Maddoc looked around the crowded parlor of Lord Fenner’s home. Everyone seemed to be speaking at once, trying to make their voices heard. Some thought they should ride into Quinlan as quickly as possible, taking their entire force to the palace gates. Others wanted to send in a small party to scope the area before attacking in a day or two. A few wanted to wait there at the manor to see if Prince Korben would come out and meet them.
As they all argued and spoke loudly, Maddoc looked down at Anwen, who sat beside where he stood. She rolled her eyes slightly and shook her head. He bent down so he could speak quietly to her. “I will call them all to order in a moment. First, I would like you to share what you can about what is going on in the palace. If any memories are too much, I understand.”
“I can speak about almost all that I experienced there, Maddoc. It was mostly boredom and loneliness, but I do have some ideas on how we should move forward.”
He nodded and straightened up. “I appreciate that you are all passionate about what must be done to retake my throne and save Calumbria, but all of this arguing will get us nowhere. We must move forward and soon.”
“Why, though?” asked a young lord at the edge of the group. Maddoc could not remember his name. “You were very anxious to get here because our queen was in danger, but she seems to have saved herself. What is the hurry now?”
“The hurry is our kingdom is in jeopardy,” said Lord Mavens before Maddoc could respond, “More and more reports of sickness spreading throughout Calumbria come in daily. It is believed that Prince Korben and the lords that serve him are letting disease run unchecked. There is even talk they are offering money and medicines to some people to spread the disease by visiting villages once they are ill.”
“What is the point of that?” asked the young lord. “What can he hope to accomplish by sickening and killing our people?”
“He wants control,” said Maddoc. “I think he believes he can thin out the population of Calumbria a bit and take over some of the lands of our lesser lords and common folk. Those who serve him want more power and domain.”
Lord Mavens nodded. “I believe there are already plans being drawn up on how to disperse unclaimed land from villages and small farms once families die out or are convinced to sign what they own over to help their sick loved ones.”
“I have heard reports of the sickness coming to Quinlan,” said Lord Fenner gravely. “I planned to remove my family as soon as I could help our queen. I was going to tell my servants and tenants to move on as well. Once the disease settles in Quinlan, it will move quickly.”
“We must take back the palace as soon as possible,” said Anwen. “We can start helping our people right away. I’m not sure how much loss we can avoid at this point, but we have to start somewhere and soon. Once the king retakes his throne, he can send healers and medicines out to the people. We will need to get control over the sickness before winter sets in.”
“Queen Anwen is correct,” said Lord Mavens.
“She is,” agreed Maddoc. “We cannot wait weeks or even days. We must move soon for our people. I believe my uncle will know we are here by now, and he could send a force any day. I would rather meet him as close to the palace as we can. I would like to warn the townspeople if possible. Any loss of innocent life that we can avoid is preferable.”
“You will need to decide today what you will do then,” said Queen Eira coming forward. “We can send out some servants to spread the news through town just before you attack so everyone who wants to can take cover or flee.”
“Tell those with small children, or who are old and feeble, they can find sanctuary here,” said Lady Fenner. “We can set up places on the estate for them to stay for a night or two.”
“That is very kind, Lady Fenner,” said Anwen. “The king and I appreciate your care for the people of Quinlan.”
“First, we must decide what to do and when.” Maddoc moved to the center of the room. “As you all know, our queen just spent over three weeks in the Grand Palace. I believe she has much insight on what is going on there and how we might best take it back from those who would ruin Calumbria.” He turned and looked at Anwen.
Anwen stood up and adjusted her skirt. “I was not privy to the meetings Prince Korben and my aunt, Princess Roslyn, had with the lords who came daily, but I did have many conversations with the prince and my aunt. I can tell you my aunt holds much sway over the prince. Many of you know of my Gift, and my aunt has her own. She can control minds and read them at times. Her power has grown in strength lately, and she is controlling the prince in some ways.
“I believe Prince Korben started much of this on his own. I even think he tried to have our king killed more than once. He has always wanted to rule.”
“It’s true,” said a small voice towards the back. Maddoc turned to see Princess Gwendolyn standing against the wall. “I once heard the prince speaking with my mother about how he wanted to get rid of King Maddoc permanently but was afraid it would cause most lords to turn against him. He said he killed the king before King Maddoc but couldn’t get to the son because his mother always had someone watching him. He instead tried to raise the king in a way to control him, but it didn’t work.”
Maddoc moved towards Gwendolyn. “You heard my uncle say this himself?”
Gwendolyn looked up at him and nodded. “They were talking quietly in the study, but they left the door open. I was looking for my mother and heard them before I could knock. Prince Korben said he killed your father and wished he had done away with you.”
Maddoc turned from Gwendolyn and looked down as Anwen was already by his side. She grabbed his arm gently. “Maddoc, do you need a moment?” she asked very quietly.
He shook his head. “I already knew he wished to kill me. I don’t know why I didn’t think that he probably killed my father as well.”
“I’m so sorry, Maddoc. I know you must feel so betrayed and hurt.”
“No more than I already did.” Maddoc looked around the room. “You hear what kind of man is daring to try to lead Calumbria. We must stop him as soon as we can.”
“Then we will go tomorrow,” said Anwen. “We will go to him directly and confront him and my aunt. I believe the servants and guards I escaped with can get us into the castle, especially if the forces you brought with you are causing a diversion. Perhaps we can end this somehow before too much fighting is even to be had.”
“You will go as well, Queen Anwen?” asked Prince Rillian. “Wouldn’t it be better if you stayed here protected?”
“It would,” agreed Maddoc. “Our queen can see to leading and calming the people that come here for protection.”
“You might as well hand over the kingdom to Prince Korben and my mother now if this is what you will do,” said Gwendolyn forcefully. She walked towards Maddoc. “If you leave my cousin here, you will not be successful.”
“Gwendolyn, what do you mean?” asked Queen Eira as she walked over to stand near her niece.
Gwendolyn looked down with tears in her eyes. “I can’t explain it as my visions are not very clear, but I just know Anwen must go with the king to take the palace. If she doesn’t, I can see only darkness for our land.” She wiped at her eyes. “I cannot see my cousin at all in my visions if she chooses to stay here.”
The room was silent as Maddoc looked at Gwendolyn and then turned to Anwen. She was looking back at him. He could tell she believed her cousin without question. Maddoc was less sure. He did not trust Princess Gwendolyn and was afraid she would do something to put Anwen in danger. She could have escaped with Anwen just to cause problems.
“If the queen goes, we can have several guards around her at all times and other volunteers,” said Prince Rillian after a moment. “I know I would gladly shield her at all times.”
“I would as well,” said Brennan. “I will stay by my future queen’s side at all times when we leave the estate.”
“I will go as well,” said Lachlan coming forward. “I owe her and my kingdom a large debt for what I have done. I will give my life to keep her safe if it comes to it.”
Maddoc looked around at them all, at a loss of what to do. He was so unsure, and he knew it did not look well that he could not come to a decision as king. He wanted to forbid her to go, but he could tell by the look in her eyes, she would not stay behind no matter what he said.
“It will be better to let her have her way, Maddoc,” said Queen Eira quietly as she touched his arm. “She will be well protected.”
“I am not helpless, Maddoc,” said Anwen as she came to his other side. “I promise you I take the safety of our child very seriously. I will not put myself in any situation I do not think I could take on.”
“I am not questioning your love or concern for our child, Anwen. I only fear losing you. I know you are strong, and I know you can take care of yourself,” said Maddoc softly as others started talking around him as they discussed what to do next. “I just do not trust your cousin. What if she is leading you into a trap?”
Anwen took Maddoc’s hand and led him out into the entryway. She looked up at him. “You don’t have to trust Gwendolyn. Just trust me. I firmly believed I need to be with you when you go to the Grand Palace. I can try to explain it to you, but I am afraid it will not make much sense. I just need you to believe I know this is right.”
He took her hands in his, raising them to his lips. He had never seen her look so intensely at him, and he believed her instantly. “I do trust you, Anwen. If you think this is right, then you will come with me. I will not leave your side for one second, but you have to promise me you will think of your own safety over everyone else. I know how difficult it is for you, but you are very much the future of this kingdom.”
She leaned up and kissed him. “I will do what is necessary to protect myself, my child, and you. This kingdom will have no future if you do not make it through as well. You say you trust me, and now you will prove it. Let us go back into that room and work out all we must because we have to leave for the grand palace tomorrow.”
He nodded and was about to walk back into the parlor when a servant came up to him holding a message. Maddoc took it and saw the familiar writing on the front. He looked up at Anwen. “It is from my uncle.”
“When knew something was probably coming,” said Anwen.
Maddoc opened the letter and read it while Anwen stood at his side.
My dear nephew,
I heard you have returned to the area, and I am glad to hear it. You have been gone too long from your kingdom and avoided your responsibility. It is time you come to the palace and do what is right. Princess Meira is still in residence here and is carrying evidence of what I would say is two young lovers taking things too far. Her uncle is here demanding you marry her and claim her coming child as your own.
I do not wish any conflict with you and do not wish anyone to suffer because there is nothing I want more than to help you take care of Calumbria. Once you come and marry Princess Meira, you can travel to Parvilia and help settle that kingdom while I look after Calumbria.
I believe you have my betrothed with you, and I still desire her as my wife. I am willing to claim her child as my heir and take care of them both. I do not wish to make her unhappy, though. If you come do what is right by the kingdom, I will let her return to Lucidala with only my good wishes. I am sure she can find a good man to marry her quickly as she comes with a kingdom after all.
I hope you will take me up on my offer to come home and marry Princess Meira. Her uncle, Lord Gavin, wishes you to be wed by the end of next week. If you do not agree to this, he has his own ideas of how you should pay for what you have done to his niece. I do not want to see you harmed, Maddoc, as you have always been like a son to me.
Come see me quickly. I assure you safe passage if you come alone or with only two or three guards. If you choose to be foolish and bring your full force, you will be met with a sizeable force of my own. I have the bulk of the palace guard, many of our highest lord’s forces, and the most capable fighters from Parvilia. I have also hired some soldiers from some smaller kingdoms. You might think you can beat me, but I do not believe it. You and your people will bleed, and the kingdom will suffer. I will make sure the most precious one to you will not leave the area alive even if it pains me to do it.
I expect you soon, King Maddoc. Make sure you come prepared to do your duty and have an answer from Princess Anwen if she wishes to wed me or flee to her home.
For the Good of Calumbria,
Prince Korben Cadden.
“Maddoc,” said Anwen softly as she touched his arm. “What will you do?”
“We will go to my uncle, and we will fight for our kingdom as soon as it can be arranged. He cannot bully me into giving him Calumbria and sending me off to Parvilia, raising some bastard that is not my own. I certainly will not let him get away with threatening your life.”
It was decided they would officially move on the palace the next day. Lords, kings, princes, and others went out to give their commands to their guards. Servants and a few guards were sent to spread the word in Quinlan quietly. Maddoc with Anwen, Elias, Rillian, and Brennan met with the few servants and guards that escaped with Anwen. Maddoc was amazed by what he didn’t know about his own palace but was grateful it meant his uncle probably didn’t know all its secrets either.
It was decided that while the majority of their forces met with whatever soldiers and guards his uncle had gathered, Maddoc, Anwen, and a select few others would sneak into the palace to find his uncle and Princess Roslyn. Queen Eira asked to come along into the palace to face her sister, and Maddoc saw no reason to deny her.
He lay in bed late into the night, wide awake. He should have been asleep as he would need rest for what the next day would hold, but sleep would not come. He stayed still as he held Anwen in his arms. She seemed to be sleeping soundly, and he was glad for it. He almost wished she would sleep through the morning so he could leave her where she was. He could almost make himself hope she would wake up too ill to make the short ride to Quinlan, but he would not do it. She had declared she must come, and he knew nothing could keep her from doing what she believed was right.
He kissed her forehead gently and scooted down in the bed very slowly, so his face was closer to hers. He looked at her as she slept. She looked so at peace, so beautiful, and so young. She was young at only twenty-one, but she always carried herself as someone beyond her years. The early loss of her father and the pain of what Lachlan had done to her had given her burdens that were too much to carry for one so young. They had caused trauma, but they had also given her wisdom.
“I will make sure you live the life of peace you deserve, my love,” he said quietly. “After tomorrow, we will work to fix our kingdom and build our lives together.” Her eyes opened slowly, and he looked down at her with a sad smile. “I did not want to wake you.”
“I don’t think you truly did. I have been in a half-sleep for a while now. “I love you, Maddoc,” she whispered. “No matter what we must go through, I will stay by your side. Our lives may never be perfect, but I know they will be full of worthwhile things.”
She moved up and rolled him over as she kissed him, showing him that neither would get the sleep they needed that night.