Disclaimer: Protector of the Small is the property of Tamora Pierce. Please don't sue me. I just got laid off and I have zero money.

Author's note: Happy Valentines Day :)

Epilogue: Long After the Spring

Naturally, Keladry went on to do the great things she was meant to do, things that the bards and minstrels kept in their repertoire along with tales of the Lioness and the Wildmage and the Giantkiller and all the others. But in her older years she would always insist on a story or two about her lord and husband, who had gone on to some notoriety himself when he took over as training master at the king's palace. The great Lord Joren of Stone Mountain was equally heavy-handed with both the boys and girls and had molded some of the most skilled swordsmen of the realm in the years after the Scanran war. Their eldest son hated listening to those stories, being the subject of a few of those training mishaps himself. It hadn't been easy to be the son of the palace training master.

"Grandmother says I look like Grandfather," her son said.

Keladry eased a crick in her neck. Just like Alanna had warned her that first evening of her knighthood, all the aches and pains had started to make themselves known in her middle age. She looked at her son, fifteen years old and as good with a sword as his father had been at that age yet so different.

"I suppose. She can say the same thing for Brenna and Lucio. I was hoping every time one of you would have my hair. I barely got my wish with Brenna's height and Lucio's nose."

"What did father look like when he was my age?"

She shrugged. "Oh, he looked like he was in a constant--"

"State of handsomeness that still has yet to fade?" came a voice behind them.

Keladry turned to see her husband and snorted. "I was going to say 'snit' or that your leggings were in a twist."

A decade and a half had made his chin more firm and his brow more creased, but he retained those solid features that still pressed against the space between her shoulder blades every night. Joren smirked and stood between the two of them, looking out over the courtyard. He put an arm around his wife's sturdy waist and rested his hand on his eldest son's shoulder. "I was proud and unyielding is all I'll say."

"You were a son of a bitch!" his wife protested.

Joren shrugged. "Aren't I still?"

She sighed. Their son thought he heard her mutter yes.

Vincent looked dreamily into the distance. Those eyes, he had gotten from his mother. The name, which used to remind her of Joren's former unsavory friend, he had been given from his grandmother. Apparently, had Einsrell had another son, that was what he would have been named. Keladry wrinkled her nose at the thought. Einsrell still treated her like an underling, but the older woman spoiled her grandchildren rotten.

"I hope to be a hero some day with many animals like you, Mama, and as great a sword as you, Father. And I'll have a great horse and maybe I'll become the next King's Champion or..."

His parents looked at each other uneasily. Keladry smiled gently at her son.

"Of course, it's important to have goals, darling. But don't make yourself any promises that you aren't willing to work really hard for. The world changes quickly enough without any encouragement."

"And sometimes it changes by sheer force of will," Joren remarked.

Keladry chuckled. Husband and wife were partners in their lifelong gathered secrets, precious secrets like the exquisite, smooth rocks at the bottom of the river that flooded so long ago. The beauty in the depths.

The End.

Author: Thank you everyone for all your reviews. This did take a load off my chest and I feel much better about my writing now that I've indulged myself. You can't always pick the stories you want to write. Sometimes they absolutely have to pick you. I'll miss you guys. Take care and keep reading!