A/N: Whew! This is it, the last chapter! It's true I was taking my time on this, but you would never believe the computer problems I was having! My new laptop of like, a month, crashed! No joke! I was computerless for over a week! Rotten luck. But anyway, I've pulled through and now here it is! ENJOY!!! :D
The early winter morning dawned peaceful and quiet. The light from the rising sun slowly crept up the ramparts of the palace, meeting the many shuttered windows of those living inside it. Behind one of those closed windows, a lady knight lay sleeping peacefully in her bed. The silence filling the room around her was due to the early morning hour.
Slowly, the sunlight started to peek through the one broken slat on her shuttered window. The band of light fell onto the floor. As the minutes went by, it inched forward, moving closer to the foot of the bed until it was making its way up the side.
Kel was lying on her side when the beam of early morning light fell across the bed sheets that covered her. It was a matter of minutes before the stream of light finally alighted on her face. The bright light caused Kel to stir. She shifted and pulled the covers closer around her, closing her eyes more tightly against the light. She had no desire to wake up. No matter how tightly her eyes were closed, however, the light coming through the window was bright.
Grumbling, Kel sat up and felt around blindly, trying to keep her eyes closed to keep herself from waking up any further. At last she found a tunic and forced it over her head. Despite the ray of light coming in, the room was still quite chilly. Getting out of bed, Kel padded quickly across the floor to the window- the floor was rather cold on her bare feet. She could see that the sun was just cresting the horizon when she hurriedly flipped the broken slat back into place and tried to make her way back to bed. She did not need to get up yet and wanted to get her few more minutes of sleep. Unfortunately, by closing the slat, the room had become much darker than before. Her foot caught of something of the ground, and she stumbled. Though not usually prone to cursing, she did then. She felt the rest of the way back into bed.
Crawling back under the covers, she pulled the sheets around her body once again. She could still get a few more minutes of sleep and hoped to do so.
"We really need to fix that thing," she said aloud. She already felt that sleep had evaded her.
The bed sheets moved beside her as a strong arm slipped around her waist. She heard a sleepy chuckle from beside her ear. "We? I think you mean me. If you did it, we'd end up having two things to fix." Dom's arm moved up as his hand traveled down her arm. His large hand slowly moved to cover hers, lying beside her on the bed.
"My carpentry skills aren't as bad as they used to be," she defended with a yawn.
The sleepy chuckle returned. "Perhaps not," he replied. "With my help, you now only hurt yourself four out of five times. But I don't mind when I'm there to take care of you afterwards."
Kel could hear the smile in his voice as his warm hand gently stroked hers. She smiled in the darkness.
After a few moments of contented bliss, Kel moved to get up with great reluctance, extracting herself from Dom's warm hold. She walked over and opened the shutters completely, letting in the dawn light.
Dom groaned from the bed, rubbing his eyes. "Did you have to do that?" he asked.
Kel chuckled. "What? Don't tell me you were planning to stay in bed all day."
Once his eyes adjusted, he looked at her. Standing in front of the window, with light streaming in behind her, Dom thought she looked like a goddess out of one of the many tales he'd heard told over the years. As he looked at her, he also noticed that she had thrown on one of his tunics, the shoulders of the garment slightly too large to be her own. He grinned. "Actually, staying in bed sounds like a very good idea."
Kel's face flushed as his appreciative warm gaze ran over her.
"Don't you agree?" he continued, a playful smile on his face.
Looking at him, Kel couldn't deny that the idea was very tempting. She was wearing his shirt after all, leaving him without one. She made her way back into bed.
"That's the spirit," Dom grinned. "And to believe it took you six years after my proposal for you to finally marry me. I obviously did not use the right means of persuasion."
Despite knowing that he was only teasing her, Kel colored. Then she told him, "You can't blame it solely on me. If we married any sooner you would've had to leave the Own, and I wasn't having that."
Dom smiled. "Point taken. But I was made captain three years after you agreed to marry me, and then King Jon changed the marriage law to include captains in the fourth. So, if my calculations are correct, you still have two years to explain." He propped himself up on his elbow to look down at her. "So?" he asked after she didn't immediately respond. "Let's hear it."
"You're incorrigible," she laughed.
"Is that all?" he asked, a teasing lilt to his voice. His blue eyes twinkled.
"No," Kel smiled, twisting onto her side to face him. She propped herself up on her elbow as well, mirroring him. Then she leaned in. Dom's eyes were alert to her every movement, bright with anticipation as her face came closer and closer to his own. Her lips were only inches away from his when she stopped. Aware of the way his eyes swept over her face, taking their time as they roamed over and down to her mouth with attentiveness, Kel smiled. Slowly leaning in the last few inches, she said softly, "No, you're also good at getting what you want."
Her lips brushed over his. Once. Twice.
"What I want?" he asked, clearly amused. He smiled in enjoyment as Kel ran her lips over his a third time.
"Yes, what you want. Like persuading me to stay in bed a while longer with you."
"And what about what you want?" he asked, eyes dancing.
Kel leaned back on both of her elbows and smiled. "Well, I want what you want, so it's a win-win situation- at least over this matter."
Dom chuckled. Then he shifted his body so that one arm was on either side of her, supporting him. Grinning, he leaned down. "I love it when we agree."
Using one arm to support her, Kel used the other to reach up and draw him to her. Their lips met in a warm, fervent kiss. As they sank back onto the bed together, their mouths began to move more slowly, more enticingly, as they kissed each other thoroughly.
Then Dom pulled back only slightly and smiled. "You made me the happiest man alive when you married me."
"Oh, is that all it took?" she teased. Then she looked at him in a way that made Dom's body warm. "Years and years ago, I would've called anyone crazy if they told me I'd be married at this age. I had thought I'd still be alone even when I turned fifty- and I sort of planned it that way."
"Well, you know what Raoul says about planning," Dom grinned. "Plan all you want, but be certain that at least one person won't get the message- that person usually being the enemy."
Kel laughed at the saying she knew so well. "It's true. Things happen. You can't plan everything I've found out."
"Well, I'm certainly glad that that particular plan of yours went awry."
She smiled back at him. He was leaning in to kiss her again, when suddenly the door to their bedchamber flew open, followed by shouting and yelling as three young children ran into the room.
Two boys, around seven and six, raced inside with wooden swords in hand as they scurried after each other, small wooden shields attached to their arms. A girl, younger than the boys at around four years of age, hurried in right behind them, not wanting to miss any of the action.
Dom looked back at Kel as the scene folded out in front of them. They exchanged highly amused expressions.
Then Kel said with a smile, "I would've never thought I'd be a wife by now, and here I am, married and the mother of three children."
"Three beautiful children," Dom beamed proudly. He placed a quick kiss on her lips before adding, "Three beautiful children who have a bad sense of timing." Kel chuckled as Dom looked back over his shoulder again. He laughed, "And who apparently are also quite oblivious to their surroundings."
Rolling off of Kel, Dom moved to get out of bed as he shouted, "Hey, now! What's all this noise about?"
The boys stopped shouting long enough to reply, "We're at war, Da!" Their wooden swords continued to strike.
Dom laughed. "That much is clear. But can't war wait until after breakfast is served? Or better yet, when the sun is up?"
Kel laughed at that.
"Don't be silly, Da," said the older boy. "Wars don't wait for breakfast to be served."
"I'm sure it'd make a lot of people happier if they did," Dom joked to himself.
"Yeah," cried the younger boy as his sword knocked against his brother's, "victory is more important than breakfast."
"And some people are rather partial to sleep, too, the last thing I heard," said Dom sardonically. "Do your mother and I come barging in to your room, swords clanging, at this hour in the morning?"
"But we need to practice," answered the older one, quickly batting away the brown hair that fell into his eyes. Out of all the children, he looked the most like Kel, with his straight brown hair and hazel eyes. The long nose and arching eyebrows were his father's though.
"Yeah, Ma practices even earlier than this," said their younger son. He looked as much like Dom as his elder brother looked like Kel. But like his brother, he also had Kel's hazel eyes.
Dom cocked an eyebrow at Kel. She smiled and shrugged innocently. "Encouraging your children to run around with wooden swords at this time of morning," Dom tsk-ed, shaking his head. "A very unconventional mother indeed."
Kel laughed. He had been calling her unconventional ever since their eldest was born and she had insisted on taking him outside with her when she practiced. She had wanted to spend as much time with him as possible- and then, of course, his brother was very soon to follow after that.
Dom and Kel were still smiling at each other when suddenly the knocking of swords stopped, and the younger boy tripped and landed on the floor with a thud. Turning to look, they saw their son that looked a lot like Dom on the ground, rubbing his backside.
"You see, you have to be aware of your surroundings," Dom reminded him, biting back a smile.
"Hey, you don't allow us to have our clothes thrown all over the room! Why do you get to do it?" The boy held up the object he had tripped over, frowning.
Kel reddened instantly as she saw him hold up her discarded tunic she had been searching for earlier. She now knew what she had tripped over earlier as well.
Taking the shirt from his son's hand, Dom gave Kel a look of pure boyish mischief. His eyes glittering, he said, "Your mother just must have misplaced this last night."
Though he was talking to the boy, his eyes were trained on Kel. She didn't think her face could get any warmer. Fortunately their children were too young to realize the meaning behind Dom's words and roguish smile.
Unable to let him get away with that remark unscathed, Kel countered, with a playful smile of her own, "Don't look at me, look at your father. He was the cause of its misplacement."
Dom's eyes burned into hers as their eyes reflected what memories her words had recalled. Their secretive smiles went undetected by their children who continued on with their 'battle'.
"Ma, I'm going to be a knight just like you!" said their oldest as he swung at his brother.
Kel broke her heated gaze with Dom to smile proudly at her son. "And a fine knight you'll make, too," she reassured him.
"Me too, Ma!" said the darker-haired boy while blocking his brother's swing. "I'm going to save the Realm just like you!"
As she watched her boys with a smile, Dom sighed loudly. "It pains me that none of our children want to follow in their Da's footsteps."
Kel laughed at his wounded expression. "But I'm sure at least one of them has inherited your dramatics," she teased. Dom grinned at her.
"I wanna be part of the King's Own, Da! I'll follow in your footsteps!"
Dom bent over and picked up their daughter as she ran over to him. He smiled at her in his arms. "You mean you don't wish to be a court lady?"
The four-year-old's face scrunched up. "No, I wanna be in the King's Own, just like you, Da." Her blue eyes were bright in her cute, rounded face.
Kissing the top of her head, Dom told her gently, "But girls aren't allowed in the King's Own, my darling."
"But Ma became a knight, even when there were only boys besides the Lioness," she reminded him stubbornly.
Dom laughed, glancing at Kel. "We're going to have to watch this one," he said with a smile. "She's as stubborn as her mother."
"You can always join the Queen's Riders," Kel said to her daughter, after shaking her head at Dom.
"But I'm just as good as any of those boys."
Kel smiled. This all sounded very familiar. "I know, I know. We'll decide when the time comes."
Their little girl smiled, and as Dom released her from his hold, she skipped back to cheer on her brothers.
Watching her go with a smile, Dom asked, "Do you have any excuse as to why you bore me such a beautiful daughter? Half the men in Tortall will be chasing after her by the time she turns sixteen."
Grinning, Kel asked, "Did you chase after girls, Dom?"
He took his eyes off his daughter to grin back at Kel. "One girl, yes. Chased her half way into Scanra as a matter of fact."
She watched with a smile as he came and sat beside her on the bed. Running his fingers down her cheek, he told her softly, "And you know what? I finally caught her." With his fingertips, he lifted her chin up. Then, as if he had all the time in the world, he kissed her, his mouth warm and inviting.
As Kel responded and their kiss became more heated, Dom pulled away with a wide smile. "As I said before, one must be aware of their surroundings." He glanced back at the children playing and then back at her, a smile still on his face.
Sighing, Kel moved to get up, albeit very reluctantly. "We'd best all get ready, if we're to make it down to the Chamber in time."
Dom nodded as Kel quieted the children and sent them back to their rooms to quickly change out of their nightshirts and such. They quickly followed orders, their energy level high ever since they had learned they would be going to the Chapel of the Ordeal. It was the morning of the first Ordeal for this year's candidates- hence the reason why the children were running about at such an early hour. The fact that Midwinter Day was in a few days time added to their lifted spirits.
"I'll be back soon," Kel told Dom as she followed after the children. "If I don't help them get changed now, they'll never make it in time."
Laughing from where he still sat on the bed, Dom teased, "And when you get back, then we can help each other get dressed…or undressed depending upon how you look on it."
Kel halted in the doorway and turned back around with a smile. She raised her eyebrows at her husband, who was grinning wildly. "If that happens, then we'll never make it down in time."
Dom laughed loudly, his blue eyes glittering mischievously as he looked at her. "I suppose you're right," he smiled, getting up and making his way toward their wardrobe. Then he stuck his head around the opened door and grinned, his eyes running quickly up and down her body. "But I will need my tunic back."
"You have plenty of others," Kel replied, her face warm.
"I know," he grinned, "but right now I like that one the most…but then again, I guess it's not the shirt, is it?"
After giving him a warm smile, Kel turned again to leave. If she didn't, they wouldn't be making it downstairs until supper…
The room was packed with people quietly waiting for the Chamber door to open. The king and queen were in attendance, as always, with Roald and Shinkokami beside them. At Shinko's side stood a young girl of thirteen, with the long dark hair and almond-shaped eyes of her mother. Lianokami watched the Chamber door like all the others.
Looking around the room, Kel saw many familiar faces. Owen stood with his wife, Margarry, and their two very young children who had the same curly hair and excited round faces as their father. Lord Wyldon, Margarry's father, stood in the same row beside his wife and grandchildren. Besides his gray hair and a few more lines on his face, he looked like the same old Stump, Kel thought with a smile. As if sensing her gaze, Wyldon caught her eye, and nodded. Kel nodded back before his gaze returned to the Chamber door.
In the back of the room, close to the door, another figure caught her eye. A tall, lanky young man stood there, his clothes neat except for the dust on his breeches which it looked like he had tried to rub off. Kel smiled widely as she looked at Tobe. It was difficult for a palace horse hostler and messenger to stay clean. Loesia, his wife, complained about it often.
A movement on her left caused Kel to look at the person standing beside her. Though trying not to tremble, Kel could tell the person was nervous. Putting a hand on her shoulder, Kel smiled reassuringly at the young woman. Kel knew what her squire was feeling as she waited for her fellow year-mate to emerge from the Chamber. At this time tomorrow, she would be behind that closed door, going through her own Ordeal. Kel knew how nervous she must feel and tried her best to comfort her. After giving her a nod of thanks, her squire's eyes returned to the iron door.
Standing in front of her, Kel could see that Neal's shoulders were just as tense with worry. Beside him, Yuki held his hand firmly in her own, her other hand running soothingly over the back of his. To Yuki's right stood five children also quietly watching the door. Their oldest, a daughter in her second year of page training, was the most alert, the youngest ones too young to fully comprehend what was going on. She watched the closed door with a mixture of fear and determination in her dark almond-shaped eyes. Kel knew she must be thinking that in six years, she would be behind that iron door. Neal and Yuki's youngest children shifted as they waited, their youngest being only around three years old. Kel then looked at her own three children, silently standing on the other side of Dom. She smiled proudly, for they all acted so well-behaved.
She was still smiling when suddenly the iron door opened with a clank. A young man, pale and sweat-soaked, stumbled out of the Chamber. Immediately, Neal hurried toward him, taking his squire and supporting him around the shoulders as the Chapel resonated with cheers. Kel heard her squire shout loudly beside her.
That night, Neal's former squire was knighted and Kel's own kept her vigil. In the morning, Kel ran to her squire's side when she came out of the Chamber, just as pale as her friend had been the morning before. Then, hours later, her squire was knighted.
Kel beamed proudly at her former squire as the young girl hugged her fiercely afterwards. "Gods all bless," she told the young woman. They exchanged a few words before she moved on to her family and friends, receiving congratulations along the way. Kel watched her with pride.
"Who's going to be your next squire, Ma?" asked her younger son. They had all become quite attached to her former squire and hadn't wanted her to leave. She knew her children were going to miss her.
"I don't know," she replied, "Who do you think?"
"You can choose me in two more years, Aunt Kel."
She turned to see Neal and Yuki's oldest standing beside her. Kel smiled, "I think your father thinks I would be a bad influence on you."
"Nonsense," said Neal, coming up behind his daughter, "I already think you are a bad influence on her. All the women in her life are bad influences on her. To think she could be safe in the Convent right now, and instead she prefers to be out swinging sticks at peoples' heads while her grandfather tends to her almost daily wounds. She had to learn it somewhere!"
"Aunt Kel's an excellent teacher," said the young girl, smiling.
"Yeah, Ma's teaching us the glaive!" said her boys.
"And she says I can start in about a year or two," added her daughter excitedly.
Neal shook his head and looked at Dom. "Can't you stop her before she turns our whole lot into a small, glaive-wielding army?"
Dom just laughed.
"Da teaches us how to use a sword!" said the son that looked the most like him.
Neal's response was to roll his eyes. "Hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. I'll have not even one child that I do not need to check for cuts and bruises every night. I'll be able to open my own infirmary in my quarters, just for our children."
Kel, Dom, and Yuki laughed.
"When does the feast start?" asked Neal and Yuki's second oldest. He would be starting page training in the fall. Lately his appetite had been increasing, and all the other children were hungry and eager to eat as well.
Dom laughed and clapped Neal on the shoulder. "Perhaps you should open your own mess hall, too."
"I'm a healer, not a cook," replied Neal drily. "Unfortunately."
They laughed and then they all started toward the mess hall, the children hurrying ahead. "Don't run!" all four parents shouted simultaneously. They looked at each other and laughed.
"And whoever thought being parents was boring?" said Neal jokingly. "I definitely have new respect for my own."
"We really put our parents through a lot sometimes with all those pranks we pulled," grinned Dom.
"Yes, and I have a feeling it's all going to come back at us very soon," replied Neal, watching his and Dom's eldest sons laughing and joking with each other. It all looked so familiar.
"You surely didn't prank your parents, did you?" asked Kel curiously.
Dom and Neal exchanged grins.
"Oh no," said Kel, turning to Yuki. The Yamani shook her head and smiled.
"I'm starving," said Neal, changing the subject and taking Yuki's hand. "Let's hurry, my dear, before the children leave nothing left but the vegetables."
"You're the only one who doesn't like vegetables," teased Yuki. They couldn't hear Neal's response as they continued toward the mess hall.
Kel watched them go with a smile. "Sometimes I don't know how she puts up with him."
Chuckling, Dom said, "It must help that she loves him, that's the only reason I can find."
Kel laughed and turned to Dom. "Is that why you put up with me?"
He smiled, placing his hands on her waist. "Of course not. You're very easy to get along with."
"Oh really?" she teased.
"Mmhmm," he replied, his eyes dancing. "But of course I do love you, so that might make me rather biased in my opinion."
She smiled, "That's okay. I'm rather biased about you, too."
"Oh really?" he said, mirroring her earlier teasing question.
"Mmhmm," she replied, grinning.
Dom tightened his grip on her waist and pulled her to him. Grinning down at her, he said, "Then I guess I just have to keep that bias in my favor." Then he leaned in and kissed her. Kel's body warmed to his touch as she kissed him back. Great Mother Goddess, she never knew life could be so wonderful!
When they eventually pulled apart, Dom smiled, "So are you ever going to tell them about your offer to become training master?"
"Oh, I don't know," Kel smiled. "I don't know if I'm going to take it. It seems like I've just barely begun my knighthood. Becoming training master would be great, but I'm not ready to laze about court just yet. Maybe in twenty more years."
Dom laughed. Then he motioned toward the mess hall, "Would you like to join me for supper, future training master?"
She smiled. "We'd better hurry before the food truly is all gone."
"As Neal pointed out, at least we can be sure of some vegetables to eat," joked Dom as they started on their way.
When they got to the door, Dom made his way inside. Kel stopped to smile at seeing the people inside. There were the children, eating hungrily and laughing with each other; there was Jump, feeding off the food the children held out to him under the table; there was Neal, steering clear of any dishes that had any vegetables on it…
"Kel! Come on!" Dom shouted, patting the empty seat next to him on the bench. He sent her one of his bold, flashing smiles and Kel found herself smiling widely in return as her stomach did flip-flops.
Mithros, she thought as she walked toward him, their gazes locked, he still melts me like butter…
A/N: The end. I cannot believe it's over! I've been writing this fic for almost a year! A year! I've been so focused on this that I have no idea what to do now, because I've always had this to work on. I gotta get my brain in gear! :D
Anyway, tell me the truth- were you expecting the children? Haha I've had parts of this chapter in my head since I started writing the first chapter- maybe even before- and I'm not kidding! It's taken me a long while to get here, but now it's come and gone. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It was a blast!
THANK YOU to all you readers and reviewers, you mean so much to me! You've stuck with me for these many months and I truly hope that you have enjoyed this fic. I give you all my thanks! As always, feel free to PM me whenever you like with any questions or suggestions (or if you just wanna talk that's cool too :D). I plan to write more, but it's coming to the end of the semester in the next month for me and finals will be here soon (plus, more importantly, I have many books- for fun- to catch up on ;D). But after that I will start thinking about more stories to write. Thanks again! KD forever! (Please make that happen in the later Kel & her squire books, Tamora Pierce! Please! LOL). :D