Kedan sat by the fire in the parlor of Keene Manor. It was late. He should go to bed, but he sat there next to Talon as Talon stared at him while drinking a glass of wine.
“You seem to have something to say to me, Talon.”
“I have plenty to say to you, but I don’t believe it’s my place to do so. Ansel and Griffa have placed their trust in you. That should be good enough for me.”
“But it’s not. Go on, Talon; tell me whatever objections you have to what’s going to happen.”
Talon sat his glass down loudly on the table next to him. “I don’t think you can protect her. You were there close to her when she was seriously injured. You let her run off to Aurumist, and you have no magical ability. She is going to continue to be in danger the closer we get to ending this. She will probably be more in danger. What makes you think you can keep her safe?”
“I know I have failed her several times. I have relived that day she was stabbed over and over again. I should have been paying more attention. If she had died, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“If she would have died, I might not have let you leave the front yard alive,” said Talon harshly. “What about that little trip you took together to Aurumist? What have you to say about that?”
“You know how I feel about it. It was wrong. I never should have let it happen. I should have found a way to stop her. I let her go without a fight because I wanted to go. It was selfish, and I will not let it happen again.”
Talon rolled his eyes and picked up his wine glass, taking a drink of his wine.
“Talon, is there even anything I could say to convince you I can do this? I can tell you I will give my life for her if I have to. I will give every hour I can to train and become who I need to be for her. I am binding myself to her. No one will come before her; you know how this works. She will be the most important person to me in this kingdom. Is there anything I can say or do to prove to you I can and will protect her?”
“No,” said Talon. “No one in this kingdom means more to me than her. I know I have no right to tell you, you shouldn’t do this, but I am. You should tell them you made a mistake. You should stop this now.”
Kedan looked at Talon with narrowed eyes. “And then what will they do? Who will they find to do this?”
Talon drank his wine and stared at Kedan.
“You don’t want them to find anyone do you?” asked Kedan. “You know that if they can’t find anyone, Ansel won’t be able to give up his line. He won’t be able to be with Griffa. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Ansel being her protector is the best chance we have of keeping Griffa safe until she is on the throne. Changing this now will do nothing but put her in more danger.”
“And if Ansel is her protector that means he can’t be her consort,” said Kedan sharply. “I wonder who you think she will turn to then.”
Talon shook his head. “It has nothing to do with that.”
“It has everything to do with that, Talon. You are in love with Griffa.”
“I am. I love her, and I want her to be happy. I want her to be able to be with Ansel, but I want her to live more. With Ansel as her protector, he can keep her safe through all that is ahead. He has trained to do this his whole life.”
Kedan gave a harsh laugh. “That sounds very noble, but it’s only the half-truth, Talon. You want to be with her. You know if she can’t be with Ansel, she will turn to you. You can sit there and lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself.”
Talon drained his wine glass and sat it down on the table next to him.
“You’re right, Kedan, I do want to be with her. I could never explain to you the depth of love I have for her. I have loved her for a long time, but it is my own fault I am not with her. I threw away my chance a long time ago. I know I have lost her forever. If I could change it, I would.
“I want almost nothing more than to be with her, but I want her to live more. Do you have any idea what it was like for me to think she had died after Philo attacked her? I can face anything, even watching her love another, as long as she lives.”
“Then you will have to trust me to protect her,” said Kedan. “She has chosen to let me do this. Ansel has put his trust in me. I will not fail either one of them. I will not fail you either. I will keep her safe, and I will see her sit on the throne. I stake my life on it.”
Talon stood and walked to the fireplace, turning to look at Kedan. “You swear on your life you will keep her safe? You will see her through this to the end?”
“Yes,” said Kedan. “She will rule over Regventus in Aurumist. She will live and rule over us all for many years. I promise you I will make it so.”
Talon nodded. “Fine, I will hold you to it. If you let her lose her life in this pursuit, I will take yours. Do you accept?”
“Yes,” said Kedan. He knew Talon was serious, and Kedan found he was serious as well. “I will serve as her protector, and I will keep her safe, or you may do with my life as you wish.”
Talon picked up his glass and went to a side table. He filled his glass and another one next to it. He walked over and handed a glass to Kedan, sitting down across from Kedan. “A toast, Kedan, a toast to our queen and her long life.”
Kedan raised his glass as Talon raised his and then they both drank deeply.
“I’m going to bed,” said Talon. “I suggest you do the same. Your life changes tomorrow, and there will not be much time for rest.”
The next day passed tensely. Kedan spent most of the morning with his son in the Keene nursery. At one point, Griffa came in to visit. She sat on the floor with Kedan watching Zayden attempt to crawl.
“Did you sleep at all last night?” asked Griffa looking at Kedan.
“Some, not much, I had a lot on my mind.”
“I know,” said Griffa. “Kedan, if you are having second thoughts, I won’t blame you if you change your mind.”
Kedan looked at Griffa. “I’m not having second thoughts. I want to do this. I just worry if I will be able to serve you well. I worry if I will be able to protect you.”
“I believe you will. Ansel believes you will. He would not let you do this if he didn’t trust you. Ansel and I will both help you learn your new role. You won’t have to figure it out on your own.”
Kedan nodded. “I don’t want to fail you, Griffa. I feel like I’ve failed you frequently lately.”
“You haven’t, Kedan. What happened during the attack on Abscon was not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to prevent it. Aurumist was more my fault than yours. If anything, you might want to reconsider serving such an impulsive, erratic queen.”
Kedan smiled slightly. “There is no other queen or king I would want to serve more than you. I believe in you, Griffa.”
“And I believe in you, Kedan. When you told me, you wanted to take on this role, my only reserve was the burden it would be on you and your family line. I never doubted you would be able to do this. I feel honored you want to join with me in this way. I was worried who Ansel would find to serve as my protector. I am glad to be entering into this relationship with someone I care about. I have become fond of you, Kedan. I consider you a very dear friend.”
“I am glad you feel that way. I feel the same.”
“Good,” said Griffa.
She turned to watch Zayden on a blanket in the middle of the floor. He had turned on his bank and looked to be falling asleep. Kedan watched as Griffa stood up quietly and picked up his son. She took him to nearby chair and cradled him, soothing him to sleep quickly. Kedan got up off the floor as she stood up. She kissed Zayden on the forehead and laid him in the bed. Kedan smiled down at his son and then followed Griffa out of the room.
They walked towards the stairs together, and Griffa hooked her arm with Kedan’s.
“I also must say there is one selfish reason I am glad you will be my protector.”
“What is that?” asked Kedan looking at her.
“If I’m going to have someone by my side constantly, I would much rather it be someone as handsome as you.”
Kedan spent the rest of the day in nervous anticipation. Talon shadowed him the rest of the day. Every time Kedan looked up, Talon would be staring at him. After dinner, Max and Ansel brought up the kettle from the cellar and placed it over the fire in Keene Manor. Talon excused himself and went to his room, leaving Max, Ansel, Griffa, and Kedan alone.
“I think it is ready, if you are all still sure about this,” said Max turning and looking at the other three.
Griffa stood up and nodded her head. Ansel walked over to Griffa and held her hand. Kedan stood and nodded as well.
“Let’s us begin then,” said Max. “We should all sit here by the fire on the floor close together.”
Max sat down facing the fireplace with a piece of parchment laying in front of him and Kedan’s sword by his side. Griffa sat on his left and Ansel on his right. Kedan sat down next to Ansel.
“First I need you to verbally agree you are giving up this bond that Raya has carried since the first protector.” Max turned to look at Ansel. “Do you Ansel of the line of Raya set aside this vow made by your ancestor Etan to Nathin of the line of Adalwen.”
“I do,” said Ansel.
“For what reason do you set this vow aside, Ansel?” asked Max.
Ansel looked at Griffa. “For love.”
Max turned again to look at Kedan.
“Kedan Belles, do you freely bond yourself to Gryphon Keene of the line of Adalwen?”
“Yes,” said Kedan looking at Griffa.
“Do you pledge your line to hers, accepting the responsibility for the line of Belles to be bonded with the line of Adalwen.”
“Yes,” answered Kedan.
“Do you pledge yourself and your line to protect the line of Adalwen, knowing that nothing will come before the safety and well-being of your sovereign?”
“I do so pledge.”
“Now, I will need you and Ansel to give a sacrifice of blood to complete the process.”
“Wait, Max,” said Griffa. She took a deep breath and looked at Ansel.
“Ansel, are you sure?” asked Griffa
“Yes, I have never been surer of anything in my life,” answered Ansel staring at Griffa.
“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.”
Kedan could see tears in Griffa’ eyes.
“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 as tears ran down her face.
“You won’t. It’s what I want. I choose you.”
Griffa turned slightly and looked at Kedan.
“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?” asked Griffa.
“Yes, my queen,” said Kedan softly. “I am very sure.”
Griffa turned to Max, and she held out her hand to him. Max took it and closed his eyes for a moment. After opening his eyes, he looked at Griffa as she nodded.
“Go on, Max,” said Ansel. “I’m ready.” They all stood up together, Max picking up the sword.
Ansel held out his hand to Max. He held Ansel’s hand with one hand and carefully sliced his palm with the tip of the sword. Max then walked over to Kedan. Kedan held out his hand, and Max sliced his palm. Kedan walked to the kettle with Ansel. Max joined their hands, and their blood ran together into the kettle.
Kedan felt a change in the air of the room. He could hear something quietly singing. He heard Griffa gasp as Ansel and Kedan let go of each other’s hands and stepped back. Max quickly stirred the potion with a stick that lay close by. He then picked up a cup and waved his hand. A bit of the potion flew into the cup. Max waved his hand over it and handed it to Kedan.
“You will need to drink this, if you are sure this is the path you want,” said Max.
Kedan took the cup from Max. He looked at Griffa who was staring at him with wide eyes. “I will serve you well, my queen,” said Kedan as he put the cup to his lips and drank every sip of liquid found in the cup.
The liquid went down his throat warm. He could feel the warmth spreading through his body. He felt the magic he could barely feel inside him grow. The once faint heartbeat was louder. Kedan could hear it beat in time with his own heartbeat. Kedan stretched his fingers, feeling something new within him, a power he had not had before.
As the warmth spread around him, he felt like something tied around his chest. It was if someone had pulled a cord around him and knotted it. He looked down and could see the cord around him dimly. It was tied in a knot in the front of him with the cord extending out from him. He followed the cord to see it ended at Griffa.
He looked up and stared at Griffa. He tilted his head unable to look away from her. She was his queen. She was his responsibility. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. He walked over to her slowly and kneeled in front of her. Griffa put her hand on Kedan’s shoulder and looked down at him as he looked up at her.
“Protector,” she said quietly.
“Yes, my queen,” replied Kedan.
Griffa smiled at Kedan and held out her hand. He took it, and she pulled him up. Kedan could feel the magic inside of him reach for her. Kedan pulled her into him and encircled her in his arms, holding her. He felt his magic cover her, getting to know its queen.
After a few moments, Griffa pulled back and looked at Kedan. “I will not forget the responsibility I have to you, protector.”
“I will not fail you, my queen,” said Kedan. He took her hand and kissed it. She smiled as he let her hand go. Kedan stood by her side feeling more complete than he ever had before.