The setting sun cast an orange glow across the room, and swirls of dust spiralled downwards in the failing light. Lief and Jasmine occupied a table tucked away in the back of the library. A little over a month had passed since the desperate fight that Deltorans had simply named 'Dragon Night’, for what else could it be? The kingdom had entered a time of peace, but healing was a slow process. There were still wounds that needed to close, houses that needed to be rebuilt, broken hearts that needed to mend. Through all their suffering, the Deltorans knew that they could place their faith in their king and his friends. But that evening, the king was faced with a much less solemn task.
"This is ridiculous," Jasmine skimmed her fingers across the papers that lay before her.
“What is ridiculous,” Lief declared with a teasing smile, “is that you believe you cannot do it.”
"I know I can,” she replied, testily. "I just think it is pointless."
Lief chuckled, and looked down at their work. Most of the papers were blank, but some had a few simple sentences scrawled upon them in Lief’s hand. Although they had only been there for a short while, Jasmine had wanted to leave the moment from the moment they had sat down. Truly, Lief was amazed he had convinced her of his plan. Much deeper down, he was relieved he had succeeded, but he could not tell her that, not yet.
"I do not see why everyone thinks it is so important to read and write," Jasmine said. "It does not make you any cleverer. It just gives you a skill. I have many of those.”
"But you value skill," Lief pointed out.
"I value my own skill," she clarified. "And the skill of anyone who might wish to harm me."
“And what if literacy one day saves your life?” As Lief spoke, he wondered if perhaps he should feel nervous, but he could not imagine feeling such an emotion around Jasmine.
Jasmine rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched with the barest hint of a smile. "If anyone ever tries to attack me with a pencil or a sheet of paper, I do not think I would even bother to defend myself."
Lief laughed. "You would surrender that easily? That is good to know."
"I hope you realize you are far less witty than you think you are."
Lief shrugged. "I do not agree."
“You have grown used to being called a king,” Jasmine playfully tapped the side of his head with a pencil. “I fear that your head has grown twice its size.”
“I will not be distracted," Lief replied as he plucked the pencil from his hand; more of a reminder to himself than a promise made to her.
"Fine," Jasmine pursed her lips. "What shall I write?"
Lief looked at the paper thoughtfully. “You could start with your name."
Jasmine yanked the pencil back. “Do you really think so little of me?”
"Try…try writing some things about yourself," Lief thought back to his childhood lessons with his mother. He had complained more than Jasmine had.
"Just to see what you can write. Then we will know where to start.”
She twirled the pencil and frowned. "I cannot think of what I should write."
"Just simple facts," Lief said. “Words that you know to be true.”
Jasmine had begun to write as Lief spoke, scrawling carelessly across the page. When she was done, she handed the paper to Lief.
my name is jasmine. i was born in the forests of silens to anna and jarred. i now liv in del.
Lief smiled. "Very close. But 'silence' ends with a 'c' and an 'e'. 'Live' has an 'e'. And you must always capitalize the first letter of the beginning of a sentence, and names and places."
"It makes it proper."
"Proper," Jasmine mocked. "Everything must be proper."
Lief valiantly suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.
"We should spell things as they sound," she continued. "And why should we write words, when we can say them easier and faster?"
"If we did that, there would never be a record of anything," Lief pointed out.
"Then leave it to librarians and historians," Jasmine said. "That way, the rest of us can put our time towards more useful matters."
"Anything but this."
"Do you not see, Jasmine?" Lief asked. "You cannot even think of an explanation as to why literacy is unimportant."
"And you cannot think of a reason as to why it is!" Jasmine replied, triumphantly.
"All right, then," Lief said. "Shall we compromise? Five more minutes of practice, and then we can leave.”
Jasmine narrowed her eyes, but nodded. "Fine. Where should I start from?"
"I can dictate, that could be easier,” Lief supplied. His heart started to pound. "Just simple facts."
"My father now goes by the name Doom," Lief said, as Jasmine wrote. She went slowly that time, her pencil gripped in a clenched fist, so that every letter dragged heavily across the page. ”I have spent a long time traveling with my friends, Lief and Barda."
Jasmine held up a finger, and Lief paused to let her finish. He looked over her shoulder at the paper, and smiled. There were no errors.
"Should I continue?" Lief asked her.
Lief looked at her for a moment, at how her dark hair fell over her lean face; at how she could wield a dagger with such ease, and yet her fingers were curled awkwardly around the pencil; at how her brow was furrowed in concentration as she reviewed her work. He took a deep breath and reached into his pocket, crossing the fingers on his free hand for luck. "Today, Lief asked me to marry him."
Jasmine dropped the pencil and turned to him, her eyes wide and her lips parted. He held out his hand, revealing a plain silver band. Jasmine took it gingerly.
"Where did this come from?" She breathed.
"I made it," Lief said. "You are not the only child of a blacksmith."
Jasmine slipped the ring onto her finger, and took Lief’s face into her hands. Her green eyes searched his face, drinking in every freckle, every hair, every scar. “Thank you for waiting.”
“Is it time, then?” Lief was smiling, though he felt like he could cry.
“It is,” Jasmine smiled brighter than any star Lief had ever seen.
He leaned forward and kissed her sweetly. She slid her hands from his face and curled them into his hair, pulling him closer. Her small body was warm, and her lips tasted of promise and of love. Lief’s face felt wet, and he realized that his eyes had indeed betrayed him.
“Perhaps we should end the lesson now,” Lief pulled away, chuckling as he wiped fiercely at his eyes. “We should leave.”
“It seems like a good place stop,” Jasmine leaned up and kissed one of his tears away. “Although I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.”
They got up from the table hand-in-hand, abandoning the work behind them.
“How would you feel about a different sort of lesson tomorrow?” Jasmine slipped her calloused hand into his.
“What kind?” Lief squeezed her hand tightly as they made their way to the exit. If it were not for the hand that grounded him, Lief felt as if he were light enough to float away.
“I will not marry such a poor tree climber,” Jasmine’s eyes glittered with mirth. “This will be a much more exciting lesson. I thought you valued skill,” she teased as Lief groaned.
Lief’s heart soared with love and he laughed with wild abandon as he followed her through the door, like she had known he would. He had never doubted she would marry him, for she had already told him she would, one day. But this was different, this was tangible and beautiful and, oh, he was going to cry again.
It would be a good night. It would be a good life.