Mae shivered and let out a groan as she felt something cold touch her arm. She tried to open her eyes, but it seemed too great of an effort. Her sides felt as though they were on fire, and her upper back stung as if something had slapped it.
“It is alright, Mae,” said Cade quietly as she felt a slight pressure on her arm. “You are safe.”
She fought to open her eyes, but the brightness she encountered made her close them again immediately. “Where are we?”
“At the edge of Bevins, close to where Morven and Glynston meet, on the banks of the Tarian River. I wish I could take you somewhere more comfortable, but I don’t feel safe going into a village until we are well out of Bevins,” said Cade.
She blinked a few more times, her eyes getting used to the light. She rolled her neck, realizing she was propped up against a large rock. Cade had a piece of cloth and was gently cleaning her arms. “What time is it?”
“I’m not sure. We rode through the night, and the sun came up a few hours ago. It is probably about the time we usually eat breakfast. Are you hungry? You must be.”
“I don’t think I am,” said Mae as Cade took his cloth away. He pulled something out of a bag next to him. It looked like a small jar. Opening it, he took a small amount and put it on one of Mae’s many cuts.
“What is that?”
“Something I had Enid pack for you. It helps heal cuts and burns, should take some of the pain away as well.” After finishing with a few cuts on her arm, he put a little over her eye as she stared at him. “I need you to bend forward if you can. I need to check the wound on your upper back.”
She looked at him with confusion as she struggled to remember the last few hours. She remembered Cade coming for her in the cells and running through the temple with Thad. There was a fight outside, and she had found the Highest One. It almost felt like she was not in control of her own actions. She felt compelled by something to find and end the Highest One, but she was not able to do it. Something stopped her. As Cade pulled down her cloak and dress, she gasped.
“I should not be here. I shouldn’t be anywhere in the kingdom.”
He put some of the medicine on her back and sighed. “But you are, and I am grateful for it. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost you. Perhaps let the Highest One do with me as he would.”
“What happened? How am I still alive?”
“Afreda came and healed you. She said she gained the ability because of some elixir she took that was made by the Highest One. She said she never wished to do as he bid but was scared to fight back. I am glad she chose that moment to do something.”
He fixed her dress and cloak. “I have some clean clothes for you. If you are feeling better soon, you might want to wash in the river and change.”
She smiled a little. “I must look awful. I can’t imagine how bad I smell.”
Cade put his hand on her cheek. “Everything about you is beyond beautiful, Mae. I cannot stop looking at you or touching you. I’m afraid you will disappear.”
“I am here, Cade, and I’m not going anywhere. I only ache and am tired. How long will we rest?”
He settled next to her and held her hand. “I think we are safe here. We are well off any main road and hidden by most from these large rocks. The sky is cloudy, but I don’t think it will rain. My horse needs to rest at least a few hours.”
“You need to rest as well, Cade.” She looked closely at him, seeing his tired, strained eyes. “It looks like you haven’t slept much in a while.”
“It was difficult to find rest without you,” he said.
“I am here with you now. If we are well hidden, we should rest while we can,” said Mae.
“I don’t know if it is wise that we sleep with no lookout, and I know you need sleep more than I,” said Cade.
Mae closed her eyes, feeling the light breeze that blew hit her face. The air felt so good, and the outside smelled so fresh. Without another thought, she raised her hand and felt a bit of her power flow from her. “I think we are even more hidden now. Lie with me for a while and sleep.”
She moved forward and lay back, pulling at Cade until he joined her, wrapping her in his arms. She adjusted his hands until they touched a part of her that was not overly sore.
“What did you do with our power?” he asked.
“I am not sure,” she said as her eyes grew heavy. “I think I hid us from other’s eyes, though I don’t know how. I read about it not too long ago but have never tried it. Still, I think it worked.”
“I suppose I cannot stay up forever, so I might as well sleep here,” he said with a yawn.
She reached up and touched his cheek. “Thank you for getting me out of the city. I know it was not easy.”
“It was much harder than I thought it would be, but only because I thought I had lost you.”
“Do not think about it,” said Mae. “All our fears, doubts, and questions can wait until we are better rested. Sleep now, my king.”
He leaned down and kissed her gently before burrowing closer to her. “I love you.”
She smiled to herself, feeling loved, warm, and safe for the first time in weeks. As she slept, she got the first real rest she had experienced since she had been taken. She woke up screaming sometime later from a dark dream that left her in a cold sweat. She felt for one moment as if she was still in the temple.
Cade quickly comforted her, but being awake, they decided to ride on to Morven. Mae dozed off and on as she leaned into Cade. As the sun set, they came upon a good-sized village resting between two mountains.
“Should we chance it?” asked Cade as he stopped his horse.
“It is much colder here this far north and in the mountains. A night outside will be hard. I doubt anyone will know who we are,” said Mae.
“There should be a nice inn or two in a town so large. You can clean up and rest in a real bed. We can also get some hot food. We still have at least five days until we get to Calder, so any respite will help,” said Cade.
As they rode through the town, Mae thought perhaps they should have spent the night out in the wilds after all. People were everywhere, speaking in small groups or running between small houses. Though they were numerous, they all seemed too busy to notice Mae and Cade even though they were outsiders.
As they passed the town temple, they found the largest group of people. They were crowded around the front entry, some banging on the wooden doors while others pounded on the windows. Mae glanced back at Cade. It looked like the people were starting to get worked up, and she could see the doors or windows would not last long.
They rode on, coming to an inn just outside the town center. It was tall and looked well taken care of. Cade stopped close to the entrance and hopped down before Mae slid slowly down into his arms. They left the horse with a boy who came out to meet them. Walking into the inn, they found the room crowded, but there was no merriment in the air.
Men and women sat at tables together, drinking and eating while talking rapidly. Others were crowded around the large front windows looking out.
“Have you come to join the uprisings?” asked a woman behind the bar. “It’s not that I don’t understand it, but I wouldn’t like any trouble here.”
“We are just passing through the village on our way to visit some of our kin closer to Calder,” said Cade. “We need a room for the night.”
“Just one?” asked the woman as she looked at Mae.
Cade nodded. “One with a comfortable bed, and we will need baths and food if possible.” Cade took out his coin purse and fished out many coins. He put them on the counter, and the woman took them.
“I can see to all that. Let me tell my husband, and I will show you to your room.”
Cade nodded and took Mae’s hand as they both looked around the room. A few had glanced at them but turned back, evidently finding nothing remarkable. The woman came back soon and led them to the stairs.
“What is this about uprisings?” asked Mae as they ascended the stairs. “We haven’t heard anything about them.”
“I don’t see how you don’t know,” said the woman. “The talk is everywhere. People are fed up with not having enough to eat. The diseases this winter have been brutal. Rumor is that the temple is keeping supplies and help from the people. They say the palace has sent many things to help with the problems in the land, but the temple is holding them back.”
“And what do you think?” asked Cade.
The woman shrugged. “I am sure there is some truth to it even if it is exaggerated. I don’t want our town to be torn to shreds, but I have no love for the village temple. When my sister’s baby died of disease, one of the priests told her it must have been the goddess’s will. What kind of kind, benevolent goddess wants a baby to die? What a stupid thing to say to a grieving mother.”
“It was,” agreed Mae. “The goddess does not want any of her people to suffer.”
“But we do, don’t we?” said the woman as they came to the top of the stairs. “I know I am more blessed than most with this inn my parents left me, and I have a decent husband who helps me run it. Still, I have seen enough death and suffering in my village to question if there really is some goddess watching over us all. If there is, I don’t see how the temple here represents her.”
“Perhaps the temple has lost its way,” said Mae. “It is run by men, and men through history have often fallen victim to the lust for power. I hope it will not make you lose your faith in the goddess.”
“Have you served in a temple, mam?” asked the woman eyeing her. “You seem well studied for a simple villager.”
“I have never served in a temple, but I have read much about the goddess and the history of her temple. I believe many have lost their way, but there is still hope for all of us. There has to be.”
The woman shrugged. “Hope is all some people have, I suppose.” She opened a door close to the stairs. “This is your room. It is big enough to be comfortable for two and has a space for washing. I will see that some food and water is sent up.”
Mae walked into the room with Cade following her. The woman closed the door as Cade put down their bags. Mae sat down in front of the small fireplace, closing her eyes as she basked in the warmth of the fire. Before she could drift off completely, their food came, and they ate what they could. Mae wished she could stomach more of the stew as it was very good. It took her a while to eat, so she sent Cade to wash first. She bathed soon after, and though the tub wasn’t large or deep, it felt good to cleanse at all. When she came out, dressed for bed, she found Cade standing by their window looking out.
“What do you see?” she asked.
He glanced at her. “There is a lot of light near the temple. I think a large number of people have gathered there.”
Mae joined him at the window and looked out. “I hope there is not much violence tonight. If the priests come out willingly, perhaps the people will show mercy. If they get to the point they storm the temple, then I am afraid of what will happen.”
Cade was quiet for a moment before asking, “Do you still think there is hope for the temple, Mae?”
She turned and looked at him. “I said there is hope for all of us, though there are a few in the temple who may be beyond repair. I think the goddess still shines on us all even if her chosen people as they are called have lost their way.”
“You do realize you were just tortured in the largest temple in the kingdom by men who have ultimate power over all of it, don’t you?”
“Faith is a funny thing, I believe,” said Mae. “We all have a point that makes us believe, and another that can take away our trust. I haven’t reached that point yet.”
“Then I am not sure if you ever will,” said Cade as he took both her hands.
“As long a there are people who are willing to fight for their lives and what is right, I will keep my faith that there is something completely good watching over us,” said Mae. “Have you reached the point you have lost your belief?”
Cade looked at her and shook his head. “How can I, when I can see and touch you.” He leaned in and kissed her before putting his arms around her. “If I had lost you, that would have been the point for me.”
“You would have found your way again,” said Mae as she leaned against him. “Your goodness would have won out.”
“You need to rest.” He led her to the bed, and she lay down as he blew out the candles.
Once he was in bed with her, his arms around her, Mae looked up at him. “We cannot lose hope, Cade. There are so many in this kingdom worth it for us to keep trying, my family, Felix, Cibill, Livi, Annie, and Thad. I have met numerous people in my land and the palace who are good and only wish to live in peace. We must keep going to help them, whether you believe in a higher power or not.”
“I have not lost my faith in the goddess, Mae. To have you by my side tells me there is something good watching over us. I plan to fight until I have nothing left. I will do it for this kingdom and mostly for you. Just keep your promise that you will not leave me.”
“I will not, my king. I could never leave you.”
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