Ine kicked a rock in the dirt outside of the city. What was taking her so long? Their time limit was starting to run out. If they didn't leave the city within the next hour…

"Sorry!"

Alice and…holy crap! Thomas were walking as quickly as possible towards Ine. He had a splint around the injured leg so he wouldn't move the muscle accidentally. Those crutches didn't look too comfortable either, but his eyes still gleamed like they did before this whole ordeal.

"Thomas, thanks for everything again," said Alice.

"Don't worry. I bet I can sneak a dagger in your leg as revenge another day," he teased.

That didn't go over well. Alice looked down and bit her lip. He held her hand. "Hey, I already told you I forgive you. It wasn't entirely your fault. Besides, I can't really stay mad at you after we've kissed and made up, can I?" Alice turned beet red, and Ine started giggling.

Around Alice's neck hung Thomas' gift, and Ine noted the small book-shaped bulge in Alice's sack of belongings. She's never going to forget him…either of them.

Thomas stood awkwardly. "So…this is it."

"Yeah," replied Alice.

"I wish you could come back."

"I'll send you a postcard."

He babbled something Ine found strange, but Alice laughed all the same. Those two might never see each other again, but it struck Ine that their reactions were so calm. Was this what it meant to be older? To accept parting with grace? The scene made Ine uncomfortable. A few minutes wouldn't make that much of a difference. She just didn't like the idea of Alice saying good-bye to anyone.

"I hate to break you two up," she said, "but we need to move on to Poldark. You know, exile and whatnot"

"Hold your horses. Nick wanted to give me something before we left."

Thomas frowned at the mention of the captain. Ine grinned. Is that jealousy I see?

"Do you have to wait? You're cutting it awfully close." His tone had a hint of pleading in it. Yes, yes it is!

Alice responded obliviously, "He wanted to give me something before I left. It'd be rude to leave abruptly."

"Alice!"

Nicholas was dressed more plainly than before. His lighter clothing complemented his blond hair, and his tall frame loomed even more while riding horseback. Thomas, in comparison, was a bit dirty from being in bed for multiple hours and was hunched over his crutches. The light in his eyes betrayed a sense of rivalry even though Nicholas was just as bound to this place as he was. Ine grinned even more when she saw that Nicholas had picked up on Thomas' disposition and was completely ignoring him.

"Hey, Nick."

"I think I like that name. Hopefully the men don't start calling me that behind my back."

Ine rolled her eyes. She had started it.

"Are you sure you don't want a horse? Poldark is two days by foot, you know."

Alice nodded. "I'm used to it, and so is Ine. The jostling form the horse might make the wound worse, too."

"And honestly," interjected Ine, "my shoulder's been feeling a lot better after I changed the dressing. I should be good til we get to Poldark."

Nicholas still looked concerned, but he didn't press the subject. "Well, anyway, I wanted to give you this before you left…" he withdrew a small book from his pouch. It was smaller than Treyce's but much more ornate. It looked like it had seen much use.

"It's a storybook my father gave me when I was young. Two brothers went around Etuskani and Karlon a few decades ago and collected a lot of fairy tales from the people. I've read that book from cover to cover over a dozen times, and I think you remind me of one legend in particular."

Alice tilted her head to one side as she thumbed the pages. "Which one is that?"

"Let's see…the Ogre and the Maiden, the King of the Dead, Magongott, where is it…aha! The Singing Blade! Your valor during our battle reminded me of her."

She gripped the book as tightly as possible. It was all she could do to keep herself from crying in front of Nick yet again. The first two pages of the fairy tale contained a beautifully painted portrait of her mother.

There were several errors in the image: her mother's eyes were green, not brown. She wielded a short and a long sword, not a single, two-handed blade. Her mother's hair was darker than the picture proclaimed. The symbol of the Order of Kreathor was drawn incorrectly. That said, there was no doubt it was her mother.

And it was smiling up at her.

"You may already be familiar with her tale, being from the south. It's a tale of mercy and trust. The Singing Blade fought off a group of barbarians single-handedly. But when a young barbarian flung himself to his feet in surrender, she pitied him and spared his life. When her back was turned, one of the enemy ambushed her. However, the young man in turn saved her life. From then on, the two were knight and squire as they brought peace to their country."

"And then they got married," whispered Alice.

Nicholas scratched his chin. "I've never heard that part of the tale. I always heard she rejected his proposals since she was part of some weird, woman-only society."

"She did. But he didn't give up." She remembered what her father would often tell her for a bedtime story. "He just changed his tactic and forged the weapons she would eventually be known by. The ability to give of himself instead of wanting her to be what he desired eventually won her over."

"How poetic," Nicholas said. Both he and Thomas blushed slightly and glared at each other from the corner of their eyes.

"They settled down, had a baby girl, and lived happily ever after." The fairy tale notion was childish but appreciated in this circumstance. Alice thanked Nicholas profusely for the gift but pecked Thomas on the cheek. Thomas was giddy while Nicholas grinded his teeth. They said good-bye, and she and Ine left the two young men standing next to each other outside the gate.

"By the way," called Alice over her shoulder, "my father was a Falcian, not a barbarian."

Nicholas grinned sheepishly. "Oh, sorry about-."

The implications of her statement suddenly dawned on him and Thomas, but the two girls were already out of sight on their way to Poldark.


Author's note:

Wow, I didn't think it'd be this long. If you've read the whole way through, you deserve some praise for sticking around! While I write for the fun of it, I still have friends in the background motivating me and giving advice to make me a better writer. This isn't a one-man thing after all. That said, I do so hope you thoroughly enjoyed reading my story.

In case you're wondering, the Lone Ranger-style ending is not one of those goosey-loosey endings for if I MIGHT update in the future. I've already got the follow up in the works with several ideas for more arcs. The one thing I didn't like about my story is how it pulled focus from the main theme of travelling through life dealing with problems and instead put more focus than I intended on the raid. My goal from now on is to pay extra close attention to keeping it romantic and slice-of-life in future arcs. If you have a suggestion for a slice-of-life situation, shoot me a pm! The very next arc should hit very close to home once you peel away the fantasy and magic bells and whistles.

Once again, thank you so much for sticking around until the end, and I again hope you enjoyed read it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Menea6587