The Queen's Command

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Chapter 24

If she thought travel was miserable these past few weeks with Maddoc, she was wrong. What she was experiencing was true misery. She spent half her time barely aware of her surroundings and the rest very mindful of how jostled she was with her hands tied riding in front of Jasper. She was sick numerous times. At first, Jasper wouldn’t stop when she told him she was about to lose her meal. It only took one time for her to vomit on his saddle and horse before he begrudgingly listened to her.

They stopped outside of a village on their second night, and her aunt bought some things to help settle her stomach. She knew it was not out of kindness but a want to hurry their journey along. Her aunt spent much of her time looking over her shoulder as though expecting someone to overtake them.

Anwen hoped Maddoc or anyone else would not come after her. As much as she longed to be back with those she loved, she worried what would happen. Once they reached the main road, their group of a dozen was joined by at least another fifty. They rode in a large group north towards Quinlan, Anwen being kept towards the front with Jasper.

Periodically her Aunt would touch her head to keep her subdued. She hated being mind-controlled, but at least it provided relief from the tedious and uncomfortable journey. Lachlan was almost always subdued by Roslyn. He was put on a horse with a soldier. As he flopped around on a horse, Anwen worried he would fall.

Though she didn’t wish to go there, she was relieved to see the Great Palace of Quinlan as they rode into town. She was tired of being tossed around roughly and bouncing on a horse. Whatever awaited her, at least she would be on solid ground. As they entered the palace gates, she felt more awake than she had the whole trip. Lachlan also appeared to be awake. He looked at Anwen, and she exhaled deeply and gave him a small shrug.

Jasper pulled up his horse behind Roslyn. A servant came over to hand her down, and she nodded at Anwen. The door opened before the servant could do as she bid, and Prince Korben walked out with Gwendolyn and Meira beside him. Another man who looked a bit older than the prince followed as well.

The prince came directly to Anwen and stood next to the horse. He held his hand out to her. “Let me help you down, princess. I know the journey must have been awful for you.”

Anwen stared at him for a moment before taking his hand. She slid from the saddle and immediately released him to fix her skirt. He smiled down at her, and she dropped into a quick curtsey.

“I have come as you demanded, your highness, but I would prefer it if you referred to me with my correct title. I am sure you heard the good news and must be happy for your nephew and me.”

His smile turned into a smirk. “I have indeed heard your news, and I would like to discuss it with you if you are willing. I am sure you would prefer to clean up and rest before supper. Perhaps after you are well fed, we could meet before you retire for the night.”

“I doubt I have little say in the matter as I am no better than a prisoner at this point,” replied Anwen.

“You are an honored guest and soon to be much more. I will have someone show you to your room. I hope you will find it to your liking as I believe you will spend some time there.”

He nodded, and two guards came up to her. She looked at the prince, knowing she had little choice in what she must do. Her only goal was to protect her child and find a way to stay safe as she waited for Maddoc and the others. Any escape attempts would be too risky at that point. Before she walked with the guards, she looked over where Gwendolyn and Roslyn were standing before Lachlan.

“What will happen to him?” asked Anwen.

Gwendolyn wrung her hands as she looked at her mother, who responded. “He will receive proper accommodations for all he has done.”

“You said you would not harm him if I came with you. I expect you to hold to that promise.”

“Do not worry, Anwen, not one had will be laid on him,” said Roslyn with annoyance. “He will have to pay in some way, but I will hold to our baragain. He will be quite safe where he is kept.”

Gwendolyn looked to be on the verge of tears as one of the guards grabbed Anwen’s arm. “The prince has stated you must rest. We will enter now,” said the guard as he pulled at her.

Anwen jereked her arm away. “I will come with you. There is no need to drag me.”

She walked into the palace past the man who had walked out with the others. He looked down at her with curiosity before giving her a slight nod she did not return. Princess Meira turned and walked close to Anwen.

“I will make sure you are well settled into your room, Princess Anwen,” said Meira as they made it to the stairs. “I would l like to know how my betrothed is, and I believe you will have first-hand knowledge.”

Anwen let out a small breath of exasperation. It seemed her time in Quinlan would be filled with annoyance as much as fear. “I am sorry, Princess Meira, but I do not know who you refer to. I had not heard you were pledged to marry anyone, though I did hear Prince Korben was courting you. Has he declared himself?”

They came to the second floor, and Anwen was led to the right, away from her usual room in the palace.

“I have only ever had any ideas of marrying one man, and I know I shall receive what I wish. After what he and I shared, there can be only one outcome. My uncle demands it, and he is not a man that anyone wants to cross.”

“Your uncle has command over your life now? I spoke with your father extensively over the past week, and he only wishes you would come to your senses and behave as his daughter should. You do realize your uncle is committing treason in two kingdoms, don’t you?”

“Treason?” she laughed. “How can he have anything to do with treason when he is essentially leading our kingdom. My father left his throne by running to your mother, and my uncle took his place. Our people want him to rule with my future son to follow. A son I will soon have with King Maddoc.” She placed one hand on her stomach, and Anwen noticed a bump under her dress.

They stopped at the door at the end of the hall on the left, and the guards opened it. Before she entered, Anwen looked at Princess Meira. “I see that you are indeed with child, but I cannot imagine who the father might be. I know you spent time with a few young men during the Winter Festival.”

“I was seen coming out of the gallery with King Maddoc by both Prince Korben and the palace healer. While I am not proud of my actions, I am afraid the king and I got carried away with our affections. Soon we will be married, so it will not matter. Prince Korben has pledged the first son to Parvilia as its ruler. This will satisfy my uncle.

“Of course, I will want my child to be born and raised primarily in the kingdom in which he will rule, so my husband and I will have to spend most of our time in Parvilia. I am glad we have Prince Korben, who can see to Calumbria. He wants you as his queen though I don’t know why. Still, I want us to be friends if we are to be related, and as a friend, I strongly encourage you to take the prince up on his offer. I hear you might have your own shame to hide, and a quick marriage to Prince Korben would cover your sin.”

Anwen shook her head and stepped closer to Princess Meira. “I have no shame in carrying the child of my husband and king, and I will not have you say so again. I am the queen of this kingdom, and this child I carry will either be the next ruler of Calumbria or Lucidala.

“I pity you, Princess Meira. You are either evil or touched in the head. These lies and delusions of yours will come to light. You know you are not carrying Maddoc’s child, so you would do better to find the young lord or whatever he is who put you in your state and demand he marry you.”

Princess Meira took a step back and looked at the closest guard. “Princess Anwen is tired and confused. Place her in her room so she can rest.”

The guard pushed Anwen forward into the room and shut the door behind her. She straightened up and looked around. It was a suite of rooms that were much larger than the one she had stayed in before. The front room held a nice fireplace with a sofa and two chairs. She walked to the next room to find a huge bed, a vanity, and a door she assumed led to a washroom.

It was a beautiful space, but it just made her feel more miserable. The adrenaline she had felt coming to the palace had started to fade. She wanted to appear strong to all, but by herself, her shield quickly came down. She stumbled to the bed and fell upon it. Her tears came quickly, and she let them fall.

She cried as she still felt her grief in losing Lord Aidan. She cried for her mother, who would worry for her endlessly. She wept for Brennan and the rest of the Dunnes, whom she was afraid would blame Lachlan for her disappearance. Most of all, her tears fell for Maddoc. She wanted him desperately. She missed him, and she knew she would have to endure many days and nights without him. He would blame himself. It was not his fault in any way, but she knew he would berate himself for leaving her alone that morning. She wanted to be with him to reassure him it was not his fault, but she would have to depend on others for it. She hoped her mother and friends could help him not do anything too rash.

Lost in her grief and sadness, she did not hear the door open to the rooms. It wasn’t until she heard a light footstep near the bed that she became aware someone had entered. She looked up to find Mrs. Owens, the hear old lady who was the head of household, standing near her. Anwen jumped up and went to the woman. She fell into the woman’s arms and cried some more.

“It will be alright, princess,” said Mrs. Owens soothingly. She chuckled a little. “I should call you, my queen, I suppose, though I have to be careful with those words outside this room.”

Anwen pulled back and looked at her. “You know?”

“Mrs. Drivens writes me monthly reports on the state of the summer palace. Since it is a usual letter, no one thought to look at it before I received it. She told me all, and I was very pleased to hear the news. Since then, I have heard rumors in the town and palace. Your tale has made its way all over the kingdom.”

“It is true that I married Maddoc,” said Anwen with a sniff. “I do not regret it.”

“And the other whispers I hear? Are they true?”

“Depends on what you are hearing, I suppose,” said Anwen with a small smile.

“The king’s powers? I have heard that one all over town. There are tales that he can heal as well as you. They say he faces one hundred of the prince’s guards and killed half of them before sending the rest back so they couldn’t take you.”

Anwen smiled wider. “It was barely a third of that number, and I helped him. He can heal, but he has much to learn. I hope he is keeping up with his practice now.”

The woman shook her head. “I thought he was special, but I had no idea he had any mystical powers.” She paused for a moment. “What about the other thing I have heard your aunt whispering to your uncle. Is what her daughter has seen true? Are you with child?”

Anwen’s hand went to her stomach as she nodded. “It is true. I just figured it out before I was taken. I didn’t even get a chance to tell Maddoc, but I am sure my mother has let him know by now.” She sighed as she sat down on the bed.

“A true heir for Calumbria, perhaps. Whatever that Princess Meira has been saying, we all know she is not carrying the king’s child. She was seen giving favors to multiple young lords, and I think she even spent some time with a palace servant.”

“How are you still here? I was worried about what would happen to you.”

“Prince Korben doesn’t pay much attention to servants. I have made sure to keep the palace running smoothly, which keeps him from even speaking with me except for orders. I want to be here when my king takes back his place. I have also been giving information to those in town who are ready to fight for their king when he comes.”

“I hope you are careful. You mean much to the king and me,” said Anwen with concern.

“I am very careful to whom I speak, and as I said, Prince Korben believes servants and common folk are beneath them. He spends his time with upper lords, trying to keep them on his side. I believe many are wary of the Parvilian lord, and it has taken much of the prince’s time to keep them settled.”

“Perhaps he will be too busy to deal much with me then. I can’t think what he believes will be accomplished by bringing me here. I suppose he wants to draw Maddoc out somehow. I can’t tell if he wishes to kill him or force him to do something.”

Mrs. Owens sat next to her. “I believe the prince’s views on the king’s future alternate day by day, and maybe hour by hour. I am not sure how well his mind is doing under all the pressure he is facing. When it comes down to it, he was never meant to be king, and he knows it. I believe there was a reason the gods made him the younger brother.”

“I suppose all I can do is try to keep safe for my child and wait and pray. All I want is peace in the land and to live with my king. I do not wish for anyone to have to die to gain it.”

Mrs. Owens took her hand. “Of course you do not, as good and gentle as you are, but you are also strong. You know what it might take to keep the kingdom settled and our king in his proper place. Whatever happens, I know you can face it.”

“I hope so, Mrs. Owens, but I am not sure I could stand losing Maddoc.”

“You won’t, my queen. He has more support in this kingdom than Prince Korben could ever know.”

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