Second Chances: Part 11: The Darkest Hour
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 large room in which Sir Thomas Gray was seated echoed with voices. There was too much noise, it intruded upon his thoughts. It had been nearly two weeks since he had been allowed to see Elizabeth in her cell in the tower, and since then no more permission had been granted. He wished that his good friend the king had not been called away on business in the North, for her was certain he would have interceded on Lady Elizabeth's behalf. His worry and his nerves were getting the better of him. He had not slept in days, had spent many long hours staring up at the window where he was sure his wife sat watching, comforted that he was there.
He thought back the day nearly three weeks ago when he had finally mad Elizabeth his bride. How happy they had been, it had seemed that the entire world wished them well. Today, was a different matter, her trial was to begin. It would soon be decided officially whether she was guilty of killing her third husband. Thomas's mind burned with rage. How could anyone think her capable of such an act. Anyone who truly knew her certainly knew otherwise. Elizabeth was the kindest, gentlest woman in the world and would never dream of hurting anyone. Even if they had hurt her. Thomas thought of how horrible life must have been for her with Harry Adderly, and wished he could take all those painful memories from her mind.
'Why did she refuse to tell her knowledge of the true murderer? Just who was she protecting?" Thomas's mind swirled trying to answer his own silent question. Suddenly another more chilling thought entered his consciousness, one he had not let himself even consider until now in the courtroom, 'Is she willing to give her life to save this other person?'
Thomas quickly pushed the image from his mind. He could not bare it. Instead he glanced once more around the room. The galleried walls were filled with nobles and merchants from around the country, one class not mingling with the other. Thomas was certain the nobles had come to support Elizabeth while the merchants, most probably having had dealings with Adderly may be there to shake her. He vowed he would not let that happen. At the front of the large auditorium sat a long table with eight chairs. These would be the jurors, and infront of them a high pedestal would seat the magistrate. Thomas prayed that whoever it would be, they were fair. He was happy that he had been able to secure the finest defense counsel in London.
His heart sank when he looked once more at the tiny wooden chair that sat in the middle of a large empty cobblestone area. This would be Elizabeth's place. It looked so desolate and isolated. He knew she would feel alone and frightened, and was thankful that he had positioned himself in a sight directly in her line of view when she would be led in. She would be searching for him, and she would know he was there. It would only be him. Since this was an official proceeding, the children had been forced to wait outside in the passageway. His children were trying the best to be strong for him, and for Lady Elizabeth's children, even over their own worry. Thomas thought sadly on the faces of Adam and Lenore both long with despair and sick with concern for their mother. He hoped he could bring her back to them.
Finally, late in the morning, the jurors were led to their seats. Thomas surveyed them at length, trying to get a feel for the men who would hold Elizabeth's fate in their hands. He knew some of them, and hoped that would help. As the main doors were closed a guard bid the audience their orders.
"All rise." The large uniformed man bellowed. Those in attendance quickly obeyed, most eager to get the trial underway. Thomas rose as if in a trance. It was then that the judge entered the room. Sir Thomas did not know him. He looked very stern, and very much as though he would follow the letter of the law exactly. Thomas caught his breath for a moment, unsure if this was good or bad.
The judge made his way to the podium and Thomas was shocked by the authority in his voice as he conveyed more orders to the crowd. "Be seated." He announced. Thomas did not want to sit, he wanted to be standing when Elizabeth came in, but he complied afraid he would be removed.
"Bailiff." The judge said loudly. "Bring in the accused."
The same man who had told everyone to stand seconds before bowed to the judge and exited through a small door in the middle of courtroom. It seemed to Thomas to take forever, although only a few seconds passed. At last the door opened once more. Thomas strained to see inside the darkness beyond it, but it was no use. A guard entered the courtroom first, fully armed. Then, flanked by two more of the king's men and followed by the bailiff, Elizabeth was brought into the courtroom. She looked tired and weak, her wrists and ankles were shackled. Her face was pale and gaunt, and her gown showed the signs of three weeks of wear. Thomas's heart nearly stopped. It pained his soul to see her like that. She seemed so small and helpless. All he wanted to do was to jump from his seat and carry her out that place. She searched the crowd wildly, not noticing that some in attendance were yelling at her, words she was unaccustomed to hearing. Thomas wanted to scream his location to her, but could not open his mouth. Finally their eyes met. Everything else melted away. A loving smile appeared on both their faces, their hearts crossing the distance between them. Forgetting herself, Elizabeth cried out, "Thomas," and attempted to go to him. The bailiff pulled her back sharply and she winced in pain. Thomas vowed the man would pay for that even as he cried out her name.
She was led to the small chair in the center of the room, and made to stand infront of it facing the judge, while her lawyer joined her. He peered down his nose at her. "State your full name for the court." He said.
She found her confidence, stood to her full height and announced proudly. "Lady Elizabeth Gray." For a second she glanced over her shoulder at Sir Thomas, happy to be able to use his name, even in such circumstances.
"Were you once married to Harry Adderly?" The judge questioned.
"Yes." Elizabeth answered with contempt.
"Lady Elizabeth Gray, former wife of Harry Adderly, you stand before this court charged with his murder. How plead you?" The judge questioned eyeing her for any signs of guilt.
Elizabeth looked at the lawyer Thomas had procured for her, unsure if she should speak or he. The older gentleman motioned for her to answer.
She summoned all her courage, and all the deportment expected of a woman of her position and replied. "Not guilty." She announced.
Thomas was in awe of her. He was so proud of his wife. There seemed no situation she could not face. He was unsure how he would handle the same circumstance.
The morning slipped into afternoon, and the afternoon wore on endlessly. One question and accusation after another was being hurled at Elizabeth. All the sordid details of the past were being dredged up and used against her. Every part of her private life was now public fodder. Her feelings for Harry, or lack of them, were brought to light, as was the fact that she had only married him for security. The details of the beatings she suffered at his hands sent chills down Thomas's spine, and he promised himself she would never feel afraid again. She told of how she feared for her life and those of children, how Harry had kept company with other women, how they had fought, and how she mourned him very little. When it was over, the case against he seemed to have gained the upper hand. Everything she had said would give someone cause to suspect her. It looked hopeless.
The judge then had one final question. "You say that you were the last person to see Adderly alive, but that you did not kill him."
"That is right." Elizabeth confirmed.
"Then who did?" He eyed her, noticing how she swallowed hard, and squirmed a little.
"I do not know." Was her only answer.
At that the judge gave his final orders to the jury, and excused them to their deliberations. He also ordered the bailiff to return Lady Elizabeth to her cell. She tried to give Thomas a brave look as she passed him, but he could tell she was as terrified as he was. Silently he mouthed the words 'I love you.' to her. She answered with a voiceless, 'I love you too,' and she was gone.
Sir Thomas walked outside in the corridor lost in thought and lost in the throngs of spectators. Staring blankly ahead of him he had no idea what the rest of the day would bring. All of his energies were concentrated on Elizabeth and what she must be going through. He could not imagine what it would be like to be locked in an airless cell, knowing that the next time the door opened you hear the news of whether you were to live or die. He wanted nothing more than to be with her.
"Father!" Richard's voice shattered the surreal calm that surrounded him. Thomas lifted his head to see his middle son waving his arm. He was surrounded by Cedric, Eleanor, Armus, Adam, and Lenore. As Thomas came over to them, he saw the hope in their eyes but had none of his own to offer.
"How did it go?" Eleanor asked, holding Lenore's wrist trying to comfort the girl who had spend most of the afternoon in tears.
"I don't know." Thomas said coolly. "The jury is deciding."
"Could you tell what they might decide?" Cedric said trying to clutch at something.
"No..." Thomas answered his mind far away. Then he interrupted himself. "I have to see her."
"I'll go with you." Armus volunteered.
Thomas gave him a weak smile, and then patted his shoulder. He nodded his head vacantly, and began to walk off toward the tower. Armus turned to his brothers and sisters. "Wait here." He said, and then hurried to catch up with his father.
After Thomas and Armus had disappeared it was Eleanor who broke the silence. "I've never seen Father like this."
"Just think how you would feel if the person you loved could be sentenced to death." Cedric said not thinking.
"Oh please don't say that." Lenore sobbed and turned against her brother's shoulder, trying to hide her tears.
"Don't let Cedric upset you," Richard said comfortingly throwing an accusatory look in his younger brother's direction. "He always speaks before he thinks."
"That's right, ask anyone." Cedric agreed sorry for his error. "I'm so sorry."
"It's all right. I know you didn't mean to. But the truth is that's exactly what could happen." Lenore said sharing her mother's uncanny practicality.
Suddenly Adam exploded. His fists clenched as tight as his teeth. "This is wrong. This is so very wrong. How could they think mother killed him, when...Harry Adderly was a monster, he deserved..." He trailed off. Not waiting to see the reaction he stormed off toward the street. He needed to be alone.
Richard began to follow him to see if he could be of any help, but Lenore put her hand on his arm to stop him. "He just needs to be alone for a while." She said. "There are things he needs to think about."
Eleanor looked at Lenore for a moment, unsure of what to ask. "Lenore, is there something you're not telling us?"
Her new sister looked at her feet for a moment, as if trying to decide what to say. Finally she gave the only answer she felt she could. "My mother wouldn't want me to tell..."
Thomas Gray and his eldest son stood at the gate of the Tower of London, pleading to be let in. Thomas felt as though he would burst if he could not see Elizabeth. For some reason,today, their request was granted. The guard opened the gate and ushered both men inside. Once more Thomas followed the same, dark and dank path to her cell. This time Armus followed, his stomach turning at the sights. Sir Thomas heard the same cries, smelled the same foul stench. For some reason today, they both cut deeper into his heart, and were barely noticeable. All he could think of was his new wife.
Elizabeth was seated on the shabby excuse for a bed when Thomas and Armus were shown in. She had been praying. An overwhelming sense of relief engulfed her at seeing her husband's face, and she rushed to his arms. Thomas's wrapped himself around her as if by sheer will he could protect her. They stood for along moment, oblivious to Armus and the guard who had remained in the room. Armus was trying desperately to hold back the emotion that tore at his throat. His father and Lady Elizabeth seemed so fragile and helpless at that moment. He had never dreamed it could be so, but then he guessed that what happens when two people love each other. Armus knew his father would take Lady Elizabeth's place in a heart beat if he could, and that she would never let him.
Lady Elizabeth choked a little and looked up into Thomas's face. "It didn't go very well."
"Nonsense." Thomas smiled, trying to convey his own fears. "Your innocence was obvious."
Elizabeth gave a brave although halfhearted smile. "No it wasn't, but I love you for trying to relieve my fears."
"You just wait, you'll be sitting by the fire at home before you know it." Thomas said, kissing her forehead.
"Oh, Thomas." She began to cry.
Thomas looked over at the guard. "Can we please have some privacy? We would like to speak to her alone."
The guard, realizing that actually Sir Thomas could be considered his superior, backed toward the door with a look of warning. "You've got 5 minutes." He said as he shut the door behind him.
Armus back up into a shadow, not wanting to intrude upon his father's and Lady Elizabeth's time alone. 'It could be their last.' He thought before he could push the words from his mind.
Thomas gently sat Elizabeth down on the cot and kneeled infront of her. He never let go of her hands.
"There's so much I want to say to you." He said.
"I know." She raised his hands to her lips and kissed them. "There was so much I wanted to share with you, and now we'll never..."
"Don't talk like that." Thomas pleaded.
"Thomas, we have to face reality." Elizabeth's practicality sometimes irritated Thomas, but not today."I need for you to know..." She began, and then haulted. "I know that I am not the great love of your life." She said. He tried to quiet her, but she continued. "But, I have never...ever loved anyone the way I've loved you." She began to cry. "At least I can die as your wife." She tried to comfort him with her smile.
"Oh dear Lord." Thomas cried, burying his face in her knees and sobbing.
"Now, don't worry about me. I will be fine. I'll be in a better place." She tried to be brave but her voice was giving her away. She put her hands under his chin and raised his eyes to look at her. "Just take care of yourself and the family... and Thomas, please take care of my children. They will need someone." She begged.
"Please, tell them who really killed that man." Thomas pleaded.
She stroked his hair. "I can't, my darling, I can't." Was all she said.
Too soon the door openned and the guard came rushing in. "Time's up." He announced.
"No," Elizabeth said, tears falling. She and Thomas shared a long, sad kiss. He felt her shiver in his arms. Taking off his long fur mantle he place it around her shoulders, and then he had to let her go.
As Armus walked out of the room behind his father, Lady Elizabeth whispered to him. "Take care of him." He nodded a tearful agreement, and quickly gave her a hug. Then they were both gone. Elizabeth drank in the smell of her husband still lingering on his cloak. She was once more alone, awaiting whatever lay ahead.
After what seemed like an eternity the spectators were called back into the courtroom with the news that a decision had been reached. Thomas's heart felt like it would jump from his chest, and the blood rushing in his ears made is difficult to make out what was being said. Elizabeth was brought back in, they had not let her wear his mantle. Thomas guessed correctly that the jailers must have figured it was better she look like a pauper and not a noblewoman incase the worst came to pass. It would not do for her to look too fine, under such outlandish treatment. The bile played in his throat as her watched Elizabeth standing so grave and quiet, waiting for her sentence, freedom or death. She stared at the judge and jury, and Thomas noticed how they looked away from her, unable to meet her eyes. 'This is not good.' He thought.
The proceedings were called to order and the judge addressed the jury. "Gentlemen, have you reached a verdict?" He asked.
The juror of highest rank stood. "We have, ma lord." He answered.
"Then what say you?" The judge proceeded.
The man cleared his throat. "On the charge of the murder of Harry Adderly, we find the defendant Lady Elizabeth Gray,... Guilty."
The courtroom exploded. Armus, Eleanor, Richard, and Cedric, along with Adam and Lenore could hear the commotion outside. They were certain it could mean anything good.
"Order..." The judge demanded "Order in the courtroom."
Thomas could not take his eyes from Elizabeth. She had taken the verdict with only the slightest hint of emotion. However, they had not given the sentence.
"What is your verdict?" The judge asked when the audience had quieted.
The juror once again faced Elizabeth. "Lady Elizabeth Gray." He said officially. "It is the decision of this jury, that you are to be executed two days from sunrise on the morrow."
"NO!" Sir Thomas cried. He sprang from his seat, and jumped to the cobblestone floor. The guards who tried to block his way were hastily and soundly beaten back by the aging knights still sharp skills.
He ran to Elizabeth who fell into his arms. He brought her gently to the floor, and held her as if he could fight off the world. The doors crashed open and the spectators could no longer hold their voices. "Oh Thomas," was all she could say, hiding her face against his chest.