Just before supper, Owen was summoned by his father. As he went to meet him, he assumed he would be having some conversation about the journey to court, which the men would be making in the morning. It was the one good thing he had…the one thing he was looking forward to. At least if he went away to court, it would give him distance from Isabella. Perhaps while he was there, he could finally force himself to settle on a choice of wife. Arriving in his father’s chambers, he expected to at last find some peace of mind.
He never expected to be betrayed.
Sitting in a chair, looking at his father, he was blindsided by the announcement.
“You will not go to court with us tomorrow.”
Owen’s eyes grew wide with shock. “I beg pardon, Papa?”
“Another squire will accompany Sir Lucien. You will remain behind. To care for your mother and your sisters...to be my eyes and ears while I am gone.”
He could not sit passively in the chair. Buoyed by angry dismay, he stood up quickly, and was soon taking short strides back and forth, his hands clenched at his sides.
“I do not see the reason for this. Why I am being so punished?”
His father’s calm reply angered him further.
“You have caused your mother offense.”
Owen stopped, looking at his father. An angry lump formed in his throat, but he swallowed it down. His answer was indignant.
“Never would I offend Mama,” he said. “I would sooner take a dagger to my own heart than to ever wound her.”
“You offend her with your disrespect,” Guy replied. “She has asked for your hospitality towards Lady Isabella, and you refuse to give it.”
Isabella. She had infiltrated every aspect of his life. Now it seemed she was turning his own father against him. Lord, the woman left such unbelievable chaos in her wake. To think he had considered apologizing for all of his recent boorishness.
Hah! He thought. I will be damned if she receives my apology now.
He turned away, crossing his arms.
“How am I to endure such a woman?” he demanded. “To be generous to such a sinner is to go against all of my principals.”
Guy spoke firmly. “Then you do not know your true principles...your duties as a knight.”
Owen opened his mouth to protest. But Guy stood, stern and fatherly in his manner. “One of your chivalric duties is to respect the honor of women. It matters not their status, nor their sins.”
He could feel his temper rising fast. It was all he could do not to pull away in anger as his father reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You have much to learn, my son. In time, you will see the wisdom of this decision.”
Without answering, Owen left the room. And with each step he took down the hall, his fury burned hotter.
They had all turned against him. His mother, his sisters, and now, his father too. That betrayal hurt more than any other. They were supposed to be men united by the vows of knighthood. They were supposed to share the same principals, the same ideals. But most of all, they were father and son. How could his father turn on him this way?
His hurt caused his anger to boil. If he didn’t find an outlet for it, he knew it would erupt – perhaps violently and dangerously.
Only a sword could satisfy him now.
In the practice yard, just outside the barracks, he was soon hammering at the thick wooden pole they used for practice. Each blow was made with a fierce noise expelled from his lips – loud enough to attract notice from several of the other men who were about. It was Lucien who at last questioned the furious display.
“What a look of thunder on you!” he exclaimed. “What cause is there for such an expression?”
The sword was not calming him. He threw it down, and stalking to a nearby bench, he sank down on it, lowering his head into his hands. He answered in a low, sharp growl.
“My life has turned to shit.”
Lucien looked at him, his eyebrow raised in curiosity. “Really? What has made it so?”
For a moment, Owen thought to keep his silence. But the reply came before he could stop it. “A woman.”
He knew it was a mistake to unveil his secret burden, even just in part, but it was too late. Lucien knew, and he seemed to take particular delight in discovering the bit of information. Sitting down beside Owen, he chuckled.
“A woman? Yeah, gods! I knew it would happen sooner or later. Might I know her name?”
Owen’s answer was fast, firm, and slightly angry.
“No, you may not.”
His tone did not deter Lucien, who slapped him on the back. Whether it was a gesture of congratulation or pity, he could not be certain. Their conversation was interrupted by a fellow knight. Sir Roderick had been standing nearby, and in his usually bold way, he entered into the conversation without invite.
“Let me tell you, young Gisborne. Women were made to be trouble. And you will never escape their clutches. By hook or by crook, they get you. All you can do is remember to keep a full bottle handy.”
Reaching out, he offered up the jug of wine in his hand.
“Here. Have a few good sips.”
Owen stared at it for a moment. He had never been one to drink to excess. It went against the honor and discipline of the knightly code, which he followed with something like a religious fervor. But at that moment, he was desperate for relief from his troubles. Snatching the jug from Roderick’s hand, he swallowed down several gulps. The wine was strong, and he could feel an immediate flush of warmth and relaxation flowing through his body. He offered the jug back to its owner, who had already started on a new bottle. Told to keep what was in his hand, Owen took several more drinks, and his indulgence was loudly encouraged by Roderick, who was amused by what he’d seen and heard. He walked away, leaving Owen to drown his sorrow in the wine.
Several cups later, Owen was feeling quite free from his troubles. He was, in truth, feeling quite good. When Lucien intervened, he could find no reason to be angry, as he might have been in a different situation. With a nod, he attempted to stand. He wavered slightly, but kept on his feet.
“You are right, brother. I have had enough. It is late, so I should go to bed.” He looked at his brother-in-law, drunkenly confused. “It is night, is it not?”
“It is,” Lucien replied. “And you had best go and sleep away the drink before you are discovered. Your mother and father would be disturbed to see you in such a state.”
Owen shook his head. “Oh, that will not do. I would never shame my mother. I will go straight away.”
Taking a few steps forward, he swore he felt the ground moving under his feet.
Perhaps not as straight as I would like, he thought.
Somewhere between the barracks and his bedchamber, he lost all clarity. Why did it feel as though he was lying on stone? Was it the hall floor his face was resting on? He could not remember falling, but somehow he had ended up there, lying on his stomach. And before he quite realized what was happening, someone was at his side. Turning his head, he could see from the dim light of the hall torch that it was Isabella.
“What are you doing in here?” he mumbled. “You have a reputation. You should not be in my room.”
Her answer seemed to be an angry one. “You are not in your room, you fool. I would advise you to find it before you mortify yourself further.”
As she helped him stand, he tried in vain to remember which way he was supposed to go. He turned to her, confused.
“Which room is it?”
He heard her sigh with impatience as she answered. “I do not know.”
What purpose do you serve? He thought, and he nearly said so out loud. But the direction of his room suddenly came to him. He sneered at her.
“Well I do. I know the room to my own way. I will get there myself, without help from you. Good night, madam.”
He took a step forward…and nearly fell again. A moment later, he felt Isabella’s arm supporting him, and though he allowed it – to be honest, he needed it – he still protested.
“I am not so very drunk. The fellows in the barracks...they are the ones who partake. I never do. Except tonight. They talked me into having a sip, and I had one. And then another one.”
He mumbled a few more words before falling into silence, allowing Isabella to assist him in getting to his bed. As she helped him lie down, he found himself staring at her.
For a moment, the fog seemed to lift. Isabella was in his room. She was partially positioned in his bed, with her face so close to his. Bathed in moonlight, her features looked so soft and heavenly. Her lips were so close. They looked so lush, so tempting. Closing the fraction of a distance between them, he pressed a warm, firm kiss to her lips. A pulse of sweet sensation, a spark of fire, flowed through him instantly. But it was quenched by the hard sting of her palm across his face.
“Ow!” he cried. The effects of the wine seemed to return, dulling what might have been a harsher reaction. Instead, his reply was one of slight annoyance, rather than anger. “What was that for?” he cried. “I will have a mark on me now.”
He hardly noticed when she slipped away, as the alcohol had started to lull him to sleep. He mumbled a few remaining words.
“I think I will sleep right here. Good night.”
His eyes grew heavy, and he quickly fell into a deep slumber.