Max walked up the stairs to Talon’s room to check on Griffa early in the morning. It had been four days since the attack on Abscon. Griffa was doing better, but she was still not well enough to come downstairs. She was very weak. Max held in his hand a potion she would have to drink. It would be the last one she would need to clear her system of the poison the knife left in her body.
Max walked up the stairs and to the double doors at the end of the hall. He knocked, and waited but there was no answer. Griffa needed this potion so Max slowly opened one of the doors and walked in. He went to the bed to find Griffa asleep on her side. Talon was lying next to her above the covers. His arms were around her, and he was sound asleep.
Max looked at both of them and sighed. Talon had been at Griffa’s side almost the whole time since she was brought to the Valley. He would only leave for meals and to check on the others when he was sure Griffa was asleep. He would hover outside the door of the bedroom when Maybell came over to help Griffa clean and change her night gown. Max knew Talon loved Griffa very much. He knew that Griffa was at least not indifferent to Talon.
Max had spent all the time he could in the Valley trying to find a way to help Ansel transfer the line of protectors. He knew Ansel would do anything to be with Griffa. Max wondered how long it would take to find Ansel what he needed. He wondered if Griffa would even let Ansel give up his protector’s line. As Max watched Griffa sleep in Talon’s arms, he wondered if perhaps she might already be preparing to move on.
Max didn’t know how to feel. He was sad for Ansel as he knew how much Ansel loved Griffa. He had no doubt Griffa loved Ansel, but to give up the line of Raya’s duty was no small thing. If there was a chance Griffa could find happiness with Talon, did that mean perhaps Ansel could find someone else some day? Max didn’t know. He would keep helping Ansel. He would give him all the information he could, and he would let Ansel and Griffa make the decision themselves.
Max walked over to Griffa’s side and shook her gently. Her eyes fluttered, and she stretched. She put her hand on Talon’s arm and looked behind her. Max saw her give a half smile before she turned and looked at Max.
“I’m sorry to wake you,” said Max quietly, “but you need to take this.”
Griffa nodded. She moved to wiggle out of Talon’s embrace and sit up. Talon made a noise and held her tighter. Griffa grimaced, and she lightly tapped Talon’s arm.
“Talon,” she said. “I need to sit up.”
“What,” said Talon groggily. He open one eye and looked at Max. He let go of Griffa and sat up with a groan.
Griffa sat up and smiled at Max as he handed her the small vial of potion. She drank it quickly and handed it to him as she made a face.
“I don’t know why it has to taste so terrible,” she said.
“Good news is that’s the last one. You should be done,” said Max.
“How are you feeling, my dear,” asked Talon.
“I’m actually very hungry,” said Griffa.
“Then I will bring you some breakfast,” said Talon. He kissed Griffa on the cheek and rolled out of bed. “Max, you will stay here with her, won’t you?”
Max nodded as Talon quit the room.
“So, you are feeling better?” asked Max.
“I am,” said Griffa. “I am still very sore, but I don’t feel sick anymore. I think I finally slept through a whole night.”
“Good,” said Max. He looked down and took Griffa’s hand, letting their magic mingle together. He was so glad she was here with him. He didn’t think he could have withstood losing Griffa, especially after losing Issa so soon. Max tightened his grip on Griffa’s hand. He could tell that she did feel better, and he could feel something else as well. He couldn’t tell what it was, but she was unsettled.
“What is wrong, Griffa?” asked Max. “I can tell something is bothering you.”
“Have you seen Ansel lately?” asked Griffa.
“Yes,” said Max. He has come by every day since you got here.
“He has not come to see me,” said Griffa sadly.
“He does not want to go against your orders. I think it is hard for him to do so. He came the first night you were here, but he has stayed away from you since. He will not come to you unless you ask him to.”
Griffa nodded. “It’s not that I don’t want to see him, Max. I miss him so much. It’s just so hard.”
“I know,” said Max gripping her hand. “He understands as well. He does want to see you, Griffa.”
Max had another question, but he didn’t know how to ask it.
“Go on, Max. I know you want to ask me about Talon,” said Griffa looking at him.
“Well, what about him? You seem pretty cozy together.”
“I know,” said Griffa hanging her head down. “I should send him away. I have just felt so terrible, and he has been so wonderful. I do love him, Max.”
“I know,” said Max. “But Griffa, Ansel is willing to give up so much for you.”
“He is, but can I let him? What if he can’t even find a way to do what he is doing? What if he can, and I can’t let him do it?”
“You love, Ansel,” said Max. “You want to be with him. I know you do.”
“I do,” said Griffa looking back at Max. “I love him more than I thought it was possible to love anyone. If I could have him, there wouldn’t ever be a question of us not being together.”
“What will you do?” asked Max.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t felt much like thinking about it.”
“Of course not, and you shouldn’t worry about it now. Focus on getting better, then we can deal with whatever happens.”
Talon walked in with food for Griffa and brought it over to her.
“I will go eat myself,” said Max. “I will come see you later, Griffa. If you need anything from me before then, let me know.”
Max kissed her hand and let it go. He smiled at Talon and started to walk from the room.
“Max,” said Griffa as Max got to the door. “If Ansel comes by, will you tell him I am doing better? Will you tell him I appreciate him checking on me?”
“I will,” said Max.
“Would you like to see Ansel, Griffa?” asked Talon.
“No,” said Griffa. “Not yet, I don’t think I can bear it right now.”
Max looked at her one more time before he left the room.
Max spent his morning with Kedan in the parlor. He read a large, old book he had found on the protectors of the kingdom. He hoped it would contain information on the first protector, Etan of the Line of Raya, but so far, Max had found nothing. He had planned to go to the Valley library later.
Kedan looked at Max as he read. “What are you hoping to find in one of your books?”
“I need to find out how they made the first protector. I need the ceremony they used. I need to know how they did the blood magic to bind the line of Raya to the line of Adalwen.”
“If you find that, will you be able to pass the protector’s line on to another bloodline?”
“For Ansel’s sake, I hope so. I won’t know until I see the information.”
“If you can do this, who will he pass the line on to?” asked Kedan.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think he knows. I suppose he is hoping to find someone after Griffa is on the throne.”
“What exactly does it entail to be the protector? What does it mean?” asked Kedan.
Max put his book down. “You know some of it. The protector is completely dedicated to his sovereign. He cannot ignore a direct order. He cannot ignore when his sovereign is in danger. You’ve seen the power Ansel and Griffa have when they are together in battle. The largest responsibility is that the line of protectors will be passed down generation to generation for a blood line. If someone pledges to be a protector, then they aren’t just pledging for themselves, they are pledging their son and their grandsons and so on. It is not something that can be taken on lightly.”
“But it gives one a sense of purpose doesn’t it? It seems to be a great honor to defend the kingdom and the queen or king.”
“It is a great honor, but it is also a great burden,” answered Max. “I want Ansel and Griffa to be together, but there are so many obstacles in their way.”
“Can I read a few of these books, Max?” asked Kedan.
“Go ahead, I haven’t found anything in any of these, but if you want to take a look, you are welcomed to it.”
Kedan picked up a couple of the books, and he opened one and started reading. They both read quietly until there was a knock at the front door, and Ansel walked into the parlor.
“How is she today?” asked Ansel as he sat down next to Max.
“She seems better. She said she was hungry this morning,” answered Max. “I think she will be able to come downstairs soon.”
“If she’s feeling any better, you will all have a hard time keeping her in bed much longer,” said Ansel with a smile.
“She had a message for you this morning,” said Max smiling at Ansel. “She said to thank you for checking in on her.”
Ansel nodded, and his shoulders slumped. “I wish I could see her. Just for one moment.”
“She said she’s not ready to see you yet. I know it’s hard, Ansel, but it’s not forever. You will see her again,” said Max encouragingly.
“Have you found anything useful on our situation?” asked Ansel.
“No, I’ve been through dozen of books, but I can’t find anything on how the first protector was made, or why he was chosen. I plan to go look in the Valley library later.”
“Do you not think there might be something in your home in Abscon, Ansel?” asked Max. “It would make sense for there to be protector history in the protector’s home.”
“I’ve looked. I spent many nights looking recently, and I couldn’t find anything.”
“What do you know about how the first protector was made?” asked Kedan putting his book down.
Max thought. “I know the first protector was Etan of the line of Raya. He was bonded to Nathin of the line of Adalwen before the battle of Aurumist. It was blood magic performed by Maxen Keene.”
“Have you checked everywhere in Keene Manor?” asked Kedan. “I think the Keene’s have quite a lot of old books from Aurumist. It’s where we found the book on the palace. If a Keene performed the blood magic, couldn’t they have kept the history of it?”
Max looked at Kedan and then at Ansel. “It’s a thought,” said Max. “I have looked at many of the books in the manor, but there seem to be crates and crates of old books stashed everywhere.”
“I could go look,” said Ansel. “It’s not like I have anything else going on. My queen is safe here in Wendell house. If she does not require my services, my time is free.”
“I could go with you, Ansel,” said Kedan. “I can help you. If you will take me to the East Village at some point so I can check for messages, I would appreciate it.”
“Yes,” said Ansel. “I would appreciate your help, Kedan. We might be gone for a few days as it will take a while to get through all the books. I will take you to the East Village before we return to the Valley.”
“When will you go?” asked Max.
“Tomorrow,” said Ansel. “I want to start as soon as possible. Can you be ready to go, Kedan?”
“Yes,” said Kedan. “We can leave after breakfast.”
“Who is leaving after breakfast,” said Talon as he walked into the parlor, and stood in front of the fireplace.
“I am taking Kedan to Abscon. We will go to Keene Manor. I want to search to see if there are any books on protectors that would be helpful.”
Talon nodded. “Will you go as well, Max?”
“I’d like to stay here and be close to Griffa since she is still weak. If she continues to improve, I might go help in a few days.”
“How is she this afternoon?” asked Ansel looking at Talon.
“She is tired. She fell asleep quickly after lunch, but she did eat,” replied Talon.
Ansel stood up and walked to Talon. “I need to see her before I go. I won’t bother her, but I have to just get a glimpse of her. I don’t know how long I will be away.”
Talon looked at Ansel considering. “She does not want to see you at the moment. I don’t agree with it, but I understand why.”
“Please, Talon, I won’t bother her long. You or Max can come with me. I will leave if she starts to wake up at all.”
“I will go with him,” said Max.
Talon nodded. “Go, but try not to wake her.”
Ansel smiled. He and Max left the parlor and walked up the stairs.
“Does it bother you, Ansel?” asked Max.
“Does what bother me?”
“How close Talon and Griffa are. He has been staying with her at night,” said Max as they came to the top of the stairs.
“Of course, it bothers me, but I understand it. He cares for her greatly, and he watched her almost die. He wants to keep watch over her. I cannot be with her right now, so I’m glad she has him.”
“What if she chooses him over you? I don’t think she would under normal circumstances, but what if she chooses him over you giving up your protector’s line.”
Ansel sighed. “I have thought on that for many hours. If she chooses Talon, I will have to accept it. I don’t know how I will do it, but I will honor her wishes. He is a good man, and he would take care of her.”
Max looked at Ansel as they got to the double doors of Talon’s bedroom. “When you are in Abscon, you need to think about what it means to take the protector’s duty from you line. It’s not just about you, Ansel. The line of protectors has been held by the line of Raya for over 1300 years. Your ancestor, Etan, swore a vow to Nathin and the line of Adalwen. You will be breaking that vow. Once you give the line away, you cannot gain it back.”
Ansel looked away from Max and put his hand on the door. “I already know what I want, Max.”
“I know, Ansel, but you really do need to think about this. You will be far away from Griffa for a time. I am not trying to talk you out of this, but you need to really know this is what you want.”
Ansel sighed. “I will think on it. I understand what you are saying. I know the magnitude of breaking this vow made by my ancestor.”
“Just take some time, Ansel. If you are really thinking this over and you are sure, you will have an easier time convincing Griffa. If you find you cannot break the vow, then you will have to tell her and find a way to serve her.”
Ansel nodded and opened the door quietly. Max and Ansel walked into the large bedroom. The day outside was overcast making the room dark except for the fire burning in the large fireplace. They walked over to the bed to stand next to Griffa.
Griffa was laying on her side facing them. Her breathing was slow and regular, and she seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Ansel kneeled down beside her, staring at her. She made a soft noise and moved her hand. Ansel gently placed his hand on hers, and Griffa sighed in her sleep.
“I am leaving for a while, my love,” whispered Ansel. “I am going to find a way for us to be together. I hope you will agree to see me once I find a way.”
Griffa continued to sleep though she seemed to be holding Ansel’s hand.
“I love you, Griffa. I refuse to let anything keep us apart. I promised Max I would think on giving up the line of protectors. I will promise you the same thing. I will think on it, and I will not give it up without great thought. I know what I want, but I will still consider every possibility. I want you to know that nothing will change. I will choose you every time. I will try to hurry. I will try to find a way quickly, and I hope you will wait for me. I hope you still have a small spark of hope.”
Griffa moved slightly in her sleep.
“We need to go, Ansel,” said Max quietly. He didn’t want to make Ansel leave, but Griffa had said she didn’t want to see him.
“Goodbye, my love. I will be back soon.” Ansel leaned over and gently kissed her forehead before he slowly stood up. He watched Griffa sleep for a moment more, before nodding at Max. They turned to leave the room.
“Ansel,” said Griffa quietly casuing Ansel and Max turned to look at her. Max could see her eyes where still closed. She continued to whisper in her sleep. “I love you.”
Max saw Ansel smile. He grabbed Ansel’s arm, and Ansel understood. They left the room together as Max closed the door quietly behind them. Ansel turned to look at Max.
“I will think hard about giving up the protector’s line, but I already know my answer. I will choose her over everything else.”
Max smiled slightly and nodded. For Ansel’s sake, he hoped they found what they needed quickly, before Griffa made any decisions herself.