Ansel hurried towards Keene Manor. He needed to talk to Griffa. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but somehow, he would make her understand his feelings. He knew immediately who had knocked his feet out from under him during the duel. He knew Griffa’s magic as well as his own. As soon as it touched him, he knew the spell had come from her.
After he fell, he looked over at her to see a mischievous look on her face. He knew why she had done it. Max needed the win. The people needed to see their king strong. He wasn’t angry, far from it.
After Max had won, and they both looked at Griffa, she had smiled at them and winked. It caused several thoughts to come into Ansel’s head. Many of them were not appropriate for the very public situation he was in. He wanted her, and he had to have her. Above all, he loved her. She was beautiful and brilliant, and he loved her completely. It shocked him as soon as he thought it.
It shouldn’t have. He had long thought of Griffa as above anyone he had ever met. He had just never admitted to himself that he was in love with her. He had tried to protect his heart, because he felt he could never be enough for her. She was so far above him, to love her had seemed foolish, but it didn’t matter. Despite the guards he had put up, she had broken through. He was thoroughly in love with Griffa. Now he had to tell her.
Maybe it was selfish, but he didn’t care anymore. He could never offer her all she deserved, but he would not go through this life without Griffa by his side. Not if she would have him. He needed her to know how much he loved her. He walked to the manor with purpose. He entered the house, and found it quiet. He looked in the parlor and study to find them empty. He finally found Maybell in the kitchen.
“Ansel, are the duels over already?” asked Maybell while sitting at the kitchen table.
“No, I came back early. Griffa said she was coming home to clean up. Have you talked to her?”
“I have, and she seemed a little down. Did she not win her duel? She wouldn’t tell me a thing about it,” answered Maybell. “I suppose I should have gone, but seeing her fight makes me so nervous.”
“She won, alright. She was spectacular. Is she in her room?” asked Ansel. He was anxious to find her.
“She is. She is having a bath so you will have to wait to see her,” said Maybell getting up. She turned to look at Ansel with a sharp look. “You didn’t fight with her again, did you? Ansel, I know she can be stubborn and say dreadful things sometimes, but she is a good girl. It devastates her when you two don’t get along.”
“We didn’t fight, and I’m not angry with her. I just need to talk to her,” said Ansel impatiently. He sat down at the table, not knowing what else to do in the moment.
“If you didn’t fight, then what’s wrong? She wasn’t hurt, was she? She seemed tired and a little agitated, but she didn’t look injured.”
“No, she wasn’t injured,” said Ansel. He propped his head on his hand and laid his other hand on the table, drumming his fingers against the wood.
Maybell studied him for a moment. “Ansel, I wasn’t going to say anything, but you have to understand Griffa is like a daughter to me. I take her well-being very seriously.”
Ansel nodded his head not knowing where this conversation was heading.
“Jonthon and I went to check the beds this morning to see if the sheets needed changing. We noticed that your bed hadn’t been slept in.”
Ansel stared at her not betraying any feelings.
“Griffa’s always been a very still sleeper, usually her bed is very easy to tidy being just her side, but this morning both sides were disturbed,” said Maybell, her face turning red.
“What’s your point, Maybell?”
“My point is if you fool around with that girl’s heart you will have to answer to me. I know she is fond of you. It’s easy to see, and if you take advantage of her, I will have no qualms ejecting you from this house for good, protector of the king or not.”
Ansel looked up at Maybell. “I would never do anything to hurt Griffa in any way. Now if you will excuse me, I will go clean myself up.” Ansel got up from the table.
Maybell nodded and let out a deep breath. “I hope you are sincere, Ansel, because I am quite fond of you, as well. I would hate to have to kick you out.”
Ansel patted her on the arm as he passed and made his way up to his room.
By the time Ansel had cleaned up and made his way downstairs, everyone else had returned to the house. Griffa was on the sofa drinking tea and listening to Max and Issa tell her about the rest of the duels. Ansel came in and sat next to Griffa on the sofa, giving what he hoped was a friendly smile.
“Hello, Ansel. I didn’t realize you had come back early. I hope you had no injury from any part of your duel,” said Griffa.
“No, I am well. Nothing wounded except my pride and that has healed quickly,” he said. Griffa smiled at Ansel in an apologetic way.
“Griffa, you were wonderful today,” praised Issa. “I don’t really know that woman you dueled, but she seemed like a piece of work.”
“Thank you, Issa. She is a formidable opponent, but I think she underestimated me in many ways,” said Griffa taking a sip of her tea.
“And you Ansel, you did very well too. Max looked like he was going to lose for sure,” continued Issa.
“I guess Max had some luck on his side today,” said Ansel smiling. He leaned towards Griffa and whispered, “or a pretty, little, mischievous imp.” She looked at him with surprised as Ansel winked at her.
“Well, Max I think you need to get cleaned up. Why don’t we take the rest of the day off? Is that alright with you, Ansel?” asked Griffa.
Ansel was very pleased with this idea. He hoped it would give him time to talk to Griffa alone.
“Of course, Griffa,” said Ansel. “Maybe Max and Issa would like to have an afternoon meal out on the lawn or in the fields.”
“I like that idea,” said Issa. “Will you two join us? Maybe we could take the horses and ride.”
“We will join you if you like, Issa”, replied Griffa. She turned to Ansel. “Unless you had other plans, Ansel?”
Ansel did have plans, but he supposed he could find a way to get Griffa alone out in the fields just as easy as in the house.
“I have no fixed plans today. Say we meet in an hour at the stables?”
Everyone agreed and went their separate ways. Max and Issa went to their rooms, and Griffa went to the kitchens to pack food.
Ansel stayed in the parlor and tried to think of what to say to Griffa. How would he tell her he loved her? She had said she wanted him, wanted to love him. He knew he should feel sure of her response, but he wanted to say the right thing. She deserved to hear how much he felt for her. He wanted what he was going to say to be perfect.
The problem was, he was not good with words. He went through several different conversations with Griffa in his head, but none of them felt right. Before long, an hour had passed, and Ansel wasn’t any closer to knowing what he was going to say to Griffa.
Ansel went to the kitchens and helped Griffa with the basket of food. They bid Maybell a good afternoon. Maybell was giving Ansel pointed looks, and Griffa looked confused. They walked to the stables and met Max and Issa. They helped Wallis fit their horses for their ride and before long they were riding through the fields at a leisurely pace. Ansel rode by Max as Griffa and Issa rode a little ways ahead, chatting back and forth.
“Ansel, I wanted to ask you something about the duels today.”
Ansel turned to look at Max. “Yes?”
“It’s about what Griffa said to Desmona,” replied Max. “You know about you being in Griffa’s bed.”
“Oh,” said Ansel, he felt his face go warm. “She was just trying to get under Desma’s skin, Max. It worked.”
“Yes, but is there truth to it? I mean have you been….”, sputtered Max, his face going very red.
Ansel was quiet, and he wasn’t sure what to say. It’s true he had been in Griffa’s bed the past two nights, but they had done nothing but sleep. After sleeping soundly, the first night, Griffa had told him if he had any problems sleeping because of his reoccurring dreams, to come talk to her in her bed. Ansel had taken her up on it the night before, and he had again fallen asleep next to Griffa on top of her bed covering.
“Well, have you?” asked Max. Ansel stayed silent. “I like you Ansel. You have been a good friend to me, but if you do something to hurt Griffa, I’ll, well I don’t know what I’ll do, but it will be something.”
Ansel smiled. “I think I’ll catch up with the ladies if you don’t mind.”
Ansel encouraged his horse forward at a faster pace, catching up with Griffa and Issa, riding by Griffa’s side. Max soon came up to ride next to Issa.
They found a place to eat under a large tree with lots of shade. Max spread out a blanket as Ansel brought over the basket. They ate a late lunch of meat, cheese, bread, and fruit. Griffa passed out cups of wine to wash it down. It would have been a pleasant time if Ansel wasn’t so anxious to get Griffa alone.
After the meal, Issa took out a book and leaned against Max’s shoulder as she read out loud to him. Ansel took this chance to ask Griffa if she would like to walk a bit. She agreed. They told Max and Issa their plans and walked out towards the small stream that ran along the back of the field.
“That was nice of you, Ansel, to want to give them a little time alone,” said Griffa.
“I’m glad you think so, but I just really just wanted to take a walk with you,” said Ansel. He grabbed Griffa’s hand and put it on his arm.
“Oh, is there something you wanted to speak of? Who have I offended now? Is it about Desmona and our duel? I did go a little too, far didn’t I? She just agitates me so much,” huffed Griffa talking rapidly.
Ansel stopped walking and took Griffa’s hands to make her look at him.
“You were wonderful today. Desma got what she deserved. I thought you might have actually held back a little. I bet you wanted to actually throw her down that well,” said Ansel giving Griffa a half smile.
“You know me too well,” said Griffa laughing. She turned from Ansel and started walking again. He fell in step besides her. They walked in silence for a bit while Ansel worked up his nerve.
“There is something I did want to talk to you about,” admitted Ansel nervously. “I just have to find a way to start.” He stopped as they had reached the stream, and Griffa turned to look at him.
“This sounds serious, Ansel. Is something wrong? Have you heard news from Aurumist?” asked Griffa a small frown on her lips.
“No, nothing is wrong. I’ve just realized some things and I want…,” started Ansel when he was interrupted by the whinny of a horse. He and Griffa turned to see Marcus Quick looking at them from atop his stallion.
“Gods, you’ve got to be kidding me,” grumbled Ansel under his breath.
Griffa gave Ansel’s arm a small squeeze before turning to greet Marcus.
“Hello, Marcus. It’s nice to see you,” Griffa said pleasantly.
Ansel tipped his hat slightly in Marcus’s direction as Marcus hopped down from his horse.
“I was glad go find you out here, Griffa, because I want to ask you a question,” said Marcus coming to stand close to Griffa.
“And what’s that?” asked Griffa.
“The Summer ball is tomorrow night, and I was hoping you would let me escort you to the party.”
Griffa raised her eyebrows and seemed for a loss of words.
’’Actually, Griffa will be going with me. Isn’t that right Griffa? We said we would weeks ago,” said Ansel.
Griffa looked at Ansel, her eyebrows still raised and said, “Oh, yes. We did agree to that.” She turned to Marcus with a sweet look on her face. “I’m sorry, Marcus. It seems I already have plans.”
Marcus looked disappointed but said, “Oh well, of course you want to go with your old friend. I hope you will at least dance with me.”
“We will see how the night goes. Now if you excuse us, we need to get back to Max and Issa and head back to the manor,” said Griffa taking Ansel’s arm. “We will see you tomorrow night.” She started walking quickly, practically dragging Ansel with her.
“Thank you for stepping in, Ansel. He cannot take a hint. He’s an old friend, but he is on my last nerve lately. I’ll have to spend the whole ball avoiding him somehow.”
“So, you will let me escort you to the ball, Griff?” asked Ansel as they walked.
“Of course, I mean we will go as a household with Max, and Issa, and Nora too.”
Ansel stopped, pulling Griffa to a stop as well. He turned her towards him so she would look at him.
“What I’m saying Griffa, is I want to escort you to the ball. The rest can come with us if they want or they can go earlier. They can stay in bed all night for all I care. I want to take you to the ball.”
Griffa looked at him with a very confused look on her face, but she replied. “If that is what you wish, then I would like to go with you to the ball.”
Ansel nodded, and they started walking towards Max and Issa again.
“I should tell you I’ve had two interesting conversations today. I think Max and Maybell are ready to duel me for your honor. Maybell may have noticed I’ve been sleeping in your bed, and Max heard what you said to Desma.”
Griffa turned bright red, but kept a straight face and said, “We’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. I hope you told them so.”
“I assured Maybell I would never hurt you in any way. She was threatening to kick me out of the manor.”
Griffa giggled. “I have no doubt she could do it too.”
“Now, Max, I let him think whatever he likes,” said Ansel mischievously.
Griffa smacked his arm. “Ansel, what he must think of me!”
Ansel gave a chuckle, “Let him think it. It’s not like he and Issa aren’t finding new places to sneak away and kiss all over the house.”
Griffa laughed as they came upon Max and Issa who had packed everything up.
“You two seem in a good mood,” said Max securing the basket to his horse.
Ansel followed Griffa to her horse and went to lift her up on the saddle but before he could do it, Griffa replied to Max, “Lots of things happening lately have put me in a good mood,”
She gave Ansel a smile and raised one eyebrow before kissing him on the cheek. Ansel couldn’t help but smile back as he lifted her up.
Issa laughed as Max frowned at Griffa.
The four of them rode home two by two. Ansel was riding close to Griffa when she turned to him and whispered, “My door will be open again tonight if you have any problems sleeping. Never feel like you can’t come talk to me no matter what chatter it causes in the household. It’s my manor and I will do as I like.”
Ansel nodded at her as Max turned to look at them. He wondered how good that boy’s hearing actually was.
Ansel thought perhaps he could talk to Griffa late that night when he came to her room, but by the time he got here, she was fast asleep. She must have been tried from the activities of the day. Ansel gently got in her bed. He laid next to her side and watched her sleep for a while, feeling at peace. When he was sleepy himself, he kissed her on her forehead and snuggled down, laying his head on the pillow close to Griffa.