Griffa sat on the back lawn of Keene Manor. The next day she had a very important Ring meeting that would include the council of the Valley. She was glad to have a moment to herself outside to think of what would come. Ansel had gone into town to see to the protector’s guards. Kedan refused to leave the manor if Griffa was home, so Kedan had given Ansel full authority to prep the guards for the upcoming war. Griffa would see that she started attending some meetings with the guards so Kedan could oversee his guards. Still, Ansel was her future king, and it would not be out of place for him to have authority over anyone.
Max was in the village showing some potion masters how to make the cure for the illness. They would need all the cure they could get as they visited the kingdom. Griffa would need Max with her so he could not focus on the cure as he had. She had debated keeping Max safe at the manor as they faced going out in the kingdom, but she realized she needed her diviner and her kin with her. She needed Max’s strength to do all she needed to do.
Talon had gone to the Valley to make sure everything was in order for him to have a long absence. She hoped he would be able to leave his duties for a while. She wanted and needed Talon with her as she faced the challenges up ahead. Ansel was her lover and future consort. She had little doubt she had made the right choice, but she did love Talon. Her relationship with Talon may have been strange, but it was one Griffa depended on.
As she was thinking of Talon, she turned as she heard steps on the lawn. She stood up and smiled to see Talon walking towards her.
“You came back,” said Griffa as Talon came and stood beside her.
“Of course, I came back. I said I would take care of what I needed to, and then I would not leave your side until you sat on the throne. I am here. I will not leave again.”
“A part of me was afraid you would find you could not leave the duties of your village. Whatever you say, I know you take your responsibilities to the Valley very seriously.”
Talon narrowed his eyes for a second and then smiled slightly. “Will you take a walk with me out in the fields, Griffa? It is not very cold today.”
Griffa nodded and took Talon’s arm as he offered it. They walked out into the field away from the house.
“You are right; I do take my responsibilities to the Valley very seriously. I love my village. I was taught my whole life it is my first priority; well almost my first priority.”
“What do you mean?” asked Griffa looking at Talon.
“You knew my father well, Griffa. He was a good man, and he was a good leader to our village. He did his duty well, but when it came down to it, there was one thing more important to him than the Valley.”
Griffa cocked her head and waited for Talon to say what the one thing was.
“It was my mother,” said Talon with a smile. “He searched a long time to find a woman he could love. When he found my mother, he loved her completely. She was everything to him. I suppose I was rather high up on his list of priorities as well, but in the end his heart was filled with my mother.
“He only lived a few years after she died. There was no reason for him to die. He was healthy and not very old for a magical person. He spent the last few years of his life trying to help me become who I was meant to be. After he was sure I could lead the Village, he passed. I don’t think he could stand being away from my mother another second.”
“I remember you mother, Talon. She was a kind and interesting woman. I can see why your father loved her so much. I am sure he loved you very much as well. I think you are a lot like your mother.”
“He did love me. I disappointed him at times, but I think by the end, he was satisfied with who I was.”
“How could he not be? I am sure he is very proud of you. You are one of the bravest, wisest people I know, Talon. I know you are an apt leader of the Valley. You are the only one I want as the second on my Ring.”
“I am thankful for your trust in me, Griffa. I will not leave your side, perhaps not even after you are on the throne. I am thinking of staying in Aurumist once you take the city.”
“You would leave the Valley permanently?”
“I would transfer leadership over to someone temporarily. I could check in often. When I have heirs, they could take over the council as leader one day.”
“Talon, I don’t expect this. If the second chair on the Ring becomes too much, you can give it up to lead your village.”
“No,” said Talon. He turned and grabbed Griffa’s hand stopping her. He took her other hand and made her look at him. “Griffa, you say you think I am like my mother, and in many ways, I believe I am, but in essentials I am my father’s son. I fell in love with you years ago. It took me some time to realize it, but I know I love you completely and there is no going back. I know you will never be my wife. I have made my peace with that, but I have still committed my life to you. My devotion and my heart will always belong to you.
“Perhaps, one day I will marry. I will try to find someone I can enjoy this life with, but when it comes down to it, I know I will never love another as I love you. I will serve you, and I will stay close by you. You are my queen and the greatest love of my life. I vow to devote my life to you. I couldn’t stand to be away from you.”
Griffa felt tears in her eyes. She stared at Talon, not knowing what to say. She did not deserve his love. She did not deserve his devotion. She reached up and touched his face. He leaned into her hand and closed his eyes. She could not think of the words to say so she leaned up and lightly kissed his lips. Talon put his hand on hers, opened his eyes and smiled at her. He took her hand and kissed it gently, pulling her closer to him.
He leaned in and whispered in her ear. “I hope you know that kiss doesn’t count as the one you owe me.”
Griffa grinned. “If you would like to claim the kiss, I owe you, I would be very happy to give it to you now.”
Talon looked closely at Griffa before he kissed her forehead. “No, I am saving that for another time.”
He then pulled her into his arms and held her. She wrapped her arms around him and closed her eyes. “I wish I knew the right words to say,” said Griffa quietly. “I do love you, but you already know it. I could say I don’t deserve your love, but you won’t hear it.”
“No, I won’t hear it, because it isn’t true,” said Talon holding her tightly. “I will do everything I can to keep you safe during this war, my love. I refuse to live in this kingdom without you.”
“I will see you through it as well,” said Griffa as tears fell down her cheeks.
The next day Griffa walked to the Ring meeting between Ansel and Talon, Kedan and Max following close behind. Griffa wore her crown and her Ring dress with the Adalwen sun, but she had decided to put on her Keene cloak today.
Ansel smiled at her as they walked. “I forgot how fetching you look in that cloak. Why did you choose to wear it today?”
“I’m not sure. Everything item of clothing have made now is all suns. I don’t want to forget that I am very much a Keene. It also makes me feel closer to my father. I could use his strength today.”
“He would be very proud of you, Griffa,” said Ansel taking her hand.
Griffa smiled and glanced back. I see Kedan is wearing a protector’s tunic. Have you given him your family standard?”
“It is the protector standard, and he should have it. I was thinking I would be wearing suns myself soon, if our previous agreement still stands,” said Ansel as they approached the statue of King Nathin.
“Why wouldn’t it still stand?” asked Griffa as she let go of Ansel’s hand and walked up to the statue.
“You weren’t a queen then. My position in the kingdom is not what it was. Things might have changed,” said Ansel.
“You might have to ask again and find out,” said Griffa teasingly.
She turned and bowed to the statue of King Nathin and then to the statue of the gods. She then took Talon’s arm. “Will you walk in with me? Your council should be in there as well as the Ring.”
“I will do whatever my queen wishes,” said Talon, smiling at Griffa. He covered Griffa’s hand with his own as they turned to walk into the meeting hall.
As they entered the room, they found everyone standing behind chairs around the table. Griffa’s group found their chairs and Griffa looked around the table.
“I’d like to thank of all you for coming today, especially the council of the Valley. We need to be united together if we are going to save the kingdom. Now please sit.”
Everyone sat and Griffa called the meeting to order.
“Now, things have changed in Aurumist and we need to take action,” said Griffa.
“My queen,” interrupted Madam Sidora. “Would you be so good as to introduce your new protector to the group.”
Griffa looked at Sidora and nodded. “I am not sure who has heard what has happened. I am sure there have been rumors, but I have a new protector. The duties of the kingdom’s protector was relieved from the line of Raya and put into the Belle’s line. My new protector is Kedan Belles,” said Griffa as she motioned to Kedan.
“What is the reason for the change, my queen?” asked Clara Vin.
Griffa looked down and then looked at Ansel. “It is complicated, but it was necessary and was done with the full cooperation of both representatives of the lines.”
“You went along willingly with this, Ansel?” asked Malcholm Delis.
“Yes, very willingly,” said Ansel. “I do plan to have a new position in the kingdom soon, but it seems I will get final approval from the queen first.”
Griffa smiled slightly at Ansel and then turned to the Ring and council, “Ansel is my betrothed. He will be my consort and king.”
“And Kedan Belles is qualified to be a worthy protector?” asked another member of the council of the Valley.
“Yes,” said Talon looking up. “Kedan has proven he is worthy of being the Protector of the kingdom. He has served our queen well already. Ansel is helping him learn his duties. You should all put your trust in Kedan. I have.”
Griffa smiled at Talon and squeezed his hand under the table.
“I am proud to serve my queen and my kingdom,” said Kedan. “I will do whatever it takes to keep our queen safe.”
Griffa smiled and nodded at Kedan. She turned to look around the table. “Now, we need to figure out the next steps to reclaiming the kingdom and the throne of Aurumist. It is my belief we can no longer sit in the safety of Abscon and the Valley. I plan to go around the kingdom and rally folk toward our cause. I will see to the sick as I travel and hope to have a force of magical and non-magical folk.”
“Who will you take with you?” asked Clara Vin.
“My protector of course, Ansel, Max, and Talon if the council will let him join me.”
“They will,” said Talon looking at Clara. “Clara will stay in the Valley to lead.”
“Ansel and Kedan are also preparing the protector’s guards to travel with us.”
“I would like to accompany you when I can,” said Cillian. “I will of course need to be in the Valley with my wife for a certain event, but otherwise I am at your service, my queen.”
Griffa nodded. “I will welcome your help, when you can manage it, Cillian.”
“I will go as well, my queen,” said Addi. “Besides the council I have no other responsibilities. I would like to serve you if you will have me.”
“I would be glad for you to join me when you can, Addi,” said Griffa happily.
“What about Abscon?” asked Sidora. “If you, your protector, and your betrothed are gone, who will see to the village?”
“Malchom, will you see to Abscon when I am unable? In fact, I believe you will have to see to the village if I am crowned until I have an heir for the Keene line come of age. I hope you will accept, but if you need time to think, I understand.”
“I need no time to think, my queen. I am very honored to serve you in this way. I will see to Abscon and keep you informed.”
“Thank you,” said Griffa. “I plan to go out in two weeks to the Grasslands. The illness is spreading fast there. I will take the cure and travel to multiple villages for three weeks. I plan to stay in the villages overnight as I can, knowing all or some of my party may need to travel back to Abscon or the Valley as needed.
After the three weeks, I will come back to Abscon to rest and see what land needs to be visited next. Are there any objections?”
The rest of the meeting was spent setting up chain of command in Abscon and the Valley. Malchom and Clara set up schedule for correspondence. Griffa arranged to have a bracelet made for Malchom so he could alert Clara and Griffa if Abscon was in trouble. Griffa promised to hold a joint Ring and council meeting after her trip to the Grasslands. The meeting concluded and everyone went their separate ways to prepare.
Griffa again found herself outside sitting on the back lawn. The sun was setting fast, and Griffa had her Keene cloak wrapped around her for warmth. She heard footsteps and turned to see Ansel come and sit by her. She smiled at him and took his hand.
“Aren’t you cold out here?” asked Ansel scooting close to Griffa, still holding her hand.
“A little, but I wanted to be outside in the quiet for a moment. I wanted to enjoy a sunset over the fields while I can. Everything will be changing soon.”
“Soon, we can sit and watch the sunset over the river from the towers of the palace,” said Ansel.
“I will still miss this,” said Griffa laying her head on Ansel’s shoulder.
“I’m glad you still want to marry me,” said Ansel quietly.
Griffa took her head off his shoulder and looked at Ansel. “Of course, I want to marry you. If anything, I would think you would be the one who would have second thoughts. I feel like I let you down so many times recently.”
Ansel turned to Griffa and grabbed her other hand. She turned slightly to look at Ansel. “It has been a difficult time for both of us. There were times I was angry or worried, but I never once didn’t want to be with you. I will never have second thoughts about us. I will marry you, Griffa. I will marry you tomorrow if that is what you want.”
“I would love to be married to you tomorrow, but we should wait until we can do it in Aurumist. I want to reclaim the temple and marry you in the city in front of the true gods. I want to marry you and then be crowned beside you.”
“It shall be as my queen wishes,” said Ansel. He leaned forward and kissed her. He turned so they could watch the sunset together as she put her head back on his shoulder.
“So, we will have two children?” asked Ansel.
“At least,” said Griffa. “We will of course need the future king or queen, and I would like a Keene to come and lead Abscon. If we have any other’s I am not sure what they will do.”
“As a prince or princess, I am sure they could find something worthwhile,” said Ansel.
Griffa and Ansel both turned as they heard footsteps on the lawn. They saw Max walking towards them.
“I hate to interrupt, but Maybelle says supper will be soon. She is worried you will catch your death from the cold, Griffa.”
“Come sit with us for just a moment, Max,” said Griffa holding out her hand. “We will go in soon.”
Max took Griffa’s hand and sat down close to her.
“It wasn’t that long ago, you were both out here swearing to serve me, the king,” said Max watching the sun go down.
“No, it wasn’t long ago,” said Griffa. “I was happy to do it, too. You would have been a good king, Max. Perhaps, even better than the impulsive, temperamental queen you are stuck with.”
“No, Griffa,” said Max smiling. “You are just what this kingdom needs. You will see Regventus put to right. I am much better off as I am serving as the diviner.”
Ansel chuckled. “I just realized we are completely different people than when we first met. I am not a protector. Griffa, you are a queen. Max you are not a stable boy or a king.”
“We may have different positions and titles, but I think we are still much of who we were,” said Griffa. “I know my feelings for both of you have only changed in that they have grown. I love both of you very much.” Griffa turned and kissed Max on the cheek. She looked at Ansel as he picked up her hand and kissed it.
They watched the sun disappear below the field as they sat close together. Griffa’s only thought was in the end, she wanted to be in Aurumist safely with both these men by her side.
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