The night before Champagne was to depart, the festivities lasted late into the night. The mood was very good, and Eschiva let Champagne take her briefly onto the dance floor. She was too weak to dance for long, but as he brought her back to the high table she was exceptionally flushed, and Aimery bent over to brush a kiss on her forehead, remarking proudly, “You look like a young girl again.” He was only partially lying: she did look younger than she had in years. “It’s good that Champagne is leaving tomorrow, or I would have to fear he was seducing you,” he teased.
Eschiva shook her head. “Never, my love. But will you forgive me if I go to bed now? Before the end of the festivities? I’m feeling dizzy.”
“Of course! You’ve been holding up wonderfully these past weeks, but there’s no need to overdo it.” Aimery turned and looked around for someone to escort Eschiva. Philip d’Ibelin, who had been standing attentively behind the high table, came at once. “Bring the queen to her chamber; she needs to rest,” Aimery ordered.
Eschiva pushed herself to her feet, and Champagne at once jumped up. With the perceptiveness of a well-mannered nobleman he asked, “Is something wrong, my lady?”
“Nothing except that you have exhausted me, my lord,” Eschiva answered with a faint, yet contented smile. “That last dance. I think I overdid it a little—but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I’m just a touch dizzy.” Indeed, she was swaying slightly. Philip slipped his arm around her waist and half carried her off the dais into the solar.
Eschiva was hardly able to stand, and Philip called to another squire who happened to be there to come help him. They supported Eschiva on either side and together helped her up the stairs to her chamber. At the chamber door, Eschiva dismissed the strange squire and told Philip to help her to the bed.
“Should I send for Beatrice or one of your other ladies to help you undress?” Philip asked anxiously, feeling out of his depth in the bedroom alone.
“No, no. I don’t need to undress just yet. I’ll just rest a bit. Maybe I’ll go back down to the hall later, when I feel better.”
Although the words were reassuring, something about her demeanor made Philip hesitate. “Should I bring you something to drink?”
“No, no. I’ve had more than enough wine. Just lift my feet up onto the bed.” Eschiva was sitting on the bed, and as she spoke she laid her head back on the pillows. Philip dutifully lifted her feet up onto the bed, slipping off her shoes at the same time.
Eschiva smiled at him down the length of her body. “Have I ever told you what a good squire you are, Philip?”
“Who? Me?” Philip asked, astonished. “John’s the good—”
“Yes, John’s a good young man. I’m sure he’ll go far, but I’ve liked having you around me more. John was always so earnest, you know. You make me laugh. Whatever happens, don’t lose your sense of humor, Philip.”
“Aunt Eschiva?” (Technically they were cousins, of course, but because of the age difference Philip had always called her “aunt” in private.) “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, Philip. Now hurry back so Aimery doesn’t start worrying, but . . . ”
“Yes?” Philip prompted, still uneasy.
“Your father. Tell your father—no, never mind. He knows.”
“What he has meant to me. All my life. Long before Aimery and the children . . . ”
“Aunt Eschiva . . . you sound very strange. . . . ” Philip admitted.
“Nonsense. I’m happy. Very happy. Things have turned out so well. So much better than I ever dreamed. I don’t really care about being a queen, you know, but it means so much to Aimery to be king after all those thankless years groveling at Guy’s arrogant feet. And I like the thought of our children . . . I’m so glad that Champagne came. So glad we could be reconciled. Go. I need to rest.” She patted Philip’s hand in a gesture of both reassurance and dismissal, and he slipped out of the room.
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