Nine years later...

She never did understand how she had missed a day-a full day! Lucy had been counting down, for nine years, day by day, until he was coming back, and somehow or other her calculations were off. And so, she wasn't expecting him just yet.

Oh, she knew he was coming soon all right, and that thought made her so giddy with joy that she felt like she might burst; but one thing she had learned about fairies was that they were very exact about times and that they weren't likely to release the prince of Narnia who had been serving them for the last decade so much as a half-second before they had to.

Because she suspected he would come either the next day or the day after that, at latest, and the hours were going by much too slowly for her, Lucy agreed to go hunting for the magical white stag with her brother-in-law and her sister; now king and queen of Narnia (King Frank was not dead, just sort of old and retired, having passed down his rights to the throne to his son a good five years back).

Supposedly whomever caught the white stag was given a wish, and whenever the creature was spotted, it was royal sport for the nobility to go after it. Lucy had but one wish; that chasing the creature into the sunset would pass the time and carry her longing heart closer to her Edmund.

Peter and Susan, happily married (most of the time) for nine years, had no major wishes of their own, either. They had a country, a throne, and two little ones back at the Cair Paravel nursery kicking up daily rows. Needing nothing more, it was purely tradition and wanting some fresh air that made them go after the stag (well that and Susan wanted to wear her new grayish-purple velvet hunting habit because it had a bold, striking affect against old Isbjorn's white coat).

A good number of courtiers tagged along thinking it would be splendid to have a picnic in the forest by a nice bank, sipping out of golden goblets and eating castle pastries in the great outdoors. Among these were the newly wedded Duke Clarence and Duchess Pole Clarence of Dragon Island. Lucy had been one of the bride's ladies at the wedding almost a year ago.

Most of the castle-folk had thought that after the marriage ceremony was over with, the duke would take his bride back to the Dragon Islands, but that was not to be. Instead, King Peter made Eustace a knight, and Jill was too valued in Queen Susan's household to be permitted to leave. At any rate, the weather on Dragon Island was said to be quite poor, and they probably didn't really want to go there anyhow. There was some talk of banishing Lord and Lady Scrubb and marooning them on that island, but that was-supposedly-only a joke.

Back at the fairy-court, Edmund, knowing his time was up, packed his things to leave. The Lord Regent allowed Tumnus to go and live at Cair Paravel with his charge provided the other fauns stayed behind, which really was quite generous of the regent considering he did not very much like Edmund at all, even after ten years.

Gael, now a young fairy-lady with long dark hair she wore up in a wreath of azure-and-white seed-gemstones, still adored Edmund, though clearly in a different way than she had when she was small, and even asked if he would forfeit going back and marry her instead.

The first time she put this proposition to him, he was stunned, but he held his ground and explained to her that he was precontracted to another. For all those nine years without faltering he had considered himself betrothed to Lucy of Ettinsmoor (Lucy of Narnia, now that her sister was queen) and wouldn't have even imagined taking another for his wife.

"Besides," he told her in as kind a tone as possible. "There is something of an age difference between you and me."

"You're only twenty-four," she reminded him; she was in her teenaged years already.

"And my Lucy is perhaps only twenty-three," Edmund said pointedly.

"I suppose if I offered to go back with you, it would not make much difference?" she asked softly.

"None; I am sorry, Gael, I thought we were just friends-you never said anything..."

"I couldn't," explained Gael, looking down at her feet with a surprisingly human-like emotion on her clearly very fairyish face; "you were a servant and I was only a child."

"You'll be all right," Edmund spoke to her like a brother addressing a baby sister or a father speaking to a favourite child-the same tone Peter always used with Lucy. "I'm sure you'll find happiness here at the fairy-court; this is where you belong."

"Lucy is a fortunate woman." Gael sighed, smiling at him with a younger smile, one with no romantic affection, only friendship and general warmth.

"Goodbye, Gael." Edmund leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

"You wont forget me?"

He smiled distantly, remembering Lucy saying the same thing. "Do I ever forget anything I say to a fairy?"

"If I'm ever in Narnia, I'll come visit-you and Tumnus...and I'm sure you'll be married by then, so your wife, too."

"Sounds like a plan." Edmund told her.

"Edmund?" She took a step forward to keep up with him before he walked away for good.

"Yes?"

There was one more thing she really wanted him to know before he left. "I am glad you're free now-even if it means you go away."

"Thank you," and he meant it, for truthfully, Gael was the only fairy he had ever met who cared about his happiness.

Edmund never did see Gael again after that. He had no idea what became of her after so many years, but he assumed she forgot him after a while, much as she might have tried to remember, and-while she was a late bloomer-eventually became just like the other fairies at the court.

Meanwhile, Lucy lagged behind the hunting party as they pursued a flash of snowy-white they all believed to be the stag galloping off into the distance. They were all laughing merrily and Lucy laughed right along with them until the sounds of their mirth became less clear and she realized just how much slower she was going.

It wasn't her fault, though, not really. One of her feet were bothering her; something was caught in her shoe. She might have called after the others to wait, but they were so far ahead already and she didn't wish to slow them down-perhaps one of them really would catch the white stag. Wouldn't that be something?

Sighing deeply, she got down from her horse (a small brownish bay) and patted its neck to reassure it that they would catch up with the others later, that there was nothing to worry about.

Next, she sat down and lifted her ruby-coloured, floor-length hunting gown and habit over her foot and removed her shoe, letting a round white pebble bounce out.

"How did that get in there?" she wondered aloud, shaking her head, dusting herself off as she got up again.

The bay neighed anxiously, having seen and heard something-someone-its mistress hadn't. Lucy was surprised; her horse was not normally very skittish.

"Hello?" she called nervously.

Something glittering on a nearby fir-tree caught her eye, it was small and bright, hard, seemingly-solid silver. Lucy knew she had seen something like that before. It was a crackernut; more than that, it was the crackernut. The first crackernut she had swiped on the way to the fairy-court when she'd followed Edmund; the one she'd wanted to keep as proof; the one the young prince had stolen away from her to protect his secret. She wasn't sure how she knew this-after all, one crackernut really looks in general no different from another-but somehow she did. There was a thin silver necklace-chain it had been hung on like a pedant, and that was what was fastened to the tree branch.

"It can't be..." murmured Lucy, stepping forward and reaching for the crackernut.

From behind the tree, a hand reached out just as hers touched the silver nut, closing over it gently. "I guess it was my turn to follow you through the trees."

Lucy's eyes widened as a tall, dark-haired young man of twenty-four dressed in a pale-coloured doublet and a purple cape, a silver prince's crown on his head, stepped out and grinned at her, his grip on her hand tightening ever so slightly.

"Edmund!" she exclaimed, knowing him at once. It didn't matter that he was older now; she could still see the boy she'd followed for three nights looking out through this man's eyes.

It was much the same for Edmund. He had known her face the second he'd seen her fall behind the others, when he'd silently stolen after them after returning to Cair Paravel to find they had all gone out. She was older; but he thought she seemed very much the same, and that pleased him.

"Call me crazy," Edmund teased her with a gleam in his eye, raising a brow. "but I thought more people would be awaiting my return."

"I thought you were coming...maybe tomorrow..." Lucy felt her cheeks redden.

"Here," he let go of her hand and lifted the crackernut necklace off of the fir tree.

Lucy pulled her hair over one shoulder so he could reach over and fasten it around her neck. When the little gleaming nut hung just above her breasts, Edmund leaned in to kiss her cheek.

She turned her head a split-second too soon and he made contact with her lips instead. Which, needless to say, was fine by him. He slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer, while he could feel her hands reaching behind his neck, holding onto him as tightly as possible. It was apparent that both of them were crying, because both felt the occasional tear dripping down into their collars.

"Ahem," a little voice coughed.

They broke apart; and noticed middle-aged Master Tumnus standing there next to Phillip who looked both ways in an almost witless fashion, like a talking horse does when he is trying not to laugh.

"Master Tumnus!" Lucy laughed happily, embracing the faun, glad to see him safe and well.

"The fairies have let him come back to Narnia for good." Edmund told her.

"Oh, I am glad!" Lucy said joyfully, smiling over at Edmund again, unable to stop staring at him.

"Come on," Edmund took her hand again and swung her up onto Phillip's back; "Tumnus can take your horse back to Cair, and we'll go and meet up with the others."

"Duke Clarence is married to Lady Pole, she's a duchess now, did you hear?" Lucy asked Edmund as he climbed up onto his horse behind her, slipping his arms around her to reach the reins.

He looked genuinely surprised. "Really? I hadn't heard, no one at the fairy-court mentioned it. Figures, though. He always was a jolly sight too keen on making goggle eyes at her during royal banquets."

Lucy giggled. "Oh, Ed! Don't tease him."

Edmund's eyes widened with faux-innocence. "Me? Tease him? Lucy, I'd never!"

Lucy rolled her eyes. "Of course not...not even to get back at him for making you swim naked in the moat?"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Edmund's brows sank into his forehead. "How do you know about that?"

"Uh..." Lucy stammered, "I just...heard..."

"Peter told you, didn't he?" Edmund scowled.

Lucy gave in. "All right, yes, he told me."

"Wait until I get a hold of him..." he muttered, shaking his head.

"He's a bit bigger than when you last saw him, Ed, he's grown." Lucy warned him.

"Doesn't matter," Edmund said, "I'll still wring his neck for telling you about that."

"No, seriously, he's grown-up now, two children and a beard."

"A beard?" Edmund seemed amused by this. "Really?"

"Well, Susan asked him to grow one..." Lucy explained, sighing lightly.

"I see." said Edmund, trying not to laugh out loud picturing his elder brother with a beard.

"It doesn't look that bad," Lucy defended Peter.

"This is going to be fun." Edmund decided, kissing his betrothed's cheek and urging Phillip onward with a light nudge from one heel.

...And they all lived happily ever after.

~The End~

AN: Well that's it for this story, please review to tell me what you thought of the ending.