The sky was growing dim, a drizzle of rain falling as the threesome approached the house, but the warm glow of candlelight penetrated the gloom. Out of habit, Guy’s eye rose to a second story corner window, where a familiar silhouette could be seen. A warm feeling, one of comfort and security, came over him. He moved his horse the short distance further into the courtyard, and quickly dismounting, he handed his mount over to the groom. Just a moment passed before Cassia appeared from within. His thoughts turned immediately to the cloak she had wrapped around herself. A concerned frown came to his lips. She was only a few weeks recovered from childbirth, and he felt there was still a concern of illness.
“There is a shower coming on,” he said. “You should be inside where it is warm and dry.”
She smiled in her usual way. “Tis’ only a light mist, my love.” Raising up on her toes, she kissed his cheek. “Was your journey tolerable?”
“It was mostly uneventful. But in truth, I am glad to be done with it.” Taking her in his arms, embracing her, he whispered close to her ear. “You and I must speak. It is rather important.”
She replied with a nod, kissing him again, this time softly on the lips. “Of course,” she replied. “But first you must eat. Come, it is waiting for you.”
He was not particularly hungry, but there was a routine to be followed, and it was important that their new member of the household observe it. He watched as she greeted Owen and let him introduce Sebastian, who of course was welcomed with Cassia’s usual warmth and generosity. But seeing it, Guy did not feel his usual sense of pride. Looking at Sebastian, he was only reminded of the complicated mess that his family was entangled in. Sheltering Isabella, sending her to Toulon, avoiding the prosecution of the Sherriff…and now, taking in Isabella’s child. And then there was the matter of Owen, who was deeply forlorn already, and would likely become even more so in the coming days. Their life had become quite complicated, more so than he wished it to be, and he hated the very idea of it.
All through supper, a frown pulled at the corners of his mouth. He picked at his food with his knife, eating only a small portion of the food on his trencher. Looking at Cassia, he saw that she was engaged in conversation with Sebastian, who chattered away on some subject that made Cassia smile. That was her way, to be welcoming to all, especially to children. Ordinarily, it would have pleased him to see it. But he felt a pang of frustration at having her so distracted by something, and seemingly unaware of his dismal mood. It was selfish, he knew, to be bothered by the notion of not being the sole object of her attention. But he needed her consolation to ease his troubled mind, and he found solace in the knowledge that soon enough, she would find time for him.
Patiently, he waited, and it was not much longer until a servant took Sebastian away to show him where he would be sleeping. Guy made to rise from his chair. But just as he did, Claudia approached Cassia, speaking in a rather concerned fashion. Phillipe was crying incessantly and she could not soothe him, she said. Cassia rose, calmly, to attend to the babe, and though Guy felt concern for his son, he could not help feeling an even greater sense of abandonment. But he kept his frustrations to himself, particularly as he stood in the doorway of the nursery, watching Cassia walk back and forth with the baby. For the moment, he thought not of himself, but of his son.
“Is he unwell?”
Without looking up, Cassia replied. “He is not feverish. He shows no symptoms of illness. I think perhaps it is a touch of colic.”
Colic, Guy thought. All of the children had gone through it. It was merely a stomach ache by definition, but for an infant, it was cause to be very unhappy. Guy slowly let out a breath, taking a few steps forward. Cassia paused for him as he approached, and he gently brushed his hand over the baby’s back.
“I am quite tired,” he said. “I think I shall retire for the night.”
“But what of your important matter? You said you wished to speak with me.”
He gave her a half-hearted smile. “Methinks it can wait. Our son is a matter of more importance.”
She smiled at him. Kissing the baby’s head, she resumed their walk, and Guy left them in peace, making his way to the bedchamber.
It was not so long a time before she came in, and as Celeste helped her into her nightdress, she told him how the baby had let out an enormous belch, and just a few minutes later, he had at last fallen asleep. Lost in his thoughts, he only heard part of what she said, and it wasn’t until she came to sit beside him on the bed, where she reached out to shake his shoulder, that he at last looked at her. He turned his head away again.
“Guy,” she said, “What is wrong? You have been waiting to speak to me. Yet here I am, and you are silent.”
He sighed, his eyes cast down. “I have no wish to burden you.”
His inner voice told him he was being childish, but he found it hard to help himself. He knew, in the back of his mind, that she would see right through him. And she did. Rising to her knees, she came to kneel behind him, and she leaned over him, putting her arms around his shoulders. She pressed her cheek against his temple.
“My love, you are not a burden. It is the duty of a wife to see to her husband’s needs, and I can see by your expression that your mind is well-occupied. Speak to me. I insist.”
Instantly, he felt a familiar warmth in his heart that only she could bring. So too did he feel a slight sense of remorse at having been so selfish. A slight smile came to his lips.
“Forgive me if I appeared to be cross, beloved. After all these years, it seems I have yet to control my selfish impulses in regards to you.”
She laughed softly, kissing his cheek. “I am accustomed to it by now, self-important creature that you are. But enough of that. Tell me what is on your mind.”
Taking a deep breath, feeling more content now that she was near, he sighed slowly as he answered.
“It is as we thought with Owen. He is in love with Isabella.”
“Are you in jest?” she asked.
He shook his head, and neither of them spoke for several moments. Cassia was first to speak.
“Does she return his feelings?”
“It would seem so.”
“And you are not angry at this revelation? You seem quite calm, in fact.”
“I am not angry,” he replied. “I am deeply troubled.”
She came around to sit beside him. Taking his hand in hers, she gently prodded him.
“Tell me what troubles you, Guy. Perhaps it is Isabella’s inferior status?”
“That is one of many concerns. But Owen is my greatest worry. He is so headstrong. He acts on impulse, rather than using rational thought.”
She smiled at that. “He has always been thus. Much like his father.”
“That is what troubles me the most.”
Drawing her close, he held her firmly to himself. She put her arms around him, and he took comfort in her closeness as old memories, and fears – both old and new – blended as one in his mind.
“I think of my feelings for you in our first days. My madness, as it was, which blinded me to all but my own selfish desires. I see my son acting with the same impulsiveness, rushing headlong into a situation which might very well prove disastrous. And there is nothing I can do to stop it, short of placing him under lock and key.”
“What does Owen say to you? Is he so very determined to marry Isabella?”
“He wishes to have her, despite all warnings against it. I believe, if given the opportunity, he would whisk her off to a faraway place, as I once intended to do with you.”
“Is Isabella in accord with him? Does she wish to marry him?”
“She seems to feel as he does. But in a strange twist to this plot, she airs on the side of caution. Tis’ the only thing keeping Owen from taking any foolish action.”
“So all should be well, then. Should it not?”
“I can see no way for Owen and Isabella to know happiness. They cannot marry, and if they attempt to do so, what life would there be for them? She is an outcast already, and Owen would happily become one if it meant his having his way.”
“But did you not say that Isabella is acting with wisdom?”
“I did,” he replied. “But what is her common sense when challenged with a Gisborne’s determination? You know as well as anyone what a monster that stubbornness can be.” Lowering his head, he sighed deeply, a sad sound. “I fear there can be no joyous conclusion in any of this.”
His tone was merose. But hers was more upbeat.
“Why can there not be? Love is a most determined thing. It knows nothing of rules or limitations. Think of us, of the adversity we have overcome in our lives together. There can be no better expression of love’s determination than you and I.”
“But we risked much to have this joy. I think of you, in the castle square of Nottingham, with the fire lit below you…”
As recollections of those horrible moments came fast upon him, Cassia pulled back in his embrace, and he could see that she was reluctant to revisit such a dark place in time.
“Do not speak of such dreadful things, Guy. It is better to forget them.”
He held her hands in his, his voice trembling slightly. “But I have not forgotten them. Often times, particularly during the silence of the night, my mind dwells on such nightmarish recollections. And then I recall our separation – the two months of anguish and hopelessness.”
Cassia tried to stop him from dwelling on such things. “Oh, my love. That was so long ago, and it was a mere two months. Think of the time that has passed since then…the wonderful years we have had together.”
He wanted only to think of their happiness. But Owen was such a reminder of himself – a reminder of both good and bad.
“I think of each night I spent, alone, thinking of you. Aching for you so miserably.”
“Think of it no more, dear husband.”
Cassia was insistent, but he needed her to hear all that he said, and so he went on.
“I think of it now more than ever. My memories have been brought to life once again. I think of Owen, taking the same path I once ventured, and it pains me to think he may soon endure what I have suffered. What we both have endured. I would not wish him to suffer that.”
When she rose up, embracing him, he found his voice faltering. Listening to her, hearing her soothing words, he relished the comfort she always brought him.
“My love, my love. All will turn out well. I am certain of it.”
A heavy sigh escaped him. But a moment after, as he leaned back in her arms to look at her, he felt a glimmer of hope and a sense of wonder. His features warmed, his mouth breaking into a slight smile.
“Is there nothing you are uncertain of?”
Her eyes shined with mischief, and she gave him one of her typical remarks. “Very little.”
Shaking his head, laughing softly, he delighted in several sweet kisses before they settled into bed. As she rested her head on his chest, her words were firmly spoken.
“Sleep, husband. Have no more of these troubling thoughts. And perhaps, while we slumber, your beloved muse will think of some brilliant scheme that will lay your troubles to rest.”
I would not doubt it, he thought, and the corner of his mouth turned up as he slowly drifted off. I would not doubt it for a moment.