Pairing: gen with a side of het
Word Count: 10,796
Spoilers: Candy Castle is at the end of the road in Candyland, and one can traverse the Gumdrop Mountains and head directly to Lord Licorice's Castle from the Peppermint Forest by using the Gumdrop Pass instead of going around the mountains.
Warnings: This is an apoca-fic. That's right: the end of the world in Candyland. And you thought you had issues.
Author's Note: World-building is difficult in its own right, but world-building in a (non-existent) fandom where all one has to go on is a blurb and a picture is really damn difficult. Many, if not all, references to people, places, creatures, and insults are brands or types of candy. I have never done this much research for any other fic I've written, and that is why this was almost never finished. There're a lot of types of candy out there. Also, I managed to take anything remotely childlike about the game and rip it out by the roots. Written for apocabigbang. This was based on the original definition of "apocalypse" - the disclosure to certain privileged person of something hidden from the majority of mankind: a revelation or "lifting of the veil." Then there's the whole end of the world thing: I used the Norse Ragnarökas and the Christian Book of Revelations a basis for the plot. Also, my version of Candyland is the '80's version, not this new version. Thank you to the awesome saekokato for the beta and cheerleading.
Disclaimer: Candyland is © of Hasbro.
Summary: When the Ice Cream Sea boiled, Queen Frostine took off across the country to see if the rumors of the Gumdrop Mountains melting had any substance. She then stumbled upon a coup.
The Ice Cream Sea was boiling. Queen Frostine frowned at it. This simply would not do, nor did it bode well. She had been waving off rumors for weeks of the Gumdrop Mountains melting. Now she thought maybe there might be some truth to those rumors. It was worth an investigation – a trip out to the Mountains.
She looked to the ice skates in her hands and bit her lip.
Something was wrong in Candyland, and Frostine would be damned if she wasn't going to put an end to it.
She would have to do it herself. King Kandy was a doddery old fool, and she had believed his lies when he had told her that there was nothing wrong in the kingdom.
Frostine had been a good queen, and not one of her subjects would counter that. She had submitted to their king despite the age gap. He was her king. She had even given him a child but not an heir, something he still tried to rectify. Frostine was delighted to discover that the sweetness that made him soft around the middle had also caused his impotence. Kandy blamed Frostine for not trying hard enough, for being selfish, because even after a child, the sweetness had barely touched her belly. An heir, a real child, a son, would stretch her body, and she would know the sweetness.
She did not hate him, though. He was not cruel to her, just indifferent except on the case of an heir. But even the need for an heir was only to keep Lord Licorice from taking on the title of King. The smarmy bastard would stop at nothing to become king, even if that meant taking on Lolly as a bride. Frostine would never let that disgusting man touch her daughter.
Frostine would do anything to keep her daughter safe, to raise her daughter as the next Queen of Candyland. But first she needed to make sure that there was a world still left for her daughter.
Frostine decided to head out on her own. She did not tell Kandy, nor did she leave a message with her chamber maid. She took her chestnut horse Juju. He wasn't the spryest of her horses, but he would be able to withstand any obstacles between them and the Mountains. Juju was virtually indestructible.
Kandy was sleeping off his latest attempt to sire an heir, and the rest of the castle was similarly asleep. It had not been difficult for her to sneak out of the Castle. Juju had protested when she woke him, but he had been eager enough to leave the stables.
Frostine rode Juju slowly until they were out of sight of the castle, then she rode him hard until they reached the Molasses Swamp. She would need to cross the Swamp before morning, and she would also need to avoid the detection of Gloppy, who would undoubtedly do his civic duty and report her presence to Kandy.
Frostine passed the Ice Cream Sea just before dawn. In the grey haze, she could see that the beaches were covered in noxious foam. She could see the pale red of Swedish fish dotting the shore. She didn't need to venture closer to know that all the fish were dead: she could smell their sickly decomposition. It clogged her sinuses and her lungs.
The smell stayed lodged in her nose long after she passed the sea and saw the first spattering of trees of the Lollipop Woods. The sight burned to the back of her eyelids.
She realized that half the trees she passed on her way into the forest proper were naked. Some had different colored resin oozing down their trunks, and many had been taken over by Red Vines. A feeling she couldn't name crept up her spine and formed a lump at the base of her throat that made it difficult to breathe.
Frostine ignored the emotions in favor of hope. Lolly lived in the Woods. She attended finishing school, the Charm Pop School.
Frostine hoped that she had time to visit with her daughter – if only to say hello – before she headed out to the Mountains.
Lolly was outside reading when Frostine approached. Lolly looked up when Juju's shadow fell across her book.
"Mama!" Lolly squealed as she scrambled to her feet.
Frostine smiled and dismounted Juju. Juju snorted at Lolly, and Lolly ran her fingers up the blaze on Juju's muzzle to appease him.
"Hello, baby," Frostine said with a smile. "It's been a while."
"I'm no longer a child," Lolly insisted petulantly. She was no longer a child in body, true. Frostine was particularly struck with the stark contrast of Lolly's yellow dress and her strawberry curls. The dress had been Frostine's when she had been Lolly's age, and so had the eyes, but the curls were all Kandy's.
"You'll always be my baby," Frostine countered. "Give your mother a hug."
"Not that I'm complaining," Lolly said as she complied with her mother's wishes. "But why are you here? Is Papa with you?"
Frostine's smile drooped at the corners, and she was thankful Lolly couldn't see. "No, Lolly, your Papa doesn't know I'm here. I am on an errand of grave importance."
"Oh," Lolly said, sounding a bit stricken. "Then we should continue this someplace else. Morning lessons are almost over, and if someone sees us, they will know."
Frostine frowned and pulled away from her daughter. "Are you skipping your lessons?"
"Yes, Mama," Lolly admitted with a sigh. She looked at the ground instead of Frostine's face.
"We shall discuss that later," Frostine said sternly. "Where will it be safe to talk?"
"Come with me," Lolly said. She grasped Frostine's hand and led her to a rosewater pool surrounded by lollipop and sugarplum trees. They sat down on the soft moss around the pool.
Juju sniffed suspiciously at a sugarplum before he tugged one from the tree and munched on it.
"What's going on, Mama?" Lolly asked. She used her entire face to frown.
"I need to know of all the changes you've noticed within the Lollipop Woods," Frostine said.
"Oh," Lolly said quietly. "You've finally noticed."
"Your father still hasn't," Frostine reminded her. "That is why he does not know I'm here." Softly, Frostine continued, "The Ice Cream Sea was boiling."
Lolly gasped. She pursed her lips and sighed. "I thought it was just the Lollipop Woods," she said eventually. "Valrhona said that the Gumdrop Mountains were melting. I didn't believe her, because she's a gossipy hose-nose. She's been touched by the sweetness, and she's younger than I."
"Language," Frostine reminded her mildly.
Lolly huffed. "Is it true, though?"
"I'm not sure," Frostine admitted. "I'm on my way to determine that."
"What will you do if they are?" Lolly asked. She rearranged her skirt around her splayed legs.
"I would need to then determine the cause and put a stop to it," Frostine said sensibly.
"You can't just order something like that," Lolly said. "I mean no offence."
"Lolly," Frostine said with a small smile. "The law does not work like that. In order to meet a large, seemingly unobtainable goal, a series of obtainable legislature will be put in motion to ultimately reach the end goal." Her daughter had much to learn of laws, and Frostine hoped that would be before Lolly became a queen.
"It just seems so huge," Lolly whispered.
"Many things are huge when you look at everything involved," Frostine said. "You must take small steps to reach a large goal."
Lolly gave Frostine a look that reminded her exactly how young and inexperienced her daughter actually was. The world was a trying place for someone Lolly's age.
"For example, you can tell me about the Lollipop Woods," Frostine said. "We can work on that first."
"The trees are melting," Lolly said. She choked a bit as if the words really didn't want to come out. "It's really creepy. The dead ones are cut. A lot were cut before, to make room for Gramma Nut's peanut franchise. She needs acres and acres for her peanut fields."
Frostine had seen the melting trees and their bare sticks, bleached by the starlight. The skeletal remains of the Lollipop Woods were creepy, and Frostine felt a chill race up her spine at the mere thought.
"What would make the trees unhappy?" Lolly asked, and Frostine was reminded again just how young her daughter was.
"That's what I'm going to find out, baby," Frostine said resolutely.
Frostine heard voices in the woods: school girls laughing. Frostine looked up in alarm.
"What is it, Mama?" Lolly asked.
"Your friends are coming," Frostine said. "I need to go." She pushed herself up and crossed over to Juju in three, wide strides. "No one can know I'm here."
"Oh," Lolly said. She looked so pathetically crestfallen, and Frostine's heart went out to her.
"I do love you, baby," Frostine said. She mounted Juju. "I'll be back. I just need to assess Candyland."
"I understand, Mama," Lolly said dully.
"I was never here," Frostine told her. She spurred Juju into a gallop.
Juju slowed down to an amble as the trees became sparser. The last time Frostine had been this far out, this open area was part of the Lollipop Woods. It had not been so long ago, either. It was the time of the Great Revolt. The clans up in the Gumdrop Mountains wished to emancipate themselves and become their own nation. Frostine and Kandy had traveled there and negotiated. They were able to talk down the threat of civil war, and no one had been victim to so much as a pop rock.
Now, the only thing Frostine could see were peanut fields. Flat green rows of peanut vines separated by rust-colored dirt. All she could smell was the overwhelming smell of peanuts. They went out in every direction, as far as Frostine could see. She did not remember giving Gramma Nut a land permit to expand her corporate empire. Kandy must have, because peanut brittle was one of Candyland's main exports. He would jump at the chance to bring more revenue into his kingdom.
Frostine's stomach gave a painful twist, and she realized that she hadn't eaten anything since she left the castle the night before. She gathered peanuts from the vine and ate them as she rode. Juju snorted at her but decided to graze as well.
Frostine decided to stay to the outer fields to avoid people instead of using the Main Road. She and Juju were not the only ones with that idea.
Frostine quickly wrapped her hair in a shawl. She had distinctive hair, and she didn't want this stranger to know exactly who she was.
"Hello!" he greeted her. He was very pink and very tall.
"Hello," Frostine said in return, looking down from Juju. "Good morning."
"You don't want to head out passed the peanut fields," he said. "It's no place for a beautiful woman – or any human, for that matter." He said this with a smile and a Highland accent so thick that it took Frostine a moment to understand what he said. He was undoubtedly from the Peppermint Forest.
"You've come from there?" Frostine asked.
"Oh, yes, ma'am," he said with a dip of his head. "There's nothing out there beyond the peanut fields."
"Pardon me?" Frostine asked. There was no way that there was nothing beyond Gramma Nut's farm. "There's nothing out there?"
"It's a wasteland, full of dental caries," the man said. "You don't want to go there. Oh, I haven't introduced myself. Sorry, difficult to find my manners in the presence of such a pretty lady. I'm Mr. Andy Mint."
"How do you do, Mr. Mint," Frostine said. She momentarily panicked. She didn't want to tell him that she was the Queen. It wasn't proper for the Queen to be outside of the castle grounds without an escort. "I'm Ms. Kone," she decided.
"Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Kone," he said.
"I must go see these dental caries, as you call them, myself," Frostine said stubbornly.
"That's no place for any person to be," he insisted. "And my mother would never allow me to let such a lovely women there unescorted. Why do you need to see 'em?"
"Oh, an escort won't be necessary," Frostine said. "There's no need to worry yourself on my accord."
"Nonsense," Mr. Mint said with a wave of his hand. "You'll need someone who knows the way."
"The way?" Frostine prompted, immediately suspicious.
"You must be on an errand," Mr. Mint said. "To the Mountains. The Main Road isn't too sturdy. The refugees have – "
"Refugees?!" Frostine repeated, alarmed.
"The Mountains are melting, ma'am," Mr. Mint said. "A lot of people don't have their homes anymore."
Frostine hadn't thought of that. Her heart went out for her people, and she felt an intense anger at Kandy. If he had known this and kept it from her, she would never forgive him.
"I must see this for myself," she said resolutely.
"Sure, ma'am," Mr. Mint said. "We need to stay in the outer fields. Technically, we're trespassing. You never know when a worker will report you."
"No," Frostine agreed, talking about something completely different. "You never know."
The star was to their backs by the time they emerged from the other end of Gramma Nut's peanut fields. Frostine was thirsty and hot, and her companion must have been as well. He was a cheerful fellow; she had to give him that. He didn't complain one lick about the heat, the dust, or the overwhelming stench of peanuts. He spoke of everything and nothing, carrying the conversation. He didn't demand anything from her other than companionship. It was refreshing, and she was able to think of his positive attitude instead of the heat.
The flat terrain yielded to choppy hills as the rusty dirt darkened to soot as they entered the Licorice Forest, and the star ducked behind the tallest hill.
The sweat on Frostine's brow chilled in the cooling air, and she suppressed a shiver.
Upon the tallest hill was Licorice Castle.
Huge spires stabbed at the sky, and the onion domes threatened to block out the torn sky entirely.
"We should stop there for the night," Mr. Mint suggested.
"No," Frostine said firmly.
Juju snorted in agreement. He had been eyeing the darkening landscape with unease.
"It's not as scary as it looks," Mr. Mint urged.
"No," Frostine said again. "That is Lord Licorice's castle."
"You don't support the Lord," Mr. Mint observed.
"Not at all," Frostine said. "He is a megalomaniac and will stop at nothing to make Candyland his own. He's also not officially a Lord. He's self-titled."
"Maybe he will do a better job than the current monarchy," Mr. Mint suggested.
"That is treason!" Frostine cried, scandalized. Who did this man think he was? He had no right to question the law. And the law was upheld by the King and Queen. It was a direct insult to Frostine and her ability to rule. She had never before encountered such belligerence.
Mr. Mint shrugged. "You might change your mind about the King and Queen once you see what's beyond his palace."
"I assure you that is highly unlikely," Frostine told him icily.
"He's actually a nice champ," Mr. Mint said. "I stayed as his guest last night. He was quite courteous."
"It is out of the question," Frostine said. She was unaccustomed to people arguing with her.
"Ma'am," Mr. Mint said. "There is no other place for shelter."
"From what?" Frostine snapped. There was no way she would spend a night under Lord Licorice's roof if the only nasty thing out there was a Chupa Chup or something similar.
"Trolligators," Mr. Mint whispered. His gaze cut left and then right as if naming them would bring them directly toward him. Frostine refused to believe that Trolligators roamed about the forests at night looking for helpless travelers to eat.
"And if we were to take Rainbow Trail to the Gingerbread Plum Trees then through the Peppermint Forest?" Frostine asked.
"It would take a very long time," Mr. Mint said. "Even more so now, as the Trail is completely gone."
"Gone?" Frostine demanded.
"Oh, yes," Mr. Mint said with a bob of his head. "It collapsed in the last earth tremor."
"Earth tremors?" Frostine repeated. No one had told her earth tremors were occurring in Candyland.
"Do they not have news up north?" Mr. Mint asked. It was a rhetorical question, because he continued, "The earth tremors have been going on since the Mountains began to melt. They're becoming angrier."
"Oh," Frostine said in a small voice.
"The star is almost down," Mr. Mint said. "I'm uncomfortable staying out after dark. You don't strike me as the type of young woman accustomed to spending the night outside."
Frostine was not, but it was better than spending the night in Lord Licorice's castle, even if there were Trolligators and earth tremors.
"What in the name of Ferrero is going on here?"
Frostine had been so engrossed in her argument that she hadn't noticed someone sneak up on them. The dim light didn't help with matters.
She turned around and came face-to-face with Lord Licorice. Of course, he would be one to use such coarse language. He wielded an unlit torch, and he had shaved his dreadful moustache.
"It's too late for anyone to be out in this part of Candyland," Lord Licorice said. "Come, quickly, to my castle."
Mr. Mint followed Lord Licorice readily. Frostine hesitated. Lord Licorice did not sound like himself: he showed concern. He obviously had not recognized her, which was something Frostine wanted under no circumstance to happen, but she knew that as soon as there was proper lighting, Lord Licorice would recognize her.
"Ms. Kone!" Mr. Mint called. "Come on!"
Frostine patted Juju's shoulder and muttered to him, "If the vilest man in all of Candyland doesn't think it's safe out, I suppose there must be some truly horrifying things out there."
Juju snorted at her and followed behind Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice.
Lord Licorice's castle was dark and foreboding. Frostine could not tell where the castle ended and the sky began. Everything was dark. Lord Licorice had lit his torch, and the fire bounced the shadows around sinisterly.
However, inside Lord Licorice's castle, there was plenty of light.
"Welcome back, Andy," Lord Licorice said after they had secured Juju in the stables. "Have you given up on your quest?"
"No," Mr. Mint said. "I'm accompanying this young woman on her errand."
Lord Licorice turned to Frostine and raised a wry eyebrow. "This young woman," he said. His eyes never left Frostine. She lifted her chin in defiance.
"Oh, yes," Mr. Mint said. "Her name is Ms. Kone, and she's on an errand."
"We've met before," Lord Licorice said. Buttermint wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Although, she used her real name then."
Frostine narrowed her eyes. Lord Licorice was going to tell her secret, regardless. She took a deep sigh. She didn't know who she was fooling, going on this journey to see Candyland for herself. She should have stayed in Candy Castle and stayed complacent to Kandy, as she was contractually obligated to do. However, it was too late to second guess her impulses, and she would not back down now.
She knew the question Mr. Mint was going to ask, and she knew that Lord Licorice would answer him truthfully.
"What name did you use, ma'am?" Mr. Mint asked her.
Frostine sighed again. There was no way out of this. She removed her shawl. "My name is Frostine, and I am your Queen."
Mr. Mint gaped at her before he crashed down to his knees in a hasty kneel. His head bowed at such an angle, Frostine could almost feel the crick in his neck.
"Oh, for – Stand up, Mr. Mint," Frostine ordered. "We have spent the entire day together, and I do not expect this nonsense from you now."
Mr. Mint scrambled to his feet. Lord Licorice looked on in amusement.
"Come, come," he said. "Let's talk someplace where we can sit. Is there any refreshment my servants can get for you?"
Frostine was caught off guard by his hospitality.
Mr. Mint followed gleefully asking for a sweet tea.
Frostine followed Mr. Mint but declined anything, even though she was very thirsty from traveling all day and part of the night before.
Lord Licorice brought them into a drawing room.
After they had been served - sweet tea for Mr. Mint, ouzo on the rocks for Lord Licorice, and a glass of water for Frostine – Lord Licorice asked, "Why are you out traveling? There must be a reason for your journey."
Frostine sipped on her water instead of answering.
"Mr. Mint, surely her majesty gave you cause to turn around," Lord Licorice continued.
"I couldn't let a young woman head out to the Gumdrop Mountains without an escort, no matter how strong-willed she is," Mr. Mint said. He didn't look Lord Licorice or Frostine in the eye. Instead he stared at the bottom of his sweet tea glass.
"Yes, but why is this lovely young woman heading out to the Gumdrop Mountains?" Lord Licorice pushed. "Especially when there is nothing there to see anymore."
Frostine frowned. She did not enjoy being spoken about as if she weren't even in the room, despite how many times it had actually happened to her.
"Perhaps it is to see if the rumors are true," Lord Licorice said with a smarmy smile.
Frostine kept herself from sneering. It was uncouth to sneer at one's host.
"I would deeply prefer it if you would not speak of me as if I were not directly in front of you," she said with practiced calm. "Yes, I am heading out to the Gumdrop Mountains." She didn't offer any further details.
Lord Licorice's smirk dropped for a split second, but it was enough for Frostine to catch.
"When the star rises in the morning," Lord Licorice said carefully. "Look to the east."
Frostine didn't respond.
Mr. Mint still looked to the bottom of his glass. He seemed so ill at ease with the entire exchange.
"There's nothing there anymore," Lord Licorice continued. Frostine hadn't thought he had more to say, but he seemed… There was a sadness about him that she had not noticed earlier. She had not wanted to notice anything about the man, but now that he was directly under her nose, she could see melancholy. It was unnerving. Every time she had encountered him before, he had always seemed conniving.
"The hill tribes have all gone," Lord Licorice said. He didn't look at anyone in the room. "They are expatriates, now."
Frostine was unnerved that this information had never reached her. If Kandy knew, he most certainly didn't act on it, and that was a horrible line of thought Frostine didn't want to continue. She seemed to have a lot of those recently. Candyland was falling apart directly in front of her, and she had failed to notice.
She could also smell the makings of a coup d'état. She had witnessed one in her home country when she was twelve. She had seen the aftermath, and that was more than enough for one lifetime. Her parents had immediately married her off to Kandy for her own safety. All these years later, Frostine could still see the damage in her mind's eye.
A coup was a very real possibility. If Kandy took no measures to help the citizens of Candyland, they could very well form a revolt, and with the majority of Candyland on the side of those who wished reform – to prevent the land from disappearing under their feet – the monarchy would lose. If Mr. Mint's attitude was shared by that of the rest of the citizens of Candyland and they had as much drive as he, that was it.
And it appeared that Lord Licorice could lead the revolution. He had been quiet lately, completely off the royal radar. Maybe he had been trying to sustain himself in an unstable land. Earth tremors and trolligators could easily cause enough fear in a man to attempt the impossible. Although, at this point in time, it might not have been impossible.
Frostine still needed to determine exactly what was going on in the Gumdrop Mountains before she formulated a plan, but if she could bring Lord Licorice to her side, there would be a decrease in the anticipated civil unrest. If there were expatriates, there was civil unrest. She needed to determine how much so before she headed back.
"Then I suggest, Lord Licorice," Frostine said in her best authoritative voice. "We should put aside our petty differences for the longevity of Candyland."
Lord Licorice gave her an unreadable look.
"If the damage is what you allege," Frostine continued. "Then I will need someone intimately familiar with that part of the country to assist in recovery."
Lord Licorice downed the rest of his ouzo. "In the morning, we will travel to the Gumdrop Mountains. I am at your service, Your Majesty."
It was the first time all night Lord Licorice had addressed her with respect, let alone an honorific, and Frostine was immediately suspicious.
Her fatigue hit her instantly. She felt every moment she had been awake for the past two days, and it felt similar to being kicked in the head by Juju.
"I wish to retire for the evening," she announced. Her belly gave a painful twist, and she attempted to ignore the fact that she had had very little to eat in the long time she had been traveling. She was more exhausted than hungry.
"Of course," Lord Licorice said. "Someone will show you to a guest room."
Frostine woke with the star directly above the castle. There was a plate of candied fruit and cheeses next to her bed. She didn't even worry about quality: she ate everything on the plate in an undignified manner.
She knew she should have planned her trip better – or planned at all. She hadn't thought anything through. Her impulsive behavior had led her directly to the enemy's bed. In the literal sense. She would never touch Lord Licorice casually, and the idea of intimacy with Lord Licorice gave her nightmares. She was, however, in a bed that belonged to Lord Licorice.
She should have rationed out her trip, determined where to eat and where to sleep, and taken more protection than an indestructible horse.
There was a knock on the door. "Your Majesty, are you decent?" The voice was female: she must be one of Lord Licorice's servants.
"Come in," Frostine said.
A girl shuffled into the room with a pitcher of water. She looked Lolly's age, but underneath her plain, neutral dress, she must have been older.
"For washing up, Your Majesty," she whispered. She kept her eyes on the floor, but she was able to place the pitcher on the bedside table. "My Lord requests your presence in the drawing room when you are presentable, Your Majesty."
Frostine had hoped that she could keep her identity to herself. Obviously, this was well out of her hands. She hoped that word would take longer to travel back to Kandy than she could. However, Frostine knew how quickly words traveled.
"Thank you," Frostine said.
The girl flushed and scurried out of the room.
Frostine frowned at the pitcher of water. The faster she prepared herself for the day, which by the star, seemed to be almost over, the faster she could continue her head start out to the Gumdrop Mountains.
She washed herself quickly, but she made the mistake of looking out the narrow window.
Lord Licorice had deliberately given Frostine an east-facing room. She could see passed the Licorice Forest and –
It was horrid. There was death everywhere. The land beyond the forest should have been green and sparkly. There was not a sparkle to be found, and the patches of green were far and few. The landscape was dominated by gnarled, dead trees and dead weeds. There were dental caries everywhere. What made Frostine the most distraught was the flatness of the horizon. She knew from experience that the Gumdrop Mountains were dominant in the skyline from the Licorice Forest. Instead of a jagged horizon filled with colors reflecting off the mountains themselves, Frostine saw brown and flat. The ground was burnt and cracked. There was nothing left.
It felt as if she had been struck. All the air left her lungs in a rush, and she held onto the wall so her legs could not give out underneath her.
This happened to her country. This was her responsibility.
Even worse. Kandy had kept this from her. Frostine had assumed he hadn't known, because he would have done something about it, but there was absolutely no way that Kandy had not known about such destruction in Candyland. Unless someone had prevented that knowledge from reaching Candy Castle.
The floor quaked beneath Frostine's feet, and she held onto the bed frame to keep from falling over. The pitcher on the table by the bed fell to the floor and shattered.
"Earth tremors," she whispered.
Frostine met Lord Licorice and Mr. Mint in the drawing room they had been in the night before.
"Earth tremors," she said stiffly.
Lord Licorice and Mr. Mint looked up from their conversation.
"Yes," Lord Licorice said. "Earth tremors."
"They're worsening," Mr. Mint added. "They're angrier."
"I wish to know why news of this had not reached Candy Castle," Frostine demanded. She gave both men a hard look.
"As far as I knew, it had," Lord Licorice said. His voice was oily, and Frostine did not trust it.
"Very well," she said. "I wish to leave immediately."
"I'm afraid we can't let you go," Lord Licorice said.
"Pardon?" she said.
"You're going to stay here," Lord Licorice said. "It's not too often a political prisoner falls into our laps."
"Mr. Mint!" she exclaimed. "I told you that Lord Licorice was a bad – 'We'? 'Our'?" she demanded. "You two are working together!"
"Very good," Mr. Mint said happily. From anyone else, Frostine would have thought he was patronizing her.
Frostine grimaced but thought as quickly as she could and still keep her thoughts rational. There was absolutely no way she would be permitted to leave Lord Licorice's castle. However, these men may or may not know about Frostine's previous experience with a coup, and she could use that tactical advantage. She might have been young when it happened, but she remembered it in sordid detail. These men also did not view her as a threat. She could use that to her advantage as well. Mr. Mint had done a superb job of lying to her. He must have known who she was when he suggested staying at Lord Licorice's castle. The damage to the eastern lands was clear, so these people were desperate for help. There was nothing to the east from what Frostine had seen, and the earth tremors were in no way a fabrication.
She should have trusted her instincts and avoided Lord Licorice's castle. Even if she had still entered, she should have left the moment she caught whiff of the idea of a coup.
Of course, Lord Licorice would be behind a coup. Although, it had little chance to make it off the ground. Lord Licorice was notorious for his clumsiness. He had never had a partner before, and Frostine knew nothing about Mr. Mint. However, there must have been a lot of people displaced by death: Lord Licorice must have a following. He actually had a glimmer of a chance to pull off a coup.
She didn't need to turn around to know that someone large had blocked the entranceway. She would not be able to escape if she fled.
"You never said why you were headed to Candy Castle, Mr. Mint," Frostine said. "Why were you going to the castle?"
Mr. Mint shrugged.
"You so readily changed your course, so it must not have been important," Frostine continued. From experience, she knew that Lord Licorice could not keep his master plans to himself. It was a deep character flaw: immodesty.
"He was there to infiltrate the castle and poison the king," Lord Licorice said with a gleeful clap of his hands. Gleaning information was easier than she thought.
Mr. Mint frowned at him.
"You are planning a coup," she said matter-of-factly. There was no need to be emotional about it. "I suppose I'm to be held for ransom. What do you want from my husband that is worth me as collateral?"
"Why, the kingdom, of course," Lord Licorice said.
"Do you think you will be a better ruler than your King?" Frostine asked, fighting to keep her voice neutral. Doddery fool he may be, Kandy was a relatively competent with delegations. He was fair, and he knew who was competent enough to do the jobs asked. But he did not know all that happened within Candyland, which Frostine now knew was his downfall. He was also her husband, and she was contractually obligated to be loyal to him, despite her lukewarm feelings for him. He had taken her in from a war torn country, and for that Frostine was grateful. However, that gratitude could only go so far, and Frostine's love of her adopted country was greater than that of her King and husband; even though, previously they had been the same in her mind.
Lord Licorice agreed immediately, but Mr. Mint said nothing.
"It's difficult," Frostine said. "Everyone feels that it's an easy job, making this country a good place to live. Everyone wants something different, and a median can never be met."
Mr. Mint regarded her speculatively. "We want peace."
"Peace," Frostine repeated neutrally. She hadn't realized that there was an option of war. A civil unrest may have started out in the now-flattened Gumdrop Mountains, but a war was unthinkable. She and Kandy had traveled out to the Gumdrop Mountains not too long ago to quell civil unrest. They did not do as well a job as she had previously thought.
"The hill tribes – the people who haven't left the country – they want justice, and they see us as a way to bring it to them," Mr. Mint said. "Uh, conduits for justice."
"Justice?" Frostine asked.
"For the loss of their homes and the spread of plague," Mr. Mint continued.
"Plague!" Frostine exclaimed. She hadn't heard about that either.
"We believe that by seizing the government, a war can be avoided," Mr. Mint stated.
"And you feel that you can do that through terrorism," Frostine said in a neutral voice. "If Kandy were made aware of the situation, he would provide aid."
"They would not accept it," Mr. Mint explained. It sounded as if he had thought about this a great deal, which meant he was possibly the brains of the operation, and Lord Licorice might have just been along for the megalomaniacal ride. Mr. Mint seemed less blinded by his ambitions – not to mention more competent – than Lord Licorice, and that made him a problem. An obstacle that needed to be maneuvered around cautiously.
Frostine looked to Lord Licorice. He had been notably silent. He had also been watching her carefully.
"No citizen of Candyland will trust a leader who has not been touched by the sweetness," Frostine told them. It was a disturbing fact, but that didn't make it any less true. Kandy had been pressured to gain girth by his advisor. It had quelled discontent within the country.
"You're wrong," Lord Licorice said, breaking his silence.
"They will trust a leader who can lead," Mr. Mint insisted.
"They do not know if you can lead," Frostine said.
Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice shared a look. Maybe the people did know these two men could lead. Frostine doubted that Lord Licorice would be capable of leading, but she still knew next to nothing about Mr. Mint, except that he was highly personable, cheerful, and a good liar.
"A message has already gone out to the King of your capture," Mr. Mint said instead of addressing Frostine's protestations.
Frostine gave him a bland look. Her mother would be rolling in her grave if she knew of Frostine's uncouth behavior. However, now was not the time for civilized behavior.
This plot seemed different than all of Lord Licorice's other plots to take over Candyland. This one had organization. Organization by someone other than Lord Licorice. Lord Licorice's plans were notorious for unraveling before they began; however, Kandy's plans also had a tendency not to work, but the rest of Candyland did not know that, because Kandy could delegate and had advisors.
Maybe Frostine had her loyalty in the wrong man.
Frostine had no strong feelings for Kandy either positive or negative, except she was attached to him legally and she had spent the last two decades with him. However, Frostine did have strong feelings for Candyland. She did not want to see her adopted country turn into her native country.
"You do not seem to be putting up a fight about your capture," Mr. Mint observed.
"I want what's best for Candyland," Frostine replied diplomatically. "Even if that means a new regime."
Both men were quite startled by her response and stared at her with gaping mouths.
Mr. Mint recovered first. "You would denounce your King and your husband so quickly?"
"If it is what is best for Candyland," Frostine said resolutely.
"And how do you think this is best for Candyland?" Mr. Mint asked.
"If you wish to succeed in your task," Frostine said instead of answering, "you will need someone on your side who is familiar with the diplomacy and bureaucracy of Candyland as well as the citizens."
"Are you saying you'll help us?" Mr. Mint asked suspiciously.
"I want what's best for Candyland," Frostine repeated. "Currently King Kandy is not the best choice, not if he let this destruction happen."
Mr. Mint looked to Lord Licorice.
"He is your husband," Mr. Mint pointed out.
"I am well aware," Frostine said coldly.
Lord Licorice leered at her. "I was unaware our Queen had such depth."
Frostine sat as straight as she could, trying to forget Lord Licorice's presence. "What is your plan?"
"Ah," Mr. Mint said. "You wish to engage in subterfuge."
Frostine gave him a disapproving look. "I would not be Queen if I did not know what is best for my country. Subterfuge on my part would be futile with the country so devastated."
Mr. Mint gave her a critical look, and he turned to Lord Licorice again.
"Should we trust her?" he asked. Frostine did not think that Lord Licorice was the most qualified person to answer that question as he repeatedly made terrible decisions when attempting to take over Candyland.
Lord Licorice nodded, and he still had a leer on his lips.
"First, we should ride out to the Gumdrop Mountains," Mr. Mint said.
Frostine rode Juju carefully down the cracked Main Road, knowing she was under full observation. Lord Licorice rode a dark stallion on her right, and Mr. Mint rode a dusky mare on her left. She had nowhere to run, not without either man immediately taking chase. She was less worried about being followed than she was about the flat horizon. At this point in the journey, Frostine should not have been able to see the sky in front of her, yet that was all she could see: there were no mountains to obscure her vision.
Juju could sense her unease, and that made him easily spooked, which upset Frostine more. Juju was her rock. The two unknown horses he was flanked by did not seem to ease his nerves.
They crossed the expanse of brown, cracked earth. Frostine thought of death. Of the possible death of Candyland, the possible death of Kandy, the possible death of herself. She needed to prevent the death of all three. She thought of ways to possibly avoid them.
Candyland was the most difficult of the three, and Frostine was the easiest. She needed to present herself as useful to the cause. It was not difficult. She knew Candyland and its people very well. She also knew ways to gain trust efficiently and effectively. This could lead to the prevention of Kandy's death. She could convince anyone that Kandy could be useful in a new field; she would just need to figure out what field that was. However, Candyland… she still had no idea. First, she supposed, she would need to figure out what was wrong with it.
Mr. Mint chattered on as he had done the day before. Despite his status as a dastardly cockroach bite, who would deceive his Queen for treasonous reasons, he was quite personable. Frostine could easily put her faith and patriotism in his hands.
Lord Licorice, Frostine reflected, was still a megalomaniac and a smarmy one to boot.
"Ah," Mr. Mint said. His think Highland accent was even more pronounced. "The Gumdrop Mountains."
Frostine could only see the continuation of the dead earth. It was not until a few hundred steps more that she could see what had once been the Gumdrop Mountains. Passed the sign for Gumdrop Pass, she could see shimmering pools… the same colors as the Mountains had once been. In some cases, instead of pools, there were tiny knolls, no higher than Frostine herself.
She must have gasped or had some sort of reaction, but she couldn't remember. She didn't even remember dismounting Juju.
She had no idea how long she stood there staring at nothingness where there should have been something.
"We should head back," Lord Licorice announced. His oily voice crept into Frostine's haze. "There have been reports of Trolligators and Colions."
Frostine nodded and climbed back onto Juju.
As they returned, she asked, "Why?"
"We don't know," Mr. Mint said. He sounded contrite.
"I am going to fix Candyland," Frostine declared.
"You're forgetting that you're our prisoner," Lord Licorice reminded her.
"You're forgetting that, prisoner or not, I am your Queen," Frostine said firmly. "What is your plan?"
Mr. Mint gave Frostine a calculating look before he said, "There will be an assembling of people tomorrow evening. We will then march to Candy Castle and take it over by night."
Frostine snorted. That was a dangerous plan. "People will die."
"People have already died," Mr. Mint said plainly.
"Then there is no reason for more to die," Frostine said sensibly.
"What do you suggest, then?" Lord Licorice asked sarcastically.
"A quiet coup from within the castle. There will be a change of power without death. This will be private. The public will only know of the shift in power after it happens," Frostine said confidently. She knew of several members of her staff that would follow her. The rest had family in the Gumdrop Mountains. A coup from the inside would be laughably easy.
Mr. Mint looked to Lord Licorice behind Frostine's back. She could feel their eyes.
"That is a good plan," Mr. Mint said, obviously impressed. "I underestimated you."
Frostine eyed him coldly.
"However, I cannot believe you would betray your husband," Lord Licorice said.
Frostine glared at him. She did not wish to voice her opinion of Kandy's political standing. She still had the class to maintain her public image.
"He will still be my husband," she said. "He will not be my King."
"And you will lead?" Lord Licorice sneered.
"Is there a reason you continue to insult me?" she asked.
"Don't be testy with me, woman," Lord Licorice growled.
"I am your Queen," Frostine reminded him. "It will do you well to remember that."
"You are our prisoner," Lord Licorice said.
"I am traveling by your side," Frostine said. "We can argue titles until we're out of breath, but we are still traveling side by side."
Mr. Mint chuckled lightly. "She would make a good leader."
Lord Licorice gave him a look.
"She's a lemon drop," Mr. Mint said. "And she has drive and vision, and people will follow. She would be an asset."
Frostine didn't comment about being an asset. She waited while the two men concluded their animated argument. When they did, she asked, "Who is assembling tomorrow evening?"
"The remaining people of the hill tribes and a few people remaining in the Peppermint Forest," Mr. Mint explained.
"Do any of them have any military experience?" she asked.
"None," Mr. Mint said.
"Then you might as well kill them now," she said. "They would never survive against the Royal Army. It would be a massacre. I will not tolerate needless death."
"Needless?" Mr. Mint pressed.
"Everyone in Candyland knows my personal history," Frostine said shortly.
Mr. Mint stared at her, startled as if he didn't know her personal history – or had forgotten.
"That's a dipping dot of irony," Lord Licorice said.
"It's tragic, is what it is," Frostine snapped back. "I will not have any more brutal deaths in my life."
When they returned to Lord Licorice's castle, Frostine sequestered herself in the guest room. She needed to plan. Assuming that Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice listened to her and allowed her to take charge, she would need to think of exactly how to take charge within the castle. She would also want Lolly with her so that she would be safe. However, if Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice went through with their original plan, Frostine would need a way to prevent it.
There was a knock on her door, but before she could respond, Mr. Mint entered the room with a plate of cheese and candied fruits. He smiled brightly.
"You must have been very certain that I was decent," Frostine said.
"I was correct," Mr. Mint responded. He smiled even more brightly.
"Is there something you need?" she asked.
"No," he said. "But I thought you could use some dinner."
"That is very kind of you," Frostine said. She examined the plate Mr. Mint had presented her with and plucked a peach ring. She nibbled on it delicately.
"You are an intelligent woman," Mr. Mint said. Frostine was suspicious. "It makes me wonder what kind of King would keep you from having your say about Candyland."
"I may not agree with my King, but he is still my husband, and I wish for you to respect that confidentiality," Frostine said.
"You seem very well versed in politics and diplomacy," Mr. Mint said as he chose a sugar plum from the plate. "And your fierce loyalty is almost inspirational."
Frostine narrowed her eyes. "I am the Queen. It's not all fancy balls and lavish jewels."
"Lord Licorice lacks the… foresight and delicateness needed for this to work," Mr. Mint said, which Frostine had already been aware of, but she kept her comment to herself. "His plans always fall apart."
Frostine grabbed an orange slice from the plate and hoped that Mr. Mint would make his point quickly.
"I, however, have never attempted something like this before." Mr. Mint picked up a spearmint leaf and examined it before popping it into his mouth. "I have little experience leading – just the gummi bears that kept me company in the Peppermint Forest. I was a cane man, you know, chopping down the candy canes to be exported."
"I did not," Frostine said conversationally.
"You have the drive and vision as well as the political know-how and diplomacy to get things done," Mr. Mint said. "If given the chance, you would make a wonderful ruler. We would have a better chance with you as our leader."
Frostine looked to the plate as she digested Mr. Mint's words.
"I'm giving you that chance, your majesty," Mr. Mint said.
"That's very kind of you," Frostine said. She did not comment that chances like this were not given, they were earned. "Does Lord Licorice know of this?"
"There would be no point in telling him if you didn't agree," Mr. Mint said.
"I see," Frostine said. Mr. Mint proved once again that he had a good sense of strategy. "How long do I have to consider your offer?"
"There's going to be a speech tonight – and a feast," Mr. Mint said. "Please let me know by then. You will either be our leader or our prisoner."
Frostine watched small troupes of people slowly make their way to Lord Licorice's castle, like molasses dripping from the jar. She had never seen her people so downtrodden. They made a sad sight to watch, but Frostine felt obligated to watch them gradually proceed up to the castle gates. The smallest group was two people: a woman and child.
Frostine felt as if their situation was her fault, even though she knew there was no possible way she could have prevented this situation.
"These people have nothing left to lose," Mr. Mint said.
"I didn't hear you approach," Frostine said instead of responding. She knew all about the mindset of people who had nothing to lose.
"Have you thought about my proposal?" Mr. Mint asked.
"They look so sad," Frostine said, looking down at the people slowly making their way to Licorice Castle.
"They've lost everything," Mr. Mint said.
"I'll do it," Frostine said.
He nodded. "When everyone arrives, I will address them," he said. "Then I will introduce you."
"Does Lord Licorice know of this yet?" Frostine asked.
"He will when I tell him," Mr. Mint said.
"It would be best to do so now," Frostine said. "It will make the future less complicated."
Mr. Mint nodded again.
Frostine could hear Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice argue. In fact, she was sure the majority of the castle was privy to their argument. A few people entering the castle looked up to the walls curiously.
The small troupes of people trickling in have turned into thick masses. The star was low on the horizon, and the sky was darkening. Frostine assumed that these large groups of people were the last of them: no one around this area liked to be out after dark.
The arguing dimmed into a whisper, and soon Mr. Mint returned.
"I thought we should discuss what should be said tonight," Mr. Mint said.
"And you thought that I would have the most experience in this," Frostine said. "I know."
"What do you suggest?" he asked.
"Start slow," Frostine said. "Choose words that are rhythmic. Talk about common beliefs and be empathetic but firm."
"I was thinking more along the lines of content," Mr. Mint said.
"Hmm," Frostine hummed. "Start with thanking them for joining the cause. Mention solidarity. I suppose I can talk about the rest. You need to introduce me, but you need to make sure that the crowd is receptive to the idea of neither you nor Lord Licorice leading the coup."
"I can do that," Mr. Mint said with a nod.
There were over a hundred people in all, and they were all assembled in the largest of Lord Licorice's halls.
Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice entered the hall, and all conversation stopped. Lord Licorice had a dour look, but Mr. Mint looked bright.
Mr. Mint stood on a riser, a head above the crowd, who all looked up to him.
Frostine snuck in the back. No one paid her any attention: all eyes were on Mr. Mint.
"My fellow Candymen! And Candywomen!" Mr. Mint announced in a big voice. "We are here tonight because we are angry with our governing King!"
The crowd responded with a deafening roar, and Frostine did a moderate job from keeping herself from being insulted.
"He has lied about Candyland and is out of touch with its people!" Mr. Mint continued. "He let horrible things happen to your homes! Your lives!" He spoke quietly but forcefully: a good choice, because in order to here what he had to say, everyone in the room needed to be quiet. Frostine was sure that some of them were actually holding their breath. He started to build up momentum: both speed and volume increased.
"He needs to know that we will not stand to be ignored until it is convenient for him to acknowledge us! We will not be lied to! We are people of Candyland, just like he is," Mr. Mint said. There was no denying that Mr. Mint was a good motivational speaker. "Yet! He lives in his ivory tower in Candy Castle, while we suffer and die out in the far corners of his country!"
There was a lot of dissenting from the crowd but agreement with Mr. Mint's words.
"We have gathered as a sign of solidarity against our King! We knowingly and happily commit treason for the betterment of Candyland! Tomorrow we will march to the Castle and usurp our King!"
A large cheer grew within the crowd.
"However, every movement like this needs a leader with inside information! A spy, if you accept the terminology."
A murmur ran though the crowd.
"I present to you your leader!" Mr. Mint said, motioning for Frostine to join him. It was not the smoothest transition he could have made, and it did her little favors.
Frostine took a deep breath and wove her way through the crowd, hoping no one would violently prevent her from doing so.
Thankfully, the majority of the people in the crowd were more in shock than violent, which Frostine used to her advantage.
"Your leader," Mr. Mint said. "She has joined our cause to help us in ways that we cannot. She is a fellow revolutionary and our spy in Candy Castle!"
The crowd did not respond.
Frostine stood up on the riser, and Mr. Mint stepped down. She looked out over the sea of faces – faces that have curdled. She needed to make quick work of gaining their trust: she started with the truth.
"People of Candyland," she addressed formally, keeping her voice strong and consistent. "I stand before you, not as your Queen but as a revolutionary. I, too, see the destruction of your world, and to let something this horrific happen in our land is unacceptable. I, too, have been lied to by the King. Candyland is as much your country as it is mine. I have experienced the deadness out there, the earth tremors, the dental caries, and I believe everyone deserves an equal chance of happiness and survival."
She didn't give the crowd a chance to respond before she barged on. "If we were to go against the Royal Army alone, there would be no change that we all desperately seek. Therefore, I propose that we bypass the Royal Army and go directly for the King.
"I am in the unique position to do so. This will save lives and give us all the revolution we seek!"
"You lie!" a man shouted.
"I do not wish to cause anymore loss of life than has already occurred," Frostine said. "I have no motivation to lie. Candyland is dying, but I will be damned if I let my people die without trying to help. Otherwise, I am no better than the King."
"He's your husband"! another man protested.
"Has your wife agreed with everything you've done?" Frostine asked.
A small chuckle arose from the center of the crowd.
"I will lead you to victory," Frostine promised. "I will be able to get inside the Castle without difficulty – without the royal army preventing me from doing so. It's time to change Candyland for the better."
There was no response from the crowd. Frostine had been expecting someone to bring up the fact that she was a woman. She was surprised and pleased that never happened.
"Tomorrow, as Mr. Mint said, we will march to the Castle, but tonight, we feast!"
One of troupes had captured and killed a Colion, which Lord Licorice's staff had cooked over a spit. The people had gathered around the food, eating to their hearts' content.
"You did fine," Mr. Mint said, handing her a stein of something sweat and fuzzy.
"As well as to be expected," Frostine said. "I did not expect them to be receptive."
"Nor I," Mr. Mint admitted.
"You are doing a superb job for a cane cutter," Frostine said. "You have a fine command of language."
"My mother valued literacy," Mr. Mint said.
"That is very noble of her," Frostine said.
"She was an extraordinary woman," Mr. Mint agreed.
Frostine spent the majority of the evening speaking to the travelers. She made sure she spoke with every person in the room, offering kind words or advice. It put the people at ease with her presence and helped to gain their trust, but it was by no means easy. Frostine used every technique she had learned to smooth ruffled, angry feathers. In some extreme cases, she had to invent new techniques.
By the end of the night, Frostine felt much better about herself and what she needed to do.
In the morning, with Frostine, Mr. Mint, and Lord Licorice leading the way, they marched off toward the Castle. It was a slow, large parade. Frostine felt less sure than she had the night before. She had not expected something like this when she had set off. She had hoped that all of the rumors had been just that, and now she was ready to turn Candyland politics on its head.
Behind her were the downtrodden of Candyland. She needed to do this for them and for the good – and survival – of Candyland.
They stayed off the main road to avoid detection, but it was difficult with such a large party. Frostine was sure that Kandy had sent a search party out for her: to protect his investment. That coupled with the ransom message Lord Licorice had allegedly sent out, Candyland should be lousy with the Royal Army looking for Frostine.
It was hot, and the star beat down on their heads. It made the travelers drowsy and tempers uneven.
They were able to cut through the Licorice Woods into the Lollipop Woods, which saved a lot of time and permitted Frostine to pick Lolly up from school. The group traveled slowly, because only Frostine, Mr. Mint, and Lord Licorice had horses. However, that gave her time to ride ahead and speak to Lolly.
They rode together toward Candy Castle.
Frostine found Lolly reading in the same location she had before.
"Mama!" Lolly exclaimed. "Papa came looking for you and – "
"Not now, Lolly," Frostine interrupted. "I need you to fetch your horse, and make sure no one sees you."
"Mama?" Lolly prompted.
"Now, Lolly!" Frostine ordered. "I'll explain once we're on the road."
Lolly silently rode next to Frostine as they traveled. Lolly kept glancing at Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice, and Lolly's pale mare was ill at ease with the crowd.
The four of them rode in front of the crowd in silence. However, Frostine could tell the exact moment Lolly caught on to what was going on: her eyes grew large and panicked and she looked back to the crowd behind her several times.
"Mama?" Lolly asked quietly so that Mr. Mint and Lord Licorice couldn't hear her. "Is this because of the Gumdrop Mountains?"
Frostine nodded, drawing her head down then back up again in a languid curve.
"Oh," Lolly said quietly.
The ground began to soften, and it sucked at Juju's hooves. The star had gone down some time ago, and they had been moving slowly and carefully.
The cloying smell of molasses clung to the back of Frostine's throat.
"We will set up camp here for the night," Mr. Mint announced. "We'll leave when the star returns."
The people settled uneasily on the drier ground.
"Stay here," Frostine ordered Lolly. She then took off on Juju in the direction of the Castle.
It was as easy to sneak back into the Castle as it had been to sneak out. Frostine would need to speak with the guards on that matter, after other pressing matters had been discussed.
The first guard Frostine found was Schweppes.
"Your Majesty!" he exclaimed. "His Highness has been looking all over Candyland for you!"
Frostine highly doubted that, because if he had, he would have found her; however, she knew that Kandy must have been looking for her.
"Here I am," she said.
"His Highness will be happy for your safe return," Schweppes declared.
"No," Frostine said. "I do not think he will be."
"Pardon me, Your Majesty?" Schweppes asked.
"I am well aware of your questionable loyalty to Kandy," she stated. Schweppes's face hardened. "I am not here to punish you. I am here to make you an offer."
Schweppes frowned. "I'm not sure I follow, Your Majesty."
"In my brief absence from Candy Castle, I have found Candyland is not in the condition Kandy had claimed," she said. "I am unhappy with his rule over Candyland and wish to change it. Will you help me do so?"
"Your Majesty," Schweppes said slowly. "I am not sure that I – "
"Yes or no, Schweppes," she said. "There is a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time."
"Your Majesty?" he asked.
"I need to know now, Schweppes," she said firmly.
"Yes, ma'am," he said quietly.
"That's a good man," she said. "There are over one hundred displaced and angry people from the Gumdrop Mountains waiting for the star to rise. I need your help readying the Castle for their arrival. Do you understand the timeline?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a slight bow.
"Good," she said with a terse nod. "You know who has family out in the Gumdrop Mountains. Share this information with them. I will speak with Kandy personally."
"I welcome your new regime, Your Majesty," Schweppes said with another bow.
Frostine smiled. This would be easier than she thought.
She made her way up the stairs and through the hallways, converting guards of questionable loyalties and those with family displaced by the melted Mountains. By the time she had reached her bedroom, she had encountered nearly half the staff awake in the middle of the night.
She burst open the door to the bedroom, waking Kandy.
"What the devil food cake is going on?!" he shouted before he fully woke up. "My sweet! You've returned."
He threw off the duvet and raced over to her.
"I have returned," Frostine said. "However, I return with some bad news."
"Oh, dear," Kandy said. "Whatever do you mean?"
"The bad news is that you are no longer the King of Candyland," she said stoically.
Kandy sputtered. "What in the name of Ferrero are you saying?"
"You are no longer King," Frostine repeated. "Your inability to rule has been seen throughout the country. You can either step down quietly now or the Royal Army will make you step down later."
"I will do nothing of the sort, woman," he said snidely. "There is no man who will dare step up to take my place. If you have decided that Lord Licorice – "
"I am taking your place," Frostine interrupted. "I have the majority of Candyland on my side, and so far I have convinced them not to kill you."
"This is treason," Kandy declared.
"No, this is a coup," Frostine corrected.
"You are a woman," Kandy reminded her. "You should be more grateful to me. I took you in from your war-torn country and provided you with a peaceful place to live."
"Step down now," Frostine said. "It will be more peaceful that way."
Behind her, a guard stepped into the room, armed with a crossbow.
"Fibisco," Kandy said. "Arrest her."
Fibisco aimed his crossbow at Kandy. "I cannot do that," he said.
Frostine smiled. This was the easy part. The challenge would come when Frostine needed to rebuild Candyland.
When Frostine looked out over the courtyard, the star was just emerging from behind the walls of the Castle, and the courtyard was filled with refugees.
"My fellow Candymen and Candywomen!" Frostine addressed the people. "I am your new leader! King Kandy will no longer lead us to the destruction of our country!"
There was a cheer from the crowd.
"But our job is not over! Candyland is dying! We need to prevent any future decay! This is our country, and we have the power to change it!"
The crowd roared again.
From the top of the highest cloister of Candy Castle, Frostine could see everything, and everything was exactly what she vowed to change.