Gisborne . . .

He rode along without saying anything and then,

'He rode along without saying anything.'

‘And why are you interested?’

‘You are my travelling companion.  We have had experiences that I will remember forever and not for pleasant reasons.  In addition, you know about me.  In the interests of some sort of comradeship, surely I may know a little bit about you?’  I tried to pose the question as respectfully as possible.  Again there was a prolonged silence.  To say that I thought he warred with himself about what he should and should not say was an understatement.

‘I needed employment.’

Short and to the point.

‘You needed employment?  Gracious.  Since when do sons of the nobility need employment?’

‘Again this idea that I am a noble.’

‘Deny it then.  Tell me that your courtly manners and your education are a product of a lowly upbringing.’

A very small smile appeared and I felt the warmth of it across the breadth between us.  ‘Honestly Ysabel, you are like a horsefly.  Apart from swatting you away, one can’t get rid of you until you have your bite.’

‘At least I am plain Ysabel now,’ I muttered.

If he heard he made no comment.  What he did say opened up a discussion that filled the miles left until we reached Le Mans and which left me with the wind quite taken out of my sails.  ‘I am noble born,’ he said.  I am the son of Sir Phillip of Gisborne and the Lady Ghislaine.  Like yourself, Ysabel, I am an only child.’

‘Why aren’t you at Gisborne then, helping your father manage his estates at the very least?’

‘Because there are no estates left to manage.’

I gasped and pulled my mare to a halt.  ‘You say?’

He sighed and I could see the story hurt him deeply.  ‘My father went to the Crusades as a Templar knight. He . . . renounced his marriage and passed his possessions over to the Church.  Admittedly he sought a guarantee that my mother and myself should be housed and some of the monies from the estate should go to our welfare, but the Church was so much bigger than my father and a year after he left for Jerusalem, my mother and I were turned off Gisborne.  We sought to travel to Normandy to my mother’s family, but she caught an ague and died in a small priory near the south coast of England.  As for my father, he is still alive I believe, if you call the way he lives a life.  Somewhere near Jerusalem, he leads the life of a leper . . .’

My breath sucked in.  ‘Guy . . .’

‘He may know of his wife’s death, I do not know.  The Knights Templar seemed to lose interest in him once they had our estates and once my father became a leper.  So you see, I have nothing, Ysabel, and yet I am noble born.  I am the son of a madman who had an obsession that he could secure a passage to Paradise if he joined the Knights Templar and fought in a Holy War.  Thanks to him my mother died in ignominious circumstances.  My own future is what I make of it.  I took employment where I could find it and because I am noble born and educated, I have been the squire for many nobles.  But I do not stay long with any.  I leave whilst I am respected and liked and I work my way up the chain.’

Once he started, it was as if he were in the confessional, words flowing from him, dripping in uncamouflaged bitterness.  His face was as rigid as a piece of cut marble

'His face was as cold as a piece of cut marble . . .'

and I found I hardly blamed him.  In truth I was a little afraid of the coldness with which he told his story.

‘I said to you once that status is power.  Thus I work my way to knighthood.  Have no doubt, I shall be knighted and recognised and shall have lands and wealth.  And no one, not any single man, shall ever take from me what I see as mine.’  We rode on and my heart sank just a little, for bitterness is a hard nut to crack.  ‘I have no doubt this is not what you wished to hear, Lady Ysabel.  But you now know with whom you travel.  If it offends you, I apologise.  But it is what I am.’

I didn’t know how to respond.  I had lost my mother, but she died in comfort in the magnificent Lady Chamber as they all called her room at Moncrieff.  I still had my father and he hadn’t disavowed himself of me, and Moncrieff was still the family demesnes.  I had led a charmed and spoiled life at Montrachet in Aquitaine, where my father’s wealth and that of my mother’s family meant I wanted for nothing, least of all status.  How could I possibly understand what he felt?

‘Have you never wished to find your father?’

‘I know where he is.  There is a leper order, the Order of St.Lazarus outside Jerusalem.  It’s a hospitaller order run like the Knights Templar and they care for themselves and others who have the illness.’

‘Then he is a man to be admired.’

‘He had no choice.  He was a Templar and he was a leper.  It was join the Lazarus Order or die on the streets of Jerusalem.  I feel nothing but disgust for him.  He effectively killed my mother.’

‘You should forgive him, Guy.  He will die a terrible death.’

‘He will have the other monks around him to hear his final confession and give him his rites.  He does not need my forgiveness.’

I felt to ask him anything else was to open wounds that he was trying desperately to heal.  Heal and forget?  I doubted it.  Guy of Gisborne was a man who would never forget.  Of that I was sure.