Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 14 - Part 6
Albion spent most of the
next two months repairing the damage long regency had done to his
estates. Neglected repairs, shoddy bookkeeping and overdue grievances
filled his days. He welcomed the work, for his long nights were worse
than any torture previously devised.
His dreams were no longer filled with his father's death and his own narrow escape. Those old ghosts were laid to rest, replaced by images of curling brown hair and doe-soft eyes. Isolde haunted his nights, driving him from his bed to seek sleep at the bottom of a wine bottle.
He searched for relief with a willing servant or two, only to be frustrated. Without the love and passion that should accompany that act he might as well bathe in the icy moat. He'd find as much satisfaction.
Only in music did he find any comfort, for there it seemed his soul and Isolde's still mingled. He spent long hours plucking his lute, searching for shadows of her in the music.
One February afternoon as he sat with the instrument on his lap Hugh dared disturb him with a timid knock. When Albion at last looked up the squire gave him a slight smile. "Your Grace, you've visitors. Your lady mother is here."
"Mother? What the devil for?" Albion laid the lute aside as two women advanced on him. Both pushed back the hoods of rich traveling cloaks. His mother's face wore a secret smile. The other woman nearly brought him to his knees with surprise.
"Sophia? What brings you here?"
Princess Sophia extended her hand to him. "Your lady mother, actually. We thought we would come and see if we could not knock some sense into your muddled head."
"Albion, I am worried about you." His mother laid a hand on his arm and looked up at him. Worry shone in her eyes. "You've been doing nothing but moping about for weeks now."
"I've had a bit of work here, Mother. You know that."
"I know you are not sleeping, not eating enough to keep a monk satisfied, and not seeking life as you should."
She must have a spy or two in his household. Albion made a mental note to discover her source and be rid of him. "What business is it of yours? You have an abbey to run, unless I am much mistaken. Speaking of that, why are you here at all? You rarely leave your cloister."
His mother smiled sadly. "After Christmas last I never did return. It seemed safer to be nowhere my nephews could find me easily. I have been visiting Howicce for the past couple of months, and it's done me a world of good."
Sophia moved to Albion's other side. He glanced from one woman to the other, feeling suddenly like a trapped rabbit.
"Albion, you've been avoiding the real issue." Sophia folded her hands and spoke gently, but with enough authority she might be ordering about one of her servants. "You need to find her and convince her to share her life with you. You know she will, if you only ask."
"What do you mean?" He turned away from them, set his lute on the bench and reached for the half empty bottle of wine.
"I mean Isolde. The woman you love."
He set the bottle down. The comfort of wine seemed futile while they were tearing at barely scabbed emotional wounds. "Odd that you should bring her into this. You two did more than any other to remove her from my life."
"I know." His mother nodded, her shoulders slumping a bit. "And I am more sorry than you can believe for what I said then. I had forgotten how powerful love can be, how it can fill a life and leave emptiness that nothing else can mend when it is not there."
"Odd words coming from you. Especially now, when it is too late."
"But is it too late?" Sophia stepped around the bench to face him again. "Have you tried, Albion?"
"She would not have me back. I offered to take her away the night you and I wed. She rejected me."
"Yes, she did. And with good reason, with so many lives hanging in the balance of her obedience. But you are a free man now, and she might well be willing if you sought her out."
"Why should she?" Frustration cracked in his voice. It took a very long moment to compose himself. "I don't even know where she is."
"Well, she is not in Rhemuth. That oaf Nicklos has searched the city from top to bottom." His mother laughed softly. "Everyone is mocking him for a fool, as the bride Festil promised him ran away. But you must know where she would go."
Albion sighed. The gesture was scant help to his frustration. "I once thought I did. But how she would get there even I can't guess."
"Beg pardon, Sire."
Albion jumped. He'd forgotten Hugh. The squire still stood near the brazier, listening to the entire sordid scene.
The lad's smile bordered on treason. "I know where she is, Sire. She's in Derry. I showed her the transfer portal you installed there."
"And she jumped to a portal she'd never been to?" Albion groaned. "Is she mad?"
"A bit distraught, I think, Your Grace. But not mad, surely. You could go to her easily enough."
"And how would I approach her, being you are such an expert on women's wants?"
Sophia smiled again. "Actually, you might bring her a gift. A luthier in Rhemuth arrived at court about a week ago with an instrument you had commissioned from him. Prince Festil sent it on to us, having no notion of how to reach you in this weather."
Albion's heart began to beat, slow and strong as hope returned. "Her harp's finished?"
"And it is a thing of beauty. We have it with us." His mother waved him toward the kitchens, and the transfer portal. "Take it to her, son."
Albion advanced three steps. Then a thought doused his newborn heart like an icy bath. "I can't offer her marriage. Not without Lajos' permission, and he's none too fond of me right now."
"So forget marriage. I doubt it will matter to her." Sophia shook her head as if he were a foolish child. "Bring her here. She will be your companion, the mother of your children, and more a wife than I ever was. Very often in our world, Albion, the mistress is the true mate. Forget the noble platitudes and ask her."