Monday, September 26, 2011

The Gisbornes, A Novelette - Chapter 5

The room was warm. But Cassia was trembling underneath the coverlets. A bowl of chicken broth, half-empty, sat on the bed table. Guy had ordered it brought up, along with the tea she had requested. She had taken some of both, but sleep had soon overwhelmed her. Sitting beside her, he continued to press the cool, wet cloth to her head and face, as he had done several times in the last few hours. Her maid-servant, Celeste, had been willing to see to the nursing of her mistress. But Guy sent her away, and ordered all others to stay away from the room, especially the children.

When he wasn’t bathing her, in an attempt to control her fever, he was bending his head in prayer.

God had been so generous to him and to those he loved. But with each bestowing of good fortune, there had always come a feeling of foreboding. It was foolish to believe that fate would always smile upon them. The Almighty would demand compensation for His kindness, sooner or later. And sitting there, seeing the way his wife suffered in her sickness, Guy could not help but fear that the time for reckoning had come.

Not her, he silently pleaded. Do what you will with me, but I beg you…spare this woman. This wife. This mother.

What would his children do without her? They would be lost…as lost as he would be. His breath caught at the thought of it. They were one soul. He doubted if two human beings had ever been so spiritually entwined, as they were. In their bed, they always slept close together. He recalled how, once, they had somehow entered into a discussion on the subject. She had made an observation, which seemed to come from out of nowhere…

Are you aware, husband, that most couples do not occupy the same bed night after night?

He had given her a curious look. Woman, what are you leading up to?

Do you not think we should set an example for our children? Should we not let them observe us a traditional mother and father?

He had pursed his lips in disgust. Surely you jest. In four years, we have never slept apart unless circumstance called for it. It would be nonsense to break such a habit now.

She had shrugged. I would like to try it, just once.

I would not, was his stern reply.

They had argued for several long minutes, and then, she had slipped away from him, a playful look in her eyes.

Let us experiment, my love. Let us see if we are capable of managing on our own.

She had left their room with a childish giggle, sneaking away into a chamber down the hall. His pride had had kept him from going after her...for about five minutes. After which, he had searched the rooms until he found her in a chamber at the end of the hall.

Enough foolishness, wife. Return to our bed this instant.

Reclined on the bed, with her elbow supporting her head and her hair falling around her shoulders, she gave him an enticing smile.

I think I shall remain here for the night. I have often wondered how it would be to have an entire bed to myself. She had flattened herself out on the bed, stretching her limbs. He had stepped to the side of the bed, looking down at her. A smirk had come to his lips.

I would like to continue this argument in our bed. Come, let us go.

With a mischievous gleam in her eye, she had hesitated. She was challenging him…teasing him. And his response had been swift. She had squealed and laughed as scooped her up in his arms and carried her off.

I am afraid I must insist, madam, that we continue our sleeping situation as it is. I am old and set in my ways, and I cannot alter my habits now.

She had not protested as he returned to their room, where he reminded her how very close he wished her to be…

He needed her more than anything. She was a part of him. And without her, he knew he would be nothing more than an empty shell. It was she who knew him best. There was no one else who knew the real Guy of Gisborne. Only she knew his deepest fears, and only to her did he reveal his most tender thoughts. Only she knew the secrets of his heart. To lose her would be to lose himself, and without her, he would cease to exist.

He placed his head in his hands, not to weep, but to make an attempt at calming his growing fears. She would want him to have faith. His mind had always tended towards the dark and dreary, and in truth, he felt safer in that realm of thought. It was easier, in his way of thinking, to keep his expectations low to avoid the pain of disappointment. But Cassia, stubborn thing that she was, clung to hope in every aspect of her life. And for her, he would believe.

She will be well, he told himself. And looking at her, he found that the corner of his mouth had turned up. He spoke softly to her.

“My beloved, obstinate angel.” Reaching out, he gently took her hand. “You will not leave me. Your work here is not yet done. For who else but you can temper my wretched soul?”

Lowering his head to the mattress, he retained her hand as he closed his eyes, seeking a few moments of rest.


A soft light, like the dawn, feel on his closed eyelids. He blinked, then squinted, turning his head in an attempt to shade his eyes. Slowly, as his eyes adjusted, he realized that the entire room was filled with the strange, almost ethereal light. And looking down, he saw that he was in bed. Odd, but he could not remember leaving the chair. Beside him, his bedmate was facing the window, the coverlet pulled up to her shoulders. Reaching out, he placed a hand on her arm. She seemed to be lying quietly and peacefully. He could feel no trembling, and to his surprise, her skin was cool to the touch. Leaning over, he whispered to her.

“Beloved, are you awake?”

She shifted slightly. Slowly, she turned to him. And he gasped in utter disbelief at seeing her face.

Marian. No! It cannot be!


In terror he shrunk away, leaping from the bed as his heart pounded in his chest. It had to be a dream…no, not a dream. A nightmare. He backed away as she rose from the bed, walking slowly towards him, her dark hair spilling over her shoulders and her white nightdress flowing over her curvaceous figure. In long ago dreams, he had envisioned her this way, imagining the glorious way she would rise from their bed in the morning. But as she stood before him now, he saw nothing of beauty in her. He saw only an image of a long lost soul…one who now stood in the place of the woman he loved. His voice rose in fear.

“Where is my wife?”

She came to him, her arms outstretched. “I am here.”

Terrified, he evaded her embrace, and rushed from the room. Tearing down the darkened hallway, he called out for Cassia…for his children. Surely, he would find them all together in the nursery. Cassia often slipped away in the night to look after them. She was there. She had to be there.

The hallway seemed to go on forever, until at last he came to the familiar door, and he threw it open. From the darkened hall, he rushed forward into a blinding white light. For a moment, his eyes burned so that he threw his arm across them. When he lowered his arm, he saw not the nursery, but an eerily familiar chamber. Gone were the little beds of his children, and the baby’s cradle. No toys, no tapestries, no woven rugs to soften the steps of bare little feet. It was cold and drab, with little decoration and few furnishings. And suddenly, he recognized his surroundings.

The Sherriff’s counting room.

A dreadful voice…a loathsome, hated voice, suddenly spoke to him. He turned, and sitting there, at a desk, was the Sheriff of Nottingham himself. His cold blue eyes, eerily pale, looked at him with a familiar light of distaste. He sneered.

“Good God, Gisborne. You have the look of a madman. Has another woman lost her life at your hands?”

"God, help me!" He cried.

He ran from the room. And he found himself not inside, but out of doors, in the middle of a raging winter storm. The snow was blinding…the wind biting his flesh and stealing the breath from his body. He managed only a few painful steps forward, when the ground suddenly gave way beneath his feet. Black, ice-cold water washed over him, and violently he struggled against the freezing depths that were dragging him down…


With a shout, he flung himself upwards, gasping for air. The waters were gone…the blackness replaced with the soft glow of candlelight, as he realized it had all been a nightmare.

Frantic, he checked his surroundings. Looking down, he saw himself sitting in the chair beside the bed. The bedchamber was dim, the air cool, due to the window that had been opened. But his thoughts were on nothing else but the woman lying in front of him. He rushed forward, fearful that he would disturb her, but trembling with worry at what he would find. He reached out, brushing the dark hair back from the forehead…and he nearly wept with relief at the sight of Cassia’s face. He wanted so badly to kiss and caress her, to convince himself of her realness. But he fought his impulse, knowing how ill she was. She needed no disturbance.

And yet, he could not help himself entirely. He took her hand, gently, and pressed his lips to it. Dear heaven, how he cherished the feeling of her soft, slender fingers. What would he do without the gentleness of her touch? As he kissed her palm, he felt her slowly shifting under the covers. He looked at her, and he saw that she was looking at him through heavy eyelids.

“Guy,” she whispered. “Are you well?”

He fought back a sound of amused disbelief. Leaning closer to her, bringing his face near hers, he brushed his fingers against her cheek.

“It is you who lies ill, and you inquire of me.” He kissed her temple, noting that her skin, though warm, was not nearly as hot as it had been. “Think not of me, but of yourself. We must have you well.”

The corner of her mouth turned up. “You cannot do without me, it seems.”

He smiled, a gentle laugh escaping him. He kissed her hand again, and softly he replied. “Without you, I am lost.”


For days, Cassia remained feverish, but it gradually subsided. The illness left her physically frail for quite some time, but she was determined to regain her health. Guy watched her constantly, looking for any sign of weakness or ill health. Cassia leaned on him for support, both emotionally and physically, and he was more than happy to have her holding close to him as they took a walk each day.

“I cannot take ill again, Guy. Do not let me.”

They walked along the garden path, and he smiled at her words. “Were it my choice, I would never allow it. You must know, I would gladly take your suffering onto myself.”

She shook her head. “I would never wish that, Guy. Never.”

He studied her, a curious look in his eyes. “So, then. If neither of us will permit the other to succumb to illness, what shall we do to avoid it?”

“We will keep in good health and not die,” she replied, and she clung closer to him. “Heaven has enough souls, do you not think so?”

He shook his head and laughed, ever so joyfully.


Author's Note: If you would like more of the Gisbornes, keep an eye out for a new story. Coming soon...

The Gisbornes, A novelette - Chapter 4

Several moments of quiet passed as Cassia finished nursing the baby. While she readjusted her gown, Guy held Evelyn. He fixed his gaze on her, losing himself in his thoughts. Cassia softly nudged him.

“Guy, is there something on your mind?”

He shook his head to focus his attention, and he smiled at her. “Nothing significant,” he replied. He turned his eyes back to Evelyn. “A sense of wonder, perhaps. Seeing this, I am reminded of how fortunate I am.”

Leaning back against the pillows, he put his arm around her, drawing her against his side. She replied in a weary but contented voice.

“We are indeed blessed. Life has been kind to us.”

A soft rumble of amusement escaped him. And as quickly as Cassia had closed her eyes, she opened them again, a curious little smile on her face. “Something amuses you?”

“I was thinking of someone, but I dare not cause offense by speaking his name.”

“You have piqued my curiosity, husband. Now you must tell me.”

“I was thinking of William Briewere.”

“A horrible, awful man,” she replied. “Why would he now enter your thoughts, and after so long a time?”

“I was thinking how very enraged he would be to see me so content. My bliss was always his despair his joy. How maddening it would be for him to witness my happiness.”

“He bears witness to it from hell, and that is as it should be.”

They had rarely spoken of his former master. It was too solemn a subject to revisit. And, it brought other memories back to life...memories that were too unpleasant to bring into conversation.

And yet, he thought of them often. It was not his intention to revive old ghosts, but they came to him on occasion, and most times, there was nothing that prompted them. They simply appeared. He sighed, wishing he could somehow erase that corner of his mind. Both Briewere and Nottingham were part of his past, and there he wanted them to remain.

“His punishment is right,” he said. “God has seen to that. And as I live my life, with every happy moment that passes, I will be grateful to The Almighty for both his judgment, and his mercy.”

He turned his head to look at her, and saw that she had fallen asleep. Easing himself from the bed, with Evelyn still in his arms, he rose to his feet and placed the baby in the cradle. He left his wife and daughter in peace, and while they rested, he would busy himself with plans of celebration. Another Gisborne has arrived, and he intended to give his new daughter a spectacular welcome.


The feasting and festivities lasted for seven days. There was great admiration for Evelyn, but also for her mother and father. A healthy child was cause for celebration, and Guy found himself awash in praise. As much as he loved his family, he was equally fond of being among his peers. His neighbors spoke well of him...particularly now that he had sired another offspring. Standing in a circle of men, late into the seventh night, he listened to a fellow baron’s praise of him. Andre DuBois, Baron of Delemont, wore a grin of admiration.

“Four children, Gisborne. All born healthy. What a virile piece of manhood you are.”

Another nobleman, this one a comte, nodded in agreement. “Here, here,” he said, raising his cup, and they all drank from their wine goblets. “But let us hope that your next child is a boy. One can never have enough male issues, eh?” He elbowed Guy in the ribs, and with a slight smile, Guy replied.

“Indeed.” Inside, he felt a pang of guilt at agreeing with such an untruth. But he kept silent on the matter. He needed the good opinion of his friends and neighbors. And in time, his sons would benefit from his reputation as a man’s man.

Still, he felt the need to make a offer some defense of his daughters, whom he loved most deeply. He chose his words carefully, keeping his tone cool as he shrugged.

“Sons are preferred by all men. But daughters serve their purpose.”

“This is true,” said Andre. “Among the nobility, they serve as symbols of fertility and grace.”

“Unlike the peasants,” the comte sneered. “What is a peasant girl, other than a brood mare?”

Andre nodded. “All peasants are animals. But they serve their purpose as well.”

“And their purpose is to serve,” said Guy, “Which is what God intended them to do.”

A laugh went up among them. Guy managed a slight smile...but underneath, he felt a terrible sense of guilt. He glanced about, hoping that Cassia was not near. These conversations were supposed to be kept between men, and it was better for women to keep their distance. Casting his glance about, he searched the room for her. She had been nearby not so long ago. He had made it a point to keep her within his line of sight, even while conversing with his fellows. After Evelyn’s birth, Cassia’s health had been slower to improve than he would have liked, although she her usual stubborn way...that she was quite well. But he had seen that something was amiss with her, even though she tried to hide it. Several times, twice in the last few nights, she had retired early with the explanation that the excitement of the festivities was too much for her. But he knew that to be a falsehood. She had always taken much joy and pleasure in playing the hostess, and to hear her make such a pretext, it was troubling. Excusing himself from his guests, he began a calm but purposeful walk through the room, looking for her. But not seeing her, he deduced that she had left the party altogether. She was either in their bedchamber, or in the nursery, and as that room was nearest the top of the stair landing, it was where he ventured first.

William, Thea, and Owen were all asleep. Someday soon, the boys would move into their own chambers. But for now, they all kept each other company in the same room. As he entered, Claudia rose to her feet in a sleepy fashion, but he gestured her back to her bed. Looking about in the dim candlelight, he saw that Cassia was not there. She was in their bedchamber, then. He would go to her and seek an explanation. But before departing, he went to the cradle to look at Evelyn. She was sleeping peacefully, her tiny fists curled and resting near her face. He smiled at the sight of her, and he fought the urge to reach down and pick her up.

She was nearly three weeks old, and only days ago had he and Cassia allowed her to be moved to the nursery. After the fright she had given them at her birth, they had both been nervous over her well-being, each of them making frequent trips to her cradle during the night. But gradually, their fears had eased, as she was proving to be a perfectly healthy child, if her appetite was any indication. Her cries, frequent though they were, seemed to be quieted quickly by nothing more than her basic infant requirements...a feeding, a dry, clean bottom, and an occasional gesture of affection. She showed no signs of illness or trauma, and so they became content in letting the nursemaid take charge of her. Seeing her now, softly making suckling gestures in her sleep, he left her in peace.

Slowly entering his bedchamber, he saw her instantly. She was in bed, wearing her nightdress, with her back to him. Was she ill? Was she exhausted? Or perhaps, she had heard something that was not intended for her ears?

Curse my tongue, he thought, and he searched his mind for the proper words to soothe any hurt feelings or fits of anger.

On the other hand, what if she had not heard his words? What if she was unwell? The thought of it gave him a slight chill of fear, for he always worried over illnesses that might befall the people he loved most...particularly his wife.

He shook his head, trying to calm his fears. In all likelihood, she was simply weary, and sought their bed for rest. It was logical, after all. She had only recently given birth, and was still in recovery. He hoped it would be that circumstance, and not the others, that plagued her. Lack of rest would be the easiest matter to tend to, for he was certain he could find some way to soothe her. In a soft voice, he spoke her name. If she was asleep, he had no wish to disturb her.

“Cassia, are you awake?”

She gave no reply. He took a small step forward, saying her name again. This time, she responded with a low spoken but sharp answer.

“I am.”

Slowly, he came around to her side of the bed. Looking at her face, he thought he saw a trace of redness around her eyes. But she turned her head away. Stung by her reaction, he gently reached down to place a hand on her shoulder.

“You are unhappy,” he said. “Does the fault lie with me?”

She let out a sigh. “Your boorish rhetoric pains me, Guy. But after these many years, I have grown accustomed to it.”

So, she had overheard his conversation. Why, then, did she not confront him in anger? Was she purposely holding back, just to punish him?

“Why do you turn away from me?” he asked. “Must I plead for your forgiveness? If so, then I beg for it now.” Sitting down beside her, he leaned down and pressed his lips to her cheek. And immediately, he raised his head, alarmed at the heat he felt rising from her skin.

“Cassia, you are feverish.”

She shook her head. “It is nothing.”

Now it was he who shook his head, not with calmness, but with the first feelings of panic. His voice rose slightly.

“You say a fever is nothing? Are you mad? You of all people should know the dangers of illness.” He looked around the room. “Where is Celeste? Why is she not here to tend to your needs?”

“Guy, please do not act rashly. I am merely overwhelmed, nothing more. I asked Celeste to leave me so I might sleep.”

He looked down at her, angry at her for not taking better care of herself. “Cassia, you are a stubborn wench, as you have always been. You have risked your health too many times. But on this occasion, I will not allow you to be complacent.”

She reached out, taking his hand. Her touch had always calmed him, even in the worst of times. It worked its magic now, if only briefly.

“Have Beatrice brew a tea,” she said. “Bring me a cool, damp cloth to bathe my face. And then, return to our guests.”

Rising quickly, he fetched a cloth from the washstand and dunked it in the basin. “I will not return to our guests,” he said. Bringing the damp cloth over, he gently bathed her face and neck. “They are all stuffed with food and getting drunk on wine. My presence is not necessary.”

She gave him a little smile, clutching his free hand, while the other continued to cool her skin with the cloth. “You fret too much.”

“And you, not enough.” Leaning down, he kissed her on the forehead. Looking into her eyes, he saw how they shined with love for him, despite the grief he had caused her only moments ago. Now that he had found her to be unwell, he was seized by an even greater sense of guilt. His voice wavered slightly.

“Forgive me for what was said tonight. There is much posturing that goes on among men. You must know that I meant none of it.”

Her eyes were growing heavy as she replied softly. “I know, Guy. Now please, have Beatrice fetch my tea.”

He nodded, reluctant to leave her, but willing to do what was needed to care for her. He hurried off, determined to return to her side as quickly as he could.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Winners of the "My Lady Gisborne" giveaway are...

Philly and Alfie! Congrats to you both! I will be mailing your copies on as soon as possible. Thank you to everyone who entered. :)

Happy reading to everyone!