More to come this weekend. Some important developments ahead. For now, enjoy...
Guy felt a hand shaking his shoulder. At first he dismissed it, thinking he was imagining the sound of a servant calling his name. But the nagging was persistent, and slowly opening his eyes, he saw that Owen’s valet was standing beside the bed. Raising his hand to shield his eyes from the light of the raised candle, Guy grumbled darkly at the middle-of-the-night disturbance.
“This had better be necessary.”
Marcel’s whisper was spoken with a slight nervousness. “It is in regards to master Owen, my lord. He has been ill. I think perhaps you should see him.”
Groaning softly, rubbing his eyes to rouse himself from sleep, he waved the old servant away so he could quietly and carefully remove himself from the bed without disturbing Cassia. Looking over at her, he saw that she was sleeping peacefully, and he was glad for it. In a very short while, he would be leaving for court. It was a difficult task to face for the both of them, but she seemed to be taking it especially hard. They had always dreaded times of separation, but tonight she had wept bitterly in his arms, eventually crying herself to sleep. Thinking of her distress, worrying about its effect on her condition, he was relieved that Marcel’s appearance had not broken her rest. If all went as he hoped, he could tend to the matter of Owen and return to her quickly. Daylight would come soon, and he wished to spend the last hours of the night beside her. Lighting a candle, he quietly slipped from the room.
As they walked down the hall, Marcel spoke in hushed tones.
“Forgive the assumption, my lord, but I think master Owen may have partaken of too much wine.”
Guy sighed. “We shall see. And if it is so, we will act accordingly.”
Approaching the door to Owen’s chamber, he could hear already the sounds of a hangover. Quietly entering, he saw it confirmed with the sight of Owen lying on his stomach, his head hanging limp over the edge of the bed. He was muttering and moaning, obviously in great pain. Guy turned to Marcel.
“Go and wake Celeste. Tell her to fetch a vial of feverfew from her lady’s medicine box, and bring it to me. Then, go to the larder and find a jar of honey. Bring it, along with a spoon.”
Marcel nodded, and while he fetched the requested items, Guy went to Owen, shaking his head as he looked down at his wayward son. Reaching down to grasp him by the shirt collar, he lifted him to a sitting position, setting him back against the headboard. His head lolled forward, but Guy lifted it back again – and gave Owen’s cheek several firm but gentle slaps. Owen managed to focus his eyes, looking up at Guy.
“Papa,” he muttered. “I think I may die.”
Guy replied with a snort. “You may wish for the relief of death, but you will not get it. And when you discover what you have done to yourself, you will only suffer more. It will not be pleasant to wake to utter shame and humiliation.”
I know of it all too well,he thought, recalling days past when he had drowned his troubles in drink. Looking at his son, he felt a slight sense of anger – both at Owen, and at himself. Had he failed in some way as a father? Had he not raised his sons to act with honor and decency? It troubled him to think he might not have been strict enough in enforcing proper conduct.
And yet, thinking back on the past, Owen had always been so dedicated to his codes of chivalry and knighthood. But here he was, evidently a victim of his own weakness. Had all of his bold talk and bravado been nothing more than a front?
He shook his head, chasing away such a thought. There was no one as dedicated to his duty as Owen. And despite everything, he was still as human as the next man. He had made an error, and he would soon be paying the price for his mistake. That was punishment enough.
Marcel came back a moment later, and Guy turned to him, speaking in a low voice.
“Mix a portion of the feverfew in a cup of water, and see that he drinks it. Then feed him several spoons of honey every hour or so for several hours. Make sure he is presentable when he comes with the others to see us off. I will not have his mother seeing him in such a wretched state.”
With a nod, Marcel turned to care for Owen, and Guy left him in the servant’s capable hands.
At his bedroom doorway, he saw Cassia just sitting up and looking around. The light of his candle was dim, but he could see the first signs of worry on her face. Her voice was soft with sleep.
“Is something the matter, Guy?”
Coming to the bed, he shook his head in reply. “Nothing of great importance. Owen is feeling a bit unwell, but Marcel is caring for him.”
Snuffing out the candle, he settled back into bed.
“Are you certain he is all right?”Cassia asked.
He moved closer to her. Taking her hand, he kissed her fingers. “He is fine, beloved. I assure you. Now, let us go back to sleep. There are several hours yet until dawn.”
She gave him no argument, settling herself against him, and she was soon asleep again. Stroking her hair, he let out a slow breath as he stared up at the ceiling. He could not go back to sleep now, thinking of Owen and the condition he was in.
There was something troubling the boy. Something more than mere anger at being left behind while the other men went to court. If not for the matter of his departure, he would sit Owen down and discuss it, man to man. But such talk would have to wait. Right then, he wished only to enjoy the peace of silence and the presence of the woman in his arms. They would be away from one another for many weeks, and he wanted to commit every last moment to memory.
The daylight burned his eyes, forcing him to squint. It made the pain in his head even worse, nearly crippling him. It was all he could do to stand there, watching as his father departed with the other men. As soon as they were gone from sight, he turned back to the house, crossing the hall in a rush to be back in his bed chamber.
Lord, help me, he muttered to himself. Relieve me of this torture, and I swear I will never drink again.
As he reached the stairs, Evelyn tried to ask him what was wrong, but he waved her away. All he wanted was to hide from the world, and it seemed he could not get to his room fast enough. At last he reached his door, and entering, he was blinded by the light coming through the window. Rushing forward, he quickly closed the curtains, immersing himself in darkness. Turning to his bed, he fell down on the mattress and clutched his pillow to his face. He wanted only to sleep – to lose his senses completely and hope that his misery would soon pass.
But a knock on the door dashed that hope. Just the noise of the knock was painful to hear, and he replied to it with an angry shout.
There was blessed silence for a moment. Until the door slowly creaked open. There were soft footsteps – the sound of slippers moving across the floor. He prayed it was not his mother or his sisters coming to look in on him. The last thing he wanted was questions from his mother, or a lecture from Thea, who would probably take delight in seeing him brought so low. Even Evelyn, sweet as she was, would be intolerable company. He wanted no company of any kind, but there was someone in the room. And he sensed that it was neither his mother, nor his sisters. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Isabella standing there. Placing a cup on the bedside table, she looked at him for a fleeting moment. Why did it seem to him that there was hesitance in her glance?
“Your mother asked me to bring you this,” she said. “It will ease your symptoms.”
She turned away quickly, seemingly in a hurry to be gone. What was her urgency, he wondered? Other than the fact that she should not have been in his room for any good reason. Why did he feel like there was something more to the situation? There was something he felt he should know, but his foggy mind could not decipher what it was. Lifting his head, watching her as she left, he started to call her back – wanting to ask her questions. But a sharp pain stole his ability to think or speak. He let her go, and lost himself in sleep.
Later that afternoon, he woke up with a horribly sour and dry taste in his mouth. His limbs ached. His eyes felt gritty. But his headache had eased, thanks to his mother’s medicine, which Marcel had administered to him sometime earlier. Now, he needed to get himself together properly, if only for his own comfort. If there was one thing he despised, it was being slovenly.
He was glad his family had the luxury of an indoor bathing chamber. Summoning Marcel, he ordered a bath was soon sinking into hot water that eased the ache of his muscles. After a wash of his hair, a scrubbing of his face, and a cleaning of his teeth, he felt a hundred times better.
But his mind was a jumble of troubling thoughts. There was little he could recall about the past night. How he had gotten from the barracks to his room, he could not exactly recall. But he could remember certain moments – moments in which someone had helped him to his feet, and supported him as he struggled to keep his balance. Suddenly, the identity of his helper came to him.
Now he understood her awkward behavior from this morning. At least, he understood some of it. Obviously, she had been uncomfortable in his presence because she had witnessed him in a state of drunken stupidity. But had he done something he should be ashamed of? He had a nagging feeling that he had done just that. Lord, if only he could remember what it was, he could find a way to make up for it.
As he dried and dressed himself in a loose shirt and breeches, he thought of the significance of Isabella’s help. She had done more than simply helping a drunken fool to bed. She had kept him from total humiliation. He shuddered to think what might have happened if someone had found him there, lying in a stupor. Good lord, what if his mother had found him that way? What a disgrace that would have been.
In the hall, heading towards his room, he heard a movement in the nearby stairwell – the one leading up to the tower chamber. Before he even saw her, he knew who it was. And he waited, feeling a sense of anticipation – almost a sense of hope. A moment later, she was there, standing just a small space away from him. Their eyes met. She stared at him for a moment…and promptly turned back. But he wasn’t about to let her go so quickly. Taking a step forward, he called to her.
He saw her pause on the step, but she did not turn. He sensed he had but only a few moments in which to speak. If he did not act quickly, she would flee, and he needed her to hear what was on his mind. For a moment he struggled, unsure of himself.
“I think perhaps…”
The exact words were hard to find. He had rarely apologized for anything before, and it was difficult to recall just how to go about it. Still, he tried.
“Last night, you assisted me when I was in a shameful condition. I believe I am in your debt.”
A long moment passed. He waited, wondering if she would accept his apology, or if she would even respond. When she turned, rather abruptly, he was glad that she wasn’t running away. But the look in her eyes stunned him. When she advanced a step towards him, he could almost feel the hostility emanating from her soul.
“There is no debt. My assistance was intended to benefit your mother. To protect her from the shame of seeing her son in so foolish a condition.”
He nodded. “All the same, I must express my gratitude.” He was hoping to soften her mood with pleasantness. To his surprise, the darkness of her expression only grew.
“You play a farce, Owen Gisborne. But I am not a fool. You may think me only a worthless whore, but you know nothing of me. I am a human being. I have a heart, and feelings.”
The angry passion of her words left him incapable of a reply. Though he tried to form some sort of response, she silenced his effort with a swift and fiery effort.
“I have a spirit and a will of my own, and I am no longer the possession of any man. The liberty you took with me last night will never happen again. Mark my words.”
Liberty? He thought. What liberty had he taken? Racking his brain, he tried to remember…and a flash of memory suddenly came to him. Taking a quick step forward, he intended to say something about the kiss he now remembered so clearly. But Isabella was swift in her escape, hurrying away before he could stop her.