Henry tried to shut out Marian and Robin’s voices as he and Stephan left. The wooden stairs creaked beneath their feet. At the landing, Henry heard Hugh settling his father for the night. Edward’s muffled laugh sounded, familiar and comforting, reminiscent of days long past.
Candlelight flickered beneath Bea’s door. She was singing softly, a verse their mother taught them and sang to lull her restless children to sleep.
Henry eased the door open to get a glimpse of his nephew. Bea sat near the brazier rocking David in her arms. She looked up as he peeked into the room.
“Is he not yet asleep?” Henry asked.
Henry tiptoed into the room. He smiled down at the babe, gently touched his nose and forehead. He turned, trying to coax Stephan closer. “His skin is so soft.”
Stephan nodded from the door. He looked somber, but then his eyes grew soft and a hint of a smile curved his lips. He looked at Bea. “Goodnight, my lady,” he said and headed for Henry’s bedchamber.
Henry stroked the dark tuft of hair on David’s head. He needed to ask Bea about her late husband, the one whose name drew scowls every time he’d heard it mentioned. And then there was their father…and Stephan. But Bea looked so content and happy, and he saw no need to spoil the night.
He wandered to the window and opened the shutters. Clouds trailed across the moon, bathing the guards’ tents in eerie shadows. At the sight of the tents he shuddered, drew in a ragged breath. Knees suddenly weak, he plastered his hands to the wall either side of the window.
“Henry, what is it? What’s wrong?” Bea asked.
He stared into the courtyard. “The tents, the Holy Land, so much blood…” He clenched his fist, drawing it to his chest. “I try to remember I am home now.”
“Is it helpful to speak of it?”
“I will not burden you with the horrors I saw, the things I did. Stephan listens to me. That is all I need.”
Bea placed David in his cradle. She smoothed her silk sleeping gown and drew up to Henry, slipping her arms around his waist. “I am your sister. I love you. I will listen, help you, any way I can.”
Bea rested her cheek against his arm. “Stephan will be gone soon. I will be here for you.”
Henry’s throat tightened and he fought back a tide of grief. He held Bea tightly and tried to forget the day Stephan would leave. But Bea was right. That day would come all too soon.
For King and Country
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