-a/n- Without further ado, the very final -gasp- chapter of Fallen. If you've stuck with me through 400,000 plus words, this is dedicated to you.
The party heading north to Hamrkeng contained many of Kel's favourite people. Nearly all forty of her warriors had elected to return for the coronation, as had Eron, Isra, Hal and Meah. Kel had hoped that the diplomatic party would contain Prince Roald, but evidently the King did not trust his new allies far enough to send his firstborn son north. Instead, it was Alanna in her official capacity as Champion and Duke Gareth of Naxen who acted as head of the Tortallan representatives. Raoul and Third Company had been chosen to accompany them, just in case.
Other various officials and counsellors had been sent to draw up trade agreements, and Lord Wyldon, acting as commander of the north, was also present to finalise details of the border and new crossings. Neal had somehow managed to wangle permission to attend, along with various other knights, recently released from their posts and eager to see the new northern King for themselves.
For once, Kel was not in charge of navigating their way up through the hill country and enjoyed the ride, especially now she'd been reunited with Prince. Comfortably dressed in Mindelan-blue attire, with warm quilted jackets for night and a tent over her head, never had Kel experienced such luxury in scanran lands.
The familiar city came into view, almost tripled in size by a sprawling maze of refugees housed in tents and lean-to's fashioned from whatever the people could find. A welcome party of forty or so warriors rode out to meet them, long before they neared the city. Several of the Tortallan soldiers tensed at the approach despite their reception so far in Scanra being free from trouble.
'Brothers from the south,' it was Tor who spoke in common, gesturing with his remaining hand, 'You are most welcome.'
'We are pleased indeed to be here,' replied Alanna, her violet eyes surveying the motley band of soldiers that constituted the guard party.
It seemed that the exchange was as formal as the greeting was going to get, for Tor immediately broke rank to ride up to Kel. They hugged, despite both still being mounted.
'Blood-sister,' he greeted in Scanran, raising a salute to Kel, which was mirrored by his soldiers. 'Long will you be welcome here, what we have is yours.'
'It's good to see you' replied Kel. 'How goes things?'
Tor turned his mount and indicated that they should ride up to Hamrkeng, tucking his mount in next to Kel's. Some of the older officials and counsellors looked mildly scandalised at the informal greeting, but Kel found the lack of formal display and diplomacy a welcome change from Tortall. Others, who were less familiar with her story, were looking confused at the respect and awe the Scanrans seemed to have for the green knight.
'Things are as well as can be expected,' Tor answered. 'Life has settled a bit since you left us. We have more officials and governors in place, which is allowing us to delegate responsibility.'
'That must be a welcome relief.'
Kel observed that Tor had regained some of his former muscle mass, despite the near-fatal injury he'd sustained in the raid. In fact, he looked better than he had done in years.
'It is Kel. And once this coronation happens I will be returning to rebuild Somalkt. Come spring we will plant, re-open the mines...' he grimaced at Kel. 'We just have to survive the winter.'
'And how is Alex?'
'Doing better,' Tor assured her. 'He's learning that a near-exhausted King is no use to anyone.'
As they passed through the gates of the city, Kel glanced up and shuddered at Maggur's skull still displayed on a spike, picked clean long ago by birds.
Tor followed her gaze. 'We will remove it on the day Alex is crowned.'
Since most of Alex's soldiers were off repairing and securing the realm, there was plenty of space for both Third company and their mounts within Hamrkeng itself. Tor was conversing in common with Raoul about the organisation of stabling, leaving Kel with Neal.
'Quite different from Rathhausak, isn't it,' commented Neal, almost surprised to find a proper city rather than an isolated castle. Kel nodded as she dismounted, she knew almost every street of this twisting, mysterious city.
There was a tap on her arm. She turned to find the king of Scanra, dressed plainly, grinning fondly at her.
Words weren't needed, but a big hug was, and Kel embraced her brother and friend.
'You are well little one?'
'Very,' Kel replied.
'Where is my son?' this question was quieter -Tobe's identity was still fairly secret.
'Over there, helping with the horses.'
Neal stepped forward and stuck out his hand. 'Neal.'
Alex raised an eyebrow at Kel, 'The Neal?'
Kel chuckled, 'Alex, Neal, Neal, Alex.'
Neal's jaw dropped. 'The Alex? As in, soon to be king Alex?' His hand hung frozen in the air.
'I take it northerners have a different idea of what a king looks like than you southerners,' he said wryly, but shook Neal's proffered hand anyway.
'Your common is very good,' Neal said lamely, looking like his brain was still trying to marry up the picture of Alex that he'd evidently held in his head with the casually dressed young man in front of him.
'You are a good friend to my sister,' said Alex. 'I hope that in time, we too can be friends, but for now you must excuse me. Kel, Tobeis?'
'It might be a good idea if I bring him to you,' said Kel. 'He's understandably a bit overwhelmed by the situation.'
A flash of guilt passed across Alex's face and Kel knew that the Scanran would always blame himself for the ten years he'd missed out on raising his son. She hoped dearly that Alex would never find out the exact details of Tobe's miserable life in Queensgrace.
Kel wove her way through the crowds to the small blonde boy.
'Tobe,' she called.
He deftly looped the lead rope he'd been holding through an iron ring outside a stable and trotted swiftly over. 'Yes milady.'
'I've someone who wants to meet you.' And with a guiding arm around his shoulder, she delivered her charge to his father. Neal's jaw dropped for the second time as he spotted the family resemblance and finally understood why Kel took such an interest in the boy.
'Hello Tobeis,' said Alex hoarsely.
Tobe looked at Kel, bewildered even though she'd explained many times that she was to return him to his father.
'But how do you know?' he said plaintively. 'Some peoples just pretend to be family, so's they can steal you away.'
'Tobe,' Kel's eyes were gentle. 'I swear, on my honour as a Knight of the Realm, that this is your father. And a greater man I've never known.' She pushed the boy gently towards Alex, who opened his arms wide. Tobe hesitated for only a fraction of a second before throwing himself at his father and breaking down in wracking sobs, clinging so tightly that Kel wondered if he'd ever let go. Alex too was weeping openly and Kel turned away from the emotion of the moment. It felt complete. Alex had his son back, a new protégée to replace the one who'd long outgrown his care.
Kel didn't see much of Alex that afternoon in the melee of settling the Tortallans into their quarters and acting as translator and general mediator between Alex's officials and the delegation. Nor did she seem him at dinner, but Fassin, whom Kel was happy to see alive and well after his stint in the north of the country, informed her that he was liaising via magelink with some other clan hubs.
It felt strange, not being included in such meetings, but this was the choice she'd made. Alex had managed to stand on his own plenty of times before when she'd been away, why would now be any different?
Tired from their travels, most Tortallans retired to their rooms early, Dom unashamedly accompanying Kel to her quarters.
They were sitting before a gently burning fire, cuddled together, Kel telling stories of her previous exploits in Hamrkeng, when there was a soft knock.
'Little one?' Alex's head poked around the door.
'Hello, come in,' said Kel quite unnecessarily for Alex had already invited himself into her room.
'Sorry, I did not realise you would have company.'
'It's alright,' replied Kel. 'You two should have met long ago. Alex, this is Sergeant Domitan of Masbolle of the King's Own. Dom, King Alexei.'
Dom got up from the seat to shake Alex's hand. The gesture lasted fractionally longer than it should have done, blue eyes locked on hazel. Kel cleared her throat slightly and the tension subsided. Dom sat back down, his arm protectively around Kel's shoulders and Alex pulled a stool over to perch on.
At first, conversation felt awkward. It had been a long time since Kel had had a proper conversation with Alex in common tongue, and any references to Scanra seemed to leave Dom excluded, whilst talking about the situation in Tortall left Alex quiet and redundant. Gradually things settled and talk turned to the future.
Kel informed Alex of her new position as a knight of the King's Own, promising that as soon as she had leave, she would take a fast ship north. Alex was pleased for her, and absolutely refused to let Kel return Prince to him.
'He's yours sister. A mount worthy of a Lady Knight.'
In truth, Prince was a mount worthy of a King, but they'd been so far, done so much together, Kel couldn't bring herself to argue.
'And what of you?' Alex turned to Dom. 'Are you a man worthy of a Lady Knight?'
'Alex!' Hissed Kel, irritated that he would question her judgement on such a matter. But Alex didn't withdraw his question, looking Dom straight in the eye.
'Is any man ever going to be worthy of Kel?' Dom asked simply. 'She's the most honourable knight, talented leader and most wonderful woman I've ever met. It didn't take me long, five years ago, before I even knew her true name to see that she was someone very special. If she asks I'd give up my job to marry her, I'd give up anything for her.'
Kel's throat constricted and she laid a tender hand over Dom's. 'I don't need to be able to marry you to know that I want to live out my days at your side. Yes it's unconventional, but when have I ever followed their customs?'
'Then you have my blessing,' said Alex, smiling at his sister. 'May Yazhed bless you both and your children for generations to come.'
It was quite unlike what anyone could've imagined a coronation to be like, and yet at the same time it was Scanran to it's very core. Alex had told Kel they'd be following a procedure that closely resembled that of the investiture of a clan chief. There would be songs, there would be dancing, there would be the illusion magic for which Scanran mages were so accomplished and there would be oaths sworn and tales told. The whole prospect was tremendously exciting and yet at the same time Kel was terrified for Alex's safety. However since this was no longer her responsibility, she just had to trust the guards and mages tasked with his protection.
Those not privileged enough to gain a seat on the floor of the great hall in Hamrkeng lined the cities courtyards, piled into streets, even tens of thousands had gathered outside the city gates, each hoping for a glimpse of the one person onto which all their hope and dreams were pinned.
The noise had been crescendoing all day, but within the hall, amongst the gathered two thousand or so that included the Tortallan delegation, there was a still, quiet expectancy. As they sat waiting, all eyes were on Alex. He was dressed in a plain linen shirt and brown breeches. No tunic, no cloak, no armour, just his sword at his waist. He was facing away from the crowd, staring at a plain iron altar at the head of the hall. Lining the walls from the front of the crowd to the altar were the mages and other individuals involved in the ceremony. Kel had left the Tortallans near the front of the onlookers and joined Marthea and Tor at the side.
Slowly, they heard the noise outside change from an exciting hubbub to a quiet murmur, then mournful wails could be heard. Drummers began to beat steady rhythms and the tension in the hall increased even more than Kel would've thought possible.
Alex's voice soared across the hall, with the assistance of the mages to magnify the noise, as he began a song of remembrance, a song of respect to the fallen. Moments later the doors at the back of the hall opened, emitting the noise from the rest of the city, as fourteen flag bearers processed in, one to represent the dead of each clan. Alex's song increased in intensity, and Marthea joined in, raw emotion spilling from her throat. The congregation began to sing, until the noise within the hall seemed to thunder through Kel's heart. Tears began to pour from her eyes, as painful memories of those lost surfaced once more. Kel added her agonised voice to the others and felt a sense release rise slowly with the music.
Up at the front, the flags were laid upon the altar and Alex set fire to them as one might a body on a funeral pyre. It was a ceremony for all those who'd been lost, never properly acknowledged before the gods. It took a long time for the voices to die away, but eventually quiet settled again, somehow more peaceful than before.
When the musicians started up again, it was a steady background noise over which Marthea spoke.
'We are here to tell the tale of Alexei of Rathhausak, and ask the gods to judge whether he is worthy to be the leader of our country.'
A line of mages, with their hands interlinked slowly stepped forward. The first placed a hand on Alex's shoulder, and the story began.
The illusions that filled the air above Alex were powerfully clear, a visual guide to the account of his life. Kel saw, for the first time, the faces of Alex's family; his parents, brothers and sisters who'd been so cruelly torn away one fateful day in Rathhausak. Particularly heartbreaking was the innocent face of little Sammy, dead in Alex's arms. It was a good thing Marthea was narrating because floods of tears were spilling from Alex's closed eyes, as he led the mages further down the path of his life.
He fled south under Rhonda's care and Annie appeared, all rosy-cheeks and laughing eyes. All too soon Rhonda, her eyes hate-filled, was pleading with Alex to return to the country he'd left behind. Kel drank in the details of the woman's dark face, details that time had erased from her memories.
Then Alex was meeting with various people, observing the effect Maggur was having on the country, quietly taking over, his poisonous tendrils spreading wider. Before long Kel watched her eleven-year old self being tied to a post and beaten, and then as she trudged away from the village like a dog with it's tail between its legs, Alex challenging her to shown him what she could do. She didn't want to turn around and see the reactions of the Tortallans who would recognise exactly who the small girl was.
'Teach me to fight.' Four words that had changed the course of her life, the course of history.
From that moment on Kel wove in and out of the story. Alex's timeline wasn't exactly linear, focussing on some events more than others. She spotted herself at the battle in the pass at Sekholm, looking from the outside ridiculously small in comparison to her fellow warriors.
The tale wasn't pretty; the illusions demonstrated that what might've made a thrilling tale when told by mouth, was actually was full of blood, sweat and tears of innocent people. Village's found ravaged, rebels blowing up mines, starving peasants, the horror of the slave plantations. As Kel was rescued from the dead Idan's arms, she had to turn away for a moment; memories of that place making her feel sick.
Some chapters sped by faster than others, and all too soon came the Battle of the bloody plains, where Tor joined the character set. Battle scenes flashed past their eyes, Kel leading a charge, the city battered by burning blazebalm missiles and then, the quiet albeit historic moment when four friends had printed their bloody hands onto a flag. 'For Somalkt", "For Rathhausak", "For Scanra", "For the people."
Kel's voice soared out of Alex's memory, a slender figure with a wrist hanging at an odd angle, blood spattered and filthy, hope lifting suddenly in every heart even as the city came under a barrage of more catapults and decapitated heads. Rhonda's death, sudden and brutal...The drummers and musicians continued to fill the background, and the odd lamenting voice joined them as further along the years they travelled. More places, more faces, more strikes against Maggur, more death.
Kel stretched her arm forward to one of the mages, knowing her time had arrived. Even as ungifted as she was, Kel could feel the magic thrumming through her as her attack on Maggur's castle was shown to the masses. She bought the killing machines to the front of her mind, and how when killed, the spirits within would ask for their mothers. She fell down the stairs dispatching Stenmun and hobbled forward ingloriously to finish Blayce.
Alex took over again to lead them through the final preparations and assault on the castle. When Maggur's head landed with a thump in the illusion, a roaring broke out until applause shook the chamber in which the final outcome of the last ten years had been decided.
The illusion died and as Alex turned back to the iron altar, the music swelled in intensity. Marthea began to sing over him in ancient Scanran that even Kel struggled to understand. Alex knelt, unsheathing his sword. The scanrans joined in with the traditional words and Kel stepped forward.
She took Alex's sword and as she'd been instructed, cut his hand till blood dripped down the blade. Alex made no sound, there was no recognition of Kel in his eyes. Kel laid the bloody sword on the altar, and stepped back.
The chanting song continuing in the background, Alex knelt. Time seemed to stand still.
Then a bright presence that burned Kel's eyes, temporarily blinding her, appeared suddenly. When it was gone, Alex was standing, sword in hand, the blade devoid of blood. On his arm was a shield, blood red in colour, with a mountain emblazoned at the centre and four white hands reaching in towards it.
'Yahzed has declared him King Alexei of Scanra.' Shouted Marthea jubilantly.
And there Alex stood, with no crown or fancy dress to distinguish him, yet radiating a god-given authority. The Scanrans got to their knees, bowed in fealty to their new King. Alex watched the room for a minute, his face calm. Then he beckoned Kel and Tor forward.
They both walked shakily towards their friend and knelt. Alex pressed his blood covered hand, first to Kel's white shirt and then to Tor's, right over their hearts.
'In the witness of all who are gathered here today, I name Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan and Torrien of Somalkt, my blood siblings.'
Alex then beckoned to Tobe and pressed a bloody palm to Tobe's forehead. 'And I present to you my son and heir Tobeis. May Yazhed continue to bless our Kingdom and build us into the great nation of our forefathers. I swear to you again, that I will lead Scanra to a better future, with your help.'
He saluted the hall, who returned the gesture emphatically. It was then that the festivities really started. Alex led them in the first song of celebration, before, surrounded by his guard and mages he set off onto a journey down through the city to the wall, to give the people a chance to view their new king.
Watching the adoring Scanrans reach for their new king, faces overjoyed despite tracks from recent tears still visible on their cheeks, Kel felt laughter bubbling up from deep within her, a sort of hysterical giggle which was the culmination of more emotions that she had the energy to process. She turned and picked her way back through the crowd to her Tortallan friends. Most were looking bemused at the whole experience, the ones who knew Kel best still looked flabbergasted.
'Kel,' breathed Raoul, lost for words.
'You told us-' gulped Neal, 'But...'
'You were so young.' Dom's blue eyes were bright with tears.
'There were many more that paid a higher price for the freedom of this country than I did.' Said Kel sadly. 'We must honour their sacrifice with our choices in the present.'
'Wise words, Lady Knight.' Lord Wyldon nodded his affirmation.
'What is a blood-sibling?' Dom wanted to know.
'It is an old Scanran tradition of honouring someone,' Kel replied, 'Bringing them into your family.'
'So you're a Princess now? Neal asked, his green eyes wide.
Kel shrugged, 'Tor and I have long been sibling's to Alex. It's like...' she cast around trying to explain the deep bond that would always exist between herself and Alex, no matter the distance between them, 'like being King's Champion, but without the official , if Alex were to die before Tobe is grown then we would be honour-bound to raise Tobe in his stead...'
The Tortallans looked confused and Kel didn't blame them, it was hard to put into words her feelings towards Alex that went beyond the love that she felt for Dom, beyond the regard she had for Raoul, beyond even the friendship of Neal that was so precious. It was bond of shared experiences, of being bound up in something so much greater than yourself, one might even suggest a bond bought together by the gods themselves.
'The King will have to be informed,' said Duke Gareth, who'd also been listening to the conversation.
Kel shrugged, in this moment honestly not caring a whit.
At that moment Fassin appeared, a broad grin across his Bazhir features.
'Kel! You must come dance!' He gestured over to a group that included Lanith, Millyae, Henry, Isra, Hal and Eron with Meah on his shoulders.
Kel allowed herself to be pulled away into the joyful crowd. The Scanrans certainly knew how to celebrate.
Aly's surroundings swam into clarity and she recognised it was waking dream, like she'd had before. She turned and sure enough there was Kyprioth, all bright colours and jingling bells. Rolling her eyes in a most unladylike fashion at the god, she examined the great cavernous hall in which she found herself standing. She didn't recognised it as belonging in Corus, although she recognised several people in the vision.
Her mother for one was viewing the festivities from a bench at the side, looking tired and more worn than Aly had ever seen her. It was with a pang that she saw her mother slide the top of her sword from it's scabbard and surround it with a cloud of violet fire, attempting to scry.
'Yes, she's been doing that a lot lately.' Observed Kyprioth.
'And you've still been hiding me,' Aly accused.
'Well, it wouldn't do for them to charge in here and fish you out before our wager was through now, would it?'
'But she's worried, can't you see!' Aly made to step towards the Lioness, but caught herself when she realised that it would do no good.
Turning her attention back to the scene at hand, she spotted Uncle Raoul, also avoiding the wild dancing, sat next to Lord Wyldon and a number of other stuffy representatives dressed in King Jonathan's colours.
The music that filled the chamber was raucous, rhythms pulsated through her body and the joyous shouts that rent the air lifted her heart. Men, women and children sang and danced with great exuberance, sometimes in patterns that looked planned, but mostly just moving their bodies to the beats that played on their souls.
'Where am I?' Aly asked. If she had to hazard a guess, from the blonde hair of many of the rooms occupants she would have said Scanra. But Aly had no idea why her mother and a number of other prominent Tortallans would be partying at Maggur's expense.
'This is the great hall in Hamrkeng,' replied Kyprioth. 'But three months after Maggur was overthrown.'
'Maggur was overthrown?' breathed Aly. This news had yet to reach the Balitang household, isolated as they were.
'By the work of that man-' Kyprioth pointed to a blonde man in his late twenties, 'and that woman-' the woman was dressed in a pale blue tunic, a well-used sword at her waist. Both moved with a fighters ease, faces overjoyed, radiating happiness from their hazel eyes.
'Do you recognise her?' Kyprioth asked, gesturing to the woman.
Aly drew closer and inspected the crest embroidered on her tunic. It was that of Mindelan, but with distaff borders. This dancing woman was Tortall's second lady knight.
'It's Keladry of Mindelan,' she answered, 'We met once.'
'And climbed down a chimney, yes, I remember it well.' Aly scowled at Kyprioth's all-knowledgeable tone.
Aly looked back at the Lady Knight, fascinated by the woman her mother had often so wished Aly could be.
'Hang on,' she adjusted her Sight. 'She's pregnant!'
'Ah yes,' said Kyprioth. 'I'm not sure she's in possession of that information yet. I do believe a careless mage has removed the magic of her anti-pregnancy charm.'
Aly winced, and then returned to the more serious topic of conversation.
'But how did she? What? How?' Everyone knew the story of Keladry's disappearance.
'Her years of absence were spent fighting underground for Alexei of Rathhausak, the currently proclaimed King of Scanra. And you know what?' Kyprioth's eyes gleamed with an emotion deeper than his usual mirth. 'They overthrew the tyrant with but a handful of fighters. It can be done. If you've the mind, if you've the nerve.'
And the dream-vision faded away, "it can be done, it can be done" echoing in Aly's head.
Kel spun around, her face flushed from dancing, voice hoarse from singing and found herself in the arms of Dom.
'I am so proud of you my love, this is your doing,' he panted, blue eyes dazzling. 'Look at them all, I just can't explain-'
'Freedom. This is what freedom looks like.' She was drawn into a tender embrace of the man she loved enough to spend the rest of her life with. Over Dom's shoulder she caught a pair of hazel eyes. The rest of the room seemed to still and an unspoken thought passed between the two. We did it.
Can you believe it? It's actually done. 31/8/13 - the day Fallen came to an end. And you know, I can still remember the day it all started. It was 12/03/06, and I was lying in bed, utterly miserable because I had a fever and two battered knees I'd gained whilst losing a hockey cup final match the day before. I was flicking through my mp3 player when I came across Afterglow, the Sarah McLachlan album, and listened to the first track; Fallen. It finished and I played it again, ideas began to burst into existence.
I'd always wanted to write a credible 'kel-gets-kicked-out' fic, not least because I'd always wanted to read one! But honestly, when I started this I had no idea what a marathon journey it would become. I'd love to say I had it all planned out, but Scanra didn't even spring into being until I was a good few chapters in. Then this giant new plot exploded, telling the story from the Scanran point of view, which I still wanted to more or less fit into canon time and events. I think my lack of plan was probably how it ended up so long -not sure I'd have ever started a planned 400,000 word project! But I encourage you to have a go yourself, write that first chapter, every story starts somewhere :)
It's been such a journey, thank you so much for embarking on it with me. I don't think I'd have bothered with chapter 2 if no one had expressed an interest in my tale. Fanfiction really is the best place to practice your writing, so thank you for all your help, constructive criticism and encouragement. Especially, if you've stuck with me since the beginning -it's nearly been seven years can you believe?
Slavery has been a large theme in this story, so can I just quickly make you aware that there are currently more slaves in our world than have ever been before. 27 million. Every hour 120 people are enslaved, 30 of which are children. This world, our world, is looking for Kel-like people to rise up and take a stand for those victims. You don't need to start a revolution, but everyone can do something. Raise awareness, raise funds, get involved...
I was fourteen when I started to plan Fallen. It's been such a constant thing I've grown up with through school, college, undergrad but I'm glad that now with just two busy years of vet school left, I don't feel guilty for not updating! I could go on writing Kel's story forever, till she was old and grey with children, and then her children's children...but I'll leave their stories up to your imaginations ;)
I'm sure I'll return to writing someday, when time allows, but really, thanks, it's been so much fun.
God bless you all,
PS. I'd love to hear your final thoughts on Fallen ;)