I should have another post soon. Thanks for reading! :)
Warning: A bit of bad language and violence in this post...
“Your grace. And Sir Guy. What an unexpected surprise.”
Isabella smiled politely as she came down the stairs, even as she trembled inside. And her fear came full force when Gilbert suddenly grabbed her by the arm. A hand of iron gripped her forearm, squeezing it painfully. His voice rose in fury.
“Who is Rene of Bergeron?”
She could feel her courage crumbling under the rising current of his anger. Yet, she clung to the hope that she could somehow save herself, and she tried to maintain a calm façade as she answered.
“He is no one of importance, husband. Merely a distant relation who came to me during your absence.”
His hand struck her cheek – hard. Her left eye felt the blow fiercely. Her neck, twisted too quickly, caused a stab of pain to shoot to her head. But before she could take a moment to recover from the pain and shock, she was shaken violently. Gilbert bellowed at her, enraged.
“Do not lie to me! Who is this man you have in my absence? Tell me who he is and where you harbor him!”
Shock turned to fear as he squeezed her arm in a tighter grip. His eyes were dark with rage, and she sobbed, terrified – knowing that he would unleash the full force of his wrath on her. He had no qualms about it. Tears gushed from her eyes. Her voice trembled.
“I do not harbor him, I swear it! He has departed on his own terms, but I know not where he goes! He is nothing to me!”
She shrank away as Gilbert made to strike her again, but the marquis reached out and gripped the Gilbert’s wrist, stopping the blow. Simon said something on her behalf, but she was too shaken to hear it clearly. To her great horror, the two men turned to leave. They were abandoning her. They were leaving her alone with Gilbert. When they were out of sight, her heart trembled with a fear like she had never known before, for she knew that the worst was yet to come.
He was merciless, striking her brutally on one side of her face and then the other. She tasted blood mixed with the sale of her tears, and she cried out as he seized her by the hair at the nape of her neck. Crying out as he dragged her along the length of the hall, she pleaded with him to be merciful, but he silenced her with a furious curse.
“Fucking whore! You will pay for your deception!”
His words petrified her, sending her heart and mind into a frenzied panic. As he rushed her down a set of steps, showing no pity as she nearly lost her footing, his intention suddenly became clear to her. He was taking her to the lowest level of the manor…a place reserved for the storage of wine and ale, and – in some cases – the keeping of prisoners. His grip on her neck never slacked as he turned a key in the lock of a chamber door. She screamed in terror as he forced her into the pitch black cell. Clinging to the doorframe with her fingers, she fought to keep herself imprisonment, but Gilbert shoved her back and slammed the door, leaving her in the terrifying darkness of the cell. Hysteria tore at her mind as she screamed for Gilbert to let her out. But her cries were only met with silence. The air in the room seemed to dissipate after only a few moments. Fighting to breathe, her mind and body paralyzed by fear, she felt her head spinning. She fell to the cold, damp floor, and was soon senseless.
Waking in darkness, she gasped. She fought for mastery of herself, her ears pulsing in an attempt to hear something in the silence. The moldy smell of the stone was sickening. Her face was swelling painfully - she could feel it, and lying there, she pressed her cheek to the cool stones of the floor, ready to give up. A tiny portion of her mind was telling her to fight – to get up and find her courage. But she found it too great a task to bear. Fresh tears pooled in her eyes. What was there to fight for? Gilbert had probably decided her fate already. If he didn’t leave her in the cell to die of starvation or sickness, he would probably have her tortured…or even killed. What reason was there for courage now?
At the thought of her son, she found herself rising to her knees, her hands groping in the darkness as she searched for the door. Finding it, she gripped the latch with both hands, pulling at it with all of her strength, even though she knew it was a useless effort. She had to try, for his sake. A new fear came over her suddenly. What if Gilbert chose to have his revenge by harming their son in some way? She wanted to believe that he would not be so ruthless. But God in heaven, what if he was so enraged that he would destroy his own child just to spite her?
Leaning her head against the door, closing her eyes, she uttered a desperate prayer.
God in heaven, spare my son. Do what you will with me, for I am nothing more than a miserable sinner. But he is only a boy. Do not let any harm come to him.
A key turned in the outer lock. Stepping back, she prepared herself to fall at Gilbert’s feet if need be. He could do what he wished with her – as long as he swore that their son would be safe. When the door opened, the light of a torch momentarily blinded her, and she raised her arm to shield her eyes. But in the next moment that arm was taken in a firm grip, held not by Gilbert, but by one of soldiers. He said nothing as he pulled her from the cell, leading her along the dim corridor. He was a man of great breadth and height – a fearsome looking fellow with an angular, fierce face. But she dared to speak to him.
“Where am I to go?” she asked.
His answer was short and harsh. “The abbey of St. Victor.”
“I am condemned to a nunnery?”
“By the baron’s orders. And by his orders, you will go willingly and silently, or face the consequences.”
So it would not be death she would face, but instead, a life imprisonment. She might have been grateful, were it not for her terrible fear about the fate of another.
“I must speak to Gilbert!” she cried. “I must speak to him about my son!”
He stopped for a moment, giving her a hard shake. His eyes were dark and cold. “You will be say no more! I have my orders, and do not think I will hesitate to silence you by force!”
With a rough yank on her arm he led her on. Half in bewilderment, half in fear, she was silent as she was led through the servants quarters and out a rear door, where a wheeled cart was waiting for her. As she was unceremoniously lifted up and dropped into the wagon, her mind tried to grasp the concept of what her life was soon to be.
Life in an abbey. That was to be her fate. She would be stripped of her title, her possessions – and her freedom. There would be no friendships, no socialization. Life in a religious order consisted of total devotion, of giving all of the body and soul, to God. And it would not be a pleasant servitude. She was a condemned sinner. An adulteress. Such a crime was an offense requiring a fitting punishment, and the convent would have her do penance by becoming a laundress or a cook. She would live out her days in harsh servitude, paying the price for the cardinal sin she had committed. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she slowly sank down to the bottom of the cart. Words of prayer softly fell from her lips.
Heavenly father, spare my son. I beg you…
As he walked towards the barracks, Owen heard his mother’s voice calling him. She sounded troubled, it seemed. Turning in the hall, he saw that same concern written in her expression. Coming to him, she reached out and touched his arm. Her tone had a slight tremble to it.
“Owen, have you seen Evelyn?”
He shook his head. “Not since breakfast, Mama. That was nearly an hour ago. Why?”
Cassia’s hand went to her mouth, her fingers touching her bottom lip in a gesture of worry. “I cannot find her. And I must speak to her right away.”
Owen reached out to take her hand, trying to comfort her. It was not like Evie to put their mother in such a state of concern. Surely there was nothing serious going on.
“I am certain she is about somewhere. Do not worry.”
She shook her head. “You do not understand. I have a terrible feeling that something is wrong. Evie and your father had a confrontation, and I fear she is hiding herself somewhere.”
His eyes widened in shock. Evelyn was not one to fight with anyone, especially their father, whom she absolutely adored. He could not believe they had actually had a disagreement, and his mouth turned slightly up in a disbelieving little smile.
“Evie and Papa had a confrontation?” he asked. “Surely not.”
She waved her hands at him. “I do not have time to argue, son. Please, help me find your sister.”
Nodding, he replied quickly. “Of course, Mama. I will go this instant.”
After a quick kiss to his cheek, she hurried away, and he turned in the opposite direction to begin his own search.
What in heaven’s name is going on? He wondered.
It seemed that after the announcment of the baroness' departure, one thing after another seemed to be happening. First, Evelyn had left the breakfast table without explanation. He had not thought of it at the time, even though their father had soon departed as well, and the marquis not long after that. Now, Evie could not be found at all, and what was this odd matter of her having a confrontation with their father? He sensed that somehow, all of these things were connected, although he couldn’t imagine how.
But it felt to him as if a storm of some kind was brewing. He actually felt a slight chill run down his spine, and he wondered at the strange sensation, as well as the odd feeling of foreboding rising inside of him. He sighed, wondering where peaceful days had gone…and if they would ever return.
As morning turned to afternoon, Evelyn was nowhere to be found. Owen, along with Lucien, had ridden across the grounds but the search proved fruitless. If Evelyn was hiding, she was doing a very good job of it. The only information to be found was from one of the stable boys, who said she had ridden out on her horse that morning, and that she looked as though she had been crying. That seemed to prove that she had, indeed, been upset by what had transpired between her and their father. Guy, along with Simon, had departed without explanation, and the entire house was now in an uproar.
Cassia was quickly growing frantic, and Thea and Celeste took her to her room and sat with her while others continued the search. There was concern that she would bring harm to her unborn child if she did not calm herself, and standing just outside his mother’s door, Owen worried for her state of health as he listened to her talking. Thea was attempting to understand what had brought about the strange turn of events, and Cassia explained with a slightly trembling voice.
“Evelyn was apparently enchanted by Monsieur Rene, and he seemed to have developed an affection for her as well. From what I can understand, he took a liberty with her, and your papa witnessed it.”
Listening, Owen’s mouth opened slightly in shock. He was tempted to rush into the room, but instead he listened, hearing Thea’s stunned reaction.
“A liberty? Good heavens, Mama! What kind of liberty?”
Cassia shook her head. “I do not think it was anything especially harmful. A mere peck on the cheek, but your papa flew into a rage and dismissed him from the property. And then, he took his anger out on Evelyn.”
“Oh, Mama,” said Thea. Cassia was on the verge of tears.
“Now she has run away. She is alone and probably frightened, and who knows what may happen to her.”
A groom came to the door, announcing the returning approach of Guy and Simon, and Thea hurried down to meet them while Celeste tended to her mistress. Owen was not noticed as he stood in the shadows, listening and observing. And he felt his fists clenching.
So it was true. Rene of Bergeron was a scoundrel after all, and he had dared to accost a woman engaged? And not just any woman, but naïve little Evelyn. Owen bristled with anger at the thought of the offense that Rene had brought his sister, and he was prepared to seek revenge at the very moment. He and Lucien would gather other men and form a search party, and they would hunt down the offending dog and punish him. He was prepared to go at that very moment…but he paused at the sight of his father and the marquis, coming up the stairs.
“Papa,” he said. “I have heard about the comte. We should take action at once.”
Guy shook his head. “At this moment, our first concern is for Evelyn. And as for the comte, there is more to this story than we thought. Too much, it seems.”
Owen felt a sense of dread at his father’s words. “What do you mean, Papa?”
Guy replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “We will speak of it later. At this moment, I must see your mama. Go and continue the search for your sister. We need every pair of eyes at work.”
As his father and the marquis went into the room, Owen left to do as his father asked. And the feeling of foreboding grew stronger within him. Something extraordinary was about to happen. And somehow he knew that it would not be good…