"The ceremony is about to begin, your majesty."
"Are you ready, sire?"
"Let us know if you need anything."
"Bah, I'm fine. Go away! I'll manage on my own."
He sank into his chair with a groan.
"Are you getting cold feet?"
"Oh, will you shut your mouth?"
"You can't talk to me like that anymore!" But the effect was ruined; he said it with a smile on his face.
"You may be all big and important now, but you're still my friend. And that's what friends do."
They shared a laugh. "Yes, I suppose you have a point. My, is it that late already? I had better go take my place. See you out there."
The doors flew open, and Antonio marched out, the sunlight glinting off his dark hair. He strode calmly and with purpose to the end of the cliff overlooking the Citadel proper. Humans and demons stationed all along the square, leaning out of windows, standing atop the fortress walls, and sitting on rooftops took up a loud cheer.
"An-ton-io! An-ton-io! An-ton-io!"
Throne Ministers Oghma, Fredrick and Dorothea stood at the far end of the embankment. The King of the Wind held the crown reverently, on level with his chest. Dagda escorted Antonio to the Ministers, chosen by Antonio to be his personal advisers. The Oak King's lined and weather-beaten face beamed with paternal pride. When the pair reached the far end, Dagda gave Antonio's shoulder a final squeeze before taking his place with Nyneve, Evienne and Lughdnast a few yards away.
The honor guard comprised of humans and demons banged their ceremonial spears against the ground once to call for attention. Complete silence fell over the Citadel.
Oghma cleared his throat. "Antonio, son of Gustav and Alana, Prince of the Realm, and general of the Royalist army, do you come to claim your crown?" The King of the Wind's voice carried to everyone within hearing.
"Do you accept the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with it?"
"Do you swear to uphold the life and worth of all of your subjects, human and demon alike?"
"Do you swear to stand as the shield of your realm, it's lord protector and keeper of the peace?"
"And finally," Oghma said, his lined face filled with care and compassion, "do you accept the aid of all those who stand assembled before you? It is no easy burden to bear, and we will all gladly help you carry it."
Tears ran down Antonio's face. "I do."
"Kneel, Prince Antonio." Oghma turned to the crowd. "Will his sponsors please come forward!"
Artos and Lisana stepped from their places, and strode towards the kneeling Prince. Lisana wore the sigil of Chancellor on her red mantle, and Artos wore a simple pale robe, a white cape fastened at his neck with an ivory brooch. Lionclaw was at his waist and the circlet sparkled on his brow. The two friends from Harrisholt each placed a hand on Antonio's shoulders.
"Do you, King Artos of the Demons, also called Darkbane, the Sword of Dawn, and you, Lady Lisana Red Cloak, also called Kingslayer, the Protector of Demons, Chancellor of the Council, vow to ensure that Prince Antonio lives up to his most solemn oath?"
Artos and Lisana glanced at each other and spoke as one. "We do."
"Then rise, King Antonio, the first of his name!"
The crowd erupted into wild cheers.
Antonio, Artos and Lisana sat serenely in the three thrones of the Council Room. Kelrick and Thalia stood to either side. Artos had allowed Antonio to sit on the center throne, though it was the Demon King's right. While some might say it was out of courtesy and deference to the new king, Lisana knew it was so he could chat with Thalia and make faces at Kelrick when he thought no one was looking.
No matter how regal Artos looked, he was still the same old Sin.
"Come forward," Antonio called. "Orrin Stonecutter, and his lawful heir, Grey Wolfsblood!"
"He didn't go with Wolfsbane," Artos murmured. "Interesting."
The demon and halfling knelt before the throne. "Do you swear your allegiance to the kings of the realm?" Lisana asked them. Orrin nodded mutely, having fallen into a deep silence after Julia's burial. He carried a chip of her marble tombstone around his neck on a golden chain. Lisana had probably never seen anything more bittersweet in her life.
Grey placed a fist over his heart. "I swear my loyalty to the kings until my dying breath."
"Rise, Sir Grey Wolfsblood," Artos said softly. The halfling complied. Then, the Demon King glanced at Antonio.
The King smiled. "Rise Duke Orrin Stonecutter, Protector of the West."
The earth demon blinked. "S-Surely my lord… you do not mean… A barony, you said…"
"I need a dependable man like you on my court," Antonio replied simply. "And a barony simply was not enough for one who had given so much as you."
Orrin buried his face in his hands, trying to hide his tears of joy and sorrow. Joy at his sudden elevation, sorrow that Julia was not here to share the moment with him. Grey, now officially Orrin's adopted son, led him away quietly.
"Lady Anastasia Winterhold Darkrest, come forward."
The assassin had shed her veil when the war was finished, and was trying to return to her previous identity. She knelt before them. "Do you swear loyalty to the kings of the realm?"
"I swear it," she replied.
"Then rise, Duchess Anastasia Winterhold Darkrest, Keeper of the North!"
The woman beamed at the honor, inclined her head to the kings and departed. Artos cleared his throat. "Havanat, please come forward."
The air demon stepped out of the honor guard along the Council Room walls. He walked towards the dais hesitantly, clutching the spear to his chest. Kelrick held out a hand. "You don't need that anymore, mate." Havanat handed it to the Hellhound, who unceremoniously tossed it out one of the chamber's open windows.
The demon complied, shaking a little.
Artos smiled. "Do not be afraid. You have proven your prowess, wisdom and skill many times over. I seek only to honor you. Will you rise to the service of your king?"
"O-Of course, your majesty."
"Good." He held out his hand, and Thalia placed a cloth-wrapped bundle in it. Artos slowly unwrapped it, revealing a tarnished rapier. "Havanat, will you accept the role of Air Master?"
The demon's eyes sparkled. "Yes! Of course, my liege, a thousand times yes!"
Artos passed him Anjaru's blade. "Do it proud, Havanat. Anjaru was a dear friend of mine. I trust you to live up to his legacy."
"Those are some large shoes to fill."
"I'm sure you can do it," Artos said softly, putting a hand on Havanat's shoulder. "All that, and more." Havanat bowed and walked to the side of the chamber, to stand with Mirashi, Aletra, and Viktor.
"Franz, Keeper of the Watchtower, and Nixie, Warden of the Wind, step forward," Lisana called. The portly sorcerer and the stately demon emerged from the crowd around the chamber and knelt before the dais. "Do you serve the kings of demon and man?"
"Then rise, Count Franz of Stardust Lake and Countess Nixie of the Northern Moors."
As they walked back to their places, Nixie murmured to Franz, "That was all just formality, right? We were already that in all but name."
Franz patted his wife's hand. "Now, now, dear. The customs must be observed."
"Your human customs are still very strange to me."
"Signe Forester, come forward," Lisana said. The blond woman complied, striding up the length of the hall. "Please kneel." Signe did. "Do you pledge your allegiance to the two kings?"
Signe's eyes went cold. "I serve the realm."
Antonio was about to protest, but Artos cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Can we trust you to continue your brother's work?"
"Then rise, Viscountess Signe Forester, Warden of the Wild Places!"
Signe stood up, smiled at the three on the dais, and walked back to her place. Lisana smiled at Artos. This was the one they were waiting for. "Sir Damin, Protector of the Downtrodden, come forth!"
Damin did so, looking slightly bemused. On his shoulder, however, Chifumi looked downright perplexed. "Do you vow to serve the rightful kings of the realm?"
"Of course," Damin said with a smile.
"Then rise, Duke Damin, Sword of the South and lord protector of Harrisholt!" The crowd cheered. His wife kissed him, and his children milled around his legs. Artos rose from his throne in standing ovation.
The day continued much the same, the conferring of titles onto those who had served the kingdom faithfully in the long war. Finally, the crowd dispersed to the feasts as the sun set. Regalis and Atõnia bid Artos farewell, and vanished from the Citadel. The Demon King suspected that they returned to the Great Forest of the south to live out their lives in quiet solitude.
But he could not be sure. They were never seen again.
Antonio escorted Dorothea to the royal feast hall, where all the new nobles would be with their comrades. "Aren't you coming?" the Princess and Throne Minister asked.
Lisana glanced at her childhood friend. "I think we're going to go for a bit of a stroll first."
"We'll see you later then," King Antonio replied.
Sin and Lisana crept past the open doors of the feast hall, and watched all their friends laughing and happy within. Kelrick and Thalia paused outside the door and looked in wistfully. Lisana laughed. "Oh, go. We can watch out for ourselves. Go and have fun."
"Thank you, Lisana!" Kelrick said.
"See you in a little while?" Thalia added.
"We'll be right back," Sin promised.
They walked down into the main plaza of the city, where a statue of Anjaru had been erected. The Air Master's sharp features were accurately captured in the stone, and the plaque at his feet read simply, "Anjaru: Air Master, Valiant Hero, and Beloved Friend."
Sin took Lisana's arm and led her away before she could start sobbing again. As they walked down to the city gates, the sound of footsteps made them turn. Lughdnast was standing behind them, holding the reins to Damin's black mare. "I thought you might prefer a ride to a simple stroll in the grasslands."
"Promise to be quiet?" Sin asked.
"Cross my heart," the First replied.
"All right, you can come along!"
With a bluster, the First Demon shifted into his animal form, a horse whose golden hair glittered in the dying light.
They rode across the twilight grasslands, silent for a while. Lughdnast and the mare traveled where they wished, always keeping the city walls in sight. Finally, as the sun was preparing to dip beneath the horizon, they paused on a rise. As the horses grazed down the slope, Sin and Lisana stood on top.
The young man procured a bottle of wine and two glasses. "To absent friends, wherever they may be."
"To absent friends."
They drank, and poured out the rest of the bottle on the ground as a kind of ablution to the departed.
"So what happens now?" Lisana finally asked.
Sin shrugged. "I'm not sure. I was thinking of traveling around a bit. Artos did that a lot in the old days. My seat of power isn't anywhere in particular. You think you can get out of Council duties to come along?"
Lisana smiled. "Perhaps. There's still a lot of kingdom left to see."
"I've always wanted to climb Shaman's Peak. Oh, and I'll need to bring Fuzzball along, or she'll never let me live it down."
"We'll have to pick her up at Harrisholt, won't we? And we need to visit Damin, of course." They stood in silence for a time. Then, Lisana spoke again. "But what happens to us? The people, I mean. You and I. Everyone else. Where do we go now that the journey is over?"
"I don't know, Lisana. I really don't. But we're young. There's still plenty of time for us to figure out what we want to do. We have all the time in the world." Sin took her hand in his, and he smiled. "But whatever happens, Lisana, I'll always be right there with you. A demon and a sorcerer, working side by side. Now where have I heard that before?"
Lisana cuffed his arm gently. "Oh, don't you start on me."
Sin turned to her. "Lisana, you have been and always will be my best friend. I'm glad I'm here with you."
She leaned her head on his shoulder. "Me too."
Sin gave her hand a squeeze. "It's not going to be easy, and we may never stop fighting. The world is changing all around us, and we need to be ready for that. But between the two of us, there's nothing we can't do! Somehow, I get this feeling everything is going to work out and that…
"We are all going to live happily ever after."