Exactly six months later, Prince Remus Iliniat was born, in the autumn of 471. Ever since his birth, he had channeled the personality of the mischievous dog who had been his namesake. Great things had happened in his year, his aunt Varice would tell him later. The greatest was the unexpected birth of his twin brother. The healers hadn't expected twins from Empress Kalasin—it just wasn't in her bloodline. When they had discovered that she would indeed birth two, there had been fears for her life.

Kalasin survived, but barely. After the babies had been born, Nadi had given her a charm that she had forged herself, and whispered to Kalasin to put it on, and keep it on, because she couldn't survive another birth. No more children, she thought tiredly. She wouldn't be able to have any children anymore. Neither she nor her husband was very upset about that fact. Drifting through the realms of consciousness, Kalasin had remembered a vague, irrational fear that Kaddar wouldn't like not being able to have any more children.

The reality was very different. One thing she remembered more clearly was the memory of Kaddar's combing his fingers through her hair and kissing the tears away from her pale cheeks, telling her that he couldn't help but feel glad that they couldn't have any more. "Because I don't think I could stand any more worrying about you," he said gently. "I can't even begin to tell you how glad I am that you're all right, beloved."

She had cried even more at that, a little from the lingering pain, but mostly from gratitude that her beautiful Remus and Emry had been born healthy, and that Kaddar understood everything that had happened to her and didn't mind that there wouldn't be any more children.

Even after healing, Kalasin and Kaddar both had their hands full, what with raising their brood. Elissar and Kalahari were growing up and learning how to use their magic, and after they turned eleven, they would begin their studies and training at the Imperial University. Elissar's protective instincts were getting even stronger with every year past. He had tossed a nine-year-old boy who had dared to look at the Princess Kalahari in a way deemed less than appropriate into a fountain that summer, and Kaddar already pitied any poor soul foolish enough to have any affection for his only daughter.

Well, any poor soul foolish enough to have any obvious affection for his only daughter. Personally, Kaddar had some suspicions about Mequen. But he decided to keep those to himself. Mequen was more than suitable. Of course, Elissar didn't have to know that.


Remus and Emry had kept the palace on their toes ever since they had been old enough to walk. They also had war magic, something that their parents sighed over, but got used to, after the first ten sets of burned curtains or so. It wasn't so much their antics with their magic (although those were fairly dastardly, too), as their brilliant, evil genius minds, that got them into so much trouble.

Actually, until the age of ten, they hadn't gotten caught. But after that one incident with the exploding fish bladder, the imperial twins automatically became the default suspects for any misdemeanors, wrongdoings, pranks, and general dirty tricks that went on in or around the university or palace. Remus and Emry, far from feeling insulted, were rather proud of their reputation.

The mere thought of them going off to school made Kalasin shudder.

Of course, when they weren't tending to the children or to the country, Kalasin and Kaddar loved to spend some quality time together. The quality time together ranged from fighting over watermelon, arguing over proper grammar, debating whether Duke Samjan and the Lord of Sanjit were romantically involved, long walks on the beach at Radzyn, or reading gruesome horror novels or steamy romances over one another's shoulders.

There were also the outdoor trysts under the willow near the pond, the illicit garden romances against the trunk of Kaddar's pink dogwood, and their favorite by far—a rather comfortable rug in one of the more deserted libraries.

Zaimid Hetnim had watched his two best friends throughout their years together, from the day of their marriage—from the sullen, beautiful princess who had married a stubborn, nervous emperor such a long time ago, to the two royals caught in an awkward limbo between friends and lovers, and then to the couple trying to navigate the rather wild terrain of marriage, children, and ruling a country. They had come a long way, he realized. And they had hated and loved each other, and stuck together, every step of the way.

It was a rainy, boring evening, and for sheer lack of anything better to do, he had grabbed quill and parchment, and began the long recount of events, every detail of it.

He had told Kaddar and Kalasin about his chronicles once, during a rather drunken party. "Not Your Average Carthaki Fairy Tale, is what I'll call it," he said, pounding his fist on the table decisively. "It'll be the fairy tale of the generation—"

"Oh, shut up, Zaimid," said Kaddar good-naturedly, squeezing Kalasin's hand. "We're hardly a fairy tale."

"Don't ruin my fun, loves," he had told them, downing a glass of wine. "Wait and see."

Of course, there was no way that Kalasin or Kaddar could have known that their story would find a printing press, many, many years later.

There was no way they could have known that their story would be passed down from generation to generation, and across oceans and countries, all starting with the weary Princess Kalahari and Prince Mequen, who were just trying to get their high-spirited children to go to sleep with a bedtime story.

There was more to tell, and by no means did their story just end here. There were more trials and tribulations, triumphs and joys, victories and losses.

At the end of the bedtime story, though, the ending was that of all fairy tales.

And they all lived happily ever after, until the end of their days.