Chapter 22: Thank the Gods

Kingdom Doro

Was it possible for one person to end the world? Abigail mentally shook her head at her own overdramatic thoughts. No, the world wasn't going to end…just hers. She gave a mental eye roll at her mind's continued hyperbole. She supposed she could be forgiven her distress, given all of her hopes for happiness and love were about to be completely and soundly crushed.

Prince James dismounted from his grey stallion, his general—what was the man's name again? Will? Lee? Nearly as long as she could remember he'd been the prince's ever-present shadow—right behind him. The prince was as fair and good looking as she remembered, but, as when they'd met before, she was unmoved by how handsome he was, and he appeared equally unaffected by her when their eyes met, not even the stirrings of attraction in his gaze.

"Prince James, how glad we are to finally see you!" her father greeted the prince grandly, though with a thread of reproach.

Abigail couldn't help disagreeing with the statement heartily. "Prince James," she dutifully curtseyed in response to his bow.

"Thank you for having me, King Midas and Princess Abigail." His tone was completely neutral, nothing to indicate his true feelings.

"Well," Midas' eyes cut between the prince and princess, "Abigail, why don't you show Prince James to his quarters. One of the servants can show your general to his own," he quickly said before the younger royal could formulate a protest.

"Of course, Father," Abigail agreed in the blandest of tones. "Please, follow me," she directed to James.

She heard the prince take a deep breath before following her into the castle.

Aside from their echoing footsteps, their progress through the halls of the castle was silent, tension pressing in on their ears like a rapid descent dive to the depths of the ocean. Abigail couldn't stand the suspense; a sharp turn around one corner detoured them toward the gardens. If James found it odd when they stepped out into the bright sun, glittering walkways and manicured bushes he said nothing.

They reached the center where a pure gold water fountain with the likeness of her mother stood, water flowing from the tipped pitcher in her hands and bubbling from glittering rock by her gilt feet—Abigail's father had it commissioned shortly after the queen's death to be carved out of marble, but had turned it to gold upon completion. The princess gazed up into the statue's eyes, so very like her mother's save for the color, trying to draw the necessary strength to ask the question she needed the answer to, whether it shattered her hopes entirely or not. Drawing a deep breath into her lungs she spun to face James, chin held high.

"May I be blunt, Prince James?"

A single blond brow rose fractionally, surprise flickering over his expression before a careful neutrality settled back in. "If you wish. I do prefer honesty."

Knuckles white from clasping her hands together, Abigail took another bracing breath. "Are you here to ask for my hand?"

Blue eyes flicked away from her, his thumb rubbing over the pommel of his sword in a nervous gesture, lips pressed into a thin line. It was long moments of Abigail being unable to draw a breath before he finally met her gaze again and answered.


Air rushed into her lungs, great gasps of relief escaping her, as her eyes slid shut and she thanked whatever god or goddess had listened to her pleas.

"That wasn't exactly the reaction I was expecting… You look like your execution was just stayed."

A short laugh escaped her as Abigail opened her eyes and met his, apologetic but still so very relieved. She was a little surprised to see a look of wry amusement on his face rather than grave insult.

"Was I so abhorrent a potential husband?" Abigail was glad for the teasing in the prince's voice and features…and was that relief she detected in his own expression?

Managing something of a contrite expression, the princess shook her head. "No. Not…abhorrent…" She stared down at her twisting fingers. "I…I'm in love with someone else." Her head shot up and she rushed to continue her explanation, "It was after father wanted the arrangement between us, and I didn't mean–"

James' hand gently landed on her shoulder, head shaking, the relief and amusement now taking full rein of his features cut off her panicked ramble. "Abigail, it's fine…" His mouth quirked up further at the corner. "I'm in love with someone else too."

Her eyebrows shot to her hairline. "Who?"

His expression softened into a besotted smile. "Snow White." The name fell from his lips like a prayer.

A soft laugh escaped Abigail and she lightly shook her head. "I should've known."

He canted his head inquiringly.

"The way you two were when we were children," she elaborated, laughter threading her voice.

James smirked. "Did nearly everyone except Snow and I remember that?"

Surprise overtook her expression. "You'd forgotten?"

He sent a wry smile her way. "Apparently it had slipped both of our minds."

She cocked an eyebrow. "The pair of you were inseparable during High Court functions."

He shrugged. "We hadn't seen each other since her last visit to High Court. We remembered each other but we just didn't realize until a couple of months after we met again that that had been each other."

"When did you meet again?" Her head tilted inquiringly.

An amused half-grin quirked his lips, hand lifting to trace his thumb along a small scar on his chin. "My parents and I visited her kingdom for their Spring Equinox festival. And she and I have met several times since then…" James' smile became almost shy, and Abigail found it endearing in a purely platonic way. "We've been making plans for getting engaged and married for months now…"

Abigail nodded slowly, a wistful feeling twisting in her chest. "I've hardly dared to imagine that far…"

His hand was gentle on hers. "Who is he?"

Her mouth curved into an aching smile. "His name is Fredrick… He's my father's Champion. I met him for the first time only days after you left…" Her gaze drifted off into the distance. "He's so brave and loyal, kind, sweet…he makes me smile and laugh and accepts and loves me with all of my flaws."

James nodded, a knowing smile on his lips. "As Snow does me." A palm pressed to his chest. "She'll be out of mourning in a few days, I'll officially propose to her then…gods willing."

Two sets of blue eyes met…identical smiles slowly lifted their mouths.



"James knows."

Aurora nearly spat out her tea. "What?!" Setting down her teacup with a loud clank, she eyed the man she called brother incredulously at his nonchalant tone.

Eric's lips twitched with the effort of holding in his laughter as she coughed violently and, grabbing her so-far untouched glass of water, took a sip. "He found me with Ariel one morning. I hadn't realized he frequently went walking early."

Normally the blond princess would've glared at him for finding amusement in her misfortune, but her eyes were too busy bugging out of her head. "What did he say?!"

The prince shrugged, turning his cup on its saucer. "That I should be more careful and he promised to say nothing to anyone else."

"Well I certainly agree with him about being careful!" Groaning, she rubbed her temples. "This is getting out of hand. Too many people know!" She dropped her hands with rather loud, consecutive thuds on the table, rattling their dishes, and returned her gaze to him. "You two have to get this figured out because it isn't going to stay secret for much longer!"

"I know, I know!" he groaned, burying his face in his hands. "We just still can't think of any way for this to work out, and we just can't let each other go!" His palms scrubbed over his face and back into his hair where they fisted, forehead dropping to the table with a thud. "James has offered any aid he can render, but even he has no ideas."

Aurora sighed, reaching out and placing a gentle hand atop one of his that was still pulling too tightly on dark locks. How she longed to do something to help the man he thought of as her brother! She loved all of her friends but Eric had always been different, just like Snow and Red were different for Gaspard, and Gaspard and Red and even Ella were different for Snow, and vice versa for Red. They'd all accepted there was some favoritism, and even a bit of a division, in their group of friends, but somehow they'd managed to maintain their close bonds and not let the divisions break them apart. Their relationships were so very beautiful and precious to Aurora.

Eric's hand turned slightly under hers so that he could grasp her fingers, and she gripped back tightly, smiling softly as his thumb stroked her index finger.

"It's impossible," he mumbled into the tablecloth. "An impossible situation."

With a soft laugh, Aurora pressed a kiss to the crown of his head. "Well, then you're lucky that our little group does rather specialize in the impossible."

He snorted, the noise slightly muffled by his face still being pressed to the tabletop, before finally lifting his head, their hands slipping from his hair, but maintaining their grasp on each other. "I suppose we do, don't we?"

She grinned brightly.

His wry smile became a touch cautious. "Not to spoil this oh-so-good mood, but…how did things go with Phillip?"

Aurora groaned as she slumped back in her chair, eyes rolling skyward.

Eric chuckled. "That well?"

"That complicated," she corrected with a sigh. "I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but not for the reasons I first thought…"

Surprise flashed over his features and he narrowed his eyes slightly. "So you're really thinking of trying for this engagement?"

She fiddled with her napkin. "Yeah…yeah, I really am."

The prince peered at her closely. "Are you in love with him?"

Shock blazed across her face, chased by a kaleidoscope of other emotions. "No!" she squeaked. "I mean…" she fumbled over her words, mouth opening and closing soundlessly a few times. "Well…" Aurora blew out a breath. "Not…not yet," the blonde conceded. "But," she bit her lip, "I think I could be…given time…and if he's willing…"

Dark eyebrows climbed Eric's forehead as he listened to his surrogate sister's faltering words. "Well…" A smirk slowly grew on his face. "I never thought I'd live to hear you admit that you just might fall in love with Phillip of Lochlomond."

She glared and tossed her napkin at him. "Oh, shut up."

"Aurora and Phillip sitting in a–OW!"

"Serves you right."



Both castle and village were a flurry of activity, preparations for both the End of Mourning ceremony and the Equinox Festival underway. Snow had thrown herself into the middle of it all, needing the distraction to help pass the days until Charming returned, and their fates were decided.

"Red," she glanced over at her friend while digging through the papers spread out on the table in Granny's kitchen, "have you seen the receipt for the candles?"

The younger dark-haired woman set aside the ledger she'd been going over and helped her friend sift through the semi-neat piles. "I think you set it over here somewhere… Ah hah!" She held up the paper triumphantly.

"Thank you!" The princess grinned at her friend gratefully, sitting back down and going over the receipt. "Regina would have my head if we didn't order enough."

"I'm sure they'll be fine," Red assured her friend as she sat down, resuming her own work. "And you really don't have to be doing all of this, most of the castle staff and town can handle it." She'd have added Regina's name, but the queen had taken upon herself to respond to massive pile of written condolences they'd received now that the mourning period was ending. Both women were still aggressively protecting Leopold, forcing him to continue resting, regaining his strength.

"'Have to,' no," she agreed. "'Need to for the sake of my sanity?' Yes."

Red snorted. "Granted." Making a notation in the ledger, she asked, "Have you heard from your charming prince?"

Snow stilled for a moment. "Not yet… He said he'd arrive at King Midas' today." She bit her lip. "He should be turning down the betrothal soon."

The younger woman's eyes lifted at the obvious nerves in her sister's tone, she reached across the table, covering the princess' hand with her own. "It'll work out."

Snow's gaze slowly rose to hers.

The innkeeper's granddaughter nodded firmly. "I know it." If there was anything she'd learned over the lives she'd lived, it was that if there was anything that you could put your faith in it was Snow and Charming's love for each other, and them making it all work out… But that didn't mean she was freaking out any the less…

The older woman managed a smile, returning her friend's grip tightly. "Thank you."

Red really hoped that the smile she gave her surrogate sister was more convincing than it felt.



"Well," Midas made a sweeping gesture with his arms, eyeing James eagerly, "shall we be making a certain announcement?"

James thought that it probably would've been better if he'd arranged to not have this discussion in the throne room, the king certainly looked all the more overbearing standing in front of his throne. The prince took a deep breath, clasping his hands behind him. "No."

The king's expression fell, and an instant later darkened. "'No?'"

Steeling himself further, picturing Snow, James stood as straight and tall as possible. "No. I will not be marrying Abigail."

Midas' face went from pink to red to purple…James distantly wondered if he was going to literally explode. "HOW DARE YOU?!" he roared.

James scrunched his eyes shut momentarily, swaying back slightly at the force of the shouting, but he didn't flinch, and opened his eyes again, meeting the furious man's gaze directly. "I don't love Abigail."


Keeping his voice calm and carefully level, James replied, "I mean no insult—"


"Father, enough!"

Both of their heads whipped around at the shout, the king looking completely flummoxed and James shocked, but also relieved and more than a little impressed.

Abigail stood in the doorway, hands fisted at her sides, looking quite breathtaking in her righteous indignation, glaring at her father.

"Abigail?!" Midas gaped at his daughter, completely aghast.

The blond princess' jaw set at a stubborn angle. "Stop this, Daddy!"

James decided that it would be best to keep his mouth shut, and was quite happy to do so in all honesty.

Abigail charged past him with firm, measured steps. "Daddy, you are going to accept James' refusal of my hand. You are not going to threaten or harm in any way him, his family, friends or kingdom. And you are going to wish him happiness with the woman he loves."

The king now wore an expression of utter shock. "'The woman he—'"

"And!" she quickly cut in, taking a deep breath, finally looking a bit nervous herself. "You're going to give your blessing for me to marry the man I love."

Midas' jaw hit the floor. "The man…the man that you… Who?!"

Abigail took another bracing breath. "Fredrick," she managed to say after a few beats.

The king's eyebrows shot up. "Fredrick?! My Champion, Fredrick?!" His head whipped around to where said man stood off to the side but still in a position of prominence among the other members of the guard.

The knight immediately moved to Abigail's side, taking her proffered hand. With the length of time it took for the man to remove his helm, James had a feeling he was swallowing hard and taking a very deep breath. However, the Champion refused to show any of the nerves he had to be feeling the moment his face was no longer concealed by the helmet.

"Yes, Daddy," Abigail confirmed, voice unwavering as she gripped her beloved's hand, "Fredrick. We're in love and we want to get married." She took a deep breath. "And you're going to give us your blessing, and give James your blessing to marry his love."

Midas seemed to still be in shock, eyes flicking back and forth between his daughter and Champion, seemingly having forgotten James very existence. "Fredrick?" He did a rather impressive imitation, in James' opinion, of a fish. "My side chambers…now," he managed to gasp out to the couple before sweeping off in the direction of a side door.

Abigail and Fredrick glanced at each other and then to James, who shrugged and mouthed, "Good luck."


The room was dimly lit by a fire in the hearth and two candles. The king rounded on his daughter and Champion. "How the hell did this happen?!"

Abigail reached out to grip her and Fredrick's already joined hands with her other one, the knight mirroring her action, then inclined her chin stubbornly. "When you introduced us shortly before the Winter Solstice…"

Fredrick held his head high, keeping his hands from shaking by sheer force of will and a tight grip on his princess' own. "I love your daughter, sire. More than anyone or anything in this or any other world. From the moment I met her. I hope that you will give us your blessing."

Midas opened and closed his mouth soundlessly several times. "Wh-what about Prince James and Seaborn?! This is an affront to them—"

"I told you, Father, he's in love with another!"

Abigail wondered if it was physically possible for one's jaw to touch the floor whilst standing. "Another…? Who?!"

"Princess Snow White of Everland," the princess promptly responded. "They met again during the Spring Equinox." She took a bracing breath. "He won't take offense in any way and I wish him every happiness."

Her father looked torn between being flummoxed, tired, and exceedingly irritated. Finally, he seemed to give up and just collapsed into his chair. "Fine."

"We can get married?" Abigail's voice rang with the beginnings of hope.

The king smiled wearily. "Yes…I give my blessing."

A joyous, uncharacteristically unladylike shriek escaped Abigail as she shot over to her father, nearly tackling him with a hug. "Thank you, Daddy!"

Fredrick, relief palpable, approached the king, accepting his hearty handshake.

"Well," Midas muttered, "I suppose we should inform Prince James."

The trio moved to the door, the couple glowing and the king just barely keeping himself from glowering.

"Prince James."

The sandy-haired man in question stiffened at the king's voice, but turned to face him.

Midas looked from his daughter and her newly-trothed, back to the prince. "It appears we shall have to form a different alliance between our kingdoms."

James nearly collapsed with relief, wondering how many times one could endure a shock in such a brief period before passing out without appearing unmanly.



An unheard of event. Total surprise. Ella would've never expected it. Her eyes kept drifting from the darning in her hands to her companion sitting across the dwarfs' kitchen table from her. The last person she'd have ever expected to voluntarily sit down with her. Grumpy kept his head bent over the handful of gems he was inspecting, scowling as he carefully set some aside in a neat group atop the table, and tossed others into a tin cup. Ella knew there were dozens of other places he could perform this task but he'd chosen to sit here with her. Grumpy had never sought her out like this before, in fact, outside of his brothers, it seemed like the only ones he went to for any companionship were Snow and, occasionally, Red.

The blonde was trying very hard to hide her shock and not make any show of his presence, knowing that the gruff dwarf wouldn't appreciate it, and that to do so would set them back in their budding friendship–at least she hoped that it was a friendship.

They continued in the companionable, if shocked on Ella's end, silence.

"So," Grumpy finally said, not looking up from what the young woman thought might be a ruby, "you happy here?"

She had to fight very hard against her lips' desire to curve upward, both touched and moved that he was checking on her. Keeping her head down and focused on her task, she responded casually but honestly. "Very. I haven't been this happy in so many years." A soft smile curved her lips thinking of all the good that had happened for her in the last several months.

"That young prince of yours have something to do with that?" he asked gruffly.

Blue eyes snapped up to him, however the dwarf's narrow-eyed inspection remained on the gem grasped between his fingers. Biting her lip, Ella stared down at her momentarily still hands. "Thomas has been wonderful…" She fidgeted with the fabric. "We've been making plans to get engaged…" Her head shot up, eyes wide. "Though I promise that I won't leave you all before finding someone who can—"

"Not what I'm worried about, sister," he interrupted, finally looking up to meet her gaze, tossing the jewel in the tin cup with a soft ping, planting his elbows on the table, and leaning toward her. "What I wanna know is does he make you happy? Will he make ya happy? And does he treat you right?"

Her jaw hung loosely open. The gruff semi-paternal/fraternal-like concern he was showing threw her for a moment and then drew burning tears to her eyes, threatening to stream down her cheeks. Ella cleared her throat, managing a smile. "Yes, he makes me very happy. While it's a bit overwhelming to imagine becoming a queen, yes, I believe we will be exceedingly happy together." A full smile curved her lips. "And yes, he treats me very well, with care and respect…and love."

A grunt escaped him, sounding one part acceptance and two parts dubious, his body language as he went back to inspecting the gems clearly conveying that he'd judge that for himself.

Blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay, Ella turned back to her mending, a grin bright on her expression. Tying off the thread and snipping the excess, she folded and set in her basket the shirt she'd just finished with, the last item she needed to mend. She then stood, lifting the woven hamper and headed toward the door. On a whim, she leaned down to place a quick peck on Grumpy's cheek as she passed him, laughing inwardly at his sputtering behind her.



James was only just coming out of his haze of relief at Midas relenting, when he entered his room to find Liam wearing a trench in the rug in front of the fireplace.

The general's head snapped up at his prince's entrance. "Well?"

The prince cocked an eyebrow. "How is it you look more unsettled about this than I am?"

Liam scowled at him. "You have your lover sending you irritated notes every hour demanding to know if your best friend has gotten his shit together so that he can propose to her best friend–who is pregnant by said best friend–and tell me what mood you're in."

Smirking, James let out a soft snort. "I have a feeling I'll be finding out soon enough," he muttered as he removed his doublet, moving to his desk chair where he draped the garment over the back.

"Well?!" Liam persisted, exasperation saturating his tone.

"Did you find a tailor we could have make those cloaks we need for the end of mourning ceremony?" the prince inquired off-handedly, smothering his amusement at the annoyed sound that escaped his friend.

"Damn it, James, are you trying to give me an apoplexy?!"

Pretending to ignore Liam, he continued, "We're also going to have to make time to attend Abigail and Fredrick's wedding when they announce it."

His general went stock still and silent for several moments. "All right, first: Abigail and Fredrick's wedding? Second: Who the hell is Fredrick? And third… Do you mean what I think you mean?!"

Stifling the grin that wanted to spread across his face, James turned to face Liam and began ticking off on his fingers. "Yes, Abigail and Fredrick's wedding. He's Midas' Champion. And I think their wedding would be a good possible first, or at least one of the first, occasions for Snow and I to attend as a married couple."

Liam remained silent a minute longer but then he threw his hands up and burst out, "Thank the gods!"




The prince looked up at his father's voice, his only living parent's worried gaze meeting his questioning one.

"Son…" the king seemed to fumble for words, "are you all right?"

Phillip scrambled to cover his reaction to the too honest question, tossing him a relatively–or at least as close as he could manage at the moment–careless grin his father's direction. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Hubert shook his head slowly, expression still deeply concerned. "You just haven't…seemed yourself since returning from Glenbriar… Did things go all right?"

The young man silently cursed himself. He hated making his father worry like this about him, it wasn't good for his health and longevity. Phillip had sworn to his mother on her deathbed to take care of his father. Even at the age of 14 he'd known that Hubert would take the queen's death badly, and that the rein he'd kept on his excesses would be all but loosened with the death of his true love. For all of his pomp and posturing, Hubert worried about his only child excessively, his love running deep. As such Phillip had cultivated a blasé façade, like his father's, to try and stem the worry. However, slipping into that mindset had become progressively more difficult ever since he met Aurora again.

She wasn't at all what he'd been expecting, nor had her reaction to learning of Helen been what he'd thought it would be. That kiss… He'd been able to think of little else, the distraction driving him to further distraction. How the hell did this woman get to him so?!

Forcing his thoughts away from the golden-haired princess, Phillip worked up a more convincing smile. "It went just fine, Father."

"Are you sure?"


"You know," his father took a few steps closer, concern unabated, "this betrothal…if you're really unhappy with it…we can call it off."

The prince's eyebrows shot up. "But joining our two kingdoms has been your wish for decades!"

"Not if it makes you truly unhappy, it isn't." He lay a hand on Phillip's shoulder. "The one thing I want most is your happiness, son."

A softness warmed the young man's heart, he swallowed back the lump that was forming in his throat. "Thank you, Father. But…I think Aurora and I are going to at least try to get to know each other again before making any…decisions." Hesitantly, he placed a hand atop his father's. "But I do appreciate the option."



Ella was doing her level best to not burst out laughing at Red's frequent glares directed at the window and Snow's continued obliviousness to them, too preoccupied with the naming gown she was sewing, a small smile gracing her lips. The mother-to-be had been distracting herself from waiting for James' letter with small, unobtrusive preparations for the baby and the, much larger and more visible ones for the end of mourning and equinox. Ella, meanwhile, was using her amusement over her friends' vastly differing emotional states to distract herself from the impending possibility of being quite suddenly and publicly engaged to Thomas and being the future queen of Seaborn. It felt like dragons began flapping around in her stomach at the thought.

Red finally threw down the tomato she was slicing for dinner and cast a narrow-eyed glance at her surrogate sister. "How the hell can you be so calm?!"

The barely-perceptible and immediately hidden tightening of Snow's lips and grip on the fabric was the only betrayal of the cracks in her serene façade.

"That's your life being pretty much being decided out there right now!" The younger dark-haired woman waved a hand in the metaphorical direction of Doro.

Ella dropped her gaze fixedly to the shirt she was darning, trying not to think how it was also a major part of her life being decided as well, though she caught Snow's swift glance in her direction out of the corner of her eye. They hadn't yet told Red about the plan that would be carried out if Midas took offense.

The princess took a deep breath. "Things will work out however they will."

"Snow," Red plowed forward, "you're pregnant! And unmarried. And–"

Snow slammed her hands down on the table. "And I'm painfully aware of all of this, Red!" Green eyes glared furiously at hazel. "As you stated so plainly, it effects my life directly and in a major way! And to top it all off…there's nothing I can do about it!" Her jaw was set. "I'm stuck here, waiting for other people to make decisions that can possibly ruin my life and I have no say!" One of Snow's hands had slipped under the table to gently squeeze one of Ella's, which had dropped to her lap, in quiet camaraderie. "But making a scene won't help! So, I'm trying to focus on productive outlets because constantly thinking about it certainly won't do me any good!"

Silence reigned thick and unchallenged in the room for several long moments. Ella could see that Red regretted upsetting her friend so, slowly the younger dark-haired woman opened her mouth, likely to apologize.

A messenger dove fluttered in through the window, settling in front of Snow.

The princess blanched and Ella could feel tremors wracking her friend through their joined hands. The blonde covered their clasped fingers with her other hand, squeezing tightly, trying to convey comfort, all the while fighting down her own panic.

Red's wide eyed gaze went from the bird to Snow and back again, eyeing the animal as if it were liable to attack them—unlikely given that the creature, unruffled by the tension rife around it, just lifted the leg the message was attached to toward Snow.

After an interminable pause, Snow finally reached her violently trembling hand to the tightly rolled parchment. It took a great deal of fumbling before she was finally able to flatten the letter enough to read, Ella couldn't decipher what it said from her position, but it wasn't long. Was that a good sign or a bad one?

Suddenly a laugh escaped Snow, and the blonde's eyes snapped to her friend to see relief spread across her face. Green eyes sparkling, the princess handed Ella the letter—more of a note really given its brevity, but she thought she might never have read two sentences that brought more relief than those:

My Bandit Snow,

I will see you at the end of mourning ceremony. You and I are going to need to have a, more than likely, very long discussion with our parents about how we're going to run two kingdoms together.

All my love,


Both laughing in joyous relief, Snow and Ella pulled each other into a tight hug.

Red reached over and snatched the letter from where it was still clutched in Ella's hand between Snow's shoulders, hazel eyes quickly skimming over the contents once, twice, three times, a confused frown overtaking her expression. She held up the parchment. "Do either of you want to explain why this, rather cryptic, note has you both ready to go dancing around the room?"

Neither of the other two women could stop the ensuing laughter that continued to ring out. It was several long minutes before the pair was calm enough to take a deep breath and explain everything.

Red's response was immediate and resounding. "Finally!"



No, Thomas hadn't been sitting for the last hour staring at the same page of a trade agreement with…what kingdom was it with?

Nope. He wasn't tapping his fingers impatiently on his desk and it's definitely not the beat of that dance James has become so fond of...some name in French, Flacon-something he thinks it's titled.

And his eyes definitely haven't been straying to the window every few minutes all day.

…Damn it…

Where the hell was James' messenger dove?!

Thomas shook his head in an attempt to clear it—something he knew was a futile effort, but he ignored the voice in the back of his head that pointed that out to him. He twirled a quill in the inkpot, Thomas hated how he couldn't seem to stop fidgeting, that he couldn't focus on his work. He hated having so little control over his life and future, hated how control had been ripped from Ella, the woman he loved who'd had so little control for so very long.

Damn it all.

The young king-to-be glared at the pile of paperwork on his desk, as if it were at fault for his distress.

"OW!" He jerked his hand back at a sudden stinging sensation, a small drop of blood welled on his thumb. Thomas' eyes snapped to where his hand had been to find a dove cooing impatiently. Once it saw that it had his attention the bird nudged a small scroll toward him with its beak before flying off out the window.

Hesitantly, Thomas reached for the paper as if it were a dangerous thing, and it just might be. Taking a deep breath, he decisively unrolled the parchment and then felt the air leave him in a relieved whoosh, nearly slumping across his desk with the sensation at the very first sentence.

"Thank the gods," he gasped out. After several moments longer of silently sending up thanks to whatever deity had taken pity on him, he returned his attention to the rest of the note, mouth quirking up at his brother's not-so-subtle reference to James' impending proposal to Snow. He chuckled, "Well, big brother, I'm quite looking forward to seeing that announcement."



Ruth watched the scowl on her husband's face progressively deepen as he read the letter in his hands.

George was not an easy man, he wasn't one for coddling or soft words, his expressions of love and care were gruff and mostly wordless, and on the rare occasion when he did use words he never said it outright. Perhaps in her youth Ruth would've been disappointed by his ways, but time and the pain of loss had given her an understanding and easy acceptance of her second husband, and after so many years of marriage she found his rather taciturn personality almost comforting in its familiarity and predictability. And whatever George lacked in affection and warmth he made up for in respect, his own code of honor and the love he had for their sons. Ideally, Ruth would've preferred to not be a queen, but as a whole she was content in her life.

Now she just wondered what could have her husband looking so thunderous.

Finally, George threw the parchment down on his desk with a scoff of disgust.

"What's wrong, George?"

"James is trying to vex me," he growled.

The queen set aside her ledgers on her desk. "And what has he done to make you think so?"

"Your son went and called off the arrangement with Midas and Abigail entirely without consulting me!"

Ruth ignored the "your son," he called both their sons hers whenever they did something that frustrated him. "I doubt he was intentionally trying to upset you, dear. And you knew that he didn't really want to marry Abigail. As lovely a girl as she is, she doesn't really suit him."

"And what does that have to do with royal marriage?" George grumbled. "Few marriages amongst royalty have anything to do with personal preference or love."

"You loved Hannah," she quietly pointed out.

His lips pressed into a thin white line, gaze snapping off to the side, bottling everything up as he always did when his first wife, and true love, was mentioned. "He took a great risk turning down that alliance, Midas could've taken offense. If Abigail wasn't already interested in someone else we could've had a war on our hands."

Ruth rose from her seat and moved towards him. "I'm sure James weighed it all carefully and didn't just act on a whim." Stopping beside where he sat, a small smile lifted her lips. "And knowing James, he discussed it all with Abigail before they told Midas."

George continued to glare at a bookshelf in the corner. "Perhaps, but now whom shall he marry? He can't keep waiting around for the 'right' woman. He needs to find a wife and it needs to be sooner rather than later. His remaining single isn't good for the security of the kingdom."

She stifled the knowing grin that wanted to cross her face, gently laying a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure he'll find someone soon enough."

He gave a doubtful grunt. "Well, he said we was going to attend the end of mourning for Lord Henry and the equinox festival in Everland. Perhaps he'll actually start looking around and find a woman there."

It took a couple of moments of choking back a laugh before Ruth was able to clear her throat and speak in a level tone. "Perhaps."


Sorry, yet again, for the brevity of the chapter! I just didn't feel right moving on to the next "chapter" of everything in this chapter! Because that's when things start really rolling on an official front for Snowing...and other couples... ;-) I hope that it was still good! Thank you for reading and let me know what you think!

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