As she sat down to supper, she was aware that most eyes were upon her, but she could not stop looking at Maddoc, who sat by her side. Her time away from him mainly had been mundane and boring. She had been afraid a few times in her dealings with her aunt and Prince Korben, but for the most part, she was just dreadfully bored. In those times when she was left by herself in her room or wandering the halls of the palace, she mainly thought of Maddoc. He had become such a part of her that she felt off-balanced and alone without him.
She knew she had many that loved and cared for her, and she loved them all back. She looked around the table and smiled at her mother, who sat in front of her. She glanced at Elias, who sat next to her mother, and he gave her a quick wink. On down the line, she looked at Brennan. He looked serious and anxious, but that wasn’t anything new. Prince Rillian had a soft smile on his face and nodded at her as he saw her eyes on him.
She looked back at Maddoc, so happy to be surrounded by those she loved. He took her hand for a moment and kissed it as the food was starting to be passed around.
“I hope you are hungry, Anwen,” said Maddoc as he handed her some meat. “I know you have been feeling ill for a while now.”
“I have, but lately, I am doing much better. My aunt gave me something to ease my stomach in the palace, and Mrs. Owens has kept on with it here. She also tells me that I will probably not feel sick the entire time I am with child. She thinks I will feel much better in just a few weeks.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Maddoc as Anwen started loading her plate up with food.
She had eaten as much as she could in the palace to keep up her strength, but, there in the safety of Lord Fenner’s manor, her appetite truly rebounded. She was anxious to eat her fill of the delicious food in front of her.
“Will you tell us what happened in the palace, darling?” asked her mother across from her. “I understand if you don’t wish to talk about some of it, but can you let us know how things are going there?”
“I have no problems talking about any of it. Most of it was rather boring, to be honest. I was left alone for much of the time. My aunt did speak to me daily, as did Prince Korben, but usually, they only spoke to me of things I had no wish to hear, so I ignored them. Only a few times did they truly inspire fear within me.” She took a drink of water and looked at her mother. “I don’t believe my aunt wanted to harm me physically. I think there were times she charmed Prince Korben to leave me alone.”
“I take it her Gift has grown in strength as mine has,” said Anwen’s mother.
Anwen nodded. “She is very apt at reading minds and mind control. We will have to watch it as we work to retake the Grand Palace.”
“I believe I have some protection against her Gift as you must have, Anwen,” said Queen Eira.
“I did once I let my power have its way. I was leery at first to use my Gift, afraid it would exhaust me too much and hurt my child, but I realized that was silly. How could something that gives life hurt a life inside of me? Once I let me Gift do as it liked, my aunt had no power over me.”
“I hope you were careful while you were in the palace,” said Maddoc. “I know you say you were bored most of the time, but you must have realized that you were actually in much danger.”
“I did try to be careful most of the time. I tried not to rise to Princess Meira’s baiting, and eventually, she left me alone. A few times, I did raise objections to what my aunt or Prince Korben would say. As foolish as it was, I could not go on as if I agreed to them disavowing our marriage or believing I would ever marry Prince Korben. I made your uncle angry once enough to act. My aunt intervened, and as much as I may wish never to see my aunt again, I was thankful for her at the time.”
“I will see that he pays for everything he has done to my kingdom and you, my love,” said Maddoc.
She could tell he was becoming unsettled, so she put her hand on his. “We will do what we must to save your kingdom, but we should not do it for revenge. Let us fight for something better than vengeance.”
“Yes, you will need to be careful with your motivations, I think,” said a quiet voice down the table. Everyone turned to see Gwendolyn looking up. She dipped her head back down. “From what I have seen, you will have to be very careful with how you take back the Grand Palace for all of you to be safe, especially my cousin and her king.”
“You have seen things?” asked Queen Eira to her niece.
Gwendolyn nodded, looking ill. “I have seen many things. For the past few months, vision after vision has come to me, and many of them are not pleasant. It has caused many sleepless nights of reflection and worry.”
“I am happy to hear you have spent much time in reflection, Gwendolyn. I hope it has done you much good. I believe you have many things to answer for.” Anwen’s mother stared at her niece.
“I know I do, and there are many things I look back on in regret. If I could change them, I would, but I know I cannot. I can only hope to do better going forward.”
“You and I shall have a chat tonight, Gwendolyn. If you want to earn my forgiveness, you have a long way to go. Many of the things you have done have caused great harm to the most precious person in the world to me, and I will have you answer for them.”
Gwendolyn nodded again as she looked down at her plate.
“I hope you will find a way to move forward in peace with Gwedonlyn, said Anwen quietly over the table. As much as she has hurt me, she is still of our family. We cannot completely abandon her.”
“If she is repentant and willing to do the work of reconciliation, I will show her mercy.” Queen Eira gave a great sigh. “She will also have to understand that her mother probably cannot be saved. I am afraid my sister will be able to answer to her crimes in only one way at this point.”
Anwen wished she could reach across the table and take her mother’s hand, but it was too expansive. She knew her mother still loved her sister, but she was right that her Aunt Roslyn was probably too far gone to come back.
“We will need to meet early tomorrow to plan what to do next,” said Elias. “I doubt Prince Korben will just let so large a force set on the edge of Quinlan without some sort of attack. He will try to weaken us before we enter the city.”
Maddoc nodded. “I hope we can move in two days. We will meet tomorrow to finalize our plans. Anwen can tell us more of what is happening in the palace with my uncle and his guards.”
“Perhaps she has ideas of us gaining entrance to the Grand Place,” said Prince Rillian. “What if a smaller force could sneak in while the larger force is seeing to whatever soldiers and guards your uncle has come up with, King Maddoc. Perhaps we could end this quickly without too much bloodshed if you can get to Prince Korben.”
“I have many ideas of how we can get into the palace,” said Anwen. “I believe Mrs. Owens and the guards I came with can help us with it as well.”
“We?” asked Maddoc, looking at her. “I hope you do not think that you will set one foot off this estate before Quinlan is secure.”
Anwen took a deep breath. She had expected this. “I do not wish to argue with you, my king, especially not in public rooms, but you must know me better than this. You know I will want to do all I can to save our kingdom. My mother will also wish to confront her sister, and I will want to be there with her.”
“Anwen…” started Maddoc.
“Not here, please,” said Anwen as she stood up. She looked at Lady Fenner apologetically. “I am sorry, my lady; I hope you do not mind if I leave the table. The meal has been excellent, but I have eaten my fill and do not want to be ill.”
“There is nothing to apologize for, my queen. I was just about to leave the table myself,” said Lady Fenner standing. “I will go with you to the parlor if all the ladies are ready. The men can come too unless they would like to sit and converse here a while longer.”
Anwen nodded before leaving the room. Before she reached the parlor, she felt Maddoc gently take her arm. “I do not wish to argue with you and embarrass you in front of others, but Anwen, you must think of our child. You cannot ride into what will probably be a vicious battle.”
“I am thinking of our child and the future he or she shall have, Maddoc. I will do all I can to ensure our son or daughter has a secure place in which to grow up. I know the limits of my power, and I know how to take care of myself. I also believe there are ways we can confront your uncle and my aunt quickly, avoiding much of any battle.”
“You should let her go, King Maddoc,” said Gwendolyn as she walked up to them. Maddoc let go of Anwen’s arm and stared at Gwendolyn. “I have seen many different versions of the future, but I believe to leave my cousin here could be disastrous in many ways. You will hear from my mother and the prince soon. To keep Anwen and yourself safe, you will need to stay together.”
Maddoc looked at Gwendolyn with skepticism. “And this is due to some visions you have had? Can you explain them to me in full?”
“I cannot because they are all jumbled together, but I know for certain you must keep your wife by your side.” Gwendolyn had tears in her eyes, and her voice was almost pleading.
Maddoc looked away. “I am sorry if I have a hard time believing you, Princess Gwendolyn. You have never been very friendly towards my wife or the idea of her being my queen. You could be saying what you must to ensure Anwen is put into danger.”
“Maddoc, that is unkind,” said Anwen. “You don’t know what my cousin has been through.”
“I know what you have been through, and some of it was done by Gwednolyn’s hand. I will not trust your safety to some visions she says she is has had.”
Anwen shook her head. “I had hoped it wouldn’t be like this. After all, we have spoken of and learned together, and you are still so angry and hard-headed. I don’t have the strength to argue with you tonight. I hope by morning you will regain some of your sense.”
She turned to leave when he grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the entryway, away from those who were moving to the parlor. “Anwen, I do not wish to upset you or argue with you, but you have been put into danger too many times, many because of me. If I can see you safe here at the estate, I know I can face anything I might find in Quinlan.”
“But what of what I must face if you make me stay here away from you? Maddoc, I believe you and I are stronger together. I know it somehow. Do you see how other’s Gifts have grown? My mother, aunt, and Gwendolyn can do more with their Gifts than ever before, and I believe it is because two life-givers are finally united. If we are going to save Calumbria and the whole land, I believe we have to do it together.”
“And what if I lose you in the process, Anwen? What good will it be if we save Calumbria, but it cost me you?”
She moved very near him. “I would say it would be worth it for the generations to come, but you don’t want to hear it. I don’t want even to think it, really. I can’t promise that nothing bad will happen if we go together. I am terrified of losing you, Maddoc, but I just know that it will not go well at all if we are apart. Please trust me.”
He didn’t say anything in response. He looked down at the floor as he held Anwen’s hand.
“We can speak more about it tomorrow, but now, all I wish is to go rest. I know I should speak with all the lords in attendance, but you will have to excuse me for this one night. Yesterday was very trying, leaving the palace, and I do not feel like entertaining others. You should go, though. Give my excuses if you will.” She tried to let go of his hand and go, but he held firm.
“I will think over what you have said,” he stated quietly. “I will try to see your side, but you must know how hard this is for me. If I had my way, I would take you somewhere far away from here and let Callumbria fall if it must.”
She smiled slightly. “You might say it, but you do not mean it because it is not who you are. I know I cannot guarantee it, but I truly believe we will come out of this safe together if we do not separate. We will live our lives as we were meant to, guiding our kingdoms and raising our children to do the same. I hope you know I would never do anything to jeopardize what we have.”
He nodded before bringing her hand to his lips. “I hope you will not wish to sleep alone tonight. I cannot go another night without you by my side.”
“I already had what little possessions I have borrowed from Lady Fenner taken to your room. I will not spend another night away from you if I can help it.”
“I will not be long, but do not wait up for me. If you are tired, I would rather you rest.”
She turned to go up the stairs, but before she went, she looked back at Maddoc. “Maddoc, I hope you know that I understand your fears, and I have them myself as well. There is nothing I would not do to protect you or our child, but I truly believe to have any kind of future together, we must face your uncle and my aunt together. It will take both of us to save Calumbria and the land.”
“We will speak more about it tomorrow. I never doubt your intentions, Anwen, but I know how far you would go to save others. I feel some of the same pull as you when it comes to saving lives, but I do not have your goodness.”
“You are right. You have your own goodness, and I am always grateful for it. Good night, Maddoc. I will see you soon.” She walked up the stairs, feeling Maddoc’s eyes on her as she went.
She sent for Mrs. Owens to assist her in getting ready for bed. She helped Anwen out of her dress and into a borrowed nightgown. Anwen did not have Mrs. Owens braid her hair as she felt like leaving it down. Once Mrs. Owens bid her goodnight, she got into bed thinking she was very ready to sleep. Yet, when her head hit her pillow, she found she could not get comfortable.
It was not the mattress or the bedding. Both were more than adequate. The room was a comfortable temperature, and the window let in just enough moonlight to make the unfamiliar room feel safe. What made her so restless was all that was on her mind. She was very happy to be back amongst those she loved, especially Maddoc, but she felt unsettled with their conversation. They had not truly argued, but she knew they were not of one accord. She hated having any disagreement with Maddoc, even when she felt she was right.
She knew in very little time, they would be riding into Quinlan and facing danger. They could plan and use caution, but in the end, anything could go wrong. She couldn’t bear losing Maddoc, and she really couldn’t imagine them having anything between them in their final moments together. Anwen placed her hand on her stomach and closed her eyes. She focused her power until she could feel the now familiar heartbeat of her child growing within her.
It was so strange to love something so new that she couldn’t see, but she did love her and Maddoc’s child. She wanted nothing more than to keep the babe safe, and she truly believed her going to Quinlan was the only way forward. She knew it would be risky, but so would staying behind. If Maddoc were injured or worse without her there to heal him, she would never forgive herself. She wasn’t sure what would happen at the Grand Palace, but she had a very good feeling that she needed to be there. To heal all that had been done and to right the wrongs of the kingdom, she just knew it would take both her and Maddoc.
As her power rolled inside of her, she concentrated on the very quiet beating of her child’s heart. She imagined a wonderful future of meeting her son or daughter and watching him or her grow. She could see Maddoc dancing with their daughter in a field as her own father did with her. She imagined Maddoc teaching their son how to ride a horse. She could see the three of them on a clear night standing on a balcony of the palace, looking at a star-filled sky. She let these images lull her into a light slumber.
It wasn’t until his hand wrapped around her waist that she fully woke up. His scent enveloped her, and she leaned back into him. It finally felt real that she was no longer being held in the Grand Palace. The nights of the past few weeks had been the worst. Feeling his warmth around her made her audibly sigh as his hand rubbed against her stomach.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” he said in a whisper.
“I was barely asleep,” she responded. “I couldn’t find rest, thinking there being something wrong between us.”
“There is nothing wrong between us, my love. We both want the exact same thing. We just have different ways of getting there, but I have no doubt we will find a way together.” He bent down and kissed her neck. “Right now, I just want to relish in the idea that you are here with me. I spent every night I was apart from you, worried about what was happening to you. To have you here safe and whole seems almost like a dream.”
She turned to face him. “It is not a dream. It is very real, and there is nowhere else I want to be. I don’t want to think of what is to come or have any worries. I just want to be here with you.”
“You do not need to worry, Anwen. I promise you; it will all work out. I will make everything right.”
She smiled at him. “I never did want your promises, Maddoc. I only wanted you for however long I could have you.”
He brushed his lips against hers. “And I always wanted to make you every promise, and I do so now. You already have my love forever, Anwen, and we will make everything right together.”
She leaned up and kissed him as he slightly rolled her, hovering over her. One of his hands went to her leg, and it slipped under her nightgown. He was already shirtless, so she moved her hands down his chest towards the waist of his pants. She had missed everything about him, but especially the way he loved her.
For much of her life, she had felt like she wasn’t enough. She had been smaller than expected, and her Gift had been slow in developing. She always felt as though she lived in her mother’s shadow, never living up to the queen her mother was. Her mother had always reassured her she was enough, but Anwen still heard the whispers throughout the court. She tried not to listen and become a woman who would make her mother and father proud.
When she began her relationship with Lachlan, she thought she had found a way to be whole. Surely if someone as perfect, handsome, and well thought of as him could love her, she must be enough. When he betrayed her with Gwendolyn, she thought she lost all confidence in herself. Meeting Maddoc and helping him back to his palace showed her just how strong and capable she was. She didn’t need the king to be whole, but something about him helped her see that she was more than she had thought she was. As she helped him back to Quinlan and taught him about her kingdom and role, she realized how much she did for her people. She understood that she was meant to lead Lucidala, and she was able to do it.
Now, as she lay in bed with her husband, she knew she was where she was meant to be. She would help him save his kingdom, and then they would help each other rule their lands. She would live a life full of companionship with a partner who challenged her in just the right way. She would go through life knowing Maddoc fully loved her.
She moaned against his lips as his hand moved between her legs, and he breathed her name. She knew he wanted to take his time with her as he had done many times before, but she was so eager to love him that she didn’t think she could stand waiting any longer. She pulled back from him and took off her nightgown before leaning back into him as her hands went back to undo his pants.
His hands overtook hers as he released the tie on his pants and slipped them off. He kissed her as he moved over her. He waited only a moment before entering her, causing her to gasp his name. The wonderful, familiar feeling of him inside her made her groan in approval as she arched up against him. Their lovemaking was more hurried than usual as they both seemed desperate to have each other. He kissed her neck as one of his hands came up to caress her breast. She knew she would have more times like this with him, but she wanted to cherish each one. After spending too many nights apart, she knew how precious each moment was.
She reached her peak quickly, calling out his name and pulling him so that he moved deep into her. He wasn’t far behind, burrowing into her neck as he thrust one last time, filling her. He rested against her for a few moments before rolling over and taking her into his arms. She lay against him as both of them worked to settled their breath. She felt his gentle kiss against her neck as she felt sleep start to overtake her.
Maddoc pulled up the covers around them as he kept a hold of her. Before she completely drifted off, she felt his whisper against her ear, “We will make it through this together, Anwen. I promise you.”
She tried to whisper, “I love you,” but she wasn’t sure how successful she was as the first real sleep she had experienced in many weeks settled over her.