Just a short one for today. More to come soon...
The sun was shining. A soft, warm breeze was drifting along. Isabella, standing among the blueberry bushes in the parish’s yard, looked up at the afternoon sky. Heaven seemed to be smiling, and she smiled with it. Looking down at her stained fingers, turned purple by the berries she was picking, the corner of her mouth crinkled up. What a shock it would have been for her peers to see her thus. Wearing a simple cream-colored dress and an apron, with her hair wrapped in a white scarf, she was far removed from the heavily adorned noblewoman she had once been. And she was glad of it. She had been at the parish just six days, but no place had ever felt so much like home.
The front gate creaked. Looking over towards the source of the sound, she saw William leaving. Politely he waved at her, nodding his head, and she gave a slight wave back as she watched him depart. Being an ambitious priest in training, he was always occupied with a task, be it in or out of the church. When he wasn’t assisting in religious services, he was visiting townspeople or tending to the sick. Like his mother, he found joy in bringing help and comfort to others. And like his mother, he was generous and kind – even to a wayward person like herself. He gave her tasks to occupy her time, and she happily busied herself with whatever needed doing. For the first time in her life, she felt a true sense of purpose. And every night, she thanked God for granting such a blessing.
Hearing the sound of hoof-beats, she paid it little mind at first. The village was a busy place, and riders passed by on a regular basis. While she went on picking berries, she heard the slow sound of the gate creaking again, and looking up, the pleasant expression drained from her face.
“Good morrow, Baroness.”
She turned away from the sight of Owen Gisborne, who stood just inside the yard as if awaiting permission to come forward. But if he sought a friendly invitation, he would not receive it from her. Without answering, she resumed her work, and when he slowly approached, she did her best to pretend he was not there. He stood near her, his tone calm and cool, even friendly in its way.
“I have come to see my brother, but it appears he is not at home. I am not all surprised. He is most dedicated to his chosen life of service.”
There was an upbeat note in his voice, as if he thought to start a friendly conversation. But finding her unresponsive, his manner became more serious.
“Perhaps it is fortunate that he is not about. It allows us a chance to speak in private.”
He began walking slowly back and forth just behind her, talking as he went, and she tried so hard not to hear him. But the sound of his voice was difficult to ignore. Just like his father, his presence was something that commanded attention.
“You departed our home much too hastily. I had hoped to settle some pressing matters of friction between you and I. But as you deprived me of the chance to offer my apologies, I must bring them to you now, along with a tangible gesture of my efforts. I hope you will accept my gift.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw him extend his hand. It was impossible not to look, if only for the sake of her own hateful curiosity. In his palm, he held a gold bracelet. It was beautiful, and judging from the gemstones that adorned its surface, it was as expensive as it was attractive.
Her heart broke at the sight of it.
Raising her eyes to him, she felt the burn of tears. “Why have you come here?”
The sight of him was devastating. She had hoped and prayed that after coming to Toulon, she would not see him again, and she had tried so desperately to wipe away the memory of his kiss. Thinking of him, she had felt a sense of shame that had brought her to tears nearly every night, and seeing him now, all sense of happiness she had known fled in an instant. He looked at her with a strange expression…almost a look of hurt.
“I told you I have come to give you this. Why do you weep? Are you not pleased by it?”
She shook her head. Her voice trembled. “I cannot accept it.”
“Why can you not?”
“Please leave me alone.”
She turned to go, but reaching out, he gently grasped her arm. Just the touch of his hand set her defenses to shaking, bringing them dangerously close to toppling.
“I will not go until you give an explanation,” he said. “I ask your forgiveness, I offer you a gift…and you shun me, as you have before.” His voice rose, the sound of his anger rising. “You will tell me the reason!"
Anger and pain forced their way up and out of her body, charging her words with passion.
“I will not be your mistress! I am not chattel to be bought and paid for!”
His voice, so steady before, now broke slightly as he declared…
“I do not bring you a gift in order to make you my mistress! I give it to you to tell you that I love you!”
Taking a step back, tears flooded her eyes. Lowering her head, she lifted her apron and pressed it to her face, weeping. He came to stand before her, and she could hear the furious displeasure in his voice.
“My feelings are so hateful to you that they cause you to weep?”
Dropping her apron, she shouted at him through bitter tears.
“How can you dare to claim that you love me? Did you love me so much when you stood before your mother, vehemently deeming me a whore? Now you come to me with a bauble, seeking my favor. I cannot bear it!”
Burying her face in her hands, she barely heard the change that came to his voice. It became soft…almost pained. He tried to speak, but faltered.
He was kneeling at her side. She could feel his closeness, and she wanted so badly to lash out at him. He seemed, at that moment, to be the reprensentation of all the wrongs that had pained her. He tried again to offer his explanation and words of apology.
“What I said in a moment of anger…it was wrong. I know that now. I swear to you that my feelings for you are true and honorable.”
Moments passed. Sadness gripped her, stealing her voice, and she could not find the will to reply to anything. He sighed, consenting to defeat.
“I will go, then, and leave you in peace. I beg you to consider all that I have said.”
She wept bitterly, not hearing or seeing him as he walked away, and unaware of the sight of him pausing, just at the gate, to look back at her.