Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Tempest Revisited - Chapter Nineteen

Standing in the hallway, close to the open door of the nursery, Guy listened to Matilda and the young wet-nurse. His children, he was discovering, were noisy and demanding – and it delighted him, for it was a sign of their good health. It mattered not what hour of the day or night it was, for they had no concept of such things. When they were hungry or in need of a change, they let the household know out loud, and such noise was a blessing to be talked about, as the two women did now. Matilda was holding Theodora against her shoulder, walking back and forth with her.
“These wee ones are hardy, to be sure. Bless their little souls.”
Ameile, the wet-nurse, agreed. She was bathing William in a small tub.
“Sir Guy and Lady Cassia should indeed be proud. What a lovely little family they are.”
Guy smiled at hearing his family so praised. He was about to step in for a moment, eager to look at his offspring before heading to his bedchamber. But the change in Matilda’s tone gave him pause.
“My poor Cassia. Such a difficult time she had. So much bleeding and tearing. It is a wonder the poor child survived it. But she has always been a strong one.”
Ameile nodded. Her voice, too, had taken on a somber note.
“I pray for her nightly. One never knows if the childbed fever will take hold. Oft times, the mother does not succumb to it until many days after.”
All at once, Guy’s joy was diminished. The blanket of security he had wrapped himself in – the happiness he had only started to accept – suddenly seemed in peril. Moving away from the nursery, he moved with swift steps towards his bedchamber.
Cassia had always been so hopeful about everything, and he had started to believe it himself. But after hearing what the two women had said just now, a familiar weight of doubt and concern pressed upon him. Only one person could shake away those feelings – the very person who was at the root of them.
In their chamber, all was quiet. The room was lit by several candles and the fire that was burning low. He approached the bed slowly, worried that he might disturb her. All week long, she had spent most of her time sleeping. But when awake, she was too sedate for his liking. To see her so frail and weak was deeply troubling. She was asleep, it seemed. And he did not want to disturb her rest. But he could not help himself. Leaning forward, he kissed the softness of her forehead. Just the thought of her falling prey to illness…or worse, not recovering…was enough to set his heart to quaking with fear.
When he pressed his lips to her cheek, her lashes fluttered and her eyes opened. Seeing him, she gave him a sleepy smile. He tried to smile back. His wanted to disguise his worry from her so she would not be burdened by it. But she seemed to sense that something was not right. She looked at him with a curious, concerned expression.
“Guy, what troubles you?”
He shook his head, trying to smile. But no amount of will could hide the sadness in his eyes…the fear that was barely held in check. Sitting there beside her, he was in anguish.
“Tell me, dear husband. It pains me to see you with such a look.”
For a moment he held back. Then, in a gradual fall of his defenses, he lowered his head until it rested in her lap. He sighed as she ran her fingers through his hair.
“You are unwell, Cassia. And I cannot bear the thought of it.”
He felt her fingers sweeping his hair back from his forehead. Her tone was soft and gentle, as it always was when she was comforting him.
“My love, do not fear for me. I shall recover soon.”
“But how can you be sure?”
Her fingers caressed his cheek. “I feel it in my bones. Just this morning I took a turn about the room without assistance. Could that be the way of an unhealthy woman?”
Hearing that, he rose up to look at her, appalled to hear what she had done.
“It is the way of a stubborn woman. You might rush your own doom by being so foolish.”
She laughed softly…to which he scowled at her, angry that she did not take her illness seriously.
“My distress amuses you, does it?”
She said nothing, only smiling all the more as she touched the cross she had always worn around her neck.
“My grandmother’s cross has always protected me from harm. I do not see why it should fail me now.”
Lowering his head, he frowned, utterly unconvinced. “You make light of your situation.”
She reached out to take his hand, and he gripped her slight fingers as she spoke in her soothing way.
“My love, there must be one of us who is an optimist. And since your thoughts are ever dark, I shall take it upon myself to be of good cheer.”
The cynic within him doubted her pretty outlook on the matter. And his stubborn nature tried to repress any hope that might dare to rise in his heart. But then, he felt her urging him to lift his head. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips to his, her hands soft on his cheeks. He knew this game of hers too well, and he scowled at her.
“You try to use one of your spells on me. You think to distract me from my concerns.”
She only smiled at him. And he tried in earnest not to let her unflinching positivity influence him. But the sweetness of her kisses, placed so gently but firmly on his face and lips, was too much to resist. Gently twining his arms around her, still aware of her frailty, he allowed himself to bask in her love…though he could not help remarking in a cynical way.
“Stubborn wench, forcing hope upon me. What sort of man am I to be so easily defeated?”
She only laughed softly, resting her head on his shoulder.


The familiar cries could be heard from the room down the hall. Guy stirred, lifting his head at the sound. He had grown accustomed to such noises in the night. But what he could not adjust to – what troubled him more than the sounds of his children - was the knowledge that Cassia would wake up the moment she heard them. Despite his protests, she would rise and go to them immediately, without waiting for their nurse or Matilda to tend to them.
 He and Cassia were allowed to share their bed again, though they merely slept in it and nothing more. Intimacy was not permitted so soon after the birth, a fact which Guy understood and accepted. He was just glad to have her at his side. But always at some moment during the night, he would feel the weight of the bed shift. She always tried to slip away quietly, perhaps hoping that he would not notice. But he did notice. Occasionally he would just let her go, pretending to sleep so she could have her way.
He understood why she did it. She was fearful of losing the bond with her children, as she had confessed to him on many occasions. They had hired a young maid, Claudia, to help care for the babies. Matilda was not pleased with the idea at first, but eventually she acknowledged that it was better for all that she have a helpmate. Eventually, the two became quite friendly with one another. But Cassia was mournful at the idea of someone else looking after her son and daughter. At times she wept bitterly over the idea of it, not caring that such a practice was common for women of her status. Despite everyone’s urgings that she should allow Claudia to see to her duty, she often rose during the night to see to their nursing herself.
 She was going now. He saw her slipping from the bed, putting on her robe. Leaning over, he reached out to grasp her hand.
“You must rest,” he insisted. “Claudia is capable of seeing to them during the night.”
She sighed. “I know, but I must go to them. I cannot help my feelings.”
She would go, no matter what he said. And as he had done so many times before, he rose and put on his own robe, following her down the hall.
 Claudia was there at the cradle, picking up Thea…the shortened name they now called her by. While Cassia took William in her arms, Guy came to Claudia’s side.
 “We shall take them in with us,” he said to her. “Go back to bed.” Taking Thea, he put her against his shoulder, following Cassia out. He had grown confident in handling his daughter. More so, he supposed, than a man was supposed to be. But he found pride in the task. And pleasure.
Back in the room, he sat beside Cassia on the bed, watching as she put William to her breast. They had performed this ritual many times before, and it never ceased to amaze him. It was quite moving to behold her with their children, loving and nursing them. She spoke quietly over the sounds of the baby suckling.
“Many men would find this practice revolting to witness.” Looking up, she smiled at him. “I am pleased that it seems you do not.”
He smiled back at her, pride in his eyes. “Most men find the entire matter of children and motherhood to be revolting. But I find it quite fascinating. Of course, no one must ever know of this. You will not let on, will you wife?”
Cassia laughed softly as they switched children.
“I will say nothing, my love. I promise. But if you think to disguise your affection for your children, you will not succeed in that. It is clear already that you adore your offspring.”
It was true, of course. While she nursed, he held William up, looking at him.
“Do you suppose they know who I am?”
Cassia smiled. “If they do not now, they will in time. But I think they are becoming familiar with you. Thea quiets when you speak to her, and William watches you with curious eyes. I think he studies you.”
Guy smiled at the thought that he might be a source of interest, and not fear, to his children. He hoped it would always be so, for he was finding that fatherhood was fast becoming a role he enjoyed very much.


It was late in the night, once again. The children were with them, as before. But while William had been sleeping peacefully – both babies had been lying on blankets between them - Thea had been in a constant state of displeasure that Cassia could not seem to calm. She had been fed and cleaned, but still she was unhappy, her little face red as she fussed. Simply out of ideas about what to do, distressed at not being able to comfort her daughter, Cassia turned to Guy.
“Perhaps if you hold her for a moment, she will be calm.”
His eyebrow lifted in surprise. “You think so?”
Cassia shrugged. “There is no harm in trying.”
Taking Thea from her, he held her up for a moment, about to position her in the crook of his arm. But she was suddenly quiet, her eyes fixed on his face.
“Well, well,” Cassia remarked, a grin spreading across her face. “It seems I am not the only one capable of magic.”
Guy continued to look at his daughter, his love for her growing with each passing moment. She had changed so much already, and she was only six weeks old. Her newborn redness was gone, replaced by a lovely pale-pink complexion and rosy cheeks. Her eyes were blue, framed by long black eyelashes. Her hair was growing as well. Soon she would have a head of thick black hair, as he had. He smiled proudly as he examined her, remarking on her looks.
“I always thought it would be my son who would resemble me. But here I am, looking at the female version of a Gisborne.”
Cassia smiled. “A beautiful creature, to be sure.” Looking down at William, who was now awake and looking about with seemingly curious eyes, she picked him up and kissed him, cradling him gently in her arms. Leaning over to look at him, Guy beamed with pride.
“Our son is the epitome of his mother. The picture of perfection.” He moved to put Thea back down, but in an instant she was protesting, her face pinched in anger as she started to cry. “Our boy is so much calmer, it seems, than this little mite.” When he picked her up again, the crying ceased. And both he and Cassia chuckled, amused by the insistance Thea seemed to have for her father’s attention.
“Your daughter is fascinated with you, Guy of Gisborne. I think she will soon have your wrapped around her finger.”
The corner of his mouth rose high. “I never envisioned myself becoming so attached to a female child, but how can I help it? She is enamored of me, it seems. T’would be a lie if I said I did not find it quite flattering.”
“How can anyone not love these beautiful cherubs? One day, our son will grow into a handsome man and be the envy of his fellows. And our daughter will have every knight in the land seeking her favor.”
Guy’s face suddenly lost its glow of joy. His expression became more serious.
“I will not permit her to marry.”
Cassia, looking at him, seemed unsure if was in jest or not. There was a curious but amused smile on her face.
“You will not permit her?”
Shaking his head, he put Thea against his shoulder, feeling a sudden wave of protectiveness.
“I do not think I shall ever allow Thea to marry. No man will ever do for her, of that I am certain.”
Laughing softly, Cassia moved closer to him, leaning against his side. William had fallen asleep again in her arms.
“I am certain that when she comes of age, our daughter will have much to say to the contrary. She will look to her father to find her a reasonable match, and I am sure you will do your very best to make her happy.”
 To that he only grumbled…and Cassia smiled at his protective nature.
“Whomever she does marry, they will have quite a fearsome father-in-law to contend with. I do not envy them that.”
Now it was he who smiled. “I shall be fearsome,” he announced, unafraid to admit his feelings. “The man that attempts to take my daughter from me shall have to prove himself ten times over, and even then I may not be convinced of his worth.”
To his proud and defiant words, Cassia only giggled. And he grinned, unapologetically.



Another long day was done.
It had mostly been a routine one, except for an interesting piece of news that Stephen had shared. He was soon to take charge of a garrison. He would house a small group of knights and see to their training, and he would need Guy’s assistance in the duty, for it was not a one-man job. Though he had masked his expression with a look of calm, Guy felt a thrill at the prospect of preparing young soldiers for their duties. It had been so long since he had engaged in anything related to the knighthood.
He was thankful for the important tasks of household management that he did, for he knew he did them well, but he could not help his longing for action. He was a knight, after all. And one day, William would look to him for influence. He was quite eager to begin this new servitude, for it would benefit not only himself, but those he held dear. The future held much promise, it seemed, and he was delighted by the thought of it.
Before retiring for the night, he ventured into the nursery to look at his children. William was lying on his back, kicking his feet and making happy noises as he gummed a silver rattle. Guy had not dealt with many children up-close before, but he could not recall seeing a happier child than this one. William was always smiling, and he only cried when his basic needs were not met, which was a rare thing. Matilda and Claudia were always nearby, and of course Cassia was a constant presence. They all adored the jolly little infant, who now sprouted a head of thick black hair that curled in places. Guy picked him up, kissing the top of his head, smiling at the tight grip his son kept on his toy. For one so small, William was quite strong, and it made his fatherly heart swell with pride.
But Thea was not so happy. She was red-faced, bellowing as her nurse walked about the room with her. As Claudia turned, she saw Guy watching.
“Oh, good evening, Sir Guy.”
He put William back down in his cradle. Stepping forward, he examined the distressed face of his daughter. “What has troubled her this time?”
Claudia sighed. “She has just been changed, my lord. I am afraid it does not please her.”
He smiled as he reached for his daughter. Holding her up so they were eye to eye, he made a mock attempt at being stern with her.
“My lamb, you are truly your mother’s child. So headstrong. You should learn to be a proper lady and be calm and quiet.”
At the sound of his voice, she quieted. Placing her against his shoulder, he went to the window and looked out, waiting for Thea to fall asleep, as he knew she would. She was a tempestuous creature, demanding of attention, and when she felt she was being ignored, she wailed with a lung-power that was both impressive and maddening. Many a sleepless night had been attributed to her, but Guy secretly found it delightful. His daughter had the true nature of a Gisborne, and he completely adored her.
It wasn’t long before she was asleep…he knew it from the sound of her breathing. Handling her with great delicacy, he placed her in her bed. After bidding pleasant dreams to both of his children, he crossed the hall to his own bedchamber.
Cassia was lying in bed, seemingly asleep. He could not blame her for being exhausted. Not only was she a mother, but of late, she had taken up the duty of caring for the sick, both at home and around the estate. He was not pleased with it at first, fearing that she would put herself at risk for catching the illnesses she treated. But she scoffed at his worrying, insisting that she had spent most of her life exposed to all manner of sickness. She had not caught her death yet, she said, and so she was not afraid.
Her work sometimes left her quite worn out, but she insisted it was a happy exhaustion. It pleased her to do good, and he knew that the tenants thought her to be an angel in disguise. They always spoke so fondly of her, and it made him proud…almost giddy…to know that at the end of every day, he was coming home to be with her. She was his, and his alone, and he wondered if any man had ever been as content in marriage as he was.
After his valet helped him remove his boots, he dismissed the help. It had been a long day, and he wanted no company other than his wife. He moved about the room and blew out the candles, leaving only the light of the fire. Going to the bed, he sat down to remove his clothes, tossing them over a chair. He slipped under the sheet, moving against his wife’s side. Putting his arm around her, he put his head on his pillow and closed his eyes.
“Working your magic on our children once again, are you?”
The sudden sound of her voice brought his eyes open. He looked over at her.
“I thought you were sleeping?”
She shook her head. “I am not in need of sleep.”
For a moment he studied her, noting the inflection in her voice. Then, underneath the covers, he felt the sensation of her foot against his leg.
“Your feet are cold,” he said.
She smirked up at him. “That is why I put them there. They are in need of warmth.”
The way she was looking at him, he suddenly realized what was on her mind. She was amorous…he could see it in her eyes. And it thrilled him along every nerve he possessed. But it seemed too good to be true. The very last thing he had wanted was to hurt her in any way, and for the sake of her health, they’d refrained from full marital relations these past three months. She’d found ways to please him without resuming the deepest intimacy. But while it satisfied his basic needs, he missed the intense emotional and spiritual bonding they had shared before.
But now, here they were together. She was looking at him with such clear intentions…and he prayed that it wasn’t just his imagination.
She slinked her arms around him, moving herself so that her body lay pressed against his. They were breast to breast, nose to nose. Her voice was soft and warm.
“I was thinking, my love, that we are mother and father. But we must not forget that we are also husband and wife.”
His breath quickened as he spoke. “Are you certain?”
Her answer was a seductive, loving smile. “Quite certain.”
He was thrilled for a moment. But then his expression fell. “What if I should harm you in some way?”
Her smile became one of amusement.
“There is no danger. It has been nearly twelve weeks since the children were born. I have been walking daily, regaining my strength and energy. I feel fully restored to my previous state of health. And I have missed you very much.”
He smiled, his eyes shining with love. “As I have missed you.”
She kissed him then, and as he kissed her back, he gave a silent plea of thanks that his beloved was returned to him…returned to him, body and soul.
 They lay blissfully content and entwined, as they had been so many times before. Her head rested against him, her fingers gently stroking his skin.
“Are you aware, husband, that most couples do not occupy the same bed night after night?”
He gave her a curious look. After this pleasurable reunion they had just shared, what sort of question was this she was asking? From the teasing note he heard in her voice, he sensed she was in a playful mood.
“What of it?” he asked.
She turned on her stomach, leaning on her elbow as she smiled at him.
“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 pursed his lips in disgust. “Surely you jest. We have never slept apart unless circumstance called for it. It would be nonsense to break such a habit now.”
She shrugged. “I would like to try it, just once.”
For a moment, he thought she was just talking nonsense. But he watched with a troubled look on his face as she slipped into her nightgown.
His reply was stern. “I would not like to try it.”
Her response was a grin as she 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.”
With a childish giggle she moved towards the door, and he sat up, motioning for her to return.
“Enough foolishness, wife. Come back to your husband.”
She giggled again, and vanished. He called out to her, mildly irritated.
“Cassia Gisborne, return to me this instant!”
There was no answer. Sitting back, crossing his arms, he waited and hoped that she would come back quickly. When she did not appear, he debated with himself for several moments about going after her.
I will not play this game, he thought. I will not.
Even as he said it, he knew it was a foolish ambition. His pride held little sway over his love and desire for his wife, and in a moment, he was taking up his candle and setting out in search of her.
After a brief search, he found her in an empty bedchamber at the end of the hall. She was lying with her back to the door – he could not see her face. But he knew well enough that she was not asleep. And he was certain she was smiling. Coming forward, he stopped just near the bed, trying to look serious.
“Enough of your games, woman. Return to our bed this instant.”
Turning over, she lay there with her elbow supporting her head, looking at him with mischief in her eyes. Her hair was falling around her shoulders, and 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.” Flattening herself out on the bed, she stretched her limbs. A smirk came to his lips as he moved closer, his knees touching the mattress. She had snared him into her game, and now he was entertained by it. And aroused.
“I would like to continue this argument in our bed. Come, let us go.”
With a naughty gleam in her eye, she remained where she was, staring up at him. She was challenging him…teasing him. And he could not resist her. Putting his candle down, he hesitated for a moment – and then he lunged for her. She giggled, trying to slip away, but he was able to get a grip on her foot. Dragging her forward, he seized her by the waist and picked her up, settling her over his shoulder as she squealed in mock protest. She was laughing as he carried her from the room.
“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.”
Her giggling went on as he carried her back into their room, and the joyful sound of her laughter only quieted when he put her down on the bed and moved himself over her, kissing her lips and neck. Her words were soft and tender when she found her voice again.
“Would you suppose it indecent if we were to go on a picnic tomorrow?”
He smiled at her proposal. When they were together in this way, he knew the very nature of her thoughts. A picnic, indeed. He could not help teasing her.
“Why on earth would you want to go on a picnic? Tomorrow is the Sabbath.”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “What of it?”
“Would you rather not spend your day in holy worship?”
She lifted her head and gave him an indignant look…to which he smirked. And in response she gave him a fist to the shoulder.
“Worship indeed,” she replied. “I shall find quite enough of that in church. But after that, I want to be with you, and you alone. Do you know how long it has been since we have been absolutely without company?”
“Too long,” he replied. “In all honesty, I cannot recall the last time.”
She answered for him. “Not since our honeymoon trip. That is how long it has been. And as much as I adore our children and our family, I feel a great need to have my husband all to myself, even if it is only for a little while. No servants nearby. No family just down the hall. Only you and I, alone.”
When she was being this way, so eager for him, he adored her more than ever. He threaded his fingers through her hair, gently cradling her head in his hands as he gazed at her. The corner of his mouth rose up. A wicked gleam shined in his eyes.
“You shall have me to yourself. And perhaps we will spend more than an afternoon together.”
She smiled, inquiring with great interest. “More than an afternoon?”
He brought her lips to his, kissing her repeatedly between the words he spoke.
“Perhaps we shall slip away early in the morn, before anyone has the chance to encounter us.”
She grinned, returning his kisses. “We shall cause a scandal with such behavior.”
Gently he rolled her to her back. “Yes, I am certain we will cause a great affront.” His lips traveled a path downwards.
“People shall talk, you know.”
His voice was a heated whisper against her skin.
“Let them talk. I have been the ill subject of many discussions. It is of little consequence to me.”
She giggled, her hands ruffling softly in his hair.
 “Wicked man. I thank the maker that you are not so decent as some. What a dull existence that would be.”
He chuckled, continuing to worship her with his lips, his touch, and all the love he had in his heart.
Once, a long time ago, wickedness had held a truly evil connotation when attached to his name. But now he took it as the best of endearments, because he knew it was born of pure love. Her passionate kisses, her sweet embraces…each adoring look and loving word were a reminder to him of how very fortunate he was. He was deeply loved, and for the first time in his life, he felt entirely deserving of that love.
 At long last, Guy of Gisborne had found peace.


The Tempest Revisited - Chapter Eighteen

On the steps of the church, three figures stood before the priest. Guy on the right, Cassia on the left…and Stephen between them, prepared to give his sister in matrimony. The priest began, the three before him and to the great crowd gathered behind them.
“We are gathered together here in the sight of God and his bounty of angels to join together this man and this woman in a binding of life; it is an honorable estate, ordained in paradise, and into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be bound. At this day of binding, if any man do alleged and declare any impediment, why they may not be coupled together in matrimony, by God's law, or the laws of the realm; and will be bound, and sufficient sureties with him, to the parties; or else put in a caution to prove his allegation; then the solemnization must be deferred, until such time as the truth be tried.”
From nearby, a familiar voice called out.
“It is all well with us!" Matilda shouted. "Let them marry!”
There was laughter and applause from the crowd. And then the quiet resumed as the ceremony began in earnest. The priest lifted his hand to Guy.
 “Guy of Gisborne, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
 Guy nodded obediently. “I will.”
 Turning to Cassia, the priest now lifted his hand to her.
 “Lady Cassia DeWarren, wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”
 Cassia bowed her head. “I will.”
 The formal betrothal done, they advanced forward into the church, led by the priest. At the altar he turned to the assembly. Stephen took Cassia’s hand, placing it in Guy’s. Then he stepped back, merging into the crowd, watching as Guy and Cassia stood before the altar. The priest dictated the vows, and Guy repeated.
“I, Guy of Gisborne, take thee Cassia DeWarren to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”
 Now it was Cassia’s turn, and she spoke in a soft voice.
 “I Cassia of DeWarren take thee Guy of Gisborne to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”
 They let go their hands. Guy placed their rings upon the holy book, and the priest gave the rings their blessings.
“Bless these Rings, O merciful Lord, that those who wear them, that give and receive them, may be ever faithful to one another, remain in your peace, and live and grow old together in your love, under their own vine and fig tree, and seeing their children's children. Amen.”
 Taking Cassia’s ring, the priest gave it to Guy, who repeated the given words.
 “With this Ring I thee wed.” He slid it on her thumb, and next to her index finger. “With my body I thee honor.” At last he moved it to her ring finger. “And with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
 Now it was Cassia who performed the ritual, taking the ring, moving it in the same way as she repeated the words. Then they knelt, and the priest spoke once more.
“Let us pray.” All heads bowed in reverence. “O Eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name. That, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, where of this ring given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever hereafter remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
 The priest joined their hands together. “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” Then he spoke to the crowd. “For as much as Guy and Cassia have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands, I pronounce therefore that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He turned back to Guy and Cassia, blessing them. “God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you. The Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you, and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.”
 He turned them to the crowd, and as they kissed one another, a great round of applause and cheering went up…at long last announcing them, officially, as husband and wife.


   He could not keep his eyes from her. He was aware that many glances were being cast their way. Custom dictated that a bride and groom should not be excessively eager for one another. But no one else knew the power she possessed…how she could make him weak with only a look. Or even without a look. Just watching her as she sipped her drink, the delicate way her mouth touched the rim of her goblet, it made his heart beat fast…and he fought the impulse to knock the cup from her hand, to yank her into his arms and taste the wine that was shining on her lips.
 If only they could get away from all of the noise and commotion of the wedding celebration. It was all pointless spectacle, anyway. These kinds of feasts were simply an excuse for nobles to gather together, to gorge themselves on food and to drink themselves into a stupor. If he and Cassia had been penniless and without rank, they would have had a brief celebration with neighbors and friends, and then gotten on with things. It was one of the few times in his life he wished he weren’t a nobleman. Then he would not be enduring these formalities, and he would be celebrating in true fashion by being in the loving arms of his wife.
One distraction that helped to ease his mind was his nephew. Stuart could hardly contain his excitement as he ran among the guests. He had a new nurse, younger than his previous one, who kept up with him more easily. And yet he still managed to stray on occasion, and this night he made a bee line for Guy and Cassia’s table. Seeing Guy, he went right to him, holding out his arms…and Guy looked down at him, uncertain what the boy was doing.
“Up, up!” Stuart demanded.
Awkwardly, Guy picked him up, not sure just what to do with him. But Stuart positioned himself on Guy’s lap and was quite content, chattering happily and pointing at the performers doing their tricks. The jugglers and fools made him clap his little hands in delight, and when he saw the acrobats, he pulled on Guy’s sleeve and pointed.
“Look at that, look at that!” he cried, and despite Guy’s awkwardness, he found himself smiling.
“I see them.” Despite his impatience for his bride, he was quite entertained by his nephew, and it helped to distract him for the time. It was impossible to ignore the boy, for if Guy turned his attention away for more than a few moments, he would feel a little tug on his shirt or sleeve, and a demand that he look at all that was happening on the floor.
When the minstrels came out to play music, Guy saw how Stuart’s head was starting to droop, though the child kept lifting it in an attempt to stay awake. It was a sign of how very late it was, and though he enjoyed his nephew’s company, he knew it was time to say goodnight to him. He motioned for the nurse, who came to his side and took Stuart from Guy’s arms. He smiled as he heard Stuart protest weakly.
“I not tired yet. I want to stay with Uncle Guy.”
It pleased Guy to know that he was so admired. But what pleased him most about being a favorite of Stuart was that Cassia seemed to find great delight in their little bond. There was a certain look that came to her expression when she saw he and Stuart together…a look she was wearing now, her eyes shining bright with amusement and so much more.
He knew she was anxious to be away as well. It was written in her eyes when she glanced at him, for though her looks were brief, they were full of love and promise. Just when had done entirely with waiting, preparing to take her by the hand and depart with her on his own terms, she was approached by her lady-maid who leaned and whispered in her ear. Cassia smiled at Guy, saying nothing, and yet saying everything. The maid was escorting her to the room…to their room, to prepare her for the night. He would have preferred to take her upstairs himself, to lessen the time he would have to wait. But no…she was being led away and he would have to remain there, at the table, waiting until the moment when he was permitted to depart.

Cassia sat at her dressing table while Celeste removed the flowers and decorative pins from her hair and brushed it loose. It had been a long, trying day and she was glad to be rid of all the finery she had been wrapped in. Not that she didn’t love her beautiful wedding gown. It was turquoise, with tiny gold beads…almost exactly like the dress that Guy had once given her as a gift. She would cherish it always, and someday she hoped to hand it down to her own daughter. But as much as she loved the garment, it was the tight bindings underneath it that she was glad to be rid of. Now she sat in a nightdress of delicate lace, free from the trappings of a bride, waiting for her new husband.
At the knock on the door she gave a start. As Celeste went to answer it, Cassia examined herself in the looking glass and wondered why she was feeling so nervous. She knew she was not an untouched innocent, unfamiliar with a man and scared of the unknown. Feeling a bit foolish for her apprehension, she took up the brush to finish what Celeste had started. A moment later, Guy. Behind him was a male servant carrying a tray. Once the tray was placed on the small table, Guy dismissed them both, and after securing the door, he slowly turned to look at her.
He smiled, his expression soft and very warm.
“Alone at last,” he said.
She smiled back at him…and found herself looking at her hands, which were gathered together in her lap. When he crossed the floor and came to her, she felt his hands reaching down for hers. Slowly she brought her eyes up to meet his…and then she laughed, pressing her cheek against his palms.
“This feels so strange,” she declared. “I keep expecting someone to be waiting outside the door, ready to barge in and discover us.”
He smiled. Then, taking her face in his hands, he kissed her repeatedly in an expression of great joy. Passion would come soon enough. They were both giddy, still in awe of the notion that they were truly married…truly bonded forever. She squealed as he swept her up in a quick motion, reaching the bed in a few quick strides, and she giggled as he dropped her on it, following her down to stretch himself alongside her. Covering her with his upper body, resting on his forearms, he examined the wondrous beauty of her face. She sighed, a satisfied and happy sound.
“I am so happy to have you for my own,” she said.
 He kissed her softly. “As am I to have you. And I will not share you in any way, even if it means breaking with tradition.”
She smiled at that, knowing what he spoke of. While it was custom to have observers on the wedding night…to have them witness the consummation and spread word of it…she had dreaded the thought of enduring such humiliation. But in his stubborn way, he had not allowed anyone near their door. There had been an argument between he and Stephen just last night, and though she had not heard all of the conversation, she had surmised from catching several words of it that they were speaking of the wedding night. He looked in her eyes now, and his became dark and serious.
 “I was not so fond of the thought of observers in our bedchamber. The only judge of our abilities should be each other.”
She smiled for a moment…but then she sighed, and her mouth turned down slightly as a long forgotten memory came back to her. She tried to push it away by pressing her lips to Guy’s warm mouth, wanting to forget everything but him, and the here and now. But he seemed to sense her trouble, and he pulled back for a moment to look at her.
“Beloved, what is it? Something troubles you.”
She sighed. For a moment she hesitated. But then she thought again. He was her husband, and there would be nothing left unsaid between them. A tear fell from the corner of her eye.
“The first time I was a bride, there were many people…watching. It was so very humiliating. And I love you so much for sparing me that.”
Bringing his mouth to hers he kissed her possessively. Wrapping his arms around her he held her in a fierce embrace, and she held him as tight as she could, kissing him back with every bit of love she had within her heart. They parted for just a moment as his fingers untied the ribbons of her nightgown. His tone was strong, almost demanding as he spoke.
“Do not let your thoughts linger on such hateful memories. The memories that you and I make together are the only ones you will know from this day on…”

Without opening his eyes he reached for her…but his hand found only empty space. Forcing himself awake, he looked around to see where she had gone. A movement of shadow in the firelight made him look towards the hearth, where he saw her kneeling as she stirred the logs in the grate. Moving to the end of the bed, he rested his head on his arms, looking at her. She was wrapped in a silk robe, but it left little to the imagination, and in the glow of the fire, she looked exquisite.
“What a lovely vision before my eyes.”
She turned, smiling at him for a moment before returning to her task. “The room was growing cold.”
He shrugged. “I had not noticed…until you left me all alone. If you return, I shall see you are warmed properly.”
She rose to her feet, and he drank in every graceful movement as she came near. He was all anticipation, hoping she would come back to join him. But she slipped past.
 “All in good time, my love.” She walked over to the table to retrieve the tray of wine and fruit. “I am hungry. You must be as well.”
 He smirked with a naughty gleam in his eye, and she shook her head at him, though she smiled. At the end of the bed was a long narrow trunk where she placed the tray. Sitting down, she took up an apple and sliced it as he rose to his forearms. He reached out to brush his fingertips over her knee, trying to tempt her. But rather than rushing into his arms, she just smiled at him.
“You cannot sustain yourself on me alone. You must satisfy more than your lustful appetites.”
As though to disprove her statement, he moved to sit up, clearly intent on kissing her…but he was halted by a slice of apple that she playfully pushed in his mouth. She laughed, and from the remaining fruit on the tray they fed each other, whispering sweet words and exchanging heated looks. When they had satisfied their hunger for food, they put the tray aside and came back to each other’s arms. They loved each other with long, lingering touches and brushes of lips against skin. Later, they lay for some time just holding one another, exchanging an occasional caress and kiss, talking softly. Guy lay reclined against the pillows, with Cassia resting her head on his chest. Her robe had been discarded, and with a soft touch he ran his fingers along her bare back.
“You have made me so happy. I cannot fathom how my life could become any sweeter.”
She pressed her cheek closer against his chest. “There are many days and many years to come, my lord husband. I suspect that things will only grow sweeter with time, so long as we cherish each moment.”
Reaching for her, gently grasping her arms, he drew her up so they were face to face.
 “I shall look forward to each and every one.” He pressed his lips softly to hers, and she draped her slender arms around his neck, returning his tender kisses. Her voice was soft.
“Perhaps someday soon, I will carry your son. I want to give you that, Guy. More than anything.”
The corner of his mouth crinkled, and he raised an eyebrow. “What of daughters?”
She gave him a little smile. “I long for what God will bring, of course. I shall love and cherish all of my children. But every man desires a male child above all, do they not?”
He shrugged. “I wish only that they be healthy. If I am blessed with sons, I shall take great pride in them. If I am given daughters, I shall cherish them with all my heart.” His little smile broke into a full grin. “If they resemble you, they shall need many brethren to assure they are protected.”
With a soft laugh she kissed him, and he brought himself to a sitting position, winding his arms around her. He thrilled at the feeling of her arms and legs wrapping firmly around his body, as she tried to press ever closer to him. Her cheek brushed against his neck. Her voice, so full of love, was soft as ever.
“I love you, my dearest husband. I am so fortunate to have you.”
Though he did not doubt her sincerity, it felt odd to be so praised. He raised a curious eyebrow. “Fortunate to have me?” he asked.
“Yes, to have you,” she replied. “You are a good man, Guy of Gisborne.”
He sighed. He knew she was trying valiantly to convince him of his significance. But he was certain that as long as they both lived, he would never come close to equaling her worth.
“If I am anything worthwhile, it is because of you. You saved my life and my soul from darkness.”
Drawing her head back, she looked into his eyes. “I thought we would not speak of those dark days past. Not when the future now shines bright before us.”
He cast his eyes down, his head lowered slightly. “I cannot help but think of it at times. When I recall what a dark and miserable wretch I once was…”
Before he could say more, she reached up to pull his face to hers, kissing him hard on the lips. She pulled back for a moment, smiling at him. “When you start to speak of such dreadful things, I shall have to silence you as best I know how.”
He laughed softly, running his fingers through her hair, loving the silken feel of it. Looking at her as he had so many times before, marveling at her beauty, he was in awe of her perfection…both inside and out. He saw the way her cheeks blushed at his intense stare. She gave him a curious look and a little smile.
“What?” she asked.
Gently he grazed her cheek with his fingers. “Each time I look upon your glorious face, I think it impossible to love you more. But with the passing of each day, I am always proven wrong.”
Tilting her head slightly, she looked at him with a deeper smile.
“When there are many Decembers showing in my face, will you still love me?”
He smiled at her question. “You can be certain of it. And what of me? Will you still love me when I am hoary of hair and short of memory, with bones that creak whilst I moan and groan?”
She grinned, her eyes taking on a mischievous light.
“I shall love you always…especially when you moan and groan. If you were to do so now, you would hear no complaints from me. Indeed, I would be very much pleased.”
His eyes grew dark with desire, his smirk full of naughty intentions…and he saw to it that she was pleased many times before the sun rose.


More to come soon... :)
October, 1194
The night was peaceful. An earlier rainstorm had subsided, the clouds clearing to reveal a moonless but star-filled October sky. Before going to bed, they had sat together for a long time looking up at the heavens, remarking on the wonders of nature and life. There was much to be happy about and to be thankful for. Now, more than ever.
In the darkness of their bedchamber, Guy was reclined against the pillows, one hand resting against his belly. His other hand rested on Cassia's hip. She was sleeping peacefully beside him, and ordinarily, he would have been settled happily against her. But his eyes were fixed on the empty space in front of him - his mind deep in thought.
I am with child, Guy.
The announcement had shaken him to the core. But Cassia had looked at him with such an incandescent expression. Never had he seen such a shine of bliss on any woman's face before, and her feelings were contagious. His rattled mind briefly retreated from its state of shock and reveled in the happiness they shared. After their rendezvous under the stars, they had gone to bed and made tender love, with Cassia shedding tears while he held her. He wanted to be as delighted as she was. And his heart was filled with joy.
But now that he was alone with his thoughts, his repressed feelings of shock returned. And with them came a deep sensation of fear. He sighed, wishing the oppressive weight would lift, but it remained stubbornly fixed.
Cassia's voice came from beside him.
"Guy, what is wrong?"
He looked down at her, wondering when she had come awake. Had he done something to disturb her?
"Forgive me," he said. "It is nothing. Go back to sleep."
She turned over to face him. Looking up at him, she let out a breath of her own.
"I have hardly been at rest. You have expelled your breath so many times, I am prepared to smother you with a pillow."
"So I have disturbed you then. My apologies, beloved. I shall attempt to be quiet."
Pushing herself up, she leaned against him and mumbled in a sleepy voice.
"It is of no use now. I am awake, and I will know what keeps you so."
Putting him arm around her, he drew her close. "You should not worry for me." He kissed her temple. "Think only of yourself, and our child." It was his hope that she would consent and settle back into a state of slumber, but he was quite aware of who he had to contend with. He was not at all surprised when she took a firm tone with him.
"Guy, please do not attempt to change the subject. Tell me what troubles you."
Pride silenced him. How could he tell her what he felt?
"Are you unhappy about the news?"
He shook his head in denial. "Not at all. I am happier than words can say."
"Are you worried about being a father?"
"Not entirely."
"Is it me, then? Are you worried over me?"
He said nothing, but he knew that she could read him and see the answer. He felt like such a fool at that moment. Men were supposed to look upon these matters - these womanly manners - with only a passing concern. They were not supposed to dwell on their fears. And they were certainly not supposed to express their fears openly to others. To their wives, in particular.
But despite his reservations, he did not object when Cassia rose to her knees and put her arms around his neck. The soft kisses she pressed to his face were welcome, despite their inappropriateness. Did she not understand that she was bestowing her sweet affections on a coward? Clearly, it did not matter to her.
"Oh my love," she said. "Do not be afraid. This is the Lord's doing, and he will see us through. Soon enough, we will be a happy and healthy family. You and I, and our son. Or daughter."
With a shuddering sigh, he allowed himself to take pleasure in her caress. What did it matter if she knew that he was afraid? She was his wife, after all. But more than that, she was a wife and a lover who accepted him as his was. Entirely as he was, even when he was at his worst. It had always been thus between them. There would be no judgment from her, he knew. And it gave him courage.
"I cannot help my feelings of concern," he confessed. "And you must certainly share some of them. But you hide your fear."
She shook her head. "I am not afraid. Anxious, perhaps. But not afraid."
"Do you not fear the dangers of bearing a child? It is not uncommon for women to..."
He could not bring himself to say the word. Women were often lost in childbirth - a fate that had claimed Cassia's own mother. It terrified him to think that she might share the same fate, and the thought of it made him catch his breath. He turned his head away, afraid to look her in the eye. Afraid she would see the absolute terror he was feeling as memories came over him. It was enough to express it in words.
"When the cottage burned, you cannot know what terrors haunted me. I imagined you, trapped in that cellar where I had placed you. Alone. Afraid. Not knowing if fire would be your tragic end."
Placing her head against his shoulder, her voice was sad. "Oh Guy, do not speak of that."
But he went on, unable to help himself.
"When Robin Hood told me you had perished, I was tormented by the thought of it. The thought of losing you..." He pressed his lips to hers. He brushed a loose strand of dark hair away from her face. "Now I am tormented anew, presented with this latest danger."
She righted herself suddenly. "Robin Hood told you I had perished?"
"He did." Looking at her, he saw the flash of anger in her eyes.
"Well, it was the lie of a good-for-nothing! And I did not perish, husband. I am here, with you."
She settled herself under the coverlet, pressing up against him, her manner almost aggressive in its way. Taking his hand, she placed it against her belly.
"Your son rests here, Guy of Gisborne. He will come into this world and be as proud and as stubborn as his father. And you and I will live to see him raise his children. Our grandchildren."
His eyes were fixed on her, watching her as she closed her eyes and fell back to sleep...and he wondered how on earth he had ever managed to live without her.
Fearless, astounding creature, he thought. How I love you so...
May, 1195
Stalking back and forth along the length of the dining hall, Guy muttered to himself again and again. Stephen, sitting nearby with his man-servant, played at a game of tables. Now and then he looked over at Guy, shaking his head.
"You might as well cease your pacing, Gisborne. It will not make the child come faster."
Guy ran his hands through his hair, groaning under the weight of the worry on his shoulders.
"This is intolerable. I do not know how you have twice managed to endure it."
Stephen shrugged. "I was not at home when Stuart came. And Katherine came upon us so quickly that I had little time to trouble my mind. If you were wise, you would do as most men do. Seek a place at the nearest tavern and allow the wine and ale to ease your troubles."
Guy's reply was a snort. "You should know well enough by now that I do not follow the actions of other men."
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. It seemed that fate was intent on playing yet another cruel trick on him by making Cassia's labor as long as possible. Her pains had started nearly a full day ago, and like any other father, he was banished from the birthing room and forbidden to go near it. It seemed quite cold and cruel to his way of thinking, when he'd spent the last nine months occupied with few other things.
He had seen to it that she had everything she could ever want or need. He had rarely left her side through it all, parting from her only when his duties required it. But now, here he was, being forced to step aside and put his beloved wife in the hands of others. Thus far he had managed to keep his distance. But his patience was at its end. He was through with waiting.
Marching out of the room, he heard the sound of Stephen shouting after him.
"Gisborne, where are you going? You cannot go to her until it is done. You will be cursed if you do!"
Guy walked on. When Stephen caught up with him as they ascended the stairs, he turned to him with a fierce expression.
"I will know something of her progress. She is my wife. She brings my child, and I will not be deprived of at least knowing how they fare."
"But to go to her is gravely improper," Stephen said. "I have heard a tale of an eager father who went to his wife in such a way, and for his error he was later killed by public stoning."
Guy waved a dismissive hand, moving on with great haste despite the warning.
As they neared the upper room, they could hear the noise of a woman's agony. Guy's footsteps froze for a moment, the sound giving him chills. He knew that women had to endure pain in childbirth. But nothing had prepared him for this. It seemed to him that her cries were much more agonized than they should have been. Something was wrong...he was certain of it. He rushed towards the door, turning to glare at Stephen.
"Listen to how she cries out! You believe I should stand by and do nothing?"
Without pause he went to the door and pounded on it, demanding entrance. When it opened slightly, he tried to push past the young girl who stood there. But Stephen forced him back.
"Good God, man. Get a hold of yourself. Maintain your senses, will you? Matilda and Rosalyn are with her, for heaven's sake."
Guy stared at him. He could see that despite his show of bravado, Stephen was worried for her too. It was, after all, his sister. And as if he was suddenly reminded of the fact, he turned to the girl, who looked quite petrified as she shifted her eyes between the two men. Stephen looked down at her with a cool expression.
"How fares the Lady Gisborne?"
She answered with a trembling voice. "The labor has been difficult, my lord. But madam says the mother is nearly there."
From within the room there was a great cry of pain. Guy tried to lunge forward but was pushed back again, and then there was an angry shout for the servant girl to return to her duty.
"I am sorry my lord, but I must return."
Stephen nodded. "Very well. And bolt the door from within."
She curtseyed, and then the door closed...and Guy gave Stephen a shove to the shoulder. His eyes were dark with fury.
"Bolt it from within? You will keep me from my own wife?"
"Your wife is also my dear sister. But I will not allow you to storm into the room...a forbidden room, for that a fit of madness. Matilda and her aides must concentrate on their patient, and not on worrisome men."
Guy knew he was right. He hated being told what he could and could not do, especially when it came to Cassia, but he knew there was nothing more to be done.
He was a respected man now. Stephen had come to value him for his good management. The tenants and household staff respected him for his civil manner and capability as an overseer. But they did not know the source of his strength and self-assurance. It was his beloved wife who allowed him to be the man he was. She was the only person he confided in...the only one he turned to when he was troubled or in need of guidance. He often called for her opinion on business matters, knowing that her intelligent mind would help in making a decision.
But above all, she was his mate. His life's happiness depended on her, and to hear her now, enduring such torment - it drove him mad with fear. And all he could do was sink into a hall chair. And wait.
* * * * *
The door opened at last, and the young woman emerged once again.
"All is done, my lord."
Hearing the announcement, Guy rushed forward, fear written in every line of his weary face.
"How is my lady?" he demanded.
The maid nervously looked between the two men. "The mother has come through well enough. They are tending to her now."
Stephen put forth his own hurried question. "What is it? Boy or girl?"
"I am not permitted to say, my lord. The Lady Gisborne requests that her husband be the first to know, and she wishes to tell him herself."
Guy could not wait another moment. He rushed in, only partially hearing the sound of splashing water and infant mewling. He rushed to Cassia's side, where Rosalyn was adjusting the pillows and smiling lovingly down at her sister-in-law. Cassia was in a clean nightdress, her hair hanging in a loose braid. She looked quite serene lying there. But he could see how the labor had taken its toll on her. Weariness was etched in her every feature. There were dark circles under her eyes, and her smile was weak when she saw him. He fell to his knees at her side, clutching her hand and kissing it fervently.
"God in heaven, I have been beside myself with worry. Are you well? Is the child healthy? Is there anything I might do?"
She reached out to touch his face. "I shall be fine, dear husband. And our children are indeed very healthy, judging from their lusty wailing."
He started to smile...but then he realized what she had said.
Children. Not child. His eyes grew wide with shock.
"Children?" he said. "You mean there is more than one?"
Before she could answer, two servant girls came close, each holding a babe in their arms.
"We have twins, Guy. A boy and a girl."
Guy rose slowly to his feet, watching with his mouth slightly open in shock as the two tiny bundles, wrapped in linen, were placed in their mother's arms.
Rosalyn motioned for Stephen, who had been watching from the doorway. He came forward and pulled a chair close so Guy could sit. And Guy sank to the chair in disbelief, shaking his head.
"That cannot be possible. Can it?"
Cassia smiled. "It is so, my love. And they are quite beautiful. Look for yourself."
Leaning forward, he examined the faces of his tiny son and daughter. Both were bright red and wrinkled, and they were equally without a single hair on their heads. And they were so small - much smaller than he had anticipated. They looked so fragile, he was almost afraid to lay a finger on them. Perhaps sensing his fear, Rosalyn took one of the children from Cassia and presented the babe to him.
"Sir Guy, I would like you to meet your son. His name is William - named after the great conqueror, of course. And he is a very handsome lad. You should indeed be proud."
She placed the boy in his arms, and he looked down in absolute wonder at his heir.
I have a son, he thought. Good God, I have a son of my own.
Stephen came to look at his nephew as well. He smiled, and they all agreed that William was a fine looking child. As Rosalyn shifted William from his father's arms to his uncle's embrace, Guy felt momentarily bereft. But then, Rosalyn presented him with the second linen-wrapped bundle.
"Sir Guy, this is Theodora," she said. "She is named in honor of the beloved empress. Just as your son is quite handsome, so it seems your daughter is very beautiful. I think you shall agree."
When she put his daughter in his arms, he became speechless. There were no words to describe what he felt. He had always envisioned having a son and heir, but the thought of a daughter had only been a vague idea in his mind. Now he looked at her - a tiny little thing, staring up at him through half-closed eyes. For a moment, he thought of all the women he had known in his life...and how badly he had treated most of them. They had all been this innocent once, this delicate and fragile. Suddenly, he understood the protective feelings Cassia's father must have known, for he felt them now in a most intense way. Thinking of all the dangers in the world...particularly of men such as he had once was terrifying to imagine this delicate little creature in his arms falling prey to such things. Right then and there, he vowed that he nothing of the kind would ever happen to her.
From behind him, he heard Rosalyn's gentle voice directed at Stephen.
"My lord husband, I daresay we should leave this family so they might get to know one another."
Guy looked up only for a moment, watching as Stephen gave William back to Cassia. He and Rosalyn each gave her a kiss and a farewell, and took their leave. As they went, Guy carefully rose from the chair, fearful of moving too fast and frightening the child in his arms. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he looked at Cassia, who was smiling down at their son with a look of love like such as he had never witnessed before. When she brought her eyes up to meet his, that same wondrous look was given to him, and to their daughter. He shook his head, still in awe.
"I can hardly bring myself to believe it. Two children. Not one, but two. A son, and a daughter." He smiled softly at her. "Oh, the miracles you are capable of, my dearest wife."
She smiled at him, her eyes shining with tears. She was about to speak when Matilda came to them.
"You have done beautifully, dearest girl. But now it is time to see these wee ones blessed. Come, give them to me so they can be taken to church."
Guy saw the look of horror on Cassia's face. They knew the ritual regarding newborns...that they were to be taken to church and baptized immediately. Infants were so very fragile, so easily lost...and they were expected to be baptized as soon as possible to purify their souls, should they be called back to heaven too soon. They had both talked of it, and reluctantly they had agreed that it was to be done. But that had been a conversation of months ago. Now that the moment had come, Guy could not do it. He would not do it, and his decision was set in stone. He looked at Matilda, his face set in a stern mask.
"You will not take my children from this house."
Matilda stared at him, dumbstruck. "Nonsense, boy. You know they must be baptized at once."
He had known there would be an argument. But this was one he was not going to let her win, no matter how hard she tried.
"I say again, you will not take my children from this house. They have just breathed life, and I will not have them exposed to the world and its dangers. If they must be baptized, then fetch a priest here. But they will not be removed from this house until their mother deems it appropriate. Now, take them to the wet-nurse so they may be fed."
She glared at him. "You are a horse's hind-end, Guy of Gisborne."
Guy glared back at her - but the beginning of a smile was on his face.
"And you are a hard-headed old hag, Matilda. But I will have my way this time."
With a snort, she turned away from him, but he had caught the look of amusement in her eyes. Handing the children to two of her servants, she directed them out of the room, leaving the new mother and father alone. Guy turned to Cassia, who gave him a delighted smile.
"You are quite the taskmaster, it seems."
He returned her smile, holding her hand and kissing it softly.
"I am a father now, as well as a husband. It is my duty to serve and protect. Is there anything at all that you require of me?"
She reached up to touch his face.
"I only beseech you to care for yourself, and not just for me. I can see that you are weary. You must sleep."
The thought of going, especially now, was impossible to him.
"I shall not go from your side. I will sleep later."
She shook her head. "No, my love. You should sleep now. I will not have you fall ill from lack of rest."
He knew that for the sake of her condition, he was expected to sleep elsewhere until she was recovered. But he could not imagine being in another room, so far away.
"I will not sleep in a strange bed," he insisted. "I shall have a cot made up, and I will draw it near you. But I will not sleep in a separate bedchamber. I would find no peace without you beside me."
She just smiled, her eyes growing heavy. She opened them one more time to look up at him.
"I love you."
His heart swelled, the way it did each time she said those words, and he cherished each opportunity to repeat them back to her, as he did now.
"I love you, too."
Her eyes had closed, but he saw the corner of her mouth turn up. Her fingers went slack in his hand as sleep overtook her. Reaching out, he brushed her hair back from her face. Pulling the blanket over her, adjusting the pillow under her head, he wanted to be certain that she was in need of nothing, even in sleep. He would be beside her all night, and his would be the first face she saw when she woke up in the morning.

The Tempest Revisited - Chapter Seventeen

He stirred slowly, coming awake to a glorious feeling. A warm feminine body was beside him – her back pressed against his chest. His arm was draped over her waist, but wanting her closer, he strengthened his hold on her. Burying his nose in the thickness of her hair, he inhaled deeply, reveling in her sweet essence. He had been without her for so long, and the memory of their separation was all too fresh – still painful. To ease his soul, he needed her as close as comfort would allow. Briefly he wondered if he was clinging too tightly. Perhaps it was cowardly to need a woman as desperately as he needed her, but he could not loosen his hold.
She murmured in her sleep, but did not stir…and he found that for once, he did not mind. He wanted just to look at her, to think of her. In the quiet of the night, holding her soft little body, his mind was in awe of how intensely she affected him. It bordered on obsession, he knew. And he knew he could not help it.
What he felt for her was so deep a feeling, he could not express it. Not in words, and not even with kisses or the joining of their bodies. He could only look upon her, as now, and wonder how he had ever been satisfied with something less. He knew there was no way of erasing every sin he had ever committed. But God in heaven, it tore at his guts to think of all the countless women he had wasted time with. They had not meant much to him then, but now they meant less than nothing, and he wished somehow that he could wipe his memory clean.
But they were a stain that could not be erased. Those thoughts, those dark memories, were only lost when he was with the woman who slept so peacefully at his side. Needing the balm that only she could give him, he leaned down to softly kiss her shoulder. It was incredible that just that tiny bit of affection, that brief contact of his lips on her skin, was enough to bring some sense of calm to his soul.
And to spark his desire.
Lord, he was hungry for her. They had been apart for such a long time, and since his youth, he had never gone very long without a woman. In the past, he had tired quickly of his lovers. But this woman. All she had to do was look at him and his desire was kindled instantly. Just being near her, especially as they were now, his entire being was alive with anticipation.
He heard the happy little sound she made as she woke. He grinned, tenderly nibbling the skin along her shoulder and neck, and he was thrilled when she sighed with contentment, pressing back against him as she stretched.
“Mmmm. What a lovely way to be woken up.”
She turned in his embrace, looping her arms around his neck. They shared soft, tender kisses…passionate, but unhurried. And though he knew words could not quite capture his feelings, he could not fight the urge to try.
 “You are so beautiful, Cassia. There is not a one who can ever compare to you.”
She giggled softly, nibbling at his ear. “Continue with this, if you please. I am quite enjoying it.” He allowed it for a few moments. But then he pulled back, capturing her face in both his hands.
“I am being quite serious. You are such a lovely, radiant thing. At times I find it difficult to believe you are truly mine to have and keep.”
Her fingers came up to lightly clasp his wrists. “I feel the same, Guy. Every time I look at you, I feel so blessed. And after what we have endured, it is truly a gift to have this second chance.”
“And we shall not waste another moment of it. Tomorrow, I shall ask your brother for his blessing. We shall be man and wife, even if we must seek out the priest on our own.”
She pulled his face to hers, worshiping him with tender kisses, telling him how much she loved him. Those sweet little gestures of affection were as powerful as more intense displays – perhaps more so, for they reminders to him that it was more than mere lust that sparked the fires between them. He returned her kisses, whispering words he had once thought never to cross his lips.
“I love you. More than words have the power to say.”
She gave him a low, naughty chuckle. And it electrified him. When she moved in an almost feline way, her actions slow and sensual as she hovered over him, his heart began to pound. She straddled him, the softness of her legs and breasts and bottom pressing against him all at once, making him wonder if it was possible to die from love and raging lust all at once. She leaned forward, whispering against his lips.
“Deeds are more powerful than words, so they say. Perhaps we should put such wisdom to the test…
Lying atop him, her arms and legs still around his body, she felt his hands stroking her waist and lower back. With an impish little grin, she giggled.
“Something amuses you?” he asked.
Feeling giddy and particularly bold, she rose up and rested her head in her hand, her elbow supporting it on the bed beside him. Looking at him, her eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Do you suppose Marian would have pleased you?”
His expression, at first amused – perhaps thinking she was in jest – changed to one of shock, and then displeasure. His mouth formed a grim line.
“I do not wish to speak of her. Particularly here, in our bed.”
Seeing his discomfort, she was only encouraged to pursue the subject further. Marian of Leaford, even in death, had been a thorn in Guy’s side for much too long. Cassia knew, despite the intense love he felt for her, that he was still haunted by memories of the woman he had once intended to marry.
“We have spoken little of her, Guy.”
He answered brusquely. “And it shall remain that way.”
Sitting up, pulling the sheet around herself and folding her arms, she stared down at him with a look of fierce determination.
“Guy of Gisborne, you underestimate your opponent in this fight.”
She saw how he turned his head away, but she was not dettered.
“She taunts you from the grave, and you cannot deny it.”
“I have forgotten her entirely.”
“You have not. In quiet moments, she will still come to your mind, just as Edwin will surely come to mine.”
Now he turned to look at her, his eyes steely.
“Why are we speaking of these things now? We have shared a night of pleasure, and this talk is putting a blight on it.”
“Exorcise her ghost, Guy. Taunt her memory. Laugh at her. It is the only way to overcome her power.”
He snorted, perhaps thinking her suggestions to be utter nonsense. But knowing she was entirely right, she persisted. Putting her arms around her knees, resting her chin on them, an inquisitive look came into her eyes.
“Do you suppose she would have paraded about naked for you?”
His glance shot up at her. She knew she had his attention now. Suppressing a smile, she tried to pretend that her ponderings were serious in some way. She shook her head in response to her own question.
“I imagine she would have worn a high-necked nightdress even in the heat of summer, fearful of the sin of exposing her nude body, even to her husband. You probably would have fought with her nightly trying to get beneath her garment.”
Looking down at him, she met his eyes and saw how intently he was looking back at her. He was silent, but listening to her every word.
“Do you think she would have ever screamed your name when she found her great pleasure? Or I might say, if she ever found it.”
At last he responded, a slight cringe on his face – but with the hint of a smile.
“My God, Cassia. What respectable woman talks in this way?”
With her lips forming a grin, she leaned down on her elbow again, her head in her palm.
“She would probably have lain beneath you like a slab of stone, never making the slightest attempt to touch you. I wonder if she would have looked at your manhood and fainted on the spot.”
At last he smiled, and he dropped his head, covering his eyes with his hand as if trying to hide. His shoulders were shaking slightly. She had never seen him embarrassed in this way, and it delighted her. He was coming around, able to at last free himself from Marian’s invisible clutches.
“She loved Robin of Locksley. But perhaps it was not because of his heart. It was probably because his endowment was not as impressive as yours, and the smaller size was more suitable to her tastes.”
He fell over into a pillow, trying to smother his laughter. She giggled with glee, leaning over to put her arms around him. In a moment he turned from the pillow and took her gently by the arms, pulling her down for a soft but heated kiss.
“Judas, woman! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Ha!” she cried. “I find no shame in making my husband laugh and forget his concerns. If it takes a bawdy word or two, then I shall do it gladly. And now, if your thoughts turn to Marian, just think of Robin Hood and his being less than well-blessed by nature. That should certainly set your mind at ease."
He laughed heartily, a merry sound to her ears, and she kissed him sweetly. She wrapped her arms around him, and his twined around her as they shared soft laughter and whispers for quite some time.
They slept once again, close together as they had been each time before. But when Cassia woke, turning her head to glance out the window, she knew that the darkness would not remain for much longer. She was careful in removing herself from Guy’s arms. Several times during the night, she found that when she moved even the smallest distance away…to stretch or adjust her position…he would tighten his hold on her, as if he feared being separated from her. When she was out of his embrace, she crept from the bed and found her discarded nightgown. After she slipped back into it, she sat on the edge of the bed, tying the ribbons…and she smiled when she felt the weight shift on the bed behind her. A moment later she felt his arms around her shoulders, his breath hot upon her neck as he murmured softly.
“Must you go so soon?”
She smiled, leaning back against him. And she sighed. “The moon is low in the west. The servants will be up soon…and I must be in my chamber before the house begins to stir.”
Despite the words of caution, despite the knowledge that their night was at its end, neither was willing to go. Guy was more vocal in his displeasure, grumbling his protest softly against her skin.
“I can hardly endure these separations.”
 He rocked her back and forth in his embrace, as if seeking comfort from the motion. She turned in his arms, pressing her cheek against his shoulder, her arms clinging to him. She tried to sound more cheerful than he.
“I will not be so far away. We will share company in the afternoon and in the evening.”
His whisper had an urgent note to it. “That will hardly suffice.” She heard him sigh. Then, he held her back slightly to look in her eyes. “Will you come to me again? Tonight?”
Her answer was instant. “Of course. And every night, if I am able to manage it.”
He let out a ragged breath. “I can hardly wait until we are wed.” He kissed her firmly…and then he smiled. His eyes were shining with amusement. “I think it is time you made an honest man of me.”
She giggled, kissing him back, wishing she could stay…but knowing she could not. Before temptation could lure her back to his bed and his willing arms, she pulled away and rose to her feet. He followed her to the door, his fingers linked with hers, unwilling to let her leave until the last possible moment. Just before she slipped out, he grazed her cheek with his fingertips.
“Good night, my beloved.”
She clutched his hand, pressing it against her face for a long moment…and then she left, taking great caution to move as silently as she had only a short time ago.



She slept quite late into the day...and cursed herself for it. She had wanted to see Guy at breakfast, before Stephen took him out on their journey to meet the tenants and examine the property. But as she lay in her bed, thinking on the night that had just passed, she smiled sheepishly, thinking perhaps that meeting him so soon again would not be wise, particularly if others were watching them.

She had a strange wish to be a little bird at that moment, so she might discreetly follow along with Guy and Stephen and hear their conversation. Guy had said he would seek Stephen’s blessing today, and she prayed that her brother would be rational. He had his reasons for not liking Guy, but surely he would not deny her the happiness of being with the man she loved.

At her request, the maid prepared a bath and brought her a tray of food, and soon she was left alone with her thoughts. Rosalyn had said that Stephen would take her feelings into consideration. And he had made Guy his second Steward, which made her think he was at least trying to be reasonable.

 But she was well aware that marriages were not meant for love. A lord based his allowance of marriage on what he thought to be the best situation for the parties involved. It mattered not that she was Stephen’s sister. She could only pray that he would allow his heart, and not his pride, to ultimately affect his decision.

Later that afternoon, impatience gnawed at her as she took a long turn around the property with Rosalyn. Matilda was familariazing herself with the garden, particularly the herb patch. The children, escorted by their nurse, were at a distance ahead. Cassia and Rosalyn walked side by side, observing them. Stuart ran far ahead, as fast as his little legs would carry him. Then he came running back, a wide smile on his face.

“Mama…Auntie…I can run fast!”

Rosalyn gave him a loving smile, reaching down to smooth his flaxen hair. “We see, ma petit. But be careful. Do not fall.”

He gave a little giggle…and ran full speed ahead down the path.

“He is a fine boy,” Cassia said. “So handsome, and so full of energy.” She smiled, watching Stuart as he bravely managed the few steps leading down a section of the path. “He reminds me of Stephen’s temperament when we were children. He was always bold and gregarious.”

Rosalyn beamed with pride. “My son will make a fine knight one day.”

 Cassia’s smile waned. “I must confess. If I have sons, I hope that their ambitions do not venture towards warfare. I can recall too clearly how painful it was to see Stephen and Edwin gone to seek such glory. I would prefer that my sons look to commerce, or agriculture…perhaps even the clergy.”

Rosalyn looked sympathetic. But as always, her compassion was tempered by her aristocratic upbringing…her total devotion to the rules of society and of her status.

“If only it could be our decision to make, dear sister. Sons shall follow their fathers. It is a fate that we mothers cannot change.”

Cassia sighed. “Perhaps. But it is my hope that my husband directs our children on a more peaceful path in life.”

“Does Sir Guy speak to you of his wishes for the future?”

She shrugged. “At present, we would be grateful just to begin our lives together. He seeks my hand, Rosalyn. He told me he would speak to Stephen today.”

Rosalyn took her hands, joyfully squeezing them. “Oh Cassia, that is splendid news.”

 “Only if Stephen accepts us,” Cassia replied. She lowered her eyes, coming close to tears. “Without his consent, Guy and I can make no such plans.”

Rosalyn gathered her in her arms, and Cassia leaned on her, grateful for the small comfort.

As they turned back to the house, a footman appeared from within. He gave a bow to Rosalyn.

“My lady, the master returns.”

Cassia felt her insides quiver with nervousness, wondering what news Stephen would bring. Rosalyn gave her hand a gentle pat, and together they walked in, the nurse following behind with the children.

They waited near the staircase, and at the sight of Guy walking beside Stephen, Cassia’s heart beat fast. When he walked through the door, he remained at a polite distance as Stephen came forward to greet his wife and children, and to give Cassia a peck of the cheek. But her eyes remained on Guy, as his eyes were on hers. She found it difficult to restrain herself. She wanted to rush to him, to throw her arms around him and kiss him. But such behavior was not permitted, and this they both knew. He appeared cool and restrained, the way she had often seen him in those days when he had carried out his duties in Nottingham. But she knew he must have been eager to speak to her, to tell her what had transpired between himself and his new lord and master. And he was eager to express his affection. She could see it in his expression as he came close. It was in his eyes, which darkened in color as he took her hand, pressing his lips lightly to her knuckles.

“My Lady Cassia.”

“Sir Guy.”

He was not even permitted to give her his arm to escort her to the table. They had to walk side by side, as if they were mere acquaintances and nothing more. And when they spoke, it was in quiet tones and short sentences, as if they carried on a small and simple conversation of little importance.

“I spoke to Stephen.”

She tried to keep her voice calm, though she was trembling with anxiety.


Guy sighed. “He is withholding his decision until tomorrow.”

Her heart sank, and she fought the urge to curse. “This is maddening,” she declared. “He knows my feelings, and yours. And yet he remains so deliberately stubborn.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I assure you, I was not at all pleased to hear it. But for one more day, I shall maintain my civility and exercise my patience.”

“Will you tell me more of your conversation? Tonight?” Her voice held a note of promise, of anticipation…and his was the same in reply.

“I look forward to it.”

She smiled, and though she dared not look up at his face…she would find it difficult to look away if she did…she knew he was smiling too.

Chapter 22

When she made her way to his room that night, she found him standing before the fire with his arms crossed. She had not expected to him this way, looking so lost in thought, and for a moment, she hesitated to approach him. But he sensed her presence quickly, and turning to her, he gave her one of his lovely smiles. He held out his hand to her. Hurrying to him instantly, she slipped her palm into his. But rather than kissing her right away, he drew her against him, holding her close. She rested her head against his chest, wondering at his curious behavior.

“You look so pensive, my love. What is on your mind?”

He rested his head against hers. “I was just thinking of today. Of all that your brother and I discussed. There is much responsibility in the position he has given me. It would be quite a pity if the duty were to be given to another. And I will let it go to another, if he does not give his consent tomorrow.”

She leaned back in his arms, looking up at him. “Guy, tell me truly. Did Stephen give any indication as to how his decision might go?”

Guy shook his head. “I am afraid not. He was quite stoic in all that he said and did. Your brother has a true soldier’s disposition. He hides his thoughts and feelings quite well when he wants to.”

Cassia sighed. Still holding Guy’s hand, she went to the edge of the bed and sat down with him. He put his arm around her, drawing her to his side.

 “Beloved, are you certain of leaving your newfound relations? It troubles me to think that I will separate you from a family you have only just come to know.”

She buried her head against his chest as she replied. “You will be my family, Guy. You and our children.”

“I know. And the notion of a family…our family…is something I dream of. But all the same…”

A sudden pounding on the door interrupted their conversation. And then a raised voice made them both give a start.

“Gisborne! I want to speak with you, immediately!”

Guy looked at her, putting his finger to his lips. Taking her by the hand, he led her to the side door. Once she had slipped out, he walked calmly to the chamber door and unlatched it…and Stephen did not waste a moment rushing in.

“Is my sister here?” Instantly he began looking about, moving quick through the room.

Guy shrugged, his expression above suspicion. “Not that I am aware of, my lord.”

“Are you certain?”

“Quite certain, I think. Unless she is hiding here without my knowledge.”

“Well she is not in her room.”

Raising an eyebrow, Guy gave Stephen an odd look. “Forgive me, my lord, but I do not understand.”

“Never mind, Gisborne. Forget my intrusion.”

He swept from the room as quickly as he had come in. Guy closed the door behind him…and he grinned, quite entertained by this little game of cat and mouse. If he knew Cassia, she was already well away from danger. And even if, perchance, she found herself cornered, she was clever enough to wiggle her way out. She had encountered more formidable beings than Stephen DeWarren. Hells bells, she had taken on him and been victorious. That in itself was a feat worth a heap of rewards and recognition.


Slipping out the door of the opposite room, Cassia wound her way down the back stairs, through the servants’ passageway and into the kitchen. Stephen would no doubt come looking for her, and if he found her in the kitchen, it would provide a credible alibi. Taking an apple from the larder, pouring herself a goblet of wine, she sat at the table to wait, and it wasn’t long before she heard the commotion of a search. She sighed, taking a long draught of her wine. Then she heard her name being called…and she called back, not hiding the displeasure in her voice.

“I am in the kitchen, and I am quite well.”

She turned her head to see Rosalyn, Matilda, and several servants. All were standing there, looking at her. And coming up behind them, Stephen. Sighing, she shook her head.

“Is it such a crime to appease one’s hunger at this hour? I hardly think it necessary to send the entire household to find me.”

Stephen came forward, his face full of concern. “You worried me, Cassia. I did not find you abed, and I thought…”

Rising fast to her feet, she spoke before he could. “I am not your ward. And I do not appreciate being treated as such.”

She brushed past him, not caring that everyone was watching.

“Cassia, come back at once!” he demanded.

She heard him, but heeded not. She heard him telling everyone to return to their beds, and then he called out to her again as he followed her. But she paid him no mind, calmly returning to her own room and her own bed. She closed the door and locked it, not wanting to see him. But she soon heard a gentle rapping at the door. She heard his voice slightly muffled through the panels.

“I want to speak to you, if you please.”

“Who is it?” she asked, standing with her arms folded.

“You know who it is. It is Stephen.”

“Who is it?” she repeated.

“It is Stephen, Cassia. Open the door.”

“I ask again, who is it?”

There was a long silence…and then he replied, “It is I. Your brother.”

She opened the door to him, but only a space. And she glared at him.

“Are you certain you are my brother, or are you my jailer? Of late, I have a hard time distinguishing between the two.”

“May I come in?” he asked, his tone more gentle than she had heard it before. “I do not wish to converse in the hallway.”

She considered his request for a moment…and then she stepped back. But instantly she turned away from him, her arms folded defensively. “It is your home. You will do as you please with or without my consent.”

“Cassia, do not be a child.” He stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. “I came here to speak to you, and to offer an apology.” He approached her, but she sat on the bed and faced the window, giving him her back.

“Speak if you will. Apologize if you must. It does not mean I will hear a word of it.”

He walked back and forth, his hands clasped behind his back.

 “You are angry with me, and you have every right to be. But I have my reasons for all that I do. You are my sister, and I cannot help being protective.”

She rose to her feet, coming to stand before the window, her back still turned to him in silence. Still he spoke.

“I made Gisborne my steward as a favor to you. I am aware of your feelings for him, and for that reason I am willing to allow him to stay here. But you cannot know how difficult it is for me to fully accept him.”

Now she turned to him, furious.

“He is not the man you knew all those years ago! You do not know him as I do!”

Stephen did not answer. He crossed his arms, continuing to pace back and forth. Now Cassia came close to him, sitting on the edge of the bed as she looked at him.

“I love him Stephen, and he loves me. Whatever his past actions, they are simply that…past actions. He is the only man I wish to call my husband. And you know I will do anything to be with him.”

“I know that very well!”

His shout took her by surprise…and his next words nearly knocked her down. “And that is why I am allowing the union.”

She clutched the bedpost for support, completely stunned. “Are you in earnest? Will you truly not stand in our way?”

He replied quietly, keeping his eyes on the floor. “In the morning I shall make the announcement.”

Clearly, he was not pleased with his own decision. But he had consented. He had given his blessing of marriage...and she was so ecstatic, she leapt up and threw her arms around him. At first he was reluctant to embrace her, but she was too happy to care. She clung to him all the same, tears of joy sliding down her cheeks.

“Thank you, brother. I cannot tell you what this means to me.”

At last he put his arms around her. His voice was sad, and he sighed.

 “You are my sister. I cannot pretend to understand your feelings for that man…but I do not wish to battle with you. We have been too long apart for such pettiness.”

She kissed his cheek, hugging him even tighter. After several moments he withdrew himself, holding her slightly away. He placed a kiss on her temple…and left the room, saying nothing more.

When he was gone she jumped on her bed and fell back on it, bouncing like a giddy little girl.


Sitting in his chair by the fire, Guy tried his best to be patient. He had poured a goblet of wine and sat sipping it, trying to relax as he waited for her return. He was certain that she was simply being cautious, biding her time until she could make her way back to him, and he told himself that at any moment she would come slipping in like she had before. He longed to see her there, looking so soft and beautiful in her white nightgown.

But as the minutes went by, he found himself rising from the chair to walk back and forth, occasionally straining his ear in the hopes of catching the sound of her footsteps falling on the hall floor. But except for the crackling of the fire, all was silent. He began to wonder if she’d been detained in some way. Perhaps Stephen had caught her in the hallway and ordered her back to her room. But if he’d done that, then wouldn’t he be here flying into a rage? His curiosity and concern became too much at that moment, and setting his wine goblet aside, he moved to his door and eased it open. Peering out into the hall, all was dark silence…and he made the decision to go in search of her. If she couldn’t come to him, he would go to her. Perhaps it was a foolish thing to be slinking about in the dark as he was, boyishly eager to be with the woman he loved. But he had hardly seen reason since those first yearnings he’d had for her, and there was no point in being sensible now.

 In the gallery between the guest quarters and the family apartments, he paused at the glow of a candle across the way. Stephen was leaving Cassia’s room. It seemed it was just as Guy had suspected…her brother had sent her to her chambers and probably ordered her to remain there. His eyes narrowed bitterly, feeling a surge of anger at the baron’s treatment of his sister. Brother he may have been, but he was treating her more like a ward. Stephen had been treating her as such ever since Guy had first known him…and he was growing tired of such disregard. Although he had never been a man of easy temper or great patience, for Cassia’s sake he had tried to tolerate Stephen’s overbearing ways.

But enough was enough. In the morning, the baron would make his decision about the marriage. If he allowed it, then all would be well. But if Stephen refused it, then by God, he would take Cassia and run with her to find the nearest priest.

Let not that which has been joined together by God be parted by man. So said the scriptures, and so it would be.

He waited a few long minutes, giving Stephen ample time to reach his bedchamber. When he was certain all was safe, he moved to her door and stole into her room, latching the door behind him. He turned to see her sitting up on her bed, a slightly stunned expression on her face…but she was quite pleased to see him, judging from her little smile. He wondered at her happy mood, if she had been confined to her quarters. But he could not help smiling back at her.

“I waited for you,” he said in a whisper, crossing the floor quickly. “But patience has never been one of my strongest virtues.” On the edge of her bed she rose to her knees, holding her arms out, and he hurried to her embrace. The warmth and softness of her body never ceased to temper any ill feelings he had. Stephen was instantly forgotten. The thought of all other things was replaced by the contentment of having her in his arms. Then she spoke, softly and tenderly, her tone full of great joy.

“He said yes, Guy. He is allowing our marriage.”

He pulled back for a moment, his eyes widening slightly in surprise. “Are you quite certain?”

 She nodded, clutching the back of his neck to pull him close for a kiss. Winding his arms around her, they fell down on the bed together, embracing and sharing small heated presses of their lips.

“He is not altogether pleased with himself,” she said between kisses. “But it matters not. He has given his blessing.”

His words were muffled slightly, his lips exploring her neck. “Thank God for that.”

“No more sneaking about like criminals in the night. Now we can be together just as we wish to be.”

He raised himself up, looking at her. “As often as we wish to be?” He stroked her cheek, and smiled at the daring look in her eyes…the crooked little grin she wore.

“Very often, I hope.”

He brought his lips to her ear. “Believe me love, if I had my way, we would hardly set foot outside our bedchamber.” He felt her shiver when he placed a kiss just behind her ear…and his heart beat fast with delight when she giggled.

“You are a brazen, debauched man,” she whispered, laughing softly at the same time. “And I never want you to change. Stay just as you are, you wicked beast.”

She clung to him tightly, and as he put his head upon her shoulder, a deep feeling of tranquility came over him. For the first time in his life, he looked to the future with a complete sense of hope. There was no fear, no despair. He closed his eyes against a wave of great emotion that came over him. He loved her so very much, and at last he knew that she truly was his…and that she would always be.

 “My Cassia,” he whispered. “My love and my life.”


After the wedding announcement was made the next morning, the manor became a whirlwind of activity. The happy couple, having been openly introduced as being engaged, would have enjoyed some time to themselves, but the chaos of nuptial planning left little time for anything else. They would be wed in a fortnight, which meant that every moment was precious. Cassia was immediately summoned to make decisions about her bridal attire, leaving Guy to begin his new duties as steward. To say the least, it was a hectic time.

But they continued their late night meetings…neither of them willing to relinquish what time they could manage together. The only trouble was how quickly the nights passed. Guy in particular was growing frustrated with the limitations.

“Nine days feels like an eternity,” he lamented, as they strolled through the garden one evening. “I shall be very glad when we can be done with these formalities and nocturnal meetings.” Then he gave her a wicked little smile. “Not that I mind our little meetings. I just wish we did not have to be so secretive.”

The happy look faded from her expression, becoming more solemn. She sighed. “Guy, I think it best if I keep to my own bed for a time.”

He paused in their walking, making her turn to look at him, and his face was full of disappointment.

“Why?” he asked.

 She hesitated for several moments. But after a bit of prodding from him, she made him bend down so she could whisper the reason in his ear, and then her face flushed pink with embarrassment. His own expression was one of shock, for as many women as he’d known, he’d never dealt with their womanly troubles before. The subject made him quite uncomfortable. But when he saw the mortified look on Cassia’s face, he tried his best to be understanding.

“You are a woman, after all. Do not be ashamed. We shall wait until the time is right.”

They continued on in silence, and he expected her demeanor to change with his attempt at consolation. But she continued to frown, and he knew there was something more that troubled her.

“Beloved, what is wrong? I do not like to see you forlorn.”

She sighed, her tone sad. “I was hoping to be with child. And this means I am not.”

It was a long moment before he replied, and when he did, it was with his own outlet of breath. “I see,” he said gently. After another brief pause, he tried to change his tone to a more pleasant one. Gathering her in his arms, he rested her head on his breast, stroking her back. “Do not be distraught, my love. We will have children soon enough. I am certain of it. And what is more, they will be born in wedlock. I am sure that thought has crossed your mind at times. And while you wait and hope for our own children, you can take delight in your niece and nephew. They are quite fond of you, from what little I have observed.”

Now she smiled…he could hear the change in the little sound she made as she leaned against him. And then he found himself being the one who frowned.

“I fear they do not feel the same about me. Stuart, in particular. He flees when I look at him.”

She chuckled. “I have seen that. And I think perhaps he’s not certain what to make of you. You can be quite intimidating, you know.”

“Yesterday, he gave my leg a swipe before he ran away.”

Cassia pulled back in his arms, looking up at him. “Really? He must have been trying to test himself. Mock charging, like young animals do. I would not be surprised if he makes more attempts. And when he does, you should encourage him. Come down to his level in some way. Let him see that you are not so frightening.”

It was a strange thing to imagine a child not being afraid of him, and he had to wonder if Cassia would be right in her suggestion. He had spent so many years being a monster in many a youngster’s eye, and he was quite uncertain if he could shake the reputation, even now. But when he thought about his own children to come, he decided that he should attempt to right those past wrongs. And what better way to learn than to interact with a child who was at hand. When Stuart came along the next time, Guy vowed he would be ready. Even if he looked foolish in his attempts…even if he failed in some aspect…he would try and learn for Cassia’s sake, and for the sake of the family he wanted to have someday. He had failed in so many aspects of his existence thus far, but his future with his wife and family was a precious gift. They would be his chance to start his life all over again, and he didn’t intend to let this opportunity pass him by.


Over the next week, Guy was quite busy as he helped to settle several property disputes that had come about with some of the tenants. The matter of getting to know his soon-to-be nephew was quite far from his mind, as he was rarely in the house before dark, and the children were already in the nursery when he returned.

While Guy was quite occupied with his work, the house continued to be a hive of constant preparations. Additional help had been brought in to assist with the numerous tasks to be done, and each member of the house had their own jobs to do. Only the children were exempt, and Stuart took the opportunity to run from room to room, bouncing on beds and ducking under tables to watch all the activity. There was such a feeling of joy and lightheartedness all around them – and in his heart, Guy was fearful of it.

He had spent nearly all of his adult years in darkness, dispensing punishments for the sake of his duty, and trying appease the guilt he had always carried about his mother’s death. He feared that this great happiness was too good to be true. And he feared the loss of it.

One evening, on his way back from a tenant’s farm, he passed the church where he and Cassia would be wed, only five days hence. He found himself drawn to the quiet temple in a way he had not been before. In former days, he had avoided any and all places of religion unless he was required to be there. Guilt had often been his companion when he set foot upon a sacred place, and many times he had thought it certain that the eyes of a higher power were looking down on him with scorn. Anger and doubt had struck him at other times, making him wonder if there truly was a God when all he saw around him and felt for himself was misery. But now he felt that the time had come to seek a reconciliation with his maker. Standing in the silent chapel, looking up at the light streaming through the stained glass, he was humbled. Kneeling at the altar, he closed his eyes and bowed his head, saying a silent but sincere prayer.

Merciful Father. Grant me forgiveness for those sins which I cannot undo. Give me the courage to do what is right, to live one day at a time and to enjoy each moment. Let me trust in you to make all things right if I surrender to your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen.