When the engagement ring was at last forged, I felt I should be sweating on principle. No one should labor that long within an active volcano and not sweat. Well, maybe the dragons, but I still felt they should acknowledge the heat in some way.
Before I could even admire the view for long, I found myself back in my office at home. “How much time has passed?” I asked.
“We were gone for a second here.” Aaliyah replied, grinning up at me. “Are you going to go give her the ring, or did you have something special planned?”
I stared into her big, blue eyes and wondered if I should be trying to plan something grand. “What do you think?” I asked, feeling a bit pathetic.
“You’re the boss, boss-man, sir.” she told me with a wink. Then she disappeared.
I frowned, staring at where she had been. What should I do? I looked down at the large ruby in the ring. “The Dragon’s Flame” I had dubbed it, having positioned it in the dragon’s mouth. Hopefully, Alma would approve. I designed the dragon to look somewhat like her mother, with miniscule sapphires throughout the scales.
I couldn’t even decide on whether or not I should be feeling nervous. I was nervous, certainly, but should I be when Alma and I were already engaged? Even if she rejected the ring, she wouldn’t be rejecting me. At least, I was fairly certain she wouldn’t be.
“Master, I can suggest numerous romantic places nearby if you’re wanting to take her somewhere. I’ll also quite gladly practice with you if you wish.” stated Mila in a flirtatious manner.
“Thank you for the offer, Mila. Should I really attempt to hide this from her? She might be somewhat aware of it already.” I confided.
“I feel she’s waited long enough, master. Besides, you two have work to do.” she replied.
Placing the ring in my pocket, I nodded and then hurried down to Alma’s wing. The door opened before I even knocked, so I walked inside, feeling expected.
“Good evening, my darling. Was there something you… What’s in your pocket?” she asked, her eyes widening as she spoke.
Knowing she probably could feel the shape, I knelt down, kissed her hand, and then looked into her eyes, taking in their beauty once more. “Keeping anything secret in this household is impossible.” I told her, pulling out the ring and holding it up.
“James, this is…” she started saying, stopping as a tear came to her eye. She shut her eyes and took a breath before asking, “Is this for me?”
“Yes, if you’ll have it. The twins chastised me for having not given you an engagement ring yet, but I forged this especially for you.” I explained, feeling a touch guilty that I was implying the ring had already existed. I couldn’t explain to the twins that time had been manipulated for me to forge the ring in a mere second though, so the story had to be that the ring was already made when they had chided me. “Do you like it, will you accept it?” I asked in one breath.
She nodded and embraced me, slipping out of her chair. I hugged her, hoping she was truly happy. I hadn’t meant to make her cry, but crying could be a good thing from most girls. What did crying mean for Alma in this circumstance? I failed to refrain from laughing when she casted a spell to keep her tears from my shirt. She hit my back, but I couldn’t contain my laughter.
“I’m sorry.” I told her, still laughing.
“You don’t sound sorry.” she replied somewhat indignantly.
“If those are tears of joy, they’re a treasure to me, not something to keep from me. If they’re not, I would know how I offended you, so I don’t make the mistake again.” I explained, finally containing my mirth.
She sighed, pressing her cheek into my shoulder.
“You hardly sound pleased, my love.” I stated.
“Say you love me.” she insisted.
“I love you, Alma Lucy Pendreigh. Have you really doubted it?” I asked, feeling hurt by the idea.
“Never, but I still enjoy hearing it. The ring reminds me of my mother. I cannot tell you how, but I’m certain she would enjoy seeing it, even if the ring wasn’t magical.” she explained. Then she asked “How, by the way, was this done?”
“I’ll show you some of it when we forge our wedding rings. We’ll need them in a month, you know.” I replied.
“You want to personally forge our wedding rings?” she inquired.
I couldn’t tell if she liked the idea or not, but I explained “I cannot honesty take credit for the idea, but I really like it. I’ll forge your ring, and you can forge mine. Both rings will be perfectly unique that way, and, I feel, more meaningful. What do you think?”
“I think Aaliyah put you up to this.” she replied.
I felt her create a spell to take the ring from my finger and was glad to see the enchantment I made was working properly when her spell failed.
She leaned back, looked me in the eye, and asked “Was that you?”
“In a sense, considering I placed the spells into this ring. Might I place it on your finger instead of having you take it from me?” I inquired.
She smiled as she said, “As you wish.” She held up her left hand and allowed me to slip the ring onto her finger. Staring at it, she told me “James, this is really excellent work. How long have you studied jewelry design?”
“I can’t say for certain, but I will admit that there were numerous attempts before I even could get the shape right. Learning to cut and fit the gems took some effort as well. Then there were the spells. I thought the heat from the ring would be a nice indicator for you to find it should you need to put it down, not that you’d forget where you put it.” I quickly assured her. “If someone were to attempt walking off with it, you’d know.”
Alma jumped to her feet and held out her hand to me. “Come along. There is something we must do.” she told me.
I left the ground completely with the force by which she pulled me up but landed easily enough.
“Aaliyah, if you will.” she whispered.
We were instantly in a cave. I could sense magic ahead of us. Alma created lights, and I stared in wonder. There was a sword in a stone ahead of us, and I knew that blade.
“Excalibur.” I whispered.
“Yes.” she stated, glancing at me. “The sword was never tossed back into the lake as some stories will tell. After Arthur’s death, the sword was taken here and placed back into the stone from which Arthur had drawn it. To my people, this was Caladfwlch. Though Rhongomiant, his spear, performed nicely for the next in line, Caladfwlch wouldn’t. No one has even been able to draw the sword from the stone in the years since, but we’ve kept a tradition of having each in line attempt it. As we are engaged, you get your chance as well.”
“You’re descended from King Arthur?” I asked, not seeing the resemblance between my petite fiancée and the man who had given me Carnwennan.
“Obviously. Was my name not enough of a clue?” she asked.
“I suppose Pendreigh and Pendragon are similar.” I admitted.
“My family left the name Pen Draig behind when we abdicated the throne, leaving our country in the care of relatives. We’ve been attempting to redeem ourselves ever since.” she explained.
“Redeem yourselves?” I asked.
“Yes. My ancestor killed one of his sons, and things only got that far due to carelessness. You should read the account of the damages he caused someday, but for now, take your turn with the sword. Caladfwlch is waiting.” she insisted.
“One more thing first. Did Kyduan make it to see his father?” I asked.
Her eyes opened in surprise. “You were there, weren’t you.” she stated. “Carnwennan wasn’t lost. Arthur gave it to you.” she stated, stepping closer to me as she stared up at me. “I wondered at how that dagger came to be in your possession, but given your friends, I believe I now know.”
I frowned, not sure if I should answer. I already said too much. “Did he make it?” I asked again.
“Yes, James. He did.” she told me with a smile. “He also recounted how his father had seen a glorious man whom he warned could prove capable of taking the throne, should he wish it.”
“An interesting tale. You should tell me it in full someday.” I told her. Then I turned and walked to the sword. There was an impatience radiating out from it, sinking into me. This sword remembered, just as I remembered the feel of its hilt in my grasp that day. Excalibur easily slid free, igniting once more with a greater brilliance than before.
“Are you here to claim the throne now, James?” teased Alma as she stared at me through the light.
“Obviously not, though I would trouble you for a sheath. Our friend here is a little excited, and there is no way I can hide this radiance.” I told her.
“Bear with it for a while. We need to make our way over to my home, and there is something you should see.” she told me, smiling brightly.
I followed her up and out of the cave, watching her suppress various traps along the way. When we came outside, there was a vibrance to the land which I found to be rare away from my yard, especially in February. I was accustomed to plants that looked entirely healthy out of season due to Emma’s work, but what was happening here?
Barely away from the cave, I stared in wonder as an old tree regained life in its dying limbs. “What is happening?” I asked aloud.
“Having drawn the sword, you’re technically the King, and the King is one with the land here. This should be spreading across my family’s ancestral lands. My people will be impressed with the crops this year.” she claimed.
“I can’t stay here.” I stated.
“No one said you should. As long as your claim to Caladfwlch remains, the land will be as healthy as you are.” she replied, still smiling.
I loved her smile as I loved her, but I couldn’t help wondering if she suspected this would happen. If she did, had she planned for it? Alma might well have purchased additional land, knowing the crops would be bountiful. As far as I knew, I couldn’t get sick. Did that mean this land could never falter while I lived? I knew Caladfwlch wouldn’t leave me. These ancient weapons were affected by my magic, so it had no choice but to adore me. I let out a deep breath and hugged Alma’s shoulder as we walked to her estate. I couldn’t hold clever business against her, even if she might have used me in a sense.