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A Thousand Heartbeats: Epilogue

Annika Au Sucrit watched in awe as the baby in her arms yawned. It was just a tiny movement, but it was no less extraordinary to her than a sunrise or a symphony. Lennox was just as dazzled as the child held on to the same finger that carried his wedding ring. He wouldn’t admit aloud that he was terrified in equal measure, but his wife could guess.

Lennox turned his gaze to Annika, telling himself not to be surprised that she’d found something new to excel at. Had there ever been anything she couldn’t do? And this new person—who seemed to have his eyes and her nose—who knew what he might accomplish one day?

They both took a moment to exist in the sweetness of becoming a family of three. They would have more time later, after the streams of visitors, but for now, they stole a few minutes for themselves.

Lennox insisted that they teach their children about her games, about how to hunt and gather the most painted rocks around the palace. Annika insisted upon teaching them his dances, about lacing together hands and spinning until they were dizzy. They both insisted on not giving their children the names of their parents but bestowing them with new ones. And they both insisted on loving the people they made to the point it annoyed them.

And they both vowed, with absolute solemnity, to tell them everything. They would talk about mistakes made on both sides and forgiveness granted by each. They would acknowledge the past, knowing that they couldn’t ignore their history any more than they could constantly apologize for it. And they would trust that if, in a few generations, a lie could erase something, that, in a few more, the truth could restore it.

Annika’s brother—now the duke—and his wife were the first to visit. The queen and her dearest friend—her sister—were both teary-eyed when they stared into the peaceful face of the prince. Escalus, who feared the entire process, was too relieved to see his sister healthy and alive to even notice the baby for several minutes. When Inigo and Blythe came in, Annika passed her son into Blythe’s arms, watching joyfully as another thread sewed together their growing friendship. Lennox worked very hard not to cry when Inigo embraced him, knowing his closest friend was proud of him in ways he could not speak. And Palmer refused to enter the room, but stood watch by the door, tensing every time he heard the slightest cry.

There were others, too. Lords and ladies, visiting ambassadors, and a string of common people who brought gifts on behalf of their towns. And, while not everyone was entirely enthusiastic about the changes that had happened over the last year, there was no denying that the young king and queen were doing their best to repair what had been broken, to make something new from a fractured past. So the people, some with happy hearts and some with heavy, abandoned the titles Kadier and Dahrain for Avel.

It wasn’t until much later that Lennox had a moment to catch his breath, holding his son in his arms as his wife fell asleep against his shoulder. They shared everything—the kingdom, the crown, their name—and now they’d made a future together. Each time something good fell into his lap, he found himself tensing, waiting for it to be ripped away. But no such thing happened. There had been challenges with each new step, but they had been manageable; they had been shared.

So, as he held everything precious to him in his arms, he promised himself to join Annika in her optimism. He would hold her hand and walk confidently into the next tomorrow.


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