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.