From a distance, he saw her through the open
window of her work room – a little stone outbuilding covered in ivy and
jasmine, located behind the kitchens. A mortar and pestle in hand, she was
occupied with some manner of preparation. Medicine, perhaps. Or spices for the
kitchen maids to use in cooking. Watching her there, doing what she did with
such skill, it touched a certain place in his heart – taking him back to when they
had first met. From his sickbed, years before, he had watched her do these very
same things. He watched her now as he had then, hoping she would look at him.
And she did, if only for a moment. She gave no smile. But there was a softness
in her expression – one he knew well, and it was an unspoken gesture of
invitation. He could approach without fear of a rebuke. So he did, though
warily. As she went about her work, he came to stand in the open doorway, just
watching her for a few moments before saying something.
were not abed when I woke this morning.”
Putting down her mortar and pestle, she wiped
her hands on her apron, her back to him. She reached for a clay pot, filling it
with the powder from the bowl.
“I was at prayer,” she answered him.
He bristled at the evasiveness of her reply. She
never went to morning prayers without him, and never before the sun rose.
Unless something was wrong. Or unless she had done it just to get at him,
knowing he would wake up and be upset to find her gone, which was precisely
what had happened. Such behavior was typical of a woman. But he dared not say
so out loud. Matters were already tense enough between them.
“You went so early?”
She replied with another evasive answer. “Yes.”
He grumbled under his breath, frustrated. But
just as he was near to losing his patience, she spoke in a quiet way, with
“Forgive me if I angered you last night.”
He stepped further into the room, unsure of how
to act or what to say.
“If I dishonored you, that was not my intent,”
she said. “I should not have dismissed your concerns as I did.”
What was this? Did she play at some game? Did
she truly believe the fault had been hers? When she turned to look at him, he
felt a sting of pain when he saw the look on her face. Reaching out, he took
her gently by the arms, drawing her closer.
“I should not have spoken harshly, beloved. It
was my own fault.”
He felt her head pressed against his chest, and
the roundness of her belly against his. His heart swelled with tenderness and pride.
“You could never dishonor me.” He kissed the
top of her head, relishing the contented little sound she made. She was happy
again, and it pleased him. But he found his own pleasure tempered by the very
feelings that had started their quarrel. Frowning, he said to her what he had
feared to speak of. But he knew it needed to be said.
“I dishonored myself with my cowardice.”
She leaned back in his arms, looking up at him
with those lovely dark eyes, full of love and tenderness.
He always felt safe in her arms. Stronger. More
sure of himself. Withdrawing from her embrace was always difficult – painful,
even. But this time, he felt he must. Turning away, he stared out from the open
“I am what my father always condemned me for
being. I am small and weak.”
Cassia came to his side, a look of concern in
her eyes. “Guy, I do not understand.”
“Last night,” he said, “You told me I should
not be concerned. And your meaning was intended to ease my fears. But in my
foolish and prideful way, I let it strike at the very nature of my own
Taking his hand, she pressed it to her cheek. “Oh,
Guy, my love.”
He turned to her. The feeling of her soft cheek
against him palm was wonderful, and he brought his other hand up to join it,
cupping her face in his hands.
“Your courage astounds me, Cassia. There is
little that you fear. But my own fears overwhelm me. What manner of man am I to
be so cowardly?”
“To fear is not to be cowardly,” she replied.
He sighed, his heart full of love – his soul
full of self-loathing. Turning away again, he went out to the stone bench just
beyond the doorstep, needing the air to soothe him. She came to sit beside him,
as he knew she would. But she said nothing, giving him the freedom to speak.
She deserved to know what sort of weakling she had been saddled with – even if
she was already several years into the bargain.
“I am your husband. I should fear nothing. I am
not meant to seek comfort from my wife, and I am certainly not meant to speak
of my worries and fears. I am to carry myself always with courage. As a knight
would prepare for war.”
These confessions of his worries were not new
to her. She had always loved him in spite of them. But he found he could not
help being haunted by them. Was he less of a man because of them? That, he knew
deep down, was what he truly feared – that one day, she would come to harbor a
secret contempt for him. He could not bear the thought of it. She clung to his
arm, leaning her head against his bicep.
“To fear is to be real, husband. To fear is to be
human. And to admit to it, with honesty – I think it the greatest show of
There was such genuine love in her words. No
trickery, no deception. The corner of his mouth crinkled up.
“You do not think less of me for it?”
He knew the answer already. But he was eager to
hear it, and to feel the caress he knew would accompany it. Her arms tightened
around his waist.
“No, my love. I do not think less of you. I am
honored to have a husband who cares for me as you do. Your worries for me are a
great emblem of love and devotion. Not every wife is so fortunate as I.”
She was such a contradiction. A tougher and
more hard-headed woman he did not know. She had the heart of a warrior, so it
seemed to him. And yet, she was a soft, warm, sweet-scented woman – so
delightfully feminine, especially with her belly so round with their coming
child. She was delicate and vulnerable in this state of being. No matter what
strengths she possessed, she could not elude fate if it chose to be cruel. He
spoke in a hushed tone against her hair.
“I would be lost if anything were to happen to you.”
“I tell you, Guy of Gisborne, as I have so many
times. You will never be without me.”
He smiled, his spirits buoyed by her
confidence. Desiring the sweetness of a kiss, he placed his hand on her cheek,
preparing to lean in – until she made a sudden noise, as if something had
disturbed her. But there was a smile on her face.
“Oh, my!” she said, softly laughing. “Our child
is restless. I can feel him repositioning himself.”
Placing his hand on her belly, he could feel the
movement, even through the material of her dress. Leaning down, he placed his
cheek there so he could feel it more easily. Since the first time he had
experienced this wondrous sensation, during her first pregnancy, he had made a
habit of doing it. A part of him wished it would urge the child to be born – as
if it needed to know of his closeness and to feel his eagerness about the
arrival. And he knew that Cassia loved it when he was so genuinely involved.
“Have your fellows discovered that you possess
such sweetness?” she asked, her fingers in his hair.
He rose up, smiling at her. “They know nothing
“So it is still my secret, then? Mine alone?”
He nodded, kissing her lips. “It remains yours,
and only yours.”
“How delightful. And I hope it remains so. I am
the only one permitted to find such joy in you.”
“Speaking of joy,” he said, pressing his lips
to her neck. “I wonder if we might go on a walk together. Down to the lakeside.
Just you and I.”
Leaning back to look at her, he expressed his disappointment.
“Why not now?”
Her answer was a smile. “Because today is the
day you gift the children with their ponies. Thea has been asking every day.
You cannot deny her any longer.”
He sighed – but it was a pleasant sound,
accompanied by a grin. “Very well. But tomorrow, it is I who will not be
denied. Remember that, wife.”
“Yes, yes,” she laughed, pushing him away when
he tried to steal another kiss. “No more kisses, Guy of Gisborne. Go, and do
your duty as a father.”
Reluctantly, he left her side. But he looked
back as he went, seeing her as she returned to her work. Through the window he
saw her looking back at him – and then she pulled the shutters closed. But not
before giving him a cheeky look. He walked away, his steps light and his soul
From the shadows of an archway, which led to
the gardens and eventually the orchard, he stood leaning with a shoulder
against the wall – observing. The holiday dictated that there was no work to be
done, so all were free to do mostly what they pleased – the only necessity
being that they stop on occasion and give thanks to God. In silence, Guy
uttered a word of gratitude for the ones he now gazed upon. Thea and William
were playing at some game with their nurse, running about and engaging in much
silliness. Seated on the bench that encircled a great oak tree, Cassia sat with
her lady maid and Matilda – all of them engaged in the business of tending
herbs. For Cassia, it was an everyday chore, but she did not think of it as
such. It brought her pleasure. And it pleased him to know that his wife was not
one to require costly or extravagant indulgences. His beloved – a very great
lady, as Frances had remarked. But the most humble and earthy of creatures. He
let out a deep sigh, wondering how and what his actions should to reconcile
He heard a familiar squeal as Thea came running
to him. She launched herself at him, grasping his leg.
“Pappa, where have you been?”
Her nurse looked nervous as she followed
several steps behind, holding William’s hand.
“Mistress Theadora,” she said, “You must not
run and make such unseemly noise! Tis’ most disrespectful and unladylike.”
Claudia was a capable nurse, and she did the
best she could. But with a charge such as Thea, one could understand the
enormity of the challenge she faced. Guy looked down at his daughter, who gave
no answer. But he knew her well enough. In her silence was her defiance,
offering no apology for her outburst of joy. Such a stubborn little thing she
was. And in that way, so much like her mother. Though she favored him in almost
every way, there were moments when he saw much of Cassia in her. Hard-headed
females, the both of them – and both were in absolute possession of his heart.
Still, he was firm with her.
“Your nurse is correct, daughter. You must not
be so wild. Learn from your brother and be calm and obedient. Do you hear me?”
She looked up at him, her blue eyes shining
with a hint of sadness. Being scolded was not pleasant, to be sure, and he
understood it. But he was pleased when she nodded, quietly accepting his
correction. She was, at least for the moment, quiet and subdued – as children
were supposed to be. As William always was. Wearing a slight smile, he picked
him up and held him close, patting him on the back. William spoke in his quiet
way – and with a certain boldness.
“She did not mean it, Pappa.”
Guy’s eyebrow rose in surprise. “You are loyal
to your sister, despite her wrong-doing?”
William said nothing – just staring with his
big blue-grey eyes. He was perhaps too young to understand the meaning of the
word, but he clearly had the sense of what loyalty was. Smiling with pride, he
kissed William on the forehead.
“Such goodness and honor. I could not ask for
more of my son.”
Putting him down, he turned to Thea and gently handed
her over to her nurse.
“Now off with you both,” he said. “The morning
is fading into afternoon. Eat your noon-time meal, and then prepare yourselves
for midday prayers.”
He watched them go, then turned back to
observing the occupants sitting under the oak tree. He felt a moment of
disappointment when he saw Cassia and her maid walking away. But he let her go,
unwilling to make a fool of himself by chasing after her. Soon enough, he would
find her and they would speak. So his eye focused on Matilda, who was sitting
with her head lowered as she concentrated on her work. Her long white hair was
half obscuring her face. Her back was curved – more noticeable these days as
she seemed to age more and more. Her hands were withered. But they continued to
work, and he knew that despite an outer shell that seemed to be fading fast,
she was as wise and ornery as ever. He was careful in his approach, as always.
Despite their friendship, she was not still keen on bold behavior, such as he
had exhibited in the past. To approach in desperation or anger? No, that would
not do. She would either deride him or shout him down. No, he would go to her
as calmly as possible. So he did, approaching without a word – silently taking
a seat beside her. He waited for the right moment to come.
“What have you done, boy?”
He hesitated a moment before answering, and
then with an air of innocence. It would not do to make haste in admitting
“Why do you assume that anything is amiss? And
why do you assume it is I who have erred?”
With deliberate slowness, she turned her head
to look at him – her eyebrow raised slightly, a sly look on her face. There was
no fooling her. He had known that from the start.
“Cassia and I had a difference of opinion,” he
said. “That is all.”
“Oh? A mere difference of opinion.”
She shook her head, turning her eyes back to
her work. “You lie, Gisborne. And very badly.”
He uttered a curse under his breath. “What
manner of wizardry ever created a woman’s intuition?” he grumbled. “How do you
know I do not speak the truth?”
“You are a fool,” she snapped at him. “It has
naught to do with a woman’s intuition. I saw my Cassia shedding a tear this
morning. And I have not seen you following her as you do, loping along behind
her like a love-struck puppy. Tis’ not difficult to see the obvious.”
Such a thought should have occurred to him, he
realized. He and Cassia were aware that open affection was frowned upon – even
condemned in some circles. For the sake of others, particularly their children,
they tried to temper their expressions of love. But it was, in truth,
impossible to disguise every look and touch. And it was clear as day when they
were at odds. He looked at Matilda, giving her a little smile.
“Is there nothing you do not know?”
She answered with a grin. “Very little.”
For a few moments they say in silence, and his
expression became serious again. He lowered his head, looking down at his
hands, clasped together between his knees.
“Tell me, if you will. Did your husband ever
express his concerns to you?”
He shrugged. “His worries, his fears. Anything
that might have troubled his mind.”
Matilda answered with a snort. “What a strange
question! What man has the courage to attempt such a thing? Certainly not mine.
He did as all men do. He found his courage in a pint.”
As I thought, he said to himself, and he let out
a sigh. Why can I not be so indifferent?
Twould be far less complicated. Love and marriage had such complexities – in
this relationship, especially. He worshiped and adored his wife. She was his
heart and soul. At times, he was overcome with the depth of his feelings for
her – and at times, like now, it terrified him. What manner of man, he
wondered, was afraid of his own feelings?
“You are courageous, boy,” said Matilda,
seeming to sense his inner struggle. “Cassia has often told me so.”
He shook his head, a sad note in his voice. “She
is wrong, Matilda.”
Such a statement seemed to fill her with
indignance. She sat up straight, glaring at him with a stern and prideful look.
“Nonsense! My Cassia is never wrong. Go to her
now, and she will tell you so.”
He wanted very much to go to her. And had she
not been with child, he would have done so in a moment. He remembered with some
fondness the early days of their relationship – the volatility of their passions,
both in love and battle. Everything was different now. Not that they lacked
passion. Oh no, they desired each other more than ever. But there was a
tenderness that was more prominent now. A softness and depth had emerged. At
times, such feelings still made him uneasy. He thought of what Matilda had seen
– that Cassia had been crying that morning. What if she was still in such a
state when he went to her? He hated the thought of seeing her in tears.
“I have no wish to burden her,” he said. “Her
condition is delicate.”
“A common misconception,” she corrected him. “A
woman who is with child must be cautious, no doubt. But God gave her great
strength – enough to endure the heavy burden of bearing children. Surely she is
capable of listening to her husband’s explanations.”
He hesitated for a moment – until he felt
Matilda pushing at him. “Go on, boy. She is waiting for you.”
Was he capable of refusing? He quickly deduced
that he was not. He needed to make peace with Cassia, and with himself – or face
the wrath of Matilda. Looking at her as he rose to his feet, he smiled - his
decision already made for him.
It was just before dawn, and her place in bed
was empty. He stared at the space for a long moment.
Stubborn witch, he thought. More stubborn than any woman born.
She had not said a word to him since last
night. After she had turned away from him, he had tried to do the same – giving
his back to her and saying nothing. But as the silence had lingered, it had
grown into a gnawing frustration. His anger had burned out with the snuffing of
the candle flame, but his stubborn pride had convinced him to lay there in
silence, feigning indifference – until the silence had gone on too long. He had
been too harsh. He admitted to being so, though not in words spoken out loud.
But he was certain words were not needed. She knew him well enough to expect
the occasional foolish outburst. And he knew her – which caused him a moment of concern. The changefulness of a
woman was a bewildering thing, and he did not pretend to understand it. Turning
to her, he had studied her for a few moments, contemplating what to do. For a
moment he had considered talking to her – if she was awake. She had been
silent, but that meant little. Like him, she had probably found it hard to
sleep. Maybe she was lying there quietly, just waiting for him to speak. But he
found himself unsure of what to say. Physicality came more naturally to him.
Easing himself closer to her, he had gently pressed his body against hers,
desiring her warmth and scent.
The rebuff was instant and harsh as she shook
him off. And to further pain the wound, she had moved away from him, almost to
the edge of the bed. Clearly, she had not taken the quarrel lightly, and her
response was typical of a woman.
Torture with silence
and torment with rejection, he thought.
He had not made another attempt to touch her.
But he had hoped to reconcile their dispute when they arose at dawn. She could
not avoid him then, and she would not make fools of them both by erupting into
an argument in front of the servants. He had fallen asleep with the hopeful
prospect in his mind and heart.
But he was awake now, and she was gone.
His first impulse was to go and search for her.
But he quickly decided against it. More than likely, a few hours had not been
enough to calm her. Throwing back the coverlet, he turned and sat on the edge
of the bed, and rubbing his face with his hands, he muttered out loud.
“Damn all women.”
“Pardon, my lord?”
He looked up and saw his valet standing there.
Frances, ever vigilant of his master’s needs, was ready with a fresh set of
garments and polished boots. Such dedication was expected of him, and he rarely
disappointed. But it occurred to Guy that he had never acknowledged his man’s
loyalty. Not that he owed him such a kindness. But he felt a strange desire to
be more communicative that usual. They hardly spoke beyond the usual commands
given and taken between a master and servant. But at that moment, he felt no
wrong in letting the barriers of status lessen, if only for a few moments. The
two of them were, when it came down it, just men. And Frances was married to
Beatrice, the housekeeper – so surely, he knew something of it. He sighed as he
walked to the wash basin, with the servant in step behind him, waiting as Guy
washed up for the day.
“How long have you been married, Frances?”
“Sometimes it seems interminable, my lord.”
“But it has been a happy union, has it not?
Despite the occasional trouble?”
“It has. Because…”
The hesitation was not unexpected. Lords of the
manor were not often known to have such conversations with their servants, and
Frances was probably wondering what had come over his master. But as Guy rubbed
his face dry, he pressed for an answer.
“Well, man? Speak!”
Frances hesitated a moment longer before
replying in a soft voice. “My father once bestowed upon me, in the greatest of
confidence, the secret to understanding a woman. A wife, above all.”
“And that secret was?”
Frances seemed to wear the hint of a smile as
he answered. “Choose to be right, or choose to be happy.”
Guy could not help being amused by the remark.
He sighed as he pulled his shirt over his head. But the sigh was not an unhappy
sound. His mood had suddenly become lighter.
“We men are hopeless Adams, are we not? Destined
to be swayed by an Eve, despite our better judgments.”
“So it seems.”
A quiet fell between them as Frances helped him
finish dressing. And it was broken by a surprising remark. One that might have
“Yours is a very fine lady, my lord.”
Frances seemed rather nervous as he knelt down
to assist Guy with his boots, and Guy looked at him for a long moment, thinking
about the declaration. It was daring for a servant to make such a remark about
the lady of the house, and perhaps Frances expected to be corrected for it. But
there was such truth in the words – the intention clearly meant to compliment,
and Guy was generous in his response.
“She is, Frances. She is indeed.”
The conversation had not solved the matter. But
he felt better able to manage things now. And with Matilda’s help, perhaps the
matter would be concluded altogether…
of St. Nicholas was waning, and the happy evidence was all around. In the air,
there were the mingled scents of pine boughs and a grand feast – a civet of
hare, a quarter of stag which had been a night in salt, stuffed chicken,
roasted goose, and lamb. Beyond the meats, there had been hard-boiled eggs covered
with saffron, sliced cheeses, and breads. For dessert, there had been cakes
drenched in honey, fresh fruits, and plums stewed in rose-water. Despite the
hearty appetites of the entire household – of nobles and servants alike – there
was quite enough left over. The Mastiff dogs had certainly partaken in the
abundance of food. The three of them lay together, stretched out before the
roaring fire – their bellies filled with the remains of roasted goose and lamb
and all else that had been dropped to them under the table. The table itself was
now being cleared of empty trenchers and goblets, as well as what remained of
the meal. But it certainly would not go to waste – not if the lady of the house
had anything to say about it.
his seat near the fire, Guy closely observed his wife. Despite being heavy with
child, she was just as active as ever. Despite his concerns over her condition,
he found something of satisfaction in seeing her go about her duties – ordering
the dishes cleared, telling what should be disposed of immediately and what
could be salvaged. Some of the fruit could be made into jellies. The bread
loaves could serve as trenchers, and much of the remaining food would be given
to the hungry and homeless. Nothing was to be wasted – not even the fruit and
cheese rinds, which could be made into extracts, infusions, and cleaning
elements. Onion skins could become cooking stock. Pomegranate peels were of
particular use, being valuable as a dye for cloth.
now and then, Cassia would turn to look at him, and he was granted a joyful
smile. Looking at her now, he delighted in the sight of her round belly, grown
large with their child. She was one of the most cheerful people he knew, with a
mischievous sense of humor, and a laugh that tingled his senses and set his
heart to fluttering. One of his greatest pleasures was kissing her while she
laughed. When their lips met during a moment of glee, he always felt a great
rush of giddy pleasure.
are hopeless, boy.”
voice broke his revere, but did not dampen his mood. It only shifted his
attention to her, sitting beside him. Her head was lowered as she concentrated on
her needlework, but he saw the crooked upturn at the corner of her mouth.
you no shame in eyeing your wife as you do? You look upon her always like a dog
wanting a leg of mutton.”
could not deny the truth of that fact. And only she was permitted to make such a bold observation. They had long
ago ceased with any true animosity, but it was amusing to pretend that it
remained. Theirs was a friendship more akin to a bond between two men – full of
brash retorts and shows of false bravado. He sipped his wine, not attempting to
hide his smile behind his cup.
are you? I doubt you ever knew such admiration.”
scoffed. “Hah! I bore seven boys, so do not speak to me of admiration!”
pity the poor fellow who was chained to you in matrimony. No doubt he found
much peace in his journey to the world to come.”
your tongue, Gisborne. Or I will curse you with an entire house full of female
offspring, all of which will look like me.”
gave a snort, making a reply of mock disgust. “God forbid.”
moment later, he felt Cassia’s hand on his shoulder.
is this noise between you two?”
but the ramblings of an old hag,” he replied.
the slobberings of a mongrel,” Matilda shot back.
smiled, shaking her head. “Do you two never tire of sparring?”
rose to her feet. Guy felt a pang of concern as he watched her slow and
deliberate movement. Her advanced age was showing, and in a certain way, it
bothered him to think of her as actually being
old. But there was one consolation to be found.
tongue was as sharp as ever.
down to retrieve her stitching, she replied. “Cassia my child, I could settle
this matter with a heavy rock to his thick skull. But you seem fond of the
wretch, so I will let him live.”
smiled as he watched her give Cassia a kiss on the cheek. And as she passed him
by, she smiled at him – and smacked him on the back of the head. It did not
hurt, truly, but still he reached up to massage the back of his head. Cassia
came to his side and put her hand on his arm.
tired, husband. I think I shall retire for the night.”
will join you,” he said, linking her arm with his. As they went up the stairs,
he put his arm around her, supporting her. She endured many difficulties in
making their house a happy home – filling it with life and love in her own
special way. She rarely complained. She was expected to suffer in silence,
despite what she might have been feeling, be it physically or emotionally. And
as her husband, he was expected to maintain an emotional distance from her
during such times. She did have, after all, a household of females to rely on
for anything she needed. Indeed, one of them – her lady maid – was not far
away, following at a respectable distance behind. But as he was wont to do, he
dismissed such a thought – out loud, with a frown and a curse.
smiled, and eyed him with a curious look as they entered their bedchamber.
I troubled you in some way?”
shook away his darker thoughts. His voice and smile became soft.
are a constant trouble, wife. Much like your beloved Matilda.”
thinks very highly of you, Guy. And you think well of her, though I am not sure
if you will say so.”
crossed his arms, watching with rapt attention as her maid started helping her
take down her hair. The process of this unveiling had fascinated him since the
early days of their marriage. Despite the distraction of observing her, he went
about his own ritual of the night as his valet helped him prepare for bed. They
continued to talk as she went behind the screen to put on her nightdress.
must admit to having an affection for Matilda. She has shown great devotion to
me and mine. Without her, this life we know might never have been.”
voice was slightly muffled as her nightgown was pulled over her head. “Tis a very
great truth, my love.”
emerged from behind the screen, his reaction to the sight of her was a familiar
one – a slight intake of breath, a quickening of his heart and his pulse. Lord
above, he loved the sight of her with her hair down, and he felt the first
stirrings of lust – until he saw her hand go to her belly. Her face twinged
slightly in a sign of pain. His smile turned to a concerned frown.
is it?” he asked. But he wasn’t surprised when she shook her head and tried to
a slight discomfort. It will pass.”
maid helped her into bed, the weight of her belly making her movements awkward
and difficult. Once she was comfortable, the servants left and they were alone.
He felt her head against his shoulder – usually, a precursor to tender or
passionate moments. But it was different this time. There was tension in the
air. Felt only by himself, perhaps. But it was there just the same.
you always pretend where your well-being is concerned?”
looked at him in that way of hers. Calm. Confident. “I am very happy, my love.
Humor me.” Touching his arm, she leaned in to kiss him. A temptation, to be
sure. But something inside him – a rare spirit of husbandly sternness – rose
up, making him lean back a space, just enough to keep his lips from hers.
will not humor you this time. Speak,
wife! Is your time upon us?”
shook her head, not bothered by his very serious look and manner.
Guy. It is several weeks away. I am certain.”
then, these moments of pain I have seen on occasion. You had them the previous
time, did you not?”
did. So you should not concern yourself.”
tone of voice displeased him greatly. It seemed she was telling him, in her own
subtle way, that her condition was none of his business. And perhaps that was,
in essence, the truth. But it was a truth he had grown tired of hearing, being
constantly reminded of it at every turn. She was always kind about it, of
course, and usually he was content to be mollified by her kisses and gentle
touches – her sweet words of reassurance. But there was something in him at
this moment that resisted such mollification. And she seemed to sense it.
something wrong, Guy?”
expression grew closed, almost dark. “Nothing. You say I should not concern
myself, so I will act accordingly.”
is not what I meant,” she said. “I only meant to say that you should not be
worried for me. I am well and happy, and you have nothing to fear.”
should be heartless and cold? Am I to feel nothing?”
sharpness of his tone was stronger than he wanted it to be. But he found he
could not help it. She sighed – a sound of weariness.
are talking nonsense, Guy.”
not a fool.”
abruptness of his words stirred her. She sat up, looking at him.
not say you were. Why do you twist my words around?”
aware of your true meaning.”
shook her head. “This is nonsense, husband. Let us make peace. What has come
Angry. In the back of his mind, he knew very well what an unreasonable beast he
was being. But pride and fear had a hold of him, and without considering his
words, he looked at her coldly.
should not concern yourself.”
I am a monster, he instantly thought, shaming himself, and he
found he could say nothing as they stared at one another. Her look, however,
was enough of a scolding.
I should not.”
the coverlet forcefully, she wrapped it around herself. She blew out the
bedside candle with an overly strong puff of her breath, and turned her back on
was hurtful, but he knew he deserved it. She had every right to be hurt and
confused by his behavior, and clearly she was, as well as being angry. But how
could he make an explanation to her, when he himself could hardly understand
what he was feeling? His emotions had overwhelmed him so. He had an odd desire
to speak to Matilda at that moment. A healer, a sage. She would no doubt have
harsh words for him if he confided in her. But her words would be wise ones,
which was precisely what he needed…
She smiled up at him. In the soft glow of
candlelight, she was always beautiful. But after the act of love, there was a luminescence
about her that was indescribable. He leaned down and kissed her shoulder, not
wanting to think about anything else.
“I have no desire to please them, or anyone
else. I please only myself. And you, of course. Always you.”
“I must away by morning.”
No, no, no, He thought. Surely she was in jest.
But he could see in her eyes that she was entirely serious.
“Why must you?” he demanded.
“Because I came unannounced. I cannot appear
before the household and guests without causing offense. They will think it too
bold of me.”
She could not go if he did not allow it. Moving
so that his head was on her shoulder, he put his arms under and around her,
firmly and possessively.
“You are my wife. Only my opinion matters.”
He felt her nails gently stroking his back. She
was soothing him. He knew her touch well enough to sense it.
“That is all very well here, when the door is
bolted and we are alone. But you know matters to be otherwise.”
Against her shoulder, he grumbled his
frustration. “I must maintain the pretense of a proper nobleman. I am permitted
to find pleasure in war and gaming, and the occasional tumble with a kitchen-maid
or mistress. That is acceptable to my fellow noblemen. But to have the great
pleasure and privilege of lying with my own wife? That is frowned upon.”
A sigh escaped her. “We live in an unforgiving
world, my dearest husband. One in which you are permitted to indulge in vice
and pleasure, but not in something so pure as love. And I am permitted even
less. I must be obedient. I must be quiet and matronly. I must not enjoy my
husband’s attentions, but according to the church I must endure them as best I
can – merely for the sake of creating heirs.”
There was a note of sadness in her voice that
he rarely heard. At times, he forgot that she suffered much the same restraints
of society as he did – the same frustrations, and in truth, more so because she
was a woman. She was merely better at disguising her troubles. Still holding to
her, he moved so that he was leaning back against the pillows, and she was
resting against him. He touched his hand to her face, smiling at her. He wanted
her to smile back at him – not to linger in sadness.
“Is it wrong that I sometimes look forward to
the hope of heaven with you? Where we will know only peace and joy?”
The pleasure, the sunshine, came back to her
eyes and lips. The corner of her mouth turned up. “I share your longing for
that marvelous world to come. But right now, we are bound to earthly customs.
And we must cherish what joys we are permitted.” Leaning in, she softly kissed
his lips, and he spoke as he kissed her back, repeatedly.
“So you must depart before the sun rises.”
She replied with a nod – and made a little noise,
rather like a sound of frustration. “Feign an illness, Guy, if you must. That
will bring you home to us.”
How he adored the little rebel in her! One
moment following the rules, and urging him to do the same, and the next moment
she was plotting something mischievous. But he knew what he had to do, whether
or not either of them liked it.
“It is a tempting diversion. But no. I have a
duty to my child – to see that nothing jeopardizes her future. I must be loyal
to my host, and remain.”
As she kissed him again, there was a familiar change
in her eyes and manner. It was the devil coming out in her, and his body and
soul reacted instantly as he watched her sit up, her thighs tightening against
“Then let us not waste the night talking. Let
us make memories that will console you while you tend to your duties. And when
your friends ask about the little smirk that will be on your face, you can tell
them the complete truth.”
He grinned up at her. “And what is that?” he
asked, placing his hands on her hips and pressing her down against him,
creating a pressure that set him on fire.
them that you spent the night rutting with a beautiful woman, and that they
should be mad with jealousy…”
The fortnight had at last ended, and the guests
had all gone their separate ways. Cresting the top of the hill, Guy brought his
horse to a stop. A grin lit up his face. Home – just a short ride away. It was
a glorious thing to see. But even more glorious was the sight of the little
party advancing towards him. A dark-haired woman, two dark-haired children, and
a pair of Mastiff dogs. The beast must have caught his scent, for they started
to bay and run, and the children followed quickly. Thea was the first to reach
him just as he slid down from his horse, and she flew at him, wrapping herself
around his leg.
“Pappa, you have been away so long!”
Scooping her up in his arms, he kissed her
cheek. “Yes, I have. But I am home now.”
He barely managed to finish his words before
she blurted out with excitement…
“Guess what, Pappa? Mamma will have another
Cassia had approached, but stopped just short
of them when she heard the exclamation.
Another child, Guy thought – stunned by the news.
But in a moment, entirely delighted. He found it most difficult to contain his
joy, but seeing the look of displeasure on Cassia’s face, he kept his true
feelings in check. Clearly, this happy news had been meant as a surprise for
him, and their daughter had just ruined it. Not intentionally, perhaps, but the
secret had been spilled all the same. Thea tried to explain herself.
“But it is true, Mamma! I heard you say it to
Reaching up, Cassia gave her daughter’s ear a
“What is spoken between adults is not to be
repeated by children!”
Thea’s face fell, her smile replaced by a
frown. “I am sorry, Mama.”
He knew she was not a heartless or malevolent child.
She was merely impulsive – a trait he admitted to giving her, so it was not entirely
her fault. And it was difficult to be stern with her. He was blissful at the
thought of another child soon to come – the wonderful prospect of his family
growing. And his daughter was delightful looking at that moment, with her round
cheeks growing pink with shame, and her head tilted down in a guilty fashion. Still,
he had to remember his place as her lord and father. Her head was lowered, and
Guy reached out to grasp her chin, making her look at him.
“You were merely excited. Am I correct?”
She blinked and nodded. “Yes, Pappa.”
“But you did not consider the consequences of
your actions, daughter. You were thoughtless, and such behavior is deserving of
a sound thrashing.”
He saw the flash of fear in her eyes. But knew
her well enough. She was not one to give in until there was no other option.
She would try to use her charms – attempt to ease her way out of the
predicament. He was not surprised when she leaned her head on his shoulder,
talking very softly.
“I do not want a thrashing, Pappa. Please
Such a clever little
thing! He said to
himself, almost breaking into a smile. She was not even three years old yet, but she already knew how to manage what she wanted. Both she and William could already talk in full sentences, and he delighted in their intelligence. But for the subject at hand, he kept his face like stone.
“You will not do it again? You will not listen
to the conversations of others and then speak of them without invitation?”
“No, Pappa. I will not do it again.”
For a moment, he considered punishing her just
to be certain she would keep her word in future. But he decided against it. His
heart was too light for such weighty matters. But he kept his voice stern as he
spoke to her.
“Consider yourself fortunate that this secret
you tell pleases me. Otherwise, I would not spare you the rod.” Putting her
down, he gave her a solid smack on the bottom. “Now run along, naughty imp.”
As she hurried away to play with the dogs, he
tuned to look at William, who was leaning against Cassia’s side. His son was so
very different from his daughter. They looked the same, as far as their
features went, but they were entire opposites. Well-behaved, calm and kindly –
that was William of Gisborne. Guy looked at him, raising his eyebrow in a show
of mock inquisition.
“Well, my son? Did you know of this as well?”
William shook his head, righting himself to
stand tall in his father’s presence. “No, Pappa. But I…”
The pause was intriguing. One always wondered
what he would think to say. Quiet he certainly was, but he had a way of
speaking that showed wisdom beyond his years.
“But what?” Guy asked.
“Is it cruel to hope for a brother this time? A
male child might be far less troublesome.”
Guy saw the beaming smile of amusement on
Cassia’s face. He saw her hand press to her belly. And he did not care at that
moment who might be watching or judging, or listening. Laughing heartily, he picked
William up and placed him on the back of his horse. He gave him a gentle pat on
“All women are troublesome, my son. Never
He felt her eyes changing, even without looking
at her. Turning, he saw the look on her face that he had known would be there.
Her head was tilted slightly, her hand resting on her hip.
“Except for your mother,” he said, grinning at
her as she came to stand beside him – and she gave him a hard slap on the
backside. He heard William giggle, and Guy let his full smile show. As he led
his horse with one hand, his other hand held Cassia’s as they walked along. She
smiled lovingly as she looked at him.
“It is marvelous to see you this way. One of
the greatest things I long for in this world is your happiness.”
Leaning over, he kissed her temple. “You are my
happiness. You and this family. And today, I care not who knows it. Damn the
world! I may smile for many days yet, whatever the judgement to come.”
When Thea came running up to him, he snatched
her up and put her upon his shoulders. It was entirely unseemly, and not at all
elegant for a girl to be carried so. But for once, he had not a care in the
world, and all those around him would share in his happiness – the consequences