I'm not even going to begin saying how sorry I am! Thank you to everyone who's reviewed this, and stayed with it, despite how long it's been. This epilogue has been driving me up the wall, and I think I finally have something I'm reasonably comfortable with posting, in that I'm not going to be squirming every time I think of it. (I'm also half-asleep, which may have something to do with it!) Anyway, thanks again, and enjoy!
Arriving in Corus late one night the following week, Daine was too tired to pay attention to her surroundings as the pair rode up the long hill to the palace. She let Stefan Groomsman took the horses away, knowing he would take better care of them than anyone else. Menservants rushed to take their packs, ferrying them off to their rooms whilst Daine and Numair walked together, arms around each other's waist, half holding each other up out of sheer exhaustion from their long ride. She let Numair take the lead as they walked towards their rooms. It was only when they missed the turning to the corridor they usually took that she realised they were going anywhere different.
"Can we go and look at whatever arcane discovery it is tomorrow? I'm fair tired Numair."
"Just quickly, Daine?" he pleaded, his eyes dancing. "Come on," he towed her towards the rooms that were normally reserved for teachers and their families.
"Numair," she moaned, dragging her feet.
Numair turned round and scooped her up in his arms. "If you will not walk, then I will carry you!" he warned. "And no shapeshifting! It'll only be longer if we have to stop and wait for you to get changed."
"Can I not just go back on my own?"
"No!" Daine sighed and submitted to being carried, turning into him and letting her eyes close as she drifted in and out of sleep. Numair walked through corridors, finally stopping when he came to the end. He placed Daine on the ground, and she leant against the wall, half out of sheer exhaustion and half from exasperation. The mage fumbled for a moment, digging in a deep pocket for a set of keys. He pulled them out and put them in the lock, but didn't turn them. "Are you coming?" he asked. When she only looked at him, he sighed. Grasping her shoulders with both hands, he pulled her up onto both feet and turned her to face the door.
Looking closer at the solid oak door, she read the nameplate in the flickering torch light:
Numair Salmalín and Veralidaine Sarrasri
She looked at Numair, confused. "Numair, I don't understand. These aren't our ro–"
Numair covered her mouth. "Open the door, Daine," he said exasperatedly.
"Just open it!"
Daine put her hand onto the keys and turned them in the lock. There was a soft click, and the door swung open. Numair scooped her up once more and carried her into the room. "Welcome to our new home, Magelet," he murmured, kissing her hair.
"Numair?" she asked. Looking around, they were in a big, open room. It had two big couches in the middle of the floor, with a table in between. Three doors led out of it.
"Come on," he urged. "Have a look." He grinned, dragging Daine towards the first door. He pulled it open, and towed her inside. The large room was filled with books, with two desks that faced each other. Behind one of the desks was a large window, open onto the night sky. The wall was lined with book cases, and a large map of the entire Eastern and Southern Lands which reached from floor to ceiling, and another doorway. Numair darted across it, still dragging Daine behind. "This is the workroom." He went inside, gesticulating wildly. Daine watched him. If she hadn't been so tired, she would have laughed. He was acting like a small child at Midwinter. Two tables stretched the entire length of the room. The walls featured two big sinks, and shelves stacked with various things, all of which, she noted, were Numair's.
"Numair, what's going on?"
Numair walked up to her, cupping her cheeks with his hands. "It's a late Midwinter Gift. These are our new rooms." When she continued to look blankly at him, he sighed. "Come on." Passing back the way they had come, and through the entrance room, he paused at the door on the opposite side of the wall, waiting for her to catch up. He opened the door to reveal a room similar to the size of the study. Inside, Daine found the room to be humid, almost like a forest clime. Numair grinned at her. "The spell in this room adjusts the temperature and humidity, so the atmosphere suits whichever sort of animal guest you want to stay with you. I worked on it for months. We can change the inside of here so that it echoes the natural biosphere of the animal." She glanced at him. "Habitat," he explained. "And when Kitten gets bigger, she can use it, if she wants."
"It's wonderful," she told him honestly. "What are you up to?"
"It's a new home, Daine. For you, and for me, and for…" he paused, before mysteriously finishing, "you'll see. Come," he said, slipping an arm around her shoulder. "There's more to see."
Going back into the entrance room, and through the single remaining door, they found a large, comfortably furnished room, "The private living room," Numair told her. It was completed with a sky light in the ceiling, which would let light flood in during the daytime, and could be opened to let fresh air, or animals, in. A further two doors led from the room. Taking Daine to the first, Numair swung it open and gently pushed Daine inside.
She breathed in slowly. A large four poster bed was against one wall, covered by dusky blue sheets and pillows, and surrounded by a deep midnight blue canopy that hung from ceiling to floor. Opposite the bed was a large bay window, with a glass doorway that opened onto a balcony. A large sofa covered with cushions was placed against the wall closest to her, and another two doors were on the opposite wall.
Automatically moving to the glass doors, she pushed them open as the chilly night air brushed over her. Numair came to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her as a blanket against the warmth and gently resting his head atop hers. The view looked to the west, over the stables and the city and beyond the coastal hills to Port Caynn. In the far distance, Daine could see pinpricks of light bobbing up and down: ships on the sea.
"It's glorious," she breathed. "Thank you, Numair… This is the best… most… I mean" Words failed her as a combination of emotion and exhaustion overtook, and she blinked back sudden tears.
Numair pulled her round and swept her into a hug, his arms wonderfully tight as he kissed her hair gently. Finally he released her and led her back inside. Pulling her to another door, he showed her the dressing room. It was long and thin, and already held a large collection of both Numair's and her clothes hanging in cupboards along the wall. An ornately patterned changing screen stood at the far end of the room, concealing a privy, a large bathtub and a wash stand. Finally, after exploring the room thoroughly, Numair led her back into the bedroom.
"What's behind there?" she asked, pointing to the remaining door.
Even in the soft candlelight, she could see Numair's blush. "Well, it wasn't my idea exactly. I mean, well it was, but –"
"Well, you see, I wanted to move suites, so there was more room for us, for… the future. And these are the rooms I thought you'd like most, so…"
"I think I'm beginning to catch your drift. So what's behind the door?"
"Technically, it's supposed to be a nursery," he blurted out quickly, "but we don't have to use it as such."
"Yet," he agreed. "Kitten can use it at the moment, if she doesn't want to sleep in here with us, but I though it might be nice to have the bed to ourselves, occasionally." He led her inside. A small bed was on one side of the room, and a large stained glass window faced the door. A small book case and a table completed the furnishing, with another small door in the wall.
"It's a bit empty," she murmured. "A bit… lonely?"
Numair nodded. "It needs something in it. A baby, I think, is the intention. But not for a while yet," he added quickly.
"No. Not for a while."
"A long while," Numair added resolutely, and shivered. Daine laughed, knowing from the look on his face that he was remembering Alanna's children at Midwinter. She couldn't help but agree, either. Liking children was very different from being ready to have them. "We can make other use of the room until then though," Numair told her. "But there's nothing to say that one day…"
"One day," she smiled up at him. "Just not yet." She squeezed his hand. "What about there?" she asked, pointing at the other door.
"It's another bedroom that leads through to the living room. For the moment, we can use it for guest rooms, but I think one day it's for children." He grinned. "The quartermaster is expecting us to have rather a lot, I think."
Daine grinned. "We'd better get some practice in then. With the necessary precautions in place, of course."
Numair laughed, waving a hand in agreement. "We wouldn't want to disappoint, would we? We'll explore it later, magelet. Now though, to bed." He looked shocked and innocent at the knowing expression on her face. "You said you were tired, Daine! I was merely following your wishes when you expressed a desire to retire for the night."
"Yes," Daine laughed. "Of course you were. It has nothing to do with practicing for babies, does it?"
Numair shrugged his shoulders innocently, a smile spreading across his face. Taking Daine's hand, he pulled her back into the bedroom, closing the door with a slam behind him.