elle never cries, after ludger dies. she smiles, she laughs, she screams, she frowns. she never cries. she has a promise to keep.
“you can come live with me and driselle,” elize says after, and this is before she started calling driselle mom, but elle still shakes her head. jude rubs his hands together and offers, “if you want, you can help me study the fractured dimensions,” and elle still says no. leia shrugs and adds, “i mean, i’m always busy, but you can tag along!” elle smiles and says no. alvin admits “i’m always busy, but i think we can find somewhere for you to stay, between me and yurgen” but elle insists no. rowen and gaius look at each other and rowen offers “do you want to come stay in kanbalar with gaius and myself? i know how well you and his majesty get along—“ but elle cuts him off, says no, she’s fine. she’ll be fine on her own.
vera and nova help elle use some of ludger and julius’ money to buy their apartment, and there she and rollo settle, with friends coming by weekly to check on her, but she’s always fine. she learns to cook from ludger’s old recipes, and rollo brings her job requests, and she learns to work, learns to fight with (herfathers) ludger’s old cast-off swords.
she’s fine, she says. she never cries. she’s fine.
nothing bad ever happens to her. when elle takes a job, the weather is always perfect, no matter where she is: not too hot, not too cold. she falls off a boat, once, and is deposited back onto the deck moments later by a large gush of water. when she’s caught in a bushfire in the lakutam highroad the flames part for her, and she waves at it as she leaves, calling her thanks to efreet and milla. there is always a breeze, and there are always plants. she never liked this milla much, but she appreciates the effort that maxwell and the four go to for her.
she always travels a little bit faster than everyone else, like space itself is closing up to let her get places sooner. the ground rushes past under her feet, and she presses her hands to the earth and tells muzét thank you, thank you for the help.
her kitchen and fridge is always stocked. she never buys the food, and neither does anybody else she knows. it’s always there, and the tomatoes are always fresh, like ludger and julius, together at last wherever they are, have both decided she has to eat them no matter what. she has one every morning cut up into slices with breakfast, because it turns out raw and with salt they’re really good, actually.
she is never late for anything. if it is chronos’ way of saying sorry, she appreciates it. she never takes it for granted.
“arent you lonely?” elize asks, at sixteen, and elle, all of twelve, shrugs and finishes her gaius dumpling.
“not really.” she swings her legs over the edge of the wall she’s on, where rollo is rolling back and forth at the bottom, playing with a mouse he got somewhere. next to him, ludger’s swords sit wrapped up in their carrying cloth, the bag she’s put down for now. “there’s always one of you waiting for me in every town, or friends. when i’m at home, there’s rollo and ivar and vera and nova.” vera, head of spirius now, is always very busy. nova, despite being groomed to take over for verland bank, is somehow never busy.
“do you miss him?” elize asks, staring off into the distance, where the sharilton windmills turn and turn, and elle smiles.
“yeah, but he’s always here.” she wraps one hand around the watch that hangs around her neck. “he just can’t leave me well enough alone.” elize laughs, and so does elle.
“i worry about you,” alvin says, sitting on jude’s couch while jude is busy intently fidgeting with some piece of technology while luna, his working spyrite, gnaws on his ankle. “all alone and working all the time? it’s not any life for a kid.”
“i’m not really a kid any more,” elle reminds alvin, because she’s fourteen now, and shooting up, growth spurt finally at last hitting. “and besides, you and elize were doing it.”
“that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” alvin grouches, but elle leaves that night for the seahaven out of fennmont, waving as she heads off to kanbalar, because it’s time to go check up on gaius and rowen, and alvin smiles after she leaves. jude looks up and asks him why, and alvin shrugs.
“she’s just like her dad,” he says, at last. “ludger was always looking out for us, helping us out even when he didn’t have time or money. she’s the same way.” jude pauses, and tilts his head, and alvin clarifies, “haven’t you noticed she never sits still? she’s always visiting all of us, making the rounds. no wonder she isn’t lonely, when her whole life is making sure we’re all okay.”
“that’s just who she is,” jude says, and they nod.
“i want to write about it.” leia is folded up on (herfathers) (ludgers) elle’s bed, pen marks all over her lip from where she keeps jabbing herself with the nib when she chews on it.
“about what?” elle asks, looking up from where she’s writing another letter to milla and muzet and the four and origin and chronos.
“about everything. about what happened. about you, and your d—ludger, and julius, and bisley. i want to tell the truth, i want people to know, you know?” leia frowns. “i just feel like…i can’t do it justice, you know?”
“i think ludger would like that,” elle smiles. “i would too.” it’s been eight years, and at sixteen, the wounds that felt so raw and aching when she was eight are dulling with time. she misses ludger like a part of herself, but everyone should be able to share in him too. he should be for everyone, just like he was for her. “i think you’re the only person that could.”
“i think you’re right.” leia smiles, and they both know elle is right.
“you don’t have to call me grandmother!” marcia says, every time elle does it, even after ten years, and she shrugs while rowen laughs from where he is in the other room, doing paperwork. “i know you had one of your own!”
“yeah,” elle replies, kicking her feet on top of the chancellor’s counter, eating a cookie, “but you and grandfather rowen are a lot better than bisley, i think.”
it’s the first time she’s ever admitted it.
marcia smiles sadly, and squeezes her hands, and elle leans against her, and knows she’s made the right choice in her family.
“how are you not cold?” gaius asks elle, as she helps him carry down some stones into the xailen woods temple for the cairn he’s building for the rest of the chimeriad. he eyes her bare legs warily, as even he is wearing a coat, in the middle of winter.
“you get used to it,” elle shrugs, laughing. “didn’t you tell my dad that once? now’s the perfect time to go try out your igloo.”
“you are far too much like him,” gaius tells her, and then looks down at rollo, riding in the bag that hangs off of elle’s hip, who has survived twelve years after his owners passed away, and shakes his head. “however, i don’t think rollo would probably appreciate it.” the emperor of all cats yawns widely at gaius, as if in agreement, and elle looks at her cat, and frowns.
“yeah…you might be right.”
rollo dies, twenty years after ludger and julius, at a greatly advanced age, and the former prime minister of rieze maxia, supported by his wife and both his daughter and granddaughter, gives a rousing eulogy for him. the king of rieze maxia tries to follow him up and starts crying, and they all jibe him good-naturedly about it. dr. mathis, the younger, reveals that he is designing a line of spyrites that will look and act like rollo, to support adventurers and young folks in the hospital. the present prime minister of rieze maxia follows up her grandfather by explaining how rollo and teepo were there for little girls who needed them, and cannot ever be forgotten. svent, the trading magnate, admits that while he wasn’t so sure about it at first, rollo’s (hundreds) of descendants are now an invaluable part of his company, as they are all expert mousers.
chief editor of the trigleph times rolando writes a story about it, and president vera of spirius makes it front page news the next day.
elle mel marta, who has now lived longer than any of her fathers ever did, stands surrounded by her friends, her family, and buries rollo. and cries.