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, speaking...in Latin...to 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... :)
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?"
"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...
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 matter...in 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 been...it 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.