The next installment will be up in a day or two. Thanks as always for reading! :)
They walked hand in hand, among the heady perfume of the flowers in the garden. She smiled at him, and he at her. It was only the two of them, in all the world, and he took her to a circular bench under an oak tree, where he placed her gently on his knee. His arms wound around her waist. Her slender arms came up to slide around his neck. They pressed their foreheads together, looking into each other’s eyes, and whispers of love fell from both their lips, and their mouths came together in the sweetest of kisses.
The dream began to fade, and he struggled to remain in it. He wanted to be with Isabella, to feel the warmth of her body against his - the velvet softness of her kisses, the gentle thrill of her fingertips caressing the back of his neck as he held her in his arms.
But he did wake.
It was nearly dawn. He could see the light outside, soft and purple with the coming day. His valet would be arriving at any moment, expecting to see to the morning routine. Down in the barracks, Lucien would waiting for him, as he was every morning –with the expectation of preparing for the day’s drilling.
Expectations, expectations, he muttered silently to himself. For a moment, he thought to defy those expectations – to fling off all responsibilities and lose himself in memories and imaginings of Isabella. But his father’s warning had made a deep impression. He made himself rise from his bed, moved by a new sense of purpose. His duty to the king would be fulfilled in the looming battle. But by God, he vowed he would not give up his life as part of the bargain. He would prepare for the fight by driving himself to perfection as a warrior. On the battlefield, the enemy would flee from his fierce presence, and death itself would fear to challenge him. His determination rose, energizing him. He wanted to keep that angry energy flowing, to let it carry him.
But his sorrow could not be quelled entirely. He had tried to grasp at his feelings of bitterness and anger - feelings that were so very easy to express, and which served him well in his drilling. But sadness, though the quieter of the two feelings, was certainly the stronger emotion.
Two days had passed since Isabella had gone, and yet it seemed like so very much longer. He was heartsick with missing her.
Was she well? Was her journey going smoothly? If only he could be the one to watch over her, rather than William. Having a priest as an escort was by no means a guarantee of absolute safety, but it was better for her to have someone rather than no one, and a man of the cloth was a respectable man for her escort.
He paced the floor as he dressed himself, wishing he could be there to do battle for her. But he suddenly thought of all she had gone through – all that she had endured. My Isabella, he thought, You are so strong and brave. So unafraid of anything, or anyone. If you only knew how it makes me love you more than ever.
She would survive and endure, and so too would he. A war would not keep him from her, even if time delayed their reunion. He sighed, thinking of what little time they had been allowed.
One day soon, he vowed, She will be mine, and I will be hers.
He would never be satisfied until they were together, united as man and wife. He wanted her with him, always - and he promised himself that it would not be long until his deepest desire was fulfilled.
In the field, Owen and Lucien came together in a clash of sword and armor. As they battled, Owen’s expression was dark with concentration and fury, his mouth turned down at the corners. But Lucien wore a slight smile.
“You are full of rage, brother. It befits a knight on the eve of war.”
Owen refused to answer, preferring to reply with the hammering of his weapon against Lucien’s shield. Still, his brother-in-law pressed the matter.
“Is it your woman that puts you in such a mood?”
Driven to a greater height of anger, Owen found his voice. “That is not your concern! Think of the business at hand and not of my personal affairs.”
“So it is your woman, then?”
Taking a step back, Owen thrust his sword into the ground and tossed his shield aside, stalking away towards the nearby water bucket. As he drank greedily, Lucien came to stand beside him. Owen was stunned when Lucien spoke in a quiet, gentle way – but it wasn’t the tone of his voice that surprised. It was his words.
“I know of your love for the baroness.”
Owen was shocked for only a moment longer, as angry realization came over him. “My sister would do well to keep her foolish mouth closed.”
“I have suspected it for some time, brother. Thea only confirmed what I have long thought to be true.”
Turning back towards the purpose of his weapons, he held his sword in hand, ready to continue. But Lucien stood by with his sword lowered, intent on conversing rather than drilling.
“This angry temperament will serve you well in the days to come.”
“That is exactly what I intend. Death will not find me on the battlefield.”
Lucien’s smile grew. “I believe you. And I wish you well in your endeavor to have your lady at all costs. She will be fortunate to have you.”
They took up arms again. Invigorated by thoughts of Isabella, he replied to Lucien’s comment with sense of proud possessiveness.
“No woman shall have a more loyal husband than I. And I will eradicate memories of anyone who had come before me.”
Their practice went on for quite some time. It was stopped only by the sight of a stranger, on horseback, riding fast across the fields. It was a page, hurrying in the direction of the house. Owen and Lucien stared at another, neither saying a word. The air around them changed suddenly, becoming charged with a mighty energy. It took on a tangibility that could not be denied.
The war had come.