The early morning was gray as thick clouds rested over Quinlan and the surrounding area. There was no wind blowing as they left the estate, making everything feel warm and heavy. Maddoc could tell a storm was coming, but the buildup would be long and oppressive. He rode behind a large group of his royal guards and the lucidian guards, with Anwen on one side and Matthias on the other.
Anwen had quite a group around her. On her other side was Brennan, with Queen Eira next to him. Just in front of Anwen was Lachlan, looking more serious than Maddoc had ever seen him. Behind her rode, Prince Rillian with three of his own guards. As they moved towards Quinlan, they were met by various townspeople heading towards the Fenner estate. Most were women with small children with them, and a few others were older people sometimes supported by a young family member.
Maddoc just saw a brief glimpse of them all as many stopped to watch him go by with his guards. He made sure to try and look at as many as he could as they were his people. What he was doing was mostly for them. He had a responsibility to them, and he would see it through. He had once ignored his duties, but no more would he run from who he was meant to be.
Quinlan was eerily quiet as they rode through the streets. It was usually full of people going from shop to shop or house to house during the mornings, but Maddoc saw no one as they made their way to the palace. He hoped it meant that they were successful in sending out servants and guards to the village to warn them of what was to come. Maddoc wanted any loss of life to be minimal.
As they got closer to the palace, a slight wind blew as Maddoc heard thunder off in the distance. He wiped at his forehead, hearing the whinny of horses close by. The guards in front of him stopped at Matthias’s command. He gave another command, and they all pulled out their swords before they rode on.
The palace gates were open as though daring them to move forward. None of them stopped. They kept going, knowing there was no turning back. When the full palace came into sight, Maddoc could see it was surrounded by numerous guards, soldiers, and other fighters. At the front was Jasper, sitting on a large brown horse, holding his sword. Matthias had their group stop about forty feet away.
He leaned over to speak with Maddoc. “I will speak with Jasper while you ride away, your majesty. Try to move towards the back before you go to gain some cover. I will give you a few minutes before we strike so no one will notice you have left.”
“Thank you, Matthias. Stay strong and safe during the battle. We will celebrate tonight in the banquet hall,” said Maddoc as he held out his hand.
Matthias took it. “Just as you say, your majesty. You will always be my king.” He bowed in his saddle before letting go and taking off towards the front.
Maddoc looked at Anwen. “We need to fall back slowly, Anwen. Once we are a few rows back, our forces will move on my uncles. We will use the distraction to get to that side door that leads to the library.”
Anwen nodded and moved her horse slowly backward, and those around her mimicked her. Once they were behind another line, they turned and moved slowly through the guards and fighters towards the edge. As they got near to being in the clear, those around them rode forward in a hurry, their swords out as they charged Prince Korben’s forces.
“Keep going,” said Maddoc loudly to those around him. “We need to get around the fighting to the right side door.”
He led the way on his horse, making sure Anwen was near him. He didn’t want to let her out of his sight. The sounds of fighting filled the air around them, making Maddoc cringe at the thought of lives being lost. He looked over at Anwen as she put a hand to her stomach and shook her head.
“I know, Anwen, but the quicker we can get to my uncle, the quicker we can end this and avoid lives being lost.”
She looked up and nodded before turning to the guard in front of them. “Hurry, please. We must go now.”
The guard urged his horse to go faster, and Maddoc and Anwen followed after him. They weaved around horses and men who ran forward. It felt like it took them too long to get to the edge of the fighting, but they eventually cleared it close to the rear of the palace. Once they were alone, all jumped down off their horses, leaving them to do as they like. Maddoc thought about having one or two tied up if they needed to escape, but he knew it would most likely be useless. They would only come out of the palace one of two ways. Either they would successfully retake the throne, or they would fail and leave in a way Maddoc’s uncle saw fit.
Maddoc shook his head and shuddered as another rumble of thunder sounded close by. He did not wish to think of what would happen to them all if they failed. None of them would have happy endings, and many of those endings would come swiftly.
As they rounded the corner of the back end of the palace, Maddoc saw a man standing close to the wall. The guard in front of them slowed down as the man turned towards them. When Maddoc realized who he was, he pushed in front of the guard to greet his faithful servant.
“Evan, I hope you know how good it is to see you,” said Maddoc as he approached Evan.
“I am beyond relieved to see you arrived this far safely. Unfortunately, we have no time for greetings right now. You all need to hurry inside. I last saw Prince Korben heading towards the throne room.”
“He hopes to hide away in the throne room?” asked Maddoc.
“I think I heard talk of barricading him in the palace temple. I saw many guards walking with him.”
“What of my aunt?” asked Anwen as she came to stand by Maddoc’s side.
“I have seen Princess Roslyn in many places this morning. She stood for a long time on the second-floor balcony overlooking Quinlan. Last I saw, she was eating breakfast in the dining hall as if nothing was the matter.”
“Very well,” said Maddoc as he steadied himself, preparing for what he must do. “Let us go in. I wish to end this as quickly as I can.”
Evan nodded and turned to the wooden door to open it. “Go down this hallway and take a left. You will find a small door there. When you open it, you will have to shift a narrow shelf, and then you will find yourself in the library. You will need to be careful as you make your way through the palace.” Evan bowed. “Welcome home, your majesty.”
“Thank you, Evan,” said Maddoc as he patted his servant’s shoulder. “Hide away and keep yourself safe. I hope to see you soon.”
Maddock looked back and grabbed Anwen’s hand as he entered the dim space. Two torches were burning on the wall, and he took one as he moved down the hall. He heard the others follow as he made his way as quickly as he dared down the narrow corridor. It eventually turned, and Maddoc kept leading the group until he came to an old door.
Before he could open it, Lachlan spoke up. “Let me open it first, your majesty. “I can see if there is anyone nearby while you stay safe in the passageway.”
Maddoc nodded as Lachlan squeezed by Anwen and him to get the door, his sword in his hand. Lachlan looked back at them all before he opened the door slowly. He shifted the shelf in front of him before sticking his head out for a moment and then turned back. “It looks deserted, but we should be quiet as we exit.” He opened the door wider, and Maddoc again took Anwen’s hand and walked out with her into the palace library.
The library was empty and quiet. It was dark as the light coming from the window was weak. Judging by the dim light and the large rumble of thunder he heard from outside, Maddoc thought it would rain any moment. He had a small thought to peek out from the window to see how the battle went but knew it was foolish. He could easily be seen, and it did not matter what was happening outside. All he needed to focus on was getting to his uncle and stopping this somehow.
Maddoc looked at the group with him. Prince Rillian, Elias, Brennan, and Lachlan all had their swords drawn. They were close to both Anwen and her mother. Queen Eira and Anwen both had swords at their side, but they had not removed them. They were both staring at the door to the palace hall. Anwen put her hand to her chest and walked towards the door.
When she got to it, she looked back at Maddoc with her golden-brown eyes wide. “We need to go now, Maddoc. We must go to the temple. We are being called there.”
“Called there by whom?” asked Queen Eira as she walked towards her daughter.
“The gods. When I was staying here, I had many dreams of the gods of both Lucidala and Calumbria. I felt Alyvian’s presence most. She led me to the temple on my last day here and showed me a story from the Gods’ Reflection. She is leading me back to the temple, me and Maddoc.”
Maddoc glanced at Queen Eira before he looked back at Anwen.
“I know I sound out of my mind, but I am telling you it’s true. We must get to the temple,” said Anwen pleadingly. “We can end all of this, the battle, the division in our kingdom and land, and all the sickness. We just need to trust in what the gods want.”
“Anwen,” started Brennan, but Maddoc put his hand up to stop him.
Maddoc stared at Anwen as she looked back at him. Something told him what she was saying was true. He closed his eyes for a moment and listened for his Gift. He felt it churning inside of him while a soft voice whispered in his ear to go to the temple.
“She is right,” said Maddoc opening his eyes. “We are being summoned there. My uncle is said to be there anyway, so no matter what any of you believe, we must go.”
Maddoc walked towards the door and looked down at Anwen. “We will do this together, my love. I trust you and know you will only do what is right.”
She smiled and took his hand before he opened the door. Maddoc looked out into the hallway and saw no one. He glanced back at the others before leaving the room with Anwen in tow. Lachlan and Elias moved in front of them as they went towards the entry hall as swiftly as possible. At every corner and open door, Lachlan and Elias would check in front of them before moving forward.
They met no one in the halls, not even servants. The whole side of the palace appeared deserted as no candles were lit, and most doors to rooms were closed. They came to the last door leading to the entry hall, and Elias paused, causing them to stop. He put his ear to the door and listened.
“All I can hear is the sound of distant fighting, but I believe it is coming from outside the palace,” said Elias as he leaned back.
“We have to go through the entry hall to get to the throne room,” said Maddoc.
Rillian and Brennan moved forward with the swords ready as Elias got prepared to open the door. He looked at them all before he slowly opened it. The room was empty and quiet except for the shouts and sounds of men fighting outside. They moved forward as one group, Maddoc staying behind Anwen and Queen Eira, watching their backs as the others led the way forward.
They had just made it close to the left hall that would take them towards the throne room when Maddoc heard a noise from up above. He looked up to see men lined up along the second-floor landing, all holding bows at the ready with arrows ready in their string. He turned to tell the others to run when they were cut off by several palace guards coming through the hall in front of them and others behind them.
Maddoc closed his eyes, trying to still the panic inside of him to ask his Gift to help them, but he had difficulty concentrating. As he worked to build his power, he heard a guard speaking loudly from the second floor.
“Take out all you can, but spare the king. Try to leave Princess Anwen standing as well, but she is not the priority.”
Maddoc kept his eyes shut tied, desperately trying to get his Gift to react. As his power rolled inside of him, he heard the guard order the archers to release their arrows. He held up his hands, but he knew his power would not work. He could not form a coherent thought. He heard arrows fly, and he opened his eyes, afraid of what he would see.
He looked around in amazement as the arrows stood still just over the heads of all of them. Maddoc immediately turned to Anwen, thinking she had done something, but he found her looking in wonder to her right. Maddoc followed her gaze to see Brennan with his hands up. He studied the man for a moment and could sense some kind of power coming from him.
Anwen slowly raised her hands and pushed them out. A bright light came from her, and the men on the second floor collapsed where they were. The soldiers who surrounded them vanished. She stumbled forward, and Queen Eira took her hand to steady her.
“Anwen, are you alright, my darling?” she asked as Maddoc walked to her.
He softly grabbed her by the arms so she would look at him. She gave him a small smile. “I am fine, but I would like to know what happened.” She looked at Brennan, who was bent over with his hands on his knees. Lachlan was in front of him with his hand on his brother’s back.
“It seems Brennan has a Gift,” said Queen Eira. “I haven’t heard of a shielder being born in many years, almost as long as a life-giver.”
“I had no idea,” said Brennan as he straightened up with his brother’s help. “Something in me just told me what to do. It almost felt as though I wasn’t in control of my body. I raised my hands, and the arrows just stopped.”
“We will talk more about it later, but I think we need to move on,” said Queen Eira.
Maddoc agreed, and he kept a hold of Anwen’s hand as they followed Elias and Lachlan through the hallway to the left towards the throne room. The door to the throne room was open, and they all stepped inside to find Princess Roslyn seated on the throne with many guards around her.
Maddoc pushed through the others to walk to the front with Queen Eira by his side. He stopped by the dais.
“I don’t believe you have authority to sit on that throne, your highness,” said Maddoc angrily. “I suggest you get up at once and bow before your queen in forgiveness.”
Roslyn sat forward and smiled. “I remember the first time we met; it was much like this, King Maddoc. I sat in a place of authority while you stood below me at my mercy.”
“I was not at your mercy then, and I am not at your mercy now. You held no authority in the Lucidian palace when I was there. Anwen showed just what an imposter you were on the Lucidian throne with her kindness and boldness.”
“Your uncle wishes you to go see him, King Maddoc. You should go into the temple and leave the others here with me. I wish to speak with my sister and niece, especially.”
“I will not stay here while my husband goes forward,” said Anwen forcefully as she walked to the front.
“King Maddoc,” said Princess Roslyn as she stared at him. “Tell your wife to stay here. Force her in some way if you have to.”
Maddoc felt a heaviness come over him. His mind felt cloudly, and his vision dim. He reached out to Anwen.
“Do not listen to her, Maddoc,” said Queen Eira. “You have a Gift that can combat hers. So let it have its way.”
“She is right,” said Anwen as she took his hand.
He gripped Anwen’s hand tight, feeling some of her power mix with his as he felt Queen Eira send a wave of calm over him. He shook his head and blinked his eyes. “My queen stays with me.”
“Lachlan,” said Princess Roslyn with authority. “Take Princess Anwen and bring her here. Kill anyone that tries to stop you.”
Lachlan began to move forward until Brennan grabbed his brother’s arm. Lachlan stopped and looked at his brother before staring at Princess Roslyn. “You have no control over me, Princess Roslyn. I don’t believe you can control any of us.”
“Give up, Roslyn,” said Queen Eira. “You will cause nothing but pain for yourself if you do not stop now. Tell these guards to stand down before they all end up dead, and you as well. Trust me when I say we have the power to defeat you and your forces quickly. I do not wish to harm you, but I will for the good of the land and my daughter.”
“Eira, I do not wish to fight you. I am only trying to gain power for our kingdom and our family. Prince Korben has promised much to Lucidala, and he is very much under my control. We can take over this whole land with his help. No longer will others snub us and let us suffer. They will cower before us in fear as we take what we wish.”
“That is not the Lucidala way, and it is not what is right for this land or its people. I don’t know what has made you so angry, and I am sorry if I played a part in it. I never meant to cause any hurt for you. I always just wanted you to be happy.”
Princess Roslyn stood up and shook her head. “You never wished for me to be happy, and you proved it many times. I have no wish to speak with you if you are going to be ridiculous.” She turned to her guards. “Kill them all except the king. I have no use for my sister or niece.”
“Mother, please,” said a voice coming through the door of the throne room.
“Gwendolyn?” asked Princess Roslyn in confusion. “You brought my daughter here, Eira? What kind of cruel trap is this?”
“I told your daughter to stay behind,” said Queen Eira. “Gwendolyn, how are you here now?”
“I snuck in on the back lines,” said Gwendolyn. Maddoc could see she was wearing britches and a gray tunic under the dark cloak she wore. “I had to see my mother and beg her to step down.” She walked forward to stand just in front of Princess Roslyn. “Please, mother, this will not end well for you unless you give up now. I don’t want to lose you no matter what you have done.”
“Listen to her, Roslyn. If you step down now, we can find a way forward. I will forgive you and find you somewhere to settle in this land. If you choose to fight, I don’t think you will make it out of this palace alive.”
As they continued to talk, Anwen used the distraction to move closer to Maddoc. “We have to go to the temple, Maddoc. My mother will handle my aunt, but we have to move on. Perhaps we can even save my aunt if we end this with your uncle.”
“Go,” said Brennan as he moved forward. “Elias, you and Rillian should go with them. Lachlan and I can stay here to protect our queen and princess. I feel something within me that will not let us lose.”
“Are you sure, Brennan?” asked Anwen.
Lachlan looked at his brother. “He is sure, and so am I. We will protect your mother and cousin, Anwen. I promise you.”
Anwen hesitated. Maddoc imagined she did not want to leave her mother, cousin, and both Dunne men to fend for themselves.
Prince Rillian moved close to her. “Go do what you need to do, Anwen. I will stay and help watch over your mother.”
She nodded before she turned to Maddoc. “We must go now.”
Maddoc grabbed her hand, and they ran around the dais towards the door to the temple. The guards on the dais moved closer to Princess Roslyn, and she was too wrapped up speaking with her sister to notice what Maddoc, Anwen, and Elias were doing. He had a feeling Queen Eira was using some of her Gift to keep the guards distracted.
They got to the temple door, and Elias tried to open it. He pulled, but neither door would budge.
“I think they have secured the door somehow,” said Elias as he continued to pull.
Anwen walked up and put her hand on the door. “Step back for a moment, Elias.” He looked at her for one moment before doing as she asked.
Anwen kept her hand on the door as she closed her eyes. Maddoc saw a quick flash of light before she stepped back, and the doors slowly opened by themselves. He reached out and took Anwen’s hand, pulling her gently behind him as he stepped inside cautiously with Elias.
The room was very dark, and Maddoc could hear the sound of hard rain hitting the stained glass window across the room. He was surprised not to find a bevy of palace guards. As he walked into the room, only four stood up from some benches towards the front table that his uncle was leaning against, propped up by his hands.
“You finally made it here, did you?” asked Prince Korben without looking up.
“I have come, but it is not to do as you wish. You can not win this battle or take the throne. I will not let you. I offer you a chance to surrender now. I will see that you are not harmed and sent away somewhere to spend the rest of your days in peace.”
His uncle shook his head as he laughed. “You know it will not be as easy as that. My forces are stronger than you think. Lord Gavin has been overseeing the collecting of soldiers, and he is an excellent fighter and strategist. You should not be so sure of your chances.”
“The men our king has brought are brave and numerous. I know they outnumber yours,” said Elias. “If you surrender now, you can stop many men from dying. The longer this takes, the longer the battle will go on.”
“You think I care about the lives of some simple palace guards or foreign fighters, Lord Bennington?” asked Prince Korben, still looking down. “I have worked to lead this kingdom since I was a young man, and I will see my plans through no matter what.”
Maddoc took a deep breath, knowing what he must do. He shouldn’t feel conflicted about it, but he did. Killing his uncle felt wrong and unnatural, but what else could be done? To save his kingdom and his people, he had to do what he must. He closed his eyes and raised his hands, thinking of all the times his uncle had caused pain to Anwen. He thought of his uncle killing his father. His power built inside of him, but before he could unleash it, he felt Anwen’s gentle touch on his arm.
“Wait for a moment,” said Anwen quietly before she walked in front of him.
“Your highness, you do not seem as if you are well. You won’t even show us your face. Are you ill?” She continued to walk forward as the guards moved towards her. She gave them a glance before pushing out her hands. The guards dropped their swords and sat down on close benches. They looked to Maddoc to be in some sort of trance.
“Princess Anwen?” asked Prince Korben as he finally looked up.
Maddoc involuntarily took a step back as he looked at his uncle. He looked nothing like the healthy and strong man Maddoc had always seen him as. Instead, his face was gaunt and pale. His eyes were red and underneath them was so dark, it was almost black. His hair was dirty and disheveled.
Anwen continued to move towards the prince slowly. “You do not look well at all, your highness. I am willing to bet you have not felt like yourself for a while. I noticed you were out of sorts when I stayed here.”
“Perhaps I have not felt completely well,” said Prince Korben in a voice so quiet Maddoc almost didn’t hear it.
“Then how can you expect yourself to make good decisions,” said Anwen as she stopped in front of the prince. “There are many things I do not like about you, but you always struck me as a wise and careful man. Your actions lately have not been wise or careful. I think you must see it. Your kingdom is full of disease, and even your most loyal lords are uneasy. How can you justify keeping this fight going?”
Prince Korben stared at Anwen as Maddoc moved forward. When he got to Anwen’s side, he looked at her to see her eyes large and bright. There was something about her that made it almost impossible for Maddoc to look away. Some power was coming from her that he could feel cover the whole front of the room.
“I’m not sure what you mean. This is what I have always wanted, to rule Calumbria.”
“I know,” said Anwen. “You wanted it so badly you killed your brother and tried to murder your nephew as well. I think you made many promises to lords even you knew were wrong. You involved the Parvilians in your scheme, telling lies to Lord Gavin about his niece. You know she is not carrying Maddoc’s child.”
“Yes, I did all of it. I killed my brother by bribing the palace healer. I spent months spreading lies amongst the commoners in Parvilia so they would believe they needed to kill Maddoc to remain free. Parvilia is strong and growing in power. I wanted to take that power for myself and my kingdom. King Brone was hesitant, but Lord Gavin was very ready to make an alliance. It was easy to convince him the king had violated his niece.”
“And me, your highness. You sought me as your bride because you wanted to exploit my Gift.”
“Mostly,” said Prince Korben with a nod as he continued to stare at Anwen. His eyes rarely blinked. “But I also liked you as well. You are charming and beautiful, princess, and something about your simple goodness attracted me even if I thought it was silly.”
“It has all come to nothing. You have killed your brother and made it so your nephew will never think well of you. Any goal you had of ruling Calumbria can never be. The gods would never allow someone who has done so much evil to wear the crown of their kingdom.”
“You don’t know that. How can you know it? I doubt the gods even really exist. We are alone in this world to do as we must. I want power, and I have done everything right to gain it.”
“Everything, perhaps, but trust my aunt. She has not served you well,” said Anwen. “You are confused and damaged in some way because of her.”
“Yes, listen to her, uncle,” said Maddoc adamantly. “You have lost. You have to realize all you have done has been for nothing. All the pain you have caused to others has led you to this, a broken man.”
“And after all the foolishness you have done, nephew, you shall still have everything. All the time you wasted and people you used, and you still get to be king and have your queen,” said Prince Korben.
“I know I have done many things not to deserve everything that I have that is good, but I am willing to work every day to become a better man. I will not keep trying to cover up my past sins. I will own them and try to live my life in repentance of them. I will be the king my kingdoms needs, and I will strive to love my wife in a way that is worthy of someone as good as her.”
Prince Korben was very quiet as he bowed his head. His hands went back on the table, and he seemed to be breathing heavily.
Anwen looked at him closely. “Your highness?”
She turned to look at Maddoc, causing him to be distracted for one second. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his uncle’s head snap up. “No, you do not get to have everything,” he said furiously as he pulled a large dagger from his belt and lunged towards Anwen over the table.
Maddoc flung out his hand as Elias grabbed Anwen, pulling her back towards him. Maddoc’s power flew out of him as a bright light filled the temple. His uncle was thrown back over the table, hard on the ground. Maddoc turned to look at Anwen as she leaned against Elias. He hurried towards her, ignoring the exhaustion that filled his body.
“Anwen,” he said urgently as he looked over her to check for any injuries. “Are you hurt?”
“No. I was only startled. Are you well?” She leaned up from Elias, who let her go.
“I am fine.”
“And your uncle?” she asked shakily.
“I haven’t checked.” Maddoc reached out to steady her. When he touched her hand, he felt a strong power flow through him. He felt instantly connected to Anwen in a way he didn’t think he could let go of her if he tried. She looked up at him, and she had the same intense look in her eyes as when she stared at his uncle moments ago.
Together they wordlessly moved in front of the table as they stared at one another. He didn’t know where they came from, but the next words he said seem to come from somewhere outside himself.
“I vow to protect the people of Calumbria with everything that I am. I will follow the will of the gods, always seeking to do what is right.”
“I will be by your side as you rule,” said Anwen as she continued to stare at him. “Together, we will help the kingdom prosper and protect the whole land by never taking more than we need and helping others who are in distressed.”
“We will rule together,” said Maddoc as he pulled Anwen close. “I cannot and will not be king without you.”
She leaned up and kissed him as his arms went around her. Maddoc closed his eyes, but he knew a bright light surrounded them. Warmth flooded his body, and he felt as though he and Anwen were transported somewhere outside of the temple, the kingdom, and even the land. At that moment, all that existed for him was her and the feeling that all would be right.
Eventually, Anwen pulled back, and Maddoc opened his eyes, finding himself still in the temple. She smiled at him before he turned to see Elias staring at them both looking as though he wasn’t sure what had happened. Maddoc let go of Anwen and moved towards Elias to check on him when he heard Anwen make a started noise.
He turned back to see her hands raised, and he heard the noise of glass cracking. He looked towards the stained glass window to see his uncle slumped underneath it with blood coming from his head. Prince Korben’s eyes were open, but he no longer saw anything in the world before him.
Maddoc heard Anwen make a noise as if all her breath left her. He reached for her and caught her as she fell, ensuring she did not hit the ground.
“I’m sorry, Maddoc,” she said softly with her eyes closed. “I didn’t want to do it, but I believe he was moving to kill you.”
“You do not need to be sorry, Anwen. He was given more chances than he deserved,” said Maddoc as he looked down at her.
“I’m so tired,” she said as she tried to close her eyes.
“Then rest, my love. I don’t believe there is anything left to do. Sleep all you wish, and I will keep watch over you.”
“You will not leave me?”
“I will never leave you again,” said Maddoc.