The candle's soft, flickering light pushed against the harsh darkness of the room. Its pale warmth teased, but did nothing to dispel the doubts that racked his thoughts and drove him from his bed.
Evan took a slow and unsteady breath, the coldness of the night seemed to seep into his soul and a small shiver raced up his spine leaving gooseflesh that spread across his skin.
The cold fireplace beckoned to him, but he only stared at it. While it would give him warmth and light, he did not want to start a fire, for to do so would mean admitting that he was up for the night. And he desperately wished to go back to sleep, and sometime soon.
The candlelight glimmered across the parchments spread upon his desk, its shimmering glow drawing his attention.
Evan reverently fingered the thin tanned hides. He saw the writing upon them, but the words wavered out of focus. He could not get his mind to concentrate on the task at hand. His errant thoughts kept returning to the darkness that seemed to be swarming about him. Darkness had always plagued him, not that he was afraid of the dark. Far from it. The night had always held a peace and a calmness that drew him. It was not the darkness of the night that haunted him. It was the darkness of his life, or more, the life of his family, his mother.
Looking down at the strewn parchments he sighed. His troubled thoughts raced, reminding him of why he had not been able to sleep in the first place. He roughly pushed those thoughts away. They did nothing except cause misery. He dropped into his chair with a weary sigh and grabbed his quill.
He dipped the long gray goose feather into the ink pot. He leaned over the parchment and began to write, the words flowing smoothly across the page, only breaking a line hear and there as the ink faded and the nib dried.
Evan slid the quill back into the pot and swirled it to catch the small droplets of ink that tried to escape. He returned to his current work, The Hallowed Halls of Isabella. His quill swept across the page, the world unfolding before him. The tension in his shoulders melted as he disappeared into his story.
Isabella crouched and cringed, crying beneath the massive heaving belly, brilliant shimmers shone in the failing day throwing firelight off the expanse of jewels that lay hidden deep within the rigid scales.
Evan's mind began to clear. The act of writing calmed him, as it always had. It allowed him to forget himself, to put his own world away for awhile.
The dragon roared fiercely, saliva dripping from jagged white teeth. He dropped his head toward the helpless maiden. Isabella threw her arms over her face and began to scream--
A very real scream tore through the silent night. His arm jerked across the page, his quill leaving a dripping black chasm through his words.
"Bloody Hell," he slammed the feather down onto the now ruined page. Both the ink pot and the candle shuddered beneath the blow. He had a nervous moment when he thought the candle would fall. He had a clear image of all his work going up in flames, but the candle rocked slowly to a stop and finally settled. He released the breath that he had not even known he had been holding and the flame flickered.
Pounding feet raced past his door. Another scream erupted from beyond his library. He looked down in disgust at the thick line that ripped through his tale and reluctantly admitted that sleep was slipping farther away. With a grunt of irritation he pushed himself away from his desk and followed the growing sounds of commotion.
The hall beyond the library door was now empty. Another wrenching scream, this one rife with panic, ripped through the air. He raced for the door.
Once outside surprise jolted through him. He looked across what appeared to be the entire castle. They stood facing the doorway, but all were staring well above it. Not one of them seemed to notice his presence. He opened his mouth, but another scream, from above, silenced him. He jerked his head up. his jaw clicking shut with a painful snap. Squinting into the darkness he could see nothing, the moon once more slipping behind the clouds.
He pushed his way through the crowd, servants who would normally bow before him stood in awe at the ruckus from above and paid him no heed. He thought he liked this better than being the center of attention.
Scanning the wall he could find nothing but more darkness. He stared, tears stinging his eyes as he concentrated. Shadows swirled across the face of the castle. He was not sure what he was looking at but it was definately something, some movement high up the wall.
A soft light wavered from above. It jerked and bobbed, growing closer, brighter, until the candle finally filled the small window and lit the cause of the disturbance. He shook his head, but it did not surprise him.
She needed to be taken over someone's knee.
Felicity Puelo, the most frustrating girl he had ever had the joy of knowing, was hanging upside down just below one of the upstairs windows. Entangled in the thick vines that cascaded over the castle walls she hung, suspended from one ankle. Her wails pulled at his heart, but this did not surprise him either. She had after all been in his life since the day she was born.
Moonlight peeked from behind the rolling clouds and lit up the side of the castle. The vines raced along its wall in a thick tangle. It was unusual that they still covered the castle this late into the summer. The head gardener had been ill or the vines would have been removed long before now. It was too easy to scale those climbing ladders and get into the castle.
"Luckily for the modesty of the onlookers, she appears to be wearing a pair of men's tights." Evan turned to the amused voice beside him. Casey Lawston elbowed his identical twin brother Bailey and they both laughed.
Evan scowled at his younger siblings. They were tall and regal, dark hair and dark tanned skinned. They were the image of their father. Evan smiled and glanced back up at the young woman who dangled above them.
"Well, probably not men's," Evan said with a grin, "considering her size, more than likely the clothing of some unlucky page." All three of them laughed.
A head appeared in the window and wide shoulders blocked the light. Evan could not make out the face but he recognized his father's familiar stance. The light haloed around Peter Lawston as he looked down at the girl.
"There is father to her rescue, once again." Bailey turned toward the house. "Well, that is it for the entertainment. I am going back to bed." He yawned wide and stretched his arms in a dramatic sweep.
Casey jabbed Evan painfully in the ribs on the way past. "Do not let you little filly get into too much trouble."
"Shut up." Evan swung his arm at his brother, but Casey dodged easily. He tried to ignore their laughter as they walked away. His little filly, indeed, he thought with a snort. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had no intention of getting involved with a woman and when he did it would not be this little annoying girl. No matter that she was going to be eighteen in just a few days. She was still an immature little chit. Plus he thought with a grunt, she was almost half his height, he would have to get on his knees to kiss her.
His throat seemed to dry at that thought and he quickly pushed it away. Kissing Felicity was the last thing he needed to be considering. He turned his attention back to the drama above.
His father was talking to her. He could hear the soft rumbling of his voice, but he could not make out he words. Whatever his father had said appeared to have calmed her. At least her screams and struggles had ceased.
Felicity hung limply and the onlookers began to lose interest. One by one they followed Casey and Bailey back into the castle leaving Evan standing alone in the darkness to watch the spectacle unfold. Unease started to grow.
His father reached for the dangling girl. He turned sideways and slipped his wide shoulders through the narrow window completely cutting of the light. When the light reappeared Evan caught a glimpse of the young escape artist's legs as she was pulled through the window to safety.
Evan rolled his shoulders. the tension back with force this time. He could not help but wonder what on earth she had in her head, if anything. Half the time he thought she was daft and the other half reckless. Most of the time he thought she was both.
When the light faded from the window Evan turned away. His mind wandered back to the waiting parchments and he longed to return to them. Sighing deeply he knew he would get no more writing done this night, Isabella would have to hold her own with the dragon.
Felicity may not be his little filly as his brothers always claimed, and she may be a pain in his nether regions and she might drive him to distraction, but she was going to need support as she tried to explain herself. He could only imagine the story she had laid out for this mess.
Grudgingly he made his way up the long staircase toward the guest room where Felicity always slept when she stayed. Which was more and more often over the last year. He could hear angry voices crashing down the hallway before he was even to the top of the stairs.
"What in the bloody Hell were you thinking?" Deep with concern for his daughter, Gary Puelo's voice vibrated through the castle.
Evan quickened his step, though for the life of him he could not imagine why he felt such concern for the reckless young lady. Why he felt so responsible for her safety and her happiness was beyond him.
"You could have been seriously hurt." Peter's voice was filled with concern as well, but beneath it Evan could detect the subtle undertones of amusement.
"I was trying to collect some flowers from the vine for Juliana." Her soft smooth voice trembled quietly within the storm of parental figures that Evan knew surrounded her. "They are so pretty, but I lost my balance reaching for them."
Evan quietly pushed open the door and stepped through. His father, his mother and Felicity's father glanced at him. He had tried to move undetected, but he could have expected no less from a room full of knights. Felicity and her mother on the other hand seemed oblivious of his arrival.
Felicity turned her head to glance at each figure that surrounded her. She must have seen the same looks of disbelief on their faces that Evan saw because her shoulders drooped. She began to stammer. "It-t was lucky that my ankle caught on the vines. I am glad Juliana ran to get you. I was so scared."
Evan though the last of her speech at least tickled the edges of the truth. She did indeed look shaken. He felt the soft silk of a dressing rob brush against his arm and he looked down into the frightened eyes of his sister. Juliana smiled weakly. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
His mother and father stood to one side of Felicity, looking stern yet understanding. Her mother and father stood to the other side, looking frazzled and concerned. Together they created a protective cocoon around her. It was the same whenever she got into trouble. Not just one parent to lecture her, but all four and now, as always, Evan felt the need to be a buffer between her and their anger.
She was wearing tights and a tunic and though they were obviously stolen from one of the younger pages, the tights bagged around her feet and the tunic hung past her knees. She was small, even smaller than her mother. Felicity barely broke five feet, if she stood on tiptoe and he knew she couldn't weight out at even a hundred pounds, soaking wet. But for all her small stature of frame her personality filled the castle and Evan couldn't stop a smile.
Melinda Puelo shook her head at her daughter. "We have not even been in the castle for a full day." Her concerned voice was soft and melodious. "Why can you not even manage to keep yourself out of trouble for one night?" She grunted in exasperation. "One peaceful, sleep filled, night?"
Evan allowed the familiar chastising to fade into the background and focused on his mother. A smug, half grin flitted across her lips. This was the grin of the mischievous Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight, the bane of Evan's existence.
Evan could bear the dangerous reputation of the knight, could stand all the horrible things the knight had reputably done. he could even tolerate being the Dark Knight's son. What he couldn't handle was the Dark Knight being his mother. his insides tightened at the thought.
Evan groaned inwardly and pushed away his own problems. He turned his attention to Felicity. Her bravado was starting to crumble. The four parents were beginning to wear on her and he wondered if she knew that his mother was more amused than angry. He could see it on her face. That face that said an adventure sounded like just the thing.
"Mother, Father," Felicity's voice trembled slightly as she looked from one to the other. "Lady Van, Lord Peter, I am very sorry." Felicity trembled. Evan didn't need to see Felicity's face to know that tears shimmered in her eyes.
Van placed a hand on Felicity's trembling shoulder. "You need to be more careful." Amused as she might be with Felicity's antics Evan could hear the concern trembling right below the surface of her words. "Where would we be without you, you are our family." Evan's heart skipped painfully as his mother glanced his way, that knight's grin widening. "you are like a daughter to us."
Evan glared at her and decided that now was the perfect time to put a stop to that line of thought. "We would all be in our beds comfortable and fast asleep." He said this with as much exasperation as he could put into his voice. He found it came easy.
Felicity and Melinda spun around to face him. He had to grin at the surprise on both women's faces. Felicity's dark green eyes lit up and a smile, one that seemed to make the room shine, beamed across her dirt streaked face.
Evan gave Juliana a gentle squeeze and stepped closer to the group. With an exaggerated appraisal he looked her up and down. He clicked his tongue. "Are you wearing a tent?"
She looked down. With a slight tremble she wiped her dirty hands across the green stained tunic. "No." her voice shook, but to Evan's relief she looked up with a wide smile. "I borrowed them."
"Does the owner know you borrowed them?" Gary asked.
Evan took another step closer before Felicity could answer. He laughed lightly. "Mother, I am surprised to see those vines still intact." With a pointed look he couldn't stop himself from adding. "You know the dangers of allowing the vines to reach the window." He arched a brow and winked conspiratorially.
Van's eyes narrowed. The grin that spread was not comforting. Evan swallowed a dry breath. "Are you trying to say something my boy?" Her dark black eyes sparkled dangerously as she closed the distance between them with one wide step.
Evan took a deep breath and fought the urge to step back. Fear tickled at him, but only mildly. He knew his mother would not hurt him, no matter the reputation that she carried. "Only that someone could sneak up the sides of the castle....or down."
"What are you to talking about?" Felicity asked, her now dry eyes sparkled. Her own troubles pushed aside by curiosity.
"Never you mind." Peter said with a laugh. He pulled Van close to his side, his eyes overflowing with love and devotion. An act that had always amazed Evan. It was unusually to see such affection after so many years of marriage, love like this was unusual in any length of marriage.
Van smiled in response but she did not pull her gaze away from Evan. He held his mother's steady gaze, even though he wanted to look away. If it was not for Felicity he would have done so already. He was not accustomed to standing up to his parents. At least not on your own account, he berated himself. He though of the secret parchments that lay across his desk and wished once more that he had the nerve to face his parents, to face their disappointment and to face his own fears.
Van raised one black brow and Evan's self control fell away. He dropped his gaze to his booted foot.
"Why are you still dressed at this hour?" his mother asked him. He could feel all the eyes in the room suddenly on him.
He took a deep breath and looked up. He glanced from her to his father and back again. He wanted to tell them his problem and opened hi mouth to do so.
All the knight training. All the lectures of duty and honor that his parents had bestowed upon him for the last twenty years flew at him like flaming arrows. Crashing into him and engulfing his hopes, leaving them as nothing more than ashes at his feet.
He closed his mouth. They would not understand. How could two knights understand that their first born son, on his way to being one of the king's senior commanders, did not want to follow in their footsteps? They were always telling him how talented he was and how great of a knight he was. How could he break their hearts and tell them that he did not want to be a knight?
He wanted to be a writer, but more he wanted to be a teacher. How could he tell them that he wasted his nights fantasizing, that he had two completed tales of love and lore and that he was well into his third.
They were looking at him, waiting for him to do more than stare back like an idiot. He took a deep breath and wondered how on earth things had taken such a bad turn so quickly. This is what I get for coming to rescue the little hellion, he thought.
"I could not sleep." He looked away, realized how guilty that must look and quickly looked back. Aye, that looks less guilty. Perhaps he was an idiot, he thought.
"If you needed some company, I would have been glad to sit and talk to you." Felicity said. Her woes for the night obviously forgotten, at least for the time being.
Melinda gasped. "Felicity Jane Puelo!"
Gary turned a glaring look at Evan as if he had been the one to suggest the scandalous act. Evan took a quick step back raising his hands in supplication. God, his night had just went from bad to worse. Guilt swarmed him as if her father could tell he had been thinking of kissing her only moments ago. He cleared his throat. "Aye, my dear. I would have appreciated that." He glanced at the dark look on her father's face and quickly added. "It would have put me to sleep within seconds."
It was Felicity's turn to glare, but at least the murderous look has dissipated from her father's face.
"Evan Matthew Lawston, you apologize right this instant." Van said, a tinge of anger clouding her voice.
"Mother, she knows I was only jesting." He winked at Felicity and grinned. "It would have taken at least five minutes." He smiled to show her he was only playing and relaxed when her lips curved in return. He relaxed even more when the parents finally turned their attention back to the one who had started all this trouble.
"Go to bed Felicity. We will deal with this after we have all had a good night's sleep." Gary kissed her on the forehead and smiled down at her. "You are scaring years from my life."
Evan watched patiently as they all kissed her forehead in turn and walked from the room. Van wrapped her arm around Juliana's shoulders and turned back. "Evan, do not stay up long. You must be rested for training in the morning."
He held his smile in place. "Aye mother." He watched until the door clicked closed then let the smile fall away. He turned to the little chit who was constantly tormenting his peace of mind and his patience. "No, you want to tell me what you were really doing?" He held her gaze. Her dark green eyes widened.
Felicity's heart raced and she could not stop the small gasp that bubbled through her. Emotions that she fought to understand swirled like the tide pools, waiting to drag her down into the unknown depths. (Fix Tide Pools) it excited her more than her attempted escape down the wall.
Heat boiled with her and cold shivered up her spine. The warring sensations created a ravenous storm within. She tried to hold his gaze but failed. She could not longer look into his black gaze and keep her sanity. Those eyes were like dark pits of wonder that she wanted very much to explore, but she had no idea where, or how, to begin. She needed him to lead her on this adventure but he did not seem to be inclined to be her guide.
Breath trembled just beyond her reach and she sucked in deeply but still felt breathless. She concentrated on her stolen boots. There was a green streak across on of them left behind by the thick vines. She took another deep breath.
"Well, where were you off to?" His voice trembled. She could only imagine it was irritation, or perhaps anger.
"I was just collecting flowers."
"One does not steal clothing to collect some pretty little buds from outside one's window, nor are they particularly pretty this time of year, that will not happen until summer." Evan placed a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. His finger was warm and inviting and it took all her power not to press her cheek into his hand.
Looking into his eyes she found it impossible to lie to him. He was her best friend, though she would never tell anyone that, especially him. She smiled, fighting the tremble that threatened to overtake her. She lost.
"Are you cold?" He reached behind her, smells of warm leather and horseflesh wafting across her senses as his shoulder pressed against her. She leaned close, inhaling deeply.
He pulled the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"Thank you." Her words were no much more than a breath as she looked up at him and smiled. She allowed her fingers to brush against his as she took hold of the blanket.
"You are most welcome." His smile dropped but he did not release the blanket. His fingers tightened pinning her in the rough wool. He pulled her close, leaning down until he was so close she could feel the soft tickle of his breath against her lips.
She held her breath and prayed that this was the moment, that this would be their first kiss. The first of many.
Pulling the blanket tighter across her shoulders he dropped his head closer, his lips almost grazing her's as he whispered. "Now tell me where you were going."
She released her breath, dropped her gaze and looked straight ahead. That did not help matters. Her gaze was no locked on his wide chest and her rolling emotions screamed. With him leaning forward she could see the soft brown curls that peeked from his open tunic. She signed. She wanted to reach out and touch them. Would have if her arms had not been trapped. "Fine. I was going back to the cottage. We have a cow who is going to drop. I was concerned that there would be problems. She is overdue."
"Of course you were." He laughed and released the blanket.
The sound washed over her and she struggled to keep her weak knees beneath her.
"I will send a page to the house to check on her. We will keep an eye on her for the next four days while you are going to be here. They will let us know the moment something happens. Good?"
She wanted to tell him no. Wanted to tell him she had to be there. Wanted to tell him that it was what she loved to do.
"Good." He dropped a kiss on her forehead as the parents has and turned to walk from the room.
She watched him go with her jaw hanging loose. His wide frame swayed from side to side. Her eyes dropped to the round bottom beneath his long tunic, it tightened and relaxed, each step drawing the material tight against it. She sucked in a deep breath when the door finally shut and cut off the seductive view.
Felicity could still feel where his lips had pressed against her warm skin long after the door had closed behind him. "I will marry you."
Her soft whispers fell on the deaf ears of her room, but they lightened her heart.
Copyright © 2023 Dawn Chandler - All Rights Reserved.