Author's note – This is not the epilogue I'd originally planned to add to this story. I'd wanted an encounter between our couple and Banruen but the idea just didn't have a good flow to it and was sort of pointless once I finally started writing it. That's why I had planned to not include an epilogue but then this idea cropped up in my head as I was writing the sequel (which is under way and will hopefully be posted sometime before the end of 2012). It's longer than most epilogues I usually write being over seven pages and over 3k words (which is more in line with the average chapter length of this story) but it does what I want it to do so length doesn't really matter that much. Hope you all enjoy it!
Epilogue – A Promise He Cannot Keep
It was the beginning of Deirdra's first autumn in Kasnelìh. Four months had passed since her wedding day. Four months had passed since she got to ride through the forests around the Great Bay of Therunar to her new home. Four months had passed since she had first begun to realize how great her life was going to be when she had been dreading the arranged marriage for about eight years.
Her new maid, Avelli, was Riloyis's first cousin and the daughter of one of the highest ranking admirals in the royal fleet. She was only three years older than Deirdra and so they related much better to one another than the princess had to her former three maids. It also did not hurt that she did not nearly faint whenever she heard swearing but did sometimes remind Dee that it was not ladylike to use such vulgar language. And, on top of that, she loved wearing breeches just as much as the princess and was capable of some basic blade work.
On this particularly fine autumn day the air was crisp and the sky clear. The leaves were mostly gone from the trees at that point and the ones that remained were mostly deep oranges and reds. They had taken a ride into the royal forest and stopped after a while at a cold stream to let their horses drink their fill. It was quiet, save for the chattering of squirrels and chipmunks that were gathering a few more nuts before the cold weather set it. Thankfully, though, the weather around the Bay was usually mild in the winters.
Deirdra and Avelli had basically escaped out of the castle to go riding. Emirgon still did not like her riding completely without escort and preferred himself or Riloyis to accompany her. Both of the men had been busy, though, so they ran off to the stable, mounted bareback, and rushed out the gate before anyone could stop them. But there would be consequences to that when they got back.
"Think we'll be back before they find us," the princess's maid said with a grin.
"We shouldn't have left much of a trail. We stayed on the road for a while to mask the horses' hoof prints. We made sure to come off the road carefully. We made sure to leave as few traces on our way through the forest as possible." Deirdra plopped down on the ground and put her sword across her lap – the one that Riloyis had given her before she had left from her home. She was not stupid enough to come out without a weapon. She grinned. "The castle will be in a tizzy. Guards will be flooding the city and the forest. The queen will probably be having a few sherries to calm her nerves. But them finding us is unlikely until we start back to the castle. Not unless someone gets very lucky and happens upon us."
And, so, Avelli giggled. She kicked off her shoes and lifted her skirt up to her thighs and waded into the stream the horses were still drinking from. "Oh, this water's freezing!"
The princess was examining the details of the sword's scabbard and hilt as she was prone to do considering it was so lovely. "Then get out of it."
"I still like it, though. It was just colder than I thought." She giggled then kicked one of her feet, splashing the water. "Playing in streams makes me feel like a little girl again."
"I never got to play in streams. All my rides into the forest were also just that. No stopping except to water the horses or let them rest if we actually stayed out long enough for that."
"I'm still surprised you didn't run away sooner. I'd have gone crazy with such treatment."
Silence fell after that. Deirdra basked in the sun filtering through the trees, letting it warm her face between chilly moments of wind through the trees. Avelli splashed back and forth in the stream within about a twenty foot span of the water. They both enjoyed their moments outside the castle where there was no bustle of servants or the confinement of the walls or the possibility of having to deal with duties.
Of course, there were other possibilities when they were out in the forest, especially like they were now – without escort. Granted, the royal forest was supposed to be void of scoundrels because of the steep penalties associated with being caught without royal permission within them. Today, though… Today seemed to be the worst day for them to have come out to the forest because apparently Deirdra was wrong about being found.
Avelli saw movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to Deirdra, thinking the princess had risen, ready to return to the castle already or in the mood to join her splashing in the stream. No, it was not the princess, it was a man dressed in browns to blend into his surrounding better. He wore a mask on his face that only his eyes and forehead were visible through. His hair was covered in a bandana.
The princess was not paying attention at all but before Avelli could shout out a warning, she was grabbed from behind and a hand pressed over her mouth by a second man. The first man then quickly went for the princess but she heard the muffled cry of her maid and realized what was going on just in time to whip out her blade. The sight of the steel made her attacker stop in his tracks and reexamine the situation.
The masked man that was her opponent took several steps back from the princess and examined her and her raised sword. He said nothing. His eyes flicked a few times to his companion, who was gagging and binding the other woman. Slowly, he drew his own blade – a short sword that was in serious need of a good cleaning and probably a trip to a blacksmith. He shot his fellow one last look then lunged towards the princess.
Deirdra had gotten a lot more time with practice since she had gotten married and come to Kasnelìh. Her husband had taken her to the forest to practice with uneven terrain and obstacles. Riloyis had teamed up to give some help to his best friend at times to give her two opponents to keep track of. She had gotten better so she did not expect this fight to be any trouble to her.
She was wrong…
The man that had tried to capture her and bind her, like had happened to her maid, was skilled. He parried all her moves like he could read her mind but he did not really move to cause her injury with his own attacks. He was slowly driving her backward to the stream where his companion would likely subdue her. Every time she tried to gain some ground or move, the stranger was right there to keep her moving only in the direction he wanted her to move in.
Then her foot hit the edge of the stream and found a moss-covered rock. Her foot slipped out from under her and she fell backward. Her opponent, however, shot out his free hand and grabbed her. In an instant he had pulled her back up and forced her sword from her hand then pinned her back against his chest. She fought with all her might but he just squeezed her tighter.
"I've won, Princess," said a far too familiar voice.
She wanted to spin around and slap him in her fury. "You're a knave, Emirgon the Ass!"
"And you will submit to me, Princess. I've bested you."
"I'll never submit to you."
He grinned against her skin so she would know it was there. "That's not what you said last night, my sweet wife."
She continued to fight to get out of his grasp. "Let me go, Emi!"
"I hope this taught you a lesson." He pushed her away and into the stream where her feet and five inches at the bottom of her dress got soaked. "You're not ready to come out here, just the two of you."
"I was tired of sitting around doing nothing."
"Then ask another guard you trust to accompany you." The crown prince pointed a finger at his wife. "But you're not coming out here again without a male escort until you're better trained to deal with real threats. I don't want to lose you."
They had come a long way with their relationship in less than half a year. Six months earlier she feared him to be some horrible demon that would be cruel to her. Six months ago he feared that he would lose her forever if he showed his face to finally meet her. Now most days they were inseparable and people could not believe how in love they were – especially the rest of the royal family. And they were also ready for their first child since interacting with Jorah's newborn daughter had made Deirdra's motherly instincts flare up.
The man that was standing beside Avelli looked up and pulled his mask down from his nose and mouth. "Yeah?"
Deirdra should have figure as much, though. She pointed at him. "You're just as much an ass as my husband!"
Riloyis only smiled at her.
"Take Avelli back to the castle. Lead Nydia back as well. I want to take Dee on a ride with me."
"Alright." He pulled his cousin from the ground and unbound her and took her gag out of her mouth. "Come on."
She spun around and shoved him as hard as she could which made him stumble backward. "I am going to tell my father about this incident!"
"We were just proving that the two of you aren't ready to be out here unaccompanied yet, Avelli. You need a little more practice." He reached up and tugged on one of her ears. "Need to train your ears more, too."
"We need to get them to learn some signals, too."
The swordsman nodded. His cousin huffed about it and crossed her arms, looking indignant.
Riloyis kissed the side of her head. "I'm just thinking of your safety and the safety of the future queen, my little cousin. I think your father would be more upset with me for letting harm come to you than us scaring the piss out of you to prove a point."
"Fine. Whatever. Let's go." Avelli looked back over at the princess. "Anything you need me to prepare for your return?"
"A warm foot soak might be nice," she said, for her feet were still freezing from her stumble into the stream.
"I'll need one, too." Indeed, she was shivering slightly, actually.
"Go on, Ri. We'll be back soon after you. Tell my mother not to get her skirts in a twist from worry."
"Yes, your high-ass-ness." And the guard bowed and then went off to get his cousin on her horse and to get the princess's horse so he could tether it to his own horse's saddle.
Once they were gone, Emirgon turned to his wife. He shook his head and sighed. "You're so damn impertinent."
Deirdra narrowed her eyes at him. "You're any different?"
The prince did not say anything. He grabbed her arm, pulled her to him, and kissed her lips. "Get on the damn horse. I need to get you back to the castle."
"Oh?" The way he said it made her grin and feel playful. "Are you going to submit to me, then, when we return?"
"No, I'll make you submit. I bested you, after all."
"But I know how to make you submit to me." Her grin remained. "I just need a special sword to wield and you'll be like pudding in my hands."
"On the horse, Dee," he said through gritted teeth as she trailed her fingers along his pants toward that "special sword" she had mentioned.
"Not in the mood for a forest romp," she said with a frown, sounding thoroughly disappointed.
"If you'd given me an hour to finish the meeting I was in, yes, I might have been, but your running off made me have to delay that and now it might take longer to finish. So, no, no romp in the forest today. You are going back to the castle and when I finish the meeting I'm going to do my best to give you a reason to be more careful with yourself."
He was talking about how they had begun trying to get her pregnant. She would have to be extra careful once she was with child. She could not do her normal training until after the birth and she was going to be more highly protected. That was one reason she wanted to get out and do things before then. She was not sure how long she would have before she would be confined to a castle again. At least this time, though, she would know when she could return to doing what she wanted to do the most.
The princess sighed heavily. "Alright. I'll go back to the castle and be a demure and obedient little wife."
"Hmm…" He kissed her lips. "Only until I'm done with the meeting."
That made her giggle.
The two of them headed off to where his horse had been tethered just out of their sight when they had been at the stream. He helped her up then mounted behind her. She sighed and leaned back against him. The naughty things she had done with her husband a few times in this very saddle returned to her mind and she blushed, biting her lip to keep herself from suggesting them now. She had enjoyed the last four month more than she could have ever imagined and she hoped that every month for the rest of her life would be just as filled with passion as the last few had been.
Deirdra forced herself to stop thinking about things she knew would come later that night – hopefully. Her mind, instead, turned to the hoped for result of their union. "I've been thinking of names, by the way."
"As long as none of our sons get named for your father I'm sure I'll be fine with any names you decide upon."
"Well, I'm still going to tell you. I picked the name of one of my great uncles for our first boy – Cadmon."
The crown prince nodded, accepting that name. It was a good name and he could see both prince and king with his moniker.
"And for a girl I was thinking of Zorida."
That named puzzled him. He did not know of anyone in his family or hers that had had that name. "A family name?"
Deirdra shook her head. "It's just a name I've always liked. I think I might have known someone by that name when I was much younger but I can't really remember anymore. Do you like it?"
He nodded. "Zorida is a fine name."
That brought a smile to his wife's face.
"So Cadmon or Zorida will be our first born."
The princess nodded. "Unless I think of something I like more."
"Well, many things can change in a year, so that's possible."
She scoffed. "Many things can change in an instant, too." Like their relationship.
"How very true."
For a while they continued their slow ride through the forest in silence, then something else rose in Deirdra's mind. "And you'll still keep your promise, right, Emi?"
Emirgon tried to rack his brain for what promise she meant but could not figure out what she meant. "What promise?"
"That if we have a daughter you won't restrict her like I was."
He nodded. "Yes, Dee, I promise."
The princess balled her fist into his pants. "Can you also promise not to force her into an arranged marriage? I don't want the fears I had of you becoming a reality for her."
Her husband stopped the horse and looked over her shoulder at her. "We're royalty, Princess Deirdra. Such things are a reality of our station in society. Yes, I will do all I can to avoid forcing any of our children into an arranged marriage but the possibility will always be present. I can't promise you it won't happen.
"Though we're trying now for a child of our own, that's still a thing in the future. And that child being of marrying age is still even further into the future. There's no telling what might happen between now and then that might require an arranged marriage. I don't want it to come to that, but we must remember royalty often sacrifices happiness for peace or security for their kingdom."
And Deirdra knew that what he said was a valid response. They were royalty. They were the future king and queen, in fact. As such, their children had to understand that they were at the mercy of what was best for the kingdom. It might not be what they wanted and it could make them unhappy but if it was necessary it needed to be done.
"But, regardless, I will let any daughters of ours do as she wishes. She may train in any weapon she wishes. She can wear men's clothing if she wishes. She may swear – within reason. She may go off with minimal escort. She will have as equal of treatment as she wishes compared to that of any brothers she has. And if our sons wish to pursue less…manly things, they may do that as well."
The princess giggled at the near disgust Emirgon seemed to show in that declaration. She also giggled at the thought of her sons wishing to knit and embroider. It was just such an out of place thing for a man to do. But she supposed that from a man's perspective her desire for her daughters was just as out of place in the scheme of things. Perhaps their children would do the unusual no matter what their gender.
They started off again, their pace slow. "But before any of that can happen, we need to get you pregnant, you know."
Deirdra nodded. "Are we trying again tonight?"
"Just like we did last night…," he kissed her shoulder, "…and the night before," he kissed her other shoulder, "…and the night before…"
That time she laughed outright. She could not wait for all the trying that was involved in making a new life.