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A Beloved King and Queen

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Her cry wakes them. The nursery is just across the hall from the royal bedchamber, and the sudden, loud wail jerks Arianna into awakeness. Something is wrong. She knows her child, and that cry was not a hungry cry, or a wet cry, or any sort of cry she had heard from Apolla before. Something is wrong.

Scrambling out of bed, she darted across the hall as fast as her legs could take her, sensing more than hearing Frederic half a step behind her. Skidding through the nursery door, she froze at the sight before her: An old woman, older than anyone Arianna had ever seen, crouched on the balcony railing. Her face was fixed in a dark scowl, and she clutched the wailing bundle that was Arianna’s miracle baby to her chest. Before either Arianna or Frederic could move, there was a woosh of air and the woman vanished as suddenly as though she had never been there – And the baby too.

“No!” Finally able to move again, Arianna staggered forward, shoving her way past the half-open balcony door.

She ran all the way to the edge of the balcony, the railing upon which she had seen her darling daughter. (She would have toppled over it if not for Frederic’s strong arms wrapping around her waist.)

“No!” Her scream tore through the tranquil silence of the sleeping town. Lights appeared in every window, voices filling the night as they tried to identify the source of that horrible cry.

“No! Apolla! Apolla!” Arianna squirmed against her husband’s hold, sobbing desperately as she struggled despite the futility of her resistance. “My Apolla, my baby!”

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Frederic was on his knees at the foot of the dais. His head was bowed, as though in prayer. (But that wasn’t right, Coronans didn’t lower their heads to pray. They turned their faces upwards, towards the Light). The hall was deathly silent as Arianna made her way to stand behind him.

The pillow upon the pedestal nearly shouted with its lack of occupancy. The absence of the crown that had so long rested there seemed to suck all the air out of the chapel.

It was empty. Just as she was. Empty, hollow, barren. Devoid of substance, a shell of where life had once been. Like her.

Her chest ached with that emptiness as she stared at where her baby’s tiara had been until less than an hour ago. Coming to a stop behind her husband, she rested her hands upon his shoulders. Her hands trembled, but it was disguised by Frederic’s shaking. (He made no sound. After all these years of loss and pain, they were both masters of crying silently).

Arianna felt the tears burning at the back of her eyes, but she kept her head erect and refused to let them fall. Not now, she ordered them, there will be time for you later. First, we find this burglar and see him punished.

“Do you know who stole it?” Her voice rung through the utter stillness and silence, but she didn’t look away from the empty dais.

“Ye-Yes, Your Majesty.” The guard who responded was wringing his hands – Anxiety, or guilt, or both. She guessed he had been one of the guards on duty. His nose was red. In this heat, he must have allergies. In other circumstances, she would have ushered him off to the physician right away. “I…I got a good look at him. It was Flynn Rider, Your Grace.”

Flynn Rider. Arianna had heard that name before, if only in brief mentions. A petty thief, from what she’d heard, of little consequence. Well, formerly. Now, he was the second most wanted criminal in the kingdom, lower only than the Kidnapper of the Lost Princess.

“Are there searches out yet?” she demanded.

“Of course, my lady. The Captain of the Guards is already in pursuit with a team of men.”

Arianna nodded slowly. Rupert had been in the service of the royal family for a long time, and was staunchly loyal. He would do all he could to return their daughter’s stolen crown to them. She was surprised by how little emotion she felt at this theft. Shock, she supposed, the pain would come later. She was so tired of sorrow and tears. What she wanted now was justice.

“Good. Ride out yourself and join the search party, will you? Tell the Captain that we want Rider captured alive.”

The guard nodded, saluting as he left the room.

“We haven’t found the Kidnapper,” she whispered to her beloved, “But this Rider will pay, my heart. He took all we had left of our baby, and he will die for it.”

Chapter Text

Their daughter is eighteen years old today. The palace should be filled with her joy and laughter, her parents showering gifts upon their beloved child. Instead, the halls were full of silence, and the heartache of its inhabitants. Where was her daughter now, Arianna wondered. Did she know it was her birthday? Did she know how much she was loved? What did she look like now? What sort of things did she like? All these questions spinning around her mind, all these things she did not know, all these long, long years without her darling Apolla.

Beyond the palace, down in the village, the people of Corona would be going about their mornings, getting ready for the big party. Apolla's birth happened to fall on the same day as an ancient Coronian holiday. Frederic had told her, back then, that it was a sign of good fortune. That the Light would always be watching over their child. Where had that good fortune been when Apolla was snatched out of her cradle? No deity had protected her then, no divine guidance had intervened to keep her in the arms of her loving parents. Instead, she had vanished without a trace into the night.

Their people had turned the day to one of celebration, of hope and joy and love. Arianna was happy for them, that they were able to remain so hopeful and joyous, but to her and her beloved, it was a day of remembering and missing and clinging to hope. It was hard to keep going, to remain strong in the face of all this pain. But she had no choice. If she didn't, who would? It was up to her to keep hope alive, for her husband and her people, lest they all sink into despair.

Standing in the doorway of Frederic's study, she leaned against the doorframe and observed him a moment. You could learn a lot about people, she had learned, by watching them when they didn't know they were being watched. Frederic was looking at something on his desk, tired blue eyes seeing but not really comprehending. He might be looking at something, but his mind was far away -- With their daughter, wherever she was. His hair and beard were graying, the toll of these eighteen years making itself plain on his features.

He lifted his quill, held it poised above the paper for a moment, then slowly sat it back down. Trying to bury himself in his work, but not quite succeeding. Heaving a sigh, he pushed the paper away and propped his elbows upon the desk to put his face in his hands.

"Freddy," Arianna murmured softly, hating how her beloved was hurting and she could do nothing to help. They were utterly helpless in the face of this pain. Frederic glanced up and saw her, and she watched his expression shift. Pain and sadness were easier to bear when you didn't have to bear them on your own.

"Darling," he greeted, and held his hands out. Accepting his invitation, she stepped into the study proper. The door clicked softly shut behind her as she walked around the desk and perched on her husband's knee. They had often sat like this, years ago, when they were younger and things seemed less complicated. She used to sit on his knees as he did paperwork for his father, offering comments and suggestions.

She rested her head against his chest. She could hear his heart and feel his breathing. For a moment, she could simply focus on that.

"She'll come home, my heart. I know she will. I can feel it in my gut."

"Your gut is sure?" he replied, teasing faint in his voice.

"I guess you can call it mother's intuition," Arianna murmured, "I know she'll come back to us. All we have to do is wait."

And so they stayed. King and queen, husband and wife, father and mother. Holding tight to each other, and waiting.