It was a dark, moonless night. The road seemed empty, with only the sound of the wind whistling through the trees and the forlorn howl of a lonely wolf to break the silence of midnight. As time went on, however, there was the noise of hoof beats pounding on the road as a horse and rider galloped into view. The animal was a tall, broad-chested steed, black as the night sky with a mane as silver as the moon. The rider was wrapped in a forest green cloak and wore a large feathered hat on his head that, by all the laws of nature, should not have stayed on. The man rode as fast as he could, crouched low on the horse's back. He was anxious to get back, to return to his wife and the child he knew was being born. Joshua spurred the horse on, annoyed at all the twists of fate that had conspired to take him from home right now, not to mention that drained his magic so he couldn't even fly.
The road stretched onward before the rider and Joshua rode faster, willing the steed to defy gravity itself to bring him back.
Lizzie curled up in her bed, cradling a tiny child to her chest. That had to be the most painful experience she had ever gone through. She had been warned by Belle, who was now carrying another child of her own, that birth was not a pleasant experience, but she had not realized just how agonizing it was. Her sister-in-law and Gabrielle had both come to comfort her and provide her with moral support, but she had not enjoyed the ordeal at all. Lizzie smiled to think of how many times her little sister had covered her ears, both from the content and the volume of what she was saying. But it didn't matter now. As soon as the midwife had laid the baby in her arms, she had forgotten everything. All the birth pangs, travails and even the reason this child was born in the first place had all disappeared from her mind. This little one was perfect, with dark red hair and pale blue eyes that had gazed into Lizzie's own. She sighed and stroked the soft head, marveling at the feel of it. The baby had already eaten its first meal and was now cuddled up to its mother, sleeping peacefully. Lizzie couldn't take her eyes off of it. The child was the most precious thing she had ever seen, perfectly formed and absolutely beautiful, the fact that it looked like a shriveled red prune notwithstanding.
"You look happy," Belle observed, smiling at her sister-in-law.
"I am," Lizzie answered. "Although Joshua has a lot to answer for when he gets back." Belle laughed.
"Shall I yell at him for you?" Gabrielle asked innocently.
"No," Lizzie replied with a smile. "I've grown quite good at that." The three women smiled at one another before Gabrielle spoke again.
"May I?" she said softly, gesturing towards the baby.
"If you promise to be very careful," was Lizzie's answer. "I slaved for eight months to create this thing; I won't have you nullify my work before I can even show it off to my husband."
"I promise not to let any harm come to it," Gabrielle answered solemnly. Lizzie bit back a smile.
"Very well then." Gabrielle held out her hands and Lizzie carefully set the baby in them and repositioned her sister's hands to make sure the head was supported and that the little one was comfortable. Gabrielle looked at the infant in surprise.
"You are rather ugly, aren't you," she said affectionately. "Perhaps you take after your mother, then." Lizzie glared at her older sister, though she was more amused than anything else. "I bet you'll be beautiful when you're older, though," Gabrielle continued, loving her sister's child since she did not have one of her own yet.
"What an unusually healthy infant," Belle remarked low in Lizzie's ear so that Gabrielle couldn't hear. "Especially for one born so early."
Lizzie sighed; she had known this would be coming. "I know," she answered. "I'm beginning to think I should have listened to Joshua." Belle raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "He warned me that using magic on infants in the womb was not a good idea, but I couldn't help but perform a few spells, just to make sure the baby would be safe and healthy." Lizzie shrugged. "Evidently they worked."
Belle nodded. "He was right. There will be those who will accuse you of having conceived this child before you were married."
"I know," Lizzie answered. "And the worst part is, I will have to tell Joshua he was right. It is so galling when that happens."
"Don't worry," Belle replied with a mischievous smile. "I doubt it happens all that often."
"Of course not. He is still a man, after all, albeit a wonderful one."
Gabrielle brought the baby back to Lizzie, overhearing their last words. "It is a pity Joshua couldn't be here."
Lizzie nodded. "I know," she said softly. "I would give a lot to see him right now."
"You should get some rest," Belle said, laying a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "Birthing is quite a tiring process."
"I can tell," Lizzie answered dryly as she lifted the child and wrapped her arms back around the small form, cuddling it close once again.
Gabrielle bent over and kissed her sister's forehead. "Good night Lizzie."
"Good night, Gabrielle. When you see your sister, do tell her that my child is far more beautiful than hers will be when it is born." Gabrielle laughed and practically skipped out of the room.
"Sleep well, my sister," Belle said. "I'm glad my terrible brother married you."
"I'm glad I married your terrible brother," was the immediate reply.
Belle gently tied Lizzie's hair back so it didn't stick to her face. "Do be serious. The next best thing to having a sister is having a sister-in-law like you."
Lizzie smiled and turned slightly pink. "You flatter me. But I'm glad you feel that way and I'm glad that we are now sisters." They smiled at one another, kindred spirits, and Belle left the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Well," Lizzie said, looking down at the baby. "It's just the two of us now. I must say, you were definitely not what I was expecting. Perhaps I was thinking you would be more like your father. Although I do believe your older brother will be pleased. You'll like him, even though you'll call him Papa. You were definitely the most frightening experience of my life, but I suppose I'm glad you were born. You were too sweet to kill, which doesn't bode well for your future ability to wrap your parents around your little finger." Lizzie gently lifted one of the waving fists and let the baby hold on to her pinkie. "You are adorable, but you know that already. I wonder how much you know about your roots. It would be better if you never found out, better if we could succeed in this charade we have planned." Lizzie hugged the baby gently and buried her face against the soft hair. She had been terrified of this day for so long, and now it was over. She had spent the last eight months wondering whether she had been right to choose as she had, wondering whether it was worth seeing the pain in her husband's eyes every time she shied away from him, every time he gazed at her burgeoning stomach. And he never condemned her, never pleaded with her to change her mind. He just held her when she cried and comforted her when she was scared and made fun of her when she suddenly developed a lust for roast beef at four in the morning. She had asked him, a few months ago, whether he thought she had chosen correctly or not. He hadn't answered, he had just shrugged and said that he doubted it could be any other way. Looking down at the infant sleeping peacefully beside her, Lizzie knew he was right. "When I look at you," she whispered to the baby, "It almost seems worth all the pain."
Lizzie fell asleep with the baby held close and the blankets pulled up high around them both.
Joshua rode through the gates of his castle as if the Wild Hunt was behind him. He dismounted before the horse had stopped moving and stabled his horse with a fierce impatience that was only made worse by the animal's attempt to eat his hair, which it mistook for straw. Storming off, Joshua entered the castle and began running up the enormous marble staircase towards his wife's room. As he reached the upper floor, he nearly collided with Belle and Gabrielle, who were speaking animatedly on the stairwell. Joshua skidded to a halt and, with wild eyes, spoke to them.
"Is she alright?" he asked, breathing heavily. Gabrielle laughed at him, but quickly covered her mouth to hide it.
"She's fine," Belle answered soothingly. "She's a strong girl and the ordeal wasn't too traumatic." For the first time in about a week, Joshua relaxed, though he had yet to catch his breath from the long, arduous ride.
"I'm going up to see her," he said, about to continue his fast paced ascent to her room.
"No you're not," Belle answered. Joshua froze and turned to look at her, a stubborn glint in his eyes.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked softly.
"She's finally fallen asleep and the worst thing you could do to her right now would be to wake her up. She needs to rest."
Joshua's shoulders sagged. "I know," he said, smiling sadly at his older sister. "But I just want to see her again…make sure she's really okay."
"Let's let him," said Gabrielle.
Belle sighed. "Well, I suppose. You know where you're going." Joshua took off, nearly running down the halls. "Don't wake her up!"
"I won't," he shouted back, hurrying out of earshot and towards his wife.
Joshua finally skidded to a halt in front of the door to her room. It was really their room, since it was his role to go to her at night and not the other way around, but he was willing to relinquish all claim to it, as far as the mess of afterbirth was concerned. He felt a sharp pang of regret; though he didn't particularly want to see a child being born, he had not wanted to miss this momentous occasion, especially because he knew that his support would have meant much to her. But Belle had said that she was fine and his sister was not in the habit of lying about important things.
He pushed open the door, slipping silently inside and depositing his hat and cloak on one of the chairs, telling himself that someone would put then away later. He strode through the next doorway and into his wife's bedroom, stopping short once he was through the opening. Lizzie was curled up in bed, her hair pulled back and delicately framing her face. She looked exhausted but peaceful and Joshua's heart did a funny little flip-flop motion. He crept closer, feeling decidedly guilty. Next to her, cradled in her arms, was a tiny little form with a shock of red hair. Joshua knelt down to get a closer look and found himself meeting a pair of half lidded, sleepy blue eyes.
"You were supposed to be asleep," he said to his wife with mock severity.
"You were supposed to be home two days ago," Lizzie replied, yawning in the middle.
"I know," he replied, reaching out and touching her cheek. "I had meant to be back. How do you feel?"
Lizzie paused for a moment. "Sore," she answered finally. "And strange. But happy."
"Good," Joshua replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "May I hold him?" Lizzie snickered, but carefully laid the child in it's father's arms. "What's so funny?" he asked as he stared down at the beautiful baby in his arms.
"That you automatically assumed she was a boy."
Joshua's jaw dropped. "It's a girl?" he nearly yelped. "Are you sure?"
"I do know the difference between male and female anatomy," Lizzie answered dryly.
"That's not what I meant," he answered, cradling his daughter. "I just can't imagine Andrew allowing a child of his to be born female."
"Neither can I," Lizzie answered, "But I can't argue with facts."
"No," Joshua agreed, "You can't." He looked down at the small person in his arms. The little girl was snuggled up to him, her mouth making tiny sucking motions as she slept. Of all the things he had been expecting, this wasn't one of them. "Were we right?" he whispered, nuzzling the soft head. "Are you worth it?"
"We'll just have to find out," Lizzie answered, for she had been listening closely to his words.
Joshua stretched out on the bed and placed the baby back in her mother's arms. He held Lizzie close and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. She laid her head against his chest and sighed contentedly.
"What shall we name her?" Joshua asked. Lizzie sighed tiredly.
"I don't know," she replied sleepily. "Pick something you like."
"Something meaningful though," Joshua mused. "But not silly, like some sort of virtue."
"Chastity's a nice name," Lizzie joked, making her husband groan. He was, however, slightly pleased that after nine months, she was able to make light of that which had happened.
"How about Prudence?" Joshua suggested. "A way to counteract the traits she'll inherit from you."
"We could just name her Cornucopia." They both laughed and gave up on the naming for a little while.
As Lizzie was drifting off to sleep, she had an idea. "Love," she said, elbowing Joshua who was already asleep, still dressed and sitting on top of the covers.
"What about Diana?"
"What about her?"
"As a name, you silly man." Joshua looked from Lizzie to the baby, mulling over her suggestion.
"I like it," he said. "It is rather fitting, after all." Lizzie nodded. "Very well," he said, addressing the girl who he had sworn to raise as his own. "Your new name is Diana." Lizzie entwined one of her hands in his own and drifted off to sleep. Joshua stayed awake a while longer, gazing at the little girl. "You had better be worth all this, little one."
The baby opened her startling blue eyes and stared at her father. Joshua looked back into those solemn eyes. "Diana, welcome to the world."
A/N – There! It's done! Hold on a moment (runs around room screaming at top of lungs for a few minutes while friends stare at her in confusion). Okay, that's much better. Sorry, I'm just a little shocked I finally finished this. It's only taken me, what, three years? Anyway, I'm going to leave you all here, since it makes a nice happy ending and leaves room for (gasp) a sequel. But I'm not promising one, although I do have a few ideas. And, if I do one, don't get insulted if I use a different fairy tale as a prototype. That might be a problem though, since all fairy tale mothers are dead and I like Lizzie. Oh well. If you want to find out if/when a sequel appears, just make a note of it in a review and I'll tell you. Speaking of which…
Soofija – Thank you for constructively criticizing (and reviewing, but that kinda goes unsaid). You were right, it did go really fast. I tried to go back and fix it a bit, but tell me what you think. And I like the baby too much now, we're stuck with her. She's going to be cute though… perhaps a bit of a monster child, but cute. Her parents are awesome, in any case. And I apologize for making you wait so anxiously, but remember that if I'm in a really hot place, I don't think they have working computers. (Although the computer room I'm in right now is like a sauna).
Shortstef – All good things must come to an end, otherwise I run out of plot devices. And I would promise to start something new soon, but I don't know. I do have a few things up on Fanfiction though. If you value your life, do NOT read Happily Ever After (still must take down and reedit, but cannot be bothered to), but the two fairy tale rewrites aren't bad. So that might tide you over until I decide about a sequel to this. And of course there's a happy ending; I can't leave them miserable!
Kate – Not a bad idea. Joshua as Daddy…hmm. And thank you for your compliments about my writing, I truly appreciate it. It seems I don't have much of a choice about the sequel. I'll see what I can do. And if it does get written, I will definitely tell you.
Annacordelia – Yay! Welcome to the long, thank you of the author's note. And I'm glad you came back and reviewed, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside/
Well, people, this is it. Until next story. And if you review here, even if I don't write you a thank you paragraph, you have still done a very good deed and fed the poor muse so that it can create more. Thank you all and I love you tons (sniffles). Bbye!