The Heart Remembers [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Marissa St. James
eBook Category: Romance/Fantasy
eBook Description: Sylvia has no life of her own thanks to a domineering mother. All she wants is to run her own life. Sylvia is transported back to the early 13th century, where, as a widow, she and her younger daughter are summoned to King John's presence on false pretenses. The ladies are about to become the prizes in King John's jousting tourney. Faris has spent the last twenty years living with Moors in a peaceful life. He and his son return from a trading trip to find their small oasis settlement burned to the ground. Faris makes a decision to return to England with his son, Halim, where they decide to enter the tourney. Seeing Lady Sylvia stirs long ago memories. While neither Faris nor Sylvia recall their contemporary lives, they have an opportunity to recapture a past relationship and discover whether or not the heart remembers.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2009
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2 Reader Ratings:
"Rarely does one have the opportunity to regain lost love. The Heart Remembers is the tale of two lovers offered the opportunity to regain what they lost. I could not put this book down. The laundry and housework had to wait as did other work. I was so wrapped up in the love between Aubrey and Sylvia that I had to read this book in one sitting. Marissa St. James is a talented author capable of transporting her readers back in time."_Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com
Grains of golden sand tumbled down the side of the dune, creating unstable footing for the horses. The six Arabians waited, restless, tossing their heads nervously. They pawed anxiously at the sand, wanting to get away from the odor of death and destruction. The riders tugged on reins and lead ropes to get the animals back under their control. They spoke calmly, knowing the scent of blood was the cause of the animals' restlessness.
The older of the two riders, Faris, seemed to stare impassively at the scene below. His dark stubbled jaw clenched tight against the anger filling every ounce of his being. He had learned only too well over the years to keep his emotions in check. That hard lesson, and the people who lived in the settlement, had kept him alive. His first thoughts were to avenge the lost lives of those he had come to love, but revenge at this point would have been useless. What direction would he go to find the murderers? The raiders could have been any number of bands roaming the desert. For all he knew, it could have been crusaders returning from another battle, or returning to their homeland, still filled with the lust for blood, bent on total annihilation of these peaceful people.
No, as much as he would wish it, revenge wasn't the answer. Where would he take it? There were too many desert tribes who wreaked havoc on others. Unlike those who left their mark here, he was not a man to avenge himself on innocents.
The settlement, barely a village, lay black with soot and ash. The smell of burnt flesh lingered in the air, with that of carpets, household goods--everything that had been considered of little value to the pillagers. All the livestock had been taken. What was once his peaceful home was now total ruin. Hours earlier, Faris and his companion had seen flames reaching toward the night sky, beckoning on the breeze and calling him home. Ordinarily, they would have camped for the night. He knew their arrival would be late, but they were anxious to return. This journey to the larger cities had been profitable, and he was impatient to share his good fortune with his father-in-law and the rest of the desert dwellers. There was much gold for everyone.
The twilight sky had been ablaze with color, not unusual for a desert sunset, but an uneasy feeling crept over both him and his companion. When they had reached the top of the dune, where they now sat, everything they knew had fed the inferno. It must have been burning for hours, for in some places only piles of charred remains gave hint of a busy community. Knowing it was useless, but still hoping to find some life--any life--they raced to their home, as quickly as the cold shifting desert sands and the extra horses would allow. When the horses showed signs of nervousness, Faris and his companion dismounted and hobbled the animals, then ventured closer to what was once their home. The date palms and still waters of the oasis were the only life to escape destruction.
He'd found his father-in-law, Yusuf, barely alive. The old man coughed fitfully, his lungs filled with smoke, his skin severely burned and peeling from his body. He had only moments. The old man reached out to touch the younger one's face. Take Halim and go. There is nothing left here for you. Teach him your ways, but do not let him forget his mother's heritage. May Allah bless you both and keep you. With his last breath, the old man gave himself over to death.
Halim shouted his grief and anger to the darkened skies, swearing vengeance on those who had wrought this deed. Faris rested his hand on the boy's shoulder and issued a quiet warning. "Swear no oaths of vengeance. Anger will make you careless, and you will pay with your life. How will you find those who did this deed? There are many wandering tribes who survive by taking from others. Besides, have you forgotten so soon that you are the last of your family? It is up to you, now, to carry on. You cannot do that in death."
Faris breathed a sigh of relief when Halim bowed his head at the gentle reprimand and released the hilt of his dagger. All things in their own good time, but he knew it did little to ease the pain of loss.
Faris and Halim spent most of the night burying the dead deep within shifting sands. If they had returned hours earlier, they too, would be lying among the dead, and all would have been left to wild animals, vultures and shifting sands. From his present vantage point on the dune, shadows still hid most of the destruction. The sun appeared determined to show the world this was what happened when you trusted others. Faris closed his eyes against the brightening light and remembered the day he first arrived. Then, he was a foolish young knight, believing only Christian values were right and proper. That day must have been like this one. Destruction was much the same, but now he was seeing it through different eyes, and the price to him was much higher. Now he better understood what these people experienced.
He recalled the moment his ideals had begun to change. He saw two knights chasing people on foot, running them down with their destriers, swinging swords bright with blood. They turned their attention to a young girl who scampered from side to side along a stone wall like a trapped animal. He had been too far away to save the small life he had seen snatched from her arms and tossed aside like so much refuse. He rode toward them, his eyes filled with anger. These people were not warriors, but were treated brutally just the same. He saw the knights' intentions clearly written on their faces. The trapped young woman had no hope of escaping them or the brutality they had planned.
He made short work of the first crusader, dispatching him to the hell he so richly deserved. He kept himself between the woman and her attackers. Infidels or not, many of these Moors were not warriors and didn't merit being run down like animals. Battling the second offender took longer. The rogue knight had his prize, determined not to share her with anyone. His sword strokes were quick and almost true. Had he not been in such a hurry to partake of his captive's charms, his aim would have been better. As it was, he slashed at Faris, causing serious wounds. The knight's determined expression turned to one of surprise when he was skewered on Faris's sword.
He wouldn't be enjoying his prize after all.
Her face appeared in Faris's memory--dark flashing eyes, a sultry smile, thick black hair that settled about her hips, emphasizing her slim figure and beckoning for attention. Her father, a Saracen merchant, was grateful for Faris's protection. Father and daughter had hidden themselves and their patient until the plundering crusaders had left. The barely surviving knight was severely wounded and would have died that first day, if not for her care. Father and daughter devoted their time to restoring his health. After a slow but full recovery, he stayed on, working with her father, learning the ways of the Saracen. Time passed quickly, burying memories of his former life.
An attraction grew between him and the daughter. Having nothing to return to, Faris accepted her as his wife, and for the next five years they believed nothing could ruin the happiness they shared.
Then she was gone.
Her laughing image slowly faded from his mind. Every day made it a little harder to recall her smile and mischievous eyes. It was surprising that after twelve years he could picture her at all, but perhaps his son, who waited quietly beside him, had something to do with that. While the memories filled his mind, he and the boy finished the job of burying what dead they could find. Only charred ruins remained to mark the demise of a once thriving community.
Everything else was gone now, and it seemed fate had other plans for him. He had come almost full circle and it was time to close the gap. For just a moment, he closed his eyes and let the rising sun warm his weathered face. His features softened as he let go the memories from his mind to settle in a corner of his heart. Part of him would always remain here.
He gave his mount's reins a gentle tug and turned away from the dune. The string of horses followed.
Halim never said a word, almost sure of the thoughts running through the other's head. He took one last look at the deserted oasis, the only home he'd known. He reluctantly followed Faris with the packhorses, laden with what few supplies the invaders had missed. Where they were going he had no idea, but he trusted his black-eyed father without question.
Three months later
Faris and Halim stopped before the closed castle gates and stared at the cold, forbidding structure. The sight felt strange to Faris. Twenty years had passed since he'd last seen his home. He waited patiently for someone to answer his summons.
"Who goes there?" a guard called down from the gate tower. The gray-bearded soldier leaned carelessly over the sill of the tower window and stared below.
Faris shaded his eyes against the setting sun. The guard had turned his shield so it reflected the last of the day's brilliant light, before the great orb receded behind the castle. Faris looked to the challenger, what he could see of him. It put him at a great disadvantage. "The Earl of Sheffield demands admittance," he called back.
The guard laughed. "Unless my lord's come back from the dead to haunt us all, there is no earl. He had no heirs." He waved a negligent hand. "Take your claims elsewhere," he called down from his safe perch, then turned away.
"Call out Sir Nigel, if the old man still draws breath." Faris watched a surprised expression, then a scowl, cross the soldier's face. Although he couldn't hear what was said, Faris knew the man grumbled something unintelligible before turning away and disappearing from the tower.
The setting sun cast the front of the castle in shadow. Lit torches appeared along the wall walk while soft colors slowly faded to black. None could match the last one he saw in the Holy Lands. As long as he lived he would never forget that fiery sunset.
He looked to the gate. Either a single knight would make an appearance, or Faris and his son would find themselves overtaken by castle guards. He was certain they'd be given admittance, if only to satisfy morbid curiosity. The evening meal in the great hall would be underway by now, and most of the servants would be settling in for the night, their duties complete for the day.
Halim stared upward at the formidable fortress. "This is your home?" he asked in wonder. He couldn't imagine living behind such intimidating walls. Nothing in his homeland compared to this. The gray stone appeared cold and sinister. Desert tents with their colorful rugs and large pillows offered a more congenial welcome. On the journey to this island country, their ship had stopped in several ports to trade and replenish supplies. Every stop was colder, both in weather and friendliness, until they had arrived in England. Halim's opinion of westerners had slowly deteriorated until now. He half wished he had remained in the desert, a choice he wouldn't have lived long enough to regret.
Faris nodded in response to his son's question. Halim glanced at his father and wished he knew what to expect. The older man seemed to have doubts about their welcome, judging by the grim expression that had settled onto his features.
The door at the base of the guard tower slowly creaked open and an old man cautiously stepped beyond its safety. The outer portcullis was raised, putting the man at risk. Strangers such as these never made an appearance here, and the old man was just as curious as the younger soldiers. He kept one hand resting on the hilt of his sword, but looked as if any attempt to use the weapon would land him flat on his back. He might not have stood as tall as once he did, but his gravelly voice still carried without the need to shout. "You know me, Sir Knight?" he asked deferentially, his light eyes flickering from one stranger to the other.
"Sir Nigel! I had my doubts you would still be here after all these years." Faris grinned good-naturedly.
Nigel's eyes narrowed a moment with a hint of distrust, then widened in surprise. The stranger swept back the hood of his cloak to reveal his Saracen clothing. The old knight stared, unable to speak for the tears of joy in his throat. "Master Aubrey?" He took several steps forward and a smile spread across his aged features. "It is you! Welcome home, Master Aubrey--" Nigel stopped, realizing his mistake. "Forgive me, my lord."
After dismounting, Aubrey, Earl of Sheffield, approached the older knight. "'Tis good to see you, Sir Nigel." He hugged his previous mentor. Aubrey closed his eyes for a moment reveling in the assurance he was home again after so many years. He shivered in the cool evening, the result of having been in a hot climate for so many years. It would take time to once again adjust to English weather. He sensed the guards gathering on the wall walk looking down on them, but ignored their curiosity.
Nigel took a step back and studied the younger man with relief. "A boy left here in anger, after losing his bride," he recalled. "A man appears in his place. You went off to France and never returned. Does the old anger still hold sway?" he asked, his aged eyes holding a gleam of disapproval then expectancy.
"'Tis quite a story, Sir Nigel, and long in the telling."
Nigel looked up to the guard tower. "Open the gate for the Earl of Sheffield!" he announced to everyone listening. The guard's features conveyed the conclusion the old man had lost his faculties, seeing a dead lord where a Saracen waited. For a moment no one moved, then a slow cranking of chain announced the raising of the portcullis and the lowering of the drawbridge. Nigel realized most of these men never knew Aubrey, or believed him dead. "Open the gate, I say! Welcome the wolf cub, returned home after these many years!" He watched the men scramble to obey his orders.
Aubrey turned and signaled his companion to join him. "Nigel, this is my son and heir, Halim. His English name is Justin, but time enough to adjust to it." He placed his arm about the younger man's shoulders and drew him closer, exuding a pride only a father could have.
"Why," exclaimed Nigel, "there can be no doubt of his paternity. He looks exactly as you did when you left here all those years ago."
Aubrey laughed. "You can only mean his temperament, for he has the look of his mother."
Nigel studied the young man again and found the boy unabashedly staring back, almost challenging. "Yes, well," he mumbled, then cleared his throat. He straightened his stance, his eyes suspiciously glassy. "Come, my lord," he invited as he turned away, then stopped to glance over his thin shoulder, "and my young lord, of course," he added, quick to include Halim. "Let us go to the great hall. The evening meal began not so long ago. There is plenty for you and the lad."
Guards within the great hall turned and stared, watching the strangers clad in Saracen garments. One or two of the older men stared in shock when they recognized the rightful earl. Sheffield's younger son, Aubrey, had disappeared some twenty years earlier. For a while, reports of his adventures were sent back to his father, but eventually they became fewer, then stopped altogether. It was assumed Aubrey had followed King Richard in the crusades and died in one of the battles. Here the younger son strode through the great hall, a man of strength and self-confidence. So different from the boy who had fled long ago.
The younger guards who had only heard stories of Aubrey eyed the strangers warily. These men were dressed as Saracens, not to be trusted. If the word had been given, these fellows would have been quick to skewer both warriors and rid the castle of their presence. Only the old knight's presence with the strangers prevented any action. They wondered if Sir Nigel had lost his mind, allowing enemies of England to enter a domain held in the name of Prince John, regent for his brother Richard.
One of the older men approached, wanting to be sure old Sir Nigel was in his right mind. It had been too long since the earl had died and suddenly someone was stepping forward, claiming to be the rightful heir. He studied Faris for a moment, then recalled something. "Lady Emmaline," he said, and watched the newcomer's face turn crimson. There would be only one reason for the man's skin to become flushed, for only they two knew of the circumstances. The soldier dropped to one knee, satisfied, and bowed his head. "Welcome home, my lord."
"Of all things to recall," Faris muttered, "you would have to bring that little adventure to mind." His half smile hid a subtle feeling of unease. He recalled the man's name and the company they'd kept. There was something in Robbie's welcome that didn't quite ring true. He and Robbie had been close friends growing up, but something was different now, felt sinister. Faris hoped this feeling was a misunderstanding and he was wrong, but he'd learned long ago to trust his instincts.
Sir Nigel escorted the newcomers to the dais, where trenchers of venison stew and cups of ale were placed before them. Halim glanced at the food with doubt. He looked up to his father, silently questioning what had been in place before him.
"You are in England now, son. There are many things to get used to."
Halim reluctantly tested the stew and made a face before blurting out, "Desert people would know how to spice this properly."
At hearing the perceived insult, several men-at-arms stood quickly, hands at the ready on dagger hilts. They were too quick, Faris noted, and appeared ready for a fight. It wasn't only the mention of desert people, of Saracens, that was not to be tolerated by these men, most of whom, more than likely, had never gone on crusade. Perhaps they had been without a master for too long and were too quick to take insult on any comment made.
"Sit," Nigel commanded. The soldiers still standing were slow to obey, grumbling incoherently. "The boy has much to learn. He is my lord's son and heir, and therefore half English. You will show him all the respect he is due as such."
Faris didn't like the mumblings he overheard from the few fighting men and watched them slowly settle back to their games of chance. Occasional glances in his direction said more than the grumblings. With his brother's death months earlier, it was necessary he assume the duties of earl as quickly as possible. He silently prayed there would be no conflicts over the matter of his son. He had seen more than enough bloodshed to last the remainder of his life and beyond.
Halim finished his meal and gradually slumped in his chair with exhaustion. He was startled awake by a hand gently shaking his shoulder. "Mary will show you to a bedchamber. The morrow is soon enough to settle in," Nigel said kindly.
Halim looked sleepily into the soft gray eyes that had studied his own, nodded, and wearily followed the young serving girl who waited for him a short distance from the dais. He barely had the energy to climb the winding staircase and couldn't remember when he had felt so tired.
Faris watched his son slowly mount the stairs to his assigned bedchamber, and when he disappeared around a curve in the stairwell, he turned his attention to Sir Nigel. The old knight seemed more relaxed, or perhaps just tired. "Tell me of my brother's death, and news of England. Too many years have passed, and I need to know who now holds the power."
Nigel pushed back the stubborn white lock from his creased face. His eyes were lighter than Faris remembered, but just as clear and sharp as ever. "Your brother died a year ago, the result of an infected wound. He was outspoken in his continued support of King Richard, and of course, Prince John didn't like that. Lord George and his escort were attacked on the road. Robbers--or so we were told--but they fought too well to have not been trained soldiers. Your brother lingered for some time, telling me what he could. He recognized one of the men who attacked them."
Faris's previously relaxed state became tense when he abruptly sat forward and stared at his friend and mentor. "Who was it? Did he give you a name?"
Nigel moved closer to the younger man. "Be careful what you do, my boy. To go after this man is to court death."
"Tell me who it is, Nigel," Faris insisted.
"The man's name is..." Nigel lowered his voice to barely a whisper. When he finished speaking, Faris's fingers had tightened on his cup to the point the knuckles were bloodless.
"There is something else you should know. It may or may not be connected to your brother's death." Nigel sat back again and sipped his ale. "Five years ago, the Earl of Ashcroft died suddenly. Once or twice since your brother's death, Lady Ashcroft has called on me for aid, which I gladly gave her."
At mention of the name, Faris's heart began pounding in his chest. Ashcroft had married Lady Sylvia, a marriage her father arranged to prevent his own marriage to her. As a second son, Faris had little to offer in the way of wealth and property. Her father was only interested in making an alliance to benefit himself and his lands. If it meant using his daughter to achieve his goals, it didn't matter to him. "What was her marriage like?"
"It was a good one, as far as it went. Everyone knew it was no love match, that her father kept her from you by marrying her off to Ashcroft, but the man treated her well."
"You say she is now widowed? She has not remarried?"
"No, she hasn't, although her single state may not last much longer. Rumors abound that Prince John sent for her, on the grounds he wished to see Ashcroft's books. The man waited five years, which bodes ill. It could be the earl's death was only recently brought to his attention. More precise rumors say Prince John intends to marry her off to one of his favored knights, thereby gaining control of Ashcroft. She and her younger daughter left a few days ago, less than a sennight after the older daughter's marriage to the Earl of Broadmoor's son. She made a right good alliance there. It was what the late earl wanted. It didn't hurt that Eleanor and Alain were in favor of the match. John won't be pleased to hear of it. I have a feeling he intended to marry off the daughters as well as the mother. He still has one daughter to barter with."
Mention of Lady Sylvia brought bittersweet memories to Faris. Time had a way of distorting memories, or most of them. One picture remained very clear in his mind. He wondered how much she had changed, if she remembered him. "Perhaps Faris and Halim should journey to Whittendon and pay their respects." Faris's jaw clenched as he made his plans.
The next morning after breaking their fast, Halim followed his father about the castle, peeking into rooms, examining one or two tapestries. The chambers were damp, the stone floors cold, despite the layer of rushes. They were dark, as well. Only narrow slits allowed the entrance of sunlight. Faris explained it was for the sake of protecting the castle, to keep the enemy from easily gaining access. Halim nodded, understanding the reasoning. The boy shivered with the chill and wondered how anyone could live like this, shut away from the sun and its warmth. He had always been obedient to his parents, and if this was where his father intended to stay, then for the sake of the man he loved and respected, Halim made up his mind to adjust to the changes.
Halim followed his father out to the bailey, aware of all the gazes following their progress. Several young girls giggled, drawing Halim's attention to them. His broad smile was warm and inviting. The serving girls blushed to have him notice them. Basking in their admiration, he fell behind and now had to hurry to catch up to his father.
Faris stood in the bailey, an odd feeling coming over him. He stared at the blacksmith and found himself looking out the other man's eyes. He saw not the bailey with its busy serfs, but a meadow decked out in spring colors. He heard people laughing. He felt hot and sweaty, felt his muscles tighten over the work he did at the forge.
Faris shook his head and the vision disappeared. He didn't know what else to call it. It seemed like a waking dream, disorienting nonetheless.
"Are you all right, my lord?" Sir Nigel asked, concerned.
"I'm fine, Nigel. Don't worry yourself over me."
"Yes, my lord."
The three men continued their tour of the bailey and its goings on, but part of Faris's mind questioned what had just happened. He pushed the thoughts aside and considered the sight a result of not enough rest after their long journey. The part of his mind that questioned the scene laughed at him. It was only the beginning of something he didn't understand, and wasn't sure he wanted to.
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