Chapter Ten: Fulfillment
Philionel awoke from the most beautiful dream. Somewhere in the dark the voice of his beloved wife Genevieve stirred his consciousness. When he opened his eyes he thought his wife had come back to check on him. Upon closer focus he recognized the beautiful face of his firstborn, Gracia. She was smiling at him with a warm expression in her eyes as if she were happy to see him.
When he finally came to, he was back in his royal apartments, snuggled under the softest feathered quilts atop layers of silken sheets. But no physical comfort in that wakeful moment could compare to the feeling of fulfillment from the lingering dream.
For whatever reason, he had missed the bulk of the festivities the prior night and there was quite a nasty bump on his head. Philionel could not solicit a straight answer from any of the physicians or council members who visited his bedchamber intermittently. But, from what he could gather, his guests had enjoyed the ball immensely although his absence made it impossible for the coronation to occur. Amelia was nowhere to be seen, but Zelgadis had come into the royal apartments to inquire after the prince's health and confirm that all was well and Amelia would agree to her coronation a day later. However there were some incidental minor explosions on the terrace and in the old forgotten wing of the castle that would require some repair...whatever that meant.
"Steady lad, that one," said Philionel rather self-satisfactorily to no one in particular after Zegadis had left.
Overall, it was a very relaxing morning in bed.
What Philionel would later discover in an enclosed council meeting in his royal apartments was that his wife's distant relatives had attempted a coup to take power away from his family. His daughter had successfully defeated them and prevented the castle from imploding upon itself when Nigel and Jared accidentally unleashed a centuries old curse. It wasn't until the majority of the people had left after the meeting adjourned that the full weight of what had happened last night sank into silent understanding. For a long moment, he eyed his daughter, also present during the meeting as the crown-princess-to-be, quietly looking out the bedroom window at the afternoon sun. She had an inscrutable expression on her face. It was the expression of the ruler of a kingdom. Amelia was already learning first-hand the meaning of threats to her future reign, what could be said aloud and which secrets to keep to herself. He only hoped that she would not have to endure the years alone when he, eventually, was gone.
"The three assassins are being held in the dungeon," said Amelia quietly. "I haven't a clue what to do with them. Zelgadis suggested execution but that's not something I want to happen right at the forefront of my crowning. What kind of message would that send?" she said, appalled.
"We have to give them a trial," said her father. "We can only do what Justice tells us to do."
"I hope you don't mind, father, but I thought best to reconcile the families and allow Uncle Jared to be buried in the family plot. There's nothing to be done against the dead and I have a feeling he was truly sorry in the end. I can't despise him as much as I thought I would," she said sullenly.
"That's very generous of you, my dear. And wise. It will appease your mother's side of the family, certainly, and we'll pick a hidden, obstructed side of the plot where no one will notice him," said Phil.
"But we simply can't tolerate this 'assassins for hire' business much longer. It's how Mother was killed. They almost killed you. There will be no peace in any land if this continues. Something has to be done about the Assassin's Guild," she said with determination.
"That's very far sighted of you, my dear, but it's a topic best left for another day," smiled her father gently. "Before you decide to wage war on anyone, let's turn our minds to happier business."
"Such as? I don't even have a suitor anymore and the council expects me to choose someone. The tradition of choosing someone to marry on the same day of the coronation is such an outdated concept," frowned Amelia. "I can't just pick someone out of the crowd."
"Tradition is important for the people. It gives them a sense of stability. It is our duty to ensure the lineage is continued. Sure, the coronation was delayed due to excessive drinking and last night ended with a fireworks display that allegedly damaged some parts of the castle but in the end, the people want to see you settling down as my successor," he explained.
"You can't imagine how many dukes, counts and heirs both young and old I was paraded in front of today..." she sighed.
"Everyone wants a chance to catch your eye, my dear. It's your special day. Jared is being kept in the castle as a "guest" for an indeterminate amount of time until his family can negotiate his release. I might add, however, not without a hefty payment. You've done well to control the information flow to the guests and the people."
"It was Zelgadis' idea," she smiled.
"I think that boy has your best interests in mind," he chuckled. "He's very astute and attentive to detail." Amelia ducked her head and blushed slightly.
Her father let out a great yawn and stretched his ams over he head. "I'm starting to feel my age, my dear. I've realized I can't continue to be the fearless, peerless leader of Great Seiyruun. This last incident with the assassins proves it. I still can't believe I was tricked and knocked senseless like that. What I really want now is to see your coronation tonight and feel that certainty when I hand you the scepter that I am entrusting the kingdom to an able princess." After a moment's hesitation, he added, "I wish Gracia were here to see it. I had a dream about her this morning, you know."
His words startled Amelia bit. She had told Zelgadis not to mention her sister in front of her father, lest it trigger another fruitless and expensive manhunt. It was clear that Gracia did not wish to be found.
Somehow, after last night, she could no longer resent Gracia for abandoning her post and leaving Amelia with the burdens that followed. Her sister's actions her loyalty to her family. Rather, as her father had once explained, it simply wasn't in Gracia's future to be queen.
"I will make you proud, Daddy," she beamed back at him. Philionel placed a large hand on her head.
"I already am, Ame-chan." He smiled back with a father's warmth.
Amelia stared silently at her reflection in the full-length mirror. She contemplated the conversation she had with her father just a few hours before. She was a little anxious about the ceremony and all the pairs of eyes that would be watching and scrutinizing her. As she was being dressed and groomed for the occasion, she wondered if she had the courage to do what she intended tonight, or if she would falter in her resolve when the moment came.
Her ladies in waiting had taken some time to dress her in a fine pearl colored satin gown and silver tiara. This was her "back-up" gown that had been tailored with the one she wore last night. The first dress was deemed "unsalvageable" and so this one would have to do. A thick, velvety red ribbon draped across her chest had her royal insignia pinned neatly along with her other status badges depicting her family crest, her rank and the like. Lost in thought, she gently fingered the golden dragon on her Order of Ceiphied crest that was pinned close to her heart. She only had a vague recollection of what transpired after she cast the Chaos spell. She wondered what had been "exchanged" considering Zelgadis looked unchanged and she felt no different. She didn't have a lot of time to think more on it.
"Princess?" asked a timid voice from behind her. She turned to see one of her maids hold up her royal cape, a matching set with the ribbon, to fasten it to her dress.
"It's time to descend the staircase and enter the Hall," said the maid. Amelia gave a nod.
Zelgadis walked down an empty corridor in the castle letting his thoughts wander just as his feet were aimlessly seeking some destination. No one really noticed him thought he was walking in plain sight. His presence at the Castle had become quite ordinary and most castle insiders recognized him as the princess' invaluable friend.
Only a few guests noticed the stony complexioned golem walking down the hallway dressed like a prince. His cool demeanor and aloof expression were enough to keep them at bay. It wasn't until he was halfway there that he realized he was walking towards Amelia's chambers. Zelgadis stopped in mid step and wondered what possessed him to do so. He had just seen her earlier that morning and she seemed well enough to function. That gave him much relief. Yet something was nagging him and he could not fight the urge to see her again.
Just as he was contemplating what he would ask or say to her if they happened to "accidentally" run into each other in the hall, he noticed a figure standing aloof in a corner of the hallway in a large mirror hung on the wall. He turned to confront that familiar figure but Xellos was nowhere to be found.
It did not escape him that the mischievous demon may have had a hand in much of what happened here in the past few weeks if not months. As he turned to continue down the hall, the familiar and altogether annoying demonic grin greeted him.
"Hi," said the unexpected visitor.
"Xellos," grumbled Zelgadis in greeting.
"Going up to see your precious princess?" he asked cheerfully.
"That's none of your business," Zelgadis retorted.
"Well, I knew you'd be useful to me in many ways the first time I saw you. This time is no exception-you've really outdone yourself."
"What are you saying?" asked Zelgadis suspiciously.
"Well, it's quite fortuitous that you came to visit your little princess when you did. The statue had to be destroyed one way or another because the Queen's protective spell was weakening. My Master originally bade me to do it to maintain balance in the Universe. But really, rather than risk my life, you and the little princess stuck your necks out. In the end, neither of you seem any worse for wear," chuckled Xellos.
"Did you plan on Amelia finding the Book of Spells?" demanded Zelgadis. The demon only shrugged off the question.
"Among other things. I actually did not expect her to live through it. It never ceases to amaze me how durable Lina's little friends are," he responded honestly. "But since it was her family that created the danger, it made sense that the little princess would be the one to fix it." Xellos smiled. "That's kharma for you."
"Get out of my sight before I break your face," said Zelgadis quietly.
"Tsk, tsk," said Xellos, wagging a finger at him. "And here I was to deliver good news to you out of the kindness of my heart."
"You don't have one," said Zelgadis, rolling his eyes.
"The pact the little princess made with my Master in the Void will come to pass on the first night of the new moon. She gave a portion of her life force to fulfill it. I just came to tell you to think carefully about how you want spend this night of the month in the future."
Before Zelgadis began to decipher the demon's cryptic words, Xellos was gone.
On her way to the Great Hall, where all her guests were waiting, Amelia found Zelgadis in the rose garden, staring into the fountain. He was dressed in one of the finer outfits the servants had laid out for him since what he was wearing yesterday was all but destroyed with his bleeding. Though he had suggested they return his old clothes to him, for some mysterious reason no one could locate his old traveling clothes. She found his appearance quite handsome.
She found him studying his stony, rock hard reflection in the ripples of water. What was the most troubling for Amelia was the fact that his physical appearance was unchanged, despite her wish.
"Amelia," he greeted warmly as he noticed her reflection next to his in the water. The change she noticed was in his eyes. They were filled with an expression that she did not recall seeing before and could only be described best as "affection." Amelia wondered how she had not noticed it before.
"How are you holding up?" he asked.
"Well," she responded, "all things considered..."
"Considering you've thwarted a coup, rescued your father and you're being crowned today it was a rather silly question," he chuckled.
"Yes, very," laughed Amelia. "What are you doing out here by yourself?"
"I was just thinking..." his voice drifted softly.
"About?" she asked. He turned towards her and held her gaze in earnest. She found it difficult to resist.
"I don't want to leave you," he began. Amelia's heart started to sink as she pondered the possibility of him leaving to continue his journey. She mustered a cheery smile.
"You don't have to stay out of any sense of obligation, Zelgadis. I will be fine," she assured him. "I have been trained and groomed for this all of my life."
He took one step closer to her and gathered her into his arms. Her cheek was pressed against his velvet ivory tunic. She heard his heart skip a beat.
"You don't have to muster that brave smile for me, Amelia. I know you better than that. If you want to complain, just complain. If you want to laugh, I'll laugh with you. If you want to cry, I'll stay with you."
"Zelgadis," she whispered. She had to ask him now or else she would never be able to do it.
"If I asked you to be my Prince Consort, would you at least consider it?" she asked tentatively.
Without hesitation he responded, "I am willing to be your Protector when you become the Crowne Princesse. If, when you ascend the throne, you still desire it, I am willing to be whatever you wish."
"Zelgadis-san," she said pulling away from him and showing him a surprised, but hopeful, expression.
"I have always wanted to dedicate my strength to a worthy cause, and I believe I have now found you as my calling. I would never have known the feeling of fulfillment if it wasn't for you."
Amelia was motionless and still absorbing his words as he bent down toward her. His rough skin was not unpleasant against her cheek. His lips were surprisingly soft and gentle as they sought out hers. She closed her eyes and could feel the flush come to her face. The music and laughter in the background faded and the scenery blurred as the world fell away. Lifting her chin slightly she shared a long, sweet kiss with him.
"Ahem," said someone in the background, clearing his throat. Their moment was interrupted by the Chamberlain who pretended to not be looking as he watched them from the corner of his eye.
"Your presence is required in the Hall, Highness. The sun is setting."
Zel and Amelia walked silently together, side by side, with her hand draped across his raised open palm formally, as he escorted her into the Great Hall. That small gesture revealed the deeper connection between them as the crowd watched them quietly. The talking and the laughter faded and the people parted to either side to allow them to pass. Their looks became more curious and questioning as the couple progressed towards the dais. But the pair did not look away from one another until they reached the end of the red carpet, where her father, the council members and priests awaited.
Prince Philionel, decked in the formal attire he wasn't able to show off yesterday, offered a hand to his daughter as she lifted the hem of her gown and approached.
"Come forth, Amelia Wil Tesla of Seiyruun, and receive the blessing of your forefathers," said Phil in his deep, authoritative tone. She let go of Zelgadis' hand and removed her tiara, placing it in his hands for safe keeping. Amelia knelt before her father as he raised a golden crown encrusted with sapphires and diamonds over her head.
"I hereby make my declaration, that you, Amelia Wil Tesla Seiyruun, are Crowne Princesse and heir to the throne of Seiyruun by the Grace of Ceipheid and the Houses of Tesla and Dia." Amelia rose and turned to face the audience. She stole a glance at Zelgadis who supported her with his honest smile. Trumpets blared a celebratory tune. With the weight of the crown Amelia felt her destiny move into place as if it had just set itself in stone.
Without a second thought, she offered a gloved hand to Zelgadis. He stepped up onto the dais and in front of the the crowd of witnesses he kissed her gloved hand and knelt on bended knee before her. The backdrop of the sun glowing behind them through the stained window was beautiful and blinding. Just as the sun sank into the horizon, many in the crowd gasped as Zelgadis began to glow faintly, even as the sunlight disappeared. In the blink of an eye, Zelgadis suddenly took human form before the many shocked onlookers. Amelia could hardly believe it herself. Zelgadis, reading her expression, immediately brought his hands to his face and marveled at the almost forgotten texture of his human skin in wide-eyed disbelief.
Prince Philionel chuckled and drew the royal sword hanging at his side. Standing before him, the prince touched the flat of the blade to one shoulder and then the next as Zelgadis continued to kneel.
"I Prince Philionel do hereby knight you, Zelgadis Greywords of the House of Rezo as a Knight of Seiyruun and do declare you the appointed Royal Protector of the House of Tesla. What say you?"
Just as he responded, "I accept and swear an oath of loyalty to Crowne Princesse Amelia Wil Tesla Seiyruun," the crowd erupted in cheers and the music filled the Great Hall.
Many who had seen the princess grow up now noticed that she no longer bore that lonely expression on her face. She beamed a radiant smile as her knight stood before her, her hands held gently in his.
Author's note: A precursor to Slayers Revolution I suppose? Hehe. When I started this story, this was the ending I originally intended. Amelia would give up a portion of her life to allow Zelgadis to be human again. And he would stay with her now, and give up his wandering. Of course, not a lot of her ife force was exchanged, ironically, since Zel can only be human one day of every month! Hahahah. Don't worry, longevity runs in her family. But I can see what Xellos meant...*ahem*
Long, long ago, when I was still in college, I went online with my dial-up modem (remember those?) and saw a pic of Zel sitting under a tree, traveling somewhere, with one of Amelia's bracelets by his side. That was the inspiration to begin this story, though it would take another five years to put that first chapter down on paper. Now that I think of it, this story took me ten years to finish! Coincidentally there are ten chapters. Hahah...
Sorry it took so long to get to this point. I hope the ending didn't feel too rushed. Let me know what you thought.