Standing in the doorway of a tower room, Owen watched his brother, who had his head bent over a sheet of parchment. The chamber was small and simply furnished, with only a writing table, a narrow bed with a single trunk at the end, and a washstand. There was a small hearth, but nothing more was needed in such a humble chamber. It was farthest away from the activity of the great hall, and it was always William’s refuge when he visited. Being a solitary person, as he had been since childhood, William Gisborne had little interest in social matters and noisy gatherings, preferring a place of quiet study or contemplation. Such a nature suited his chosen profession perfectly, it seemed.
William had always been studious. It was he who had encouraged everyone, even the ladies of the house, to be committed to reading and writing. It was not considered important, or even fashionable, for a woman to be so educated, but William’s influence on the family…especially their mother…had always been strong. Leaning against the doorframe, Owen at last broke the silence of his observation.
“Mama will miss you dreadfully, you know.”
William glanced up for only a moment, giving a slight smile. He wore a familiar expression of modesty, continuing to write as he spoke.
“She shall have sufficient company in which to find solace, especially now that Gabriel has made his entrance.”
With a snort, Owen stepped forward into the room. William had always shied away from compliments, and when confronted with discussion about his place in the sibling pecking order, he always tried to underplay his importance.
“You are too modest, as you have always been. Even though you are well aware of her preference for you.”
William replied in a calm tone as he dipped his quill pen and tapped it against the inkpot. “Mama loves all of us equally. You know that.”
Owen stepped further into the room, coming to stand by the window. He folded his arms, letting out a breath.
“If that is what you choose to believe, then so be it. It was not my intent to seek you out for an argument.”
There was a moment of silence as William seemed to contemplate what the quiet indicated. If there was anyone Owen felt comfortable confiding in, it was his brother. Despite the differences of their individual natures, they shared as deep a bond as any brothers. He often spoke to William of things that no one else knew of. And yet, being a proud soul, Owen sometimes found it difficult to begin an important conversation. He often relied on William to draw him in, as he did now.
“Tell me then,” William asked, putting aside his pen and paper. “What was your intent in coming to me? And do not say that you came to bid me farewell. I know you too well, brother. What reason have you to tear yourself away from a social gathering?”
Owen stared out the window, thinking of what…or more particularly, who…had caused him to seek his brother’s consolation. His reply was solemn.
“Tonight, I find the company too stifling.”
Folding his hands on the desk, William’s voice held a note of interest.
“Do you? That is unlike you, I should say.”
“I am not quite myself, I fear. Not myself at all.”
Owen heard William’s chair as it scraped the floor. A moment later, he came and sat in the window seat, stretching his legs and folding his arms.
“If you wish to talk, I will listen,” he said. “Is that why you have sought me out?”
Looking at his brother, Owen felt the strength of their family bond, and he knew William to be most trustworthy. Still, he could not help his need for words of assurance.
“If I tell you something, will you swear on oath to keep it between us?”
William chuckled, gesturing to the simple linen alb he wore.
“My holy garments are not a costume, brother. I will soon be a priest, so be assured that I know how to properly handle a confession.”
Several moments went by, until Owen could contain his feelings no longer. He needed to speak of his burden before it ruined his sanity.
“I have fallen in love.”
William blinked, and his expression told of his complete disbelief.
“Surely you jest,” he said. But Owen shook his head in reply.
“I do not.”
William, grasping for words, slowly rose to his feet. “I hardly know what to say,” he replied. With his arms still folded, he took a few small steps away, as it seemed he was trying to recover from his surprise. Despite this, he spoke in a calm tone of voice, and Owen could feel William’s eyes searching him.
“Are you certain you are not merely infatuated? Perhaps your feelings are a temporary madness. It is not uncommon for men to feel such things when it concerns a woman.”
Owen’s reply came quickly. He shook his head.
“I assure you, this is not a passing fancy. I have mulled over these feelings for many long months. I have fought them with all of my strength. But they hold me in a firm grip, forcing me to submit to their will.”
“Who is the lucky lady in question?”
Isabella’s name was on the tip of Owen’s tongue. But he held it back. Not even William, whom he trusted so well, could know that he had feelings for a married woman. It was unthinkable.
“I cannot tell you her name.”
“Why on earth not?”
Thinking of Isabella, knowing that she was another man’s wife, Owen answered with more passion than he meant to display. “Because she belongs to another!”
The outburst felt so awkward…so spontaneous. Part of the trouble of all of this was his inability to control his own emotions. He knew he had always been an impulsive man, but part of becoming a knight was learning how to channel his feelings…of learning to be a master of control and concentration, even in moments of anger or enthusiasm. But Isabella had made all of that impossible. In frustration, he turned away from the window, and took to pacing slowly. William came closer, inquiring.
“Does she know of your feelings? Does she share them?”
With a shake of his head, Owen muttered in frustration.
“She is not aware of my turmoil. And I cannot say if she feels anything for me, other than an inkling of friendship. But it is unlikely that I have meaning for her.”
“And how do you know this?” asked William. “Perhaps she has a secret admiration for you, just as you have for her.”
As Owen came to stand before the hearth, he leaned a hand on the mantle, staring into the fire.
“So long as her loyalties remain as they are, she will be unattainable for me. The fates have placed us at a distance, and we must remain so.”
A moment later, he felt William’s hand on his shoulder, and words of kindness followed.
“I wish I could aid you in some way. You have my sympathies, brother. To be the victim of unrequited love…it must be quite painful.”
Such tender feelings, forced to be held within, were indeed painful. And he could see no way to eradicate his burden, other than to hope that in time, and with continued effort, they would fade.
“Yes, it is,” he answered. “But I am nothing if not strong. I will endure this battle, and many more to come, I am certain. But it is my hope that future battles will be fought in the field. I am better prepared to handle them there.”
Laughing quietly, William returned to his desk. “I am not so certain that love is a battle to be easily won,” he said. “But I wish you good fortune in the endeavor.”
Owen sighed, moving towards the door. “I should return to the party before I am missed.” A slight smile came to his lips as he turned in the doorway, looking at William. “Thank you for your time and consolation, your grace.”
William looked up at him, and his eyes shined with mischief.
“You are welcome, my son.”
The corner of Owen’s mouth rose a bit higher. “I will see you in the morning, before you depart.”
William nodded, and in his reply, there was a last hint of brotherly teasing.
“Good night. I hope you sleep well.” Slowly, he looked up at Owen, who rolled his eyes at the jest.
“Doubtful, brother,” he said. “Highly doubtful.” And as he left the room, he heard William’s chuckle in reply.