Edward was still as he observed Ellen sitting up at the high board. He had had to practically fight past her brothers and cousins to get into the hall, but he was there and so was she. Little else mattered to him at that moment.
A moment later, he saw pain mix with the greeting in her eyes and knew he had been a fool to not come sooner, for beside Ellen sat her new husband.
Edward felt as if he'd been walking in a trance ever since his summons to the Duke's presence. First there had been the shock of his brother's death, and then this news of Ellen.
"She's to marry Raulin D'Esseps?" he remembered spitting back at his father when old Lord Lochinvar had told him.
"Why yes," his father had answered in a conversational tone. "Do you know him? I don't think he's one of Lancaster's men."
Edward had clenched his fists, thinking of all he knew Raulin was capable of. The idea of Ellen with a man like that boiled his blood. "Nay Father… He's not with the Duke… But I know him," he had forced himself to say.
If his father had heard the dangerous tone in his voice, he made no comment about it, and there was little time left between them for the subject to come up again. Frail old Lord Lochinvar did not outlive his eldest son by many days, and it was up to Edward to grieve and bury the last of his living relations.
But all the while, underneath the grief of losing his family, was the need to go to Netherby… and the burning rage directed towards Raulin. At times, he had wondered whether it would really be worthwhile to chase after Ellen. She had agreed to marry another man, after all. Perhaps it would be best to forget her altogether and find some other suitable young maiden to marry and carry on the Lochinvar line.
But, despite all his sensible arguments against it, as soon as duties permitted, he found himself on the back of his destrier, making the long and difficult journey to Netherby. The weather had been bad and the going, slow, which had infuriated him because of the urgency of his journey, but the weather had little care whether it infuriated the new Lord Lochinvar or not. He had arrived to the wedding late and not in the best of spirits when he discovered Ellen sitting there with Raulin.
Ellen's chest rose and fell heavily as she looked down on him, like there was not enough air in the large hall left to breathe. Edward understood the feeling, but tried not to let himself become distracted by the sight.
He turned his attention to Raulin, his old comrade in arms. He had never cared for the man, and had wanted to kill him when he'd heard he was marrying Ellen… but now, Raulin looked as pale and shaken as if Edward dueled his weapon away from him and backed him into a corner.
Edward suppressed a smile. The thought of running Raulin through held some appeal. But he saw now that his rival was nothing more than one of those prancing fops who was all bravery with an army behind him, but turned craven when facing a man without an advantage. It would be beneath him to kill him.
He glanced back at Ellen, who was still looking at him as if he'd come out of his grave. Things would be simpler if she were widowed, but Edward couldn't do it.
His attention was caught by the rather large figures of Sir Henry and his sons coming to his side. The older knight's eyes were wide and his sword hand went to the weapon at his side, ready to draw if Edward made any sudden moves. He made an attempt to be civil, but Edward could see his fear. Edward was young, nimble and much more recently back from the wars. He would certainly have the advantage if a duel were to break out.
But, nay. He could not do that either. Sir Henry had once been a second father to him. Even though it had been a long time since he had thought fondly of him, he was still beloved of Ellen.
Sir Henry drew a deep breath before bowing slightly. "Lord Lochinvar, you honor us."
Edward remained silent, his face, impassive.
That unnerved Sir Henry even more. Impatiently he blurted, "For God's sake, man… Do you come in peace or in war?"
Edward responded with a humorless smile and that flinty glare of his. "I come to dance at the bridal of course… Once, long ago, I loved and wooed your daughter, but no more. I came to say goodbye… to dance once with the bride and to toast to her health and happiness… My love for her is quite finished. Once I leave here, I'll go find a maiden more lovely to gladly be my bride."
His words pricked at Ellen's already aching heart, which had been their intent. She could sit still no longer. Leaving a still-seated Raulin in disbelief, she made her way around the table and brought a welcoming cup to her old sweetheart. His eyes softened as she handed it to him and she could have sworn she saw the hint of a smile in the corners of his lips.
He threw back his head and downed the contents of the goblet in one quick motion. "Shall we dance, my lady?" he asked, reaching for her hand.
Ellen's heart throbbed, but she let him lead her to the center of the floor. Upon a look from Edward, the musicians started up a rousing tune and the couple began to move.
"Edward," she whispered as their hands clasped together. "You came back! But… Edward… I am married."
The cool knight smiled, confident the music masked their voices to the crowd around them. He was well aware Ellen's father, brothers and husband were in that crowd, standing in impotent fury. Now that he was here, with her in his arms, that amused him greatly. He didn't think anything would ever dare bother him again. "Ah, dear heart… If I'm not mistaken, you aren't wholly married."
Feeling more confident in the arms of this stranger who was not a stranger, Ellen's back stiffened. "What do you mean, you rogue? We stood on the chapel steps together not an hour ago."
Edward laughed. "Aye… But there's more that goes into making a marriage than that, you know."
Ellen blushed furiously, which made him laugh again. But then his eyes turned serious. "Do you want to be the wife of Sir Raulin D'Esseps? I will leave you to him if that's what you wish." His chest tightened. Every instinct in his body made him want to take back those words… but he had to know her answer.
She closed her eyes, wishing once more that her marriage to Raulin had all been a bad dream. "No," she shook her head before opening her lids back up to meet his blue gaze. "I thought you weren't coming back…"
His fingers tightened into hers as they whirled on the floor together. He leaned in to whisper in his ear. "Then come with me now… Mark my words, we'll give Raulin good cause to have this excuse for a marriage annulled before we return."
"Edward!" she exclaimed, blushing again, but feeling more alive than she had in years.
"Will you come?" he asked, his eyes pleading.
She looked over at where her family members stood. She saw her female cousins giggling to themselves as they looked at them dancing. She saw her father and brothers. Was that regret she saw burning in Sir Henry's eyes? Regret that he had not agreed to this match in the first place? She was almost inclined to believe it was so.
Finally, she stared at her husband of but a few hours, who she already regretted marrying. The thought of sharing her marriage bed with such a shallow character made her shudder.
But then she felt Edward's arms around her waist as he lifted her up through one of the moves of the dance. She knew him in a way that she would never know Raulin. But Edward knew her just as well. Those vows she had made earlier on the chapel steps had been but mumbled words. She knew her heart had made the same vows years before, binding her to the knight she danced with.
She looked back at him. "Yes," she said firmly.
He smiled and whispered, "Then follow my lead, my sweet lady."
The dance had led them near to the hall's entrance. With a final twirl, Edward grabbed her hand and the two of them raced through it before the rest of the wedding guests were even aware what had happened.
Outside, Edward swept Ellen up onto his horse, swiftly following. If was the saddle of a warhorse, and quite large enough for the both of them. "They'll be following once they realize what's happened, but we'll outrun them, sweetheart," he said confidently. "Their horses aren't saddled and they don't know where we're headed."
"Where do we go?" she asked.
"To hide in nooks and crannies they'll never find, until it's quite safe for us to come out again," was his reply.
He had thought the matter through carefully once he had firmly decided upon coming to Netherby Hall. Many a marriage had started out with such an "abduction." It was simply a matter of laying low until ill feelings had passed over and then reemerging with his bride. Edward wished he could take Ellen home to Lochinvar right then. He loved picturing her as mistress of his castle… But that would have to wait. Lochinvar would be the first place her relatives would look.
Instead, he took her north to an abandoned crofter's cottage he knew of. And there, he made good on his promise to give Raulin cause to annul the marriage.
"Perhaps this wasn't the most chivalrous way I could have handled things, but after France, I'm not so sure chivalry really exists," he admitted to Ellen later as they lay naked next to each other on a peasant's pallet, the sound of rain dripping off the roof overhead
She tightened her arms around him and lifted her head from its comfortable spot on his shoulder to kiss the skin just over his heart. "Then thank God chivalry is dead," she whispered.