Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Tempest Revisited - Chapter Five

There are quite a few changes here from the original, so please let me know what you think if you are familiar with the old version. Thanks for reading! :)
She knew he was still watching her. She could feel the burn of his gaze.
Lord, why must he look at me that way?
It was so much easier to tolerate his evil glares, his looks of contempt. This heated stare she felt directed at her, his suddenly soft way of speaking, was almost too much to take. She could guess what he was thinking, the way he was leering at her now. Knowing the look of lust in a man’s eyes, she couldn’t let it go on without interruption. Without turning to him she spoke as firmly as she could, despite the feeling of her heart beating fast.
“You examine me, Sir Guy. Do you suddenly find something interesting in this lowly peasant?”
 There was a slight lingering moment before he replied. And when he spoke, the deep rumble of his voice, though slight, was unnerving.
“Perhaps I do.”
She could sense his eyes looking her over. For a moment, she was incapable of forming a response, only able to wonder what he would say next.
“But then again,” he added. “There is little else for me to occupy my mind with.”
Any physical response, any warmth she had started to feel, was glazed over with a frost, turned cold by his discourteous reply. She sighed, stung by his words. And yet, when he was being his typical boorish self, at least conversing with him was not so difficult. Still keeping her eyes averted from him, her tone was cold.
“Just when I think you capable of civility, you give another stick of the knife. I should cease any attempts of kindness on my part.”
His response sounded odd, as if she had offended him.
“I am capable of civility,” he said. “But such a weakness is not suited to a Master at Arms. What would you have me do when I arrest criminals, or collect taxes from delinquent villagers? Shake their hands and ask them to share in a pint of ale?”
She shrugged. “I care not what you do when you go about your duties to the sheriff. It is of little consequence to me. But when you are in this house, you might make less of an attempt to bite the hand that feeds you.”
He scoffed, giving a sort of laugh. “You speak of how I give you a ‘stick of the knife’ as you like to call it. But I dare say, you are not so innocent. You wound me in much the same way when it pleases you.”
“It does not please me, my lord. It is merely done in self-defense.”
His words became dark, serious.
“You are fortunate I do not correct you properly for such wickedness.”
She knew his words should have caused her concern. But as used to his temper as she’d become, she knew it was but an empty threat. If he truly meant to hurt her, he would have somehow managed it by now. Other than the pot that had crashed near her head, and the few times he had gripped her arm, he hadn’t carried out any real physical violence against her. And somehow, she sensed he was even less capable of it now. She thought to test her assumption. Feeling a bit bolder now, she turned where she sat, looking at him with a daring gleam in her eye.
“What would you do, Sir Guy? Pursue me on one foot, and then beat me about the head with a crutch?”
He tried to look away, but she caught the little crinkle of amusement that came to his mouth. She couldn’t contain her own smile, even when he turned his eyes back to look at her, and the smirk was gone.
“A good beating would serve you well. You are a hard-headed woman, Cassia.”
She shrugged, turning back to the fire. “So you have said before.”
Somehow, the mood in the room had taken a very comfortable turn. He seemed to be, if it was possible, quite amiable. What had brought about such a change, she couldn’t say. But she chose not to question it. It was quite possible that it would not last very long. So she chose to enjoy the rare moment of calm between them. 
By the fire, a pitcher was warming. She had intended to share the cider with her father, but now that he had departed, she no reason for the drink to go to waste. Filling the two cups, taking one for herself, she came to stand before Guy. As she held one out for him to take, he looked up, eyeing her suspiciously.
“What is it? More of your poison?”
At first she did not answer, keeping her arm extended with the cup she offered to him. After a moment he took it, and as she sat down in the chair nearby she glanced at him. She saw that he was about to sip from the cup. And trying to hide a slight smirk, she blurted out quickly…
“Eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog.”
She saw how he made a face and started to put the cup aside. But she just laughed as he gave her an odd look.
“It was only a jest, my lord. It is hot cider, stewed from dried apples. And I promise there is no potion mixed in it. I made it only for the enjoyment of the drink.”
His look was skeptical. She saw how he tested the smell of the brew before sipping it. But then he took a drink, and his face relaxed as he realized there was, indeed, no trick.
“The taste is not unpleasant,” he said.
She smiled. “I am pleased that you enjoy it.”
A quietness fell over the room. And for a few moments, there was a comfortable silence as they both sipped their drinks. But after several minutes of lingering quiet, she began to feel his eyes upon her again. A warm flush came to her cheeks. It was impossible not to feel utterly exposed under the intensity of his gaze.
But how many other woman had he looked at in that same way?
She thought back to all the times she had watched him from afar, admiring his every move. He was beautiful to her still, even now. His hair had grown a little since being cut, and though it was in need of a wash, it was wonderfully alluring in the way his dark locks curled in places. Then there were those eyes of his. Those stormy blue-grey eyes which held a power that defied description. At one time, she would have given anything to have those eyes look at her as they were now, with that smoldering intensity. Heaven help her, a part of her wanted to go to him right at that moment, to throw her arms around him and press her lips to his.
How many nights had she dreamed of being in his arms? It mattered not that he was a notorious villain. What she saw when she looked at him, even now, was what she had always seen. A lonely and bitter man, one nearly broken by the blows of life. A man who had once saved her life.
But despite her growing feelings for him, and despite the fact that he was the most sensuously appealing man she’d ever known…Lord, how he could set her entire being on fire, and with only a look…she knew in her heart that it was all for naught. He was capable of such goodness. But he was unlikely to act on it in the way she wished him to.
Being there beside him, feeling the sensual tension so heavy between them, she could hardly breathe. Needing fresh air, wanting to gather her senses, she rose to her feet. She did not look at him directly, but she could see from the corner of her eye how his expression had changed slightly. His brow was raised in curiosity, his eyes looking her up and down.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
She gave a little cough, to clear her throat and reclaim her voice.
“It is late. My father will return home shortly, and I am tired. Perhaps it is wise that we both retire to bed.”
She immediately regretted the mention of the word bed, for she sensed that it triggered something in his devious mind. She tried to pass by him quickly, to avoid any confrontation, but before she could escape she felt a sudden and sharp tug of her hand. Before she could react, she was falling backwards. In a moment more she was looking up into his eyes. His nose was but a fraction away from touching hers. And his arms were holding her tightly, pressing her firmly against his chest.
“You should warm my bed. It would be a better cure than any witches brew you could concoct.” His lips were nearly touching hers, the heat from his body intoxicating. She felt her body aching in places…aches of a kind she hadn’t felt in a very long time. And they were crying out for fulfillment.
“Did your husband satisfy you, Cassia? Was he capable of giving a woman like you what you truly need?”
At the mention of her husband, something suddenly went cold within her. What was she doing? Just minutes ago, she had reminded herself how he was with women…how he used and forgot them without regard. If she let this moment linger, she knew she would only become another casualty. Giving his body a hard shove, she pushed him away and came to stand before him, defiant and angry.
“Drag yourself back to Nottingham and find a willing whore to serve your needs. And after you are done with your disgusting bit of rutting, I hope she curses you with a pox!”
She hurried away from him, climbing fast up the ladder into the loft. God be praised, he was unable to pursue her. She was not quite certain she would have denied him had he made the attempt.
If not for the pain in his foot, he would have followed her. Sitting there, staring into the fire, his mouth curled wickedly as he imagined cornering her in some way, blocking any exit. Approaching her slowly, seeing her anxiety slowly changing to longing and desire. Then he would lean in, his hands at either side of her head, preventing escape. But by then, she would have no desire to get away. She would look up at him, with those brilliant dark eyes shining. Then he would claim her with a deep kiss, savoring the taste of her.
Lord! The woman was utterly bewitching, and the deliciously painful ache between his legs seemed to confirm it. She might have been a low-born peasant, but he could not recall ever wanting a woman so badly. And not a woman who feared him, or despised him…as Marian had.
Why had he never listened to that small warning voice, the one that had tried to warn him of her duplicity? He had always been suspicious of her actions. And yet, all she had ever needed to do was be near him, and he had lost all control of his senses.
But in hindsight, was it really love that he’d felt for her? Or had it been blind infatuation – the lure of a woman of such beauty that any man would find difficult to resist? And he had come so close to having her.
Or so he had foolishly believed.
She had devoted herself, body and soul, to Robin Hood. Even if he had married her, taken her to himself and made her his own, who would she have seen when she closed her eyes?
Her image was there in his mind. But suddenly it began to change. Green eyes became almost black. The voluptuous curves became slender, her breasts smaller but no less tempting. Her hair became more brown than black…lustrous and soft…and he longed to run his fingers through it to know its texture. Then there was the one aspect of difference that couldn’t be seen on the surface. The one aspect that kept him from fully merging the image of two women into one.
Except for her father, Cassia swore loyalty to no one…especially not to Robin of Locksley.
Good God, it was an exhilarating thought, to imagine having a woman who was nearly his equal. Her station in life was too low to consider her in marriage, at least in the eyes of the law. But she would make a delightful mistress.
Having her as a mistress would give him all that he craved, without the trappings and expectations of having a wife. Marriage was a permanent binding, most often severed only by death. A mistress was an interim relationship, which he could end whenever he preferred. Although, he couldn’t see himself losing interest in Cassia in any small amount of time. Despite their differences in station, there was much they shared in common. A proud, stubborn nature for one. A shared loathing of certain ideals, for another. Then there was the matter of being alone…a hell of a thing for two people to have in common.
But there was one point of sharing that was foremost in his mind, and it made his smirk become a full and devilish grin. Folding his hands against his chest, he stretched out his legs and leaned his head back, feeling quite smug as he thought of it.
She wants me, as much as I want her.
He knew that look in a woman’s eyes. He had seen it in the faces of countless women. But Cassia was not some easy piece of flesh to be had. She wanted him, but she was not going to give in easily.
Obstinate little minx, he thought.
It would take some clever plotting, and maybe a bit of time, to bring her around. But what else did he have besides time? He sipped the last of his cider, shaking his head and smiling slightly at his own foolish musings.
I have been bewitched, he said to himself. Completely and utterly bewitched.
Over the week that followed, Cassia began to wonder if she had made a mistake in giving her patient a pair of crutches.
Now that he had some independence, Guy was not content to be idle. Refusing to wear the long nightdress he referred to as a “wretched garment,” he now wore his own clothes again…and he took advantage of his mobility. He hardly remained in his room, except to sleep. His preferred choice of location seemed to be a chair near the front room fireplace, where he often just sat and observed. And quite often, even when her father was in the same room, she felt Guy staring at her with a certain look. A dark, lustful look. And no matter how she tried to ignore him, he seemed intent on making her uneasy.
Most troublesome of all was the change in his mood. He was not as dark as before. His scowling became less frequent, usually reserved for his moments of pain. Now he almost seemed relaxed, as if he were making himself at home. Even when making demands, which he still did frequently, he no longer bellowed in rage. Instead, he said what he wanted and sat back with an air of expectancy. Robert was unsure what to make of his strange behavior. But after several days of silently tolerating his new way of being, Cassia felt she must speak to him of it.
The winter snows were thawing. One morning, they had melted enough so that the grass, though dormant, could be seen. The air was cool, but tolerable enough to allow activity outdoors. Their barrel of ale was nearly empty, and such a day as it was, it was a perfect time to brew another cask. Wishing to be away from the sickroom, and especially from Guy, she slipped out while she thought he was still asleep.
But she was not surprised when he soon appeared behind her. She ignored him at first, knowing that he was standing in the doorway, watching her. It was not until she heard him make a sound of pain that she turned to look at him. He was leaning on his crutches, trying to pretend that he was perfectly well, when she could clearly see that the effort of standing was difficult for him. She hesitated for a moment – but the healer in her could not stand to see her patient in discomfort. Pulling over a nearby chair, she placed it near him.
“Sit, you fool. It will not do for you to injure yourself further.”
As he sat, he let out a huff. “You are a daring wench, Cassia DeWarren. Anyone else who would call me a fool would find themselves in peril.”
“And I am not in peril?”
“T’would be a wasted effort to attempt a punishment for you. Methinks you would stir up some spell or manner of mischief to thwart my effort.”
Placing her hand on her hip, she looked over at him. “Do you truly believe I am a witch?”
“I have little doubt of it.”
“Then why do you not hie yourself up and hobble away back to Nottingham?”
Turning back to her ale making preparations, it was a moment before he replied.
“Perhaps I have grown accustomed to living this way…having my needs seen to by a wench who does not know her place.”
She fought for a reply. The thought that he would want to stay was bewildering. In truth, a part of her wished he was sincere. But her common sense was wiser than her heart, and she found the courage she needed to answer, rather pointedly.
“Your sheriff will be pleased to have you returned to him, I am quite certain of it.”
He snorted. “Doubtful, that.”
His words were said in such a melancholy way, and it touched something tender in her. It was tempting to offer him consolation, for she truly felt pity for him. But she feared that if she offered him any gesture of tenderness, he would rebuke it or ridicule it. No, she would not try to mother him. Perhaps it would be better to use a firmer hand with him, along with a touch of humor. He seemed to respond best to that.
“Here,” she said, thrusting a ladle into his hand. “Make yourself useful and strain these oats.”
His look of indignance did not surprise her, nor did his reply.
“I am not a serving boy.”
“No, you are not. You are a stubborn git who is in need of a firm hand. Heaven help the poor lady who you take for your wife.”
For the first time she could recall, she heard him give a small laugh.
“Cassia DeWarren, you are a most troublesome creature. It makes one wonder where you acquired such a nature. You are certainly nothing like…”
She waited for him to finish. But after a moment passed, she looked back at him and saw that he had grown silent, and was likely to stay that way.
“I am nothing like who?” she prodded him.
He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“Do you mean to say I am nothing like Marian?”
His eyes rose to meet hers. And she answered him with a tone of satisfaction.
“Guy of Gisborne, that may be the greatest compliment I have ever received.”
“Is it?”
“Yes. And you should consider yourself wise for not telling me that I match her in some way. Had you insulted me so, I would have been forced to do you harm.”
“A comparison to Marian offends you?”
“Forgive me for speaking ill of the woman you loved, but I despised her nearly as much as I despise Robin Hood. They were a perfect match – self-important, self-righteous creatures both.”
“You knew Marian?”
Turning to face him, she could see the pained look of curiosity in his eyes. He wished to know of her – and yet, he probably feared to hear of her. Her deception had run so deeply. She tried to steer him away from such a bitter subject.
“It matters not.”
She started to turn away – but she felt his hand on hers, making her pause.
“How did you know her?”
“It is not important,” she replied. But his hold on her became firmer.
“I wish to know!”
The raising of his voice stirred a reprise of anger in her. Old resentment towards Marian. And resentment towards Guy, for she could still see in him a flicker of love, tiny as it was.
“I had to endure her presence on several occasions when she sought our help with the needy. And on more than one occasion, she stood at the side of Robin Hood.”
“Did she speak of me?”
“Guy, you should not ask about such things.”
His voice rose, forceful now. “Did she speak of me?”
Cassia hesitated for a moment before answering, and it pained her to do so.
“Yes, she spoke of you. But do not beseech me to repeat the things she said. I will not dishonor you in that way.”
He had cast his eyes down and grown silent.
“If it is any consolation, I was quite often tempted to throttle her. It would have pleased me much.”
He said nothing. A moment passed, and she watched as he put the ladle aside and took up his crutches. He disappeared into the house, and for a moment she stood there, watching after him. She sighed, feeling a deep feeling of anger and sadness. She wiped a tear from her eye, and turned back to making her ale.
A scuffle on the floor behind him made Guy scowl. He knew Cassia’s soft footfalls by now, and these steps were not hers.
It was her father, who seemed to become more surly towards him with each passing day. Robert wanted him away, and wasn’t shy about expressing his wishes, even if it wasn’t said in so many words. The few words he did say were brief and to the point, spoken at times with a bit of a harsh overtone. And though he had ignored it at first, Guy was beginning to grow tired of the old man’s disrespectful attitude. Robert DeWarren, after all, was only a commoner. He watched as the old man brought in a plate of bread and cheese. As he pulled a small table near Guy’s chair, placing the tray of food on it, Guy could see Robert’s slight scowl of displeasure. To that, he wore his own scowl in return.
“I want a cup of wine,” he demanded. “Fetch me some.”
Robert looked up, his eyes darting in confusion at the sudden demand.
 “I am sorry, my lord Gisborne. We have no more wine to speak of.”
Guy snorted in displeasure. “Where are my things? The ones you took from me when you brought me here?”
Robert replied nervously. “It is in a trunk, my lord. For safe-keeping.”
“Fetch me the purse that was on my belt. Unless you have stolen it and pocketed the contents.”
Robert looked concerned, as if expecting to be accused of treachery whatever his response should be. Still he answered.
“No, Sir Guy, it was not touched.”
“Then go and get it, and make haste.”
Robert nodded slightly, leaving the room. When he returned, he held the velvet bag out to Guy, who pushed it back to him.
“Take it into the village and purchase the wine. What remains, you may keep, so long as you do not speak of my generosity. It will be your neck if you do.”
Looking skeptical, Robert remained rooted to where he stood…until Guy glared at him, growing impatient with the old man’s seeming dumbness.
“What are you waiting for? Be gone.”
A moment passed, and Robert reluctantly went. Donning his cloak, he made for the door just as it opened, and Cassia nearly ran right into him. Guy watched father and daughter, seeing the concern in Cassia’s expression. Was it worry over him? Outside, she had seemed so reluctant to speak to him of things that might trouble him. Had she come in to inquire about his well-being…or was she seeing her father in his traveling garb, and worried about being left her on her own?
“Father, where are you off to?”
Robert tightened the collar of his cloak. “The village, daughter. I must go to market.”
“But there is a chill in the air. Can it not wait?”
“It is a sunny spring morning. I will be well.” He reached out and gave her cheek a gentle pat, and turned to go.
Guy felt her ap
proach. The revelation of Marian’s true deception – the witnessed proof, as it were, had pained him deeply. But it had passed nearly as quickly as it had come upon him. What good did it do to dwell on things that no longer mattered? What reason was there to think of a woman who no longer existed? The present was all that mattered. And at present, there was only one woman in his life. The only one he wanted. Turning his head towards her, he asked…
“Would you like to share a meal with me, Cassia? There is plenty here for two.”
Her voice sounded sad. “No. I am tired, not hungry.”
She pitied him. He could feel it. And he was captivated by the thought that she felt such a feeling for him. But at that moment, he did not want her sympathy. He wanted her company. And he wanted to feel what they had felt together last night. There had been humor between them, and a growing attraction that could not be denied – no matter how she tried to fight it.
“If you are tired, there is room in my bed,” he teased her. “Although sleeping is not exactly what I had in mind.”
He could almost feel the shift in her mood. He heard the quickness of her angry footsteps as she came near.
“So, the real Guy of Gisborne returns. For a moment I thought I was rid of him.”
“Ha!” he laughed, the corner of his mouth rising. “You will never be rid of me.”
“Then I shall pray for the mercy of God to aid me. I am going to lie down in my bed. Alone.”
He gave an exaggerated sigh, shaking his head again. “You would rather lie in your vermin-filled hay than with me?”
She paused at the ladder to the loft, looking at him with a raised eyebrow. He knew she was about to give one of her pointed remarks. She did not disappoint.
“Whether in the hay, or sitting in a front room chair. One sort of vermin is no different than the other.”
He only chuckled at her jibe, watching as she climbed the ladder to the loft. She would not remain up there forever. She would soon be back, and he would be waiting. And in the meantime, he did indeed find himself growing heavy-eyed. Finishing his meal, he took up his crutches and made his way back to bed. Lying back on the pillows, he smiled to himself. After a good sleep, he would be able to think clearly. Then he would be able to decipher what the next move in this game would be.


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