With Honor, part 12

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Part 12

Matthew fingered the little stone in his pocket for the untold time as he approached the cottage.  As nervous as he had been for the conversation he just completed, the next one made him nearly shake with anxiety.  Taking a breath, Lieutenant Lewis knocked on the door of the cottage.

“Matthew,” Charlotte said, seeming surprised to see him.  He hadn’t seen her in weeks, yet her eyes were as green as he remembered.  His heart pounded in his chest.  Nervously he touched the stone in his pocket again.

“Come in,” she said with a small smile, opening the door wider.

He followed her cautiously, noticing that she was fidgeting with things, moving about more than usual.  She wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.  “Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the table in the kitchen.  “I’ll make you some tea.”

Charlotte busied herself near the hearth, but continued to speak.  “What’s going to happen to all those bandits you caught?” she asked him.
Matthew thought about the best way to answer as he watched her bustle unnecessarily about the kitchen.  “Some of them were local boys who’d been swayed by the Wolf.  They are staying here, to serve out their punishment near their families.  We’re hoping that they can return to their old lives with a little help.”

“And the others?  The men who came from other places, and the Golden Wolf himself?”  She continued asking questions; it was as if she was trying to avoid something she was afraid Matthew would say.

“They are being escorted back to the capital, to be turned over to the custody of the crown.  Most of them will be put to work for the realm, but Golden Wolf and his top men will likely remain prisoners.”  He didn’t mention that they might also be executed, depending on the will of the king.

Pulling out two cups, Charlotte continued her questions.  “Will any of the army be staying in the area?”

Matthew could hear the slight hope in her voice, and spoke carefully.  “Captain Harlan sent a courier back to headquarters, at the capital.  A fresh troop will be sent, but until then Lieutenant Fisher’s troop will remain in the camp.”

She had back to him, and Matthew watched as Charlotte sagged.  She set the teapot down on the shelf next to the cups.  “So you’re leaving,” she said, her voice small.

“Yes,” he replied quietly.  In one movement he got up and rushed to her side.  A gentle hand on her shoulder was all he needed to get her to turn towards him, although she kept her eyes down.  A tear slid down her cheek.

“Charlotte, I have come to care for you deeply in the time that I’ve been here.  I want nothing more than to stay in Klais and take you as my wife.”

That made her meet his eyes, her face a mix of despair, confusion, and hope.

“I have made a promise to the army.  I cannot yet commit to you, not and have your respect.”  He rushed to get to the next part, to keep her face from falling again.  “But I spoke with your father.  I’ve asked him to give me a year to fulfill my commitment to the army; if you will have me, we can be married when I return.  He’s agreed, so long as you are also willing to wait.”

The next few moments of silence were the longest of Matthew’s life.  He held his breath as the young woman in front of him considered her answer.  He knew all the possibilities she was thinking of; he had contemplated them himself when Captain Harlan had suggested this compromise.  As a smile came to her face, he knew what her choice would be.

“Yes, Matthew, I will wait for you.  I, too, want nothing more than for you to stay in Klais and be my husband.”

Both overcome with emotions, they embraced for the first time.  Knowing that he must leave soon, it was difficult for Matthew to pull away.  As he finally did, he reached for the little stone in his pocket.

“I have this for you, as a promise,” he said as held his hand towards her.  In it sat a little stone horse pendant, suspended from a leather string.  “A year is a long time to wait, and I may not be able to send you word.  When it is hard to remember, when it is difficult to be alone, this little horse can remind you of your cavalry soldier and my promise to return.”

Charlotte’s eyes filled with tears once again as she lifted the necklace from his hand and placed it over her head.  Looking down at it, she fingered the little horse.  Her eyes met his, both knowing that it was time for him to go. “Come back to me safely,” she said softly.

He hugged her to his chest one more time.  “I will,” he replied.  “I will come back.  For you.”

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