The journey to Cadwin Manor was long and slow. If he had been alone, he could have been almost a third of the way there by now. He could have shifted or found a horse in some village, but he had to be cautious with so large a group with him. Caerwyn sat on a log at the edge of a little-used path in the Red Forest. The sun was going down quickly, and the chill of the evening was setting in. He looked back towards where he had left the others, hoping they were keeping the fire going. He knew Emilia would know what to do, and both Lord and Lady Havens seemed like sensible people.
Aella was too distraught and angry with herself to be much help, but she kept mostly quiet, which suited Caerwyn. He knew the woman didn’t mean to cause trouble, but Eleri had almost been taken because of her. Now Eleri was away from him with the prince. Caerwyn hoped she had been successful and brought her and the prince safely to Cadwin Manor by now. He had a feeling she had not because if she were safe in the estate, she surely would have sent a soldier out to look for them.
Caerwyn turned as he heard a slight noise from the forest to his left. He tensed for a moment with his hand on the sword at his side, but he quickly relaxed when he caught sight of a crimson shirt in the distance. It was Aron, checking the area around them. The man and his two fellow guards had been very useful on their journey, keeping them on little-used paths and away from any eyes they didn’t want to see them.
“Caerwyn, are you going to rest out here tonight?” asked Emilia as she walked towards him.
Caerwyn turned to look at her. “I planned to come back to the group in a while. I set some traps nearby to see if we could catch some hares or other small game overnight. I know our food supply is getting low.”
“It can last a few more days if need be,” said Emilia as she sat by him on the log. “One or two of us might need to venture into a small village tomorrow or the next day. I believe there are two on this path within a day or two day’s walk between here and Cadwin Manor. They are small, out-of-the-way villages, and I doubt Aron or I would cause much attention if we are careful.”
“We need more than food, Emilia,” said Caerwyn as he looked away. “The Havens are not young, and I do not like the sound of Lady Havens’s cough today. We need a place to stay for a night or two. Somewhere we can refill our supplies and get some medicine for Lady Havens. Maybe we could send a message to Lord Cadwin, though I am hesitant to do it. If it is intercepted, it might give some idea of where we are.”
“But would that matter?” asked Emilia. “We are not who Lord Fellen is looking for. He might wish to get his hands on you, but I am sure he has his forces looking for the prince and Lady Eleri over everything else.”
Caerwyn closed his eyes and nodded. He did not like to think of how much danger Prince Conri and Eleri were in. The prince was his responsibility, and he had failed him. He had left his side during the battle at the Haven’s Estate. Now the prince was probably at best, somewhere in the land, vulnerable if he had not been taken.
“I hope they are looking for them and that they aren’t already in Lord Fellen’s hands,” said Caerwyn.
“We would have heard something by now,” said Emilia quietly. “At that first village, when I heard talk of my husband, I would have heard something about Lord Fellen capturing the prince and having Lady Eleri by his side.”
Caerywn turned his head to look at Emilia. “You heard news of Lord Farrow?” She had not mentioned this. On the third day of travel, she snuck into a village with some of the money they had with them and replenished their supplies. She had said nothing about her time there, only showing them that she had been successful.
Emilia nodded. “I heard he passed sometime just before we left the Havens Estate.” She hung her head and wiped at one eye. “They said it was due to some accident, a nasty fall on the stairs, or some nonsense. I know it was no accident. I am sure Bren had something to do with it. He arranged it somehow.”
Caerwyn covered her hand with his. “I am sorry, Emilia. I know you did care about him.”
“I did. He was so good to me. He took me in when I had nowhere to go. He let me have his name and his protection, and he never asked anything else of me. I would have gladly given him anything for all he did for me, but all he wanted was some occasional companionship.” She shook her head as more tears fell out of her eyes. “I should have stayed at home more. I should have looked after him and stopped this from happening.”
“Bren probably would have had you killed as well, and I know you weren’t just out in the land on pleasure. You had tasks to complete, didn’t you?”
She looked up at him. “How did you know?”
“I have known you all your life. I know how responsible you are. You would not have left Lord Farrow without a good reason.”
“He sent me with some notes to some families on this side of the land. He wished to help the prince take his throne in some way but knew his limitations. He hoped I would be able to represent him as he had little hope for his son. I think he might have had suspicions about Bren.”
“What will you do now?” asked Caerwyn. “I mean after we arrive at the Cadwin Estate.”
“I am not sure,” said Emilia as she wiped her eyes one more time before sitting up straight. “I will try to find some way to help you all as you work to save Elathia. I am rather good at taking care of myself, so I am sure I can find some way to survive.”
“You don’t have to be alone, Emilia,” said Caerywn as he looked at her. “Lord Cadwin is a kind man, and he will not turn you out with nothing. If you wish to help us get Prince Conri to the throne, I know we will all gladly accept your assistance.”
“We will see what happens when we all meet together soon at Cadwin Manor, and we will reunite with them both, Caerwyn. You know Lady Eleri is powerful and intelligent. I have no doubt she got the prince and herself safely away from the Haven’s Estate. Wherever they are, she is taking good care of the prince.”
“I do not doubt her ability,” said Caerwyn quietly as he looked away again. He felt guilty about the thoughts that came into his mind. More than anything, he wanted Eleri and Prince Conri to be safe, but a part of him hated they were alone together. He knew how drawn they both were to each other, and he wondered what would happen between them if they spent much time alone traveling and depending on each other.
Caerwyn was a fool, and he knew it. He could have been trusted in his love of Eleri a long time ago. If he had just admitted he loved her years ago and claimed her as his own, he would know his future with her was secure. Instead, he let the idea of being the Bright One come before everything, even her. He let his father’s ideas push him away from Eleri. She begged him to trust in her and their love, and he threw everything she offered him aside.
Now that he knew for sure he loved her above everything else in the land, it was probably too late. She had all but given up on him and started to feel the power of prophecy that said she would be queen. He was afraid soon she would give in to her feelings for Prince Conri and let him mark her before she marked him as well. Once they were bonded so, Caerwyn would have no choice but to sit back and do his duty as the Bright One, watching over the prince as he became king and married Eleri to make her his queen.
“She has not chosen anyone yet, Caerwyn,” said Emilia as though she was reading his mind. “I know she has strong feelings for you.”
“One can only wait so long. I pushed her away so many times that I cannot be surprised that she finally listened. It may be better this way. She can be who she was meant to be, and I can follow the old ways as my father wishes. The court of Guildans will stay intact as it always has been.”
“So you will be miserable your whole life, watching the prince with the woman you love. I have never thought you a quitter, Caerwyn. Giving up now is nothing but cowardice.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to call me a coward, Emilia. I know now just what a coward I have been. I thought I was doing the noble thing in pushing Eleri away. I believed she would follow the prophecy, and I would serve as I was meant. I see now that I took the easy way out. If I were brave, I would have said to hell with what has always been and listened to what my heart was telling me.”
“As I said before, it is not too late. Do not despair yet. Let us see what happens when you meet again. You are all young. Whatever happens, you must not give up if you truly love her.” Emilia paused. “You cannot hold certain things against her.”
Caerwyn took her meaning. “I promise you, I would not, and I will not. I have made too many mistakes to hold anything against her. If, in the end, she wants me, I can forget anything that has happened.”
Emilia looked and smiled as Aron came towards them. “Have you seen anything suspicious?”
Aron shook his head. “I don’t believe anybody is anywhere close to us, shifter or ordinary. I don’t think this path is used much these days.”
“How far is Dagarian from here?” asked Caerwyn as he stood.
“Dagarian?” said Aron in confusion. “It is probably a day and a half walk at the rate we are going, but it is not on this path. We would have to go to the west and a little out of the way towards Cadwin Manor. There are at least two other villages closer and on this path.”
“I know that, but I think we should go to Dagarian. There is someone close to there I know will keep us safe if he is at home. With all going on in the land, I am willing to wager he is holed up for a bit. We can also find information from him about what is going on in the land. We need a safe place to rest for a few days if we are all to make it. You must have noticed that Lady Havens is not well.”
Aron nodded. “If you feel it is best, we will go to Dagarian. You are the Bright One, after all.”
An edge to his voice made Caerwyn believe the man did not wish to go so far off the path.
“I know you are anxious to get to Cadwin Manor, Aron. I am as well, but we will never make it the way we are going. With a few days of rest and attention for Lady Havens, we will make better time in the long run. We will not help Eleri by being trapped in this woods.”
Aron’s shoulders sagged. “I suppose there is nothing I can do for her if we never make it to the manor. Who knows, perhaps she is there safe now. I would just like to know for sure.”
“As would I,” said Caerwyn as he held his hand out to Emilia. She took it, and he helped her up. “Let us go back to the others and tell them our plans. We can have everyone go to sleep early and get an early start in the morning. The sooner we leave, the sooner we will arrive at our destination and know what our next steps will be.”