Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 23

Caerwyn looked all around Cadwin manor, but he could not find Eleri. When she ran from him, he let her go as he wallowed in his shame and despair. How would she ever forgive him for what he had done? After deciding that feeling sorry for himself was not going to help, he looked for Eleri in the area. Not finding her, he thought she must have gone inside. The rain was picking up, and she would want shelter.

Once he made it to the manor, he checked all the first-floor rooms to see where she might be hiding. He doubted she wanted to see him, but he had to try to get her to let him speak to her. He needed to apologize more and let her know he would do anything to make it up to her. After not finding her anywhere, including her father’s study, he walked up to her room. He would knock all day if that is what it took to get her to speak with him. When he got to her room, he found her door open with only a servant tidying it up.

Walking downstairs, he met Efa going through the entry hall.

“Have you seen Eleri?” he asked as he fell in step with her.

“Not since earlier before the rain when she was walking. I am sure she is holed up somewhere such as the library, reading.”

“She is not in the library or any of the smaller parlors,” said Caerwyn. “She isn’t with her father in his study either.”

“Her room then?” suggested Efa.

“No, it is empty as well.”

They came to the large parlor where Emilia, Grace, and the Havens sat together doing various things. Efa looked out the window at the rain and wind before turning to the group. “Have any of you see Eleri?”

“I believe I saw a glimpse of her not too long ago before the rain started,” said Aella. “I was walking with Conri when she moved by us in the woods. I think he went to catch her.”

“Well, where is the prince, then?” asked Grace, looking up from her sewing. “She will be with him.”

“I have not seen Conri since I returned,” said Aella.

“Has anyone else?” asked Caerwyn. Everyone shook their heads. “So, they must be somewhere out on the grounds, in this weather.” He moved back towards the entry hall. “I will go look for them.”

“Who are you looking for, Caerwyn?” asked Lord Cadwin as he came into the room. “I hope it is not your father as I was informed he just left in a hurry. He even left some of his things here. Maybe he intends to return? Do you know?”

“I have no idea of my father’s plans as I have avoided him as much as I can,” said Caerwyn. “Who knows where he has gone. If his things are here, I am sure he is just gone on a day visit somewhere.”

“I am not sure,” said Lord Cadwin. “I was told he took off at a dangerous pace on his horse, alone. Your father’s guards had no idea their lord had left.”

Caerwyn shrugged. His father’s departure did not interest him. He could care less if the man was lost in the land somewhere. All he cared about at the moment was finding Eleri and, to a lesser extent, the prince. “My father can fend for himself. Have you seen Eleri or the prince recently?”

“I have not. Is there cause for concern?”

“I am sure there isn’t, Ewan,” said Efa. “If they were caught out in the rain, I am sure they found shelter somewhere on the grounds.”

“Perhaps,’ said Lord Cadwin. “There are a few places they could shelter, but with Eleri’s injury and Lord Fellen’s forces all over the land, I am not without concern.”

“I understand your worry over her injury, but the wards are strong around the estate,” said Efa. “Even if Lord Fellen had a way to beak them somehow, someone would have to show them the boundaries. I know of no one amongst us who would do it.”

Caerwyn couldn’t wait anymore. “I will go look for them. We don’t even know if they are together. If Eleri’s head was bothering her, she might be somewhere in the woods, unable to get back.”

“I will go with you,” said Lord Cadwin. “We should shift, and we will find them easier.”

Emilia put her book down. “He is right, and I will come as well. We should alert Aron too. He can have his guards looking.”

Caerwyn nodded. “We will need to be careful and stay within the boundaries of the estate.” He looked at the Havens. “If they come back here, have a guard or servant alert us.”

“Of course,” said Lady Aella. “I am sure they are fine and together, Caerwyn. I doubt Conri would stop looking until he found her.”

Caerwyn nodded, knowing she meant what she said to be comforting, but the idea of the prince coming across Eleri after what Caerwyn had told her made him even more uneasy though he knew it was selfish.”

It was decided that Emilia and Caerwyn would shift in the woods and split up as Lord Cadwin alerted Aron. They would all search for a time and then meet close to the stables to see if they had been successful.

Caerwyn and Emilia pulled up their hoods and walked together to the forest.

“I am sure she is fine, Caerwyn. You may not want to think it, but she and the prince probably lost track of time talking. There are many places they could be waiting for a break in the weather.”

“I hope that is the case, but I know Eleri was moving through the woods upset,” admitted Caerwyn.

“How do you know? Did you quarrel with her?”

Caerwyn took a deep breath and looked at Emilia. “I told her about us. I told her everything. I knew how badly it would hurt her, but she needed to know. Aron was going to tell her about us if I did not. I thought she deserved to hear it from me.”

Emilia shook her head. “I don’t know what to say. I never wanted to hurt her though I knew it would if she found out. I guess I hoped it would stay our secret.”

“Even if Aron had not seen us, I would have told her eventually. How can I proclaim to love her and keep something like this between us? The first time I was out of my mind with worry and liquor. The second I thought I had lost her to the prince.”

“Then you were given your second chance with her memory lapse.” Emilia looked away and was quiet. “Caerwyn, what did you plan to do if she remembered everything? She still could.”

“I hoped by then she would still pick me.” He glanced at Emilia and saw a momentary flicker of pain on her face. His guilt doubled. “I don’t know how I ever thought any of this would lead to a happy ending. I betrayed my love to Eleri, and I hurt you.” He took her hand and stopped her by the trees. “You can say I did not, but I can see that I did.”

She looked up at him with a tear on her cheek. He had rarely seen her cry, and it almost took his breath away. “Caerwyn, I could never deny you anything. I think I have felt that way our whole lives. I knew we could never be anything, and I made my peace with it. At first, I thought you were incapable of falling in love, and then I saw you with Eleri. I realized you just couldn’t fall in love with me.” She wiped her eye.

“Emilia,” he said in a whisper.

“Do not say anything else,” she said as she took her hand away. “There is nothing you could say that would make this any better. I know how things are, and I know that my love shall never be returned. I can’t stop, though, as much as I have tried. Those nights may not have been much to you, but to me, they were everything. I wish they did not cause you or Eleri pain, but I cannot regret them fully.”

“I can’t say I do either,” he said truthfully.

She smiled at him through her tears. “I told you not to say anything. I will never be who you want, and that is the truth. Let us say no more about it after this moment.” She turned from him and started walking.

He thought to go after her, but what could he say? He cared about her, loved her in a way, but she was right. She was not who he wanted. She could never be Eleri, and she didn’t deserve to always live by his side knowing it. He watched her go until he could not see her between the trees.

Running through the woods in his wolf form, he smelled the air, trying to sense any signs of Eleri or the prince. It was easier to focus as he was, running on instinct. His mind still floated to Emilia, but he did not dwell on her as he knew he would otherwise. He ran away from the stables, deeper into the forest to his left. He knew he was coming close to the edge of the estate, and he turned right, running back towards the house.

The rain almost stopped as the air turned colder. He knew it was getting time to check in with the others by the stables, so he headed that way to find his clothes to change. As he neared the tree where his clothes lay, he smelled a scent in the air. It was not the one he was looking for, and it made the hair on his back stand up, and his hackles raise. He growled and then could not stop himself from letting out a howl.

He shifted quickly, just throwing on his pants and shirt in case he needed to shift again. He carried his cloak and walked towards the stables. As he got close, he heard Lord Cadwin speaking loudly and angrily. Caerwyn stopped by a tree to hide and looked out to see a large group of Lord Fellen’s soldiers on horseback. In front of the group were Ciara Sullivan and Lord Fellen himself.

He was about to run to keep trying to find Eleri and the prince. They could not come upon the situation. They needed to hide deep in the forest. Before he could leave, he heard Lord Cadwin say his father’s name. Caerwyn looked out and saw his father standing near Lord Fellen with his eyes narrowed as he stared at Lord Cadwin.

“You are a traitor,” said Lord Cadwin. “I never should have trusted you, knowing what kind of man you are. I will kill you myself.”

Caerwyn moved out further from the tree, trying to see how his father would respond, but someone lying on the ground caught his attention. He stopped where he was as he suddenly felt cold and hot at the same time. It was Emilia. She was naked, laying on her stomach with Bren Farrow’s boot against her back. Though he knew he should leave and protect his prince, it was all too much. His father was a traitor. Lord Cadwin faced them alone, and Emilia was at the mercy of her evil step-son. Without even realizing what he was doing, he started running towards the group.

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