Second Chances: Part 4: "Friends and Enemies"
Written by Trish
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction based on the characters and placed from the 1992 television series Covington Cross. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit has been made.
Sir Thomas Gray paced in his study like a caged tiger, the events of the day playing over and over in his mind. He silently cursed himself. He had allowed that...that...bandit, to simply pick Elizabeth up and ride away with her. He should have done somthing, he had seen the fear in her eyes, and he had done nothing. Leland seemed well accquainted now with the ways of the lawless, and there was no telling what was happening now at Lady Elizabeth's castle. Thomas forced the unpleasant image to the back of his mind, but allowed it to fester there spurring his anger. It had been his deeply ingrained sense of honor that had prevented him from interferring with a man and his wife still bound by marriage, even if the wife was the woman he loved, the woman he had hoped to make his wife. How very differently he had wanted this afternoon to unfold. Sir Thomas had hoped for reason for celebration tonight. Instead he had found grief, worry, and guilt. He slammed his fists down hard on the large old table which stood in front of the fireplace, yelled a curse to the air, and strode over to stand by the window which openned in the direction of Lady Elizabeth's castle.
At that moment Thomas's oldest son Armus entered the room, announcing his arrival with the clearing of his throat. He came over to stand beside his father. Armus saw the lines drawn tightly across the elder Gray's forehead, his furrowed brow, and the bulging at his jaw line which signaled grinding teeth, a nervous habit of Sir Thomas's. He suddenly need to say something reassuring, although he was just as worried as his father.
"I'm certain he won't hurt her, father." Armus ventured.
Thomas's eyes relaxed a bit. He knew that his son was trying to make him feel better. He clasped Armus's shoulder, and looked him in the eye with gratitude for the gesture. He was not however reassured.
"Armus." He said surprisingly calm, as if resigned to a terrible fate. "The man has been an outlaw for fifteen years. His idea of hurt, and her's could be two very different things."
Armus looked down into the courtyard, unable to meet his father's gaze. He too was trying to wrestle an unpleasant image from his mind. That of his father standing helpless by the side of the road, losing a treasure that was rightfully his.
"I just stood there, Armus." Thomas confided his voice pained.
"There was nothing you could have done." The young man tried to give his father some defense.
"I should have stopped him. I should have drawn my sword at least. I should have... I SHOULD HAVE!" Thomas clinched his fist and yelled to the sky.
"We were all surrounded. Lady Elizabeth would not have wanted you lose your life." Armus had not meant to speak of her in the past tense.
"And yet, it is she who pays the price for my inaction." Thomas berated himself.
"She was so frightened,"Thomas continued. "and I just stood there and let him take her away."
"He is her legal, husband." Armus tried to be the voice of reason. "No matter how much we may hate it, you had no recourse."
"Husband." Thomas spat out the word in disgust. "Husband who left her, and her children, to trapse around Ireland, and betray the king it appears." Thomas remembered the rumors he had heard during the battle in the north. Someone had been selling military to the Scots, he feared he now knew who it was. He would sooner be hanged himself than see his Elizabeth forced to renew a life with that traitor.
Sir Thomas at times became to mired in self defeat for Armus's liking and he could stand this side of his father no longer. His father's sense of honor often got in the way of his heart, and his good judgement. The young man gave his father a challenge.
"Then go get her." He said. "She'll be safe here, you know we will all protect her."
Thomas looked at Armus a light beckoning behind his eyes. Of course he would rescue her. He would bring his love back to Covington Cross, and keep her safe with him. Elizabeth would be back with him tonight. They could go together the next day to the king to seek a dissolution of her marriage, on the grounds of abandonment. The aging knight looked at his son with vigor. "Saddle the horses, get your brother's and sister. This will be a show of force. We ride for Lady Elizabeth's castle, to bring her back."
Lady Elizabeth sat quietly frantic in her sitting room. The last word she had spoken was calling Thomas's name. Sir Robert sat directly across from her exictedly babbling.
"I promise, Lizzy." He said. "We can make things just like they used to be. I am back now to stay. I will clear my name, and we can pick up right where we left off." He smiled at her trying his best to be calming and gentle. He could see from the expression on her face that she did not trust him. It killed him to think that she was even frightenend of him.
He suddenly thought of a topic that would make her speak. "How are the children?" He asked.
Her eyes softened as she thought of Adam and Lenore. Whatever this man had done, whereever he had been, there were still the children they shared between them, the living reminder of their love that once burned bright. Suddenly she could see the love in his eyes, the way he held her in his gaze just like he used to whenever she would enter a room. Had he been pining for her for fifteen years? Had he truly been forced to leave, but why? Her mind let those subjects rest for a moment and returned to his inquiry about their children. "They are perfect." She said, pausing. "You would be very proud of them."
"I suppose Adam is a great knight off to fight the crusades." Robert said pridefully.
"No, he is not." Elizabeth said with equal pride. "Do you think I would let my son enter the same life that took his...father?"
Robert tried to hide his confusion. "Well, I suppose Lenore is married by now and has given us at least one grandchild, I hope."
"No, she is not, and has not." Elizabeth announced.
"I don't understand, what have they been doing?" Robert asked.
"Becoming skilled in the fine art of business." Elizabeth informed him. "Adam manages my land's in France. Those I inherited from my third...husand." She stammered not meaning to bring that up. She saw Robert flinch. "Lenore has become quite an educated, accomplished, independant woman."
"Just like her mother, I see." Robert smiled, noting the difference in his wife. "I guess they are making a lot of money."
"Yes, they are." Elizabeth smiled proudly. "Their futures will be comfortable and secure."
"I remember a time when you could not have cared less about money." Robert said nostalgia invading his mood.
Elizabeth snapped at him, still not trusting him. "That was before I found myself alone with two young children to raise. Money becomes very important when you have none. But I have taken care of them very well."
"I know you have." Robert said reassuringly. He thought of what she must have gone through in his absence. How frightened she must have been, and how brave she had proven herself. He cursed the twist of fate that took him from her and needed for her to know why he had left.
"Lizzy, let me explain." He said, reaching out to touch her face. She pressed herself as far back into the chair as she could trying to get away but it no use ,he would not let go. At that instant there was welcome and familiar voice in the doorway.
"Yes, Leland. Explain. We would all like to hear that." Sir Thomas boomed as he entered the room, followed by four very serious faces.
Elizabeth looked up relief painting her delicate features. "Thomas." She smiled. He returned her loving glance but kept his attention on her husband who jealously noted the exchange between his wife and the lord of Covington Cross.
"Well, I see there's no need to knock." Robert eyed Thomas and Elizabeth suspiciously.
Sir Thomas covered the ground between himself and Elizabeth in a few long stride, his children circling round behind him in case they were needed.
"It's good that you know where you stand then." Thomas acknowledged the man's inuindo.
"I stand as her husband." Robert said cooly, taking Elizabeth by the wrist and pulling her to him. Armus, Eleanor, Richard, and Cedric bristled, ready for the fight. How dare this man treat Lady Elizabeth this way.
"Let her go." Thomas ordered, but Elizabeth had sufficiently struggled free of his grasp, and was standing between the two men who loved her.
"I am not some piece of gold to fought over." Elizabeth proclaimed. "Robert, you come back after all these years and expect me to fall into your arms. The dutiful heartsick wife." She glanced softly over at Thomas. "It has been a long time, things have changed."
"I can see that." Robert held his temper. "But please, at least let me explain." He looked at all of them his eyes pleading.
"Oh, this should be very interesting." Thomas chided. "No one wants to hear what you have to say."
Robert ignored him. "Lizzy, please. Hear me out, Dove." His eyes begged her, and she knew she owed him at least that much. Besides she had to know why he had left her and the children.
She looked at Thomas flanked by Armus, Richard, Cedric, and Eleanor. They deserved to hear this too. After all they had come to her rescue yet again. Her eyes searched Thomas's face for understanding of why she had to let Robert explain, and she found it. He knew she wanted to know.
"Go ahead then." Elizabeth muttered sitting down blankly in the chair, afraid of what might be said. Thomas moved closer to her, ready to offer comfort.
"Thank you."Robert said. "It was during the battle up north with Scots, remember?" He began. How could she ever forget.
******15 Years Earlier*******
Sir Robert Leland sat confidently astride his huge chestnut stead, his sword flailiing wildly in his hand. The battle had lasted most of the morning, and a cold dreadful morning it had been. The knight thought quickly to himself that the sooner he were out of this colorless barren land the better. He would harbor no dear memories of the place. All around him the enemy advanced. He could see the bright interwoven colors of the woolen wraps they wore around their waists, wondering how any man could fight in such a costume. Robert saw the almost garrish blue streaks painted down their faces, and heard their haunting battle cries. He did respect these northern people, they fought strong and well and with fire in their hearts. Some of the captured prisoners had even fallen on their swords, the heavy blades piercing their breastplates and slicing their insides, prefering death rather than to be held on English soil. He understood they were fighting for their home, but he was fighting for his king.
Off in the distance the Robert could see the ghosly figure of the strong white stallion that carried his good friend Sir Thomas Gray. Thomas was fighting off a band of three attackers single handedly. The young knight possessed more sword skill than anyone Robert knew. He and Thomas had been paiges together. They had enjoyed all the priviledges and passions young knights could find for themselves, and had become skilled warriors. Robert had stood with Thomas at his wedding, as Thomas had stood with him at his. For a moment his mind flashed to his beautiful wife, Elizabeth. His heart lightened at the vision of her face, and the knowledge that she and their young son and daughter were safe hundreds of miles from this horrid bloodshed.
Robert rode on, fighting off the mauraders. He had cut a swath through the enemy lines and now found himself in a small stand of wilderness. He had not realized its approach through the thick fog and haze which settled in from the north Atlantic. In an instant all grew quiet, save for three voices which he could scarecly detect through the trees. Fearing it an ambush Robert climbed down from his horse without making a sound. He led the shivering animal along a small dirt path until he was nearly upon the owners of the voices, secretting themselves in the branches. Robert hid himself as well. Two thick brogueish accents he did not know, but the other was a familiar rasp that usually sent shivers down his spine, Mullens.
John Mullens was not the county's most skilled knight. He had secured his position through connections and ambition rather than talent, everyone knew it. Mullens was aware that most of the other soldiers held him in low regard and treated them with haughty contempt, ready to pounce on any weakness. John was a cruel and heartless man. He had no love lost for either Leland or Gray, and they both just as soon steared clear of him.
That day he had decided to make a little profit on the turn of the battle, but he had not counted on being discovered. As Robert drew closer he strained to hear. The words that filled his ears made his stomach weak.
"You can expect a surprise attack by morning light, on the right flank near the clearing in that wretched bog, you Scots call a heath." Mullens sounded.
"Aye, tha' wee bit o' information is well werth tha price." The Scotman grinned. "We said for-y, din we now?" The other kilted agent stood silently on guard.
"Fifty!" Mullens soundly interjected, poking the point of his sword in the man's ribs.
"Aye, so it was, now I remember." The scottish soldier, laughed nervously and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small bag and tossed it to Mullens.
"A pleasure doing business with you." Mullens said coldly as he caught the clanging coins.
"Hope to have the pleasure again." Said the Scot.
"I doubt it." Mullens spat with contempt, as he pulled his mount closer to him ready to disembark.
It was then that Roberts horse let out a loud snort to protest the inactivity in such cold weather. He held his breath hoping the men would mistake it for one of their horses, but it was too late. The Scotsmen turned on their heals brandishing their swords. They feared it was a trap and jumped at Mullens. For his lack of sword skill, he was quick, and he caught one of the men in the gut, sending him lifeless to the ground. The other man lunged into the trees pulling Robert out with a force so strong he had dropped his sheild. Before he realized what had happened, Robert was brought face to face with a seething Mullens.
"Leland!" Mullens contemplated. "What did you hear?"
"Enough, traitor." Robert said, hatred in his heart. "I will see you hanged for this."
"Oh, I'm sorry. That won't be happening. It appears you are the one who is outnumbered." Mullens motioned to the Scotman who held Robert by the arms. The man pulled a dagger from his belt and raised it to Robert's throat. Robert's mind flashed to Elizabeth, at once he saw her lovely pale blue eyes weeping for him, and his heart could not bare it. He kicked behind him with all his might knocking the maurader to the ground. The man quickly got to his feet, and stood to fight. Robert pulled his broadsword from his hip.
"Aye, I don't need this." The man said and fled into the woods, taking his purchased secrets with him.
Robert turned to Mullens who also drawn his sword. He knew his visious fellow countyman would have no worries about killing him. Mullens would simply tell the other that he had come upon Leland's body along with that of a Scottish spy. If he were feeling generous he may suppose to the others that they had killed each other in hand to hand combat. Robert Leland knew better, Mullens would need a scapegoat, especially after the next morning's surprise ambush were realized. He would tell his fellow soldiers that he had surprised Robert trading secrets with the enemy, and had slain both single handedly, although one had escaped. Robert would be branded a traitor. All of his lands and holdings would be forfeited to the king, his name and reputation would be unspeakable. His wife and children would live in disgrace. He could not do that to Elizabeth. He was not a coward, but he turned and ran from Mullens advance. He had to warn the others.
Mullens eyes gleamed with delight at the others man's retreat, and then scowled with worry. He knew Leland would tell all the Sir Thomas and then to the king. He could not catch him in these woods, and Robert was much stronger than he, a dual would be futile on his part, but he knew just how to stop him.
"Leland!" John Mullens yelled almost calmly. "You show very little regard for the lives of that beautiful young wife of yours, and those two precious babies." He announced mockingly.
Robert was well hidden in the brush, but the mention of Elizabeth and the children brought him up short. He wanted to yell out for Mullens to clarify his statement, but stayed quiet.
"You see Robert, old friend. I simply cannot let you devulge my little secret to the king." We both know that you are better skilled than I and I would be no match for you." Mullens heart blackened at the thought of anyone besting him. "I will give you a choice. You can leave this country quietly and be remembered as a hero, or you can go on your way tell what you know and suffer the agony of you dearest beloved ones." Mullens eyes brightened a little at the threat. In the bushes Robert's hand went reflexively to his sword. How dare he threaten Elizabeth and the children, but Robert knew Mullens, he knew he would do exactly what he was proclaiming.
"That's right Leland. You leave England this day. If you do not, and if you say anything to anyone about what you have seen today, your wife and children will die by my sword." Mullens said desperate to protect his position.
Robert felt sick. He wanted to crash down upon Mullens with all the force of the anger that welled up inside of him, but he could not move. What choice did he have, either leave the woman he loved, and his children forever, or watch them die. He knew Mullens had spies, they would report his remaining in the country, and they would find someway at sometime to see Mullens threats carried out if he stayed. He felt he could stand the seperation knowing they were safe, but to lose them, when he could prevent it. It was a risk he was not willing to take, not with their lives. He thought of Elizabeth, and the life they had dreamed of. They were hoping to have more children, hoping to build a strong and loving family. Now she would be effectively widowed. His heart broke at the thought of leaving her, but there was no other way.
Robert stood and trudged numbly through the woods as John Mullens took a large flask of liquior from his saddle bag. He dowsed the Scotsman's body with the liquid, and emptied the rest on the ground around him. Then taking two stones he struck them until they sparked, setting the grove ablaze. Laughing, the tyrant rode away to join the other, and take them news of the death of their dear friend. Robert noticed the smoke and flames from the corner of his eye, 'no doubt disquising the body.' He thought to himself. Everthing in his mind told him to ride quickly for Thomas and tell him of Mullens betrayal. He thought gravely of the men riding into the ambush at dawn's light. However, everything in his heart cried out for Elizabeth and her safety. He would have driven a knife clean through his own chest at that point if it would keep her well. He comforted himself in the knowledge that she would be taken care of. His family would see to that, and she would inherit his estate. That day he left his life behind, turned his back on all that he knew for the sake of his family. As evening fell he had somehow made his way unnoticed to the coast, and boarded a ship bound for the remote ilse of Eire. What life would hold for him there he knew not, nor did he care. All he could think of was what he was leaving behind.
*****Lady Elizabeth's Sitting Room*****
Sir Thomas bristled at the memory of the battle as Robert recounted his story. Many men, good men, had died that day. He had himself very nearly been captured. To find out after all these years that it was because of Mullens made his heart burn with fire. He would find a way to make Mullens pay for what he had done. He also realized that Leland could have prevented it, but had run away. Even if it was for Elizabeth's sake, and that of Adam and Lenore, Sir Thomas could not understand nor condone abandoning your fellow soldiers or your king. Putting those thoughts to the back of his mind for now he returned his attentions to Elizabeth, who sat motionless, lost in her thoughts. She looked so small and fragile, not at all like the vibrant confident women he knew so well. He wanted to wrap her in his arms and take all the hurt away from her. But he knew for now that she and Robert needed to speak. But he was going to stay, there incase she needed him. Which he hoped she would.
"You see, my love. I had to leave, to protect you." Robert pleaded with Elizabeth to understand.
Elizabeth sat gravely, her eyes to the floor, tears streaming down her face. She was no longer aware of the Grays standing near her. Her mind was consumed with one thought. "He threatened our children?" She asked her stomach wrenching at the thought. "They were only babies then."
"Yes, he did." Robert confirmed. "He also threatened you, dearest. Do you see why I had to leave. It was all I could do to save your lives." He kneeled on the floor beside Elizabeth taking her hand. She did not protest, her mind still reeled too much with confusion, and anger over lost years to be aware of much of anything happening around her.
Suddenly Elizabeth looked at him, anger once more finding it's way to her face. "You could have saved our lives. You could have stayed and protected us." She said.
"Maybe I could have." Robert agreed in shame. "But what if I couldn't. What if one day he caught us off guard, or found you alone? Do you think I could have lived with your deaths, knowing I could have prevented them? I could not take that chance." He confessed. "I would have gladly died to keep you safe...I still would."
"I wanted to die too." She cried. "Everything changed that day. I'm not the same person I was before."
He took her face in his hands, forgetting the audience they had at the moment, as she stiffly protested. "I'm back now." He smiled. "We can go back to the way things were. You and I, the way things were always supposed to be. Those years I spent alone, I swear there was no one but the thought of you. I held the dream of you like a treasure. We can start anew." He smiled.
Elizabeth looked at him. She felt his touch on her face, she remembered it so well. Had spent many moments in the past longing for it. However now, it was the touch of another she longed for, and she turned to cast her weary eyes in his direction. She was thankful Thomas was there, she did not want to go through this alone.
"No, we cannot." She said to her husband, never taking her eyes from Thomas.
Robert eyed Sir Thomas with a fresh hatred, one he had learned to acquire over the years for people who possessed what he wanted. "As I suspected." He said to Elizabeth, his voice conveying more hurt than he had meant to show. "You have found a new love."
He backed away from her a bit, still holding her hands tightly.
"What did you expect, Leland." Thomas said. "It's been more than a decade. Did you think she would pine away for you forever, like some greiving nun."
Robert looked at Elizabeth but answered Thomas's questions. "I don't know what I expected. I suppose I hoped there would be some old spark, I could rekindle in her." He touched Elizabeth's hair. "Maybe somepart of me did want you to be pining for me. Then I could come back and be your hero, again. But you've got yourself a new hero." He fought back the tears that filled his eyes, but she saw them.
"Robert." Elizabeth's voice was soft. "Thomas is right, things have changed. They had to."
Robert stood and walked to the door. "Give me a chance, Dove. I'll show that I haven't changed. I swear I'll win you back." He pleaded. To Thomas he swore. "She is still my wife, and I will not give her up again without a fight." He turned and fled from the room to reacquaint himself with his castle, and to think.
Thomas bent down beside Elizabeth, who had now slipped into sobbing. He held her close to him as the children excused themselves from the room. They knew their father and Lady Elizabeth wanted to be alone. Silently Thomas gave thanks that it was him after all that she loved now, and was not willing to give him up.
"Everything will be alright, my darling." He calmed her.
"Oh, Thomas how can you say that?" She looked up at him. "Everything is so horribly wrong."
"Tomorrow I'll ride to London to request the king dissolve your marriage. I will explain the situation to him." Thomas's hopeful tone brought a smile to her face, and she caressed his cheek.
"Thomas, no matter what King Edward may want to do, he will never be able to do that. That is a matter for the church. He won't want to interfere." She said her practical nature winning out.
"I'm still going to try." He vowed, knowing she was probably right.
"Oh, Thomas. What shall I do. I love you. I want to be with you." Elizabeth begged for an answer. Thomas felt his heart jump with joy at her proclamation.
"Then come with me to Covington Cross. You will be safe there." Thomas said taking her hands, hope covering his face. "I won't let anything or anyone hurt you. We'll be together."
Elizabeth smiled at him. "Thomas, I want to. I would be with you under whatever circumstances. But I'm legally his wife. They could arrest you." Elizabeth protested.
"Do you think I could stay there, knowing that you're here with him. I'll camp out in the courtyard if I have to just to be near you." He said, seriously.
"It won't work." She said nervously.
"Do you trust me?" He asked.
"With my life." Elizabeth smiled.
"Then trust me with this." He said lifting her from the chair and holding her close.
Several moments later as Sir Robert Leland was touring his grounds, he did not see the Grays leaving for home. He also did not see his wife Elizabeth huddled close to Sir Thomas atop his horse. She was leaving with man she loved. She was making her choice, but both she and Sir Thomas that the matter was not resolved, and that Leland would come after her.