His relationship with Marisa was one of wordless communication. Their relationship had morphed significantly since their first encounter. One could even say it snowballed into something much larger, but somehow they managed to say the most important things without saying anything at all. Even if it was something small, such as how one took their tea. Still, as Joshua sat cross-legged in the garden of Jehanna Hall, there was a part of him that wished Marisa were more forthcoming with words.
It had been over a month since the festival in Renais and, much to Joshua's relief, she finally understood how she felt. At first he had been worried; while she had clearly sought out his embrace, he also knew she wasn't the kind to be forward with her emotions. She didn't pull away and during the journey back home, nothing seemed different between the two of them.
The differences started when they finally made it back to Jehanna Hall. They were subtle, never really spoken, and sometimes almost instinctual. He would pass her in the halls and seek out her hand for a brief moment with his own. She would not flinch away from him and eventually began to return the gesture. He noticed a difference in her eyes as well; he couldn't quite describe it but it was almost like her eyes shone with more life than they did before.
At Gerik and Tethys's wedding, he could feel her sit closer to him, and during the dance following he pulled her close to him and felt her accept it without question as though it were the natural thing to do.
Joshua leaned back as he felt the rays of the sun hit his face, warming him through, as he attempted to clear his mind. He had not regularly meditated since the death of his father. His mother had often encouraged the practice, and even Carlyle supported the idea but for years Joshua had rejected the practice because of the memories it conjured. It wasn't until after his dream that one night, after his talk with Marisa, that he decided to take up meditation once again.
He emptied his mind and allowed the sounds and sensations around him to fill the void he created. As he sat there, the scent of the desert rose wafted gently into his nose. He opened his eyes and glanced across to where the five-petal flower lay. The pale white flared from the center of the petal to a bright crimson at the edges. Joshua couldn't suppress a smile; the flower served as a reminder in more ways than one.
Marisa seemed happier as well he noted. True, she didn't show it through her emotions, but he noted the small changes in her behavior or the way she talked. She seemed more willing to talk with him, and even asked him to join her a couple times on the ramparts of the castle to gaze at the stars. On those nights, he could swear he even saw the faintest trace of a smile as the two sat together.
Joshua leaned back a moment and took in a deep breath. As he exhaled, he opened his eyes and stood up. He saw the servants go about their business as usual while he spotted a couple of his councilmen discussing something intently.
The more things remain the same, the more they seem to change, mused the king to himself.
He knew that he should head to the training grounds soon. Marisa would be waiting for him like she always did for their sparing session. As his thoughts drifted back to her, he let out a small sigh. While he enjoyed his word games, there were times where he favored a much more straightforward approach, particularly once he made up his mind about something. With Marisa, he had known since he realized his feelings for her that he could never do that even if he wanted to. He craned his neck back as he mulled over his thoughts.
"Argh, this is getting nowhere," muttered Joshua aloud.
As he turned to leave, he slipped his hands into his coat pockets. He felt his hand graze something smooth and cool to the touch. He pulled it out and immediately recognized it as the gold piece he had used in many a bet. A playful grin came to his face as he rolled the coin over in his hand.
He gave the coin a flip and caught it. He briefly glanced at the result before pocketing the piece and making his way to the training grounds. Joshua was surprised at how relaxed he felt despite the inevitability of the upcoming duel. While he enjoyed his little sparing sessions with Marisa, some of the more recent duels had been even closer than usual. Generally they always resulted in a tie, but he had made some pretty desperate moves to secure just a draw in these last few matches.
Since the one duel Joshua won, the two hadn't ever placed a bet on their little skirmishes. He knew that Marisa would never request such a thing considering she didn't care much for his gambling habits, but he found it strange that he hadn't pursued it. Was he too distracted by his duties as king or was it simply he didn't want to risk losing?
He stopped midstride and chuckled. The thought was one he had never thought would cross his mind; it was so foreign to him he couldn't do anything but laugh. There were plenty of things worth fearing in life, but for him, the ever-eager gambler, to be afraid of losing was just painfully ironic.
He pushed the door to the barracks open and proceeded down the narrow hallway until he came across a mostly dirt field. Standing in the middle of the field was Marisa, her shamshir gleaming in the early morning sunlight. Joshua leaned against a nearby pillar and watched as she went through the motions she had practiced countless times before. Every time Joshua watched her practice, he was reminded of the smooth flow of a river. Her sword was fluid, graceful, yet unquestionably strong. She finished the last maneuver and sheathed the sword at her side.
"Don't tire yourself out too soon, Marisa," spoke up Joshua as he made his presence known.
Marisa glanced over in his direction before turning to face him. "Don't worry. It was just a warm-up. I'm still fresh."
"Heh, I'm counting on it," replied Joshua with a playful grin. "Shall we?"
Marisa nodded before strolling over to the opposite side of the field.
"Before we start," said Joshua suddenly, "what do you say we make this duel interesting?"
"You want to place a bet?" asked Marisa. "Fine, name your terms."
"Heh, I like someone who's eager. Why not go with the same bet and terms as before?" suggested Joshua. Marisa nodded her consent.
Joshua nodded and steeled himself. He could feel the anticipation and excitement begin to coarse through his veins. His eyes locked onto Marisa, as he braced himself for the inevitable beginning.
Marisa made the first move this time. He watched as she swooped in, her blade aiming clearly for his left flank. Joshua reacted quickly and deflected the strike with his own before going in for a left hand punch. To his surprise, Marisa spun smoothly under his jab and elbowed him in the ribs, sending him reeling backwards.
He would have liked a moment to recover but he knew Marisa wasn't going to give it to him. He saw her lunge forward with a thrust. He dropped low, supporting himself with his left hand, before he performed a sweeping kick to knock her off balance. Marisa barely back stepped in time to avoid the move.
Joshua stood up and could feel his breathing return to normal despite the slight pain he felt in his chest. So far he had been playing the defensive. If this kept up, he knew it would only be a matter of time before Marisa wore him down. After countless duels together, he and Marisa knew each other's movements almost as well as their own. As his head cycled through the various possibilities, he realized that she had seen and would likely recognize any one he tried. He only had one option left.
It all comes down to this, thought Joshua calmly. This was a duel he couldn't afford to lose anymore.
Joshua charged straight at Marisa, his blade pulled back for a thrust. He watched as Marisa spun in a fluid circle to cut him off. Before their blades collided, Joshua pushed off the ground and performed a full flip over Marisa, landing perfectly behind her. The maneuver surprised her, giving Joshua the opening he needed.
His blade clashed against hers in a symphony of steel, which rang out over the entire training grounds. Joshua's thoughts couldn't even keep up with what he was seeing; his body instinctively moved to strike. Marisa's blade would appear to meet it only for Joshua to immediately strike at another spot.
Marisa finally slammed her blade up into his, stopping his vertical chop mid-strike. He didn't flinch for a moment. He flipped the sword to the flat and ran it along the surface of Marisa's sword, sending out a shower of sparks. Caught completely off guard, Marisa barely leaned back enough to watch as the tip of Joshua's sword passed in front of her face. Joshua seized the opportunity and launched one last uppercut with his sword.
There was a ring of metal and then silence. Finally there was a soft thud and then everything was quiet once again.
Joshua stood, panting, his sword held inches away from Marisa's throat. She appeared to be in shock. Glancing to her side, she saw her shamshir resting with its point burrowed into the ground a few feet from her. She looked back at Joshua and saw he had a proud smile on his face.
Marisa slowly nodded. "Fairly this time as well."
"You won the bet," she said slowly, wondering what Joshua would ask of her this time.
Joshua thrust his own sword into the ground and took a deep breath. It was now or never.
"I want you…I want you to be my partner." His hand went to the back of his head. "But, I don't want it just to be for a while. I…want you by my side until I can no longer draw breath."
He had said it. Was it the right move though? Had he made a mistake? He watched as she blinked once, then again. The silence was starting to get to him and he started to question his action.
"Marisa," he said softly. "You don't need to accept this. This is not a demand or an order; it's a request." She still didn't say anything.
He couldn't suppress the sad smile that came to his face. He turned his back to her. "Marisa, I-"
He stopped when he felt Marisa's hands on his back. Slowly, he felt her hands move from his back to his own as she rested her head between his shoulders.
"I'll do it," she said softly. "I accept."
Joshua turned around and saw her averting her gaze, the faintest hint of a smile still on her face. He couldn't contain the smile that came to his face. He pulled her close to him, his head resting atop hers, taking in her scent, her warmth, everything he possibly could at that moment. He could feel her lean against him, burying her face in his coat.
After what felt like an hour, the two stepped back for a moment. Still grinning, Joshua took Marisa's hand in his and pressed his lips to it.
"Shall we go share the news with Gerik and the others?" asked Joshua.
Marisa leaned against him for a moment longer. "Not yet. I want to stay here for a bit."
"As you wish."
The two sat there for several minutes in content silence, even as the sun started to take its rightful place high in the sky. Joshua looked up at the sky and muttered a soft thank you.
"Joshua," spoke up Marisa suddenly.
"What were you whispering?"
Joshua smiled. "I was thanking Lady Luck, for helping me decide to finally ask you."
He reached into his coat pocket and extracted the gold piece he had used earlier. He handed it to Marisa. She rolled the coin over for a moment, a quizzical look on her face.
"What is it?"
"Joshua, this coin is the same on both sides."
He couldn't help but burst into laughter. In hindsight, one could say they were like two grains of sand, brought together despite the infinite chances of being pulled apart by the world. As he looked at Marisa, Joshua realized he wasn't entirely sure what would happen in the future. Ultimately though, it didn't matter; they'd figure it out together, like they always had.
After all, there were some things even Lady Luck could not defy.
Author's Notes: Well, that's a wrap. I felt the last chapter ended a bit more open ended than most people would have liked and so I wrote this epilogue to try and cleanly tie off the story.I would like to thank you for taking the time to read through this little series of moments. If you have any comments or criticisms for the story, or just want to say what your favorite moment was, let me know!
I would also like to extend a thank you once more to barefootbean for her excellent services as my beta reader. Thank you for your helpful comments and criticisms.
Until next time,