The combined weddings of Rosella and Edgar, and Aubrey and Ashni symbolized such a powerful union between Etheria and Daventry that the families decided to celebrate the occasion in both kingdoms.
The first half of the ceremony began in Daventry. The courtyard of the castle was packed with cheering throngs of people, some of which had arrived from neighboring countries, or lands a considerable distance away. As the members of the royal family mingled with the guests, Cassima and Edgar noticed several familiar faces in the crowd.
A middle aged, fair-haired man with a shaggy white wing for a right arm was among the people present, as was a casually dressed man with sun-bleached hair, deeply tanned skin and a squinting gaze. There was also a black-haired adolescent boy accompanied by an older woman with large dark eyes and short gray hair, who didn't seem to recognize Cassima when she called her name. However, there was a faint flicker of recognition when she was introduced to Edgar, especially when Edgar showed her the prow of his skyship (which he told Rosella he was keeping with him for good luck).
"It worked while it lasted," he said sheepishly.
"Then it is you," the woman cried, her eyes wide, "But my goodness, you don't seem to have aged a day!"
There was also a rather flamboyantly dressed young man accompanied by a slender woman with angular, almost reptilian features. Nobody in any of the royal families recognized them, and when Edgar asked one of the commoners about who the pair was, the whispered reply was, "Those two are brother and sister, and they're planning to confront a man named Bluebeard in the lands to the west. They say the man takes a new wife every month, and those two are going to find out what's going on in that recluse's castle. They think something evil is afoot there, and I can't help but agree with that thought."
Neither could Cassima.
The wizard Crispinophur and Cedric the owl were there as well. Being somewhat aware of the wizard's failing memory, Cassima wasn't too surprised that he didn't remember giving her the charm bracelet (which she had gratefully removed the moment she returned home) almost twenty years ago, if her logic was correct. In fact, it took some explaining from Cedric to convince Crispin that he had even met Cassima before.
Derek Karlavaegen had sailed to Daventry from his mountaintop home in Llewdor, demanding to hear Edgar and Cassima's entire story as soon as the celebrations were over.
"It took me some time to figure out what was going on when you dropped in on me," he said to Edgar, "And an even longer time to keep such a secret to myself until I could speak with you."
"A long time?" Edgar asked. "Derek, it's only been two days."
Derek looked irritated for a minute, then he started chuckling hoarsely.
"Two days? Maybe for you, young prince. As for me…well, let's just say I had to wait a little longer than that."
Even Genesta the fairy had made the trip from Tamir, much to Rosella and Edgar's delight. As she approached the families, Cassima noticed a thin, furry thing draped around her shoulders, and upon closer inspection, she saw that it was alive. She also noticed that it had two small, round ears, a pointed snout, a long tail and eight dark spots arranged in a circle on its back.
Before Cassima could address it, it sprang to Genesta's shoulder, shaking with excitement, then cried out in a voice far different (and feminine) than she had anticipated:
"Hey, it's you! I knew I'd find you! Oh, my father told me all about you, CassimaWolf!"
"Cassima, meet Octavia," said Genesta with a smile, rubbing the little ferret tenderly. "She insisted on coming here. I had no idea why, but she kept telling me that she knew someone here…seems like she was telling the truth."
Cassima pointed out a young man with pale blonde hair and hazel eyes to Edgar, whom Edgar didn't recognize until the queen whispered, "He's the one who hid all those trinkets," to him. Upon hearing this, Edgar's eyes narrowed and Cassima followed him closely as he strode towards the young man, not knowing whether Edgar was going to greet him or strangle him.
"Greetings, my friends," said Jason. Even though the last place Cassima saw him was in the past, he looked just as youthful as he did then – in fact, he seemed to look even younger.
"Hello," said Edgar dully. "What are you doing here?"
Jason's face twisted itself into a lopsided grin.
"I've come to congratulate the two of you," he said. "Those pendants served you both admirably."
"You seem to know a lot about those pendants," she observed.
"That I do," Jason replied. "By the way, I'm glad to see that you're not wearing them now. It's always a good idea to let charms like that rest after such a strenuous journey."
"Can you tell us anything more about the pendants besides what they're made of? Where they came from, who created them?" Cassima asked.
Jason smiled and shook his head.
"Why not?" Edgar demanded.
"I'm just living up the role," Jason said. "If we wizards and sorcerers revealed the answer to every puzzle and quandary in the world, there would be no reason for people to be in awe of us anymore. There always has to be some mystery in the world, even if it's just a tiny pinch."
"Can you at least tell us one other thing about the pendants?" Edgar pleaded.
"That depends on what said thing is," the sorcerer said.
"We both landed in a future in which Shadrack had been defeated but we hadn't found a way home. We know that future isn't going to happen now, so why did the pendants send us to that time?"
"To motivate you."
"What?" Edgar and Cassima exclaimed.
"Seeing what would happen if you didn't trust each other enough to let the combined pendants do their job…it worked, didn't it?"
Edgar glanced at his feet.
"I suppose it did," he mumbled.
"Well, there you have it," Jason said, spreading his arms. "Magical talismans of that much power tend to acquire intelligence of their own in some cases. I think your pendants saw that you would understand the urgency of your mission once you realized what would happen if you didn't work together to defeat Shadrack, so they showed a less than optimal future to both of you, one in which you couldn't find a way to return home and your sweethearts couldn't find you. It was a bit extreme, but it certainly did the trick."
Edgar and Cassima looked dubiously at each other, then back at Jason.
"All that you did in those futures has been altered somewhat in light of your victory," Jason continued, "But what takes place in the futures destined to occur now still parallels what took place in the grim futures you vaguely remember visiting."
"Meaning what?" Cassima asked, her head spinning.
"Meaning that you, Castilla, still met that blind Winged One, and that you, Edwin, still met that little dragon on the outskirts of Dark Etheria."
Edgar became puzzled at the name the sorcerer called him by, but Cassima merely sighed. Jason suddenly frowned and looked slightly irritated.
"As for myself, I am still eventually going to get my truth potion stolen from me by some scoundrel from that same country."
"You were the sorcerer Icarus stole that potion from?" Cassima asked.
"Will steal that potion from," Jason corrected. "And yes. Ooga Booga is directly below Etheria – the 'darker' region of which won't be nearly as decrepit as it was in the future you were in, by the way – so I'm going to be a pretty easy target."
"Can't you do something to prevent that?" Edgar asked.
"I can't," Jason said. "Time resists change very strongly. No matter what I do, the potion will be taken from me. Even if the circumstances surrounding an event are altered, the event itself usually remains fairly unaltered except in occurrences where its course can be drastically changed, such as your encounter with Shadrack."
Both Cassima and Edgar felt a little dizzy. Time voyages were a lot more complex than they appeared, and comprehending the laws behind them was even more so. They didn't remember much from the sorcerer's talk afterward, but both of them firmly decided that they and their families should make a point to limit visits to the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, the Isle of Wonder and the outskirts of Etheria for a while, just in case.
When Jason finished his speech, he remained standing before Cassima and Edgar with his arms folded, as if he were waiting for something.
"You didn't come here just to congratulate us," Cassima said. "What else do you want, Jason?"
"I've come for the pieces," he said.
"Pieces?" Edgar asked. "You mean those twelve trinkets that I kept stumbling across all across this realm and the realm of Eldritch?"
"The very same," the sorcerer said.
"But why do you want them back?" Cassima asked, puzzled. "We solved your riddle. Why do you want its 'clues' back?"
"So I can hide them again."
"What?" Edgar yelped in disbelief.
"Oh, not for you to find," Jason said reassuringly. "I want to hide them to see if anyone else can solve my riddle. After so many decades of feeling that I had given the people of this realm and my own an utterly impossible challenge, you have proven me wrong. I just want to see whether any people as lucky and skillful as you should happen to come along."
Edgar was sullen for a moment, reluctant to give up the trinkets for which he had gone through so much to obtain. After a moment, he sighed and said:
"All right. You can have them back…but on one condition."
Jason raised an eyebrow and stared at Edgar.
"And what is your condition?"
Edgar grinned broadly, a mischievous, cunning glint in his eye.
"I get to hide the trinkets this time."
Jason smirked and rolled his eyes heavenward while Cassima tried not to burst out laughing.
The only member of the castle who wasn't participating in the festivities was the shell of the man that had once housed Shadrack's darkness. Everyone decided that the noise and the chaos would be too much for the poor, empty creature, so he had been left locked in one of the castle's rooms. The past few weeks of off-and-on teaching had been having some effect on the nameless man: he was starting to mutter vaguely coherent words, and his eyes seemed to be slowly fading to a normal color, just as a baby's eyes tended to change color.
It would be some time before the man possessed as much intelligence and personality as a normal man of his apparent age, but there was much potential to be seen in him. He had a good body, and with a good mind in that body, he could make up for all the schemes and murders that Shadrack was responsible for. He could turn out to be a great sorcerer on the side of Good, a knowledgeable sage, a faithful advisor, or even a knight one day. There was always the chance that he would remain as mindless as the village idiot, but any profession was better than being the soulless vessel of a creature from the realm of nightmares.
After the socializing and the greeting of the guests were over, the true ceremony began. Edgar, Rosella, Aubrey, Ashni, Cassima, Alexander and the king and queen of Daventry took their positions atop a low central tower, which was visible to everyone in the courtyard below.
Aubrey was dressed in a traditional Etherian robe, and the ring he slipped onto Ashni's finger was not an elaborate golden band encrusted with jewels, but a simple loop of silver – something that Ashni's father would have no doubt approved of. Ashni's mother Elise watched with tear-filled eyes as the ring was fitted around her daughter's finger.
At the same time, Cassima felt an odd sensation on her face: a cool, tingling feeling that was peculiar, yet strangely comforting and reassuring. She realized that it could only be the spirit of Ashni's father, thanking the queen for keeping her word. Cassima felt a deep sense of relief to know that the troubled soul was finally at peace, and that the daughter he was so concerned for hadn't had such a terrible life after all.
Meanwhile, Edgar untied a gold ring with a fiery red diamond set in it from Scrimshaw's leg and slipped it onto Rosella's finger. Edgar had decided to let the pygmy griffin act as the ring-bearer, which consisted of giving the protesting creature with the ring attached to it to his joyous, yet tearful parents and signaling them to let Scrimshaw go when the prince was ready for the ring. It hadn't gone that badly, except when Scrimshaw looked for a place to nest in Edgar's wedding attire, he couldn't find one and was forced to grudgingly sit on the prince's shoulder with his feathers considerably ruffled.
Why the ring with the red diamond set in it hadn't vanished from Edgar's possessions was beyond the prince's understanding, but he certainly wasn't complaining. The piece of jewelry caught the eye of Oppi Goldsworth, the troll who had only just been introduced to Edgar, despite being employed as Etheria's Court Jeweler for several months beforehand.
He was astonished at the craftsmanship of the ring, and the gem in it reminded him very much of the bright red gem that Rosella had given to him once upon a time. However, when Oppi returned to his workshop after the wedding to compare the jewel in the ring to the extra pieces left over from the diamond he used to purchase his new hammer and chisel, he found that they had mysteriously vanished. Still, this didn't bother him terribly, and he eventually decided that if he had had the chance, he would have crafted Rosella a ring just as exquisite as the one she wore now. His demands to know just who had made this ring were all answered with a hushed variation on, "I'll tell you about it some other time," from Edgar.
Though to the crowd below there were only eight individuals standing atop the tower, in actuality there were nine – Cassima had become noticeably gravid, though it would still be some time before her child entered the world. Alexander had taken the news of his wife's expectancy fairly well, considering all that had recently taken place. He had been astonished at first, then ecstatic, then anguished.
"I could have lost both of you," he cried.
"I'm sorry," Cassima said for what seemed like the hundredth time. "You have my word that I won't try anything like it again…"
Here she laid a hand on her stomach.
"…at least not until this little one is old enough to take care of him or herself."
Alexander might have chastised her for such a remark if she had said such a thing to him several weeks prior, but all he did at that moment was laugh joyously and embrace the woman that his heart had belonged to since the first day he set eyes on her. In fact, he kept on laughing until Cassima had to kiss him to make him stop.
Caliphim and Allaria were near tears about the news as well. They had also become rather cross with Alexander when he had told them the truth about Cassima's disappearance. They chastised and praised their daughter almost at the same time, but their anger was quickly forgotten. It was hard for them to be cross with their daughter when they knew that it wouldn't be long before they became grandparents.
Cassima and Alexander now watched Rosella taking her place as the future queen of Daventry with amazement. Even though both she and Edgar were a little nervous about their new responsibilities, they both seemed ready to shoulder them. After a few death-defying adventures saving foreign lands from various threats, how hard could keeping just one land stable be?
Oberon and Titania were both happy, yet heartbroken, to see their son with his new bride. At least their own kingdom would no longer be heirless. Aubrey's appearance had indeed been a fortuitous one, and despite the somewhat reckless nature of the young man, Oberon was certain that his nephew would make a decent king when the time came. And of course, there would always be time for Oberon and Titania to visit Edgar and vice versa...as soon as the fairy rulers found time to repair their swanship, which, not unlike Edgar's hair, still hadn't been attended to.
Aubrey and Ashni were even more nervous than Rosella and Edgar as they stood before the cacophony of wedding guests, but strangely enough, both seemed suited to their roles as the rulers of Etheria. Aubrey knew the people of the land like they were his own family, and it seemed as if Ashni's unnaturally vast wealth of knowledge of fairies was finally going to prove itself useful. Together, they completed one another: They were two lonely souls who found themselves in each other, and now fate had bestowed a role for both of them to play that perfectly suited each.
When the rings had been exchanged and the main part of the ceremony had been carried out, the four couples remained on the tower, waving to the cheering masses below. Although things seemed to be winding down, the weddings were calling out for a more impressive finale. At least, that was what Edgar decided Aubrey must have been thinking when the robe-clad blonde nudged him playfully in the side. Edgar turned to see his cousin holding a ball of sparkling light in his hand, glancing skyward and waggling his eyebrows mischievously.
Edgar could tell what Aubrey was planning to do, but something made him hold back from participating in it. There was still a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that made him think that such a thing would displease Rosella. Would taking part in a flashy act of magic make him seem like an irresponsible clod with no respect for formal occasions?
He gazed at Rosella and gestured in Aubrey's direction. When she turned to look at him, then back at Edgar, he pointed to Aubrey and himself. Rosella looked puzzled and then glanced at the glowing sphere in Aubrey's hand, and her eyes seemed to glow just as bright as it was. She nodded eagerly, but Edgar still wasn't completely convinced.
Impulsively, he turned to where Cassima was standing. Apparently, she had been watching the entire exchange, because all she did when Edgar looked into her face was roll her eyes heavenward, shake her head with an amused smile and make a small motion with her hand that seemed to say, "Go ahead."
Edgar smiled determinedly, turned to Aubrey and conjured a similar ball of light in his own hand. When Aubrey counted to three, they flung the spheres skyward, where they left long bright streaks in the sky and twined around each other like twin snakes, spiraling like the two interlocked adventurine pendants. After climbing for several hundred feet, the balls moved away from each other for a moment, then sped toward each other, crashing together with a brilliant flash and exploding into a mesmerizing display of fireworks.
The crowd burst into applause and jovial yells as the glittering blossoms of light burst overhead. Sparkling particles began to rain down like snowflakes or stars falling from the sky. Amidst the blinding beauty of this scintillating drizzle, Edgar looked into Rosella's eyes, which were full of amazement and almost tearful love. With his heart feeling as though it were about to burst from happiness, Edgar held Rosella close and kissed her – it was the first time they had kissed as man and wife, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.
Aubrey and Ashni also shared a long kiss, while Cassima and Alexander quietly looked on, fondly remembering the first time they had exchanged such a gesture, and wondering what the future held for their newly wedded kin as well as their own soon-to-be-born child.
Amidst the chaos of the festivities, Graham and Valanice were still able to find some peace and quiet in each other's company. They held each other's hands and reflected on how their children and the man and woman they loved had fared during this latest calamity.
They had never truly imagined that Edgar and Cassima would prove to be just as skilled at adventuring as Alexander and Rosella had. It seemed like everyone that became part of their family was destined to eventually take part in a quest of some kind. The king and queen didn't find this upsetting at all, though. It was merely the way things were, and if they were to be the ones who were the first to take a stand against the side of Evil, then so be it.
The king and queen of Daventry watched their children and their spouses waving to the cheering crowd below and smiled contentedly. Another page had turned, and the chapter had come to a close.