Epilogue: A new kingdom of heaven

James looked over the ocean from the parapet of the castle wall he stood on and felt at peace. Despite the angry waves crashing into shore their attacks were repulsed by the solid rock base that formed the hill the castle stood upon. He considered this an appropriate illustration of his own life: the buffeting that he'd gone through and how in the end his faith has remained solid as a rock.

Queen Rebekah was visiting one of the royal castles in the land with her large entourage of advisors, retainers and servants. This was part of a grand tour to show herself to the people after her coronation and it had been going on for months now. But always, closest to her, Sir James Stewart watched quietly along with Malcolm and his men. There were no overt threats at this time but with politics and the ambitions of man that could change in an instant so the Hospitaler kept a vigilant guard. But there also were times of joy and play and the young, fatherless girl and the childless man had formed a bond of love that transcended position or politics.

The result was the happy girl Queen won over the hearts of her people and the land of Navarre, so long wracked by strife, knew peace.

Bronwyn came up beside James, joining him on the castle wall. Dreamily she slide her arm through his and put her head on his shoulder. For Bronwyn, this was a hope come true. How much had changed in less then a year and she now could thank God for the attack on her carriage which seemed so long ago. No, she was at peace, just like the land, discovering parts of her personality she never knew existed.

For each, it was a new and blissful adventure.

It had started on their wedding day. The event had been a gala affair. The Earl of Durham came bringing lavish gifts for the new couple. Princess Rebekah, still the future Queen of Navarre at the time, had insisted on being a flower girl, despite the protests of the Duchess. In the end, the strong-willed girl had her way, a foreshadowing of the powerful, instinctive leadership she would show in the years to come, and was radiant in a white gown as she came down the isle in the Great Room of Castle Heddon.

Her radiance was eclipsed only by Bronwyn, who shone like a star. The bride's beauty was evidently on display but something more shone that day, an inner attractiveness that radiated from the joy and tranquility in her own heart.

Malcolm cried through the whole service, unabashed and openly. None of the soldiers made sport of him or poked fun. They knew where the emotions had come from. He too had suffered much these past few years and to see his beloved master truly happy again gave him the release he needed. Malcolm was a new man from that day forward.

The Baron fairly burst at the seams in happiness for his daughter and with pride in his new son-in-law. That pride only grew with the arrival of an unexpected guest who came in time for the great event.

Balian, the Defender of Jerusalem, showed up the day before the wedding with his wife Sibylla and several of their children. Even the Earl of Durham was in awe of the legendary figure. Balian and James embraced and both cried freely with catharsis at the change of events. They spent much time together alone during the day. Once more James had the opportunity to be the mentor.

The Hospitaler took it all in yet had an air of serenity about him despite the whirlwind of activity. His mind drifted back to a small estate in Scotland which he would never see again. He'd sent a message to Father Callum directing the revenues to be used for the people of the parish and that the Earl's Factor was to stay on and continue to manage it for him.

No, he would never go there again.

It was a place where he'd once known peace and happiness but his future was no longer there. For the first time since that horrid event, he knew he would experience these elusive gifts again in the days ahead. There was no need to resurrect the past, the future was bright.

Standing on the parapet that day, James wore the colorful surcoat bearing the royal device of Navarre, fulfilling his charge as Protector of the Throne. He had formally left the Order of the Knights Hospitaler, trading in one surcoat for another, but in his heart he was, and always would be, the Hospitaler. His call was to serve and he continued to do that to the best of his ability.

"Feel this," Bronwyn announced, taking his hand and putting it on her protruding belly. "The baby's kicking."

Life anew, the kingdom of heaven had truly come.

THE END

Author's note: Thank you for reading my story. It's been my joy to share it with you these past few months. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, I would be honored if you would leave comments or share anything you experienced while reading it. In the New Year I will be starting a new project which I trust you will enjoy equally. May each of you find your own kingdom of heaven here on earth, available and attainable by all through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

December 10, 2010