Gisborne . . .

The dirt stained the cloth that had been left for me and the water in the bowl looked as if it had been collected from a moat.  I craved a warm scented bath, for my nails to be clean, for my hair to once again fall in a silky swathe.  But it was not to be and I could see myself arriving before my father so travel-stained that I doubted he would recognize me.  There was a chance he might not recognize me anyway as it had been three years since I had seen him.  But worse, I had gleaned a subtext from Vasey’s words; that my father was not himself.  He could have lost his mind with grief, he could be a soak, he could be anything but the man my mother had loved.  I turned from the bowl to reach for clothes . . .

A firm knock sounded at the door and Guy’s voice broke my revery.  ‘Ysabel, open up.’

I stayed quite still, wrapped in a rough sheet provided by the inkeeper’s wife. Vasey’s man.  I did not want to see Vasey’s man.

‘Ysabel, for God’s sake grow up and answer the damned door.’

'Ysabel, for God's sake, grow up ...'

Grow up?  Grow up, you think? I grabbed a cover off the bed and threw it around me like a cloak and pulled at the door-handle.  ‘What?  Damn you, Gisborne, what? Have you not left yet to walk in Vasey’s shadow?’  I glared at him, my forehead taut with tiredness and frustration.

He pushed past me, slamming the door behind.

‘How dare you enter my chamber,’ I hissed as I stepped out of his way, my fingers holding tight to all my coverings.  ‘What do you think the innkeeper will say?’

‘The innkeeper thinks you are my wife and that we have had a dispute.  If he is listening I dare say he is smiling.  So you can rant and rave as much as you like but you will merely fuel his enjoyment if not mine.’

‘Your wife!  Good God above, I would never be your wife.’

He sneered and the coldness of his expression was something I was seeing manifest more and more and was growing to dislike, even to fear.  It presaged a dark side of him, the side that I couldn’t plumb and which threw me off my stride so often.  ‘And Madame, I would not have you as my wife, not till hell freezes.’  He threw a bundle on the bed.  ‘Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, we can deal with business.  There are some clothes.  The innkeeper has a meal for us.  When you have completed your toilette, I shall await you downstairs.’

‘I am not hungry.’

‘God save me, Ysabel, why must you be so childish?  We haven’t eaten a decent meal for days.  It would serve you to eat well and then sleep long because our vessel departs at tide’s turn in the late morning.’

‘All I require from you,’ I said as I tilted my chin, ‘is the name of the ship on which I shall sail.  Your responsibility to me ends with that.’

‘My responsibility ends when I hand you to Baron Geoffrey.  Unfortunately for both of us, that is still some two weeks hence.  Like it or not, it is the way of it.’

The way of it?  How so?  Do you make some choice between myself and Vasey after all? Whether I wanted to or not, I looked at the man who stood before me and felt something shift beneath my feet.  My treacherous feelings pushed at my self-control.  Even his proximity unsettled, nay unseated me.  I was awry.  He reached for the bundle on the bed and shook it out, holding a long white linen chemise for my inspection.  It was beautifully worked on the hems and must have cost much more than he had.  I looked to the rest of the bundle and gasped.  A midnight blue, finely woven kirtle draped like a shadow across the edge of the bed, its folds pooling on the floor.  A cloak of the same shade but edged in black fur lay underneath and a boot fell to the floor, black kid, good enough for traveling.  He pulled the other boot from underneath the bundle.  ‘There are smalls as well.’

I blushed as I reached for the chemise he offered me.  Our fingers touched, the slightest glide of one hand over the other.  I would swear he left a searing burn behind and I looked up swiftly from the closely woven linen.

'Our eyes met ...'

Our eyes met and his were as dark as the blue of the new kirtle, darkening more by the second.  He moved then and it broke the spell.  ‘I will leave you to dress, Lady Ysabel, and await you below.’  He bowed his head slightly, as if we had just met, and left, the door closing quietly behind him.

My equilibrium rippled and the eddies crashed around me.  I had utterly deceived myself.  I wanted to hate Guy of Gisborne but it was far too late for that.  Better that I should hate myself. All I could do now was hide my ridiculous longing. As I had thought before, I would not dream of placing myself in a position of rejection.  No – I would be civil, grateful for his care.  In two weeks it would be over and I could follow my Moncrieff life, whatever that may be.  Guy could follow his star.  It irked me that the star may be polished by Vasey’s spittle, but there was little I could do.  Guy had made his choice.

I grabbed the damp cloth and scrubbed my body again until it reddened.  To place soft smalls against my skin and then the quality chemise and kirtle, I wished to be as clean as I could manage.  I placed one nail underneath the others, scraping until they were almost spotless.  I would have loved some perfume; attar of roses or some extract of lily of the valley . . . anything to take away the smell of horse and road, even death which had stalked alongside us these last weeks.  But there was nothing until I slipped on the first of the clothes and smelled lavender.  Each garment had obviously been stored in a chest with fragrant herbs and the scent was delicate and lifted my spirits.  The soft wool of the kirtle fell from my breasts and as I reached for the ankle boots, I noticed an emerald and aqua girdle lying in a shy heap.  Picking it up, I ran my fingers over goldwork that edged the peacock feather design.  It was a glorious piece of Saracen needlework and I wondered where he had purchased it.  Against the midnight of the gown, it made a statement of wealth and privileged nobility.  How, Guy?  More importantly, why?

With the bowl and cloth, the innkeeper’s wife had left a rough wooden comb and I began to work through my hair, removing tangle after tangle.  Oh, it was so dirty, itchy, oily, after days on the road but there was nothing I could do about it.  A final comb through and I plaited it, twisting the plait loosely atop my head, resurrecting whatever I could of a style that I remembered but had no looking glass to check.  I would have liked my Montrachet goods, my petite but loved collection of jewelry, my own ivory comb, but they were gone.  Carried away by our attackers, by Wilf’s and Harry’s murderers.  My stomach growled as I recalled that dreadful moment and I realized it was time to eat.  Time to go down the stair.  Time to meet my escort.

The gown wafted around my ankles, its folds heavy and moving rhythmically with each step.  As I negotiated the stair, I grasped the fabric so I would not fall, progressing slowly, recalling the grace that I had learned at Montrachet.  Guy stood at the bottom with his back to me but the stair creaked and he turned.

I did not imagine the glance that came scorching up the stair toward me.  Guy of Gisborne stepped closer

'Guy of Gisborne stepped closer...'

and held out his hand and I laid my palm in his.  It should probably have felt cool because the stair was breezy and dark and I daresay he had waited for me for some time, but in fact it was warm, a shocking touch that vibrated up my arm.  My breath sucked in and I held it, unable to breathe as he bent over my hand and kissed it.  The pressure of his lips was like a butterfly wing-beat and when he spoke, his voice reached in and touched every secret part of me.

If I was a castle wall, I had been well and truly breached.