How she touched him, that wan morning, sitting on the bed.
Jacky did not know what was going to happen. All the flooding years, all the fall afternoons, all the snowy mornings, all the desperate pursuits, all the waiting, all the heavy lifting, all the surprise, all the disappointment, the betrayal. All the waiting.
She did not know how this moment would change all the centuries to come. But she knew that how she touched him, this wan morning, would change each stone, each particle of the pattern, just a little, just enough.
He lay there sleeping, his strong, tired body in repose, his strong mouth open a little, framed by a trim brown beard, his hair tousled. She smiled. He would think his hair a mess, he would run to rinse the night out of his mouth and wash himself.
How she touched his cheek with the fingertips of her left hand. Her lover. The King.
Thomas, Thomas the Archer, had made himself King, but Jacky had made him her lover. She who thought everything through, who thought out her chess plays ten moves ahead, had looked upon him, that rebel cavalryman, that soldier’s soldier, that kind, valiant, lordly commoner, that risen-up refugee, that defender of destitute villages, that hunter of battlefields, he who had retreated to advance again but who had never backed down, he who had lost his father and avenged him, who had lost his mother and never forgotten her, who had lost his lady in childbirth, who had lost his child, who had lost and gained so much: she had looked upon him and desired him.
She had not made him King. He had made him King. She had helped, as she could, and told herself she was helping his poor, destitute, tyrannized people: well, it was true. But she had also helped herself. She had been with him, mostly out of sight but with him, defending him from horrors he could just about imagine, driving off the shadows, humiliating the men and women with wands who thought they could interfere in the spooling out of his story, and by now, the Lady of Sinafror knew better than to confront Jacky Clotilde if it could be avoided.
But Jacky knew, Thomas knew, that she could not stay. She had her destiny and he had his, and now he had his princess, soon to be his Queen, a powerful wizard herself (though no Jacky Clotilde) who would give birth to his son, Thomas II to follow Thomas I. And far down that line—
Jacky looked around. Nayori would be waiting to be off, Nayori, Amazon warrior. Jacky’s future, whatever that entailed.
Lovingly, Jacky bent forward and kissed him on the brow. She thought a moment, then she moved her head down again and kissed him on his open lips. He muttered something, moved a centimeter and remained asleep.
Lovingly: yes, she loved him, she loved him deeply, intensely. She wondered at it sometimes: she who loved so few, Thomas, Nayori, anyone else? Certainly not herself.
She stood, frowning at the thought. She looked on him one more time: his eyes were closed and she loved his eyes most of all, Jacky who loved eyes. She passed a hand across her face. Who stood there waiting, down her road, centuries down? The Amazon warrior she knew, but the mousy princess? The ghost? The librarian, the dead king, the blond sea captain?
The little girl?
Jacky put her hand on her belly. Yes, the girl. She knew about the little girl. Daughter of a king.
She turned and took up her little pack, slung it over her shoulder and went to the door. She did not go through. Instead, she looked back one last time at King Thomas the Archer, lovingly, her right hand on her belly.
Jacky sighed. She tweaked her ring and was gone.