I buried myself in the children after Adam left for the uprisings on the border. I know he'd avoided going for as long as he could manage but he had an obligation as the King and I had an obligation as a mother to appear strong for the kids.
So I did.
I'm not sure I would have managed as well as I did without Rowena though. While Bellatrix was more interested in books and music, Rowena was happy to help entertain one of the toddlers while I tended to the other.
Of course I could have sent them off to another household where an army of handmaidens and servants would tend to their every need but I couldn't stand the idea of being apart from them like that. Separated from their daily lives.
Before leaving Adam had brought the idea up again claiming it was just how things were done but I assured him we would be fine. My assurances didn't stop him from suggesting at least a nanny or tutor to tend to their education and I agreed to that - mostly so he would go off without having to worry about them as much.
Still it was months before I finally requested one of the staff bring in a few so I could choose one. When the appointed day came it seemed like dozens of tutors were standing in the grand foyer waiting for their appointments. I selected two - one for the boys and one for the girls. Once again I was told that was "how it was done" and I didn't have the energy to argue.
Once the tutors took over their charges, I felt glum watching their days only for a distance but at least they were still in the castle with me. And the children thrived under the tutelage of their teachers.
The only argument I had with the boy's tutor was how often he filled their heads with the ideas of war. I suppose they would have had these feelings regardless what with Adam being off at war himself but whenever they weren't doing their lessons, I found them engaging in mock sword fights and talking about how it would be when they were old enough to go. When. Not if.
Percival had one other object of desire though it seemed. I saw him looking Rowena's way more than once. At first I thought it was a brotherly type of affection but then he didn't look at Bellatrix in the same way. I couldn't strictly object to such a match - aside from the fact that they were both children still - but I kept an eye on it for now.
Hermione and Draco's birthday came and went with a small celebration of the family. All the council and advisors had suggested a big party for morale purposes but I couldn't put on a happy face as months had turned to years and the border wars hadn't ended.
As much as I knew Adam was still alive - if the king had died we would ALL know by now - I still dreaded each day and what news it would bring. My bad mood seemed to be catching though as even the children were arguing constantly. Draco wasn't much help - he seemed to constantly have a bad attitude and took it out on those closest to him - his siblings.
His main target was usually his own twin, Hermione. She was a shy, quiet type and he took delight in trying to drag her out into some sort of spotlight just to embarrass her. She stayed in her room mostly and played with her own dolls or read - she loved books and I sometimes wondered what she saw when she read the immortal words of some writers. I tried to remember my own childhood but those memories still evaded me after all these years.
One day I heard her arguing and hurried toward her room, hoping to save her from Draco's taunts this time but when I stepped inside Draco was no where to be seen. In fact Hermione was standing in front of her looking glass talking to herself. Odd.
Adam had been gone for three years when we got word that the border wars seemed to be drawing down. While it was no guarantee he'd be back in short order, I held onto the glimmer of hope and commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of the children and I as a gift for him when he returned.
At first Reg, the King's chief advisor insured that Percy and Bellatrix were off doing something "important" at the time of the sitting. "Where are Percy and Bella?" I asked again. He'd avoided my inquiry before but he was trapped.
"Oh well, I thought this was a family portrait - of the children." he said feigning ignorance.
"It is, and they're part of our family. Get them here...now." I said firmly. He blanched and sputtered a moment. I so rarely issued such direct commands I could almost hear him tripping over his own words. Then he nodded and sent for them both.
The following week was Percival's fourteenth birthday and I knew I would have a hard time stopping him from volunteering to join the front lines. I went in search of him, hoping to delay him at least awhile. If I could just stop him until the wars ended he would be safe - how much longer could it last really?
"Percy..." I said softly, drawing his attention from the semi-permanent military encampment within the outer walls of the castle.
"Majesty." he said formally and then bowed his head.
"Percy please." I said, without voicing the thoughts in my head. "You're needed here."
"You have a fine guard here." he said simply, still looking toward the encampment.
"At least wait until Godric is old enough." I said hoping to buy myself the six months that divided them at least.
"Then you won't object?" he asked uncertainly. He knew I would do anything to keep them both from ever joining the war effort. Anything to keep them safe.
"Well I would not be pleased but I'd rather the two of you be together." I said putting a hand on his arm. "Please?"
After a moment he turned toward me completely and nodded. I pulled him into a hug and refused to let go for several moments.
He never got his chance to join the front lines though before within a month the war came to us. Reg threw open the door to my apartment one morning and quickly explained that a small army had advanced on the castle. To articulate his words, I heard shouts from within and without and ran to the window. Sure enough a battle was being waged in our very courtyard. "We must get you to safety Majesty!" he said quickly.
"The children!" I said, frantically trying to recall where all of them were at this moment.
"I've got everyone!" Percy said from the doorway. All the kids were huddled behind him with varying expressions on their faces. Reg ushered them all in before barring the door.
"You can take the passages - you know the way Percival?" Reg and Percival were talking quickly between each other leaving me startled. I knew most of this castle but couldn't think of a way out of this room save the one he'd just blockaded. "Take them, keep them safe! I'll send guards after you. Go!" Reg said before picking his way back out of the room.
"Percy?" I wanted to ask a dozen questions but Percy was already in action.
Without a word he revealed a hidden passage from the room that looked cold and dank mostly but I was sure it would lead us safely away from the enemy - should they even breech this far into the castle. I found that unlikely but I was caught up in Reg's fear and quickly herded the children into the passage.
Percy handed a small sword to Godric and I tried not to cringe - I knew it was better to have him armed and I knew he was a talented boy but he was just a boy in my eyes. Of course he could probably be forty and I'd still think of him as just a boy.
The passage led to a narrow stairway going deeper into the bowels of the castle and then to another passage and more stairways. No one spoke as we retreated toward what I hoped was safety for all of us.
It wasn't until we were passing through a set of kitchens before I knew where we were - at least for a time. I thought back to the afternoon we'd spent touring the castle with Prince Adam and my heart ached for him. Did he know his beloved castle was under attack as well? Likely not yet...
More passages and a few complaints from the girls about getting dirty passed before I heard the sounds of the attack once more. Only I shouldn't be hearing anything this far in. I looked at Percy and could tell he was on alert. The sounds were drawing closer and I wondered who could be attacking that knew these passages as well as - no, better than - someone who lived here. "Azula." I whispered as soon as the thought entered my mind.
Percy wrested open a door and pushed us inside as the noises of fighting drew nearer from the right and heavy footfalls came from the left. I hoped at least one of them had the guard that Reg had promised us. Percy pulled the door closed behind us and took a moment to consider the options.
We were trapped.
"Wow!" Rowena whispered behind me. Unlike me, the children had been poking around in the rubbish in the room and Godric had unceremoniously yanked a tattered curtain away.
"What is it?" Bellatrix asked. I spun around, prepared to tell them to hush and saw it. Broken memories and images assaulted my mind for a moment as I stared at it.
My attention was broken by the crash of metal against metal just outside the door. A few boards separated us from whatever was trying to breech the castle - and obviously they'd breeched if they were out there!
I spun around to face Percy. He was posed ready for an attack and spared me one look before returning his attention to the door.
"I have an idea." I announced as the puzzle pieces of my mind slowly started to click together. I gently pushed my way through the children and held out my hand to the number pad. I closed my eyes and tried desperately to remember. My fingers seemed to fly across the pad without further prompting and the doors clanked open revealing the swirling purple haze that may be our only salvation. "Hold tight to each other." I said. The children looked confused by clasped hands as I reached out for Percy. He was reluctant but stood by my side and allowed me to hold onto his free hand.
"Do not let go!" I said firmly before we took the first step. The wood behind us buckled once before the smashed open. I turned back and saw her standing in the doorway, blood splashed across her armor. "Now!" I shouted and we let the haze take us.
Percy fought my grip as Azula lunged toward us and I felt myself losing the hold on him. "Percy!" I shouted but my cries were swallowed up by the haze. The last thing I saw before the metal doors had closed was Azula falling to the ground.
We landed in a heap and I could smell the sea in the air. I tasted salt and realized it was from my own tears. I wiped them away quickly to make sure everyone else was accounted for. The children were standing and looking around confused. My eyes fixed on the sculptures in the little grove and I knew.
I knew I was home.
"Suki?!" Katara took in our appearance and her eyes were wide with shock. "Is that...is that you?"
My memories were quickly falling into place but there were such a jumbled mess it took me several minutes to remember her name. "Katara?" I asked uncertainly.
"Where? How? Wha?" she stammered and then her attention fell on the children. The girls looked terrified mostly and the boys looked unsure about everything. "Are they...?"
I tried to explain things as quickly as possible but twenty years is a long time to condense into only a few sentences. "I'm going to call Dad..." she said mid-story. "Wow...." she said as she retreated into the house.
I told the children to stay and play on the playground while I followed her inside. For a moment they looked at me confused so I pointed out the old playscape and they walked over carefully.
Katara kept looking at me as she whispered on the phone and I stared around the house in wonder. It hadn't really changed in all this time I realized. I ran my fingers over the books on shelf for a moment, trying to think clearly.
I pulled an encyclopedia from the bookshelf and flipped it open to the S's. It took a few minutes to find it but there was a portrait of me staring back at me on one page. And Adam. And Azula. I skimmed the entries but didn't have the heart to look at the ending yet - how many centuries had he been dead? How had he died? I wasn't sure I really wanted to know yet.
My dad came through the door while I was staring at the portrait of the kids and I - the one I'd commissioned just before Percy's birthday. It was only a couple months before...except to everyone else it had been painted probably five hundred years earlier. I felt nauseous thinking about it.
Faromir Taffity, my dad, didn't say much as he held me close. I could see the current elation and the years of pain in his eyes and felt ill again.
What would become of us now? Where - or when - did we really belong?
Consider this Proof of Life lol