Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 18

Her dreams were strange and varied. At first, she slipped into a nightmare in which Eleri felt as if she couldn’t breathe. She was running, knowing something was chasing her, but she could never get a full breath of air. Whatever was behind her came closer and closer until she fell as she crested a hill. She rolled down the hill, unable to stop herself. She hit her head on a rock, and all became dark.

Her next dream was much more comforting. She felt as if she was floating in midair as a thousand lit candles surrounded her. She took a deep breath, air filling her lungs as she felt at peace. An arm wrapped around her waist, and she closed her eyes at the pleasure and comfort they held. She leaned into the man behind her with a contented sigh. He dropped a kiss just below her ear, and she whispered a name. Whatever it was, she could not remember it as it was lost as soon as it left her lips. She went to turn around to see who held her when her world went black again.

Things came back into focus, and she was in a dark room. She was terrified, but she had no idea why. A voice from behind her called her name. It was familiar and pleading. She turned, feeling as if she should move towards it, but she did not want to go. There was too much pain and uncertainty. A new voice whispered her name in front of her. She looked its way as she felt a pressure on her hand and then a soft kiss upon her lips. She wanted so badly to move forward and be embraced by whoever had said her name, but her own indecisions and fears trapped her.

Both voices continued to call for her louder and louder. She looked one way and then the next, not knowing what to do. Her head started pounding, and she covered her ears. She sunk to the ground, knowing she could not take it anymore.

“Eleri,” said a voice she had not heard in years. The sweet sound cut through the noise around her until it eventually quieted the others. “Eleri, my dear, do not despair.”

Eleri uncovered her ears and looked over to see her mother walking her way. She looked as beautiful as Eleri remembered with her wavy red hair and crystal blue eyes. Eleri stood up as her mother came to her.

“My beautiful daughter,” said her mother. “You have grown more lovely than I could have imagined.”

“Mother,” she whispered. “I have missed you so much.”

Her mother took her hand. “I know, dearest, but I have always been with you.” Eleri felt a wave of her mother’s magic flow from her hand through her body. “You carry a piece of me with you wherever you go. You know this.”

Eleri nodded. “Still, it is not the same as having you with me. I’m afraid that I have done things you would be ashamed of. I believe I have lost my way.”

“You have not lost your way. You may have taken some paths that have made things harder, but they are all a part of you finding out who you are. I believe you have begun to truly figure it out.”

Eleri searched her mind, trying to understand what her mother could mean.

“It is alright, Eleri. It will all come back to you. I am afraid things will not be easy for you for a while, but in the end, I know you will end up where you are meant to be.”

“I don’t know where that is,” said Eleri. “I feel so lost.”

“You do now, my dear, but it will come back to you in time. You may forget for a while, but what is the truth will always find its way. There is a light to guide you so you do not lose sight of it. Remember that real love is grounded in truth and respect.”

“Can you not tell me more?” asked Eleri.

Her mother only smiled at her. “Rest.” Her mother leaned forward and kissed Eleri’s forehead. “That is what you need now.”

Eleri bowed her head, feeling her eyes grow heavy. “I am so tired, mother.”

“Then lie down, and sleep, my little love.” Her mother took her hand and helped her to the ground. Eleri laid down as her mother sat beside her and placed Eleri’s head in her lap. “Do you remember the song I used to sing you, my darling?”

“The one about the lost princess?” mumbled Eleri.

“That is the one,” said her mother before she started singing.

One lost and alone, afraid to move

No lovers hand to hold or soothe

She looks at the sky at the stars that fly above

And dreams about her one true love

No matter the distance or strife between

She can hear his voice soft and serene

Calling her to him from far beyond sun and frost

To let her know she is not really lost.

As her mother continued to sing, her eyes completely closed, and she let herself be taken by the darkness.

She woke up with a headache like never before. As she opened her eyes, even the dim light in the room hurt them. She turned and shifted, wanting to keep her eyes closed, but a sweet voice she had been dreaming up spoke her name. She turned towards it and blinked, seeing a face close to hers. “I am not lost,” she whispered before she could not stay awake any longer.

The next time she woke up, it was much brighter in the room. She could not remember much from her dreams as they faded away almost as soon as she opened her eyes.

“Eleri,” said a familiar voice.

“Prince Conri?” she said uncertainly. “What are you doing in my room?”

“He has been terribly worried for you, my dear,” said her aunt’s voice which confused Eleri further. “He has barely left your side.”

She opened her eyes further, sitting up a bit. She was shocked to find herself in her bedroom in Cadwin manor. Why wasn’t she at the Haven’s Estate? Weren’t they to go on their journey to take the prince to the northern temple very soon?

“What am I doing here?” asked Eleri. “How did I get back to Cadwin manor?”

“I brought you here, Eleri,” said her aunt. “When you were injured, I had to get you to safety.”

“Injured? How was I injured?”

“Ciara Sullivan hit you with some spell,” said Prince Conri. “You hit a tree so hard that I thought we had lost you.” The prince tried to take her hand, but she moved it away.

“What was Caira Sullivan doing at the Havens Estate?” she asked, trying to blink her eyes so things would come more into focus.

“What do you last remember?” asked her father. She looked behind Prince Conri to see him standing there.

“I went to the Havens Estate as you told me to, father. I met the Havens and Prince Conri.” Eleri looked at the prince and felt her cheeks burn, thinking of their few kisses. “Caerwyn joined us not too long ago and began training with the prince. We are to go to the northern temple in a few days.”

Her aunt, father, and the prince all exchanged glances. Finally, the prince looked at her. “Eleri, we went to the northern temple over two months ago. We traveled back to the Havens Estate, where Prince Fellen and his forces attacked us. Do you truly not remember it?”

“What are you talking about, your highness? This is madness. Where is Caerwyn? He will tell you.” She looked around the room but did not see Caerwyn anywhere. “Where is he?”

“I sent him to his room to rest,” said Prince Conri. “But he will tell you just as we have.”

Eleri lay back down as her head began to swim. Tears came to her eyes. They could not be telling the truth. She knew they had not been to the northern temple. There had been no attack on the Havens. Why were they playing this cruel trick on her?

“Please, just go get Caerwyn. All of this is madness. I need to speak with him,” she looked at all of them pleadingly. “Just please get him.”

“Will you please go do as she asks? Hurry.” said her father to someone in the room.

“I will go,” said another voice in the room she recognized as Aron.

“Yes, thank you, Aron. You know this cannot be true, don’t you?” she asked Aron, sitting up a bit.

“Just rest, Eleri, and I will go fetch Caerwyn. Do not worry. It will be alright,” he sounded and looked upset. Before she could say anything else to him, he walked from the room.

“Eleri, you do not need to get upset,” said her Aunt Efa. “Just lay back and try to rest.”

“Not until I see Caerwyn,” she demanded as tears fell down her face.

“Conri, fetch me the box,” said Efa.

Eleri closed her eyes, hearing the prince do as her aunt bid. All were quiet for a moment.

“Here, Eleri, drink this. It will help calm you. I know you wish to see Caerwyn, and it shouldn’t take full effect until after he is here.”

Eleri nodded as her aunt held a vial up to her lips. Eleri drank it fully and lay back on her pillow. She immediately felt drowsy but was able to stay awake. She was aware the others were whispering amongst themselves, but she could not tell what they were saying. She almost fell asleep when she heard her door open.

Her eyes flew open, and she sat up a bit to see Caerwyn walk towards her. She felt the familiar longing she always felt when he was close to her. He walked to her side, and she held her hand out to him. He took it and smiled down at her.

“Caerwyn, tell me I have not lost my mind,” she whispered as she squeezed his hand.

“What do you mean?” he asked as his smile faded.

“Eleri is just a little confused,” said Efa. “It is normal for one with a head injury. Can you just reassure her she is safe, and all will be well?”

“Of course, it will be well,” said Caerwyn. “You are awake now, and you will continue to heal.”

“But they are trying to tell me we have already been to the Northern temple for the prince’s crowning. That can’t be. I would remember it.” Caerwyn looked at her with confusion and concern. “Caerwyn?” she said desperately.

“Do not worry about it right now, Eleri. You should just rest. After you sleep, we will talk more about it,” Caerwyn said as he rubbed her hand with his thumb.

She wanted to say more, but she felt the pull of sleep trying to take her. Her head hurt so bad that she didn’t want to fight it. “Don’t leave me, Caerwyn. Not this time.”

“I will be right here,” he said. She felt him kiss her hand as she drifted off to sleep.

She awoke sometime later, still feeling weak but better. Caerwyn sat by her side, and she smiled at him when he came into focus. Caerwyn helped her sit up, and she saw the prince sleeping in a chair close to the fire while her aunt worked on making Eleri a cup of tea. Her father sat near the prince, staring into a fire.

“How do you feel, Eleri?” asked her aunt quietly as she handed her the cup of tea.

Eleri took a sip and noticed it was very sweet with a minty flavor. She guessed it had some healing elixir in it, hopefully, one to soothe her sore muscles and clear her head. “I believe I feel better, but my head still aches.”

“It will for a while,” said her aunt. “What about your memory. Do you still not remember anything beyond being at the Haven’s estate?”

Eleri took another sip of tea as she looked over at the sleeping prince. A vision of kneeling in a dim room as moonlight moved close to her came into her mind. “I think I might remember a bit of the northern temple, though I couldn’t tell you much about traveling there.” She looked at Caerwyn, and a different memory pricked at her mind, one that involved a cool night, a rough ground, and him. She licked her lips, having a flash of him kissing her passionately.

“It is no matter, Eleri,” said Caerywn reassuringly. “All that matters is that you fully heal. Perhaps your memory will come back in time, but if it does not, we will move forward.”

Eleri’s aunt looked down at Caerwyn with narrowed eyes before she looked at Eleri with kinder ones. “We will not press you too hard about it for a little while. You need to rest, and when you get stronger, I am sure your memory will return.”

Eleri nodded as she took another sip of tea. “Is Prince Conri alirght?”

Her Aunt Efa looked towards the prince with a fond, wistful smile on her face. “He stayed with you all night. He would not leave you for anything. I am sure he is just exhausted.”

“He insisted on staying with me?” asked Eleri, surprised.

“He is very devoted to you, my dear,” said her aunt.

“Devoted? How can her be devoted to me when he barely knows me?” asked Eleri. “I won’t say that I have not enjoyed getting to know him, but beyond a few conversations and some playful banter, I doubt he knows me any better than other women he spends time with. I would rather think he would wish to spend his night with Aella.”

“Eleri,” said her aunt sharply as she glanced at the prince. He stayed asleep. “There are so many things you do not remember. You experienced things with Prince Conri that I believe were very special.” Her aunt hesitated as she looked down at Caerwyn.

“What is it?” asked Eleri.

Her father stood up carefully and walked over. He sat down close to Eleri’s feet and looked at her. “The prince told me yesterday that he is in love with you.”

Eleri almost dropped her teacup. Caerwyn took it from her as she stared at her father. “You are mistaken, father. There is no way that can be true.”

“I assure you, he said it to me after he carried you to this room. I believe he is very much in love with you. He said you returned his love.”

Eleri wiped away a tear as her head pounded dully. “I cannot begin to understand what you are saying. How can I love a man I barely know?” She looked at her father skeptically. “This isn’t about the prophecy, isn’t it? I know many would like it to be true, but I never thought you would pressure me so, father.”

“Eleri, your father would never try to trick you or pressure you, and you know it. Just yesterday morning, you spoke with me for some time about your feelings towards the prince.” She looked at Caerwyn again before going on. “You spent three days in my home before coming here, and according to Grace, you two couldn’t keep your hands and more away from each other.”

Eleri looked at Caerwyn, who had turned away. “I cannot remember anything you are saying, Aunt Efa.” Tears came to her eyes as she stared at Caerwyn. “Caerwyn, I don’t remember any of it. I can’t believe I would do something like this. I know you and I have never made any promises, but I did mean it when I told you I loved you.”

Her aunt sighed loudly and turned away. She went to sit next to the prince, careful not to disturb him. Caerwyn took Eleri’s hand and stared at her. “I know, Eleri. You do not need to get worked up about this, not now. Just focus on resting and getting better. I don’t think all this information can be good for you right now.”

“Of course you don’t,” grumbled her aunt.

“I think Caerwyn does have a point,” said Eleri’s father. “We should let her rest for a few more days before we press any further.” He patted Eleri’s leg. “Would you like to be alone to sleep now, my dear?”

“I do feel tired,” admitted Eleri. “I would hate to disturb the prince, though. He looks as though he is sleeping soundly even in such a position.”

“I will sit here with him, and we will not disturb you,” said Efa. “If he awakens while you sleep, I will have him leave. He needs to eat anyway.”

Caerywn and her father stood up. She reached for Caerwyn’s hand. “Will you come see me a bit later this evening? I would like to speak with you alone.”

He nodded. “There is nowhere else I would rather be than by your side. I made a decision and promised you things that you may not remember, and I want to make sure you are clear on where I stand.”

She smiled at him. “I will be happy to hear what you have to say.”

“If you are feeling better later, Eleri, you will owe the prince a conversation as well,” said her aunt. “I would also like a moment or two of your time.”

Eleri nodded as she lay back on her pillow, wondering why her aunt sounded so agitated with her. She saw Caerwyn and her father leave the room before she closed her eyes. It took her a few moments to sleep as her head was full with the idea that the prince thought he was in love with her, and Caerwyn wished to speak with her about their future.

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