Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 13

They decided it would be best to rest a few days before continuing to Cadwin Manor. Grace was anxious for them not to make the journey by themselves, hoping Eleri’s aunt would make it back soon. Eleri agreed to wait at least three days, and Conri saw no reason to disagree. The time he spent with Eleri at the cottage in the forest would always be some of his favorite memories.

They slept in their first day after being up quite late. After breakfast, they enjoyed a few hours of sunshine by walking in the woods close to the house. Eleri practiced some spells, conjuring winds and flying high into the air. When she landed, she smiled at him and held out her hand.

“Would you like to try?” she asked.

He hesitated in taking her hand. “I am not sure. As much as I enjoy watching you, I am a little afraid of heights.”

“Do you not trust me, your highness?” She kept her hand extended towards him.

He laughed as he took her hand. “Not too high, Eleri. I do trust you, but I have my limits.”

She took his other hand before closing her eyes. She pulled him until he began spinning in a slow circle with her. She murmured a few words as the wind picked up around them. Conri felt his feet lift off the ground, and his stomach dropped as they flew into the air. He looked down, feeling dizzy, wishing he had not agreed to let her do this to him.

“Conri, look at me,” said Eleri in a calm voice.

Conri looked up and became lost in her shining green eyes. As he stared at her, he lost all fear, feeling very secure as she gripped his hands. She managed to pull him close in the air, and he slowly let go of her hands, putting them on her hips. She put her’s around his neck, and it almost felt like they were dancing. Leaning forward, she kissed him. He loved kissing her, and he believed he could kiss her forever and never grow tired of it. Their kiss in the air over the red forest surrounded by magic ignited something new inside of him. He always wanted her, and he always felt connected to her. That day he believed she became the very air he breathed, and to live without her seemed impossible.

When she finally pulled back from their kiss, Conri realized they were on the ground. She moved away from him with a mischievous smile before taking off and running into the woods. He caught her quickly by a group of hazelnut trees growing close together. Grabbing her by the waist, he held on to her tightly.

“Your first gift to me,” she said as she looked up at the tree before reaching under her dress and pulling out the necklace she wore with her mother’s pendant and the pouch that held the triple hazelnut.

He held the pouch in his hand for a moment as he looked at her. “I would give you much more than this, Eleri. I will give you everything if you will just ask for it.”

She raised her hand and put it on his cheek. “I know, Conri, but what you want to give me is very precious. I need to know I am worthy before I accept.”

He let go of the pouch put his arms around her. “You are more than worthy, Eleri. Besides saving Elathia, proving it to you is what I want most in this land.”

They kissed before slowly kneeling to the ground. He loved her under the hazelnut trees, not minding the hard ground or the wind. The magic from earlier seemed to hover around her, and he was caught up in it as he worked to show her every pleasure.

Late the second night of their stay, they sat together in the cozy parlor of the cottage. Grace had retired for the evening, and Eleri moved into his arms on the sofa facing the fireplace. He wasn’t sure why they acted so proper in front of Grace. He was certain she knew what their relationship was, even if she never spoke of it. They all played some game acting as if Conri did not spend every day stealing kisses from Eleri and every night loving her in her bed

As they stared into the fire, Conri would occasionally kiss the side of Eleri’s face or the top of her head, taking deep breaths to inhale her intoxicating scent. She snuggled into him as he kissed her neck. After sighing, she asked, “What was it like growing up with the Havens?”

Conri sat back a little. “It was pleasant. I felt very loved at all times. Lady Havens was kind and sneakily wise. She would not scream or punish me when I did wrong, but she would have long conversations with me about right and wrong. I hated disappointing her.”

“So you became better at hiding your naughtiness,” said Eleri with a laugh.

“I would like to think I was a decently good child, but I did cause some mischief. Nothing too bad, though I did ruin Lady Haven’s best dress one time by bringing a muddy puppy into the house. She did shriek at that, though I think her screams were directed at the dog and not me.”

Eleri laughed again, and Conri moved his hand to her waist. “What was Lord Havens like?”

“He was always calm and steady. As a young boy, I was in awe of him. He commanded his servants and tenants with such ease and politeness. They would always do what he asked. He could command a room with just a look. He once told me that kindness and keeping your word inspired loyalty and not anger and fear. He said loyalty was the key to running an estate, and he believed the same could be said for being a king.”

“He was right,” said Eleri. “My father is known to be kind and generous, but also fair. He keeps his word in all ways. He rewards those who do right, and, while merciful, there are punishments for those who do wrong. I believe, as king, you will need to be the same.”

“Eleri, do you know anything about my parents that you haven’t told me? Has your father ever spoken to you of them?”

“A little,” said Eleri. “I think he was very fond of both of them. Your father was his best friend, and it is painful for him to speak about the king too much. They grew up together in Elathia.” She turned and looked at Conri with a smile. “He did tell me about one time when they were both around twelve. The king, your grandfather, was away somewhere in the land, and your father was staying with my father’s family. They heard about an event that the boys of Niaham participated in every year, where they raced horses around a course set up on the outskirts of the city. Our fathers were determined to participate, but of course, it wasn’t proper.

“They didn’t care, sneaking out of the house the day of the race and stealing some servants’ clothes to dress in. They rode their horses, being very foolish in not seeing that everyone would know they were too fine to be own by simple village boys. The course was long and had many large jumps. The boys and horses who ran it were used to hard riding. Our fathers quickly realized they were in over their heads. It was too late to back out, so they lined up in the very back and hoped for the best.

“All went well until my father’s horse shied at a jump. It spooked the prince’s horse, and he was thrown into a prickly bush. My father ran over to help his friend, and your father’s horse nudged him into the bush as well. They had to limp home, unable to ride their horses since both of their rear ends were covered in thorns.

“When my grandmother saw them, they had to tell her the truth. She did not pity them, and though he didn’t explicitly tell me, I believe they had to spend a better part of the day helping each other dislodge the thorns.”

Conri laughed as Eleri smiled. “I suppose I come by my mischievous nature honestly, then.” He pulled Eleri back to him. “Thank you for telling me that story.”

“My father can tell you more if you can get him too. I am sure he would for you. I know he counts your father and mother’s death as one of his greatest failures. I believe it still haunts him.”

“He wasn’t in charge of their security,” said Conri.

“No, but he told Caerwyn’s uncle, the Bright One at the time, he could journey to see his brother and his family. Caerwyn’s brother had just been born. My father told Caewyn’s uncle to go saying he would watch over the king, queen, and young prince. The Bright One came back just as your parents had been slain. He managed with my father and the servant’s help to sneak you out.” She shook her head. “He wished to raise you himself, but he knew it was not wise for at least two reasons. The main one being you needed to be hidden.”

“What was the other reason?” asked Conri.

She smiled sadly. “I am sure you can guess.”

He sighed. “The prophecy.”

“He didn’t think it was a good idea for you and me to grow up together. He never pushed me into believing the prophecy, but it was still out there. I am not sure if he was afraid we would grow up as brother or sister or that us being together so much would make the prophecy come true.”

“Does he not want you to be queen?” asked Conri.

“He only wishes for me to be happy and not forced into something I don’t want.”

“I want the same for you as well, Eleri. I don’t want you to think how I feel for you has anything to do with some prophecy. I have fallen in love with you because of who you are, not some words that were written on a piece of paper years ago,” said Conri.

“I want to believe that, Conri, but there is no denying we did not feel some pull towards each other from the beginning.”

“So,” he said as he kissed her neck again. “Many people feel attracted to one another at first sight. I’m sure I am not the first man to want you immediately.” His hand moved up her waist to cup her breast. “You are so very beautiful, Eleri.”

“And I know many women have wished to have you as soon as they saw you,” she said as she shifted against him, moving her hand to his upper thigh. “It can’t all have to do with your title. I am sure it is the wicked smile you flash and that your eyes that are impossibly blue.”

“You think I have a wicked smile, do you,” he said with a slight laugh. “I am sure I have one on my face right now to match the wicked thoughts that are running through my head.” He kept one hand on her breast while the other started undoing the ties on her dress.

“Will you share these thoughts with me?” she asked as she moved his hand up his thigh.

“I can tell you that they are all about you.” He kissed down her neck as he pulled down the top of her dress.

“If that is the case, I am going to need to hear them.” She moaned, falling forward as his lips met the bare skin of her chest.

He kissed back up to her ear. “I will do better than tell you, my dear. I will show you.”

She kissed him as he pulled her into his lap. At some point, they moved entirely off the sofa to lay on the soft rug by the fire. He had a quick thought that they should move to her bedroom, but it was quickly gone as she rolled him over to straddle him. They spent half the night in front of the fireplace, taking their time as they continued to get to know each other as lovers.

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