Lady Swan was sitting in her living room when there was a knock at the door. Which opened before she could respond, the look of annoyance on her face at someone entering her apartment without her leave disappear in the instant that her eye landed on the face of her son.
“Geoffrey!” She exclaimed getting up and rushing over to embrace her eldest son, it had been several months since his last visit, in fact, Mal and Prince Salistar had just left on their quest to find the dwarves. She knew her son had been disappointed that Mal had left and she couldn’t wait to tell him the news that she was back.
“Mother I hope life finds you well?” He said hugging his mother fiercely.
“It does, and I have some news for you, Malderia is back,” she said watching his face.
“I know I literally bumped into her onto way here but we haven’t had time to catch up. I’ll go and meet her in the gardens after we catch up,” he replied with a smile that lit up his eyes at the thought of her.
Sighing deeply Lady Swan took her son's arm and led him to the sofa “There is much to discuss, my son, most you won’t like.”
Sitting beside his mother a worried crease on his brow the only sign that he was unsure what was going on. “Ok mother out with it,”
“As you know the Queen was searching for a bride for the Prince, well a truly good match was made with the eldest daughter of King Duskil of Altura, he has three elder sons and was extremely flattered when we made overtures for the hand of Princess Helena.”
“That's great news mother though I don’t see why you think I wouldn’t like that news,” he replied.
“I believe that Malderia might be pregnant,” she said leaving it hanging in the middle of the air watching her sons reaction intently.
“Oh,” he replied followed by a couple of seconds where he said nothing then “Oh, Prince Salistar” he finished the question hanging in the air between them.
“Yes, she carries the Prince's bastard, though I don’t think she realises it, she isn’t showing much at the minute but she will start to show in the next month I’m sure of it.”
“Well, I suppose that’s it then,” he replied soddenly.
“Would you discard the girl for it?” she asked the words tinted with anger she didn’t bring her sons up to hold with the idea of a soiled woman.
His head snapped up, “I can’t force her to love me, mother,” he replied his words sharp with the emotion he felt.
“I’m glad that you realise that, no you can’t but she’s about to go thought something that is going to change everything for her and she will need people around her to care for her and ask nothing in return. Answer me this could you raise another man's child as your own?”
He stared out the window for a moment before answering “Mother I think you know the answer to that, I love her, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her and to answer your question, Yes I could raise the child as mine but that point is moot if she doesn’t love me. Besides does the Prince know? and what about the Queen and the King do they know too?”
“I doubt anyone knows, The Prince and Malderia have been separated for several months and like I say I don’t think the girl knows. The King and Queen do not know, though I believe the Queen knows that Malderia still holds feelings for the Prince. If the King or Queen find out about the baby then it will not survive. If the Prince had a couple of legitimate heirs no one would care about the arrival of a bastard child, but as it is this would threaten the royal marriage and effect the kingdom for years to come.”
“I see, we can’t let anyone find out, it would destroy her, what can I do?”
“At the moment that my son is the simplest thing in the world, simply continue to be the friend she needs and hope that no-one finds out.”
“Well, that mother is something that I could do in my sleep. I might never win her heart but I will always be there for her,” he said standing, “I believe my friend is in the gardens I’ll go and spend some time with her,” only slightly hiding his feeling behind the word friend.
“You should also know that Malderia will be leaving shortly she has asked the King and Queen for a boon, a Ship to take her to Dralius she is on a quest to retrieve some ancient magic armour and a weapon that will help in the war she will be gone for several months at least.”
“I see, well I might as well spend some little time with her before she goes,” replied Geoffrey a sadness on his face that shone out of his light blue eyes.
“Yes, Mother?” He replied hoping that more bad news was not on the way.
“Ask her to come to me this afternoon, until then mention nothing of the pregnancy to anyone including Malderia, Ok?”
Seeing her son nodding she shooed him out of the room, she needed time to think.
When she had first taken Mal under her wing it was as a favour for the Queen, She was more than fond of the girl, in fact, she already thought of her as a daughter and a daughter that was with child to boot.
“Oh Malderia, what have you gotten yourself into.” She half muttered under her breath. The memory of Mal telling her tale of living in the mountains for a couple of months with the oracle and the sickness that she had every morning and how she thought it was the smell of the sulphur could have been nothing. The fact that Cari had said this morning that all of Malderia’s clothes needed let out a bit confirmed her fears.
Geoffrey closed the door to his mothers' room and headed towards the gardens, deep in thought, by the time he had gotten to the gardens he had a plan and he wasn’t sure if his mother would like it or not.
Seeing a page he waved him over, when he got close enough he said: “It is such a lovely morning please ask the cooks if I would be able to have a small picnic for two in the garden.”
“Yes, My Lord” he responded before hurrying off while Geoffrey scanned the palace garden.
Spying Mal sitting by an ornamental lake watching the fish idly swimming around in circles. He made his way over towards her the soft crunch of his boots on the gravel path alerting her to his presence.
When she turned her head the sun took that moment to peek out from behind a cloud the ray of sunshine that exploded on the ground around her highlighted her beauty, her raven dark hair flowed to her shoulders causing a contrast to the blue dress she wore which flared when the light hit it.
“Well my friend, I took the liberty of ordering a small picnic so that we can sit here in this fine garden and you can tell me of your adventures since we last saw each other.”
Seeing the look of profound sadness on her face he quickly sat down beside her and putting an arm around her pulled her close.
“Whatever is wrong Mal?”
Mal had been sitting for the last five minutes trying to sort out her feelings, firstly she was in love with Prince Salistar, whose parents were going to force him to marry a woman he didn’t know or love. Secondly, if she spoke to him via her magic mind meld trick she didn’t know if she would be able to keep her emotions in check long enough.
When Geoffrey had arrived he had stirred up feeling in her that she didn’t know she had. When he had simply wrapped an arm around her to comfort her. It was like a dam had broken and the emotion she was trying so hard to push down, deep deep down. Came roaring back to the top overwhelming her completely. The sobbing was gentle at first just a gentle involuntary movement of her shoulders. Before she could say anything she buried her head in his shoulder.
“Oh by the gods what must he think,” she thought here she was crying uncontrollably on his shoulder. When she looked up into his eyes the only thing that she felt was safe. There were no accusations in those eyes only safety.
Wiping the tears away, she noticed that a small basket of food had appeared in front of them.
“What must you think of me?” she said continuing to wipe the last of the tears from her eyes.
“I think that you have been through a lot since we last spoke, and not had anyone that you could confide in.” He replied brushing a strand of hair away from her face.
“Maybe, Maybe” she replied but what was going on in her head was the thought that Prince Salistar was now engaged to a Princess and that the fantasy of the Queen relenting and allowing her to marry the Prince was shattered beyond all hope of it ever being repaired.
“I suppose you heard then?” she asked.
“My mother told me only a little bit,” seeing Mal nodding “Something about having to travel halfway around the world looking for a magical item, that will defeat the demon.”
“What? Oh, that yes sorry I was talking about Prince Salistar and Princess Helena’s betrothal.” She said sobbing again.
Seeing his opening Geoffrey took a calming breath before continuing, “Ah I see, I’m sorry your heart is getting broken Mal, I wish there was something I could do for you,” one last breath before carrying on “If I could, I’d take you away from here so you wouldn’t have to look at the Princess.”
“Thank you, Geoffrey, that is very kind,” replied Mal once again wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Ok, now let us have our picnic and talk of better times, tell me of the quest for magical items.”
They sat in the shade of the willow tree by the ornamental pond for what seemed like hours eating the picnic while Geoffrey patiently listened as she jumped around her story trying to make sense of the things she was telling him.
The gentle toll of the midday bell could be heard tolling softly in the background the soft peel of the bell calling worshippers to the monastery bringing the pair out of the huddle and back into the world.
“Thanks for listening, it really helped,” said Mal.
“No problem Mal, oh by the way before I forget my mother asks that you go and see her this afternoon,” he responded reaching out his hand to help her stand.
Giving him a quick hug she replied, “Thanks, I’ll go to her now, then.”
Geoffrey watched as Mal headed across the lawn to the doorway that would lead to his mother's apartment. Neither of them saw the young woman watching from a balcony high above.
Lady Swan had arrived at the Queen's apartment shortly after her son had left. Curtsying to the Queen and Princess Helena she shared a nod in greetings with the other ladies in waiting.
Lady Swan took the seat to the Queens left that one of the ladies had vacated when she entered the room, “Good Morro to you my Queen.”
“Good Morro Lady Swan and how is the Lady Malderia?” she replied knowing that as her most trusted advisor that Lady Swan would be taking great care not to ruffle the feathers of the Princess.
“She was in good spirits, my Queen she told me of her time with the Oracle and the Priestesses that tended the oracle and that Lord Marshall Deville gave her an escort to the capital. I have organised to have a small token of thanks sent to him for looking after my ward. If it was up to Mal, she would’ve travelled the whole way here by herself.”
“You have your hands full with that one,” replied the Queen with a gentle laugh followed quickly by the other ladies in waiting, Princess Helena was not sharing the laugh.
Seeing the Princesses reaction but pretending not to “Well if Geoffrey gets his finger out, maybe it would be his problem and not mine”
“Geoffrey?” asked the Princess.
“Yes your highness, Lord Geoffrey Swan my son, he is quite taken with the Lady Malderia, when she was last here they spent quite a lot of time in each others company.”
Seeing where Lady Swan was going with this the Queen interjected, “Now that would be a wonderful match, Lady Swan, it is a pity he’s away at the moment.”
“Actually he arrived back this morning your majesty, When I told him Mal was back he couldn’t wait to go and see her. I believe that he went to the gardens to see if she was there.”
“Oh really?” responded the Queen standing and walking out to the terrace that overlooked the royal gardens.
When they got to the balcony there far below they could see Geoffrey walking across the gardens to the ornamental pond and sitting down beside a young woman in a blue dress. They watched quietly at the couple hugged and held each other. They watched as a page arrived with a basket and left.
“They make such a wonderful couple,” said the Queen returning to the sitting room of her apartment the ladies in waiting following. No one said anything as Princess Helena stayed behind on the balcony.
Lady Swans love for her eldest son swelled in her heart when she had watched him hug Mal, and while she and the Queen knew of her true feelings it was clear that Princess Helena disliked the thought of Malderia being close to Prince Salistar. His simple embrace of Mal could be taken as the warm embrace of two young people in love that had not seen each other in quite some time. A fact she wanted everyone especially the Princess to believe.
When the Princess returned to the room she seems a lot happier than she was when Lady Swan had first walked into the room. Over the last month, she had watched the young princess, closely trying to figure her out and to help the queen cement the betrothal. She had noticed that the princess would grind her teeth when annoyed. Something that always happened when one of the bards sang songs about Mal’s deeds.
After a while, the Princess spoke, “She seemed so small when I saw her last evening, surely the bards' tales are exaggerated stories to flatter her.”
“No,” responded the queen “She saved me from assassins, the bards are singing true, she is a remarkable young girl that has been thrust into the light of future histories.”
“Alas your highness, my ward will not be staying long, she will be leaving soon to sail across the sea to Dralius, may the gods bless her journey,” replied Lady Swan.
Murmurs of “May the gods bless her journey.” Flowed around the room as the journey across the sea to Dralius would be dangerous indeed.
“The King has agreed to supply a ship for the journey, we just need to wait for a ship capable of travelling that journey,” replied the Queen.
They spent the rest of the morning in idle chatter and sewing the royal emblem on shirts. Eventually, Lady Swan bid the queens permission to depart to have lunch with her ward. As she was leaving she noticed the Princess had once again stepped out onto the balcony.
The gentle tolling of the afternoon bell at the monastery could be heard from the balcony as she closed the door.
Geoffrey watched Mal ascend the stairs to the floor above where his mothers' rooms were located. Sighing he straightened up and tugged the hem of his jacket into a more comfortable position. Before heading towards the Kings private audience room.
The antechamber to the kings' private audience room held two desks one for the Kings personal secretary and one for the Lord Chamberlain’s secretary.
“Baron Swan, it is good to see you, how may we serve your today?”, enquired the Secretary of the Lord Chamberlain.
“Sir Malcolm, I have just returned and I heard that the Lady Malderia needs a ship to travel to Dralius, I was hoping to offer my services to the King,” he replied with a slight nod of his head.
“Please take a seat, I’ll see if the King can see you,” he said getting up and entering the audience chamber.
After several minutes he returned, “The King will see you now.”
“My thanks to you, Sir Malcolm” he replied as he stood and walked over to the gilded doors.
The inside of the King's private audience chamber was both ornate and practical, the open windows let fresh air circulate through the room.
Walking up to where the king sat behind a table full of scrolls. Geoffrey bowed and waited for the king to acknowledge him.
“Baron Swan, I believe you have offered to take care of a small problem for me.”
“Yes your highness, My ship arrived in port last night and has been unloaded of the merchandise we brought back. My mother tells me that Lady Malderia needs to sail to Dralius on a quest that is vital to the war effort. I can have her ready to sail on the noontide tomorrow or the day after if you require one.”
“Baron Swan, That would be most helpful indeed I was looking over reports and it would take at least a seven day before any ships large enough would be back in port.”
“In that case my King, With your leave, I have a ship to prepare.”
“Granted, until tonight then.” Replied the King with a nod of his head to dismiss him.
Bowing Geoffrey turned and left happy his plan was in motion.
It was early evening when a messenger arrived at the dock with a note from his mother, enquiring if he would be making the evening meal at the palace. Telling the page that he would be on his way in moments and to inform his mother that he would be there shortly.
Entering his cabin he poured water from a large leather water bottle into a bowl he quickly washed the grime from his face and arms. Looking down at the shirt he discarded that and drew a fresh garment from a drawer. Before leaving and heading up the dock only stopping for a moment to admire the sleek design of a ship that was just entering the harbour.
This late in the day meant that the streets and gates to the palace weren’t crowded so he made good time. Entering the Dining hall of the palace he saw his mother arrive with the Queen's party. When she noticed him she smiled warmly at him. His eyes though never left Mal as she walked beside his mother to take a place to her left at the top table.
Once the royal house was seated the King banged on his table with an iron goblet, the mead spilling as he called the room to attention.
Standing the King waited for silence to defend on the room, “Friends, The Lady Malderia has brought us news of our beloved son. He has reached the City of Bearon and repelled an attack by a goblin army.”
His words were received with riotous roars of “May the gods bless The Black Watch”, “Hurray for the Prince” and “Ogre Slayer”
Mal blushed slightly still not liking the attention and bowed her head slightly to the crowd.
The king waved the room to silence again. “Unfortunately the Lady Malderia, Watch Commander of the Black Guard and Ogre Slayer, will be leaving us shortly to travel to faraway lands to seek items that will help put an end to the invasion. Raise your glasses and toast the success of her mission.”
As the room roared “Ogre Slayer,” over and over again the king took his seat and pages started to arrive with plates heaped with meat and tubers.
After the meal was over and the tables had been moved away the King turned to Lady Swan and Mal and gestured to Geoffrey to approach.
“Lady Malderia, I have found you a ship, and not only that but the Captain has informed me that he should be able to leave possibly as early as tomorrow on the noontide.”
“Your Majesty that is great news, I feared that your son would find out and send men of the Black Guard to accompany me and as you know the Oracle was firm that would be a disaster for everyone.”
Nodding his understanding the King continued, “Baron Swan here says that his ship will be ready to leave, … soon?”
“Yes my Lord, we can leave on the noontide on the morrow,” responded Geoffrey.
A page arrived beside the king carrying a note on a silver tray, taking the note and reading it a smile appeared on the king's face.
“Friends,” the kings raised voice carried across the room bringing everyone's attention back to him, “Wonderful news the elves march to join our cause”
As the King spoke the doors at the other side of the hall opened and a party of Elves entered. In walked six elves, five of them towered over the Chamberlain who escorted them in the sixth was just shorter than the Chamberlain, their clothes were greens and browns and Mal’s eyes were drawn to them. She recognised the two at the front immediately, when she, at last, looked on the sixth her breath caught in her throat and a tear threatened to drop from her eyes at the sight of him.
As the Chamberlain approached with the group he bowed to the king and said, “Your highness, May I introduce his Majesty Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré of Avenlore and his party.”
“Welcome Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré may you find peace and shade here,” replied the king bowing deeply to the Prince.
“You honour me, your Majesty,” replied Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré also bowing as deeply to the King and marking them as equals.
Stepping forward and clasping hands they grinned at each other.
“Jalion, my friend how are your mother and father?”
“Good my friend they send you their prosperity, and your mother?”
With a hint of sadness in his eyes he responded keeping with the elven way of speaking about the dead least her spirit be dragged away from the spirit world and lost forever in the ether, “She travelled to be with my father last winter.”
“My thoughts are with you my friend, Let me introduce you to General Coleain my right hand.”
“General Coleain,” said the king nodding.
“Sub Commanders, Killian, Fliet and Liona”
“Sub Commanders,” nodded the king.
“Lastly I would like to take the opportunity to return one of the Prince's party, he has recovered well and is looking forward to meeting his friends again,” continued Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré gesturing to the shortest of there party.
“Grego” whispered Mal louder than she meant to.
Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré looked to her and nodded “Yes Mal, your friend Grego has made a full recovery.”
Grego stepped forward and bowed to the king, “Your Majesty” he stammered accompanied with an awkward bow.
“Lady Malderia, is this your childhood friend Grego?” asked the King.
“Yes your majesty, the last time I saw him was when we rescued the Prince he was struck by an arrow and fell in the river when we were fleeing to the protection of Alenlore. We all thought he was dead until the next day. I haven’t seen him since we had to leave him behind and get the Prince home safely.”
“I see, then I have a debt of gratitude to you young man,” replied the king while nodding to the Chamberlain. Who signalled to the Captain of the Watch to approach.
When the Captain arrived a scrap of his sword leaving the sheath the only sound in the room.
“Kneel before your King and be judged,” ordered the Captain of the Guard.
Grego looked around the room finally into Mal’s eyes and knelt to her gentle nod.
As his knees touched the ground the captain of the guard reversed his sword and handed it to the king.
Hefting the sword the King stepped forward and set the heavy tip on his shoulders. “Will you Grego Marlinpool, take service with me as your King to protect and serve me in all things to hold my honour precious and protect the citizens of my kingdom high born and low born alike?”
“Yes, your Majesty” Grego responded to Mal’s gentle nodding and mouthing the word ‘Yes’.
“This is a sacred oath before the gods and my people, I welcome you into the ranks of my rangers and offer my protection to you for as long as you remain loyal to your oaths.”
He lightly touched the sword to each of his shoulders and then the top of his head while saying “Grego Marlinpool, for your actions in saving citizens of the kingdom, Lord Turok and my son I hereby dub you Lord Grego Marlinpool of Highgrove, I grant you lands and title for you and the eldest of your lineage to bear.”
A cheer went up from everyone in the room, the Elves slapped him hard on the back almost sending him sprawling.
Mal flung herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. “Grego, it is good to see you well, we have missed you.”
When the cheering had died down, Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré spoke up “You highness, four hundred elven archers are on route to join the battle as we speak.”
At this news, the roar of thunder in the room exploded and it took several minutes to quieten only snippets of the Kings and Princes conversation carried far enough for Mal to hear but not understand.