Disclaimer: See chapter 1.
And now, the astonishing conclusion to our story…
Time passed and the queen gave birth to a son. One day, as she was tending the baby in the nursery, the little man appeared. "Give me what you promised," he said.
Chapter 7: On the Dubious Relationship Between Arranged Marriages and Happy Endings
Rachel was supposed to be resting, but she paced restlessly from window to window, staring out at the forest, the right half of the courtyard, the west wing roofs, and the forest again. Seven o'clock was only three hours away, and there had been no word from Rumpelstiltskin or Prestin Kimstull. She spun as the elevator chimed, and Herman stepped out followed by a procession of elegant strangers and a large box.
"Miss Miller, this is M. Delacroix. He will be adjusting your wedding dress."
"My dress?" Rachel asked in confusion.
It was as if she had asked about the existence of the sun. "Yes, of course, your dress. Now, I shall leave you in the capable hands of M. Delacroix and his associates." He bowed to the designer, who bowed back, and exited.
"Let's get on with it," Rachel said in resignation.
"First a small matter of business. If you would just sign here, and here, please."
Rachel automatically reached for the pen, then, as the heading of the document registered, her head snapped up to stare at M. Delacroix. "This is…"
"Your marriage license?" His eyes twinkled behind tiny, rimless glasses. "Now, if you will sign, I will stand in for Mr. Kimstull while Rev. Grevier performs the ceremony." He indicated one of his assistants.
"Marriage by proxy? Like in those awful Harlequinn romances I used to read?"
"Exactly like Harlequinn," he assured her gravely.
"He might at least have shown up for his own wedding," Rachel grumbled as she scribbled her signature.
"I'm afraid the explanations would have been sticky afterward. Were Mr. Kimstull to set foot on this estate without an invitation, he could be prosecuted for trespassing. We, on the other hand, have full permission to be here."
"Will I leave with you?"
"No, Mr. Kimstull plans to take you himself."
"I thought he couldn't come without an invitation!"
"He does have one, a very official one."
"This charade won't be stopped until the wedding?" A horrible thought struck her. "Don't tell me he's going to stand up in the middle where the preacher gives that line about anyone having any objections? That's so cheesy!" M. Delacroix patted her hand sympathetically.
Two and a half hours later, Rachel waited outside the door of the chapel, feeling her father's arm tremble beneath her hand. "Don't faint on me now."
He mopped his brow. "This is all my fault. I can never forgive myself."
"Dad, everything will be fine, I promise." Rachel hoped she sounded calmer than she felt. The notes to the wedding march sounded, the doors opened, and Rachel began her walk down the aisle.
Max, waiting by the altar, looked the perfect picture of a beaming bridegroom. The brilliance of his smile was rivaled only by his shirt front.
The aisle felt a mile long, but they arrived at last, and her father handed Rachel over to Max. She tried not to cringe as he took her hand.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered today in the sight of God…"
Rachel panicked. What if M. F. King, in some devious, psychic manner known only to the very rich, had divined their plan and ordered the minister not to ask for objections. Was she about to become a bigamist?
Rachel was so caught up in her self-imposed terror that she failed to notice the proceeding ceremony until a cool voice said firmly, "I do."
We can't be at the vows already! her mind screamed, until she heard Max blustering beside her. "This is an outrage! I show you hospitality, and you return it by disrupting my wedding?"
"No, Max, the outrage is your marrying a woman who happens to be my wife."
Rachel turned and saw a slender young man sauntering up the aisle. He had sandy hair, a smooth face, and a long, crooked nose. I knew it! I just knew he was hiding something like this! She stared furiously at that familiar nose.
She looked up and saw Max staring at her, his face very red. "It's true."
"I don't believe it." The words were a snarl.
Prestin Kimstull (the eighth), alias Rumpelstiltskin, reached into his suit jacket and produced a slender folder. "I believe you'll find all the paperwork in order."
Maximus Ferdinand King (the fourth) ignored the extended folder and drew back his fist. It was a most unfortunate accident that on its way to Prestin's chin, it ran into Rachel.
When she came to, she was lying on a sofa, with her father leaning anxiously over her.
"What hit me?" Rachel mumbled.
"Max," Rumpelstiltskin (Prestin, Rachel reminded herself) said cheerfully and appeared in her field of vision.
Rachel gave him a hard stare out of the eye that was not swollen shut. "Rumpelstiltskin, I presume?"
"Alas, the dear lad is gone for good." He winced. "All that stooping was murder on my spinal alignment. My chiro's going to make a fortune straightening it out."
"You should have told me."
He shrugged. "I didn't want you to give the whole game away to Max, in case you lost your nerve."
"And that stupid anagram! You couldn't have just given me the file?"
"Consider it a test of nerve. If you were going to help me face down Prestin, you had to have a cool head."
Rachel snorted. "And how is it that your name happens to have the same letters as 'Rumpelstiltskin'? I've never heard of such a ridiculous coincidence."
"My umpteen-great-grandfather left the old country to make his fortune and decided a name change was in order. He considered himself sly as a fox and fancied himself a spinner of gold. It turned out he was a prophet, in his own case as well as my own. Only of course, I was a stock-spinner."
Rachel groaned and closed her eyes, head throbbing. "You need some new puns."
"Excuse me," said Richard Miller timidly, "but would someone mind explaining?"
"It's all quite simple in a devious, twisted…"
"Very rich sort of way?" interrupted Rachel.
"Yes. Max King is, sadly, not the upstanding businessman he appears. In point of fact, he's been safely embezzling funds for years, which is why it came as such a shock to find himself on the point of discovery. That was due to a little judicious interference on our part. King used underhanded means to remove my father from the business market in this country three years ago. We had considerable interests overseas, and we transferred headquarters there, but my father began working to expose King for what he was. Not long ago we succeeded in bringing many of his illegal fund transfers to a point of discovery. King panicked and scrambled for a scapegoat. He settled on you, sir."
"Me?" Richard turned white.
"You were ideal. Not only did you have access to the company books, you would have no friends and no money with which to defend yourself when the accusations were made."
"But there is no proof," Richard pleaded.
"There would have been. Bank accounts, false paper trails…It's amazing what you can make the computers say. For what reason King called you into his office that day I don't know, perhaps to stage some sort of 'evidence,' but when he heard your hapless fabrication about your daughter, his sense of humor was aroused, and he decided to play with his mouse before he fed it to the lions."
"And to think I could have married him," murmured Rachel in mock regret.
"Indeed. When he discovered that you, my dear Rachel, appeared to be living up to your father's boasts, he got a new idea. If he married you, before pinning the guilt on Richard, then he could conceivably hope to have the whole matter of embezzlement hushed up, since Richard would have been his father-in-law. This would have been much preferable to an investigation, which might have exposed the truth."
"One more question: how did you know to poke your ungainly nose in when and how you did?"
"We infiltrated King's organization long ago, Big Ears my love. We also have people planted on his personal staff."
"Herman," Prestin affirmed.
"I am not an embezzler!" Richard stated firmly.
Thus the little man disappeared and was never seen again, from that day to this. As for the king and queen…
"I want an annulment."
"Shh, don't wake your father," Prestin cautioned, glancing across the limousine to where Richard Miller had at last relaxed, after repeated reassurances that he was not charged with embezzlement. "And there's no way until after King's trial. Do you want to undo everything?"
"It will take years!"
"Probably, and by that time, who knows? You might decide you like being married to me."
It was hard to glower with an ice pack on her eye, but Rachel managed it. "You are self-centered, egotistical, and arrogant. Not to mention the fact you get really crabby when you're hungry, and have a bourgeois taste for the melodramatic."
"See, you like me!"
Rachel closed her eyes and rested her head against the seat. "Please go away."
"That would be highly impractical considering we're traveling seventy miles an hour. Besides, as long as we're listing traits, I'd like to tell you that you are hot-tempered, waste a lot of time, and, as I mentioned earlier, are possessed of oversized ears. I kind of like them though," he added, eying her reflectively. "Marriage to me won't be so bad. You can spend the summers in France, the winters in Australia. My mother is still in charge of the ancestral mansion so there's no need to worry about that. You may even fall in love with me."
Rachel snorted and rearranged her ice pack. "Don't count on it."
…they lived happily ever after.
A/N Well, this has been an interesting little experiment, and overall, a satisfying one. Thank you to everyone who followed it!
Notes to reviewers:
Miss Piratess: I really enjoyed the way you interact with the characters in your reviews! I think becoming a coat rack is Max's destiny. Unfortunately, UPS is putting up a fuss about shipping him. Something about union regulations…
Equus: Thank you muchly for your faithful reviews and the trouble you took to make them insightful. And yeah, I know, he's hot.
Phillippa of the Phoenix: It's been fun interacting with another Phil(l)ippa! Sorry you don't like the name Preston (although it's actually Prestin), but the names one can make with the letters in "Rumpetlstiltksin" are limited.
Melissa: Allow me to extend my humble gratitude for your frequent and intelligent Comments. They are shining stars on my review page J I hope the ending was satisfactory, even if you figured it out in advance.
Unlucky star/a tree: Glad you read it, glad you liked it!