By: Barbara Devlin

“I had thought the reverse, great one.” With grace and elegance, she rose, and as he stood, he caught her hand and brought it to his lips, savoring the subtle gasp she emitted. “All right. Since you insist, you have my word.” She led him back to the feast. “But I should caution you to beware, as within the palace the walls have ears, and you know not whom you might call friend or foe.”

“A sensible warning I shall heed. Whither are you sitting?” At the food table, he located his plate, which he retrieved. “Is your father in attendance?”

“He is, but I do not join him.” When a guard approached, she turned aside. “Have no fear, great one, as I will find you.”

“Sir Aristide, the King commands your presence.” The guard stretched upright. “Now.”

“Of course.” Nodding, Aristide glanced at Lady Dionysia and discovered her gone. Although he sought some sign of the mysterious creature, he spied no sign of her. “I am at your service.”

“This way, Sir Aristide.” The sentry flicked his wrist.

At the imposing dais, the Sire presided over the festivities. When he noted Aristide’s arrival, the King’s smile faltered. Had Aristide committed some inadvertent but egregious error?

“Majesty.” Aristide bowed his head. “I answer your summons.”

“Sir Aristide, we observed you making solicitous overtures to Lady Dionysia.” The King narrowed his stare, and Aristide clenched his gut in anticipation of a sharp rebuke. “This pleases us, as she is the daughter of a longtime ally, and we would ensure her future with an adventitious match. But the lady is damaged, thus we could not give her to just anyone, and we must reflect and proceed with prudence regarding a union  . Might we rely on you for that task?”

A chill of angst traipsed Aristide’s spine, as he considered the King’s proposition, though the prospect of marriage did not necessarily surprise Aristide. Indeed, ever since Arucard imparted the news of his impending nuptials, Aristide wagered every Nautionnier Knight would be similarly shackled, because the strategy made perfect sense.

From a judicious perspective, if the Crown wished to control the Nautionnier Knights, a wife and children served the purpose well, especially for former Templars for whom kinship and loyalty were a way of life, and those principles fueled his response.

“Sovereign, I suspect the same can be said of me, given my ignominious history, and we are none of us perfect, excepting you.” Aristide peered at the dark corner and smiled, as he surmised the bride-to-be in question loomed therein. For some strange reason he could not fathom, she called to him, to his sense of honor and duty, to his need to protect and defend those who could not champion themselves. “Know that if I am to wed, if it fulfilled your ambition, and if the choice were entirely my own, I would pick Lady Dionysia as my wife.”




The Year of Our Lord, 1314

It began with a dance. Two people, veritable strangers, came together in a dark corridor, in fulfillment of a promise made, joined hands, their bodies swaying to the gentle beat of the music, and the harsh stone walls transformed into some ethereal place whither naught mattered but the beat of their hearts in rhythm with their mingled rush of breath. They shared bits of humor to dispel the mutual discomfort, as their gazes met, and they conversed in a language imperceptible to the human ear, but they spoke, nonetheless. His sturdy male form grazed her softer female curves, by accident, at first, but on purpose, as he grew bold. By the time the melody ended, they moved as one entity, and they were strangers no more.

“You are quiet, brother.” Demetrius snickered. “Afraid, yet?”

With a rude jolt, Aristide returned to the present.

Autumn ushered in the demise of England’s lush verdure, as leaves shriveled, the grass turned brown, and flowers withered, heralding nature’s approaching winter slumber. For him, the transformation mirrored the impending change in his existence, as he bade farewell to abstinence, given his recently scheduled nuptials. Still, dissimilar to his brothers, he embraced the new and exciting chapter in his life.