Yes, folks, my tale has sadly come to an end. I actually wrote most of this chapter right after spending Christmas to Twelfth Night at my hubby's family pecan plantation in rural Louisiana last year. But after we went to Amelia Island this past summer, I decided to change the location of Cousin Anatole's home. If any of you are wondering about the wassail bowl, the answer is yes, we really do that every year! And yes, Cousin Anatole is a real person, though his name has been changed.
Three months later...
Catherine was practically dancing with glee. "Words can't describe how much I love your new book! See? All you needed was a vacation."
"And some inspiration," Lorna added softly to herself.
But Catherine didn't hear her. She was still raving on about how great the book was. "Who would have thought of making your hero a Romulan? I mean personally, I never would've pictured a Romulan would be such a gallant hero, but now that I've read your story, I think I'll add it to my dating service categories." She giggled girlishly, "Wonder if I'll be the only one? Probably not."
Then her face grew serious. "There's just one thing: have you considered you may lose most of your Klingon fan base?"
Lorna smiled as she remembered Martok and his crew. "I don't think there's any danger of that."
"Are you sure? Well okay, I'll get this to John first thing after Christmas. You go home to your family. Do they still do that wassail bowl thing?"
"Hmm?" She was looking out the window at the falling snowflakes. "Oh, yeah. It wouldn't be Christmas without the wassail bowl."
Catherine snorted. "It wouldn't be Christmas without snow in my book. But you're the one who's the best-selling authoress," she added with a simper. "Eat some gumbo for me—or whatever you Southern people eat during the holidays."
Lorna showed her to the door. Catherine waved goodbye, clutching the manuscript to her chest. "Love you, sweetie! Have a good holiday!"
"You, too." She closed the door and sighed. Before melancholy could take over, however, she hurried to her room to finish packing. Her transport didn't leave until early the next morning, so she decided to go out for dinner that evening. The elegant Harmonia Gardens was the perfect place to go on a dark and dreary winter's eve. What's more, the crowd of people would keep her mind from wandering to less optimistic thoughts.
Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!
When the song was finished, Lorna took another sip of her wassail. It was Twelfth Night. She and her family had gathered together at her cousin Anatole's old plantation home on Amelia Island, in what used to be the state of Florida.
"You don't seem to be in good cheer, honey," Cousin Anatole drawled. He, like Lorna, was originally from rural Louisiana. "What's wrong? Your latest book was a smashing success, aren't you happy?"
"Oh yes," she lied, "I'm just tired from the trip. That's all."
"Well, you just have another nice glass of wassail here, and relax," he replied. He had known the entire two weeks she had been there that something was up. Ever since the untimely death of her parents when she was seventeen, he had taken his responsibility as her godfather quite seriously. Yet he knew not to push her before she was ready.
She handed over her cup and he refilled it with the ladle. Maybe she should try to talk to him? He had always been there for her, even before her parents were killed in the line of duty. But what would she say? "Cousin Anatole, I've fallen in love with a Romulan dissident, but he's dead now"? Sure, that would go over well. Still, she had to tell someone. Perhaps it would be better to talk to Catherine?
Everyone else's cups also were filled. "To the beginning of the Mardi Gras season!" they toasted.
Hardly before the last word was spoken, Aunt Patty struck up "When The Saints Go Marching In." The others merrily followed along.
As soon as politeness allowed, Lorna slipped out to clear her head. She walked down the lanes of historic houses and gardens, and past the salt marshes toward the beach. The sun had already set, but the last rays of light were still visible just above the horizon.
The chilly January wind blew over from the water, mixed with spray of the crashing waves. The ocean had always filled her with wonder. Up until then, it was somewhere she could go to soothe her nerves. She pulled her shawl closer around her neck. Hot tears stung her eyes. She didn't feel soothed at all.
N'Vek...she couldn't stop thinking of him. It had been many months since they parted, yet she couldn't accept that she would never see him again. No matter how hard she wished, he wasn't coming back, and she knew it. It wasn't fair! Things always seemed to work out in her stories. Why couldn't she simply write her own destiny?
But she couldn't. Neither could she change the way the galaxy operated. She couldn't end the seventy-year cold war with the Romulans. It was probably better for them both that they hadn't gotten together. Lorna wondered if he would have eventually wanted her to go back with him to Romulus. Could she have done it? Could she have left her family, her life, and everything she knew behind her and live on a hostile, alien world? Her aching heart cried out an emphatic yes.
She sobbed as she made her way along the shore. She felt all alone again, just as when she was a child with only her stories to console her. But now she didn't even have that comfort anymore. Her stories were disgusting reminders of what she would never have. In that moment, she never wanted to commit a single word to paper again.
I hate my life...
The sun was going down quickly. Before she knew it, it would be pitch dark. She realized that she was farther away from the town than she had planned to go. A thick layer of clouds above prevented the moon and stars from shining through, and there were no street lights to illuminate the sandy path of this wild beach. The sound of a coyote howling in the distance startled her. It seemed to have come from across the marshes, but she couldn't be certain. She hastened her steps back in the direction of the town.
Everything seemed sinister now that it was dark. The landscape, which during the day had been pleasant and inviting earlier, looked like a different planet altogether. The palm trees shook in the breeze, their branches resembling bony hands reaching out to grab her. Mud from the morning rain squished beneath her boots. What if there were alligators crawling about the marshes? Lorna cursed her over-active imagination and quickened her pace.
Something rustled in the bushes next to the path. Feeling quite foolish, she ran. She could have sworn she heard footsteps following her, but she was too afraid to look back. Winded and frightened, she at last came to the house. Not wishing to startle everyone, she made for her room in the old garçonniere. She practically slammed the door, shutting out the menacing night behind her.
"Good grief," she chuckled at herself, "I'm such a chicken."
There was a knock at the door. She gulped, "Come in." Her heart leaped for joy when she saw the tall, dark man walk into the light. "N'Vek...you're really here!"
The Romulan's expression indicated that he, too, was trying to convince himself it wasn't a dream. "Sorry I took so long. I had to be certain everyone thought I was dead."
Lorna didn't wait for him to say anything else, but rushed into his strong arms. "I'll never leave you again, beautiful," he said between kisses, "I promise."
"Was that you following me?"
"Yes. Your family said you were going for a walk, so I went to find you." He grinned, "I think I startled them. No doubt, they're all waiting in the main house for an explanation."
She clapped her hands to her cheeks. "Oh, I completely forgot about my family. Just give them time. They'll grow to love you as much as I do."
"I hope you're right. I know they mean a great deal to you. I'll do whatever is necessary."
"You'll do just fine," she said, kissing him on the nose. "No one can resist a sweetheart like you." She took his hand and led him back across the courtyard and into the family room. Her relatives were waiting silently, a strange contrast to their earlier jovial mood.
Lorna took a deep breath. "Everyone, this is N'Vek. He's the man I'm going to marry."
They stared at the couple with gaping mouthes for several long and awkward seconds. One didn't need pointed ears to have heard a pin drop.
Cousin Anatole was the first to recover. "Welcome to the family, Mr. N'Vek. Let's all have another glass of wassail to celebrate." Everyone else agreed.
She breathed a sigh of relief and they sat down.
Cousin Anatole handed N'Vek a glass. "So, what do you know about Twelfth Night?"
"Very little," he answered politely, "I take it that's what we're celebrating?"
"Well, it's not as big of a deal here as it is back home in Louisiana, but we manage."
"Are you a vegetarian, too?" Aunt Patty interrupted. Her cheeks were flushed with wassail. She was never shy sober, so it was a wonder she had held her tongue that long. Lorna knew it wouldn't be her last question for him that evening.
N'Vek pursed his lips together. "No, but I don't think Lorna minds."
Lorna smiled back at him. "One thing at a time." He was about to inquire what she meant, but Aunt Patty continued.
"Good, because we're having my special Boar's Head for dinner. I only make it once a year, and I'll be offended if you don't try it." She searched his face, waiting for what he had to say about that.
"Then I will try it," he answered.
"Say," Cousin Anatole began refilling everyone's glasses once more, "that's our next song." The others cheered heartily. N'Vek looked to Lorna.
"It's the tradition," she explained, "We all have to sing until the wassail bowl is empty." She peered over the edge of the ominous basin and saw that they weren't even half way through yet.
"It's a good thing you showed up, or we all would've been done for in the morning," Auntie Blanche cackled. Judging by her slur, she was already done for.
"I don't know any Earth songs," N'Vek confessed, "But I'll try."
"Never fear, my good man, that's why we have song books. In all honesty, we can't remember the words half the time." Anatole scratched his head and looked around for an extra book, but then smiled. "Oh, you can share with Lorna. You'll learn the melodies soon enough." He opened his own book and began the first line.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino
The celebrating continued long into the night. Lorna had never been so happy. At last she knew what it was to love, and be loved in return. N'Vek would never leave her again. Her life was not at all like that of her heroines'-it was better, better than she could have ever imagined herself.
A few weeks later, Lorna and N'Vek married, and they celebrated each and every day together for the rest of their lives.