A Broken Truce (by Aigneis)

Summary:  This story was written by me for characters I have created, but after seeing this webpage, I thought the story fit nicely with the characters from Covington Cross. I loved the show, and have rewritten this as a piece of fan fiction. There is no intent to infringe on the copyrights held by ABC, Gil Grant or any other holder of the Covington Cross copyrights. No profit is being made from the story in the version it now stands. Heck, at the moment, no profit is being made with the original characters either, but that’s another story. So here goes. Hope you enjoy it.
Category:  Covington Cross
Genre:  Medieval
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,968


 

The great hall seemed to echo with it, the undisputable din of silence mixed with anxiety. Richard paced back and forth like some sort of nervous rabbit, his heels clicking diligently against its gray slate. Conversely, Armus was a pillar of calmness, sitting in the cushioned chair by the fire, his features softly stoic, the only evidence of his emotions revealed in the rhythmic strumming of his hands upon the great carved arms of that chair. As for Cedric, he almost seemed oblivious to the gravity of the situation. He poked at the roaring fire in the hearth, shifting the logs in playful boredom. He was pleased to have been asked to remain, yet his thoughts drifted to Eleanor. Part of him actually thought it was unfair that she had not been required to hold the same tedious vigil as the rest of them.

Eleanor did not quite look at it the same way. She had been dismissed earlier, just after their guest had arrived, as if her presence was not required. Not an act that had left her in the best of moods, given she was offered no explanation for what she perceived as a rudeness far out of the realm of knightly courtliness. For her father’s sake, she had excused herself with the utmost dignity, but that calm had melted into the early morning mist as she saddled her horse and road off toward the old abbey.

“What does he want?” Richard finally whispered, passing Armus on another round of the Great Hall.

“Watch your tongue, brother, lest you find yourself without it.”

A small grin caught the corner of the elder boy’s lips and he sighed deeply. It was not as if he had not been wondering that very thing himself. Still, to actually let the words slip from his lips was quite another matter. This was, after all, no common emissary of the King. Words must be chosen carefully here, and opinions guarded wisely. He sighed again. These were not two of Richard’s strongest virtues he feared.

“I’m simply curious. It does involve us, after all. As far as I know, I commit no crime against the crown in speaking thus.”

“How do you know it involves us? As dutiful knights we are expected to stand ready to aid our King, even if it means simply sitting and waiting . . . quietly.”

A grin crossed his face, replacing the stoic concern with the jovial gentleness that usually graced his countenance. He was the calm one in the family. Calculating and precise, he thought before he spoke, weighing the value of each word, a trait his brother would have done well to emulate from time to time.

Richard raised his eyes to the heavens with a deep sign. “Dear god, does nothing ruffle those silken feathers of yours?”

“Yes, of course, you seem to be quite adept at it.”

Richard gave an artificial laugh and took to his pacing once more. He stopped in front of the large center window and looked out across the fertile fields. It made him think of his mother. He had probably been closer to her than any of the other children. She had tried to teach him to be patient and consider his words on numerous occasions but had finally deemed it a lost cause. You have a quick mind, my son, but your tongue is even quicker. You must learn in what order they are to act. Unfortunately, he never had. A sadness transformed Richard’s eyes as he remembered the gentle touch of her hand upon his chin as she had spoken those words, for though she shook her head in despair, there was never any doubt she loved him without condition.

“Do you think that’s what it is?” Cedric whispered, his voice breaking harsh against the silence, barely able to conceal his excitement. “We are to be called into service.”

“I think you have little to fear, brother,” Armus noted with caution, for he knew how sensitive his youngest brother was on the subject. “You are in training for the clergy. It is unlikely King Edward would expect you to forego your duties there to serve as a knight.”

“But I have no wish to enter the clergy! I think I have made my position quite clear as to that.”

“It is what mother wanted, wee one,” Richard noted, continuing to gaze out the large window.

How Cedric hated that term of endearment. Though he vaguely remembered his mother calling him that, it did nothing more than emphasize his youthful place in the family. He was the baby, and no matter how old he grew, he felt he would always be treated as such. Incensed by the implications, he turned squarely on his tawny haired brother.

“And she wanted you to watch your tongue, but you seem to do and say as you please anyway. So why should I not have the same privilege.”

“It’s hardly the same thing, and what do you know about what mother wanted anyway. You barely remember her.”

“I remember her right enough. You’re not that much older, you know. Six years is not such a great distance. You act as if you’re the only one who misses her. We were her children as well.”

“That’s enough!” Armus whispered with a force that came from somewhere deep within his muscular chest. “I know you want to be knighted, Cedric, but at your age you would be little more than a squire, if that. Besides, I doubt that is what this is about at any rate. A simple messenger could have brought such news. The King knows we would have obeyed without question.”

“Can I be your squire then, Armus? I couldn’t abide being Richard’s.”

“And you think I’d have a scrawny thing like you?” Richard goaded, a mischievous smile touching his slender lips.

He may have constantly taunted his youngest brother, but there was no doubt of his affection for the boy. After his mother’s death, it had been Richard who had comforted him. He stood by the boy’s side as he grew, sometimes playing more the role of a parent than a brother. Goad him he might, but both young men knew their true relationship. Now that they were older, it just seemed easier at times to conceal the tenderness than to admit their vulnerability.

“Scrawny I may be, but I’m large enough to put an arrogant poppin-jay like you in your place without even breaking a sweat.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Richard taunted as he unsheathed his sword.

“Enough!” Armus growled once more.

With that, the large wooden door of Thomas’ study scraped open and all three instantly fell to one knee, their heads bowed in respect.

“The event will take place within the fortnight, Thomas. I have arranged to have our guest brought here tomorrow. See that she is made comfortable.”

“As you wish, Sire.”

Edward looked around at his prostrated subjects. “Rise, good knights. Your father will explain all. I am sure I can count on your allegiance.”

“Without doubt, Sire,” the three echoed simultaneously.

“Then I must take my leave. There is much to do for the campaign ahead.”

He exited the room as swiftly as he had entered and left the bewildered boys staring at their father. Thomas sighed deeply. His face, normally smooth and pleasant, was marred by the deep creases that come from a sleepless night filled with concern. That distress, apparent in his crystal blue eyes, had weighed so heavily upon the man that he was not able to conceal it from his sons, try as he might.

“What is it, Father?” Armus asked. “Must we serve on the field of battle?”

“We will be fine, Father,” Richard offered, hoping to calm what he perceived might be his father’s fears. “My skill with a sword is well-known, and I suppose Armus doesn’t lag far behind.”

His seeming arrogance was no more than a well crafted attempt to lighten the seriousness of the situation and quell his father’s fears, but at the moment, Thomas was in no mood for the verbal sparing he knew would ensue. Before Armus could open his mouth to reply, Thomas issued a command. “Come, all of you, we must speak.”

The seriousness of their father’s tone froze the young men in their tracks, and without another word, they gathered at his side: Armus on the bench to his left, Cedric on a small stool before the fire and Richard, as usual, still pacing impatiently. Thomas could see the questions in each of their eyes, varying from mild curiosity to deep concern. How could he instruct them to do as he bid, but the order had come from the King himself, for god sake, not just a simple suggestion, but a direct command?

“You all know, of course,” he began, “the trouble the King has been encountering in Wales.”

“We’re to fight in Wales!” Cedric interjected, his child-like smile broadening.

“No, Cedric! Please, let me finish.”

“Yes, Father, forgive me.”

“As I was saying, you are all aware of the situation. The King has devised a plan by which . . .”

“He wants us to sneak in and capture someone!” cried Cedric.

“No, Cedric!” Thomas sighed. “Please, might I finish now?”

“Yes, Father. Sorry, Father”

“The plan involves a young lady.”

“We’re to escort her safely through Welsh territory!” Cedric exclaimed.

“Enough, Cedric!!!”

Thomas gripped the arms of his chair and took a deep breath, trying to control his temper. He was having a hard enough time trying to say what was needed without the constant interruptions of the one son he had hoped would eventually be tucked away in the abbey, safe from the danger of both blade and arrow. He wasn’t sure whether it was Cedric’s constant interruptions or his determination to become a knight that bothered him more.

“Sorry, Father,” the boy mumbled.

“Yes, well, in truth, lad, this does not really concern you at all. You may be excused.”

Richard and Armus exchanged a shocked glance, not gone unnoticed by Thomas. No sooner had the words crossed his lips, in fact, than he had realized how harsh those words had sounded. Without saying so, he had, in the sharpest of terms, reminded the boy that he definitely was not a royal knight.

“Yes, Father,” Cedric muttered as he rose to obey.

“No, wait, I didn’t mean that. Please, stay . . . just hold your tongue until I’m finished, would you, lad.”

“Yes, of course, Father.”

Thomas smiled and placed his hand lovingly on his youngest son’s shoulder. He hated the thought of Cedric joining his brother’s in the knighthood, tried to convince himself that he should insist on his joining the clergy, but in fact, he knew that at some point he would give in and allow him to don his armor and follow in his brother’s footsteps. Now, however, he hoped to deter that course at least until the boy had reached the age of eighteen.

“Now, as I was saying. There will be a young lady arriving from Wales tomorrow. She is to be married here within a fortnight. That act will cement a truce with a certain Welsh prince, bringing a large portion of the country under English command and guaranteeing his continued loyalty.”

“Who is this lady?” Richard asked.

“She is the Lady Delwyn of Bryn Mar, third daughter of the said prince.”

“And he has agreed to this?”

“He has no choice in the matter, I’m afraid. He has his people to consider, and they have not faired well over the last year.”

“But why his third daughter?”

“The elder two are to be wed to English nobleman as well, thus placing the bulk of his estates in English hands. She herself will receive a sizable fortune. By this marriage, her groom will become heir to her inheritance, as will their children – English children – for they will be born and bred in their fathers’ home.”

“So Wales will, in effect, be won by inheritance?” Armus noted. “It would certainly put an end to the warfare.”

“Not completely, I’m afraid, for not all princes had agreed to such unions for their children, but that is the King’s business. Our concern is with Lady Delwyn. It is our duty to see that her groom abides by the edict.”

“An arranged marriage then,” Richard stated. “The poor sod! Does he know yet?”

“No . . . not yet . . . that is the point of this discussion. I am doing my best to inform him.”

For a moment, the young men just gazed at their father with blank stares. What had he meant by such a statement? Thomas waited anxiously for his words to sink in. Then, almost at the same moment, they did just that. In common accord, Richard and Cedric turned their gaze to Armus, whose face, in that very instant, had almost lost all of its color. Not being one to remain silent, Richard was the first to speak.

“But why?” he argued, coming to his brother’s defense. “There are those whose estates are far more vast and whose titles, far more numerous. Why would the King insist on Armus?”

“The King is not troubled by what the maid gains by the marriage, only what she brings to it. He also wishes that she be a good distance from both London and Wales. In fact, she will be forbidden from visiting either.”

“What about Lady Elizabeth’s son. Would he not be better suited? Surely France is far enough away from Wales!”

“True, but it is my son the maiden’s lady-in-waiting has had a chance encounter with, and she has returned word of his prowess to her mistress. It is on this recommendation that the lady has deemed him worthy of her affections. There will be no further discussion, Richard. You are to prepare for a wedding within the fortnight.”

“But Father,” Richard protested, “I thought you frowned on arranged marriages.”

“Ordinarily, I do not, and under other circumstances I would have respectfully declined, or at least let my son decide for himself, but this is a direct command from his majesty, King Edward, not a mere suggestion. As a loyal subject, I cannot refuse this edict.”

“But you said that love is the only reason to marry. Would you wish less for Armus?”

“It’s all right, Richard,” Armus said, finally breaking his silence. “I am a knight of the realm. Just as I would give my life in battle, so too shall I give it in this cause. I only hope I can be a good husband to the lady.”

“Armus! You deserve better. No one has the right to choose who is to be your wife.”

“The King does, brother. It is not as if he asks me to do something he has not himself been subjected to. Perhaps I shall come to love my bride as he has his.”

“I’m sure you would, Armus,” Thomas interjected, stammering slightly, his already troubled face deepening with the crevices of concern, “but it is not you who is to be her husband.”

Though it took a minute, once more, for his sons to comprehend his words, their meaning was unmistakable. Richard’s mouth fell open, his green eyes clouding with disbelief. Surely, their father did not mean it was to be him. For a moment, he could not speak, a feat quite remarkable in itself. Finally, he managed to find his voice again.

“Surely, you do mean this wench has named me as her concubine? My estates are even more limited, as is my title. Why would she choose me?”

“Why indeed,” Thomas replied, a bit confused by the selection himself. “You’re headstrong, arrogant and short-tempered, but I suppose in some odd way she finds you attractive,” he added with a sigh of resignation. “At any rate, the issue is not open for debate. The King wants a solid marriage from a family he can rely on. As I have stated, he is not concerned with how much you bring to the union, only how much you gain. As such, you will be present tomorrow to greet your bride.”

With that, Thomas rose to take his leave, but stopped short as he considered who it was he had spoken to. While Richard had always been a good son, he had at times been obstinate and impulsive, interpreting his father’s commands as he saw fit. Years of managing his father’s estates, along with a knighthood bestowed much too early for Thomas’ taste, had left the young man willful to a degree that often far outweighed his station Though Thomas cared for him as he did all his children, this characteristic had always left a slight rift between them. Perhaps he is more like myself than I care to admit, Thomas thought as he surveyed the slender boy standing before him, his sandy waves hanging in ringlets about his pale emerald eyes. Anne’s eyes, Thomas whispered as a softness overcame him. The voice of his eldest son jarred him back to reality and to the reason for his hesitation.

“Is there something else, Father,” Armus asked, curious about his father’s sudden halt.

“Yes, perhaps there is. One further warning, Richard; you will be on your best behavior and present yourself not only on time, but in a knightly manner. I expect you to be bathed, your hair combed, your attire impeccable. Is that understood?”

“But Father . . .”

“Is that understood?” Thomas’ voice was clear and firm.

Richard knew when he had been defeated. “Yes, Father, as you wish.”

Thomas had no sooner left the room, however, than the boy exploded.

“I’m no more than common chattel to him. He’s probably ecstatic to have found a bride of such station for me. Now, I won’t be such a drain on his resources.”

“Stop it Richard!” Armus exclaimed.” You know such thoughts are far below father. He’s been extremely generous with you.”

“This from the prodigal son, returned of late to claim the inheritance his brother has toiled so hard to secure.”

Even as the words spew forth from his lips, Richard despised them. He looked up to Armus, nearly afforded him sainthood. How could he have breathed such hateful accusations? Thick lashes closed over his dazzling green eyes, fearful that they might betray the shame he felt at his thoughtless utterances.

Armus was shocked, yet he knew Richard often spouted out words his heart did not mean. Only that knowledge kept him from using his large fist to inflict a crushing blow upon his brother’s jaw. His lips pressed firmly together so that his breath had no other recourse than to find its way through his nasal passage. Breathing heavily, he gazed askance at the tawny haired young man who stood before him.

“If I thought for one moment you meant that, Richard, I would fell you where you stand. Never have I asked to reclaim my rightful land or title. It was father’s choice to do as he pleased, but he has also granted you far more than your station demands. I will consider your state of mind and presume, therefore, that the thought of marriage has driven you temporarily insane.”

Too embarrassed to speak, Richard simply turned and stormed away. He knew Armus was right, yet he could not quell the anger growing inside him. How could his father do this to him? He had given up fame and glory to stay home, not ridden off to the Crusades the way Armus and William had. Maybe I should have, he thought as he saddled his horse and rode across the fields toward the forest. The fresh air seemed to clear his mind, and all of a sudden it hit him. He would meet the Lady Delwyn on the morrow. He would be the essence of knightly chivalry, but there would be no marriage. He would see to that.

*****

Richard could hardly sleep that night and spent a good portion of it preparing to implement his plan. The next morning, however, he was in the courtyard, ready to meet his future bride as instructed. He had ordered the servants to prepare a bath and had even had them cut the straggled ends of his silken waves. A deep blue shirt of the finest material covered his under tunic, topped with a blue velvet jerkin that was quilted and adorned with silver studs. He finished it off with a light blue scarf that was made of hand-embroidered silk and black leather gauntlets that encircled his wrists. His black suede britches slid neatly into his polished boots and his sword hung at his side in an elaborately designed scabbard. All in all, he cut a handsome figure, one which left no doubt about his noble birth. It was clear he intended to do nothing here to dishonor his father or disobey the King’s edict. As the carriage approached, however, he felt his stomach twist into a hardened knot. For the first time in his life, he wished women did not find him so appealing. Where on earth had he met this lady-in-waiting anyway, he mused. Had she known then what she was about? Reluctantly, he looked up to Armus, who was standing at his side.

“I’m sorry, brother; I did not mean what I said.”

“I know that, Richard, you never do, but it cuts through the heart none-the-less.”

How much more would what he was about to do cause them distress, yet he saw no other alternative. To see him wasting away, locked in an unhappy marriage of convenience was bound to be far more painful to them, he told himself as the carriage bearing his bride-to-be turned into the courtyard and came to stop not feet from where he was standing. A wave of nausea overcame him, and he swallowed hard to keep his breakfast from coming up his throat. A handsome middle-aged woman was the first to disembark, followed by a plump, young woman who would have rivaled Armus in width if not height. Richard’s heart seemed to jump into his throat, and he swallowed twice in rapid succession, sure the only thing keeping his food down was the large lump that had now lodged itself there. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow and his hands felt uncommonly clammy. Visions of their wedding night flew through his mind. He had all he could do to keep from backing away as thoughts of her large form caressing him filled his mind. If she lunged at him he was done for.

Just then, another woman, slightly older than himself, emerged from the cab, and his mouth dropped in recognition. He closed his eyes and moaned as the revelation hit him. He had enjoyed the pleasure of her company not two months before at a small tavern just outside of Allerton. Sensing she was a lady, he had behaved as nothing less than a gentleman, a foolish mistake in retrospect. Had he tried to seduce her perhaps he would not be standing there now, ready to be crushed by her rather large boned mistress. She nodded in his direction, a sign of acknowledgement, and he returned her greeting, bowing his head in a polite salute. As he raised his eyes, however, he was greeted with a most pleasant sight. A beautiful young woman, with dark auburn hair and eyes of the deepest turquoise had stepped out of the carriage and was looking around in anticipation. She leaned over and whispered to the previous woman, who smiled softly as she nodded in Richard’s direction. Perhaps this would not be such a bitter pill to swallow after all, he thought as his father stepped forward to greet her.

“Lady Delwyn, how good to see you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Sir Thomas.”

She curtsied, but Richard could see she was uncomfortable with the entire situation. Her eyes were wide and fearful, deep cerulean pools of innocence, bringing to mind a young doe caught before a bowman’s arrow. And well it should be, he thought as he reminded himself why she had come.

“Let me introduce you. This is Lady Elizabeth, a close neighbor and dear friend.”

“M’lady,” Delwyn lilted, her voice soft, almost fairylike.

She curtsied again, but Richard could not help notice that her eyes kept drifting over to where he stood. Checking out her prize, no doubt, he thought with a wisp of resentment. As his father continued the introductions, he began to notice something else as well. Her expressive blue eyes, held something other than innocence or anxiety. There was a distinct touch of loathing in them. Perhaps she was not the demure, frightened doe after all. Finally, his father stood before him, the Lady Delwyn’s hand in his own.

“And this, my lady, is my son, Richard . . . your betrothed.”

With that he turned over the lady’s hand, and Richard took it obediently, bowing low to bestow a kiss upon its velvet skin. Ever the gentleman, Richard continued.

“Good morn, m’lady. I trust your journey was not too arduous.”

“As well as could be expected, m’lord, under the circumstances,” she stated with a cold detachment. Then thinking better of it, she added, “Your roads are not as well maintained as those of my home.”

“Then I apologize for any discomfort you may have endured. I hope your stay at Covington Cross will prove more to your liking.”

A puzzled look momentarily replaced the look of aversion that had filled her eyes, and she turned to Margaret, her lady-in-waiting, as if expecting an explanation. Margaret in turn looked to Thomas.

“I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas, but have you not spoken to your son about the arrangements?”

Thomas did not seem to know what to say. It was obvious that once more his wayward son was planning to follow an agenda of his own. For Richard’s part, however, he wondered what exactly it was his father had failed to tell him. He could feel his stomach grumbling anew. If only he could get away and dispose of his breakfast in peace. After smiling graciously, Thomas finally spoke, feigning a nonchalant air.

“I informed him of the most important points, m’lady, but have not yet gone into the details. We were just informed of the arrangements yesterday, and with the preparations, have had no time to speak of it in more depth. I’ll have my man show you to your chambers, and by luncheon the entire matter shall be resolved, I assure you.”

“As you wish, m’lord.”

With that the ladies were escorted into the castle, and Richard commanded to his father’s study.

“What haven’t you told me,” Richard demanded even before the large oak door had closed behind them. “What could be more odious than marriage by edict?”

“Watch you tongue, Richard. I did tell you!” Thomas chastised, his voice short and succinct. “But as usual, you have chosen to hear only what you want. The Lady is to remain here at Covington Cross. She will not be returning to Wales. You will on occasion make the journey to oversee your estates there, but she will not be permitted to accompany you.” Thomas turned away and gazed out the window, his voice becoming softer. “She will for all intents and purposes be a prisoner here.”

“But that’s horrid! You spoke of love growing from this union. What love can possibly develop when I am no more than her jailer?”

“There are things here you do not understand, Richard.”

“Are there? Well perhaps I should understand . . . being it is my future we are speaking of!”

“Perhaps this knowledge will encourage you to be a good husband.”

“In all likelihood, Father, it will do no more than cause me to despise this union all the more. How can the King ask such a sacrifice of any subject?”

“Like it or not, you must obey this without question, Richard. When you knelt to be knighted you swore allegiance to your King and country. I believed then you were far too young, too inexperienced, to have such an honor bestowed upon you, but your prowess with the sword had won you the title, and so I allowed it. Now you must realize what it is you have truly pledged. The King will tell us what it is we need to know. It is his prerogative to withhold whatever he wishes.”

“And if I demand an explanation?”

“You are far too arrogant! You have wealth and comfort, bestowed upon you by the pleasure of the King. In return, he asks your unquestioning loyalty.” Thomas’ voice became firm and strained. “You took a vow, Richard. I expect you keep it!”

Richard’s eyes flashed with sparks of anger, his lips pressed firmly together, his breath short and shallow. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“You will, of course, consummate the marriage. It will be expected if the contract is to be upheld.”

“Of course, Father,” Richard replied with a coldness that was even unusual for his most aloof moments. “Is that all?”

“For the moment.”

Richard stormed from the room, a volcano of red lava erupting in his cheeks. Was it truly his father he had just spoken to, or had some vile demon taken possession of his body? He headed up the stone turnpike that led to east parapet and let the cool breeze ruffle his long tangled waves. With his eyes closed, the soft wind caressing his slender face, he could almost believe it had all been a horrible dream.

“M’lord.” A harsh voice broke the melodious solitude, and Richard turned to find a servant standing behind him, shuffling uneasily.

“Yes, what is it, Michael?”

“Sir Thomas is ‘oldin the meal for ye, Master Richard. ‘E don’ look none too ‘appy either.”

“Yes, of course. Inform him I’ll be along presently.”

A man of his word, Richard appeared at the luncheon table moments later and took a seat next to his betrothed. Thomas said nothing, but instructed everyone to begin at once. Not a thing on the table appealed to Richard, however. In fact, just the sight of it made his stomach ache all the more. The sides of his head were beginning to throb. He just wanted to return to his chambers and sleep for the next hundred years. It all seemed so surreal. He heard people talking, but their voices seemed muffled and distant. As for the lady herself, she spoke not a word, but picked at her food dishearteningly. From time to time, he would almost begin to feel sorry for her, but then he would remember how he had been chosen, like a pup from its litter, and his anger would emerge anew.

“You should take Lady Delwyn riding today, Richard,” he heard his father say. “I’m sure she would like to see the grounds and the village that are to be her home.”

Richard starred at his father for a moment, trying desperately to suppress the anger that loomed just below the surface. His chin was firmly set, and he barely opened his mouth as he spoke.

“As you wish, m’lord.”

Trying to ignore his son’s obvious irritation, he continued to speak as if Richard had answered with delight.

“Yes, I think that would be wise. Would you like that, Lady Delwyn?”

Her answer, however, was much the same as Richard’s, both in word and tone. Armus couldn’t help but scratch his head, out of pure curiosity. Why, given she seemed so revolted by Richard, had she chosen him in the first place.

*****

Richard helped the lady on her horse, and then mounted his own steed, clicking his heels against its side and giving a light tap on its reins. The lady followed suit, not riding abreast of Richard, but trailing alongside just far enough to make it obvious that she had no desire to make idle conversation. Though she was not aware of it, Richard was most appreciative and said no more than fleeting commentary on the sites they passed: the forest, the lake, the old abbey. By the time they got to the village, he was certain he was about to put himself to sleep, let alone his unwanted companion.

“We should stop at the inn for our meal,” he stated bleakly.

He pulled up on his reins and jumped down from his mount. He had no intention of giving the lady time to object. Perhaps it was time she realized just what she was getting, he thought.

“Supper will be well done when we return home, and I would not have you go to bed hungry, m’lady. You ate so little at luncheon.”

He reached up to help Delwyn down. As she had little other recourse, she slipped out of her saddle into his waiting arms. For a brief moment, she was seized with a wave of excitement, and she paused in his arms, her eyes gazing deeply into his. He was, after all, exceedingly handsome, and she had no doubt of his bravery. Could it be possible she might actually fall in love with him? Then, in the next second, reality came rushing in. No, this man was less than chivalrous, for it had been at his request that the match had been made in the first place. How could she ever love someone who had so little regard for her heart? She pushed him away, the anger returning to her eyes.

“Shall we go in then?”

The inn was clouded with the smoke from the fire, and the numerous candles that now lit the room, for dusk was swiftly approaching. They took a seat in the far corner, though Delwyn thought twice before settling unto the filthy bench. Just as she did a drunken villager nearly knocked her over. And they called my people barbarians she thought as Richard pushed him on his way.

“I’m sorry, m’lady,” Richard mumbled with a distinct curl of his lip. “He’s really quite harmless.”

Before the lady had a chance to answer, a rather well endowed wench came over to their table, her eyes surveying Delwyn with distinct curiosity, though it was Richard to whom she spoke. Once the conversation began, however, her glance shifted to the handsome nobleman.

“Good ev’ning ta me, m’lord. How be ya this fine night?”

“As well as can be expected . . . under the circumstances,” he added, his eyes shifting momentarily to his companions small bosom.

He was mocking her, she thought as she gazed back, her eyes settling distinctly below his waist. She gave a slight laugh, then looked away toward the center of the inn, where some large men was discussing a recent joust. Richard was furious! So she thought he was inadequate, did she!

“What will ye ave, m’lord?” the large bosomed maid asked.

“I don’t believe what I truly desire is on today’s fare,” Richard answered, his emerald eyes drifting conspicuously from her face, down along her slender neck to her chest.

She gave a quick glance in Delwyn’s direction before answering. “M’lord! What you desire is always on the menu. Ya need only ask.”

Delwyn heaved a sigh of disbelief, her lip curling in disgust. “Have whatever you want, m’lord. I’m sure I will find something to my liking as well. I doubt the fare at my new home will ever be that satisfying.”

So this one had a sharp wit, Richard thought. Though his ego was slightly bruised, he knew she was just trying to get back at him.

“Just two bowls of stew tonight, please, Sally. I’ll save desert for another time.”

“As ye wish, m’lord,” the waitress said with a large grin. “’Tis always here, yours for the asking.”

“You’re disgusting,” Delwyn exclaimed, speaking to him directly for the first time since that morning. “I was told that you were a true knight, but I suppose being English, that does not mean much other than that you take what you want.”

“At least the objects of my desire wish to be taken, lady. The Welsh, I gather, have no thought of any, save their own satisfaction.”

“You are sadly mistaken, sir. We think only of our duty, and do not confuse that with selfish gain and worldly satisfaction.”

Richard as usual lost his temper. “Perhaps, m’lady, you have found a way to attain both.”

“I doubt that, m’lord, for if I had ever dared presume it, your behavior here tonight has shown me otherwise.” With that, she stood. “I think I should like to return to your home now, if you would be so kind, or does your chivalry fall short of that as well.”

“My chivalry, lady, is well renowned. I am your servant!” With that he threw a few coins down on the table and headed out the door.

*****

The sun had yet to peek over the horizon as Richard tiptoed through the empty halls of Covington Cross. He looked around the Great Hall, sighing sadly, before opening the door and letting the crisp morning air fully wake him. He would miss his home, but he knew what he must do. Surely, if he were off fighting in the Crusades, the King would not seek any reprisal for his disobedience. Better to be killed upon the field of glory, than die a slow death wed to that venomous witch, he thought as he mounted his steed. He bid farewell to the groom, telling him to instruct his father that he had gone hunting that morning. Then he handed the man a sealed parchment, which he asked the groom to deliver to Sir Thomas after supper than evening. With that, he clicked his heels firmly against the sides of his mount and was on his way.

Thomas was livid that evening as they sat at the dinner table. He had never believed Richard was capable of such rudeness. To miss breakfast, even luncheon, because of the hunt was one thing, but to be absent from supper as well. It was unspeakable. Perhaps the boy did need to have the strap taken to him, as others had suggested on numerous occasions. Thomas had always known he had an obstinate streak, which had caused heated words between them on many an occasion, but in the end, he had always counted on Richard’s obedience. Now, however, he was beginning to think he had been too lenient with him.

“Please, let’s begin,” he finally announced with a strained smile. “If Richard misses a meal, it is his own fault.”

He pretended that his son’s absence did not bother him, but in truth, he was growing more concerned by the moment. What if he was injured? Perhaps he should send someone to look for him? But then, as the last dish was being cleared from the table, and the family had moved before the fire, the groom handed Thomas his master’s parchment.

“What is this?” Thomas asked, one silver eyebrow raised in curiosity.

“’Tis from Master Richard, Sir. He instructed that I deliver it after the evening meal.”

“Did he?” Thomas replied, a distinct feeling of dread overcoming him. “What is he up to now?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, m’lord. He simply asked me to deliver the parchment.”

“Thank you, lad, you are excused.”

“M’lord,” the servant replied as he bowed and exited the large room.

With a nervous smile, Thomas unsealed the folded paper and began to read. As he did, his breath became short and deep, the color in his face changing hue with each new line. Trying to muster every bit of control that remained in his body, he stood slowly and turned to his eldest son.

“Armus, I need speak to you in my chambers. You will excuse us, ladies. I’m sure Cedric can entertain you with stories of his recent exploits.

The ladies nodded, though Delwyn was indeed curious. Had Richard run away? How noble of him! She almost wanted to giggle. Could it be possible that she would be spared this marriage? Up in Thomas’ chambers, however, things were far from jovial.

“I should have taken the strap to that boy years ago, beaten the arrogance out of him.”

“What’s happened, father? It’s not like you to speak in such a manner. I know Richard may be headstrong at times, but he always comes around in the end.”

“Did you know about this?”

“About what? What is it he’s done this time?”

“He’s ridden off to join the Crusades, preferring to die on the field of battle rather than languish in an unhappy marriage.”

“He’s what! Has he not considered the consequences of his decision?”

“Oh, yes . . . of course, far be it from Richard to rush into anything without thinking it through. He feels the King will forgive him this disobedience, being he has gone off to fight for the Church.”

Armus thought for a moment, his pale eyes wandering aimlessly around the room, before coming to rest on his father’s seething form once more.

“Will he?”

“Armus! Have you lost your senses as well?”

“No, father, of course not, but what if I were to offer myself in his stead. Would that not satisfy the King?”

“The lady requested Richard! For the love of me, I don’t know why as she seems to despise his very being, but none the less, the arrangement was made and to renege on any portion of it could jeopardize the entire truce.”

“What if we asked the lady herself, Father? If she is so revolted by Richard, perhaps she would welcome the substitution.”

Thomas stared at his eldest son, “Do you covet the lady for yourself, Armus, or are you simply trying to save your brother’s neck?”

Armus heaved a great sigh. “He’s still young, Father, naïve in many ways. He fails to fully understand what is expected of him as a knight.”

“Then it is time he learned.”

“My leaving for the crusades put expectations upon him far beyond his years. If I had remained at home . . .”

“If it is anyone’s fault, Armus, it is mine. I feared he was too young to be knighted, barely eighteen. He’d not been a squire for more than two years, but I let my pride at his accomplishment mar my judgment. I tell you now, Armus, I will not allow that to happen again. Cedric will not be knighted before he is twenty-one, if I permit it at all. It was your mother’s intention that he join the clergy.”

“It is not what he wants. Surely she would have seen that and allowed him to follow his dream.”

“Yes, well, Cedric is not the issue here tonight, is he? You’re to go after Richard, Armus. Bring him back if you have to bind and gag him to do it. I will not have the King’s wrath brought down upon this castle because of one thoughtless boy.”

“As you wish, Father. I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

“You will leave now, Armus! I dare not chance him crossing the sea. Once he’s left English soil, he will be all but lost.”

*****

“Armus!” Richard exclaimed as he walked into his room at the inn. “I’m not going back! Why shouldn’t I have the same opportunity as you and William?”

“You can have that opportunity all you want, brother, once you have exchanged vows with Lady Delwyn.”

“You marry her then.”

“I suggested it, but it seems that would not be acceptable. The agreement specifically named you as the groom. The King will not look kindly upon your hasty departure.”

“Did she tell you that?”

“Father told me. The King was rather explicit about it.”

“What does it matter? It will be me he comes after. He’ll probably be grateful to you for stepping in.”

“Father was right. You received your title far too young. You have no idea what it means to be a knight of the realm.”

“Perhaps that’s because I was never rally allowed to partake in a knight’s duties. You and William saw to that.”

“You could have gone as well, especially after I’d returned.”

“And left Father with no one to manage his affairs. Cedric is too young, and you had no experience, or inclination I might add. As for William, you had barely stepped in the door before he announced his intentions.”

“But you have no problem in leaving now.”

“You’re doing fine.”

“But Father will not be. Once the King hears of this treachery, he will more than likely be stripped of his lands.”

“The King will be more concerned with my return.”

“Have you always been so self-centered? The world does not revolve around you alone, little brother. The King will see this as an affront to his throne. It is Father’s castle in which you dwell, and as such, he is responsible for your actions. Knight or not, it is your family that will pay for your disobedience. Even if the King allows us to retain our land, you can be sure we will be shunned by our peers. Father will loose business, and in the end, our lands would be forfeit just the same, all because you thought yourself above the King’s commands.”

Richard flopped down on the bed, his shoulders slumping as if the weight of the world were upon them. He closed his eyes, trying to collect his thoughts, but the answer was clear. There was only one thing to do.

“Can we at least wait until morning?”

“I think it best if we leave now. The sooner we arrive home the better, and as it is, even if we ride hard through the night, that won’t be until tomorrow evening.”

“All right, then. Let’s get it over with. What did father tell Lady Delwyn about my absence?”

“That you were called to London on some last minute business. I think it best you not mention what that business was.”

*****

Richard had been home three days, and the atmosphere between he and his lady had not improved.

“Called to London again?” Lady Delwyn asked as she watched Richard saddle his horse.

“I’m off to hunt, m’lady, if you’ve no objection.”

“Hunt indeed, Sir, does your prey have a name?”

“Yes, mistress, I believe it is called a deer. If I were in search of other prey, I would not leave so early in the day.” He finished tightening the straps, then added, “You have no worry at the moment though, m’lady. This last bout of the pox has sharply curtailed my dalliances. The physician hinted that I may never again be able to father a child, but then they have been wrong before.”

With that, he saddled his horse and galloped off toward the forest. Delwyn’s heart was shattered. This was not what she dreamed her life would be like. On leaving Wales, she had hoped to find a man who would love and respect her, but instead, she had been paired with the most vile creature who had ever walked the face of the earth. His angelic face was little consolation when one saw the coldness that lay beneath its facade. Just how many children did he have, she wondered. He would not come near her plagued by the pox. She would drive his own sword through his frozen heart if he dare attempt it. Feeling like a condemned prisoner, she returned to her room and threw herself on the soft feathered mattress.

“Why are you crying, my lady?” Margaret asked as she walked in to find Delwyn prostrate on her bed in a lump of tears.

“Why has my father made such a demand of me, Margaret? Are the affairs of state of such importance that he cares nothing for my heart?”

“But my lady, I have heard Sir Richard well spoken of wherever his name is mentioned. A bit headstrong, I have heard, but of a good heart. Surely, you will come to love him.”

“Well spoken of, I’m sure,” Delwyn snarled in disgust. “I’m certain there are quite a few tavern wenches who will readily sing his praises, and there is know doubt he is adept at invoking the image of the chivalrous knight, but I assure you, Margaret, he is no gentleman.”

“I am sorry, mistress. I feel this is all my fault.”

“Your fault! Don’t be ridiculous, Margaret. ‘Twas not you who sentenced me to this charade.”

“But in a way, my lady, it was. I beg your word; you must never tell your father what I say here today. By telling you this, I am breaking my pledge to him.”

Delwyn raised her eyebrows, her head cocked gently to the side. “Speak! You have my word.”

“The month I was away, to my sick sister’s you were told . . .”

“Yes, go on.”

“I did not exactly go to visit my sister. Your father had sent me on a mission of sorts. To find a young knight that would be deserving of you affections. One that I felt you would readily love.”

“What are you saying, Margaret?”

“It was I who informed your father that Sir Richard would be a good match. The arrangement was based upon that information.”

“It was not Richard who demanded my hand?”

“No, my lady, he knew nothing of it, until hours before we arrived.”

“Then it was not my dowry he was after?”

“No, mistress. Even now, I’m not sure he really knows what he’ll be receiving. He is a knight, following his King’s command.

“Oh, Margaret, I have despised him because I thought it was he who had demanded my hand, only to spurn me when he had acquired that which he sought. How awful I’ve been to him. No wonder he treats me so coldly. Does he know of my father’s demands?”

“Yes, my lady. I believe he does.”

“I must see him then. Beg his forgiveness.”

“But he’s out hunting, mistress. Surely it can wait for his return.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right, but I must ask someone to fetch him back immediately. Do you suppose Sir Armus would help me?”

“Oh, I’m sure if I asked . . . I mean, I’m sure he would, my lady.”

Delwyn’s eyes became mere slits, twinkling mischievously as an elfish grin touched her ruby lips. “Margaret! Is there to be another marriage as well?”

“Now get that look out of your eye, my lady. I admit the good knight may have caught my eye, but such as that can never be. I have no noble blood, and he is a first born son.”

Just as quickly as it had come, the twinkle left Delwyn’s eyes and she sighed. “If only their birth order had been reversed, at least you might have known happiness.”

“Can you ever forgive me, my lady?”

“You are not to blame. We have all been pawns of princes and kings. I can only hope Richard believes my innocence. If he does, I shall be a good and obedient wife. Never again shall I cause him a moment’s displeasure. Now, go to Sir Armus and relay my request.”

*****

Richard really didn’t care whether or not he felled a deer. He just wanted to get away for the day. He could imagine what it would be like once they were married. Their vows had not yet been taken, and she was already shadowing his movements. His stomach seemed to be twisting itself inside out as he thought of it. She was beautiful. There was no doubt about that. Soft and petite, under any other circumstances it would have been his honor to act as her knight protector, even her husband, but these were not other circumstances. The nagging wench had demanded him for herself, was willing to risk the security of her people if he did not comply with her demands. This was to be the mother of his children! The thought almost sickened him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move in the bushes, and he reached back for an arrow. Before he could grab it, however, there was a whoosing sound, followed by an excruciating pain in his left side. He looked down to find an arrow feathered in his ribcage, causing his rich red blood to seep slowly out upon his tan jerkin. Though he let out no sound of alarm, his face revealed his deep sense of disbelief. Confusion filled his eyes as they searched the horizon for his assailant, but he could see no one. He felt along his back for the dart’s point, but it had not gone through. It would be harder to remove, he thought. Memories of tips having to be dug out flashed through his mind, and for a moment, he considered attempting to push the wretched thing through himself. He thought better of it, however, realizing that such an act would only cause him to bleed more intensely. Neither could he remove it without causing the same result. Biting down on his lower lip, he closed his eyes for a moment, breaking the shaft that protruded from his side. Then steadying himself, he clicked his heels against his stallion and started home.

He had not gone two feet, when another shot buried itself just inches from the first. This one did go through, but it was out of his reach. With every breath, it seemed as if another projectile had burrowed itself in his side. He placed his hand against his horse’s mane, trying to straighten himself. A strange humming sound was filling his ears as the forest began to whirl around him. He did not even remember letting go of his reins, but there he was, sprawled on the ground, staring up at the sky through the boughs of the large oaks that surrounded him.

There was now a new pain in his back, for his fall had forced the arrow back against its entry point, causing its lower tips to pierce his flesh anew. He knew his only chance was to get on his horse and head back to the castle. With steely determination his fixed his jaw, ready for the pain he knew would come, and pushed up upon his elbow. He turned over onto his knees, sweat pouring from every pour, but as he tried to stand, another arrow pierced his shoulder, thrusting him back against the hardened earth. This time it was not the sky he saw above him, but the face of a young man he had never seen before. An angry face, covered with dark auburn hair, whose turquoise eyes flashed with resentment.

“So you would have my sister’s dowry, rogue. I’ll see her widowed before an heir can be born. Do you think she’ll shed any tears for you?”

“Who are you?” Richard managed to mutter, though his entire body was beginning to grow cold and his left arm had lost its feeling.

“Morcan ap Dafydd, saesneg moch!!!

“A Welshman! I should have expected such treachery. Why else would a prince agree to marry his daughter off to a second son?”

“My father knows nothing of this! He would have peace no matter what the cost. How much did your King pay you to bed my sister, or was her dowry enough for you?”

“I have no knowledge of what her dowry holds, only that my King has commanded the marriage take place . . . by agreement of your father. Perhaps you should speak to him about it.”

“Oh, I know what he’s done, parceled off my inheritance amongst my sisters’ English husbands. He’s so worried about his people; he’s turned a blind eye to what Edward is doing. I, however, am not so blind. Without an heir, it is she who will inherit your fortune, and I shall guide her in the proper management of her estates.”

Somehow, in spite of the fact that death hung over him like the morning mist, he found himself laughing. “You should have done your research, boy. The wedding has not yet taken place, and if I am killed, I’m sure one of my brothers will make an acceptable husband in my stead.”

“What do you mean? The wedding was to take place on the fifth.”

“The fifteenth, fool. Your family is invited. Did you not receive the invitation?”

With that Morgan jammed the hilt of the sword into Richard’s face, causing him to fall even deeper into a sort of alternate reality. He could hear someone else approaching, but his vision was blurred and the voices muffled. Another of his Welsh assassins, he thought, certain the end was near.

“Dear heavenly, father, forgive me my sins,” he whispered before lapsing into unconsciousness.

A fresh blast of air woke him, causing him to falter slightly. Instinctively, he grabbed the mane of the horse on which he was riding. His left arm hung limp at this side, and he could feel the warm liquid that ran down the side of his face.

“We’ll be home soon, brother,” Armus exclaimed.

Richard turned his head slightly to see his brother behind him, but as he did he felt himself falling and turned back to grab the horses mane once more. He had a hundred questions but lacked the strength to ask one.

 “Morcan,” he finally managed to mutter.

“He’s with father and Cedric. He’s to be turned over to the sheriff. Dear God, Richard, if Delwyn had not sent me to find you . . .”

“She sent you? She must have known,” Richard moaned, slumping over slightly and holding his breath until the latest wave of pain slipped away. Perhaps having failed, she would leave now, he thought. If she did, it would almost be worth it. He was finding it hard to breath. It felt as if a sword had pierced him through. I’m dying he thought with a calm reasoning, but somehow there was no fear. He almost wished for it as a wave of nausea caused him to double over and vomit. Armus pulled taut on the reins, placing one hand around his brother’s waist and another on his head. He was afraid if they took Richard down from the horse, he would never return home.

“Do you feel better, now,” Armus asked, wiping a scarf across his brother’s mouth, but Richard could do little but nod.

Somehow, the realization of Delwyn’s treachery pierced him no less then the three arrows that already riddled his body, though he could not fathom why. Perhaps somewhere deep inside, he had hoped they had at least respected each other.

“She knew,” Richard repeated, almost hypnotically.

“Delwyn!” Armus queried as he tried to wipe away some of the blood that ran from his brother’s lower lip. “I doubt that. She was the one who sent me to fetch you. Her lady, the maid Margaret, said she wished to speak to you. Even if she did know, she had sought to put a stop to it, but I do not believe there was any betrayal on her part, for you or her brother.”

Armus looked down at the wavy locks that now lay upon his shoulder. Richard had lost consciousness once more, and fearing for his life, the elder brother spurred his horse, praying it was not too late. Though it was only a fifteen minute ride to the castle, it seemed to take hours. Cedric and Thomas had ridden ahead and sent a groom for the sheriff, so Richard’s bed had already been prepared as they arrived home. Cedric helped Armus with Richard, and coming to once more, he somehow managed to walk most of the way to his chambers. He never noticed Delwyn as he entered, but she stood off in the corner, her sapphire eyes filled with pain. Could she have prevented this? Seen it coming? Was her father to blame, or was it Morcan who was wrong? He was her brother, yet Richard was to be her husband. Where did her allegiance lie?

The physician arrived, and she slipped out into the hallway with the rest of the family. Her family now, she thought as she looked around at their troubled faces. Did they hate her? How could they feel otherwise? Surely, they must think her a part of this. Without a word, she slipped down the hall to her chambers, unaware that Lady Elizabeth had followed.

“It’s not your fault you know,” Elizabeth said, causing Delwyn to emit a small gasp.

“Lady Elizabeth! Who else is to blame then?”

“I can think of a number of people, but certainly not you.”

“I was horrid to him, and now he may die without ever knowing how sorry I am.”

“Yes, that has been bothering me a bit. Did you know of this treachery?

“No, of course not.”

“I don’t quite understand then. Why did you request Richard for you husband, if you despised him so.”

“But that’s just it, you see, I didn’t. It was my father’s doing. I knew nothing of the conditions of the truce; chose no one as my husband.”

“But your lady-in-waiting, Margaret, it was she who supplied the information.”

“To my father, unbeknownst to me. Until this morning, I thought it was Richard who had made the demand for my hand. I believed he did so to take hold of my dowry.” She sighed deeply and sat on the edge of her narrow bed. “No wonder he hated me so.”

“Oh dear, so it was Margaret . . .”

“She meant no harm,” she stated, rushing to the defense of her friend. “She was only following my father’s orders, and even now, could face the hangmen’s noose for telling me.”

“Knowing what you do now, could you love Richard?”

“I do not know, my lady, but I pray God will afford me the chance to beg his forgiveness. How he must hate me.”

“I doubt Richard truly hates anyone. He is actually quite broad minded, given half the chance.”

“You must all hate me for this.”

“Then you must make your true feelings known.”

“Morcan is my brother. He thought he was saving me.”

“He thought he could regain his inheritance. He is the eldest is he not?”

“Is that so wrong, Lady Elizabeth? Would you not fight for your rightful inheritance?”

“Perhaps, but Richard may die as a result of the attempt, and he is innocent of any wrong doing. What would you have them do with your brother?”

“Return him to my father. I assure you, my lady, death would be far more welcome.”

Elizabeth smiled and wiped a tear from Delwyn’s cheek. “No matter, such things are out of our control. Richard’s heart, however, is another issue. It is up to you whether or not you wish to win it.”

With that, she smiled again and went down to the Great Hall, where the family had assembled.

“How is he?” she asked, but Thomas just shook his head.

“I should have never insisted on this marriage.”

“It is not your fault, Thomas. You’re marriage was arranged, as was mine and the King’s as well. You fell in love with Anne.”

“But I was allowed to fall in love before we married. Richard and Delwyn despise each other.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Elizabeth muttered with a slight grin.

“What do you mean?” Thomas asked, his face creased in thought.

“Leave it, Thomas. They must find their own way.”

He started to rise, to argue the point, just as the physician was coming down the stairs. His heart stood still for a moment, hoping for the best, but dreading the worst. In spite of their arguments and disagreements, there was no doubt he loved the boy beyond words. Stubborn and willful as he was, he possessed a good soul and an enormous heart.

“There is nothing more I can do for him now,” the physician muttered solemnly. “I have instructed the lady to keep a cool compress on his head, to keep the fever down. Once it has broken, change his bandages regularly to ward off infection. If the fever breaks, he should recover quickly, though I dare say, he will be sore for a few days. If it does not . . .”

He just shook his head, gathered his cloak and swept out the door.

“What does he mean, if it does not,” Cedric asked, but no one answered.

*****

“Can you forgive me, Richard?” Delwyn whispered as she wiped the dampened cloth across his forehead and battered cheek. “I swear I did not know. Morcan told me it was you. He was my brother. I believed him.”

Richard shivered beneath her hand, and she pulled the blanket up across his shoulders. He moaned as she did, his eyes opening to mere slits.

“Mother?” he mumbled, lost somewhere between the realm of the conscious and the unconscious.

“No, Richard, I could never be your mother.” She bent over and kissed his forehead. “I fear my feelings would be too erotic for that.

Gazing at the vulnerable form that lay before her, she wondered how they had ever become so short with one another. Had hatred for a perceived offense caused him to judge her unfairly? She could not fault him for that, for had she not done the same? Tears began to flow down her rounded cheeks.

“What do you want, Delwyn?” Richard whispered. Though weak, and still burning with fever, he seemed at least moderately alert. “I agreed to marry you, and still you spurned me. Now, your brother has tried murder me and may well have succeeded. Yet knowing of his attempt, you sent Armus to thwart him. Please Delwyn, before I leave this world, tell me what it was you wanted of me.”

He had barely finished speaking when a sharp pain shot through his side, and he winced. He began to sweat and pushed the covers down to his waist, hoping the cool air would soothe his body. His left arm throbbed with waves of sickening pain. Though he still was unable to move it, at least the feeling had returned. A fresh wave of nausea was overcoming him, yet did not want to be sick in front of her. Still, the harder he tried to calm the feeling, the stronger it became, until he found himself gagging violently. Delwyn quickly held a bucket to his chin, her soft hand caressing his fevered brow. With each retch, it felt as if another arrow had pierced his side. He was sure death could not be far behind.

At last, a coolness passed through his body, and he lay back upon his pillow, weary to the bone. “Leave me,” he whispered, though he was not sure why. Her hand had felt reassuring upon his forehead, the way his mother’s had as a child. Perhaps he didn’t want to admit Delwyn held such gentleness within her. He closed his eyes for a moment to let the cool air caress his heated body, then opened them again.

“Please, Richard,” Delwyn whispered, “I need to beg your forgiveness.”

“It was not your arrows that pierced my flesh, mistress.”

“But it is my sharp tongue that has wounded your heart. I was unaware that my father had demanded you for my husband. I thought the demands were yours, yet I could not understand why then you seemed to spurn me so.”

“I did not ask for this union, lady; it was your request.”

“No, Richard, I did no more than obey, just as you did. My father charged Margaret with finding a husband for me. When she did, it was by his insistence that your King demanded it of you. I knew nothing of this treachery, just as I knew nothing of Morcan’s, but I thought you responsible.

“Why did you send Armus after me then, if you knew nothing of Morcan’s plans?”

“Because Margaret had told me of my father’s deceit, and I wished to beg your forgiveness. I will make you a good wife, Richard. I will be obedient and subservient to your every wish, if only you will forgive me.”

“Then it is I that must apologize, m’lady, for I have treated you poorly.”

Richard shivered, and Delwyn brought the covers back up around his shoulders. His skin was deathly pale, his lips blue with the cold. Delwyn laid her body across his, hoping some of its warmth might transfer to him. With a tenderness that had tried to surface long before, he wrapped his arm around her waste and kissed her forehand, then laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes.

“I free you from your duty, Richard. Truce or not, I will only stay on your word.”

She hoped for an answer, but he had slipped off to sleep. His skin felt dry and cool to her touch, and she bowed her head against his chest, tears of relief streaming down her cheeks. After uttering a silent prayer of thanksgiving, she slipped downstairs to tell his family what had transpired, for she needed to ask their forgiveness as well if she ever hoped to be accepted into their family.

*****

“You don’t have to leave Delwyn.” Richard whispered. “We could start anew. Perhaps we might even fall in love.”

“I have no doubt of that, m’lord, but there would always be a cloud over us, a cloud my brother created.”

“You are not your brother.”

“No, but I am his sister. While I hate what he has done, there is a part of me that understands his desperation, and a part of you who would always see him in me. No matter how you loved me, I would be a prisoner here, and that would eat away at whatever love we might find. I could not do that to you. I have hurt you enough.

Richard sighed deeply, then pulling her close, kissed her parted lips. “Is there nothing I can say to convince you to stay?”

“The truce is broken. My duty lies in Wales.”

“Delwyn,” Richard stammered. “Ewyllysia beunydd cara ‘ch.”

A smile touched her lips as a single tear slid across them. “Where did you learn that?”

“Never mind, just remember what I said. I shall never forget you, Delwyn ferch Dafydd.”

“Nor shall I forget you, Richard Grey.”

With that, she entered her carriage and rode out of Richard’s life.

“Next time, father, perhaps I should be more open to your suggestion.”

“There will be no next time, Richard. Never again will I place any of my children in such as awkward position. Marriage should be for love.”

“Perhaps it was,” Richard whispered dreamily.

“What was that, Richard?”

“Nothing, Father. You were saying?”

“Yes, well, that does not mean, of course, that I might not introduce you to a few eligible ladies. Just the other day, David Mills of Chiddleton Place was asking about you. His daughter must be nineteen by now, and . . .

“She is a lovely young lady,” Lady Elizabeth interjected with a coy smile.

Richard and Armus looked at each other in despair. Then, as if in resignation, they shook their heads and followed their father inside.

***End***

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