This takes place a few years after "Homecoming"...I will be dividing some of the chapters in two because of their length. I hope you enjoy it!
Evelyn could read the intent in her sister’s eyes.
What are you up to? She wondered.
Theodora was older, but not always wiser. And judging from the expression on her face, it was clear she was about to do something foolish.
They had just set out for a quiet afternoon ride, with Evelyn riding her gentle brown mare. Daisy was a calm, intelligent animal that was trustworthy. But Thea’s horse was not so familiar. The white stallion had recently been given to her as a gift, and she’d not been permitted to ride him alone…until today, when she’d begged their father repeatedly to be allowed. He’d finally given in, but with the condition that Evelyn accompany her and report any improper behavior.
It should have been enough of a deterrent. And while within site of the manor, all was as it should have been. But once out in the fields, out of the line of vision, a strange curl of a smile came to Thea’s lips. Evelyn eyed her with suspicion.
“What is that look? What wild thought is in your mind?”
Thea reached down to stroke her horse’s neck. “I wonder how fast my new pet can run?”
Evelyn shook her head, concern flooding her expression.
“Do not attempt to learn,” she said.
Thea shrugged, her look careless. “Why not?”
“Because Papa warned you to ride with slow pace and cautious mind. He would be furious to learn of your disobedience.”
Thea sighed, shaking her head. Her smile was free of concern.
“Dearest Evie, you are but fourteen...
Evelyn's reply was indignant. "I am fifteen come December."
"You are still a child," said Thea. "I am seventeen. Parental concerns do not weigh so heavily on me.”
“No, Thea. Do not do it. Especially with an animal untested.”
“Then I shall see to the testing. Such a fine animal must stretch his legs.”
Before Evelyn could say more, Thea gave her horse the heel, and the beast took off in flight. Evelyn watched in horror as her sister became a blur of flying black hair and blue velvet. She gave her own horse the command, hurrying after her, terrified of what might happen. Thea was an experienced rider, but she’d always been forbidden to take a horse on a full gallop. A swift canter was all that had ever been permitted.
But Thea was going faster than Evelyn had ever been witness to…and her horror increased tenfold when she saw the gated stone wall in the horse’s path. She watched with bated breath as the animal took flight and sailed over the obstacle…only to lose his rider as he made contact with the earth. There was a scream as Thea was thrown off, and she rolled as she hit the ground. She lay still and silent. Evelyn cried out, jumping from her horse to run to her sister’s side.
“Thea! Speak to me!” She rolled her over…and was shocked to discover that her sister’s eyes were open, though they strained with the effort of regaining her senses. There was a gash above her right eye, but no other signs of damage. And suddenly she started to giggle.
“Oh Evie, did you see how fast we moved? It was as if we were in flight!”
Evelyn’s expression flashed from concern to fury in an instant. A good slap was what she wanted to give her, and it was a difficult impulse to hold back. Instead she lashed her with words.
“Flaming imbecile! You might have killed yourself with such stupidity!”
Thea only laughed, excitedly clasping her hands together. “Oh dear sister! If only I had held my grip a little better, we might have continued on for who knows how long. To think how thrilling it would have been!”
Her temper barely in check, Evelyn gave her a hard shove to the shoulder. “Oh, I cannot stand you! You give thought to no one save yourself! If only Papa would see you whipped as you deserve, I would not stay his hand!”
Thea’s face lost its mirth, becoming almost grave. “Oh Evie, you cannot tell him of this!”
Evelyn opened her mouth to speak, but the sound of a familiar voice gave them both pause.
“He will learn of it first thing!”
They turned to look. Thea’s fiance was coming their way, and his face was dark with fury. Lucien, with his pale blond hair and amber eyes, usually looked so calm and kind. But seeing him now, he seemed almost unrecognizable in such a state of rage. Sliding down from his dappled-grey charger, he rushed to Thea and knelt down beside her. She looked up at him with a sheepish smile.
“Dear Lucien, do not worry. I am fine…”
His furious shout stunned her into silence. “I should turn you over my knee and see your backside welted! Your father grants me permission to join you on your stroll, and this is what I find? I bestowed that horse to you as a gift, and with it you nearly make a murderer of me!”
As she watched in silence, Evelyn was incapable of words. She’d never seen this side if him before. And Thea, usually so flippant, could only manage a few small words.
“Lucien, I did not mean to…”
“Do not speak!”
Neither of the women said a word. He helped Thea to her feet, and holding her arm, he gently but firmly walked her towards his waiting horse.
“You will be silent until we return to the house. And when first you speak, it will be to explain yourself.”
He lifted her into the saddle. After he retrieved her mount, leading it through the gate, he would not allow it to be ridden. Instead, he held the reigns as he climbed into his own saddle behind Thea, and he led her stallion along behind them. Evelyn found her mare and followed, stunned…and eager to see what would come of this wild occurrence.
As they traveled home in silence, Evelyn found herself feeling pity, not for her sister…but for the scowling Knight leading them along.
Poor Lucien, she thought. Fortune seems never to bless him…at least when it comes to his intended.
He and Theodora had been betrothed from a young age. But only recently had he come to meet the Gisborne family face to face. At twenty he was a Knight newly christened, and with Guy of Gisborne as his lord and master, he had found his internship to be much more than he bargained for.
Guy had been given his own garrison with the granting of his Earldom years before, and he took the duty very seriously, commanding his troops with a fierce hand. But it seemed that among all the men, Lucien was on the lowest rung of the ladder…and his master wasn’t very eager to see him rise. To all those who witnessed it, it seemed that the poor fellow had taken on a challenge beyond winning…that of being Sir Guy’s future son-in-law. The marriage was not in question. They would be wed just after the harvest, which was less than a month away. But it wasn’t permission that Lucien sought. He craved Sir Guy’s respect, and yet it seemed that each attempt to please was met with failure. His greetings were answered with silence…his kind gestures ignored. Guy often accused him of smiling too much. But everyone else in the family was quite taken with him…particularly his bride-to-be. Thea had never been so content with anyone before. It was strange, though pleasingly so, to see her so soft-spoken and always happy. She was completely smitten with her fiancé.
But what was to happen now? Lucien seemed a different person, changed in just one brief moment into a man quite fearsome in his manner. And no wonder. It would not only be Thea who would answer for her near calamity, but he as well. When Guy sought to place blame, he did not show favoritism. And for Lucien, there would be a steep price to pay, even for something that was hardly his fault.
As they neared the manor, Evelyn saw that her father was afield working with his men, and she followed along as Lucien rode in their direction. Guy turned to them as they approached, his eyes narrowing in suspicion to see Thea’s horse without a rider, and he rode forward to meet them as Lucien stopped. Getting down from his horse, he quickly and lifted Thea off in an almost brusque manner. Taking her by the hand he pulled her along at a quick pace, ignoring her pleas for understanding. Evelyn got down from her horse and hurried to follow, eager to see what would transpire.
They closed the short distance between themselves and Guy, who looked from one of them to another.
“What is this?” he demanded, getting down from his horse.
Lucien went down on one knee, lowering his head. “My lord, something has transpired. Your daughter has an admission to make.”
He tugged at Thea’s hand, silently urging her to speak. She did so…but attempted to mollify any outrage before it began. She spoke calmly and casually.
“I had a slight accident, Papa. But there is no cause for alarm.”
Guy’s brow raised in concern. His tone rose slightly. “An accident? What accident?”
“I was riding a bit too fast, and I fell. But I am unharmed.”
Lucien boldly corrected her statement. “She nearly broke her neck!”
Guy’s eyes became wild with fury, the cords of his neck bulging. He was so incensed that he could not speak, and he turned his head away, even as Thea grasped his arm and tried in vain to soothe him with an explanation.
“I was not thinking, Papa. Please do not be angry.”
He flung her off, turning on her in a rage. “You will say no more! You deliberately disobeyed me!”
Lucien spoke quickly. “My lord, I take full responsibility. It was I who gave her the beast. I have been a fool.”
Shocked by his declaration, fear suddenly grew in Thea’s eyes. She understood that they would both be punished, but her father’s wrath was sure to fall harder on her fiancé, and she shook her head in denial.
“No, Lucien! ‘Tis not your fault.”
She could not bear the thought of his self sacrifice, but he seemed unable or unwilling to hear her.
“I fear I am undeserving of your daughter, Sir Guy. It seems I have failed to protect her as I should, and I am prepared to relinquish her to one who is worthy.”
Thea became almost frantic. She pleaded with him. “No, no! Do not say such a thing!” She tried to cling to him, but Guy took her by the arm and pulled her away. As he held her, he turned to one of his soldiers and pointed to Thea’s horse. “Lock up that mad beast! Tomorrow I will have it slaughtered!”
Thea was weeping wildly now, begging him not to act on his anger, but he thrust her into the hands of another of his men.
“Remove her from my sight and confine her to her chamber! Do not let her out until I come to fetch her!”
Thea struggled to free herself as she was led away, sobbing and pleading with her father to be merciful. All the while, Lucien remained kneeling, ready to submit to whatever punishment he was to receive. His words were brief, low-spoken.
“Forgive me, my lord.”
Guy looked down at him with a sneer, saying nothing. He mounted his horse and rode away without a word, leaving everyone behind.
The soldiers slowly disbanded, returning to their practice. Lucien did not join them. He glanced at Evelyn, who stood wide-eyed in astonishment. Then he turned and walked away. Evelyn wasn’t entirely sure what her part should have been, if any. She only knew that this drama was not nearly over…and if she wanted to see it all, she would not accomplish anything by standing alone in the yard.
To be continued...