“Sir William’s come!”
The boy ran down the dusty village street, hollering as loud as he could. Sara looked up from her sweeping and then turned her eyes towards the castle. If Sir William was here… her heart leaped into her throat and began pounding. Here was her chance, if he remembered her. He had been only a squire the last time he came, and now perhaps a man knighted by the king would not have the time of day to pass with a village lass.
Yet it was her only hope. With a quick flick of the broom, she swept the last of the dirt from the doorstep and hurried inside. “Mama, I’ll be back shortly,” she called to the woman laying in the bed as she threw the broom into the corner and grabbed her shawl. Her skirt swirled around her ankles as she dashed back outside.
Their home was a hovel, tiny and dark, and she blushed at the thought of Sir William seeing it. They had been childhood playmates when she was the steward’s daughter and he the castle page, but those times were past. Her father had died in the plague, and her mother had served the lady of the castle until a fall down the stairs paralyzed her. Now only her mother’s handwork and the charity of the castle servants kept them fed and warm. It was those servants who had warned her what the lord planned, and that was why she needed to see Sir William.
She made for the castle, hearing in the excited calls of the villagers around her the confirmation that the knight had indeed returned. Horses and squires bustled about the stables, but there was no sign of the knight. Sara slipped around the corner, to the quiet darkness of the castle chapel. The door made no sound as she stepped inside, and she stopped, seeing the knight kneeling before the altar.
She willed her heart to still itself. She had not seen him in years. Yet the last time he had come home, he had come to seek his old playmate in the first free moments he had. They had stolen a horse from the stables and gone out riding, racing with the night wind, and then, under the stars, he had kissed her. Perhaps he would forget that, but even if he had, he was a knight and had the lord’s ear. She needed his help.
At last the knight rose and walked up the chapel aisle, his head bent. He was only a few feet away when she whispered his name. His head jerked up and his hand went to the place at his belt where his sword normally hung. Then, seeing her, he relaxed.
“Sara?” his voice was soft.
“Aye, sir. Might I have a word with you?”
There was a smile in his voice. “Aye, lass. What is it?”
For a second she wondered how to ask, and then she blurted it out. “The lord is thinking of marrying me to the miller’s son. Please, sir, speak to him and tell him that I cannot. I must care for my mother.”
He was very still for a moment. “Your mother… is she…?”
“Still bedridden, sir. She has not walked since her fall. She can work with her hands, though, and we keep fine, but please, I cannot marry the miller’s son.”
“Only for your mother, Sara?” he asked, stepping closer.
She hesitated. “No, sir. Because I cannot give him my heart.”
“’Tis given to another.” Her words were a whisper as she stared at the broad leather belt about his waist, feeling the heat rise in her face. If he did not remember the kiss…
“Perhaps ‘tis given to the one who gave his heart to her?” he asked, his hand gently raising her chin until her eyes met his. She stared into those dark eyes, once so familiar to her, and saw there once again the look she had seen on the night he kissed her.
“Perhaps,” she whispered, trembling.
His lips curved into a smile that made his eyes twinkle. “I’ll speak to the lord, Sara. Methinks he’ll be willing to consider a better marriage for his old steward’s daughter, if, perhaps,” he raised one eyebrow, “you’d be willing to wait for a knight to win some land to support his wife?”
“Only if it’s the knight who’s already won my heart,” she returned, her smile matching his.
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