The Love of the Forgotten

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Chapter 7

Enid finished tying the back of Mae’s gown for the banquet. It was impressive as most of her dresses were now. She wore the dark green of the Callagans since it was a banquet in honor of their rule, and it was set that she would soon be one of them. She could not find fault with the fine dress as it was soft, well-fitting, and made her feel beautiful. The bodice was simple, and the skirt full. The half sleeves, skirt, and neckline were trimmed in gold, and Enid placed a golden ribbon around her middle, securing it.

“You are almost done,” said Enid as she picked something up off the vanity. Mae bent down as Enid placed a simple golden tiara with green jewels in her hair.

“I don’t see why I have to wear this,” said Mae as she adjusted the crown. “I am not royalty.”

“You are as good as royalty,” said Enid. “When you wed the prince, you will officially be a princess.”

“If I wed the prince,” said Mae quietly.

“He has given you his word, and I know he will not back out. It doesn’t appear as if he wishes to, not anymore. I don’t think I have seen you walking around the palace unless he is somewhere near you. It appears as if the poor man cannot bear to be away from you for long.”

“I don’t know what he is playing at lately. He ignored me for so long, and now he says he wishes things to be different. He talks as if he wants us to wed.”

“Why wouldn’t he, my lady?” asked Enid. “It is clear to me he is well on his way to being in love with you. That day you were injured; he was out of his mind in worry. He didn’t want to leave your side. Your uncle had to force him away so I could undress you for the healer. As soon as he was allowed, he went immediately to the bed and held your hand. If that is not love, I don’t know what is.”

“He has other issues that have kept him from wanting me to be his wife, Enid, as you well know.”

“But now perhaps he has come to his senses. He has seen that he cannot be without you. I know being the future queen is a daunting thing, but the prince appears to be a good man. Would a life with him be so awful?” asked Enid.

“It would not,” said Mae. “If I could trust he was sincere, I would happily submit to my fate. I am not opposed to him. I like him very much, maybe even more than that, but I cannot let myself fall in love with him, knowing he could draw back at any time due to his fears.”

“Yes, I have heard you mutter that he is a coward before, my lady,” said Enid as she tucked a piece of Mae’s hair that had fallen free. She turned Mae and adjusted her ties. “Let me say that now, perhaps you are the one being a coward.” Enid pulled on her ties, making Mae fall forward.

“Ow, Enid, that is a little too tight. You can make your point without squeezing me to death.”

Enid loosened the ties just a bit. “Just trying to get your attention before you throw away a good chance at happiness, you stubborn thing.”

“If I do become queen one day, perhaps I should find a new assistant. One that will listen to me and not cause me bodily harm,” said Mae with a small smile as she adjusted the ribbon around her waist.

“You can’t get rid of me, my lady. You already tried, and you see how that went. Besides, you were miserable without me around, and you know it.”

Mae turned and looked at Enid. “I was, and I could never do without you. I will try with the prince, but it will take some time.”

“I know. I think he does as well, but try to give him a glimpse or two of hope. It seems that he has not had a lot of happiness in his life, but he often smiles in your company. It is something to make a man with so many burdens have some relief.”

Mae frowned as she looked in the mirror. “I suppose you are right, Enid.”

“Remember that then,” said Enid. “You need to get downstairs. You look beautiful as always.” She put the Adarian pin the prince had given Mae close to her collar. “Also, remember who you are.”

Mae nodded as she walked to the door. She opened and stepped out, feeling a wave of disappointment hit her as the prince was not outside waiting for her. He was probably busy preparing for the night or helping his father, but she had gotten so used to seeing him waiting to escort her downstairs that she missed him not being there.

She got to the stairs and looked down the hall towards where she knew the royal rooms were. She considered walking down to his room but realized she wasn’t sure which door was him. Instead, she turned to the stairs and went down them. As the entry hall came into view, she saw Cade staring up at her.

He was dressed officially as the prince, and she thought it suited him. He reached up and adjusted his crown as he watched her walk down towards him.

“It was a little strange not seeing you outside my door,” said Mae with a laugh.

He moved forward and took her hand. “I thought you might like a break from me popping up wherever you are. I had planned to meet you in the banquet hall, but I could not do it. The best I could do was wait for you here.”

“I do not mind you waiting outside my door to escort me to meals. I am afraid I have come to expect it and felt some disappointment in not seeing you in the hall.”

“Then I will know better from now on,” said Cade. “Can I escort you to the banquet hall?”

“I would like it if you did.”

He took her hand and put it on his arm, and they walked together towards the room. “Most of the guests should be assembled by now, so you and I can walk in with my father when we are announced.”

“Oh, should I not go ahead. I am not a Callagan,” said Mae. “This is your family’s celebration.”

“My father is adamant you are included, and so am I. I have given you my word, and I have your promise. We are bound together, Mae. You may choose to break it, but I will not.”

“I have no plans to break anything, your highness, not at present.”

“Then you will walk in with us tonight.” He pulled at her, and she moved a little closer to him. “You look beautiful. I wish I could say more as that doesn’t begin to cover it.”

“But you are not one who uses words excessively,” said Mae.

“I am not, so I must show you just how beautiful I find you.”

She looked at him as they came to a stop before the closed door of the banquet hall.

“Mae, my dear, you look enchanting,” said the king as she turned to him and curtsied.

“Prince Cadel has stated that you wish for me to walk in with him and you,” said Mae.

“I do wish for it, and so does Cade. You will be one of us officially soon. I am already so fond of you that you are quickly becoming like a daughter to me.”

“And you are very dear to me as well, your majesty,” said Mae as she touched his arm.

“Then it is settled. I am hungry, and I am sure our guests are anxious. Let us not keep them waiting.”

She took Cade’s arm, and they stood behind the king. Mae felt her breathing increase, thinking about walking into the banquet hall in the middle of all those gathered. She was never shy and not one to be intimated, but for some reason, she was nervous.

“Do not look at any of them,” said Cade quietly. “Keep your head forward and your eyes straight. If you get overwhelmed, you can glance at me. I am sure my eyes will be on you constantly.”

She grinned and moved a little closer to him, so their bodies touched. He breathed in deeply as the door opened, and they were announced. The king waked ahead of them, his furlined robe flowing behind him. Cade started walking, and it took a moment for Mae to get her legs to work, but she caught up quickly.

As she entered the room, Mae kept her head straight and focused on the empty chairs at the head table in front of her. She could feel hundreds of eyes on her. There were whispers all around, and Cade pulled her even closer. She glanced at him to find him looking at her. They made it to the dais, and Cade held her hand as she followed the king up the few steps. After getting to the table, she stood behind her chair before the king nodded at her. Cade pulled out her chair, and she sat down, causing everyone else except the Highest One to do the same.

The Highest One went on for some time about the history of the Callagans. He talked of their fair and valiant rulers. He then prayed to the goddess for protection and wisdom for the current king and those to come. He mentioned the upcoming marriage of Mae and Cade, asking for discernment, patience, and understanding. Finally, he sat down next to Mae, and food was brought out.

“I hope the food isn’t cold after that production,” whispered Cade as he leaned towards Mae.

Mae laughed. “I am sure the palace servants are familiar with the long-windedness of the Highest One by now. I suspect our food to be the proper temperature and more than adequate.”

Mae was proven right as she cut into a delicious piece of mutton before eating a few bites from a winter vegetable mix.

“My lady, you look very well this evening,” said the Highest One as Mae took a sip of her wine.

“Thank you, Highest One,” replied Mae.

“Have you had a chance to look over that book on elixirs you told me about?”

“I have a little, though I haven’t tried anything yet. They are mostly simple healing concoctions,” said Mae.

“I am happy to provide you with some more advanced reading should you want it, my lady. If you wish to become a true archimagus, you will need a well-rounded education, including potion-making. Afreda can brew some very simple potions if you would like to speak with her.”

“I will probably find time to visit with her in the coming weeks, but I will stick to my simple book for the time being. I don’t see a reason to rush.”

“I don’t want you to rush, but I also don’t wish you to get bored and frustrated. You have enormous talent and power, and I know you like to push yourself.”

“It is true, but I still have much to learn besides potions. I have been trying to create a little or at least bring life back to something dormant. It is slow work, but I did manage to cause some grass to grow in the back courtyard.”

“Impressive, Lady Maela.” The Highest One took a bite of food and a drink of wine before he bent close to her so only she could hear. She had a feeling Cade had listened to their entire conversation. “I know you have responsibilities and distractions in your current position. If you left the palace for the temple, you could practice and learn as much as you wish.”

“I have thought over your offer, Highest One, but I think I am happy to stay in the palace. I gave my word, and I would like to keep it,” she said it loudly and glanced at Cade.

“If you change your mind, you can let me know at any time. I could even arrange for you to take a trip to see your family soon,” said the Highest One.

“I am hoping we can travel to Adaria this spring,” said Cade. “I know Lady Maela would like to see her mother and brother, and I want to meet them as well. Her lifelong friends are also marrying, and she should be there.”

Mae turned fully and beamed at Cade. “You think it can be arranged?”

“I don’t see why not. My father has told me I should visit all lands in the kingdom, and Adaria has long been on my mind even before it started to enter my heart because of you.”

Mae took his hand under the table. “Thank you for considering it.”

“You don’t need to thank me. It is the least I can do after all you have done.” He leaned closer to her. “Seeing you smile like that makes it worth it.”

“I think you might be improving with your flattery,” said Mae.

“Even someone tone-deaf stumbled upon the right note at times.”

Mae laughed and spent the rest of the meal speaking with Cade and the king while mostly ignoring the Highest One. When the meal was over, the king said a few words of thanks for the continued support of the lords and ladies in the room. He toasted all of them for their dedication to Gelardia.

“And I have one more toast to make, and that is to Lady Maela Llewelyn. I worried as any father would about what sort of woman would be chosen as my son’s wife. I prayed for a good, brave woman who would help my son rule one day. I think the goddess did more than answer my prayer. She sent us a true blessing in Lady Maela. I am happy to know that my son is not only gaining a good wife but that I will have a daughter I have already come to cherish.” He raised his glass to Mae as others in the room did the same.

Mae felt her cheeks flush as she looked down at the table. Cade drank from his glass before taking her hand. The king released them all from their tables, and Mae and Cade stood up together.

They walked down r off the dais and onto the floor. They greeted a few quickly that spoke to them as they moved down the wall. Mae stopped when she got to the portraits of the last Mechar king and the first Callagan king.

“These portraits attracted your attention the first time you were here,” said Cade.

“There were familiar to me, so I gravitated towards them that night when I was uncertain and a little intimidated.” She looked up at the Callagan king. “I spoke with your father the first time that night. I suppose you came over thinking I was accosting him.”

“I came over because I wanted to speak with you. You sparked my interest that day when you rode up on my new horse. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you that night. I don’t think I have stopped staring at you since.”

She laughed. “I aggravated you, though. You became quite angry with me.”

“You thought I was angry?” asked Cade disbelievingly.

“I did, though I think by the end, you had regained some of your humor.”

He leaned towards her. “You attracted me more than any woman I had ever encountered. I felt a little indecent with the thoughts you brought into my head that night. I told myself I had to stay away from you from that night forward, but you saw how much I failed at it.”

She grinned and was about to suggest they should go for a walk out the side door, but they were interrupted by Lord Gibbens and his wife.

“Your highness, I am hoping you will release Lady Maela to my care for a few minutes. There are some people who wish to meet her,” said Lady Gibbens

“I can go with you as well,” said Cade.

“I would like a word with you, your highness,” said Lord Gibbens.

Cade looked like he would argue, but Mae touched his arm. “I shall be fine with Lady Gibbens. I should start meeting more of the people of the city, and it seems you have something to discuss with Lord Gibbens.”

“We will not be long, your highness,” said Lady Gibbens as she took Mae’s arm. She pulled Mae away, and she followed.

“Now, my lady, first I wish you to greet a few of my circles. You have met them in passing, I am sure, but they would like to get to know you better.”

Lady Gibbens took her across the room to a group of older and younger women. A tall blonde woman looked Mae up and down before whispering to the other ladies.

“Here she is, my ladies, just as you requested, our future queen,” said Lady Gibbens.

“How many years has it been since we had a queen, not from the city or Bevins?” asked an older lady whose white hair was so thin, Mae could see her scalp.

“Have we ever had a queen, not from Bevins?” asked a young woman. Her voice was squeaky and high.

“We certainly haven’t had one from Adaria. I wasn’t even sure there was any nobility or good civilization that far out in the kingdom,” said a tall woman with hair so black it looked painted or dyed.

“Now, ladies, this is no way to make Lady Maela feel welcomed. You haven’t even let her say a word,” said Lady Gibbens.

“I don’t think there is much I can say,” said Mae, her irritation rising. “I believe you all have already judged me based on some false information you have on my homeland.”

“You were impressive on the prince’s birthday, though I am not sure what really happened. Did Lady Henrietta try to kill the prince, or was it your power that caused her death that day?” asked the blacked haired woman.

“You were there, Lady Mills,” said Lady Gibbens. “You saw enough to know the truth. Lady Maela has been vouched for by the Highest One and king, so that should be enough. I would not have brought her over here if I thought you all would be so rude. Come, my lady, let us move on.”

Lady Gibbens pulled Mae towards a middle-aged woman with red hair and a young man who was very thin. His light brown hair was ridiculously styled, so it set several inches off his scalp.

“Lady Reston, may I present Lady Maela Llewelyn to you? Lady Maela, this is my cousin visiting from Glynston.”

Mae curtsied. “It is good to meet you, my lady.”

“And this is my son, Lord Dilwyn Reston,” said Lady Reston.

“And this is her?” asked Lord Reston. “I thought you said she would be plain, mother, but she is not bad to look at. A little wide and tall, but I do not find her objectionable.”

“Excuse me,” said Mae, feeling sure she could not have heard correctly.

“My mother says you would make me a good wife,” said Lord Reston as he moved forward. “I have a nice estate in Glynston, and I need a wife. You would not be who I would pick normally, but if it comes with a nice gift from the prince and king, I will do it.”

“My lord, I believe you are confused,” said Mae. “I am betrothed to Prince Cadel.”

“But that won’t last, and Lord Gibbens said I should take you off to Glynston. You will like it there. It is a pretty piece of land that I have and probably better than you are used to.”

“Now, Dilwyn, you are scaring the poor lady,” said Lady Reston.

“He is not scaring me. I just believe he has me confused with someone else. I am not looking for a husband or in need of one,” said Mae.

“Are you sure, my lady?” asked Lady Gibbens. “I would hate for you to be thrown out of the palace with no place to go.”

“Thrown out of the palace?” asked Mae as she took a step back. “There is no chance of it.”

“My dear lady,” said Lady Gibbens. “We have all heard the rumors of the prince’s displeasure with you. It is not your fault. You were not brought up in our sphere and are used to simpler ways. My cousin, Lord Reston, is a good man in a good situation. It will take you far away from the city and closer to your family and land.”

“Lady Gibbens, you must see how insulting this is. Whatever rumors you have heard, I have not been asked to leave the palace. The king assured me I could stay as long as I like, and Prince Cadel has not spoken to me of going back on his word.”

Mae started to walk off, but Lady Gibbens grabbed her arm. “I am trying to show you kindness in giving you a graceful way out of the palace. If you want to be foolish and fall on your face, it is on you.”

Mae shook her hand free and hurried towards the side wall that held the open doors to the courtyard. She rushed out the door into the cold night, trying to catch her breath. She walked over to a stone bench and paced in front of it.

“How dare she,” said Mae under her breath. “She has no right to treat me this way; no one does.”

“Mae?” said a voice making her look up. It was Thad, and he walked up to her. “What has happened? What did that horrible woman say to you?”

“You saw it happen, did you?” asked Mae.

“I watched as she took you into that group of women who have nothing better to do than gossip or look down on others. I have never seen the man and woman she brought you to after that.”

“That man thought I would be his wife,” said Mae with a huff.

“His wife?” asked Thad in confusion. “Why would he think it?”

“Because Lady Gibbens told him I would soon be thrown out of the palace as Cade would break his world.”

“Mae, you know that is ridiculous,” said Thad. “Come sit with me for a moment.” He took her hand and sat with her on the stone bench. “Are you cold?” He made to take off the robe he was wearing.

“I am not cold at all,” said Mae. “I am so embarrassed and angry I feel as though you could fry an egg on my face.”

“You shouldn’t be embarrassed, Mae. It is Lady Gibbens who should be embarrassed and worried about what will happen when Cade and the king find out what she has been up to.”

Mae put her head in her hands. “What am I doing here, Thad? Barely anyone wants me here, and no matter what I do, I know I will never fit in.”

“You will not, and that is a good thing, Mae. There are good people in the city, and you have met some of them. Those like Lady Gibbens do what they do in fear and pettiness. They cannot understand you because you do not think like them.” He held her hand tightly. “And there are plenty who not only want you here; they need you here. I am one of them.”

Mae wiped the tears off her cheek that had fallen as Thad let go of her hand. He put his arm around her shoulder, and she leaned against him. “I know I am being ridiculous. It just has not been easy, and sometimes it becomes too much.”

“I know,” said Thad. “I am thankful I can travel around the kingdom at times. It puts things in perspective to get out of the city.” He leaned his head against hers. “I am leaving in two days for a trip. I will be out of the city for some time.”

Mae leaned up. “You are leaving?”

“There has been some news of people becoming unsettled in some of the lands. The king has asked me to investigate. I could send some of my men, but I think this is important enough that I need to go. I am counting on you to keep watch over Cade.”

“Cade told me there are some in Adaria who are angry. Will you be going there?”

“I might,” said Thad. “Though I believe your uncle is traveling there soon.”

Mae nodded. “Cade told me that as well. I need to speak with my uncle tonight before he goes.”

“Be careful while I am gone, Mae. I will write you and leave you directions for contacting me while I am gone. It may take me some time to get my letters, but if you or Cade need me, I will come back.”

“I will miss you,” said Mae.

“Perhaps, but I think your time will be full while I am gone. It is I who will be lonely on the road.”

“Be safe, and do what you must so you can return. Cade says we might travel to Adaria this spring, and I would hate not to see you before we leave.”

“I will be back before then,” said Thad as Mae leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

“Mae?” said Cade’s voice uncertainly as he walked towards them, coming out of the darkness.

Thad stood up. “I should go back inside. I will stop by tomorrow to take my leave from both of you and the king.”

“You are leaving so soon?” asked Cade. “I know my father spoke of seeing what was out in the kingdom, but I thought you would send someone before you went.”

“I think I need to be the one to go. I will try not to take an extended trip. If you need me, you know how to contact me.”

Cade nodded before looking down at Mae. “We will talk more tomorrow.”

“Do not worry about what happened tonight, Mae. It is not worth your concern or tears,” said Thad.

“I know you are right. I will try not to think more of it.”

Thad smiled at her before walking back towards the palace. Cade sat down next to her.

“What did Lady Gibbens do? If it is anything like what Lord Gibbens was speaking of, I imagine it was awful.”

“She first introduced me to some ladies in her circle. They were horrible, speaking ill of Adaria, but I dismissed them quickly. I don’t have time for those who look down on me because of where I come from. Then she took me to her cousins. Lord Dilwyn Reston is expecting me to be his wife.”

“I don’t know what the Gibbens were thinking, Mae. You know I had nothing to do with this. Please tell me you do.”

“I know it did not come from you, but your earlier actions towards me in the palace must have gotten out in the city. Many think you will break your word with me, and I will be thrown out of the place.”

“I know I have some blame for how you are being treated, and I am sorry for it. I should have seen that it would happen, but it was not my intention.”

Mae sat back with her hands behind her and looked up at the sky. It was bright with countless numbers of stars. Mae raised one of her hands and called down the lights like she always did for her brother. Four small lights came towards her and circled her and Cade. She reached her hand out, and one sat in her palm. She brought it close to her face and looked at it before blowing it away. It flew into the night and disappeared. The others continued to spin around them, growing dimmer.

She glanced towards the prince to find him staring at her. He reached out and touched her cheek, and she leaned into his hand.

“You are so wonderful,” he said softly. “I can hardly believe you are real.”

He leaned into her and gently kissed her. He pulled back slightly and looked at her before kissing her again as his arms went around her. She settled into him, her hands going to his face. It was such a relief to feel his lips against hers and his arms around her that she half wanted to cry and half wanted to laugh. Her hand went behind his neck as he pulled her closer, and she started to let herself get lost in him before a loud wave of laughter came from the palace. The thought of the women laughing at her as she walked up to them made her feel ill. They spoke to her as if she was nothing as if the prince would throw her away at any moment.

She pulled back and scooted away from Cade. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t think I can’t do it.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I can’t be who you need, Cade,” she said as she looked down. “I will always be seen as less than you, as less than everyone in this city. Because when it comes down to it, you have all the power. If you change your mind again about me, you can pull away in a second and find a way to send me away.”

“No,” said Cade desperately. “That is not true. Mae, I could never send you away. I was fooling myself when I thought I could. You have become essential to me. I cannot be away from you.”

“You say that now, but what happens when it all becomes too much. I will be ridiculed and spoken ill of all our lives. I will deal with the Highest One and the council wanting more and more from me. I am not sure I can withstand it all, but I know I cannot without you supporting me. I am afraid you will find it all too much and pull away in some misguided effort to protect me or because you can’t stand it.”

Cade shook his head. “I can do it. I have to because the option of losing you is one I cannot take. Please, Mae, let me show you.”

She stood up as it became hard to breathe. It felt like everything was crashing in on her. Another wave of laughter came from the palace, and she grew dizzy. She had to get away from the palace, the lights, and even Cade for a moment. “I don’t know, Cade. I just need to think about it. I need to be alone.”

She ran from him. She knew he would probably follow her in a moment, but she was not thinking clearly. Running towards the wall, she thought of the large tree just on the other side. Closing her eyes, she felt herself grow warm before she heard the sound of wind in her ears. When she opened her eyes, she saw the tree before her.

She leaned against it and took deep breaths as tears fell out of her eyes. She knew she could not stay there long, but it felt good to be away from the palace and others. She stood up and let the light wind blow across her face. She looked up at the half-moon and thought about home. She needed to speak with her mother and hold her baby brother. She wished she could laugh with Felix and hug Sibill.

“I’m glad to get a chance to speak with you finally,” said a harsh voice to her right.

She looked over to see a blonde woman who looked disheveled and angry. The woman came closer to her, and Mae realized who she was.

“Lady Bracken, is there something I can help you with.”

“You killed her. You killed my Henrietta. She was just doing as she was told, and you killed her.”

“It wasn’t my intention, my lady,” said Mae as she stepped back towards the tree. “I didn’t want to hurt her.”

“I saw you. I saw you send that power at her. You meant to do it.” Lady Breckon held up her hand, and Mae felt the power build in the woman.

Mae put her hand up to block, but she was too late to stop it completely. She absorbed most of it, but a bit got through and skimmed her shoulder. The power was cold and heavy, just like the magic from Henrietta Mae held the day in the field. She felt it dig into her skin, causing a flash of searing pain to run along her shoulder to her upper back. Her hand automatically went to the cut as she let loose a scream. She took her hand away to find it covered with blood.

Lady Bracken took advantage of Mae’s inattention and threw some other bit of power at her. It knocked Mae back into the tree, making her cry out. Mae fell against the tree as her breath was knocked out of her. She gasped, struggling to breathe as Lady Bracken came towards her. Mae threw out her hand, sending a burst of energy towards Lady Bracken. Lady Bracken screamed as she was pushed backward.

Mae wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep going. She was having a hard time finding her breath, her hurt shoulder made her whole arm useless, and she was exhausted. She tried to stand up by using the tree as she saw Lady Bracken slowly get to her feet. Mae held on to the tree, wondering what the woman was going to do to her. The lady raised her hands as Mae’s vision started going dim.

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