In the end DG ended up taking four of the guards with her, and Wyatt took two, leaving four at the inn to make sure no one tried to steal anything.
"You know, I'm not quite sure how he managed to talk me into this," DG commented to Zero as she looked at the other three men behind them. "Four guards to go shopping."
He felt his mouth turn up in a small smile, "That's what you get being a princess. Me, I do my shopping alone. It's better that way."
"Don't let Wyatt hear you talking like that, Adrian," DG quirked a smile, "He might think you're giving me ideas. Really, I haven't been allowed to go exploring by myself since I was five."
"What happened?" he asked curiously as they stopped before a shop and DG examined something in the display window.
"Ah. The fountain. You know, I never did hear that story."
"And you won't, if I have anything to say about it," DG replied with another smirk as she entered the shop, knowing Zero would follow, along with one of the other guards, leaving the other two outside to guard the entrance and glare at anyone suspicious looking.
As the princess shopped, Zero looked around at the wares of the store, and the other patrons, keeping tabs on where the escape route was if needed, and where everyone else was. It was just what he needed to get Cain pissed off at him for letting his fiancée get attacked while shopping with four guards.
He tried not to get Cain pissed off at him as much as possible.
Duke Arrington Sommerfield IV walked briskly down the corridor, toward his fiancée's receiving room. A part of him was very curious as to why Princess Azkadellia wished to see him, but another part of him was focused completely on what he had to tell her. He had been planning on waiting until after the honeymoon, but his mother's motto was "There's no time like the present" and so it seemed he was going to tell her after she revealed her news.
"Come," a soft voice said after he knocked on the door. He walked inside, leaving his guards outside with the Princess's own guards. She looked like a picture sitting draped over the settee with her hair down in cascading curls that perfectly accented her pale blue gown.
There was a book in her hands that she set down as he entered. "Your grace, thank you for arriving so promptly," Azkadellia said formally as her maid set down a tea service and fixed a cup for the Duke. The princess arose from her seat and allowed her fiancé to kiss her cheek before they both sat down again.
"Your highness," he replied in a rich baritone. "You look lovely today, as always. Just like an angel, my dear." His eyes searched hers, wondering what was on her mind.
Their pleasantries continued until the maids was out of the room and they were left alone. Azkadellia threw out a silencing spell and let her mask drop slightly at the same time as the Duke's did.
"What is it, my dear? Your note sounded urgent," Arrington asked, a frown creasing his brow.
The princess nodded, refusing to meet his imploring gaze, "It is. However, it's not an easy topic for me to discuss. Even with you, your grace."
"I would have thought," Arrington began, "That with the wedding only two months away we could have moved past such formalities, Princess Azkadellia. We are, after all, expected to share a bed."
"That's why I wanted to talk to you, Arrington," her voice was shallow, as if she spoke louder she was afraid the walls would hear and clamor against her.
Arrington raised his eyebrows in shock, "I had wanted to discuss it with you, as well, Azkadellia."
At that she looked at him, fully taking in how nervous he appeared and how unprepared either of them were for this conversation. "Please, Arrington, speak first. I find words escaping me at the moment."
Arrington looked down at his hands, unsure how to begin. "I'm not sure how much about my personal life you've been told, Azkadellia ... but I've been in love with a woman and carrying on a relationship with her for the past five annuals."
Her eyes turned into sharp slits, "When were you going to inform me that you had a mistress?"
"I just did," he replied calmly. "And I can only assume that you wanted to tell me of your intention of taking a lover after we wed." At her lack of a response he continued, "There's no shame in that, Azkadellia. I've made no secret of the fact that I do not love you - just as you do not love me."
She opened her mouth to respond but he held up a hand to stop her, "We have become ... friends in the past months. And I believe quite firmly that we can correct the financial situation the crown is in at the moment." He reached over and grasped her hand, with a tight smile, "We will make a good team for this country, Princess. But that will never change our hearts."
"We will have to share a bed at some point, Arrington," Azkadellia said. "My first born will be heir to the throne and it would save a great deal of heartache if that child were yours."
"Surely whomever the father of your child is cannot matter," he replied, the conversation now turning a direction he at least new how to steer through.
She shook her head, "To most, it doesn't. But there are some ... it would just be better, Arrington."
They were silent for a time before she continued, discussing the situation as if they were discussing weather patterns, "The three days following the wedding ceremony are the proper time of the month for me, Arrington. We can do what we can physically, and then spend a month hoping and praying to Ozma and Lurline that it worked."
His hand tightened on hers, "To have one child together, and a friendship."
"I think you're right," she said, her voice barely above a whisper as she looked at him with wide eyes that showed him a form of love and companionship he could live with in a wife. "I think we're going to make a wonderful team for this kingdom."
"Really, Zero, I think you should get her this one," DG said a short while later at a different shop. She was pointing toward a bracelet that had a travel storm charm on it, surrounded on either side by a slipper, heart, scroll, and medal charms. It was supposed to represent the Four - the original Slipper, Dorothy Gale; her Tin Man; the Scarecrow; and the Cowardly Lion.
He glared at her, "That would hardly be appropriate, Highness."
She put her hands on her hips and glared back at him, not caring that the shop keeper was watching them closely. Switching into the household Goblin language (which she knew quite well Zero was fluent in) DG responded, "Of course it would, Rian. If I told you why she probably wouldn't talk to me for a month. But it will be more than appropriate soon enough."
He responded in the same dialect, "I wish I could believe you, Thia. But rejection hardens a heart against hope. My heart is stone."
"Your heart will bleed, Rian," she replied, glaring slightly at the shortened form of her name. She hated it when he called her Thia, but no matter what she said he wouldn't stop. It was something she just had to live with. So she had started calling him Rian to try to piss him off into stop calling her Thia. It hadn't worked. In fact, the names had become a sort of bonding experience.
"What do you mean?"
Her eyes narrowed, "Not many know of it - it hasn't been used since the days of my Great-Grandmother ... but there is a second consort ring."
"What?" in his shock he reverted back to the Ozarian language.
She didn't elaborate, just shrugged, "You heard me. Now buy her the damn bracelet."
DG didn't stop as she stalked out of the store and waited with her other guards, a smug smile on her face as they waited for Adrian to come out of the shop, a small box in his hand which he quickly pushed into his pocket. Mission accomplished.
Wyatt knew what his mother wanted to give him. It was something she'd promised him years ago, when he had married Adora - but that marriage had happened and was over too quickly for her to finish making it and give it to him.
"When you told me you were marryin' a princess I had to expand it a bit," his mother said when he walked into the back room where she sat, holding a large, folded quilt in her lap. "Hope she won't mind ... I know it's not as fancy as what she's used to. Or you're used to, now."
Wyatt took the blanket from his mother reverently, knowing she'd spent countless hours sewing it together, the same way her mother and grandmother had done before her. A wedding quilt, with the love of the family and the gods to protect the newly married couple. "No," he replied reverently, "It's beautiful, Mom. She's gonna love it as much as I do."
He leaned in and hugged his mother tightly, "Thank you."
"I only wish I had time to make one when you first were married." She frowned and began to walk out of the room, arm in arm with her son, "At least I was able to finish Jeb's blanket in time."
"And he's slept with it every night since then."
"Lowry," Wyatt called to one of the guards that came with him as he and his mother stepped out of the house. He handed him the blanket carefully as the soldier came bounding up, "Put this in the car. Carefully. I see so much as a speck of dirt on that and you'll be bumped back down to civilian. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," the younger man said, a hint of fear clear in his voice. Sometimes General Wyatt Cain could be scary. Apparently getting laid didn't change that.
"If you're done terrorizing your guard, Wyatt, I want to talk with you about something," Jael said in a commanding tone that seemed to be an engrained Cain family trait.
Wyatt pecked his mother's cheek before going off to join his youngest sister. They linked arms and started walking away from the house. Clearly Jael didn't want their conversation overheard by prying ears - namely, Babette's and Elliot's.
The pair walked for hours, catching up and reminiscing on times past when they had both been children. Growing up, the pair had been close, Wyatt letting Amy and Jael tag along sometimes when he went out, protecting them from the neighborhood punks. Especially protecting Jael.
In a small way DG reminded him of Jael. They were both very slight women, appearing frail and oh so breakable. The only difference was that due to health reasons Jael was very frail and breakable. It was part of the reason she joined the service of Lurline at the temple.
That, and her gift for Dreams. She was a very good Dream Reader, and regularly had Dreams of her own that prophesied events to come, or gave clarity on events already past. That's what made her words to him even more important.
"I've been Dreaming about you, Wyatt," Jael said softly once she was sure no one was listening.
"What have you seen, Jael?" his brow furrowed in concern.
Her eyes turned the peculiar shade of silver that marked her gift. "I've seen happiness for you. She will give you three children to add to Jeb. And you will both love all four unconditionally. You will be good leaders for the Goblin Kingdom, brother."
"But?" Wyatt prodded, knowing there was a "but" coming up soon.
Jael took in a deep breath before she spoke, "Lurline has whispered to me that DG's work is not done. In this reality nor in another. There will come a time when both of you will be tested by separation and the flames of trials that are not yours to face. DG must fix mistakes that she never made in this life, but made in a past that never was, and a future that never will be."
Wyatt felt his heart race at that thought and grabbed Jael's shoulders to spin her around to face him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Her eyes welled up with tears as she shook her head slowly, "I don't know. That's what she whispered to me as I Dreamt of your happiness. You will not be without troubles, Wyatt, but you will be happy."
Wyatt wasn't sure what to say as he released his vice grip, and walked back to the cabin with his sister at his side, silent in the face of the news she had just delivered.
"Will you be coming to the wedding?" DG asked that night as the clan again sat around the dining table for a supper of wonderful home cooked food.
"I'm afraid we're not sure how we'd get there," Jack hemmed and hawed for a moment.
"Don't worry about transportation. It's already taken care of, all you have to do is find out whether or not you can spare the time," DG replied with a reassuring smile.
Amy was intrigued, "How is it taken care of already?"
DG tilted her head as the family watched her, wondering what she was thinking. "I'm not quite sure how to explain it," she finally said. Turning to Amy she asked, "Do you know of the ability for reflective surfaces to connect to each other, do you not?"
At her nod, and the nods of others around the table, DG continued, "The invitation, if it's held in your hand on the correct day, will open a portal between either a mirror or a pond in your immediate surroundings and the Castle's Receiving Room. All you'll have to do is touch the surface - be it the mirror or the pond."
"Handy," Hanah said with a slight smirk. "And it'll transport anyone who's holding the invitation?"
The princess struggled to contain herself at that thought. "No. It will only transport those whose names are written on the invitation." Her eyes flickered to Wyatt's before turning back to his sister, "Wouldn't want any unexpected guests."
"Of course we'll be there," Millie said with a smile, kicking her daughter under the table to get her to stop trying to pick apart her future sister-in-law. "I couldn't think of any place in the world we'd rather be."
"Darlin'?" Wyatt asked once they were back at Finaqua. DG turned to look at him as they walked toward the pond.
"Hmm?" she asked, happy and content with life and ready to spend all of her days in such bliss even though she knew it wasn't possible.
Wyatt's question brought that point home clearly, "What do you know of the past that never was and the future that never will be?"
DG tensed under his hands. They stopped walking and she looked up at him with big eyes, "Who told you about that?"
Trust. He had to trust her if he expected her to trust him. "Jael has Dreams. She said Lurline whispered something about it in her ear."
DG nodded, "When I found out that you were my bond mate," she explained, "I asked the Labyrinth why she chose you. She responded that although she could already sense the necessary elements without it, the majority of her decision was the past that never was and the future that never will be." She shook her head, "I'm not sure what it means."
He smiled at her, trying his best to reassure them both with his words, "I'm sure it's nothing. Come on, don't we have a report on the Other Side to read?"
DG grinned, giving him a quick kiss on his lips before they started walking back to the palace. "One of the perks of being the Goblin Princess, I guess. I got to keep current with popular culture on the Other Side. But you don't have to be there."
"And miss the chance to actually learn something and develop my own secret language with you?" he asked. "Never."
DG stopped walking and pulled him toward her arms. "You've been watching too many of those cop shows, cowboy."
Azkadellia walked through the orchard aimlessly, not really paying any attention to where she was going, nor to what she was even doing. Her movements were mechanical, her eyes seeming to wander around her surroundings but never really focusing on anything at all. Her thoughts were focused inward, on how exactly she planned to address the "current situation" with Adrian Zero.
Of course, her preoccupation with her thoughts caused her to run straight into the man they were focused so strongly upon.
"Ow. Watch out, Princess, you could hurt yourself," Zero said as he took hold of her arms, steadying her so she wouldn't fall.
Azkadellia's eyes locked on his, her heart beating as her mouth attempted to speak. Her body decided to forego words for the moment and she leaned in, her tongue eager to taste him.
He moaned against her mouth as he opened up to her, his grip changing from supportive to possessive as his arms wrapped around her warm body and brought her closer to him.
"I'm so sorry," she sighed as their kiss broke.
"For kissing me?" he asked, his heart hoping she said no, while his mind tried to prepare him for the inevitable rejection that always accompanied his feelings for Azkadellia.
Her hazy eyes locked with his as she shook her head, "No. I'm sorry I can't marry you. I'm sorry it took Ambrose to knock some sense into me. I love you, Adrian."
Adrian gathered her close again, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you, too, Az. I know you have to marry him. And I don't care. I want to be with you - any way that I can."
She pulled back slightly so she could look at him. Her eyes were full of wonder, "Do you mean that?"
A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, "Then maybe everything really will turn out all right."
He smiled in response, bending down to capture her lips in another heartwarming kiss.
Nesa watched her daughters with their loves, from high up in the palace. Her face was drawn as she thought about the prophecy. She felt rather than heard her husband come up behind her and started speaking, her arms wrapped around herself as she revealed to her husband the other reason she had acted as she had all those annuals before:
"The majestic Queen of the O.Z. had two lovely daughters she. One to Darkness, she be drawn. One to Light, she be shown. Double eclipse it is foreseen, Light meets Dark in the Stillness between. But only one and one alone shall hold the Emerald and take the throne."
"Why haven't I heard that before, Nesa?" Ahamo asked as he stepped more fully into the room.
"I didn't think you should know, Ahamo," she replied, her voice drawn.
"You didn't -" he cut himself off as he walked to his wife's side, forcing her to look into his gaze. "They are our daughters, Nesa. What else haven't you told me? How long do we have until this double eclipse?"
Tears filled her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. "A little over three annuals."
"Where's the Emerald?"
"Safe. Hidden within the Grey Gale." Her eyes begged him to believe her, "I couldn't tell you, Ahamo. Please understand."
"I understand, Nesa," he replied, his voice sad. "I understand that you can't trust me and feel that you must keep secrets from me."
"Please, Ahamo. Let me explain why I didn't tell you."
He nodded curtly. He was her bonded, but that didn't mean that he had to always speak to her. She motioned that they should sit down.
Once the couple was seated, Nesa began to speak, "When DG was bound to the Labyrinth at such a young age I asked the O.Z. for answers. She told me it had to do with the past that never was and the future that never will be."
Ahamo furrowed his brow but Nesa held up a hand, "Please. I asked for an explanation and the O.Z. gave me something that has been plaguing my mind these past twelve annuals. She gave me the memories of the past that never was and the future that never will be. Terrible memories that cannot be taken away. Let me tell you what would have happened if our daughters had not destroyed the Witch that day, all those annuals ago, at Finaqua ..."
Fini ... or is it?
A/N: Now, before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me, I'd like to point out that I already told you there is a sequel in the works. Brownie points if you guess what I plan to do!
Oh, and this chapter is dedicated to my readers in Japan and Australia. Thank you. ... Oh, and it's also dedicated to Cat Yuy, Queen Isabella, KLCtheBookworm, and Gotta Dance 88. Thank you.