With Anne happy for me and Keith, after I'd finished explaining that we were only kissing at present (very embarrassing!), it was time for us to save Keith from our parents. Anne escorted me to the sitting room.
Keith must have been with Mother and Father for some time now ... I hope the tigers have not savaged him! Mother is so scary when she is mad ... though I've never seen her mad at Keith before; she always tells him that he is a wonderful son who never gives her worry wrinkles, unlike certain other people she could name ... In fact, Keith was my mother's favourite child.
Keith, Mother, and Father talked quietly by the window seat, lit by the brilliant sun with contented faces. I reached for Keith's outstretched hands and he drew me into the sunlight, happy, smiling.
My mother's smile was a strange expression, as if she was pleased and approving at something. "I'm utterly delighted, Catarina! Now you're in love with my son, you'll truly become one of our family!"
Wait, what? I didn't have time to think as she and my father hugged me.
"You're such a big joker, Millidiana!" My father laughed a big booming laugh. "My precious Catarina, I'm just glad we don't have to give you up to the royal household! Anything that makes you and Keith happy makes us happy."
My father, I realised, would always love me no matter what I did. Even if I had hurt people and got exiled, he would still have helped me. If I became a megalomaniacal villainess and started wearing a suit of spiky black armour and trying to take over the kingdom of Sorcie, my father would present me with a black embroidered cloak to go with the armour and offer to proofread my evil speeches for spelling mistakes. It's very comforting to have one person like that in your life, although it wouldn't be good for you if everyone treated you like that.
"I want to marry Keith, but not yet," I said. I felt a tinge of disappointment from Keith, then watched his clear eyes change toward understanding. "I want to be at his side forever, as long as he wants that too. But we need time, a season or two ... like how when you plant a field, you have to wait for the vegetables to grow."
"We would like a long engagement," Keith said. "In other countries, I hear there is a custom that people don't marry until their twenties." He smiled at me, and I felt my heart skip a beat. He'd asked me so many questions about my first life; he knew that people in my first life did not normally marry until then.
"And then what on earth will you do until then?" Mother asked. "Tch! I disapprove of long engagements, but at least it gives me plenty of time to design the trousseau."
"I want to continue to take up more responsibilities within the duchy," Keith said. "One project I have had in mind is a pottery factory, employing only women who need an escape from other lives. My mother was poor and after she gave birth to me, there was nobody who would give her a decent job. Perhaps that was why she did what she did." There was a memory of pain in Keith's voice. His birth mother was a maid who fell pregnant to a married man, one of Father's distant Claes cousins, and after that became a prostitute. She wasn't kind to her son. "Our friend Raphael has a similar story. His mother would have welcomed the chance to make a good home for her son. We could even attach a good quality school to the factory."
It was an amazing plan. "And we will build gardens and fields around the factory," I said. "Looking at the earth and green things always makes people feel better."
"That's an excuse for another vegetable field, isn't it ... " Mother said.
"There should be excuses for that!" Keith supported my idea. "Vegetable fields are good for everyone. And lately I've heard stories about exotic fruits that a skilled gardener could develop. Black watermelons, white strawberries, grapes the size of plums, and gourds grown once on each vine. Think of that ... "
These were stories I'd told Keith about my first life, now that I could speak about it to someone. In my old country, fruit was seen as a special thing to give as a gift, so farmers invented many rare and super expensive fruits for boutiques. These fruits were famous worldwide, not just in my country.
Maybe I could recreate some of that in my own fields! The Claes duchy owns many lands in the countryside ... I can expand my gardens there and grow so many wonderful things! Not just things from my old life, but things that magic can make even more special.
Though my old life was wonderful, I was looking forward to so many things in my new life as well.
"I like my work for the Ministry of Magic," I said. In Sorcie, noble ladies weren't supposed to continue having a job after they got married, but maybe we could work to change that by the time Keith and I decided to marry. Another good project for the future! "I'm learning so much more about how to use magic. I might invent magical fruits that have never been seen in any world, or maybe just a magical hoe!"
Although, if I invented a new magical hoe, I would feel sorry for my old favourite hoe! I'm sorry, hoe, but we've got to move on ...
"Our life is sure to have plenty of new experiences!" I said. "I'd like to visit other countries, too - maybe even for the honeymoon." Keith flushed and nodded. "But for now, let's make some plans!" I dragged my family toward the table. Pochi emerged out of my shadow, barking and jumping up to play with everyone. He ran to fetch a small ball of knitting wool while we brought out Keith's beginning plans for the factory. We all talked at once, building the future one step at a time.
Days and nights passed, seasons whirled and changed. Through it all I took Keith's hand and we faced challenges and adventures side by side. We watched our friends and family pursue different, wonderful destinies.
Then I whispered in Keith's ear. "I heard that the harvests were wonderful in Amberley this year."
"Are Fizziwig Jellypop and Catarina Mungbean going to live happily ever after?"
And so we did.