Note: The Fall of the House of Avedra can be considered complete at the end of Chapter 12. This epilogue is purely supplemental.
As usual, Marcus heard her cries and whimpers first. He threw off his blankets and, without needing to turn on a single light, hurried to her side. He cradled her against his chest and stroked her soft, blonde hair to soothe her before she woke the rest of the palace.
"Shh… sweetheart. I know it hurts, but I'm here," he murmured against her crinkled forehead. He sighed in relief when she immediately relaxed. He was already powerless against her, but seeing pain her beautiful Veadra eyes tore him to pieces.
Rather than ease her back in bed like he should have, he carried her to the plush chair tucked in a corner of the room and eased onto the sunny yellow cushion. She murmured indistinctly but did not cry. He kissed her forehead again.
Propriety kept him from sleeping in her room, but not even Astra had dared challenge him when he'd moved a bed into the sitting room just on the other side of the bedroom door. She was the most precious thing in his world, and he refused to be more than a few feet away from her. So many things could happen during the night. He knew Zed understood how he felt.
Marcus looked up when a familiar silhouette filled the doorway. He offered Astra a strained smile. She nodded sleepily and shuffled into the room. Norris, Queen Astra's personal bodyguard, stood watch inside Marcus' room.
"Did she wake you, Highness?" Though her proper title was 'Your Majesty,' Marcus, like many others in Astra's inner circle, did not refer to her in that manner. To them, 'Majesty' was an honorific reserved for her sister Juliana, the former Queen of Avedra.
"I know Julie was restless earlier and wanted to check on her." Astra stretched her arms over her head and rolled her shoulders before collapsing on the footstool in front of Marcus' chair. "My alarm was going to go off shortly. Busy day today."
Marcus arched an eyebrow at her over the blonde head tucked against his shoulder. "I hope you remembered to turn off the alarm this time, Highness."
Astra grinned impishly. "He can't hit the snooze button this way."
Both froze when a tiny whimper filled the space between them. Two sets of eyes zeroed in on the baby's face, waiting for her eyes to open. When they didn't, Astra slumped against Marcus' knee. She gently stroked the baby's chin.
"I've seen pictures of your mother. Julie has her nose and mouth."
Marcus scowled good-naturedly. The damn Veadra genes were so strong, it was a surprise there was any Browe visible in the child at all. "She has Father's dimples, too."
"Yeah." Astra sighed, brushed the fringe of hair out of the baby's closed eyes. "Her hair is going to curl like Juliana's. It'll be a pain in the ass until it grows long enough to do something with."
Marcus prided himself on not flinching at the mention of his beloved's name. He caught the shine of tears in Astra's eyes and reached for her hand. She squeezed his fingers lightly before pulling away. "Az…," he started, wishing he could ease his sister-in-law's heartache. It was hard, though, when he couldn't heal his own.
"I promise that Julie will know all about her grand, glorious namesake." Astra's voice was soft but firm. "Both namesakes. She's got one hell of a legacy to live up to."
Marcus nodded, throat too tight with emotion to speak. He reluctantly lifted the baby off his chest and set her in her mother's arms. Juliette Browe Veadra, Crown Princess of Avedra, cracked open one lavender-flecked brown eye. A tiny smile lit up her face when she spotted Marcus.
"I'll get her dressed, Marcus. You go get ready," Astra urged gently. It was the second anniversary of Juliana's death and they were taking Juliette to the monument erected in Juliana's honor. "You can feed her while I change."
"Is Zed accompanying us?"
"Nope. It's you, me, Julie, and half a dozen escorts."
"Good." Marcus loved his brother dearly, but he rather liked the idea of celebrating Juliana's life with just Astra and Juliette. Astra was the only other person living who'd loved Juliana as much as he did.
"You want to exert that control you have over my Royal Guard and nix the escorts?"
"No." Marcus glared at his queen. She was notorious for ditching her guards. Though the war with Charis was long over and no one dared threaten the Bloody Queen of Veadra, she was far too cavalier with her safety for anyone's peace of mind.
"Had to ask." She lifted Juliette's hand and flapped it twice. "Say bye-bye to Uncle Markie."
He rolled his eyes but did not bother to correct her. She would insist on the nickname no matter how many times he protested. He quietly closed the door separating him from Queen and Crown Princess. His heart protested the distance from the little girl who reminded him so much of Juliana.
He ran the tips of his fingers along the glass of the picture from on his dresser. Juliana's face, bright with health and eyes dancing merrily, smiled up at him. Two tears spilled down his cheeks.
"I miss you, Jules, I miss you everyday." His eyes drifted to the closed door. "But I'm watching over them, and it's getting better. Just like you said it would."
Outside his window, a songbird whistled a merry tune as the sun rose over Avedra.