High, low, overhead, underfoot, filling every crevice, climbing every wall – camellias! Claire had stumbled upon an overgrown garden, a pink and red paradise. She gasped in amazement, enraptured with the staggering bounty of blooms. In the distance she could hear Lady Margaret’s garden party, but those sounds were quickly receding.
A much nearer voice caught her attention. The half-light of dusk made it hard to see, but the words were clear.
“Peter, we don’t have much time.” The woman’s gentle voice somehow combined calmness and urgency.
“First, we must hide this where the Earl’s men can’t find and destroy it. Then we’ll hie away to the convent where you’ll be safe for your lying-in.” As her eyes adjusted to the twilight shadows, Claire saw Peter’s kind brown eyes, his tender look that circled the woman like an embrace. The couple didn’t seem to see her, so she inched closer. When Peter unfurled the scroll, Claire peered over his shoulder. A priest’s signature. Their names, and a date too faint to read. “Clarissa, over here!” Peter pulled aside camellia branches to place the scroll in a strongbox hidden at the foot of the wall, then helped Clarissa onto his steed and mounted behind her. The camellias swung back into place, a blur of pink hiding a great secret.
Claire suddenly remembered her grandfather murmuring something just before he died. He was old and ill and could only manage a few halting syllables. Ba…by. Mur…der. Birth…right. Your birthright, she thought she heard him say.
Claire’s soft brown eyes filled with tears. Finally, she shook herself back to her present reality. Within a few minutes she had arrived back at the immaculate lawn. Lady Margaret hurried to her side.
“There you are, Cousin. Did you enjoy your walk?”
“Something important is hidden in the camellia garden.” Claire searched Lady M’s face. “But there is no camellia …” Lady M stopped, confused. The current Earl appeared out of nowhere and steered his wife firmly by the elbow. “Come Margaret, our guests are waiting.” He glanced back at Claire, his eyes hard and cold.