The snorkeling pics won’t be ready until late in the week, so we are taking a break from our regularly scheduled travel blog to bring you the second installment in our Story and a Cup of Tea series.
So grab a cup of Earl Grey or in this case, Acevedo’s Sonphreau Tree Bark Brew and enjoy this love story from the shadows of the Darchewud Forest and snowy peaks of the Jewel of the Crags, Cheulseti (known to Heartwork Village fans as Jewel City.) Sisterhood fans may recognize these names.
By LaDonna Cole
Prince Acevedo walked through the great hall of the beautiful palace of Cheulseti toward the Cheuluthi Chieftain, Wedrick. They locked forearms. “It is good to see you Acevedo, I hope our business here today solidifies our houses for many years.”
“As do I, Chief Wedrick. My father sends his best and regrets he could not make the journey himself to solidify our peace treaty.” The handsome prince spoke with respect as his quick eyes took in all of the faces turned toward him in the great hall.
It appeared every hopeful young maiden of all the Crags had turned out for culling, as he thought of it. Every color of eye batted at him from every corner of the room. He felt a rush of color to his face at this improbable way of choosing a life mate. It had been his father’s idea. He was on his death bed and insisted that Acevedo be married before he took over the rule of the Darchewud Forest Region. Civil war had decimated the population there and his father felt new blood needed to be introduced to the forest dwellers.
The Crags boasted the strongest, most beautiful women in all of Ampeliagia. “Hearty stock,” his father had stated. His parent’s marriage had been arranged to end the civil strife between the Darchori Tree Dwellers and the Forest River Runners. Acevedo had hoped to fall in love and marry his soul mate, but that was not the course his father had chosen for him.
Chief Wedrick noted Prince Acevedo’s preoccupation. “Perhaps we should proceed with our dinner so the dancing can commence all the sooner.” The Chief smiled roguishly and clapped his hands. “Let the Feast of Choosing begin.”
The food was delicious and well prepared, but Acevedo had no appetite. The women in the room were stunning. Dark skinned warrior beauties, fair skinned maidens, ample fleshed and desirable, each one. His father would be pleased with which ever lovely lady he chose. They were all well suited for breeding. Acevedo grimaced in disgust and tossed the venison that he had been gnawing to his platter. The idea that a suitable queen could be chosen because of her ability to breed was distasteful to him. He did not relish the idea of the rest of this evening.
He leaned toward the Chieftain. “How will this work, exactly? Have you narrowed the choices down for me? Is anyone off limits? Is there an age range?” He looked at his hands nervously. “I really don’t know how to do this,” he admitted in a whisper.
Chief Wedrick put a fatherly hand on his shoulder. “It will be okay, son. There are no restrictions. Mingle, follow your heart. Take your time. You will be here all week long. My wife has arranged several social gatherings, some very intimate. As you begin to narrow your search, we will have smaller and smaller gatherings until you decide who you will marry.”
Queen Maeva leaned over and placed her lovely hand on Acevedo’s. “Fear not, young prince, I will be here to help you through this.”
Acevedo smiled at the beautifully regal queen. “Do you have a daughter, Queen Maeva? I am sure that she would make the choice very easy.”
Chief Wedrick boomed with raucous laughter. “Ah, now, I knew you had a bit of politician in you! I would be honored if you were to choose a daughter of mine, young Acevedo, however they are all still in the nursery and won’t be ready for marriage for many years to come. I do not think your father wants you to wait that long.”
“I must admit, waiting a few years does sound pretty good to me.” Acevedo straightened his vest and gave the Queen a pitiful expression. “But you are correct, Sire. My father wants to see me married before he passes away.” The thought of his father on his death bed, just added to Acevedo’s distress.
Queen Maeva patted his hand again. “Let me help you a bit, Prince.” She leaned against his shoulder and began whispering in his ear. “See the blond over there in the white chiffon gown?”
“Lovely,” Acevedo expressed.
“Her father is our chief miner. She is a wonderful young lady with proper manners and a noble spirit. You would do well to choose her.”
She turned to the other side of the room and lifted her goblet toward a stately redhead in the crowd. “Ramonda is highly spirited, a warrior among warriors, she would bear great warriors for sons.”
She nodded her head toward a shy young girl in the front. “Mirantel is very quiet and shy, but extremely intelligent. A wiser wife you could not find and I must say those long curls and bright blue eyes would make for some darling children.”
Acevedo squirmed in his seat. He felt like he was selecting a horse, not choosing a wife. Stunning woman after stunning woman passed in front of the table. Some stopped to talk to him, others were urged forward by their parents. Dancing commenced and he had a couple minutes with every available woman in the room. Their names and faces swam through his head in a jumbled mix. By the end of the night he was sore from head to toe, inside and out.
He retired to his appointed chamber and collapsed on the bed. He had given Queen Maeva the names of twenty young ladies and she was going to arrange a smaller social activity for them. He honestly did not know what names went with what faces and hoped he had chosen well out of the crowd. He did not think he could choose poorly, they were all lovely in their own way.
However, he had not felt the spark with any of them that he had hoped to find. It disturbed him that he would go home with a young lady that he could not love passionately. He would do it, though, for his father, for the good of the forest people.
The next morning, he dressed and was escorted to the Chief’s chamber for an informal breakfast with Chief Wedrick and Queen Maeva. When he arrived, a third person was there.
“Ah, Prince Acevedo, please allow me to introduce you to Telmor, our bard.”
“Nice to meet you, sire.” Telmor had quick gray eyes that seemed to pierce straight to a person’s thoughts.
“My pleasure,” Acevedo bowed politely.
“Telmor breaks fast with us every other day, so we can discuss the needs of our people and the best way to meet those needs.”
“You are fortunate to have a bard.”
“Oh, I am not a fully trained bard, sire. My training was cut short. I only achieved acolyte level. However, my daughter has recently ascended to Master level in her bardic studies. She has been a Journeyman at Watshfeau for several years.”
“That is very impressive, sir. I am sure you are very proud of her.”
“Aye, Chief Wedrick could attest to that,” he laughed.
“He brags constantly of his dear Palidora.”
“She is lovely, Telmor. Don’t let him pick on you. You have every right to brag.” Queen Maeva gave her husband a scathing look.
He shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
Queen Maeva turned to Acevedo. “We have a nice long wagon ride planned for you today with ten of your maidens. Tonight the other ten will join us for an informal dinner.”
“Thank you, Queen Maeva, I really appreciate all you are doing.” Acevedo spoke softly and once again lost his appetite. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and pushed his plate away.
The wagon ride was pleasant. In the daylight the girls were even lovelier than he had remembered. The sights of the mountains and majestic splendor of the views stole his attention from them most of the time. He was in awe of the beauty of the snow-capped Crags and deeply hued valleys.
As they returned to the palace, he saw Telmor run out to a covered carriage with a huge smile plastered across his face. He assisted a young lady from the coach and escorted her inside the palace. She wore a blue cape and cowl so he could not see her face. The expression on Telmor’s face was unmistakable. This woman was the love of his life. Acevedo felt a pang of longing. He wished he could have that kind of love, instead of this mockery of courtship.
He excused himself from the tangle of girls all vying for his affections and escaped swiftly into the castle and up the stairs. He walked quickly turning down corridors and winding through the maze of the massive palace, intent on getting completely lost, away from the grasping beauties that would tie him to a loveless life.
He stumbled into a large room that was dark and unoccupied and collapsed on a lounge chair in an alcove. He drew the drapes to close himself completely off from anyone who might pass by in the hall and see him.
He couldn’t think clearly with all the commotion around him. How was he going to accomplish this hateful task? It wasn’t fair to him or to the young lady that had no hope of ever winning his heart. He put his head in his hands and sighed.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat mulling over his entrapment, but he became aware of music nearby. Someone was playing a harp. The music was exquisite and performed with such mastery, it had to be a bard. He crept from his hiding place and followed the sound of the harp strings across the hall and out onto a balcony.
Just as he got to the threshold of the balcony door, a beautiful voice began singing a haunting refrain. It was so lovely that he froze in his steps so as not to break the spell. The singer sang “Soft Sighs and Love’s Salted Tears” in such a heartbreaking melody that his very soul was stirred. The lovers in the song were forever separated until death reunited them once more.
He stepped forward to see whose voice had captured him so completely. The sunlight glinted off of the gilded harp sending shards of light dancing around a lovely young maiden. She turned her eyes upon him and kept singing. At the meeting of their eyes, he felt as though he had fallen into a deep and endless pit. His stomach lurched and tumbled around inside of him in ways he had never experienced before.
She continued to sing and stare deeply into his eyes, as though ascertaining the measure of the man in front of her. She never missed a note on the harp or with her voice. The pure tones rose out of her effortlessly.
When her song was finished and the last ring of the harp notes faded away, he found himself wanting more. He longed to sit in her presence and listen to her sing for as long as she would allow it.
“Sire,” she spoke in a tender and soft tone.
Acevedo cleared his throat. “I…I am sorry to interrupt. Your voice…well, it was nice.”
“More than nice. It was… otherworldly.”
She smiled at him as though he were the village idiot. He shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He sounded like the village idiot…nice. He found himself again and straightened his shoulders.
“I am Prince Acevedo. May I have the name of the lovely lady who has wound her musical spell around me so warmly?”
She laughed and the sound bubbled out of her pleasantly. “I am Palidora, Master Bard.”
“Palidora? You are Telmor’s daughter.”
“Oh, dear, has father been bragging again.” She nervously fingered the lace at her collar. “I tell him not to go on so.”
“Please, I can completely see how he would be unable to refrain from speaking of you. You are…” Again he felt foolish, but said the words anyway. “…exquisite.”
She made an incredulous huff and her face flushed. “Sir, I don’t understand. Was there something you wanted?”
He was intrigued. She was not accustomed to compliments and it stunned him. “I would like to hear another song, Master Bard.” He stepped forward and pointed to the bench beside her. “May I?”
She slid over to make room for him and adjusted her harp between them. He immediately felt a pang of jealousy toward that harp nestled so securely against her breast and causing a wall between them.
She began to play another song and as she sang he studied her features closely. Dark hair spilled down her back in gentle waves. Her face was long and narrow and her brown eyes seemed to be too big for the size of her face. But the information they conveyed was generous and he suspected they did not miss much. Her forehead was high and her nose long, but matched the length of her face. Her lips were thin but expressive and turned up in the corners in a perpetual smile.
He realized she was not what modern thinkers would boast as a great beauty, but in his eyes she had a noble and classic beauty that transcended trendy thinkers. He let his eyes follow down to take in the whole of her. She was thin and willowy, long and lean. Not the ample sort with childbearing hips or the full breasted that he usually found attractive, but extremely thin. He felt his pulse rise as he considered her form and decided he had dwelt there long enough. He glanced up into her eyes that were watching his musings, curiously.
She finished her song and set the harp aside. “So, Prince Acevedo of the Darchewud Forest, what brings you to my people in Cheulseti?”
“I am here to choose a bride.”
She raised her eyebrows and leaned closer to him. “A bride? Are there not eligible women in your own kingdom?”
“We are not as strong as we once were. My father feels it is necessary that we introduce healthier blood into our tribe. My brothers will choose brides from other Provinces. I am to choose first from the many beautiful and exotic women of the Crags.” There was a magnetic pull between them, he found himself leaning toward her.
“Oh, I see. The civil war has taken a toll. Tell me of your father.”
Acevedo launched into a story about his father and his home. Palidora listened intently and questioned him extensively, as though she wanted to know everything about him and his people. The longer they spoke, the more comfortable they seemed to become with each other. There were no awkward pauses and Palidora seemed to emit comfort and peace. He found himself intrigued and the intensity between them grew until they were merely inches apart and he loathed even that space between them.
He told her about the dancing the night before and how uncomfortable he felt in this position.
“Who are your primary candidates?” She leaned forward and placed her chin into her hands, long arms planted her elbows on her knees. Her repositioning brought her so close that he could smell the perfume of her presence as her hair spilled over her shoulder.
He leaned on his arm next to her on the bench, until their shoulders made contact and he felt a current of energy pass between them. Candidates? How ridiculous. How could he choose a bride like that? He said as much.
“I don’t understand. You are here. You are meeting the eligible women of my tribe. Do you not intend to follow through with your arrangement?”
“I will keep my word. I will do what is best for my people. I will marry a Cheuluthi bride and take her home to rule with me. I just…”
“Just what?” She whispered, her eyes drilling into his.
“I just wanted to fall in love with one of them, but there is no attraction.”
“No attraction? Have you met all of the Cheuluthi girls? They are stunning.”
“Oh, no, I mean, yes they are all very beautiful, but I was hoping to find…”
She leaned in curiously. “Yes.”
“I was hoping to feel…” he moved toward her, his heart pounding. There was a delicious tension in the air around them. She too seemed to be responding to the intense attraction, a look of longing passed through her brown eyes and sizzled into him with such force that he thought his heart would fail any moment.
“You were hoping to feel…what?”
“This.” His trembling fingers gently cradled her face and lifted it. She gasped slightly and he closed his lips onto hers, kissing that lovely mouth.
His heart thumped madly, stealing every other thought but the taste of sweet Palidora.
They parted, her eyes clouded in desire and her breath staggered, sending him reeling in pleasure. This was what he wanted. This was the one he chose. “Palidora, I want you to be my wife. I choose you.”
“You don’t even know me,” a breathless whisper brushed his cheek.
“We will have a lifetime to learn about each other.” He took her hands into his own and fingered her calloused fingers.
“I am not Queen material.”
“You are the noblest soul I have ever met. You have surely studied political advisement, you are more than qualified.”
“Yes, I am more than qualified,” she agreed and looked down. There seemed to be some struggle going on inside of her.
“Palidora, do you not feel this passion?”
“I do,” she breathed and locked him in her vulnerable gaze.
He felt such joy at her pronouncement that he kissed her again. She melted into his embrace and returned his kiss with such fervor that he ached for more. He kissed her face and chin and neck and she offered herself up willingly to his kisses. He secured her tightly into his embrace and she rested her head on his chest and panted for air.
“Acevedo, I have never…I have never felt this way about anyone.”
“Nor have I, my love.”
“This is crazy. We have just met.” The spark in her eyes lit his soul afire.
“Shhh…” He placed his finger on her lips.
She kissed it and pulled it away. “There are any number of beauties who would be honored to be your queen. I am just plain and I have other…”
“No. You are beautiful, Palidora. Never say that again. I don’t care about that anyway. I care about this.” He moved his hand from his heart to hers. Her breath quickened under his touch.
“I know. I feel it too.” Her face contorted with pain and confusion.
“Don’t,” he whispered into her ear. “Don’t be conflicted, Palidora. Whatever you are thinking, let it go. Be my queen. Be my love.”
“My heart seems to have a mind of its own,” she smiled. “I don’t think it would continue to beat without you.”
“Then let’s not tempt it.” He tucked her close to his side and she rested her head on his shoulder and they talked long into the night.
The next morning he was escorted to the Chieftain’s chambers for breakfast.
“Good morning, Queen Maeva, Chief Wedrick.”
Chief Wedrick poked a tongue into his cheek. “You are in a chipper mood today, Prince Acevedo. Is there a certain lightness in your step?” He smiled to his wife.
“I told you,” she grinned back and put her hands on her hips. “You did not show for our little dinner party last night, Prince Acevedo.” She playfully scolded. “What possibly could have captured your attention?”
Acevedo smiled and flushed. “I apologize, Queen Maeva. I was enraptured by one of your young maidens and did not even remember the dinner party.”
“Ooohhh!” the Queen cooed. “You are forgiven. Tell us, who have you chosen?”
A knock on the door interrupted them and the squire entered with Telmor. Behind him was his daughter, Palidora.
“Telmor, thank you for coming to breakfast today, I know it isn’t your regular day, but I wanted to have a few moments with Palidora. I didn’t get to see her at all last night. I thought you were going to bring her to the feast.” Queen Maeva rushed to Palidora’s side and hugged her.
“She went missing. I couldn’t find her.” Telmor spread his hands helplessly.
“Well, you are here now, Palidora. Come, I want you to meet a dear friend. This is Prince Acevedo, of the Darchewud Forest. This is Lady Palidora, Master Bard, we spoke of her yesterday.”
Palidora lifted her eyes to Acevedo’s and visibly brightened to see him again. “Sire,” she curtsied and lifted her hand.
He gently took it into his and kissed it, lingering ever so slightly over it. He lifted his eyes to meet hers and winked.
“Come friends, let’s eat. I am starved and those sausages smell delicious.” Chief Wedrick bellowed.
Queen Maeva quirked a brow at the interesting exchange between Palidora and Acevedo. She could sense the intensity between them. They settled around the table and Acevedo was seated directly opposite Palidora, between the Queen and Telmor.
Chief Wedrick and Telmor kept the conversation flowing while Acevedo stole glances at Palidora throughout the meal. She wore a blue dress with a deep neckline and her hair was piled up in an elaborate style. He meant to tell her how beautiful she looked the first moment he had alone with her.
When the meal was over, Chief Wedrick asked. “Acevedo, I cannot stand the suspense much longer. Please tell us who you have chosen as your queen.”
“Darling, he may want more time to decide,” Queen Maeva interjected. She had seen the expressions that had passed between Acevedo and Palidora and thought maybe he was having second thoughts about his late night tryst.
“No, I am fully decided,” Acevedo said directly to Palidora.
“Please, tell us,” Telmor requested.
Acevedo wasn’t sure who to address first, the king whose realm he had just plundered or the father whose daughter he was about to betroth. He chose the latter.
“Sir, I would be honored if you would give us your permission.”
Telmor was confused and flustered. “Sire, surely you should be addressing Chief Wedrick.”
“In that he has already given me his blessing and placed no restrictions on my choice, I feel it is you to whom I must address my request.”
Queen Maeva caught on first and gasped, her hands flew to her mouth.
“What request is that, young prince?” Telmor raised an eyebrow.
“I request the hand of your daughter in marriage, sir.” Acevedo beamed at Telmor, then to Palidora.
“Wha…what is the meaning of this outrage?” Telmor exploded and rose from his chair, toppling it over behind him.
Acevedo stood in response, confused at the outburst.
“Father,” Palidora stood and rushed to her father’s side.
“I don’t understand.” Acevedo looked around the room, startled.
“She is next in line for the Amhra’n, you fool!” Telmor stormed to the door and turned. “She will be the Chief Bard of all Ampeliagia! She is not available for marriage!” He turned to the king, bowed, sent a scowl toward Acevedo, and whisked from the room.
“Palidora? Is this true?” Acevedo was shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”
“Because I choose you, Acevedo. I choose us.” Palidora touched his arm as she passed him and went after her father.
Acevedo watched her leave the room and felt all of his hopes and dreams had fled with her. The next Amhra’n! How could she possibly choose him over the highest office in the land? He fell into the chair and placed his head into his hands.
This was not right. He could not let her do this. He could not let her turn down such a lofty calling…for him. All of her comments from the night before sifted through this new sieve of understanding. “More than qualified, indeed.”
“How did I make such a mess of this?” He asked Chief Wedrick.
The chief sighed and spread his hands. “We can never master our own inclinations, Prince. Our hearts lead us where our heads would not.”
“I think you have made a fine choice, Acevedo. She is foremost among all of the women of Cheulseti…Ampeliagia for that matter. You could not have chosen better. It is her decision, now, what she will choose.”
“No, I cannot come between her and her calling. I would never separate her from the people of Ampeliagia.”
“Do you believe that you love her?”
“Yes, with all my heart, but…”
“And does she love you?”
“Then you must follow your heart, son.” Chief Wedrick patted him on the shoulder and escorted his wife from the room.
Acevedo made his way through the castle to the balcony where he had fallen in love with the hope and light of all Ampeliagia, the next Chief Bard. How idiotic could he be? How devastating? Either his heart would be broken beyond repair or the land of Ampeliagia would be plundered of its brightest treasure. He stood gazing over the beautiful city cascading down the mountain to the river-fed lake at the bottom. His heart was heavy. He understood, now, the conflict that had been raging inside of Palidora the previous night. He chided himself for bullying through her reservations and securing a promise from her that she was not ready to give.
“I thought I might find you here.”
Acevedo’s heart jumped in his chest. The voice that he now cherished above all others spoke in his ear. Her hand reached up and touched the back of his neck. She ran her fingers through his hair in a loving and possessive way. Chill bumps covered his body and passion spiked. He turned and took her into his arms. She embraced him with unbearable strength as though he would be wrestled away from her.
“Palidora, my love, what have I done to you? Please forgive me, I did not imagine…I would never ask…”
“Shhh…” she placed a finger on his lips. ”Don’t say that you won’t be mine.” Her lovely voice broke with emotion.
He kissed her finger and moved it away and drew her face to his. “My songbird,” he whispered then kissed her, tenderly at first, then with urgency.
She wrapped her long arms around him and held him with all her strength. “I choose you, Acevedo. Nothing else matters.”
“No,” his voice cracked with grief and despair. “You can’t. You must fulfill your calling. I won’t let you do this.”
“My dear love, just the fact that you care so much about my welfare, makes me want you all the more. My heart has chosen, I want to be your wife, your queen, the mother of your heirs. I want it all, every part of you.”
“Please, Palidora, you must give this grave consideration. This is not something to be considered lightly. If Ampeliagia calls to you, then you must answer. “
“Acevedo, Sir Solomon Wysk, Chief Bard of Ampeliagia is well and whole. He has several years left to train his successor. Ampeliagia is not calling to me yet.”
“If you marry me, that dream will die. Ampeliagia will call another.”
“So be it. I hear my call loud and clear and his name is Acevedo.”
Acevedo held his love close, breathed in her scent, felt his passion rise for her and knew he would never be happy with another and she would never be happy without him. His heart won out over his head and he pledged himself to her.
“Marry me, Palidora. Be my wife. Say it here and now.”
“I take you, my dear Acevedo, to be my husband. I choose the life that you offer me.”
He picked her up and laughed aloud and carried her into his chambers.
The next day he bundled up his new bride and her belongings into his coach, they said their farewells and began the journey home to the Darchewud Forest. The sky was vivid blue and their hearts were alight with the love they shared between them in his chambers the prior evening. His wife rode beside him in the carriage and he stole kisses and caresses as the horse drew the carriage homeward.
The whole world seemed a brighter place, the air seemed fresher, the grass swayed sensuously. Everything reminded him of his new wife and her beauty and strength as she made love to him.
Near mid-day, he stopped the carriage and spread out a blanket for his bride to recline upon while they fed each other the fruits and breads from the picnic pack that Queen Maeva had sent with them.
They made love again under the cerulean sky and in exhaustion collapsed in each other’s arms and fell asleep as the crickets serenaded them.
The horses sniggered in agitation and Acevedo stirred from his slumber. He heard it, then. Tack from a horses harness jingling nearer. He sat up and listened intently. Yes, several horses were approaching.
“My songbird, wake up. Riders approach.”
“Hmmm?” Palidora turned sleepily over to gaze into the loving eyes of her husband. “Hello, my love.” She kissed him.
He laughed and pulled away. “Songbird, riders are approaching and I don’t think you want to greet them like this.” His eyes lovingly took in every inch of her form as he drew the cover back to see more.
“What? Riders?” She jumped up and wrapped the blanket around her, grabbed her clothes and ran to the carriage to dress.
Acevedo chuckled and began pulling on his trousers. When he finished lacing on his boots, he went to assist his bride.
“I should just pull my hair down, I will never get it back in place.”
“Let me help.” Acevedo began gently pulling out pins, kissing her between each one. They got most of it done before they were lost in each other’s embrace once again. The riders came up on the scene of them kissing and drew their horses to a halt.
“Good day, friends,” Acevedo called. He noted the riders were soldiers in Watshfeau colors. “How can we help King Bran and Ampeliagia?”
“Ampeliagia indeed calls.” The leader spoke gravely. “We have come for the Amhra’n.”
Palidora stepped forward. “Yes, what does Sir Solomon Wysk require?”
“No, my Lady, we have not come from the Amhra’n, but to retrieve the Amhra’n.”
“I don’t understand.” Acevedo stepped in front of Palidora, protectively.
“Sir Solomon Wysk died in his sleep a fortnight ago. Lady Palidora became the new Amhra’n in that moment.”
“No!” Palidora’s face crumpled in grief at the loss of her friend. “My mentor is dead?”
“We regret to inform you this way, Amhra’n. We have been charged by King Bran to bring you home to Watshfeau.”
“No. We have been married. She is no longer eligible for the position of Chief Bard.”
“I understand from Chief Wedrick that the marriage was only consummated last night,” the Captain stated.
“Yes, but it was consummated well.” Acevedo touched his wife affectionately.
“And irrevocably.” Palidora gazed lovingly into his eyes.
“That union is null and void,” the Captain said apologetically. “You were the Amhra’n before you became his wife. You did not have the ability to choose your destiny. You belonged to the people of Ampeliagia until such a time as another candidate can be raised up and considered worthy.”
“No,” Palidora whispered, her hands fluttered to her face. The truth of his words crossed her expression, but Acevedo could not bear the implications.
“Lady, you did take vows to the Amhra’n? You did indicate to him that you would become his apprentice and carry out the duties of that calling?”
“Yes, many months ago, before…” She looked frantically at Acevedo and grabbed at his arm with desperate hands.
“Amhra’n.” The soldiers dismounted and knelt down in homage to the Chief Bard of Ampeliagia.
Acevedo’s face was crestfallen. He looked at the guards kneeling before his bride and felt the enormous pressure of the office bearing down on them. He let out a sob of resignation and knelt down before his wife.
“Amhra’n.” Tears streamed down his face as he stared at the feet of his love.
“No, Acevedo. No. I choose you, always. I choose you.”
“We must go, my lady.” The soldiers brought the Amhra’n’s white steed from Watshfeau stables forward.
“No, I choose you, my love,” she reached toward him and lifted his face to hers, pleading. Her cries tore Acevedo’s heart asunder.
He stood and took her face into his hands. “I will never choose another. You are my life. My love. My wife. My bride. My Songbird. As long as you serve Ampeliagia, I will remain yours alone. Your calling and office will be my sacrifice.” His voice was ragged, his vow desperate.
“No, Acevedo, no.” She looked frantically around at the guards, the carriage, the future with Acevedo fading from her sight, as surely as her tears obscured his face.
The guards packed her belongings as Acevedo and Palidora held each other in a final embrace.
“No. Acevedo, no, I love you. I choose you.” Her whisper a plea to the gods. She tightened her arms around him, refusing to be torn from his embrace. “I choose you.”
A sob heaved from her chest as the guard touched her arm.
“No.” Her nails dug into Acevedo’s sleeves as her voice rose.
Acevedo felt his heart fracture in his chest as the guard peeled Palidora from his embrace. They lifted her into the saddle and he walked alongside her refusing to let her hand go. She groped for him and leaned down from the saddle. He stretched up to kiss her and the guards turned the horses to the west and wrenched her out of his outstretched hands.
“No!” she cried. “I love you, my husband.” Her sobs of despair carried back to him through the now bitter breeze.
“I love you, my bride,” he called after her. As she disappeared over the rise, he whispered, “irrevocably.”
Eleven months later, Acevedo was well into his hermitage in the middle of the Darchewud Forest. He had abdicated his throne to his brother, who was only too eager to take it, and had established himself in a little cabin nestled into a ravine.
He stirred a pot in the fireplace and heard a scraping sound on the door step. He walked to the door and opened it, but no one was there. He stepped forward to get a better view and his foot stumped against something on the stoop.
He reached down, lifted a basket that shuddered as he did. He brought it into the cabin. A letter on the top caught his attention. It was sealed by the Chief Bard of Ampeliagia. He ripped open the letter and read the words.
My dearest husband,
My confinement ended and our baby boy was delivered two months ago. He was birthed in secrecy and no one must ever know of his parentage on my part. I am sending him to you to raise as you see fit. He is my heart and soul and since those things belong to you, it seemed only fitting that you care for him as you always have cared for my wellbeing.
Acevedo, darling, you will be the greatest father a boy could ever love. I only wish I could be there with you, raising him together. Please know, my heart is ever yours. Eternally,
Acevedo lifted a pink little bundle of life from his cradle and gazed in love at the wonderful gift he had been given. There was no name on the card or in the basket so Acevedo held his son up to plant a kiss on his forehead.
“Hello, Thomus. Welcome home.”