Max was anxious. He wanted to figure this out. He couldn’t leave this puzzle unsolved. There had to be a solution. There had to be a way to create a new line of protectors. If it was done once, it could be done again. Besides, Max had seen a vision where Ansel could be with Griffa, and he had to trust in that vision.
It was late afternoon, and Max had not slept much the night before. He had barely eaten in over a day, but Max was not tired or hungry. He felt like he was so close to figuring it all out. He didn’t know why, but he felt if he just kept reading and thinking, he could find what he needed.
Max had picked up a very old book out of a crate, and saw that it was stuffed with old papers. Some of the writing on the papers was very faded, but Max could make out some of it. He read through the book quickly, scanning for anything he might find that would be helpful. He looked up as he heard Ansel make a noise, looking over at the man.
“Is anything the matter, Ansel?” asked Max. Ansel was holding his head between his hands. Max watched as Ansel rolled his neck to try to loosen it.
“I just have a headache. I’m sure it’s because of all the reading and little sleep.”
Max nodded. “Why don’t you take a break?”
Ansel shook his head. “We have to figure this out quickly. I will not lose her, Max.”
“You will do no good reading if you can’t focus. Go take a walk or something. You don’t have to be gone long. Go get some fresh air, and when you come back, we can eat dinner and spend the evening reading,” said Max encouragingly.
“It’s just hard not to be doing something,” said Ansel. “If I’m not reading or trying to figure this out, all I can think of is Griffa. I wonder what she is doing. I wonder if she is growing tired of waiting. I begin to think maybe she has moved on.”
“Have you written Talon to check on her?” asked Max.
“No,” replied Ansel. “Honestly, I’m afraid of what he will say. If she has moved on, I don’t know what I will do.”
“You will face it,” said Max. “You will accept it and find a way to go on yourself.”
“I don’t know,” said Ansel. “I don’t know if I can live in this kingdom without being with her.”
“You can,” said Max sadly. “Trust me, I know you can. It won’t be easy. It will be a nightmare, but you will find a way to live. You will find a way to move on and do what you need to do.”
Ansel sat back and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Max. I know you understand more than most. I can’t imagine what you have gone through since last spring. I’m afraid I haven’t been a very good friend to you.”
“You have,” said Max. “You have been here the whole time with me. I know that if I ever needed anything from you, you would help me. The problem is there was really nothing anyone could do for me. I just needed time. I needed to know you were all here with me and time. I will never be like I was. I will never love another as I loved Issa, but I know I must go on. My life will not be what I thought it was, but that doesn’t mean I will have to be miserable forever. Issa would not want me to be unhappy.”
Ansel nodded. “If Griffa chooses not to be with me at least I will still be a part of her life. I will protect her with every resource I have. I will make sure she is happy and safe, and I will be glad she is alive. I can’t imagine what I would do if she was gone for good. I am so sorry, Max. I know you have it so much worse.”
“I don’t know if I would say that. If we can’t figure this out, you can’t be with Griffa, and you will have to watch her choose another. You will have to watch her try to love someone else. I know that if Issa were here, we would be together. I’m not sure I could stand seeing her with someone else,” said Max.
“I suppose neither option is very good,” said Ansel. “I am determined though. If Griffa moves on and is happy, I will devote my life in service to her.”
“Don’t give up yet, Ansel,” said Max. “I believe we still have time. We have plenty of books to look through. Go take a walk and clear your head. I know you will feel better after.”
Ansel stood up. “I will go walk. I won’t be gone long.”
Ansel walked out of the room. Max heard him leave and close the front door. Max went back to his book, and he turned page after page. He scanned and looked, but nothing looked promising. At the end of the book was three old pieces of paper curled up. Max took them out of the book and put the book away. He pulled the papers straight and tried to see what was on them. He could see they all three said the same thing. Max looked closely at them. At top was a name, Tomos Keen. It had a date of over 200 years ago. Underneath the name it said, as copied from the notes of Maxen Keene.
Max sat up straighter. He quickly read over the paper, trying to see what it said.
I, Maxen Keene, have completed the bonding of the line of Raya with the line of Adalwen. Etan of the line of Raya, a non-gifted folk, felt a debt was owed to Nathin of the line of Adalwen. Etan, the leader of a village, called upon Nathin to heal his village from the sickness that had spread through the kingdom. Nathin was able to heal all within the village including Etan’s wife and son.
Etan, with his village restored, and his wife and son brought back from the brink of death, wished to serve Nathin and his line. Etan was said to have had a vision of his place in the kingdom. He saw himself being a barrier for Nathin against those who would hurt Nathin. Etan saw his line spread out before him, always covering the line of Adalwen. Although having no magical ability, Etan was sure of his vision.
He was drawn to approach me, Maxen Keene, as I was the friend and counsel of Nathin. I listened to Etan. I understood what he was saying, and I knew it to be true. I went to our diviners. With their help, I was able to see what must be done. I approached Nathin. The ceremony was completed three days before the battle of the grounds of Aurumist.
After the ceremony Etan was granted magic powers through his bond with Nathin. He became Nathin’s protector. In Etan’s presence Nathin was more powerful than should be possible. Etan was able to protect Nathin from almost all attacks. The bond I forged between them, would last generation to generation. All of the line of Raya would serve the line of Adalwen. All of the line of Adalwen would have a responsibility to the line of Raya. Below I have written the blood magic used to bond the two lines. What I have done must never be broken without reason and a way to restore the line. There must always be a protector of the line of Adalwen.
Max looked excitedly down the paper. There were instructions on the potion that Maxen made. There were the spells he used. Max felt his heartbeat fast. This was what he had been looking for, but would it work? This was how the bond was made, but would it break for a new line. Max didn’t know. He read the paper over and over again. He could feel the magic in the air as he read the spell that was cast. He could feel his own magic surge through him. Max felt his vision go dim, and everything went dark around him.
Max was still in Keene Manor, but it was dark. He was sitting on the floor of the parlor very close to the fire. A large kettle hung over the fire. Next to him sat Griffa. She looked grim. She stared at the person to Max’s other side. Max looked at saw Ansel staring back at Griffa
“Ansel, are you sure?” asked Griffa
“Yes, I have never been surer of anything in my life.”
“I want to believe it, I really do, but you are giving up so much.”
“No, I am gaining everything I want and need,” said Ansel with a smile. “This is who I am now, Griffa. I am yours. I will be your king. I will never leave your side.”
“I have to ask one more time. Do you really want this?” asked Griffa with passion.
“Yes,” said Ansel adamantly. “I know you believe me.”
“I could stop you,” said Griffa.
“You won’t. It’s what I want. I choose you.”
Griffa smiled slightly. She looked at another person in the room. The shadows hid this person’s face from Max. He did not know who Griffa was looking at.
“You are sure this is what you want? You cannot undo this. Your son, his son, and so on will be beholden to this. You are telling me this is what you want?”
Max could see the person in the shadows nod their head.
Griffa turned to Max and nodded. Max looked down. He held a sword in his hand. It was the sword Griffa had given Kedan.
“Go on, Max,” said Ansel. “I’m ready.” Ansel held out his hand to him.
Max took Ansel’s hand. He took the sword’s point and sliced Ansel’s palm. He grabbed the other man’s hand and did the same. Max watched as they joined hands and let their blood run over the kettle over the fire. Max felt magic swirl all around them. He heard Griffa gasp, and Max felt his own blood pulse. His magic rose out from him.
“Max,” said Ansel loudly. “Max, are you alright?”
Max opened his eyes. He was laying on the floor of Keene Manor. It was still light out. He looked up to see Ansel standing over him. Max sat up and nodded. “I’m fine, I am.”
Ansel gave Max his hand, and Max stood up.
“What happened?” asked Ansel.
Max looked at Ansel and smiled. “I found it. I found a way to relieve you of being Griffa’s protector. I found the spell to use. I know what magic to do. I saw a vision of doing it here. I couldn’t see who the new protector would be, but it was someone. Ansel, we can do this.”
Ansel looked at Max in shock. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” said Max excitedly. “I found the original spell and blood magic that was used. We can do it again. I foresaw us doing it. Griffa was there, and she let you. There is something else, Ansel. You will have to give up your duty and find someone else before Griffa takes the throne.”
“Are you sure?” asked Ansel. “I will have to find someone before we take Aurumist?”
“Yes,” said Max. “I don’t know why I know this, but I do. You will have to find someone else to take on the Protector’s line before we defeat the powers of Aurumist.”
Ansel smiled at Max. “That complicates things a bit. Where am I going to find someone that quickly? “
Max opened his mouth to say something when Talon walked swiftly into the parlor.
“Are they here? Please, tell me they are here,” said Talon quickly.
“Who?” asked Ansel. “Who are you talking about?”
“Griffa and Kedan. I came back from a council meeting to find Griffa gone. A worker in my house said Kedan had come to see her. He saw them both leave together. I assumed they came here for some reason. I assumed you sent Kedan to bring her to you.”
“No,” said Ansel. “Kedan went with Marcus Quick to check for messages in the East Village. He never came back here.”
Talon looked at Ansel with worried eyes. “Where could they have gone?”
“I don’t know,” said Ansel.
Max felt a lump in his throat. He felt a knot of worry form in his stomach. “Do you know how long they have been gone?”
“I think a couple of hours,” answered Talon. “Ansel, can you feel anything? Do you think Griffa is in trouble?”
Max watched as Ansel closed his eyes. He shook his head. “She’s been shielding me for so long, it’s hard to tell if I feel something or if I am just worried about her because we can’t find her.”
“What should we do?” asked Talon.
“We should go to talk to Marcus and see what happened with Kedan,” said Ansel. He walked to the entrance hall to put on a cloak and his hat. Talon and Max followed him. The walked quickly to Marcus’s house. They were let in by the small man who worked there, and Marcus greeted them in the parlor.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Marcus looking at all three of them.
“What happened with Kedan?” asked Ansel. “Why didn’t he come back to Abscon with you?”
“He had a message waiting for him in the East Village. He said he had gotten some bad news. He said he would not be any help to you, Ansel, and he wanted to see the queen and Talon. He asked me to take him to the Valley, so I did. I saw him walk into the village.”
Max saw Talon and Ansel look at each other. “Surely not,” said Talon shaking his head. “She wouldn’t take him there.”
“Where else could they have gone? If Kedan got bad news it must have had to do with his child or wife.”
Max suddenly realized what they were saying. “You think they went to Aurumist?”
“Thank you, Marcus. We will need to be on our way,” said Talon quickly. He bowed and walked out of the parlor. Ansel silently followed him.
“Max, do you really think Griffa went to Aurumist?” asked Marcus with wide eyes.
Max shrugged. “I need to go,” said Max as he quickly left the room. He caught up with Ansel and Talon just outside the Quick home.
“I cannot believe she would just hop off to Aurumist without telling me,” said Talon angrily.
When they got to the main road of Abscon, Talon turned away from the manor and walked towards the edge of town.
“Wait, Talon,” said Ansel. “We can’t just go off to Aurumist without a plan.”
“Ansel, your queen is in trouble. You can’t just wait around here,” said Talon anxiously.
“If we fly into the palace without a plan, we could cause more trouble for Griffa and Kedan than help them. We have to think about this.”
Talon gave an angry huff. Max watched Ansel as he closed his eyes. Ansel pressed something on his chest, and he opened his eyes and smiled at Talon. “I think she is alright. I think she knows what she is doing.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Talon. “Ansel, she is not safe in the palace. You know what will happen if they find her.”
“Griffa let down her shield. I can tell she has everything under control,” said Ansel. “I don’t like it, Talon. She shouldn’t be out in the kingdom anywhere, especially Aurumist without my protections, but she is not in danger at the moment.”
Talon shook his head and then turned to Ansel. “What do you suggest we do?”
“I think we should go to the Valley and wait for her there. Max and I have found what we came for here in Abscon. We will need to run back to the manor and grab a few things.”
Talon looked at Max, and Max nodded. Talon sighed loudly. “Fine, let’s go back to the manor and then we will head to the Valley. We will wait for them there, but if you have one bad feeling about Griffa, you have to tell me.”
“I will,” said Ansel. “If I think Griffa is in the smallest bit of trouble, we will go to the palace together.”
Talon nodded as they turned to walk to Keene Manor. Max fell in step next to Talon.
“I think she will be alright, Talon. You don’t know the things I saw her do in the palace while we were in Aurumist. I think she feeds off the magic found there.”
“I will not rest easy until she is back safe,” said Talon breathing hard.
They quickly packed a few things from Keene Manor. Max grabbed the information he needed on the first protector. He folded it in the large book it was in and kept it by his side. The walked to the gates of Abscon and traveled to the Valley. When they arrived at the Valley, the smell of rain was in the air, and distant thunder could be heard.
“Great,” said Talon sarcastically, as they started walking to Wendell House. “I’m going to need one of you to stay close by me. You will have to do everything you can to keep me from killing Kedan the minute they step through the door.”
“You shouldn’t blame him,” said Ansel as they walked. “You know it wasn’t Kedan’s idea.”
“I realize that, Ansel,” said Talon clinching his hands into fist. “But I seriously doubt you would like to see how I would handle welcoming Griffa home when I feel like this.” Talon sped up his pace and walked ahead of them.
Ansel raised his eyebrows at Max. “I don’t know how serious he is, but I’m going to need you to stay by Talon at all times. When they get home, I will deal with Griffa. Try to keep Talon from cursing Kedan.”
“What do you suggest I do to a mage during a storm?” asked Max
“First make sure he has some drinks as soon as we get to his home. Second, you have a staff, knock him across the head if you have to,” answered Ansel. Ansel walked quickly to catch up with Talon.
Max took a deep breath trying to decide how serious Ansel really was.