… Okay guys, this may have taken me forever and a few days, but here it is! Chapter 14! Bit of a flier chapter, but I've been putting this one off for some time now. Thank you for your patients and for sticking with me through all of this! You guys rule! Please enjoy.
Chapter 14 – Unexpected Meetings
I was a little surprised when no one pried into why I looked so tired the next morning or why I seemed to be gloomy. I had heard Father whispering to Uncle Geoff that my mood was because I was unable to compete and I would feel better later. He had a knowing tone that I didn't exactly understand, but I gave it very little thought as I had other things on my mind. We were headed out to the archery grounds since it had been agreed that we should all go and watch Noah compete. Personally, I just thought that everyone believed watching the joist would just worsen my already bad mood.
At the archery field we ended up taking a seat in the stands. Archery rounds were much different from the other tournament games. Everyone that competed in archery went at once, with each man shooting at his own target. After every shot the targets were moved back a set number of yards. The man with the highest actuary at the longest range was declaimed the winner. Noah's lane was close to where we were seated with only two others closer.
Next to me was a girl with dark hair and soft blue eyes sat on the edge of her chair with her hands clasp in front of her as if in prayer. She was pretty, perhaps a little plain, but it was clear that she was the daughter of a well ranking noble. Her green dress was finely made and she had a small amount of jewelry on as well. Her eyes were completely focused on the match and if I had to guess I would say that she actually knew how everything worked. She clapped with much vigor when Noah advanced into the semifinals. As Noah waited for those not completing in the semifinals to clear the field, he smiled in our direction and the lot of us cheered for him. The girl next to me was grinning brightly back at him and waved a little. She glanced at me and glared a bit after seeing that I was looking at Noah too.
"Excuse me," I said to her with a slight smile. She looked shocked that I was speaking to her. "You wouldn't happen to be Isabella, would you?"
She looked me up and down before answering. "Might you be Alice Thatcher, then?" She asked with a touch of excitement in her eyes. I nodded. "I thought so! Noah speaks so highly of you, as if you were his sister. Please call me Bella, Isabella is so formal!"
"He speaks a great deal about you as well, Bella. It's nice to finally meet you." I smiled at her genuinely.
"You as well, Alice," She returned the smile happily. "Don't you think Noah has a lovely form? I can't believe he makes all his own arrows! Why when my father used to compete…"
The rest of the match was spent with Bella chatting about archery and us cheering Noah to victory. I had to admit, Noah had been right, I did like Bella. Despite her higher rank she seemed perfectly fine with Noah and the rest of us for that matter. She was knowledgeable about the tournament and, although, she found the joist "dull because it seems to focus less on skill and more on luck" she was fun to talk to about most of the events.
While Noah and Bella went off to see the sights of Paris, the rest of us returned to camp. Noah had been more pleased that I approved of Bella and we had gotten along so well than he had been with his victory in archery. I was happy for them both, if not a little envious. They made being in love look so easy and that I felt a little stupid for not being able to make up my mind. With all of this bouncing around in my mind, I was not at all prepared for the shock I received when I returned to my tent.
"Mother!" I exclaimed as I happily ran into her arms. I could hardly believe that she was actually there.
She wrapped me in her arms and chuckled softly as she stroked my hair. "Hello, darling." She said holding me a little tighter. "I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too, you have no idea." My words were a little muffled since I had buried my head in her shoulder.
"Will, I'll just have to come with you all next year." Mother said. Father must have followed me in my tent without me realizing it.
"That's not altogether a bad idea, Jocelyn." Father came over and wrapped his arms around both of us.
"Besides, you've let our baby get injured." She said sternly.
"It wasn't my intention." He replied sounding a little ashamed. I heard them exchange a soft kiss before Father released both of us. "I'm going to go see how Kate is doing on your armor repairs and let the two of you catch for a while."
"Thank you, Father." I said finally letting go of my mother long enough to turn and smile at him. Once Father was gone, I sat down on my bedroll and looked up at her a little distressed. "I have so much to tell you and not a clue where to begin…" I said shaking my head a little.
Mother only smiled at me knowingly. "Start at the beginning then."
I took a deep breath before I started and then told Mother everything I had been wanting to tell her for months: of Edward and Michael, of my heartache and confusion, of Noah's odd behavior and finding out about Bella, of the banquets and the tournaments. She only listened, wiped my eyes when a few tears fell, and brushed a strand of my hair behind my ear. "And I've no idea what to do about this!" I said as a frustrated conclusion.
"Oh, Alice…" She said after a long pause. She leaned over and pulled me into another hug and kissed my forehead. "What a horrible choice you have to make." She released me from the hug and placed her hands gently on my shoulders, looking me straight in the eye. "Love can be both a blessing and a curse, the best and worst thing in the world. It knows no status or family name. No county or land. It is the most you can ever hope for and you can hope to never have to deal with it. But, Alice, you need to remember that this is a choice that you are going to have a live with for the rest of your life. I will respect your choice, whatever… whoever, you choose. From what you have told me, both of them seem to pose their own troubles. Will you be happy with a life in court? Could you stand for your father to never speak to you again? These are things you need to think about. You are my daughter as much as you are your father's, and I know that you will make the choice that it best for you."
I happily sat around our small camp fire with everyone as we all took turns regaling Mother with stories of the different stops on the tournament. It was wonderful having her there and despite her advice from earlier I had hardly given the troubles another thought. I was just so pleased to have her there. As it came to Uncle Geoff's turn he started in his usual grand fashion, I leaned on Father's shoulder while Mother was on his other side. It reminded me of so many other times that we all had sat round fires in our backyard at home and Uncle Geoff would be telling us some random tale either from Father's time on his first tournament or something that he had came up with. Whatever the tale, he knew how to spin his web of sweet words to keep us all hanging on every single syllable.
Uncle Geoff wove an enchanting tale of two brothers that had been locked away in a tower for years. In turn they each were love-struck by the same woman that they had spied from their single window. They fought for a time, but decided that they needed to first free themselves from the tower before they could even think of wedding the fair maiden. After a time they were set free them the tower and they went to ask for the lady's hand in marriage. Her father decided that she would marry which ever was the victory in single combat between the two. The lady on the other hand, did not wished to be married, but wished to stay a virgin her whole life long. In the end, the knight that loved her best lost the battle, but his brother the victor died of his battle wounds and bid his brother marry the lady. I wasn't sure if I liked the ending, but the story had been lovely. After all, I would have taken a sword up myself and fought to be left well enough alone.
"Is that one of your tales for you new book, Geoff?" Father asked when it was finished.
"Yes, I'm not exactly sure which character I'm going to have tell it though." Geoff replied thoughtfully.
"It should be the Knight's tale." I said speaking up while everyone else was thinking.
"How's that, Alice?" Geoff asked with a grin.
"Because only a knight would think that he could win a lady's hand by winning a battle for her." I replied with a smirk.
"Isn't that the truth." Kate threw in with a chuckle.
"Nothing wrong with that." Wat said a bit out of some kind of cake he had been eating.
"The Knight's Tale it is then. I'll have to make it much more wordy though. He rambles something horrible!" Geoff said as he scribbled a couple of notes down on a page.
"And you don't?" Roland said in good natured teasing.
"My old friend, I only use the words that are necessary. Nothing more or less, just those that make you wish to hear more. I wouldn't be a great writer if I couldn't do that properly!"
"Well, I'm off to bed!" I said standing in hopes of stopping a bickering match between Uncle Geoff and Roland. "Tomorrow is sure to be interesting and I need the extra rest what with the healing arm and all. Goodnight, all." I hugged them all in turn and headed off to my tent not really thinking that my words of tomorrow's excitement would actually be true.