Lord of Loyalty – Elizabeth Keysian

ISOBEL MARSTON ROCKED back and forth in agitation, desperate for release from her captivity. Not only was she stuck in this small, stifling room, she was also imprisoned by her mind, forever struggling to remember anything. Each time a memory was in her grasp, it drifted away like thistledown on the wind, and ofttimes, she forgot her own name. Today was one of the days when she barely felt complete. Her remedy for this was ever the same —to look in her polished steel mirror. She could always find herself in that—gazing into the troubled green eyes that stared back at her from a pale, anxious face. Alas, the mirror gave her no sense of being, but at least it confirmed her existence. Which was better than nothing. She comforted herself with the words of her cousin, Hubert Pike. “You’ve been ill, Isobel. We’re here to care for you while Edward’s fighting abroad. None can harm you while we’re here to keep you safe.” Her flawed mind managed to picture Hubert—the hard intelligence in his eyes, the ostentatious high ruff around his neck, and his silken clothing. She remembered the face of his pot-bellied manservant, Flinders, too, and the slovenly housekeeper, Goodwife Avice Quill, who administered her bitter-tasting medicine. It wasn’t every day she could remember them all, for their faces often blurred, and became meaningless.

The mirror trembled in her hand. “I’m not sure they grant me the loving kindness a caring relation should,” she told her reflection. “Take your medicine like a good girl and don’t complain. Your brain sickness will soon pass if you do as you’re told.” She imitated Avice’s insidious whine. One day, when she felt strong enough, she’d dash that foul-tasting stuff in the woman’s face. Nay, she must not. A well-brought-up gentlewoman would never behave thus. Next, as an exercise for her faulty memory, Isobel concentrated on Flinders. A thickset man who was a stranger to washing, and whose breath smelled like rotten meat, he was her “special protector”.

But she was revolted by him and had repeatedly told Hubert she couldn’t stand having him near her. Her cousin always gave the same response—it was a symptom of her illness that she should develop delusions about people. She shouldn’t trust her feelings. Her head snapped up, and she dropped the mirror on the bed. She could hear an uneven step on the cobbles below—someone was coming. She hurried to peer through the diamond-shaped panes, hoping for a visitor from beyond the walls, but expecting to see only a servant. It wouldn’t be one she recognized, however—they all seemed to be different from those her father had kept when her parents were alive. Mayhap Edward had employed some new ones to manage Marston House in his absence. How long had her brother been gone, now? It seemed months since he’d last dwelled here. The house had changed in his absence—there were fewer items of quality furniture, not so many decorated jugs and inlaid boxes as there ought to be.

Or so she imagined—this brain sickness of hers had attacked her memory and twisted everything, like yarn on a spindle. Why was she looking out the window? Was it for something important, or was it just to see if it back and forth in agitation, desperate for release from her captivity. Not only was she stuck in this small, stifling room, she was also imprisoned by her mind, forever struggling to remember anything. Each time a memory was in her grasp, it drifted away like thistledown on the Today was one of the days when she barely felt complete. Her remedy for this was ever the same —to look in her polished steel mirror. She could always find herself in that—gazing into the troubled green eyes that stared back at her from a pale, anxious face. Alas, the mirror gave her no sense of She comforted herself with the words of her cousin, Hubert Pike. “You’ve been ill, Isobel. We’re here to care for you while Edward’s fighting abroad. None can harm you while we’re here to keep Her flawed mind managed to picture Hubert—the hard intelligence in his eyes, the ostentatious high ruff around his neck, and his silken clothing.

She remembered the face of his pot-bellied manservant, Flinders, too, and the slovenly housekeeper, Goodwife Avice Quill, who administered her bitter-tasting medicine. It wasn’t every day she could remember them all, for their faces often The mirror trembled in her hand. “I’m not sure they grant me the loving kindness a caring relation should,” she told her reflection. “Take your medicine like a good girl and don’t complain. Your brain sickness will soon pass if you do as you’re told.” She imitated Avice’s insidious whine. One day, when she felt strong enough, she’d dash that foul-tasting stuff in the woman’s face. Nay, she must not. Next, as an exercise for her faulty memory, Isobel concentrated on Flinders. A thickset man who was a stranger to washing, and whose breath smelled like rotten meat, he was her “special protector”.

But she was revolted by him and had repeatedly told Hubert she couldn’t stand having him near her. Her cousin always gave the same response—it was a symptom of her illness that she should develop Her head snapped up, and she dropped the mirror on the bed. She could hear an uneven step on the cobbles below—someone was coming. She hurried to peer through the diamond-shaped panes, hoping for a visitor from beyond the walls, but expecting to see only a servant. It wouldn’t be one she recognized, however—they all seemed to be different from those her father had kept when her parents How long had her brother been gone, now? It seemed months since he’d last dwelled here. The house had changed in his absence—there were fewer items of quality furniture, not so many decorated —this brain sickness of hers had Why was she looking out the window? Was it for something important, or was it just to see if it was fine enough to go outside and do some gardening? That was a task Hubert was happy for her to do, working in the walled garden—that, or reading quietly in the tiny chamber which had become her world. Not that she had any books other than her Greek mythology. She’d read it over and over, until the characters came to life in her head, steering her thoughts as the gods had steered Mankind in those ancient days. There was a bubble of excitement in her chest—why? Ah, yes, she’d heard someone at the front of the house. But if it were a visitor, they wouldn’t be here for her.

Hubert had explained he couldn’t allow anybody to disturb her in her fragile state of mind. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t look, did it? Cautiously, she tried her door. Not locked! And the chair in the passageway, where Flinders usually sat, was empty. With a brief flash of insight, she realized he must be with the kitchen wench who’d taken his fancy. Nobody knew she noticed such things, but on a good day, she noticed a lot. Tiptoeing to the gallery above the main entrance into the house, she bent and peered down. A servant, his broad figure obstructing the doorway, was in a heated discussion with the visitor. The argument lasted but a moment—the new arrival thrust the servant aside and marched in, limping a little. Isobel gasped. She’d never seen anyone shoulder their way in before.

While the stranger stood and looked around him, the harried-looking servant raced to the parlor door and announced the visitor to those within. Sir William Cavendish. That was a grand-sounding title—was Hubert in trouble with the authorities? Isobel snorted. She wouldn’t mind if he were. Cavendish removed his high-crowned hat and placed it on the carved chest in the entranceway, then—after a moment’s hesitation—unbuckled his sword. She stared down at him, anticipation stealing her breath. Cavendish was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a short cloak worn on one shoulder, and tightly-fitting doublet. His upper hose were paned and padded, and his stockings clung to well-muscled calves. Not as finely dressed as she might expect a knight of the realm to be, but perhaps he’d been traveling. Or mayhap she’d forgotten what a peer should look like.

Tawny gold hair framed the kind of face a classical sculptor would have adored, and there was an air of virile decisiveness in Cavendish’s movements. It made her breath catch. “What a beautiful man—it must be Apollo. No, foolish girl—the gods don’t come to earth any more. It could be a demi-god—Orpheus perhaps. But then, where’s his lyre?” He was out of view now, but by leaning her head as close to the handrail as possible, she could overhear every word spoken down below. “Sir, permit me to introduce myself. I’m Sir William Cavendish, a friend of Edward Marston’s. We fought together overseas.” “Hubert Pike, at your service.

Any friend of Edward’s is a friend of mine. Have you journeyed long this day?” The stiffness in Hubert’s tone belied his words of welcome. “I disembarked yesterday, at cockcrow, and rode directly here.” “What reason had you for such haste?” Hubert’s voice held disapproval. Isobel pressed her forehead against the carved wooden banister and tried to recall where she’d heard the name “Edward Marston” before. “I considered my news urgent. I would have arrived ere now but, alas, I had a wound that festered, then bad weather held back my sea crossing.” She liked the sound of the man’s voice. It had a resonance to it that was strong, commanding. But was fine enough to go outside and do some gardening? That was a task Hubert was happy for her to do, working in the walled garden—that, or reading quietly in the tiny chamber which had become her world.

Not that she had any books other than her Greek mythology. She’d read it over and over, until the characters came to life in her head, steering her thoughts as the gods had steered Mankind in those There was a bubble of excitement in her chest—why? Ah, yes, she’d heard someone at the front of . Hubert had explained he couldn’t Cautiously, she tried her door. Not locked! And the chair in the passageway, where Flinders usually sat, was empty. With a brief flash of insight, she realized he must be with the kitchen wench A servant, his broad figure obstructing the doorway, was in a heated discussion with the visitor. The argument lasted but a moment—the new arrival thrust the servant aside and marched in, limping a While the stranger stood and looked around him, the harried-looking servant raced to the parlor That was a grand-sounding Cavendish removed his high-crowned hat and placed it on the carved chest in the entranceway, She stared down at him, anticipation stealing her breath. Cavendish was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a short cloak worn on one shoulder, and tightly-fitting doublet. His upper hose were paned and padded, and his stockings clung to well-muscled calves. Not as finely dressed as she might expect a knight of the realm to be, but perhaps he’d been traveling. Or mayhap she’d forgotten what a Tawny gold hair framed the kind of face a classical sculptor would have adored, and there was an “What a beautiful man—it must be Apollo.

No, foolish girl—the gods don’t come to earth any He was out of view now, but by leaning her head as close to the handrail as possible, she could “Sir, permit me to introduce myself. I’m Sir William Cavendish, a friend of Edward Marston’s. “Hubert Pike, at your service. Any friend of Edward’s is a friend of mine. Have you journeyed “What reason had you for such haste?” Hubert’s voice held disapproval. Isobel pressed her forehead against the carved wooden banister and tried to recall where she’d heard the name “Edward “I considered my news urgent. I would have arrived ere now but, alas, I had a wound that She liked the sound of the man’s voice. It had a resonance to it that was strong, commanding. But then, if he was Orpheus, his songs could calm the hearts of savage beasts, so he was bound to have a good voice. “Sir, I bring ill tidings, I fear.

” “Bad news? Not about poor Edward, I hope.” That name again. Why was her mind so muddled when she tried to remember anything? She knew Edward, surely? “I regret to inform you of his death. I hope it will soften the blow of his loss to hear that he died nobly and bravely. I was with him to the very end, so I can vouch for everything. His family may be justly proud.” “Oh, dear! Excuse me. I think, mayhap, a drop of sack to calm my nerves. Sir?” Hubert sounded horrified. Isobel heard the clink of glass from below.

“Oh, my poor darling Isobel. This could be the end of her.” She froze at the sound of her name. Hubert rarely sounded so concerned about her. Cavendish asked, “The end of her?” There was a hard edge to his voice. Perchance he cared no more for Hubert than she did herself. Nay, she should not be so ungrateful. Her cousin was trying to make her better, and he kept away ignorant physicians who didn’t understand such maladies as brain fever. “Edward and Isobel were very close, you understand. She is greatly changed since he went away, care-worn and worried.

With good reason, it appears.” “You weren’t close to him yourself, sir?” “Alas, no. Our sires quarreled you see—one of those ridiculous feuds that can take hold in even the best of families. I have endeavored to make amends since their demise, of course. How fortunate that we did, or the girl would have had no one to care for her in her darkest hour. Are you certain Edward is dead? Where did it happen?” There was a pause before Cavendish answered. “I watched him die—I cannot tell you where. I’ve barely slept the night through since.” “Cannot, or will not tell me? Edward never did say where he went to make his name as a soldier.” “My lips are sealed.

You must appreciate that youngbloods seeking favor at court are wont to get themselves into mischief—I would not harm his memory by revealing his secrets. But if you don’t trust my veracity, I have here the seal ring he gave into my keeping. And a signed note—it’s in my baggage, and can be fetched if required.” Had Orpheus been fighting? Perhaps in Greece, or at Troy? Isobel shook her head—this was very confusing. “Where is Isobel? I was charged to give her my news in person.” She sat bolt upright. Was she going to be allowed into the parlor? That was where her harpsichord was—how she’d missed being allowed to play it! “As I said—she has not been herself since Edward went away. I fear for her sanity. It is neither meet nor proper that she should come down and receive these tidings in her present state. I shall tell her when I deem ’tis right.

” No! Hubert was going to deny her. Tears pooled in her eyes. “You’re welcome to stay the night and recover from your journey. You’ll soon see we have nothing to hide.” then, if he was Orpheus, his songs could calm the hearts of savage beasts, so he was bound to have a “Bad news? Not about poor Edward, I hope.” That name again. Why was her mind so muddled “I regret to inform you of his death. I hope it will soften the blow of his loss to hear that he died nobly and bravely. I was with him to the very end, so I can vouch for everything. His family may be “Oh, dear! Excuse me.

I think, mayhap, a drop of sack to calm my nerves. Sir?” Hubert sounded Isobel heard the clink of glass from below. “Oh, my poor darling Isobel. This could be the end of There was a hard edge to his voice. Perchance he cared no more for Hubert than she did herself. Nay, she should not be so ungrateful. Her cousin was trying to make her better, and he kept away “Edward and Isobel were very close, you understand. She is greatly changed since he went away, “Alas, no. Our sires quarreled you see—one of those ridiculous feuds that can take hold in even the best of families. I have endeavored to make amends since their demise, of course.

How fortunate that we did, or the girl would have had no one to care for her in her darkest hour. Are you certain There was a pause before Cavendish answered. “I watched him die—I cannot tell you where. say where he went to make his name as a “My lips are sealed. You must appreciate that youngbloods seeking favor at court are wont to get themselves into mischief—I would not harm his memory by revealing his secrets. But if you don’t trust my veracity, I have here the seal ring he gave into my keeping. And a signed note—it’s in my Had Orpheus been fighting? Perhaps in Greece, or at Troy? Isobel shook her head—this was very She sat bolt upright. Was she going to be allowed into the parlor? That was where her “As I said—she has not been herself since Edward went away. I fear for her sanity. It is neither meet nor proper that she should come down and receive these tidings in her present state.

I shall tell “You’re welcome to stay the night and recover from your journey. You’ll soon see we have She dashed the tears away. Orpheus was staying the night? There was hope yet she might meet him face-to-face. “Most hospitable of you, sir, but I must see Mistress Marston. ’Twas a deathbed promise I made to her brother, and thus cannot be broken.” Hubert made no answer—he hadn’t expected the stranger to be so persistent, had he? Isobel clenched her fists—it was as much as she could do not to fly down the stairs and tell the stranger how desperate she was for company. “Mayhap I’ve not made myself clear enough,” Hubert said. “The young lady is barely in her right mind. Her wits have been addled for some time now, and the information you bring could unhinge her completely. I’m sure Edward would not have wished you to take such a risk, had he known.

” She heard a chair scrape back as someone got to their feet. “Perchance I’ve not made myself clear. I wish to see Isobel Marston in the flesh, forthwith.” “Very well. On your head be it if she falls into a rage or a swoon, and all the goodness we’ve lavished on her these last few weeks is wasted.” Hubert was clearly irritated. “Be warned—you’ll not care for what you see. But be assured we know her mind well enough and will tell you if she’s likely to strike you.” Yes! Hubert had given in. Isobel scuttled back to her room, closed the door and sat on the bed, heart pounding.

Soon, the heavy tread of Flinders’ feet could be heard on the stairs—he’d be angered at being torn away from his kitchen wench. Hopefully, he’d not revenge himself on her. Moments later, Isobel was ushered into the parlor, Flinders’ thick fingers gripped tightly around her elbow. She dashed the tears away. Orpheus was staying the night? There was hope yet she might meet him face-to-face. “Most hospitable of you, sir, but I must see Mistress Marston. ’Twas a deathbed promise I made to her brother, and thus cannot be broken.” Hubert made no answer—he hadn’t expected the stranger to be so persistent, had he? Isobel clenched her fists—it was as much as she could do not to fly down the stairs and tell the stranger how desperate she was for company. “Mayhap I’ve not made myself clear enough,” Hubert said. “The young lady is barely in her right mind.

Her wits have been addled for some time now, and the information you bring could unhinge her completely. I’m sure Edward would not have wished you to take such a risk, had he known.” She heard a chair scrape back as someone got to their feet. “Perchance I’ve not made myself clear. I wish to see Isobel Marston in the flesh, forthwith.” “Very well. On your head be it if she falls into a rage or a swoon, and all the goodness we’ve lavished on her these last few weeks is wasted.” Hubert was clearly irritated. “Be warned—you’ll not care for what you see. But be assured we know her mind well enough and will tell you if she’s likely to strike you.

” Yes! Hubert had given in. Isobel scuttled back to her room, closed the door and sat on the bed, heart pounding. Soon, the heavy tread of Flinders’ feet could be heard on the stairs—he’d be angered at being torn away from his kitchen wench. Hopefully, he’d not revenge himself on her. Moments later, Isobel was ushered into the parlor, Flinders’ thick fingers gripped tightly around her elbow.

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