Griffa sat at a table with a nice piece of cake and a full glass of wine. It had been a very good day. Issa and Max were talking to Edan and his new wife. Ansel was by Griffa’s side, and he seemed relaxed for once. She took a bite of her cake and turned to Ansel while swallowing.
“This has been nice. I’m so glad we could do this for Issa.”
“It has been nice,” agreed Ansel. He used his finger to wipe some icing off of Griffa’s cheek. “Edan’s bride seems like a nice woman. I hope they will be happy.”
“If they decide to be happy, they will be. Hard times might come, but if they commit they will see each other through them, then that will be that” said Griffa looking over at the newly-wedded couple.
“You make it sound very simple,” said Ansel.
“Isn’t it though?” asked Griffa looking back at Ansel.
“There are always many things we can’t control, but I won’t argue you with you today.”
Griffa laughed. “We should probably get going, shouldn’t we? It will be dark soon. I don’t want to keep your guards out in the forest for another night.”
Ansel nodded. “Finish your cake. I’ll go collect the others.”
Griffa watched as Ansel walked up to Max and Issa. He shook Edan’s hand and came back over to Griffa with Max and Issa in tow.
“Where’s Nora?” asked Griffa looking around. Nora was talking to a few older ladies at a table in the corner. Max left to go collect her and soon they were all ready to go. They waved goodbye to Edan and his new wife and stepped out into the cool evening air.
“I hope you enjoyed today, Issa,” said Griffa linking Issa’s arm with hers.
“I did. I like Meriam very much. I hope to visit next summer.”
“You might get to meet your new half-sister or brother by then,” said Griffa happily.
“You never know. Miriam is young and father is not so old himself. It would be wonderful,” smiled Issa.
The group walked through the outskirts of town and into the cover of the forest. As soon as they stepped into the tree line, Griffa’s senses went on alert. She dropped Issa’s arm and immediately summoned her staff to her.
“Ansel, do you sense it? Something is wrong,” said Griffa quietly.
Ansel looked at her and whispered to Max. “Summon your staff, now.” Max raised his hand and his staff flew into his hand.
Griffa turned to Issa and Nora. “Hold on you two.” She raised her hand, and the ladies flew up into a high large branch in a nearby tree. Griffa motioned for them to be quiet.
Griffa, Max, and Ansel stood back to back forming a triangle. Whatever was in the forest with them, Griffa knew it wasn’t friendly. She felt the hairs stand up on her arms. She could feel Ansel’s magic, and it was agitated. The all three looked around, waiting.
“Where are your guards, Ansel,” asked Griffa under her breath.
“I’m not sure. They should be around here somewhere.”
“Should we just get Nora and Issa and travel to Abscon?” Max asked.
“Can’t you feel it, Max?” Griffa kept looking around the forest. “We can’t travel. Someone has put a ward up, a powerful one.
All was quiet for a moment, and then the forest erupted into chaos. Aurumist soldiers encircled them with their hands up. Griffa could sense a great source of magic.
“Ansel, they can use magic. They must have used the potion,” cried Griffa frantically.
“I know, somehow we are going to have to fight through and get out of here,” replied Ansel.
The soldiers stared at Ansel, Max, and Griffa for a couple of moments, and then as if on command, they struck. Curses and spells flew at the three in the center from all directors. Griffa slammed her staff in the ground placing a barrier around them, deflecting curses. She kept it up as Ansel raised his hand and blew three soldiers back into nearby trees. Max raised his staff and brought it down and two more soldiers lost their footing and fell.
Back and forth it went until Griffa couldn’t block any more and she, Ansel, and Max had to move away to avoid any hits. Griffa jumped and rolled left. She quickly got up and pushed her hand at two soldiers. They flew to the side. She felt another one at her back, and she raised her staff to block a spell he threw at her. Then she turned and sent the soldier backwards into a tree with her raised hand.
Griffa lost track of where she was as she dodged and threw spells all around her. It couldn’t have been more than twenty soldiers, but they were strong and well trained. She looked around for Ansel and Max. She saw Max between two soldiers blocking curses. She threw a blast of wind and blew one back while Max lifted one into the air and threw him to the side. Max ran towards her. The backed into each other looking around.
“Where’s, Ansel?” said Griffa dodging a spell.
She saw Max look over to her left. “There, he’s there.”
Griffa turned to look, and she saw Ansel fighting with three soldiers. He threw two easily to the side, but then he paused and looked at something to his right. Griffa looked too and saw Philo Quick. Ansel turned and ran towards Philo. Griffa ran after him.
She was interrupted in her pursuit by two soldiers who each had a lit torch in their hand. The fire launched at her. She raised her hand, and a wind blew the fire away from her. She bent down and moved her hand across her body. The soldiers doubled over as if being hit in the stomach. She ran by them hitting them both with her staff. She finally caught up to where Ansel was. He was exchanged curses and words with Philo.
“You brought that deadly poison into our house to kill Max,” seethed Ansel angrily sending a wave of power at Philo.
“I did. Too bad it didn’t work; I could have gotten rid of all of you. Last I heard that little Keene girl was dying, but I guess she recovered sadly.” Philo looked over Ansel’s shoulder and sent a spell at Griffa.
Ansel turned to look at her as Griffa deflected the spell but was thrown to the ground by the force. Philo took advantage of Ansel’s momentary lapse of attention and sliced a curse at him. It hit Ansel’s shoulder, splitting it open. Griffa saw a spray of Ansel’s blood fly through the air, and he fell hard to the ground.
“No, “she scream. She hopped up off the ground and pushed down with her hand. She flew in an arc and landed standing over Ansel staring at Philo.
Philo smirked at her and raised his hand. Before he could strike, a spell from above caused him to throw up a block as two of Ansel’s guards landed next to Griffa. Griffa pushed out her staff and sent Philo sprawling on to the ground, hitting his head on a rock. He sat up and looked at Griffa dazed and then fell backwards.
Griffa bent down to check on Ansel, as Max ran up to them and kneeled beside her.
“Ansel,” she said helping him to sit up. She looked at his shoulder. His wound was deep and long, and dark blood was running from it.
“I’m okay, Griff. I really am.”
She looked at him. “You will be; hold on.” Griffa hovered her hand over his wound and concentrated. The skin worked its way together. It was nasty and red, but the bleeding had almost stopped. “That’ll do until we can get you home.”
“How are we going to do that, Griffa?” asked Ansel standing up and looking around them.
Twelve soldiers were moving towards them, their hands out front. Ansel’s guards moved in front of Max, Griffa, and Ansel and spread out. They were far outnumbered. Griffa heard Philo stirring behind them.
She looked up in a tree ahead and saw Nora and Issa crouching down and looking at them. She looked over at Ansel and saw his ashen face and his weak posture. They had to get out of there now, but how? She tried to think over the terror in her head. She moved back against Ansel and Max and touched their hands, feeling a jolt of magic from both of them. She had an idea.
“Max,” she called over her shoulder. “How would you like to try to move something living? You wanted to do that, didn’t you?”
Max catching on to her idea said, “Yes, I did. We can do this, Griffa. Where do you want them to go?”
“Do you remember that field I showed you on the map in Aurumist?” asked Griffa.
“Yes,” said Max. He grabbed for her hand, and she caught it in her own.
“Ansel, can you protect us for a moment. Are you able?” Griffa closed her eyes and concentrated.
“Yeah, Griff, I will keep you both safe,” said Ansel.
Griffa kept her eyes closed. She felt Max’s magic mingling with her own though their connected hands. She envisioned the soldiers and the field in Aurumist. She focused, feeling the magic all around her. She could feel Max’s magic stronger than ever. It ran up her arm and into her body. She could feel Ansel’s magic cover them all three. She knew it was protector’s magic. It must have been covering her through Max’s magic. It made her feel powerful and safe. It gave her a sense of peace.
She felt so warm, like she was glowing. She could feel her hair being lifted off of her back as if she was standing in a strong wind. She knew spells and curses where being flung at them, but she could barely register their existence. She lived within a protective shield of magic.
She squeezed Max’s hand and opened her eyes. She had no doubt they would be successful. She raised her free hand the same time as Max raised his, and the forest erupted in light around them. The world vanished, and Griffa was only aware of the two men next to her. She felt tethered to them both by some invisible, unbreakable rope. The light was blinding. After what felt like forever, but was probably just a moment, the light faded, and the forest was quiet.
The magic shield disappeared, and Griffa’s hand felt like it was on fire. She released Max’s hand. Ansel fell over, and Griffa kneeled down to help him.
“Max, get Nora and Issa and get to the gates. I’m taking Ansel now,” said Griffa urgently
“What about my guards?” asked Ansel weakly.
Griffa looked behind her, and Ansel’s guards were close to the tree Issa and Nora were in, walking around looking dazed.
“They are fine. They can come with the others. I need to get you home.,” said Griffa talking quickly. She just wanted to get Ansel home so she could help him. He had lost a lot of blood.
Griffa gave Max a wave to get going before she touched Ansel and concentrated. They traveled together to the gates of Abscon. Griffa touched the tree and performed the necessary spell. She helped Ansel enter, and they awkwardly made their way towards Abscon. Griffa didn’t know how they would make it all the way. She could levitate him by magic, but it would still take too long. Ansel looked like he could pass out at any moment.
She looked around them and saw two cottages up ahead. She helped Ansel to make it up the road. An old man had a horse outside one of the houses and was staring at them. Griffa knew she had seen the man before, but she couldn’t remember his name. She ran over to him.
“Hello, I’m Gryphon Keene, and I believe we have met before. I don’t have time to chat, but if you will loan me that horse, I will pay whatever you want. Name you price.”
The man smiled at her. “I know who you are Miss Keene. You can take her if you want for however long you want. I don’t need any payment.”
Griffa smiled at him and grabbed the bridle on the horse. She brought it over to Ansel remembering to send a big reward back with the animal. Somehow with Griffa’s help, Ansel got on the horse. Griffa crawled up behind him and took the reins. She somehow supported Ansel and guided the mare. She used her memory for most of the way as she couldn’t see very well over Ansel.
Soon they were home. Griffa pulled up to the portico. She hopped down and helped Ansel onto the ground, leaving the horse to graze on the front lawn. He leaned on her heavily as she brought him into the house. She heard Maybell exclaim from the doorway of the kitchen, but Griffa paid her no mind. She took Ansel to the living room and deposited him on the couch.
She ran past Maybell to her cellar. She looked through her stash quickly and grabbed a potion, some balm, and some bandages. She flew back up the stairs, past Maybell again and into the parlor. She went to Ansel and sat on the sofa. She pulled his head into her lap.
“Ansel, you have to take this. You are very weak and lost a lot of blood. This will make it better,” said Griffa soothingly. She put the bottle to his lips, and Ansel opened his mouth and raised his head to take the potion. “Good. That will take a few minutes to work. Let me treat that arm.”
Griffa stood putting Ansel’s head carefully down on the couch. She crouched on the floor to look at Ansel’s shoulder. It was mostly still together from her earlier spell. She put her hands over it again and the skin moved together cleaner and less red. Griffa put the balm on the wound and wrapped it.
She stood up off the ground and realized how exhausted she was. She walked over to the chair by the couch and flopped down into it. She looked up to see Maybell staring at her.
“Don’t ask me now, Maybell. It was bad, but we are all alight. Max and the others will be home soon. I don’t have the energy to explain it.”
Maybell nodded. “I’ll get you all some food and drinks. Maybe get some water sent upstairs.”
“Please let Wallis know there is a horse grazing on the front lawn. Have him see to the horse for the night. I will have it sent back to its owner tomorrow.”
Maybell nodded and left the room. Griffa let out a breath and went to rub her face. She looked at the hand that had been holding Max’s. It was bright red with huge ugly boils forming on it. Now, that her adrenaline was wearing off, Griffa felt the ache in her hand. She reached over to get some of the balm. She applied it to her hand and bandaged it. She made sure to save some for Max, knowing he would need it.
She laid her head back against her chair and closed her eyes. Her body ached and she was unbelievably tired. She would be happy to sleep in this chair for a week and not move. Just as she was drifting off, she heard Ansel sit up on the couch.
“Griffa, is everyone alright? Did we all make it back?”
“We did Ansel. Max, Issa, and Nora will be here soon” Griffa opened her eyes and pushed herself up in the chair. “I’ll go see about helping Maybell getting you something to eat. You will need to eat with that potion.”
Ansel nodded at her. “Did you and Max really send all those soldiers and Philo back to Aurumist?”
“I think so. I suppose I should hope they all arrived in one piece, but I find that I don’t care at the moment,” said Griffa standing up. “Rest, Ansel. I’ll be back soon.”
Griffa turned to leave, but Ansel caught her hand. He pulled her down on to his lap and held her tightly with his good arm. She leaned against him and closed her eyes. She sat in his half embrace for a few moments before she heard him whisper, “Thank you, Griffa.”
Griffa gently kissed his cheek and pushed herself off of his lap. She walked out into the entry hall to find Max, Issa, and Nora coming in the front door. Issa and Nora hugged her. Nora went into the kitchen to help Maybell as Issa stayed behind with Max and Griffa.
“Is Ansel alright?” asked Max.
“He’s fine. He’ll be sore, but he should regain most of his strength quickly. Are you alright, Max?” She gently picked up his hand and turned it over. It was burned with large blisters just like her own. “We need to get this taken care of.”
Max nodded, and he and Issa followed Griffa back into the parlor. Ansel was slouched on the sofa with his head leaned back against the cushions, and his eyes closed. Griffa had Max sit in a chair while she kneeled in front of him and bandaged his hand. Nora and Maybell brought in a tray of sandwiches and some wine as Griffa sat next to Ansel on the sofa. She nudged Ansel awake to eat.
“So, what happened out there?” asked Issa. “I couldn’t see well from the tree, and it was getting dark, but there were soldiers everywhere. Then there was a bright light, and they were all gone. Where did they go?”
“Hopefully to Aurumist,” said Max. “That’s where we meant for them to go.”
“It’s too bad I never showed you the canyon at the north of the kingdom. We could have thrown them all in there,” remarked Griffa, “or at least Philo. I don’t like using extreme force on anyone, but it may come to that soon.”
“Griffa and I have been working on moving things over long distances with magic. We’ve never done anything living or out of Abscon, but somehow I think we did it,” said Max picking up a sandwich. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I just knew we could do it.”
Griffa nodded as the others chatted. She glanced at Ansel who was quiet and looked thoughtful. Griffa remembered what it felt like to be covered in his protector’s magic. She wished she knew more about protectors and their kings and queens. She would have to find some books on the subject. Ansel must have felt her eyes on him, and he turned to Griffa.
“Are you okay, Griffa?” he asked quietly.
“I’m fine, Ansel. I just have a lot on my mind, but I don’t want to deal with any of it tonight.”
Eventually everyone started going upstairs to clean up and go to bed. Nora and Maybell said their good nights early, while Max and Issa talked a while longer. Before long, Griffa and Ansel were alone on the sofa.
“Ansel, asked Griffa, “What do you know about protector’s magic? I mean you and Max have a connection, don’t you? Your magic knows his and reacts to it.”
Ansel looked at her. “I haven’t thought much about it. I know I am bound to him magically, and theoretically I am supposed to be able to protect him from threats. Why do you ask?”
“I’m not sure I want to get into it much tonight, but when I was connected to Max, I think I could feel your protector’s magic. It made me feel strong and safe. I think you helped us to be able to pull that off tonight.”
Ansel looked at her for a moment. “I wondered if I had imagined it.”
“No, I don’t think you did. I’m too tired now to think it over, but soon I want to study more about it.” Griffa yawned.
“Of course, you do,” said Ansel smiling at her. “Are you ready for bed?”
“You go on up, Ansel. I think I’ll just stay down here tonight. There is no way I’m getting up those stairs, and I know you can’t carry me. I don’t want to be levitated either. It always makes me nauseous. I’ll just curl up here on the sofa,” said Griffa stretching.
Ansel pulled her to him. He lay down on the sofa, positioning his hurt shoulder. He pulled Griffa down next to him and carefully put his arm around her. She snuggled into to Ansel and his warmth. She closed her eyes and fell asleep to his voice in her ear. “Goodnight, my love.”