Do not fear, dear reader, after all we have been through, do you honestly think I would be so mean as to leave my story there? Although I do believe that is what is commonly referred to in the writing business as a blooming fantastic cliff-hanger.
I will admit it has been some time since I last put pen to paper but I felt I owed you an explanation so I will pick up from where I left off.
I had been right, I did know that horse. I’d recognise that fine specimen anywhere, and his even finer rider.
My knife clattered to the table, a forgotten thing as my feet led me to the door. Peaches’ impatient hooves clicked against the floor to the beat of my erratic heart.
The metal of the latch was stingingly cold as I flicked it up and opened the door. And there he was standing a mere few strides away. He ran a rough hand down Bucky’s broad chest, eyes trained on me.
My throat dried instantly.
He wore chainmail but the Kalmador colours were missing.
His lips quirked up in a smile and something inside me aligned.
“Well.” I sighed, leaning on my doorjamb, feigning calm. “You took your time.”
Teeth scraped his lower lip, suppressing a grin. He shook his head and gestured at the expanse of nothingness all around us.
“You didn’t exactly make it easy for me, did you?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Kaspar took one step towards me and I ran, crashing into him with such force it knocked the wind right out of me. The links of his chainmail bit into my chest and I squeezed him tighter. His hand pressed to the back of my head, cradling me against him. The feel of his fingertips on my scalp swelled a lump in my throat.
He felt so solid. So warm. Not just a fabrication on parchment.
“You’re really here,” I mumbled into his neck, dropping all pretence.
His lips found my cheek. “I’ve got you.”
My legs buckled and Kaspar lowered me carefully to the ground, dropping with me as I crumbled. The damp grass soaked through my tights instantly, one of my knees almost frozen due to the gaping hole there. He sheltered me from the crisp breeze with his body, rocking me gently as I wept.
Feeling a warm presence around us, I lifted my face and was met with a dry, heavy swipe of a tongue from chin to forehead. I batted the muzzle away and Kaspar let out a chuckle, the sound sending tingles through my body.
“Hello, sweet Peaches,” Kaspar muttered with a tone as soft as butter. “Thank you for keeping this one in one piece for me.”
She whinnied in response and pressed her forehead hard against Kaspar’s in greeting.
“Bucky’s over there.” He nodded over to where his impressive stallion was tethered, “How about you go and catch up with your old buddy?”
Peaches’ ears swished at the sight of the handsome horse and she happily obliged, trotting away and leaving us gazing longingly at one another.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” I rushed, his face distorting through fresh tears.
He hushed me like a child, his hold of me tightening. His pounding heart thudded against my cheek as he smoothed my hair behind my ears. “I told you I was not letting you go, didn’t I?”
You probably have a few questions, so I will try to answer them all now.
It turned out that I had missed quite a lot while I was minding my own business trying and failing to grow cabbages. King Cedric had been furious when he found out his son had betrayed him and aided my escape but all of that got pushed aside when the raiders finally came. Thanks to King Oldin actually doing something right for a change and using his abundance of manpower to help protect the citadel, King Cedric and Kaspar were able to lead them to victory and drove the raiders back before they did irreversible damage.
Shortly after the dust had settled, Kaspar and Lady Delphine divorced. It had been Delphine’s idea. She discovered her father’s plans and refused to be his pawn. She moved back to Ullswood and abdicated her title, seeking a life that was her own. Now that the union between Kalmador and Ullswood had been severed, King Oldin no longer had his hold over Cedric and in a matter of months the king was able to win back his people’s trust by lowering their taxes back to their original prices.
Kaspar’s relationship with his father is still rocky to say the least, but Cedric has seemed to acknowledge that his son is a good man and an even better prince to his people. It is clear that, despite them not seeing eye to eye on all matters, they have deep rooted respect for one another and want what is best for the kingdom. Cedric even allowed Kaspar to search for me in his downtime – which was not very often.
His first search had taken him to the little village of Madden which my parents now call home – named after the family that founded it and still makes up about a third of the population. Yes, the Treagers are alive and well. The knights had managed to squirrel them away when the raiders swarmed in. Mr Treager managed to clobber one of the ambushers over the head with a clay pot on the way out, snuffing him out like a candle. He’s very proud of that story. Brings it up every chance he gets.
There has been an attempt to rebuild Greysmarsh after the attack but most of its inhabitants had decided to move to more desirable locations. Kaspar had expected me to have settled down with my parents after my exile so his worry only heightened when my parents told him they had not seen me since the day I left for the palace. Apparently Kaspar had tried to fool them into believing he was just a simple knight to avoid creating a scene, but the Treagers have always had an eye for faces and Kaspar gave up the pretence almost immediately.
What a day that must have been for them, to get a personal visit from the prince himself. But, of course, the revelry was overshadowed by their sudden fresh fear that their son was in danger. Kaspar made up a story that I had been on my way to visit them and I was simply a day behind schedule so he had come to check what the holdup was. He told me they bought the lie but I know that could not be true. Why would the prince himself come all that way to find a missing jester? But Kaspar is still convinced he did an exceptional job at curbing their worry.
So, after that failed attempt at finding me, and many more after, he was close to giving up altogether until he happened to pass through the little farming village where I worked off my food debt and he caught the backend of a conversation about a certain red-headed loner. It turns out the farmers made bets every time I left on how long it would take for me to return for more food after another failed harvest. I would be offended but at least I am keeping them entertained.
Kaspar asked around about this apparent red-headed loser – I mean loner – and they pointed him in the direction I usually appeared from like a ghoulish apparition with terrible fashion sense.
And that, dear reader, was how he finally found me.
Our emotional reunion was several months ago now. I write this in the middle of summer from Kaspar’s desk overlooking the palace courtyard. The morning sun filters through the curtains, giving me just enough light for my ink to successfully find parchment.
Yes, I am back in the palace. Not only has my exile been revoked but I have been granted my old job title. You read that right, dear reader, I am once again the court jester.
My second chance has put a lot of things into perspective for me. I am going get it right this time.
Now that Kaspar is no longer betrothed, Cedric has no qualms with me leaving my bed in my tower room untouched and seeking the much more appealing option within the prince’s chambers. It is not public knowledge that the prince and the court jester are an item but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if she were here now, Mirabelle would be my secret confidant. My heart aches and fresh bile clings to my throat every time I think of her. I check up on her parents from time to time. There is a hollowness within their home now, like the light within it has been eternally gutted. Laina is barely a wisp of a person; she floats about the farm like an echo. Elias’ dramatic weight loss has given him an awful sallow complexion. People say his loss of appetite is all in his mind, that he simply needs to allow himself to eat but he refuses. The neighbours have banded together to keep watch over them. They take turns helping them both with the more challenging jobs around the farm. It’s painful to witness, but I make sure to do my part.
Kaspar has also unwittingly watered the seed of guilt within me when it came to my own parents. He had lied when he told them why he had sought them out. Not only did I know they didn’t believe him because a prince would not travel all that way for a jester, but the idea that I had come to visit them was unbelievable in itself.
At the turn of the seasons, Kaspar and I travel down to the little village of Madden and spend a night in ‘The Three Bells’ – The Treagers’ new inn, an ode to their successful jester son. Kaspar had kept that part of his little tale to himself so he could witness the look on my face as we both rode into the village and I looked upon the sign hanging above the door of the tall, narrow building. Of course, I replaced the sign with one of much higher quality once I was properly settled in. The way the sun bounces off those three shiny bells is a sight to behold.
When word got around that The Three Bells was a frequent resting place for the prince himself, its popularity rivalled that of The Clover’s in its heyday. I even painted a portrait of Kaspar for my parents to hang up in their entryway to really get the point across and so even if their customers were not fortunate enough to cross paths with the crown prince, they could all get a sense of what it was like to stand in his presence.
Fear and anxiety had squeezed my lungs the entire first ride down to Madden but my parents’ warm, open embrace had cauterised the stinging wound of my own creation. As soon as I was enveloped by Mrs, Treager’s thick, meaty arms, I couldn’t believe I had ever doubted her love for me. Mr. Treager clipped me round the ear for worrying them both so, before gripping the back of my skinny neck and pressing his hot, wrinkled forehead hard against my own in a manly display of affection.
And just like that, we were a family once again. The funny little lad of Greysmarsh had really gone and carved his own place in the world and my parents could not be more proud of me. Winning the affection of the prince himself also did not go unnoticed.
As for my special little gift, I have accepted that I will never truly know where it came from and why I have it. I have not told Kaspar about it, but I most likely will at some point. My ability was mine and Mirabelle’s little secret, and I fear that if I tell another soul, I will lose that connection with her. It is an illogical thought, I know. I feel like I am attempting to gather the last few remaining crumbs of her existence in a futile attempt to create something lasting. But I know she will always hold a place in my heart and I will miss her every day for the rest of my life.
I do think Kaspar suspects something, though. He is not just a pretty face. I have caught him admiring my work several times, looking a little too closely for a little too long. Maybe I will wait until he asks me why the sketch of Bucky he keeps by his bedside makes him want to go riding every time he gazes at it. I like to think it is the real Bucky communicating with him through my pencil.
Alta- my beautiful, loving Alta- managed to get her business back running and is now also thriving. Whenever I can, I make sure to slip in a good word for her at the palace. So far, I have two sets of motley designed and created by her in my wardrobe embossed with her signature delicate filigree embroidery around the cuffs and collar. Cedric is also willing to let her make something for Kaspar when there’s another big event, which is pretty huge for an unknown Cragdale dressmaker.
So, that is all there is for me to catch you up on, dear reader. I cannot say I expected the story to end the way it has, but I am thoroughly ecstatic with how it has all come together. And there I was, a mere few months ago, wondering if Peaches really would result to eating my decomposing body if I were to die out in that shack before she did. She is still alive and kicking, I will add. Well, maybe her kicking days are behind her. She has aged considerably; partially blind now with snow white, wiry hair around her eyes and muzzle, but she always manages to give me a giddy tail swish when I come to check on her in the palace stables.
The shuffling of bed sheets coming from behind me means Kaspar is waking and I do very much wish to be there when he stretches out and starts blindly searching for his morning cuddle.
Dear reader, I had been lost for so long. Never knowing where I truly fit in. Always a little out of sorts, that was a good way to describe the general workings of my brain. But now, as I look at my love, face buried deep in his overstuffed pillow, bare back glowing softly in the light of the waking sun, I have realised something. I had always struggled to find a place to call home, because it was never a place for me. It was a person.
Before I truly leave you, I shall thank you again, dear reader, for taking the time to get to know me. I wish I could know you just as deeply. But our time together is over. I am done with living in the past because, for the first time in a long time, I want to keep my feet planted firmly in the present.