It took Anwen a few moments to realize where she was as she woke up. There was ample light in the room, and the bed under her was soft. She stretched and reached out as she fully opened her eyes, realizing she was alone in the bed. Startled, she sat up and looked around. The room was large and fine. There was a tall fireplace with a sofa in front of it, and a set of doors she thought must lead to a sitting room.
She threw off the covers and stood up, wondering if she should summon a servant to help her dress so she could find Maddoc. She thought de must have woken earlier and already went downstairs. As she was looking for a bell cord to pull, the door opened and he walked in and up to her.
“I hoped to make it back before you woke up. I was sorry to leave you alone, but Elias wanted to hear our tale first thing. I wished for you to sleep longer.” He took her hand and kissed her cheek.
“It is no bother, though I am not used to sleeping in. What time is it?”
“It is past mid-morning. Lunch will be in a little under two hours, but there is some tea and toast in our sitting area if you are hungry. I can summon a servant to help you dress while you eat.”
She nodded and walked with him into the sitting room. As she drank some tea and ate some toast, he pulled a cord in the corner before sitting down next to her.
“How are you feeling?”
She swallowed before answering. “Fine. Much more rested than I have in the past few days. Have you found out anything about Quinlan?”
“Not much. After I told Elias our tale, I came to find you. I figured you would want to hear the information first hand.” He smiled a little. “Also there are a few people here besides Elias who are desperate to see you. They begged me to come see if you were ready to come downstairs, though they will come to you if you do not feel like it.”
She put down her teacup. “I would like to go downstairs. Who besides Elias is here?”
“Lady Phaedra is still here with her son as well as Elias’s mother, and Lady Alys’s as well. It is Lady Alys and Prince Rillian who are most desperate to see you, though.”
“Prince Rillian?” What on earth is he doing here? I figured he would go back to Bellican.”
Maddoc shrugged. “Maybe we will find out more when we go downstairs and hear what all has happened since we have been gone.”
She picked up her tea and finished it as she watched Maddoc. “Are you alright, my king?”
He nodded. “I have been very worried about you, but you look much more alert and healthier this morning. I am not sure you could have lasted another night on the road.”
“I am stronger than I look, but I did appreciate a warm, soft bed. I am well, Maddoc, and I believe there is something else troubling you.”
“You saw all the sick people we encountered in the kingdom. How many more are suffering? What kind of king am I that I had no idea all of it was happening to my people? How many have perished because of my inattentiveness and laziness?”
Anwen took his hand. “This is not all your fault. Diseases happen, and you had no idea. Others hid it from you. How can you act if no one lets you know? You may have had some years you did not act as you should, but I believe had you known the true suffering of your people, you would have done something.”
“I would have,” said Maddoc. “But I should have tried harder to find out things happening in the kingdom. My uncle and some of the lords may have kept things from me, but for too many years, I was all too happy to let them.”
“You can’t change the past,” said Anwen. “You can only do what you can to make sure the future is better than it is now. I believe you will do all you can to help your people, and I will help you.”
He brought his free hand up to caress her cheek. “I’m not sure how I was gifted you as my wife, Anwen, but it has saved me, and I believe you will save Calumbria. With you as my queen, I believe I can make things right.”
She gave him a small smile. “You are more than capable of leading your kingdom without me, but I am happy to be by your side as your queen.” She gave a small laugh. “I’m not sure I am really your queen though. There has been no official ceremony or crowning.”
He took his hand back and sat up straighter. “Am I the King of Calumbria?”
She nodded. “You are.”
“And are you my wife?”
“I am. There is no denying it even if I wished to,” said Anwen.
“Then you are my queen. Not only by law but because I declare it as well. I don’t need some crown or official ceremony to tell me what is true. You are the Queen of Calumbria, and I will have you addressed as such.”
A servant came in to help her dress, and Maddoc excused himself. The dresses she had brought with her were too wrinkled to wear. While they were being seen to, Anwen was given a borrowed gown that was a bit too big for her. The servant did her best tying it up so it would fit. Once she was as well dressed as she could be, she walked down the stairs, hearing voices in a nearby room.
She entered the room to find a large parlor. On one side, Elias’s and Lady Alys’s mother sat together by a large window. On the other side of the room, Elias and Prince Rillian stood by the fireplace as Lady Alys sat nearby on a chair, and Elia’s young brother Avery sat on a large sofa. As soon as she came into the room, Prince Rillian walked quickly to meet her.
“Princess Anwen,” he said as he took her hand. “I almost can’t believe you are really here. I had hoped you had not perished as I had feared, but to see you safe and sound has brought me great happiness.” He kissed her hand.
“Now, your highness, you will have to address her correctly,” said Elias as he walked up behind Rillian. “Queen Anwen, I am very pleased to have you in my home.” Elias bowed.
She laughed slightly. “It feels so odd to be addressed in such a way. I take no offense, Prince Rillian. I am surprised to see you here. I thought you would be in Bellican.”
“After all that had happened, I didn’t feel I could leave this place until I knew your fate. My father is also concerned over the status of Calumbria and how it might affect the whole land. He asked me to stay with Lord Elias and report to him.”
“I am very interested in hearing all that has happened while we were away,” said Anwen.
“We will discuss it in a minute,” said Elias. “Once our king returns from his walk.”
“His walk where?” asked Anwen as Lady Alys had made her way over to her.
“He is out with my aunt and her son somewhere on the grounds. The young man requested the attention of the king.”
“Oh,” said Anwen as Lady Alys took her hands. She knew it was foolish to feel any jealously towards Lady Phaedra and Maddoc. They had a history, but it was in the past. He had let her know constantly she was the only woman he wanted. She pushed down the feeling deep and smiled at Lady Alys. “I am very glad to see you, my lady.”
“Not as glad as I am to see you, your majesty. I was so afraid the rumors were true, and you had perished.”
“They weren’t too far off, but I recovered. I’m glad to be here with you, with all of you.” Anwen nodded towards the two ladies by the window who had stood up. They gave her a curtsey.
The sound of a child’s giggles sounded in the room as a dark-haired young boy ran in. He was around four or five, Anwen guessed. Behind him was Maddoc hurrying to catch the boy. The boy ran to Elias and hid behind him with another giggle. He peeked around Elias’s legs as Maddoc walked up to him.
“Thomas, you silly boy; come here,” said Lady Phaedra walking into the room. She adjusted her full, blue skirt before moving a strand of her silky light brown hair that had come loose from her bun out of her eyes.
The boy giggled again as he hid behind Elias. Maddoc gave a small smirk before he reached behind Elias and scooped the boy up. The boy laughed as Maddoc brought him over to his mother who took the boy to a woman who had just walked into the room.
“You go with your nanny for a bit, and I will come visit you later,” said Lady Phaedra as she dropped a quick kiss on her son’s head.
“Will the king come see me too?” asked the little boy.
“I will if you behave,” said Maddoc smiling down at the boy as he stood by Lady Phaedra.
Anwen watched them all three together, and she had a wild thought that perhaps the boy could be Maddoc’s with his dark hair and blue eyes, but she quickly dismissed the thought. The boy must be at least four which meant Maddoc would have not even been nineteen when the boy was born; surely it would be impossible. Anwen shook her head, berating herself for thinking of something so silly when so much was at stake with both their kingdoms.
It didn’t matter how lovely Lady Phaedra was, or how familiar she and Maddoc were together. Anwen knew her king loved her, and whatever friendship he shared with the woman he was standing next to was just that, friendship. Anwen walked over to stand next to Maddoc.
“What a lovely son you have, my lady,” said Anwen looking at Lady Phaedra and then the child.
“He is quite a handful, princess,” said Lady Phaedra. She started and looked at Anwen. “Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose princess is not correct anymore, is it?”
“It does not matter, my lady. Do not trouble yourself.”
“I will because I believe your king would like me to address you correctly,” said Lady Phaedra as she put her hand on Maddoc’s arm.
Maddoc nodded. “Young Lord Thomas, meet your queen,” said Maddoc as he moved closer to Anwen and took her hand. “This is Queen Anwen.”
The boy looked up at Anwen and smiled as she gave a small curtsey. The boy giggled and hid behind his nanny.
“You shall have to learn how to greet your queen properly, young lord,” said Maddoc teasingly. “But perhaps at another time. Go on with your nanny as your mother asked.”
“Now, I believe you have some questions, my king, and I am more than happy to fill you in on what has happened,” said Elias as the nanny led the boy out.
They all moved to the fireplace, the two ladies by the window coming closer. Anwen sat on the sofa with Prince Rillian and Avery as Maddoc decided to stand by the fireplace with Elias. The others found places, and Maddoc turned to Elias. “You tell me it was chaos when Anwen and I disappeared?”
“It was just before,” said Elias. “The Lucidian guards and our place guards engaged after Lachlan stabbed Anwen. Prince Korben moved towards you but something seemed to throw him back. I suppose that was your Gift that you appear to have.”
Maddoc gave a non-committal gesture. “I’m not really sure what I was doing at the time. To say I was distraught would be an understatement. I thought Anwen was going to die in my arms.”
Anwen looked up at him with a small smile as he stared at her. He turned as Lady Phaedra who was close by reached out and squeezed his arm. “But she did not die, my king. She is alive and well, and we are all grateful.” She rubbed his arm for a second and let go.
“Indeed,” said Elias. “Rillian and I tried to come to you as well until we heard you call for us to get help.”
“I was about to run and try to find a healer,” said Rillian. “But then something stopped me.”
Elias gave a short laugh. “Something stopped all of us. I mean it literally stopped us. It was all very confusing, and I am not sure how much I understand. A bright light came out of nowhere and surrounded the whole area. I couldn’t see much, but it felt like we were all stuck in some sort of way. I couldn’t move.”
“It seemed as if it lasted a very long time, but I doubt it was more than ten seconds,” said Prince Rillian. “When it finally faded, everything was quiet, and you two were gone.” The prince looked at Anwen and took her hand. “We had no idea what had happened. I was afraid both of you had perished in some way.”
Elias nodded. “Everyone who was fighting a moment ago just stared at one another. Finally, Lachlan fled, and his father let him go. I don’t think Lord Dunne knew what to do, Anwen. He got off his horse and demanded to know where you were. Your uncle did the same as he sat on the ground, my king. It appeared as if the fighting was going to start again when Matthias moved to the middle of it all. He still had command over some of the men. At least enough to get them to drawback.”
Prince Rillian looked at Anwen. “Your lord called back his guards, and Lord Elias went to speak with him.”
“I tried to calm him. He was of course livid that you had disappeared with our king, but I assured him, I was as worried as him. I vowed I would find out what I could about your whereabouts and if you were still alive. I invited him to my home to speak over it when Princess Roslyn and Princess Gwendolyn walked out.”
“What did my aunt do?”
“She checked on Prince Korben who was finally getting to his feet, and she went to speak with your lord, Anwen,” said Elias. “She commanded him to go back to Lucidala and see to securing Awbrey while she figured out what was going on.”
“He didn’t want to obey her,” said Prince Rillian. “They argued quite a bit, and in the end, Lord Dunne said he would go back to Lucidala and speak with his queen. He vowed he would be back to find his princess and future ruler.”
“Does anyone know how my mother is?” asked Anwen.
Elias shook his head. “I have thought to write Lord Aidan and see what is happening in Lucidala, but I am afraid any note I send might not make it. Things have changed quickly in Calumbria.”
“What has happened?” asked Maddoc.
“Once things settled down, Prince Korben took control with the help of Princess Roslyn,” started Rillian. “Your mother came home a few days later, but by then your uncle had done much.”
“Your uncle called a council meeting the morning after you disappeared. “He talked of you abandoning your people because you could not have your way. He accused you of stealing his betrothed and even blamed you for her injuries. Half of the council, including myself, wouldn’t hear you. You are our king, Maddoc, and we had no idea what had happened. You of course were not to blame for Anwen’s injuries. It was that awful, impulsive man from Lucidala.
“As far as you disappearing, we didn’t know why, but I argued you had a good reason. Many on the council already knew you were growing close to Anwen, and many of the lords wouldn’t have minded the match. They are fascinated with her powers and were charmed by Lucidala’s current queen. They would be pleased with an alliance between our two kingdoms.
“But your uncle still holds half the council. We argued until well past lunch when your uncle finally brought in the guards he controls. He said he was taking charge of Calumbria as ruler until the king could be found and questioned.
“He threatened us, and a few more caved to his threats, but many of us didn’t. We left swearing he would never be our ruler. We claimed you as our true king. I believe later that day he stripped Mattias of his position as even a guard. I heard Matthias was furious and he vowed to find you. He took a large number of guards with him who are loyal to him and you.
“Your mother came back, but what could she do? She tried to talk reason with your uncle, but of course, he would not hear it. He started to talk of forming his own alliance with Parvilia or Lucidala by marrying one of the princesses, but he wanted to make sure you were not an option, Anwen. He has hope you are still alive.”
“She is alive, but she is not an option,” said Maddoc furiously. “I made sure of that, and I have proof should my uncle wish to see it or anyone else.”
Anwen looked at him curiously, wondering what his proof of their marriage was. Before she could ask Lady Phaedra spoke to Maddoc. “You do not need to get upset, my king. No one here is questioning the validity of your marriage. I know I speak for all gathered when I claim you as my king, and your wife as my queen.”
Maddoc nodded and smiled down at the woman. Anwen shifted in her seat a little, wondering at the fact Lady Phaedra could calm Maddoc’s rage so quickly.
“Your uncle has been actively keeping both young princesses close to him. He has the support of Princess Roslyn in a union with her daughter as she has stayed in Quinlan to forward the match. King Brone of Parvilia does not wish to connect his family with Prince Korben. He did not like how he treated you, Anwen. He demanded his daughter leave with him, but she refused. He eventually left himself to go back to his kingdom, I suppose,” said Elias.
“So what has happened since then? Why are you here now, Elias?” asked Maddoc.
“I and the other lords who would not go along with Prince Korben became scared for our safety and that of our families. We agreed to leave Quinlan for a time. I have been corresponding carefully when I can with the other lords as well as Matthias. There are several groups out looking for your Maddoc. I believe Matthias was heading towards the summer palace last I heard.”
“I supposed we missed him on the road. He must have taken the main route as we stuck to the coast. The only group that found us was my uncle’s guards. It was a near thing, but we managed to get away,” said Maddoc.
“So, your uncle knows Anwen is still alive,” said Rillian.
Maddoc nodded, “He also should know by now that she is my wife and queen if I was able to send his head of the guard back where I planned. I am new to my Gift and do not have good control over it.”
“You should also know there is some unrest in the kingdom,” said Lady Phaedra. “I believe Elias has gotten reports of your absence being known far and wide. It seems many were unhappy before, but now they are close to full-out revolt.”
Elias nodded. “It appears that many parts of the kingdom have been suffering for different reasons, and the people are angry.”
“We have seen it,” said Anwen as Maddoc turned away. “We saw so much sickness on the east sea coast. We cured who we could, but there is too much illness. It will take healers and medicines to stop it. Above all, a new way has to be found where the needs of the people aren’t ignored. I don’t know what Prince Korben’s plan is, but he might be happy to let the people suffer and die.”
“Many of the lords who have left Quinlan have sent me messages of trouble in their lands. They are doing what they can, but I am afraid it will get worse until it gets better,” said Elias. “We have to find a way to break the hold Prince Korben has on the kingdom. I know it will be hard to hear, Maddoc, but it might come to using force.”
Maddoc took a deep breath and kept his back to them. He eventually nodded and turned his head slightly. “Too long I have ignored my duty. Some of this is my fault. If I had ruled as I should have earlier, I could have seen the problems our people face. Instead, I let my uncle have his way and my mother carry the burden of trying to keep the kingdom together.”
Anwen stood up to go to him, but it was Lady Phaedra who spoke first, standing up and taking his hand. “You are very young my king, even now. Your uncle manipulated you, and your mother coddled you too long. You did not know what was happening. This is not your fault.”
Anwen sat back down, and Prince Rillian turned to her with a small smile. He took her hand and leaned in close. “Do not worry about it, Anwen.”
She looked at him, but he only patted her hand and let it go.
“No matter who is at fault, we must move forward,” said Elias. “There are many who will stand by your side, Maddoc. It will take a few days, but I will contact them. They can come here and meet with you. We will come up with a way to move forward.”
“How long will it take do you think?” asked Anwen. “I should like to check on my mother and friends.”
“No more than a week. Most lords live within a two days ride from here. Some may take longer as all will have to be careful traveling to not bring attention to Prince Korben that something is happening.”
Anwen sighed. “Perhaps I should ride on in a day or two then. I could get to Lord Aidan’s estate in Lucidala in less than four days if I rode hard.”
Maddoc turned swiftly. “You will not leave this place without me, Anwen.”
“I cannot just ignore my kingdom, Maddoc. I know you have many problems here, but I am sure Lucidala is suffering as well. I need to know if my mother is well and what is happening in Awbrey and beyond.”
“I am not saying your duty to your kingdom is not important,” said Maddoc. “But you cannot leave here by yourself.”
“I could go with her,” offered Prince Rillian. “I could ride with her to Lucidala and see her safe back to you, your majesty. You might need more help to retake your kingdom, and having Lucidala and their guard would be a powerful ally.”
“No,” said Maddoc. “I will not be without my queen. As soon as I meet with my lords, I will take you myself, Anwen.”
Anwen stood up and bristled a little. “Maddoc, I am more than capable of taking care of myself on the road. Prince Rillian is right. You will need Lucidala. I also have to see to my people. I am very worried about my mother.”
“Anwen, nothing will change in a little more than a week. You will not leave this estate without me and that is final. You may be the next ruler of your kingdom, but here in Calumbria, you are my queen, and therefore will have to listen to my commands. I will not argue about this any further.”
“You cannot stop me from going,” said Anwen furiously. “I can and will go as soon as it can be arranged.”
Maddoc huffed, and Anwen was aware that all eyes were on them. He looked around at everyone. “I have nothing more to say about this. Anwen, do not think you can leave this estate. If you try, I will come after you and drag you back here if I have to. I will lock you in our room if it comes to it. This is the last I want to hear of it. As soon as I have settled our next steps here, I will escort you to Lucidala.”
Before she could speak again, he turned and walked quickly from the room. Anwen looked around at everyone staring up at her. She shook her head, wishing she had somewhere to go, but she did not know the house well.
“It is almost lunch,” said Elias breaking the tension in the room. “I am sure after a good meal and some more rest, all will regain their tempers and we can talk more about this. My queen, let me escort you to the dining hall.”
Elias walked up and offered her his arm. She took it, and he moved her away from the others to the end of the room.
“He is just tired and worried, Anwen. You know he did not mean to be so harsh. He only wants to keep you safe.”
She shook her head. “He will have to understand that I do have my own responsibilities, Elias. He knew it when he married me. He cannot expect me to just throw off Lucidala.”
“He does not expect that, but think of what he has been through. From what he told me, you died in his arms. I know he brought you back, but he could barely get the words out when he talked about it. He had to watch you suffer for weeks. He said you were almost hurt on the journey here. He is only overcome with the idea of losing you. You will have to show him some grace. You know he has issuers with anger, and he feels inadequate as king due to his past. He needs you to help him feel secure and calm him.”
Anwen let out a breath of air. “It seems there is another here that does a fine job of calming him and helping him feel secure. Perhaps he should have married her if he wanted a queen that would always do his bidding.”
“You are being ridiculous, my queen. I know for a fact, our king never thought about marriage except as something to satisfy his mother and uncle until he met you. He didn’t care about much at all until that journey with you. You are more to him than any other woman could ever be. Do not let some misplaced jealousy make you forget it.”
Anwen felt some shame flow over her. She was jealous of Lady Phaedra and her closeness with Maddoc. It was silly to think such a thing with all that was going on. “You are right, Elias. I am very ashamed of myself.”
“You do not need to be ashamed, my queen. Just don’t forget how much influence you have over our king. Don’t forget how important you are to him. Give him some time, and speak with him again about visiting your kingdom. I am sure you can come to a compromise.”
“I hope you are right, Elias, but I will not let up when I feel that I am right. I need to know how my mother is doing, and I have to protect Lucidala.”
“I know, Anwen, and you do not need to worry because your king understands it as well.”