For Evelyn, the roof of the castle was a welcome refuge from the misery of the sick rooms and the general chaos of the war effort. From the battlements, one could see miles of woodlands, hills, and streams. It was a perfect vantage point to watch the sunset, and with Marie at her side, she leaned on the stones and took in the beauty.
In the distance, they saw a wagon approaching, accompanied by three men on horseback. Behind the wagon, a riderless stallion was tied. The horse was white, and Evelyn gasped. She brought her hand to her mouth, and Marie reached out to steady her.
“My lady, what is it?”
Evelyn broke from her grasp, scrambling down the ladder of the roof opening. She knew the man in black who rode a dark horse. And she knew that white stallion. A stallion without it’s rider. Tears blurred her eyes as she flew down the stairs and dashed through the gallery. Servants stared at her as she sped past them, and in the hall, Cassia called out to her.
“Evelyn, what has happened?”
Evelyn hurried on without answering, and Cassia soon followed her, along with Thea, who had been at her mother’s side. William and Isabella, who had come at the sound of running footsteps, hurried after them. In the courtyard, Evelyn froze. She saw her father, and Lucien, and Rene. Owen was sitting up in the cart, his shoulder bound. But she did not see Simon. Without waiting to ask questions, she rushed to the cart, and yanking back the tarp, she cried out at the site of him, lying lifeless.
“Simon!” she screamed. “Oh, God!”
The men dismounted. Thea ran to Lucien’s arms, and Evelyn turned to her father. Guy came to her, taking her in his embrace. She grasped his arms, looking up at him with wild eyes.
“Is he dead?”
Guy shook his head. “He yet clings to life, but by only by the barest of threads. We must get him inside, quickly.”
Cassia, seeing her son-in-law’s lifeless body, demanded a litter. As Simon was carried into the castle, Evelyn hurried along beside it, along with Marie. Cassia turned her attention to Owen. William was helping him from the cart, as Isabella stood nearby. Seeing his shoulder bound with cloth, and the blood that had seeped through, Cassia gasped with concern. She reached up to touch his face, anxiously kissing his cheek.
“Oh my darling! What happened?”
He groaned in pain, but tried not to worry her. “It was an arrow, Mama. But I will be well. Simon is in greater need.”
“But you are wounded,” she insisted. “You must be in great pain.”
William spoke up. “Mama, we will aid him. Evelyn and Simon are in need of you.”
With a grateful smile, Cassia kissed his cheek, and then Isabella’s. And as they helped Owen inside, Cassia turned to Guy, kissing him in welcome. And she looked at him with concerned eyes.
“Tell me the truth, Guy. Will he live?”
Guy shook his head, looking grave. “I do not know. I just do not know.”
Rene came up behind them, intending to walk past without a word. But Guy stopped him.
“Baron,” he said. Rene turned to look at him, and Guy gave him a respectful nod. “Whatever you require, you shall have. You have only to ask for it.”
Rene sighed, a weary sound. “I ask only for a full belly, and a bed in which to lose myself in sleep.” He turned away, walking into the castle. Guy sent a footman after him, to see to all that Rene required. With Thea and Lucien following behind, Guy and Cassia hurried in, moving quickly to see to Evelyn and Simon.
Simon was laid out on the narrow bed that he and Evelyn had shared. Cassia came to his side, examining him. She turned to one of the footmen.
“Fetch a bucket of cool water, and rags. Quickly.”
Evelyn watched as her mother touched Simon’s face and forehead. Her voice trembled. “Mama,” she asked, almost in a whisper, “Will he die?”
Cassia shook her head. “I cannot say. But he is gravely ill. Fever has taken hold.”
“Oh Mama,” Evelyn gasped. She started to cry...and was immediately scolded. Cassia looked at her with harsh glint in her eyes.
“Evelyn, if you dare to erupt into hysterics, I will send you from this room and not allow you back. Is that understood?”
Guy, who had been standing nearby, came forward. He put his arm around Evelyn, offering her his support, while maintaining a sense of stoicism.
“Your Mama is correct. You will serve your husband no purpose by losing mastery of your emotions.”
Evelyn took a deep breath, trying her best to keep her composure. It was difficult to do, looking at Simon and seeing him so silent and still. He had always moved with such power and confidence. Even at night, in their bed, she had found him to be a restless sleeper, constantly changing his position. At times, it had tested her patience. But now, she feared she would never again have the chance to tease him for disturbing her sleep.
When the footman returned with a large bucket of water, Cassia sent everyone from the room except for Guy and Evelyn, and they began pulling at Simon’s clothes. His chain-mail and gambeson had already been removed when they had burned his wounds, and then a loose shirt had been put on him for the purpose of dignity. But they removed that now, and then his boots and breeches, exposing him completely.
“Take this,” said Cassia, picking up a rag. She wet it and wrung it out, placing it in Evelyn’s hand. “Put it over his belly. It will help to cool him.”
Evelyn nodded, placing the damp rag over Simon’s abdomen. His flesh was burning hot, and it was terrifying. Cassia handed her another wet rag, instructing her to place it in the pit of his left arm. It was then that Evelyn saw the burned wound on his side. She gasped, covering her mouth.
“Oh Mama, look at this,” she cried.
Cassia came around to Evelyn’s side of the bed. Seeing the wound, black and curdled, a sickened look came to her face.
“Good God, it is putrefied,” she declared. “No doubt it is the cause of his fever. We will have to make a poultice to draw out the ill humors. Evelyn, bathe his face and chest to cool him. I will return shortly.”
She departed, along with Guy. And Evelyn was left alone with her husband.
Taking up a clean rag, she wet it. Carefully and gently, she cleaned Simon’s face. It was dirty and speckled with blood. His skin shined with sweat, and with a determined hand, she wiped it all away. From head to toe she lovingly bathed him, and then she pulled a sheet over him, granting him his dignity. Returning to his side, nearing his head where it rested on the pillow, she ran her fingers over his handsome face. There was a fear of disturbing his rest, but she could not help herself from bending down to kiss him. Without her mother there to witness or correct it, her eyes filled with tears. But those same eyes became filled with stubbornness and determination, and it showed in her voice as she spoke softly to him.
“Simon Jean-Carre, you have married a Gisborne woman. You know us well enough. We are a most stubborn lot. And I will not allow you to leave me so soon.”
In a room just down the hall from Simon and Evelyn, Rene was having his garments removed by a valet. Lord, how he hated the trappings of a soldier. After all that had passed during these weeks, he was ready to consider an act of desertion. There had been too much blood, and too much suffering for his liking. He sighed, feeling the gurgling of his stomach. Another reminder of the horrors of war. They had survived on meager rations of stale bread and whatever meat they could hunt down. He had eaten better being a criminal than being a defender of the crown. It was madness.
As the valet removed his boots, the door opened. Marie appeared, carrying a tray. She ordered the valet to go, and closed the door after him. As she came towards him, he took in the sight of her, relishing the graceful way that she moved. He smiled. After being surrounded by his fellow men for so long, it was a refreshing change to see a woman...especially one he loved.
“I see you have brought me nourishment,” he said. “You do not know how famished I have been.”
She smiled, putting the tray down on a trunk at the foot of the bed.
“Yes, I have brought you nourishment.” Coming close to his side, she placed her hands softly on the sides of his face. She tilted his head slightly back. “And I have brought you my company.” She kissed him, softly and sweetly. When they parted, he looked up at her with a dazed smile.
“I do not know what brought that about, but I like it.”
She went to the tray, pouring two goblets of wine. “Sir Guy told us of your heroic deed. That you saved the life of the Marquis.”
Rene sighed. “Being a hero is a short-lived profession. Before long, such a deed will be forgotten.”
“Such humble words,” she said, “From a most unlikely source.” She handed him the cup. But instead of drinking from it, he put it aside. Taking her hand, he pulled her close. His hands went around her slender waist.
“Life is too short to be wasted on mindless pursuits. I have learned that lesson well.”
Looking into his eyes, she smiled softly. “What is it you speak of?”
He brought his lips close to hers, whispering. “Be my wife, Marie. Make me an honest man.” Her response was a gentle laugh.
“You, honest? That is a most amusing jest you make.”
“I am very serious,” he said. She was trying to distract him by brushing her fingers through the hair at his forehead, and it was nearly his undoing. But he willed himself to focus. “We are a match, Marie. A fated match. Not two people forced together for the sake of money or property.”
Her eyes twinkled with merriment. “How noble you sound. I rather like it.”
“Marry me,” he insisted. “What have you to lose? What have either of us to lose?”
She responded by kissing him, and putting her arms around his neck. Then, she whispered in his ear.
“I shall consider it.”
He growled in frustration. But he smiled, as her soft body and warm embrace proved too strong a distraction to fight.
The dawn broke. Evelyn, curled up in a chair, was asleep. She had tried to stay awake as long as possible, but sometime during the night, exhaustion had overwhelmed her. Both her mother and father had tried to encourage her to find rest in another room, but she had refused to leave Simon. He had taken to trembling during the night, and despite the layering of blankets over him, it only seemed to grow worse.
Lying in the chair, she heard a low mumbling sound coming from the bed. As she came awake, she realized that Simon was muttering something. She rushed to his side, placing her hand against his forehead. It was warm, but not nearly as hot as before. With a hopeful tone, she talked to him.
“Simon, my love. I am here.”
When he said her name, she nearly broke into relieved sobs. But she held herself back, knowing that he needed her to be calm. She could not care for him if she was overly excited.
“Evelyn,” he mumbled. “I am freezing.” She could see that he was starting to shake again. His fever had broken, but it had not passed. She rushed to the foot of the bed, opening a trunk that contained another blanket. As she covered him with it, she kissed his forehead, whispering to him.
“Be strong, my love.”
She longed to hear him speak again, but he fell silent. He continued to tremble in his sleep, and she stayed by his side, praying for his continued recovery.
Simon’s progress was slow. Even after his shaking spells had subsided, he remained asleep for the better part of the day. Evelyn only left him briefly, to change clothes and see to personal needs. She took her meals in the room, and had a bed of blankets made up on the floor.
Word from the battlefront began to be heard around the castle. The army was pushing hard towards the coast, and claiming victory in every conquest. It was not a matter of if they would win the war, but merely when. Evelyn shared the news with Simon, but he seemed too weak to take joy in it. His fever had gradually subsided, but he still could not hold solid food in his stomach. Evelyn gave him nourishment by feeding him broth, and slowly, he began to show signs of improvement.
There were few disturbances in the way of constant visitors, although Cassia came every morning and evening to examine her patient’s gradually healing wounds. One face that remained strangely absent was Rene.
Evelyn longed to see him, to thank him properly for his gift of saving her husband’s life. But her time had been devoted to Simon, and until she felt he was entirely recovered, her offering of thanks would wait.
Late one afternoon, word came from one of Simon’s pages.
Rene was missing.
The page fell to his knees at Simon’s bed-side. “My lord,” he said. “We have searched the castle and the grounds. The baron is not to be found.”
Evelyn and Simon looked at one another. Then, Simon looked at his page again. In a weak but still authoritative voice, he answered.
“I have sent him away. That is all that needs to be said.”
The page nodded. As he left, Evelyn looked at Simon, her eyes full of surprise and curiosity.
“Where do you suppose he may be?”
Simon sighed, a weary sound. “To his brother, perhaps. But I will not pursue him. As he granted me my life, I will reward him with his freedom.”
Rising from her chair, Evelyn bent down to kiss his forehead.
“You are a most generous man, Simon Jean-Carre.”
He did not answer, for he had fallen asleep again. But at last, it was a peaceful slumber. Rather than returning to her makeshift bed on the floor, she went around behind Simon, where his back was turned away from her. Taking care not to disturb him, she slipped under the covers with him, and joined him in sleep.