The Queen's Command

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Chapter 14

Anwen had never been so ready to be done with traveling in her life. She had spent many days on horses before, and she had slept in interesting circumstances. This time felt different. They had spent four and half days on the road since leaving Elias’s country manor, but it felt like at least two weeks to Anwen.

She had never felt so tired in her life, and it didn’t help that the food she had eaten the night before had not settled well within her stomach. The horse’s movement made her feel slightly ill and caused pain to radiate over her tired, sore body. She tried not to let it show. She was desperate to see her mother, Lord Aidan, and all her friends. She needed to know they were safe, and she wanted them to know she was alive and well.

By the looks of the area around her, she thought they were getting close. They might be able to make it late that evening if they pressed on. She would not be the cause of their delay no matter how badly she wished to stop for a rest. To keep going, she kept her head down and focused on not vomiting all over her poor horse. She sometimes listened to Maddoc and Rillian’s conversations.

They both seemed in much better moods since they had moved well into Lucidala’s borders. Maddoc thought the danger was less as he doubted his uncle would have his guards leave the safety of Calumbria. Anwen was less sure, but she kept her opinion to herself. She tried to keep a sharp eye out for anything suspicious, but it was difficult with her upset stomach and tired eyes.

“What do you think, Anwen?” asked Maddoc as he turned to look at her.

She shook her head slightly. “I’m sorry. What am I venturing an opinion on? I was not listening.”

“Rillian and I thought we might press on for a while. You said we should be within hours of Lord Aidan’s estate. If we keep going, we will arrive late, but we will not have to sleep another night on the road.”

She nodded and took a breath. “I agree. I would like to get to the estate as soon as possible. I am anxious to see my mother, and the sooner we arrive, the sooner we can work to save your kingdom.”

“We can take a rest or two if needed,” said Rillian as he looked over towards her. “I know we have been riding for a while.”

“I would rather hurry on and arrive at our destination unless either of you or the guards need a break. I am quite able to continue.”

“Perhaps we should stop for just a few minutes,” said Maddoc. “We could share a bite to eat. I know you must be hungry, Anwen. You barely ate at lunch.”

“No, I am well. That dried meat from last night did not settle well in my stomach. I think it combined with riding this horse, has left me feeling a little ill. He is a good, stout animal, but he does not provide the smoothest ride.”

“You are feeling ill? asked Maddoc with concern. “Let us stop, and I can see if I can help you.”

“No, truly Maddoc, it is nothing. If I were really sick, I would know it. I have no fever or headache. It is only an upset stomach and some tiredness from sleeping on the ground under stressful circumstances. I will be fine after a nice bath and cup of tea in a familiar house.”

Maddoc did not seem convinced, but he said nothing else as they rode on though he constantly looked at her. She worked hard to appear hardy and able to ride on though her eyes felt heavy. At some point, her stomach settled, which helped her feel more comfortable, but it only made it harder for her not to fall asleep. She finally lost the battel for a moment, causing her to slip a bit in her saddle.

“We will stop for a few minutes,” said Maddoc commandingly as he put his hand up.

“Maddoc, there is no need,” said Anwen.

“There is. You almost fell off your horse because you are so tired, and we could all use a quick break.”

The way he said it made Anwen realize it would do no good to argue with him. A quick walk might help her to wake up, and now that her stomach had settled, she was hungry. She stopped her horse beside Maddoc’s. He jumped down and stood by as she slipped off her horse into his arms. He held her close for a moment, giving her a soft kiss on her forehead before she gently pushed away.

She walked to the side of the road near some trees, stretching her back and wiping some sweat from her face. She looked down at her hands to see how filthy she was.

“Here,” said Rillian, walking over with a handkerchief in his hands. “It has been very dry, and the roads are dusty.”

She smiled as she took the material from him, wiping her face and hands. She looked down at the filthy piece of linen and then up at Rillian, who laughed a little. “You can keep it. I have plenty.”

Maddoc brought over some waterskins and food as the guards took care of the horses. They stood around drinking water as Anwen ate some cheese and bread. Once she was done, Maddoc held out a large apple to her. She hesitated for a moment.

“Go on, Anwen. You barely ate breakfast or lunch, and I know you are hungry. We have a little food left, and we will be at Lord Aidans tonight.” Maddoc pressed the fruit into her hands.

She devoured it, feeling as though she could do with another.

“How much further do you think?” asked Rillian as Anwen took a drink of water.

She looked around, noticing the mountains were slowly turning into hills. “I think under three hours. We should be there not too long after supper time if we leave soon. All we have to do is follow this path until we are out of the hills and turn left down the east road. It is an easy journey if we do not run into any problems.”

“Do you think your mother is still in residence there?” asked Rillian.

Anwen shrugged. “There is no way to know, but it will be a good place to start. If I must go on to Awbrey, I will, but we can rest and gather ourselves at Lord Aidan’s. I would like to have his wisdom as well. No matter who is there, we will all benefit from a rest in a good house.”

“If your mother is away from Awbrey, who is seeing to the kingdom?” Rillian passed a waterskin to Maddoc, who held his hand out.

“I hope Lord Dunne rode back to Awbrey after the incident in Quinlan. If not, there are several other lords my mother trusts who can watch things while she is gone.” She paused for a moment. “Do you know what became of Lachlan?”

“I believe he ran off sometime after you disappeared. Once he realized what he had done, I don’t think he did anything but stand there and look at you. I don’t think he meant to hurt you.”

“He may not have meant it, but he practically killed her,” said Maddoc angrily. “If he has any sense, he ran from this land. If I ever see him again, he will not leave my sight alive.”

Anwen put her hand on Maddoc’s arm. “It does no good to let your vengeance burn against him. I am well and by your side now. I doubt he will have much of a life from this point forward unless his father and my mother show him much mercy.”

“Hopefully, his father is wise and lets his younger son have his legacy,” said Rillian.

“And poor Gwendolyn will never get to be with him. She has wanted him for a long time. I suppose she is trying for something more now.” Anwen couldn’t help but feel some pity for her cousin, who never seemed happy.

“The rumor is that Prince Korben has been courting her and the Parvilian princess. I don’t know what he hopes to gain by trying for both,” said Rillian.

“My uncle will play the game for as long as he can. Of course, according to his guards, he still considers Anwen pledged to him.”

“He does have some strange fascination with you, Anwen,” confirmed Rillian.

“He wants my powers to use for himself,” said Anwen. “He as good as told me. He says they could be used to buy loyalty from other kingdoms. He wishes to gain power and riches from them. My Gift was not meant to manipulate others. I would never let him use it so.”

“He will never do anything with you,” said Maddoc. “You are my wife. I will find a way to make him pay for all the pain he caused you and your mother.”

They were all three quiet for a moment. “I wish there were a way to show him some mercy,” said Anwen softly.

“Mercy?” asked Maddoc incredulously. “After all he has done?”

“He must be punished and taken from his place of power, but I hate to think of you being the cause of your uncle’s demise. He may deserve it, but I do not want that burden upon your shoulders, Maddoc. He is your family. He practically raised you.”

“He spent hours trying to mold me into someone I never want to be. He has a warped idea of what a ruler should be. I do not want to spill his blood if it comes down to it, but I will do what I must to keep you and my kingdom safe. I will not fail Calumbria or you again.”

Anwen took his hand. “You have never failed me, and truly you haven’t ever failed your kingdom.”

“I have failed you, Anwen. You were almost killed outside of my palace. I left you to be hurt and manipulated by my uncle. I will not leave you unprotected again.”

Rillian turned from them and walked towards the guards and horses. Anwen moved closer to Maddoc, looking up at him. “You did not leave me unprotected. You went to see to your people. It is not your fault you were tricked. I was not vigilant enough myself either times that you left. I put too much trust in my aunt.” She reached up and stroked his beard-covered cheek.

“It is all in the past, and we must move forward. I am completely yours now. No one can keep us apart. We will get through this terrible time, and then we will live a long, happy life together. We will rule our kingdoms to the best of our ability, and we will be satisfied. The past will always be with us, but it will not consume us.”

He leaned down and kissed her as he brought her into his arms. “Thank the gods for you, Anwen.”

She leaned up and kissed him again. “For you as well, my king.” She moved back, taking his hand. “Now, let us get on the road. A long for a big, soft bed and to be held by you as I rest.”

They prepared to leave, some of them running into the nearby trees to take care of any needs. The sun was getting low in the sky, and Anwen was anxious to move on. She felt much more awake, but something in her was unsettled. She felt they were very vulnerable out on the deserted road, even if it was in her beloved kingdom. Though she would like to think they were safe, something within her told her they would not. It turns out she was very right.

Maddoc was about to help her up onto her horse when they both turned at the sound of several horses approaching on the road behind them. Maddoc looked at Rillian.

“Should we run for it?” asked Rillian.

“I don’t think there is time for us all to get away. Anwen, get on your horse and go towards Lord Aidan’s. We will catch up with you.” He tried to lift her, but she wiggled out of his embrace.

“No. I will not leave you both here to fend for yourselves. Whoever this is, we will face them together.”

“Anwen,” said Maddoc, who appeared ready to argue with her, but it was too late. He shoved her behind him as a group of men on horseback dressed in the royal colors of Calumbria rode up to them.

“Greetings,” said the man in front. Anwen recognized him as the same man from earlier. The one named Jasper. “We have ridden some time trying to find you. I’m am not sure why you thought to harm some of my men the last time and send me away. I was only trying to escort you back to your home.”

Anwen looked around Maddoc at the men. There were at least fifty of them, if not more. She was prepared to fight, but she didn’t know, even with her and Maddoc’s Gift combined, if they could make it past such a large force.

“I don’t know what you plan to do with me, but I don’t wish to find out. I will come back to Quinlan on my own accord and with support enough to put my uncle in his place.” Maddoc shifted to keep in front of Anwen.

“Why do you wish to be at odds with Prince Korben? He only wants the kingdom to prosper. Surely you want that as well, King Maddoc.” Jasper peered over Maddoc as though trying to see Anwen. “But if you do not wish to go back, I will not force you. I will need the princess to return with us. Prince Korben is very anxious about his betrothed. He has been ready to marry her for some time.”

“You will not lay one finger on her,” said Maddoc fiercely as Rillian moved closer to Maddoc, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“I cannot marry Prince Kroben as I am already King Maddoc’s wife,” said Anwen. “You can go back to Quinlan and tell him the news again. If he wishes to see the king or me, he will have to wait for us to come to him.”

Jasper pulled out his sword, and all the men behind him did the same. The air was full of the sound of blades being unsheathed. “I am afraid that is not an acceptable answer. I would prefer not to hurt you, your majesty. You are still the King of Calumbria, but I have my orders. Hand over the princess, and I will let you go for today.”

Maddoc unsheathed his sword as Anwen put her hand on Maddoc’s arm. “Perhaps I better go, Maddoc. We cannot possibly fight all these men.”

“I will not let them take you.” Anwen could feel his anger building within him. His Gift was upset, and his powers were close to the surface. She could feel her own build in response. They made her stomach unsettle again and her legs weak.

“One more chance, your majesty,” said Jasper.

Maddoc raised his hand in response, and a line of horses reared up. Many riders were flung off the backs of their steeds. Other’s hung on as their horses bucked around, causing the lines of royal guards to move to avoid being hit. Anwen took advantage of the chaos and sent out a wave of power. Over twenty men covered their ears at some mysterious sound she could not hear. The horses all twitched their ears, some starting moving around and disobeying their rider’s command. A few took off with their riders from where they came.

Jasper looked at his men in disarray and then snarled as he turned back to Maddoc. He looked at half of his men, who still had some control over their horse. “Take the princess alive, but do not worry about what happens to the king or anyone of his party.”

Maddoc pushed Anwen back further as he raised his sword. Rillian raised his as well as the two guards with them stood slightly in front of their prince. Anwen braced herself to do what she could, knowing it could never be enough. She knew Maddoc would not let her go with Jasper and his men. So, She would use everything she had to protect Maddoc, Rillian, and those guards with her. She would not abandon them.

She stood as straight as she could as her stomach rolled. Jasper moved towards them with his fellow guards, but they never made it to Maddoc. From their left out of the trees came a line of men on horseback. They rode in quickly, engaging with Jasper and all his men who were still able to fight. Anwen blinked as Maddoc moved back into her. It was chaos around them. She tried to see what was going on, but she could not see over Maddoc or Rillian.

“Maddoc, who is it?”

He turned to her with a small smile, putting his sword down. “It is Matthias and his men. They must have been tracking us.”

Anwen moved up to Maddoc’s side as they watch Matthias and his fellow guards overpower Jasper and the others. There were are at least as many men with Matthias as Jasper had with him. Several of Jasper’s men fell as he moved back. He looked at Maddoc one last time before turning his horse and running. What was left of his men ran with him. Several of Matthias’s men looked to chase after them, but Matthias called them back. He hopped off his horse and walked over to Maddoc.

“I am sorry it has taken me so long to find you, my king.” He bowed before Maddoc.

Maddoc reached out and clasped Matthias on the shoulder as the man stood up straight. “It is no matter, Matthias. I think you picked the perfect time to find us.”

“You are not injured, are you?” asked Matthias.

“No. Not at all. I am fine.” Maddoc looked at Rillian and then Anwen. “I believe we are all well. You are well, aren’t you, my queen?”

Anwen put her to her stomach as she nodded. “I was not hurt. I only feel a little weak and sick from my use of power.”

“We are headed to Lord Aidan’s estate, and you and your men should join us,” said Maddoc. “I am sure there is room enough for you to camp along the boundaries of the estate. What do you say, Anwen?”

Anwen tried to smile and tell them she was sure they would all be welcomed on the Estate. She wanted to say between the extra rooms in the house and the empty farmer’s cottages, there would be room enough for all of Matthias and his men to have shelter, but instead, she ran over to a nearby tree and lost every piece of food she had eaten that late afternoon.

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