In only two months Gru'herre had changed so much that Keitha could almost forget what a terrible place it had once been. Rykel's den had been burned to the ground and where it had once stood was now a large house of bright stone and birch wood for all of those who had lost their homes to Rykel's greed and tyranny. It was a safe place for those who had lost everything, and more importantly, for the children with nowhere else to go to learn to live again. Thanks to the testimony from Aiden and the soldiers from Eldain Keitha and the others had been pardoned by the King for their actions against Rykel. With wounded pride they had been forced to acknowledge where his money had come from and take responsibility for what had been going unseen under their rule.
Breathing deeply the early fall harvest she closed her eyes and smiled as the late afternoon sun softly caressed her skin. It was a new air, a fresh start and for the first time in years she was completely happy. The ghosts of her past would always haunt these streets, but those pale, transparent specters could do no harm to her, nor anyone else. Keitha opened her eyes, turning them to the garden in front of the house where Doren and the other children were playing. Seeing him smile, playing and healthy warmed her heart. She didn't want to think about how close she had come to loosing him forever, not now. Looking over his shoulder he paused and waved at her, grinning widely before going back to his games. Every wrong she had been forced to do was worth it. She told herself, at peace with it all.
"Gerik and the rest of the farmers should be back soon." Aiden said softly as he came up beside her, taking her hand into his own. "Sirhan and the rest of the pack are still out in the forests, hunting down the rest of Rykel's men." They'd been gone for the better part of three weeks, aiding the King's soldiers in their efforts to capture every Being who had known and aided Rykel in his illegal activities.
"You've taken to your new duties well." Keitha joked as she looked at him. Gru'herre had needed a leader, and though it had been a fight against those older and born in Rikvain Aiden had received the King's blessing, with a little help from Alrik and the support of the decent citizens who'd wanted to redeem their city. Happy as she was to stand beside him and govern their city, Keitha still worried that this life wasn't what he truly wanted. He had never wished to rule, but here he was. "Aiden,"
"I know that look." He stated, grinning as he shook his head. "How many times do I have to assure you that I'm happy here with you and the others?"
"At least once more." She sighed.
Grasping both of her hands within his own he gazed into her violet eyes. "There is nowhere in Rathunia I'd rather be then here by your side. I never wanted to be King, but here," He glanced around them, looking at the city they were working so hard to save. "Here I am still free. I wasn't forced into this position, I fought for it because instead of running I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be with you. In a few years, when everything is set and we're confident the city is safe we can still travel the continent if we want to."
"It'll be different from the last time," Keitha laughed softly as he raised an eyebrow. "The last time we traveled together you were our prisoner."
"In some ways, I always will be." He chuckled, turning his gaze towards the skies as Fritz glided down to land near them. The Lasairn grinned as he sat at Aiden's feet, a scroll and small pouch attached to a leather belt around his long stomach.
"What does it say?" Keitha tried to peer over his shoulder as he read the message. He had sent word to Alrik as he did every few weeks, and she was curious to see what the King of Eldain had to say about their efforts. And, if she was being honest with herself, more curious to know what he had to say about Aiden's being with her and the others.
Aiden grinned, the reds in his hazel eyes glowing as he knelt and took the pouch from Fritz and held it tightly in his hands. "Was the visit favorable?"
You read his reply. Fritz yawned. The castle's food is second only to Nissa's cooking and I am hungry after all that flying. Where is she?
"In the house making dinner for everyone. Thank you again Fritz, I wouldn't have trusted a bird with this."
Birds are only as good as what they're cooked with. Fritz grinned. It went well, he even smiled. Now get it over with so we can eat.
Taking a deep breath Aiden turned back towards Keitha. Still kneeling he took her hands back into his own and smiled despite the anxiety he felt. "Keitha Cahira, I didn't know freedom until you kidnapped me. I was selfish and afraid of what was expected of me, but you helped me to see that in order for change to occur sacrifices have to be made. You saved me in more ways then one and though I am no longer your captive, my heart is your prisoner."
"Aiden," Tears filled her eyes as a smile spread over her reddening face.
"There is nothing I want more from life then to spend it by your side." Reaching into the pouch he pulled out a small silver ring set with a firestone at its center and two forest green emeralds at either side. "Keitha, will you,"
"Yes!" She interrupted him, falling to her knees and into his arms. "Forever and always, from the earth to the stars yes."
Aiden kissed her before sliding the ring onto her finger and helping her to her feet. He didn't know what hardships and blessings the future held for them, but he was sure that together they could triump over anything. He wasn't the boy he had been when all of this had begun, he had grown and become stronger because she had been there. Because he had known her and the others. No matter what anyone said, the whispers of gossips and words of nobles, this was the life he chose and the only one he wanted to live. Beside her, with all of them until the end of his days. Free and content.
Prince and Thief, Captor and prisoner. The labels that had brought them together melted away as the late days sky turned from simple blue to fiery orange and violet.