The Flamebearer Chapter Thirty-Eight

A CLAMOR AROSE OUTSIDE the door and Evaine pushed her way inside, angry and disheveled, fighting off her mailed escort. “She demanded to see you, my lord,” the guard announced breathlessly. “She refused to take no for an answer.”

Lionel acquiesced, lazily rising from his chair. “It’s all right,” he indicated with a wave of his hand. “I’ll receive the lady. Release her.”

Evaine’s jaw dropped upon seeing Ciaran lying in bed, bolstered by a mound of sumptuous pillows and wrapped in a velvet quilt. Her eyes flew to Lionel and then back to Ciaran, her face reddening with confusion and disbelief.

“What on earth?” she exclaimed.

“Evaine, it’s not what it looks like,” Ciaran interjected quickly, grimacing with pain as he struggled to sit.

Lionel motioned her into the room and offered her a seat, but she declined. She bobbed him a greeting and remained standing, discreetly appraising the lavishly furnished bedchamber. “Well, it looks highly improper,” she declared, “if not indecent.”

“I’m afraid you’ve gotten the wrong impression,” Lionel rationalized, attempting to clarify the situation. “A pair of over-zealous guards took it upon themselves to inflict unjustifiably harsh discipline on our young friend. To ensure he suffered no protracted abuse, I had him delivered over to me, so he could be properly looked after.”

“I see,” Evaine replied with a measure of irony, casting an incredulous glance toward Ciaran. Clearly she did not find Lionel’s explanation plausible, but discretion prevented her from pressing any further. Red-faced with embarrassment, Ciaran shrugged and wagged his head, hoping to impart to her his innocence in the matter. At the moment he wanted nothing more than to disappear beneath the bedclothes.

Apparently your concern does not extend to our companions,” Evaine surmised. “When last I saw them, they were still in shackles, battered and bleeding and sorely in need of care. My lord, they did nothing to justify the cruelty inflicted upon them by your jailors. I beg you, sir, show them some mercy.”

“I’ll see that they be given fair treatment,” Lionel assured her with a commanding air. Unhurriedly donning his cloak, he gave Ciaran a covert look that suggested, “I know I’m leaving you two alone together. Say what you have to say, but take advantage of my charity and you’ll regret it.” And with that, he swept back his flowing golden hair and strode from the room.

Evaine went at once to Ciaran’s bedside. She spoke in hushed, hurried tones. “Ciaran ap Morgan, for the love of Heaven, what is going on here? Since when did you and Lionel de Barre become such intimate acquaintances?”

“Evaine, please believe me, none of this was my doing. I passed out again after those thugs kicked me – look, I think they broke a couple of ribs – and when I regained my senses, I found myself here, with de Barre loitering about making unsavory advances toward me. Christ! I consider the entire episode vastly unnerving, to say the least.”

Evaine sat on the edge of the bed trying to imagine the implications, when suddenly, struck by Ciaran’s mortified expression, she erupted in a fit of giggles.

“Oh, you think it’s funny, do you?” Ciaran’s eyes conveyed a flash of indignation.

She clamped a hand over her mouth. “Saints, no!” she avowed, adopting a sober bearing. “It’s not at all funny; forgive me, my heart, I’m being irrational. The past couple of days have rattled my wits.”

Ciaran’s lips twitched. They looked at each other and the instant their eyes met, they both stifled a spontaneous burst of laughter.

Ciaran took her hands. “With all seriousness, Evaine, listen to me. I think I’ve convinced him to let you go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“To the convent, of course. When I’m free, I’ll come for you.”

Evaine frowned. “I’m not going anywhere without you.”

“Look,” Ciaran insisted, “as long as he still wants something from me, he’s not likely to do me harm. Once I know you’re safe, I’ll be at liberty to come to terms with him without worry.”

Evaine bowed her head, gauging whether to divulge her secret.

“What is it, Love?”

His question prompted her to look at him. “My courses are late,” she divulged, a little shyly.

For a heartbeat or two, Ciaran’s mind went blank. Too many thoughts jostled for distinction in his recently jumbled brain. Comprehension slowly dawning, his eyes widened. He blinked furiously, trying to clear his head.

“Are you – ?”

“I think so. I’m not sure yet,” she said with a little smile. “But if you think about it, you’ll have to admit it’s entirely possible.”

A surge of emotion leapt into his heart, taking the breath from him. “Evaine, sweet God!” He pulled her into his arms, smothering her with joyful tears and kisses. “Do you see?” he said, his voice breaking. “Lady Fortune smiles upon us! This news bears out the righteousness of our love.”

Chapter Thirty-Nine