Fatherhood (by Aigneis)

Summary:  This may not be exactly what you think. Then again, maybe it is. Hope it meets your approval.
Category:  Covington Cross
Genre:  Medieval
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,166


“I must speak ta Sir Richard,” the young woman at the outer gate pleaded, but the guard barred her entry.

“May I ask who it is inquiring of him . . . m’lady,” he said sarcastically as he surveyed her attire, for she was dressed in a plain brown dress with a tan bodice that tied in the front revealing a rumpled white chemise.

The woman bowed her head, feelings of both shame and anger overpowering her, but she would not let his scathing glance deter her. “Johanna, m’lord . . . Johanna of Windham. Please, Sir, ‘tis urgent.”

“I’m sure it is,” the guard mumbled. “Wait here please.” He rolled his eyes as he walked to the keep and knocked hesitantly on the door. What had the young master been up to now? Love and respect him as he did, Richard certainly did have a way of making a mess out of things from time to time.

“Yes,” Thomas shouted from his seat by the fire. “What is it?” He was poring over some legal documents, and since it looked as if it would take some time, had decided to make himself comfortable. It was taxing, none-the-less, and he more than welcomed the guard’s interruption, tentative though it may have been.

“Pardon my intrusion, my lord,” Guy Fitzwarren said. He entered the Hall and walked over to where Thomas was seated. “There’s a young woman at the gate asking to see Sir Richard, and I thought it best to speak to you first.”

“What has he done now?” Thomas lifted an eyebrow, not sure he really wanted to know, but bracing himself for the answer just the same.

“I’m not sure, my lord,” Guy replied cautiously, “but she was carrying a babe. . . “

“Richard!!!!” Thomas shouted, his voice echoing throughout the castle, though it fell on deaf ears where his son was concerned, for Richard was just riding up to the front gate himself.

“Johanna?” Richard asked, surprised to see her so far from home. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Sir Richard!” She smiled warmly, as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, then almost as if an afterthought, she curtsied awkwardly. “M’lord.”

Richard grinned as he jumped down from his steed. “Why so formal, lass? If I remember correctly, you didn’t stand on formality when you were . . .”

“Richard, please!” she said, interrupting him abruptly. All at once, the smile dropped from her face, and her eyes took on a distinct urgency that Richard could not help but discern.

“What is it, Johanna?” He looked to the child she held in her arms, curious, but not overly concerned.

“I need speak ta ye alone, m’lord. ‘Tis a matter of great urgency.”

“Yes, of course,” Richard replied. His curiosity was growing. For a moment, he wondered if she was going to say the child was his, but he dismissed it immediately. He had been to Windham just last winter and there had been no sign of a child, then again, he had never exactly asked. Still, if that were the case, she would have visited Covington Cross long before then, for the babe had to be at least a year and a half or more already.

Richard led the way through the inner courtyard and around to the gardens, where he sat her down on a bench. She had started to cry, so he took the scarf from around his neck and wiped her tears, looking again at the child sleeping in her arms as he did. Sandy locks caressed his angelic face in gentle waves that fell across his tiny forehead. Richard swallowed, biting his bottom lip before he continued. “What is it, Johanna, that has you in such a state?

“I wouldn’t have come, m’lord, but I’ve no where else ta turn,” she said in between sobs. “I truly wouldn’t bring any trouble upon ye if not for William.”

“William?” Richard queried. A cold chill ran down his spine. “Who is William?”

“Me son,” she replied. Then almost in a whisper, her voice quivering as she spoke, afraid of the reaction her words might illicit, she continued. “Your son.”

“What!” Richard shouted, forgetting himself. “That’s absurd!”

The child began to stir, but the girl lulled him back to sleep, her tender voice soothing her infant. It was that gentle tone that made Richard realize at once how harsh he had sounded, the arrogant lord refusing to accept responsibility for any of his actions, especially those involving a mere peasant. He had not meant to sound that way, he was just surprised by the accusation, or more accurately, he was horrified. He closed his eyes, trying to compose himself, and then knelt down before her, taking her chin in his hand.

“I’m sorry, Johanna. I didn’t mean that. Of course, it could be possible, but why have you waited until now to tell me. The child must be at least a year old.”

“Two years and a bit,” she sniffled, “and his name’s William. ‘Twas the only one of yer family whose name I could remember. I did get it right, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” Richard answered. He was still stunned by the revelation, trying to figure out if the timing were possible. That would have meant he was there around thirty-three months before. God’s teeth! That was almost three years ago. How would he ever be able to remember that?

Johanna could sense what was going through his mind, and she answered the question for him. “’Twas the beginning of April and ye were on yer way ta Allerton, ta check on the planting I think ye said.” She began to sob again, and Richard slid up on the bench and put his arm around her.

“Dear god, Johanna, why did you wait so long to tell me?”

“Because I wouldn’t bring any shame upon ye. Ye paid yer fair price, and that was that. But now . . .” She could hardly speak for the tears. Richard held her to himself, trying his best to comfort her, though he was not exactly sure what to say. His father would kill him! There was no way he would allow such a marriage to take place.

She succeeded in calming herself once more, drying her eyes and taking a deep breath, determined to say what she had to. “I’m dying, Richard. I just want ta know William will be cared for.”

Richard’s face grew pale. She was so young and beautiful. How could that be? But then he remembered his own mother. Death played no favorites. He took her hands in his, gazing deeply into her eyes. “We will be wed, and William will be my legitimate heir. I give you my word. He will be well taken care of.”

Johanna bit her lip, trying to hold back the tears, and smiled softly. “Thank ye, m’lord.

Richard rubbed his hand along the tiny child’s forehead, brushing the hair from his eyes, and the boy looked up at him sleepily, his green eyes sparkling in the morning sun. A wave of excitement overcame him. He had a son! Now all he had to do was tell Thomas he was a grandfather. Not a task he looked forward to under the circumstances.

*****

“Richard!” His name broke upon the still summer air like the clash of metal upon metal, and not far behind came Thomas, his stride quick and sure, his expression stern and resolute. Richard closed his eyes and swallowed, letting out a great sigh as he did. He had not intended to encounter his father quite so soon.

Guy was on his father’s heels and started immediately at seeing Johanna upon the bench. “Shall I remove her, my lord?” he asked.

Richard jumped up, but Thomas shook his head before his son could say a word. “No, thank you, Guy. I can handle it from here.”

“My lord,” the guard muttered. He bowed politely, casting a disapproving glance at Johanna before exiting.

“Richard!” Thomas exclaimed, his voice as harsh as his appearance. “I will see you in my chambers . . . Now!” he added, as the boy did not seem to be moving. Richard went to speak, but a glance from Thomas sent him on his way without another word, albeit more than a bit perturbed. Turning to Johanna, his voice considerably softer, he continued. “If you would be so kind to wait here, I’ll have someone escort you to the Hall. We won’t be long I’m sure.”

“Yes, m’lord,” the girl muttered shyly. She watched as Thomas surveyed her child, and she held him all the tighter. A moment later, he bowed and headed for the castle.

“Would you care to explain?” Thomas bellowed as he strode into his chambers, not even bothering to take a seat. It was obvious what Richard was going to say. The question was what was to be done about it. Marriage was out of the question. She was no more than a peasant girl, and not even the daughter of one of his stewards or bailiffs at that, but a common tavern wench who was entirely too free with her favors. There was no denying the child was Richard’s however. That would present a bit of a problem. He paced back and forth for what seemed an eternity, Richard standing head bowed, contrite, not saying a word, until finally Thomas went and took a seat behind his desk. He took a deep breath, resting his elbows upon his desk and bringing his hands up to support his chin. Then, trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to quell the rage that was building inside him, he looked to his son, and spoke as softly as he could, though his voice was tense and strained. “I asked you a question, Richard. Is it as it appears?”

“How is that, Father?” he began, pretending not to understand Thomas’ question, but when Thomas looked as though his eyes were going to pop out of his head, he reconsidered his answer. “Yes, Father.”

“And this is possible, I presume, given your . . . liberal courting habits.”

“Yes, Father . . . but I knew nothing of it until just a few moments ago,” Richard rushed to say.

“Oh that makes it all right then, Richard,” Thomas roared. He slammed his hand against his desk. “And what do you propose to do about it now that you do know?”

“To marry her, of course,” Richard replied innocently, amazed that his father had even had to ask.

“Oh, I see,” Thomas said, with mock understanding. “As simple as that is it?”

“Well, it is the honorable thing to do, and I’m sure I will come to love her in time.”

“Yes, I’m sure you would.” Thomas shook his head in amazement, before continuing. “That is not, however, the issue that concerns me.”

“I know she’s a peasant, Father, but it’s not as if I’m the eldest.”

“And that is the only problem you see?”

“I’m only a second son, what does it matter?”

“It may matter to her! Do you truly think she’ll be accepted at social gatherings, or worse yet, at court? Can you see her entertaining the Duke or Duchess? And how will she teach her son the proper graces when she has had no training in them herself? Think of this girl, Richard. She would be looked down upon and snubbed by the peerage, yet she would not be accepted by her own either, for they would no longer consider her one of their own.”

Thomas could feel his temperature piquing, and stood, turning to the window in the hopes the serenity of the scene before him would calm the rage that burned within him. How could he ever have raised such an inconsiderate child?

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Richard replied. He bowed his head, closing his eyes as he tried to collect his thoughts.

“No, Richard, you never do!” Thomas said in exasperation. He turned to face his son, his temperament unaltered by the tranquil scenery. “You rush headlong into everything you do, without thought of the consequences? When will you ever learn to take responsibility for your actions and follow the path that is expected of you?”

“But I am trying to take responsibility,” Richard moaned.

“Blast you, Richard, she is a peasant girl!” Thomas roared, his face turning a sickly crimson and his hands wound into fists. “So be it! Since you seem incapable of dealing with your own affairs in a responsible manner, I shall deal with them for you. The child and its mother will be given enough money to enjoy a comfortable life, but I will not let her use the boy to edge her way into this family. As far as the child will know, his father was one of our men and died in battle.”

“But he’s my son!” Richard shouted.

“There are consequences to all our actions, Richard, and this is a consequence of yours. There will be no further discussion.”

“But she’s dying, father,” Richard whispered in disbelief. “Who will care for him?”

Thomas looked at his son, not quite sure he had heard him correctly. Finally he spoke, his tone noticeably softer. “How do you know this?”

“She told me.” Richard saw a glimmer of hope and had every intention of taking it. “That’s why she never came before. She had no intention of shaming me, but now that she’s ill . . . She’s just worried about her son, Father. Can you fault her for that?”

Thomas fell down into his chair once more. “Where did I go wrong, Richard? I raised you the same as your brothers, and yet you never cease to test the limits of my patience. I will have our physician examine the girl. If she is as near death as you believe she is, I shall allow the marriage, and the boy shall remain here at Covington Cross, your legitimate heir. If she is not, however, my original plan shall be followed. Is that understood, Richard?”

“Yes, Father,” he mumbled. “When will you send for the physician?”

Thomas scribbled a note upon a small piece of parchment, and then affixing his seal, he called for the herald. “As soon as the physician arrives, we shall have our answer. I suggest you inform your mistress.”

*****

Richard sat in the solar, biting his lip. Ordinarily, he would have been pacing nervously back and forth across the sunlit chamber, but today he sat quietly. William was asleep on his shoulder, the child’s tiny arm clutched around his neck, and he dared not move too suddenly for fear of waking him. Richard could feel the soft flutter of the child’s breath against his neck and a lump formed in his throat. This was his son, his own flesh, and suddenly he knew he would do whatever it took to protect him, even if that meant defying his father. He tightened his embrace and kissed the boy’s silken hair, closing his eyes to contain the tears that had welled up there.

At last, the physician entered the chamber, and Richard looked up, not truly knowing what he wished him to say. On the one hand, he hoped Johanna was well, for he hated to think of her young life withering away, but on the other hand, he prayed that she had not lied to him, for in the short time he had been with William, he had come to love him. He did not think he could ever give him up, no matter what the responsibilities of his station dictated. He took a deep breath, knowing that whatever the physician reported, it would not be cause for celebration.

“Sir Richard,” the man said quietly as he sat down by his side and rested his hand upon the young knight’s arm. “I’m sorry, m’lord. There is little we can do, for the cancer is far too advanced.

Richard chewed the side of his mouth, trying to retain control of his emotions, but all he could do was nod indecisively. Thomas could see his pain and stepped forward, putting his hand on his son’s shoulder.

“Thank you for coming,” Thomas said, and the physician bowed and left the room. Now it was Thomas who sat down by his son’s side, but Richard could not even look at him. Instead he looked down at the tiny child sleeping so contentedly in his arms, not daring to utter a single word. Finally, he took a deep breath and turned to his father.

“Will you let us marry now?”

Thomas nodded, a stray sigh escaping from his lips. “This boy will be your responsibility, Richard. It will be you who will form him into the man he becomes. Do you understand the gravity of the task before you?”

“Yes, Father.”

“I will call the Friar then. You can be wed at once.” He began to leave the chamber, but then suddenly stopped at the door. “Are you sure he is yours, Richard?”

“Look at him, Father. Do you truly need to ask? But even if he isn’t, I would not send him away. I will raise him as if he were my own.”

“Very well then. We shall meet in the chapel within the hour. Inform the girl.”

All at once, Richard was stricken with an odd indignation. “She has a name, Father,” he roared, causing the tiny child to whimper, and instinctively, Richard hushed him, pressing him to himself and rocking him gently. Thomas turned around stunned by the boy’s sudden outburst. Though he was more inclined to roar back something about her previous life, the sight of Richard clinging to his small charge caused him to reconsider.

“Yes, of course she does. Johanna, I believe you said.”

“She will die my wife, and thus a lady of this castle,” Richard stated firmly.

“So she shall,” Thomas nodded, a forced smile crossing his lips, for he hated the position his son had placed him in. “Within the hour, Richard!”

Lady Elizabeth took the child from Richard’s arms. “You’ll need to have a nurse for him. I can recommend someone, if you’d like.”

Richard bristled at first, but then he realized that she had only meant to be helpful, and in truth, she was right. What did he know about caring for a child? And Johanna would soon leave him alone. He bit his lip before answering, thinking the matter over, and then sighed resignedly. “Yes, I would like that. Thank you.” He began to walk away, then hesitated for a moment, turning back to face Lady Elizabeth. “Would you help Johanna prepare. I would like her to . . . to have this as a fond memory.” He smiled sadly.

“Of course, Richard, it would be my honor.” Her smile was warm and sincere as she handed William back to his father and left the room. Richard somehow did not feel quite as alone anymore.

*****

It took no more than ten minutes to recite the words that joined them as husband and wife. Only the immediate family attended, with the Friar presiding over the ceremony. Still, Richard tried to make it as wonderful as he could. He dressed in his finest blue suede tunic and begged Eleanor to donate one of her dresses, which his sister did more than happily. Then he went to the garden and picked a beautiful bouquet of pink and white flowers. Finally, and this was the hardest thing of all, he asked his father for one of his mother’s rings.

“You can’t be serious, Richard!” Thomas exploded. “Those rings belonged to your mother. Do you truly expect me to let you give one of them to your . . .”

“Wife!” Richard retorted. “She is to be my wife. Whatever she did before no longer matters.”

Thomas stared at the boy before him. He could sense the determination in his eyes, and in a way, he was proud of him. Though he would not admit it, Richard truly was taking responsibilities for his actions, and he admired the way he was going about it. Grumbling something incoherent, he went to his wife’s jewelry box and took out a plain gold band that was actually made up of two interlocking rings. It was not much to look at, but it was gold, and it would serve the purpose. Walking back across the room, he handed it to his son. “See that she takes care of it.”

“I’m sure she’ll treasure it, Father. She’s probably never seen anything so fine.”

That was almost an hour before, and now he slipped the tiny band upon her finger, causing tears to come to her eyes. She had in fact never seen anything so beautiful. Richard had made her feel like a princess, and she loved him for it. He leaned over gently and kissed her lips before leading her from the chapel and down to the Great Hall for a special meal that had been hurriedly prepared to celebrate the occasion.

Everyone tried to be congenial; making small talk about everything from what a beautiful day it was to how good the foul tasted. Johanna smiled politely, but barely spoke a word, for she knew how uncomfortable she made everyone feel. Still, the only thing on her mind, the thing that made all else bearable, was the fact that William would be cared for by his father after she had died. That truly was all that mattered.

Richard joined her in bed that night, though she was too weak to do much else than allow him to hold her in his arms, and he asked for no more. His heart went out to her. Had he been the cause of her illness? Was it true that people were punished for their sins in this way? But no, that could not be, for his mother had been goodness itself. Besides, why then was he not ill? Had not his sin been even greater? All these things ran through his mind as he lay, holding her to himself, listening to her gentle breath. Soon it would be stilled, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He could, however, make sure her final days were happy. To that end, he resolved to have a long talk with his family early the next morning.

*****

“I want you all to think about something before Johanna joins us this morning,” Richard said as they gathered downstairs for the morning meal. He had allowed her to sleep through morning prayers, for the sickness had greatly weakened her, and she needed her rest. “In a short time, she will no longer be with us. When she is gone, do you want to regret the way you treated her? Whatever else she has been, she is my wife now. Please make these last days pleasant for her, if for no one else, than for that small child she brought into this world. He is innocent of all wrongdoing. For his sake, treat his mother with kindness.”

No one said a word while Richard spoke, but when he was done, Thomas stepped up and placed his hand upon his shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Richard. You have handled this far better than the rest of us. You have our word. Johanna shall be treated as your wife and made to feel welcome in her new home.”

And so she was, for in fact, they found that she was a kind and giving woman, who had been left with a hard row to plough. Her father had deserted her mother when Johanna was just a child, no more than three or four, and the steward they worked beneath had expected her mother to carry on her husband’s share of the work. As a result, her mother died when Johanna was twelve, but that was only the beginning of her misery. The steward decided she was to be his plaything, taking her whenever he wanted her, and then throwing her back to the fields. He’d even share her among his friends when the spirit moved him. One day, she could take no more and ran away, but life on the road proved no better, and she found there was only one way to support herself. So it was that she continued to give noblemen their pleasure. The only difference was that from then on she would be paid for her services. She was not proud of what she had done, but she did what she needed to in order to survive. When asked why she had not come to Covington Cross sooner, she simply replied that Richard had paid his fee, and the child was not his problem. She did have her pride, she maintained, though even that had gone out the window when she found out how ill she was. There was no room for pride where her son was concerned, and no one else to ask for help but his father.

Yet, at times, she questioned whether or not she had done the right thing, thrusting her child upon Richard as she had. He was a handful, quite like his father, or so she had been told. Still, as patient as Richard appeared, she could not help but wonder if he really wished they were both out of his life, particularly when William was being especially rambunctious.

I’m sorry, Richard,” she said one night as they tried to get William to settle down. “He’s had too much excitement today, and now he doesn’t want ta go ta sleep.

“It’s all right, Johanna,” Richard smiled. He knelt down before the chair she was sitting in and tousled the child’s hair. “Why are you giving your mother such a hard time tonight, William? She needs her sleep, and so do you. I’ve a surprise for you tomorrow, but only if you go to sleep.”

“What have ye done now, Richard,” she said. “Ye’ll spoil him.”

“I doubt that,” Richard laughed. “Besides, aren’t I supposed to spoil him a bit?”

“A bit, but ye do tend ta go overboard at times.” She smiled softly, but Richard could see she was in pain.

“Why don’t you go to bed,” he said with concern. “I’ll tend to him tonight.”

“No, I’ll be fine.” Whatever pain she had been experiencing seemed to have passed for the moment, and she brightened up. “But you go on ta bed, or I never will get him ta sleep. Ye’re worse than he is, playing with him and getting him all excited when ye should be calming him down.”

“I’m not!” Richard said. A mischievous grin crossed his face, and Johanna could not help but laugh in spite of herself, but then another wave of pain ceased her and took her breath. “Let me call for the nurse, just for tonight,” Richard pleaded.

“No, please, I want ta spend what time I have left . . . I’ll be fine, Richard.”

He nodded and went off to bed, but he stopped by the open doorway to watch her, and to listen as she lulled the child to sleep. The melody she sang was so familiar. He remembered his own mother singing it to him as a child, and he found his eyes filling with tears.

And in thy arm thou hold me warm

And keep me night and day

And if I weep and may not sleep

Thou sing, bye, bye lullaby

Thou sing, bye, bye lullaby

Richard recognized it immediately as a lullaby about the Christ child, and it touched his heart. Johanna’s voice was soft and sweet, just as his mother’s had been. For a moment, he was swept back in time to his own childhood, to his own mother’s lap, and he wanted to remain there, safe and warm. All too soon, however, the reality of the situation came crashing through to jar him from his memories. In but a short time, Johanna too would leave her son. He and William had more in common than their blood, and more than ever, it made him determined to be as much of a father to William as Thomas had been to him. He could only pray he would measure up. That thought, more than any other, frightened him, for he wondered if he were far too selfish to care for someone else that much.

Over the next few weeks, the Grey’s love and respect for Johanna grew, and so too did the love Richard felt for his son. He could be found with him daily, whenever time permitted, taking him fishing or carrying him on his shoulders, and Johanna took great solace in their relationship. Though she may have doubted her decision at first, she was now sure she had done the best thing for William. She could die now, content in the knowledge that he would be well loved and cared for. It was almost as if that was all she had been surviving for.

They were in the field behind the tilting yard one afternoon, playing with William, when it happened. Richard had bought a pony for William and was giving him a ride around the field while Johanna sat quietly watching on. Suddenly, she doubled over in pain, coughing violently and spewing blood down the front of her powder blue gown. Richard grabbed William from the pony and handed the boy to his nurse, then ran to his wife’s side.

“Johanna!” he cried, as he lifted her frail form and carried her into the castle. Thomas called for his physician, while Richard stayed by her side, though both knew there was little he could do. Neither wanted to admit it, but they both knew the end was near. Though Richard had never been allowed to truly fall in love with Johanna, as circumstances had dictated otherwise, he did love and respect her. His heart was breaking as he watched her laying there, the very life draining from her body, and he could imagine how much more his father had mourned for his mother. He understood now why Thomas had not left her side, why he had risked his own life to be with her. Richard would not abandon Johanna either, for he had grown to love her, even if it was nothing more than a love born out of respect.

Finally, she opened her eyes, reaching out for his hand. “You are a true knight, m’lord.”

Richard bent over and kissed her fevered brow. “And you are a true lady. No one will ever say otherwise.”

“I thank ye for that. I don’t wish William ta know what I was.” She began to cry, and Richard caressed her cheek, using his thumb to wipe away the tears. He wet his lip before speaking, trying to hold his emotions in check.

“I will never let him forget you.”

She nodded, smiling sadly, and then passed away.

*****

It was a warm summer morning when they laid Johanna Grey in the ground. Storm clouds were gathering overhead, blowing up a cool breeze so that even the trees around her grave seemed to be paying their respects. She was just twenty years old, far too young to die, Richard thought, but the priest spoke of how she was at rest now. Richard looked on solemnly, his whimpering child clutched to his chest, but not a tear caressed his own cheeks. In truth, he seemed to reveal no emotion at all. It was as if he were simply going through the motions, unaware of what had really taken place. He showed his respect, placing a single rose upon her coffin – a rose he had picked that very morning, one of the deep pink ones she had so loved – but there were no tears, no sobs of grief. Thomas knew there was more going on beneath the surface, and he feared his son would lock it all away as he had done when his mother had died.

Soon the ceremony was over, and they all began to file out of the churchyard. Richard walked with his father, not saying a word, except those of comfort he whispered to his son. It was breaking Thomas’ heart, though Eleanor and Cedric were ready to strangle their brother. They could not believe he had not even sniffled a bit. Armus, however, knew Richard better, and his eyes were full of concern.

“He’s keeping it all in again, isn’t he,” Armus grumbled after seeing Richard and William into the carriage with Lady Elizabeth and Eleanor.

“What would you have me do, Armus?” Thomas signed wearily. He mounted his horse, and then looked over to his eldest son. “He never has understood the importance of grief. Now more than ever, I suppose he feels he needs to be strong, if for no one else, than for his son.”

“Do you think it could be that he really doesn’t feel anything for her?”

“I find that hard to believe. Even the servants shed a tear for the poor girl. No, Richard feels, he simply hides his emotions better than most. He always has, and I doubt there’s much we can do to change that. I’ve tried! Believe me! He only becomes defensive.”

“Yes, well, perhaps a good sound thumping might do it.”

“Perhaps, though I doubt even that would do any good.”

The funeral procession wove its way back to the castle, and once there Richard handed his son over to his nurse, and excused himself. “I have some documents to go over. I’ll be up in my chambers if William needs me.”

“What’s the matter with him?” Eleanor exclaimed. She loved Richard dearly, but she never had understood his way of dealing with things. He was well adept at yelling, screaming, storming away from it – anything that would actually avoid having to deal with his emotions, but shed a tear – Richard – never.

“Leave him be, Eleanor,” Thomas said. “Everyone must deal with grief in his own way.”

“And what if William needs him?” Cedric snapped, for he saw his sister’s point all too clearly.

“He hasn’t exactly abandoned the child here!” Thomas exclaimed.

“No, but sometimes a child needs his Father, and no one else,” Eleanor said.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Thomas replied. He stood immediately and headed up the stairs to find his son.

Richard was just where he would have expected to find him, at his desk, polishing his swords. Sometimes Thomas wondered if he didn’t love those things more than anything . . . or anyone. He knocked lightly on the open door before entering. Richard started, and then settled back down in his seat.

“Yes, what is it, Father? Is William all right?”

“Yes, he’s fine. It’s his father I’m worried about,” Thomas said tenderly as he sat down in the chair to one side of the handsome oak desk.

“Me? I’m fine,” Richard replied in wonder.

“I thought you had some documents to mull over.”

“I just decided they could wait until later. Am I no longer allowed to change my mind?”

Thomas could hear the edge forming on Richard’s tone, and though he knew what would follow, he decided to continue just a bit further down that road. “The truth be known, Richard, I question whether you’re capable of making any clear decision at the moment.”

Richard looked at him, his features sharp and intent, his eyes virtually glaring, but he said nothing, and so Thomas continued. “You can’t be strong all the time, you know.”

“There’s nothing to be strong about. I knew Johanna was going to die; it was just a matter of time. Now it’s done with, we can all get on with our lives!”

Even to Thomas’ ears, the words seemed unusually harsh. “Really Richard, did you feel nothing for this girl?”

“I’m sorry she’s dead, but I did all I could do to help her,” Richard replied. His words were short and filled with irritation. “How much more must I give for one night’s pleasure!”

“Richard!” Thomas was shocked to hear such cold words coming from his son’s mouth. He knew he could sometimes border on rudeness, when the situation called for it, but this was even beyond that. “I hope you never speak those words in front of your son, or does he no longer matter to you either?”

Richard stood this time, his eyes filled with rage. “Leave William out of this! One thing has nothing to do with the other!”

“Of course it does,” Thomas said as if the connection were obvious, for he realized he had struck a nerve with that statement. “He is, after all, the price you’ve paid for one night’s pleasure.”

Before Richard could reply, Thomas stormed from his son’s chambers, leaving the boy to drown in the misery of his own words. He realized Richard did not mean the words he’d spoken, realized they were employed by a defensive mechanism that had emerged somewhere deep within his son’s heart as his way of dealing with grief, but he also wanted to make certain his son understood how cruel his words sounded. He knew he would, for he was all too aware of how sensitive the boy’s heart truly was.

*****

Life did go on for Richard, but it was now a life filled with his son. He took him riding on short trips to the village, and on a sunny Sunday afternoon they could be found down by the river fishing, or at least pretending that’s what they were doing. Sometimes they would go boating, and once or twice he even took the small child hunting with him.

“He’s a bit young for that, isn’t he?” Eleanor asked one afternoon as they returned from an outing.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Richard answered, a broad grin brightening his expression, “I’ll have him skinning them as well by next month.”

Though Eleanor had moaned in exasperation, she was glad to see how well they got on together. The boy literally squealed with glee whenever Richard entered the room, and as for her brother, his face always brightened on seeing his son. He’d even taken to feeding and bathing him from time to time, though it did annoy the nurse.

“What am I here for,” she grumbled late one afternoon, “if his lordship is determined to do everything himself?”

One night, Richard came to the evening meal a bit disheveled. His hair and clothes were dripping wet, and his dark brown jerkin was adorned with an assortment of mashed peas and potatoes. Though everyone starred at him curiously, he just sat down at the table as though nothing was amiss. “Have we said grace yet?” he asked.

“Yes,” Thomas replied, a twinkle in his eye. “Did any of that make it to William’s stomach?”

“A bit,” Richard said. He was still pretending that it was all quite natural and reached for the bowl of leeks. His siblings, however, were not going to let him off the hook that easily.

“It’s a shame you took your bath before feeding William though,” Armus teased. “Now you’ll have to take another.”

“Very funny, brother,” Richard replied. “He just likes to splash a little. Why don’t you try bathing him sometime . . . or feeding him for that matter? It’s not as easy as it looks.”

“That’s true,” Thomas said, “it seems to me his father was quite a splasher himself.”

The entire family had a good laugh at Richard’s expense, but he did not seem to mind. It was funny, and he knew it, so he simply shook his head and laughed along with them. There was something on his mind, however, so he lingered after his sister and brothers went up to bed and sat down in front of the fire to speak with his father and Lady Elizabeth.

“I worry about William, not having a mother I mean,” he said solemnly. “I was thinking that perhaps I should choose a bride, someone who would love him as if he were her own.”

“An arranged marriage?” Thomas queried with surprise. “I thought you didn’t believe in them.”

“Circumstances have changed,” Richard replied. “I have William to think of now. I must consider what’s best for him.”

Lady Elizabeth smiled at Richard tenderly, and then turned to Thomas, taking his hand. Her eyes seemed to speak volumes, and while Richard has no idea what they said, Thomas seemed quite adept at reading them. Without speaking a word, he returned her smile, and then sighing, he glanced at his son. “Cedric was not that much older than William when your mother died, and I raised him alone. I know he can be annoying from time to time, but I do believe he turned out all right.”

“Yes, of course he did, but I thought . . .”

“William will be fine, Richard. He is greatly loved, and that is what truly matters. If you should happen to find someone you care for, all the better, but until that time, William will thrive with or without a mother.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Richard replied. He pretended to agree reluctantly, but in reality, he was greatly relieved. Marrying someone just to provide William with a mother was not exactly something he had wanted to do. It was simply where he thought his duty lay.

*****

“I’m taking Master William out for a bit of air,” his nurse, Sybil, called to Richard as the two came into the solar early one morning. “He just wanted to give you a hug before he went.”

Richard smiled and standing up took his son from the woman’s arms and squeezed him tightly. “I still have some work to do here, William, so I want you to listen to Nurse. You will be a good boy, won’t you and do as she tells you?”

The child’s curly head bobbed up and down as he gave his father a hug and kissed him on the cheek. “Be good” he giggled, and Richard handed him back to the nurse. “Bye Da,” he squealed happily as they left the room and headed down the corridor toward the stairs.

Richard turned back to his journal and sighed wearily. There was a mistake somewhere, and he would have to tell his father. He could not figure out what was wrong. It was not like him to be so careless. Reluctantly, he picked up the large book and headed down to the Great Hall, where he found Thomas and Armus sitting by the fire, playing a game of chess.

“Could I speak with you, Father,” Richard asked as he sat down on the dining bench and began to watch the game. “I wouldn’t do that, Armus,” he said. “You’re sure to loose your bishop.”

“I do know how to play, brother,” Armus replied before making his move.

Two seconds later, Thomas answered. “Check and mate!”

“I told you,” Richard said, grinning broadly, but Armus just made a face and began setting the pieces up again.

“Now, what is it you wanted, Richard?” Thomas asked.

“It’s these figures. I’ve made an error somewhere, I’m sure, but I just can’t see it.”

“Well, there,” Thomas replied almost immediately. “It’s right before you’re nose. You’ve just reversed these numbers.”

“How could I be so stupid?” Richard exclaimed, quite annoyed at himself.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Richard,” Thomas said, still feeling quite pleased with himself after winning his chess game. “You’ve had a lot on your mind of late.”

“That’s no excuse,” Richard protested, but that problem would pale in comparison to the one that was just about to surface.

Outside, in the field east of the tilting yard, William was gathering wild flowers to give to Lady Elizabeth, who he had taken to calling Gramma for some reason, much to the delight of Sir Thomas. Sybil bent down to pick a particularly pretty one, letting go of her young charge’s hand for no more than a moment. In that moment, however, a furry little creature caught William’s eye, and squealing with delight, he began to run after the small rabbit. When Sybil stood back up, William was nowhere to be seen.

Frantically, she ran to the castle, throwing open the heavy oak door with such force that the sound echoed through the building. “Sir Richard, I’m so sorry. I just looked down for a moment, and . . .” The woman began sobbing hysterically, barely able to get a word out. “He was right there . . .”

All at once, Richard felt as if he had been punched in the stomach with an anvil. It was not what she was saying that was the cause of his dismay, for he could make no sense of it. What disturbed him was the fact that his son was not with her.

“Where’s William?” he shouted. He threw the journal down on the table and ran over to grab the woman by her shoulders. “Please Sybil calm down and tell me where William is.”

“I don’t know, m’lord,” she sobbed. “I had his hand one moment, and just let go for an instant, to pick a flower for him, and when I stood up he was gone.” The poor thing was trembling with fear, and though Richard’s heart had begun to pound, he tried to remain calm.

“It will be all right, Sybil. He can’t have gone far. He’s only a small boy. Isn’t that right, Father?”

Richard turned to Thomas, his eyes filled with terror. “Yes, of course. He’s probably just wandered off into the outer courtyard. I’ll call the guards and we’ll go find him.”

“You see,” Richard grinned. “It’s going to be fine. Now just show us where you were with him last.”

Richard felt ill as he followed the nurse out to the field next to the tilting yard. It was filled with soft grass and wild flowers. She pointed to the far side by the woods and began to cry again. Richard smiled at her, once more telling her it would be all right; but in truth, he wanted to scream at her, tell her she’d been completely irresponsible, tell her that she would never care for William again. Something kept him from it, however, and he decided to concentrate on finding his son instead.

“You and Armus search the woods,” Thomas said. He seemed to be in complete control, yet if one looked closely, they would have seen the fear in his eyes as well. “I’ll take some men through the courtyard toward the village and send for Cedric to begin searching over by the North fields. We’ll find him, Richard.”

“Yes, Father,” Richard said, but before the words were out of his mouth, he had started for the wooded glen that lay at the edge of the field.

William, however, had no idea of the commotion he had caused. He was skipping happily after the furry brown rabbit, giggling excitedly each time he’d go to grab for it and it would hop away. To him, it was just a game, but he soon became bored with it and sat down in the grass, rubbing his eyes wearily. It was only then that he realized Sybil was not near. His bottom lip began to quiver as he looked around the empty field, and he started to cry. Finally, wiping his nose on his sleeve, he got up and walked across the field, though he had no idea where he was. He called out for his father, but no one answered, so hugging his small blanket, he put his thumb in his mouth and kept walking, crying as he went.

He rubbed his eyes with his fists as he came to the river, and he recognized it. “Da,” he cried, for he knew he’d been there with Richard, but still his father did not answer. A wild boar did answer, however, and began to run toward the child. His father had told him something about those animals. They were not nice. He was to stay away from them. Instinctively, William ran to the river and climbed in the small boat he and his father had used many times. Still being frightened, he crawled under a tarp to hide from the bad animal, but he was exhausted and fell asleep within moments.

Richard and his family had been searching for hours, coming back twice to regroup before going out again. Even the villagers and the Friar had been called into the search, but now it was getting dark and still there was no sign of William. Far from abandoning their search, the small groups of men took torches and continued the hunt. Richard’s voice was hoarse from calling out for his son. He felt as if he would lose his mind. What would he do if he could not find him? How would he ever maintain control?

“Blast that stupid woman,” Richard suddenly cried out as he faced yet another empty hope. “She’ll never so much as watch a pot of water again.”

Thomas could understand his son’s frustration, for he had faced it himself. One time in particular came into mind, and he thought perhaps he should tell Richard of it. “So your mother should have been forbidden from caring for you then?”

“What are you talking about?” Richard queried, his voice short and his eyes still scanning the countryside.

“I remember a night much like this,” Thomas said. It was almost as if he was recalling a fond memory, but then Richard heard the tension in his voice. “She turned from you for no more than a moment, and you were gone. We searched all night; I thought I would lose control of my senses. Utter panic lie just below the surface, but I had to remain strong . . . for Anne . . . for Armus. Morning had just barely dawned when I found you, in a stall with the horses, cuddled up against a chestnut mare and her fold. I bought that mare and her fold. It’s that fold’s offspring that you ride today.”

Richard bowed his head, ashamed of what he had just said. “He does move quickly, I suppose. I’ve not always kept my hand on him either.”

“You can’t keep hold of him all the time, Richard, elst he would not grow into the man you hope he will.”

“But now, he may grow into no man at all.” Richard clenched his jaw and rushed on ahead of his father, for he did not want him to see the tears that had begun to roll down his cheeks. There was no place for them here. He had to find his son, and raw emotion would only impede that quest.

“Sir Richard,” one of the villagers shouted as the first wisps of light brushed the morning sky. He was standing by a small boat along the river. It was the boat Richard and William had used on a number of occasions. The knight ran to the villager’s side, but the look on the man’s face told him before he arrived that the findings were not good. Still Richard had to ask.

“What is it, Adam?”

“’Tis the young master’s blanket, m’lord,” he replied. His voice was full of pain as he spoke. “I know because ‘twas me wife that made it for him. I found it under the tarp in the boat.”

“But how did the boat get this far downstream?”

“It’s pulled loose from its moorings, m’lord.”

Richard’s face went pale as he took the small blanket from the man’s hands. His own hands were shaking, for he knew what finding the blanket without the child in a boat that had been loose upon the river could mean. He looked out over the water and swallowed hard, then wet his lips and wiped his eyes in an attempt to compose himself.

“We’ll search along the river and down toward that glen. Perhaps he got out here.”

Richard knew how desperate his words sounded. In truth, they were desperate, for if William had not disembarked and walked away there, only one alternative remained. It was one that he would not, could not accept. It meant his son had drowned in the river.

“William!” he cried as he ran along the heavy underbrush that lined the riverbank, but he heard no one call out, not even the slight whimper of a small child reached his ears.

Dawn had broken and the sun shone bright upon the land as Thomas came to his son’s side. He placed his hand upon Richard’s shoulder, his eyes saying the words he could not, but Richard would not hear them.

“No . . . no! I will not accept that!” He continued to search, but Thomas pulled him around to face him.

“I fear he is lost, Richard. There is no place else to search.”

“Stop if you want,” Richard bellowed, “but I will find my son.” Then, he continued, his voice quivering noticeably. “Until I hold his body in my arms, I will not accept any fate.”

Thomas could see his son’s determination, and while it tore his heart asunder to say the words, he knew Richard never would do what needed to be done. He did not know if he could have done it those many years before either, so he took the initiative upon himself.

“Some of you men start dredging the river.”

“Father!” Richard shouted, horrified by the implications, but Thomas remained firm.

“We will not stop our search, Richard, but the river must be explored as well.”

“I’ll not take part in that,” Richard replied, his voice trembling from a myriad of emotions he could no longer distinguish. He turned and stormed down toward the glen, still calling his son’s name.

*****

William, however, had left the boat of his own accord. Tired and frightened he had left his blanket behind and wandered off toward the very glen his father now searched, though he had been there hours before. He stumbled along whimpering and calling for his father. He did not like being away from the castle without Richard, and huge tears streamed down his face. That was when seven year old Luke came upon him. He had been out to pick some berries for his mother’s pie and heard the tiny sobs. Immediately, he knew the child was from a noble family, for his dress, though soiled and torn, was too fine to be of peasant stock.

“What are you doing out here?” Luke asked, but William just sniffled and looked up at him. “Come on, then. I’ll take you home. You must be Sir Richard’s son. My father was called away to look for you last night. Perhaps I should just find my father.”

William spied the berries Luke had been collecting. “Hungry!” he giggled, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

“Oh, all right!” Luke replied. He sat down in the tall grass next to William. “I don’t suppose it will hurt to take a moment to eat. Did you run away or are you just lost?”

William just stared at Luke, laughing gleefully as he grabbed some of the berries, so the boy rephrased his question. “What happened?”

“Babbit!” William exclaimed as he tried to stuff the berries into his mouth, though he spread more on his face than actually hit his mouth.

“A rabbit! Ye followed it, didn’t ye?”

“Funny!” William squealed.

“Aye, well, it won’t be so funny when ye Da finds ye,” Luke said, giving him some more berries.

William’s lower lip protruded slightly as he began to whimper again. “Da,” he cried, remembering that his father was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s all right,” Luke said. “I’ll take ye ta him. Me Da told me where they’d be looking.”

With that, he took William by the hand and began to walk toward the distant glen. It was not long before he spied his father searching through the high grass. He called to him, but being William was so small, the man only caught sight of his own son.

“Go home, Luke!” the man exclaimed, fearful they might find William dead and not wanting his own son to see it. “This is no place for you.”

“But Da, I have him,” Luke yelled back, his face beaming with pride.

The man looked for a moment, and their through the shifting blades of grass, he saw a tiny blue tunic, topped by a mass of tawny curls. His heart leapt, and he called out as he ran to his son’s side. “Sir Richard! Over here!”

Though Richard was quite a distance from the man, he made up the space in no time, reaching Luke just behind his father. Without a word, he grabbed his small son up into his arms and squeezed him tightly. Then suddenly, the joy gave way to the fear and frustration, and he stood the child back down on the ground, peering deeply into his eyes.

“You’ve been a very bad boy, William,” Richard said, trying not to sound too harsh. “You’ve scared us all half to death.”

William’s tears ended that conversation, however, for Richard pulled the child to himself once more, telling him it was all right and he was safe now. By the time Thomas arrived at his side, the child was smiling again, playing with his father’s soft curls. He bounced up and down in his father’s arms at the sight of his grandfather, for now he was sure he was home.

“This is your boy, Miles, is it not?” Richard asked as he gazed at the dark haired child standing before him.

“Yes, m’lord,” the villager said, ‘me second son. His name is Luke.”

“Luke is it,” Richard grinned. “Whatever you what, Luke, if it be within my power . . . and your parents consent . . . you shall have it.”

“Oh, no, Sir Richard,” Miles gasped, “that won’t be necessary.”

“I know that, but please, allow me to do something for your family. What is it you want to be, Luke?”

“I suppose I’ll be a farmer, like me Da,” the boy said, still stunned by Richard’s pronouncement.

“If that’s what you want, I will be happy to do all I can to see you achieve it, but I did not ask what you supposed you would be, but what you wanted to be.”

The boy’s eyes widened, and he looked to his father, not daring to speak the words. His father, however, smiled broadly. “Go on then,” he said, “tell his lordship what you’ve always dreamed of.”

Still not believing it was possible, he nearly whispered the words, for fear speaking them too loud would break the spell he was under. “I want ta be a knight.”

“I cannot make you a knight,” Richard began, and the boy’s heart sank, feeling it had all been too good to be true, but then Richard continued, “but I can get you started on the way. With your parent’s permission, I will find you a position as page, if not at Covington Cross, than somewhere near.” Then turning to Miles, he added, “It would mean sending him away from home for weeks on end, but he would be allowed back for visits. Let me know what you decide, and I shall act upon it. It is but a small thing to do in payment for his returning my son to me.”

“I don’t know how ta thank ye, m’lord.”

“You already have, my friend, more than you know.”

*****

It was just a week or so later when a strange couple arrived at the outer ward of Covington Cross asking to see Sir Richard Grey. They were dressed in fine clothes, though not quite as elaborate as that of nobility, and were followed by another in peasant garb. The guard came into the Great Hall and announced them as Henry and Penelope Goodall, merchants from Exeter.

Richard and Armus shot each other a puzzled glance, while Thomas instructed that the couple be shown in. When the guard stopped their servant at the door, however, they asked that he be allowed entry as well as he had information vital to their inquiry. Thomas nodded, and the guard allowed all three to pass.

“How can we help you?” Thomas asked curiously, as they came to stand before the fire.

“My name is Henry Goodall, merchant of Exeter,” the man began. “I have been away on a trade expedition for the past few months and returned home to find this letter, which my wife had left unopened as it was intended for me.” Clumsily, he handed the parchment over to Thomas to read, unsure of which of the men that stood before him was Richard Grey. Thomas, however, handed the missive over to his son and looked on from his side. What they saw written before them caused their blood to run cold.

My dear Henry,

I write to tell you that you have a son and ask that you would

step forward to care for him. He is already twenty-five months of

age, and but for the state of my health, I would naught have

written you even now. It is said I will be dead within the year,

however, and I have no recourse but to ask for your help, elst only

God knows what will become of my William. Please answer my

plea forthwith.

Your servant,

Johanna of Windham

“This is insane!” Richard exclaimed. “Where did you get this?”

“As I said, m’lord, it was waiting for me on my return to Exeter.”

“William is my son! Johanna told me that herself.”

“Begging yer pardon, m’lord,” the servant said, his face to the ground, “but I think I can shed a bit of light upon that.”

“Who are you?” Richard bellowed.

“He is Jacob, Johanna’s brother. He was kind enough to lead us to you,” Henry implored. “Please let him speak.”

“Johanna spoke of no brother!” Richard shouted. Thomas was leery as well, as was the rest of the family, though they remained quiet, trying desperately to comprehend what was going on. Armus, however, came to stand by his brother’s side, as a stalwart sign of support. As for Thomas, he thought it best to listen, in order to see just what it was they were up against.

“Let him speak, Richard,” Thomas said, “Surely, if he is lying he shall hang himself.”

“Thank ye, m’lord,” Jacob said politely. “Me sister told me of her plight and I asked a traveling preacher ta write that letter for her. ‘Twas the same one what baptized William in the first place.”

“That’s a lie!” Richard bellowed. “Johanna told me William was baptized in the Church. Are you calling her a liar?”

“No, m’lord,” Jacob muttered timidly. “She was just desperate ta have the boy cared for. When no answer came from this letter, she decided ta talk ta you about it, being it were still a possibility.”

“How can you be so sure I wasn’t his father then?” Richard pressed.

“Because she told me so, m’lord . . . and then there’s this, of course.”

The man held out a torn parchment, which he handed to Richard. The knight stared at him a moment, and then throwing a quick glance to his father, opened the paper. On seeing the words that were written, he felt as if he wanted to be ill. He was angry and heart-broken all at once. Not because Johanna had brought William into his life, but because it seemed she was now, from her grave, taking him away. The top of the page had been torn away, but Jacob tried to explain it at once.

“When she brought him here, m’lord, she thought ta destroy it, but I convinced her ta give it ta me instead, for safekeeping as it were. Just as proof that the lad was baptized, you see.”

“How convenient!” Richard snarled as he looked back to the parchment before him:

Be it known that on the 17th day of Mar . . .

William Bartholomew Edward, child of Henry Goodall and Johanna, of Windham

was brought before me and baptized according to the holy rite of the Church.

Father Ignatius Potts

“Father Potts!” Richard exclaimed. “It is well known that his love for ale often outweighs his love for God. What proof is this?”

“It may be so, m’lord,” Henry stated, “but he is still an ordained representative of the lord, is he not?”

“That’s debatable!” Armus exclaimed, nearly spitting the words in contempt.

Penelope hung her head and began to sniffle, causing Henry to speak a bit bolder. “My wife and I can have no children, m’lord, and would shower our love upon him. Consider what would be best for William. You are without a wife, and while I’m sure you would love him, nonetheless, would it not benefit the child to have both mother and father? I know you could more than likely press your case, and as a nobleman, I’ve know doubt you would win, but I have been told you are a fair man. The child is clearly my son, from both this record and Jacob’s word . . .”

“And Johanna’s word counts for nothing?” Richard said with a growl. “Would she have died with such a lie upon her soul?”

“As Jacob pointed out, her only concern was William’s welfare. I have no doubt she felt the Lord would forgive her, as I am sure he has.”

“This is absurd! I refuse to accept it. William is my son, and he shall remain here at Covington Cross.”

Just then, Thomas tapped his son on the shoulder. “Richard, a word please,” he uttered as he led him to the far side of the Great Hall. “There is little doubt what would happen if this matter were brought before the King . . .”

“We would win!” Richard stated confidently, but Thomas shook his head, continuing in a whisper, but firm nonetheless.

“No, Richard, we would not. Not with that certificate to back them up. Let William go voluntarily.”

“What!” Richard said, his voice hushed but outraged. “You never have wanted him here, have you?”

Thomas was deeply hurt, and Richard immediately regretted having spoken thus, though he could not bring himself to take it back either. To do so might be construed as consent.

“Richard, I will admit, I was not happy about the situation at first, but William has won all our hearts. He is as much a part of me now as you are, but if you fight this, you will lose and may never see him again. If, however, you allow him to go with this couple, perhaps you can make arrangements to see him from time to time, and we can continue to look into the matter. Would it not be better to at least know that he could remain part of your life . . . He would have both a mother and father, Richard. You must consider what is best for the child.”

For a moment, Richard did not say a word. How could he agree to this? Yet what choice did he have? He knew his father was right. Still, he could not stand by and watch it happen. His defenses raised, he turned to Henry Goodall. “I will need to see him, of course,” he stated firmly, “for the child’s own good, if nothing else.”

“Of course, you would be welcome, m’lord, as the child’s . . . godfather as it were.”

“I’ll have Sybil bring him then. Best to get it done quickly, so that we can all get back to our normal lives.”

“What!” Eleanor exclaimed. “Richard, how can you?”

But Richard simply passed by her, hurrying up the stairs. “I shall be in my chambers if you need me.”

With that, he headed up the stairs as if it was just another day, and they had returned from the market. Cedric and Eleanor were virtually steaming. They had come to care a great deal for William and could not believe their brother was making so light of this couple’s claim.

“That’s it!” Eleanor shouted. She had seen enough of Richard’s insensitive behavior and was not about to put up with anymore. Without saying another word, she too stormed up the stairs. Moments later, Cedric followed, having come to the same conclusion as his sister. Thomas started after them, but Armus quickly grabbed him by the arm. “Let them go, Father. Perhaps they can reach him where we’ve failed.”

“I’ll guarantee you there’ll be a fight to break up in the next few minutes,” Thomas said, and he bristled slightly.

“Richard can take care of himself.”

“It’s not Richard I’m worried about. As dulcet as his tones can sometimes be, he also has the ability to chew people up and spit them out if the spirit moves him. I fear that very spirit may be in charge at the moment. He may say things . . . hurtful things that are not so easily forgotten.”

*****

“He’s not here!” Eleanor exclaimed on entering Richard’s chambers. She had swung the door open without even knocking, intent on giving him a good tongue lashing. “Where in the world could he have gone? What if William needed him? He can be so inconsiderate at times.”

“He had to go get William first, so perhaps he’s in the solar,” Cedric suggested.

“Fine, we’ll go there,” Eleanor snapped. “I just can’t believe he’s giving him up so easily. I thought he loved William.”

“After seeing this, I’m beginning to wonder if Richard ever really feels anything at all,” Cedric grumbled as they moved along the hallway to the solar.

On entering, however, they found only Sybil and William. The poor woman was in tears as she prepared her young charge to travel, though the boy simply looked at her curiously.

Just then, Richard entered with a small trunk. “Oh Cedric, good, you’re here,” he said nonchalantly. “Would you mind carrying this down for Sybil? I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything, and I’ve some work to attend to in my chambers.”

Before Cedric could reply, Richard had mussed the small child’s hair and hurried out of the room, causing Sybil to cry all the more. She had thought the knight loved the boy, but after what she had just seen, she was convinced that he was well rid of him.

“It’s all right, Sybil,” Cedric said. “Stay here. I’ll be back in a moment.”

With that both he and Eleanor headed back to Richard’s chambers, more angry than they had ever been in their lives. They had looked up to Richard; saw him as a caring, considerate human being, albeit headstrong and short-tempered at times. They always knew he had hidden his emotions well, tried to be strong for everyone else, but this was not strength. This was cold and heartless.

“Richard!” Eleanor yelled as they came to his door, but once more, he was not there.

“Perhaps he needed to get some scrolls from Father’s chambers?” Cedric suggested.

So it was they started in that direction, passing the chapel on the way. It was there that they heard a sound they had never heard before, and gently Cedric cracked open the door and peered in. There, nearly prostrate before the altar, was their brother, crying as if his heart were broken, William’s worn blanket clutched in his hand. They did not know what to do, what to say, for they had never seen him like that before.

“Perhaps it’s best if we just leave him alone,” Cedric said. “He’ll just lock it all up inside again if he knows we’re here.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Eleanor whispered, “though I don’t know why he has to be like that.”

“Nor do I. It’s just his way, I guess, and father says everyone must deal with grief in his own way . . . He has cried before, you know, at least I think he has.”

“When?” Eleanor queried in disbelief.

“After mother died, when he’d come to comfort us at night and tell us stories. I didn’t hear him exactly, but I’m sure I felt him crying one night when he thought we were asleep.”

“That’s the problem though, isn’t it,” Eleanor complained. “He never shares his grief with anyone. He bears it all by himself. Perhaps we should go in and make him own up to it.”

She put her hand on the door to open it, but Cedric stopped her. “No Eleanor! He has enough to deal with right now. Maybe later, but not now.”

Eleanor nodded, and the two headed back to the solar to help Sybil with William. Lady Elizabeth, however, had just rounded the other corner, and on hearing the cries coming from the chapel, she opened the door and entered.

“Lady Elizabeth!” Richard exclaimed. He jumped up onto the bench and wiped his eyes, pretending he had . . . well, he was not exactly sure what he was pretending, but it was definitely not crying.

“Why must you always be the strong one, Richard?” she asked as she sat down by his side. “Don’t you think someone else just might want to take the role from time to time?”

Richard just turned away, biting his lip as he did. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’ve just had you’re son taken from you,” she continued calmly. “As much as we all loved William, you have to be the one who is hurting the most.”

“It’s no matter,” he mumbled. “It’s probably for the best. William will have a mother and father, and I can get on with my life.”

“Is that why you’re holding on to that blanket so tightly?” she asked as she turned his face back toward her own. He resisted slightly, and then stared at the ground when she had succeeded. Without speaking another word, she brushed the dampened curls back from his face. “Or why your hair is damp with tears?”

He wet his lips, but his chin had begun to quiver. He could fight it no more and collapsed in a sea of tears upon her shoulder. “I can’t bear to say good-bye,” he sobbed.

Lady Elizabeth held him close to her, soothing him as if he were her new born babe. The sound of William’s cries from the courtyard below stayed his tears however, and he looked to her, the helpless child begging a mother’s advice.

“Go to him, Richard,” she whispered. “Don’t have him think you’ve just abandoned him.”

Richard sprang up and headed down the stairs, running faster than he ever had and shouting at the top of his lungs. “Wait, please, he forgot this!”

They were already in the carriage when he caught up with them, but William held out his tiny arms, screaming for his father. Now Richard did have to be strong, but this time it was not for any misguided notion of manhood, but for his son. “Please,” he said, “just give me a moment with him.”

“Yes, of course,” Henry replied as he handed the child to Richard.

William clung to his father’s neck, his cries subsiding to a whimper, and Richard took him to sit upon the castle step, taking a deep sigh before he spoke. He sat William on his knee and wiped the tears that clung to his cheeks. As he began, he understood Johanna’s lies all too well, for he realized sometimes they were told out of goodness.

“I know you don’t want to leave, William, but you must.” The child’s chin started to quiver, and Richard tried to explain. “I have to travel, far away, and I can’t take you with me, but it won’t be forever. I promise you that. These people are going to take care of you; the way Sybil did, and I’ll come to visit you as often as I can.” Sighing helplessly, he brushed back his own hair. “Do you understand anything I’m saying, William?”

The boy nodded, though his chin was still quivering. “Don’t want go,” he whimpered.

“I know. How can I explain? I love you, William. More than I have ever loved anyone in my life.” He took another deep breath, filled with determination. “I need you to go with Henry and Penelope. You must be a brave knight. Do you understand?”

The boy nodded, but Richard wondered if he truly understood any of it at all, for he surely did not. He handed his son his blanket and together they walked to the carriage. “I’ll come to see you soon,” Richard promised. “Now give us a kiss.”

William wrapped his arms around his father, kissing him on his cheek, and then he wiped his sleeve across his nose. While he was no longer sobbing out loud, he was by no means happy. Richard knew he was young though and would soon forget the moment, or at the very least bury somewhere deep in his memory. He handed his son off to his new father.

“If I ever hear you’ve hurt him in anyway, I swear I’ll gut you myself.”

“Then I have no fear, Sir Richard, for we shall love him and care for him with all our hearts.”

With that the carriage drove away, and William rode out of Richard’s life. He stood there long after it had turned onto the main road, tears streaming down his face.

“You will see him again, Richard,” Thomas said as he wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders.

“I wasn’t a bad father, was I? Letting him go so easily, I mean.” Richard was trying hard to gain control of his emotions, though the struggle taking place inside was obvious. “I do love him.” His heart had won and tears burst forth from his eyes once more, though he quickly managed to subdue them.

“I’m proud of you, Richard,” Thomas stated, squeezing his son’s shoulders. “It took more strength for you to let him go than to keep him here. You thought of his welfare, not your own. Being a father sometimes demands that of you.”

“I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever love anyone enough to . . .” he wet his lips, trying to continue without bursting into tears again, but Thomas knew where he was going and answered his question.

“You will find true love, Richard. I may have wondered about it before, but after seeing you with William, I have no doubt you have it within you. Be patient! I was older than Armus when I married your mother.”

“There’s hope then,” Richard said, with a forced smile. “No matter how many children I have, I’ll never forget him. I don’t care if he’s not really my son. I love him as if he was, and I shall always be there for him. My heart will never completely be my own again.” He paused for a moment, and then turned to face his father. “Is that how you feel about us?”

“Each and every one of you,” Thomas replied, a tender smile crossing his face. “Each and every one!”

***End***

 Return to Aigneis’ homepage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.