Chapter 25, Part 3

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Feeling confident and determined, she took a moment to look out the window.

She gasped in awe. The full scope of her new life was suddenly before her, and it took her breath away.

Guillemot was, in a word, immense. Just by looking at it she could guess that Gisborne Manor would fit inside of it at least twice, if not more. The castle was made of pale grey stone, with numerous towers and pointed turrets, which were covered with blue roofing tiles. The main house, and its many outbuildings, were accessed by a stone bridge with multiple arches, under which there ran a wide expanse of water.  And what a setting it was all nestled in. From her distant vantage point, she saw that the estate sat low among lush green hills and dark woods. Unlike her birth home, which sat up high and stately on a hill, her new abode seemed to blend in with its surroundings. Simon had told her there would be endless space to call her own, and clearly, he had not exaggerated.

How would she be mistress of all of this? It seemed so overwhelming. But Simon was trusting in her to be a good partner and wife, to make his house a home and to run it as a proper noblewoman should. Digging into her memories, she sought a piece of advice that her mother had often given her.

Fear is nothing more than a feeling. It cannot harm you. And it cannot hinder you unless you allow it the chance to do so.

As the carriage rolled across the bridge, she gathered her courage, taking deep breaths to calm herself. And before she knew it, the vehicle was coming to a stop. Reaching up with her fingers, she checked her hair to be sure it was still neatly coiled. She pinched both of her cheeks to add a bit of color to her face. And just as she straightened her posture, the door opened. A footman was waiting with his hand extended, but all she could see was the crowd of people waiting just outside of the carriage. Taking the footman’s hand, she stepped down to the gravel drive, and Simon came to her side. He took her hand, and led her over to meet her household.

As she met each man and woman, she was careful to keep to her French tongue when speaking to them. There were several children among the crowd, and she took the time to speak kindly to them, eliciting several smiles. A tow-headed little boy, who could not have been more than six or seven years of age, offered her a fistful of daisies. Moved by the gesture, she took a moment to ask his name, and she learned that he was one of the gardener’s children. For his kind gift, she promised to soon give him something in return, and he beamed with delight.

As she was guided inside, a slender gentleman of middle-age, with kind dark eyes and a neatly trimmed brown beard, came to the Duke’s side. He bowed low, and presenting a rolled parchment, he spoke to his master in hushed tones. At first, Evelyn gave little thought to the occurrence. She was too busy taking in the enormity of the main hall, which seemed to have the aura of a great cathedral. It was vast and open, with large windows that allowed sunlight to pour in. When she turned to Simon, intending to comment on the beauty of the hall, she saw that he was whispering to his father...and the words they were exchanging seemed to be ones of urgency. Her heart went cold with fear.

Could it be a message from the king? Please God, do not let it be, she prayed. She remembered what Simon had said...that war could be declared at any time, and that his majesty’s men must be ready to answer the call. She knew it was improper to pry into the affairs of men, but her fear made her bold. She came near them, daring to speak, even while they were still in conversation.

“Simon,” she said, “Is something wrong?”

Their conversation ceased, and they both looked at her for a long moment. Simon gave her a forced smile, and took her by the hand.

“Do not be alarmed,” he replied. “I must take a few moments to see to this matter, but I will soon return to you. Meanwhile, Marguerite will show you upstairs. She will bring you food, drink...anything you require.”

Why did he seem so eager to depart on his business? Was it so urgent? She wanted so desperately to beg him for information. But to do so might be to dishonor him in front of his father and his staff. Reluctantly, she answered him with an obedient nod, and as he and his father went away in one direction, she was guided away by the housekeeper.

Marguerite was a small but boisterous young woman, giving sharp commands to her subordinates and ordering them to bring all that their new lady needed. In the master chamber, as Marguerite directed the belongings of the master and mistress, Evelyn stood before the window, wringing her hands.

I cannot lose my husband, she thought. I cannot.

She could not believe that God would bless her with such happiness only to snatch it away so quickly. Who would she turn to if he left her? She knew no one here. Her family was in Marseilles, so far away. Even Violette, her faithful servant and friend, was gone. She had remained in Marseilles for the sake of her family. Here, at Guillemot, Evelyn was to have a new lady maid. But no matter how kind her new companion was, she would still be a stranger. The thought of it was terrifying.

As she began a fretful walk back and forth, Simon came through the door. Seeing him, she could not remain calm and collected, as she knew she should be. With tear forming in her eyes, she rushed forward. When he saw the fearful look on her face, he became concerned.

“Evelyn, what is it? What grieves you?”

Without thought for who might be watching, she rushed to him and threw her arms around his middle, clutching him tightly. For a moment she was incapable of words. She felt his hands rubbing her back and shoulders in an attempt to sooth her. When, after a few moments, she gave him no reply, he set her back slightly, gently gripping her arms.

“What has happened, Evelyn? Tell me.”

Her tears spilled over, and her voice trembled as she answered.

“Simon, I am aware that it is not my place to know your business. But you must tell me. The message you received. Was it a summons from the king?”

He sighed, his expression giving no hint of an answer. She thought for certain that his reply would confirm her worst fears. After what felt like an eternal moment, he replied.

“No, it was not from the king.”

She thought she might swoon from the feeling of weight lifted off of her shoulders. She reached for him, intent on expressing her joy, but he held her hands in his own, stilling her movements. He turned to look at Marguerite and her troop of servants.

“Leave us,” he ordered.

They did so without question and without hesitation. As soon as the door closed, Simon looked back at her, releasing her hands. And she quickly reached up to grasp his face, pulling it down to hers and peppering it with urgent, feverish kisses.

“Oh Simon, I was so afraid. I feared you lost to me already, and with so little time shared between us.”

For a moment, he seemed hesitant to fully engage in returning her affections. His hold was not tight enough for her liking. Joyful, and spurred by the knowledge that he was not to leave her, she pressed her body against his, unwilling to be apart from him. At last he responded, strengthening his embrace. He kissed her back, his passions growing quickly. He uttered a few last words of resistance.

“Evelyn, we have only just arrived. There is much to be done.”

It was her feeling that such things could wait. Still shaken by the overwhelming fear she had felt, she needed the strength and security of his love, and at that moment, she did not care if her actions were brazen. The urgency in her plea was undisguised.

“Stay with me, Simon. I need you.”

Only a moment passed before he kissed her, and not with a sweet, closed mouth gesture, but with a heated taste of her...a kiss that left no doubt of the burning desire he was feeling for her.

His duties would be seen to much later, after they had spent a long and glorious afternoon together, familiarizing themselves with their marital bed, and especially, one other.

Author's note: The contents of the letter will be revealed in the next installment...

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