CHAPTER 36: Farewells

"Could I pay you to stay?" Raoul asked hopefully, hugging Alanna so tightly she winced.

"How much?" she replied playfully, and then shook her head. "I want to go and travel a bit. Breathe some."

"And battle dragons and rescue damsels in distress," Gary sighed dramatically. "That's a lady knight for you—always has to be out and running around."

"Can't I be a damsel in distress?" Jon complained. "Come back and rescue me."

"I'll come back someday—I hope. Unless I get chopped up by bandits or accidentally fall off a cliff."

"Hey, if you die, I'm never letting you out on your own again," Jon warned.

"I won't be alone. I'll have Coram, and Faithful, of course."

"Yeah—'of course,' because the cat totally counts," Gary retorted.

Just then, Coram entered the stable where the friends were exchanging their last good-byes, and he bowed stiffly. "My lords, Your Highness. Lass, you ready?"

"I hope so." She glanced around, peering out over the scarf wound about her face. She had just bundled up into all of the snowgear she could manage, wanting to ensure a warm ride south that icy winter week.

"We should get going soon if we want to reach the next wayhouse by dark."

She nodded, and then hugged Raoul and Gary one last time, trying not to cry. "I'll miss you guys."

"We'll miss you more," Raoul whispered back.

Then they stepped aside so George could have his turn. He swept her up into his arms for a full minute, and then kissed her forehead before whispering, "You'll come back to me?"

"If I don't, I might have to hurt myself."

"That's my lass," he laughed, hugging her briefly once again before sidling off with Raoul and Gary to give her and Jon some space.

"Can I beg you to stay one last time?" Jon pleaded. "I'll let you beat me at all of our fencing duels and horse races."

Alanna giggled. "I beat you at those anyway." She hugged him. "Love you."

He pulled her scarf down from over her mouth and kissed her warmly, and then stepped away. "You can go off and do great deeds for now, but when I become king, you're to be right at my side to help chop up all my enemies, understand?"

"Yes, my liege," she joked.

They kissed again, and then joined the others. Alanna mounted Moonlight, checked to make sure her saddlebags were secure and that Faithful was comfortable in his cup, and then waved to her friends one last time. "I'll be back soon enough, I promise."

"Lass, you ready?" Coram asked.

"Of course I am. Let's go."

As they swung out into the blistering cold, her four friends were left back in the stables, watching her disappear.

"You know, I remember when we first met that runt," Gary sighed as they trudged down to the Dancing Dove for a drink. "'Yes, my lord Gareth,' 'No, my lord Gareth,' 'I'll shine your shoes, my lord Gareth.'"

"Gods, where did she lose all her manners?" Raoul demanded.

The others glanced at him, and laughed.

"Wherever she did," George answered, "I'm glad she did, because what we got left with is one heck of a woman."

"What we got left with," Jon replied, "is a lady knight."