"You and DG are both famous, Princess
"You and DG are both famous, Princess." Ambrose grinned from behind his desk. He held up a stack of letters. "Look at all of this. Everyone is inviting you to visit: Winkians, the Lord of Quaddling Country. Here's one from the Eastern Guilds." He held that one between his thumb and forefinger as though it were diseased.
Azkadellia smiled at him. "That's quite a change. I thought they hated me."
"Saving the world is going to get you extra credit points in most people's books." He stood and came around the desk. "A lot of people saw what you and DG did up there. It's kind of hard to call you evil when you go and do something heroic and noble like that."
"Word travels fast, huh?" Azkadellia replied.
"It should. From what I heard, it was pretty incredible." He touched the back of his head gingerly. "Just wish I'd been there to see it. Oh, hey, before I forget. This came in today's mail."
He handed her a letter. She broke the seal of the envelope and slid the paper from within. It was brief and she was able to read it quickly. "It's from Jason, thanking me for saving his son."
Ambrose smiled. "Even the man that threatened to kill you is thanking you."
"He should be thanking you and Mr. Cain." Azkadellia slid the paper back in its envelope. "I'll have to remember to show it to him."
A tense silence hung between them as they ran out of conversation. It happened often these days. Azkadellia was never sure what to say to the man. Before this whole mess, he was unwilling to sit in the same room with her. Now, he seemed to seek her company and she didn't mind in the least. She found that she cared very deeply for him.
There was just something that hung between them. But she was afraid that if she confessed about why Ambrose's brain was truly taken from him, they would be back at square one.
But she didn't have a lot of choice. "Ambrose, there's something I need to tell you."
There was no smart come back, no goofy smile. He just leaned back on the desk and looked at her expectantly.
Here goes nothing. "It was at my suggestion that the Witch took your brain."
He blinked at her in surprise a few times, but didn't respond.
Her stomach flipped when he remained silent and she found herself babbling. "I'm so sorry! It was all I could think to do. . ."
"Your Highness. . . "
"She was going to kill you. I couldn't let her. . ."
"Princess. . . "
"Please, understand. Oh, please forgive me."
"Az!" His use of her nickname stopped her cold. He studied her with an unreadable expression for a second before smiling. "It's okay. It all worked out in the end, didn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose it did." She looked at him, feeling worried.
"Did you think I wouldn't understand?" He looked at her, cocking his head slightly. "What did you think?"
"I just . . . didn't want to go back to the way we were before, Ambrose." She confessed. "I think I rather enjoy your company and if you couldn't stand to be in the same room with me. . ."
He surprised her when he stood up and drew her into a warm embrace. "I'm sorry for the way I acted before. I didn't understand what you had been through."
"And you do now?"
"I have a better idea." Ambrose pulled away. "Enough to know that you re a stronger person than I ever gave you credit for."
"I have a confession to make, Your Highness." He said softly. His arms were still around her waist.
"And what is it?" she asked smiling.
"I rather enjoy your company, too."
Wyatt Cain was laughing so hard the cane fishing pole he held in his hands shook. "You aren't serious."
"I kid you not." Jeb replied, chuckling himself. "It was the proudest moment of my life as the son of Adora Cain."
"Where'd she pull the guns from?"
"I don't know." Jeb said with a look that told Cain his son didn't really want to know, either. "But I'm sure the Long Coats were wondering the same thing."
"Your mother always was creative."
Jeb shook his head. "She did it out of spite, ambushing those Long Coats. It was a few days after Zero had a group of us pinned down in the Southern Woods. That's when he told us you had died in the suit."
Cain sobered a bit. "I can't imagine what that did to her."
"She was probably screaming on the inside." Jeb said solemnly before he grinned again. "But in the heat of the moment, she stood up, fired off a shot at him, and told him, and this is a direct quote, that his 'sorry, lily-livered carcass' was her's."
Cain smiled. "She said that?"
"There was more, but it would make me blush to repeat it."
A thought occurred to Cain. "When Zero caught up with us at the Northern Castle, he said that you and your mother were begging for me to be set free."
"He's lucky she didn't hear that." Jeb's grin turned wolfish. "He and Mom had a couple of face-to-face encounters over the years. She didn't beg. She threatened to cut off vital pieces of his anatomy if he didn't turn you loose."
"That sounds like your mother."
They fell silent for a few minutes, taking in the beauty of Finaqua. It had been a week since they had all returned. Cain was feeling stronger everyday, but refused to push it. The Queen had given Jeb a furlough despite what she called 'an understandable lack of judgment' and Cain intended to spend as much time as he could getting to know his son again.
"I liked DG's idea."
"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Cain smirked at his son's reproachful look. He had seen those quiet, secretive little glances his son had exchanged with a certain princess. He decided not to press the matter "Which idea? The Resistance Memorial or the medal ceremony for her damned horse?"
"The Resistance Memorial." Jeb jiggled the pole in his hands. "A lot of good people died fighting the Witch. We should remember that."
"I agree." Cain looked down. "I'm just not sure how your mother would feel about all the fuss."
The design DG had come up with after consulting Glitch was a large round building that featured the names of all the Resistance Leaders on individual big brass plaques. This included Adora Cain's name. DG's heart was in the right place, but Cain knew Adora wouldn't have thought herself any more important than anyone else who had fought the Witch.
"She deserves some recognition, Dad."
"I know, son. I just don't think she'd like it."
"Well," Jeb replied, looking distractedly to the trees. "I don't remember the threat of her making a fuss ever stopping you before. Remember that necklace you bought for her?"
How could he forget? It had been gold, the pendant inlaid with exquisite Gillikin sapphires. He had saved a little from every paycheck to get it for her. She had pitched a monumental fit when he had presented it to her on their anniversary, saying it was too much and she didn't need a whole bunch of baubles to be happy.
"You just let her rant and rave." Jeb said.
"You remember that?"
"I was scared out of my little mind. But you just sat back and watched the show." He looked at Cain. "And you know she wore that necklace everyday? Never took it off."
Cain sighed. "I suppose we can risk it."
"She'll probably start haunting us or something."
The dry wit was redolent of his mother. Cain let Jeb see that he wasn't upset by the comment. "I wouldn't be surprised."
Jeb smiled and looked towards the gazebo where Orianah and DG had been for the last hour or so. The Queen was seated on the swing, her long, lavender dress stirring lightly as she swung gently. Her daughter sat before her on the floor, the skirt of her dark blue dress pooling around her as she sketched determinedly on the pad of paper she had brought out with her.
"We should probably head back." Cain said.
"Uh-huh," was the only response he got from his son. Jeb was watching DG dazedly.
Cain snickered inwardly. "Jeb, I'm going to ask the Queen to reassign you. I thought perhaps you might like a change of scenery. How do the Eastern Guilds sound?"
"Fine, Dad. Fine."
'You know you'll have to wear the feathers and the body paint."
Cain was laughing again, which snapped Jeb from his trance. He gave his father an irritated look. "What's so funny?"
His son had it bad, he just didn't really know it yet. That would remain Cain's little secret for the time being. There was good fodder for teasing and jokes at his son's expense on down the road.
"Are you finished drowning worms?"
"What worms? We haven't baited the hooks in over two hours." Jeb drew in his line. "I guess it is almost time for the meeting. Are you sure you're up to it?"
"I think so." The princesses were off for a tour of the Eastern Territories the following week. This time, however, there was no feeling of impending doom. According to Glitch, the tide of public approval was turning in Azkadellia's favor. Cain was still going to have to be on his toes, but his job as Head of Security was going to be at least a little easier when it came to the older princess. "Besides, I've got new recruits coming up for academy testing, too. I can't lie around forever. Too much to do."
"What about that lady you met in Rigmar?"
"Yup, she's testing. It should be a breeze for her, though." Connalee LaRue had taken up his offer of trying for the Tin Man Academy after relocating her father back to Central City. The Queen had been delighted to see Dr. LaRue alive.
"What do you call a lady Tin Man?" Jeb wondered absently.
"A Tin Man." Cain replied without missing a beat. "They earn the title just like everyone else."
His son smiled and fell in step beside him. Cain asked. "When are you headed back to your battalion?"
"I guess when you leave with DG and Azkadellia." Jeb replied. "Queen Orianah said I could take all the time I need, but if you're going back to work, I guess it's about time I did, too."
Cain smiled. "Just don't be a stranger, son."
"Come on, Mother." DG said leaning in closer to her sketch so the woman wouldn't see her smile. "Let the Light flow through you."
It was a 'Mom' thing. DG knew she was being glared at before she even looked up. "You think you are quite funny, don't you?"
"Would you like me to go get Tutor?" DG's smile turned wolfish as she looked up. "He knows how to crack the whip."
"Where did you learn such insolent speech, anyway?" Orianah said, though the wide grin softened the words.
After she had felt her mother's magic at the Suketian fortress, DG had been convinced that it was not lost forever as they had all once thought. It had taken some persuasion, but DG had managed to get her to agree to give it a try.
Orianah cocked her head, contemplating DG's spinning doll that stood on her palm. "I remember when this was easy."
"It'll be easy again." DG said hopefully. "You'll see."
With a deep sigh, Orianah closed her eyes.
After a few seconds, DG grinned when the doll floated from her mother's palm and slowly began to rotate in the air.
"Very nice, Your Majesty."
Jeb's voice startled her and the doll dropped. DG managed to catch it before it hit the ground.
He looked sheepish as he and his father walked up the stairs to the gazebo. "Sorry."
"It's all right, Commander." Orianah stood.
"Yeah, she needs to start learning to concentrate with distractions, too." DG put in, unfolding herself and rising as well.
The queen turned to her and said smugly. "So do you, my dear."
DG snorted. Azkadellia and her big mouth.
Cain motioned to her sketch pad. "What have you been working on, kiddo?"
"Oh!" Quickly, she flipped it around for the Cain's to see. It was a sketch of the two of them sitting on the shores of Finaqua. "Well?"
A soft smile came to Cain's face. "That's pretty good."
"Wow, DG." Jeb replied in awe.
She felt a light blush creep into her cheeks at his praise.
Orianah smiled at DG before turning to Cain. "I suppose we should discuss next week's excursion, anyway."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
DG was excited about their trip to the Eastern Territories. Jeb had told her all about it during one of their long talks while his father recovered. It was kind of like the Old West that she was familiar with, hard but beautiful.
She smiled shyly at Jeb who winked back. But it was to her friend that she spoke next. "Are you going to be staying in the Eastern Territories, Mr. Cain?"
He bowed his head, hiding his face from view beneath the brim of his new hat as his hand rested on the pearl-handled revolver Jeb had given him. "You want to know if I'm still leaving."
"I was kind of wondering."
His face was still unreadable as he looked back at her. He shrugged. "I don't know. Long hours. Bedrolls on hard ground. Bouncing around in a saddle all day . . ."
"You're not answering my question." DG crossed her arms. "You love all of that stuff."
There was a smile now. "Well, Jeb is stationed in Central City. And the food is pretty good around here."
DG was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. "Thank you, Mr. Cain. You have no idea how much we were all going to miss you."
"I would have missed all of you, too." DG felt her heat warm as he glanced at his son. He sighed suddenly, his voice becoming harder, but edged with a teasing tone. "Must be losing my mind. The whole lot of you is nothing but trouble."
"Does that include me, Mr. Cain?" Orianah asked as DG and Jeb began to laugh.
"Pardon me, Your Majesty, but absolutely it does." Cain replied, straight-faced before turning on his heel and heading down the steps.
DG found herself leaning against Jeb, but he wasn't much support. He was laughing just as hard as she was as he called after his father. "At least it will never be boring, Dad."
"Come on, you two." Orianah scolded as she herded them off of the gazebo.
Together, they walked towards Finaqua. Cain and Orianah talked about the trip and DG found herself following her mother beside Jeb Cain.
He was hanging his head. "I'm going to have to head back to Central City soon."
"I know." That wasn't a surprise. The Royal Army still needed every good man. There were still Long Coats on the loose and restoration efforts to be finished. "You'll write to me though, right?"
"Everyday." Their parents disappeared into the castle. Jeb pulled her to a stop. "You'll write back?"
"For a while." She smiled as she saw the shock register on his face. "Of course, in a few weeks, my family will be back in Central City. So then you better just stop by."
He grinned at her as he moved closer. "You'll be sick of me."
"I doubt it." His lips were so close to hers.
"Hey!" The pair looked up to see Jeb's father standing in the doorway. He was trying to look agitated, but didn't seem to have the heart to pull it off well. In fact, he rather seemed to be enjoying himself. "Come on, lovebirds. I haven't got all day."
Shaking his head, Jeb took DG's hand and walked with her towards the castle. As she walked through the halls between the Cain men, she felt happiness well up inside her. Cain gave her a sideways look and a smirk as they walked. She just grinned right back at him.
They entered the room where all of the people she loved had gathered. Glitch and Azkadellia were on the couch talking to Raw. Her mother and father were laughing with Tutor near the windows. Just in their presence, she felt her Light warm her and glow just a little bit more brightly.
It was a good day in the O.Z.. Her friends were with her. Cain was healthy again. Glitch and Raw were near. Her family was safe and so was their kingdom. Jeb was beside her. There was whole, beautiful, wondrous land out there to be explored.
Jeb was right. It wasn't going to be boring.
A/N: And so ends one warped adventure. . .
Thank you to all of you that took the time to review. I can't tell you how much your kind words meant to me. I hope you all enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Every comment was read and appreciated, believe me! I laughed out loud at more than a few. This is the first major fic that I've finished in a long time and you guys all kept me going with your wonderful feedback.
May DG, Glitch, Raw, and our beloved Tin Man have many more adventures!