This epilogue took far longer than I had hoped, but I didn't realize the direction that I had to take until the day this chapter was posted. This story was quite a bit of fun to write, and large parts of it definitely came right out of all of the reviews. Thank you, everybody!

The Emperor's Mage
Epilogue: Labors
His father-in-law had antlers and an uncharitable disposition. Numair supposed that two years of living in sin might have contributed to Weiryn's obvious distaste for his relation-by-marriage, but the years of half-engagement had hardly been through lack of proposals. Daine's many propositions had been much more effective. Numair had even thought that they might have the typical arrangement of a proposal, some time of courting, an overly elaborate wedding, and then sex—which had driven Varice to laugh and say rude things about the mental states of people in love.

(When Daine finally had agreed to marry him, Varice had insisted on sailing to Corus to plan everything start to finish. She and Thayet were kindred spirits when it came to celebrations, it seemed, and there were already festivals planned to demonstrate the new close ties between Carthak and Tortall.)

Weiryn and Numair hadn't said a word to each other in the hour that they had been unceremoniously ejected from the birthing room. Daine had been forced to lie in bed for the last month of her pregnancy, still constantly keeping up with her shapeshifting child, and the entire palace had come together to keep her amused, pampered, and relatively happy. They had taken over Thayet's bedchamber when the queen would allow nothing else, and Numair had scarcely left until a goddess, a queen, and a Champion pointed both him and Weiryn out into the hall. Numair had tried to insist that he could remain calm, but his own wife had laughed at the notion. Alanna had even blocked all sound within the confines of the room, and there was no use in trying to sneak around to a window. Besides the threat of discovery or Weiryn's retaliation, he had to be in the hallway. They would let him in as soon as the birth was done.

Numair had managed to sit quietly for the first two hours, with only the smallest amount of fidgeting and all of that in his left leg, but as the bells chimed the three-hour mark, he was pacing the long hallway and wondering why on earth they ever could have trusted that leather cord.

Daine's trusty charm against pregnancy was renewed quite often by Alanna, who took great pleasure in accusing him of wearing out the magic, but they hadn't thought to do the same with the thin leather cord. Perhaps they might have noticed that the leather cord had fallen away, but Daine had just agreed to marry him, and they'd both been rather distracted. They only realized that the cord had broken at all because Arram had ended up with a silver badger claw sunk half an inch into his thigh. Alanna had also been impossible when healing that injury, and even worse when they discovered just a week later that the slight mistake with cord had resulted in a pregnancy.

Varice and Thayet had conspired to work some magic with the fabric that made Daine appear as svelte as she had been four months before, to keep rumors at bay just a little longer, with very little sign of the clear bump that would eventually be their child. The shapeshifting started just weeks after, and about two days before Aliane of Pirate's Swoop vanished. Arram hadn't heard much about the resolution, but just hours ago they'd gotten word from George that all was well. Alanna had hugged everyone in sight, and looked much happier about locking herself into Thayet's room and refusing all contact with the outside world.

Cloud had been less than impressed with him as a visitor. His longest detours from Daine's room had been the long walk down to the Rider barracks to bring greetings to the mare, whose disdainful expressions were clear even to someone without a trace of wild magic. Kitten still adored him, at least, but perhaps it helped that Numair had taken to reading stories. The larger volumes couldn't rest on Daine's abdomen as she read, even when the baby spent a day or two as a human, and the first story had been more or less an accident. She had been irritated at missing the last part of a story, when the day came that sitting at the desk was no longer easy, but had liked his telling of it, complete with dramatic voices. Since that accident, Kitten had taken to selecting the stories she wanted to know about, and he had even spent a few evenings reading about history to the perpetually curious dragon.

Numair looked up when he heard the little dragonet's chirp. Kitten was nearly unbearably smug about her ability to penetrate any magical shield, lately, and Alanna's four-layered spell on the lock had winked out without the slightest bit of backlash. Numair managed to precede Weiryn through the door, at least, and bypassed the queen and the Champion without hesitation. Daine looked tired, perhaps, but quite well. Her mother looked just as pleased, and the little cloth-wrapped bundle was indeed a human child. There had been a possibility that they could end up with a griffin, knowing their luck, but instead they had a human infant with eyes just like Daine's.

"We have a daughter," Daine said, sounding somewhere between bewildered and proud. He felt just the same.

They had talked about names, but somehow all of the uncertainty and list-making didn't matter when looking at the little girl's face. "She looks like a Sarralyn to me."

"I thought so, too." Daine held the baby out to him, and it was odd how natural it felt to hold his own child. He'd been terrified of bungling the process when a few obliging servants had come by with children for him to borrow for a bit, as none of the nobles had babies the right age. "Ma says that lots of babies are born with the eyes blue, but they might settle to be something else later. Of course, with Miss Sarralyn there, we'll be lucky to keep her with two eyes, let alone eyes of the same color."

Weiryn had his arms crossed over his bare chest, but his expression had softened. "Well. There's one thing you're good for, mage. Your looks didn't get in the way of my little girl's."

Arram couldn't disagree with that. "I'm sure I'll be saying the same in about twenty years, sir." Little Sarralyn was rather pliant now, but she had two of the most stubborn people in Corus for parents. If Daine could manage to win him over to Tortall at just sixteen, and he could cause so much ruckus in the world by twenty, he hated to imagine just what their children would put them through.

Sarra had been waiting quite patiently, so after a few minutes Numair let the new grandmother meet her namesake while he maneuvered around the excessive amounts of pillows propping Daine upright.

"Did you know that we met exactly four years ago?" Numair asked. He'd only realized the significance on his one hundred-twelfth circuit of the hallway, and Daine had been even more distracted.

"I had no notion. It feels like it's been longer'n'shorter all at once, somehow." Daine smiled encouragingly at her father as Weiryn made a very cautious show of holding the child. He quickly relinquished the burden back to Sarra, who tucked the baby into Daine's arms."Alanna says that's how it always goes. You meet somebody and there's that entire time of wondering, and then suddenly it's been four years and there's a baby, and next thing you know... well, I'd hate to predict some child of ours," Daine said fondly, echoing Numair's thoughts. "Or maybe multiple children of ours, but I'm not thinking about that until I forget how bad that hurt. She could've at least chosen to be a marsupial coming out. Half their babies are like my little finger."

"We'll be sure to tell the next child," Numair promised.

Thayet and Alanna guided Daine through the process of feeding a baby while Sarralyn fussed over the bassinet and other baby paraphernalia and peppering Alanna and Thayet with questions, suggestions, and the occasional order. Daine stayed awake long enough to watch Sarralyn's eyes flutter shut, and to say goodbye to her parents. Sarralyn kissed her on the forehead, but Weiryn took the odd step of handing Daine a bow that grew in her hand, muttering that he'd look into making a couple better suited for a child pretty soon. They both promised that the badger would be around before vanishing in an instant, returning back to the realms of the gods.

(Mithros had been displeased about the break in the rules, but the Mother Goddess had insisted that the birth of a child made it quite an easy exemption.)

With Sarralyn carefully transferred to the bassinet, Daine wasted no time in falling asleep on Numair's shoulder. Alanna and Thayet extracted promises to meet the baby later before leaving, not that there was any doubt. Numair and Daine's child would have the oddest extended family in the world, perhaps, but it was a good one. Tortall was a good place, free of despots and full of the most fascinating people that Numair (or Arram Draper) would ever meet.

He'd never thought that he'd raise a child, but there wasn't a better place or a better woman in the world. Arram Draper, now Numair Salmalin, drifted off to sleep just half an hour later, firmly convinced that he was the luckiest man in the world.