When Mal was finally able to take Grego and depart the Kings company. She escorted Grego over to the table where Lady Swan the Queen and Princess Helena sat. Curtsying to the Ladies.
“Your Majesty, Princess Helena, Lady Swan, may I present to you, my cousin Grego.”
“My Lord, it is a pleasure to finally met you and to add my thanks for saving my son.”
“Your Majesty, err thank you,” he replied with a stammer not quite knowing how to speak to a queen although he noted that Mal seemed quite at ease.
“Your Majesty, if we may be excused I would like to catch up with my cousin,” piped in Mal seeing his hesitation and embarrassment.
“Of course, Lady Malderia, go and get reacquainted,” replied the queen.
With a curtsy and a hasty bow they left the dais, as they reached the bottom step Mal caught Geoffrey’s arm and dragged him along as well. As they left the room Mal got Geoffrey’s attention and nodded to a page who was carrying a jug of wine, which Geoffrey grabbed as they passed and asked the page to get them 3 goblets.
Lady Swan half watched as the three of them left the room. The rest of her attention was solely focused on watching Princess Helena’s reaction to the three of them.
As they entered the gardens Mal was glad to see that torches had been placed around the paths to add lighting to the garden. They made their way to the fish pond and its bench.
“Gergo, please let me introduce you to my good friend Baron Geoffrey Swan, His mother has been tutoring me and well as mothering me mercilessly.”
“A pleasure to meet another of Lady Malderia’s friends,” said Geoffrey holding out his arm to Grego.
Grego looked at the outstretched arm in front of him for only a moment before grasping it in friendship.
“Lady Malderia?” asked Grego.
“Yes, Lord Grego? Is something wrong?” Replied Mal with a smile.
“You could always tell him, all of your titles, Lady Malderia,” interjected Geoffrey.
“More than one title?” replied Grego.
“I have the pleasure of introducing ‘Lady Malderia Talon of Grey Stones, Watch Commander of the Black Guard, Defender of the Queen, and of course Ogre Slayer’” replied Geoffrey smiling.
“Defender of the Queen is not one of my titles,” replied Mal sticking her tongue out and Geoffrey.
“Didn’t anyone tell you after you left it was added by the bards, although I do believe that the King and Queen hope it to be more informal than ceremonial in the future,” he replied a broad smile playing across his face as he watched the face of the woman he loved.
Mal’s mouth hung open as she stared at Geoffrey, “By the gods, Mal is good enough for me” she muttered.
Grego laughed and slapped Mal on the shoulder, “Thanks be to the gods I thought all this nobility had gone to your head.”
Sitting they exchanged news of all that had happened since they had last seen each other. So deep in conversation were they that when Mal had shivered slightly in the evening chill she didn’t seem to notice when Geoffrey took off his jacket and placed it around her shoulders.
When the conversation had eventually worked it way around to what Grego was going to do next.
He responded, “I had originally planned to travel with the elves to the battle and help in the liberation of the mountain villages but now that I have met up with you I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you come with us?” piped in Geoffrey.
“Geoffrey, he can’t” snapped Mal.
“Nonsense, he is not a member, the Black Guard therefore the Oracle did not exclude him.
“Oracle?” queried Grego.
“I lived with the Oracle for several months learning to control my magic, The oracle, and myself in a small way, can determine the future. We determined that the enemy is trying to find an artefact or maybe its to stop us finding the artefact, that will allow us to win. So I am travelling on the morrow with Geoffrey and a small detachment of men. I cannot take any members of the Black Guard with me as it would mean they win.”
“Well then count me in,” replied Grego in a tone Mal remembered from her life in the mountain village. That stated in no uncertain terms he wasn’t going to change his mind.
“It will be good to have you with us, Lord Grego,” stated Geoffrey “We will be sailing just before noon on the high tide, It will be a long journey many weeks at sea.”
“Sea?” replied Grego with more than a little dread. Memories of the trip across Three Moon Lake made his face pale and go a little green.
“Oh by the gods I forgot about your seasickness,” said Mal placing her hand reassuringly on his arm, “If you want to back out it will be ok.”
“No!” he replied a little more sharply than he meant to, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“What’s this?” asked Geoffrey.
“Grego, was sick for several days when we sailed across the Three Moon Lake,” replied Mal.
“Don’t worry too much about it at this time, I’ll speak with a healer on the morrow, and see if they have any ideas.”
“Thank you, Baron Swan,” replied a visibly relieved Grego.
“Please Grego, call me Geoffrey”
The sunlight streamed in through the windows as Cari walked around Mal’s bedroom and drew back the heavy curtains, The sudden bright light caused Mal to wince and groan when she tried to duck under the covers.
“Lady Swan would like you to come to her apartment to break your morning fast my lady”, she said in a cheerful voice.
Throwing back the covers she proceeded to get out of bed when she went to her wardrobe she found it empty of all of her belongings. Looking around the room she could see that Cari had already set out a dress of the palest blue silk she had ever seen.
“Where are the rest of my clothes?” she asked as Cari proceeded to help her dress.
“They have all been sent to the ship last night, my lady,” replied Cari with a curtsy.
Cari’s efficiency in dressing Mal meant that Mal was ready less than five minutes later. Cari had even taken time to weave a little silver chain through her hair. That both pleased and annoyed her in equal measure.
Taking a deep breath, “Cari, give me a moment please I must communicate with the Black Guard,”
As Mal shifted her sight to the ethereal world of golden ropes she could see the form of Cari curtsy and leave the room. Quickly she grabbed the think rope that would lead to Prince Salistar and sped down the rope. It was the heaviest and thickest of them all, a cursory scan of the rest spoke of a battle some were fading, she pushed energy down the threads and the healing weave that she had used before. Somewhere a member of the band was dying after what seemed like a couple of minutes the thread seemed to be holding steady and she flew along the ropes and threads of the Guard.
As she approached Bearon, Mal could see a dark cloud above the city pouring over the walls and into it. Some instinct of hers caused to scream out and a bolt of fire exploded from the tips of her fingers when it touched the cloud it visibly flinched and recoiled before seeming to turn and face her.
While it had no face Mal felt it watching her, she felt the hatred from it. Another bolt and another sprung from her hands knowing that the city was under attack from the spiritual as well as the physical. The cloud broke and fled from the onslaught.
Settling about 10 feet above the battlements, Mal followed the rope to Prince Salistar, It had been too long since they had spoken directly.
Mal found him standing on the battlements several Dwarves and members of the Band stood watching. Placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Sal?” She thought/spoke to him
“Mal, by the gods was that you?” The emotion of relief and annoyance flooded her in equal measure, mixed with confusion over her feelings that she was trying to keep from him.
“Could you see the cloud that was above the city? It’s gone for now.”
“Cloud? No, we have been in eternal darkness for two hours and just now it broke and the sun returned. We expected an attack.”
“The cloud has gone, for now, I don’t know if it will be back anytime though.”
“Well it’s good to have you back with us, will you be rejoining the guard?”
“No, Sal, not yet I have a mission that I must complete and you can’t help and the reason that I have not spoken directly with you for the last few weeks is that you would have tried to send men to me to protect me and that would have weakened you and caused us to fail.”
“Where are you at the minute then?”
“I’m at the Capital, but I am leaving on the noontide, I’m sorry that I can’t be with you and the guard but we need to find some magic items that will help in the fight.”
Sensing his love for her she interrupted him, “I have met your betrothed Princess Helena, your mother is busy organising your wedding.”
Sensing shock and embarrassment at her words followed quickly with the anger building “Sal, for the kingdom, you must marry to make the kingdom strong.”
“Duty is as sharp as a needle and as heavy as a mountain." He replied knowing his duty.
"She seems lovely if that helps?"
"Not really, so tell me of your mission," he said trying to push his feelings of hurt and betrayal away,
Mal felt every emotion and all of his feeling and the embarrassment that he felt expressing those feelings.
They spoke for a few minutes as Mal had been keeping in touch with the chamberlain for the Black Guard over the last few weeks. By the time that they parted Mal once again realised that she had accepted the coming marriage of the Prince and Princess Helena.
Returning her sight to the real world she stood and left the room. Cari bobbed a curtsy to her and followed Mal as they walked to the apartment of Lady Swan.
Her knock on the door was quickly followed with Lady Swan's voice bidding her enter. When she entered the room she noticed that only Lady Swan was here the pages had already delivered the plates of food for them to break their fasts.
“Sorry if I’ve kept you waiting, Lady Swan,” said Mal as she took the seat beside Lady Swan.
“Don’t fret, my dear child, please eat we have much to discuss”
“Thank you, Lady Swan.”
“Tell me did you have a nice catch up with your cousin last night.”
“Yes, it was great to see him we spoke late into the night. He has agreed to come with us on our journey.”
“I’m glad that you have another friend around you that you can rely on. Between him and my son they should keep you good company.”
“I can’t thank Geoffrey or yourself enough for everything that you have done and continue to do for me.”
Taking a deep breath Lady Swan set down the cup she had been drinking from and looked Mal right in the eye. “Malderia, I think we have a problem that must be discussed.”
Suddenly feeling worried she set down her cup as well.
“You told me of your time with the oracle and of the sickness, you felt in the mornings and how you are finally glad that it stopped.”
Seeing Mal nodding she continued, “Child if you had been here with me at that time I would have sworn you were with child, Answer me truthfully did you and the Prince sleep together what would be about four moons ago?”
Mal’s face spoke volumes she felt that Lady Swan had just swept her feet out from under her. Slowly and silently she mouthed the word “No!”
“I’m afraid so, the fact that you don’t fit your clothes that were only made a few months ago sort of confirms it.”
“No?” She replied still in shock her hand unknowingly stroking her stomach.
“Malderia, I don’t think you understand if the Prince had already been married and had an heir no one would care about a bastard or two. As it is, this throws brandy on the fire. To protect the kingdom the king would kill the bastard. There must be a clear succession to the throne.”
“Kill!” Her eyes turning the colour of cold steel.
“Yes, Malderia, so no one must know that the Prince is the father of your baby.”
“What can I do, please save my baby,” sobbed Mal.
“The good news is that you are not showing much at the minute, and you will be out of the palace this very day. The problem is that you are due to have your babe in a matter of months, and women do like to work out when a babe was conceived so that they can do the astrological workings to predict the child future. That will point out that you were alone with the Black Guard at that time and will in turn point to the Prince being the father.”
Mal, started to sob only moment ago she learnt that she was going to be a mother and the thought of losing the child frightened her.
“Now, now child, let's wipe those tears away,” said Lady Swan wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“What can we do?” sobbed Mal.
“This is hard to ask but is there anyone else that could be the father?”
Shaking her head Mal continued to sob in Lady Swans arms.
“Malderia, I have something to ask you and it is a hard thing to ask and I need you to be truthful.”
“What are you willing to do to protect your unborn child?”
“Anything Lady Swan”
“How do you feel about my son, Geoffrey?”
“Geoffrey? I don’t understand what you mean?”
“You get on well with him and seem to enjoy spending time with him? So how do you feel about him?”
“Oh” replied Mal as she started to understand what Lady Swan was saying to her.
“Well I guess I sort of like him,” replied Mal.
“Malderia, you know how he feels about you, don’t you?”
“Yes, child, my son has been in love with you since the first moment he met you.”
Mal was speechless, she knew her feelings for Geoffrey were more than just good friends, and that they were all mixed up with her feelings for Prince Salistar. She remembered the moment in the hall when he picked her up and hugged her and how part of her wished every time he was near that he would do it again. Slowly it dawned on her that she might indeed love him.
Lady Swan sat and watched the emotions play out across Mal’s face as she thought about her feelings for Geoffrey, the smile that appeared on her face, lifted Lady Swan's heart.
“I guess I have feelings for him too,” she said sheepishly, embarrassed to admit to both herself and another the simple fact.
Lady Swan rang a bell and Cari entered the room, “Send my son in please.”
Curtsying Cari scurried out of the room closing the door behind her. Less than a minute later the door opened and Geoffrey entered.
“Close the door and sit,” she said in a slightly commanding tone.
When he sat on the end of the seat beside Mal, Lady Swan turned to Mal, “Now it is time for me to be honest with you, when you first came to us the Queen asked for my help in distracting you from Prince Salistar. Not in a spiteful manner but rather to save you from future heartache, after all as we explained months ago nobles seldom marry for love.
I asked Geoffrey to spend time with you, and while I did hope, I never expected anything to come of it. When you came back and I figured out that you might be with child, I broached the matter with him but bade him not to speak of it until I had time to speak with you myself.
As I said nobles rarely marry for love, love normally comes after when the marriage is a supportive one. You should know that Geoffrey has told me he would raise your child as his own.
If … you would consent to marry him. You would have my blessing and I know that the Queen would endorse the marriage.”
Mal sat speechless once again looking from Lady Swan to Geoffrey. Who sat stunned by what his mother had just said. While every word was true he never thought that Mal would be interested in him that way his only thought had been to get her to safety.
Eventually, Mal nodded, a smile broke out on all of their faces. Geoffrey took Mal’s hand and gently kissed her fingers and barely whispered: “I love you.”
At that moment Mal was as sure more than anything in her life of on fact. She reached out and cupping his face in her hands she gently kissed him on the lips. His kiss back was both fierce and smooth his soft lips brushed hers causing her body to want to hold him more than anything.
A gentle cough brought them both back to room Mal suddenly realised that she had been kissing Lady Swan's son blushed slightly.
“There will be time enough for that, I think a quick engagement period and then get the both of you married is the order of business.”
“How long do you think is appropriate?” asked Geoffrey
“You have until Malderia and I can speak with the queen and you can get a monk from the monastery here,” since he wasn’t moving she spoke more clearly in a commanding voice “Go! Geoffrey Go, you’re both sailing on the noontide and I intend to have you married off before you go.”
Geoffrey kissed Mal one last time and left the room while Lady swan took Mal’s arm and they left the apartment. “Now when we see the queen. You will need to ask her for permission to marry. If she asks you have been close to my son since you first came to Caplo.”
Nodding Mal walked along the corridor and up the stairs, as she got closer to the Queen's apartment her mouth started to go dry and she felt her knees starting to shake. A gentle squeeze of Lady Swan's hand on her arm lent her strength and the knowledge she was not going through this alone.
Lady Swan knocked on the gilded door of the Queen's apartment and without waiting opened the door and stepped in. The queen looked up and smiled as she noticed both of them entering.
As the room fell silent the Queen spoke, “Ah, Lady Malderia I’m glad you have come to see me before leaving us again, I wanted to personally wish you luck on your quest.”
“Thank you, your majesty, I have come to ask yet another boon if I may?” she said with a deep curtsy.
“Arise and ask your boon,” responded the queen.
“I ask permission to marry Lady Swans eldest son Geoffrey,” she spoke fast
“Lady Malderia, you have the courts permission to marry and can I ask when would the happy event occur?” replied the queen rising and embracing Mal shortly followed by all of the ladies in waiting.
Last to embrace Mal was Princess Helena, “Congratulations Lady Malderia,” she said with a sincere hug.
“Since the pair of them are leaving for several months I thought that I would have them married just as soon as my son returns with a monk to officiate the ceremony.“ replied Lady Swan.
“Right ladies we have a wedding to organise,” stated the queen.
The next thirty minutes were a whirlwind for Mal who’s feet hardly stopped as the ladies of the court issued orders to a platoon of pages. When Mal finally stopped moving she found herself standing once again outside the doors of the main hall with the chamberlain.
“Only a couple more moment’s my lady,” he said smiling gently, looking over her shoulder he nodded, “Ah here we go, everyone, is ready now.”
Turning to see who was approaching Mal looked into the grinning face of Grego now dressed in court clothes.
“Well, Mal this is a surprise. I am so glad to be here for you,”
“Here for me?”
“Apparently, it is a lowland custom, for a family member to escort the bride and they asked me since I’m your favourite cousin and all.”
Rolling her eyes she playfully punched him on the arm.
“I’m glad you’re here,“ she replied.
Smiling at the pair of them the chamberlain knocked heavily on the wooden doors that swung open.
The sun shone through the large windows behind the throne, every Lord and Lady in the palace or within earshot had made their way to the main hall, Grego led Mal down the middle of the room towards were the King, the Queen and a monk stood on the dais. Geoffrey stood with his mother to the right waiting on Mal to approach.
When the chamberlain stopped in front of the King and Queen he spoke, “Your Majesties, May I present the Lady Malderia Talon of Grey Stones, Watch Commander of the Black Guard and her cousin, Lord Grego”
Mal and Grego stepped forward and as Geoffrey stepped forward to met them, Grego turned to him and offered Mal’s hand to him. Bowing he stepped back to join the Chamberlain.
As the monk stepped forward Mal saw the smiling face of Abbot Franklin himself standing before him.
“Your Majesties, My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here under the one true God, the god of balance, the god of prosperity, we ask Hasder to bless this union and to grant prosperity and balance to this couple.”
Turning to face Geoffrey, “Geoffrey Swan do you take this woman to love and cherish for all time?”
“I do, your grace” he replied.
Turning to face Mal, “Malderia Talon do you take this man to love and cherish for all time?”
“I do, your grace” she replied.
Taking each of their hands he lay them one on top of the other before placing a purple ribbon over their hands and tying their hands together, “Then I ask Hasder to join you in harmony,” turning to the rest of the room “I have the pleasure of presenting Baron and Baroness Swan.”
The room was full of cheers and cries of blessings on the couple. The Queen stepped forward and embraced Mal, “I wish you all the happiness in the world Baroness Swan.”
As Mal wiped a tear from her eye, Lady Swan stepped forward and embraced her “Malderia, Geoffrey, I am so proud of you both I wish the happiness I had with Geoffrey’s father, welcome to the family”
“Lady Swan, you have my thanks,” replied Mal.
“Please Malderia call me mother, we are now family,” she said interrupting her and gently kissing her on the forehead.
Mal hugged her as tight as she could with her one free hand. “Thank you, mother.”
“Yes, thank you mother,” replied Geoffrey as there three of them embraced.
When they untangled themselves the king stepped forward and raising his hand for silence, he waited as the room started to quieten to a level where he would be able to be heard, when at last he thought that everyone was listening he spoke. “My Lords, and friends alas the bride and groom must now depart as the tide waits for no man or woman, even if she is the Ogre Slayer,” he said smiling and to the laughter of the room, “We bid them a safe and quick journey and may we see them soon. Until then we raise a toast to the happy couple.”
Lifting a pair of goblets from a page he presented them to the couple before grabbing the third, “To the good health of Baron and Baroness Swan.”
“Baron and Baroness Swan” echoed the room as everyone toasted them.
After they had spoken to more than one Lord or Lady who wanted to offer their blessings, Geoffrey eventually had he excuse them and headed to bid the kings permission to leave.
When they eventually got to speak to the king again he bid them farewell. Lady Swan escorted them to the doors of the Palace where a coach was waiting to take the couple to the docks.
When they entered the coach Grego and Cari were already there.
“Cari, what are you doing here?” asked Mal,
“Lady Swan asked that I join you as you would need a Maid and I have experience sailing my Lady.”
“Thank you, Cari, it would be my pleasure to have you along, Have you met my cousin Grego?”
“Not formally my Lady, my pleasure my Lord Grego,”
“Please call me Grego,” he replied.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, my Lord” she replied slightly horrified that he would want a poor commoner to call him by his first name.
“If you insist, Lady Cari,” he replied.
“I’m not a Lady, my Lord,”
“Well if you call me my lord I’ll call you my lady, it’s your choice, my Lady,” he said emphasising the last word.
Mal smiled remembering her time with Cari and how strong-willed she could be Grego was in for a hard time trying to get Cari to stop calling him My Lord.