Epilogue
Long Live the Queen

AZ 1456 - Midwinter
Castle Zephyr, Hesperia, Zephyr

Old Lord Polycarpos would not likely see many more winters, but he stubbornly insisted on stepping out on his balcony to announce Daphne's arrival to the crowd assembled at the Plaza of Autolycos this day. Though he struggled to project his voice as he once could, pride drove him to speak more loudly and clearly than he had in months.
"Good people of Zephyr, hearken to me! The evening star that lit our way in the days of darkness is this day crowned our morning star, heralding the new dawn! All hail Her Majesty the Queen!"
The crowd burst into shouts of "Hail the Queen!", "Long live the Queen!" and "Hail our morning star!" Daphne mustered her courage to face her people. The full regalia of the Queen was much heavier than what she wore as Princess Regent. It was a fitting metaphor for the renewed burden of her responsibilities and her grief at all that had been lost. She alone was left of her family and the yoke of the nation now rested squarely on her shoulders alone. However, she was not alone in her grief and she intended to pay due homage to those who had suffered as much or greater than she had.
She stepped out onto the balcony to renewed cheers. She gave them their moment before raising her hand so that she might speak. When the crowd quieted down, she began, "Citizens of Zephyr, countrymen, friends, my brothers and sisters, I am crowned this day your Queen, but this is not a day for celebration. Rather, it is a day for mourning and remembrance."
She made a sweeping gesture and said, "Look well on the men before you."
Assembled at the center of the plaza were the survivors of the expedition to the Darklands. Only one in four returned. Many were too sick or maimed to stand. Those who could be carried out on litters were so the crowd would be spared nothing of the great sacrifice made on their behalf.
Daphne continued, "It is by the blood of these men here and their fallen brothers that our lands have been made safe. The cream of a generation was offered up as a sacrifice for the lives of we who were left behind. It is not I who should be honored this day but them. Hail the conquering heroes! Hail the honored dead!"
The crowd responded as they were bidden. A chorus of "Hail the conquering heroes!" and "Hail the honored dead!" broke out among the crowd. Daphne knew a display like this grieved the survivors more than it encouraged them, but it was necessary to engrave the scene in the people's memory. She could only hope it would be enough that they would not forget.
When the crowd quieted down again, Daphne said, "A great labor is before us. We must rebuild what has been broken, heal what has been wounded, bury our dead, and bring new life into the world. I cannot do this alone. In the sight of God and men, do you pledge this day to usher in the new dawn for Zephyr?"
"Yea, we so swear!" and "A new dawn for Zephyr!" were among the varied replies in the roar of the crowd.
Daphne then closed by saying, "May it be as you say. Peace and blessings be upon you all. Together, we will see this new dawn."
Daphne turned and left the balcony. Though her heart was filled with doubts and uncertainty, she wanted to believe that a bright future was indeed waiting for Zephyr.
"A nice speech, Princess, but do you believe a word of it?"
Uriel was standing there waiting for her and it was as if he had his own powers of the mind.
Daphne managed a weak smile and said, "It is Queen now, though I will always be Daphne to you. And, yes, I believe it because I must. If Zephyr can truly come together, then my parents' dream can come true. My birth was a symbol of that dream and now more than ever, my life must bring it to pass."
"Well, you don't have to do it alone," Uriel replied. "I'll do whatever I can to help."
Uriel took her in his arms and pulled her close to the shock of those gathered in the chamber.
Looking deeply into the new Queen's eyes, the wily treasure hunter added, "Especially the bit about bringin' new life inta the world."
Uriel then kissed her. Though it would have been proper to pull away, Daphne did not resist him and instead returned his embrace. It could never be, but for a moment at least, she wanted to pretend that nothing stood between them.