EIGHTEEN

Blaise rode his horse, Reginald, faster than what could be considered healthy for the animal. He was not one to abuse his horses, but he could not stop his feet from constantly kicking for more speed.

He would be lucky if the panting animal under his legs did not collapse as soon as he arrived. He would make amends for his treatment later.

Nearly there. Do not stop! He inwardly begged.

'Twas the last thing he wanted to do, but as soon as he finished the silent prayer another rider on a white horse leapt into his path.

No time to slow! Blaise pulled back the reins and shouted the command to halt. The other rider leapt out of the way just before Blaise could crash into him. Both horses reared, kicking up dirt in the road and crying in fright.

They missed each other but Blaise's horse continued to rear and cry, offended at having been pushed so hard only to come to an abrupt stop.

Blaise tightened his legs around the animal and gripped the reins with no intention of letting go. Finally, with enough soothing words the animal dropped back to all fours, but he continued to twitch his head and tail.

"I'm sorry." Blaise stroked his neck, hoping for peace. He doubted the animal would ever let him ride him again after this.

Blaise spun in his seat. "Are ye mad—?"

Everything he was prepared to say halted in his throat. Sir Ian stood next to the white horse, apparently having jumped off to soothe the beast once he had managed to calm it.

Ian scowled at him with a face that was no longer perfect. A long scar ran down his left eye where the skin had split open during Blaise's attack, in turn dulling that once dark eye so that it was a paler brown than his other. His nose was hideously crooked, and lower lip, which had once been as full as any lady's, was scarred at a downward angle from where his own teeth had bitten through during his beating.

"You." They said at the same time.

Sir Ian drew his sword. Though his face was badly scarred, his voice remained as strong and arrogant as it ever was. "What are ye doing here? Come to finish me off?"

"I have a mind to do so with the idiot trick ye pulled. Were ye trying to murder me, or the both of us?"

"I did not see you." Ian hissed. "Ye can blame yerself for that as my eye has never fully recovered."

"A fate ye can blame yerself for." Blaise nudged against Reginald's sides in a gentle attempt to renew the journey. The horse resisted.

"Where do ye think ye're off to?" Ian marched forward, his mind completely off his own horse which now roamed freely.

He had no time to deal with this! "Come on, Reggie." He pleaded. The horses ignored him.

Sir Ian stepped in front of the animal. Blaise wished with all his might that Reginald would charge forward and trample him.

He didn't.

"What do ye want?" Blaise groaned.

"To scar your face every bit as much as ye have scarred mine, ye filthy coward!"

"Coward?" Blaise sputtered. "I am not the coward here."

"Ye attacked me while the odds were in your favour! No true man would beat on a helpless drunk and continue to think so highly of himself."

"No true man would attempt to force himself on a lady." Blaise hissed.

Ian narrowed his eyes, the left one angrier in such a position than the right. "What do ye care? Ye threw her away days after ye had her."

His control shattered. Blaise lifted his leg and jumped down from Reginald's back.

Ian smiled at his murderous sneer. "Do ye deny it?"

"Another word and your right eye will match the left."

Ian shook his head. "Ye treat me so harshly. 'Tis not as though forcing myself on women is a habit. 'Twas an accident." He pointedly glared at Blaise. "At least I didn't wed the girl before tossing her on her ear."

Blaise drew his sword and lifted it above his head. Ian lifted his own blade, allowing Blaise's attack to strike against the metal before he kicked Blaise in the stomach.

The wind blew straight out of him. Blaise dropped to his knees, clutching his gut and attempting to breathe. He vaguely heard a slapping sound echo behind him before pounding horse hooves faded in the distance.

He should not have lowered himself from Reginald. While the animal was intelligent enough to return to Graystone, Blaise was trapped where he was without him.

"Ye shall not have an easy match against a drunk this time." Ian said from behind.

Blaise rolled out of the way as Ian's hands dove forward to grab him.

Blaise twisted his sword so that the heavy end of the handle became his primary weapon. He threw his weight into smashing the blunt handle into Ian's temple.

The man flew backwards, landed on his back in a muddy ditch, and did not get back up.

Blaise sheathed his weapon and stood, wincing at the pain in his stomach. He glared at Ian's unmoving form. "I once promised to kill you should I see yer face again. Consider yerself fortunate I have no time for you." He hissed, clutching his bruised ribs.

Had he known he would have faced a battle, he would have put some armour on over his hose and tunic before riding off.

Horse hooves sounded in the distance. Blaise turned his head towards the sound. Was Reginald returning?

His heart sank as a brown coloured horse that could not Reginald came into sight. As it closed in Blaise recognised sir Nicholas riding the animal. He groaned.

Nicholas slowed his horse to an elegant halt, looked at Ian's white horse, which still grazed peacefully as though no battle had taken place, then at Ian who lay in the ditch.

He raised a single brow at Blaise, opened his mouth, then shook his head. "Never mind, I do not believe I want to know."

"Are you here to stop me?" Blaise gripped his sword tighter. Would he be able to use it against this man if he had to?

Thankfully, sir Nicholas shook his head. "Nay. I want ye to see her. I came so that ye can get passed the gates and not simply stand outside them when ye reach yer destination."

Blaise rocked back on his feet. "Is that the truth?"

Nicholas nodded. "Aye." His eyes found Ian again. "I should have suspected you would run into him. He has been making a fool of himself for months."

"How has he been doing that? He makes a fool of himself so often I suspected no one noticed anymore."

"Hugh has told me that he no longer sees the boy as his nephew. Ian's parents are considering disinheriting him unless he makes amends for his actions. He is an only son, however. Whether he receives forgiveness or not, 'twill likely not happen."

"You haven't been allowing him near Eliza, have ye?" A chuckled rose out of Blaise's throat. For once, pleased with the man's over protective nature towards his daughter.

Nicholas shook his head. "Nay, I have not, but if your wish is to see her then ye'd best be off. I believe he shall not mind if ye were to use his horse." Nicholas motioned his head to where the animal grazed, then motioned back to Ian. "Ye shall have to risk that my men may not allow ye entrance while I see to him."

"I imagine I can handle it." Blaise grinned, sheathed his weapon and dashed for the animal. The white horse was in much better spirits than Reginald and allowed his new rider to kick off without trouble.

Eliza sat at the table, staring into her plate. The bread was freshly baked and steaming, but the scent that came with the simple food was enough to make her push the loaf away in disgust. Her baby kicked inside of her, as though demanding she eat the bread to settle them both.

She reached for her goblet instead, opting to sip at the weak wine in the hopes that 'twould be enough to settle her child until Blaise arrived.

'Twas hours since her father left, surely if the man had succeeded in kidnapping her husband he would have returned by now.

Though her head was down, the startled gasp and even a few screams of frightened servants did not escape her notice. Shuffled feet ran beyond the Great Hall, but a few did venture inside when they saw her still there.

A woman's panicking voice called to her. "Milady, lord Blaise has entered the castle. He is running into all of the chambers searching for ye!"

A man's voice came next, she assumed he was the leader of her father's knights with the authority in which he spoke. He was at his knees beside her place at the head of the table. "Milady, I insist on being present when he speaks with ye. 'Tis not safe to allow him near ye in yer condition."

Unable to drink anymore, she merely fingered the rim of her goblet, not bothering to look at the frightened servants. "If ye believe so then why did ye allow him inside?"

She looked up to see the man's face burning. "I did not want to. My men recognised him and opened the gates." His muttering grew more hateful. "They did no' think he'd run amok like this."

Her father was not with him? She tried to keep her features calm lest the knight in front of her sense her panic.

"'Tis not a stranger you speak of, but my husband. He will not harm me if we are alone." Not physically at any rate, she thought. Whether her heart could take anymore was another matter entirely.

Her heart trembled, and it shivered in her chest when the echo of Blaise's voice reached her ears. The doors to the Great Hall were still open, but Blaise had yet to make his appearance between them.

He must be searching every chamber but the one I am in. His voice sounded pained, and a loud crash suggested that he'd knocked over a servant in his haste to find her.

Her brown creased with confusion. What did her father tell him?

His form finally appeared in the doorway. His hands reached out to support himself against the arched entrance as his chest heaved, as though some invisible hand pushed and pulled against it.

His eyes did a quick sweep of the room. In his haste they must have passed right over her because he turned to rush away before jerking himself to a halt.

She knew his panicked eyes finally found her when they widened in her direction.

She swallowed painfully, aware of how she must look to him. Her lack of sleep had put a darkness under her eyes that could rival the night. The added weight of her pregnancy must surely be what caused his mouth to drop in such a shocked fashion.

Blaise pushed himself off of the door, his legs hobbling as he entered the Great Hall. The knight who was at her side lifted himself and rushed to meet Blaise halfway.

"Milord, I must ask that ye wait for sir Nicholas to arrive—"

Blaise face knotted in fury at the hand that stalled him. "Nicholas shall not hinder me from seeing my wife!"

The knight, Eliza did not remember his name, did not lose his temper the same way Blaise did. "Milord, 'twould be much easier if sir Nicholas was here to confirm yer permission to enter. My men recognised ye and allowed ye entrance, but they do not know that ye are no longer the lady's husband."

"I am still her husband!" Blaise roared.

The knight appeared thoughtful. "I was led to believe ye had annulled the marriage."

Eliza winced at the reminder.

Blaise's shoulder's sagged. The proud arrogance he'd charged into the Great Hall with vanished, much to Eliza's worry. His blue eyes looked beyond the man in his way and found hers again. The pleading she saw there was nearly her undoing.

"Your father came to see mine, and he spoke of you in such a way that I feared you would be dead before I arrived."

Eliza's throat thickened and swelled, her eyes trickled with water. She opened her mouth to speak, but not a word made it beyond the trap in her throat.

"Perhaps 'twas wise of him to speak of such things, now that I see you are in perfect health. If it was not for his cruel words I might not have come here in such haste, nor would I have discovered what a true fool I had been."

Eliza felt as though she were lifting a heavy weight, struggling and fighting so that she might obtain what she wanted most for the sake of her love. "Sir knight, leave us."

His eyes rounded under his leather cap. "Milady—!"

"Your presence was required when sir Ian paid his visit—"

"Ian!" Blaise spat the name.

Eliza ignored him. "—'Tis not required now. I will call if I have need of your assistance."

Her voice sailed and seemed to fill the wide room with her authority, consuming the man who wished to protect her from Blaise. He gave a slight bow and left the room, along with every servant and sewing maid who had been inside at the time.

The knight sent her a meaningful look just before shutting the door behind him. He sent another look, more of a glare, to Blaise. A warning for him should he cause any trouble.

Eliza allowed the comfort she felt to embrace her, knowing that, even if what Blaise had to say was not what she wished to hear, there were people nearby who would help her through any pain she had to bare. Could a mere knight even hope to threaten a lord as that man had done to Blaise?

Eliza would have to praise the man's bravery to her father when he returned.

Blaise stood perfectly still, even when they were alone and the door firmly closed behind him. "I passed Ian on the way here. Though I hadn't suspected ye would have seen him."

Eliza shrugged. "He came to make an apology, he seemed sincere, and so I accepted it."

Blaise's eyes widened. "Did you?"

She nodded. "Had I known my father had been keeping him out, I would have arranged to accept it sooner." She groaned then, pained. "His face allows me to believe he has been punished enough."

Blaise folded his arms. "Ye need not be made to feel any guilt for his circumstances. 'Twas not yer fault, what happened."

Eliza sighed. "'Twas what he said, but again, I believed him to be sincere, despite what you believe." She glared at Blaise, remembering his words to her regarding the matter as he threw her out.

As though knowing what she spoke of, he winced.

She continued to speak before he could say anything. "I have decided that I was indeed, at least somewhat responsible. Ye warned me not to go with him, and I did regardless of that warning, or of his rude behaviour, or my own heart that told me not to go. If I was not so naive, I would not have allowed him to lead me away."

Blaise shook his head. "Being naive does not put any of the responsibility on your shoulders."

Her eyes remained guarded on his. "I would have thought ye would be delighted to know that I am attempting to be responsible for my actions."

He said nothing. His eyes seemed to move all over her body, or at least, the top of her body that he could see since she still sat at the head of the long table, which blocked his view of the rest of her.

Would the sight of her sagging belly frighten him away and make him rethink his decision to annul their marriage?

Eliza steeled her nerves. If that was all it took for him to retreat then she would not mope for someone who was not enough of a man to accept what he'd done with her.

His hands rubbed his face. "I can see I am not going to get through to you now. All I care about is that ye're alive." His smile touched his eyes. "And ye look very well."

'Twas not what she expected to hear. "You said my father spoke of me as though I were dying. What has he told you?"

His expression changed from gladdened to angered. "He nearly put me in a grave of my own! Worrying me with talk of your body swelling, of illness, and a lack of appetite! I came here expecting to find your weakening body in bed, fading away."

"And this is why you chose to come here now? To see for yourself that I am not being led by the nose by Death before returning home to arrange for your annulment?" She gnashed her teeth together. "Well, now that ye have seen I am not about to drop dead ye can be on your way!"

She did not mean for her words to sound cold, but 'twas cold enough for Blaise's hot anger to be snuffed out like a blizzard chasing away the summer sun.

He stepped towards her. She tensed at his approach, fearing he would sight the proof of her pregnancy, but he fell to his knees without once gazing at her midsection. The cloth over the table disguised the mound in her middle, and he took one of her hands into both of his without being aware of her condition.

"Come home with me."

She yanked her hand away. "What?"

He did not rise from his feet. "Come home with me. Be my wife again. I forgive you for the misdeeds that brought on my attack and I can only pray that you shall forgive me for sending you away."

She could barely look at him. If she did so she knew she would throw her arms around him and tell him to take her home with her.

She itched to do so, but ... not yet. "And for calling me a harlot?" She asked softly.

His face burned brighter than the color of his hair. "I curse myself for allowing the word to leave my lips."

She sensed the sincerity and regret clinging to him, but she was not done. She would not remove his guilt from his shoulders until she knew everything. "And, what of lady Claire?"

Blaise blinked. "What of her?"

She folded her arms. "Ye do not intend to make her your wife when you recieve your annulment?"

He shook his head furiously. "I do not intend to make her my wife at all! Ever for that matter. Where did that thought come from?"

She did not want to admit that it came from her father. She had never even met lady Claire before, yet hearing that Blaise might wish to make her his bride sent such a jealousy through her that she could not reason with. "Who else would you marry?"

He shook his head. "The idea of an annulment was merely the deranged mumblings of a man lonely for his true wife beside him at night. As for Claire, I never harboured an interest in her, even before I met you."

Blaise wet his lips. "I told ye once that ye were the reason I could trust, and I tell you right now that 'tis still true."

Warmth spread in Eliza's chest.

Blaise took her hand again and she allowed him to cradle it. "Before ye taught me trust, I believed in fortune and luck. 'Twas luck that brought you to me. Aye, ye arranged for my accident, but even though ye sought out a different husband, ye came to me despite my temper with you."

He wet his lips again. Eliza could only think of a time when she had kissed them freely. "Come home with me." He begged.

She did not fight against her eyes when the tears rushed down her cheeks like twin rivers. "Then you ... will not get an annulment?"

He sighed through a smile. "No, I shall never hold the thought again."

Her throat issued horrible sobbing sounds, and despite her efforts she could not stop the hiccoughing sound that erupted when her throat opened and closed as quickly as it did.

Eliza hid her face in her arms on the table, wishing they would stop but unable to express in any other way how happy she felt. Her chest felt sore with the urge to burst with it.

Blaise took her hand again, but said nothing to her. Her violent sobbing became gentle with time, but he waited until she finished before speaking.

"You shall come with me then?"

This time Eliza did throw herself at him. "Yes I will!"

His face erupted in a joyous smile. He pulled her from the bench and made to lift her into the air before halting. Eliza felt him lower her to her feet, then saw the shock on his face as he stared at her belly that sat so noticeably between them.

She swallowed nervously, encouraged only by his tight grip on her hand. Of course that could be his panic. "Ah, yes. I have been meaning to tell you about this."

He sank to his knees, his face lost its colour but his eyes never left her stomach.

"Blaise? Blaise! 'Twill be well. Someone fetch me some wine! My husband is going to be ill!"

To Be Continued ...

Just tne Epilogue is left now, and it's pretty short, only about five pages or so. I'll post it in a few hours after I've gone through it :)

Thank You's:

Grumpirah: They are. I always liked Nicholas and William, mind you, I loved his other friends too, but not as much as I loved Nicholas.

Tatianna Knight: I kind of enjoyed his reaction :) Hope you did too

Meri: I'm glad it made you laugh. I thought there were a few reasons to laugh in this story and Edward and Blaise were two of them :) Hope this chapter made you laugh a bit too :)

Blue eyed Chica: I wasn't sure if you meant Blaise or Ian, though I suppose it would have been better to chew the both of them out. Though she does make Blaise feel guilty, if that counts :S

AkaCHEEKS: Hope his expression was worth the wait :)

Queen of laughs: Only one more chapter after this, hope you like them :)