King Maddoc Cadden looked over his council from the end of the long table. On his right, his mother sat serenely. On his left, his uncle tap his fingers against the wood as he fidgeted in his seat. Maddoc glanced at his uncle and the tapping stopped.
“Am I hearing you correctly, my king?” asked an old lord at the end of the table. “You are asking me to step down?”
“I believe he is commanding you to step down,” said Lord Elias Bennington who sat next to the queen mother. “This is his council, and he may do as he wishes.”
“But I have served on this council for almost fifty years. I have sat here through three kings.”
“And now it is time you receive the well reserved rest you need, Lord Farley,” said Maddoc.
“Who will serve in my place? My son sadly died a few years ago,” said Lord Farley. “You will not give my family seat away, will you?”
“No, of course not,” replied Maddoc. “I have already corresponded with your granddaughter, and she has agreed to join my council. You must have heard, her and her new husband are moving to Quinlan by spring.”
“You will have Caron sit on the council?” asked Lord Farley disbelievingly. “She isn’t even two and twenty, and she is a woman.”
“Lady Browlyn isn’t much younger than our king,” said Maddoc’s mother, Queen Evalin. “As far as her being a woman, I don’t see why that is problem. I presided over this council for almost ten years after the king died.”
“Yes, and many queens in the past have stepped in after their husbands passed before their sons came of age,” said Lord Elias.
“This will be your last meeting Lord Farley. You have served long and well, but it is time you rest. I am sure your granddaughter will represent your family well. I have been impressed with my correspondence with her.” King Maddoc looked at his uncle. “That is all I had for today. If you have nothing else, we will conclude this meeting so everyone can give Lord Farley well wishes.”
His uncle, Prince Korben sat up a little straighter. “I don’t have anything that needs to be spoken of today. I will only remind all the lords still on the council that we are less than three weeks away from the Winter Festival. There will be some important visitors here as well as some we may not anticipate. Everyone should be on their guard.”
“Are the Parvilians still coming?” asked Lord Mavens, a gray haired man with a light scar on his face.
“Yes, of course they are,” replied Prince Korben. “They are one of the most powerful kingdoms in our land.”
“But a group of their people tried to kill our king,” said Lord Elias. “Are you sure we can trust the king and his court?”
“I have been assured by King Brone that he had no part in the plans. He has done much to sniff out those who had any plots against our kingdom or King Maddoc. He wishes to come to give his apologies in person. Our king stayed over a month at his palace. If he wanted King Maddoc dead, he could have already done it.”
“Not if he didn’t want suspicion aimed at him,” said Elias. “If you insist on this king and his court coming, we should keep a close eye on him.”
“Isn’t the king’s great protector coming as well?” asked a lord on the end with a laugh. “The little princess can see to our king’s safety.” Several other lords joined in the laughter.
Maddoc couldn’t help a small smile. The lord didn’t know how right he was about Princes Anwen. She had saved him many times over a few months ago on a journey to his kingdom. She had saved him again before she left by healing a bad wound he received.
“Princess Anwen of Lucidala will be attending. You can laugh, but I owe her my life many times over.” Maddoc’s uncle started tapping his fingers again, and Maddoc turned to him. “I am sure all will be well. If Prince Korben says the King of Parvilia can be trusted, that is enough.”
The meeting was adjourned, and Maddoc walked from the room with Elias as some of the other lords went to give Lord Farley their farewells.
“That went about as well as expected. I didn’t think the old man would go down without complaint,” said Elias.
“Lord Farley would die at that table if we let him. He needed to step aside years ago. His ideas our outdated. We cannot move our kingdom forward without new blood and ideas.”
“Your uncle did not seem pleased,” observed Lord Elias as they came to the entry hall.
“When is he ever these days?” asked Maddoc. They stopped close to the front door. “I can’t tempt you to stay for dinner, can I? I’d rather not face the prince with just my mother in the room.”
“I am afraid you will have to, my king. I have guests coming tonight.”
“Who?” asked Maddoc.
“Lady Alys and her mother, of course. My mother has also invited Lady Lona and her aunt.”
“You are going to have two young ladies you have been actively courting at the same table?” asked Maddoc.
“It was my mother’s idea. I think she wants me to make a decision and hopes that by seeing the two ladies side by side, I will be able to choose one. I am not sure I want either of them.”
Maddoc laughed a little. “Such a hard life you live, Elias. Your biggest problem is two beautiful, well connected ladies wish to be your bride.”
“Beautiful, yes, but both as boring as watching grass grow. We can’t all be so fortunate as you to find a passionate, brilliant princess,” said Elias. “Of course, I hear your choice may still not be made? Your uncle has told almost everyone you have agreed to court the Parvilian princess.”
Maddoc sighed. “I told Anwen’s mother and mine I would spend time in other young ladies’ company to make sure I knew what I wanted. Anwen is to try to find a young man who suits here better than me.”
Elias raised his eyebrows. “You will be able to watch her be escorted around by other men? Every time I had her on my arm, I thought you were going to come with your sword and chop it off to take her back.”
“I will do anything to prove to Queen Eira and my mother that Anwen is my future, and I am sure of it.”
Elias nodded as he took his cloak from a servant. He put it on and walked towards the door. Before he opened it, he looked back at Maddoc. “If you do change your mind about the princess, can you let me know before anyone else? I should like my chance with her if you truly do not want her.”
Maddoc scowled at him. “You should go. I am not in the mood for your teasing, my lord.”
Elias nodded and smiled wickedly. “Who says I was teasing? She is tempting woman, and we get on well together. If it turns out she can’t have you, she will have to have someone. I would make a rather good king for her, I think.”
“It is not something you will have to remotely worry about, so go spend time with your two ladies. You should make a choice before the Winter Festival or you might lose them both to some visiting lords or princes.”
Elias shrugged. “I might take my chances. Good evening, my king.”
Maddoc shook his head as Elias walked out the door. Just as Maddoc’s mother walked into the hall, a servant came to Maddoc holding a letter.
“This came for you this afternoon, your majesty,” said the servant holding out the message.
Maddoc took the letter. He saw the writing on the front and took a deep breath.
“Who is that from?” asked his mother as she walked towards him.
Maddoc looked over at her and placed the letter in his pocket. “Just an acquaintance. I can read it in a bit. Did you have something you wished to speak of?”
She waited until the servant had left the hall. “Your uncle is very irate you did not discuss asking Lord Farley to leave the council with him.”
“If I had discussed it with him, he would have spent hours trying to convince me not to do it. I wouldn’t have relented, and he would have been just as mad as he is now. Maybe more so.”
“He thinks it is a mistake,” said the queen.
“Do you, mother?”
“It is not my place to say if it is a mistake or not. The council is yours, and you must do as you see fit.”
“I should like your opinion,” said Maddoc.
She blew out a puff of air. “Lord Farley is too set in his ways. He only thinks about how things affect his small sphere here in the central part of the kingdom. He is too loyal to your uncle as well. I do not think you were wrong to ask him to leave. I think your timing might have been bad.”
“Why is that?” asked Maddoc.
“You are still very new to the council. You have only been coming to meetings for a couple of months. Many still you see you as unsettled. I think it would have been better to wait until after the Winter Festival when you are betrothed or even married. That will show many lords you are really ready to serve as king.”
“I am ready now, mother, or I would not be doing it. I do not regret asking Lord Farley to leave. There are some things I want to start working on in the kingdom, and I do not need some old fool who will argue about everything I do.” Maddoc put his hand in his pocket and stroked his letter. “I do hope to be more settled after the Winter Festival, though. I should like to marry by the end of spring if possible.”
His mother smiled and came closer to him. “I would very much like to see you with a proper queen soon. I think the Parvilian princess will grow on you as you get to know her better during the festival.”
Maddoc closed his eyes for a moment. “Mother, I already know her very well. I spent a month in her presence this fall. I know what my future holds, and I do not believe it has anything to do with the Princess Meira of Parvilia.”
“Maddoc, you told me you would try,” said his mother taking his hand. “You said you would take time and think about your future.”
“I did say I would take time and think about it, and I will. I will spend plenty of time with Princess Meira and other ladies, but I want you to be prepared. I know what my heart tells me. I know who I want and need.”
“Your letter is from her, isn’t it?” The queen looked down. “She has been writing you.”
“I wrote her first, mother. I know you told her not to write me back, but I begged her to.” Maddoc pulled out his letter. “They are not really love letters. You can even read it you like. They are very interesting and helpful to me. She tells me all she is doing now that her Gift is fully unlocked. She also answers questions I have about running a kingdom. She and her mother are very experienced.”
Queen Evalin looked at the letter and then shook her head. “I will not read your personal correspondence. I just hope you know what you are doing. I dread to think the pain you and even the princess will have to go through when you realize you cannot be with her. When you see it would be impossible for her to be your queen consort and see to her own kingdom, I know it shall break your heart, but you must understand it is all for the best.”
“I have more faith in Anwen and myself than you. I believe we can do it. I will think on it, and meet with other ladies as you have asked, but it will not change my future.”
Queen Evalin started to walk away. Before she completely left the hall she turned and looked at Maddoc. “I know you believe I am heartless, and perhaps I have grown cold as I have aged, but I have known true heartbreak, Maddoc. I know what sacrifices must be made for kingdoms and power. I have only been trying to prepare you.”
“I want to find a better way than before. If I have to sacrifice what I have with Anwen to be king, I don’t think it will be worth it.”
His mother looked at him sadly. “Even so, you will do what you have to. I know you will.”
Maddoc turned and walked up the stairs to his room. His servant, Evan, greeted him as Maddoc pulled out his letter.
“I do not need anything tonight, Evan. It will just be mother and maybe uncle for dinner so no need to change. I don’t think I will need anything else from you until morning actually. Feel free to enjoy your evening.”
“If you are sure, your majesty, I will go. Just ring or send for me if you do need something,” said Evan walking towards the door.
“I will. Thank you, Evan.” Maddoc watched him leave as he sat down in a chair near the fire.
He opened Anwen’s letter, reading down the page. He found this letter surprisingly different than the others Anwen had sent him, and he was glad his mother did not choose to read it.
My Dear King,
I am sorry I haven’t written in a few days. I have been out riding in the south of my kingdom. There were reports of the sickness running through many villages, and I found it to be worse than I feared. I confess that I am exhausted with the efforts it has taken to cure countless people. I was afraid I had done myself in at one point, but I bounced back with a half day of rest like I always do.
It has been hard, but it has been very worth it. To see a child’s dull, sick eyes go bright again, and a young man be able to stand from what was thought his death bed is enough to keep me going. I know I cannot cure every sick person in my kingdom, but I can make a difference for many people.
I have also looked over some of the land that did not produce this year. I did what I could, but any results won’t be known until late spring. I hope whatever I have done works. I am still new to understanding the full powers of my Gift, but I am learning new things about them each day.
I hope all is going well for you. I know it will be hard to rearrange your council and let some lords go. Change is never easy even if it is necessary. As the old ways die there will be struggles. Birthing ideas and new ways does not come without pain just like a woman giving new life. I hope you will stay the course and do what you know is right.
Maddoc, I don’t know if it is because I am tired, or if it is the fact, I miss you terribly, but I must tell you how much I think of you. I have probably drunk too much wine tonight and it has loosened my quill. I have tried to keep my letters about kingdom matters in case someone unintended should read them, but tonight I find that I do not care. I think of you often, my king. When I am busy during the day it is easier to not dwell on my love for you, but when I am alone riding and especially in bed at night, my thoughts all drift to you.
I remember our wonderful conversations. I think of how you can surprise me and make me laugh. I dwell on the nights we spent together, and I become desperate for your touch and kiss. I admit to my imagination running very wild when I cannot sleep. I cannot almost envision you next to me. I close my eyes and swear I can feel your soft touch that inflames me. I remember what it was like to kiss you, and though it makes it hard to rest, I cannot say I do not enjoy the sensations my remembrances produce. You are all I want. I have been finding myself counting the days until I get to be with you again. How I shall not run into your arms when I see you, I do not know. I will try to be patient. I know if we do this right, we can have a wonderful future.
I wonder if you think of me often. Your letters are full of your days, but they do not tell me your thoughts. Sometimes when I am very tired and discouraged, I worry that my absence has put me out of your mind. I fear that you will turn to another who is nearby and willing. I know I must trust in our love, but I cannot deny that I long to hear you say you think of me and still love me.
For me there is only you who can satisfy any desire I have. I know it is silly and not wise, but I do wish you would write me and tell me that you do think of me. You do not have to be as embarrassingly descriptive as I have been, but just a few words of your continued devotion would do much to ease my mind. I will be riding home soon. I hope to rest a few days in the palace before journeying on to see you.
If your feelings have changed, you can tell me. I know what a challenge our relationship is and will continue to be. If you find it is not worth it, I will not hold it against you, but I must admit that I am afraid I will always be yours.
Maddoc sat back in his chair, letting the letter fall into his lap. “Anwen,” he groaned out loud. She couldn’t possibly think he would ever be able to turn to any but her. He did think of her often, almost constantly. He could feel his body at that moment react to her words. To think of her laying in bed, wanting his touch and kiss made him want to ride directly to Lucidala and find her.
He stood up and took his letter to the small desk in his room. He read over it again and brought it close to his face. He could smell the slightest hint of lavender from the pages. He let his hand run over it gently before folding it up and putting it in a drawer next to her other letters. He would keep this one separate so he could read it later.
He pulled out a clean sheet of paper and grabbed his quill. He would write her a long letter that moment telling her exactly what she meant to him. He would be very detailed in writing all the thoughts he had about her daily. If it feel into unintended hands, so be it. He would not let her doubt his continued love for her for any longer than necessary. He would address it to the palace in Awbrey and hope she would be there when it came.
He looked up at the clock on his mantle. It was almost supper time. He didn’t care. He would take food in his rooms. He would not delay. He would write his letter, telling the princess everything he loved about her, and everything he wished to do with her when they saw each other again.