Second Chances: Part 8: New Beginnings, Old Secrets
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit was made. Covington Cross belongs to Thames, Reeves, and Gil Grant, not to me.
The rising sun in the eastern sky painted an orange glow over the castle of Covington Cross. The slight breeze brought the frangrance of roses and jasmine through the window of Lady Elizabeth's chamber. The past month since Thomas had asked her to marry him had seemed to move at an agonizing pace. Now with only a few days until the wedding, there seemed barely enough time to prepare. It was Thomas and the thought of becoming his wife that kept her nerves steady, and her mind focussed. How long she had hope for this. Finally, before the week was over she would become Lady Elizabeth Gray. She walked over to were her gown was being constructed. It was of course not white, but it was lavish and elegant none the less. Fingering the fine silk, the gilded threads, and the precious beadwork her heart lept in anticipation at the sight of Thomas's face when he would see her in it for the very first time. She felt like a girl again.
Elizabeth had been looking forward to today for several weeks. At last her children, Adam and Lenore, would arrive from France. It had been so long since she had seen them, and she missed them terribly. Her mind went back to the day when they had left to take over the management and running of her holdings there. It had been the worst day of her life. She thought numbly of the circumstances that had surrounded their leaving. They had been so young. It had been around the time of the death of her second husband, Harry Adderly. Elizabeth's blood chilled at the thought of his name. How cruel he had been, and how violent. For all the harm and fear he had caused her children and herself she wished she had never known him. Surely enough time had passed to ensure their safety. She prayed that no one would ever find out the truth about his death.
'If it means my life, no one ever will.' She vowed to herself. "Especially Thomas." She spoke aloud unthinking.
"What about Thomas?" A deep voice laughed at the doorway, shaking Lady Elizabeth from her thoughts. Quickly she tried to regain her composure.
"Thomas!" She tried to cover her surprise with nervous laughter. Grabbing a blanket she hurridly threw it over the beautiful gown that hung on the dressmaker's frame. She turned to meet his smile as he came up to her wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck.
"Oh, I was just imagining... what you'll do when you see me in my gown." She stammered. She hoped he would excuse her nerves as wedding jitters.
"Well, why don't we see right now." He teased her, reaching out for the blanket.
"Oh, no you don't." She laughed, relieved. She grabbed his arm from the cover.
Thomas looked at her, and kissed her temple. "They're here." He said softly.
Elizabeth's eyes flashed with happiness. Grabbing Thomas's hand she quickly hurried from the room and headed toward the stair, leading a delighted Sir Thomas behind her. He loved to see her so happy.
A large carriage pulled by two huge horses entered the gate of the courtyard of Covington Cross. It was laden with traveling trunks, and the occupants had obviously had a long and tiring journey. Lady Elizabeth came nearly running out of the door to the Great Hall, still grasping Sir Thomas's hand. Richard, Armus, Cedric, and Eleanor followed in line. They were not quite anxious to meet their guests, but were glad that Lady Elizabeth seemed so happy, especially after all she had been through recently. Of course her children should be at her wedding.
When the carriage came to a stop infront of the door, one of the footmen climbed down from the front seat and openned the door. From inside stepped a young nobleman of about nineteen years of age. He was dressed in finery, the kind that usually not worn as everyday practice at Covington Cross, but was well suited for traveling. His brown hair was kept in a long style, and he had the look of shy scholarliness about him. It was obvious the young man was more concerned with cerebral pursuits than knightly ones. However, he had a handsome boyish face, and carried himself with an air of kindness and selflessness.
The young gentleman raised his hand and helped a girl of about eighteen alight from the carriage. She was obviously the young man's sister. Her beauty was astonishing. She had creamy skin, and long dark hair that looked like velvet. She too was dressed in fine traveling clothes, and looked around the castle with an almost painful shyness that seemed even more intense than that of her brother.
Not thinking, Cedric saw the chance to turn on his infamous charm. "Well now. I suppose I should welcome our guest." He smiled, taking a step toward the girl.
Armus caught him by the shoulder and held him back. "Easy brother, that's our future sister."
Lady Elizabeth's smile beamed. Thomas had never seen her so joyful as she ran to them with arms outstretched. "My darlings." She laughed.
"Mother." The two chorussed. This was Adam and Lenore Leland, Lady Elizabeth's son and daughter.
The reunited family held each other tightly for a moment, oblivious to everyone and everything else. The children had missed their mother, just as much as she had missed them. It was clear that this was a very close and loving family. Eleanor wondered why Lady Elizabeth had sent her children to France at so young an age, when she obviously missed them so. Finally, it was Lady Elizabeth who remembered their audience. Releasing her children and turning she openned her arm for Thomas to take.
"You remember Thomas Gray?" She said. Adam and Lenore had met him a few months earlier on a trip home to England, but their visit with him had been cut short. They had not the chance to become acquainted with the Gray children, however.
"Yes of course." Adam began shaking his future stepfather's hand. Thomas took the youth's hand and pumped it happily. He was surprised to find Adam's grip stronger than he had expected.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Sir, and under such happy circumstances." Lenore said, as Thomas took her hand in greeting. She seemed to him, more open than she had before. Perhaps it had been his worry over his own children at the time that had colored his impression of Elizabeth's children. That visit had gone so horribly wrong. Thomas was certain this would be better.
"Please allow me to introduce my children." Thomas motioned toward Eleanor, Cedric, Armus, and Richard. He introduced them one by one, as handshakes and greetings were exchanged. The Leland children were then escorted inside to a lavish meal. The Gray's were astonished to make the same realization that their father had. These two did not seem the boring lack lusters they had expected. In fact they seemed quite poised and social. It was Armus who noticed something else. They also seemed quite pensive, as if they were hiding a secret.
The day of the wedding finally arrived. The house was in an uproar. Servants ran around making sure clothes were layed out, decorations were arranged, the feast was being prepared, and that there would be enough seating for the guests. It seemed the whole county was planning to attend. Friends and relatives from both sides were on their way to Covington Cross, and it would not do for anything to go wrong. To make matters worse, Lady Elizabeth's mother had arrived only a few days before and was determined to see things done to her satisfaction.
Upstairs Elizabeth and Thomas readied in their private chambers. Elizabeth's nerves were on edge as she sat at her dressing table. Lenore was arranging her mother's hair inbetween Lady Elizabeth's boughts of nerves. Eleanor tried to be helpful, but was at a loss to think of what to do. Instead she relied on the orders she received from Elizabeth and her mother. She had already double checked the flowers, double checked the food, and double checked her father and brothers. Truthfully, Eleanor could not see what all the fuss was about. All that mattered were the "I do's." She did not understand why weddings always drove everyone crazy when they were supposed to a time of joyous celebration.
"Oh, I think I'm going to be sick." Lady Elizabeth said.
"You'll do nothing of the kind." Her mother ordered.
"It's alright, Mother." Lenore said, taking Elizabeth by the shoulders. "You'll be fine, and Sir Thomas is going to think you're a vision. Right Eleanor?"
Eleanor smiled. She and Lenore had talked quite a bit and they were beginning to form a real friendship. It surprised Eleanor to learn that Lenore was a very kind and loving young lady, she was always more concerned with others than herself, and made everyone feel as if they were the most important person in the world. It also surprised Eleanor when she realized that she was going to like having a sister. "Of course he will." She agreed.
"See. Now just relax." Lenore told her mother. Elizabeth pulled her daughter down on the bench beside her and stroked her hair.
"Someday, I'll be doing this for you." She smiled.
Eleanor stood for moment watching the exchange between mother and daughter. Her heart ached as she thought of her future wedding day, and how her mother would not be there. For an instant she was jealous of Lenore for still having her mother. She desperately wanted Anne at that moment. Catching the tears before they fell upon her cheeks, she reminded herself that maybe by that time she and Lady Elizabeth will have grown close enough that she would at least have a caring stepmother to help her through the day. She vowed to try to make an effort to improve their relationship.
It was Lady Elizabeth who made the first step in that direction. Turning to Eleanor she said. "Come dear. Let's do your hair, too."
Eleanor's smile grew wide. "I thought you'd never ask." She laughed sitting on the other side of Elizabeth at the dressing table.
Down the hall in Sir Thomas's chamber, chaos reigned. Richard and Cedric were arguing over whose doublet was whose. Armus was trying desperately to fit into his ceremonial shirtwaist which seemed to have shrunk since the last time he'd worn it. The Friar was attempting to go over the last minute details of the ceremony with Sir Thomas, who had lost the ring for the fourth time that morning. The only calm presence in the room was Adam, but he seemed quite preoccupied in the middle of everything.
"Enough!" Thomas ordered over the shouting. "I need some air." He grabbed his mantle and tied it around his shoulders, storming from the room.
Armus, Richard, and Cedric looked at each other. "Well that was a bit harsh." Richard said, confused.
Thomas paced the grounds of Covington Cross trying to ease his nerves. He could not understand why he was so anxious. He loved Elizabeth and wanted to join his life to hers more than anything else in the world. Certainly it was just that he wanted everything to be perfect for her. That was surely why he had been so abrupt with his boys a few moments before. He had not realized where his feet were taking him, but when he looked up he nearly gasped with surprise for he was standing infront of Anne's grave.
He understood now. This was the reason he had been so unquitted. He stared down at his wife's stone for a few moments. Then he found words. "I truly love her." He said to the air. "She will make me so happy. Just as you once did." He knelt as he finished his thoughts, almost as if his words were too private for even him to voice.
"Please understand. This doesn't mean I didn't love you, or that you don't still have a special place in my heart." Thomas pleaded. "I just need to get on with my life, and Elizabeth offers me a chance for the kind of joy I thought I would never have again." Thomas fought tears. "Please let me know you understand." He said, thrusting his cold hands into the pockets of his doublet.
At that instant, his finger met something small, smooth, and hard. Pulling it out of his vest Thomas was amazed to find that it was the ring he had been hopelessly searching for only a few minutes before. He gazed at it with awe, realizing what this meant.
"Thank you." He whispered to Anne, and silently walked away back to his wedding, back to his Elizabeth.
Thomas stared at Elizabeth, only vaguely hearing the Friar's words as they stood together at the altar. She looked so beautiful, but the truth was he barely noticed her gown, he could not take his eyes from her ethereal face. All he could think of was the future they would have together. He held her trembling hand in his, and tried to hide that he was shaking as well. He was certain she could tell. They stood surrounded by their family and friends, alone together.
"Do you, Sir Thomas Gray, take this woman to be your wedded wife?" The Friar asked.
Thomas did not hesitate for a second. " I do." He smiled widely.
"Do you Lady Elizabeth Lelend take this man to be your wedded husband?" The Friar asked.
Her eyes beamed with glee. How long she had waited to say these words. "I do." She smiled, looking deep into Thomas's eyes. All could see was love.
"Then by the power of God and King, I now pronouce you man and wife." The Friar could not hide his happiness. "My lord, you may kiss your bride."
At that Thomas scooped Elizabeth up in his arms, and kissed her. He did not care that they had an audience. All he cared about was that he was married to woman he loved.
"Bravo!" Shouted King Edward, who was seated in the front. The bride and groom dissolved in happy laughter.
The night carried on in joyous celebration. The union of Sir Thomas and Lady Elizabeth was celebrated whole heartedly by family and friends. Dancing, drinking, toasts, and merriment filled the halls of Covington Cross with laughter well into the wee hours of the morning. Most of the guests had stayed the night, many nearly passing out on the way to their chambers. The days that followed were a whirl of picnics, boating excursions, recitals, and more dancing and drinking. To everyone surprise Sir Thomas had even arranged a tournament to be held in honor of his bride. Armus, Richard, and Cedric eagerly joined the ranks. It was Richard who was victorious in the joust, and he proclaimed his new stepmother the queen of the tournament. Cedric took first in the obstacles to which his stepsister was pronounces the fair maiden of beauty, and it was of course Armus who found no rival in hand to hand combat. He felt a duty to name Eleanor the maiden of that competition. She begrudingly accepted. It wasn't the title she wanted. She wanted to be out there with her brothers among the events.
The days flew by, and one by one the guests departed Covington Cross for their own castles. Even Lady Elizabeth's mother was among those leaving, she was obligated to travel with her brother, and they were journeying to London. The Grays were exhausted, but Lady Elizabeth and Sir Thomas barely noticed their own fatigue, too enthralled they were in their happiness.
It was on the night the last guest left Covington Cross, that the family sat quietly around the fire in the Great Hall, Thomas and Elizabeth holding hands. It was a wonderful, contended calm that fell over everyone as they sipped their ale and recounted tales from the past days. No one could keep from smiling.
Late in the evening there came a knock at the door. Mary the servant girls answered it, wondering who could be out at such an hour. To everyone's surprise it was the county constable.
"Well, Greetings Geoffrey." Sir Thomas grinned standing. He had known the constable for many years. "Come to wish good tidings to my bride and myself, have you?" He grabbed the big man's hand and shook it.
"'Scuse the intrusion ma lord." The constable said. "I do wish both of ye very well indeed, but that's not why I've come."
"It isn't?" Thomas began to grow concerned. "Why then?" He asked.
"I've come to speak with you ma Lady." He said turning to Lady Elizabeth.
"Me?" She asked.
Thomas drew closer to Elizabeth and put his arm around her waist. Trying to diffuse the situation with humor. "It's not a crime to be so beautiful, is it now." He smiled.
The constable barely acknowledged the joke. "Well, ya see ma Lady. It's just come from London. The case of your second husband's death is being reopened. It seems someone's found some new evidence."
Elizabeth swallowed hard the color draining from her face, as Adam and Lenore visible shrunk. " I see." She said calmly. Thomas felt her body tense under his arm.
To Be Continued.....