Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 9

Eleri woke up to weak light coming in through the cracks in their shelter. She still rested against Conri with his arms around her. She carefully looked up at him to find him asleep. Rasing her hand, she lightly caressed his stubbled-covered cheek, not wanting to wake him. He looked so at peace as he slept, and she knew if either of them could find good rest, they should.

She spent a few more moments in his embrace, wondering if she should try to go back to sleep. As she took her hands away from his face, she saw how filthy they were. Her face felt raw from her tears the night before, and she imagined it was streaked and dirty. She carefully worked her way out of Conri’s arms and thought about how to clean herself. Sitting up, she considered the stream that was close by. The water would be cold, but she could gather a bit and heat it over a fire. It would take some work, but she could fashion a make-shift bowl using magic out of what vines and leaves were around.

She almost made up her mind to do it when she remembered something about the area. She wondered if any were close by. She put a few more sticks on the burnt-out fire before her and relit it with a touch so Conri would have some warmth. Standing up, she looked down at him. She hoped he would sleep while she was gone as she didn’t plan to take long.

She exited the tent and walked over to the stream. Bending down, she put her hand in the water. It was cool but not as cold as she expected. That gave her some hope. She looked upstream and saw that it ran down a hill. Glancing once more at the shelter where Conri lay, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to take a short walk. If she could find what she was looking for, it would benefit them both.

She followed the stream up the hill noticing the terrain was becoming rockier as she climbed. When she reached the first narrow plateau of the hill, she saw that two short waterfalls ran side by side down some rocks. She checked the water fall she could reach and found the water icy. She wondered if the other was the same.

She continued up the hill until she came to the top. There she found that the cold stream was there, the water flowing amongst the many rocks. On the other side of the stream was a pool of water next to a large rock. She could see the steam rising from it, and it made her smile.

She made her way over the stream, carefully jumping across a few wet rocks until she landed on a large one. There she looked around and saw no one. She took off her cloak before reaching behind and untying the back of her dress. After pulling it down and stepping out of it, she took off her boots. Standing up, she gave one more glance around as she pulled her shift over her head.

She laid it on top of her discarded dress and huddled down, feeling the cold morning air hit her bare skin. She carefully sat down on the large rock and placed one of her feet into the water. The water was very warm, almost hot, but it was not unbearable. Taking a deep breath, she pushed off the rock and into the deep pool. She sighed as the warm water surrounded her, making her feel instantly relaxed.

The pool was very deep, and her feet did not touch the bottom. Aron had taught her how to swim long ago, and she treaded water around the pool before stopping and splashing some water on her face. Deciding there was only one way to make sure all of her was clean, she took a deep breath and plunged her whole self beneath the surface.

The water was hot on her face, so she quickly popped up, feeling a bit of shock as the cold air hit her exposed skin. Laying back, she floated on the warm water, enjoying the feel of it on her body as it soothed her sore muscle. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the small bit of sun that was showing itself through a break in the clouds as it rose while she listened to the soothing sounds of the nearby stream.

She was almost in a doze when she heard someone clear their throat. Her eyes flew open, and she plunged most of her body underwater, causing her to cough as some water went into her mouth and up her nose.

“You do not need to drown yourself. It is only me,” said Conri as he looked down at her with a smile.

She tried to cover herself with her hands, wondering how much he could see through the water and steam. “I was hoping you would sleep longer, but I guess I have lost track of time.”

“I was worried for a moment, but now that I have found you, I can’t say I am sorry you left if this is the result.” He laughed as she shook her head.

She regained her sense and smirked at him. “You should come in and clean yourself as well, your highness. The water is very refreshing.”

His smile faded for a moment before he bent down to take off his boots. “If that is a challenge, then I accept, my lady.”

She shrugged. “It is a large pool, and you can stay well on the other side. I will turn until you change and enter.”

“You think I will just keep away from you?”

“I am an excellent swimmer, and I believe I can outlast you in the water. You should be warned that you will not be able to touch. I hope you can swim.”

“I can,” said Conri as he pulled off his shirt.

She turned around and waited for a moment until she heard the splash of him entering the pool. She looked over and saw him on the other side, treading water near a large rock.

“I hope it is not too warm for you, my prince,” she said as she ran a hand through her wet hair.

“Not at all. I enjoy hot baths. I hope you do as well.”

“Why do you care what temperature of baths I like?” asked Eleri as she made sure to keep herself well under the water.

“Because I hope to share another with you one day in a much smaller tub than this. I would like for us both to be comfortable.”

She rolled her eyes and then laughed at him.

“You laugh now, but one day you will see,” he said before he took a breath went under water.

She waited for a moment for him to come back up. When he did not, she began to get worried. “Conri?” she loudly said as she looked over. She almost swam over to his side when he popped up much closer than she would have liked.

“Damn,” he cursed as he wiped his face. “The water was too warm for me to keep my eyes open.”

She scoffed as she splashed water in his direction. “This isn’t very princely behavior.”

He gave her another half-smile. “But it is as I am a prince, so whatever behavior I show is princely behavior, even if it isn’t proper.”

She shook her head at him and swam back towards where she entered.

“Where are you going, Eleri?” asked Conri.

“I think I am done if you are going to act so. I will just have to get my shift wet by changing in the pool since you won’t behave yourself.”

He sighed. “I will not have you wet and uncomfortable all day. I will be good; I promise. Stay a few moments more with me. The water is much too nice for you to leave just yet.”

She turned and smiled at him. “Very well, but only if you promise you will keep well turned around when I do decide to leave.” She realized he had seen almost all of her, but she still wanted to keep some level of decency between them.

“You have my word, my lady. I swear it on the crown I shall wear.”

She nodded and settled into the water.

“How far is the walk to the village you spoke of yesterday?” asked Conri as he leaned against a nearby rock.

“We can make it a few hours after lunch if we leave in the next two hours or so,” answered Eleri.

“If we shifted, we could get there in half the time,” remarked Conri as he splashed some water on his shoulders.

“Perhaps, but I do not think it is wise. We might get off course or become distracted.”

He gave a short laugh. “True, but I would not mind the distraction.”

“You said you would be on your best behavior,” chided Eleri.

“I am only speaking the truth, but I will not go further with any talk of what distractions I like. You are correct, my lady; we should not shift. We will have a pleasant walk together.”

“Then we can reach my aunt’s house in a little more than two days. We are nearing the end of our journey and will be ready to get back on track seeing you to the Silver Throne.” Eleri threw her head back, letting her hair get wet again. When she came up, she ran her fingers through it, separating her curls and trying to get all tangles out.

“I suppose having a soft bed and real roof over our heads will be nice, but I will miss having you all to myself. It is selfish to think that way, though. Your poor father must be worried sick about you. If the others have made it, I can’t imagine how they will feel.”

“My father knows I am resourceful and able to take care of myself. As far as the others, Aron will worry about me as he always does. Caerwyn will be missing you more than me.”

Conri humphed. “I doubt that very much, Eleri.”

“He has a special bond with you. He is charged with protecting you. He is probably in agony thinking he has failed you. I am sure he is beating himself up over it day and night.” She knew Caerwyn would see what happened at the Haven’s Estate as at least partially his fault.

Conri was quiet for a moment. “I wonder how it will work.”

“How will what work?” asked Eleri.

“Caerwyn being my protector while you stand between us. Before last night, I held nothing against the man, but now that I see how he hurt you, I find myself very angry at him.”

“You must not blame him for my mistakes, Conri. He never promised me anything.” She should never have spoken of Caerwyn to Conri. The last thing she wanted was to come between them.

“He led you on by continuing to seek you out. If he truly wished to not take things further with you, he should have let you be.”

“I sought him out as well.” She paused and gathered her thoughts. “Perhaps we both made mistakes with each other. If you are mad at Caerwyn, you should be angry with me as well. I could have chosen to deny him at any time.”

“But you told him how you felt. He knew you loved him, and he continued to find ways to be with you. I may have taken things too far with Aella, but if she had told me something like that, I would have broken off our relationship entirely.”

Eleri did not like thinking about Conri and Aella. Whatever he might say, she knew Conri had some feelings for the woman, at least while they were carrying on. “We will not agree on this, your highness. All I ask is that you do show some grace towards Caerwyn. You need him by your side as you save Elathia. You being angry towards him will only hurt the land.”

“I suppose you are right, but I cannot promise at some point that I will not let him know how I feel about the way he treated you.” Conri moved away from the rock a bit, his arms moving through the water. “What do you think he would do if you and I did end up together, Eleri? I’m not trying to pressure you. I am only curious.”

“He would accept it even if he didn’t like it. He is above everything, The Bright One, and he will do his duty.” She asked the following question without thinking it over. “What would you do if I chose to be with him, and he accepted it?”

“I honestly don’t know. I know it is a possibility, but at this point, it is hard to see a future for me without you by my side as queen.”

“Maybe I will make it one of my duties to find you an appropriate bride, then,” offered Eleri. “I will work to see you to the throne first, but I will keep an eye out for a good woman who could turn your head and serve the kingdom well.”

He stared at her for a moment with the wicked smile on his face that she knew well. He slowly swam closer to her, and she stood her ground, not wanting to back down from his challenge. When he was only a few feet from her, he stopped. He treaded water keeping his eyes on her face.

“You can try if you like, but it will be difficult to find any woman other than you who can turn my head at this point.” He slowly looked her up and down before he disappeared under the water’s surface.

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