Chapter 18, Part 2

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Evelyn looked at her father’s chair, which sat empty at the head of the table. It struck a tender, delicate chord in her heart, for there was great meaning in his absence.

Cassia had been in her room all afternoon, resting. Just before supper was served, Guy made a brief appearance in the hall, requesting a meal to be brought to his room. A moment later he had departed, and had not been seen since. Evelyn, and the rest of the household, knew this ritual well. The lord and lady of the house were secluded in their chambers together, and they would not be seen again until morning. It was their way...their ritual...to spend many hours alone, to ease the pain of separation before Guy departed on a journey.

Evelyn sighed, mindlessly stirring her bowl of soup. At dawn, Simon would depart. Who could say how long he would be away? The duration of his stay at court was dependent on the whims of King Phillip, who could keep his subjects gathered for as long as he wished.

Simon’s voice broke her reverie.

“Evelyn?”

He was seated beside her, and she looked at him. There was concern in his eyes...a softness in his features that pulled at her heart. After tonight, she would not look up to see him gazing at her, his handsome face and beautiful green eyes full of tenderness. She felt as though she would break down in tears on the spot. The gentleness of his voice was nearly too much.

“Are you unwell?”

She fought the urge to cry out. Yes, I am unwell. How can I be otherwise? But instead, she answered as calmly as she could, even managing a little smile.

“Mama and Papa’s absence saddens me, that is all.”

She looked away, worried that he would see the pain shining in her eyes.

They had spent the remainder of the day riding, and she had listened quietly as he talked of cities he had seen on his many journeys. He took her by surprise that afternoon. Usually so reserved, he suddenly came to life when he spoke of his travels. In his twenty-three years, he had seen more parts of the world than she would ever know, and she could hear in his tone the anticipation of future endeavors. He was ever a man of loyalty, of duty. His service to his king and country were at the core of his being.

So where did she factor in his heart?

He cared for her. He had made that quite clear. But would he think of her when he was away? Or would his return to the high aristocracy, a circle of power and politics, turn his thoughts to matters more important than her?

He was so warm and compassionate. There seemed to be little left of the aloof creature that had stood in the hall before the gathered masses, announcing his vow of loyalty to her as if he had repeatedly practiced the speech before hand. She had not doubted his word then, and she was even more certain of it now, for she sensed that she had become more to him than a contractual obligation. For that, she knew she should have been grateful. It was a rare thing for a woman to be more to her husband than mere chattel...more than just the mother of his heirs.

But she wanted his feelings to be deeper.

She thought of her mother and father. Right now, they were spending every last moment together. She knew, without seeing it or hearing it, that her mother wept.

Mama always weeps for him, she thought, Just as he grieves for her.

Her father made no secret of his feelings. He abhorred the thought of leaving his beloved, even for a short while. Were it not for the possible threat of treason, he would have ignored the invitation to court and remained at home, taking pleasure in the love of his wife and family, who were more important to him than his duties to the crown.

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