Dark Cloud Rising Epilogue
A New Day Dawining
by Dyna Dee
The morning was warm and bright despite the scattered clouds that dotted the pale blue sky above. The balcony on which she stood faced south, towards cities and lands she knew very little of. With a forlorn sigh Dorothy wondered if she'd ever go anywhere other than the place she now found herself in, the Halls of Dornan. Not that it was a bad place to be, especially when compared to where she'd been the past several years. No, she counted herself fortunate to be there and out of reach of the northern riders.
But am I any happier now than I was only two months ago? She paused to contemplate the answer to that question. Of course there were benefits to having been brought back to the land of Amulah. The stone carved Halls of Dornan proved to be a much more pleasant place to live than the always cold and drafty wood structure atop Cordith mountain, especially when she wasn't required to cook three meals a day or to wash platters and cups or scrub out kettles. And if she never faced another bowl of porridge or stew with turnips, it would be too soon for her liking. For those reasons alone she could count herself fortunate.
Her attention returned to the two dragons playfully dodging each other above the city of Rydell. The black and blue mated dragons were highly esteemed by all and a popular topic of conversation by riders young and old. Relena's thickening belly and the eminent laying of her clutch of eggs was the cause of great excitement. After all, the hope for strengthening the bloodlines of their dragons had been the sole reason the kingdom of Amulah had exchanged one of their dragons' eggs for another from a nest from a land far over the Impirum Sea. Come the next Spring, if Relena and Wu Fei's dragonlings found acceptable riders, all of Amulah would discover if their efforts had been in vain or not.
Another topic of interest amongst the riders was that of Princess Hilde's upcoming sea voyage to the kingdom of Be'jang. Her introduction to the dragon rider she'd been pledged to was also a topic of importance. Her upcoming union would bring yet another line of dragons in to mix with those dragons of Amulah. Of course, everyone hoped their princess would also find happiness with her soon-to-be mate.
And then there was Prince Duo. His dramatic rescue from Cordith, along with his sudden and surprising mating with Heero, was still spoken of two months later, not to mention the announcement that he had Haldash blood flowing in his veins. The unexpected proclamation that he was the bastard son of the deceased Prince Elia was made public just after Heero and Duo's return to the Halls from their visit to Wishburn. Apparently, the two had no sooner walked into their room when a messenger from King Vourdan was at their door, requesting their presence within the hour.
She had been present in the throne room that momentous morning when His Royal Highness had taken one look at Duo's eyes and saw for himself the truth of Howard's tale regarding the heritage of the young man once named a dark cloud. Rising and stepping down from his throne, the king embraced the startled rider and announced to his court that his brother's son was to be given the title of Prince Duo Elia Haldash.
Once that business had finished, the king quickly addressed the matter of Duo's kidnaping, asking his newly-declared nephew to describe the man he suspected of drugging his food and handing him over to the northern riders. Those men who even vaguely fit Duo's description were immediately sought out and brought to the counsel room by the king's guard. Dorothy clearly recalled the room falling silent as the braided rider pointed to Rhydon Maveral, the second son of King Vourdan's Counselor of Coin, Lord Culin Maveral.
The accused man was immediately arrested and charged with kidnaping and treason. Several days passed before Rhydon openly confessed his guilt and association with the northern rider Quinze, whom he admitted to meeting by chance in a Skeer tavern six years previous. For the promise of a bag of coin, he'd agreed to sell information pertinent to the northern riders. Rhydon's life was spared, but only because he was the son of the king's personal friend and minister. He was promptly banished from Amulah and warned never to return. Rider Sims carried the traitor by dragon to the Plains of Grennal with a three day supply of food and water.
Thinking of the men and women she had lived with for several years, Dorothy wondered whether or not the northern riders would accept their informant into their dwelling or if they'd kill him in retaliation for their irretrievable losses.
Returning her thoughts to the braided rider, the corners of the young woman's lips twitched upwards. It had been the day after she'd been mated to Zechs and brought to the Halls of Dornan that she'd finally learned his name, which he'd successfully kept from all of the northern riders. That bit of information had inadvertently come to her from her mate's angry outbursts as he bitterly complained about how he had been cheated from claiming Heero for his own. She wrapped her arms around her slender body and frowned as that particular memory darkening her mood once more. Zechs should have been thinking of her on their second day together instead of someone else's mate.
She sighed as she thought of her mate. When she'd first laid eyes on the tall and handsome man, they had both been caught up in their dragon's lust. After agreeing to leave with the rider from Amulah (who'd appeared suddenly and without warning in the dwelling on Cordith) she was led to the eastern mountains to her new mate, someone she'd never met. She'd been enormously relieved to see the rider of the dragon Ramma had chosen was both a handsome and a virile-looking male. She recalled standing before him, trembling from need and fighting for some measure of control over her body while Ramma was being mounted by Epyon, he'd asked her if she would accept him as her mate. She barely managed to choke out an affirmative answer before he reached for her. As his cloak opened, it revealed a well-toned body beneath and an aroused, impressively large male member that appeared eager for coupling. No sooner had her acceptance left her lips, she found herself on her back on the wet grass, having missed the blanket laid out for them. Then, faster than she thought possible, he'd entered her prepared body with one quick thrust. Their joining was one of desperate urgency, of a hunger needing to be satisfied. She vaguely recalled straining to lock her ankles around the small of his back and meeting each thrust eagerly, wanting all that her new mate was willing to give her. She'd gasped for breath as the overwhelming feeling of completion overcame her and throwing back her head as he thrust twice more, she moaned deeply as his seed spilled deep within her body. In that moment of release she'd made the mistake of believing that the winds of good fortune had finally turned in her direction, and for five physically pleasurable days that belief proved true, only to have he hopes for happiness come crashing down on the sixth day. Of course she understood that any real affection she and her mate might have for each other would take time. They were strangers to each other, after all. But after watching Zechs eye one of the other newly-mated couples every time they were near, specifically the darker haired rider with the intense blue eyes, she'd come to understand why he'd offered to fly to Cordith as a possible mate to one of the two northern female dragons.
She purposely turned her thoughts away from Zechs and back to Duo and the first time she'd seen him after she'd come to live in the Halls of Dornan, just before the soon-to-be prince was presented to the king.
She remembered feeling good that morning and even pretty. She had flown on her dragon to the top of the mountain and to the palace gardens dressed in a gown that had been a gift to her from Princess Hilde. It was like nothing she'd ever seen, much less owned or worn before. The long sleeved gown was composed of layers of sheer, billowy gauze of a pale yellow color. A satin sash of the same color was tied beneath her breasts, showing her feminine curves to an advantage and made her feel for a little while like a princess herself as she walked into the large and airy throne room on the arm of her very tall and handsome mate. She approached and greeted Alec and Ze'an with a friendly smile as they stood side by side, presenting a striking contrast. Where Alec was fair of skin and hair, his mate was dark. They'd exchanged polite greetings before they were joined moments later by Duo and his mate. With a radiant smile that she'd never seen from him before, the braided rider had introduced her and Alec to his mate. The look of adoration on Heero's face as he gazed at his mate spoke of his feelings for the braided rider.
After the introductions had been made, a look of uncertainty flashed across Duo's face, which was understandable considering he was about to meet the King of Amulah for the first time.
She couldn't help but tease the rider whose name she hadn't known all winter long. "Duo. Not such a difficult name to remember, though you seemed to have forgotten it during the long months we spent together," she'd whispered aside to the braided rider while they waited for the king and queen to enter the throne room.. To her surprise he didn't rise to her jab. Instead, his blue-violet eyes turned to her with kindness in them rather than the feisty set down she'd expected.
"How are you getting along in your new home, Dorothy? Have you made any friends yet?" She could tell by his sincere expression that Duo's concern was genuine, and she wondered why she'd expected him to treat her badly. While living with the northern riders for the past few years, Alec had been her only friend and there were many times they didn't get along either. The few female riders that lived on that mountain top showed her no measure of consideration and little kindness. She'd been spurned every time she'd tried to begin a friendly conversation with them. Only the elder northern riders had given her any attention, and then it was merely for training or to add a new chore to those she already had. Circumstances and experience had taught her that it was easier to distance herself from others by being sharp tongued and critical than to have them openly reject her later. She'd honestly tried to be less caustic to her mate, but she'd obviously failed because he had purposely kept his distance from her.
The memory of the past two lonely months caused a wave of unhappiness to settle over her again. She really had hoped to find some measure of happiness in Amulah. What a fool she'd been to think that leaving the northern riders would solve all her problems. Still, if she thought about it, she really had very little to feel badly about. Despite her seemingly disastrous mating, her life overall had changed for the better. Besides, whatever her lot in life, she would always have Ramma. She closed her eyes and focused on her dragon, a slight smile coming to her face as she sensed Ramma's happiness. Relena wasn't the only dragon who was preparing a nest to lay her eggs.
//Where are you?// she asked her green scaled dragon.
//Over the city called Skeer,// came Ramma's reply. //Epyon is leading me to a lake, where the water is clear and the grass around it is high. Do you need me to return?//
//No. I always miss you when you're away from me, but I'm glad you're having fun.//
There was a pause before her dragon said. //You are sad. Why?//
Dorothy wished she was better at hiding her feelings from her dragon. She didn't want to hamper the happiness her dragon felt in the presence of Epyon. Dragons mated for life, even if their riders didn't have a successful match. //I don't know,// she answered as she closed her eyes and turned her face towards the morning sun. //I suppose I'm just a bit lonely.//
//Shadow's rider comforted you in the past. Perhaps he can do so again.//
She didn't know whether Ramma meant physical comfort or emotional. Alec had given her both forms of comfort during their time together on Cordith, and it had been nice having someone to share her misery with, someone who understood what she was going through because he was also struggling with the same problems. No, she couldn't go to Alec for emotional or physical comfort any longer. Her former bed mate was now mated to someone else, and it appeared theirs was a more successful mating than the one she had with Zechs. While her mate made himself scarce, disappearing before she awoke each morning and coming to their room after she'd settled into bed, Alec was constantly at Ze'an's side, and if his arm wasn't slung over the smaller rider's shoulders, he was whispering into his mate's ear with a teasing smile on his lips.
It was irritating, she thought, the overt show of affection the newly mated couples displayed, particularly the blond rider with the blue eyes. Quatre. Yes, that was his name. He was the worst of all of them, in her opinion. His hands were always reaching for or touching his taller mate, and the moony eyes they gave each other was almost as bad as the affection Duo and his mate openly displayed for each other. All in all, the actions of the newly mated riders, whose company she was forced to share at each meal, made her stomach churn most uncomfortably. At least that's what she often blamed for her recent discomfort.
The sound of the door behind her opening startled her out of her thoughts. Still dressed in her nightclothes, she remained where she was, not bothering to turn and greet the intruder, knowing who it was.
"You missed breakfast again," Zechs commented, his deep voice sounding as disinterested as usual. She shrugged her shoulders in reply. "Are you ill?"
"Would you care if I was?" she asked, a bit sharper than she'd intended. Indeed, her mate's aversion to her, since Ramma finished being in season two full moons ago, intensified her feelings of being unwanted. When he didn't answer her question, she figured his silence was its own telling answer. He really wouldn't care if she were ill, or perhaps even if she disappeared from the Halls altogether. It was tempting to climb upon her dragon's back and seek out her former village and family, but she knew she couldn't. Ramma was happily mated to Epyon, and so here in the Halls of Dornan, she supposed, was where she would stay until the end of her days.
Hearing her mate's footsteps draw near, she wasn't surprised when he came to stand by her and shared the spacious view. "What's caught your attention?"
"Relena and Wu Fei. They play in the sky together every morning, just after breakfast."
"While their riders no doubt play beneath their blankets." The resentment in Zechs' voice as he spoke of the other two riders was glaringly obvious.
She turned her head to look up at the taller rider. He really had an attractive profile, she decided. His face was fair to look upon, his eyes were as blue as a summer sky and his hair was as white as her own, though not nearly so long. "Your jealously is so blatantly obvious. You really should try to guard your emotions a bit better, Zechs. Neither of them would be pleased over your lusting after Heero." The glare he gave her was chilling. Not for the first time she wondered why couldn't she keep her mouth shut and her opinions to herself in order to avoid his disdain altogether.
"You know nothing," he said icily.
"Perhaps," she replied with another slight shrug of her shoulders. "But I've seen how you look at him. Don't think I haven't the sense to realize the real reason you volunteered to go to Cordith." When one of his pale eyebrows rose in question, she continued. "Although volunteering to mate with an unknown rider from the north no doubt seemed valiant and self-sacrificing to your fellow riders, I suspect you did so with the hope that something would go wrong. If Relena was too late in reaching Wu Fei or if she was rejected by him, she would still be in need of an able and willing mate, and you would be there and ready to step forward." The scowl on Zechs' face told her she'd guessed correctly. Looking back out to the southern horizon she added, "Sorry things didn't work out as you'd planned. Take it from me, it's better not to expect much or hope for your dreams to come true. Happiness rarely happens, in my opinion."
After a moment of silence she glanced up at him and was surprised to see Zechs' gaze still focused on her, studying her as she had studied him moments before. She returned his regard without shyness. "You seem a bit young to be so cynical," said the taller blond.
"I feel anything but young."
With a thoughtful expression softened his face, making the man even more handsome than usual, Zechs asked, "What is it that you want, Dorothy? What would make you happy?"
She looked away from him and up to the sky for a moment, contemplating his questions, and wondering for a moment if she dared to tell him the truth. Could she trust him with the answers, seeing as he hadn't shared anything about himself other than his body the first five days they'd been together? She realized that if the two of them were ever going to come to any measure of understanding, she should probably open up a bit and let him know something of what was in her heart. If he rejected or even ridiculed her, she couldn't feel any worse than she had for the past few weeks.
Taking a chance, he answered truthfully, "I suppose that I should like to feel as if I truly belong here, to have a friend or two." She hesitated for a moment, then braved adding in a quieter voice, "And I'd like to know what it's like to be loved, to have what Heero and Duo, Alec and Ze'an and Quatre and Trowa share. But I suppose that's asking a bit much, isn't it? Given our circumstances."
"I don't know that you and I can ever have what they share," Zechs told her, sounding more sincere and open than he had at any time during the past two months.
With a long sigh she agreed. "Yes, it seems unlikely, especially since you can hardly suffer being in the same room with me."
"It's not that..." He stopped for a moment, and when he didn't say something more, all hope she had for a future with the tall blond rider began to fade into despair. Maybe it was time she made a valiant gesture herself and offered him his freedom.
"Perhaps our mating can be nullified by the guild, if that's what you would like." She chanced looking at him again, and wondered at the look of serious contemplation on his face. She thought he'd jump at the chance to be free of her, but could it be that she was wrong in thinking he wanted his freedom.
Reaching forward, Zechs gently pulled a section of her loose hair over her shoulder and let it flow between his fingertips until he held just the very tip of the long strand. His gaze moved slowly up from his hand until his solemn eyes looked into her own. With a kind of quiet reluctance he began, "You were right, Dorothy, about my reasons for going to Cordith. I had it fixed in my mind that Heero was going to be mine, even after I knew he had his heart set on Duo." He shook his head and admitted, "I just couldn't understand why he'd want a younger rider when I was willing to give him everything." With a snort of disapproval he continued. "Those of us who trained with Heero never knew he was a prince, and of course Duo's true heritage came as a complete surprise to us all. But now that I see them together, they seem completely right for each other. And you're right, I am jealous, of their happiness and for that fact that they appear to be deeply in love. I've had it in my mind these last few weeks that their happiness could have been mine if only Duo hadn't come along and taken Heero away from me."
"If Heero had truly been yours, I doubt Duo could have come between you. No one is at fault when two people fall in love with each other. It's clear, even to me, that what those two share is extraordinary and enviable."
The sigh that came from the tall rider sounded resigned. "I suppose you're right. It's just taking some time for me to come to terms with the idea that Heero preferred a fledgling to me. This isn't the first time I've lost someone I cared for to another, and I really don't want to be hurt again." His face looked pained as he added, "Which is why I've kept my distance from you, Dorothy. We're strangers, yes, and being mated to someone I don't know is harder than I believed it would be. Still, that's no excuse for my ignoring you and not giving you the time and attention that you deserve as my mate."
With a small, sad smile Dorothy said, "We're more alike than you know, Zechs. I've thought about it a lot, and have come to realize that I also guard myself, using criticism and a sharp tongue to keep everyone at arm's length so that they don't have a chance to hurt me."
Her mate bought one of his large hands up to cup her chin, and tilted it so that she was looking into his eyes. "Tell me truthfully, Dorothy. Are you with child?"
She blinked at him with surprise. "How did you know?" she asked in return, her voice barely a whisper. She had been ill every morning for the past several weeks and had frequently missed breakfast in the dining hall. Duo had noticed her absence and brought it to the attention of Jan. The senior rider came to her room and questioned her, and then he'd had the palace healer attend to her. Her bleeding cycles were always irregular, and all the time she and Alec had shared their bodies his seed had never quickened in her. She had thought the fault her own, but now she could only wonder if Alec's seed had been the reason she'd been barren.
"Jan called me aside yesterday to tell me you were to be trained only in fighting techniques, that sparring with others was dangerous to your health. Carrying a child is the typical reason for a female rider to end her sparring. Why didn't you tell me?"
The fingers stroking her cheek were distracting, and she closed her eyes to the gentleness of his touch. This is what she had secretly hoped for, the feeling of being cared for and cherished. Alec, even in his most tender moods, never made her feel cherished.
"You had made it clear that you wanted me only so long as Ramma was in season. You withdrew from me in every way once the five-day mating period was over. I don't want my being with child to force you into remaining my mate when you obviously want to be free of me."
The suddenness of his lips on her own surprised her, but when the initial shock wore off she leaned into him and opened her mouth to his, her fists tightly clenching the front of his shirt. If the truth be told, she'd enjoyed the intimacy she'd shared with Alec, and she'd needed the human contact in order to not become lost in despair that often overwhelmed her. But the kiss she now shared with Zechs was altogether different than those she'd shared with Alec. His touch stirred her blood, warmed her loins and created a desire within her that was incomparable to what she'd experienced before.
Her face was flushed by the time he pulled back, but his large hands remained firm on her body, holding her close as he looked down into her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said softly. "It was selfishness on my part to stay away from you. My resentment and jealousy of Heero and Duo's mating dominated my thoughts and kept me from trying to be a proper mate to you." Placing a chaste kiss on her forehead he asked, "But since I yesterday, when I realized you might be carrying my child, I've done a lot of thinking, and I'd like to try and make this work. Do you think we could try again, Dorothy? I know we're at a disadvantage, not knowing each other, but I'd like to at least give us a chance to find out if we can have what the others share, and we'll never know whether or not it's possible if we go our separate ways."
"Do you like me, Zechs? Even just a little bit?" she asked. Though she enjoyed the warmth that filled her while his arms were holding her, she needed him to say yes, to know that it wasn't only a sense of obligation that brought Zechs to suggest giving their relationship another try. She pulled back a bit further in order to look into his eyes as he answered her question.
"I haven't given either one of us much of an opportunity to find out if we could like each other, but I did enjoy our five days of joining, and like you said, we seem to be alike in some ways." A humorous smile came to his face, and Dorothy found it very attractive as he added, "I'm often told I have a high opinion of myself, so if indeed we are alike, I can't see how I couldn't become very fond of you also. Besides," he added, sobering somewhat as one of his hands moved forward and to her flat belly. "I've always wanted children, and Heero couldn't possibly have given me that no matter how much I desired fatherhood. I'll be a good father, Dorothy, of that I give you my word."
"And if you give me the chance, I'd like to try and be a better mate than I've been thus far." Tracing the line of her jaw and then tracing his finger over her lips he asked, "So what do you say? Can we try again?"
Reaching up, she placed her hands around his neck and tugged until his head lowered and their lips met once again, and in that kiss she told him without words the answer to his question. And suddenly the prospect of living her days in the Halls of Dornan seemed brighter than ever before.