Dang it, I hate it when a story's over! Thank you all for your lovely reviews and I hope you'll enjoy my other works! I have stuff for Jimmy Neutron, Kingdom Hearts, Cars, and Teen Titans! So please, feel free to peruse my humble wares!
This epilogue is mostly for Lea fans (if any) and Jemna fans (I hope there are some), so please enjoy the final tying up of loose ends, as well as the revealing history of Lea's servitude on the island of the Gargoyle City.
"Time will fall away, but these small hours still remain."—Rob Thomas, These Small Hours
Epilogue: Gold Feathers, Silver Wings, White Mares
Jathan stood on his main balcony in the middle of the castle, overlooking the whole island. His entire kingdom had gathered to hear their king's words; they were everywhere—standing on the ground or perched overhead. Directly across from the castle he could see Lea sitting up straight with her wings tucked in and her tail curled neatly around her feet. She'd groomed herself nicely, too—her human-textured hair that was shaped like half a heart around her head was smoothed down perfectly. He felt a twinge of guilt; it was time to set things right.
"My people," he said clearly, his voice magically being heard by all, "I stand before you a changed man. I've finally come face to face with what I was and what I truly am. I know that I have not always done right by you as a ruler, and for this I most humbly and fervently apologize. As a public act of contrition, I will right a particular wrong I committed against one of you long ago. (He took a big breath.)
"Lea Goldfeather, will you please come forward?"
She looked surprised and uncurled her tail; with all eyes on her, she flew to the balcony and stood before her king on one side and he stayed on the other side so everyone would see.
Lea felt very nervous; she'd defied him while he was still bad and now that he'd gone through the most drastic change of heart since Paul, she wasn't sure if he'd ask her to stay. Truth be told, she didn't want to.
"I have never told you all the story of how Lea came to our island," he continued, "I have kept it a secret until now. But no more.
"Five hundred years ago, I took a journey to the mortal world in one of the more barren countries. I came upon the legendary Sphinx living in the ruins of an ancient city, no longer peopled. Playing near her was a cub—the most beautiful golden cub ever born—clumsy and playful with only tiny wings beginning to sprout."
You had to give him credit for his ability to make eye contact with her and her piercing green cat eyes, but he wasn't afraid of her anymore like he used to be. He was harrowed with guilt and regret for what he'd done, but at least he kept both feet on the ground.
"The little cub wandered away from her mother," he continued, "When she was far enough away, a card fluttered at her feet. She pounced toward it, but it flitted away. She chased it into a dark copse of trees and when she finally caught it, her paws on it released a dust that flew into her eyes. It was sleeping dust. The next time she opened her eyes, she was in my court…and has been here ever since."
He stepped to her and tentatively reached into the part of her mane that hung in front of her chest. He withdrew a card on a leather thong. The face border was a chain; the figure was an angel with gold hair and gold wings to match Lea's. Her wrists were held against her chest and her wings were folded behind her. She was tied with chains issuing from the corners and her eyes were closed.
Jathan held the card face-up in his left hand; with his right he flicked his wrist and produced another card in his fingers. He turned it so Lea could see the face and she gasp: It was a King of Spades, only instead of spades there were swords and the whole card was purple.
The King of Swords, his most powerful card.
Lea's heart beat faster and Jathan looked intense but steady.
"I can never ask her to forgive me for what I've done," he declared, still looking at her, "nor will I vex her with my reasons…but I'm going to rectify the wrong I have done her, before you all."
He flicked the card upside down and touched it to Lea's card; they both shone with white light and wind blowing. The King and the angel appeared above them; the king mechanically raised his sword and brought it crashing down on the chains binding the angel. They came apart like headless snakes and disappeared. The angel spread her wings, flapped them once, and disappeared with the king in a shower of gold sparkles. The leather necklace around Lea glowed and disappeared, too.
She was free.
"King Jathan," she said chokingly, "I…"
"No," he said, "Just…just go. Live the life you want. You owe me nothing. You most certainly owe me nothing."
Lea's eyes spilled over and she quickly rubbed them with her huge, furry wrist. Then, in front of everyone and his uncle, she kissed their king on the cheek and flew off the balcony. She circled into the sky and disappeared into the moon. Jathan watched her go and sighed, rubbing his eyebrows with his fingers.
'One down,' he thought.
One thing no one could deny about Jemna was that she loved her kingdom—its people, its beauty, its landscape, everything. She ruled Amarantha like it was her own child. But nothing brought her more joy than her horses and the thrilling rides she lived for. Only her bird form gave her more freedom.
She was on one such thrilling ride at midnight, a few days after she bade goodbye to Sarah, Toby, and her brother. She was on Femme Metalle, her light silver mare with black mane, tail, hooves, and random black speckles. Her body lit up in the light of the full moon, making her look white, and the stars dusted her mane and tail. She was Jemna's favorite horse.
They were riding through an open hilly area near the ocean with the wind rushing through their hair and the rhythmic clopping of Femme Metalle's hooves on the paved lane. Jemna was lost in the memories of Jay-Jay's emotional reunion with their parents, King Edworth and Queen Josethine. Everyone had cried and hugged, and Jay-Jay was to spend a few weeks in the Dragon City. She was so happy to call him that nickname, and to hear him call her "Jem" again.
Ahead on the path, she saw a bright light coming towards her. She smiled; it was Amalthea!
"My lady!" she waved and pulled up, "Good evening!"
"Good moon, my queen," Amalthea bowed her head to her.
"What brings you out here in the open, Amalthea?" the queen asked with concern, "Shouldn't you be in your forest?"
"Normally, yes," replied the unicorn, "but I've come looking for you. There's a man arriving from the eastern side of the meadow, alone and on horseback."
"Truly?" Jemna cocked her head, "Has he any weapons?"
"I didn't see him myself, my lady," the unicorn stamped a hoof lightly, "I was told by my nightingales, but they did mention a sword."
"Hmm," Jemna narrowed her eyes, "An armed lone rider coming to my castle at midnight? I'll have to see about this."
"Allow me to accompany you," said Amalthea as she pranced beside Femme Metalle.
"Don't you think you've been in enough danger already?" asked her queen, "I have my own sword on the saddle, and I can't bear to think what would happen if you're caught so far from your home again."
"Oh, please, dear queen," Amalthea begged, "I could be a great help! Who do you think healed Lord Jareth's leg?"
"Oh, very well," said Jemna, "Just keep close behind. Come; we'll cut through the meadow."
She nudged the stirrups into her horse's side and galloped with the unicorn up and down the flowered hills. When the other path came in sight, they stopped at the top of the highest hill.
Jemna carefully looked to her right, her eyes narrowed with the focus of the ahwk she turns into. The Fae have a natural gift for keen sight, but Jemna honed hers down and perfected it until it was sharper than anyone's, even the unicorn.
Jemna gasped softly at what she saw: A cloaked man whose cape wouldn't pass his knees with a rapier sword of unrivaled craftsmanship with its hilt glittering and he was riding…
"A white horse," she whispered in shock.
"She's beautiful," said Amalthea, "Wait, Your Majesty!"
Jemna had Femme Metalle at a full run, headed straight for the rider, her heart pounding with wild hope. She kept her sharp eyes on him and saw him urge his beautiful steed into a swift gallop, which threw his hood back. His hair was neck-length and he had a somewhat thin mustache and Jemna could see the moon in his dark eyes.
The riders stopped their horses five feet apart; Jemna was breathing hard to keep her emotions under control. Amalthea stood at the back beside the silver mare and watched. She could feel the intensity of Queen Jemna's aura.
"Have you…" Jemna's voice wavered, then she cleared it. "Have you come very far…traveler?"
"I have, noble lady," he smiled with a thick Spanish accent, "I've come to reunite with someone most precious to me…a princess who has become a queen." His horse walked closer to hers until they were beside each other, facing opposite ends.
"And I came on a white horse, as promised," he said softly as he touched her hand. Jemna dropped all pretense, all defense, all royal formality, and wept. The man gently held her face in his hands. She opened her eyes to look into his dark Spanish eyes and she felt a strong pull at her heart. She drew a sobbing breath.
"Inigo!" He pulled her onto his horse and they held each other like there was no tomorrow. Jemna buried her hands in his soft hair and breathed in the smell of the sea he'd brought with him.
"How did you find me?" she whispered in amazement.
"A falcon with silver wings came to me in a dream," he said, "He told me exactly where to go. How I crossed into your magical realm is beyond me, but I did it all on this horse, the same one I rode from Florin." Jemna's eyes widened at the mention of the falcon. 'Jay-Jay,' she thought tearfully, 'Thank you.'
"The six-fingered man?" she asked, "Did you find him?"
"I did," he nodded, "and now my father's soul is at peace." Jemna touched his face and searched his eyes.
"And you, Inigo?" she asked, "Is your soul at peace?" He smiled.
"I have avenged my father and found you," he said lovingly, "For the first time in twenty years, I feel fulfilled. My journey is over." They touched foreheads with their eyes closed.
"Then," Jemna asked quietly, "will you stay here with me…in Amarantha?" He smiled and tucked a bit of her hair back.
"After 20 years of waiting," he answered, "I am not keen to be separated from you ever again." He took her face and they had their very first kiss.
As they galloped back to the castle, Jemna caught a flash of silver on the edge of her vision, she looked back to see a silvery white bird flying over the forest in the opposite direction. She smiled and faced forward; she could hardly wait to see the look on Lord Gimble's face when he saw her with a strange mortal Spaniard!
Whew! It's over! (…) WAAH!!!
Little revelation here: I couldn't come up with a reason for Jay-Jay kidnapping Lea like he did, other than he just needed a gatekeeper. But I hope y'all appreciate his doing right by her now. She's free as a bird now! I don't know what she's gonna do now, but she sure as heck ain't hangin' 'round here no more!
Interesting trivia here: I heard that in the super-old days, cards actually did used to have swords before being replaced by the spade. Maybe it was because cards were mostly played by famers! LOL
I totally dig Jemna's horse, too. I think she matches her! Femme Metalle is a French term that translates to "Lady of Silver," or "Silver Lady." What better name for Jemna's horse, right? She just strikes me as a silver horse riding kind of gal! She's pretty cool! I hope to use her again in the future, but I don't have any definite plans for another Labyrinth story.
About Amalthea usually being in her forest: Most of y'all probably know this, (especially if you read/saw "The Last Unicorn") but as I understand it, unicorns prefer to be surrounded by trees and undergrowth. As for the nightingale network she has, I just added that for fun. ^_^ She's a well-informed unicorn.
Well, that's all the references…this is where I get off, I guess. (sniff) Please don't go away forever, though! Feel free to check out any of my other stories! I've got lots! I LOVE Y'ALL! THANKS FOR THE LOVE AND COOKIES! EVERYBODY GETS A ROSE!
See you next time!