Guy gave a contented groan as he settled back into Cassia’s arms, which were wrapped around his shoulders as they lounged together in a bath. Immersed in the huge tub filled with hot rose-water, being held by his wife’s loving embrace, it was difficult to recall being so angry just a short while ago.
The luxury of a hot bath was something they both indulged in, and quite often. Cassia was not a wife who begged for gold and jewels, though he’d gladly bestowed them on her. Her desires were rather austere and prudent…like the rose garden he’d built for her, and the fountain in the center of it. It flowed with fresh spring water, providing both beauty and health. And, knowing her enjoyment of bathing, he’d had a deep marble tub constructed especially for her. It had quickly proved a delight for them both, for they often shared it, as they did now.
He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling a warming of his senses when her lips pressed against his shoulder and neck. He savored such times as these, when all the world seemed to be closed out and it was only the two of them. Joyful as he was in being a father and a man of means, he was never more content than he was as a husband. And he adored his wife more than ever when she was simply being that…his wife. His lover, his companion. When they were together this way, they were both removed from conventionality and duty. They often conversed intimately, both of their tones soft and free of care, whether the subject was serious or inconsequential. She leaned closer into him, pressing her cheek to his.
“So, my lover. What shall we do about our wayward child?”
He grinned, his deep feeling of contentment making him gregarious, allowing him to exercise his rarely expressed sense of humor.
“The abbey is always in need of novices.”
She laughed softly, but gave him a light swat on the head. “You are a devil.”
He smirked, replying with another jest.
“Perhaps the convent is not such a wise solution. They would probably tire of her very quickly and return her to us.”
Her giggle was a delightful sound, even as she pushed at his shoulders in mock displeasure, scolding him. “You are a terrible fiend!”
With a grin, he stretched his legs and gave a contented sigh. He was at a loss about what to do with their daughter…but at that moment, he was in too blissful a mood to try and come up with an answer. His reply was careless in its tone. Clutching Cassia’s hand, he lovingly kissed her fingertips, more content to express affection than to trouble his mind. He sighed.
“Truly, what is there to be done?”
There was a long space of quiet between them. For a moment, he was certain that in both of their opinions, the matter had reached an impasse. He closed his eyes once again, relishing in the warmth and calm…until she made an expression of noise he knew very well.
He turned his head slightly so he might examine her face. His eyes shined with curiosity as he studied her, for he could see her mind working on some unknown subject. The corner of his mouth rose.
“What thought is in your mind, wife? I am too familiar with that sound you make. It means you are creating a scheme of some sort. Come, tell me what it is.”
How he adored the contemplative expression she wore…one she always had when she was deep in thought. What fools were other men who did not value an intelligent wife. They knew not what a gift it was. Curious to hear her speak, he pressed her again for answers, and she at last revealed her thoughts.
“Rather than slaughtering the horse, perhaps you should give it to Stuart as a wedding gift. It will make a grand offering. It will save a fine animal from a needless end, while serving as a constant reminder to our daughter. To think of a thing she desired so much, to be seen in the possession of another. It might serve as a proper punishment.”
He considered the idea, thinking there was much wisdom in it. Their nephew was a skilled Knight and had an admiration for horses. No doubt he would welcome such a gift. Guy smiled, thinking that his wife’s idea was very clever. But then again, her ideas were always thus. Her mind was admittedly so much sharper than his…her solutions to problems so much wiser. And in some ways, much more devious. He chuckled with delight.
“And you would call me wicked,” he replied.
She made a gleeful little sound, as if she were quite satisfied with herself. “Oh, but I am not yet done.” She sat up slightly, as if asserting herself. “We will not permit her to attend the wedding celebration. She will suffer far greater pangs of misery by being denied such a social occasion. It will sting far worse than the lashings of a whip.”
Thea had been anticipating the wedding of her cousin for many months. It was sure to be a spectacular event of feasting and festivities. Being forced to miss it would indeed be cruel. And it would cast the proper light of shame on her. He sighed with mirth, thinking what a taskmaster his wife could be, and all without lifting a hand in force. He chuckled in delight of her.
“Cruel, cruel madwoman! Your mind is truly devious…and brilliant.”
She moved around to face him, and the change in her position stirred feelings of a different kind…sensations that had little to do with the strength of her mind. She placed herself above him, rubbing his chest with her hands. “And from my intelligence, you shall benefit.”
His hands roamed beneath the surface of the water, clasping her backside as their lower bodies pressed together.
“How glorious it is to have my very own muse.”
What a magnificent creature she was. Clever and witty. Generous in every way. And so incredibly beautiful, even after all their years together. Time had hardly altered her features. Her skin was just as soft, her figure still slender. There were only a few strands of gray in her hair, hardly noticeable to his eyes. Her shining chestnut tresses fell forward, wet from the bath and smelling delightful, lightly tickling his skin and wildly rousing his senses. He leaned further back, allowing her a position of dominance…wanting to look up at her when they came together. His words were heavy with lust.
“I shall have to think of something to reward your great counsel. Is there anything you desire?”
Her only reply was a wicked, seductive smile.
In the bedchamber down the hall, a single candle burned in it’s holder on Evelyn’s night stand. She sat resting against her pillows, concentrating on a difficult bit of needlework she’d been working on for several hours. On the other side of the room, Thea was lying beneath her coverlet, seemingly still. One might have assumed she was asleep…except for the occasional sighs and groans that came from under the blankets. Evelyn’s brow became crinkled in frustration.
“St. Peter’s nightgown,” she muttered. “Please cease your worrisome noises and go to sleep.”
Thea made a disgruntled noise in reply. “I cannot sleep, and that is that. Papa is punishing me endlessly for a small crime, and I shall find no peace until all is right.”
Evelyn shook her head in dismay, her tone almost motherly as she scolded her sister. “You bring folly on yourself with your thoughtless behavior. I would never give Papa and Mama such difficulty.”
Another reply of noise came from Thea, only now it was one of antipathy and scorn. “Well, dearest Evelyn, not a one of us presumes to be as saintly as you are. I hope we can all aspire to such perfection.”
Evelyn felt a slight sting at the words. But she said nothing in reply. It wasn’t her intention to be perfect. There was certainly not such a thing. But it was her intention to be as little trouble as possible.
Poor Papa and Mama, she thought. William was away studying for the priesthood and they missed him terribly. Correspondence from him was very rare, it being so difficult and costly to send, and they longed for the day when he would finally return home to reside as the village priest. Thea and Owen were a constant battle for them. And of course they had long the difficulty of their everyday troubles. Why should they shoulder yet another burden?
She put her needlework aside for the night. Leaning over to blow out the candle, she made a declaration to herself as she settled under the covers for the night.
I shall never be such a bother, she thought. Not to anyone.
Late June, 1213
Lavender. So sweet, so calming. Evelyn knew it was her mother’s favorite flower, and the fields were teeming with them. Walking among the waves of soft purple, she gathered up several handfuls of the blooms, filling her basket with them. She smiled as she thought of the happy light that would come to her mother’s face when she saw them. They would certainly bring her great comfort while she was ailing. It was still a wonder to think there would soon be another Gisborne child born into the world. No one had expected it, least of all Guy and Cassia, who had thought their child-rearing days long gone.
The past nine months had gone by in a rush of excitement. Thea and Lucien had been married in October and it was hardly a month gone before they discovered they were to have a child. Lucien had taken his bride home to his family estate, which was just to the north of the Gisborne property. But Thea, being fretful about her first pregnancy, sought her mother’s company quite often and spent many days back home. Now that Cassia was with child as well, they spent many a day bonding over their shared conditions.
Just as Cassia had predicted, a peace had been made between Guy and Sir Lucien. They were not quite the best of friends, but Guy had eased his attitude considerably, even allowing Lucien to command the troops in their drills. And though Evelyn could not be certain of it, she secretly wondered if her father had accepted Lucien as a full-fledged member of the family. He certainly could not ask for a better man to call his son-in-law. Lucien doted on Thea just as Guy did with Cassia, and they both were in a constant state of worry about their wives’ delicate conditions. It made Evelyn smile to think of their loving devotion, and it was her hope that one day, she could look forward to such husbandly attention.
She glanced up at the shining sun, which was starting its decent into the west. Judging from its position, the day was growing late. She’d been walking for hours, and it was best to return home before she was badly missed.
As she crested a hill, the distant noise of baying hounds fell on her ears. At first the sound was faint. But it soon grew louder, more distinct, and she realized it was progressing from left to right, just down the valley. She looked on with only a slight awareness, thinking she might see a hunting party passing by. But her interest grew keen when she saw a lone figure running fast. It was a young man…tow-headed, lean-bodied and long of limbs…tearing across the fields as if he were fleeing for his life. She soon realized it was quite possible, for the hounds that she’d heard bawling soon came into view, giving chase with a small group of horsemen behind them. Of what nature this pursuit was, she knew not. But she stood watching, captivated, as the wild party flew by in front of her. And the young man became an immediate source of fascination, for he was swift of foot and limb. A brook marked the boundary between the Gisborne estate and the neighboring property, and the young man splashed into it without pause. The band of hunters were not far behind him as he dashed under a bridge, and as he came out the other side he encountered a fallen tree…which he scaled over with the agility of a fox. The dogs and horses were not so capable. They were stopped by the tree’s gnarled branches, forcing the party to go around it…and giving their quarry sufficient time to be well on his way ahead.
It was a moment of excitement that captured Evelyn’s imagination. She looked on as the horsemen and dogs scrambled about, while the young man vanished around the bend of the brook. As she turned towards home she took several looks back, wondering about the young man who had fled so fast.
Was he a criminal of some kind? Perhaps he was some ousted member of a nearby household, banished and being chased from the property. She could not know for certain what his circumstances were, but such a man might be inspiration for a good adventure story. She made a mental note to remember the incident, to weave it into a story of some kind to be told to her mother, who would no doubt enjoy a good tale. Perhaps even her father would like to hear it. To see him free of his worries, if only for a little while, would be a fine thing indeed.