After the first few days in the Grand Palace, Anwen’s fear and shock had started to wear off. It was replaced with anger, determination, and much exasperation. It was strange how everyone around her worked and spoke as if all were as it should be when they all knew everything was wrong. Surely her aunt could not actually think all she had done was right. She seemed on edge to Anwen as she spoke with her. There was always something in her conversation that tried to justify all she had done. As angry as Anwen was at her aunt, she did not fear her. Something within her told Anwen that her aunt would not physically harm her.
Princess Miera was too caught up in our own certainty and smugness to give Anwen any mind unless it was to taunt her in some way. Anwen did not like playing games and was secure in Maddoc’s love and their marriage. She let the woman talk, only throwing her own words back when she could hold out no more. She believed Princess Meira was starting to see that she could not be bothered by her words or presence as Anwen had not seen the princess in over a day.
Her cousin, Gwendolyn, barely spoke or looked at Anwen. Whenever Anwen saw her, her cousin looked nothing like her usual self. Normally Gwendolyn was so perfectly attired and groomed, but now she wore simple gowns and her hair down. Her eyes often appeared red as though she had been crying. Anwen wished she would speak with her to know what was going on in her cousin’s head.
The only thing or person she feared in the palace in some small way was Prince Korben. It was because he seemed half out of his mind most of the time. He called her to the palace study regularly to speak with her. She had no idea what to expect the first night, and no matter how she thought it would go, it was nothing like what actually transpired.
He spoke to her about their upcoming wedding as if it were some settled thing. He only needed to convince the place temple priests to let it go forward. She tried to reason with him and let him know it was impossible, but he ignored her words. They spoke of her condition, and he reassured her he would raise the child as his own. When she let him know that would never happen, he ignored her again. In the end, she just let him talk while she sat and watched him pace around the room. He eventually dismissed her to go to her room, surprising her by telling her she could roam around the palace as she saw fit, even amongst the courtyards as long as she did not leave the palace walls.
It was more than she expected, and she took every opportunity to walk around the Grand Palace. Sometimes she walked with Mrs. Owens, and they would speak of any rumors the old woman had heard amongst the servants or in town. Walking with the woman one day after breakfast, Mrs. Owens looked down the hall before grabbing Anwen’s hand and leading her to a nearby courtyard.
She took Anwen to the large tree there before bringing her in close. “My queen, I believe I have a way for you to escape the palace.”
“What do you mean?” asked Anwen.
“I have spoken at length with a young steward of Lord Fenner. He has an estate just outside of Quinlan. It is not overly large, but it is comfortable. It sounds rather macabre, but they have several old underground tombs. You can hide there should the guards look for you. You can stay until Lord Fenner leaves for the south of the kingdom in two or three days, whenever he can arrange it. Then he can sneak you away with him.”
“How would you get me out of the palace? There are guards at every door. I believe many patrol the palace grounds.”
“You are allowed to go to the library, aren’t you?” Anwen nodded. “I doubt Prince Korben knows it or even our king, but behind the shelf in the furthest lefthand corner, there is a door only certain servants use. It leads to a long hallway that ends in a door to the servants’ courtyard of the palace. Once there, all we have to do is watch for the guards to pass and maybe have you wear a hood. Lord Fenner’s man will be there waiting.”
Anwen walked a way few paces, considering if this was something she should try. It would be nice to escape the palace, but what would happen if she was caught? There were others to think about as well. Gwendolyn did not seem well, and she wanted to find out why. Lachlan was being held somewhere in the palace, and it wouldn’t surprise her if he were killed when she disappeared.
She turned and looked at Mrs. Owens. “I thank you for the trouble you have gone to, but I will not be escaping the palace. If I leave, I am afraid they will harm Lachlan and perhaps kill him. I am also worried about my cousin. She does not seem well.”
“You are worried about the man who hurt you and almost killed you? Your cousin caused her own misfortunes, I believe.”
“They both made mistakes as we all do, but I do not believe that means I can just abandon them. Besides, why should I run from a place that should be my home? I am the Queen of Calumbria, and I belong in the Grand Place of Quinlan. I will await my husband and king as I do all I can to prepare for his return.”
Mrs. Ownes took her hand. “I just worry about what the prince may do to you. You must have noticed that he is not acting normally.”
“I am not helpless, Mrs. Owens. I am trying to be cautious because of my child, but I can still take care of myself. I have been afraid to use my power to protect myself and fight back, but I might have been mistaken. I don’t believe this life-giving power inside me would ever harm the life I have living within me. If it comes down to it, I am very able to fight for myself and protect my child.”
“If you change your mind, we can find a way to get you away from her, my queen, but I admire you choosing to stay. You are right in this is your home. You have more right to this place than anyone else who is staying here. I may have to hear Prince Korben’s commands, but it is you who I really serve. I know most if not all the servants feel the same.”
“I want you all to stay safe, so do what you must to keep the peace as we wait for our king. When you can see what news you can hear out in town. Maddoc should be striking soon, I believe, and I would like to know if we can get any information. We can have the palace staff ready to do what they can to help.”
“There is much we can do to help the king reclaim his throne. We know this place better than anyone, and the prince will find just how much he depends on those he so easily dismisses.”
Anwen smiled. “We have a lot of work to do, Mrs. Owens, and we should both see to it. I am going to try to find my cousin.”
She entered the palace and walked towards the parlor she sometimes saw Gwendolyn sitting in, but before she could get that far, she met Prince Korben walking down the hall.
She stopped and gave a quick curtsey as he slowed to stand in front of her.
“My princess, I feel as though you have been avoiding me. I went to your room to see if you would walk with me, but you were already up and about.”
“I felt like a bit of fresh air, your highness, so I walked to a nearby courtyard.”
He looked at her for a moment. “I know it must be terrible to be cooped up in this place with such fine weather. I believe you always enjoyed being outside and even riding.”
Anwen nodded. “I usually spend the majority of summer outside.”
“Well, soon, when you are secure as my bride, you can spend as much time as you like in the woods nearby. Your horse is still here, of course, and I have asked that she received the very best care,” said Prince Korben. “I will see that the horse comes with us on our wedding journey. You can ride for a few weeks yet, if you are careful.”
“I appreciate all you have done to see to the care of my horse,” said Anwen carefully, “But there can be no wedding journey as I am already happily married, your highness. We have spoken of this at length.”
Prince Korben looked around before staring at Anwen. “Walk with me, my princess. We need to discuss many things, and I would not like to do it out in the open. There is a nice parlor up ahead that will do.”
Anwen thought she had little choice in the matter, so she nodded and fell into step next to him. They went silently to a room not far up the hall. Prince Korben opened the door, and Anwen walked in. He moved the door, so it was mostly closed, but Anwen could see he left it open just a bit.
“You can sit if you like,” said Prince Korben as he walked towards her.
“I would like to stand if you will allow it.” Anwen crossed her arms and kept her back to the fireplace.
“Do as you wish.” He paced for a moment before stopping in front of her. “Your aunt and I have spoken with a couple of the temple priests the past few days. They are reluctant to invalidate the rumor of your marriage until they speak with you and the king.”
“I will speak with them at any time, but you will not like what I have to say,” said Anwen. “I am very secure in my marriage to Maddoc. It was done by a legitimate priest and recorded. I am sure the priest would be happy to send a letter testifying to all I say.”
“We have sent out inquires to the priest but have not yet received an answer.” Prince Korben stepped closer to her, and Anwen backed up a step. “Princess Anwen, you must see that you cannot go on with the idea that you and my nephew are married. It will not be good for the kingdom as I have long told you.”
“How is it not good for the kingdom, your highness? I have met with and been accepted by many of your high lords. Those who you hold under your influence are committing treason by not supporting their king. I believe the king and I have more support in this kingdom and land than you can come up with.”
“And even with your support, what will it lead to?” asked Prince Korben. “If your king comes with his forces, and I meet him with mine, what do you think will happen? Do you really want battles to be fought over this, princess? Do you want others to suffer and die?”
She unfolded her arms. “I do not wish anyone to die, but if I give in to what you are saying, the long-term suffering and deaths will outdo anything that might happen by saving this kingdom from you and my aunt.”
“You do not trust me to led Calumbria?” asked Prince Korben.
“I do not. I believe you do not care about the welfare of Calumbria’s people. I think you will do what you will to gain more and more power for yourself, not caring who you hurt. As you ignore the common folk and lesser lords, the land will suffer to where we are surrounded by death and misery.”
Prince Korben shook his head. “You are young and do not understand how things work. You will see you are wrong, and if you are my wife, I will forgive you for the words you just spoke.”
“Then I am afraid you will never forgive me as I will never be your wife.”
Prince Korben moved stepped towards her. “Why are you opposed to being my wife, Anwen? Is it only because of your attachment to Maddoc? I can make sure he isn’t an option for you even if he won’t marry Princess Meira.”
Anwen did not step back, angered by the implication that Prince Korben would kill Maddoc. “Even if Maddoc were not an option, I would never agree to be your wife. Everything about who you are repulses me. You are selfish and uncaring towards anyone you see as beneath you. Your nephew, the true king, is everything you are not.”
Prince Korben reached out and grabbed her, pulling her close. “You will change your mind soon, Anwen. Once you see how things have to be, you will come to me willingly. Even if you don’t, I can have you whenever I want. He ran the back of his free hand down her cheek. “Who will stop me?”
He bent down as if to kiss her, and Anwen felt her blood run cold as real fear enveloped her. She was stupid to say all her feelings to him and anger him, and now she would pay the price. She closed her eyes and tried to pull away as he came closer and closer. Before he could go any further, the door opened fully, causing Anwen’s eyes to fly open.
“I am not sure this is appropriate behavior even if you are betrothed,” said Princess Roslyn as she walked in. “Prince Korben, you are needed down in the council meeting room. Several of your lords are waiting.”
Prince Korben looked annoyed as he kept his hand on Anwen. “Go down there and tell them to keep waiting. I have not got to spend much time with my betrothed and would like to finish what we started.”
Anwen’s aunt walked closer and put her hand on the prince’s arm. “You will go down now and speak with your lords. After it is over, you and I will talk, and I am sure I can subdue any urgent feelings you might think my niece needs to see to.”
Prince Korben let go of Anwen as his eyes became unfocused. He stepped back and shook his head. “I am sorry, Princess Anwen, must I must see to the kingdom and the lords. I hope you will excuse me.”
She nodded as he let her go and left the room.
“Anwen, what were you thinking coming in here with the prince? Unless you have come around and wanted to secure his attachment to you?”
Anwen shook her head and turned away. “He asked me to come here. I don’t think I am in much of a position to refute him.”
“Your mother did not do a good job teaching you how to handle men, it seems. There are ways to deflect men when you do not want their attention. I can teach you if you would like. It will be helpful when you do marry the prince. I can show you how to keep him away from the marriage bed for much of the time if you find his presence odious.”
Anwen turned and looked at her aunt. “I want no lessons from you, and I will need none. I will never marry that man as it is impossible.”
“Calm down, Anwen. It is not good for your child to be so worked up. What were you even doing down this hallway in the first place?”
“I wished for fresh air and favor the courtyard not far from here. I like sitting by the large tree.”
“I hope you were not out long. It is very hot this time of year, and I am sure it could cause you more sickness.”
Anwen looked at her aunt for a moment wondering why the woman would care about her health at all. “It is not so hot this time of day, and I like being outside. Surely you remember that about me. You always worried about my skin being in the sun.”
“And that father of yours would let you stay out all day if I didn’t convince your mother otherwise. He spoiled you terribly.”
Anwen blew out a loud breath in annoyance. “Is there something you wanted? Were you looking for me?”
“How are you feeling? Have you had any more sickness?” asked their aunt as she walked closer to Anwen.
“Not too bad. I feel a little ill in the mornings, but I am much better as soon as I drink that tea you send and eat a bit. I find I need a nap or two sometimes in the afternoons, but that is all.”
“You will feel better the further you go along. I hate that your wedding journey with Prince Korben will be affected, but by the time you return, you should feel much better.”
“Aunt Roslyn, must we keep up this false narrative? I will not marry Prince Korben as I cannot.”
Her aunt looked out the open door before closing it. “You should not say such things out in the open. It will do you no good to resist what has to be, Anwen. Why would you not wish to be married to the prince?”
“Because I am already married to the man I love. I am carrying his child, and there is nothing that could convince me to betray him and be with another.”
“What about if you could spare your precious king’s life?” asked her aunt.
“What do you mean?”
“Sit down for a moment, and we shall speak about it. You shouldn’t spend so much time on your feet in your condition.”
Anwen stayed where she was. “My feet are fine. Now tell me what you mean about sparing Maddoc’s life.”
“The Parvilian lord is very angry with the king after what has happened to Princess Meira. He is demanding that King Maddoc marry her. If he will not, there can be only one solution. He will duel for her honor.”
“So, what if he does? Maddoc is excellent with a sword. He will not want to kill anyone, but he will do what he must to ensure he is alive for our child and me.”
“You do not know how skilled Lord Gavin is, Anwen. He has long been known for his skills with a sword. I would not be so sure the king would win.”
“It will not come to it. Do you think Maddoc will just walk into the palace and want a simple conversation? He will come with a force prepared to take the palace. Lord Gavin is accused of treason by Maddoc and King Brone. He will not be able to demand anything once he is under lock in key awaiting justice.”
“Anwen, dear, if you king comes to take this palace by force, what do you think that means for you? Prince Korben wishes to be wed to you, but it is not a requirement for him. He will do away with you if he must to gain what he ultimately wants, which is control of Calumbria.”
“And you are helping him do this? You want some kind of power so badly; you would risk my life? I know you have never liked me much, but we are still family. Surely as a Lucidalan, that means something to you.”
“Why would it? What has being a part of your family done for me? Your mother ignored me after she met your father. When my husband left me alone, and with child, Eira barely had time to comfort me since she had just married. She barely cut her wedding tour short. All she did was try to charm me in some way.”
“She was trying to provide you with comfort, I am sure.”
“I didn’t want her comfort or pity. I wanted her to use her power to make him come back. I tried to control him myself, but once I was with child, it became harder. He left as soon as he broke the hold I had over him.”
Anwen unfolded the arms over her chest. “You charmed your husband into being with you? You used your mind control gift?”
“I used other allurements to draw him in, but to keep him, I used a bit of my power. Of course, it wasn’t strong enough then to keep him satisfied and happy. If only my power were as strong as it is now.”
“Has your power grown recently?”
“It has, though I don’t know why.” She stared at Anwen for a moment. “Eira’s has grown as well, has it? I wonder what the cause is.”
Anwen had an idea, but she tried to keep it out of her mind. For some reason, she didn’t want her aunt to know much about her and Maddoc and their shared powers. Her aunt must have already known something was happening with Maddoc and his Gift, but Anwen would not volunteer additional information to her.
“Your mother’s Gift has always been strong. I can’t imagine what she could do with it now. I shall have to make sure the prince knows.”
Her aunt started for the door when Anwen asked, “Have you been playing with the Prince’s mind? Have you controlled him in some way?”
Her aunt stopped and turned to look at Anwen. “At first, I only needed by natural allurements to draw him in, but lately, it has been different. Prince Korben was making several mistakes. He has no idea how to run a kingdom. He also had ideas towards Gwendolyn. I could not convince her to warm to him, so I got him to leave her alone. I also strengthen the idea of you to him. He has always been somewhat fascinated with you; I just helped the idea along. If you marry him, it will keep you safe, and that is the best I can do for you.”
“You have gone too far with him, I think. He appears half-mad.”
Her aunt shrugged. “He will be fine if you do your part. Once he is safely married to you, I can let some of my control go. You will stay in Quinlan with him, and I can convince Eira to make Gwendolyn her heir. I will find Gwendolyn a husband that will stick by her, and your king will be safe in Parvilia. I can convince him he is happy with Meira for a time if you like. It could be easier on him if he believes her child is his. It wouldn’t take much. Just a simple suggestion from me.”
Anwen felt her power surge, and her aunt was pushed against the wall. “You will do nothing to Maddoc. If I see you so much as try to manipulate his mind, I will let my Gift have its way with you. I do not wish to harm you, aunt, but nothing comes before him to me.”
Her aunt pushed off from the wall. She moved towards Anwen slowly. “You shouldn’t push yourself so hard, Anwen. A use of power like that must make you so tired, and it cannot be good for your child. In fact, I believe you could use a nap right now.”
Anwen felt her eyes grow heavy and her head foggy. She also felt her Gift react to her aunt’s use of power. It covered her completely, helping to clear her mind.
“You should go to your room, Anwen. I think you should sleep there the rest of the day.”
Anwen shook her head. “I will not let myself be charmed by you anymore. I will trust my gift and myself to know my limits.” She walked past her aunt. “I hope you know your limits as well, Aunt Roslyn, because I see nothing but pain and ruin for you and the prince should you go forward with this. You shouldn’t let your past doom you to ruin. I hope you will think about what you have done and find a way to change what I am afraid your short future might be.”
Whatever her aunt might have said in response, Anwen did not hear. She walked swiftly from the room. She needed to find Mrs. Owens. Perhaps she wouldn’t leave the palace that instant, but that did not mean she had to stay there and become some pawn for her aunt and the prince.
She found Mrs. Owens on her way as she moved towards the entry hall. They found a small courtyard nearby, and Anwen quickly took her over to the sidewall. She explained to Mrs. Owens all she needed from her, including any information she could get on when Maddoc would be entering Quinlan. Once they knew when he would come, Anwen would be amendable to leaving the palace if it could be arranged. Mrs. Owens assured her it could be done and would contact all she could as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Owens nodded and moved to leave the courtyard as Anwen saw movement out of the corner of her eyes. She grabbed Mrs. Owens’s arm to stop her, and they both turned to see Gwendolyn come out behind a tree at the back of the courtyard. She walked towards them as Anwen cursed her carelessness. She had always checked the areas she spoke with Mrs. Owens, but she had been so anxious to speak with the woman, she had forgotten to do so.
“You have interesting conversations with servants, cousin,” said Gwendolyn as she neared Anwen.
“Gwendolyn, before you run and tell your mother, you must realize what she is doing is wrong. Trying to tie me to the prince and Princess Meira to King Maddoc will do nothing but harm the land. I know you wish to rule Lucidala, but if all goes as your mother wishes, there might not be a Lucidala left to rule.”
“Anwen, I have no cares about what my mother is doing. I lost interest in any of her plans long ago, especially after she tried to convince me to marry Prince Korben.” Gwendolyn looked down and swallowed. “I am also plagued by visions. My Gift has never been very strong, but lately, it feels like I spend half my day lost in some daze seeing possible futures. What I have seen haunts me.”
“What have you seen?”
“So many different things that I can’t begin to tell you all. I see you with a child, sometimes with your king, sometimes without. Other times I see King Maddoc alone. I have seen flashes of the land in a desolate state and suffering you can’t even imagine.” Tears came to her eyes. “I have seen my mother kill the man I love while making me watch, and I have seen her die by the prince’s hand.”
“What you have seen isn’t set in stone, Gwendolyn,” said Anwen as she took her cousin’s hand. “We can change the future by our actions in the present. I am sure there are also ways to learn to control your Gift so it does not haunt you. I have had to work to keep mine in check at times. Maybe I could help you.”
“Why would you want to help me, Anwen? You know what I have done. I know you do. I have seen futures where I am gone, and you do not seem to grieve me.”
“You have misinterpreted that vision then because I grieve any life lost. It is who I am and part of my Gift. I would grieve your loss more so because no matter what has happened between us, you are my family. We share the same blood and experiences. Now, let me help you in some way, but please do not tell your mother what I have planned.”
“I will not speak to my mother. She barely listens to me at this point anyway, saying she has had enough of my warnings. I told her of you being with child in hopes she would know I was telling the truth, but she still ignores me.” Gwendolyn wiped a tear from her cheek. “If you want to help ease my burden, there is one thing you could do, but you will find it silly.”
“What is it?” asked Anwen.
Gwendolyn turned to Mrs. Owens. “Mrs. Owens, you seem to have an enormous amount of knowledge about this palace. Is there any way you could get me safely into the cells below?”
“The cells below?” asked Anwen. She cocked her head. “You wish to see Lachlan? He is the man you spoke of in your visions. You still love him.”
Gwendolyn nodded. “I know what I did to him was wrong, but I have loved him my whole life, I think. I tried and tried to get him to notice me for many years, and then he turned to you. I couldn’t understand why. I thought if I just let him see how happy he would be with me, he would forget about you. It was stupid. I know it now. He could never feel for me what he does for you.”
Anwen squeezed her cousin’s hand. She had no idea Gwendolyn felt so deeply for Lachlan. She thought all her feelings had to do with jealousy and power. She thought Gwendolyn only wanted Lachlan because he wanted Anwen and would be the highest lord in Lucidala. She didn’t know Gwendolyn cared for him.
“What Lachlan and I shared is gone, Gwendolyn. I still can’t help but care about what happens to him, but there is no love. I don’t believe he even loves me, not in the way he did. He is different now, broken somehow and trying to figure out how to put himself back together. You might have that in common.”
“I just want to see that he is well. I just need to talk to him, one more time, to apologize and try to explain myself. I know this is not your burden, but I am at a loss of what to do.”
Anwen turned to Mrs. Owens. “Can you make this happen? Can you get Princess Gwendolyn and me into the cells?”
Mrs. Owens raised her eyebrows. “I do not think it is wise for you, my queen. If you are caught down there, I am afraid of what the prince might do to you.”
“I know it might not be wise, but I still wish to know if it is possible,” said Anwen.
Mrs. Owens stared at her in silence for a moment. “It might be. It will take some time to arrange. I will have to determine which guards still serve the rightful king and when they might be on duty. I can work on it and let you know when I can.”
“Please do it,” said Anwen. She looked at her cousin. “If it can be done, I will go with you and make sure you say all you need to say to Lachlan. If there is a way to release him, we will see to that as well. We can all three leave this place. I will try to get him to go, but he may not want to run, and you will have to accept it.”
“I am not sure I want to run either,” said Gwendolyn. “Anywhere I go, my visions will follow me. I just need to speak with him and see him.”
Anwen nodded. “Then I will do all I can to see that you do.”