Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 20

It felt so good to be able to kiss her and hold her once again. As Caerwyn sat on Eleri’s bed with her in his arm, he did not want to leave. He wished he could lay with her all night and hold her. He wanted to love her, but he knew she was neither strong enough nor ready for it to happen.

“You should go,” said Eleri as she pulled back. “I am tired, and there are others you need to speak with.

“I can stay with you,” he said as he raised her hand to kiss it. “I am happy just to watch you sleep.”

She shook her head. “You have neglected others, especially the prince. Go so I can rest easy knowing you are doing your duty.”

He sighed. “If you wish it, I will go.”

She leaned forward and kissed him quickly before lying down. “Then go. I will see you in the morning.”

He stood up and watched her close her eyes. Once he could see that she was well on her way to falling asleep, he left her room. He closed the door behind him with a small smile on his face. He had spent almost every waking hour with Eleri the past two weeks, and he believed he was well on his way in convincing her he was serious in being with her.

She was healing more and more every day, though there were times her head would ache, most often when she tried to remember things from the last few months. Caerwyn did not want anyone to push her. If it was such agony for her to remember, she must want to keep them forgotten.

He felt some guilt in thinking this way. He knew it benefitted him for her not to remember the past few months. According to the prince, he and Eleri had grown together very close, and Prince Conri believed she had already chosen him. Caerwyn thought the prince would have grown frustrated with Eleri’s memory being gone, but he did not show it if he was. He often walked with Caerwyn and Eleri on their outings. He read a book when they were together in the library. He diverted Eleri’s attention much of the time as she did seem to enjoy the prince’s company.

Prince Conri never pressed her to remember, at least not when around Caerwyn. Sometimes Eleri would recall some little detail about their time together, and he would smile and confirm it encouragingly. Usually, Caerwyn would step in and stop any further remembrances, saying it was too much for her. He could justify it to himself, thinking it was to protect Eleri, but he knew much of it was selfish.

He did want Eleri to be happy, but he believed she would be happy with him. They had spent the past few years together off and on. When he was with her, the rest of the world faded away, and he focused only on her. He believed it was the same for Eleri. He had tried to avoid others and work to gain Eleri’s trust the past few weeks, but it had not been easy.

He was very aware of the looks he got from Lord Cadwin. The varied form pity to anger. Efa Moss tried to gain his ear several times, but he avoided her when he could and ignored her when he could not. His father was the hardest one to put off. The man had come over a week ago, claiming he wished to give his allegiance to the prince, but Caerwyn knew it was more than that. His father shadowed him when he could find Caerwyn. He sometimes made little comments about his time being too focused on Eleri. He appeared scared to confront Caerwyn, which suited Caerwyn very well fully. If his father tried to tell him what to do or spoke badly of Eleri, Caerwyn would be happy to show him there was a reason for his fear.

“Are you headed off to bed?” asked Prince Conri as he met Caerwyn in the hall.

“It is a little early yet, but Eleri was weary after the day.”

He smiled a bit. “I will not disturb her then. She did seem more herself today than the last week. Her headaches were less frequent.”

“I believe you are right. She was very cheerful today,” confirmed Caerywn as he thought of her playful manner and the few kisses she gave him.

“I will leave you to find your room,” said the prince as he turned.

“I was actually thinking of going downstairs if I can avoid certain people.”

Prince Conri turned back to look at him. “Your father is currently in Lord Cadwin’s study. How long that will last, I do not know, but Lord Cadwin does have more patience than many.”

“Except when it comes to harsh words about his daughter,” said Caerwyn.

“I think your father has learned talking ill of her will do him no good here. I have let him know I will not hear it. You could probably make it to the parlor or library without seeing him if you hurry.”

“What of the others?” asked Caerwyn.

“Lady Farrow and Aella are currently in the parlor with the Havens,” replied Prince Conri.

“Will you be making your way back down there?”

“I am in no mood for much company. I think I will go to my room for some reading or reflection. As Eleri heals, many things will start taking place, and I want to be ready.”

“I suppose we should begin training again. Both of us will need to be sharp for the battles to come. I know I have neglected you. Eleri chastised me about it today,” said Caerwyn.

“An important person to you has been ill. You only wish to see her well. I feel the same way. I have devoted much of my time to her as well. She went on for some time today about making sure I was prepared.”

“We better listen to her then,” said Caerwyn.

“Let us give it a few more days. Efa and Grace will be back then, and they can keep Eleri entertained when we aren’t able. I thought perhaps Aella and Lady Farrow would spend more time with her, but they both seem hesitant. I can understand Aella as there is some uncomfortableness there due to me, but I was under the impression that Lady Farrow thought highly of Eleri.”

Caerwyn fidgeted a bit. “She does. I am sure she just sees that you and I take up much of Eleri’s time, and she doesn’t want to interrupt.”

The prince nodded. “Well, you better get going, and I wish for some peace. Good night, Caerwyn.”

“Good night, your highness,” said Caerwyn as he continued down the hall.

Caerwyn decided to go to the library, wanting to be alone. He entered the dim room to find a fire burning and a few candles lit. Walking over to the fireplace, he started to pour some wine found there when a voice made him jump.

“I suppose you came in here to be alone, but you will have to deal with my presence. I have wanted to speak with you for a while,” said Aron as he looked up at Caerwyn from a high back chair.

Caerwyn finished pouring his wine and held the pitcher out to Aron. Aron held out his glass, and Caerwyn filled it. “If you wished to speak with me, you could have at any time.”

Caerwyn sat down as Aron took a sip of his wine. “I thought of talking to you many times, but I wanted to do it while you are alone. You are rarely without company these days, especially Eleri,” said Aron.

“It must be of some importance what you have to say,” said Caerwyn.

“It is as it pertains to a woman I love above almost all others. She is my sister in all but name, and I worry for her future.”

“It is natural you would as I know you care about her, and we are entering a trying time,” said Caerwyn before taking a drink.

“Eleri is strong, and I will be with her to protect her from any further injuries. What I am worried about is her heart. It has been broken too many times before, and I am afraid she is taking a path that will cause her great pain.”

“You do not trust me,” said Caerwyn simply.

“Not when it comes to Eleri. I know too much of your history with her, and I have seen too much.” He put his glass down. “Does she even know about you and Lady Farrow? Are you still carrying on with the woman as you profess your love to Eleri?”

“No, of course not,” said Caerwyn. “Those times with Emilia should never have happened. They were during weak moments when I felt hopeless.”

“So you have no feelings for Lady Farrow?” asked Aron skeptically.

Caerywn took a drink to think on his answer. “ I wouldn’t say that. I have known her my whole life. She is a good, worthy woman, and I am fond of her. I do not love her like I love Eleri. I could never love any woman like her.”

“Words, Caerwyn, just words,” said Aron. “Your actions show that you do not value Eleri’s love as much as you say.”

“I know I have been foolish for most of my time with Eleri, but I am done being so. I thought I had really lost her after her time alone with the prince, but now I have a second chance. I will not waste it.”

“What happens when she remembers?” asked Aron. “I have heard enough to know that the prince is very in love with her, and whatever happened on their journey together, I believe he earned her love as well. She is already having some small memories come back. What will you do when she remembers everything and her feelings for the prince come back?”

“If it hasn’t happened by now, then it will probably never happen. Thinking about that time causes her pain. That must mean she does not wish to remember. If she does have some of it come back, she will be tied to me by then. She loved me long before the prince.”

“That is not how love works, and you know it,” said Aron viciously. “Eleri deserves to know the whole truth. You cannot trap her into a life with you because of what happened to her. She needs to know all the facts, and I mean everything. Even if she never regains her full memory, you have to tell her about you and Lady Farrow.”

“What good will it do? It will only hurt her, and it will never happen again,” said Caerwyn. “She knows I have a past.”

“But this isn‘t the past. This is very much the present,” said Aron. “Caerwyn, if you do not tell her, then I will. I cannot let her make any commitments to you without knowing the truth. I would not like to be the one to do it, but I will if it saves her from further heartache.”

Caerwyn shook his head. “She doesn’t need this right now.”

“You know she is well able to handle it; you are only afraid,” said Aron. “You know, even with her lost memories, she is not indifferent to the prince.”

“She is not indifferent, but what if has nothing to do with what she wants? What if the prophecy, moon goddess, magic, or whatever is what draws her to the man?”

“What draws any of us together, Caerwyn? What first drew you to Eleri? I want you to be honest.”

Caerwyn thought back to when he first met her as an adult. He barely remembered her as the small crying girl wearing the dirty dress in the tree. When he saw her as a grown young lady, he didn’t believe he had ever seen anything so beautiful. Her eyes were so bright, and her smile lovely. Her curves and how she walked made him want to dance with her just to put his arms around her.

“I believe I know what you are thinking, and you can say it. I will not fault you. She is a beautiful woman, and that is what you first noticed. You can say you fell in love with her because of who she is, and I will believe you. Yet when you first wanted her, it had nothing to do with her personality or strength,” said Aron.

Caerwyn didn’t argue. “But I know now that the beauty inside her outshines even her outward loveliness.”

Aron nodded. “And you are saying that Prince Conri couldn’t have the same discovery? What about Eleri? So what if they were first drawn together due to some ancient magic. I have to believe they fell in love as they discovered who each other was.”

Caerwyn hung his head. He remembered that night in her room when he watched the prince kiss her. It was as if he had seen something that was meant to be. He thought of the way Prince Conri looked at her and how he touched her. It was as if she was something precious, and he was happy to just be near her, taking whatever attention she would give. Sometimes he would see Eleri laugh with the prince or watch them talking quietly, and he could see there was still a spark between them.

“I cannot lose her,” he finally said. “I am not sure how I can face going through this life without her.”

“Imagine going through this life with her believing being with you was a mistake. What if she rediscovers her feelings for the prince? What if she finds out a year from now what you have done with Lady Farrow? Can you stand having her by your side knowing she is miserable in thinking she has chosen wrong?” Aron picked up his glass. “And then there is your duty. You have set it aside for a time, but you know it cannot last. You have a responsibility to the prince, and I know you feel it. What about what you and her would face with your father? Can you imagine the things he will say to her? Some of it perhaps you can overcome, but she needs to know the whole truth before she is bound to you.”

“Let me tell her then,” said Caerwyn. “I will tell her all and why it happened. I will have to trust she understands.”

Aron nodded. “And you should stop blocking her from remembering. You can say it is for her health, but we both know you are only being selfish. I don’t believe you are a bad man, Caerwyn. I can’t imagine how difficult things have been for you trying to live into your duty. I believe you do love Eleri, which is why I have faith you will do the right thing for her in the end.”

“What if I believe the right thing for her is being with me?” asked Caerwyn.

“Then I think you need to do more self-reflection,” responded Aron as he stood. “I have to check with the night guards before I go to bed. Good night, Caerwyn.” He left the room as Caerwyn drank his wine.

Caerwyn stayed in the library long past the time he should have gone to his room, trying to justify all he had done to keep Eleri safe from the truth and memories. He almost had himself fooled before he fell asleep where he was, but the dreams that haunted him told him he knew what he had to do.

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