Looking down at her peaceful face and hearing her soft snores, Cade knew Mae had drifted off to sleep. He kissed the top of her head before gently moving her so she would lay down on the sofa as he stood up. Once he was up, she adjusted a bit, but she did not awaken. He watched her for a few moments before walking to his father’s desk.
“Who are you writing, father?”
“A few people here in the city, Mae’s uncle and Lord Aimon,” answered the king. “I will not hear from High Holy One Llewelyn for a few days, and who knows when I can expect an answer from Lord Aimon, but those in the city need I can meet with by tomorrow.”
“What are you telling them?” asked Cade.
“I’m telling Mae’s uncle he must find a way to protect his family. He needs to get the young lord and his mother away from the temple guards as soon as possible. I am writing to tell Lord Aimon he has run out of time. Either he gets information from Lord Bracken, or he can do with him as he wishes, but Thaddeus must return to the city. We will need his support, Mae especially. Those in the city, I am simply inviting to lunch. There we can tell them what the Highest One has been doing and what he might have planned.”
“And what if the Highest One comes to the palace today for Mae? What if he tries to take her by force?”
“It will not come to it,” said the king. “As soon as I am done with my letters, I will go visit with the Highest One. I will let him know there will be no more meetings with Lady Maela. He is not to approach her in any way ever again.”
Cade’s father looked up from his message. “You and Mae will travel to Adaria. As soon as we hear where Mae’s family is taken, you will both go there. Let Mae spend time with her mother and brother. Find a local priest to bless your upcoming union. You could even marry if you like. Just stay out of the city for some time.”
“You expect us just to leave you?” asked Cade. “I am not sure I can do it, and I know Mae will not wish to either.”
“I will be fine in the city, and you and I need to separate for a while. You are the future of this kingdom, Cade. You need to be away and safe in case something does happen. I am serious in that you should marry Mae as soon as possible. I know it should be done here properly, but these are not usual times. Any priest can bless your marriage and make it official.
“If the worst happens, you will at least have a strong queen at your side, and no one could deny her legitimacy. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need Mae to do it.”
“I did not want to rush her,” said Cade quietly as he looked back at Mae sleeping.
“I’m sure that is true, but we do not always get what we want—especially those of us in high positions. You will not make her unhappy, and she will be the making of you. You have already changed for the better because of her. You are very fortunate, son. I hope you know it. She is as well.”
Cade sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk and leaned forward. “What do you make of her almost killing the Highest One?”
“She was scared and ill. I am sure it was just instinct. If she had done it, she might have done our kingdom a favor. I’m glad she didn’t, though. I do not want to see her on trial for murder. Even with my position and connections, I am not sure if I could save her completely.” His father put down his quill and looked at Cade. “You are not frightened of her, are you?”
“Of course not,” said Cade. “She would never hurt me or anyone, really. I know how good she is. I am just scared for her. She must have a vast amount of power within her, and I know the Highest One wants it for himself. He doesn’t see her as a person. He sees her as a valuable resource to own.”
“We will have to protect her. That is why I am sending you both away. You will take our most trusted guards and not return until I tell you it is safe. I want you to leave within two days.”
“Two days?” asked Cade.
His father nodded. “You can go towards Calder. Thaddeus has a home there. You will have to travel light as I don’t want any attention drawn to you, and it should be easy for you to run if needed. Once things in Adaria are arranged, I will contact you at Lord Aimon’s to go there.”
“It will get that bad here?” asked Cade.
“I’m afraid it will. The delicate balance between the council and palace has tilted. I do not blame Mae. I want you and her to know it. It is the Highest One who has been stacking the scales. He has finally gone too far. The time of peace between us is over. The people need to know the council does not truly serve the goddess or them.”
“Should I go with you to meet with the Highest One? There are things I would like very much to say to him,” said Cade.
“You will stay here and watch over Mae. Let her rest as long as needed, and when she wakes up, she will need you. Reassure her that she has done nothing wrong. Let her know my plans and tell her I will do all I can to keep her and her family safe. When I get back, I will speak with her myself.”
Cade’s father finished his letters as Cade sat close to Mae, watching her rest. When the messages were done, the king called for his head guard and another. He told Cade to stay in the palace and left.
Mrs. Wynn eventually came into the study, bringing Cade and Mae a small lunch. Cade ate quietly, wondering if he should wake Mae up to eat. She looked so peaceful and deep in sleep that he could not do it. He let her sleep on as he finished his lunch and paced around his father’s study. Just as he got anxious for his father’s return, Mae yawned and sat up slowly on the sofa.
She looked around the room in confusion as Cade hurried to her side. “What time is it?” she asked in a whisper.
“Well past lunch, though if you are hungry, I can have something brought here.”
She shook her head. “Where is the king?”
“He has gone to the temple to speak with the Highest One,” replied Cade.
She stood up suddenly and stumbled forward. “He went to the temple? Did anyone go with him? I must go there immediately.” She moved towards the door before Cade stood up and took her hand.
“He will be fine, Mae. He is the king, and the Highest One will not harm him in front of others. My father is wise and stronger than you think. You must trust him.”
She let go of his hand and shook her head. “I have ruined everything. Your father is in danger, and so are you just because of me. My family is probably doomed because I could not give the Highest One at least a little of what he wanted. I should have stayed there and kept calm. I could have worked something out.”
“None of this is your fault, Mae, and my father has a plan. We will be out of the city soon, and the Highest One won’t be able to hurt you. My father is calling in all his allies tomorrow, and they can form a plan to put the Highest One in his place.”
“We are leaving?’ she asked as she turned back to him. “Where will we go?”
“Calder at first. Lord Aimon has a house there I am sure we can use. You did say you wanted to see the sea. Then once we hear from your uncle that your family is safe, we will go to Adaria wherever they are.” He moved closer to her. “We can be blessed for our marriage, maybe even officially united.”
“I’m not sure you marrying me is a good idea, Cade. It might be best if you send me away on my own. I will draw out the Highest One and his plans, leaving you and your father safe here.”
“No,” he said calmly. He took her hand and brought her close to him.
“Is that all you have to say?” she said after a moment.
“It is all that needs to be said. I will never leave you, and you already promised you would never leave me. We will leave the city together as our king commands us. We will keep each other safe and go see your family. While we are gone, we can marry if you wish, though I won’t force you no matter how much my father says it may be needed. You will not push me away or disappear.”
He cut her off by pulling her against him and wrapping her in his arms. “You can argue with me all you want about it, but it will do no good, I know you can go anywhere with a thought, but I know you are a good woman who keeps her word. You will not leave me just as you promised.”
“I’m not sure how good I am in,” she softly said. “You heard what I did.”
“You were in a bad position with what I believe is an evil man. Your power probably was trying to protect you. The amazing thing is that you stopped it. You drew back when you realized you were going too far for yourself. I would not mourn that man’s death, but I would hate to see you agonize over it or be wrongly imprisoned for something.”
“You are not frightened of me?” she asked as she looked up at him.
“I am a little scared of how much I love you, but that is only because I want to protect you. I know you would never willingly hurt anyone. It is not who you are.”
He walked her up to her room and sat with her for a while, telling her all her father had said. Eventually, she wished to clean and change clothes, so he was forced to leave for a time, though he did not like being away from her. He walked down to the entry hall and waited for his father’s return. He came just as the sun was setting, walking into the entry hall looking angry and tired.
“Well?” asked Cade.
“I think I have bought us some time,” said his father. “I first met with the Highest One, and he was angry. He wanted to come here directly and speak with Mae, but I forbid it. I had to remind him of some things, but eventually, he relented. Next, I met with what of the Holy Council that is in town. It was all full of sycophants of the Highest One, but we came to an agreement that Mae needed rest and should be sent to see her family.”
“They agreed to it?”
His father nodded. “As long as a group of temple guards accompanies you. I agreed to it, though I don’t plan to follow my word for once. I told them you would leave in a week, but you will be well on your way by then.”
“Won’t that cause you trouble?”
“I will have a plan with my allies before you are gone. I can handle myself, Cade. You just need to worry about yourself and Mae. Now, is she in her room? I wish to speak with her.”
“She was cleaning up and changing, but I am sure she is done by now. I can join you now to see her.”
His father shook his head. “Go arrange a supper for the two of you somewhere in the palace. You can take it to her room if you wish. I will eat in my study. What I have to say to her will not take long, so once you have everything done, go to her.”
Cade watched his father walk upstairs before finding a servant to summon Mrs. Wynn. He told her what he wished and where he wanted it to be taken. Once he was done, he walked to Mae’s room and knocked on the door. She answered, wearing a simple dress and her hair down. She looked tired, but her eyes still shined as she gave him a small grin.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked.
“I was hoping you would come with me. I remember that you said you did not know where my room was, and I thought that since one day it will connect with your own room, you should see it.”
She nodded before turning towards her room. “Enid, I am leaving for the night.” She looked at Cade. “I don’t think I will need your services for the rest of the evening.”
“You definitely won’t,” he quietly said as he held out his hand to her.
She took it, and he led her down the hallway past the stairs to his door. He opened it and let her in, following her. His assistant, Edgar, came out of the bedroom and stood before them.
“Everything is ready as you asked, your highness,” said Edgar.
“Thank you. You are free to go for the evening. All I ask is that we are not disturbed.”
Edgar bowed and left, closing the door behind him. Mae looked around the room, touching his sofa and as she went by. “This is very nice, but I didn’t expect less for a prince.”
He moved to her and took her hand, leading her into his bedroom. “Do you see that door there on the right wall?” she nodded. “That leads to the door of another room, one meant for my wife. I hope you will be settled there soon someday, though I don’t expect us to sleep apart unless you wish it. I can come to you, or you can come here with me.”
“We haven’t slept apart in over a week, Cade. I don’t see it changing,” said Mae.
“So you will not try to convince me to let you go tonight? You will not runaway?”
“I will not. I made you a promise, and I will keep it. I made one to your father as well. I’m afraid you could not get rid of me if you tried at this point.”
“You know I will never try. Now, you must be hungry. Come eat with me.” He took her to a door on his left wall. It opened to his large balcony, overlooking the back of the palace out into the fields.
Mae walked to the edge and looked out into the night. “This is almost as lovely as the tower. You can’t see as many stars, but the trees in the distance are lovely. I swear I can almost see hills somewhere behind them.”
“Soon, you will see many hills and mountains as we travel. I hope you can see your own land before too long, your family as well.”
“Everything feels like it is so wrong around us, Cade.”
“Not everything,” he said as he put his arms around her. “Come eat, and you will feel better. We can figure all this out.”
She did not look convinced, but she did sit with him, eating a little of the food in front of them. She drank some wine and looked out into the distance before standing up to look over the railing.
Cade put down his cup and followed her, standing next to her by the rail. “What are you thinking about, Mae?”
She glanced at him. “I was feeling a little guilty. Many in the kingdom are suffering, and I believe things will only get harder in the days ahead. Even so, all I can think about is you.” She leaned into him.
He put his arm around her and turned her towards him. “We can be selfish now and then, Mae. I have many worries, but tonight, all I care about is you are here with me. The only thing that matters is you will not leave me.”
“I will not,” said Mae as she put her arms around him.
“Then we can both agree not to feel guilty for this one night. Tomorrow we can worry and plan for the kingdom, but for now, there is only us.” She kissed him before he pulled her back inside and to the bed.
Deep in sleep as he held Mae, it took him a bit to realize the knocking was very real and coming from his door. It wasn’t until Mae stirred next to him that he started to awaken fully.
“Cade?” asked Mae. “What is wrong? It cannot be morning.”
He looked out the window to see it was still very dark. “I am not sure, but I will find out.” He kissed her cheek before letting her go. Sitting up, he stretched as the knocking continued. Finding his pants, he pulled them on as Mae sat up slowly. By the time he had put on his shirt, Mae already had on her shift. He found his robe nearby and gave it to her. As he walked towards the front room, she put it on and tied it.
The knocking was still furiously happening as he walked to the door. Opening it, he found his attendant looking at him, haphazardly dressed.
“Edgar? What is the matter?”
“It is the king, your highness. I think you better come now. The healer has been called, but I don’t know if he will make it in time.”
“What?” asked Mae as she walked up behind Cade. “The king?”
“Yes, my lady. You should both come. He has asked for you as well.”
Cade felt frozen where he was, not comprehending what Edgar was saying. He felt Mae’s gentle touch on his arm. “Come, Cade. We have to go.”
He let her lead him out of the room, following Edgar down the hall and stairs.