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 with her.
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 anything.
“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.