The Times That Try Mens' Souls
Ysandre was the first of those who'd been enchanted to seek me out, but she would not be the only one. In the days following our return to the City of Elua, many would come to apologize. Ghislain nó Trevalion was among them, thanking me for preventing him from putting D'Angelines to the sword, as were Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil.
"I feel I owe you an apology, your grace," she began, seating herself on my couch. "When you swore to me by the burning river, I should've believed you. I know you would not so swear lightly."
I waved a hand dismissively. "It does not matter, Lady Phèdre. The nature of the spell was such that it would tighten its hold on the victim if questioned. No amount of persuasion or swearing on my house's password would've sufficed to convince you."
She nodded. "Imriel told us how you aided him. We both owe you an apology for accusing you of abducting and killing him."
I grinned. "Well, I certainly can't say I blame you for thinking that. I trust Imriel informed you that my opinion on him has changed drastically?"
"Yes, he did. I confess I am pleased to hear it," she replied.
"If he does truly wish to wed my grandniece, I give him my blessing. I know now that he loves her with all his heart. I feared before that he'd seduced her so he might take the throne in a grand scheme of his mother's," I admitted.
Phèdre inclined her head. The mote in her left eye shown a vibrant crimson. "I understand, your grace, and I thank you."
My gaze shifted to Joscelin. He stood behind Phèdre, his arms crossed in the Cassiline manner. He'd stayed silent throughout our conversation, which I was grateful for, but I saw his face soften just slightly as we spoke. I doubt Joscelin Verreuil will ever be altogether fond of me, for all that I saved his life, but I was glad not to receive another of his disdainful stares. I bit back a quip about him deciding not to threaten me today. There would be plenty of time to tease him later.
Life returned to normal almost frighteningly quick. I continued Alais's archery lessons, which Ysandre and Drustan had not objected to after recovering from their momentary surprise. She'd also told them of her decision to break off her betrothal to Talorcan. They reacted much as I predicted they would- with support for her decision. As for me, I was very glad that my new close relationship with Alais hadn't changed now that the crisis was over. We shared several laughs when we learned that the gem had been in Elua's oak all along. It had been right before my eyes, and I'd missed it! Even my instincts told me I'd missed somewhat then. It was quite hilarious in hindsight.
The healing process continued. The members of our shadow Parliament joined up with the official Parliament and we returned to the business of running the realm.
A few days after our return, Apolline arrived in the City of Elua.
I still maintain that our most joyous reunion was at Troyes-le-Mont when the Skaldi invasion ended, but this one came close. I rushed out to meet her as soon as her carriage had been sighted. I waited at the gates, every minute seeming like an hour. As soon as the carriage passed through the gate and Apolline stepped out, I dismounted and swept her into my arms. We kissed deeply, not at all caring that there were onlookers. We did not speak; there was no need for words. Eventually we parted and rode to the Palace, making for my quarters straightaway.
"Ah," said Apolline, looking around once we entered. "It seems so long since I was last in here."
"It's been too long, Apolline."
"Perhaps I shall come to the City more often." I raised my eyebrows at that. "Might I see your Medal of Valor?"
"Of course." I swiftly fetched it from the box I'd been keeping it in and put it around my neck.
Apolline nodded in approval. "Very dashing. You can wear it with the one the Khalif gave you."
"That's a bit too much jewelry at once for me, dear," I retorted.
"Really, all jesting aside, I'm so proud of you for everything you've done. I feel as if I am the proudest person in Terre d'Ange, married to a true hero of the realm. You've done so many heroic deeds over the years; I say it's about time you earned it." Her arms encircled my waist. "I've never once regretted our life together, not for an instant."
"Nor have I," I murmured. I bent to kiss her as her hand came up to touch the medal around my neck. "When I asked you to marry me I knew, somehow I knew, that I was making the right choice."
"And so did I when I accepted your proposal." She smiled at me. "Now what of Lisette de Langelais? Have you broken it off with her?"
"Not officially, no. She's been happily reunited with her husband, who was among those afflicted by the spell. But I don't think she'd turn me down if I proposed an assignation."
"Ah well, my offer still stands if she's interested."
"What of your lover, that priest of Naamah?" I inquired.
"He's still around. He couldn't compare to you, of course, but I enjoyed his company." Apolline's hand left the medal and moved to the buttons of my doublet. I could feel her desire quite clearly and she could undoubtedly sense mine. Times like these needed no further communication between us. We went to my bedchamber. "Keep the medal on," she said as I undressed. "I like you in the medal."
Spring turned to summer, and Apolline remained in the City of Elua. It surprised me a bit, but I certainly wasn't displeased. In Parliament we discussed the possibility of retribution against Carthage. Much to my own surprise, I spoke against it. That may seem odd, given how I wanted them to pay for what they'd done, but I did not want war. They were defeated and that was enough. All of the perpetrators were already dead anyway. In the end we decided against retaliation, with Hyacinthe promising to sink Carthage beneath the sea if they ever threatened Terre d'Ange or our allies again. We also received news that Serafin was named heir to the King of Aragonia and they would honor their agreement to give the Euskerri their independence.
Apolline and I debated over when we should leave for Khebbel-im-Akkad. We were both eager to go, but we decided it would be best to wait until after Imriel and Sidonie's wedding, which would be the following summer. I did not want to miss my grandniece's wedding. It was strange, considering how much I'd opposed the match initially. I knew better now.
We remained at the palace for my birthday. It passed much more pleasantly than the previous one. No suspicions haunted my mind. I was very glad that Alais was able to attend my small celebration, for she was due to return with her father to Alba. I was sad to see her go.
"I'd like you to know, Alais, that I fully expect you to write me frequently and I shall be very disappointed if you do not do so," I said with a grin.
She returned my grin. "I will, Uncle. I promise."
"Very good." I stepped forward to give her a warm hug. "I'll miss you, Alais."
"I'll miss you too, Uncle."
I gave her a kiss on the forehead and we parted. "Take care of yourself, Alais."
It was difficult, bidding her farewell. We'd grown very close during the ordeal and I was used to seeing her every day. I would truly miss her terribly.
Time passed. When fall came, Apolline and I returned home. It'd been over a year since I'd been there and I was extremely glad to return to the familiar comfort of my estate. We stayed there for most of the following year. I was content with that, happy to relax and spend time with my family. I suppose I needed the time to recover from everything that had happened. When the day of the wedding approached, we returned to the City. Apolline and all of House L'Envers were attending. Sidonie was our kin, after all. No one opposed the union now, for they all knew that Imriel had saved Sidonie and saved the realm.
Apolline and I took our time getting ready. We'd had new outfits made for the occasion as part of the new wardrobe we'd ordered for Khebbel-im-Akkad. The day was certain to be quite warm, so I did without a doublet. My shirt was light silk, a purple so pale it was nearly white, with fine lace on the collar and cuffs. Apolline chose a dress in dark purple silk, which made a fine contrast with my attire. We both dabbed on perfumes before going to the Palace gardens.
Sidonie was already there when we arrived. She was stunning in an entirely white gown. Ysandre and Drustan were already there as well. I sat beside my niece, Apolline taking a seat on my other side. The rest of my family sat around us. Damn nigh all of them were present, but that only made the absences of Valère and my grandchildren more apparent. We'd written to her with the news and Valère, for all that she'd tried to kill Imriel years ago, changed her feelings on him when she learned of how he saved Terre d'Ange. She and Sinaddan had sent gifts. It will be soon, I reminded myself. Soon I will see my daughter and grandsons again.
Soon after we were seated, Imriel arrived and the ceremony began. As I watched, I couldn't help but think of other family members who were not there. Isabel should've lived to see this, and Rolande too. I was currently sitting in the seat that should've been hers. I glanced upward and wondered if she was watching this from the Terre-d'Ange-that-lies-beyond.
The ceremony concluded and the newlyweds kissed. I stood to cheer with the rest of the crowd. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine cheering for the union of my grandniece and Melisande Shahrizai's son, yet there I was. The gods did indeed have a sense of humor. I went to offer them my congratulations while Apolline went to help herself to the hors d'oeuvres, piled high on several long tables. I would speak for both of us in this instance.
I greeted them with a brief bow. "Congratulations to both of you. Blessed Elua hold and keep you both." I smiled broadly.
"Thank you so much, Uncle Barquiel," said Sidonie. She stepped forward to give me a hug. "I am so glad that you support us."
"I certainly learned my lesson there." I gave her a brief kiss on the brow and turned to face Imriel. I clasped his hand. "I am proud," I began steadily, "to welcome you into my family. You have proven your worth many times over, Imriel de la Courcel."
He smiled and bowed his head slightly. "Thank you, your grace."
My own smiled widened. "If you'll excuse me, I will take my leave of you know. My dear wife has gone to acquire some hors d'oeuvres and I believe I will join her."
The celebrations went on long into the night. I ate and danced and celebrated, feeling truly happy. No worries haunted my mind. I was content. As I sat with Apolline, my hand resting gently over hers, I could not help thinking of our own wedding, so long ago. I could still recall it as clearly as ever. "It seems strange to think of our own wedding now," I remarked to her as the celebration began to wind down.
"More than forty years of marriage does not seem like such a long time. To think it will be our fiftieth wedding anniversary in only a few years," she replied, looking deeply into my eyes before glancing at Imriel and Sidonie. "I am honestly happy for them."
"As am I, Apolline," I murmured. "As am I."
Later that week, Apolline and I left for Marsilikos. When we arrived in the city, the Lady of Marsilikos welcomed us warmly. Our ship would be leaving in a few days' time, which gave us a chance to enjoy the city. Marsilikos was the first place we ever made love, so it has some significance for us. We'd not been there for a while, not since the last time we returned from Khebbel-im-Akkad.
On the night before, we were to leave, we dined on our private balcony, just as we had on that night so long ago. We sat, our hands entwined, watching the sea. Across that sea we had a daughter and three grandsons, the youngest of whom needed to come to Terre d'Ange.
"It seems so much has changed," Apolline commented. "So much has changed since the last time we were here."
"Yes, but I think the changes have been for the better. Terre d'Ange is safe and the shadow of Melisande Shahrizai will no longer plague us."
"Barquiel, are you telling me you've forgiven her?" Apolline's eyebrows were raised in shock.
I had to laugh. "No, no, of course not. I just know now that Terre d'Ange has nothing to fear from her son." Apolline leaned forward to kiss me before I could say aught else. Tomorrow, Khebbel-im-Akkad awaited us.
Well, here it is. The last chapter! Apolline's line asking Barquiel to keep the medal on was my good friend chisakami's idea
I'd like to thank all of my readers & everyone who commented on the fic. I hope you enjoyed it! I certainly enjoyed writing it!
Coming up: I'm planning on doing fic of Barquiel's time in Khebbel-im-Akkad, because he's my favorite character & I really enjoy writing him. I'm gonna take a bit of a break, though, so look for that fic around April/May.
Once again, thank you all so much for reading!