Griffa stood next to Kedan on the back lawn as Ansel and Talon threw spells at them. Griffa smiled as not one had broken through Kedan’s barrier so far. They had been training for a week, and Kedan had made very good progress. Griffa looked at Talon as he pushed out both his hands sending a powerful spell in their direction. Kedan threw up both his hands. Griffa was pushed back slightly, but she managed to stay on her feet. Griffa raised her staff towards Talon, and he flew to the side and landed hard on his back.
Talon sat up rubbing his lower back. “Was that really necessary, Griffa?”
“I saw that spell you threw at us. I only sent one back half as strong,” said Griffa grinning at Talon.
Talon stood up. “You forget your power is amplified in your protector’s presence.”
“How forgetful of me,” said Griffa innocently. “Do you want to go again?”
“I think that’s enough for today,” said Ansel, looking at Talon who was breathing heavily. “Kedan go rest for a bit, and then we need to talk about the protector’s guards.”
Kedan looked at Griffa who nodded. He gave her a small smile and then walked towards the house. Talon looked at Griffa before he promptly walked to the house as well. Ansel walked to Griffa, and they made their way towards the manor slowly.
“I hope I didn’t really hurt Talon with that spell,” said Griffa. “I should probably go check on him when we get into the house.”
“He’ll be fine, Griffa,” said Ansel. “He wasn’t exactly taking it easy on you and Kedan.”
“He’s been so uneasy lately. I wish he would take a couple of days and go visit the Valley. I think it would do him some good.”
“Maybe if you suggested it, he might actually go,” said Ansel. “If he doesn’t want to go alone, he could take Max.”
Griffa nodded. When they got to the house, Talon had gone to his room. He stayed there for the rest of the morning. He finally came down for lunch and joined them all at the table.
“How are things in the Valley?” asked Griffa looking at Talon sitting across from her.
“I believe they are well. Clara sent me a message a few days ago saying they had sent out three batches of the cure to villages in the Lowlands. Everything else has been quiet.”
“I appreciate them working on sending out the cure. I haven’t been able to do so recently, but Max and I are going to start brewing some more this afternoon. I’d like to go visit in the River Valley in a week or so.”
“The potion masters in the Valley are happy to do it. I believe the illness is starting to slow down in the Lowlands,” replied Talon before taking a bite of the stew in front of him.
“When is the next council meeting? It’s been a while since you have journeyed to the Valley for a meeting,” said Griffa.
“They have had a few meetings recently. I was not needed. The council will come meet with the Ring when you call them. I will talk with the council then.”
“Surely you want to check in with the council before then. It will be a few weeks before the next Ring meeting with us so focused on Kedan. Why don’t you take a few days and check on the Valley?”
“Griffa, there is no reason for me to go to the Valley at the moment. If you want me away from your home, just say so,” said Talon with irritation.
“Of course, I don’t want you away from my home, but I know you have a responsibility to your village. I don’t want me to be the cause of you neglecting your duty to the Valley.”
“I have been neglecting nothing, but if you remember you made me the second chair of your Ring so serving you is my first priority,” said Talon looking at Griffa. “If you are regretting that decision, you can let me know.” Talon stood up. “I’m not very hungry this afternoon, please excuse me.” He left the room in a hurry.
Griffa sighed and put down her spoon. “I’m not very hungry either. I think I want to take a walk,” said Griffa as she stood up.
“I shall come with you, my queen,” said Kedan starting to stand.
“No, Kedan,” said Griffa putting her hand out. “You need to meet with Ansel about the protector’s guards. I will only walk to the center of the village. I will be in no danger.”
“I will go with you, Griffa,” said Max wiping his mouth. “I am done eating, and I would like a walk as well.”
Griffa nodded. She smiled at Ansel who returned it with a smile of his own. She walked with Max to the entry hall where they both put on their cloaks and stepped outside. Griffa grabbed Max’s arm, and they walked away from the manor.
“I feel so guilty about Talon,” said Griffa once they had gotten to the road. “He is so unsettled, and I have a feeling it is all my fault.”
“You are the reason he is unsettled,” said Max, “but I don’t think it’s the reason you think. I don’t believe you are at fault.”
“What do you mean?” asked Griffa looking at Max as they walked.
“He loves you, Griffa. He has loved you for a long time. You are the true Queen of Regventus. You are the main obstacle for the powers of Aurumist. I know you don’t want to think about it, but you are in danger every minute. As we get closer and closer to you claiming the throne of Aurumist, you are in even more danger. He wants to save you.”
“He doesn’t need to put all of my safety on his shoulders. I have a protector and Ansel. I am also quite able to fight myself.”
“I think you need to talk with him about it,” said Max. “Part of the problem is Kedan and Ansel both have a part to play in your life. Kedan is your protector. Ansel will be your husband one day. Even I am practically your kin. Where does that leave Talon? He wants to keep you safe, but he doesn’t know what part to play. He definitely doesn’t want to overstep any boundaries.”
Griffa sighed. “How do you know all of this, Max?”
“I have observed him for a while. I am good at reading people. I think it comes with being a diviner.”
“You have changed so much from when I first met you. You are very wise for only having just reached your majority,” said Griffa. “Maybe you can help me understand what Ansel is thinking sometimes.”
“Lately, I think you have no trouble understanding what Ansel is thinking,” said Max with a laugh.
Griffa smacked him on the arm but then gave him an affection smile. “There’s the Max I remember.”
When they got back from their walk, Ansel and Kedan were off to see the protector’s guards. Max went to the cellar to prepare ingredients to make a new batch of potion. Griffa decided to go to the nursery to check on Zayden. When she got to the door, it was partially open. She looked in to find Talon leaning over Zayden’s bed looking at him. Griffa walked up and stood beside Talon as she looked down on Zayden who was quickly falling asleep.
“I didn’t expect to see you in here,” said Griffa quietly.
“Maybell had to run to town, so I told her I would watch him until he fell asleep.”
They stood together silently as they watched Zayden fight sleep. Griffa laid her hand gently on Zayden’s stomach and closed her eyes. The child slowly closed his eyes and fell asleep.
“That’s a good trick, Griffa,” said Talon smiling at her. “You will have to remember it when you and Ansel have your first.”
Griffa gave Talon a grin. “Do you think you and I could go somewhere and have a chat?”
Talon nodded and quietly followed Griffa out of the room. She took him to her bedroom and sat down in one of the two chairs at the foot of the bed. Talon sat in the chair next to her.
“I know what this is about, Griffa,” said Talon looking at the fireplace before them. “I know I’ve been on edge lately.”
“You have,” said Griffa. “Max told me why he thinks you have been, but I would like you to tell me in your own words.”
Talon sighed and threw his head back. “I’m can’t help but be concerned for you. Ever since I thought you had died during the attack on Abscon, I can’t get the images of you from that day out of my head. I couldn’t take it if you died, Griffa. I don’t know what I would do.”
“I didn’t die, Talon and I’m not going to die.”
“You don’t know that,” said Talon fiercely. “Do you have any idea how much danger you are in? Don’t you realize you are the one person that Philo and the others in Aurumist want to take out the most. They know if they can kill you, we will stand no chance.”
“I know the dangers, but I can’t dwell on them. I have to believe we will all live for me to go on. I have to go on for the kingdom and my people.”
“I wish you weren’t the queen,” said Talon quietly. “I wish it had never fallen to you.”
“I wish that as well, many times. I was very happy just being Gryphon Keene with only my family legacy and this village to worry about. I was ready to do everything I could to put Max on the throne. I never dreamed I would be where I am now. If I am honest, Talon, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can be the queen of the whole kingdom. Even if we do win, I don’t know if I will be able to rule Regventus.”
Talon took Griffa’s hand. “You must not think that, Griffa. The only reason I wish you weren’t the queen is because I don’t want to lose you. You can do this. You are already doing it. You are an amazing queen. I don’t know how you can’t see it. Besides, you won’t do it alone. You will have a Ring. You will have Ansel by your side.”
“I will have you, won’t I?” asked Griffa as she gripped Talon’s hand. “I don’t think I can do this without you, Talon.”
Talon raised her hand and kissed it. “You will always have me, Griffa. No matter what happens with either of us in our lives, you can always count on my support.”
“And you always have mine. Do you realize how important you are to me?” asked Griffa she took Talon’s other’s hand and held them both. “You are one of the dearest people in the world to me. You have always supported me. You have always pushed me to be better, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
“Max says he believes one of the reasons you have been so on edge is you want to keep me safe, but you don’t know where you fit into my life.”
“That young man is wise for his age,” said Talon smiling slightly. “I do want to keep you safe, Griffa, but I know you have a protector and Ansel, who will be your king. I don’t want to push in where I am not wanted.”
“I do have a protector I trust and a betrothed I love, but I also have room for you, Talon. I don’t know if there is even a word to describe what you are to me. Friend doesn’t seem to cover it. You are an important part of my life. I love you. I love you very much. It isn’t even that I love you less than Ansel. I can’t say that and be truthful. Our love is so different than the love I feel for Ansel, that I think it has its own place in my life so there is plenty of room for it.”
“You know I love you, Griffa. I will always love you. Even when I do find someone to share my life with, it will not change the fact that I love you. If you will let me have some part of your life, I will take it.”
“I want you to have a very big part of my life, Talon. I want you to be a part of it for our whole lives, but I also want you to trust that I understand the danger that surrounds us all. I am honored you want to keep me safe, but you have to understand that I want to keep you safe as well.”
“So, you don’t want me to leave your house?”
“No,” said Griffa. “I want you to stay wherever I am as much as you can. If you need to go to the Valley, I want you to know that I have others who will stay with me and keep me safe.”
Talon stood up and pulled Griffa up with him. He took her into his arms and held her.
“I am tempted to claim that kiss you owe me,” said Talon looking down at her.
Griffa looked up at Talon with a small smile. “You will have it if you are sure you are ready.”
Talon kissed her forehead softly. “No, I want to save it for another time.”
Griffa reached up and kissed Talon quickly on his lips. “I will give you that one for free.”
That evening before dinner they had guests. Nora walked quickly into the parlor followed by Cillian. Nora was quick to embrace Griffa.
“I am very sorry I haven’t come to visit with you, Griffa. I was very worried after hearing what happened. Cillian and I were away for a few weeks, and then when we returned to the Valley, I was feeling very ill. I did want to come check on you, but I was unable.”
Griffa looked at Nora with concern. “You are alright aren’t you Nora? Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, I am very well. In fact, there was a very good reason I have been ill. One that has brought me much joy.”
Griffa gave Nora large smile as she realized what Nora meant. She embraced Nora again. “I am very happy for you, Nora. I know you have always wanted to have a child.”
“That was quick work, Cillian,” said Talon with a grin. “I suppose you might have had a head start.”
Griffa gave Talon a stern look and then looked at both Cillian and Nora. “You must eat dinner with us tonight. You know we always have more than enough food. We won’t keep you too late so you can travel back to the Valley.”
Cillian and Nora both agreed. They all spent a very enjoyable evening together catching up with old friends. In the parlor after dinner, Nora spent time with Max. Griffa, Talon, and Ansel sat close to Cillian while Kedan went to put his son down to sleep.
“How are things in the Valley, Cillian?” asked Griffa. “Is the cure continuing to be sent out?”
“Yes,” said Cillian. “We have done a good job of keeping things in the Lowlands under control. I am afraid things have accelerated in the River Valley and spread to the Grasslands. We will have to find a way to make more of the cure quickly.”
Griffa closed her eyes and shook her head. “I was afraid things were getting worse in places. I have had a bad feeling about the kingdom the last few days. I am brewing some of the cure here as you can see over the fire. I will visit the Grasslands in a few days, if some of you in the Valley could focus on the River Valley.”
“You think Kedan is ready to be out in the kingdom with you, Griffa?” asked Talon.
“I believe so. What do you think, Ansel?” asked Griffa turning to look at Ansel.
“I think he can handle a quick trip out to some small villages. Besides, I will accompany you Griffa. I am sure Talon will want to come as well.”
“Yes, I will want to go,” answered Talon. He turned to Cillian. “Is there anything the council needs from me at the moment?”
“No,” said Cillian. “Things have been quiet in the Valley. You are needed by our queen. We would like to meet with the Ring when it is convenient.”
“I will call a meeting within a month,” said Griffa. “Kedan is doing well in his new duties as protector. Once we make headway towards stemming the sickness in the Grasslands, we will meet.”
The next few days, Griffa worked with Max and Talon to produce as much of the cure as they could while still working with Kedan. They had progressed to having Kedan send spells and curses. Griffa suggested he still use his sword to focus his magic. It worked well. He could send spells and curses using his sword with ease.
The night before they were ready to leave for the Grasslands, Griffa met with Kedan before bed in the parlor. She sat next to him on the sofa.
“How are you feeling about tomorrow?” asked Griffa.
“I am rather anxious,” answered Kedan. “I don’t want to fail you in any way.”
“You will not fail me, Kedan. We probably won’t run into any trouble. If we do, I trust you to keep me safe.”
“My shields still aren’t fool proof, Griffa. If something happens, what if I can’t protect you?”
“I am not helpless. I am an adequate fighter even without my protector’s presence. You just being by my side amplifies my power. We have also not been in a situation when I am in any real trouble. I believe your instincts and magic will know what to do if I am in real danger.”
Kedan nodded, but didn’t look convinced.
Griffa took his hand. “Kedan, you don’t need to worry. Nothing will happen tomorrow. If it does, we won’t be alone. Ansel and Talon will both be with us. I also trust you. I trust you with my life. Please believe me when I say I know you can do this. I know this new role you have taken on is hard. I know it’s a burden. Your magic makes you worry about me more than necessary.”
“No, Griffa, that’s not it. I care about you,” said Kedan. “I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t care for you no matter how much I wanted purpose in my life. I worry about you. I don’t want anything else to happen to you than already has. It was very hard to see Philo hurt you, and that was before this new connection we have.”
Griffa smiled at Kedan. “I care about you as well, Kedan. You aren’t just my protector, you are my friend. I swore to Teryn and your mother I would keep you safe. I am afraid I have done nothing but put you in more danger by allowing you to be my protector. Our relationship has to be built on mutual trust. I trust you to protect me, but you have to trust me to take care of you as well.”
Kedan nodded and gripped Griffa’s hand. “I do trust you. I trust you more than anyone I have known before.”
“Good,” said Griffa. “We will both need that trust if we are going to be successful. Now, I really don’t think we will have anything to worry about tomorrow. It will be good to get out into the kingdom. Stay by my side at all times and all will be well.”
Kedan nodded. Griffa smiled and leaned forward, kissing Kedan on his cheek. “We both need to go to bed and rest. I think we need to rest as much as we can now, because in the days ahead we will not have much opportunity.”
They traveled to the Grasslands the next day. Griffa wore a simple black dress and her crown. She carried her staff as she visited small villages filled with those who were ill. She met with healers to give them the cure. She talked amongst those who were sick. She eased the passing of a few who were without hope.
She felt most at peace when she was out in the kingdom helping her people. She felt comfortable and useful. Kedan stayed by her side, and she noticed he was very good at interacting with others. He put folk at ease, and he was good with words. He seemed to care about others. Griffa watched him as he charmed a young mother with two sick children. He finished his conversation as he smiled and looked at Griffa. Griffa took his arm as they prepared to leave the village.
“You are very handy to have around during these visits, Kedan. You must have been a very appealing leader to your people when you served as the lord,” said Griffa as they walked.
“I was always capable of talking to the others. I was very inept of actually doing anything to actually help them.”
They went to the last village of the day. Griffa had just given vials of the cure to a healer when she felt extremely light-headed. She felt herself sway for a moment, and she was afraid she would not be able to stand. She heard Kedan gasp, and he quickly grabbed her.
“My queen,” he said quietly. “Are you well?”
Griffa blinked her eyes and took deep breaths. She nodded. “I believe I am just tired. Maybe we should go home soon.”
Ansel and Talon had realized something was wrong. Ansel looked at her and then at Kedan.
“What’s wrong?” he asked
“It’s nothing, Ansel,” said Griffa pushing away from Kedan and standing straight. “I am just a little tired. It is nothing to worry about.”
Griffa noticed Kedan give Ansel a look. “I think we should leave. They have the cure. You need to get home,” said Ansel. He took Griffa’s hand and brought her close to him.
Griffa went to argue when she again felt faint. She leaned against Ansel as Kedan reached for her quickly. Talon came up behind her.
“Come on, Griffa,” Talon said. “You have done enough today. You can rest for a few days and come back to check on things.”
Griffa was having a hard time thinking clearly so she nodded. Ansel helped her walk to the edge of the village as Kedan walked closely by her side. When they came to the edge of the village, Griffa leaned into Ansel and depending on him to travel to Abscon. By the time they had walked halfway to the manor, Griffa felt like she could barely keep her eyes open. Ansel must have felt her stumble because he quickly picked her up and carried her the rest of the way. Somewhere along the way in the warmth of Ansel’s arms, Griffa fell asleep.