The Queen's Command

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Chapter 28

The library was dark and cool, and Anwen thought it would have been a perfect place to have a nap on a normal day. There was no time for rest, though. She looked back down at the large book in front of her, drawn to it for some reason. Her sleep recently had been filled with vivid dreams. They were visions filled with Maddoc and the gods of her kingdom as well as Calumbria’s.

She couldn’t remember much of her dreams, only impressions. She felt a sense of urgency from the three gods of her kingdom. She had a feeling they were trying to tell her something. She felt at first examined by the gods of Calumbria the first few nights she had dreamed, but lately, it had changed. Now she had the sense they were leading her somewhere. In her dream from the night before, she walked with Maddoc, holding his hand as they followed the Calumbrian goddess, Alyvian, through the palace.

Though Anwen couldn’t recall seeing the goddess’s face in her dreams, she knew it was Alyvian. The same goddess was worshipped in the temple, Maddoc took her to when she first came to Quinlan. As they followed Alyvian through the halls, the goddess would often look back to make sure they were coming, but a bright light hid her face. She stopped before two doors and turned back to them, holding out a large book. Just as Anwen took it, she woke up.

After eating a quick breakfast and ignoring Princess Meira in the hall, Anwen went directly to the library, searching through the books. She finally found what she believed she was looking for as a dusty, dark tome seemed to call to her. Anwen took the book to a table and opened it, starting at the beginning. She read for hours, undisturbed. What she found in the book were stories of Calumbria’s gods. She had read some of them when she read about the gods in Elias’s summer manor’s library, but there were so many she had never heard.

She had no idea what she was looking for, but she felt as though she was getting closer and closer as she read. It was almost as if Alyvian was whispering in her ear, telling her to go on. She had just come to a story about an old injured man not able to find help when the door to the library opened, and Mrs. Owens walked in with a tray.

“I was told you were in here, and I knew you had not eaten lunch yet. The prince wondered why you were not at the table, but Princess Gwendolyn told him you were taking a rest in your room.” Mrs. Owens put the tray in front of the book she was reading. “Have you been reading from the Gods’ Reflection all morning?”

“Is that what this is called?” asked Anwen as she looked at the book.

“It is an ancient book of stories that are supposed to teach us about our place in this kingdom and land. Each story reveals something about the gods and ourselves. Have you ever read it before?”

“I have not. I have seen a few of these stories in other books, but not many of them.”

“It is no wonder,” said Mrs. Owens. “There aren’t very many copies of this book anywhere. A few lords may have a copy. This one was given to a king many years ago. What is thought to be the original is in the palace temple.”

“I have never seen the temple of the palace. Where is it located?”

“Just behind the throne room. You have to go through the throne room and around the dais,” answered Mrs. Owens. “Would you like to see it?”

Anwen nodded. “I would, but I would like to eat first.”

“I will wait and take you there myself. Prince Korben just went into a meeting with a few lords, and your aunt accompanied them. I believe they will be busy for a while as the lords did not look happy, and the parvilian lord went in with them as well.”

After eating her lunch, she followed Mrs. Owens to the throne room. A few guards eyed them but did not question or bother them in any way. As they entered the throne room, Anwen looked at the portrait of the summer palace, hoping one day she would visit it again with Maddoc under better circumstances. When her eyes beheld the throne, she felt her cheeks go warm, remembering what she and Maddoc did together back during the Winter Festival. She smiled as she continued to look at it, not ashamed of what they had done. It did make the ache she felt for her husband grow, and she hoped she would see him soon.

Walking around the dais, they came to a large set of double wooden doors that looked familiar to Anwen. She realized they were the same doors from her dream the night before. She stepped in front of Mrs. Owens and opened them without a word to find herself in a large, circular room.

The ceiling was high, and there was a large stained glass window on one side. Benches curved around the room on the ground floor, and she could see another floor above her that held more benches and many chairs. In front of the stained glass window was a small raised area that held a long table with two candles. In between the candles was a book covered in a class case.

“Is that the book, Mrs. Owens?” asked Anwen in a whisper as she nodded towards the book in the case.

“It is, your majesty.”

“Would you leave me here for a while? I feel a need to stay and reflect. Come find me before supper to make sure I have left.”

Mrs. Owens paused as she stood next to her. “Are you well, my queen?”

Anwen nodded. “I am very well, Mrs. Owens. I just feel as if I should be alone for a while. I hope you will understand it.”

“Of course, Queen Anwen. If you do need me for anything, I will be somewhere on the first floor of the palace. Find a servant to fetch me if you wish.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Owens; you are invaluable to me,” said Anwen as she glanced at the woman.

“I am happy to serve you, my queen.” Mrs. Owens turned and left the room, closing the doors behind her.

Anwen walked slowly to the table that held the book. She looked up at the stained glass to see it was an image of three people, two men, and a woman. Her eyes went to the woman who she recognized as Alyvian.

“What is it you want from me?” whispered Anwen before she looked down at the glass case that held the book.

The book looked unbelievably old. It was large with a black cover. She could tell it once held some silver writing on it, but it was so faded, she couldn’t make it out. Without another thought, she picked up the glass case and moved it aside. She knew she shouldn’t touch such an old book, but she couldn’t help it. Her hands skimmed over the dark cover before she carefully opened it. From out of nowhere, a stiff wind blew all around her. The pages of the book ruffled open as Anwen took a step back.

The wind left as quickly as it came, and Anwen moved back to the book, looking down at it. She found it was open to the same story she was about to read in the library. Transfixed, she read the words on the page, turning the thin pages gently as she read through each one.

The story of the injured old men was set in a small village. The man first went to the town leader, a young man with a beautiful wife. The ugliness of the old man so repulsed the wife that the leader threw him out in less than a minute. Next, the old man went to the village’s healer, but the healer was so busy tending to a rich man’s daughter that he had no time for the old man.

The man went to many different people in the village, finding no help from anyone. All were either too busy or too repulsed by his old, wrinkled face. The man grew hopeless as he came to a run-down cottage at the end of the village. He knocked on the door, knowing he would soon die if he did not get help. The door was opened by a lovely young woman who took pity on him. She had no training as a healer but did what she could for the old man.

She brought him into her small home and washed his wounds. She wrapped them up and had him lay in her bed. Her husband came home from hunting in the woods and saw what she had done. He quickly made a meal of the meager fruits of his hunt, making sure the injured old man had as much as he liked of the simple stew that was made.

The couple nursed the man for days, taking turns sitting with him during the nights and redressing his bandages regularly. Finally, the man was well enough to leave their care. They prepared to see him off from the village one morning as they walked with him to the forest nearby. Before he entered the trees, the old man transformed into the three gods of Calumbria. The man and woman immediately fell to their knees, feeling not worthy of being in the presence of the gods.

The gods declared they were worthy and needed by the gods and Calumbria. They were given jobs as helpers of the gods and overseers of the kingdom. The gods raised the couple up, building them a large village to see over. The couple gained land and riches but stayed humbled doing as the gods wanted. Because of the goodness of the couple, the gods blessed Calumbria and saw it prosper, helping to dispel disease and causing crops to grow numerous and healthy.

The story ended with the man and woman eventually dying and joining the gods as their helpers.

Anwen looked up from the book and at Alyvian. “Simple people who took the time to show kindness. They had no special powers or riches. They gave their time to an old man in need, and it changed the land,” said Anwen out loud. “As people ignore each other, the kingdom and land suffer. I have seen how your kingdom is suffering now. I want to help it, but I am not sure where to start.”

She heard a whisper in her ear. “Just be willing and trust in what you know is right.”

Anwen nodded as she felt exhaustion overtake her. She walked back to a nearby bench and lay on its hard surface. Placing her hands under her head, she fell into a deep, restful sleep. Not knowing how much time had passed, she was woken up later by Mrs. Owens.

“It is time, my queen. I have arranged for you and Princess Gwendolyn to see the young man in the cells, but you must come now.”

Anwen sat up and stretched. “It is time to see Lachlan?”

“Everything has been arranged for you, but you must come now.”

Anwen stood up and nodded. “Lead the way, Mrs. Owens. I am ready to do all that is necessary.”

Anwen tried not to yawn as they moved through the palace during the late afternoon. Her aunt was still meeting with the prince, and she was walking with Gwendolyn as a large palace guard led them around. Anwen was assured the guard was on the side of the king. He and a few others had stayed in the palace under Matthias’s direction to keep an eye on things. Since a guard escorted them, no one paid them much mind, even other guards walking through.

They went down to the first floor and towards the dining parlor before turning off a narrow hallway to an old wooden door that the guard stopped and lightly knocked on it. It was opened swiftly by a familiar face.

“Evan,” said Anwen as she walked into the hallway that led to the kitchen. “I wondered what had happened to you.”

“I don’t have much to do these days with my king gone. I have been demoted to helping in the kitchen and lighting fires in out-of-the-way places,” replied Evan as he shut the door behind Gwendolyn.

“You could have left,” said Anwen.

“This is my home and the place my king belongs. I stay here and wait to serve him again. You as well, my queen,” he replied with a short bow. The guard cleared his throat. “We don’t have much time. Both of you should come in here and change. I have managed to provide you with some clothes to hide your appearance, though they aren’t what you are used to.”

“You wish us to change?” asked Anwen.

Gwendolyn gasped. “It is time, then?”

Anwen looked at her cousin. “Time for what?”

“The king is coming home, your majesty,” said Evan. “If reports are true, he will be here sometime tomorrow. It is said he has a force formed like the land has never seen.”

“My aunt must know. It must be why she is meeting with Prince Korben,” noted Anwen. She looked out of the corner of her eye at Gwendolyn. “Did you talk to your mother of this?”

“Of course not,” said Gwendolyn sounding offended. “I told you I hardly even speak with her. What even would I tell her? Your king’s coming was assumed, and I have seen him arrived in several different ways in several different times with too many outcomes to count. The future changes as all of us decide our ways.”

“You will need to change quickly if you don’t want to miss your chance to speak with the young man in the cells,” said Evan as he opened a door that led to a pantry.

There was a square table in the room on which two piles of clothes laid. Anwen and Gwendolyn walked in, and Evan closed the door behind him.

“How do we choose which clothes are meant for whom?” asked Gwendolyn.

Anwen spotted a familiar shirt on top of one pile of clothes with a rope belt upon it. She picked up the blue shirt with the king’s standard on the front. “I believe this one is mine, and that one is yours. I will help you dress, and then you can help me.”

Gwendolyn nodded and turned so Anwen could untie her dress. Gwendolyn picked up the pants in front of her. “I’ve never worn anything like this in my life.”

“They are very freeing in many ways. I always wear a pair of pants when I travel. Sitting astride on a horse is much easier and more comfortable than side-saddle.” Anwen smiled. “Just slip them on and tie the front.”

Gwendolyn slipped them on under her shift and clumsily tied them. She turned from Anwen and took off her underclothes before picking up the green tunic from the table. She pulled it over her head and turned to face Anwen.

“After you untie my dress, braid your hair and tuck it under your shirt before you put on that cloak.”

Gwendolyn untied Anwen’s gown. Anwen slipped it off, putting on the pair of pants she had left in the palace from her time there during the Winter Festival. She pulled Maddoc’s tunic over her head and used the rope belt to tie it up. Once she was dressed, she quickly braided her air and tucked it under her tunic before putting on the dark cloak on the table.

Gwendolyn was fully dressed with her hair tucked in neatly. She was wearing a gray cloak that was a little large for her frame but did a good job hiding her body. They both looked at each other and nodded before walking out of the small room. They followed the guard and Evan down a narrow hallway. Once they reached the end, Evan opened the door as the Guard lit a torch. Evan left them as they journeyed on with the guard down a set of stairs to another dark, narrow hallway that smelt musty and old.

They walked in silence, Anwen almost jogging to keep up with the guard and her cousin, who were much taller than her. They took long strides, and she struggled to keep close to them. She felt a little out of breath as they walked on, and her stomach became unsettled.

“Can we stop for just a moment?” she asked as she paused next to the wall and put her hand on it.

“Cousin, are you ill?” asked Gwendolyn as she turned with the guard to look at her. “Perhaps you coming with me was a bad idea. You should have waited back in the kitchens. We should turn back.”

Anwen shook her head. “I only need a minute. I did not eat well at lunch, and I should have known better. I was anxious, but it did me no favors to skip most of my meal.”

“How much further is it?” asked Gwendolyn to the guard.

“Not much, your highness. It is just ahead, but we must decide now if we will go. The guards who stand for our king will only be on duty for a short while. They managed to trade some time with other guards, but it will end soon.”

“We shall go on,” said Anwen as she pushed off the wall. “We have come this far, and I do not wish to leave Lachlan to the mercy of my aunt and Prince Korben if I am to leave today.”

They walked on at a slower pace as Gwendolyn kept by Anwen’s side. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but why do you still care about Lachlan at all? He was quite awful to you. I realize that much of it is my fault, but he went along with it.”

“There were moments where I thought it was best to leave him to his fate, but my nature and Gift will not let me do it. I cannot waste a life if it can be saved. Lachlan has done much lately to show he is repentant of what he has done. While I may never trust him fully again, I can show mercy and help him have a future. He is also connected to those I hold dear. The Dunnes have long been like family to me. I cannot stand to see them suffer by losing their son forever.”

“I am not sure I have ever understood you, Anwen. I have always found you so perplexing in your actions and words. The people you chose to spend your time with and how you chose to do it were so foreign to everything my mother had taught me. Your father tried to include me on some of your outings in the forest, but I was rather scared of being out in the middle of the dense trees. I also heard so many terrible things about your father from my mother that I now believe weren’t true. She wished for me to hate him. I think she might have wished for me to hate you as well.”

“I do not hate you, cousin,” said Anwen. “There were times I was very angry with you and thought some very uncharitable thoughts, but I don’t believe I ever hated you. Many times I believe I pitied you because no matter how much beauty and power you obtained, you never seemed happy.”

“I am not sure I ever have been happy, Anwen. I thought pleasing my mother would make me happy, but she has proven impossible to please. I thought having Lachlan would make me feel whole, but much of our relationship was false. I also felt some guilt for what I had done. I pushed it aside and covered it with snobbery and a quest for some kind of power, but it was always there.”

She sighed and glanced at Anwen. “I came across you crying once on the edge of the forest late last spring. I heard some of what you said to yourself about never being good enough, and I almost went to you. For a few moments, I wanted to confess all of it to you, but my selfish desires kicked in. I believe once you knew the truth, you would run back to Lachlan, and he would be happy to reunite with you. I knew I would have to face embarrassment and my mother’s scorn. I ran from you and let you cry and grieve. I tried to convince myself it was for the best, but there were many nights I stayed awake, seeing you broken and crying in my mind.”

Anwen closed her eyes for a brief moment and took a breath. “We cannot change the things that have been. You cannot go back and comfort me as you may have wished you had done. You cannot travel to that time when you first went to Lachlan at his cousin’s home. I am afraid we will always have that between us, but it does not have to keep us divided. Once we make it through the trials to come, I hope we can find some way to have a relationship in the future. We may never be as close as we could have, but we can still share the love of family.”

“If I have any future in this land after your mother is done with me, let alone your king. I imagine he will banish me if he can. I am not opposed to finding a way to bridge some of the gap between us. I know to fully close it is impossible.”

Anwen smiled a little. “I have long decided that many things are possible that we believed are not. No matter what, let us decide now to live in peace with one another. Neither of us shall ever have a sister or brother, and we are all that is left to carry on our family name. Mother will show you mercy, and I can handle Maddoc. Since he has discovered his Gift, he is much more prone to forgiveness.”

They came to a wooden door with rusted hinges. The guard knocked three times, and it was promptly open, revealing a guard on the other side. He bowed and stepped aside so Anwen and Gwendolyn could enter. They found themselves in a room with a stone floor. On each side were large iron bars from floor to ceiling. The room smelled of must, dirt, and human waste. Gwendolyn grabbed Anwen’s hand as they followed the guard in the room past the iron bars.

Anwen looked and could see some stone walls behind the iron bars, separating the area into small cells. She had once visited the cells beneath her own palace, but they were nothing like this. The Lucidian palace cells had small windows up high to let in light. They weren’t very large and were kept primarily clean. These cells were large and dark, with only a few torches along the walls to give any light.

The guard finally stopped in front of a cell close to another door that Anwen thought must open to some stairs that went up to the palace’s first floor. She stood in front of the cell with Gwendolyn at her side as the guard moved forward to unlock the cell.

“You don’t have very long. You will need to get out of here as quickly as you can.”

The guard swung the cell door open, and Anwen looked in with Gwendolyn at her back, looking over her.

“Lachlan?” said Anwen into the darkness.

She heard scuffling as though someone stood up from the stone floor. “Anwen, what are you doing here?” Lachlan came forward looking dirty and unkempt.

“Gwendolyn and I have come to get you out. We need to leave the palace as soon as possible. Maddoc will be here soon,” said Anwen as she glanced back at Gwendolyn.

“Gwendolyn?” said Lachlan uncertainly as he came close to Anwen. “You have brought Gwendolyn with you? Aren’t you afraid she won’t run to her mother at any moment?”

“I will not,” said Gwendolyn. “Even if I did, I doubt my mother would listen to me. She is not right, and I don’t believe she has been for a while. Whatever she is doing is wrong.”

Lachlan gave a small chuckle. “When have you ever cared if something is wrong, Gwendolyn?”

“About the same time as you, I imagine,” said Gwendolyn with a slight sneer. “I am not sure you are one to chastise me.”

“Perhaps, we should get going, and we can speak of this on the way or once we are safe,” said Anwen as she looked at the guard by the door.

“I am not sure I wish to go,” said Lachlan. “If you are truly going to escape, Anwen, the more people you have with you, the more chance you will be caught. You already have the burden of Gwendolyn, it seems. Dragging me alone will slow you down more.”

“I will not leave you here, knowing what they might do to you,” said Anwen. “I know Gwendolyn feels the same.”

“At this point, perhaps it would be best if I did just let them kill me,” said Lachlan. “I am sure I deserve it.”

“I suppose we shouldn’t expect better,” said Gwendolyn shaking her head. “You never were one for really trying.”

“You think I didn’t try with you?” asked Lachlan. “Once I realized I was trapped, I did what I could to find a way to endure you, let alone love you. I soon came to know it was impossible.”

“Some of you didn’t seem to mind,” said Gwendolyn, crossing her arms. “You didn’t object to coming to bed with me numerous times.”

Lachlan shook his head. “Did you come down here just to reprimand me, Gwendolyn? I don’t need you to make me feel fully ashamed. I have done nothing in here but have time for thinking over all I have done wrong.”

Gwendolyn sighed. “I did not come down here to hurt you. I suppose just seeing you brought up the anger I still feel for you. I know much of what happened was my fault, but I still feel betrayed by you in some way.”

“I am not sure it is betrayal by me that you feel. I blamed you for much of my troubles at first, but I soon realized it was I who caused my downfall. Perhaps you are feeling betrayed by yourself.”

Gwendolyn shrugged. “I don’t think I have ever really understood who I am. I only acted on getting what I thought I wanted. I wanted you for so long, Lachlan. I have always wanted your attention. Growing up, I did all I could to get you to notice me, only for you to fall for my little cousin eventually. I thought for sure; if I could just get you to notice me, all would be well. I would be happy just to have you.” She sniffled and looked down. “I thought I could make you happy as well.”

They were both quiet as Anwen looked at the guards. One was turned towards the door. He moved closer to it and turned back to the other guard with a panicked look.

Anwen lightly touched Gwendolyn’s arm. “I know there is more you wish to say to each other, but it cannot be done here. We all need to leave this place.”

Gwendolyn shook her head. “Perhaps Lachlan is right in that you should go alone, Anwen. I will slow you down, and I know Lachlan doesn’t want to put you in additional danger.”

“You cannot think I would leave either of you here knowing what could happen. We will leave together, or we will not leave at all. I will tell these guards to take us now, so they do not find trouble.”

“Anwen,” said Lachlan. “Sometimes one has to face what they have done. This end that is waiting for me is what I deserve.”

“No,” said Anwen adamantly. “Neither of you deserve as harsh of punishment as you would believe. What you deserve is facing what you have done and putting in the hard work to make it right.”

She looked at Lachlan. “You told Maddoc you would fight for him, and you swore to my mother you would fight for Lucidala. I will see that you keep both of those promises.”

Anwen pulled Gwendolyn so she would look at her. “I do not have much family in this world, Gwendolyn. As much as I know neither of us wants to think it, I don’t believe your mother will ever veer from this course she has set upon. One day you and I will have to carry on our family’s name. We are the only ones who can do it. You say you don’t know who you are, but I can tell you.

“You are Princess Gwendolyn of Lucidala. You are from a long line of fierce and wise women who have led a great kingdom for thousands of years. You were meant to be more than you are now, and I will help you see it. Now, you will face what you have done by going to your queen and asking for mercy.”

A pounding came to the door as the guards both looked at the heavy beam holding the door closed.

“We have to go now,” said Anwen urgently. “Please say you will both come. I know we can figure this all out together.”

Gwendolyn looked at Lachlan. “We cannot let her be taken because of us. I believe we have both done enough to harm her and our kingdom.”

Lachlan nodded. “I don’t wish to hurt you anymore either. Anwen is right in that she and Lucidala will need you. I cannot let either of you die here.”

Anwen smiled at both of them as there was a loud noise against the door. She turned to the guards who stepped back. The door was beginning to crack as the wooden beam across bulged.

“Your majesty, you must leave now. We can run back the way we came, and exit through the kitchens. I believe an escort is waiting to take you to Lord Fenner’s manor,” said the guard who had led them.

“We are ready,” said Anwen as she pulled up her hood. She held out her hand to Gwendolyn, who took it as Lachlan moved out from behind the cell. “Please show us the way.”

The guard nodded and took a torch from the wall. He started walking quickly as Anwen and the others followed. When they got to the end of the hall, she heard more loud noises against the door again and again. The guard started jogging, and Gwendolyn pulled Anwen along as Anwen struggled to keep up.

Anwen heard a noise that she knew was the door breaking down. As the guard opened the door in front of them, she heard shouting behind them. They hurried through the door as Anwen could hear the sound of others running after them. Knowing they could very well be caught, Anwen turned as they closed the door. She threw up her hands and closed her eyes. The power of her Gift swelled inside of her as she asked it to keep those around her safe.

She spread her fingers and opened her eyes, and a bright light erupted from around her. The wall above the door caved in, and she could hear screams from the other side. She turned and looked at the others, feeling her legs shake. Breathing hard, she felt suddenly exhausted. She stumbled forward, knowing she was going to fall. Before she hit the floor, someone caught her and picked her up. As she drifted off, she realized she was being carried through the long, dark hallway.

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