Chapter 15, Part 2

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"FIRE!"

With his hands cupped around his mouth, Rene shouted the warning. He rang the bell at the front gate. With maniacal energy he shouted again, yanking the rope so the bell clanged repeatedly...and then he hurried away from the gate, where the sisters were sure to come. Across from the moat bridge, a giant oak was ablaze. He watched it burn, the flames shooting skyward and lighting the night with an eerie orange glow. The application of the pitch had worked perfectly. Poured over the branches and lit with the spark from a flint, it had ignited fast and burned quickly.

There soon came cries of shock and the sound of people rushing. He slinked away from the scene, moving along the abbey wall. He rounded the corner.

Another tree was there. He scaled it, coming to the top of the abbey wall. From over his shoulder, he took a rope ladder, and hanging a wrung over a raised wall block, he let the rest fall down into the courtyard below. Pursing his lips, he emitted his familiar bird call...and down below he heard her hushed response.

"I am here."

 The shine of the moon gave enough light so he could see her silhouette moving. Slowly, she climbed the ladder. When she reached the top, he helped her to stand steady. When she glanced down, she wavered and clung to him in fear. Her voice trembled.

 "Oh, Rene. I shall faint from this height."

 For the first time that day, he smiled, whispering in her ear. "There is no time for fear, dear Izzy. We must go, quickly." Taking up the ladder, he threw it over the outside of the wall. Isabella clung to him. She shook her head, fearful, insisting she could not climb down.

"I will go first," he said. "If you should lose your footing, I will soften your fall."

He heard her angry whisper in return. "Only you would jest at such a time."

He gently squeezed her hand, a gesture of reassurance. He smiled to himself as he moved down the ladder. She soon followed after him, and at the bottom of the wall, he stepped back to wait for her. When she came close, he reached out to lift her to the ground. Her arms went around his neck. Her breath trembled with relief. But he allowed the embrace for only a moment. Pulling back, he took her by the hand.

"Come. We must away." He hurried her along, moving into the shelter of the woods.

"What of the fire?" she asked. "Will it spread to the Abbey?"

He shook his head. "It is doubtful. The flames are not close enough."

"Where do we go?"

 It was a moment before he answered. His tone was uncertain...and yet, determined.

 "To find sanctuary...with a friend."

 *****

 Evelyn sat beside Simon, watching a fool performing juggling tricks. The entertainment was meant to ease the minds of those present, particularly the ladies of the house. By now, word had spread of the men's imminent departure. The news was met with much sadness, but Guy insisted upon spending the next few days in merriment. He had ordered entertainment after supper, and tomorrow, if the weather permitted, they would all spend the day picnicking.

She glanced over at Simon, and a little smile came to her lips. It was amusing to think of him taking on such a venture as a picnic. He seemed to be one who was incapable of leisure. Even on their tour of the grounds, he had been in constant motion, both in body and mind. But perhaps he would surprise her, as he had before. There seemed to be many mysteries about him. Discovering his secrets might prove to be a very entertaining venture.

She leaned in to speak to him. But Oliver, a young footman, appeared behind her. He seemed rather troubled, his voice giving a slight tremble as he spoke in a low voice.

"Pardon, my lady Evelyn. May I beg a word with you?"

She nodded, rising from her chair. Something was amiss if s servant came to her rather than going to her father or her mother.

What on earth could it be? She wondered.

Simon's hand suddenly reached out, gently holding her wrist.

"What draws you away?" he asked.

His expression was one of concern. Since that afternoon, he had occasionally glanced at her with such a look. Wishing to ease his mind, she smiled at him, shaking her head in reply to his question.

"It is nothing of great importance, I am certain."

As she walked away, she wondered...

Does he have suspicions in regard to Rene? It was likely that he did, for he was not a foolish man. But the last thing on earth she wanted was to trouble him further. He had been exceedingly understanding thus far. Most men, particularly ones of his rank, would have long since broken such a vexing arrangement. She recalled the lighthearted conversation they had shared...the sweetness and amusement between them.

I shall be quite troublesome.

I welcome the challenge, my lady.

She could only hope that he truly meant it.

Oh, if only Rene had never come back. He had caused such trouble already. Now, just by being in her thoughts, he was endangering the trust she was trying to forge with Simon. Eager to return to his side, she pressed the footman to tell her of his concern.

"What is it, Oliver? I do not wish to be away for long."

He replied in a hushed tone. "My lady, there is a friar outside. He says he must speak to you, and only you. He says it is of great urgency."

Rene, she fumed in silence. Who else could it be? Oh, he would be the ruin of her! She clenched her teeth in muted fury. For a moment, she considered fetching Simon. He would have no qualms about getting rid of a troublemaker...of that she was certain.

But to do so would only invite further calamity. No, she thought. I will allow Rene one last chance. Just one, and then I will set the wolves upon him. Steeling her nerve, she spoke calmly.

"Where is he?"

Oliver gestured his head towards the front door. "Just outside, my lady. Should I accompany you?"

She wagged her head. "No, Oliver. Thank you. I shall speak to him myself."

Yes, I shall speak to him, she fumed to herself. If I do not strangle him first.

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