The Isle of the Lost (Page 9)
But even without magic, life in Auradon was close to perfect. The sun always shone, the birds always chirped, there was never more than a five-minute wait at the DFMV (the Department of Formerly Magical Vehicles); and if everyone wasn’t happy all the time (it’s not as if this were heaven—get a grip, people), everyone was content.
Except, of course, when they weren’t.
Isn’t that always the way?
The kingdom’s various short or fluffy or furry or minuscule—and sometimes animal—sidekicks were causing problems again. Sidekicks United, they called themselves, and they were far from happy. They were, in a word, disgruntled.
“Well, then, how can we help you today? Let’s see.…” Ben wasn’t talking to anyone but a piece of paper—or a thousand pieces. He stared down at the documents in front of him, tapping them with his pen. His father had asked him to lead the Council meeting that morning, part of the training for becoming king in a few months.
As was tradition, the firstborn child of the royal household would take the throne of Auradon at sixteen years of age. Beast and Belle were ready to retire. They were looking forward to long vacation cruises, early-bird dinners, and playing golf (Beast), bingo (Belle), and generally taking it easy. Besides, Belle had a stack of unread bedside reading so high, it threatened to topple over on a huffy Mrs. Potts when she came to take away the breakfast tray every morning.
The complaint wasn’t the only thing on his mind. Ben had woken up that morning from a bit of a nightmare. Or it felt like a nightmare—and it certainly looked like one. In the dream, he was walking around a strange village full of shabbily dressed, miserable people who ate rotten fruit and drank black coffee. No cream. No sugar. No coffee cake to dip in it. The horror! And he had fallen into some kind of ditch, but someone had helped him out.
A beautiful, purple-haired girl who looked nothing like anyone in Auradon…
“Thank you,” he said gratefully. “And who are you?”
But she’d disappeared before he could catch her name.
He went back to the papers in his hand and tried to forget about her.
Ben studied the Sidekicks United complaint—the first of its kind—and his heart beat a little faster at the thought of having to talk to all these people and convince them that there was no need for this level of discontent.
He sighed, until a familiar voice interrupted his reverie.
“Be careful about the sidekicks, son. Sooner or later they steal the spotlight.”
Ben looked up, surprised to see his father standing in the doorway. King Beast looked like he always did, as smiling and happy and fulfilled as on his billboards. All over Auradon, they read Good job being good! Keep it up! King Beast roars his approval!
His father motioned to the stack of papers on Ben’s desk. “Looks like you’re working hard.”
Ben wiped his eyes. “Yeah.”
King Beast clapped his paw of a hand on his son’s shoulder. “That’s my boy. So what is it that they want, exactly?”
Ben scratched behind his ear with his pen. “It seems they’re a bit upset, as they do all the work around here and are hardly compensated for their efforts. If you think about it from their perspective, they have a point.”
“Mmm.” King Beast nodded. “Everyone gets a voice in Auradon. Although you can’t let too many voices drown out reason, of course. That’s what it means to be kingly,” he said, perhaps a little more forcefully than was necessary.
“If you keep raising your voice, my darling, you’re going to crack all the china, and Mrs. Potts will never allow you either a cup of warm milk or a warm bath again.” Ben’s mother, the goodly Queen Belle, arrived in the room and slipped her hand under her husband’s muscled arm (yet another Beastly quality the king still seemed to possess—the strength of a wild creature in the form of a mere man). She was as beautiful as the day she had come upon Beast’s castle, and resplendent in a pretty yellow dress. If there were laugh lines around her eyes now, no one seemed to notice; and if anything, they only served to make her look more appealing.
The second he saw his mother, Ben found himself more at ease. He shy and quiet, his mother gentle and understanding, Ben and Belle had always been two like peas in a castle-garden pod—always preferring to have their noses in books rather than affairs of the state.
“But half the castle staff has signed this petition—see, there’s Lumiere’s scrawl, and Cogsworth’s,” Ben said, his forehead wrinkling. Injustice of any kind was upsetting to think about, and it bothered him that the very people on whom his family depended to keep their lives in running order believed that they had cause for complaint.
“Lumiere and Cogsworth will sign anything anyone asks them to sign. Last week they signed a petition to declare every day a holiday,” his father said, amused.
Ben had to laugh. King Beast had a point. The fussy Frenchman and the jolly Brit would agree to anything so they could get back to their work. Chip Potts, who was known to make a little mischief around the castle, had probably put them up to it.
“That’s the ticket. Listen to your people, but assert your right to rule. Lead with a gentle heart and a firm hand. That’s the way to be a king!”
King Beast extended his own fist, and Ben just stared at it. He gazed down at his own hand, which looked like a small child’s in comparison to his father’s.
Beast pulled Ben up by the arm, closing his hand around his son’s. “There. Strong. Powerful. Kingly.”
King Beast’s hand was so enormous Ben found he could no longer see his own.
“Strong. Powerful. Kingly,” Ben repeated.
Beast growled, then slapped his son on the back, almost sending him flying into the nearest decorative lamp. The floor shook as he strode out of the room, still chuckling.
Queen Belle looked relieved; Beast was not above making a joke at his own expense—though he was much less forgiving when anyone else attempted the same line of humor. She put her arms around her son, drawing him close.
“Ben. You don’t have to be another King Beast. Just be yourself—it’s more than enough.”
“That’s not what Father says.”
Belle smiled. They both knew there was no use trying to explain away his father’s logic, and she didn’t try. “No matter what, your father and I believe in you. That’s why we wanted you to start meeting with the Council. It’s time for you to learn how to rule. You will make a wonderful king, all on your own. I promise.”