Griffa looked out at Aurumist from a tower of the palace. The breeze blew back her wild, dark red hair. She looked below the city rings, gazing down on all of her people. Her dark blue eyes looking on them with benevolence. She wanted them to be safe. She would prosper and suffer as they did. As she was staring out, Ansel came up to her. She turned and smiled at him to see him looking at her sadly. His dark brown eyes looked look to be red and irritated from no sleep.
“What is wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t want it to be this way,” he said.
“To be what way?” she asked.
“My queen, what do you command of me?” asked Ansel coldly
“What do you mean, Ansel?”
“I am your protector. What would you have me do?” he asked again, an edge to his voice.
An understanding came to Griffa, and it made her blood run cold. She heard herself say, “Go to the king and tell him I am looking for him.”
“Yes, my queen,” Ansel looked at Griffa. She saw a single tear run down his face.
She wanted to comfort him, but knew she could not. He turned from her, and she looked out at her kingdom. She didn’t want it to be this way either, but she was beholden to the kingdom. She could only do as it wished. She could hear footsteps behind her. Her king consort was coming. She felt a small smile come to her face as she felt her king’s arms wrap around her. She sighed in contentment and turned around.
Griffa blinked her eyes rapidly in the early morning light that filtered through the curtains in her bedroom. She took a breath and tried to rid her head of the dream she had just had. She sighed and stretched slightly as Ansel’s arm around her tightened, pulling her to him. Griffa’s eyes felt heavy. She sighed again and relaxed into the warmth of Ansel’s embrace. It was only early fall, but the weather outside had already turned cold.
It had been a long, hard summer. The loss of Issa settled over the house, making Keene Manor a quiet, somber place. Max spent most of his time alone reading, thinking, or helping Griffa make potion for the sick folk of the kingdom. They couldn’t seem to make enough potion to cure the folk in kingdom.
They had sent the potion everywhere in The Great Surrounding. The sickness was abating there, but in other parts of the kingdom, it was just getting started. Griffa had spent most of the summer in the Lakelands tending to those who were sick. She knew they would have to visit the River Valley soon as the sickness was said to be spreading fast there. They would have to find a way to increase the number of potions they could make each day.
Griffa fought off sleep. She needed to get out of bed. She needed to get dressed and go downstairs to relieve Talon. He had been watching the kettles in the parlor and cellar throughout the night. Those batches should be almost done and ready to bottle. Griffa stretched one more time and moved to scoot out of bed. Ansel’s arm around her tightened again.
“Where are you going, Griffa?” asked Ansel sleepily.
“I have to go see to the potions. Talon’s been up half the night with them.”
“You came to bed very late. He can watch them a little longer. You need to sleep more.”
“I have had enough sleep to get me through. I need to bottle this batch, and make one more before we go to the River Valley in a couple of days.”
Ansel pulled her until she rolled over to look at him. She leaned forward and brushed his lips with her own. He smiled and pulled her into him, wrapping his arms around her.
“You have put too much on yourself. You told me you would let others help you,” said Ansel as he kissed her forehead.
“I have been. Max worked most of the day on the potion yesterday. Talon stayed up last night to finish it.”
“Yes, but you sat with Max most of the day and half the night with Talon. You have to rest while others are helping you, Griffa.”
Griffa looked up at Ansel. “It’s very hard for me to just sit back. I am constantly reminded of the suffering of the folk. If I am working to help them, the feelings aren’t so bad. I may sleep less, but I rest better.”
Ansel sighed and looked down at her. “I thought your nightmares of the kingdom have been better. I haven’t sensed you having any feelings of dread or sickness lately.”
Griffa looked down from Ansel. She tried to turn, but he wouldn’t let her.
“You’ve been shielding me from your feelings, haven’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Griffa quietly.
“Why?” asked Ansel. He sounded irritated.
Griffa looked up at him, and touched his cheek. “I can’t stand making you suffer because of me. You have lost so much sleep due to my stress. I won’t watch you live in constant worry and dread because of me.”
Griffa pushed her way out of Ansel’s embraced and sat up. She turned to get out of bed when Ansel caught her arm.
“Don’t leave,” he said. “Not yet.”
Griffa huffed but nodded. She laid back down in the bed, and Ansel pulled her to him tightly. She snuggled against his chest.
“Please don’t block me out, Griffa. I need to feel what you are feeling. I can help you. Put down your shield, at least for a moment.”
Griffa took a deep breath. She released the barrier she had put up between them, letting him feel her feelings. She was sure he could feel her anxiousness and worry. He could feel her sadness and grief. He could feel the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders. She still hid a few things from him, including her dream of him.
Ansel held her tight and shuddered. “You don’t have to do this alone. You have way too many things pressing down on you. You will not be able to go on like this.”
Griffa closed her eyes as she could feel his protector magic wash over her. She felt the knot in her stomach untie, and the tightness in her chest lessened. She gave a contented sigh against Ansel.
“You can’t shut me out,” said Ansel. “Let me help you. As your protector, it is my duty to see to your well-being. As the man who loves you, I want to share these burdens with you.”
Griffa understood what he was saying, but she didn’t know if she could always let down her shield. She needed to protect him from some of her feelings. There were a few he didn’t need to know. It would do no good for him to know them. It would only hurt and worry him.
“Griffa, please hear what I am saying.”
“I do,” said Griffa pushing away from him gently and looking up. “I understand. I will let you know when I am overwhelmed.” Griffa reached up and kissed him. “I do love you, Ansel.”
He smiled down at her. “Will you sleep for a little longer, my love?”
Griffa nodded, and he pulled her back to him as Griffa closed her eyes. She dozed off as she felt his breaths become even. When she woke up, she could tell not much time had passed, but she felt more refreshed. She gently pulled back from Ansel and rolled out of bed. She dressed quickly and quietly, making her way out of the room and downstairs.
She walked into the parlor to find Talon sleeping of the sofa. He was laying on his side with his arm dangling off the edge. Griffa smiled and walked over to sit in a chair next to him. She watched him for a moment while he slept. His dark hair had gotten longer than he usually kept it. She gently moved a bit of his it that had fallen into his eyes. She touched the light scar on his cheek he had received from the battle in Clarton.
She knew she should wake him up and send him to bed, but she couldn’t help but watch him sleep for a moment longer. She loved him. He would never be Ansel. She would always have to choose Ansel, but she loved Talon. She had no doubts about her love for him. She wished she didn’t love him so much. There was so much history between them. She had guarded her heart so long from Talon when they were younger and she knew his wild ways, but it hadn’t seemed to do any good. She knew now she had loved him for a long while. This was one of the things she would keep shielded from Ansel. He didn’t need to know the depths of her feelings for Talon.
She wanted Talon to be happy. She wanted him to find someone who could love him as he deserved. Griffa loved him very much, but she could never have him. She could never give him what he wanted from her. She had given away her heart to Ansel, and she could not gain it back at this point. Talon was brave, wise, and wonderful. He deserved someone who would cherish him, be devoted to him. Hopefully after the war, he could find someone who deserved him. As much as it pained her to think of him with someone else, she knew she would be happy to see him in love with someone who could love him as he should be loved.
Talon stirred and Griffa took her hand away from his face. He blinked his eyes and looked up at her as he slowly smiled.
“Good morning,” he said as he slowly sat up and stretched, looking around. “What time is it?”
“It’s early. Breakfast is not for a few hours, yet,” answered Griffa.
“Why are you up?” he asked. “You should still be asleep.”
“I couldn’t sleep anymore,” replied Griffa. “Is the potion ready?”
“I left it to cool a few hours ago. It should be ready to bottle before long,” said Talon.
“Why don’t you go up to bed?” asked Griffa.
“What will you do?”
“I’ll start measuring the ingredients for the next batch so we can start it as soon as this one is bottled,” answered Griffa standing up.
“I’ll shall help you then,” said Talon standing up as well.
“You should really go to bed. You’ve been up all night,” said Griffa.
“I dozed off and on. I’d say I got more sleep than you. Come on, let me help you.”
“Talon,” said Griffa with exasperation.
“I am adamant,” said Talon taking Griffa’s hand and dragging towards the cellar. “If we work together, we can get everything ready before we have to bottle this current batch.”
Griffa let Talon drag her through the entry hall and kitchen, and down the cellar stairs. He opened the door of the cellar and let her pass. She sat down at a table on the far wall. The table had many different ingredients, scales, and vials strewn across it. Talon pulled up a stool next to her.
“When do you go to the Valley next?” asked Griffa as she measured out some herbs.
“I’ve been needing to go check in with the council for a while. I suppose I shall have to journey there soon,” replied Talon holding up a vial for Griffa.
“We could deliver this batch to the River Valley two days from now and go on up to the Valley after. We could stay the night, meet with the council, and come back the next evening.”
“You sure you’re up for that?” asked Talon. “You’ve been working non-stop through summer. You could let me take this batch for you.”
“No, I’ve been thinking for a while that I needed to go to the Valley. I should speak with your council. I am their queen as well. I want them to know I care about their concerns as well as Abscon’s.”
“The Valley is firmly on your side, Griffa. You don’t have to worry about it. Clara and Cillian sing your praises, and I’m a little enthusiastic about you, myself,” said Talon smiling slightly.
“I still want the people of the Valley to know their queen cares about them. It will only be one night away, and it might do me some good. Max can work on the potion while we are gone. Kedan can stay here with him.”
“You think Ansel will be alright with this plan?” asked Talon as he poured some liquid into a small glass vial.
“He will. He understands I need to see to my people. Besides, it will keep me from working for one night, and he will like that.”
“Will you stay with me in Wendell House or your own home in the Valley?” asked Talon.
“If you will have us, we will stay with you,” answered Griffa as she crushed some small leaves with a pestle.
Talon turned and grinned at Griffa. “You are always welcome in my home.”
They worked together for a while, measuring, and cutting ingredients. Soon they had everything ready for the next two batches of potion. Griffa propped her elbow on the table, putting her head in her hand. Her eyes felt heavy. Perhaps she should have slept a bit longer this morning. Griffa got up and stretched her back. She was sore from being on the stool. She walked over to her cot at the end of the room and sat down heavily.
Griffa rubbed her face and shook her head. She really didn’t want to fall asleep. When she slept, it wasn’t often very peaceful. Sometimes she would dream of her time in Aurumist. She would imagine she was still in her cell being tortured by Philo.
Other times she would dream of Issa’s death. Griffa would try to save her, but not be able to help. She would watch Issa die over and over again. Sometimes she would dream of the kingdom, but lately, her dreams had been mostly of Ansel. They left her with a sense of dread. She did not want to ever give him up, but she lived in constant fear that she couldn’t keep him.
Talon walked over and sat next to her. “What is wrong, Griffa?” he asked looking at her.
“Why do you ask?” Griffa stretched and leaned her head back against the wall.
“I know when you are worried about something. I can see it on your face and how you hold yourself. Now, tell me what is wrong. Please?”
“I’ve had trouble sleeping lately. I’ve had strange dreams. Dreams that are different than before.”
“What do you dream about?” asked Talon quietly.
“I don’t want to say, to say it would make it seem more real,” answered Griffa. She felt tears come to her eyes, but she held them back, trying not to cry.
Talon took her hand. “They are not real. They are just dreams. They can’t really hurt you.”
Griffa leaned her head against Talon’s shoulder. “If only that were true,” she whispered. “I am scared, Talon.”
Talon leaned his head on hers. “Can you tell me what you are scared of?”
Griffa didn’t know how to answer. She was terrified of so many things. She was scared of hurting Talon. She was scared of failing her kingdom and folk. She was scared that Max would never recover from losing Issa. She was terrified that she would lose Ansel for good.
“I’m scared of losing everything. I’m afraid of being alone.”
Talon gripped her hand. “No matter what, you will never lose me. I will never leave you, Griffa.”
Griffa felt tears fall from her eyes.
“Ansel will never leave you either. You will always have him. He loves you.”
Griffa felt herself shake from crying. Talon looked at her startled. He took her in his arms, and she lay on him as she cried.
“Is something wrong with you and Ansel?” asked Talon. “Has he said something or done something to hurt you?”
“No, not at all. He’s been wonderful,” said Griffa shaking her head. “but you know who he is, and who I am. We shouldn’t be together. It shouldn’t be possible. What if I have to give him up? What if for the line of Protectors and the line of Adalwen to go on I have to let him go?”
Talon rubbed her back. “I don’t know, Griffa. I don’t know how all that works. Do you?”
“No,” she said. “But I’ve had dreams and feelings. I’m afraid it won’t work. I don’t think he can be my protector and my consort.”
“You don’t know that. Don’t think like that unless you know for sure. Besides as stubborn as you both are, I am sure you can figure out something.”
Griffa sat up and pushed away from Talon. “I shouldn’t be talking about this with you. It isn’t right.”
“I don’t mind, not really. I want you to be happy, Griffa.”
I want you to be happy as well. It isn’t fair that I burden you with this,” said Griffa wiping her eyes with her hands.
“You are my friend and my queen. If I can help you in any way, I want to do it,” said Talon. “Have you told Ansel about these dreams?”
“No,” said Griffa. “I’m afraid to say anything.”
“You should tell him and you two can figure it out together. He would want to know and help you.”
Griffa sighed. “I don’t know. I will think on it.” She yawned and closed her eyes.
“You are tired. You need to rest.”
“I don’t want the dreams to come,” said Griffa quietly. “I couldn’t handle it now.”
Talon grabbed her and laid her against him. “Please try to rest. I will stay here with you. I am no protector who can comfort you, but if you need something I will be here.”
Griffa was so tired. It was so warm in the little cellar against Talon. She nodded and snuggled against him. “Thank you, Talon,” she said sleepily.
As she drifted off, she felt Talon kiss her head and heard him say, “Sleep well, dearest.”
After a couple of hours of sleep and breakfast, Griffa sat in the parlor alone with Ansel. She had just bottled up all the potion with Talon and Max. Talon had gone up to sleep, and Max went to the conservatory to sit with Nora and read. Griffa sat by Ansel on the couch.
“Do you mind going to the Valley with me?” she asked.
“Not at all,” said Ansel. “I think it is a good thing for you to meet with the council of the Valley. I also like the idea of you taking one night off from working.”
Griffa smiled at Ansel. “Where is Kedan this morning?” asked Griffa.
“I think he is still in bed. Talon checked on him earlier. He said Kedan had not slept well last night and would be down later.”
Griffa frowned. “I hope he is not becoming ill. I don’t like him going out into the kingdom with us during this sickness.”
“You gave him that pendant that should protect him. I’m sure he is fine. If he is not up in a while, I will check on him for you.”
There was a knock on the door, and Ansel got up to answer it. He left the parlor and came back in with Malchom Delis. Griffa stood and received him.
“This is a surprise, Malchom. I have not heard from you since the Ring meeting a few months ago,” said Griffa sitting down and gesturing to a nearby chair for Malchom to sit down.
“I know and I apologize. I had much to think on,” said Malchom sitting down. “I have thought over your offer.”
“Have you,” said Griffa. Ansel sat down next to her.
“Yes, you are right, Gryphon, my families disgrace in Abscon does bother me. I can never change what h happen, but I would like to start again for the Delis family amongst our folk. I have talked to my wife and she agrees. We are willing to come live in Abscon to serve on your Ring, if your offer still stands.”
Griffa smiled slightly. “It still stands, Malchom. You are aware that when I win the throne the Ring will relocate to Aurumist.”
“I am. I will be willing to travel to Aurumist whenever you need me, but I would like for my children to grow up here in Abscon.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Have you spoken to your father about your decision?”
“Yes,” said Malchom. “I have let him know my feelings towards his behavior and that of my mother and sister. He seems to think my sister will be settling down soon, to start her own family.”
Griffa looked surprised and glanced at Ansel. “Is Desmona betrothed to someone?”
“My father did not say she was. I didn’t pry any further,” replied Malchom.
“I hope whatever she chooses, that she is very happy.”
“We shall see,” said Malchom.
“Where will you live in Abscon? I imagine you will not want to move into Delis House.”
“No,” said Malchom. “I have purchased a suitable home for us. We will move within the next two weeks.”
“Good,” said Griffa. “If there is any way I can help make things easier on you, please let me know. Would you like any refreshment?”
“No,” said Malchom standing up. “I should get back to the Lakelands. There is much to do. I am glad to serve you, Gryphon. I thank you for this chance to reestablish my family name.”
Griffa stood up as did Ansel. “I am happy to have you on my Ring, Malchom. I look forward to serving the kingdom with you. I look forward to meeting your wife and children.”
Ansel saw Malchom out as Griffa sat back down on the couch. Ansel came back in and sat next to her.
“Well, only one chair to go and I shall have a full Ring.”
“Do you have any ideas who should fill the last seat?”
“None,” said Griffa.
“You can wait for a while. Maybe even wait until the war is over.”
Griffa played with her hair and fretted about what would happen when the war was over. If she was on the throne would Ansel be by her side as her consort? Would she be forced to choose someone else?
“Griffa, what are you worrying about?” asked Ansel taking her hand from her hair. He held her it and looked at her.
“It’s nothing, Ansel.” answered Griffa.
“You should know by now you can’t lie to me. I know something has been bothering you for a while. Is it just the war or is it something else?”
Griffa looked at him. “What do you think will happen with us? Will we be able to carry on the line of Adalwen and the line of Protectors?”
Ansel looked taken aback. “I don’t see why not. Why, have you read something that says differently?”
“No,” answered Griffa, “but what if we can’t? What will we do?”
Ansel took her other hand and pulled her close. “We will figure it out. I told you I would not give you up for anything. I meant it.”
Griffa nodded. “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t think I could handle it.”
“You will never lose me. You are the only woman I will ever love, Griffa. I know that for certain. You believe me, don’t you?”
“I choose you, Griffa. Whatever I have to do to be by your side forever, I will do it.”
Griffa smiled at him and leaned forward kissing Ansel gently. He grabbed her and kissed her more forcefully, causing Griffa to make a small noise against his lips. He kissed her again, and she responded with fervor. She loved him so much. She kissed him over and over. She could not imagine a life not loving him forever. Her dreams came back to her, and she felt tears come to her eyes. He moved to kissing her neck.
“Do you want to go upstairs,” he whispered in her ear.
“Yes,” she answered. “Please.”
He stood up and offered her his hand. She took it, and he pulled her up and to him, kissing her. She felt tears fall from her eyes as she kissed him, causing him to pull back.
“Are you alright,” he asked. He wiped her tears away with his thumbs.
“Yes, I Iove you,” she whispered. “I want to be with you.” She took his hand and led him upstairs. She needed to be with him. She needed to be reminded of the strength of their love.
When they got to their room, Ansel grabbed her and held her to him. “Whatever happens, I need you to know I love you more than anything in this kingdom and beyond. Nothing will ever stop me from loving you. I need you to always believe that.”
“I do, Ansel. I never doubt your love,” replied Griffa. As she kissed him and loved him, she tried to put all her fears and doubts away, but she had a feeling a time was coming when even their love might not be enough.