow off to the servant who stood waiting and taking the queen’s crown from the guard who held it – one of the foreign guards, whose bland look did not quite conceal his suspicion. “Your claim is valid,” Erling answered, even though he could hear displeased murmuring from the crowd behind him – there was no way he was going to question her claim and risk having one of the Lords of the Sea show up to validate it in person. She lowered her head and he placed the crown on it, feeling illogically disappointed again when it glowed golden the moment it touched her white-gold hair; it hadn’t done so for her mother, or her father for that matter, although at that time few had noticed and no one of import had cared. He bowed, stepping to one side. “As she holds the scepter and wears the crown, I present to you Queen Elsa of Arendelle.”

A ragged and somewhat surprised cheer went up. Elsa nodded regally to the assembled – she was supposed to bow, but that wasn’t exactly possible for obvious reasons – and Erling took the king’s crown from the second suspicious foreign guard, feeling its weight in his hands as he held it up to the light. “Lord John Kepperson, Comte de Valeureux, son of Sir Jonas Kepperson and Katarina Lorensdottir,” he ground out, ignoring the gasps that went up from people who had been ignoring the gossip and those who were pretending they hadn’t already known of that scandal. “King Adam of Valeureux and King Kristoff of the Rock Trolls have sworn to your valor,” and if King Kristoff had sworn to it any louder they would have heard it in the Danes, “as well as your fitness to rule at Queen Elsa’s side by virtue of your marriage to her in the Kingdom of Valeureux. If you would take this position, kneel.” John at once took a knee – to Elsa, not to him – and Erling handed the crown to his newly-crowned queen with a deep bow he didn’t really mean, ignoring the sharp twinge of rebuke from the mark on his chest. “If Her Majesty would choose this man to share her throne, let her crown him with her own hands before all these witnesses.”

“I choose you, Lord Kepperson,” she said at once, lowering the crown onto his head. “For you have sworn to stand by my side in all things, and to help me save our kingdom from those forces which would see it destroyed or taken…so rise and stand by my side as King John of Arendelle.”

The crown glowed golden as John regained his feet. He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it. “My Queen,” he said. “As I swore to you on our wedding day, we share one heart…and now, one throne.”

This time the cheering was louder and joined by a good deal of clapping as well. Erling resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. Well, at least now he knew how the boy had gotten her to marry him, although where he’d learned to use those sort of pretty words was anyone’s guess – definitely not from his father, that was certain. Something to look into later, perhaps, with an eye toward using evidence of past dalliances to keep their new king from being too disagreeable…he bowed his head to hide his grimace as the mark started to burn a bit more strongly: Lord Sel apparently did not think much of that plan. But of course, Lord Sel wasn’t the one who was going to have to deal with the little upstart and his royal-born witch…

The sudden realization that silence surrounded him brought his head back up and recalled his wandering thoughts, and he found himself facing his new king’s displeased frown. The queen and her brother were also frowning, and several royal guards the same. John rolled his eyes at Erling’s attempt to look confused by this attention. “Really, Councilor, your sour thoughts are all but playing us a tune. I didn’t expect this to be a happy occasion for you, but you were the one who came to me requesting to be allowed to fulfill your duties as you did not wish to exile yourself. Have you changed your mind?”

The double-damned bells, of course. Erling drew himself up. “No, Your Majesty.”

“Are you sure?”

Erling started to say yes, but a twinge from the mark stopped him. “If I choose to leave?”

John shrugged. “Then you gather your possessions and leave today; as I understand it, the burning of your curse will abate once you leave the lands and waters claimed by Arendelle, although the mark itself will remain. But if you choose to stay, you must swear your loyalty to the kingdom here and now, in front of all these witnesses, and that knowing the penalty the curse will inflict upon you if you lie.”

There was that. “Swear to the kingdom, not to yourself?”

The new king shook his head. “Loyalty to the land and the people are your duty, Councilor. Loyalty to a man, whether he is a king or not, must be earned.”

And that was when a most astounding thing happened. The golden glow on the king’s crown, which had been fading, brightened again, and from beneath the man’s feet an answering light spread out across the stones, forming the pattern of a seaman’s star backed by two crossed spears, the Royal Seal of Arendelle. Bells could be heard pealing as well, deep and musical…and to Erling’s ears, accusing. When he looked at John Kepperson he saw a bookkeeper’s unwanted son, a boy who didn’t know his place…but quite obviously the Lords of the Sea saw a king. He took a step back, considering that, then took a knee. “Your Majesties…I choose exile. I know myself as a stubborn man, and slow to change. I would leave with what honor I still possess, rather than stay here and wait for the curse and my own pride to strip it from me.”

“As you choose,” John told him. “You are dismissed from service, Erling, and from our presence. May you have good luck on your travels.”

Erling looked startled by that last sentiment, but he rose to his feet and nodded. “I…thank you, Your Majesty.”

He swept out, but before aught else could be said Captain Dezhnev strode forward to take his place. “Your Majesties, may I present congratulations and all good wishes for your family and the prosperity of your country on behalf of Ivan, Tzar of the Empire of Rasseeyah,” he declared with a very deep, elegant bow. “I bring such gifts as are in my power to give, but I would offer one more in the name of the tzar and in token of our future alliance: You have a message to be delivered, one which must be handled with great care. I would take that message for you – this very day, in fact, as my ship must sail with the tide.”

John nodded slowly. “I would accept that gift,” he said. “Provided the delivering of that message would not endanger yourself and your crew.”

Dezhnev smirked, shaking his head. “No more than any other voyage, Your Majesty. The wild waves are loyal to no man.”

“True,” John agreed. “In that case, Captain, I will accept gladly. This is a message I feel should be delivered without delay.”

“Oh, I agree – as will the tzar.” The captain motioned his men forward, presenting gifts of two pure white fox pelts, a colored glass bottle of warming spirits, a small chest which held spices, and another which contained salt. And then John had Claude fetch the traveling bag prepared for Tarben and very formally gave Dezhnev charge of the manacled ‘message’ which was to be delivered to the Danes.

This exchange provoked something of an outburst from Councilor Fritjof, who up until that point had merely been standing in his place and trying to look knowing and scandalized by turns for the benefit of those watching him. “Your Majesty, you can’t be serious!” John raised an eyebrow at him, and he quailed. “He is…I mean, he was the Chief Councilor of Arendelle! We have ships which can take him to his place of exile…”

“That’s not where he’s going,” was John’s answer. “He considered himself to be in service to the Danes’ High King, so he’s being returned to the High King – and unfortunately, I can’t be sure one of our ships would deliver that message as it needs to be sent.” A rather grim smile. “Don’t forget, thanks to Tarben’s dedication to documenting his own treason, I have a list of everyone who supported his idea that we should hand our country to the Danes in exchange for wealth – which would not have materialized, I hope you realize, once he had Arendelle in his grip.” He switched his focus to the crowd, many of whom were now looking more than a little worried. “Fully half of you should be considered traitors,” he announced plainly. “But we’ll give you a chance to redeem yourselves, because in our travels we’ve seen the terrible follies greed can inspire even in those who should have known better. So we will be watching for you to learn from your mistakes and do better…but if you fail, we won’t hesitate to banish you.”

“If Arendelle is to grow and prosper,” Elsa added, “we must put an end to corruption and petty intrigues. In our travels, we learned that the ways our country has fallen into cause other countries, other rulers, to look on us with disfavor. We must regain the respect of our allies, and prove to our enemies that we are worthy of their respect as well.”

That gained a scattering of applause and even some cheering, and Fritjof made a show of rolling his eyes. Which prompted the same from John. “Captain Dezhnev, we won’t keep you,” he said as though the last remaining councilor wasn’t standing there. “I had hoped to have time to speak with you further before you left port, but I know the tide won’t wait.”

“May the wind be brisk and the waves small,” Elsa said. “And may your next port welcome you with spirits and song.”

Dezhnev looked more than a little surprised by this. “Your Majesty…you know seamen?”

She nodded, touching the necklace at her throat with a sad smile. “I have, Captain. They were fine men, and one of them was a great friend to me.”

He blinked at her…and then swept another elegant bow. “Your Majesty, on my successful return…I would hear the tale of this man, if you care to tell it. Not all who ride the waves are good men, but we honor those who are. And it is now no mystery to me why the Lords of the Sea have given their blessing to your reign.” He nodded to John, who nodded back, and then marched out with his men, taking the pitiful former Chief Councilor of Arendelle with them.

John let the servants know with a wave of his hand that the formalities were over and they should start serving refreshments to the guests, and then he led his wife to her throne and settled her into it, making sure she was comfortable before taking his own seat. Chairs were brought for the rest of their family, including a footstool for Anna, and Elsa sent someone to bring Per and his wife up to join them as well. Other guests approached to offer congratulations or request a later audience, and all were addressed with great politeness.

Fritjof was not entirely sure what to make of this turn of events – most especially since the king and queen had rather blatantly snubbed him and as a result some of the other worthies in attendance were ignoring him as well. But at the same time, he was now the sole remaining councilor in Arendelle and was feeling rather puffed-up about it. Especially when a few people indicated that they thought this meant he was Chief Councilor now. Chief Councilor! Of course, it only made sense. He might not be from one of the old family lines in Arendelle, but he’d served for years and he knew what needed to be done. Not like the new king was going to know those things, the boy had only ever been a bookkeeper, even in far-off Valeureux – Fritjof knew what a comte was, thank you very much, even if the rest of Arendelle didn’t. And the queen was poorly educated, she’d spent most of her life in isolation and apparently at least some time recently in low company. She considered a seaman her friend, really? He was going to have to speak with her about that later, educate her on how a queen should interact with those beneath her station.

Of course, if one of them had thought to do that earlier, this whole situation would never have come about and Arendelle would still have three councilors and the rest of the castle’s staff. He smoothed down his blue velvet robe, making a face. He was going to miss the Royal Tailor…

One of the guards came up to him, offering a slight bow, and murmured that the king and queen wished to speak with him. Fritjof indicated that he was coming and took his leave of the group of people he’d been speaking with; had he bothered to glance back as he left them, his self-confidence might have been somewhat shaken by the knowing looks they were giving each other. But he didn’t look back, and so he strode up to the foot of the dais and bowed with all the confidence of a man who is assured in his own mind that his importance is unimpeachable. “Your Majesties sent for me?” he said.

“We did,” the king told him. “Now that everyone is occupied with wine and gossip, Fritjof, I believe this would be an excellent time for you to slip away.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Fritjof agreed as placidly as he could. He was already being tasked with doing something too important to wait, how exciting! “What does Your Majesty wish me to do?”

“Pack your things,” was the king’s response. “I didn’t see the need to make a spectacle of letting you go during the ceremony, Fritjof, because unlike the other two you didn’t give me a reason to do so. I had even considered waiting until tomorrow, but then one of the servants told me you were under the impression that you were taking Tarben’s place and…well, I couldn’t in good conscience allow you to continue to embarrass yourself that way. We’d like you out of the castle by this evening, and if you need help with your things I’ll ask one of the guards to assist you.”

Fritjof just stared at him. There must be some mistake. “I’m being exiled?”

The king shook his head, giving him a momentary hope…which was just as quickly dashed. “No, you’re just being let go and turned out of the castle. Where you go and what you do after that are up to you.”

“But I’m the only remaining councilor!”

“And you’re one more than we need,” the queen told him. “The kingdom isn’t what it was in my grandfather’s day, you know – trade has fallen off considerably and so has everything else. Not to mention, there need to be a good many changes made in the way we do things, and we simply don’t believe you would be either willing or able to help us with that.”

“We’re giving you the chance to go quietly and with some dignity,” the king said in a low voice. “I’d suggest that you do so, Fritjof.”

And there it was. He could either leave now, letting everyone think he was being sent on some errand…or he could make a fuss and the guards would be called. “But you need my help! Neither of you know how to run this kingdom!”

A few gasps and a sudden cessation of conversation from those guests who were nearer the dais let him know he’d spoken a bit too loudly. The king’s only response was to sigh, taking his wife’s hand. “Your concern for the kingdom is appreciated, but actually, we do – you three are the ones who didn’t. If you decide to remain in Arendelle, you’ll soon see the truth of that.” He raised his free hand to wave over two of the guards. “Please escort the former councilor to his rooms,” he told them when they came hurrying over. “He’s to pack up his things and be out of the castle by sundown. If he needs assistance, one of you can help him.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” the older of the two said, bowing. “Mr. Fritjof?”

Fritjof drew himself up, scowling. “You’ll regret this,” he spat, then turned and stomped out with the guards trailing behind him.

Adam managed to keep his smirk in until no one was looking. “Has he always been that huffy?”

John nodded, smiling himself. “Yes, but only when he wasn’t playing lackey to Tarben. I hope for his sake he’s got enough gold squirreled away to make our former cook feel like taking him in.”

“She’s staying with her cousin right now,” Per put in. “Mother says that’s not a situation likely to last, though – the cousin isn’t any too fond of her – so even if he doesn’t have much gold the woman might still be happy to see him. I suppose if she’s not he could always go with the other one.”

“No, that won’t happen,” John said. “Erling can’t stand him, he’d never agree to travel with him.” He noticed Anna shifting in her chair a bit, one hand on her stomach. “Kicking?”

“Both of them at once,” she confirmed. “If the trolls hadn’t told me it was twins, I’d have known anyway by the two sets of kicks I keep feeling.” She shook an admonishing finger at her brother. “You and your cursed castle!”

Adam chuckled. “It’s the entire kingdom, actually, and quite the opposite – apparently the curse had been holding everything back, so now we’re having an explosion of growth in every area. The farmers in the valley are all very happy about that, and it will help get us re-established in trade over the next few years.”

“I brought that agreement with me,” Kristoff told him. “I didn’t think you’d have time to come to the Rock Kingdom on this visit.”

“I wish I did,” Adam said, taking a drink from his goblet of spiced berry cider – the other guests were having wine, but the royal family was abstaining out of deference to the pregnant women in their midst. “As much as I’d love to see more of this country, though, I don’t want to miss the birth of my heir.”

“We’ll be lucky if they’re all not born the same week,” John teased him. “You’ll be back, though – and then you can bring Belle and the baby with you. I know you’re missing her.”

“Oh, I am,” Adam admitted. “But I wouldn’t have missed your coronation for the world – even if I was afraid it might end up being considerably more exciting than mine was, and not in a good way.”

That made John roll his eyes. “Adam, need I remind you, again, that your coronation was held on a beach with two naked sea kings and a talking lobster?”

Adam just shook his head, smiling into his cider as he thought that he’d certainly have to be sure to mention John’s letter-opener at some point in present company now. After all, Per and Annalie had yet to hear that story…

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