Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 14 - Part 7
A scant hour later Albion
stepped from the crypt in Castle Derry. Sunlight sparkled on snow
drifted against the walls and piled at the sides of cleared paths.
He gripped the clairsach in its leather satchel close against his chest and hastened to the castle. A maid came for his cloak immediately. The great hall glowed with light from braziers and torches. Silver plate gleamed as it sat waiting the late meal. The high table was draped with snowy linen, and two great carved chairs sat ready for the lord and lady.
The castle had changed much since he'd last seen it. Albion only hoped Isolde's heart hadn't.
"You!" Connal McQuillion's voice shattered the peace in the hall as he advanced between the tables. "The servants told me you'd come. I couldn't believe you would be so stupid."
He was in a bit of a temper over something. Albion set the clairsach against a bench and stepped away. "I'll not stay long. I only wanted a word with Isolde if she's here."
Connal's fist slammed into his jaw.
Albion flew backward and crashed into a table, sending plate flying. He had no chance to regain his feet before Connal seized the front of his tunic and pulled him up. The fury on Connal's face gave him the look of a wild animal.
Connal struck Albion again, this time without releasing his hold on Albion's tunic. Albion tasted blood as his lip split.
"I warned you!" Connal's words echoed through the hall. "I warned you once, you bastard. If you ever hurt Isolde, I'd see you dead!"
"What?" Albion managed to deflect a third blow though he knew he'd have a bruise on his arm from the force behind it. "I've not laid a hand on her."
"There's more than one way to hurt a woman. You'll not get off so easily." Connal seized a pewter candlestand and released Albion. His smile bordered on demonic. "I'm giving you a running start, Deryni. Buy yourself a few minutes!"
"Connal? What's going on here?"
Both men froze at the sound of Isolde's voice. She stepped into the hall, still draped from head to heels in a velvet cloak. Prayer beads rattled in her hands.
Isolde glanced from Connal's furious expression to Albion, and her heart turned over. Albion looked terrible, even if she discounted his swelling jaw, split lip and blackening eye. His skin had the sallow appearance of one who has not slept or eaten properly in some months.
"What's happened?" She waited for the answer, trembling inside for fear of it. Connal shook the sting from his knuckles as he gave her a smile that convinced no one. "Nothing, Dove. Go on up and get dry. I'll take care of this--" "Isolde." Albion spoke before Connal could finish. His eyes begged her to listen, even as he advanced a couple of steps. "I had to see you."
"Shut up!" Connal shoved him back. "She doesn't want to hear anything you've got to say."
"Is that not my decision, Connal?"
Isolde drew a breath and steeled her heart for what she knew was coming. Whatever Albion might say she knew she would ache from it. Still, even after so many months her heart longed to see him again. She would listen.
"Dove, I don't think --"
"Then let me do the thinking here. I will see him." Isolde swept past the two men and headed for the library, a place she knew would be empty this time of day.
Albion retrieved a leather satchel and followed her. She barely had time to light the brazier with a thought before he shut the door and laid the satchel on a table. A fat drop of blood dropped from his lip, staining the leather.
"Well?" Best get this over with, though she longed to remain in his presence forever. "You wanted to see me?" "Isolde, I . . ." Albion wiped at his lip as his words trailed off. "K'dhassa! This is difficult."
"Words usually are when we think they will hurt someone."
"I hope not to hurt you. I mean . . . I hoped you would be happy to see me?"
"Is that the reason you came? So I could see you?" She shook her head and turned away, tears filling her eyes. "You must have known the pain that would bring."
"Yes, I wanted to see you. To give you this." He handed her the satchel. "I had it made for you. I hope it's all right."
To cover her confusion, Isolde opened the satchel. The instrument inside gleamed from new polishing. Her heart turned over as she lifted the clairsach and cradled it against her shoulder.
"Sweet Mother of God . . ." Isolde let her words trail away as she brushed the silver strings with one finger.
"I put a rough tuning on it . . ." Albion ran his hand through his hair, sending droplets flying. "I know you like to finish that task yourself."
"Thank you." She hugged the harp gently, feeling the music pulse through the wood. "I will treasure it."
"I'd rather hoped you would consent to play with me sometime." Albion stepped closer, seeming to take courage from his own words. "My lute longs for a companion."
"I have never played with a lute before." She could not stop the sad smile that tugged her lips. "I doubt I would be much good."
Albion laid his hands over hers. The slight squeeze he gave her was almost an embrace. "I would see you had many years to practice." "What are you asking me?"
He hesitated, then licked his lips. His expression as he tasted his own blood made her chuckle.
"Isolde, come back with me to Tolan. Be my lady, my partner, my truest companion. Spend the rest of your life with me, for by Christ's blood I can't keep living without you."
Albion sank to one knee before her, pulling her down beside him. "Say you love me still. I will be content with nothing less."
Her heart leapt at his words. Every part of her longed to do as he asked, but one thing made her hold back. "What about your wife?"
Color tinged his cheeks. "I'm afraid Sophia is no longer with me. She divorced me for abandonment, which means I cannot marry anyone again. But I swear I will be forever faithful to you, so long as I live. And the people of Tolan will love you as their lady. Is that enough for you?"
Isolde closed her eyes. The harp's strings sang as she set it aside and allowed Albion to embrace her. *Yes,* she answered as his lips covered hers and she lost herself in a kiss that contained a lifetime's passion. *Yes. Yes, it is.*
Though he went against everything the Church stood for, Father Thomas blessed the pair in a private moment before the altar. Connal apologized for his greeting, though Albion wondered if the man meant a word of it.
Mellisande presented Isolde with a nightrail for her first night with Albion. The sheer fabric concealed just enough to arouse Albion's desire to a fevered pitch when he joined her. The night was one of spectacular clarity, one Isolde would never forget so long as she lived.