Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 25

So much was happening around him, but Conri barely registered any of it. He sat in front of the fire with a cup of wine someone put in his hand. Occasionally he would see Caerwyn pace somewhere close to him as he spoke loudly. Efa sat by him once and tried to talk with him but heard nothing that she said. He felt Lady Haven’s hand on his shoulder. He might have nodded at her, but he wasn’t sure.

All he could think about was Eleri. There was a strange mixture of images in his mind. He thought of times they shared. He saw her laughing at something he said. He remembered what she looked like when she closed her eyes just before he kissed her. He could hear her voice saying his name in pleasure. He automatically took a sip of his wine as he recalled the taste of her skin. All of this would morph into the image of seeing her unconscious in Lord Fellen’s arms just before they disappeared.

He closed his eyes as someone sat down heavily in the chair next to him.

“She is not lost forever,” said Lord Cadwin in a raw voice. “We cannot even think that she is.”

Conri opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Lord Cadwin. He looked tired and worn down. Lord Cadwin was a good-looking man barely past the middle of his fourth decade, but he appeared so much older at that moment. Conri nodded before taking another sip of his wine. She was not lost forever because Conri would find a way to get her back no matter what. He didn’t care if he had to face every guard in the Silver Place, Niamhan, or Elathia. He would find a way to fight through them all to get to her.

“We need a plan,” said Caerwyn coming closer to them as he finally stopped pacing in front of the fireplace. “But I don’t know where to start.”

“A way into the Silver Palace would be a good place,” said Lady Farrow from a place on the sofa.

“Even a way into the city would be something we could focus on,” said Aron as he came to stand close to Conri.

Lord Cadwin looked at Conri before saying,” We will have to do this right. There is nothing I want more than to leave this instant and go to Eleri, but if we fail, I am not sure we will get another chance.”

Conri gripped his cup tightly. He did not like the idea of days or, the gods’ forbid, weeks going by before they tried to help Eleri.

“And they won’t kill her,” said Efa from somewhere close to Lady Farrows. “We know Lord Fellen thinks he has to have her as queen, so he will at least keep her alive until they are bonded as man and wife. I am not sure how he plans to make her agree, but I am sure it will take some time.”

“So we just wait then,” said Conri furiously. He threw back the rest of his wine and put his glass down hard. “We just let Lord Fellen do whatever he wishes to Eleri while we sit here and plan. I cannot do it, and we will not do it.”

“Prince Conri, we understand how you must feel. You must know that no one wants to save Eleri more than me,” said Caerwyn.

Conri laughed a little as he looked up at Caerwyn. “Are you going to go on about your love for her in front of everyone? Perhaps they should all know how you have conducted yourself. Let me tell them how you told Eleri of your devotion while you bedded another.”

“This is not helpful,” he heard Grace say in an anxious voice.

Conri kept his eyes on Caerwyn as he stood up. If he could not get his hands on those harming Eleri, he would find a way to make another who had hurt her pay. “Perhaps you are working with your father? Maybe you wanted Eleri out of the way so you could carry on with Lady Farrows without having to watch her with me. You are too selfish to let her go as you satisfy your desire with another.”

Caerwyn had the audacity to look ashamed as his gaze went from Conri to someone else. He opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again.

Conri moved closer to Caerwyn. “You have nothing to say, do you? Then maybe we should proclaim you guilty of treason right now. I would like to carry out the punishment myself.”

“That is enough,” said Lord Cadwin authoritatively as he stood. “Prince Conri, you may be our future king, but you will not act like this in my home. I don’t know what you are speaking of, but whatever mistakes Caerwyn has made, I know he would never wish my daughter or you to come to harm. I know you are angry and worried, but fighting amongst ourselves will not save Eleri.”

“I did her wrong,” said Caerwyn quietly. “I betrayed the love I had for her with another. I also hurt another woman I care about. I am a weak man who is broken in many ways, your highness. There is nothing I want to do more than save Eleri and help you gain your throne, but if you wish to dismiss me, you can. I will not argue. I will travel to the northern temple this instant and ask the goddess to relieve me from my duties. I will beg her to find another to serve you in my place.”

Conri was close to demanding it. How could he trust Caerwyn after all he had done? Caerwyn looked at him and stared into his eyes. Conri felt the bond they shared wash over him as Caerwyn continued to speak. “If you will let me serve you, I will do whatever it takes to save Eleri and Elathia. I know I have lost her forever, and now, to see her happy is all I want. I will serve you as my king and her as my queen if you will let me.”

Conri rubbed his head and turned away.

“My daughter is your First Advisor, your highness, but since she cannot advise you at the moment, I hope you will hear me,” said Lord Cadwin. “You will need the Bright One to not only regain your throne but save Eleri as well. He is mortal and has made mistakes, but you know you can trust him. You would know if he betrayed you.”

Conri nodded, unable to put his feelings into words.

“Now, there are some people we need to send for to help us with our problem. I have a few lords I trust that still live close to Niamhan. They have quietly been working to gain information from Lord Fellen. One is even often invited to court for suppers. I will write him a message directly.” He looked at Caerwyn. “You have a friend, I believe, who hears every whisper in the land. Send for him this evening, letting him know he is very welcomed here.”

“I will write him directly,” said Caerwyn. He glanced at Conri before moving to the small desk in the room.

“Lady Farrow, I hope you are not seriously injured,” continued Lord Cadwin.

“I am well and ready to do whatever it takes to help your daughter.”

“You have many contacts in the land, I believe. Is there a way you could find out any information from them?”

“Most do not like letters since it draws attention, but I can travel to a few not far from here. I will leave first thing tomorrow.”

Conri noticed Caerwyn looked up at this information.

“I would hate to put you in danger out in the land,” said Lord Cadwin.

“If she is willing to go, can you send her with a few guards, my lord?” asked Conri.

“I can spare whatever she thinks she needs, your highness,” said Lord Cadwin.

“Two will suffice,” said Lady Farrows. “I like to travel with a low profile.”

“I will send out two with you that are good at blending in,” said Aron.

“You all need to eat,” said Grace. “I know you may not feel like it, but you will have to force yourselves to do the things it takes to keep going. We can eat together and calmly discuss our next steps to save Eleri.”

“I believe Grace is right,” said Lord Cadwin. “It is well past lunch and almost supper. I am sure there is food ready in the kitchens. I will ask the servants to lay it out in the dining room. You should all join me.”

He left the room as everyone stood up. Efa came up to Conri and pulled him over to the side. “I know you are angry and anxious. You feel torn between the bond you have with Caerwyn and Eleri.”

“I am not torn,” said Conri. “I know where my allegiance lies as it is where my heart is.”

“But there is no need to choose. Caerwyn wants what you want.”

Conri chuckled slightly. “Which is part of the problem. You know how he has hurt Eleri.”

“But you are focusing on the wrong thing. Caerwyn is not a threat to her. I don’t believe he will have the power to hurt her ever again if she can truly give herself to you. Right now, she is in real danger, and you know it. You will need Caerwyn to save her.”

“It is hard to see anything but my anger for him right now,” said Conri. “Eleri was so upset when I saw her today. I have never seen her like that. What could I do but try to help her?” He looked up as he remembered their morning in the old tenant’s home and the time in the woods. “She remembers more and more. She is so close to recalling our love, and then this happens. Why is the goddess so cruel?”

Efa took his hand. “Others have caused this, not the goddess. Unfortunately, there is evil in the world, and it hates what is good and right. You and Eleri are right, Conri. You are the good that will save this land, and you must remember it.”

Conri felt his tears gather. “What if they find a way to take away everything good about her? What if they break her?”

“You know her better than that, Conri. She will never let them take away who she is.”

“Then what if she finds a way to end herself before it happens. She tried to earlier. If Ciara had not stopped her, Eleri would have, she would…” he could not get the words out.

“We have to have faith that Eleri will not choose that way out. They probably won’t let her anyway. You have to stay strong for her.” He felt a bit of magic flow from Efa’s hand into his. “My niece is more powerful than she knows. She carries the blood of a thousand generations of sorceresses. She has never truly shown her power. I don’t know if it was losing her mother so early or her own fears, but she has great magic, even holding back. I know you have felt it.”

He nodded, thinking of their kiss as they flew above the red forest. When he loved her directly after, he felt as if her magic surrounded him.

“As close as you were to her, I believe that magic created a new bond between you. Keep strong so she can feel your strength. Let her know what is waiting for her after this trying time.”

He wasn’t sure he understood Efa, but he nodded again. “I will try.”

“Now, come eat. Grace will not let you miss a meal. She is fond of you and will pester you to take care of yourself.”

Conri looked over at Caerwyn, who was standing by the desk speaking with Lady Farrow. “I will be there in a moment, Efa. Please go in without me.”

“As you wish, your highness,” she said with a curtsey and a half smile that reminded him of Eleri.

After Efa left, he walked over to Caerwyn. Lady Farrow saw him coming, and she let go of Caerwyn’s hand to move to the dining room.

“Do you have something to say to me, your highness?” asked Caerwyn.

“I think you know I have plenty to say to you, even more than earlier, but what good will it do. I know we must work together to save Eleri and then the land, but that does not mean I enjoy your company. I do not wish to speak to you unless it is about training or planning to save Eleri or the land. I do not wish to hear you even speak her name to me unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Caerwyn nodded. “I will only do as you order, your highness.”

“Then we won’t have any problems,” said Conri before he walked to the dining parlor.

He mostly listened during the meal as others made plans to put things in motion to save Eleri. He spoke when he was called upon but spent most of his time observing others. The Havens were quiet, though Aella told him how sorry she was many times. Efa and Lord Cadwin spoke the most, with Caerwyn sharing ideas when he had them. Grace encouraged them all to eat more, and Aron left halfway through the meal to do his duties.

Conri felt disconnected from it all. He knew he could not stay distant from any of them, even Caerwyn, but for that night, he let himself withdrawn. His thoughts were all of Eleri and what she could already be going through. He wanted to speak with her and comfort her. If he could not save her, he wished there was a way to tell her how strong she was and not forget it. He wished he could remind her of everything good about her.

By the time he went to his room, he was exhausted but knew sleep would not come easy. He sat by the fire in his room for an amount of time he did not know. His thoughts kept rotating from happy memories of Eleri to what he would do to those who hurt her. As his eyes grew heavy, he could almost imagine her with him. He held his hand opened, wishing he could feel her touch.

“Eleri,” he whispered as he closed his eyes. “Please do not give up.”

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