Evening settled on a quiet North Station, the suns bathing the landscape in rays of gold and crimson. In the center of the settlement, the mighty boughs of an imposing hardwood tree swayed gently in the cooling air. Already, one of the moons ascended above the horizon, its light trickling through gaps in the branches.
The Sanctuary had changed little since Elnor left, over three years ago. All the wonderful memories flooded back to him, tumbling through his mind, much like when he'd rolled around in the freshly cut hay as a boy. Aromas of earth and the new harvest wafted to his nose. Flarewings glowed softly as they drifted all around them and into the darkness as far as could be seen – just as they had when he left for Nua Breizh to marry Julene.
He glanced down at the toddler clutching one of his fingers in her tiny fist. "This is Zani," he told her.
The child's sea-green eyes searched his in askance. "Dah-nee?" It was a two-year-old's best effort.
Zani laughed with delight and held out her arms.
"Go on," Elnor encouraged his daughter.
With a giggle, she scampered into Zani's embrace, her dark curls bouncing with each step. Pure joy spread across the elder woman's face as she held the girl close. "What a darling, beautiful child! Elnor, you should be proud of her."
"I am," he returned.
Julene drew closer to him and rested her cheek on his shoulder. "He loves showing her off. He takes every opportunity. I don't know who's worse, Elnor or Tristan." She rolled her eyes.
"How is your cousin, the prince?" Zani inquired.
"Happily married with a boy of his own, and another baby on the way. We found out the news right before we left to come here."
"He's just trying to outdo us," Elnor grumbled.
"Now, now, my love," Julie chided, playfully tapping his nose. "Tristan has as much a right to happiness as we do."
After savoring the moment with the toddler a while longer, Zani returned her to her mother. "I have something for you," she told Elnor. Reaching into a nearby cabinet, she retrieved a long, shallow box and gave it to him.
The box was wrapped in burgundy paper, with a small crafter's fleur-de-lis logo emblazoned on its lid. "It's from Earth?" he asked.
Zani nodded. "France. It arrived not long after you left."
Elnor stopped. He could guess who might have sent it. Untying the black velvet ribbon, he slowly lifted the lid. Inside, the steel blade of an ancient-style rapier flashed in the candlelight. A truly elegant weapon, it was worthy of d'Artagnan himself. On top was a folded note, which read:
Dear Mr. Elnor:
Greetings from La Barre, France, on Earth. I hope this note finds you well.
Admiral Picard desired you to have this rapier, which he commissioned especially for you. I regret he is unable to deliver his gift to you in person as he planned. If you have not already learned by now, it is my sad duty to inform you that he died on October 31, 2399. At 94, his health had been declining for a long time.
If you have any questions or would like to speak, please don't hesitate to contact me.
He gave the note to Julie.
"What a thoughtful gift," she said, after she'd read the message. "I wish I could have met the admiral. He sounds like he was an extraordinary man."
"He was," Elnor agreed. "I feel sad that he's gone."
Zani seemed to always know the right words to say. "We will treasure the memory of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. And now, you have an heirloom to pass down to your children, so that they will likewise remember him."
Elnor examined the sword, admiring the master craftsmanship that must have gone into creating it. "It's amazing," he breathed.
Feeling a tug on his trouser leg, he found himself smiling down at his pretty daughter. She lifted her little hands up, trying to touch the weapon. Her eyes widened with eagerness. Already, she displayed the characteristics of curiosity and a desire for exploration.
"What do you say, little one?" he asked her. "Shall I teach you to fence when you're older?"