The Love of the Forgotten

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Chapter 6

He probably deserved all the misery and pain he endured over the next week. He was around Mae every chance he got. He waited outside her door to escort her to breakfast and supper. He watched her in the large courtyard as she practiced her power, even fetching a few things she needed. He accompanied her to the library, where he collected books she needed while she sat at a table with Thad, their heads together looking over books on the kingdom, the temple, and his family.

She was polite to him at all times, but she kept her tone and actions formal. She never used his name, referring to him as your highness or using his title. She would let him escort her, but her touch remained light. She kept a distance between them at all times. Cade tried to think of clever things to say. He wanted to speak as a young lover should, but he found himself tongue-tied.

It didn’t help that almost everything she did tempted him in some way. She walked with confidence and ease, and he enjoyed watching her. She was impressive when using her powers, making her eyes bright and her hair fly around her. When she read a book, she would play with a small piece of her hair as her lips slightly moved. He found himself several times staring at her instead of reading whatever book was in front of him.

“What are you reading?” he asked one morning that Thad had not joined them.

“A book on the history of the Mechar’s and their use of power. I wanted to see how many actually had the gift from the goddess.”

“And what do you find?”

“There were many who had some use of the power and a few actual archimagi who could do amazing things. A couple of kings did have access to the power, but the truly gifted were usually younger siblings.”

“What are you hoping to find?”

She shrugged.” I am not sure. I already knew much of this, but I was hoping to stumble across something that would link the royal family having power to the gift thriving in the land. What are you studying?”

“You, mostly,” he said honestly. She blushed, and he realized how stupid he sounded.

“What book do you have in front of you?”

“It is an accounting of the rise of the High Council and the number of temples in the kingdom. I haven’t gotten very far with it.”

Mae pushed her’s aside and took his. “The High Council didn’t form until the third to last Mechar king. I remember something about it in one of my father’s books. It didn’t have much say in kingdom business at first. Its goal was to spread the influence of our goddess in the land. They wanted to provide places of worship and access to hearing the words of Aurulia.”

“They were successful then. I believe there are many temples in each land,” said Cade.

Mae nodded. “They didn’t start involvement in kingdom business until well into your family’s reign. I suppose with the rise of the temples came more influence from the priests of Aurulia.”

“Makes sense,” said Cade. “With all the temples and priests, the High Council would hear more news in the land than anyone else.”

“But what they do with that news is not always good. I sometimes think the High Council has become more about power than the worship of Aurulia and helping those in our land.”

“You feel this way even with your uncle on the council?” asked Cade.

“I don’t believe every priest in the kingdom is corrupt, your highness, or that even most of them are. Still, there is no disputing that the High Council has power. The Highest One could be said to have as much if not more power than your father.”

“I suppose that is true, though the High Council or Highest One has never challenged my father’s authority or that of any other king.”

“They have not,” agreed Mae. “But it has not been advantageous to do so. So far, your family has let the council have its way in building temples wherever it wants, running its own affairs, and even having a large hand in choosing the queens for the kingdom.”

“The temples are good for the kingdom, the council should know more about the goddess and religion than my family, and though I know there is more to it than divine insight, the people take comfort in believing our queen is chosen by those close to the goddess,” said Cade.

“But with the council choosing queens generation after generation, they have made alliances with powerful families and taken many favors from those families. If it came down to it and there was a rift between your family and the council, the upper families of the kingdom would be very divided on who to support.”

Cade considered this. “You think the Callagan rule is in danger?”

Mae shrugged. “All power is precarious, I believe. It only takes a few to start questioning why someone is in a position before there is momentum towards demanding change,” answered Mae.

He looked at her as she started closing books and staking them. “I know some people have questioned your legitimacy as my future wife.”

“It is to be expected. I was not chosen in the usual way and do not come from one of the city’s powerful families. Also, what has gone in the palace is sure to have spread. There are a few servants who I believe are happy to gossip about the Adarian girl being rejected by the prince.”

He put his hand on hers as she closed the last book, and she looked up at him. “I never meant for anyone to think you are lacking in any way. You are so high above me in almost everything that matters that I can’t believe you would even want to speak with me, let alone be my wife.”

“What matters to most is where someone was born and to whom. So in that case, I am lacking in the eyes of many.”

“They are fools. I am one as well. I have pushed you away and focused only on my own pain. You are here alone and virtually unprotected because of me,” said Cade as he gripped her hand.

“I have ways of protecting myself, and I do not wish to rely on anyone else for my safety or that of my family, especially one so fickle as you.”

“What can I do to prove to you that I am sincere? My mind will not change unless you tell me there is no hope.”

She stared at him, and he was frightened for one moment that she would tell him to move on. The look in her eyes told him differently, and he couldn’t help but smile. She took her hand away and picked up one of the books.

“I will be late to meet the Highest One if I do not go soon. I had hoped to read this book on old elixirs and potions, but it will have to wait. It is one of the only ones I can find in this place. I know the Highest One must have some in the temple, but I do not like asking him for anything.”

Cade took the book. “We can give it to one of the workers here and have it sent to the palace. You can study it at your leisure there.”

“Can I take this one as well, do you think? Could you arrange it?” asked Mae as she held up the book on the High Council.

“Mae, you can have any number of books sent to the palace. You will be the queen of this kingdom.”

She handed him the book as she looked away. “I suppose we will see if that becomes true.”

“Will you let me walk with you to the temple?” he asked.

“If you want to do it,” she said as she looked back at him.

“I do. I want to walk with you, and then I will wait outside until you are done.”

“That is not necessary, your highness,” said Mae as she walked over to him.

“I believe it is, and I will not settle while you are meeting with the Highest One. I do not like you meeting with him alone.”

“What can be done about it? As I said earlier, he has as much power as a king.” They started walking towards the front of the library. “Besides, I do not want to be your responsibility, your highness, no matter what the law may say.”

“But what happens to you is my responsibility, Mae. You cannot tell me who or what to care about.”

She said nothing more as Cade stopped close to the door and found a library worker. He asked that the books be delivered to the palace for Mae, and the worker said it would be done by the afternoon. They walked out of the building into the cloudy day, passing a few people from the city’s inner circle.

“What are your plans after lunch?” he asked.

“I have to go to my room for a while as they do a final fitting of my gown for your family’s celebration banquet at the end of the week.”

“I doubt you like the idea of that,” said the prince.

“I do not mind it. I like pretty dresses as much as the next woman. Standing still for some time does not sound appealing, but Enid and Mrs. Wynn will be there, and I enjoy their company.

Cade took Mae’s hand and put it on his arm, and she did not take it away. He pulled her a little closer as he greeted a few lords and ladies out for a mid-morning walk.

“Are you looking forward to the banquet?” he asked.

“Not really. There will be very few friendly faces, and I expect I will be seen as on display.”

“I have always felt that way. As a child, I was brought out during events to be shown off as the next king. Old men would shake my hand, and loud women who smelled of too much perfume would pinch my cheeks and laugh as they listed girls I might grow up to marry. As I grew and attended as a young man, mother after mother would present their daughters before me. As if I had some choice of who I would pick.”

“Did you ever find one you wished you could choose?” asked Mae.

“Not at all,” said Cade. “They ladies were always either very careful around me or overly flirtatious. I was scared to death of them all until a year or so ago. Then I started to see how ridiculous they all were.”

“They could not all be ridiculous, your highness,” said Mae with a laugh. “I am sure there are some very good young ladies somewhere in the city.”

“Perhaps there are, but after a while, I lumped them all together. It was ungenerous of me, but as you know, I am not the most friendly or engaging man.”

“You know you can be engaging and charming when you put forth the effort,” said Mae.

“I have found few I thought worth it and none more so than you.” She shook her head with a grin. “That is Lady Wilston,” said Cade as he leaned into to whisper to Mae. “Laugh as though I have said something funny.”

“Why should I?” asked Mae, her good humor disappearing.

“Because she is one of the biggest gossips in the kingdom. Now act as though I amuse you, and I will look at you adoringly.”

“I will not perform to start some false rumors in the city,” said Mae in an angry hiss.

He stopped and made her stop with him. “Then I shall look at your adoringly anyway,” said Cade as he raised his head and looked down at her. Her eyes were bright from her flash of anger and her face flushed. He grinned as he stared at her, wishing he could reach out and touch her soft cheek.

“I need to be going, your highness,” said Mae.

“He can wait for a few minutes, Mae,” said Cade. “I have upset you, and I do not want you to go into the temple unsettled.”

“I am not upset. I just do not want to be someone I am not to please some lady I do not know.”

“And you are not someone who finds me amusing?” asked Cade.

“You can be at times,” said Mae as they started walking again. “There are many things I like about you. I believe I have told you and shown it to you before.”

He was stopped from answering for her for a moment as they entered the palace walls. He took a few more seconds to gather his thoughts and choose his words. “Will I never be able to experience those times again?”

Her lips twitched until she couldn’t hold back a grin. They stopped by the temple’s quarters entrance, but she did not let go of his arm. Looking up at him, her grin grew into a teasing smile. “Perhaps if you earn it.” Letting go of his arm, she walked up to the door, and the guard bowed before opening it.

“Mae,” called Cade, making her turn to him. “Be careful.”

She nodded before entering the temple.

Cade stood against the wall close to the door. The guard looked at him a few times but never spoke. Cade leaned on the wall a bit before pacing back and forth. He wondered what the Highest One was saying to Mae. Was he trying to convince her to leave the palace for the temple? What did he plan to do with her?

Mae was right in that the Highest One was a powerful man with many allies who owed him favors. Cade worried about what the man could do to Mae if he wished it. The Highest One wanted to use Mae’s power, and if he found she would not bend to his will, Cade was afraid of what he might do to force her. He might do away with her altogether eventually.

“Your highness,” said Mae’s uncle as Cade turned around to greet him.

“Holy High One Llewelyn,” said Cade with a nod.

“Are you needing something, Prince Cadel? Do you wish to speak with one of the priests?”

“I am waiting for Lady Maela to be done with her meeting with the Highest One so I can walk with her back to the palace.”

Mae’s uncle grinned slightly. “I am sure she could find her way back. It is not a long walk.” The man glanced at the palace nearby.

“Perhaps, she could, but I will feel better seeing that she is well after her meeting.”

“How long has she been in there?” asked Holy One Llewelyn.

“Not more than twenty minutes,” said Cade.

“Then we have some time. Walk with me for a moment if you will, your highness.” Cade looked at the temple door, not moving as Mae’s uncle came closer to him. “She will be fine, and you standing here won’t help. I wish to speak with you away from the temple.”

Cade took one last look at the door before nodding. He walked with Mae’s uncle towards the palace to stand between the two buildings.

“How is Mae?” asked her uncle. “I have not been able to speak with her as I wished due to my schedule.”

“I believe she is well, though she has had a few frustrations, mostly because of me.”

“You are both in an interesting situation. You have not known each other long, and now, you are promised to each other. I know this is not what Mae thought her life would be like.”

“I have not treated her as I should. I hoped to find a way to release her from our bond and send her home,” said the prince.

Mae’s uncle looked over his shoulder. “That would not be smart or help Mae in any way. Now that the Highest One knows her power, he will not just let her return to Adaria. At least residing in the palace as your future wife, she has some protection. If you release her from your word, the Highest One will take her into the temple.”

“He has already offered her a position,” said Cade. “He said he would let her go back on her word if she agreed to serve him.”

Holy One Llewelyn walked closer to Cade. “That cannot happen. If he has access to her anytime with full control over her life, he will find a way to push her and use her power until she has nothing left. I know you may not want my niece as your wife, but do not doom her to that fate.”

“I would never let him hurt her,” said Cade. “I know I have given the impression I am unhappy with the idea of marrying Mae, but you must know it has nothing to do with my feelings for her. You have seen too much of my actions when she was ill. I may not have known Mae long, but what I feel for her is real. I only wanted to protect her as Callagan wives do not have easy lives.”

“They do not, but most Callagan wives did not possess the strength and power of Mae. I do not mean to disparage your mother, your highness. Queen Delia was a good and gentle woman.”

“You have not offended me. My father said much the same about Mae. He said she possessed a strength and boldness my mother did not have.”

“Mae knows what she wants, and she will do what she thinks is right no matter what you or anyone else tells her,” said her uncle. “She will push herself to save everyone, not caring for her own well-being. I would like to know that she has others watching out for her.”

“She does,” said Cade. “My father adores her and sees to her every need. Lord Aimon has made it clear she is important to him.” A bit of anger slipped into Cade’s tone as he thought of Thad and Mae spending time together.

“And you, your highness?”

“I think she is quickly becoming the most important person to me in this kingdom. I was a fool to push her away for so long. I am afraid it has come back to haunt me as I have lost almost all familiarity with your niece. She does not trust me, and I am starting to think she never will.”

“You shouldn’t give up hope. Mae is stubborn, but she is also tender-hearted. I know she cares for you, and if you show her you are sincere, she will relent. You must keep trying because I think Mae being queen might be what she needs. It might be what we all need.”

Cade nodded. “I will not rush her. She is young, as am I. I know the High Council has pushed kings to marry quickly and young in the past to start creating children, but I will not let it happen to Mae. I will not be bullied by the council, and neither shall she. She will have the time to know her heart and make a decision.”

“I hope you can manage it, your highness. You both deserve the time to be sure.”

Cade almost said he was very sure there would be no one else for him but stopped himself.

“I hope to see Mae soon. I will have to leave for Adaria in a week or so.”

“You will be at the banquet, won’t you? You should be able to have a few moments with her. Why do you go to Adaria?”

“There are reports out of the temples in the heart of the land that there is some unrest there. I believe it has to do with the treatment of my family and the presence of temple guards surrounding the main village and the home of my nephew and sister-in-law. There is also a concern for Mae. She is much loved by her people, your highness.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. Has word made it to Adaria of my father’s decision to lessen their responsibility to the kingdom?”

“It has, but some see it as too little too late. The medicine and food you have sent helped in some areas, but there was still much sickness and death in parts of the land. I have not told Mae. She does not need additional worry.”

“I will see what else can be done for the people there,” said Cade. “My father made Adaria my responsibility, and I have not given it my focus lately.”

“Perhaps Adaria has been on your mind, your highness,” said Mae’s uncle with a smile. “But maybe it has been narrowed to one particular Adarian.”

“You are right,” said Cade with a small laugh. “But I want to help your people. I think Mae should know about what is happening in her land, even with the stress it will cause her.”

“I will leave it up to you. If you are to be her future husband, you should start seeing to her well-being, though I will never stop watching over her. You will be my king someday, Prince Cadel, but no loyalty in the realm could overtake the love I have for my family, especially Mae. She has always been special to me.”

“I can see why,” said Cade. “I will speak to her about Adaria and let her help me figure out a way to assist the people. Will you write me when you arrive and keep me updated?”

“Of course, your highness,” said Mae’s uncle. “I have to get into the temple as lunch will be soon, and I need to speak to the Highest One about my journey. Mae should be out soon as well. Tell her I expect to speak with her at the banquet.”

“I will,” said Cade as they walked together towards the temple. Mae’s uncle went on to the door and was let in by the guard as Cade leaned back against the wall, waiting for Mae. His anxiousness to see her growing every minute.

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