Maddoc Caddon, the true King of Calumbria, looked over the balcony off his bedroom in the summer palace of Calumbria. The first signs of spring were all around. The snow had melted away. The trees were regaining their leaves and the grass on their small island had started to turn green. The wind off the ocean still held a bite, but it was much more bearable to be outside.
His thoughts shifted to Quinlan. It would be time for the spring planting, and the village would be busy. He always hated spring because it meant most of his friends who were lords would be busy with their fathers learning about their lands. The young women would be busy with lessons and fittings for new spring and summer gowns, and Maddoc would have little companionship.
How different his life was now. The things that were once so important to him seemed so frivolous. A year ago, all he wanted was to drink and laugh with his friends before bedding attractive women. He ignored his kingdom, leaving the work of his position to his mother and his uncle. He thought at the time he enjoyed his life, but now he saw how empty it was.
He looked back towards the bedroom, seeing the large bed that lay in the middle against the far wall. Still asleep amongst all its covers lay the reason his whole life had changed. He quietly said her name to himself, “Anwen.” She had changed everything.
After being attacked outside her palace, Anwen saw to his safety and healing. When her aunt refused to give him shelter, she pledged to take him back to his kingdom. On their journey, she saved his life numerous times while placing her own in danger. She spent time teaching him what it meant truly lead a kingdom. She told him the truth even when he didn’t want to hear it.
He quickly fell in love with her, and now he couldn’t imagine his life without her. He almost lost her a little over two months ago, and she was still feeling some of the effects of her injuries. Little by little, she was getting better. Whatever her aunt had given her to subdue her had started to wear off. Her wound had finally healed, and her strength had started to come back. He was glad to see the sparkle back in her eyes when she talked with him. She was able to stay up longer in the day and even go for short walks on their island.
Soon she would be fully healed, and though Maddoc wanted her well, he dreaded what it would mean. She would wish to go back to Quinlan and Lucidala. She would want to secure their kingdoms and crowns. He knew she was right, but the thought that she could be hurt again or worse was too much. He was so tempted to run away with her, to convince her to leave the land with him. A quiet life with Anwen by his side sounded much better than one where she was continually in danger.
Maddoc turned and walked back into the bedroom. Going to the bed, he lay back down and took Anwen into his arms. He hated to wake her but was desperate to hold her. Due to her injury and exhaustion, he was able to express his love for her as he usually would. He wanted her to be completely healed and well, but he missed being able to make love to her.
She gave a slight sigh as she burrowed into him. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. Things were not ideal in Maddoc’s life. There was so much wrong and uncertain, but as he held Anwen against him and kissed her tenderly, he found himself content.
“Maddoc, what time is it?” she asked quietly.
“Very early, my love. You should sleep more if you like.”
She moved back from him and stretched. “I sleep too much. I will never regain my strength if I do not start pushing myself.” Her eyes opened, and she reached up to touch Maddoc’s face. “There is so much I need and want to do. I need to start training you with your powers, and we need to set a date to head back towards Quinlan or Lucidala.”
“You will be completely well first, and there is something else I insist happen before we leave this place.”
She moved back into his arms. “Do you think the town priest will actually do it? There is no telling what rumors have made their way here.”
“Whatever talk is going around the kingdom, the fact remains I am the king. I believe I can convince the priest to marry us. If he will not, I will travel to other villages until I find one that will. I cannot wait much longer for you to be my wife.”
Anwen moved up until she was face to face with him, “I want very much to be your wife, and you, my husband.” She leaned in and kissed him.
It caught him off guard how passionate it was. Her kisses the past few weeks had been soft and short. This one was searching and firm. It was full of desire. As her hands moved up Maddoc’s chest, he felt himself start to get lost in his need and want for her. His body reacted to her touch almost immediately. Before it could go too far. He took her hands and pulled back.
“What is it?” she asked with a small pout. “Are you already tired of me?”
“Of course not, but I do not wish to push you too far. You still have trouble staying up for the whole day, and I know your side still bothers you. I will let nothing get in the way of your recovery, no matter how tempting.”
She moved back against him, and kissed him. “I am feeling better. I have missed you, Maddoc. It feels wrong to not be with you in this way.”
He groaned a little before kissing her gently. “It will not be long my love. We can go for a walk today outdoors after breakfast. You can try to help me with my gift. We will see how well your strength holds up. I believe you are getting better, and when you are completely well, I will love you like I have been longing to do.”
They both prepared for their day and went downstairs to eat breakfast in the smaller dining area. There were only a few servants at the summer palace. They had all been very helpful since Maddoc and Anwen arrived, but he could tell they were confused. He had spoken with the housekeeper about the situation, making sure no one sent any messages to the Grand Palace about Maddoc and Anwen staying there.
Maddoc did not wish anyone to know where they were at the moment. He wished he could tell his mother he was safe, and he knew Anwen was desperate to contact her mother and Lord Aidan. Maddoc was afraid any messages sent would be intercepted. He worried about what his uncle would do to him and more so Anwen.
If Prince Korben believed that Anwen was really betrothed to him, he might demand she returned to him. Maddoc would never allow it. He didn’t care which lords his uncle had on his side, or how many guards he held under his thumb. Maddoc knew he had his own support from many lords. The captain of the royal guard was firmly on Maddoc’s side. Many of Matthias’s men would resign before they were forced to go against their commander.
They sat together at the table and ate breakfast. Maddoc was pleased to see Anwen eat better than she had in a while. She had grown thin, and there wasn’t much to her, to begin with. While she was small, she had always exuded health and strength to Maddoc. Since they had come to the summer palace, she had been so pale. The servants had done their best to find her some gowns, but they all hung loosely away from Anwen’s waist. He hoped her appetite had truly returned, and she would soon regain the weight she had lost.
After breakfast, they prepared to go outside. As Maddoc helped Anwen with her cloak, the housekeeper came up to them with a displeased look on her face.
“May I help you, Mrs. Drivens?” asked Maddoc.
“I am about to make a list of supplies needed for the next few weeks. I was wondering how long you and the princess plan to stay here so I can be prepared,” said Mrs. Drivens.
Anwen looked at Maddoc. “I believe we hope to move on soon, Mrs. Drivens. I know this has all been very odd, and you were not prepared to receive us when we came. With your lower numbers of staff, we must be a burden on you.”
Mrs. Drivens’s expression soften. “We are pleased to serve our king and any guest he may have, your highness. It is not a burden. It is our duty. I only wish to be prepared for you and king through your entire stay.”
“I think you can plan for us to be here for at least another month,” said Maddoc causing Anwen to look at him sharply. “I would like my betrothed to be fully healed before we leave, and there is an important event that must take place before we go.”
“An event?” asked the housekeeper. “Will I need to procure more servants and food for this event?”
“No,” said Anwen. “It will be very small. Just the king, myself, and you and your staff. You will not need to go to any extra trouble for it. Except, I might need a new dress.”
Mrs. Drivens looked Anwen up and down. “I think you need a few new things for the season since you did not bring anything with you. If you will be traveling soon, you will need a dress for that as well. There is a dressmaker in town. She is not used to fitting a princess, but I am sure she can come up with something serviceable.”
“I am not picky. Whatever she can manage for me, I will be very satisfied.” Anwen finished clasping her cloak. “I can go to her in a few days.”
“She can come here, your highness. There is no need for you to trouble yourself by going into the village,” said Mrs. Drivens.
“I wish to go into the village. I am feeling better and want to see all this area has to offer. This palace is so lovely, and you do such a good job seeing over it. I am sure the village is very charming.”
“Well, I grew up there, so I will not argue with you,” said Mrs. Drivens with a smile. “I can accompany you to see the dressmaker if you like, your highness. I can show you whatever you want to see in the village.”
“I would like that very much,” said Anwen. “If it is convenient for you, I would like to go in two days. Could you send a note to the dressmaker to see if that works for her?”
“Of course, your highness. I will see to it at once.” Mrs Drivens curtsied to Anwen. She turned to go before stopping and curtsying before Maddoc. “Your majesty.”
She left as Maddoc offered Anwen his arm. “You certainly can be very charming, my love. You seemed to have won Mrs. Drivens over in less than a minute. I have always been a little afraid of her.”
“She strikes me as a very good woman, though she is a little serious. She is very proud of her work here, and I think our arrival threw off her schedule. She was a little unsettled is all. She just wants to be appreciated for all she does.”
“I am glad I shall have a queen who understands these things. I am afraid, I am rather bad at reading people.”
“You are not,” argued Anwen. “You are just used to having your own way and all your commands carried out without question. You are a king, and it is understandable. Your servants will do what you wish because of who you are. Most royals don’t care if their staff likes and respects them, but I have always taken pains to get to know servants.
“They are people with lives that don’t always revolve around my wants and needs. I have met many worthy and wonderful people many would have overlooked. It is not why I do it, but I have benefited from having servants on my side. They hear many things that you and I would never hear. They know more of what is going on in our palaces and villages than we can imagine.”
Maddoc opened the door, and they walked out into the fresh, cool spring air. “I feel like you will forever be teaching me things, Anwen.”
“I do not mind it as long as you do mind learning, my king.” Anwen laughed a little. She put her free hand on his arm as she moved very close to him. “You have taught me things as well, and your teachings are much more fun.”
Maddoc looked down at her as she gave him a small smirk and a raised eyebrow. “I am not sure how much I have taught you, actually. You seemed rather skilled to me the first time.”
“I suppose I am a fast learner, or you were so far under my spell, you didn’t notice.”
Maddoc laughed. “I think it is probably a little of the first and most of the second. I do not mind. Loving you has brought me greater joy than I have ever known. I sometimes think what would have happened to me had I never met you.”
“I suppose you would have married as your mother and uncle liked. I believe you could have still been a very good king, but I am not sure how happy you would have been with Princess Meira.”
“Not happy at all. I would have always felt incomplete and like I was searching for something or someone. It would have been you of course. What would have come of you, do you think?”
Anwen shrugged. “I am not sure. I was so miserable and unhappy. Even if I had remained single, I never would have been able to reconcile with Lachlan no matter how much he said he wanted and loved me. I could never trust him again, and I could not do it to Gwendolyn. Even if she might deserve it.”
Maddoc closed his eyes for a second as they walked to the side of the palace towards the sea. He had thought much of Lachlan and his stupidity. The man had almost inadvertently killed Anwen. He hoped to never see the man again. If he did, he would have a hard time not killing him on the spot.
“You seem agitated, Maddoc. You must know I do not desire Lachlan. Perhaps I was in love with him when I was younger, but I am afraid it was a shallow, girlish love. If I had married him, I doubt either of us would have been happy for long.”
“I am not worried about you wanting Lachlan. I am thinking of what he did to you. He almost killed you, Anwen. He would have had not my hidden Gift responded. If I meet with him again, I do not think I could hold back my rage.”
They stopped walking as they came close to some bushes that held some pink buds. Anwen took both of his hands. “Do not think of it. I am alive and here with you. As much as I don’t like the man, he did not mean to hurt me. He was being stupid and impulsive, but it was I who walked into his path. I did not know where I was going, and I was so disoriented. All I knew was I heard your voice, and I had to get to you.”
“I still can’t believe what my uncle did to you, Anwen. I shouldn’t have underestimated how far he would go to have what he wanted. I never should have left you.”
“You left because you thought your people were in need. That is what a good king does. You could not have known you were being tricked by your uncle. I should have been warier of my aunt, but I didn’t believe she would stoop to such things. I knew she was never fond of me, but we are family. I thought that meant something.”
Maddoc raised Anwen’s hand and kissed it. “I would have done anything to spare you from the pain you must have felt during that time I was gone. You must have felt so abandoned by me.”
“I did long for you. Even when I had no idea where I was, I thought about you. I dreamed of you many times when I was lost in sleep. I think those sweet dreams are what helped me keep my sanity.”
Maddoc leaned down and kissed her as her hand went to his cheek. He spent several moments just holding her close, happy and relieved to have her with him.
“Now,” said Anwen pulling back. “I am going to have to be your teacher once again. You have a Gift you must learn to use. While I do not pretend to have full control over all my powers, I believe I have more experience than you. I can help you up to a point, and then together we can figure out the rest.”
She took his hand and led him to the bush with the pink buds. “These buds will open on their own in a few weeks, but with just a bit of our power, we can open them now.” Anwen touched a bud with two of her fingers. After a few seconds, it opened into a beautiful, full pink flower.
“How do you do it?” asked Maddoc as he touched the soft petals of the flower.
She again put a bud between two of her fingers. “I just imagine the flower fully opened and asked my Gift to make it so.” She was quiet for a moment before another fully bloomed flower appeared. “You give it a try.”
Maddoc nodded and touched a bud as Anwen did with two fingers.
“Now imagine a fully bloomed flower from the bud. Remember what its soft petals looked like, and the exact shade of pink it should be. It helps sometimes if you close your eyes.”
Maddoc closed his eyes, keeping a hold of the bud. He tried to envision the flower fully open. He remembered how soft the petals were, and what a vivid shade of pink it was. After a few moments, he opened his eyes to find the bud had not bloomed.
“It’s okay,” said Anwen. “It will take you some time to do it. You have just discovered your Gift. You have to learn to speak to it. Do not be discouraged, just try again.”
Maddoc tried several more times. The day around them started to turn from morning towards mid-day. The last time he tried, Maddoc opened his eyes, feeling exhausted and discouraged. “Perhaps, we were mistaken. Maybe it was you all along who healed yourself and brought us here.”
“No. A life-giver cannot heal themselves. It was you who saved me, and you helped bring us here. I was too weak to do it alone.” She took his hand and placed it over the bud. “Here let me help you.” She kept her hand on his as he held the bud between his two fingers.
She spoke very softly to him. “Close your eyes, Maddoc. Look inside yourself for the Gift you know is there. You can hear it speak to you if you are very quiet and still. It is the smallest whisper. It will call your name, claiming you. It wants you to claim it back. Acknowledge that it is there.”
She was silent for several minutes as Maddoc looked inside himself. He stood as still as he could and tried to empty his mind. After a moment, he could feel something that laid deep within his chest. In his head, he could hear the quietest whisper saying his name.
“I hear you,” he whispered.
“Good,” said Anwen. “Now ask it to do as you envision. Tell it to open this flower.”
Maddoc asked his Gift to use his power to open the flower. He felt Anwen’s hand start to warm on his. Her warmth spread to his. Something in his chest sparked, causing the warm feeling to go from his hand all throughout his body. Keeping his eyes closed, Maddoc concentrated, envisioning the flower.
He heard Anwen gasp, and his eyes flew open. He looked at her to see her staring at the bush in wonder. He turned to the bush to find not just the bud in his hand had bloomed, but the whole bush. Vivid pink flowers covered the plant, every single one of them perfect.
Anwen laughed. “Well, Maddoc, I think this should show you that you definitely have the Gift. You are a life-giver.”
He picked one of the flowers and handed it to her. “I think this has more to do with your power than mine.”
She took the flower and smiled at him. “Perhaps it is our conjoined power. I could feel my Gift respond to yours. I wonder if other life-givers had the same connection.”
“You would know more about it than I would.” He took her hand. “It is almost lunchtime, and I will not have you miss a meal. Besides, I am sure the servants have gone to great lengths to make sure we have a nice lunch. I would not want their work to go unappreciated.”
“You are learning quickly, my king,” said Anwen as she started to walk with him.
“I have a very tempting teacher who makes it impossible to ignore her lessons.”
“I believe it is your turn to show me something soon,” she said with some significance.
He stopped and pulled her close to him. “There is much I wish to show you, my princess, and as soon as you are well enough, I will start.”
He brought his hand up to caress her cheek, before putting it behind her head and gently pulling her into a kiss. It felt so right and good to have her so close. Every part of him wanted to pick her up and take her straight to their bed, but he composed himself and pulled back as she groaned.
“You will have to be patient,” he said as he kissed the tip of her nose. “What I have to show you will require you to be in top shape.”
She sighed. “Then I will do everything I can to get completely better as quickly as possible, including eating a good lunch.” They started walking again.
“I think some quiet time reading together in the library would help in your recovery as well. I wish to research some of the kingdom and plan our upcoming journey. After that, I think an afternoon nap would benefit both of us. I can at least hold you.”
“Sounds like as ideal of a day that is possible at the moment. I will follow your commands, my king. At least for today,” she teasingly said, causing Maddoc to laugh.