Pacing within the treeline that sat on the edge of the back lawn of Cadwin Manor, Caerwyn didn’t know what he was doing. He thought he must be out of his mind as he could scarcely remember half his days. He spent much of his time avoiding his father and the rest, trying to keep from Emilia.
After the night of the moon of the harvest festival, he woke up feeling miserable and guilty even if he had slept the whole night for the first time since leaving the Havens’ Estate. As he looked at Emilia in his arms, he knew what a wretched man he was. With one action, he had done wrong to the two women in his life he cared the most about.
Emilia was his oldest friend. They had grown up together, and she was one of the people he trusted most in the land. She was so good and had been through so much. Now he had used her in a way that was unforgivable. She did not deserve to be some stand-in for the woman he loved more than his own life. It was not her fault she was not Eleri and felt as if he had punished her for it.
Just thinking Eleri’s name made him groan. He had betrayed their love. He had been with other women when he was away from her, but it had been times he had been trying to move on. He hadn’t even known the women’s names. It had just been business transactions., a bit of coin for a few moments of release. Now, he had been with a woman they both knew. One who would always be around, and he had done it after telling Eleri he would do anything to be with her.
As Caerwyn paced in the forest, he knew he did not deserve either Emilia or Eleri. He deserved a life of loneliness and regret because that was what he had earned. Perhaps he could settle in as the Bright One and protect Prince Conri as he became king with Eleri as his queen. It would be the life of repentance that he deserved.
Caerwyn stopped and shook his head. As much as he might deserve to be alone, he was not ready to give up on Eleri. He would make amends to her. He would not be tempted by another again. At this point, he would be satisfied just to see her well. It was the second day after the Moon of the Harvest festival, and there was still no word.
“Have you been out here all day, Caerwyn?” said his father harshly as he walked up to him, his cane slightly sinking into the earth.
“For most of it,” said Caerwyn. “I was out running in the woods watching over the estate, trying to keep my wolf sharp and ready for when we receive word.”
His father made a harrumph sound. “I suppose that is as good of use as your time as any. There isn’t much you can do here, waiting at this estate.”
“Do you expect me to run out into the land having no idea where the prince or Eleri could be?”
“What of the connection you have with the prince. Can you gain no knowledge from it?” asked his father.
“I don’t believe that has ever been an ability of the Bright One. At least not one I have heard of. I can tell you that I don’t believe Prince Conri is in mortal danger,” said Caerwyn as he crossed his arms.
His father leaned against a nearby tree and took a flask out of his cloak pocket. He took a swig from it before saying, “If that is the case, perhaps this journey he is on isn’t a bad thing. I may not think much of the woman with him, but she is destined to be his bride. This trip hopefully allowed them to get to know one another. Perhaps they will return already bonded permanently. That would fulfill the prophecy and end your sorry fascination with her.”
Caerwyn turned from his father and closed his eyes. He felt his anger rise within him.
“Come now, Caerwyn, at this point, you must see that any plans you may wish could become reality cannot be. She has a duty to this land just as you do. Those duties are not compatible with you sharing a life with her.” His father took another drink as he looked at Caerwyn. “I understand some of your feelings, you know. I have seen the woman, and I must admit she is pleasant to look at. I imagine as feisty as she is, she makes a good woman to lie with.”
Caerwyn turned quickly. “You shouldn’t talk about her that way.”
“Have I said anything not true? I know you have needs, and she was a tempting distraction, but it was just that, a distraction. It is time to put her aside and focus on what you must do. If you need to relieve yourself, plenty of women through the kingdom will give you what you need. Even Lady Farrow might be a good option. She has grown into a pretty thing, and she would not need anything from you since she has the Farrow name now.”
Caerwyn dropped his arms and his head. He felt shame fill him again as he thought of the few nights before where he let his desire get the better of him. “She does not deserve to be used in such a way.”
“Oh, a young widow like her does not mind. Trust me, Caewryn, I had a few when I was young. Your mother wasn’t very passionate before she had you and your brother. Her desire for me all but stopped after your brother was born. I found pleasure where I could, and attractive young widows were always willing.”
Caerwyn felt his anger build even higher. He didn’t think of his mother often. She died less than two years after his brother was born, never seeming to recover from the birth fully. She was a timid and kind woman who Caerwyn loved. She sang beautiful songs to him when he was ill or when he couldn’t sleep. It hurt to still think about her. After she died, all he knew in his house were harsh words, pain, and disappointment.
“I don’t wish to speak of this with you. We will not come to any agreement,” said Caerwyn.
His father took a long swig from his flask and put it away. He picked up his cane and pushed off from the tree, walking towards Caerwyn. “Is there something you wish to say to me, Caerwyn?” asked his father as he leaned to speak right into Caerwyn’s face.
Caerwyn stared at his father for a moment before turning away. His father laughed. “Always such a coward. How the gods chose you to be the Bright One, I will never know. I suppose I should be happy you weren’t my second born. I doubt you would do me much credit carrying on my family name. Your brother married a good, quiet woman and has already produced two fine boys.”
“Have you ever even seen them, father?” asked Caerwyn. “Does anyone not think it is unusual that my brother chooses to live in his wife’s family home?”
“What are you trying to say?” asked his father.
“My brother avoids you as much as I do,” said Caerwyn. “I know Alwyn stays in his wife’s home only because he cannot stand to be in the same house as you. He wants you to have no influence on his sons.”
“You shouldn’t talk about what you don’t know,” said his father.
“I know more about Alwyn than you ever will. We had to grow up together in hell. I feel sorry that he must deal with you more than me. I can use the excuse of my position never to see you. Alwyn has to at least come a few times a year to make sure your estate isn’t in total ruin.”
His father stared at him, breathing heavily. “What has gotten into you? You dare speak to me like this? You think you love the trollop who has given you favors all these years?”
“Stop talking about her,” said Caerwyn through gritted teeth.
“Why?” asked his father as his face grew red. “Do you not like hearing the truth about Lady Eleri?”
“She is too good for you even to think her name, let alone say it,” said Caerwyn. “You should leave before she arrives. As evil as you are, you might perish in her presence.”
His father swung his cane toward Caerwyn, but Caerwyn caught it easily. He held it as he looked at his father before pushing him away. His father fell, landing heavily on his backside.
“You dare raise your hand at me?” asked his father from the ground.
“What are you going to do about it?” asked Caerwyn as he felt his wolf just below the surface. “If you do not manage to get up and get out of my sight, I will not be held accountable for what will happen.”
His father looked at Caerwyn, and a low growl came from Caerwyn’s throat. “Go, now.”
His father scrambled up and stared at Caerwyn for one moment before turning and walking back to the house as quickly as he could.
Caerwyn turned and moved deeper into the woods. He didn’t wish to shift again, but he thought a long walk would be good to exercise his anger. Perhaps his father would truly leave the manor, and Caerwyn wouldn’t have to see him again. Maybe he could avoid his father for the rest of his life.
Caerwyn made it far enough in the woods where he couldn’t see the house. He made a wide circle, knowing he was close to the small pond on the east side of the property. He heard something splash in the water as he approached. Slowing down, he came upon the pond to find Emilia throwing small rocks into the water.
He almost went the other way to avoid her, but she turned as he broke a stick as he stepped. She stared at him as he stood still.
“You can’t avoid me forever, Caerwyn. You might as well come speak with me now,” she said as she threw another rock in the water.
He walked over to her, knowing she was right. “I have not avoided you altogether. We have eaten meals at the same table.”
“And you have said barely two words to me. There is no need to act like this. You have done nothing wrong,” she said.
“But I have,” he insisted. “I have wronged you and Eleri.”
“I won’t speak for Lady Eleri, but I do not feel as though you have anything to answer for on my part. Perhaps, I should feel ashamed if you think you betrayed your love. I do not wish to make her or you unhappy.”
“You do not need to feel shame. It is I who gave reassurances of my love to Eleri. Even after that, look what I have done.”
“It is a trying time, and when it comes down to it, she does not have a claim on you. I am sure she would agree.”
“She may have no official claim, but I do belong to her, Emilia. My heart is full of her, which makes what I did with you despicable.”
“I believe you have loved Eleri for a while, Caerwyn. Are you telling me you have had no other women in all that time?”
Caerwyn turned from her. He looked out at the pond. “I know I do not deserve her.”
“What does that even mean?” asked Emilia. “I hope love is not some scale that must be kept in balance. If that is the case, there is no hope for any of us.”
“I feel as if everything is off-balanced. I am unable to do my duty and away from the woman I love. I know at least half of it is my fault, but I feel so unsettled that doing anything of worth seems impossible.”
“I know,” she said as she threw one more rock. “Which is why I wished to help you the other night. You did seem to sleep soundly, and I can’t say the experience was without enjoyment for me.” She smiled a little as Caerwyn turned to look at her. “Do not worry, Caerwyn. I expect nothing from you. To be honest, I don’t think I want anything from you beyond friendship.”
“What will Eleri think of me?” he asked as he turned back towards the pond.
“Once again, I will not speak for the woman, but I am sure she will think you are mortal like all of us and make mistakes.”
For some reason, it bothered him to hear her call the night they shared a mistake. He had thought it was in his head, but to hear it come out of her mouth felt wrong. He took her hand on his arm and held it.
“Please don’t say it was a mistake,” he said quietly.
She gave him a confused look. “You just spent the last few minutes explaining how wrong it was. What else am I suppose to call it?”
“Do you really feel it was a mistake?” he asked.
She gave him a small mile. “I would not take it back if I could. I wanted to ease your burdens and help you rest. I believe I achieved my goal.”
He nodded. “However I think I have failed, it has nothing to do with you.”
She looked up at him. She was very lovely in the afternoon sun with her eyes reflecting the shining water. He felt pulled towards, wishing he could have some of her goodness. With all that was wrong pressing down on him, he felt like she was the one thing that could help him to truly breathe.
He moved towards her, and she leaned up. Their lips met, and he had to admit to himself that it did not feel wrong. It felt like a bit of relief from the pain he had felt for so long. He let go of her hands and put his arms around her. He felt himself losing control, and he wondered if she would let him take her out there.
His hands were under her cloak, working on untying her dress when the sound of someone approaching made them jump apart. Emilia worked to fix her dress, and Caerwyn wiped his mouth, watching Aron approach them. He stood before them with his hands behind his back and a deep frown on his face.
“I didn’t wish to disturb you, Caerwyn, but I have been looking for you for some time.” He put his hands down by his side, and Caerwyn could see he held a message. “Lord Cadwin has received word of Lady Eleri and Prince Conri’s whereabouts. He believes he knows where we can find them, and I will be leaving within the hour with many of my men. I thought you might want to join me, but now I am not so sure.” He glanced at Emilia before putting his eyes back on Caerwyn.
“Where are they? Are they safe?” asked Caerwyn as he moved forward.
Aron held out the message, and Caerwyn took it. “They were spotted at a village festival a few nights ago. The leader of the village’s daughter believes she danced with Prince Conri. They were tracked to an inn there but had left before they could be found. Seeing where they are in the land, Lord Cadwin believes they are heading toward Efa Moss’s forest home. He is not sure Eleri’s aunt is in residence at this time. There are a few large forces of Lord Fellen’s in the area, and Lord Cadwin is concerned for their safety.”
Caerwyn read over the letter and nodded. “I will go with you. I can be ready in less than an hour.” He turned to Emilia. “Will you walk back with us?”
“Not yet,” she said. “I will stay out here to think a bit more. I wish you a safe and successful journey. I look forward to seeing Lady Eleri and the prince when you return.”
Caerwyn nodded. “Stay safe here while I am gone. Watch over the Havens.”
“Of course,” she said as she turned towards the pond.
Caerwyn watched her for a moment before looking at Aron, who was staring at him with a hint of distaste on his face. Caerwyn ignored it and walked past the man, desperate to leave so he could get to the prince and Eleri as soon as he could.