A/N:

It's finally the end, and I have to say I'm going to miss writing this story.

Enjoy the moment you've been waiting for!

-Sekine Hana


Epilogue

A lone figure, dressed in a gown of myrtle that matched the lush greenery around her, stood in the middle of the castle garden.

The wind buffeted her dress, sending its hem swirling about her knees. Her ebony black hair fluttered in the wind, and she tucked it behind her ears.

Gently, she touched the petal of a flower newly blossomed. A rose, shaded a deep, crimson red, like blood.

It brought back certain memories, memories that were a part of her.

She often found herself feeling estranged in the castle, no matter how warmly the King had instructed his people to treat her. His generals were afraid of her, let alone the maids that attended to her. After a while she had requested they be dismissed from her presence, and they were thankfully so.

Most of all, she felt as though she had lost a part of herself. To be transformed from an assassin to a well pampered lady favoured by the King was a drastic change. The beds were soft, nights were warmed with fire, and food was served regularly.

And there was no blood spilt. Occasionally, on certain nights when she awoke from bad dreams, she would reach for her daggers at her waist, but always found them missing. And she would be clad in a night gown that hung loosely and indecently over her frame, something she could not fight in.

She kept her obsidian black dagger, but in a drawer in her room, locked. In the moments when she felt most lost, she would open the drawer, touch the blade and let it cut her finger, blood oozing. And immediately she would dismiss all thoughts about being an assassin. Images of those who died for her made it so.

She walked through the garden, breathing in the smell of earth and feeling the bake of the sun on her skin. Though she had once preferred darkness and night, she had learnt to see the beauty of day and nature.

This garden was her place of refuge. She came here whenever she was unoccupied, searching for peace. While most gardens were well trimmed and kept, this one was wild and a natural beauty, for it was at a far corner of the castle grounds and unknown to most. Flowers of different colours sprouted in no particular order, vines crawling up and snaking around worn statues and fountains which no longer spouted water. The decrepit castle towers could be seen beyond the tree branches and their luscious leaves. The garden spoke of the freedom which she once had, but not the nightmarish days, and at the same time it encompassed her new life in this castle.

Kaira let her thoughts wander back to Xayne. She missed him dearly. After they had killed the previous King, a squire had burst into the room, rousing her from her sleep, and prostrated himself before Xayne, hailing him King. Peasants and merchants alike rejoiced, and he was immediately accepted as the one who would accede the throne.

But because of this, he was busy. Problems which his half-brother had cause had to be fixed immediately; the poor and needy came to him to seek help, and there were the occasional few who still held steadfast loyalty to King Gareth that Xayne had to defend himself from. He had no time for her. The only time they saw each other was in the passing of the corridors. A smile was all they could manage, before Xayne was rushed about by his counselors.

Not yet crowned, and already so busy. Kaira wondered if this was the right choice for them. Perhaps, as from the very start, they were never meant to be.

He had busied her with other things too, of course. She taught soldiers to fight, an uneasy task for as a woman, she was not respected. She learnt battle strategies from generals, and wondered if she might one day fight alongside Xayne, as they had done once before. She was given etiquette classes, the most detestable of all the things he had arranged for her.

Thus she had fled an etiquette class, and had now come to this garden, to sooth her thoughts.

She had wanted to leave the castle once, and perhaps start a life as a commoner. But as if fate showed objection, she had met Xayne along the corridors that day.

He had stopped to take her hand, making her pause mid-stride as well. Then he turned towards her, touched her face, and said, "You know I love you, don't you?"

He had done so to satisfy his counselors, whom she knew often asked him to kick her out of the castle. He had looked pleased when they were appalled, but his eyes showed sincerity still. It was enough to make her heart flutter, and to make her stay.

She took a seat on a cold stone bench, kicking the soil at her feet. Butterflies rested on flowers.

They flew when the leaves rustled. Abruptly she stood up, knowing that someone else was around. She would not want Lady Secia to find the hideout of her truancy.

Hefting up her skirt, she turned to scurry down the path, and hopefully hide behind some hideous undergrowth which Lady Secia would, because of her aptitude in social graces, never climb under.

She was stopped by a grip on her arm, and she sighed in defeat.

But it was not the hand of a woman on her arm. It was a strong hold of a man.

"There you are."

She turned around to face him. Xayne loosened the grip on her, let his hand slide down her arm to her hand, and held it. He gave her a dazzling grin, the sunlight reflected in his brown eyes. He was dressed finely with cape and all, as a King should be, and very handsome, so much so that she sometimes feared that other ladies of the court would fall in love with his face and draw his attention.

"What on earth did you do? Lady Secia was so angry, almost in hysterics," his warm laughter resonated, "You should have seen her."

"I don't like her," she pouted. "She nags."

She intertwined her fingers with his, resisting the urge to throw herself at him. She missed the feel of his arms around her waist.

"You could have told me," he said.

"You've been busy."

His smile was gone, and he sighed, "I know. I haven't been able to get enough sleep with all these things to settle and worry about. Yesterday a whole village requested to have their land back, while others complained about how thieves who were against my accession of the throne were raiding their villages. And so many letters are coming in from my vassals, and I have yet to find myself a steward to handle the accountings!"

She put a finger up to his lips to silence him, and smiled, "Don't think about that now."

He nodded and sat down with her on the stone bench. For a few minutes, they simply took in the breath-taking view in silence as sunset neared.

"This place is nice."

She nodded. "How'd you know I'd be here?"

"Hmm… I was so worried sent my guards running about to look for you, but they could not find you anywhere. And I was anxious to the point of being unable to concentrate on all the administrative work I had to deal with, so I spent a full thirty minutes thinking of where you might be and looking up the palace map. I found you at my first guess." He grinned at her, "I know you that well."

She laughed softly. She had actually hoped that skipping a class might draw his attention to her. It did.

She felt his gaze on her, and blushed instinctively.

"You look really pretty," he sighed in appreciation. "I can't believe I haven't properly observed you the whole month until now."

He put an arm around her, and she laid her head on his shoulder.

"I've missed you." She whispered quietly.

She let him run his hand through her hair and kiss her on her forehead. "Same here."

"I wish we could have more time together."

"Well," there was a hint of playfulness in his voice, "once the coronation next week is settled, we'll probably spend almost everyday together."

Kaira pondered over what might have kept him from having his coronation for such a long while. "Shouldn't you be busier after you're crowned?"

Xayne gave her a mocking gaze, "Don't you know that I'm getting married on the day of my coronation?"

"Oh." She wondered what he meant, and dared not have her hopes up high. He might have fallen for someone else already.

Her fears must have been written on her face, because he laughed and said, "Silly, it's a proposal!"

Kaira jerked up from her position against Xayne's shoulder, feeling her heart pounding, an overwhelming joy filling her chest. But instead of crying out with joy, she pushed his hand off her shoulder and exclaimed, "What kind of a proposal is that?"

Cheekily, she faked anger, sulking, "You haven't made time for me for the past month and you want me to marry you? One month is as long as the time I've known you before I came to this castle!"

He surprised her by standing up, turning his back against her and taking a few steps away. Momentarily she was lost, wondering if she had gone too far.

Then, he reached out and, carefully plucked a rose from a hedge, the one that she had touched earlier.

He turned back to face her, got down to his knees, and took her hand in his. He kissed it, and looked up at her, their eyes locked. His eyes held an apologetic and sincere gaze as he spoke.

"I'm sorry."

The pace of Kaira's pulse increased. She felt moved.

"But I love you still, as I had told you before that day in the corridor. I love you. I would never want to spend the rest of my life with anyone else."

He offered up the rose, and Kaira silently swore that her heart would leap out of her chest any moment.

"Will you marry me?"

She took the rose from his hand, and smelt it. A fresh fragrance. She played with it in her hand, pulling her gaze away from him, shyly blushing.

"I love you too."

He took the rose and put it in her hair behind her ear. He cupped her flushed face, and stared straight at her. She saw his passion, his sincerity.

"But will you marry me?"

She knew he desperately needed the answer. She reached forward and pushed his fringe away from his eyes. She felt the rush of blood to her chest, an increase in the pulse of her heart, an overwhelming nervousness born of joyous anticipation.

"Yes," she cried, tears of joy filling her eyes. "I love you, and I want to live the rest of my life by your side!"

He silenced her by sweeping her off her feet and kissing her full on the mouth.


The day of Xayne's coronation was long remembered to be one of great revelry. Banners were put up, flowers decorated the streets, and throngs of people gathered to glimpse who the lucky queen-to-be was and to hear the declaration of his coronation.

Kaira had nervously awoken that day to be dressed in her gown of silk, a wreath of flowers woven into her hair, and in anticipation sat edgily in her seat by Xayne as he was crowned. There was a sigh or two of appreciation for her beauty from the crowd when she stepped forward to take the vow, and was pronounced Xayne's wife, and queen. She never felt so joyful before.

After the ceremony in the Grand hall, Xayne took her horseback through the crowd that gathered outside, letting her enjoy the shouts and cheers of approval of their marriage. Peasants gathered, throwing flowers, and nobles offered congratulations.

When they had managed to clear the crowd, Xayne took her to see the beauty of the country which she now ruled over alongside him. She'd gazed on valleys from mountainous peaks, saw magnificent waterfalls that crashed into the great rivers of the forest, felt the soft sand of beaches and the spray of sea water on her face. She played hide and seek with Xayne in the forest, fought with him (as she once did) in the fields of green and flowers, losing on purpose so that she give him the betted kiss, and threw him into a lake, only to be dragged down together with him.

At dusk, they rode back to the castle, where she changed out of her already dirtied dress into a fresh, clean one in preparation for the feast and celebration at night. That night she had eaten more than she ever had before, tasted the best wine in the entire kingdom (and drank Xayne's share, ensuring he did not take more than five cups), and danced until she her legs ached.

When the guests finally left, Xayne led her into his solar, where they consummated their union.

In the time of their marriage she bore him five children, three girls and two boys.

Xayne fell prey to a deadly plague and departed at the age of forty, and Kaira's oldest son acceded the throne. Kaira counseled him until her death at sixty.

And for generations after, this tale of love and death was sung by bards, told to children, and spoken to kindle people's hopes of true love.