The last instalment for FanstRAvaganza. Further uploads of Gisborne will take place in the short term on Mesmered.
Be calm. Don’t panic. Think. My heart raced and my legs threatened to fold as I poled the craft as quietly as I could. It humoured me, allowing me to slip along in the current, barely making a ripple. But the darkness suffocated. Swathes of giant grasses lined the banks like serried rows of pike-men in some duke’s army. Huge trees towered above the grasses and I fancied they resembled trebuchets and mangonels. The air itself, hardly moving in the night, was moist and laden with the odour of mud and weed. As Walsocam drained into the rivulet there were other smells as well – excrement, the bloated remains of a butchered sheep… the fragrance nauseating.
But the current slipped me swiftly past these excresences and presently the air was sweeter, less of man and more of the watery fens. Nothing awoke to my passage and I pushed the pole into the mud and held it there to track my journey. Landmarks, I need landmarks. Mary Mother help me, it’s dark!
The shapes around me blended into the shadows of midnight as I swung myself in a circle. River. That way – Walsocam. Trees, Willows. Three oaks. I could define the shape of the autumn leaves as they leaned down over the rivulet and the occasional acorn dropped in the water with a subtle plop. Three oaks! I poled the punt toward the sentinel trees and pulled myself back and forth amongst the grasses, the noise a shifting, crackling sound.
There! There it is.
A disused opening to a channel that seemed deep and navigable but overgrown and unseen. This was the secret backwater – this was the way to Moncrieff.
I pushed through the grasses, allowing them to close over the punt, meshing fast like a drawbridge slamming down. The darkness was total, so overgrown were the sedges leaning right across my head. Spiderwebs feathered across my face and I rubbed at them with the crook of my elbow, sucking in my breath. I hated spiders. Don’t think on them, keep going.
But I stopped to get my breath. Breathe. The water barely moved here, flowing away from me toward Moncrieff and I realized if I sat down low in the punt, the current such as it was, could do the work. As long as I reached Moncrieff before dawn.
As the crow flies or riding the roads, Guy and I would have taken under a day to reach Moncrieff. By these channels it could take an unknown time – I knew not what obstacles I would find. Fallen trees, drained channels, even worse – cleared land. I only knew that I must get home before Guy. Why? I couldn’t answer my question beyond thinking on the visceral reaction at watching the bag change hands.
I closed my eyes. All I wanted to see was his face when he delighted in something – an anecdote he related, a book, even something I said. His face when he said, ‘Look at me.’ I hated him. I wanted him to help me but…
I grunted as the punt swung a little in the dark. My back and belly ached with a vengeance and I thought I detected a faint warmth between my legs with no cloth to staunch it. I must hope for a slow arrival of my courses until Gelis met me…
I blamed such discomfort on Gisborne. What he had put me through on this whole journey. He? Was it not Father’s actions that had reduced my life to a travesty? I shook my head. The cloths then – if I’d not seen him with Vasey, not been forced to abscond, I would have them. Were you forced to abscond? And who arranged for the cloths anyway? This wretched voice of conscience tried repeatedly to gainsay me, to upset my conclusions and I would not listen.
I travelled on through the tunnel. A water rat flopped from the bank, too close for comfort and occasioning a squeak. So much of sneaking rats and rats’ eyes reminded me of Vasey. What of Guy? What does he remind me of?
A snake, my temper supplied. Remember the snake in the Garden of Eden, hissing its tempting words.
But a snake has black, gimlet eyes.
Guy’s eyes seered with the blue of an Occitan sky.
Time seemed to snap at me. All the time I was conscious of night flitting by and dawn approaching too rapidly. The current meandered and finally I could stand it no longer and stood with the pole to push myself on faster. We skimmed along and a feeling of success lightened my anxiety and just as I sighed with relief at the increased speed, the bow hit something and I crashed forward. My head hit the gunwhales as I went down and there was a brief pain and then nothing.
I opened my eyes to a paler dark, to the snipe of a lone bird somewhere and as I tried to sit up, aware of dawn beginning to break, blood trickled down my face and the bottom of the punt seemed to leer up at me. I sank back. God, why did you do this? Mary Mother, tell him! I held my arm to whatever contusion was on my temple, feeling the egg-sized lump as I sopped the ooze. Dammit, dammit! I sobbed now. Ysabel! Cease your wailing and get moving. Watery sentiment is for later. So thinking, I pulled myself over the bow and felt with my toes to see what the punt had hit. A spit of sandy mud lay in front of the boat and I trod carefully forward to determine how much further the spit would block my forward passage. In the strengthening light, I could see that the channel continued on, splitting to flow around this isle of nuisance and I leaped back into the punt, poling in reverse and then heading for the left hand side, sliding in a space the width of my craft, poling, pushing, grasses dragging against me, light gaining, my breath puffing and blood dripping onto the tunic.
The current seemed to strengthen beyond the spit, almost as if it had its own agenda and I let the boat float on as I tried to staunch the bleeding. I had no care for the depth of the wound, nor any thing other than the need to enter Moncrieff by my secret way before full daylight.
The marshes were tipped in pearl light and a dove-grey mist rose off the water, the colours blurred and almost featureless. But the palate of the place, so lately in my thought as something of welcome, a tender memory, was now merely camouflage and subterfuge. I chafed to find my secret entrance, the entrance to the subterranean tunnels that lay beneath the bulwark of Moncrieff Castle.
My heart stalled as I heard hounds baying, followed by men shouting and then hooves, a dozen or so horses hammering the paths close by. A voice I didn’t know. ‘Spread out and search every inch. She’ll be there somewhere.’
No! No! How can they know?
I pulled at some draping reeds, dragging the punt deep into the undergrowth, hand over hand as I edged toward the towering grey stone mass of Moncrieff. I could barely see it, but the light had darkened as the castle stood between myself and the sun. I heard horses gallop across the drawbridge, heard nothing but shouts and baying and only knew that before my heart stopped completely, I needed to get closer.
The punt was too much of a liability and I nudged it hard under the reeds and sedge so that it could rot there for eternity and without any care for anything other than reaching my home, I slid into the cold water. My home? They are not Moncrieff’s men. I pulled myself hand over hand, barely creating a ripple. I have been betrayed. On my shoulders, I could still feel his hands, on my lips I could feel his… I spat out a small mouthful of river water as the grille that covered the concealed entrance appeared to my right.
Dear God, have mercy on me, I beg of you. Thea’s little string bracelet hung limply from my wet wrist as I hauled the grille open enough to pull up and slip over the ledge. I flopped like a half-dead fish onto the beaten earth that was the very foundation of Moncrieff Castle. Thank you, thank you. Water ran across the floor, a weak stain of blood still forming on the tunic. I could hear nothing in these bowels, nothing but a dripping, musty silence and it suited me. Moncrieff’s layout was tattooed on my heart and mind and I believed I could find every secret passage that would take me to Gelis. I stepped from the chamber, looking to the left and to the …
A hand slid over my mouth, and I was pulled back hard against someone. As I struggled so they held on tighter, until a voice spoke close to my ear, velvet-soft and deep.
‘Ysabel,’ Guy whispered. ‘Why did you run away?’
If you like what you read, you may also like The Stumpwork Robe for sale onKindle and in print at Amazon. Feel free to read the first few chapters by clicking on the flipping book in Mesmered’s sidebar.
FanstRA’s collaborating bloggers:
- RA Frenzy
- The RA Fan Blog
Oh, it seemed I was just listening to that voice, “velvet soft and deep” , and seeing those eyes “blue as an Occitan sky” … short insatalment but so intense. Brilliant, Prue. What now? 🙁
Remember we are all here waiting… 🙂
MG, I know, but I’m having to get back to the Kindle edits for The Last Stitch… you know what its like. But I shall try, I promise.
Mesmered, my thanks and admiration – you have indulged us with a wonderful week . We have lived through Ysabel’s adventures with her. We have not only experienced all she saw and heard as vividly as on a cinema screen, but felt her emotions too.
And such a roller-coaster of emotions.
This last episode outstripped them all. I felt hardly able to breathe as she made her escape along the waterways at night, feeling all her panic and fear, and my heart broke for her as she thought over her feelings for Gisborne, and the cruelty of what he had done to her.
(‘’ I have been betrayed. On my shoulders, I could still feel his hands…’’ )
Or could it be what she thought he’d done to her? In which case, my heart breaks for Messire de Gisborne too. Not that it doesn’t always, anyway.
And at the end, just when we thought she was safe, a shock like a plunge into an icy lake. He is suddenly there, ta dream that has become her worst nightmare.
And will you leave us thus, Lady Mesmered?
Of course you must. There is no better way than a cliff-hanger.
Thank you, Giselle. I needed to get that sense of racing to Moncrieff, of her breath rushing in and out.
I have written a post on the evolution of the story ‘Gisborne’ from the first upload to now and I’ll put it up in the next few days. Then there’ll be a little bit of a wait as I really need to do the kindle thing, as I mentioned to MG.
Thank you both for being such loyal fans of the story, i’m immeasurably grateful.
I am sure the anticipation will only enhance our pleasure in your tale.
I am frustrated that Amazon will not let me purchase the Kindle editions of your books, even to download to my computer. So I have the original paperback versions. So far, I am halfway through, and they are as powerful in their own way as Gisborne.
Fabulous installment! I’m totally absorbed in the story and can’t wait for the next part. Thank you!!!
Mulubinba, thanks so much. I love that I have an australian fan as i have said before, in particular one who has such an intriguing manner of writing herself.
I need to know what Mulubinba means!
I’m really concerned that Amazon won’t download to your computer. Have you got the right application? This might require some follow-through on my part.
I’m sorry you haven’t been able to buy the kindle edition as it is a second edition re-write and as such better, i believe.
I raced my husband to the hotel computer to beat him out so I could read your next installment! I WON!!! And it was worth it! Guy just seems to pop up out of nowhere…kinda cool! His stealthiness caught me off guard and his words pushed me in to a corner. Well, not me…Ysabel.
I might add, I finished “The Stumpwork Robe” last night. Oh my, how I’ve enjoyed this book! And I’m not in to fantasy at all! Can’t wait to get home so I can start “The Last Stitch”!! I really really love your writing, Mes!!
November Bride! Where have you been? Thanks so much for the comment on Gisborne.
As for The Stumpwork Robe, I’m so glad you liked it. It’s got the capacity to sit on the edge of fantasy, therefore hopefully appealing to the non-fantasy audience. I’ve got a feeling you might even enjoy The Last Stitch more. And I do wish I knew what was going happen to A Thousand Glass Flowers as I think you’d LOVE that one. The character of Finnian was based on your RA.
By the way, OH and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your voice at fanstRA and when I read him your comment to Frenz, he so laughed at your husband’s response! Long suffering, these husbands! I’m just lucky that mine watches all the RA stuff with me. I listened to an RA I/V on the net the other day and OH said from the bowels of something he was reading: ‘That’s him isn’t it? I know the voice!’
@ladyj-looks like we’re both reading Last Stitch right now. Read the first chapter last night until my eyes were crossing! Can’t wait to see what happens, altho I think I’ve got part of it figured out. We’ll see. As to Pat’s vision of The Robe-I’m anxious to see my mom’s reaction to it. As a longtime crewel embroiderer, I think she’s going to flip over it!
“That’s him isn’t it? I know the voice!” THAT made ME laugh out loud!! Poor guys. Do they have any idea what they’re up against with RA in the picture? Just kidding, of course. Hubs is the love of my life! RA is a figment of my imagination! I coaxed hubs into watching N&S with me last summer. He was not impressed. “Where are the fights and guns and blood?” “This guy has got an attitude! (John Thornton)” “Is this almost over?” “WHY do you love this stuff so much?” Needless to say, I GIVE UP!!!
Mes…I’ve been to Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, back to North Carolina, Tennessee, and next??? Arkansas, Oklahoma, then KANSAS!!!! Sorry you asked?! 🙂
We get away very seldom so we made the best of our time. I could gush about what we’ve seen but since this is YOUR blog, let me just say how much I enjoyed Gisborne last week! I’ve been able to keep up somewhat thru hotel computers and a Teeny Weeny Laptop that I have to read with one eye shut! Hubs was wondering what the heck was talking me so long to read but he usually dozed off anyway so there ya go! And I suffered thru the feedlot tour, so he can’t complain about a little computer time!
As for the future of Gisborne, I trust you inplicitely! And I await his future rather impatiently, but that’s just me. In the meantime, I have “The Last Stitch” to read when I get home. Yay!!!!
Glad you enjoyed the Paula Deen of RA World!! I listened to that and thought my “Hick Factor” went up by about 1000 points. Did you listen to the little kids singing O My Darlin”? Confession time…they were 3 of my grands. They love that song so we add names all the time. I thought RA’s name fit in well.
“The character of Finnian was based on your RA.” Wow, MY RA…I like the sound of that!!!
@NB: thousands of miles and looking at cattle feedlots. I can IMAGINE the loads of laundry when you returned.
I’m really pleased that Gisborne sustained you on your travels and that The Stumpwork Robe was there as well. I had dinner with Jane Nicholas the other night (she’s here teaching embroidery masterclasses) and she saw Pat Sweet’s designs for the infamous robe and was blown away, so I’m feeling that the book has made its mark in an indelible way and for that I am grateful.
Meanwhile, I must finish that last Gisborne upload for the blog,
Best wishes and we’ll talk more by email!
Mesmered, many, many thanks for the wonderful week of updates for Gisborne, which I have only just now been able to catch up on, and what a treat it was. This story has really engaged me because you have a way of writing that really makes me feel I have almost been through Ysabel’s experiences with her. And my heart, too, breaks for Gisborne.
It isn’t because it is about Gisborne that I have stayed with this, though that is what brought me to it initially. It wasn’t that which had me reading the whole lot [ quite a number of chapters] at once, – it is the skill of your writing: the immediacy, the descriptive quality, the ability to draw me in, and that is so very compelling.
I really do want to know what happens next and I noticed you made a remark about happy endings. I’m not wedded to the notion of a happy ending, personally. In this case, I surprise myself in saying I would far rather the integrity of the story be maintained and if that means no happy ending, so be it.
I thought my post was getting rather long, so here is another. I wanted to tell you that having seen Pat Sweet’s wonderful realisation of “The robe,” I just had to get the book to read for myself. I don’t have a Kindle so it was the original paperback version for me too.That’s fine, since I really like the feel of ‘real book’ in my hand.
I have never read anything quite like it before and I mean that in a good way. I loved the the premise and found the device you used of weaving the narrative with the embroidery both innovative and intriguing. Most of all, I loved your writing and its lyrical style. The whole thing felt other-worldly and that seemed to me to be exactly right for a story which I can only think of as a mixture of fairytale, folktale and fantasy. I am not sure how one would classify it because to me it is one on its own. You create such a sense of atmosphere and the descriptions are amazing; although the plot is quite intricate, I was kept thoroughly hooked all the way through.
Next up ‘The last stitch’. I have to know ‘what next.’ But thanks for a terrific read.