Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Baron's Lady - Epilogue

At last, the ending is posted. My thanks to everyone who has stayed with this story. My apologies for the many delays in seeing it completed, but I hope you enjoy this finale. There may be some slight changes made when I begin the edit, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to share them. (But please be kind. ) 

Enjoy! :)


May, 1214

The spring air surrounding the Gisborne estate was so sweet. Isabella closed her eyes for a moment, taking in the heady scent of orange blossoms and jasmine. So many times, she had dreamed of coming home to this wonderful place. Though they did not reside at the manor all of the time, they were frequent visitors, and to return after being away for a time was always a delight. 

Sebastian had found a stable and loving home there, where he continued his schooling and knightly duties, and it warmed Isabella’s heart to know that he was not so far away. She could hardly wait to see him again, along with the rest of the family, and she smiled as she looked out the window opening, seeing Lady Cassia waiting for them in the courtyard. Dear Cassia. More like her beloved friend than her mother-in-law. After they had stepped down to the walk, Cassia greeted them both with her usual love.

“At last, you arrive,” she said with a smile. She placed a kiss on Isabella’s cheek. “We have been waiting.”

Owen embraced her. “Hello, Mama.”

She smiled at him, kissing both his cheeks. “I am so happy to see you again. It has been much too long.”

Turning to Isabella, Cassia’s lips curled into an eager smile. “So, tell me,” she said. “Are you to make me a grandmother at last? Your letter indicated the possibility. So tell me. I must know.”

Isabella smiled, hesitating for a moment as Cassia clasped her hands. They had tried for a baby, hoping and praying that God would bless them with a son or daughter. But time had flown, and no child had come. Broken-hearted, they had all but given up the possibility of parenthood.

Until recently. 

To Cassia’s question, Isabella nodded. The result was a squeal of delight, and Isabella found herself laughing as she was gripped in a tight hug. Cassia turned her excitement to Owen, kissing him again and again as happy tears rolled down her cheeks. Her exclamation was punctuated with sniffles. “My baby boy, soon to become a father! Wait until your Papa hears of this news!”

Wearing a delighted smiled, Owen looked around. “By and by, where is he? I expected to see him at your side.”

Cassia’s expression sobered slightly as she led Owen and Isabella towards the door. 

“He has flown away on one of his temperamental journeys. You know his displeasure in regards to his birthdays. He has been quite disagreeable these last few days. But this glorious news will cheer him. I am certain of it.” Her smile returned, and she gave Owen a pat on the cheek.

“See that your wife is cared for. Food and drink. A bath. Whatever she requires. I will go and fetch your father.”

Another hug, another kiss, and she departed as Owen asked of her, “Where is the rest of the family?”

The question was followed by the answer, as the merry noise of children came to be heard. Looking towards the stairs, Isabella beamed as her son, along with her nieces and nephews – with their mothers and nurses in tow – came rushing towards her. Phillipe Gisborne, five years old now, was yet another spitting image of Sir Guy, but with a much more cheerful disposition and a charming smile. Thea’s son, Gabriel, was the same age as Phillipe, and the two were closely bonded playmates. Often in their shadow was Sophia – Simon and Evelyn’s three year old daughter. She was fearless, energetic, and not at all shy about chasing after the boys and engaging in their games with them. Quite the opposite of the tomboyish Sophia were Thea’s twin daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine. They enjoyed being proper young ladies, preferring to behave as such, and the games they liked were ones of a more quiet nature. But they were still children. And when visited by their favorite aunt and uncle, they could not hide their enthusiasm.

“Oh my heavens, we are surrounded!” Owen cried in mock protest. “Where are the dogs to protect us?”

There were kisses and hugs to be given all around, but Isabella greeted her son before any other. She hugged him close, moved by the thought that he was already growing into a handsome young man. She had missed so much of his childhood, and it was a loss that would never to be returned to her. But he was still young, and she intended to show him as much affection as she could. She kissed his cheek.

“How are you, my darling? I have missed you so.”

“I am well, Mama,” he said. “Sir Lucien and I have been preparing for the coming tourney.”

Touching his face, she smiled proudly at him. Like Owen, he was becoming a prize student of Sir Lucien – learning the ways of the knighthood, so he could one day be of service to the king. There was so little of Gilbert in his nature, and she thanked God for that. He had not taken the loss of his father in a particularly bad way, or so it seemed. He had shed tears a few times, but had rarely spoken of it, and she had not pressed him on the matter. Only time would tell if his wounds ran more than skin deep, but for the moment, he was a happy and loving young man.

Over the heads of the children, Isabella saw Evie and Thea, who were watching with happy expressions, and Isabella’s eye went to the bundle in Evie’s arms. Evelyn moved forward, presenting her son with a proud smile. Simon Alexander Jean-Carre was plump and chubby-cheeked, and was quite bald except for a small bit of hair on the top of his head. His eyes were large and hazel, and Isabella was delighted by him.

“Oh, Evie,” she said. “He is so handsome.”

She took him gently into her arms, feeling an overwhelming sense of motherly instinct. One day soon, she would be holding Owen’s child – their child – like this. When she raised her eyes to look at her husband, she saw that he was smiling at her. Their thoughts, and hopes, were the same. Thoughts of the future. Of happiness. Of a family, and a joy that would at last be theirs to have.


It wasn’t at all difficult to find her wayward husband. Cassia wandered out of the dense woods into the fields, dotted purple everywhere with the springtime blossoms of lavender. Even at a distance she could see him, his frame impressive and strong even when sitting, his sharp profile unmistakable even from far away. When she quietly approached him, he slowly turned to look up at her. His greeting was cool, given with something close to a frown.

“Good afternoon, wife.”

Eyes slightly wide with mock displeasure, she gently reproached him for being so glum.

“What a greeting, husband! Is your mood so sour that you cannot greet me with something more pleasant?”

At last he smiled, reaching out his hand to her. As she placed her palm in his, he pulled her down to sit beside him. 

“Forgive an old man and his grumpiness,” he said, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. Sighing, she snuggled into his arms, informing him of their guests’ arrival.

“Owen and Isabella are here. They wish to see you.”

Now it was Guy who let out a sigh. “All in due time, beloved.”

Leaning back in his arms, Cassia looked into his eyes. “Guy, you are the same as ever, with your moodiness and tendency to go into seclusion when you are troubled. Will you never learn that you cannot hide from me?”

“It is not you I hide from,” he replied. “It is the constant reminder of my age that I have no desire to see or hear.”

She leaned her head against his chest. “Do you not think I know your feelings? I share them, more than you may know.  Have you not seen the age lines around my mouth?”

His tone became softer, more pleasant. She could tell from the way he spoke that he was smiling. “That is not age, beloved. It is the constancy of your lovely smile.”

“Oh? And what of the crinkles around my eyes?”

“Your eyes match the actions of your lips. Results of a happy disposition that has brought much joy to us all.”

He was determined to argue his points, which was something that had always pleased her. She loved these kinds of playful debates with him, for they often drew him out of his gloomy moods. Her eyes meeting his with a daring look and a little smile, she challenged him.

“What of my knees, then? You have heard the noise they make at times. What explanation do you have for that?”

A light of mischief flashed in his eyes. “That? It is most certainly old age.”

A stunned laugh escaped her, and as he grinned at his own cheekiness, she playfully hit him.

“Fiend!” she scolded him, but he only laughed, and she laughed along with him. Such moments of shared joy had always seen them through difficult times. It would see them through the trials of their autumn years as well.

“Let us go home and see our family. They are waiting for us.”

He grumbled for a moment. But as she rose to her feet beside him, he rose to his as well. Putting her palm in his, she felt a familiar sense of love and comfort at the sensation of their joined hands. Together they walked through the fields of lavender and into the woods, eager to return home to the ones they loved.


January, 1215

A cold winter wind was howling outside the house. But in the bedchamber, all was warm and cozy. Owen sat in a chair beside the bed, where his wife was sleeping peacefully. In a cradle nearby, their newborn son was sleeping as well. After the chaos that had gone on to bring the boy into the world, it was wonderful to know that all was peaceful at last.

John Edward Gisborne had been born after a long and difficult labor that had utterly exhausted his mother and made his father crazed with anxiety and concern. But in the end, all had been well. Rising from his chair now, Owen crept over to the cradle to look down at the baby. Like all of the Gisborne babies, he was a handsome child and a healthy one. That was partly an inherited trait. But one could not forget that a strong and beautiful woman had so much more to do with it. 

Moving from the cradle back to the bedside, Owen resumed his place beside Isabella. She was so beautiful, even in sleep. And he loved her so, more than he had ever loved anyone in his life. He wanted her to always be happy, and he would do whatever it took, even it meant he would defy customs that other followed religiously. He thought of the days before their son was born, when she had revealed her fears, and of course, her memories.

Sebastian was torn from my arms instantly, she had said, her eyes filled with tears. She had clung to him tightly. Promise me you will not let that happen.

He had not let it happen. Indeed, he had insisted that the baby be returned to her arms the moment he was clean and swaddled. He would not do as Gilbert had done – snatching the child away and immediately handing him over to the care of a nurse, instead of allowing mother and child to bond. Isabella had held young John close for hours, just admiring him, until weariness had finally overtaken her. Mother and son had fallen asleep together, and Owen had felt his own exhaustion coming over him. But he fought against sleep. He had been with them through the long and difficult day. And he would be there to greet them both when they woke up in the morning.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 24, Part 2

 There will be one more small installment posted tomorrow. For now, enjoy...


Three years later...

Isabella stretched and yawned. She smiled at the feeling of her husband’s body beneath hers, so warm and firm. He was better to rest on than any pillow. Embracing him more tightly, she looked down at him with loving admiration, studying the rugged features of his face – recalling, as she often did, how she had once imagined having a Gisborne to call her own. For nearly three years now, he had been hers to call husband. And life had never been so sweet. Owen’s humor and playfulness made their union so joyful. From their first days together, he had been intent on making her smile and laugh, as though it was a duty he needed to perform. It had taken time to adjust to his manner of affection – his sudden appearances at odd times of the day, when he would corner her or steal her away to some hidden place, and lavish her with heated attentions. Their love was passionate, often intense – and always overwhelming, for she felt in her heart that her husband cherished her above all things.

  Owen was the heir to the Gisborne estate, but they did not reside there on a permanent basis. They preferred life here, at a small cottage in Toulouse, a fair distance from the familiar faces of Marseilles. They required few servants – just a housekeeper, a cook, a stable hand, and each of their personal attendants. Owen often traveled between Toulouse and Marseilles on matters of business, but Isabella was content to remain hidden away at the cottage, where the rest of the world did not interfere, or pass judgment. It was a happy existence, and she reveled in it.

  Looking at Owen, she examined the gash on the apple of his left cheek. It was healing now, but several days earlier, it had been quite gruesome, and near as it was to his eye, it was a visible reminder of the chances he often took on her behalf. He was such a devoted husband - sometimes at a cost to his own well being. Over the years, there had been the inevitable whispers about her past. Though she did her best not to give thought to such talk, Owen would not stand for it. He defended her honor fiercely, sometimes leaving him with the marks brought on by a fistfight. It pained her to know that he did such things. Reaching out to gently touch the wound on his face, it was not her intention to wake him. But it caused him to stir. Opening his eyes, he smiled at her, and they shared a soft kiss. She smiled back at him.

“Good morning, husband.”

In place of a spoken reply, he groaned in discomfort, moving his shoulder. Concerned, Isabella reached out to rub the familiar spot of ailment.

“It pains you?”

He shrugged off her concern and embraced her. “The effects of sleeping on the floor,” he replied. His lips formed a sly little smile, which she returned, recalling the madness of the night before.

“The fault is yours, if you recall.”

“The bed was too great a distance.”

Her smile grew, and she laughed softly. “You are an incorrigible rogue.” They shared small, sweet kisses as they bantered lovingly.

“The blame of that lies solely with you.”

Her eyebrow rose with curiosity. “With me?”

“Yes. I was a sensible and disciplined man before I married you. Now I am in an endless state of distraction.”

With his hands so warm and roaming over her skin, and their lips pressing together again and again, it was tempting to lose sight of all matters of importance. But she was determined not to be swayed this day, as she had on so many occasions before.

“I would love to lie here, distracting you to my heart’s content,” she said. “But we have a journey that must be made.”

She was not surprised to see him make a childish face, but such pouting would not move her this time, although she smiled at him even as she scolded him gently.

“Do not fuss, husband. We are expected at the manor by sunset, so we must away as soon as possible.”

“The trek can be made within half a day. What reason is there for such haste?”

“I wish to be there sooner rather than later. Evie and Simon are bringing their new babe, you know. Come, let us prepare for our travels.”

Before he could detain her or make further protest, she moved away from the temptation of his loving arms. The entire family was to gather together at the manor for a dual celebration. Simon and Evie were to present their newborn son, and Sir Guy’s birthday was on the morrow. It would not do to arrive late for such important occasions – not when the entire family was so dear to her. She had often likened the Gisbornes to a wolf pack. They were fiercely protective of one another, despite the occasional squabble within their circle, and now, they had accepted her as one of their own. Their protectiveness extended to her, as did the love they shared as a family. She could not ask for better people to call her relations, and she intended to honor them as best she could. Today she would do so by arriving early, along with her husband.

After they had dressed and partaken of breakfast, Isabella was eager to be gone on their way. But Owen suddenly took her by the hand and pulled her towards the back door.

“Come,” he said. “There is something I wish to show you. It was my intention to present it to you last night, but you proved to be a more entertaining notion and my mind lost track of its initial purpose.”

She laughed as he eagerly pulled her along. “What are you about, Owen Gisborne?”

He hurried her towards the barn, seeming to be like an eager young boy, a spring in his step and excitement in his voice as they went along.

“Do not ask questions, my sweet. I have no desire to spoil a surprise that has been months in the making.”

“Months in the making?” she asked. “What on earth…”

Taking her by the arms, he set her in place and told her to wait. She watched as he rushed into the barn. He came back a minute later, leading something behind him. And when she saw the magnificent horse he brought forth, she gasped, covering her mouth with her hands.

“Oh! Oh gracious, Owen!”

“Do you like him?”

She approached the stallion – a handsome grey Arabian, the likes of which she had never seen before. “Like is hardly an adequate word,” she said. “He is magnificent.” As she looked him over, admiring the fine characteristics of such an animal, Owen spoke in excited tones.

“For weeks and weeks I searched, looking for just the right specimen. The moment I saw this fellow, I was certain he was the one.”

“He must be fifteen or sixteen hands,’ Isabella remarked. “And his color is so beautiful.”

“So you are pleased, then?”

She turned to him, seeing the way his eyes shined with anticipation, the way he smiled so, pleased with himself for making her happy. The thought of their travel plans momentarily forgotten, she rushed to his arms and bestowed a passionate kiss to his lips.

“Dearest husband,” she softly said. “How did I come to be so blessed?”

A familiar light came into his eyes – a burning light that she knew well, accompanied by one of his wicked little smiles.

“Am I to have a recompense for my efforts?”

“Name your reward, and you shall have it.”

“I should like a tumble in the hay.”

Her eyes grew large with surprise. For a moment, she thought he was in jest. But from the look on his face, it was clear he was quite serious. Shaking her head, she grinned. “Owen Gisborne, you are a shameful cad.”

She found herself being moved backwards several steps. He had the look of a wild beast seeking its prey, and she felt her heart beat fast with excitement. A giggle escaped her as Owen pressed her down into a pile of hay. His voice had a slight growl to it.

“I will have my reward, wife. And I think you will give it gladly.”

His hot lips were brushing her neck, causing ripples of excitement all over her body. She managed to make one last attempt at reason – weak an attempt as it was.

“What if someone should see us?”

With a chuckle that was utterly devilish, he replied. “An element of danger makes life more interesting…”