Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. They belong to their rightful owners.
Warning: The following chapter contains coarse language, mature humor, and suggestive themes. YOU have been WARNED.
Chapter 34: Epilogue
One Year Later
Summer Festival 236
The sun stood at high noon on the summer solstice. Not a single cloud marred the clear blue sky. The capital was abuzz. Streets were packed with citizens enjoying the Holy Festival. It was more crowded than ever. People were packed tightly together, shoulder to shoulder. Voices from the festivities filled the air. The citizens flowed through the corridors of the capital like a blood passing through the veins, moving along to the beat of the nation's heart.
On the outskirts of the castle grounds, down an open path, Geoff and Owen walked together.
"So Owen, how are you adjusting to life in the capital?" Geoff asked his companion. Geoff wore his high knights armor. The steel shined brightly, having been newly cleaned.
"This place is awesome. I could have never imagined so many people living so close to each other." Owen spoke, wearing his monks robes.
Geoff nodded. "There are few places like it. Your fellow monks were okay with you relocating here?"
"Well, after the King lifted our exile, we talked about one of our brothers acting as our representative in the capital. When I suggested myself, I was worried they might be against it. Luckily, it turned out to be the opposite. They were really happy about the idea. They even encouraged me to leave earlier than I had planned." Owen scratched his chin. "Now that I think about it, almost too happy."
"I wouldn't worry about it. I think you are much better suited for the capital than up in a mountain."
They turned down a separate path leading up towards one of the towers connected to the castle. "How did the knights games go this year?" Owen asked. "I was not able to check them out due to my duties leading up to the ceremony. It sounded pretty cool."
"Last place again." Geoff said with a sigh. "Although this year I have an excuse." Geoff lifted up his arm.
"How is your arm doing?"
"Much better, but my ability to wield a sword is still not back to what it once was. That will still take some time. To be honest, I'm actually a bit relieved. I would not have wanted to progress far into the tournament anyway. You heard about Eva?"
Owen nodded his head. "I heard that Lord Fife was able to convince her to accept the King's offer to join the knighthood."
"Yep, and as a member of the high knights, she was able to participate in the knights games this year. Let's say she's done well. Really well. It might be an understatement to say she completely dominated. No one wanted to face her, myself included. She made men look like boys during the wrestling competition. Not a single opponent lasted more than five seconds. In the jousting final, her opponent immediately leapt off his horse in pure terror. She seriously snapped an opponent's sword in half during the duels."
Owen let out a laugh. "She sure is something. I doubt I've met anymore as intense. And that's coming from someone who was raised by a bunch of elderly reclusive warrior monks who did nothing all day but train."
They began up a set of wooden stairs to a raised stone platform looking out at the Castle's grounds. At the far end of the platform, there was a stone railing covered in green vines. Bridgette stood against the railing wearing an identical set of shiny steel armor as Geoff. "Well," Owen spoke softly. "I should get back to the cathedral. I will see you both at the ceremony I'm sure." Owen gave Geoff a little nudge in the shoulder. "And good luck, with her." Owen continued across the platform towards a door into the castle. He waved to Bridgette as he passed.
Geoff took a deep breath before walking up to Bridgette. "What was that nudge about?" Bridgette asked him as he approached.
"Oh that? Nothing." Geoff said awkwardly. He brushed his hand through his blonde hair. "How have you been? This past year?"
"Good." Bridgette smiled. "I have been busy. With my promotion, I was put in charge of the military council at Castle Grampian, as well as given the role of deputy in charge of castle security. Being a high knight turns out to be a lot of work. I never would have guessed being around you."
"I guess that's one thing I'm good at."
"Besides just being good looking?" Bridgette spoke with a chuckle.
"Oh, before I forget." Geoff reached into his armor and pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Bridgette.
Bridgette eyed the paper for a second before opening it to see it was blank. "Geoff, there's nothing on here."
"I know. I was hoping to get your autograph."
Bridgette smiled instinctually. She shook her head, biting her bottom lip slightly. "You really are something Sir Geoff the Handsome." They shared a brief moment of quiet. "What shall I make of this gesture?"
"You may make of it whatever you like. I am sorry for what happened between us. I hope I may be able to make up for it."
Bridgette lowered her head. "You idiot. You more than made up for everything on that mountain."
"Can we start over then?"
"Alright," Bridgette spoke as she stepped further closer to Geoff; close enough that their armor clanked. "Where shall we begin?" Geoff reached up and touched her cheek. They both leaned in and kissed.
"Ahem!" Eva coughed into her fist. She stood in front of the door Owen had exited through. Eva wore a matching set of similar steel armor to Geoff and Bridgette. Nearly a dozen ribbons adorned the right side of her chest. Her other hand rested calmly on the hilt of her sword.
"Eva!" Bridgette called out as she broke away from Geoff.
"I appear to have interrupted you. My apologies." Eva spoke as she strode towards them. "Glad to see you two keeping it professional, as always."
Bridgette awkwardly brushed the front of her armor. "Yeah," she said with a disappointed tone. "It's fine. We asked you to meet us here anyway. Shall we start moving? The lords are expecting us soon." Geoff and Eva nodded. They entered the castle and began walking down a busy corridor. Servants rushed by their sides, holding armfuls of food and decorations. "How have you found being a knight Eva?"
"It is strange. People stare as I pass by. At first, I thought they were judging me, about either my low birth or history. It took a while to realize it was out of respect. And fear. But mostly respect. I guess it has to do with this whole honor thing you all talked about constantly. It was easier being only beholden to gold."
"What sort of duties have you been given?" Geoff asked.
"Many. Mostly training. Lord Fife has put me in charge of preparing his soldiers, knights, and militias. They were soft. They are not soft anymore. I've also helped oversee security at the docks." She smiled. "I've been enjoying that. Busting in on the slavers and kicking their ass is real fun. It's one thing I would do for free."
Bridgette watched Eva move for a moment. "What about Lord Noah? Are you no longer acting as his bodyguard?"
"No," Eva said. Her face stayed perfectly stoic, refusing to show any emotional reaction to the question. "My responsibilities have required me to stay in Lord Fife's territory. Lord Noah spent much of the last year with Lady Izzy, helping her mend some of the relationships severed by her escape. It did not allow me to accompany him, so Lord Noah absolved me as his protector."
"How do you feel about that?" Bridgette asked.
"It's not my responsibility to feel anything about it. Life moves forward." She paused momentarily. "It is a post I would gladly take up again. I worried that he may fear for my safety, because of what happened last year. I hope my performance at the knight games provided enough evidence that there is nothing to be concerned about."
"How could he miss it?" Geoff added with a chuckle. "You made some of those old knights cry. It was beautiful."
"I hope he had a chance to watch, but he has been distracted," Eva said. "Lord Noah was nice enough to write me. He regularly sent me long letters, with far too many words I did not understand. He talked a lot about the festival and what it meant. I doubt he had a mind for anything else."
"Who could?" Bridgette said. Geoff nodded.
They came to a set of large stone doors. Nearly a dozen men-at-arms stood in guard. One, leaning his pike on his shoulder, shouted out "Hail Sir Bridgette, Sir Geoff, and Sir Eva the Champion. You are expected." The guards parted down the middle, allowing them access to the door. A couple dropped their weapons and started the difficult process of opening it.
The Royal Hall was covered in endless red satin curtains, draped across the ceiling. The large window threw light along the polished marble floor. Instead of a table, there were three chairs in the center of the room. In each chair, Courtney, Heather, and Izzy were being attended to. The three of them wore identical flowing white dresses. A servant delicately tied a yellow ribbon in Courtney's hair. Next to her, a servant worked on curling Izzy's overwhelming red hair. A servant carefully painted Heather's nails, shaking slightly in terror, afraid of making a mistake. Heather's head was down, her face mostly covered by a hood lined with orange.
"M'ladies!" Geoff spoke with a bow. "We have come to escort you to the cathedral."
"Eva!" Izzy exclaimed leaping out of her chair, to the frustration of her attendant. "Is it true you tossed Sir McDuff into a pile of manure during the wrestling competition of the knights games?"
"I merely intended to toss him out of the ring. Where he landed was of no significance to me." Eva replied.
Izzy chuckled to herself. "Awesome. I wish I could've seen it."
Bridgette stepped up to Courtney and placed a hand on her shoulder. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine. I think. A little nervous." Courtney paused. "Very nervous. Hard to think I fought bandits, climbed an entire mountain, and nearly caused a civil war for this moment, and yet I'm anxious whether Duncan will think I look pretty."
"You don't have to worry. Out of all those struggles, that's the one I'm sure is the easiest."
Eva walked over to Heather who was leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed. "Lady Strathclyde."
"I have a letter for you Heather. From Gwen." Eva reached into her armor and pulled out a folded piece of parchment.
Heather's eyes shot open and stood up. "How did you get that?"
"Gwen and Trent visited my family and I two months ago at my home south of Crail. She gave it to me then."
"I've been trying to track down that girl for months now to give her an invitation for today. I even got Beth to send out some castle agents to find her, though we all know how good they are at finding people." Heather sighed. She then reached out and lightly grabbed the letter. "Thank you. How is your daughter by the way?"
"She is well."
"I am sorry M'ladies," Geoff addressed the group. "We cannot wait any longer, we must head to the cathedral now." Geoff knocked on the stone doors and they began to reopen. The attendants assisted the heirs, helping to carry the heavy dresses as they were escorted out of the room. The hustle and bustle of the outside corridors paused momentarily as the heirs walked by. Everyone was in awe of the three young women in their beautiful white dresses as they were led by the three High Knights. The dozen men-at-arms followed behind.
They moved through the castle and out to the front courtyard. They followed down a back marble path towards the cathedral. The path was partially blocked by large fences covered in vines keeping the heirs out of the view of hundreds of wedding guests slowly filing through the front doors of the cathedral.
Eventually, they reached a small stone square outside a back entrance of the cathedral. It was surrounded by the large walls of the castle. The noise of the excited crowds filled the air. Leaning against the cathedral by the back entrance stood Alejandro, Duncan, and Noah. All three wore identical black suits. Alejandro wore a blue sash with gold linings over his suit. Duncan wore a single steel pauldron over his left shoulder with a purple crest and a sword resting in the hilt attached to his waist. Noah wore a medallion with a bright red ruby in the middle. Their attention all turned to those entering the square. The men-at-arms formed a wall guarding the end of the path.
Geoff took a knee. "My lords, we have delivered your brides."
"Jeez Geoff. You don't have to be so formal about it." Duncan commented.
"Really you just led us here, I'd hardly call that being delivered." Heather said. "I'd have refused the escort and attendants assistance if it wasn't nearly impossible to walk in these dresses. "
"We must take our leave to take our positions within." Bridgette told the group. "We bid you farewell my lords."
The heirs watched as Bridgette, Geoff, and Eva turned to head back down the path.
"Wait!" Courtney called out. The three paused momentarily. "Thank you. All three of you. We would not be here if it was not for you. We are forever thankful."
"It was an honor to accompany you on this journey." Geoff said. "We look forward to the next." The three of them gave a final bow, before departing. Just as they exited the square Geoff tripped on an uneven stone, needing Eva to grab him to keep him upright. He swore to himself as they continued further down. The three attendants also took the opportunity to leave. When they left, the men-at-arms closed off the square, staying at attention.
The six heirs remained standing in the square, just as they had in the monastery. This was different though, much different. An awkward silence filled the air.
"So uh, anyone know what our cue is to enter the cathedral?" Duncan asked the group.
They all shook their heads. "It will be a music cue Duncan. Like it has always been." Courtney told him, she walked over to the door to the cathedral and opened it slightly peering in.
The others just stood there. The sun beamed down on them. "So, this it huh," Alejandro spoke, throwing his arms behind his head.
"Don't sound too excited now Alejandro." Noah said sarcastically.
"Excuse my lack of enthusiasm." Alejandro replied. "It is a glorious day. But after what we went through last festival, this feels a little anti-climatic. We did everything last year. That was a festival. A simple ceremony seems insignificant compared to going on a journey, climbing mountains, betraying the king, joining up with exiled warrior monks and insighting the Knight's captain and his agents to betray the king as well. That's hard to follow up is all I am saying."
"Well there is still time. You could always make a break for it. It would give us an excuse to spend weeks tracking you down." Duncan joked. He then swallowed hard turning to Izzy regretting joking about her escape at a time like this.
Izzy just shook her head. "If I'm in the search party, it'd only take days." The others all nodded in agreement.
The awkward silence returned. Courtney stayed by the door periodically glancing into the cathedral. Noah walked over to Izzy. "Hey," He whispered to her. "I wanted to give you something." He reached into his pocket. Noah pulled out a Primrose. He reached over and carefully placed the violet flower in her curly red hair. Izzy carefully reached up and touched the pedals.
"How does it look?" Izzy asked.
"You look beautiful." Noah replied.
Courtney observed their exchange. It brought a smile to her face, but she could not help feeling she wished for something similar. She remembered how no flowers ever seemed to fit well. At that moment she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to Duncan now standing at her side. He reached into his coat and pulled out a tubular blue flower. "Is that a Bluebell?" She asked.
"Your favorite flower. It always looked so pretty in your hair. Matching your pretty face." Duncan said with a smile. Courtney embraced Duncan. She felt tears well up in her eyes.
Izzy watched as Courtney and Duncan broke away from their embrace and Duncan placed the flower in Courtney's hair. Izzy then turned to Alejandro. "Did you get Heather a flower?"
Alejandro shook his head. "No. She refused to even allow me to suggest one."
Heather reached down to her ankle where she retrieved a small wooden box strapped to her leg. She slowly opened the box and pulled out a round purple flower. She placed the flower in her hair by herself.
"A thistle." Alejandro said, "Excellent choice my love. It fits you perfectly."
"I know." Heather responded. "But thank you."
The music began to play. All the heir's attention was turned to the entrance to the cathedral. It was not the music they were expecting. It was not the organ, but the strumming of a single lute. They were shocked. They knew the sound of the lute well.
A familiar voice began to sing:
There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
"This is it." Courtney called out. Her hand began to shake. Duncan reached over and squeezed her hand.
"It was always you. I have never been happier." Duncan whispered to her.
"You're all I ever wanted." Courtney whispered back.
Duncan and Courtney entered the Cathedral together.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time
Noah reached his hand out, he touched Izzy's red hair. "Are you ready?"
Izzy nodded. "Thank you for finding me."
"Thank you for helping me find myself." Noah extended his hand. Izzy gladly took hold.
Noah and Izzy entered the Cathedral together.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
Alejandro watched the two couples enter the cathedral before turning to Heather. "We are nothing like them."
"We never were." Heather responded. "This will not be easy for us."
"It never was." Alejandro responded. "But that makes us who we are. Even with everything we went through, it feels destined. It had to be you and me. Regardless, the best we can do is try. I'm more than ready to try if you are. There's nothing I want more than for us to be happy."
Heather paused. She looked up at the sun resting at the very top of the sky on this the Holy Festival on the Summer Solstice. She reached over and kissed Alejandro on the cheek. "I trust you."
Alejandro and Heather entered the Cathedral together.
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
Thank you for going on this journey with us. It is finally over. This story was truly a labor of love for both of us. We never could have imagined it would take over two years and almost 150,000 words to complete. The response for this story was the largest we have ever received, and we are extremely grateful for that. So thank you to everyone who reviewed, favourited, or followed our story. We never would have finished it without all of your wonderful support.
I (Nyhlus) came up with the initial idea of this story after watching the Pixar film Brave. While I liked the mother-daughter plot, It was the three lord's children who came to reluctantly win Merida's hand in marriage that interested me. I imagined a story about the suitors and Merida going on an adventure. I thought the tension around one of them eventually having to marry her would make for a great conflict. Having already written a couple TDI stories, I thought it would be a good fit with this fandom, so I changed it around. I did not want it to be just 3 guys fighting for a single girl, so I evened up the guy to girl ratio. From this, the rest of the story was born. As a nod to this origin, all of the places and people's names are Scottish, even though the nation is supposed to be a completely fictional nation.
Bardic Jester and I were talking about potentially doing a co-write, when I pitched the idea to him. We wanted to write a fun adventure, and this fit perfectly. Our intention was to write a serious story told through comedy. It would not take itself too seriously and have a few contemporary jokes mixed in, like Trent singing only Beatles songs throughout. We wrote the first seven chapters within a couple of days, aiming for the story to be around 40,000 words. As we continued to write, the story evolved and took us in unexpected places. The story clearly became more serious as it grew, and we were forced to tone down the comedic moments. While we wish it had stayed a bit more consistent, we are still very pleased with how it turned out.
It's interesting to look back on how the story changed while we wrote it. A number of major plot points towards the end we conceived during our very first conversations planning the story. Noah revealing the list, Izzy hiding in a monastery, Chris giving them the option to choose who they will marry, were all some of the first ideas we had. Other plot points were complete spur of the moment ideas that we thought of while writing the chapters. Initially, Castle Agents were going to play a relatively small role in the story, but we kept thinking of good ideas to use them.
Once again, we'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read this story. It has been an amazing ride.
Till Next Time -Nyhlus and BJ