Max made a wide circle around Griffa with his hands up. She was standing very still and straight, holding her staff. He watched her closely, looking for any sign of movement. A strong breeze sent her dark, red curls circling around her face, but she remained still.
“Wait for it, Max,” said Ansel. He was standing close by, watching. “When she strikes, try to block it.”
Max continued to circle, trying to keep his guard up, waiting. The late spring sun was shining, and it was becoming hot even though it was just mid-morning. Max felt sweat drip down his forehead and into his eyes. He swiped at it, making him miss Griffa’s very subtle movement. Her spell was upon him before he even had time to react. It threw him down on the ground, flat on his back. He quickly popped back up and saw Griffa give a quick smile.
“Try again, Max,” said Ansel. “Watch her closely.”
Max started his circle again, not daring to blink in case he missed something. Suddenly Griffa crouched and turned sharply. Max tried to react, but his feet were swept out from under him. He landed on his side with a thud.
“You have to be ready for anything,” chidedAnsel, sounding inpatient.
Max got up slowly off the ground. He had spent all morning getting thrown around, and he was getting tired of it.
“Why don’t you show me how it’s done, if you think it’s so easy,” barked Max in irritation. “I need a break.” Max walked over to a tree to sit in the shade. He grabbed a water skin there and took a long drink.
“What do you say, Ansel?” asked Griffa smiling. “Want to go a round? It could help you get ready for the summer festival if we have one. Who knows, maybe you will be paired with me for dueling?”
Ansel smiled at Griffa. “Sure, Griff, but I hope I’m not paired with you this summer. I’d hate to make you look like a fool in front of the entire village.”
Griffa raised one eyebrow. “Come on then, Ansel, if you think it will be that easy to beat me.”
Ansel walked over and started circling Griffa as Max had done. He had a half smile on his face and both of his hands up, ready. Griffa again stood perfectly still, her hair moving in the breeze. Max watched as they both continued in this way for several minutes. Finally, Griffa slid her staff down to her left. Max watched as Ansel moved his hand, blocking her spell. Ansel pushed back, and Griffa used her staff to try to block, but she was still shoved lightly to the left.
Griffa looked determined now. She spun around to her left, moving her staff down. Ansel tripped on her spell, but stayed upright. He moved to his right and pushed with his hands. Griffa stumbled but did not fall. She moved closer to Ansel, putting both hands on her staff and slamming it into the ground. Ansel jumped up and hovered for a moment, before landing softly on his feet.
“You’ll have to try harder than that, Griffa, if you want to knock me down,” taunted Ansel.
“Who says I’m really trying, yet?” asked Griffa in response.
Ansel gave her a smirk, wiping at the sweat on his forehead. He suddenly struck out his hand, but Griffa saw his spell coming and blocked it with her staff. She then moved her free hand up in the air and down. Ansel dodged to the right and lunged for her, but she moved just out of his grasp, touching him with her hand as he flew past her. He suddenly went rigid in the air and fell flat on his face. Griffa laughed, but Ansel did not move. She suddenly looked concerned and walked over to Ansel. When she got close to him, Ansel pushed himself up swiftly in a sitting position and moved his right hand up. Griffa’s feet went from under her, and she fell hard on her backside. She sat there stunned for a moment.
“Ugh, Ansel. I thought you were really hurt,” complained Griffa, rubbing her lower back in her seated position.
Ansel got on his feet and walked over to Griffa, offering her a hand up. “You have to be ready for anything, Griffa,” insisted Ansel as he pulled Griffa to her feet.
“I did get you, though. I knocked you down first,” Griffa pointed out as she stretched her back.
“You did, but I didn’t stay down, and I didn’t yield,” said Ansel smiling at her.
“We will call it a draw for now,” said Griffa walking over to sit by Max. “We will finish this at a later date.”
Ansel walked over and flopped down on the ground next to Griffa. He wiped his forehead with his forearm, laughing. Max was happy to hear laughing again. It had been a long winter after the events at Clarton. Danin’s death and the events at Clarton settled over the house as the snows piled deep around Abscon. The halls of Keene manor had been quiet and somber.
Time did its work and combined with the warmer weather of spring, life around them went on. Max still missed Danin. He felt awful for Nora, who was figuring out how to live in her new circumstances, but he was surrounded by people he loved. He had Issa by his side now. He looked over at Ansel and Griffa smiling at each other and felt at peace.
Since the events at Clarton, Abscon had been on high alert. Max had expected something big to happen all through winter, but no real news ever came. Sometimes the Ring would meet and ask to see Ansel. He would come back and tell them of spies hearing about plots and plans, but nothing concrete.
There were a few instances where Ansel would have to leave for days at a time to scout out towns in The Great Surrounding and meet with different people. Sometimes Griffa would convince him to let her come along, but most times Ansel would want her to stay to watch over Max and the others. Lately there had been no new news. Life went on in Regventus as it had for a long time. Max knew something was coming, but he was glad for the quiet now, so he could train and prepare.
“Max,” said Griffa looking at him, “I hear your birthday is next week. Why didn’t you tell us? Issa is dying to do something special.”
Max shrugged. “I didn’t think we should be celebrating in times like this. I know it’s been quiet, but it feels like everything could change at any moment.”
“That’s exactly why we should celebrate now. We need good times to get us through the hard times up ahead. I want to have a party. Nothing big, just a nice dinner. We can invite a few people from Abscon, whoever you would like,” said Griffa happily.
“You will have to invite the entire Ring then,” said Ansel. “Word will get out it’s Max’s birthday, and they will all be insulted if they aren’t a part of the king’s celebrations.”
Griffa gave a great sigh. “Fine, but it will be short notice so perhaps some won’t be able to come.”
Ansel stood up, “Come on, let’s go to the house. I think we’ve all had enough training for today.”
He offered Griffa his hand. She took it, and he helped her up. Max hopped up on his own, and they walked into the back door. Griffa excused herself to go upstairs to clean up. Ansel went to see if there were any letters that had come for him. Max decided to go to the kitchens to see if he could sneak a snack as lunch was still an hour away.
He walked into the kitchens to see Nora kneading some dough as Maybell stirred a pot on the stove with a spoon in one hand while she used her other hand to charm a knife to chop vegetables.
“Hello, Max”, greeted Nora smiling at him. Her petty brown eyes still had a hint of sadness that no smile could hide.
Max smiled back, again feeling a little of the shame he still felt in Danin’s death. Everyone had told him it wasn’t his fault, but he felt his brashness had attributed to it. It wasn’t something he would ever be able to push away. He would have to live with it.
“Hello, Nora, Maybell,” said Max grabbing an apple off the table. “How are you today?”
“Busy, and I hear I will be even busier next week. Griffa informed me this morning that our young king’s birthday celebration is next week,” said Maybell smiling at Max.
“That’s right,” agreed Nora. “Your last birthday before you hit the age of maturity. I can’t believe how fast you have grown up.” Nora looked a little misty eyed smiling at Max. “I’ll help you with everything, Maybell, where I can. I know I don’t have your skill, but I’d like to be involved.”
“Of course, dear. You bake better with no magic than I ever could with it. You should make the king’s cake.”
Nora nodded and looked happy.
“Do either of you know where Issa is this morning?” asked Max with a mouthful of apple.
“Max, don’t chew with your mouth full,” huffed Nora shaking her head.
Max swallowed quickly. “Sorry, have you seen her?”
“I believe she went to the conservatory to read this morning. She likes the plants in there,” answered Nora, dividing her dough, and putting it into pans.
“Thanks,” said Max. He threw his apple core in the trash and grabbed another apple.
As he left the kitchen, he heard Nora yell, “Max, lunch is in an hour. I swear your stomach is a bottomless pit.”
Max walked to the conservatory and found Issa in a chair by the large glass walls. She had her nose buried in a book.
“Good morning,” said Max as he sat in a chair next to her. “What are you reading?”
“It’s a book on archery Griffa found for me,” said Issa not looking up. Max glanced over her shoulder to get a closer look at her book.
“Why are you reading about archery?” asked Max looking over the diagrams drawn in the book.
Issa’s face went red. “Well, I thought maybe I could learn. You all have these amazing skills. I want to be able to do something.”
“What do you mean you want to be able to do something?” asked Max. “What do you hope to be able to do?”
“Max, we don’t know what’s going to happen. You might have to fight. You don’t think I’m not going to come with you, do you?”
“What!” cried Max. “Issa, there is no way you will even get close to any fighting. You can stay here no matter what happens.”
Issa screwed up her mouth and put her book down. “I don’t think I have to ask your permission to do anything. I want to be able to help if it comes to it. I won’t go looking for trouble, but I thought I better be prepared.”
“Who put this in your mind? Was is Griffa?” asked Max. He stood up.
“Well, she told me her dad taught her archery, and she thought she could teach me a little. Max where are you going?” asked Issa as Max walked off.
“I’m going to find Griffa so I can tell her this isn’t going to happen,” explained Max angrily. He heard Issa run up behind him.
“Really, Max. This is my choice. Why are you so angry?” asked Issa as she walked quickly besides him through the house.
Max was too mad to respond. He knew one day soon he would probably have to fight, but he never thought about Issa being in harm’s way. He thought she would stay here, well-guarded at Keene Manor. He never dreamed she would be out on a battlefield. Seeing her hurt in Clarton was bad enough. Imaging what could happen to her in an all-out battle was something Max couldn’t even let himself think about.
Max and Issa made it to the parlor. Ansel was sitting at the desk in the corner, and Griffa was coming in the door having cleaned up and changed.
“Griffa!” shouted Max angrily. “What made you think it’s ok for Issa to learn archery?”
Griffa looked confused at first, but then her expression turned hard. “I didn’t think she needed your permission to do anything. She doesn’t belong to you. She told me she wanted a way to defend herself, fight if she needed to, and I thought archery would be a good solution.”
“She will never need to defend herself. She will never be close to any battle,” snapped Max angrily.
“Max, it’s my decision,” said Issa, putting a hand on Max’s shoulder.
Max brushed her off and kept staring at Griffa.
“You will not teach her archery,” demanded Max. He felt something building in him, something he couldn’t control.
“I will if she wishes it,” stated Griffa loudly.
Max was breathing hard. His vision was cloudy. All he could think of was Issa getting hurt, because of him, because of who he was. He moved towards Griffa. She looked startled and took a step back.
Ansel moved quickly forward, and stepped between Max and Griffa. “Max, I think you need to calm down, and we can talk about this,” said Ansel reaching out a hand towards Max.
Something inside of Max snapped. He felt it moved through his body and out. Suddenly Ansel was knocked backwards. He hit the wall hard, his head smacking against it.
“Ansel!” cried Griffa. She ran over to Ansel.
Max was shocked. What had he done? Issa backed away from him and looked frightened.
Griffa was crouched down next to Ansel. “Ansel, are you alright? Ansel.” She sounded frantic.
Ansel sat up slightly and rubbed the back of his head. “I’m alright, Griffa. It’s just going to be a bump.”
Griffa looked at the back of his head, searching under his hair.
“Really, I’m fine,” insisted Ansel. He slowly got up off the ground, and Griffa stood up as well.
“Max, what was that?” Ansel asked worriedly.
“I’m not sure,” mumbled Max. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why that happened. I was just so angry and worried about Issa, and I lost control.” Max turned to Issa. “I’m sorry, Issa. It’s alright. I just don’t like the idea of you fighting and getting hurt.”
Issa slowly walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “I know, Max. I’m not going to go look for a fight. I just want to be ready in case something happens. Besides, I get bored sometimes. I would like something else to keep me busy.”
Max nodded and looked at Ansel. “Are you sure you are alright?” asked Max.
“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just a little bump. I’m sure Griffa can give me something for my headache,” said Ansel pointedly.
Griffa nodded and then darted out of the room towards the cellar.
“Max, we need to talk about what just happened. It seems the magic in you has come to the surface, and you will need to learn to control it. You can’t let your emotions get the better of you,” said Ansel eyeing him.
Max nodded. “I understand. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Ansel sat down on the sofa rubbing his head. Issa led Max to a chair and made him sit down. She took the one next to him as Griffa walked in with a small vial. She gave it to Ansel who drank down the liquid inside. He shook his head and smiled.
“Thanks, that’s a lot better,” said Ansel to Griffa. She smiled and sat down next to Ansel, looking at the back of his head. Ansel grabbed her hand. “I’m fine, Griff, quit fussing.” Griffa sighed and put her hand in her lap.
“Max, you have a lot of magic in you, powerful magic. If you don’t control it, it can do a lot of damage.” explained Ansel.
“Remember, magic is alive, and it lives inside you. It feels what you feel and reacts. If you don’t learn to listen to it and react as well, it will consume you,” said Griffa.
“I understand,” said Max. “It’s another thing I need to learn.” He looked at Issa. “I’m sorry. I over reacted. Of course, you can do whatever you wish. You don’t need my permission.”
Issa smiled. “It’s okay, Max. I should have told you about it. I was going to.”
Max nodded. “Griffa, I shouldn’t have gotten angry with you. Of course, you want to help, Issa. Archery sounds interesting. Maybe I could join in on lessons as well?”
“You are free to join us when you are able, Max. I understand you want to keep Issa safe, but she is a strong young lady. You have to trust she can take care of herself.”
“I’m so sorry, Ansel. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“I know, Max. Come on let’s not sit here all day and talk about this. Lunch will be soon. I think a break from training this afternoon would be good for you,” said Ansel. “Why don’t you grab some lunch and go somewhere outside with Issa?”
“That sounds like a great idea,” declared Issa, standing up. “Come on, Max, let’s go see if we can grab some food from the kitchen.”
Max agreed and followed Issa out of the room. They went to the kitchen and explained what they wanted to do. Maybell and Nora helped them pack some food.
“You will need a blanket for the lawn,” said Nora as she put some rolls in a basket.
“I have one upstairs we can use,” said Max.
He left the kitchen and went to the entry hall to walk up the stairs when he heard Griffa say his name in the parlor. Max stood next to the door of the parlor to listen to what she and Ansel were talking about.
“That was no ordinary release of magic, Ansel,” said Griffa. “He could have killed you.”
“It wasn’t so bad, Griffa, but it definitely wasn’t normal. Max has some extraordinarily powerful magic in him. I thought when he claimed his title, it would help settled him, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“I know. We will have to watch it. This could be dangerous for him and those around him. I have some ideas to help him. We can talk about it later,” said Griffa. “Come on, you need to be still for a while. Why don’t you go to the conservatory and find a nice chair, and I will bring us some food? I promise I’ll even be quiet for a while.”
Max hurried up the stairs, not wanting them to know he was eavesdropping. He went to his room to grab a blanket. He paused for a moment and sat on his bed.
He thought over what Ansel and Griffa had said. He wondered if he really was dangerous. They had said he had powerful magic in him. If he didn’t learn to control it, he could hurt someone he cared about, even Issa without meaning to. Max was worried. He heard Issa calling his name from down the stairs, so he found a blanket and walked out of his room, feeling very uneasy.