Gisborne . . .

Guy reached over my shoulder the next day and hoisted my saddle onto Monty’s back and I pulled the girth under the belly and cinched it up.  Seeing that Guy had saddled his own mount and was even now amongst the merchants holding the animal by the reins, I took the opportunity to find a boulder on which I could place my foot and then stretch to the stirrup and climb aboard.  All without attracting undue attention.

The long hours lying awake through the night had done nothing to ameliorate my feeling for Guy.  The truth was that I wasn’t sure I trusted him.

'The truth was I wasn't sure I trusted him . . .'

Had he perhaps known that Moncrieff was lost and chosen not to tell me?  Why?  Because he said he would have nothing to gain.  Without Moncrieff in my father’s hands, he would not be paid for escorting me back to England.

But some part of me wondered if there was another option – that he truly felt some sadness for me.  That news about Moncrieff and my father’s inexorable weaknesses on top of the death of my mother might tip my emotional state.  But if he felt so kindly toward me, why then did he let that snake Vasey go? I watched the way his mind worked as he held that knife to Vasey’s throat.  I saw his hand fall and Vasey walk away a free man.  That was not the move of a man who cared for me, who cared for my emotional state.  It was the action of a man who weighed consequence and erred on the side of . . . what was it again?  Ah yes, status and power.  Two conditions apparently lacking in my own life.

The thoughts chased themselves around in my head and Monty took it upon himself to turn toward the merchants’ group and join in as we received the command to move off.  Guy trotted up beside me but I was studious in my contemptuous avoidance.  And yet I had to be honest with myself if not my escort.

My heart was breaking.

On so many counts.

My mother, my icon, was dead.  I had lost what little love and respect I had for my father.  I had lost my home, my fortune . . . my future.  And the final straw had been realizing how I had misjudged Guy of Gisborne.

I was so naïve.  I had thought there was a heart there, valour.  But bring him to a pecuniary choice over a moral choice and his true colours showed.  It had reminded me of another man I knew of, one my mother had talked about.  Luca may have been a man she loved once, I do not know.  But he did something shameful and dishonest, placing his friends, his compatriots and my mother under threat.  He had ended by taking his own life, apparently jumping from the battlements of my mother’s familial home in Aquitaine.  No wonder she had opted for my weakling unambitious father.

But to return to Gisborne.

He chose Vasey over me and I would never forget.

I barely noticed the country changing.  Monty carried me completely in his care.  The reins hung loose and I lived in amongst the tangle of my thoughts.  My main concern was what I would find at Moncrieff.  Who was this Baron de Courcy?  Where was my father?  In addition Vasey had said my father had made a little deal on the side.  What sort of deal?  I tried hard to envisage the demesnes, to imagine what else on that valuable estate my father might have bargained with.  There was a stream reputed to have gold in its ripples and tumbles and I wondered if my father had somehow managed to maintain a share in whatever was panned in the shallows.  That at least would give us both a roof over our heads.  A roof, where? There was a village, Tamerton, a few leagues away from Moncrieff Castle but part of the estate.  I recalled an unassuming manorhouse that could suit our purpose.  But would De Courcy let us live in a house that effectively belonged to him?  Would he allow us to remove some former family possessions for our own use?

I thought of my mother’s things; her jewelry, her Book of Hours, her basket of embroidery threads, embroidery frame, lute.  Surely it was my inheritance.  I wanted everything.  Everything she had owned.  Not for its financial value but because everything was redolent of her spirit, her mind . . . her heart.  What had my father done with her things?  If he had done nothing, if they were still in her chamber, what might de Courcy have done with them?

Every thought built on the previous one and my hands twisted on the reins as tightly as the bands of muscle began to tighten around my head.  We rode steadily until midday and I noticed not at all.  Unaware that Monty had dark sweat stains on his shoulder or that Guy still rode stirrup to stirrup next to me.  I would have continued on as all around me halted if Guy’s hand had not reached for my reins.  Mary Mother, how many times has he done that in the last few weeks? I looked at his gauntleted hands and for one weak moment my heart twisted as I thought of what could have been and what wouldn’t be.  My eyes turned to him, I couldn’t help it, but I could read nothing there; a statement perhaps of things as they now were.  As a penniless dependant, I was at best a tolerated responsibility.  At worst a despised nuisance.  ‘You are frequently a liability, Ysabel.’ I could hear his voice.  Whatever, no situation sat well with me and I preferred not to imagine in detail what it was to him.  My situation was repugnant and my headache strengthened accordingly.

Dismounting for our midday break, bread and cheese again, I noticed we had reached the coastline and were tracking north along a coast road.  The land fell over cliffs of gut-wrenching height and far below, I could waves crashing with rhythmic ferocity against the rocks.

A whisper sounded close to my ear.  ‘Don’t step too close, Lady.’

I shivered.  ‘Would that be a threat, Vasey?’ I replied in an undertone.

‘Take it any way you like,’

'Take it anyway you like . . .'

Vasey replied.  ‘I should hate to have to report your death to your father.  Where would that leave Gisborne?’

I looked about to see if anyone observed me speaking when I was supposed to be dumb.  Reassured, I stared into those nasty eyes.  ‘What happens to Gisborne is of little concern to me.  More to you I would imagine.  You and he seem to have tied yourselves to each other.’

‘Vasey.  Sir.’  Guy strode between us.  ‘Do you look for me?’  Gisborne gave me a quick glance.  ‘Get about your business.  My horse’s girth needs loosening and I would like some food before my stomach forgets what my mouth is for.’

As I left I heard Vasey laugh.  ‘No please or thank you?  You carry this little game further than it needs be, Gisborne.  Why don’t you just hand the chit over to the merchants and let them see our Lady Moncrieff to England?’

I didn’t hear Guy’s reply but when I looked back I saw Vasey’s face creep into an expression of ridicule and he made some comment in response to whatever Guy said.  They talked a little longer and then I saw Vasey offer his hand as a knight would do.  Gisborne stood immobile for longer than was polite and then returned the clasp and for me, that was the nail in the coffin of Guy’s and my earlier relationship.

That afternoon’s ride continued at the same pace and for some leagues we had seen the walls of Calais in the distance.  For me it couldn’t approach quickly enough.  Oh, I had such vague plans.  I could offload Gisborne and sail to England alone.  If necessary I would hire a bodyguard.  With what shall you pay him, dear Ysabel? Indeed I thought, with what?  I had relied on Gisborne to pay for everything till now, believing he used my father’s coin.  But what coin?  I swiftly turned from the thought that he had paid from his own pocket, kindly, in the belief that he would be reimbursed on his return to Moncrieff.

Finally the troop, all one hundred and sixty two, halted two by two beneath the gates, Richard’s colours fluttering in the seabreeze.  The Watch hailed us, the gates rolled open and we moved slowly at a clinking, clattering walk until we merchants brought up the rear and the gates shut behind us.  The army continued on to their quarters and Vasey’s troop wheeled to the right to I know not where.  Nor did I care, wishing that Vasey would drop off the face of the earth.  We merchants looked around and then departed on horseback looking for places of rest.

Guy kicked his horse on, calling over his shoulder to his squire.  ‘Follow me.’  He hailed the other merchants, wishing them well and walking over narrow cobbled streets toward the smell of the sea.  Most fortuitously we were alone.

Guy turned underneath an arch and into the rear yard of an inn with its own livery and he seemed to be known by the ostler.  He jumped off, his strong thighs taking the strain of legs that must have been almost as tired as mine.  I followed, but my knees folded and I stumbled against Monty’s wet sides.  The ostler went to take him from me but I held the reins back.

‘No.  I would do it myself.  Thank you.’

Ysabel, you don’t have . . .

‘But I do, sir.  He has been loyal and caring.  It is the least I can do.  I owe him.’  Make what you will of what I say.

‘If you must.’  He followed me into the stalls and tied up his own horse, unsaddling and grabbing whatever he could to wipe away the sweat.  The ostler watched bemused.  I could see he was unused to merchants strapping their own mounts.  But Monty deserved this and when he was dry and cooled, I made sure he had fresh water and a good feed and finally spoke to Gisborne.  ‘Where is my room.  I wish to wash and replace my clothes and then I wish for you to inform me on which boat I am to travel.  That is all I ask of you and I wish answers only to those questions.’

‘Ysabel . . .’

'Ysabel . . .'

I brushed past him and walked swiftly to the entrance to the inn where we were shown to our separate rooms and as Gisborne moved to walk into my chamber behind me, I slammed the door shut in his face.