A/N: Last…chapter. I can't believe it. Bet you can't, either. Yes, there is a sequel, but it will be a little long in coming, because I'm having terrible, terrible writer's block. Make it die, or something. So rejoice, my loyal fans, though small in number you may be. The end has come, and yet it will continue. On a side note, I really wish this chapter had been longer, so I might re-load this chapter when I finish editing, however long that might take. So, for the final time in this story…read on!
Chapter 52—Learning to Fly
"Good afternoon, Cheyenne. I trust I am not interrupting your busy social schedule?" So he had known about all these stupid nobles dropping by as well.
"You're the king. I think I can squeeze you in somewhere."
"Glad to hear it. I suppose my children have all informed you of a trip to visit Amelia in Gwyre?"
"They have. Sounds like fun, I'm sure Mia will be glad to see her brothers and sisters again."
"You are aware, then, that you will not be going along with them?"
"Yes. It's probably better for all involved, don't you agree? I doubt I will be well enough to travel," I said pleasantly.
"That's so," he agreed. "Are you also aware that your little street girl will be coming?" I nodded, putting on my sweetest expression.
"She expressed an interest in going, yes. And the Princess Elisabeth has quite sportingly agreed to allow her to come as a body-servant."
"Since she is technically still in your care, I must ask you to dissuade her of accompanying us." I tried to look innocent.
"But why? She said she wanted to travel with you."
"I will not risk embarrassing myself in front of my honour-son, particularly one so powerful as Gaddis and his household!" he hissed.
"Then I'll tell her to behave. She knows how important this is to you, and Mia. Also, I should think Princess Elisabeth will keep her well in line."
"If she puts one toe out of line—"
"I will assume personal responsibility," I finished for him. "Just let her go."
"I must tell you, I have serious misgivings about you ever taking that girl in."
"So noted. But I think she's doing rather well, don't you? She's very useful for small errands I don't wish to bother the servants with."
"That's what servants are there for, what are you talking about? However…you are the Crown Princess, you can do as you see fit." Yeah, right, I thought, but didn't voice that aloud.
"I knew you'd see things my way, thank you. She really is getting more well-behaved, you know."
"However does one tell? Forget that. How are you feeling?"
"Loads better. Will, I've got a question."
"Let's see if I have an answer, shall we? Ask."
"Since I'm technically your honour-daughter and all that…has anyone approached you about marriage? For me, I mean?" He laughed wryly.
"Who hasn't? You're the most eligible young lady for marriage in this country and several others."
"Joy. What did you tell them?"
"I told them to approach you on the subject. For all that you're my honour-daughter, I don't really have the time to try and arrange a marriage for you. You will have to get married, you know that, and produce an heir—"
"What's the point of that?" I asked, "The country's going to get an heir anyway."
"Sometimes, your own child may be heir. Or, the Necklace could be lost for a generation or so. Both are very common, more so than you might think. Besides, I should think the Necklace would have a hard time following up on your act."
"I suppose I'll take that as a compliment."
"As you say. But if someone approaches you with a marriage treaty, do not hesitate to come to me for advice."
"I'll do that," I said, even though he was probably one of the last people I'd wish to consult for advice on marriage, after the whole Mia affair. "Anything else you wish to discuss?"
"Nothing comes to mind, unless you have a question you wish to ask."
"Actually, now that you mention it, I do." The sorcerer's—and Chris's—words came back to me suddenly. "I need magic training." For something that nearly killed me and had doubtless killed some other unlucky teenagers, he had a very flippant attitude towards it.
"Well, things are very busy now, but I'm sure we can find time somewhere. Maybe after the coronation…"
"No, no. I want them soon. Now. When I'm better. A combination of the three."
"If you find it so important," he said with a shrug, as though he couldn't understand why I was being so insistent on some trivial matter.
"Yes, and I think you would too, in my place. Magical backlash was part of the reason I collapsed, didn't your precious Edwina tell you? Your own son saw it, I should think your star nurse could, as well."
"She mentioned it, yes," he said with a frown which, if I hadn't had so much hands-on experience with this subject, might have made me feel like I was overreacting. Except I knew I wasn't, so I pressed on with it.
"So do you think you could make keeping me alive a priority, here? Because of all the ways I could die in an untimely fashion, I'd hate for it to be my fault." Never mind that he had a priority to make sure he didn't keep me alive, and an untimely death would not be my fault, most likely.
"If you wish it so, it shall be done. Shall I arrange for a suitable tutor, or would you prefer to do that yourself?" I hated to leave something so important to him, but how many magical teachers did I know?
"I'll trust your judgment," I replied.
"All right then. Of course, it shall have to wait until you have recuperated properly. I wouldn't risk attempting magic in an unfit state of body, as a general rule; you are likely to worsen the situation." That made sense. Using magic, after all, had left me in this state, hadn't it?
"Okay. Sounds good to me."
"That is all, then. I bid you good day."
Apparently, the mixture of starvation, powerful magical backlash, over-heating and possibly the acid in the wood sorrel really did a number on me, worse than I thought. I was bed-ridden when Chris and the others left, leaving me with nothing to do but fret and play chess with Will, sometimes reading, when he brought a book he thought would strike my fancy. Books of history and genealogy, mostly, though occasionally he brought a book of stories and fables. It was a dull way to pass the time, though, and I missed the conversation Chris provided, and sometimes felt jealous that he was back talking with Mia and I wasn't.
To make things even worse, I was still bed-ridden when they returned. Had I been a conspiracy-theorist, I might have thought Edwina was doing this on purpose, acting on Will's orders, and the thought had crossed my mind, but I knew that wasn't it. When I was alone, I would try to get out of bed, and physically couldn't. My muscles were completely useless, and even sitting up straight for too long made me dizzy.
Again with the conspiracy theories: Was Edwina keeping me sick? I had to rule that one out, too; she wasn't using magic or cooked-up remedies at all; she said using magic to cure magic was a bad idea, and the only sort of medicine she gave me was a chamomile tea, which Alicia and Aya often shared, and they were still just fine. This was all well and truly natural. More's the pity.
Lisa came and visited me first, before Chris, even. She politely inquired about my health and I said I was fine, even though I wasn't. Then Aya followed behind her, cuddling a fuzzy, fledgling dove to her breast.
"You actually did it!" I half-yelled. Aya grinned impudently.
"What, didn't you believe me? Here, here, hold him."
"It's a him?" I asked, taking her precious cargo from her. He was so soft and fluffy…
"Yes, that's what Mia told us," said Lisa, stroking the downy bird with a finger. Then, without warning, he took off out of my hands and started flying clumsily around the room. I must admit, it took me by surprise, causing me to give a little shout.
"So he can fly?"
"Well, yes, that's how he knows to find Gwyre, Crown Princess. Here, my sister sent this to you." She drew out a letter, sealed with a blob of icy-pink wax, with a flower imprinted in it. The seal of Gwyre. I took it from Lisa, opened it, and began to read, while the dove settled on top of my wardrobe:
I hope this finds you well, or as well as you can be. Chris and Jon told me about your little adventure (though I don't think they were supposed to), and it certainly gave me a scare when I heard tell of it. Father never warned you of Lord Jevim? Careless of him; Chris will be more than happy, I am sure, to rectify that for you.
The dove is one of your better ideas, Crown Princess. This bird should be able to return to Gwyre and your room quite easily, though test this theory by sending a return note, if you would be so kind. Feel free to name him, if you like!
Gwyre is simply dreadful, though I suppose I may yet learn to love it. It is different from the palace, certainly. It is high in the mountains, and it is always cold and foggy here. I must say, though, when the servants light a fire and I can arrange myself just right in an armchair in front of the hearth, it can be very cozy.
I do miss your company, though, and that of my family. The servants are far from friendly, as I seem to have interrupted their free run of the house, but they obey me with no question or hateful glance. I suppose I can ask no more of them, seeing as many are even older than my lord husband.
Perhaps, in the future, you may visit. It was wonderful to see my family, but I also wish to see you. Aya's behaviour is improving, I congratulate you.
Don't forget to send a letter back, as soon as you can.
Duchess Amelia of Gwyre
"It says here I should send a letter to her as soon as possible," I said, folding the letter and considering what to do with it. Keeping it would probably be dangerous, but I liked having some sort of connection with Mia.
Aya shoved my writing kit on my lap. I pulled it towards me and readied everything: loosened a sheet of parchment, uncorked the ink jar, those sorts of things. Lisa took the letter.
"If you don't mind my saying so…it would probably be best if we destroyed this," she said. She scanned the contents, then nodded. "Yes, this should definitely be burned, Crown Princess. Cheyenne. If anyone finds this, we're all of us in trouble." I nodded reluctantly, though I hated losing the letter.
"I suppose so. Aya, could you start a fire?" She nodded and took the letter, also scanning it. I didn't know she could read.
"Chey, it says here we can name it," she pointed out. I nodded.
"So it does. Do you have a good name for him?" She looked at me blankly. Apparently, she didn't. Then, I reached for a book that was beside the bed. "Here, I was reading this story, it was about a spy who delivered orders from behind enemy lines, where is it…?" I began rifling through the pages, but Lisa supplied the answer readily.
"Yarmo," she said promptly. "That was my brother Jonathan's favourite story when he was a boy, the story of Yarmo the spy. I liked it, too, but I was more interested in the parts about him and his lover. That's a clever name for our bird."
"Yarmo. I think I remember that story," said Aya, more to herself than anything else, as she struck flint and steel towards the fireplace. "I like that name, Chey."
"Yarmo it is," I said, and tore off a small piece of parchment. Then I dipped the quill pen in the ink and wrote awkwardly.
Sorry to hear that you don't like Gwyre. Give it time, you'll come to like it. Or not, but that's your look-out. Blast these quill pens. I can't write properly. I hope Yarmo finds his way home successfully.
I had Aya light the wick in the yellow sealing wax by the fire of the burning letter. I folded the short missive, let some wax drip on it, then blew out the flame once I was satisfied there was enough to keep it closed. I still didn't have a seal, but I think I could live without it for now.
With Lisa's help, I secured the note around Yarmo's leg, then passed him to Aya, who was very proud that we let her give the bird his inaugural flight. She brought him solemnly to the window, then gave him a small toss. All seriousness disappeared and she gave a yelp of delight.
"He's flying! He's circling around the room like he did in the Gwyre dovecote and…he's flying towards Gwyre! He works!" I couldn't help but laugh at the last statement. At least we didn't have to demand a refund.
But even I saw him, for a moment, winging past the window and towards the north. It was a pretty stirring sight, actually, even if our Yarmo didn't fly with much grace. But he would learn. Such a small bird, and maybe a dubious thing for us to rest our hopes on, but it was all we had.
I smiled as I watched Aya hopping up and down, waving good-bye, and then my hand fell to the necklace charm dangling on my chest. The Necklace. It was small, too, and so was I, for that matter. Maybe I didn't fly with much grace yet, and perhaps I was too small to be fully reliable. But people were resting their hopes on me nevertheless, and I could learn. I was all they had. And, like Yarmo, if Will didn't interfere, I could really be an important asset to the royal family.
It was silly, I knew, waxing poetic about my resemblance to a dove. But it really had something to it, the more I thought about it. At the risk of sounding sappy, as long as I had my friends, I could do almost anything. I had Chris and most of the royal family on my side, enough said, and Alicia, who was much more wily than she looked, and Sammy. Sammy was just Sammy, and he was also my last tie to the world I had known for fifteen years of life, the world I knew. Here was a world I didn't know, an entirely different game with rules I had to learn on the fly. I had help, though, I had people to explain some of this. I had people that would stick with me no matter what. I had a feeling that this was going to become more and more valuable as time went on.
I looked back out the window again, even though Yarmo was nowhere in sight. I wondered idly how long it would take a dove to fly to Gwyre. Surely it would be faster than half a week. Surely. Doves could fly where humans couldn't walk. They didn't have to stick to a straight and narrow path, lucky them.
Only time could tell. Only time could tell how fast Yarmo could clumsily make his way to Gwyre and Mia's waiting hands. Only time could tell what Will planned to do with me. Only time could tell if I survived to rule the country that was rightfully mine.
Only time could tell, and right now, time wasn't dropping any clues. I was restless, just lying there in bed. I wanted to go find the sorcerer's study, I wanted to go visit Mia, I wanted to go see my people. I wanted to do so many things…but I couldn't, yet. All I could do was wait and hope for the best.
That seemed to be the rule of thumb more and more often in my life. Wait, and hope for the best.
Outside my window, the sun began to set.
(For now. You know there has to be a sequel.)