Another year passed in which Evadna received no new tutor and try as the earl might, he could not convince her to train at the Follows. But patience was no longer a luxury that the earl had and he devised a new plan.
“I am not asking for permission. You seem to have forgotten that not only am I your father, but I am also the Earl,” he said, standing across from his son. “I am not sending her to the Follows against her will, but I am giving her a chance to see it for herself, experience it a little so she might be more informed and more able to make a decision.”
Lord Albin, his fists clenched at his sides, replied, “And you saw fit to spring this knowledge upon me the night before you leave? Making sure that I am otherwise engaged and unable to follow?”
The earl eyed his son stonily. “Some space and time away from each other might do you some good. Clear your head.”
“My head is clear.”
“No, it’s not.” The earl’s voice was harsh. “You care too much for that girl. Do you honestly think you can wed her? She cannot give you children and your life is not your own to live as you please. You must have heirs.”
Turning his back on his father, Lord Albin sought to control himself. “I don’t care if I don’t have heirs. I can choose to wed whomever I please.”
“You are my only heir. When this war becomes official, you are the one who will be best positioned to challenge the king for the right to rule. You must be able to give those who follow you the confidence your rule will be secure and security means a posterity.”
“I don’t care about the war!” he exclaimed, turning back to face his father. “It’s your war, not mine. I will not take part in it.”
To his surprise, the earl laughed. “That’s incredibly naive, my son. You cannot escape this war. The king would wipe out all magic from this kingdom. He will kill all those who wield it. It’s already begun, or have you forgotten what so nearly happened to Evadna when you found her? I do not think our world would be better without magic nor do I support a king who would commit genocide. If you love Evadna, you will fight to give her a world where she can live in safety, without fear for her life and without the need to hide her magic. Is this not a cause worth fighting for?”
The earl watched the battle in his son’s eyes. Then continued, “And would you ask her to love you even if you could not wed her, but must in fact wed another and watch you make a family with another woman? Would you ask that of her?”
“No,” Lord Albin said quietly.
The earl put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I am sorry that being our son places such a weight and burden upon your shoulders. I am sorry you cannot simply seek your own happiness but must put others before yourself. But I trust you will be a good and wise ruler. I trust you will be a far better king than the one we have now.”
“I don’t want this,” Lord Albin pleaded. “There must be someone else.”
“No one as good as you. And it is still your choice. You don’t have to choose this course.”
A crack of thunder disturbed the quiet, bringing them both to an awareness of their surroundings.
“I will give your words their due consideration,” Lord Albin said.
“Thank you, son.”
Bowing, Lord Albin left his father’s study. His thoughts and feelings too turbulent to process, he made his way to Evadna’s room, seeking her company. But she wasn’t there. A servant suggested he might find her at the stables so he made his way there, walking through the rain as if in a daze. He found her brushing down her horse, humming as she worked. The sound of the rain and thunder had kept her from hearing his approach and he watched her unawares, as he kept hearing his father’s words reverberate in his head. Eventually, she looked up and saw him with a start of surprise. Then her whole body went still as she took him in.
Silently, he walked towards her, invading her space until they were inches apart and she looked up at him with an unfathomable expression. “How long did you know?”
“Since this morning.” She knew to what he was referring, his father’s plan to take her to visit the Follows personally.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
She remained silent. Staring into his eyes solemnly.
Wrapping his hands around her shoulders, he gave her a little shake. “Do you want to leave me?”
Evadna responded by placing a hand on his cheek. “Do not fear so. How can you doubt me? Have all these years together taught you nothing? I am your witch. That will never change.”
With only a slight hesitation, he lowered his lips onto hers. He was gentle at first, feeling her breath of surprise. But soon she responded and he deepened the kiss.
When he pulled away, they were both a little out of breath.
“Something to remember me by when all those men at the Follows start flirting with you.”
A myriad of emotions crossed her face. Amusement, confusion, irritation, settling on an expression he could not decipher but took his breath away.
Feeling suddenly uncomfortable under her gaze, he smiled winsomely. “Come. Let’s get back. We’ll both need our rest for tomorrow.”