Well, here it is, finally. Finally, and what a huge relief it is! The very last chapter, after an embarrassing number of years from start to finish. Writing this chapter was like pulling teeth, despite the fact I had a very good idea of how I wanted to end it. Ironically enough, though, this is probably not going to be the last you'll see of these characters; creating A & M's children has inspired me to write a short add-on story (3-4 chapters is my guess) that will explain how Kylia and her husband met and fell in love.
Also, as it doesn't seem too unlikely that some of my readers are Lord of the Rings fans as well, I'll give a blatant plug to my story, "Grey Eyes, White Tower", which is a few chapters along in the LotR forum. If you're interested, you can find it through my profile.
Thanks for sticking with me all this time!
It was early afternoon by the time Anomen and Valygar returned to the house. It had been a successful trip, and all their errands had been accomplished. Valygar had secured a room for the night for himself and Jaheira at the inn, and Sarn's body had been turned over to the authorities. Most importantly, Tafas had been safety delivered to High Watcher Durlan, who was quite willing to assist their local Hand of Helm by giving their would-be brigand work and a place to stay for the winter. Anomen was optimistic about Tafas; despite their inauspicious first meeting his impression was that Tafas was in essence a good and honest man who would do well at the temple.
When he and Valygar returned their mounts to the stable, Anomen was happy to see several new additions since they had left for Berdusk; Kylia and her family must have arrived while they were gone. They entered the house through the kitchen, and not unexpectedly found it thronged with people. Dorna was busy at the stove assisted by Merena, but before he could sort out who was sitting around the kitchen table there was a shrill cry and something small and red-headed careened into his knees, staggering him.
Having experienced such assaults before, Anomen knew how to respond. He stared down at the red-haired girl clutching his knees in mock horror and cried, "Valygar, I need assistance, this foe is too much for me!"
Valygar chuckled, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave you to her mercies, Anomen."
"Woe is me, I'm doomed!" he moaned, and leaned down to pick up the giggling girl. He felt familiar warmth in his chest as her arms tightened around his neck.
"Grandpapa!" she cried happily, kissing him on the cheek.
"Anora, my sweetling," Anomen murmured.
"Grandpapa, your face is cold," Anora commented, patting his face with her hand.
"Well, we'll just have to warm it up then, won't we?" Anomen responded, tickling Anora's neck with his beard, causing her to laugh uproariously.
Kylia approached them, chuckling, "Give someone else a chance, Anora dear."
Anomen smiled warmly and said, "I always have an arm ready for you, Kylia," as he pulled her into an embrace. "Welcome, my dear, and happy birthday," he added. "Your journey went well?"
"Fine, except that the children were rather…restless by the end," she answered dryly.
Anomen snorted in amusement, "That I remember well from our summer visits here when you were young. Which reminds me," Anomen said, peering around her shoulder, "where is the newest addition to the family?"
"Right here, and eager to see his grandpapa," a man's voice responded. Davith, Kylia's husband, walked up holding a wriggling Merrick, their 18-month old son who was struggling mightily to escape his father's arms.
"Ah, there's my boy!" Anomen said, happily scooping up Merrick with the arm that was recently vacated by Kylia. After giving his grandson a kiss, he addressed Davith, "Good to see you, son."
Davith nodded and smiled, still a little shy around his highly honored father-in-law, "Thank you, sir."
"Now that you've had a chance to greet the grandchildren," Merena called from her place by the stove, "we should sit down to dinner." She smiled at her husband, "We waited for you and Val."
"Oh, you needn't have done that, Merena," Anomen replied. She smiled indulgently but did not bother to respond.
Anora and Merrick were summarily removed from Anomen's arms by their parents so they could be cleaned up for supper, despite vocal protests from both children.
When the kitchen had cleared out a bit, a tall, lanky form unfolded itself from a chair in the corner of the room, and Anomen recognized him with a start of surprise and delight. "Khalid, lad!" he said, giving his youngest son a warm embrace. "I'm surprised to see you, your horse wasn't in the stable."
"She came up lame a few days ago, so I borrowed one for the journey," Khalid replied, his voice surprisingly deep for someone so young and thin. "After all, I couldn't miss Kylia's birthday."
"Of course not!" Anomen agreed heartily. "Besides, it's been far too long since your mother and I have seen you; though we have been reports of how well you've been doing from Valygar."
Khalid blushed a little and greeted Valygar, as Anomen shook his head, bemused. "By Helm, Khalid, you've grown—you'll soon be as tall as I am!" Indeed, although Khalid would never match his father or brother in breath of shoulder, he was just a few fingers' width shorter. Anomen's throat closed with emotion; Khalid looked so much like Merena it made his heart ache.
Kylia had returned with Merrick, and said with a wry smile, "Don't I know it! You'd think I'd be reconciled to being the shortest one in the family, but still, it's downright depressing to have my baby brother tower over me!"
Khalid's lips quirked in amusement, "You know, I think I like having a little sister for a change."
Kylia glared at him, but before she could decide on a suitably scathing reply, Merena arrived, deftly taking Merrick from his mother's arms and shooing Kylia and Khalid into the dining room for dinner.
About halfway through the meal the usually quiet Khalid cleared his throat and cast a sidelong glance at his mentor. "Valygar, you know I've always wondered something…when we traveled together from Athkatla to Immesvale, why did you never want to stop in Trademeet?"
The question was so unexpected that conversations around the table stopped abruptly, and everyone turned to look at Khalid and Valygar in surprise. Valygar closed his eyes briefly and sighed, staring morosely into his plate.
Startled and puzzled by the question—and Valygar's response—Anomen asked his son, "Why would that matter, Khalid?"
Khalid shrugged, "I wasn't sure it did, but I was curious so I stopped there myself the last time I went to Immesvale." A smile tugged his lips, and it was clear to Anomen that Khalid really didn't need Valygar to answer the question.
"Well?" Kylia demanded, "Aren't you going to tell us? What is it?"
Anomen glanced across the table at Merena, who had the unmistakable look of someone trying not to laugh; she arched an eyebrow and gave him an impish smile. Clearly she knew the answer to the mystery of why Valygar would want to avoid…Trademeet. The memory came to him suddenly and he nearly groaned aloud.
"We've heard so much from our parents and Val and Jaheira about their travels together, I'm just surprised they never mentioned that they are the 'Heroes of Trademeet'," Khalid replied.
Anomen buried his face in his hands, unsure whether he felt more amused or embarrassed.
"They were heroes in a lot of places, Khalid, why is Trademeet so important?" Kylia asked impatiently.
"Oh, but those other places don't have statues of them. Life-size statues. In the town square, no less," Khalid replied with a chuckle.
Kylia's eyes widened and she stared at her brother in astonishment. "No! Really?" She turned to Merena, "Momma, I can't believe you never told us about this! There are statues of all of you?"
"All four of them, plus…Kelsey," Khalid said hurriedly; Kylia's lips thinned briefly but she didn't comment, "and Minsc. Even Boo!" Khalid exclaimed.
"I can't wait to tell Gorion and Moira about this!" Kylia said gleefully.
"I don't think that's necessary, Kylia," Anomen interjected in what he was certain was a vain attempt to limit the spread of this news.
"But Papa, they'll want to know! They'll probably want to take a trip to Trademeet to see the statues—I know I do!"
"That's what I was afraid of," Anomen said glumly.
In contrast to Valygar's chagrin, Jaheira seemed unperturbed by the revelation. "I don't know why you men are so upset," she sniffed, "as I recall, my likeness was quite flattering."
"It just seems so…undignified," Anomen grumbled.
"Well, I don't mind if you children want to go see them," Merena said with a smile. "But whatever you do, don't mention it to Imoen! She was still a prisoner in Spellhold when the statues were made, and she was very disappointed when she found out that she had missed an opportunity to be…immortalized," she added with an amused twinkle in her eyes. "It took me days to convince her not to offer the town elders a statue of herself to add to the display!"
Later that evening Anora skipped up to Anomen as he was discussing church matters with Davith. "Grandpapa, when can I see the statues of you and Grandmama? she asked breathlessly.
Anomen smiled down at her and patted her head lovingly, "That is up to your parents, my girl. Trademeet is some distance from Athkatla so it is not a journey to be taken lightly. If you do go, you should also remember that the images were made when your grandmother and I were young, so they won't look quite the same as we do now."
"Young like me and Merrick?" Alora asked, her eyes widening.
Anomen chuckled, "Oh, no, sweetling, not that young. Closer to your father's age."
"Papa's not young, he's all grown up!" Alora protested.
The two men exchanged an amused glance. "Although you may not appreciate it now, doubtless at some point you'll understand that one can be young and grown-up at same time," Anomen replied dryly.
Alora gave him a skeptical look, but instead of responding she began swinging from Anomen's arm, crying, "Pick me up, Grandpapa!" Unfortunately, she had chosen the arm with the weak shoulder, and he couldn't quite suppress a wince of pain as she put her weight on it.
Davith must have noticed his reaction, and said firmly, "Your grandfather is not a tree to be climbed, young lady. I will pick you up, but give your grandpapa a kiss first; it's time for you to go to bed."
Alora began to protest, but at that moment Kylia joined them, Merrick fast asleep on her shoulder. "Your papa is right, Alora, it's time for bed. You'll have plenty of time with grandpapa and everyone else tomorrow. Besides," she continued with a mischievous glint in her eye, "Uncle Gorion will be here tomorrow, and you can swing on him as much as you like."
Anomen met Kylia's eyes and choked back a laugh, but was able to maintain his composure enough to exchange a goodnight hug and kiss with Anora. Once the kisses and hugs had been bestowed to everyone's satisfaction and the grandchildren bundled off to bed, Anomen went in search of his wife.
He found her deep in conversation with Valygar. They both looked up as he approached. "Excuse me, Val, but may I steal my wife away for a few moments? he asked. "If you don't mind, of course."
"Not at all," Valygar assured him, I've been meaning to catch up with Khalid all day."
Anomen thanked him and took Merena's hand to lead her away. "What is it, love, is anything wrong?" she questioned.
"Oh, no, my dear, I just wanted to speak to you alone," Anomen replied, slipping an arm around her waist. He led her into the front room, which was rarely used in winter because it was difficult to heat.
"All right," Merena said, raising an eyebrow inquiringly, "we're alone…what is all this about?"
Instead of finding a place to sit as she expected, he stopped in middle of the room and pulled her close. "My dear, do you remember our conversation last night, when we spoke of our plans for the next few years?" Anomen asked.
"I do believe I can cast my mind back that far," she responded dryly.
"I have been giving our situation some thought, and I decided that it might meet the case if we were to live here for half the year, instead of just a few weeks in the summer. You could take on an apprentice here much easier than in Athkatla, and I could do…whatever I wish," he added with a grin. "I find that thought to be surprisingly appealing for some reason. The house is really too small for our needs when the children are visiting, so perhaps we could add a few rooms and make some of the changes you've always wanted." Anomen smiled, "We could even try to convince that sister of yours to set up one of her portals here to Delryn House to make travel between here and Athkatla that much easier."
"Oh Anomen, that's a wonderful idea! It never seemed worthwhile to make the improvements it needs when we only use it for a short time every year, but if we could enlarge and update the house…" Merena stopped and caught Anomen's eyes, "Are you certain you won't miss being in Athkatla if we're here so much of the year?"
"Merena," Anomen replied, "in Athkatla I am required to be Lord Delryn, and Sir Anomen, and the Hand of Helm. That is no bad thing, and I would indeed be an ungrateful lout if I were to complain about the course my life has taken. But in truth, I…I find myself yearning for more time to be plain Anomen Delryn, father, grandfather…and husband. Here, I can do that."
Anomen cleared his throat, "I had another notion as well…as you know, if we are here more often we will need more help to maintain the house, tend the horses and so forth. Rickar is not getting any younger and may have trouble keeping up with work on his own, so perhaps we should consider taking on another hand." He met her eyes, "If Tafas proves himself to be dependable and hard-working, I would like to ask him to work for us."
"Always looking after your lost sheep, love?" Merena smiled, "I think that's a fine idea, Anomen. It sounds like you've got it all worked out," she continued, "but I must admit I'm a little surprised." Merena gazed at him searchingly, "You know, Anomen, I've always wondered whether you might have mixed feelings about this house since it was originally where Kelsey and I made our home."
Anomen chuckled, "Merena, where are we?"
She looked at him askance and said, "I assume you are expecting some other answer than the obvious one."
Anomen smiled and caressed her cheek, "I picked this exact spot for a reason, my dear. Think back about, oh, twenty-five years; I was in my armor—and in a hurry—but not in too much of a hurry to show you what you meant to me."
"Oh…oh!" Merena exclaimed, "I can't believe I forgot that this is where you first kissed me!" She smiled and shook her head, "As I recall, I was beginning to wonder how long it would take for you to realize that I wanted you to kiss me."
"I trust that I have made up for my slow-wittedness since then," Anomen remarked dryly. "My point is that there are many more happy memories associated with this house than there are unhappy ones. Not the least of which is that it is here that we fell in love." He quirked a smile at his wife, "Or rather, this is where you at long last came to your senses and fell in love with me."
Merena laughed, "Point taken, Anomen." She slid her arms around his neck and looked at him with a challenging glint in her eyes, "I believe you were saying something about kissing…"
"Aye, I was, my lady," he murmured, pulling her close and suiting actions to words.
They were too preoccupied to notice a few minutes later when a door opened and closed nearby, so their first inkling that they were not alone was when a man's voice, heavy with amusement cried, "Cover your eyes, Moira, by the gods they're at it again! No child should be treated to the sight of their aged parents behaving like newlyweds, it's…it's unnatural!"
Anomen and Merena looked up to see two dark-haired figures in the doorway; a tall, broad-shouldered young man and a young woman near his height standing behind him. Their cheeks were still red from the cold and they both wore tabards of the Order over their armor.
"Gorion," Anomen growled, "it would be you that interrupts us!" Then, unable to maintain the pretence, he strode over to embrace his tall son. Next he pulled his daughter into his arms and said, "Moira, my dear, it's about time you two arrived, we were beginning to worry!"
"Yes, Papa," Moira grinned, "we could see just how worried you were when we came in." When Merena came up to greet the newcomers Moira added, "You know, Momma, most of our friends' parents barely speak to each other; it's very unfashionable of you two to still be so much in love."
"Well, I think that's past mending, even if we wanted to." Merena laughed. "Welcome, Moira darling."
She gazed up at Gorion, eyes narrowed, "As for you, Gorion, I think we need to have a little chat about that 'aged parents' comment."
"Ah, Mother, slip of the tongue, meant to say 'parent'; aged parent," he corrected smoothly, "you know…Father," he added in an undertone. "You've not aged a day in the last ten years."
Anomen rolled his eyes and Merena snorted in disbelief before giving her son a kiss on the cheek. "That's not what you said about your father the last time you sparred with him, Gorion," she said with an amused gleam in her eye. Gorion reddened.
"So how was your journey?" Anomen asked, but before they could answer the rest of the household, who had obviously heard the commotion, crowded into the room to greet the squires.
"Moira! Gorion!" Kylia cried excitedly, "You finally made it!" There was a rash of hugs, kisses and greetings, with everyone talking at once.
"I suggest," Anomen began, then repeated himself in a voice pitched to cut through the din, "I suggest we repair to the kitchen!" When he was certain everyone was paying attention, he continued. "It is warmer there, and do I believe some of Dorna's mulled wine is called for by way of celebration."
Gorion put a companionable arm around his brother's shoulder, "As you can see, Khalid, even an aged parent can have a good idea on occasion."
"Yes, that's right, Moira. Khalid says there are statues of Momma and Papa, Jaheira and Valygar right in the town square!" Kylia told her sister excitedly.
Moira stared at her, wide-eyed, "We have to go, Ky."
Anomen chuckled despite himself and put an arm around Merena before following the rest of the family into the kitchen. The look they exchanged was one of pure joy and contentment.