“Leigha, please give me the amulet and take the child. Here, sit on the bed beside me.”
Leigha did as he asked as Charles and Gordon helped Robert into a sitting position and supported him there. She held her breath as he opened the pouch and withdrew the amulet, his hands visibly shaking from the effort and his own emotional reaction to the piece that had predicted his death.
“Jaessa Elizabeth Dagon,” he began, his voice deep and resonant despite the trembling of his hands as he placed the amulet about her neck and shoulders, “I, Robert William Dagon, Lord of Clairemont’s Keep and heir to the estates and titles of Dagonmoor, do hereby as your father, give to you my gift of this amulet. I pray that it will bring to you happiness as great as its wealth. Whenever you look at it as you are growing, think of me and know that I love you and will always be with you in your heart.”
Jaessa awakened with a start as he laid the heavy object on her chest, but as if instinctively knowing the seriousness of her father’s words, she kept from crying and silently listened to the sound of his rumbling voice. All were impressed by the attention she gave to her father’s words as if she could somehow understand what he was saying. When Robert finished speaking and laid back in exhaustion from his efforts, she cried aloud as if released from the spell of his voice.
“She seemed to know what this is all about,” Gordon said, his voice hushed as he looked at the trio on the bed. “Can a child that age understand what we say?”
“No, I’m sure not. She is much too young,” Emily answered as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “She only listened because the sound of her father’s voice lulled and comforted her.”
“I will remember his words,” Leigha spoke up as she rocked her child, “and tell them to her often as she is growing up. His voice soothed her for even an infant knows the sound of love.”
“I hope that somehow she will remember that sound from Robert,” Charles said softly, tenderly patting Emily’s hand in comfort as he spoke. “We will all make sure that she knows what kind of man her father was.”
“I am not dead yet,” Robert spoke up, startling them all as they had thought him to be unconscious. “Though it comforts me to know ahead of such time that you will not let the memory of me die with my body. I have a few matters yet to settle since all of you are here. I was but resting ‘tis all, but now I must speak.”
“What can we do for you, son?” Charles asked, seeing the strain of Robert’s efforts to stay awake and praying that he could hold on a bit longer.
“Father, Mother, I want you both to know that I love you very much,” he spoke slowly, closing his eyes against the tears. His body was racked with pain though it did not equal the pain in his heart as he continued to speak. “It grieves me that I must leave you so soon. Please take comfort in Leigha and Jaessa. I leave them both in your care. If Simon—” He paused, his voice now coming in rasps again as he pushed his strength to its limits. “If Simon should return someday for Leigha, she has my blessings to marry him, for I know how much they love each other. I’ll not be a ghost to separate them and neither will you. Leigha needs a man to love her, and I believe that Simon’s heart is true to her. I knew this from the moment I saw his own pain when we picked him up on Crete. Oh, I know the way that I behaved, but I knew his feelings as well as my own. Ah, would that I could be the one to stay with you, my dearest love!”
“Robert, please rest now,” Leigha cried, her tears falling as freely as his as she handed Jaessa to Emily and then lay down beside him to hold him close. “You are overtaxing yourself, my darling. Please, no more. I love you, Robert.”
“She is right,” Gordon said as he kneeled down beside the bed. “You must rest now. We can all come and visit you later, old friend.”
“Don’t you understand?” Robert said as he looked over at his friend. “Time has run out for me. What has to be said cannot wait, for there will be no later.”
“You cannot know that,” Gordon replied, shaking his head in disbelief to Robert’s words. “There is always a tomorrow.”
“Not for me this time, my friend,” Robert whispered, bringing his arm up to clasp Gordon’s hand in his as he spoke. “You have been the greatest friend to me, and I thank you for that. Please, watch over Leigha and Jaessa for me, please, all of you.”
“We will, son, you can count on that,” Charles said, reaching to take his son’s hand as Gordon released it.
“Would you mind leaving Leigha alone with me?” Robert asked. “I love you all, but I . . . I . . .”
“There is no need to explain, we understand,” Emily said as she bent over to kiss her son. “We will come and see you later.”
“Mother, I . . .”
“No, don’t say it,” Emily warned as she stood up to go and leaned over to kiss his cheek. “I refuse to listen to your pessimism. We will come up later, and you will see us.”
“Good-bye Robert, my friend. May you be in God’s care forever.” Gordon nearly sobbed and placed his big hand on Robert’s shoulder in farewell as Emily stepped aside. Hiding the tears that threatened, he turned and swiftly left the room.
“Robert, we love you, son,” Charles said and kissed him as he looked deep into the fading eyes of his child. He then stood and put his arms around his wife, all too aware that despite her protests, she too knew the truth that was evident to them all. His great shoulders shook, and he tried to smile as he said, “I will send the nurse up and have her wait in the hallway until Leigha comes out. Do you wish us to leave Jaessa here with you as well?”
“No, just let me hold her one last time,” he answered in a hoarse whisper. “Then take her from this room of death.”