Mae’s time in the palace after her birthday was much different than when she first arrived. She smiled almost continuously, unable to keep the expression off of her face. Burdens she carried were still there, but they felt lighter and more manageable. When she found time to work on her power, she did so with joy, able to bring the barely budding trees alive with just a look at times. She traveled different areas of the palace with ease and no exhaustion. She flew high into the air and sent heavy winds to blow at the flags on top of the towers. Her shielding magic grew to where she could easily keep the trees and walls from being hit by flying rocks, sticks, and leaves.
She made sure to spend time with the king many mornings. They would sit in his study and discuss things going on in the kingdom. He would talk of his worry about his people and the growing discontentment in the lands.
“What can be done about it?” asked Mae.
“I am not sure anything can be done unless we have a good amount of change. Some of the changes needed cannot be done by me,” said the king.
“You mean the temples?” she asked, thinking back to their earlier discussions.
The king nodded. “Your uncle has sent me a few letters about his travels to Adaria. He believes the priests are not being completely truthful in some places. They are claiming they never received the promised supplies this winter.”
“Why would they lie? Why hold back needed medicines and food from starving sick people? I thought the temple would wish to help the people for the goddess,” said Mae.
“If they can say they never received the promised supplies from the kingdom, who will the people blame for their troubles?” asked the king.
“The palace, you,” said Mae. “Why does the temple wish to turn the people on you?”
“I am not sure that is the intent of the temple or the Holy Council. I think it has more to do with continued reliance on the temples. If the people see that my advisors and I will listen to them and see to their needs, the Holy Council might fear the people will come to trust their kingdom authorities over those who serve the goddess.”
“But wouldn’t it be better if we all worked together? We all serve the goddess in different ways. She has placed you here as our king. Shouldn’t the council be glad a worthy man who cares is in the position? This doesn’t make sense, your majesty.”
“If everyone had as pure intentions as you, my dear, it would not make sense. Unfortunately, this has more to do with power and position than serving the goddess.”
“What will you do?” asked Mae.
“The hardest thing of all, wait. Hopefully, Lord Aimon will have some information for me soon. Lord Bracken was allowed to leave over a week ago. If he meets with Lord Aimon, it should be within another week.”
There was a knock at the door, and Cade walked in with some messages. “I am done writing the letters you wished, father. I hope they are acceptable.”
“I am sure they are,” said the king as Cade placed them down on the desk. “Why don’t you and Mae go outside and take a walk. I believe she has a meeting in a few hours, and I am sure she would like a break until then.”
Mae stood up. “I actually need to check on an elixir I have been brewing in my room. If I did it correctly, I need to bottle it before I meet with the Highest One.”
“I would be happy to come with you to check on it,” said Cade.
“Of course,” said Mae. “I enjoyed our morning together, your majesty. If I can help you in any way, please let me know.”
“You help me by just listening, Mae. Enjoy your day and be careful at your meeting.”
Mae curtsied and walked out the door with Cade. Once they were down the hall, he grinned at her and pulled her into a small parlor. His arms went around her, and his lips were quickly on hers. She settled into him as his hands moved up and down her sides, his tongue parting her lips as she sighed.
When he moved down to kiss her neck, she said, “I really do have to check on that elixir, Cade. I need to have it ready for my meeting.”
“It will take you less than ten minutes to put that potion in a bottle and five to walk to the temple. I have not had a moment alone with you all day.”
“It’s not even lunch,” said Mae before she gasped as Cade’s tongue brushed the sensitive skin of her collar bone. “We stayed up much too late last night.”
“Not late enough,” he said before kissing her again. “I don’t like being apart from you at any moment.”
While she still kept up with practicing her powers and visited the king, what took up the most of her time were her moments with Cade. She was not unhappy about it. She also hated to be apart from him. Whether it was being on his arm as they walked the palace grounds or in his arms doing many agreeable activities, she felt completely happy when he was near.
“The elixir needs to cool before I bottle it. Come with me to check on my potion, and when it is ready, we can walk slowly to the temple. After my meeting, I have nothing scheduled today. It is very fine, and perhaps we could pack up some food and go for a ride. We could eat somewhere close to the stream outside the city. I know we will have guards with us, but they will keep their distance. Perhaps we could lose them for a bit in the trees.”
Cade smiled before kissing her again. “Fine. Let’s go see what you have brewed up.”
She took him to her room, opening the door to find it empty, meaning Enid must have been doing something below. Mae went to her fireplace, where the small kettle the Highest One gave her hung over the fire. Picking up a wooden paddle, she stirred it a few times, finding it thick and almost clear. “I suppose it looks right,” said Mae as she bent over it. It smelled of mint and lavender.
“What does it do?” asked Cade as he peered over it.
“It is supposed to revive the strength of the drinker, help them go longer without sleep.”
“Why did the Highest One ask you to make this?”
“I am not sure, except he said he thought it would be an easy elixir for me to start with. It didn’t have many ingredients and took little use of my power.”
“Will you try it?” asked Cade.
Mae grabbed a nearby heavy cloth and picked the kettle up by its handle. She put it in front of the fireplace to cool. “I might try a bit. From what is in it, I don’t think it could hurt me even if I messed it up.”
“What do you need to do to it now?” asked Cade.
“Just let it cool for a bit before I bottle it up to take it with me.” Mae walked over to her sofa and sat down, Cade sitting beside her. “You are sure this potion is safe? You have read all about it on your own, I hope.”
“I have,” said Mae. “It is nothing more than what I just said. You don’t need to worry.”
“I do worry, though,” said Cade as he took her hands. “I hate it when you meet with the Highest One. I don’t like you being alone with him. I’m scared of what he might do to you.”
“I am not without protections, Cade, and I have something he wants. Besides, I can’t stop meeting with him in fear he could send word to retaliate against my family. Unless my uncle finds a way to keep them safe, I have to keep on the good side of the Highest One.”
Cade was quiet for a moment as he rubbed her hands. “You could go to them. I am sure it would be difficult, but you could use your power to travel to them, rest and then send them somewhere safe. I would hate for you to be away from me, but I know it might be something you have to do.”
“I am scared to leave you and the king. If I leave, the Highest One may have a way to hurt either of you, even with the guards. I am not even sure if I could travel all the way to Adaria and still have the strength to do much for at least a few days. I do not feel comfortable being gone so long.”
“But if it is for your mother and brother, you could try. I know you miss and love them.”
“I love you too, Cade, and your father. Your safety is important to me, and I am scared of what the Highest One might do to either of you. I believe he has already tried to kill you. When Thad has more information for us, perhaps we will know how to act.”
“Until then, please be careful. I cannot lose you, Mae. I can’t stand to see you suffer anymore.”
She leaned forward and kissed him. As hard as it was being away from her mother and brother, she didn’t think he could bear to leave Cade anytime soon. She wanted her family to be safe, but she had a feeling Cade and his father were in more imminent danger. If she could do anything to keep them both safe, she would.
Their kisses, as they often did, turned quickly more passionate. Cade leaned over her as she lay back on the sofa. His hand went under her skirt, and she held onto him tighter as she felt herself start to get lost in desire. Though they had never gone much farther than kisses and touches, Mae was starting to realize the wisdom in Enid having her drink the herbal tea every day.
The doorknob started to turn, and Mae pushed up on Cade, sitting up on the sofa. Cade fell back with a groan of frustration. Enid walked in with some of Mae’s nightgowns in her hands. She eyed them both as Mae’s hand went to her hair to make sure it was still in place.
Enid placed the nightgowns on Mae’s bed. “Did you need anything, my lady?”
“No,” said Mae. “I am only here to cool and bottle the elixir I have been working on. Prince Cadel offered to keep me company while I did it.”
Enid smiled a little. “Will you need anything done the rest of the day?”
“Could up pull out something for me to ride in. The prince and I plan to go on a ride after I meet with the Highest One. I will wish to change quickly.”
“I will have it ready,” said Enid. “You might want a bit of tea before you go?”
“I already had some this morning, and I think that will suffice,” said Mae.
“If you are sure,” said Enid before she disappeared into the washroom.
Mae got up and grabbed some bottles nearby and a large ladle. She started putting the elixir into the bottles, and Cade watched her. “You must enjoy tea, Mae. Your attendant is quite obsessed with making sure you have your fill.”
Mae laughed as Cade looked at her with raised eyebrows. “What is it?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said as she finished the last bottle. “At least nothing I want to get into right now. Everything is ready, and I need to start walking to the temple.”
Cade picked up two of the bottles, and she took one. They walked slowly to the temple, speaking over nonconsequential things, him making Mae laugh once or twice. As they approached the temple, Mae took the two other bottles from Cade.
“I will wait here for you,” he said.
“You should go dress and have the horses prepared. I will run back to the palace directly and change. I can meet you by the stables.”
“I would like to stay close to you and be here when you get out,” said Cade. “I can’t settle when you are with that man.”
She glanced at the guard before moving close to Cade. “It will be fine. By the time you change and see to the horses, I won’t be far behind. You can arrange our food as well.”
“Are you ordering me around already, my lady? I didn’t think it would happen until at least we had been married a few weeks,” said Cade with a slight smile.
“You might as well reconcile yourself now with the sort of woman you will be stuck with for the rest of our life.”
“Fine,” he said with a chuckle. “Ill shall do as you ask, but please use caution.”
“I always do, your highness. Now, go do your task, and I shall do mine.” She turned and walked to the door, knowing he was watching her.
The guard bowed and opened the door so she could enter. She looked back at Cade and smiled before entering the temple. The Highest One was waiting for her by his open door. He smiled as she came close.
“I see you have brought me something, my lady. Do you think you were successful?”
“According to the instructions, it looks right,” said Mae as she walked through his door, him following her.
She placed the bottles on a small table by the seating area in front of the fireplace. The Highest One picked one up and looked at it. “It does appear to be correct. Have you tried it?”
“I have not, Highest One. I just finished it this morning.”
“Well, I suppose I should try it now. I did not sleep well and could use some energy.” He picked up one of the bottles and poured a bit into a nearby cup. He poured some wine on top of it and swirled it around. Before drinking, he toasted Mae and drank every drop in the cup.
They were both silent for a few seconds as The Highest One put his cup down and took a few breaths.
“Well?” asked Mae.
The Highest One smiled widely at her. “I believe you were successful, my lady. I feel much more revived and have no other effects so far. Come sit with me.”
Mae nodded and sat down across from him. “I have looked at a few other elixirs in that book you gave me and the one I have as well. I have marked a few others I would like to try.”
“Such as?” asked the Highest One.
“A few used for healing. Nothing too complicated, but it would be good to start making progress using my power for truly beneficial reasons. If I could find ways to help heal others, I would feel I was doing the work of the goddess.”
“I believe there are many ways you can use your power for the goddess, my lady. Some in ways you may not realize, but I would like to help you see.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mae.
“Do you know how important the High Council and temple are to the kingdom?”
Mae gave a small shrug. “In theory, I do. The temples in the lands have the opportunity to do much good, and I know some do as I have seen it. They are places people can go for food, medicines, and comfort.”
“Yes, the temples help in practical ways, but it is more than just meeting basic needs. The temple and council symbolize so much to the kingdom, especially to the commoners. This is important as the common folk are called common for a reason. They outnumber any nobility by a good amount.”
Mae nodded. “A kingdom is not made by the nobility. It is made by those who work the fields and orchards. It is built and maintained by people who raise livestock, make goods, and heal others. It is nobilities job to keep the peace, but there would be no kingdom without the common folk.”
“Very true, my lady. So, it is important to keep them satisfied with their position, so they stay where they are.”
“That sounds rather harsh, Highest One. I would like to think a kingdom could exist where those can rise up based on hard work and skill instead of relying on the chance of birth. We may be far from it, but I have seen some progress.”
“Progress is often dangerous. Keeping the order is what is needed. Progress leads to dissatisfaction. It causes restlessness. Restless people are what lead to revolt and ruin.”
“Or revolution,” said Mae. “Our kingdom was once a much harsher place, led by a group of ruthless leaders who took from others. They roamed our lands, enslaving many and killing others. It took an act of revolt of some restless dissatisfied people to make it as it is now.”
“True, but that was thousands of years ago. We are civilized now. We have order, laws, and traditions to uphold. There are those who don’t have enough, unfortunately, and they suffer, but I would say it is for the greater good.”
Mae stared at the Highest One, trying to keep the look of disgust off her face. “You believe there always need be those who suffer from poverty and disease for the greater good?”
“As harsh as it sounds, yes. Those who live in places you or I will never see. They are so far in the shadows they are forgotten, but they are needed for Gelardia to remain as it is, strong and able to withstand whatever it faces in the future.
“These people forgotten by us must be kept where they are, and the temple keeps them that way. Providing them with very basic needs, enough to keep them suriving, gives them hope. The temple provides words of the goddess to give meaning to their pathetic lives. The traditions and holidays of the goddess spark moments of joy. All of this makes them feel noticed. It is the love of the forgotten that is the temple’s greatest work.”
Mae closed her eyes for a moment as she felt a bit of bile come up her throat. How easily the Highest One dismissed the forgotten as he called them made her physically ill. She did not want to anger him, but she could not keep quiet.
“These people you speak of are not forgotten by me. You may not see them from the golden row or the temple of the palace, but in Adaria, they are all around,” said Mae softly, trying to keep her voice even. “They have worth and do not deserve to be so easily dismissed by you or anyone.”
“I am not dismissing them. I see what worth they have, but I also see the danger they pose as well. You can help keep that danger at bay, my lady,” said the Highest One.
“How so?” asked Mae, trying to keep her breathing even.
“Your power is impressive. It is a sure sign the goddess is with us. I can feel it now coming from you as we sit in this room. If we could find a way you could share your power with others, can you imagine what that would mean? Key priests could have access to the power and do wonderous things amongst our people. You could even share the gift of healing you are so excited about.”
“How would that even be possible?” asked Mae.
“I’m not sure yet. I have read about it being done in the distant past, but it is not completely clear how it was accomplished. I have been reading nonstop about it.”
“And if I could share my power, who would get to decide who to share my power with, you?” asked Mae.
“Well, yes, me and the council. You do not need to worry, Lady Maela. I would never do anything to drain you too much or damage you permanently. I believe you are essential to the future of this kingdom.”
“What if I do not wish to do it? I have seen what the goddess’s power can do if used by the wrong persons. I am worried what would happen if someone with the wrong intentions abused the power I gave them.”
“I will try to ease your fears, of course, but I am also not sure you have a choice. You have those you love in this kingdom, your mother, brother, and I believe our prince at this point. I know you wish to keep them all safe, and by sharing your power, you can accomplish that in many ways.” There was a subtle sound of a threat in his voice, and it made Mae’s blood run cold.
“When you find out how to do it, we can discuss it further,” said Mae.
“That sounds like a good plan, for now, my lady,” he stood up and walked over to his desk. “I have another elixir I would like you to try. This one is a bit more advanced, but I have faith you can do it.” He handed Mae a small book that was marked.
“What is it?” asked Mae as she turned to a page.
“It is a potion that can help calm one’s nerves. You want to do things to help people, so I think this will be one you enjoy. It can help ease grief or anger. It can settle one when they are nervous or upset.”
Mae read over it, seeing the ingredients while numerous all looked harmless. She read a bit about the type of power she would have to infuse and thought it didn’t seem as if it could hurt anyone. She was fine with it until she got down to the last line. “A drop of my blood? It requires blood?”
“Yes, it needs just a little of your essence to work, and the best way to do it is with the blood of a user of the goddess’s magic. With your power, I am sure the tiniest bit will do.”
Mae looked at him as she drummed her finger on the book. “I am not sure about this, Highest One.”
“Come now, Lady Maela, what are you worried about? Have you heard old ghost stories of the dead coming alive with blood spells? Or of terrors stalking villages because some evil sorcerer made a blood sacrifice? You know those aren’t true. They are only made to scare children.”
“It just doesn’t feel right to do something like this,” said Mae as she looked back down to the book.
“I have read over several advanced healing spells. I found one that could even cure the most severe infection and one that can stop a sickness from spreading. They all have one thing in common, and that is they require some blood sacrifice to the goddess.” He walked up to her, staring down. “You do want to help your kingdom, don’t you? You want to keep those your love safe? I have done what I can to keep your family well guarded, and hopefully, there are no more threats on the prince’s life.”
Mae looked up at him. “I suppose we are coming to the point where your threats are less and less veiled, Highest One.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Lady Maela. I am merely reminding you that you have much to protect in this kingdom. Utilizing your power to the fullest is the best way to do it.”
Mae closed her eyes for a moment. “I will do as you ask, Highest One. I will have this potion ready by our next meeting.”
He smiled as Mae took a deep breath. She would do what she had to until they had the means to expose the man in front of her.