Some of the familiar here, but a few changes as well. Enjoy! :)
His eyes opened slowly, taking in the sight of his surroundings. The room was tiny. It was lit by several candles and a fire in a corner hearth, small and made of stone. Looking up, he saw the thatched straw that was ceiling, and looking around, he saw the rough-hewn timbers. There was one window opening in the wall, although it was shuttered, and resting on the sill was a black cat. Guy felt a twinge of shock and fear at seeing the little beast. It examined him with yellow eyes, calmly flicking its tail. It was studying him, it seemed.
An instrument of the devil, Guy thought.
For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he realized he was coming awake with a clear head. Albeit, a head throbbing with pain, and a foot he would have seen chopped off, if it meant it would stop the torture it was causing him. Why was it hurting so?
In a flash, it all came back to him. He recalled being thrown from his horse, his foot being twisted in the stirrup. And he could still remember the icy water. He gave a shudder at the thought of that frightful darkness. But beyond that, what had happened? Why was he in this shabby little place…this grey, dim little room with barely enough space to contain the bed he lay on? Why was he not at home, or in the castle? Had his men abandoned him here?
Worthless cowards. They will pay dearly for their desertion.
Then, another memory suddenly came to him.
Had he really seen her? Was it she who had held his hand through the night, comforting him in his dark hours? Frantically he looked around the room, searching for her. But besides himself, and the cat in the window, there was but one other occupant in the room.
A young woman slept in a corner chair. She was slender and pale, with long dark hair. It was easy to see how he could have been mistaken. She certainly seemed a lot like Marian.
But she was not Marian. And the thought tore through him, making him furious in his despair. To have her back for those few precious moments, only to wake up and find it had only been his imagination. It was like losing her all over again. He was alone once again, except for the woman sleeping there in the corner. His lip curled into a sneer as he looked at her. A peasant girl obviously, judging from her simple russet dress and the plain linen cloth binding back her hair. On her neck, he could swear there was a dark spot.
The mark of a witch!
His mind raced with such dark and fearful thoughts. Had she cursed him while he slept? Would she use some manner of black magic to torture him? How was he to defend himself against a servant of the devil? Searching the room, he looked for something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing that would serve should he need to defend himself. He would have to confront this mistress of the devil entirely on his own. His hand shook as he found the water pitcher on the bedside table, and with what strength he had, he threw it at the wall near her head. At the shattering sound, she jumped with a startled cry.
Just that simple act of movement, that brief outburst of anger, was enough to drain every ounce of his energy. Falling back against the pillows, he gasped for breath, even as he turned raging eyes on the girl.
“Who are you? Are you a witch? Why am I here?”
He started to cough, his mouth plagued with dryness. She came close, moving cautiously as she brought him a cup of water, from which he drank greedily. His thirst slaked for the moment, he turned his eyes back to her. Between intakes of breath…and he struggled for them…his tone was fierce.
“Have you no tongue? Answer me!”
She put the cup aside and dabbed his mouth with a cloth.
“You had an accident. You fell through the ice of the lake.”
“Why am I in this peasant hovel? Why was I not returned to Nottingham?”
Dunking a rag in a bucket of water, wringing it out, she bathed his face and neck.
“Snow storms have been raging for many days. It would have been an impossible journey, had we attempted it.”
He wanted to pull away from her hands, so bothered as he was to have her close to him. She was probably plotting something at that very moment…he was sure of it. But the coolness of the cloth was welcome on his skin, so he allowed it, even as he demanded more answers.
“What of my men? Were they so incompetent? Did they flee at the very moment I was in need?”
Her voice was soft as she replied. “We found no one else. You were alone on the bank when Matilda discovered you.”
As he took in her words, a white-haired old man came rushing in. His eyes were wide with worry, but the girl turned to him calmly.
“All is well, father. It was an accident, and nothing more. I broke the pitcher. Go now, and sleep.”
The man hesitated a moment. Then he nodded, leaving them.
As he went, Guy suddenly recalled more of what had happened…the sight of his men and their horses, falling through the collapsing ice. But he had lived. And this lowly woman and her father had found him, rescuing him from the jaws of death.
But he could find no joy in being brought back from the brink. What good had there been in survival, when living was such a torment?
Trying to adjust himself against the pillows, he found that even the smallest movement caused him terrible pain, and he directed his eyes at the woman beside him.
“You were a fool to make the effort,” he snarled. “Because of your ignorance, I must live in this useless condition. Do not be so unwise as to expect my gratitude.” He turned his eyes away from her, wishing her to feel the sting of his displeasure…to be hurt by it.
But she said nothing, quietly bending down to pick up the broken pieces of pottery. Her calmness irritated him. She wasn’t supposed to react this way. She should have cowered in fear, begging his forgiveness for her ineptness. It was what his subordinates had always done. While she silently tended to the mess, he reached up to massage a spot on the back of his head. He could feel the gash there, and the thread keeping it closed. It throbbed with pain and itched like mad. And it was then that he felt his hair, cropped much too close to his scalp. It made him scowl all the more, and he looked to the woman.
“What have you done to me?”
She glanced up from her place on the floor. “My lord?”
“You have sheared me like a sheep. I lie here subjugated, garbed in this lowly peasant nightdress. What game of degradation do you play at? Have you cast a spell upon me while I lay like death?”
She came to stand near him, shaking her head. “I play at no game. And I have cast no spells. We cropped your hair to tend to your head wounds. Your clothing is too burdensome to tend to you in. It is why we have put the nightdress on you. You will be easier to care for.”
He balked at her noble gesture.
"As I said, your heroics were a wasted effort. I suffer more because of your folly. And my foot hurts like the blazes. What is wrong with it?”
She put aside the ruined shards of pottery. “The ankle is broken quite badly. You will be without the use of it for some time.”
“Lies!” he shouted. “You mean to keep me here against my will, to perform some matter of black magic on me! I will not stay!”
Throwing back the coverlet, he put his throbbing foot down on the floor and attempted to stand – and instantly he fell forward in agony, the pain so unbearable he nearly wept. He tried to crawl forward on his hands and knees, but it was an impossible effort. When she came to his side, attempting to aid him, he flung her hands away.
She took a slight step back – but she would not go. Guy felt his minimal strength exhausted, and he collapsed on the floor, unable to pick himself up. When the old man was called in, and he and the girl worked together to lift him up and put him back in bed, he could not find the energy to fight. Falling back against the pillows, his heart beating madly and his breath coming in labored gasps, he closed his eyes as he felt great despair and angry shame coming over him.
Once again, the old man soon departed. But again, the young woman would not go. Stubborn thing that she was, she would not leave his side. She adjusted the pillows behind his head, and he grumbled at the way she seemed so intent in caring for him…when he knew very well she had ulterior motives. Just like all women. He turned his head away for a moment, muttering darkly.
“Left alone to die. Hobbled and broken. Why have you wasted your time on me?”
She adjusted the quilt around him, her reply quiet and calm. “It is my duty, my lord. My Christian duty. I will not flinch from it.”
He gave a disgusted snort in reply. Stupid, stubborn little wench, he thought.
As she adjusted the coverlet, he felt a wave of heat from his fever. He pushed away the offending quilt.
“I am on fire. Do not cover me.”
She became silent again as she reached for the cup of water. As she handed it to him, he took a moment to examine her. She briefly met his gaze before looking away again, and he noted the darkness of her eyes. They were deep brown, almost black. Upon closer inspection of her, it seemed her hair was not as dark as he had first thought. Chestnut brown, it was…and lustrous in the shine of candlelight. No, she was not quite the same as Marian. Still, she was something to look at. What a disappointment that such beauty was wasted on a lowborn commoner. She was hardly worth a second look. And yet, he knew a few things she was probably good for. He almost found pleasure at the thought of it.
Perhaps when I am recovered, I will use her like any other servant girl. They always serve a purpose…for ten or fifteen minutes.
He wondered if she would shrink in fear if he voiced his thoughts to her. He enjoyed the thrill of making others afraid of him. There were few things in the world that a man could truly control. There was strength in power, in domination. And she would certainly be a sweet conquest. He opened his mouth to speak, to say what he was thinking and see how she would react.
But suddenly she walked away, leaving him to wonder what she was up to. His thoughts became dark, full of suspicion.
I should not be surprised if she has Robin of Locksley waiting in the next room, ready to spring forth at any moment. Filthy peasants. Every one of them the same, keeping in league with outlaws and other scum of the earth.
When she returned, he saw that she was very much without company. In her hand she carried a cloth bundle, which she brought to the end of the bed. When she reached down to touch his ankle, he flinched.
“Do not touch me,” he growled.
She shook her head slightly.
“My apologies, but if I do not apply the compress, the pain will only grow.” She reached for his foot again, but he would not allow it.
“Have you no ears? I said do not touch me!”
Before he could say more, she pressed the compress to his foot, and he shrieked in pain, cursing her.
“God’s teeth, you little witch! That hurts!”
Suddenly her voice rose at him in anger. “It must hurt if it is to heal! You should be grateful to have ice at hand!”
The power of her tone shocked him for a moment. But then his eyes narrowed dangerously at her.
“How dare you speak to me that way.”
Her voice softened, but was just as firm. “I am sorry my lord, but if I stand by and do nothing, you will only be in more pain.”
Saying nothing further, concentrating on her work, she secured the cold compress by binding his foot tightly with linen. He clenched his teeth as she tended to him. But after a moment or so, he came to a strange realization.
I cannot feel the pain so intently. The cold affects it. But I will be damned if I let her know she is right.
“I am hungry,” he muttered. “Fetch me something to eat.”
She only stared at him for a moment, as if his commanding tone caused her offense. He half-expected her to raise her voice to him again, and he was prepared this time to make her shrink in fear when she refused.
But she surprised him when she turned and walked away, coming back a few moments later with another cup.
“Here is broth,” she said. “It will restore your strength.”
He balked at the offering. “Broth? I asked for food, woman. Have you no ability to understand?”
She shook her head. “It would not be wise for you to ingest solid food right away. You have been ill, and your stomach may not hold its contents.”
He wanted to fight with her. He was tempted to reach out and knock the cup from her hands, to see it spilled and broken on the floor. But he was too weary now to act on his angry impulse, and too in need of sustenance to refuse what she offered him. He attempted to take if from her, but his hands shook quite badly. Starving for nourishment, he allowed her to bring the cup to his lips as he drank the warm and salty liquid. For a few moments, he allowed her to be near as she fed him. But when the cup was empty, he pushed her hand away.
“Go. Leave me be.”
Obediently she bowed her head. But as she turned away from him, he caught a sharp little gleam in her eye. It was that look of haughtiness…that same one she had worn just a few moments ago when she had applied the ice to his foot. She was a troublesome wench, and were it not for his being so weary, he would have berated her properly.
But that would have to do for another time. A time when he wasn’t falling under the power of sleep, which he soon succumbed to in full.
* * * * *
For many days he remained, for the most part, in a state of exhaustion. It seemed to be something he could not help, as if some spell had been cast over him to make him always weak and weary. He’d heard stories that peasants were often found to be doing such works of the devil. Maybe they were slowly poisoning him, weakening him day by day.
As time went by, he saw no visible signs of witchcraft. But still, he did not trust any of them, nor did he trust the black cat, which seemed to be permanently situated in the window sill. Cats had always made him wary, with their aloof manner and their strange behaviors. He sincerely wished it away, but in truth, he feared to say anything about it. Who knew what might happen if he directed ill thoughts against a beast of the devil?
If the girl, or her father, or the white-haired old woman they called Matilda were indeed magicians of the dark arts, he wondered how they managed to keep it such a guarded secret. One of them was always a near constant in the room, seeing to the smallest of his needs. All of his life, he’d had servants around him. But he had never been so dependent on people as he was forced to be with these peasants. He could not get up from the bed on his own, and having to rely on others, even for the smallest of things, was the epitome of degradation.
Their devotion did little to ease his darkness of mind and spirit, even though they saw he wanted for nothing. They kept the room very tidy, always sweeping and cleaning to ease the smells of sickness. They changed the horrible bedding every few days. It was a straw mattress he slept on, and not the soft feathers he was used to. Who knew what manner of vermin he might be lying with if it weren’t for the fact that they kept the bedding fresh?
But it was all of little consolation.
Being so cooped up, so idle, was not something he was accustomed to, and he could not help taking it out on those that tended to him. They had taken this chore upon themselves when they had found him, and it was his opinion that they should accept his dark moods whether they wanted to or not.
If only the woman could have gotten such a notion into her head.
For the most part, she was a quiet creature, always diligent in what she was doing. But now and then he caught those searing glances of hers. They were always slight, as if she made an attempt to disguise them. But he managed to see them most times. And they were a strange contrast to her usual manner, which was most often calm and kind, no matter how he treated her.
He watched her now, coming into the room. It was evening, and he fully expected to be brought his usual meal of soup. He was tired of liquid meals, and watching her come forward with a bowl in her hands, he snorted with displeasure.
“Do not bring me more soup,” he demanded. “I will not have it.”
She shook her head. “No soup, my lord. I think you can now have something more substantial.”
She put the bowl in his hands. He looked down at the contents…and curled his lip in distaste.
“Porridge? You bring me a meal given to children, or the elderly and infirmed?”
A hint of a smile came to her lips, and he suddenly realized what she was thinking. With that sly little look, she was silently reminding him that it was he who was infirm. She probably supposed that the meal suited him perfectly, cripple that he was. He had a sudden, furious impulse to dump the offending meal on the floor…or better yet, to throw it at her and see that smug little look wiped from her expression.
But just as he neared action, she spoke in a soft way…and her voice took the sword from his hand.
“I stirred in cinnamon. I think you will find the taste quite pleasant.”
His eyes filled with suspicion. “Cinnamon?” he asked. “How does a peasant manage to have such a luxury? Was it stolen? Or did you conjure it from thin air?”
She shook her head. "No, it was not stolen. My grandfather was a missionary. Many years ago, he made a pilgrimage to the Orient, and he returned home with varieties of wondrous things. Many plants among them. They now provide us with goodness and health."
It seemed to him that she spoke too much. And yet, there was something in her voice that sounded so sincere. But he could not believe she was truly selfless in her actions. No one had ever done anything on his behalf without being coerced or paid. Why did she play at this game of kindness?
He shook his head at his own foolishness. Looking down at the bowl in his hand, he was hesitant to act. But he soon took up the spoon and began to eat. He told himself that he was only eating this undignified meal because he was so very hungry. No matter that it tasted very good…that the spice of the cinnamon was a sharp, delicious taste on his tongue. The wench had been right before, about the ice for his foot. And she was right this time about the taste.
But there was no need to give her more recognition than she deserved.
In the barn, Cassia stood before Guy’s horse, brushing him down. She had just brought him in from his walk, which she tried to do every day, so long as the weather permitted. She knew that he wasn’t accustomed to being lethargic. The fresh air was good for her as well, and she enjoyed spending time with the horse. He was a calm and quiet animal, and he seemed to enjoy the attention she was able to give him. One thing was certain. The beast didn’t match his owner in temperament.
As she finished her work and headed back into the house, she sighed with disappointment, thinking of what little headway she’d made with the patient in her care, at least in the sense of his disposition.
He had been with them for nearly two weeks now. While his fever had broken, and he seemed to be regaining his energy, he was still suffering from a broken ankle, and there was little that could be done for it until it was healed. Between now and then, he would have to endure it...and his own knowledge of his helplessness certainly didn’t make him a better patient.
She was not foolish enough to believe he would become a perfect gentleman. That was wishful thinking, if ever there was such a thing. But she had hoped he would at least be civil, if nothing else.
So far, there had been no sign of even that. And part of her wondered if there ever would be.
The smell of fresh pottage was strong as she came inside. Her father was stirring a pot on the fire, and she saw him yawn…a sign that he would soon be retiring to bed. It was near the end of his day, and the end of his watch in the sickroom. With night coming, it was her turn to watch over the patient.
“Has he been fed?” she asked.
Robert shook his head. “I was just about to take him his meal. He has been calling for it.”
Taking off her cloak and gloves, she went over and took the bowl from his hands.
“I will take it to him.” She placed the bowl on a small wooden tray. Picking up a pitcher, she filled a cup with the willow-bark brew…and finding a nearby vial, she put in a few drops of medicine. Reluctantly, she carried the tray into the room.
She was careful to set it aside, out of his reach. That first time she had given him a bowl of porridge, he had behaved himself. In the days since, he had eaten his meals without much trouble, and he even seemed to like what she served him, despite her certainty that he did so against his will. She almost trusted him to be calm…but not quite. The last thing she wanted was to give him something to throw in a fit of temper. Taking up the cup, she approached him cautiously, prepared to be barked at, which she knew would happen if the mood set him right.
“Drink this,” she urged him, handing him the cup. As ridiculous as he’d been in his previous outbursts, she half expected him to spit the liquid out. But to her surprise, he only grumbled at its bitter taste.
“That is the most horrible concoction I have ever tasted. What are you poisoning me with?”
She sighed, her tolerance wearing thin.
“It is a healing drink. Tea, it is called. Another blessing from the Orient. It will help to ease your pain.”
He pushed the cup back at her, turning his head aside like a spoiled child.
“It is bloody awful. Take it away and bring the food I smell.”
Unable to hold her tongue any longer, she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Sir Guy of Gisborne, you are an ungrateful bugger.”
He clasped her wrist tightly, causing the cup to fall from her hand. He yanked her close to him.
“You speak too boldly, woman. And too often. Were I not so indisposed, I would see you scolded as severely as you should be.”
She flung his hand away. Slamming the cup down, she walked from the room, leaving the food tray well out of his reach. And ignoring his furious protests.
“Where do you think you are going? How am I supposed to reach the damnable meal if you have left it way over there? Come back here!”
As she walked from the room, she felt a great sense of triumph over him…until she heard the sound of a fall, and a shout of pain. Hurrying back into the room, she found him on his hands and knees. His face was contorted in pain, and seeing it, she felt an immediate sense of guilt. Hurrying to his side, she tried to help him up, but he pushed her hands away.
“Do not touch me!” he spat.
She took a step back, watching as he crawled to the bed and pulled himself up. He sat on the edge of the bed, his face red and his breath hurried, and she came to stand near him.
“Are you all right?”
His eyes flashed up at her. “What concern is it of yours? One moment you think to starve me, and the next you express sympathy for my well being? You can keep your false compassion.”
Staring down at him, her expression grew serious – her manner quiet but defensive.
“My compassion is not false. Had you acted in a more civil manner towards me, I would not have left you.”
“I am not required to be civil.”
Lord, he is so impossible, she said to herself. Her eyes narrowed in frustration. “You were certainly not raised with manners, Guy of Gisborne.”
His sudden outburst startled her, making her jump.
“Do not question my upbringing! You know nothing of it!”
In his anger, she sensed something more.Something personal. She could not be certain of it, but something told her that long before Marian, he had endured some other cruel cross of fate. Was it that event that had made him the bitter soul he was today?
Out of the corners of her mind, a memory came to her. Why it came to her now, she could not say. But it seemed a blessing at that moment when she needed a way to ease the dark mood that had surrounded them.
“I know something of your mother.”
He stared at her, his blue eyes full of doubt and suspicion.
“What could you possibly know of her?”
“My grandmother once aided her when your father was ill. I have been told that Lady Gisborne was a very kind and generous lady.”
He turned his head away, but she could see that his features had softened. She was shocked to see such a change – and saddened, for his harsh expression had became one of pain. His tone grew soft, hinting at deep anguish.
“There has not been a better woman born.”
A brief silence followed. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Cassia questioned him gently.
“What became of her?”
The air of defensiveness resumed in him. He kept his head turned away, but the sharpness of his words was there once more.
“She died when I was a boy, and I will say no more on the subject.”
Despite his cold manner, she was not angered. How could she be? She knew too well what it felt like to lose a loved one. She found herself speaking of it, despite the risk of a rebuke from him.
“My mother died when I was a child. And my younger brother was lost with her.”
He looked up at her. Their eyes locked for a moment – until she felt a strange tension growing between them. She felt a sudden need to walk away from him, if only to save herself from expressing the deep sadness she felt – for herself, and for him. He would only be cruel if she showed such a vulnerability.
“I will fetch your supper,” she said, making an excuse to get away from him. He was a danger to her senses in more ways than one. And he could never be permitted to know it. That she simply could not allow.
For several days, Guy was unusually subdued. And whenever she came into the room, he seemed to be examining her. She could feel his eyes watching her, but whenever she turned to look at him, he would look away. What was going on in his mind, she wondered? His temper seemed to have eased considerably. And that was a worrisome thing, as far as she was concerned.
One evening, while she was sewing one of her father’s shirts, Robert came in from the sickroom with a frustrated expression on his face. It was not the first time she had seen such a look on him, especially since Guy’s arrival. She dismissed it after a few moments - until her father spoke at last.
“He wants a bath and a shave…and he will not allow me to touch him.”
Cassia paused in her needlework, her mouth slightly open in shock.
“Surely you jest, father. It might do for me to see that he has a shave, but I cannot…bathe him. ‘Twould not be proper.”
Robert looked quite flustered, as if his patience had reached its limit. Gisborne must have been quite harsh indeed to make him so upset. He grumbled in frustration, handing her the cloth bundle with the shaving materials.
“He will not allow me to tend to him. And he is in desperate need of a wash. The smell is growing intolerable. Only wash that which is necessary. And if there is trouble to be found, call me in. I will think of something.”
Even in the light of the fire, her face grew red. But in truth, she knew her father was right. And even with a patient as difficult as Sir Guy, she knew it wasn’t proper or healthy to leave him in such condition. But to think of being in such close quarters with him, in such an intimate situation. Her heart beat fast to think of it.
But then, she lifted her chin in a stubborn way.
He has done this on purpose, she thought. He means to torment me.
But if it was his intention to taunt her, he would find she was not so easily beaten.
Going out to the well, she brought up the bucket of water. It was ice cold, and for a moment, she considered washing him in such water to teach him a lesson. But as sick as he had been of late, she knew that such a thing would be unwise. As awful as he had been to her and her father, he was hardly deserving of kindness. But he was still unwell, and it wasn’t in her nature to be so cruel, even to him.
Taking the bucket, she brought it to the fire to let it warm a little. Minutes later, she heard him shouting from the sickroom.
“What in blazes is taking so long? I cannot tolerate this neglected state a moment longer!”
Taking up a rag and a bar of soap, she walked in the room and paused in the doorway. The sight of him lying there, half-exposed, was enough to give any woman pause. Thankfully, his lower half was covered with a sheet. She couldn’t imagine what her own reaction would have been to seeing him stark naked. Shaking her head at the shameful thought, she set her shoulders determinedly and went to him, ignoring the tiny little smirk on his face. Her brow was stern as she hefted the water bucket up, placing it on the bed table. Opening the shaving kit, she took up the razor and began sharpening it, and as she worked it back and forth, she spoke sharply to him.
“I know not what game you play at, but if you think to humble me, you will find yourself quite disappointed.”
As she lathered her hands with soap, she felt his eyes on her, watching in that suspicious way of his. He had no trust in anyone…not even someone who had made every attempt to care for him. She sighed in disappointment. And he remarked at the sound.
“You let out your breath in that way, but this is your own doing. Had you returned me home as you should have, you would be free of your burden. But now I am here, and you will endure the displeasure of my company.”
She rubbed the soap on his face, making a particular point to be rough in her actions. When she applied the razor, he was wise enough to keep still and silent.
But when it came to bathing him, he began looking at her with a devilish gleam in his eye. Dunking the rag in the water, lathering it with soap, she began scrubbing him in a rough manner, careful not to let her hands roam in one place for two long. But it was impossible to be so close to him…to touch him, even briefly, and not notice the firm muscles under her fingers. She bit her lip stubbornly, determined not to think of such a thing. But he made it nearly impossible, leering at her the way he was.
Pompous bastard, she thought.
“You would make a good hand maiden,” he remarked. “When I return to Nottingham, perhaps I should take you back with me and put you to work as my personal servant. I wager I could find more for you to give me than a simple washing.”
Finished with him from the waist up, she re-dunked the rag and threw it at his chest. “You will do the rest yourself, my lord.” As she turned away, she felt the sudden grip of his hand on her arm.
“You will wash my hair before you go.”
She watched as he turned himself so that his legs hung over the edge of the bed. He leaned his head down, waiting. For a moment, she stared at the top of his head. Then she heard him grumble.
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
With a little smirk of her own, she picked up the heavy bucket…and poured the entire load of water down on his head. The great slosh of water was like music to her ears, as was the shouting and sputtering that came in its wake. But she did not stay to see what he would do. She fled the room quickly, gleeful at the sweetness of revenge. Even his furious shouting couldn’t banish the smile from her face.
“Evil, nasty little witch!”
Her father looked up from the fire, where he was stirring a pot. She smiled at him, triumphant.
“He is clean. But I would take some towels with you when you go in. There was a bit of water spilled on the floor.”
Late that night, when she went in to relieve her weary father, she purposely sat in the corner with her needlework and didn’t look at the scowling man sitting up in the bed. For some time, she let the quiet linger. If neither of them spoke all night long, it wouldn’t have troubled her in the least. But it wasn’t long before Gisborne seemed to grow tired of the stillness.
“Why do you sit in stone silence? Do you not have some witch’s brew to force down my throat? Or is there another drowning in my future?”
She punched the needle in her material and drew it out, ignoring him. This was a test of wills that she was determined to win. If he could not speak to her with a civil tongue, she was determined not to speak to him at all. After all that she and her father had done for this man, the least he could do was to treat them with a speck of decency.
“What is your name?”
The question was spoken in a rough manner. And it was a question she had not expected.
Why does he care what my name is? Why should I give it to him?
She wanted to remain silent. And yet, there was a part of her that wanted to answer. Despite his bad temper, his ungratefulness, and his cruelty, there was something about Guy of Gisborne that fascinated her, even now. Hadn’t he always been this way? Dark and brooding…moody and unpredictable as weather. Perhaps it was his voice, so deep and as smooth as velvet, that prompted her to pause in her stitching. And she answered him.
“Cassia, my lord. My name is Cassia.”
He said nothing to the revelation of her name. Turning his head slightly, he gave a little snort, as if her name annoyed him. She sighed, shaking her head, and went back to her stitching. Then he spoke again, a surprising note of want in his tone.
“My foot hurts…and so does my head.”
He wasn’t so sharp, so demanding as he’d been before. She sensed that he was in pain and sought relief, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask for it directly. But at least he wasn’t shouting, or throwing things. His manner, while not exactly kind, was at least tolerable. Setting aside her needlework, she rose to her feet.
“I shall fetch you some ice for your foot. And so long as you promise not to knock the cup from my hand, I will bring you your tea.”
His answer was an unintelligible grumble. Her mouth turned up just slightly, and she left to bring him what he asked for.