They were not in a hurry. Every so often, the man would whisper something in the woman's ear and she would laugh and laugh. They were a picture of happiness. Just before they reached the treeline, they sat down side by side.
They frolicked for a little while under the shade, when the woman suddenly sat up and looked the man straight in the eye.
"Rook," she said seriously, "I think it's time we talk about taking our relationship to the next level."
The young man at her side who had been laughing and smiling a moment before suddenly turned pale and nervous. He swallowed hard and opened his mouth twice before he was able to speak.
"You mean…" it came out as a squeak. He tried again. "You mean engagement?"
"Of course, silly," she laughed.
"But…Thalia…I thought we agreed that this wasn't serious?"
"You said that months ago," replied Thalia, "It's only normal that you've changed your mind since then. After all, we've been going out for almost a year. If you weren't serious the relationship would have ended weeks ago."
"Ah…did you ever think it's possible that I haven't actually changed my mind?" Her face began to fall, so he quickly continued. "I mean it's nothing at all against you, really, I swear by Earth and Sky. But my responsibilities as the Captain of the Freeglade Lancers…getting married right now would be altogether impossible. I'm sorry."
"Oh but it doesn't have to be right now! We can be engaged now and not get married for a year. It's common practice now, you know."
"No, you see Thalia…I'm not planning on getting married. Ever. Sorry."
Thalia's eyes welled up with tears and she fled without a word back towards the Freeglades, Rook's shouts echoing after her.
"Thalia! Thalia! I didn't mean…" She was already gone.
Two hours later a disheveled-looking Rook Barkwater slumped down in front of a heaping plate of food in the Lake Landing dining hall. Three others were already there.
"Hello Magda, Xanth," he was addressing a young couple about his age. They were holding hands under the table and they smiled at Rook when he sat down. "'Lo Felix." A cheery youth with a big square chin nodded happily back at him. He was big and brawny with an aura of boundless energy.
"Why the long face, mate?" asked Felix, "And where's Thalia?"
"Thalia's the reason I'm miserable. She wants to get married and when I told her it was impossible she ran away crying. I don't know what to do."
"Why don't you want to get married?" asked Magda, "It's not an unusal request you know, you two have been together for almost a year."
"I told you last week, Thalia's not the right girl for me. I don't want to marry anyone but THE ONE."
"And how will you know who THE ONE is," asked Xanth with a chuckle. He was used to his friend's dramatic streak. "What if it's Thalia and you just don't want to admit it?"
"When she comes, I'll know. As for Thalia being my soul mate, I don't think so. She's too…different than I am. She's a waitress first of all, so she doesn't give a damn about fighting or the Lancers as long as she's safe and happy. And she's loud when I need quiet and solemn when I need to be cheered up…It's all wrong, I tell you."
Felix gave a low whistle. "Good luck trying to find the right girl. With all this criteria, I think you can keep looking forever."
"No, no, I will meet her one day and when I do meet her I will know it. You just wait and see. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm leading an early-morning expedition tomorrow and I'll have to get up before the sun. Good night."
He stomped off. His friends stared at his retreating back.
"That is one miserable man," said Xanth softly.
"He'll stay that we too, unless we do something," added Magda.
"Aye," commented Felix, afraid his opinion would go unheard.
Rook slept poorly that night. His dreams were strange and hazy, as had so often happened since he slept in the Caterbird Cocoon on Lullabee Island.
He had long since discovered that most of these dreams were either prophecies or glimpses of the past, and he had taken to recording them in a little pad next to his bed. As a result of these dreams, he was often hailed as a hero when he prevented a potential attack. He also knew more about his family history than any other person in the Edge. Night after night he had seen faces flashing by, heard names, and seen dramas played out before his tired brain.
Rook assumed that the dream from this night had been a prophecy; he had not recognized any of the faces he had grown familiar with over the years. It had been more nightmare than dream, with screaming people and dead bodies. Shrugging it off, he carefully recorded every detail he could remember and prepared for the morning expedition.
Galloping out of the Ironwood Stands, followed by fifty bleary-eyed Lancers, Rook's mind was still in turmoil, not only over his awful dream but also over the conversation he had had with his friends last evening.
Why didn't he just marry Thalia? They liked each other well enough. Felix was right, it was highly improbable that he find his dream wife anywhere in the world. Rook silently resolved to speak to Thalia in a week if she had forgiven him by then.
His musings were suddenly interrupted by another patrol of Freeglade Lancers galloping in the opposite direction.
From their tired faces he guessed that they were the night patrol. They seemed unsettled, though, and an aura of fear hung over their entire company. The leader saluted briefly before giving his report.
"Captain…we've found evidence of a huge slaving company northwest of here. There seem to be about seven-hundred of them and they're heading South at top speed. If we wait another day they'll be lost."
Rook's dream flitted briefly back into his conscious, but his sense of obligation was much stronger than his instinct for self-preservation.
"Night patrol, you are to report what you have seen directly back to headquarters. Tell them to send all the lancers here pronto. I shall lead this company to the area which you have described. When the reinforcements arrive, we will attack."
"Yes, sir," barked the lieutenant.
"You and your company may rest when you return; you've earned it well."
"Thank you, sir," said the lieutenant, and with a signal to his company, continued the gallop towards the ironwood stands.
As the night patrol faded into the hazy dawn, Rook turned to his own men. Most of their faces were obscured by the heavy helmets of the Freeglade Lancers' uniform, but those he could see were set with determination. "Are we ready men?" he asked.
"Yes!" they shouted back.
"ARE YOU READY?" he roared.
"YES, SIR!" they shouted, and the call echoed all around the Freeglades.
"THEN CHARGE!" shouted Rook, and the pack began galloping as one towards the direction indicated by the night patrol.
They galloped for a good ten minutes before they reached the track. From there one they went more quietly and cautiously. The last thing the Lancers wanted to do was lose the element of surprise, especially if they were outnumbered.
They were fifteen minutes from the original track when the scouts finally spotted the camp. It was cleverly hidden among the stick and brush, but it was no match for the well-trained eyes of the Freeglade Lancers.
Rook hurriedly whispered his instructions, and the party fanned out, encircling the camp. They didn't have to wait long for the reinforcements. The silent presence of two hundred riders and their prowlgrins could suddenly be felt. Rook gave them instructions, and everything fell silent.
The Lancers stood there for an hour, scouting out the enemy's men and defenses. There seemed to be considerably fewer than reported, but Rook shrugged that off as a simple miscalculation that could happen to anyone.
When the sun was almost at its zenith, Rook gave a signal which quickly spread to the other lancers. Without warning, they all burst out of the treeline at once. Fifty heavily-armed hammerheads jumped out of the tents, but in their confusion, they were quickly dispatched by Freeglade Lancers. Soon, tens of little fights were occurring everywhere in the clearing between a dozen goblins and ten Lancers.
After twenty minutes hard fighting, though, the winner became clear. The Lancers had killed most of their enemies, and the ones still standing quickly threw down their weapons when they realized they were alone.
"Free the prisoners," commanded Rook, pointing at a small, hastily erected tent in the middle of the circle.
The Lancers hastened to obey and had soon pulled all of the slaves from the tent. There were easily two hundred of the miserable wretches, maybe more. Some were near death from injuries and malnourishment. These Rook sent immediately back to the Freeglades, escorted by Lancers.
The majority of the former slaves were gone and with them most of the Lancers when Rook's attention was suddenly diverted by a loud buzz. It took him only a second to register the sound of an arrow.
They were under attack – again!
The Lancers were surprised but Rook lost no tiem in organizing them as best as he could in the seconds before the horde of goblins and shrykes was upon them. Unlike their fellows who had been so easily defeated earlier, these fighters were more experienced and especially more numerous.
It was all the Lancers could do to repel the first onslaught and even then there were noticeable gaps in their ranks. Rook reached for his horn with one hand and blew into it, while simultaneously killing two flat head goblins.
The horn rose loud and clear, piercing the air and the cries of battle and death. He was confident that it could be heard from the Freeglades; he had received help from much further than this before.
He blew in it again and once more the clear note struck the air.
Rook heard a grunt as the Freeglade Lancer beside him fell. He barely had time to counterattack the three enormous shryke sisters before him. The last one was falling through the air, spraying blood from a cut throat, when Rook felt a knock on his head and his world immediately went black.
Rook was once again strolling through a dream world, but this time things wer a bit different. All of the images were much clearer. He suddenly realized he was a caterbird and that he was flying high over the Deepwoods.
Out of the endless green carpet, there suddenly jutted and enormous plateau. A bubbling stream was flowing off the edge of the plateau, its source a large basin in the center. Far, far below him he could just make out four figures waving at him frantically. He could not make out faces, but he knew that some of them were familiar to him.
Rook realized with a start that they were not waving to welcome him. Rather, they were shooing the caterbird away fromt his mysterious plateau. As if on cue, the vision began to fade and Rook winced as sharp pains stabbed through his head.
When he opened his eyes, he realized first that he was in the Gardens of Light and second that he could not see out of one eye. Raising his hand, he gingerly felt the bandages that were swathed around his head.
Despite the pains shooting through his head, Rook struggled to sit up. A wrinkly hand pressed him back firmly but gently. Turning his head at an angle, he managed to see Cowlquape, his hand still pressed against Twig's chest to keep him down.
"Professor," he breathed, "Why am I here? What happened at the battle? The battle! How did it go?"
"Calm yourself, Rook." said the Most High Academe soothingly. "Everything is fine. The battle was won, so don't worry about that. You are here because you received quite a nasty knock on the head. It fractured your skull and you had a severe concussion. The only reason you're even here is because of a little nurse we found among the former slaves. Her name is Rastan. Come out child, he won't eat you he can barely move! So Rook, this is Rastan. She, like you, has about twenty summers…"
The rest of the professor's words were drowned in the roar of blood rushing to his head and face. Rook was dumbstruck.
The woman standing before him, now awkward and shy but growing bolder, seemed to him an angel. She had thick black hair and teardrop-shaped violet eyes. When she smiled, as she did now, her perfect lips pulled back to reveal a straight row of white teeth. Her skin was as dark as the bark on an ironwood tree. Little roses appeared on her high cheekbones as she blushed under his unwavering stare.
Cowlquape cleared his throat loudly, snapping Rook from his trance.
"R-Rook Barkwater," he managed to stammer, holding out his hand.
"Rastan Thenxis," she replied, taking his hand gently. Rook almost died at the touch. "You must rest now," she said softly in a slightly husky voice. "Sleep and recover your strength, Rook, so that you may again lead the courageous Freeglade Lancers. Sleep."
Rook's hand dropped to the mattress and he was asleep. His last thoughts were, "I've found her."
When Rook awoke later, he immediately noticed, with some disappointment, that Rastan was no longer present. Instead, the room was packed to overflowing with people. He spotted Freeglade Lancers under his command, Librarian Knights who were once his friends, tavernkeepers where he had once had a drink, and many people he didn't know. It seemed as though half of the Freeglades were trying to crowd into the small hospital room.
First in line were two faces he knew very well.
"Rook!" beamed Felix. "I hoped you would do us the honor of waking up for the visit. Xanth's off distracting Tweezel and Cowlquape. They wouldn't let anyone visit you, would you imagine? So me and Magda here came up with a plan to sneak in only turns out that half the Freeglades got wind of it and came in here to wish you well."
Rook laughed joyfully at the earnest faces before him. He tried to prop himself up better on his pillow, but the pain in his head warned him that this was generally not the wisest thing to do.
"Ouch," he said. "Well, friends what can I say? I'm so touched that all of you came down here to say hello to me…"
"OUT!" roared a voice from outside the doorway. The people surrounding Rook seemed to freeze and then all was a mad scramble to get out as fast as possible.
"OUT!" came the voice again, making Rook wince.
The owner of the voice suddenly appeared, and all of Rook's misgivings fled. There was no mistaking that muscular silhouette. Fenbrus Lodd had to duck to enter the room. He ignored Magda and his son and swept over to Rook, tidying up his blankets and making him comfortable.
"What was the meaning of that?" he asked Felix sternly.
"I…We wanted to wish Rook a speedy recovery." he stammered "Tweezel and Cowlquape wouldn't let us so we tricked them."
"Tricking the Most High Academe and the Keeper fo the Gardens of Light? Outrageous! Both of you get out of my sight before I report you." Felix and Magda fled, but not before Felix shook his hand and Magda kissed him on the cheek.
"Good luck," she whispered.
"Now," said Fenbrus Lodd as the door closed behind Rook's friends, "I've been meaning to have this discussion for a while now. How do you feel?"
"Like I'm having ten really bad hangovers at the same time,"
Fenbrus winced sympathetically. "I always knew you'd end up in a bad spot because of that career. No, no, don't worry, I know that you're not going to end up in the library again," he said quickly in response to Rook's alarmed look, "I gave up on that when you became the Captain of the Freeglade Lancers. Good work, my boy, good work indeed.
"What I really came to talk about was this notebook that was found in your bedroom when we went to bring down some of your personal affairs."
"Has anyone read it?" asked Rook, alarmed.
"Only the title, Rook. 'Dream Diary.' May I know what is in this?"
"It's just a list of some dreams I have. Since I slept in the caterbird cocoon on my first night here I've been having weird dreams. I write them down, that's all."
"What kind of weird dreams?" prodded Fenbrus. He was being eaten alive by curiosity.
"Some are about…the future. Some…the past. I…don't…know…" Rook was finding speaking and thinking increasingly difficult.
"Surely you know something mre specific about them? You must tell me Rook, these things can be vital to the council." Fenbrus did not seem to notice Rook's increasing struggle.
Thankfully, Rook was saved from answering by a gentle knock on the door. Fenbrus gulped and went pale as the door opened. Cowlquape started when he saw the High Librarian, notebook in hand, sitting at the foot of Rook's bed. His face immediately clouded over.
"Out," he commanded in a voice of deathly calm.
"But my dear Cowlquape, you misunderstand…" started Fenbrus.
"It wasn't me! There were hundreds of other people here just a minute ago…"
Rook smiled to himself as he heard the two arguing voices fade down the hallway. He closed his eyes happily, only to open them a moment later when he felt a cool, soft touch on his forehead. There was Rastan, leaning over him with a cold, damp cloth. All thoughts of the notebook were shunted to the side.
"Are you alright?" she said anxiously.
"Fine," he murmured. His head was pounding again, and he closed his eyes and settled into a deep sleep.
It was only three weeks later that Rook Barkwater was officially discharged from the hospital. He had suffered a severe concussion, and, as Tweezel so often reminded him, he had walked a fine line between life and death for several days.
Despite the occasional aches in his head, Rook had never been happier in his life. Every day he saw Rastan, and every day he learned a little more about her.
She had lived her entire life in a secluded settlement far from the Freeglades. The small town had been formed when an enormous sky ship dropped out of the sky a hundred years before. The crew had found wives among the native people and it was there that Rastan grew up.
Besides nursing, she was very skilled in many sky-sailing arts, learned from the various descendants of important crew members. Rastan had lived the first half of her life in happiness, but both of her parents died when she was fifteen, and beyond that she was unwilling to speak about what happened.
Rook respected her privacy. He, too, had secrets he'd rather she not know.
By the time he was free, they were close friends, and it was agreed that she would sit at his table in the Lake Landing Dining Hall.
Xanth, Rook, and Magda, had come to visit him everyday, sometimes sneaking him sweets or barkscrolls to read. They had quickly accepted Rastan, and now they're foursome of friends had become a five-some.
His first steps into the outside world were greeted, to his surprise, by enormous cheers from all sides. A crowd had lined up at the exit of the Gardens of Light and they were all cheering…for him. For someone who had once been an assistant under-librarian, the spectacle was doubly awesome.
Four enormous tusked goblins arrived carrying a litter and Rook was helped onto it by all manner of Deepwoods creatures. Then he was paraded around the Lufwood Tower five times amid cheers and singing. Rook was still somewhat bewildered when he disembarked over an hour later. The goblins had left Rook near the shores of the East Lake where his four friends were waiting for him.
"What was all that about?" he asked when they sat down near the lake shore.
"You're a hero!" said Xanth exasperatedly, "I've told you about fourteen times already!"
"But why? I didn't do anything spectacular!"
"Rook," said Magda seriously, "the Freeglade Lancers and therefore you valiantly rescued two hundred slaves from their shryke and goblin tormentors. If that to you constitutes 'nothing' I'd like to see something."
"Plus you almost died," added Felix with a grin, "people looked at you and they said, 'Look at the Captain of the Freeglade Lancers, he was willing to die to save the lives of people he didn't even know!' That's why you're a hero."
"I just did what any other Freeglader would do…"
"Oh, Rook, why can't you just accept the fact that for now you won't be able to go anywhere without crowds following you and cheering?" complained Magda.
"Alright, fine," answered Rook. He lay back in the grass and watched the clouds for a little while, enjoying the fresh breeze on his face. It was so long since he's felt the wind and seen the sun that this simple pleasure felt like something completely new.
His friends followed suit and soon Xanth, Magda, and Felix were involved in a lively conversation concerning the new Professor of Darkness, and obscure man with rather radical views. That left Rook and Rastan lying side by side in the cool grass, silent. Rook's heart was beating so hard he thought it would burst.
"That was very modest," said Rastan in her soft, raspy voice after several minutes of silence.
"No, it was just being honest," said Rook with a blush.
"That is also a noble quality," she answered.
They sat up and watched their friends playing in the grass. Their argument had evolved into a game of tackle and they were playing whole-heartedly.
A cool breeze picked up and Rastan shivered and pulled her thin cloak tighter around herself.
"Here, you can have my coat," said Rook quickly. "I'm really not cold but you look just about frozen.
Rastan gratefully accepted it, though it didn't help much against the wind that was blowing harder and harder. She edged a little closer to Rook and leaned against him. He sat, frozen, unable to think of what to do next. It was the moment he had always hoped for and his mind was not reacting. Suddenly his brain started to work again and time came back to normal speed.
He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her in a little closer. Slowly, her shivering stopped. The wind died down but they didn't care. The moment was so absolutely perfect neither wanted to destroy it.
Xanth, Magda, and Felix were watching the whole thing from behind the thick reeds at the waters edge. As Rook wrapped his arm around Rastan, Xanth gave Felix a high-five.
"I never dreamed it would work that well!" he said.
"I knew it would," answered Magda. "They're made for each other, it's plain as day. It's plain as you and me, Xanth." He grinned and she planted a kiss on his lips.
"When you two are quite finished, you'll notice that the two lovebirds are about to get a whole lot of trouble," commented Felix airily.
Xanth and Magda scrambled back up and noticed a group of girls heading purposefully towards Rook and Rastan. First among them was Thalia.
"Oh, why her, why now!" moaned Magda, powerless to stop the group from advancing on their targets.
"We have to help them somehow or all these weeks of plans are useless," said Xanth, springing to his feet. He started sprinting towards Rook, Felix hard on his heels and Magda bringing up the rear.
Rook's blissful reverie was interrupted by a slight cough from behind him. He turned suddenly, dislodging his arm from Rastan's shoulder. She too started and turned quickly.
Rook found, to his horror that he was staring into the angry face of Thalia backed up by a dozen of her friends. He gulped, waiting for the deluge he knew was coming.
"Rook Barkwater," began Thalia, "I came looking for you and I was told that you'd be by the East Lake. When I get here I see that you've apparently found yourself a new girl. Or is she just an Undertown whore that drew your eye? I wouldn't put anything past you, Rook Barkwater."
"This is Rastan, and she's my friend," said Rook, climbing to his feet. The anger in his voice was barely concealed. "She's not from around here; I saved her from the slavers four weeks ago, so take back your comment about the Undertown whore. She was with me every day when I was sick, unlike someone I would care to name…"
"The only reason I didn't come into see you was because your stupid friends kept telling me you were asleep or too sick to receive visitors."
"Well I'm glad they did that if you were going to act like this every day for a month."
Thalia's mouth opened and closed in a silent "O". She fumbled for a moment, and then spat with as much spite as she could muster. "Alright then. Consider our engagement off!"
Rook laughed bitterly. "In case you forgot, we were never engaged. Leave, Thalia. I can't believe I never realized how much of a bitch you were before today."
Thalia's bottom lip quivered almost imperceptibly, but she managed to turn away with her dignity and march off, nose in the air. As they filed past, every one of her friends spat on his uniform.
Looking at his shirt, Rook pulled a face. He turned to Rastan with an apologetic smile which quickly slid off his face when he saw the look she was giving him. In it he read broken trust, disgust, and contempt. He only had a moment to read all this before she turned and fled in the opposite direction as Thalia.
He turned and watched her run, frozen in place by sadness and despair. Xanth came up at his shoulder, still breathing heavily from his uphill run. Felix and Magda followed suit, and they helped support Rook as his knees gave way.
"What have I done?" were his last words before he slipped back into unconsciousness.
"Extended emotional and mental shock," diagnosed Tweezel. Xnath and Felix had run, carrying their sick friend between them, all the way to Rook's old hospital room. Now they were sitting anxiously in front of Tweezel, hanging on to his every word.
"What does that mean?" cried Xanth, frustrated.
"Patience, Master Xanth. All that it means is that Rook's fragile state could not stand the intensity of the emotions he was experiencing and so the brain just temporarily shut down. He should be fine soon, don't worry too much, he's in no danger."
Five days later, they were not so confident. Rook was fully awake but all he did was stare blankly into space. He refused to eat or to talk to anyone. Everyday he got a little thinner, a little paler, and a little weaker.
Magda left his room sobbing one day; she could not stand to see her friend wasting away slowly. And so the awful task of taking care of Rook was left to Xanth and Felix. They didn't mind washing his body and changing the bedpans, no matter how hard this work was. What they did mind, what they hated more than anyone else was seeing Rook Barkwater, once strong, happy, and proud, reduced to this pathetic life-form, more helpless than an infant.
On the sixth night, Magda decided to take action. After her librarian duties, she sought out Rastan in her apartments in the Gardens of Light.
She knocked on the door and seconds later it opened. Rastan's pale face peeped out from the crack. She looked frightened but relaxed when she saw it was Magda and opened the door.
Magda entered stiffly and turned to the young woman. She was about to begin her speech when she noticed that Rastan's entire body was covred in bruises. Her arms, her legs, even her face…it was all black-and-blue. She gasped.
"Who did that to you, Rastan?"
The younger girl's lip trembled and suddenly she broke into sobs. "It was Thalia and all her friends," she cried, "they said that it was my fault Rook didn't love her anymore and then they attacked me. I haven't dared open the door to this room for two days."
"Two days! You must be starving! Here, I have a roll left over from dinner.' She paused while Rastan scarfed down the bread. "Now, the real reason I came. Rook Barkwater is slowly dying. Yes," she said in response to Rastan's muted gasp, "he will die within a fortnight if nothing is done."
"Well…Tweezel can heal him, he has enough medicine," fumbled Rastan, groping for an excuse.
"No medicine in the world could cure him. At this point there's only one thing in this world that can save his life. You know very well what it is, I can see the guilt in your eyes. Now I'm asking you for the sake of Earth, Sky, and Rook to go down there and talk to him. That's all I have to say. Good-night."
Magda left the room, leaving pale young woman alone in the room with her conscious. Rastan fiddled with her apron strings for a moment before she made up her mind. Slipping into a clean dress, she walked out of the door.
Rook heard the door open but he didn't care. The sound didn't even register in his brain. He stared at the ceiling, not really seeing it.
A worried little face bent over his. For the first time, a connection was made. She was here. He felt rather than heard a few whispered words against his ear but their meaning was beyond grasp.
The presence moved away and Rook felt a wave of despair overcome him. The next moment, he felt a warm body coming into the bed from the other end. He felt a pair of arms slip around his waist. A small, smooth hand nestled into his calloused one. Rastan smiled to herself as she felt a gentle pressure on her fingers.
"So how are you feeling now?" asked Felix three days later.
"Much better," said Rook with a smile. Although he was still too weak to walk, he could now bring a spoon of warm broth to his lips with minimal spilling.
"You are indeed making a swift recovery," said Tweezel from the door. "The physical effects your little coma had are awesome. I've never seen anything like it."
"Thanks!" laughed Rook.
"Any time, Master Rook," called the huge spindlebug, retreating from the small room. The minute he left, all of his friends crowded onto his bed, something Cowlquape had strictly forbidden.
"That was frightening, Rook," said Magda, seriously, "You really could've died. Never do anything like that again."
"Come on, Mags, it's not like I had a choice. And anyway," he said with a smile at Rastan, whose hand he was clutching tightly, "I don't think it'll ever happen again."
That night after Xanth, Magda, and Felix had left, Rastan crawled into bed next to Rook.
"I love these new sleeping arrangements," joked Rook, delighted to feel her warmth next to him again.
"Me too. It gets really cold when you're in bed alone." returned Rastan
"Let's see if we can't heat things up a little tonight," whispered Rook, hugging her with all of his strength.
"Why are you so happy this morning, Rook?" asked Xanth suspiciously.
Rook laughed and looked at Rastan, who blushed.
"Ohhhhh, I see. Set a date yet? Or are you still not going to get married?"
Rook and Rastan looked at each other, surprised. Their happiness was so complete they hadn't even thought about their future together.
"Oh, we'll get married…" began Rook, nuzzling Rastan's thick black hair.
"…But it might be a very long engagement!" finished Rastan.