Chapter 1: The Spirit of This Great London
Chapter One: The Spirit of This Great London
It was a dark and stormy tea time. Dark, because Belle was lying on her bunk in the Phryne's stateroom, and stormy because the sea between La Rochelle and London seemed determined to toss the frigate between waves like a child tosses a ball. Not two hours out of port, Belle had stumbled back to the stateroom she shared with Adam, Lumiere, and Plumette, and curled up in a ball beneath her blankets. I will not be sick, I will not be sick...
“Go away, I'm dying.”
“People don't generally die of seasickness, my love.” Adam settled down on the edge of the bunk and rested a hand on Belle's hip. “Can I get you anything?”
Belle looked up at her husband. “If I die, tell Lumiere I appreciated his dinner shows a lot more than I've ever let on.”
Adam laughed. “You can tell him yourself. Here, try this.”
He held out a little muslin bag; inside nestled a pile of candied ginger. Belle took one and raised her eyebrows at Adam.
“What's this supposed to do?”
“Settle your stomach. Cogsworth gave it to me, just in case. Somehow I think he suspected that I would be more prone to seasickness than you.”
Belle popped the candied ginger into her mouth and chewed. The ginger was sharp, though mellowed by its sugar coating, and after a few minutes, Belle began to feel her innards unclench. She reached out and took the little muslin bag from Adam.
“This is mine now,” she said, and Adam laughed again.
“As long as you aren't sick all over the place, be my guest,” he said, and dropped a kiss onto her cheek. “If worse comes to worst, I'll ask the captain if we can make up a bed on deck for you. Fresh air helps, too.”
“Why are you so smart?” Belle twisted around until she could lay her head in Adam's lap.
“Because I had many years as a hideous creature to spend reading all sorts of books in the library. You could say that I've acquired an eclectic collection of random facts.”
“And what do those facts say about England?”
“That it rains a lot, and the food is terrible. Best be prepared.”
Belle snuggled down, sliding her arm around his waist, and let her eyes close. Her stomach still hurt, but between the ginger and Adam's hands rubbing her back, she thought she could bear it. England. Three days at sea between La Rochelle and London to reach the country of Adam's mother, where they would spend two months visiting Adam's English family.
The letters had begun to come almost immediately after the curse ended. Not from Adam's English family-they had been out of contact for years, he had explained-but from Adam's former and most beloved tutor, Dr. Henry Vane of New College, Oxford.
“My dear Prince,” he had written, “for some reason that I cannot fathom, I have gone this year and a half without writing to you. Thoughts of you entered my head during Chapel last night, and I could not rest until I had written.”
Adam had never had a letter addressed to himself from Dr. Vane. The professor had always written to Cogsworth, knowing that Adam's father would not approve of a tutor who had been sacked writing to his former pupil. He had read the letter with delight. Vane was formal and kind and witty, all at once, and Adam had sat down immediately to reply.
My dear Dr. Vane,
Forgive me for not writing to you all these years. I was less than an ideal prince after you left us, despite your many excellent teachings, but having recently recovered from a long illness, I have come to re-evaluate my life and desires, and was summoning the courage to write to you, to thank you for all that you taught me, when your own letter arrived. I must thank you, too, for the poetry compendium you gifted me with: it has seen me through many dark days.
My dear doctor, I am engaged to be married! The lady is Mademoiselle Isabelle Cora Durant de Villeneuve, commonly called Belle, and the wedding is set for September the 14th. I hope that you will be able to attend, if the university can spare you. Please know that there will always be a place for you at the Chateau de Courcy, should you ever tire of Oxford or wish to travel.
I am most faithfully yours, Adam.
The idea of a long illness to explain Adam's absence from the world had been Belle's idea. The curse had lasted a little more than fifteen months, from March to June, and in the days following its end, many curious letters had arrived at the castle, as courtiers all over France had written to Adam, wondering why they hadn't not seen him in so long.
“It's not quite a lie,” Belle had said. “After all, you could hardly breathe when we met, remember?”
“I've hardly been able to breathe most of my life,” Adam had replied, but ultimately agreed to the excuse, and so that was the story they had spread about. Only the villagers knew about the curse.
Due to inescapable university duties, Vane had been unable to attend the September wedding, but He had sent a beautiful volume of Elizabethan sonnets to the couple, along with his best wishes for their future. The letters between him and Adam had continued, the two men renewing their friendship, for the year since the wedding. And now finally, it was September again, and Belle and Adam were on their way to England, to see Vane, and to see Adam's English family.
Belle was intrigued by the notion of Adam's other family. They had never met, ever, he had explained, at least, not since his mother's funeral. After Maria-Eleanor had died, contact between her people and her son had dried up. Adam had tried to keep up the correspondence at first, but ultimately his father had bullied him out of it.
“He asked why they would want to hear from me, when I was simply an unknown relation to them,” Adam had told Belle, and she had fumed.
As it had with Dr. Vane, a letter from Lord Tristan Streatfield, Earl of Buxton, had arrived in the days following the curse. Another had come immediately after the first, from Lady Efra Streatfield, the dowager countess and Adam's grandmother. Both letters were effusive in their kindness, and though neither party could attend the wedding, the offer to visit them in England had been made almost immediately.
If they could just survive this interminable sea voyage, Belle thought. Only Adam's stomach was strong enough to endure this. Lumiere and Plumette were bedridden in their cabin next door, and their supply of candied ginger was rapidly diminishing. Curse her desire for adventure. We should have used the Atlas.
“This isn't even a fun enforced stay in bed,” she lamented to Adam the second night.
“Since when has staying in bed been fun?” Adam replied. He was settled next to her, leaning against the pillows with a book in hand, unperturbed by the way the ship rolled.
Belle glowered, chewing more ginger. At this rate, she was going to taste of the root, herself. “I thought it would be fun,” she said, slowly and clearly, “to make love to you at sea. A new way of doing things, you know.”
Adam's eyebrows rose nearly to his hair. “My dear Belle, sex at sea is perhaps the last thing we should indulge in. Have you any idea how thin these walls are? I can hear every retch Plumette makes.”
Belle sniffed. “Like that's ever stopped us before.”
Adam sighed reminiscently. “I know. But believe me, in these seas we'd do ourselves an injury.”
As if to prove his point, the ship gave a particularly violent roll. Belle ducked under the blankets and groaned.
“If I die, tell Cogsworth that I was the one who dropped all of those files and undid his hard work. Tell him I'm sorry.”
Adam settled back against the pillows, smirking. “Anything else? At this rate I'll be confessing to the staff for a week. I still may tell Cadenza that it was you who hid the sheet music that he was obsessed with.”
“You didn't like that song, either,” came Belle's muffled voice. “It's in the library, hidden with the cookery books. I thought it would be the last place he'd look.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “And here I thought you were such a saint when I married you.”
By the early afternoon of the third day they were nearly to the port of London, and the seas had calmed enough that the group was able to assemble above decks. Adam surveyed his family, all of them pale and shaky, as they sat in chairs on the deck, holding mugs of hot beef broth.
“A fine group of adventurers we make,” he said.
“Never again,” Lumiere said. “Invent something to fly us back to France, Belle, because I cannot bear the thought of returning via sea.”
“Come now, it wasn't that bad,” Adam said. “Smell that fresh sea air! Breathe it in, Lumiere, and feel yourself become whole.”
He drew in a deep breath, as the others stared at him.
“Yes, ma princesse?”
“Smack him for me.”
Plumette swatted at Adam, who submitted to the smack on the arm with a grin. Belle rolled her eyes. He really was incorrigible.
London, when they finally landed, proved to be liberally wrapped in fog, its houses and churches rising like ghosts through the mist. Cogsworth had written ahead and arranged a ferry to meet the travelers at the dock, and they were conveyed via the river to their hotel. Cogsworth had really outdone himself, Belle thought, as they walked up the dock to the hotel doors. The building was grand, looking rather like some aristocrat's Paris townhouse. The hotelier greeted them at the door, and led them to a suite of fine rooms on the first floor, overlooking the river and the buildings beyond it.
“I hope you will find your accommodations agreeable, your highnesses,” he said, bowing Belle and Adam into their room. “Will you be joining us in the dining room for dinner, or would you prefer to eat in your rooms?”
Adam and Lumiere, each holding the arm of a still pale and shaky woman, looked at each other.
“We'll eat up here, if you please,” Adam said, bowing to the gentleman. “The seas were quite rough and an early night is what we all need.”
“Very good, your highness,” the hotelier said, bowing back. “Shall I have tea brought up?”
“Yes, please,” Belle said. “Thank you, Mr. Rowling.”
Left alone at last, Belle and Adam surveyed their quarters. It had been decided that due to Adam not knowing his English family, it would be more comfortable for everyone involved if the French travelers stayed in hired rooms. Belle grinned. When Cogsworth had said “hired rooms”, she had pictured something quite closer to the boarding houses she had grown up in. She should have known that he would arrange for them to stay in the lap of luxury. The suite was small, but comfortable and well-appointed. A sitting room set with a sofa and a couple of chairs led to the bedrooms, one large for the master and mistress, with a smaller one for the servants. The porters from the Phryne had deposited the group's luggage against one wall, four trunks made of fine walnut.
“Parfait. Lumiere, my love, I'll let you take care of our luggage,” Plumette said. “I want my bed, my nice soft bed on nice firm ground. Do you need my help, ma princesse?”
“Thanks, Plumette, but go to bed. I can get out of my stays myself. Adam?”
“Yes, my dear?”
“Help Lumiere with the luggage.”
Two ladies tottered to their bedrooms, and two doors shut with finality. Adam and Lumiere looked at each other.
“They're very bossy,” Adam remarked.
“Ah, but we wouldn't have them any other way,” Lumiere replied, and Adam, laughing, had to agree.
Morning saw Belle up long before anyone else. Her seasickness had vanished after a long sleep in a good bed, and she was once again ready for adventure. England. They had talked for so long about making this trip to meet the family Adam had only ever exchanged letters with. And Dr. Vane. Belle knew that Adam was far more excited to see Dr. Vane than he was about meeting his mother's people. She looked at him, sprawled in bed with both arms stretched overhead. She hoped that he wouldn't retreat into stuffy arrogant shyness when they went to his family's London house later, but it was always a toss-up. Most of the time, Belle was able to reign him in. But Adam had not had a good experience with family the first time around, and Belle could only hope that she, Lumiere, and Plumette would be able to keep him kind and breathing.
Belle rolled out of bed and pulled the bedroom curtains open. Fog hugged the building, curling dense and grey around the windows. It was cold in the room, and she sent a quiet blessing to Mrs. Potts, for insisting on a newer, warmer wardrobe for all of them.
“We may be in the mild heart of France,” the housekeeper had said, “But you're bound to experience the Great British Autumn in all its glory, and you'll want to be prepared.”
Belle grinned. She had promised to bring back specimens of the Great British Autumn for Chip's scrapbook.
A chambermaid had already visited, lighting a fire in every room and leaving quantities of hot water in the little washroom. There was a tray with hot tea and oat biscuits, too, set on the table next to the bath. Belle grinned. Mrs. Potts was in that habit, too.
Belle drank her tea and washed, and had just donned a new chemise when Plumette knocked and came in.
“Good morning, madame,” she said. “Feeling better?”
“Much. Are you?”
“I'll live to fight another day, as dear Cogsworth would say,” Plumette said, and the women grinned at each other. “Lumiere is endeavoring to wake mon prince, so you will soon find yourself thrown out. What would you like to wear today?”
They settled on ice blue skirts and a red jacket embroidered in gold. Of all the things that Belle had had to learn in her new role as princesse, fashion had been one of the more enjoyable. Plumette and Madame de Garderobe had taken her well in hand, teaching Belle that one did not have to look ridiculous to be fashionable. Belle's clothes were chic, elegant, and practical, and she greatly enjoyed wearing them. It was also nice to have Plumette as a lady-in-waiting. The two of them had become fast friends in the wake of the curse.
Belle was just tying up her boots when the door opened and Adam stumbled in, bleary-eyed.
“It's freezing,” he gasped, falling to his knees before Belle and wrapping his arms about her legs. “Hold me.”
Belle raised her eyebrows. “Come now, weren't you saying just yesterday that we should breathe in the fresh air and feel adventurous?”
Adam gave her a doleful look. “I wasn't half-dressed and freezing when I said that. Also, I was being facetious.”
“Is he loafing? I told him to get up.” Lumiere appeared in the doorway, resplendent in gold, not a thread out of place. Belle sometimes wondered how he did it. “Put your banyan on, Prince Adam, and stop seducing Madame Belle. It's going to be a busy day.”
“Mean,” Adam said. “It's cold and everyone's being mean.”
But he got up, grinning a little, and Belle and Plumette left him amicably arguing the merits of a dark blue suit versus a green one with Lumiere.
Their meeting with Adam's family was not until the afternoon, when they would be joining the earl and his family for tea and supper, and so, finally dressed and ready for the day, the party assembled at the hotel doors to explore London.
“I want to see where the Globe Theater stood,” Belle said to Mr. Rowling, the proprietor. “And anything to do with Samuel Pepys, and the theater were Aphra Behn's plays were put on.”
Mr. Rowling smiled. “Your highness is a devotee of English literature? Most excellent. May I recommend visiting the Abbey, where many writers and poets are buried, and St. Paul's, where Mr. Donne was deacon?”
“Not Mr. Donne,” Adam said with a grin. Belle swatted him and wrote down the recommendations in her pocketbook.
The early morning fog had burnt off by the time they set out, wrapped up in blankets in an open chaise. It was a fine blustery September day, and after some debate, the Abbey was decided on as a good way to spend the morning. Never in her life had Belle expected to see such a place. The Abbey was enormous, and far more stunning to her mind than Notre Dame in Paris. No other church could compare to the Abbey, ever, for here were Belle's heroes, those great men and women of English literature and history. Here was Chaucer's grave, and Aphra Behn's. Here was a memorial to William Shakespeare. Belle put her hand on it and smiled. Here was another, to John Dryden, to John Gay, to Edmund Spenser. Here were Marlowe, and Milton. Adam took Belle's hand and led her from stone to stone. Neither spoke, but neither needed to.
“They are weeping,” Plumette whispered to Lumiere.
“Let them weep,” Lumiere replied, tucking her arm through his. “These men are their dear friends, who lent succor when we could not.”
Afterwards, Belle blew her nose on Adam's handkerchief and leaned back in the carriage seat. “I can die happy now,” she announced. “I've touched Shakespeare's grave.”
“Nonsense, we have so much living left to do,” Adam replied, but he smiled, and Belle raised her legs under their blanket and put her feet in his lap.
Back in their rooms, Lumiere and Plumette made them change their clothes into something more suitable for a society dinner. Belle, who liked her red jacket, gave in with amused asperity; dressing for different times of day still struck her as silly. But Plumette put her foot down, and Belle found herself in a fine dress of heavy purple and cream striped silk, her hair dressed with a ribbon and a single feather that curled around the back of her head.
“Beautiful!” Plumette said. “You really are the perfect canvas, mon amie.”
Belle grinned, fastening her necklace-the same necklace she had worn the first time she ever danced with Adam, which Madame de Garderobe had given her and which had belonged to his mother. She hadn't known that then. “What are you and Lumiere going to do?”
“I'm sure we'll think of something,” Plumette said with a naughty grin. “A nap perhaps, or perhaps shopping. London is not Paris, but it is still a great city for la mode.”
“Well, have fun, and remember, no animals!”
Plumette laughed. Cogsworth, quite seriously, had told them that there was a shop in London that sold exotic animals, and that if they returned to France with an elephant, he would have a fit, royalty or not. It had become something of a joke among them.
“Ready?” she called through to Adam, and he emerged from the little dressing room, dressed in deep mauve and ivory to match Belle and looking pale.
“As I'll ever be,” he said, and raised his hand to his chest in the eerie clutching gesture that Belle had come to associate with his “panics”, as Adam called them.
Belle bounded across the room and took his hands in hers. “Come now, my Adam, it's all right. It's just dinner. If we don't like them, we needn't go back. Breathe, now, that's it.”
The panics had faded since the curse broke, but not stopped altogether. Now Adam could go for months without enduring them, but occasionally something happened that set him off. Now he leaned on Belle, eyes closed, and managed as deep a breath as he could. Think of good things. Belle is here. Lumiere and Plumette are here. We don't have to stay long if we don't want to.
“We can go straight to Oxford tomorrow to see Dr. Vane, if we want,” Belle said. “They have no control over us, remember that.”
“What did I do to deserve you?” Adam asked, beginning to breathe freely again.
“You stopped being an ass when I told you to,” Belle replied, and Adam laughed.
The carriage arrived shortly thereafter to take them to the Streatfield townhouse on Berkeley Square. Lumiere and Plumette waved them off, and disappeared back upstairs, doubtless to spend the next few hours doing unspeakable things that three days at sea had prevented them. Adam rather envied them.
“You'll tell me if I'm being an ass?” he asked as they rattled along.
“If you are, I shall kick you under the table.”
“And if I say something insufferably arrogant?”
“Then I'll glare at you until you apologize.”
“What if I get the panic?”
“If you do, look over at me and think of all the wonderful things I am going to do to you tonight as a reward for your good behavior.”
Adam looked over at her, wide-eyed. “Really?”
Belle looked at him sternly. “I did not get to make love to you at sea. You can bet that I am going to make love to you tonight.”
“In that case, I'll be on my best behavior.”
“You had better be.”
They looked at each other and grinned. The carriage came to a stop. This was it.
Author's Note: The chapter title comes from a quote by Charlotte Bronte; a little out of place here, but no problem. I'm not writing Proper England, I'm writing Eighteenth Century Fairy Tale; therefore, certain places (like Berkeley Square) are there a little bit before their time, and some of the poets mentioned in the Abbey were not quite dead yet. What I'm saying is, any historical inaccuracies are intentional. ;-)
Also: This IS meant to be a ghost story, but since I have some scene setting to do, bear with me. They ARE coming! I'm really nervous about this story, so be gentle with me.
Chapter 2: Adam's Family
Chapter Two: Adam's Family
Number 27, Berkeley Square was clearly waiting for them. A footman opened the door as the carriage came to a stop, and Adam sprang down, turning to help Belle before the footman could. He heard the door opening behind him and felt his heart speed up. Oh God, oh please let us like each other.
“Adam, my boy!” cried a jovial voice, and Adam looked up to see a tall man bearing down on them, beaming. He wore a fine suit of bottle green and buff, a simple lambswool wig, and a smile that Adam had seen on exactly one face before, and that so long ago as to be a treasured memory. The man grabbed Adam's hand and pumped it. “Welcome, nephew, welcome to London! And this must be Madame Belle! How wonderful to finally meet you, my dear. I'm your Uncle Tristan, of course, now, now, don't protest, we are family, as estranged as we have been! I trust you had a pleasant journey? Seas not too bad? Come in, come in, we're all waiting. Been waiting for days! Mother's nearly worn a hole in the carpet, ha ha!”
Belle shot Adam an amused look as Lord Tristan shepherded them into the house, where they were divested of their cloaks and hats and herded on through to the parlor.
“Mother! Here is our own Prince Adam, and his wife, Princess Belle!”
The room was full of people, but one of these immediately detached herself from the crowd and ran to Adam: an elegant elderly lady in purple mourning with enormous grey hair and a bright smile, who swooped down on Adam and kissed him and held him close.
“Oh my dear grandson! Let me look at you!” She held Adam back and studied him, smiling all over her face, and her smile-her smile. He knew that smile. “There, I knew it! I would know you anywhere, my love; you have Maria-Eleanor in every part of your face.”
The last of Adam's fear drained away at that. He smiled back at his grandmother, so wide he thought his face might crack.
“You are the first person to ever tell me that, madam,” he said.
“Well, it's true,” Lady Efra replied. “And it's grandmama, dear; we don't stand much on ceremony among family. The same goes for you, my dear. Belle, isn't it? A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Come here and let me kiss you.”
Belle submitted with a grin. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Grandmama,” she said in the precise English she had spent the last year learning. “We have long been looking forward to this visit.”
“Indeed,” Adam said. “I'm only sorry we could not come sooner.”
“Look, everyone!” cried Lady Efra, turning to their guests. “Here is my grandson, Adam, my Maria-Eleanor's only child, and his wife, Belle!”
And with that, they became part of the family.
There were many people to meet, aunts and uncles and cousins. Maria-Eleanor's family had been a large one, three sisters as well as her only brother, Tristan, and they had all assembled to meet their French cousins, so long nothing but names on paper. Adam was handed from person to person, all of them laughing and smiling and so pleased to see him that he felt quite overwhelmed. Lady Efra held onto his arm and patted his hand again and again.
“My dear boy, I have missed you,” she said, when at last she was able to sit Adam down on a sofa and give him a cup of tea. “I'm so sorry we have been so cut off, but your dratted father refused to allow us to meet after your dear mother passed.”
Adam remembered seeing her at the funeral, weeping behind her net veil. He had been so distraught that day, and for so many days and years after, that he had hardly approached her. “Did he? I know he wouldn't allow me to write.”
“Yes, he wrote to me and told me to stop trying, the wretch. 'The boy is mine now and doesn't need any Englishmen to influence him' are his exact words. We carried on for a while, but our letters to you were returned unopened. I do wish her father hadn't sold my Maria-Eleanor to him. I've never really forgiven him for that.”
Adam stared. “Sold her? How could he sell her to Father?”
“He had a gambling problem, I'm afraid.” Lady Efra sighed. “He was in debt and needed money, and it seemed to him expedient that arranging the marriage of his daughter to a wealthy prince was just the solution he needed. So off Maria-Eleanor went to France, and back came enough money to cover his debts. Much good it did him; he died a few months later. And Maria, bless her, knew her duty. I think she did try to love Francois, but he never did love her back.”
Adam, horrified, thought of his mother, calm and kind before the blustering storm that was his father. She had always stood firm against the Prince de Courcy's taunts and jabs, and had never surrendered her kindness. He knew that she had been sad, but she had made his childhood safe and warm. All that had been lost when she died.
“She was good,” Adam said, looking at his hands. “She was just...good. Always. Even when he was cruel to her.”
Lady Efra took his hand. “And she gave us you, for which I have always been grateful.”
Adam gave her a wry smile. “I have never been good, I'm afraid, Lady- Grandmama. After she died my father turned all of his ire onto me, and I became a rotten little monster, right up until recently. I did everything I could to take him love me, even if it was awful.”
“My poor dear,” Lady Efra said. “I know all about it.”
“Yes. We do know other people in France beside your father, you know, and there were members of your own household who kept us abreast of happenings at the castle. My cousin, Cogsworth, wrote to us weekly about you. Tristan and I were that worried about you, we arranged for Tristan's old tutor at Oxford to apply to teach you. Dr. Vane, his name was.”
Adam's face lit up. “You knew Dr. Vane?”
“Indeed! We were pleased that he managed to stay with you so long, even if it didn't end well.” Lady Efra smiled. “He thought very highly of you. Clever and intelligent, that's what he wrote to us. Clever and intelligent and scared to death of his father. I was sorry to hear he'd been sacked.”
“I was sorry to see him go,” Adam agreed, marveling. So Vane had been sent by his English family to watch over him. How extraordinary. He would have to thank Cogsworth for being their go-between. “I loved him as much as I was able to love anyone, in those days. We go to Oxford soon, to see him.”
“Yes, and I am glad,” Lady Efra said. “Tristan and Max were thinking of going with you. Then you are all invited up to Hartley Park. We're having a house party and I insist you come to see your ancestral home.”
Adam smiled. “I'll have to discuss it with Belle, but I believe we would be very happy to accept. Lumiere and Plumette will accompany us, of course.”
“Of course. Lumiere is your maitre d', no? The golden man with the talent for song. Why is he accompanying you, and not your valet?”
“Lumiere is married to Plumette, who is Belle's lady-in-waiting, and where one goes, the other must follow. Chapeau didn't mind; I think he rather fancied staying in Villeneuve.”
Lady Efra looked delighted. “Oh, is dear Emile still with you? I am glad. He did wonderful things for your mother, dear.”
“Oh, yes.” Lady Efra dropped her voice. “She was so unhappy with Francois; he treated her most appallingly. Emile Chapeau was her dear friend, if you understand me. I'm glad that she got to experience love with him, even if it had to be kept secret from your father.”
Adam stared, flabbergasted. Chapeau and his mother. Chapeau, who was always there, always had been there, the one member of staff who had not completely abandoned Adam to his father's darting fists and poisonous words, who had treated every bruise and soothed every shattered nerve as best he could, even when Adam had stopped treating him as a person. His mother's lover.
“There, I've shocked you. I do let my mouth run away with me. Let me fetch you your Belle, and we'll go into supper.” Lady Efra squeezed Adam's hand and bustled away.
All this time, Belle had been talking with the other members of the family party. At Lady Efra's behest, she came back to Adam, sitting on the sofa by the fire, with Uncle Tristan and his son, Max, in tow. Adam looked rather saucer-eyed as they approached, and Belle wondered just what he and Lady Efra had been speaking of.
“I've just been telling Uncle Tristan about our planned trip to Oxford,” Belle said, settling down beside Adam and taking his hand. “They would like to join us, if they may.”
“Max has ordered some of his infernal books from the Bodleian,” Uncle Tristan said. “Tell them what you're researching now, Max.”
Max was a good natured young man with floppy dark hair and a sideways smile. “Father likes to think that I am a professor, cousin Adam. But I'm merely a dilettante scholar with an interest in the natural sciences. I believe that so much of the fear and hysteria of the past can be explained away with science.”
Adam looked up, interested. “How do you mean, sir?”
Max stood on one leg, settling in for a really long discussion. “I mean to prove that the belief in magic and the occult is hogwash, and that what has traditionally been believed witchcraft is in fact the beginnings of modern science.”
Belle and Adam glanced at each other. “And how do you plan to do this?” Belle asked.
“By researching the occult and comparing it to the scholarship being pursued by our students and professors at the great universities,” Max said. “Once you really look at a thing, you begin to realize that there is no such thing as magic.”
Adam blinked. “Are you...sure?”
“Oh yes. The-”
But here he was interrupted by the dinner gong. With no small amount of gratitude, Adam took Belle's arm and led her through to dinner. No such thing as magic, indeed.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, the food delicious despite the stories they had heard of English cookery, the company entertaining. It was settled that Belle and Adam would travel to Oxford with Max and Uncle Tristan, then accompany them up to the family seat, Hartley Park, in the Peak District.
“How wonderful!” Lady Efra said, as they waited for their carriage afterward. “We can hold a seance, and Max will be dull and tell us how we aren't really summoning spirits. And I can show you your mother's room! I've kept many of her things for you. Good night, my dears, and God bless you!”
“I like them,” Belle said, leaning against Adam was they drove back to the hotel. “They are completely mad in the best possible way.”
Adam grinned and hugged her. “They are. Max especially. 'There's no such thing as magic'.” He chuckled. “I must tell you everything that Grandmama told me. But first, I think, we have some business to attend to.”
“Oh, do we?”
“Yes.” Adam stroked Belle's collarbone and slid his fingers down to caress the swell of her breasts. “You promised to do wicked things to me tonight, in return for my good behavior. Have you forgotten?”
Belle leaned into his touch, sighing a little as his hand slipped further into her bodice. “How could I ever forget such a promise? Oh yes, that's very nice. Don't stop.”
Adam grinned and kept stroking, pressing his nose into her hair. “I love you. Thank you for loving me.”
“Don't thank me-ooh! Show me again that you love me.”
Adam smiled and reached a hand up under her petticoats. “Recite something.”
Belle gasped, and did as she was told.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.”
She did not get much further than that, under Adam's strong stroking hands. It was lucky for them that London streets were noisy; Belle had never really bothered to learn not to scream when Adam pleasured her.
Belle was rather glad for her cloak, when they finally alighted at the hotel, for it hid the rumpled state of her clothes. Adam, smiling demurely, kept his hands folded behind him. Belle always found his funny. She knew all about Adam's hands.
“Did you have a good time?” Plumette asked as she helped Belle out of her clothes and into a nightgown, ignoring the open hooks on the bodice and the crumpled skirts.
“Yes, they're very kind,” Belle said. “They've invited us to their home in the Peak District for a month.”
“It's not by sea, I hope?”
“No, I think we're taking a carriage,” Belle replied. “You're invited, too.”
Plumette grinned. “Mais oui. Who else will look after you and ensure you do not go down to dinner with your clothes in disarray?”
Belle laughed. “I promised Adam a reward for his best behavior. I needn't have worried.”
Plumette laughed, too. “What would our men do without the promise of rewards? Good night, dear Belle, and enjoy yourself.”
Adam, meanwhile, was grilling Lumiere.
“Is there much that you haven't told me about my life?” he had asked as soon as the dressing room door shut behind them.
“Like what?” Lumiere asked, the picture of innocence.
“Like my English family arranging with Cogsworth to hire Dr. Vane?”
Lumiere smiled. “Ah yes, that. I wondered if they'd tell you. Yes, that was arranged by your uncle and grandmother.”
Adam shrugged his waistcoat off. “And were any of you ever going to tell me about my mother and Chapeau?”
Lumiere froze. “Who told you about that?”
“Lady Efra. My grandmother.”
For a moment the two men faced each other in silence. It was not uncomfortable, Adam thought; Lumiere looked more like he was choosing his words than working out how to flee the premises.
“Your mother was unhappy,” Lumiere said at last. “I was only fifteen myself when I came to the castle, but even I could see that the prince your father was unkind to her. She had very few people to turn to, and like we were with you, we were hesitant to help her because we needed our jobs. But Chapeau...he stepped in, once, to stop your father hitting her, and after that...They loved each other deeply, Adam. If you know nothing else, know that.”
Adam took a deep breath. “And could he-could he be-”
Lumiere shook his head. “He is not your father. Your mother was already expecting you when Emile came to work at the castle.”
A flash of disappointment passed through Adam; to cover it, he handed Lumiere the waistcoat and reached for his banyan. On one hand it was good that he was the legitimate son of the Prince de Courcy, but if Chapeau had been his father...
“It would have made no difference,” Lumiere said, as if reading Adam's mind. “He would not have been able to do anything more for you than he did, once she died.”
“I know,” Adam said, shuffling into his slippers. “I think...I'm glad that she had him, Lumiere. I'm glad he loved her. I was just surprised.”
He bade Lumiere goodnight and slipped through into the bedroom, where Belle was awaiting him. Belle, who loved him. Belle, who was waiting for him on the bed wearing nothing but the rings he had given her, a wicked smile on her face. All thoughts vanished from Adam's mind as she reached out to him. He snapped the door shut behind him and fell into her arms.
Author's Note: Ah, an info-dump chapter. Don't worry, things start to get supernatural in the next chapter.
Please note that the headcanon of Chapeau and Adam's mother originated with @sweetfayetanner, a wonderful writer who is working on a long (hopefully very long!) Chapeau fic. I've been thinking a lot about Adam's mother recently, and all she must have endured with Adam's father, and *shudder*.
Thank you for reading, and as ever, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!
Chapter 3: In An Unfamiliar Library
Chapter Three: In An Unfamiliar Library
Belle and Adam spent another two weeks in London, guided about the city by Lady Efra, Uncle Tristan, and Max, whom Adam had privately christened “the mad scientist”. It was a great city, Belle thought, so entirely different from Paris that the two could not begin to compare. Where Paris was flowers and artists and musicians, London was paper and writers and actors. Paris smelled of sweet stewed fruits and baking bread; London of hot tea and printer's ink and roasting fowl. And it was cold there, far colder than Paris or even their own hidden heart of France ever got, so that every day Belle was newly grateful for the flannel underthings Plumette had packed her, and the heavy wool and velvet of her dresses and jackets.
“I can hardly wait for you to see Hartley Park,” Lady Efra said one day, as they walked along the Charing Cross Road, browsing in the bookstores. “London is lovely, of course, and there is so much one can do here, but our home in the Peaks is gorgeous in autumn. Tristan grows pumpkins; every year he hopes to win the prize for largest specimen. And the apple harvest is in full swing now-we keep orchards, have I mentioned? We shall send you back to France with several barrels of our own cider! ”
“That would be wonderful,” Belle agreed, who loved hard cider. “Have you seen where Adam's gotten to?”
“In that shop over there. Look, he's bickering with Lumiere again.”
Belle laughed. Adam, who had never known what it was to exercise restraint when he wanted something, had already amassed quite a collection of new books. They were all in English, so Belle was giving him free reign, knowing that his English was far better than her's, and trusting in his taste. She and Lady Efra stopped alongside him to listen.
“No, you don't need it, Adam, you want it,” Lumiere was saying.
“But it's a first edition!” Adam exclaimed. “Belle, tell him we simply must have this first edition of Le Morte d'Arthur for our library.”
“Don't we have one already?”
“Thank you, madame. We already have one,” Lumiere said, glaring.
“Two are better than one,” Adam countered. “We're taking it.”
“Then you, mon prince, are carrying it back to the hotel,” Lumiere replied. “I already have more than enough books to carry, thank you.”
“Then I will,” said Adam, and flounced off to purchase his book.
Lady Efra chuckled. “Bless his heart, he's just like his mother. Never saw a book she didn't like. How do you put up with him, Lumiere?”
“Sometimes, madame, I don't,” Lumiere replied. “But truthfully, we wouldn't have him any other way.”
Belle grinned. She couldn't help the warm feeling that spread through her whenever she was with her unusual new family. Lady Efra seemed to have no issue whatsoever with the familiar way Lumiere and Plumette treated them, just as she had had no issue with her daughter apparently having had a torrid love affair with Chapeau. Chapeau. Belle marveled at it. Of all the people in the castle to seduce the princess, Chapeau was the last one she would have suspected. Not that Belle blamed the princess for loving him; far from it. From all that she had been told about Adam's father, Belle knew that the princess could not have had a happy marriage, and Chapeau was one of the steadiest, kindest men that Belle had ever met. And he had loved Adam, and never abandoned him. If for no other reason, Belle loved him for that.
It was much the same for her with Lady Efra and Lord Tristan. From the very start, Belle had felt a kinship with them, for neither had been anything but welcoming to her and Adam. They had taken them to the theater and the opera, to lunches and suppers with their friends, even to meet the King one day, and everywhere they went, Belle and Adam had been proudly presented as niece and nephew, grandson and granddaughter. For Belle, who had only ever had Maurice, it was new, and surprising, and utterly delightful.
But as their departure date for Oxford grew nearer, Belle became more and more anxious to go. They had had several letters from Dr. Vane since arriving in London, assuring them that their apartments in the college were ready and waiting, and that they were invited to a number of university functions. Neither Belle nor Adam had ever visited a university, and they were almost beside themselves with excitement.
“I enjoyed Oxford,” Uncle Tristan said at dinner, near the end of their London stay. “It's a delightful place; quite mad in its way, but delightful. The Bodleian is spectacular, and since you are such book fanatics, remind me to show you Blackwell's. It looks tiny on the outside, but inside...well, you'll see when you get there. They always have occult books for Max to try and disprove, too, ha ha!”
"Dangerous books to have in one's home, are they not?” Adam asked, reaching for his wine glass.
“No more than any other book, I think,” Max replied. “It's all merely superstition. Magic cannot hurt you, cousin Adam.”
Adam, remembering the horror of snapping bones and twisting muscle, of fur and fangs and brute animal strength, made a face. But he had promised Belle that he would not argue with Max about magic, because Max had no conception of what it had done to them. The curse Adam had endured for so long had been little more than a year in length, in the real world, and explaining it would take away all of the credibility that Adam had been working so hard to achieve since re-entering society.
“I suppose some of it depends on what you believe in,” Belle said, shooting Adam a glance. “Though of course, things that one does not believe in are not necessarily non-existent.”
“You speak of things like gravity and God, Belle,” Max protested. “One needn't believe in either to have them exist. But you cannot tell me that you believe in witches and fairies and things that go bump in the night.”
“But I do,” Belle replied. “Not because of superstition, either, as you would say, but because I have witnessed things that cannot be explained. Until science offers me a better explanation than magic, I'll choose to keep believing that it is possible.”
Max gave her a wry grin. “Well said, madame. May I ask what it is you have witnessed that so influences you?”
“You may, but I believe I'll save that story for another time,” Belle said, and Adam relaxed.
“We can sit around the fire telling ghostly stories,” Lady Efra said, chuckling. “And perhaps you'll see the ghost at Hartley, Belle. We've a White Lady who is said to walk the halls at night.”
“And get into bed with unlucky victims,” Uncle Tristan replied. “Mind yourselves, ha ha.”
“I don't think I could handle a haunted house,” Adam remarked to Belle, in bed later that night.
“Don't worry, I won't let them get you,” Belle replied, and he laughed.
They left for Oxford the next day, sharing a carriage with Max and Uncle Tristan, while Lumiere and Plumette accompanied Lady Efra's party up to Hartley Park, where Belle and Adam would join them. It was only to be a short visit to Oxford; one week in the city, and then up to the Peaks. Dr. Vane had been invited to join the house party and had accepted.
“And tell him not to let Max have any books on demonology,” Lady Efra had said to Belle and Adam before they departed. “The young idiot will summon a devil in the name of science and then we shall have no end of trouble casting the wretched thing out.”
Lumiere was less concerned with the possibility of calling down demons than he was about leaving Adam's clothing in Belle's hands for two weeks.
“It's not that I do not trust you, madame,” he explained, “but mon prince has never been anywhere without a valet, and frankly I am not certain that I trust him.”
“Lumiere, he knows how to dress himself,” Belle said. “He's a grown man!”
“And I know he knows how to brush hair,” Belle added. Oh, yes, she knew all about that. “Really, Lumiere, think of this as a second honeymoon. You, Plumette, the hot springs at Buxton-why, I should think you would rejoice at a holiday from us.”
Plumette, coming back into the room to do a final sweep before they left, overheard, and smirked. “He will enjoy it, never fear. We are going to the spa, and the combination of hot water and me will surely keep him distracted.”
And so it was that after nearly two full days on the road, they arrived in Oxford. After the Georgian elegance of London, neither Belle nor Adam were quite prepared for the medieval city rising up before them, and all but hung out of the carriage, watching as they approached. Uncle Tristan put the window down as the passed through the Plain and over Magdalen Bridge, and began pointing out the sights. Magdalen College's grotesques, All-Soul's College, the Radcliffe Camera with the Bodleian Library behind. They wound their way towards New College, through streets crowded with students, young men and women wearing black academic dress and laden down with books. Adam grinned. He had a feeling that they would like it here.
A porter showed them to their rooms in New College, a tiny flat with a sitting room and a bedroom beyond it, Tristan and Max in rooms across the hall. A scout brought them tea, and not five minutes after her departure, a swift knock sounded at the door and an older gentleman entered without bothering to wait for an answer. He wore the black gown with scarlet hood that denoted a doctor of philosophy, a Tudor bonnet, and an enormous smile. He was tall and thin, with shaggy grey hair unadorned by any wig. Adam turned towards him, his whole face lighting up, and Belle knew that this was Dr. Vane.
“Prince Adam! Here you are at last!”
When, Adam wondered, would he stop being startled by people showing joy at seeing him? More than a year with Belle, and still it startled Adam that people could like him. He couldn't stop smiling as he bowed to Vane, not quite daring to embrace him, and introduced him to Belle.
“My dear madame,” Vane said, bowing over her hand. “So you are the one to have tamed our prince's heart! I have always hoped that he would find a dear friend and I can see that he has outdone himself with you.”
Belle grinned. “It is so good to meet you at last, Doctor. Adam has told me so much about you.”
“Doubtless that I always nagged him to work harder, and that I am only boring when talking about Donne.” Vane laughed, a deep rich chuckle. “He's right; even now my students groan when I start in on that learned gentleman. Did you see his statue in St. Paul's, your grace? The tragic man in his shroud?”
“Yes, Belle went into paroxysms,” Adam said, grinning.
“He teases me, and yet he was the one who introduced me to the metaphysical poets,” Belle said, swatting Adam's arm. “I found a box of his old essays in our library; he showed me the ones he had written for you and suggested I might like them.”
Dr. Vane laughed again, delighted. “My prince, you have married a scholar!”
Adam grinned and nodded. It pleased him to see his former tutor again, more than he could say. Belle invited them to sit down around the little fireplace, and poured out tea, and they spent the next hour just talking. Adam touched briefly on his life after Vane's departure, not wanting to go too deeply into the desperate behavior he had displayed in those days, and skirted over the curse entirely. But Dr. Vane was too perceptive to be put off.
“This illness of yours,” he said, “intrigues me. It was as though I had forgotten all about you, and then I hear that you had been sick for a long time, and that you have completely turned about your ways. May I ask you what it was you had? It must have been quite something.”
Adam blinked and looked to Belle for help. She made a face. He was on his own.
“It...I was unhappy, you know, Dr. Vane, and trying to alleviate it with...less than helpful activities. I, well, one night everything just...crashed. I went to pieces, I suppose you could say.” It wasn't a lie; he had been undone by the Enchantress. “I could barely leave my room, barely get up out of bed for the longest time; it was as though I was tired and helpless and-and angry, all of the time. I felt like that for what felt like years. And then, one day, I started to get better.”
That that day had been after he and Belle had nearly been mauled by wolves and had screamed themselves hoarse in the aftermath was not something he needed to say. But Dr. Vane was nodding.
“Melancholia,” he said. “One of my esteemed colleagues is making a study of the illness. It seems as though you had an acute case of it. No appetite? The smallest thing seemed to be an impossible undertaking? Snapping at everyone you cared for, even though you knew they were trying to help? Yes, it certainly sounds like melancholia. I can't say I am surprised, your grace: you always did have trouble breathing, didn't you? Still, I am glad that you are well now. I can't tell you the good it does my heart to see you so happy.”
Outside, a bell tolled; all at once, Vane started.
“Dear me, it will be dinner soon, then chapel. I'll leave you to dress and see you in the Senior Common Room-just across the quad there; you can see the windows from here-I'll see you at half-six.”
And he was gone as suddenly as he had come, leaving Belle and Adam standing smiling by the fire. Belle put her arms around Adam.
“Your father must have been a real piece of work,” she said, nuzzling his neck, “If you could not see as a youth just how much you were loved.”
Adam dropped a kiss onto her head. “I know. It shames me to see now just how much I couldn't see it then.”
Belle smiled. “You can see it now, and that's enough. Come on, we've dinner to dress for and I promised Lumiere I would do him proud.”
They dressed for dinner in shades of green and gold, wishing to blend in with their academic surroundings, and went to find Max and Tristan. Then down to the Senior Common Room, and out into the rest of their visit.
Those two weeks in Oxford were some of the pleasantest Belle and Adam had ever experienced. It was a quiet city, buzzing with the bookish energy of many scholars hard at work on esoteric interests. Max vanished to the Bodleian most days, and Uncle Tristan had friends to call on, leaving them in Dr. Vane's capable hands for large swathes of time. Their days formed a comfortable routine: early to rise, breakfast and then chapel with the citizens of New College, then a walk in the grounds followed by morning lectures in college (for Dr. Vane had invited them to sit in on his series of talks on Restoration Drama). Then out into the city, where they could visit other colleges (Belle loved the grounds of Magdalen, while Adam preferred the gardens at Trinity), or visit the Bodleian, after the librarians at that esteemed place had guided them through the formal oath (“I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”) or spend hours at a time perusing Mr. Blackwell's cavernous bookstore, which truly was bigger on the inside, being home to nearly six floors of books. The weather was in their favor, too, for after two days of rain, the skies cleared into a beautiful blue and stayed that way.
“It really is beautiful,” Belle said, as they walked arm in arm down to the punts under Magdalen Bridge, lagging just behind Dr. Vane, Uncle Tristan, and Max. The roar and bustle of the High Street gave way to quiet contemplation as they walked down the hill to the punt office, where red and orange leaves dripped from their trees into the cold misty water.
“It is,” Adam agreed. “I could have been very happy here, if I'd been able to attend.”
“It would have done you good,” Belle agreed. “Why didn't you go?”
“My father wouldn't allow it. 'Royal princes don't need to attend English universities'.” Belle didn't like Adam's voice when he imitated his father; it was low and harsh and mocking. “After he died, I was too set in my ways to bother, and besides, I had my lands and people to neglect.”
For a moment he looked so angry with himself that Belle was alarmed. She jostled him. “Come now, that's in the past and you're doing an excellent job now. You probably didn't have to decrease taxes quite as much as you did, remember.”
Adam grimaced. “Yes, I did. For my sins.”
“It'll be a sin if you don't get into his boat, cousin,” Max called. He stood at the end of the punt, a long iron pole in one hand. “Come along, the sooner we push off, the sooner we can crack open the champagne!”
“Is this thing safe?” Adam looked down at the long flat boat, dubious.
“Perfectly,” Vane replied. “Would you like to paddle, Madame Belle?”
“You'll have to show me how,” Belle replied, threading her way between the men to join Dr. Vane at the front of the punt.
“Sit down there, at the front-mind your skirts-and stroke on the opposite side of the rower, should he call out that he needs you.”
“So Max, have you found any occult books to disprove?” Adam asked.
“Oh yes,” Max said, stroking them along up the Cherwell. “A couple of demonologies from Germany, a necronomicon and spellbook from Iceland, and a guide to witches by our own Witchfinder General.”
“And have you found anything interesting?” Vane asked.
“Not yet,” Max replied. “But the Bodleian has kindly allowed me to borrow the books to take home to Hartley Park, so I'll be able to study them in more depth later.”
“My mother is planning a seance, doctor,” Uncle Tristan said. “Who would you choose to contact?”
“Shakespeare,” Dr. Vane replied. “Possibly Donne-don't laugh, Prince Adam; we all have our favorites.”
“Come now, doctor, you don't really believe in the supernatural?” Max said.
“I do, in fact, my lord,” Vane said. “In my life I have seen enough things that cannot be explained to wonder.”
Max shrugged. “That which cannot be explained now maybe be considered basic knowledge by our descendants. Only time will tell.”
“In that, my dear Lord Max, I will agree with you,” Dr. Vane said. “Today's superstition is tomorrow's science. But it will be a dull world without spooks and spectres to tell tales of around the fire.”
Belle caught Adam's eye and smiled. It seemed that their stay at Hartley Park, when they got there, would be interesting.
Author's Note: Okay, where do I begin? Blackwell's Bookshop was NOT open in the 18th century; it rolled around in about 1814 and is in fact Tardis-like in how huge it is inside compared to it's tiny exterior. The Bodleian still makes you swear the Oath when you get a library card (as I had to do, to my eternal delight), though only recently have they changed the rules to allow you to do it in the language of your choice, and not Latin. The Bod does NOT let you take books home with you! Oxford only started to admit women in the early 20th century, but I decided to have it co-ed from the beginning. Punts are still available from Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) Bridge. Academic dress is a thing to behold. This is my love letter to Oxford, now that I no longer live there and no longer have to put Little Lord Asshole in his place for trying to knock me into the street. (And believe me, I told off a lot of Little Lord Assholes when I was in Oxford. It was my hobby.)
Hartley Park and supernatural shenanigans are coming up!
Chapter 4: Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus
Chapter Four: Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus
Adam shifted under a mound of blankets. He was warm and soft and comfortable, not quite awake and quite content to stay that way. Rain drummed down on the roof overhead, cold and mean, but inside, under wads of down comforters and woven blankets, was warm and safe. Adam floated in that pleasant early morning in-between state, and rolled over to reach for Belle, to pull her closer into the cocoon of warmth. But Belle was not there. Adam opened his eyes.
The unfamiliar carved ceiling of their bedroom at Hartley Park met his eyes, and the floral-papered wall, and the fireplace in which a merry fire tried, and failed, to stave off of the chill in the bedroom. No Belle curled up in front of the fire with a cup of tea. Adam sighed and rolled over, waking up fully.
“Good morning,” Belle said. She sat in the window seat, wrapped up in a blanket and her warmest dressing gown, nursing a teacup between her hands.
“How are you up?” Adam whispered, rolling himself deeper into the blankets. “It's freezing.”
Belle smiled. “I've been colder. Really, Adam, it's not so bad.”
They had arrived at Hartley Park late the night before, after three days of travel. The rain had started before they arrived in the Peaks, and mud in the roads had hindered their progress through the moors, so that it had been nearly midnight when they arrived at the estate, and everyone but a handful of servants had been asleep. Lumiere and Plumette had shown Belle and Adam to the apartment allotted to them, drawn hot baths, provided dinner on trays, and vanished to their own beds, leaving their royal employers to fumble their half-frozen way into their bed and sleep like logs.
“Come back to bed,” Adam said now, loath to leave the warm nest.
“But it's morning,” Belle protested, “and your family will wonder where we are.”
“We arrived in the middle of the night,” Adam replied, “and it is not yet near day. It was the nightingale, and not the lark, that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.”
Belle raised her eyebrows. “It was the lark, the herald of the morn, no nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks do lace the severing clouds in yonder east: night's candles are burnt out and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.”
Adam yawned and gave her his most pleading look. “Yon light is not daylight, I know it.” He rubbed a hand over his face and chuckled. “Come back to bed, Belle, please? Just for a while longer.”
“For that, my love? I'll do more than just come back to bed.”
Adam chuckled again as Belle shed blanket and dressing gown and climbed into his arms. He rolled her over and pulled the blankets up around them both.
“And what do you plan to do now, my lord? Sleep or wallow?”
“I can think of a few other things we can do, my lady.” Adam gave Belle a wicked smile and reached for the drawstring of her nightgown. “After all, you did offer.”
Belle laughed and put her arms around Adam's neck. “You are incorrigible, you know that?”
“I've been told that a few times, yes. But do you really want me to reform my bedroom habits?” Adam slid the chemise down Belle's shoulders and kissed the warm skin it revealed.
“Mmmm. No. I like you just the way you are. Oooh.”
Adam kissed his leisured way down Belle's body, enjoying the sensation of her skin against his mouth and her hands stroking his head and shoulders. It had surprised him, when they first came together, how much joy he felt in making love to his wife, when before there had always been something missing. With Belle, everything was right and good, and it made Adam want to pleasure her into screaming the house down. Which she did, with pleasing frequency. He rested his chin on her belly, now, and smirked up at her.
“What do you say, darling? Shall I give you un petit mort?”
“After reciting Romeo and Juliet to me? You had better.”
In the midst of this came a knock at the door. Adam raised his head from Belle's thighs.
“Don't you want your breakfasts? I have a tray!”
Adam put his face down and growled; Belle gasped and clutched at his hair.
“Just leave it by the door, Plumette!” she managed. “We'll be along soon.”
On the other side of the door, Plumette snickered. “Very well. Enjoy yourselves.”
Belle, writhing on the pillows under Adam's ministrations, gasped a laugh. “To think I used to wonder how we would prevent everyone from knowing about our love life. Oh, God, Adam!”
Breakfast was rather cold by the time they got to it.
“Would you do something for me?” Adam asked as he dressed.
Belle, still lolling in bed, rolled over. “What is it?”
“Wear your blue skirts with the flowered jacket today. I feel like it's been so long since I saw you dressed simply.”
Belle grinned again. Adam's foppish days were over, but he loved fashion, and she knew that he loved seeing her in pretty clothes. The outfit in question was the one she had worn on her first full day at the castle, created by Plumette and Madame de Garderobe to replace Belle's own mud-stained clothes after the wolf fight. It had been Belle's first foray into dressing like a lady, and she still loved it.
“And how are we going to explain to your family why we didn't emerge from our room until half past ten?”
Adam tied his cravat and winked, reaching for his dark blue jacket. “We arrived late and were tired after our long journey. And if anyone heard your shouts, we can blame it on the ghost.”
They needn't have worried, for Max and Uncle Tristan had only just made an appearance themselves, still yawning, when Belle and Adam found them in the great hall. Only Dr. Vane looked rested and cheerful, sitting by the fire with Lady Efra, the two of them talking and laughing.
“-showed up to lessons with make-up smeared over his face, bless him; he'd forgotten to wash his face, but not to write his essay,” Vane was saying.
Adam groaned. “You're not telling Grandmama that story, are you, doctor?”
They looked around, Lady Efra looking delighted. “Indeed, he is! Telling me all sorts of stories about his time with you, aren't you, Doctor? Don't look so horrified, Adam, I forced him.”
“You went to lessons with make-up?” Belle said.
“More to the point,” Adam said wryly, “I went to lessons with make-up and a hangover, at the wise old age of seventeen. It was not my finest hour.”
“It was a good essay, though,” Vane said. “You did always have a good head on your shoulders.”
“I met him when he had a hang-over,” Belle said, bending down to kiss Lady Efra's cheek. “We had a jolly row.”
Adam dropped into a chair and shook his head. Six barrels of wine-that was how much it had taken him to get black-out drunk, as the beast. He'd barely touched wine since. “Yes, go on, tell them what happened. Belle almost got eaten by wolves. I saved her. We went back to the castle and she treated my wounds, telling me off the entire time. And now we're married.”
It was funny, but only recently had Adam begun to be able to talk about that time to anyone. That night had been one of the darkest of his life, changed only by a young woman with a candle sitting by his bedside at one in the morning, who challenged him to goodness. He had not lied, when he had told Vane about his melancholy. Adam knew that he had been out of control before the curse. And now here he was, a year later, surrounded by the family he had longed for his entire life, listening to them inquiring how each other were, commenting on the journey from Oxford, and making plans for the day. Amazing, how one life could go from nothing to everything in so short a time. Adam looked at them all and felt a moment of pure gratitude.
It was still raining, and the winds were picking up: Lady Efra reported that the staff had told her that the gardeners were predicting a storm. Uncle Tristan ran off to the greenhouses, to check on his prize-winning pumpkins, and Lady Efra proposed a tour of the house, to which the others readily agreed. And so they set out.
Hartley Park was essentially three houses in one, built in a large rectangle around an inner courtyard, with extensive gardens and grounds. The original house had been built in the fourteenth century, before being largely rebuilt during the Tudor times. Various additions had been made throughout the following century and a half, and Max noted various improvements he and his father were considering.
“My favorite part is the Tudor,” Lady Efra said, leading them down the Long Gallery. “It's blasted cold in the winter, but they did know how to create cozy rooms, the Elizabethans. The ghost seems to like it, too. She's been sighted here, wandering the gallery and looking out the window.”
Max put his arm through Lady Efra's. “Grandmama, you know there's no such thing as ghosts.”
Lady Efra swatted at him. “Now, now, you can banish witches and magic all you want, but you won't convince me that no tragic young woman haunts this house. I've seen her with my own eyes.”
“Could she have been a servant?”
“No sir, she could not! She was a young lady from Tudor times, probably lamenting her lost love. And tell me, Max, what are you going to do when you marry your Alison and she brings her own belief in ghosts to the family?”
Adam's ears perked up. “My cousin has a lady friend?”
Max blushed. “Not quite. The lady...has yet to be won.”
“Indeed,” said Lady Efra. “Though so far she's proven herself interested. And then I shall have even more great grandchildren than I do now. But come, I want to show you the library next.”
The library proved to be to everyone's satisfaction, for though it was not as large as the castle library back home, it was well-stocked and comfortable. A glass cabinet held Max's collection of occult books, a compromise made with the housekeeper (for none of the maids had been willing to tidy the library without those books being locked up). It was also in the library that Uncle Tristan reappeared, soaked but triumphant: the pumpkin was safe from the rains. And so the day moved along, quiet and comfortable.
After dinner, they all gathered again in the library, for Belle and Max had gotten into a deep discussion of Scandinavian literature, and he wanted to show her his Icelandic spell book. Dr. Vane, too, had confessed himself intrigued, and so it was that a mostly merry party made their way to the library.
“Do we have to read books of magic?” Adam asked, hanging back with Lady Efra as the servants came in to clear the table.
His grandmother cocked her head at him. “Does it really frighten you, my dear?”
Adam sighed. “In a way...yes, it does. I know that Max is a scientist, and I respect that, but I do wish that he had chosen some other field. But I have...experienced magic in my life, Grandmama, and not the simple everyday sort. It was a thing of, of tremendous horror, and not something I want to witness again, if I am honest.”
Lady Efra took his hand. “Will you tell me what it was, Adam?”
“I don't think you'd believe me if I did.”
“I am your grandmother. I'll believe anything you want to tell me.”
She looked so serious that Adam's heart jumped. She had no reason to believe him, no reason to love him after fifteen years of separation, but that Lady Efra was willing to listen to him about his fears filled Adam with no small amount of joy.
“I'll tell you, but not tonight. Some stories need to be told in the light of day.”
Lady Efra patted his hand. “Very well. Come on, now, let's go join the others and try to divert them away from discussions of magic.”
Arm in arm, grandmother and grandson walked from the dining room towards the library. They passed Lumiere on the way, whistling as he walked away from a curtained alcove. Adam rolled his eyes. He had no small suspicion of what had happened behind that alcove.
“Lumiere, would you be so good as to bring us some coffees in the library?” Adam asked. “They're discussing magic and I wish to distract them.”
“Of course, mon prince,” Lumiere replied. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
Adam grinned. “A distraction, perhaps? A song and dance number?”
“I have fewer reserves here than I do at home, but I'll see what I can do.” Lumiere chuckled and walked away, and Adam hurried his grandmother away from the alcove, so that Plumette could escape back to her rooms in privacy.
The storm had picked up, howling around the chimney pipes and rattling windows. An eerie scene presented itself as Adam and Lady Efra came into the library: Vane, Belle, and Tristan stood in a circle around the fire, backlit by candles and flame, talking in soft voices as Max rummaged around in his cabinet for the spell book he had brought from the Bodleian. All looked round as they came in, and Adam felt a chill. For a moment, they had looked almost otherworldly.
Then something heavy and hissing landed on Adam's shoulders. Adam screeched and leaped back, and an elegant Siamese cat, full black, leaped off of his shoulders onto a sofa.
“Pyewacket! Shame on you!” Lady Efra scolded. “I'm so sorry, my dear; he is a scamp. I've been wondering where he was all day. Pyewacket, you beast, you've frightened by grandson!”
Pyewacket spat at Adam and leaped off the couch, disappearing into the shadows. Rather shakily, Adam made his way to Belle. She put an arm around him and smiled.
“I've been better,” Adam muttered. Just being in the presence of magical books was making him feel strained and anxious, and for the first time since arriving in England, Adam wanted to go home.
“I'll change the subject soon,” Belle murmured to him, and gave his hand a kiss that everyone else ignored.
Max returned to the circle by the fire, spell book in hand. “Here we are. Isn't it beautiful?”
It was a beautiful book, of fine cognac leather tooled with gold leafing, a short chain still attached, so that it could be bolted down and not stolen. The pages inside were of heavy vellum, slightly stained and musty with long disuse, and the language was Icelandic, but spelled out phonetically. Belle took it and thumbed through.
“Do you know what it says?”
“Not really. There's the beginning of a Latin translation, but it doesn't seem anyone in Oxford has bothered to learn much Icelandic. Care to try a reading?”
Belle smiled. Adam shifted, hoping that she would say no. “Maybe something else, Belle?” he asked.
Max gave him a kindly smile. “It's all right, Adam, really. It can't hurt you. It's just a bunch of hocus pocus.”
Adam sighed, and gestured for Belle to read. Behind them, Lumiere came in, carrying a tray of cups and a coffee pot. He set this down on a side table and began to pour out the coffee as Belle began to read, speaking slowly as she sounded out the unfamiliar language. It really was a good night for it, the storm raging outside, the firelight inside, the dusky-voiced woman reading an ancient unfamiliar language. Thunder began to rumble outside, lightening flashing as Belle read. The air thickened around them; Adam felt a prickle run down his spine. It was not fear, exactly; it was something more like...expectation. A window burst open, rain carried into the room on heavy cold wind. Another flash of lightening, followed by a crash of thunder. And Lumiere...vanished.
The circle broke apart, crying out in horror. Where Lumiere had been standing seconds before, a candelabra revolved and came to rest on the floor.
Author's Note: And we get to the magic! WHAT HAPPENED TO LUMIERE?! As always, thanks for reading, and please do leave me a comment. They fill my writer's heart with joy and marshmallows. :-)
Chapter 5: Pandemonium
Chapter Five: Pandemonium
For a moment, as they gazed at the candlestick standing where seconds before Lumiere had stood, there was utter silence in the library. Then, chaos.
“Oh, I say,” said Lady Efra.
“Where did he go?” cried Max.
“You turned him back into a candelabra!” screeched Adam.
Belle dropped the Icelandic book, even as Uncle Tristan demanded to know what Adam meant by “back into a candelabra” and Max began to tear around the room, looking behind chairs and under tables for Lumiere. The book hit the floor with a soft thump, scaring Pyewacket out from under the sofa; the cat joined in the general bedlam by leaping onto a table and yowling. Belle stood as one frozen, watching in disbelief as Adam flung himself at the candlestick and caught it up. Magic. She had done magic. Unintentional magic, to be sure, but there was Lumiere, a candlestick in Adam's hands. There was no doubt about it; he looked exactly as he had when he first introduced himself to Belle.
“Lumiere! Lumiere! Speak to me, old friend! Are you hurt?” Adam bellowed, shaking the candlestick.
“Is he talking to the candlestick?” Uncle Tristan said. “How extraordinary.”
Max slammed the open window shut and stood panting at the far end of the library. “He's gone! He can't have gone out the door; we'd have seen him! Where is he?”
“He's here!” roared Adam, brandishing Lumiere at his cousin.
“That is a candlestick!” bellowed Max.
“No, it's certainly Lumiere.” They all swung round to look at Vane; the doctor stared, intrigued, at the candlestick in Adam's hands. “I saw him turn,” he added. “One moment he was standing with the coffees, the next, he transformed. Looks like there is some truth to magic after all, Max.”
Max shook his head. “But it's impossible!”
Adam leaped around towards him. “Does this look impossible to you?”
Belle reeled; Lumiere a candelabra again. Did this mean that all of the staff was cursed? For a moment Belle felt quite faint; Uncle Tristan, seeing this, caught her arm and guided her to a chair. Max and Adam were still standing screaming; Lady Efra advanced on them, tiny but fierce, to forestall full-blown hysterics.
“Everybody, calm yourselves! Max, Adam, sit down. Sit. Now put your heads down and breathe, both of you. Adam, put Lumiere on the table. Gracious me, I've never seen anything like it, two big lads like you.”
Adam relinquished his grip on Lumiere and doubled over, gasping. He felt as though his lungs had actually left his body.
“This-” he gasped. “This is why you don't muck about with magic! Belle, how could you?”
“I didn't do it on purpose!” Belle said, feeling uncommonly defensive. “How was I supposed to know he's turn back into a candelabra!”
“You keep saying 'back',” said Uncle Tristan. “I'm terrified to ask, but...was Lumiere somehow a candlestick before?”
“He can't have been!” protested Max.
Dr. Vane bent to examine Lumiere. The candlestick stood inanimate on the table, its lit candles fluttering. Just as Lumiere had stood, when he'd been hiding from intruders, or asleep. Belle realized she was gasping, herself, and put her head down to her knees.
“He didn't go through the door or out the window,” Vane remarked. “And as I said, I saw him transform. I can't say that's something I'd tell tales about, my lord.”
“I saw him turn, too.” As one, they all turned to stare at Lady Efra. “Well, I did. As you say, Doctor, the windows blew open and Lumiere turned to gold and became a candlestick. I think we'd better lock that book up, Max; heaven knows I don't want any of the other servants turned into objects.”
“Oh God...” Adam moaned, putting his hands over his face. “I can't do this again, Belle, I can't!”
Lady Efra came around to put a hand on his shoulder. “Don't worry, my Adam, we'll put it to rights. Breathe now, there's a dear.”
“But why is he not talking?” Belle asked.
They all looked at Lumiere again, blazing away in silence on the table. Adam clutched at his grandmother's hand. “The castle went quiet as she changed them. Everyone was screaming and then they turned and there was silence, and I thought that everyone had died-”
“Good Lord,” said Uncle Tristan. “Adam, is there something you want to tell us?”
At that moment, the door opened and Plumette came into the library, carrying a tray of petit fours. “Mesdame, messieurs, I have ca-cakes...” Her voice trailed off as she took in Adam's white face, Belle's agitation, and the candelabra on the table. Then the tray fell from Plumette's slack hands and she screamed.
“All in all,” said Uncle Tristan, surveying the emotional wreckage around him, “I would say that this is one of the stranger house parties we've hosted here.”
Dr. Vane raised an eyebrow. “You've seen other guests turned into house ware, your grace?”
“No, my dear doctor, I regret to say that this is a first for me. I'm sure my nephew and niece will be happy to explain.”
The two gentlemen looked about the library again, and Belle felt a sudden urge to giggle. She bit it back, not wanting to set Plumette off again. That had been a fraught few minutes. Plumette, seeing the mischief done to her husband, had set off screaming fit to burst, and in a train of logic that Belle understood completely, had seized a cushion and began to beat Max with it.
“There's no such thing as magic, eh?” she had screamed, whacking Max repeatedly. “There's no such thing as magic?!”
Adam had leaped forward to drag Plumette off of his shocked cousin. “It's not his fault, Plumette, he's not the one-”
Belle spoke at the same moment. “It was me, Plumette! I didn't mean to, but it was me! I was reading out of a spell book and Lumiere was transformed!”
“You!” Plumette gasped, horrified. Belle nodded. For a moment Plumette stared, then she raised the cushion and began to smack Belle with it. “Don't you know better than to muck about with magic after all we've been through!”
Adam seized Plumette about the waist and dragged her away from Belle. “Easy, Plumette, easy! It wasn't her fault; she didn't do it on purpose!”
Plumette stood quivering, cushion clutched in her hands. All at once she dropped it, and snatched Lumiere up off of the table. “Lumiere! Mon amour, speak to me! Are you hurt?”
Uncle Tristan had turned to Dr. Vane and Lady Efra. “Something tells me that there's a story here.”
It had taken some time for Plumette to calm down. Lumiere still slumbered, unperturbed by the screaming, and finally Lady Efra had been able to convince Plumette to lie down on a sofa. Max still looked flabbergasted and kept muttering, “Impossible, impossible!” under his breath. Adam fell into a chair and stared at Lumiere in helpless amazement; Belle reacting much the same way.
“I think,” said Lady Efra, “that explanations are due.”
That was an understatement, but Adam didn't know where to begin. His heart was still trying to leap out of his chest, and he felt the need to sit down on the floor and have hysterics. He looked over at Belle.
“You tell them.”
“I only know the end of it,” she protested. “And no one explained anything to me at the time.”
Adam folded his hands together to keep from wringing them. Outside, wind and rain screamed around the house, just as it had that awful, awful night when the Enchantress came and damned them all.
“You won't believe me,” he said.
Lady Efra patted his hand. “Try us.”
“Your valet's been turned into a candlestick,” Uncle Tristan added. “I'm inclined to believe anything you want to tell us.”
“Would it have anything to do with why you vanished from all our thoughts for over a year?” Dr. Vane asked.
Adam looked again at Lumiere, still and silent in Plumette's hands, and nodded. “Yes, it does. Oh, God.” He put his face in his hands, summoning his courage. “All right. It's like this.”
Slowly, haltingly, Adam began to tell them about the night that Agathe had come to the castle, about how he had treated her and how she had reacted to it. He looked at his hands as he related being turned into the Beast, and the servants into objects, and the eternal winter that had followed. He told them about the terms of the curse, and his despair, and the staff's eternal hope. How it seemed that years and years had passed, when in the real world the curse only lasted about fifteen months. How Adam, as the Beast, had drunk six barrels of wine and taken Maurice prisoner because he had picked Maria-Eleanor's roses. How Belle had shown up the next day and refused to leave until he frightened her, how she had run straight into the wolf pack, and how the ensuing fight had brought them together. He skirted over their burgeoning friendship and romance, and relegated Gaston's attack to a footnote, being still haunted by nightmares of the hunt and his subsequent temporary death. When the tale was finished, Adam raised his eyes to look at his family, hoping and praying that they believed him.
Four pairs of incredulous eyes met Adam's.
“That,” said Max, “Is the maddest thing I've ever heard. She turned you into a Beast?”
“I got better,” snapped Adam. “With Belle's help.”
“He wasn't really all that scary,” Belle said, “once he stopped shouting and put on clothes that weren't rags.”
“He was mean and obnoxious,” Plumette said sadly, “And we let him be that way, so we were cursed, as we deserved.”
“Good lord,” said Vane. “You were all objects?”
“Yes. I was a feather duster. Cogsworth was a mantle clock. Lumiere was-he was-” Plumette broke off, her voice thick.
“A candelabra,” Lady Efra said. “How extraordinary. I wonder what you would have been, Vane.”
In spite of himself, Adam started to smile. He did love his grandmother. “I was always glad that you weren't cursed. It was a relief to me.”
“But if this is real,” Uncle Tristan said, “then how do we turn Lumiere back into a man?”
“I can't believe this,” said Max, rubbing his hands over his face. “It's unbelievable.”
At that moment, the candelabra in Plumette's hands yawned and stretched and looked around. “Mes amis! You have all gotten bigger!” Then Lumiere looked down at himself and started. “Et merde! What have you done to me?”
That did it. Max and Adam both gave in to hysterics.
“Are you still angry with me?”
It was late, and dark, and cold in their bedroom. The storm raged on, the fire continued to not spread much warmth, and Adam lay in bed with his back to Belle. She sat just behind him, looking over his hunched-up form.
“I'm not angry with you. I'm just...angry.”
Belle was silent, waiting. Adam had never been able to resist filling her silence.
“I don't like to think about the night that she came. Your Agathe. It was terrible. She was a nasty old woman, and I told her to go away, and then she turned into a lady who floated in mid-air, and she cursed me. And it hurt, Belle.” In his agitation, Adam rolled over and sat up. “She broke every bone in my body and watched me as I screamed on the floor. I've never been so scared, ever. And then she went after the staff, and I had to listen as everyone screamed and changed and fell silent. I thought she had killed everyone. I didn't know for hours that she's just put them to sleep.”
Belle caught his hand. He had never told her this before. Adam shook his head.
“I was a hateful, unmitigated ass, but I never wanted them to be hurt, or cursed. You can't imagine how it is to see your loved ones cursed because of you.”
“They were as much at fault as you were,” Belle said. “And they knew it.”
Adam shrugged. “But I didn't. And seeing Lumiere tonight...it was as if I was back there, and we were all doomed. I don't know how to fix this, Belle. Last time, at least, there was a way to break the curse.”
Belle sighed. Guilt gnawed at her. Plumette had taken Lumiere, after much swearing and many apologies, off to their room for the night. There was nothing to be done that night; the shock sat so heavy that no one could think of how to reverse the spell. Dr. Vane had suggested that they sleep on it and reconvene in the morning. And so here they were, in their cold bedroom.
“We'll fix this, Adam. I promise we will. We'll find a way.”
Adam sighed. “I hope so.”
Author's Note: Sorry this update took so long! Things have been a bit bonkers around here (in a good way!). I hope you all like this chapter, and PLEASE leave me a comment and let me know. I am needy, etc. etc. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 6: The Clamorous Owl
Chapter Six: The Clamorous Owl
Early in the morning, Belle rolled out of bed and dashed about the cold bedroom, splashing water on her face, cleaning her teeth, and climbing into sensible outdoor clothes and sturdy boots. Thick skirts, a heavy jacket, her blue woolen cloak that Adam had bought her in Paris when they went up to see the city and attend the theater. It wasn't quite light yet, and Belle was as quiet as she could be, but still Adam stirred as she dug through her valise for the book that she had been so careful to bring-just in case. In case of what, she had not known, but the need to pack it had niggled at Belle until she wrapped it in oiled cloth and stowed it under the rest of her things. Just in case.
“Belle...?” Adam mumbled, half-waking as she set the Atlas on the table.
Belle flitted to his side and bent over him, stroking his soft gold hair back from his face. “I'm here, love. Go back to sleep now.”
Adam's eyelids fluttered. “Are you dressed?”
“Yes, I've thought of a way to help Lumiere. I'll be back by breakfast.”
She dropped a kiss onto his cheek and hurried back to the Atlas. Think of one place. Just one. Maurice had told her about it, in the days following the breaking of the curse: Agathe's curious little house in the woods, where he had spent a week being nursed and calmed by the woman, the enchantress who had orchestrated his discovery of the enchanted castle. A little house in the woods, a mile out of Villeneuve, where lived a woman who was not what she seemed with her owls and her herbs and her vast, endless magic. Belle pictured it, and felt the Atlas's living magic wrap itself around her and transport her up and away from the cold and opulent bedroom at Hartley Park, out of England, back to France in search of an Enchantress to put things right.
Belle was not back by breakfast. Adam rose and washed and dressed in a suit of buff and deep green, gave the Atlas a worried look, and went down to join his family for breakfast. As a precaution, he locked the door behind him. It wouldn't do to have any housemaids discover the Atlas and find themselves transported somewhere.
He was not quite late to breakfast, which was served buffet-style in the manner of great houses. The rest of the party had assembled, Max still looking rather pale and shocked as he watched Tristan and Vane talk with Lumiere. The candelabra stood between them on the table, and was in the midst of extolling the virtues of Moliere when Adam walked in. Adam was not surprised to see either Lumiere or Plumette seated at the table. Lady Efra had taken Plumette in hand last night, and now the two women were seated at one end of the table, talking earnestly with their heads close together. They looked around as Adam joined them.
“Good morning Grandmama, Plumette,” he said, bending to kiss his grandmother's cheek. “How are you faring this morning, Plumette?”
“I did not sleep as well as I could have,” Plumette said wryly. “My husband had to sleep on the table, lest he set fire to the bed.”
“Yes, one cannot make love to a candelabra,” Lady Efra said, and made a face at them as both Adam and Plumette choked on their tea. “Good heavens, I know the two of you are not prudes. My maid told me that half the servants suddenly believe their wing to be haunted, and that's only since your party arrived. Don't blush, now, we're all adults here. Where is Belle?”
“She, um. She's looking for a way to help Lumiere,” Adam said. “She said she'd be back soon.”
“Where did she go?” Lady Efra glanced towards the windows; it was still pouring down rain, though the wind had dropped.
“Well, she went...” Adam hesitated; he had not told them about the Atlas last night.
“Back to France,” Plumette surmised, seeing his face. “With the Atlas. Did she go to find the Enchantress?”
“She didn't say. I think so. I was mostly asleep when she went off, before dawn.”
Lady Efra looked intrigued. “What atlas? Is this more magic?”
The word caught the attention of the gentlemen.
“More magic?” Dr. Vane sounded delighted. “Pray tell us, Prince Adam.”
Adam sighed and glanced longingly at the breakfast buffet. At this rate he wouldn't get to eat anything while it was still hot. “I...have a magic book that takes one anywhere they wish. Belle used it this morning to seek out...someone who may be able to help Lumiere return to human.”
“A magic book that takes one wherever they want?” Vane looked as though Christmas had come early.
“A magic book?” Max echoed, looking like he wanted to die.
“You brought the Atlas?” bellowed Lumiere, striding down the table. “You brought the Atlas and we could have entirely avoided that miserable ocean journey?!”
“Hey, I didn't know she packed it!” Adam cried, recoiling a little from his flaming friend. “If it makes you feel better, we can use it to get home and save all of your stomachs.”
“I should say so,” Plumette said, wincing at the memory.
Lumiere folded his arms and shook his head. “I wonder at your pragmatism, or lack thereof, mon prince.”
“Lumiere, never in my life have I been pragmatic,” Adam replied. “I'm the trash prince, remember?”
Lumiere gave his a sideways metallic grin. “Well, you were, anyway. My darling has told me that you told everyone about the curse.” He swung around. “Do you believe in magic now, Lord Max?”
“I...” said Max, and Adam hurried to save him.
“How are you, Lumiere? You're not hurt?”
“What? Oh, no, just a little surprised. I did not think I would ever have to be a candelabra again. But I am a phoenix, mon ami. Burn me down and I shall rise again from the ashes.” He grinned a little. “Also, I have implicit faith in your Belle, though possibly you should gag her the next time she decides to read from a spell book.”
Adam grinned a little. Belle did not like gags; they had tried that once. But it relieved him to know that Lumiere was not angry, or at least, that his anger was not long-lasting. Adam, too, had great faith in Belle's ability to fix things. Now if only she would return.
Belle's feet met the forest floor with a soft thump. She stumbled and put her arms out to save herself from falling, experiencing a momentary dizziness. Here she was, back in the hidden heart of France, and here was Agathe's little cottage. It was a cold, grey October morning, smelling of trees and falling leaves and wood smoke. Belle breathed in deeply. She was surprised how good it felt to be back in her own familiar forest.
But there was no time to lollygag. Belle hurried up to the cottage door and knocked. There was no answer. She knocked again, and again, nothing.
“Agathe? Agathe, it's Belle!”
No answer. Belle knocked again, exasperated. Surely Agathe couldn't be up and gone already? The sun had only just risen!
“Agathe!” Belle yelled. “Please open up; it's me, Belle! I need you!”
The door creaked open. Belle pushed at it and stood in the doorway, peering into the dim interior.
The hut was empty save for a bed, a table, and two owls perched on a tree that formed part of one wall. One, a large tawny barn owl, gave Belle a sarcastic look. The other, a tiny fluffy pygmy with enormous yellow eyes, hopped on its perch.
“Son of a bitch!” it said in a child's treble. “It's the princess!”
Belle, despite being somewhat used to magic, felt a moment of unreality. Then common sense kicked in. “Mind your language,” she said. “Is Agathe at home?”
“She'd have answered the door if she was,” replied the little owl. “Now go away.”
Belle stood her ground. “When will she be back?”
“I don't know! What's your hurry?”
“Do you know where she went? Please, it's an emergency.”
The owl fluffed itself. “Maybe the village? Maybe the Court? Not your court, her court. Or maybe...”
“Maybe she went to it's none of your business!” the owl yelled, and cackled with laughter. The barn owl gave a weary shake of its head.
Belle was not about to be put off by an owl. “If she's not here and you don't know where she is, can I leave her a message?”
“I don't know, can you?” The owl laughed again. Belle rolled her eyes and rummaged in her pockets; she had stuffed a notebook and pencil, along with several other items, into her pockets before leaving Hartley Park. She advanced into the room and bent over the table, scribbling her message to Agathe.
My dear Agathe,
I've done something incredibly stupid. Adam's cousin Max gave me an Icelandic spell book to read aloud from and I turned Lumiere back into a candelabra. I don't know how to change him back. Please, if you know how I can fix this, contact me somehow. I have the Atlas with me.
It would have to do. Belle signed and dated it, and set it on the table. As a precaution against the owls and a gesture of friendship, she set the two jars of jam she'd nabbed from the Hartley Park kitchens down on top of it.
“Please see that she gets my note,” Belle said to the owls.
The little one flapped down to her and peered at the paper. “What's it say?”
“None of your business,” Belle replied evenly.
“Oh come on, it's not my fault I can't read!” It stamped its foot, and Belle was again strongly reminded of a small child. “They say you're the reading princess who always throws books at people!”
“And you're kind of a brat, you know that?” Belle sighed. “If you promise to make sure Agathe gets this letter, I'll teach you to read as soon as Adam and I come back home. All right?”
“Fair enough,” said the owl. “You hear that, Ceviche? The princess is gonna teach me how to read.”
“God help us all,” replied the barn owl, and vanished through the window.
Belle took her leave of them and strode off through the forest. She didn't know what to do. She could go straight back to Hartley Park, or she could go up to Villeneuve and see if Agathe was there, haunting the town as was her wont. Belle hoped that she was; she had no idea what sort of court the little owl had been talking about, and didn't want to know. Villeneuve it was, then. Belle concentrated, feeling the Atlas's magic swirling around her.
No, Villeneuve, please.
A moment later she was standing behind the church, where no one would see her materialize. Belle picked up her skirts and dashed around into the market square, where early vendors were just beginning to open their stalls. She kept her hood up and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as she searched the town. But Agathe was nowhere to be found. Belle sighed, and admitted defeat. It was time to go back to Hartley Park; maybe there was an answer in the Icelandic book, or in one of Max's other books. Besides, she was starving, and it was well past breakfast time by now. Belle walked back to the little yard behind the church and let the Atlas carry her back to England.
Author's Note: Sorry it's taken me so long to update! I've been fighting a mild depressive episode and didn't feel much like doing anything the last few days.
I cannot lay claim to Agathe's owl, though I do take responsibility for her potty mouth. She belongs to @lumiereswig on tumblr, where she's a side character in a fic that I asked to borrow. We'll see more of her soon enough.
The chapter title is from A Midsummer Night's Dream. "The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits."
For now, I hope you all like the chapter! Please comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 7: A Little Amateur Research
Chapter Seven: A Little Amateur Research
Adam returned to his bedroom after breakfast, to check on the Atlas and see if Belle had returned. He found that his wife had, indeed, returned, and was hanging out of the window as Adam unlocked the door and entered. For a moment Adam stared at Belle's skirts, all that was visible of her as she hung out in the rain. Then,
“What are you doing?”
Belle started and bashed her head on the windowsill. “Damnation! Adam!”
“Sorry, sorry! Are you hurt? What did Agathe say?” Adam felt a chill at the thought of her, and cast a hasty look around the room to see if Belle had brought her back. But no, they were alone.
“She wasn't at home,” Belle said, drawing herself back inside and rubbing her head. “I left a message with a rather potty-mouthed owl. Why was the door locked?”
“I didn't want anyone to touch the Atlas while I was at breakfast. When did you get back?”
“About ten minutes ago, to find myself trapped like a mad lady in an attic. I was just looking to see if I could climb to the ground when you came in and startled me.”
Adam grinned. “I didn't mean to, you know. One had to say something to keep you from climbing outside in the rain. You have a remarkably lovely posterior, but I doubt you wanted me to stare at it while you got all wet.”
Belle grinned and went to stand before the fire. Her hair was a mess, soaked and windblown; Adam took a brush from the dressing table and, helping her out of her cloak, pulled the ribbon from Belle's hair and began to brush it out. “Tell me what happened.”
“There's not much to tell,” Belle replied, leaning into his strong and gentle hands. “Agathe wasn't at home and I couldn't find her in Villeneuve, so I came back here. I did leave her a note.”
“You left an enchantress a note?”
“Yes, why not? I explained what happened and asked for advice. Relax, Adam, she was my friend before I knew she was an enchantress. And she pro-she helped us at the end, when you were dying, remember?”
Adam sighed and kept brushing Belle's hair. Belle glanced back at him, knowing how frightened he was of Agathe, still. It was on the tip of Belle's tongue to tell him about the conversation she had had with Agathe last summer, before the wedding, when the Enchantress had admitted to being the fae protector of the Princess de Courcy. Then why curse Adam? Belle had asked. I failed his mother. I was not about to fail his wife, Agathe had replied. Sometimes Belle wondered if she should tell Adam that, but it was not her tale to tell, really. And so she held her tongue.
“How is Lumiere?” she said instead.
“Honestly I think he's more offended that we brought the Atlas and didn't tell him than he is at being a candelabra again,” Adam replied. “Plumette seems more affronted than Lumiere does.”
Belle grinned a little. “I can't blame her. I'd be upset, too, if you were turned back into a creature.”
Adam snorted. “Best not say that to my grandmother. You should have heard her at breakfast. 'One cannot make love to a candelabra!' I thought Plumette was going to die, she turned so red.”
Belle laughed. “Your grandmother has a point, though. Where is she, anyway? Did you tell them all where I'd gone?”
“I told them that you were looking for a way to help Lumiere, and Plumette guessed that you had used the Atlas. Much shouting ensued.” Adam rolled Belle's hair back into her customary chignon, tucking in hairpins. Where he had learned to dress a lady's hair, Belle didn't know, but she approved of it. She also approved of the way he kissed the back of her neck when he'd finished. “When I left the dining room, Uncle Tristan was headed for the greenhouses to check on his giant pumpkin, and the rest were headed to the library, which I think is going to be our central meeting place here. Vane wants to have a look at the Atlas-he looked as though Christmas had come early when I mentioned it.”
Belle laughed, turning in his arms. “Good old Vane. I want to have a look at Max's spell books. I wonder if there isn't a way in the Icelandic one to turn Lumiere back.”
“Very good, as long as no one else gets turned into an object. Shall we, my lady?”
“We shall, my lord. Not forgetting the Atlas, of course.”
Arm in arm, they walked down to the library, where they found a cheerful party sitting around the large table, going through Max's books. Lumiere stood in the center, lighting the pages for them.
“Ah, there you two are!” Lady Efra said, smiling around at them. “Did you find what you were looking for, Belle?”
“I'm afraid not, but I did leave a note for the lady,” Belle said. “Good morning, Plumette, Lumiere.”
“Good morning, ma chère Belle,” Lumiere replied, waving at her.
“Lumiere, I want to tell you how dreadfully sorry I am,” Belle said, coming to lean on the table. “I really didn't think, and I certainly didn't mean to hurt you, and I'm so sorry.”
Lumiere waved a candle at her. “Don't worry, chèrie, of all the people in the world who would deliberately turn a man into a candelabra, I know you are not one of them. Just turn me back, quick as you can, so that I can adore my darling Plumette again.”
Plumette grinned a little, sheepishly. “He is right, dear Belle. I'm sorry that I reacted so, last night.”
Belle grinned. “I don't blame you. I'd have done the same. But what are you all doing here?”
Dr. Vane answered. “I thought that perhaps Max's books could hold the answer. The Icelandic book put the spell on him; there must be a solution here to taking it off again.”
“It is a shame that true love cannot break the curse,” Plumette said. “Because my Lumiere would be a man again in an instant.”
Lady Efra sighed, a small smile gracing her lovely lined face. “Ah, the lot of you young romantics. Love is a powerful thing, indeed. Tell me, Belle, what was it like to be courted by a creature?”
“Grandmama!” Adam protested.
“He didn't court me,” Belle replied, settling down next to the old lady. “He ran away from me at every opportunity, and spent an unhealthy amount of time boggling at me.”
“And so would you have, if someone barged into your life and laid bare your innermost thoughts and secrets,” Adam replied, taking the seat next to Vane. “Vane, Max, tell me what you've found so far.”
Max gave him a wry look. “So far, cousin, I have found that all of my long-cherished beliefs in science and rational thought are a lie.”
“Not so,” said Vane. “What is science but magic that we have come to understand? A hundred years ago the knowledge we take for granted now would have been met with hostility, if not outright violence. Remember that John Dee himself was an alchemist and occult philosopher, and he advised Queen Elizabeth herself at the same time.”
Max smiled, for the first time since the enchantment the night before. “Is that so?”
“Indeed,” Vane replied. “Dee straddled the gap between magic and science that was beginning to emerge at that time. And now that you know that magic exists, my dear Lord Max, you can study it yourself, and try to make sense of it.”
Both Max and Adam looked at Vane with respect bordering on adoration, and Belle smiled to herself. No wonder that teenage Adam, alone and uncertain, had loved his tutor.
“Here is the Atlas, doctor,” Adam said, handing it to Vane. “Be careful with it, I beg you.”
Vane's eyes shone. “What a wonderful gift this is, my prince. And it will take you anywhere you like?”
“Yes,” Adam said, “though I've only had one or two occasions to use it. When Lumiere is human again, we can put it to the test.”
“Indeed,” Vane agreed. “I shall make a list of places I wish to see.”
They spent the rest of the morning going through the books, marking pages and making notes. It was difficult not to be discouraged, however, for while there was plenty of exposition on alchemy, there was far less on the transformation of man into object. Belle went through the Icelandic book, this time careful not to read anything aloud. It was a beautiful book, bound in soft red leather with runes down the spine and across the border of the front cover, and its parchment pages were decorated with lavish hand-drawn pictures. Elves, dragons, angels and devils, mountains and hot springs and fairy mounds were all present. Belle remembered that there had been one such drawing decorating the page she had read from, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember what. And the memory of the words had escaped her. She could not find the spell she had read.
The rain stopped in the afternoon, and Vane and Lady Efra joined forces to make the younger members of the party take a walk in the gardens. Plumette carried Lumiere with her, the opinions of the English servants be damned. The gardens were lovely, even in their autumnal state. The trees were red and gold, the leaves drifting out over the flower beds.
“I always tell the gardeners to leave the leaves for as long as possible,” Lady Efra said, kicking her feet through them. “There is something so deliciously eerie about fallen leaves and the scent of autumn in the air, don't you think?”
“I'm afraid autumn leads to winter, and I have had more than enough of winter,” Adam replied. “But the leaves are beautiful, I admit.”
By the evening, the little party had to admit defeat. Without Agathe's help, it looked like they would get nowhere. Belle folded her arms and rested on the Icelandic book, feeling rather bleak.
“I'll try again tomorrow,” she said. “You can come with me if you like, Dr. Vane.”
Vane smiled. “I think I will, thank you, Madame Belle. It would be my pleasure.”
“It can make you a bit seasick, at first,” Adam warned. “Though not as badly as being on a real ship.”
“Yes, that was miserable.” Plumette shuddered. “Thank heaven we will not have to endure it again.”
Adam stood and stretched, wandering to the window. Darkness had fallen over Hartley Park; he could not make out the gardens in the blackness. Perhaps it was the spookiness of the day's readings, or his own misgivings about magic, but the darkness unsettled him. He longed for Lumiere to be human again, and for dinner time, and to be alone in bed with Belle, either reading together or-
Smack! Something hurtled into the window. Adam jumped back with a shout as everyone else jumped. Outside, a tiny puff of grey and white feathers flopped onto the windowsill and shook itself angrily.
“Son of a bitch!” it shouted. “You could have warned me there was glass there!”
“What on earth-” said Vane.
“Is that an owl?” exclaimed Uncle Tristan.
“Did it speak?” cried Plumette.
Belle leaped up and ran to the window, throwing it open, and held out her hand to Agathe's pygmy owl. “It's you! How did you get here? Do you have news from Agathe?”
The pygmy owl fluffed itself again, sneezed, and flew off of Belle's hand towards the fire. A flash of brown and grey feathers, and it became a little girl in a simple brown dress, her russet hair untidy.
“I flew here, princess; how else would I get here?” she said, advancing on the fire. “And a long flight it was, too! Son of a bitch, I'm cold. Give me that blanket, would you?” Nobody moved. The owl-girl turned around and gave them all a disgusted look. “What?”
Adam found his voice first. “...You just turned into a child. Forgive us for being a bit shocked.”
The girl made a face. “Of course I turned into a child, that's what I am! Only being an owl is nicer. I'm Crevette. Agathe sent me with a message about the candelabra man.”
Plumette leaped to her feet. “What is it?!”
“Well, first, I've gotta say this: ahahaha!” Crevette fell about laughing uproariously. The company watched as she clutched her sides and howled. At last, wiping her eyes, she stopped chuckling. “All right, that isn't what Agathe wanted to say; that was all me. What Agathe wanted the princess to know is this.” She paused and drew herself upright, assuming a serious voice. “'Only the one who cast the spell can undo it. I've asked among my circle for the best means of undoing it, and we are in agreement that the spell needs to be read backwards. Once this is done, Lumiere will be a man again. And for heaven's sake, Belle, don't read aloud from spell books! And thanks for the jam.'”
They all looked at each other.
“That's it?” Belle said, incredulous.
Crevette shrugged. “That's what she said. Read the spell backwards. She made me repeat it a lot, so I've got it right.”
“But that's simple!” Lumiere exclaimed. “There is the book, ma princesse; make me a man again!”
Belle looked at the Icelandic book on the table, and back at Lumiere. “I...can't. I don't know which spell it was.”
For a long moment, there was silence.
“Well,” Crevette said. “Looks like you'll be a candle man forever. Now can I have something to eat? I just flew here from France. I'm starving!”
Author's Note: Ah, the return of the little owl! Crevette belongs to @Lumiereswig over on Tumblr, who let me borrow her. I've made her a little older and more surly, but otherwise she's the same person. John Dee was a fascinating man: an alchemist and occult philosopher and an adviser to Elizabeth I. The chapter title comes from M.R. James. As always, thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think in the comments!
Chapter 8: Then The Charm Is Firm and Good
Chapter Eight: Then The Charm is Firm and Good
“How do you not remember?”
“The book is in Icelandic! And I just opened it at random. I didn't deliberately set out to pick the one spell that would turn Lumiere into a candlestick.”
“A candelabra, please, Madame Belle.” Lumiere had a pained look on his face. “You of all people should get the terminology right.”
Adam, listening to them bicker by the fireplace, felt a moment of unreality. Of all of the simple, stupid ways to return Lumiere to humanity, reading a spell backwards had to be the strangest. What did Agathe even mean, read it backwards? Backwards by word? Or backwards by syllable? Max and Dr. Vane were poring over the Icelandic book now, trying to locate the spell that Belle had used.
“I think I would have remembered if there was a dragon on the page!” Belle grumbled, and Adam felt his chest tighten, his lungs held tight by an iron band of panic. What if they couldn't fix this? What if, as Crevette had said, Lumiere had to be a candelabra forever?
“Fine!” Belle slammed her hand on the table, making everyone jump. “We're going to have to do this the hard way, since we can't find the wretched thing. We'll read all of them backwards and hope that we hit on the right one soon.”
Dr. Vane blinked. “That's...one way to go about doing it, I suppose. But what if-”
“What if something else happens?” Max asked. “What if you set a plague of...of locusts, or something, on the village?”
“Or turn me into a newt?” Lumiere folded his arms. “I would not care to be a newt, Belle. Nasty, slimy things.”
“Look, whatever you turn into, I'll eventually get to the right spell and turn you back. Do you want to stay a candelabra forever?”
“Then trust me.”
Plumette rubbed her hands over her face and sighed. “If I did not trust you, ma Belle, you would be in a world of hurt right now, believe me.”
Adam retreated from the little group, joining Lady Efra and Crevette by the fire. His grandmama had ordered up a tray from the kitchens and was stuffing the changling child full of cream buns. Crevette looked happy.
“They'll fix this,” Lady Efra said, patting Adam's hand. “Just you wait. Your Belle is a capable sort.”
“And Agathe won't let him be a candle man forever, not really,” Crevette said, picking up a third cream bun. “She likes Lumiere; says he's funny. And she laughed a lot when she read the Princess's note.”
The Enchantress laughing was not something that Adam could easily picture, but he gave the owl-girl a small smile.
“I have perfect faith in Belle,” he said, “but magic scares me, I will admit.”
“'Course it does,” Crevette said. “It was meant to scare you. But you're better now, aren't you? That's what Agathe said, and Agathe doesn't tell lies.”
And somehow, Adam was obscurely comforted.
“Have some tea, dear, and do try to relax,” Lady Efra said. “A nice party is what you need, for when this is all settled. A costume party, don't you think? We can invite everybody in the district and have ourselves a nice dance.”
Adam smiled. “Lumiere is a master party-planner; you must be sure to get him involved.”
“I hope to, just as soon as he's been put to rights. Oh listen, they're starting now.”
The library fell silent as Belle opened the Icelandic book to not quite its center-she remembered the book being opened to such an area when Max first put it into her hands-and began to read. It was as eerie as it had been the first night, with all of them watching Belle sound out the strange words. She had decided to read them backwards by word, starting with the final sentence. Adam and Plumette sat tense in their places. Max and Dr. Vane looked on in keep academic interest. Lumiere stood waiting. Lady Efra patted Adam's hand and Uncle Tristan gave him a sideways smile. Only Crevette looked calm, munching on another cream bun. Belle reached the end of the spell.
“Next,” said Max.
The first five spells were a bust. The sixth ended in a flash of light and smoke that made everyone jump. When it cleared, the candelabra was gone, replaced by a round orange pumpkin cared with a fearsome face. It glowed with flickering candlelight.
“A pumpkin!” wailed Plumette.
“Well, really,” said Lumiere. “This is just insult on injury.”
Crevette choked on her tea and fell about laughing. After a moment, Belle joined in, and Max, and Dr. Vane. Then they were all laughing, even Lumiere the Pumpkin, which was a sight to behold. It was good to laugh and break the tension.
“Next,” gasped Belle, wiping her streaming eyes. “Oh, Lumiere, I am sorry! I owe you and Plumette a lovely holiday for what I've put you through.”
“Ah yes, we can discuss this at length later,” Lumiere chuckled. “Try the next spell, then.”
The next spell was also a bust, and the next and the next. Plumette sat back in her chair and fiddled with one black curl as Belle read. Lumiere sat on the table, making faces at Crevette, who had come to stand between the two women. In the midst of one, Belle came to the end of a spell, and he vanished in a puff of light and smoke. Everyone leaned forward, waiting for it to clear and reveal the results.
“Zut alors!” exclaimed Lumiere. He stood on the table, a man again, clothed in a golden suit. “You have done it!”
Plumette screamed and leaped to her feet. Lady Efra burst into applause as Lumiere jumped off the table and pulled her into her arms. Crevette whooped. The rest of the cheered.
“Good show!” Uncle Tristan exclaimed. “I knew you'd fix it! He's back! Lumiere, you old devil, good to see you!”
“Mark that page,” Dr. Vane said, handing Belle a slip of paper. “I'll want it to turn my enemies into candlesticks.”
“Do you have many enemies, Dr. Vane?” Belle asked.
He grinned. “Not as such, but it is always tempting to muck about at academic conferences.”
Adam rushed around the sofa to embrace Lumiere and Plumette. “Lumiere! I'm so glad you're back!”
Lumiere chuckled and clapped Adam on the back. “I was never gone, mon ami, just in a different shape. But it is good to be a man again. I must make up for lost time. If you'll excuse me.”
And he swooped Plumette up into his arms and carried her laughing out of the library, leaving the company smiling after them.
“Oh bless them, they are so very French,” Lady Efra said.
“Where are they going?” Crevette demanded. “They haven't even had dinner! What do they think they're doing?”
Lady Efra put a hand on her shoulder. “I'll tell you when you're older.”
Adam, chuckling, went to hug Belle. “Thank you,” he whispered into her hair. “Now let's put that book far, far away.”
Belle gave him a mischievous look. “Shall we wait until after dinner to celebrate?” she whispered. “Or would you like to carry me off, as well?”
Adam thought about it, then bent and flung his wife over his shoulder. Belle screeched. Adam turned to face his family. “Grandmama, will you look after Crevette tonight and find her someplace comfortable to sleep? Belle and I will take dinner in our rooms, if you will excuse us.”
And he marched out of the library, Belle waving sheepishly at them over his shoulder. Before the door closed, Adam heard Lady Efra call something that sounded suspiciously like “enjoy yourselves!”
They intended to.
In the library, the remaining guests looked at each other. Crevette shook her head. “Adults are strange,” she said. “Can I have more tea?”
Author's Note: I'm sorry it's taken me so long to update! Things have been busy over here, and I sort of lost the plot on this one. I hope you like it!