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All Is Not Lost

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“TELL. ME. NOW!

Ohh shit that voice forced out between gritted teeth gives me shivers. He doesn’t shout, he isn’t even loud but that deep, rumbling tone combined with a heavy French accent, Dear Lord it almost makes me melt. I stare up into his face as I stand with my back flattened firmly against the wall. Hell fire he is handsome in a dark, saturnine way. Short dark hair brushed forward a little over his forehead but shaved short at the back and sides. Heavy stubble defines his cheeks and jaw and even the scar does nothing to detract from his brooding good looks. It curves out in an inverted “C” shape from the outside corner of his right eye to the top of his cheek then flicks back up to his temple.

If this was a re-enactment scenario it was a little scary and a bit too close to home for me but I am keen to see what happens next, my mother never bred a jibber. I giggle nervously and find myself slammed even harder back against the rough stone work

“I’m just here visiting, I just came to”.

LIAR” he spits out at me.

Oh he is good, he is very good, from his chain mail and surcoat, to his sword and heavy boots to the scar perfectly applied. He screams Norman Knight and I wonder where the cameras are hidden.

He moves even closer to me as he braces his left forearm across the top of my chest and pins me to the wall. Standing a good foot taller than me he glowers down, his blue eyes like chips of glacier ice.

“I will ask once and only once more, why did you come here?” His voice has dropped from a rumble to a dangerous whisper and he keeps up the pretence of his French accent beautifully

“I’m telling you I just came to”.

Without me hardly registering it, he brings his right arm across his body then unleashes a back hander of such force it snaps my head sideways and I feel the mail links on the back of his gauntlet bite into the flesh of my cheek. Now I am frightened, my stomach churns and for a moment I think I might pee myself. Stars flicker and flash in front of my eyes, my head swims and I can feel bile rising in my stomach. I rub at my jaw, open and close my mouth. Nothing broken, clever bastard, it was a perfectly judged blow, enough force to cause pain and fear but not enough to cause broken bones and torn flesh.

“Chéri”, his mouth caresses the word as if he is savouring a fine wine. “Do not defy me, please do not lie to me”

His smile spreads wider across his face as he steps closer still, our bodies touched and he curls the fingers of the hand he has just hit me with, firmly under my chin. Slowly he bows his head to rest his forehead against mine, the words that come from his mouth are words I feel I should understand better. It is French but not quite the French I had learned in school. With his forehead still pressed to me he speaks again, his voice a low soft purr but it isn’t the contented sound of a fireside moggy, it is the throaty rumble of a large feral cat. 

I am certain now that this is most certainly not a re-enactment, I want to scream, to run, to fight but my mouth has dried and my body has seized, I can barely move.

“You are so beautiful my darling, ripe, ready, a true prize, I shall enjoy re acquainting myself with you.”

His tip of his tongue flicks out from his mouth and he slides it slowly and suggestively over his lips. “The clothes you wear now are so strange, no woman I know ever wore such garments they cling to your body, they show your form so well that you may as well be naked before me”. He skims his hand down over my breast along my side and lets it settle on my hip. He is right, I may as well have been naked as the thin fabric of my T shirt does nothing to stop the sensation of his touch burning my flesh. 

It is only then that I realise what he had said. “Reacquainting”, “The clothes you wear now”. What the hell does he mean? I don’t know him. My mind is in a tail spin but stallS when he grabs a handful of my hair and buries his nose into it “Mon Coeur” I understand that, but he continues in his heavily accented English, which against all reason sets my heart racing even though my body is shaking.

“As always you smell as beautiful as you look, apples and honey, I remember you always smelled of apples and honey you can only be her” He sighs and again my body defies the instructions coming from my brain, the very sound of his rich smoky voice turns my bones to water as he grazes my lips with his. I breathe in his scent, mud, sweat and horses, underneath it all a surprisingly a faint smell of lemon.

From somewhere I find my voice it is strident and angry

“Let me go, this has gone far enough, if this is a re-enactment you’ve overstepped the mark, now let me go or you’ll be without a job and out on your arse in the next few minutes.”

To my surprise he steps away immediately, though he never takes his eyes from me and as I move towards the door one strong arm snakes around my waist and he spins me around until my back slams against his chest. I look sideways and see him bite at the middle finger of the glove on his right hand he pulls it away with his teeth and throws the glove to the floor. His now bared fingers ghost down my cheek, my neck, across my shoulder and down my arm to where he laces them through my fingers.

His mouth is hot, it burns against my neck and I fight, I really fight to keep from tilting my head back and giving him more flesh to sear and nip. I manage but I can’t stop my eyelids from fluttering at the heat of his mouth and the rasp of his stubble against the tender flesh, neither can I hold in the whimper as he bites down hard into the top of my shoulder.

“So you are not made of ice?” The chuckle comes from deep in his chest. “Oh in time I shall enjoy matching my fire to yours now go” And to my surprise he releases me and stepped back. “I said go, but just remember Mon Chéri, my eyes will always be on you."

At first I dare not move, my legs are shaking so much. I waited for him to say or do something more but nothing happens and when I turn around he is no longer there. There is no way out except for the door and he would have had to pass me to get to it. He has simply vanished. This time I run and run fast. Even on my shaking legs I am down the tower steps, out through the gateway and into the market place in no time. I should report this but I can’t bear to be in there any longer, I don't stop until I reach he front door of the cottage.

“Richard, Richard”. I scream as I almost fall through into our tiny sitting room, instantly 6’ 2” of male races through from the kitchen and wraps his arms around me, cradling me against his chest as I sob and shake uncontrollably wetting his shirt with tears and snot. Safe, I am safe now, I feel his cheek against the top of my head as he sways slightly from side to side, rocking me and making soft soothing noises as he waits for me to speak, That is Richard, calm, calming, patient and as always smelling faintly of citrus.

The words finally pour out in a jumble and I rattle on as he listens without comment.

“And another thing, there was furniture in there, a bed, couple of chairs, a table, a chest I think and a huge wooden bathtub lined with a linen cloth, there’s never any furniture in there, I mean not ever”.

“Sweetheart”, he presses a kiss to my forehead and his stubble brushes against my skin “Take a deep breath and think about it, are you absolutely sure it wasn’t just something they were putting on at the castle a re-enactment?”

“I thought it might be but I couldn’t see anyone else, there was no one else around, none of the usual paraphernalia, tents, horses, people nothing, and you know the creepiest thing?” “He seemed to be dropping hints that he knew me and look at my face, he was wearing mail gauntlets when he back handed me”

“There are no marks sweetheart,” he cupped my chin in his hand and tilted my head from side to side. “Absolutely nothing” but I could still feel the sting.

“Did you report him?”

“No, all I wanted to do was get out of there.”

Richard drops his mouth to mine in a soft, kiss and he weaves his hands through my hair as he teases at my lips with his tongue in a plea for access to my mouth. It is given freely and I cling to him savouring his taste and relishing the feel of his muscles under my hands.

Slowly he draws away from me smiling, but it is a sad, nervous smile which doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Lizzie, why don’t we go and relax in the garden, let’s take some glasses and a good bottle of wine and talk some more?

“Oh that sounds ideal and just what I need”. I toe off my shoes and head into the back garden. It is hardly surprising the castle holds such a fascination for me, for there it is. The Curtain wall forms the back wall of my garden and the tower rises into the air high above it, a row of three arched windows look down at the cottage. Suddenly the knight’s words rush into my brain.

“Remember my eyes will always be upon you” I feel as if someone has stepped on my grave.

I haul two garden chairs and a small table onto the grass, we plonk ourselves down and I pour out two generous glasses of wine. Whilst we sit, Richard makes me go through the  whole story again, he holds my hand his thumb tracing circles on the back of it and his eyes never leave my face.

“Lizzie I’m sure it must be something being put on by...” He hesitates

“By English Heritage, possibly but I’ve not seen anything advertised"

 “You know the first time I went there I was four years old, the guide was spouting something about when they started building the Scollands Hall. He got the date wrong and I told him so. I remember his face turned purple he and he looked as if he wanted to drop me over the wall right down on to the river bank.

I smile across at Richard “This sounds weird but sometimes it feels as if the Castle found me, rather than the other way about and I’ve always known my way around every inch of it without being told. I suppose I’ll never get to the bottom of what happened but I’ll go and check tomorrow”.

“Good girl, don’t dwell on it you’ll find an answer”. He covers his mouth with his hand and then rubs it across the bottom of his face, a sure sign he is nervous or worried.

“I have some news of my own to tell you”.

His voice is low, serious and a little hoarse, I notice his thin lipped smile and the tightness around those burning blue eyes.

I have known Richard for 10 months now, we have been lovers for 6. But it feels as if we have always known each, as if we are the two sides of the same coin. Even though there is a gap of 20 years between us we understand each other, we ground each other. I call him my rock, he calls me his haven. In spite of the nature of his work and the doubts he sometimes suffers I have rarely seen him so anxious.

“I’m guessing you haven’t looked at your phone Lizzie?”

“Hardly, you know I don’t bother much when I’m out”.

Richard takes a hefty swig from his glass, swirls the liquid around his mouth then swallows hard before leaning across to me and handing me his phone open at his Twitter account.

“To all my wonderful, kind, caring supporters I am taking this opportunity to tell you first hand.....”,

I read on and gasp almost dropping the phone, tears prick my eyes and I don’t know whether I want to hug him or punch him. Suddenly the sun seems to hold no warmth and I shiver.

“But why, what the hell brought this on?”, “Are you ill, I mean is that why you need to take time?” He doesn’t answer.

I pull my own phone from my jeans pocket. Social media is in fucking meltdown and the Armitage Army, well you could probably float Noah’s Ark on the tears they’ll be shedding.

Richard Armitage the English actor Famous for his roles in Blah, Blah Blah, has today, suddenly announced that he will be stepping back from his acting career for the foreseeable future. In a statement he cited personal and family reasons and the need to take some much needed private time away from acting.

“How long have you been planning this Richard, I mean why couldn’t you tell me first, why did you let me find out this way?”

My voice is surprisingly steady and though he winces at my tone his answer is sure and swift.

“Planning, I suppose you could say I’ve been planning it since the first day I met you, but that would be a lie, this has been in the making since before you or I were born” and he adds quietly “In this life”. My eyes pop wide and I can see by his expression that he believes what he says. I swallow hard then laugh nervously, he's clearly talking nonsense.

I can’t look at him anymore, I won’t look at him. My hand shakes as I pick up my glass, and I get up from my chair to walk barefoot across the grass until I reach the wall. The stone beneath the fingers of my free hand is warm and rough I press my forehead to it, to a wall which has stood for just short of a thousand years and could doubtless tell such tales.

There is a slight noise behind me but I can’t bring myself to turn, I don’t want to speak to him or even to see him.

“Mon Coeur, can you forgive me?” That voice startles me and the glass slips from my fingers, bounces against the wall and shatters, spraying wine and shards of glass onto me and the surrounding the grass around me.

“Do not move.” That voice again.

 I am lifted bodily and hauled backwards from where I’m standing. When he stops I wriggle down and set my feet to the grass. I notice the arms wrapped around me are clad in mail. With as much force as I can muster I tear myself from his grasp, now I must face him, must look

It’s Richard, but it isn’t Richard he is in jeans and shirt no chain mail visible, but his hair is different somehow, his stubble more pronounced. When he reaches out to touch my cheek I can feel callouses on the pads of his fingers.

“I ask again, can you forgive me Mon Coeur, can you forgive my behaviour?” His voice is heavily accented now “For me to hurt you, to cause you such pain was unforgivable, I swear it will never happen again but I was afraid, afraid you were some spirit sent to haunt me, to torment me both in this life and the past and my fear turned to an anger I could not control”.

Fear grips at me and I can only stand there my whole body shakes. He steps closer and the air shimmers around him. The adrenalin building up in my body makes me feel sick and I start to retch a little

“Richard”, I hiss at him “What the fuck are you playing at?” My brain refuses to believe what my eyes are seeing.

“Non! not Richard,I am Raymond.” and even as he speaks his accent thickens and he begins to transform into the man I saw in the castle, clad in mail and heavily studded pieces of thick leather armour. He drops to one knee, tilts his face and holds both hands out to me.

“Ma Dame, Mon Coeur, I ask a third time can you forgive me?”

I can’t bring myself to answer and I see the sadness cloud his face as he rises to his feet.

“I you will not answer at my third time of asking, then I must leave you Mon Chéri. I can live in this world as Richard or the other as Raymond but if you will not forgive me, we cannot be together in either and he strides past me towards the wall.

Suddenly I know, I know for certain I can’t bear to live without ever seeing him again Richard or Raymond, whoever he is we are bound.

“Raymond wait, please wait” My voice is almost a sob “Don’t leave” He spins around, and steps close until we are toe to toe now, he towers above me and there is a warmth in his eyes that wasn’t there when I met him in the castle.

“I forgive you Mon Coeur Raymond, I forgive you.” His mouth is soft, his kiss is tender I breathe in his musky, soldiers scent.

He cups my face in his gloved hands, there are tears streaming down his face “ Eight hundred years my love, it has taken just over eight hundred years for us to meet again”.

“If I go with you, will I ever be able to come back?” I search his face and see sadness there.

Raymond shakes his head slowly “Sadly not Ma Dame, sadly not. Now I have found you we can only be in one time and place or the other. I will no longer be able to move between both ”

“But what about your family?”, “I mean I have none, but what about yours?”

“The world will not notice we are gone Mon Coeur, It will be as if we never existed in this life”

That thought terrifies and excites me and I feel tears forming in my eyes, with his gloved hands he cups my face and wipes them away.

“Don’t be afraid, no one will mourn, no one can mourn for someone who never existed”.

“Can I take things with me?”

With is eyes sparkling and his mouth set in a wide smile he throws his head back and laughs.

“Women! For every journey they must needs pack a dozen waggons”

“I seem to remember you had a fancy for my wearing things like this.” I stroke my hands down over the T shirt that clings tightly to my shape and I hear his breath catch and I swear he purrs.

“There are seamstresses a plenty who can no doubt fashion something that”, he hesitates “That will meet with my approval”. By now his voice has dropped to a low rumble. “As my wife you will want for nothing, nothing”.

“Then take me with you Raymond, take me your old life and mine”

“You are certain?”

I look back at the cottage, for a second I hesitate and I feel a physical pain shoot through me. Suddenly I have no desire to stay in this modern world.

I slide my arms around Raymond's neck and standing on tiptoe I brush my lips against his. That is my answer

A broad, generous smile spreads across his face, he sweeps me off the ground and lifts me into his arms

“Close your eyes my Love”

When I open them we are in the chamber, the bed is turned down, sun light pours through the same unglazed windows that overlook the cottage, and it casts a rich golden glow throughout the room.

There is a tub is full of water so hot that even in this warmth the steam rises from it.

Raymond calls out “Martin, Martin," but no one appears

“I need to wash this filth from me, but it would seem my Squire has run off for his supper, so you will need to assist me Elisabet?” The way he pronounces my name is both strange and beautiful and the way his looks at me sends a delicious hot shiver down my spine.

He stands arms stretched out to his sides and without hesitation I begin to unlace, unclasp and remove the pieces of clothing and armour setting them carefully aside. As I pull his mail coat over his head, my legs buckle under the weight of it and I almost keel over, it is then I realise just how strong he is. But when I remove his sweat stained undershirt I want to cry and I can’t hold in the gasp even though I clamp my hands over my mouth, there are marks, calluses and scars all over his torso and back. Some are still livid, red and fresh, others are fading to purple and the oldest are no more than silver white marks. I am shocked for I had never seen these marks on Richards’s skin.  As I stretch my fingers towards his chest he grabs at my wrist, shakes his head and smiles.

“Never think about them Elisabet, never let them worry you, they are simply the marks of my trade” As I begin to speak he presses his fingers against my lips.

“Hush, my sweet, Hush”

“Now Mon Coeur, I do not believe your duties as Squire are ended” He winks at me and lifts one corner of his mouth in a smirk. The mood lightens immediately and laughing I shove him away he flops backwards onto the bed so that I can remove his boots.That done he pushes himself to his feet and stands hands on hips”

“And the rest Woman”, he commands and presses his lips together as he fights a smile.

“My Lord”, I snort back at him. But my fingers tremble as I pick at the lacings of his chausses where they are fastened to his braies. I have removed Richards clothing on many an occasion, but this is different and somehow even more intimate. Raymond’s breath hitches when I let my fingers brush against his thighs as I slide each of his chausses down for him to step out of them. The braies follow and he stands completely naked.

Dear God, but he is beautiful.

“Tell me Raymond is the squire permitted to share the bath?”

He roars with laughter and sweeps me up in his arms.

“Not generally, however in your case Chéri I will make an exception" He spins around to face the tub and drops a sweet soft kiss to my mouth. "Indeed in your case I will make it a rule” and he lowers me into the water ignoring my squeals and protestations.

I flounder and grab at the sides trying to climb out but he slides in to join me “Raymond my clothes you Bastard, you know I didn’t bring any more.”  I think how swiftly my tongue has become accustomed to this new name.

“Stop grizzling Elisabet” He hauls me against him and stops my words with a much firmer kiss. “You must consider the great advantage of having no clothing” There is a distinctly lascivious look on his face. “For if you have no clothes Chéri, then I must keep you in my bed all day to save both you and the household from embarrassment.”

Laughing at his own resourcefulness he settles back draping his arms over the sides of the tub.

“Now my darling girl.” Raymond’s voice is like honey pouring over me “I do not think your tenure as squire is quite finished”. He hands me a large square of linen from the stool beside tub.

I think I shall love this life.