by Ray Smith
A story about a medieval noble's pre-wedding jitters and the love who helps him.
| Sir Jean de Bertrand drew a heavy sigh as he finished the last of his wine and watched the fire gutter in the hearth. It had been a long and trying week already, and with his wedding only a day away it didn’t look to be getting any better any time soon. He thought back on the whole troublesome ordeal with the doctor’s apprentice who had appeared to have momentarily joined with a pack of bandits that had attacked travelers from his lands. He wondered again if he had been too lenient on the boy by giving him probation, and then shook his head. "What’s done is done, Jean,” he said to himself. "You’ve given him the opportunity to redeem himself. His fate is in his hands now.” He cocked his head to listen to the cold spring rain pelting against the shutters, and called for his page to bring in more firewood. Jean poked his head out the window and squinted as the rain hit his face. Robert crouched before the hearth and piled enough logs on the fire to keep the lord of Riverborne Glade warm through night.
"Do you think it will stop raining by tomorrow, Robert?” Jean asked as he closed the shutters again and grabbed a cloth to dry his face and blond hair with.
Robert replied, without looking up from his duties, "An it be the Lord’s will, yes sir. But if not, sir, you could have the weather-witch bring out the sun long enough to dry your nuptials.” Jean merely grunted in reply, making note of the practicality of the boy’s answer. He was not entirely comfortable with calling on the magi of his council for something so trivial and selfish. Then he thought of Analisa, of all the months of hard work his bride-to-be had spent preparing for the wedding, and of the look on her face should the continuing English rain dampen the spirits of the day. He decided that it wouldn’t be so trivial after all.
He was stirred from his musings by his page asking if there was anything else Jean wanted of him before Jean retired for the evening. Jean dismissed him with a shake of the head. As the page bowed and turned to take his leave, Jean (almost as an afterthought) said "Robert, you’re doing a fine job. You’ll make an excellent squire when the time comes.” The boy beamed with joy.
"Thank you, milord!” He grinned as he bowed once more and turned to make his way to his pallet in the adjoining room.
Jean closed the door and changed into his bedclothes, then knelt by his bed for his evening prayers. When he was finished his devotions, he climbed beneath the covers. He spent several minutes arranging the furs trying to get warm enough to sleep as comfortably as he could. The monotonous rhythm of the wind and the cold rain beating against the shutters started to lull him to sleep.
He had finally gotten comfortable and was almost asleep when a log in the fireplace popped loudly, jolting him awake. He muttered quietly to himself and started to close his eyes again when he saw a shadow dancing on the wall. He froze, then blinked his eyes quickly to make sure he hadn’t imagined it. He slowly looked toward the fireplace as he sat up. The flickering firelight glinted off familiar features that he hadn’t seen in almost fifteen years, and hadn’t expected to see again until he was called to Heaven.
"Hello, cheri.” The blonde spoke in her native French and smiled at the nobleman she had not seen since her own murder fourteen years earlier. Jean threw back the covers and sprang to his feet, rushing forward to hug his long lost love tight and bury his face in her hair. He breathed deeply, her scent assuring him that this wasn’t a dream.
"Mon Dieu, how I’ve missed you,” Jean whispered back in the same tongue as he kissed Anne-Marie’s cheek, blinking back the tears from his eyes.
"And I’ve missed you too, Jean,” his former fiancée replied as she returned the kiss. "But I can’t stay for long and we must speak.”
"But…why?” Jean blurted out as he took a step back, that sinking empty feeling returning once more to his chest. "And how are you here now?”
Anne- Marie placed a finger to her love’s lips as a cloud crossed her face. "I don’t have time to explain, my love. And I’m not sure I can, even if I did. But, please, I don’t have much time, and we have to talk about your marriage.”
Jean’s jaw dropped as though Anne-Marie had slapped him. He sank into a chair and lowered his face to his hands, his shoulders shaking as he began to sob. "I’m sorry, Anne-Marie. I never meant to betray you like this. I’ll stop the wedding tomorrow.”
"Jean-Baptiste de Bertrand, you will do no such thing!”
Jean looked up, confused. "But...you...I love you, Anne-Marie. I always have and I always will. I can’t...”
Anne-Marie knelt at his feet and took his hands in hers as she looked up at his face. "You can. You will. That’s why I’m here: to give you my blessing.”
Jean blinked. "Your blessing? You’re giving your blessing to my marriage to another?!?”
Anne-Marie smiled, "Yes, love. My blessing. I’ve watched Analisa for quite some time. She’s a beautiful young woman, and she loves you with all her heart. And I know why you decided to marry her...even the reasons you won’t admit to yourself. Trust me: you could do much worse than she.”
"She’s not me. I know. But Jean, please. I’ve been gone for fourteen years. What we had is something that most people will never know, and you’re going to throw away a chance to have it twice? Jean, your happiness means more to me than anything. And if I thought that I stood between you and happiness...” Anne-Marie shook her head softly as she let the sentence trail off.
Jean whispered, "I don’t want to ever forget you, Anne-Marie.”
"Jean...when did you last smile?” she asked abruptly.
"Yes, Jean. When did you last smile...not counting when you brought my body back from Normandy?”
Jean thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I don’t remember.”
Anne-Marie nodded, "When we were together, that was one thing I could count on from you: you always smiled. It came so naturally to you, and you have such a beautiful smile, like that of an angel.”
Jean found himself smiling in spite of himself as she continued, "Yes, just like that. And more than that, I always knew that you loved me.”
Jean smiled wider. "Yes, I do. More than life itself.”
"And that’s the other thing,” Anne-Marie continued. "You have such a beautiful soul, Jean, a soul that’s capable of infinite love. Infinite love won’t be diminished if you love Analisa the way you love me, or the way I love you...or the way she loves you.”
"Very well,” Jean nodded. "For you, Anne-Marie, I...”
"No,” Anne-Marie interrupted. "Not for me, Jean. Do it for yourself. And for her. You two make a beautiful couple, and I know you’ll have many beautiful children. And yours will be a love that people will speak of for years to come.”
Jean rose to his feet and pulled Anne-Marie close, kissing her cheek once more. "Very well. For me, and for Analisa. Thank you.”
Anne-Marie returned the kiss, "Thank you, Jean. I know things haven’t always gone well for you since my...well, you know. But things are going better, and they’ll get better yet, especially with Analisa by your side. I have faith in you, and I know you’ll do me proud.” She then spun him around and pushed him softly toward the bed. "Now, back to bed with you. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.”
Jean chuckled as he crawled under the sheets, looking up at Anne-Marie as she sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the covers up to tuck him in. "When will I see you again?” he asked as he felt Hypnos overtaking him.
"When God wills it,” she whispered as she stroked his hair softly, "and not a moment before. But not for quite some time.”
Jean fell asleep quickly. The last thing he remembered before Robert threw open the shutters to let in the morning sun was feeling Anne-Marie’s weight rising from the bed. Were it not for a slight flattening of the furs where she had sat the night before, he would have thought the whole thing a dream. But regardless, he awoke with a smile for the first time that he could remember, and he somehow knew that he would awaken with a smile every morning for a long time to come.