Ansel felt himself slam into the ground. He looked up, and saw they were in the forest. He turned as he saw Talon throw out a curse. Ansel took in the area to see a group of Aurumist soldiers turning towards them. Talon’s curse took out three. They laid on the ground not moving. Kedan quickly took his sword out from the scabbard on his back. Ansel stood with his hands out, and Darron backed up away from them.
“We have to get in that tree, quickly,” said Ansel. He threw his hands out and took out two soldiers as he felt Max put up a block around them.
They moved towards the soldiers as Ansel threw a curse that caused four soldiers to rise up and fall down hard. Kedan swung his sword in an arc, causing a powerful spell to slice through two soldiers. Talon summoned a fierce wind that caused a log to roll over a small group of soldiers. They had taken out almost half the soldiers by the time they got close to the tree. Ansel could see Max leaning heavily on his staff.
“We have to get to Griffa,” said Max desperately. He raised his hand and a solider twisted through the air.
“Ansel, try to break into the tree with Kedan. Max and I can take out the rest of these soldiers,” said Talon as he conjured a wind that spun three soldiers together and threw them into two trees.
Ansel looked at Max to see Max push off from his staff and nod before following Talon. Ansel and Kedan moved towards the front of the tree. Kedan blocked curses as Ansel threw out a few curses and spells to clear the way. He saw Kedan falter slightly as a curse hit his leg. Kedan grabbed his head and shook it. He turned to Ansel.
“We have to get to her now,” Kedan said urgently.
Ansel felt panic rise within him. He grabbed Kedan and they moved towards the tree. There were only five soldiers left, and Max and Talon were working together to take them out.
They got to the front of the tree, and Ansel ran his hand along the front. He could feel something there. There was a ward up. He would need to break through it.
“Kedan, watch my back for a second while I try to break down this door.”
Kedan nodded and turned with his sword at the ready. Ansel pushed out his hand and a fierce wind blew at the front of the tree. He could see a door give a little. Ansel turned to see Talon facing the three soldiers that were left. Max was at his side.
“Talon,” yelled Ansel. “I need your help with this door.”
Talon nodded. He sent a curse in the direction of the soldiers and then turned towards Ansel. He conjured a fire in his hand and then sent it blazing towards the door. Ansel joined in with a powerful wind and the door blew away, half charred. Ansel ran in the large room before him with Kedan behind him. He saw Griffa sitting up on a table in her underclothes with blood running down her arms. An old man was standing by her with a bowl in his hand.
Philo Quick popped up from the ground and threw the old man against the wall as Kedan ran up to stand next to Ansel. Philo quickly put out his hand and sent a spell at Ansel. Ansel tried to block it, but was knocked backwards, falling hard on his back. He sat up to see Philo yanking Griffa off of the table. He held her close to his side as he summoned a knife on the floor to his hands.
Ansel jumped up, his heart beating fast. He was about to throw a curse at Philo when he saw Kedan slightly raise his hand. Griffa turned to look at Philo as she put her hands on him. He shuddered and dropped his knife. Griffa pushed up, and Philo flew up and then fell down on the floor. He looked up at her angry before she raised her hands and threw him through the open door of the tree. She swiftly walked out.
Ansel and Kedan followed her. Philo was on the ground outside on his back. He sat up looking at Griffa with a sneer.
“Are you going to kill me, Gryphon?” asked Philo
Griffa was breathing hard. She raised her hands as Philo looked behind her. Ansel followed Philo’s gaze to see Helmer holding a bowl. He dropped something in it. Ansel turned to see Griffa fall quickly to the ground. Philo stood up and grabbed her, holding her to his side.
Ansel stood by Kedan and saw Talon and Max close by on his right. They all circled around Philo. Ansel saw that Talon had his hand up.
“You can’t fly away this time, Philo,” said Talon coldly. “Let her go now. If you even move to hurt her, I will kill you.”
“Would you really risk hitting your queen here,” said Philo. “Put down the wards, Talon or I will kill her quickly.”
Philo looked over at Ansel. “Don’t make one move, Ansel or I will kill her before you can put any kind of block up.”
Ansel looked at Griffa. She seemed to be in immense pain. She struggled slightly against Philo.
“Take the wards down, now,” yelled Philo as he pulled Griffa tighter to him.
Talon held up his hand and looked at Kedan. Kedan nodded slightly.
Philo grinned as the travel wards came down. “Come on, Helmer. We will finish this in Aurumist.”
Ansel watched as Kedan raised his hand slightly. Griffa’s eyes opened, and she pushed away from Philo, hitting the ground as Talon pushed his hand forward. His curse flew towards Philo. Philo put up his hands to block, but was pushed back hard. He fell backwards on the ground. Ansel turned and pushed out his hand causing Helmer to drop the bowl he was holding. It fell to the ground, and Ansel could see dark blood spill all over the leaves at his feet. Helmer ran quickly while Ansel was momentarily distracted.
Talon and Max advanced towards Philo as Kedan ran to Griffa. He kneeled by her side. Ansel joined Talon and Max, as Talon caused a large branch to fall on Philo. Philo raised his hand and threw it aside. Ansel sent a curse towards Philo as Max sent his own curse as well. Before they could hit Philo, a block stopped them. Ansel looked over to see Darron with his hand up. His father stood next to him.
Philo smiled. “We will do this at another time.” Philo looked towards Griffa laying on the ground. “I will rule this kingdom, Gryphon.” He turned and looked at Helmer. “Let’s go Helmer.”
Talon moved his hand quickly, but Philo disappeared before the curse could hit Philo. Helmer and Darron quickly disappeared as well. Talon cursed and Max groaned. Ansel turned quickly to look at Kedan and Griffa. Griffa was sitting on the ground against Kedan. His hand was rubbing one of her arms. Ansel walked over and kneeled down by Griffa.
“Griffa,” said Ansel as he leaned down and kissed her forehead. Ansel looked at Kedan. “How is she?”
Kedan looked at Ansel for a second and nodded his head. Kedan then looked back down at Griffa. Ansel looked at her as well.
She looked tired. She looked at Ansel with weary eyes and gave a small smile. Her arms had blood on them, but Kedan had mostly healed the wounds. Ansel noticed she was shivering so he took off his cloak and put it over her. She thanked him quietly. Kedan took his hand off of Griffa’s arm, and he placed his hand on Griffa’s forehead and closed his eyes. Griffa reached out for Ansel’s hand. He took it as she took deep breaths and seemed to relax. Kedan took his hand off of Griffa’s forehead and looked down at her. Ansel noticed Talon and Max had come over to join them.
“Griffa,” said Talon crouching down. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she said looking at him. She let go of Ansel’s hand and stood up with Talon’s help. Kedan and Ansel both stood up with her. Anselhelped her fasten his cloak around her shoulders.
“We need to go home, Griffa,” said Ansel.
“One moment,” said Griffa. She stretched her back and stumbled slightly. Talon caught her hand and steadied her. She gathered herself and turned, walking back into the tree dwelling.
Ansel and the others followed her as she entered the large room and walked over to the old man who was crumpled on the floor. She knelt down and took the old man’s hand. She placed her other hand on his forehead. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up at Griffa.
“My queen,” he said quietly. “I am sorry.”
“I know,” said Griffa. “You can rest now, Golnar. It’s over. You can have peace.”
“You have to save the kingdom, my queen,” said Golnar gripping her hand. “Only you can make things right. I almost destroyed everything, but you can make it right.”
“I will,” said Griffa looking down at the man with kindness. “I will make it right. You can rest. The gods will show you mercy, Golnar. You will have peace.”
“I don’t deserve it,” said Golnar, his eyes half closing.
“I don’t know if any of us do,” said Griffa. “Take the mercy that is offered to you and travel well.” Griffa leaned down and kissed Golnar gently on his forehead. He smiled slightly and closed his eyes. Soon he let go of Griffa’s hand, and he was no more.
“Journey well, dear one,” whispered Griffa. She stood up and leaned on Ansel.
Ansel looked down at this man. He was Golnar. The one who let Griffa be tortured. The one who caused Max so much pain. He didn’t understand how Griffa could give this man forgiveness. How could she wish him well? Ansel looked at Griffa and saw tears coming out of her eyes. Ansel pulled her close and held her.
“We need to go home, Griffa,” he said as she cried softly against him.
“I can’t just leave him here,” said Griffa pulling away from Ansel.
Ansel looked at Talon, and Talon looked around and sighed. “I will take care of it, Griffa. Let Ansel and Kedan take you home. Max and I will take care of it.”
She looked at Max who took her hand. She squeezed it. Max looked at her. He then pulled her close and hugged her. “I understand, Griffa. I will make sure he has a proper send off this afternoon. I will see you at home.”
“Thank you,” said Griffa as she kissed Max on his cheek.
She turned to Talon. He took her into his arms and Griffa encircled hers around him. Talon closed his eyes and laid his head on hers. “Go rest, Griffa. I will bring Max home soon,” said Talon before dropping a kiss on her head.
He let go of Griffa, and she moved to stand between Ansel and Kedan. Ansel pulled her close, and Kedan put his hand on Griffa’s arm. They traveled to the Gates of Abscon, and then slowly walked towards the village and Keene Manor. It was afternoon, but it seemed later in the day. The sky was gray. It was so cold, Ansel thought it might snow soon. Griffa leaned on Ansel as they walked. He kept his arm around her as Kedan walked close by.
When they arrived at the manor, Kedan opened the door to let Griffa in. They were met by Maybelle. She looked at Griffa and then at Ansel.
“She’s fine, Maybelle. We all are. Can you get some food for everyone? We all missed lunch. Griffa will want to clean up as well. I will explain what happened soon.”
Maybelle nodded and walked towards the kitchen. They walked up the stairs, and Griffa turned to Kedan as they reached the top.
She took his hands and looked up at him. “Thank you, protector,” she said. “You did wonderful out there. You need to check on your son and rest now.”
Kedan smiled slightly at her. “Yes, my queen, you can send for me if you need anything.” He brought one of her hands up to his lips and kissed it gently. He let it go and nodded at Ansel. Ansel nodded at Kedan and turned with Griffa towards their room.
They walked into the room and Ansel closed the door. He turned to Griffa who stood by the bed in his cloak. She looked up at him and smiled slightly. He walked over and took her into his arms, holding her close.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I am a little tired and sad, but I feel fine.”
“You will want to bathe,” said Ansel looking at her blood stained arms.
Griffa nodded as there was a knock at the door. Jonthon came in with two buckets of water. Ansel thanked him and took them from him. Ansel walked to the bathtub and poured the water in the tub, warming the water. He turned to see Griffa taking off his cloak and laying it on a chair. She took off her dirty shift and walked to the tub. Ansel took her hand and pulled her in for a quick kiss. He then helped her into the bathtub.
After washing she changed into a comfortable dress, and walked to the bed.
“Do you want to rest while we wait for Max and Talon?” asked Ansel
“Will you lay with me for a bit?” she asked.
Ansel nodded. He walked to the bed and pulled down the covers. Griffa walked over and laid down in the bed. Ansel walked to the other side and sat down. He quickly took off his boots, and laid down taking Griffa into his arms.
He wanted to ask her what had happened. He wanted to ask what Philo and Helmer tried to do to her. He wanted to ask about Golnar and why she had forgiven him, but instead he held her and kissed her. She leaned her forehead against his as he rubbed her back. She shivered slightly as tears leaked out of her eyes.
“Are you in pain? Do you need me to get your protector?” asked Ansel.
Griffa shook her head. “No, I just want to lay here with you. You make me feel safe and protected.”
“Do you want to talk about what happened?”
“Not yet,” said Griffa closing her eyes. “I will wait until we are all together.”
Ansel pulled her closer, and she laid her head against his chest. He could tell she had soon fallen asleep as her breaths were even. He couldn’t believe Philo had gotten a hold of her again. Was there nowhere or no time she could be safe? Ansel realized that she couldn’t, not while Philo lived. Ansel realized with Golnar dead, Philo might be the most powerful folk in Aurumist.
He knew there was an Ancient council, but he wondered how much power Philo would have over the council. If Philo’s goal was to rule over the kingdom, he would want to take out anyone who opposed his rule. Philo knew Griffa was the true ruler of Regventus. As long as she lived, Philo could not rule over the kingdom. Ansel looked down at Griffa and realized they couldn’t hide away in Abscon much longer. They would need to mobilize a force somehow and take Aurumist before Philo could finally succeed in killing Griffa.
Ansel laid there holding Griffa while she slept, deciding to relish in the short peace they would have before everything would need to change. He wouldn’t lose her, not after all she had been through. Not after all they had both done to be together. Losing her was not an option. No matter what, he would see her safely to the throne. She would rule and he would stay by her side. Ansel closed his eyes and held Griffa close as he dozed off.
A knock at the door woke Ansel up. He looked down at Griffa and saw she was stirring. She blinked her eyes and looked up at Ansel. He kissed her forehead.
“It sounds like the others are home. Do you want to stay in bed?”
“No,” said Griffa stretching. “I want to talk to all of you, and I am hungry. I will need to straighten myself up. Will you go down and have everyone wait in the parlor?”
“Yes, my queen,” said Ansel smiling at Griffa.
He leaned down and kissed her. She pushed away from him gently and stretched again as Ansel sat up. He swung his feet to his floor and quickly put on his boots. He opened the door to find Talon standing there. Ansel walked out and closed the door behind him.
’How is she?” asked Talon as he walked with Ansel towards the stairs.
“She seems well. She was tired, but she has rested. She wants to meet with all of us in the parlor.”
Talon nodded. “I can’t believe Philo got away again. I should have bound Darron as soon as we got to the forest.”
“You couldn’t have known what would happen,” said Ansel as they walked down the stairs.
“You realize as long as Philo lives, Griffa is in extreme danger. She is the main thing in his way to ruling the kingdom. He might be the leader of Aurumist now. I don’t know what he was trying to do out there to Griffa, but he could have killed her quickly before we even left Abscon.”
“I know,” said Ansel as the turned to go into the parlor. “I think we are going to have to go on the offensive soon. We can’t just sit around and wait for Philo to find new ways to get to Griffa.”
Talon nodded as they walked to Max who was sitting in a chair by the sofa. He was taking a sandwich off of a platter in front of him on a low table. Talon sat on the sofa and took a sandwich himself. Ansel sat on the other side of the sofa and took a sandwich as well. Kedan walked in with his son in his arms. He sat in a chair next to Talon. Talon handed Kedan a sandwich.
“You did well today, protector,” said Talon. “I was hoping you would understand what to do when I took those wards down.”
“I was focused on Griffa, but I wished I had thought to throw something at Philo as well,” said Kedan. He balanced his son with one hand and ate his food with the other.
“Griffa is your only priority,” said Talon. “You kept Philo from taking her. That’s all you needed to do.”
Ansel agreed. He looked at Max who was looking towards the doorway of the parlor. Griffa came in wearing the simple red dress she had napped in. She looked tired, but alert. She had tamed her hair a bit by pulling half of it up. She walked over and sat between Ansel and Talon on the sofa. Talon handed her a sandwich, and she smiled at him in thanks. Talon got up and went over to a side table. He turned over glasses and started filling them with wine. He passed one to Max and Kedan, and Ansel, before grabbing two more and sitting down next to Griffa. He handed her a glass and then took a drink from his own.
“Do you feel like talking about what happened, Griffa?” asked Talon.
Griffa took a drink of her wine and nodded. “It was very strange. I guess Helmer did some sort of blood magic and summoned me to them. I’m not sure how he had any of my blood.”
“He must have saved some from that potion he made for your father,” said Ansel.
Griffa frowned. “Helmer told me he meant to kill my father with that potion he made. He admitted it. I never should have shown him mercy.”
“You didn’t know, Griffa,” said Max. “You did what you thought was right at the time. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Now his son is in Aurumist too I suppose. I wonder if Helmer’s wife has traveled there as well,” said Griffa before taking another swig of her wine.
“We can check tomorrow,” said Ansel. “If she is still in Abscon, we will have to question her and keep her under watch.”
“Max and I went by on our way home. She is gone,” said Talon.
“We can assume she is in Aurumist then,” said Ansel
“Their forest home is no more,” said Talon. “I have already taken their place away in the Valley so if she is not in her Abscon home, we can easily guess where she went.”
“So, what happened after they summoned you,” said Max. “I was afraid Philo would kill you as soon as he got his hands on you.”
“I know,” said Griffa. “I was very weak. I couldn’t fight back. Philo said they had found a way to transfer the line of rulers of Regventus from my line to his own. He said they could perform a spell and sacrifice me.”
Talon made an angry noise. “I’m glad we got there in time before that happened.”
“Actually, you didn’t,” said Griffa looking at Talon. “Philo was ready to kill me, but Golnar stopped him. If Golnar hadn’t hit Philo, I would have been dead before Ansel broke through that door. He would have been successful and become the true king of Regventus.”
“Why do you think Golnar saved you?” asked Max. “He has been working to change the kingdom into everything we are against. Why would he help you and not Philo?”
Griffa looked at Max and finished her wine. “I’m not sure I can explain it. I’ve had a feeling for a while that Golnar was conflicted. I don’t think it was ever about power for Golnar. I think he really wanted a better way for the kingdom. He was wrong of course. I don’t know what changed his mind and heart, but in the end, I could tell it he had changed.”
“Do you think Philo will try again to take the line of rulers from you, Griffa?” asked Kedan.
Griffa shrugged. “I imagine he will still want it to happen. If he thinks he can take the line away from Adalwen and give it to his own line, I am sure he won’t give up easily.”
“I have a feeling it would destroy the kingdom,” said Max. “If he tries to take the line of rulers from Adalwen by force, the kingdom will fall.”
“We won’t let that happen,” said Ansel. “Griffa, I think we will need to start actually working towards you taking Aurumist. I think we will need to start organizing a force to help you take the throne.”
Griffa sighed. “I know you are right, but we can’t ignore the sickness that is spreading either. We will need to come up with a plan to do both. I will call a Ring meeting next week. We will invite the council of the Valley as well. Together, we will come up with a plan.”
“We will also have to work to keep you safe, Griffa. I don’t think you need to be away from your protector at any time. Wherever you are, Kedan needs to be close by,” said Talon.
Kedan looked up from his son and nodded. “I will not be parted from my queen any time soon.”
Griffa placed her hands on Ansel and Talon’s knees. She used them to propel herself up. She walked over and reached out for Kedan’s son. Zayden went to her happily. She walked over to the fireplace and turned to the others with Zayden on her hip.
“We will need to make plans, soon. I know we will, but I would like to take just a few days to rest and prepare. Talon, I need you to go to the Valley and take care of anything you need to. I don’t think you will be able to travel there very often after we start going out into the kingdom. I will need you by my side.”
Talon nodded. “I will go tomorrow and see if there is anything I need to do. I will check on my house and the council. After I come back, I will not leave your side until you are on the throne.”
Griffa nodded. “Kedan, we will need to arrange someone to help take care of your son while we are away. I know Maybelle wouldn’t mind, but I would like to find her some help.”
“Very well, my queen, I trust you can help me find a proper caregiver for Zayden.”
“Max, I need you to put together some sort of potion kit to take with us. Make it as light as you can, but include everything we need to help with healing or anything else you think might be useful.”
“Ansel, please help Kedan with the protector’s guards. We will need to have them organized and ready to go soon. We will need some to travel with us as we visit villages in the kingdom. They will all need to be ready to fight in Aurumist.”
Ansel smiled and glanced at Talon. “Yes, my queen, it shall be done.”
Talon smiled up at Griffa as she kissed Zayden and took him back to Kedan.
“What do you have to say, Talon. It looks like you want to say something.”
“You know how I feel when you act like the queen. You can try to deny it all you want, but you are quite a sight,” said Talon raising his eyebrow at her. He glanced at Ansel.
Ansel smiled at her suggestively and nodded. He definitely didn’t mind her giving him orders. Griffa rolled her eyes and looked out the window.
“It’s snowing, I see. The cold should help you mages cool down tonight. I think you both might need it.”
Talon chuckled and Ansel frowned at Griffa. She smirked at him before turning towards the kitchen. “I’m going to go check on Maybelle.”
Ansel turned and looked at Talon.
“Don’t give me that look, you’re the one who agreed with me. If she kicks you out, you can drink with me tonight. I doubt she really means what she said, though. You know what that smirk on her face means even better than me.”
Ansel did know, and he was sure he would not need to spend the night drinking with Talon.