The past two weeks Ansel had tried to make more of an effort to engage with people in the house. He tried to be friendly and seem at ease. The problem was he was never at ease. He worried about Max and his future. He wasn’t sure he was doing enough to prepare the boy. He worried about the future of Regventus. If they failed and the Lord of the Kingdom had his way, what kind of kingdom would people be forced to live in?
He spent many hours worrying about Griffa. Madam Sidora’s instructions at Max’s party had put Ansel on constant guard. He also blamed Sidora’s words for the bad dreams he had been having. He hadn’t been sleeping well. He was worried the dreams would come.
Ansel would train with Max hard so he would be exhausted at the end of the day. He would stay up late reading and thinking over different scenarios. He had hoped all of this would help him fall asleep too exhausted to dream. His mind would usually wonder to Griffa late at night. He would think over the words she said to him. She wanted him. She wasn’t giving up on him. He would think of the feel of her soft curls and remember the pleasure of brushing her lips with his own. He would usually lay in his bed late at night, his head full of Griffa.
Ansel would then berate himself. He would hear his father’s voice in his head calling him weak and foolish. His father, Barin, had been a hard man, expecting perfection at all times. He wanted a family of many sons, but Ansel’s mother had only been able to carry Ansel to term. She delivered three deceased children during their marriage, the last one taking her life.
Barin blamed her for being weak. She died when Ansel was eleven. This only caused Barin to push Ansel even further. He would demand focus. He taught Ansel that his duty was his life. If Ansel faltered or let up, he was punished harshly. When Ansel was twelve, he was sent to Keene Manor to learn from Renweard. Barin was sent by the Ring to recruit and train protector guards in the Valley. Ansel was relieved to be away from his father.
He experienced a different life in Keene Manor. Renweard was a gentle and understanding teacher. Ansel was sent to the mansion to learn potions, but he learned so much more. He learned that a man could love his wife and respect her. Griffa’s mother was intelligent and witty. Renweard doted on her and included her in all aspects of his life. Renweard would encourage Ansel to be easier on himself when he made a mistake, and to see it as an opportunity to learn.
Ansel spent many years in Keene manor, most by his own choice. When Ansel at seventeen, received word that his father had died in an accident while training in the valley, he did not mourn. Renweard, still feeling the loss of his wife even years later, tried to help Ansel express his grief, but in truth he felt none in the loss of his father.
Ansel felt freedom. He could final feel free to do what he like, and he did. He traveled and caroused with a group of friends his age. He was called to collect Max, but was then relieved to hand the child off quickly. He eventually fell into a horrible affair with Desmona Delis. He spent two years chasing after Desma, being tormented with guilt, lust, and anger.
When Ansel was twenty two, Renweard wrote for Ansel to come see him. He confronted him kindly but sternly. He reminded him he had a duty and a purpose. Ansel had been neglecting what he was called to do. He had been living without a purpose. Renweard asked him if he was happy, truly happy in what he was doing. Ansel could not say that he was.
Renweard invited him to stay full time at the manor. Ansel took him up on his offer and it changed the course of his life. He spent his days working on reforming the protector’s guard that had gone into disarray and taking care of other areas of his life that he had neglected.
He remembered spending free time riding over the ground with Renweard and a young Griffa. He spent evenings reading alongside them both. He participated in lively dinner conversations with Renweard and his daughter. Griffa was always encouraged to speak her mind. Renweard and Griffa changed him and healed him.
Two nights before the duels and the opening of the summer festival, Ansel lay on top of his bed fully clothed. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to stay awake and not be lost in the nightly terrors he had lately experienced. He fought sleep for as long as he could, but eventually his eyes closed, and he lost the battle. His dreams that night started with the memory of the day he got the news of Renweard’s death.
Ansel had been gone for a month from Abscon, training protector guards in other magical communities. One night after dinner when he was staying somewhere close to the Valley, he received a message that Renweard had died while riding with his daughter. Ansel was devastated. He thought of a sixteen year of Griffa all alone in the manor, grieving her father. He left as quickly as he could, traveling magically to the front door of Keene Manor. He was let in by a teary-eyed Maybell.
“Where is she?” asked Ansel as soon as Maybell let him in.
“In the study, but she won’t see anyone. She’s been in there since it happened, and she won’t come out,” sobbed Maybell, fresh tears falling down her face. Ansel gave Maybell a reassuring squeeze on her arm.
“I will go to her,” he said. He walked quickly to the study door and knocked, but there was no answer.
“Griffa, it’s Ansel,” he said gently. “Let me in, please.” He heard nothing, but the door swung open slowly. He walked in and found Griffa with her head laying on her father’s desk, her face was red and raw with tears, but she was not crying at the moment.
Ansel didn’t know what to say. He walked over to her and knelt by her side. He looked at her. She was so young. She had not only lost her father, but she had gained much responsibility and burdens as well. She was the only Keene in the world. She would have so much to deal with and no family left to help her.
Griffa took her head off her desk and looked at Ansel. “I don’t know what happened. We were riding out in the fields. He seemed so happy, and then he just fell off his horse. I went to him, but he wasn’t moving or breathing. I tried so many spells to revive him, but nothing worked. He was just gone.”
“I’m sure you did everything, Griffa. This was not your fault.”
“What will I do, Ansel? I can’t do this all alone. I can’t lead the Ring and take care of the manor. I can’t be who he was,” Griffa quavered. Her eyes were frantic. “I can’t do this.”
“You can, Griffa, and you won’t be alone. You have Maybell, Jonthon, and Wallis. They will help you. You also have me. I will be here, and I will help you. We will get through this.”
Griffa smiled sadly and nodded her head.
“Now, Maybell is worried. You need to eat and sleep,” said Ansel standing.
Griffa tried to stand but was weak in her grief. She stumbled as she pushed herself off of the desk, and Ansel caught her. He crumbled on the floor with her in his arms. He held her close as she cried anew, his own tears falling on her shoulder.
In his dream, sixteen-year-old Griffa disappeared out of his arms. Ansel stood up confused and saw a nine-year-old Griffa standing in front of him. Her curly hair was wild and sticking up in odd places. Her light green dress was dirty, and grass stained. She looked like she had been rolling in back lawn.
“Why are you so sad all the time?” asked nine-year-old Griffa.
Ansel remembered her asking this when Renweard had called him back to the manor after his failed relationship with Desmona.
“I loved a woman, but she did not want me,” said Ansel.
Young Griffa looked at him with narrowed eyes. “If she doesn’t want you, then she’s stupid. You shouldn’t love a stupid woman. Why would you want someone like that?”
Ansel chuckled as young Griffa came and took his hand. She led him out of the study and through a series of doors. He looked down at her to ask where they were going, when he found that she had disappeared. Ansel suddenly felt lonely, scared, and desperate to find Griffa. His usual nightmare began. He began the familiar run through the house, and the screaming of Griffa’s name. He tried to wake himself, to tell himself this was just a dream, but he was trapped. He found himself once again in a room with Griffa lying on the floor, surrounded in dark blood. He was forced to look into her lifeless eyes.
Ansel sat up in bed full awake. He banged the back of his head against his headboard. His heart was racing, and he was sweating. His breathing was fast and uneven. His skin prickled with unsettled magic that made him feel sick. He jumped up out of bed. He had to see her, just a glimpse. He wouldn’t wake her, but he would peek in on her. Hopefully, her door was unlocked.
Ansel quietly went out into the dark hallway and walked down past the stairs towards Griffa’s room. When he got to the door, he saw that it was slightly ajar. She must not have closed in all the way. He gently swung the door open and peered into the room. In the moonlight streaming through the curtains he could see Griffa sound asleep in her bed. She lay on her side with her hand under her cheek. He gazed at her, watching the rise and fall of the covers as she breathed in and out.
Ansel, feeling a little better, went to leave when he stepped back on a slightly loose floorboard. The small creak it made woke Griffa up. She groggily sat up in her bed looking over in his direction.
“Who is it? What’s wrong?” Griffa asked sleepily. She rubbed her eyes with her hands and looked again. “Ansel? Do you need something?”
“No, no, it’s nothing. I’m sorry; go back to sleep.”
“Why are you here?” she asked.
Ansel breathed deeply and put his head down. “It’s silly. I had a dream, and I just needed to see you.”
Griffa sat up straighter. She patted the empty side of her bed and said, “Come here.”
Ansel knew he probably shouldn’t, but he couldn’t deny her request, not when he wanted nothing more to be near her and see that she was safe. He walked over and sat on the side of the bed over the covers. He swung his bare feet up, so he was resting his back against her giant headboard.
Griffa turned to him with her head propped up on her hand. Her hair was wild and tangled, and her eyes were half open, but she smiled at him.
“Will you tell me about your dream? Maybe it will help,” offered Griffa. She looked very sleepy, but she shook her head and opened up her eyes fully to look at Ansel.
“I dreamed of coming to see you after your father died,” said Ansel.
“Oh,” said Griffa. “That was a horrible time, but we got through it just like you said we would.”
“Then I dreamed of you as a nine-year-old telling me I was stupid for loving Desmona,” grinned Ansel.
“Did I really say that?” asked Griffa yawing. “I don’t remember.”
“Well, you didn’t know who I was talking about, but you told me that any woman who didn’t love me was stupid and that I shouldn’t love a stupid woman,” said Ansel.
“That sounds like me,” laughed Griffa. “I was right too. She is a stupid woman.”
Ansel chuckled softly.
“Was that it?” asked Griffa.
“No, but I don’t want to trouble you with the rest. You need to sleep, and I need to go.”
“Ansel, tell me. It will help if we talk about it.”
Ansel wasn’t sure it would, but he found himself trying to tell her. “You or nine-year-old you took me through the house and then you disappeared. I couldn’t find you. I looked everywhere and then I found you l and you were….”
“I was what, Ansel?” asked Griffa. She put her free hand on his.
“You were dead. I keep having the same nightmare. I look for you everywhere and when I find you, it’s too late, you’re dead.” Ansel felt his heartbeat quickening again. He felt tears prick at the corner of his eyes.
Griffa sat up in bed, more awake. She put her head on Ansel’s shoulder and took his hand.
“I’m not dead though. I’m here, and I’m fine. You don’t need to worry,” whispered Griffa as she rubbed his hand.
“I know, it’s silly, but it felt so real. I couldn’t sleep without seeing you, without knowing you were safe.”
Griffa scooted closer to him and leaned against his chest. His arms went around her, and Ansel closed his eyes. He breathed in deep and then kissed her head. Feeling her alive and warm calmed him. They stayed like that for several minutes before Ansel whispered in her ear.
“I need to go, and you do need to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.” He released his hold on her, and she went back to laying her side and looking at Ansel.
“I will try to sleep, but will you stay a while, just until I fall asleep?” asked Griffa quietly.
Ansel nodded. He pulled the covers up over Griffa as she burrowed down into them. She put her hand on Ansel’s and closed her eyes. He watched her until he saw her chest rise up and down in rhythm as she slept. Her hand was still on his. He knew he should get up and leave, but he was so at peace that he stayed and rested his head against the headboard and closed his eyes. At some point he slumped down into Griffa’s bed and fell fast asleep.