The Land of Stories: Gleefully Ever After

A Royal Invitation

In which a few loose ends are tied up with a ribbon…

Chris and Darren’s romantic afternoon in the woods was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Rachel, who came rushing up to inform them that Darren was in “big trouble” with the royal physician for sneaking out of his room. The three of them tried to return to the palace undetected, but they were met at the gate by the royal physician herself, standing with hands on hips and a no-nonsense expression on her face. Chris almost didn’t recognize her, since he’d never seen Carole look so stern.

“Young man, I left specific instructions for you to stay in bed. The health and well-being of every guest who comes to this palace is my responsibility, and I will not allow you to jeopardize your recovery. Now, since you are obviously unable to follow my orders on your own, you will be escorted back to your room, where a guard will be stationed at the door to ensure that you get the rest you need.”

Then, glancing at Chris and Darren’s linked hands, she added, “Alone.”

There was clearly no point in arguing, so – with a final quick kiss – Darren allowed himself to be led away.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur in Chris’s mind. He spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the palace in a blissful daze, chuckling whenever he caught himself humming sappy love songs. Even the fact that the guard outside Darren’s room refused to let him in couldn’t put a damper on his good spirits.

Dinner that evening should have been memorable, since it was the first time Chris had sat down to a proper meal in over a week, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember a single thing he ate. Shortly after the first course was served, a footman entered the dining hall to inform Queen Snow White and King Sam that Quinderella had delivered her baby, and that they were invited to attend a celebration of the birth of Princess Beth.

After reading over the parchment scroll the footman handed him, King Sam turned to Rachel. “My brother must have heard that you’re visiting, Queen Red, because he says that you’re invited, too.”

“Oh my, I just love babies!” Rachel gushed. “And you’ll be my plus-one, right Froggy?”

“Um, do you think that will be okay?”

“Of course,” Sam assured him. “My family isn’t at all amphibiaphobic.” Then he added, “You and Darren must come too, Chris. Apparently Quinderella’s Fairy Godfather specifically requested that you should be included in the invitation.”

Before Chris could respond, Sir Cooper burst into the room. “Kurt Hummelocks has escaped!” he shouted. “When the guards went to give him his supper, they found his cell empty! Shall I send my troops to track him down?”

Chris glanced at Rachel, who glanced at Mercedes, who winked. “There’s no point in that, Sir Cooper. I’m sure he’s long gone by now,” the queen replied.

King Sam looked around the table. “Hey, has anyone seen Blaine?”

When none of the assembled guests responded, Sir Cooper cried, “He must have freed the prisoner! This is an insult to the honor of the Northern Kingdom! Now there are two outlaws on the loose! You must allow me to bring them to justice!”

“Relax, Sir Cooper,” Mercedes said. “I’m sure they’re much too frightened of my royal guards to hang around this kingdom. They’re probably already halfway to the Dwarf Forests. And in any case, I can’t spare you at the moment. We’ll be leaving first thing tomorrow morning for the Charming Kingdom, and I expect you and your troops to accompany us.”

Sir Cooper spluttered for a moment, apparently torn between his desire to milk every possible bit of drama out of Kurt’s escape and his excitement at the prospect of a trip to Quinderella’s palace. The latter won out, and he declared, “Of course, Your Majesty! Your safety is always my highest concern! I will go at once to make all of the necessary preparations for our journey!” And with that, he swept out of the room, much to the relief of everyone present.

The following morning, Chris woke up alone for the first time since he and Darren had been sucked into his laptop and deposited into this fairy tale world. He experienced a brief moment of disoriented panic before the events of the previous day came back to him. Hurriedly pulling on his clothes, he left his room to go in search of Darren.

Chris was stopped by a servant just outside his door. “The king and queen would like to get an early start, and the carriages are ready. Please follow me.”

Chris allowed the servant to escort him down to the courtyard and hand him up into a luxurious carriage. He found Froggy and Rachel already seated within, eating an elaborate breakfast that had been laid out on golden trays.

“Have you seen Darren?” Chris asked.

“Oh, yes,” Froggy answered. “The royal physician decided that he was well enough to travel, but she insisted that he ride in a separate carriage with her so that she could keep an eye on him.”

Chris sighed. The previous afternoon was beginning to seem like a dream, and he desperately wanted to talk to Darren to find out if they were on the same page about their relationship.

With an uncharacteristic display of concern for someone other than herself (Froggy was obviously having a positive effect on her) Rachel patted Chris on the knee. “Don’t worry. The Northern Kingdom is known for its fast horses. And we’ll be traveling straight through my kingdom, which has excellent roads. So we should arrive in time for dinner, and you can see Darren then.”

The journey to the Charming Kingdom was uneventful, which made a welcome change from the rest of Chris’s experiences in the fairy tale world. As soon as his carriage pulled up in front of Quinderella’s palace, Chris leapt down and looked around for Darren. He spotted the royal physician and hurried over to her.

“Is Darren with you?” he asked.

Carole didn’t seem to hear him. Her attention was fixed on Quinderella’s Head Guard, who was speaking with Queen Snow White and King Sam a short distance away. Chris smiled as Sir Burt excused himself from the royal couple and made his way over to them.

“It’s good to see you again, Chris,” Sir Burt greeted him warmly. “Especially since this time you have an invitation,” he added with a wink. “And who is this lovely lady you’ve brought with you?”

Chris tried to rein in his grin as he answered, “Sir Burt, I’d like to present Lady Carole, Queen Snow White’s royal physician.”

Carole dropped a curtsey. Sir Burt bowed low, and then took her hand and kissed it. “May I escort you into the palace, my lady?”

“Of course.”

Chris felt a familiar pair of arms slide around his waist from behind, and he tipped his head back onto Darren’s shoulder to receive a kiss on the cheek.

“I missed you,” he said, turning around in Darren’s arms.

“Mm… Me too. But I’m glad that Carole insisted on coming with me, or she wouldn’t have met up with Burt. I just love those two as a couple.”

“Oh, so do I. I hadn’t really thought about it until we ran into her, but I guess I’d just kind of assumed that she and Sir Burt were already married and living here together.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I got hit in the head with that stone so they could finally meet.”

“Yes, yes, now you can add unintentional matchmaking to your already impressive list of accidental skills.”

“Hey, you haven’t seen the half of my skills,” Darren teased.

Before Chris could offer a witty retort, Rachel approached them, dragging an uncomfortable looking Froggy along with her. “Come on. Everyone’s going in, and we don’t want to miss the party. I can’t wait to see Quinderella’s baby!”

The four of them climbed the imposing flight of stairs leading to the palace. Chris was amused to note that Figgins was once again collecting invitations. He gave them all a suspicious and somewhat haughty look, but he did allow them to pass.

Once inside, they made their way to the ballroom, where Quinderella sat on her throne, cradling Princess Beth. King Puck stood behind her, making goo-goo eyes at his new daughter. The other royal couples were seated nearby – Queen Snow White with King Sam, Queen Sleeping Tina with King Mike, and Queen Emmapunzel with Will, the Huntsman, who was apparently her new beau.

Chris, Darren, Rachel, and Froggy went over to admire the tiny princess. Quinderella beamed up at them. She and Puck began to sing:

Isn't she lovely?
Isn't she wonderful?
Isn't she precious?
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love we'd be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn't she lovely made from love?

Isn't she pretty?
Truly the angel's best
Boy, I'm so happy
We have been heaven-blessed
I can't believe what God has done
Through us he's given life to one
But isn't she lovely made from love?

“Oh my,” Rachel cooed. “She certainly is lovely!”

The proud parents took their attention away from their daughter for a moment to smile at their guests. “Oh, I almost forgot,” King Puck said. “The Fairy Godfather asked me to send Froggy to him as soon as you all arrived.”

Froggy turned a paler shade of green as a footman led him away.

“Oh my,” Rachel said, sounding worried. “I wonder what that’s about?”

“I think it’s about me and Darren,” Chris replied. “Froggy said that the Fairy Godfather had promised to turn him back to his original form if he brought us to him.”

“His original form? You mean he’s not really a frog?”

“Nope, he’s human. And I think you’re going to be in for a pleasant surprise.”

For the next ten minutes, Rachel fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, glancing repeatedly at the door through which Froggy had disappeared. Finally a tall young man entered. All eyes were immediately upon him.

“Finn!” shouted Puck, Sam, and Mike.

“Oh my!” cried Rachel, and promptly fainted dead away.

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