Epilogue: The future
Childish laughter echoed through the palace halls along with the patter of tiny sandals on the tile. A blur of teal silk went by and was followed closely by a smaller blur of red silk. The blurs halted and yelped as they ran into an unexpected roadblock. Xol had been trying to cross the hall until the two bundles of energy ran into her.
"Ow! Yaya, you made me ow!" a four-year-old Xi complained as she rubbed her forehead. To a passerby, it probably looked like she was trying to wipe away her moon mark.
"Oh, sorry, my little kit," Xol cooed. She was not sure why she used the term "kit" for her daughter, but it somehow felt right. It gave her a sense of connection to something beyond her that she did not comprehend, but wanted to keep that connection. "Yaya didn't see you." She leaned down to pick her daughter up and Xi's long tail swayed merrily. Xi addressed her as "yaya" which was just the daijinn word for "parent." For Xol that was much better than ending up as "father" or any variation of the term.
"Boss made me ow, too!" Xi's constant companion, Yun, whined.
"Oh, sorry, Yun," Xol apologized and she picked the daijinn toddler up.
Yun was three years old, or three cycles as daijinn called it. He belonged to Yu and Mei, who had finally decided to make their relationship official a few years ago. Xol suspected that Yu stepped up once he saw how infatuated Mei was with Xi. They started making more time for each other to reconnect and before anyone knew it, Mei was carrying their son.
Yun had wide orange eyes that caused his mother to give into his every demand. His brown and blond hair fell into cute little curls that sometime blocked his eyes and hide his small brown ears. His bushy mocha tail swung just as happily as his friend's as the Chief held him.
"Now, what were you two chipmunks running from?" Xol asked curiously.
"Nana is chasing us!" Xi reported with a wide, amused grin.
Xol sighed. "You two are going to give Nana a heart attack," she muttered and then she could hear the approaching, hurried but controlled footsteps of their nana.
"Xol, do you have those two hardheaded children?" Miss Olga inquired as she rounded the corner. "I swear this is like you and Ileana all over again. I turn my head for a second and they are diving out of windows or trying to swim in the fountain!" Miss Olga threw her hands up.
"Nana never lets us to do the fun stuff," Xi whispered to her mother.
"Nana was trying to read you a story before you nap, but you two blew that," Xol informed them.
"Nap? Wait, but I wan' a story!" Yun said.
"If you wanted the story, you shouldn't have run from Nana," Xol replied.
"But, Xi said it would be fun! I wan' a story!" Yun repeated.
"I don't wanna take a nap, Yaya. I wanna go see Granny and the bunnies!" Xi requested.
"After your nap," Xol promised and then she turned her attention back to Miss Olga. "I'll go put them to bed. I know you have work to do."
Miss Olga nodded and then she leaned down to look both children in their faces. "We are not done with that story. I will read the whole thing and you will enjoy it. Am I understood?" she said in a voice that even made Xol quiver a little. Yun and Xi gulped.
"Yes, Nana," both children replied.
Miss Olga laughed. "Good. Have good naps. I will see you two later." She then leaned forward and kissed both of their foreheads. The children giggled while Xol shook her head. She could not believe how Miss Olga acted toward both children; both of whom she considered her grandchildren. Xol was happy that Miss Olga was so affectionate with them, making sure neither felt less loved than the other.
Xol carried the children away, taking them to Xi's room. Xi only recently got her own bedroom and it was only used for naps. Xi refused to sleep in a huge, dark room alone, ever. Her bed was large enough for her and Yun to fit in it with no problem and not even touch each other when they were rolling around in the bed. And, boy, did they roll. Yun sometimes fell out of the bed, which was quite a feat because there was only one opening since the bed was designed like every other bed in the palace, against the wall with curtains to block out light and there was guardrails around the whole thing except for opening. Xi seemed to be the type that used whatever space was given to her. In her own bed, she moved miles, but when she was sleeping with her mothers, she hardly moved inches.
"Yaya, we get to see Granny and the bunnies when we wake up, right?" Xi asked just to be sure.
"Yes, I will take you both to go see Granny and the bunnies," Xol promised.
Both children smiled and they were sleep in a matter of seconds. Xi and Yun only seemed to have two speeds – zoom and stop. They were either moving at full speed or not at all. The adults in their lives could deal with it as they were going with the "it takes a village" approach to child rearing. Someone was always willing to watch the pair and when that person ran out of energy, the person could simply slid the duo to the next person in their little circle.
The two napped for about an hour. They had a quick snack and Xol took them to be with their granny. Fry still took care of the rabbits and other small, furry creatures that the palace used as a food source and also a little business. Sometimes, they used extra meat to help feed the poor; the poor often got free bread and meat from the Crown.
"Got 'em, Elder?" Xol asked with a teasing smile.
Fry put her head up. "You keep it up and I'll box your ears! You leave me and my grandbabies alone!"
Xol laughed, but she did as she was ordered. Fry enjoyed her time with her grandchildren. Xi and Yun loved visiting with their Granny because she had all of the soft, cuddly animals. They treated her pens like their own personal petting zoos. Of course, what was heaven for them was never fun for whoever got them after they spent time with their Granny. The person after Fry always had to bathe the pair before doing anything else with them.
"Of course they would be here when I have a free moment," Lucia muttered as she approached the holding pens.
"Grandma!" the pair cheered as soon as they noticed Lucia.
"You come take them off my hands?" Fry teased.
"I was coming to see if they wanted to accompany me into town for a puppet show, but I have to bathe them first apparently," Lucia pretended to grumble.
"Show!" the two children howled.
"It works. I have work to do now," Fry said. As much as she would have loved to keep their grandchildren entertained, she did have a few things that she needed to do before dinnertime.
Lucia took charge of the pair, who hugged their granny bye. The children were cleaned and redressed. They went into the town for a puppet show and were joined by Yu. Yun practically threw himself at his father, clinging to the much taller daijinn for dear life. Yu and Lucia smiled at each other, but said nothing to avoid disturbing the show.
Yu had settled into a planning and a fiscal position for the government, mostly working with the daijinn towns and villages around the country to keep them comfortable with the human method of business. He had actually been the chief of the town of Xol a couple of years ago, but was quickly voted out after he found someone better suited to the job. Ro was his replacement and continued to be chief of the town. It was doing very well with her in charge and she appeared quite pleased with her role in the country. He was happy for her and happy for himself because he got more time with his family when he did not have to worry about being in Xol every day.
His official and state-recognized mate, Mei, still carried on the main assistant to the Queen and Consort. He and Mei had married according to the daijinn tradition, but Ileana had acted to make that an officially accepted form of marriage as soon as she was able to with the full authority of the Crown. Mei had even helped draft the proposal. She continued to take her job extremely serious, which was good since she was typically the last stop between anyone and the most important couple in the country.
"That was awesome!" Xi grinned as the show ended.
"Way awesome!" Yun agreed.
"Who keeps saying awesome around them?" Lucia wondered aloud.
"Yiyi," Yun answered honestly. "Yiyi" was the daijinn word for "mom."
"Of course," Yu sighed. "She probably only does it because they copy her, too."
Lucia nodded in agreement. They started on their way back to the palace, grabbing treats for the children along the way. By the time they got back to their home, it was almost dinnertime. Lucia and Yu decided to go pick up a few people that they knew would still be working instead of going toward the dining hall.
"Yiyi!" Yun cheered as he pushed out of his father's arms to leap into his mother's embrace.
Mei hugged her son tightly. "How is my brave warrior? You been good for your Ibo and your grandma?" she asked.
"Is he ever anything but good with his Ibo?" Yu remarked with a smirk.
"Hush you. He's no better with you than he is with me," Mei teased and she leaned in for a brief kiss from him. She then rubbed Xi's head. "How are you doing, little one?"
"I'm not little, Auntie!" Xi argued. "I'm bigger than Yun!" she pointed out, which was true. It was surprising that she was, but they suspected that she might be as tall as the average daijinn, which meant that she would be taller than both of her mothers.
"That you are, but you are not bigger than I am," Mei countered. The logic of the statement caused Xi to pout. Mei's heart broke. "Don't make that face, little one. If you stop making that face, I'll let you in the office to your momma and your yaya."
"Yay!" Xi cheered and the pout vanished forever … or until the next time she lost an argument.
"They both better be in there now that you put it out there," Lucia told Mei.
"They are," Mei vowed.
Lucia walked to the office doors with Xi and knocked before entering; it was just something that everyone did whenever they both were in the office. Ileana beckoned them inside and Xi charged in as soon as the door was open. Ileana's face lit up as soon as she saw her daughter.
"Momma! Momma! Guess what I did with Grandma and Uncle Yu!" Xi begged, throwing herself into Xol's arms instead of Ileana's. Xi had been told that she could no longer fling herself at her momma because her momma was carrying her new sibling.
Ileana was pregnant again; again with Xol's baby after two months of the Moon ritual. She was over thirty weeks and much more pleasant than when she was pregnant with Xi. The new baby proved a bit more active than Xi had been moving much more, but not the degree that Ileana had heard of with full human babies.
Xol passed Xi to Ileana, so that the Queen could hold her … if only for a few seconds. Xi was a heavy child and Ileana's back was not strong enough for Xi and the baby that she was carrying. Ileana kissed her daughter's chubby cheek.
"How was your day?" Ileana asked.
"It was great! First, Yaya played with me this morning and we wrestled with Shei and I won," that report earned Xol a short glare from her wife that Xi did not notice as she barreled on through her day. "And then Yun showed up and we went with Nana and Nana helped us write and then Nana read us a story and it was good, but then I wanted to run, so we ran! And we ran long until we hit Yaya and Yaya gave us a nap and then we got cookies and then we saw Granny and Granny's animals and we chased the rabbits and hugged them and then we hugged everything! And then Grandma came and gave us a good bath and made us feel nice and put the good clothes on us to go to see the puppets! And we saw the puppets and they made us laugh and then Uncle Yu came and then we left and we had caramel apples and then we came saw Auntie Mei and then we saw you and you asked how my day was and I told you!" Xi reported in almost a single breath.
Xol's head was spinning from the explanation and she could only guess how Xi would be as a teenager with that memory and that mouth. Ileana laughed and cooed over how busy their baby was. She then passed Xi back to Xol.
"It is dinnertime, so we should get to the dining hall," Lucia told them.
Ileana and Xol nodded in agreement and they all left for dinner. They settled into their usual place in the dining hall. There were a couple of key figures no longer there, though. Kwen had not dined with them in months because he was on the west coast, helping to build a sister city for the town of Xol next to the west's busiest city of Ryuon Ro. The new daijinn town was going to be called Xin and they had hope that it would grow as rapidly as Xol seemed to. He wrote them often with good and bad news, more good than bad, and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the work.
The other notable absence was Riccardo. The last of Vincenzo's sons had decided to give up and concede the throne to Ileana and Xol. He retired to his father's villa and often fished with him. Vincenzo wrote to Lucia expressing his happiness of getting to bond with one of his sons, even if it was so late in his life.
"Hi, Uncle Viktor," Xi grinned as she waved to her uncle, who sat down next to her.
Viktor then asked how Xi's day was with a cheeky grin on his face, knowing everybody probably already heard the story a dozen times because Xi liked to talk. He also asked Yun, who ran off the same information as soon as Xi was done. Viktor laughed and congratulated both children, as if they had done something noteworthy, which they just ate up.
"When will you have one of those, dear boy?" Lucia asked with a smile. She was quite curious as to when her son would look into starting a family. Of course, he was not very old, only twenty-two.
"I am working on it, Momma. Give me time," Viktor replied, playfully waving his mother off. He had met several women in his life, but no one caught his attention enough to start a family with so far. He knew that he had plenty of time, especially if Ileana and Xol kept providing grandchildren, so that his mother, Miss Olga, and Fry had their hands full.
"In the meantime, you two should be working on a second. You need to keep up with those two," Miss Olga was speaking with Mei and Yu, but she motioned to Xol and Ileana so it was clear who "those two" were.
Mei rolled her eyes. "I get the feeling not many will be able to keep up with those two."
Ileana and Xol just smiled. In all honesty, they were not sure how many children they wanted, but they doubted that two would be enough. Xol had agreed that whenever Ileana wanted to stop they would because Ileana was the one that would be carrying the children. Ileana had told Xol that they would stop when her body could not handle it anymore or they had so many children it was driving them crazy. Xol was sure that the latter bit was a joke.
After dinner, everyone broke apart for some evening relaxing before they went to bed. This was Ileana and Xol's time with their daughter. They played games, read stories to Xi, who liked trying to read too, sing songs, and tried out dozens of little hobbies. After a couple of hours, they would bathe and then settle in for bed. Xi decided that night to sleep on Xol's side, which put Xol in the middle, but sometimes Xi would leave Ileana in the middle or take the middle herself.
"Goodnight, Momma. Good night, Yaya," Xi yawned.
"Goodnight, baby," Ileana said, reaching over to rub Xi's shoulder.
"Goodnight, little kit," Xol said, protectively putting her arm around Xi, causing the child to snuggle closer to her. Her other arm had the same affect on Ileana. The Queen and child fell asleep within seconds of each other and Xol just watched their dozing faces. She smiled in the dark. "Thank you, Sun goddess, for giving me the strength to hold them close. Thank you, Moon god, for giving them to me. And, thank you, Chuachin god, for sharing Ileana with the Moon. I will never squander these gifts. I promise to cherish them forever and always. And, wherever the family of that little girl who died so many years ago is, I hope they can see that their legacy of love lives on in some way. And it will live on, through my mate and me, through our children, and hopefully, they will have children of their own."
Xol settled, leaning over to kiss Ileana's cheek and then doing the same to Xi. She caressed Ileana's swollen belly and smiled. For someone who had once lost everything, she had gained everything and more. She would be eternally grateful and cherish everything for just as long. She hoped to pass that appreciation for love and life to her children. She also hoped to make sure her children and her mate always knew that she held nothing but love for them. They were her life. They had given her life.