Light and shadows danced on the ground, swaying softly with the wind. The trees swallowed the noises of the city. Head bowed, he stood in front of a white marble pillar, ivy hugging its base. She wondered what was on his mind that moment. The wind rustled through the foliage, ruffled her hair, tugged at her clothes, urging her forward.
Suddenly, she didn't know what to say. They had exchanged so many letters during these last months, so many words. They were eluding her now, leaving her mute with too much air in her lungs. But writing those letters was different from seeing him now, from facing his back and waiting for him to turn around.
She listened to her own heartbeat, counting. Three. Two. One. "Hey."
He turned and smiled and she found it was better than the letters, worth the nervousness, worth the embarrassing heat crawling up the back of her neck.
The dark blues and black of his official uniform suited him, the top button undone to leave him some room to breathe. She had to smile when she noticed that his hair seemed to have resisted all attempts on taming it. Finding his eyes sparkling with the one thing she had hoped to see, she swallowed her heart and managed a curtsey that betrayed her weak knees.
She had missed the sound of his voice. It calmed her. "I was able to travel with one of Dryden's merchants most of the way. It was convenient."
He stepped closer, still smiling. The wind tugged at his uniform, carrying torn leaves into the sky. "How did you find me here?"
She caught herself tugging at her hair. "Vargas showed me the way."
The air was heavy and warm with summer. She took a deep breath and smelled the fields that covered the plains around the capitol city to the edge of the cliffs that lined the horizon. The wind was bending the ears of wheat plants, ripples travelling through the gold like waves. From the cliffs it looked like a golden sea.
They could see the city from where they stood, nestled between the mountains. The palace roofs sparkled blue, reflecting the sunlight like waves.
"This is very..." she trailed off and made a wide gesture with her hand that included him, the palace and all of Fanelia.
He sighed. "Tell me about it."
It was a foreign sight, seeing him in his uniform, standing atop this hill, the sea half a continent away. Who would have thought that under all that dirt and rudeness, he was of royal blood? "So, what is it like to be king?"
He laughed and stepped beside her, following her gaze that rested on the city beneath their feet. "I'm not officially king yet. There are still two days left until the coronation."
"Are you nervous?"
"Not more than usual." He rubbed the back of his head. "But Vargas feels the ceremony is taking place too early. He is not happy about it."
She looked at their shadows splayed out in front of them. A slight movement, barely there, and they were touching. "Why not?"
Birds screamed against a cornflower sky. "It was the council's decision. They are convinced the coronation will convey stability. A lot of kingdoms still refuse to accept Fanelia's new-found sovereignty. Without Asturia as an alley we would have never come this far. And Vargas thinks that I'm still not ready for this. That I have to learn more still."
"And do you?"
"If you're asking if I'm ready to be king, then no. If you're asking if I think it's still a good decision, then yes." It was the same voice, the same intonation, the same melody woven into the words, yet something had changed. She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes to make sure it was still him talking. "I hope it will make the people return to Fanelia."
Her smile directed at the ground, she felt his gaze on her like she felt the sun on her skin. It warmed her.
The wind ruffled the silence between them, stirring noises from the surrounding trees.
"Is that Folken's grave over there?" The white marble glowed in the sunlight. It darkened where an inscription was carved into the stone. She couldn't read it from where she stood.
He watched her as he answered her question. "Hmm. The twins chose this place."
Her eyes flickered, briefly meeting his. Accidentally. Intentionally. Unsure. "Do they still want to leave Fanelia after the ceremony?"
"That's what they said." Avoiding his gaze, she missed his smile. "I think Merle is going to miss them. She would never admit it but I know she liked having them around. Have you met her already?"
"I did. She showed me to my room when I arrived at the palace." She had been looking forward to seeing Merle again but she had also dreaded the moment. Dreaded the awkwardness, dreaded Merle's rebuke.
They hadn't spoken a single word since they had left the cursed island more than a year ago. When she had finally gained consciousness, they had already been separated on different ships. There hadn't even been time to say goodbye after their arrival in Pallas; Allen and his crew were immediately arrested, Van had been brought before the king of Asturia, and she had been taken home by her father right away.
Despite the polite words, Merle's amiable smile hadn't reached her eyes. There was a rift between them that could neither be closed nor crossed. When she had told Van about his past and betrayed Merle in the same breath, she had destroyed something between them, something that not even time could fix. Merle told her with her entire being that she would never forgive her.
Although she had never particularly liked the cat, she felt regret. She wanted to apologize but knew that the words would make no difference.
"Did you invite Allen?"
"I did but I haven't heard from him since he escaped. Fanelia is a land-locked country so I doubt we'll cross paths again. I did invite him for my coronation though and I will be very disappointed if he does not attend." Despite the humor he had put into his voice his words were honest. He was disappointed.
A slight movement of shadows. A shifting of weight from one foot to the other. Her fingers brushed the back of his hand. "Do you miss the sea? Do you miss that life?"
He hesitated and she knew he wouldn't tell her the entire truth. His fingers curled into her palm. Warm and dry. "I don't think eight months are enough time to answer that question. Ask me again in a few years."
She exhaled and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face in his shoulder. His arms tightened around her.
She smiled into his jacket, his words a whisper in her hair.
A/N: That's all, folks! It's hard and scary to believe that it's been seven years since I started writing this story. It's been a lot of fun for me writing this and I hope you enjoyed reading it just as much. I didn't tie all the knots on purpose since I prefer the open ending :P The epilogue is short and I must be careful not to make the author's note longer than the actual epilogue…in any case, I think it's wrapped up nicely, maybe you think so too ;) And I do know that the story is far from being finished, aye aye. If you read it in one go, you'll find so many plot holes and inconsistency, argh. It makes me want to edit it, especially the first chapters. Do you know that feeling when you begin with a story and a certain image in your mind and throughout writing it, it turns in a totally different direction? ^^
Thanks to everyone who read through this story, who stayed with it from the beginning or who joined later through the course of the journey, who read silently or who reviewed ^^ I appreciated every single one of your reviews, even if I didn't reply all the time, I read them all with a silly smile on my face. They kept me going when I had neglected my story for six months, busy with other stuff, thinking of everything but the story, and suddenly there is this review in my mailbox ^^
This was my last project on this site. With finishing it, I take my leave of this place. I'll let my account stay activated and my stories up as well but I won't add another one. Although I don't think I'll stop writing for good. If I ever decide to publish an original story on fictionpress or a site of the same kind, I'll let you know ^^
Thanks again and all the best,