Ansel watched Griffa walk out of the room. He looked at Talon who shook his head and sat down heavily in a nearby chair.
“Are you not furious, Ansel?” asked Talon looking up at him. “Your queen just walked into Aurumist with no protection without telling you.”
“Of course, I’m angry. I have almost lost Griffa too many times already. She just traveled to a dangerous place without telling anyone. She could have easily been killed.”
“You didn’t seem angry with your queen. You seem too calm about all of this.”
“She ordered me away from her. I had no business coming here and waiting for her. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to defy her orders? It takes every bit of my concentration,” replied Ansel furiously.
“What are we going to do about her? We can’t go on like this. She can’t go on ignoring you and blocking you out. She must have her protector with her at all times. She cannot keep ordering you away.”
“I know,” said Ansel pacing in front of the fireplace. “She has said I can stay here for a time. I have to find a way to make her talk to me.”
Talon nodded. He got up and went over to a side table and poured a glass of wine. He looked at Ansel. “Would you like one?” Ansel shook his head.
Talon drank his glass quickly and poured another one. He walked over and stood by the fireplace, leaning against the mantle. “You said you found what you were looking for in Abscon. Does that mean you have found a way to relieve your line of the protector’s duty?”
“Yes” said Ansel looking at Talon. “Max believes he can do it. I just have to convince Griffa to let me do it.”
Talon took a drink of his wine. “What if you can’t convince her? What happens then?”
“I don’t even want to think about it. I will have to convince her.”
“But you need to think about it,” said Talon. “There is a chance she could not let you do it. What will you do? What do you think she will do?”
Ansel looked at Talon closely. Griffa had spent so much time alone with this man. He knew they both had feelings for each other. Had something happened?
“Do you have something you need to tell me, Talon?” asked Ansel.
“What do you mean?” asked Talon pushing up off the mantle and standing straight.
“I think you know what I mean. Griffa has been here with you for over a month, much of it by herself. That is a long time.”
“Not long enough,” said Talon quietly. “Ansel, if you are asking me what I think you are asking me, I can tell you that Griffa has done nothing to cause you to lose faith in her. I know she loves you.”
Ansel tried to hide his relief. He was relieved. He wanted to believe Griffa had waited for him, but he couldn’t be sure. She had been through so much, and it had taken a long time to find what was needed.
“I believe she loves you as well, Talon.”
“I know she does. I have no doubt of it, but she will always choose you if she can. I have known that for a long time. I shouldn’t have stayed so close to her, but I couldn’t help it. I would rather be in her life in any way I can than away from her.”
“I understand,” said Ansel. “If anyone could understand it would be me, but if she lets me do this, then things will need to change.”
“I will not disappear out of her life, Ansel. I will be by her side as much as I can.”
“I’m not asking you to leave her completely. Griffa needs you, we all need you if we are going to reclaim Aurumist, but if she chooses to let me do this, I will not let her go again, Talon.”
“I know,” said Talon. “I won’t stand in your way. I would never do anything to hurt Griffa or destroy a chance at her happiness.”
“Will you tell her today?” asked Talon.
“Yes,” said Ansel. “I think we have to figure this out quickly. Max said we will need to create a new line of protectors before Griffa takes the throne of Aurumist. I will have to find someone before we take the city.”
“If you can’t find someone, then you won’t be able to do this?”
“No,” said Ansel. “Max seemed sure.”
Talon drained his wine. “I could do it, Ansel. I could take the line from you. I would gladly give my life up to Griffa.”
“But it wouldn’t just be your life, Talon. It would be your whole family line. This is not something you can take lightly. You are the leader of this village. The Wendell’s have been one of the most powerful families in the kingdom for centuries. If you take this on, the line of protectors would take precedent over everything else.”
“I still think it could be a possibility,” said Talon. “I will think on it. I have some correspondence I have been neglecting. I will leave you alone to talk with Griffa. If you need me, I will be in my study.”
Ansel nodded. “Talon, thank you for taking care of Griffa. I know she has not had an easy time. I wasn’t able to be with her, and I appreciate you staying by her side.”
“There is no need to thank me. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.”
“You still have my thanks.”
“If you can convince Griffa to do this and you pull this off, thank me by loving her well, Ansel. I want her to be happy,” said Talon. He gave Ansel a small smile and walked from the room.
Ansel paced by the fireplace, wondering how he could get Griffa to talk to him. Maybe he could ask Max and have him talk to Griffa for him. Maybe Ansel could manage to get the words out somehow. She had said he could stay for a bit, maybe it would be easier to speak his mind.
Griffa entered the room. She asked for Talon whereabouts and then asked Ansel to walk with her to her Valley home. Ansel felt himself smile. Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as he thought. Ansel followed Griffa into the entrance hall. He picked up her cloak and used a quick charm to dry it. He helped her put it on before putting on his own, and they walked out of the house. Ansel offered Griffa his arm, and she took it.
They walked mostly in silence to Griffa’s home. Ansel wasn’t sure what to say so he decided to let Griffa decide when they would start talking. They made it to her empty house swiftly. After entering, Griffa led Ansel to her small study. She went to sit behind her desk, while Ansel lit a fire in the small fireplace.
“Have a seat, Ansel,” said Griffa, nodding at the chairs in front of the desk. The fire reflected a faint gleam off the crown on her forehead.
Ansel sat and stared at Griffa. “Am I allowed back into your presence, my queen?”
“Of course,” said Griffa. “I want us to talk as we did before all of this happened. I want us to be honest and open with each other.”
“Are you sure, my queen?”
“Yes,” said Griffa. “Ansel, I understand you have something to tell me.”
“I have many things to tell you,” said Ansel as he bowed his head and closed his eyes, feeling his fury build. He raised his head and looked at Griffa. “First and foremost, how dare you travel to Aurumist without even telling me. What were you thinking, Griffa?”
Griffa sighed and dropped her shoulders, “I knew you were angrier than you let on. I am sorry. I really am. It’s just been so difficult feeling so powerless. I haven’t been able to do anything right lately. Kedan came in upset about Teryn and his child. I felt like I could help him. I had to help him. I wanted to do something. I shouldn’t have done it. I know it was stupid.”
“Yes, it was,” said Ansel. “You ran off into danger with no thought to what you mean to the kingdom or the people who love you. You almost died a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t even be by your side after seeing your hurt. I had to trust in another to care for you. Not to mention you have been blocking me, your protector for weeks. How can I do my duty if you will not let me?”
“I was trying to make it easier on you. I didn’t want you to have to deal with my feelings and discomfort. I wanted you to be able to move on if you needed to.”
“Move on?” asked Ansel angrily. How could she ever think he would be able to move on. “As your protector, I have a responsibility to you, but you also have a responsibility to me. You have neglected that responsibility by shutting me out. It has been so hard being away from you for many reasons, but just speaking as your protector, do you know how much is pains me to be away from you?”
Griffa hung her head down and was silent. She eventually looked up with tears in her eyes. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I haven’t handled this well, but I didn’t know what to do. I had nightmares for months about losing you. Everything in me, told me I had to let you go. Every feeling I felt told me I couldn’t be with you. I felt like I had lost you.
“I couldn’t just see you as my protector. I couldn’t just be around you and act like you don’t mean so much more to me. When I was ill, I wanted you so badly, but I could not call you to me. It was agony. I have missed you terribly.”
Ansel felt himself sag in his seat. He could not stand to see her upset. “I know this hasn’t been easy, Griffa. I am angry. I know I shouldn’t be angry at you, but I am. I just feel like you gave up on us so easily. I have done nothing, but try to find a way for us to be together.”
Tears fell from Griffa’s eyes as she looked at Ansel. She got up and walked over close to the fireplace. She turned and looked at Ansel. “I didn’t want to send you away. I wanted to find a way, but I felt like the cost was too high for us to be together. I have known you for so long. I know how important being the protector of the kingdom is to you. It’s your whole identity. It’s your family’s identity. I didn’t feel right asking you to give that up.”
“You didn’t ask. I offered. I want to do this. I have thought on it for many weeks now. It is not who I want to be anymore. I want to be with you, and I want to rule by your side. I want to be your husband and help you with the burden of being queen of this kingdom. I want to have children with you and teach them how to rule and lead. Everything I want to be is tied to you,” said Ansel emphatically.
Griffa looked at him. He heard her take a shuddering breath, but she stayed silent.
“What do you want, Griffa?” asked Ansel quietly. “I know it has taken some time for me to find a way to be with you, but I have done it. I know so much has happened to you, and I wasn’t there for you. It wasn’t my choice, but I wasn’t there. I know he was there for you through it all. I know you love him. If you don’t want me anymore you need to tell me. If you want to be with Talon, I will try to accept it.”
“I do love him, Ansel. I do love Talon. I didn’t want to love him, but I do. He is so good to me. He is such an easy choice to pick. I believe the kingdom might even want me to pick him. There were times these past few weeks where I thought I could be happy with him. There were times I thought I should move on with Talon, but I could not. Because as much as I care about him, he is not you. I could not give up on you. I don’t care what is easy or what the kingdom wants because I want you. There has never really been anyone but you for me. I have loved you for as long as I can remember. I could not give up the hope I had that I could be with you.”
Ansel smiled at Griffa. “Max found a way. He says he can do it. He can create a new line of protectors, taking the duty away from me. We can be together, Griffa, but only if you will allow it to happen.”
“Is this really what you want?” asked Griffa looking at Ansel. “Do you really want to give up this duty that has been in your family for over a thousand years?”
“Yes,” said Ansel staring at her. “I will have no regrets giving it up. You and everything we will share is what I want. It is what I need. You have to let me do this.”
“How will it work?” asked Griffa.
“Max has the blood magic spell required. He says he can do it. They only thing is we must do it before you take the throne.”
“That quickly?” asked Griffa. “Will that even be possible? How will we find someone to do this?”
Ansel smiled noticing she used the word we. He got up and walked over to Griffa. He stood close to her and took her hand. “I’m not sure, but I believe we can do it. I know we can, but I don’t want to be apart while we search for someone. I can’t stand being apart from you any longer.”
“I don’t want to be apart from you either. I want to be with you, but I can’t send you away from me again. If we can’t find someone, I don’t know how I could send you away again. It’s so hard, Ansel. How could I have you again, just to give you up? Perhaps we should stay apart for a while longer.”
“We will not fail, Griffa. We will find someone in time before you have to take the throne. Please, believe me.”
Griffa looked at Ansel. He took her face into his hands, and leaned forward kissing her gently.
“Ansel,” she said quietly. “I don’t want to be away from you. I want to believe it’s possible.”
“Then do, my love,” he said kissing her again. Griffa was silent. She looked at him, but Ansel couldn’t read her expression. “I need you to believe we can do this.”
Griffa threw her arms around Ansel and kissed him. Ansel responded and took her into his arms. He kissed her, backing her up to the desk. He picked her up and sat her on the desk, continuing to kiss her. How had he gone so long without kissing her? He would not leave this room until she understood that they would be together.
“You do believe we can do this, don’t you, Griffa?” he asked, pulling back slightly. He put his hand under her skirt and on her thigh, slowly moving his hand upward. “Say, yes, please,” said Ansel leaning over her.
Griffa moaned as she leaned back.
Ansel moved his hand up higher. “I need you to say, yes. I need to hear you say the word.”
“You aren’t being very fair right now,” said Griffa as she lightly arched her back.
Ansel smiled, watching her, “Say yes, Griffa.”
Griffa leaned forward and kissed him. “Yes,” she said against his lips.
“You will not send me away again, will you?”
“Ansel,” said Griffa in a whisper. She leaned her head back with her eyes closed.
“Answer the question. Will you send me away again?”
“No, I will not,” said Griffa quietly.
“Good,” said Ansel. He moved over her, pushing her skirt up with his other hand. He kissed her.
“What does my queen ask of me?” asked Ansel before kissing her neck.
“Ansel, please” said Griffa in a gasp.
“Do you not have any commands for your protector?” asked Ansel teasingly.
“Love me,” she responded breathlessly.
“Of course, my queen,” replied Ansel enthusiastically responding to her request. He spent the rest of the afternoon trying to put ideas of Talon Wendell out of her head.
Later they walked back together to Wendell House in the dark. Griffa was leaning on Ansel as they walked, his arm around her.
“I will want to go back to Abscon in a few days,” said Griffa as they approached Wendell House. “I hope Kedan will want to join us with his son, but I will see if he wishes to stay here. I’m not sure what Talon will do. I would like him to come with us, but I will understand if he wishes to stay in the Valley.”
“He will do whatever you ask of him,” said Ansel. “He is the second on your Ring.”
“I will still give him the option. I hate hurting him.”
“I know,” said Ansel. “You will need to talk with him soon, but I know he will understand. He wants you to be happy, Griffa.”
They entered the house together and hung up their cloaks.
“I’m want to go check on Kedan and his son,” said Griffa.
Ansel nodded. “I will see if Max is in the parlor and join you in a minute.”
Ansel kissed Griffa quickly and then watched go up the stairs. He couldn’t stop smiling. He entered the parlor finding Max and Talon sitting in chairs by the fire.
“Ansel,” said Talon. “I take it your talk went well? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you smile.”
Ansel nodded. “Yes, we had a very productive talk. Griffa went up to check on Kedan and his son. Are they settling in alright?”
“I am sure they are,” said Talon. “I had a chat with Kedan earlier.”
Max raised his eyebrows. “Sounded more like a telling off than a chat.”
Talon shrugged. “He knows where I stand on the little stunt they pulled. I am glad he has his son, though.”
“So Griffa agreed to let you give up the line of protectors?” asked Max.
“Yes,” said Ansel. “She is concerned we won’t find someone in time. I won’t lie and say I’m not concerned as well.”
“My offer still stands,” said Talon.
“No,” said Ansel. “I doubt Griffa would even let you consider it.”
“I can still offer her and see what she says,” said Talon. “I take it you might want a room, Ansel?”
“We can stay at Griffa’s house tonight. It’s no bother. She just wanted to come back and see Kedan first.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I have more than enough rooms here. You can stay in the one you did earlier this fall.”
“Are you sure, Talon?” asked Ansel.
Talon smiled. “I am very sure. I always knew where she stood with me and you, Ansel. I will miss having her near me all the time, but I want to be in her life. I want to serve my queen. You are a part of her, so here we are. Please stay in my home as long as you would like.”
“Thank you,” said Ansel. “Griffa wants to go back to Abscon soon. I believe everything is safe there now. She will want you to go with us Talon, but she will understand if you stay here.”
“I will of course go where my queen is,” said Talon. “Just let me know when we will leave.”
Ansel nodded. “Max, whatever it is you need to prepare for the spell to remake the protector’s line, try to have it on hand quickly. Once we decide to do this, I want to get it done.”
“I will see to it, Ansel,” said Max. “I hope we can find someone soon. Griffa will have to act on Aurumist quickly if what she says is true about the new magic users being corrupted. I have started looking at the books she brought back from the palace, and the spells used are complex and dangerous.”
“We will start looking immediately. Now if you will excuse me, I will check on our queen.”
Ansel walked from the room and up the stairs. He walked down the hall to see Kedan standing in the doorway of the nursery. Ansel walked up and joined him. Ansel looked in the room to see Griffa holding Kedan’s son in a chair. She had a book and was reading to him. Ansel smiled slightly watching her cradle the child. Her voice was sweet and light as she read.
“It’s a pretty picture,” said Ansel quietly to Kedan. “He looks like a fine child.”
“He is perfect,” said Kedan. “I owe her everything. She saved my son for me.”
“She did,” said Ansel. “Though I didn’t enjoy the way she did it.”
“No,” said Kedan. “I shouldn’t have let her go, or I should have come to you or Talon. I apologize for the danger I put her in. I can’t stand to see her hurt.”
“I know,” said Ansel. “It sounds as if you’ve already been told what you did was wrong by Talon.”
“Yes,” said Kedan. “He had a talk with me. It was not quiet or short either. He was right though. I put our queen in danger. I put my friend in danger.”
“It turned out well, though,” said Ansel. “She is pleased, it seems.”
“I’m glad to see you here, Ansel. I guess this means she will allow you to do what you need to do.”
“She has agreed,” said Ansel. “Now I have to find someone who will take this on. It will have to be very soon. The new protector’s line will have to be made before she sits on the throne of Aurumist.”
Kedan turned to look at Ansel. “Do you think you and I could go for a chat somewhere?” asked Kedan. “My room perhaps?”
Ansel wondered what Kedan could have to say. He agreed and followed Kedan a few doors down to his room. Ansel sat down in a chair by the fireplace as Kedan stood and looked down at Ansel.
“Ansel, I want to take on the protector’s line. I know the first protector had no magical blood, so I know I can do it. I owe Griffa so much. I want to be able to protect her. I would give my life for her.”
Ansel looked up at Kedan, surprised. “I don’t think you understand what you would be taking on. It wouldn’t just affect you. If you take on the line of protector’s, it will affect your son, his son, and so on. This will be the identity of your whole family line.”
“I know,” said Kedan. “I want this for my son. I want it for all of my heirs. You know some of my life before I came here. I was not a good man, Ansel. I was spoiled and lazy. I had no direction and no purpose. My parents sold me to the kingdom for influence and power. That is all my father cares about.
“I want my son’s life to have purpose. I want all of my descendants to have direction and meaning. I would have no family line if it wasn’t for Griffa. I owe her my son’s life. I feel like my line is already bonded to her. Let me do this. Let me serve her. Let my son serve the next king or queen, your child. I am sure I want this.”
Ansel looked at Kedan. Kedan seemed sincere. He seemed sure. Was Kedan really a possibility to do this? Ansel did trust Kedan. Despite the recent trip to Aurumist, Ansel believed Kedan would do all he could to keep Griffa safe. Everything Kedan said sounded true.
“I want you to think about this for a few days. I want you to spend a few days with your son and make a decision. This is not to be taken lightly.”
Kedan nodded. “I understand. I will think on it, but I don’t think I will change my mind. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I have read all I can about protector’s magic, not just to help you, but to understand what it would be to take this on. I want this.”
“I believe you, Kedan,” said Ansel. “But I need you to take the time to really think about it. I need you to come up with the most compelling argument you can to do this, because we will be traveling to Abscon soon. When we get there, you will have to convince Griffa.”