Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 8

It felt like the sun would never shine again, and Caerwyn supposed it was fitting. Since they had left the Haven’s Estate, he had rarely seen the sun peak through the cloudly skies, and he hadn’t seen it at all for the two days they had traveled on from Selven’s. He looked around at his small, ragged group, hoping they would meet a party from Cadwin Manor sometime soon. He wished even more that those who came had news of Eleri if not the woman herself.

He would give anything to see her before him, smiling at him with her hands on her hips. If he closed his eyes, he could see her before him, her dark red hair blowing in the wind. He could imagine going to her and taking her into his arms. Her lips would be soft and warm as they met his. He licked his lips, remembering what hers tasted like. He flexed his hands at the thought of her smooth skin under his fingertips. As he thought of what it was like to hear her soft voice say his name at the height of passion, he stumbled on the road.

“Are you well, Caerwyn?” asked Emilia as she walked forward to be by his side.

He nodded without looking at her. It was hard for him to meet her eyes after the first night at Selven’s. He knew he had been very close to drunk if not entirely there, and going to her had not been his original intention. Still, he had almost used her in an inexcusable way. It was bad enough that he had paid women in the past to try to get his need for Eleri out of his head. To take someone as good as Emilia and use her only for his temporary pleasure was out of the question.

“You can speak to me, you know,” said Emilia with a small laugh. “You do not need to be embarrassed.”

“I a not embarrassed. I am ashamed,’ said Caerwyn with a huff.

“There is no reason for shame either. You didn’t mean to stumble into my room, and I know you were not in your right mind. Should I feel shame in that I didn’t demand you leave instantly?” She looked behind her before continuing quietly. “I would have let you do much more than kiss me if you wanted. I suppose I should be sullen and quiet as well.”

“It was I who grabbed you. It was I who was full of memories and lust for another woman. I almost used you badly as some way to relieve my lust. I care for you too much to have gone so far.”

“You are too hard on yourself. I am a grown woman who has been through much worse than a few kisses from a drunken, good-looking man. You do not need to protect me, Caerwyn.”

He turned to look at her and say more when he was interrupted by Lady Aella walking up to his side.

“I don’t mean to bother you,” said Aella in a timid voice. “But my aunt is very tired. Could we stop and have a bite to eat?”

Caerwyn turned to look at her, and she cowered as though he would scream at her or worse. He felt a little guilt at her fear even if she had unwillingly helped Bren Farrow in his scheme to take Eleri. She did not mean to cause problems. She was just a silly young woman. He tried to think of how Eleri would want him to act in the situation. She would wish him to be kind and forgiving. “Of course, we can stop, my lady. There looks to be a clearing up ahead. We can take lunch there.”

“Thank you,” said Aella as she fell back to be with her aunt and uncle.

“She didn’t mean to help Bren, Caerwyn,” said Emilia. “She feels very guilty about it and is very worried about both the prince and Eleri. I believe she is very fond of Prince Conri.”

“They carried on with some sort of affair for a time. It is no wonder, two young people, in the same house for so long, but she always knew it could not be. I am sure she has feelings for him, but our prince could never choose her.”

“I suppose he could not,” said Emilia. “Though if they were in love, I would say it is cruel to keep them apart. I would think you would understand it better than most.”

“If only that were the case,” said Caerwyn without thinking. If the prince had deep feelings for Aella, Caerwyn would not worry about him being alone with Eleri. He looked at Emilia. “I do believe Prince Conri cared for the woman, but he did not love her. She was just a distraction from boring days cooped up in the Haven’s Estate.”

“The poor girl. It is no wonder she fell under Bren’s spell so easily. She must desire very much to be loved by someone. If she thought there was a chance a man from such an old shifter family could want her, it must have made her feel special.”

“It should have put her on her guard,” said Caerwyn, his voice rising in anger.

Emilia shook her head. “You do not know what it is like to feel unwanted, Caerwyn. Sometimes you go looking for love and acceptance wherever you can find it.” She walked over to the Cadwin guard, giving him a small smile.

Caerwyn walked faster towards the clearing. He wondered if he made Eleri feel unwanted all those times he pushed her away. Surely his actions spoke louder than his words. He always came back to her because he wanted Eleri more than anything in his life. He wished to be with her more than he wished to be the Bright One which was very wrong to say. He fought with himself for years, trying to put her out of his mind and heart, but he could not do it. She was more to him than anyone or anything ever could be. He should have known from the beginning that he would always choose her.

They ate a quiet lunch huddled around a small fire that one of the Cadwin guards lit. Each one had their cloaks tight to their body, some moving to try to generate more heat. Caerwyn looked up at the sky, seeing the dark clouds. He wondered if it was cold enough to snow. Rain would be bad as well, and he thought they might need to find some sort of shelter before too long.

He glanced at everyone in his party. The Cadwin guard looked tired but able to go on. Aella seemed restless and scared. Caerwyn felt guilty anew at the terrified look on her face. He gave her a slight grin, hoping it would alleviate some of her misgivings, but she only looked confused as she glanced behind her. The Haven’s sat close together as Lord Havens rubbed his wife’s arms. Her cough was much better, but she still appeared weak. He knew they needed to get to Cadwin manor soon for her sake.

At last, his eyes fell on Emilia. She gave him a small smile that made him smile back. She looked so calm, like she always did. He felt a sense of steadiness come from her, and it gave him a little reassurance that they could make it. Deciding they needed to move on in case it did rain later in the day, Caerwyn started to pack up their meager supplies.

Emilia put out the fire as Lord Haven’s helped his wife to stand with Aella’s help. The Cadwin guard took the bag, and they started walking slowly towards their eventual destination. Emilia made idle chit-chat with him, talking of some of their childhood adventures together as the others followed them closely. She said something that made him laugh as he felt someone touch his other arm. He looked over to see Lady Aella staring at him.

“I don’t mean to interrupt, but I believe I saw someone up ahead in the trees. I could not get a good look, but I think it might have been a palace guard or someone dressed like one. I don’t think he is alone.”

Caerwyn stopped walking, and they all gathered close together.

“Are you sure, Aella?” asked Emilia. “We have been walking for quite some time, and you must be tired. Perhaps you are seeing things?”

“No, Lady Farrow, I am sure I saw someone up ahead. They were on a horse and moved quickly behind the trees.”

Caerwyn looked over at the guard. “Come with me. Emilia, you stay here and watch over the others. If something happens, run as fast as you can into the trees. I will find you later.”

Caerwyn and the guard crept through the trees. He could not see anyone, but he had a feeling something was wrong. He didn’t know if it was his heightened senses or that Aella’s warning had unnerved him.”

“We should shift, Bright One,” said the guard in a whisper. “We will be able to tell if someone is about in our wolf form.”

Caerwyn nodded, feeling a little foolish that he had not thought of it. They both darted to different close trees. Caerwyn stripped quickly, putting his clothes in a neat pile at the base of the tree. He shifted into his large, white wolf and walked back to the path he was on to find a dark brown wolf waiting for him. Caerwyn walked ahead a little and sniffed the air. He caught a whiff of those he was traveling with, Emilia’s scent being the strongest. He was about to turn the other way when he smelled something else. It was someone who was not of their group and not just one person. There were a few mixed in.

He glanced back to see if the guard picked up on it as well when he heard a growl ahead of him. He looked forward to see two small light brown wolves running towards him. Caerwyn gave a loud growl and ran forward. The first one leaped at him. He turned to the side, his large paw striking out, sending the small wolf flying.

The Cadwin guard cut off the other before it could get near Caerwyn. The guard took the wolf by the neck and shook it before throwing it to the side. As Caerwyn watched, he heard the sound of horses running towards him. He looked up to see five men with swords charging at him with two large wolves at their side.

Caerwyn and the guard stood side by side, bent down and ready to leap at the right time. As they waited, he saw something out of the corner of his eyes. It was a small, light brown wolf low on her paws, ready to pounce. Caerwyn shook his head at her, wishing she had listened to him and stayed back with the Havens. She gave a low growl that he knew meant she would do as she wished.

When the horses and wolves were close enough, all three sprung up off their paws. Cerwyn caught one of the rider’s boots, dragging him from his horse. The guard managed to spook another horse, causing it to rear up. Emilia jumped on one of the wolve’s backs, quickly taking it down by latching on onto the back of its head and rolling it over.

Caerwyn stepped aside as another rider swung a sword at him from on top of his horse. Caerwyn turned and jumped up, his teeth sinking into the man’s upper leg, causing him to lose his sword. Caerwyn snapped at the man’s horse, and the horse ran away in fright. The injured man was not able to hang on and he fell from the horse onto the ground.

Caerwyn saw the Cadwin guard was fighting with the other large wolf while a man on a horse was circling Emilia. He moved to help her when he realized one of the riders had dismounted. He came at Caerwyn with his sword raised. Caerwyn turned to meet him, hoping he could dodge in time as the man swung down at him. The blade was stopped by another. Caerwyn turned to see Aella holding his sword, blocking the man.

The man looked at Aella, shocked for a few moments before his eyes turned cold. He threw her back and advanced towards her. Caerwyn gave a low growl before jumping up on the man’s back. He took him down, quieting him forever by sinking his teeth deep. Caerwyn looked up at Aella and motioned with his head back towards where she came. She picked up his sword and shook her head. He gave an annoyed growl and kept by her side. There was one more rider to go. He moved towards Caerwyn and Aella with his sword out by his side. Caerywn pushed Aella one way as he went the other.

The man seemed confused on who to strike for one second, which was enough for Caerwyn to take advantage. He snapped at the horse’s head, causing the animal to buck wildly for a moment. While the rider was caught off guard, Aella raised the sword and hit the hand that held the rider’s sword. He swore and dropped it as Caerwyn grabbed his leg with his teeth. He pulled the man down off his horse before quickly disposing of him.

Caerwyn licked his lips and looked around. Emilia was moving towards him, and the Cadwin guard was standing over a large dead wolf. Caerwyn looked at Emilia and then Aella. He was about to run to his clothes so he could shift when he heard more riders approaching. He and Emilia advanced in front of Aella as the guard fell back to join them. All four waited, ready to try to face what they must, when a familiar figure came into view.

Aron riding a large chestnut horse, rode towards them with fifteen of Lord Cadwin’s guards. They stopped in front of Caerwyn, Aron looking around at the carnage.

“We have been tracking these palace guards for some time. I was afraid they would find you before we could, but I guess I worried in vain. You seemed to do just fine on your own.”

Caerwyn nodded as Aron dismounted. “I have brought some horses with me for all of you. We can make the ride back in a day if we hurry. I hope you will accept our help,” said Aron with a slight smile.

“I think I can speak for all of us when I say we will go with you with much gratefulness, Aron,” said Aella as she lowered her sword.

Caerwyn glanced back at her, trying to smile as best a wolf could. He nodded and made his way back to his tree so he could quickly change. He had much to discuss with Aron and hoped the man brought news of Eleri and the prince.


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