It had been two years. Two years since their courtship had begun. She was not a young woman anymore and it was time he made the trip north to speak with her father. Past time. Tancred of Estmont took a deep breath and opened the door. Behind the enormous desk, strewn with balance sheets, sat his oldest and dearest friend Alexander. His commander, friend and, more importantly Merryn’s older brother, looked up. Before Tancred could lose his nerve he closed the door and blurted.
“Alexander I need to take a few weeks off.”
“To what end Tancred?” Alexander had leaned back in his chair regarding Tancred with a critical eye. Tancred shuffled his feet, how did he tell his best friend that he’d secretly been courting Merryn since the war ended. Alexander was right to be curious, he never took leave and hadn’t shown nerves since their first battles almost 10 years ago.
“Well, that is…what I’m trying to say is…”
“Spit it out man!” Alexander demanded. The words tumbled out of Tancred’s mouth like a flood.
“I would like to ask for Merryn’s hand in marriage. I’d be honored if you would give me your blessing and the time.” Alexander’s brows rose before he burst out laughing. Tancred watched him warily, why was he laughing so hard? It wasn’t that odd a request really. Alexander wiped tears from the corners of his eyes as he regained his composure.
“So you’re the one she’s been nattering on about in her letters! If I didn’t know you I’d swear the sun shone out of your ass and roses bloomed when you kissed them!”
Tancred turned several shades of scarlet beneath his swarthy skin, which set Alexander to laughing again. Still laughing he rounded the table and slapped Tancred on the back with a grin.
“You have my blessing and your leave time. If she makes you as happy as you obviously make her I won’t stand in the way.” He sobered for a moment looking Tancred squarely in the eye. “Just be sure you do right by her Tancred. She’s my baby sister.”
Tancred nodded solemnly.
“I know. I waited so long because I did not think I was worthy of her, or right for her.” That drew another laugh from Alexander.
“You’re not, but she’s clearly made her choice. She speaks of little else besides you in her letters. It’s funny that I never figured it out. I always assumed it was some village boy.” He paused, turning thoughtful. “What happened between you two?”
Tancred shifted and walked to the fireplace. Staring into the flames he chewed on his answer before speaking.
“The first night I was there she came to my room. She heard me scream when I woke from a nightmare.” Tancred saw the shadow that crossed his friend’s face. Night terrors. The war had never ended for them. “She refused to leave and sat by my side all night. Whenever I awoke she soothed me back to sleep.”
Tancred looked down at his gauntleted hands, remembering how fragile she’d looked sitting there. Her fingers gently stroked through his hair as she soothed him back to sleep. He looked back at Alexander and continued.
“I told her it was improper. She dismissed my protestations.” A wry smile crept onto his friend’s face.
“Oh aye. She’s just like mother in that way. You tell her it’s not a good idea and she laughs at you. I take it she came back every night?”
“She did. I grew very fond of her in spite of myself. I already respected her greatly for her manner and dignity, but her compassion and perseverance…” He trailed off remembering the dark circles under her crystalline blue eyes. She’d slept so little those first weeks. “She never gave up, despite her own lack of sleep. I admired her so much for that.”
Tancred rubbed a hand over the stubble on his jaw and stared at the fire for a moment. This was rather difficult to discuss even with his friend.
“Merryn is so pure and innocent, but she also has great wisdom. You know what those dreams do to a man, not once did she treat me like a child or as less than I am. Somehow she saw the good in me that I had forgotten.” Alexander nodded, his mouth a thin line.
“She’s been like that since we were children. I’m happy you know it.”
“Aye. She’s worth the knowing Alexander. She is too good for me, but I cannot bear the thought of another man by her side. It would break me.”
Alexander waved that away from where he leaned against a high backed chair.
“Nay. I spoke in jest before. You and she are a good match Tancred. Her compassion is a balm for the wounds we took internally. She could not heal mine, not entirely, but you, you I think might have a chance.” Tancred smiled as he met Alexander’s gaze, the same piercing blue as his sister.
“I will do my best to be a worthy husband.”
“That is all I ask. Now, go saddle your horse.”