Friday, July 30, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 1 Part Two

The "Rebel" will appear in the next installment.  For now, enjoy...

The scene in the hall was quite wild. Thea was in hysterics, bringing the entire household out to see what the commotion was. Cassia hurried out ahead of them, and witnessing her daughter’s state…while in the hands of two soldiers…her eyes grew large with concern. The pair were familiar to her, as were all of Guy’s men. As they lowered their heads respectfully, she questioned them.


“Hugh, Christophe? What goes on here?”

It was Hugh who answered. “My lady, we’ve been ordered to take Mistress Theodora to her chambers for confinement.”

“Why?” asked Cassia.

Thea began to babble, high-pitched and incoherent, and it took but a moment for Cassia to see that she would get no clear information there. Seeing Evelyn, she turned to her, seeking an understanding. When all was quietly explained, Cassia turned to Thea, who had buried her face in her hands. But rather than berating her, as she was sorely tempted to do, she reached out and took her by the arm, forcing Christophe to stand aside.

“I will see to her,” she declared. “You both may return to your duties.”

Hugh relinquished his hold, but his look was rather concerned. “But my lady, Sir Guy gave orders.”

“I am aware of that, Sir Hugh. But my husband has departed the premises, and in doing so, he has left the manor in my hands. You will do as I say and transfer her custody to me.”

Both men were reluctant, but knowing their place, they handed Thea over. With respectful bows, they departed. And Thea fell into her mother’s arms. Cassia allowed the weeping for several moments, and she gently stroked her daughter’s back. But then, she motioned for the housekeeper.

“Marie, please escort Theodora to her room.”

Thea raised her head. She opened her mouth to speak, about to protest, but Cassia hushed her quickly.

“Your father has commanded your seclusion. I cannot go against his wishes. I will come up and speak to you soon.”

Owen, who had come to stand beside Evelyn, shook his head as he watched Thea being led away. At fifteen, the conflicts with his sister had hardly diminished, and he took delight in seeing her so distressed. He smirked, speaking to Evelyn in a low voice.

“When she was a babe, they should have shoved her into a burlap sack and pitched her in the river.”

Cassia turned on him in an instant.

“Would you like to join in your sister’s punishment?”

Sheepish at being overheard, he shook his head. “No, Mama.”

“Then you will be silent unless you can contribute to the situation. I have enough trouble on my hands as it is.” She looked to Evelyn. “Where is Sir Lucien?”

“He departed for the barracks, Mama. He was quite upset as well.”

Cassia turned back to Owen. “Go and fetch him. Tell him I will be in the summerhouse, and that I wish to speak to him immediately. And then return to your squire duties.”

He nodded, hurrying off to do as she said. Evelyn looked at her.

“Mama, is there something I need do?”

Cassia shook her head. She gave a sigh, patting Evelyn’s hand. “No, my darling. You need not concern yourself. All will right itself in due course. Why do you not find a quiet place and busy yourself with a task? That would be the wisest choice.”

Evelyn gave a slight smile, nodding. Mama will set things to right, she thought. If anyone could calm the raging waters, it was she. Her mother possessed a gift that no one understood or could explain…an ability to handle the most chaotic situations and the worst of tempers or tantrums. No one was quite sure how she did it, but they all knew they relied heavily on her to keep some sense of order among everyone.

Hiding in a corner, however, would not suit Evelyn. Her curiosity was too strong, and this drama that was unfolding was too good to miss.

*****

For Cassia, the summerhouse was a refuge…a marble columned rotunda with a wrought iron roof, open on all sides, but so draped in ivy and roses that it provided ample shade and privacy. It was there that she sat, needlework in hand, while she waited for Sir Lucien to arrive.

Her shock and dismay over Thea’s accident had been brief, not out of indifference, but out of necessity. There would be much to do before the night was upon them…before anyone would find a peaceful night’s sleep. Thea was unharmed, at least in the physical sense. But she needed to be calmed, and that could only happen if other matters were seen to first. According to Evelyn, Lucien was on the verge of releasing himself from their engagement. Cassia sighed, knowing that if something was to be done, she would have to do it herself. Guy was an excellent husband and a wonderful father, but his temper often impeded his ability to interact with others. Much as she loved him, at times she was frustrated by his lack of ability when it came to peaceful negotiations. There were times, like now, when a gentle hand was needed.

She wagged her head. Men, she thought. Brutish, hopeless creatures.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Lucien approaching. And glancing at him, she decided that “Brutish” might not be such a word to apply to every man.

He was not lacking in presence…that much was true. He was quite tall, even standing slightly above Guy, who was not a small man by any means. Lucien was muscular and broad-shouldered. He had the physicality to be a formidable warrior. And yet, she’d never met a Knight of such good temper and nobility. His calming effect on Thea was astounding, and she very much wished him to be a part of the family.

But first, she had to convince him to stay.

He approached and paused just outside the summerhouse entry, bending low in respect.

“My ladyship, you summoned me?”

She smiled kindly, gesturing to the bench across from her. “Sir Lucien, please sit.”

He took his place almost in a cautious manner, and she could guess he was still concerned about repercussions. She kept her eyes on her stitching as she spoke, hoping to create a relaxed air around them, which would be much need after the day’s commotion. Her voice calm as she broached the subject.

“I have been informed of events that transpired today. Will you speak of them with me?” Her mouth took a slight upturn as she raised her eyes. “Or, do you fear speaking of important matters with a woman, as most men do?”

He wagged his head. “No, my lady. I will speak to you, and gladly.”

Cassia put her stitching aside. “So then…tell me. Why are you considering the end of your engagement to my daughter?”

He cast his eyes down. “I do not wish it. But I fear it is inevitable, as I have failed my master for the final time.”

“Failed him?” she asked, intrigued. “In what way?”

“I could not protect his daughter. Had there been a tragedy, ‘twould have been my fault.” He turned his head away. His voice was pained. “Had anything befallen her, I would never have forgiven myself.”

In spite of the sadness evident in his manner, Cassia found herself rather amused. He was a man, but yet so young. And like so many youths, he was inclined to live for the moment and to dwell on immediate events. He did not yet see that life would be full of times such as these, and even the most experienced of men could not be prepared for them.

She folded her hands, resting them in her lap.

“If I may be so bold to say, it is foolish to think one can avoid each of life’s calamities. The path of life has its twists and turns, and we cannot always know what will lie ahead. And while I thank heaven that my daughter was unharmed, you must remember that she has her own mind. The fault must lie with her as much as with anyone else.”

Now his head came up, but his expression was still filled with trouble. “My lord’s eyes look down upon me already. With this turn of events, I fear his gaze may never rise.”

She sighed, her mind taking a turn in a different direction. “Sir Lucien, might I share some matters with you concerning my husband?”

His expression became rather tentative, as if speaking of his lord would be offensive and might cause him further trouble. But she was quick to reassure him.

“Do not fear, Sir Lucien. What I say to you will never go beyond this small space between us. Unless it you who breaks the confidence. You would not dishonor me in that manner, would you?”

As she expected, he vehemently shook his head in denial. She smiled, quite certain that he was trustworthy. And she spoke.

“When Theodora was born, my husband was beyond himself with joy. He loved both of our children, of course. But Thea wrapped him around her tiny finger, and it seemed the affection was mutual, for she was never pleased by anyone but him. He took tremendous pleasure in that. As she has grown, his influence has lessened in some ways, but all the same, it has remained…until recently.”

His eyes grew slightly, as if he were surprised by her sudden pause, and did not understand its meaning. Oh, the thickness of men’s skulls, she thought, realizing she would have to be more direct.

“You have usurped his crown, Lucien.”

Now his mouth fell partly open. “Me?” he asked, stunned.

She could not help but be amused by his expression. Truly, he did not know his own power over his bride-to-be.

“Difficult as it may be to believe, you have taken his place, Lucien. He is no longer that one magician who can cast his spell over Theodora, and he is not at all pleased with the knowledge. In fact, I would say he is quite jealous.”

“Jealous, my lady? Of me?” He snorted, utterly unconvinced. “Surely you are mistaken.”

“I think not. My husband is of an extremely possessive nature. What he values, he holds tightly to. And as childish as it might seem, he does not take kindly to sharing.”

“But my lady, why should he be this way? This betrothal has been so long in arrangement. It was settled even before the passing of my mother and father, and that has been nearly ten years gone.”

“You do not understand my husband. And you do not understand what it is like to be a father. Perhaps one day, if you have a daughter of your own, you will come to understand what must be endured.”

Once again, Lucien dropped his head. But now, it seemed that he was trying to conceal a look of amused bewilderment. He gave a small sigh. And looking up, his eyes met hers.

“So what must I do?”

She smiled sweetly, with an air of confidence. “Endure, Sir Lucien. In one month, you will be a husband to my daughter. Love and keep her well, and in time, you will be accepted.”

He opened his mouth for a moment, and then closed it. Then he tried to speak again. “My lady, are your certain of this? Of all of it?”

She nodded. “I am.” There was a long silent moment, as it seemed he was absorbing her words. He was starting to grasp that she spoke the truth, and he needed only a slight push further to fully accept her wisdom.

“You have my daughter’s heart. I do not desire it to be broken, and despite my husband’s harsh demeanor, he would not wish it either. When all is said and done, we want only the best for our daughter. Will you honor that wish?”

For the first time, he smiled. Going down on one knee, he took her hand in his own and kissed her knuckles, almost with reverence.

“Countess, you are the fairest and best of ladies. And I would be honored to know you as my mother.”

Smiling down at him, she touched the crown of his head with her free hand. “Thank you, Lucien.” She rose, looking down at him. “Now, if you will pardon me, I must see to my daughter.”

With a nod, he came to his feet. He bowed to her. “My lady.” His expression was glowing with renewed hope as he left her. But she was hardly prepared for a celebration of triumph.

One matter resolved, she thought. And two more remain.

She did not waste time in standing about. Thea might be pacified easily enough. But Guy would be considerably more difficult to calm. He would threaten and fume. No doubt he would be swearing and making threats of violence. It was just his way.

But she wasn’t afraid. Not at all. After nearly eighteen years of marriage, she was quite certain she knew how to soothe the savage beast in him.

There will be peace in the house before bedtime, she thought. Even if I must knock him about the head to achieve it.

As she left the summerhouse, a slight movement of pink silk caught her eye. Turning to look, she could just make out the tip of a feminine shoe peeking out from behind a nearby tree.

“Evelyn Gisborne, bring yourself out from behind that oak tree.”

A moment passed, and sure enough, there was Evelyn. She came slowly out of hiding, her head lowered sheepishly. With one hand on her hip, Cassia eyed her daughter, and with a firm tone, inquired about her attempt to hide herself.

“Young lady, are you attempting to add to my burden of troubles today? Why were you concealing your presence?”

Evelyn glanced up for a moment, and then lowered her eyes again. Her cheeks turned pink, nearly matching her gown. “Forgive me, Mama. I was only curious. I wished to know what would transpire with Sir Lucien.”

Looking at her, Cassia had a sudden urge to smile, for it seemed she was looking upon a younger version of herself. Evelyn was obedient, yes…and kind. There were few so sweet. She was bright, and vastly inquisitive…but therein did lie one of her faults.

“My daughter, there is a danger in being too curious. I was of such a nature when I was a girl, but you must remember that some things are not meant to be heard.”

Evelyn nodded. Her voice was small. “Yes, Mama.”

Cassia leaned forward to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“Go now,” she said. “And please, do not let me again find you hiding and eavesdropping. I have no wish to see you punished. The less trouble, the better.”

With a little smile, Evelyn hurried away. And Cassia headed inside, prepared to take the next steps in seeing the household settled.

*****

As the door to Thea’s room was slowly opened, Cassia could hear the soft mewling sounds coming from within. The hysterics had ceased, but that hardly meant that all was well. Thea lay on her bed, facing the window, and as Cassia approached, she turned to see who had come. When she saw her mother, she sat up and reached out her arms as a fresh wave of tears filled her eyes. She buried her head against Cassia’s breast.

“Oh Mama,” she cried. “This is so unkind. I am being cast as a criminal and the judgment is more than I can bear.”

Cassia let out a weary breath. And while she gave comfort, so too did she feel a growing sense of frustration. After a brief allowance of tears and muttering, she pulled back and took Thea by the arms.

“I love you, child. But for heaven’s sake, compose yourself. Is this how you intend to be as a wife? You will shame Sir Lucien with such ninny behavior.”

“But Mama, he is to leave me. He said as much to Papa. He said he should find another husband for me.”

“You will not have another. Lucien has given second thought to his decision.”

Thea’s eyes grew slightly. “You have spoken to him?”

“Yes,” said Cassia. “And he will not go.”

Thea cried out in delight, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck. Tears of sadness became tears of relief and joy. “Oh Mama, thank you!”

“Do not begin celebrations yet,” Cassia warned her. “Your Papa is not yet calm, nor is he likely to be anytime soon.”

Reminded of her father’s anger, Thea’s face grew somber…her voice became low.

“Oh Mama, never have I seen him in such a state. It was frightening.”

“And why do you think he was in such a temper?”

Thea became almost childlike, avoiding her mother’s eyes and picking at a wrinkle in the bed linen. Guilt shadowed her movements and tone. “Because I disobeyed him,” she answered. And Cassia replied rather forcefully.

“And because you might have lost your life! Can you begin to see what that would have done to him? And not only to him, but to me. To all of us. How could you be so thoughtless?”

“I am sorry. Truly I am. I was only excited by my new pet…” She suddenly recalled another player in the drama…a principal member of the cast, and one most dear to her. “Oh Mama! Papa said he would have my horse killed! Please do not allow it!” She was about to grow excited once again, but Cassia kept her from it with a firm tone of voice.

“Calm yourself. I am certain your father will not act once he has eased his temper.”

Her words were interuppted by the toll of the evening bells. It was time for nightly mass. She had to wonder what commotion might surround the service tonight. Would Guy appear? There was no way of knowing. Everyone would be expecting to see him there, at her side…and everyone was certainly curious as to what his actions would be. But in all likelihood, he would not be seen until late in the night. When he was angry, he often isolated himself, and she was sure he was doing so somewhere on the grounds.

She turned her attention back to Thea. She took a kerchief from her sleeve and wiped her daughter’s eyes.

“Prepare yourself for mass. Seek repentance for your misdeeds. And beg forgiveness from your father. He will not reveal his anger while in the sanctity of the church.”

With a grateful nod and a small smile, Thea moved from the bed. Cassia left her, moving into the hall and heading down the corridor.

*****

The ritual of evening prayer was uneventful…and Cassia was slightly disappointed by it. Guy did not appear. Though she had not wanted mass to be tainted by the whispers that his presence might bring, she had hoped to at least be certain of his whereabouts by seeing him there. But he did not show, and neither did he make an appearance at the dining table.

Where on earth has he gone to? She wondered. As she listened and watched a minstrel play, her sharp eye caught a distant movement across the hall. He glided by rather swiftly, heading upstairs without being seen by anyone else but her. She sat for several moments, not wanting to indicate that she’d seen him. And when the moment was right, she quietly removed herself from the table.

Quietly she slipped into their bedchamber. There he was, sitting in a chair in front of the window, a goblet in his hand. She stepped slowly forward, her voice softly breaking the silence.

“You were not at mass.”

He took a swallow of wine. “No, I was not.”

“Might I inquire as to why?” She was quite certain she knew the answer already, but she wished for him to speak to her so she might judge his state of mind.

“I had no wish to be examined by curious eyes,” he replied.

She came close to his chair, standing just being him. “Will you speak to me?” She watched as he took down more wine, and answered in a gruff tone.

“Of what?”

He was being evasive, and though she understood his reason for it, she could not help being slightly bothered.

“You know very well what.”

“There is nothing to speak of,” he snapped. “What is done is done.”

She sighed in frustration. It was tempting to demand answers…to engage in an all out shouting match. It would not be the first such incident for them. But in this case, she decided that more subtle approach was needed. It was a bit of a bluff, but it might just do the trick.

“Very well then,” she replied, her voice calm, feigning indifference. “If you will not confide in me, I shall leave you in peace.” She turned to go…and was satisfied when he at last came around to speaking.

“She might have been killed today and I would have been responsible.”

Turning back, she returned to her place behind his chair. She let out a soft sigh at his statement.

“I seem to be noticing an overflowing of nobility this day. First Lucien, blaming himself for giving the horse. And now, you wallow in guilt as well. For what reason do you find yourself at fault?”

“I should not have allowed her to ride. Had I stood my ground, there would not have been an incident.”

Now she smiled, touched by his fatherly concern. “My love, I do not wish to make light of your imperfections. But when it comes to Thea, your will has always had the consistency of plum pudding.”

His answer was an indignant snort.

“So the blame is mine, then. I have indulged her too much, and it will lead to her ruin.”

“Guy, do not speak with such gloom.” Coming around the chair, she removed the cup from his hand. Putting it aside, she did as she had done so many times before, settling herself into his lap and leaning against him. “I have spoken with her, and I feel she may be ready to turn over a new leaf after today. And Lucien swears he will honor and protect her. I see no ruin in her future. Only health and happiness, if you will allow her that.”

He turned his head away at the mention of Lucien’s name. He pursed his lips in disgust. “Lucien. A more unworthy man there cannot be.” He would not look at her, but she was not deterred in her course of action, which was to convince him of where he was wrong.

“Guy of Gisborne, you are too cruel. Our daughter is fortunate to have a man of such heart and nobility.”

He said nothing, and to that, she responded with a series of direct questions.

“Is he not a Knight of skill and daring?”

Guy did not answer. Cassia knew of Lucien’s skill as a fighter, for they had all seen him compete in games of combat. Guy’s silence confirmed what she already knew.

“Does he not come from a distinguished bloodline?” she asked.

Again he did not reply, but he did not need to. All of these things were well known already, by both of them. The true reason for Guy’s dislike was obvious, and she needed only to hear him admit it. She pushed with a final question.

“Tell me honestly, Guy. What great fault do you find in him?”

At last he responded, though he did not look her in the eye. Mindlessly picking at the arm of the chair, and sounding almost childish in his tone, he finally spoke.

“He is a bloody thief.”

She smiled, knowing just what he meant by the insult. She softened her voice slightly, a sense of compassion in her words as she asked, “One who will steal your daughter?”

He gave a brief pause before answering. “Yes.”

Her heart filled with tenderness for him. The revelation of his feelings was so bittersweet, for she understood them as well as he did and felt them just as strongly. Putting her arms around him, she pressed her cheek to his, and she sighed.

“My darling, I love her as you do. But she is a woman, and we must allow her to go free.”

Several long and silent moments hung between them. She could sense his thoughts…that time was moving much too fast. She often dwelled on the thought herself, though she tried not to let it burden her heart. Every moment of their lives together, both the good and the bad, had been precious to her. She had tried her best only to think good thoughts…to enjoy each moment as it came. It was her decision to let the future write itself. But Guy was not so inclined to be upbeat. He never had been, and now it seemed the subject was taking a different turn, coming around to a matter of a more personal nature. As she leaned back slightly, examining him, he cast his eyes down again. His outlet of breath had a slightly ragged sound to it…and hinted at sadness he seemed unable to conceal.

“How did this come to pass?” he lamented. “It seems that one moment, I watched my children crawling about or taking their first steps. I watched them at play and at lessons. Now, here I sit…an elderly man, looking helplessly on as they prepare to flee the nest.”

He rarely spoke about growing older. It seemed that for her sake…and perhaps for the sake of his pride…he did not make it a habit of conversation. But she knew that it bothered him immensely. Just a few days ago, she had caught him examining the age spots that were developing on his hands. She’d pretended not to notice, and she’d managed to distract his attention with something else. Now, in a gentle way, she did so again.

“You are hardly an elderly man. You have the strength and spirit of one half your age.” She reached up to touch the hair by his ear, the neatly trimmed sideburns that added such character to his face. “Look at these lovely streaks of silver. They make you so very distinguished.”

He gave a slight movement of his head, as if he intended to avoid her touch…and yet, there was something untrue in the action. She had felt him tremble slightly at the brush of her fingertips. Still, he pretended to be unmoved, muttering at her compliment.

“Distinguished is a polite term for aged.”

She smiled, brushing the back of her fingertips of across his cheek. “Aged as a fine wine might be. Better now than before. And all the more appealing, in my eyes. This face seems only to grow more handsome with time, and I shall never tire of feeling it against my lips.” She kissed his cheek, even as he made a weak attempt to turn his head away.

“Do not try to tempt me, woman. My mood is yet dark.”

It was a game now, to see who would have their way, and she was determined to have hers. She pressed another kiss to his cheek, speaking softly but firmly. “Come now. There has been enough darkness in you today. I am in need of warmth and affection.”

She kissed his jaw and neck. He groaned softly. Her grin was one of triumph, for she knew he would not last much longer.

“Do not fight me, husband. You will not be the victor.”

At last he turned his head to her. There was a laugh on her lips as he kissed her eagerly, and as she pulled back to look into his eyes, she smirked, declaring her victory over him.

“Did I not tell you?”

He held her waist in his hands, pulling her close. “Conniving wench!” he declared, his face breaking into a grin. “You know my weaknesses too well, as you always have.”

“This is true,” she replied. “And it has always pleased me to exploit your weaknesses to my heart’s content. Because, as it is said…to the victor go the spoils.”

His reply was a soft rumbling of laughter. As his hands ran up and down her back, and her fingers rubbed the back of his neck, the sounds of mirth became sounds of pleasure…until there was a knock on the door. For a moment they both ignored it, too content with each other. But when the sound came again, Guy burst out in frustration and fury.

“God’s teeth! Must I always be bothered at the worst of times! Go away!”

He tried to return to her kiss, but she was slipping away to answer the disturbance. He held her wrist in an attempt to keep her.

“Ignore it. It cannot be of much importance.”

She shook her head, smiling. “One can never be sure.” She kissed him firmly on the lips. “I will not be long, I promise.”

At the door was Thea’s young lady-maid. She seemed rather nervous as she curtseyed…probably rattled by the sound of Guy’s voice raised in anger. She spoke shyly.

“Forgive the disturbance, my lady. Mistress Theodora has sent me. She begs for an audience with the Earl. She says it is most important.”

For a moment, Cassia considered allowing Thea to come and see her father. But after all that had happened, she decided against it. She loved her daughter, but Thea had caused enough trouble this day, and it might do her well to spend the night with a head and heart filled with concern. Cassia looked at the maid.

“Tell my daughter that we shall speak to her in the morning. The Earl is still out of sorts, and he wishes to pass the remainder of the night undisturbed.”

The maid curtseyed again. “Yes, Countess.” She scurried away, and Cassia closed and bolted the door. When she turned back to the room, Guy had removed his shirt and was taking off his boots. He glanced over his shoulder at her.

“What passes? Has another child lost their senses and done something foolish?”

She smiled as she removed the jeweled comb and the pins that had held up her hair. “Thea asks for you. She wishes to seek forgiveness. But I think it can wait until the morn.”

Guy came to her and she turned her back to him, silently asking him to untie the bindings of her dress. He paused after the first tie was loosened. Reaching out to move her long mass of hair, exposing the softness of her neck, he kissed her there. His arms went around her waist.

“You are right, of course. It is best to let her wait for an audience. And in the meantime, I think you and I should pursue more worthwhile causes…”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 1 Part One

This takes place a few years after "Homecoming"...I will be dividing some of the chapters in two because of their length.  I hope you enjoy it!
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Chapter 1

September, 1212

Evelyn could read the intent in her sister’s eyes.

What are you up to? She wondered.

Theodora was older, but not always wiser. And judging from the expression on her face, it was clear she was about to do something foolish.

They had just set out for a quiet afternoon ride, with Evelyn riding her gentle brown mare. Daisy was a calm, intelligent animal that was trustworthy. But Thea’s horse was not so familiar. The white stallion had recently been given to her as a gift, and she’d not been permitted to ride him alone…until today, when she’d begged their father repeatedly to be allowed. He’d finally given in, but with the condition that Evelyn accompany her and report any improper behavior.

It should have been enough of a deterrent. And while within site of the manor, all was as it should have been. But once out in the fields, out of the line of vision, a strange curl of a smile came to Thea’s lips. Evelyn eyed her with suspicion.

“What is that look? What wild thought is in your mind?”

Thea reached down to stroke her horse’s neck. “I wonder how fast my new pet can run?”

Evelyn shook her head, concern flooding her expression.

“Do not attempt to learn,” she said.

Thea shrugged, her look careless. “Why not?”

“Because Papa warned you to ride with slow pace and cautious mind. He would be furious to learn of your disobedience.”

Thea sighed, shaking her head. Her smile was free of concern.

“Dearest Evie, you are but fourteen...

Evelyn's reply was indignant. "I am fifteen come December."

"You are still a child," said Thea. "I am seventeen. Parental concerns do not weigh so heavily on me.”

“No, Thea. Do not do it. Especially with an animal untested.”

“Then I shall see to the testing. Such a fine animal must stretch his legs.”

“Thea, no…”

Before Evelyn could say more, Thea gave her horse the heel, and the beast took off in flight. Evelyn watched in horror as her sister became a blur of flying black hair and blue velvet. She gave her own horse the command, hurrying after her, terrified of what might happen. Thea was an experienced rider, but she’d always been forbidden to take a horse on a full gallop. A swift canter was all that had ever been permitted.

But Thea was going faster than Evelyn had ever been witness to…and her horror increased tenfold when she saw the gated stone wall in the horse’s path. She watched with bated breath as the animal took flight and sailed over the obstacle…only to lose his rider as he made contact with the earth. There was a scream as Thea was thrown off, and she rolled as she hit the ground. She lay still and silent. Evelyn cried out, jumping from her horse to run to her sister’s side.

“Thea! Speak to me!” She rolled her over…and was shocked to discover that her sister’s eyes were open, though they strained with the effort of regaining her senses. There was a gash above her right eye, but no other signs of damage. And suddenly she started to giggle.

“Oh Evie, did you see how fast we moved? It was as if we were in flight!”

Evelyn’s expression flashed from concern to fury in an instant. A good slap was what she wanted to give her, and it was a difficult impulse to hold back. Instead she lashed her with words.

“Flaming imbecile! You might have killed yourself with such stupidity!”

Thea only laughed, excitedly clasping her hands together. “Oh dear sister! If only I had held my grip a little better, we might have continued on for who knows how long. To think how thrilling it would have been!”

Her temper barely in check, Evelyn gave her a hard shove to the shoulder. “Oh, I cannot stand you! You give thought to no one save yourself! If only Papa would see you whipped as you deserve, I would not stay his hand!”

Thea’s face lost its mirth, becoming almost grave. “Oh Evie, you cannot tell him of this!”

Evelyn opened her mouth to speak, but the sound of a familiar voice gave them both pause.

“He will learn of it first thing!”

They turned to look. Thea’s fiance was coming their way, and his face was dark with fury. Lucien, with his pale blond hair and amber eyes, usually looked so calm and kind. But seeing him now, he seemed almost unrecognizable in such a state of rage. Sliding down from his dappled-grey charger, he rushed to Thea and knelt down beside her. She looked up at him with a sheepish smile.

“Dear Lucien, do not worry. I am fine…”

His furious shout stunned her into silence. “I should turn you over my knee and see your backside welted! Your father grants me permission to join you on your stroll, and this is what I find? I bestowed that horse to you as a gift, and with it you nearly make a murderer of me!”

As she watched in silence, Evelyn was incapable of words. She’d never seen this side if him before. And Thea, usually so flippant, could only manage a few small words.

“Lucien, I did not mean to…”

“Do not speak!”

Neither of the women said a word. He helped Thea to her feet, and holding her arm, he gently but firmly walked her towards his waiting horse.

“You will be silent until we return to the house. And when first you speak, it will be to explain yourself.”

He lifted her into the saddle. After he retrieved her mount, leading it through the gate, he would not allow it to be ridden. Instead, he held the reigns as he climbed into his own saddle behind Thea, and he led her stallion along behind them. Evelyn found her mare and followed, stunned…and eager to see what would come of this wild occurrence.

As they traveled home in silence, Evelyn found herself feeling pity, not for her sister…but for the scowling Knight leading them along.

Poor Lucien, she thought. Fortune seems never to bless him…at least when it comes to his intended.

He and Theodora had been betrothed from a young age. But only recently had he come to meet the Gisborne family face to face. At twenty he was a Knight newly christened, and with Guy of Gisborne as his lord and master, he had found his internship to be much more than he bargained for.

Guy had been given his own garrison with the granting of his Earldom years before, and he took the duty very seriously, commanding his troops with a fierce hand. But it seemed that among all the men, Lucien was on the lowest rung of the ladder…and his master wasn’t very eager to see him rise. To all those who witnessed it, it seemed that the poor fellow had taken on a challenge beyond winning…that of being Sir Guy’s future son-in-law. The marriage was not in question. They would be wed just after the harvest, which was less than a month away. But it wasn’t permission that Lucien sought. He craved Sir Guy’s respect, and yet it seemed that each attempt to please was met with failure. His greetings were answered with silence…his kind gestures ignored. Guy often accused him of smiling too much. But everyone else in the family was quite taken with him…particularly his bride-to-be. Thea had never been so content with anyone before. It was strange, though pleasingly so, to see her so soft-spoken and always happy. She was completely smitten with her fiancĂ©.

But what was to happen now? Lucien seemed a different person, changed in just one brief moment into a man quite fearsome in his manner. And no wonder. It would not only be Thea who would answer for her near calamity, but he as well. When Guy sought to place blame, he did not show favoritism. And for Lucien, there would be a steep price to pay, even for something that was hardly his fault.

As they neared the manor, Evelyn saw that her father was afield working with his men, and she followed along as Lucien rode in their direction. Guy turned to them as they approached, his eyes narrowing in suspicion to see Thea’s horse without a rider, and he rode forward to meet them as Lucien stopped. Getting down from his horse, he quickly and lifted Thea off in an almost brusque manner. Taking her by the hand he pulled her along at a quick pace, ignoring her pleas for understanding. Evelyn got down from her horse and hurried to follow, eager to see what would transpire.

They closed the short distance between themselves and Guy, who looked from one of them to another.

“What is this?” he demanded, getting down from his horse.

Lucien went down on one knee, lowering his head. “My lord, something has transpired. Your daughter has an admission to make.”

He tugged at Thea’s hand, silently urging her to speak. She did so…but attempted to mollify any outrage before it began. She spoke calmly and casually.

“I had a slight accident, Papa. But there is no cause for alarm.”

Guy’s brow raised in concern. His tone rose slightly. “An accident? What accident?”

“I was riding a bit too fast, and I fell. But I am unharmed.”

Lucien boldly corrected her statement. “She nearly broke her neck!”

Guy’s eyes became wild with fury, the cords of his neck bulging. He was so incensed that he could not speak, and he turned his head away, even as Thea grasped his arm and tried in vain to soothe him with an explanation.

“I was not thinking, Papa. Please do not be angry.”

He flung her off, turning on her in a rage. “You will say no more! You deliberately disobeyed me!”

Lucien spoke quickly. “My lord, I take full responsibility. It was I who gave her the beast. I have been a fool.”

Shocked by his declaration, fear suddenly grew in Thea’s eyes. She understood that they would both be punished, but her father’s wrath was sure to fall harder on her fiancĂ©, and she shook her head in denial.

“No, Lucien! ‘Tis not your fault.”

She could not bear the thought of his self sacrifice, but he seemed unable or unwilling to hear her.

“I fear I am undeserving of your daughter, Sir Guy. It seems I have failed to protect her as I should, and I am prepared to relinquish her to one who is worthy.”

Thea became almost frantic. She pleaded with him. “No, no! Do not say such a thing!” She tried to cling to him, but Guy took her by the arm and pulled her away. As he held her, he turned to one of his soldiers and pointed to Thea’s horse. “Lock up that mad beast! Tomorrow I will have it slaughtered!”

Thea was weeping wildly now, begging him not to act on his anger, but he thrust her into the hands of another of his men.

“Remove her from my sight and confine her to her chamber! Do not let her out until I come to fetch her!”

Thea struggled to free herself as she was led away, sobbing and pleading with her father to be merciful. All the while, Lucien remained kneeling, ready to submit to whatever punishment he was to receive. His words were brief, low-spoken.

“Forgive me, my lord.”

Guy looked down at him with a sneer, saying nothing. He mounted his horse and rode away without a word, leaving everyone behind.

The soldiers slowly disbanded, returning to their practice. Lucien did not join them. He glanced at Evelyn, who stood wide-eyed in astonishment. Then he turned and walked away. Evelyn wasn’t entirely sure what her part should have been, if any. She only knew that this drama was not nearly over…and if she wanted to see it all, she would not accomplish anything by standing alone in the yard.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Homecoming Pt. 3

Cassia reached out her hand to brush William’s hair from his forehead. It fell back, the way it always did…the way that Guy’s always did. All of the children favored him in looks, and the thought of it might have made her smile…were it not for the pain weighing down her heart.


Faith had often been her strength. But lately, she’d found her spirit unbearably tested. William seemed to be improving. The evil that persisted in his body was being expelled little by little, and when he was awake, he seemed to be in good spirits. But in quiet moments, like now…when he was lying so quiet and still…old memories tempered her hope.

Poor Rosalyn. Her dear sister-in-law. Her closest friend. She’d fallen into the same kind of stillness after the birth of her third child. Not more than a day later, mother and babe had been buried together. Cassia recalled the words of the priest who had spoken over the grave. He spoke of “God’s will”…that it was a blessing to be released from this cursed life, and admitted to the glory of heaven. But looking at her firstborn child, she could not see how it was the will of the Almighty to take anyone from the world so soon. And not him…not her beloved son. He was such a ray of sunshine, filling their lives with laughter and joy. To think of losing him…

She forced her eyes away from him, taking in a deep breath. For him, I must be strong, she thought. I will not weep…for if I do, my tears will be endless.

Her thoughts were suddenly broken, as a familiar hold pressed her shoulder. Without conscious thought, almost without pause, she turned her head and pressed her lips to that strong hand. But the distraction could not keep her eyes from falling back to William, even as she inquired after her husband.

“Was your bath made ready? Forgive me for not seeing to it properly…”

He broke in gently. “Have no concern over it. When I found you not there, I was quite certain of the reason.”

She wished to speak. But a swell of emotion rose in her throat. She forced it down, silently ordering herself to maintain her stoicism. Guy had endured a month at court and a long journey home. The last thing he needed was a wife plaguing him with her worries.

But in spite of her struggle to conceal her feelings, he was not tricked. This she knew, even without looking at him. They had always been able to read one another so well, despite each of their occasional attempts to hide their own concerns. When she felt his arm move around her shoulders, and heard him speak in a low, soft tone, it was nearly her undoing. He was looking at her, studying her. She could feel his eyes.

“Beloved, tell me truly. How many nights have you passed as thus, awake with your fears?”

She took in another breath, struggling to keep her composure. Her voice wavered slightly, but she gave what she thought to be a calm enough reply. “I am quite well, my love. Do not be concerned.”

He gave a sigh of his own. But the sound was one of resolution. Though she was not certain of his intent, she knew he had come to some kind of decision, and he was not one to be swayed when his mind was made up.

“I see I must assert my power as your husband.” With his arm around her, he forced her to her feet. “Come.” He made a motion for the chambermaid.

To be plucked from William’s side was not an idea that sat well with Cassia. Despite the strength of Guy’s hold, she felt she must protest.

“But Guy, I…”

“She will see to him. I will have no argument. Come.” He instructed the servant to look after William…that they would be in the very next room, and to inform them immediately of any concerns. She was ushered into the dark and empty guest chamber, where he made her sit beside him on the bed. He forced her to turn to him, though her head remained lowered. As he spoke to her, his deep tones were soft but firm.

“I will not permit you to be so careless with your own well being. This night, you will sleep and unburden your mind.”

Her resolve crumbled. She made one final attempt at strength, but it failed under the great weight of all that she felt. Guy was correct in assuming that she’d endured many sleepless nights. For too long she had shouldered great fear and sadness, as well as her responsibilities. She’d endlessly worried about her son, and suffered with missing her husband during his absence…all while overseeing a household and three other children. And it was all too much to endure. With a sudden intake of breath she began to weep, falling into Guy’s arms. As his hands gently rubbed her back and his words tried to comfort her, she only cried harder, the torrent of her feelings unleashed and now allowed to flow freely. As he drew her back against the pillows, lying with her, she curled against him and took comfort in his strength.

It was a long while before she became calm again. Guy was silent, allowing her to regain her bearings in her own time. When at last her tears ceased, she wiped the dampness from her cheeks. He held a handkerchief out to her, and when she’d composed herself, she leaned back into his arms, calmer…but still in great need of his consolation.

“I hope you forgive my outburst of tears.”

He scoffed, but with a hint of amusement in the sound. “Woman, do not be absurd. You are permitted to weep when such strain has been thrust upon you.”

She pressed her cheek firmly against his shoulder, sniffling one last time. In that taking of breath, she inhaled his clean and masculine scent, and with the warmth radiating from his body, she found herself enveloped with a sense of calm.

“I have missed you, Guy. I daresay that some wives take pride in managing a household whilst their husbands are away. But I confess, I was not keen on forging my way alone.”

“You cannot do without me, then?”

It was too dark to fully examine his face, but she knew from the sound of his voice that he was smiling. Smug devil that he was…that he’d always been…he thrived on being needed, and such acknowledgement made him cheeky. It was one of his most attractive qualities, and she was only too happy to further his sense of self.

“Thus has it always been, and will always be. I need you near, particularly in times of trial…”

Knowing what she referred to, he shushed her gently. “Let us speak of it no more. Not tonight. The morning will come soon enough with its difficulties.”

He kissed her softly, once…and then again. As their lips touched, she closed her eyes. And once shut, she found them too heavy to open. Already weary from sleeplessness, and now spent from her tears, she turned in his arms and moved so that her back was against him, settling into a few stolen hours of peace.

*****

When Guy awoke, it was to the feeling of his wife pressed against him. For a moment his mind questioned it, having been without his mate for so long. To convince himself of her substance, he buried his nose in her hair to take in her sweet essence… and his entire body trembled with pleasure. He ached for her, and yet, he was aware of his own selfishness. Their son was in much greater need of her. It was his boy he should have been thinking of. But Guy needed her just as much. Since he’d become a father, he’d been forced to curb his lustful wishes…and not necessarily by choice. Managing an estate and a growing family was difficult at times, and for both he and Cassia, time together was a luxury they did not always have. Even at night, when they looked forward to the privacy of their bedchamber, they were not always left in peace. He could not count the number of times she’d been called away to see to something in the night…to answer a child’s cries or to look after them when they were ill. Sometimes, just when they were about to be affectionate, there would be a little knock at their door. Owen was most notorious for such interruptions. It was odd, but the child who was usually so bold had a great fear of monsters lurking in the night. Once he was convinced of such a creature, his nurse could not persuade him to return to his own bed, and the only remedy for his fear was his mother’s arms.

At times such as those, he found his old sense of impulsiveness returning. Cassia was needed by everyone, especially her children. But Guy felt a certain sense of supremacy when it came to her, and he might have boldly demanded his rights as a lord and husband…were it not for her tender influence. She tried as often as she could to give her attention to him. Now and then they would steal away together, and he craved those times more than anything in the world. When he needed her, she was always there…just as she was for everyone she loved.

But she was no deity, though he’d often compared her to one. She was very much a mortal woman, with her own feelings and needs…and limitations. He thought of his words to her that afternoon…how he had talked of making demands of her. Then, he recalled the scene of just a few hours ago. Her tears had been difficult to witness, for he could hardly bear the notion of her suffering. To see her so vulnerable, so fearful, it brought a terrible sense of guilt upon him.

It was true that old habits and ways were not easy to change. But he reminded himself that he was not who he once was. That selfish good-for-nothing from Nottingham was no more. For the love of Heaven, he was the Earl of Gisborne. This was his manor now…his lands and tenants. His brother-in-law, once the master and owner of this vast estate, had moved on to a separate property that was closer to court. Stephen DeWarren had willed the manor to his sister…and by law, it now belonged to Guy, who was not ignorant of the value such holdings brought. Nor was he ignorant of its expectations.

I am older and wiser, he thought. I am capable of being altruistic. Cassia made a sudden little noise in her sleep that was something like a moan of pleasure…and there was something about the sound that thrilled him. He smirked, reminding himself that his thoughts had been decent only a moment before. I can be considerate, he said to himself. I can…even if she makes it nearly impossible.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts, and it was strangely welcome. It gave him reason to make good on his vow, as his thoughts were refocused on more important matters.

As he rose, Cassia came awake beside him. She was quick to rise and come to his side as he opened the bedroom door. The chambermaid stood there, candle in hand, whispering.

“My lord, my lady, master William is awake. He asks for you both.”

Guy breathed a sigh of relief, as did Cassia, that it was not an ominous tone with which the servant spoke. Leading Cassia in, he stood in quiet observance as she sat down on the bed beside their son. William’s voice was soft, but he wore a slight smile.

“Mama, I woke and you were not here. I wondered.”

Guy watched, with a slight smile, as Cassia took William’s hands and kissed them. He had a fond memory of her doing that very same thing when the children were very small and learning to walk. When they would stumble, she would always give them a thorough looking over, and then she would kiss their little faces and hands. He wished he could give such love openly, but it would not do. Cassia was there to dispense the needed affection. Though he kept his tone gentle, there was a slight sternness there as well…as if to encourage his son to try and get better, if only for the sake of his mother. He took a slight step forward, folding his arms.

“Your Mama was resting. She has been much concerned for you.”

If there was one thing William took joy in, it was pleasing his mother. His eyes widened a little as he looked from one parent to the other. His voice was weak, but he tried not to show it.

“I am not so unwell, Mama.”

Before he could say more, he began to cough, a rough and violent sound. The maid came with a cloth for his mouth, as Cassia fetched a cup of water, and Guy moved back, allowing them space as they tended to him. He felt helpless, unsure of what his role should be…and yet, he knew of one contribution he might be capable of.

He slipped quietly from the room, returning a short time later. Cassia was behind a folding screen with William, watching over him as he made use of the chamber pot. As Guy waited, his hand slipped into his pocket to grasp the jar of camphor. If there was a time to take a leap of faith, there was no better time than the present. But he would do so in private…not in the presence of a servant who might be too curious about what he would attempt. He turned to the girl, and with a gesture of his head, he silently dismissed her. When he was certain she was long enough away, he took the container from his pocket. As Cassia helped William back to bed, Guy came to sit beside her…and slowly, he slipped the jar into her hand. For a long moment she looked at it. Then she turned to William, who was struggling for breath and cringing.

“Mama, may I have tea? It helps me feel better.”

Cassia tried to smile. “Soon, darling. I promise I will make it for you. But first, there is something I must apply to your chest. It is a healing salve, and if it pains you in any way, you must tell me instantly.”

William nodded, his trust in his mother unwavering. With a cautious hand, Cassia opened the jar, and with slightly unsteady fingers, she began rubbing the medicine on his throat and chest. Almost before she’d finished, he remarked at the odd sensation it produced.

“It is cold, Mama.”

She removed her hand, her expression troubled. “Are you in pain? How do you feel?”

“Not so troubled to breathe. Not nearly so bad.”

Guy could not remain silent, his own worry and curiosity overtaking him. “But do you hurt?”

William shook his head, giving a little smile. “I like it, Papa. It feels good.” His smiled lessened, and he wrinkled his nose. “But the smell is horrid.”

Seeing the face he made, Guy was amused. And Cassia was happy just to know that in a small way, their son felt a little bit better.

“I shall remedy the scent with something,” she said. “I promise. But praise God if you feel a difference for the better.”

William’s thoughts seemed to change direction quickly, seemingly spurred on by the positive tone of his mother’s voice.

“When may I go outside again? I miss the sea.”

Guy wanted to laugh. As he’d learned over the years of being a parent, children saw everything in black and white. William saw his mother’s hopeful smile and felt the slight comfort that the medicine brought him. Now he assumed that all would be well in a short matter of time. He talked of his favorite place in the world, which was the ocean. He loved to swim, and more than that he loved to fish. He wasn’t quite old enough to manage a boat, but he was skilled with a rod or a spear, and if he’d had his way he would probably have camped on the beach permanently. It was almost hurtful to disappoint him.

“Do not be so hasty, my son. We must be certain that you are fully recovered. The fish will be there still when you return.”

William sighed. “I hope so.” His tone was glum, his face equally so. But there was only light and hope in the eyes of his parents.

*****

Summer was on the horizon, but already, the warmth drew four eager children to the seashore.

William, with spear in hand, stood knee-deep in the turquoise waters. Many weeks had passed since his illness had turned for the better, but this was the first day Guy and Cassia had permitted him to venture beyond the grounds of the estate. He reveled in the return of his personal freedom, and the rest of the family was glad to share in his happiness.

Not permitted to wander out too deeply, Owen happily stomped about in the shallow waters. Nearby, Thea and Evelyn worked together on a sand castle. As they created towers, dug moats, and shoveled out trenches to let in seawater, Guy and Cassia sat nearby, watching. Cassia wore a joyful expression, observing the rare occasion of their children in peaceful co-existence. She sighed, a happy sound.

“Oh, the miracles the Lord doth bring.”

Guy smiled at her remark. “I suppose we’d best savor such a moment. Much like a rainbow, it will be a fleeting joy.”

He turned to look at her, and she at him. Her look was so pleasant, so soft and full of happiness. In spite of decorum’s notion that affection should not be on public display, he found he was too happy at that moment to care. He leaned in to steal a kiss…but a sudden commotion made them turn to look. It happened so quickly they hardly had time to react, as they watched Owen charging at full speed towards his sisters’ project. Destruction was his intent. But he did not count on Evelyn, who was not about to see her art ruined. She was rarely aggressive, but it seemed this occasion called for a strong defense, and with a forceful shove of her hands she knocked Owen backwards into the water. He landed on his back in the wet sand, stunned…and then he sat up, wailing loudly. But there was little reaction from his siblings. William paid no attention as he concentrated on his fishing. Evelyn went back to her project with Thea, who snorted with a remark, “Horrid brat.”

Guy and Cassia both sighed. He watched as she went to Owen and helped him up, and he listened as she scolded him for his malicious intent…even as she checked him over for injuries.

The moment of peace had been more fleeting than they’d expected. And there was no hope of knowing when, or if, it would return again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Here are the winners!

Hello Everyone!
I've used a random number generator, MathGoodies, and here are the winning numbers for my giveaway of "The Tempest."


# 28 - Julia     # 5 - Aileen     # 37 - Alfie     # 13 - Katrin


Congratulations to the winners!  Please email me your addresses so I can get your books out ASAP.

Thanks to everyone for entering. And for those who didn't win, please don't feel left out.  Starting tomorrow and going until July 22, the Smashwords edition will be free for all to read.  You don't need a Kindle or an EReader, although it is available in that format. Smashwords has an option to upload the story to your PC, and it only takes a few minutes to process.

Or if you prefer, I would be happy to send you a PDF file in Adobe Reader format. Just drop me a note at Charlotte1194@hotmail.com and let me know.

For all who read this story, I would love to know what you think of it, good or bad. Opinions mean so much to me as a writer. Don't be shy!

Yours,
Charlotte

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Contestants, here are your numbers

Hello, everyone.  Here are the assigned numbers.  If I have missed anyone's name, please let me know.  Remember, the final winning numbers will be chosen by a random number generator, which I will post along with the winners names. And for those who still don't know, there are now 4 books in the giveaway, so your chances of winning are much higher.  Check back on Tuesday to see if you are a winner. I will try to post around noon, U.S. eastern standard time.

Good luck to all!

1. Ruth Ellen

2. Lolly55

3. Deborah M.

4. Jill

5. Aileen

6. Amanda Y.

7. Manda

8. Ruth Ann Nordin

9. Nadja

10. Claudia

11. Marcy

12. Luv

13. Katrin

14. Ann Marie

15. Ron Minkin

16. Jenny A.

17. Lacey D

18. Reg

19. Iz4spunk

20. krist

21. mesmered

22. chica popcorn

23. flandersdreamer

24. trudenow

25. Ms. Kieu

26. Eleanor Brown

27. Trudy

28. Julia

29. Dale

30. Jay Jay

31. Cristina

32. Pinkie

33. arabella_vidal

34. Monica

35. Yahon N.

36. ladyl_godiva

37. Alfie