Chapter Four

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The room went completely quiet at Iris's words. There wasn't a sound –wasn't even a breath for a long minute.

It was Kayde that spluttered, "Huh?"

"You heard me, Kayde," she said, stunning him again. Suddenly, she was very nervous. "I... I realize girls aren't supposed to do this, of course. But girls weren't supposed to become soldiers, but I did that. So fuck it, here goes." She knelt at his feet, sinking low on both of her knees. "Kayde, I hope you know that you've saved my life in more ways than one. Nearly three years ago, I ran off to do the impossible. It was suicide; I knew it was suicide. I did it anyway, and while I did it to save my father's life... but it was more than that. At that time, somewhere inside of me, I thought... I thought that I didn't matter. Tears poured at her eyes. "I was nothing. An abandoned woman who hadn't served a betrothed enough to keep him at my side. Back then, I never felt beautiful or strong. I was only rotting. Wilting. My father was worthier of his life than I was mine, so I went.

And thinking that was bullshit," Iris's voice rose. "My worth was never tied to Shadford or what others thought of me –it was never tied what anyone said about me. You are only as worthy as you make yourself, and that's a lesson I learned because of you. I would've never been me if I hadn't met you. If you hadn't come, I would've felt sorry for myself until I died." Iris went on. "You spent months with me, then, and then you fell in love with me. The fool I was then, I didn't even notice because I was watching General Zayn and hoping to the gods a man could see me as an equal. It never occurred to me that one already did, and I didn't even have to be a war hero for it.

If I could go back to Wallfront that night, I would've done so many things different. But instead of doing all those things that I should've done, I chose to spend another year with... with Zayn Rothstead. He was a good man –is a good man. I will admit that he treated me well. We don't talk about him much, I know, but he was good to me. But time went on and a lot of things happened, and when it all came down to it, Zayn wasn't able to save me from myself, try as he might. There was only one person that could save me.

And when I came here, I found out that the one person in this world that could save me was me. You... Kayde Vorantis, are so good at that lesson that you've taught it to me more than once. And that's why you're my one person." She finally looked up at his glassy eyes. "Because you constantly remind me how to be the best version of myself. When you are with me, the world somehow makes sense. Everything makes sense," Iris's voice shook. "And beyond that, I am so in love with you, Kayde. I am so in love with you it's stupid. It took me way too gods damned long to figure it out, but now that I have, I will never stop loving you.

You've given me more than I ever dreamed was possible." There was a moment's pause. "My sister once told me that if I didn't believe in soul mates, that I hadn't found mine yet. That's how I know I want you forever, because magic is real when I have you. I firmly believe that the Mother made me to be yours, and I'd be so honored if you'd let me. Marry me, Kayde."

Kayde stared down at Iris. His hands shook at his sides. "Iris," he said after he steadied his voice. Quickly, he fell to his own knees to be face-to-face. He took both her hands. "Iris."

"Yes?"

Kayde didn't often cry, but today was the exception, it seemed. Tears rolled down his face again in tracks of glistening water. "Iris, I don't think you know well enough that you saved me too. That day in the woods when I found you, I never knew I could find home in a woman that was a man half the time." Iris let out a snotty laugh at that. He grinned through his watery eyes, and held tighter still to her hands. "But I did, didn't I? You speak of all the things I taught you... you taught me lessons too, you know? Iris, you taught me that there's always a reason to go on. Always. You taught me what it means to never give up. You gave me a reason to believe. You're always giving me all the reasons I need to believe that tomorrow can always be a brighter day.

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