A/N: Well, here's another chapter of Ancient Vows after months of not updating this fic. It's about Adin and Zara, and is Zara-centric. Reviews are always welcome! :)
They were only children, laughing and happy, playing in the street as if the troubles of the world could never touch them. Perhaps it could not. Who knew what could happen in the next years, as their offspring grew to adulthood? Who knew what poison the enemy would conjure, what ordinary, worldly problems would befall them?
Zara, watching from the forge gates, could only pray that they stayed as joyful and light-hearted as they were now. On the edge of the street, closest to her, Ronan and Leah stood, waiting, as dark-haired, wide-eyed Shannara held a ball in the palm of her hand, preparing to throw. Ronan was jiggling with impatience; Leah was serenely still. Shannara threw, with all the might of her slim arm, and Zara watched as Ronan leapt to catch it with child-like glee.
She had to smile, at that. Ronan surely had the heart of a child. He reminded her of Alanis, in his own way. Alanis, who was in faraway Tora, hopefully growing up content and at peace. The thought gave her a pang. Zara could not deny that she missed her youngest daughter dreadfully. She knew with all her heart that she had made the right choice in sending Alanis to be fostered in Tora, but it still hurt to be separated from her for so long, and to not be able to witness even a few years of her childhood. The girl would return eventually, of course, but that was still a long time coming.
Zara was grateful that Shannara and Leah were still too young to leave the city. At their Toran kin's request, at sixteen years of age her two older daughters would have the choice to travel to Tora to live, if they so wished. It had been Lyra's idea. 'Just think, Zara,' the woman had said in her serene way. 'They would have a chance to learn about their heritage first-hand, and perhaps meet someone special.' Zara had agreed to it, for it would strengthen relations between Del and Tora tremendously to have two princesses of Del living of their own volition in the great city of the west.
Zara suspected that Shannara at the very least would be pleased with such an arrangement, as she had already shown some interest in Tora and its history. Leah she was not so sure of. The girl was very dutiful, yes, with a strong sense of justice that could never be silenced. Zara could not be certain that she would want to live in Tora, where there was only peace and no crime to stamp out. Perhaps she would if she felt it was her duty to do so. It did not matter at this moment, she supposed. Leah was still only a child, though she was on the brink of womanhood.
They were all still only children, Zara thought, at least for now. It was her and Adin's wish to keep them that way for as long as possible, for childhood came just once and flew by so quickly. All of their children deserved to be children for as long as they wanted.
'Zara?' The queen turned to see Adin standing beside her. He smiled at her, following her gaze to the children playing in the street. 'Are you alright?'
Zara returned his smile and squeezed his hand. He understood. Of course he did. 'I am alright,' she told him. 'It is just that they are growing up so quickly. Soon Leah and Shannara will be gone to Tora…'
'It would not be for a few years yet,' Adin reminded her.
'…possibly forever,' Zara continued as if he had not interrupted, 'and Alanis is already there. Oh, and I will miss them when they go. Of course Ronan and Alderic will still be here but it will not be the same. And- and I will miss the children they used to be. Not just Leah and Shannara, but the others as well. In a few years they will not be playing in the street as they do now, or having their lessons in the cottage. They may not even be in Del. They will be gone, and I do not know what I will do without them.'
'You will do as you have always done,' Adin said firmly. 'You are the strongest person I know, Zara. You will survive it. I know you will.'
She shook her head, her eyes suddenly stinging with tears she refused to let fall. 'Oh, Adin, I know. But I know I shall miss them, as I miss my brother and kin. I chose to live here, and I do not regret it, but it hurts, not being able to see them.' She paused, to give Adin a chance to speak, but he kept silent. So she continued. 'I did not realise just how much until I visited Shim. It gave me more joy than I expected to be among my own people again, and when I left it hurt so. And it will hurt just as much when our children begin to leave here one by one.'
She had not intended the conversation to go in that direction. It was true that she was missing Shim and her Toran kin, more so after her surprise visit only months before, but she always tried not to let Adin see it, for he would only worry and feel unwarranted guilt. It was not his fault—she had chosen to wed him and leave Tora forever. He should not feel as if he was to blame for what she was feeling now. And besides, she was the queen. Surely she was strong enough to shoulder this burden, as she had shouldered previous ones.
After a brief silence, Adin spoke. 'I… I am sorry for that,' he said quietly. 'I know it is hard for you to be separated from your people. I wish I could remedy that. And our children... you must know that it is inevitable, that they will leave us someday. You can only try to bear it.'
'I know, and it is by my own choice.' Zara shrugged, trying to appear more serene than she felt. 'I knew what wedding you would entail, and I was ready to take on that burden. It is just that I was reminded of how quickly time passes when I was watching the children play. They will leave us someday, and like Shim I will not see them for many years. That is all. I am sorry for worrying you.'
'Never,' Adin said fiercely. 'You need never apologise for any such thing. You know I understand. And…' Zara saw determination surface in his eyes, and wondered at it. 'And I meant it. I will remedy it, somehow. I want you to be happy, Zara, and if you miss your people…'
Zara stared at him questioningly. 'What are you thinking, Adin? What are you planning?'
At her words, Adin smiled the smile she had come to love, and said simply, 'Wait and see.'