I stood alone in the barn.
Opposite me Thomas was looking at me with wide afraid eyes, Grace’s face was etched with deep pain and Torc’s fists were clenched.
“He’s the King? You are married to him?” Thomas’ voice was barely a whisper but still the ire was clear.
I was alone.
My eyes found Torc and I recognised the expression on his face, the determination mixed with indignation. His eyes lifted from the floor and touched mine for a short second before he they dropped to the floor again. His knuckles were white and his whole body strained as he fought for control.
My Father, my husband, and my best friend’s father had failed his father. Was I guilty by association? Just because of my blood?
“I will clear my father’s name,” Torc voice almost snarled as his eyes flashed back to mine. I could almost hear the words he failed to say – ‘whatever the cost’ – and of course that cost was me and our child.
The cold blanket of loneliness gripped me, chilling me to the bone.
“If you go, you take your brother with you,” Grace insisted.
“No,” Both Torc and Thomas replied.
“He will slow me down Mother. He will get himself killed,” Torc scoffed.
“Mother, I can’t leave you,” Thomas sounded defeated.
“No, you both must go. This involves your future and the future of your family name. It is time you found your own path in the world Tommy. I cannot hold you here any longer. Johnny he is your brother and, as different as you are, you are also the same. If you must do this then you must do this together or not at all.”
I stood there watching the exchange and holding back my tears.
Grace turned to move towards the door as she spoke to her sons about the documentation they would need to prove their claims.
They left. They walked out the barn doors and towards the house. The barn was left empty.
I was completely alone.
I had nothing again. I dropped to a hay bale and buried my face in my hands allowing the tears to flow. Both my lovers, or should I say my ex-lovers, were embarking on a quest which would quite probably expose my father as a murder. After all, on the basis of Grace’s story he stood the most to gain from his brother’s death. He would inherit the title, and by implicating Torcall and Grace he could have annulled the engagement and therefore he would have had everything he needed to marry Siobhan. I had seen the look on Torc’s face. He would kill my Father.
I could not stay here. I would not be welcome.
Torc and Thomas would head North looking for answers. The twelve would go with Torc. He would need them and he would never leave them at the mercy of the King. Especially when he suspected that Edward was somehow involved with this. His men would stay with him.
Grace had just exposed me and my family to her sons. She would not endure my presence. I might carry her grandchild but that would not be enough to purge my fathers sins. I had no place here
Where did that leave me?
Did I really have a choice?
Did I ever really have a choice?
“Maeb?” his soft voice surprised me. He dropped to a squat in front of me so as to look me in the face. “Don’t cry my love.”
I shook my head, I couldn’t speak for fear that I would completely break.
He wiped away the tears, “Will you ever forgive me?”
I released a half sob half laugh sound, “Does it matter? You are leaving. You must go and find the truth. And I must go and face my fate. I cannot outrun it.”
“What if I am your fate? Did fate not bring us together? I have found you and I don’t plan on letting you go again.”
“But Torc, you go to prosecute my father.”
“No, my love, I go to find the truth. If that truth exposes your father as guilty then we will cross that bridge when we find it.”
“I am not your love, Torc,” I tried to steel my back, “I am your Queen and the wife of your King. I am the wife and the daughter of the men who betrayed your father. I am not your love. I must return to my husband and release you to clear your family name.”
“I will not leave you to that man,” Torc growled, “I feel it in my bones that he did more than just betray my father. He is in bed with this evil doing. Whether or not he held the blade that killed your uncle, he was involved. Mark my words, the King knows what happened and has profited from it.”
Torc took a deep breath containing his rage before continuing, “This villain I have willingly fought for, served under, and been manipulated by, only to find was likely responsible for the downfall of my Father. He used my body and my false beliefs and made me do to you what no man should do to the woman he loves. He made me into his dog and made me doubt myself enough to lose your love. He is evil. No Maeb, I would never allow you to return to his house.”
“There is no point running Torc. I am married to him. We cannot emulate your parents. By law I must return to him.”
“No! You carry my child. No.”
“Torc you were willing to give him this child. You promised it to him.”
“I was a fool Maeb. I was a damn fool! Why do you think I turned Douglas away? I could not believe you would accept me after all I had done. I was and I still am so ashamed of my actions. I failed you so many times Maeb.”
“Right from the start you knew better than me,” he hung his head, “You knew that the life I had was built on lies. You saw through them all when I was blinded by them. When I naively believed in this gift so much that I willed it into existence, you told me that there was no magic. When I manufactured my title and my nobility, you saw who I was. I should have listened to you. I should have trusted your wisdom. I was too arrogant and stupid.”
“Then I betrayed you and let that man manipulate me. I made a deal with the devil and allowed the man who tormented you into our bedroom. Through my insecurities I allowed him to violate you in ways he had previously not. I corrupted the beauty of our lovemaking and made it dirty and vile. I failed to be a man to you, and I became his tool to hurt you both physically and emotionally.”
“But I cannot allow Edward to take all the blame. Thomas is correct, I took you against your will for my own selfish pleasure and without remorse I did this repeatedly. There are no excuses for my actions. I was a coward. I allow the situation to develop because I couldn’t face the truth and because I was weak man. I came to want sex more than I wanted your respect.”
“When Douglas appeared and suggested it was time to return, I was still drowning in my self-pity, I didn’t think I deserved your forgiveness. I thought it would be insulting to you to ask for it.” He wrapped his hands around my face and gently brought it level with his own, “But I never stopped loving you and I will never stop loving you.”
“What good will that do Torc? What will loving me solve?” I laughed as my tears wet his hands, “Do you remember what I asked of you? Just before the tournament, just before I rejected you to save you? I asked that you remember me above all that you have been with. Now my life is truly forfeit, I suppose I have my wish. Remember me, Torc.”
“I will not allow him to do that! I cannot allow that! Place your trust in me once more Maeb. I know I don’t deserve your faith but...”
“Blossom, how can you listen to him?” Thomas’ voice shook with anger.
“You know nothing Thomas!” Torc growled but his eyes did not leave mine.
“I know that you forced yourself onto her. I know you raped her.”
Torc closed his eyes as he took a long breath. When he opened them, they swam with sorrow but his voice was even, “Yes I did. I did what no man should ever do. I hurt the woman I love for the sake of my own sexual needs. I will forever live with the burden of this. But this is none of your business Tommy. It is up to me to prove to Maeb that I am a changed man, and it is up to her to decide whether she will trust in me enough to forgive me. I appreciate that you are looking out for her Tommy, but your motives are not pure.”
He stood and turned to face Thomas.
“Johnny,” Thomas started to snarl back as he lifted his hands which were curled into fists, “You know nothing of my motives.”
“Stop it! Both of you!” I stood up and placed myself between them a hand on each man’s chest. “You are both about to embark on the same journey which quite probably killed your father.”
“He is not the man for you, Blossom,” Thomas growled.
“And that is not for you to decide,” Torc snarled back.
“How do you expect to succeed where he failed, when you bicker like children?” I glared at them both, “I haven’t forgiven either of you! I should return to my Husband.”
“What choice do I really have?” I dropped my hands from them, and my shoulders slumped, “You both must do this. You must clear your father’s name and reinstate your family honor. I cannot stay here with Grace, not now that I have been found. Word will get back to him. I must not endanger anyone else.”
“Come with us Maeb,” Torc said quietly, “We need you, I need you, and you need us. You know these people. We could use your help if we are to find the truth.”
“Is that your motivation in asking for forgiveness Torc?” I whispered in pain.
He shook his head, “You believe that? I can see that I have a long way to go to win your heart.”
“Forget him, Blossom. I want you to come with us,” Thomas smiled at me, but his face showed his vulnerability. “I am asking you to come with us Blossom because I love you. I know nothing of the outside world, but I trust you. I am sorry I mislead you. I was impatient. But please don’t go back to that man.”
“But if I accompany you the King will know. He might even deduct your linage,” I whispered, “I will be your undoing. My presence will highlight your plight and his eyes will be on you.”
“But don’t you see,” Torc smiled, “You are correct but wrong at the same time. Having you at the head of the Twelve and visiting the Lords of his Kingdom will expose him for what he is. He is currently waging a war in your name. How will the Lords react if they find this was false? How will they react to the King if they find that he lied to them? We may well kill two birds with one stone!”