The Isle of the Lost (Page 40)

Grumpy nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Okay.”

“I’ve also set up a college fund for the Dalmatians—all one hundred and one of them will be eligible for financial aid through the Puppy Grant.” Ben pushed a black-and-white-spotted folder that contained all the pertinent forms across the table.

Grumpy accepted it. “Pongo will appreciate that,” said Grumpy. “But what about us miners?”

“Half of everything you mine must still remain the property of the kingdom,” said Ben. He knew his father would settle for no less.

“Half? What about the rest of the diamonds? Where does that go?” asked Grumpy, sounding alarmed.

“The other half will go to a 401D Fund. A retirement fund for dwarfs, to take care of your families and your children. Tell Bashful not to worry.”

“Sounds fair enough.” Grumpy nodded, in spite of himself. “What about the restriction of magic? Just between you and me, those three fairies make a lot of noise.”

“The three good fairies will have to take their complaint up with the Fairy Godmother. I can’t do anything about it myself, I’m afraid. But I’ll get them a meeting with her. That much I can do.”

“And Genie’s request for unlimited travel within the kingdom?” Grumpy frowned. At this point, he looked like he was struggling to find things to still be grumpy about.

“Approved, so long as he clears his itinerary with the palace beforehand.” That was a difficult concession to make, as his father did not want the “blue-skinned-maniac popping up everywhere without notice,” but he had been able to convince King Beast that as long as the subjects were warned about Genie’s arrival, all would be well.

Grumpy folded his arms. “What about the woodland creatures? They’re working their paws and hooves to the bone.”

“I’ve had a team install dishwashers, washer-dryers, and vacuum cleaners in every household. It’s time we realized we’re living in the twenty-first century, don’t you think? Forest woodlands included?”

“Meh,” said Grumpy. “I don’t care much for modernity, but I think our furry friends will appreciate it. It’s hard to do dishes by hand, without, you know, hands.”

Ben tried not to laugh.

“As for Mary and the mice, from now on, they will be well compensated with the finest cheese in the kingdom, from the king’s own larders.” Ben let the last paper drop.

“Fair enough.” Grumpy nodded.

“So we have a deal?”

Grumpy put out his hand. “Deal.”

Ben shook it. He was more relieved than he let on. (At least, he hoped he wasn’t letting it on. At this point he was sweating so much, he couldn’t be entirely certain.)

“You know what, young man?” huffed Grumpy with a frown.

Ben steeled himself for a grouchy comment, but none came.

“You’re going to make a good king,” the dwarf said with a smile. “Give your father my best, and send your mother my love.”

“I will,” said Ben, pleased by how well the meeting had turned out. He pushed his own chair back from the ancient table. His work was done, at least for today. But if this is what being king is all about, then maybe it isn’t as hard as I thought.

The dwarf picked up his stocking cap and hopped down from his seat, turning toward the council-room door.

Then he paused.

“You know, son, sometimes you remind me of her.” Queen Belle was much beloved in the kingdom.

Ben smiled. “You know, I really hope I do.”

Grumpy shrugged, pushing open the door. “Not nearly so pretty, though. I’ll tell you that much. And your mother, she would have made sure we had a cream cake or two. And at least a few currants in the cookies.”

Ben laughed as the door slammed shut.

Every moment of this adventure had already proven to be a little more adventurous than Carlos had anticipated.

This revelation might have been a problem for the average man of science who didn’t like to run the tombs and who kept to the labs as much as possible. Sure, Carlos had felt a little seasick on the journey over to the Isle of the Doomed, but he’d been able to hold it down, hadn’t he?

If he looked at it like that, he’d already proven himself to be a better adventurer than anyone could have reasonably expected.

That’s what Carlos told himself, anyway.

Then he told himself that he’d done better than anyone else in Weird Science would have. He actually laughed out loud at the thought of his classroom nemesis in this current situation, which had prompted Jay to shove him and ask if he didn’t think he was taking the whole mad scientist thing a little too literally.

“I’m not crazy,” Carlos reassured his fellow adventurers. Still, willing himself not to yak into the churning sea itself had required more than his share of exhausting determination, and by the time the four of them were back on land and all the way clear of the thorn forest—no worse for wear save for a few scratches and itchy elbows—Carlos was more than glad to find a real path leading up to the dark castle on the hill above them.

Plain old dirt and rock had never looked so good.

Until it began to rain, and the dirt became mud, and the rock became slippery.

At least it wasn’t the sea, Carlos consoled himself. And the odds of a person actually drowning in mud and rocks were incredibly slim.

Besides, his invention was now beeping at regular intervals, its sensor light flashing more brightly and more quickly with every step that drew them closer to the fortress. “The Dragon’s Eye is definitely up there,” Carlos said excitedly, feeling a scientist’s enthusiasm at a working experiment. “If this thing is right, I’m picking up on some kind of massive surge in electrical energy. If there is a hole in the dome, it’s leaking magic here somehow, different from the Isle of the Lost.”

“Maybe the hole is right above this place,” said Evie.

“Yeah, I can feel it too.” Mal nodded, still moving forward along the path. “Do you guys?” She stopped and looked at them, shielding her eyes from the rain with one hand.

Carlos looked at her in surprise. “Feel what? This?” He held up his box, and it beeped in her face. Mal jumped back, startled, and Jay laughed.

“Whoops,” Carlos said. “See what I mean? The energy is surging.”

Mal looked embarrassed. “I don’t know for sure. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it almost feels like there’s some kind of magnet pulling me up the path.”


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