It troubled him - how peaceful Corinne seemed as she slept while Eric absently caressed her hair.
“How long will she be asleep for?” he asked, some of the anger having faded from his tone.
“Not long,” Eric answered. He seemed so content with Corinne near to him. Richard could see his own affection for the lady mirrored in Eric’s expression. ... But Eric was open about his love for her, whereas he had striven to remain closed. Could it really be true that Corinne was much happier here?
Of course it would not excuse the fact that Eric had broken the laws but it would break Richard’s heart to know that she cared more deeply for another man.
“If she is harmed in any way, I will not hesitate to have you whipped,” Richard threatened. He felt safer making threats because he knew that Eric deserved punishment for his actions.
Eric gazed up at him with unerring calmness.
“Then I shall suffer each blow and not try to run from you. For if I have harmed her, I deserve to be harmed as well.”
Richard glared. “It was not your place to take her away from me.”
Eric shrugged. “I think differently. If anyone is suffering, no matter what the circumstances, we must try to help them. I did what I believed to be right - what I continue to believe was right.”
“How can you be so calm when it is likely you will hang for your crime?” Richard asked.
Eric glanced downwards and murmured, “I am not afraid of dying for something I believe in. I am scared, however, that Corinne will return to Dachshund Manor and be as unhappy as she was before.”
“How do accuse your lord so easily?”
“I believe him to be in the wrong. It should not matter that you are an aristocrat. An aristocrat is not above the laws, is not above the rules of fair treatment of others.”
“I have not treated her unfairly,” Richard stated.
“You must have,” Eric replied. “You never noticed how you hurt her. Do you know, that time I first visited Dachshund Manor, I told her you were lucky to have her there and she responded with words to the effect of you didn’t care about her at all?”
Richard was stunned. He thought back to that day. Oh. The day of Prince Bernard and Princess Mina’s visit. The day she had glared at him and he had caught her washing dishes.
“What were her exact words?” he asked quietly, no longer feeling safe at all.
“If he is, he scarcely shows it.”
Richard sank slowly into a sitting position.
“Oh my. She was wrong. So very wrong.”
“Yet what caused her to answer in such a way?” Eric said. “If she had felt appreciated, cared for, she would have said so. But she didn’t. And so, you have mistreated her. You caused her to feel depreciated, uncared for. She was unhappy, my lord. Whether you knew it or not.”
Richard did not know what to say. He should lecture Eric for speaking in this manner to his lord, but he seemed to have lost the will to be strict and respond to it. Eric was right.
The lady Corinne awoke, her pale blue eyes focusing immediately on Eric’s face. She smiled at him. She sat up and looked at Richard. She frowned.