The light in the room was much too bright for Anwen just to be waking. When she realized it, she panicked, knowing it was not the time to sleep in. What if she missed Lord Aidan’s passing? She wanted to be able to say goodbye, and he had not let her even mention it yet. Flinging off the bed covering, she hopped out of bed, looking around for one of the few simple dresses she had available to her.
She did not want to bother any of the few servants who worked in the home, so she did her best to dress herself. She reached back to try to do her ties when she felt her head swim. She put her hand down on the bed to steady herself as she felt her stomach roll. As she tried to settle her stomach, the door opened, and Maddoc walked in.
“Anwen, are you ill?” he asked, hurrying over to her.
“No, not at all. I believe I am just hungry and slept too long. Nothing has happened, has it? I haven’t missed….”
“Everything is the same,” said Maddoc grabbing her hand and looking at her closely. “You did miss breakfast, though. I would have woken you up, but you were sleeping so soundly that I didn’t want to disturb you. I know you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“I understand. Would you mind helping me with my dress? I would like to go downstairs and eat before I go see Lord Aidan.”
“Are you sure, Anwen?” asked Maddoc with concern. “I could have some food brought to you, and you could rest a bit more. The apothecary is coming in late this morning to see Lord Aidan. Perhaps she could look you over as well?”
Anwen squeezed his hand. “Use you Gift and search through me as we did with the ill. Can you sense any sickness in me?”
He held her hand and looked at her for a few moments. “I can sense nothing wrong with you, but that doesn’t mean I might not miss something. You have not been well since we left Elias’s home.” He let go of her hand and touched her face lovingly. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
She smiled at him. “I am not ill, my king. I only need to eat. Help me dress, and if I feel unwell after getting a quick breakfast and speaking with Lord Aidan, I will have the apothecary look me over.”
Maddoc appeared appeased and helped Anwen to dress. He accompanied her downstairs and to the dining room, where he sat with her while she ate. She was quite hungry, probably from not eating much the night before. She didn’t usually eat so much, but it appeared to please Maddoc, so she ate what she liked. When she was done, she picked up a book she had been reading to Lord Aidan and walked up to his room.
She was happy to find him not in bed but dressed comfortably and sitting in front of his fireplace. Albert bustled around him, pouring him some water before picking up his empty plate.
“Anwen,” said Lord Aidan as she approached him. “I just got my son and grandson to stop hovering around me, and now I have to do the same with you.”
She smiled as she sat down in a chair next to him. “I think you will find I am harder to get rid of than Lord Dunne and Brennan.”
“I know well of the stubborn streak you possess. I have always rather liked it, but you must not waste such a lovely day sitting with a dying old man. You should go walk with your mother or go riding with your king. I believe you have much to discuss since you have a kingdom to save.”
“There is time enough for all of that and for me to spend some time with you. I brought that book you enjoyed yesterday.”
Lord Aidan smiled at her. “What I enjoyed was hearing your lovely voice bring the story to life. Put the book away, Anwen. I am feeling better than I have in a while, and I would like to speak with you a bit before I manage to get you to go do better things.”
She put the book on a table next to her. “What do you wish to talk about, my lord?”
He sat back in his chair and studied her for a moment. “I would like to know what really happened in Quinlan that day you were injured. I need to know that you are truly well.”
“I am very much recovered. Maddoc did a good job of healing me with only just discovering his Gift, and time did the rest. Do I seem so frail and ill to you?”
He shook his head. “You do appear a little thin and tired, but I suppose that should be expected after what you have been through. You are as lovely as ever, though.” He rested his head in his hand for a moment. “To think that my worthless grandson almost killed you, Anwen. I knew he had his issues, but I never thought him as bad as this.”
She reached forward and touched his hand. “He did not mean to hurt me, Lord Aidan. Do not think him a murderer. He has not acted honorably towards me, and I can say I have little to no respect for him, but I do not believe he ever meant me harm. His greatest crime is he is a coward and an immature, impulsive young man. It has led him to do terrible, hurtful things, but I don’t believe the essence of him is bad.”
Lord Aidan squeezed her hand and let it go. “You are too good. Call him what he is. He is a vile man who thinks only of himself. I hope he never shows his face around here again. Brennan will be a much better lord, and he appears to have chosen a good lady.”
“I agree that Brennan will be an excellent Lord Duune someday. Lady Roxanna is the epitome of goodness and loveliness, but I do not wish for you to part from this world thinking so ill of your other grandson. You must feel some love for him, still.”
“Love? I am not sure I would call it love. I cannot help but have some part of me that wishes he could reform in some way. He will never be what he could have been, but I wish he could be better than he is now. Maybe he will run off to some other land and find some sort of redemption. It is all I can hope for as I will never see him again.”
Anwen sat back in her chair. “Do you wish to see him again? Do not let your anger answer, my lord. If it were possible, would you like to see him before you leave this world?”
Lord Aidan was quiet for a moment. “It is not possible, so I am not sure why I should answer at all.”
“I would like you to answer me truthfully,” said Anwen. “I do not like to think of you leaving any bad feelings behind, even for one who might deserve it.”
“I suppose I wish I could see him one more time. I do have some belief that I failed him in some way. I should have spent more time with him after what happened last spring. I was so angry with the way he treated you that I would not speak with him. He tried to talk with me a few times, and I pushed him away. I have some regret in that.”
“He was in terrible need of guidance for a long time. I know now why he did what he did, and while it helped me move on, it is not a pretty story. I will not burden you with it, not now.”
“Anwen, I hope you do not still harbor any bad feelings towards yourself because of my grandson and your cousin. Their faults and actions were not due to any defect in you.”
“I did worry for a time what could be wrong with me that he didn’t want me, but I have not felt that way in a long while. I found my self-worth in other things. I found it in serving my kingdom, my people, and in loving my king.”
Lord Aidan gave her a soft smile. “I never thought I would meet a man who deserved you, Anwen. Perhaps, I still haven’t, but I feel better leaving knowing you are so well-loved by a good man. I knew he was good as soon as I met him. He had and still has some things to work on, but so do you. I am sure you challenge each other. You need a challenge to be happy. I realize now you would have grown board with Lachlan, and he would not have lived up to the challenge you set for him.”
“You are right. I am much better off now.” She sighed. “I do not wish Lachlan ill. I hope you know it. There might have been times I had uncharitable thoughts, but at this point, I only feel pity for him.”
“That is much more than he deserves.”
She spoke with Lord Aidan on a few other subjects as they spoke of happier times. He became tired before lunch, so she left him to rest. As she walked towards the stairs, a mission formed in her mind. There was something she had to do. Maddoc would not like it, but she didn’t plan on asking his permission. She went down the stairs and straight to the front door, hoping she wouldn’t run into her king.
The day before, she had noticed something at the edge of the wood as she looked out of Lord Aidan’s room. There was someone who looked familiar poking his head out from a tree. Later, when she walked with Maddoc, she saw him again for just one second. She wondered earlier in the day if she had imagined him, but at that point, she knew it was true. Lachlan was in the woods close to the estate.
She knew she should tell someone. The best course of action would be to speak with Lord Dunne, but she was afraid the man would scare him off. She could not tell Maddoc. His anger still burned against Lachlan, and she did not want any blood spilled on the estate. After speaking with Lord Adian, she knew what she had to do. She would go speak to the man herself and convince him to come to the house. He needed reconciliation with his grandfather, and Lord Aidan needed it as well. As badly as Lachlan had treated her, she could not hate him. She loved his family and did not want them to feel the loss of their son and grandson.
She hurried towards the woods, happy that no one was about and hoping no one would see her from the windows. She was glad Maddoc’s guards were keeping a close watch on the road at the moment. As she got to the woods, she was winded and tired. She took a moment to catch her breath, wondering at her upset stomach. She had hoped whatever was making her feel off-balanced and nauseous would be gone by then, but it was sticking around. Taking deep breaths, she managed to calm herself and let the sickness pass.
Once she felt she could go on, she walked a little deeper into the trees, looking all around. She hoped he was somewhere close by, and she could find him easily. She moved through the trees, knowing a place he might actually be. It was probably not in good condition, but the old tree fort they built was surely still there. It was not hard to find. She spotted the dead blacken tree that had been struck by lightning years ago and turned to the right. Not too far up ahead, she saw the small clearing that held a large tree with a huge split in the truck where all its branches met.
The fort was still there, and it looked like someone had added fresh leaves and smaller logs to it. Through the logs, she saw a subtle movement, and she stopped and stood before the structure.
“You might as well come out. I know you are here,” she called.
There was some shuffling in the fort before some leaves shifted on the side, and Lachlan poked his head out. “Why are you out here?”
“To see you, of course. Now, quit hiding in there like a child and come out.”
He bent down low and made his way out of the fort. He was wearing torn and dirty clothing. His hair was long and disheveled. His face was covered in a shaggy beard, and he was filthy. He was slenderer than usual, but he did not look emancipated. She knew he was a gifted hunter and knew what he could eat from the forest’s plants. There was no telling how long he had been living in the woods.
He stood before her and looked at the ground. “You shouldn’t be out here like this.”
“I suppose neither should you, Lachlan,” she answered. “How long have you been staying in that old fort?”
“I was roaming from small village to small village, hiding when I heard that my grandfather was ill. Some of his tenants who still work this land were talking about in a tavern two villages over. I came here to see if I could tell if it was true.”
“It is true. He is dying,” said Anwen.
Lachlan looked up at her and nodded his head. “I know.”
“So, why haven’t you gone in to see him? I am sure your parents would like to know you are alive and somewhat well.”
“Would they? I think they might like it if I died. After what I did to you, I am sure they have disowned me by now.”
“They are angry at you, and your brother will take the place that should have been yours. Still, I don’t believe they could ever completely disown you. You are their son, brother, and grandson. Family means everything to our people; you know this.”
He looked at her for a moment. “You are well, aren’t you? I was sure I had killed you that day.”
“You might have, but it appears my king is much more than he appears. He healed me and saved me. I doubt you have heard this, but he has the same Gift I do. His family has Lucidalan blood, and he is the second life-giver born to this generation.”
“I had heard rumors of what happened that day. I even heard that there were whispers you were alive. I think those whispers were what kept me alive. I don’t think I could live with myself if I killed you.”
She looked away. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, not this time.”
He moved a little closer to her, causing her to take a step back. “I never mean to hurt you, Anwen. You were the last person in this land I wanted to hurt.”
“I don’t wish to rehash our past, Lachlan. As much as I am wary of you and perhaps changed by what you have done to me, I do not truly wish any ill will towards you.”
He rubbed his face with his hands. “How did it end up like this, Anwen? Everything went so wrong, so fast. I completely ruined everything in a little more than a year. I deserve for you to hate me. I deserve the hate of my family and people. I should go up to the house and find your king. I have no doubt what he would do to me.”
“My husband does have a temper, and I do not think he would hold back if you were to approach him.”
“Your husband?” asked Lachlan with wide eyes. “You have married?”
She nodded. “Neither of us wanted to wait. We already belong to each other in our hearts, so we decided to give each other our promises. I am truly his wife, and I have no regrets, only joy.”
“He is a very fortunate man,” murmured Lachlan.
“And I am a fortunate woman. We are perfect together. Being with him, I can see now how we would never have worked. We would have made each other miserable.” He looked ready to argue when she put her hand up. “One again, I did not come out here to talk about us.”
“Why did you seek me out then?”
“I believe your grandfather would like to see you. I think he needs to see you, and you need to speak with him before the end. He will pass over with much more peace if he can find a way to find reconciliation with you.”
Lachlan shook his head. “There is nothing I could say to earn any forgiveness from him. I don’t want his forgiveness. I don’t deserve it.”
“What do any of us really deserve? We have all done wrong at times. Your wrongs may be more egregious than some others, but I would like to believe you are not beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean you have not done wrong, but it can release both you and Lord Aidan from the grip regret and anger has over you both.”
“I am not sure I want to be released. I do regret what I have done, and I should.”
“What good will it do to live in it forever, Lachlan,” said Anwen passionately. “What good does it cause to let Lord Aidan pass feeling he has failed you.”
Lachlan took a step back. “My grandfather feels he has failed me? How can that be so? It is I who ignored all of his good advice. It is I who took his careful words and love and threw them away.”
“He wishes he had not let his anger towards you keep him from helping you after you let me go. He does love me, but you are of his blood. He believes he should have counseled you this past year.”
“He is truly the best man I have ever known,” said Lachlan quietly.
“He is a wonderful man, and he deserves to go in peace. You need to find the courage to come see him and your father. It will do you no good to live as a fugitive in these woods. Come and face what you have done and work to make something new. Our land is in trouble, as you probably know. My aunt and Prince Korben will see it ruined in their quest for power. Come make amends with your family and queen and fight for what is right. You will never be what you could have been, but you can find a new way forward.”
Lachlan wiped his dirty face with his hand. “It is not that easy, Anwen.”
“I never said it would be easy. It will be hard, and you will have to face what you have done. You have long been a coward. It is time to own up to it. Do something courageous for once in your life. Go into that house, and own up to everything you have done. I think you will find your life will go on.”
“King Maddoc will kill me on sight.”
“Let me handle Maddoc,” said Anwen. “He will be angry at us both, but in the end, he will see vengeance, and anger against you will do him no good. He is a good man and king.”
She held out her hand to him. “Come with me, Lachlan. Take this chance I am offering you. Your family needs this, and to be honest, I do as well. No matter how much you have hurt me, I do not hate you.” She wiped quickly at a tear that escaped her eye. “I am tired of anger and conflict. Come and start making amends.”
He slowly approached her and gently took her hand. He looked down at her as she looked up at him. Tears filled his eyes. “I am so sorry, Anwen. I never intended for any of this to happen. It seemed like the more I tried to make things right, the worse it got. I should have been honest with you from the beginning. I’m sorry I caused you so much pain. I’m sorry for what I did that night during the Winter Festival.” He closed his eyes as tears fell down his cheek. “I can’t even tell you how that day outside the Grand palace has haunted me. I won’t ask for your forgiveness, but I am beyond sorry for it all.”
She closed her eyes and swallowed. She thought of her history with the man before her. She loved him at one time. It had been shallow, but it was real. He had hurt her deeply, and she thought she would be happy never to see him again. Now, as he stood before her, her heart was full of pity for him. She did not wish for revenge. She did not want him to be unhappy. She only wanted peace. “You may not ask for my forgiveness or deserve it, but you have it, Lachlan. Let us live in peace. That is all I want for you, a way to have peace.”
He bent down and kissed her hand. “I want only good things for you, Anwen. I want you to be happy with your king. I want you to have the life you deserve.”
“Now, let us go and face your family and queen. I know you can do this. Let us all be united as we face what we must because none of our immediate futures will be easy.”