As they traveled, Anwen worked with Maddoc on his Gift. She spoke to him of what it felt like when it was at work within her. She explained how she could call on it at any time, and that she was always aware of it. It had been a part of her all her life. It had not always been as strong as it was now that it was fully released, but even when she was a girl she could hear her Gift speak to her if she listened very closely.
So much of her was tied to being a life-giver. It made her want to protect all those around her. She wanted to care for all creatures and life that she came across. Throughout her young life, she saved numerous baby birds and small squirrels. She once mourned when an old tree outside the palace died, feeling as if she had lost a friend. In spring, when everything was coming back alive, she sometimes felt overwhelmed with excitement and happiness.
As they rode through the beautiful area of Calumbria that was the northern mountains next to the sea, Anwen couldn’t help but smile. There was so much wrong with her situation, but she could feel the life all around her. The trees were regaining their leaves. She spotted several baby rabbits and dear in the woods. The sea was alive with numerous fish and other sea creatures. The cool wind that blew in her face was fragrant with fresh flowers.
“Do you feel it, Maddoc?” she asked as they passed a very pretty view from atop a small hill.
“What is that?”
“New life is all around us. It should spark your Gift, so you feel it more than normal.” Anwen pulled up her horse to look over the sea and trees below them.
Maddoc moved his horse next to her. “It is a pretty view. Calumbria really is a beautiful kingdom.”
She nodded. “I am still partial to Lucidala, but I am quickly becoming enraptured with your kingdom. The village by the summer palace was so lovely, and the people I have come across have been interesting and generous.”
“I have a feeling you find most people interesting, Anwen. I also think you tend to bring out the best in everyone you meet.”
“I do find most people interesting. Everyone has a story to tell if you take the time to listen. As far as me bringing out the best in people, it is no secret. If you are kind and take the pains to actually get to know someone, you will find a treasure in most.”
Maddoc laughed slightly. “I gathered you learned this from someone.”
“I learned it from many people. I watched my mother as she charmed almost everyone she came across, sometimes without even her gift. I have seen how Lord Aidan uses kindness to advance what he knows is right. It was probably my father that taught me most. He explained to me that almost everyone is trying to live their life as best they can. We never know what struggles they have faced or what pain they have endured. First impressions can be deceiving. If we dig a little and show kindness and interest, we can find that most people have some good in them.”
“You father sounds like he was an interesting and good man.”
“He was an extraordinary man. I am sure my view is a little influenced by my love for him, but I imagine he had to be very special to win my mother’s heart. She could have any man she wanted.”
“Like mother, like daughter then,” said Maddoc with a smile.
“I could never charm like my mother. She has the Gift, and she is so very beautiful,” said Anwen with a sigh.
“Dearest, you are just as beautiful if not more so than your mother. You may not have her height, but your face is just as lovely. More so because of your eyes. I have never seen eyes more beautiful than yours. There is also something about your smile. I think it could light up the darkest room.”
“Of course, you really could have had just about any woman you wanted. Who wouldn’t want to marry the most powerful king in our land?”
“You at first,” said Maddoc. “You told me in no uncertain terms you had no designs on me when we first met.”
“And I didn’t. I expected to find you nothing but a stuck-up, helpless bother when I said I would see you safely to your kingdom.”
“I was rather stuck up and helpless, Anwen,” said Maddoc.
“You were, but as we traveled I noticed two things about you that started to change my mind,” said Anwen with a slight grin.
“What were they?”
“First, I notice times you could be thoughtful and kind like when you carried the water for me our first night on the road. You would take care of my horse as well as yours. Despite the unfortunate words you said to me, I began to think there might be a good person somewhere in you.”
“I hate thinking of what I said to you on that journey. I let my own desire for you cloud my mind. The truth was you entranced more than any woman ever had. I did not know what to do about such strong feelings. You also made me feel ashamed of myself. I had done nothing to prove worthy of my crown, while you practically ran your kingdom.”
“I did not want this conversation to turn into a dark trip down memory lane. I was right in my assessment that you were a good person. There is no one I love more than you in this land.”
He smiled at her as his horse moved underneath him. “You said you noticed two things about me. What was the other.”
Anwen turned her horse and walked it a little away from Maddoc. She looked over her shoulder at him. “It took me a day or so, but I started to see just how handsome you really are. I had not found a man attractive after Lachlan until I met you. Looking back now, I realized you awakened feelings in me I never knew existed, not even with Lachlan. I can see that I wanted you very much back then, and that want has grown so much it has become a need. I’m glad I decided you were worth my time and protection, my king.”
Maddoc moved his horse forward. “I’m glad you do not feel as if you have wasted your time, my queen.”
“Not at all. You are well wroth the investment I made in time and frustration. It has been returned ten-fold in the pleasure I have received. I only hope it will continue to prove prosperous.”
He laughed as Anwen took off on her horse.
On the third day, they came across a small village nestled between two mountains not far from the sea. They both decided they could use some supplies and felt disguised enough to look around the town. As the rode in all seemed still and eerily quiet. No one was out on the street, and Anwen only saw two faces poking out from doors and windows looking at them.
“Something doesn’t seem right,” said Maddoc quietly. “It is too early in the afternoon for the town to be so quiet.”
“Especially with the weather so nice.” Anwen looked around. “There appears to be a supply store up ahead. Perhaps, we will find out more as we buy what we need.”
They rode to the front of the store and dismounted. Maddoc tied up their horses on a post out front before going to the door and opening it. He allowed Anwen to enter before following her. The place looked well stocked and cared for. They both looked around before a plump man with brown hair came out of a backroom.
He stopped and looked at them both. “Can I help you?”
“We need a few supplies for our travels. Just some dried meat, whatever fruit you have, some tea, and wine,” replied Maddoc.
The man nodded and moved behind a counter. “I can manage all of that quickly. You will want to be leaving as soon as you can.”
“Why?” asked Anwen. “Are you not welcoming to visitors?”
“We usually are,” said the man as he pulled out some plums from a crate. We are close to the sea and usually have many visitors towards this time of year. Many well-to-do farmers and lower lords and ladies such as you two. This year, though, we have a grave sickness running through the village, and I would hate for you to catch it and let it run through the kingdom. I wouldn’t even serve you, but I have not been sick. I suppose we should block the village if we had any way to do it.”
Maddoc looked at Anwen. “How long has this sickness been spreading?”
“Since last fall.” The man sighed before putting some tea on the counter. “We have lost many people including children. My youngest…” his voice broke. “She passed just before mid-winter.”
Anwen felt the familiar catch in her chest that came when she heard of death and sickness. Her Gift cried out in her to do something. “What has been done to see to your ill? Do you have a healer?”
The man shook his head. “We have an older man who runs an apothecary, and he has done what he can. We sent word to Quinlan, but no action was taken by the palace. I suppose we are too insignificant for the king or his council to care.”
Maddoc closed his eyes and took a deep breath as Anwen reached out to touch his arm. “Where are you keeping the sick? Are they in their individual homes?” Maddoc opened his eyes and looked at her sharply.
“Some are at home. Others are in the meeting hall, so they can be cared for,” said the man as he put the last of their supplies on the counter.
“I have some training in healing,” said Anwen. “I would like to see some of your sick if you will point me in the direction of the meeting hall.”
“I am not sure that is wise, mam,” said the man. “The sickness seems to spread easily. You should take your supplies and leave town immediately.”
“I believe he is right, my dear,” said Maddoc. “We need to be traveling on. We must keep to our schedule.”
“If I did wish to stop by the meeting hall, where is it?” asked Anwen, ignoring Maddoc.
“It is in the town center. If you keep going straight towards the south mountain pass, you will see it. It is hard to miss with the activity going on around it right now,” said the man.
Maddoc paid the man well and took the supplies, putting them in a bag he had brought in. They both thanked him and walked back out to their horses.
“You cannot stop and try to help those people, Anwen,” said Maddoc as he followed her to her horse.
“I can’t just leave knowing people are suffering. My Gift won’t allow it. Can’t you hear your own speaking to you?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “If you heal the people in this village, word will get out. My uncle will find out, and he will know what road we are on. He will send people after us.”
“I know what you are saying makes sense, but I cannot just leave, Maddoc. I have to try to help who I can.”
“Anwen,” said Maddoc as he grabbed her arm. “Please, we have to keep going.”
She shook him off and walked away from him. “You do not have to come with me. Go on without me if you wish, but I have to try to help.”
She walked quickly away from him towards the center of town. She knew what she was going to do was dangerous, but it didn’t matter. Her Gift was to be shared with everyone, and if she could heal those who were sick in this small village, she would do it. She almost turned around to see what Maddoc was doing, but she kept her head forward.
As she neared the center of town, she could see activity. People were walking to and from a large building. Out front, someone had set up canvases, and several people lay underneath them. She quickened her pace towards the canvases. When she arrived, she knelt down next to a young boy. She took his hand and placed her other on his head. She could feel how hot he was.
The boy moaned as Anwen closed her eyes. She could feel the sickness inside of the boy, taking his life from him. Her Gift woke up within her, and she spoke to it. She asked it to move through her and heal what was wrong with the boy she touched. Her power ignited, and it flowed through her in a powerful burst. Her hands grew warm, and she could feel life spark within the boy.
Anwen breathed in deeply and took her hands off the boy as he stirred. He blinked several times before opening his eyes fully and staring up at Anwen. He lifted one of his hands towards her, and she moved down so he could touch her. His touch was cool against her cheek.
“Have you come to take me away?” he asked quietly.
She took his hand and gave him a small smile. “No, little one. No one will take you anywhere. You will be well, and you will live for many years.”
She looked over and saw a small table set up with a pitcher of water and a cup. She moved to pick up a pitcher when a large pair of hands stopped her. She looked up to see Maddoc pour some water into a cup and hand it to her. She took it and helped the boy drink some water before standing up.
She turned to Maddoc. “You came to help.”
“You think I could leave you here or anywhere? I still think this could cause us trouble, but you are right that we cannot ignore the pain of these people. I don’t know what I can do, but I want to help.”
Anwen smiled feeling overwhelmed with love for him. He was a good man, and she thought he would be a gifted life-giver once he learned more about his Gift. She took his hand, and they moved over to a young woman who lay on the ground, moaning in pain.
Anwen took her hand and looked at Maddoc. “Put your hand gently on her forehead and close your eyes.” Maddoc did as she directed. “Can you feel the sickness in her? Really concentrate and listen for your Gift. It will speak to you about what it finds.”
Anwen held the woman’s hand tightly as she watched Maddoc. She could feel her own Gift’s power swirl within her as it reacted to the woman’s sickness and Maddoc’s Gift. After a few minutes, she could feel Maddoc’s power try to heal the woman. She could see the concentration on Maddoc’s face. Anwen added her own powers to help, and soon the woman opened her eyes.
Maddoc took his hand off of the woman’s forehead and looked at Anwen as she looked at the woman.
“You should feel better,” said Anwen softly. “Soon you will feel completely better.” Maddoc handed Anwen a cup of water. “Drink this and rest. By tomorrow, you will be able to walk home.”
They went to many others. Anwen let Maddoc tried to heal them before adding her own power. Eventually, they attracted the attention of some of the helpers. As they finished healing a little girl, a woman greeted them.
“Who are you?” asked the woman as Anwen and Maddoc stood.
“I am Lord Lewis and this is my wife. We are both from Lucidala and are visiting some family who live along the coast,” said Maddoc.
“Lucidala?” asked the woman. “So, it is true that people from your kingdom have special powers?”
Anwen smiled. “Just some of us. We heard of your sickness and came to see what we could do. I take it there are more inside?”
“Yes, though some are getting better. There are a couple that are very sick. Would you mind seeing to them? I don’t know if you can help them, but I would appreciate it if you could try.” The woman hesitated for a moment. “One is my niece. Her mother and father have both died of the sickness as well as her grandmother. She is all I have left.”
Anwen nodded. “I will go to her this instant.” She looked at the woman. “You said there was another? Who is it?”
“A man who had been helping me here. He fell ill a few days ago,” said the woman.
Anwen looked at Maddoc. “Perhaps you could go see what you can do for the young gentleman while I see to this woman’s niece. If you need my help, you can come get me.” Maddoc hesitated as Anwen put her hand on his arm. “We will not be apart long. As soon as we are done, we will find one another and go on with our travels.”
Maddoc nodded, and they both followed the woman. They entered a large room that had several pallets set up. People were walking between the pallets giving people food or drink. The woman took Maddoc to a back corner where a man lay apart from the others. They left Maddoc there before going to a small side room where a little girl lay on some blankets in the center.
Anwen knelt down and took the little girl’s hand. It was so hot, she could barely believe it. “What is her name?” asked Anwen to the woman.
“Bethany,” said the woman as she knelt down on the other side of the girl.
Anwen placed her hand on Bethany’s head and closed her eyes. She could feel the sickness in the girl. She was afraid it might be too late, but she asked her Gift to release its power and heal the girl. It took a tremendous act of her Gift to help Bethany. Anwen could feel the power build inside of her before it released from her hand and went to the small girl.
Anwen felt breathless as the power moved through her and continued to flow to Bethany. It fought against the sickness in the girl. Anwen felt herself becoming exhausted, but she would not stop until she knew the girl would be well. Finally, she felt her power begin to overtake the sickness. She let her power work until she had nothing left.
Anwen took her hand off the girls’ forehead and leaned forward. Her eyes closed, and she was breathing heavily. She worked to regain some strength when she felt a small cool hand take hers.
Anwen opened her eyes to see bright blue ones staring at her. They were so clear and beautiful that it made Anwen smile and forget about her exhaustion for a moment.
“You are pretty,” said the small girl as she gazed at Anwen.
“So are you little one, and now you will feel better,” said Anwen.
The girl’s aunt got a cup of water and helped little Bethany to drink it. When the girl was done, she took Anwen’s hand again. “What is your name?”
Anwen didn’t even try to think of a fake one. “Anwen,” she said as the girl gripped her hand.
“I am very tired, Anwen.”
“You should rest, Bethany. When you wake up, you will feel better.”
“Will you sing to me? My momma always sang to me before bed. I know she won’t be able to do that anymore. She told me before she left.”
Anwen looked at the woman in front of her who had tears in her eyes. She looked back down at Bethany. “I will sing to you, but you have to close your eyes first.”
The girl nodded and closed her eyes. Anwen took a deep breath and sang the first song that came to her mind. It was one her father and mother used to sing to her together sometimes as they put Anwen to bed.
The sun is setting over the fields
It goes down low behind the hills
But my love for you never goes away
It only grows. It never fades
Find rest tonight and do not fear
My dreams will all be of you my dear
When the sun comes up again, you’ll see
That your heart rests safe with me.
As the night gathers all around
Close your eyes and lay your head down
As you sleep you’ll see you are safe from harm
My love surrounds you safe and warm
Don’t forget you belong to me, my love
As for you, I pray to the gods above
I thank them for you, you see
For they have given your love to me
The little girls’ hand lay limp in Anwen’s, and she could see Bethany’s breaths were even and deep. Anwen stood up with the woman and looked over to see Maddoc staring at her from the doorway. He had such a soft look of love in his eyes as he gazed at her, that Anwen couldn’t help but stop and stare at him for a moment.
She moved towards him, suddenly realizing how tired she was. She practically fell into him, and his arm went around her.
“Did you need any help with the young man?” asked Anwen.
Maddoc smiled down at her. “No, I think he will be well. I didn’t do as well as you, but I believe I did enough that he will live.” Anwen nodded as she closed her eyes and leaned heavily on Maddoc. “I doubt you could do much of anything anyway, Anwen. You look done in.”
“I am very tired,” replied Anwen sleepily.
“Then we need to leave and get you somewhere to rest.”
The woman walked out of the building with them and back towards the road. Maddoc had brought both of the horses close by and tied them to a tree.
“Would you like somewhere to stay here in the village?” asked the woman. “My house isn’t much, but you are welcomed to sleep there tonight.”
“No, we must be going,” said Maddoc. “There is somewhere we need to be, and we have a scheduled to keep.” He kept a firm hold of Anwen as she moved towards the horses.
Anwen hardly knew what was happening as Maddoc put his hands on her waist and picked her up putting her up in the saddle. She was surprised a few moments later, when he mounted behind her, putting one hand around her waist.
“I think you should ride with me, my love,” he said quietly. “I do not wish for you to fall asleep in the saddle and fall off.”
Anwen nodded and leaned back against him. She heard him say to the woman before they left, “I have some friends connected to the palace in Quinlan. When I finally get to see them, I will have them check on things here. If you need supplies or a healer, I will see if one can be sent quickly.”
The woman thanked Maddoc before he moved his horse down the road, the other tethered and trotting close by.
“I am sorry I must ride with you, Maddoc,” said Anwen leaned back as far as she could against him. “I know this cannot be comfortable for you.”
He whispered in her ear, “I enjoy having you in my arms very much, Anwen. It does not matter where.”
She smiled a little as she closed her eyes. She let the warmth of Maddoc and his gentle touch against her waist lull her asleep.