‘Rising, Ellen’s trembling hands held her cloak closed as her chin tilted up. “Is my word not good enough, Mrs Falkes? My son may be lodged with you at His Grace’s behest, but I am still his mother.”
Her determination made the Dame back down. Edward was stunned into silence too. He hadn’t really seen this side of Ellen until tonight. Mrs Falkes turned and disappeared from the room, mumbling about the choirmaster being unhappy. Apparently the boy had a solo to perform in the King’s chapel.
Ellen’s eyes turned to him as the woman’s footsteps could be heard on the stairs, “I’m sorry, Edward,” she whispered. “I never intended for you to be drawn into this. I did not wish to make you lie for me.”
Stepping towards her, his fingers lifted and brushed her cheek. “You know I would do anything for you.”
His words were interrupted by the sound of light quick footsteps hurrying down the stairs. “My Mama has come?” The voice was high pitched and still croaky with sleep.
“Master Harding, do remember your manners. Your mother is in haste. She will not want you to make a fuss over her.”
Edward felt the breath catch in his lungs. This was Ellen’s son. His whole existence tilted on an unsteady axis.
The door opened wider, readmitting Mrs Falkes, and before her stood a boy, about four foot high, slender, with dark hair and astonishingly pale blue eyes like his mother’s, rimmed with long, black lashes. Those eyes stared at Edward, widening in lack of recognition, then the boy blinked and lifted his fisted knuckles to rub the sleep from his eyes.
“John? Darling,” Ellen spoke, dropping to her knees. “You’ve grown.”
Edward watched the boy’s face transform from mystified tiredness to utter delight.
“Mama!” The boy pulled free from the Dame and ran to his mother, throwing his arms about Ellen’s neck and pressing his cheek to her temple. Ellen hugged the boy in return, tears staining her cheeks.
All caution and concern slid from Edward’s thoughts as he watched Ellen hold her son. His fears were irrelevant before the joy of this reunion. In its place he felt only overwhelming satisfaction and pride. His eyes turning back to Mrs Falkes, he found the woman watching him. His look of fondness for the scene had perhaps revealed too much.
He looked back at Ellen. “Come, Mrs Harding, we should not delay.”
Ellen gave her son one last squeeze, as though to confirm the boy’s solidity and reassure herself this was not a dream, then rose. Once standing, she captured the child’s hand in hers in a way that suggested she was making a mental vow never to let go. “We’re ready. John, we are taking you home for a while, I will explain on the way.” As Ellen began leading the boy towards the door, Edward turned to Mrs Falkes.
“Thank you, Madam,” he acknowledged with a nod. The woman bobbed a shallow curtsy.’
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