Bewilder set out for Grassmere as the sun dropped behind the western hills. He forded the Hemsford south of Havelin’s cottage. Skye, rested and impatient, set a fierce pace across the rolling wheat fields toward the high country. His master’s mind was spinning after his time with Havelin, holding hope and possibility in abeyance. He had no idea where he might find his dear Constance and no clue whether she might still be alive.
Havelin had provided at best sketchy details of Constance’s final days in Belvedere. She’d reminded him that prior to his departure for the north, his mental state had deteriorated to the point where he was so distant from his wife and daughters that they’d feared he might hurt himself or one of them. Constance was justified in being protective of her daughters, and tried to shield them from Bewilder’s near constant appraisals. To his family, Bewilder had appeared disconnected from reality, becoming increasingly sullen and quiet. His mood, for so long light and jovial, had grown dark and brooding. His words, usually uplifting and full of praise, were few and often filled with venom.
As he rode, he reflected upon Havelin’s assessment of all that had befallen the House of Belvedere. He began to understand that his had been a disguised existence, and he a court jester who donned a silly outfit and amused those around him by juggling oranges. Bewilder had been an entertainer all his life, masking the deep pain that lived within him and kept him prisoner from his authentic self. He was always quick with a joke or story, hiding behind a façade of lighthearted humor, afraid to confront the demons that wreaked havoc on his soul.
Havelin had told him that it had become so difficult for Constance to cohabitate with her husband that she’d devised ways to maintain a healthy distance. Her excuse for keeping him out of her bed, for example, had been his loud and incessant nightly snorting and puffing. This, of course, was true, yet became a convenient foil for her in dealing with Bewilder’s brooding temperament. Bewilder eventually found himself most nights sharing a smelly stall with Skye. No wonder he and his loyal steed were so close, he thought.
Dusk settled upon the Hemsford valley as shadowy horse and rider made their way swiftly toward the foothills. Firelight flickered from the windows of cottages dotting the path. The occasional wave from a local greeted them, followed by the turn of a head as they passed, wondering if that wasn’t…no, it couldn’t be their fair king riding alone and unaccompanied into the black night. Could it?