Ansel watched Griffa closely as she moved through the sick folk in a small village of the River Valley. It was the fourth village they had stopped in, and it would be their last stop of the day before heading to the Valley. They had run into no trouble, but Ansel was still ready to be in the safety of the Valley.
“We should leave soon,” said Talon standing by Ansel looking at Griffa. “She is getting tired. She won’t quit until we make her.”
“I’ll let her finish with the young woman she is speaking with, then we will go,” said Ansel.
Talon nodded. “She is very dedicated to the kingdom and her people. She won’t ever agree, but she is an extraordinary queen. I believe she will be much loved when she takes her throne.”
“I have no doubt of that,” said Ansel.
“To think all of those small minded imbeciles on the Ring who wanted to keep her from her rightful place. How could they not see what a strong, kind queen she would be,” said Talon fiercely.
Ansel agreed. He never could understand how the powers in Abscon could ever think Griffa would not have been an excellent queen. She had every qualification. She was intelligent, kind, caring, and a gifted magical user. She was also beautiful and charming. Everyone she met felt drawn to her. Ansel knew some of that allure was due to her position, but much of it was because of who Griffa was.
Ansel smiled as she comforted the young woman she sat before. He was very proud of his queen. He had known her his whole life. She had always fascinated him, even as a child. By the time she became of woman, he had never been more enchanted by anyone or anything. Sometimes he couldn’t believe he denied loving her for as long as he did. Talon had called Ansel a fool and an idiot at the time, and Ansel agreed with him. He had been an idiot to ever think he could not love Griffa.
Griffa kissed the young woman on the forehead as the woman slept. She stood up and looked at Ansel, and he motioned with his head that they should go. Griffa nodded and walked over to him.
“I am ready,” she said. She held her staff in one hand and took Ansel’s arm in another. They walked away from the village and into the hilly area just outside the village.
“We will have to travel to the mountain pass and walk together to Wendell House,” said Talon standing close to them.
Griffa nodded. Talon put his hand on her shoulder as Ansel took her hand, and they all closed their eyes. Ansel felt himself travel. His feet hit the ground, and he felt Griffa stumble slightly. Talon caught her and steadied her on her feet.
“Careful, Griffa. I think you have worn yourself out today. Let’s get you home so you can have dinner and go to bed early,” Talon said as he held out his arm. Griffa smiled up at him and took it, leaving Ansel to follow behind.
Ansel watched Griffa and Talon talk and laugh together as they walked. They were so comfortable together. Griffa leaned on Talon, and he whispered something to her. Ansel felt a moment of jealousy, but he pushed it away. He was sure of Griffa’s love.
He knew she was very fond of Talon. He suspected Talon was at least a little in love with her, but Ansel couldn’t blame Talon for it. He also trusted Talon. He had proven himself to be trustworthy, and Ansel knew he owed Griffa’s life to Talon. Kedan may have saved her from Philo’s curse in Clarton, but Talon had fought to keep her from harm until that point.
They got to Wendell House to eat a small dinner. After dinner, they sat by the fireplace in the large parlor. Ansel and Griffa sat on a sofa while Talon sat in a chair close to them. He handed both of them a glass of wine.
“What can we expect at the council meeting tomorrow?” asked Griffa looking at Talon and taking a sip of wine.
“The council members will give updates on their contacts in area magical communities and where they stand to joining our side. We will also discuss the sickness and where it is spreading in the area. They will want a report on the latest meeting of the Ring. I think you might want to address them in some way, Griffa. Let them know our next steps towards taking Aurumist.”
Griffa nodded as she sipped her wine. “Do you expect any trouble in the meeting?”
“No,” said Talon. “You have at least two very loyal council members in Cillian and Clara. Clara’s daughter is actually on the council now, so you shouldn’t have a problem there either. She is training to take Clara’s spot since Clara is now on the Ring.”
“Do I know her? It seems like I should,” said Griffa.
“Adelaide Vin is her name. She is called Addi. She has always been very quiet. She is nice enough, I suppose.”
“I think I do remember her. I believe I might have shocked her with my behavior when we were children. I don’t blame her if I did. I was rather wild,” said Griffa with a smile.
Talon laughed. “I don’t think you shocked her. I think she might have been in awe of you. She is now, at least. She talks about you as if you were a goddess.”
“I’ll be able to knock that idea out of her head quickly when she meets me tomorrow,” said Griffa yawning. She leaned on Ansel.
“Do you want to go to bed?” asked Ansel looking down at Griffa. She did look very tired.
She shook her head. “Not yet.”
“You will go with us to the meeting tomorrow, won’t you, Ansel?” asked Talon
“Yes, where my queen goes, so do I,” answered Ansel. “I’m interested to see what the council says as well. I am glad we have come.”
They sat in silence for a few moments as Ansel sipped his wine looking into the fire. Talon made a soft noise and nodded towards Griffa. She had slumped down on Ansel with her eyes closed. She appeared to be fast asleep. Ansel shifted so she was in a more comfortable position as he wrapped his arm around her.
“I knew she was wore out from today,” said Talon softly. “I don’t think she has slept well lately, either.”
“No, and I am ashamed to say I wasn’t aware until recently,” said Ansel staring down at Griffa. “She’s been shielding me from her feelings. I thought her nightmares had abated. I should have known better.”
“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. She didn’t want you to know. Has she talked to you about what’s been plaguing her?” asked Talon.
Ansel looked up at Talon. “I’m not sure. Has she said something to you?”
Talon sat back and took a drink of his wine, taking a deep breath.
“Please, Talon, has she said anything that will help me know how to help her?”
Talon looked at Ansel like he was thinking on what to say. “You and Griffa have a very unique relationship. There has never been another one like it that we know of. How do you think it will work with you being her protector and her consort?”
“So, she has been fretting about that,” said Ansel. “She has talked of this to you?”
“Just a little. She says she’s been having dreams that frighten her. I think they are about you.”
“Do you know what happens in these dreams?” whispered Ansel urgently. “I know you don’t want to break her confidence, but I need to know.”
“She didn’t give me any specifics. She only said she is scared she might have to let you go. She’s afraid she will have to give you up.”
Ansel held Griffa tighter. He looked down at her and then back up at Talon. “I will never let that happen. I will do whatever it takes to be by her side. I can’t give her up. That isn’t an option.”
Talon nodded. “I understand. We need to find out more about protectors and their relationship with their sovereigns. We need to know everything we can. We need to find out how the bond was first formed and why.”
“You would help with this?” asked Ansel surprised.
“Why would you think any differently?” asked Talon. “Of, course I want to help.”
Ansel shrugged slightly. “I just thought maybe Griffa not being with me might not be the worst thing for you.”
Talon smiled tightly. “My only concern is Griffa’s safety and happiness. She loves you, and she needs you. I don’t know what would happen to her if she lost you. Believe it or not, I find that I like you, as well. I want you both to be happy.”
“Thank you, Talon,” said Ansel quietly. “I think I should get her to bed. When we get back to Abscon, we can start looking for more information on protectors. I will ask Max to help.”
Ansel got up slowly and then picked up Griffa off the couch. “Good night, Talon.” Ansel turned to go to the bedroom Talon had shown them earlier. He turned back before he left the room. “Thank you for caring for Griffa so much. If something ever did happen to me…”
Talon cut him off. “Please, Ansel, you don’t need to say more. Just know that whatever happens and in whatever way she needs me, I will always be there for her.”
Ansel nodded and walked from the room.
They next day after breakfast they made their way to the meeting hall. Talon escorted Griffa inside as Ansel stood behind her. As they walked into the meeting room, all other five members of the council were sitting around the table. They stood as they entered.
“My queen,” said Clara coming up to Griffa. “We are so happy to receive you in the Valley.”
Griffa took Clara’s hand and squeezed it while smiling. “I am very happy to be here. I am sorry I haven’t come sooner.”
“You have been busy, and Talon and I have been able to report back regularly. I believe you know my daughter?” asked Clara as a pretty light brown haired young witch with green eyes came forward.
“I do remember you, Addi. I hope it is alright if I call you Addi,” said Griffa smiling at the young woman.
“Of course, my queen. I am glad to see you again.”
“Do you know my protector, Ansel?” asked Griffa moving slightly so Ansel could come forward.
“I have met him, but I doubt he remembers,” said Addi blushing.
Ansel smiled at her as Griffa said, “Don’t take offense if he doesn’t. It has nothing to do with you. He is not a social creature.”
“We probably have that in common,” said Addi quietly.
Talon came over to collect Griffa. “If you are ready, Griffa, we should start the meeting.”
Talon took Griffa’s hand as he nodded politely at Addi.
Griffa walked over with Talon to sit to his right and there was a chair next to Griffa for Ansel to sit in. Talon called the meeting to order. The first half was the council members checking in on their progress with magical communities scattered throughout the mountains.
Next came a report on the sickness. Ansel was concerned to hear it was spreading at an extraordinary rate. He could feel Griffa’s anxiety grow. Ansel took her hand under the table to comfort her.
“We have found a potion that works well on curing it,” said Griffa. “If given in enough time it is very effective. I can give you the directions for it. It will take someone skilled in potions to make it, but it can be done overnight.”
Cillian nodded. “Thank you, my queen. We have several skilled potion masters in the Village. If you will forward me the directions, I will make sure they get right on it.”
Griffa nodded. “If that is all, I would like to say a few words if you don’t mind, Talon.”
“Of course not, my queen, the council is yours.”
Griffa stood up. “I know that Abscon and the Valley have not had the best relationship in recent years. When my father was leading the Ring, he always valued the Valley. After his death, I’m afraid the Ring did not do its duty by all of you that it should. I would like to apologize.
“I want you to know as the head of the Ring and your queen, I value the Valley very highly. I have added Clara to my Ring, and she is a very wise and capable voice of reason. Your leader, Talon Wendell, is one of the finest men I have ever known. I know the Valley is full of good, honest folk who want what is right for this kingdom.
“If we are going to defeat the evil forces that would destroy Regventus, the Valley must be forefront in our ranks. I came here before I was queen and asked you to go to war. I do so again with even more urgency. I have seen the evilness that is ruining our kingdom. I have experienced it firsthand in the palace. I can tell you these powers of Aurumist go against everything our gods stand for. If we do not act, they will destroy us and the whole kingdom.
“We are still developing our plans to fight and take back Regventus. Our priority at the moment is to stop the sickness. We are also working on contacts within Aurumist. As the Ring develops our plan, you will be kept informed. If you as the council of the Valley, comes up with anything you believe is helpful, I hope you will let us know.”
Griffa raised her sleeve on her cloak. “I lost the bracelet that was given to me by you during my time in Aurumist, but I have had your leader give me a new one. I have made one for all of you. I give it to you today. If the Valley is ever in need of the support of me or Abscon, you can call, and we will come.”
Talon passed bracelets around the table.
“Now, if there are any questions about my legitimacy as queen or the plans of the Ring, please ask them now. I will answer any with complete honesty.”
The council was silent, and Griffa looked around and smiled.
“My queen,” said Addie quietly. “You have my support and my devotion. I will fight for you when the time comes.”
Griffa smiled at Addie kindly and nodded.
“You have mine as well,” said Clara patting her daughter’s hand.
“You know I support you fully, my queen,” said Cillian.
The rest of the council members pledged their devotion to their queen. Talon stood up and took Griffa’s hand and kissed it. “You are our queen. You are my queen. I have already pledged my life to you, but I will do so again as the leader of this village.”
Griffa looked around the council. “I thank you all. It will take all of us to save the kingdom. I look forward to building a better Regventus with all of you.”
Griffa sat down and looked at Talon. “If there is not anything else, I think we will adjourn. I will be traveling back to Abscon with Ansel and the queen, but you can contact me at any time.”
“Talon, I have something I need to say,” said Cillian. Talon nodded. “I will be absent for a few weeks. I have some good news. I am to be married and rather quickly.”
Ansel snapped his head to look at Cillian and noticed Griffa had a shocked look on her face.
Cillian smiled at Griffa. “I hope you will forgive Nora, my queen, but I asked her yesterday and she said yes. She wanted to tell you herself, but I knew I would have to say something during this council meeting.”
Griffa gave Cillian a wide smile. “I am very happy for you both.”
“Yes, Cillian, this is very good news. We will of course excuse you from council business for a few weeks while you spend time with your new bride. When will you be married?” asked Talon.
“The week after next from Abscon if I can arrange it with the temple. I will go there this afternoon and see.”
“Very good,” said Talon. “If that is all, we will adjourn so you can get to it, Cillian.”
Everyone got up and congratulated Cillian. Griffa hugged him and Ansel shook his hand. Before they left the meeting hall, Addi came over to say goodbye to Griffa.
“I appreciate your support, Addi,” said Griffa smiling at the woman. I hope you can join your mother in Abscon sometime.
“Thank you, my queen, I would like that,” said Addie.
“You do have to promise to call me Griffa when we are not in a meeting, though. We have known each other for quite some time.”
Addie smiled before following her mother out of the room.
Talon came up to Griffa and Ansel. “Are we ready to head back to Abscon?”
“Yes,” said Griffa. She took Ansel’s arm, and they left the meeting hall. They walked towards the edge of town to travel.
“That went rather well,” said Talon walking by Griffa’s side.
“I think so,” said Griffa.
“You did very well, my queen,” said Ansel turning to look at her.
“You did, Griffa. Like I said once before, I do like it when you are being all queenly. It is quite a site.”
Griffa rolled her eyes and looked at Ansel. “He’s not wrong, you know,” said Ansel. He bent down to half whisper in her ear. “It rather reminds me when you pull rank with me in certain situations.”
Griffa turned very red while Talon chuckled slightly.
Griffa let go of Ansel’s arm and walked ahead of both him and Talon. When they got outside of town, she faced them.
“I think I’d like to travel alone,” said Griffa looking at both of them sternly. “In fact, a nice long walk by myself through Abscon sounds rather lovely.”
“Protector,” said Griffa in a commanding voice. “See that the leader of the Valley arrives safely in Abscon. Talon, try to stay out of trouble, tonight. I have a feeling I won’t have time to oversee any of your activities.” She gave Ansel a smirk and then turned and she was gone.
Talon looked at Ansel with one eyebrow raised. “I’d say you are in for it, but I think you might be a rather lucky man.”
Ansel put his hand on Talon’s shoulder and smiled. “I’d say you have no idea, but I know that’s not true.” Ansel closed his eyes and they traveled.