He kept reading even when her soft snores told him she was asleep. He didn’t want to stop in case it woke her up. Cade rested his head against hers and read on until she shifted and fell further against him, her arm falling over his waist. He slowly put his book down next to him before moving his arm behind her, careful not to jolt her or touch her shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her waist and adjusted her so she would be more comfortable.
They stayed there together for a while as Cade closed his eyes, drifting off after a night with little rest. The comfort of having her close soothed him, causing him to rest easy. Sometime later, there was a knock at her door. She gasped and leaned up as Cade opened his eyes. She looked up at him as he grinned at her.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” said Mae as she sat up.
“There is no reason to be sorry. You were exhausted. I might have slumbered a little myself.” There was another knock, and Cade stood up to go to the door. He answered it to find High Holy One Llewelyn. Cade moved over to let him in.
He walked over towards Mae as she made to get up.
“Do not trouble yourself, Mae,” said her uncle. “He looked back at the prince and then again at Mae. Is it just the two of you here?”
“It is, uncle. I know it isn’t entirely appropriate. I am not sure what Enid is up to.”
“I suppose it is not so bad. You are betrothed after all,” said Mae’s uncle as he sat down near Mae.
“I will go to give you some privacy,” said Cade.
“You don’t have to,” said Mae, and he was pleased to hear she sounded a bit disappointed that he would leave.
“You should have time to speak with your uncle before he leaves. I should check in with my father.”
“You will come back, won’t you? I would like it if you read to me again after supper,” said Mae.
“Then I will come to eat with you as well,” said Cade with a smile.
She nodded, and he left her to speak with her uncle. He headed downstairs to see if his father was in his study. He knew the king had gone to some lengths to tighten security around the palace and have more guards watch Mae, but Cade wanted to make sure nothing else needed to be done.
As he got closer to his father’s door, he saw that it was partially open and heard loud talking come from the room.
“You are letting your fondness for the girl get in the way of what is best for the kingdom,” said the Highest One.
“If she is so powerful, I thought uniting her with my son would be what is best for Gelardia. It is what the council wanted, wasn’t it, to find a woman who would have the best chance to bring back magic to the land?” said Cade’s father angrily.
“It was the original plan, but now I can see a new way forward. We can find another to unite with your son. Those two girls who left before the event in the field. Either of them was talented enough to be successful, and I am sure their families would pay well to have one be the future queen.”
“You take no account to what Lady Maela or my son wants. Prince Cadel has made a promise, and he will see it through,” said the king.
“My sources say he was looking for ways to send her back to her family just a few weeks ago. He can’t be that attached to her,” said the Highest One.
Cade could not stand there and let the Highest One speak so. He opened the door fully and walked into the room. “I was wrong to do so,” said Cade. “Now, I have no plans to go back on my word.”
“Your highness,” said the Highest One as he stood. “I understand you may like Lady Maela and be attracted to her, but you haven’t known her long. We can find another young woman to be your wife, one you will find equally alluring.”
“No,” said Cade adamantly. “There is no else I want or will have. I made a promise to Mae, and as long as she wishes for it, I will take her as my wife.”
“Well, then, I shall have to speak to the young woman. Perhaps she can see reason. I would also hate for anything to happen to her family in Adaria. I have guards watching over them, but it is becoming a precarious time in the kingdom.”
“You will not threaten the Llewelyns and get away with it Highest One,” said the king as he stood. “And you will not pressure Mae into doing something she doesn’t want by hurting her family. If you try to force her into the temple, I will let the spark of discontentment that has been growing in our kingdom grow until it consumes Gelardia. I will send out royal guards to help the people see that it is not only the lords and ladies of this land who are oppressing them but the temples as well.”
“You wish to destroy Gelardia because of one girl?” asked the Highest One.
“You seem prepared to do it,” said the king. “And it is not about one girl. It is about finally standing up for what is right. You have long gained too much power and riches. I am not even sure you stand for anything the goddess wants at this point.”
“These are dangerous words, King Mascen.”
“They don’t have to be,” said Cade’s father. “We can find a way to coexist as we are. Mae is talented and powerful. I have seen it. You wish for her to learn more about her power, and I believe she wants to continue her lessons. If she wishes to continue meeting with you, I have no problem with it, but you will not force her apart from my son.”
“Perhaps, I was a bit hasty,” said the Highest One. “You know my passionate nature. Lady Maela has shown more talent than any in maybe a hundred years or more, but you are right. We all made a commitment when we brought the young ladies to the palace. It would not be a good look for the temple to keep changing our minds about it, especially after Lady Henrietta.”
“So, you will not pressure Mae to leave the palace,” said Cade.
“I will not. I will ask her to continue to train with her powers and meet with me. When do you plan to wed?”
“I am not sure. Mae doesn’t even turn eighteen until two weeks from now, and I would like to give her more time after that,” said Cade. “I would like to take her to Adaria for a blessing at her own temple amongst her own people.”
“You wish to travel to Adaria?” asked the Highest One. Cade nodded. “If you do, I will demand to be a part of your party. I will want to continue with her training and help keep watch.”
“If that is what it takes to let her visit her family, then so be it,” said Cade.
“I need to head back to the temple,” said the Highest One. “I know Lady Maela will take some time to recover, so tell her she need not come to visit me this week. I will come to speak with her in a few days.”
“Very well, Highest One,” said the king.
The Highest One bowed to them both and walked from the room. Cade closed the door as his father sat down behind his desk and rubbed his face. “I should have done something about him years ago, but I didn’t want to do anything that could start fighting or unrest amongst our people.”
“Mae would say that worthy things take going through hard times,” said Cade as he sat down in front of the desk.
“She is right, of course, but I didn’t want to lose complete faith in the council. I hoped the other priests would help keep the Highest One in line, but he seems to rule over many of them with promises of power or fear. Only a few will stand up to him on anything.”
“And one of them is leaving the city for a time,” said Cade.
“I am glad for it. I hope he can do as I asked,” said the king.
“You asked Mae’s uncle to do something?”
The king nodded. “I want him to find a way to get Mae’s family to safety, and I want to see what is truly happening with the temples in Adaria. We have sent money, food, and supplies to all parts of Adaria, but some places are suffering worse than ever. I want to know what is being done with all the resources.”
“You think the temple is keeping them from the people?” asked Cade.
“I believe there is a possibility, and so does High Holy Llewelyn.”
“What can we do here while we wait?” asked Cade.
“We can keep Mae safe and form support for her as our next queen. I am sending out invitations to all families within the inner circle and on the golden row. It will be a ball like we have not had in years, and you will have to do your part to make sure no one is left in doubt that you are madly in love with your future wife. I hate to hurry along your feelings, Cade, but it is not a full lie.”
“It is not a lie at all, father. Perhaps you would say it is too soon, but I do love her,” said Cade.
“I believe you,” said the king. “Time has nothing to do with it. Now, just leave no one in doubt, including Mae.”
“I have already vowed to myself she would not have to guess my feelings. I do want to scare her or pressure her, though. I do not believe she is where I am at this point.”
“She has told me as much,” said the king. “But I believe that can be solved if you will continue to show her and the kingdom what she means to you.”
Cade spent the next few days almost completely with Mae. He sat with her in her room, sometimes reading to her. When he finished the first novel, he brought in others. Often she would laugh or comment on the events in the books. Sometimes she would lay against him and drift off as he read. They went for short walks in the courtyards, and he would tell her stories from his life, even about his mother. She would share what her life was like growing up in Adaria and fond memories of her family and friends.
“You speak of Adaria as if it were some beautiful, mythical land,” said Cade. “I have no doubt it has its beauties, but it cannot be as wonderful as you describe.”
“We are all fond of our homes,” said Mae. “If someone had you explain the city and palace, I imagine you would paint a picture better than the one I might.”
“I am sure I would not,” said Cade. “Don’t you understand the limits of my words and descriptions by now?”
She laughed. “You have spent years reading dramatic love novels. Surely you have picked up some of their prose.”
“Maybe I like reading them because I envy the author’s ability to paint vivid pictures of landscapes. I wish I could speak like the heroes in the books as they tell their loves of their devotion.”
“Do you really?” asked Mae.
Cade laughed. “I am not sure. I never really cared about my lack of ability to wax poetically about a land or person’s beauty, not until recently.” He looked down at her with a small grin.
She colored a little, and it made him smile wider. “I find I grow tired of long phrases of flattery. It gets a little ridiculous after a while. I much prefer straightforward conversations, where the person states what they mean.”
He stopped them close to a tree and turned to her. “Then I should tell you that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
She looked away with a grin. “That sounds too much like empty flattery. It cannot possibly be true.”
“But it is. To me, I can think of no one more lovely than you. When I first met you and was getting to know you, I cursed the goddess a little. I feel like she had sent you here to torment me. Everything about you enchanted me, and I could not stay away from you no matter how much I knew I should.”
“A tall woman who is not society’s idea of beauty who speaks too much and talks harshly to you constantly is what attracted you the most?”
Cade leaned down towards her. “A beautiful, desirable woman who was passionate about those she cared about and spoke only truth to me is what I found that I desired. Since then, my attraction to her has only grown to where I know how foolish it was for me ever to resist.” He moved slowly towards her, seeing if she would turn away. When she did not, he kissed her softly. Though he wished to do much more, he forced himself to pull back.
“That was nicely done,” she said quietly before they started walking away again. “I think you might be getting better at this.”
“You are worth the effort,” said Cade.
Although he hated the physical and mental pain she had to go through, Cade found those days after her injury some of the happiest of his life. His father let him slide from his royal duties to spend time with Mae. He learned more and more about her and shared things about him that he had not told anyone. Every day, he found something new to like about her.
He was careful to show his attraction to her in small ways, but she did allow a few kisses. She also touched him more and more. It was just simple things, such as she would lean over to see something and rest her hand on his arm. If there were something on him, she would casually dust it off. Sometimes when they were both quietly reading, she would take his hand. By the time the week was over, when she said goodnight to him after spending the evening in the parlor with him and his father, she leaned over and kissed Cade’s lips quickly as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
After she left, his father looked up from his book and gave Cade a half-grin. “I take it you have used your time wisely this week.”
“I believe so, father.”