Vivienne swung herself down from her saddle at the abbey, tethering her horse. She entered the cloister and found the priest there, enjoying a bit of evening air. She approached him, glad to have caught him. She thought he still looked a bit pale after his bout with illness, but lied and said that he looked well. She quickly got to the business at hand, asking if he had heard the news of her engagement. He replied that he had. He invited her into the library to discuss it further.
They discussed the matter of the banns, announcing the marriage at services to provide opportunity for those knowing of any legal impediment to the union to raise them. Father Barnard said he would also need their certificates of baptism. Vivienne nodded and said he should find her record of baptism in the parish register, for this was her ancestral home. She frowned, unsure if Bryantt had been baptized and where. She would have to ask him.
Father Barnard noticed Sister Agatha hovering about the library stacks, sweeping the floor, and peeking around the shelves at them. He suppressed a smile and then waved his hand, shooing her away.
“Married,” he said. “How do you feel about that?”
Vivienne looked blankly at him for a moment, weighing in her mind how much she trusted this priest. She had liked him from the first, but she knew that this was not necessarily a good sign. She had notoriously bad taste in men.
“The Queen arranged this marriage, and I must obey her wishes,” replied Vivienne. “The man is clearly beneath me, and I know I should be offended.”
Father Barnard nodded and looked up at her, “On that I agree.” His eyes narrowed, thinking of Karissa. “Please, go on.”
Vivienne went on, “I hear his business is, well, a bit shady.”
“I am aware of your predicament, of course.” Father Barnard added.
“Yes,” said Vivienne. “My beloved Alex drained my accounts before being murdered over an unpaid gambling debt. After such a poor choice of husband on my part, I have no right to complain to the Queen about her choice for me. I suppose it is just punishment in her eyes.”
She paused again, wondering how much she should say. “But the strange thing is,” said Vivienne, hesitating, “I dreamed of Bryantt. I dreamed of his strong arms around me, carrying me, and hoping that we never reached our destination. I liked the feel of his arms around me!”
The priest’s head snapped up, his eyes clouding over.”Dreamed, huh?” He gripped the arms of his chair, his knuckles whitening. He forced himself to relax and sit back in his chair, but his eyes remained fixed on the Countess.
“Is he kind to you?” he asked Vivienne, concerned for her and thinking of the girl at the brothel.
“Yes, he is kind to me.” Vivienne replied. She looked down at her fingers, and then raised her head to look directly into the priest’s eyes. “I am afraid, Father. Afraid that I will fall for him. He is a scoundrel, I know it, just like my Alex was a scoundrel. Why do I keep falling for these men? Am I wicked? But then I suppose I must love my husband. Would that be wrong Father?”
Father Barnard could see the confusion on Vivienne’s face as she wrestled with the matter. “A woman will love a man, even in his greatest weaknesses. That cannot be a sin. Steel your heart with the will of God, my lady. Bring yourself to the altar and offer all you have to the one who created you. Do your duty, as you must, but keep your heart safe in the Lord.”
Vivienne nodded. “That is good advice, thank you Father.”
Father Barnard added, “Human love is always disappointing.”
Vivienne wondered at that statement, wondered what had happened to the priest to make him say such a thing. “Have you loved before, Father?”
The priest looked away from her, not wanting to meet her eyes. “I love God, Countess. That is enough.”
Vivienne looked at the priest, her curiosity about him rising. There would be time enough to tease out the man’s secrets. Her eyes darkened with another thought. “I have heard rumours that Bryantt has another woman.”
The priest frowned. “If you cannot trust him, will not trust him, even at the altar of your wedding, why would you marry him?”
“I have no choice!” said Vivienne.
Father Barnard said firmly. “You know what the man is. Accept that there are probably many others and will be more in the future.” His eyes darkened and flashed with anger. “The man is a…” He stopped himself. “I’m sorry. It is not my place to judge another.” He slammed his fist down hard on the desk.
“Bryantt is away on business right now,” she said. “When he returns, I will ask him to bring you his certificate of baptism.” She looked at the priest, concerned about having upset him so soon after his illness. “I thank you Father for your kind words. You are a deeply kind man.”
He looked somber and nodded to her, “Good night, Countess.”
“Good night, Father.”
As she rode back to the castle she considered his advice. It occurred to her that if Bryantt loved her, she would have some control over her situation. He would be putty in her hands if he was hopelessly in love with her. He would want to please her! She gripped the reins in her hands more tightly. “Yes,” she thought to herself. “I will find a way to make him love me.”