Summary: King Edouard and his bodyguard, the royal wizard Kieran, have enjoyed four blissful years as close companions and lovers. But now politics and the need to establish a succession threaten their happiness. As young noblewomen vie for the chance to become queen, another problem arises on Bright Isle to serve as a distraction for Kieran. Once again, Edouard and Kieran must face a host of problems as they struggle to stay together in this sequel to The Wizard of Bright Isle and The Royal Wizard.
Chapter 1: Reunion
The adult madrin walked calmly down the middle of the north coast road, passing between the estates of the wealthiest noble families heedlessly. It stopped when it reached the edge of the city proper and sat down on its haunches, clearly intending to wait for something. Panicked residents immediately sent word to the royal palace.
Kieran still thought having an office, even a small one, was a bad idea. It just invited him to keep things that he probably didn't need. He put his hands on his hips and stared at his rather cluttered desk, determined to do something about the mess this time. "I used to be so neat," he muttered irritably. "What's happened to me?"
An agitated page burst in without knocking. "Lord Kieran! There's a madrin on the north road!"
"There is?" Kieran blinked in surprise, guiltily relieved by the distraction. "Is Lord Colwyn there?"
"No, my lord!"
"Very well." Kieran turned his back on the cluttered desk. "His majesty is in his council chamber. Please inform his guards that I will be off the palace grounds."
"At once, my lord!" The page hurried out.
Kieran followed at a more sedate pace, but he broke into a trot once he was in the courtyard, heading for the nearest stable hand. "I need a horse, please."
"Yes, sir." The hand dashed off for the stable and returned almost immediately with a saddled mare in tow.
"Thank you." Kieran mounted the animal and trotted off toward the north coast road. After four years as Edouard's companion and bodyguard, he was quite comfortable on a horse now. He seldom even thought about the fact that he had not learned to ride until he was fifteen years old. When he arrived in the vicinity of the ancient north gate, he found the way blocked by a crowd of frightened people. He dismounted and handed the reins to a boy standing at the edge of the crowd. "Hold this for me, please," he said. "I'll give you a coin when I return."
"Thank you, Lord Kieran!" The boy gripped the reins with an eager grin.
Kieran returned his smile and made his way through the crowd. At the front were about a dozen sheriff's deputies spaced out in a rough line, their pikes pointed nervously toward the unmoving madrin. Kieran frowned slightly when he saw the creature. There was something vaguely familiar about this madrin. He stepped between two of the deputies and saw their looks of relief at the sight of him.
"It's just been sitting there, my lord," one of the deputies said. "What should we do?"
"Stay here for the moment," Kieran replied. He approached the madrin and inclined his head politely. "Good afternoon. Is there something I can do for you?"
The madrin tipped its head to one side and flicked its long blue tongue out in a quick smile. It made a low-pitched chuckling noise.
The feeling of familiarity became quite strong. "Have we met?" Kieran asked.
The madrin dipped its head in a brief nod.
Kieran's eyes widened. "Are you the madrin whose life I saved?"
The madrin dipped its head again, flicking its tongue out in another smile.
Delight washed through Kieran and without thinking, he stepped forward and slipped his arms around the madrin's thick neck. "It is good to see you," he said happily. "I am so glad to know you escaped unharmed." He pressed his face against the softly furred side of the madrin's face. It was hard to imagine that this massive creature had once been small enough for him to carry in his arms.
"I take it you're acquainted." Asita spoke with faint amusement from behind him.
Kieran looked over his shoulder. Asita was standing just in front of the line of deputies, her one-year-old daughter perched on her hip. "This is the madrin I saved when I was a boy," he informed her.
"Really?" Asita grinned delightedly. "And it remembers you?"
"I think it came to see me." He released the madrin from his embrace. "I'm not sure why, though. Is Colwyn home?"
"No." Asita wrinkled her nose. "He's off on another one of his little excursions."
"Again? I thought marriage and children would settle him down."
"I thought so, too," Asita answered wryly. "He doesn't go as often, but he still goes." She eyed the madrin thoughtfully. "But I've picked up quite a bit about madrin from him over the years. Maybe I can help." She hitched the baby a little higher and stepped closer. The madrin blinked at her. She bowed slightly in return. "How do you do? Is this a social call?"
The madrin shook its head and looked back at Kieran. It whined softly and then pointed its nose at Asita's daughter. Kieran glanced at the child. She was a pretty little girl who bore a strong resemblance to her father, unlike her three-year-old sister who looked almost exactly like Asita. The madrin uttered a quick series of chirps and whines.
Asita frowned. "I'm not sure, but I think it's worried about something to do with a baby. Not this one," she stroked her daughter's hair, "but one that has something to do with you."
Kieran stared in confusion. "But I don't have any children." He didn't think it was necessary to add that he probably never would. The madrin abruptly leaned forward and swiped Kieran's right hand with its tongue. Kieran shivered as the flash of power from contact with the creature's saliva swept through him. He closed his eyes briefly as he absorbed the surge of energy.
"What did it do?" Asita demanded. She held up her free hand with the palm facing toward him, trying to sense the change in his power.
Kieran's hands were tingling strangely. He held them up, flexing his fingers slowly. He glanced at Asita's daughter. "May I touch her?"
Asita's brow wrinkled with concern. "I guess so."
Carefully, Kieran placed his right hand on top of the little girl's head and closed his eyes. A sense of the child's essence flooded his awareness. He could feel the energy of life flowing through her small body, vibrant with health. Kieran lifted his hand and smiled at the child. Then he placed his hand on Asita's arm. He could feel the same life energy coursing through Asita, but there was a subtly different feel to it. He dropped his hand and looked at the madrin. "Is this a healing power?"
The madrin dipped its head and rumbled deep in its chest.
Kieran looked at his hand again. "You have given me this power because there is a child's life I must save?"
The madrin nodded once more.
The madrin shrugged its shoulders in a very human gesture and whined in response.
"I think," Asita said slowly, "it doesn't know. Colwyn told me that he thinks some madrin are precognitive, so perhaps this one foresaw something that made it decide you needed the power to heal."
"I see." He looked into the madrin's enormous eyes. "Will this happen soon?"
The madrin shrugged again.
"Hmm…" Kieran slowly made a fist. "Very well. I guess the best I can do is be prepared." He stepped back and bowed to the madrin. "Thank you."
The madrin lowered its head in a deep bow and stood up. It flicked its tongue out in another brief smile and turned to trot back up the road.
Kieran watched it go a little wistfully. "I was fourteen when I met that creature and it changed my life." He thought of Edouard and smiled. "I wish I could have explained how grateful I am for the life it gave me. But perhaps it thought to repay me for saving its life back then." He turned to Asita. "Thanks for your help, Asita. I'm sure Colwyn will be hugely disappointed when he finds out."
Asita snorted. "Serves him right. He should be home helping me raise his daughters." But then she smiled. "But still; since I never expected to be married to him in the first place, I suppose I should be more lenient."
"Perhaps." Kieran returned her smile. "I'd better get back to the palace. Edouard's council meeting has ended."
"You can still sense him?" Asita lifted her eyebrows in surprise.
"I'm always aware of him," Kieran replied. "My duties as his bodyguard come first."
"Edouard is fortunate to have you," Asita said gravely.
"We are both fortunate." Kieran kissed her on the cheek goodbye and made his way back through the crowd, which was starting to disperse now that the excitement was over. He gave the boy holding his horse a silver coin and returned to the palace at a trot. When he arrived, he went straight to Edouard's study, since he knew that was where the king had gone after his council meeting.
"Good afternoon, Lord Kieran," Edouard's secretary, Graelin, greeted him.
"Is he busy?"
"No." Graelin's tone was respectful as always, but there was just a hint of testiness in his response that made Kieran suspect that Edouard's open schedule was probably not planned.
He smiled slightly. "Do you think he'll mind if I interrupt?"
"He never minds when you interrupt," Graelin replied. He held out a stack of pages. "Will you give these to his majesty and remind him that he is supposed to meet with the delegation from the Waterfront Business District today?"
Kieran took the papers. "I'll remind him." He stepped to the door and rapped on the panel.
As usual, Edouard recognized his knock. He called out immediately, his voice muffled by the closed door. "Come in, Kieran."
Kieran entered with a smile, waving the pages. "I suspect Graelin wants these back right away."
"Undoubtedly," Edouard replied with a sour grimace. He accepted the sheets from Kieran and Kieran sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk.
"Did you cancel an appointment?"
"I cancelled several," Edouard replied. "How did you know?"
"Graelin seemed irritated."
Edouard chuckled. "He does have to bear the brunt of the complaining when I make changes to my schedule," he admitted.
"He wanted me to remind you about the meeting with the waterfront people."
"I remember. I hadn't planned on cancelling that meeting." Edouard tipped his head to the side. "I heard there was a madrin out on the coast road."
"There was." Kieran smiled. "It was the madrin whose life I saved."
"Yes." Kieran's smiled faded into a thoughtful expression. "It gave me a healing power for some reason. Asita thought the creature might have foreseen the need for me to have this ability. She said Colwyn told her he thought some madrin were precognitive."
"Colwyn wasn't there?"
"He'll be sorry he missed it."
"Undoubtedly. Asita and I agreed that it served him right for not staying home with her." Kieran grinned and Edouard chuckled. "So why did you cancel your appointments?"
Edouard sighed. "I just wanted some time to think." He leaned on his folded arms and drew a deep breath. "It came up at the council meeting again today."
Kieran went still. "Marriage?" he questioned softly, even though he was certain that was what Edouard was talking about.
"Yes." Edouard held his eyes. "I told them last year I didn't want to discuss it anymore, but Lady Alcasin brought it up again today. She said that although Doctor Sefrin declared me completely healthy, lingering questions are still causing some uncertainty. And unfortunately," he hesitated slightly, "recent events have led me to believe she's right." He sat back. "I've been trying to let a contract to rebuild the coast highway, but I'm not getting any bids on it. I talked to an agent for one of the guilds that could do it yesterday and he said they are concerned about how long the job would take and the likelihood that they might not get paid at the end. The implication being that a change on the throne might throw the contract into jeopardy." He sighed. "So I think I may have to do it, even though I thought I would have a few more years before I had to make this decision."
Kieran nodded slowly. He understood what Edouard was saying. Doctor Sefrin had announced that there was nothing wrong with Edouard in any way, but he had done so on the heels of Kieran and Edouard openly becoming lovers. So people still questioned whether or not Edouard was capable of establishing a succession, causing concern about the possibility of future turmoil. This, in turn, made people reluctant to invest in any long term projects or businesses that might be affected by a change in power, which was having an overall dampening effect on the kingdom's prosperity. Four years ago, Kieran would not have understood this, but he did now. "Then you should do it," he said, trying to keep his voice level.
Edouard continued to hold his gaze. "This doesn't mean I intend to stop sleeping with you."
"What?" Kieran blinked in surprise. "But how…"
"I have to get married, but that doesn't mean I have to live with her." Edouard shrugged slightly. "I just to have to have a child with her. I think I can manage that."
"I see." Kieran dropped his gaze. "But would that be fair?"
Instead of answering right away, Edouard rose from his seat, walked around his desk, leaned over and cupped Kieran's face in his hands. "A king marries for politics, Kieran, not love. I will do what the good of the kingdom demands, but to have me living in misery will not benefit this country. You are my love and I will not give that up." He kissed Kieran soundly on the lips. "So accept that whatever I do, you will remain my companion of choice. All right?"
Kieran returned his gaze, feeling his heart swell. His feelings for Edouard were so deep that upon occasion, he forgot that Edouard shared them. "As you command, Sire," he answered softly.
After his meeting with the waterfront businessmen's delegation, Edouard sent for Moretz. When the Royal Wizard arrived, Edouard waved him into a seat. "Moretz, I've made a decision. I'm going to get married."
"Really?" Moretz sat up straighter. "This is a little unexpected. After the council meeting, I thought you were planning to put off further discussion."
"That was my inclination," Edouard responded, "but I thought about it some more and decided that Alcasin is right. We haven't had a queen for so long that I think most people have forgotten the role she serves. But a queen could handle many of the petty court matters that you and I have to shoulder right now. I also believe her presence would provide a sense of stability that's lacking at the moment, particularly after she provides me with an heir."
"So you would take that step." Moretz spoke carefully, watching Edouard's face.
"That would be the primary reason for getting married," Edouard responded with amusement.
"And Lord Kieran…?" Moretz's questioning tone didn't immediately give away his opinion on that point.
"My relationship with Kieran won't change."
"Is that wise?" Moretz lifted an eyebrow. "Your future queen might not appreciate his position between you and her."
Edouard tapped a finger on the desk. "In fact, accepting the situation as it is will be one of the discriminating factors between candidates. My marriage is a public matter and a political necessity. My private life is mine. Kieran has no political aspirations. As my bodyguard and lover, he will always be near me. But in all public, social and political situations, my future queen will stand at my side. She will be first at court and have my full support in that position."
Moretz nodded slowly. "That should be enough for any ambitious noblewoman, I would imagine." He paused. "Unless she feels she should also be first in your heart."
"Few noblewomen expect to marry for love, Moretz."
"Quite true." Moretz settled back in his chair. "So have you anyone in mind?"
"No." Edouard made a face. "When I said I didn't want to think about it before, I meant it. I haven't given it any thought at all. But that means I am open to considering anyone and everyone. So I was planning to simply make an announcement and let families start trotting out their finest daughters. I'll host a number of balls and garden parties over the next several weeks and then choose someone in the fall. How does that sound?"
"Just fine," Moretz nodded. "It will certainly make the hot summer months go by more quickly."
"Indeed. I will want your help in winnowing down the candidates. You are a good judge of character and I respect your opinion."
Moretz inclined his head with a smile. "Thank you, your majesty. It will be my honor to assist you." He pressed the tips of his fingers together and tapped them against his lips thoughtfully for a moment. "I do have one suggestion. Set aside blocks of time in your schedule when you will be interviewing candidates and include that in your announcement. Otherwise, you will be inundated and you won't have any time to attend to your regular duties."
"That's a good idea," Edouard agreed. "I'll do that. I'll also be sure to include that all candidates will be vetted by the Royal Wizard."
The two men regarded each other for a moment and then Edouard drew a deep breath. "This is going to be a big change for me. I've come to accept that I'm not good at letting people into my life, but I'm going to have to learn."
"You do better than you think, Edouard." Moretz stood up. "If you don't mind, I'd like to go inform Lady Alcasin of your decision. She has been quite distressed about this for some time."
"That's fine, but don't tell anyone else. I want to make an announcement before any rumors have time to start."
"Of course, Sire."
The announcement of Edouard's intention to choose a queen threw all of White Shores into an uproar and Kieran felt like the bulk of it was aimed directly at him. Speculation and gossip about what would happen in his relationship with Edouard was on everyone's lips. While most people were polite enough not to talk about it right in front of him, a few were bold enough to come right out and ask him. The first time it happened Kieran was too stunned to respond, which fueled an unfortunate rumor that he was going to be dumped. He was better prepared the next time, but his ambiguous response failed to dispel the rumor started by his first reaction. Had duty and desire not compelled him to stay with Edouard, he would have snuck back to Bright Isle in a heartbeat.
Sitting up in bed watching Edouard finish making notes on the interviews he'd done that day, Kieran sighed loudly.
Edouard glanced at him. "I'm not going to dump you, you know."
Kieran started. "What?"
"That's the rumor, isn't it?" Edouard turned in his chair. "That I'm going to kick you out after I get married."
"I know you're not." Kieran shifted uncomfortably. "But I'm really getting sick of hearing about it. I've never talked openly about our relationship, so why should anyone expect me to do so now? They take my silence as confirmation that I'm on my way out."
"Does it bother you?"
Kieran frowned. "It shouldn't, but it does." He fidgeted, sliding the goose-down-stuffed silk coverlet between his fingers. "Have you interviewed Michia Machura yet?"
"Not yet." Edouard studied his face. "I could skip her, if you want. I know you have no love for her father."
"He tried to cut me in two," Kieran grumbled, slumping down in the bed with his arms crossed. "And he's never apologized. Is it my fault for carrying a grudge?"
"Had he not done that, we might not have met."
"I know, but still…"
Edouard chuckled softly. He screwed the cap onto his ink pot, carefully cleaned his pen, and then came over to the bed. "Your feelings carry weight in this matter, too, Kieran." He sat on the edge of the bed facing the young wizard and put his arms around him. "By necessity, you will be close to my queen and heirs. She will have to be someone you can at least respect, but better still if you can be friends. So please don't hesitate to speak up if someone rubs you the wrong way. There are at least three dozen eligible women in the kingdom. I can afford to give you the right of first refusal."
Kieran gazed at Edouard for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed him. "Thank you, Edouard. I shouldn't be selfish, but I can't help it."
Edouard returned his kiss. "Be as selfish as you want. Your possessiveness warms my heart."
Kieran lifted a finger and the lamps in the room immediately dimmed. Edouard pushed him down among the pillows, his embrace tightening, and Kieran moaned softly in helpless pleasure. Ever since their first night together, intimacy with Edouard was his greatest joy. From that first tentative, uncertain exploration of each other until now, when they knew each other's desires and pleasures on the deepest possible level, Kieran had never felt a moment's regret for giving in to his passion for Edouard. His love for his king was as much a part of him as his magic. Edouard's deep kiss filled him with arousal and he let desire take control. For four years, nothing had come between them and he refused to speculate on what changes might lay ahead. For now, Edouard was his and that was all that mattered.