The room was dark, and it was very late. Ansel hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. His eyes felt heavy. His whole body ached with weariness, but he would not rest. He sat by Griffa’s bed, watching. He watched every ragged breath she drew. She would start coughing suddenly and blood would come from her nose. Ansel would take a small rag and wipe her face clean. Occasionally she would open blurry eyes and blink at him, but he wasn’t sure she could really see anything.
“Ansel, you need to rest, dear,” said Maybell as she came over to him. She had been in and out of the room, bringing in fresh rags and water.
“I’m fine, Maybell. I will not leave her,” said Ansel, not taking his eyes off of Griffa.
“You have to take care of yourself. Griffa would not want you making yourself ill. Go clean yourself up and rest for a bit. I will stay with her until you come back,” said Maybell. “I want to have a private chat with her anyway.”
Ansel hesitated but nodded. He could go clean up and rest for a short while and come back. “You will come get me if anything happens, won’t you?” asked Ansel as he got up.
“Of course, now go,” replied Maybell sitting down in the chair he had vacated.
Ansel looked at Griffa lying in her bed one more time before exiting the room. He closed the door behind him and then leaned against the wall in the hall and closed his eyes.
“It’s hard, I know,” said Nora coming to stand by Ansel. “It’s hard to see the one you love the most suffer.” Ansel opened his eyes and looked at Nora. He wondered how she knew. She smiled sadly. “You never get over losing the one person you love most in the world. I pray you don’t have to feel that pain, Ansel.”
Ansel nodded. “How have you gone on? I mean, after.”
“It’s been hard. I went on for Max. He’s like my son. I still want to be here for him. All of you have helped too.”
“I don’t think I will be able to go on. I can’t imagine what my life will be like without her. Even when we were apart, I thought of her, every day. I knew she was somewhere in the kingdom, and the kingdom was a better place for it,” said Ansel. “You know I’ve never even told her I loved her. She will die never knowing. I’m such a fool.”
“She’s still alive, Ansel. Don’t give up. If the worst comes, you will get through it. I know you will, but right now keep hoping,” encouraged Nora taking Ansel’s hand and squeezing it.
Ansel nodded, and she let go of his hand. He started walking to his room when her voice stopped him for a moment.
“You could tell her now how you feel. No matter what happens, you should tell her. She would want to know, and you will feel better.”
Ansel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He then walked into his room without saying another word.
He cleaned himself quickly and put on fresh clothes. He laid down on his bed. He realized he had not slept there in the past three nights. He closed his eyes and thought of those nights he laid close to Griffa watching her peacefully sleep. He thought of kissing her before he left the night before. She felt so good and so right in his arms. He shouldn’t have left her there. He knew it was wrong to leave her. He should have taken her with him.
He could hear Griffa’s voice in his head saying, But then the others might be in trouble. Max could be dead, and then where would we be?
As Ansel tried to sleep, a memory of Griffa popped into his mind. She was fourteen. She was slumped down in a chair by the fireplace in the parlor, a book in her lap. Ansel came in and flopped down in a chair close to her.
“What are you reading, Griff,” he asked looking over at her. She didn’t answer. He sat up straighter and looked at her book. “Is it that story about the protector and the queen again. How many times have you read that?”
“Mind your own business. I like this book,” said Griffa not taking her eyes off the page.
“Of course, you do. Young ladies always like sappy books about romance. You know how unrealistic that is, don’t you?”
“What’s unrealistic about it? Don’t you believe in falling in love with someone?” asked Griffa.
“In that case, no. A queen could never fall in love with her protector. Their magical bond wouldn’t allow it. I don’t even really know if I believe in falling in love at all. Love has brought me nothing but heartache and trouble,” said Ansel.
Griffa put down her book and marked her page before closing it. She gave Ansel a smug look. “I doubt you’ve known real love then. Father told me that when he met my mother, he felt like he had found a piece of his life he didn’t know he was missing. He felt like his life was better because she was in it. He said even though she was gone, and it made him sad, he would never regret one day with her.”
Ansel propped his head on his hand and looked at Griffa. “It’s rare then. I think I’m done with love. I’ll just do my duty and mind my own business.”
“You don’t mean that,” said Griffa opening her book back up. “You can’t let one bad experience with a horrible woman ruin the rest of your life. You’ll find the right person someday, and then I will get to say I told you so. I will demand to give a toast on your wedding day. I will stand up and say nice things about your bride and finish with Ansel, I told you so.”
“That is one of your favorite things to do. You love to tell me I told you so,” replied Ansel smiling at her. “Alright, Griff, it’s a deal. If I fall madly in love with some woman and we get married, you will give the toast.”
Griffa smiled at Ansel and went back to her book.
Ansel smiled at the memory and drifted off to sleep thinking of Griffa. He woke up as the early morning light poured into his room. He sat up straight in his bed, remembering what had happened. He went over to his mirror and splashed cold water in his face. He then hurried his room and walked to Griffa’s. Her door was slightly open. He quietly walked in the room. Nora was sitting with Griffa, reading to her. She stopped and looked up at Ansel as walked in.
“How is she?” asked Ansel coming over and looking at Griffa. She was very pale and still.
“About the same, I think. She hasn’t coughed in a while, but she’s been tossing and turning on and off,” replied Nora.
“Go rest, Nora. I will sit with her,” said Ansel.
Nora nodded and got up and left. Ansel sat in the chair by Griffa’s bed. He took Griffa’s hand in his and stared at her face. Ansel thought about how beautiful she really was. She always had been. It was an odd sort of beauty, but that didn’t diminish it in any way. Ansel touched her soft cheeks with the back of his hand.
“I wish you open your eyes and argue with me about something,” Ansel said quietly. “I never thought I’d say it, but I miss you telling me off. You know you’re right most of the time, don’t you? I can remember a few times I won an argument, but usually you were right. Who’s going to tell me when I’m wrong if you aren’t here, Griffa?”
Ansel heard the door opened, and he looked over. Max came in and stood next to Ansel, looking at Griffa.
“How is she?” asked Max.
“I don’t know. She seems the same. Chiron will be here soon, and we will know more then.”
“Ansel, I think I know a way to help her. I think I can save her,” said Max.
Ansel’s head snapped up to look at Max. “What do you mean?”
“Issa and I have been looking through some books and I think we’ve found something,” explained Max.
Griffa stirred in the bed. She made a moaning sound and turned abruptly away. Ansel stood up and put his finger to his lips, signaling Max to be quiet. He motioned for Max to follow him. They walked out into the hallway, and Ansel gently closed the door.
“So, what are you going on about? What do you think you can do?” asked Ansel.
“We’ve found an old potion. It can revive those on the brink of death. It’s complicated, but it doesn’t take too long to brew. I think I can do it. There is a side effect, but I believe I’ve found a way around it. I’m not sure though.”
“What’s the side effect?” asked Ansel.
“It might take away Griffa’ s magic,” replied Max. “The potion calls for the blood of someone with non-magical blood, and it can cause the person drinking it to lose their magic, but I found a way around it.”
“Max, are you talking about blood magic?” asked Ansel in an angry whisper. “You know how Griffa feels about blood magic. She wouldn’t want you to do this.”
“I know, Ansel, but if it can save her, isn’t it worth it?” responded Max, his eyes bright.
“You said it could take her magic away?” said Ansel “Can we really do that to her?”
“I know how to prevent it. I was reading all night, and I found out that they used to unlock magic in people by performing sacrifices, willing sacrifices,” said Max.
“That is not making me feel any better about this,” said Ansel.
“I don’t need an actual sacrifice. I just need some blood from someone who would die for Griffa. That’s easy. I can give the blood for the potion. Issa has agreed to use her blood too since we need non-magical blood. I can do this. It can be ready by tonight!” said Max excitedly.
Ansel shook his head. “Griffa wouldn’t want this. She wouldn’t want you to do this, you or Issa. There are always consequences when you use blood magic. There is always a price.
“I’m willing to pay any price if it means Griffa lives. So is Issa. Ansel, you won’t stop us from trying,” declared Max angrily.
“I won’t let you give it to her. Even if you brew this potion, you will not get close to Griffa with it.” Ansel stared at Max, not really believing what he was saying.
“You aren’t the only one who has a say in this,” said Max. “You aren’t the only one who cares about her. Issa and I both love her. At least we can admit it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Ansel.
“I’ve seen how you are with Griffa. I know how much she cares about you. I think she loves you, but you don’t know what you want or how you feel. You flirt with her one minute and then say awful things to her when you are mad. I don’t think you can even admit to yourself how you feel about Griffa,” said Max with gritted teeth in Ansel’s face.
“You need to stop talking about what you don’t know,” hissed Ansel in a dangerous voice. He shoved Max away from him.
“I will not stop. You might be fine with Griffa dying this way, but I’m not. I’m going to save her, and you won’t stop me,” said Max.
He looked at Ansel, and Ansel could see the fury in his eyes. He could feel magic radiating off of Max. Ansel felt his own magic rise to meet it.
“Max, you need to leave now, or I will not be responsible for what happens,” said Ansel trying to control himself. “Go, but don’t think you will get close to Griffa with that potion.”
Max took deep breaths and then turned around and walked away. “We will see, Ansel.”
As Max was walking down the stairs, Ansel saw that Maybell was leading Chiron up them. When they go to the top, Maybell looked at Ansel with wide eyes.
“Is everything alright?” she asked Ansel.
“Yes, it’s fine. Let’s go see Griffa. Ansel led her and Chiron into Griffa’s room.
Chiron looked over Griffa again. He listened to her chest and waved his hands over her. He looked at Ansel and Maybell and shook his head.
“It’s not good. I think she took in too much of the poison. I’m afraid there is nothing that can be done,” said Chiron sadly. “I wish I had better news.”
Maybell sobbed, and Ansel’s knees went weak. He propped himself up on the bed.
“You can’t mean that’s it,” quavered Ansel. “There has to be something else, anything.”
Chiron shook his head. “I’m very sorry. I’d be surprised if she last through tonight. Come on Maybell, I’ll give you something to calm you.” Chiron took Maybell by the shoulders and started walking out. “I’m very sorry, Ansel. She is a fine woman, and her father was an excellent man. Hopefully, her suffering won’t be long. You better say your goodbyes soon.”
Chiron walked out with Maybell and closed the door behind him. Ansel looked over at Griffa with a shaky breath. He made his way over to her and fell down to his knees next to her.
“Griffa,” he said “You can’t leave me, you can’t. You know I’m hopeless without you.” Ansel felt tears in his eyes. He thought he couldn’t cry anymore, but he was wrong. “I wanted so badly to tell you everything I felt for you the right way, but I was stupid. I should have just said the simple truth. I love you, Griffa. I love you completely. You were right about love; it is real. I know it is.”
Ansel took her cold hand into his. “Please, Griffa, stay with me. Stay and argue with me. Stay and tell me when I’m wrong. Stay and I promise I will work every day to never disappoint you again.”
Ansel laid his head next to her and let his tears flow. He stayed like that for a while just crying and listening to Griffa’s shallow breaths. He final sat up, still holding her hand.
“I know what I have to do, Griffa, and you won’t like it. You will have to forgive me. I can’t let you go, not if there is a chance, but I can take care of Max. I can protect him. I know you would want that at least. I’m going, but I will be back. You will get through this Griffa, and when you found out what I did, you can be displeased with me. You can yell at me and argue all day and night, and I will gladly take it.” Ansel kissed her hand and then stood up, letting her hand fall gently by her side.
Before he could change his mind, he walked out of the room, down the stairs, through the kitchen, and down into the cellar. He found Issa and Max sitting in front of the fireplace. A kettle full of liquid hung over the fire. They turned and looked at Ansel when he walked in.
“Have you started yet?” asked Ansel.
“We were just about to add the blood. You aren’t going to stop us,” said Max firmly.
“No, I’m not, but you will use my blood, not yours,” said Ansel walking over to stand by Max. “I need it to be mine.”
Max nodded, and Ansel gave Max his hand. Max took a small knife and cut a slit down the middle of Ansel’s palm. He then grabbed Issa’s and did the same. Max then took their hands and joined them together over the kettle. The blood from both of their cuts flowed together into the potion brewing underneath. When the blood hit, it sizzled loudly, and Ansel could feel a change in the air. He let go of Issa’s hand and brought it to his side.
“That should do it. It will need to brew for a few hours, but then it will be ready,” said Max. He grabbed some gauze and rags from a nearby table. He dribbled some liquid on Issa’s hand and quickly bandaged it. He did the same to Ansel’s.
“Bring it to Griffa’s room as soon as it’s ready,” said Ansel. “Tell no one else what you are doing. I hope she can hang on until it’s time.”
“She will,” said Max as he looked at Ansel. “She will forgive us, Ansel. I know she will.”
“I don’t know, Max, but if she lives, she can hold a grudge against me forever.”
Ansel went back upstairs to sit with Griffa. Nora and Maybell came at different times, but Ansel assured them he wanted to stay with Griffa. He would alert them if anything changed. The way he said it must have let them know, he wanted to be alone with Griffa. Maybell tried to get him to eat at one time. He ate a little meat and bread to get rid of her. Before long it was getting dark, and Griffa’s breath seem to be getting shallower.
“Where are you, Max?” Ansel muttered. “Hang on, Griffa, not much longer.”
Max and Issa finally came into the room with a cup. Ansel placed his hand under Griffa’s head and raised it slightly. Max handed Ansel the cup.
“You will need to get her to drink as much as possible,” said Max quietly. Ansel nodded.
Ansel put the cup to Griffa’ lips. He managed to open Griffa’s mouth a bit with the cup. He poured some liquid into her mouth and then tilted her head backwards to make her swallow it. He did this three more times until the potion was gone. He then gently laid her head back on the pillow.
“Now what?” asked Ansel.
“Now we wait,” explained Max. “It takes time to work. We will know by morning.”
Ansel nodded. Max plopped down onto a large chair near the foot of Griffa’s bed. He made room for Issa to sit, and she curled up beside him. It was a long night. The three stayed in Griffa’s room keeping vigil. They didn’t talk much. Eventually Issa and Max fell asleep snuggled up together. Ansel smiled a little looking at them. He turned towards Griffa and took her hand, staring at her. He didn’t know if he was seeing just what he wanted to see, but her breathing seemed more even, and she looked more at peace.
Ansel kissed Griffa’s forehead. “I do love you. Even if you hate me after this, I will not stop loving you. You’re it, Griff. I will never love anyone else, so if you want to tell me I told you so on my wedding day, you’ll have to live and marry me one day.”
Ansel laid his head close to Griffa. He closed his eyes and eventually drifted off. He woke up to the feeling of someone touching the side of his face. It took him a moment to fully wake up and realize where he was. There was a soft light coming in the room. It was very early. He sat up and looked at Griffa. She was staring at him with tired eyes and a slight smile.
“Gods, Griffa,” cried Ansel. He took her hand and kissed it with tears in his eyes.
“Was it that bad, Ansel,” asked Griffa in a soft, raw voice.
“Yes, it was, but it’s going to be alright,” choked out Ansel. Griffa reached up and touched his cheek He took her hand and kissed her lightly on her palm.
“Ansel,” said Griffa looking up at him. “It was a flower. I did get rid of it, didn’t I? Everyone’s ok?”
“Yes, you burned it. Everyone is fine. We’ve just been worried about you. Griffa, I was so scared I would lose you.”
“You can’t get rid of me Ansel, no matter how hard you try. Haven’t you learned that yet?”
Ansel smiled. “Do you feel like eating or drinking? You haven’t had much in a few days.”
“I am thirsty,” replied Griffa.
“Then I will go get you some water. I will wake up those two when I get back,” said Ansel nodding his head towards Issa and Max.
“You won’t leave me for long, will you?” asked Griffa.
“No, I won’t leave you for long. I won’t ever leave you for long, again.”
Ansel walked out of the room. He took a deep breath and smiled before descending the stairs and waking into the kitchen. He quickly grabbed a pitcher of water and a cup. He walked back to the stairs, and there was a knock at the front door. Ansel wondered who would call at the house at dawn.
Ansel put the pitcher and cup down on the entry hall table and answered the door. Hanging on to the door frame, breathing heavily was Talon Wendell. He looked up at Ansel with eyes full of dread.
“I had a message from a friend in Abscon. I just read it, and I came straight here. Tell me, is it true, Ansel? Did someone poison Griffa?”
Ansel nodded and quietly said, “Yes.”
Talon closed his eyes and bowed his head. He opened his eyes and looked up at Ansel. “And is she, is she....”
“She’s awake. She just woke up, and I think she’s going to make it,” said Ansel quickly.
Talon sagged in relief. “Can I see her?”
Ansel looked at Talon considering. “I don’t know; she just woke up. She’s very weak.”
“Please, Ansel. I won’t bother her long. I just need to see her.”
“Fine, come with me. I was taking her a drink of water.”
Talon followed Ansel up the stairs and to Griffa’s room. Talon entered first quietly with Ansel behind him. Max and Issa were still asleep. Talon walked over and sat in the chair next to Griffa. Ansel stood behind him.
Griffa’s eyes were closed, but she was breathing evenly. Talon took her hand and kissed it. Griffa opened her eyes slowly. She blinked several times and then whispered, “Talon?”
“Yes, dearest. I just heard, and I had to see you. Griffa, I was so scared.”
Griffa slightly smiled and then looked up at Ansel. He quickly poured her a drink of water and handed it to Talon. Griffa sat up a little while Talon helped her to take a drink.
Griffa laid back down. “Did you really just come here from the Valley?”
“I did. I heard you were going to die, and I had to come. I wish I had opened that letter sooner, but I had just gotten home early this morning.”
“I guess you aren’t going to tell me what you were doing out so late,” said Griffa with a small laugh.
Talon gave her a half smile.
“I think we need to let Griffa rest,” said Ansel. “Would you like a room, Talon?”
“Yes, I will stay a few days to make sure Griffa is alright. Thank you, Ansel,” said Talon standing. He bent down and kissed Griffa on her forehead. “Rest, my dear. I will see you soon.”
Ansel started to leave to show Talon out, when Griffa held up her hand.
“Are you leaving too, Ansel?” Griffa said with a whimper.
Ansel took her hand. “Only for a moment.” He heard Max stirring slightly in the chair. “I think you will have more company soon.” Ansel bent down and kissed her hand tenderly.
Ansel followed Talon out into the hallway. They walked towards the end of the hall to an empty guest room. When they got past the staircase, Talon turned to Ansel.
“Griffa looks like death. If it really was last breath, I don’t know how she is still alive. Is it true Marcus Quick did this?” asked Talon.
“Yes, I paid him a visit. He said he didn’t know what he was bringing into the house. He says his father tricked him.”
“Then he is either lying or stupid. Did you kill him?”
“Almost,” admitted Ansel quietly, hanging his head.
“Pity, I don’t think I would have held back,” said Talon coldly. “Ansel, how could you have let this happen?”
Ansel head snapped up, and he looked at Talon with narrowed eyes. “I didn’t let this happen. I was off doing my duty getting information from a spy with Hector Delis.”
“You left Griffa and the king here unprotected,” said Talon in an angry whisper.
“Griffa is more than capable of taking care of herself.”
Talon scoffed. “As we can see. I should have convinced her to marry me last year. I should have taken her to the Valley with me. Somewhere you or anyone else couldn’t hurt her.”
“I would never hurt Griffa,” hissed Ansel. He felt Talon’s magic rise off of Talon’s skin, and his own magic rose to meet it. Ansel did nothing to stop it.
“Wouldn’t you? Tell me then why she cried in my arms last fall over you? She loves you for some reason, and you just dismiss her. I see how you seethe with jealousy when anyone shows any interest in her. You can’t stand to see her with anyone else, but you don’t want her for yourself.”
Ansel felt himself pushed back by Talon’s magic. A candle burning in a sconce on the hallway wall flared.
“You know nothing of my feelings for Griffa,” said Ansel through gritted teeth. “She is the most precious thing to me in this kingdom.”
“Is that why she almost died under your watch?”
Ansel held up his hand, and Talon slammed into the wall. Talon bent over and collected himself. He grinned at Ansel nastily.
“Are we going to do this?” asked Talon straightening his shirt. He held up his hands. “I’m not opposed. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while.”
Talon had fire in his eyes, but Ansel did not back down. He held up his hands, waiting to strike.
“What is going on?” asked Max urgently, coming out of Griffa’s room and walking towards them. “Talon? When did you get here?” Max looked between Talon and Ansel with wide eyes.
“I arrived this morning, Max,” said Talon he put his hands down and glared at Ansel.
“Griffa is asking for you, Ansel. I’m surprised you two haven’t woken the whole house.”
“Max, make sure our guest is settled,” said Ansel putting his hands down. “Find Maybell and Nora soon and let them know Griffa is safe. I’ll go to Griffa. Talon, we will discuss this later.”
“We will, Ansel. I will not leave until we are clear on many things.”