Max sat in the Keene Manor cellar looking over Maxen Keene’s notes that Tomos Keene had copied. He wanted to make sure he had everything he needed, ready to go. Ansel had told him he needed to have it ready soon, as he might have news for Max within the next few days.
Max didn’t know what Ansel was planning, but he would be ready. If Ansel found someone to do this, and he could get Griffa to agree, Ansel would want it done quickly. Max wondered who Ansel could have possibly found. At first Max thought maybe Talon, but that didn’t seem like a good idea for anyone. Talon was needed as the second chair of the Ring. Max also didn’t think bonding Talon to Griffa as her protector would be a good idea.
Watching Griffa and Ansel, Max could understand why Protector’s and Sovereigns weren’t meant to be in love or marry. It was already a complex relationship without adding another element. The Protector’s devotion to his sovereign was important, but duty would always have to come before love with a protector. Max could see that Talon as Griffa’s protectors would cause all sorts of conflicts.
Max couldn’t guess who Ansel might have found, so he would wait and trust Ansel’s decision. Max looked at the ingredients he had gathered on his table. He had everything ready, except the blood of Ansel, Griffa, and the new protector. Max knew he could brew the potion and perform the spell. He hoped it would be soon. Griffa would need to work and bond with her new protector before they went to Aurumist.
They had been in Abscon for two days since traveling from the Valley. Ansel, Max, Griffa, Kedan, and his son had come immediately. Talon stayed behind to take care of a few things, but he was expected today. Max wondered if perhaps Talon would be better off taking some time in the Valley before joining them. Max knew Talon was needed to take Aurumist, but he worried about the tension between Talon, Griffa, and Ansel that must still exist.
A knock on the door caused Max to look up from his notes and turn towards the door. Ansel opened the door and walked in. He came and stood by Max, looking over the table.
“Do you have everything you need?” asked Ansel.
“Yes,” said Max. “I will just need to brew the potion and add yours, Griffa’s, and the new protector’s blood to it. Griffa’s will have to go in first when I first make it since we are bonding the new protector to her line.”
Ansel nodded. “How long will it take to brew?”
“One day,” said Max. “If I started on it this afternoon, it would be ready by tomorrow evening.”
“Good,” said Ansel. “Now, I need you to come upstairs with me. I want you to talk with Kedan, Griffa, and me.”
Max looked at Ansel, puzzled. “Has something happened?”
“Not yet,” said Ansel, “but something could happen soon. I need you here for this conservation so you can answer any questions that may come up.”
Max was very confused, but nodded at Ansel. He followed him out of the cellar, wondering what this conversation could be about. Max and Ansel entered the parlor to find Kedan sitting by the fire, and Griffa sitting on the sofa. She turned to look at Max and Ansel as they entered. Ansel stood by the fireplace, and Max sat down next to Griffa.
“Ansel, are you going to tell me what this is all about?” asked Griffa. “Does everyone know but me?”
“Max doesn’t know what this is about,” answered Ansel, “Kedan talked to me of something in the Valley the other day. He has something to tell you.”
Griffa looked at Kedan expectantly.
Kedan took a breath. He moved to a chair closer to Griffa and looked at her. “Griffa, my queen, I would like to serve you as your protector. I would like to take on the line of protectors.”
Griffa looked taken aback. She shook her head. “You don’t know what you are saying, Kedan. You can’t possibly want this burden in your life. Not for you or for your son.”
“I do,” replied Kedan. “I want it very much. I have thought on this for a long time. I have studied what it means to be a protector. I know what it means for my son and my family line.”
“How can you want this for your son, Kedan? He will have no choice in the matter. If you take this on, he will be forced to serve the kingdom and the next king or queen.”
“I know. It will give him purpose and meaning. Griffa, you didn’t know me before I came here. You didn’t know what kind of person I was. I was lazy and self-centered. I only cared about having fun and getting out of work. I was the leader of the kingdom, but I didn’t care about my people at all. I was happy to let others do the work that should have been mine.
“My lack of oversight helped Golnar become even more powerful. I watched as he planned to hurt the kingdom with other Viceroys. I watched as he and Till planned to attack Clarton. I watched as Golnar killed Bernot. My foolishness left me as easy prey for my mother and Teryn. If not for Daracha, I could have been in the palace as king, letting you and Max be tortured.
“I cannot let my son become who I was. I want purpose for my own life and his. I want my family to stand for something. I believe in you, Griffa. You have given me so much. You saved my son twice. He owes you as I do. My family line owes you. Let me bond my family with yours. Let me protect you. Let me serve you and the kingdom.”
Max looked at Griffa. Kedan seemed to know what he was undertaking. He seemed to want to do it, but Max didn’t know how Griffa would respond. She was looking at Kedan seeming to be thinking of what to say. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak Kedan took her hand.
“Please, Griffa. I know every argument you could make against this. I have made them to myself. Please, let me do this.”
Max looked at Ansel. He was watching Griffa intensely. Griffa looked at Ansel and then back at Kedan.
“I don’t know,” she said looking down. “I don’t know if I can let you do this, Kedan.”
Kedan stood up and pulled Griffa up with him. “Come with me, Griffa.” Kedan led Griffa to the entry hall, Max and Ansel following close behind. Kedan took her upstairs and to the Keene nursery that was close to Griffa’s room. He opened the door and took Griffa close to the baby’s bed that was in the room. Ansel and Max waited outside the open door as Griffa looked down at Kedan’s son who was sleeping.
“Look at him, Griffa. What do you see?”
“I see a beautiful child. I see a life with so much potential. He could be anything he wanted to be at this moment.”
“He could,” answered Kedan. “He could make a million different choices that would lead him in a million different paths, but he would have nothing if not for you. He owes you his life, Griffa. I know I don’t have use of magic, but you have told me I have magic in me. I can feel it. I can feel the magic in my son, and I can tell it is already bonded to you. I am bonded to you.
“I close my eyes, and the only future I can see is one in service to you and the kingdom. I want my family line to have this honor of protecting your line. I want to raise my son knowing his life will mean something. Can you not feel this is right, Griffa?”
Max watched as Griffa put her hand gently on the back of Kedan’s sleeping son. She closed her eyes and sighed as she reached and took a hold of Kedan’s hand. Kedan closed his eyes. Max watched as they stood like that for several moments. He glanced over at Ansel who was staring at Kedan and Griffa. Griffa opened her eyes and took her hand off of Kedan’s son. She looked up at Kedan and nodded.
“Very well, Kedan Belles,” Griffa whispered. “If this is how you choose to serve, I will not stop you. If you bond your line to mine and take the responsibility of being my protector, I will take the responsibility of being your queen.”
Kedan fell to his knees before Griffa. He held her hand and kissed it. “Thank you, my queen. I will not fail you.”
“I know,” said Griffa as she raised Kedan up. He took her into his arms and held her.
Ansel looked at Max with a smile. “Will you go start the potion you need to do this?”
“Yes,” said Max. “I will need Griffa’s blood soon. Bring her down to me quickly.”
Max walked down the stairs and to the cellar. He started putting everything into the kettle he needed to make the potion. He read all the notes before him carefully to make sure he was doing everything exactly right. After he threw in all he needed before Griffa’s blood, Max sat back on his stool and waited.
Kedan would be Griffa’s new protector. Max thought it would be a good choice. Kedan was strong, and he would be able to protect Griffa. He cared for Griffa. He owed Griffa something very precious. More than that, he seemed to understand what he was taking on. He wanted it not just for himself, but for his son and beyond.
The door opened and Griffa walked into the room with Ansel and Kedan behind her. Kedan was carrying his sword. Griffa smiled slightly at Max and sat on a stool next to him. Ansel and Kedan stood against the wall.
“What will happen with all of this?” asked Griffa. “Are you sure it’s safe for all involved?”
“I am,” answered Max. “I am being very careful and doing everything as is written here. I have added everything I need so far except your blood. There is a flower I believe was native to the homeland of the line of Adalwen. There are many different herbs and flowers that all stand for something such as bravery, devotion, and friendship. Your blood will be added now. Once it is brewed, we will mix Ansel and Kedan’s blood. Kedan will drink the potion, and he will take over the line.”
Griffa sighed and looked up at Ansel.
“I am sure, Griffa,” said Ansel before she could speak.
Griffa nodded as Max took Griffa’s hand and stood her up. Max looked at Kedan, and he gave the sword to Max. “Come kneel by us, Kedan. Griffa will need to make an oath to you.”
Kedan walked over and kneeled down in front of Griffa. He took her hand.
“Gryphon Keene, do you freely bond yourself to Kedan Belles?” asked Max reading off the paper in his hand.
Griffa looked down at Kedan. “Yes,” said Griffa.
“Do you pledge your line to his. Do you accept the responsibility for the line of Adalwen to be bonded with the line of Belles?”
“Yes,” said Griffa still staring at Kedan.
“Will you pledge to be a faithful and fair ruler, never asking your protector to go against what is right and true?”
“I do so pledge,” said Griffa still staring at Kedan.
“Give me your hand, Griffa,” said Max.
Griffa took her hand away from Kedan’s and gave it to Max. Max laid down the paper in his hands on the stool. He held Griffa’s hand in his and carefully took the sword, slicing Griffa’s hand open. She winced, but did not cry out. Max took Griffa’s hand and placed it over the kettle. He watched as her blood ran into the potion below. The potion sizzled as bubbles formed. Griffa took a deep breath and shuddered. Max let go of her hand as she walked away from the kettle.
Max put down the sword as Ansel walked to Griffa. Max handed Ansel some gauze and balm for Griffa’s hand. Ansel bandaged Griffa’s hand as Kedan rose from the floor. Max turned to stir the potion.
“When will it be done?” asked Griffa after her hand was bandaged.
“Tomorrow evening,” answered Max. “I will stay down here tonight to keep watch over it. Tomorrow I will bring it up to the fireplace in the parlor. We will do the rest of the ceremony in there.”
Griffa nodded. “I feel tired. I am going to lie down for a bit.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” asked Ansel.
“No,” said Griffa quietly. “I feel like being alone for a while. I will be downstairs before dinner.”
“I will walk you up and go check on my son, Griffa,” said Kedan standing by Griffa’s side. He turned to look at Max. “Thank your helping with this, Max. You don’t know what this means to me.”
“Serve her well, Kedan. That is all I ask,” replied Max.
Kedan nodded and offered Griffa’s his arm, escorting her out of the room.
Ansel watched them go and then sat heavily down on the stool by the fire. Max sat down next to him and looked at his potion as Ansel wiped his face with his hands.
“You aren’t having second thoughts, are you Ansel?” asked Max. “Nothing has been done yet, I could throw all this away.”
“I am not having second thoughts, Max. This is what I want. I’m just so relieved she has let me do this, that she let Kedan do this.”
Max nodded. “She must have sensed something with Kedan’s son. She believes this is right, or she wouldn’t let it happen.”
“It is right. I believe it is what was meant to happen. Kedan will be a good protector. It is hard to let the responsibility go. It will be hard to place her safety in the hands of another, but I trust him.”
“I wonder how you will change, Ansel,” said Max as he picked up the large stick and stirred the potion.
“What do you mean?” asked Ansel.
“So much of your magic comes from you being a protector, I wonder what you will truly be when it is gone. Will you be a warlock, a sorcerer, or a mage do you think?”
“I haven’t thought about it, really. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter as long as I get to be with the woman I love.”
“I wonder how your relationship will change with Griffa. You are bonded to her through this magic. I’m not saying you won’t love her, but it might change your feelings in some way.”
“I am not worried about that,” said Ansel. “I know the love I have for Griffa has nothing to do with our magical bond. I have no doubt of the love I feel.”
“I know,” said Max, “but it might be different when you feel the bond broken. I just want you to be aware.”
Ansel looked at Max with a half-smile. “Considering how I have felt these past few weeks, I can handle some little changes. I thought I had lost her forever, Max. I know you know how that feels. I can endure a number of changes, if it means I have a chance to stand by her side as her husband and consort at the end of this.”
“We will have to get her though what’s to come first. Her safety isn’t guaranteed. I have seen a vision where we take Aurumist, but it cost her life. She will do anything to save her kingdom.”
“And we will have to be willing to do anything to save her, Max.”