She was angry with him. It was easy to tell. Her posture in the saddle in front of him was stiff. She seemed to be trying not to lean against him even as he kept his arm wrapped around her waist. She insisted she was fine after being sick on the side of the road. She said it was just due to her use of power and being tired, but Maddoc would take no chances with her health and safety.
He had seen how exhausted she was in the saddle before they had stopped. She struggled to keep her eyes open and almost feel completely off her horse. It had taken a few minutes to convince her to ride with him. He had probably spoken to her too harshly in front of all gathered, but at the moment, he didn’t care. He wanted her in his arms as they traveled on. He would only feel secure in going forward if he could keep her safe personally.
“I know you are angry with me, Anwen,” he said softly as he bent down close to her. “I should not have been so forceful with you back there. I did not mean to imply you are weak or embarrass you in front of Rillian, Mattias, and all the guards. I am only worried about you.”
She turned slightly and looked at him. “I know my limits, Maddoc. I was perfectly capable of continuing on with my own horse. I am not some weak woman you must carry around.”
“No one thinks you are weak, Anwen, least of all me.” He rubbed his hand slightly against her side, where he held her. “Please, do not be angry with me. I cannot stand to see you suffer. I like to offer you comfort when I can.”
She sagged a little and leaned back. “I am not truly angry with you, but I am annoyed. I don’t want to be seen as one who can’t take care of herself. I don’t want to be the helpless queen who has to be swept away by the king.”
“As I said, no one will ever see you that way. Perhaps, they will see me as an overbearing king who needs to stay out of his more intelligent and talented queen’s way. Lady Phaedra warned me of it.”
“I would like to think we depend on each other. Maybe you should be less overbearing, and I should be more understanding.”
Maddoc smiled before kissing the top of her head. “I believe you are right, my love. I hope your annoyance with me will go away soon. It’s not so bad being in my arms, is it?”
She turned further around and looked at him. “No. I do not mind it at all, actually. I know it cannot be very comfortable for you, but if I wasn’t so anxious from our confrontation with those men and what awaits us at our destination, I could almost lean against you and fall asleep.”
“I am sorry for earlier. I should have been more vigilant. I didn’t think my uncle’s guards would think to track us this far south. I wonder how they knew where we were headed. If they thought we were going to see your mother, surely they would have thought to look on the road to Awbrey.”
“Maybe someone saw us on the road from Elias’s, or maybe someone in that village inn we stayed told one of the guards. I believe we were careful with our movement,s but I suppose we weren’t careful enough,” said Anwen as she yawned.
“We are well protected now,” said Maddoc looking over at Matthias, who rode close to him. There were guards to their rear and front. It would take a large, talented force even to get close to them if they were attacked. “You should try to rest. I know you are anxious to see your mother and friends, but if you do not rest, you will only wish to go to bed as soon as we arrive.”
“And eat,” said Anwen with another yawn. “I am quite hungry now that my stomach has settled. A bath sounds wonderful as well. I, of course, want more than anything to see everyone, but the comforts of a fine home sound appealing as well.”
“We shall be there soon. Rest while you can.” Anwen settled against him, and he tightened his hold on her.
“Is the queen well, your majesty?” asked Matthias as he rode close to them.
Maddoc looked down at Anwen, who had curled up against him, her eyes closed. “I believe so. I think she is just tired from our journey. I don’t believe she has slept well since we left the summer palace. She was gravely injured before that and dosed with something by her aunt. I believe it has all just become too much.”
“I owe you my apologies, your majesty. I should have put more trustworthy guards over her. I thought that Gilbert and Lawson would be enough, but they were surprised and overpowered by some of the men loyal to your uncle. I am afraid they either reside in the cells below the palace now or worse. If I had set more of my loyal men over her, things could have been much different.”
“None of this is your fault, Matthias. It was I who rode off and left her. How could you know something was amiss in the palace if I didn’t? I should never have left her alone.” Maddoc looked down at her and sighed. “I am only grateful she was able to recover.”
Matthias looked at him closely, seeming to try to form his thoughts and words. “I have heard interesting rumors of how you ended up in the summer palace. I know I am overstepping, but I would like to know how much of them are true?”
“It depends on what you have heard,” replied Maddoc. “I can tell you I have a Gift much like my queen’s. My line has Lucidalan blood in it. We had a queen many generations back who was a life-giver. I have inherited the same Gift for some reason. It is what enabled me to heal Anwen and take us to the summer palace in an instant.”
“Are there other things you can do? I saw Jasper’s men behave in interesting ways. Was that your doing?” asked Matthias.
“It was mostly Anwen. She is very proficient with her powers. I am just learning. I hope to have time in the next few weeks to continue training with them. I would like to be able to use them when we ride towards Quinlan.”
“So, you do have a plan to retake the Grand Palace?”
“We are forming one as we go. I met with several lords not too long ago in Lord Elias’s country manor. We are going now to meet with Queen Eira to see what forces we can have from Lucidala. Prince Rillian will ride on to Bellican to try to get the support of his father.”
“It sounds like you will have quite force when you face your uncle,” said Matthias.
“I only hope it is enough. My uncle has several of our highest lords. He probably has Parvilia on his side, and who knows what other kingdoms. I want to be as prepared as we can. I wish we could do this without any loss of life, but I am afraid it will come to bloodshed in the end.”
The sun truly set as they came out of the mountains and turned on the east road. Anwen woke up from her slumber, telling them it wasn’t long until they would be on Lord Aidan’s lands. The area around them changed into vast fields as the full moon lit their way. Maddoc started to find some of the land familiar and knew they must be near the manor. It wasn’t long before the large house came into view.
Maddoc looked up at the manor as they rode into the open gate. He remembered the last time he came there with Anwen. He had said awful things to her. He had made her cry, and he felt as though he had damaged their young relationship beyond repair. At that point, he only hoped to find a way to have her forgive him a little.
“You are very quiet, my king,” said Anwen as she glanced back at him.
“I am only thinking of the last time we were here. I was afraid you would hate me forever after what I said. I was desperate for your good opinion. I didn’t know why at the time, but I think I was already falling a little in love with you.”
She laughed. “I’m not sure why. You did say some awful things, but I was quite harsh with my own words.”
“You spoke truth to me, and I needed to hear it. When I realized what I appeared to be to such a worthy woman, I knew I needed to change. It just took me a little time to realize it. Now, I can hardly believe where I am now.”
“A displaced king, riding on a rough horse with a sometimes disagreeable woman,” said Anwen with a bit of mischief in her voice. “Perhaps you should rethink that wanting my good opinion was a good idea.”
“You know you are the best thing in my life. Some things may not be ideal now, but once we make things right in Quinlan again, Calumbria will be a better place than it would have been had I not met you.”
“I still believe you would have done right eventually, but I am very happy to be the one to help you see the way things needed to be. It has worked out nicely for me.”
As they came up to the manor, Maddoc noticed that many windows had light. Last time the house appeared mostly dark and uninhabited. It looked to him as though there were many rooms in use. Two torches burned brightly by the front door as Maddoc pulled up his horse. Rillian and Matthias pulled beside him as the rest of the guards stayed further back.
Rillian hopped down and walked over to help Anwen off the horse so that Maddoc could dismount. Anwen looked at the large front doors before turning to Maddoc. He nodded, and she walked forward, pulling on the large bell cord. They waited for a moment before the door swung open. Maddoc thought it would be Lord Aidan’s servant, Albert, but instead, in the doorway stood a wide-eyed Brennan Dunne.
He looked first at Anwen, then Maddoc and Rillian before looking back at Anwen again.
“Hello, Brennan,” said Anwen as she stepped forward a little. “I know we aren’t expected, but….”
She got no more words out as Brennan hurried forward and took her into his arms. He hugged her close, hoisting her into the air.
“My gods, Anwen,” he gasped. “Is it really you?” He moved her in front of him, keeping one hand on her arm.
“Yes. It is me, Brennan. I have wanted to write to all of you, but it has not been safe.”
He pulled her in again to hug her. “I cannot tell you how good it is to see you and to know you are safe. After all that has happened, this is the one thing I needed more than anything in the land.”
Anwen pushed back a little. “What do you mean after all that has happened?”
He sighed and let her go. “You should all come in directly. Everyone will want to see you.”
“Is my mother still here?”
“Yes,” said Brennan. “And many others. Please come in.”
Anwen walked into the manor as Maddoc followed her. He stopped by Brennan, who bowed to him. “Your majesty, it is good to see you as well.”
Maddoc held out his hand to Brennan. “We are very happy to be here, and I appreciate any hospitality you show us. We have been on the road for too long.”
“You can find rest here, but I am not sure how happy your time will be. I am glad Anwen is here, though. He will want to see her before it happens?”
Maddoc looked at Brennan with apprehension. “What do you mean?”
“You will learn all in a moment, but first, come in.”
Maddoc entered the manor, hearing Brennan greet Rillian and Matthias. He walked up to Anwen as they both turned at a small excited shriek. In the doorway stood Queen Eira looking lovely as always. She had her hand to her mouth, standing perfectly still.
“Mother,” said Anwen happily as both women moved towards one another. Queen Eira threw her arms around her daughter as tears spilled out of her eyes.
“My Anwen,” she said as she held onto her daughter.
Maddoc walked slowly towards them, giving them time to greet one another. They eventually separated. Queen Eira gave Anwen a kiss on her cheek before holding her hand as Anwen stood before her. “We had heard you were missing and probably dead, Anwen. I could not believe it. I just knew you were still alive somewhere with your king, and here you are.”
“I am well, mother, very well, actually.” Anwen let go of her mother’s hand and took Maddoc’s. “I want to introduce you to my husband, though you already know him.”
“You husband?” asked Queen Eira as she took a step back.
“Yes, we married a little over a month ago outside of Calumbria’s summer palace.”
“Well, I will certainly want to hear your full story, but I am sure others will as well. Come into the parlor. Almost all of us are gathered there.”
“Almost all?” asked Anwen.
“Come greet everyone, Anwen,” said Brennan as he walked up and took Anwen’s hand, leading her forward into the parlor.
Maddoc looked at Queen Eira. “I hope you are not displeased with the news of our marriage.”
“Displeased?” asked Queen Eira. “No, of course not. I am only surprised. I wish I could have been present, but there is nothing we can do about it now. Come into the parlor, King Maddoc. We have much to discuss, it seems.”
Maddoc offered his arm to Queen Eira, who took it, and together they walked into the parlor.