Things weren't as easy as I would have liked them to be. We mourned those lost even while we fought the retreating remains of Mathias' forces. It will take us years, really, but we will push them out and return our kingdom to peace.
The crowning and wedding were hastily arranged affairs, Sam herself placing the crown on my head. There was simply too much to do to wait and with the expense needed to mount a war neither of us wanted to drain the coffers with some elaborate affair. I never liked excess anyway.
Sam was so beautiful. I don't know where she found that dress, but I forgot how to breath as she approached the altar. I forgot all the problems we were going to have, the people who might find our union immoral and unnatural. None of that mattered. For one, there was nothing in any of our laws that said the king had to be a man. For another, a king of our realm had to have a queen. A loophole, but I would happily take it.
I wondered why I'd fought my feelings to begin with. While I could not bring back Roth or any of the others, I could carry on their memory. I'll be a good Queen, or King, whichever the people would prefer to call me. All of that was far from my mind as Sam's hand was placed in mine. Thread was wrapped around both of our hands, and words as old as the kingdom were spoken. I said my part, my eyes unable to leave Sam's. She looked so happy, so eager, and there was a teasing glint that could only be described as gloating in her eyes. I flashed back to all those times she would flirt with me and I'd not noticed.
The feast itself was a blur. It was a little somber (how I wish Roth were here), but after the past few weeks the people were happy to celebrate a union. I didn't eat as much as I should, and the figurative mask I wore kept my feelings hidden from everyone. Almost everyone. Sam, being Sam, was the life of the party, mingling with every noble and coaching me where I needed it. She will be my life line when it comes to courtly matters, and I'm very happy that she had actually paid attention to all her lessons, even when it looked like she hadn't. I will need her to care for the kingdom while I prepared the counter-attack. While I've no wish to conquer Mathia's people, we needed to end this war.
It will take weeks to clear out the royal chambers. I did not want Sam to have too many reminders of her parents. Enough to remember them by, but not be overwhelmed by. Until then, we would sleep in her old rooms. I sit on the edge of the bed, leaning over to massage my ankles. "I don't think I've danced that much in my entire life."
"All the ladies wanted a dance," Sam teased. I looked up to see her standing in front of me wearing naught but a sheer white robe.
I swallowed my sudden nerves and tried to find a safe place to put my eyes. I eventually settled on a plant on the windowsill. "Perhaps we've started a trend."
"You looked so good in the royal waistcoat."
My safe place was not safe for long. Sam walked over to the plant and stroked a leaf. "Isn't it pretty? Natla gave it to me as a wedding present. She said it would bring good luck, long life, and a healthy heir. That last one is going to be hard."
"Natla?" I shot to my feet. "She was at the wedding? Sam, you should have told me!"
"I thought she was going to talk to you." Sam looked at me as though I'd gone mad. Perhaps I had. I had a sudden urge to throw the plant to the ground below.
Instead, I walked over to her and pulled Sam against me. "Natla is not human. She… I don't know what she really is, but she had wings, and flew me to the castle. It's how I made it back in time. I had to kill Mathias in payment."
"So she's some kind of witch?"
I liked the thought of her being a witch much more than any of the alternatives, so I nodded my head. "I suppose so. Did she say anything else about the plant?"
Sam's fingers stroked the leaves again. "Just to keep it in sunlight, and that it likes to be sung to. Lara, what are we going to do? About...heirs."
"Something tells me that will take care of itself." I guided Sam back to the bed and tilted her head up. It was a craving, this need to kiss her and I'd wanted it since the wedding. Just the two of us, alone and holding each other. I don't have to break the kiss. I can explore her lips and her mouth and my hands worm into her robes. Her skin is burning, but I don't lose my senses until Sam's hands undo my tunic.
"Gods," I said, and my voice cracked. "I love you."
Sam stepped back, and smiled at me. Her brilliant, beautiful smile, just for me, and there were tears in her eyes as she said, "Do you know how long I've wanted to hear you say that?"
Her robe slipped off her shoulders, allowing me to stare openly for the first time. "Probably longer than I realized I wanted to." She stepped closer, then helped me pull my tunic off. My fingers clumsily tried to unlace my trousers but Sam took my hands.
"Keep them here. Let me."
My knuckles were white from gripping the sheets by the time that Sam finished undressing me. My skin was pimpled from the chill in the air and probably red as an apple. I pulled Sam on top of me and I swear to the gods my body started singing from the feel of her.
Sam stopped, suddenly, and I wonder if I'd done something wrong. Too eager to touch her. I tried to read her eyes. They were wet and filled with emotion. "I love you, Lara. Ever since we were little I knew I wanted to be with you. Never met a boy that made me feel that way. Just you."
"How do I make you feel?" I asked, feeling a little stupid. Sam just smiled at me and pulled my hand between her legs. Oh. Girding my courage, I flipped us around and pinned the Princess - my Queen beneath me. "Dare I ask where you learned to be such a tease?"
She laughed, and I kissed her, determined to hear that laugh ring off of these walls, and other sounds besides.
I gained many new scars over the next three years, but finally we earned a hard fought peace. For the first time since I was a child, no battles raged at our borders. We claimed two provinces to act as a buffer zone. We could have exacted a harsher toll, but I thought that if we did so, that would only stew resentment and lead to another war that my son would have to fight.
And Conrad was my son. He had his mother's round face and darker complexion, but his eyes were those of a Croft and he climbed like a goat. We still had Natla's plant, now in the royal gardens and taller than Conrad. Sam still sings to it, half out of fear that if she stopped, something would happen to our son.
I worried less. I'd slain the god as Natla had requested. The war was over. The people safe. And for a time we could forget the terrible things that came with war. There were even some lazy days that I could spend with my family. I cherished days like that. It was something I rarely got as a child. For Sam and for Conrad I tried to make time, to give them all that had been denied me.
On one such day, he was playing with a wooden horse while Sam cheered him on. I leaned against a wall and was content to watch. But then I felt a presence, and a silky voice in my ear.
"Your family is so happy, Lady King."
I could not see Natla, but I felt her hand on my shoulder. Tensing, I tried to not betray that anything as wrong, and lifted a hand to wave when Conrad flailed his hands in my direction. "We're at peace, for the first time in twenty years. I slayed your god, demon and I owe you nothing. Are you just checking on your handy work?"
"Humans are so stupid," Natla whispered. "He was not the one I wanted you to kill. Not that I mind, he was a nuisance. No, Croft. You still owe me in blood."
A drop of sweat ran down my spine. Though Natla's presence was masked, I could feel the weight of her gaze on my son and wife. "Who's blood, then?"
"Her domain is far away, beyond the Empire of the Sun, and her followers are rabid. She is the first and the last, and Mathias held but a fraction of her power." Natla's ghostly hand trailed ice down my back. "Bring me the heart of Himiko the Restless."
"If I fail?"
Natla's answer came as a vision. The castle, still as death, Sam on the ground in front of the throne. And Conrad, my little boy, pale as a corpse. "STOP!"
They both looked up at me as though I'd lost my mind. I balled up my fists, "If anything happens to them or this kingdom it's your heart I will rip out."
"You have my word." Natla's voice began to fade away, until only the trace of an echo remained. "Everything will be exactly as you left it."
Thank you all for reading and I hope this was an enjoyable adventure for everyone! I'd always intended it to be more of a generic fantasy with a lady knight and her princess (played by our favorite Lara and Sam). This one took off in ways I never expected, and I've taken all your feedback to heart. In particular the need to flesh out the world. This was really fun to write.
Queen (or is it King?) Lara will return, and she will find answers to questions she didn't even know she needed to ask.