Chapter 44: Another Way

Despite the cramped area, and the paranoia of being searched for, we both fall asleep.

The blood pumping hot in our veins, cooled, and we both succumbed to slumber.

Light filters in, twisting and turning through the cover above us.

I hear nothing but birds chirping, animals romping around, and Isabella's measured, meted out breaths.

Slowly, trying not to wake her, I brush away a portion of some of the compost above my head, and peek out.

There is nobody around.

I marvel that they did not burn the orchard down.

That would have been my tactic.

But then I hesitate—they could be inside the home—Jacob's home we converted into an orphanage.

If they hurt those children, Isabella will blame and never forgive herself.

I worm my way out of our three foot deep crack in the earth.

Sleep, my love . . . Don't worry about anything.

I relieve myself quickly in a thick area of greenery, and then grab an apple to munch on as I ascertain if we are still being followed or not. I need to find my horses too.

I pad my way through the orchard, still smiling a little at how sneaky my little bird was to hide this way from me when I tried to find her myself in the past.

When I reach the edge of the apple trees, I find my two horses ambling around, eating apples to their heart's content.

I pat them with a smile on my face, and then head toward the property.

There is not a soul around.

The sun is barely up.

I walk up the path to the house, and now I know why Isabella's skirts always smelled of flowers.

There are low bushes of heather and lavender that hedge the way on both sides, and the path is not wide at all. Her skirts would probably tangle in them, and infuse their scent. This is my Isabella's intoxicating smell: apples, hay, lavender and heather.

What a heady combination.

I take a deep inhalation, and quietly knock at the door.

Nobody answers. It must be locked.

Surely?

When I push to try to get inside, the door budges under my might, but not enough for me wedge in. I throw more weight into the old, warped door, and am able to squeeze through the gap.

When I am inside, there are two young girls gossiping by the fire and drinking what I suspect might be cider.

". . . and when he takes me to his bed, I'll prove that stupid girl Anne is not fit for a king." She giggles.

I recognize her voice, and her blonde hair. She has a tinkling, high pitched, very innocent sounding voice—though her topic of conversation is anything but sweet.

It is Jane from the abbey—the girl that helped me.

I listen for a moment more without them knowing it, to hear what the other girl with her might say.

"You're too old; I hear he likes them really young, like Anne's sister. He had a child with her when she was merely fifteen," the other blonde, dirty girl says.

"I'm nineteen—just like his beloved Anne and that supposed woman he was searching for last night. And anyway, you're only two years younger than I. I have more skill than you do with a man and—" She stops talking abruptly and gasps when she sees me.

Her shaking finger points at me, and I prepare for Jane to scream, but she forbears. Neither does the other girl. They both stare at me, and have an air of being resigned about them. Do they believe I will molest them?

I hold my hands up, to show I am peaceable.

"Mistresses, I need help. My wife and I are the reason you reside here, rather than that deplorable cesspool of an abbey. We are being hunted by . . ." I contemplate how much to tell them, since they both have aspirations to be a mistress of the king himself ". . . royals."

They nod in sync.

"We will of course help you, Sir Edward, and your wife. We've heard about her," Jane says.

"We need some food, and then we'll away," I say.

"Where is your wife?" the other one asks.

"I left her safe in hiding, but I'll retrieve her now so we can get on our way." I turn to go back to my little bird, but I'm too late. She is squeezing her way in the door.

"Isabella . . . ?" Jane chirps.

"Jane . . ." my wife answers coldly. I have never seen her give such an icy reception to anybody. Not even Henry when he was trying to woo her, and Isabella did not want his advances.

"James let you live?" Jane asks. She sounds mildly disappointed with this fact and her tone is patronizing, like my wife is a dolt for not jumping right into Henry's bed.

The overriding expression though from these girls is that they both are envious—realizing this is the woman Henry wants.

A silent, yet profound exchange passes between Jane and my wife—and I am . . . Balling my fists and grinding my teeth. What does Jane know about my little bird that I do not?

"What the devil is going on?" I snap.

They all look at me, but no one answers.