Ansel walked between Max and Talon as they entered the Forest of the Lowlands. There were two small villages close by they would be visiting. Ansel had mixed feelings about their trip today. He was glad Griffa was staying back home, safe in Abscon. Talon had said she was tired and weak, and Ansel was glad she was taking time to rest.
Still, he wanted badly to see her. He hadn’t seen her in so long, and he missed her terribly. He wished he could just sit next to her, watching her read. Ansel thought back to all the times he had been away from Griffa. He had left her for several months after he had kissed her for the first time. He couldn’t believe he was able to be away from her that long. He remembered being miserable and lonely.
Ansel looked at Max and thought back to when he first met him. Ansel had been in a horrible mood, and he had probably frightened the boy half to death. Ansel didn’t realize it at the time, or he didn’t want to realize it, but he was sure now he had been missing Griffa. He had forced himself to be away from her, and he suffered for it.
He would never be away from her so long again. He would find a way to be by her side no matter what. He would study night and day if he had too. He would find a way to pass on the protector’s line to someone else, and then he would convince Griffa to let him do it. There could be no alternative.
“Are you alright, Ansel?” asked Max as they walked.
“I’m not sure how to answer that,” said Ansel. “I will never be alright until I am back with Griffa.”
“I know,” said Max apologetically. “It was a stupid question.”
“No,” said Ansel,” I’m glad to know you care. I am getting by. I know this is not permanent.”
Max smiled slightly.
“Is Griffa sleeping any better?” asked Ansel
“She has slept better the past two nights,” said Talon. “I convinced her to sleep in a bed.”
Ansel looked at Talon. He didn’t want to ask Talon what bed he convinced her to sleep in as Ansel didn’t think he would like the answer. They walked on until they came to the outskirts of a small village.
“Protector,” came a small voice from a nearby tree. Ansel looked over to see a small woman wearing a black cloak pop out from the tree. She had dark gray hair that fell around her shoulders. Her bright green eyes stared at Ansel.
Ansel looked at the woman. “Do I know you?”
“I have met you a couple of times before, when I warned you the young king was in trouble. I also gave you some information and potion.”
“You were the spy,” said Ansel. “So, you are Daracha.”
“I am,” said Daracha. She turned to the tree. “Come on out, Penelope.”
Another older woman came around and joined Daracha. She was taller with her white hair pulled up in a bun on top of her head. She was carrying a basket on her arm.
“I do not see the queen with you,” said Daracha.
“No, the queen is in Abscon. She will join us when we come back. She is tired from making the cure,” said Ansel.
“So, who do you have with you?” asked Daracha looking at Talon and Max.
“I am Talon Wendell, the leader of the Valley,” said Talon. “This is Maxwell of the line of Adalwen. He will be the next great diviner of the Ring.”
Daracha nodded at them both. “I will join you in the villages as I would like to check on the folk myself.”
Ansel nodded, and they walked together to the first village. They handed out the potion to those who were sick. Daracha spoke with a few of those who were ill. She spoke with healers and apothecaries. Penelope was silently by her side at all times. They finished with the village at lunchtime, and walked to the outskirts of the village into the forest.
“Let us eat before we move on,” said Daracha. “We have brought some food with us.”
They all sat down together on the forest floor. Penelope moved her hands and plates of food flew out of the basket and in front of all of them.
“You were a Viceroy on the Ancient Council, weren’t you?” asked Talon as he ate a bit of bread.
“I was the Viceroy of the Forest of the Lowlands. I still live in the Viceroy’s manor. I have made my village unable to be found by those who would harm me.”
“You sent Kedan to us,” said Ansel.
“I did. I thought he would be useful. He was very much loved by the folk of the kingdom when he was the lord and then the king. I think there are many who would still follow him if they could. I hope he has been helpful in some way.”
Ansel nodded. “He has been extremely helpful. We owe the queen’s life to him.”
They finished their lunch and Penelope packed everything away. Ansel stood up and dusted off his pants. He was about to suggest they travel to the next village when Talon jumped up and gasped.
“Ansel, look,” said Talon as he pushed up the sleeve of his tunic. His bracelet’s circle was lit up. “Griffa must have activated it. Something is happening in Abscon.”
Ansel closed his eyes and thought of Griffa. She had put a shield up against him since she had sent him away. His magic searched for her, and he suddenly felt fear rise up within him. “Something is wrong. We need to go now.”
“We can give you the potion, Daracha, and you can take it where it is needed,” said Talon as Max scrambled to his feet.
“No, I will travel with you and help our queen,” said Daracha. She turned to Penelope. “Take the potion and deliver it for me. I will be home later this evening.”
Penelope nodded and took the basket of potion from Max.
“We will have to travel to the gates of Abscon,” said Ansel. “Do you know it, Daracha?”
Daracha closed her eyes. “I have been to Abscon many times, and I have visited Keene Manor. We should travel directly there as your wards in Abscon are down.”
Ansel closed his eyes and concentrated, and found she was right. Ansel opened his eyes and nodded. He felt panic inside of him knowing Griffa was in trouble. “We go now to the front of Keene Manor.”
Ansel closed his eyes and traveled. He caught himself on the ground and found himself just outside the open gates of Keene manor. Talon, Max, and Daracha appeared around him.
Ansel looked at the manor. The front door had been blasted off, and the entrance was a crumbled mess. He could see curses being thrown in the front yard. He looked around and there were soliders everywhere fighting with the citizens of Abscon. He saw Hector Delis with his son nearby. They were sending spells and curses at a group of soldiers. Daracha followed Ansel’s gaze. She calmly put up her hands and brought them down, and the group of soldiers fell to the ground. Ansel looked at her.
“What are you doing? Go to your queen, protector. I will clean up around here,” said Daracha. She moved towards the center of the town.
Ansel looked at Talon and Max, and they ran through the open gate. Ansel stopped and looked on in confusion as he saw one of his guards holding Griffa tightly. He saw Philo standing beside Griffa as Talon and Max stopped next to him.
“Griffa,” yelled Ansel. He watched as Philo produced a knife from his pocket and shoved it into Griffa’s side. Ansel felt his breath leave his body as a pain shot through him. He struggled to move as he watched Philo move the knife into Griffa even deeper.
“No,” yelled Talon. Ansel watched as Talon shot a curse towards Philo. Philo fell to the ground, grabbed Griffa’s staff and disappeared.
Ansel fought through his pain as he watched his guard let go of Griffa, and she fell to the ground. Ansel ran towards Griffa who was now laying in Kedan’s arms. He stopped and quickly kneeled by Griffa’s side. Talon skidded down next to her other side and Max kneeled at her feet. Griffa looked at Ansel. She had a trickle of blood coming out of her mouth. She blinked once and then closed her eyes.
“No, Griffa,” cried Talon. “You have to hang on. Ansel, do something.”
Ansel could feel Griffa’s life fading. He felt panicked and scared. He could feel his magic retreating from her as hers became dim. “Hold on, Griffa. You can’t leave me,” he said.
He pulled the knife from her side, and dark blood ran down her dress. Ansel ripped the hole in her dress to be bigger, so he could put his hands on her wound. He covered the wound quickly with his hands, and he could feel her blood pool under his palms. He closed his eyes and asked his magic to heal her. He begged it to find a way to save her.
He felt his hands go warm as his magic joined what was left of hers. He could feel Griffa’s pain. He could feel a sickness inside of her, and Ansel realized the blade was poisoned. He felt his magic try to fight the poison, but it felt like too much damage had been done. He could not give up. His hands ached as he willed his magic to keep working. He felt her side slowly close up, and he took his hands off of her. The skin was rough, but the wound was closed. His hands were covered in Griffa’s blood, and there was a dark red pool by Griffa’s side.
“Max,” said Ansel urgently. “Go to the cellar in the house quickly and get a blood replenishing potion. She will need it.”
Max nodded and ran off shooting curses as he went.
Ansel looked at Griffa. She was slumped down against Kedan who held her.
“I don’t think she is breathing,” said Kedan frantically as he looked at Ansel.
“Griffa,” said Talon with pain in his voice. He desperately hung on to Griffa’s arm. “You can’t die. Please don’t leave me. You have to stay here. Ansel, you have to save her.”
Ansel didn’t know what to do. He could feel her slipping away from him. He put his hand on her chest and his other hand on her arm. He prayed to the gods and asked his magic to revive her. He concentrated, willing her to stay alive. He would not lose her, he would not. He bent down close to her, and whispered in her ear, “Please don’t leave me, my love.”
Griffa remained still. Ansel saw Kedan bend down his head and close his eyes. He heard Talon cry out Griffa’s name. Ansel felt tears fill his eyes, and he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t live in the kingdom without her. This couldn’t be real. Everything was quiet. Ansel looked over his shoulder and saw several of the people from Abscon standing around them with their backs to them, shielding them. Ansel turned back to look at Griffa to see she still did not move. He felt breathless. What would he do without her? This couldn’t be it. He suddenly felt Griffa’s chest rise as she gasped and sputtered.
“Griffa,” said Ansel feeling relief fill his body. He took his hands off of her, leaving blood smears on her chest and arms. His magic flew to her, encircling her.
Kedan sat her up slightly, his arms still around her. Her eyes opened halfway, and she looked at Ansel.
“Ansel, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. She looked as if she would say more, but couldn’t get the words out.
Ansel felt his tears fall from his eyes. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “It’s alright, my love. Please, just stay with us.”
Griffa nodded a little, and she looked over at Talon. He took her hand.
“Griffa,” he said quietly, tears flowing down his face. “Griffa, thank the gods.” He bent down and kissed her hand.
Max ran up to them, and handed Ansel the potion.
“Griffa, drink this,” said Ansel urgently. “You need it to get better.”
She nodded as Ansel helped her drink it.
“We have to get her out of here,” said Talon. “She is not safe here.”
Ansel sighed, thinking of what they could do. “Take her to the Valley, Talon. I will see about setting Abscon right. Take her to your house, and do not leave her side. Max, you go with them. Take the knife carefully as I believe it was poisoned. You will need to figure out what it is and give her something for it. She will probably need another blood replenishing potion as well. I imagine Talon has some on hand.”
“I do,” said Talon as he stood up.
“Kedan, are you injured?” asked Ansel
“No,” I am fine.”
“Good, you will stay with me and help me here.”
Kedan agreed as Talon bent down and picked up Griffa gently.
Ansel looked at her in Talon’s arms. She had her eyes closed but she was breathing. Ansel brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. He leaned forward and gently kissed her lips.
“Get her to your home so she can rest, Talon. Get her a healer if you think it is necessary. Max, do whatever you need to do to keep her alive,” said Ansel. “Kedan and I will be there later tonight.”
. “What will you do with him?” asked Talon moving his head towards Ansel’s guard who was sitting down on the ground with his head bowed.
“I will deal with him,” said Ansel. “Take Griffa, now.”
Talon closed his eyes and held Griffa close to him. He disappeared, and Max followed immediately.
Ansel went to rub his face and realized his hands were covered in Griffa’s blood. He turned to see what was left of the soldiers had disappeared. He saw Hector and Malchom Delis looking at him.
“Ansel,” said Hector walking towards Ansel, “Will Gryphon be alright?”
“I think so,” answered Ansel. “I have sent her to the Valley while we deal with things here in Abscon. Malcholm, reset the wards for the village. Hector, can you start checking on the injured?”
Hector nodded, and he and his son walked into the village. Ansel looked to the house to see Maybell coming towards him.
“Where is Griffa?” asked Maybell frantically. She looked at Ansel’s hand’s and starting crying.
“She will be alright, Maybell. She has gone to the Valley. Talon and Max will see to her. Go find Jonthon and Wallis. I know Wallis won’t want to leave the horses, but see if you can get Jonthon to travel with you to the Keene Valley house. Pack some things for Griffa and take them to Wendell House. You should stay in the Keene house in the Valley for a few days while Abscon is repaired. You will also be close to Griffa so you can check on her.”
Maybell nodded and ran off. Ansel walked up to his guard and looked down at him. Ansel realized it was one of the guards they took with them last spring to Clarton. Ansel had thought the three guards in the forest had died.
“Why did you do this?” asked Ansel angrily.
The guard looked up at Ansel. “I am sorry, protector. I didn’t want to do it. He said he would kill my Vera. He said I had to do it to save her life. I had no choice. Please forgive me.”
“You always have a choice. There may not always be good choices, but you always have a choice.” Ansel turned from the guard for a moment. He could have him taken in and decide what to do with him later. He could haul him before the Ring when Griffa was better.
Ansel closed his eyes for a moment trying to think what to do. All he could see was Philo stabbing Griffa. He opened his eyes and saw a pool of Griffa’s blood that still sat on the ground. He looked at his blood stained hands. He remembered feeling Griffa’s life slipping away from him. Ansel turned back to his guard feeling angry and vengeful. He felt his magic cry out, asking for revenge.
“This is no forgiveness for this, you almost killed her. You tried to have our queen killed.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”
“You did. You made a choice, and every choice has a consequence.” Ansel raised his hand and brought it down. The guard fell on his side and jerked. He did not move again. Ansel looked down coldly at the guard’s body and then turned to Kedan.
“Come on, Kedan,” said Ansel. “Let’s go check out Abscon. I have a feeling we will have a long day ahead of us.”
By the time they got to the center of Abscon, all the soldiers had been taken down or had left. Ansel gathered his guards and ordered them to start checking on the injured and cleaning up the soldier’s bodies. He put one group just over Keene Manor. He wanted Griffa’s house restored quickly in case they needed to come back to Abscon. Daracha met Ansel in the town square.
“Where is the queen?” asked Daracha.
“I had her taken to the Valley. She was gravely injured, but I think she will recover.”
“I will go back to my home, but keep in touch. I and my people are ready to fight for our queen when the time comes.” Daracha turned and disappeared.
Ansel and Kedan worked around Abscon until dark. They helped those who were injured, and Ansel helped set up spaces to take the injured. They sat up a place to put those from Abscon and the Valley who had been killed. By dark, Ansel was tired and anxious to check on Griffa. He was so ready to leave, that when Marcus Quick offered to oversee the rest of the cleanup, Ansel didn’t argue.
The wards had been reset, so he and Kedan walked to the gates of Abscon to travel.
Kedan had worked quietly most of the day. After telling Ansel what happened in Keene Manor, he had barely said two words to Ansel.
“Are you alright, Kedan,” asked Ansel as they walked.
“No,” said Kedan. “I let him practically kill her. I was right there in front of her, and I let Philo hurt her.”
“I saw what happened, and I don’t see how you would have prevented it. I don’t blame you for it, Kedan. I’m sure Griffa won’t either,” said Ansel, thinking if anyone was to blame it was him. Ansel should have never left her anywhere unprotected.
Kedan shook his head. “She has done so much for me, and I couldn’t keep her safe. I’ve never seen anything like that. I just can’t forget her face when Philo stabbed her.”
Ansel closed his eyes. He didn’t want to think about it. He could still see Philo plunge the knife into Griffa. Ansel could still feel Griffa’s life fading as he tried to heal her. He could still feel her blood as it ran out of her. Ansel felt his magic surge within him. He wanted to go straight to Aurumist and kill Philo slowly. Hel took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, knowing he wanted to see Griffa more. He started walking faster. He needed to see her.
“She’s alive, Kedan,” said Ansel as they approached the gate. “She will recover from this. It looks to me that you and she put up quite a fight. You did not fail her. There will be more fights, and she will need you again.”
“You would trust me by her side in a battle again?” asked Kedan as they crossed through the gates.
Ansel put his hand on Kedan’s shoulder. “Yes, undoubtedly. You care for her, and you would do anything to keep her safe. I trust you with her life, which is the most precious thing to me in this kingdom. We will get through this. We have bigger battles to fight in the future.”
Kedan gave Ansel a small smile.
“Now concentrate on the mountain pass. I need to get to my queen.”
The traveled to the mountain pass close to the Valley. They walked swiftly through the village to Wendell House. One of Talon’s house workers opened the door, and Ansel and Kedan walked into the entry hall to find Max coming down the stairs.
“How is she?” asked Ansel as soon as he saw Max.
“She is sleeping. I figured out the poison on that knife, and Talon had something here to help. She has been in some pain, and she has a fever. She let me give her a potion for her pain, so it must have been bad. A healer came, but he gave no other instructions than what we have already done. She is very sick. She will be sick and weak for a while, but I believe she will live.”
“Where is she?” asked Ansel.
Max looked at Ansel with a frown. “She is in Talon’s room. He is in there with her.”
“I don’t want to wake her, but I must see her,” said Ansel. “Only for a second.”
“The door is open,” said Max. “Do try not to wake her, Ansel. She just went to sleep.”
Ansel looked at Kedan.
“Go on, I know where to go here. I have stayed here many times. I will check on her in the morning,” said Kedan as he followed Max into the parlor.
Ansel walked up the stairs. He turned to the right and walked until he came to the end where there were a set of double doors. Ansel slowly opened one and peered in to find a large room. There was a fireplace close to the door, and a fire burned in it lighting up half the room. There was a sitting area in front of the fireplace, and at the back of the room were two tall windows with a large bed sitting between them.
Ansel could see Griffa laying on one side of the bed. A table was next to her with a single candle burning. Next to her on the bed, Talon laid on top of the covers on his side. He was lying close to Griffa with his hand laying on her arm. They both appeared to be asleep. Ansel walked up to Griffa’s side, and he took his hat off as he kneeled next to her.
Griffa was sleeping on her back, her head turned towards Ansel. It looked like Talon had someone clean her up. She had on a fresh nightgown, and her hair was braided and lay on her arm. Ansel looked at her closely. She was so pale. He gently touched her face to find it was sweaty and warm. He watched her breath to see that it was fast but even. He wanted to stay there all night, watching her, but he knew he couldn’t. She had not ordered him to come back to her, and he would have to leave.
He was about to get up and leave when she opened her eyes slightly. She looked at him.
“Ansel,” she whispered. “I didn’t want to send you away.”
“Shh,” said Ansel smoothing back her hair gently. “You need to go back to sleep.”
She slowly held out her hand to him, and he took it. His magic went to her, comforting her. It searched through her, trying to heal what was wrong with her.
“Do you need something? Are you in pain?”
Griffa slightly shook her head. She held on to his hand and let his magic work through her. She turned to Ansel, “You know I love you, don’t you? I haven’t stopped loving you. I haven’t given up on you.”
“Yes,” said Ansel quietly. “I know, my love. Don’t worry about that. Go to sleep and get better.”
She nodded slightly and let his hand go as she closed her eyes. Ansel leaned over and kissed her forehead noticing it felt cooler. He looked and saw Talon’s eyes open, staring at him.
“Would you like a room?” asked Talon quietly.
“No,” said Ansel standing up. “I will go to the Keene Valley house.”
“You won’t stay here?” asked Talon, surprised.
“My queen has not asked me to come back to her. I shouldn’t be here now. I couldn’t help it. I had to see her.”
“She might need you. She has been suffering. She has been in extreme pain and sick,” said Talon.
“Max says he can treat her. You can send for me day or night and I will come to her if she needs me,” said Ansel. “Take care of her, please. If she will allow me to come, I will visit her.”
“I hope you know you can trust me, Ansel. I would never do anything to hurt her in any way.”
“I do trust you, Talon. Do not worry yourself over it. Do whatever you can to keep her comfortable. She has to be well.”
“I will not leave her side unless it is necessary,” said Talon, moving closer to Griffa. “Good night, Ansel.”
Ansel nodded. He looked at Griffa one last time. He didn’t want to go. It felt wrong to leave her in need, but he would respect her wishes. He would do as his queen asked of him. He would go, but he would find a way back to her side.