Ansel came in the front door of Keene Manor. It was late in the evening. He had gone to speak with his guards after dinner. He wanted everything set for Hector’s visit with their spy. He looked up the stairs, remembering his promise to Griffa when he noticed a light in the parlor.
“Ansel,” called Talon from the parlor. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” answered Ansel.
“Come in here for a moment. I would like a word with you.”
Ansel hesitated, looking up the stairs. “Can’t it wait until morning?”
“No, it can’t. Come in and have one drink with me,” insisted Talon.
Ansel looked up the stairs one more time and then walked into the parlor. He found Talon sitting in a chair by the fire with a glass of wine in his hands.
“Come sit by me, Ansel,” said Talon. He sat up and picked up a pitcher of wine from a nearby small table. He poured some wine in a glass.
Ansel walked over and sat down in the chair facing Talon. Talon handed him the glass of wine. He looked at Ansel for several moments as though considering what he might say.
“It’s late, Talon. Whatever it is you want to say, you better do it.”
Talon drained his glass of wine and put it on the table. “First I want to apologize for my first night here. It was a difficult time. Griffa is very important to me, and the thought of losing her was too much to bear.”
Ansel nodded slightly. “I understand. I apologize for my part as well. I had not slept much in the days before, and I had to face the fact that Griffa could die. I don’t wish you harm, not really.”
Talon smiled. “Ansel, I’m going to tell you a story. You aren’t going to like it much, but I ask that you hear me out.”
Ansel nodded again and took a sip of his wine.
“I have known Griffa almost as long as you. I saw her several times a year when her father would visit the Valley to meet with my father and the council. I was always very attached to Griffa. She was a few years younger than me, but you would never know it. She was unlike anyone else I knew.
“As a child she was adventurous. She didn’t care for rules. When she visited, we would get into all kind of messes. She usually got us out of trouble, though. She could charm my father like no other. He always liked her.
“We grew up, and by the time Griffa reached the age of maturity, she was magnificent in every way. She was and is everything beautiful, wild, and fierce, but still completely good. I don’t need to tell you. I know you see how wonderful she is.”
Ansel smiled a little. He did know what Talon was saying. He thought he described Griffa well.
“When she was of age, we spent our time differently. I don’t want to pain you too much with the specifics, but it was enjoyable. She would visit, and we would sneak away when we could. Her house was always empty in the Valley. It was very convenient,” said Talon smiling. He filled up his glass and took a sip.
“She came to see me a few times throughout the next few years after she reached the age of maturity and could travel as she liked. You know I have a reputation, and it’s well earned. I knew I was fond of Griffa, but I thought that was it. I thought she was just another one of my special friends. Perhaps I felt more connected to her than the other women, but I convinced myself it was just because of our life-long friendship. It wasn’t until the mid-winter ball two years ago that I knew I was wrong.
“She had told me she was going to come to the mid-winter festivities in the Valley that year, but I didn’t see her at the temple or the feast. I figured something had detained her, so I arrived at the ball, ready to find my next conquest. Griffa walked in just before the music started. I’m not exaggerating when I say she looked like a goddess come to life.
“I remember everything. She wore a dark red dress that looked perfect on her. Her curls were piled on top of her head, with a few escaping their pins, coming down her neck. I rather like her hair down, but it was enticing to see her lovely neck.
“My father found her and danced with Griffa. She was passed between other important men of the Valley to dance. The whole time I stood on the edges waiting for an opportunity to talk to her, to hold her.” Talon paused and took another drink of his wine.
“The weather was strange that year for the winter. There was a storm brewing. I don’t know how much you know about mages and storms, but it has a very interesting effect on our moods. I was very keyed up, watching Griffa, just waiting for the time I could hold her. I finally got my chance.
“We danced, and everything felt so charged. I couldn’t hold her close enough. I become bold. I kissed her neck and then her lips in front of the whole Valley. I knew it would cause whispers, and I didn’t care. After our dance, I convinced her to leave with me. We went to her home in the Valley.”
Talon paused and closed his eyes. He smiled slightly before taking a deep breath and continuing his story.
“I won’t explicitly describe that night to you. I don’t imagine you would want to hear it.”
“No,” said Ansel darkly. “I’m hoping you are coming to your point soon. If not, tell me so I can leave.”
“I am. We arrived at her house just as the storm broke. That night is one of, if not the best memory, I have, yet so much of it is a blur. We started in the entry way and somehow ended in Griffa’s bed. I’m not even sure how we got there, to be honest. I held her after, and I knew this was much more than just some fling or casual activity like with my other women. I didn’t want to leave her. I knew I should go home. My father would be expecting me, but I couldn’t do it. I stayed with her that night. We woke up several times. I couldn’t get enough of her. She can be quite insatiable, herself.”
Ansel looked at Talon. “You can move along in this story.”
“I woke up the next morning, and I knew my father would have things to say to me. For the first time, I wasn’t dreading hearing one of his lectures. I needed his advice. I left early hoping to come back to her as soon as I could. My father was waiting for me as soon as I entered Wendell house. He took me in his study.
“He knew where I had been. How could he not know? He sat me down, looked at me, and said, ‘Gryphon Keene is not the kind of woman you just fool around with. She is a woman you love completely and forever.’ He warned me I would never get over her if I let my chance with her slip through my fingers.
“He told me I should go back that second to her and beg her to marry me. He told me to tell her that I would do anything to earn her love, and that I would grow up into who I needed to be for her. I agreed with him, Ansel. I couldn’t ask her to marry me, not yet, but I knew I wanted her. I knew I was young and so was Griffa, but wherever would I find another woman like her? I loved her. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I had been hopelessly in love with her for a while.
“I ran back to her house to try to tell her how I felt. When I got there, she was getting ready to travel back to Abscon. I asked her why. Do you remember why she traveled back that year?”
“Yes,” replied Ansel. “I came to Keene Manor to see her. When she wasn’t there, I sent a note to tell her I had arrived. I said I wanted to see her, and if she didn’t come to Abscon, I would go find her in the Valley.”
“I practically begged her to stay, but she would not change her mind. I thought maybe it was for the best. I could work on myself. I could show her that I could change. I spent that winter and spring learning from my father.
“She visited me on her birthday that year. I tried to talk to her of us, but she would not hear it. She would not take me seriously. I wanted to spend time with her to convince her, but you came to the Valley, so she went back home. I remained in the Valley. I saw no women. I continued to learn from my father. I thought only of her.
“I invited her to spend the summer festival with me, and she agreed. I could show her I had changed, that I could love her as she deserved. Then my father died two weeks before the summer festival. She came of course, and she comforted me. She spent time with me, but I could not tell her how I felt. I couldn’t at a time like that. She went back to Abscon.
“I spent fall and winter trying to earn respect as the leader of the council of the Valley. She told me she would come to me that spring. She said she would spend the Spring Festival in the Valley with me, but she did not come. You, of course, know why she did not come.”
“Yes,” said Ansel quietly. “I came to see her for her birthday last year. I went with her to Abscon’s spring festival.” Ansel remembered that festival well. It was the first time he had kissed Griffa. He had kissed her and run away.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. The council talked of wanting to know more about the king that was coming to Abscon. I volunteered to go to come here for the Harvest Festival to meet Max. I really only came to see Griffa. I got here, and I watched her at the festival. I know she thinks I was looking for other women, but I watched only her. I hoped to talk to her of us. I wanted to convince her to spend time with me, to see that I had changed.
“When I spoke with her late that night or early that next morning, I said she should marry me, and I meant it. When she told me she couldn’t, when she told me there was someone else, I figured it out pretty quickly. Every time she left me, it was for you. In Abscon, she seemed to revolve around you. When you danced with her, she lit up. Above all when she told me she loved someone who did not want her, I knew only you could be so foolish.”
“It’s not that I didn’t want her. That has never been true. I wanted her as soon as I kissed her at the spring festival last year. If I’m honest I have wanted her before that as well. I have never wanted anything more, but I don’t deserve her. Besides that, you know who I am, Talon. You know my position in this world. How could I ask Griffa to love me, when I can’t even make her my first priority?”
“If it helps, I agree with you. You don’t deserve her, but the only thing that matters is that Griffa believes you do. She loves you, Ansel. She has loved you for a long time. She knows all it encompasses to love you. She says she will have no other.”
“What is your point in talking with me tonight, Talon?” asked Ansel.
“My point is you need to stop being an idiot. My father was right, Griffa is a woman you never truly get over. Griffa is probably right in refusing to marry me. I don’t know if I could have loved her as she deserved, but I would have done everything I could to try. I believe I could have been faithful, but I don’t know how I would have suffered the fact that Griffa could never truly love me, because of you,” said Talon standing up. He walked up to lean on the mantle, looking at the empty fireplace. “Do you love her, Ansel?”
“Yes,” said Ansel. “I wanted to tell her before she was poisoned. I planned to tell her, but I couldn’t find the words. I kept getting interrupted. I told her when she was ill and couldn’t hear me, but I suppose that didn’t do much good.”
“No,” confirmed Talon. “She still can’t quite believe you love her. Why haven’t you told her since she has gotten better?”
“I honestly don’t know. I wanted to wait until she was well but each day she gets stronger and I still haven’t said it. I suppose much of it has to do with the fact that I can’t protect her as she deserves. In everything I will always have to choose my king over everything. How can I ask her to love me knowing that?”
Talon sighed. He turned and looked at Ansel “She knows who you are. She knows what loving you means, and yet she loves you anyway. Ansel, if you have any sense at all you will march up those stairs at once, go to Griffa and tell her you love her. Let her decide how she wants to spend her life. I guarantee she will choose you. Of course, you could keep putting it off. You could find reason after reason to not tell Griffa how you feel.
“She is stubborn. She will wait, but no one can wait forever. What happens when she finally gets tired of waiting, and someone else is ready to step in and love her, even if she can’t love them back with her whole heart? Ansel, there are those of us who would rather have half of her heart than the whole of someone else’s. Are you prepared for that? Are you prepared to let her go forever?”
“No,” said Ansel standing up.
“Then go tell her how you feel. Don’t waste any more time.”
Ansel nodded and turned to walk from the room.
“Oh, Ansel,” said Talon as Ansel got to the door. “If you hurt her in anyway, I will finish our conversation from the other night, and it will not end well for you.”
Ansel stood outside of Griffa’s door in the darkness of the hallway. He didn’t know why he was stalling. He didn’t know why he felt unsettled, nervous about going into her room. He had been in her bedroom at night many times. He had slept in her bed before the summer ball. It shouldn’t be any different now, but it was. He needed to tell her. He had to tell her. Ansel took a deep breath and softly knocked before opening the door. He walked in and shut the door quietly behind him.
He walked over to the bed to find Griffa asleep. He knew she was weaker and more tried than she would admit. He looked down at her. She was curled up on her right side, resting her cheek against her hand. Her hair was spilled out on her pillow with a few strands falling in her face. Ansel stood and watched her sleep soundly for a moment, thanking the gods she was still here with him.
He considered just sitting in his usually chair. He didn’t want to wake her, but he had told her he would lie next to her. He was also exhausted himself. Sitting in a chair was not the best way to sleep. He had tried to go to his own bed a couple of nights after he knew Griffa would be well, but he couldn’t sleep. He would quietly go back to Griffa’s room, sit by her side, and watch her sleep until he drifted off himself.
Ansel very carefully sat on Griffa’s bed. He slipped off his boots and pulled his feet up. He quietly lay down facing Griffa. He tried not to disturb her, but as he turned towards Griffa, she slowly opened her eyes. She looked at him and smiled.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Ansel said quietly.
“It’s no bother. I tried to wait up for you, but I suppose I drifted off,” replied Griffa. She scooted closer to him until her head rested on his shoulder. He pulled her to him gently and rolled slightly so she was snuggled up against him, her arm resting across his chest.
“Have you thought about going with Hector?” asked Griffa against his side.
“I have. I haven’t changed my mind, but I have thought about it,” replied Ansel.
“You will. I will win. You know it, so you might as well just give in now,” said Griffa slightly moving against him.
Ansel laughed a little. “We will see, but don’t worry about that now. Go back to sleep.”
He knew he needed to tell her he loved her, but she needed sleep more. He turned his head and kissed her forehead. She looked up at him and moved to kiss him lightly on his lips. Ansel made a noise as he felt his body react to her. He wondered how one simple kiss from her could spark his desire so quickly. He turned his head to gather his thoughts, and moved a little to put a small amount of distance between them. She scooted completely away from him.
“I’m sorry, Ansel. I shouldn’t have done that. I just thought that since what happened that night when you left that maybe…” Griffa trailed off not completing her sentence. “I’m sorry. I said I would give you time.”
Ansel lain there. He turned to Griffa looking at her. She was on her back with a pillow over her face. He smiled to himself, but quickly felt awful. Talon had said she had cried over him. He had said she didn’t really believe that Ansel loved her.
“I’m so stupid,” she said muffled by the pillow. “If you want to leave, I understand.”
Ansel moved closer to her, propping himself up next to her on his elbow. He used one hand and removed the pillow from her face as he hovered over her, smiling. She looked up at him with her cheek flushed red.
“Griffa, I have been a fool for too long. I wanted to tell you before the summer ball, but I couldn’t find the right words. I don’t know why I made it so complicated. It’s simple, really. I love you. I have loved you for a long time. I just wouldn’t let myself believe it. I know I don’t deserve you. You deserve so much more, but I love you. I don’t want to spend one more second without you being absolutely sure of it.”
Griffa looked shocked. “Are you sure?”
Ansel kissed Griffa tenderly. He wished he could show her in other ways the proof of his love, but she was still weak.
“Yes, I have never been surer about anything in my life. I love you, now come here.”
He pulled her gently to him. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.
“I love you too, Ansel,” said Griffa quietly. “I think you already know that, but I wanted to say it anyway.” She looked up at him, and Ansel lowered his head to kiss her again.
“Go to sleep, my love,” he said as she settled in close to him.
He soon heard Griffa’s breathing become even indicating she was sound asleep. He closed his eyes and drifted off as well.
Ansel woke up to something tickling his face. His hand went to swat whatever it was away when he suddenly realized it was hair. He opened his eyes and looked over to find Griffa still by his side, but she had turned in the night. He could see that she was still sleeping soundly.
The room was filed with early morning light. He lain in bed looking at Griffa wondering if he should get up and go back to his own room. He thought they were probably past that at this point. Him being in Griffa’s room was a thing accepted by the household now. He didn’t care anyway. He wouldn’t be parted from her anytime he could help it. Which was why he would not be going with Hector Delis later this week.
He knew Griffa would argue with him. He knew she would tell him he needed to go, and she was probably right. Ansel just didn’t know if he could bear to leave her again so soon after what happened. His common sense told him she would be fine as would everyone else in the house. They would be even more cautious than before, not taking any visitors. His common sense said it would be fine, but the fear inside him told him if he left Griffa again she might not be there when he got back.
Ansel reached over to gently put his arm around Griffa. He held her, watching her sleep. She had said she loved him. He supposed he already knew this, but it made him smile to remember her saying it. There was no doubt in his mind anymore. He loved her.
He knew he was first pledged to his king. His life should belong to Max, his duty, but if it was ever between Griffa and his duty, he didn’t know how she wouldn’t come first. She stirred slightly, and Ansel removed his arm. He wanted her to sleep longer so he carefully rose from the bed and went to his own room down the hall to prepare for the day. After dressing, Ansel walked out into the silent house and down the stairs and to the parlor. He found Max sitting in a chair, reading a book.
“You’re up early, Max, or did you sleep at all last night?” asked Ansel as he came into the room.
“I slept some,” said Max not taking his eyes off his book. “I wanted to come down here and finish this before everyone woke up. I wanted to talk to Griffa about it today if she’s up to it.”
“I’m sure she will be glad to have something to do. I think she can handle a conversation. How long until you finish?” asked Ansel.
“I’m actually just about done, why?” inquired Max as he looked up from his book.
“What do you say to going outside and working through some things. We haven’t had much time for training lately. I’d also like a rematch for that duel when Griffa isn’t around to get you out of a jam,” said Ansel smiling.
Max put his book down. “Sounds good to me; let me go get my staff.”
Max and Ansel spent a pleasant early morning shooting curses and spells back at one another. In the end, Ansel was able to knock Max down and force him to yield.
“You are doing very well, Max,” said Ansel as they walked back to the house for breakfast. “You’ve come a long way, very fast. You should be proud.”
“Thank you, Ansel, but I think it says more about your and Griffa’s teaching,” replied Max. “Speaking of Griffa, has she convinced you to go with Hector?”
“Not yet. I just don’t feel right leaving her here, any of you really, after what happened.”
“It won’t happen again, Ansel. I wouldn’t let it. We can close the house to all visitors. You need to go. We can take care of ourselves here. Griffa is doing well, and she is strong.”
“And maybe if more time had passed, I would agree with you, Max, but it’s too fresh in my mind.”
“You can’t protect her or any of us every second, Ansel. At some point you are going to have to be away from Griffa and me,” said Max as they paused at the back door.
“Max, have you been speaking with Griffa about this?” asked Ansel
“She’s right you know,” responded Max.
“Of course, you take her side,” said Ansel rolling his eyes and opening the back door, walking into the house. Max followed. They laughed together as they entered the dining room. Ansel looked up and rolled his eyes again.
Griffa was sitting at the table between Nora and Issa, sipping tea. She looked up and smiled as Ansel. “Good morning, Ansel. It looks like you and Max were having a nice session in the backyard.”
Ansel sat down heavily in a chair across from Griffa, staring at her. He looked at Talon in the chair next to him who just shrugged. Maybell came in shaking her head and sat down next to Ansel.
“What are you doing down here?” asked Ansel.
“Having breakfast, of course. It’s a lovely day. I might sit outside for a bit,” said Griffa happily. “Eat, Ansel. The bacon is quite good this morning.”
Ansel looked at Maybell who sighed and shook her head again. Griffa raised her hand and the teapot came and poured tea into Ansel’s empty cup. Ansel looked at Max. This was the first time they had seen Griffa use magic. Ansel had sensed the magic still in Griffa, but he was relieved to see she had no problems using it. Max smiled at Ansel.
“What is it? Is something wrong? Did it spill?” asked Griffa seeing the look between Max and Ansel.
“No, it’s fine. It’s just good to see you feeling better, Griff,” replied Ansel putting food on his plate.
Griffa smiled at Ansel. “Will you meet with Hector today?”
“I’ll probably go meet with my guards quickly this afternoon and set everything up. Three can go ahead the night before. I can send two others to go with Hector the day of the meeting. I will write to Hector when everything is in place,” said Ansel putting some jam on his toast.
Griffa took a drink of tea and then put her cup down, looking at Ansel. “Quit being stubborn about this; you need to go with Hector. We need that information.”
“And we will get it. I have complete trust in my guards. There will be no issues,” insisted Ansel.
“What if there are, and you aren’t there. How would you feel then? You would be here just watching me sleep or read while something happens to Hector. I know you, Ansel, you wouldn’t be able to handle it. You need to go, it’s you job,” stressed Griffa.
“I don’t want to argue about this,” said Ansel calmly.
“Fine, then say you will go. Write to Hector now. You can send three guards ahead, but you will escort Hector yourself,” said Griffa sternly. She took a bite of bacon and swallowed.
“And what if this is just some trap set up to get to Max? What if I’m gone and something happens to one of you? Then what? You think I can live with that? Especially with what just happened to you, Griffa,” said Ansel angrily.
He didn’t want to do this in front of everyone. He stood up abruptly and walked out of the room through the entryway and into the parlor. A minute later, Griffa walked in.
“Ansel, why are you being so difficult? Something bad happened, but it’s over, it’s done. Nothing else has changed. We still have to win the kingdom. We still have to get Max to the throne of Aurumist. This meeting could move us closer to our goal. This is your life, why you are here,” argued Griffa. She swayed a moment but steadied herself by grabbing onto the couch.
Ansel rubbed his face with his hands. Why couldn’t she see that everything had changed? His duty may be to the king, to the kingdom, but his life belonged to her. He walked closer to Griffa. He took her hand and looked at her.
“Can you just try to understand? I had to watch you dying. I had to think about what my life would be without you. Do you know what I saw? It was an empty existence. I know I have a duty to Max, a duty to Regventus, but those don’t mean a thing to me if you aren’t here with me. I can’t lose you,” said Ansel. He was gripping her hand and staring at her, trying to make her understand.
Griffa’s eyes soften. “Ansel, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be by your side the whole time. We will win Regventus, and Max will be king. At the end, we will all three stand together, but to get there we will have to make sacrifices. There will be difficult times, but it will be worth it. I’m scared of losing you, too.
“I wish I could keep you here with me safe, but I know who you are. I love you. I love every part of you. I would never hold you back from what you need to do. Go with Hector, please. I will lock myself in my room if you want. I will lock us all in my room if that is what it takes. Please, just do what you need to do.” Tears were forming in Griffa’s eyes, and a few ran down her cheeks.”
Ansel took her face into his hands and wiped her tears with his thumbs. He couldn’t stand to see her cry. “I will go. I will. You are right, of course. You usually are. Promise me you will stay safe. Promise me you will be here when I get back,” implored Ansel.
“Of course. I will be waiting for you right here,” said Griffa quietly.
Ansel kissed her gently and quickly, but Griffa claimed his lips again and this kiss was more passionate. She wrapped her arms around Ansel as he held her. Hel heard someone come into the room. They broke apart and looked over to see Max and Talon standing in the doorway. Max had one eyebrow lifted, and Talon was smiling smugly.
“I was wondering if you want to talk about that book we were talking about yesterday, Griffa, but I can come back when you are less occupied,” offered Max.
“I was just going to say, I was leaving in a bit, but I can just leave with no fanfare,” said Talon.
“Goodbye, Talon, safe travels. You should come back later, Max,” said Ansel with a smile at Griffa.
Griffa wiped her cheeks and her lips with the back of her hands. “No, it’s fine. Come in Max, Talon. I need to sit down for a while anyway.”
Ansel escorted Griffa to the sofa. He sat down next to her as Max sat in a nearby chair. Talon stood close to the fireplace, watching. Max and Griffa talked about the possibilities of transporting objects for a while, with Talon interjecting comments every now and then. Eventually Max said goodbye to Talon and left to go find Issa.
“You are leaving today?” asked Griffa looking up at Talon.
Talon smiled at Griffa and walked over to sit next to her. “Yes, in a few minutes actually. I need to get back to the Valley, and you seem well on the road to recovery. You are in a particularly good mood today.”
Griffa blushed and looked down. “I am.” She looked up and smiled at Talon. “I am glad you came. I always enjoy visiting with you. I consider you a dear friend, Talon.”
Talon took Griffa’s hand and held it up to his lips. He kissed it and rested his chin on their conjoined hands. “You are very important to me, Griffa. You always will be. If you ever need me, just let me know. I hope you will take your place on the Ring soon.” Talon kissed her hand one more time and let it go.
“We will see,” said Griffa. She stood up and swayed slightly. Talon stood up and grabbed puller her to him. He wrapped his arms around her as she did the same to him.
“Please stay safe, Griffa. The kingdom needs you, and I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you,” said Talon as he kissed the top of her head and let her go. Griffa sat back down on the couch.
“Ansel, will you see me out?” asked Talon
Ansel nodded and stood up. He walked with Talon to the entry hall.
“I take it everything is as it should be?” questioned Talon.
“Yes, everything is clear and out in the open,” answered Ansel. He felt a small twinge of guilt, knowing he had not told Griffa about the blood magic they used on her.
“Good, take good care of her. I’m sure she will challenge you at times, but she is always worth it.” Talon gave Ansel as wicked grin. “You will find out soon enough.”
Ansel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Safe journey, Talon.”
“One more thing, Ansel. Griffa needs to be the leader of the Ring. It’s who she is meant to be. I hope you will encourage her.”
“If she decides that is her path, I will not stand in her way.”
Talon shook his head. “You can’t protect her forever. She is meant to lead. I meant it when I said the Valley council will not deal with the Ring until she is in her place. The Ring has never been the same since Renweard died. It needs a Keene at its head. Your encouragement will go a long way with Griffa.”
“I will discuss it with her when she is fully recovered. I will not push her into it, though. She will have to make the choice for herself.”
“Very well, let me know if I can help in anyway,” said Talon as he opened the door. “Don’t forget, Ansel, treat her well or answer to me.”
Talon slipped out the door. Ansel closed it and wondered what Talon would think if he knew what they had actually done to save Griffa’s life.
The next two days passed peacefully. Ansel spent time with Max, training. He watched Griffa grow stronger. The morning before he would leave, she actually sat on the grass outside while he and Max dueled, giving instructions and her opinions. In the late afternoon, Ansel prepared to leave. Everyone was gathered in the parlor.
“Remember, do not open the door to anyone, even if it is someone you know. Stay in the house and stay together. If anything happens, stay together. I won’t be gone long,” addressed Ansel to the group.
“You will need to get going to meet Hector,” said Griffa coming up to stand beside him. “Let me walk you out.”
She took Ansel’s arm and they walked out to the front portico. Ansel turned to look at her. He didn’t want to leave her. He was scared she wouldn’t be safe. Griffa seem to read his mind.
“I’ll be fine, Ansel. I will be. We all will be. Go do what you need to do and hurry back. I’ll be worrying about you, too. Come back as soon as you can.” She leaned up on her tip toes and kissed him lightly on his lips.
Ansel took her into his arms. “It won’t take long if everything goes to plan. Stay in the house, promise me. No walking, no standing out here watching. Promise me.”
Griffa nodded, and he kissed her. When they broke apart, Ansel put on his hat and walked a few feet away. He turned back to look at her. Griffa waved at him and walked into the house.
Ansel hurried to meet Hector at the gates of Abscon. When he got there, they greeted each other and traveled to the forest edge outside of Clarton. They hid in a small circle of trees. Ansel could just see the charred remains of Danin’s stables. They hadn’t been rebuilt by anyone yet. Ansel was greeted by his three guards. They reported they had seen nothing unusual. Ansel told them to spread out and to keep their eyes open.
“Isn’t this where our king grew up?” asked Hector quietly as they waited.
“It is. He worked in the stables just up there. They were burned down during the invasion of Aurumist soldiers this past fall. Max’s guardian was killed,” said Ansel.
“Poor boy, he has been through a lot for his young age,” sighed Hector.
Ansel nodded. Max’s life did have a lot of tragedy in it, but he was surrounded by friends now. For all he had endured, Ansel was proud of who Max was. He would make a good king someday.
They watched together in silence as the sun started to set. Ansel noticed a small disturbance to their right, and the hooded figure appeared. It walked over to stand a ways away from them in the hidden safety of the trees.
“Hello,” greeted Hector. “What do you have to tell us?”
“The king is safe? I heard that his home was attacked.” asked the figure.
“Yes, the king is very well. He was not harmed in any way,” answered Ansel.
“But someone was injured, weren’t they?” asked the figure. Hector looked at Ansel.
“Yes, someone was inured but she is recovering,” responded Ansel. “Now what do you have to tell us?”
“The palace has figured out how to release those with dormant magical blood. They plan to release those who follow the way of the Ancients to create a new order within the kingdom. They believe those with magical ability should rule over those who are non-gifted. I don’t think they wouldn’t mind if non-magical people died out completely. They have already started releasing some magical-blooded folk in the first ring of the city.””
“How are they doing this?” asked Hector. “How are they releasing the magic in people?”
“With this.” The figure pulled out a small vial. “It’s an elixir. I know it contains the blood of a magical folk, but I don’t know what else is in it. You may take it.”
Ansel looked at Hector who nodded. Ansel hesitated for a moment, but then held up his hand and summoned the vial to him. He looked at it. The liquid was the color of gold and the vial was warm in his hand.
“I also have this. It is a copy of writings of the one who made the potion. You may take it as well. I have the original.” The figure pulled out a scroll.
Ansel summoned it as well and it flew into his hand. “What of the spy who attempted to kill the king. Do you know where he is?”
“No, but he is still in touch with the palace. They are asking him to come there to teach them how to use magical ability. I don’t know his answer,” said the figure. “That is all I have. I will contact you again when I know more.” The figure turned and was gone.
Hector turned to Ansel. “That was interesting. What do you think is in that vial?”
“I don’t know, but I think between Griffa and Max, they could figure it out. It’s obviously some sort of blood magic. Can I take it and show it to them?” asked Ansel.
Hector nodded. “Give me the scroll. I will read over it and call the Ring into a meeting. I will want you and the king there. Will Gryphon be able to come?”
“She will come no matter how able she is. If you could hold it at the end of next week, it would be best.”
“Very well. Should we travel back?”
“Let me call my guards back,” replied Ansel.
After calling the guards they, traveled to the gates of Abscon.
“I hope you don’t mind if I walk ahead of you to get home. I am anxious to check on everyone,” said Ansel to Hector.
Hector smiled and nodded.
Ansel walked home quickly in the darkness. His heart was beating fast. He told himself that everything was fine, but his body wouldn’t listen. He broke out into a run when he saw the manor in the distance. Soon he was at the door. He busted in and walked into the parlor. He found Max and Issa cuddled up in a chair by the fireplace.
“Is everything ok? Where is Griffa?” demanded Ansel.
“It’s all fine,” said Max, standing up. “Griffa said to tell you she was sorry, but she was tired. She went up to her room to wait for you.”
Ansel nodded, left the room, bounding up the stairs. He walked down the hallway into Griffa’s room. She was sitting up in bed with a book. She smiled at him as he walked in.
“Did everything go as planned? Did you find out anything?” asked Griffa setting her book aside.
Ansel hurried over and sat next to her on the bed. He took her into his arms and kissed her. When he pulled back from her, she smiled and said, “I guess everything went well?”
Ansel moved her hair out of the way and kissed her neck. He murmured, “Everything went fine. I don’t want to talk about it tonight.”
“Very well,” said Griffa as she removed his hat. She released it from her hands, and it flew to her vanity. “What do you want to talk about?”
Ansel gave her a smirk. “I’m not good with words. I’d rather show you if you are feeling well.”
Griffa leaned forward and put her hand on his thigh before kissing him. As she pulled back, she lightly nipped at his lower lip. “I am feeling very well, so go ahead and show many anything you would like.”
Ansel felt his eyes widen slightly. He wondered what he had gotten himself into, loving such a woman, but he was very ready to find out.