Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to Tamora Pierce.

Chapter 22 – Epilogue

"Alanna, I have news," Numair said into the speaking spell he was sending. "I would prefer an actual discussion. Can you get to a fire?"

A sparkle at the corner of his eye a moment later told of her return message. "Give me five minutes. It better be worth the trouble."

Smiling to himself, Numair thought that Alanna even sounded seasick. All things considered, he thought that Alanna had come off the worst in the area of travel. They had been at sea two and a half days just to turn around and come back.

When finally he saw Alanna's face in the fire, he knew his smile would give him away. It must have been contagious because her face split into a grin as well. It was just after midnight and Alanna looked like he might have taken her from a deep slumber. She nearly giggled as she said, "Tell me."

"His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Kaddar, has requested the delegation to consider returning to sign a peace treaty."

"Kaddar?" she asked astonished.

"Yes. Kaddar. The former emperor is now a stormwing. When last I saw him he was flying away clumsily. Rikash was in pursuit and referring to him as 'precious'." He couldn't help himself. He burst into laughter. Alanna joined him.

"And Daine?"

"Daine is alive and whole and sleeping at Princess Fazia's beach home. I am just down the beach from there. I have quite a tale to tell you. I'm sure it will be the stuff of fireside stories for years to come. It has gods, weird magic, an execution, wild animals, dinosaurs, and the most endearing heroine you could ever imagine."

"It sounds ent – did you say execution?"

"Yes, I did. I have been executed. I hope it never happens again." Alanna looked very confused. "I will tell you everything when you get here -- which will be a lot faster than you were expecting I might add. Lindhall found this very marvelous book and gave it to me. It has a most unique spell for powering sails. I can even do the incantation by fire."

"Wow. I might be interested in this book."

"Now you're just teasing me." Both of them chuckled mischievously.

"A couple more things you need to know before you arrive. You will need to dig out the rain gear from the back hold if you want to stay dry." Alanna's eyes widened. "Yes, we have quite a down pour, although you cannot see because I shielded myself and the fire."

"And what else."

"Well, you know how you made me promise not to blow up the palace?"

"Numair!"

"I kept the promise. But nothing was said about what Daine could and couldn't destroy. It's uhhh – you won't believe it until you see."

"That bad?"

"That bad! Now if you could stand back while I get you all powered up - I'll even be a dear and swing you about. We should see you in about eight hours. Give Duke Gareth my regards."

When Numair awoke in the morning, he first crept into Daine's room to check on her. He knew she would be out for two or three more days, but it was good to see her breathing. Fazia was still in shock about being moved from her palace rooms and wasn't at all sure she wanted Numair in Daine's room. He was forced to sneak in with his new stealth spell.

By day light, the palace destruction was catastrophic. There really wasn't much left. Those parts of the palace which weren't burned had been ripped and torn by powerful jaws and horns.

Just before the ship was due to arrive back in port, Fazia had learned of Daine's role in the destruction and ordered them out. Nothing Kaddar could say to his mother would convince her to change her mind. They moved to guest quarters at the university. Numair had barely gotten Daine settled into her bed there when it was time to go greet his friends.

When the Tortallan delegates stepped off the ferry, it was to much less fanfare than before. Kaddar, a few members of the guard and some of the university members, along with Numair, Lindhall and Bonedancer, stood shoreside to greet them. Duke Gareth, Lord Martin, and Alanna were all staring with wonder at the smoldering ruins of the palace.

"Mithros! There is almost nothing left." Duke Gareth stated after everyone bowed politely to Kaddar.

"Well, Daine said she lost her temper," Numair said flippantly and then laughed. "Remind me never to make her angry."

The moment he was close enough, Numair swept Alanna into a warm hug. "I never said thank you," he whispered. When he let her go he saw there were tears in her eyes.

"If you tell anyone, I'll run you through," she muttered as she wiped her eyes, but she was smiling while she said it.

As they walked back to the University, Kaddar and Numair filled them in on what took place. It seemed that only Lord Martin had failed to see the humor that rest and perspective had brought. Martin seemed even more inclined to dislike Daine, but he was eager to sign the peace accord.

When they arrived inside, Numair noticed Varice standing there, hands wringing together. She did not look like herself at all. Her face was unpainted, her dress was drab. Even her hair was unkempt. He smiled to her apologetically. She strolled forward and slapped him as hard as she could, then ran away sobbing.

"You have a strange influence on women, you know that Numair?" Alanna chided. "Now what exactly caused that?"

So Numair filled them in on the details of his execution and when he explained the stones, and how Ozorne had helped Varice's to hit the target, every man in the group cringed.

"He was a nasty man, wasn't he?" Alanna said when the story finished. "Do you think he's dead now?"

"I can only pray that he is," Numair answered.

It was three more days until Daine awoke and another before she was really up and about. On that day, Numair coaxed her into spending some time in the garden with him in a break between rains. Bonedancer, Zek and Kitten followed and were playing with some pretty colored stones. Numair had intended to talk to Daine about the Badger's role in everything. He felt she ought to know that there were concerns about her tasting human blood. But their discussion was derailed when Alanna brought Kaddar to them.

"May I talk to you briefly?" Kaddar asked Daine. "I won't take much of your time."

"Take all you want, Your Imperiousness," Daine said with a smile, patting the chair next to hers.

"Here, laddybuck," Alanna told Numair. "You come with me."

Numair sighed but didn't argue. He followed Alanna into the guest quarters, glancing regretfully back at the two teenagers as he closed the door. He had not told anyone about finding Daine's handkerchief in Kaddar's belongings.

"Don't slip through the wall to spy now," Alanna said, eyes dancing.

"Is my curiosity that obvious?"

"You are very protective, Numair. Some might say that you are too protective."

He stared at the floor for a long moment. "He's very taken with her."

"Do you find that so hard to understand?"

"No, Alanna. I understand completely." He thought he saw her smile, but she turned her face away. "But I suppose they make a good pair." There was a pain in his chest when he said it.

Alanna turned to look at him. She seemed confused.

"I hope she doesn't stay behind. But if she does – " He wanted to finish it, but he found he couldn't talk.

"I don't think she will." Alanna looked up into his face, searching.

"She deserves to be happy," Numair said. His voice seemed strange to him, almost hollow.

Alanna motioned him over to a sitting area where the two could not see into the garden. "I've been thinking about something George asked me once. He wanted to know how you and I had managed to forge such a friendship when some of your habits so closely resembled things about my relatives that I disliked."

Caught off-guard, Numair said, "Like what?"

"My father – my real father – was very bookish. He was so wrapped up in his books that he barely noticed he had two children."

Numair smirked. "I am bookish. Sorry?"

"My brother Thom, who I loved dearly, put us at great risk through his experimenting."

"I like to think I'm more careful than that, Alanna," he said seriously.

"The point is, you are a brilliant man, Numair, like both of them. But unlike both of them, you have your priorities straight. Someday, you will have those things that you need to complete you. That big heart of yours will find a home."

Numair couldn't respond because of the huge lump in his throat. He just nodded and looked at the floor.

"And Numair, you deserve to be happy too."

At that moment, Daine walked in with Kaddar close behind her. "How long until we leave?" she asked.

Numair and Alanna shared a private smile.

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Finis!