Monday, August 27, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 18

I'm not sure about this chapter. If it's lacking in some way, let me know. Gently, of course. :)
Standing in the doorway of the kitchen, Owen gazed upon Isabella. She and Sebastian were playing with a dog – a scruffy terrier that had the duty of catching rats, but seemed to be enjoying a leisure moment by wrestling over a stick with Sebastian, and Isabella laughed as Sebastian was dragged forward by his more determined opponent. The gentle scene was so happy to witness.
How he wished he could join them in the game, and not merely as a passive observer. Sebastian was such a wonderful young gentleman – intelligent, clever, and entirely devoted to his mother. He was all that a son was supposed to be. What would it be like to call the boy his own…and to have Isabella at his side, always?
He felt something go soft inside himself, in a most profound and pleasurable way. If only she belonged to him, he would go to her now, and tenderly take her by the hand. They might slip quietly away from the house to take a stroll, relishing the quiet pleasure of one another’s company.
But his smiled slowly faded, replaced by a frown. Slowly but steadily, he was coming to his senses. The matter of goodbye was at hand, and he dreaded it so. How long would it be before they saw one another again? At any time, he might be called away to war, and there was no certainty of his return. For the very first time, he was shaken by the thought of doing his duty as a soldier. If not for his feeling of sadness at the thought of leaving Isabella, he would have laughed at himself at that moment. Not so long ago, he would not have hesitated to go out in search of triumph and conquest on the battlefield, even at the cost of his own life. Such a sacrifice would be most glorious and honorable, to be sure, and it was fully expected of him by his betters, particularly the king. But suddenly, he was troubled by the idea of giving his body and soul to the crown.
I am but seventeen, he thought. I have hardly begun my life.
He was young and hearty. There were many years of life ahead of him, if he proceeded wisely. Why could he not spend those years in happiness and contentment, as his mother and father had?
With a sigh, he slowly stepped out, making his way towards Isabella and Sebastian. It pained him to interrupt their happy scene, but his father’s words rang in his mind, reminding him that their time together was dwindling quickly. He tried his best to put on a brave front as he approached, even when he saw the look on Isabella’s face. The lovely smile transformed into a familiar veil of sadness, for she knew what his approach meant, without his having said a word. How he wished for the power to forever remove that look. Forcing his gaze from her for just a moment, he turned to Sebastian, asking him to go and see if the horses were ready for departure. When he happily nodded at the request and sprinted away, Owen faced Isabella. He could see the pain in her eyes – the loss of her son, once again, wounding her deeply. Silently damning the eyes of those who might be watching, he took her hand in his own, savoring the delicate feeling of her fingers.
“We will see that he wants for nothing. Our house is a place of joy and love, and he will thrive under our protection. You can depend on that.”
Her response was a nod, and an attempt to smile. But the tears in her eyes were evidence of the emotions stealing her words. It was too much to witness. Taking her in his arms, not caring who might be judging his actions, he allowed her to shed her tears against his shoulder. He closed his eyes for a moment, relishing the nearness of her – her softness and her scent. All too soon, he heard the sound of his father’s voice, breaking the silence.
“Owen, we must depart.”
It was so difficult to tear himself away. But he stole one last moment, and whispered softly in her ear.
“I love you.”
Her voice was just as soft, spoken in a whisper, as she returned his words.
“I love you. Do not stay away from me long.”
He swore it, both in words and in his heart, and were it not for his father’s voice urging him once again, he would have sealed the promise with a kiss. Instead, he forced himself to relinquish his hold on her, just as Sebastian came hurrying back. He parted from them, allowing mother and son to have their farewell in private. His heart was heavy as he neared the door to the house, where his father was waiting and watching, his arms crossed. Owen passed by him without speaking, feeling torn between the powers of great respect and deep, angry resentment. He loved his father. Any yet, he had never felt so betrayed. It was all he could do to maintain a dignified silence – to not succumb to the temptation to erupt in a furious rage. To avoid such a childish spectacle, he kept a distance from him as they prepared to begin their journey, deliberately creating a space between them as they mounted their horses. Eye contact was not acceptable, in his way of thinking. Neither was conversation, and to be sure of it, he rode slightly ahead of his father and Sebastian, who didn’t seem to notice the tension surrounding him.
Perhaps it is better that way, Owen thought. Children are fortunate to be ignorant of such things.
He sighed deeply, wishing for a moment to be a boy again. It would have made life much less complicated.
Guy saw, and felt, the deliberate distance Owen was keeping. But the feeling inside of him was different. It was not what he would have felt with Thea or Evelyn, if they had played at such a game. Their emotional distance, though very rare as it had been, had been deeply painful. It was so very different with daughters. They were sensitive and delicate creatures, and their handling was something he had learned over many years of trial and tribulation. In truth, he had always found it difficult to know just how to act with them, with each situation requiring a different approach. But his sons were a different matter altogether. With Owen, in particular, there was no secret to understanding what was troubling him, and with the ability to easily relate to the problem, he made a calm and confident approach. Coming to ride alongside him, he glanced back at Sebastian for a moment, and then back to Owen.
“How did you negotiate the matter of the boy?”
He knew that Owen would not go so far as to refrain from answering. It was a matter of respect, and though the reply was given in a rather rough manner, Guy was not offended by the tone of Owen’s voice.
“It was strangely uncomplicated. I told the baron that as long time neighbors, we were familiar with his family and saw much potential in Sebastian. I thought to have a long and difficult negotiation. But I found him quite willing to hand over responsibility of his son.”
Guy shrugged. “Perhaps he links mother and child as one entity, and despises them both.”
Owen replied with a distasteful snort. “In my opinion he is not worthy of either of them.”
Guy could sense that the mood between them had changed slightly, perhaps because the animosity had turned towards Gilbert LaCroix. But the tender subject of Isabella still needed to be spoken of, whether or not Owen wished to discuss it. With a sigh, he broached the subject, though carefully, and with a firm but gentle tone of voice.
“You and I must have words.”
As expected, Owen responded with an unhappy expression and tone, his mouth set in a firm line of displeasure.
“Am I to hear yet another lecture?”
Keeping his calm, Guy replied, “A conversation, more like. William is the one appointed to give a sermon, but he has gone to church. This allows you and I to speak without interruption, and without the dramatics of two brothers not in accord.”
As he answered, Owen turned his head sharply, fixing his gaze firmly on his father’s face. “He does not understand my feelings, Papa. And how can he, when God is his only passion?”
“That is his devotion. You cannot blame him for holding to his principals, particularly when the world around us shares his beliefs.”
“I do not blame him,” said Owen, looking away again. “But his opinions are not mine. I will not have them forced upon me.”
Guy felt his patience wearing thin, but still he managed to keep his manner easy-handed.
His words were cut off, as Owen’s voice took on a sound of something like defeat.
“You may set your mind at ease, Papa. Much as I desire Isabella for my own, you will be comforted to know that she insists on common sense.”
That was certainly unexpected. Guy’s eyebrow rose in surprise. “Is that so?” he asked, and the answer was given with a sigh.
“She is well aware, as am I, of the risks that lie in wait should we venture beyond certain boundaries.”
“I am pleased that you choose to act with wisdom.”
“But that does not mean I will give her up,” Owen said, his manner becoming quite serious and determined. “I love her, Papa. And you of all people should understand what it is to love.”
Guy gave no reply to the firm declaration. But the truthfulness of Owen’s words bore deep into his mind. He had never thought to have this sort of conversation with Owen, discussing such subjects as love and relationships. In all of his life, he had only talked of these soft matters with Cassia. Neither of them could have imagined that Owen would find himself in the great dilemma that was love. Guy felt quite awkward in speaking, but knew he had it to do.
“Tell me what it is about this woman. What is it about her that causes you to be so reckless?”
He knew by the sound of Owen’s voice, the change from firm to soft, that his feelings for Isabella were deep. It was a tone he knew well…one that he had often found himself using when speaking of Cassia. Owen used it now.
“It is not possible to name one particular feature, because there are too many. I know only that she and I have connected in some profound way.” His outlet of breath was long. “Is there ever a true understanding of love? If so, it is beyond my knowledge.”
“It is the greatest force on earth, in its way. Love is capable of transforming the fiercest hawk into a gentle dove. But such power can lead to ruin.”
“So I am expected to abandon my hopes of happiness?”
Guy found it difficult to answer. How could he tell his son to forget the woman he loved, knowing first-hand what an impossibility it was? He had tried, ever since he had first learned of Owen and Isabella’s mutual affection, to act as the figure of authority – to do what was expected of him, according to the rules set by society. But the more entwined he was becoming in the matter, the more he found himself softening towards his son’s plight – a plight that had once been his own. He tried to think, to ponder other solutions to this tangled web that was being woven around them.
“Have you considered bargaining for her?” he asked.
Turning his head to look, he saw the curious expression on Owen’s face.
“Bargaining?” he asked, sounding rather revolted by the word.
Guy nodded. “It is perhaps a cruel realization, but women are mere property in the eyes of the world. Gilbert LaCroix may have annulled his marriage, but as her former husband, he retains all rights to her. He may be willing to forfeit those rights for a price, as it is said that his gaming debts are extensive.”
“But to pay for her, as if she were chattel? She has suffered enough debasement, and a part of that wrong was done by me. How could I bring her so low again?”
“If you are determined to have her for your own, I can see no other way.”
A moment passed, until Owen asked in a quiet way, “Is it what you would do?”
Guy hesitated but a moment before giving his reply. “For your mother, I would do anything.” He could feel Owen’s eyes on him, searching his face, perhaps hoping for a permission of sorts – an acknowledgement that it was fine for him to pursue Isabella as he pleased. But memories of things in the past, old mistakes that at times still haunted him, rose to the surface. His mouth became a rather grim line, his words spoken with an air of caution.
“Take care, my son. Do not be selfish in your love for her. I pursued your mother, reckless fool that I was, without thought for anything but my own desires. In being so blind, I nearly lost my most treasured possession.”
Owen’s eyes grew with interest. “You nearly lost Mama? How?”
Painful recollections came fast upon Guy. He and Cassia had never discussed in detail the troubling events prior to their separation. Their children only knew that Cassia’s brother had taken her out of England, and that Guy had found her there and married her. That was all they were aware of, and that was how he intended things to remain.
“Details are not of importance,” he said. “But you would be wise to learn from my folly. If you truly care for her, you will think not of yourself. You will honor the woman you love by doing what is best for her.”
Owen grew silent, and Guy hoped that meant he was considering all that had been said. He knew, firsthand, the fear and heartache that came with nearly losing the woman he loved more than life itself. He would not wish such turmoil upon his son, and he hoped that Owen would be wise enough not to repeat his father’s mistakes.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 17

Owen’s eyes slowly opened, prodded by the morning sun. He smiled to himself, quickly throwing back the coverlet. On a usual day, Gerard would have brought out the days clothing and taken a brush to them, but with his man at home, Owen had to tend to himself. No matter, he thought. He had fresh clothes, as he always brought a spare set when traveling. His mother had taught him well, and as he gave himself a good scrubbing at the wash basin, he silently thanked her for her training.

Outside the window, where the birds were making merry and the sun was brightly shining, it seemed that all of heaven was smiling. As he took in a deep breath, tasting the purity of the fresh air, he sighed with happiness, finding it difficult to recall when he had so enjoyed a morning. And, in his mind, there was but one cause of such joy…one reason that he felt this way.

She was sleeping peacefully just down the hall. He would not wake her, of course. But already his heart was beating fast, his brain on fire in anticipation of seeing her again. As he moved down the hall, he passed by her door. Drawn by the nearness of her, he paused.  Slowly and gingerly, he opened the door a space, just so he could look at her.  She was lying sweetly in repose, and he longed desperately to slip into the room and join her. But all it took to make him remember himself was the sudden movement of a tow-headed figure, who sat up next to his still sleeping mother. Sebastian rubbed his eyes and looked around, yawning, but before he could see who was watching him, Owen stepped away from the door. It would not do for the child to catch a man spying on him and his mother, even if it was someone he knew and liked. As he moved away, Owen could hear the sound of Isabella’s voice, soft and sleepy as she woke up. It struck a chord in his heart, and he was tempted to turn back. But no. He could not do that. He would wait. He would seen her again soon enough. And the thought of it made his senses tingle with anticipation.

Her kisses had sparked a long-kindling flame, and when she had finally confessed her true feelings, the result was a firestorm of passion. Lord, it was maddening to think that they could not fully express what they felt – what they had been holding back for so long.

But it was how it needed to be. She had endured enough scandal, and thinking of that, a wave of protectiveness flooded his soul. He swore to himself that he would make her happy. No one else cared for her as he did. No one would ever love her more. For that reason, he would leave her in peace. He hurried off, softly humming a tune as he went.


There was a visible bounce in his step as he went along. He was well aware of how certain people might look at such a thing and judge him harshly, but he was too happy to care. In the kitchen, where William was already busy preparing breakfast, Owen took an apple from the basket, biting into it with gusto. Even food seemed to have a better flavor, it seemed, and despite the look of suspicion that  William gave him, his only response was a smile. William inquired coolly.

“What causes you to be so lit from within? Or need I bother to make such an inquiry?”

Owen swallowed his bite of apple, taking another as he answered with a careless reply. “Can a person not be pleasant of mood without arousing suspicion?”

“Not when the person is you, and the reason for your behavior is so blatantly obvious. Have you lain with her?”

The smile instantly fled from Owen’s face. He scowled, his tone changing from sunny to dark in an instant.

“If you were not my brother and a man of God, I would strike you in the face for that.”

William was not intimidated. Despite his pleasant and kindly nature, he had a streak of willfulness and determination that were characteristic of a Gisborne, and he looked at Owen with a stern expression.

“Have you or have you not?”

Owen took another bite of his apple, tearing into it with aggression. “No, I have not. And I am insulted by the notion. What manner of man do you take me for?”

“I hardly know, brother. You have become a person I no longer recognize, and it is deeply troubling.”

“Because I am in love, I trouble you? Well so be it, then. I will not apologize for it.”

“Your behavior puts your soul at risk. It puts your family at risk, Owen. Have you no thought for anyone but yourself?”

Owen threw down his apple core. “I will not hear this.” He turned away, but William reached out to snatch his arm.

“You cannot marry such a woman!”

Removing William’s hand with an angry grip, he thrust it back at him. “If another word of disdain crosses your lips, I will not be held accountable for my actions.”

William’s eyes were bright with anger. It was not the first time in their lives they had come close to exchanging blows. He was a man of God, but he was as stubborn as anyone else, and he stood his ground.

“You would threaten your own brother?”

“I would threaten anyone, no matter who they are, if they dare to insult the woman I love.”

A familiar voice broke into their conversation, taking them both by surprise.

“Never underestimate your opponent, boy.”

They turned at the same time, seeing their father standing in the doorway. Owen was shocked. They had not seen each other in weeks, not since Evie’s wedding, after which, Owen had departed immediately for Calais. It was odd that he would suddenly appear, and he was not quite prepared for it. William greeted him first.

“Good morrow, Papa.”

Owen followed respectfully. “Papa,” he said. “Good morrow. I did not know you were coming. How fares Philippe?”

Guy took a seat at the table, pouring a cup of ale for himself. He helped himself to the bread as well, tearing it into pieces as he looked at his sons with a father’s interest. His steely eyes focused particularly on Owen.

“The babe is well. But your mother has been quite concerned, as we did not receive word of your arrival until last night.”

Owen gave William a dark look, realizing that his brother must have been the one who had written home. Most likely, he had taken the action at the moment of arrival from Calais, upon seeing Sebastian and Isabella’s reunion. He turned back to Guy.

“Forgive me, Papa. I returned from Calais only two days hence. I forgot to send immediate notice. And I thought it best to come here at once, rather than traveling home. I felt it would be kind to reunite mother and son as soon as possible.”

Guy’s expression was cool, his words matter-of-fact.

“Fetch this boy you have gone to such lengths to retrieve. I wish to meet him.”

A slight feeling of trepidation came over Owen at that moment. Being fond of Sebastian as he was, he had hoped to better prepare him for this meeting – perhaps allow him more time. But the moment was suddenly upon them, and Guy was not a man to be denied a request.

Leaving the room, heading down the hallway, he set his mind to more pleasant thoughts. The smile slowly returned to his face as he thought of the night before, with Isabella. Thoughts of her were enough to return him to a lighter mood. He felt a lightness in his soul as he thought of how they had kissed so tenderly, and yet with such fervor. How he had held her against himself, feeling her soft body pressing eagerly against his own.

No matter what anyone thought, be it good or bad, it could not dim the joy he felt when he thought of her.

Is she thinking of me? he wondered. Is she longing for me?

Surely she wished to share company with him as much as he longed to share it with her. Even though she was only a short distance away, he missed her. Even having her just a room away seemed to be too great a separation. Coming to her door, he hesitated for only a moment before knocking. When the door opened, Owen smiled warmly at Sebastian.

"Bon matin, Sebastian. À-tu dormi bien? "

“Good morrow, Sebastian. Did you sleep well?”

He answered brightly. "Oui, mon Seigneur. Il y á du perspective de petit-déjeuner? "

“Yes, my lord. Is there a prospect of breakfast yet?”

Owen  smiled. Ah, the impetuosity of youth, he thought.  The boy reminded him of himself, in many ways, and it brought a grin of amusement to his face. "Il y á," he replied. "Où est ta mère?"

“There might be a prospect of that. Where is your mother?”

Sebastian answered, eager to please. "Derrière l'écran, de s'habiller. Je vais la chercher ... "

“Behind the screen, getting dressed. I will fetch her…”

The thought of Isabella, half-dressed, made Owen’s male imagination run wild. But he maintained enough self-control to not let Sebastian suspect. As the boy started to dash away, he stopped him, speaking in a fatherly way.

"Non, non. Ne dérangez jamais une dame quand elle est se prépare pour la journée. Seulement informer-elle qu'il ya du potage frais sur le feu pour le petit déjeuner. Et aussi, que mon père est venu. Elle peut vouloir de payer ses respects à lui. "

“No, no. Never disturb a lady when she is preparing herself for her day. Just inform her that there is fresh pottage on the fire for breakfast. And also, that my father has come. She is to present you to him.”

Sebastian nodded. "Oui, mon seigneur."

 “Yes, my lord.”

There was a look of excitement on the boy’s face as he scampered off, and Owen pondered that innocent expression of expectation. Clearly, the boy was not aware of just whom he was about to encounter. Having come straight from Calais, Sebastian had not met the rest of the Gisborne family. Guy of Gisborne could seem fearsome upon a first impression, and that was to grown men. How would Sebastian fare upon meeting his lord and master? There was only one way to know…


Owen watched from the doorway, slightly nervous, as Isabella stood just a short distance from the table where Guy was sitting. Sebastian stood in front of her, his mother’s hands on his shoulders, and Guy watched them for a long moment. Isabella’s voice was soft but calm – no hint of nervousness in her words as she presented her son.

“Lord Gisborne, this is my son, Sebastian.”

Leaning forward slightly, focusing his intense gaze on the boy, Guy summoned him. "Avance, garçon."

“Come forward, boy.”

They all watched as Sebastian took a step forward. Watching him, Owen could see how the young man approached without hesitation. If he was nervous, he was hiding it well as he looked up at the fierce face of his new master. Guy looked down at him. His words were low, softly spoken, but serious.

"Tu veux être un chevalier?"

“You wish to be a knight?”

Sebastian answered in a quiet, calm, and respectful manner. "Oui, Monsieur Guy."

“Yes, Sir Guy.”

"Vous pensez que vous êtes digne d'être dans ma maisonnée, et un jour, t’engager dans ma garnison?"

“You think you are worthy of being in my household, and one day, joining my garrison?”

"Oui, Monsieur Guy."

“Yes, Sir Guy.”

"Connais-tu tes chevaleresque vœux?"

“Do you know your knightly vows?”

There was a flash of pride in Sebastian’s eyes. There was a note of it in his answer. "Je les connais bien, mon Seigneur."

“I know them well, my lord.”

"Et quel est le vœu le plus important de tous?"

“And what is the most important vow of all?”

"Pour vivre en honneur et gloire."

“To live by honor, and for glory.”

There was a moment of silence that followed the reply – a direct and intelligent answer given, and they all knew it to be so. Guy, it seemed, was rather impressed. The corner of his mouth turned up just a fraction, giving away just a hint of growing interest.

"Une excellente réponse, jeune écuyer. Dites-moi, à tu une amulette d'aucune sorte? C'est un élément important pour un chevalier d’avoir une source d'armure spirituelle. "

“An excellent response, young squire. Tell me, have you an amulet of any kind? It is an important thing for a knight to carry a source of spiritual armor.”

Sebastian shook his head. Reaching into the purse on his belt, Guy produced a cold coin, which he held out for examination.

"Connais-toi les images à ce?"

“Do you know the images on this?”

Taking the coin, Sebastian looked at it closely. His answer was instant. "C'est Alexandre le Grand, mon Seigneur. Et de l'autre côté, son cheval, appelé Bucéphale."

“It is Alexander the Great, my lord. And on the opposite side, his horse, called Bucephalus.”

Guy’s eyebrow rose with interest. "Tu sais d'eux?"

Sebastian nodded. "Le roi Philippe II refusé d'acheter Bucéphale en raison de son caractère sauvage. Mais Alexandre accepta le défi de l'apprivoiser. Lors de leur rencontre, Alexandre tomba son manteau et parlait doucement à cheval. Il tourna la bête face au soleil donc il ne pouvait pas voir son ombre. En faisant ces choses, Alexander avec succès dompta le cheval. "

King Philip II refused to purchase Bucephalus because of his wildness. But Alexander took the challenge of taming him. When they met, Alexander dropped his cloak and spoke soothingly to the horse. He turned the beast to face the sun so it could not see its shadow. In doing these things, Alexander successfully mastered the horse.”

Guy looked up at Isabella, and praised her.

“You have raised a wise young man. You must take great pride in him.”

A pleased expression came to Isabella’s face. “Thank you, my lord. I am indeed proud.”

Looking down again at Sebastian, Guy gave him a slight smile.

"Un conseil, jeune homme. Si vous souhaitez vaincre un adversaire, frapper un grand coup au niveau du genou. C'est un endroit des plus vulnérables."

“A word of advice, young man. If you wish to defeat an opponent, strike a blow at the knee. It is a most vulnerable place.”

Beaming now, Sebastian clutched the coin tightly in his hand. “Je me souviendrai, mon seigneur.”

“I will remember, my lord.”

Guy gave him a slight push, sending him back to his mother. He rose to his feet as he looked at her.

“Isabella, I wish to speak to my sons in private. Please break your fast in the next room.”

She nodded, quickly taking her bowl of pottage and handing Sebastian his. As they left the room, Guy turned to look at Owen.

“Let us speak plainly. You have made a wise choice in the boy. He has the prospect of being a devoted knight.”

“Thank you, Papa.”

“But his mother is not part of the bargain.”

“I agree most whole-heartedly,” said William.

Owen scowled at him. But before harsh words could be exchanged,  Guy spoke again.

“Prepare yourself for the journey home, Owen. We will depart this afternoon.”

It was all he could do to maintain his temper. His father, of all people, should have sympathized with his plight. Had he not pursued his own love without thought for anything else? Owen felt words of bitter emotion flowing to the surface, ready to explode. But calm words from his father, said with a touch of sympathy, stemmed the tide of anger.

“I will allow you a short time to make your farewells.”

There would be no argument. As it was, Guy was making a concession, when he could very well have been demanding obedience. And in truth, Owen knew that his father was right. He could not stay with Isabella, despite his deep desire to do exactly that. A slight pain struck at him at the thought of going, just when they had finally found one another in love. His father was, at least, making an attempt to be understanding. Unlike William, who seemed intent on destroying any hope of happiness. The thought of it set his temper to rising, and he fought back the urge to give his brother a physical bashing for his interference and negative thoughts.

Venturing into the other room, he found Isabella quietly eating, while Sebastian was more interested in his new trinket. Even when she urged him to eat, he only managed a few bite before he took the coin in hand to look at it again.

“Isabella, tell me something,” Owen said, approaching the pair. “Why does your son not know English? I would think a boy of his learning and intelligence would know many languages.”

Isabella looked up at him, their eyes meeting as he sat beside her.

“Gilbert is not fond of the English language, although he speaks it well. He wants his son to know only the languages he deems important.”

For a moment, Owen was angered by such an offensive and ignorant prospect. But after a moment, he found his mood changing, becoming more pleasant as a thought came to him. A smile slowly developed on his lips.

“Perhaps he has unknowingly granted us a gift.”

Isabella blinked, uncertain of his meaning, until he slowly and discreetly reached out to touch her hand, careful not to let the gesture be observed.

“We can speak without being heard,” he softly said. “I can tell you that I have thought of you every moment since we parted last night. I have longed for you, Isabella.”

She blushed prettily at his daring words, and the sight of it amused him.

“Have I caused you embarrassment with my compliment?”

She smiled, a lovely response that moved him. Were it not for Sebastian’s presence, he would have drawn her into his arms and kissed her, as he so badly wanted to do. She cast her eyes down, shyness overcoming her.

“I find it difficult to believe that all of this is truly happening. Women rarely enjoy happiness in this world, and I am no different than other ladies.”

“Other ladies love, and are loved in return. You are my love, Isabella. I will have no one but you.”

She started to speak, but Sebastian came to her then, asking permission to go out and tend to his horse. With a kiss to his forehead, she sent him on his way. Owen seized the moment, drawing closer to Isabella after a few moments had passed. He stopped short of fully embracing her, for fear that someone might walk in on them. But he could not resist reaching out to touch her. He brushed her cheek with his fingertips. Their eyes met, and he saw such tenderness and love reflected there. But a sense of fear as well.

“I fear that when the newness of all of this fades, you will become cool and distant. That is the way of it with men.”

“You believe that of me?” he declared, almost laughing at her wild thoughts. Then he realized, as he looked at her, that it was her fears that were bringing forth such ideas. Despite the risk of being accidentally observed, he could no longer keep from reaching for her. Taking her in his arms, he tenderly kissed her, wishing he could magically take away her worries.  He never wanted her to be anything but completely happy. 

“My love, I will make you see…” He brushed light kisses on her forehead, her nose, her cheeks. “I love you, and that will never change or diminish.”

He heard her sigh with contentment, and she leaned her head against his chest. That sound of happiness was the sound of music to his soul, and he gave his own heartfelt sigh.         

“Have you ever been in love before?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No. But I am glad to have you as the first, and you will be the last, if I have my say in it.”

The silence between them was so overwhelming, so powerful.  So intense that he didn’t quite trust himself with a simple kiss. Kissing her was an outlet of feeling that only intensified each time his lips met hers, and in such moments as this, a chaste kiss did not satisfy. But for the moment, they could not share more. A great sigh of frustration tumbled from his lips.

“I must depart soon. This afternoon, to be precise. My father is insisting on it.”

It pained him so much to think of going, and he knew that it was doubly hurtful for her, knowing that she would again be parted from Sebastian. But her calm reply surprised him.

“Then you must do as he says.”

Leaning back slightly in her arms, looking at her, he found it easier to tease, rather than to dwell on sadness.

“Are you not sorry to see me go?”

She smiled, although sadly. “I am, of course. And it breaks my heart to say goodbye to my son. But I know that he will be happy and well looked after. Besides, you must prepare for your venture into battle. You cannot do that if you remain here with me.”

The thought of war sobered him instantly. His jovial expression became instantly serious.

“What if I do not wish to go to war? What if I wish to spend my days in more joyful company?”

Now it was she who teased, although she did so with a straight face.

“If you do not go, then you will be accused of treason. You will be jailed, and probably drawn and quartered. I would much rather have you in whole and not in pieces, thank you very much.”

Despite the gloominess of parting, he chuckled at her wit. “What an appalling sense of humor you have. I adore it.”

He kissed her then, forgetting for a few precious moments the scandalous nature of their romance. She responded with eagerness, kissing him back, until at last they both managed to come to their senses again. Reluctantly, she pulled away from his arms.

“I must go. If you are both to leave, I must spend these last hours with my son. If only I could spend them with you as well…”

He shook his head. “You are right. Go, and be with him. I will find you when the time comes to depart.”

She turned to go. But suddenly she came back, pressing a firm and sweet kiss to his mouth. He watched her go, savoring the sweet taste of her lips that lingered on his own, and feeling the first stirrings of sadness that were soon to overwhelm him.