Disclaimers: None. If you're still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you're getting into. If you don't have an open mind or if you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won't change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Author's Notes: Just musing a little bit while Randi and Gwen decide how much sweet time they want to take to wrap up the final Valiant story.
Coming of Age
My name is Margaret O'Leary, and years ago I was chatelaine in the castle you see there in the distance. It was only after they ran away together that I left, though not strictly by my choice. The king blamed me for not exposing the truth of them to him sooner, but his affection for me and for them permitted me to retire to this garden home outside the keep. It isn't banishment, exactly, but it wouldn't have been my first choice had things turned out differently.
In fairness, I think he might have allowed them to stay if... But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take your cloak and fix some tea. This tale will take some time to be telling and we might as well enjoy what comforts we can manage in the meantime. Sit yourself up to the fire, and I'll be right back.
Now then, where was I? Oh yes, well nevermind that. Let me start at the beginning....
Once Upon a Time –
I was brought in as chatelaine to my cousin Aileen soon after she married Edward and became Queen. We had grown up together and it seemed a natural course of things between us. I was glad to do it, and my Cedric was given a position in the stables as head groom. Might not sound like much, but Edward took great pride in his horses and stables and Cedric ran the place like clockwork. Not once was Edward ever disappointed in the quality of care the animals under Cedric's hand received. And never did the king complain about the state of the barns or stables themselves.
Sorry, got a bit off track there, but it's important to me that you understand how well we were regarded by the king before this whole incident. Yes, well, anyway... like I was saying....
Things went fairly well the first few years of Aileen's marriage to Edward. A little rocky at times, as happens when you put two independent strong-willed people together. But it was a good match and a good marriage, and when they finally found out Aileen was expecting another child, they were ecstatic. She'd been with child once before, but lost it in the first term. They'd both been devastated by the loss, especially when the midwife cautioned them that conception and pregnancy could continue to be a problem for them. So this news was exceedingly embraced, and it wasn't long before we were preparing the nursery to receive the new life we all hoped to be welcoming soon.
I had given birth to twins two years before I came to the castle, and may I say here that is an experience I never wish to repeat. Saints preserve us that has to be the most work I've ever done in my life. And so it came to be that Dylan and Edan were there to welcome Princess Wynne into the world – so named because even as a newborn, she was fair and beautiful to look upon. The princess had forest green eyes and a hint of red fire in her honey-blonde hair. I should have known by what happened then how things would turn out one day, but it is so easy to see things in hindsight....
"Come along, children," Margaret said as she moved quickly through the castle corridors. "We want to be able to greet the princess before she is announced to the world." Margaret had actually been with the Queen when she delivered, but it was important to her that her children meet the princess as well.
The twins looked at each other, less than impressed. At almost seven years of age, babies didn't really fit into their world outlook... even baby princesses. But Mama had spoken, so they trudged along behind their mother, careful not to muss their hair or get dirty for fear of having a repeat of the cleaning process they had just endured. No amount of fun was worth that much scrubbing. Their ears still glowed bright pink and were quite warm to the touch. Edan reached up a hand. Sore, too.
She looked at Dylan who was doing the same thing and they winced in tandem. Then Margaret stopped in front of a door and turned to look at them with a slight scowl.
"Hands down. Let me look at you." She licked her fingers and pushed the hair back from Dylan's face. "You need a trim, my son." She sighed. "No help for it now. Edan, quit fidgeting in the dress. It will not kill you to wear it for another fifteen minutes."
Edan rolled her eyes and Dylan nudged her. It was the ultimate humiliation that she was forced to put on such ridiculous clothing, and Dylan felt her frustration as his own. She nudged him back with a grin, glad he at least was on her side.
"All right, you two... settle down," Margaret said as she turned back towards the door. "I won't have you acting out in front of the princess."
They rolled their eyes in tandem, blue meeting blue in a wry expression – like the hours old princess would notice either of them. Then Margaret rapped on the door. The Queen bade them enter and Edan and Dylan straightened, not wanting the walloping that would follow a reprimand in the Queen's presence. Not that Margaret was usually so inclined, but she wasn't fond of embarrassment.
Aileen reclined in bed, having been bathed and dressed by Margaret before the chatelaine had left to recover her own children for the introductions. The midwife had made the Queen some soothing tea, and now she smiled gently as the two painfully scrubbed children followed behind their mother in wide-eyed silence.
Aileen reached a hand over towards the cradle at her side, and with the other she beckoned the twins closer. Margaret took the initiative and urged them with a nudge to the back.
"Go ahead, children... Dylan, you first."
For once Edan was glad to have been born three minutes behind her brother. She wasn't at all anxious to be introduced to this new bit of humanity. She had the unpleasant suspicion that this baby was going to cause her all sorts of extra work, to say nothing of untold grief.
Dylan's eyes grew big as he approached the cradle, and Aileen patted the bed as Margaret reached in and lifted Wynne from her crib. The princess didn't stir from her slumber at the movement, so it was a rather unhappy surprise when she started wailing the minute she was placed in Dylan's arms. He was startled and would have dropped the baby were it not for the swift actions of his sister.
Edan put her arms under Dylan's and Wynne literally dropped into her embrace. Edan stood there frozen and Wynne snuggled into her hold with a sigh. She blinked green eyes at blue, then closed hers in sleep. Edan looked up in horror and tried to hand Wynne to her mother.
Margaret wanted to chuckle at Edan's evident mortification. Instead she ignored Edan's effort to pass the baby to her and turned her attention her nervously blushing son.
"Dylan? Did you pinch the princess or...?"
"NO!" he stated loudly, startling Wynne and causing her to start screaming again. Now Edan flinched, caught between glaring at her brother for waking the infant and a desire to drop Wynne somewhere... *anywhere*... and flee the room. Instead she looked at the Queen plaintively, and Aileen took pity on the youngster, opening her arms and taking Wynne from Edan.
Edan sighed with relief and backed away from the bed as soon as the newborn was safely in her mother's arms once more. Dylan was mortified and kept his arms tightly crossed over his chest. Edan clasped her hands behind her back, figuring she'd done enough baby holding to last her at least this lifetime.
Margaret and Aileen exchanged amused glances, then the Queen's attention was drawn to the child at her breast that was now rooting around for her first meal. Margaret took her cue from Wynne and firmly began to herd her brood towards the door.
"I'll be back shortly, my Queen."
Aileen nodded, her gaze riveted to the child suckling so contentedly at her breast. "No rush, Maggie. We are quite content for the moment. I'd like a little time to get to know my daughter."
Margaret took it for the command it was and ushered her family out the door.
"Go change out of your good clothes and get to your chores," Margaret commanded. "I have work of my own to do and I expect to see yours done as well when I return." She pushed them towards their room. "Be quick, you two." Her eyes twinkled. "I think your Da has a surprise for you both in the stables as soon as you are done here. BUT," she added sternly, seeing the excited twinkle in twin sets of blue eyes. "Chores first... understand?"
"Yes, Mama," they answered simultaneously, then scooted in their door. Dylan pushed it closed as Edan crossed to her bed and plopped down on it. Dylan walked slowly to his bed, unbuttoning his tunic and sliding it off before reaching for his rough work tunic.
"C'mon E... Mama said for us to do our chores. ‘Sides, I thought you wanted outta that dress."
Edan nodded and sighed hard, then rose and turned her back to him. "Unbutton me?" Dylan did so, patting her awkwardly on the back when he was done. Edan let the dress fall to the floor and stepped out of it before retrieving her own tunic and donning it. They both hung up their good clothes, knowing it was one of the things that Mama would look for when she checked to see if their chores were done. Then she and Dylan straightened the room and headed out to take care of their work, curious to find out what surprise their father had in store for them.
They ran into the stable, knowing Cedric would hear them and call for them. Sure enough, as soon as the door opened, Cedric's voice rang out from where the foals were. Edan and Dylan ran back to the back area and skidded to a stop when they reached their father.
"Chores done?" Cedric asked without turning from the foal he was curry combing.
"Yes, Da," the twins replied together.
"Reading done?" he asked, hearing the sighs and knowing neither of his children cared too much for the schooling their mother insisted on. He pointed to the hay bale just outside the stall and watched with a hidden smile as the two flopped down on it gracelessly. Though he understood their reluctance since most of the children they knew never learned this skill, he agreed with Margaret about the need for them to give the twins every advantage. It would make a difference in the outcome of their futures.
So they fell to the bale, Dylan sitting and crossing his legs while Edan lay on her belly. Then silence fell as the two became engrossed in their reading.
"Reading did make quite a difference for them both, you know. Just not the way Cedric and I expected it too. It made some things easier, and others more difficult. And ultimately, it brought us to this point in time, because if the twins had been unable to read, much of what happened later would have been moot. But I digress...."
Cedric finished grooming the foals before he turned to release the children from their studies. He spent a long moment watching his children read before calling them, watching with a bit of humor as two heads popped up and books were quickly dropped in anticipation of a new diversion.
He led them out to the corral where the new, unbroken horses milled around, restless. He leaned on the railing and the children did the same, though it was normally something they weren't permitted to do. The horses were considered too dangerous when there were so many in the corral; it was feared they would cause damage to themselves or to the people who approach them so closely.
Cedric stood perfectly still and his children emulated him as well as they could... even Edan, whose restless nature in fact reminded her father of the majestic beasts before him. Eventually, the horses sensed their still presence and turned all eyes in their direction. Then they parted, and the most incredible black stallion nudged his way through the crowd and wandered right up to Edan, butting her in the chest so hard he knocked her to the ground. Dylan laughed, then looked at the fury on his sister's face and helped her up instead. Cedric smiled and spoke softly.
"I think you may have made a new friend, daughter. That is the closest that horse has been to anyone. He just said hello"
Edan smiled and rubbed her chest. "He doesn't need to be quite so nice to me. Can't he say hello to Dylan instead?"
Cedric chuckled and tousled Edan's hair. "I'm not sure Dylan has the same gift with horses you seem to. However, the king has granted permission for you two to have a horse of your own. You have done such a good job helping me care for his horses, it only seemed fair. I think the horse has chosen you."
Edan blinked. She'd helped her father with the horses from the time she could toddle along behind him, but she'd never dreamed of the possibility of having a horse of her own. Horses were expensive animals; only the rich and the warriors were able to afford such a privilege. She looked at Dylan who grinned widely at her, then at her father with undisguised hope in her eyes.
"Really," Cedric confirmed. "He will be completely your responsibility. I will break him, of course," he assured them when Edan's eyes grew impossibly wider, "but after that his care will be completely up to you... including his name."
Dylan and Edan exchanging grins again and Edan walked back into touching range of the massive beast. He stood completely still, eyeing her and Edan reached forth a slow had, gently scratching him behind the ears. Dylan just watched and waited. Though he was happy enough about the surprise, his father was completely correct – he didn't have the same affection for horses that his sister did. But he enjoyed seeing her so happy, and that more than made him happy.
The stallion lipped at both of them, and Cedric offered each of them an apple that he tended to keep on his person while working in the barns. The children gave them to the big black one at a time and he lipped them up with a satisfying crunch. The sound brought the rest of the herd over to investigate and Cedric decided it was time for he and his children to go find Margaret for lunch. Their horse business could wait until afterwards
With a last backwards glance, Edan and Dylan followed their father back to the castle keep and into the noisy, crowded feasthall.
The children's day became even fuller with the addition of their horse to their daily regimen. They had chosen the name Nightshade as they had grand dreams of becoming knights of the realm and following the king into grand and glorious battles; they figured the horse's name would inspire fear and loathing amongst their enemies. Cedric shook his head at their explanation, but duly noted the big stallion's name. The king was a little disappointed they had ended up with what he considered to be the finest horse in the herd, but he had given his word, so they were allowed to keep him.
It was comical though, especially at first, to see such small children on the back of such a large animal. But Edward had heard the story of how the horse had chosen them, and seeing their interactions, he was inclined to believe it.
Edan had done a majority of the training and the stallion responded to her unspoken cue with startling ease. Dylan taught him some tricks, but Edan was making him into a war horse. Seeing how well Nightshade had been taught, Edward offered Cedric the opportunity to put his son into knight's training, but Dylan refused. He was called before the king the following day to explain his refusal.
"Son," the king said kindly, "do you understand what I am offering you?"
"Yes, sire," the boy replied. "I do."
"Then why would you say no, boy?"
Dylan wanted to fidget, but he had been warned by his mother what the consequences of such an action would be. Margaret might not be there, but the queen was and Dylan knew his mother would hear if he showed any sign of disrespect. Both parents would already be furious enough at his refusal of the king's generosity; he didn't want to make it worse by seeming disrespectful.
"Because, sire... you didn't offer the same to Edan," Dylan answered with his eyes down.
Edward's eyes widened. He hadn't actually considered such a possibility. "Why would I, Dylan? I like Edan well enough, but she should be learning womanly crafts – sewing and cooking and babies and the like. There is no call for a girl to be learning the arts of war."
The seven year old looked the king squarely in the eyes and Edward was surprised by the fierce burning in them. "Edan is the one who taught Nightshade and she wants to train as a knight, sire. She shouldn't not be allowed to just because she is a girl."
The vehemence in the child's tone brought Edward up short and he felt himself grow angry at the insolence Dylan was showing. Then a touch on his back made him pause and swallow the biting retort he wanted to snap out. A glance to his right reminded him that he now had a daughter and he turned wry eyes to his wife. He looked at a nearby guard. "Fetch the girl to me."
"Yes, sire." The guard left at a double time step, headed to the stables. Everyone in the castle knew where to find Edan as long as there was daylight. Even when she was reading or doing the other schoolwork her mother had assigned, Edan preferred the warm comfort of the barn and horses over the cold stone of the castle.
She was dirty and smudged when she stepped in to the great hall. The guard had found her mucking out stalls, but he hadn't given her a chance to clean up. He had his orders. Edan glared at him sullenly before dropping her eyes to the ground. Aileen exchanged amused glances with Edward, then raised an eyebrow in question. He nodded and gestured towards the girl; Aileen rose and crossed the parquet floor to stand beside Edan, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Edan, your brother tells us you wish to train as a knight. Is that true?" Edan's eyes flew up briefly to meet the queen's in startlement, then lowered again for propriety's sake. Aileen squeezed the shoulder beneath her hand. "It's all right, Edan. You can speak freely here. You will not get into trouble with your answer."
Edan nodded and cleared her throat to speak. "Yes, my queen. I would." She tried wiping a bit of dirt from her cheek, but only succeeded in smearing it from one side of her face to the other. Aileen smiled and nodded, gently removing the streak of dirt with her thumb. She exchanged glances with Edward, and at his signal, turned back to Edan.
"I would like to make you an offer then, child." Edan risked a peek at Aileen's face and saw she was smiling, so she nodded.
"All right," feeling completely off balance.
"You can train as a knight." Edan's head jerked up and she met Aileen's eyes squarely. The queen was impressed with the strength and sense of purpose reflected back at her. "IF," Aileen continued, adding the stipulating codicil; Edan frowned. "IF you are willing to assume personal responsibility for the protection of the princess; not immediately, of course, but as you get older and advance in your training that would be your primary duty. You will have to maintain the lessons your mother has laid out for you and you will also be expected to learn the womanly arts as well."
Aileen blinked. That hadn't been the response she had expected. "Why what? Why are you being offered the opportunity? Two reasons – Dylan asked that you be allowed... made quite a passionate argument for it in fact. The other is because one day Wynne will be a young lady and will require a female companion to attend her. We were planning to offer that position to you as a matter of course. If you could protect her as well, then so much the better."
"If you are asking why you have to do your lessons and learn the female arts as well," Aileen grinned. "Queen or not, I'm not going to be the one to explain to Margaret why you're not learning the things she and society have deemed necessary to your education." She winked; Edan grinned.
"Can I really? Can I really be a knight?"
"Depends – do you really want to be?"
"Oh yes, my queen. And Dylan too, right?"
Aileen cast a glance at Dylan who nodded vigorously and smiled from ear to ear. "And Dylan too. You come see me tomorrow when your chores are done and we'll set up a schedule for you both. And don't worry, the king and I will clear it with your parents." Aileen cupped Edan's cheek. "We're expecting good things from both of you."
Edan took Aileen's hand, mindless of the dirt that covered her. "We'll be the best knights ever, my queen. I promise."
Aileen nodded and dismissed them. Dylan and Edan clasped hands together, and walked sedately out of the throne room. They were the picture of restraint, though they gave the impression of skipping out the door. Aileen walked back to her throne and she and Edward chuckled together.
"Well, that was a bit unexpected," the king commented.
"Yes, but it is not an unwelcome development."
Edward laughed now, a full-throated laugh. "Not at all, but I'm glad I won't be the one sharing that with Margaret."
Aileen made clucking noises then ran off squealing when Edward made as if to chase her. The courtiers' expressions didn't change but their eyes twinkled in merriment. It was obviously good to be the queen ... or king... today.
Oh my Lord... I cannot convey to you the rage I felt when Aileen came to me that afternoon to explain what had taken place in court that morning. Though part of me was proud Dylan had stood up for his sister, another part of me was furious with his presumption... and Edan's. It was a little easier to bear when Aileen explained the circumstances surrounding Edan's training and their desire for it. But the thought of Edan taking up arms....
I did notice a distinct change in both my children once permission had been given for them to begin their training. Schooling and chores were much easier to manage as they were essential to the remainder of their instruction. For that I was grateful; it was nice not to have every little thing grumbled about before being completed. If we had but known what we were starting....
Five years passed and Edan excelled in her training. Dylan was exceptional as well, but it was expected of him as a matter of course. Edan was a surprise to many; most had expected her to quit after the first few hard months. But no one counted on the determination my daughter was born with and the harder they pushed her, the better she got. Soon she was outperforming the boys, and didn't that just put their knickers in a twist?? I must tell you I was exceptionally, secretly proud of her, though I tried not to show it too obviously at the time. If I had it to do over - if I had understood how much my approval meant to her, I might have been more forthcoming. As it was, I thought restraint was better for her character. Shows you what I really knew.
At the age of twelve, Edan was assigned as the primary companion to the young princess. I shouldn't laugh, but watching Edan realize that part of her duties to the princess meant she had to sit through schooling with her was highly entertaining. To her credit, she managed to hide her initial upset from almost everyone else, but as her mother, I could see through the facade very easily. Thus began the most interesting transformation of Edan and her slowly developing friendship with Wynne.
There was always a math or science assignment Edan had to work on while Wynne was instructed in the basics of her royal duties and behavior. When it was time to read, however, Wynne refused to allow anyone other than Edan to teach her. Edan sighed silently, but took on the added task of instructing the young princess how to read and write.
Unbeknownst to her, Edan had an audience watching every morning as she and Wynne sat side by side going over letters and words, learning the basic tools of literacy. Aileen was very pleased with Edan's unfailing patience with her offspring, and Margaret was gratified to see Edan begin to mature as a young woman. She hoped the introduction to the other side of things might make Edan rethink her desire to become a knight. She had no way of knowing it only strengthened Edan's resolve.
"Can't you call me Wynne, Edan? I don't like the name princess, but I do like Wynne."
Edan tousled Wynne hair until the younger girl glared at her before breaking into giggles. "I wish I could, princess. But protocol says I have to call you princess."
Wynne scowled. "I don't like it. I'm gonna to tell Mama to tell protocol you can call me Wynne," said with a grown-up, regal air. Before Edan could compose herself to comment, Wynne went right back to being the five year old little girl she was. "Can we read the pea story again, Edan? I like that one."
Edan bit her lip. She actually hated that story, but it was Wynne's favorite, so she held out her hand and they settled in to the special reading nest of pillows they had made. Edan sat behind Wynne on the pillows and Wynne was wrapped in Edan's embrace, leaning back into the still developing body. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world, and made reading together easy and comfortable. And invariably, after Wynne was done with her reading, she would fall asleep in Edan's arms and would stay there until Edan tucked her into bed so she could go downstairs for her knight's training.
Edan had mastered sewing and cooking as quickly as she could manage just to get it over with. She didn't excel at either, but she did accomplish enough to make her mother happy and that was the important part. Margaret kept hoping if she didn't push, Edan would show an interest in the more feminine arts, but Edan was much too proficient in the arts of war to give needlepoint and the accompanying gossip even a cursory glance.
The king had long since blessed the day Dylan had stood up for his sister and demanded she be allowed to train as a knight as well. Individually, the twins were a formidable force; together, they were unstoppable. And watching Edan with Wynne was gratifying. She was thoughtful and patient without allowing Wynne to take too much advantage of her.
Time passed slowly... or quickly... depending on who you were and what was going on at any given point in time. For myself and Cedric, time seemed to rush by as our children grew up into responsible adults. For Aileen and Edward, it was much the same as Wynne reached the cusp of puberty. But to Dylan, Edan and Wynne, it seemed as though time crawled. But it was hardest on Wynne who remained a child while the others passed into adulthood and it made her do something she would regret for years.
"You can't go, Edan! I forbid it!!" Wynne stomped her foot and glared at the girl who had become a woman while Wynne had remained a child. "I'm going to tell my father and that will put an end to this ridiculous charade of yours, pretending to be a knight!!"
The look she got from Edan frightened Wynne, but not nearly as much as the thought of being without her while she went out to do whatever it was that knights did when they were not guarding princesses. Edan had been gone for short stretches before but this was going to take several months, according to the gossip the ladies shared in the sewing circle. Several of them were losing men to the coming crusade. Wynne had thought she and Edan were friends and now Edan was just leaving to go on some damned fool quest, as far as Wynne was concerned.
Edan marched right up into Wynne's personal space, forcing her to take a step back – only to realize she was backed into a wall. Edan glared blue fire at her and spoke in a whisper through clenched teeth. "I *AM* a knight, princess; I *earned* my place. And I serve at the pleasure of the king."
It burned Wynne whenever Edan chose to address her by title instead of by name and she flinched in response. They had settled that years ago when Edward had granted Edan special dispensation to call Wynne by name, so on the rare occasion Edan used her title, Wynne knew Edan was furious. She bit back at Edan as hard as she could, hoping to hurt. "Then I will tell him to leave you here with me where you belong. A woman shouldn't be out fighting battles anyway. That isn't her place."
For the first time, Edan placed a restraining hand on Wynne's arm. The surprise of the touch stopped Wynne's progress and she looked into Edan's face, seeing both fury and hurt in her expression. Edan tried to school her features when she realized she was scaring Wynne and she reminded herself silently that the princess was only a fourteen year old child. Edan removed her hand and walked back over to pick up her small kit and her gear.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, princess. I will ask your father to find someone more suitable to be your companion. I'm sure there are any number of older women who will be more than happy to take my place and I won't need to offend your sensibilities with my presence any longer."
Edan walked out without saying goodbye, and she never saw the tears that fell silently from Wynne's eyes.
Saints preserve us... Edan never said a word to me about what had happened between them. She simply kissed me goodbye and rode out with her brother at her side and the rest of the regiment following behind them. It promised to be a long, bloody war and the likelihood of both children returning home to me unscathed was nil.
But I should have known by the fury in Wynne's eyes when a new lady-in-waiting was assigned to her that something had gone terribly wrong between them. And then when Edan didn't return after the war was over....
"But, my princess...."
Margaret heard the roar from down the hall and exchanged looks with the queen who was strolling along beside her. The years had been kind to Aileen; her hair was liberally sprinkled with gray, but her face was mostly unlined – except when it came time to deal with her wayward daughter. Wynne had found fault with every companion that had been assigned to her since Edan's abrupt departure years before. And she had managed to drive most of them off in tears. The few that hadn't reacted with tears had finally given Wynne up as a lost cause as she refused to associate with them or follow any suggestions or orders.
Instead, Wynne spent a majority of her time alone, dressed in the trousers and tunics Edan had always been so fond of. She had tried to sneak into knight's training, only to discover immediately that swords were much heavier and harder to handle than she had ever imagined them to be. Wynne had distinct memories of Edan doing forms and training with what appeared to be little or no effort. It didn't alter her desire to learn, however and she watched and taught herself what she could from what she saw.
She tried not to think of Edan; it hurt too much knowing she had driven her best friend away. And though they knew she was alive and doing well in her service to the king as a knight, Wynne wanted her to come home – especially as her birthday was approaching again. Her mother had informed her that this would be her coming out party and Wynne could expect suitors to start calling after she was introduced to society.
Wynne's reaction to that pronouncement was met with marked lack of enthusiasm and a definite disdain towards the entire idea; hence the latest in companion's being summarily dismissed. Wynne didn't even wait for her to leave; she slammed the door open and stomped off down the hall, ignoring hails from both her mother and Margaret and disappearing before they caught up to her. She was out of sight but not out of hearing – a fortuitous circumstance as it turned out.
"I'm sorry, my queen," the lady-in-waiting said as she met the two other women outside Wynne's room with her head bent and her eyes on the ground. "I should have...."
Aileen put a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right, Diana. Wynne is something of a handful these days. You are just the latest in a long line of casualties as far as companions go. I was hoping you might last a bit longer than the rest. You are close to Wynne's age. I just don't... I don't know...." Aileen let her thoughts drift off, trying to decide what to do with her daughter. Royal decree or not, there was no way she would find a suitor with her attitude at this rate – she would refuse to take one. Wynne had gotten her stubbornness and independence from both parents; couldn't blame anyone else for that.
"My queen?" Aileen's attention was drawn back to the present by Diana's soft words. She cocked her head in question. "I think I may know the root of Princess Wynne's um... unseemly behavior."
Aileen and Margaret exchanged amused glances at Diana's effort to not criticize. Both women were aware of the gossip that went around; someone in the circle was always more than happy to share the thoughts of the other courtiers and Aileen had a trusted advisor who was able to confirm or deny which rumors were actually being spread. She was well aware of what most of the court thought of Wynne and her increasingly unbearable attitude.
"And that is?" Margaret asked archly. "C'mon then, girl. We know of the gossip that flies round this castle like a whirling dervish. What does the sewing circle think?"
"We think the princess has either found an admirer or has fallen in love herself – perhaps unrequited."
"And is this a recent development? Because her conduct has been a problem for a while."
Diana looked down at the floor before meeting Aileen's eyes. "It was first thought that she missed her friend... her first companion. Some of her behavior...." she trailed off and Aileen and Margaret exchanged glances, wondering what they had missed. Diana shrugged. "Anyway, it's changed. The princess is quieter these days... she tends to brood and has since you announced her coming out party."
Margaret and Aileen blinked at this pronouncement; it had been the last thing either of them had expected – not as long as it had been going on. Finally, Aileen shook her head and took a deep breath. "Very well, Diana. You can go back to your quarters. I don't think we will need you here again."
The lady bowed her head and escaped before the queen could change her mind. Frankly, she had taken a great risk sharing that particular gossip and was glad to avoid any further conversation. Once they were sure Diana was out of hearing they turned to each other. Silence for long moments, then....
"You don't think...?" Margaret hesitated to speak her thoughts aloud.
"No, not on her part; she was always above reproach in both words and actions. She took her duties and responsibilities very seriously."
"Then why else...? We both know she has stayed away by her own choice."
Aileen shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps we should consult with Tearlach." Margaret's eyes widened. Tearlach was the court wizard and was alternately in and out of favor with the king, depending on what advice and warnings he offered on any given day. He had been strangely silent about Wynne's behavior however, as though he was waiting to be asked.
"Do you think that wise, Lee? You know how touchy Edward is about that wizard."
Aileen laughed, and the sound made Wynne smile from her hiding place. It had been a long time since she had heard it. She pushed the reason out of her mind and concentrated instead on listening to her mother's reply.
"I'll talk to Edward about it first. I know he hears from Edan probably more than anyone besides Dylan. Maybe he would bring her home for Wynne's coming out party."
Margaret grabbed Aileen's arm lightly... something she rarely did as a matter of respect – only when the subject was very important and extremely serious to her. Aileen looked down and covered Margaret's hand, able to feel the tremors beneath her touch. She met Margaret's eyes with concern.
"Please, Lee... please don't. Don't shame her decision to remain in the field by bringing her home. No, I don't know what happened between them," answering the questioning look Aileen cast her direction. "Edan has never once indicated anything did and I have respected her right to privacy on the matter. But please don't embarrass my daughter; she's done so much good."
"Maggie, Margaret!" cutting into the babbling. "Trust me – if we bring Edan home, it would be to accord her the honors she has earned. So far everything Edward has done for her has been a decree in abstention. It would be nice to actually be able to give them to her. But perhaps we could make it an invitation instead. Maybe Dylan would be willing to play messenger?" Aileen took Margaret's clasp from her arm and shifted it to joint claps of hands between them. "Come... let's go talk to Edward. Hopefully, he will allow Tearlach to shed some light on this little dilemma."
They walked out of the room and were long gone down the hall and back to the throne room before Wynne emerged from her hiding place. When she got inside her room, she locked the door and slipped over to the small chest that held her childhood treasures. She withdrew a book and crossed back to the bed, curling up and reading the words she had loved so much as a little girl. She never noticed when sleep overtook her or the smile that the story left on her face.
Oh, now... I will tell you we had a most interesting time with Edward. He was as loathe to bring Edan home as I was, though for entirely different reasons. Please... let me explain, lest you think I am a horrible mother, because I love my daughter and more than anything, I wanted her home again – but only if that was her desire as well.
You see, I had finally come to understand that Edan was born to be a warrior, much like her twin. She and Dylan shared so much, and I know the only reason he was here instead of in the field was because Edan had persuaded him to let her be the one to remain as the permanent field commander. He never offered to explain; I don't rightly know if he knew her reasons for asking, though I believe he did. They were that close – still are, I suspect, despite everything. But Dylan loved his sister so much he agreed to be the itinerate commander, traveling back and forth regularly between field command and royal audiences. In fairness, I think the situation suited Dylan fine, but he would have done it for Edan even if it hadn't.
At the time, we still didn't understand why Edan left... at least I didn't. Edward did; Edan had gone to him before leaving on the campaign that had kept her away from home these years, and he had granted her leave to remain instead of returning to the keep as Wynne's companion as scheduled. And she had performed her duties far beyond anyone's expectations – save perhaps her own and Dylan's. Because of her direction, the army under her command had not only made the surrounding lands safer but more prosperous as well. Hence, Edward's reluctance to ‘bring' her home. Not only was it an insult to Edan, but it would also upset the balance and prosperity they had achieved there.
However, Edward's concern for his daughter outweighed his reluctance to remove Edan from command, so he agreed to consult Tearlach with Aileen and to abide by his advice... even if he didn't like it.
So Tearlach was called in for counsel. And what a meeting that turned out to be.
"So, Highness," Tearlach said softly, bowing then stroking his beard; just managing not to smirk at being summoned. He, of course, was well aware of why he had been called into the private royal chambers, but was wise enough not to flaunt the fact. "How may I serve you today?"
Edward hesitated briefly, trying to determine if the wizard was mocking or condescending in his attitude, though with Tearlach's level of arrogance it was hard for him *not* to be condescending. Tearlach, however, met Edward's eyes squarely and waited. Finally, the king nodded in satisfaction and blew out a breath, motioning to Aileen. Tearlach's bushy eyebrows hiked up to his hairline, but he turned to the queen respectfully.
"Wizard Tearlach, we have something of a conundrum and need your advice."
"As my queen commands. What can I do for you?"
"As you know, Wynne's coming out party is swiftly approaching, and I have something of a dilemma. Do you remember the knight Sir Edan?"
"Margaret's daughter... of course."
"Yes, well... I need to know if she should be at Wynne's party."
She fully expected to see Tearlach's eyebrows pop right off his face given the expression he made. "My queen," bowing slightly. "No disrespect intended, so please do not misunderstand my question, but why do you need me for such a social decision? Surely you are able to formulate a guest list without consulting me about it."
"Normally yes, but this is a little beyond my scope. Given the circumstances, I thought it best to ask for your input. Will you look and see if you have the answer?"
Aileen didn't explain, but she didn't need to. Tearlach knew. He gazed at her a moment, judging her motives before bowing his head briefly. "As my queen commands... if you'll excuse me?" He knew the answer to her query; he had seen before he had been summoned. But he desired a bit of time to look again and to consider the implications of his vision.
Aileen nodded and Tearlach offered a second bow before turning and striding from the room. He wouldn't take long – too much depended on his answer.
Edan looked up as Dylan entered the command tent unexpectedly. Usually, he kept to a schedule known only to the two of them, so Edan frowned slightly before rising from behind her field desk and moving to greet him. It concerned her to have him show up with no warning; that tended to mean bad news was in the offing.
They exchanged a brief hug – possible only because Edan was clad in a tunic and leggings and not full armor. They pulled away and Dylan captured Edan's hands, pulling her away from the desk and moving over to her small living area. He seated her on her cot and took the tent's only chair and dragged it over beside the bed. Edan arched an eyebrow and smirked.
"Come on, Dylan. You're here two months early... what's up?"
Dylan looked at the ground. "You're not going to like it, E." He reached into his belt pouch and removed a sealed parchment and passed it over to her. Edan took it between two fingers and made a face at it, causing Dylan to chuckle. Edan glared at him and he bit his lip. She turned back to the envelope and turned it over and saw it was sealed twice – once by the king, once by the queen. She turned questioning eyes to Dylan and held the envelope towards him.
He nodded, but didn't answer otherwise. Instead, he stood up and walked over to her water bowl and deliberately turned his back as he started washing up. Edan knew Dylan was doing his best to give her a few minutes of privacy to read and digest whatever new directive had been sent. What concerned her more than anything was the dual seal – no missive had ever carried both before.
Edan stood and crossed back to her desk, using the small dagger to open the envelope, then she slid the parchment out and began reading. Dylan listened carefully, hearing her drop the paper onto the desk and pick up the quill to respond.
"Before you answer that..." he cut in, turning to face her.
"Dylan, I have no desire return to the castle, much less attend a party there. I am satisfied with my life here."
He crossed the room in two strides and plucked the quill from her fingers. "Yes, Edan... but are you happy with it?" He waited, then continued when she didn't make a response. "Edan, you're an exceptional warrior and an outstanding knight; you've proven that fact to everyone. The men would follow you to hell and back and the peasants love you. And yet outside of a very few instances after a terrific victory, I cannot remember the last time you smiled just out of sheer happiness."
He waited, but Edan made no reply. Dylan sighed in frustration. He loved his sister, but she did make him crazy with her stubbornness. "What would it hurt to go back, E? Aside from myself, I know of no close friends in your life. You cannot live your life completely alone, Edan."
"Dylan, you know why I cannot go back there. I gave my word...."
"... to a fourteen year old child, Edan!! A child who has grown up to become a beautiful young woman. Did you ever stop to think things might have changed for her over the years or that the king and queen sent this invitation at her behest? I know Tearlach was consulted before the invitation was written. What about her scares you so much, Edan?"
Blue eyes blazed fire and Dylan just kept himself from flinching from the fury Edan focused on him. Instead he stepped closer into her personal space and reached out a hand to her arm. "Edan, I'm sorry. That was unfair." Dylan said quietly, then waited. She closed her eyes willing herself to calmness. When Edan opened her eyes, Dylan gave a sigh of relief.
"Edan, even taking the princess and this party out of the picture, it would be good for you to go home briefly. I know Mama worries about you; she'd love to see you, even for only a few days – just to see for herself that you are all right." A beat. "I believe the king hopes to honor you for your service as well... personally, I mean."
Edan sighed. "Dylan, why are you trying so hard to convince me? I don't want to do this. I am content with my life as it is. I do not need recognition from the king." Her voice dropped to a whisper and a hand crept up to cover her face. "And I do not want Mama to see me like this."
Dylan gently removed her hand from the massive scar than ran from temple to chin. "Don't be ashamed of this, Edan. You saved my life when you took that blade for me. No one – not Mama or anyone else – is going to think less of you for having it."
"Dylan, no. I appreciate the invitation but I would prefer to remain here."
Dylan dropped his head in defeat. He'd warned them when they'd asked him to deliver the missive that she wouldn't accept, but they had been so sure Edan would jump at the opportunity to return home and be welcomed as a hero. Apparently, Tearlach's assurance that she should be invited convinced them that she would accept without hesitation.
"They're not going to like your answer, E."
She shrugged and turned back to her desk. "It's an invitation, Dylan. It means I get to say no. So I'm saying no – no, thank you, actually." She smiled wryly. "Mama wouldn't stand for anything less."
"I wish you would reconsider," a soft voice spoke from the doorway. Dylan knelt immediately; Edan just crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the intruder. Someone was going to be on latrine duty for the rest of their lives for allowing an intruder into the camp... not to mention into her tent uninvited – gentlewoman or not. Then the stranger reached up and removed her hood, and Edan dropped to her knees and lowered her head.
"My queen?" deciding Dylan would have to die later... after she came up with a suitable way for him to suffer immensely before she killed him.
"Don't blame your brother, Edan. He was acting under my express orders." Aileen turned to Dylan. "Leave us, Dylan. I wish to speak to Edan privately."
Dylan bowed his head, but let his eyes meet Edan contritely. She closed her eyes briefly in forgiveness and he sighed in relief. Then he rose from his spot and left the tent. Aileen waited for the flap to close before she turned back to Edan.
"Rise, Edan," Aileen said, placing a gentle hand on the knight's shoulder. "I'm not going to bite you."
"Can I offer you a drink, my queen? Or a place to sit?"
Aileen removed her cloak and Edan took it with alacrity, hanging it on the tent pole peg and moving a chair closer to the brazier. Aileen took a seat and Edan crossed to her desk and poured the queen a glass of wine. She handed it to Aileen, then moved back to sit behind her desk, eyes focused on the invitation that still sat on top of it.
Aileen watched Edan with interest. She had changed and matured so much since Aileen had last seen her and yet the queen could still see traces of the child she had watched grow up into the woman who now sat before her. Aileen wondered what the story was behind the scar; she had never been notified that Edan had been injured in such a manner. Though come to think of it, she had never been notified that Edan had ever been wounded before. She frowned – why would Edan and Dylan keep things from their king and queen?
Edan waited in silence. She figured the queen would eventually speak, and if she didn't, then Edan wouldn't have to turn her down personally.
"Edan?" waiting for the blue eyes to meet hers. "Tell me about your life here." It wasn't her original intended line of discussion, but Aileen had all the time she needed to talk to Edan. She decided to use the opportunity to learn a little more about the woman who had become a knight by her will.
"My queen?" It wasn't what she'd expected the queen to talk about and it caught her by surprise. Aileen muffled a chuckle and arched an amused eyebrow in Edan' direction.
"It's not that difficult a request, Edan. I simply wish to learn about your life here in the field."
Edan nodded her head. "My apologies, my queen. The request was a little unexpected. What would you like to know?"
Aileen sighed silently. Had it always been so difficult to get conversation from Edan? Then she realized that the younger woman rarely had the opportunity for normal conversation here. According to Dylan, she didn't talk much to anyone outside of doing her duty. She and the men had a healthy respect for one another and military camaraderie between them, but being their leader eliminated any chance of friendship with them. Dylan was her confidante and he wasn't around but half the time.
"I was hoping you would share with me what it has been like for you here; maybe then I could find the appeal that you seem to have found that keeps you from returning home."
Edan blew out a breath. "My queen, please do not take offense – I do appreciate the invitation and the honor, but I have no desire or need to return to the castle. There is nothing there for me. This is my home... my life now."
Aileen bit her lip. This was not going the way she had hoped, but it was going much the way Dylan had warned her it would. She rose from her chair and crossed to the wine, refilling her glass before Edan could even offer the queen a second. Aileen took a healthy swallow before she turned her eyes back to Edan. The knight was a woman of strength and character and it was obvious in the way she held herself, but Aileen could see the tension in her posture as well. She had never seen Edan so uncomfortable before. She decided to try a different tack.
"Edan, do you remember when you first expressed interest in becoming a knight... when Dylan stood up and demanded you be allowed to train with him?" waiting for Edan to nod. "We made a bargain, you and I – do you remember?" Aileen felt Edan slump without having moved a muscle, so she pushed a little more. "I told you - IF you were willing to assume personal responsibility for the protection of the princess, you could train for knighthood. Do you remember that?"
"Yes, my queen. I do. And I served as her protector until such time as the princess could no longer bear my presence and mocked my duty to her and the king."
Aileen blinked; Edward had told her Edan remained out in the field by Wynne's request to Edan, but she hadn't actually believed it. Not that she thought Edward had lied to her, but she did have doubts of Edan's veracity. Who could blame a young ambitious knight from wanting to remain in the field instead of remaining safely in the castle guarding the princess? But in her heart she had known better – she remembered the eyes of the little girl who had made that promise. They were the same stalwart, honest eyes that met hers now.
"Edan, it is still your decision, your choice – but I am asking you to reconsider your determination not to return to the castle." Edan waited quietly for the queen to continue, and Aileen found her direct stare a little unnerving. She straightened and moved away from Edan, feeling those blue eyes follow her as she crossed back over to the fire.
"When you left," Aileen started, her eyes focused in the flames, "Wynne was angry, throwing tantrums. I put it down to her just being at that age – you know what I mean," meeting Edan's eyes and seeing her nod her agreement. "When it became clear you didn't plan to return, she changed. Still angry, she became quiet and withdrawn. She's run off every companion she's had since then and only occasionally can I get her out of those dreadful tunics and leggings she has developed a fondness for."
A raised eyebrow made the queen blush when she realized what she'd said. "I'm sorry, Edan. They are perfectly suitable for you in your line of work, but they are simply not appropriate for a princess of the realm. And now that the time has come to present her as eligible for marriage, she has become impossible... absolutely unreasonable."
"I understand, my queen, and I agree. But what does this have to do with me?"
"Well, to be honest, I am not entirely sure. I only know that you were her best friend once upon a time; this behavior didn't start until you left and it has only gotten progressively worse."
"And why did you wait to come to me about this until now?" The question was almost biting and Aileen wondered if Edan spoke out of fear or anger or hurt. Dylan had told Aileen to expect forthrightness from Edan – she wasn't one to mince her words or play games. But she hadn't expected... this.
Aileen sighed. "It wasn't until one of the ladies-in-waiting mentioned it that I noticed the timing. I thought perhaps putting you back in Wynne's immediate circle might somehow resolve things for her. I came hoping you might reconsider your promise to me and resume your duties as her companion."
Aileen knew it was a low blow, but she was desperate. She would do whatever was necessary to guarantee Edan returned with her. Edan's flinch was barely perceptible but Aileen was watching for it. It made her feel bad, but not enough to retract her words. She waited.
Finally, Edan cleared her throat. "I will do so only under duress," she said in a soft, pained voice, "with the understanding that I return to the castle and Wynne's service in the capacity of a knight of the realm AND that I will be absolved of both the promise to you and the responsibility to her once the princess dismisses me again."
"You're so sure she will refuse your company?"
"Yes, my queen. She made it very clear how she felt about my position – both to her and to the king. She will not tolerate a female knight in her company."
Aileen held Edan's gaze for a long time before nodding in satisfaction. No matter what else, Edan truly believed what she was saying. "Very well," Aileen agreed. "If she will not tolerate your presence as a knight of the realm, you will be released from both promise and responsibility. And you can return to command here or at a new encampment of your choosing."
Aileen stepped into Edan's personal space and took the knight's rough hands in her own smoother ones. "Thank you, Edan. I cannot tell you what this means to me. You won't be sorry you agreed to do this."
Edan didn't say a word, but she didn't have to; the expression in her eyes spoke volumes. I already am, it said clearly. And it pained the queen to realize Edan truly hated the idea of returning to the castle with her – for whatever reason. But she was doing it for Wynne and for that reason alone she remained silent in the face of Edan's unspoken grief.
As the silence grew awkward, Aileen released Edan's hands and turned back to face the fire again. "Right... shall we leave in the morning, then?"
Edan swallowed hard. "As my queen commands," she replied in a voice barely above a whisper. "You are welcome to whatever hospitality the camp can provide, of course, but if you'll excuse me...." Edan didn't wait to be dismissed, but was nothing but a memory by the time the queen had turned from the brazier to reply.
Dylan watched as Edan strode from the tent, headed for the corral. He listened for the sound of rapid hoof beats as she rode out of the encampment, then he returned to the command tent. He was determined to make this as painless for his sister as possible.
I was so excited when the runner arrived with the news that my daughter was coming home. But I couldn't believe the excitement that ran through the household and was at a bit of a loss over it, truth be told. Edan had never been wildly popular that I had been aware of, and yet it was the news of her return and not the queen's that caused people to stir expectantly.
A large crowd had gathered in the courtyard by the time they arrived, but Edan didn't seem to notice. She dismounted her horse as soon as they came to a stop and crossed over to help Aileen from the horse she was riding. I will tell you – that had been quite the surprise. When Aileen had announced her attention to accompany Dylan to the encampment, we fully expected her to take an entire contingent of attendants. Instead, she took Dylan and a small company of guards. I knew she was trying not to draw attention to herself.
I wondered if she hoped the small entourage might encourage Edan to return or perhaps even open up to the queen if she did return, but it was obvious by the look of frustration on Aileen's face when they arrived that in that, at least, she had been unsuccessful.
Edan waited patiently for instruction and two young grooms came for the horses. Edan knelt down to the boy's level and spoke to him; he nodded understanding before slowly accepting the reins from her hands. Then Edan stood and extended her arm to the queen, her bearing as regal as Aileen's. Only a single, wayward glance towards the princess' rooms betrayed the nervousness and discomfort she felt at being in this place.
I wondered what Aileen had said to convince Edan to come home.
The king had cleared the throne room completely when he heard of their return. He didn't want witnesses for this. Edan seated the queen upon her throne beside Edward before stepping back and kneeling before the king for the first time in years. Almost immediately Edward bade her rise, though not before he cast a concerned glance at Aileen. She shook her head just slightly, and Edward knew any sort of explanation would have to wait until later. Then he turned his full attention back to Edan who waited patiently for him to speak.
"Welcome, home, Sir Edan. It is good to have you here with us again." His speech was formal and a bit stilted; he was torn about his feelings of having brought her home for what they both knew amounted to babysitting duties. Her feelings about the matter were unclear, however – her face a controlled, stoic mask. She didn't answer his greeting, merely bowed her head in acceptance of it.
Edward bit his lip. He wasn't sure what he had expected from Edan, but it certainly wasn't the nothing he was getting. "I take it the queen informed you why you were needed here." She gave a single nod of her head. Edward cleared his throat awkwardly and tried not to stare at the scar that graced her face. "Very well. Margaret will escort you to the rooms she has set you up with that adjoin our daughter's. I think you will be comfortable enough there. Perhaps you would like a chance to freshen up. We will speak of things after supper has been served."
Edan bowed again and spoke her first words in days. "As my king commands." Then she strode out of the hall with her mother dashing to keep pace beside her. Only when the doors close on her exit did Edward turn to Aileen.
"Well, you got her here, but at what cost?"
"I merely reminded her of her duty to Wynne."
"I see. And was she as enthusiastic about it then as she seems to be now? Aileen, I do not want to lose my best knight over this. Edan has never been reticent in her missives to me and now suddenly she is almost mute?"
Aileen sighed. "I know, Edward. She hasn't spoken ten words to me outside of what duty demanded of her since she agreed to come back with me. She wouldn't even answer direct questions unless ordered to do so, and even I can't force conversation. But I can't let Wynne continue like this, husband. I thought she would outgrow it; I thought she would welcome the opportunity to become a wife and mother. Instead, we're losing her – as surely as if she was dying."
"You really believe having Edan here as a babysitter will make a difference to Wynne? Have you thought that she might resent the implications of having Edan return for her like this? That Edan's presence might only make things worse?"
Aileen turned furious eyes to Edward. "Yes, Edward, I have thought of all these things. But I am out of ideas. At least after this – even if it doesn't work - I will know I have tried everything I can."
"And if it fails?"
"Edan will return to her duty outside the keep and Wynne will... well, we will find her a suitable mate and that will be that."
"Have you considered how you are going to reintroduce them to one another?"
"No." She bit her nail and looked at her husband sheepishly. "Do have any ideas?"
"Only that it should be private – because if it doesn't go well, I don't want there to be public fallout."
Then the hall doors slammed open and a furious Wynne strode in, eyes flashing with a depth of emotion neither of them had seen in years.
"Would either of you care explain what I just saw in the hall?" Edward and Aileen exchanged startled glances before they turned to their livid offspring. This was not going at all as they had hoped it would; it was shaping up to be a very long evening.
Edan slowed her steps once they were well away from the hall and turned to her mother, extending a concerned arm when she realized Margaret was breathless from trying to keep Edan's brisk tempo. Margaret took the proffered arm gladly.
"How do you manage such a pace with all that armor? You're worse than your brother!"
Edan's eyes dropped. "I'm sorry, Mama."
A hand cupped her cheek, Margaret's thumb gently tracing the scar and encouraging Edan to meet her eyes. "Oh, Edan. I am so glad to have you home."
Edan looked up slowly and saw nothing but warm affection and welcome in the eyes that met hers and she hesitantly opened her arms and tenderly hugged her mother for a long moment when Margaret stepped into her embrace.
"I've missed you, little girl."
That caused Edan's eyebrow to arch significantly as she gazed down at Margaret. Margaret smiled saucily at her and took her arm as they resumed a more sedate pace down the hallway towards the rooms Edan had been assigned.
They were almost there when Wynne's door opened and she stepped out into the hall – stopping short when she realized she wasn't alone. She simply stared at Edan for a long moment, who returned her stare without a hint of apology. Then Wynne turned on her heel and stalked off down the hall. Edan slumped in her armor without a hint of movement. At least now she knew not to bother unpacking her bag... not that she'd brought much. She didn't have much to bring.
"Don't judge her too harshly, daughter. Something troubles Wynne deeply. We are hoping...."
"I know," Edan said softly. "I just think you have all pinned your hopes in the wrong place this time."
Margaret smiled sadly. "Perhaps. But either way, it brought you home, however briefly, and for that I am thankful." She opened the door to Edan's quarters. "Here... these are your rooms now. If you need anything...."
"If I need anything, I will find it myself. My mother wouldn't stand for anything else," she said with a hint of teasing. Margaret caught her breath at the strange familiarity of it. She had missed Edan tremendously; the occasional letter or news from Dylan just wasn't the same thing. So despite the circumstances surrounding her return, Margaret was selfishly glad to have Edan home for as long as she remained. She just hoped it was longer than tonight. Things with Wynne were not off to an auspicious start.
"Would you like me to leave you to freshen up or...?"
"You can stay if you'd like to, Mama. I wouldn't mind."
It was the closest Margaret was going to come to getting an invitation and she knew it. Edan had never been one to ask for anything – even when it was something she desired. She either took it or did without, and Margaret didn't want to see her go without, especially since she coveted the chance to spend some time with Edan. So, she stepped forward and began to learn the various straps and buckles that held Edan's armor in place, sharing news and gossips as though Edan had never been gone. Edan shivered at the awkward normality of it and let her mother do what made her comfortable. It would make a nice memory for her to visit when she returned to the field in a few days.
Edward had been dangerously close to losing patience with Wynne and her attitude, and the princess knew she had crossed a line when he summarily dismissed her before knocking her into next week – or worse. It didn't lessen her anger though, and she turned to her mother for an explanation. Aileen rose from her throne and motioned for Wynne to join her for a walk in the gardens. Wynne did so without a word of argument, but Aileen could still feel the seething emotions rolling from her daughter easily.
They walked in silence for a good hour until Aileen felt Wynne calm. She only hoped it was enough that Wynne was ready to listen – her future depended on it. Surprisingly, Wynne broke the stillness that had settled between them before Aileen could draw a breath to speak.
"Why is Edan here, mother?"
"Why did Edan leave, Wynne?"
Complete quiet met her question for so long Aileen wondered if Wynne was going to answer her. Finally - "Father sent her out on a crusade. I never understood why he did that. There was no reason for her to leave. He had plenty of knights to serve him. Why did he take Edan from me?"
"It was her plan that was being used to defeat the invaders, Wynne. For her not to have been appointed to lead them would have been insulting."
Aileen's words were greeted with silence and she had a passing thought to wonder why they had never had this conversation before. More silence until Wynne broke it once more.
"Why didn't she come home then? I know she could have – all the other knights who served with her did. She's the only one...."
"Why did you send her away?"
This time Aileen didn't get an answer and she knew from experience there was nothing she could do to force Wynne to give her one. After another lengthy silence, the queen decided to take the initiative. She didn't want Wynne to destroy what could be her only opportunity to have Edan back in her life.
"Wynne... daughter," catching Wynne's hand in hers and turning her to face Aileen squarely. "If you do not want Edan in your life any longer, it will only take a word from you to send her back to field command for the rest of her life. You will never see or hear from her again. But if you want her to remain – to be part of your life again – then you need to find a way to insure she knows that. She will serve you with all that she is... swear fealty to you and protect you... if that is your desire. But Wynne, don't take her for granted. She made her promise to me, but she is released from that promise and her responsibility to you if you do not desire her service any longer." She paused. Wynne was no longer looking at her and Aileen wondered what was going through her daughter's mind.
"I didn't mean to send her away. I just wanted her stay; she was my best friend."
Aileen wanted to ask what Wynne could have said to have driven Edan away – it was on the tip of her tongue. Then she bit her tongue and instead asked, "And now?"
Wynne shrugged. "I don't know," pulling her hand from her mother's and walking away from her to watched the sun sink into the tree line. Aileen nodded, then realized Wynne couldn't see the gesture with her back turned. She stepped up behind her daughter though she didn't touch her.
"Then you need to decide, Wynne... and soon. Otherwise, Edan will be gone for good."
They remained in the garden for another few minutes, until the chill of evening began to settle over them. Then Aileen put an arm around Wynne's waist and guided her back into to the castle. Margaret met them at the door with a huge smile and Aileen was grateful that no matter the outcome between Edan and Wynne, at least Margaret had been afforded some time with her long absent daughter.
"Edward said just immediate family tonight for supper. He wants a big welcome home celebration for Edan tomorrow."
Aileen nodded, thankful for Edward's thoughtfulness. That would make things easier for Wynne and Edan; there would be fewer witnesses to make things more awkward than they already were.
"Good. We'll be down for supper directly." She felt Wynne flinch, but they continued back to the royal quarters without hesitation. Aileen turned to Margaret who continued to walk beside them. "Is Cedric excited?"
"I don't know; I haven't seen him yet and neither has Edan. He wasn't in the barns when we went down to say hello."
Aileen grinned. "I hope I get to see that reunion then."
Edan had always been her daddy's girl and Cedric had missed her more sorely than Margaret had, though he never mentioned it. It promised to be a sight when he finally realized she was home, for however brief a time.
"I think you will. I think Edan's going to make an appearance... just for him."
Aileen shooed Wynne into her rooms. "Don't dawdle, Wynne. I want to be in the dining hall before Edan surprises Cedric. We'll be back by to pick you up in a few minutes." Then she closed the door, leaving Wynne alone with a myriad of thoughts running through her mind. Then she turned her attention to cleaning up for supper. As much as she had no desire to face Edan yet, she, like her mother, did not want to miss seeing the look on Cedric's face when he saw his daughter again. And for the first time, Wynne realized just how many people Edan's absence had affected. Then she went to her closet and removed clean clothes, hastily preparing herself for supper with an enthusiasm she hadn't had for years.
Aileen swallowed hard against any exclamations and Margaret merely blinked rapidly when Wynne opened the door to them shortly thereafter. Not only had she gotten ready without argument or complaint, but had taken time and care with her appearance to the point of shedding her preferred tunic and leggings for a simple dress. Not what one would have expected from a princess, but so different from what they had become accustomed to that the two women stared unabashedly at Wynne for a long moment before her blush alerted them to their stares.
Aileen didn't speak, but simply leaned forward and kissed Wynne's cheek. Margaret nodded her approval. Then the three of them headed downstairs to the dining hall.
Cedric and Edward were sitting at the table when the three women entered and they stood immediately, gaping at the difference in Wynne's appearance. Edward crossed the tiles quickly and took Wynne's hands in his with a smile.
"You look beautiful, daughter. Don't you think so, Cedric?"
"Aye, sire. She indeed be a vision."
"Come," Edward said, tucking Wynne's hand into the crook of his elbow. "Let's sit down for supper. I seem to be starving today."
Cedric extended an arm to each of the other women in the room. "Myself as well, majesty," he said with a smile, seating the queen and then Margaret beside her. "Perhaps it be that time of the moon's phase," he added while moving around the table to pull out a chair next to Wynne.
"Perhaps it is all that fresh air," a voice from the doorway replied, and Cedric froze in his tracks. Slowly he brought his eyes up and what he saw caused the tears to well and flow down his cheeks unashamedly. Edan smiled at him crookedly and pushed off the doorjamb, moving into the room with precise, measured steps. Cedric came from around the table at a faster pace and simply lifted her off the ground in his strong arms when he reached her. Edan buried her head in his neck and just held on while he rocked her back and forth.
Margaret and Aileen exchanged tearful smiles and Edward beamed like bringing Edan home had been all his idea. Wynne watched the tableau unfold in front of her thoughtfully, bottom lip caught between her teeth. She had seen the welcome Edan had received from the populace of the keep that afternoon just for coming home again; surely there would be a way to keep her here, even if Wynne didn't take her as a companion and protector. She would have to think about it.
Then Cedric put Edan's feet back on the floor, keeping an arm around her strong shoulders and brushing a kiss across her temple. Edan patted his chest and led them back to the table. Cedric, not knowing the truth behind Edan's continued absence, walked her around to sit next to Wynne. Edan closed her eyes, then took the seat he offered her and the rest of the room let out a relieved sigh. Edan admitted this was probably the best choice of available seats; at least here she wouldn't have to face Wynne. Hopefully, the meal would pass quickly.
It was a vain hope, however. Cedric was too excited about her return and in an abrupt departure from his normally quiet nature kept the conversation rolling. Edward, Aileen and Margaret did their part as well, but Edan and Wynne remained silent for the most part, unless a question was specifically directed towards them.
Finally, Edward brought the evening to a close standing and watching the rest follow suit. "Well, family... this has been wonderful, but Edan and I have kingdom business to discuss and it is getting late. If you will excuse us...."
Cedric looked like he wanted to protest, but thought better of it and instead crossed to the other side of the table to wrap Edan in his arms once more. "It's good to have ya home, lassie... for however long you be here for." Then he kissed her and moved around to wait for Margaret at the door. Wynne had already made her way out into the hallway, but waited patiently for her mother as she had every single night since Edan had left. She smiled at Cedric as he reached her.
"You are very glad to have Edan home, aren't you, Cedric?"
"Aye, lass. Even though I know she be a grown woman and a knight of the realm, Edan be my little girl and always will. Does my heart good to have her home for a bit, even if it only be a few days."
Wynne blinked. Cedric had never been a verbose man, especially around her. But she could see how important Edan's presence was to him. Then she didn't have time to think any longer as Aileen and Margaret came up beside her and Cedric and they all headed back to their respective rooms.
Edan sat quietly holding the glass of wine the king had insisted on giving her looking into the flames of the large fireplace. Edward was trying to make her comfortable and it was putting Edan's teeth on edge. So she decided to wait to hear him out.
Edward spent a long moment studying her. She was the young woman he had seen grow up from childhood, and yet she was so different. He wasn't sure how to treat her; worse, he wasn't sure how she expected to be treated. There was strength and purpose in her posture; Edward wished he could see her eyes, but she remained focused on the fire.
He wondered about the scar; he had known she'd been injured but no one had included a report on the damage that had been done nor how it had been wrought. Obviously she had recovered well enough from it, but it made him wonder how much more had been kept from him at her discretion. Not that he could complain, given her track record. She bore his regard stoically and eventually Edward spoke.
"So how long will you be here, Edan?" putting the ball in her court. As his best knight, she deserved the courtesy of being allowed to make her own decision.
"I serve at the pleasure of the king, sire."
"You would stay if I asked."
"As my king commands."
"Even though your heart is in the field? Even if...." He stopped speaking when Edan turned fiery eyes in his direction.
"The queen promised if the princess could not tolerate my presence as a knight of the realm, I would be released from both my promise and my responsibility as Wynne's companion and protector and that I could return to my field command. However, I serve at the pleasure of the king," she gritted out the last through clenched teeth, then closed her eyes to reign herself in.
Edward smiled. It was good to see the fire he remembered; then he sobered. Edan was so obviously miserable, and yet she continued to serve at his pleasure with honor. He changed the subject. "Tell me how things are for you and the men. I get the reports," he said with a wave of his hand. "But I would appreciate your observations first hand."
Edan opened her eyes and nodded and Edward was pleased to see her firmly in control again. That fierceness was what made her undefeatable in battle, but he was not comfortable having it focused in his direction – it was completely unnerving. When Edan began to speak, Edward closed his eyes and let her voice lull him into a place where men and knights lived and worked. Maybe tomorrow they could talk about Wynne.
Wynne sat in the window looking out at the land stretched out beneath her and the moon that hung high about. She had a good many things to think about. She understood her mother had been giving her a warning about things, but she still felt some residual anger at Edan for leaving, no matter how misplaced the feeling was. The real question was whether or not maintaining her anger was worth losing Edan forever.
A knock on her door caused a frown to cross her face, but Wynne slipped from the sill she had been sitting on and walked over to the door. She opened it to find Margaret standing there, and after only a moment's hesitation, widened it enough for the chatelaine to enter. Margaret did so with the smallest nod of her head.
"I just came to check and make sure you were settled, princess," much as she had done every night since Edan had departed those years ago.
"I'm fine, Margaret, thank you," as she had always responded, even when it wasn't true. Margaret bowed slightly and turned back to the door. Then Wynne spoke impulsively. "Margaret, can I ask you something?"
"Of course, princess," turning back to face Wynne. "What would you like to know?"
Wynne swallowed and walked back to the window, looking out at the vista with unseeing eyes this time. She couldn't face those eyes, not knowing it was her fault the woman behind her had lost her daughter for so long. She'd felt Cedric's excitement; how much more did Margaret feel? How much did she blame Wynne for what had happened, especially since Edan had come home damaged?
"Are you glad Edan is home, Margaret?"
Margaret bit her lip on her first response – what kind of question was that really, to ask a mother about a child she had missed terribly and hadn't seen in years?? Then she realized what Wynne was asking and she considered her answer carefully.
"I'm glad to have her here again, of course, and I will cherish every moment we have together. But I have no desire for her to remain here if her heart is not here as well. She is a wonderful knight, princess, a legend in her own time and it is what makes her happy. More than anything else, I want my daughter to be happy in her life."
"Even if it meant she never came home again?"
"Even if, Wynne. For me, Edan's happiness is about what's doing best for Edan. That doesn't mean I get what I want out of her life. It means she does." Margaret shrugged. "Being a knight makes her happy," she reiterated.
"What if she could be a knight here... at the castle?"
Margaret's eyes widened but that was her only visible reaction. "That would be up to her, princess, or the king."
"Yes, princess?" noting the defeated slump of Wynne's shoulders.
"What...?" Wynne cleared her throat and tried again. "What happened to Edan? How did she get that scar?"
"I don't know, princess. You'll have to ask her; she hasn't shared that with me."
Wynne nodded. "I'm sorry, Margaret. Thank you."
Even though the princess couldn't see it, Margaret bowed again before she left the room. Wynne returned to her silent contemplation of everything in the world... except Edan.
The sound of blades clanging together drew a crowd, even though the sun was just peeking over the horizon. It hadn't been hard to find a few fellow knights to work out with, though they had been less than thrilled with the before dawn thing. They had tried to explain to Edan that most of the castle inhabitants waited until after daylight to begin their day, but she was quite convincing. Not that anyone tried hard - they were too happy to see Edan again. Most of them had served with her at one time or another and she had earned their respect.
So now, just at daybreak, the courtyard was full of knights sparring – or more precisely... it was full of knights who were waiting their turn to spar with Edan. She had already defeated an even half dozen when Wynne slipped from her bed and walked to the corner of the window to watch the action unseen.
The fighting shifted in intensity when Edward stepped from the castle with his sword drawn and crossed to the middle of the fray. The knight Edan was sparring with backed off as soon as Edward entered the ring. Edan, on the other hand, gave Edward no quarter, and he lost his sword to her scant moments after facing her.
She waited confidently for him to retrieve his blade, then resumed the fight when Edward indicated his readiness. She backed off a bit, just to give the king a chance to spar, but he grew angry when he realized he wasn't getting her best effort.
"Do it, Edan. Don't play. If you can defeat me, then do so," not even seeing the move that caused blade to fly out of his hand again; he had been too busy watching the fierce change in her expression. His eyebrows hiked up to his hairline, then he scowled.
"Damn it!" he muttered and glared at her well-hidden twinkle. "All right... teach me that move." The crowd of knights held their breath and waited. Edan looked around at them and shrugged.
"All right. Form your rows and I'll show you. But I'll warn you that while the form is easy enough to learn, it takes years of practice to hone into a viable skill in combat."
Edward was the first in line, and quickly the rest of the contingent fell into place. Soon, Edan was giving instruction to a group of avid learners, including the king.
I don't think my daughter knows how charismatic she is - still. I'm certain she was unaware of the audience her little impromptu sparring session garnered. When the bell chimed for breakfast, she looked to the king who nodded, then broke up the assembly of knights before escaping back to her quarters. I was glad to have been chatelaine; I made sure Edan had hot water for bathing in... a rare luxury for her indeed at that point in her life.
It was during this bath that Wynne unexpectedly reentered Edan's life. I don't know if it was fortuitous circumstance or bad luck, but I do most certainly believe it is what got us to where we are today. And yet, knowing what I do know, I wouldn't change a thing – even if it put me back in the castle as chatelaine. I keep hoping that one day Edward will come around and be happy about how things worked out. For now, though... can I get you anything else? There is still a bit of tale to be telling, and never let it be said that Margaret O'Leary was a bad hostess.
No? Then let me tell on. It gets interesting from here.
Edan emerged from beneath the water with a sputter, then choked as she realized she was not alone in her room. She'd seen no need to lock the door; she wasn't interesting enough for anyone to bother her here. She blinked the water from her eyes and immediately recognized Wynne's grown up form. Edan didn't speak, waiting for Wynne to break the silence. Since Wynne had come to her, she assumed the princess had something to say and would share eventually. Edan just got on with the process of bathing in the meantime. If she only had a few days here, she had business that needed to be attended to – princess or not.
For her part, Wynne had knocked on the door when she heard Edan return from the courtyard and she had expected her to open the door. When Edan didn't answer, Wynne had opened the door and stepped into the room, planning to leave the journal she'd brought for Edan to read, only to be caught by a pair of bright blue eyes as Edan popped up from the tub rim. Instantly Wynne turned away to give Edan a bit of privacy and herself a moment to settle her nerves. This was a lot harder than she had expected it to be.
The sound of a body rising from the water made Wynne half turn before she realized what she was turning around to. Then she blushed and turned back towards the window, hoping Edan would do her the courtesy of letting her know when she was dressed without simply leaving.
Edan dried herself carefully and dressed as quickly as she could manage. Though she had long since lost any modesty she'd been born with, she appreciated the fact that Wynne was doing her the courtesy of offering her a bit of privacy. That thought twisted Edan's lips since it would have been a moot point if Wynne had respected her privacy enough not to have come in without an invitation in the first place. Whatever she wanted, it must be of great importance to Wynne. Edan just hoped it didn't create bigger problems between them. She had no desire to fight with Wynne in the brief time she expected to be in the castle, because she was under no illusion that Wynne would want her to remain in any capacity.
Edan tied the belt on her tunic and walked over to where Wynne still stood, her eyes completely focused on the leaded window. So Edan was confident Wynne's thoughts were miles away from where she was – nothing was clear through the thick panes. She had no idea Wynne's thoughts were about the two of them, and how they had come to this place.
"Princess?" Edan said softly, not wishing to disturb Wynne if she were deep in thought. She'd thought of simply leaving, but obviously Wynne had a reason for being in Edan's room, so....
Wynne took a deep breath and turned to face the woman who had been her best friend most of her growing up years. Edan hadn't changed much – her face was leaner, and there was the scar, of course. But the body was still whip thin and even the leggings and tunic couldn't hide the strength of muscle that lay beneath them. And the eyes... the eyes were still bright and sparkling, though Wynne could easily read Edan's hesitation in the glance before all she saw was dark hair as Edan bowed.
"Edan, please," Wynne implored, hoping the knight would somehow make things easier for her to bear.
"How may I serve you, princess?"
Wynne closed her eyes. "You used to call me Wynne."
"We were friends then, princess. Now I am merely a knight of the realm." Edan paused when she heard Wynne's sharp intake of breath. She didn't want to hurt Wynne's feelings, but she no longer knew where she stood. "How may I serve you?" she asked again.
"Look at me."
The difference in tone was astounding and Edan's head jerked up in surprise more than anything else. When she looked up she saw a woman in front of her, and not the child she remembered. Wynne stepped closed, into Edan's personal space. Edan remained still, only her eyes following Wynne's progress, even when she raised a hand and cupped the scarred cheek. Edan fought to keep her eyes open and focused on the expression on Wynne's face.
"Tell me about the scar, Edan."
Now the blue eyes closed. "I would prefer not to, princess."
Wynne sighed. "Edan, if you are going to serve as my companion and protector, we're going to need to be open and honest and trust one another. I realize it will take us a while to be friends again, but I would like to try. And I think understanding what happened to each other while we were apart will help that." She paused a beat, watching Edan's eyes widen in amazement. Wynne smiled shyly. "I'm not the brash child I once was Edan. When I realized what it had cost me...." She blew out a ragged breath and looked away.
Edan reached up and removed Wynne's hand from her face but kept it firmly in her grasp. Wynne turned back to face Edan, eyes searching.
"I never stopped being your friend, Wynne. Dylan made sure I knew everything, and if you had needed me... if you had called for me... I would have come."
"Will you stay now, then?"
Edan closed her eyes. "Princess... Wynne – I'm still the knight I was when I left; are you sure?"
There was no hesitation, no thought required. "Yes," came the simple, heartfelt request, and Edan bowed to the inevitable.
"By your command then, princess."
"No, Sir Edan... by your choice. Now," Wynne continued before Edan could dispute her claim. "I brought my journal for you to read... so you could get an idea of who I have become."
"Princess... Wynne – that's very personal, private. Are you sure you want to share that part of yourself with me?"
Wynne bit her lips pensively and extended the bound pages to Edan, nodding. "I thought about this a long time, Edan. I don't know of a better way for us to become reacquainted. And you deserve to know the person I have become – this is the easiest and most thorough way to do that."
Edan accepted the book slowly. "I'll guard your trust in me, Wynne. I um... I don't have a diary. The closest I have are the reports I sent and those are a little sparse on details."
"Why?" At Edan's quizzical look, Wynne continued speaking. "Why sparse on the details?"
Edan shrugged. "I put in what was necessary. You know I was never crazy about writing."
Wynne smiled. "Well, the journal is full of all sorts of odd details." She blushed. "I wrote the entries in the form of letters to you. I always hoped one day you'd come home. But you wouldn't have, would you?"
Edan shook her head. "No, princess. I told you that you would no longer be troubled by my presence here and I meant it. Had it not been for your mother insisting that I had reneged on my promise to her, I would not be here now. I came back with the understanding that once you dismissed me again, I would be free from that promise."
"You really expected me to dismiss you?"
Edan nodded. "As far as I knew, you still felt the same about my service as a knight. And I am a warrior first, Wynne. I always have been."
Wynne sat down on the small settee and pulled Edan down beside her by their still linked hands. "I know that, Edan. I knew that then. I just didn't want you to leave and lashed out at the thing that was taking you away from me. You have always been my best friend – I didn't want to lose that, but I did anyway."
Edan squeezed the hand still in her grip and smiled crookedly at Wynne. "I'll stay as long as you need me to Wynne... although from what the queen was telling me, that won't be for very much longer." The scowl on Wynne's face was a very good indication of how she felt about that, but Edan felt compelled to push her a little on it. She wasn't going to go into this with any misunderstandings between them. "Princess?"
Wynne pulled her hand from Edan's grasp and stood up to pace in from of her. "I hate this! I hate feeling like some prize being auctioned off to the highest bidder as a brood mare."
"You think that's what your father is going to do – let you go to the highest bidder?"
"All I know is what I feel, and I don't want to be forced to marry someone I don't know or care about! What about love and caring and tenderness? It shouldn't about land and money and armies, and yet that is all it amounts to. It is my duty to marry someone to strengthen the kingdom; that has been drilled into my brain since I was old enough to understand."
"You don't think your parents want you to be happy?"
Wynne shrugged disconsolately and plopped back down beside Edan. "I think they do, but duty comes first. They were lucky – they actually liked one another before the marriage was arranged."
"You don't think you'll like your husband?"
"I think my likes and dislikes are going to come in a distant second to what is best for everyone else."
"Maybe you'll get lucky."
Wynne snorted in a most undignified fashion. "Maybe pigs will start flying to the slaughterhouse too, but I am not going to hold my breath on it."
"You really do hate this, don't you?" Edan said softly, feeling the trembling in the body next to her.
"Wouldn't you?" Wynne asked frankly. "I wish I could marry you or Dylan. At least I know you both and we like each other." Wynne wiggled her eyebrows. "Then you could be my companion and protector forever - problem solved."
Edan cleared her throat, mind still reeling from the implications of Wynne's casual words. "Well, it might solve some, but I am fairly confident it would cause a host of others."
"Doesn't matter... it would be worth it. Maybe I will tell father than any suitors would have to defeat my champion in combat. Would you fight for me?"
Edan blinked at the rapidity things were spiraling out of control but nodded gamely. "As my princess commands."
"Good, glad that's settled," Wynne said with conviction. "Perhaps one day you will be able to share with me the story behind your scar, but for now...."
"For now, I need to escort you wherever you need to go... although we should probably let your parents know I have resumed my role as your companion."
"And protector," Wynne insisted. "I'm going to need you to protect me from all the supposed suitors that will be arriving here next few weeks."
Edan bowed her head. "Allow me to don my sword first then, princess. I cannot defend your honor without it." She strapped it on while a fascinated Wynne watched the transformation take place before her eyes. When Edan twirled her cloak into place, Wynne sighed.
"Wow," softly, but Edan heard her.
"What?" extending an arm and reaching out with a crooked smile on her face to tuck Wynne's hand into the crook of her arm.
"You change... when you put the sword on - you stand differently, you look different."
Now the smile became a full-fledged grin. "I *am* different, Wynne. It's like when you put on your crown for formal occasions. You become more than Wynne – you become the princess of the realm. When I put on weapons or armor, I am more than just Edan – I am Sir Edan, knight of the realm and commander of legions of men." She paused. "Now, let's go find your mother. She needs to know she won."
"Yes, it was a gamble coming out to the field to bring me back here." Edan looked at their close proximity and Wynne's hand clasping her arm. "I'm glad she did."
"Me too," said simply and quietly, but the smile behind the words was blinding.
I was there when she and Wynne strolled into the throne room together that first day. They made a beautiful couple and the whispers were flying around the room before the doors closed behind them after they were admitted. Edward accepted the pronouncement as gracefully as he could manage; he wasn't happy about losing Edan to Wynne, but he was resigned to it. And secretly he was glad someone else was responsible for Wynne during what promised to be a difficult time to say the least. He wanted his daughter to be happy, but he also had the kingdom to think about.
Edan's welcome home party was quite the celebration, since she was remaining for an undetermined amount of time, and Edward kept his word and publicly acknowledged her accomplishments with the honors and awards she'd earned during her time in the field. I think Edan was a little embarrassed by the attention, but Wynne clapped and cheered for each one, pinning them on as her father announced and presented them.
I didn't see Edan much in the days that followed; personally, I had my hands full trying to get ready for the debutante ball. There was so much to do and so many plans that had to be made. There were any number of eligible men, young and old, who were traveling in to attend, and I had to ensure they each had a place as well as somewhere to stake the courtiers and servants that traveled in their entourage.
She and Wynne spent most of their time together. It was a little awkward at first, but that changed quickly enough as they settled into a regular routine. Edan began sparring with the knights, and occasionally the king, first thing in the morning. Sometimes Wynne attended, but mostly she watched from her bedroom window, sometimes writing. Edan did various things while Wynne had fittings or did her sewing. Usually she went riding, but she also spent time with her father or me or she was with the king, called in for advice on some military matter or other. Sometimes, she simply sat with Wynne and they talked quietly together about a myriad of things, though the sewing circle was never allowed to participate on those days.
A portion of their day together Edan spent teaching Wynne some self-defense moves that didn't require her to carry a weapon. It was an accidental discovery on my part and I couldn't imagine why Wynne or Edan felt the need to for it. I mean, that was what Edan was there for, right... protecting Wynne? But I didn't see the harm in it, so I let the knowledge slide.
They also spent their evenings after supper reading together – again the knowledge was gained accidentally. I happened to be bringing Wynne's evening tea up instead of the usual girl and found them curled up together as they had done as children. Edan appeared to be reading Wynne's diary and Wynne was looking over some reports. They exchanged a few quiet words, totally engrossed in one another; they never even noticed me in the room with them. It was unexpected given their initial discomfiture together, but it was nice to see them getting along so well again. It made for a much more pleasant household overall.
Either way, we were all quite busy in the days leading up to the ball, but though we could all see the changes having Edan back in her life made for Wynne, only Edan saw Wynne's true revulsion at what was coming. And then the day of the ball arrived....
A knock on the door made Edan glare and growl in that direction until she relented in defeat. "Come in!!" so forcefully that Margaret hesitantly eased her head around the door before crossing the threshold and closing the door behind her.
All around Edan were a number of armor pieces and Margaret's brows rose into her head. "I came to see if I could give you a hand," Margaret said softly. "I think it is a good thing I did."
Edan dropped on the stool in defeat. "I'll never get into all this otherwise," she admitted. "My squire – actually mine and Dylan's – is in the camp. Dylan rarely wore the full complement of armor when he was here and it is necessary in the field. I did not even think about this when I left Henry with Dylan."
Margaret smiled. "No... you were thinking about the best way to take care of your brother. He always did the same thing with you. Now, if you will tell me what pieces go where, I will help you get ready. You're escorting the princess into the ball, aren't you?"
Edan nodded forlornly. "I was her choice. I don't think the king was very happy about that."
"He'll get over it," Margaret snorted softly. "Come on then; stand up so we can get this on you."
Edan had already donned her soft undergarment and the chain mail; all that was left were the heavy plates. The legs were done first, lower then upper, and they weren't too difficult to handle. Margaret groaned though as she lifted the back piece; Edan held the front with one hand and clipped them together tightly. Then she hopped to settle everything in place and Margaret jumped at the metallic clash that echoed through the room.
"My word, you look so imposing," Margaret commented. Edan smirked.
"Wait... I'm not done yet." She buckled on her sheath and shoved her sword into it with a sense of purpose, then put the sash that bore testament to her skills and honors over her head and made it lay flat against the crest that decorated the chest plate of her armor. At the top, against her left shoulder was the princess' crest, declaring Edan's first allegiance, and the rest followed down to nearly her right hip in an order known only to Edan. Lastly, she picked up a crimson cloak and swirled it around her shoulders and Margaret stepped forward once more to fasten it. Then she stepped back to observe the finished effect.
"Amazing," she said with awe. Edan smiled.
"You never expected this from the little girl who hated to dress up, did you?"
Margaret returned the grin with a hint of mischief. "I believe I would still get the same pained expression if you were wearing a dress now instead of armor." A slight nod of her head was Edan's only concession to that truth. "Are you going to leave your hair down?"
"Yes. Since I am not wearing the helmet, I see no need to tie it back," not adding that Wynne had asked her to leave the shoulder length hair loose. Margaret nodded.
"Very well. Let me go to the queen. I am escorting her to the ballroom; Edward and Cedric should be there already. Receiving of he guests will start as soon as Aileen gets there. You go to Wynne and be quick. This party cannot start until you are there... and don't even think about it, Edan," having seen the devilish look cross her face. "You have to be there, and so does Wynne." Edan held the door for her mother and accepted her kiss with only a hint of the surprise she felt. "I'm proud of you, Edan – not only who and what you have become, but also that you came home and gave Wynne another chance. I think it has been good for everyone... even Edward... but especially Wynne."
"I am not sure the king would agree with you, Mama."
"He would, even if it was only grudgingly. But Aileen and Wynne certainly would with enthusiasm. Now go fetch the princess and let's get this party started." Edan rolled her eyes in exasperation, but nodded her agreement and stepped out behind her mother. Then she crossed to the princess' door, knocked hesitantly and waited.
Oh my Lord... if I thought the whispers that had started their first day in court together were bad, what happened when they stepped into the ballroom was a deluge. Everything actually came to a complete standstill – even the sound in the room stopped for long seconds before Edward shook himself out of his stupor and motioned to the trumpeters. With a flourish, they blared a welcome and Wynne was presented to the expectantly waiting crowd.
I wasn't the only one who noticed that Wynne never let go of Edan's hand.
"Wynne, stop fidgeting. You look beautiful," Edan complimented sincerely, patting the hand that was tucked into the crook of her elbow. They were taking very slow, measured steps towards the ballroom, not quite dragging, but certainly not in any rush to get there.
"I feel like a whore." Her words caused Edan to draw them to a sudden stop.
"Wynne," carefully taking the princess' face in her hands. "You look beautiful. Nothing is going to happen tonight that you do not want to happen."
"Tonight is going to happen even though I do not want it to, Edan." The sadness in her eyes made Edan's heart ache and she pulled Wynne gently into her armor clad body, wrapping strong arms around her and hugging her for a long moment. Finally, Wynne took a shuddering breath and pulled back just enough to look into Edan's eyes. "Will you dance with me?" she asked softly.
Edan's eyes widened and she looked around the empty hall. "Here??"
That got a chuckle out of Wynne and garnered Edan a slap on her chest plate. "Ow," Wynne muttered and Edan smirked. She hadn't expected the reaction but it was good to see Wynne smile again whatever the reason behind it. "No, Edan. I want you to dance the first dance with me when we get to the hall."
"Isn't that the king's privilege?"
"It is my choice."
Edan looked into the green eyes looking back at her with directness. She nodded. "As my princess commands."
"NO, Edan. Not this time. Dance with me because you want to... or don't. I am not commanding this – I won't."
The fierceness of Wynne's intensity was surprising to Edan and she gazed into the face of someone she suddenly realized was grown up. The reading of Wynne's journal had shown her the truth, but for the first time Edan came face to face with the reality of Wynne's maturity and adulthood. Edan took a deep breath; she could feel their dynamic shifting and felt sensation sparking between them. This was more than friendship, even between best friends. Another deep breath and Edan surrendered.
"It would be my honor, Wynne."
Her smile was blinding and without a word, Wynne took Edan's arm once more, and they completed the short journey to the ballroom.
The trumpets made her jump and Wynne clung to Edan's hand tightly, even when her father presented her to the waiting crowd. He frowned slightly; Edward had known Wynne and Edan had renewed their friendship, but he hadn't realized how close the two had really grown in the few short weeks Edan had been back. What had brought about such a dramatic change?
Edward extended his hand to escort Wynne out for the first dance, but she shook her head. Instead, she turned to Edan and together the two walked out onto the dance floor and waited for the music to start. There was only the briefest hesitation of surprise before the maestro waved his arms and the music followed.
Aileen took Edward's arm and with a tilt of her head, the royal couple joined their daughter and her knight companion on the floor. He had been unpleasantly surprised and very disappointed with Wynne's rejection, especially when she chose Edan over him. Perhaps he would send Edan back to the field; then this wouldn't be a problem.
Then he realized he was jealous; not of Edan in particular so much, though there were certainly unexpected complications because of whom and what Edan was. More, he was jealous over the fact that his daughter was old enough to choose now, and she hadn't chosen him. It suddenly occurred to Edward that that was precisely the reason for tonight's celebration – an acknowledgment of Wynne's adulthood and beginning the process of giving her to someone else's keeping. The thought saddened him as he understood the reality of it.
"Does it bother you so much, husband?" Aileen asked quietly as he led her around the floor. She had watched the expressions shift on his face and she finally felt compelled to speak when his face became one of sadness.
"What, my love?" smiling sadly at Aileen. Theirs had been a good marriage and he suddenly realized he wanted the same for Wynne. And he knew the likelihood of that was very slim. He and Aileen had known and liked one another before their fathers had arranged their marriage to strengthen both households. There was no one like that for Wynne.
"That Wynne chose Edan."
He shook his head. "It was disappointing, but that is not what is troubling me." She waited, knowing there was more. "I just realized what a small chance Wynne has of finding happiness like we have. She doesn't even know most of the men in this room much less have anything in common with them. And the one who has the most to offer the kingdom as an ally...." Edward broke off and shook his head. "I'm just being morose, Lee."
"You'll figure it out, Edward – you always do. At least Wynne looks happy at the moment."
The monarchs turned to watch Wynne and Edan dance together, lost in their own little world. Indeed, they both looked completely content and Aileen wondered if Edward had considered the possibility of Edan as a possible mate for their daughter. She doubted it – as much as she loved her husband, he rarely thought outside the box his father had shown him, though he did manage to surprise her once in a while. Perhaps she would talk to Tearlach; maybe if he had seen something between them, together they would be able to show Edward the rightness of it.
She never stopped to think of the consequences.
Wait... I know what you're thinking, and you're partly right. Aileen was as aware of what was going on as I was, though it wasn't until near the end that she and I put our information together and realized the truth. But I was not going to let Edward be completely idiotic; it would have killed them both. So instead, I accepted the responsibility for keeping the knowledge from him, though it was perfectly plain for anyone with half an eye to see if they were looking.
Of course, I say that with the vision of hindsight. At the time, it was just... well, let's just say no one was really looking. No one except Tearlach that is, and that wizard rarely spoke of things not his business unless asked. It is how he has survived as long as he has.
But while it was happening, we all played at blissful ignorance...except Cedric, though I didn't hear about that until later either. It wouldn't have changed anything, though. There are some things – some destinies – that cannot be changed. This was one of those.
"Are you having a good time, princess?" The older man's voice grated on her nerves for reasons she couldn't explain and Wynne looked to see Edan two steps away.
"Not really," she said plainly. The man in question looked shocked. Surely any other girl in the kingdom would have been thrilled with such attention, especially with so many eligible suitors in the room. He counted himself lucky to be of an age and position where he was considered to be at the top of that list. He let his gaze wander down Wynne's body. The princess would make a fine bride and bear him beautiful children. Becoming the ruler of the land would be a nice perk as well.
He smirked and reached her face with one hand, only to have her jerk away from his touch. Then he reached out his other hand towards her body, only to find it caught in a hold of chain mail and soft skin. He growled and tried to jerk it free, only to find his chin grasped in a similar fashion. He met blue eyes filled with fury.
"I suggest you put your lewd thoughts and wandering hands somewhere where they won't get you killed. Because the next time you take such liberties with the princess, I will do more than break your hand," squeezing until the bones popped and he whimpered from the pain. "Do yourself a favor, Roland," deliberately dropping his title, "and leave now."
"I demand satisfaction, sir!"
"Are you so anxious to die, then? Please, by all means then – make your demands known to the king."
"Edan?" Wynne's voice was soft in the darkness coming from where she now stood just behind the knight. She had moved away as soon as Edan had stepped between her and Roland, and though she was thankful for the rescue, she had no desire to turn the ball into a forum for dueling.
Edan reached out a hand and pulled Wynne to her side without allowing her gaze to leave Roland. He was known to be without honor and she wouldn't be surprised to have him pull a knife when her back was turned. "It's his choice, Wynne," watching him flinch with her use of the princess' first name instead of her title. "But either way your father will hear of this incident before the night is over. As your protector, I cannot allow the likes of him to take liberties that would sully your honor."
"Walk away, Sir Roland. You will never be considered an eligible suitor again... at least as far as I am concerned."
"You can't do that, princess. You don't get to make that decision. That is for your father to decide."
"Then allow me to go get him, and you can explain your actions to him right now."
"That won't be necessary, Wynne. I saw most of it, and I'm sure I can fill in the details fairly easily." Margaret and Aileen had stepped out briefly for some air and were in the shadows of the porch when Wynne had stepped out followed by Edan and Roland – in that order. Aileen had immediately dispatched Margaret to fetch Edward to them. "Would you like to explain why Sir Edan felt it imperative to step between you and my daughter?"
Roland growled. "I don't know, sire; because she wants the princess for herself?? I did nothing wrong. Surely you don't believe the word of a woman over me, your majesty. I am the best candidate for your daughter's husband."
"And she is my most trusted and valued knight. I have already committed Wynne's safety into her hands. She has never given me reason to doubt her. Do yourself a favor – leave before I have you locked up in the dungeon."
"You can't do that!"
"Guards." It wasn't spoken loudly, but it wasn't necessary. A half dozen men had followed Edward out of the ballroom and were awaiting his command. They stepped forward instantly. "Escort Roland to the dungeon. I will deal with him at court tomorrow." He turned to Wynne. "Would you dance with your old man now?"
Wynne smiled and accepted his hand. They stepped back into the ballroom and Edwards waved his hand at the conductor. "Maestro, play something! This is a party!" And soon the sound of revelry filled the air once more.
I was so proud of Edan that night – not so much for standing up for Wynne; that was part of her duty and I expected her to fulfill that no matter her feelings. It was just the kind of person she was. No, the reason I was so proud of her was because of the restraint she showed. Sounds a little ridiculous, eh? It's not, honestly.
You see, even though no one had clued in to what was going on between them at this point – not even them – Edan had always been fiercely protective of Wynne and taken her safety personally. As a teenager, she had done serious damage to several grown men when they had thought to simply tease Wynne. The fact that she didn't kill Roland outright for his presumption and arrogance was a sign of her maturity and self-control.
It was the only thing that saved her later.
"Thank you, Edan." They strolled slowly back towards Wynne's quarters a good while later. The party had resumed, but most were much more respectful in their attitude towards both Wynne and Edan. It had been interesting for Edan to watch, but it was gratifying to know that she was being taken seriously. Perhaps they would have less stupidity to deal with now during the courting/negotiation process which would begin now that Wynne had been introduced to the kingdom at large.
"For what, princess? Ack!" almost stumbling when Wynne jerked on her cloak hard enough to nearly cause her to trip. Edan glared at Wynne who smiled at her saucily. "What was that for?"
Wynne laughed. "Like you don't know – to either question. I hate being put up for the highest bidder, but you made tonight at least bearable. And you managed to get rid of the worst of the lot and the most likely candidate all in one fell swoop."
"I only did my duty, princess. He managed to slit his own throat."
"I wonder what my father has in mind for his punishment."
"I suppose we will find out at court. Will you be attending?"
"*We* will be attending. I want to make sure the message is clear." They reached her room and Edan opened the door.
Wynne stood on tiptoes and brushed her lips across Edan's cheek. "Goodnight, my knight defender."
"Do you have anything to say for yourself, Roland?" Court was filled to a standing room only capacity with everyone from the party in attendance. They had heard bits of what had happened the night before and were all anxious to witness the outcome. Aileen sat on her throne with Margaret behind her and to one side. Wynne sat on Edward's other side with Edan in full armor behind her. Roland cut his eyes in her direction before focusing his attention on the king.
"Your majesty," he whined plaintively. "This is ridiculous. I didn't do anything wrong."
"You tried to take liberties with my daughter, and when her companion put a swift stop to it, you challenged her. Perhaps you would like to follow through with that challenge now?"
"Surely you jest, highness," with a nervous chuckle. No one made a sound waiting for Edward's response. It was clear he was not amused. Honestly, he'd had a different punishment in mind for Roland, but he and Edan had talked briefly that morning and she had indicated a willingness to champion Wynne. Edward wanted to see if Roland was man enough to follow through.
"No, Roland. I'm very serious. You issued the challenge; either you follow through with it or I will strip you of titles and lands and banish you from the kingdom. Your choice." Now even the sound of breathing disappeared from the room as the assembled crowd as they waited for Roland's answer.
I'm not going to tell you the details of what happened in the throne room that day. I had never seen such violence... and the blood. It took months to get the stains out if the floor. The fire I saw in
Edan that day was frightening, and yet at the same time, I was so proud of her. She made it clear to everyone what Wynne was worth to the kingdom... and more importantly, to her.
That little demonstration put a considerable damper on Wynne's suitor prospects, however. Seems no one wanted to court Wynne if they had to face Edan first – though it was obvious that Wynne wasn't disappointed by the potential loss of eligible suitors trying to win her favor.
And so the next two years passed in relative peace. But the peace couldn't last.
"Wynne, you cannot keep dismissing suitors. You're going to have to choose one soon."
"Father, I do not know most of these men, and those I do know, I don't like. Why can't things stay the way they are now? Why do I have to find a husband? The kingdom is strong and prosperous; the people are happy. *I'm* happy. I am protected by the best knight in the land and no one can beat her in battle. Why does that need to change?"
"Daughter, why are you so sure it will change?"
Wynne turned away from Edward and crossed to the window, forcing the king to shift on his throne to follow her progress. "When I marry, it will be because of what I have to offer a suitor... not because of the person I am. I will become the possession of the man I marry and he will rule my kingdom while I am forced to bow to his wishes and bear his children."
At that moment, Edward finally understood the depth of hatred Wynne had for her life and the expectations that had been put upon her. He sighed. He'd know it was bad; he hadn't suspected how bad it had gotten.
"Wynne, what do you want me to say? It is your responsibility to bear children – you need an heir." The look she gave him should have singed him bald... or made him a pile of ashes. He ran his hands through his hair, as much to assure himself that it was still there as in frustration. "What do you want me to do, Wynne? Who do *you* want to marry?"
"Edan, Papa!! I want to marry Edan!!"
Her words fell into stunned silence. Wynne turned away from the window and found her father becoming a very unattractive shade of red. She reached for him in concern and he stepped backwards, holding up a hand to keep her away from him.
"Walk away, Wynne. Walk away before I do something I will regret in the morning."
Edward waited until he heard the doors closed behind Wynne's rapidly retreating footsteps before he looked up. Then he bellowed across the throne room, "Someone bring me Lord Edan!!"
"Don't be rash, my liege. I'm begging you."
If he had been thinking, Edward would have realized how important Tearlach's advice was by the wording he used. As it was, his fury overrode his common sense. "Do not push me, wizard. You would do well to leave it alone. This is between Edan and me. Either stay and be quiet or go back to your lair and let me handle this."
Tearlach moved to the far wall, out of Edward's direct line of sight, but still able to see and hear the entire room. Edan strode into the room and bowed her head. Edward had long ago dispensed with formality between them except during the most public of functions and ceremonies. Edward returned the nod; he didn't want to believe what Wynn had told him and Edan was his last hope.
The guards were dismissed and only Edan, Edward and Tearlach remained in the room. Edward walked to the window, looking out at the vast kingdom that was at peace in large part because of the woman who stood patiently waiting behind him. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Edan, you have been my most faithful knight, always serving at my pleasure and giving up a life of your own for one of my choosing. In all that time you have never lied to me, and I am asking you to be honest with me now." He waited a beat. "Are you in love with my daughter?"
"Sire?" Edward couldn't see the dumbfounded expression on her face, he could hear it plainly in her voice. Tearlach, on the other hand, could see the truth in her eyes - not that he needed to. He had known for many years what was going to happen between them; they were destined. He heard Edward sigh loudly and his attention was drawn back to the present.
He opened his eyes and turned slightly so he could observe Edan without seeming to see her. "It's not a difficult question, Edan. Are you in love with Wynne?"
Edan closed her eyes and swallowed. It had certainly been quite a surprise for her when she realized that she had fallen in love with the woman who was her best friend; it had simply astounded her to find that Wynne returned her feelings completely. She wondered how the king knew. It was so new to them, they had only just talked about it. They hadn't even had much opportunity act on it, even if Edan's honor would have allowed it.
"Yes, sire," she said softly. "I am, and she with me. It wasn't intentional; it just happened."
Edward looked back out the window. Had it been anyone else, they would have been on their way to the dungeon already. But despite the anger he felt so clearly pulsing through his veins, he still retained a measure of respect and affect for the knight Edan was. "I see," he said judiciously. "And have you acted on those feelings? Is my daughter still pure?"
"Yes, sire... of course she is!! I would never sully her honor or my own by acting without receiving your blessing first!"
"So you haven't acted on your feelings?"
"No, sire!!" not mentioning the kisses they had shared. Edward's shoulders slumped in relief.
"Very well, Edan. I believe you." He felt her relax behind him. "However, your bonding is something I cannot allow to happen between you and Wynne. In light of your service to the crown and your honesty with me today, I will allow you to walk away without detriment. But I am going to reassign you to a far distant outpost of the realm. I expect you to leave within the hour and I never want to see or hear of you darkening the doors of this castle again."
"Do not try my patience, Edan! I have granted you lenience; do not expect more."
She spun to leave and then turned back to face the king, tears in her eyes, but purpose in her stance. "May I at least ask why, sire? What is so wrong about the love Wynne and I share that you would separate us... that you would banish me because of it?"
"I'm sorry, Edan. I have my reasons. That is all you need be concerned with. Be on your way before I return; your orders will be waiting in the stable when you leave." He strode from the room, slamming the door behind him as he left. Edan hesitated, then let her shoulders slump, heading for the back stairs that were the shortest route back to her rooms.
Edan's head jerked around and she straightened when her eyes met Tearlach's. She wiped her eyes as discretely as she could manage and turned to face the wizard completely.
"Tearlach? Is there something I can do for you?"
"No, Lord Edan. There is something I can do for you, however. A word to the wise, my lord – take the princess with you. What you share between you is real... and it is destined."
"Trust me, Lord Edan. She will not survive a second separation between you, and being forced to marry without love.... The king will come around in time."
Edan studied his eyes intently for a long moment, then straightened and nodded before departing without another word between them. Tearlach watched her out of sight, then moved to another set of stairs that led to his own domain.
"It is done."
This is where I got into trouble – Aileen and I were witness to Edan's and Wynne's escape from the keep together, and not only did we not prevent them from leaving, we kept the fact that Wynne was gone from Edward until it was too late.
However, as I said before – I assumed personal and sole responsibility for what happened. Losing Wynne like they did nearly destroyed Edward and Aileen as parents. I was not going to allow it to destroy their marriage as well. They both meant too much to me – still do, actually, though I have not spoken to Edward directly since the morning he dismissed my services as chatelaine. But we'll get to that directly. For now, you probably want to know what I saw, don't you?
Hmm? What's that? Oh, yes, actually... Aileen and I have managed to stay in touch and Edward knows. Honestly I think he is hoping eventually I will hear from Edan and Wynne about their whereabouts, because he knows I would share that with Lee if only to give her some of peace of mind. As it is, we know they are well and happy together, but that is the extent of our knowledge about them.
That is enough for me, though I will always hold out hope that one day he will forgive them, and they will be allowed to come home. Now, sit back and I will tell you of the last time I saw Edan and Wynne.
Edan's footsteps on the stairs and across the hall were firm and sure. Only when she reached Wynne's room did she falter, but Wynne had been waiting for her to return from the audience with the king and flung the door open just as Edan stopped. Edan's glance remained on the floor until Wynne cupped her face and brought her face up until their eyes met. Only then did Wynne see the traces of tears in Edan's eyes.
"He is trying to separate us, isn't he – he wants to send you away from me, doesn't he?" Edan nodded, but didn't speak. Fury grew rapidly in Wynne's eyes until she was radiating green fire. "I'll just go have a word with him! He can't do this!!" she said, stomping past Edan....
... or she would have had Edan not wrapped Wynne securely in her arms and held on with gentle strength. "No, Wynne. He's within his rights as a father and as the king. All that your confronting him would accomplish would be to put his back up against you, and that would only make life more miserable for you."
Wynne turned in Edan's grasp until they were facing one another, though Edan refused to release her completely. "Are you saying you think he is right?? You think it is wrong for us to love one another; you think we need to be separated??"
"No, love, NO!! I am saying there is no need to confront him."
"Will you walk away from me then, Edan? We are both of an age, and we are considered to be part of the same social class. Will you walk away from me again?" She hesitated. "You broke my heart once, you know. I don't want to let myself love you, only to have you crush my hopes again."
Edan would have stumbled if not for the fact she was standing still already. She reached a trembling hand towards Wynne's face, tilting her chin up so she could see the truth that shown so clearly in the princess's face. Edan gasped when she realized what that meant... could mean for the two of them.
"We can simply leave together. Wynne, come with me." Edan motioned around them. "I cannot promise you a castle, but I can promise to provide for you to the best of my ability, and to love you well and for the rest of our lives together."
Wynne looked into Edan's eyes as she ran her hands up Edan's tunic covered torso, watching in fascination as her eyes darkened in response. When she reached her neck, she locked her fingers together and gently urged Edan's head down. Edan resisted slightly, allowing her eyes to skitter between Wynne's eyes and her lips, which she licked involuntarily under Edan's scrutiny. Then she pulled Edan into her more forceful, capturing her lips with heartfelt passion and swallowing Edan's moan when their tongues met.
"Is that a yes?" Edan asked quietly when they separated. Wynne just snared Edan's mouth once more, not stopping until she felt Edan's knees start to give out. Only then did she stop with a wicked grin. Edan blinked and returned the grin. "Definitely a yes. Come on, Wynne. We have a lifetime together to start living."
That was the last time I saw them, though Edan did get a chance to say goodbye to her father when she went to the stables to pick up her horse. Cedric told me about it later and he was quite dispassionate in his retelling. But I could see how deeply it cut. What followed only added salt to wound. I think Cedric was glad to leave the keep; he found it hard to be civil to Edward after he sent Edan and Wynne away. I wonder if Edward had known what that one action would cost him if he would have sent them away anyway.
I'm not going to tell you of the ugly accusations and shouting that followed Edward's discovery of Wynne's disappearance. Let's just say it was terrible. Edward dismissed me immediately - blaming me for not reporting my suspicions to him soon enough for him to put a stop to things between them. I think he thought it was my fault he couldn't keep Edan and Wynne apart. Aileen was the one who talked him out of banishment and instead had us set up here... close enough for us to keep in touch, but far enough away to be out of his direct sight.
I don't regret my actions and given the same set of circumstances, I'd do the same thing all over again. I just wish there was a way for me to see my girls again. I miss them.
I know they talk to Dylan; he is the reason I have the amount of information I do. I have often wondered if he has seen them since they disappeared; and I wonder how Edan feels about having given up her knighthood. Maybe one day I will get to find out for myself.
Margaret opened her eyes as the sun just touched the horizon on its way to beginning a new day. Her mysterious visitor had left her home shortly after her narrative was finished the night before despite the lateness of the hour. She'd insisted on extending her hospitality, however, and the man had only gone as far as the barn to get a few hours sleep before continuing on his journey.
She wondered who he was and where he'd come from. The purpose of his visit was fairly clear. For whatever reasons, he'd wanted to hear Edan's and Wynne's story and Margaret had been glad to share it. It brought them closer to her for a little while, even though it always left her a little melancholy when the telling was done.
Margaret scrambled out of bed and washed up, knowing that Cedric and their mysterious guest should be in from the barn very shortly. About that time, the door opened and Cedric crossed the threshold into the house alone.
"Morning, Maggie mine," Cedric greeted with a smile. He brushed a kiss across her cheek. "How ya feeling?" knowing how glum she tended to get after an evening thinking about their missing daughters. Truthfully, he felt the same way, though he had enjoyed her telling the night before.
"I'm fine, Cedric," she said with a convincing smile, returning his kiss and patting his cheek lightly. "Now let me get to the kitchen, love and make some breakfast for the three of us."
"There only be the two of us here darlin'. Our visitor has left us."
Margaret turned from the cabinet. "What? Where'd he go? When did he leave?"
"I not be knowing, love... only that he was gone when I got into the barn this morning."
"Well, all right, then. I hope he gets where he needs to be without harm. Now, what would you like for breakfast?
Somewhere a good distance from Margaret's garden home, Tearlach shifted back to his natural form briefly before resuming his disguise. He smiled as he made his way down the road towards his true destination. This had been a long time in coming.
Edan wiped the sweat from her brow as she straightened from her crouch, then smiled when Wynne draped herself over her back and offered her a cup of cold well water. They didn't speak with words, but there was no need; their silence was filled with communication. Edan leaned back into Wynne, sighing in contentment when Wynne wrapped her arms firmly around Edan's strong body.
They had worked hard in the years since they had left the castle together. They had found a spot off the beaten path and created a home for themselves. Edan had put down her sword and picked up an axe instead, carving a niche out of the thick forest that surrounded them. It had been hard at first – Wynne was unused to the hard labor necessary to build a house or maintain a homestead. But she had learned and together they had built a sanctuary.
In all the years they had been in this place, they had never had a visitor. They had been out into the two closest villages on occasion, but only very rarely. Edan was not comfortable with them going out into the populace, not wanting to put themselves or the villagers in danger... just in case Edward decided to come looking for them.
He had at first, but Edan had known he would; she and Wynne had disappeared by the time Edward had sent the first reluctant patrol out after them. Keeping in touch with Dylan had been more than a little tricky, but they had finally worked out a suitable arrangement that didn't draw attention to itself or them. But that was the extent of their contact with the outside world.
So when Edan saw a stranger emerging from the tree line, she eased from Wynne's arms and pushed her gently towards their home. Wynne resisted, unwilling to leave Edan alone until she spoke. "Sweetheart, will you bring me my sword, please?" her eyes never leaving the intruder. Wynne quickly understood Edan was not sending her away for her own protection and hurried inside to fetch Edan's blade.
Though Edan had walked away from her knighthood, she had never lost the need to be a warrior. So she practiced faithfully every day and kept the sword honed to a razor-edged sharpness. And she and Wynne sparred together as well when time and responsibilities allowed for it. The added physical labor required to maintain their homestead had put her in the best physical shape of her life, though Wynne did her best to make something stick to her ribs for more than a few minutes. It had become something of a running joke between them.
When she came back out, Wynne had the blade clutched tight to her chest. Edan hadn't moved and neither had the stranger. Wynne put the sword in Edan's hand, then closed her own over it.
"Be safe, my love," she said softly. Edan risked a quick glance at her before returning her focus to the still unmoving figure some distance away. She smiled briefly.
"I have too much to live for not to be, princess. Stay here, please?"
"Only under extreme duress, Edan," knowing her presence would only be a distraction for her stalwart defender and unwilling to put Edan at risk like that. "I hate not being able to stand beside you," Wynne grumbled, then continued when Edan took a breath to speak. "But I do understand why it needs to be this way. Go, and be quick. We are having pheasant tonight," smiling when Edan's eyes lit up – it was her favorite and she always appreciated when Wynne's hunting skills provided it.
Resolutely, Edan strode into the middle of the small, cleared area around their tiny cabin, drawing the man's attention to her and away from Wynne.
"Who are you? State your business, sir, and be off with you," she called out loudly in no uncertain terms. Her sword rested casually on her shoulder.
The man didn't speak; he merely waved an arm, causing a rainbow to spring up behind him. Edan blinked, but didn't react otherwise. The wizard grinned. She had always been less than impressed with magic. He didn't know why he thought time and distance might change that. He waved again and the rainbow disappeared. Then he slowly placed his staff on the ground beside him and removed his robe to show he was clad only in a simple tunic and leggings.
"I come in peace, Lord Edan, to invite you and the princess to return home with me."
Edan didn't even flinch, but her eyes hardened perceptibly. "You're mistaken, sir. There is no one with those titles living here. I suggest you turn around and keep looking in one of the villages." She shifted her sword into a more defensive position, emphasizing her words with very little effort.
Tearlach suddenly realized he still wore his disguise. I am getting senile in my old age, he thought, shaking his head wryly. "Perhaps this will remind you, my lord," he said aloud, altering his appearance to something more familiar.
"Tearlach?" Wynne whispered as she came forward to stand beside Edan. He smiled when he heard the recognition in her voice.
"Hello, princess... it's been a long time." Wynne walked towards him, hand extended. Tearlach accepted it as she reached him, and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. He looked at Edan who had accompanied Wynne step for step. "Greetings, my lord," he offered with a bow of his head. Edan returned it but did not lose the wariness of her stance or expression.
"Why are you here, Tearlach?" more resignation than accusation in her tone. "The king made very clear the conditions of my exile. The fact that I shirked my duty to the kingdom only compounds my crime of taking his daughter away." Edan turned and brushed the back of her fingertips over Wynne's cheek to stop her angry retort. "Regardless of the fact that it was your choice, love, your father will assign blame and responsibility to me."
"Actually, the king has issued you a full pardon, Lord Edan and extended an invitation for you both to return home."
"No." The answer was flat.
"Princess??" Tearlach hadn't expected her to be the one to refuse.
"I will not allow my father to place the blame for my disappearance on Edan's shoulders. It was my choice... my decision... and I have never, ever regretted it," she said, looking into Edan's eyes and speaking with unshakable conviction. "Either he acknowledges my responsibility in leaving of my own free will or he doesn't blame either of us." Finally she turned back to look at the wizard. "We are very happy here together, Tearlach. I do not need to be a princess again."
"You're serious," he said without question.
"Yes, I most certainly am."
Tearlach smiled. "King Edward told me you would react that way."
"Wait... you're supposed to be the seer. Why did the king have to tell you?" Edan arched an eyebrow in question.
Now Tearlach laughed aloud. "He did not tell me for my edification, my lord. He did it for his own. It took several years and many nights of discussion, but he did finally come to understand the truth of what was between the two of you." He smiled. "He really thought you would come home of your own volition... or that someone would bring you back." He paused and shrugged. "No one could find you, but no one tried either. They wouldn't have found you even if they had – your home is hidden that well." He bowed towards Edan with the compliment and she accepted it with a nod of her head.
Wynne put her hands on her hips. "Um, about my father...."
"If I could retrieve my robe and staff?" Tearlach said motioning behind him. Wynne motioned in that direction and Edan nodded her head. They resumed holding hands while Tearlach fetched his things. Then together they made their way back to the small cottage Edan and Wynne called home.
Tearlach looked around, impressed despite himself. He'd seen bits... glimpses... but nothing that showed the true nature of their home. He took the seat Edan motioned him to and waited for them to do the same. He smiled to himself at the way they refused to break contact with one another, then he reached into his pocket and withdrew a sealed parchment which he passed, surprisingly, to Edan.
She looked at him and accepted it, then started to hand it to Wynne. Tearlach shook his head. "It's addressed to you, my lord."
Edan and Wynne exchanged startled glances, and Edan popped the seal with her thumb. She took a deep breath, and she and Wynne leaned into one another to read the missive together.
Dear Lord Edan, (it read)
It has been brought to my attention that I am a foolish, stubborn old man. I never expected... well, I never expected a lot of things – certainly not the way things turned out. And it is possible I was mistaken... no, I WAS mistaken. What I did was wrong; trying to break what is obviously an unbreakable bond between you. I never imagined you leaving together; never thought you would disappear so completely or stay gone so long. I believed I would say and you would both do – after all, that is the way of things... the way things had always been – until that moment.
I was so angry... furious, in point of fact. I believed you had betrayed me, stolen my daughter away as revenge. I sent word to every outpost and knight to find you; not one of them thought you capable of the dishonor of which you stood accused. I now know for a certainty that your brethren believed in you so strongly, they refused to look for you.
When my ire had sufficiently cooled, Tearlach came to see me, and we came to an understanding. It led to a number of insightful conversations, and eventually I realized my pride was what stood between us.
Edan, I realize you owe me nothing. You always served me well and faithfully until the last, and I repaid that with suspicion, anger and distrust. However... the time has come for an end to this quarrel between us. I am granting you and Wynne safe passage to return to the castle with Tearlach so that I may ask your forgiveness. If when we are done talking you both wish to return to your hidden home, you will be allowed to do so without further consequence to yourselves. But I am hopeful we can come to an understanding that will allow you to remain here.
Ever your faithful servant,
Edan blinked for several long seconds, trying to wrap her mind around the words on the page. Tearlach sat in silence, curious to see how they would respond. Wynne took the letter from Edan's hand and dropped it to the table, then focused Edan's attention solely on her. Her hands cupped Edan's face tenderly, wiping her silent tears as they trickled down smooth cheeks. Edan clasped her hands and brought them to her lips.
"What do you want to do, love?"
Wynne smiled. "He sent the letter to you, sweetheart. Where you go, I go; and where you stay, I stay. So no matter what you decide, know that I will be standing right beside you."
Edan nodded, then looked at Tearlach as though suddenly remembering his presence. "Do you need a decision today?"
"No, my lord. You have all the time you need. No one knows where I am or how to find me. It is why I traveled in disguise."
"Very well. We cannot offer you much in the way of hospitality, but you are welcome to take the divan and share our meals until we reach a decision. At least you will be warm and dry and I promise you will be well-fed. Wynne is an excellent huntress and cook."
Tearlach couldn't stop the impressed expression that crossed his face. "Well, I look forward to the experience, princess, and I appreciate the offer of the divan. I am sure it will be satisfactory."
Edan chuckled. "Well, it will be warm and dry at least." The rumble of thunder interrupted her train of thought. "And just in time from the sounds of it," she added. "If you will excuse me, I need to put away the garden tools and see about bringing the cow in." She turned back to Wynne. "I'll only be a few minutes, beloved," and caught her lips without hesitation, conveniently forgetting Tearlach's presence. He found something interesting in the floor pattern until Edan cleared her throat bashfully. "Sorry," she mumbled, her skin as red as Wynne's.
"Please, don't apologize on my account. I think it is wonderful – nice to be vindicated so effectively." Edan nodded, but said nothing as she headed out to take care of the chores before the rain came down in torrents.
They spent several more days on the small homestead before Edan made the decision to return to the castle, however briefly. Tearlach was thrilled by the opportunity to observe them in such an informal setting, even though Edan was much more careful about sharing intimate moments with Wynne in his presence. He had the distinct impression that Edan was waffling for Wynne's sake, though he was never able to confirm that for sure.
Once the decision was made to go, Edan and Wynne spent a number of days cleaning and straightening the whole house on the assumption that no matter the ultimate outcome of their conversation with Edward, they were going to be gone from their home for a while and wanted to wrap things up accordingly. Finally though, they were ready to make the journey back to the castle they had left together all those years ago.
They didn't talk much; there wasn't a lot of reason to. It took several days of slow travel to accommodate Tearlach's lack of a horse; they had offered, but he had refused, preferring his own two feet as his chosen mode of travel. Edan felt Wynne stiffen beside her, but other than that, there was no visible reaction when the castle loomed into view.
"You all right?" Edan asked softly. Tearlach walked just slightly ahead of them, offering the last bit of privacy he could before they reached the keep.
Wynne shook her head. "No, not really, but I think it is too late to change my mind." She looked around quickly, seeing the shock and recognition on the faces of the peasants they passed. Had she kept her eyes up, she would have seen the happiness that followed. However, their approach on the castle fully occupied Wynne's attention and she missed the delighted expressions. Edan didn't though, and tucked them away for later exploration with Wynne.
As they reached the gate, the guard straightened, then saluted when they realized who was asking permission to enter. They passed through the streets, gathering a tail of followers as they got closer to the castle. By the time they got to the door, most of the populace of the keep was behind them and guards lined the steps leading to the door itself.
"I guess we were expected," Edan muttered. Tearlach turned and gave them a dazzling smile.
"You were hoped for – greatly. You have both been missed."
Edan swung down from her horse and flipped the reins of both horses around the post put there for that purpose. Then she strode to Wynne's side and offered her a hand, pleased when the princess didn't hesitate despite everything. In fact, Wynne held on to her hand tightly as they made their way through the guards crossed sword formation and into the castle.
It was quiet as they walked through the long hallway together, their soft-soled boots making very little sound on the solid floor. The only real sound came from the rhythmic clank of the squad of knight who had followed them into castle and were now accompanying them into the throne room.
They reached the door and Edan drew them to a halt. Edan rubbed her thumb gently along Wynne's knuckles and cupped her cheek with her free hand. "You ready?"
Wynne sighed deeply and nodded her head slowly. "Yes... but I want you to know something first." She covered Edan's hand on her face. "I love you, and no matter what happens when we walk through that door, that will never change."
"You're expecting the worst, aren't you?"
"I will not let him separate us, Edan."
Edan pulled Wynne to her and they kissed for a long moment. "I don't think he's going to try, sweetheart... not now," she said as they separated. "But so there is no doubt in your mind, I love you."
Wynne smiled up at Edan and tucked her head under her chin embracing her for a timeless moment. Then she pulled back slightly and looked up at the contentment on Edan's face, knowing it was reflected on her own.
"All right," Wynne said finally, taking a step back but holding onto Edan's hand. "Let's go." Edan reached for the door handle only to have it opened for her before her hand touched the smooth metal. She looked up into eyes as blue as her own.
"Welcome home, baby sister," knowing well this would be the only time in his life he would get away with calling Edan such. And she still glared at him for a long moment before winking at him and crossing the threshold with Wynne.
Court was full, but the silence was complete – so quiet that their soft footfalls resounded throughout the chamber. A space had been cleared in front of the thrones, and upon it sat King Edward and Queen Aileen, watching their approach. Margaret once more stood in her place behind Aileen, and surprisingly, Cedric stood behind Edward. Edan had just time to wonder at the way of things when they reached the edge of the dais and she knelt. Wynne remained upright, but bowed her head graciously.
"Rise, Lord Edan," Edward instructed immediately, rising from his seat and walking down the steps until he and Edan stood at the same level. "I invited you here so I could ask for your forgiveness in front of all these witnesses. Tearlach let us know you were coming," answering her unspoken question. "Can you forgive an old man his foolishness?" extending his hand in the traditional warrior greeting.
"Yes, sire," she responded instantly. "Can you forgive a former knight for abandoning her duty and deserting her post?"
Edward smiled. "But you never really did abandon that duty, did you, my lord? Your first duty and responsibility as a knight of the realm was as the protector and guardian of the future queen. That never changed in all the time that you were gone, did it?"
"No, sire, but...."
"However, I think you need to re-prove yourself and your capabilities to me and this court. Draw your weapon, sir."
Wynne was between them so quickly, Edan didn't have time to reach for her sword, much less pull it from its sheath. Fury blazed from her eyes and Edward took a reflexive step back, something Wynne pushed to its full advantage.
"What do you think you are doing?" she hissed. "I thought...." Edan wrapped her arms around Wynne from behind and felt her relax immediately. She smiled and whispered in her ear so softly Wynne could barely make out the words.
"Shh, love... it's okay. It's a test to ensure I am a worthy suitor and a capable protector." Wynne turned her head to look Edan in the eye and Edan placed the lightest kiss on her nose. "I won't lose, Wynne... I'm fighting for you."
Wynne melted at the words and nodded her acceptance of Edan's assurance. Edward watched her move two steps up the dais and turn to observe the room with disdainful eyes, arms crossed over her chest. An intrigued look came over Edward's face and it caused a fleeting smile to cross Edan's. She winked at Wynne and turned her attention back to the king.
"Shall we, sire?" sliding her sword from its sheath. He cleared his throat and sidled over to stand next to Edan so he could speak very softly.
"You can still defeat me, yes? I don't think I want to face my daughter otherwise."
Edan laughed and stepped back a pace, then motioned Edward forward. Then she stood and waited... but not for long.
Edward swung overhead, his blade met by Edan's and held in place for a long moment before she pushed him back. They circled one another then he swung again, their swords clashing in a shower of sparks and clanging. Back and forth they went and Edward realized very quickly that Edan was playing with him, using the challenge as a chance to exercise skills she had not been called upon to use in several years. With a hand signal, three knights moved into a circle behind her.
Instantly, Edan shifted into a serious stance, recognizing the threat. Wynne flinched and started to call out, only to stop when a hand landed on her shoulder and her mother spoke softly into her ear. "Wait, daughter." Aileen felt the bunched muscles relax just slightly under her touch, though the green eyes never left the combat taking place in front of her.
Edan disarmed Edward immediately, and turned her focus to the three knight brothers who stood there. They attacked as one and Edan went to her knees to take the brunt of their blows. She pushed them back and rose, kicking one away from her and waving her blade in front of her in such a blur that no one actually saw how the second – only that it went flying and landed with a clatter. The third went down from a blow of her hilt to his temple. Then Dylan stepped up and offered Edan a little smile and a half bow before he swung his sword in her direction.
Edan met his challenge with a feral grin of her own. Of all the things she and Wynne had left behind, this was what she had missed the most... especially from her brother.
"I've missed you, Edan," Dylan said as they exchanged furious blows. Edan pushed him back just long enough to wipe the sweat from her eyes and motioned him forward again. "Nothing was the same around here with you both gone. But it was obviously the right decision for both of you; I've never seen you so happy... so content."
Without warning, Edan liberated his sword with her trademark move and Dylan watched in embarrassed surprise and chagrin as in went flying in a graceful arc to land in her outstretched palm. She gave him a wicked smile. "I missed you too, Dylan," extending the hilt of his sword. He grasped the blade and dropped it into his sheath before wrapping his arms around her and lifting her into his embrace. Edan brushed a kiss over his rough cheek before returning the hug fully. After a moment, he set her on her feet again to the echoing cheers in the room.
"Wish you could teach me that move though. I've never seen anyone do it like you do, and it just can't be beaten." He draped his arm over her shoulders and guided her towards the dais where Edward waited patiently and Wynne gave the impression of only being held in place by a herd of wild horses. The king extended his hand.
"Well done, Lord Edan. Excellently played, though I must agree with Lord Dylan – it would be nice to be able to learn that move. I think you have proven your worth as protector and defender to the princess."
"And as a suitor?" Edan asked with quiet firmness.
Edward looked at Wynne and extended his free arm towards her. "That is entirely up to the princess. As far as I am concerned, you have but to ask."
He barely got his words out before Wynne landed in Edan's arms, kissing her with abandon - much to Edan's and Edward's mutual embarrassment. Not that it prevented Edan from responding completely, but she did flush a lovely shade of red. Those gathered whooped and hollered after a moment of stunned silence; Edward clapped and laughed and Aileen cried happy tears. Margaret, Cedric and Dylan grinned madly.
Finally, Edan and Wynne parted and came up for air, eyes blinking slowly as they released one another. They exchanged smiles, then Edan dropped to one knee and offered up her blade to Wynne. "I offer my love, my life, my sword. All I am... all I have is yours." She gazed into Wynne's eyes, the room fading beneath the connection they shared. "I love you, Wynne. Marry me."
Wynne accepted the sword and looked at its length briefly before returning it to its sheath. Then she took Edan's hands in hers and drew Edan into a standing position. "All I have ever wanted was you Edan. I offer you my love, my life, my kingdom. All I am... all I have is yours. I love you, Edan. Yes, I will marry you."
"Then, lords and ladies," Edward said in a clear voice that carried across the hall, "it appears we will be celebrating a wedding tonight!" Two stunned faces turned in his direction, and Edward laughed heartily. "As long as you have waited for this, I didn't think you'd want to wait any longer. You've certainly had your courting period!"
The laughter and applause that echoes around the room this time was a welcomed tension release.
Edan looked around her old room for the first time in years and readied her armor for donning. It had been a long time since she had worn it and looking at it made her a little apprehensive. A knock brought her out of her brown study. Dylan stood at her door and she opened it wider to let him enter. "I thought you might like a little help getting ready." She nodded and he slipped into the room. "Have I told you how good it is to have you home again?" giving her another hug which she returned fully. He felt her tremble just slightly. "Are you nervous?"
Edan shrugged. "A little," she finally said. "I know I shouldn't be after everything, but...." She picked up her leggings and slipped into them, then reached for her gambeson before having her hands slapped away from it as Dylan held it for her to stick her head and arms through. Next, he handed her a set of chain mail shorts, then held a chain mail shirt for her to put on.
Edan groaned a bit and turned back to Dylan so he could begin strapping on the metal plates. First he eased her into her boots, than added calf and shin guards. Next came her thighs, then chest and back protection. Finally her arm protectors were strapped on, and Dylan handed Edan her sword while he took a brush to her shoulder length chestnut hair. She watched fretfully in the mirror as she buckled the sword into place.
Dylan set the brush aside and moved to the bed, picking up the heavy robe and holding it open for Edan to slide her arms into. He waited for her to pull her hair out from beneath it, and then she turned to face him for a final inspection.
Everything was in place and shined to perfection and he nodded in satisfaction. "You look impressive, my lord. Very noble."
"Cut it out, Dylan. I am still just your sister Edan."
"Edan, you have never been ‘just' anything, and I am proud to be your brother. I will be back to help you get out of all this," motioning to her armor, "before you go to Wynne. I thought you would rather have me here to help you rather than Henry. But for now, let's go down and get you and Wynne married. We have all waited a very long time for this, but you and Wynne most of all, I think."
"Thank you, Dylan. I think you're right."
The ceremony was short and beautiful. Aileen and Margaret both cried happy tears and Wynne grinned from ear to ear, kissing Edan with sincere passion when the clergyman finally gave them leave. They were presented to the people then Edan said softly, "Your highness, would you care to dance?"
Green eyes twinkled up at Edan as though with a hidden secret and Wynne nodded with alacrity. "Thank you, my lord," she responded, placing her hand on Edan's forearm. "I would love to."
Edan nodded to the king and queen before leading Wynne to the dance floor. The orchestra had been waiting for that cue it seemed, because the music abruptly started, playing something suited for the newlyweds to dance to. The young couple was slowly circling the room, completely oblivious to the picture they made or the whispers that floated around them so engrossed in one another were they. Neither of them noticed that they danced alone.
"They look well together, do they not, my love?" Edward asked Aileen as all eyes watched the two on the dance floor.
"They do indeed," Edward agreed with a nod. "I am glad Tearlach told me of what he had seen. I wish I had known sooner; it would have saved us all a lot of heartache and grief." He paused and smiled at Aileen. "They will do great things together for our kingdom, and they will be as happy as we have been... for a very long time." He extended a hand to the woman who had been his bride for almost thirty years. "Would you like to dance?"
Aileen nodded and accepted his hand, letting him lead her to the dance floor. "I wish they could make children together. I would love to have grandchildren to spoil."
Edward chuckled and pulled Aileen a little closer to him. "They will," he said with a secret smile, then spun them around the ballroom while Aileen grinned at him in both disbelief and delight. The rest of the room was unaware of what the secret was, but they were happy to bask in the joy that was so palpable. Very soon, the floor was filled with dancers unknowingly celebrating the birth of a new era.
Edan and Wynne took the opportunity to slip into the darkness of the outdoor balcony.
Their lips brushed briefly, and Edan felt the air leave her body in a rush as the tingle of electricity coursed between then. Their eyes met, and she saw forever reflected back to her from Wynne's eyes. Then she leaned closer, both sets of eyes fluttering closed as their lips met yet again.
Edan let her tongue trace the soft lips of her beloved, gasping slightly when Wynne's tongue came out to play with her own. For long minutes they stood wrapped together while their mouths continued to tease one another. Edan's hands danced lightly over Wynne's back, straying dangerously close to the firm, round bottom. Wynne scraped her nails over Edan's scalp and neck, clutching at her shoulders when Edan's hand began wandering over more sensitive areas.
Breathless, they pulled back slowly from one another, finally allowed to acknowledge the truth of all that was between them to the world. Edan reached up a hand and brushed the golden hair from Wynne's face, marveling at the silky texture. She let her fingers run through the blonde mane until her hand rested at the base of Wynne's neck.
They kissed once more, immediately allowing their tongues to tease and explore one another. Edan pulled away just slightly, far enough that her lips could trail down Wynne's jaw line to her collarbone. She spared a moment's thought of thankfulness for whatever fashion god had dictated bare shoulders and slightly revealed cleavage before inching her way to the tops of the full breasts just hinted at under layers of silk.
She nuzzled her face into Wynne's bosom, breathing deeply of her scent and placing tiny kisses on the bare skin she could reach. Edan smiled at the shudders she could feel racing through Wynne's body, then sighed when she felt her head being lifted away from Wynne's chest.
Edan gazed into verdant eyes that even in the moonlight she could see were darkened with passion and filled with love. "I think we need to move things right along," she said to Wynne. "I am ready to take you to our wedding bed, and I have to get out of all this ridiculous armor first," she added wryly.
"I happen to think you look dashing in all that armor, no matter how ridiculous it is," Wynne confided, "but I will admit to looking forward to your being out of it tonight."
Edan smiled. "I don't know if I mentioned how beautiful you look, but you do... look beautiful, that is."
Wynne flushed becomingly. "Do you really think so? It feels so strange... so different from what I have become accustomed to."
"Always," Edan said reverently, then gave Wynne a rakish grin. "But I will admit to being partial to this new neckline," letting her fingers trail over the edges of it. Wynne grabbed Edan's wandering hand and dragged her back indoors before they both lost what was left of their sensibilities.
They shared another dance, then had a wedding feast, complete with cake. Then with very little fanfare the newlywed couple slipped upstairs. Edan escorted Wynne to her chambers, stopping just outside the door.
"How long will you be?" Wynne asked, anxious to be alone with Edan but knowing she could put the time to good use herself. She had arranged a little surprise for her knight.
"An hour?" Edan answered, wanting another bath after sweating in the armor for the better part of an evening.
Wynne nodded. "Don't make me have to come looking for you, my love. I guarantee the entire kingdom will be scandalized if I do," said with a mischievous twinkle sparkling out of her green eyes.
"Heaven forbid." She stole a kiss from her bride, then crossed to her room, ready to have this part done with so she could get back to Wynne. Though not new to loving one another in any sense, this would be their first night together as a married couple and Edan was looking forward to that. She nearly didn't get the door opened because of her nervous excitement.
Dylan was waiting for her when she eventually did cross the threshold, a grin on his face that Edan was sure nearly matched her own. "Congratulations, Edan," he said. "It is so good to see you happy; it has been a long time coming," he commented again as he methodically began to remove her armor.
Edan let him work as her mind reviewed his words. She had heard them repeatedly throughout the night, and had to wonder if she was the last one to see what had been so clear to nearly everyone else. She came back to herself with a start as she felt Dylan press soap and wash cloth into her hands.
"You all right?" waiting until she nodded before speaking again. "Edan, your water is ready. Your robe is on the bed and your towel is beside the tub. I will be in to take care of the water and your armor later." He kissed her cheek, then he was gone before she could think of a suitable reply.
Edan bathed carefully, knowing she would leave this room and go to her wedding bed. Slowly she dried and dressed, then made her way to Wynne's room with no one the wiser. She could hear music and the noise of laughter and talking coming from the party as a peripheral sound in her hearing. Otherwise, she was too intently focused on what, and WHO, lay ahead for the night. They had not been apart once since they had left the castle, and yet it was amazing the effect a few words by a clergyman had on Edan's nerves.
Edan rubbed sweaty palms down the front of her silk robe before knocking lightly. When the door opened, she was greeted by a sight totally unexpected.
Wynne was dressed in a sheer gown that covered everything and hid nothing. Edan felt the hitch in her breathing even as she reached out a hand to touch. Wynne intercepted her hand and brought it to her lips before placing it over her heart.
"I love you," Edan said softly.
"And I you," Wynne answered. She pulled Edan into the room and closed the door firmly behind her. "Where did you get the ring?" gesturing to the token that Edan had placed upon her left hand. "It's beautiful."
Edan smiled and blushed. "Thank you. It was something I crafted for my father many years ago, when I was first learning the arts of metallurgy. It was his talisman – he carried it for luck. He gave it back to me tonight... said it had done its job by bringing us back home again."
Wynne's eyes filled with gentle tears. "What a lovely sentiment." She swallowed hard and smiled uncertainly. "I know this isn't new for us, but it feels different."
"It *is* different," Edan whispered, then reached for Wynne.
Edan allowed her hand to trail down Wynne's chest, watching in fascination as a nipple hardened under her touch and Wynne's breathing caught before resuming a faster cadence. She brought her other hand up to tease the other breast, gratified when Wynne's eyes closed and her head fell back, exposing a length of neck Edan could not deny herself the pleasure of tasting.
Strong hands wrapped themselves in her brown locks, and Edan allowed Wynne to pull her up to her lips for a passionate kiss. Edan continued to knead the breasts in her hands even as their tongues dueled for dominance. Without warning, Edan found Wynne guiding her head down to her breasts, and without objection, she began to suckle as a hungry newborn starved for her mother's milk.
She switched from one side to the other, never lingering long enough for either to feel neglected in her absence. She pulled away and Wynne looked at her questioningly. She had quite been enjoying the attention Edan had been lavishing on her breasts and was anxious to get back to it, as it were.
Edan cupped her hands around Wynne's face, rubbing their noses lightly together with a smile. "You are so beautiful," she whispered reverently. "I wish to see all of you."
Without hesitation, Wynne stepped back a pace and reached for the clasp holding her gown up. With a twist it came undone and dropped to the ground, and her eyes followed then closed as though awaiting a verdict. She had never felt so exposed before; even their time out in the rough hadn't changed her rounder, feminine shape.
She was shocked when she felt two strong arms wrap around her waist and a warm face nuzzle into her flat belly, giggling a little when the nuzzling turned to nibbling which tickled. Edan looked up into Wynne's eyes from her position on her knees. "You humble me with your beauty."
Wynne reached out a hand and stroked it through Edan's soft hair. "May I see you now as well?" She reached for the tie on her robe... only to have her hands caught and held in Wynne's firm grasp. "Let me," she said huskily. Edan removed her hands and dropped them to her sides.
Wynne untied the knot and slid her hands under the silk and over the skin that lay under the covering. Edan held her breath at the sensations the simple touch was evoking in her body and Wynne relished the same. She let her hands trace up to Edan's strong shoulders, marveling at the texture of velvet over steel she could feel beneath her fingertips. Wynne pushed the robe to the floor, allowing her eyes to roam the smooth expanse of skin before her touch followed.
"You are simply stunning, my love," she said as her fingers teased Edan.
Edan groaned and pulled Wynne into her, capturing her lips and bringing them into contact all along their length. Without a word, Edan let her touch wander down Wynne's back to her butt and using only her hands for encouragement, brought Wynne's legs up to wrap firmly around her waist. She felt her stomach painted by Wynne's desire, and it only drove her own higher. Slowly, she moved them to the bed.
"Tonight, my love, we begin a new chapter in our lives – one where we are one together... in everything."
Then she laid Wynne down beneath her and began a slow, sure seduction that between them would last until the sun rose.
They were tangled up together in the center of the bed comfortably sated and covered in a fine sheen of sweat. Edan gently ran her fingertips up and down Wynne's arm and back, savoring the goosebumps that followed in the wake of her touch. Wynne, for her part, drew lazy circles on Edan's firm stomach muscles, watching in fascination as they trembled at the contact.
"I never would have believed it," Wynne said quietly into the stillness of the room.
"This," gesturing to their intertwined bodies. "If Tearlach hadn't shown me the truth of your love for me, I never would have had the faith I needed to persevere."
Edan stretched, then tightened her grip around Wynne in a hug that popped her spine all the way up.
"Ah," she said, stretching herself before curling herself back around Edan's body.
Edan laughed and rolled them over so she could look into Wynne's eyes. "Remind me to thank him...." she said, stealing a kiss. "Later," she added, stealing another, slightly longer kiss. "Much later," she added before allowing their passions to start sweeping them away again.
"There is something I want to try," Wynne said. "Something I have yet to do as a married woman."
"Oh really? Care to share?"
For answer, Wynne rolled them over and growled in Edan's ear before proceeding to share with her just exactly what she meant. Suddenly having children together took on a whole new meaning.
Their happiness was felt throughout the kingdom thanks to Tearlach's magic. The wizard understood all too well that sometimes, coming of age can bring the most amazing rewards, even if it sometimes take a bit of nudging in the right direction.
As for Cedric and myself, we have returned to life at the castle – however briefly. It is not our home any more, but for now we are needed here, so we have come back into service again. I will admit it is so wonderful to see Edan and Wynne happy together. I never realized how different our lives would be once we were brought to the castle to live, but I am proud of the people Edan and Dylan have become and of the life Edan and Wynne are finally allowed to share together with the blessings they deserve.
If there is nothing else I have learned from the two of them, I have learned this - love will find a way. Personally, I am counting the days until it finds a way for Edan and Wynne to give me a new grandchild or six to spoil absolutely rotten. Until then, I will bask in the happiness they share, knowing one day I will be bringing in Dylan's sons to meet their new cousin much as I did when Edan and Dylan met Wynne all those many years ago. I cannot wait; that, in its own way, will be the final coming of age for my family – the circle will be complete.
For now, though, my story has been told. Anything else will have to wait... because it hasn't happened yet. But they will live happily ever after
07/06 – 08/06
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