The Sound of Emeralds

by Rachelle Rea

What once was blazing hatred has turned to lasting love, but could the union of a wild heart with that of a lady ever result in more than heartache?

With the help of an old friend with uncertain loyalties, Dirk inches ever closer to clearing his name. Gwyneth throws her faith into good tidings and the promise of a future as a family. But an old evil comes to call, just as tragedy rips apart a fledgeling truce. Enemies from the past and grief for the future threaten to tear asunder what God had brought together…

As the date of Dirk’s trial approaches, his fate and his family hang in the balance. Will he be proven innocent of Gwyneth’s parents’ murders or separated from her forever? How much pain does it take to erode a love steadfast?

Chapter 1

Gwyneth

Godfrey Estate, Northampton, England

19 January 1567

Though ours was not the love story I would have written for myself, I would not have had us any other way. For we were us, and that was all that mattered anymore.

That, and Dirk had married me the day before. Now in the darkness of the night, I shifted up onto one elbow to better see him standing in the doorway, his back to me. Someone at the bedchamber door held a candle, its glow glinting off of Dirk’s red curly hair. My whole heart smiled. The sight of him, my husband—Dirk Godfrey, the man who my soul held dearer than all others—both calmed and awoke me. I strained to listen but could hear naught but the men’s rumbling voices trickling through our corner of Godfrey Estate and back to me.

He slowly closed the door, the shadows swallowing the soft sound—and I knew he meant not to awaken me. When he turned, I tried to read the breadth of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, the light in his brown eyes. He noticed I no longer slept, came closer, and rested his fists on the bed by my side—and I saw that something had snuffed out that light I loved so well.

“You are beautiful.” His words feathered across that part of my soul that was and always would be his alone.

My mouth twitched, but a smile failed to form. How could it when he looked so serious, so grave even as those loving words departed his lips? I slid a hand toward one of his and waited, determined to be patient, to resist the temptation to press for whatever darkened his look. Quite unlike my usual impetuousness. Pressing my gaze to his, I focused on naught but Dirk.

One long moment passed, then another… and another. The darkness breathed. The words balled in my chest constricted my ribcage and refused to allow any air to enter my lungs. So I let them out at last. “What is it?”

I had expected to be able to draw a breath once the words were free. But the air toyed with me and stayed just out of reach.

His ruffled sigh fanned over me as he leaned forward to claim my lips with his own.

Sheer willpower enabled me to pull away with my hand to his bristly cheek. “You are keeping something from me.” As he did too often. A prickle of unease shivered down my back.

“Can I keep it from you a while longer?” His low words met my ear just as his lips met the skin beneath it. That was when I knew he was protecting me from something.

And my heart constricted all over again. “Nee.” I denied him in Dutch, the language my moeder had taught me.

He put a few more inches between us. Even in the dimness of the new dawn, I detected that familiar wolfish grin stretching across his face. That same grin he had given me time and time again, since I had first entered his charge last summer when he had rescued me from the Iconoclastic Fury rioting across the Dutch Low Countries. “Are you certain, wife?”

“Do not use that charming smile on me.”

“I only use it on you.”

He spoke truth. Even so, I raised a brow, moved up, and kissed him beneath the chin. His throat moved, and I knew he had given in.

“Anders Revelin has returned,” he said.

I went still, sinking back down onto the blanket until all I could see were the dark shadows dancing across the ceiling. This was my wedding night, and Anders had interrupted my joy. The wince claimed my mouth before I could beckon it back. The man had once been my friend, a fellow Catholic in a Protestant land. He had been the one to take me to the ship that would carry me from England to the Dutch Low Countries. Then in recent months, he had betrayed me—claimed to be assisting me in clearing Dirk’s name of my parents’ murders when in fact he was persuading neighboring nobles against him.

Dirk joined me in the bed and encircled me then in arms as strong as stone but so much gentler. I let him hold me, clinging to him in return, rejoicing in the fact that we need never be apart again. He was mine, and I was his. We were one. Forever. The thought soothed the tortured part of my soul ripped open anew at both Anders’s leaving and his return.

At one time, I had thought if I could just belong to Dirk, all would be well. Yet here we were, wed and happy, but not without worry. And that worry bore a name I knew too well.

“What do you think he wants?” I whispered into the silence.

Dirk’s shrug jostled me. “I know not. What I do know is that I will never let him hurt you. Trust me on that.” His embrace tightened.

“Does this mean we can stay?” I knew Dirk’s eagerness to be gone from Godfrey Estate had something to do with Anders’s abrupt disappearance. And that our plan to depart the day after our marriage commenced—mere hours from now, in fact—hinged on that very disappearance. Because we suspected Anders had left in order to inform others of Dirk’s whereabouts.

“We will stay. The danger arrived with his leaving—and it leaves with his reappearance.”

I shifted to look at him. Even without my glasses, I could see him well. I could always see him. The bristle across his jaw that he would take a blade to upon the morrow—or not. The strong brow that spoke of much concern for his family, for his new wife. The scar beside his right eyebrow that held a story I still had not heard. Although usually impatient about secrets, I knew the strangest peace about whatever that scar meant. No restlessness beckoned me to ask Dirk about it. Mayhap that was the Spirit of God holding me back.

But there was something I did want to know.

“Do you think Anders is a good man?” Though this was our chamber and ours alone, still I whispered.

Dirk’s hand on my hair hesitated. “Do you?”

Rolling my eyes at his evasion, I decided to answer. “I cannot tell. He has stood in an older brother’s stead for most of my life, yet he betrayed me when I believed I most needed him.”

His eyes narrowed. “His leaving you to the Dutch Low Countries?”

 I shook my head. “Not that. Never that. He turned his back on you, and that means he turned on me.”

“Ah, Gwyn.” He buried his face in my shoulder and kissed me again, giving me the sense he would rather not talk of this—or aught else.

“You are a good man,” I said when I could. He drew in a breath, caught. Knowing where his haunted thoughts were leading him and wanting to stay them, I touched his shoulder. Warm skin corded with muscle met my hand. “Naught could convince me otherwise. You are.”

He pulled a shock of my hair over my face. “People can be both good and evil, Gwyn.”

Content to hide behind the curtain of hair he had given me, I thought on that a moment. “Is Anders more bad than good?”

“No more so than I.”

Rearing out of his embrace, I flung my hair out of my face. “You are wrong.”

“It is true.”

My head shook so violently my neck ached. “Truth has come to mean a lot to me—”

“I know it has.”

“—and that is not it.”

His arms wrapped around me once more, effectively pulling me back down beside him. “If I am a good man, it is because you are the good in me.”

Before I could even begin to think on what that meant, he swooped down and kissed me. But before I kissed him back, I purposed to one day convince him of what I saw: he was a good man. Now to convince the world of that.

He awakened me with yet another kiss, and my first thought was that I would never tire of them. My second thought was that he did not need to know that, so I squirmed and made to roll to the side.

A chuckle rumbled into my ear as my face met his chest; I had rolled directly into his arms. The glare I gave him sobered him somewhat, but still that grin I knew so well lingered on his lips. “It seems you always find your way back to me.”

Turning away to hide my smile, I looked around; the large furniture, dark interior, and heavy curtains of a deep russet reminded me I slept in my husband’s room now. The chamber I had shared just the night before with my friend and fellow escapee from the convent, Margried, was another wing away entirely.

I turned to see my husband gazing at me with a mix of emotions in his eyes. Love. Wonder, as if he could not fathom I sat beside him in his bed in his chamber—one I had not visited before. Thus, my examining the interior a moment before. ’Twas a dark room for a man who had brought such light to my life—the light of hope. Truth. I shook my head at the incongruity before studying him further. He did, however, have a past as dark as this chamber. A past that we even now sought to reclaim, for he had not murdered my parents, as all England believed he had.

“Good morrow, wife.”

I smiled. “Now that I have married you, do you think people will believe more readily that you are innocent of the crime I accused you of?”

He snorted. “Those are your first words to me on the morn after we are wed?”

Leaning toward him, I whispered, “Good morrow, husband.”

It was a long moment before my mouth was free again to say, “Truth be told, my first words to you on this day were already spoken, during the dark watches of the night.”

His hand moved from my hair to my shoulder. “I had hoped mayhap you did not remember that.”

“How could I forget?”

He nodded, and I knew the exact moment he let the burdens he bore land on his back once more. His brow hardened. The fire in his eyes subsided to a subtle simmer. His lips descended to brush my cheek with a feather-touch. As if to reassure me.

A painful ache demanded I reassure him in return, but how? Confidence, that which I had known after he had shut the door hours ago on the news that had shaken me, vanished just that quickly. I knew his wolfish grin, the light in his eyes, his moods so well, but I knew not how to comfort him now. I had the rest of my life to learn him, to know him…. The shadowed thought came as a crow to a field: would I ever know?

When he moved from the bed, I sank back against the wealth of pillows. Pushing away the stark question of a moment ago, my mind tossed instead with what he had told me all those hours ago. Anders had returned.

But why? For what?

I watched Dirk, his back to me, as he attempted to button his white cambric shirt with one hand while pulling back the curtain to the west window with the other. Sliding from the bed, I tugged my night rail into place until it whispered about my ankles. I stepped around my husband and finished the buttons, letting my fingers linger. He covered my hand with his own and tore his gaze from the window.

Evading his gaze and the uncertainty in my own soul, I peeked at the view but saw naught. “What worries you?” I asked, when really I wished he would ask the same of me.

 “Naught in the world worries me this day. This is the first day you are my wife, and I plan on spending every second with you.”

My head tilted, torn between how lovely that sounded and what I knew he did not speak aloud. “Something does worry you.”

He raised a brow and leaned in.

But I leaned back, stubborn, and rolled my eyes. “Me. Either you worry you will not be able to spend every second of our first married day with me—or you worry for my safety.”

“You know me well.” One hand still held mine captive at the opening of his shirt, but the other rose and cupped my shoulder. My stomach flipped at the dangerous look he was giving me, but my gaze darted to the door. To the memory of him standing there and speaking softly to Cade. To what lay beyond it.

I pulled away and ducked behind the dressing screen he must have ordered brought in here. The presence of my trunk behind the screen confirmed that fact. Popping it open, I breathed deeply of the lavender petals Alyce had tucked within its folds.

Dirk called to me, “Shall I ring for food with which we can break our fast? Alone?”

I stilled, thinking. “We can go down.” Realizing I had never asked the question burning on my tongue, I finally emerged and froze. Dirk was kneeling before the window, eyes closed.

Time halted. Tears assaulted. My heart shivered. Emotions flickered across his face. Joy. Concern. Fear. And something that resembled gratitude. He was the handsomest man I had ever seen. Tears pooled in my eyes as I watched him give over to God all that lay on his heart. And I knew then in mine that I had indeed married a good man.

“Gwyn?” He smiled at me. What I had done was as good as eavesdropping, and Dirk was a private man. Would he be angry with me?

He held out his hand.

I went to him, daring to hope that whatever we might face this day and for the rest of our lives, we would face together, with the knowledge that God held us. I might not have even seen him in all seasons, a full year, yet, but I knew this: he was teaching me how to be a woman of faith by being a man of faith. I wanted to show the world how very much a man of faith he was.An innocent one.

Chapter 2

Dirk

Together we descended the stairs, and I marveled at the woman Gwyn was. So strong and sure in some ways, so vulnerable in others. I walked into the Great Hall with her on my arm, having nearly forgotten Anders Revelin would be there. Nearly.

But he was, as Cade’s midnight visit had proclaimed. There, sitting at the table with my family, making my youngest sister, Susan, laugh. She tilted her head toward him and the red hair we had both inherited from my mother glinted in the light of the morning sun streaming in through the Great Hall windows. Beside her sat my mother and other younger sister, Millicent, both looking decidedly unamused.

Also looking unentertained were Cade and Ian, the friends who had courageously accompanied me across the English Channel and to the convent where we had rescued Gwyn, then-postulant Margried, and the nun Agnes. As Gwyn and I approached, my nose caught the scent of the morning repast, not yet brought out by the servants. Eager to eat—and ensure Gwyn sat far from Revelin—I led my wife to the head of the table, where she would sit to my right, on the side of the table with my closest friends, on the opposite end from her once-friend.

As I waited for her to sit, I raised my brows at Ian, surprised he had in fact allowed Susan to sit beside Anders. He nodded, silently saying he had tried. Of course, he and my sister were not outwardly romantically involved just yet. But by the way my mother often glanced between those two, they might as well be.

Silence swept over the table. Seated beside Gwyn, Agnes wore the wimple I had not seen her without since she had come with us from the convent. She looked decidedly sour.

Once again, our young charges Alfie and Titus did not join us at the table. Titus had returned to Godfrey Estate with me after I had gone to see his father, Captain Tudder, at the coast. Tudder had given me responsibility of his son when he went off to join the continued conflict in the Dutch Low Countries. Alfie, a former stable boy, had come with Gwyn from her ancestral home, Barrington Manor. I imagined the two boys must be with Joseph, the converted monk I had brought with me from St. Benet’s Abbey, with the intention of having him perform our marriage ceremony. St. Benet’s had once been a monastery, maintained now by Joseph.

Catholicism might yet be illegal in Elizabeth’s England, but those who practiced became recusant, as Gwyn’s family had done. This was not the Dutch Low Countries, where the tension between Catholicism and Protestantism had resulted in riots last summer.

Seated at the head of the table, I nodded, and at once the servants sprang to action, passing plates, bowls, and platters of steaming bread, meat, and dried fruit. The clink of knives and spoons joined the whispers of the women.

Throughout it all, I trained my gaze on Revelin. He stared back. Only when he dropped his gaze first did I begin to eat.

Gwyn laid her hand over mine, and I searched her face for any sign of distress or concern. But the anxiety that had crossed her features before she had ventured behind the screen earlier had vanished during our prayer.

If only what I was about to say would not bring it roaring back, but I had to ask, “What brings you back to Godfrey?”

Revelin’s gaze shot to me.

My sister Susan’s face paled. Ian looked for all the world like he wished to reassure her.

Revelin’s deep breath expanded his chest. He was not a man of wiry build, but neither was he brawny. His ribcage deflated once more, and he shook blond hair out of his eyes before meeting my gaze again. Strange. He had always maintained a meticulous appearance before. This morning, he would have looked almost unkempt had not Ian been sitting beside him with a rat’s nest atop his head.

“I owe everyone here an apology,” Revelin said.

Gwyn’s hand tightened around mine.

His eyes moved to meet hers. “Especially you, Gwyneth. I hurt you, and I am deeply sorry.”

That snort surely had not come from Margried. Cade, the man she had loved last fall, turned to rest his watchful gaze on the former postulant.

Revelin either did not notice or care about the exchange. He cared only for Gwyn. “I never meant to upset or betray you.” Betray. The very word she had used to refer to his treatment of her—of us both. “Will you accept my apology?”

Without hesitation, Gwyn nodded. I wished she had not given in so easily. Then she said, “All of this could have been said in one short letter.” And I remembered the fire in the woman I had wed yesterday.

Anders swallowed. “I wished to offer my apologies in person.”

“We thank you for your consideration, Anders.” Gwyn sounded cold. “But I, too, am curious about why you returned. You obviously did so in a hurry.” His appearance testified to that. “And you are not the hurrying kind.”

’Twas my goal to only be on the receiving end of her anger when absolutely necessary. I glanced down at her. Which, unfortunately, might be often.

Revelin’s gaze latched on Gwyn’s as his voice deepened. “I wish to make amends.”

I stiffened, sensing where this was going. Surely the man wouldn’t…

“You are not usually such a wishing man, Anders,” Gwyn prompted.

Revelin’s eyes moved to mine. In the dull light of the new day breaking through the high windows, his expression swerved toward sincere. Too sincere, mayhap? “With your permission, Godfrey, I would like to stay on here and aid you in your quest to clear your name. I think together we can see it through.”

Ah. So he wanted in on the mission he had helped undermine. Before I had returned from the coast in the fall, Gwyn had enlisted Anders’s help in clearing my name of her parents’ murders—a crime she herself had first accused me of after catching me standing over their bodies. With a blade in my hand. Soon after my return, she had caught Anders lying to her: telling her he was visiting neighboring nobles in order to gather their support so that we might have a case to present for my innocence. When in fact he was explaining to England’s nobility how I was not to be trusted.

Lord Mauldin had been the noble to post a letter to Gwyn that revealed Anders’s scheme; Mauldin had been confused about why she had written him imploring him of my innocence when she had also sent Anders to speak against me.

I registered Gwyn’s hand tightening around mine and knew what she wanted in this weighted moment between Anders’s request and my decision. She desired peace between the man she had called brother for a good many years and the man she had called husband for a day. After strife and heartache, she desired calm. By grace alone, I squeezed her hand in return and nodded down the table toward Anders Revelin. His chest deflated again, this time with a sigh of relief.

God help me, I knew that relief of his was due to something far bigger than my consent.

The next morn, I rose before the sun, anxious about Revelin again finding shelter within the Godfrey keep, and decided a walk might clear my head. That objective failed, but at the end I had a drooping bunch of nearly-dead blooms to show for my effort.

I laid them beside Gwyn, on the pillow from which I had gazed at her half the night. The sun was just beginning to peek beyond the curtains. Her face held that contented, lost look that I had memorized after so many hours of searching it for the least sign of nightmare.

She had not been terrorized by nightmares on the previous night, our wedding night, either. Dare I hope they are gone for good, Lord? Yet how could I even begin to think such a thing? For to do so would attribute their leaving to my own presence, since they had been banished from her mind since the night before she became my wife.

But how could I possibly hold the power to repel the terror she had suffered for as long as I had known her? The first time I had seen the discomfort on her face that testified to the terror’s presence, we had been in the Dutch Low Countries. Ever since, I had wondered about the nightmares that plagued her. She still had not told me what they were about. I reached out a finger to smooth a wilted petal, and it detached from the stem.

That petal in hand, I rounded the bed, put her back to me, and knelt on the floor. For a moment, I watched the sun patiently wind its way beneath the drawn curtains. Then I turned my gaze to the strands of golden hair flowing down her shoulders and back like a stream of honey. My wife. Such a gift to me, a gift undeserved, a gift I determined I would cherish, protect.

From nightmares both dreamt and waking.

For an hour or more, I stayed there by her side, my hands steepled, my head occasionally bent in prayer, other times lifted so I could see the sun and beseech God. For the strength to be the husband she needed; healing for the heart I knew must still be torn, no matter what the absent nightmares might tempt me to believe; and for wisdom in how to go about this mission to clear my name, the name I had given her.

She woke. Softly at first she stirred, her breathing becoming a sigh. I wished I had stayed on the other side of the bed so I could watch her face as she opened her eyes, but I did not wish to disturb her now and steal one moment of slumber. She had been sleep-deprived too long, suffering the nightmares.

I knew the moment she saw the flowers before her face, for she sat straight up in the bed. A grin stole across my face as I waited for her to turn and see me, find me kneeling there. Yet she remained frozen. So I stood and put a hand to her hair.

Her head jerked to me. My grin died a painful death as I noted her white cheeks and wide eyes. “What is it, Gwyn?”

She let out a strangled cry and scrambled close, wrapping both arms around my neck. I managed to catch my balance before we both tumbled to the floor, dropping the petal in my grip. My fingers smoothed the hair at the back of her head. My lips formed words of reassurance, sweet nonsense. Had the nightmares found her after all, while I had not been watching?

“I thought…” She pulled back and smiled softly. “The flowers…” She touched the scar at my right eyebrow. “It may take some time…before waking to find flowers no longer reminds me of the morn you left.”

Of course. The morning I had left her to my mother’s care and taken off for the coast, I had brought her flowers. I closed my eyes and gathered her close again. Rising to my full height, I scooped her up, freeing her completely from the confines of the covers. “I shall just have to bring you flowers often then.”

Her smile grew. “That might be difficult since it is now winter, husband.”

I raised my brows at her smug look. Her laughter filled a place deep inside that I had not even known was empty, and I resolved to make her laugh more often. She gazed up at me, looking more like a little girl than a woman grown, more a wisp of a thing than a wife. Thank You, Lord, for her.

“I have one request,” Gwyn whispered.

“You have only to name it.”

Her look turned shy. “You can say no.”

That was new. “Tell me, and it shall be done, Gwyneth-mine.”

“I want to go back to St. Benet’s.”

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