Anwen walked into the parlor with Brennan to see it full of people. Lord and Lady Dunne were present, and both of them jumped up as Anwen walked into the room. She was distracted as the lord took her hand and kissed it before Lady Dunne hugged her. Next was Lady Roxanna, who came to greet her. Anwen hugged her before Roxanna took her hand and told her how wonderful it was to see her.
Anwen received all these well wishes with great joy though she was trying to find the one she wished to greet the most. She looked around the room for Lord Aidan, wondering why he had not already come up to see her. She stopped searching as she caught sight of a man standing in the corner that she most certainly did not expect to see.
“King Brone?” asked Maddoc in confusion before Anwen could find her voice. “Why are you here?”
The man hesitated a bit before walking forward as Queen Eira moved to meet him. “King Brone is here as my guest,” said Queen Eira. “He came back with Lord Dunne to help explain what happened outside of the palace.” She took the king’s hand. “He wanted to comfort me after he thought you were gone forever, Anwen.”
“Indeed, Princess Anwen, I was very worried about how your mother would take the news. We had become close in our time together in Quinlan. I have never met a better woman.” He patted her mother’s hand. “I am delighted to see you are here and well. I want you to know I had nothing to do with anything Prince Korben had planned. I had no idea.”
“What of your daughter?” asked Maddoc.
King Brone let go of Queen Eira’s hand. “I cannot say what Meira may have known or done. It appears that I barely know my daughter. She had been corresponding with her uncle back in Parvilia. I have been advised to avoid my kingdom for the time being. I worry for my people, but I cannot help them if I am taken or killed.”
“I invited him to stay here,” said Anwen’s mother. “I could not let him go out unprotected.”
“No, you could not,” said Anwen carefully as she put her hand on Maddoc’s arm. She could tell he was getting agitated. “You did help me to escape the palace with Lord Elias and Prince Rillian.”
“I wanted to find a way to help you. I was working on stopping the wedding somehow. Your mother would not want you united to such a man, princess.”
“You should address her correctly,” said Maddoc with irritation. “She is my wife and the Queen of Calumbria. I will have her noticed as such.”
King Brone’s eyes grew wide. “I did not know, your majesty. I meant no disrespect.”
“I am sure you are not happy about it,” continued Maddoc. “You wanted me desperately to marry your daughter.”
“I did,” confirmed King Brone.
“So you will see why I am having a hard time believing you would not want Anwen away from me and united with another. How can I trust you did nothing to aid my uncle in drugging Anwen or even her mother?”
“I would never do anything to hurt Eira,” King Brone said adamantly. “She is the most extraordinary woman I have ever met, and though she didn’t want to hear it at first, I have fallen in love with her.”
“What?” asked Anwen as she stepped forward. “In love?”
“Anwen, we can discuss this more later,” said her mother.
“Do you feel the same for him?” asked Anwen ignoring her mother’s suggestion.
Her mother looked at King Brone with a soft smile. “I believe I am starting to come around. He has been so good to me during my illness and my grief. I thought I had lost you, my dear. He helped me to keep hoping.”
“Queen Anwen, I would never do anything to hurt you or your mother. I did want King Maddoc to marry Meira, but only because I knew it would appease her and her uncle. Meira’s uncle has long caused trouble for me in Parvilia. He talks of overthrowing me now. He wishes to still join with Calumbria somehow. I worry what it will do to my kingdom and people.”
Anwen found a chair and sat down heavily. She did not know what to think. Whatever she had expected to find there, it was not what he had just heard and seen. She looked around again, trying to find Lord Aidan to see what he made of all of it. “Where is Lord Aidan?”
Her mother looked at Lord Dunne and then Brennan.
“What is it?” asked Anwen.
“Grandfather is resting at the moment, Anwen. He does not have much strength these days,” answered Brennan.
“Why? What has happened?”
Lord Dunne looked at her. “My father is not a young man. He had some sort of episode after he found out what happened to you. I do not know if he has been ill for some time and hiding it or if it was the shock of hearing you might have perished. Maybe it was what my wayward son had done, but he took to his bed soon after. We were all afraid he would die that day.”
“He has recovered somewhat, but he is still very weak. The local apothecary thinks he doesn’t have long left. She thinks it is his heart,” said Brennan.
Anwen stood. “I will go to him this instant and help him. I can use my Gift to see him well.”
“Even if you can do something, he will not want it, Anwen. He has refused all possible remedies. We all believe it is just his time,” said Brennan.
She shook her head as tears came to her eyes. “I must see him.” She tried to leave the room, but Brennan took her hand.
“Let her go,” said Lord Dunne. “If he is awake, he will want to see her.”
Brennan let her go, and she hurried from the room and up the stairs. She got to the second-floor landing and turned towards Lord Aidan’s chambers. Once she got to the two large doors, she put her hand up to knock but stalled. She felt herself shake, worried about what she would find behind the doors. For so long, Lord Aidan had been one of the consistent, steady things in her life.
When her father died, it left a huge hole in her that Lord Aidan helped fill. He supported her during her awkward years, helping her to grow in confidence. He loved her even when she was stubborn and angry. Lord Aidan provided her with a safe haven at one of the lowest points of her life after Lachlan had dismissed her and Maddoc had spoken horrible words to her on their journey. He gave her words of wisdom and comfort that helped her continue on her journey with Maddoc.
She was not ready to face losing him. She could not imagine going forward without his love and wisdom in her life. She almost turned back around to leave when the door opened, and Lord Aidan’s main servant, Albert, stepped out of the room.
“Princess Anwen?” asked Albert surprised. “Is it really you?”
She smiled slightly. “It is Albert. I know there have been rumors of my death, but as you can see, I am very well.”
“I am glad to hear it, your highness.” He looked behind him at the slightly opened door. “Did you wish to see Lord Aidan? He is awake and sitting up in the bed. I believe it would do him much good to see your face.”
She considered saying she would come back at a later time, but she heard Lord Aidan call from the room. “Who are you speaking with, Albert?”
Hearing his voice, she knew she had to see him. Whatever may lay beyond the door, she had to face it. She nodded to Albert, and he opened the door wider to let her in. She walked into the large room, glancing at the fireplace and chairs that stood close to it. She moved forward towards the bed, where she saw Lord Aidan sitting up and staring at her.
He moved as if to stand up, and she hurried over to him. He held out his hand towards her, and she took it, looking it over. He looked much the same as he always did though he was comfortably attired. His skin was a little pale, and his eyes looked weary.
“Anwen,” he said breathlessly. “I haven’t passed on, have I?”
She squeezed his hand, feeling tears spill out of her eyes. “No, my lord. I am here with you in this world.”
“How? I thought….” He put his other hand over the one he held. “Oh, my darling girl.”
“I am sorry I have been gone so long,” she said as she sat by him on his bed. “I wanted to let you all know I was safe, but it was too dangerous. Things are not good in Quinlan, and Maddoc is being hunted. We both are.”
Lord Aidan raised her hand and kissed it. “It is not your fault, my dear. I am only so glad to see you alive and well. You are well, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am very well, my lord.” She sniffled a little before smiling at him. “I am a married woman now. I wed my king in the village outside of his summer palace.”
Lord Aidan’s eyes went wide, and his grip on her lessened. “Married? You are already married?”
She grabbed his hands tightly. “Yes, and I hope you are not displeased. I do love him, and I know he loves me. I wish all I loved could have been there, but we could not wait. We did not want to go back to Quinlan without being officially united.”
“I am not displeased, Anwen. How could I be displeased at you uniting yourself with a good man.” Lord Aidan smiled. “I do believe he is good even if he doesn’t quite deserve you.”
She laughed through her tears. “What of you? I was told you are ill.”
“I am only dying. It is nothing so awful. It happens to everyone.”
“Now that I am here, I can help you, my lord. She sat up straighter as she looked him over.”
“There is nothing you can do, Anwen. Even if you could, I would not want you to. I am tired and ready to move on. I want to see my Bethany. Knowing I am leaving you in the good care of your husband gives me even more peace.” He gave a short laugh. “You aren’t my little princess anymore. You are a queen.”
“How will I do without you,” asked Anwen desperately. “I don’t think I can let you go.”
“You can, and you will. Dying is just a part of life, Anwen. It is not an end as we pretend it is. You know this. I am very ready for a new beginning.”
She shook her head. “How can I do all I need to do without your guidance and strength? You say I am a queen, but most of the time, I hardly feel like it. You know how deficient I am in many things.”
“You are a queen, and you have long acted like one. You have your faults, as we all do, but you do not have to do everything alone. You have your mother who has some wisdom and would do anything for you. My son and Brennan will help you however they can. You have your king. He is young, but I believe together, you can do wonderful things for our kingdoms and beyond.
“It took me some time as a young man to realize I needed to depend on others around me. Only with my dear wife did I become the man I needed to be. I believe it is the same with you and your king.”
“It’s so hard.”
“I know.” He patted her hand. “Goodbyes are always difficult, aren’t they? You should rest now though, because I have a little time left, I think. You look like you have not had an easy journey. Go take care of yourself, and in the days to come, I can speak with you and your king. I have much to say to him before I leave this world.”
She bent down and kissed his hand. “I do love you, my lord. I hope you know how important you are to me.”
“I do, my dearest one, but as I said, we do not have to say goodbye yet. Go to your king and rest. I have a feeling he is not far away, waiting for you.”
Anwen bid him goodnight, knowing they both needed to rest. She walked out of his room into the hall where her mother and Maddoc were both waiting.
“Anwen, are you alright?” asked her mother.
Anwen took her mother’s hand and nodded, trying to keep her tears in check. “He needs to rest for the evening, and I need to get cleaned up.”
“I already asked the servants to take water and food to your rooms. Prince Rillian is settled in as well.”
“Thank you,” said Anwen quietly as she let go of her mother’s hand. She walked to Maddoc, who took her hand and led her to a room nearby.
He kindly dismissed the servant who was setting up their food before closing the door and turning to Anwen. “Anwen?”
She could not form any words as she fell into him. He wrapped his arms around her as sobs wracked her body. He said nothing, letting her cry as he held her tightly. As she started to settle, she felt him kiss the top of her head. She pulled back a bit from him, wiping the tears from her face.
“He says he is ready to die. He told me there is nothing I could do to stop it, and he wouldn’t let me if there were. He wants to go on. He wants to be with his wife.”
“I know this isn’t easy for you, my love. I know how much he means to you,” Maddoc put his hand up to her cheek and caressed it.
“It is so hard, Maddoc. I have no words for how hard it is, but I believe it might be right. He believes he has a little time left.”
“Then we will stay here with him until the end. I will not take you away from this place as long as he breaths. You need this time to be with him.”
She nodded. “He wants to speak with you as well. I told him we had wed.”
“He probably wants to make sure I am equipped to take care of you the best I can be. He knows, as I do, that I can never deserve you.”
Anwen leaned into him again. “It is one of the only things I disagree with him about. I can think of no other I could possibly love as I do you.”
Maddoc held her against him. “You will get through this, Anwen. I will help you.”
She put her arms around him, holding on to him desperately. She knew if she were to go on, she would have to depend on the love of her king.