The Queen's Command

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Chapter 29

The ride to Quinlan took much too long, but with such a large party, it could not be helped. Maddoc led the way with Elias, Prince Rillian, and Brennan. Queen Eira joined them often on her horse. Maddoc had tried to have her wait back in Lucidala, but she would not hear it. She wanted to fight to save her daughter and the land. She also wanted to face her sister.

Elias, Prince Rillian, and Brennan were the perfect riding mates for Maddoc. They provided a distraction as they easily conversed back and forth but required little input from Maddoc. He was in no mood to carefully attend to a conversation, but silence would have driven him mad. He listened off and on as they spoke of many things, including their kingdoms, others they all three knew, and of course, Anwen. Maddoc knew all three loved her in some way. To Brennan, she was like a sister, and to Rillian and Elias, a trusted friend.

As close as these men were to Anwen, he doubted either of them could ever feel as deeply as he did for her. Almost every thought he had was of her in some way. He dreamed of her when he managed to find sleep on their journey. He felt wrong without her near him. As they rode, he saw some farmers tending to their fields, and it made him think of the harvest season to come. It would be autumn in a few months, and it would mark one year since he had met Anwen. It seemed impossible that he had known her for so little time when he felt as if his whole life was hers.

He realized it was because before he met her, he barely knew who he even was. He knew as he slept with different women and drank with friends, who he was meant to be was hidden somewhere inside of him. Occasionally it would come forth and whisper to him that he was wasting his life, but usually, he was quick to tuck it back away. When he met Anwen, it all changed. Hearing her speak of how much she loved her kingdom and the responsibility she happily took on for it made him want to do better. At first, he tried to resist that want, but it grew just as his love for Anwen grew. Now, the king he had become was tied to her so that it could not be undone. To rule Calumbria, he had to have his queen by his side.

“Are you alright, your majesty?” asked Rillian as they neared the middle of the third day of riding. “You haven’t said much today.”

“I have been lost in my thoughts. I am as well as I can be. It is hard to attend to anything when almost everything I hold dear is in danger.”

“I know you are scared and worried. I am as well, but I do not know a stronger person than your queen. She is brilliant.” Rillian looked away for a moment. “I believe there is a matter of her protecting your child as well.”

Maddoc nodded. “I suppose Brennan told you.”

“He told me before we left the Dunne Estate. I can’t imagine how you must feel.”

“She didn’t even have a chance to tell me. If I had known, I never would have let her out of my sight. I can’t believe I did in the first place,” said Maddoc.

“You know you can’t be with her every second of every day. You both have duties to attend to and others you must spend time with. I hope you are not blaming yourself for any of this.”

Elias rolled his eyes. “You know he is putting plenty of blame on himself though we all told him it was nonsense.”

Brennan nodded his head. “Perhaps he blames me as well since he was out riding with me when the even took place.”

“I do not blame you,” said Maddoc. “I have worked to not worry about who is to blame beyond Princess Roslyn and my uncle. It does no good to wallow in guilt and what might have been. I can only move forward.”

“That is true,” said Prince Rillian. “It won’t be long now, and you will have her back with you. I imagine you will pester the woman to death as you shadow her, but I am sure she will secretly enjoy you being so close to her.”

Maddoc grinned. “I will let her scold me all she wants and take it gladly. I would do anything to hear one of her passionate rants on how I need to act as king.”

“And soon you will hear them on being a father as well,” laughed Elias. “Do you look forward to it, your majesty?”

“Being a father?” asked Maddoc, and Elias nodded. “I had not given it too much thought until I heard Anwen was with child. For now, mostly, I just want Anwen back by my side safe. Then I will worry about her until she has safely delivered our child, but what little I have thought about it, I think I will enjoy it very much. I am sure I will mess up plenty, but I look very forward to finding my way through it.”

“I am glad you are going first,” said Brennan. “You can teach the rest of us when our time comes.”

Maddoc grinned as Brennan and Elias laughed, and Rillian looked away. “I will make sure you and your lady have plenty of practice, Brennan, and you as well, Elias. There will still be times I will want time with my queen alone.”

“What are you men up here so jovial about?” asked Queen Eira as she rode up to join them.

“We were speaking of our future as fathers, your majesty,” replied Brennan. “The king was mentioning that he will depend on my bride and me to watch the young prince or princess when he wishes to spend some time with his queen.”

“If you want to see my future grandchild, Brennan, you will have to visit the Lucidian palace or wherever I happen to be. I expect to entertain the young prince or princess regularly.”

“I am sure you will have ample time to visit with our child, Queen Eira. You will always be welcomed at the Grand Palace in Quinlan,” said Maddoc.

“I hope you mean that under all circumstances, Maddoc. I know some of the company I keep is not to your liking, and I do not plan to drive him away.” She looked back, and Maddoc followed her gaze to King Brone.

“You daughter has taught me many things, Queen Eira, and one of them is I must let go of grudges as they only hurt myself and others I care about. I may never enjoy some of the company you keep, but I will gladly endure it so you can visit your daughter and grandchild anytime you like, no matter who is with you.”

“I do have hope he will grow on you in time, Maddoc. I will, of course, enjoy visiting, Anwen and the child, but I have become very fond of you as well. I want to do nothing that will make you uncomfortable.”

“I think after all is settled, Queen Eira, I will want nothing but peace between all those who are around me. I will not be made uncomfortable by your friend. I have a feeling I will be in a mood to approve of almost all I see.”

They rode on well into the day, almost to sun down, and Maddoc started to notice the area around him looked familiar. Just before they lost all light, a large manor came into view. He had only been there a couple of times when he was younger, but he knew it belonged to Lord Fenner. They would stay there a couple of nights, gathering themselves and information before they advanced on the Grand Palace.

They rode through the gate as the sun completely sunk behind the large house. It was a handsome home in which it seemed every window was burning brightly to welcome the king and his party. Maddoc pulled up the front door and hoped down as many of the palace guards dismounted and gathered around him, Matthias standing by his side. The front door open, and Lord Fenner himself walked out.

“Your majesty, it is an honor to receive you,” said Lord Fenner with a bow.

“I thank you for your hospitality and loyalty, my lord. I hope you have not had any trouble.”

“Not enough to drive me away, though I did think about leaving due to a sickness in the area. I was waiting to see if there was some way to take the queen with me to get her to safety, but she would not leave without her fellow Lucidalan,” said Lord Fenner.

Maddoc walked closer to the man. “You have word of my wife?” he asked urgently. “Do you know if she is safe and well?”

Lord Fenner smiled. “I believe you should come into the house, and we will discuss it.”

Maddoc pressed further. “Just tell me if she is well. I must know.”

“I believe she is very well. Now come inside where it is safe. I know you must be tired and hungry, and I believe what you shall find will revive you.”

Maddoc nodded, feeling relieved that there was word of Anwen’s well-being. He knew he could wait more patiently, knowing she was well. He walked into the house as Lord Fenner stayed outside to greet the others. He heard Lord Fenner speaking with Queen Eira as he entered. A servant came and took his riding gloves as he took them off. He turned to his left, seeing a parlor with a woman he believed was Lady Fenner waiting by the door. He greeted her with a bow as she gave a curtsey. An older male servant came forward to show him to a room.

Maddoc walked up the stairs as he messaged his neck. He thought a hot bath and a night in a soft bed might make him feel more refreshed, but the only thing that would truly give him rest was having Anwen back with him. The servant stopped at a door close to the end of the hall when Maddoc heard a door open a few doors down.

“Your majesty, you aren’t even decent. You just woke up, and you haven’t had a bath, let alone changed into something proper,” said a female voice.

“Let her go,” said a familiar voice of an older woman. “The king will not care.”

He turned and saw a glimpse of Mrs. Owens standing by an open door before a small figure leaped into his arms. He caught her out of instinct, and it took him but a moment to realize who he was holding. He pulled her tighter against him as she made a noise between a sob and a laugh.

“Is this real? How can it be?” he gasped as he held Anwen close to him.

“It is real, my king. I have missed you more than you can possibly know.” She pulled back to look at him.

Her face was dirty, and her hair a mess. She was dressed oddly in his blue tunic that was falling off one of her shoulders. It looked as if she had crawled across a dirty floor before lying down for an extended time. It didn’t matter to him how disheveled and filthy she was; he had never seen anything so beautiful.

“Anwen,” he groaned before he bent down and kissed her.

Her hands went around his neck as his hands went down to her waist. He picked her up slightly before setting her down and releasing her.

“You are alright, aren’t you?” he asked, looking her up and down. “I mean, both of you are well?”

She took his hands and smiled. “Our child and I are very well, Maddoc. I suppose my mother told you.”

He nodded before they both turned, hearing the others make their way up the stairs. Maddoc knew he should let her greet her mother and friends, but he could not bear to share her at the moment. He took her hand and pulled her into the bedroom in front of him, closing the door in the older servant’s face.

He pulled her tight against him and kissed her again, feeling such a combination of relief, happiness, and bewilderment that he hardly knew where he was or what he was doing. Some small part of him wondered how she might have been there, but all that mattered was she was in his arms. He finally found a way to pull back, looking around and seeing a couple of chairs close by.

“Come sit; you must be exhausted,” said Maddoc as he brought close to the chairs.

“I have rested for almost a day now. I feel better than I have in a while,” said Anwen as she stared at him.

“Sit anyway and tell me how this came to be.”

“I will tell you some of it, but I do need to bathe so I can greet the others. There is much I need to say to you all. Your uncle and my aunt will ruin the kingdom and land if we do not strike soon. I am afraid of what they both have planned for Calumbria.”

She sat down, and Maddoc pulled the other chair very close to her. He took her hand. “You weren’t hurt in any way, were you? My uncle didn’t….” He couldn’t finish his sentence as he looked down.

“I was not harmed at all, Maddoc. Your uncle barely touched me. He only wanted to spend hours speaking to me of some future he wished for both of us. I don’t believe much of his actions are his own, but we will discuss it soon. All you need to know is I am very well. I escaped from the palace yesterday with the help of the servants, some guards, and Lord Fenner. I had thought to stay until you returned, but my aunt threatened my life. She said she would charm you into believing Princess Meira’s child is yours or even make you marry the woman to save me. I couldn’t let any of it happen. Once I was able to ensure Lachlan and Gwendolyn left with me, I was happy to go.”

“You should have left as soon as you were able,” said Maddoc. “There was no use waiting for me, and Lachlan could have been left to whatever fate awaited him. Gods know he has done enough to deserve it.”

“You don’t mean that, and you know it. You have the same Gift as me, and you would have done anything to spare his life if you were in the same situation. You could never leave someone in trouble behind.”

He gripped her hand. “I think I could do almost anything to ensure you were safe, but I do understand what you are saying. What of Gwendolyn, though? Why did you need to see her out of the palace? Isn’t she working with her mother?”

“Things have changed, and Gwendolyn does not wish the same as her mother. It seems my aunt’s and my cousin’s powers have grown. My aunt can control others so easily now. She is manipulating your uncle to her will. I think it has driven him mad, though he put much of what is happening in motion by himself.

“Gwendolyn has constant premonitions, and many haunt her. All she wants is peace. I believe she regrets the things she has done in the past. She wants no part of her mother’s plans.”

Maddoc shook his head. “How can you trust her so easily? What if she had turned you in to her mother? What if she is helping to entrap us all now?”

“I thought of it all, Maddoc, but you haven’t seen her or heard her speak. She is so broken and lost. She is no threat. She never cared about Calumbria or even ruling Lucidala; I don’t think. She was just looking for acceptance and love, and she believed Lachlan would provide that for her. When she found out how wrong she was, she didn’t know what to do next. She loves her mother and wanted her approval, but now knows that is impossible. I couldn’t leave her in the place to suffer and perhaps be harmed by what was coming.”

Maddoc kept hold of Anwen’s hand and looked down. “What was it like in the palace while you were there?”

“Most of it was like it always has been. Servants work, and guards patrol the halls. Lords came and went, but many of them seemed on edge. Princess Meira avoided me mostly, and her uncle only spoke a few times to me. They both are determined to have you marry her. She will have her child soon, and they want you to claim it.”

“It is not mine, Anwen. I have never done anything with her that would result in a child.”

Anwen smiled. “I know, Maddoc. I do not doubt your commitment to me. I also know Princess Meira showed many favors during the Winter Festival. Whoever the father is, I was very sure it wasn’t you. I don’t know what will become of her, and it may be ungenerous to say it, but I don’t care.”

Maddoc pulled at her hand until she came to him. She sat down in his lap as his arms went around her. “Perhaps we should just all let them have it. We can run away, as I said back in the summer palace. Now that I have you, I don’t want to risk anything. I want to go somewhere and just be with you and our child.”

She leaned into him. “I understand how you feel, and I am tempted to agree.” He kissed her cheek as she sighed. “But we both know we cannot abandon our people. I saw the force you brought with you from the window. So many people believe in you as king, and you must not let them down.”

“They believe in us, Anwen. Many follow me because you are my queen, and you must know it.”

“Then we will do this together. Soon we will ride into Quinlan and take our place where we belong.” She reached up touched his beard-covered cheek as he looked at her. “I have more to tell you and the others, but I do need to make myself presentable. I can’t imagine how awful I look at the moment. I must smell terrible.”

“You look more wonderful than anything I have ever seen, and you smell like my Anwen even under your dirt.”

She leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Let me go clean up so I can receive everyone properly. You can clean up as well, and I will find you at supper.”

He didn’t like the idea of letting her go, but he knew she was right. He hugged her close to him for a moment. “Do not take long. I can’t stand the idea of you being out of my sight, and I will be anxious this was all some strange hallucination until you are back by my side.”

“I am really here, your majesty. I hope I would be dressed more properly if this was some vision you dreamed up.”

He kissed her bare shoulder where the shirt had fallen off. “Perhaps if this were a vision, you wouldn’t be dressed at all.”

She laughed. “And I suppose we would be doing something besides talking.”

“Most definitely he said as he rubbed his hand against her waist, kissing further down her shoulder.

“I should leave now before this goes any further. We have much to do this evening, and I am afraid if we start this, I will not want to see anyone else for quite a while.”

“They can wait, Anwen. The whole land can wait.”

She did manage to leave him for a time to clean up, but only because a servant knocked at the door to bring Maddoc’s water for his bath. He wanted to ignore it, but she finally convinced him to let her go by reminding him they were much less likely to be disturbed later that night.

Maddoc bathed and dressed as quickly as he could, anxious to see Anwen again. He hurried the servants who had been tasked to help him, letting them trim his beard a bit but stopping them from cleanly shaving him. Once he was presentable enough, he hurried from his room. He went to the room he knew Anwen had been in to find the door open and a servant tidying the area. He moved downstairs, where he found a large crowd of people in the parlor.

Anwen was in the center, surrounded by people. Her mother held her hand while Brennan stood at her other side. Elias laughed as he said something to her, and Prince Rillian stood close by, gazing at her with admiration. As Maddoc walked in, Anwen let go of her mother’s hand and moved to meet him. She was as lovely as always in a borrowed gown that was a size or two too big. Her wonderful hair was still slightly damp as it hung down her shoulders. He took her hand as he met her in the room and pulled it up to his lips.

“See, I am still here, my king, and happy to be by your side.”

“And you shall stay there as often as possible from now on. I will only be settled if I can see you are safe almost every hour from this day forward.”

“Then come sit with me at supper. It may not be proper, but I am sure Lady Fenner will excuse us just this once. I need you close as say all I learned while I was in the palace.”

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