Eschiva reached her chamber, and Cecilia opened the door for them, an oil lamp in her hand. As Cecilia went deeper into the room, Eschiva closed and bolted the door behind them. The sound startled Cecilia.
“Don’t you want Sir Balian to come to you tonight?”
“No, not tonight,” Eschiva answered firmly.
Cecilia cocked her head puzzled. “But you love him, my lady, and you have kept him waiting so long.”
“Did you sleep with your Maurizio before you were married?”
“No, of course not! But I was a maid. You are a widow, and now that you have the blessings of your brother and the Lord of Beirut and a papal dispensation, what is there to fear? I would not keep a man like Sir Balian waiting!” Cecilia added with a giggle.
“A few weeks is not so long to wait.”
“What do you mean a few weeks?”
“I’ve promised Sir Balian that the wedding will take place before Lent.”
“But Madame! How can we possibly put a wedding together before Lent! It took my father eight months to make all the arrangements for my wedding! Why it will take us a week just to put together the invitation list! And you need a wedding gown! And the flowers, and the menu, and the decorations, and—”
Eschiva waved her excited maid silent. “I don’t want any of that Cecilia. I want no pomp or celebration at all.”
“But Madame,” Cecilia protested again, “Weddings are so much fun! We can have different troupes of musicians, and we could put on a play! That’s all the rage in France now. Everyone has costumes made and they play different parts. Hugh was telling me—”
“I’m sure weddings are fun for the guests, Cecilia, but I don’t want to be the center of attention. Marriage isn’t a spectacle, although it is often turned into one. It is a solemn sacrament. It binds two souls together in the eyes of God so that no man can ever tear them apart. I don’t want to marry Sir Balian for the sake of a feast with dancing and gifts. I want to marry Sir Balian so that no one—neither my brother nor my king—can use me as a means to some political end ever again. I want to marry Sir Balian so he can never leave me except through death, just as I will be his lady for all eternity.” She spoke with such intensity that Cecilia looked both rebuked and awed. She nodded solemnly as she muttered, “Yes, Madame, as you say.”
“But, Cecilia, I still need your help,” Eschiva admitted in a brittle tone.
“What is it, Madame?” Cecilia asked, raising the lamp so she could see her mistress better.
“I’m so afraid!” Eschiva whispered. “I’m so terribly afraid.”
“Of what, Madame?” Cecilia was bewildered.
“Consummation,” Eschiva gasped out, and tears of tension started flooding down her face.
Cecilia set the lamp down and put her arms around her mistress as Eschiva broke down into sobs. “It was so terrible,” she whispered. “So humiliating and disgusting.”
Cecilia stood stunned for a moment, but then holding her older and taller mistress in her arms firmly she asked cautiously, “Have you told Sir Balian how you feel? Does he know?”
Eschiva nodded vigorously.
“What did he say?” Cecilia asked anxiously.
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