It was dark and cold. Anwen could find no source of light anywhere. She felt alone and scared. Almost all her life, she had people around her she could depend on, but now she felt abandoned. She called out for her mother, but there was no return. She yelled Brennan’s name, but he did not appear. She ran forward, not able to see where she was going. It felt as if thick briars tore at her skirt and pricked her arms.
There had to be someone, somewhere who could help her. “Lord Aidan?” she called through the darkness. Again, she was met with silence. As she kept moving forward, she thought of Maddoc. He would not leave her. He promised he would stay by her side. He must be close by.
“Maddoc?” she called. “Maddoc, where are you?”
She saw a light appear up ahead, and she thought perhaps it was him. She increased her speed, running as quickly as she could towards the light. As she got towards it, she was met not with hope or relief, but with anxiety and a deep sense of fear. The light was not warm and welcoming. It was dim and eerie. She felt a coldness spread through her body.
She slowed down, moving very slowly towards the light. As she approached she could see a tall figure of a man standing in the middle of the light. The man’s back was turned, but he had dark hair and broad shoulders.
“Maddoc?” she asked quietly.
The figure turned slowly, and she could see it was not Maddoc. “The king is off doing his duty, princess, but do not worry. I will see that you are taken care of.” Prince Korben walked towards her as Anwen stopped at the edge of the light.
“No,” she whispered. “Stay away from me.” She wasn’t sure why, but she had never felt so afraid. She did not want the prince to touch her. She was afraid if he touched her, she would be forced to stay with him.
“Princess, why do you shy away from me? I am all you have left. Your mother cannot help you. Your friends have their own cares. The king has finally realized what is right for the kingdom. You have no choice but to come with me.”
She tried to back away, but she felt trapped in the prince’s presence. “I will not come with you. I do not believe you. My mother would never leave me alone. Brennan and Lord Aidan will come to help me.” She paused and felt tears fall down her cheeks. “Maddoc said he would not leave me again. He loves me.”
The prince shook his head as he walked very close to her. “Princess, haven’t you learned anything? Love isn’t real. All that matters is power and what you can gain from this life. You and I can rule this whole land if you will let us. With your power and my alliances, we can make both of our kingdoms the most powerful forces in all the land. Now do not resist me.”
She shook her head. “You are wrong.” She wanted to scream it, but it came out as a pathetic whisper.
She felt so weak and tired. Everyone had left her. Maddoc had broken his promise to her. What choice did she have? She reached out her hand towards Prince Korben. He smiled at her and reached out his own towards her. Right as their hands touched, Anwen bolted up awake in the bed.
She gave out a loud gasp and realized her face was wet with her tears. She shook as she clutched her blanket, trying to gain control of herself. It took her a moment to see that she was back in the king’s bedroom of the summer palace. She could see the moon through the window in front of her.
“Anwen?” said Maddoc sleepily as he sat up. He looked at her before putting his arms around her and holding her close. “What is it?”
She cried harder as she held on to him. She felt so silly and weak. It was just some nightmare. It was not something that could really hurt her, but it had felt so real. The pain of thinking everyone who loved her had abandoned her was sitting in the center of her chest. It felt heavy and made it hard for her to breathe.
“It’s alright,” said Maddoc soothingly. “I’m here, and you’re safe.”
She had been having nightmares for a few weeks. The first few days at the summer palace, Anwen was too exhausted and weak to do anything but sleep. If she dreamed during those times, she did not remember it. As she regained her strength, she started experiencing some sort of bad dreams at least every other night. Most she could shrug off and go back to sleep. None had been so terrifying as the one she had just had.
She pushed back from Maddoc and wiped her eyes as she sniffled. The heavy weight in her chest was starting to lessen, and her fear was dissipating.
“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Maddoc.
She shook her head. As her breathing calmed down and her shaking stopped, she suddenly felt exhausted “I’m just very tired. I wish to sleep.”
They both lay back down, and Maddoc took her into his arms. She put her head against his chest and closed her eyes. “You will never leave me, will you?” she asked. She felt weak and foolish, but she needed to hear his reassurances.
“No, I will never leave you, Anwen. I could never be without you.”
She snuggled deeper into his embrace. “I love you, Maddoc. Sometimes, I wish we really could just run away.”
His hold on her tightened. “I would do it in a second, Anwen, if you asked me. I would do anything for you.”
“I will not ask it of you because it is not right. You must take care of Calumbria, and I must see to Lucidala. Our people need us.” She looked up at him. “It does not mean that I want to put anything ahead of you. I need you, Maddoc.”
He gently kissed her forehead. “I do not doubt your love, Anwen, and you should never doubt mine. I never thought I could love anyone as I love you.” She reached up and laid her hand against his bearded cheek. He turned and kissed it. “Sleep now, my love. You need rest. Everything will seem better in the morning.”
She put her hand down and burrowed into his chest, letting his warmth and comfort soothe her back to sleep.
The air outside was cool, but the day was sunny. Anwen looked across the sea in front of her. She could just make out the village in the distance.
“Are you ready, Anwen?” asked Maddoc.
Anwen looked at the boat before her in which Mrs. Drivens was already sitting. She nodded and took the hand Maddoc offered her. He helped her into the boat and she sat down.
“Your majesty, Graves could have come with us and rowed. There was no need for you to do it yourself,” said Mrs. Drivens.
“I do not mind doing it, and I am sure Graves has other things he needs to see to today.” Maddoc stepped into the boat and sat down, picking up an oar. He pushed off from the wooden platform, and they started their journey.
Anwen had not spent much time by the sea. She had gone when she was young, but it had been many years. She looked out noticing how the sunlight reflected off the water. A couple of times the water sprayed a little, coating her face and dress in a fine mist. She laughed, enjoying the sensation.
“How nice it must have been to grow up close to the sea, Mrs. Drivens.”
“It has its advantages,” answered the woman. “I love sea air, though it can be fishy. In summer it is nice to wade into the water, and travel is easy. Winters are a different story. This far north it usually gets unbearable cold, and we are stuck where we are for a few months. If one isn’t prepared, it can be a deadly season.”
“Your village looks prosperous,” noted Anwen as they got close to the shore.
“It is. There are many hardworking folk who make it so. Having the summer palace here has helped it to grow. When the king is in residence in the summer having parties, it makes for good work, and easy sale of supplies.”
“I hope Princess Anwen and I will spend many happy summers here, Mrs. Drivens,” said Maddoc. “I can already tell my betrothed enjoys this place. We might even stay longer than usual in the years to come.”
Mrs. Drivens smiled but said no more. They pulled into a large dock as a man came and helped them. He tied up their boat as Maddoc stepped onto the platform. He held out his hand for Anwen and then Mrs. Drivens. They walked into the village on the cobbled streets. It was a very clean, handsome place that was a little smaller than Awbrey.
“The dress maker is just down this way,” said Mrs. Drivens.
Maddoc looked towards the town’s temple. “Wil you be alright on your own for a short time?”
“Of course, we will,” said Anwen. “We will meet with the dressmaker, and then Mrs. Drivens can give me a small tour of the village if she doesn’t mind.”
“Only if you are up to it. I do not want you to tire yourself out.”
“I feel very refreshed today. The sea air has done me much good, and it is so nice to see new sites,” said Anwen. She looked at Mrs. Drivens. “Shall we go?”
Mrs. Drivens nodded as Maddoc said, “I will not be long. I will find you when I am done and join you for your tour.”
The dressmaker was a short plump woman who bustled around Anwen, taking her measurements and assuring her she could make her whatever she needed. Anwen only asked for three dresses for day wear, a simple traveling dress that would blend in with most villages, and one special dress. She wanted it to be red and gold as those were the colors of her kingdom. She wished for it to be simple, but not forgettable.
“I know this might not be possible,” said Anwen. “But if there any way to have a tree with many branches and leaves stitched on it or incorporated in the fabric, I would appreciate it. It is the symbol of my kingdom, and I would like to wear it for this occasion.”
“What occasion is this dress for, your highness?” asked the dressmaker.
Anwen looked at Mrs. Drivens before saying quietly, “My wedding.”
The dressmaker stopped what she was doing and stared at Anwen. “Your wedding? Your wedding to the king? You wish me to make a wedding dress?”
“Yes, but it will be a simple affair. Maddoc and I will wed from the summer palace. I am sure we will have some other event one day in Quinlan, but he wishes to marry me before we return.”
“You will have your wedding here?” asked the dressmaker.
“I’m sorry, mam, but I believe the princess was very clear,” said Mrs. Drivens. “She will wed here and wishes you to make the dress for the event. You need no more information than that. You should be honored and humbled to make such an important garment for our future queen.”
The dressmaker nodded. “Very well. I believe I can do all you have asked. I have a couple of assistants, and we will put all other work aside to finish what you need. We can have it all done in less than a month.”
“Thank you,” said Anwen. “If you could work on the wedding dress first, that would be helpful. I believe it will need to be done as soon as can be.”
“I am sure the king will pay handsomely if you can have it done very soon,” said Mrs. Drivens.
The dressmaker nodded as Mrs. Drivens looked at some fabric. The dressmaker leaned in close to Anwen. “Do I need to make some of your dresses with a larger waistline? I do not wish to pry, but if you will be… expanding in the coming months, it would be helpful to know.”
Anwen felt her face burn and knew her cheeks were red. She shook her head. “There will be no need for that. I am not expecting to be expanding any time soon.”
The dressmaker paused for a moment but then nodded. “I shall do all as you ask, your highness.”
They left the dressmaker soon after, Anwen exhausted by the whole experience. She looked at Mrs. Drivens wondering what the woman thought of her marrying the king so quickly and secretly.
“Are you ready for a tour, your highness?” asked Mrs. Drivens.
“I am, but first I wish to speak to you of what happened in there.”
“We do not need to speak of it. I have no questions,” said Mrs. Drivens.
“You must be curious as to why the king would marry me here and so quickly?” Anwen paused. “If you are wondering, I can tell you there is no child on the way.”
Mrs. Drivens looked away with a smile. “I had thought of it, but I also see to your rooms. I know there is no baby on the way, your highness. I have seen signs enough to know you are not with child.”
Anwen felt her cheeks warm again, realizing of course the woman would know. “So you must have many questions as to why we showed up here, and why we are getting married in this out-of-the-way place.”
“The king has spoken a little of your circumstances. I have heard rumors of what is going on in Quinlan as well.” They moved close to a tree away from the street. “I hate to say it since he is of the royal family, but I never have liked Prince Korben. I was very thankful to the gods his brother was born first. Never was there a more quiet or gentle person than the previous king. Prince Korben thinks of no one but himself. I have seen how he acts with the servants and those he believes beneath him. He has been known to take whatever he wants.”
“He tricked my mother into signing a pledge for me to marry him, but it is not valid. My mother would never do such a thing to me. She will let me make my own choice, and she knew my choice was King Maddoc.”
“You do not need to explain yourself to me, your highness. I can tell what sort of person you are. I can see how kind and courteous you are to me and my staff. I see the effect you have had on our king. He has never been a bad sort, but you have brought out in him such responsibility and gentleness. He is a new man from when I saw him last, and I am sure it has to do with you. It is not mine to have an opinion on, but I think you will be a fine queen.”
“I only hope we can settle things soon before the kingdom suffers. If Prince Korben is trying to take control of Calumbria, it is the people who will suffer.”
“I am sure our king has a plan. He is an intelligent man, and with your help, I have no doubt all will be well.”
They walked through the village together, Mrs. Drivens showing Anwen the principal buildings. She told her about the most important inhabitants including the town mayor, and a lord who lived just outside of town. It was a charming seaside village that was much more populated in the summer months. There were several manor homes just outside the town where many lords and ladies of the kingdom spent the warmer season.
They had just excited the town square when Maddoc caught up with them. He looked somewhat anxious as he took Anwen’s hand, greeting them both.
“How did things go at the temple?” asked Anwen quietly.
“It was interesting,” replied Maddoc.
“Is all set?”
“Not quite. I need you to go to the temple now. The priest would like to speak with you alone. If you do not wish to do it, I can accompany you or we could find another priest.”
“I do not mind speaking with the village priest. I will go this instant. Where should I meet you when I am done?” asked Anwen.
“Mrs. Drivens and I will go into the local inn just over there. I will watch for you, and when I see you emerge, I will come to you.” He squeezed her hand. “I believe we are safe here but do not speak long with anyone you do not know.”
Anwen nodded and walked past him towards the town’s temple. It was a simple building, tall and skinny. She walked into one long room with benches on each side and an aisle up the middle. At the front were three large portraits. She saw that one looked much like one that hung in a temple Maddoc had taken her to. Looking up at the pictures at the front was an older man with dark gray hair. He wore a black robe with a hood that was pulled down.
He turned as he heard her come in. “Princess Anwen?”
Anwen nodded. “Yes, sir. King Maddoc told me you wish to speak with me.”
The priest gave her a kind smile. “I do, and I am glad you agreed to it. Would you like to sit up here on this bench? The king told me you have been ill.”
Anwen walked up and sat down where he indicated. “I am feeling much better, but it has been a long morning. Will you sit with me?”
The priest sat down, leaving some room between them. “The king has told me he wishes to marry you and wants me to perform the ceremony.”
“Yes. We are both anxious to be married as soon as we can.”
“Can you tell me why, your highness? The king has informed me there is no child on the way. Why do you wish to marry here far from the Grand Palace and all you know? If you are to be our queen, it would be better if you were recognized in the right way.”
Anwen took a moment, wondering how to respond. She knew there were probably rumors in the kingdom about what had happened in Quinlan, but she didn’t know if they had made it this far north.
“There are certain circumstances right now. Things that have made the southern part of the kingdom unstable. Before we go to face the things we must, the king and I wish to mark our commitment to each other. I wish things were different, but nothing is ever perfect. I only wish to be his wife, and he says he wishes to be my husband.”
“You are a princess of Lucidala, I believe? You will be the next queen?”
Anwen nodded. “My mother is Queen Eira, the queen of my kingdom. One day I will lead Lucidala. My kingdom and my people are very important to me.”
“It will be difficult for you to be the queen to your king, won’t it? How will you give him the support he needs to rule Calumbria?”
“Perhaps you should ask how he will be able to support me one day as the Queen of Lucidala,” said Anwen with a grin. “The answer to both is we will support each other in both of our endeavors, and we will not do anything alone. Not only will we rely on each other, but we will depend on our friends and families that love us. Too often rulers are lonely and isolated. It will not be so with Maddoc and me.”
The priest laughed. “You are very outspoken, your highness. I supposed I should have expected it from a princess and future queen, but your small size threw me off. You look like you would be rather meek and quiet.”
“I have never been either of those things. I am small, but it has not stopped me from being strong and stating what I know is true. Now, will you tell me what is holding you back from marrying us?”
“Nothing really. I would never deny a request from my king. I only wished to meet you, and see that you were not being forced into anything. I do not know King Maddoc well, but I have heard tells of his…experiences. I also know kings think they can have whatever they want.”
“They think that because it is usually true,” said Anwen. “Maddoc may want me, but I want him as well. You do not need to protect me from anything. I am very capable of knowing my own mind.”
“So I see, your highness. Before I agree to this ceremony, can you answer me one more question?”
“I will listen to your question and let you know if I can answer it.”
“You have your own kingdom. You will lead it someday. You don’t need to marry for position or power. I don’t know much about Lucidala, but you seem very fond of it. Why complicate your life and your kingdom matters by marrying the king? Surely there are others who are more appropriate for your station that you could live happily with?”
Anwen sighed. “My mother asked me those same questions. She even had me promise to try and find another I could marry that would be less complicated. I did as she asked, but I knew it would never work out. My heart belongs to the king. Perhaps it is selfish of me, but I can be with no other. I cannot let him go even for my beloved kingdom. I truly believe if we are together, everything else will work out.”
The priest nodded. “If you are so decided, I doubt me not performing the ceremony would stop either of you from finding someone that would. You seem to know what you want, and I dare not go against the king no matter what whispers have reached here from Quinlan. Tell, the king I will perform the ceremony whenever he would like, but I would need a few days of notice. I would like you to be married from the temple, but if the king commands it, I will come to the summer palace.”
Anwen looked up at the portraits of Calumbria’s gods. She looked around the simple building. It did remind her of temples back home. The gods even looked familiar to her. “I would like to be married from this temple, sir. I don’t know why, but it makes me think of home.”
“I suppose it is like many temples in other kingdoms. You find comfort here in remembering the times of prayer and worship in your temples, I imagine. You may call your gods by different names, but perhaps they are all the same,” said the priest with a smile.
Anwen smiled back. “I have long had that theory. I would like to think when I marry my king in this temple, the gods that bless us are the same ones I have prayed to for years.”
Anwen left the temple and found Maddoc and Mrs. Drivens out in the village center as they walked towards her.
“Well?” asked Maddoc.
“The priest says he will marry us anytime you would wish, though he would like a few days’ notice. He would also like us to marry from the temple, as would I.”
“Then we shall marry from the temple. I will do anything to make you happy especially on our wedding day. I know it is not what you expected.”
Anwen took Maddoc’s arm, and they started walking towards the pier, Mrs. Drivens following behind. “All I want is to be your wife. I do not care how grand the ceremony is or where it is held. I do ask that you give me at least two weeks. I am having a special dress made. It may sound silly, but I wish for it to be completed before we marry.”
“I just said I would do anything to make this day special for you, and I mean it. It will be hard waiting another few weeks to marry you, but I will endure it for you.”
Anwen leaned her head against his upper arm as they walked to the pier.