The red rose in Maddoc’s hand was soft and vibrant. He looked at it closely, marveling at how perfect it looked.
“You are doing very well,” said Anwen as she looked down at the rose he held. “I barely even helped you that time.”
He brought the rose closer to examine and smell it. “Do you still dislike roses?”
“Not as much as I did. They still bring back some bad memories, but knowing my Gift is now fully released helps. It is also nice to know there is another life-giver to assist me.”
He held out the rose to her, and she took it, careful to avoid the thorns. “I suppose I should try again. This time on my own.”
“You don’t sound very excited about it,” said Anwen as she sniffed her rose.
“I understand we are just beginning, but what I really want to learn is how to help and protect others. Before we are on the road, I would like to know I could heal you or protect you if I had to.”
“Those are harder to teach and learn,” said Anwen. “I can tell you that the more you get to know your Gift the easier it will be to do all sorts of things with it. I do believe that if you are faced with danger, you will know how to react on instinct. The best thing you can do is keep practicing with your Gift like this so you can get to know it.”
Maddoc nodded and looked back at the rose bush. He went to touch a bud, but stopped and looked at Anwen. “Have you checked on your dress for our wedding?”
“Mrs. Drivens did for me. The dressmaker assured her the dress will be ready by next week. She is going to bring it here so she can do any last-minute adjustments.” She paused a moment. “I gather the summer palace has more than one boat?”
“Of course,” said Maddoc. “We have several.”
“Good. I will want you to row ahead of me on the day of our wedding. It might sound silly, but I do not wish you to see me that day until I am dressed.” She looked down and blushed it little. “I am not sure how you do things in your kingdom, but in Lucidala it is a tradition.”
He reached out and took her hand causing her to look up at him. “We shall do it however you like, my love. I want it to be as special as it can be for you under the circumstances. I know it is not what you deserve.”
“All that matters is you will be there, and we shall be married, Maddoc. You are all that I want, not some grand affair where all eyes are on me.”
He leaned down and kissed her gently. “Still, when things are made right, I will see that you are properly noticed as my queen. I want everyone to know how proud I am to have secured such a woman as my wife.”
She smiled and leaned up to kiss him quickly. “Now, go back to your roses, my king. After our wedding, I believe we will have to travel soon, and I want you to be as ready as you can.”
The next few days passed in the same way. Maddoc and Anwen would spend their mornings working on their Gift. Maddoc got to the point he could open flowers though not as well with Anwen’s combined power. He was frustrated he could not do better, but Anwen assured him, he was doing well. She believed if his Gift was needed in a situation, his instincts would kick in.
In the afternoons, Maddoc would either work in the library, coming up with a plan for their travels or he would go into town as disguised as he could to listen for any rumors. Sometimes he would take a few servants with him to see what they could hear. Talk was definitely growing as the mountains thawed out and travel to the north was easier in Calumbria. He knew his uncle would soon know where they were if he didn’t already.
Maddoc wondered what his uncle would do. It was clear Prince Korben wished to rule Calumbria. He had thought to do it by keeping Maddoc occupied with Parvilia and Princess Meira though Maddoc’s death would have been acceptable as well according to what Anwen remembered hearing. Maddoc also wondered why his uncle was so set on having Anwen as his wife. He was sure it had to do with her powers, but he wondered how his uncle had planned to use them.
Thinking of his uncle wanting Anwen made Maddoc want to run away with her more and more, but she would not let him think long about the option. She would remind him of his mother and friends. He had a responsibility to his people and kingdom. Anwen had her own people she wished to protect. The only way forward was to make sure their kingdoms were secure.
He would feel better once they were married. The thought that he could be so bound to Anwen that no one could truly taker her from him was comforting. No more would he have to endure anyone telling him he couldn’t have her. Once all was well, and they truly ruled together, no one would dare say she couldn’t be a proper queen for him. For one it wouldn’t matter as she would be where she belonged as his wife, and second, once they saw how well she handled the position, there would be no questions he had chosen well.
He had complete faith in Anwen and her abilities. One of the reasons he loved her so much was how good she was. Once his lords saw her intelligence, charm, and loveliness, most of them would fall under her spell. If she could make something out of him, he had no doubt she could soften even the hardest hearts.
Maddoc looked up from the map on the table over at Anwen who sat curled up in a chair reading a book. He smiled a little as she moved some hair away from her face before turning a page. There had never been a lovelier sight to him than her. He believed from the moment he first saw her beautiful eyes staring at him when he was injured he had fallen in love with her a little bit. Even when she aggravated him on the trip, she fascinated and attracted him. That first night on their journey when she had angered him, he dreamt of her. He wanted her even then, and that want had turned to a need.
It had been so long since he had been able to show her just how much he loved her. Lately, their gentle kisses had grown more and more passionate. He wanted nothing more than to love her, but something kept stopping him. She seemed so fragile to him now. It wasn’t just her lost weight or her pale complexion. Both were improving, and she insisted she felt very well. It was the thought that she could disappear from his life so easily. When he thought he had lost her that day outside the palace, the despair he experienced was like nothing he could imagine. Breathing seemed impossible without her alive in the world with him. Now she was even more precious to him, and the thought of doing anything to hurt her or make her uncomfortable scared him.
She looked up from her book and smiled at him. He smiled back knowing he had been caught staring at her. Marking her place in her book and setting it down, she stood up and walked over to him by the large table.
“Are you done with your planning for the afternoon, my king?”
Taking her hand, he pulled he close. “I might as well be. I don’t believe I will learn anything new from these maps.”
“So, you have a plan for us when we do leave?” asked Anwen as she looked up at him.
“I have some idea of some places we can go as we make our way south. Places we can find out information of what is going on in Calumbria. Once we know more, we can decide what we will do.”
“I hope your mother and Elias are well. I worry about what happened after we disappeared. Have you heard anything on your outings to the village?”
“Not really,” said Maddoc. “There is some talk of unrest in Quinlan, with me being gone, but no news of any violence or important people being killed. I imagine my mother has some lords on her side, and my uncle has some on his.”
“Your poor mother must be worried sick about you,” said Anwen.
“What of yours? What of Lord Aidan? I am sure they have heard what happened by now. They might think you are dead, Anwen.”
“I wish I could write them and let them know all is well, but soon I will be able to contact them. Hopefully, we can make our way to Lord Aidan’s estate soon. I am sure he will be there and maybe my mother as well. If I was so weak from just a few days of the awful thing my aunt gave me, I can’t imagine how long it will take my poor mother to recover after being dosed for weeks.”
Maddoc nodded. “I am so sorry I have brought all this on you, Anwen.”
She gave him a sad smile. “Perhaps, it was I who brought it on you. I have had many hours to contemplate our fates. Sometimes, I think maybe you would have been better off not meeting me.”
“No,” said Maddoc adamantly. “You changed my life for the better in every way. Without you, I would have been trapped by my uncle, Princess Meira, and even my mother.”
“You would have been safe perhaps.”
“Safe from what? I would have lived a miserable life tied to a woman who has no proper feelings. I would have been a ruler in name only, while my people were left to the mercy of my uncle and my mother. I love my mother, and I do not believe she is bad, but she never has really stuck her neck out to help our people when they are in need.”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter because now that I have you, I will not let you go. Sometimes I believe I am selfish to feel so. My kingdom is important to me, and I want to do right by it, but to be honest, when I am with you everything else fades away into the background.”
“I am yours, Anwen, and soon it will be official. You do not have to choose between me and your kingdom, because I will help you see your people safe and happy, just as you will with mine. I am determined to be a good king to Calumbria and supportive of you as you rule Lucidala. I would never do anything to make you unhappy.”
She reached up and stroked his cheek as he stared down at her. He wasn’t sure who made the first move. Perhaps they both reached for each other at the same moment, but in no time at all, they were kissing with so much need and desire, Maddoc didn’t believe either could stop for any reason.
He pulled back for a moment and pushed the map he had been studied aside before picking her up and putting Anwen on the table. He leaned down to kiss her as his hands went under her skirt. He kissed down her neck to the tops of her breast that were just peeking through her neckline as he raised her skirt. Kissing her lips one more time, he knelt down in front of her and placed kisses along her inner thigh as she made wonderful noises.
As he moved to her center and worked to pleasure her, she put her hands in his hair while moaning his name. He felt his body react strongly. He wanted to please her, but his need to be with her completely was growing to the point he could not deny himself any longer. She gasped his name, and he could tell she was close to reaching her peak. He stood up and undid his pants before putting his hands on her hips to move her forward.
As his right hand landed on her side, he could feel the rough scar left there by the sword that had struck her. She grimaced slightly, and he could see a flash of pain in her eyes. He groaned and fell back into a chair behind him as she sat up.
“Maddoc,” she said with annoyance. “Why?”
He only shook his head in response as he looked down, his breaths coming hard and fast.
“Have you truly lost all desire for me?” There was so much pain in her voice it made Maddoc lookup.
“No, of course not. I want you as much as I ever have. More so I believe.”
“Then why? I want this. I know you can tell I do. It has been so long since we were together.”
“I hurt you. I know I did. I saw the pain in your eyes when I touched your side.”
She stood up off the table. “It was barely anything. Just a twinge. I am much more uncomfortable now if you must know.”
He shook his head again. “I can not stand the idea of hurting you. It is too much.”
She sighed and moved to him, kneeling in front of him. “You didn’t hurt me, not really. I am only still a little sensitive on my side, but it is nothing. I shouldn’t stop us from being together. I love you, Maddoc, and I want to be with you in this way.”
He took her hand and kissed it. He wanted to explain it to her. “It’s just so hard, Anwen. You died in my arms. I know you are here now, but there was definitely a moment or two where you were gone. It was the worst few minutes of my life. I can still feel your blood on my hand. I can still see the moment you stopped breathing. I felt as though I had lost everything. I had lost everything. You are so precious to me that I can’t stand the thought of losing you again or even seeing you in pain.”
She stood and slid into his lap as Maddoc’s arms went around her and held her close. “You won’t be able to always protect me from pain, Maddoc. You can’t even ensure that I will live a long life.” He tightened his arms around her, not wanting to believe it. “None of us are guaranteed anything in this life. We never know when our time will come. We can prepare and try to be cautious, but there will always be the unexpected.”
She leaned up and looked at him. “You know it is all true just as I do. All we can control is what we do in the moments we have. Being with you and showing you my love makes all the uncertainty worth it. I want to live a full life with you no matter how long it lasts. I want to be with you in every way a husband and wife should be. I want to share your burdens, your joys, your pain, and I hope you wish to share mine.”
He leaned forward and kissed her. “I understand what you are saying, my love, but it is hard to get past what happened. I only want to keep you safe.”
“Safe is a relative term, isn’t it. You could keep me safe from harm by locking me up and never touching me. You could treat me like some fragile thing you do not wish to touch in fear I will be broken, but that would be a sad, unfulfilling experience. I would not be safe from feeling lonely, useless, and even after a while, unwanted. I want my life to have a purpose as a queen of both of our kingdoms and as your wife. I wish to build a life with you. If the gods are willing, I want to have children with you. All of this will take risks, but it is risks that I am willing to take to have a fulfilling life with you.”
He kissed her gently, his hand softly rubbing her side. “Will you give me a little time?”
“I will,” she said seriously. “I will give you whatever you need to see you happy.” She leaned away from him, and a teasing smile appeared on her face. “We will be married in a week, won’t we? So, I suppose I should say you have a week because when I become your wife, I will want to be your wife in every way.”
He kissed her as her hands made their way down his chest, and he felt his body start to react. The thought that she would soon truly be his fueled his desire. “A week it is,” he said breathlessly as they broke apart. “To tell the truth, no matter my fears, I am not sure how much longer I could resist you.”
She slipped off his lap and kneeled again in front of him, her hands finishing the unbuckling of his pants from earlier. “There is no need to resist, my king. I shall soon be your queen and in the eyes of the law and the gods, I will belong to you.”
He leaned back and enjoyed her attentions, thinking no matter what the gods or law stated, the truth was he was actually hers.