A page met Simon in the hall, and led him up the stairs to Sir Guy's quarters. There, in the solar, was the Duke and Sir Guy, along with Sir Lucien and Owen. No women were present...not even servants. Simon could sense the seriousness of all involved. The tension was heavy in the air. As he stepped further into the room, his father looked at him.
"Ah, there you are," Basil said. "Come."
Stepping to his father's side, Simon examined the faces of those around him. Guy sat at his desk, looking down at a parchment he held. Owen and Lucien stood on either side of him. Their sober expressions told him that this matter, whatever it was, would be much more important than he had realized. Basil folded his arms, speaking in a solemn voice.
"We have just received a message from the King's ambassador. We are to travel to court three days hence."
Simon's brow raised in interest. "For what purpose?" He looked at the parchment in Guy's hand.
"To discuss rumors of war," Basil replied.
Simon looked back to his father, giving a shrug. "Such rumors are nothing new," he said. "Why travel to court?"
Even as he asked the question, he wondered where it sprang from. When had he ever questioned a request from the King? Basil did not seem particularly phased by the odd question. He replied with the same seriousness.
"It is believed that his majesty's enemies make plans to move against him. Phillip calls upon all men of rank to come to court, so that the matter can be more deeply discussed."
All of the men looked at one another. Sir Guy, who had kept his eyes lowered and focused on the message, at last looked up. His voice dropped to a low tone, nearly a whisper.
"We cannot be certain how matters will unfold," he said. "And until we know more, I do not wish the details to be discussed in the presence of my wife."
"Nor I," said Lucien. "Theodora has been through much of late. I will not have her further unsettled by fears of war."
"Mama is with child," said Owen. "Such grave news could upset her."
Guy rose to his feet. "It is settled, then. Our journey to court will be discussed as a matter of politics...nothing more. No further detail is to be given. Are we all agreed?"
They all looked at one another, nodding silently in agreement.
The thought of war sent a familiar surge of euphoria through Simon's blood. It had been months since his last foray into battle. It had been days since he had fought his brief fight against Lucien in the tourney. Lord, where had his mind been? Precious time had been lost. Had his skills waned? Before his journey to court, perhaps he would spar with Sir Guy's soldiers and sharpen his skills. He would prepare for the imminent fight...for it would come soon. His instincts, and his logic, told him it was a foregone conclusion. War was not just a matter of defending one's lands. It was a sport of Kings. When the King went to war, his subjects were expected to follow, without question.
So why, then, was an unsettling feeling brewing within him?
He could not remember a time when he had felt reservations in regard to his duty. But as he left Sir Guy's chamber, he thought of the looks on the faces of the Earl and Sir Lucien. Their eyes held no lust for blood, as so many men had when faced with the prospect of a battle. There was no excitement in their expressions...no thrill at the notion of conquering the enemy. Sir Guy and Lucien spoke of the code, and surely they would do right by their King. How could they not? To refuse would be treason. But they thought not of themselves. They thought of their wives...their families. Sir Guy and Sir Lucien had much at stake.
As do I, he realized.
It was an astonishing thought...one that fell over him like the shock of ice cold water. Just outside, waiting in the orchard, was the promise of his future. How could he go, knowing that he might not return? His sons and daughters, yet to be born...his legacy, was wrapped up in Evelyn.
How could he leave her, when he was only just coming to know her?
He had no choice. He sovereign had called, and he would answer. All he could do now was make the most of the next few days.
As he came upon the orchard, he saw her sitting there on the bench, just where had had left her. But there was a change. She wiped her eyes...and he realized that she had been weeping. He had left her in such a fervent state. What offense had caused this? He hurried to her side. When she saw his approach, she straightened her posture and dabbed her eyes, making an attempt to correct herself. He recalled her making that same attempt at propriety only two nights ago. Sitting beside her now, he spoke gently.
"I am not offended by tears, Evelyn. Tell me the cause of your distress."
She looked up at him. His heart ached at the sight of hurt in her eyes. Reaching out, he tenderly touched her cheek. Shaking her head, she tried to smile.
"It is nothing of importance. Merely thoughts of...unpleasant things. But please, do not concern yourself with it."
He slowly removed his hand, allowing her several moments to compose herself. He believed not a word of her declaration. Clearly, something had happened in his brief absence. But he felt it best not to press her on the matter. If she wished not to speak of it, perhaps the matter was best left alone. There were other matters at hand.
"Evelyn," he said, "I must travel to court."
She looked up at him, stunned. "Why? How soon?"
"Three days from now. We are called on matters of politics. I am certain it is nothing of significance."
Her eyes widened with concern. "We? Who goes with you?"
"My father, and yours. Along with Owen and Sir Lucien."
There was a moment of silence as she absorbed the news. Her reply was soft and quiet. "Mama will be most unhappy to hear of this, as will Thea. They will miss their husbands very much." She raised her eyes to him. "And so shall I."
Her gaze held his. He felt the familiar warmth rising between them. But then, her eyes lowered. She reached for his hand, clasping it in both her own. She bowed her head, and her soft lips kissed his fingers...a gesture of such sweetness, such gentleness, he was uncertain how to respond. He had known many emotions in his life, but this was something different. Something new. It was a tender, delicate feeling...a sweet pain that ached just under his left rib. Slowly she moved closer. Her head came to rest against him. And without conscious will, his arms came around to hold her. His heart beat fast...not with excitement, not with passion, but with something more. Something profound...