Part 3: Chapter 33
"Oh, that's wonderful, my dear!" Mrs. Potts praised as she examined the ring that newly adorned Belle's hand. Belle smiled, seeing for the hundredth time that day Adam kneeling before her, offering to share his life with her. "I'm so happy for you! There's so much to plan now! Oh, I haven't been so excited in goodness knows how long."
"I haven't told Papa yet, so try and keep it to yourself for now. I want him to hear it from me," she requested, wondering how her father might react to the news.
"Then you'd best hurry, dearest. Things like this don't stay secret for long. Come, we'll find the Master and you can go together," Mrs. Potts offered and led Belle out of the lounge where Belle had found the kind old woman, eager to share her news. "Why isn't the Master with you just now, anyway?" Mrs. Potts asked as they walked.
"When we came in from the gardens, Cogsworth approached us with a letter from his uncle. Adam went off to deal with it but promised he'd find me as soon as he could," Belle explained quickly, unwilling to spoil the day by dwelling on Adam's hasty, if necessary, departure.
"Oh, Cogsworth," Mrs. Potts sighed in exasperation. "He couldn't give you two one day in peace! I'm going to have a few words with him next time I see him." Belle smiled at Mrs. Potts' motherly defense and was glad of it. She could never take on Cogsworth on her own with such things, but Mrs. Potts was well aware of what buttons to push to make Cogsworth comply.
Mrs. Potts pushed open the door to the West Wing to reveal Cogsworth and Adam in the middle of what appeared to be a heated debate.
"Ahem," Mrs. Potts cleared her throat pointedly, immediately drawing the attention of the two men. Belle grinned and hoped that one day she might gain such a power. "Am I to understand, Cogsworth, that you interrupted the Master and Belle on what was one of the most important days of their lives?"
"I—My dear Mrs. Potts, you don't understand. This letter. . ." he held up the page in his hands, apparently prepared to explain himself, but Mrs. Potts was having none of it.
"I don't care if the world is crashing down around our ears. You leave these young people be," she retorted and Belle bit her lip in an effort to keep from laughing. Cogsworth tried to stammer something, but Mrs. Potts simply spoke over him. "Now, Master, Belle has told me you have not gone to see her father yet. Perhaps you should do so before he hears such news from someone else." Belle watched as Adam opened his mouth as if to argue, seemed to think better of it, and walked over to Belle, unsuccessfully suppressing an amused grin.
"I'm glad you're here," he muttered in Belle's ear as they left Cogsworth at the mercy of Mrs. Potts. "I'm sorry I had to leave you so soon, but what Cogsworth had to say was important. Uncle Gustave is returning tomorrow, and he's bringing some of the—the lesser lords of my lands. A Marquis and a Comte, I think."
"Well, all those lessons seem to be paying off," Belle said, impressed at the knowledge Adam was able to display now.
"Something had to stick after all that time spent," he chuckled.
"So does this mean you're alive again to the outside world?"
"I hope so. There wasn't much in the letter; it seemed rather quickly written so I don't know much. We'll find out tomorrow, I suppose. Will you be there with me when they come?"
"Always," she replied and subtly touched her thumb to the band on her finger. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me now."
Adam grinned and put his arm around her shoulders as they walked. "Good," he said and gently kissed the top of her head. Belle wrapped her arm around his waist and rested her head against his shoulder, happy to be included in this, and whatever else they might encounter, as equal partners.
"Papa?" she called as he and Adam walked into the workroom. She was a bit nervous about informing her father about her engagement, but excitement overwhelmed most of her unease.
"Belle! And Adam," her father greeted as he emerged from behind his machine. "What are you two doing down here?" Belle noticed his obvious grin and began smiling herself.
"Papa," she sighed. "You know perfectly well what we're doing here." Her father glanced carefully between Belle and Adam until Belle held up her hand, displaying the ring as proof of what she suspected he already knew. He said nothing, but stepped forward and embraced her, holding her so tightly Belle could hardly breathe.
"I'm so proud of you," he said in her ear. "So proud. And your mother would be, too." Belle could think of nothing to say, stunned by the concentrated emotion in her father's voice. She was spared from speaking, though, as her father turned to Adam. "Well done, my boy. Well done, indeed. You take good care of her now, or you can be sure I'll have something to say about it."
"I have every intention of doing so," Adam replied, looking at Belle with such obvious warmth Belle couldn't help but blush.
"I'm sure it's too soon yet, but are there any ideas about the wedding?"
"Not yet," Belle replied. "We've just got word that Adam's uncle is coming back tomorrow with a Marquis and a Comte, so I think we should take care of that first."
"Are you sure?" Adam said quickly. "I can send them away, you know." Belle could see that Adam was serious, that he would use his newly regained power to send away such important guests.
"No, this is important and much more complicated than a wedding. Besides, the wedding should be a celebration, not an event to mark the beginning of more difficulties."
"You'll have plenty of difficulties after the wedding, anyway," her father put in.
"Yes, but we don't need to add to them by putting this off for so long. Besides, waiting till after this is sorted out will let the wedding be about family and love, not about the court," Belle replied, making sure to put a note of finality in her voice, letting her men know this was what she wanted. Her decision was met with seemingly stunned silence which gradually drew grins out of both Adam and her father.
"Good girl," her father said with a nod and Belle watched Adam's smile grow. "And you can just leave me out of that business altogether, if you don't mind. I'm perfectly happy hiding down here if need be." Adam chuckled and nodded, adding that he wished he could hide down here as well.
"Now, I think we have some work to do, you and I," Belle said to Adam. "Will I see you for dinner, Papa?"
"Of course, my dear. Run along now and help your fiancé." With another loving smile at Belle, he shooed them out of his workroom. Belle's heart gave a comfortable flutter at the words 'your fiancé' and took Adam's arm to lead him into the hall.
"Fiancé, " Adam chuckled as he closed the door behind them.
"Don't you like it?" she teased.
"It's just odd hearing it. I never thought anything like this would happen to me. It's still a shock to just wake up in the morning and find that I'm not covered in fur or have a tail," Adam admitted with a crooked, guilty sort of smile.
"You're lucky you've put me in such a good mood, otherwise I'd scold you and tell you how much you deserve to be happy, Beast or no," Belle replied stepping closer to her betrothed and running her hand along his jaw.
"You can't really be saying that you'd still want to be with me if I was still the Beast," Adam protested, his voice and expression made it clear he was in disbelief at her words.
"And what if I am? It wouldn't matter to me, because I fell in love with you. Not the Beast, and not the human man I suspected was inside. Just you. Though I'm sure it is a bit easier for my father to comprehend and approve of us now that you're human."
"But, I don't—" Adam began, but Belle interrupted him.
"When you were. . .were dying on the balcony when, well, you know." Belle wasn't willing to recall too much detail about that horrible moment. "I would've given anything just for you to be all right. I never asked, never wanted anything more than for you to come back to me, to see you look at me again and hear your voice. All I wanted was to have you back, any way I could."
"I—I don't know what to say," Adam stammered after a moment. "I know you somehow, were able to see beyond the Beast, but it really didn't matter to you? Truly?"
"Truly. Though, as I said, it does make things a bit simpler now." Belle could see Adam try to comprehend such an idea, so Belle pushed herself onto her toes and kissed him, successfully drawing his attention back to what was more important: that she and Adam were together.
"They're right behind me," Uncle Gustave puffed as he hurried through the doors of the castle the next morning. He made his way quickly towards where Adam stood with Belle in the entrance hall, many of the servants lining the walls to greet their guests. "Please tell me you were, ah. . .successful in your goal while I was gone."
Adam grinned at his uncle and turned to Belle. "Well, was I successful?" he asked her. He watched as Belle's lips turned into a smile of understanding and leaned around Adam to respond to his uncle.
"I'd say so," she said simply and held her hand to Gustave's own outstretched hand to show the ring as evidence of her statement.
"Wonderful, wonderful! I'm happy for you both of course, but you should know that the Marquis brought his daughter along, and she is horrid. Ah, here you are!" Adam was amazed at how quickly his uncle could appear so calm as the nobles walked through the door when moments before he had been in a clear panic. Adam stepped towards the three visitors; one man and a girl who clung to the older gentleman were dressed in what Adam thought were rather silly outfits, dripping with lace and jewels. Adam restrained a grimace, realizing quickly that they had meant to intimidate him and tried not to admit that it was very nearly working. Fortunately, their attempts at daunting him were ruined slightly by the more appropriately dressed, not to mention more amiable looking, man beside them.
"May I present His Highness, Prince Adam Christophe, and his lovely fiancée, Lady Belle," Gustave introduced formally, though Adam was grateful Gustave did not use all of Adam's names and that he provided Belle with a title, though Adam noticed the gilded man and his daughter glanced oddly at each other as they bowed deeply to Adam. At their bows, Adam did his best to keep from taking a step backward; he would never get used to people paying such homage to him.
"Your Highness, this is the Marquis de Beauvau and his daughter Nicole, and the Comte de Bourbon." Adam bowed as he was taught, slightly at the waist but low enough to pay the correct amount of respect. Bows were difficult, confusing things.
"I'm so pleased you have come," Adam said, trying to enunciate his words as best he could. "I know there is. . .much confusion about my absence. Perhaps we could go into the parlor and my uncle and I can discuss it with you. Mrs. Potts will take care of your servants," he added, motioning to Mrs. Potts who abruptly went towards the servants who followed their own masters into the castle. Adam offered his arm to Belle and led them all into the formal parlor he rarely used.
Adam spent much of the next several hours relaying to these visitors the story he and his uncle had devised. Adam and his uncle told the story of how Adam had been sent away to escape the fever that had claimed his mother and sister and had remained abroad for years to further his education, as his late father wished for him.
It had to be believable, for doubtless the Marquis and Comte would tell the rest of the nobles what they learned that day, but Adam did not have much faith in this story, nor did he have a better one to offer. Before his uncle left to return to the main castle, he and Adam had decided it would be best to remain as vague as possible and pretend to be offended if they asked for more specific details. Adam knew he was not very skilled at lying, so he could only respond to their questions where he could and hope his uncle would take over with the rest.
Not even Belle, who was originally so insistent that Adam reveal the enchantment to his uncle, argued with their plan. She agreed that the less these nobles knew, the better. Something as unbelievable as the enchantment should be kept within a small circle, since it could quickly ruin Adam if it was not accepted. And, judging by the Marquis' attitude alone, it had been a wise decision to tell a different story.
"We had not heard from him," Adam's uncle explained as their story came to a close, "because we assumed him dead and had not contacted him, so Adam had not thought to contact us."
"For ten years?" the Marquis protested. "You did not write home for ten years?"
"I was traveling quite frequently. I imagine many of my letters had gotten lost," Adam explained, prepared for this question at least. "If I had known my father was ill, I would have returned home sooner, of course."
"But how did—"
"Dinner is served," Cogsworth interrupted before the Marquis could ask any more awkward questions.
"Thank you, Cogsworth," Adam said, trying not to sound too relieved, and stood to lead every one into the formal dining hall.
Before he could offer Belle his arm once more, the Marquis daughter Nicole swooped in and took hold of Adam's elbow. Adam was shocked at the girl's forwardness and looked back at Belle for help as the girl fairly dragged him towards the dining room. Belle only smirked amusedly, though, and let him go.
"Where were you really, Your Highness?" Nicole asked, fluttering her eyelashes at him. She was young, perhaps sixteen or so, and pouted her lips in what he supposed was meant to make her appear more sweet, but Adam sincerely doubted she was as innocent as she was trying to appear.
"Traveling, like I said," he grunted and all but shook her off as they approached the table, ignoring her as he went to hold a chair out for Belle to the left of his own chair at the head of the table.
Somehow, Adam made it through dinner without giving away the lies he told his guests and successfully avoided Nicole's persistent gaze. He counted no less than seven snide comments aimed towards him by the Marquis, who seemed to insist on overlooking the respect that was due to his Prince. Adam kept his temper, at least enough to reply politely time after time, but then the conversation somehow turned to how Adam had met Belle.
"I don't recall anyone by your name in the surrounding noble families, my dear," the Marquis said after Adam had refused to bite at his torments. "Where are you from?"
Adam inwardly groaned; for all their preparations, somehow they had all forgotten to think of an acceptable story for Belle. What would the Marquis say if they told him the truth? It doesn't matter, Adam told himself resolutely. I'm going to marry her and then her background won't be questioned.
"She's was a guest of mine," Adam replied vaguely while Belle was clearly still searching for an appropriate answer.
"While you were traveling?" the Marquis asked pointedly.
"No, when I returned back here in the autumn. She stayed with me for several months and I couldn't help but fall in love with her," he said, casting a warm look towards Belle.
"But, and I ask again, where are you from?" the Marquis pressed.
"She is from the local village, sir," Adam responded, his anger finally beginning to bubble to the surface. "And I expect nothing but courtesy and respect towards her, for soon she will be my wife and I will give her full permission to treat any who disobey me as she sees fit." Adam couldn't help the small inward smile at the Marquis' shocked expression and his stammered apology.
"That is lovely, my dear," the Comte put in calmly. "I would so like to hear more about your life there."
"Would you really?" Belle sounded genuinely surprised.
"Yes, indeed. The Comtesse and I take great pride in our villages. She could not make the journey today, of course since she had taken ill."
"Please send her our regards. I should like to meet her," Belle replied with a pleasant smile.
"I will, my lady, thank you." Adam sighed with relief; at least someone here was treating Belle with the kindness she deserved.
"Well, at least that's over," Adam sighed after the Marquis' daughter finally left the parlor where Adam, Belle, and their guests had gone after dinner. The Marquis and the Comte had left for their rooms almost an hour earlier, but Nicole insisted on bending Adam's ear about his travels, attempting to sit as close as possible to Adam and all but ignoring Belle while Adam was forced to come up with lies of his travels over and over again.
"I don't think your troubles with her will be over until we are married," Belle replied and Adam smiled at the slight huff in her voice.
"Why Belle, you're not jealous, are you?" he teased gently.
"Of her? Impossible. I know you'd never fall for someone as dimwitted as her. At least, I hope you wouldn't."
"You are jealous!" he exclaimed and went over to embrace her, somehow adoring the fact that she was threatened by this silly girl.
"And you are enjoying this far too much," she retorted as she obligingly wrapped her arms around him.
"This is new for me; I've never had so many women pining for my attention before," he continued to tease her a bit.
"You're not funny, you know," she said indignantly, her voice muffled slightly by his jacket as she leaned her head on his chest.
"I'm sorry, my love. Nicole's just a silly girl looking to raise her status. You're not really upset, are you?"
"Of course not," she said, raising her face so Adam could see her smile. "But she's going to be quite a handful while she's here."
"Her father isn't all that great, either," Adam added. "The longer he stays, I'm afraid he'll find out we've lied to them."
"I'm glad you told the truth about me, though," Belle said, her hand coming up to wrap her fingers gently in his hair. "I know it will make everything a bit harder but. . ."
"I couldn't lie about how I met you," Adam interrupted, removing her hand from its nervous movements in his hair to enfold it in his own hands. "You are the one good thing that's ever happened to me. Lying about it just seemed so. . .so wrong."
"Thank you," she said and burrowed her cheek into his jacket once again. Adam folded his arms around her slight figure and knew that with her by his side, he could face anything, even the horrid Marquis and his contemptible daughter.