Lief, Jasmine and their family stayed for another week before they returned to Del, with a promise to come back in a few months' time. It had amused both sets of parents when Anna had skipped over to Scout and placed a shy, quick kiss to his cheek before darting back to her father's side, hiding her blushing face. With a hearty laugh, Barda had clapped a hand on Scout's shoulder as the boy had turned scarlet.
When they did indeed return four months later, it was Scout and Min that met them at the town gates. After quick greetings all round, they led them through the town to their family home. Lief was surprised, having thought they'd be taken instantly to the building site. Scout opened the front door and led them inside, and a moment later Lief realised why they'd been brought here first.
They'd just stepped into the family den when Barda limped through from the kitchen, leaning heavily on a pair of metal crutches. He offered them a pained smile as he awkwardly slumped into a chair and waved a hand in a gesture for them to sit also. Min and Scout took their bags and disappeared into the rest of the house, and Anna, Jarred and Endon followed, leaving Lief and Jasmine with Barda.
"What happened?" Jasmine asked, concern in her voice. Barda propped the crutches against the nearest wall and sighed.
"I was working on the building site, as normal. Jack and I were up on a walkway on the scaffolding, working out the angle of the next section of wall, and someone dropped a chunk of stone against the framework of the scaffolding." He flinched as he shifted his injured leg. "The whole frame rocked violently, and Jack lost his balance. I managed to catch him by the arm before he fell, but… I was not so lucky. It is fortunate I did not land in a different way, otherwise I may have ended up in a worse condition. It is a simple fracture of the bone, but I have been told to rest it until it heals."
"How long will that take?" Lief enquired.
"I was given a rough estimate of several weeks." He sounded irritated. "I was also told to stay away from the building site until I am fully recovered."
"That must be terribly frustrating for you." Jasmine murmured sympathetically. She knew that Barda hated feeling helpless.
"Oh you have no idea." Lindal walked through from the kitchen, a fond smile on her face. She stood beside Barda's chair and ran a hand through his hair gently. "He is forever complaining about it."
"As would you, if you were in my position." Barda muttered, scowling a little. "Well, you had better take them down to the site so that they can see the progress. Take Scout with you. Let the boy make himself useful." Lindal laughed softly and bent down to kiss her husband – a very brief touch of the lips, nothing more. It still amused their friends that public displays of affection still embarrassed both of them.
"Do not move around too much." She told him as she straightened up. "You will only make your injury worse, and it will take longer to heal."
"Yes, yes, I know." He growled, irritated. Smiling, Lindal moved to the front door, beckoning for Lief and Jasmine to follow her.
Lief stared up at the in-progress building in wonder. In just a few months, the Ralads and Jack's men had managed to erect a good portion of the lower walls of the buildings, and were already starting on the next portion. Men and women darted about carrying tools, planks of wood, buckets of water and wheeled carts of stone all around the site. Wooden framework marked where the walls were to go, and the Ralads had even built the wooden frame up into the shape of the roof. It looked very impressive already. A familiar flame-haired man approached them, a warm smile on his face.
"Ah, your majesty. You have returned to view the progress, I've no doubt." Jack grinned. Lief returned the grin and nodded.
"It is already looking magnificent, Jack." He told the man. "And you are working quickly."
"The weather has been kind to us, allowing us to work every day without trouble. Of course, once winter sets in we will have to delay the building. We cannot work through winter." Lief nodded again, understanding. "But we hope to finish most of the outer walls before then." He turned to Lindal. "And how is our dear wounded hero?" Lief could tell from the fond smile on Jack's face that he and Barda had become good friends in the few months they'd known each other.
"Complaining, as always." Lindal laughed. "But he can at least move around without being in too much pain."
"Ah, that is good news then." Jack nodded. He opened his mouth as if to say something more, but closed it quickly and smirked in amusement. "So I see." He murmured. Confused, Lief, Jasmine and Lindal turned in the direction of Jack's gaze. Jasmine grinned, Lief laughed, and Lindal sighed. With their other children following nearby, Barda was making his way towards them.
"I thought I told you not to move around!" Lindal scolded him once he reached them.
"I could not just sit around and do nothing." He growled in response. "I need to be here. I promise not to do anything dangerous." He turned to Jack. "How are things here, Jack?" As the two men walked off – Barda using the aid of the crutches, of course – discussing the building work, Jasmine turned to smile at Lindal.
"You did not really expect him to stay at home, did you?" She enquired. Lindal sighed again.
"No, not really. He is far too stubborn for that." She smirked. "Still, at least I can keep an eye on him now." And with that, she walked off after the two men. Jasmine spotted Aliena sat down amongst several picnic benches that had been set up beside the building site to be used by the workers when they took their breaks. She walked over and sat beside her.
"Jack told me you were due to visit again." She smiled. She was sewing a piece of clothing, fixing a rather large tear. "Tommy is forever ruining his clothes." She explained, putting down the shirt for a moment. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, thank you, I am quite alright." Jasmine smiled. She liked Aliena. The woman was as strong-willed and independent as she was, and they enjoyed each other's company. They sat in comfortable silence for a while, watching the children playing together nearby. Scout, Min and Anna were amongst the workers, lending a helping hand in whichever way was needed, but the others were quite happy to run around like wild things, enjoying the outdoors. Tommy and Lazarus, equipped with wooden swords, were duelling, and both boys seemed to be quite focused on the task. Jarred and Endon were play-fighting with Jay and David, the older set of twins quite clearly having an advantage over the younger, but holding back so that the fight was slightly fairer. Felix, however, was quite happy making daisy chains with Martha.
Lief, after a quick tour of the building site, had come across Richard, practicing his own sword fighting skills in a makeshift training area. He watched the knight for a moment, observing the intense skill in which the man wielded a sword, before he drew his own, and stepped in sharply, blocking a downward swipe from the other man's blade. Richard smiled when he realised who it was that had stepped in to fight him.
"Hello there, your majesty. I didn't know you'd arrived."
"I have only been here a short while, Richard." Lief smiled, sheathing his sword. "I take it you come here often?"
"It helps keep my senses sharp." Richard nodded. "Barda often fought with me here, when he had the time – before he was injured of course. He even taught me a few new skills in archery." Richard gestured behind him at a row of targets, some still impaled with arrows. Lief smiled as he recognised the pale blue and gold feathered fletching on some of the arrows – these were shot from Barda's longbow.
"He tried to teach me, once. I was not very good at it." Lief laughed. "I trust there has been no trouble here?"
"Nothing at all." Richard smiled. "It's been rather quiet, actually. Doom told me stories of bandits before he left on his next adventure, but so far we have had no signs of trouble."
"Well, that is good then." Lief nodded. "Well, I shall leave you to it, Richard." He murmured before taking his leave. He was disheartened to learn that Doom had moved on already, but he knew he should have expected it. The scarred man was never in one place for too long.
"Oh, cheer up Lief." He glanced up sharply at Barda's voice, and saw the big man leaning against a tree, a smirk on his face.
"Has Lindal banished you to a safe corner of the site?" Lief grinned as he walked over.
"Aye, aye." Barda said with a sigh. "She worries too much. Either that or she just likes to boss me around." He grinned.
"I would say it was the latter, Barda." Lief laughed. "Though it is nothing new. She has always had control over you, has she not?"
"Touché, Lief." Barda smiled. "You are right, of course. It is strange to think how much a man will change for a woman." He ruffled Lief's hair playfully. "You also changed for Jasmine, though you may not have noticed."
"I would do anything for her." Lief spoke quietly, a soft smile on his face. He spotted Jasmine and Aliena at the picnic bench and his smile widened. "That is what love is, right? Wanting to do anything and everything to make her smile?" As Lief spoke, Barda's eyes found Lindal amongst the workers. He watched her give orders to several large men, who quickly scattered the moment the words passed her lips.
"Yes, Lief." He said softly, his eyes never leaving the figure of his wife. "That is what love is." As the two men stood under the shade of the tree, they both located their eldest children, sitting together under another tree close by. Anna was settled against Scout's side, his arm curled around her shoulders, her head resting in the crook of his neck. Lief noticed Anna's hand held gently in Scout's free hand, and he smiled.
"It seems that distance will make the heart grow fonder, after all." He murmured, glancing at Barda, who grinned.
"Scout has matured a great deal over the last few months. He is no longer a boy, but a fine young man." Barda told him. "He has already spoken of a desire to become a great soldier."
"Will you recruit him, when the Deltora Guards are chosen?" Lief enquired, gazing back at the young man holding his daughter close.
"I already have, Lief." Barda smiled. "Not officially, of course, but there was never any question about it. He is already strong enough and skilled enough for the job. It is up to him whether he wants to take it, or go in a slightly different direction and move to Del to become a palace guard." Lief glanced back at Barda, surprised. "He does not know it, but I caught him wearing my old uniform jacket about a month ago. It was a little on the large side for him, but Lief… it was like looking through a window into my past. Everyone tells me that Scout looks like me, and they have no idea just how right they are. Looking at him in that jacket… it felt right. He is not just any young soldier, Lief. He is a palace guard at heart, protector of the royal family."
"Just like his father." Lief added with a smile. "History will repeat itself." He waited a beat. "And I think he will make a fine king, one day."
"What? You… you think that they will marry, one day?" Barda asked, surprised.
"Perhaps. I know they care greatly for one another already, and if it is what Anna wishes, then they have my blessing." He grinned up at Barda. "I know he is a good man, and that he will take care of her. Besides, it is only fitting that the princess should marry a son of my closest friend." Barda smiled and slung an arm around Lief's shoulders briefly.
"This is a touching moment, Lief. You truly have grown up at last." He teased. Lief laughed and playfully swatted at him, knowing that even if he really wanted to, he would have no chance of inflicting any sort of pain. He may be strong, but he was nothing compared to Barda. A commotion nearby stalled their conversation, and Barda sighed as he recognised the sounds of his twin sons' voices. "Not again." He sighed, gripping the crutches tightly before making his way over to where the two boys were about to start throwing punches. "David, do not dare strike your brother!" He warned the twin about to swing his fist into the other's face.
"Dad! That is Jay!" The other twin called with an exasperated sigh. Jay scowled, his fist still held in the air, ready to strike.
"He started it!" Jay yelled, glaring at David.
"No way, he started it!" David yelled back. Barda swung one of his crutches up and used it to push Jay away from David.
"I do not care who started it. I am finishing it. Now behave." He growled dangerously. Both boys looked away from their father guiltily. "If you cannot behave, you will be sent home and I will have McAlister watch you." Lief hid a grin. McAlister was one of the few friends of Barda's that he'd met on several occasions, and knew that the Broome man had a particular way with the twins that kept them out of trouble.
"Sorry father." They both muttered quietly.
"Good. Now go on, go cause trouble somewhere else." He waved them off, and then slumped down onto the bench closest to him. Lief grinned as he sat down with him. "I wish they were more like your boys, Lief. In fact, I wish all of them were more like your boys. Yours do not fight at every given opportunity."
"Well, you were the one who wanted six children, Barda. It is your own fault." Lief laughed, teasingly. Barda rolled his eyes.
"They were not exactly planned!" He shot back. "Scout and Min, perhaps… but we certainly were not expecting our third child to actually be our third and fourth." He smiled a little. "And then Lazarus surprised us… and then Felix…"
"Making up for lost time, were you?" Lief grinned. Barda playfully cuffed the back of his head.
"Shut it." He smirked.
Days passed, and turned into weeks. Lief, Jasmine and their family set up a semi-permanent residence in Broome, wanting to see the progress of the building work for themselves instead of relying on letters from Barda to get their information. The moment Barda's leg healed he was back up the scaffolding with Jack, under Lindal's watchful eye.
The weeks turned into months. Scout's fourteenth birthday was celebrated, and soon after, so was Anna's. Ellen and Prior Philip returned to their home with a couple of men for a brief period, and returned a month or so later. Richard was sent off to fight a minor battle, but returned once it was over. Winter came and all work on the base was brought to a halt during the cold season, and resumed once the icy conditions drifted away into spring.
Jack suffered an injury to one arm after a nasty accident with a hammer – which he made a joke about history repeating itself, though did not explain further – but continued to work on the site by giving orders to the men and accompanying Barda on various rounds, checking that the walls were going up right, and that everything was as it should be.
He hired Scout as an official worker after witnessing the young man's strength, and asked Min if she would like to help him organise the workers. Tommy became good friends with Jay and David, and kept up the swordplay practice with Lazarus. Felix grew attached to Martha, who adored the little boy. Aliena, Lindal and Jasmine often sat together, enjoying a cool drink as they watched their men work. Lief lent a hand too, sharpening tools and helping to put up the wooden scaffolding.
The months gradually turned into years. Lief and Jasmine visited often for long periods of time. Marilen and Ranesh took time away from the palace to visit, too, and Ranesh lent a helping hand whenever he could. Doom put off several adventures to help out, and several old friends from the three heroes' quests dropped by to do their part. Even a couple of ruby dragons aided them with the final placement of the roof.
And finally, four years after the building began, a huge gathering of people stood in awe at the foot of a magnificent building. The Eastern Base was complete.
Stood facing the crowd was King Lief, with Queen Jasmine at his side. To their left stood Jack Jackson and his woman, Aliena. To their right stood Lindal. Addressing the crowd and declaring the Eastern Base complete, dressed smartly in a brand new jet-black uniform with gold trim, was Barda. As the people gathered cheered, he swept off the uniform cap perched upon his head and gave a polite bow, before straightening up and returning the cap to his head. The golden crest upon it matched the one upon his breast – a glorious golden dragon situated in the centre of the Belt of Deltora.
As the people returned to Broome for the celebration, Barda turned to Jack and shook his hand, a grin on his face. The small group of friends celebrated privately for a moment, all of them glancing at the tall building beside them at every chance they got. Then they returned to Broome with the others for the celebration.
They would sit together in a corner of the town hall, observing their families and friends enjoying themselves. Jack and Aliena would watch Martha happily dancing with Felix, who was now eight, and Tommy chasing Lazarus – now ten – outside. Jay and David, now thirteen, would cause havoc with Jarred and Endon, now eleven. Min, now a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, would dance with Richard, who was very aware of the watchful, warning gaze of Barda. Ellen and Prior Philip would remain outside of the hall, watching the celebration inside with matching smiles. Doom would offer Sharn his hand and take her into a dance beside Marilen and Ranesh, whose son – Josef – would sit and write down everything that happened, hoping to one day be the scribe for the Deltora Annals. Lief would drape an arm around Jasmine's shoulders and hold her close, his heart filled with joy at the scene in front of him. No longer caring about being in public, Lindal would sit happily in Barda's lap, one arm curled around his neck, her head resting against his, his arms around her waist, both of them watching two figures slowly moving together to the music.
For Scout, now almost eighteen, was quite obviously in love with seventeen-year-old Anna, who quite obviously returned those feelings. The two young adults swayed gently to the music, the rest of the world only a faint murmur in the background. They only had eyes for each other.
In a week's time, Jack and co returned to their home, with a promise to return for a visit. Jack happily announced that he would be willing to work on the remaining three bases if he was needed, and Barda assured him that he would send word if necessary. Doom departed, finally, to leave on an adventure he had been putting off until the base had been completed. Marilen and Ranesh returned with Sharn to the palace, for they were needed. Lief and Jasmine stayed longer, enjoying the time spent in the company of their closest friend, and wishing they did not have to leave.
When they finally decided they could not stay any longer, they said their goodbyes, and left with one extra person – for Scout had made the decision to move to Del, to train as a palace guard and eventually marry Anna. Barda, Lindal, and their remaining five children stood by the town gates and waved them off, both sides promising to visit often.
Felix, Lazarus, Jay and David all promised their father that they would train hard and become brilliant soldiers so that one day they could join the Deltora Guards, and wear the black and gold uniform with pride. Min, ever daddy's little angel, said that she would take Scout's place at her father's side, as his right-hand soldier. As the family turned and made their way home, Lindal caught Barda's arm and brought him to a stop.
"I know you will miss him." She murmured. She knew her husband well enough now to see past the mask he hid behind when his emotions became too strong. She knew he was saddened by Scout's decision to leave. "We all will. But it is his choice, and he is happy. He has a woman to love, a woman he wants to protect. Would you deny him that?"
"I was never going to argue against it, Lindal." He told her, smiling a little. "It is what I wanted him to do. He is very much like I was at that age. He needs to be his own man, so I will give him his space." He smoothed out the collar of Lindal's jacket, and let his hands rest upon her shoulders. "Besides, did I not move from the place of my birth to be with the woman I love?" A smile broke out on Lindal's face, and she lifted a hand, threading her fingers through her husband's dark hair before pulling him close for a kiss. When they parted, he held her close for a moment. "Yes, I will miss him. He is my son, my eldest child, and very precious to me. But I will see him again." He stepped back and took her hand as he began walking again. She strode along beside him, still smiling. She let go of his hand and moved closer, draping her arm around his waist.
"You know… I much prefer you in this uniform." She murmured with a grin. "Black is definitely your colour." Barda laughed, and slung his arm around her shoulders.
"I am starting to think you only married me because of my uniform."
"No, no… but it certainly helped." He laughed again, and turned to press his lips to her temple.
"By Adin, I do adore you."
Author's Note: So there you have it. It's done. Technically it would have taken longer than four years to build it properly, but let's pretend the Ralads are just that good, okay? If I'd made it realistic, there would have been about four more parts and it would have taken me longer to finish XD
I had to add in some major BardaLindal at the end, because I adore them so. And irritated, injured Barda at the beginning was added in because of my recent leg injury (though mine isn't nearly as serious... I hope).
Hope you enjoyed it! And I recommend watching or reading The Pillars of the Earth to all my readers, and likewise I recommend reading Deltora Quest (to the readers who might not know it).