Rendezvous With Yesterday(6)By: Dianne Duvall
Of course, Robert had come to harm.
Harm Lord Edmund had been unable to guard him against and one his father could not have anticipated. At the age of ten and eight, Robert had fallen deeply in love with Eleanor, a tiny bit of a girl with light brown hair and amber eyes so pale they were nigh golden. How he had adored her and the son she had borne him.
Then all had been taken from him.
Pain, like the ache of an old war wound, filtered through him as he remembered her brother finding him on the practice field that day. And, once more, he found himself wondering why the worst memories always seemed to be the most vivid and easily recalled.
There had been no recent rains. The river had not raged. There had been no reason at all for the bank to give way beneath her feet as Eleanor had walked alongside her brother with baby Gabriel snug in her arms. But give way it had.
Though her brother had lived, Eleanor and Gabe had both drowned. His son’s precious little body had never been found. Robert had searched for days—in the water, along the banks, in the surrounding forest—beset by fears that animals might find Gabe first. Then Lord Edmund had forced him back to the castle and poured wine and ale down his throat until darkness had stolen the pain.
When Robert had awoken, it was to find a messenger from Westcott leaning over him, bringing news of his father’s death.
It had been a dark time in Robert’s life.
It had been a dark time in his brother Dillon’s life as well. As soon as the news had reached him, Dillon had returned from the Holy Land. But it had been a different Dillon, greatly changed by whatever horrors he had witnessed in Outremer. Quiet. Grim. Haunted by Robert knew not what.
Until Alyssa had taught Dillon how to laugh again.
Robert’s spirit lightened once more.
“And what has inspired that smile?” Michael asked.
He shook his head. “I was thinking of the many unexpected twists and turns the path of life takes.”
“Any turn in particular?” he asked curiously.
Michael nodded. He and the two men who rode behind them were amongst the few who did not fear Robert’s sister-in-law.
Poor Dillon. People had been wary of him and feared him for his ferocity on the battlefield long before he had married Alyssa. But, now that he had chosen for his wife a woman reputed to be a sorceress, England’s populace was utterly terrified of him.
Of them both, actually.
“By marrying your brother,” Michael commented, “and swiftly producing a son, Lady Alyssa has denied you the title of Earl of Westcott.”
Robert nodded. Dillon had been grooming him for the title since their father’s death. “And yet, had she not married my brother, I would not love her like a sister and would not have taken such offense when Lord Hurley heaped insults upon her head. So I would not have begged the king’s leave to settle our dispute on the field of combat.”
“Weasely little bastard,” Sir Stephen spat. “’Tis no wonder he always hid behind those hulking guards of his, letting others fight his battles instead of facing one like a man. He had no talent with a sword.”
Sir Adam grunted his agreement.
It had taken Robert mere minutes to defeat Hurley. But, after conceding the battle, the blackguard had attacked Robert’s back as he had turned to leave the field. Had Michael not bellowed a warning, Robert would have been felled. Instead, he had deflected the blow meant to sever his head, then had driven his sword through Hurley’s heart.
“And now you and your brother are both earls,” Michael said with a grin.
“Aye, we are.”
Since Lord Hurley had had no living heirs, King John had bestowed the former Earl of Fosterly’s title upon Robert, granting him the lands and remaining wealth that accompanied it as well.
Robert did not delude himself regarding the reasons for this, however. King John had engendered many enemies and wished to curry the favor and acquire the loyalty of Robert and, through him, his brother Dillon, who commanded the largest garrison in the kingdom. Countless noblemen sent their sons to foster at Westcott, where both brothers were renowned for training the country’s finest knights. King John was no imbecile. He knew that, should Robert and Dillon decide to join his adversaries, they could swiftly raise a formidable army against him.