Clara and Freja are following us and Aksel tells them to go and check out Snarf Snarf, which they do so happily.
Aksel then takes me to the living room, sits me down on the couch, and heads straight to the liquor cabinet, pulling out a bottle of port I knew he was saving, and two glasses.
Then he comes back to me with a corkscrew, gives me the glasses to hold, and proceeds to open it.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I’m fine,” he says, getting the cork most of the way out and pulling the rest with his teeth. “Better than ever.”
I frown, my hand starting to tremble as he pours a large splash of port into the glass. Despite his frantic mannerisms, his hands are steady. They’re always steady. He’s my rock.
He pours his own and then clinks the edge of his glass against mine, the sound of the crystal ringing clear across the room. “Here’s to the truth setting us free,” he says, looking me deep in the eyes as we both take a sip.
Someone’s throat clears from across the room and we turn to see the staff gathered by the doorway.
“Come on in, all of you,” Aksel says, waving them over. “Don’t be shy. You’re not in trouble. We’re the ones in trouble here.”
They all exchange glances and then come over. The only one who isn’t shy about it is Maja, because she’s part of the family, and of course bloody Nicklas, who thinks he can’t get fired.
They gather in the middle by the fireplace: Maja, Nicklas, Agnes, Karla, Henrik, and a few others, hands clasped at their middles, looking wary. The only one missing is Johan, but he picked us up from the airport earlier.
“I’m sure you all want to talk about what was reported in the tabloids earlier today. And we’ll get to that,” Aksel says before having a sip of his port. I take the time to do the same, while watching Nicklas, trying to see if he’s squirming. Of course, he’s not.
“But before I get into that, I have an announcement to make,” he continues, and then he holds his hand out for me, gesturing for me to get up.
I stare at him. Are you sure?
And he nods.
I put my hand in his and he helps me to my feet.
But he doesn’t let go of my hand.
All eyes in the room completely focus on that fact.
He’s holding my hand.
He speaks in Danish, looking everyone in the eye. “You’ve all been very loyal staff to me over the years, and I’d like to think of you all as friends. In some ways, family. It’s not easy running a palace and I know I don’t say it enough that you do a grand job—in fact, I don’t think I ever do and for that I am sorry. You do a grand job.”
Everyone glances at each other, brows raised, ready for the axe despite what he said.
“And because I see you as friends and family, I know I need to be honest with you. Not only as a king but as a person. And so, I must tell you, that I have fallen in love.”
Someone let’s out an audible gasp—I think it was Karla, she’s such a romantic—while everyone else raises their brows.
“I knew it,” Maja mutters under her breath, but she’s so lead-faced that I can hardly tell if she’s happy about it or not.
“I realize this may come as a shock to you,” Aksel says. “Or maybe it’s not a shock at all. Maybe it was all very obvious. It’s hard to tell when you’re in it. I didn’t plan to fall in love with her and I’m pretty sure she’ll tell you the same. To be honest, I think she hated me for some time.”
“Oh, come on.” I roll my eyes.
“You did refer to me as King Asshole on a few occasions,” he points out while everyone in the staff laughs.
He shoots them a dirty look. “I’ll ignore that. Anyway, the point of all of this is two-fold. One is to let you know that we’re together. I realize she’s still the nanny, but the girls approve of it, and I think this palace is a better place with her around.” He looks around at all the faces. “And two, is to say that yes, Aurora made some mistakes when she was younger and that’s nothing as bad as what’s been printed in the tabloids. I won’t discuss it much further than that. What I will discuss, however, is how all of that got reported to the tabloids to begin with.” He pauses. “It was one of you.”
Everyone either gasps or goes silent.
Damn, Aksel. This is like the movie Clue!
“That’s right,” he says, starting to pace with his hands behind his back, his voice deepening. Wow, he’s really playing up the part of Wadsworth. “One of you sold Miss Aurora out to the press.”
“I don’t think anyone would do that,” Maja says. “We all have more respect for the both of you than that.”
He stops pacing and comes back over to me, picking up his glass of port from the coffee table and finishing it. “I know that. I’m just…” he trails off as his eyes go over to the doorway where Johan is standing with a laptop in his hands.
“Buying time,” Aksel finishes.
“It’s all in here,” Johan says, holding it in the air.
“That’s my fucking laptop!” Nicklas cries out, storming toward Johan.
But Johan has royal attendants behind him and he hands the laptop off to them and they disappear down the hall.
What the fuck is happening?
Then a few more guards appear, blocking the exit of the room.
Nicklas whirls around to look at Aksel. “What are you doing?”
“Johan found the emails on your hard drive I’m assuming.”
“Emails? There’s no…you can’t go in my room!”
“But you went in Aurora’s room to get her diary.”
“I did not.”
“And you admitted to me that you’d already been in there before.”
“This is an invasion of privacy!”
“Yes, it is, that’s what you did. You dug up fucking dirt and then you sold it. And you didn’t even really care to hide it well because you assumed you couldn’t get punished for it. Well, guess what, Nicklas. Pack your bags. You’re fired.”
Again, everyone gasps, including me. I didn’t think he’d do it and I flinch, bracing for what might happen next.
“You can’t fire me,” Nicklas says wildly.
“I can. I did. Get the fuck out of here.”
More gasps. More of my nerves on fire.
“No. No, this…you ruined my life.”
“How so?” Aksel asks, his jaw tense, eyes blazing.
Daring him. He’s daring him.
Nicklas frowns, trying to think, trying to come up with a way out.
Then he bites the bullet.
He turns vicious.
“Because you were driving the night Helena died. It was never me.”
And now it’s like no one can gasp anymore because there’s no air in the room.
Everyone looks at Aksel.
Aksel remains completely composed. “No, I wasn’t.”
He lies. He lies to him and to everyone else because the truth would ruin everything. And while Aksel is moral, I know that he’s lying because he has to lie. The truth is, well, the truth is messy. It’s complicated. They’re both at fault and they’re both not. One man carries the blame for something he didn’t do and yet hides the truth of something he did do. The other man spent years drowning in guilt for something he didn’t do either. Where is there a happy ending here?
“You’re lying. I’ll prove it,” Nicklas seethes, and I see sweat dripping on his face.
He knows no one will believe him, especially after today.
“You do what you need to do,” Aksel says. “I have your laptop. We’ll do what we need to do. You’re dismissed, Nicklas.”
“You’re not fit to wear that crown,” Nicklas sneers.
Aksel is nonplussed. He gives a half-shrug. “I never said I was. But it’s my crown to wear.”
Nicklas roars and starts running toward Aksel.
Henrik is fast and holds him back, though it’s apparent that Aksel can take care of himself.
“She hated you!” Nicklas yells at Aksel, pointing. “She used you the whole time!”
I gasp sharply at that. Here comes Helena.
“Oh, shut up you little weasel,” Maja says snidely. “She used you too. We all knew that. We all knew what was going on. We’re not dumb.” She looks at Aksel. “And honestly, dear nephew, I really don’t care who was driving the car or not. It was an accident and that’s really all that matters. We know the pain you went through and you deserve more than anyone to move on. So, let’s help you move on.”
Shit. Maja knew all along about Nicklas and Helena.
Aksel looks completely surprised too.
His lips are clamped together, his jaw firm, but his eyes carry so much weight and softness in them. Perhaps it’s just the affection from his aunt in lieu of his mother.
Perhaps this is just the truth and the weight of the world off his shoulders.
And while I’m pondering that, I realize that Aksel is fighting back tears.
Oh god, now I’m going to cry.
He manages to hold it together at the last minute. “Thank you, Tante Maja,” he says, his voice trembling with emotion, words barely above a whisper. “Thank you.”
She comes over to him, looking like she’s going to cry too, and pulls the King into a hug. She’s whispering something to him and he’s nodding, holding her tight.
And now I really am crying, big fat happy tears spilling down my face.
He’s finding his closure.
He’s going to heal.
He’s going to move on.
While this touching scene is happening, the royal attendants drag Nicklas off.
Good riddance to that guy. Wouldn’t mind feeding him to Snarf Snarf.
And that’s when Clara and Freja appear in the doorway and see the Maja and Aksel embrace.
They immediately run over and join in on the hug, turning it into a group one by wrapping themselves around Maja and Aksel’s legs.