Chapter 2

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Late June, 1213

Lavender. So sweet, so calming. Evelyn knew it was her mother's favorite flower, and the fields were teeming with them. Walking among the waves of soft purple, she gathered up several handfuls of the blooms, filling her basket with them. She smiled as she thought of the happy light that would come to her mother's face when she saw them. They would certainly bring her great comfort while she was ailing. It was still a wonder to think there would soon be another Gisborne child born into the world. No one had expected it, least of all Guy and Cassia, who had thought their child-rearing days long gone.

The past nine months had gone by in a rush of excitement. Thea and Lucien had been married in October and it was hardly a month gone before they discovered they were to have a child. Lucien had taken his bride home to his family estate, which was just to the north of the Gisborne property. But Thea, being fretful about her first pregnancy, sought her mother's company quite often and spent many days back home. Now that Cassia was with child as well, they spent many a day bonding over their shared conditions.

Just as Cassia had predicted, a peace had been made between Guy and Sir Lucien. They were not quite the best of friends, but Guy had eased his attitude considerably, even allowing Lucien to command the troops in their drills. And though Evelyn could not be certain of it, she secretly wondered if her father had accepted Lucien as a full-fledged member of the family. He certainly could not ask for a better man to call his son-in-law. Lucien doted on Thea just as Guy did with Cassia, and they both were in a constant state of worry about their wives' delicate conditions. It made Evelyn smile to think of their loving devotion, and it was her hope that one day, she could look forward to such husbandly attention.

She glanced up at the shining sun, which was starting its decent into the west. Judging from its position, the day was growing late. She'd been walking for hours, and it was best to return home before she was badly missed.

As she crested a hill, the distant noise of baying hounds fell on her ears. At first the sound was faint. But it soon grew louder, more distinct, and she realized it was progressing from left to right, just down the valley. She looked on with only a slight awareness, thinking she might see a hunting party passing by. But her interest grew keen when she saw a lone figure running fast. It was a young man...tow-headed, lean-bodied and long of limbs...tearing across the fields as if he were fleeing for his life. She soon realized it was quite possible, for the hounds that she'd heard bawling soon came into view, giving chase with a small group of horsemen behind them. Of what nature this pursuit was, she knew not. But she stood watching, captivated, as the wild party flew by in front of her. And the young man became an immediate source of fascination, for he was swift of foot and limb. A brook marked the boundary between the Gisborne estate and the neighboring property, and the young man splashed into it without pause. The band of hunters were not far behind him as he dashed under a bridge, and as he came out the other side he encountered a fallen tree...which he scaled over with the agility of a fox. The dogs and horses were not so capable. They were stopped by the tree's gnarled branches, forcing the party to go around it...and giving their quarry sufficient time to be well on his way ahead.

It was a moment of excitement that captured Evelyn's imagination. She looked on as the horsemen and dogs scrambled about, while the young man vanished around the bend of the brook. As she turned towards home she took several looks back, wondering about the young man who had fled so fast.

Was he a criminal of some kind? Perhaps he was some ousted member of a nearby household, banished and being chased from the property. She could not know for certain what his circumstances were, but such a man might be inspiration for a good adventure story. She made a mental note to remember the incident, to weave it into a story of some kind to be told to her mother, who would no doubt enjoy a good tale. Perhaps even her father would like to hear it. To see him free of his worries, if only for a little while, would be a fine thing indeed.

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