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The guards stormed the courtesan’s suite of rooms. Merewyn shrieked at the sudden intrusion.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, struggling against the men restraining her. Her black hair hung loose around her porcelain shoulders, a dressing gown barely covering her curvaceous form. Ahron felt a twinge of shame at catching the lady in such an informal state.
“That won’t be necessary,” Ahron told his men, who promptly released her.
“Lady Merewyn, I regret to inform you that you must now gather your belongings and then we shall escort you from the castle grounds to The Outlands. You have been sentenced to exile.”
“On whose authority?” She pulled her frightened children closer to her—a boy of two years old and a girl of five. The eldest boy stepped between Ahron and his mother, the chiseled features of the child’s father evident even in his nine-year-old face. He displayed the same bravery Aldfrid would have if faced with the same situation.
“Don’t touch her.” Anger flashed in his ice-blue eyes―the one feature he had inherited from his mother.
Ahron laid a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You show valor beyond your years, but this is not a fight you can win. The queen herself has ordered the exile of your mother and siblings.”
“Exile? That cannot be. The castle is our home.” Merewyn spoke to Ahron, but nudged her son Owain to join the others. Two guards caught the boy by his wrists.
“Owain is to stay here.” Ahron met Merewyn’s gaze. Her eyes widened as his full meaning dawned on her.
“No,” she pleaded, clutching at his hand. “No, you can’t take my son.”
“Milady, I have no choice.”
Two more guards restrained her as the others escorted Owain from the room. The boy put up a fight, as did his mother, but their efforts came to naught. Merewyn collapsed to the floor, screaming and sobbing. “She can’t do this.”
Ahron knelt down and stroked the woman’s perfumed hair. “She can do anything she likes. She’s the monarch de facto. The king’s will names her regent until Owain comes of age.”
Wild-eyed and shaking, she looked up at her oldest boy. “What will be his fate?”
“I cannot speak to that.” Ahron nudged her to her feet. “But I swear you this―I will protect him as much as I can.”
Merewyn shook her head. “I will not accept this.”
“You must.” Ahron gripped her arm, leading her toward the door. “We must go.”
Dragging the boy down the hall, the guards disappeared, Owain’s objections echoing for all to hear.
Tears streamed down his mother’s face and the other children hid sobbing in her skirts.
Ahron produced a handkerchief from his sleeve and handed it to Merewyn. “I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself and some of your belongings. Then, milady, we really must go.”
As he led the shattered family from their suites, he hardened his heart against the woman’s pleas. The cries of the children proved much harder to ignore.
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