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The Ring and the Bridle

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There was always choice and perhaps that's all there was in this cruel and indifferent world.

She could abandon her brother. Likely no one would stop her if she tried to flee. She could forsake this responsibility suddenly thrust about her, unwanted. She could go somewhere else and be someone else. She could restart her life.

But who would she be? She didn't know. She had always defined herself by how those around saw her. "I am the sister of Regan Seele". "I am the daughter of Michael and Lorna Seele". "I am the fiancée of Matthew Moreno." "I am your doctor." "I am your acquaintance".

She didn't know who "Kelly Seele" could be without these mirrors. Would she cease to exist? Who would take on this personality and life without her?

I wish to remain Kelly Seele. That was who she was. She had never desired to be anyone else. Kelly Pearl Seele however was someone she had not fully known.

"Kelly Seele is a wise person because she has Sight."

"Kelly Seele was placed under an enchantment as a child to make her blind."

"Kelly Seele's mother wished for her to be a normal woman with a normal life."

"Kelly Seele's brother is a magician."

"Kelly Seele's mother died in vengeance."

"Kelly Seele's brother crafted a world for her where she would never know pain or suffering."

"Kelly Seele has been living a lie."

Whose story was this? Had her life been nothing but an invented fairy tale? Had she been living at all when she had been so detached from reality? Or had she just been dreaming? Had her feelings of incompleteness been nothing but the lucid parts of her dream? Had those repressed feelings been her inverted conscious crying out, warning that one day this world would collapse?

I didn't want to wake up. She hadn't wanted to wake up from her dream now. Why could it not have lasted past this suffering and sorrow? A sleeper has no choice when their dream will die however. If she had remained asleep she would have lost Matthew. She had met him in her dream and he was the only thing that remained untouched by reality. He was the same as always; brash, headstrong, tender, and concerned. When everyone else and everything else had been warped in the wakeful dawn Matthew remained whole and inviolate.

Is this why Regan had wanted to kill him?

She recoiled from the thought again and again. She had vowed to not pass any judgment on Regan until he could speak for himself. As the stories were told however and the testimony began to blaze forth it became harder and harder to not muse on the impossible. Was her brother really a murderer? An abuser? Someone who had brought so much unhappiness to so many people?

If only there was a way she could remain asleep forever and never face this horrible choice or any guilt ever again.

She had spent the night in a quixotic and detached state, beyond all sorrow and pain. She was simply numb in every facet of her being. Torture created tolerance for any sort of anguish. Her mind retreated from reality. It only looked out in a disassociated haze as inwardly it clawed for the final shreds of the dream. There was not even a scrap however that had not been exposed to harsh light. The internal struggle was only more howling in the receding darkness.

Was this new self-awareness a gift or a curse? The victims were asking her to be their champion. Was it cowardice or mercy they had given her this choice? That it was she who would bear the guilt and pain of judgment? She had not suffered in Regan's world. Was this why she was being asked to suffer now?

I won't run away. By the time she had the thought the sun had already begun to rise. Kelly lifted her head and knew her brother would rouse soon. Her body ached from exhaustion but it didn't reach her mind.

She closed her eyes. Was this the pain of living? How could she have been alive before now, when she had been living a stinted existence based in lies? Her mother and brother had wanted her to walk a path that would have lead nowhere; without pain, sadness, or true happiness. It would have been nothing but the meaningless existence of a fish in a bowl that could only travel around and around and never go anywhere.

I wish to live. And because she did she must accept all the suffering that comes with real life. She had shattered her pendant and all her hope of living without pain or fear.

Who was this person, Kelly Seele? Who could see the spirits and the entire world? Who was the Wise Woman of the Santos Basin? Would she kill her own brother? She didn't know. She could only see.

Her hand slid down to Matthew's wrist. Upon her wrist was the bracelet Eddie had given her. It still glowed in soft violet hues when she touched him. It had been the first small piercing of truth's light in the darkness. The kelpie had called her with it. Somehow she had managed to hide it from Regan or it had been enchanted to escape his detection. She had allowed the dream to be torn. It was she who had killed the dream of her older brother by speaking to the monster at the end of the world. Perhaps that too is why she should judge him; she who had killed his world.

She raised her head up at Regan's stirring. There were only five others in the room now; herself, Rhona, the older wise woman, and Matthew. The other four had gone to bed a few hours before and the other kelpie had excused himself around midnight, strangely uninterested in the on-going suffering of the family that had once enslaved him. It was likely only she, Nejem, and Regan needed to be present but Rhona and Matthew remained. Matthew to support her, Rhona to perhaps do the same, or to watch silently as her lover's children destroyed one another.

As Regan groaned and seemed to struggle out of his slumber however the kelpie called Naoise appeared in the doorway. Eddie hovered behind him, still in that red dress like a livid omen of an impending apocalypse, in the hallway. The fae narrowed his dark eyes at Kelly but didn't step into the room. Kelly had a feeling he was only making sure Regan didn't try to escape. She sighed lowly, the beast was terrifying to behold but it seemed as if Eddie did have some modicum of control over him. He had warned he would kill Regan if Kelly didn't, and perhaps it was inevitable. It wouldn't happen today however, Regan was not answering to a grudge, but to his crimes alone.

She had power and she knew already she must remain unyielding in the face of the immortal.

Regan awoke and emptied his stomach of the putrid contents of the brew. He looked up blearily. Rhona had warned her that he would have no recollection of the interrogation, as Eddie had had no memory of her drugging. His eyes went wide as he noticed Nejem and then Naoise looming in the doorway. The kelpie showed Regan his fangs and he recoiled towards the headboard.

"You're free," he whispered in terror. Kelly felt her throat clench as she remembered Regan's lament that MacGregor's blood had been nothing but the appetizer for his flesh for the kelpie. Why did you have to make such an enemy brother? Wasn't mother's suffering enough? Wasn't I important enough that you forget revenge?

The time for mourning had passed however as the sun rose higher and drenched the room in a red haze. The new dawn was breaking.

"Regan," Kelly directed his attention towards him. She licked her lips and whispered, "So am I."

The man leaned forward and looked upon her bare neck. He gasped and shook his head. "No, no Kelly, who did that?"

"I did." She replied staunchly.

"How could you?" he asked in utter pain. "Mother didn't want it! You will only know such unhappiness! She only wanted you to escape the curse of our family!"

"Mother is dead!" Kelly screamed back, impressed by the sound of her own voice. She recoiled and stepped back but avoided Matthew's arms. She had to stand by herself now. "She threw her life away, didn't she? But you still thought her wishes should be carried out? What good was it for me to live like this?"

"You can answer that for yourself." Regan countered. He grimaced and sank back onto his pillows. "Aren't you happy like this Kelly? You're a doctor, accomplished, with nothing but a splendid life ahead of you. Do you think it be this way if you could have seen spirits all along? If you had to engage in their struggles?"

He rolled onto his side and gave her an earnest look. "You know what happened to mother then? How I was conceived? Do you know she wanted to spare you from that sort of experience? She only wanted to save you, and I only wanted that too."

"Then why kill Matthew?" Kelly argued. She could not give in to this feeling of surrender. Of not wanting to hear this answer. She felt tears of regret begin to fill her eyes but she forced herself on. "Why did you keep Rhona a slave when you could have freed her?"

"What was between me and Rhona is none of your business!" Regan snapped and Kelly gasped in shock. Regan had never looked this angry before. They had never quarreled like this before, not even when they were children. Regan had always been her gentle protector. She had never questioned him. She looked away and put a hand to her forehead. Is this the first time I'm really seeing you?

"It is my business." Kelly informed him as she looked at the carpet beneath her feet. "Because I am judging you to punish you for your actions."

She looked up as he gave a strained little laugh. She blinked at his mirthful expression. She wondered for a second if he had gone mad.

"Ah, is that what this is? This sad little audience?" Regan asked as he spread his arms wide. He lifted his chin and looked directly at Matthew. "And would you have not killed me, Matthew Moreno, if you knew I was going to betray and harm you sister?"

"You did," Matthew reminded him fiercely.

"Yes! And you slit my throat if you had the chance, wouldn't you?" Regan smirked. Matthew clenched his fists but said nothing to counter this. He turned on Nejem next.

"And Wise Woman Nejem, you hated me the day I was conceived. You're nothing but merciful, aren't you? To judge the child by the father? If I had become a priest I would have done no right by you!"

The wise woman remained impassive and let no emotion show on her face at the charge. Regan's eyes met Rhona's for a second but he chose to not include her in his shaming. He instead turned on the kelpie next.

"And you are nothing but a beast, Naoise of Lake Santos, as you always were. It is laughable I would be judged for striking at the person responsible for my mother's downfall!" He sneered. The woman besides the fae was next. "And your simpering little bride who gave you away when I reminded her you tried to kill her brother. Don't you still love him more than your groom Eddie? I have a good feeling you would have done the exact same as I in the same position!"

The woman only glowered and Regan threw his head back with a mocking cry. "That I would be judged by such a group of hypocrites!"

"But only I am passing judgment," Kelly sternly reminded him. She raised her finger and pointed at Rhona. "What do you call her? Hypocrite? Or just 'victim'?"

"Traitor." Regan answered vehemently. He had nearly spat the word like venom. "Don't you dare trust her Kelly! She'll say she loves you one minute and then put her heel on your head the next! Like any fae!"

He sat up and looked at her pleadingly. "I only tried to kill Matthew for your own protection. Our blood carries your trait. Will he stay with you now after all this? Would he be able to stand a child who sees what they should not? His death was to bring about the imprisonment of that kelpie! Our mother would be avenged and you could have lived in happiness forever!"

"An existence without meaning," Kelly softly countered. She shook her head and opened her arms to embrace her trembling brother.

"I want you to know a life without hatred, without bitterness," she soothed, her hand stroking his hair. Regan stiffened but put his arms around her, holding her for the last time. "I wish you could be the brother I have known, and not the man you truly are."

"It was for you! Only for you!" he insisted with a sob into her shoulder.

And that would be his battle cry in the darkness. Kelly closed her eyes and began to softly weep as Regan lost his shape and form in her arms. His body softened, congealed, lost its human weight and presence. Kelly kept her eyes closed as she reached into the chasm within and pulled forth her brother's punishment. This was her power, the gift that could not be denied, and the curse that must be acknowledged. She passed judgment upon the man in her arms as her mother had the father of this poisoned soul.

In the end she was left with only a mournful black snake in her arms, helpless, and defenseless. She held the cold body to her own and cradled it into her warmth. It looked upon her with dark and unblinking eyes that reflected nothing but anguish.

"Because you are my brother, and because I still love you, and because your crimes were those of love, I won't kill you. You however have struck at the heels of man and spirit, and this is your true form. I want you to live as you truly are for fifteen years, and hopefully in that time you'll see what you can be."

And that was her judgment. Kelly collapsed into small sobs at this new dawn but the vicious sun continued to rise. Light flooded the world and chased away the last remaining shadows. Nothing remained of the old world but the memories of those that had once lived there.

And this is who I really am. The Wise Woman of the Santos Basin. Enchanted by a bitter mother and deceived by her serpent of a brother. She would take on all the guilt and suffering of the apocalypse.

For she had chosen life, and in making that choice, she could not look away from the truth.

#

But it was not all quite over.

A few hours after Regan's judgment Eddie was standing before the entrance to the cavern. In her arms she carried the glass bowl where a prince languished. She had not forgotten about him. She still remembered her responsibility to him. Eddie still had one last thing to do during this dawn.

"Hey, hey, I guess we can all go home now?" Sarah asked as she down the slight embankment that led to the house. Stan was not too far behind. It was after breakfast that had been more like a brunch in how late it had been. Kelly had been left to dry her tears with Matthew while the rest had recovered in their own ways from the upsetting scene. Sarah and Stan had only witnessed Regan's transformation. Neither had said anything immediately afterwards but Stan had asked a good question of Nejem when she had come out.

"So Kelly can do magic now?"

"No, the transformation was Regan's magic really. She merely reached into his heart and exposed him for what he is." Nejem glanced sternly up at him. "As only she could."

"Magic sure is tricky," Stan had sighed and the old woman had left the youth to his own ruinations. Eddie had listened as well and had been musing on the quandary all morning.

"Yeah." She smiled at her friend and opened her free arm for a hug. "But I'm stayin' a bit longer."

"Is Matthew going to stay here?" Sarah asked as she wrapped her arms around the other girl.

"Mm. I imagine he may be here for a while," Eddie raised her face up towards the home. "They're still cleaning up."

By which she meant creating something of a cover story for Regan's sudden departure from the world of man. Kelly had insisted she would not lie about her brother's situation. So Yusuf had made his jaguar toy-size and placed it in Regan's room so that it could be said it had merely been moved. Rhona would look after him as an invisible guardian of the home so that it could be said he had departed with her.

Even free the selkie remained bound to the children of her mistress. It may have been a self-imposed punishment, a search for redemption, but she had made the decision to remain with them freely. Rhona had been unable to forget the chains that bound her for so long, and perhaps only when those binds were broken by death could she finally return to the ocean and her kin. Eddie had only showed her the path, but Rhona had to walk it.

The same could be said for Kelly.

"So I can move in to the back house?" Sarah winked. "I'm going to see my mom first of all, but I doubt I'm getting a warm welcome."

"You can stay for however long you need to," Eddie promised. They both knew Mrs. McAllister was not going to forgive this last stunt. A disappearance of two days and a supposed elopement was more than enough for estrangement in an already strained relationship. She stepped back and looked at the other woman seriously. "Be safe."

“You should tell me that when I call up ol' Gwennie," Sarah waved her hand flippantly. "She's going to burst my ear drum."

Eddie just shook her head and looked at Stan. "Are you going home too?"

"Yeah, but only for a little while I think. I'm planning on maybe going on a little trip with the money I've saved up. I think maybe I’m going to drop in on my uncle, the guy you met at the dance. I think…maybe he’s a magician too."

Eddie was more than a little surprised. "You want to become a magician?"

"I will never forget the feel of that magic in my heart," Stan put a hand over his chest. "I want to feel it again, but my own, not one that was borrowed or gifted. I…got to know Dougal a little. I didn’t need to necessarily see Seele’s end to know better.”

"Good luck then," Eddie could only hope Dougal had not inspired some sort of madness in Stan. Perhaps however this was also destiny moving its hand. She looked at them both. "And thank you for all that you did for me."

"I doubt you need to go that far. We both saw some things, did some things, we never could have otherwise. I made you that promise and I kept it, because you are my friend, and we're all Stan's friends too.” Sarah reminded her as she caught the hapless young man and rubbed his hair affectionately. Eddie just smiled and Sarah let Stan go as he squawked indignantly.

"May you never come after me," He glowered with his hands on his hips.

"You don’t control me!" She countered. Eddie laughed behind her wrist. Her fear of abandonment had made her unwilling to leave her brother before. Now she desired to establish a place in this world. To remain in this place that was her true home. To guard it with Naoise.

They may be scattered by the winds of destiny and fate but they were tied by their memories of the birth of this new world. No matter how far they were flung they would always be able to recall the nausea of a kelpie's gallop through pipes, and the beauty of a jinn's fire as it arced above the mountains. They could speak of things to each other that they could no one else. This would be their bond in the light.

"I'll be home in a few hours," she called after Sarah as she waved good bye to them both for now. After they had disappeared around the corner of the home Eddie set the bowl down on a boulder. Jai hopped up onto the rim and perched there to stare at her. The frog let out a croak of either discontent or fearful apprehension. Eddie tried to soothe him by smiling but it was hard to detect on a frog's face a look of calm. Jai just blinked at her beaming.

"Careful, you know amphibians don't fare well in the cold." Nejem warned as she hobbled her way towards the pair.

"I know," Eddie sighed. She looked up at the wise woman, she didn't see Yusuf but this probably meant he was resting in his bottle. "Are you leaving as well?"

"I think I've worn out my welcome," Nejem gently snorted. Eddie didn't dare to comment on the already strained relationship between the two wise women. Nejem had stayed on to help as she could but it was apparent as much as Kelly had tried to be civil she would need more time to be able to fully put the actions of everyone involved in her brother's judgment into perspective. It was why Eddie was avoiding her as well; she after all had demanded that Regan be exposed. Kelly was going through enough stress without being forced to acknowledge their changed relationships.

“And, Simon needs me.” Nejem softly added.

“Simon is your…husband?” Eddie guessed. Nejem nodded.

“He’s ill with pneumonia, but it’s his asthma that complicates things. Hazar has been handling his care when I’m gone, but, it’s hard on her too. She’s a student and she works full time.”

Eddie smiled, for she now knew the sort of sacrifices she too must make.

"Then let me thank you too," Eddie said with a small curtsy as she was still wearing the dress. Nejem shook her head.

"I could say the same to you," she said. She pulled her shoulders back. “I can see now maybe I was wrong to assume you couldn’t save yourself. I’ve seen a lot of tragedy in my time, so much….perhaps I had forgotten there is also triumph.”

Eddie inclined her head, “and I’m sorry that I was so proud I refused your help after that. I would have never gotten this far without your help. Things….probably would have been much easier for me if I had bothered to listen to you. So….can I call you sometime?”

Nejem gave her the number and commented, "I had come down to say good bye to the two lords of the lake and river, but I'll leave it to you. My taxi will be here in a few minutes."

She glanced at the bowl. "But what will you do with your frog prince?"

"Ah well," Eddie rubbed the back of her neck but decided to explain her quandary. "Remember when Regan called me by the shore? He told me that no one in our party knew how to create life, only destroy it. Regan created Jai, gave him life, but it was a shitty life. So I would re-make him, but this time, let him have his own life. He can be whoever the fuck he wants.”

“You’re going to forgive him?” Nejem knit her eyebrows together.

“I know Jai. I feel like he can do a lot of good but Regan had made him so afraid of life without him that he made a terrible mistake. And that’s okay. I have made a few terrible mistakes too and every time I got a second chance. So I think Jai deserves a second chance too.” Eddie shrugged.

Nejem blinked at this possibility and looked down at the little frog.

"Won't you ask one of the kelpies to help you then?"

"No, I've already tasted Naoise's blood. That was how we were bound. That’s how I broke the enchantment Regan had him under." Eddie upraised her wounded palms slightly. "I have no want to be an enchantress, only to grant the wish of this one frog."

Nejem gave her a long look. "You know you could be quite powerful. Naoise of Lake Santos is in love with you and that's far stronger than that bridle ever was."

"And because I'm in love with him, I won't use him like that. I re-made this world, and we’ll protect it together, but I will not be its queen or whatever like Regan was the master of his." Eddie softly countered as she drew her arms to her chest. Upon her finger was the ring that had imprisoned Naoise. Sarah had given it to her that morning, having no desire to be burdened by such a thing. Nejem glanced at the piece of jewelry and shrugged.

"Well, I say if the frog truly desires it, and you have enough residual magic from yesterday, you may manage it." She looked up at Eddie sternly. "Be careful though, you are inexperienced and if either one of you hesitates for a second, you'll end up with something neither one of you wanted."

Eddie nodded, but she had become far more used to risk taking these past few days. She gathered the frog into her hands and brought him close to her heart. To her surprise he leaned against her, as if in memory.

"Your greatest wish was to be human once wasn't it? I will make you human again, a man, a prince, if you will let me." She told him softly. “But you must understand that this is an act of pain. If you accept this magic, you’ve agreed to fulfill the wish of a guilty woman; to be the man she thinks you can be.”

The frog blinked at her, but he didn’t try to hop away and seemed to accept the proposition. Eddie sighed and could only hope this was how one could make a prince. She shut her eyes and tried to draw out of herself what faint beatings there still were of magic in her blood. She had bled nearly all of it out yesterday but small pearls still throbbed in niches along her veins.

Perhaps the intimacy she had shared with Naoise had made her more sensitive to their uncanny beating. This was not the raw passion of her bond with Naoise, but the gentle lacings of Dougal’s magic purified by his human favorite. It was far less dangerous than what she carried through her contract with Naoise, but perhaps just as consuming. It had bolstered her escape beneath the rage of her beloved’s magic. She drew these small pulses into her heart and reached out for the tiny fluttering heartbeat of the frog who wished to be a prince.

She tried to visualize the magic as hooks or threads as she reached out to the frog but instead found it was much more like a flood. It surged from her hands, causing them to bleed once again, and threatened to drown the frog. Eddie screamed for it to only seek out the wish, to give it form, to give it life. She let her mind only fill with one image, that of Jai Darzi as the Prince. She recalled Jai Darzi with his beautiful eyes that shone like honey in the sunlight, his slow smile, and unfaltering steps. She blazed with the memory of his gentle hand on her waist and when the world had consisted of them alone. She recalled him as he had been when she had been in love with him, her prince.

The wish came alive with its own pulse. For a few seconds Eddie felt a devouring need she had never experienced before. It was an all-consuming desire. It was the longing of a beloved pet to become the human companion a small child had wished for. Eddie was taken aback by the aspiration but she cast upon the wish her own yearning to be relieved of this guilt, to create life and not destroy it. The wish at last manifested into their mutual desires; a handsome young prince who had once been called "Jai Darzi".

Who was also quite naked as he stood before her.

She stared in the sort of fascinated horror at the person she had given life to, as surely if she had carried him in her womb. The power to create life was magnificent and terrifying.

"Can you talk?" she asked, hesitantly recalling Nejem's warning.

"Of course." The man drew her into a hug and Eddie stiffened as she blushed. Nejem also sighed in relief.

"Wonderful," Eddie mused as she stepped back, trying to comprehend what she had done. She hesitantly reached to touch a curl on his cheek, his hair was soft, and his flesh was warm. She had made him as he had been. No, could be.

“So…okay. Jai. This time around, you can be whoever you want to be. If you don’t want to be a prince, that’s fine. Be a man. Get married. Have kids. Work nine to five, whatever. I have no obligations for you. Okay? I just wanted you to have a second chance.” She tried to explain to him. He smiled, and his light was even greater than before.

“My name was never ‘Jai Darzi’, that’s the name of a dead man.” He informed her. His smile grew wider. “Call me ‘Padma’, Sita named me that.”

He began to tell his story. That he had been born a frog, loved by a little princess who had cherished and nurtured him. Of how the original Jai Darzi had died when he had tried to save her, and how Regan had offered to let him become his sister's prince. Eddie was nearly moved to tears at the story. She had never truly realized before that magic didn't simply exist among the spirits but in the most mundane and poignant minutiae of man as well.

“Do you want to be a prince again?” she asked softly after he had finished his tale. He nodded.

“Yes. I know I wasn’t a very good one the first time around, but maybe now, I have a better idea of what one must be.” He smiled at her. After all this, after all this suffering and remorse, he could still find the light that had allowed him to be what he could always become.

So this was what Stan wanted to cultivate; the simple magic of love and need that existed within his race. Stan wished to become a good magician, and the frog wished to be the loving prince. She reached up and removed Dougal's ring from her neck. She slipped it onto the man's neck and he looked up at her.

"This ring will protect you against fae illusions. If you throw it into water it will summon Dougal as well. It is my gift to you." She stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. "I would ask you to see me once more before I die, to show me how beautiful you've become."

The prince nodded and traced the etching of the horse upon the ring. He was now his own being, created entirely of his own desires, as anyone should be. Other sides must exist to him however, those of bitterness, regret, and guilt. If a prince could not exist in this world, he must be allowed to become something else.

“Be careful though, son, to ally yourself with that sort of creature,” Nejem warned. Padma nodded at her.

“Trust me, after this, it would be a near death experience.”

"Jai Darzi?" Kelly asked in shock. Eddie had not even seen or heard her or Matthew coming through the woods. Eddie wasn't exactly certain what must be more surprising, Padma's frank nudity or that the frog had been transformed once again.

"No, I am Padma now, as I was before. Jai Darzi died long ago." The man explained. He raised a hand to his chest. "Eddie has given me a new life and a chance to be a prince again."

"I knew…I knew, when I heard that you were that frog, I knew then that Jai must have died." Kelly looked away in pain. "Did Regan kill him?"

"No, he drowned, trying to save a little girl." Padma soothed. Matthew gave Eddie a curious look as he put his coat on the naked man. He was no doubt wondering how she had done this and she just gave him a small smile.

"It was what he really wanted," Eddie said by way of explaining and Matthew blinked.

"It was when I was mourning her death your brother first came to me," Padma continued. "He wanted me to be your prince but…"

He smiled at Matthew. "You already had one, and I was allowed to go astray."

Matthew stepped back in surprise and gave an awkward smile, obviously not sure what he should say. Padma shook his head and looked away.

"I did help Regan in his schemes; I was the one who drugged you Eddie, even as you asked to save me." He confessed miserably. "But no more. I will not squander another chance, especially when I didn't deserve this one."

"What will you do now?" Kelly asked.

"First, I will ask Isolde if she would be my mount again.” He smiled wryly at Kelly’s questioning expression. “She is quite a horse, after all.”

He chortled at the joke that only Eddie could smile at. He met her gaze in bemusement before he continued.

“Then I will go to Jai Darzi's parents and tell them how their real son died so that they can know he was a true prince. Then I think I will go back to the place I was born. I will never have another princess, but I will be the prince to many if I can." He decided. Kelly nodded in satisfaction.

"Well, feel free to stay until you get things sorted out, and help yourself to some clothes," the wise woman sighed a little as she glanced at the man with a small smirk. She raised her head up to look at Nejem. "And your cab is here, that's why we came out here."

"Tell them to wait a few more minutes if you please lad," she said to Matthew. "I'm not done with my good-byes."

Matthew left to escort Padma and do as he had been requested. Eddie called out again however. "Matt, I'm going home soon. See you soon?"

He paused. "Are you…all right? To stay alone?"

"Sarah will be stayin' with us for a while I think," she informed him. He frowned a little to hear that knowing it meant trouble at home for Sarah, but he nodded.

He kissed Eddie's forehead. "We'll have a good long talk, when this is all done."

Eddie nodded and let the man go without complaint. Nejem stepped forward to approach Kelly.

"Well, I am returning home. If you need something, call me. Though I imagine Rhona will be your right hand in this," the older wise woman said without bitterness or complaint. It seemed as if she had been satisfied to play her role and was ready to move on now that the conflict had been resolved. Kelly only nodded at her, apparently not having anything to say. Nejem seemed to take no offense and turned to Eddie next. She gave the young woman a kiss to the cheek before departing, an apparent gesture of benevolence and good luck. Kelly waited until Nejem had retreated into the home to speak.

"Well, good-bye then Eddie, I'm sure we'll see each other again soon." Kelly said softly. The happy, optimistic, unburdened princess had been replaced by the dour and controlled wise woman. The stark contrast made Eddie cringe.

"I, I do want to say I'm sorry. I wasn't intending for you to have to be the one…" She hesitated when Kelly looked up at her curiously. Eddie looked at her feet. "I wasn't thinking of what may happen to you or Regan by exposing him. All I wanted to know was the truth. I…knew things couldn't go on as they were but I didn't intend to make your life miserable."

Kelly was silent for a long moment before she answered.

"I'm not miserable. Before I was blissfully ignorant to all of the unhappiness around me and I was happy, yes, very happy. That happiness however was false. Now that I know…" She raised her hands up in a gesture of acceptance. "Happiness will be harder to come by, but when it does, it will be true, and thus far more meaningful than any I've felt before."

Eddie looked up at her and Kelly smiled, not the sort of pained smile she had expected but a genuine one of hope.

"I'm just afraid your brother may not love this new me," Kelly said with a small laugh. She showed Eddie the bracelet she had given her what felt like an entire life time ago. "But this…it still glows when I look at him. Naoise enchanted this, didn't he?"

"Did he call you with it?" Eddie asked as she remembered Regan's accusation that Naoise had tried to "ruin" Kelly.

"Yes, he was the first one to tell me to break that crystal," Kelly touched a few pensive fingers to her cheek at the memory. Eddie knew what she was thinking; though it had probably only been in vengeance against Regan he had done so.

"Naoise told me once that we cannot become something we are not." Eddie said and gently put a hand on Kelly's shoulder. "You were this Kelly too, all along, and Matthew came all this way to just be with this Kelly, the real one. If you let him, I think he can find the woman he fell in love with too."

For a second Kelly looked like her old self, forever bright and hopeful. She hugged Eddie and whispered "good bye" in her ear before turning to return to her home, fate, and love. She would do as they all must; live on in this splendid and unforgiving world. As Eddie watched the wise woman walk away a pair of arms encircled her. She shivered at the cold kiss to the neck. It was Dougal who spoke however.

"You gave away my ring lass?" Eddie glanced over Naoise's arm to where Dougal stood in the shadow of a fir. She nodded in answer.

"To Padma, the frog that was once Jai Darzi. I made him into a prince." It would always seem odd to say such a thing but Dougal readily accepted it.

"Did you?" Dougal cried. He shook his head. "Well if he is as handsome as before; I will thank you for that. I think I may look forward to our adventures together. I haven't ever served a prince however, those kind usually avoid my type."

"I think this one will be a bit different than most," Eddie admitted. Dougal seemed to accept that and with a flourish he disappeared into the shadows of the trees, to apparently leave the pair alone. Eddie raised her face to look up at Naoise. "Let's go down to the lake."

She showed him Regan’s ring. "To take this thing out of the world of humanity."

He nodded and stepped back to assume his equine form. Eddie mounted, it was a bit awkward to ride with the skirt of the dress crumpled around her waist but she didn't intend to let anyone get a good view of her bare legs. She wrapped her hands into Naoise's mane.

"Please, let's stay above the water, and just follow the back ways down," she requested. She didn't care to ruin the dress further though she had purposely picked out one that hadn't looked terribly expensive. She had a feeling she probably would do best to start wearing old light clothes around Naoise given his affinity for water. Or always keep around a change of them.

He shook his head and while he did follow the river down he remained in the shallows, leaving an iridescent cascade of splashes in his wake. He leapt over the highway in one bound and perhaps to the delight of some school children passing by in a bus. He thundered in majestic flight across the open fields with his hooves only touching the earth long enough to push him into further heights. Eddie pressed against his neck and only looked to the distant, future horizons.

He descended the cliff above his favored shore in a graceful leap and as he stopped before the water Eddie flicked her wrist in a forceful throw. The ring shone once in the sunlight before shattering the water's surface. It was lost to the world as it drowned in the realms of the kelpie. Eddie sighed and remained on the shore as Naoise dove into his lake. He was inspecting its environs after being gone for so many days.

She removed her jacket and used it as a pillow as she sunned on a flat boulder by the shore. It was perhaps a habit she had picked up from the water horse. She let the sun warm her skin as it drenched her in its light. She laid the back of her hand over her eyes as the sun reached its zenith. About an hour later Naoise returned. He confirmed the ring was sitting at the bottom of the lake where it would remain untouched by human hands.

But in his hand was another ring. One John Chang had returned to him. He stood over her with it. She raised her hand and accepted the moonstone ring. She smiled gently at the stone. In the coming days she find a ring for him. She already knew as Naoise was a faerie they needed no ceremony. The ring was a gift of protection, as hers would be. They needed nothing more than their desire to be together.

"We'll plant roses I think and tulips in these coming weeks," Eddie told the kelpie and frowned a little as Naoise sat in her sun. She didn't chase him away however as he had always looked so lovely with the light flooding his dark hair. She smiled and gently stroked Naoise's cheek with her fingertips.

“We’ll take the steers to market. We'll breeds the cows. We'll care for the calves when they're dropped and plant the crops of the next season. In summer we'll go swimming and nurture those crops. In fall the roses and tulips will die back, we'll harvest the crops, and wean the calves. In winter we'll preserve and wait for spring to come again. The years will pass and I'll finish my schooling and take over the ranch. We’ll have our kid when the time is right. We'll keep on living, together, as we want to. We’ll protect the basin together, and always have each other’s backs."

She paused in her caressing. "Is that the world you want Naoise?"

He gently took her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist, his personal gesture of tenderness.

"I will remain at your side until the day you die."

That was enough and she accepted his kiss when he leaned down to give it. There would be life and life for a very long time. The light of this world was theirs, and they would spend every day in it, for as long as they were given this time together.

In Naoise’s arms she knew eternity and in his love, she would know immortality. Naoise would outlive her but he too would live on. He would carry her memory to the end of all time and that would be her legacy.

His love.