The Queen's Command

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Chapter 21

He just managed to fall asleep when he was awoken by a loud knocking on their bedroom door. Maddoc glanced over at Anwen to find her still fast asleep. He hated to wake her, but he believed he knew what the knocking meant. Leaving her be for a moment, he carefully got out of bed and put on his shirt before answering the door. He found a disheveled and grim-faced Brennan.

“Is it time?” asked Maddoc quietly.

Brennan nodded. “He wants to see both of you as soon as possible. It won’t be long.”

Maddoc reached out and patted Brennan’s shoulder. “We will be there shortly.”

Brennan hung his head for one moment before pushing off the door frame. Maddoc shut the door quietly and walked over to Anwen’s side of the bed. He sat down and reached out to touch her soft cheek. He wished he could spare her from the pain he knew she was about to experience, but there was no way. She would have to go through it as it was a part of life. All he could do was be there for her.

He had spent many hours while they were at the estate wondering about the way forward. He wanted to save his kingdom and his people, but above all, he wanted to keep Anwen safe. He wished she would stay behind in Lucidala while he went to Quinlan to regain his throne. He knew she would be adamant about coming with him, but he hoped he could convince her somehow.

It would be agony to be without her for a time, but to know she was safe with those who would watch over her would give him great comfort. He knew there would be battles to fight, and if something happened to her, he wasn’t sure how much regaining his kingdom would really mean.

Deciding it was an issue for another day, he placed his hand on her arm and lightly shook her. She stirred, and he bent down and kissed her cheek. “Wake up, my love.”

Her eyes blinked rapidly, and her head turned as she sat up slightly. “What is wrong?”

He softly brushed her cheek with his hand. “It is time. We are both wanted this moment.”

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before sitting up. Maddoc stood up and grabbed her robe from the nearby chair. He held it out as she stood up. He helped her put it on, and she stepped into her nearby slippers. Adjusting her braided hair, she looked up at him.

“I suppose I am as ready as I can be.”

He took her hand and kissed it. “I am here, Anwen. I know there isn’t much I can do to make it better, but I will not leave you.”

“This is a part of life we will all have to face someday. I just want to be able to say goodbye,” she said softly.

“Then let us go.” Maddoc took her hand and led her out the door.

They walked to Lord Aidan’s rooms, and Anwen knocked quietly. The door was answered by Albert, who gave Anwen a very small, sad smile. She patted his arm as she walked by. He bowed to Maddoc, who nodded at him as he followed Anwen into the room.

As he walked in, Maddoc was struck by how quiet it was. The space was full of people. Lord Dunne sat in a chair by his father’s bed with Lady Dunne standing close by. Brennan was on the other side of the bed with Lady Roxanna by his side. Lachlan stood against the wall close to his father. Anwen stopped and greeted her mother, who was sitting by the fireplace. She took Anwen’s hand and held it for a moment as Maddoc marveled at the feeling of peace in the room.

He looked at Anwen speaking quietly with Queen Eiera and wondered if the queen had helped alter the mood in the room with her powers. Perhaps she had a little, but Maddoc also thought the atmosphere was due to the man who lay in the center of it. Even though he was dying and leaving this world, he had lived a life well-lived. He was at peace and surrounded by all he loved.

Lord Adian was very pale, laying under a thin blanket and propped up on a stack of pillows. Lord Dunne stood up as Anwen approached. He leaned down and whispered to his father, who opened his eyes.

“Come here, my little princess,” said Lord Aidan weakly as he held out his hand. Anwen walked over and took his hand as she sat on the edge of the bed. Maddoc stayed back at the foot of the bed and watched. “I wanted to see your beautiful face one more time before I left this world.”

“There is nowhere else I would be, my lord,” she said with a sniffle. Maddoc could see tears were already falling down her face.

“Do not cry so much for me, Anwen. I have lived a good life. I am very ready to go.”

“I am just not sure I am ready to let you go,” she said as she gripped his hand.

Lord Aidan took a few shallow breaths and coughed. “You do have to accept I will move on, but you do not have to let me go. I hope I have taught you some things you will hang on to. I hope you know how much I have loved you. I never wanted to replace your father, but you have very much been like a daughter to me.”

“You did not replace father, but you have your own special place in my heart. I only hope I will live a life worthy of you. You have done so much for me and loved me so well. I have always wanted to make you proud.”

“I am not a fan of pride, but I do have much to be proud of in my life. My son does me credit. Brennan will be a fine lord someday.” He swallowed and shuddered a little. “I believe even Lachlan is on a better path than he was. I am not sure how you endure even being in his presence.”

“I do it for you, well, for both of you, I suppose. I knew you wanted to see him, and I could not stand to think he was lost forever.”

“You are so good, Anwen. I have much to be proud of, but nothing gives me so much joy as seeing the woman you have become. Do not forget who you are. You are a powerful, kind, loving woman the likes I don’t believe this land has ever seen. I know you will do great things.”

“I am not so sure, but I will try to make the right choices. I will try to be strong and do right by all my people, here and in Calumbria.”

“You are not alone, my dear. Even though I am leaving, you have so many that love and support you. Listen to your mother as she teaches you to rule. My son and grandsons will support you as you help your king take back his kingdom. They have sworn it to me.” He paused and coughed again as he moved up on his pillows. “Where is your king? I wish to speak with him.”

Maddoc moved forward closer to Anwen. “I am here, Lord Aidan.”

“You are the most fortunate of men, and I hope you know it. I am leaving this world hoping you are the man I think you are. I trust you will take care of your queen over everything else.”

“I will. I swear it to you with little effort. There is nothing in this world I value above her.”

“Keep her safe, but do not hold her back from the things she needs to do. She will be a queen in her own right, not just because of her marriage to you. You must not discredit her strength, wisdom, or talent.”

Maddoc looked down at the man, thinking about how he had been focused on keeping her safe. He did not discredit Anwen at all. He knew just how wonderful she was but losing her would be too much for him to take. “I know who she is, my lord. I would never ask her to betray what she knows is right.”

Lord Aidan nodded. “Together, you will have to save both of our kingdoms and the whole land.” He blinked rapidly before looking at Anwen and Maddoc. “Rely on each other. Do not take your love for granted.”

“We will not, my lord,” said Anwen. “Now, you should rest. I know you are weary.”

“I am, dearest one. Wherever I am going, I know I shall miss you.”

“You will be happy and at peace with your wonderful Bethany,” said Anwen shakily. “Take comfort in that.” She bent down and kissed Lord Aidan softly on his cheek. “I love you. Thank you for everything.”

He smiled as he closed his eyes. “Watch out for all of them, Anwen, my sons, my grandsons, even your king. Help them when you can.”

“I will do all I can for all those I care about.” She looked at Brennan before turning her head to glance towards Lachlan. “I will never abandon any of them. Rest well and know we all have each other.”

Anwen stood from the bed and watched Lord Aidan for a moment as he grew still and he fell into a restless sleep with shallow breaths. Lord Dunne took her hand, and she turned to him. “I will leave so you can have this time with your father and grandfather. If there is anything I can do for any of you, please let me know.”

“You could stay if you wish,” said Lord Dunne. “You know we all consider you as family.”

“We shall honor tradition as your grandfather is worthy of everything being done correctly. I was able to say goodbye, which is all I wanted.”

Lord Dunne took her hand and kissed it before patting it. “He loves you very much, Anwen. You know how important you are to all of us.”

She nodded as he let go of her hand. Taking a moment, she hugged Lady Dunne and Brennan before giving Lachlan a simple nod. Maddoc bowed to them all as Queen Eira rose. They all three together quit the room, Queen Eira closing the door behind them. They were silent as they stood in the hallway, Anwen sniffling every so often.

“My dear?” said Queen Eira very quietly.

Anwen fell into her mother, who put her arms around her. Together they cried as Maddoc stood aside and let them grieve. After a few minutes, their tears lessened, and Anwen’s mother kissed her forehead. “You should try to rest, Anwen. There will be much to do in the days ahead, and you will need your strength.” Queen Eira looked at Maddoc. “Go let your king take care of you.”

Maddoc came forward and took Anwen’s hand. She leaned against him, and he wrapped his arm around her.

“Let me know if I am needed for anything,” said Anwen between her quiet tears. “I will do whatever I can for any of them.”

“They know it, dearest, but they will want you to take care of yourself. I know you haven’t been sleeping well. See if you can find some rest.”

“I will do whatever you need as well, Queen Eira,” said Maddoc.

The Queen nodded towards her daughter “Your only duty for the next few days is to take care of your queen.”

“That is always my main duty, Queen Eira. I hope you know it.”

They buried Lord Aidan in a field facing the setting sun two days later. His grave was under a large oak tree next to his wife. His son and queen spoke well about him as only those from the estate were allowed to attend his farewell. Maddoc watched Anwen much of the time as she stood between him and her mother. She looked much too pale to him with dark circles under her eyes. He knew she had spent a fair amount of time crying the past two days and nights, and he hadn’t seen her eat much. He had even woke up early that morning, hearing her be sick in their washroom. She insisted it was nothing but nerves and grief, but his stomach was heavy with worry.

After finishing the farewell, everyone stood around quietly talking. Maddoc held Anwen’s hand as she and her mother whispered to one another, remembering happier times when Lord Aidan and Anwen’s father both lived.

“He was so good, helping your father find his way as my king consort. I know things would not have worked so smoothly without him,” said Queen Eira. “When you were born, he was almost as anxious as your father. My poor parents did not live long enough even to see me married, and Lord Aidan escorted me on my wedding day.” Queen Eira stopped and wiped a tear from Anwen’s eye.

“The first time he saw you, Anwen, he said he fell in love. He had always wanted a daughter, but poor Lady Bethany never had any more children after her son. I think he and your father may have been in a competition to see who could spoil you more when you were a young girl. You had them both wrapped around your finger. Lady Bethany and I spent many tea times chuckling over it.”

Queen Eira dabbed at some tears on her eyes with her handkerchief. “When your father died, I didn’t know what to do. I was so lost in grief, and I let my responsibilities slide. Lord Aidan and his wife saw me through it. Lady Bethany was so kind. She would listen to me reminisce. Lord Aidan reminded me of the responsibility I had. He vowed he would help you become who you needed to be. He kept that promise.”

“He was too good to me,” said Anwen quietly. “He saw through my weaknesses and mistakes.”

“He knew them well, dearest,” said Queen Eira. “But he knew they were all a part of the process of you growing up. You must know what a joy you were to him. You continue to be one to me.”

“I hope I did not disappoint him in the end. I feel like I must be to you in some way.” She glanced at Maddoc. “I am not sorry to have married Maddoc, but I do regret that you could not be there.”

“You did what you thought necessary, and to see you happy is all I want. It is all he wanted.” Queen Eira smiled at Maddoc. “He thought a lot of your king. He spent some time making sure I knew it as well. He believed King Maddoc would make you a good husband, and I know he was right.”

Anwen hugged her mother. “I will miss him so much. Whenever I felt as though I had lost my way, I depended on him to help me find it.”

“He gave you excellent advice and support, but you always did the work yourself, Anwen. Now take what he taught you and trust yourself.”

Anwen nodded. She stepped back from her mother and wiped her eyes. She looked up like she would say more when she suddenly grabbed her stomach.

Dearest?” asked Queen Eira as Maddoc grabbed for Anwen.

She threw his hands away and pushed past her mother to run to a grouping of trees where Maddoc could tell she lost what little food she had eaten that day. He moved to go to her when Queen Eira stopped him.

“Your majesty, will you let me see my daughter back to the house? I believe she and I need to have a conversation.”

“Queen Eira, I mean no disrespect, but if my wife is ill, I would like to see to her.”

She smiled at him. “I believe all will be well, and I know how to help her.”

“What do you think is the matter?” asked Maddoc, anxious to know what could be plaquing Anwen.

“I would like to speak with Anwen first and make sure of a few things, but I believe all will be well. Will you trust me for a few minutes this evening? Once Anwen is settled back at the house, I think she will feel much better.”

Maddoc hesitated, seeing Anwen lean against a tree as she pulled out a handkerchief to wipe at her mouth. Others seem to notice she was unwell as Lord Dunne and Brennan looked over at her.

Queen Eira put her hand on Maddoc’s arm, and he knew everything would be fine. “Please, Maddoc, let me see to her.”

He cocked his head and looked at her as she had never used his name without his title. He didn’t mind it at all, but it caught him off guard. He nodded. “Let her know I will come find her soon.”

Queen Eira and Anwen’s exit spurred others to quit the area. Maddoc was ready to follow behind Brennan and Lady Roxanna when he turned to glance at Lord Aidan’s grave. Standing there in the coming darkness was Lachlan. Maddoc wasn’t sure why, but he stopped and walked back to stand by the man.

“He told me he believed I never truly deserved her. He didn’t mean for us to form any sort of attachment. He was just looking for a distraction for her when he asked me to spend time with her in our youth. He thought her too clever for me.”

Maddoc was silent as he stared at Lachlan.

“He was right, of course. I knew it even when I planned on marrying her. She was much too good for me. I knew one day I would only disappoint her. Maybe that is why I was so foolish at my cousin’s home. I guess I thought I might as well get it over with, ruining things with her.”

Maddoc let the man talk, knowing there was no response he could give.

“He said I should be thankful it ended, and he was right. How could I ever live every day knowing I could never be who she needed.” He shook his head and turned to look at Maddoc. “I still care about her, you know. I think I still love her, though I know she is unattainable for so many reasons. She always has been for me. I was blind not to see it.”

“She probably would have found a way to forgive you over and over. She is that good,” said Maddoc finally.

“It wouldn’t have been fair to her.” He sighed. “Besides, she never looked at me like she looks at you. She seems to revolve around you. It was never like that with us.”

“She does not revolve around me. She is the center of all that I am. Everything I am depends on her. She saved me in so many ways. She helped me change into whom I wanted to be.”

“Because you wanted to change. She couldn’t help me because when it came down to it, I didn’t want to be any better,” said Lachlan. “Still, she won’t give up on me. What drives her? What benefit does she gain by helping me? I deserve nothing but her scorn, yours as well.”

“She doesn’t want to gain anything from helping you. She does it because it is her nature. She says it is mine as well, though I doubt it. Of course, here I am speaking with you when you are almost the last person in this land I wish to ever talk to.”

They watched the sun start to disappear over the distant hills for a few quiet minutes before Maddoc asked, “What will you do now? Will you stay here?”

“For a time,” replied Lachlan. “My father will allow it though my mother can barely even look at me without crying. Brennan won’t even be in the same room as me unless it is absolutely necessary. I will find a new place in this land eventually, but first, I wish to help you and Anwen somehow. I want to help you make things right. I am thinking of joining the Lucidian guard, at least for a time. I am not bad with a sword. I can fight for you and help you regain your throne.”

“If that is what you wish,” said Maddoc.

“I do wish it, and I know it will not gain your forgiveness. I will not ask it of you because I feel it would be an insult. I will avoid you as much as I can, Anwen as well. I do not want to cause her any more pain.”

“I will not argue with you about it because I believe it is the right thing to do. Now, we should both get back to the house as it is getting dark.”

“You go on. I wish to stay here a moment or two longer,” replied Lachlan.

Maddoc turned to go but stopped. “You should remember that you are a young man. What you have done in your past will be hard to get over, but it does not have to dictate your future. Anwen is always talking to me about leaving my past behind. It is one of the only things on which I do not fully agree with her. I do not wish to leave my past behind. I want it to remind me of who I never wish to be again. Perhaps you should do the same. Remember your past as your walk away from it. Let it move you on to better things. If you truly wish some sort of redemption, you have to start somewhere.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” said Lachlan softly.

Maddoc had no more to say, so he walked back to the house, hoping that Queen Eira was able to help Anwen.

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