Dae woke softly before the dawn and resisted the urge to stretch lest she disturb the queen who slept nuzzled up against her. Just the sight of Alari, serene and at peace, put a lump in Dae’s throat and an insatiable desire to kiss her on Dae’s lips. Only the desire to preserve that peace held Dae back and let her enjoy the minutes as they passed by, giving her time to gaze softly at the woman in her arms.
Dae remembered her dreams and for a change didn’t flinch from them. Gone were the images of dragons and waves of terror. In their place she walked barefoot in a garden of soft grasses and clear streams. The calm she felt there soothed her heart and let her view the world around her without plunging into worry about the world to come. As blessings from a goddess went, there wasn’t anything Telliakai could have gifted Dae with that would have been kinder.
Even in the dark of the night’s last vestiges, there was light in her world. The moon shone down through the windows the kept out the chilly spring breezes and kept in the warmth from the small room’s hearth. Light pooled on the bed, accenting Alari’s long hair and soft features.
Dae watched as Alari breathed, unable to believe the path her life had taken. From noble’s daughter to condemned prisoner to a princess’s handmaiden and a queen’s knight. She’d stumbled and fallen so many times, and believed more than once that she would never get up again. Yet, as a new dawn approached, she found herself suspended in a perfect moment.
All was quiet. All was calm. The maelstrom of problems that always awaited was no more formidable than on any other day and far easier than some recent trials had been. Alari was safe, and secure and happy and hers.
Dae’s eyes drunk that in. Just the sheer sight of so beautiful and precious a person so close and open to her. Memories swept through her, of time spent sleeping alone in military barracks or, worse, surrounded by friendly troops and still alone in tents or fields or castle quarters.
She’d left Alari to keep her safe, but Dae had also left to find her own life. In doing so she’d discovered strengths and weaknesses both of which had served her well. In the end though the deepest lesson she’d learned was that allowing her life to be intertwined with another’s, with Alari’s, was what she’d always truly wanted.
“It’s not fair waking up before me,” Alari said with a lazy stretch that arched her back and brought her head up closer to be level with Dae’s.
“No bad dreams this time,” Dae said. “Only a really nice one that I got to wake up beside.”
“I’d ask you to pinch me to make sure I’m not the one who’s dreaming, but we might never get out of bed then,” Alari said.
“I can enchant the door to be unopenable if you’d like?” Dae said. The idea was more than half tempting. Despite the nights they’d spent together, Dae was far from having her fill of time alone with Alari.
“I won’t say no to that, not today,” Alari said.
“You cleared your schedule?” Dae asked.
“Yes I did. Do you know why?”
“It’s not my birthday,” Dae said. “Or yours.”
“You’re worth celebrating every day, not just once a year,” Alari said. “And I want you as my present every time I wake up.”
“Why clear today then?” Dae asked. “I mean as tempting as it would be I don’t think we can lock ourselves up in here forever.”
“Because today the nobles are going home,” Alari said. “The last group reswore their fealty to me at the end of the open court.”
“Wait, what? I thought they asked for a week to formulate their list of demands,” Dae said.
“Technically they were supposed to be giving me their requests and recommendations,” Alari said. “Faen talked with them though and they dropped their discussions.”
“He problem said I’d eat them if they aggravated you any further,” Dae said.
“I don’t know, they seemed tired more than anything else,” Alari said. “A few chose to retire and have their heir take their place, probably at Faen’s prompting, but the rest seemed genuinely interested in putting the past behind us.”
“Forgiving them all, again, probably helped. It’s got to be dispiriting to keep trying to revolt only to have your monarch treat you kindly each time you fail,” Dae said.
“Maybe for some of them. I think the rest saw the sort of profits the royal treasury was reaping from trade with our neighbors while they squandered their time and money trying to unseat me. Kindness may warm their hearts, but money gets them out of bed in the morning.”
“You know there’s not enough money in the world to get me out of this bed,” Dae said and flicked her hand towards the door. A sparkle of light appeared around its frame and lingered there. The dragons of Paxmer, all of them, could try to break down the door and it wouldn’t budge an inch.
“And here I was looking forward to seeing you in the royal baths,” Alari said, mischief alight in her eyes.
Dae kissed her.
“You can see me wherever and whenever you like,” she said when they paused for breath.
“Do you know how happy you make me?” Alari asked. “I never thought I’d have this.”
“Kisses? I used to give you lots of them,” Dae said and gave Alari a little peck on her left earlobe.
“Oh, believe me, I remember every one of them,” Alari said. “I spent a lot of nights here with nothing but those memories for company. That’s not what I meant though. For so long I thought my being queen meant that you’d hold yourself apart from me. Like I was a precious kind of doll that could only be admired so much.”
“I think I did feel like that at first. Like the time I got to spend with you and the things we did together were all just pretend,” Dae said. “I always knew you would have to do the right thing for Gallagrin and marry some Prince to produce little heirs. Even if we’d stayed together there wouldn’t really have been a place for me in that arrangement.”
“Well we see how well the whole ‘marry a Prince’ idea worked out,” Alari said.
“It was a good idea at the time,” Dae said. “Don’t get me wrong, I still wish I could chop his head off again and again, but right then it was what you needed to do and I don’t fault you for it at all.”
“I do,” Alari said. “I can’t claim that I knew how bad he was. I was more blind to that than anyone, and I think for a time I really did care for him. But it never felt quite right. I cared for him but I loved someone else, and even though she was far away, and hated me, I still wanted to be with her more than anything, because what I did with her was never just pretending.”
“You’re very wrong about that,” Dae said. “I never hated you. I hated myself. I might have hated your Consort-King too, but that was jealousy, pure and simple. And I never wanted what was between us to be pretend, I just couldn’t bring myself to hope for more than that. Halrek got you and that was how everyone thought it should be. My feelings were a tiny little thing compared to the good of the realm.”
“Bet it felt good to behead him,” Alari said.
“Oh you have no idea,” Dae said. “But that was mostly in retrospect. Seeing you as hurt as you were then almost killed me.”
“It was worth it,” Alari said. “Every ache, every pain, everything that got us to today was worth it.”
“Yes,” Dae said. “Yes it was. I thought the dragon broke me, but he didn’t, and if I hadn’t faced him I could never have faced the Divine Sanction with you.”
“And now you’re a sorcerer,” Alari said. “How does that feel?”
“It’s hard to describe,” Dae said. “I feel like I’m always changing, always transforming into something new, but without the wild uncontrollable surges that I used to feel when I merged with Kirios.”
“And it doesn’t hurt?” Alari asked.
“No, I probably should have noticed that from the first but it didn’t occur to me,” Dae said. “I thought I could manage to get into the state Mayleena’s in, where’s she kind of a Berserker and kind of not at the same time, but that’s not where I wound up.”
Alari reached over and hugged her.
“When you said you were going to turn into a Berserker do you know what my first thought was?” Alari asked, holding Dae close.
“You were going to order my magic away,” Dae said, gently hugging Alari back.
“No, that was the plan I came up with,” Alari said. “My first thought was whether I’d be able to become one with you.”
“A queen of Gallagrin going berserk would have been pretty unstoppable,” Alari said.
“I had to keep you safe somehow,” Alari said.
“You did,” Dae said. “I’m not being metaphorical either. You saved me when we were little and you saved me a thousand times since then. Every time the world felt like it was dragging me under, you were there, you were my lifeline.”
“I wasn’t with you when you needed me most though,” Alari said. “I almost lost you.”
“Kirios said that after Haldraxan, I wasn’t afraid of his power enough,” Dae said. “It’s why he couldn’t transform with me. I wasn’t afraid enough to hold back anymore, and if we’d transformed together we would have gone berserk for sure. When it came down to it though, he was wrong. There was one fear I had left and it was stronger than anything else. I called for magic and let him go and it was my fear of never seeing you again that let me hang on to who I was.”
Alari hugged her tighter and Dae felt tears fall onto her shoulder.
“I knew you couldn’t be for me,” Dae said, ”But you showed me your love so many times and in so many ways, that I was able to hang on while hanging on was impossible. I can never repay you for how much you’ve given to my life, I can only give you all of me that there is to give.”
“I am for you though” Alari said. “And I want you for me. I want all of you and I want to give you all of me. Forever.”
“Then I’m yours, forever, no qualifiers. All of who I am, all of who I’ll become.” Dae said.
“What can I offer but the same. All of who I am and all of who I’ll become. Yours, forever,” Alari said.
“You are still the queen though,” Dae said. “I feel like I’m robbing Gallagin of its finest treasure. Not that I plan to give you back mind you, but still you are kind of precious.”
Alari pushed away and stared straight into Dae’s eyes.
“I am no more precious than you,” she said. “If we’re going to be together, really together, I can’t be your queen. You can’t put me on a pedestal, or hold me at a distance. First and foremost we have to be in this together. As equals.”
“All of me and all of you,” Dae said. “I promise there’s nothing you’ll have to face alone and if I hold you it’s only going to be to bring you closer.”
Dae kissed Alari again and they drew each other in tighter to their shared embrace, hope and joy and fulfillment radiating from them to light all of their days and nights to come.