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.