She is not asleep, either, though she closes her eyes whenever I open mind, a brave charade. She is awake, watching me, scarcely believing yet that she is not on her way to Crecy, to death at the hands of brutes unworthy to kiss her feet, and that she leaves me bound in the chapel that Heron..well!
There are footsteps, light, hesitant, and our cabin admits a third party with a creak.
His voice, careful, unsure, and I feel her move beside me, startled--someone has entered? Someone has interrupted our sacred, renewed dream?
She rises, the bed losing her weight, her voice low.
Solicitude fills his tones, gentle, anxious--he is her brother, still, and can not yet realize himself that she is no longer commended to his care.
"There is a little food ready, darling. He needs his rest more than a meal, but I thought perhaps you.."
"I am not hungry.."
Urgency, now--he is truly worried. Has she grown weak, these past three weeks? Has she cared for herself as she should, consumed with worry for a helpless man?
"Please, little mother. Just a little..?"
"A little? He would not even awaken, before you returned..please, Marguerite. You'll not want to take ill.."
Yes, go, eat..my angel, you are still of this earth; remain so a while longer, for my sake, you who were and are my lifeline?
A kiss upon my forehead, soft and cool, and then retreating footsteps. I am left with only the scent of her, the memory of her fast-fading warmth, as I had been left two weeks past...but now I know, as I did not then, that she shall return, that I will hold her, kiss her again..and yet, I still chafe at even this short separation.
I rise, pushing back the light covers--the ship sways beneath me with more than the rock of waves, reminding me the exertions of a few hours previous, however necessary, were not entirely wise; but after a few moments, the cabin solidifies around me, and walking is again an attainable goal.
Onto the deck, to the soft moonlight that covers it like a mantle, cool and fleeting. This part of the ship is empty, my wife and her brother in the galley and the sailors resting or at work in the front..I am alone with my thoughts, the memories of theses past few weeks and the plans of what is to come. Andrew, first...I will find him tomorrow, then home..home for a little while, a few days, I can give her no more..so much time has been wasted..!
I sigh, leaning against the railing, unable to resume the restless pace that will clear my fogged brain, help me think, help me plan..my wits seem to have deserted me, returning me to her arms and then vanishing for a much-needed rest.
I can walk again, now, though not quickly, and with careful steps I head I know not where, losing myself in a brief dream. A fancy..to never walk these floorboards again save with HER at my side, carefree on some merry jaunt, hers and only hers..my eyes are closed, my stride aimless, and I but trust to the sides of the ship to restrain me from finding myself amid the ocean .
And so it is that when I open my eyes I find myself at the door of the galley, drawn into her presence without knowing. They do not see me..Armand and Margot sit with their backs to the door, and Lowell, one of the men who doubles as a cook, makes no sign when his eyes meet my own.
And so I can stand here, watching her, the gleam of the firelight on her soft curls with their own sweet perfume, the play of light and shadow across the hollows of her shoulders leaving me breathless.
But then, almost unwillingly, my eyes are drawn to him beside her..he with her thick, curling hair, although a different color, he with her slender build and casual, consummate grace..there are even similarites in their handwriting, attributes that could be traced both to the tiny notes that sometimes reach me from her in reply to mine and to the plea for help that had brought such anguish to all involved.
Most of all, to her.
I am nothing--it is likely I would have been captured, some day, somehow, and with Ffoulkes and the others have extricated myself..and if not...ah, but I would have been able to. Those devils shall not get me or my boys, not so long as there is work to be done.. What am I? A man, no better than most, worse than many, whom God has blessed with money, opportunity, brave and loyal friends, and luck enough to do something for a few poor souls. But she is an angel, loving one ever unworthy of her solicitude, and it is she who has suffered the most this past fortnight-and-a-half. Can I forgive him that? Can she? Should I not have told her what happened, how deeply stained the hand she led upon its baby steps truly was?
She choose between us, once, long ago. Upon the sands of Calais I heard her, listening to her wracked with anxiety, whistling from my disguise to distract the devil from my wife..she screamed. Chauvelin's threat hung over her, that if she shouted, struggled, tried in any way to warn the husband she believed unaware of his danger, the brother she worshipped would be shot before her eyes..and yet she screamed, past the tears choking her, screamed for me to flee and leave her, leave them all to Chauvelin's worst.
How hard it had been, then, not to go to her! To protect her from those loathsome fiends, to show her I loved her and would have given my life for the chance to stay with her always, free, unbound by this bloodshed...
You chose, my darling, my treasure. You made a decision between the two you loved best upon all the earth, two plain, unworthy men, men equal in virtue or vice, and I shall never force the agony of such a choice upon you again.
Let her have her time with Armand...I turn and trace my way back to the cabin, to wait for my love.