‘Ghosts,’ I murmured.
Guy turned away from surveying the sea to focus on me. As I observed the state of his hair, his beard and his clothes, I wondered how close to vagabonds we seemed.
‘Ghosts,’ I repeated. ‘We have been ferried by ghosts on a ghost ship from Calais to England. It is how it seems. Do you see?’ I pointed in the direction Guy had been staring. The mists had returned after a brief and sunlit break at dawn. The Marolingian, anchored in the depths of the miasma, was invisible. Of the dory that rowed us to shore there was no sign. It boded well. I felt that if we were so well hidden now, surely we had the advantage in my secret return to Moncrieff. I wouldn’t say that my spirits rose but I was just a little less tired. ‘Is he a pirate, Guy? Or a smuggler?’
Guy chuckled, a quiet sound muffled by the strands of fog that eked over the shoreline and onto land. ‘Some say so. For my part, he is a good man and loyal. Steadfast, I would say.’
I detected a note in Guy’s voice and I wondered if he admired Davey’s apparent contentment. Contentment, Ysabel? That the man thieves and defies the law to feather his own nest, that is what Guy admires. But I would not listen to such thoughts. Not now. Because we were on England’s shores and I had my own problems. I turned away from the seaside, the beach pebbles crunching under my boot-soles. ‘What now, where do we go? It is still days to Moncrieff.’
He sighed as he walked beside me. ‘We need food and horses. Davey has organized…’
‘How?’ I interrupted. Davey’s web of intrigue must be larger than I thought. What an omnipotent man.
Guy spoke as we continued walking off the shore and onto a thin ribbon of coastal path. ‘I sailed to Calais with Davey and I thought it expedient to have plans in place for our return. Whilst I travelled through Normandy, Anjou and into Aquitaine, Davey sailed back to England, organized things and then beat back across the channel to await our arrival in Calais.’
The mist had dampened even more, turning to a fine mizzle which dampened our faces and settled on our clothes in a layer of moisture that reminded me of dew on a spider’s web. We plodded through the limp coastal grasses and I let Guy lead me. If there was one thing I had learned in the past weeks, it was that he knew where he was going.
‘What is the connection between you and Davey?’ I asked. ‘It must be very strong.’
It was one of the few times Guy was forthcoming.
‘Indeed,’ he answered. ‘His family were a part of the Gisborne estate long before before I was born. Davey’s mother Ailsa, was my mother’s maidservant and was dearly loved. As to Davey’s father, he died not long after Davey was born so my own father made sure the young Davey was provided for within the house. But Ailsa sickened with a flux and even though Lady Ghislaine tried valiantly to care for her, seeking all the help she could, it was of little use. I was quite young when my parents buried her at Gisborne and Davey has never forgotten the care. He left not long after to find his own way. He always felt he and the sea belonged together. But by the same token, he always promised to be of service if ever he could be. He said he had a debt to pay and would pay it over and over
out of love and respect for the Gisborne house.’
‘A sad story. Sad and yet in a poignant way, so very heartwarming.’
Guy nodded. ‘That is the way I see it also. Davey is my friend and shall always be.’
Something about those words gave me the confidence in Guy that was so lacking when Vasey hovered in the background of his life, as if deep in his soul he knew that good by far outweighed bad, because no matter what, Vasey implied bad to me.
I pushed stray strands of hair from my eyes. ‘Where are we bound this time?’
‘St. Eadgyth’s close by.’
‘And this has also been arranged by Davey?’
‘No, it is familiar to me and I let them know…’
‘Ah yes,’ I interrupted. Another religious house! ‘You let them know we would possibly be coming their way.’
He must have noted my sarcasm because he gave me a hard look. ‘Indeed,’ was all he said.
We trudged on for a while. The mist showed no sign of easing and all I could think of was how constrained I felt. I who had known freedom and who until a few weeks ago, had not a care in the world. The mist pressed in on me as if it represented all my troubles. There were moments where I just wanted to scream against the injustice. I had never been cruel or foul-mouthed and I had observed the strictures of the Church. So why did I suffer so? I was a mere speck being tossed around in some fierce wind. Tossed from here to there without a realization that specks could be blasted apart. But each new revelation battered me against this barrier and that so that I felt pieces of me falling away.
Earlier, when I had first met Guy, I had thought the worst that could happen was the awareness of my father’s weak-minded perfidy. Now Baron de Courcy stood facing me across the battle-lines. Is this what a soldier feel as he gazes across the field of battle to the opposing forces? As his bowels loosen, as his knees shake and sweat dampens his palm as he tries to hold his bow more firmly? I thought back to the moment in the woods when I had unconsciously nocked that arrow into the fated Saracen bow. As I thought, so I drew in a deep breath.
‘Ysabel, are you well? That was a sigh fraught with…’
‘I’m just tired…’ I butted in. ‘And wondering how my life has, right to this point, become a progress through many, many religious houses.’
Guy laughed. How could he seem so at ease?
‘Ah, my Ysabel…’ My Ysabel? ‘I suspect that is not what you were thinking at all. But in truth, the houses of the religieuse are always trustworthy when we need such secrecy.’
‘Completely.’ He turned and waited for me to catch up. ‘See, there it is.’ He stood back and I could see past him, the mist having begun to thin. Weak sunshine drew it up to the heavens as if it had been God’s gift for a short while. In fact it probably had, affording us the cover we so badly needed.
The path joined a pock-marked road which trundled from a far distance, perhaps Harwich, I know not. Set to the side of the road amongst a coppice of ancient beeches, a small church gleamed palely. An adjacent wall extended in a square, forming some sort of dwelling. I could only assume that the walls were built around an inner space, perhaps a garden of some sort and that this dainty priory was surrounded by a miniature cloister and cells, perhaps a refectory and kitchen, maybe even a communal space where the good Sisters could congregate.
‘It’s so small,’ I said unnecessarily.
‘There are only eight sisters.’
‘Truly? Then how do they survive? What work do they do? Where are their lands, their income?’
‘They are a small contemplative order and they are all scribes and do handsome work for the bigger houses and for the nobility. They are self-sufficient materially and spiritually.’
Ah, is that a lesson for us both to learn, Gisborne?
Our path headed downhill and inland a small distance before it met with the road and as we walked, I thought of Ghislaine of Gisborne. ‘Guy, you rarely speak of your mother.’
‘No,’ he replied.
‘I should think she is worth talking about. You would honour her.’ By God, Ysabel, said this tiny, easily ignored voice in my head, you may think you’re courageous but you’re infinitely stupid as well.
‘But,’ he stopped, standing deadly still. ‘I choose not to. Ysabel, do not ask again. Some doors need to remain shut. This one and the Order of St.Lazarus are just two.’
We had reached a door in the wall and he rang a bell that hung out over the door frame. The instrument was rusty and its rope careworn but the it’s tone was mellifluous and clear. A panel slid back behind a grille and a face surveyed us.
‘Sister, I am Guy of Gisborne returned.’ The panel slid shut and the door opened with much rattling of keys. A Sister nodded at us. ‘The Prioress expects us,’ Guy added. ‘I have my friend, as was planned and she is in sore need of rest, food and a bath.’
The Sister bowed over her hands and then beckoned for me to follow. I took a step and then hesitated. ‘What will you do?’
Guy rubbed at the leather of his gauntlets.
‘Go to a roadside tavern close by.’
‘And?’ It truly was like getting blood from a stone.
‘Well. I shall endeavour to have a wash of some sort or even a bath.’ His smile was mischievous if small.
The Sister, no doubt appalled at the implied intimacy of our discussion, touched my sleeve, eager to shut the door on this licentious world. I lifted my hand and said, ‘A moment please, Sister. I would speak with my escort.’ I turned straight back to Guy, my gaze searching his face, fixing on his eyes and daring him to run from my eternal questioning. ‘A bath. But what else will you do? What else have you done in our travelling time while I have been on my knees in some chapel or other. No…’ I grabbed his arm as he turned away. ‘No. Out of respect for our… closeness… I charge you to answer.’
He sighed and his lips tightened.
‘I walk about. I talk with villagers. I manage to secure valuable intelligence.’
He stood for a moment and then looked over my head. ‘Sister, my friend is ready to accompany you. Ysabel, I shall see you on the morrow.’