Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. They belong to their rightful owners.
Warning: The following chapter contains coarse language, mature humor, and suggestive themes. YOU have been WARNED.
Chapter 33: The Heirs' Decision
The royal hall sat empty. Its polished marble floor shone in the sunlight peering in from the large window. A long table sat in the middle with three chairs on each side and one at the head. A glass of water was placed before every seat.
The large stone doors crept open. Guards pushed desperately with their shoulders, grunting as they slowly moved.
Courtney stepped through the doors and entered the room. Yellow ribbons were tied in her hair. The doors began the arduous task of closing behind her. She walked into the middle of the room and examined her surroundings. She let out a sigh. "First one here. Figures." A loud thump echoed as the doors finally closed shut behind her. An eerie silence filled the room. Courtney could almost hear her own heart beat. She crossed over the floor to the window, her footsteps tapping lightly as she moved. She peered out the window, down at the expanse of the capital. Crowds were beginning to form outside. Word had spread quickly about their return. It was not quite as large as the crowds during the summer festival, but people were anxious to hear the marriage declaration. Since they returned, Chris waited for dignitaries and nobles to arrive, so that no one felt slighted. The crowd was like an ocean, showing the powerful current that the heirs caused in the nation. Wawanakwa. Home.
The doors were forced open once more. The guards swore, tired by the hard work. Once there was large enough space, Duncan slid his way into the room and the doors were forced closed behind him. He scanned the room, until his eyes caught Courtney's gaze. They quickly broke eye contact. Duncan smirked. "Hey princess."
"You're still not allowed to call me that. Doubly so actually!" Courtney scoffed at him.
"And the more you tell me I'm not allowed to the more I am going to say it." Duncan replied. "I would have thought you'd figure that out by now." Duncan said with a smile as he walked over to the table. He sat down at one of the middle chairs and kicked his feet up onto the table confidently. He turned to Courtney with a smug expression.
"Duncan. Your house chair is on the left side!" Courtney shouted in annoyance.
"God damn it!" Duncan cursed in frustration. He immediately stood kicking back the chair he was on.
"How is this so hard for you?" Courtney asked him. "It was drilled into our brains when we were children."
"I got distracted easily. How could I focus on what they told me with such a magnificent beauty always in the corner of my eye." He eyed his seat across the table. He began to step on the table, ready to cross over top of it, but he let his foot fall back down. Instead he walked around the table before taking his seat.
Courtney rolled her eyes at the remark. She walked over and sat in her appropriate seat. "And by corner of your eye do you mean the center of it? I hate to break it to you but you weren't exactly the must subtle back then. You were practically drooling."
Duncan shrugged as he kicked his feet up onto the table, leaning back with his hands behind his head. "Don't lie. You loved it."
Before Courtney could respond the doors began to open again. Duncan quickly receded his feet. Courtney let out a slight chuckle at his expense.
This time, Heather came walking in. She rolled her eyes at the sight of Duncan and Courtney. "Oh don't mind me. Pretend I'm not even here. At all. Please." she said deadpan. She walked over and sat down in the Strathclyde chair next to Duncan towards the window. She made sure to turn her head away from them.
"You know, it wouldn't kill you to be a bit more friendly," Duncan said to her. She began to look around the room for a few seconds before finally turning and acknowledging that he spoke.
"It wouldn't kill you to listen for once in your life. Noah can attest to that. You also still owe me a tent by the way." Heather replied.
"Hey, it is not my fault Noah bled all over it." Duncan defended himself. Both Courtney and Heather just stared at him. "Okay it is my fault. But I'm sure he's probably thankful at this point. Chicks like Izzy totally dig scars."
Just as the doors were finally shut they were once again pushed open much to the displeasure of the guards whose groans were audible from inside the room. Right when the doors were just barely open as if they refused to open it any further, Alejandro squeezed through. His long orange coat furled at the edges with blue silk lining. Around the shoulders was reddish black fur. He wore a wide rimmed hat with a large buckle on it. He walked right to his seat across from Heather and sat down. "You know Heather, you walked right by me and even sped up."
"Oh. I know what I did. It was to get as far away from that as possible." Heather spoke making a circle with her finger in the direction of his clothes. "And to save whatever dignity I could from potentially being seen in the same company of it for even a second." She spoke desperately trying to suppress her anger. "Please for the love of God tell me you are going to change into something else before we are presented to the masses."
"No way. I had Justin design it. I think it looks cool." Alejandro said confidently.
"Cool?" Heather yelled out. She reached forward for her water to throw at him. Alejandro, expecting it, shot his hand out and swiped the glass off the table. However, Heather was a step ahead of him and had already grabbed Duncan's water with her other hand and splashed it all over the front of his shirt. Some of the water splashed onto Courtney. "There. It's wet and dirty. Change it."
Alejandro sighed looking down at his shirt. "Okay you win." Alejandro conceded. "My love."
Courtney began to wipe the bits of water of her outfit. "Damn it Heather! Have you learned nothing after that whole journey?"
"Besides the point that you are all horribly incompetent and without me we'd still be in that forest? Also, never trust Noah under any circumstance?" Heather asked.
Duncan kicked his feet back onto the table. "I'm surprised you have such a negative reaction to Alejandro's clothes Heather. I thought you'd feel safer knowing that if you were to ever plummet down a giant cliff your lover boy here would once again have the perfect getup to fix you right up."
"You're just jealous of my ability to actually accomplish something." Alejandro replied to Duncan.
"Hey! I totally accomplished things on this journey."
"You are correct, my mistake." Alejandro said. "You did totally accomplish telling the enemy exactly our plans, getting Noah shot in the back with an arrow, and having Geoff get stabbed in order to save you from Hatchet." Alejandro began to clap his hands. "Bravo."
"I also figured out where Izzy was hiding in case you forgot. Let's take a second to recite all the things you accomplished in finding Izzy." The room became silent for a couple seconds. "We truly, truly could have done it without you."
At that moment the doors began to open again. Duncan did not even bother removing his feet since he could guess who was coming next. Out from the opening came Noah. "Oh hey, sorry, did I interrupt anything? Presumably yet another insightful discussion between Duncan and Alejandro about their worth. Speaking of which, nice outfit Alejandro. The dead muskrat laying in a puddle of mud inspired coats are all the rave this season I've heard."
"You are all just jealous of my impeccable fashion sense." Alejandro commented.
"No we are all jealous of your complete lack of self-awareness and aloofness to what is put on your body." Courtney replied.
Noah raised his hands. "Now, please before you all shower me with your thank-yous. I thought it would be easier if I just spoke generally when I say: yes, this is all because of me, no need to be so praising, and you are all very welcome."
"We definitely could not have nearly betrayed our King as much as we did without your lies that's for sure." Courtney said.
"And we have so much else to thank you Noah for taking us on this journey." Alejandro spoke up. "Like getting all of us and our companions nearly killed. For most of us more than once. Also for actually getting one of this nation's greatest heroes killed. Without you, I don't think any of that would have been possible."
Noah walked over and took his seat next to Courtney's. "I like to think of it as a team effort." Noah said. "But I think we can all agree that the person who put in that extra bit of effort in getting Alden killed is the one of us who brought along a spy who led Hatchet directly to us. Good thing we had brave and courageous Duncan here to protect us by getting his ass kicked by Hatchet. We are forever in your debt."
Duncan cracked a knuckle. "At least I stood up to him. If you were in my place you'd have been shivering in a corner like back in that dungeon. Or when you needed Courtney to save you from Ezekiel. Twice."
"Well at least I didn't need to be saved from Leshawna by a crippled Heather." Noah said directing it at Alejandro.
"To be fair to Alejandro." Courtney said. "I don't think there is anyone here we would rather not want to come across than an angry Heather."
"I'm flattered." Heather spoke in a deadpan voice.
The doors began to be pushed open. Duncan pulled his legs off the table. Everyone sat up straight. Butterflies began to fill their stomachs. The doors opened far enough for someone to enter, and yet, no one did. The doors remained open. The heirs all stared at each other for a few seconds. Finally they heard a faint voice that was becoming louder. It was as if someone was yelling out as they came closer.
Izzy sprinted through the doors hollering at the top of her lungs. She leapt into the air directly towards the table. All the other heirs jumped to their feet in surprise. Izzy landed onto the table with a thud! and continued to somersault across the table knocking all the glasses of water off before falling off in front of the head chair onto the ground.
The doors began to close as all the heirs still standing stared at the head of the table in disbelief. After a couple seconds Izzy picked herself up off the floor and looked back at the others. "I've always wanted to do that," she commented with a smile.
Izzy then slammed her hands onto the table which startled the others. "Shame on you!" She said in a playfully serious tone pointing at each heir. "I know what you've been doing. Detective Izzy solved the case." She paused for dramatic event. "You've been bickering!" She accused, pointing her finger at each of them. "No more. I'm sick of it. I didn't agree to come home only to relive the last five years. It ends now!" She pointed at Courtney. "Courtney! Say something nice about Heather!"
"Do it!" Izzy spoke with authority.
Courtney turned to Heather. "Ah, um, thanks for not letting Noah die when he got shot by that arrow. That was good, I guess."
"More! Say another nice thing, and mean it this time." Izzy said, not backing down.
"But it's Heather! What more can I say?" Courtney asked. Izzy's stare intensified, and Courtney let out a sigh. She took a second to think before answering. "I was really impressed with how you were able to remember Izzy's favorite flower was primrose, and from that figured out we needed to go to Caithness. More than impressed, I was jealous. I really wished I could have figured it out. It made me realize I can't do everything and that I was really glad you had come along." The other heirs were surprised by the sincerity in Courtney's voice. Heather moved around in her chair a little feeling uncomfortable from receiving a compliment like that from one of the heirs.
"Good! That's more like it!" Izzy called out. "Heather! Say something nice about Duncan!"
"Oh god I wish I had my pipe right now." Heather muttered under her breath. "Alright." Heather paused to compose her thoughts. "I think out of everyone on this journey, you were the most sincere. You were the only one I could actually trust to say what you were really feeling. It helped me in my decisions. Gwen also mentioned to me your insistence about rescuing us as quickly as possible after falling off the cliff. That was greatly appreciated. It was cold as fuck down there."
"Duncan, now you say something nice about Noah."
Duncan sat there without saying anything. "Sorry, I'm still processing that Heather just said something nice to me." After a deep breath Duncan turned to Noah. "Um, I got to hand it to you, I never thought I'd turn against the king, and especially be turned by someone from House Fife. You put your faith in us, which is pretty admirable. Even after the way we treated you for all those years. Which I guess I probably owe you an apology for. Sorry. And sorry for getting you shot too. My bad."
Izzy nodded her head. "Noah say something nice about Alejandro."
Noah just began speaking without hesitation. "You were the first to stand by me at the monastery. I'm very thankful for that." Noah scratched the back of his neck. "You also never gave up on Izzy starting all the way from the beginning in the castle. When the others had their doubts on our journey, you were always on her side. I'm thankful for that too."
"Yeah, yeah, I know" Alejandro spoke interrupting Izzy while waving his hand. "I should say something nice about Courtney." Alejandro nodded his head as if agreeing with himself. "I think you've got the most to be proud of. You led us through the whole journey. Without you, none of this would have been possible. We all know you will make a great lord, one that we will all strive to be like."
Courtney was surprised by Alejandro's words. In fact all the heirs were surprised with what had just been said about them. It had seemed like an eternity since the last time they ever spoke nicely of each other. It felt good. It felt like those feelings and thoughts had always been there, just never expressed.
Izzy slammed her hands onto the table again, startling everyone. "Was that so hard?" The other heirs all sat there for a second in quiet reflection. "Now come on, group hug!" Izzy raised her arms out invitingly. The others just stared at her with disapproval. "Yeah, I knew that was a long shot." Izzy acknowledged.
The sound of the stone doors opening echoed through the room. Izzy immediately ducked down and hurried over to her seat. The heirs all sat up straight as Chris entered through the doors. His regal blue coat dragged behind him as he walked. His cane tapped on the marble ground. He stopped before his chair, tapped his cane twice, and took his seat at the end of the table.
"So, how's everyone doing? Any more treasonous thoughts?" Chris asked. His shoulders lowered as he sat back casually.
"No! Never!" Courtney quickly said.
"Right. Thanks Princess. Although apparently I've got to keep a closer eye on whenever I see you and Noah speaking alone in the future." He laughed a little to himself, as if finding his comment funny. "Duncan. How have you been coming down from your first real battle? I was impressed by how you stood up to Hatchet. That took balls. Reminded me of your father."
Duncan lowered his head. "Thanks your highness," he said softly.
"Did you find the trip back lived up to your standards Heather?" Chris asked, turning to her.
"It was marvelous," Heather said. "So nice to eat properly, after traveling with these hooligans."
"I'm glad to hear it. I took special care to make sure the steaks were cooked properly." Chris said, with a grin. He turned towards Alejandro, he looked hesitant to speak. "Alejandro, um, like your coat."
Alejandro seemed shocked to even be acknowledged. "Thank you your majesty."
Chris turned to Noah. "Noah. You mentioned you might try writing a book when you and Courtney barged into my tent. Made any progress?"
Noah shook his head. "No, your majesty. I think I'll try to live outside of books, for a least a brief while longer."
Chris nodded his head. He looked down the table towards Izzy, who was holding her hands tightly on her lap, careful not to look at Chris directly. Her shoulders shook slightly, as she was on edge. "How has your return to the castle been Izzy?" His voice was lower and harsher when he spoke to her.
"It's..." she hesitated, "It's fine. At least until my parents arrive." Her bombastisity from moments before was muted.
Chris let out a sigh. "Well, I have to admit, when I sent you all on that pilgrimage until Izzy was found, I hardly imagined it would be you who found her. In these past few weeks, you have all impressed me immensely and disappointed me completely. But for now, what's important is that we are all finally in this room. It's time to complete what we started at the festival." Chris clapped his hands together. "Let's get down to business."
Everyone around the table held their breath. It was followed by a calm that washed through them as if this time, they were finally ready.
Chris slowly got up from his chair and walked to the window with his back facing the heirs. His cane tapped on the marble ground with each step. Chris began to speak, his voice strong and regal. "The six of you have had the easiest, safest and nicest lives out of anyone in the entire nation over the past 17 years. The amount of protection, wealth, leisure, and power you wield, have given you lives that I could have only dreamed that someone could live under my rule. And you six have no one but yourselves to thank for all that you have. No one but yourselves. These past weeks have only cemented that. Because you are the pillars of peace that this nation has rested atop the past 17 years. If even but one of those pillars were to have not existed, than the entire nation would have collapsed. Or if one were to have gone astray."
Chris turned back and faced them. "But with any support system, there is bound to be decay. After the past 17 years that decay has been happening and it is time to reinforce those pillars. That reinforcement comes in the shape of marriage. Your marriages will guarantee that this nation will stand tall long for years to come!" Chris walked up to the table and slammed his fist down. "That is why you are here today! That is what we are here to do! You are the pillars, I am the engineer. Together we will oversee the reinforcement to make sure it is as strong as can be. You've waited 17 long years, your parents have waited, your domains have waited, the whole nation has waited, but they wait no longer, the time is now!"
Chris reached into his blue coat and pulled out a rolled up piece of parchment. He lifted it up and began to unroll it. "I, King of Wawanakwa, Chris from House Mclean, decree the following marriages to take place in one year's time at the Holy Festival. The heirs to the lordships of Wawanakwa shall marry:
Courtney of House Grampian shall be wed to Duncan of House Galloway.
Izzy of House Tayside shall be wed to Noah of House Fife.
Heather of House Strathclyde shall be wed to Alejandro of House Lothan."
The heirs sat there in silence. It was the list they gave. The list they always wanted. They had done it. They had succeeded in taking control of their future.
"Huh," Chris muttered looking down at the list.
"What is it your highness?" Courtney asked, suddenly feeling a sense of dread. "Is something wrong?"
Chris shook his head. "No, nothing's wrong. I just noticed this is identical to that list Heather wrote when you were twelve and caused all that fighting."
"Wait," Duncan called out. "How do you know about Heather's old list?"
Chris chuckled to himself. "Please, who in the castle didn't? It was all anyone talked about for like three weeks here. I almost had to make secret decree just to shut the agents up and get a change of topic. But seriously, you don't think I'd get to the bottom of why one of my lord's heirs threw another of my lord's heirs out a window? Anyway. Good call Heather."
"Thank you, your highness."
Chris cleared his throat and began speaking again in his formal regal voice. "I believe in all of you. I believe in these marriages. I have never felt stronger that this nation is in good hands. You are no longer symbols of hope for the future. The future is now. Joined together, you are agents of peace, to bring together the large divides of the lordships. These divides you know all too well; they have haunted you your whole lives. It will not be easy, but after what you showed me the last few weeks, you are all capable of great things. Now, rise, it's time for you to be presented to the masses."
The heirs rose to their feet. Chris walked past them to the large marble doors. He tapped his cane on the doors and they slowly began to be opened. The heirs moved forward, linking up with their future spouses. "Alright." Chris said. "It is time, my pillars, to face your destiny."
We would like to thank everyone who have read this story, whether you've been reading it from the beginning or just caught up. It was an absolute blast to write. There is still one more chapter. Though we won't say what it will be. We encourage everyone to go back and reflect on this story. Even if you have never reviewed, we encourage you to tell us your thoughts on the story. What was your favorite chapter? Scene? Moment? Heir? Side character? This story was a complete labor of love. We will give it a proper sendoff with the next chapter. But for now we'd love to hear from you.
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Till Next Time -Nyhlus and BJ