The Isle of the Lost (Page 18)
Except for one thing—
“What—no cream cakes?” Grumpy grabbed a sugar cookie, glaring at the plate.
“It’s a meeting, not a party,” Doc said, harrumphing.
“Well, it’s certainly not a party now,” Grumpy said, examining a cookie. “There isn’t even a currant or a chocolate chip? What, are we discussing budget problems today?”
“As I was saying,” Ben interrupted, moving the plate of cookies away from Grumpy, “welcome, welcome, everyone. I hereby declare this meeting of the King’s Council officially open. Shall we begin?” asked Ben.
Heads nodded around the table.
Ben glanced down at the notecards he had hidden beneath his right hand. Hopefully, he was doing this correctly.
He coughed. “Excellent. Well, then.”
“Don’t we need to wait for your dad, kid?” Genie asked, putting his feet up on the table. Now that magic was discouraged in Auradon, the genie had taken physical form and was no longer a floating cloud.
“Yeah. Where’s King Beast?” Flounder piped up.
“Isn’t your father joining us today, Ben?” Perdita asked, gently.
Color crept into Ben’s face. “No, sorry. My dad—I mean, King Beast—has uh, asked me to run the meeting this morning.”
Everyone stared. The mice sat up. Grumpy let the cookie drop.
“Anyway.” Ben cleared his throat and tried to affect a confidence he did not feel. “On to business.” He was stalling.
He looked at the stack of papers in front of him. Petitions and letters and applications and motions, from sidekicks from every corner of the kingdom…
Show them who is king. That’s what my father said.
He tried again. “In my role as future king of Auradon, I’ve studied your petitions, and while I appreciate your suggestions, I’m afraid that…”
“Our petitions? Are you talking about the Sidekicks Act?” Grumpy sounded annoyed.
“Er, yes, I’m afraid that we cannot recommend granting these petitions as…”
“Who’s we?” asked Mary.
Dopey looked confused.
“I guess, I mean me? What I mean to say is, I’ve taken your suggestions for change but it doesn’t look like they can be approved as…”
One of the mermaids tilted her head. “Not approved? Why not?”
Ben became flustered. “Well, because I…”
Doc shook his head. “I’m sorry, son, but have you ever even set foot outside this castle? What do you know about the whole kingdom? For instance, our goblin cousins on the Isle of the Lost would like forgiveness—they’ve been exiled for a long time.”
All around the table, the councilors began to murmur in low tones. Ben knew the meeting had taken a turn for the worse, and he desperately began to review his options. There was nothing on his notecards about what to do in the case of council revolt.
One. What would my dad do?
Two. What would my mom do?
Three. Could I run for it? What would that do?
Ben was still evaluating option number three when Grumpy spoke up. “If I may interrupt,” Grumpy said, looking the exact opposite of, well, Merry, who sat next to him. “As you know, for twenty years we dwarfs have worked the mines, gathering jewels and diamonds for the kingdom’s crowns and scepters, for many a prince and princess in need of wedding gifts or coronation attire.” Ben turned even redder, looking at the polished gold buttons on his own shirt. Grumpy glared at him pointedly, then continued. “And for twenty years we have been paid zilch for our efforts.”
“Now, now, Mr. Grumpy,” said Ben. “Sir.”
“It’s just Grumpy,” huffed Grumpy.
Ben looked at the mice. “May I?”
“Be my guest,” said Gus, hopping down.
Ben pulled the Auradon law book free from beneath the mice, sending a few rodents rolling. He turned to a chart in the appendices at the back of the thick book. “Okay, then, Grumpy, as a citizen of Auradon, it looks like you and the rest of the dwarfs have been granted two-month vacations…twenty holidays…and unlimited sick days.” He looked up. “Does that sound right?”
“More or less,” Doc said. Grumpy folded his arms with another glare.
Ben looked relieved, closing the book. “So you can’t say you’ve been working for exactly twenty years, can you?”
“The math is beside the point, young man—or should I call you, young beast?” Grumpy shouted from behind Doc, who was doing his best to shove his own stocking cap into Grumpy’s mouth.
“Prince Ben will do,” Ben said, with a thin smile. No wonder the dwarf was called Grumpy; Ben had never met such a cantankerous person!
“If I can interject, and I don’t mean to offend, but we’re a bit tired of being without a voice and without a contract.” Bashful spoke up. At least, Ben thought that was his name, if only from how red he turned as he spoke.
“You’re here now, aren’t you? I don’t believe you can call that being ‘without a voice,’ can you?” Ben smiled again. Two for two. Boom. Maybe I’m better at this king stuff than I thought.
“But what will happen to our families when we retire?” Bashful asked, not looking convinced.
“I’m sure my father has a plan to take care of everyone,” Ben said, hoping it was true.
A voice squeaked up from the table. Ben leaned forward to listen. “And has anyone noticed that we sidekicks do all the work in this kingdom? Since the Fairy Godmother frowns on magic, we mice make all the dresses!” Mary said indignantly. The little mouse had climbed back up on the law book to make herself heard. “By paw!”
“That’s very—” Ben began, but he was cut off. He was no longer in charge of the room. That much was clear.
“Not to mention the woodland creatures who do all the housekeeping for Snow White,” added Jaq. “They aren’t too happy about it, either.”
Mary nodded. “Plus, Snow White needs a whole new wardrobe as she’s reporting on the Coronation soon! Your coronation, I might add!”
Ben searched desperately through the papers in front of him. “Every citizen has the right to file—to file a—”
“I still collect everything for Ariel,” burbled Flounder. “Her treasures have grown, but what do I have to show for any of it?”
Ben tried again. “You have the knowledge that what you do is a very much appreciated—”