There was much rejoicing throughout the land when at last the Kingdom of Rune had been liberated. While the Silver Fleet and Alliance forces clashed with the Goblin King’s contingent and sent Lord Rakad’s undead horde crumbling back into the earth, Jarek and Ilythia’s armies took the palace using Torquil’s own portal. They found his body beside the corpse of some horrific aberration, but both the Lord of the Underworld and the witch seemed to have vanished into thin air. Now, more than ever, the Crystal Palace Alliance knew that it was time to focus on the unrest in distant Izan and the evil Church of Ore reeking havoc there. However, this war was over at last. They had triumphed!
Within a fortnight, the people of Shayn’del and Rune gathered in the fields, meadows and streets surrounding the palace of Shayn’del to celebrate while, standing in the gardens, Queen Valeska and King Iskander were finally wed. Despite the day’s euphoria, the haunting words of the Oracle of Nerys Island came to Isabel’s mind and she shivered. Not thinking for a moment that she was experienced in battle, she realized their inevitable conflict with the kingdom of Izan was going to be grim and wondered whether this would be the last happy moment they would all share together. She looked at the smiling faces of the Dowager Empress and Leticia, Lennox and Nerissa, and Jarek as they watched the nuptials. She glanced at Prince Alaric who, as always, was gazing at her and she smiled in spite of herself.
Back at the Crystal Palace, the Alliance signed a treaty that gave the people of the Shumkarja Outlands great power in the land, not that they wanted it of course. While Leticia would be returning to New Jersey, Isabel would not follow just yet. She named Ladki her emissary for he had fought valiantly as Nadhir had said he would. Like the rest of the Allies, the Shumi had lost a great deal in numbers and it was time to bury the dead. However, Isabel had chosen not to return to the Outlands either. Her first priority was the welfare of the people of Kendra. With the death of her father, she was now Duchess of Kendra and knew she had a major job ahead of her.
Dressed in a simple green gown and travelers’ cloak, Isabel waited for her team of horses to be readied. Ilythia was sending with her carts of food and supplies to help Isabel resurrect her family dominion with more to follow from the other allied kingdoms. Lennox, meanwhile, had taken a company ahead to discourage any blackguards along the way who might get overly curious, and to help keep the peace until order could be restored. She stood in the ballroom where it had all begun, now silent and empty, and stared up at the tapestries. If there were none in her own hall she would see them made once the more important work was completed. She wanted to know her family history, wanted future generations to know it too. She heard footsteps and a familiar pair of arms wrapped themselves around her as she leaned into them.
“I remember when I first saw these, thinking how I would like to take the time to study them.” She said.
“You have all the time in the world now.” Alaric responded, nuzzling her hair.
“Mm, not just yet, there’s still so much that needs to be done.”
Alaric lowered his arms. “You are not really going, are you?”
Isabel turned to him. “Of course I am, why wouldn’t I?”
“Tis a dangerous undertaking.”
Isabel laughed, “More dangerous than facing down crazed gods, wicked witches and blood-thirsty monsters?”
Alaric gathered her into his arms. “Send someone in your stead, you are still recovering.”
Isabel shook her head and pulled away, taking his hands. “I’m alright, milord. I have to go, my people need me.”
“Now who’s being the hero?”
Isabel smiled, kissed his cheek and turned away.
“I need you.” Alaric said softly and Isabel stiffened.
Her heart was pounding a mile a minute and she steadied herself against the wave of emotion that swept over her. Damn him, why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone? This was goodbye wasn’t it? She was a Queen and a Duchess, a strong independent woman. A woman like her was no man’s mistress.
“No, you don’t.” She said. “You have your princess.”
“Nerissa is with Lennox now.”
“I’m sure the Dowager Empress already has another princess lined up for you.”
“Hang the princess!”
Isabel laughed and tutted at him, turning to face him again. “Oh, I don’t think mother would be at all pleased to hear that!”
“Then hang her too!”
“Alaric really.” Isabel scoffed, folding her arms in front of her chest. “That is no way to talk about your mother.”
She wasn’t taking him seriously and he knew it. Suddenly he pounded the table and exclaimed, “Damn it woman! What must I do to convince you that I love you?”
Isabel blinked. “What did you say?”
He pulled her to him with a fevered expression on his face. “My lady Isabel, Duchess of Kendra, Queen of the Shumkarja Outlands, I love you!”
“Is it my sudden wealth in titles that has peaked your interest in me, my lord prince?” She whispered, suddenly unable to draw breath.
Eyes sparkling, Alaric shook his head and gently brushed her cheek with his finger. “When I awaken in the morning my first thoughts are of you, dear heart. At night before I slumber my last thoughts are of you. You reside in my dreams and in my heart. You have a loyal heart and a passion I have yet to find in another. You are unlike any woman I have ever known. Isabel, my light, my love, I cannot rest without you by my side. Will you be my wife?”
Isabel laughed, placing her hands upon Alaric’s face, as a feeling of jubilation swept through her so intense she actually felt like dancing. All of a sudden every movie she had ever seen featuring couples in love that ran laughing and singing through fields made sense. She kissed him gently on the lips, looked the prince in the eyes and said, “But darling, I am your wife!”
Alaric blinked back at her before an enormous smile lit his face.
“So you are!” He laughed, his eyes taking on that special twinkle. “Do you think we have time for a second honeymoon?”
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