The story always ends
There's a soft knock on the door and I look up from the book I'm reading. "Come in!"
The door opens to reveal Owen and Leslie, her arms full of colourful fabric. George, who has decamped to Scotland with us, raises his head and glares at them for interrupting his beauty sleep.
"My quilt!" I exclaim happily as I identify the fabric.
Leslie smiles. "Do you have a moment or is now not a good time?"
"No, no, it's perfectly fine," I assure. "George is sleeping, but I'm just killing time until my family arrives."
"When are you expecting them?" Owen asks as they both closer and sit on the sofa beside me, the quilt piling up on the coffee table. George closes his eyes firmly again and scuttles his nose below his paw, lest anything think he entertains any notion of waking up.
I give him an affectionate pat and quickly check my watch. "Shouldn't be too long anymore. Their plane already landed in Edinburgh and I assume they're driving up here now."
"Such an amazing luck that they got leave from work again so soon after the wedding," Leslie muses. It might have been sarcastic coming from anyone else, but from her, it's perfectly genuine.
"It's nothing short of a miracle," I correct, shaking my head slightly. "I mean, not so much with my parents, I guess. Dad's retired, of course, and Mum has no courses anymore, she's just finishing up the last of her work before retiring in March as well. That my siblings also managed to come though… a miracle for sure."
"I suppose telling an employer that you have to attend your sister's wedding to a prince and are given the opportunity to see in the New Year in a real castle is somewhat convincing," Owen suggest, his eyes twinkling with mirth.
I shrug, smiling. "Well, whatever miracle transpired to get them here today, I'm not questioning it. I'm just going to be grateful."
"Yes, I understand." Leslie nods, returning my smile. "You should consider making it a tradition. Christmas belongs to the public side of our life, but New Year's Eve is ours."
"You mean like Amy and Teddy celebrating it with her family?" I check, frowning in thought.
With everyone's blessing, Amy and Teddy flew out to Kansas again after Boxing Day, splitting the holidays between both families. It's not yet established as a tradition, but I think everyone expects it to become one.
"Like that," Leslie confirms, following my train of thought. "Maybe you'd like to consider something similar? Invite them here or go over there for New Year's Eve."
"Hmm…" I ponder her idea. "I don't suppose they can come here every year, but maybe if we go there normally and then invite them here every few years? Provided Owen and you won't be lonely with all of us gone, of course"
Owen shakes his head. "We still have Persis, don't forget. And besides, both Amy and you need to keep the connection to your families alive. I know you're both close to your parents and siblings and neither Leslie nor I want you to feel like you have a stronger obligation to us than to them."
"This is our job now," I point out. "Being royal, I mean."
"It is," acknowledges Owen. "But we get time off, too. You can and you should spend it with your family if possible. The same applies to Amy, of course. And quite apart from everything else, I'm looking forward to spending more time with your parents and siblings as well. I really enjoyed getting to know them earlier this month."
"That was fun," I agree, as always smiling widely at the memory of my wedding.
Reaching out, Leslie pulls the quilt towards us. "Speaking of your family… I thought you might like to have them contribute to this as well." She folds the quilt twice until we're looking at the square that was bare before.
When I told Leslie about the quilt on Christmas Day, she offered to help me finish it, which really means her finishing it for me. (It's not my fault that I'm useless with a needle!) My original thought was to ask Grandmother Marilla, but having Leslie do it feels just as meaningful.
She picked a swatch of grey Balmoral Tartan for the final square and stitched her good wishes upon it, like the ladies from the local church did. Carefully, I trace the stitches with the tip of my finger – and am surprised by one of the corners of the patch turning up.
"I didn't put in the final stiches," explains Leslie. "I thought you might like to ask your family members whether they'd like to help finishing the quilt – and then the last stich, of course, should be yours."
"It's a lovely idea and I'm sure they'll agree," I reply, meaning it. "Though someone will have to look out for me so I don't accidentally take out an eye with the needle."
Owen laughs. "I'm sure you'll do fine."
Lightly, I continue tracing my finger over the quilt and the messages stitched into it. Of its own accord, my mind starts to wonder about the child we might – God and fate willing – put to bed with this quilt one day. No matter what else happens, at least any child of ours will know they're loved.
I'm pulled from my thoughts by another knock on the door. George flicks his ear, annoyed, and closes his eyes even tighter.
"Yes?" Owen calls out.
A moment later, the door opens and we see one of the housemaids. She bops into a respectful curtesy. "Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness."
"Hello, um… Rosalie," I greet her, before wrinkling my nose in thought. "Is it Rosalie?"
"Yes, Ma'am," she confirms with a quick smile. "Rosalie is correct."
"Do you have a message for us?" Leslie wants to know, motioning for the housemaid to come inside.
Rosalie looks at me. "The gatehouse just called to say that your family arrived, Your Royal Highness."
Immediately, I jump to my feet, excitement washing over me. George, thus disturbed (again!), sigh heavily and gets up from where he was snuggled on his sofa. Stretching thoroughly, he jumps down to the floor and stalks off, probably in search of a place where he can sleep in peace.
"Sorry, Georgie!" I call after him, but to no reaction from the disdainful cat.
Turning away from him, my gaze moves from Leslie and Owen to the door, torn between rushing downstairs and doing the polite thing not to desert Leslie in the middle of a conversation.
Owen, alas, just laughs. "Go ahead. We'll try and collect the rest of our family in the meantime."
"Persis was with the ponies, last I checked," I inform him helpfully, while already moving towards the door. "And Ken is in the library, doing some work."
"I'm sure I'll find them," Leslie assures, also looking a little amused. "And now, off with you."
I don't need to be told twice. Slipping past Rosalie, I hurry towards the stairs and down, to the front door. When I step outside, the cars are already drawing up in front of the castle. Within seconds, my family piles out of them and the next couple of minutes are filled with hugs and kisses and hellos.
It's so good to see them again!
I'm still clinging to Mum, perhaps a little longer than usual, when I suddenly feel Di grab me from behind. Swivelling me around, she puts both hands on my shoulders and holds me at arm's length. "Plaid," she states with a look at my skirt. "Very forward-thinking of you. I heard some whispering that it might become fashionable again."
"Fashionable or not, in Scotland, we wear plaid," I reply with a grin. "And not just on Wednesdays."
Those members of my family who get the joke – mainly the younger, female ones – laugh, while the rest of them look politely confused.
"It's Rothesay Tartan," I add, looking at the green and red fabric of my skirt. "Because I'm Duchess of Rothesay now."
"Aren't you Princess of Wales?" Faith wants to know, wrinkling her nose in confusion.
"Yes, and Duchess of Rothesay," I answer. "Plus a bunch of other things."
"Her Royal Highness, The Princess Kenneth, Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester, Countess of Carrick, Baroness of Renfrew, Lady of the Isle and Princess of Scotland." That's Persis, bouncing towards us and grinning widely. "Hello, Rilla's family," she adds as an afterthought.
For a moment, everyone just blinks at her.
"Uh, what she said." I point my thumb in Persis's direction, making her laugh.
"Bit of a mouthful, isn't it?" muses Walter as he leans down to kiss my cheek in greeting.
I shrug to indicate that I don't disagree, but really, what's there to do?
Grandmother Bertha, naturally, got stuck on a different aspect of my new title. "Princess Kenneth, huh?" She rolls the words over her tongue pointedly.
"As per the rules," I reply, resisting the urge to shrug again. Instead, I walk over to Grandma Bertha and give her a hug. "Let's not dwell on it right now, okay?"
"Of course, darling," she promises, mellowing immediately and brushing a hand over my hair. (I have no doubt, alas, that she's filed the information away for a future conversation, probably with people that are not me.)
From Grandma Bertha's arms, I'm transferred to those of Grandpa John, before giving hugs to Jerry and, finally, Joy. Having thus greeted them all, I take a step back and cast a quick look around.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the butlers on duty approach. "Are the rooms ready, Mr Huddersfield?" I enquire.
"They are, Ma'am," he confirms. "Shall we take the luggage upstairs?"
"Please." I nod. "But, um… no need to unpack anything. I think they'll prefer to do that themselves."
"As you wish, Ma'am." With a respectful bow, Huddersfield takes a step back. One motion of his hand and several footmen spring into action, moving to collect my family's luggage from the cars.
I can feel at least half of them looking at me with raised eyebrows, but I studiously ignore them. It's not my fault that this is how it goes!
"Do you want to come inside?" I ask instead. "Ken is upstairs and so are Leslie and Owen. Besides, it's getting to be a bit chilly out here."
"That's one way of putting it," mutters Nia, who, even after years of living in Canada, still misses the warmer climate of her youth.
Falling into step beside me as we enter the castle, Nan leans closer and whispers, "Would they really have unpacked our luggage?"
"They would," I murmur back. "In fact, they did it when I first went to Sandringham and didn't know to tell them not to do it. I left my bags mostly unpacked before going down to dinner and when I came back, it had all neatly been stored away. Even my underwear was folded to precision!"
Nan blinks as she processes this, before shuddering visibly. "Talk about awkward."
"Quite." I nod. "Ever since, I've made very sure to tell everyone not to touch my luggage and I thought you might think so, too."
"Most definitely!" Nan agrees firmly.
"Oh, I don't know." That's Jem, apparently having overheard our conversation and now appearing on my other side, grinning widely. "Perhaps we'd like the whole royal castle experience?"
"Well, you're not getting it," I inform him, smiling slightly. "You're getting the family experience, which is ever so much better."
In fact, Owen offered to pull out all stops for my family, including a big formal white tie dinner for New Year's Eve, but after talking it over with Ken and my parents, I declined. I'm sure a big royal to-do would have been impressive, but this time is for family and ultimately, I imagine mine approves of being treated as such.
Thus, the next few days are filled with long walks, spirited conversations, hearty meals and competitive game nights. (The board games Owen produces are either very old or brand new, leading me to guess that he had someone raid the attic for whatever previous royal generations left there and then go shopping for the rest.) There's some awkwardness between my two families initially, but as time passes, it feels increasingly natural. Curiously, despite this being their home turf, it's Owen, Leslie and Persis being absorbed into the madness that is the Blythe Clan rather than the other way round.
By New Year's Eve, everyone mingles easily and when we all retire to the big drawing room after dinner, I take a moment to observe them. Standing by the window sill where George holds court, I allow my gaze to drift through the room and take it all in.
In one corner of the room, Shirley, Grandpa John and Nia are huddled around a tablet, talking with Amy and Teddy about sustainable architecture. It was Persis who called to include them, since the evening celebrations are some ways off yet in Kansas, though she then promptly proceeded to toss the tablet to the nearest person – Shirley – and moved on. Right now, I spy her talking animatedly to Dad and Jerry about her competition plans for next year, which I think baffles them rather a bit, though they try not to show it.
Not far from his daughter is Owen, a politely amused expression on his face as he listens to Grandma Bertha talk to him, her hands flying through the air. From the snatches of conversation that carry over to me, I think she's making a case for equal primogeniture – not realising, I reckon, that she's really preaching to the choir. Dan, who wandered over to mediate if necessary, appears to have realised that no opposition is to be expected from Owen and evidently settled in to enjoy the show instead. (Grandma Bertha arguing a point is never boring!)
My other grandmother, meanwhile, has gathered the little girls around her on one of the sofas. She has Zoe in her lap, who's watching wide-eyed as Grandmother Marilla tries to teach a sceptical Izzie how to put a stitch into my quilt. (From the looks of it, Izzie is in as much danger of putting out an eye as I am.) Next to Izzie, I spy the limited edition Princess Rilla Bridal Barbie I re-gifted her after being sent it by the producing toy company – much to the chagrin of Joy. Right now, my big sister and Faith are close by, cheerfully regaling a horrified Di with stories about the later stages of pregnancy, while both keeping an eye on their daughters, lest they start misbehaving.
Holding court on one of the other sofas is Great-Aunt Tanya, with Walter and Katya gathered around her and Lottie lying by her feet. When she heard that Katya is actually Russian, Great-Aunt Tanya was eager to meet her and the two of them have since hit it off. At first, I know that Katya was a little apprehensive, given her maiden name – Ulyanova – and its similarity to the man who ordered the murder of the Romanovs, but she was quickly put at ease by Great-Aunt Tanya's interest in her and her life. Walter mostly tacks along with the two of them, providing quotes from Russian literature and poetry when appropriate, to both their delight.
Also talking about literature are Mum, Leslie and Nan standing by the fireplace. With her work at the university coming to an end, Mum is considering branching out into novels for adults, in addition to the children's book she's been writing to such success for years. Nan has so far been her primary sparring partner when it comes to discussing plot ideas, but by the looks of it, they've now drawn Leslie into their discussion as well. She looks unusually animated, which is always a lovely sight. When I catch Ken's eye – who's chatting to Jem nearby (hopefully not about what my brother plans to do to him if he breaks my heart!) – he smiles and I know he's thinking the same thing I am.
Letting my gaze drift over all of them, talking and enjoying themselves, I feel a surge of warmth within me. This is my family, the people I care about above all others in the world, and to see them happy and relaxed and comfortable with each other pleases me more than I could say.
"Nice, huh?" asks Jake as he ambles towards me and holds out his hand for George to sniff.
"Is it that obvious what I'm thinking about?" I wonder, smiling slightly.
He shrugs as he leans against the window sill beside me. "You're happy they're happy. It's not so difficult to guess."
No, probably not.
"You're happy, too," Jake states, looking at me from the side as he starts scratching George's ears.
"I am," I confirm, my smile widening. "Ten years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed I'd ever be here, but now that I am… yes, I'm happy. Happy as can be, in fact."
"Good," replies Jake simply, before letting his eyes drift around the room.
"What about you, Huckleberry Jake?" I want to know. "Are you happy?"
Another shrug, but this time, it's accompanied by a tiny smile. "I think so."
I slip an arm around his shoulders and briefly draw him closer. Surprisingly, he lets me, though it garners me a glare from George whose scritches I just disturbed. "Any plans for the summer?" I ask my nephew.
"Bruce and I want to go travelling for a bit," Jake answers, "and then, of course, we'll head for university."
"Is that so?" I hum, briefly distracted. I've long wondered whether he and Bruce Meredith might be a bit more than just friends and I know Joy and Dan are wondering the same thing, but ultimately, that's for Jake to find out and to tell, so I keep my musings quiet.
"We actually applied to some universities in England," Jake continues. "I really like the look of Imperial College."
I look at him, surprised but pleased. "It would be lovely to have you here with me for a while!"
"So, you're not against it?" Jake asks, sounding a bit vulnerable. "Me following you to England?"
"Against it?" I exclaim, shaking my head. "Of course not! In fact, I'd happily offer you one of the forty-one rooms in our new apartment at KP if I didn't think you'd prefer not to live with your ancient aunt in her fancy-schmancy palace. You must come to dinner often though, ancient aunt or not. Georgie and Lottie will love having you." I indicate the cat who now pretends to sleep and the dog at the other side of the room.
"You could never be ancient, Aunt Rilla," Jake assures me loyally. "You're too lively, just like Ken's great-aunt."
I briefly squeeze his shoulder. "You've always been saying the nicest things, do you know that? Even as a little boy."
Where has that little boy gone, I wonder? And where, alongside him, did time go?
"It's easy. I just say the truth," explains Jake, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. (Perhaps, it really is.)
I would have liked to have continued picking his brain about his university plans some more, but am distracted by sudden movements all around the room. George, predictably, ignores it, but I see that Lottie is already scrambling to her feet.
"What's happening?" I ask Jake, frowning.
"I think we're moving somewhere else," he speculates.
And sure enough, everyone is walking towards the door, dog in tow. Persis frantically waves for Jake and me to follow, which we do, curious to find out what's happening. It doesn't dawn on me, alas, until we're halfway to our destination and an apprehensive feeling takes hold.
Jake looks at me with raised eyebrows. "What's wrong?"
"We're going to the ballroom," I explain.
He looks none the wiser. "And…?"
"And that probably means someone had the great idea for us to dance," I elaborate, shuddering slightly at the thought.
Jake grimaces. "I can't dance. But you dance beautifully, Aunt Rilla. I've seen it at the wedding."
I snort. "Plain old ballroom dancing, maybe. We're in Scotland though, so there'll be Scottish Country Dancing. Ever tried that?"
"Can't say I have," Jake admits cautiously.
"There's a whole choreography to it and when you're new to it, you inevitably twist an ankle," I inform him ominously.
Jake's apprehension turns to horror. "Um… do you think there's a chance I might sit it out?"
"Truthfully?" I ask, thinking of Great-Aunt Tanya, who's a great fan of Scottish Dancing. "I don't think so."
And my assessment proves to be correct, too. One by one, we all get drawn into the dance, as directed and instructed by Great-Aunt Tanya from her cushy chair on the dais. As Scottish Dancing is very much a communal undertaking, I can't even rely on Ken to save me as usual, instead finding myself caught up in the chaos that inevitably ensures. There are not enough dancers actually knowing what to do to make up for the rest of us who we're utterly clueless and not even Great-Aunt Tanya's impatient orders do much good as we proceed to utterly murder the choreography of whatever Scottish Dance we're attempting.
To the sound of Owen's official Piper (yes, that's an actual job description), we bump into each other, turn the wrong way, step on various toes and generally take a hatchet to Scottish Dancing as whole. Lottie excitedly runs between all the dancers, yapping to the tune of the bagpipes and making things even more hazardous by causing us to variously trip over her. (Georgie, for his part, is nowhere to be seen. I don't think there's a creature that hates bagpipes as much as that cat.)
Not, of course, that anyone cares about the mayhem. Instead, it seems that the more chaos ensues, the more everyone enjoys themselves, with the laughter soon threatening to drown out the poor piper and his bagpipes.
If that wasn't enough, I also nearly knock the poor guy over when I dance in the completely wrong direction and trip over my own feet in the very same moment. Luckily, Ken is there at the last moment to catch me, thus rescuing both me and the poor piper.
"Careful," he murmurs into my ear as he draws me close. "You don't want to stumble into Angus here."
I just manage to throw a quick smile of apology at Angus the Piper before Ken twirls us both away, breaking the formation of the communal dance by firmly keeping me in his arms.
"At least Angus can play the bagpipes," I point out to this impertinent husband of mine, feeling a little breathless.
He just grins down at me. "Would you have me practice at home so I can improve my playing?"
"Don't you dare!" I threaten, quietly horrified at the thought of having to listen to Ken play the bagpipes every day. (There's a reason they used to be a battle instrument!)
In response, he just laughs, delighted, and whirls me around once more for good measure. I know I should be annoyed with him on principle – mock-annoyed, anyway – but I can't bring myself to. There's just something about his laugh when he's happy that makes my heart swell and a warm, content feeling rise within me.
For a moment, I'm so focused on his laugh that I don't even notice where Ken has been moving us until I find myself face-to-face with the door leading outside. Reaching around me, Ken opens it and propels me outside with a hand on my back. The moment the door falls shut behind me, he whisks me back up into his arms and kisses me thoroughly.
"What was that for?" I ask when he pulls back, now definitely breathless.
"Just because," he replies, grinning widely and looking so utterly delighted that I find myself beaming back instinctively.
I'd like him to kiss me again – and I can see that he considers it – but instead, he grabs two ancient jackets from hooks by the door and holds out one for me to slip into. "Come on, let's get some air."
Snuggling into the jacket – which smells faintly of dust and horse but is amazingly warm – I let Ken take my hand and lead me outside to the quiet, snow-covered grounds of the castle. Ken wraps his arm around me and draws me closer as we stroll along a path winding between the trees. For a few minutes, we don't even talk, content just to be.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Ken enquires after a while, when the castle is long behind us and only the moon above illuminates our surroundings.
"I've just been thinking how strange it is that we're here now, together," I reply, leaning into him as we continue to walk slowly.
"How so?" he wants to know, while turning his head and kissing the top of mine.
I take a moment as I ponder how to best express what I'm feeling. "It's just… what were the odds of you and me ever meeting? Rightfully, we should never even have crossed paths and yet, we're married now." There's no cynicism in my voice, just pure wonder at how we came to be here.
"Some might say that we always would have ended up together," Ken muses.
"You mean the stomach flu afflicting half of New York was life's way of bringing us together?" I ask amusedly.
He shrugs, but I can see him smiling, too. "Or else, that we would have found each other one way or another, if not at the UN party then somewhere else."
"Fate," I state, realising what he's implying. "Were we fated to end up together?"
"I don't know," he answers truthfully. "I never believed in fate before, but whenever I look at you… let's just say it doesn't sound so ridiculous anymore."
It really doesn't, does it? Fate always sounds like such an absurd concept, rife for Hollywood movies and romance novels but not something that you'd really expect to encounter in real life. And yet, we found each other, against all possible odds, which is such a marvel that it does get you thinking.
"Whether it was fate or pure chance that brought us together, I know I'll be forever grateful for the moment you decided to knock into that poor waiter," Ken continues, just a little teasingly.
Laughing, I lean my head against his shoulder. "Yes, me, too. Of all the embarrassing moments in my life, this surely had the best outcome."
"The start of your very own fairy tale, wasn't it, Cinderilla?" asks Ken, now definitely teasing.
"Fate and fairy tales, huh? You're unusually soppy tonight," I joke, not doing anything to hide my grin.
Ken reacts by giving me a sudden twirls and dipping me down once, before drawing me into his arms. Wrapped up tightly in one another, we stand as close as we possibly can, our noses touching and our breaths mingling.
"Of course a fairy tale," Ken insists, smiling. "It's the tale of the girl who rescued a prince and became a princess not just because she married him but also because she'd really always been one."
"And what happened then?" I ask, standing on my tiptoes and kissing the corner of his mouth.
"Then," replies Ken, stealing a sweet kiss of his own, "they lived happily ever after."
And they did.
- Fin -
The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'If You Could Read My Mind' (written by Gordon Lightfoot, released by him in 1970).
A/N: And that's it. Three years, 136 chapters and over 700.000 words later, this story is finally coming to a close. When I started writing it, I didn't have the slightest idea how long the story would stay a part of my life, but I have to say, it's been a lot of fun to accompany Rilla as she navigated the challenges of becoming a princess. I hope reading this story has been fun for you as well and want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on it. Reading all your reviews meant such a lot to me and raised the experience of writing the story above and beyond. As I said before, I'd be writing even if no-one was reading, but to know that people do read and enjoy my stories makes it so much better. Today, this particular story draws to a close, but of course, I'll still continue writing and am already working on my next project. It's set to be very different (and shorter, too!), but maybe you'll like to have a look at it as well. If so, just watch this space, because I expect to be back shortly - only probably on Tuesdays this time around!
Yes, Christmas at Balmoral will be a new tradition in Rilla's life from now on. I imagine that with time, she will look back at the Christmasses in Ingleside a bit sentimentally as well, not because she doesn't like the Scottish celebrations but because Christmas in Canada is now a thing of the past for her. Right now though, she's somewhat caught up in the excitement and newness of a royal Christmas and that covers any wistful feelings she might have.
I've taken some time to study the way the yellow press ries to pit female royals against each other in real life and wanted to have my characters take a stand against it. I wanted this to be a sign of women standing by each other and both the encounters with the little girl (whose name is definitely inspired by the formidable Mrs Pitman, as is true for Jims's sister!) and the older woman. I wanted to show Rilla giving advice and encouragement to the girl, only to then receive wisdom and a sort of blessing from the woman gifting her the quilt. It's a sort of support spanning generations, or at least that's what I aimed for it to be =).
I'm afraid we have to disagree about Rilla and Ken's conversation regarding a future child's gender though. I don't think it's unfeminist to accept someone else's point after it's been explained to you - even if that someone is a man. I mean, men can be right, too, and that's generally okay ;). Ken explains his reasoning about an issue Rilla has never before considered from this particular viewpoint and she finds that she agrees with it after all - not because he's thought about it for longer, but because she thinks about his argument and finds that she considers it to be valid. (And it's causing her to be disappointed in herself for wanting the symbolism of a female heir without considering the impact it'd have on the actual child.) Compromise is great, but it's also okay to agree with someone after they've explained their opinion, so long as it's not forced or co-erced. And for what it's worth, Ken never belittles her or invalidates her initial opinion either. He states he also wants sucession rights changed to be equal and he doesn't expect Rilla to want a boy first as well (which she never says she does). He really just explains his thoughts and Rilla accepts these thoughts as valid. To me, that doesn't have anything to do with feminism or a lack thereof. It's just two partners figuring out a particular issue - the difference is just that for once, they agree to go with Ken's way of thinking when previously, they more often tended to go with Rilla's in recent time.
Owen was very, very ill. He very nearly died and the nature of his illness is such that it often comes with longterm effects. For Owen, that means the parts of his brain controlling movement were permanently damaged. He got lots of treatment and therapy, so he re-learned to walk, but he won't ever be as fit as he was before. Him needing a cane to walk isn't foreboding so much as it's a reminder of what he has been through. He's not in any immediate health-related danger, but of course he's more fragile than he was before his illness. Like as not, Rilla and Ken will have to take over sooner than they might hope, but before that, Owen has a Silver Jubilee to celebrate and I rather think he intends to stick around for it ;).
Finally, because this is my last chance to reply to anon reviews, I want to thank you personally for all your amazing reviews! I always loved how detailled they were and how you raised new points that I sometimes hadn't considered myself before or that I was hoping for someone to raise. It's been a special delight to read your thoughts and opinions every week and I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks for the time you took and the way you've been engaging with this story. It really meant (and continues to mean) such a lot to me!