The house was in a somber state of expectation. As the days went on, Lord Aidan got weaker and weaker. Lord Aidan could no longer come downstairs by the time Maddoc had been in the house for three days. He spent all hours in his bed or occasionally in a chair close to his fire as his servant attended him. Anwen spent many hours with him, speaking or reading to him. She came out when he was resting or if others wished to visit with him.
Maddoc spent his days with the strange group that was assembled at the manor. He was happy to go riding with Brennan or chat with Queen Eira. Both seemed to need a distraction from the event taking place, and Maddoc was more than willing to oblige them. Lady Roxanna’s presence did not bother him. She seemed to him a sweet young woman who was very much in love with her intended. Lord and Lady Dunne were probably pleasant people, but Lord Dunne was already grieving his father, and his lady was doing all she could to comfort him.
Above all, Maddoc did all he could to avoid being alone with King Brone. He had no wish to speak with the man. He did not trust him. It did not matter to him that the man did the bare minimum to help Anwen escape from the Grand Palace. Maddoc saw no reason to change his mind about the man just because Brone said he loved Queen Eiera. Others may have been comfortable having the man around, including Anwen, but Maddoc could feel nothing but annoyance and anger in his presence.
As he walked into the parlor, he found that no one was around but King Brone, who sat by the empty fireplace with a book. Maddoc tried to turn around and leave, but King Brone spoke and stopped him.
“Please do not go, King Maddoc. I would like to speak with you.”
Maddoc turned back around with his hands behind his back. “What is it you wish to say?”
“Will you not come and sit?”
“I would prefer to stand, King Brone.”
The man put his book down and stared up at Maddoc. “I know you do not trust me, and I am hoping we can find a way to change it. I only want what is best for the land and the woman I love. I would never do anything to hurt you, your kingdom, or your wife.”
“I have a hard time believing it when it seemed not too long ago all you wanted was for me to be united with your daughter. I never made you or her any promises.”
“I know it,” said King Brone. “I have never claimed you did. Even if you did single her out by visiting last fall.”
“I came to visit your kingdom as we are allies. I admit I was seeing if your daughter and I would suit, but I never felt anything for her. I am sorry to say it, but I always found her rather shallow and ruthless. Maybe for a second, I thought she would do as a wife, but that was before I knew what it was to love a truly good woman.”
“We have something in common, King Maddoc,” said King Brone. “I did not love my first wife. She was cold and a little like my daughter. She only cared for power and position. She married me only to be queen and grow her family’s influence. I married her only to secure her family’s support. I thought that was how marriage worked. It was nothing more than some arrangement and alliance.
“She was an attractive woman so getting her with child was not unpleasant, but it was just another duty. She was ill much of the time she carried Meira, and the gods help me, but I did not really care. I avoided her, not wanting to hear about her pain or sickness. When she died after giving birth, I felt a little sorrow. Some because she died so young, and more because I knew her father and brother would not look favorably on me marrying again. They wanted their family line to rule, even if it was a girl.
“I knew I could not give Meira the throne because of the law. Perhaps I should have taken more pains to raise her, but I let her spend much time with her uncle and grandfather. I left her to servants and tutors. By the time I troubled myself with getting to know her, I found her too much like her mother to give her any real affections. Beyond that, she had something her mother never had, and that was a touch of cruelty. I saw it as she interacted with servants and anyone lower than her.
“I hoped to marry her off to you and satisfy her family and all my lords. Perhaps then I could live my life as I saw fit while she was far away in Calumbria. I know now how sad and empty I was. I have never been truly happy, and even achieving my goal of setting my daughter up as the queen of the most prominent kingdom would not have given me joy.
“It wasn’t until I meet Eira and spent time with her that I realized what it meant to find favor with a good woman. The more I spoke with her, the more I wished for her good opinion. She told me all about her kingdom and her husband, whom she loved. She went on and on about the affection she held for her daughter. Meeting Queen Anwen, I could see why she was so proud to be a mother. I realized I wanted a life full of love and devotion. What I really wanted was a life devoted to Eiera.”
He paused, and Maddoc moved a little closer to him. He studied King Brone and wondered if his life would have been like the king in front of him had he never met Anwen. Would he have suffered as an unhappy man married to a woman he could not respect or love?
As though reading his mind, King Brone chuckled. “You are luckier than I was, King Maddoc. You met an excellent woman while you still had a chance to form your life. You will not have to suffer as I did. You will have ample time to love your queen.”
“Will I?” asked Maddoc furiously. “I have already almost lost her because of my uncle, and I believe your daughter had a hand in it as well. My kingdom is in peril, and I have been on the run with Anwen all because my uncle had some idea of taking over the kingdom by marrying me to your daughter. I have a hard time believing he never spoke of it with you.”
King Brone sat back further in his chair and hung his head. “Your uncle did speak to me of the alliance, but he kept many things from me. I believe he has been in contact with Meria’s uncle. They made plans behind my back. Perhaps, I should have taken more pains to see to my kingdom. I should have known what was going on, but I never intended to do you or your queen any harm.”
“What of the attack on my life last fall? What of Anwen’s abduction?”
“I believe it was born out of the lower lords and common folk. They know more of what is happening in Parvialia than I do. They must have gotten wind of your uncle’s idea of uniting you with Meira and spreading Calumbria’s influence over the kingdom. I think your uncle may have let it slip to the right people. It would have been perfect for you to die at the hands of some rebels from Parvilia. He would have gotten rid of you and kept his hands clean.”
Maddoc sighed and dropped his hands. He had thought this as well on his journey. “So my uncle tried even to outplay your highest lord. I guess when it didn’t work, he went on with the plan to unite me with Princess Meira and keep me busy with setting up some kind of rule in Parvilia while he spread his influence in Calumbria.”
“It sounds very plausible though I do not really know,” said King Brone. “But above all, your majesty, I never wanted you dead. I only wanted to appease my daughter and her family. I saw you had an attachment to Queen Anwen, but I tried to ignore it and go on with pushing you towards Meira. As I got to know Eira and her daughter better, I saw how wrong I was.
“Once I saw that Eira had fallen ill and had to leave, I started to suspect something was going on. By then, you had left for the south of your kingdom. When Prince Korben announced his betrothal to Queen Anwen, I knew many troubling things were happening. I went to my daughter to try to talk to her, but she dismissed me. She wouldn’t even see me. I knew I had to do something to protect Eira’s daughter. I realized I was in love with Eira, and I could not let her beloved daughter be harmed.”
“And what did you do while she was being drugged and held in her room?” asked Maddoc with disdain. “How did you try to free her?”
King Brone took a deep breath and hung his head. “Not enough. I am a bit of a coward if you haven’t guessed it by now, but I am trying to do better. I spoke with Meira first to see if I could speak sense to her, but she did not want to hear it. She said the prince’s betrothal was none of our concern. She only saw it as a good opportunity to have you.”
“Most of the other guests left. Many didn’t want to get involved with what they saw happening. I was not allowed on the second-floor halls at all. I decided the best chance I had was to wait until the wedding. I planned to intervene then.”
“I suppose that is easy to say now, King Brone,” said Maddoc.
King Brone nodded. “It is the truth, though. Whatever happened in the past, I promise you I mean neither of you any harm now. I want to help you. I want to put you back in your rightful place. It needs to be done for your kingdom and the whole land.”
“I suppose getting your throne back too motivates you as well?”
“I would be lying if I said no, and I want to be truthful with you. I am fond of my kingdom and care about my people. I have not always done right by them, and I wish to make amends. I hope to do it with the help of an excellent woman at my side.”
“I cannot control what Queen Eira does or who she spends her time with, but I do not want you near Anwen,” said Maddoc angrily.
“What is this?” asked Anwen as she walked into the room.
King Brone stood up and bowed. “We were only having a conversation about the state of our kingdoms, Queen Anwen.”
“It sounded like more than a casual conversation.” She looked at Maddoc. “My king, you appear quite angry.”
His shoulders sagged. “I am fine, Anwen. There is nothing you need to worry about. How is Lord Aidan?”
She looked over at King Brone before answering Maddoc. “He is sleeping. I was hoping you might go for a walk with me as I would like to go outside. If you are busy here, I can find someone else to accompany me. Prince Rillian isn’t leaving until tomorrow, and I am sure he might be able to walk with me.”
“King Brone and I are done here as I believe he understands my wishes. I will be happy to walk outside with you.”
“We are done indeed, Queen Anwen. You should go enjoy your walk. I told your mother I would meet her in the library in a bit, so I should be on my way.” He nodded to them both and left the room through the doorway in the back.
“Are you sure you are alright, Maddoc?” asked Anwen with worry etched on her features.
He picked up her hand and kissed it. “I am fine, Anwen. I am only worried about you. I know this is not an easy time.”
She nodded. “Come walk with me. I think some sunshine will do me and you some good.”
They exited the house, and Anwen took Maddoc’s arm. They walked to the side of the house away from the fields and towards the forest that surrounded the side and back of the estate.
“Was Lord Aidan able to speak with you today?” asked Maddoc as they neared the tree line.
She nodded. “He was very talkative this morning. He told me many things about his younger days when he was first married to his wife. He spoke of his anticipation of seeing her again.”
“I can imagine he misses her very much. It sounds as if they were very much in love.”
“They were,” said Anwen. “She was a wonderful woman. She was so easy to laugh, and I never knew anyone kinder. She died when I was barely sixteen, and I worried that Lord Aidan would follow her quickly. He rebounded, though. He said she told him he still had work to do in the land. She wished him to go on for her son, grandsons, and for me.” Anwen paused and wiped a tear from her eye. “Maddoc, do you think Lord Aidan will see his wife again? Do you think there is something beyond this life?”
Maddoc was quiet for a moment as he thought it over. He had never been very devoted to his religion. He followed the gods because it is what was expected of him. He attended festival worships like everyone else, and there were times he had felt something when he visited temples. He had not given much thought to what came after being as young as he was.
He looked at Anwen and felt the familiar funny feeling in his chest. “I do believe there is something after this, Anwen, and I have no doubt Lord Aidan will be united with his love. I believe every religion of this land believes in some sort of life beyond this one. I have felt things before in worship and in temples. I even believe I may have felt my father’s presence at times when I needed it.”
Anwen nodded. “There have been times when I am lost in the twilight of sleep that I feel my father is still with me. Sometimes I can hear his voice in my ear comforting me and helping me know all will be well.” She smiled a little. “This past winter, when I was stabbed, I believe I was lost to this world for just a few moments. I did not feel fear. I felt only peace and a knowledge that someone was waiting for me.”
He took both of her hands and pulled her close to him. “I can also tell you that I, like Lord Aidan, know what it is to love a woman fiercely. I can’t imagine anything could keep me from loving you forever. I think our love is too great to be contained to what we can see. I trust that we will not only be together in this life but far beyond it into forever.”
She let go of one of his hands and put it on his cheek. Leaning up, she kissed him softly as he brought his hand up to run it through her soft hair. “I do love you, Maddoc.”
He kissed her again, taking his time to savor the feeling of her in his arms. “I love you as well, Anwen. Whatever you need from me during this time, you shall have.”
She pulled away slowly and took his hand as she looked behind him for a second at the forest. She cocked her head to one side before slightly shaking it.
“Is something wrong?” he asked as he turned to see what she might have seen.
She pulled his hand so he would look back at her. “It was nothing, probably just a few deer running through the trees. There are many around the estate. Come walk a bit more with me.”
He glanced one more time behind him before giving her his arm and leading her towards a pretty pond closer to the house.
“I want you to know that I haven’t forgotten what we have to do, Maddoc. You must be worried about your people, and I feel as though I have completely stopped any progress we have made.”
“Do not worry over it, Anwen. We can take another week or two for you to be with your family and friends. I would not take you away from here for anything, and I will not leave you. Things are happening amongst my lords without me being there. We will need to wait for Rillian to speak to his father and your mother to command your forces before anything else happens.”
“I do want to be here until the end, and I would like to support Lord and Lady Dunne, and especially Brennen. Once all is settled, we will plan our next steps. We will gain your throne back, your majesty.”
“I believe you, dearest, but do not let it trouble you right now. Be with Lord Aidan and the others. You cannot get this time back. Everything else can wait.”
Anwen yawned and leaned into Maddoc. “Perhaps we could go back to the house. I am tired, and my head is starting to ache.”
Maddoc looked at her with concern. “Are you well?”
“I am sure it is just due to not sleeping well, worry, and too many tears. I am fine, Maddoc; you do not need to worry.”
“I don’t think you are eating enough either. When we get inside, you should make yourself comfortable, and I will find someone to bring you some tea and food.”
She nodded and leaned against him as they made their way back to the house. By the time they entered, it appeared that she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. Without another word, he took her into his arms and walked with her up the stairs. As he entered the room they shared, he hoped she was right, and it was only their situation making her appear ill.