Roses of the Valley
Chapter Forty-Two: Epilogue
Gentle excitement fluttered within Huan's stomach as she hurried to straighten up the clinic. She had found herself in an eager frenzy since the letter had arrived the previous morning, preceding a return they had anticipated for well over a year.
Bai's stillness gave the impression of a serene calm, the intense pounding in his chest revealing otherwise. His eyes lifted, a soft tightness gripping his muscles as he heard a young voice sound from the entrance.
"Father?" Li Mei's tone was light, carrying with it a joyous levity at being reunited with her family. Her palm touched tenderly against the side of the door, smiling as she watched her parents.
The doctor started to his feet, gaze fixed upon her as he noticed how she had changed over the seasons.
She had grown taller, a subtle confidence filling her eyes. Where her hair had once been kept up in two small buns it now trailed just past her shoulders, save a carefully tied bun at the top.
"Li Mei!" Huan nearly burst into tears as she hurried to her daughter, embracing her.
Smiling, she wrapped her arms around her mother's waist. Soft tears lined her eyes, trailing down her cheek as she felt the familiar arms cradle her.
Her mother smiled as she set her hands on her shoulders, stepping back to admire the changes in the girl. Resisting the urge to weep, she placed her palm gently against Li Mei's cheek.
"Father," she turned toward Bai, bowing as he approached the two. The trip from Bai-Jing had given her time to reflect on her incredible journey, regret burdening her spirit as she realized the worry she inflicted on those she loved. They had traveled for days from the Kun valley, yet beneath neither the sun nor moon could she conceive the words that would properly demonstrate the extent of her apology.
Her thoughts were interrupted as his left arm wrapped draped over her neck, drawing her to his chest as he placed his right hand atop her head.
The message they had received the morning prior offered an amazing relief, alerting them that their daughter was safe. Yet such words paled in the comparison to holding her in his arms, every ounce of his spirit elated at her return.
Silent, she closed her eyes and pressed against him. His embrace offered silent comfort, her uncertainty dismissed as reassurance surged softly through her.
"Father," she broke the silence, stepping back. "I brought someone with me…Someone I thought you might like to see again." Li Mei turned her attention toward the door, her lips lifted in an excited grin.
Bai squinted slightly, puzzled by the notion. His gaze followed hers, his eyes going wide as he noticed a figure standing at the entrance to the clinic.
Bo looked to his old friend with a gentle smile, the sleeves of his robe appearing connected as he folded his arms before him.
"So the old man knows the brat's father?" Yakone's eyebrow lifted, his back pressed to the front wall of the building as he sat. He had taken the trip with them under the pretense of preferring even their company in travel to sitting in one place, refusing to admit aloud any sense of camaraderie he felt toward the three.
"Apparently," Shui glanced toward the entrance, previously unaware of the fact. A faint sense of accomplishment resonated within him, the mission he had been dispatched upon so long ago finally complete. Holding Ryo and Kyo's reins, he smiled.
"So what happens next?" the waterbender folded his arms behind his head, curious as to what lay on the horizon.
"Sifu Bo plans to return to Bai-Jing. I'll go with him to complete my training."
"Hmm," the teenager nodded, considering the matter. He had found a fascinating array of individuals within the Kun valley, suspecting that in their presence his encounters with boredom would be far from frequent.
"Alright," he smirked. "I'll go too."
"What for?" The firebender's eyebrow rose, having long held the impression that he would be glad to get away from the three.
"Eh; someone's gotta be around to put out the fire if your sucky bending gets out of control." He grinned as he shrugged, engaging in what had become one of his favorite pastimes.
"Shut up," Shui muttered, narrowing his eyes.
"Make me," Yakone countered, unable to suppress his smirk.
"You really want to do this?"
"What, embarrass you? It's early, but sure."
"You'll regret that."
"Here's what you say: 'You'll regret that.' Here's what I hear: 'I suck I suck I suck; oh wow do I suck'."
"Stand up and fight me!"
"If it's you, I don't even need to stand up."
The two continued arguing, their bickering carrying through the noonday sky.
"We extend our deepest gratitude for enlisting our services once again," the first bowed. The second lowered his head in unison, leaving matters of etiquette to his partner.
"Please," general Chul lifted a hand, dismissing the formality as he beckoned them to rise. "There is no need for thanks. You and your men have long proven yourselves the swiftest messengers I have had the pleasure of enlisting. Please use your stay here as an opportunity to stock your forces with whatever they may need."
"You are too kind." He lowered his head, seeking a compromise between the general's insistence to disregard formality and his own desire to be polite.
"The last time we met, you mentioned that you were seeking a base; some outpost from which you can direct those serving below you properly." Chul leaned forward, inquiring as to the status of their task.
"Fortunately we have been successful in the endeavor. We discovered a patch of fertile land just east of this base. We will begin constructing whatever resources we may require upon our return."
"Excellent! I'm pleased to hear of your progress. If you should find yourself in need of anything I am capable of providing, please feel free to ask."
"Our thanks," the first nodded once more, his partner following suit.
"I plan to offer the very same later, but please allow me to take this opportunity to propose a toast." Chul nodded his head toward a nearby servant.
The servant stepped toward the two men, setting a fine cloth before them. Atop each he placed a small saucer of sake, another servant setting the very same before the general.
Lifting his saucer to the air, the earthbender smiled.
"To the Gouishi Riders!" his voice sounded through the hall, bringing the sake to his lips.
"To the Gouishi Riders!" Feng and Enlai repeated proudly, drinking from their saucers.
From the windows of the hall one could see the main area of the base, bustling with life as over a hundred riders stocked their mounts. Chatting merrily they appreciated the rest and security the fortress offered.
The fastest messengers of the Earth Kingdom, each held the name "Gouishi" with pride.
The statue sat silently within the temple, soft ripples of light lighting and fading beyond the trees as the fireflies moved.
Sweeping the entrance, Bolin smiled as a group of children bound excitedly toward him.
"Bolin, Bolin!" one called out as he drew close, looking up to the teenager. "Is elder Zian here?"
With an amused smirk he peered toward the statue, his grandfather standing before it as he offered his daily words of respect and veneration.
"Elder Zian!" they beckoned excitedly, hurrying toward the old man.
"Hmm?" his aged eyes turned slowly to inspect the commotion, his thick beard lifting into a smile as he pressed his weight against his staff.
"Elder Zian, tell us a story!" The children bounced while voicing their request, regarding his stories with awe and wonder.
"Of course, of course," the old man smiled, taking as much joy in telling the tales as they did hearing them.
They followed impatiently as he slowly made his way to the stone edge of a row of flowers, sitting with a low groan. Resting his staff in his lap he looked to their eager faces, smiling.
"Now then…Which story should I tell?"
"Tell the one about when Gousaru played a trick on the blacksmith!" One beamed.
"No no, tell the one about when Gousaru tricked the bandits into giving away all their money!"
"No, the one where Gousaru came and the people from Bai-Jing fought him!" The other children approved of the suggestion immediately, eager to hear the tale once more.
"Alright, alright," Zian chuckled. Clearing his throat, he leaned forward as he recalled the events.
Bolin smiled gently, listening proudly as he swept. Around them the fireflies offered soft illumination, the temple silent save the sounds of night and the gentle voice of the old storyteller.
"Captain!" the soldier called out to his superior, gripping the end of the spyglass.
"What is it, lieutenant?" His tone was stern, the time at sea testing his patience.
"Sir, I think you should take a look at this." Offering the spyglass he stepped aside, pointing toward that which had caught his attention.
With a disgruntled sigh the captain lifted the instrument to his eye. It moved gently from left to right, stopping as it caught sight of another vessel. His mouth opened, fumbling the device before looking once more. Turning quickly he thrust it against his subordinate's chest, hurrying toward the other soldiers.
"Change direction to port and hold! Full speed!" He barked the orders hastily, arm waving toward the deckhands.
"Sir, what is it?" the lieutenant kept close behind him, the captain's distress alarming him.
"That ship is the Red Unagi!" he glared as he thrust a finger in the direction of the former Fire Nation craft, understanding that the forces under his command possessed ill chances in the face of the pirate Jadeblade.
Haozen watched their prey from the bow of the vessel with a cunning smirk, his hand resting idly atop the hilt of his sword.
Ahnah sat safely in the room that she and her older sister shared, happily making up games with the Pai Sho tiles she so often saw the older crew members playing with.
Onawa smiled from behind her father, the sound of the ocean splitting against the ship echoing through the sky as the salty wind pressed her hair back.
"I hate fancy clothes," Ryoko groaned as she leaned her back against the stand. A flattering kimono covered her body, her posture eliminating any impression of etiquette she may have otherwise inspired. Closing an eye she scratched behind her ear, her freshly washed hair brushing softly against her fingers.
"Why are you wearing them, then?" Sun asked from the other side of the counter, setting a cup of tea before the warrior.
Around them the village bustled with life, the Festival of the Fireflies in full bloom. Merchants called excitedly from their stands, children laughing and playing as men and women enjoyed the festivities.
"You kiddin'? It's a big day for the punk," she grinned as she turned to face the cup, lifting it to her lips.
"Yes," Sun smiled gently. The statement caused a subtle joy to resonate within her breast, having long regarded Wen Lan with sisterly affection. "In fact; I believe it's almost time for the ceremony."
"About time! Does it always take them this long?" Ryoko protested, drinking deep from the cup.
She could not help but smirk amusedly at the warrior's impatience, the experience of maternity permitting her to understand her motivation.
"You must be very excited," she tilted her head to the side, smiling.
Ryoko glanced at her, eventually grinning as she realized she had been caught. Giving no response, she tapped a finger hard against the counter near the base of her cup.
"Pour me another," she noted calmly before looking over the spectacles of the festival.
"Big sister Qiu!" a small voice beckoned from beyond the counter, grunting slightly as she hopped up and down in an attempt to see.
"Hmm?" Sun's daughter leaned over the counter, smiling as she found the owner of the tiny voice. "Yes Jiao?"
"Can I have some tea for my mommy?" the child looked up, dressed in a small kimono with flower designs stitched along its side.
"I don't know; do you have any money?" Qiu teased as she leaned on her arms.
"Yeah!" she exclaimed as she reached into her kimono, holding out a few coins.
She reached her hand down, taking half of the coins before winking at the child. Stepping toward the back she poured from a kettle, returning to offer it to the girl before sending her on her way.
"Thank you!" Jiao smiled happily, bowing her head thankfully just as she had been taught. Turning back toward the crowd she hurried toward her mother's stand, passing a large group of people clustered together.
At the front sat the children of the village, watching as performers acted out the battle between Seung, Jung, Kazuki and Iwao in bright, elaborate clothing.
"Ah, we're not too late!" Xiu exclaimed, emerging at the front of the crowd that had formed where the ceremony would be held. She wore a dark kimono, Earth Kingdom designs adorning it.
Seung stood beside her, nodding approvingly to a soldier as he provided the general a quick report on the status of the festival. Looking to his wife he smiled gently, reveling in the understanding that no force would threaten the peace or jubilance of the festival.
"Hello, Xiu! And how are you tonight?" Min approached merrily as soon as she laid eyes upon the girl, a terrifying sweetness and levity carrying in her tone.
"Fine," she eyed the old pain suspiciously, her exuberance making her nervous.
"Are you eating enough? Resting enough? Tea; did you get any tea today?" She left no opportunity for the girl to field any of her questions, verbally bombarding her without mercy.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine!" she lifted her hands defensively, her eyebrow rising. "What's wrong with you, old woman?"
"Oh dear, call me auntie Min!" she laughed lightly.
Seung leaned forward, watching Min curiously. Though he had never been subjected to the same torture she had inflicted upon Xiu, he understood her to typically exhibit a certain resilience that was currently absent from her demeanor.
"Fine; what's wrong with you 'auntie Min'?" she asked impatiently, offset by her attitude.
"Oh nothing! If anything, everything is absolutely right!" She folded her hands together, her cheek resting against them.
Experience and age had taught her all the signs, and Xiu exhibited each. Knowingly she glanced toward the girl's stomach, smiling sweetly.
"Has it started yet?" Ryoko shoved her way through the crowd, stepping behind the old pain as Sun and Qiu followed in her path.
"Ah," Seung's attention was piqued as he noticed the relegate stepping out toward them. "It's starting." Smiling gently, he watched as memories of conversations with Jung over the past few months brushed against his thoughts. .
Xiu hooked her arm around her husband's, smiling eagerly. She had spent nearly a week helping her friend prepare for this moment.
Min grinned, excitement fluttering in her heart.
Ryoko folded her arms, watching intently as Chin-Hwa stepped toward the crowd.
Though his clothing was identical to that which he had worn a year prior, his expression was noticeably different. The calm satisfaction had been replaced with a forged pride, joy brightening his eyes.
Gang stepped out next, fists clenched as he surveyed the area to ensure that it was safe. His focus was intense, watching carefully for anything that might harm those he had sworn to guard over.
"Lord Chin-Hwa, of the Yang estate takes this opportunity to formally announce and make known an event." the relegate informed calmly.
The couple stepped toward the crowd, the bodyguard smirking proudly as he watched them pass.
Turning, Chin-Hwa lifted his hand and offered a slow bow of the head, beckoning them forward so that the crowd may share in their joy.
"I present to you…" he continued.
Jung stood beside her with tender pride, a robe of white with gold trim draped over his body. Atop it rested a black vest with golden border trailing just above the ground. The warrior preferred to avoid such elegant attire, the occasion bringing him to disregard such hesitance.
Wen Lan wore an exquisite white robe with gold trim, incredible designs and decorations stitched over it. Her hair fell sleekly along her back, tied carefully to permit the greatest possible presentation. The experiences that came with the seasons had only furthered her beauty, her smile soft and gentle as she cradled the small child in her arms.
"…Shin, heir of the Yang estate!"
The crowd erupted in celebration, cheering loudly for the child of the two guardians.
Shin shifted slightly in his mother's arms, his newborn eyes searching with innocent wonder.
From different nations and motives, guardians had risen to stand for peace. There in the village, surrounded by celebration, the first of many roses bloomed.
Well, this is it. The final chapter of "Roses of the Valley." It's kind of hard to believe that it's finally finished.
I guess I should say a couple parting words...The best place to start is with "thank you." To you guys for reading this. I realize it wasn't easy; forty-two chapters with around ten pages to each and sometimes more. I'm really grateful to you for sticking with me.
Especially those of you who took the time to review. Those picked me up more than I could have expected.
Next...A few dedications. People that have been special to me as I worked on "Roses of the Valley."
Dedicated to Isaia, for her everlasting support and guidance. Her inspiration and words kept me focussed whenever I came even within eyeshot of losing my motivation. Through art and compassion she's become something incredible to me; something I can't put into words.
Dedicated to AnimeKitties. Their feedback and criticism was always welcome and appreciated, their art never failing to make me smile. The story's brought many things I'm glad for, my friendship with the two of these amazing girls near the top of the list.
Dedicated to Babbs, who always made me laugh and smile, trying to read the story even when such was difficult on her end. We miss you Babbs; I miss you. And I look forward to the day when we chat again.
Ha, if I say any more I feel like I'll be blathering on. So please enjoy the final chapter, the epilogue to the story I started months ago.
I'm not sure what comes after this; whether I'll do fanfiction or original stories. But either way, no matter who it is reading this: I hope our paths'll cross again!
So take care, smile, and enjoy!