The Queen's Command

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Chapter 13

The journey was not easy. They followed the river south, trying to keep off of the main roads and out of large villages. By the third day, they were all tired and dirty. Their food supplies were very low even with Anwen finding a few hares for them to eat. Rillian provided some fish from the river by fashioning a net from some vines he found. Still, Maddoc knew they needed to find a village to replenish their supplies. A night in some kind of bed would do well for them to recover their strength.

“How close do you think we are to Lucidala?” asked Maddoc to Anwen as they rode.

“I think about another day. We should pass by a very small village sometime this afternoon. I believe it is the last one we will see before we come to the foot of the mountains that signify the start of Lucidala.”

“We will stop in that village and rest for the night. We can buy a few things.”

“Do you think it is wise?” asked Anwen. “What if you are recognized?”

“I can get us some rooms and supplies,” said Rillian. “All you two have to do is keep your head down. King Maddoc is right, we need to rest if we want to make it the rest of the way.”

They rode on, Maddoc chatting with Rillian while Anwen was unusually quiet. He looked over at her to find her slumped down and looking a little pale.

“Anwen, are you well?” asked Maddoc

“The constant motion on the horse has gotten to me. We have not had many breaks, and I don’t think the fish from last night agreed with me.”

“Do we need to stop now and give you a few minutes?” Rillian looked over at her with concern.

She shook her head. “No. I think a night in a bed and some hot food will fix me up. I do not wish to slow us down. I just want to see my mother and friends. When I see them well, I will feel much better.”

“A few minutes will not set us back long,” said Maddoc. “If you like you could ride with me so you can rest.”

“I am fine, Maddoc. I don’t believe we have much longer to the village. Let’s press on.” She moved her reins a bit, and her horse rode forward faster. Maddoc exchanged concerned glances with Rillian before hurrying to catch up with her.

They came to the small village not far from the river a few hours before sunset. It was a simple village with just a few shops, a stable, and a very small inn. They left Rillian’s guards at the edge of the town, Rillian telling his men he would bring them food later. He ordered them to keep watch over the village, looking for anything out of place.

They made it to the stable being met by a young boy. He took Anwen’s horse by the bridle as Maddoc pulled beside her. She slid down from her horse before Maddoc could dismount. She stumbled a bit and looked to be about to fall over from exhaustion when Rillian quickly caught her after jumping off his horse.

“Careful, Anwen,” he said quietly as Maddoc hopped down.

She pushed away gently. “I am fine. It was just too many hours riding, and I was a little light-headed. I feel much better now. Shall we go on to the inn?”

Maddoc took her hand and looked her over. She still seemed pale to him, but she gave him a large smile. “I hope the food is good tonight. I am starving.”

He put her hand on his arm as Rillian paid the boy and gave him instructions. Maddoc grabbed a hat he had with him off his horse and pulled it down low over his head. Anwen had her long, golden hair in a braid, and she put it over her shoulder, keeping her head bowed. They walked on to the inn, Rillian keeping slightly ahead of them.

The first floor of the inn was small but appeared clean. People were just starting to gather to drink and eat after a day working in the fields or in town. They walked up to the bar where a man was pouring a glass of some mead, and an old, kind-looking woman talked with a young man. As they walked to the bar, many people stopped talking to stare at them. The old woman shooed the young man away and looked over the three of them.

“Hello,” said the woman as Rillian walked up to the bar. “Can I do something for you?”

“I am hoping you have two rooms for the night. We aren’t looking for anything fancy,” replied Rillian with a glance at Maddoc and Anwen.

“And who might you be? We don’t want any trouble here,” said the old woman.

“We will bring no trouble to your inn. We are just three travelers headed back home to Bellican after a trip to see our kin up north.”

“Bellican, huh? I’ve never been there, but I know of no harm in the kingdom.” The woman looked over Rillian at Anwen and Maddoc. “You are all three from Bellican, and you say you are kin? You don’t look much alike.”

“This is my wife, and Ren here is my brother,” said Maddoc coming forward. “I can assure you we don’t mean you or your inn any harm. My wife needs rest, and I am hoping we can find lodging with you. We don’t mind paying whatever you ask.”

The woman looked closely at Maddoc which made him take a step back. She looked at Anwen and gave her a small smile. “Even prettier than what people have said,” she muttered quietly. “Come with me, and I will show you to a couple of rooms.”

Rillian exchanged a curious glance with Maddoc, but they all three followed the old woman to a steep set of stairs. Maddoc let Anwen go first before he and Rillian followed her.

“What do you think she meant with that comment about Anwen? Do you think this is safe?” asked Rillian.

“I am not sure about the comment, but I have a good feeling about this place. We don’t have much of a choice anyway. Anwen needs to rest. I doubt she would make it much farther.”

Rillian nodded, and they continued to the top of the stairs. They arrived in a narrow hallway that had three doors on each side.

“The rooms aren’t very big, but these two connect if you wish for more space,” said the woman to Anwen. “This room over here is very comfortable for a single man. Why don’t you all three get comfortable, and I will see to some water being brought up as well as a meal. I wager you don’t want to be seen downstairs.”

“Why would you say that?” asked Maddoc.

“Come now, your majesty. You must have guessed that your tale has made it around the kingdom by now. My youngest son serves on Lord Mension’s estate, and the whole place is full of talk of you and your new queen. I heard she was a pretty, little thing, but I had no idea she would be such a beauty. Now come get inside and rest. You do not need to worry about staying here. This town and its people are loyal to our true king.”

Maddoc looked down at Anwen who smiled at the old woman. “We don’t want to put you in any danger. We will only stay a night and be gone early in the morning.”

“You will stay as long as you like, and no one will bother you up here. I believe we are full up now, and any other travelers will have to move on. Go into your rooms and get comfortable. You will have a proper bed and meal tonight. It may not be what you are you used to, but I will make sure it is as comfortable as it can be.”

“I will pay you very well for your trouble and discretion, mam,” said Maddoc.

“I don’t need your money, your majesty. We have done well for ourselves here in our small village. We have heard troubling tales out of Quinlan. There is talk of lords taking over lands that aren’t theirs. There is disease spreading in the kingdom, and the palace is doing nothing about it. We have been lucky here so far. If you will do all you can to help your people when you retake your throne, that will be enough for me.”

“We will do all we can for our people,” said Anwen. “I can promise it to you. I am sure my husband will also want to reward you properly, but you do not need to worry about Calumbria. We will not rest until we have secured our kingdom.”

“The way you say it, makes me believe it for certain, your majesty. I will not keep you a moment longer. The doors are open.”

She walked away as Anwen opened the nearest door. Maddoc saw that Rillian was opening his door before he followed Anwen into a modest room. There was a bed just big enough for the two of them, a small fireplace, and a table with two old chairs. Anwen walked over to one of the chairs and sat down, laying her head back against the worn fabric.

Maddoc walked to the door that was on the side wall and opened it. There was another room with a small bed, but it also held a wooden wash tub, small vanity, and mirror. He walked back into the room with Anwen and sat down next to her.

“You can lie down if you wish, Anwen,” said Maddoc.

“No. I would like a bath first if I can get one.”

“There is a small tub in the room next to ours, but I suppose you will fit nicely in it. I will have to do with cleaning off myself the best I can.”

“When you get to Lord Adian’s home, you can have a proper bath, Maddoc,” she closed her eyes. “Just a few more days.”

Maddoc leaned forward in his chair and looked over Anwen. There was something not quite right about her, and he couldn’t figure out what it was. She looked tired, but he imagined he did as well. She was pale as her cheeks were missing their usual rosy color. He took her hand on impulse and held it. She opened her eyes and squeezed his hand.

“I hope you are not getting sick, my love,” he said as he pulled her hand up to his lips.

“I don’t believe I am. I do not feel sick, and if I were, you could tell it as a life-giver. I believe I am just tired. A night here will refresh me. I don’t know why, but I feel as if we can trust the good lady who showed us to our rooms. I believe I will sleep very soundly here.”

“Good.” Maddoc let her hand go.

She leaned forward and put her hands on his. “Of course, it will also be good to be alone with you for a few hours. I do not mind Rillian riding with us or his guards. I know he needs to get back to Bellican to speak with his father, but it has been hard to not be able to be so open with my affection for you.”

Maddoc leaned forward and kissed her lips gently. “It has indeed. Perhaps after your clean up and eat, you will feel better. I would like you to get a good night’s sleep, but it is early yet.”

She nodded. “I am sure I will feel much better after a good meal. There is not much that would keep me from the opportunity of being with you, no matter how tired I am.”

The hot water came, and the bath and two large bowls were filled. Maddoc left Anwen alone to wash, while he used some rags and towels provided to clean as best he could. After spending time cleaning off the road and putting on a fresh shirt, Maddoc felt better than he had in the last few days. Anwen came back into the room wearing a nightgown and robe just as a meal was being brought in by the older lady.

“I am sorry that doesn’t quite fit right, your majesty. My daughters were a bit larger than you when they last lived her.”

“It is no matter, Mrs. Jennings. It is very comfortable and nice to be out of a dress for the evening. You have been more than kind with your attentions.”

Maddoc was not surprised that Anwen had learned the woman’s name. He was a little ashamed he had not thought to ask it

“Nonsense. My husband and I never dreamed we would serve a king and queen,” said the old woman.

“You have a prince with you as well,” said Anwen. “Prince Rillian who is in the other room is the youngest son of King Garreth of Bellican.”

“He is a fine-looking young man and very kind too,” remarked the old woman.

“That he is.” Anwen took a bite of the stew the woman had placed down. “This is wonderful.” Anwen took another bite as Maddoc tried the stew.

“She is right. This is very good, Mrs. Jennings.”

“My husband sent up a pitcher of his finest mead for you as well, my king. There is some wine for you, my queen.”

There was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Jennings answered it for them. It was Prince Rillian so the woman let him in and excused herself. Rillian moved a small chair from the corner over to the table.

“Did you eat, Rillian?” asked Anwen.

“I did. Though I see they brought you a bit more and some mead. I guess it pays to be the king.” He laughed a little.

Maddoc poured him a cup of mead and passed it to him. “Have some yourself. It is pretty good.”

“Would you like some bread?” asked Anwen. “There is more here than we could ever eat.”

“I was only teasing. I was very well taken care of, my dear queen.” Rillian took a long drink. “What time do you want to leave tomorrow?”

Maddoc thought about it. He would like to be gone before the sun, but he wanted Anwen to rest while she could. “We will wait for the sun to rise. I don’t think we need to sneak off here.”

“You don’t wish to go earlier?” asked Anwen.

“I know you are anxious to see your family and friends, Anwen, but a bit of rest will do us all good. Rillian, did you see to getting us some supplies?”

“The old woman had her husband get us some things, and I ran some food out to my men. We should be very ready to go tomorrow morning with enough to get us through the next couple of days.”

“Will you stay long with us at Lord Aidan’s manor?” asked Anwen.

“Just a few days. I will rest and then go on to Bellilcan. I am anxious to meet with my father and get a force ready to fight for the rightful king of Calumbria.”

“I appreciate your support, Rillian, but will a letter not work? It might be safe to send one from Lucidala.”

“I will not take the chance. It will take me less than a week to reach my father with just me and my guards. I will write you as soon as I have news. Hopefully, my letter will find you.”

“I am sure we will stay some time at Lord Aidan’s.” Maddoc finished his stew, and pushed another piece of bread towards Anwen, noticing she had finished all of hers. “Anwen will want to see her mother is well and prepare her people for what is going to happen.”

Anwen took a bite of the bread Maddoc had given her and nodded. “I would say we will be in Lucidala for at least two weeks if not more. I know my king is anxious to take his throne back, but we must do this right.”

Maddoc agreed. They spoke a bit longer with Rillian, settling their plans for the rest of the trip. He excused himself as the room grew dark, and Mrs. Jennings came in to light the candles to find them already lit by Anwen. She looked as if she wished to ask about it but instead, just wished them both a good night.

Anwen yawned and walked over to the bed. Maddoc watched her from his seat as she stretched in the moonlight, illuminating her lovely figure through her nightgown. He put his cup down and stared at his wife. She was a beautiful woman, and he knew he was fortunate to have convinced her to be his wife.

“Are you just going to sit there and stare at me while you drink?” she asked as she stood by the bed.

“I might,” he said with a small laugh. “The mead is very good, and the view is even better.”

“Perhaps I can improve it,” she said with a raised eyebrow. She slowly took off her robe and laid it across the bed. The thin summer nightgown she wore underneath, gave very little cover to what lay underneath it. He could make out her full breast leading down to her trim waist.

“Not enough to temp you to come over here yet?” she asked.

Maddoc drained his cup and put it down. “Try again.”

One side of her mouth lifted up as she turned from him. She reached down and picked up the hem of the gown. She gave him one look before turning her head around and lifting the gown over her head. She threw it to the side and stood in the moonlight, wearing nothing with her back to him.

Maddoc slowly got up off his chair and walked over to her. He put his arm around her waist and pulled her against him. Moving her hair out of the way, he kissed her neck as she softly sighed.

“Finally decided I was worth the walk over here?” She moved her head to give him better access to her neck.

He kissed her neck down to her shoulder before moving up to whisper in her ear. “You are worth more than anything to me. You know it well, my love.”

She turned in his arms and looked up at him. “I might know it, but I would not mind your reminding me tonight.”

He smiled before he laid her down in the small bed, very ready to show her just what she meant to him.

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