The rattle of branch and the crackle of dried leaves underfoot cut off Elsbeth's words. She looked over her shoulder at the dark confines of the larch, Caledonian pine and oak.
Wouldst the thieves return? If they took Elsbeth's virtue would the holy order still allow her to enter?
Elsbeth had never been overly devout and had only seized upon the notion of joining a nunnery when Uncle Corwin had told her of the King's recent interest in arranging marriages to secure his most troublesome borders and barons. She was nearly past the age most heiresses were wed and knew her days of maidenhood were nearing an end. She had to join the Abbey at Lambeth, or see herself bartered away like a milking cow to breed and die young.
'Twas not a fate she cared to endure.
Uncle Corwin, her guardian, was a kind man--'struth he indulged her in most things--but he was the King's man to a fault. Even if King John betrothed Elsbeth to an old battle hardened knight, her uncle wouldst do as his liege commanded and trundle her off to be wedded and bedded within a fortnight.
She was merely a maid, with no rights. Under the circumstances it was obvious she had no choice but to flee and secure her own future. She had heard of the argument in the church between Grahan and Lombard. For her own portion, she was agreeable with Grahan's views, that marriage required consent and agreement from the maid, that there should be mutual affection, not merely the need to align properties and bloodlines.
Elsbeth wrinkled her nose when she thought of the next part of Grahan's argument. He insisted there should be consummation, and that there was no binding marriage without it. Consummation was something Elsbeth had no liking to learn about. To herself, she was more than simply a brooding mare, to be ridden and gotten with child to satisfy some man's ambitions or need for an heir.