The Isle of the Lost (Page 39)
They stood, paralyzed, unable and unwilling to figure out what to do next, while the black box in Carlos’s hands kept beeping incessantly. If it was indeed communicating with the Dragon’s Eye, it was clear that the scepter was somewhere behind the thorny gates.
Mal scrunched up her face, frustrated.
It was Jay who broke the silence.
He handed Mal and Evie each a silver dagger, and Carlos some bug spray. He himself hauled a red-handled machete.
“You carry an ax in your pocket?” asked Carlos.
“Who doesn’t?” Jay said with a smile. “When you steal enough things from all over the place, I find that you always arrive prepared.”
Mal had to admit that Jay’s loot came in handy right then.
Jay hacked a path with his machete, and the others followed close behind. Mal slashed at a branch of thorns with her silver dagger, and the branch withered and shrank from her knife. Evie did the same on the other side, and Carlos sprayed a hairy tarantula with his spray, so that it fell off a branch, dead.
It would be hard work, but they were used to it by now. Deeper they went into the dark forest, making their way to the castle above.
Just be yourself, there are other ways to show strength than your father’s kind. Ben’s mother’s words rang in Ben’s ears as he sat down to meet with Grumpy, who had been elected to represent the dwarfs and sidekicks in their petitions.
Great. Wonderful. Just perfect. A one-on-one with Grumpy.
Ben shook his head. He suspected anyone else would have been a better person to negotiate with than the crabby old dwarf.
Last time they’d met, the infamous dwarf had been insulted by a sugar cookie.
These talks were doomed.
Ben wished that people would stop telling him to be himself. It sounded like such simple advice—and maybe it would have been, if he had had any idea who himself was.
But who was he?
Prince Ben, son of King Beast, heir to the throne of the great kingdom of Auradon?
He was certainly nothing like his father, who knew how to enforce his rule without forcing it on his subjects. Ben cringed to recall how he had stood on the table and yelled.
That wasn’t who he was.
He was Prince Ben, son of King Beast and Queen Belle, heir to the throne of the great kingdom of Auradon.
And if, like his father, he was meant to inherit the throne—then it would be on his own terms, as his mother’s son and not just as his father’s heir.
Because, like his mother, Ben was quiet and gentle and loved nothing better than to disappear into a great, thick book. His childhood hadn’t been about hunting or sword-fighting or besting someone else on the field.
It had been spent in a library.
He shared his mother’s love of reading, and he always had. Ben’s fondest memories were of sitting next to Queen Belle at the hearth of her magnificent library’s enormous fireplace, reading by her side. He’d be digging into a pile of books dragged from the lower shelves, while hers were always taken from the very highest. It was paradise.
Once, when his father had discovered they had spent the entire day hiding in the library and scolded them for skipping out on a royal luncheon banquet “for the sake of a story,” his mother had mounted a passionate defense.
“But these aren’t just stories,” she’d said. “They’re whole kingdoms. They’re worlds. They’re perspectives and opinions you can’t offer, from lives you haven’t lived. They’re more valuable than any gold coin, and more important than any state luncheon. I should hope you, as king, would know that!”
King Beast’s eyes had twinkled, and he had lifted Queen Belle into his powerful arms with one easy motion. “And, as you’re my queen, I should hope you would know how much I love you for that!” Then he’d gathered up his young son, and the three of them had made a late lunch of cream cakes in the garden.
Ben smiled. He hadn’t thought about that day in a long time.
He found himself thinking of it still as Lumiere ushered the older dwarf into the conference room.
Grumpy nodded to him and took a seat across from the prince, his short legs swinging like a child’s. “What’s this all about, young man?” He coughed. “I’m not in the mood for any of your tantrums.” He eyed the table uneasily, as if the boy was about to leap upon it, even now. The plate of sugar cookies and the goblet of cider in front of him, he left untouched.
“Thank you for meeting me today,” said Ben. “I thought this might be easier, if it was just the two of us talking. Since everything got a bit—loud—before.”
“Hem,” said Grumpy. “We’ll see about that. You don’t plan to hop on the table again or shout like an animal, do you?”
Ben flushed. “I apologize for my behavior the other day. I was…a fool.”
“You—What?” Grumpy was caught off guard.
Ben shrugged. “I admit it. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I made a mess of everything. And I certainly don’t blame you for not wanting to take me seriously now.”
Grumpy looked at him grumpily, if a little pleasantly surprised. “Go on.”
Ben smiled. It was a start, and he’d take it.
“You see, I called you in because I read all one thousand and one pages of your complaint.”
“Really? All one thousand?” asked Grumpy, sounding impressed in spite of himself.
“And one.” Ben smiled again. He was a fast reader, and a concerned listener, and if he was truly going to be himself, he was going to need to use both talents in his favor to settle this complaint once and for all.
“From what I could gather, it appears what you and your colleagues are demanding is to be heard, and to have a voice in your future. Something more than just a seat at the Council.”
“It’s not that much to ask is it?” asked Grumpy keenly.
“No, it’s not,” Ben acknowledged. “And I think we can come to a simple agreement.”
“What do you propose?”
Ben shuffled the papers. He thought about it, and about how to say it. How had his mother put it? Perspectives and opinions I can’t offer, from lives I haven’t lived.
Ben smiled. “I propose listening to the people who know best.”
Grumpy raised an eyebrow.
Ben consulted his notes. “Let’s start with the mermaids. They should charge a silver coin for every undersea tour. And I’ll talk to Ariel about giving Flounder’s collecting for Ariel a break.”