Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 24

Eleri was exhausted and not without confusion. It seemed like too much had happened in too short of time. Lord Nevis had unsettled her. Caerwyn had broken her heart, but now, she was at peace by Conri’s side.

He kept his arm around her waist as they walked. She leaned into him, enjoying his warmth and security. She supposed she should feel guilty after their time in the empty tenant home as she wasn’t sure how she felt about the prince. A few memories of times with him were coming back to her, but so much was still missing. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed his attentions or that she didn’t care deeply for him. Their connection felt like it ran deep, which was hard for her to accept.

At the moment, she felt like she wanted to bridge the gap between them. She was starting to believe that if she accepted his love and let herself love him, it could be something beyond special. Yet, the bridge she wished to cross was missing pieces. While Conri had already crossed it, she felt as if she had been flung back to the beginning with no way to get to him. He promised to rebuild it, and she thought she was ready to let him try. The only other issue that would not let her pass was Caerwyn.

She knew she should hate the sight of him. She should not want anything to do with him ever. He had pushed her away time and time again, and now it felt like he had betrayed her. She knew he owed her nothing and that he was free to love who he liked, but he spoke to her about promises. How could she believe in his promises when he kept running to another. Though he said they were moments of weakness and escape, she could not believe that he did not have deep feelings for Emilia Farrows.

As they came close to the edge of the woods, Eleri decided she did not have to figure it out in a day. She could take time to get to know Conri. She could let the issues with Caerwyn settle before she spoke with him. It seemed a mess, but there had to be a way forward. There was too much happening in the land for her just to give up. She had to find a way to fulfill her first duty as First Advisor and see her prince to his throne. She needed to help Conri and Caerwyn work together to rebuild the court of Gildan.

“Perhaps when we get back to the house, you and I could go to the library,” said Conri. “We can ask for lunch to be brought to us. You can rest on the sofa, and I can entertain you with a book. I found one the other day that I think you would like though you have probably already read it.”

“Even if I have, I shall enjoy hearing you tell the story. A quiet day alone with you sounds perfect. I know there are others I will need to face at some point, but for today, I would just like to spend it with you,” said Eleri.

“I will make sure no one disturbs us,” said Conri.

She stopped close to the tree line and took his hand as he turned to her. “Conri, I hope you know you do not have to take care of me. I know how frustrating it must be to be near me at the moment.”

“Being away from you is much worse, Eleri,” said Conri. “I think I know what you wish to say, and I want you to know I will not rush you. I plan to have my whole life to love you if I do this right. I just ask that you do not hold back because you worry about hurting me.” He took a breath as he looked down at their hands. “Our first time together, I told you I was not worried about the future. All I wanted was a chance to love you as you would let me. Whatever you can give me, I will take and, and it will be enough.”

She looked up at him and understood how she could have fallen in love with him. His gaze on her was intense, and she could see he meant every statement. It was so natural to kiss him at that moment that she almost did it without thinking. She was beginning to realize how kissing him felt so familiar. His arms were comforting because they knew her body well. His hands moved against her back like they had done it dozens of times, and she supposed they had.

He moved down to kiss her neck as she tried to pull him even closer. All her thoughts of taking her time were gone. It did not feel wrong to be with him. It felt like she belonged in his arms. If he were to ask to claim her, she wasn’t sure she could tell him no. A hazy memory of lying with him in a bed while he hovered over her came into her head. She felt such a rush of pleasure came over her that she wasn’t sure if it was due to his current attentions or ones she started to remember clearly.

She wished they had not left the abandoned tenant’s house so soon and was on the verge of suggesting they go back when she heard someone yelling closer to the manor.

“Conri, what was that?”

He stopped what he was doing and looked behind them while keeping his hands on her. “I don’t know.”

She heard the voice again and realized it who it was. “That was my father. Something is wrong.”

He let her go, and she adjusted her dress and cloak before he took her hand. They hurried through the trees, coming to the edge of the open field behind the stables. Eleri stopped and took in the scene before her. Her father and Caerwyn stood side by side, facing a large group of Lord Fellen’s guards on horseback. She saw Ciara, Lord Fellen, and, for some reason, Lord Nevis standing together.

She heard a small cry and noticed Lady Farrow was on the ground with Bren Farrow’s boot on her back. He had a sword drawn and was pointing it at her. Eleri started moving forward when Conri grabbed her.

“What are you doing?” he whispered harshly.

“I have to help them. I have to do something,” she said, looking back at him. “I think they are about to kill Lady Farrow.”

“I can go,” he said. “You should stay here, hidden, or run back to that small house. You know what that man wants.”

“I do, which means he will not stops until he finds me. He will kill you all, Conri. There are too many of them. I don’t know where Aron and his guards are, but it could be too late even If I run to find them. Alerting Aunt Efa to help will not be enough.”

“Eleri, I can’t let him take you,” said Conri furiously. “ Do you not realize what he will do to you?”

She nodded her head. “I know what he wants, Conri, but how can I just ignore what is going on? I am not worth all of your lives.” She ripped her hand from his and ran forward before he could stop her. By the time he caught her, it was too late. She saw Lord Fellen smile.

“Lady Eleri,” he called. “I am so glad you could join us.”

She saw her father close his eyes as Caerywn looked over at her. She glanced at Conri before straightening up and walking calmly to her father’s side, Conri joining her.

“If you wished to speak with me, you did not need to go to such lengths. Release, Lady Farrow, as she has nothing to do with this,” said Eleri with as much authority as you could manage.

“You are a hard woman to find, my lady,” said Lord Fellen. “Visiting you at home seemed my only option. Of course, I have not been invited to Cadwin Manor for many years, so I could not find my way. Luckily Lord Nevis let me know the general area about a week ago. He finally agreed this morning to show me the way.”

“Father,” said Caerwyn sharply. “You did this? You let him in? How could you? You always swore allegiance to the Gildan king.”

“I did until I saw there was no hope for the Gildan court. You are weak, and you refused to give up your unnatural connection with Lady Eleri. She would not comply either. There can be no more Gildan rule as you are determined to ruin what has been set up for years. My only option was to choose a new way to save my family line and your brother.”

“So you chose a murderer,” said Lord Cadwin. “This man killed the king he swore to serve, Bradly. He had your brother killed. How can you trust him?”

“I saw no other way,” said Lord Nevis. “How can the court of Gildan stand so divided. You should have never married that woman, Ewan. Your daughter from the union will be the downfall of the land if things aren’t changed.”

“Now, Lord Nevis, that is no way to speak of your future queen. You will have to respect my wife.”

Eleri heard Conri growl as Caerwyn stepped forward. “She will never be your wife. You will not even touch her.”

“Let me hear what the lady has to say,” He moved towards Eleri with Ciara following him. Conri tried to get in front of her, but Eleri took his hand and pushed him to her side. “Lady Eleri, I come to make you an offer. I want to make you my wife so you and I can take our crowns together. I have studied the prophecy and had the best scholar study it as well. We all concluded that it does not matter what king wears the crown as long as you are the queen. Perhaps your birth signaled a new line to come into power.”

She shook her head. “You are mistaken. Our goddess put the Gildans in power, and you tried to take it away by viciously murdering our king and queen who trusted you. Due to the actions of others, our prince was spared. He is the only true king of Elahtia, and I will recognize no other.”

“Is that so,” said Lord Fellen. “You have an agreement with Prince Conri, then? If you are so sure of his rule, you have agreed to be his queen?”

Conri squeezed her hand. “There is no agreement, and it is not necessary. You put too much faith in some words on a paper. What matters is I am the rightful king, and you are an imposter who will destroy the land.”

Lord Fellen looked Conri up and down. “I am not interested in anything you have to say, your highness. My father and I had to listen to your father babble on about right and wrong for too many years. He was a weak man, and you are just like him. I should order your death this instant.” Eleri and pulled Conri closer to her as Caerwyn moved to the prince’s side. “I do not wish to kill anyone today, though. All I want is for Lady Eleri to come with me.”

Eleri searched her mind for what she could do. It all came back to one option, and it was not something she wished. She looked at Conri as he held her hand tight. She glanced at Caerwyn, who looked at her and then Lady Farrow. Her own eyes went to the poor woman on the ground. Lady Farrow had her head raised, and Eleri could tell she was trying to stay strong, but a few tears of pain or fear had escaped her eyes as they ran down her face.

“What good will it do for me to come with you?” asked Eleri. “I will never give you what you want. You can never truly mark me without my permission.”

“I think I can persuade you, my lady.” He glanced at Ciara. “I have ways of changing your mind on many things. With Miss Sullivan’s help, we already caused your guards to leave this place for a time. Do you see any of them here?”

“There is one who was stubborn,” said Ciara. “But we had other ways to subdue him.” She nodded behind her, and two guards came forward, dragging a bound and gagged Aron.

Eleri gasped and looked away.

“Don’t even think about it,” whispered Caerwyn out of the corner of his mouth.

“Now, Lady Eleri, this is all very simple,” said Lord Fellen. “You come with us, and I will leave your father, the head of your guards, Caerwyn, and the prince all in peace.”

“What about Lady Farrow?” asked Eleri.

“I promised my First Advisor a few things, and one of those was that he could do as he wished with his kin. I don’t believe he likes anyone who has a claim the estate or name of his dead father,” said Lord Fellen.

Bren laughed. “I never did like this one. I don’t know why my father thought to take her as his wife as low as she is.”

“Your father was a good man,” said Lady Farrow with effort. “He knew you were a disappointment and would do no good He needed someone to see to keeping the good name of Farrow out in the kingdom.”

“What do you really know of my father, my lady.” Bren pressed the tip of his sword against her upper back. “You didn’t care for him. You only saw an opportunity.”

“You are wrong. I loved and respected your father. He was one of the best men I ever knew. You had him killed for your own gain. It is you who never loved him.”

Bren pressed his sword down further, and Lady Farrow cried out. Eleri saw Caerwyn close his eyes in pain as he turned away. “Stop, now. If I agree to come with you, you will not only spare the life of Aron, the Bright One, the prince, and my father, but you will not harm Lady Farrow. You will give her into the hands of the Bright One, and then you and your guards will leave these lands, never to return.”

“Eleri,” gasped Conri as she let go of his hand.

“If I agree to all of this, you will come with me?” asked Lord Fellen.

“I will, but I want it to be a magical bond. I am sure Ciara can manage it,” said Eleri.

Lord Fellen turned to speak with Ciara as Conri grabbed Eleri’s arm. “You cannot do this; you cannot go with him,” he said furiously.

She reached up and put her hand on his cheek. “I cannot let him harm you or the others. This is the only way for you to have a chance to save the land.”

He took her hand off his cheek and kissed it. “Eleri, please. Nothing is worth you giving yourself to him.”

“I will never give myself to him,” she said adamantly. She closed her eyes and felt her power build as she kept a hold of Conri’s hands. Opening her eyes, she leaned forward and kissed him quickly. “Goodbye, Conri. I may not remember all we are, but I know I loved you, and I think I could have loved you again.”

“What are you saying?” asked the prince desperately.

She released her power into him, knocking him back to the ground, where she knew he would stay for at least a few minutes. She threw her hands out to her side as she walked forward to Lord Fellen, making sure her father or Caerwyn could not cross the boundary she put up.

“My lady, I will give you all you ask,” said Lord Fellen. “Will you take my hand?”

She heard her father call her name and Conri cry out, but she ignored them. She nodded and grabbed the hand he held out. Ciara quickly covered their hands with hers, and Eleri focused on what she wanted from Lord Fellen. “I will physically come with you if you will give me all I ask.” Lord Fellen nodded, and a bright light covered them for a few seconds. When it was faded, Eleri could tell all was done.

“Bren, release Lady Farrow to the Bright one,” said Lord Fellen without letting go of Eleri.

Bren put his sword away before reaching down and hauling up Lady Farrow by her arm. He walked her over to Caerwyn and threw her over the boundary Eleri had set up. Caerwyn caught her and wrapped her in his cloak before he stared at Eleri.

She nodded at him. “Take care of the prince. He is the only hope for Elathia.” She looked at her father as tears clouded her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to him. As she raised her hand, knowing what she must do, she looked down at Conri, who managed to sit up. He looked at her with a mixture of love and anger. She wished she could make him understand.

Knowing she could wait no longer, she closed her eyes, saying goodbye to all she loved. She felt the power in her hand build to the point it would easily kill her. She worked up the will to let it go, but she never got the chance. Ciara grabbed her hand as Eleri’s eyes flew open.

“No,” she gasped as Ciara laughed.

She felt Ciara’s power flow through her, blocking all her power. It shouldn’t have been possible. A feeling of immense exhaustion came over her as her head started pounding. Her legs could no longer support her, and she began to fall. She was caught by Lord Fellen, who picked her up and held her in his arms.

“Ciara, it is time to go,” said Lord Fellen. “My guards should leave this place this second and never return. Make sure the Cadwin guard is not harmed. Ewan, I will never step foot on your lands, but should you come around, you are welcome to attend your daughter’s bonding to me. Bright One, if you decide to join our side, let me know. Remember, I do not mind sharing what is mine. Prince Conri, you will live the rest of your pathetic life on this estate if you know what is good for you.”

Conri stood up slowly. “I will not rest until you are no more, and Eleri and Elathia are safe from your evil rule.”

Lord Fellen laughed. “Let us go, Ciara. I have nothing else to say. Bren, Lord Nevis, gather close unless you want to be left behind.”

Eleri struggled to keep her eyes open. She saw Lady Farrow looking at her with sorrow. Caerwyn was bent over as though he could not support himself. Her father looked lost, and Prince Conri had a look in her eyes she had never seen before. She kept watching him until she could no longer keep her eyes open. As she fell into darkness, she felt the wind pick up around her.

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