Within the manor walls, a flow of energy was growing. The sun had only just begun to cast her light on the world, but already the house was roused in preparation for a grand event. At the center of the activity, watched by her mother and tended to by her sister and two maids, was the bride-to-be. Already wearing her wedding dress, she stood in the center of the room, under the hands of Violette. With an expression of concentration, she braided two small sections of hair meant to circle the crown of Evelyn’s head, while the rest of her lustrous black locks would fall down her back. Orange blossoms would be entwined in the wrapping of braids. To adorn the creation, there would be a gold circlet with a pearl pendent. And from that gold circlet, there would be a veil made of delicate silken threads. Evelyn took a deep breath, feeling a heaviness that had little to do with the volume of material she was adorned with.
“Look at how my hands are trembling.” She held her hands out for her mother and sister’s examination, showing how they shook with nervous energy. Thea, who was carefully observing the work being done, gave a little scoff at her sister’s anxiety...even while there was amusement in her tone.
“Dearest Evie. It is I, your matron of honor, who should be nervous, as well as your ten bridesmaids. Should evil spirits come to call, it is we who are meant to serve as fodder.”
Cassia, who sat only a small space away on the edge of the bed, smiled at her older daughter’s wisdom. Then, she reached out to gently squeeze Evelyn’s hand, offering her comfort.
“My darling girl, the condition of uneasiness is merely a bridal custom. I trembled quite badly when I was presented to your father. But once the vows are spoken, your tremors of fear will ease. I am certain of it.”
Evelyn returned her mother’s affection, giving her a little smile. She was so glad that her mother was well and would be attending the ceremony. Phillip’s birth had been such a quick and uncomplicated event. She had spent several days resting afterwards, and was still being cautious in her activities. But she had insisted on being a part of the wedding plans, and there was nothing that would change her mind, as they all knew. Thinking of her mother, she also thought of her father, and her smile waned. These last several days, he had been so quiet and gloomy, and she was quite aware of the reason for it. It troubled her to think that he was suffering in any way.
“How is Papa?” she asked, concern in her tone.
Cassia sighed. “He is well enough, in spite of the circumstances. He did not sleep well last night, but that is to be expected.”
At the mention of their father, Thea smiled, recalling her own days as an anxious bride.
“You are fortunate, dear sister. If you recall, only two days before Lucien and I were wed, Papa disappeared. He played at falconry, swearing before his departure that he would not return unless I gave up my ambitions of being married.”
Evelyn could not help but smile at the memory. Thea, of course, had been beside herself with fear and anger, worried that their father would refuse to do his rightful duty and give her to Sir Lucien. But in the end he had returned, and what might have been a calamity had turned into a beautiful occasion. Now, they all smiled at the memory of it. But Cassia was quick to temper their joy, not wishing to make a mockery of Guy’s feelings.
“He is much calmer on this occasion. But do not be mistaken, Evie. This is a very trying time for your father. For us, the smiles and tears we shed today will be expressions of hope and joy. For your father, it will be a difficult day. But know this. Behind every scowl, there is love.”
Evelyn smiled, even as a tender feeling pulled at her heart. A new world was set to open before her, but the old would always be there to welcome her back. Yes, she would soon be Simon’s wife...Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, Marquess of LaRoque.
But she would always be Guy of Gisborne’s daughter.
A crowd of guests, both of high and low estate, were gathered in the yard of the church, awaiting the arrival of the bridal carriage.
On the porch step, Simon stood beside Guy. Owen and Lucien, serving as groomsmen, stood nearby with William, who was to perform the ceremony. It was a blessing and an honor to have the presence of a priest, rather than a simple village friar. Simon hoped such luck would bode well for his marriage. The Duke, who stood nearby, was not a member of the groom’s party, but he conversed pleasantly as they all spoke quietly amongst themselves...except for Guy. He had hardly said a word since their arrival at the church, only a short while before. Simon turned his head slightly, examining his future father-in-law. Anxious as Simon was...as many thoughts as were rushing through his head...he could not help taking note of Sir Guy’s appearance. His undershirt and tunic were moss-green, with his tunic’s braiding around the neck, armholes, and hem having gold threads. His usual black breeches and boots were replaced with a less severe shade of soft brown. For once, the Earl was without his dark shadings. But his expression was filled with its typical grimness. He stood on the step, silently staring at some unknown object in the distance, and Simon could sense that behind the scowling face, there was a deep sense of sadness. Simon pitied him, and for a moment, he considered offering some words of consolation. But he fought the urge. It would be unseemly for two men to speak soft words, and he was certain that even if he were to brave the attempt, Sir Guy would feel insulted and shamed, and anger would certainly erupt. The only consolation he could offer was a vow he made to himself...that Evelyn would never want for anything, and she would be given more love than any woman could ever hope for.
Murmurs of excitement flowed through the crowd. Simon and Guy turned to look. Coming down the path was the open carriage, led by two white steeds, and following behind it was a less ornate vehicle, carrying the members of the bridal party. All of the women were garbed in various shades of blue, but Evelyn stood out among them all. Simon’s gaze found her instantly, and he could not take his eyes off of her. Guy went to the carriage, and Simon watched, mesmerized by her loveliness as she was assisted to the ground.
While Thea and the many bridesmaids helped to prepare Evelyn’s bridal train, her mother and father spoke softly to her. Sir Guy kissed Evelyn’s forehead and cheek, and a moment after, Lady Cassia bestowed her affection on her daughter. She lowered the veil over Evelyn’s face. And then, she took a step back, and the Earl entwined his arm with Evelyn’s. As Guy led his daughter forward, there was a soft sound of delight from the crowd...and Simon took a deep breath as Evelyn came before him. Her eyes met his for a long moment. They smiled at one another. Guy came to stand between them, with Evelyn on his left and Simon on his right. William stood before them, opening his book. Simon took a deep breath, and the ceremony began.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in Paradise, and into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”
After the moment of customary pause, he began again...
“I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, that ye confess it. For be well assured, that so many as be coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.”
Simon felt William’s eyes upon him, and he felt his heart race as the sacred question was asked.
“Simon Jean-Carre. Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
His answer was given without hesitation. “I will.”
William turned to Evelyn. And with a small, loving smile, he asked of her...
“Evelyn Elizabeth Gisborne. Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”
Evelyn’s voice was small and soft as she replied, “I will.”
A moment passed, and they advanced into the church. At the altar, William turned to the assembly as they crowded in. Then, he spoke aloud.
“Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?”
All eyes were fixed on Guy, and when he replied, his voice carried a noticeable tremble.
Guy took Evelyn’s hand. He held it for a long moment...and it was clear to all that there was hesitation in his manner. Then, at last, he placed her hand in William’s. And taking a step back, he gave the bride and groom to their audience and the priest. William took Simon’s hand, and joining the couple’s hands together, he gave them the words to speak. Simon looked at her, and vowed...
“I, Simon Jean-Carre, take thee, Evelyn Gisborne, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”
William parted their hands. And then, he gave Evelyn her vows to speak, and she did so without hesitation.
“I, Evelyn Gisborne, take thee, Simon Jean-Carre, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”
The wedding rings were placed upon the holy book, and William blessed them.
“Bless these Rings, oh merciful Lord, that those who wear them, that give and receive them, may be ever faithful to one another, remain in your peace, and live and grow old together in your love, under their own vine and fig tree, and seeing their children's children. Amen.”
William gave Evelyn’s ring to Simon. His mother’s ring...a slim band of gold, set with rubies...would now grace the finger of the only woman he felt worthy of wearing it. He felt a welling of emotion in his throat as he placed it on each according finger of her hand.
“With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee honor, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” At last, he slipped the ring on her fourth finger, and said, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
A moment passed as William gave a ring to Evelyn. Turning to Simon, she performed the same motions as he had given to her, and she gave him her sacred vow. Then, they turned and knelt at the altar, and William requested all heads to bow in prayer.
“Oh eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life. Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, whereof this ring given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever hereafter remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
They rose from the altar, and after William offered a last prayer. Simon turned to Evelyn. He lifted her veil, and his breath was stolen by the radiant expression of joy she gave him. Wishing not another moment to pass, he kissed her gently on the lips, thrilled at the thought that now, she was really and truly his. Around them, applause rose up. As they left the church, a mixture of seeds and flower petals were showered over them by well-wishers. They climbed into the waiting carriage, and as the procession followed them back to the manor, they kissed again. They were surrounded by those who wished them well...but they only had eyes for each other.