Ten days later, the main square of Florin City was filled as never before, to celebrate the country's 500th anniversary, and the promise of a very special event and announcement.
"Hardison, how're we looking?" asked Nate, standing with the king and queen by the doors to the balcony.
"~Good to go. I got you a sweet set up, man, I'm telling you.~"
"Glad to hear it. Westley?"
"~We're ready when you are.~"
"~We're all set.~"
Nate nodded, and turned to the king and queen. "Your Majesties? Are you ready?"
The king, looking far more bright-eyed and alert now that Miracle Max was once again settled in the castle and caring for him, bounced on his toes a little. "Yes indeed. Lead on, young man."
Nate stepped out onto the balcony, and nodded to the chief trumpeter. The crowd quieted at the blast of fanfare, then hailed the king and queen with cheers and applause.
The king let the cheering continue a little, then raised his hands, making it die down. "My people," he said, voice caught by the mic Hardison had put on him and carried by speakers in every part of the square. "I can't tell you how my heart swells to see you all here today, that we may celebrate our country's 500th anniversary together. I am proud to be your king."
Another deep cheer welled up, and he waited it out before continuing. "I am sure many of you have heard the rumors surrounding my son's recent actions and marriage. Although it pains me, I want to tell you the truth of the matter. That is, that my son has acted in bad faith toward you, this country, and myself, and I do not trust him to govern Florin after me. For this reason, I have disinherited him, and he will soon be tried and sentenced according to his crimes."
A hush had fallen over the crowd, although nobody seemed too upset by the news. The rumors about Humperdinck that the team had seeded throughout the city and surrounding villages had prepared the people for this nicely.
"In his stead, I have chosen a new crown prince and princess as my legal heirs, to rule over you when I am gone. This is a young couple in whom I have every confidence, whose love is true and whose hearts are valiant. Would you like to meet them?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eye.
For a moment, the crowd seemed stunned, and then a quick-building hurrah boomed through the square.
"Then I give you: Prince Westley!"
The crowd turned to where the king pointed, to the archway at one end of the square, and there was a collective holding of breath as Westley emerged into the sunlight. The whole crowd, acting as one, instinctively kneeled before him; even though his clothes were dark and of simple make, and he bore no adornment apart from the royal ring and a prince's crown, he stood before them as an unmistakeable leader of men.
He descended the stairs and moved out among the people, visibly moved, then looked up and gave Nate the ghost of a sheepish smile. He made his way through his kneeling subjects, eventually arriving at the dais under the balcony, where Inigo and Fezzik stood solemnly, waiting for him.
With the attention of the audience back in his direction, the king continued. "Prince Westley and his true love were once commoners, like yourselves. Soon, at the feast, their full story will be recounted to you: a story of fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, escapes, miracles, and true love triumphant!"
The citizens of Florin seemed to know a good story when it was promised, and murmured excitedly at this.
The king nodded. "Your prince and princess have pledged never to forget their beginnings while they serve you and this great nation. That is why they have requested to have their wedding today, on this anniversary – right here, in the square, among us all!"
The cheer that this announcement elicited from the common people drew them all back up to their feet, and the king had to gesture repeatedly to get them to quiet down again.
"Clear the aisle, then, for your princess bride – Princess Buttercup!"
If the acclaim was loud before, the roar at this was deafening, as Buttercup emerged from the same arch Westley had. Her gown was resplendent with jewels and precious thread, yet couldn't come close to the dazzling smile she bestowed on the sea of euphoric subjects. It was some time before the guards could re-establish order, and manage to force a corridor all the way to the front where Westley stood.
Meanwhile the band struck up the wedding march, amplified by Hardison's speakers to help suppress the crowd's excessive exuberance. First Parker, then Sophie, stepped from the archway and proceeded one by one down the aisle, each in their own version of a bridesmaid saunter. They took their places opposite Inigo and Fezzik, and a breathless quiet fell over the square as every eye turned to Buttercup.
Eliot stepped up to her side, offering her his arm with courtly respect and admiration. "Princess. May I fulfill my promise?" he asked formally, unable to keep the grin off his face.
She looked up at him, smiling back the full reward of the trust she had given him and the team. She took his arm with pleasure. "You may," she said, and at that, Eliot walked her with due stateliness down the aisle, through her people, and safely to Westley's side.
An unassuming, earnest-faced clergyman stepped up in front of the couple, who stood golden and warm and joyous in their love and in the sunlight. He gazed out over the crowd, silent with anticipation, raised his arms in benediction, and said, "Loyal and dearly beloved subjects, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of this man, and this woman...."
Eliot stretched out and snagged another beer from the tray of a servant, bustling past. He raised it at the others. "To a job well done," he said.
Hardison, Parker, and Sophie raised theirs in response and drank to it, then Parker added, "To not dying. Any of us."
Hardison grinned. "To a kickass show."
They drank, and Sophie looked over to where the story of Westley and Buttercup was being told to a rapt audience, and then at the couple themselves circulating freely through their people. She smiled with just a little mistiness, and raised her glass. "To true love."
They drank, and Hardison shot a sly look at Eliot, and the little smile which persisted in hanging around his lips. He chuckled, making the hitter look up sharply.
"What?" asked Eliot, belligerently.
Hardison grinned gleefully. "You're such a softy, man. Look at you, all mushy about the happy ending."
Eliot spluttered. "Wha– I'm – hey!... I just ... like it when everything works out, that's all."
Sophie echoed Hardison's amusement fondly. "That's all?" she repeated lightly.
Eliot's defensiveness subsided slightly, and he shrugged. "Just ... don't get to be that kind of hero very often, you know? To have someone trust you to come through for them...." He paused, thinking about it. "It's a good feeling," he finished seriously.
Hardison's eyebrows raised. "Hey, we trust you to come through for us all the time," he said, a little indignantly.
Parker rolled her eyes. "That's different. We're us. Of course we don't let each other down."
Nate, who had made his way over to them and caught the tail of the exchange, raised his own glass. "Well said, Parker. On that note: to family."
The rest of the team exchanged grins and toasted. "To family."
He pulled up a chair. "Nice job on the accoustics, Hardison. Did you finish Westley's IDs and backstory?"
Hardison nodded. "No connection to piracy or any other illicit dealings. Any leos looking closer at that tale they're telling over there, are going to decide the 'Dread Pirate Roberts' is just inflated storytelling by gullible locals."
Nate nodded with satisfaction. "Good. Thank you." He stretched out. "This feels good. We should get away more often."
"Yeah, it's been so relaxing," said Eliot with a snort. "You even sit down in the last week?"
"I'm sitting now," Nate said. "This was kind of a big deal here, you know. There was a lot to do."
"And you did nearly all of it," said Sophie dryly.
"Yeah, well, you guys got some days off –" he started to say, when a page arrived at his elbow.
"Excuse me, Mr Ford, the king is asking for you. Something about the Guilder delegation, I believe?"
"Of course," Nate said quickly. "Excuse me, guys."
Hitter, hacker, grifter, and thief gave understanding smiles, raising their glasses once more in ironic salute to their mastermind, hurrying away to join the king, ex-pirate, princess, swordsman, and giant where they stood with Guilder's ambassador.
Eliot caught Sophie's eye, and gestured his chin toward Nate. "You notice – we kind of just stole an entire country?"
Sophie shook her head. "I know." She sighed resignedly. "He's going to be impossible after this."
A/N: Well, that's it, folks. In the interests of scrupulousness, I should acknowledge that in the book, Goldman does deconstruct the concept of the Happily Ever After ending – and what happens after that – but if you value the sanctity of happy endings, I advise stopping where the Grandfather does when he reads it. With mine, I guess I'm kind of trying to have my cake and eat it too, in a way. Anyway. Shalom.