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What Her Heart Forbade
The chamber would have been in complete darkness if not for the small stream of light trickling between the drawn curtains. The sweet chirps of crickets could be heard from outside, their soft song serenading the couple lying in their bed. The man had fallen asleep, leaving the woman alone. She turned away from him, the tear on her cheek twinkling in the moonlight, and angrily brushed it away. There was no point at all in crying, it would solve nothing. She became hot in her upset and kicked the blanket away. Her partner rolled over in his sleep and made to wrap his arm around her, but she eluded his grasp, carefully rolling off the bed.
She shivered as she donned her chemise, the chamber’s stone floor as cold as ice. A gentle breeze blew through the open window, shifting the curtains aside and giving her a fuller view of the night outside. If this were to be her last night here, then she should take one more turn about the grounds. She glanced back at her slumbering partner and her heart became heavy, as if an iron weight was attached to it, slowly pulling it down into the pit of her stomach. She would not wake him, it would make her mission so much harder. The mission was to come first, it was always to come first, even if her heart were to break in the process. Her gaze lingered upon him for a moment, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest beneath the blanket, but as the prickling feeling behind her eyelids began to build, she turned away from him and set her sights toward the empty gardens below.
She clambered out the window, and took hold of the vines that winded and twisted themselves up the southern side of the castle. Her feet were bare and her chemise was delicate, yet the sharp thorns cutting into both could not stop her from leaving the burden her mission bore her behind.
Her feet hit the wet ground and she breathed a sigh of relief. There the burden was, hovering above her with the stars and moon in the sky. There it was, floating away like the clouds. There it was, swirling with the leaves being taken by the wind. There it was, and there it would stay.
Oh how beautiful the garden was without her the perils of her journey clouding her vision. How the dew glistened on the grass, how the moon cast its light upon the grounds, coaxing out the Evening Stocks and Angel Trumpets that lined the garden path, how the sound of the creek behind the willow trees trickling toward the moors mingled with the cricket’s song, how the fireflies danced together in their bright and delightful ballet above her head. She wanted to dance with them, oh how she wanted to dance! To play, to fly, to dance with them forever, what longing she had for this! She began to twirl and spin with them in their dreamy dance. She weaved gracefully in and out of the flowerbeds, around the pond and Indigo Waterlilies, dancing with her imaginary partner. She closed her eyes, immersing herself completely in her fantasy.
She could picture him perfectly in her mind. His tall, muscular stature, his hair that was as dark as the midnight sky, the blue-gray eyes that were like raging sees that had swept her heart away, his face, pale and shallow from his grief, the grief she had caused him. She could feel his arms closing around her, but continuing to twist her in their dance. She could feel his breath against her cheeks, his lips upon her forehead. She opened her eyes, and there he was.
She stopped their dance and jumped back, startled by his appearance. Only then did she realize how cold she was, how wet and muddy the hem of her chemise had become, how heavy the weight upon her shoulders was. In a single moment, it had crashed down upon her, causing her knees to buckle and her heart to race.
“My lord should return to his bedchamber,” she whispered. “‘Tis quite cold.”
“Aye, indeed it is, my Lady Redgrave” he said, softly, in his heavy Scots accent. He removed the rabbit fur lined cloak she had given to him on his natal day and fastened it around her shoulders.
“You shall catch your death, Lord Aubrey,” she warned him.
“My death has already been caught, Evelyn.”
“Please, my lord, do not cause me more pain besides which trouble I already must endure,” she pleaded.
“Then do not leave,” he said, reaching for her hand, but she turned her back on him and took several steps into the shadows of a nearby willow tree.
“You know why I must leave, Lord Aubrey,” she replied, unable to use his Christian name.
“Aye, I do know, but, nay, I do not understand.” He approached her slowly, taking her hand in his. This time she did not pull away. “Evelyn-”
“Upon the morrow, I shall no longer be Lady Evelyn Redgrave,” she snapped. “I shall not have that name, I shall not even have the face which I wear this very moment. I shall be someone who knows not of this castle, this life, you, Lord Aubrey, or the…the love…the love we share…Upon the morrow, whilst you and your cousin break your fast, I shall be a person you know not…”
“I shall wait for you to return.”
“You may be waiting for forever and a day, my lord.”
“I care not, Evelyn,” said Lord Aubrey, poignantly. “I love you.”
“Why is it that you cannot stop loving me?” demanded Lady Redgrave. “I have told you more than once, Lord Aubrey, that you can never have me! I can never become your wife, I can never bare you a child, I can never be your lady, my lord.”
“Then you mask the feelings you have? You deny your emotions? You deny me?”
Lady Redgrave bit her lip, trying to suppress her sobs. Her throat became dry and her hands began to shake.
“A-aye,” she choked out. “I love you no longer.”
“You, my lady, are a horrible liar,” he smiled, smally. “Next, I fear, you shall tell me that you mistook love for lust.”
She whipped around, angrily and screamed at him, “I know what love feels like! You forget, Lord Aubrey, I had a husband!”
“Aye, but a husband you did not choose nor willing to marry!” he shouted back.
“That does not mean I could not have loved him,” she growled.
“Nor does it mean you cannot love me!” he hissed.
She could no longer hold back her tears. They flowed freely down her cheeks and dropped into the fur lining of the cape. Her weeping became uncontrollable and she collapsed against him. He held her head against his bare chest and attempted to wipe the tears away.
“We- we were sup-p-posed to s-stay in the b-borders and I-I- was t-to b-b-bare his ch-child and-and we were t-to be s-safe and c-con-n-tent.”
“Stay here, Evelyn,” he whispered. “Do not leave. Stay here, in the borders, with me, marry me, bare my child, you shall stay safe, and more than content, I give your word.”
“Remain here?! So that you and the child I may birth receive the same fate?!” Lady Redgrave howled. “‘Tis not my own safety I fear, Lord Aubrey, ‘tis yours.”
He looked at her, his expression puzzled. The border lord did not understand how his small castle, men at arms, and walls surrounding his keep were not enough to protect him and his lady.
“The men who took my husband, may he rest in peace (she crossed herself), were there, not only for him, but for me as well. They are dangerous, skilled assassins, and they will not stop until I am found…and executed. They will take down anyone who are foolish enough to get in their way, including you.”
“I have men, I have a fortress-”
“They are beyond such mundane protection, my lord,” she told him. “Please, I beg of you, do not put yourself in danger. Your forces are nothing compared to theirs, and they are but a simple group of three.”
“I do not understand…”
“I do not expect you to,” she said, placing her hands upon his cheeks. “’Tis something far greater than you, and I. You needn’t understand why I must go, but only that I shall go.”
“After you avenge your late husband, will you return?” he asked, softly, tears gathering in his eyes.
“Only if you shall still have me, Tearlach.” She had done it, she had succumbed to her love, to him, to her heart. To say his name, oh how sweet the word tasted upon her lips, how uttering but a simple name made her heart leap, how foolish it seemed to give it all up!
“I shall never have another, Evelyn,” he vowed. “You shall write to me.” It was not a question, but an order.
“I shall be going to a place very far from here, you may not hear from me often,” she warned him.
“Any letter would be worth receiving.”
“Then you shall, for I do love you, Tearlach,” Lady Redgrave admitted.
He looked away from her, ashamed of his tears, and saw a sight that made him cringe. On the horizon was but a drop of sunlight oozing into the pale sky. Dawn had come, and she must leave. An icy hand clutched his heart when Lady Redgrave whispered, “I must go.”
“Please, one last dance.”
“T’will not be our last,” she vowed. “The sun has risen, my lord.”
He leaned forward and softly kissed her. “Indulge me.”
He took her waist and began to spin and dance around the garden just as they had before. He savored every delicious moment he had with her, the only woman to have successfully stolen his heart. It had been cold and hard, better off dead than alive and beating, stiff and rigid from his past. She brought it to life. The warmth that came from the first time he touched her hand, oh how it had engulfed him, how it had sent white hot trickles coursing through his veins, taking hold of his heart with an unrelenting grasp.
Having her body pressed so closely to his doubled the burning sensation she already had given him. He closed his eyes, delving into his fantasies that sent his soaring higher than the stars themselves. He leaned forward to kiss her again, but alas, she had disappeared.
His dancing ceased, his fantasy shattered, his heart slowly tearing in two. The feeling of warmth and love that had been raging through his body only moments ago was ebbing away, and then there was nothing. His eyes darted about the grounds, desperately searching for Lady Redgrave. Alas, she was nowhere to be found, leaving him stunned by her silent escape. How long had he been dancing with his own cloak? Had she even been there at all?
He dropped to his knees and tore his cloak with a might, anguished cry. He shook violently with his sobs as he wept. His tears ran down the end of his long nose and into the pool of sunlight, slowly creeping its way up the garden path. The sun may have warmed his face, but nothing else shall ever warm his heart.