Well my friends, it's been a long journey and here we are at the end of it all. I've had fun writing, and I've enjoyed reading your reviews. I feel awful that I haven't been keeping up with getting back to them, but they're just so many and my appreciation for them is endless! Your reviews have made me smile and have made me more driven to ensure this story's completion. No, this isn't the longest chapter, but it concludes this fan-told chapter of Will's life.
Thank you everyone! This last chapter is dedicated to all my readers!
Dance of the Crimson Knives
When All Is Said And Done….
It was over.
It wasn't ideal, it wasn't necessarily happy or fulfilling, but it was over at last. Will wasn't happy or satisfied that Faustus was dead at much as he thought he would be. Rather, the young Ranger felt a throbbing sense of sorrow as he stared at the flames that consumed not only Faustus but the other casualties of the battle. The Corps had lost a once-great Ranger who had fallen victim to grief and anger. Never did Will think he could forgive the Alpha for the murders he's committed, but he could spare the hate.
Several mornings had come and gone since Faustus's death. Even with the ex-Ranger now dead and the threat thwarted, there was still a mess to be cleaned up. Now on the fifth morning since the battle, Will stood between Alyss and Horace as they, along with the recovered King and his daughter, faced the freed Arridians in front of Castle Araluen.
"Much has transpired as of late," said Selethen, who was positioned ahead of his people. "My people were lead by a tyrant who conspired with another." He dipped his head respectfully towards the Araluens and the Arridi soldiers followed the example. "Not only has much suffering been brought to your kingdom, but you give my people passage to return home."
King Duncan smiled warmly at Selethen, reaching out and placing a firm hand on the Arridian's shoulder. "Do not bow to me, Selethen," he ordered kindly. "It was you who turned your back on Aatu to aid us for not only our sake, but for the sake of Arridian. Your loyalties are true, and no man should have to bow for that."
Selethen proudly straightened himself, looking eye-to-eye with the king with a smile of his own. "You're truly a noble king," he acknowledged, his gaze shifting slightly towards Evanlyn. "And I would hardly think to expect anything less from the Princess Cassandra." Evanlyn blushed at this, smiling almost shyly before curtly nodding towards Selethen.
"What will you do now?" Horace inquired from beside his wife.
The Arridian's eyes landed on the princess's consort. "Go home and fix what Aatu has done to Arridi. Expect to hear from me soon." He smiled and mounted the steed given to him. "And I hope to hear from you. And Will," he began as he turned the horse around, looking over his shoulder back at the young Ranger. "I'll be expecting an invitation." He grinned and, with a knight escort, started towards the ocean to sail for home.
"You think Selethen is going to become the new Emrikir?"
Halt turned his head towards his former apprentice as Gilan came up beside him, leaning on the windowsill with his eyes trained on the retreating backs of the Arridians as they rode away. The senior Ranger smiled softly. "Who knows? He has much influence on the people. Even if he doesn't take over, I believe something good to come of Arridi."
Gilan yawned loudly, stretching out his arms and relaxing them behind his head before shooting a sly smile sideways at his former mentor. "So, are you going to accept?"
"Accept?" Halt turned towards the younger Ranger's sharp gaze. He lifted his eyebrows, tilted his head down, and gave a low chuckle. "I'm not so old to be trapped here in Castle Araluen." His eyes were brimmed with tears, though none fell as he looked on out the window, smiling as he recalled his old friend. "Crowley would chew me out should I take over the Ranger Corp. He'd strike me down from the Heavens doing all that paperwork instead of getting myself a sore back sleeping on the ground."
"Sounds about right," Gilan said in approval, flashing Halt another grin. With Aatu and Faustus both now dead and the Arridians returning home, they finally managed to discuss the matter of the Ranger Corps and, among the issues, who would take Crowley's place as their head. In the minds of everybody, it seemed only logical that Halt would take his friend's place, having almost equally the amount of influence over the Rangers as Crowley himself.
However, Halt wasn't ready for that yet.
He gazed off into the distance where the Arridians rode. "I've already taken care of things," he said softly. "Alun is coming out of retirement to take over for Crowley. I spoke with him yesterday, and he agreed."
Halt then smiled somewhat sadly. "Many Rangers have died in this incident, and it's caused somewhat of a shortage." He paused. "Adjustments are in order."
There was a glimmer of understanding in Gilan's eyes and he nodded solemnly. "Yeah, you don't need to be head to know that."
Halt clapped his eldest apprentice on the shoulder. "Let's head out."
Farewells have been said, meetings have been called, and things have been settled. It was a tense and debatable gathering among the Rangers at the urgent meeting Alun had called. There was open grief, silent tears, vicious outcries, and agreements and disagreements alike. In the end, Will left the sudden gathering feeling a sense of sadness, but also acceptance.
The evening sun reflected off the scarlet stones of Castle Redmont when Tug trotted own the path towards home, Will on board with Ebony keeping pace eagerly alongside the barrel horse. It was a gentle ride back to the Ranger's cottage, tucked away in the trees of the Redmont fief. He wouldn't be staying long; however, there was another long trip to be taken.
He had been preparing Tug when Alyss came. Everything was already packed and loaded, Tug got washed down and given food, and now he was securing the shaggy steed's saddle for good measure. Will's trained ears had heard her coming, but he let her have the first move, the first word.
She had suddenly stopped in her tracks a few feet from him. "You're leaving."
The young Ranger bit the inside of his cheek for a moment at the matter-of-factness her voice took on. He pursed his lips and gave the saddle strap one final tug. "Yes." He didn't turn towards her as he went over to ensure the small amount of baggage was secure. "Ranger's way, you know? We've lost some good Rangers, so Halt and I can no longer afford to share a fief."
Alyss was silent for a moment. "We're you going to leave without saying goodbye?"
Giving Tug's neck a good stroke, Will turned fully to face the young woman. He carefully studied her, not letting his gaze waver from the bright-haired Courier. "You knew I was being reassigned," he said knowingly. "I see that look in your eyes. You're not surprised."
"You weren't going to say goodbye," Alyss persisted, eyes narrowing sharply on Will, her hands drawing up into a tight fold under her chest. She kept her eyes on Will and, despite her Courier training, there was a dash of despair in her eyes. "You were just going to leave."
Will bit down on his lip hard, almost enough to draw blood. He forced himself to keep Alyss' gaze, to not look down or away from her in a futile attempt to hide himself. "I don't like goodbyes," he weakly argued, knowing already Alyss wouldn't accept it. Goodbyes were awful. They were full of questions: When would they see one another again? Would they see another again? Should I give another hug? He didn't like them.
Frustration crossed Alyss' gaze like a whirlwind of fury. "You don't like goodbyes!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I've heard that story before! Take out your mandolin and sing me a sad song about it. So you were to just take off and leave me behind with…with…!" Alyss nearly tore her hair out. "When will you learn you can't do this to me!"
Will, mouth a little agape but no words to say, glanced sideways at Tug, who bobbed his head up and down as if to say, Well, what are you going to do now, loverboy?
The faintest of smiles slipped onto the Ranger's face. "Outside of being a Ranger, I've never been the most prepared of people," he began, his eyes falling back on the beautiful Courier before him, his hands bringing back his Ranger's hood. "I tend to kinda let things sprout as they happen."
Puzzlement swept over Alyss' face, seeming unsure whether or not to be irritated by Will's apparent abrupt change of topic. "What are you…?"
But she was gently hushed by the Ranger, pressing one tender finger against her lips. "You're right," he admitted. "I can't do this to you." A glimmer of light sparkled in Will's eyes, his smile widening just a little. "And we're not going to have to say any goodbyes."
"Will, what…?" Alyss' voice greatly calmed down, her eyes boring into Will's, trying to decipher what was going on in the complex Ranger's head.
Suddenly, a laugh burst from Will, light and airy. "I really shouldn't steal from Horace. Better make it up to him, eh?" Alyss didn't know what was happening, her mind had been shattered into a scattered jigsaw puzzle at this point, the pieces slowly being put in place, forming a picture she couldn't quite see.
Will's hand clasped hers and he lightly pulled her to him, bringing her hand up to his lips and murmured against the Courier's soft skin. "Alyss, will you accompany me to Norgate as my wife?"
The final piece was placed. The picture was painted, and it was the most beautiful thing Alyss had ever seen. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes and a smile, soft and loving, stretched across her face. She didn't care about the Courier façade, or the simple fact that she did a complete flip in demeanor in the last five minutes. Words were now lost, none worthy enough for what Alyss wished to express.
The Ranger's eyebrows lifted, a grin spreading on his face as he held Alyss's hand to his chest. "May I take that as a yes? Or is this where I take out that mandolin and sing you a sad song?"
"Oh!" Alyss lightly shoved Will. "It took you this long to propose again? To get serious about marriage? Oh, I can't believe you! Procrastinating! You Rangers and your coffee and know-it-all ways and…Gah, you idiot!" She flung her arms around Will's neck, causing the Ranger to stumble back in surprise at the tackle. "Yes! Of course! Can't you read facial expressions? Yes!"
Will smiled broadly, wrapping his arms securely around his now-fiancé. "You've no idea how happy that just made me…" he softly whispered. But then he paused, lost in his words as something struck his mind.
Alyss noticed. "…What is it?"
"Ahaha, well,…I kinda lied. You'll have to arrive as my fiancé. There's…kinda no time between now and Norgate for a wedding. Gotta get going soon actually," Will sheepishly confessed as he let the Courier down, scratching the back of his head.
At this, Alyss couldn't hold back her laughter, holding her stomach as she let it all out. "Oh, Will!" she giggled. "Fine, I'll take what I can get." She then grasped his hand and held it tight. "Besides, you weren't going to Norgate alone anyway."
Looking back at Tug, Will noted the white mare next to him, things already packed. Of course Alyss was already packed! No man or woman could keep Alyss from doing as she pleased, and at this, Will laughed as well and held his new fiancé close. "C'mon, it's a long road ahead."
Night had conquered the sun when they set out for a new beginning, like two new stars among a moonlight sky.
The story is finished, and now more stories await for me to write. :) This fic was fun, but I'm eager to write again, do better, and continue improving. My gratitude towards all my reviewers, whether it be criticism or praise, whose reviews are a source of help to my writing.