Ferdinand and Bunny arrived in Clermont-Ferrand at midday. Ferdinand paid the coachman, and then they walked about the bustling town, taking in the sights. As they walked, they suddenly heard music in the distance, and saw people hurrying in that direction.
"I wonder what's going on?" Bunny asked.
"Let's find out!" Ferdinand said, and they followed the crowd.
In the center of town, surrounded by a semi-circle of onlookers, was a bright red wagon festooned with colorful ribbons. On its side in fancy blue lettering was written Les Jongleurs Extraordinaires. A red-haired man with a handlebar mustache, wearing a striped suit in the same colors as the wagon, was strumming a jaunty tune on a lute. "Welcome, welcome, one and all!" he announced in a booming voice. "I am Hugues. If you good people will allow us a moment out of your day, my family of entertainers will delight and amaze you!"
The other performers ran out of the wagon and entertained the crowd with a lively show. A beautiful girl performed an exotic gypsy dance. A young man juggled multicolored balls and scarves. Hugues sang a comical song improvised with verses about various people in the crowd. The show finished with a rousing singalong on which everyone in the audience joined in.
Afterward, the performers went through the crowd holding out their hats for coins. "That was marvelous!" Ferdinand said, dropping a gold coin in Hugues' hat.
"Thank you kindly, sir. Glad you enjoyed it," the performer replied, not noticing what the coin was, and moved on.
Bunny said, "Ferdinand! Did you just give him a gold coin? That's worth a fortune!"
Ferdinand shrugged. "I have many more where that came from, and it was a good show. Those who work hard and are skilled at their art deserve to be compensated."
"Well, that's very generous of you." Then Bunny giggled. "Imagine how thrilled he'll be when he goes through that hat and finds a real gold coin among the francs!"
Ferdinand smiled. "A pleasant surprise, certainly! I am glad I could provide it."
As they walked away from the dispersing crowd, Ferdinand suggested, "What next? Shall we get something to eat?"
"Oh, yes, please! I'm famished!" Bunny agreed, recalling that she hadn't eaten any breakfast that morning because she had been so anxious to get Ferdinand away from her mother.
Soon they were settled in a charming outdoor cafe, enjoying lunch. As they ate, Bunny said, "I really enjoyed that show - Molyneaux is so off the beaten path, we never get traveling performers like that. They were very entertaining, weren't they?"
"Indeed!" Ferdinand agreed. "They reminded me of my own kingdom. Every year, we have a week-long festival, with every kind of entertainment imaginable: dancers, singers, musicians, jugglers, acrobats, sword swallowers, jesters, magicians...It is truly a spectacle to behold. We, the royal family, pay for it, so the entertainment is free for all. People travel from all over the kingdom to see it."
"Oh, that sounds wonderful!" Bunny exclaimed. "I would love to see that!"
"Perhaps some day you will," Ferdinand said casually, thrilled that she was imagining herself in his kingdom, if only for the entertainment. "The festival was started well over a decade ago, and it was my father's idea. He felt that since the people of our kingdom work so hard all year, they deserve a week of pure leisure and entertainment, all for free. Of course, it benefits us as well, since our subjects appreciate it and are more loyal to the royal family as a result. It also greatly benefits the economy, because many bakers, craftsmen, and the like take the opportunity to set up stalls and carts all around the festival, selling their wares to the onlookers. And of course, the local innkeepers also do especially well that week."
"What a good idea!" Bunny said. "Your father must be a very smart man."
"He is," Ferdinand said proudly. "Our kingdom is very fortunate to have him as its ruler."
"And what is he like as a father? Are you very close with him?" Bunny asked.
Ferdinand thought about that. "Yes, I would say so," he reflected thoughtfully. "He is not physically demonstrative; my mother is the one prone to hugs and 'I love you's. My father is a rather dignified man, not prone to spontaneous displays of affection. But he spends a great deal of time with me, training me to follow in his footsteps, and he gives me advice, and often tells me he is proud of me."
He paused abruptly, feeling a pang of guilt as the memory of his father's letter came to his mind. At this very moment, his father believed Ferdinand was traveling home as fast as he could. Instead, he was enjoying a day of leisure with a beautiful girl, defying his father's summons. He could almost feel his father's disapproval, like an icy wind.
Noticing the prince's suddenly serious, worried expression, Bunny offered sympathetically, "It must be a lot of pressure, knowing you'll have to run the entire kingdom one day."
With an effort, Ferdinand pushed his worry away and considered her comment. "I suppose. But in truth, I haven't often thought of it that way. Rather, I think of it as a great responsibility, but one that is a true honor and a privilege to bear, and that I hope to excel in. Again, I have my father to thank for that. He has always impressed upon me the vital importance of my future role...but always, in the same breath, his confidence in my abilities, and his belief that I will be fully up to the task, as long as I work hard at my studies and training."
"I completely agree with him there," Bunny said with a smile. "You're so thoughtful, and honest, and caring, and selfless...I know you'll be a wonderful king."
"Thank you," Ferdinand said, pleased. "Your good opinion means a great deal to me."
After their meal, they strolled around the town, looking in all the shop windows. As they passed a jewelry store, Bunny's eyes grew wide at the sight of all the brilliantly glittering jewels in the window. There were diamond rings, emerald pendants, pearl necklaces, ruby bracelets. "Oh, my. Look at all this!" she said in awe. "I've never seen anything like it! No one has real jewels in Molyneaux."
"Let's go inside and look around," Ferdinand suggested.
Inside, Bunny was enthralled as she moved from one display case to another, "oohing" and "aahing" over all the dazzling jewelry.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand eyed the diamond rings, trying to resist the overwhelming urge to buy one that instant and propose right on the spot. Stop it! he chided himself. Remember what Belle said! It's too soon!
But...what about buying Bunny something else? Surely that would be all right? He noticed her admiring an emerald pendant on a gold chain. "That would look lovely on you," he commented.
"Thanks," she said, smiling. "Of course I know I'll never actually have anything as fancy as this, but it's still lots of fun to look and daydream!"
"Hmm. Why not do more than daydream?" he suggested, and waved to the clerk to take the necklace out of the case.
Bunny gasped. "Ferdinand! You can't mean...?"
The clerk took out the necklace and handed it to Bunny. "Ah, an exquisite choice! Try it on, mademoiselle."
Hesitantly, Bunny fastened the clasp around her neck, and then looked in the mirror. "Oh..." she said, overcome. "I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life!"
"I have," Ferdinand said, watching her.
She blushed. "Ferdinand...this is so generous of you...but you really shouldn't! It's so expensive!"
He waved the objection away. "I can easily afford it. The only important question is: would it make you happy to have it?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"Then it's yours!" he said, and paid the clerk.
"Shall I wrap it up for you, mademoiselle?" the clerk asked.
Bunny looked back at the mirror, enthralled by the sight of the necklace. "Can I just wear it?"
"But of course!" the clerk said. He gave her a velvet-lined box that went with the necklace, then went to help another customer.
"I was right," Ferdinand said admiringly. "It IS lovely on you. It goes so well with your eyes – it's as though it were made just for you."
"Oh, Ferdinand," Bunny said, taking his hands in hers and looking up into his eyes. "I never, ever thought I would own anything as beautiful as this, not in a million years! You are the kindest, most generous man in the whole world! Thank you so much!"
"It's my pleasure," Ferdinand said. His skin was warmed by the touch of her hand, and he longed to take her in his arms and kiss her. But he worried it was too soon. Worse, it suddenly occurred to him that after buying her the necklace, a kiss now might convey an unwelcome implication – as if he thought she owed him something in return for the gift. That was the last thing he wanted!
"Shall we look at some other stores?" he suggested quickly, by way of distraction.
"Yes! Let's buy something for you now!" Bunny said eagerly, her eyes sparkling. "Come on!" Still holding his hand, she playfully pulled him out of the store.
Next to the jewelry store was the hat shop. Bunny immediately started pulling all manner of hats off the shelves: an elegant top hat, a farmer's straw hat, a beret, a fancy velvet hat with a large feather plume. "Go ahead, try them on!" she said eagerly.
Chuckling, Ferdinand tried on each hat and modeled them for Bunny while she giggled and applauded. "This is so undignified," he said in a mock-grumbling tone, but he was enjoying himself.
"That's what makes it fun!" she said. Then her eyes lit up as she spied another hat: a jester's cap in red and orange with bells hanging off it. "OH! This one!" she cried, tossing it to him. "I simply cannot leave this town without experiencing the sight of you in this hat!"
Ferdinand caught the ridiculous hat and said in a long-suffering way, "I suppose I must, if it pleases you." He put it on. Bunny took one look and burst out laughing. Ferdinand turned to look in the mirror, and he started laughing as well. "Oh, my. I look utterly preposterous!"
"I love it. You should buy it!" Bunny said.
Ferdinand raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he said teasingly. "Am I to conclude, then, that you think me a fool, and should publicly proclaim myself such with a fool's cap?"
She shook her head. "No, just the opposite." She came up close to him and took the hat off his head. "It's just so wonderful to see you laugh out loud like that," she said sincerely. "You usually take yourself so seriously. I do understand why, of course! After all, you're going to be a king someday. You have so much responsibility on your shoulders. And I'll bet you've been taught to 'maintain the dignity of the crown at all times' or something like that."
"That is true," Ferdinand admitted.
She smiled. "But I think it's good to be silly sometimes and laugh at yourself. It's fun. And somehow it lightens the cares of the world and makes everything seem less dire, don't you think?"
"You do have a point," Ferdinand conceded. "'A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men' - a chocolate maker in my kingdom told me that once."
"There, you see?" Bunny said triumphantly. "I'm right!"
"As you always are. Very well: I will buy this hat, and use it evermore to remind myself of the wisdom of silliness!" Ferdinand proclaimed grandly.
Bunny giggled. Then, impulsively, she hugged him, much to his surprise and delight. "I'm having such a wonderful time, Ferdinand!"
"I am as well," he agreed warmly. He paid for the hat, and they continued strolling about the town. "We should buy something for your mother and sisters," he suggested. "For your mother to thank her for letting me take you on this outing, and for your sisters so that they will not be jealous."
Bunny was impressed by his consideration and generosity. They chose a silk handkerchief for Mme. Coquette, and elegant decorative hair combs decorated with tiny seed pearls for Bambi and Bubbles.
As the sun began to set, Ferdinand said, "Perhaps we should be getting back. It is a long ride home, and your mother was kind enough to let me take you here – I would not wish to get you home late and cause her to worry."
"That's very thoughtful of you," Bunny said. "Although I'm having such a lovely time, I hate to leave!"
He took a chance. "Perhaps we can do something else tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.
"I wish I could, but I really should help my mother tomorrow – I completely skipped my chores today," Bunny said regretfully. "And tomorrow night, I have to work at the tavern. But maybe I'll see you there?"
"Most assuredly," Ferdinand promised her.
They met up with their hired coach at the stables and began the journey back to Molyneaux, talking about the lovely day they had had. As the ride went on, the carriage swaying gently and the horse's hoofs clopping rhythmically, Bunny got sleepy, and without thinking, rested her head on Ferdinand's shoulder and closed her eyes. Soon she had dozed off.
Ferdinand was so filled with happiness, he thought he might float away. To be riding home after such an enjoyable day with the girl he loved, and have her resting on his shoulder with such trust...it was bliss. This has been the best day of my life, he thought. He tried not to worry about what the future would bring - whether she would accept his proposal, whether his father would approve – and just sat, enjoying the moment.
When the carriage finally pulled up to the stable in Molyneaux and stopped, Bunny awoke. "Oh!" she said, sitting upright. "Did I fall asleep on you?" She giggled in embarrassment. "Sorry about that!"
"I didn't mind at all," Ferdinand said with a smile.
As he walked her back toward her house, he noticed a figure in the distance heading toward another house. "There's Gaston," he said, with sudden anger in his voice.
Bunny looked at him, puzzled by his change in demeanor. Then she remembered. "Oh! Are you thinking about what I told you this morning? About the kiss?" It seemed so long ago.
Ferdinand nodded. "He did not behave like a gentleman towards you, nor did he treat you with the respect you deserve," he said firmly. "He took advantage of your infatuation with him. He owes you an apology!" Unconsciously, his hand went to his sword as he started in Gaston's direction.
"Ferdinand, no!" Bunny implored, grabbing his arm. "Please, please don't say anything to to him about it!"
He stopped and turned to her in surprise. "If it would displease you, then I shan't. Not for the world would I ever cause you distress," he told her. "But may I ask why?"
Bunny tried to find the right words. "I know he didn't act like a gentleman. But it was my fault, too. My sisters and I were always throwing ourselves at him, flirting with him, practically begging for his attention. I honestly can't blame him for thinking I would welcome a kiss from him. In fact, I did welcome it at the time. I was thrilled that he was paying attention to me. It's mortifying to think about now - I don't know what I was thinking! - but it's the truth."
She looked up pleadingly into Ferdinand's eyes. "The only good thing about that incident is that, as I told you, Gaston was very drunk at the time and doesn't even remember it. And that's how I'd like to keep it: buried and forgotten. If you confront him, you'll have to explain to him what you're talking about, and it will be totally humiliating and make me look even more pathetic! He'll think I'm heartbroken and pining over him, just because of one silly, drunk kiss that happened over a year ago. That would be awful!" She shuddered. "It was just an embarrassing mistake that I want to forget ever happened. Please don't make a big deal over it."
Ferdinand nodded. "I understand. Of course, you are absolutely right. Please forgive me for overreacting. I..." He hesitated. "I care about you, and even the mere thought of anyone upsetting you in any way makes me want to rush to your defense."
"Thank you, Ferdinand. That means a lot to me," she said, touched. "No one has ever looked out for me the way you do. It feels...nice."
"I am glad to hear it," he said, relieved that he had not blundered unforgivably. "And now, let me escort you home." He took her hand, and was thrilled when she gave his hand an affectionate squeeze as they walked to her house.
Mme. Coquette had been waiting by the window, and ran out of the house to greet them before they even got to the door. "Welcome back!" she trilled. "Did you have a nice time?" Her eyes widened as she saw the emerald pendant on Bunny's neck.
"Yes, it was lovely," Bunny told her.
Ferdinand bowed. "Mme. Coquette, thank you for allowing me the honor of escorting Bunny today. I hope you will accept this gift as a small token of my respect and gratitude." He handed her a small package.
"A present? For me?" Mme. Coquette squealed, sounding just like her daughters. Eagerly she opened it, and held up the silk handkerchief with delight. "Thank you so much!" She turned toward the house. "Bambi! Bubbles! Look what Prince Ferdinand got me!"
The two girls tumbled out of the house. They glanced briefly at the handkerchief, but their attention was immediately caught by Bunny's dazzling necklace. "Oh, wow, Bunny – this is gorgeous!" Bambi breathed, torn between admiration and envy.
Ferdinand said quickly, "I have a present for you two as well, as you are Bunny's beloved sisters." He presented them with the expensive pearl-encrusted hair combs, and they, too, squealed with delight and thanked him.
"You are a true gentleman," Mme. Coquette pronounced.
"And handsome, too!" Bubbles piped up.
"And generous...and wealthy..." Bambi said with a grin.
Bunny blushed red. Why, why did they have to embarrass her so? They would end up driving Ferdinand away forever! "Good night, Ferdinand. I had a wonderful day," she said, wanting him to leave before her family could say anything more.
"I did as well," he said. He bowed low and kissed her hand. "Until tomorrow night, then."
After he left, Bambi put her hand to her heart and swooned. "What a man! Bunny, you have to land him! Please don't screw this up! We already lost out on Gaston - let one of us at least have an amazing husband!"
"Shut up!" Bunny hissed. "We're still outside – he might hear you!"
"Oops! Sorry!" Bambi giggled. "Let's get inside!"
Inside, Mme. Coquette wanted to hear all about her day. But Bunny wanted to keep it private, a special memory close to her heart. "It was a long day, and I'm tired," she prevaricated. "Can we talk about it tomorrow?"
"Oh, all right," Mme. Coquette said, disappointed.
But once the three sisters were alone in their bedroom, Bambi said, "You're not getting off the hook that easily! Come on, spill! What's he like?"
"He's..." Unconsciously, Bunny smiled dreamily. "He's wonderful."
"I knew it!" Bambi crowed.
"Is he going to marry you?" Bubbles asked eagerly.
Bunny's smile faded. "Oh, I doubt it. He's a prince, after all – what would he want with someone like me? Besides, I'm sure he has to marry a princess. There's probably a rule about it somewhere."
"Prince Adam didn't marry a princess," Bambi pointed out.
"That's true," Bunny admitted. She sighed. "It's just...how do I put this? Ferdinand is wonderful. He's honest, and caring, and selfless, and brave, and considerate, and generous-"
"Yeah, he sounds awful," Bambi said sarcastically. "Come on, Bunny. He's amazing! What's the problem?"
"He IS amazing. That's just it!" Bunny explained. "He's a prince, and he's absolutely wonderful. Why on earth would he want to marry me? I'm nothing special! I'm just a village girl who works in a tavern. I know that he does care about me, and we've become good friends. But I really doubt it's anything more than that in his mind."
"But do you want it to be more?" Bambi asked. "Do you love him?"
Bunny hesitated. The other two watched her, waiting. Finally she gave in. "Yes," she confessed. "Oh, yes! I love him. How could I not? He's so sweet, and kind, and thoughtful, and honest, and he always tries to do the right thing...He's perfect! And we have so much fun together, and we're so comfortable with each other. We talk about everything. I've told him things I've never told anyone else." She sighed dreamily. "I've never met anyone like him."
"So?" Bubbles demanded. "Like Bambi said: what's the problem?"
"I just don't want to get my hopes up," Bunny said. "I've gone down that road before, and I don't want to fall for it again! All those years I wasted dreaming about Gaston, latching on to any little sign that he might like me...and for what? Ferdinand is a prince. Right now he's stuck here in our boring little town, so, since we've become friends, of course he's spending time with me – what else is there to do? And he's a nice guy and has plenty of money, so he generously bought me a necklace. That's just the kind of guy he is."
She looked at the other two imploringly. "But I don't want to read too much into it. I don't want to get my hopes up and end up heartbroken. It would hurt too much. So please, let me just enjoy whatever time I have with him! That's enough for me. Really."
Bambi shook her head. "You're an idiot," she pronounced. "You have a guy like that interested in you, and you're not even gonna try to reel him in? Are you crazy? You should be wearing your sexiest outfit, and flirting, and batting your eyes...come on, Bunny, you know all this! I shouldn't even have to tell you!"
"But Ferdinand's not like that," Bunny protested. "He doesn't like that kind of thing."
"All men like that kind of thing," Bambi insisted. "He's a man, isn't he? They're only interested in one thing!"
"He's not like that," Bunny insisted. "He doesn't flirt and play games. He likes people who are real. He cares about what I think, and what I feel...He even said I'm wise."
The other two burst out laughing. "Wise? Really?" Bambi snorted. "That's a new one. I've never heard that one before." She shook her head. "Sure, the three of us have a lot going for us..." She thrust out her chest suggestively, showing off her cleavage. "...but I wouldn't say wisdom is high on the list." She and Bubbles collapsed into giggles again.
Bunny sighed. She knew they meant well, but they didn't understand. Ferdinand wasn't like the men in their village – he was special. "I'm going to bed now," she announced. "Just please don't talk to Ferdinand about this, or hint at it, or anything. No schemes! You'll just embarrass me."
Bambi shrugged. "If you say so," she said reluctantly. "I will say that whatever you're doing, or not doing, it seems to be working – he did say he wants to see you again. So, just keep it up!"
With that, the girls went to bed, much to Bunny's relief. She lay awake in the dark for a long time, smiling as she replayed the day in her mind, and fell asleep to dreams of Ferdinand.
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While Ferdinand was bringing Bunny home, Gaston was pacing outside Mme. Aiguille's house, waiting impatiently for Snow White's return. When he saw the royal carriage pull up, he brightened.
Snow White emerged from the carriage and, seeing him, flew into his arms. "Gaston! I'm so happy you're here! I can't wait to tell you all about the wedding arrangements. But first, what did you do today? Did you have a good day?"
"I did," Gaston said as they went into the house. "I bagged the most impressive deer I've ever gotten! It had to weigh over 250 pounds, with a 16-point rack. It was magnificent! And old," he emphasized. "The older they are, the more impressive the antlers. This one led a long, full life."
Snow White smiled, appreciating that he was still mindful of her feelings about baby animals. She still felt a pang at the thought of killing any animal, but she also understood that it was necessary for food, and she knew Gaston was proud of his hunting prowess. Most of all, she loved seeing him look as happy as he did right now. "That's wonderful," she said sincerely. "It's a big accomplishment. You must be so proud!"
"I am," Gaston agreed. "And you'll like this: I brought the deer to the butcher and told him that ALL the meat is to go to the poor. The widows, the elderly, the orphans...all of them can have a delicious venison meal for free, on me." He beamed at her.
"Oh, Gaston! That's so generous of you!" Snow White said delightedly. "I know they will all appreciate your kindness." She kissed him. "And now, speaking of dinner, let me make some for you! Sit down, it will just be a little while."
Gaston sat down, and soon she and Mme. Aiguille were serving up the meal. As they ate, Snow White filled Gaston in on all the wedding details: the food, the outfits, the music, the decorations. Gaston nodded approvingly at all of it. It would be the fanciest and most elaborate wedding the villagers had ever seen, which was exactly what he wanted.
"But there IS one important detail I need you to decide," Snow White said.
"Of course," Gaston said. After all, he was the man of the house - it was his job to make important decisions. "What is it?"
"Who will be in the wedding party?" Snow White said.
Gaston didn't understand. "What do you mean? Everyone in the village is coming to the party, aren't they?"
Snow White giggled. "I don't mean 'the party' as in 'the celebration'. I mean the attendants – the people who stand at the altar with us."
"Oh, I see," Gaston said. "Well, Lefou will be my best man."
"And Belle will be my matron of honor," Snow White said. "But I've also asked Amelie and Monique to be bridesmaids. So you need two groomsmen to stand with them."
"Hmm. Two groomsmen, eh?" Gaston pondered the question. He had plenty of admirers and drinking buddies, but no one who was really a close friend, the way Lefou was. "I guess I can ask some of the guys from the tavern. Any one of them would be thrilled to be asked."
"You could do that," Snow White agreed. "I was also thinking...it's just an idea, of course...it's entirely up to you..."
"What?" Gaston asked curiously.
"Well...if my stepmother had succeeded in killing me, we wouldn't even be having a wedding." she pointed out. "We owe so much to the brave people who helped you defeat her. Of course, Lefou and Belle are already part of the wedding party, but I thought...maybe we should also ask Adam and Ferdinand, since they helped save me too? What do you think?"
"Adam and Ferdinand?" Gaston said in surprise. Neither of them was exactly his friend. It would never have occurred to him to ask them. Besides, Adam was such a pompous jerk! Why would Gaston want him in his wedding?
Still...Snow has a point, he reflected. They DID fight bravely against Grimhilde – thought not as bravely as ME, obviously. But we do owe them something for helping to save Snow's life. Still...
"I can ask Ferdinand," he decided. "But Adam...I don't know, Snow."
"Why not?" Snow White asked.
Gaston shrugged. "We don't get along," he said, a massive understatement.
"But this is such a joyous occasion – a wedding!" Snow White pointed out. "And Belle has already agreed to be part of it; Adam should be part of it too. Surely you can put your differences aside for such a happy day?"
Gaston thought about it. He could see that it would mean a lot to Snow White if all the heroes who had helped save her were part of her special day. It would make her happy, and Gaston was all about making his girl happy.
Besides, it wasn't as though he had any other friends that he was eager to ask.
Finally he nodded. "All right. What the heck. I'll ask them."
"Really? That's wonderful!" Snow White said, lighting up like a Christmas tree. "Thank you, Gaston! That makes me so happy!"
Gaston grinned. Her reaction made it all worthwhile. "Anything for you, Snow. I'll ask them tomorrow."
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The next morning, Snow White again went to the castle to work out some final details with Mrs. Potts, as well as to visit with Belle. With so little time left before she left permanently for her own kingdom, she wanted to spend as much time with her friend as possible. Mme. Aiguille stayed home, feeling tired from all the activity the previous day. Meanwhile, Gaston went in search of Ferdinand.
Ferdinand was feeling a bit restless, not knowing quite what to do with himself. Bunny had said she would be busy with chores all day. The Evil Queen was gone, so there was no longer any reason to patrol and guard the village. Finally he just walked around the village anyway, trying to kill time till the evening, when he would see Bunny at the tavern.
As he was walking, he heard a hearty voice call, "Ferdinand! Just the man I wanted to see!"
Ferdinand turned to see Gaston grinning at him. The hunter's friendliness underscored to Ferdinand once again how right Bunny had been in telling him to forget about that long-ago drunk kiss. After all, he and Gaston had fought side by side to defeat Grimhilde, and they were on good terms. It would have seemed bizarre for him to suddenly confront the man over something so trivial that had happened long before Ferdinand had even come to the village.
Besides, Gaston himself has acknowledged that he was a scoundrel before meeting Snow White, Ferdinand recalled. But he has since apologized for his villainous deeds, and has shown himself determined to improve himself and lead a better life in future, which is commendable. There is nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past.
So he smiled back at the hunter and inclined his head in greeting. "Good day, Gaston. What did you want to see me about?"
"I'll tell you," Gaston said, slinging his arm around Ferdinand's shoulder as though they were old friends. "Ferdinand, it's no secret that when you first came to the village, trying to steal Snow White from me, I couldn't stand you."
"Indeed, the feeling was mutual," Ferdinand admitted.
Gaston nodded. "But in the end, you turned out to be a great guy. You were a good sport about Snow White picking me, and you helped me fight the Evil Queen. I owe you one. So..." He grinned. "Ferdinand, I'd like to give you the honor of being a groomsman at my wedding!"
"A groomsman at your wedding?" Ferdinand repeated. Instantly he realized how much this would bolster his argument for staying in Molyneaux longer. He could already hear himself telling his father, "Not only did the new king and queen of Bavaria invite me to their wedding, but they actually asked me to be part of the wedding party ITSELF, as a groomsman, to thank me for my help and to publicly display our friendship and the new alliance between our kingdoms! Of course, diplomacy demanded that I accept such an honor, as I'm sure you will agree-"
"So, what do you say?" Gaston asked.
"Gaston, I would be delighted to be your groomsman!" Ferdinand said enthusiastically. "I am honored that you would ask me. Thank you." I only wish you had asked me YESTERDAY, so that I could have included it in my letter to my father! But no matter – it will carry equal weight when I tell him in person.
"Great!" Gaston slapped Ferdinand heartily on the back. "Snow will be happy to hear that. Now I just have to ask Adam, and we're all set."
"Adam?" Ferdinand said in surprise. "You're asking Adam to be a groomsman?"
Gaston nodded. "I know what you're thinking – he really can be a pompous ass sometimes! But I figure I can be generous," he said magnanimously. "After all, he did help fight Grimhilde too, and helped me save Snow. I owe him for that. Besides, he and Belle are lending us their castle for the wedding. So I might as well be nice and let him be part of it."
"I see," Ferdinand said with a straight face. "Very admirable of you."
Gaston beamed. "It is, isn't it?" he agreed. "That's exactly what I thought. One more good deed to add to the list!"
"Indeed," Ferdinand said. "Well, thank you again, Gaston. I look forward to the wedding."
"It will be an event to remember!" Gaston promised. "Now I'm off to the castle. I'll see you later."
"Farewell," said Ferdinand as Gaston left. I only wish I could see Adam's reaction when you ask him to be a groomsman, he thought in amusement. I'm certain that that, too, will be an event to remember!
-o -o -o -o -o -o – o- o-o -o – o-o – o-o -o -o -o – o-o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o -o
Adam was in his study when Cogsworth knocked and entered. "Pardon me, Master," the servant said with a bow. "Gaston Avenant is here to see you."
Adam frowned. "What does he want?"
"He only said he needs to have a word with you. He would not say what it was about," Cogsworth said. "Shall I tell him you're indisposed?"
Adam was tempted, but reluctantly shook his head. "No - then he'll just keep coming back. He's annoyingly persistent." He sighed. "Go ahead, Cogsworth, send him in."
"Very good, sire," Cogsworth said with another bow, and left.
A moment later, Gaston came swaggering in. "Adam!" he said effusively. "Just the man I wanted to see!"
Adam automatically stood up when Gaston entered. "What can I do for you?" Immediately he regretted the choice of words. It was only a polite greeting, but knowing Gaston, he would take it literally and give Adam a long list of things he wanted.
"Look, Adam," Gaston began. "I know you and I have had our differences-"
"You could say that," Adam commented dryly.
Gaston frowned, annoyed at the interruption. "I just did say that," he retorted. "Anyway. The point is, you helped me save Snow, and you offered us your castle for our wedding. So..." He spread his arms in a gesture of beneficence. "I thought it was time that I showed my appreciation by doing something for you!"
"Really?" Adam hadn't expected that. "Well...thank you, Gaston. What did you have in mind?"
Gaston grinned. "Adam, this is your lucky day: I am going to give you the incredible honor of being a groomsman at my wedding!"
Adam stared at him in disbelief. "You must be joking."
Gaston's grin faded. "What?"
"I cannot believe how full of yourself you are!" Adam said in annoyance. "You say you're going to do me a favor..but really you're asking ME for one! Why on earth would I want to be your groomsman? Frankly, I don't even want to be at the wedding! Use the castle if you must, but leave me out of it!"
Gaston scowled, insulted. "It's because I wasn't born royal, isn't it?" he snapped. "You're so high-and-mighty - you think you're too good to associate with a mere commoner!"
"That's not true. My own wife was a commoner, remember?" Adam pointed out. "It has nothing to do with that. It's just because you're obnoxious!"
"Oh, sure," Gaston scoffed. "I'll bet if Ferdinand asked you to be his groomsman, you'd do it!"
"Yes - because Ferdinand has never tried to kill me!" Adam retorted.
"For crying out loud! That again?" Gaston exploded. "I apologized for that! We shook hands on it! And I've saved your life more than once since then, which cancels out trying to kill you once. But you just keep throwing it in my face!" He stormed angrily over to Adam. "I'll bet you've done plenty of bad things!" he challenged, poking him in the chest with one finger. "Isn't that why you got cursed?"
"Well..." The memory of locking Maurice in the dungeon popped into Adam's mind. "But I never tried to kill anyone!"
"Oh, just get over it already!" Gaston yelled. "The past is in the past! Let it go!"
The door opened, and Belle and Snow White ran in. "What's going on in here?" Belle asked.
"We heard shouting!" Snow White added anxiously.
Adam said grumpily, "Gaston asked me to be a groomsman at his wedding." Seeing their puzzled looks, Adam realized how absurd that sounded – why would they be shouting at each other over that?
Why ARE we shouting at each other, anyway? he wondered. He couldn't even remember how the argument had started! The two of them just got on each other's nerves somehow.
"But he doesn't want to do it!" Gaston complained, pointing at Adam like a 5-year-old tattling on a playmate.
"Oh," Snow White said softly. She went over to the prince and curtseyed respectfully. "Adam, of course you don't have to be a groomsman if you don't want to! I'm very sorry if we offended you in any way," she told him humbly. "We only thought that since you helped fight my stepmother, and saved my life, and so generously offered your castle for the wedding...well, we thought it would be a nice gesture to invite you to be part of the wedding. Belle is going to be matron of honor, and Ferdinand and Lefou will be part of it too, so all of us who were on the adventure could celebrate together. After all, there wouldn't even BE a wedding without all of you, since you saved me! It only seemed right to ask you to be part of it."
She paused, then added delicately, "Also, knowing the bad things Gaston did to you two in the past-"
Gaston shot her an offended look. Now SHE'S bringing that up? She's supposed to be on MY side!
Snow White went on, "I just thought that this would be a lovely way to put all that past unpleasantness behind us for good, and let bygones be bygones, and show that we're all friends now!" She smiled happily at that thought. Then her smile faded as she added, "But if you don't want to, of course you don't have to. We didn't mean to impose. We're just so grateful for everything you've done for us, truly."
Adam sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck, not knowing what to say. Now he felt churlish and rude. How did I become the bad guy in this? Finally he said, "I apologize, Snow White. You're right – it was a thoughtful gesture. Of course I'll be a groomsman at the wedding. Thank you."
"Oh, good!" Snow White said delightedly.
Gaston smirked. "Well, maybe I don't want you to be one anymore! How about that?" he said childishly.
"Gaston!" Snow White said, shocked. "How can you say that, after everything Adam and Belle have done for us? They risked their own lives to save mine! Why, at this very moment, I would be dead if it weren't for their incredibly brave and selfless acts! And they were SO generous to offer their very own castle for our wedding, and to provide the food and everything else...How can you be so ungrateful?"
Gaston had lost his smirk and was looking down at the ground, chastened.
"I really think you should apologize," Snow White urged.
Gaston mumbled, "Sorry," still looking at the ground.
Snow White smiled. "Thank you," she said sincerely. "It's all so much nicer when everyone tries to get along, don't you think? Why don't you two boys shake hands, to show you're friends now?"
Gaston and Adam both looked at her with horror. Belle covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. Snow White added, "Please?" and looked at them with big hopeful eyes that no one could resist.
"Oh...fine!" Adam said reluctantly, and stuck out his hand. Equally reluctantly, Gaston shook it. As they shook, Adam whispered, "I'm only agreeing to be groomsman for her. Not for you!"
Gaston hissed back, "I only asked you in the first place because she insisted!"
"There!" Snow White said happily, not hearing their whispered comments. "Thank you both so much. Now this wedding will be perfect!"
"Snow," Gaston said firmly. "We're leaving. Right now."
"Of course!" Snow White agreed, taking his arm. "Let's not take up any more of their time."
Belle said, "I'll walk you to the door," and showed them out.
When Belle came back, Adam said to her sheepishly, "Sorry if I caused a scene. That man just rubs me the wrong way. Honestly, he acted like he was doing me some huge favor by asking me to be his groomsman. As though I should be grateful to him!"
"I know," Belle said understandingly. "He used to annoy me too when I lived in the village. And you two have a history. But I'm glad you'll be in the wedding party – it means you'll be with me! And it made Snow White so happy." She kissed him. "Just remember: a few more weeks and it will all be over."
"That's the only thing getting me through this," Adam admitted.
Meanwhile, in the carriage, Gaston was fuming. "Who does he think he is? I tried to do a nice thing like you wanted, asking him to be a groomsman, and he practically spit in my face! He doesn't even deserve to be in my wedding!"
"I'm so sorry, Gaston," Snow White said contritely. "I didn't know he was rude to you. He did help save my life, and I just thought this would be a good way to thank him. But maybe I was wrong, if it made you two quarrel. Please forgive me." She looked sad. "I just want so much for everyone to be friends and like each other!"
Gaston had to smile at that. She had such a childlike innocence about her sometimes. He kissed her forehead. "Not everyone can get along, Snow," he told her. "But it's all right. I'll put up with him. It's only one day, after all."
"Oh, thank you so much, Gaston!" Snow White said gratefully. "That means a lot to me. And I'm very proud of you! Having him be your groomsman, even if he was rude to you, shows you're the bigger man."
Gaston grinned. She always knew exactly what to say to him. If being nice to Adam made him "the bigger man," hell, he'd be nice to Adam all day long! Anything to one-up the guy.
"Just a few more weeks, Snow," he said in anticipation. "We'll have the most amazing wedding anyone has ever seen. And then – finally - you'll be my wife!"
Snow White nodded and kissed him. "And then we get to live happily ever after!" she said joyfully.
With that cheerful thought, they rode back to the village.
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Author's Note: Thank you all so much for your patience through all these meandering subplots! Next chapter – FINALLY! - is the wedding!