The fire was dying. Eschiva registered that she ought to put another log on it, but that would mean getting up and taking a log from the basket beside the fireplace. The light had gone with the daylight too, but she could not be bothered with lamps or candles. The darkness was fine, even if it made it impossible to stitch. She looked down at her lap. She had been working on embroidering the cuffs of a shirt when there was still enough light to work on it, but what was the point? The person it was intended for would never wear it. Never even see it. Maybe that was why her hands had fallen idle hours ago.
As if she had slept, she could not remember her thoughts. They were like a bottomless pit of darkness in which she spun slowly, revisiting the same things again and again and again.
Pedrino was there, of course. A child she had never tried to befriend much less love. And his mother. She found herself wondering more and more what she had been like. And Gerard, her husband of nearly nine months, yet a man she didn’t know at all. He appeared to her most frequently with a face full of anger or contempt. Poor Nana Flora was there too. Her eyes were empty of the superiority now. They had gone blank. All she did was pray. She blamed herself—and she feared Gerard. As did Eschiva.
Poor Pedrino. What sort of life had he had? She had failed him. She had never tried to befriend him, to know him, to love him. She had preferred her own world, her paintings. It was hardly any wonder that God had destroyed them all. She had favored her artificial world over the world He created. She had preferred her own creations to His.
Had there been a knock at the door?
She twisted around to look but then shook her head. Bella was at her prayers by now. She never came at this time. She turned back to stare at the dying fire. The room was getting chilly, but what was the point of stoking the fire. She should go to bed instead.
There it was again! A noise from the door, as if it had shut. She twisted again and started. It was closed, but a man was standing in front of it. They stared at one another as if they were strangers.
After what seemed like an eternity, he said. “I came to thank you for my life.”
Eschiva shook her head. “It was the King. King Henry and Master de Montaigu.”
He moved closer to her, stopping two feet away. “They would have done nothing if you had not asked them to.”
“I was just the messenger, Bella’s messenger. Thank her.”
“I have. But I wanted to thank you too.” He sank onto his heels and they were eye to eye. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.
“Yes, of course. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Sitting alone in the dark.” His voice was almost inaudible. His eyes never left hers.
“I was stitching,” Eschiva answered, nervously stroking the silk across her lap.
“In the dark?”
“I—just—I don’t know.”
“May I put a log on the fire?”
“Yes, of course.”
He stood, moved to the fireplace, took a poker and scraped the embers together before placing a large log strategically across them. He took the bellows leaning beside the fireplace and pumped them until flames sprang up around the log. He took a lamp from the mantel and held the wick in the flames until it caught fire. He returned to Eschiva. The lamp lit up the silk over her knees. “What are you working on?” he asked and reached out his free hand to get a better look.
“It’s just a shirt,” Eschiva answered, acutely embarrassed.
“Yellow with red crosses on the cuffs?” He lifted his eyebrows.
Eschiva stared down at it so self-consciously that she couldn’t even answer. The blood flooded her head and turned even her ears dark.
“It must be for my brother Johnny. He’s everyone’s darling.”
“No, of course not!” she protested, looking up at him. “It was for—”
Their eyes met and she realized he was teasing her. He was smiling very faintly. He set the lamp down on the table beside her and reached out with the back of his hand to very gently touch her hot cheek. “I hope it was for me. I would be honored to wear it.”
“Yes,” she managed to whisper. “Yes, it was for you.”
“I am ashamed. I have brought you nothing.”
“You’re here,” Eschiva mouthed soundlessly.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish