Gisborne . . .
I spent time huddled in a corner of the deck, a cloak wrapped round fending off the damp of the ocean. Guy took his share of the watch in the dark hours. Just he, Davey and a skeleton crew whilst the others yawned, snored and filled the spaces around me with their odour.
If I lay down I could hear the sea hissing past the planks of the Marolingian.
‘Ysabel,’ it whispered, ‘Ysabel.’
‘What?’ I felt like shouting. ‘What are you trying to tell me?’ But it just kept repeating ‘Ysabel, Ysabel,’ as though I didn’t know my own name.
I thought about de Courcy and why he chased me. Guy maintained it would be something to do with the titles to Moncrieff, that perhaps my signature was a matter of importance before the transfer could occur. Odd but a possibility nevertheless. There were other possibilities but nothing seemed to sit so heavily as this: Father had signed away Moncrieff. Which brought my thoughts back to the beginning again: why did I matter to de Courcy ? I remembered back to Vasey’s revelation in the army camp. When he told me that Moncrieff was to be ceded, he added an aside: ‘If the gossips are to be believed, there is another little deal on the side.’
How naïve I was to think such an arrangement would be as simple as my father sharing in the mining of river gold. Stupid, stupid Ysabel. No, the little deal on the side was me I was sure. My mad, thoughtless, inexorably weak father had not only given up his estates in payment, I swear that in some way or other, he had given up his daughter like a piece of coin. By the Saints, I hated him. How I wish he had died instead of my mother.
I looked back to the time before Gisborne had arrived at Montrachet and I realized how ignorant and immature I had been. I possessed some useless accomplishments but no experience of life or death and no understanding of the gross side of human nature. Now here I was, swamped by the realities of gambling, deceit and . . . I thought of Wilfred and Harry . . . murder. It was the difference, quite simply between Heaven and Hell.
I sighed and turned over. I lay on a bed of mildewed sail and faced one of the wooden ribs of the ship, reaching out a finger to touch it. It was smooth, as slippery as silk except for that mark there, and another. It was too dark to see but I tried to trace them and in my mind, decipher them. My finger went over and round, over and round. That and the sounds of the boat, the creaking of the planks, the sighing of the wind through the stays and the ever-present ‘Ysabel, Ysabel,’ of the water lulled me into an oddly dreamless sleep.
And so two days passed. Me with my circular thoughts, Guy working as a member of the crew, the sea-fog persisting. If I saw Guy at all, it was as a shape through the mists. He’d be bending to a task, laughing with the crew or in intense discussions with Davey. He would appear and disappear like an enchanted being. Once he glanced up and caught my gaze.
There was no smile, but our eyes met and held and I knew that he, like I, was remembering our night together.
Davey had ordered the sail lowered a few hours after the mists enveloped us. All sound was muffled and we could hear nothing of our pursuers. The men took their place at oars that were well-greased with seal-oil. Guy sat at the third portside oar and when Davey signaled, for no voices were allowed, he pulled with the rest. He half stood, his broad shoulder taking the strain as the oar scooped down into the water and up again. But then the mist drifted across him and he vanished and my heart skipped a beat. It was like being on ghost ship, with shapes appearing and disappearing, a silent ambience with only a faint splash as the oars dipped. The water sighed along the planks but there was no other sound. Ghosts from past and present. I wasn’t sure if I felt intimidated by the pervasive atmosphere.
At one point we heard rhythmic tolling and Davey jumped down to the rowers. He spoke softly but all appeared to hear. ‘Starboard oars pull. Port oars hold.’ The vessel juddered and began to shift slightly to starboard. The port oars joined in, we moved forward a few lengths, then the starboard oars were stilled for one pull and we straightened again.
Davey joined me at the stern. ‘Bell Rocks,’ he said. I knew of Bell Rocks, greedy and hidden beneath a swirl of weed and white water. Death to many a boatsman. ‘Another day and a half and we’ll be off Harwich. We’re making good speed.’
My stomach flipped over. ‘The other boat?’
Davey tapped my arm. ‘Trust Davey, mistress. There’s no one can creep about the Channel like me. There’s some call the Marolingian a ghost ship. I’d stake my life on the fact that they’ve headed directly across the Channel. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they downed sail and tried to sit out the mist. Either way we’ve lost them. Trust me.’
Trust you indeed. What else can I do?
That last night the same soft sea-song sang me to my sleep. A hand shaking my shoulder much later woke me and I could see a sharper light behind the shape. ‘Ysabel,’ a familiar voice said, ‘ Wake you. We’re off the cost at Harwich.’ Guy, always coming at me from secret places.
I sat up as if a bolt of lightning had struck me. ‘The other boat?’ It was becoming a litany.
‘Not in sight. As Davey predicted.’ Guy went to stand and in the daylight that ventured through the mists I could see he had almost grown a beard and that his hair was windblown and knotted.
He looked exhausted, shadows under his eyes, his face drawn and yet his manner betrayed little of his tiredness.
‘Guy,’ I grabbed his hand. ‘Stay a moment. I need to talk.’
He squatted down and his fingers laced through mine, my heart swelling. ‘About what?’
‘Me, Moncrieff. Guy, what if I don’t go home? What if I go somewhere else entirely?’
His hand fell away from mine. ‘You would not see your father?’
I could feel my jaw tightening and I grabbed my hair and smoothed it back, twisting it into that all too familiar knot. ‘My father? My father whom I believe sees me as currency? Why would I? I would have been better to stay in Montrachet.’
He looked down at me, a measuring glance and then lowered himself to sit next to me, his back against the rib whose marks had so soothed me.
‘In hindsight Montrachet may have been safer. But you are in England now or near enough and the way I see it, you have unfinished business. Something’s awry in Moncrieff. More so than when Gelis sent me to collect you. How it is connected with you I can only begin to guess but even if de Courcy is about to assume the estate, there are things that are rightly yours. Things of your mother’s, things in your father’s library…’
‘My father’s library?’ A library? Mother had never mentioned that Father had a library. An interest in monastic libraries certainly, and those in some noble houses, but his own?
‘Ysabel, are you listening?’ Guy nudged me and I nodded.
‘My suggestion is this…’
I sighed. I could see it coming…
‘We ride as secretly…’
I knew it, more subterfuge.
‘Ysabel!’ Guy shook my arm.
‘Yes, secretly. Even though I am afraid of de Courcy. Even though it seems he bears me gross ill-will, you want me to return to Moncrieff.’
‘Yes. Even so.’ Guy frowned at me. “Ysabel, you have shown immense courage thus far. We can see this through and then I swear when we know what has happened, we can make a plan and I can see you and your father safe if needs be. To Wales or Ireland, far from de Courcy.’
‘My father can stay at Moncrieff, I care not.’ For a moment I thought Guy would argue but perhaps he thought of his feelings towards his own father and could see the hypocrisy of argument.
‘Then yourself. I shall see you safe.’
‘Guy!’ I flung myself on him, hugging him. ‘You would do that?’ I felt his hand spread across my back, his fingers pressing.
‘Of course. I would never leave you defenceless. We can get word to Gelis and find out what de Courcy has done and then make plans. Once you are safe, I can leave for my next contract.’
Leave? Leave me? I sat back on my heels. ‘You would leave me after all?’
‘Master Guy?’ Davey’s voice drifted toward us from amidships. ‘Can you come, sir. I need you.’
My face twisted, I know it did. It shouldn’t have because I had chanted to myself that I knew which way the cards lay. ‘Go,’ I said, pushing him. ‘Davey needs you.’ I pulled on my coping face, the new Ysabel who was courageous and could tackle anything. I watched him begin to move away and I swear it was as though someone had taken a sword to my whole body and cleaved it in two. ‘Guy,’ I called.
He looked back. The strengthening light illuminating his finely sculpted patrician face.
‘Yes?’ He turned his head slightly to the side, that quizzical gaze that I had come to know so well.
I smiled. ‘I want a bath in Harwich.’