The two elderly matrons standing outside the bride's dressing room were determined not to let anyone in, but even they could not refuse the man who strode up to the door and demanded entry. "Your Highness," they murmured, stepping aside respectfully. Sinking into curtseys as he passed, they hid thinly veiled scowls at the impropriety before letting him into the room.
"Thank you," he replied politely, smiling distantly before slipping into the gaily decorated room. Looking at the woman sitting in front of the full length mirror, fussing with her hair, he remarked casually, "This room, it's more, ehm…pink than I thought you'd like."
"Yes, well, beggars can't be choosers."
"You're hardly a beggar," he replied dryly. Smirking, she turned to face him, standing and letting the long white gown fall to the floor, its skirts sweeping out to frame her delicate yet strong hips.
"How do I look?" she asked, smiling tentatively. He didn't answer but sighed deeply, drinking in the sight of her. Slowly, his eyes raked her entire body before coming to rest on her face. Even then, he wouldn't look into her eyes. For long moments, they stood looking at each other, the king and the warrior maiden, before she asked softly, "Why are you here?"
His eyes snapped up to meet hers, anger and passion evident on the surface of his gaze. "Why are you marrying him?" he demanded. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off before she could defend herself. "Never mind, I know why you're marrying him but…but…how can you?" he finished in a whisper. "After all we've been through together, how can you –"
"Me?!" she interrupted, her voice an angry hiss. "How can you stand there accusing me when in less than a week you'll be married to another woman?"
"I have no choice," he replied angrily, "I need the influence and power her title can give me."
"As if you don't have plenty of influence and power yourself," she said sharply. He said nothing, but stared at her dully, his face set and hardened. "When I gave myself to you I thought it would be forever," she said sadly.
"You're the one that broke it off!" he cried.
"I know." she said, her voice kind but with and underlying tone of steel, "And that's what I'm doing now."
"Darling…" the man said, his voice quietly desperate. Shaking his head, he turned to leave when he felt a small but powerful hand grasp his arm. Stopping reluctantly, he looked down into her lovely eyes.
"Maybe…" she said softly.
"No maybes!" he cried, turning again to go.
"Listen to me!" she said sharply, clinging to his arm. "Maybe someday, when your wife and my husband are dead--"
" Dead?" he interrupted, staring at her.
"Yes. They both live dangerous lives--"
"As if we don't," he muttered under his breath. She glared at him, and he motioned for her to continue.
"And it's not inconceivable that one or both of them could die young. If they should, I see no reason why we, their grieving spouses, should not wed to ease our loneliness—and for the good of Tortall."
"And would we be helping them to these 'early deaths'?" he asked shrewdly, his body tense, ready to walk out if her answer was yes.
"Of course not!" she cried, her eyes wide and innocent. "But if they happen to die…" she let the sentence hang.
"If…" he murmured.
"If…" she agreed.
Nodding, he turned once more to leave before pivoting quickly to grab her and kiss her. Clinging tightly to each other, they embraced for long minutes before abruptly releasing each other. She turned back to her mirror, preparing to marry a man she did not know if she truly loved, and he walked out to meet the woman who he had asked to wed him.
Fifteen Years Later
When their monarch died, the people of Tortall mourned, but did not think into the death itself too much. Instead, they chose to remember how their ruler lived, always passionate and full of life, a champion of the small and meek, never afraid to make controversial changes, despite the turmoil surrounding the Coronation. Less than a week later, the kingdom reacted with shock and horror when news of a second death came from Pirate's Swoop. Stunned and confused, peasants, merchants, and nobles alike walked the streets of Corus in a daze, unsure where to turn or whom to trust.
Amid the confusion, no one noticed a lone rider flying through the back alleyways of the Lower City. Shivering, the rider dismounted and removed her cloak before slipping through the dilapidated entrance of what had one been The Dancing Dove. She felt almost sanctimonious coming here, into his place, where his influence could still be felt in every corner.
Before she had time to contemplate the shadows of his old court, the back door flew open and a tall, cloaked man came striding through the door. The years had streaked his hair with silver, and his once proud figure was stooped with grief. Still, there was no denying his commanding presence as he strode up to her and roughly grabbed her by the shoulders.
"We won't be helping them to an early death?" he hissed, shaking her. Stumbling, she almost fell and he released her, letting go and stepping away as if too disgusted to touch her.
"Accidents happen," she said dismissively, hoping he couldn't see the way her body shuddered.
"I know you killed him!" the man cried angrily. "Her, well—"
"I didn't kill her!" the woman snapped piercingly.
"So you admit to murdering your own husband?" he demanded sharply.
"Yes, alright? Yes, I did it. But I swear on Mithros and the Goddess that I didn't kill her."
"She killed herself, you fool. Just accept that and move on."
"Oh, wouldn't she? She loved him from the moment she met him, when she was just a page and he the crown prince. Admit it, George, you just don't like the thought that she loved someone more than you."
For a moment the man opened his mouth to argue, and then, as the fight drained out of him, he sat down heavily in the chair where he had once ruled as the King of the Rogue. "You're right," he said softly, looking old and worn.
"Of course I'm right," said Queen Thayet of Tortall, sitting down next to her lover, "And now that Jonathan and Alanna are gone, we're free to be together."
Sighing, he stared into her face. "Where do we go from here?" he asked softly.
Smiling, she took his hand and led him to the window. There, just barely visible over the trees and rooftops, glittered the Royal Palace. "Together Forever," Thayet jian Wilhelm of Tortall whispered.
"Forever." Baron George Cooper of Pirate's Swoop replied softly.