I stomped my feet on the manor porch to rid them of the snow. Anticipation had my heart hammering against my ribs as if I’d spent all day on the practice fields. I opened the door to a wall of welcoming warmth, expecting to find Jeannie ready to welcome us. Somehow she always knew when we were about. Instead, a woman with the greenest eyes I’d ever seen greeted me. She tilted her head and gave me a smile that sent my pulse racing before she hurried into the Great Hall leaving me to wonder if I’d seen her at all. Something nagged at the back of my mind. The woman was familiar but where we had met escaped me. I gazed at the empty Great Hall doorway my mind still pondering the question.
Jeannie, the housekeeper I expected, hurried down the hall toward me. The small woman was wiping her hands on her apron and wore her trademark big smile. I forced myself to refrain from grinning like Nick, the village idiot. My hands itched. I needed to find something to do with them or they would be wrapped around her hugging her like a homesick school boy. Although that was what I wanted most, a display like that was out of the question—after all, I’d left a boy and returned a man.
“I thought I heard hooves. I wasn’t certain if they were from horses or the clatter of not so little feet.” She dropped her apron into place. “Welcome home, Lord Bran.” I let out a slow breath, trying to keep my face calm and swallow around the lump that lodged in my throat. My emotional reaction caught me short. This would never do. I took a deep breath and fought to get my emotions under control. I had always been “the young master.” Now I was Lord Bran.
“Where is everyone?” I broke the spell and searched the entryway then toward the darkened Great Hall hoping for the flash of green eyes. The rich smell of the hearth fire wafted to my nose and the chorus of snores coming from the bumps and huddles on the floor and bent over the tables were a welcome sound. I wanted to race into the room and tell them I was home but I quickly smothered the boyish notion.
Jeannie hesitated long enough for me to see the question plainly on her face—what had I grown into? The council teachings were more than philosophy, history, and chivalry. We trained as druid knights—fighting knights studying war, weaponry, chants, spells and the danger of dark magic. I wasn’t the skinny boy anymore filching cakes from her kitchen. Now I was a full grown man and stole young girl’s hearts instead.