The earl burst into Evadna’s tent at the Follows, waking her from a disturbing dream. His face was white, a fearful expression she’d never seen before evident in his eyes. He held a crumpled letter in his fist.
“Get your things. Get dressed. We’re leaving now.”
Evadna did not question him, immediately rolling off her sleeping mat. Satisfied, he went out, giving her privacy.
Fully dressed, her things gathered in a rucksack, she found him waiting outside her tent.
At a brisk pace, he marched her through the camp to where the horses were gathered. The earl’s men were already there, ready to leave. A couple of the Follows leaders were also there, looking grave.
“I thank you for your hospitality this past week and regret to be taking leave of you in such a state,” the earl said to the Follows leaders.
“We understand your need for haste. Do not stand upon ceremony with us. We wish only to see you on your way,” the shorter of the two Follows leaders said, bowing his head in respect.
“I am grateful,” the earl replied. “Come Evadna, mount up.”
Evadna mounted, as did the earl. With a farewell gesture, the earl dug his heels into his horse’s sides and lead their party away. Evadna was hard put to feel any enthusiasm for returning home in the face of her anxiety over what would cause such fear in the earl’s heart. She tried to ask one of the earl’s men as his horse ran beside hers, but he shook his head at her. She’d have to content herself to wait until she could question the earl about the matter.
When they finally halted to rest the horses and get some food and water, Evadna asked the earl what was wrong.
“We’ve been attacked,” he said heavily, handing her the crumpled letter he’d stashed into his breast pocket.
He seemed unable to say more, so she opened the letter, immediately recognizing Lord Albin’s hand.
Father. It’s mother. Come home now. She’s been hurt. I’m sorry I didn’t protect her. – your Son.
For a moment, Evadna couldn’t find her voice. “H-how…? Attacked? It doesn’t say…”
“The king has made veiled threats. He has decided to act upon them.”
Evadna thought the letter too vague to come to such a conclusion, but decided not to argue. She opened her mouth to ask another question, but the earl spoke first.
“I’ve sheltered the both of you for far too long. And look what’s come of it,” he said darkly, snatching the letter back and returning to the horses.
It was a long journey home, despite their great haste. The anxiety and tension of not knowing what they’d find upon their return made each passing day unbearably slow. When they finally did arrive, Lord Albin met them at the gate.
He rode towards them shouting, “She’s alive, Father. She’ll be okay.”
The relief was visible on the earl. He collided with his son in a rough, long hug. “She’s going to be okay,” Lord Albin kept repeating softly. Then, pulling apart, Lord Albin led his father to her.
Torn between wanting to follow and wanting to give them their privacy, Evadna chose to join them later, following the earl’s men to the stables. It was there that she heard from one of the stable boys some of what had happened in their absence. She learned that Lord Albin and Jaxon had left the manor for a period of time. While they had been gone, someone had attacked the earl’s wife, Lady Elsinor. She was discovered in the morning by her maids. They entered her room to light the fire and found her tied and gagged on the bed, bloody and unconscious. They’d searched the entire place, but the attacker was nowhere to be found. Lord Albin and Jaxon returned the next day and took charge of the manor’s affairs, while trying to keep Lady Elsinor alive.
“Evadna, why are you still here?” It was Jaxon. “Lord Albin is asking for you. Sent me to find you.”
At the sound of his voice, she turned to him. Jaxon took one look at her face and strode over to envelop her in a strong embrace. She clung to him, not even sure what it was she was feeling so strongly.
“She’s okay. She’ll be okay,” he said, stroking her hair.
“That’s what Alby said,” she countered, her voice shaky.
“It’s what matters.”
Nodding, she stepped away. “Lead me to them.”
After an assessing search of her face, Jaxon did as she asked, taking her to Lady Elsinor. They’d moved here to another bedroom on a different floor. Evadna found the earl and his son sitting by the bed. Lady Elsinor was sitting up, the pillows bunched up to support her. All three of them turned to look as Evadna and Jaxon entered the room.
Lady Elsinor smiled and Evadna tried to contain her shock. There was a patch over one of Lady Elsinor’s eyes and her face was a maze of stitches and bruises.
“Don’t smile on my account,” Evadna said, doing her best to keep a blank face. “That has to be painful.”
Lady Elsinor winced. “You’re not wrong. It’s good to see you are home safe.”
“Thank you,” Evadna replied. “I am glad to see you too.”
There was a strained silence then. Finally, Evadna said, “What happened?”
The earl and his son both shook their heads at her, their bodies going tense. Lady Elsinor took a deep breath, then, ignoring the men, said, “I might as well go over it in detail now, with my dearest loved ones around me. The doctor says it can be cathartic.”
“You don’t have to tell us anything right now, dear,” the earl assured her, squeezing her hand. “It can wait.”
“I want to,” she said in a steely tone. “I’ve waited long enough to tell the whole.”
She went on to describe exactly what had happened to her in awful detail. It was hard on all of them, both for her to relive it and for them to hear what she had gone through, with them powerless to help. The earl interrupted a couple times in anger and grief. Lord Albin remained frozen in place, his eyes glued to the bedsheets, his hands in fists. Evadna held tight to the bedpost, crying silently with Lady Elsinor.
“I thought I was going to die in that bed, all alone.”
The earl gathered Lady Elsinor to his chest, slowly and gently. “I’m so sorry,” he cried quietly. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here.”
“I’m not,” she said into his shoulder, resolutely. “I mean I am sorry I was alone, but I am not sorry to know that the only reason you weren’t with me was because you were fighting to dethrone the man who ordered this. A man like that needs to be stopped.”
Lord Albin exchanged a look with Evadna, one she could not read. She put a hand to his shoulder, needing to offer what small comfort she could. He laid a hand on top of hers in response and addressed his parents.
“I have decided that I will take up your cause, Father. I agree that the king should not be on the throne.”
Surprised, Evadna squeezed his shoulder. He squeezed back.
“Are you certain?” the earl asked.
“Very well,” he said. “We’ll talk more on this later. For now, I must ask you and Evadna to leave us. I want some time alone with my wife.”
Quietly, Evadna and Lord Albin left the room. In the hallway, they turned to face each other. At a loss for words, Evadna opened her arms to him and he stepped into her embrace.
“I missed you,” was all he said.
“I missed you too.”
Stepping away, he tried to smile. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
“See you at dinner,” she corroborated, and watched him as he turned down the hallway and around the corner out of view.