Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 16

Conri helplessly watched as Eleri flew to the air. The sound that came from her hitting the large tree made him cry out. She crumpled down on her side as Caerwyn’s wolf ran over to her. Conri looked at Ciara lying on the ground, her own spell hitting her after Eleri blocked it. She sat up slowly and sneered at Conri before she got to her feet and disappeared.

Conri hurried to Eleri’s side, falling on his knees next to her as the white wolf gently nudged her head. Conri carefully moved her head to one side to find a large amount of blood coming from it. His hand went to her stomach where he could feel it rise and fall slowly, making him let out a breath in relief.

“Eleri,” he whispered as he put his hand on her cheek.

She did not respond, her eyes tightly closed. He heard someone come up to him, and he glanced behind him to see Efa as she inhaled sharply.

“Caerwyn, go shift; we will need to make some decisions,” said Efa quickly. “Your highness, do not move her too much. We need to be careful.”

Caerwyn ran off into the woods as Efa took his place by Eleri’s side. She very slowly turned Eleri’s head and moved her hair. She glanced over at her half-destroyed house. “I doubt I could find what I need in there now. I will have to get her somewhere to see to her injuries.”

“What happened,” said Aron, pulling on his shirt as he hurried over to them. He knelt down at Eleri’s feet.

“She was blocking a spell and was knocked back into a tree. She hit her head hard,” said Coni as he held Eleri’s hand.

“I need to get her to Cadwin manor,” said Efa. “There will be things there I can use to help her.”

“Can you manage it?” asked Aron.

“I believe I can. I will have to try.” She looked up at Conri. “I can take you as well. We need to get you to safety, and you can hold her steady while we travel.” She stood up as Caerwyn ran over to them in his bare feet.

“Prince Conri, very carefully pick her up. Caerwyn, help him keep her head steady.”

Conri put his arms under Eleri as Caerwyn kneeled and put his hands gently under her head. Conri looked at him and nodded. Together they stood up slowly, keeping Eleri as still as possible.

Efa moved to stand by Conri’s side as Grace ran over. “I have to go now. I will rest for a bit, and I can come back to take a few more of you. I’m afraid the rest of you will have to travel on foot.”

“It is no bother,” said Aron. “Just get her home so you can help her. We can start cleaning up here and putting your home back in order.”

“Thank you, Aron,” she said. “Caerwyn, I take it you will want me to come back for you?”

Caerwyn nodded. “Whenever you are able. Do not press yourself or leave Eleri until you can.”

“I will be back later this evening. Grace, I will come for you if you wish.”

Grace nodded. “Help her, Efa,” she said as she wrung her hands.

“I will; do not worry.” She turned to look at Conri. “Keep a good hold of her; this will not take long.”

Conri pulled Eleri close to him, not taking his eyes off her face. Efa squeezed his arm, and the world disappeared. There was wind and darkness until everything came back into focus. He looked up to find himself in front of a large, handsome home. Efa let him go as he looked back down at Eleri, seeing her eyes still closed.

“Come with me, your highness. We need to get her inside,” said Efa as she walked towards the front door under a large portico.

He followed her up the stairs, careful to keep Eleri as still as he could in his arms. Efa knocked urgently on the door until it opened. An older man dressed like an upper-level servant looked out before he stepped out of the way. Efa entered with Conri behind her.

“Where is Lord Cadwin?” asked Efa.

“He is in his study, mam,” said the servant.

“Go fetch him this instant and tell him to come to his daughter’s room. Have someone bring me a large bowl of warm water and several cloths,” ordered Effa. “Your highness, come along.”

The servant bowed but glanced at Conri holding Eleri as he moved past. Conri went up the stairs to the third floor. They turned to the left and walked down a hall until they came to the door close to the end. Efa opened it to find a dark bedroom. She threw out her hand, and a fire roared to life in the fireplace, followed by every candle lighting.

She moved to the large canopy bed and pulled back the covers. “Put her gently in the bed.”

Conri did as she bid, making sure her head was as still as possible as he laid her down. He stared at her for a moment. She was so still and pale; it scared him. He could not lose her. The thought that she could die started to enter his mind when Efa pushed him out of the way.

“Go to her vanity. You should see a large old brown box. Bring it to me,” said Efa.

Conri stayed still, looking down at Eleri. “Is she going to die?” he gasped out.

“I don’t know,” said Efa as she moved Eleri’s head. “It is hard to tell with a head injury. They bleed awful no matter their severity. We will know soon how serious it is.”

Conri felt frozen into place as he continued to stare at Eleri. He felt himself start to shake, and he wasn’t sure his legs could support him.

Efa took his hand. “Conri, I know this hard, but it will do no good to despair. We will do all we can to help her, but you must listen to me. If I can help her as quickly as possible, then I will have a better chance of keeping any damage to a minimum. Go get the box I asked for, now.”

Conri shook his head and wiped his eyes. He hurried over to the vanity, finding the large box easily. He picked it up and brought it to the small bedside table by Efa. She immediately opened it and searched through it.

“Very good, Eleri,” murmured Efa. “Stocked full just as your mother taught you.”

She pulled out a couple of vials and placed them by the box. “Come over here and carefully tip her head back, Conri. I need to get her to take some of these elixirs.”

“What are they?” asked Conri as he moved next to her. He put his hand under the lower part of Eleri’s head and raised it slightly.

Efa opened one of the vials and put it up to Eleri’s lips. She forced them to part and tilted the liquid into her mouth. “This one will help her to rest and not have pain. I know she appears unconscious, but we have no idea what is really going on inside her. Tilt her head back a bit more.”

Conri did as she asked. Once he put her head down, only a bit of liquid came out of her lips.

“This one is a very tricky potion. If it is made right, it will help me know the extent of the damage,” said Efa.

Conri again tilted her head as Efa poured the liquid into her mouth. Once Conri put her head back down, Efa put her hand on Eleri’s forehead. She closed her eyes and was quiet. Conri stepped back and watched, not daring to say anything. Eventually, she opened her eyes and took her hand away.

“Well?” asked Conri.

“It is not good. I am afraid there is quite a bit of damage,” said Efa.

“What can be done?” asked Conri desperately.

“There are some spells I can do and some potions I can brew, but mostly she will need rest and quiet. She is young and strong. Hopefully, she will heal mostly on her own, and there won’t be too many lasting effects.”

Conri turned and tried to compose himself. The door to the room opened, and he looked to see a well-dressed middle-aged man that looked familiar walk into the room. The man hurried to the bed to stand next to Efa.

“Eleri,” he gasped as he took her hand. “Efa, what happened?”

“She hit her head very hard. She has a bad injury, I am afraid. I have given her something to help her rest and performed a quick healing spell. She will need to have her wound cleaned and lay still for a while before I can do some more extensive healing. If you wish to send for a more traditional healer, I will understand.”

“No, I trust you,” said the man. “Will she be well?”

Efa swallowed hard and looked at the man. “I don’t know, Ewan. I have faith that she will, but the injury is bad. I don’t wish to lie to you, but I want you to have hope. It will be a touchy few days as we wait. She will be in and out of consciousness, I imagine. All we can do is wait and pray Eleri heals.”

The man hung his head and kneeled by Eleri’s bedside, keeping a hold of her hand. “I cannot lose her, Efa. She is all I have left in this world. I cannot fail Elen in this way.”

Efa put her hand on the man’s shoulder. “No matter what happens, you have not failed Elen. You have raised your daughter to be everything she wished. Do not despair, Ewan. You know how strong Eleri is. She is like her mother in many ways.”

He nodded as he raised Eleri’s hand and kissed it. Seeing the tears fall from Eleri’s father’s eyes was too much for Conri.

“It is my fault,” said Conri softly.

Eleri’s father turned his head to look at Conri. He stared at him for a moment before letting go of Eleri’s hand and standing up. He turned fully to look at Conri. “I am sure that is not true, your highness.”

“It is not,” said Efa. “It was Ciara Sullivan who did this.”

“But she was trying to use that spell on me. I don’t know why I didn’t see it. Something came over me when Caerwyn tried to stop me from running. I can’t explain it.”

“You have been away from the Bright One for some time. It was only the strength of your bond reforming,” said Efa. “You could not help it.”

“But I was careless, and Eleri had to save me. If I hadn’t run or if I had paid attention, this wouldn’t have happened.” Conri put his head down and let his tears fall. If she died, it would be his fault. Not only would he lose the person he loved most in the world, but he would have to live with the blame.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Eleri’s father looking at him. He looked like he would say something, but the door opened. Several servants walked in with a bowl of water and some rags.

“We should leave for a bit, Prince Conri,” said Eleri’s father. “Eleri will need to be cleaned and put into something more comfortable.”

“You should go with him, your highness. Once she is tended to, I will come get you. I will need to rest for a bit so I can get a few of the others. You and Lord Cadwin can sit with her for a while.”

“We will be in my study, Efa,” said Lord Cadwin. “I will arrange a room for the prince in a bit, but I think he could use a drink first.”

Conri followed Lord Cadwin down the stairs, though he hardly knew where he was going. They came to a door off the entry hall, and Lord Cadwin opened it, letting Conri enter first. They went to two large chairs next to the fireplace.

“Have a seat, Prince Conri,” said Lord Cadwin.

Conri fell into the closest chair, immediately putting his head in his hands.

“Here, drink this, your highness. It will help,” said Lord Cadwin as he held out a glass with some dark liquor in it.

Conri took it and drank it quickly. It burned his throat and made him shudder as he put the glass down. Lord Cadwin looked at him for a moment before refilling his drink. “Try sipping it this time.”

“I do not wish for any more,” said Conri. “It will not help.”

Lord Cadwin sat down in the chair next to Conri with his own drink. “Despairing will do no good. I take it you have spent a considerable amount of time with my daughter. You know she will not give up easily. Trust that she will be well, your highness.”

“I want to believe it, my lord, because the alternative is too much to bear.”

“I take it you are fond of her then?” asked Lord Cadwin.

Conri looked at Lord Cadwin. “I love her. I want you to know it. I love your daughter. I know I have not known her very long, but I believe I love her more than my own life.”

“Time has nothing to do with love, your highness. I believe I was in love with Eleri’s mother within a week of meeting her. She was such an enchanting woman. Eleri is much like her.”

“I was immediately affected by Eleri’s beauty when I met her, but it didn’t take long for me to realize her beauty was much more than skin deep. Now, I feel as though my very soul is tied to her. If she dies, I am not sure I could go on.”

“You could,” said Lord Cadwin with no hesitation. Despite his instructions to Conri, he down most of his drink in one swallow.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, both looking at the fire.

“Have I not changed since I was twelve?” asked Conri, saying something to break the silence.

“What do you mean?” asked Lord Cadwin.

“You recognized me with little effort. Do I look the same as all those years ago?”

“Not at all,” said Lord Cadwin. “You look very much like your father.”

“Oh,” said Conri. He picked up his glass for something to do and sipped the drink.

“He was a good man, your father.”

“I hope I live up to his legacy,” said Conri.

“I am sure you will.” Lord Cadwin poured himself another drink. “You say you love my daughter. How does she feel about you?”

Conri couldn’t help a small smile. “She loves me as well. Just this morning, we had a long talk about our future. No commitment has been made, but close to it.” Conri put his glass down, feeling tears come to his eyes anew. That morning seemed so long ago. He had never felt happier, and now it could all be lost.”

“I trust you know you aren’t the only young man who professes love for her,” said Lord Cadwin.

“I know about her and Caerwyn,” said Conri. “She has told me their story. I will not revel in his pain on losing her, but he has no one to blame but himself. How he treated her was inexcusable, and she gave him too many chances.”

“Eleri is stubborn, and she does not love in halves. If you have gained her heart, I hope you will remember it.”

“I will treat her love as the most precious thing in this land because that is what it is. I only hope I get the chance to show it to her.”

“Have faith, your highness.”

There was a soft knock at the door before it opened. Conri and Lord Cadwin both stood as Efa moved towards them.

“How is she?” asked Lord Cadwin.

“Mostly the same, though her breathing does seem more even. It is probably the elixir. You both may sit with her if you wish. You will need to be quiet and keep the room dim.”

“We will both come to check on her before the prince leaves to clean up and change. You must want to get more comfortable, your highness. I can find some clothes to fit you,” said Lord Cadwin.

“I could care less about how I am dress or any dirt on me,” replied Conri.

“You should take time to refresh, your highness,” said Efa. “If you neglect taking care of yourself, you will not be there for Eleri when she needs you.”

He nodded before walking with Lord Cadwin to Eleri’s room. Along the way, Lord Cadwin stopped and spoke with a servant about preparing a room for Conri close to Eleri’s. When they opened the door, he saw that the room was mostly dark. Two servants were close to her, one holding the dress she was wearing earlier and the other putting bloody clothes into the bowl filled with pink water.

They both left the room as Conri and Lord Cadwin moved towards the bed. Conri sat very carefully on the edge and took Eleri’s hand. She was dressed in a white nightgown with her hair braided. She was beautiful, appearing as though she was sleeping peacefully.

“All will be well, my love,” he quietly said. “Take the time you need to rest, and when you open your eyes, I will be here to help you fully recover. You promised to help me learn to become king, and I will hold you to that promise. We are not officially joined in any way, but I think you know how already bound I am to you. I meant it when I said I belong to you, and I think I always will.” He leaned down and softly kissed her hand. “I will leave for a bit, but I will not be gone long. I’m going to be as close to you as I can. I will never abandon you.”

He let her hand go and stood up as Eleri’s father grabbed a chair and brought it close to the bed. He set it down next to Eleri and sat in it. “Servants should be in your room preparing it now. It is two doors down from this one on the other side of the hall. I asked them to bring you some clean clothes and water. If you need anything else such as food or drink, just ask.”

“Thank you, my lord. I will not be gone long.”

“Take as much time as you need. I have nowhere to be, and I will watch over her.” He gazed down at his daughter. “I know you have strong feelings for her, but she truly is all I have left. With her mother gone, I am not sure I could bear losing Eleri.”

“She will make it,” said Conri as he tried to keep his voice even. “The goddess will not let her perish. She knows how much I need this woman and how much Elathia needs her.”

“I hope the moon goddess hears your prayers, Prince Conri.”

“She will because they are not just prayers; they are demands. If she wants me to rule this land, she will have to let Eleri help me.” Conri took a deep breath. “I will be back soon.”

He hurried from the room, not wanting to cry in front of Eleri’s father. As soon as he closed the door, he collapsed against it. His hand covering his face as he let out all the fear and hopelessness he felt, seeing Eleri so injured. He soon felt a pair of hands take his as he opened his eyes. He saw Efa for one moment before she pulled him into a hug. He held onto her as she patted his back and made soothing noises as a mother might. When he finally felt he could cry no more, he pulled back and looked at Efa.

“I suppose you will tell me it will be alright,” said Conri as he wiped at his eyes.

“I will not because I don’t know if things will be alright. I will say that no matter what happens, you can face it. You are strong enough,” said Efa.

“How do you know?” asked Conri.

“Because I believe you love my niece, and you would do anything you had to for her. Right now, you have to be strong enough to face the difficult days ahead. Even if…” Efa stopped herself. “When she wakes up, she may have some lasting damage that could take time to heal. She may be altered in some way, always.”

“I don’t care,” said Conri. “I love her, and I told her I would never leave her. I meant it.”

“Then you should go rest and prepare. She will need you in the days to come.”

Conri walked towards his room. As he put his hand on the door, he heard Efa speak. “You should remember that we are all here for you as well. I hope you don’t mind, but I went to speak with the Havens to let them know what happened. They want to see you, but I asked them to wait a few hours. They will support you through this, as will I. Caerwyn will be here soon too. You may have your problems with the man, but you cannot deny the bond you have with him.”

“Thank you for the reminder,” said Conri. He would not mind seeing the Havens. It would be good to see that they were well and have their support. He even looked forward to seeing Aella. He wasn’t sure about Caerwyn, but he did not wish to argue with the man while Eleri was ill.

“I will see you soon, your highness. Remember, do not lose hope,” said Efa.

He opened the door to his room and walked in, sitting down in a chair by the fireplace. As the servants worked around him, he closed his eyes and prayed to the goddess.

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