Ann had been silent when Ed had finally caught up with her. She stayed silent even on their ride back to the palace in Larenth city. Which was unlike her.
When they arrived back Ed and Jax went to report to their general. General Reevus was head of the Black Guard and one of the archdruid’s closest allies. They met Reevus in his meeting chamber.
The room’s dark stone walls were covered in different maps of the five realms comprising of Caselhelm, Asral, Lulrien, Storholm and Vala. A dark oak desk made from dryad wood stood in the centre of the room covered pieces of parchment. A large sword glimmered over the fireplace behind where General Reevus stood.
Both he and Jax punched their chests with their fists when they saw Reevus. As was the customary sign of respect within the Black.
Reevus was a giant of a man with tanned skin, dark brown eyes, a black ponytail and a short, well-kept beard. He too wore the traditional armour of the Black covering a long black leather coat.
“What do you have to report?” Reevus asked. “Rohn, you go first.”
“Sir, on the way back from the healing house Ann and I were attacked by ogres and a rogue sorcerer,” Ed explained. “We fought them off and Ann is unharmed, but the sorcerer mentioned there are people unhappy about the archdruid’s peace treaty.”
Reevus’ expression darkened. “Did he threaten Lady Rhiannon?” he asked. “Why did you not call for aid? You have learnt how to communicate in speech, haven’t you?”
“No, sir, I think they just meant to scare her,” Ed replied. “I didn’t need to call for aid. The attack ended as quickly as it began.”
Reevus rubbed his beard. “I shall tell Darius and see security is tightened.” He turned to Jax. “What reports do you have from the border?”
“I saw movement, sir and a lot of people were coming and going from Orla’s tower,” Jax replied. “I couldn’t get any solid proof. Do you want me to go back and keep watch again?”
“No, I need you here. The leaders of every realm are gathering here in a few days and security will be tight,” Reevus said, picking one of the reports up from his desk. “You are both dismissed.”
Jax bowed his head and left the room but Ed remained standing there.
“Something on your mind, Rohn?” Reevus arched an eyebrow as he lowered the report in his hand
Ed bit his lip. “No, sir. It’s just… I’ve had a bad feeling since the run in we had with that sorcerer,” Ed admitted. “And the Black are taught to trust their instincts. Sir, I don’t have a good feeling about this meeting between the leaders. I feel something terrible is about to happen.” He gripped the hilt of his sword. “Can’t you —?” He considered telling Reevus about the woman Ann had thought she had seen. But decided against it. Since Ed himself couldn’t verify what the woman looked like or had even done.
“It’s not my place to question the archdruid’s judgement. It’s our job to keep him and his family safe and keep the peace between the realms.” Reevus settled in the high-backed chair behind his desk. He looked uncomfortable here in his meeting chamber. He was more a man suited to the battlefield, than sitting behind a desk.
“Don’t you frequently question him, sir? You are his oldest friend.” Reevus frowned. “Sorry, sir. I only meant —” Ed stammered, cursing himself for speaking out of turn. Again. This had become a bad habit of his recently. No doubt Ann’s influence was wearing off on him.
“I’ll see security is doubled. We’ll need to be prepared for anything,” Reevus said. “In the meantime I have no doubt you’ll stay close to Lady Rhiannon.”
He nodded. “That’s my job, sir.”
“I meant even when you’re not on duty.” The general’s lips twisted into a faint smile.
“What are you implying? There’s nothing — Ann and I just good friends.” Ed rubbed the back of his neck, searching for the right words. Edge didn’t want any more rumours going around about
him and Ann being a couple. He always worried how it might affect his job and his position within the Black.
“Indeed. Rohn, we both know you see Rhiannon as more than a friend. But the archdruid seems to think you’re the best person to keep his daughter safe,” Reevus said. “And I trust his judgement.”
Ed bowed his head and left to go in search of Ann. He could sense her easily. There had always been a connection between them ever since she’d use magic to save him from drowning ten years earlier. He’d washed up as an orphan with no memory of his past or where he’d come from. Ann’s aunt, Flora, had taken him in as one of her fosterlings.
He’d been around eight then and he and Ann had formed a close bond that day. She saw him as more than just a worthless urchin who no one wanted.
He and Jax were close too since they’d been raised as brothers, but Ann was the one person he felt he could share anything with.
Deep down Ed didn’t care if people thought they were a couple. He’d never acted on his true feelings for her and undoubtedly ever would. That didn’t matter. As one of the Black could never be with the druid’s daughter.
On his way to find Ann, Ed stumbled upon his foster sister. Ceara sat crying in a small alcove. She was a year or so younger than him and had been taken in by Flora as a baby.
“Ceara, what’s wrong?” Ed knelt and put a hand on her shoulder. Like his strong, wilful sister to weep over anything. He’d rarely seen her cry even as a child.
“Ann…” She hiccupped. “She —”
“Is something wrong with her?” He straightened, blood pounding in his ears. Spirits, had that seer been right?
“No, she… She caught me.” Ceara wiped her eyes. “Urien and I…”
“Oh. That.” Ed didn’t need him more. He’d already seen her sneaking around with Urien. This just confirmed his suspicions. They were having an affair.
“I don’t know what to do.” She threw herself into his arms.
Ed blinked, surprised. Not like her to want comfort from anyone.
He patted her back, unsure what to say or do. He loved her like she was his own sister but Ceara wasn’t one for sharing emotions. Despite being an empath herself.
Ed racked his brain, trying to come up with an appropriate response. “Do you love Urien or Xander?” he finally asked.
Ceara sniffed as she pulled away from him. “I love them both.”
“Flo always said you can’t be in love with two people at the same time. The question is, who do you love more?”
Ceara shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
“I can’t decide for you. Only you know the answer.”
She nodded. “Thanks, Ed.”
Ed went and found Ann in her chamber. “What did you see in the forest earlier?” he asked, leaning against the door frame and shutting the heavy oak door behind him. The fresh scent of rosewater hit him as he walked in. Books were scattered over the heavy blue linens on her fourposter bed and more covered the flagstone floor.
They never kept secrets from each other — or at least he thought they didn’t.
She looked up as he came in and frowned. “I never said I saw anything.”
Ed sighed. “Ann, we used to tell each other everything. So don’t lie to me.”
Her blue eyes flashed. “Are you saying you don’t have any secrets from me?”
“None that I’m deliberately trying to hide from you, no.” He crossed his arms. “I thought I heard whispering when you were looking for that woman you saw. But I couldn’t make out what she said.”
“You believe I saw someone then?” Ann arched an eyebrow.
“I’ve never doubted you before. So tell me what you saw.”
She sighed. “I saw her again — only for a few moments. She said: ‘The house of Valeran will fall, the stars will darken, and my path will be revealed’.”
Ed fell silent for a moment. “Maybe she was just trying to scare you.”
Ann shook her head. “I have a bad feeling she was telling the truth. I already tried talking to my father, but he said it was nonsense.” She sighed again. “You know he doesn’t believe in prophecies – not unless they help him in some way. He believes anyone can make their own destiny.”
“You believe that too.”
She nodded and rolled her eyes. “Yes. Ironic given how he has my entire future planned out for me.” Ann motioned to the piles of books and paperwork. “I’ve been going over every leader and person who will be coming to this meeting in a few days. Trying to work out who might possibly have ulterior motives. The only person I’ve come up with so far is Lord Byron. He’s a minor baron but he has opposed my father for decades.”
“Let’s try again. I’ll come with you.”
“You didn’t see her.”
“No, but I felt someone there. Let’s go.”
The sight of the archdruid still made Ed nervous even after all these years.
Darius Valeran stood a head taller than most men with long, dark blonde hair, a chiselled face, piercing blue eyes and waves of power that seemed to crackle in the air.
“Papa, I need to talk to you again about what I saw earlier today,” Ann began.
“The ogre attack?” Darius didn’t look up from where he sat at his desk reading through paperwork. “I said I’d have it taken care of.”
“Papa, I told you I saw someone earlier. She said the house of Valeran will fall, doesn’t that concern you?” Ann gripped the edge of his desk.
“Rhiannon, you know there are people who are unhappy about the treaty. Just ignore —”
“My lord, I believe we should take this threat seriously,” Ed interrupted.
“You know Byron has been gathering forces against you. That is why Reevus sent Jax to spy on him,” Ann said. “What if he plans to make a move against you? Attacking when all the leaders are here is—”
Darius dropped the paper he’d been reading and rose. “I spent decades working on this treaty. I won’t back down now because of some superstitious nonsense.” His cool blue eyes flashed. “Byron isn’t something you should be concerned about either.”
“How can you not be concerned?” Ann demanded.
“Rhiannon, I don’t have time for supposed prophecies,” Darius snapped. “This treaty will come to pass, and nothing will stop it.”
“What if Byron did attack us?” Ann snapped. “You’re not invincible.”
“Then I’ll be dead, and you will become the next archdruid,” Darius retorted. “Now leave me. Both of you.”
Ann tried arguing more but Ed took her arm and finally led her out of the room.
“What did you do that for?” Ann demanded. “I thought you came to support me.”
“I did, and I do. But I know when to stop fighting a losing battle,” he replied. “If we want to convince your father to take us seriously, we need real proof to show him.”
Ann’s hands tightened into fists. “I wonder if he takes me seriously at all. He won’t even let me go travelling and offering my services as a druid to help others.” She gritted her teeth. “I’m his heir. I’m just expected to fall in line.”
“As his heir you’re one of the most powerful people in the five realms. Use that to your advantage. Track that seer down and find out what she knows.”
Ann ran a hand through her long blonde hair. “That could take days, Ed. That seer had power; I could feel it.”
“Then use yours to find her.”
The sounds of trumpets sounded, indicating the arrival of someone important.
“Now what?” Ann muttered and moved out onto the balcony.
Ed followed her and looked down into the courtyard below.
Lord Byron himself rode in, surrounded by a small company of men on horseback.
“Looks like some of the leaders are arriving sooner than we expected,” Ed remarked.
“Then we had better find that seer before it’s too late.”