Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 9 - Part 1
They reached the market before noon the next day. To Albion this was something of a miracle. He had never known Sophia to be an early riser.
He felt seven levels of coward as he watched Sophia lead Isolde through the shops and stalls. Isolde seemed awed by the size of the market. She stared about, marveling at the rich fabrics, jewels and trims as if he weren't even there.
Josce stood with them, offering his advice on colors and styles, clearly at ease with the situation. Behind them, Young Hugh and Ivo waited to carry packages as soon as Isolde made some selection.
He was there to keep track of the large purse Festil had given him earlier and to secure the ladies' safety. Hell, a mastiff could have done that.
Albion cursed himself again as Josce held a length of velvet against Isolde's face. The touch was as good as a caress. Did his friend have to make the situation worse?
Sophia brushed against his shields. He had not realized she left the group and now stood beside him. Her smile seemed a bit strained.
She nodded toward Josce and Isolde. "They make a handsome couple, don't they?"
Unable to accept the vision she saw, Albion nodded.
"I think they will do well together. That is if he can get her to make some decisions." Sophia laid her hand on his arm. "What is it, Your Grace? You are preoccupied."
Albion made his best effort to give her his full attention. "I am sorry, Your Highness. What would you have me say?"
Her smile remained fixed. He realized he had never seen it move in all the time he'd known her.
"You have come to care for her, haven't you?"
Albion looked at the woman he was supposed to marry. Beneath the ermine lined hood of her velvet cloak her hair shone like spun gold. Her serene face belonged on a Madonna in the great cathedral. She was exquisite.
He tried to soften his words. "I care for you, Your Highness. You know that."
"But you love her." Sophia's hand closed over his arm in a grip of surprising strength.
"I never meant to fall for the country mouse."
The moment the words passed his lips Albion knew he had made a mistake. He saw the injured pride in Sophia's soft eyes for just an instant before she shielded her emotions behind her normal equanimity.
"You were willing enough to plight your troth to me a scant year ago, Your Grace. Has your intention changed?"
Sophia stared at the cobbled street for the space of several breaths. When she drew a breath and lifted her chin he knew he had made the correct decision.
"I must warn you, Your Grace, that my father wants this marriage fully as much as your king desires it. You may have a difficult time breaking the bonds that hold us."
Albion took her hands in his. She squeezed his fingers, but the gesture was one of friendship and support. There was no passion between them. Its absence was painfully obvious.
Then she released him and returned to the merchants' stalls, where Isolde and Josce stood considering lengths of fabric.