Griffa stirred the potion in the kettle over the fire in the cellar, checking its consistency. Satisfied, she put the stick against the wall and sat back on her stool. She blinked her eyes and rubbed her neck. She was so tired.
It had been almost two weeks since she had last seen Ansel. She wanted badly to see him, to talk to him, but she knew it was best if she didn’t. If she saw him, she would want to kiss him and be held by him. She would want to never leave him. She wanted to believe he would find a way for them to be together, but she knew it couldn’t really happen.
Even if he found a way to relieve his bloodline from the line of protectors, could she let him? She wasn’t sure. She loved him very much, and she didn’t want to hurt him or cause him any regret. If she had to give him up for good, so he could be happy carrying on his duty to the next generation, she would do it.
She knew that meant she would have to marry someone else someday, but she didn’t want to think about it. She couldn’t face it, not yet. She still had a small sliver of hope that maybe she could be with Ansel. Maybe he would find a way, and maybe she would let him give up his line’s duty so they could be together. She had told him she had a little hope. She wouldn’t give up until she had no hope.
Griffa closed her eyes and swayed on her stool, blinking rapidly. She needed sleep, but she wasn’t sure how to find it. She would doze in her favorite chair in the study. She would remember the times she spent there with Ansel. Sometimes she would fall asleep next to Talon on the sofa, and often she would dream of Ansel. As much as she knew what she was doing was right, it felt all wrong.
Talon had been so wonderful with her. She did not deserve Talon’s love or care. He loved her. He loved her expecting nothing in return. All she did was cry and sit silently while he held her hand or talked to her. She felt like a burden on him. She wished she could send him away like she did Ansel, but she did not have that power over him. Even if she did, she wasn’t sure she could actually do it. She had all but lost Ansel. Could she survive losing Talon as well?
Griffa looked at the potion seeing that it seemed to have settled in nicely. It should be alright by itself for a while, and she knew she should go get cleaned up and sleep. She needed real sleep in a bed, but she could not lay down in her bed. She had tried, but it felt wrong without Ansel beside her. She could not lay there without wanting his arms around her. She could not lay there facing the empty side of his bed.
Griffa felt tears come to her eyes once again, and she tried to blink them away. She was tired of crying. Her face felt raw from all the crying she had done. She needed to be strong as she had much to do. There were people folk all over the kingdom. This next batch of potion would need to go to the Lowlands.
Daracha, who had sent Kedan to them, had reached out asking for help in the forest there. They would need to send a cure to the people there soon. Griffa planned to go in two days. This meant she would have to send for Ansel. Griffa audibly sighed thinking about it. I t would be difficult, but she would have to get through it. If Ansel could not find a way to give up his duty, she would face a lifetime of seeing him at her side as her protector. She would have to find a way to put aside her feelings for him. It seemed impossible, but it would have to be done.
The door to the cellar open and Griffa looked up.
“She’s here, Maybell,” called Talon behind him before he turned to look at Griffa. “Come on, you are going to go get a bath and go to bed. Maybell is hysterical over you.”
Griffa stood up. “I will bathe, but I cannot sleep in that bed. I have tried, but I cannot do it.”
“Then you can come sleep in mine,” said Talon. Seeing her expression, Talon quickly added. “I can sleep on the sofa or in your bed, of course.”
Griffa shook her head. “I’m not sure I could even sleep in there. It’s hard for me to be alone.”
“We will figure something out, come start with a bath,” said Talon holding out his hand. Griffa took it and let Talon take her up the stairs.
Griffa stopped as Maybell fretted over her in the kitchen.
“My dear girl, you look so tired and thin. Go clean up, and I will send up some food. Then you must rest,” said Maybell.
Griffa nodded as Maybell hugged her. “I know this is very hard for you, Griffa. I don’t have anything to say to make it easier.”
“I know, Maybell. There is nothing you can say or do. I appreciate you caring for me. I will try to take better care of myself.”
Griffa walked with Talon out of the kitchen, and up to her room.
“I’ll be right outside the door,” said Talon.
“You don’t have to do this,” said Griffa
“Do what?” asked Talon.
“Take care of me all the time. I know there are other things you would rather do. I’ll be fine, Talon.”
Talon took Griffa’s hands and pulled her close. “This is what I want to be doing, Griffa. I cannot see you suffer and not help you in some way. If I were hurting, could you say you would not do the same for me?”
Griffa looked up at him and smiled slightly.
“Now, go take a bath. Get ready for bed, and we will find a way for you to rest,” said Talon kissing her forehead before he left the room.
Griffa bathed and put on a heavy night gown. She put a charm through her hair to dry it. She turned and looked at her bed, thinking of all the nights she had spent there with Ansel. She wanted him so badly. She wanted to go to him and tell him that she would not give him up. She wanted to throw herself into his arms and never leave, but she knew that would not be wise. There was a good chance nothing would change. She couldn’t send him away from her again. She did not have the strength.
Griffa turned from the bed and quickly fled the room. Talon was waiting for her in the hall, and he grabbed her hand.
“Are you alright,” he asked looking at her.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s just hard to be in there alone.”
Talon frowned at her. “You need to rest. You will feel better if you actually sleep in a bed instead of dozing off and on in a chair.”
Talon pulled her down the hallway to the end. He opened his door and brought her into this room. Griffa looked at the bed and stared at it.
“Are you hungry? Maybell left some food for you.”
“No,” said Griffa. “I am just very tired.”
“Go on and lay down,” said Talon.
Griffa hesitated, but then walked over and pulled back the covers. She laid down and pulled the covers over her, looking at Talon as he stood at the foot of the bed.
“Do you need anything before I leave?” asked Talon.
Griffa looked at him. She didn’t want to be alone. She couldn’t stand it, but could she really ask him to stay? She started breathing fast and tears came to her eyes. Talon walked over and sat on the bed next to her.
“Do you want me to stay?” asked Talon quietly.
“Yes,” she whispered. “I hate to ask it, but I don’t want you to leave me.”
Talon smiled as he walked over to the other side of the bed. He took off his boots and laid on top of the covers. Griffa turned to look at him, and he turned to her and smiled at her.
“Why are you so wonderful?” she asked yawning.
“I just am,” said Talon smugly. “Go to sleep, Griffa. I will not leave you.”
Griffa held out her hand, and Talon took it. He kissed it softly and held on it to as Griffa felt her eyes grow heavy.
“Good night, Talon,” she whispered.
She felt him squeeze her hand as he said, “Goodnight, Griffa.”
Griffa slept better than she had in a while. She spent the next day bottling potions with Max and Talon.
“We will need to go the Lowlands tomorrow,” said Griffa. “I will need to call my protector to come.”
Talon looked at her. Griffa knew she had tears in her eyes, but she could not help it. She had slept better, but she was still tired. She still could not eat much, and she felt weak.
“Griffa, why don’t you let me handle this? I can take Ansel in your stead. You aren’t up for this. You can rest here, and when we take the next batch you can come.”
Griffa thought to argue, but it meant she could avoid Ansel for another few days. She couldn’t face him, not yet.
Griffa nodded. “Yes, I do not feel well, and I will stay in Abscon. You should take Max with you. He is of age now. He has not been out in a while, and I think it would do him some good.”
Max looked at Talon, and Talon shrugged. “Would you like to go, Max?”
“Yes,” said Max happily.
Talon seemed pleased. He sent a message to Ansel to let him know the plan. Griffa spent another night in Talon’s bed. For the first time in a while, she dreamed of the palace in Aurumist. She was in her cell in the dark. She could feel the cold stone floor underneath her. She felt sick and tired and as though she could not move. All she could do was lay there and stare at the wall she could barely see.
Philo came in and taunted her. He laughed at her weakness and pain. He pushed his hand out, and Griffa felt nothing but agony. She sat up in Talon’s bed, crying and breathing hard.
“What is it, Griffa?” asked Talon as he quickly sat up.
“It’s nothing, just a dream,” said Griffa wiping away her tears as she tried to slow her breathing. She could feel herself shaking. “Go back to sleep, Talon.”
Talon looked at her and then opened his arms. Griffa hesitated for one moment before she fell into them as he gently laid down with her. He held her tight as she cried against him.
“It’s okay, Griffa,” said Talon soothingly. “You are safe. I will keep you safe.”
Griffa felt herself settle as she let the warmth and safety of Talon’s arms cover her. She felt guilt creep upon her, but she pushed it away, and let herself be comforted by him. She fell asleep with his arms around her.
The next day, Max and Talon left after breakfast. They said they would be back in the afternoon as Griffa hugged Max goodbye. Talon hugged her, and she kissed him on the cheek, telling him to be careful. He lingered for a moment.
“You will stay in the manor, won’t you?” asked Talon. “You will stay close to Kedan.”
“Yes,” said Griffa. “I have no plans but to maybe start a new batch of potion.”
Talon nodded. He didn’t seem to want to leave as he looked at Griffa closely.
“You need to go, or you will be late to meet Ansel,” said Griffa.
Talon touched her cheek and looked at her. “We will be back as soon as we can.” He then walked out the door and closed it. Griffa took a deep breath and walked to the parlor to join Kedan.
They spent the morning together reading before they ate lunch together with Maybelle, Jonthon, and Wallace. After lunch, Kedan went back into the parlor, and Griffa decided to go down and work on another batch of the cure.
She had just entered the kitchen when she heard something outside. It sounded like people screaming. Griffa ran to a window and looked out to see a group of Aurumist soldiers running down the path towards the house. Several more stood on the road fighting with people from the village. Griffa turned to Maybell.
“Go down to the cellar now, Maybell. Lock yourself in. Do not come out for any reason until I or someone from the house comes and gets you.”
“Griffa, what is happening?”
“There are Aurumist soldiers coming towards the manor. I don’t know how they got here. Go lock yourself in the cellar now.”
“What will you do?” asked Maybelle.
“I will fight,” said Griffa as she touched the bracelet on her arm, asking for aid from the Valley and alerting Talon. “Go now, Maybelle.”
Maybelle stalled but then nodded. She ran down the cellar stairs as Griffa raised her hand and closed her eyes, taking down the wards around Abscon. She hoped Talon, Ansel, or Max would sense it and travel directly to the village. Griffa ran to the parlor, and met Kedan who was coming in from the entry hall.
“How did they get here?” asked Kedan.
“I don’t know,” said Griffa as she held out her hand. Kedan’s sword flew to her. She handed it to him. She held out her hand again, and her staff flew to her.
There was a loud noise against the door, and Kedan moved slightly ahead of Griffa with his sword out.
“Kedan, stay close to me,” said Griffa urgently. “I will try to put a shield around us. I alerted the Valley and Talon with my bracelet. I hope Talon and Ansel will arrive soon. We just need to fight until they arrive.”
Kedan nodded as another loud noise hit the door. Griffa held her staff ready as there was another loud noise, and the door broke down. Three soldiers ran into the parlor, and Griffa pushed out her staff sending them hard against the wall. She pushed down her hand, and they did not move again. More soldiers piled in from the entry hall. Griffa grabbed Kedan, and they moved further into the room. She slammed down her staff and put a shield around them. She moved her staff sending soldiers flying. She pushed out her hand, sending a large bookcase on one soldier, crushing him.
Kedan moved his sword around, deflecting curses where he could, taking down soldiers. The soldiers kept coming into the room, and Griffa could feel her shield weakening. She grabbed Kedan and ran through the back doorway into the back of the entry hall. She pushed her hand out and threw several soldiers in the air, they landed in a twisted mess. Griffa thrust out her staff and the doorway of Keene Manor fell in, blocking the entrance for a time.
“We have to get out of the house,” said Griffa.
Griffa grabbed Kedan’s hand, and they ran to the back door and out onto the lawn. Griffa pointed he staff at the door, putting an extra ward on it, hoping it would keep some soldiers out. Kedan looked at Griffa, and she looked back at him breathing hard.
“We need to get to the front of the house and keep the soldiers away from the manor. We can try to get into to Abscon to help the people in the town,” said Griffa.
Kedan nodded and followed Griffa as she ran to the front of the house. There were soldiers looking at the destroyed front door of the manor. Griffa lifted her staff and thrust it out. The group of soldiers flew in all different directions. Griffa ran towards the pathway leading to the main road of the village.
She saw folks of Abscon fighting ahead of her. Griffa started to run to help them, when a group of soldiers came from the left of the manor. They sent curses towards her and Kedan. Griffa blocked the curses sent towards them and sent her own curses back. Kedan was besides her deflecting curses and taking out soldiers as he could.
Griffa backed towards the fountain in the front lawn. Kedan stayed in front of her blocking curses as she tried to shield him and take out soldiers. Griffa looked behind her and saw one of Ansel’s guards coming towards her. She was relieved as he could help her take out these soldiers while she shielded Kedan. She heard the guard come up behind her, and she turned to look at him when he grabbed her and held her tightly.
“What are you doing?” asked Griffa angrily. “Let me go.”
The guard held her tighter. She tried to push him back with a spell when she felt him send a spell of his own through her. She felt weak, and it was hard to move. She felt a disturbance to her right, and she turned her head slightly to see Philo Quick at her side. He stood very close to her, his face next to hers.
“Hello, Gryphon,” said Philo in Griffa’s ear. “I have missed you.”
“Why are you doing this?” hissed Griffa at the guard.
“I am so sorry, my queen,” whispered the guard. “I had no choice.”
Griffa struggled trying to free herself. She turned slightly to Philo.
“You can’t even face me fairly, Philo? Why do all of this to Abscon? You did come here for me, didn’t you?”
“Causing chaos in Abscon is fun, but yes, I came to kill you,” said Philo. He looked at the guard. “Disarm her.”
The soldier gripped Griffa’s arm until Griffa cried out and dropped her staff. Kedan heard her and turned. He started moving towards her as Griffa closed her eyes and tried to put up a shield around her.
“That shield won’t help you. I hope you will give greetings to your father for me,” said Philo laughing quietly in Griffa’s ear.
Griffa heard Ansel call her name. She turned slightly towards the noise when she felt a sharp pain in her side. She looked down and saw Philo had stabbed her with a knife. He looked down, smiling at her as he thrust it up in her.
“Goodbye, Gryphon,” Philo whispered in her ear as he pushed knife in as far as it would go.
Griffa heard Kedan shout. She saw a curse fly past her as Philo dropped down by her side. He grabbed her staff and quickly disappeared. The soldier released Griffa, walked back and sat down on the ground. Griffa stood for a moment, watching Kedan run towards her. There was a funny taste in her mouth, and she felt herself shake before she fell to the ground on her side.
Kedan kneeled down beside her, picking her slightly and holding her.
“Griffa, it’s alright,” he said in a panic. “It’s going to be fine.”
Griffa looked up at him breathing fast. She felt her vision go dim. Everything seem to be fading as she heard Ansel call her name. She heard Talon yell for her. Griffa tried to look at them, but she couldn’t find them. Ansel finally appeared by her side, and she stared at him. Why had she ever sent him away? She tried to speak but no words came out. She felt so much pain, and she felt so cold. She closed her eyes and saw only darkness.
She awoke laying down. Her head was on something soft, and someone was playing with her hair. Griffa opened her eyes and looked up. She was lying in a woman’s lap in a pure white room. Griffa raised up a little and saw her own dark blue eyes staring back at her. She sat up and stared at the woman in front of her. The woman had dark blonde hair swept up off her face. A few curls were loose hanging down. The woman had dark blue eyes, just like Griffa’s. She looked so familiar.
“Mother?” asked Griffa staring at the woman.
The woman smiled. “Yes, my darling, it is me.” She stood up and offered Griffa her hand. Griffa took it and stood up as her mother took her into her arms and held her. “My sweet, beautiful daughter. I have missed you. I wanted so badly to be there for you all these years.”
“I wish you had been as well,” said Griffa with tears in her eyes.
“My two favorite woman together at last,” said Griffa’s father as he walked over.
Griffa let go of her mother and ran to her father, launching herself into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.
“Father,” said Griffa happily. She pulled back. “But how is this possible?” Realization came to Griffa. “Are you here to come get me for my send off?”
“Possibly,” said her father smiling. “Come let’s sit and chat a bit first.”
He took Griffa’s hand and led her over to a sofa that appeared. Renweard Keene sat down and pulled Griffa down with him. Griffa’s mother sat down on Griffa’s other side.
“A lot has happened to you since I went away,” said Renweard. “I am sorry I left you all alone, Griffa.”
“It wasn’t your fault, father. It was Helmer’s and the Ring’s. I can’t believe what they did to you.”
“I never should have hidden who you truly were,” said Renweard. “I was trying to protect you, but I knew I couldn’t hide it forever. I just couldn’t lose you after losing your mother.”
Griffa smiled at her father. “I understand, and I don’t blame you.”
“Now, tell me about your young man, Griffa, or should I say young men,” said Lynette Keene, Griffa’s mother.
“What do you mean?”
Renweard rolled his eyes. “You know when I brought that boy into my home, I hope to help him be a good protector for you some day. I didn’t expect to be raising a son-in-law.”
“Do you really mind, father? I do love him.”
“Of course, you do, my darling,” said Lynette. “Your father is only teasing. He knows how much you love Ansel. He also knows how much Ansel loves you.”
“Indeed, Griffa,” said her father. “He may not be who I would have chosen for you, but I think you have chosen rightly for yourself.”
Griffa frowned. “But I can’t have him anymore. I had to give him up.”
“There is another young man, isn’t there?” asked Lynette.
“Talon Wendell,” said Griffa’s father with a sigh. “I never did trust that boy. I guess Rikard would be pleased if you do end up with Talon. He always wanted you to marry his son.”
“He is a good man, father. I know he was a little rough and wild for a while, but he is so good to me. I don’t deserve him.”
“I would argue about that with you all day,” said Renweard. “No young man deserves you as far as I’m concerned.”
“But Griffa, my dear, can you love Talon as you should? I believe you already made a choice,” said Griffa’s mother.
“But I can’t have him. I would choose Ansel if I could, but I can’t.”
“He hasn’t given up on you,” said Lynette. “Have you given up on him?”
“He would have to give up so much to be with me. How can I ask him to do it?”
“You are well worth it, my little queen,” said Renweard. “Ansel knows this. Don’t make him suffer by not taking this gift he is offering you.”
“Does it matter now? I will move on with you, won’t I?”
Lynette looked at Renweard. “That depends, my darling. Are you ready to go?”
Griffa looked at her mother as she heard something. It was Talon calling her name. She turned towards the noise. She gasped as she could feel Ansel’s magic surround her.
“Your young men aren’t ready for you to go,” said Lynette with a smile.
“But if you are ready, dearest, they will understand eventually,” said Renweard.
Griffa stood up as she heard Talon begging her to stay. She felt Ansel anguish through their conjoined magic. She didn’t think she could leave them.
Renweard stood up and took Griffa into his arms. “You aren’t ready to go with us. You are needed in the kingdom. I would rather keep you safe here, but the kingdom needs you. Those two young men need you. Ansel was all alone in this world for so long. Talon has lost his family as well.”
“I do love you, father. I love you both,” said Griffa looking at her mother as she came to stand next to her.
“We know, Griffa dear. We will still be here waiting when you are ready. We love you. That love can’t be limited by any barriers, even if you are in the kingdom and we are here,” said her mother.
Griffa nodded. Her mother took her hands and kissed her cheek. “I love you, Griffa. I am very proud of who you have become.”
Griffa’s father wrapped them both in his arms. “We are both proud of you. I do love you. You gave me so much joy in my life.”
They both let go of Griffa, and Renweard offered Lynette his arm. He looked at Griffa. “We will see you soon, my little queen, but hopefully not too soon.”
Griffa watched them walk off together. She heard Talon crying her name, and she heard Ansel whisper “Please don’t leave me, my love.” Griffa turned towards the sounds and ran.