Maddoc adjusted the deep blue shirt he wore, glancing down at the fox standard on the chest. It had been made for him quickly by one of Elias’s servants. As he looked in the mirror and swept back a piece of his dark hair that had fallen in his face, he rubbed a hand over his neatly trimmed beard. He supposed he looked as much like the king as he could without his crown that had been left in Quinlan.
He might look like the leader of the kingdom, he did not feel like one. He took Anwen’s advice the best he could and tried to stop dwelling on his past mistakes. He knew she was right about most things, and he could not change the past. Still, a part of him felt shame and guilt over the life he had lived. As much as Anwen might not want him to feel it, he would never completely let it go. He hoped to use it to propel him forward into being the king he needed to be. He wanted to never take his position for granted or forget what he owed his kingdom and its people.
He turned as he heard the door to the dressing room open. Anwen stepped into the space looking every inch of a queen. They found a blue gown for her in the house that almost matched Maddoc’s shirt. It was altered for her, and the fox standard had been added to it. Her golden hair was swept up into a high bun with a few curls loose so they hung around the back of her neck. She walked towards him with a small smile on her face and her honey-colored eyes shining.
“You look very well, my king,” she said as she stood by him. “I am glad to see you decided not to shave your beard completely off.”
“I think it gives me some distinction and hides a bit of my youth.” He turned to look at her. “I also understand that my queen prefers it.”
She reached up and ran her hand over his cheek. “I do, but you must know by now it does not matter to me how you are dressed or groomed. I love you in every way.”
Maddoc turned back to the mirror and looked at his and Anwen’s reflection. She moved closer to him and gazed into the mirror. “I think Elias’s servants did a rather nice job on this gown. It is not a perfect fit, but with my small stature, it is not an easy thing to fit someone else’s gown on me.”
Maddoc looked down at her “You look perfect, Anwen. When you walked in, I found you beyond beautiful and a little intimidating. You are everything a queen should be.”
“And you look like a strong king, Maddoc, but you always do. I hope you are not doubting yourself today. You do not have the luxury. Besides, there is no reason to doubt. All these lords traveled here because they know you are their king. They are more than ready to follow you, and today you will remind them why.”
He turned towards her and took her hand. “I was having doubts a moment ago before you came in. I did listen to you yesterday, and I know what you said was right. Still, I cannot help but feel some shame. I don’t think it will ever truly go away, but from now on I won’t let it control me. I will use it to remind me of who I never want to become again. I will let it help me grow to be who I need to be.”
She leaned up and kissed his cheek gently. “I wish you felt none of it, but if you must, I am glad you have chosen to use it wisely. Now, we need to go. Your lords should all be assembled and waiting.”
“Our lords, you mean. You promised to serve beside me, I plan to take full advantage of that promise.”
“I will be there the whole time, and I will try to hold my tongue as much as I can. I do not wish to usurp your authority or put off your lords by my harsh truths.”
He shook his head. “You will not hold back anything you wish to say. I have always found wisdom in your words, and I know I will need your counsel today. I am not threatened by your skills as a leader. You will not be some quiet queen who stays in the shadows only called forward for a quick dance or meal. You will be the ruler you were meant to be for Lucidala and Calumbria. I will accept no other.”
She smiled at him. “I shall do as you ask, my king, though I hope you do not regret it.”
“I know I shall not.”
“We should be going then. Are you ready, your majesty?”
He offered her his arm, and she took it. He pulled her close to his side. “I am very ready, my queen. A few moments ago, I felt nothing like a king, but with you by my side, I suddenly feel very comfortable in my role.”
As they walked out of the room, Maddoc realized for many years he had been dressed like a king and addressed as such, but it took finding his queen for him to really know what it felt like to be the ruler of his kingdom.
They walked into one of the smaller parlors of Elias’s home that had been set up for the meeting. Two large, rectangular tables had been put together with chairs all around. Behind each chair stood a high lord of Calumbria. At the very end of the table was a large empty chair with Elias standing behind the chair to the left of it and a chair with no one behind it to the right. Maddoc’s mother stood next to Elias.
Maddoc walked confidently with Anwen on his arm to the empty chair on the right. He took Anwen’s hand and kissed it as she curtsied before him. After letting her go he pulled out her chair for her and walked to his own. He looked around the table, waiting for Anwen to sit down. When she did, all followed her lead.
Maddoc took a deep breath and began. “I want to first thank you for all traveling here. I know the chances you are taking by coming to hear me, and you all have my appreciation.” He looked at Anwen. “Secondly, I have an important introduction to make. Most of you are already aware, but some of you who have just arrived may not know. I would like to officially introduce you to your queen and my wife, Anwen Cadden-Clarden. We were officially married outside the village of the summer palace, and she has agreed to serve as my queen. I feel very fortunate to have gained such a worthy woman for myself and our kingdom. If you chose to support me, you will also accept Queen Anwen.”
Everyone was silent, though there were a few raised eyebrows as they looked at Anwen.
“I am sure everyone here wishes you very well, your majesty. I cannot imagine a more worthy woman as our queen,” said Elias as he looked at Anwen.
“I agree,” said Lord Mavens with a small smile and nod towards Anwen.
“I look forward to serving Calumbria with our king and all of you,” said Anwen. She looked at Maddoc. “I believe we should get started, your majesty. We have much to discuss, and the future of the whole land is at stake.”
Maddoc nodded. “Our queen is correct. Today what we have to speak of is perhaps one of the largest challenges to our kingdom and land in over five hundred years. Prince Korben has used unsavory ways to try and claim the throne for himself. He wishes for unnecessary power for himself and Calumbria.”
“Is more power for our kingdom a bad thing?” asked an old lord towards the end of the table. His blue eyes were cloudy and droopy. “Shouldn’t we put our kingdom over everything?”
“Lord Wenton, I value our kingdom over almost everything, but to grow in power as my uncle wishes would harm the land. It would cause unrest in other kingdoms which very well could lead to war amongst many. This would not be good for Calumbria or our people.”
“We could easily win any war against any kingdom we face,” said a man next to Lord Wenton. He had dark gray hair and eyes so dark they looked black. “Why is what your uncle wants so bad? I have heard he wishes you to come back and rule in your place. Of course, he will not like your choice of a queen. He had chosen the woman next to you for himself. He had the promise of her mother and queen.
“I have come to this meeting out of courtesy to you because I still claim you as our king, but I am not sure I am against Prince Korben’s plans. He wanted to strengthen our ties with Parivilia and even Lucidala with his marriage to your queen and your marriage to Princess Miera. Perhaps something could still be done. You are a king. I am sure you could get out of this marriage easily with a priest’s blessing.”
Maddoc closed his eyes for a moment to compose himself. He glanced at Anwen who was staring at the man who had spoken. “Lord Vinton, that is your name correct?” asked Maddoc.
The lord nodded.
“I am close to throwing you out of this meeting and off this estate with that kind of talk. What my Uncle has done is evil and has no place in Calumbria. I am hoping you do not know all because if you do and still support the prince, I will have no choice but to find a way to deal with you.”
“If he knows what has happened and chooses to support Prince Korben, you could charge him with treason,” said Elias. “I believe we all know the penalty for treason.”
“Why don’t you tell us your story, then,” said Lord Vinton. “I think we would all like to hear why you think Prince Korben has no claim over the woman at your side. I would also like to know how you came to marry her.”
“I will speak if that pleases you, your majesty,” said Anwen as she stood up.
“You know you may speak whenever you wish, my queen,” said Maddoc.
“I believe the story you wish to hear is as much mine as our king. He was absent for some of it, so I believe my first-hand knowledge will be more reliable. I will depend upon Lord Elias Bennington to back me up if he will.”
“You have my full support, my queen,” said Elias.
“I fell in love with the king this past fall after I saw him safe to his kingdom. I got to know him on the journey here and during our time in Quinlan. I became acquainted with the good and bad of King Maddoc and found after a time that I could not do without him. He, fortunately, felt the same for me, and I returned to my home very much in love with him.
“My mother encouraged me to think over my choice to make sure I knew what I wanted. I knew it would be a challenge to be with the king due to the disapproval of his mother and uncle. I knew many of you would not like me as your queen as well, but in the end, what mattered was the love that I shared with our king.
“The more time I spent with him in Quinlan, the more I knew I loved him. I considered letting him go for his own good and for the good of Calumbria, but he convinced me otherwise. I agreed to be his wife and towards the end of the festival, we planned to announce our betrothal. It never happened due to the treacherous workings of Prince Korben and my aunt, Princess Roslyn.
“You may remember my mother falling ill at the festival. It turns out she was being given a dangerous substance by both her sister and Prince Korben. When she was tired and confused they used it to their advantage to get her to sign a statement pledging me to Prince Korben. My mother was not in her right mind, or she never would have signed that proclamation.
“At the same time, Prince Korben had a southern lord send King Maddoc a false report of revolt in the kingdom so our king would leave Quinlan. While King Maddoc was away, Prince Korben announced a betrothal agreement with me and almost trapped me into marriage with him by having my aunt give me the same substance they used on my mother. I had sent my mother and court away for their own protection, and I was left to the mercy of those of this kingdom.
“Queen Evalin came to my aid and sent Lord Elias and Prince Rillian to rescue me. It was by accident and the foolishness of one from my kingdom, that I was grievously injured. If not for your king discovering his Gift of life-saving I would have died.”
“What do you mean the king’s gift?” asked Lord Wenton
“You know of Queen Anwen’s powers,” said Elias. “Many of you witnessed them during the Winter Festival. I believe she cured a couple of you when you had a bad cold. Our king has the same gift.”
“How?” asked Lord Vinton. “I thought only those from Lucidala could have such powers.”
“There is Lucidalan blood the king’s family line,” said Maddoc’s mother. “There was a queen from Lucidala in the past.”
“Using Maddoc’s gift, I was able to be healed, and with my help, he used his power to send us to the summer palace.”
Maddoc nodded. “We spent the last few months there, letting Anwen heal. Before we left to travel south, we married. I have the official letter signed by the village priest. It has been registered in his great book. There is no doubt. Queen Anwen is my wife, and you know there is no going back on that promise. I wouldn’t have it even if there was.”
“So, you see, Lord Vinton. Prince Korben gave my mother a dangerous substance, lied to the king, coerced my confused and sick mother, and tried to force me into marriage. I believe he planned to have Maddoc spend his time in Parvilia bending that country to the ways of Calumbria while he ruled Calumbria as he wished.
“And if any of that sounds perfectly fine to you, then you have no place here. Also, if the prince will go to such depths to get what he wants with a woman he claims to have some affection for, what will he do to any of you if he feels you are in his way?”
Anwen sat down as Maddoc looked at Lord Vinton. “So, what say you, my lord? Will you stay and hear me out, or do you still think my uncle has good ideas for this kingdom.”
“Before you speak, think carefully,” said Elias. “I can tell you every word Queen Anwen says is true.”
Lord Vinton took a breath so loud, Maddoc could hear it. He looked down. “I did not realize Prince Korben went to such lengths. I hope Queen Eira was not permanently harmed.”
“I hope not as well, my lord,” said Anwen. “I have not been able to correspond or see my mother since I left Quinlan. I am afraid she might have heard I have died.”
“We will make sure you see her soon, my love,” said Maddoc very quietly before he stood up.
“I truly believe we must act soon if we wish to avoid catastrophic consequences for not just Calumbria but the whole land. My uncle is setting in motion things that will lead to an all-out war. We cannot let it happen. We must stop him and those who support him.” Maddoc looked around the table.
“What do you believe we should do, your majesty?” asked Lord Mavens.
“I think we need to solidify a unifying force made up of those in our kingdom who support a way of life that will lead to prosperity and well-being for Calumbria’s people and those throughout the land.”
“And I suppose you believe that is you as king?” asked Lord Vinton.
Elias turned his head sharply to look at Lord Vinton. “King Maddoc is the true king of our kingdom. Who else do you think should be king? You have been told several times now that if you do not support him, you are treasonous.”
“I’m not denying the king’s right to the throne. I’m asking why we should continue to support him and his line,” replied Lord Vinton.
“It’s a fair question,” said Maddoc. “I am sure we could go down my family line and find good rulers and bad rulers. We could find kings who made necessary and good changes, and those who did nothing. What I can tell you is I do not plan to sit idly by and let things go on as they have been. I plan to make Calumbria better for all people, high and low.
“I will not do this alone. I will depend on my council, my lords, listening to my people of all status, and most of all, my queen.”
“Some will not like you listening to the common folk,” said Lord Wenton. “Those with power and fortune will not want to lose their place.”
“I don’t believe our king is so bold to try to undo a system that has been in place for more generations than we can count, my lord,” said Anwen. “I do believe things need to change, but I, like our king, know that things take time. I can assure you what land is yours, will remain yours as long as you treat those who depend on you fairly. I believe this not only benefits the kingdom but you as well.
“If we do not protect the farmers and tradesmen, where will our kingdom be? Where will we get our goods and food? Who will fight and protect our kingdom? There will always be those in power and those who have more, but perhaps we could see more to those who do not have enough.”
Maddoc looked down at Anwen for a moment before looking at the lords gathered. “What will happen during my reign will take time and council from all of you. Hopefully, we will have that time, but first, we must deal with the situation at hand. Prince Korben cannot be allowed to lead our kingdom. He will not treat you or anyone else fairly. He will only do what he must to see himself grow in power.”
Anwen stood up and moved closer to Maddoc. “We must face Prince Korben and his allies, but first we must be prepared. We need to gain allies to join us. I hope we will have the support of each lord in this room, but you will need to decide today. If you wish to fight for what is right, you will swear your fealty to your king before going home and preparing your forces and people to fight for the future of their kingdom.
“While you are doing this, I will travel to my kingdom and secure the support of my Lucidan guards and lords. I have no doubt my mother, Queen Eira, will back King Maddoc. With help from some of you, we can contact other kingdoms and gain their support as well.”
Prince Rillian stood up from a seat somewhere down the table. “You have my support, Queen Anwen, both you and the king. I know my father will join you when you go to secure your throne. Bellican will fight for King Maddoc.”
Elias stood up. “My family has long held the seat of the highest lord of this land. We have always stood side by side with the Caddens in seeing to Calumbria’s prosperity, and we will not stop today. Your majesties, I will do everything in my power to secure your place in the Grand Palace.”
Lord Mavens stood up. “King Maddoc is the true king, and I will stand with him and our queen. I believe the future of our kingdom depends on their reign.”
More and more lords stood up, swearing their loyalty to Maddoc and Anwen. Lord Wenton slowly stood up. “I have heard enough to convince me. I will stand with you, my king. I had every intention when I came. I only wished to know more. You have my complete loyalty.”
Every eye went to Lord Vinton who was the only one sitting. He took a moment more before standing up. “I am not sure I will always agree with you on everything, King Maddoc, but I do believe you are the rightful king. Listening to the woman beside you, I can say you have chosen a strong and wise queen for our kingdom. I believe it will take you both to keep our kingdoms secure. I will stand with you, and I will help you put Prince Korben in his place.”
Maddoc and Anwen spoke with each lord as they all made their way out of the room. Elias went to see all the lords off, and Prince Rillian left to speak with his guards to discuss the journey to his kingdom. Anwen turned to Maddoc with a small smile.
“Verry well done, my king. I believe you will have a good number of your people on your side. Though we should think of some way to spread support for you amongst those how are not high born. Perhaps we should catch Lord Mavens before he leaves and ask if his steward could see to speaking with the farmers. I’m sure Elias could do the same as well.”
Maddoc caught her hand before she turned to leave. “We can write letters to the lords with our commands, and send them out very carefully. I am sure most of them will already be speaking with their people about what is to come.” He pulled her close. “You were very impressive today, my love. I find that I enjoy watching you take control over a room full of people.”
“I only spoke as I saw fit. I am not even sure if what I said had any impact.”
“You know it did, Anwen. If any of them came into the room questioning you as queen, I am sure they left the room with all those questions answered.” He leaned down and kissed her before picking her up and putting her on the table.
“I am not sure Lord Bennington would approve of us using his table and room for such an activity, Maddoc,” said Anwen as Maddoc kissed her neck while his hands moved to her back searching for the ties to her dress.
“He will have to indulge his king today,” said Maddoc as he pulled at the ties. “I find that I must have you this very moment. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I like watching you rule. There is little I’ve seen that has affected me so.”
Anwen sighed happily as Maddoc pulled her dress down, his kisses moving lower. “It was very invigorating seeing you so commanding and confident. I like it when you are sure of yourself as king.”
“Then make sure you stay by my side, my queen. I find that I am much more sure of my role when you are near.”
Maddoc loved his queen thoroughly on the table. While they had much work to do, he was sure of his future as long as he had Anwen as his wife and queen.