Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 6

If she thought she was miserable traveling before their time in the small village the day before, it was nothing compared to what she was enduring as they walked from the place in the early morning light. She \kept her head down, trying not to lose what little breakfast she had eaten before they left their room at the inn. Her head was pounding, and her stomach was unsettled.

She had barely drunk three glasses of wine, but it felt as though she had spent half the night drinking. Conri told her he believed Mrs. Robinson tainted the wine as the old woman tried to trap Eleri into a life working in the inn. She carefully glanced over at Conri to find him looking at her. She looked back down quickly and had to stop walking. She put her hand against her as her head swam and her stomach clenched. She doubled over, hoping not to vomit.

She felt a hand on her back. “You should drink some more water,” Conri said as he gently rubbed her back. “I think it might help.”

Eleri slowly stood up and held out her hand. Conri handed her the waterskin. She shakily put it up to her mouth and took a few sips. The burning in her throat was eased slightly. She drank a bit more and felt her stomach settle though her head still pounded.

“We can find a place to rest in the trees if you need to,” said Conri with concern.

“I can keep going.” Eleri handed him the waterskin back, trying not to look at him.

She didn’t remember much from the night before, but she had flashes of memories that made her cheeks redden. She had a feeling she had thrown herself at the prince. She knew she had kissed him and touched in him ways she had been trying to avoid. But, as much as she always wanted him, she did not need to lead him on. She didn’t think it had gone much further than kisses, and she knew it was because Conri had stopped her.

She cut her eyes towards him to find him still looking at her. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him, and she was afraid he was already too attached to her. He talked of not giving up on having a future with her, and while a future with Conri sounded much better than just tolerable, she was afraid she would do nothing but disappoint him. She was terrified of becoming his and the land’s downfall.

“I should never have left you alone at any point in that place,” said Conri. “I knew I should have gone with you to speak with that woman.”

“It wouldn’t have helped. She would have distracted you with a few pretty young women, and the outcome would have been the same. I should have been more careful and not accepted some wine from a woman like her.”

“You think I could be distracted so easily?” asked Conri.

Eleri gave him a slight grin. “From what I remember about last night, I saw you spend more than an unsubstantial amount of time speaking with a beautiful young woman. I think it is what drove me to spend time with those you found me with.”

Eleri thought Conri would laugh it off, but his expression grew dark. “I did speak with that young woman for a time, but it was not what you might think. Her story was not a happy one.”

Eleri sighed as she rubbed her head. “I doubt many if any of the women who work in that place have a happy story, Conri. I do not look down on them, but most women do not end up working in that position unless they have to.”

“Elathia is not a kind land,” said Conri. “Has it always been so harsh, or has it grown worse since Lord Fellen took over?”

“There will always be those who are hurt in the land, Conri. Unfortunately, no matter how good of a ruler you are, there will be those who work to take advantage of many in a weaker position. I do think things have gotten worse since Lord Fellen killed your father. He has destroyed so many Ordinary villages that many are looking for anywhere they can be safe. The powers of the Silver Palace seem content to let people suffer and die. Perhaps they prefer it so they can truly eradicate all the Ordinaries they can.”

“Things can not go on like this,” said Conri. “Everyone will suffer high and low if we destroy a whole group of people. Ordinaries are needed in Elathia just as much as shifters and magic users.”

“I agree,” said Eleri. “That is why we must get you to safety in Cadwin Manor. Soon, we will call all our allies together and work to regain your place on the Silver Throne. Then you can begin to make things right.”

’We, Eleri. We can make it right. I cannot do this without you.”

“I serve as your First Advisor, and I will not abandon you,” said Eleri with a nod. She took a deep breath, hoping the cold morning air would help clear her head.

“You will most definitely serve as my First Advisor, but I have decided you will be much more than that to me,” said Conri with confidence.

Eleri snapped her head over to look at him, causing it to pound as a fresh wave of nausea gripped her. “Your highness,…” she started, but Conri cut her off.

“I will not argue with you about it, especially when you are not feeling well, but I know one day you will stand by my side as my queen.”

“You sound very sure of yourself,” grumbled Eleri as she looked down

“Confidence has served me well so far.”

“Only because you are a spoiled prince raised by a childless couple who gave you almost anything you wanted,” said Eleri. “Then you were introduced to some pretty young women who had only a few thoughts in their heads, the foremost being able to say they spent a few moments in pleasure with the future king.”

“You are probably right, but the fact is, I am used to getting what I want, and I don’t wish to stop now. Especially since I have never wanted something so bad in my life,” he glanced over at her with a wicked grin.

She rolled her eyes. “I am not sure if you are serious or you are trying to take my mind off of my current condition.”

He moved closer to her. “Perhaps, a bit of both, my dear.” He took her hand and pulled her gently to his side. “I am very serious in wanting you, but I am not as confident as I sound.”

“I suppose last night must have given you some assurances,” said Eleri with a sigh. She leaned on him slightly; finding his support helped.

“You were not in your right mind,” said Conri softly as he looked down at her. “Besides, I don’t think attraction between us has ever been the issue.”

She silently agreed. Ever since they had met a few months ago, she had shown him many times just how much she was drawn to him. Between their kisses, touches, and even an intimate moment, there could be no doubt she wanted him.

“I don’t think it will do much good for us to speak of it this morning,” said Conri. “You are not feeling well, and I do not wish to hear you go on and on again how you would never be an appropriate queen for me. I suppose if you wished to speak more about the real reason you hold back from me, you could, but I am not sure I am in the mood to hear about him.”

Eleri knew she was in no condition to even think about Caerwyn, let alone talk about him. Just saying his name to herself caused her head to throb worse. “I know you aren’t much for silence, your highness, but if you will indulge me for just a small amount of time this morning, I would be grateful.”

Conri smiled down at her. “I don’t mind being quiet for a while, Eleri. I have some rather nice recent memories to keep my mind occupied.”

She felt her cheeks redden again as she tried to move away from him.

“I am sorry. That was unkind, but I could not resist a bit of teasing you. I will stop now as you are not at fault for your condition. Let us walk quietly for a time until we are well away from the village. Then we can find a nice area amongst the trees to rest for a while.”

Eleri should have argued that they should keep going to get to Cadwin Manor as quickly as possible, but her stomach rolled again, and her head swam. She nodded slightly, and they continued in silence.

As she opened her eyes, the first thing she noticed was her head felt much clearer. The second thing she realized was that she was unbelievably thirsty. Sitting up slowly, she looked around to find she was alone by the small fire she had built earlier. She picked up a waterskin next to her and took a long drink before looking around for Conri.

The area around her was quiet except for the wind that would gust, making a howling sound through the close trees.

She stood up and stretched before turning towards a part of the woods. “Conri?” she said in a voice slightly louder than normal.

She walked towards the edge of the trees and peered in. Seeing a bush that looked slightly pushed aside, she entered the trees, thinking that perhaps Conri had gone that way. She walked on through the thick trees, having to shimmy between a few and step over some dense growth. She looked all around her as she moved, trying to see a glimpse of his light brown hair or hear a crunch of his boot on the forest floor.

She kept moving forward, hearing or seeing no one. She wasn’t sure if more clouds had moved in or the trees were getting even denser, but everything around her seemed to grow darker. She was about to turn around and find her way back when she thought she heard the sound of two people talking close by. She moved towards the noise, catching her skirt on briars and small fallen trees as she was less careful about where she stepped.

She moved between two trees and took a step back, hoping she hadn’t been as loud as she feared. Up ahead, she could see a large road, and on the road were several men on horses dressed as Lord Fellen’s soldiers. She stayed close to a tree, peeking her head out enough to observe. Two men talked and laughed together as their horses’ tails twitched. While she was watching, several more men rode up and said something, but she couldn’t make it out. They appeared to be reporting to one man who nodded.

She slowly backed away, trying not to make any noise. She had to get back to her small fire and find Conri. They needed to leave the area as quickly as possible. She kept moving backward as silently as she could until she passed at least four rows of trees. She went to turn when she felt a strong pair of hands grab her upper arms.

She nearly cried out when she heard Conri whisper into her ear, “You saw them, didn’t you?”

She nodded as she slowly turned around. Conri stood in front of her bare chested with his shirt slung over his shoulder. He pulled her into a hug before continuing to speak quietly but frantically. “I was out running through the woods for a bit when I heard them. They didn’t see me. I went back to look for you and was worried out of mind when I found you gone. I was afraid they had found you.”

She pushed back gently and looked up at him. “No. I found them. I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, but I don’t think they heard me.”

“I’m sorry I left you. I just felt a need to shift for a bit and get out of my head. It was stupid. I left you vulnerable and alone. I didn’t plan to go far, and I thought we were safe being so far from the Silver Palace.” He hugged her again. “I’m so sorry, Eleri. I would never have forgiven myself if something had happened to you.”

“I’m fine, Conri, but we need to get out of here,” Eleri said as he let her go. “We need to get back to our fire and pack up our things.”

He nodded and slipped his shirt back on. They walked back to their fire together as they tried to step carefully. Once they arrived, Eleri quickly threw things in their bag as Conri stamped out the fire that still smoldered.

Once they were done, Eleri said, “I think we should shift. We can move much faster in our wolf form. We will have to be careful and try to stay in control, so we know where we are going. We can move south for a while before continuing to the west. It shouldn’t be too hard to find our way.”

“Are you feeling better? Can you handle this?” asked Conri with concern.

“I am feeling much better,” said Eleri. “I am starving, but there is no time to eat. We will stop at nightfall. I can handle my hunger until then.”

“We could hunt on the way, and you could eat,” suggested Conri.

Eleri scrunched up her nose and shook her head. She wasn’t sure if it was because she wasn’t a full shifter, but she had never been able to eat as a true wolf would. The idea of devouring a freshly killed animal without cooking it even as a wolf disgusted her. “Perhaps we could make a kill or two, but I would rather wait until we shift back to cook it properly.”

“Very well,” said Conri. “We should get going.” He began to pull off his shirt.

Eleri turned around. “Once you are shifted, I will ask that you do not look so I can undress. I will pack our things and put the bag around you.”

Conri said nothing in return as she continued to face the other way. After a moment, she felt a brush of fur against her fingers. She looked down to see a large gray wolf looking up at her. She nodded to it, and it turned, showing her its back. She quickly undressed and packed her and Conri’s clothes into their bag, having to work to make it all fit. She hurriedly fixed the bag around Conri’s wolf, shivering in the late fall air.

She closed her eyes, trying to speak to her inner wolf. It was not always easy for her, especially in the daylight, but being so close to Conri, kept her wolf closer to the surface than was usual. She felt it growl within her as she concentrated. Soon she was looking at the world through different eyes, her wolf making a slight noise as she moved up even with Conri.

The gray wolf turned to look at her, and she felt her instincts heighten. She was aware of everything about him. She fidgeted a bit with her front paws as he leaned to brush against her lightly. She could smell him mixed in with the scents of damp ground, rotting leaves, and evergreens that surrounded her. Knowing they could not linger, she looked away from him and took a deep breath. Finding her balance, she sprung forward, turning towards the south into the forest. She heard Conri following behind her, and he soon caught up with her.

As they ran through the trees, she felt more connected to him than ever. She was reminded of the night of his moon crowning. She looked over at him as they ran, feeling the pull towards him more than ever before. She worked hard to overcome the instincts and feelings that ran through her as they ventured south. She only hoped she could gain control over herself before they stopped for the night and shifted back.

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