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Aside from Heaven

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Aside from Heaven

Installment 01

Remember the Dead

Dying was an art.

It was also painful and annoying as hell! What was worse was his sister and the man he, at one point, considered his mentor did this to him and he was dying in the arms of the man he had hated for the vast majority of his entire life.

“Is this the end?”

If this was God's sense of humor, he wasn't laughing. Please let it be the end.

“For you and me both, my friend.”

Wait. Robin was dying as well. Maybe he would laugh, when he himself died.

Couldn't breathe.

“I’m sorry.”

Breathing was hard. Damn, he wished he could die already so he could move on to the next phase of his existence, one where that angel with the crazy eyes would tell him he had accomplished whatever it was he was supposed to accomplish and then he could move on to the job of reuniting with Genevieve.

Someone once told him that your life flashes before you when you're dying. This was true, but what seemed to stand out to him the most were his previous deaths. Hanging twice. Beheaded, by his sister, again. Sweet Jesu, what had he done to the woman to warrant her wanting him dead?

And apparently succeeding.

The Angel of Death told him he had a task to accomplish, something important he needed to do in order to move forward.

Suddenly, he felt... he needed to let Robin know, tell him. It was part of it.

“At least you have someone waiting for you. Marian.” Breathing was getting more difficult. Talking was near impossible. “The love of my life-”

Wasn't her. I was wrong. The love of my life, wasn't her.

“She was always yours.”

Did I succeed? I've let her go. What about all these peasants? All of these lives saved? Was that enough?

Behind Robin, he could see... see his mother. She was smiling.

You did well, Guy. I am so proud. You let her go. You're free. Finally. Tell him the rest.

A great sense of peace flooded him, flooding his being. Words flew from his lips,

“I die proud. I am free.”

He realized he was staring at the ceiling, when everything went black.

~~~...~~~

“Come on. Up you go!” Guy felt someone grab his hand, pull him up. “Ah, you're a big one! Small wonder my Chickie-poo loves you so!”

He was lighter on his feet, weightless. He stood up, realizing he was spirit, light. Not looking at the owner of the voice with him, he turned back to see his body lying prone, Robin leaning over him, closing his eyes.

“Guy?” He turned to the voice. “You can do no more. Do not linger, come with me.” She took him by the hand and the next moment, they both flew up through the castle, through the bricks, the battlements. Up they rose, before floating, turning to face the castle.

Before he knew it, he found himself settled in some sort of long chair with chains suspended in mid-air. He raised his arms, looking about him and rather leery of the contraption. “What witchery is this?” He started to stand.

Guy found himself restrained and the light beside him turned into human form.

“Don't do that. You've no wings and you are new to this. You need to get your bearings or you'll fall.” The woman was tall and slender, her face ageless. “This is a porch swing. They are comfortable and at some point, you and Genevieve will spend a lot of-”

“Genevieve?” Now she had his complete attention. “You will take me to Genevieve now?”

The being smiled, but shook her head. “No. Not yet. You have much to accomplish between now and 2014.”

“Did I not save enough lives here?” As he threw out his hand to the castle, there was an explosion. As the walls fell, there was dust, great noise, Robin and Archer appearing in the fog. Almost immediately, sparks of light – souls – rose from the ruins, and almost as quickly, a good deal of those same sparks turned black and were thrown to the earth, swallowed in the soil. “What the-”

“Lost souls.” For a while, the two watched souls rise and souls fall. They watched the sun set before Guy spoke again.

“Who are you and why are you here? I thought Douma-”

“Douma is the Angel of Death. You are not dead.”

“Really?” Guy smirked. “Last I looked, my body was lying in the cellar of those ruins and I was quite dead.”

The being was smiling. “Ah, but we are not done with you, not done with your soul. You-” she poked Guy on the arm, “have a lot of work to accomplish and you have a little over 800 years to accomplish it.”

Guy leaned back on the support chains. “And this is where you'll tell me how?” He crossed his arms. “Who are you and why are you here?”

She sat up, a rather perky thing. “I thought you would never ask. My name is Valoel. I am your Guardian Angel, as I was your father's Guardian Angel.” She leaned forward to whisper, as to why, he couldn't guess. “I am also Genevieve's Guardian Angel. That crucifix she gave to you, belonged to me. I gave it to your father as a promise, a promise I intend to keep.”

“And what promise was that?”

“That you would be a great man,” the angel responded with a smile. “And that you would bring honor to the Gisborne name.”

“Ah, Angel! You messed up there,” Guy scoffed.

“No, I didn't.”

Guy stared at her hard. “He wasn't supposed to come home that second time, was he?”

The angel didn't hesitate. “No. No, he wasn't. But someone needed to stop Longthorn from hanging you.” Their attention returned to the castle, more souls rising from the ruins, and some being slung to the ground.

“How does this work? Eight centuries to figure out how to help Genevieve.”

There was something Val liked about Guy of Gisborne; he was to the point and didn't procrastinate. He made quick decisions and carried through, regardless if they were right or wrong; moral or unjust. That tenaciousness would aid him throughout the lifetimes. “You will have eight centuries to build a dynasty. You will live and die and live some more and die some more. You will be given information to aid you in your quest to build a dynasty. The land of Nottingham will grow fine tobacco, a rather prosperous crop and at some point some very fine lace will be made. Bicycles, but you don't need to worry about that yet. Be prepared for that. Those things will serve you well, make you very wealthy.”

Guy smirked. “But how does that help Genevieve?”

“You are going to need money and lots of it, to help her. You need to learn the law from the ground up. The world is going to change and the sooner you get started, you will help bring about that change.”

She threw up a finger to ward off his comment. “You cannot change history. You cannot change the fact that in a few hundred years, King Henry VIII will go through six wives, trying to procure a male heir. He will murder two of them in the attempt, alienate his eldest daughter causing one of England's bloodiest centuries and you will not be able to stop him from robbing and stripping the monasteries and abbeys of their wealth. You can,” she admonished, “save some of it. And you can protect your family from the religious tug-of-war in the middle of it!”

Guy's attention had returned to the ruined castle. The sun was rising and still souls continued to rise from the ruins.

And souls continued to be slammed, screaming to the earth.

“How do you suggest I save some of the church's wealth? And when?”

“Take up brick-laying in the next life or two. At some point, Ripley's will need a fresh coat of wash.” The angel leaned over towards the knight. “The nuns of Ripley's will claim your body and put you in the catacombs of the Abbey in a few days, along with the wealth you have left for Seth.” Guy snarled at that. “Being there will not hurt you a bit! They will treat you very kindly and with great respect.”

“Respect I paid them for!”

“Aye and in time, that respect will be earned. Your descendants will be blessed for that respect!” Valoel took a deep breath and relaxed. “The nuns will protect your and yours for many generations! They will remove your family jewelry and crucifix from your body and lay them with the money you have left for Seth. No one will be able to touch the crucifix, save your reincarnations. It will be very hot to the touch.”

Guy remembered the few times he held the cross, taking note of the bite, the sting of it. Up until Genevieve gave it to him...

“There will be an additional scroll. Look for it.”

“What is it?” Guy sounded bored, so very bored, but Val knew he was listening carefully and pondering every bit of information.

“Genevieve's contract. The copy you made for yourself.”

Guy's head whipped around. “I put that in the box hidden behind the chamber pot in the water closet!”

“Yes, you did and the home will fall into severe disrepair until you claim it in forty five years! It would stink of piss and shite and the ink will have run! I,” with this, she pulled an ornate circular canister from her robes and shook it under his nose, “have secured it and will make sure it is safe in the crypt where you can find it!” Quickly, it disappeared up her sleeve. “Your title and lands will be held by the crown, but you will need to be knighted and you will want to ingratiate yourself to Henry III, to have it returned to you. That would be John's son and successor.”

The angel shivered as the man leaned over and whispered in her ear. “And how do you suggest I do that?”

Val shrugged. “Oh, there is a little disagreement in France that he will think he needs to settle.” She shook her head. “He doesn't need to be a part of it. In fact, he needs to stay out of it. It will behoove him not to put his nose where it doesn't belong and he will be oh so very grateful to the man who talks him out of it in the long run.” With this, she began to clean her nails. “If you play your cards right, not only will Locksley and the surrounding county be returned to you along with your title, you might even find yourself gifted with a wealthy heiress to wive, along with her lands and vineyards in Southeast France.”

Guy threw back his head and roared. It was a hearty laugh. Val waited for him to finish before tapping him on the arm. “Before you do anything, there is one thing you must do, because if you do not accomplish it, it will make this beginning very difficult.” Now, she had Guy's full attention. “Annie is not feeling very kindly towards you and will initially refuse to have anything to do with the wealth you have left her and Seth. You can still claim it, but you need the education the money will buy and with her refusing to acknowledge it-”

“I will receive no education and no way to pay for my training as a knight.”

“True.” She nodded towards Ripley's. “You need to convince her to accept the gift.”

“She hates me,” Guy whispered. “And for good reason.”

“But she still loves you.” The Angel laid her hand on his arm. “She remembers the sweetness that does reside in you. Seth is the last Gisborne. You need her to at least acknowledge that. You are Spirit. Your voice and presence can be seen and felt for a limited time.”

Guy started to slide from the bench, before stopping. “Will you be here when I return?”

She shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.” Guy was glaring now. “Probably not,” she finally admitted. “Remember. Convince Annie to accept the bequest for Seth's sake. Take every educational advantage when it's presented to you. Henry III. The Saintonage War in 1242. Just say no. Stay beneath everyone's notice. You want power; you do not want notoriety. In this form, stay close to Nottingham. Listen. Learn from history. You'll be stronger for it. You cannot be seen by the living for long, so do not waste time.”

Guy began to fade, thinking of the task at hand, before coming back suddenly. “Genevieve?”

“I will watch and protect Genevieve until you get there.”

He was nodding as he faded, the mist of him blowing in the direction of Ripley's.

Val continued to sit there for a time, watching the rising of the souls that was beginning to slow down.

“You are spoon feeding him.”

“Yes, I am, Douma.” The Angel of Inner Peace smiled serenely. “He is smart; certainly more intelligent than most gave him credit for. He will not need a spoon so much as time goes.”

“And he has time. But will he have enough of it?”

Val exhaled. “One hopes. One so hopes.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 02

The Ghost of Ripley's Convent

A Manna from Heaven Tale

Timeline – 1196 – The Siege of Nottingham and immediately afterwards, approximately 2 weeks.

 

"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."

It came out of nowhere, whispered in the heat of screaming and the sound of fire. Tuck turned towards the man who uttered such silliness. "This is not the time."

"There may be no other time."

Again, Tuck tried to redirect the Black Knight. "I do not believe I am the man for this particular job."

Sir Guy looked down his long nose. "I trust no one else for this particular confession."

Tuck inhaled.

"Please. I will be quick." He shook his head and whispered in the friar's ear. "I do not think I will survive this siege and if I do not tell someone, my title, fortune, and lands will die with me."

Tuck's head jerked. "You have an heir?"

"Yes."

Tuck blinked twice. "Somewhere quiet. Quickly." Guy knew the castle like the back of his hand, knew where the hidey holes, the quiet places, the safe places. Within a minute, the two men were in someone's chambers, Guy making quick work of checking out the room, ensuring their privacy.

"Forgi-"

"Just talk." Tuck waved him off. "No formalities."

The tall man seemed to ponder for a moment. "A few years ago, I sired a child, a boy, on one of the servant girls here in Nottingham." Once started, it came out in a rush. "I was lonely, lied to her, promised her many things and when the boy arrived...I did not believe he was mine until I laid eyes on him." He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing. "For a time however, she pleased me and I did harbor some tender feelings for her."

"Are they here?"

"No." Guy shook his head with an angry whisper. "I told her I would send him to Kirksley, to be raised, educated. Actually," he shrugged elegantly with one shoulder, "that was my final intention; however I did a wretched thing, one I pray she will find in her heart to forgive me for someday."

Tuck held his breath.

"I... used him as bait... to lure Hood. The ruse worked, however, rather than my capturing Hood or any of his men, he escaped and held on to the boy, kept him safe. Annie found out, attacked me and disappeared." By now, Gisborne had turned away from the friar, tension obvious in his spine. "As Hood was the last to have the child, I suspect he aided Annie in taking him somewhere safe. I pray they are safe."

"And you wish for me to absolve you of this?"

"No," Guy whispered over his shoulder. "I want to ensure you live so you can find them and take them to Ripley's Convent."

The priest was now shaking his head. "I am confused."

Gisborne turned back to face the friar, his words hissing furiously through his teeth. "I have taken a goodly sum of money to Ripley's and spoken to the Mother Superior there. There is a written document, sealed with my signet and mark, stating that Seth is my heir. My title and whatever lands I possess, if I am not dispossessed, belong to him and his descendants. The money is to be used to educate him, teach him to become a knight or whatever trade he chooses."

Tuck took a moment to take all this in. "This is," he continued to shake his head, "an amazing request."

"I have done many people wrong in my life. I have destroyed almost everything and everyone I have ever loved." The man's voice was soft, almost... reverent. Pulling at the ties at his neck, he pulled out a silver chain with a delicate, almost feminine cross dangling at the bottom. For a moment, Tuck thought he recognized the piece of jewelry, a remnant of a memory he could not quite grasp. "This is one of the few things I can lay to right in this life. I must put it right." Still clutching the crucifix, he looked at the friar with more sincerity than the man ever knew existed. "Hood, Much, or Little John will know. Please find her. Find them." He tucked the cross back under his shirt and re-laced it. "Tell her... I never left him, I never let him out of my sight, and I did not leave him out in Sherwood to die. I almost gave up, retrieved him. I am sorry I did it. I was stupid. I am sorry for what I put them through." With the stealth of a warrior born and bred, Guy left the room, leaving the man with his thoughts.

Tuck filed them away and hurried to the inner warehouse, his focus now on discovering the secret of Byzantine Fire.

Less than twelve hours later, both Hood and Gisborne were dead. Dead at the hands of the Sheriff and Isabella, Guy's sister.

Dead while saving the people of Nottingham. Heroes, both.


~~~...~~~

Two days later, Tuck found himself at Ripley's Convent under the watchful eye of the Mother Superior as he read the very document Sir Guy had told him of. Robin of Locksley's manservant, Much - who was still grieving the death of his master - stood by his side.

"He has died?"

Both Tuck and Much nodded slowly, Tuck engrossed in the plainly written transcript and Much, in shock.

"Honorably?"

"He died a hero." Much was much subdued. "I...I was proud to be by his side those last weeks."

The Abbess bowed her head. "And you know where this woman and her child are located?"

"Yes, I do, as does Little John," Much spoke in a low whisper. This morning, Little John spoke of going to Aquitaine at the Queen Mother's request. Everything he held dear; his family, Robin, were gone or dead. His fight with the Sheriff was over; his personal war with Nottingham was done. His wife was gone, remarried most likely; his own son had most likely forgotten him, a ghost of a memory at best. He was tired of living in the forest, constantly being hunted and perhaps it was time to put his staff to walking use and begin again. Even if he was the lowest servant in France, he would have a soft place to lay his head for a change. "Lady Marian made arrangements to place her and the baby with Lady Glasson."

"So, Lady Marian did help with the arrangements." Much nodded. "Sir Guy suspected she did." It was quiet for a moment before the woman continued. "I have one request." The Abbess had a strong voice, for one who supposedly used it so little. "Is Sir Guy's body accessible?"

This question appeared to shock both men. "Excuse me?"

The nun licked her lips. "Sir Guy left the Convent a sizable gift and," she gestured to the document still in the friar's hands, "a great responsibility. We feel it is our duty to ensure he is laid to rest properly and a mass is sung for him."

"Has the dust even settled?" Much seemed to be thinking aloud, rather than actually asking the question.

Tuck was thinking hard. "The portion of the cellar where he died and should still lay was far removed from the part of the castle that was destroyed. There is a good chance we can get to his body." He looked up at the nun. "Would you need help digging a grave?"

"I intend to put him in the crypt. A place has been made for him already." As with most monasteries and convents, Ripley's had an underground catacomb, reserved for the higher nuns and those deemed worthy. Apparently, Sir Guy had made an impression on the Abbess.

As they left, they met Archer by the horses. He refused to go in, feeling uncomfortable, in his words - a late arrival to the party. He was still stunned by the knowledge that he went from being an orphan with no family to having not one, but a sister and two brothers, knights with titles and parents who did love him. He had almost thrown it away for money and glory, only to change his mind and still lose all three without coming to know anything about his parents, his heritage, save their names. In the coming years, he would learn about Robin and his father from Much, but Guy and his mother would surely forever remain a mystery. Only whispers, what would become legend and most of it unkind.

"Bury Guy in a nun's crypt?" Archer was shaking his head. "I would rather find a shade tree to bury him under."

"Why is that?"

"Think about it," Archer was starting to smile. "My brother, buried and laid to rest with a bunch of old skeletal virgins. I didn't know him well, but I think he would consider that hell. I certainly would!" With that, he put his heels to his horse, his laughter echoing through the wood.

~~~...~~~

"Why?" Kate was furious, her raspy voice raised in the air. What was left of the gang stood in the old graveyard, a long wagon loaned to them by a farmer in Locksley for the day, backed up near the tunnel. "Why does he get a burial at Ripley's and a Mass sung for him? He killed-"

"Your brother. Yes we know. You remind us all every chance you get," Archer spat drolly. "He also gave his life to save you and us and everyone in Nottingham from certain death." He looked up into the sky. "The sun is going down and I don't wish to be here in the dark." He disappeared into the tunnel with Little John and the same stretcher they used for Robin. Much followed, carrying a large Gisborne banner he had pulled from the wall in Locksley just an hour before. Thornton thought he was stealing it, come to deface, desecrate the home, dishonor the dead, but when Much hurriedly explained what he needed it for, the man helped him pick the largest one and pull it down.

"But-"

"Kate." Tuck gently laid his hand on her shoulder. "Sir Guy did many things he regretted towards the end of his days. I heard his last confession." He saw no need to tell the woman the knight's 'confession' had nothing to do with all of his misdeeds. "He tried to make amends the best he could and he succeeded in several. It is time to forgive and let go. If you do not, your hate and anger will consume you and define your life. Let him go. He has met his Maker face to face and will be judged accordingly, by the only one with the authority to judge him.." Grabbing one of the horses, he led it to the young woman. "Why don't you go to Ripley, tell them we will be there shortly with Sir Guy's body and to be prepared for our arrival." He handed the reins to her. "This will give you time to talk to the Lord and find forgiveness in your heart. To be forgiven, one must learn to forgive." He gave her a hand up and watched her ride away.

He waited for what seemed a long time, but eventually, the three men brought up a long body, wrapped in the banner. Sliding the stretcher into the back of the wagon, they lit the wagon lamps and with Tuck behind the horse, they began the trip to the convent.

"Probably a good thing we got him today." Much was trying to make idle chit-chat, something the knight laid out in the back would have abhorred. "Another day or two, he'd have been pretty maggoty."

"MUCH!"

The man looked a bit ashamed. "He looked pretty good, actually. I was afraid he'd jump up, yell at us or something, tell us it was a trap."

"Much!" Little John kept his eyes forward, watching for... what was he watching for? "Just shut it!"

"Sorry." He was quiet for a few minutes while they navigated the graveyard to the road. "When will we go to Annie and Seth?"

"Annie and Seth can wait a few days," Tuck had thought about this. "The gift Sir Guy has left them will wait, but the healing of Nottingham will not. We need to tend to this flock first and next week, Much and I will go to Glasson Hall and see if she and the boy are still there. At the very least, we will take the two to Ripley's so the Abbess can tell her herself what Sir Guy has bequeathed to her and the boy."

"She might not listen," Little John was shaking his head. "She was quite angry."

Much was nodding in agreement. "That she was."

~~~...~~~

For the fourth day in a row, the servants at Glasson Hall were quiet and subdued. Rumors of an explosion at Nottingham Castle had reached the Hall six days before, confirmation coming two days later. The castle was destroyed, messengers said. The lady had been worried until word of her nephew, who lived near the fortress, came stating he was safe.

For not the first time, Annie wondered of Sir Guy. As much as she hated to admit it - and never would aloud - she missed him, wondered how he was. On one hand, she was still furious with him, hated him, for abandoning their child in the woods to die. Thank the Saints for Robin Hood. For that, she would never forgive him.

But on the other, he awoke something in her, something that made her cry in the night. Her hand could not mimic his touch, his kisses were not a faint memory. There was a sweet, gentle side to him, one that he shown her in the deep of the night, that awoke such passion in her. A few months back, the blacksmith started coming around to her little cottage assigned to her by the lady. He brought her gifts, things made for Seth, who as he grew older, looked more and more like his father. Already, he was taller than the other children his age and his black curls were unruly. But the most startling thing were his eyes - sky blue and ringed with dark lashes - which turned stormy gray when he was angered. The child's temper was fierce and one she strove to teach him to control.

When she realized the blacksmith was courting her, she invited him to dine with them on Sundays. He was a nice enough man, hardworking and well-off. He was a good man, respected in the village. Despite his brawn, he was a gentle soul, and she liked him well enough, but his kisses, while nice, left her wanting more.

They weren't... Guy's. That man could coax honey from a beehive.

A swarming beehive.

She suspected the blacksmith would ask for her hand by Christ's Mass and she wondered if she should tell him the truth about Seth before then. All assumed she was a widow; that her husband had been killed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. She didn't think Sir Guy would come knocking on her door, demanding the child.

If he lived.

And that's what was occupying her mind day in and day out when word of the destruction of Nottingham came to her lady's manor. There were rumors, wild rumors, the sheriff was dead, the sheriff was alive, Guy had a sister, she was the sheriff, she was in the dungeon, put there by Guy himself, Sir Guy was a hero, Sir Guy was a demon, he killed Lady Marian in the Holy Land, had sacrificed her to a pagan war god; rumors persisted she married Sir Guy in the Holy Land, that she had struck him at the altar in the church in Locklsey, that Robin had married her in her dying moments. Sir Guy was dead, Robin Hood was dead, that Hood and Guy still lived and hid in the woods, now outlaws together, that Hood and Guy were brothers somehow, that they shared a brother, that Guy was the new Sheriff....

So many tales...

She kept her head down and simply listened, attempting not to show much interest, but at the same time attempting to glean as much information as possible.

She would hate to run, but if she had to...

In recent days, there had been many comings and goings, bearing news from Nottingham, the surrounding countryside. Prince John had ordered his emissary to investigate, but there were no warrants, prizes offered for Robin Hood or any of his gang.

So it was no shock when what she thought was a single man arrived, a friar, looking for the lady of the manor. As Lady Marian promised, Lady Glasson was kind, after reading the letter Lady Marian had written her, offered Annie a place first in the kitchen and eventually moving her to serve in her hall. Right now, Annie lived better than she ever dreamed in her own two room cottage, with a small garden in the back and a place with friends for her son to play. The village accepted her with open arms and finally, Annie was feeling content with her life.

"Annie." Lady Glasson stood in the doorway, watching the young woman put the linens in a wardrobe. "You have visitors."

Immediately, her heart rose into her throat. Seeing her distress, the elderly woman placed her hand over the servant's. "'I will stay with you, as it is two men from your old home in Nottingham. Come."

Still wary, Annie followed her to a small room off the main hall. Lady Glasson called it her 'receiving room', a private quiet place to sit and talk with guests. The friar was there as well as a second man. When he turned, she gasped, recognizing him. "Much!"

He looked aged, tired, grieving. With a weary smile, he took her hands. "Mistress Annie. You look well." He released her hands, but continued to smile into her eyes. "How is Seth?"

Her mistress was still standing behind her, so she chose her words careful. "Getting tall and full of mischief." She nodded, hopping he wouldn't ask more questions. "I fear not only does he look like his father, but has his fierce temper as well."

"Seth is no problem, Annie," Lady Glasson laughed. "I remember all seven of mine at that age. Tyrants, every one!"

Annie's smile did not reach her eyes. The friar had been watching her closely, making her nervous. Finally, he spoke. "Please sit. We have news for you and it might be a bit of a shock."

This was truly frightening. What news would they have for her? If Much was here, then it had to concern Guy. Annie looked at her mistress, alarm on her features.

"I am not going anywhere, Annie." Lady Glasson reached over and took her by the hand. "If you need a shoulder, I am here."

Both men looked at each other with apprehension. This was delicate, at best. "My lady," Tuck began softly. "This involves Seth's father and is... rather..."

"He was a noble, wasn't he?" Lady Glasson addressed this to Annie. Seeing the young woman's face blanche, she nodded. "I thought so. I will not castigate you. Highborn men have been romancing pretty maids for longer than I have been alive. It always ends the same." She squeezed Annie's hand. "Who is Seth's father?"

Annie struggled for a moment before answering so softly, she could barely be heard. "Sir Guy of Gisborne."

Lady Glasson thought for a few moments, nodding. "Ah. Yes, I see now. Seth does resemble him greatly. I,” she paused for a moment before continuing, “saw Sir Guy on a few occasions. He was a finely wrought man. I always hoped there was more to him than simply Vaisey's lackey. Now there was an evil one for you."

Annie finally caught her breath. "You are here for a reason. Why are you looking for me and Seth?"

Tuck nodded to Much, before turning and staring out the window. This irritated the manservant, the unsavory chore being left to him. "Annie, I am sorry to tell you, but Sir Guy is dead."

The girl made no move, no sound, her only visible reaction was her free hand, clutching the knob of the chair and the white line her lips became. "I see." After a moment, she looked up, angry resolve on her face. "I do not know why you felt the need to tell me. He is nothing to me. He left our son in the wild to die."

Lady Glasson gasped at this.

Tuck's back was still to them all. He shook his head. "No. He did not."

"Yes, he-" Her angry retort was cut off by the friar's raised hand.

"No, he did not. I heard his last confession hours before he died. He... Sir Guy was a very different man the last few weeks of his life. He had many regrets and you and Seth were on his mind heavily for some time. Up until he passed."

For some minutes, the man recounted Guy's final 'confession'; how he admitted using Seth as bait, how he claimed it was his intention to take him to Kirksley after capturing Robin. In halting speech, Much recounted the last weeks of Guy's life; how he had changed in some ways, how he saved the people of Nottingham and aided in killing the sheriff. "He was a different man, those last weeks, Annie," he finished quietly. "I was proud to be by his side. I would have gladly died by his side."

Annie nodded, her knuckles and lips still white. "This is all very kind for you to come to tell me, but what does it have to do with me? He made many promises he did not keep."

"Ah," Tuck turned and smiled. "But he has. He has kept those promises. He left a bequest for Seth, for you at Ripley's Convent. If your lady can spare you for a day or two, the Mother Superior will tell you, show you."

"Show me?"

"It is in writing." Much blurted. "A fabulous inheritance. I couldn't believe it when the friar here read it." The man ran on like an out of control horse. "It's even sealed with his signet ring."

Annie did not relax. "If you've read it, why do you not just tell me now and save me the trip? And why would he go to a convent for this 'fabulous inheritance' rather than Kirkley's or here?"

"He did not know where you were," Tuck replied. "And Ripley's was safer. Vaisey had spies everywhere, but he had none at Ripley's."

"He didn't want the Sheriff or his sister to find out. They would have made yours and Seth's life a living hell."

"Protecting us to the end," Annie murmured sarcastically.

"To the end, yes." Tuck responded gently. "In the end, when he knew his life was in a noose eventually, he sought to protect you and Seth and to provide for both of you." He let the words sink in. "Will you come to Ripley's with us tomorrow?"

Annie was shaking her head. "No. He did nothing for me or for Seth when he was alive, save give us grief and terrify me. He lied to me. He lied about so much. I'm sure if he knew his life would be over, he had... regrets, but it's too little, too late. I hope he burns in hell!" She started to rise, only to be held back by her elderly mistress.

"Annie, I think you should reconsider, if not for your sake, for Seth's. Go with them tomorrow. See what the Abbess of Ripley's has to say, what Sir Guy left for Seth." Annie opened her mouth for an angry retort, but the woman put a single finger up. "If he left you money and you truly do not want it, give it to the poor, the church, the community. Save it for Seth. I would ask that you not make your decision rashly." She then nodded to the two men. "If you go to the chapel, ask Father Gregory for a bed for the evening. We have several for travelers. Annie will go with you in the morning. I will keep her darling despot while she's gone. You," she addressed Annie, "stay. We will have tea and talk about this." Calling a servant to bring refreshment for the two, the woman nodded the two men out and waited until they were gone and the tea arrived. "Come sit in front of me, where I can hold both hands. I fear my eyesight is not as good as it used to be." She waited until the young woman knelt in front of her, both hands clasped in her own. She watched as the girl's lower lip began to tremble. "You still love him, don't you?"

And Annie cried.


~~~...~~~

They arrived at the Abbey late in the afternoon, almost dark. Rather than be taken straight away to the Abbess's chambers to read the document, they were fed in silence, shown to cells to sleep in, the men separated from the nuns. It was cold in the cell, the bed hard and the young woman did not sleep well. She missed her little home, she missed her son.

She was haunted with memories; memories she had suppressed since she left Nottingham to start anew, to give Seth a chance. She remembered the look on Sir Guy's face when she told him she was expecting - he didn't believe the babe was his, she could see it in his eyes. He was the only man she ever lay with, she prayed for a boy, a boy with his distinct features so as to prove this was their child.

She remembered the first time he held the babe, the look of shock when the dark knight pulled the blanket back to see, yes, this was without a doubt, his child. That look of wonderment...

That look, the moment he laid eyes... it was not false.

"What have you named him?" His voice was hoarse.

"I have waited for you, my lord. It is the father's right to name the child."

"What would you like to name him?"

At that moment, her heart sank. For the first time, she feared he would deny her, deny the babe...

"My father's name was Seth-"

"Then name him Seth." Sir Guy held the babe for a long time, until he woke wanting to be fed. He inspected him - fingers, toes - gazed at him in wonderment. When Seth grabbed Sir Guy's pinkie, the knight smiled. "He has a strong grip. He will be a wondrous swordsman."

And when he finally handed Seth back, he informed her that no child of his would be raised to be a kitchen brat and he walked out. He came often - usually late at night, when the castle was resting, to look, to simply... gaze, to hold him. After a few weeks, he told her he intended to send him to Kirkley's, to be educated - more than Annie thought he would offer. To be educated was expensive, especially at a place like Kirkley's.

And then it all went wrong.

If what this friar... if what Much... told her was true, Sir Guy always did intend to educate Seth. Truly, she didn't want anything for herself. She wasn't sure she wanted this... late gift.

But Lady Glasson was a formidable mistress and Annie promised her she would make no decision until she heard the Abbess out and then discussed it and the possibilities with her. It bothered Annie to no end that feelings she thought were long gone for the father of her baby were in truth, still close to the surface.

It made for a difficult night.

The next morning, after they broke their fast in silence with the sisters, the three were led to the abbess's office, where a large piece of parchment was unrolled and Friar Tuck read to her.

Annie listened quietly to the words, watching the friar's finger as he under scored them as he read, but mostly, she was riveted to the seal at the bottom, wax, with Sir Guy's sigil, a wolf, pressed into it. She knew that sign, he had a tattoo on his arm. She had toyed with it many a night when he stayed with her for hours after he had lain with her. She had heard many maids complain that their lovers would roll over, leave after taking their needs out on a woman's body, not worrying if their lover was satisfied or not, but Sir Guy... liked to cuddle, strangely enough. He never left her wanting.

"I don't understand." Annie wasn't stupid, not by a long shot, but this...

The Abbess had the kindest eyes - well, next to Lady Glasson's... the woman put a restraining hand on Friar Tuck's arm. "Poor child. She's overwhelmed."

"To say the least." Annie searched the room for a familiar face. "Much?" His face came alive at being asked. "What does this mean? What did he do?"

Much shuffled across the room. "Well, basically, he made Seth his heir. His money, his lands, which would include Locksley and the Gisborne lands, the property, if they have not been confiscated by the crown. Of course, in order for Seth to have a title, he should become a knight, for starters. He would be known as Seth FitzGisborne, of course. But otherwise, the money to educate him, train him is... is..." he looked up at the Abbess. "Where is the money?"

"We have it. Or a good portion of it. There is a goodly sum. In all truth, I have never seen so much money accumulated in one spot. Annie, Sir Guy also left a stipend for you."

"A... stipend?"

"A yearly allowance. It is a rather generous sum and there is more than enough money to educate your son and more than likely his children and grandchildren as well, if you are frugal and do not choose to spend it in other ways." Seeing the confusion in the woman's eyes and seeing the truth in them, the nun lowered her voice and whispered, "We have his body."

It took Annie a few moments to register that. "His body?" Suddenly she looked up. "Might I see his grave? Please? I would like... this is strange but I would like to see it, speak to him."

Closure. The other three in the room realized that what the young woman needed was closure. "There is no grave. He is down in the crypt. Many find it a gloomy place."

"I don't care." She looked down at her hands. "I would like... I need to speak to him."

~~~...~~~

"Are you sure you are all right, child?"

"Yes."

There was a breeze from somewhere, causing the torches to flick and dance. Friar Tuck put one in the casing next to the catacomb where a plain, stone sarcophagus lay. There was no name, no dates, nothing to denote who lay within the crypt, save the yellow and black banner stretched across the top.

"The mason is working a new lid, one with his name and his death date," the Abbess whispered. "Does anyone know his date of birth?"

"He told me once, early on, he was thirty and two. That would be two or three years ago." Annie's voice was breathy, her eyes riveted to the stone in front of her.

"So, perhaps 1163?" Tuck was quick to calculate.

"I will inform the mason." The Abbess took gentle hold on Annie's arm. "I will stay-"

"No. Please." Annie looked down, not over her shoulder. "I would like a few minutes with him alone. Please." Now her eyes rose, looking for the friar. "You are sure it is he? Positive?"

Interesting that after all this time, she would openly grasp for anything to tell her the man still lived. "I am sorry," Tuck whispered. "It is definitely Sir Guy who lies in this grave." Annie nodded and returned to her inspection of the mortar surrounding the small, recessed mausoleum.

The Friar and Abbess waited a few seconds before the nun spoke up. "We will leave torches so you can find your way back. There is a draft, but we know not where it comes from, therefore if you have not returned in a quarter of an hour, we will come searching for you."

"I won't be long."

“Do not wander. 'Tis easy to get lost.”

“I won't.”

Annie waited, listened for the footfalls to die away before turning again to sepulcher. She reached out, as if to touch the very stone.

"Guy?" She inhaled, to quell her shaking breath. Finally, she laid both palms flat on the cold stone. "Are you really in there or have you played yet another trick on us and snuck off to parts unknown?" She dropped her hand. "I truly wish you have tiptoed to France or the Holy Roman Empire or even north or over to the Island of the Celts. Of all the times I wished you dead, now you are and I realize I didn't mean it."

A wind blew through the tunnel, a hint of a whisper unheard on the current. Again, placing both hands on the stone in front of her, Annie leaned forward, as if to whisper in the cracks.

"I loved you," she murmured. "Loved you so much and I asked for nothing! Nothing, save your warmth and affection. I didn't ask for better quarters, clothing, jewels, shiny baubles. I didn't ask to become your wife, your mistress, because of our class differences. I didn't ask for special treatment. I accepted it when you ignored me in the hall! I asked for nothing for our son. You offered it!" Her voice rose and she paid no attention to the sputtering flame in the surrounding torches, flames that blew in different directions, an unseen vortex entering the catacomb. Annie didn't see it, couldn't see it because her eyes were full of tears.

"You terrified me! Using our baby as bait? Where was your brain? You could have said something, anything, but you let me... believe... you bastard!" She began to wind down. "You let me believe..."

SSSSSSSSSSSSsssssssssssssssssooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyy....

Her head jerked up, not believing she heard anything. It had to be a trick of the wind! Swallowing hard, her hands still pressed against the stone, she addressed the man within the grave again. "You should see him, Guy," she sniffed. "He looks just like you. He is tall, with lots of black curls, just like yours. And eyes like the sky. Lady Glasson calls him her little tyrant. He stalks around like... oh Guy, you should see him! He is all you, there is none of me in him." She set her shoulders, resolved to finish her tirade.

"So I loved you and I hated you and I ran with our baby and hated you some more because you lied to me and now I discover you didn't lie to me after all and maybe you did the best you could despite it all and protected us in your own weird fashion." She inhaled. "They say you left Seth a fortune, that you left me a pension beyond all pensions."

AAAAAAAAANnnnnnnnnnnniiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee... Llllloooooooooooook aat meeeee...

Her head jerked up, searching...

Off, down the corridor in the shadows, the dust stirred, took form, took shape, of a tall, dark man, moving towards her. Annie gasped once, standing up and turned to run, only to fall. She scooted back against the wall, her hand over her mouth as if to muffle her scream, her feet scraping against the rough stone of the floor.

The paleness of the ghost did not take away from his features. Guy's hair was longer than she remembered, but still lay in glorious curls, his face fuller than she recalled. Rather than the leather vest, he wore a padded jerkin with mail underneath. He cocked his head to the side, smirking once and then sank to his heels.

Sssssssssseeeetttttthh isssssssss wwwwwwwellllllllll?

His voice echoed eerily through the tunnel, the words on the breeze, his mouth, never moving. Annie nodded, unable to speak.

The knight's mouth worked; obviously, it was difficult to communicate in his current state.

Llllllllllliiiiiiiiiiiike meeeeeee?

Somewhere, she found her voice. "Just like you."

The ghost smiled, obvious pride on his features. He looked heavenwards, rolled his eyes, as if hearing a voice she couldn't hear. After a moment, he lifted a finger and smiled.

Aaannnnie...uuussse thhheeee mmmmonnnneyyyy forrrrr Sssseeeethhhh. Plleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaasssssse. He shook his head sideways, becoming more firm, not as translucent, his speech clearer for a minute. Donnnn't thhhhrow iiit awaaaay. Marrrryyy yoouurrrrr ssmmmiiithhh... he leaned forward so close, had he been alive, she could have felt his breath on her cheek. Giiive hhiiimm daaughhterssss... He leaned back, smirking, a grin so rarely seen.

"But...but... Seth! How do I explain? All this money?" She sat up straight in horror. "How did you know about the blacksmith?"

The Ghost rose to his feet, towering over her. There was a time, so long ago, she relished sitting and watching him stand next to her, looking up at him. She swore then there was not a more beautiful creature in all of England than her lover.

Thhhheee trrrruthhh. Tellll hiiiimmm thheeeee trruthhh...

From somewhere, the wind pulled her to her feet. She realized that the fire in the torches were whipping about as if in a storm. Guy was standing before her. Ssssssethhhhhhhh isss aaaah Gissssssborrrrne. Ttttthhhheeeeeee laaaaaaasssssssssssssst Gissssborrrrne. Rrrrrrrrrrreeeeememmberrrrrrrrr thhhhhaaaaaaaaaat.

Annie wanted desperately to reach out, touch him, see if he was real, but before she could put action to the thought, he reached for her. Both hands looked to grasp her arms, the touch colder than snow or the ice in the stream when it froze. She closed her eyes to concentrate on forcing warmth to her limbs, when she felt a cold, cold breath on her brow. In that ghostly embrace, the words on the current were strangely clear, as if he had suddenly taken corporal form. I'mm ssorry. Donn't thhhhrow hiss birrthrright awway to spite mmmee. I neverrrr mmeannt fforr thisss to happennn. I'mm sssssorrrrr....

The wind suddenly died and when Annie opened her eyes, she saw the form walking away. As he... it... turned the corner, he turned and gave a smirking bow, before turning the curve and disappearing.

She broke into a run, grabbing the torch as she went past, but when she looked around the bend...

There was nothing but crypts, skeletons, dust.

"Annie?" Much's voice echoed down the other corridor and when he came to Sir Guy's crypt and didn't see her, he became alarmed? "Annie?"

"I'm here." She didn't move, just continued to stand, staring into the dark passageway.

“Annie?” The man was by her side in an instant. “What are you doing down here?” Gently, he took her by the elbow, using his own torch to peer down the darkened passageway, before leading her back to where Guy lay. As they reached the intersection, he placed both torches in holders. He grabbed her gently by the arms, rubbing quickly up and down. “You're cold! Almost frozen! Why did you stay so long?” He finally looked at her, saw the blue lips, trembling jaw, and chattering teeth. “You are freezing! You look as if you've seen a ghost!” In an instant, the man threw off his coat and put it around her shoulders. “Let's get you upstairs, in front of a fire. We'll see if the kitchen has something warm to eat.”

With that, he led her out of the catacombs and back into the convent where Tuck and the Abbess waited.

“Child?” The Abbess was obviously concerned. “Sweet Jesu! Stir the fire!” Much ran to do her bidding, Tuck pulling a stool over beside it. “Go to the cook and bring up some of last night's stew. Make sure it is hot.” She waited until the door shut, before pulling a second stool next to the young woman. Taking both of Annie's hands into her arthritic ones, the elderly nun began to rub. “You look as if you have seen a ghost.”

Annie's teeth were still chattering. “I...I...”

“I have seen him twice,” the Abbess whispered. “Twice in five days. The first time was when we received his body. The tomb was so cold and he watched us from the far end.” Annie continued to stare into the fireplace, although her teeth weren't chattering so much now. “I saw him again two nights past. He was angry. He said you were at Lady Glasson's and I was to fetch you myself, if need be.”

“He... he... could b-b-b-be very f-f-f-orceful,” Annie admitted.

“His voice was like grating stone on stone.”

“H...h...h...he... was li...ike... he...waasssssssss... before...” She swallowed and pulled closer to the fire. “He was kind.”

Tuck returned with an earthen mug of the previous night's stew and handed it to her. Annie was vaguely aware of whispering between the friar and the nun while she stared into the fire, thinking of her conversation with the ghost and allowing the stew to warm her from the inside. As she came close to the bottom of the mug, she felt Tuck's large hands around her shoulders. “The kitchen is wrapping fresh bread and cheese for us, as well as a skin or two of wine. We will leave as soon as Much gets the cart. I will go help him, so you may speak to the Abbess about what you wish to do. Do you need me to stay?”

Annie shook her head. “I have decided.” She was staring deep into her cup. “I would like to speak to the Abbess please.” She waited until she heard the door shut. Looking over her shoulder, making sure they were alone, Annie began quietly. “Guy kept a promise to me. He left provision for my... for our son... to be educated. If what you say is written on that document, he acknowledged Seth as his.”

“He has and as it is sealed with his ring, no one will deny it.”

“I was going to leave it. Donate it,” Annie admitted nervously, “but Guy reminded me of something. Seth is the last Gisborne. Guy left him everything so Seth... I want him educated, Mother, but I don't know how to go about it.” She shrugged. “I suppose I could start with Lady Glasson.”

“She will help you. If she cannot, send a message to me and I will help you. I suspect Friar Tuck will take an interest in your son.” The woman stood, groaning with her bones. “There are a few things I should show you.” She followed the nun to her desk. From a box, the woman withdrew a velvet pouch. It was heavy and coins rattled inside. As she pulled open the drawstring, the nun poured out coins; gold, silver and copper, all stamped with the insignia of the King. Crowns. “This is your yearly stipend, should you choose to take it.

“Yearly?” Annie had never seen so much money.

A ring and necklace fell out. Annie reached out, picking up the ring. It was large, a man's signet, a wolf's head carved in the center.

Guy's signet. She remembered it, had toyed with it many nights, cuddled up to the man.

“We took that from his body when we received it, as well as the crucifix.” The old woman nodded to the necklace on the table, sitting among the coins. “Go ahead. Pick it up.” Annie grasped the silver cross, only to drop it with a hiss.

“'Tis hot! It bites!”

“Aye.” The Abbess nodded. “I had the same reaction. I almost buried him with it rather than take it off,” she admitted, “but it is obviously a cherished family heirloom.” She watched as Annie gingerly held it by the clasp with her fingernails, watching it spin erratically in the sun.

“I never saw him with it. I don't remember it.” Annie laid it back down on the table among the coins. “I should leave it here for now.”

“There are other things, jewelry, some plate, goblets,” the nun offered, but Annie was shaking her head.

“If I come home, laden with gold and knight's spoils, word will get out who Seth is so no, I'll keep him safe as long as I can.” She gestured to the things on the desk. “Please put that back. If I am in need of any of it, I will come.” Her face hardened. “But I will do my best to educate my son.” There was a knock at the door, Much retrieving the young woman. Annie nodded to the man, before kissing the Abbess' ring and taking her leave.

The trip back was quiet, Annie mulling over the events in her mind, her 'talk' with Guy. People would think she were mad, so she chose to keep that visit to herself. Lady Glasson knew Annie's mind when she arrived, knew she had accepted whatever it was Seth's father offered.

~~~...~~~

Annie married the blacksmith, joyed in his attention and gentleness and, strangely enough, over the years, presented him with daughters, five beautiful, healthy daughters that he doted on. He doted on Seth as well, never making a difference between his flesh and the child his wife brought to the marriage. Annie told him the truth of Seth's parentage when the man asked her to be his wife, expecting him to set her aside and crow about her weakness to the world, but he didn't blame her and he judged her not. Never, not once in their many years together, did he ever throw her sin in her face or harry her for her mistake.

Seth grudgingly learned to read and cypher, many thinking the money to educate the boy coming from the extra sewing Annie took in or that her blacksmith paid for it. Annie laughed behind her hand; had they known how much that precious education cost and that the little bit she took, in addition to the single silver piece each that she took from her stipend, which she actually laid aside for dowries for her daughters.

Once a year, she went to Ripley's, to confirm what was written, to take the money to pay for Seth's education, or what little extra she needed. She always took far less than what Guy set aside for her. Each year, she took yellow roses, grown in her garden, and placed them on his coffin. She kept him abreast of what Seth was doing.

She saw Guy's ghost twice more before her death. She saw him after Seth married and saw him the last time the summer of her death.

Seth resembled his father greatly, from his great height, to his dark hair and eyes chiseled from the sky. He chose to say naught about his inheritance, chose not to pursue a knighthood. He refused to touch the money, still so much of it left and instead, chose to educate his son, Roland, in the same manner. He followed the only father he knew into the smithy and was known to be just as gentle as the man who raised him. He would accompany his mother on her yearly pilgrimage to the Abbey, and even after her death, continued to leave a yellow rose on his father's coffin.

Because his mother made him promise, made him promise to honor the man who gave him so much, even after his death.

A little over forty years after Sir Guy of Gisborne's death, a tall, lanky young man showed up at the Abbey's door.

The current Abbess gasped when she saw him. Once, she had been a young novice, the very one who opened the gate to a dark knight that she dreamed about often – dreams she refused to confess to, having been told to forget she ever saw the knight. Instead, she pleaded forgiveness from the Holy Mother every time she knelt on the old stone floor. Upon being made Abbess, she had been given scrolls, treaties to read, became knowledgeable to the secret that was hidden beneath the abbey.

She knew WHO lay in the catacombs, what was hidden there and now she knew why.

So to see him, alive and hale and so very young terrified her, although she schooled her features as the newly spurred knight towered over her.

“You have something of mine. I wish to examine it.”

Quietly, he followed her into the catacombs, to the niche next to his grandfather, where the chests were stored. The previous abbess had the things kept in sacks and pouches moved to small caskets, money and the family jewelry kept there. She stepped aside as he first laid a single, yellow rose on the sarcophagus, dusting aside the dried stalks from the previous years, before moving to the treasury.

One by one, he opened each chest, inspecting the contents, rifling through the coins, before closing and latching them, setting and stacking them atop Guy of Gisborne's tomb. Finally, in one of the last chests, he found what he was looking for.

In the casket were a series of tubed canisters. He removed them and tucked them into his belt, behind his jerkin. He then held up the aging velvet bag with a grin, inspecting it in the light. The Abbess looked on in horror. One of the things written in the scroll was this bag, this pouch, and what was in it, was not holy. “Child. Perhaps-”

He loosened the drawstring, digging long, elegant fingers into the depths. “Sir Roland. My name is Sir Roland FitzGisborne. I will be more, when I prove my worth and regain what belonged to my grandfather. Ah!” He pulled out a ring, gleaming in the light, the etchings of a wolf's head on it. Without a second thought, Sir Roland slid it home on his index finger. He then reached into the little sack again, the clinking within audible. He pulled out a chain, held the object to the light and watched as the Abbess stood mesmerized as the ornament spun erratically, glints from the torches flashing on the walls.

She knew what this was. There was mention of it, mention of its... unnatural abilities... “Sir Roland, I would not touch-”

He reached out and grabbed it, squeezing it tightly with his fist. With an ancient smirk, he found the clasp and opened it, putting it around his neck and situated the delicate little crucifix around his neck. He held it up for a moment, to examine it closely, before tucking it into his jerkin and making sure it laid next to his skin.

He spent a few more minutes filling his purse, attached to his belt beneath his jacket, before replacing the chests neatly in the little alcove. Finally, he picked up the torch, handing it to the Abbess, before taking the other one, and motioning for her to lead the way. He took one last look at the alcove, touching the stone coffin before whispering,

“I am coming, Genevieve. I am coming.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Installment 03A

The Saintonage War

'So, your first reincarnation was Roland FitzGisborne?'

'Yes.'

'You were your own grandson?'

Guy nodded. 'I have always been a FitzGisborne.

'Did you just know you were Guy from your earliest memories, or did they just kind of... grow on you?'

She was squeezed in the dark. 'My lady, you are a most inquisitive miss.'

Genevieve reared up on one elbow. 'I want to know!'

Guy was deep in thought. 'When I was young, there were... dreams. Repetitive dreams. I remember riding through an overgrown field and having the most absurd feeling that a small hamlet had resided there once, that I had lived there as a young boy and teen. Later, I was told a small village had been there, that Roger Gisborne and his family had lived there before the bailiff dispossessed them and years later Guy of Gisborne had his revenge.' He took a deep breath. 'Later, I had vague recollections of women, Marian, Genevieve – you – I dreamed of you naked in the tub, tied to a table, tied to the bed, handcuffed to the post of a bed... there was a vivid memory of you in a poet's shirt three times your size while standing in front of the fire, pressing a wet cloth to your back.' He smiled. 'Those memories were very... realistic.'

He felt her cuddle in. 'Are you saying I was the cause of your wet dreams?'

'Quite.'

~~~...~~~

Early July, Bordeaux, France 1243

 

It was well past dark and the castle had, for the most part, settled for the evening. Only the council room in the great castle of Bordeaux showed any signs of life. As the dark knight made his way towards the great doors, his footsteps slowed, the sound of his spurs scraping lightly over the stone. Twice, he slunk into the shadows, when the doors were thrown open, advisers storming from within, watching from the adumbration. Time in the shadows gave him time to think, gave him time to replay his last conversation with the angel over in his mind.

The Saintonage War, Guy. Just say no.

Hugh de Langstram was throwing a royal-sized fit and an understandable one at that. The county of Poitiers, which should have been inherited rightfully by his wife's son, was instead given to the French King Louis IX brother, Alphonse, deeply insulting Hugh's wife, who just so happened to be the former Queen of England, and the current English King's mother, Isabella of Angoulême. Royalty did as royalty pleased, but Hugh was calling in every favor from every one with an armed man to his side and was of a mind to force Louis to acquiesce the lands to Isabella's spawn. If everyone came to his call, he would have a formidable army.

Except not half of those he called had come. Oh, Hugh was telling everyone he had the numbers, but truth was, he did not. And the size of the French Army being called up against Hugh was beyond sizable. Even if all of Hugh's friends and allies gathered, it wouldn't be enough men.

Henry was young. In time, he would be known as a diplomat, using persuasion to gain what he needed. But that time had not yet come.

If Roland threw the dice as he should and could convince Henry not to go to de Langstram's aid and withdraw the troops already there, things that belonged to Roland just might be returned. Nottingham thrived, but Locksley and the hamlet of Gisborne were sitting empty of their rightful lord. Roland hadn't been by the area but once since he claimed his inheritance. Over five years! The place had looked like a slum then. No telling how much further into ruin Locksley Hall had succumbed to; even if it were still standing! And it needed to still be standing! Roland's 'grandfather', Sir Guy of Gisborne, had hidden what he could not hide in Ripley's there in the old hall. The hamlet that Sir Guy spent his early years in was gone, nothing left but earthen foundations. Regardless of their state, Roland wanted them in his fist. Not until then, could he begin to rebuild-

There was grumbling, mumbling still within and hiding in the recesses of the shadows, he waited until there was no sound coming from the hall when the doors were thrown open again.

King Henry III stepped through, the fires from within casting a hellish glow about him, the shadow of the man thrown for many feet down the darkened hall. The man looked about the hallway, his eyes narrowing. “Oh, Ghost of Nottingham,” he whispered, “are you about?”

“I am no ghost, sire.”

The voice came in the king's ear, causing him to jump. Henry jumped back, a hand over his heart. “God's Bones, FitzGisborne!” He reached and grabbed the younger man in relief. “You have frightened the piss out of your king!” His face spread in a grin. “Look, you have made me curse. We must beg forgiveness!” Henry was a pious man, much more than his father or uncle and definitely more so than his grandfather! His patron saint was Edward the Confessor and the man had gone so far as to name his first-born after the old king.

Roland was not so pious, but he was not about to tell the king that. There were things he wanted, wanted badly and only Henry could grant him his desires. He smiled. “Shall we go in and pray then?” He nodded towards the doors.

“You first. I insist.” Henry gestured, indicating he would follow the knight in.

Roland nodded. “Sire, 'tis-”

“-unwise that I should leave my back unguarded. There are those who would say it is equally unwise to leave only one to guard my back.”

Dark brows drew downward. “Sire, do you doubt my loyalty?”

Henry backed down immediately. “Quite the contrary, my dear friend.” With that he stepped forward. “Truth be, you are the only man I do trust with my back.” And with that, the two men entered the room, Roland closing and bolting the door behind him.

Prayers and absolution were quickly dispensed with, much to Roland's great relief. Unbeknownst to anyone, he was already in thrall to a much higher power than the King of England and wished to distance himself as much as possible while his corporeal form walked the earth. Pouring both his king and himself a goblet of wine, he toasted his liege. “How is your queen?” The last time Roland had seen Henry's wife, Eleanor, she had begun her lying in.

Henry's face split into a grin. “She safely delivered a healthy girl the end of June! We have named her Beatrice.” Although this was Henry and Eleanor's third child, one would have thought it was his first and a son, at that. Henry had a son, Edward, but every man knew the more sons a man had, the better. Girls however, made excellent bargaining chips. Henry now had two. Silently, Roland bowed and toasted Henry's wife. The two men drank in silence, standing in front of the fireplace and basking in the glow and warmth. Upon finishing his wine, Henry stared into the depths of the empty chalice. “What brings you to my war chambers so late, Roland FitzGisborne?” Now, he looked up. “You have been my friend for many years.”

This was true. Henry had met young Roland while traveling and resting in Nottingham when the young king was a teen and Roland was scare eight years. Henry's mentor, Hubert de Burgh, was initially amused by the blacksmith's son, who audaciously informed the nobleman and his king that it was his desire to be trained as a knight and he had the funds to do so. That amusement turned into something more tangible when Hugh and young Henry discovered that the boy was the only grandson of Nottingham's most notorious black knight and yes, he did have the funds to pay for his training and education, if he could find someone who would take him seriously. As it stood, some of the priests at nearby Kirksley Monastery had taught the boy to read, write, and cypher; Father Simon insisting the boy was bright, inquisitive, intuitive, and resourceful, in addition to insisting that the nuns in Ripley's convent had proof the boy was who he said he was and Sir Guy of Gisborne made provisions as best he could for his illegitimate off-spring before he died.

Hubert de Burgh made Seth FitzGisborne a promise before they left. If the boy kept up with his studies and if Father Simon thought the boy had the aptitude for it, he would ensure the boy's knighthood and a place to hang his sword. The young King's entourage then left Nottingham and Hubert immediately forgot his promise.

But Roland did not.

Nor did Henry.

Somewhere between then and this night, Roland had proven himself and his loyalty over and over. For one so tall, he had stealth, he kept his ear close to the wall and he knew things, inherently knew things that were happening and going to happen. Unbeknownst to Henry, Roland already knew Eleanor of Province had had a daughter and that the royal couple would welcome two more children into their royal nursery before it was over. Roland knew how much Henry adored his wife and had the moment he laid eyes on her and Roland knew just how much the English despised their queen. Roland knew many things he kept to himself. He stayed in the shadows, did not ask for grandiose accolades. Most of Henry's nobles didn't know Roland existed and the few who did, thought little of him. He asked for nothing, he did not seek attention or public praise, he stayed in the shadows.

Roland was Henry's most trusted spy.

Again, he asked. “What brings you here so late at night, Roland?”

Roland inhaled, choosing his words carefully. He had to do this right. He had to regain physical control of his... his grandfather's lands and title. 'Sir' was nice for a knight. He wanted more. If he did this right, the basis to build a dynasty could begin.

He looked Henry straight in the eye. “Hugh de Langstram does not have the support he would like you to think he has.”

“What?”

“Hugh does not have the man power he would like you or anyone else to think he has.”

“How few?”

Roland shrugged. “Half. Maybe.” He continued, wanting Henry to realize how dire the situation was. “I have seen the might of the French Army. If Hugh does not stand down, Louis will march on Saintes. They will not be able to withstand. More than a few of his barons do not support him.”

Henry snarled. “My mother is furious.”

“I know.”

“Had we not lost the Battle of Bouvines, we would not be in this position! Louis would be bowing to me, not the other way around!” The goblet Henry had been holding was now thrown across the room, bouncing and ricocheting against the stone wall and floor, and rolling under a cabinet. “Poitiers belongs to England! Many of England's kings have resided there! I should reside there! Poitiers is mine!”

“I know, sire.”

“Anjou! Brittany! Maine! Stolen from England! FROM ME!”

“I know, sire.”

STOP I KNOWING ME!” Henry was red, furious. Most men would back down, step back, crawl. But not Roland FitzGisborne.

“Sire,” he continued softly. “The loss of those lands were not your fault. Perhaps at some point, you might regain them, but not today.”

Not ever.

Henry stood with his fists clenched, forcing himself to breathe deeply, calming himself. “You are sure?”

“I have seen it.”

“You are sure?”

“If you doubt me, send someone to see for themselves.” He then shrugged elegantly. “If I do not tell you God's truth, my head is yours.”

Henry was in Roland's face. “Noooo,” he hissed under his breath, barely audible. “If you lie, I will strip you of everything and send you back to your little village to your father and I will force that convent to give up everything your grandfather left you for repayment for my putting up with you.” He stepped and smiled. “However, if you tell the truth, you will have saved me from great embarrassment and I shall not only compensate you for your information, but I will reward you with something I know you desire and covet.”

Roland forced his voice to not waver, to appear uninterested. “And what would that be, my lord?” To the casual observer, Roland FitzGisborne stood before the king, bored, feet apart and his hands behind his back. No one would see the white knuckles and long fingers clutching at the air.

“A title. And Locksley.”

~~~...~~~

One month later

 

Child-bearing had given Eleanor of Provence a maturity she had not possessed when she arrived in England to become Henry's bride eight years previous, at the tender age of twelve. Her husband's subjects had worried she was barren as there had been no issue from the marriage the first four years, but unbeknownst to all, Henry refused to consummate the union and bed one so young, at least not until she was older and at least 'liked him'. Instead, he showered her with gifts, lavished her with attention, took personal interest in her household, and woo'd her in a way most women weren't. His patience paid off and Eleanor adored her husband for it. She was intelligent, appreciated culture and the arts, and she knew when her family negotiated the marriage contract, that her husband was marrying her for political reasons and her family connections. She made sure she was knowledgeable in many subjects, including politics and in the years to come, she would be known as the more politically tenacious of the couple, endearing her to few of her husband's advisers.

But this moment, she was a mother, showing off her newest babe, cradled in her arms.

And trying her damnedest to quietly get her husband's attention!

Finally Henry looked to her, his attention focused on several courtiers. His eyes followed to where her head was jerking to, towards the tall, dark slender knight standing in the shadows, watching the goings on and seemingly unaware he was the focus of the royal gaze. Going to his wife's side, he sent a servant to retrieve Roland from the sidelines.

“Congratulations on the birth of the princess,” Roland's voice was quiet. “Forgive me, sire, but I thank God she is as beautiful as her mother.” Henry roared in laughter, causing many eyes to rest on the small group.

Eleanor smacked Roland on the arm. “I thank God she is healthy and that it was an easy birth.” The queen was very aware that many of her ladies were looking Roland over in interest. Already, she had had to field inquiries; who was he? Was he married? Was he of means? Roland was a handsome man, but every father or guardian would want to know his financial and political situation before allowing his daughter or sister to marry. A handsome man was just a handsome man. A handsome man, if he was without means, could not support a family.

But Eleanor already had plans for this uncommonly fair commoner. She well knew her husband's background and fondness for the knight. Roland FitzGisborne had done her husband a great service and she intended to make sure the man was rewarded most handsomely. Henry was a man, a good man, a good king, and a good father, to be sure, but he was still, a man. He thought as a man and was therefore, in her eyes, not seeing as far ahead as he should. He had been easy to persuade the night before, while her hand was wrapped around his prick, stroking him slowly into oblivion. A title and lands were nice, but Sir Roland needed to be grounded and tied thoroughly to the throne of England. There was truly only one way to do that.

Henry finally settled down enough, only to find a sharp elbow in his side, administered by his wife. He smiled benignly as he watched her lay Beatrice in her cradle. “You have done England a great service with your astute observation regarding Sainte and the lands in Pointiers.” His voice dropped. “You were most correct in regards to the lack of support for Hugh and my mother and while it grieved me to withdraw, I will not lose English lives on a lost cause.”

“Perhaps at a later date, Sire, England will regain all of your lost lands.”

Liar liar, will not happen, not tomorrow, not next month, next year, not ever. In time, France will own and control everything but the island of England itself. But Henry does not ever need to know that.

“Aye! Yes, we count on it. We must plan and pray, but not today. Today,” Henry had a finger up and was grinning like a mad king with a poker hidden in his sleeves, “today, we reward you for your service to the crown.”

Roland's heart quickened, clutched in anticipation, but outwardly, he was a rock. “Sire-”

“I bestow on you the title Earl of Locksley and grant you the lands formerly belonging to your deceased grandfather. I believe there is a hall and a village that will fall under your earldom.” One eyebrow was raised. “Do not make the mistakes your grandfather made in regards to your loyalty to the Crown.”

“My grandfather was a drunk.” Guy – no – Roland quickly retorted. His heart seized in gratitude. It is mine, returned to me! I can rebuild, begin this long process of-

“Of course, you will need a wife, the promise of children.”

The voice in Roland's head immediately hushed. “Sire?”

“My lord,” Eleanor's hand reached out and covered her husband's. “You have rendered your man speechless.”

Speechless nothing! Roland hadn't thought that far ahead. He dreamed of Genevieve, who would not walk the earth for over another seven centuries. Of course, he had to marry and sire children, and in order to do that, one had to get partially disrobed and sweat, but...

“Sire, at this time, I have not given thought to marriage. Until a moment ago, I had nothing to offer. I am still young.”

“You are the same age as I when I married. Marriage is good for a woman's soul and a man's libido!”

Roland's jaw flapped. “Sire, did you have a wench in mind?” Please, not a child, like the queen was.

Eleanor turned red, but Henry laughed. “Not a wench, but a fair maid, indeed.” He began to scan the hall, looking for one in particular. “Some weeks back,” he was straining now, looking for Roland's future wife, “I was granted guardianship of Alise of Aigues-Mortes, a young noblewoman. I have been most anxious to procure an honorable and noble husband for her. Someone worthy of her.” Not seeing who he was looking for, he called for a servant. “Find Lady Alise.”

Guy? You drink like a sot and I'm afraid you'll drink yourself to death. I don't want you alone and I don't want you to die like that. Do it for me.

“Check the garden, my lord,” Eleanor whispered. “She is fond of the roses.”

“The garden. Check the garden.” The man nodded, but before he could turn, Henry continued. “Make sure Sir Roland and Lady Alise are seated together for dinner.” The servant finally left, his head full of instructions. “As I stated, I was given wardship of Lady Alise. Her grandfather recently passed, leaving no male heirs and it was requested that I find her a suitable husband.” Henry leaned forward. “Her lands yield a delectable grape and the wine is divine.”

Do it for me, Guy! I want you to leave this wretched place. Kill Vaisey and then go to France, raise grapes, become a fat drunkard. Do it for me.

“Sire, this is most...gracious and generous, very unexpected-”

“Her grandfather was the Duke of Nîmes. You, will of course, assume that title along with the others that go with it and I fully expect you to keep the province out of Louis' hands!” Henry now rested in his seat. “The Blessed Mother knows, the area has seen enough turmoil with the Catharian idiocy!”

Lands thousands of leagues apart. One in need of rebuilding, the other...

“We would be grateful to simply have our dear Alise away until the area settles,” Eleanor whispered. The care in her voice made Roland's ears prick. “You will meet with her at dinner, tonight?”

“Of course. By your leave.” Roland bowed started to withdraw, aware that Henry had risen and was now taking him by the elbow and leading him away from the royal dais. “Dress in your finest,” he whispered. “Alise is distantly related to several noble houses and Eleanor is very fond of her. She is winsome, although a bit long in the tooth.”

“How long?”

“Oh,” Henry nodded. “Eighteen.”

Sweet Jesu, thank you, not a child. “Practically an old maid.”

Henry continued, not paying attention to Roland's dry humor. “She has spent the last years caring for her grandfather. Her mother died some years back and she has run the household, therefore she has some experience with a hall. She is a pleasant young woman and sings beautifully. I believe you will like her well enough.”

“How long have you been plotting, Sire?” Grey eyes raised malevolently. “Or am I simply in the right place at the right time?”

“My dear Roland!” Henry grinned. “Plotting? Do you think so ill of your king? I wish to reward you for a job well done! I know your home in Locksley will need serious renovating. I will make sure you have chambers at Nottingham Castle while you have Locksley made ready for her, if you like her well enough. Then you can oversee her grandfather's estates. Despite the uproar and turmoil, her grandfather was adept at staying on the fence and placating the Catholic Church.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “I wish to reward you for a your service! I do not wish to see you married to a fishwife and I do not wish her to married to an old man who will not care for her. I will see you at dinner.”

Roland nodded, lost in thought, as he left the hall and made his way to his rooms. His servant was there, commanding a bath and laying out formal velvets and silks for dinner. Thomas had been with him for many years and Roland trusted him explicitly. Like Roland, Thomas had a penchant for clinging unseen in hidden shadows and hearing amazing tales that sent the two on harrowing adventures, but right this moment, Thomas was nattering on and on and on about the king's ward who was too old to be unwed. Rumor had it the evening was to be very special.

“Special, my arse!” Roland grumbled. He knew he would someday have to marry, but he had no idea the King of England would arrange one for him beneath his nose.

“Sir Roland?”

“Thomas, I need you to find out everything you can about Alise of Aigues-Mortes. I do mean, everything. Her parents, grandparents, her lands, estates, wealth.” He sat on the bed and pulled off his boots. “You have ears in places I do not. What do the servants think? Is she kind, cruel, insipid, a spend-thrift, missing any teeth, is she compassionate? Are there rumors, perhaps a hidden child somewhere?”

Thomas sighed dramatically. “And who is Alise of Aigues-Mortes and why would she be such an interest?”

Roland began to strip. “Apparently, she is to be my bride.”


tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 3B

She holds a secret

'Related to the King?' Genevieve reared back, looking at him quizzically.

“Yes.”

“How so?”

Guy looked at Genevieve, a scowl on his face. “I have never had a wife so interested in my former paramours!”

Genevieve was not to be dissuaded. “I'm glad you weren't alone. That was the one thing I remember telling you.”

“Aye. That you did. You told me to fall in love. And obtain a vineyard, grow grapes, and become a fat drunkard. I did three of the four.”

~~~...~~~

Alise, at nineteen years of age, was sweet-tempered and gentle-natured. She had a kind word for all and the servants loved her dearly. She was fair enough, slightly plump in a manner that Roland appreciated, and she had a mind like a steel trap when it came to expenditures. She was not a spendthrift and didn't seem to care if she had the latest fashions in every color, although it pleased Roland to dress her richly.

Alise came with an estate, and an income, which upon her marriage, was immediately handed over to her husband to manage. Combined with the income he already controlled and his newly acquired title and estates, the FitzGisborne's were considered up and coming in addition to comfortably well-off.

It was a wonderful start for the dynasty Roland planned to build.

Their courtship was a whirlwind, both knowing when they first sat down next to each other at dinner that evening, they were sitting next to future spouses. Henry mercifully left them to their own ends during the following two weeks, allowing them to get to know each other.

Both were grateful for two weeks of wooing. In many cases, such as the king and queen's, a couple didn't get that luxury, most marrying within days of meeting, and, in the words of a young noblewoman overheard in the garden, expected to disrobe and lay beneath a grunting, sweating man, whether one liked him or not!

And then have to put up with a man's mistresses and dalliances with grace! A wife was supposed to be grateful that at least, her place was secure.

Roland wasn't stupid and he wasn't completely cold. Initially, a wife was simply a way to an end; specifically, children. And a way to add additional income to the family coffers. It was a business arrangement, a political arrangement, one that could work successfully, if both partners worked at it. But after meeting Alise and discovering an intelligent, quick-witted brain beneath the pretty dark-haired curls, he was, in a sense, reminded of Genevieve.

And there was a strange stirring beneath his doublet; one that did not involve his member.

The two spent much time in the garden, beneath the willow. Alise knew her garden, knew her herbs and knew her grapes. She knew wine, she adored poetry.

Alise was not shy and much to Roland's pleasure, was an enthusiastic and responsive partner in the bedroom. She let him know, soon after their marriage, that while her body belonged to him and she was pleased to give it to him and open to exploring their mutual baser desires, his body belonged to her, and she would not turn the other cheek, nor would she ignore mistresses or paramours.

“You think too much for a woman,” Roland murmured in her ear. She had strange, almost blasphemous notions; that women should be in charge of their own fortunes, that they should not be married off just because men were considered level-headed and stronger. That men and women were equal partners. She didn't seem to care much for the feudal system, of Pope, King, Lord, and peasant.

Thankfully, she only spoke of her opinions when she and Roland were alone.

Three weeks after their marriage, Henry requested he and his bride accompany the royal entourage for an afternoon of hawking. It would prove to be an interesting afternoon.

~~~...~~~

“Married life agrees with you, FitzGisborne!” Henry and Roland walked towards the field, a ways from Eleanor and Alise, the two women happily situated on the ground, spread with the picnic and baby Beatrice in a basket. Henry's two older children were playing, pestering Henry's hawk handler, who showed much tolerance for the prince and princess. The hawks were hooded, tethered to a bar. A musician strolled around the edges of the small group, tuning his lute.

“Thanks to your gracious thoughtfulness, sire.” Roland knew who buttered his bread and who he must continue to appease to keep keep it so. “She pleases me and that is more than most men can say.”

Henry roared, clapping the younger man on the back. “So true, so true!”

The musician began to sing, much to the delight of the queen and Alise.

Henry's smile was forced. “Do you like this?”

“I am tone-deaf,” Roland admitted.

“'Tis frightful. Absolute warbling, but Eleanor likes it and it appears Alise does as well.”

“Apparently.”

“I should send him with you when you return to England. A wedding gift.”

Roland grimaced. “Your majesty is too kind.”

“No, I am not. I am a right bastard!”

Smiling, Roland tilted towards the king. “Might I ask a question?”

“You might ask, and you might get an answer.”

It was a delicate question, one that needed to be... “It concerns Alise. Who is she and why was such a lovely prize bestowed upon me?”

Henry was thoughtful. “Alise hasn't told you?”

“I have not asked.”

The field was open, the sun out with no clouds in sight. Much to the servants dismay, Henry wandered farther from the small group, nodding to his wife and Roland's before turning his back on them. “Alise's mother was the beloved mistress of Raymond VII, the Count of Toulouse.” He noticed Roland's blank stare. “Raymond's mother was sister to my father. We are cousins.”

“My wife is the great-granddaughter of old King Henry?” This is a great gift indeed. What did I do?

“Aye.” Henry was now turning slowly, to look fondly at the pastoral scene of his wife and young children. The two men were out of hearing range of the wandering musician. “Raymond wished for a son and divorced two wives over the issue, or lack thereof. Sadly, the only child he sired, besides his daughter with his first wife, was another daughter – Alise.”

Roland's mind raced, trying to refresh his recent history. Raymond had fought an unwinable battle with the French King, as well as the Catholic Church in an area rife with Catharians, a scourge the Church sought to eradicate.

Much about his wife suddenly made sense.

“Raymond's daughter, Joan, was married to Alphonse, King Louis of France's brother, the same Alphonse who was handed my lands!” He took a breath and lowered his voice, attempting to calm himself. “She was quite young when she was sent to the French Court, and has no memory or love of her former home or her father.” Eleanor motioned to the two men, beckoning them to come join the women and children to eat. Henry shook his head and leaned in. “He was forced to give one daughter up, ensuring his lands would go to France upon his death. He did not want the same fate for his other daughter. Raymond was given no choice in the matter, therefore he kept his mistress and Alise secret from the courts and the public eye.” A feast had been laid out on the cloth where the women and children reclined and Eleanor, now determined to rein in her husband, sent a servant in the men's direction. Henry gave a chop with his hand, halting the young man. “Her mother died when Alise was twelve and rather than find a husband for her, she was allowed to stay with her grandfather, who was long in years and in poor health. They were very close. The estate is remote and quiet and according to Raymond, no one bothers them, however when the old man passed some months ago, Raymond was frantic to remove her without notice and marry her to someone more of his choosing.” Henry was perused the sky, as if to find a lone cloud above them. “Someone with no French connections or loyalties and more... open-minded than the Church.”

“He does not wish the estate to fall into French or Church hands.”

“Correct.” Henry smiled indulgently. “My cousin entrusted me to find her a strong and titled husband; one who is staunchly English. One who would fight to keep those lands out of the wrong hands; out of French or Church hands.” The king's voice lowered. “Do not mistake my words, Sir Roland. You are steadfast and true and I have rewarded you greatly. The restoration of your grandfather's title and former properties were not only payment for your past service, but your future service as well, keeping her safe and away from barbarians. Raymond wanted her married well. I ensured it.”

“My life is yours.”

“It would be most wise if you remember that.” Henry's voice remained low. “She has been faithful to attend Mass and confession each week, ensuring she is seen by the spies of the church. I do not want Rome in England routing out Catharians. Make sure she knows that. The loyal Catholics who have taken over the lands of the Catharians are nothing short of barbarians! I will not tolerate my people being cut down like pigs over a few heretics! I will hunt them down myself, thank you very much!” Suddenly, he brightened. “But I am sure your lady understands that.”

Nottingham was far away from Rome. There were many places to hide, if necessary. Alise was intelligent, resourceful. Considering the divine beings he walked with and spoken to on a level he would never admit to, Roland's opinion of the Holy Church was not so very high and he understood the Catharians. In time, their beliefs and ideas would take root again, under a different movement, so if Alise wished to explore her faith privately, it was of little concern to him, however-

“I have something that needs attended to.”

Ah. A favor. One he would be paid well for. “Sire?”

“Eleanor would like her parents to know she has been safely delivered of another child. In addition, I am sure you would like to take a quick look at your wife's estates before you return to England. I would also be pleased if you checked on my cousin, Raymond. I hear rumors he is frail, and knowing how he fares would ease mine and my mother's mind.” He clapped Roland on the back. “Make sure there is nothing on that estate which could incriminate your wife,” he smiled through gritted teeth. “Even if you have to burn it down to the very foundations and into the ground and rebuild. But mind the grapes. I hear the grapes are exquisite! Shall we eat?” With that, the king stalked off, leaving Roland with much to think about.

~~~...~~~

Alise, he decided, was determined to steal his soul. With another woman dancing in the back of his mind, he had hoped to simply develop fondness for his wife and future wives, but this one stirred feelings that bothered him. He needed to find a quiet, solitary place, where he could beg and plead and hopefully speak to that angel he had swung with on that... what did she call it? A porch swing? Alise was not Genevieve, but something about her...

He shook his head and returned to the task at hand.

The castle was quiet, the rooms given to him and his wife, lit gently with several small lamps. The light glowed on Alise's skin. There was a certain beauty, Roland thought to himself, of a woman's body, stretched taut, beads of perspiration pearling on corded muscles. A woman's body in itself, was a work of art, something God Himself had fashioned lovingly. Alise's arms were raised, her wrists tied with silken scarves to the top of the bedposts. She was blind-folded and purring like a kitten.

Roland nipped at the backs of her knees, making her giggle, before licking up her thighs to wonderfully full hips. He pinched the fleshy part with his teeth before continuing up her spine, lapping at the glistening seeds of salted skin, nibbling at the soft crease at her neck. He reached around her, teasing the folds between her legs. “This belongs to me.”

Alise pressed backwards against him. He was equally naked, his erection blatant and obvious, pressed to her cheeks. “Aye, my lord. It does.” She pressed back further into him. “Just as that belongs to me.”

“Aye.” It was a whisper, a breath against her neck. For a time, he teased her, plied her with honey kisses, bringing her to a heated furor, the edge of the precipice. He moved to her ear, whispering softly. “The king charges me to bear a message to his queen's family.”

“My lord? Please might we discuss this later?”

He continued to tease her with his fingers, his lips.

“He also wishes me to see his cousin, Raymond.”

Her writhing came to a halt. “My lord?”

“Your father.”

Her breathing hitched. “You know?”

“I would know all of your secrets, Alise. I am your husband.”

She pressed against him, reclaiming his attention and rubbing enticingly. She had been a virgin when she came to his bed, something that delighted him, and came to their wedding night with an open and willing mind and body. Already, she was learning that which delighted him. He continued to toy, sweetly torture her, so close to the edge...

“May I go, as well?” She was on the verge...

Roland moved his hand from between her legs. “Mais, non.” He now moved to her breasts, teasing the nipples, the stubble of his evening beard, his teeth, worrying her neck. On occasion, he left marks, tiny things that she made every effort to hide, much to the good humor of the court. “I wish to make this trip quickly. Upon my return, we shall return to England.”

“You wish to oversee the lands the King awarded you.”

“The lands of my grandfather,” Roland specified. “Oui.” Her interest in their mutual game was waning and Roland did not wish that. He continued plying her with kisses, a heated touch, attempting to bring her back to that mindless, wondrous, carnal oblivion.

“La invèrn jardin.”

The winter garden.

Roland promptly released her, hands up and away from her body. He backed away, nothing touching. “Do you need a moment?” She'd used the strongest of their mutual safe words, so he had precious little hope that she simply needed to compose herself.

“Non.” Alise sounded... resigned. “You wish to converse, not exchange pleasure. Please untie me, remove the scarves. I would look upon you, eye to eye, and we will talk.” Roland did so, treating her as gently as he had on their wedding night, like something precious and valuable; fragile. As she turned to face him, he reached for her robe. “Non.” She warded the garment off. “I wish honesty from you, husband, as you wish it from me. I can think of no better way to exchange such, than as we were when we came naked into this world, having not yet sinned nor lied.”

At that moment, the very thing Roland had fought from happening, flooded his very being, thrust from the back of his mind and settled into his heart. To deny it was futile, pointless.

Should I not love? Could I possibly spend nine centuries, going through life without loving... someone? Spend life after life pining for someone who had yet to walk the earth? Who is to say Genevieve's soul is not anchored in this beautiful, intelligent, astute woman?

And brave. She is very brave.

This talk might take a while. “Would you like some wine?”

“That would be nice.”

Slightly inclining his head, Roland backed up, before turning to the side table, where a decanter of white wine sat. He poured a single swallow, tasting it, and ensuring the ripeness of the fruit, before deciding it was to his taste and ascertaining that it was not tainted. He then poured two glasses, offering a chalice to her.

She took a sip before asking quietly, “What do you wish to know?” He watched as she set her backbone, seeming to become taller. “I will answer honestly.”

It was apparent that she was irate with him and in hindsight, Roland did not blame her. He would make a point to apologize later. “As will I.” Roland took a sip before setting his almost-full glass down. “Your father is Raymond VII of Toulouse. You are the great-grand daughter of King Henry II of England and as so, are related to King Henry III of England.”

That stubborn chin that Roland knew existed rose. “Oui.”

“He is a Catharian.”

“My father supported open discussion-”

“Alise,” Roland's voice cajoled. “Do not attempt to humor me. This discussion is between you and I and I will have God's truth from you.” He took a step closer to her. “You are safe here with me and I wish to protect you. I cannot protect you if I do not have the truth. Now, again. Your father was a Catharian.”

Alise bit her lip. “Maybe. I do not know.” She shrugged. “I have never been to my father's house. Truth, I have not seen him in three years. He came frequently when my mother was alive. Less so, after she passed. I missed him. I... miss him. He brought me gifts; dolls and books, ensured I had tutors who taught me to read, taught me of the world, things only taught to the worthy, to sons. I never discussed religion with him.”

For now, her involvement in her father's religious questing placated Roland, however he pressed further. “Your grandfather was a Catharian.”

“Yes.”

“You are a Catharian.”

Her smile gave him pause. “I have studied it.”

Roland tapped her gently on the nose. “You are a Catharian.” She stood before him, naked and resolute. “I have watched you. You eat no meat.”

“Meat makes me ill,” she began her oft rehearsed answer matter-of-factly. “It has since I was small. It makes me bloated and lethargic. I prefer fish.”

If anyone noticed his wife's eating habits, they said nothing. Sharing trenchers covered her habit well. Many times, Roland realized that after cutting the meat, she would move it around, picking out the vegetables, slyly pushing the cuts back to his side. Several times, she complained to the cook that the meat was simply over-done and it upset her stomach, asking if she could please add more vegetables or if there by chance, some fish in the smokehouse...

“I know you go to confession each Friday. You, who are beloved by the servants, your family, deeply cared for by your husband.” She looked up in shock at his declaration. “Surely, you knew I have feelings for you?”

“Oui, but-”

“I have to wonder what is so sinful that you could must possibly confess with such... fervency??”

Alise's face softened. “I confess to lustful longings for my husband, for surely, according to the teaching of the Church, to want or long for his touch and his body is surely wrong. That I would enjoy his attentions whether we have children or not. He pleases me and I yearn for the night, every night, for he brings me such pleasure. I am told that it is a duty to lie beneath you, but how can such joy, such passion be something to suffer through?” Suddenly, her face fell. “And I confess my jealousy for the woman he cries out for in his sleep.”

Her admission stunned Roland. There were times, years ago, when Thomas would wake him, telling him his dreams were dark; that he thrashed about in his sleep. “There is no one I would dre-.”

“Genevieve. Who is Genevieve?” She took advantage of her husband's shocked silence. “Who is she? I hate her. I confess my hate for her every single Friday.”

How unfair to Alise. How unfair to Genevieve.

Roland reached out and pulled his wife to him. “You have no need to worry about Genevieve-

“You cry for her! You love her so! I am afraid to touch you!”

“Alise.” He tried so hard to soothe her. “Genevieve does not walk this earth.”

His wife's head jerked up, almost catching him under the chin. “She died? Oh, my lord. My... Roland, I feel so very shamed.” She looked down, focusing on his chest, her fingers tracing a gentle, unknown pattern. “Now I feel so very guilty. I should hurt for you.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I do hurt for you.”

“Hurt for me no longer. I command it.” Roland stepped back, smiling. “Next time, I am caught in an ancient memory in sleep, poke me in the ribs.” This made her laugh. “You have now changed the subject and I intend for there to be answers. Your father was a Catharian, as was your grandfather, as are you.” He wagged his finger. “As long as your beliefs are held to you, I care not.”

“I may not discuss my thoughts, my beliefs?”

“Alise. How can I protect you-”

“Do you realize what it is to be chattel? I am grateful for a kind and thoughtful lord and husband, but I was married to a man I barely knew and had I not found you pleasing both in form and mind, I would have still been married to you! Do you know a woman is not required to speak according to the Church? Or, I could stand before the priest and scream to the rafters that no, I do not wish to wed the man across from me, that the priest would stand aside, while my husband beat me and then still pronounce us man and wife, while I lay broken and bleeding on the altar? Do you realize that it is a husband's right to throw away his wife's inheritance and she can do nothing about it? I am here, your wife because I must be... protected and not allowed or trusted by men or the Church to manage my own estate! My estate that I have run for some years!”

She took a breath and continued on, stunning Roland with the truth of her words.

“You love to watch me pleasure myself. You say it is so you know how and where I like to be touched, but according to the priests of Rome, it is a greater sin for me to pleasure myself than it is for a man to rape me. If I cry foul, I will be accused of leading my rapist astray!”

This angered Roland. Not anger at his wife, but anger at her words, which sadly, were true. “Any man who dare lay a hand on you, or say one word against you, will die by my hand!” He laid two fingers across her lips, to silence her forth-coming argument. “Henry does not want Rome in England, nor does he wish the havoc Rome and the French King rent upon his people. Louis will have all that is Plantagenet lands handed to him, as well as Foix and Toulouseone way or the other,” he hissed. “How much of Carcassonne does Louis hold? Trencavel? And when he has it all, then his eye will turn to England! Henry will not stand for it and will punish any who would give Rome, or Louis, any reason to cross the Channel.” He began to tap her lips with each word. “He. Will. Not. Have. The Same. Barbarians. Taking. English. Titles and Lands!” Now he cupped her face tenderly. “Let me protect you. Henry gave me the power to do so. If there is any cause or reason hidden at your grandfather's manse that would bring the wrath of Rome down on his lands, tell me now. I will go and ensure it does not happen.”

Alise swallowed several time, her eyes darting back and forth.

She holds a secret. I see it. I can tell.

“My grandfather had a hidden library.” Roland had to lean over her to hear. Her words were chilling. “If you can find it, then I will accept what you decide to do; if you decide to save it or destroy it.”

“What is in it?”

“If you find it, you will know.”

“Alise? What is in it?”

She smiled sadly. “What is Rome most terrified of every man having that is easily obtained?”

It took a moment for Roland to realize what she was saying and when it dawned on him, it was if the air was knocked from his lungs. “Oh,” he whispered. “Knowledge.”

She nodded. “And knowledge is power.”

“Great power.” He pulled her back into his embrace. “I will do my damndest to hide it. Forgive me if I cannot.” He waited until her shaking – or was it his? - subsided, before releasing her and backing her towards the bed. “I believe you and I have some unfinished business, my lady.” Within minutes, the creak of the ropes beneath the bed covered the sounds of contentment and release of the two in the bed.

But Roland's mind was not quelled.

Tbc.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 03C

In defense of the Catharians

Languedoc was, in Roland's eyes, beautiful. Green, things grew with ease, so much sunshine. Even with the onset of winter, with green things, growing things gone to the earth, the grape vines bare and skeletal, it was still beautiful.

But it was a surface beauty, which covered and concealed, if barely, the anger and distrust the people had for their masters, their church. There was war brewing, Roland could smell it. Even from the bow of the boat that moved up the Garonne River, with the smell of fish and dying vegetation so very prevalent, he could smell the discord of the land. The very hairs on the back of his neck prickled with it. When something peaceful was destroyed with violence, seeds of distrust were sown. Whatever the Church had decided to destroy, it destroyed everything in its path, including the innocent, which only made the discord grow worse.

And it would be crushed again and again, until another time and another place. But that was neither here or there. Eventually, The Church would be brought to heel. And the bearing of such would cause more blood to spill.

The Gentle Shepherd weeps at the blood shed in His name... but Man wants power and I am such a Man!

Roland's Occitan was perfection, spoken like a native, as was his langues d'oïl, and his Latin. His manservant, on the other hand, was English through and through, so he spoke little. He was also obviously his Master's rather visible muscle, although few men would want to tangle with Roland. There was an instance early on, in a little tavern a few days out, when someone decided to relieve Roland of his purse. In a span of seconds, the man found himself thrown from the building, bleeding profusely from his injuries, which included several missing fingers. Thomas was highly aggrieved that Roland did the work himself all to quickly, before his combined servant and guard had a chance to put down his rather dull eating knife and grab his own sword. He felt denied his sport! He snarled in silence as he picked up the dismembered digits from the floor and threw them into the ash bucket by the fireplace and righted his Master's chair before he returned to the table.

Roland perused the stunned room, which was terrified into silence. “Does anyone else desire to lighten my person?” He was met with shaking heads. “Good.” He wiped his sword and knife on his napkin, before picking up his cutlery and resumed eating. Thomas did not sleep well that night, choosing to sit in a chair with his feet propped on the table, facing the door, which was barricaded and blocked by the chest.

After some days of hard travel, they arrived in Toulouse. In order to travel as quickly as possible, upon reaching Bordeaux, Roland took the Canal de Garron to Toulouse and from there he planned to purchase fleet horses travelling overland to Aiges-Mortes. After that, there would be a quick stop in Provencal, praying the Queen's family was in Avignon, rather than Marseille and then attempt to discern the fastest, but safest route back to Alise's arms.

He was missing his wife. Not just the comfort of her body, but he missed her mind, her intelligent observations, her laughter. Yet again, he was reminded of Genevieve and felt painful stirrings of not honoring the woman he was spending eight centuries and risking untold dangers to reach.

His dreams, were lurid. Dreams of the woman stretched and tied to a huge table, tied to the bed post and a strange -

vibrator

-object in his hand, welded like a weapon.

Dormir tranquille, Gui de Gisborne. Nous allons parler avant ce voyage est terminé et tout ira bien.

Sometimes, the woman was Genevieve. Sometimes, it was Alise. It was disturbing, to say the least.

Roland decided it was the river, the water, causing the nightmares. His loathing of water was well-known, even as a child. Eventually, water became something to endure during a bath. Traveling, however, caused nightmares and called up other unsavory memories not from this life.

The captain of the boat - if one could call him that - recommended a decent inn and tavern on the outskirts of Toulouse, one that upon closer inspection, didn't seem to have taken as much damage in the fighting, like those they had seen while passing down the river. The fare was serviceable and filling, the mattress was not disgustingly lumpy, and there was a beat up tub that, for a few extra coins of silver, was brought up and filled with reasonably tepid water for bathing. For not the first time while traveling, Roland was openly propositioned by the serving girls. Before his marriage, he was known to partake, if the girl looked healthy and was clean. But for now, he had no desire for fleshly pursuits. Oh, his member was all for a little temporary entertainment, but his heart and mind were at odds and Roland was discovering that when there was no desire, then his prick typically gave up the fight and slumbered on.

But he was grateful for the mildly warm bath he paid double for, and hung out his carefully rolled velvet doublet and best britches.

The following morning, after getting directions to Raymond's chateau from the innkeeper, he was met by a sullen servant, who looked apt to slam the door in Roland's face. “I need to see Raymond, Count of Toulouse.” Roland nodded at the servant. “I have a message for him.” Again, Roland's Occitan was flawless and he saw the flinch of surprise in the servant's face. Roland expected to have to make an appointment, so he had parchment ready to write down where he was staying.

“The Master is not seeing anyone.”

“He will see me.”

The servant sneered. “And who are you to demand to speak? Another one of the Church's minions? The French King's vassal?”

Roland leaned in. “I am Sir Roland FitzGisborne, Earl of Locksley, the Count of Aigues-Mortes and the Duke of Nîmes.”

“Henri.” A strong voice interrupted the repartee. “Let him in.”

~~~...~~~

“You have married Alise.” The two men strolled through the garden, the colors of it in the last vestiges of life. “Tell me how you came to meet her.”

“King Henry introduced us in Bordeaux. We married in the late summer with his blessing.”

Despite his strong voice, Raymond looked pale, as if he had been indoors a long time. He stopped at the various bushes, long fingers plucking off the dried and dead blooms. He flicked them to the ground. “Her grandfather left her moderately well-off and he gave guardianship over to Henry. It was a wise decision.”

“He did not.” Roland needed answers and he did not wish to waste time playing games and gaining trust. Time was not a commodity he had at his disposal. “Her father gave guardianship to Henry, to give her in marriage to a man who would respect her and ensure her grandfather's lands would not fall to the French King's like his will fall to Louis through his brother.”

Raymond stopped, putting both hands behind his back. “Last I heard, Locksley did not have a lord.”

Roland continued forward before turning to face the man before him. Roland could smell death, death upon the man, although he still had time. Roland knew Death's perfume intimately and Douma's spirit was nowhere near.

But her scent wafted in the air.

“Robin of Locksley's lands were taken from him by the Sheriff of Nottingham and given to Sir Guy of Gisborne. Sir Guy had a son, hidden from most and he left his legacy to him. That son was my father and I was given the legacy. I have used it to educate myself, became a knight, and have been in King Henry's service since I was young. King Henry saw fit to return my grandfather's title and lands to me.”

Raymond snorted. “A bastard to marry my bastard.”

Roland stiffened. “My parents were legally wed and loved each other very much.”

Raymond lifted a hand. “I apologize. Peasants may love. Those of us with titles are not so lucky.”

Roland relaxed a little. “I am fond of your daughter. She is not only beautiful, she is intelligent. She is beloved.” He turned and nodded for Raymond to join him back in their stroll. “I do believe my man would stand between us if he thought I would lift my hand to strike her, which-” he interrupted the protest, “is not in my nature.”

“And do you love the Church? Do you kiss the Holy Father's ring?”

“Not particularly.” He leaned closer. “I would do what I have to do to keep the Church and Her thieves and favored thugs out of England and out of Aigues-Mortes. Louis will not get England, nor will he get what belongs to Alise in my lifetime.” The last was spat through clenched teeth.

Suddenly, Raymond stopped, his face drawn. It was if he had aged 20 years in a moment. The sun, which was out, went behind a cloud and again, the elusive, drifting scent of Death lingered in the air. “You are staying in an inn?”

“Aye.”

“I will not have it. I will not have my son-in-law staying where ruffians hide and the Pope has ears! Where is your man?”

“At the inn with our belongings.”

Raymond nodded. “Henri will go with you to retrieve your servant and your things. All know him and will not give you or your man grief while he is with you.”

“My Lord,” with this, Roland showed much reverence to the man next to him. Henry was Roland's King, but with a breath, the younger man acknowledged that this man's station was above him as well and in the short time they would have together, there was much he could and would learn from him. “The world does not know she is your daughter. I would keep it thus.”

Raymond smiled. “Of course. As you must. I am an old man. Let me lean on you back to the chateau. You will come for dinner and stay with me a few days. If anyone asks-”

“You are Henry's cousin and he was inquiring after your health and well-being. I am carrying a message to Queen Eleanor's parents and you were on the way.”

Raymond was nodding with good cheer and a smile. “Good. Very good. I have much I wish to discuss with you, but I am tired and must rest. I tire easily anymore. I am old,” Roland snorted at this, but kept quiet, “and weary of politics and religion. Bring your things, you will stay here and if the weather permits, we will stroll again here in the garden, when it is sunny and we may talk without fear of human crows who carry tales.”

~~~...~~~

Dinner was excellent, the wine superb and after the meal, Roland and Raymond sat in a small room, with barren shelves and walls devoid of artwork. Raymond stared at the blank, desolate places, his eyes glazed, seeing in his mind what tapestries no longer existed.

They talked of small things, of nonsense. Raymond's bones creaked. A cold wind was blowing in and rain was eminent. This visit, which Roland wished to only last a few days, might last longer. He would be bored out of his skull if he had to tiptoe with Raymond.

But tonight was not the night to do so. Begging exhaustion from the long trip down the Garonne, Roland called for a bath and retired for the evening, leaving Raymond staring into the fireplace.

~~~...~~~

Roland reclined in the brass tub. The water was hot, deliciously so, and the heavy tapestries in the room blocked the cold from outside. It was rare when Roland enjoyed and dawdled in the tub, but tonight, he was doing so. The fire was roaring and the room was was gloriously warm. Thomas was vigorously scrubbing his lord's back.

“No less than three serving girls asked if you would like company tonight.”

“And what did you tell them?”

“Lift your arms. I told them you were newly wed and disgustingly in love with your wife.” The scrub brush would leave red marks, not that Roland minded. “Of course, I then told them I would happily enjoy their company this eve, as I have no wife, nor am I in love.”

“All three?” He heard Thomas grunt in affirmation. “You are a reprobate. Your mother, if she lived, would cry.” Thomas snickered at that. “I suppose you'll be wanting a dip in the bath water when I'm through?”

“Only if you've not pissed in it, my lord.”

Finished with rinsing, Roland rose from the water, taking the bath linen from his servant. Stepping from the tub, he wrapped himself and stood in front of the fireplace, basking in the heat and ignoring the sounds of Thomas's clothing hitting the floor. “We will be here more than a few days.”

“Not a good idea.” There was a splash as Thomas slid into the bath. “Ah, this is wonderful. Still warm. Might I make use of your soap?”

It seemed a shame and a pity to waste warm bath water. Roland typically made quick work of his ablutions and openly offered the bath to Thomas since as far back as Roland could remember. “Have I ever denied you anything?”

“Well, there was that wench in York you didn't wish to share.”

Roland snarled and scratched himself at the memory. “Be glad I did not.” He shuddered and quickly changed the subject. “Why is staying here unwise?”

Now it was Thomas's turn to sigh. “Something's wrong with this place.”

Roland continued to dry himself, before moving away from the fireplace and into the dim light where the bed was located. He slung the bath sheet over the chair situated at the foot of the bed and pulled his sleep shirt over his head. He then picked up the bath linen and lifting it over the carpet, returned to the bath. “Of course there is something wrong in this place. It is war torn and the only thing keeping the Church's minions from taking over is Raymond's acquiesces.”

“Acquiesces?” Thomas snarked. “He handed them his only legitimate heir!”

“Shhh!” Roland shushed the man. Who knew what listening holes were behind the walls. “I don't believe he had much choice. He ensured her life, by marrying her to that arse. I would have done the same thing. At least they are of a like age!” He watched as his man finally nodded in agreement. “The Catharians have gone to ground. Just because one is innocent, doesn't mean the Pope's thugs will pay no attention to you. Do you need me to scrub your back?”

“NO!” Thomas exploded. “That were fine when we were whelps together. You,” he nodded while pouring water over his head, “are an earl now. And quite a few other things, I might add.” He stood up, motioning for the linen. He wiped his face and wrapped it around his torso as he stepped out. Tossing his travel-worn clothing in the pile with Roland's, he quickly stepped into cleaner linens and shirt. “These people whisper. They think I'm just a dull Englishman, but I understand their words, just as well as you do.” Now properly dressed, he moved close to Roland. “The longer we stay, the more attention we bring to the Count and to ourselves. No one trusts the other here. Who knows how quickly word will get back to Rome's belly or worse, to Louis. The only reason why the Count and his people haven't been slaughtered like the rest of them is because his daughter was all but sold to Louis's brother.” The servant began to tuck his shirt into the waist of his breeches. “That French bastard will get this land sooner or later, probably sooner, but still they whisper. Anyone will do anything to ensure their life.” His voice dropped. “Rumor has it there was a great treasure and library here at one time and now it's disappeared. Rome, as well as Louis, wonders where it went.”

“We are here on Henry's business. Raymond is family.”

“Don't matter. Louis has no love for Henry, no matter his wife is sister to Henry's queen.”

“He covets what belongs to Henry.”

“In a bad way.”

Roland turned towards his servant and sniffed. “You smell better. Best enjoy your wenches tonight while you can. Keep everything at the ready in case of a hasty departure. We may have need of leaving without kind notice.”

Thomas scooped up his and Roland's soiled clothes. “I'll drop these off at the laundry. Make sure they're done in the morning.” The man started to leave, before whispering, “I don't like partaking in their food or wine. Servants be as bad as the church, sometimes.” Roland was still staring at the fire, as the door shut behind him.

“Sometimes.”

~~~...~~~

The sky opened up just before sunrise. It was a thunderous torture that made Thomas nervous as skittish cat. Roland was equally edgy, but appeared to be more adept at hiding it. Raymond showed him his home, pointing out various family heirlooms, Roland noticing that there was something odd about the tour; some rooms were newly painted, freshly cleaned. At times, Raymond seemed to linger over bare and desolate places, as if lost in thought, seeing in his mind what wasn't physically there. One would think a line as old and as noble as Raymond's would have more valuables, heirlooms out and about to show off, display the family wealth. But Raymond's home seemed quietly... dispossessed in some strange fashion. As they meandered from room to room, Raymond gently questioned Roland, asked about his family, his background, his father, but mostly, his grandfather, Gui de Gisbourne, whose life was already myth.

Just before dinner, the rain dissipated, the sun struggled to come from behind the clouds. Yet again, Raymond asked Roland to join him in the gardens. Roland noticed his father-in-law did not mind the puddles and took notice of each plant. “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!”

“That is beautiful. Who wrote it?”

Raymond smiled, but didn't answer. “The garden is the only place I fear we may speak without incrimination,” he began quietly. “Tell me of my daughter. Tell me Alise. I have not seen her in some years and she was as a gangly colt last I saw.”

The conversation had been neatly steered from Alise for the last day. Roland sighed in relief once Raymond brought her up. “Not gangly anymore. She has blossomed, in full bloom, intelligent, compassionate and I enjoy conversing with her.”

“She pleases you?”

Roland heard the question hidden beneath. “Aye. She pleases me and I pray I please her.” For a moment, they listened as the wind blew the water from the bushes, a gentle patter of droplets hitting the ground. “Her opinion and desires matter to me. There are... areas where I feel she would be more adept than I to manage.”

“So you will not take what is hers and forget that it is hers.”

Roland squinted. “Of course, I will take what is hers and I will combine it with what is mine and it will be ours. It will belong to our children. The healthier our marriage and holdings are, the healthier the family and the future estate will be.”

Raymond watched him closely, mulling his next words carefully. “So much has changed. The troubadours are gone, those of us who could afford them, cannot any longer. Our culture, our way of life is dying. Rather than create and prosper, as God would have us, we are stagnating and decaying under the auspices of an overly destructive church that cares only for control and money and not for people.” The two men continued to stroll through a row of bare apple trees. “My daughter Joan has no love for me. She remembers me not, does not respond to my letters. She was taken from me and raised in the French Court; at age nine, she was married to the king's brother. Had she stayed here, she would have been educated in many subjects, allowed to become a woman on her own terms, have a say in who she wished to marry. She would have choices, allowed to maintain her lands, her estates.

“And now, Joan has nothing. She is nothing. When I die, everything that should have been hers, will be handed to Alphonse. And unless they have children, which it appears they will not, everything will be handed to Louis and this,” he gestured to the magnificent garden and home, “will become France. Joan has no say, no choice, no opinion, no will. She has everything and yet she has nothing.

“My legitimate daughter was forcibly taken from my household, where she would have been educated and raised as an equal, intelligent human being, with choices and she is now chattel, a way to gain property. She would have inherited Toulouse and married as she wished and controlled her destiny. Louis and Alphonse stole it from her and she'll be taught to believe it was their right to steal it because she's just a woman and isn't capable of controlling her own destiny. Joan has forgotten her culture, forgotten her language, she sat and did nothing when the Church murdered her people and felt no sympathy for them. She might try to ensure her cousin, Pierre Bermond d'Anduze inherits Toulouse, but the French Parlement will not allow it. They will steal it from her in death. Do not do that to Alise.”

The man's words burned in Roland's belly. Back, before he first drew breath in this life, he remembered Guy, remembered being Guy, remembered how he felt powerless and alone when the bailiff stole what was his and how he fought to regain it, was still fighting. He remembered how he felt when Marian mocked him, how he felt when he killed her. He remembered Genevieve...

In a swift movement, he turned to face the Count, towering over the man. “Your daughter is a Catharian, as are you, and while I have no problem with how she communes with the Almighty and have told her such, Henry will not tolerate the Pope on English soil, mindlessly slaughtering his people, nor does he wish Louis to cast covetous eyes on his lands. I am... I have feelings for my wife, she is the foundation on which I plan to build my life. All of our children, male and female, will be educated, will be granted every bit of knowledge that is at our disposal, whether the Pope likes it or not. I will protect her and hers in every way I can. That includes what is hidden at or in her grandfather's chateau.” Roland sank to one knee, mindless of the mud. “My lord, please, help me protect what belongs to my wife. What is concealed at Aigues-Mortes that cannot fall into Innocent's clutches?”

“Innocent,” Raymond scoffed. “That menace is anything but innocent.”

“Oh, agreed he is a monster,” Roland swiftly concurred, “but I would ensure whatever is shrouded and cloaked, will remain so, or at the very least, kept out of hands which would rain hellfire on Alise's home.”

Raymond liked the young man kneeling in front of him. Liked him a lot. For some odd reason, he trusted him, certainly trusted him more than anyone else walking these days. Men he used to converse with, debate with, were dead or hiding, as he himself was hiding. He certainly liked him more than he liked his royal son-in-law, who held him in such contempt. He hated the thought of his daughter being forced to lay beneath him at night. He knew liars and while Roland FitzGisborne hid things, he was not a liar. “You are Henry's Eyes.”

“I am called many things.” Roland raised from his knee. “Bastard, most of the time.”

Raymond smiled and shook his head. “Your father perhaps, but his father acknowledged him, if you tell true and I believe you do.” The man began to nod. “Aye. Henry's Eyes and Ears, you are. You and your man. He chose my Alise's husband well. Thank him for me.” He watched as Roland dusted as much mud from his trousers as possible and then they moved on. “You will find Eleanor's parents in Avignon at this time of the year I believe. All should be as loving as they, marrying all five of their daughters to kings.” Roland realized they were now meandering back towards the chateau. “Leave tonight quietly, while the household is asleep, long before dawn. Go to Avignon over land. It will be easier. When you depart, sail the Rhône to Arles and then take the Petit-Rhône. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of the countryside. You will see Alise's grandfather's chateau from the river. Be prepared to have your breath taken away. I understand the steward is capable, can be trusted, and is taking care of the home.”

“My lord, you have not told me-”

“Alise's grandfather was a scholar. He believed in education for all and collected many works and papers. He liked to translate things.”

Ah. As I assumed...

“My lord, where are Alise's grandfather's scholarly writings? Where,” he pressed, “are yours?” Roland dropped his voice, although they were most definitely alone. “Have you hidden them at your estate in Limoux?”

Raymond stopped and smiled. “Why, God's truth, I do not know.” He leaned towards the younger man. “I would rather see them burned than fall into the wrong hands, however, I pray whoever finds them would realize what a treasure they have and would do what they could to save them. The longer you stay here, the more in danger you and your man are in.” Raymond reached out and patted him heartily on the shoulder. “Allow me to feed the two of you well this evening. Tell your man the larder is never locked or guarded and I have two brown stallions that I won't notice are missing. Both are fleet of foot and have no discernible or unique markings. Please take the less ornate saddles. I like you Roland FitzGisborne. Take good care of my Alise. She is a gift. Tell her I love her.” He raised a finger. “The poet was King Solomon. If you get a chance, you should read his songs of love. The Church would destroy them if they could.”

And with that, the man walked back into the house, muttering to himself. “Limoux? Limoux? Bah!”

tbc

Dormir tranquille, Gui de Gisborne. Nous allons parler avant ce voyage est terminé et tout ira bien. Rest easy, Gui de Gisborne. We will talk before this journey is complete and all will be well.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 3D

My Lady's Desire

Throughout his life – and throughout his future lives – Roland would remember the gasp the escaped his chest the moment he laid eyes on his Aignes-Mortes estate.

Alise's estate, Guy. Alise's.

No. Mine.

Neanderthal!

Fine. Alise's and mine. Ours. Our children's. Our future.

Roland batted at his ear, as if to dislodge a pesky fly. Yes, yes, oui, Alise's property, but now according to the Church's law, it was his, his to maintain, his to care for, his to do with as he desired...

His to build. This was Alise's childhood home; her home until roughly a year ago. Raymond's words rang in his ears, since the moment he and Thomas left so quietly in the night. They had not been harassed; if there were local highwaymen, they stayed away from the plainly dressed, but well-armed travelers.

Nîmes had been his and Thomas's first stop. Roland found the servants close-lipped and secretive. They knew the Lady Alise had been married to an English Lord, one who was held in great favor with the English King, but apparently, they were under the impression the new Duke was... older. Thomas explored the town in the day, Roland explored the estate. Other than his own breathing, it was quiet, no ghosts to speak with; no angels either. The home was not garish, or laden with riches, rather it was the estate of an old family, one that valued home and hearth, good food. The library was filled with poetry, treaties and documents the Holy Church would approve of. Nothing questionable, nothing out of the ordinary.

Thomas's perceived and assumed lack of the local language proved informative in his blatant eaves-dropping to the conversations between the cook and the nubile servant girl. How Thomas got this information, Roland did not wish to ask! According to them, the Nîmes home was quiet, dignitaries rarely visited, something the household was grateful for. The Church had investigated, looked for anything, but the old Count openly invited them in, plied them with his personal wine while they searched and questioned. The more they searched and questioned, the more wine he gave them. They were most happy to have found nothing and the household happier to see them go, leaving them with a mess to clean up. No one blamed the old man when he retired to the estate near the Great Sea. He told the servants his bones ached and he wished his granddaughter to be far from ugliness too cruel for such innocent, young eyes.

In the gardens, Roland saw the obvious time his Alise spent there. Perhaps, the soil would be habitable to many of the things his wife so obviously loved. He made a mental note to make sure their home in Nottingham would have a place for a garden, somewhere she and their children could spend time.

Much to the servants relief, the two only stayed five days. Roland managed to ingratiate himself to the higher staff when he insisted on carrying several small parcels of floral and herb seeds for Alise to plant at her new home. They attended Mass before leaving, openly tithing, seemingly pious to the faith and leaving no one doubting their belief in the Catholic Church.

Roland's stay with Queen Eleanor's parents was shorter; four days. Raymond Berenguer IV, the Count of Provence and his wife, Beatrice of Savoy were kind, gracious, thankful for the personal message from their daughter, that her marriage to the English king was fruitful and that both their daughter and her husband were happy in their marriage.

Truthfully, they were just as interested in Alise de Aigues-Mortes' husband. Alise's grandfather, Lambert, was beloved. One of their servants aided in procuring a boat to take Roland and his man to Alise's home, and Roland was grateful to leave the friendly court.

The Provencal court was full of beautiful women, willing women, servants, and his body was screaming. He missed his wife and her attentions.

Thomas, on the other hand, thought he'd died and gone to heaven.

The Aignes-Morte property and estate bordered Provencal at the Rhône River. The estate was on a small tributary that forked off from the main river and then meandered to the Mediterranean, the Petite-Rhône, and the home itself, a few hours ride from the dock. Thomas whispered in his ear that the estate being so near to the river was a good thing and he was making note of how close they were to the Mediterranean. Escape routes were always good to know. The estate was remote, far off the beaten path and it seemed to be no one thought much of it. For now, it was safe. The estate was close to the river, a short jaunt to the Great Sea. And around to England.

They arrived late in the afternoon and did not tour the property. Roland found the servants to be quiet, but cautiously friendly. Not nearly as secretive as those in Nîmes.

The second evening after touring the property and visiting the small village nearby, Roland called for the steward and head housekeeper. The husband and wife team were cordial, intelligent, and obviously still devoted to the family that was not in residence.

“I would like to see Alise and her grandfather's personal papers.”

Hervé bowed and left, leaving Roland to stare at the housekeeper, Marié, who stood before him, hands clasped and looking at him expectantly. Feeling as if she were waiting for him to say anything, he swallowed. “The food is excellent. My compliments to the chef.”

Marié immediately beamed. “Thank you, my lord. It was my grandmother's recipe.”

“You are the cook?”

She nodded with pleased enthusiasm. “Oui!”

“I see why your husband keeps his fine figure!” Roland toasted her with his wine. The woman was now blushing in humor as her husband, and she herself, were on the portly side. “The wine is excellent, as well.”

“It is from the chateau's grapes. You will find none finer.”

Burn the home, if you must, but mind the grapes.

Roland realized why the grapes were so very precious.

Hervé returned with several large, bound volumes of paper, setting them gently on the table, next to Roland's place. He was aware that Thomas had taken a protective stance behind his lord's shoulder. Keeping his venison-laden fork away from the books and over his plate, he wiped his free hand on his napkin, knowing the steward and the housekeeper exchanged appreciative glances. He flipped open the first book.

He furrowed his brow, flipping through the vellum quickly. He closed he first bound volume and opened the second. “These are the household accounts.” He closed the book gently and stared hard at the steward, who did not blink. “I would like the personal papers.”

“The private library?”

“Oui.” Roland finished the last bite on his plate and pushed the plate away, signaling he was through.

The steward inclined his head, beckoning for Roland to follow him. The chateau was old, well provided with colorful and well-made tapestries and rugs. It was comfortable, more a home than the mansion in Nîmes. As they made their way from the main thoroughfare, the rugs took on a foreign motive, which Roland recognized.

“We are close to the Mediterranean,” Hervé explained. “Often, traders and travelers miss pass the Rhône and come up the Petite-Rhône. We have many lovely items and have traded well.”

Yes, Roland thought appreciatively, you have.

Soon, they entered a small room. As the steward lit the lamps, Roland took stock of the small library. “Strange. I expected it to be larger than this.”

Hervé continued lighting the lamps. “We are but a small household, my lord.”

Thomas's reading skills were nominal at best, but even he knew what Roland was looking for. The two spent the evening and most of the next day – which was unusually but blessedly wet and rainy – going through the scrolls and bound parchment. By dinner, Roland was rubbing gritty eyes and Thomas was equally grouchy.

There was nothing considered the least bit controversial. There were maps of the Mediterranean, Italy, a few scholarly treatises regarding art, friendly, personal missives between family, poetry, marital contracts...

Nothing of a religious nature.

They were here. He knew they were here. Raymond alluded to it. Alise admitted to it...

“Hervé,” it was after dinner. A bath was drawn and brought up and Roland stood next to the tub, looking at it dispassionately. “Did the count have a separate library? Were there any writings my wife was fond of that were perhaps left behind?” As he lifted his eyes in the firelight, Hervé stepped back in fear. They glowed. “I believe you were close to the old lord and would protect him and his granddaughter. I would protect them as well and I need to know.”

The man licked his lips nervously. “My lord, the count was beloved and stayed out of politics and other annoyances. He kept his people safe from the... nastiness.”

“Yes, he kept this area safe from the religious uprisings that have plagued his neighbors.” He stepped up to the man, dwarfing him. “I would keep this place safe as well. Next time I come, my wife and our children, God willing we have any, will come with me and I would not bring them home to a charred chateau and destroyed grapes.” Roland forced his face to relax. “I adore my wife-”

“You have not taken any of the female servants to your bed since you arrived,” Hervé interrupted. “It has been noticed that you must deeply care for the Lady Alise.”

“I do,” Roland admitted. “I would keep this place safe for her, for our future. Please help me.” The steward remained silent, Thomas in the shadows, watching carefully. “Please. I have little love for the Holy Pope and would keep them from what is now mine.”

For a moment, the glow of the fireplace gave the steward an evil look. “The Holy Church has little love for us.”

“Only for our money,” Roland completed for the man. “Please help me keep what is hidden safe.”

There was a great sigh in the air, one that startled the steward, as well as the manservant. Roland recognized it for what it was; all of the spirits and ghosts in the chateau, the angels that protected it, exhaling at the same time. The steward might not believe him, but the chateau did.

“I am sorry, my lord. I do not know where Alise's grandfather kept his private collection, if he, in fact, had one. Is there anything else I can get for you?” The look in the man's eyes were pleading, begging.

Please be done with me.

“Non. You may leave. Thomas will attend me.” Both Englishmen watched as the steward bowed and left. They waited until the outer door to the master bedchamber shut. Roland quickly disrobed and stepped into the tub, making short work of bathing himself. “I believe him.”

“He is terrified.”

“Aye, he is. Lambert did not confide in him, most likely for his own safety. We will have to explore on our own.”

That night, long after Thomas had finished his own bath, emptied the tub and retired with an amenable serving girl for the evening, Roland lay in the bed. The room belonged to the master, the lord and he felt no guilt sleeping there. It was now his room, his and Alise's, when she returned with him. There was an additional chamber on the other side of the bathing room and from Roland's perspective, it was chamber of the Lady of the House. It was normal for a regal married couple to have separate bed chambers, but Roland wasn't having any of it. One sent a dalliance from the bed, not one's wife! He'd spent time in Alise's chambers, amused but not surprised at the lighter colors, dried flowers, and... feminine things. There were dolls on the shelves, needlework, several scrolls of poetry. There was a flute, Marié stating proudly that Alise played and played quite well. Alise had not been given much time to pack when she was sent to Henry's Bordeaux Court, and there were many kirtles, embroidered tunics, and other precious things left behind.

Roland simply nodded.

Unable to sleep, Roland lay in bed, planning and plotting until the temperature in the air dropped and soon, Roland was shivering. He got up and pulled the bed hangings back, thinking to see a fireplace that had gone cold, but he did not. Instead it was roaring, blazing, but no heat issued forth. In curiosity, he slid from the bed, his arms wrapped around himself, stepping closer.

As he moved towards the fireplace, an icy mist sprang up between him and the blaze, the mist taking shape of a man. He suspected it was the shade of Lambert, Alise's grandfather. Roland did not shrink in fear; he knew what stood before him; he, himself spent time as one such as Lambert.

Pouvez vous faire confiance?

“Of course,” Roland whispered back in Occitan, “I can be trusted.” The ghost regarded him in mild ire. “If you do not believe me, ask Douma,” the man responded with a smirk, “the Angel of Death. We are on good terms.”

Lambert hovered. Et Raymond?

The way the sound hissed in the air made Roland think. The air was frigid in his lungs as he spoke. “Raymond told me to mind the grapes.”

The spirit scoffed before fleeing into the fire, dissipating in the flames, seeming to walk through the back wall.

Roland stood staring at the fireplace, while the room warmed back up.

~~~...~~~

The next day was bright, sunny, as it typically was in that part of the Great Sea. Roland waited until noon to venture out, taking Thomas and Hervé with him. According to the steward, there was a small harbor town just south of the chateau, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, but the estate itself was closer to Le Grau-du-Roi, which was located directly on the Mediterranean Coast. They toured the vineyards and the sun and wine loosened Hervé's tongue. According to the sun-wizened steward, this home had simply been the family's summer home for years, Count Lambert preferring the residence in the years after his wife and daughter's death. The Lady Alise preferred the home as well.

Sitting under an olive tree, the man regaled Roland of tales of the Lady Alise – she was quite the hoyden growing up, into everything, ever curious. For a time, the home was quite hectic with visitors, learned men and spirited discussions at times went on late into the night. Many of these evening, the Lady Alise was known to hide in the shadows, the naves, and listen and in recent years, she was known to debate such scholars as well. Realizing that he was blabbering drunkenly, the man suddenly changed the subject.

The house in Nîmes was much grander than the one on the Petit-Rhône, however this mansion was homey, comfortable. If one was to raise a family, this home was the one to raise them in. There were gardens to run in, trees to climb. Roland found himself looking for honeysuckle. He suddenly missed the hedges behind his

...Gisborne...

boyhood home, which in the summer were covered with honeysuckle. He shook his head, the season was wrong. He would have to ensure he returned with Alise in the summer. For not the first time, he stared blankly at the back of the house while his mind wandered, planning. The wine could be sold, making a fine profit, he noted to bring clippings from the gardens, to see if such would grow in the gardens of their home in Locksley, Alise would have something of her Lanquedoc home with her so far away.

Roland blinked rapidly.

The windows...

For some time, he closely inspected the back of the house, specifically the space between the Master's bedroom and the Lady's apartments...

...take into consideration the bathing chambers, the walk-in wardrobe, the fireplace...

Roland's face split into grin. He found it.

Now, to get to it.

~~~...~~~

Roland feigned a cold that evening after dinner, causing Marié no end of worry. She plied him with herbal teas and poultices, a scented pillow to sleep on. Roland made sure to thank her profusely, before smirking and setting it all to the side. He watched as Hervé built the fire and thanked him. As soon as both steward and wife were gone, he dropped the bar on the door, blocking anyone from disturbing him. He unstoppered the bottle of wine on the sidebar, poured a glass, and proceeded to search the wall, the mantle for an entry. He cleared the mantle, looked behind the tapestries, the knick-knacks, the paintings...

Nothing.

He searched again.

Still nothing.

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, he finished the bottle and pulled his boots off. As he yanked his tunic over his head in frustration, the temperature of the room dropped.

In front of the glowering fireplace, the shade of Alise's grandfather stood, shaking his head. He turned and walked through the fire and through the stone.

“Oui, I know it is there! How do I get to it?” Roland's whispered breath misted in the cold air. Suddenly, it dawned on him...

The embers of the fire were almost out and Roland began to shovel the ashes into the ash bucket, carefully set next to the fireplace. He smothered the glowing embers and continued until the task was complete. Considering the niggling thought in the back of his head, he went into the sitting room, stirring those embers, until the fire was roaring. He then returned into the Master's bedroom.

The fireplace was huge, large enough for a grown man to stand in. Still, Roland had to duck in order to step into it, after he'd lit a hand lamp. He began to run his free hand around the finely laid stone, feeling the crooks and crevices. It took many minutes, but finally he found a small abnormality, placed low, not in the center and not in the corner towards the outer wall. It felt like a carving and Roland raised his lamp, he saw a small etching of a bunch of grapes. As he ran his fingers around it, the carving recessed and sank into the granite.

With a grating screech, one he was sure echoed through the home, the recessed side wall slid to the right, leaving a dark opening. Grabbing the lamp, Roland looked into the space, and was not surprised to see a sturdy, wooden circular staircase going down into the bowels of the manse. There was a small shelf to the right, tinder and fire starters neatly laid in the box. He checked the room again, making sure the house was quiet, before taking his lamp and the fire starters and began the long descent down the stairs.

It was eerie, dark, and he could hear scuttling of rodents and other noises. It dawned on him he should have brought a broom, to clear away the cobwebs that seemed to cling to his hair and face. At some point, he reached what appeared to be a small, semi-bare storage room with a few empty crates and caskets stacked against the wall and flagstones that matched the flooring piled neatly to the side...

Someone was prepared for the inevitable... this is the ground floor...

...and another, separate, spiral stairwell that began just beneath the flooring.

Roland had been exhausted, but he found new energy as he descended below the flagstones and earthen floor. The glow of his lamp was meager and weak, but he continued downwards. The further he descended, the more he realized that where he was going was well beneath the lowest level of the chateau.

Finally, he touched the floor.

It was tiled, cold beneath his feet and in the low, lamplight, he could see little. In looking around, he realized there was a blunted torch in a niche in the ancient stone. Using the fire from his lamp, he lit the torch, not expecting -

It flared to life.

He turned and walked to the middle of the room.

“Mon Dieu!”

The room, or cavern, which it felt like, was huge. Truthfully, it was a series of rooms laid in a circle, and as Roland wandered, he lit torches that were attached to the wall. Roland began to laugh, an eerie sound, echoing through the chamber.

Lambert, vous les anciens païens! Vous avez un donjon caché!

At the mental mention of Alise's grandfather's name, his ghost wavered above Roland's head.

Vous a fallu assez longtemps.

Roland grinned at the old man. “Mind the grapes,” he whispered.

He was graced with a smile that he recognized in his wife. Les raisins de l'esprit.

Despite being close to the water, the air, the flooring was dry. It wasn't earthen, but wood, laid over rock. He began to explore the recesses, the cells, so to speak.

Again, he swore.

Several of the cells were stacked with racks of bottles. He pulled a random bottle from the wine rack and blew the heavy dust from it. Upon closer inspection, Roland found they were bottles of wine, many of them, according to the hand-written labels, over a century old. Older.

There had to be several bottles from each year, each kind...

It was a treasure trove.

He found several caskets of jewelry, tiaras, necklaces, rings. They were old, but the workmanship was exquisite. There were tapestries, rolled rugs. He wondered if much of this had been secreted from Raymond's home in Toulouse.

As he made his way around, he found what he was looking for.

Scrolls. Books. Shelves and shelves...

A library.

It was the largest of the cells and in the middle was a table with several scrolls opened, side by side. There was stoppered ink set about the table. Careful of the flame in his hand, Roland raised the scroll on the left.

אלוהים ישפוט העמים. מערכות צדק בשבילי, אלוהים, על פי ששמעון, ועל פי שלי

The language was completely illegible to him, however fear knotted in his belly. He set it down and picked up the next scroll.

Dominus judicat populos. Constituite mihi Dominus secundum justitiam meam, et secundum meum integrity-

This language was familiar. Roland was educated, well educated, considering his low-born origins. He had been well educated when he was Guy and Latin came easily to him. This was a portion of the Holy Writ the Church would approve of. He set the scroll down and picked up the next one.

He recognized Alise's delicate handwriting. His hand began to shake and the gnarl in his belly tightened.

Le Seigneur jugera les peuples. Établir la justice pour moi, Seigneur, selon ma justice et selon mon intégrité. S'il vous plaît laissez le mal des méchants être plus, mais la valeur justes fermement en place, vous, le Dieu juste, étant celui qui examine les cœurs et les esprits.

Roland set the vellum down. “This isn't a treatise, or a scholarly discussion,” he whispered.

“No, it is not.”

Roland spun around, his hand going for the knife that normally hung in his belt. “Who is there?”

Valoel stepped into the light. She was dressed in velvets, befitting a woman of a well-off station. “It is part of a book of songs, written by the King David of Israel and his minstrels, over two thousand years ago.” She stepped up to the table, looking down. “I thought I recognized it. Psalms seven, verses eight and nine. Would you like to hear the rest?” She took advantage of his flapping jaw. “God is my shield; he saves those whose heart is right. I will thank the LORD for his righteousness; I will sing praises to the name of the LORD most high.” She tucked her hands in her full sleeves, looking relaxed and calm. “The Psalms are glorious. When I am having a difficult time of it, I always find solace in them. But,” she wagged her finger and drifted to the left, perusing the shelf, “I have always loved the Song of Solomon.” She pulled out what seemed to be a random canister, similar to the ones he had taken from the crypt at Ripleys and set it on the table. “I would recite it for you, but I suspect it would make you uncomfortable.” With this, she smiled mischievously. “It definitely makes those dried up, pious old tarts in the Church, very uncomfortable!”

Roland finally found his tongue. “Lambert and Alise were translating the Holy Words of Christ and the Patriarchs!”

“And the Disciples and discussing them with other learned men,” Val agreed. “Your wife is most enlightened.” She continued to nod. “She was rather enamored of the Song of Solomon as well.”

Roland stepped towards the angel, his face twisted in anger and his finger pointed towards the shelves. “These words are holy! They are NOT for unrighteous eyes!”

Val's grin grew bigger. She moved around him, serenity enveloping the room. “Why are you whispering? No one can hear. All, save us, are deep in sleep.” As she glided around him, the smell of flowers incense permeated the room. “Besides, what man is to judge whose eyes are righteous and whose are not?” She gestured at the scrolls on the shelves. “These were written by men, true, holy men of God, the Apostles themselves, to be read by and to other men. Many are letters the Apostle Paul wrote to various church members, instructing them. Why should The Church have a monopoly on that?”

For several minutes, the man and the angel stared at each other, one malevolent and the other serene. Finally -

“What do you want from me?” Roland hissed. “Why am I here?”

Val cocked her head sideways, studying the man before her. “You are here to inspect your new assets.”

“DAMMIT, WOMAN!” Roland lost his temper, his fingers bunched in white-knuckled fists, shoved at his side and his face screwed up and red. “YOU TELL ME NOTHING!”

“Wait here.” She walked through the wall.

“DO NOT LEAVE! DO NOT DARE TO-” he cut off, as she returned, properly through the doorway with a bottle of wine in one hand and a glass in the other. She set the bottle down and wiped the glass with her wide sleeve. After setting the goblet down, she picked up the bottle, breaking the wax seal at the throat. She then put her finger in her mouth, seeming to suck on it and then swirled the digit over the cork, removing it. She poured a glass and handed it to him. “Ah,” he sneered, “now you think to get me drunk?”

“You drank an entire bottle before you descended into this place. One would say you are already drunk!” She gestured with the glass, “The wine is especially good. It is over 150 years old and I believe you will like it.” She pressed again. “Please. Drink and talk to me. Do not yell. It is unnecessary.”

Roland grabbed the chalice, almost up-ending and draining it, before stopping himself. He passed the rim beneath his nose, taking in the bouquet.

Mind the grapes.

“It would serve you well,” Val continued soothingly, “to get to know your grapes, your wines, the years. What works and what doesn't. What goes with what dish. Alise is quite knowledgeable in this, as well. This,” she gestured grandly, “is not ale or mead, but something to delight in.” He was now sipping thoughtfully, his eyes on her. “As to your question: why are you here? You know exactly why you are here. You changed history when you died on the floor of Nottinigham without your father's crucifix-”

“Your crucifix.” His voice echoed in the bowl of the goblet.

“My crucifix,” she amended. “You died without it and died without it and died without it and I made your father a promise. A promise I needed to keep because of that crucifix. And in the process I became very fond of a young lady in the future who obtained your crucifix.”

“Why am I here?” Holding the goblet in one hand,he tapped his index finger in the other towards the floor. “Why am I here?”

“This,” Val stated grandly, “is literally the foundation of your dynasty, the power, the wealth. The basis of all of everything you can possibly be!”

“Possibly?”

She heard the sarcasm in his voice. “Yes, possibly. You can still destroy this, but I will do everything in my power to make sure you do not! Genevieve,” she continued emphatically, “will be utterly destroyed if you do not!”

At the mention of her name, Roland's face fell. “Genevieve. That is another problem I have.” He looked down into his empty goblet. Morosely, he reached for the wine bottle and refilled his glass. “I love her, but I am destined to walk this earth for eight centuries without her-”

“Guy,” his eyes jerked up at the mention of his name, “you are not expected to walk for so long alone and in loneliness. Your heart is not a business arrangement, nor is it made of stone. You are not walking this earth to 'make do'. You are not a 'make do' type of person. You never have been and you never will be! Live life to the fullest. Grasp it with both hands. Love. Don't pretend, don't hope for fondness. Hope for love! Look for it. Learn from it! Open your mind and your heart to it! Take what you learn to Genevieve. You will still be with you, but become that better man.” She stepped forward, her hands clenched in not angry fists. “Evolve! Do not deny yourself or Alise the love in your heart! You will become stagnant, evil if you deny yourself that.”

Roland set his empty goblet down, obviously torn. He abruptly changed the subject. “I should destroy this.” He looked about the strange library.

“Why? It is well hidden.”

“Can you guarantee it will not be found?”

Val nodded. “Not only will it not be found, you have been left the tools to seal it and protect it from fire, when it comes to that.” Roland's eyebrow arched at that.

“How long before France claims Nîmes and Aignes-Mortes?”

Val shrugged. “Between 225 and 250 years. You have time to cultivate a peaceful relationship with the French monarchy. Your next life, mostly. Play your hand close and you will not only maintain your current lands, but future ones as well.” A slow smirk slid across her features. “It will take hundreds of years, but by the time anyone realizes how much power the family of FitzGisborne welds, it will be too late and none will be able to stop it.”

“I will rule the world?”

The angel shook her head. “No. There is no power in ruling anything, but you and yours will walk proud through it.” Slowly, she began to fade. “Go to bed, Guy. It will be here tomorrow. You only have a few hours before sunrise.” With that, she faded from sight.

Fatigue gripped him with a sudden fierceness. Finding a bucket of water, he doused all of the torches, one by one, leaving only his lamp.

He barely made it back into the bed.

tbc

Lambert, vous les anciens païens! Vous avez un donjon caché!
Lambert, you old heathen! You have a hidden dungeon!

 

Vous a fallu assez longtemps. - Took you long enough

Mind the grapes. Les raisins de l'esprit.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 3E

 


Wandering Son

Roland had forgotten the rancid smell of Bordeaux, the unwashed masses and stench along the harbor and docks of the Garrone. The trip would have been much quicker had he taken the roads to Toulouse and then hired a sailing vessel to navigate the Garrone into Bordeaux, however considering he was carrying eleven trunks filled with velvets and silks and feminine gifts and childhood memories for his wife, as well as several crates of wine, it was decided to take the long way to Bordeaux – by the Great Sea, through the straits and up the coast of Spain and around to France. Pirates were a worry, but luckily for the vessel Roland and Thomas had paid for passage on, met no pirates or bad weather. The weather had been bright and sunny the entire trip and the winds were favorable.

Roland spent the majority of the trip, bent over the rail. He had a vague recollection of staying that way returning from the Holy Land in his previous life. He had committed a heinous crime he'd never forgiven himself at that time and contemplated suicide.

According to The Angel of Death, he had jumped over the rails once and successfully killed himself – for about five minutes. She brought him back and in the end, he was glad she had.

But during the trip, he wondered if he would ever be able to ride the decks of a ship again.

By the time he got his sea legs under him, they arrived in the harbor of Bordeaux. Thomas was one of the first over the rails, off to look for a cart and a gang of young men, looking to make a few crowns. He found ten strapping young men, who waited patiently for the sailors to unload all eleven trunks, two crates, and both horses Raymond allowed them to steal from him. He feared if they were left behind and discovered to belong to Raymond, some might accuse Hervé or any of the locals of theft and Roland wouldn't permit that. The peasants were valuable; they understood the making of the wine, the growing and care of the grapes. They were as valuable as the land, the fruit that grew on the property. By the time they left, Roland was feeling great ownership of and responsibility to Alise's estate.

And he was beginning to grow anxious about his properties in England. He needed to see them, inspect them. Last he recalled, Locksley was in a serious state of disrepair. There were things he had hidden in his previous life in the water closet, as well as buried under the dirt foundation of the root cellar. He rather doubted the home was habitable. If it had caved in on itself, what was hidden in the water closet was probably gone, stolen. It would make what was hidden beneath the foundations hard to impossible to find, much less retrieve.

After seeing the niche carved for his former self, as well as his wealth in his catacomb, Roland was beginning to think the crypts of Ripley's might be a better place to store things. So might the converted dungeon of Aigues-Mortes.

Gisborne was now non-existent. Even the foundations of Guy’s boyhood home were eradicated. Someday, he would take care of that, but not in this lifetime.

Mounted up, with Roland and Thomas corralling the hired shoulders, they headed to Henry's Castle. According to a local Roland questioned, Henry and his family were still in residence. They rode into the courtyard to much fanfare and welcome. A servant was sent to find Alise, to inform her of her lord’s return, while Thomas oversaw the delivery of the trunks to Roland’s rooms. They had arrived just between the midday and evening meal. Henry was in one of the large halls of the mansion, talking with several advisers, his wife nearby.

“Welcome home! You have arrived just in time, Roland.” Henry was in a good mood. “Several of us were going to go hawking-“

“Henri,” his wife’s voice was soft, concerned. “He is pale, just arrived.” She leaned closer. “The trip was not an easy one for you.”

“We took the Great Sea, my lady,” Roland admitted. “I am not a seafarer.” His eyes went up, searching the room for Alise. He reached in to the satchel he was carrying. “Otherwise, the trip was a success. I have brought the two of you a gift.” He pulled an aged bottle from the depths of the bag.

“Is that from Alise’s grandfather’s estate?” Eleanor was quick to take the bottle before her husband did. “This is a great gift indeed!”

“Only one?” Henry growled. He waved the crowd away.

“Several, my lord, but this one I wanted to give you personally.”

Eleanor was smiling. “How are my parents?”

“My cousin?” Henry added.

Roland took a deep breath. His eyes lit up as he saw his wife dressed in sky blue, gliding serenely across the floor. “All is well.”

“You should tell me all at dinner-“

“Henri!” Eleanor quickly snapped. “He has not seen his wife in months! I expect he is starving and not for food or wine!”

Alise was getting closer.

“Sire, your wife is most astute.” It was mumbled, softly spoken, so much so that Henry had to lean in to hear him. “My queen, your parents send their love and are pleased you have been delivered of another healthy child. They are happy your marriage is successful. Raymond,” he reached out and drew Alise to him, taking her hand and kissing the knuckles, “is doing as well as expected. Life is not easy in Toulouse at this time, but he is making do.” Alise’s perfume enveloped him and he closed his eyes in bliss. This scent was hers, he’d dreamed of her fragrance many, many nights.

“Then you-“

“Henri!” Eleanor was quite irate. “You are being cruel!”

Roland tried hard not to smile. “By your leave sire, I am exhausted, I am in desperate need of a bath and deeply desire a soft bed.” Alise was staring at him with adoring eyes, eyes full of promise.

“And you have need to see to your wife.” Henry was finding mirth in the situation, much to Eleanor’s ire. He leaned in towards his young earl. “I will see you at breakfast in the morning.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps?” The king’s eyebrows rose. “Perhaps?”

But by then, he was speaking to Roland’s back.

~~~…~~~

The moment they turned the corner, no servants, others in sight, he kissed her. He kissed her up the stairs, around another corner, where they heard giggling. Alise blushed and Roland took her elbow and led her down the hall, past the snickering unmarried daughters of Lord de Westeron and kissed her again.

 photo Francesco Hayez Il bacio 1859_zpsvymi0kbk.jpg

Francesco Hayez II 1859

They met the servants coming out of the apartment, empty buckets, nods of welcome. Thomas stood at the door, waiting for Roland. “All the trunks and crates are accounted for, your bath is filled, and I have sent word that you and your lady-wife,” he nodded towards Alise in greeting, which she graciously returned, “will be dining privately in your apartments this eve.” He then gestured to an elderly manservant on the other side of the door. “This is Robert. He has been ordered to cut the tongue from anyone who tries to disturb you until the morning, unless they bring food.”

Roland clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Go bathe, eat, and find a plump maid to enjoy the evening with.” He addressed Robert. “Nothing but dinner is to come through these doors this eve.”

“Eh?” Robert leaned closer and squinted. “What d’ye say?”

Alise entered the apartments, chuckling lightly.

“Thomas! You’ve set a deaf man on my doors!”

“Then he won’t be able to hear the two of you screaming in joy! Now go swive yer wife!” Thomas was laughing down the hallway. As Roland slammed the door shut and bolted it, he didn’t see Robert side step to block the doorway.

“Fargin’ nobility. I heard ye just fine!”

Roland grabbed Alise the minute the door was barred. “Come here, wench!” His mouth found hers. While the stolen moments in the halls were bliss, this was a battle, a battle of lips and tongue and air. Roland found the ties on her bliaut; likewise, Alise undid and discarded his coat, his jacket, shoes and slippers were kicked off, kicked away.

“My lord, the bath will get cold.” Alise was gasping for breath. Hose were pulled away, tossed aside.

“Then let it get cold!” Roland was edging her backwards, to the bed. As she climbed up, Alise found her tunic pushed up, baring her from the waist down to her husband. “Jesu, I have missed the smell of you!” He buried his nose within her, teasing her, plying her with nether kisses, refusing to give way, until she reached her peak and was crying his name. He gave her little time to recover, before mounting her, their fingers intertwined over her head, her ankles locked around his hips. By the time he was growling in her ear, they rolled from the bed, falling to the floor in laughter. She came again, the two finally giving in, giving way to more kisses and not caring they were bathed in sweat.

The bath was not beginning to cool when the two entered it together and as such, they did linger in it. Dinner arrived and Roland carried it from the sitting room, into the bathing chamber and they fed each other, foregoing eating utensils, fingertips nipped and suckled on.

“If you must be gone so long next time,” Alise whispered, “I beg you, my lord, to take me with you.”

“Miss me?”

The want in her eyes was obvious. “Aye, my lord. I missed you every day and every night.” She gasped as he caressed her breast. “Please, do not leave me again.”

There was something in her voice, something...

“Did anyone bother you while I was gone?”

Her eyes dropped. “Lord Winchester, my lord.” Quickly, she looked up, her hand on Roland's shoulder. “Please, Roland. He simply made innuendos. He touched my shoulder once. I slapped him and complained to his wife that afternoon in the ladies solar.” She snarled at the memory. “She said better me than her. As I enjoy your touch so much, I suspect his is less than satisfactory. I believe the Queen said something to the King, as the man has stayed away since.”

“He is still here?”

“Oui.”

Roland's face turned a sour sneer. “I will speak to him.”

“I do not believe-”

“It does not matter what you believe,” Roland cut her off with a snap. “I will speak to him. If he feels freely to do this to you, he will attempt this with others who are weaker and do not bend the ear of the court as you are able. That he would attempt to take advantage of one I hold dear while I was not here is galling and infuriating.” Suddenly, his tone and countenance changed. “Come. Stand. I have gifts for you.” Gently, he helped her from the tub. Easing her into her robe, he took her by the hand and led her to the trunks sitting in the corner.

“What is all of this?” Alise's curiosity was aroused. For a moment, Roland saw the young girl in her and wondered of their own daughters, when they came.

Taking his draw purse and knife from the table, he sat down with her in front of them. Each trunk was padlocked, with a single key shared among them. “Marie told me to tell you that she and Hervé miss you dearly and are grateful you have married such a handsome young lord with such lovely manners.” Alise began to giggle at her husband's gaiety. “The steward in Nîmes sends his best wishes as well.”

“I miss them also.”

“Hopefully,” Roland conceded quietly, “we will visit for a season in a few years. I need to see to the lands Henry has granted me in England. Locksley will need to be rebuilt, more than likely, and I wish to check on the people there.” His smile faded. “I have been charged with making sure your lands do not fall into Church or Louis's hands. It will be a hardship to manage properties so far apart, but I trust Hervé and those in Nîmes.” Alise was nodding. “Marie worried that you were forced to pack too quickly and as a result were forced to leave much behind.”

“Oui.” Alise was nodding her head in agreement. “I was given a day and limited to one trunk.”

“I feared as much.” Roland inspected the trunks, looking at the individual markings. Finally finding the one he wanted, he dragged it forward, placing it in front of himself and his wife. As he settled in and inserted the key into the lock, he turned to Alise. “I discovered and learned many things on this trip. I discovered your lands and properties, your homes and those who live on your estates and in the town that I am now duke of, are important to me. Their welfare is important to me. You and I cannot thrive if they do not. Our children will have nothing if the people on your properties have nothing. Our fates are tied. The fact that the Church has laid waste to your father's holdings and the King of France covets them, gives me no end of worry and I have no doubt that you worry as well. We must walk a fine line. I'll not sit for the Church or Louis to root through what is yours.” Alise nodded dejectedly. “This means we must walk a fine tightrope and appear to live quietly and within the Church's dictates. We must give Louis no reason to stick his foot in our door. I will cut it off.” He turned the key and removed the lock. Opening the chest, he began to carefully pull things from it, handing them to Alise.

“I learned many things, while exploring Nîmes and Aigues-Mortes. I learned more about the language and the people than I ever thought. I believe you were fond of this cloak.”

Alise took it and nodded. “I was. My grandfather gave it to me.”

Roland continued. “I learned about grapes and flavors and the colors and pressing. I learned,” he gently pulled out a rolled leather scroll, “that my wife loved the gardens and the flowers and, while there, I was amazed by the layout, the thought, the planning she put into them. Which is why, you should be very careful when you unroll this.” He handed the scroll to her. “According to the cook in Nîmes, you were very adapt in cultivating not only the floral beauties in the garden, you were also well versed with herbal lore and kitchen herbs. According to Marie, you loved the gardens in Aigues-Mortes, so I thought, in rebuilding our home in England, if you wished, you could be a part of the laying out of the kitchen garden, as well as a French garden in England, that you and our children would enjoy.”

“Oh... oui... oui...” Carefully, Alise opened the roll, gasping at the carefully folded squares of parchment and material, with a large variety of selected seeds in the creases. “Oh Roland. You must have collected from each and every plant-”

“I tried. I thought if you saw some of your home in France, growing in our garden in Locksley, you would feel more at home and consider it your home as well.

“In exploring the homes you grew up in,” he continued, pulling more and more cloth, tunics, veils, kirtles, from the trunk, “and speaking to the servants within the homes, they told me stories of a young, boisterous girl who climbed trees, and asked questions and had unusual interests and cared, not only for her grandfather when he became ill, but for those around her. She not only loved, she was loved and in hearing stories of her and the love she left behind, I learned that I loved her as well.” He kissed her then, something sweet and promising. “I learned that right here and now, she is my world and my world is built on her smile.” The trunk was now empty. Roland picked up the knife and began to pry within the chest. “I have brought all of your clothes, your lute, your flute, your needlework, several of your dolls Marie said you loved,” he waggled his eyes at her. “Our daughters will enjoy them.” She was nodding, grinning through tears. He lifted what looked like the bottom of the trunk from the box, before delving in again. He lifted out a gold circlet. He handed it to her. “Do you recognize this?”

Alise gasped and took it from him. “It was my mother's.” She looked up at her husband. “Roland, this was hidden-”

“And I found it. Among,” he lifted an enameled and elaborate scroll, “other things. Your grandfather and father were crafty souls. Did you know quite a bit of your father's wealth and ancestral heritage are hidden at your grandfather's?” Alise did not answer. Her eyes were riveted on the lapis tube, Roland held in his hand. “Paintings, tapestries, jewels, statuary...” He uncorked the top of the container and slid out two pieces of parchment. “And this.” He handed a piece to her. “I do not recognize this language. I suspect you do.”

Alise laid her mother's circlet in her lap and took the parchment, with trembling hands.

האהוב שלי מדבר ואומר לי: קום, האהבה שלי, היפה שלי, ובא משם, ולהנה החורף הוא העבר; הגשם נגמר ו

“'Tis Hebrew.”

“Ah.” Roland had unrolled the second scroll. “Does it say, En dilectus meus loquitur mihi: surge amica mea, et veni, quoniam ecce enim hiems transiit; imber abiit et recessit?”

Alise was trembling. “Oui.” It was a barely audible whisper.

Roland handed her the scroll. “I recognize the handwriting beneath this. 'Tis yours.” Alise had placed her fists, white-knuckled in her lap. “Go on.” She shook her head. “Take it!”

“Roland, I-”

“Take! It!”

Alise couldn't look at her husband, fearful of what she would see. Doing as he bid, she took the scroll from him. “I thought you said you loved me.”

“Read it.”

Alise swallowed hard, before whispering, “Mon bien-aimé parle et me dit: Lève-toi, mon amour, ma belle, et viens, car voici l'hiver est passé; la pluie est terminée et est parti...”

Roland began to whisper along with her, only in English, “My beloved speaks and says to me: Arise my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The Fig tree ripens its figs and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” He took the parchment from her and began to roll it up, Alise openly sobbing. “I do love you. Every trunk has a false bottom and each one is filled with a layer of these. That is how much I love you. I found it, Alise. I found your grandfather's hidden library, his hidden wine cellar, his hidden treasure, along with what Raymond has managed to spirit away and hide. Mind the grapes, Alise.”

“Mind the grapes, Roland.”

“And I intend to mind them. Was anything hidden in Nîmes?” She shook her head no. “Good. Now listen carefully, as I will not repeat myself. I was not lying, I do love you and I will die defending and protecting you and what is now ours. But there are things you must understand and accept and agree to, or it will not go well for you. Much less us.” He inserted the scrolls back into the tubing and sealed it.

“I know what you are and privately, I care less how you worship Almighty God. But publicly and to England, France, Henry, and Louis, you are Catholic! I have seen first-hand the desolation and destruction the Holy See has wrought on the innocents in the South of this country. Henry will burn a heretic himself before he allows the Church to come and raze England! And he will not lose another inch of Plantagenet land to Louis!”

“But, you do not under-”

“I do understand! All you had to do was give money to the church! Your grandfather knew that! That is how he kept the Church appeased and out of Aigues-Mortes! Piety! Give them money! It kept him and you safe! You still worshiped as you saw fit! You still had your intellectual gatherings and you,” he shook the casing at her, “have taken woman's lore and herbs to keep from conceiving.” Alise colored at that. “For that, I understand, however sometime between now and the time we arrive on England's shore, you must cease and tend to your duty to our marriage.”

She was nodding. “I intended to stop doing so when we crossed the channel.” Her head shot up. “Henry and Eleanor-”

“Henry waited to consummate the marriage because Eleanor was a child!” He tapped her on the nose with a long finger. “You are not!”

“We also had two weeks to come to know each other.” Alise shrugged. “All of the trunks?” she smiled. “Everything?”

Roland smirked, the left side of his mouth lifting. “All of the trunks. You are an intelligent woman and it is my experience that intellectual women cause all sorts of trouble when their minds are not engaged.” He replaced the scrolls back in the trunk and replaced the fake bottom, pressing it down tightly. “So I brought things to engage you, for I am an indulgent man in love with his manipulative wife!” Alise laughed at that. “These must remain hidden until Locksley is rebuilt. I will ensure there is a library for us with hidden flooring similar to your home for these. Once it is complete, you may continue your translation. Alise,” again the long digit was up, “if word gets out, I will burn all of it. I did not bring everything, but we will be returning to Aigues-Mortes, so you can continue your... hobby.”

Alise squealed and jumped in Roland's lap, causing things that were at rest to reawaken.

And rather than put things away immediately, they made love again on the floor, before repacking the trunk and retiring to their bed, where they made love... again.

tbc

Song of Solomon 2:10-13

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 3E

Of memories and legacies

'Okay, so you got married; I figured you'd done that more than a few times.'

In the dark of the night, Genevieve couldn't see the smirk on Guy's face. 'Genevieve, I have been honest with you. I married each lifetime.'

'Not every lifetime! You were a nun once!'

'I was married to the Church.'

Genevieve went into coughing spasms. 'Yeah, right.'

'Heathen.'

Once she got under control, she continued. 'So Henry, John's son, married you to some orphaned sweet young thing and had lots of little Gisbornes.'

“Eight, to be exact.” He didn't tell her two died their first year, one within days of birth. Both he and Alise had taken their deaths very hard.

'But you didn't tell me what happened to Robin's Gang? Or Joffrey or Timothy or Eleanor or -'

'If you will cease talking, I will tell you.'

'I am listening.'

~~~...~~~


Fall 1246


Nottinghamshire, England

 

Roland braced himself as he approached Locksley Manor. He knew what to expect, when he came around the corner, he knew what he would see; the same thing he had seen for two weeks. A ramshackle, run-down hall, past its glory days, in the process of being rebuilt. The hall itself had been largely abandoned after Robin and his – Guy's – deaths, travelers and pilgrims using it as free, open room and board. What was left of Robin's gang, kept it cleared of miscreants for a time after the events at the castle, and Thornton, in his wisdom, removed the valuables and the Gisborne shields and banners, bringing them to Ripley's. Much had come, some weeks after fetching Annie, and after imbibing too much wine, informed Thornton of Annie and Seth's windfall and Thornton decided that the things held dear by Sir Guy, including the trunk with his parents' things, which he'd found secreted in the old bailiff's home, would be safer stored with Seth's inheritance. If Locksley was given to another noble, let them bring their own plate.

Thornton died, waiting for a new master to take the hall. Died taking care and keeping things clean and in place. Fiona had nowhere else to go for a time, so she stayed as well, cooking for weary travelers who paid what they could. The table, the bed, both of which had been sacred to Sir Guy, were kept, scarred, nicks and etched, crude drawings on the table top, the bed's mattress, horribly lumpy and uncomfortable.

The hall had not been fit for man nor beast. The hall was certainly not fit for Roland's bride, especially in her tender condition.

As much as she hated leaving her old home, she insisted that someday, they would return to it, but right now, she was excited to see her new home, in England.

But for now, the rebuilding of Locksley was on Roland's mind. Things had been hidden, things Guy had hidden and Roland needed to make sure they were still there. And he needed to look when no one was around.

That meant at night.

Roland hired local carpenters to rebuild and repair the home. Craftsmen to remake the windows and bars. No one caught him inspecting the window in the master bedroom, fingers tracing the grooves made from a long ago arrow, an arrow that embedded itself in the tender flesh of a woman he tried hard not to think about often. Especially when he lay with his wife. Initial fondness had grown into something more, something he decided he was going to fully enjoy. The Angel told him to love her and he did.

Several of the workmen refused to work in the home after sunset, said that something walked the halls, something wailed. Roland scoffed. That ghost had not walked the halls during his lifetime and would not return until after Roland died. But peasants were superstitious. He made a mental note to find chains in his next after-life and make sure he stalked around screeching at certain homes.

 

The older peasants tiptoed around him, remembered Sir Guy. Fine. As long as they gave proper respect and obeyed his laws and the king's laws. The current sheriff was a mouse compared to Vaisey. That was a good thing; he cowered before Roland and that was how he liked it.

There was a heaviness in the air, as he traveled, the promise of a long storm on the wind. Yet again, Locksley had an old wise woman, one whom everyone adored and revered. As he stopped in front of the hall and dismounted, he called to one of the stone masons. “Fine weather, I see. What does Old Matilda say?”

Alfred was grizzled and chiseled as the rock he worked. He spat to the side. “Her says rain comin' 'fore noon an' it stay 'til late.” He looked up towards the sky. “Least t'thatch be doine. The inside be almost doine tew.”

Roland stepped back to inspect the house. The stone bricked front was almost complete across the front of the home. “How much longer before I can bring my wife to live here?”

Alfred was rubbing his stubbly jaw. “Ah. Tew weeks? Still have the chamber room t'dew. Ah shite!” A large raindrop fell on his bulbous nose. “Old Matilda be off by an 'our.” He suddenly realized he'd cursed. “Sorry, m'lord.”

Roland held a hand out, feeling the weight of the air and hoping that the rain held out. This might work out perfectly. He dismissed Alfred, told him to let the other workers go home and suggested they leave their tools. He found a boy, about ten summers, and sent him to Nottingham Castle. “Find the Lady Alise and tell her if it rains, I'll not be home for supper. Tell my manservant, Thomas, to stay with my lady wife and her maid. I will need food from the kitchens. Have Lady Alise see to it.” He watched him lop down the lane. There was something about the child, something familiar, but he couldn't place his finger on it.

Roland then put his horse in the barn. It had to be rebuilt from the ground, as the original stable had fallen in. For not the first time, he saw his former self, fighting and unmasking the Night Watchman, his horror at the realization, the hurt, that it was Marian. But the pain was quickly replaced with visions of Genevieve, here in this spot, in this barn, combing down Zeus, her laughter echoing in old memories. They were good memories, made him determined to wait and watch.

After brushing down and stabling his mount, Roland entered the manse, carrying saddlebags filled with rags and empty bags. Work was going well indeed. His first-born would come into the world in the Master's Chambers, as she should.

Oh yes, Roland was quite certain the babe Alise carried was a girl-child. Alise might be disappointed, but Roland would not be. He planned to spoil her rotten and marry her to a wealthy lord. Roland had eight centuries to put his finger into every pie in England and France and maybe even Spain, if he felt like it.

The Table sat in the middle of the main room. Roland leaned over it, fingers dragging across the top. Gregory was an excellent carpenter and woodworker and he'd spent days sanding the carvings and crude etchings from the surface. As the calloused tips caressed the wood, he was stunned with the vision of Genevieve tied to the top, spread-eagle. He lifted his fingers quickly as if burned, part of him immediately desiring the woman not walking this earth, the other part feeling guilty for loving his wife.

His pregnant wife.

Genevieve wouldn't want you to be alone. She told you the day the angels took her to buy a vineyard, grow grapes, drink wine, love again.

Would you rather hate your wife?

No.

Roland wandered the manse, inspecting the corners, the furnishings, taking his time. Most of the furniture had to be scrapped, replaced, including the bed that had been in the smaller bedroom. The bed in the master's chambers had been in bad shape, much like the main table, but Gregory restored it to its original beauty. The mattresses and pillows were burned and new ones were sewn and stuffed with new down. Alise chose new material for bed hangings, in fact, brought silk from Persia, yellow with black designs. In the spring, she would lay out the garden, both a kitchen garden and a flower garden, for her and the children. Their babe would come in the winter. Baskets and other things for the little one were already made, ordered to be made. The manse itself, larger, more rooms added on, for Roland's growing family. It had not the abundance of wealth apparent in Alise's home in Aigues-Mortes, nor Nîmes, but in time it would. Sometime, in the far future, much of the wealth at Aigues-Mortes and Nîmes, would be moved and hidden in England, and unless he figured out a way to hide it, much of the wealth in Locksley and in particular, Ripley's, would have to be moved to Aigues-Mortes sometime as well.

All this wealth, moving back and forth. Once due to a greedy monarch and once due to angry peasants.

As he roamed, he leisurely picked up tools he would need for later in the evening, laying them on the bed. As he worked silently, the storm broke, water coming down in torrents. No one would be out and about. He would just be himself for some hours.

Now. Now was the perfect timing.

There were several empty pails lying about and Roland took them through the kitchen and the back door, where large rain barrels stood at the corners collecting water. He filled the pails and took them upstairs, careful not to spill any water. Taking them into the water closet, he set them gently, again so as not to spill any water, to the side. There were used cleaning linens lying about and he collected these as well. He simply needed something to dry with.

The chamber pot was nasty, rusty, and stank to high heaven, so a new one was being made. It would be one of the last things installed. By his next life, a rather primitive type of plumbing would be installed, similar to the current plumbing that carried the water from the bathing tubs to the muck pile outside. Snarling, Roland lifted and removed the chair, along with the chamber pot, and laid them to the side. There was a reason this particular renovation was left to last. Roland had requested it. He had waited for the perfect time to take care of this. The perfect time had finally arrived.

The chair sat up, almost throne-like, with the chamber pot, resting in an enclosed drop. Many years previously, Sir Guy made the empty space in the platform double for something else. Carefully using the claw tool, Roland pried the old nails from the top of the riser. The rotting wood splintered, but Roland didn't care for it served its purpose. It took several minutes for him to remove the obvious lid from the raised podium, revealing the treasure hidden within.

And yes, riches were squirreled away within, in addition to another portion of Gisborne's abundance buried in the root cellar. Sir Guy of Gisborne hid much at the Abbey, but he had been unable to take everything, so he'd hidden it in his home, hidden beneath everyone's eyes. Roland smiled to himself, wondering how many people had sat on the chamber pot, unaware that they sat on a hoard that went beyond many a man's dreams.

The bags stank; were putrid and foul, rotting. Roland dropped them whole in the largest bucket, hearing the metal of coin rattle not only within, but escaping and falling through the rotted cloth and rolling on the hidden floor. Quickly, he worked, holding his breath against the rankness of the flooring, making sure he rescued every crown, every jewel. He reached in one last time, fingers grasping a chain. As he lifted it, he squeezed his eyes shut, remembering the damned thing.

It was simple, simple silver, simple knot-work, too fine a piece for a peasant, who he had taken it from, in exchange for his blessing on her marriage. The woman he'd gifted it to hadn't cared for it, hadn't cared for him. It was not lost on him that after that incident, when his peasants came to ask for his blessing, they wore nothing fine; no jewelry, no silk, nothing visably passed down from mother to daughter.

It occurred to him to find the peasant, or the peasant's children, and return the necklace, but that would invite problems and questions he did not wish to answer. Instead, he put it in a second bucket of water. He spent time rinsing, cleaning the coin, the gems, the jewelry, before removing them and placing them in the linens and rags he'd brought up. He hoped the things buried in the root cellar were in better shape. They should be; only insects and mice would have shat and died on them. He could handle a dead mouse.

Once the items were cleaned and dried, he put them in the smaller pouches and packed them into the saddlebags. When the rain calmed, he would take them to Ripley's and let the Old Skeleton in the Crypt keep watch. The nuns were very kind to Sir Guy, something that would have made him laugh had he known back when he was Sir Guy.

Strange, what a little kindness would do. Genevieve taught him that.

Or a large bequest and consistent monetary gifts.

Roland was brought up by a noise, a noise in the main hall. His head shot up, listening.

“Hullo! Gisborne! I know you're here!”

Yes. Someone was in the main hall.

Leaving the saddlebags in the privy, Roland strode purposely from the room, down the hall and to the balustrade, overlooking the room. An elderly man, leaning on a walking stick and dressed in simple clothing and a traveling cloak stood in the middle of the room, the door open and rain blowing in. His hood was up, covering his face.

His voice was familiar. Roland struggled to place it.

“The floors are new, old man. Close the door behind you or have you no manners?” Roland slowly made his way down the stairs, fingers trailing the banister. “This is a private home. Many would consider it rude or string you up as an intruder.”

“It is raining,” the man retorted jovially. “And as short the time as I knew them, I do not think either of the previous owners would refuse me shelter.”

Roland's hand went to his sword and he stepped onto the main floor. “The previous owners?”

“Sweet Jesu, you're dead! I helped put you in the crypt myself, brother!” The man looked up, yanking his hood back from his face. “Did the devil throw you back?”

Archer? You live? Still?

Roland schooled his features. “I am Sir Roland FitzGisborne, Lord of Locksley. You are?”

Archer was smiling. It was then Roland saw him, saw his brother, recognized and placed a name to the voice. “By the balls of the bull in the pasture, you are not Roland of Whoever. Guy of Gisborne had a pox scar half above his left eye, and damn my eyes, if you don't have that identical scar!”

Roland was torn. He didn't know if he should kill the man or hug him. He leaned back on one hip and crossed his arms. “Sir Guy of Gisborne had a son, Seth-”

“The blacksmith, yes I know. I know about the boon Guy left his son. I saw the boy several times as he grew. Tall, and lanky like Guy, and resembled him somewhat in features.” Archer shook his head and focused on the freshly whitewashed wall behind Roland. “Haven't seen him in nigh thirty years. I was on my way to see how he and his mother fared when this blasted rain came down. I'm too old to be traipsing about in the storm. Didn't fancy to meet you here.”

Roland moved past him, keeping a wary eye, to shut the door, however the lad he'd sent to Nottingham ran into the doorway, two large satchels in hand. “T'lady said yew shuld pay me well, as is rainin'!” He held out the bags.

“And if I do not?” Roland took the sacks from him, the smell of fresh bread and roast rising from them.

“Then she will,” the child smirked. “An' she pay me twice as much!”

“Then I suppose I should pay you. Stay put.” The order was aimed at both child and visitor. Roland's mind raced as he trotted up the stairs. What to do with Archer? Guy racked his brain, trying to remember if the man he called father or the woman he called grandmother had ever mentioned Archer. The man was his brother, but he must not be allowed to entertain the notion that Roland was anyone but Sir Roland! Sir Guy was buried in the crypts of Ripley's. For not the first time, Roland wondered if he pushed the lid back, would he see a rotted body or nothing?

He should ask The Angel next time she deigned to walk in his presence or his dreams. There were times he looked forward to her visits.

There were times he wished he'd never see an angel again. Especially the one with the rolling, ever-changing eyes. Sir Roland was frightened of few things. He was terrified of Douma!

He strode into the privy and grabbing the nearest saddlebag, dug a purse from it. He removed a small coin of little worth, but would seem a ransom to a child. Roland then replaced the purse and headed down the stairs. The boy was ecstatic over the offered payment and ran back into the rain, paying little heed to the water or Roland's admonishment to not spend it in one place.

“Are you serious?” Archer was incredulous. “That small amount in more than one place?” He leaned on his walking stick. “I would be infuriated over such a trifle.”

Roland dusted off the table and set the food pouches on it. Opening it, it was obvious there was enough for more than one person. Clearly, Alise wished for her husband to gain weight along with her. “That is more money than he or his family will see in a month.” He began to pull out the food parcels. “Sit. There is enough for two. So you are my uncle?” He broke the bread. It was fresh baked and he handed half to the man sitting across from him. Best to play dumb. “Do you have a name?” He then shut the door.

“I would be your great-uncle. Archer. My name is Archer.” He sank slowly into a chair, the ache in his bones and muscles, now obvious to Roland. He tore into the bread with great relish. “Ah. I have not had fare this fine in many moons.”

“'Tis just the bread. Wait until you get to the roast!” Roland then took a bite of his own bread, pulling the roast from the bag. “How are you my great-uncle? And why haven't I met you before?”

Archer's eyes were closed, obviously enjoying the taste of the food. The cooks in Nottingham were renowned for the excellence of the table set before the sheriff and lords. It was a standing tradition and Roland was courting one of the cooks to leave the castle to cook in his home when it was completed. She was old and crusty, but Alise adored her suckling pig, as well as her apple tarts, and Roland was determined that anything his wife desired, she would have. “I have traveled the world and can tell you stories of the courts of the Holy Roman Empire and beyond. I have been to China and can tell you many things of strange people and customs. Sir Guy of Gisborne was my half-brother. Robin of Locksley, or Robin Hood, was also my half-brother.”

“Oh, family intrigue.” Roland forced himself to smile.

Archer was now working on the slices of roast. His hunger was obvious, however the man's manners were impeccable. “Guy's mother and Robin's father planned on marrying. Both were widowed, or so they thought.”

“Oh?”

“Guy's father was a Crusader. Sir Roger. It was long thought he died at the hands of the Turks, however, he showed up, surprise, surprise, just as Malcolm and Ghis... Ghis...Ghis...”

“Ghislaine.” Roland's voice was whispered. How long had it been since he allowed himself to think of his original mother? His real mother. Hard enough to consider Seth, who was his son, as his father and Annie as his grandmother. He remembered as a young child, sitting in her lap, allowing her to pet and kiss him. She died before Roland was three and by then, her eyesight was failing, which was probably a blessing. Seth didn't remember his father, simply knew that the knight left him a bequest, an inheritance, and a stipend for his mother, who saved it to split equally among her daughters upon their marraiges. Roland's childhood was happy and his teen years a great improvement compared to Guy's. “Her name was Ghislaine.” He inhaled, staring into the fire and unaware that Archer was watching him closely. So rarely, he let his guard down and right this moment, it was in shambles. “She was beautiful, beloved. A healer. An intelligent woman.” Suddenly, Roland realized what he was saying. “Or so, I learned in my travels to her old home in France.”

“Guy?” Roland refused to turn, acknowledge what Archer called him. “I want nothing of yours. Please tell me about our mother. I have searched, traveled. I know of Malcomb of Locksley. I even know of Sir Roger Gisborne. I have discovered nothing on my mother.”

Roland swallowed, swallowed hard. “Her name was Ghislaine. As I said, she was beautiful, beloved, a renowned healer and intelligent. 'Tis said she and Roger Gisborne loved each other so deeply, she ran away with him to keep from marrying the old baron her father wished her to marry. She was kindness personified. She must have thought Roger dead, or she would have never lain with Malcolm of Locksley. 'Tis all I know.” For a moment, it was quiet, before he abruptly changed the subject. “What happened to Robin's Gang?”

Archer sighed. It was obvious the man across from him was tight-lipped, but it was well known Guy of Gisborne held his secrets close. Perhaps...

“Guy was killed, murdered, in the cellars of Nottingham by his only sister – my half-sister, and she was a bitch, I'll be honest – and by the Sheriff. Vaisey. A nastier man, I've not met. I was not saddened at either of their deaths.” He reached for the wine-skin. “I was saddened by Guy's demise. I think I would have liked him. I would have liked to have known him better.”

“How did they die? The sister and... Vaisey?”

“Robin blew them to hell and back. Blew up the castle, with them and their men in it.” Archer smiled wickedly. “Robin was cut with a poisoned knife and died by sunset. We buried him out in the woods. Don't ask where. I couldn't find the place if I wanted to and I do want to. At least I know where you... where Guy is.”

“I know where Sir Guy is.”

“I'm sure you do.” Archer took a long swig from the wine-skin. “I helped put him there. Quite a legacy he left Seth and Annie.”

Roland took a swig from his wine-skin. “And I am grateful for it.” The two men sat in silence before Archer continued.

“Little John stayed a few months, before leaving one early spring morning, for France. Seems old Henry's Queen had invited him a year or so before to come to Aquitaine and he took her up on her offer. He wasn't heard from again. Kate left soon after. She took a fancy to one of the stone masons who helped rebuild Nottingham and left with him. Luckily for him, the man was stone deaf,” Roland ducked his head to keep Archer from seeing his grin, “as that woman had a voice that would carve granite. On second thought,” the man mused, “perhaps that's why he took her with him.

“Much remained until he passed, oh, I suppose, a few years back. He was alive the last time I came through Notthingham, married and fathering a hutch of children. His wife was as fertile as a rabbit! Unless I miss my guess, the young one you paid to bring this fine meal is part of his brood.”

Ah. So that's why he looked familiar.

Archer continued, unaware of Roland's inner musings. “Friar Tuck stayed a year at the most, before disappearing. Said he'd never stayed so long in one place, too much of the world to see and too much to learn and he'd remained here longer than anywhere. I had hoped to run into him again in my wanderings, but...” his voice wandered off. “Sometimes I think he held too many secrets, knowledge the Church would not approve of and he stayed on the move to keep the Holy See from catching up to him.”

Roland nodded, as if simply going along with what Archer told him, but the fact was, Archer was closer to the truth than he suspected. Friar Tuck was an intelligent, learned man, who spent time in not only Holy Libraries in Rome and Constantinople, but in Jerusalem and other cities under Muslim control. He was not a warrior, although he was quite capable of killing a man, or at the very least, knocking one out if necessary. If the Pope had an inkling what the man knew or was capable of putting together...

“A few of Sir Guy's knights high-tailed it from Nottinghamshire soon after the castle came down.” Roland wasn't surprised. Roland's thoughts drifted back to Sir Guy's time. As Sir Guy, he entered the grove with Genevieve and left it without her to discover it was if she had never been there. Things he had done with Genevieve in residence, were now undone. He'd had to retrieve his family chest from the tanner and again, given their mother's locket to Isabella, only to have her destroy it, in attempts to sow discord among people. Timmy was still in Clun, still raising havoc and Guy wasted no time shipping him to Sir Rodrick.

Joffrey took the boy and according to Guy's dictates, did not return. He stayed with Rodrick, marrying the widow he'd been seeing and took his now mother-in-law with him. He'd done well under Sir Rodrick and eventually became one of his lead knights, something that Roland took great delight knowing. Thomas was Joffrey's grandson and in the generations to come, every knight who became a lead knight or in Soul-Guy's personal service, would be a direct descendant of Joffrey's. It was a partnership of sorts, that Guy, now Roland, would cherish in the centuries to come. Loyalty was a trait that was bred deep and Guy began that cultivation years past, in his personal dealings with an uneducated young man, who was loyal to the bone.

Roland realized Archer was snapping his fingers in his face. “Are y'here?”

Roland didn't blink. “Thinking.” His brow knit together. “How did you know I was here? In residence?”

Archer smiled. “Why, Eleanor, of course.”

~~~***~~~

Roland rode by the woman's home yet again; how many times in the last two weeks? Locksley Manse was complete; he planned to move Alise and their staff, including the cook that Alise was so fond of, into the abode the following week. He was excited, as was Alise and by the activity from the seed he'd planted some months back, so was the baby girl-child, expected within two moons. Alise was antsy, ready to move and begin preparations for the nursery he intended to keep full with little FitzGisbornes. Already, there was a basket in their sitting room at the castle, blankets, bunting, swaddling, and gowns ready for the newborn.

“My Lord, Sir Guy?” Unlike his previous pass-bys, the yard was not empty. It was a small home, neatly fenced, with things growing in the yard, both showy and practical. Cooking herbs, mostly, but colorful flowers as well. There was a wooden chair in the shade of the home, an elderly woman began to rise. “My Lord? Sir G-”

“Roland,” he completed for her. Roland stopped his horse and dismounted, throwing the reins around one of the posts. “I am Lord Roland FitzGisborne.”

The woman made her way to the fence to stand in front of him. “I am old, but I am not blind. I have seen children bear strong resemblance to their fathers or mothers, but none as so striking as you.” She glared up at him, Roland seeing the young teen, so beloved by Genevieve, beneath the wrinkles. “Aye. You are Sir Guy of Gisborne, every stinking proud inch of ye, I imagine. I remember you!”

Roland looked around, thankful there was no one about. “And what do you remember, crone?”

For a moment, her face darkened, but then a predatory and purposeful gleam lit her eyes. “It's not what I remember, but who.”

“And who would you remember, besides my grandfather?”

“Lady Genevieve.”

~~~...~~~

Roland quickly allowed the woman to usher him into her home. Despite the smallness of it, it was neat, clean, everything had its place. He watched as she put water on to boil and struggled to pull an old trunk from beneath her bed. It occurred to him to aid her, but he resisted the niggling voice, instead attempting to keep a calm, impervious facade. She threw back the lid and pulling up a chair, began to pull things from it, setting them neatly on the bed.

“This was my marriage chest,” she whispered. “From the day I was born and obviously thrived, my mother began to make and add things to it, as did I.” Marriage chests were common things. For many years, family members, mostly girls and women, would spin thread, yarn, purchase cloth, to make linens and blankets. At times, coin would be squirreled away, valuables, jewelry, and in some cases, seed. After several minutes, she pulled up two small, tightly woven bags. One was empty, the other, was not.

“What do you have, Eleanor?”

“Sit, sit!” She smiled, all of her teeth still intact and motioned to the table. “The old sheriff was fond of an old Turkish brew. Lady Genevieve was very fond of it, as was Sir Guy.” She held up the empty little pouch. From where he stood, Roland could smell the faint scent of cinnamon. “She also adored Cinnamon Walnuts. She gave me this bag during a joust in Nottingham.” Roland's heart was starting to beat quickly, and not in a good way. She held up the other bag. “I have been saving this for a special occasion.” She leaned over and leered at Locksley's Earl. “I don't think I am much longer for this world, not to mention, Guy of Gisborne, long thought to be dead, right this moment, sups in my home. I suppose this would be a special occasion.” She turned her back on him, and digging through a basket of cloth and rags, pulled a piece of stained muslin from it. Dumping the beans from the pouch into the swatch of cloth, she tied it and began to search for a kitchen hammer. Finding it, she began to beat the beans in the cloth into crushed powder. “I married a wood-carver who came to work here when the castle was blown up, many years ago; the same explosion that supposedly killed you and did kill Lord Robin.” Roland bristled still at the man's name. “We had five children and he passed a few years back. Our eldest son is the wood-carver now and a fine one, he is!”

“Gregory?” The wood-worker Roland hired was local.

“Aye.” Pride shown in the old woman's eyes. “When my husband passed, I felt strange, abiding in the home with my eldest son and his wife. She is a good woman, but she let it be known to me that their brood was growing and I took up valuable space. Rather than pit my son against her, I asked him and my other son, along with several of my son-in-laws to build this place for me.” Satisfied with crushed beans in the cloth, she tightened the ribbon around the mouth and dropped it into the boiling water, before pushing the hook and pot over the fire in the fireplace.

It occurred to Roland to jump up, kill the woman before she said another word, but a quieter, voice whispered through.

Listen.

She sat down across from him. “I do not treat with company often. Stay for dinner.”

“Regretfully, I cannot.”

Eleanor smiled sadly. “Then at least, share some of this mysterious Turkish brew with me.”

“I can do that.” He watched as she folded her hands primly on the table. “You speak of a Lady Genevieve. I do not recall hearing her name.”

“Sir Guy-”

“My name is Roland. Lord Roland.”

She looked at him intently, before sighing. “I... remember things others do not. Things I have not spoken of to anyone, lest they say I am addled. Things I've kept secret.”

“Such as this mysterious Lady Genevieve or how you obtained a very expensive drink.” The house was filled with the aroma of strong, Turkish coffee. She began to rise. “Let me.” Roland stood up and went to the fire, using a hook to lift the pot from the fire. She had set out two plain earthen mugs, and wrapping a cloth around the handle, he began to pour a dark, strong smelling liquid from the pot. “What do you remember and have you told anyone?”

Eleanor's back was to him and her voice was far away. “I remember Sir Guy bringing an unconscious woman to his home, one bright Sunday. She was dressed most inappropriately; a short, black dress. Her legs were showing, up to her thighs. My mother thought she was sent from the devil.”

Roland snorted. Eleanor continued.

“'Tis hazy, just bits. I remember going to work as her maid. I was terrified of Sir Guy; such a tall, broody man. At times, he was cruel, at other times... I remember him with Lady Marian-”

“Robin Hood's lady?” Roland interrupted. The mugs were full and he set the kettle down, grabbing both handles of the cups.

“Aye. Robin's Lady. Always. She was such a... creature.” Roland's head jerked up, hissing when he splashed his wrist with the scalding drink. “She used him and he danced to her tune.”

“Robin Hood.”

“No. Sir Guy.” She looked up at him then. She took the cup from him and took a sip, obviously enjoying the brew. “I felt sorry for him, the way she treated him. I remember Lady Genevieve.” She didn't notice he set his own mug in front of him, untouched. “I remember being her maid, I remember the clothing Sir Guy purchased for her, the richness and beauty of it. She loved color! I remember her kindness and her gentle-nature. At times, they argued, but they always made up. I remember a joust, I remember you... Sir Guy... horribly injured and how she loved you and cared for you. I remember helping to hide her at Ripley's convent when the Sheriff became difficult. I remember a wedding.” Her brow knit, causing deeper furrows between her eyes. “I remember a wedding, a small, joyous, wedding at Ripley's. She wore red. Such a bold color.”

“What else do you remember?”

“I remember catching her bouquet of fall roses at the party in Locksley.” She swallowed. “I remember Sir Guy's happiness and joy. And then...”

“And then what?” Roland asked quietly.

“Some days after the wedding, he took her for a ride. He took her into the forest for a ride. It was bright, sunny and then suddenly, the world became dark and he returned without her. One moment, I was cleaning their room, the next... I was in the kitchen, giving Fiona eggs. I stood there for many minutes, until she shooed me out, as if I didn't belong there.”

“And he returned without her.”

Eleanor nodded. “At first, I feared he'd killed her, had an argument and left her behind. But she didn't return. I watched and watched and finally snuck into the barn. I found her horse, the one she rode, there, unsaddled, languishing as he had before she came. Sir Guy's horse was a big, heavy, mean brute, but the one the lady rode...” Eleanor shrugged. “Sir Guy rode the horse several times a week after that. I was hiding in the barn once, my mother wanted me to walk to Clun for bread and the woods scared me, so I was hiding until I couldn't hide anymore and Sir Guy came into the barn after riding Her horse. I heard him whisper – Do you miss her? I miss her as well.”

They sat in silence for some minutes, each ruminating on the things the old woman spoke of and sipping the bitter brew before Eleanor rose from her chair and went back to the trunk. Again, she began to pull things from it, laying them neatly on the bed. “No one mentioned her. No one. No one remembered her. It was if she'd never been there. The following winter was cold, so my mother and I spent time in front of the fire, spinning thread and cloth and knitting heavy clothing. Some of it was for my marriage chest and I went to put some linens in it. I found the beans in the bottom, along with the cinnamon walnuts. There were still some in it and I savored them. I then found a purse,” she pulled out a black draw-string pouch, clinking with coins, “with coppers in it. It was the purse Sir Guy gave me with my pay for caring for Lady Genevieve. My pay was in the bottom of my chest and I found these as well.”

She pulled out a faded yellow tunic and a black over-dress. Sir Guy's colors, to be sure, and now, Roland's as well. “For the faire, Lady Genevieve had this made for me, as well as this.” Now she pulled from the chest a grey, hooded tunic with a red over-dress. “I wore this for my wedding. My mother thought I purchased the material and secretly had it made. She accused me of being wanton for the color, but after I put it on, she liked it. I didn't buy this. I didn't make it. She gave it to me. Lady Genevieve.”

Roland stared at the two dresses. He remembered them, remembered chiding Genevieve for having them made, but remembered being pleased the girl had worn the yellow and black with pride.

“I remember her, but no one else remembers her. I have often wondered what happened, but I decided the angels must have taken her. He would not have harmed her. He loved her and she loved him. It's the only reasoning I can think of.”

~~~***~~~

Eleanor died two weeks later, right after Roland moved his bride into Locksley Hall. At her funeral, Roland heard whispering that in the end, she was telling fanciful tales of a strange woman and her knight. Roland scoffed, pretending to ignore them, but secretly kept the stories Eleanor told him in his heart. He questioned The Angel the next time he saw her and she gave him a fanciful and elaborate tale of looping time and how things sometimes fell through the cracks when time has been repeated over and over. She told him to keep his eyes open, he would find more whispers and shadows of Genevieve from that forgotten time. Hints that Genevieve was real. Somehow, he felt this was the Angel's way of keeping Genevieve alive in his heart, keeping him focused on the long task to come.

Six weeks after they moved into the manse, Alise gave birth to a large, dark-haired baby girl, Eleanor, named after the Queen, who mostly resembled her mother. Seven more little FitzGisbornes followed, all arriving at sunset, every two to three years.

Save the last one.

Baby Guy was a surprise, a shock to both his mother and his father, but beloved nonetheless. Spoiled, definitely, not only by his parents, but by his much older siblings as well. Their eldest was married when the baby was born, pregnant herself, and she was aghast her parents still did that sort of thing! She was no different from Roland and Alise, as she had a surprise child as well, twenty five years into her marriage.

Archer wandered, came and went, until a cold, cold winter, he showed up and Alise refused to allow him to leave. Seth visited once, told Roland he was proud of him, before reminding him where he lived, as he was too old to travel and besides, he preferred his smaller home and more humble roots. Roland realized that his father was uncomfortable with his eldest son's wealth and station, as were his siblings. Seth and his sisters, Roland's aunts, doted on Roland and Alise's little ones. By the time Roland died, they were a forgotten, poorer branch of the family. Forgotten by all but Roland.

And his future selves.

A few times, Roland saw the ghost of Annie, wandering Ripley's, when he visited the crypt. She always fled from him.

Roland took his family to Aigues-Mortes on at least four occasions, returning a fifth time with Alise, in 1277, with only thirteen year old Guy in tow. Unlike the ancestor he was named after, Guy was rambunctious, energetic and social, much like his mother and siblings. He kept his mother exhausted and his father in a lop-sided grin. He took an interest in the grapes, the cultivation, the wine-press. It was decided, and Roland's heir agreed, that Guy would be left in charge of the estate, holding the lands for his brother and caring for it. It was a wise decision, as under Guy's stewardship, the winery flourished. He was eventually made Count of Aigues-Mortes and the Duke of Nîmes, his descendant holding onto the properties and titles when France finally yanked the area firmly from England's grasp. For some odd reason, it was conviently forgotten that the FitzGisbornes were British. It was if the Almighty caused French Royalty to convientently forget the FitzGisbornes' roots! Within several generations, however, the titles and lands, along with the winery, was returned to the English FitzGisbornes.

Alise fell ill during the last trip to Aignes-Mortes, and died there. Roland entombed her in the small chapel, next to her mother and grandfather and genuinely grieved for her. He never wandered, never took a mistress, never remarried, although Edward I, Henry's successor, insisted several times, even attempting to enlist Roland's eldest son, Henry William, to talk him into taking a second wife. Both Henry and Roland would laugh with their monarch. “My father has whelped eight children, six that are living,” Henry would retort. He was as close to England's monarch as his father had been with England's previous king. His brother John FitzGisborne, was Edward's most trusted spy and that one made sure Roland and Henry knew all of his secrets. “There is nothing left to bequeath them and I refuse to give up an inch of Locksley or Gisborne! Bad enough my little brother is acting the lord over Nîmes.”

“Aye,” Roland agreed. “I had to threaten John with disinheritance if he did not marry the heiress of Eastbrooke.” John appeared to like his wife much, although there were no children as of yet. If John's wife was proven to be barren, it would be another title and another estate under the ever-growing and powerful FitzGisborne grasp.

“Perhaps,” Edward waved his finger, “I should threaten you with like punishment.”

Henry and Roland looked at each other, before bursting out in laughter.

Roland died in the early winter of 1292. A strange story is told of his death. He sat in his chair, by the fire in his room, his room, where all of his children had been birthed, along with his eldest son, and his eldest son's, eldest son, listening to the comings and goings in the bed-chamber above him, where his grandson's wife lay in labor. He could tell things were not going well and when women began to wail, he ordered the child brought to him.

A little boy, blue and unbreathing was laid in his arms. His hair was black as a raven and his features identical to his great-grandfather. Roland pinched the child's nose and slid a finger into his mouth, extracting mucus. “Name him William Edward. He will be as dark as my grandfather.” Roland then leaned over and breathed into the child.

As William Edward took that first breath of life, lungs filling up, turning pink and screaming angrily, Roland leaned back and took his last, his final act in life was giving life-

to himself.

~~~***~~~

Roland made wealthy and successful marriages for all of his children, save Beatrice, who decided to become a nun. She entered Ripley's, eventually became the Abbess, learned of the boon in the crypt and took care of Sir Guy's grave. She continued the tradition of laying yellow roses on the stone sarcophagus and found an interesting notation in one of the nunnery's journals. Breaking her oath of silence the one time, she showed it to her eldest brother, Henry, who shook his head and denied knowledge of anything concerning Sir Guy. It was a damp day and when he closed the ledger, his thumb smudged the date, forever erasing the exact day in November Sir Guy married his beloved Genevieve. For a time, the ledger was lost, forgotten, until centuries later, when another FitzGisborne would become Abbess of Ripley's and find it.

This FitzGisborne would destroy the Abbey.

Only for another FitzGisborne to purchase, rebuild, and restore it.

But that's a story for another time.

tbc

Lord Roland FitzGisborne, Earl of Locksley, Lord of Gisborne, Count of Aigues-Mortes and the Duke of Nîmes – b.1215 d.1292
m. Alise of Aigues-Mortes 1243
b.1222
d.1278

Children:
1. Eleanor b.1246
2. Henry William b.1248
3. Robert b. 1249 d.1249
4. Beatrice b.1252
5. Joan b.1254
6. John b. 1257
7. Blanche b.1258 d.1259
8. Guy b. 1265

Chapter Text

Tissue Warning. And so begins William Edward's saga.

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 04A

Head like a Hole

Fall 1308

According to family myth and legend, Roland FitzGisborne – he who won and procured a rather large chunk of Nottinghamshire for himself – spent his last breath making sure his great-grandson and eventual heir would breathe. William Edward FitzGisborne knew this was fact. He had been Roland and he was that baby. However, to hear his parents and grandparents to speak of it so often, irritated him greatly.

Then again, pretty much everything irritated William. Servants irritated him, whiny peasants irritated him. His parents dying in a shipwreck in the English Channel the year before he reached his majority very much irritated him. It was because of their untimely death, that he was where he was at this very moment.

At an altar. In front of a priest, with a bride; a bride not of his choosing, certainly not of his father's choosing. His father *eyeroll* knew there were families to stay away from. God knows he... excuse us... Roland... drummed that into his and his grandson's head from before time was recorded. There were families to avoid like the plague!

But tell that to England's newly-crowned king! Had William's parents waited a day or two to return from that trip to France, visiting his uncle in Aigues-Mortes, this wouldn't be happening! It didn't matter he was close to being of age. Edward II had a mess on his hands, a mess of his own making, and he had favorites to pander to. And right this moment, one fourteen year old chit, with a run-down estate, and debt; debt out the arse, had his inner circle in an uproar. She had a cousin with a gambling problem and a drinking problem and women problems – the problem being they didn't like him, his bad teeth, his receding chin or hairline, or his bad breath and belly, so his only refuge was to pay for his women. Thanks to his care-taking and guardianship, what once was a fair piece of property, was now close to ruins, drafty and crumbling, and deep in debt.

And he tended to keep a rather itchy case of crabs.

Rumor had it the man was planning to petition The Church for permission to marry the girl, in order to gain full access to the rest of her funds.

She had gone screaming to her dearest friend, who happened to be related to the king's favorite, Piers Gaveston, of all people.

He agreed with her. Best to find her a suitable husband, one young enough to satisfy her budding womanly wiles, but powerful and wealthy enough to do what needed to be done to her small, ramshackle estate. Everyone knew that the more prosperous an estate, the more taxes could be drawn from it. It would also be nice if the husband had no one to answer to; no family to aid him, guide him. That way, the king, or Piers, would truly be in control of two estates.

FitzGisbornes had a reputation, a reputation of taking something that was not profitable and turning it into something that was. So rather than force some poor heiress to marry Henry Harridston, Edward II, or actually, Piers, came up with the bright idea of marrying Mellisande Harridston to young William Edward FitzGisborne. William was astute and snarky, had little conscience when it came to fighting. Even his friends said he fought dirty; winning was everything and Piers figured if anyone could pull the Harridston estate up by the bootstraps, it would be young FitzGisborne. FitzGisbornes were loyal to The Crown to a fault. They were spies, a sneaky bunch, and William seemed to be malicious as well. His temper was whispered about, that by the time of his parents' untimely death, he had killed two thieves, a highwayman, and maimed a servant caught lifting the family silver.

William laughed at that. Pondering his state before his parents' deaths, he found it amusing that while Roland worked hard at being good and laying a foundation to build what would become a dynasty, William, in his current reincarnation, couldn't care less about being nice to anyone. His main interest, in this life, was creating and establishing a power base. He had land, a lot of land; he considered Aigues-Mortes as well as Nîmes his; he could add to that land easily through marriage, so at this moment, he was concentrating on power. Vaisey, the old reprobate, was right about that. Power was everything. And that meant keeping his ears and eyes open, his mouth shut, and pandering to people who, at some point, would owe him favors. Silly, stupid people who he could hold things over their heads. Things that they wouldn't want known to the general population. Or their spouses. Or their lovers.

He also needed sons and while he didn't think to marry for at least five to ten years, here he was at the beck and call of King Edward, or truth be told, Piers Gaveston. Piers was power mad and bent the king's ear much. Edward was stupid and if he wasn't careful, his bride would be passing children off as princes and princesses of England who didn't have a drop of Edward's royal blood in them. In his one week, so far, at court, William spent more time with his ear to the wall than he did with his future bride.

The wench was comely enough; however her mouth seemed to be turned down in a permanent pout, which William found very unbecoming and after walks with her in the garden, it became quite clear she was more suited for a cloister.

She would have preferred it, save she didn't want her cousin to take possession of her estate. Therefore, she and William came to an agreement. Three children, at least one son, hopefully two sons and a daughter and then if she still desired, she could retire to Ripley's once the third babe was weened. Or she could hand the child over to a wet nurse and she could enter the nunnery sooner. This way, the eldest would inherit FitzGisborne lands, the second son would inherit William's mother's estate and the Harridston estate would be the daughter's dower house. The FitzGisbornes in France seemed to marry barren women or women who had a difficult time conceiving and as a result, that branch was long and narrow. At some point, Aigues-Mortes and Nîmes would return to the English branch, but William knew that time wouldn't be several centuries, so he kept that in the back of his mind. As his parents before him, best to stay on good terms with the French branch of FitzGisbornes, or de Gisbournes, as they seemed to be called. The more Frenchified they were, the less irascible the King of France would be when he finally brought the area under French control.

He repeated the vows. So did she.

There was a feast, a party. William noticed a man in the back, ugly as sin and scowling. He leaned towards his man, his chief knight, Richard, and nodded towards the angry shadow. “Who would be so furious at a wedding?”

Richard squinted towards the back of the room, found the man Lord William motioned to. “Ah, that would be Lady Mellisande's cousin. Royce Harridston.” He leaned closer. “The hour is late, m'lord. They're getting drunk and rowdy. Best take your wife to bed, quietly. There will be guards at the door.”

“Slip a few crowns to the lute player,” William whispered back. “Have him embarrass someone in the back of the room.” He reached and grabbed Mellisande's hand. So intent on the proceedings, he didn't realize her palms were clammy. While the hall's populace was focused on the musician and some poor sot in the back, the newlywed couple slipped off the dais and behind a tapestry, which covered a door to the back hall.

The only one who noticed them leave was Mellisande's cousin.

~~~...~~~

November 1317

Nine years later

~~~...~~~

It was raining, cold in that drafty castle Edward preferred to call home. Of all the places William would rather be, King Edward's private chambers were not it. Truly he felt Edward's chambers at two in the morning were as cold as Mellisande's bed. As he stood before the fire, drinking mulled wine and waiting for Edward to finish doing what he was doing – masturbating most likely – he decided that on his return, it would be time to take the family to his cousin's abode in France. The FitzGisbornes had been there twice since their marriage; the first time a year after their nuptials. They returned some four years ago, a time where Mellisande was...

more amenable.

Mellisande was ill, ill in the head, in the mind.

William had hoped, prayed for fondness of the woman and the first few months, she appeared to enjoy his attentions, his company. He showered her with gifts, took her to bed with gentle thoughtfulness, and she seemed happy when Hugh was conceived.

However, she fell into a deep melancholy at the babe's birth, one that lasted months longer than even the midwife could account for. Herbs, spirits, were tried; nothing helped. She took no interest in little Hugh and a wet nurse was quickly found. It was over a year before William and Mellisande returned to the marriage bed and quickly conceived. As she quickened with Fulks, she became moody, cruel. She was nasty to the servants, hateful to the cook, to Hugh.

A wet nurse was waiting the moment the baby was born.

Mellisande's post-partum depression lasted longer, went deeper, with the birth of Fulks. William seriously considered sending her to Ripley's the moment Fulks was born, sex of the child be damned, just leave it at two, before deciding that they made an agreement, by Jesu, they would have three FitzGisbornes. And during a period of lucidity, she agreed.

She seemed happier with the birth of Cecilia. The servants weren't tip-toeing around her like they had when the boys were born.

But sometimes, there was a look in her eyes, a look of pure evil, that no one saw but William.

And William knew evil.

He hoped whatever chore Edward was sending him on, would be a short, easy one. An easy assassination. He didn't trust Mellisande. Aye. The minute he returned home, he would speak to the abbess at Ripley's, confirm Mellisande's conditions, make sure she had suitable housing and the minute she was settled, he would quietly take the children and go to France and stay until he damn well felt like coming back. Or until his how-ever-many-great uncle was fed up with him and his children.

For not the first time, he wished he'd rebuilt Gisborne already. A hunting lodge, put her in it, with a small staff and guard. Out of the manse. Away from the children. For some reason, he feared for his children.

A small cottage on the grounds of Ripley's would suffice.

“William.”

William's mind jerked back to the present, the here and now. Outwardly, he looked bored. “Your Majesty?” He made a proper bow. “I came post haste.”

Edward's eyebrow rose and he took in the measure of the man standing in front of him. “Are you loyal to me, FitzGisborne?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Are you loyal to England?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Are you willing to prove this to me?”

Please do not ask me to murder my children.

Every time Edward called him, from the day Edward informed William of his marriage, he asked him these questions. And every time, William answered affirmatively.

And in his mind, he prayed he would not tell him to murder his children. Or hand them over to the Despensers for fostering. The day he did, William would say yes, grab his children and leave. He might take Mellisande. Might. The vast majority of FitzGisborne wealth lay hidden in the catacombs of Ripley's. It would wait until William could retrieve it at a later time or another life. There had been a time Guy of Gisborne hadn't cared less about his illegitimate off-spring. Now, each and every child he sired was precious. His lineage depended on them. He depended on them.

Genevieve depended on them.

“I have enemies, FitzGisborne.”

“Name them. They are dead. I will make sure of it.”

“They plot against me.”

Inwardly, William rolled his eyes. What man did not have enemies, plot against each other? William knew where this was really heading. Hugh Despenser wanted something. Younger, Older, it mattered not. They cast covetous eyes and demanded and Edward gave.

The Despensers visited William once. He entertained them at Mellisande's childhood home. It was small, no wealth, her cousin stripped it to the core. William made sure the servants wore their most thread-bare, anything of value hidden away. It was dead of winter, the place was cold and William made sure the fires were barely lit. The fare was peasant hardy, the lamb was tough. William's cook wrought miracles; she could also destroy. William rewarded her well after that weekend. It rained, it was miserable, the place was drafty.

The Despensers left thinking the rumors were grossly over-stated. The Lord of Locksley was poorer than a church mouse. Small wonder he was never seen at court.

Which was how William desired it. William liked the dark, the shadows. It's where he worked best. He was unseen, disregarded, and that's exactly how he wanted it. By the time anyone figured out FitzGisborne wealth, it would be too late for anyone to do anything about it.

“Who plots against you, sire? Tell me. I will deal with them.”

There was only one way William dealt with one of Edward's problems. William was Edward's assassin, his spy, and truth was, no one knew this. Not even the Despensers. Unbeknownst to Edward, William was the one who quietly coordinated the execution of Piers Gaveston, Edward's previous favorite; hired thugs dropping whispers in ears, thugs, who after having done their job and were paid for it, met untimely demises over a cheap brew or suffered deadly injuries in fights. Widows found themselves compensated by an unknown stranger, and typically the compensation did not last long. When the time came, he would do the same to the Despensers. England suffered under Edward's rule and Edward was unaware of it. Either that, or he didn't care. Most likely the later. The English suffered a humiliating loss to Robert the Bruce of Scotland, a battle they should have won and won easily. There was a famine, a famine that had gone on for some years. Torrential rains, bitterly cold winters, all added up to wretched harvests and sickly livestock.

The people and the barons blamed Edward, blamed the Despensers. England was suffering because of her King and his friends. The barons were grumbling amongst themselves again.

And Edward was hearing it.

“There is a younger son of a baron, in Wexford,” William's ears pricked. “Thymon Winchester.”

“The second son of Harold.” William made it a point to know who was who and everyone they associated with.

“His father is difficult,” Edward was toying with his chess set, fingering the ivory queen. Ah, his wife is worrying him. “But rumor has it this Thymon speaks against us, is riling up the minor barons against us.”

You mean against the Despensers. Either that or Thymon has something Hugh wants. The major barons are already riled. Or you simply wish to put Harold in his place.

“I want him silenced.” Edward's back was to William, so he spat over his shoulder. “Quietly. Efficiently. Make it look like an accident or someone else.”

“Yes, sire.”

“And when you are finished,” William groaned inwardly. So much for this being a quick and easy job. “Go to the borders of Wales. I hear the Marcher lords are amassing, meeting, grumbling among themselves. Quietly survey all of their estates.” Edward was now looking closely at William. “I do not wish a repeat of earlier ugliness.”

Ah. Piers. Edward still grieved, was still angered at the concessions his barons forced him to concede to. Little did he know...

“Take no action, simply observe. Report back to me.”

More to gift to...

“William. You know I well reward my faithful subjects.”

...the Despensers.

“I will leave in the morning.”

~~~...~~~

The steward showed William to a small, but cozy room, in a dark, private corner of the castle. The fire was already roaring and it was with great relief William shut the door behind him. His previous life had been a good one. He wasn't surprised this one was so horrid.

The hair raised on the back of his neck.

He spun, hand on his sword.

“Surely, you would not kill a defenseless woman.” Isabella, Edward's wife and Queen of England, came around from the bed curtain. She was in a velvet robe, belted tightly around her waist, showing generous curves. Her hair was unbound.

“I do not think the Queen is so defenseless.” William backed up. “Where is your maid this hour? Or do I have the wrong room?” he smirked. He gestured obviously to his saddlebags set on the end of the bed.

“No, you have the right room.” She was staring him like a starving lion stalked prey. It made William uncomfortable and angry. “I was awake and saw you come in through the shadows. I wondered why my husband was sneaking such a beautiful man into his chambers at this hour.” By now, she was against him, one long manicured finger tracing his jawline. “You are not his type.”

William gently grabbed her by the wrists and set her back from him. “Either you are in the wrong room, or I am.”

“It is cold and my husband will not look at me for some moons. I have brought wine.” She nodded towards a small table, a bottle and two glasses. “It is quite good. It comes from a winery in France; from Aigues-Mortes.” She smiled coyly. “Join me in a drink.”

With great effort, William shook his head. Beautiful as she was, William was no fool. Being caught with her would mean his head and everything he'd worked for, given to those less deserving. “'Tis late and I must be away in a few hours.”

She turned her back to him and sauntered to the table, hips swaying, her velvets caressing the rugs. She uncorked the bottle and began to pour. “Surely where you need to be is not such a pressing matter. You walk in the shadows and death follows you. I think,” with this she turned and handed him a glass, “you are a very dangerous man.”

For what seemed forever, William stared at the glass and the beautiful woman standing in front of him. His wife had no intention of being a wife to him ever again; however she was still his wife, the mother of his children and for that, she deserved a bit of his respect.

Not to mention this woman was his queen.

He clenched his fists to his side. “Again, I must leave and would very much like to sleep.”

“Alone? In a cold bed?” The woman was actually pouting.

“If one wishes to actually sleep, alone is usually the best way.”

She set the glasses down and pressed herself to him. “You are a very comely man. I wonder who you are?” Her tongue touched the tip of her lip. “I have seen you a few times. Always at night, always fleeting. I think you are too well dressed to be a lowly courtier or servant. Obviously, my husband pays you well for your services.”

“My services are none of your concern.”

She continued on as if she had not heard him. She ran her hand under his shirt, fingers tantalizing the crisp hairs of his chest. “I think I would enjoy lying under you. My maid says her lover ties her up and the thought tantalizes me.”

William pulled her hands from his body. “Ask your husband to restrain you. I must re-”

“You know, I could order you to stay.”

The dark knight smirked. The queen was making plans and alliances of her own. She was starved for attention and most likely, lonely as well. While her husband kept his own assignations and friends, William rightly suspected she was insulated of anyone to confide in, much less have anyone to be a true friend to her. While the things she suggested excited William under normal conditions, he was, regardless of the state of his marriage bed, a married man and he was determined to honor those vows. The forwardness and crudity of Edward's wife drowned William's ardor and he could not wait to leave the royal family's presence, finish his assignment, and come home. Home to his lands, his children.

William knew this woman would not take no for an answer and his patience, which was notoriously short, was at an end. Grabbing her tightly by the wrists, he set her away from him. She would bruise by morning and he didn't care. “You could try. But as you say, I am a dangerous man and death follows me.”

The woman hissed at the implication. “I AM your queen!”

“Then act like it,” this was spat through clenched teeth, “for at this moment, you act the slattern!”

He expected the crack to his face and he forced himself to laugh. With a huff, she tightened her belt and stormed from the room.

Leaving William furious, too angry to sleep and worried that she would retaliate. He picked up the glass and drained it, before corking the forgotten bottle tightly. Considering it and its place of origin, he shoved it in his satchel and throwing on his fur-lined cloak, shouldered the saddlebag and headed to the royal stables. He ignored the heat from her slap on his cheek. He would ride until he collapsed. Sleeping during the day would suit his mood.

~~~...~~~

6 weeks later

~~~...~~~

William's stomach was in a knot. His soul was not at ease and this worried him. He wanted to go home. Home, to his hearth, to his children. His baby daughter had been scarce a week old when Edward summoned him. The entire time, he feared for his children, planned his return, his visit to Ripley's.

Ripley's was fond of the FitzGisbornes. After all, William's ancestor, Sir Guy of Gisborne, had been very generous to the abbey, as were his descendants. Sir Roland had been very generous, as was Sir William. Of course, it was widely whispered among the locals, that Sir William was paying penance for his rumored evil deeds. People did not realize just how close to the truth they were when it came to King Edward's Black Knight.

The famine was breaking England; William saw the devastation first hand, while spending the last six weeks doing Edward's bidding. William's estate stores were lean, but his people were not starving, unlike the majority of Great Britain. Much like Moses, the Angel gave William a foreshadowing, a warning, therefore the FitzGisborne lands had been storing excess grain for years and hadn't sold the livestock. The fields were deeply irrigated and giant cisterns were buried around the estate where excess water was collected and stored. Even the Harridston Estate was managing to survive. In addition, the French de Gisbournes were aiding the English FitzGisbornes; sending grain, fruit, and wine. The lower classes would be shocked and the upper classes would be incensed if they truly knew how close the two families were.

Killing Tymon Winchester had been relatively simple and easy. The boy was hot-tempered, and yes a trouble-maker and instigator. He started a drunken fight in a rough tavern the night after William arrived and too many were accused of his death by the time William left.

William prowled the darkened corridor. Few lamps were lit, as it was well past midnight. He sensed, knew he was being followed, but he maintained his quiet stride. The moment he shook off or killed his stalker, he was leaving. Going home. He had spoken with Edward earlier in the evening and as was his wont, William preferred to travel at night.

Four weeks were spent scouring the Welsh border, in one case, pretending to be a hired thug for one Marcher lord suspected planning to over-throw the king, or more certainly, meeting with others to demand more power taken from Edward and the Despensers and executing them as well. The Marcher lords were ripe, ripe for a fight, ripe for bringing the king down quite a bit. They felt he had too much power, the Despensers had too much power. Edward's friendship with Hugh the Younger worried the barons more than Edward's friendship with Piers and, in the end, Edward had been forced to sign ordinances when Gaveston had been exiled and eventually put to death. Gaveston had been hungry for power, but he was a grain of sand, a mild annoyance, compared to the Despenser family. The barons were aware of this, William was more than aware of this. There were no boundaries, no limits when it came to the Despensers. But unlike William, they did not downplay their wealth or power. They had no idea the Despensers sent their own spies into their lands, looking, coveting.

He caught a Despenser spy in Locksley the previous summer. That was one body that would never be found.

William had been standing in the shadows of the balcony of the large room, watching the festivities with hooded eyes. None realized he was there, which was how he liked it. All were focused on the musicians and the Queen, dancing with Roger Mortimer.

Her husband was either oblivious or an idiot. William decided he was both. Roger wasn't acting very intelligently either. It occurred to William to warn Mortimer, let him know the Despensers were eyeing his lands, his home. While his wife and children sat patiently at home with his knights in attendance, Roger was falling under the spell of Edward's neglected queen. William kept close council in regards to Roger Mortimer. That one had a part to play in the future of England and rather than report his findings back to Edward, William kept his counsel to himself. Mortimer's comeuppance would come, but not right now and it would be at the hands of someone else. At this time, Edward was particularly incensed with his cousin, the Earl of Lancaster, who fought him at every turn. The Lord of FitzGisborne spent some days nosing around the royal cousin as well, with William again keeping more information to himself than he gave to the king. He saw the shadow enter the balcony from the far side, so he stepped back into a particularly dark recess and put his back to it.

 

“Lord William,” the voice hissed in the dark. William recognized the voice; Hugh the Elder. “The king wishes to know if your... errand was successful.”

“Really? What errand?” Despenser was digging deep. Obviously, the king didn't divulge everything. Then again, William made it very clear from the start if word got out, Edward would regret it. He paid his taxes, he openly stayed out of the business of running the country. He didn't ask for favors, nor did he demand money or land or someone else's title. It was the reason Edward loved him so.

There was a low chuckle. “I will tell his majesty aye, whatever it was, it was successful.”

He already knows, you dimwit.

“I have a request,” Hugh continued, looking about to make sure no one was around or listening. “And I have heard rumor that you are discrete and thorough.” With his chin, he pointed to Mortimer, dancing attendance on Queen Isabella. “About Sir Roger. He is a Marcher lord and all know that the borders are a hotbed of ill-tempered rabble.”

“I know the borders.”

“They are the king's enemies,” Hugh continued as if William had not spoken, “as they work to undermine him and I would not have him disturbed in anyway.” Hugh put his hand over his heart. “I would keep as much disgruntlement from the king as possible. Running the country is such hard work.” The man's dramatic sigh rent the air. “My son and I would keep as much ill-will from him as possible.”

“Ease his road.” For not the first time, William wished he had more than a small dagger at his side. Or at the very least, a glass of wine in his hand. He could drink the wine and smash the glass over this idiot's head and use the shattered stem to gouge his eyes out.

“Yes,” Hugh was nodding happily. Obviously the man thought he had found a like-minded ally. “Perhaps tomorrow, you and I could sit together and discuss the goings-on of the borders. I would pay you well to look into the situation. As I recall, your hall could use renovation. The king is very generous to those who aid him.”

William was in no mood to talk and he was looking forward to going home. If he left this evening, he would reach Nottinghamshire in three days. He'd sent word a week past to expect him, so a group of his knights would meet him on the road in the next day or so. He looked forward to being in the company of his men, to seeing his children. Again, he thought fleetingly of Aigues-Mortes, the grapes, the wine. The seas would be rough and he would have to keep the children occupied below deck. He would have to bring a few servants, a wet nurse.

“I know the Marcher lords,” William repeated. “If they harbor discontent, perhaps it is because they safeguard England's borders without aid or remuneration. Rather than being compensated for a job well done, those less deserving eye their lands and call it just.”

“'S'lud!” the Elder hissed. “That's treasonous talk!”

William shrugged. “'Tis truth.”

“You should heed my words, FitzGisborne!” Hugh leaned in and William could smell the soured wine on the man's breath. “I would aid you, bring you power. Money, riches, wealth. You could rebuild that hovel you call hall or I could bring you down!”

William shoved back on the man, knocking him into the wall. Before he could recuperate, William grabbed him by his tunic, the Black Knight's knuckles white against the rich color. “You can't afford me.” He shoved him again against the wall, knocking the breath from him, before sliding out the door and stalked down the corridor.

In ten minutes, he was gone.

~~~...~~~

The knot in William's stomach was getting tighter, when it should be loosening. His soul was not at ease and this worried him. Normally, when his horse stepped across the path that marked FitzGisborne lands, his spirit lifted, he became happier, his countenance lightened. He was home. Home, to his hearth, his two sons Hugh and Fulks, and baby daughter, Cecilia. Edward kept him, Hugh the Elder irritated him and Isabella frustrated him, reminding him of the one thing he would be missing in this life; the warmth of a woman. As corrupt as William FitzGisborne was, one thing he promised himself was he would not forsake those holy vows he stated in a church in front of a priest.

But finally, he was allowed to return home, to his lands, his family. Strange, this tall, powerful dark man, whose very look caused men to tremble, was such a gentle person with the little ones that bore his name.

His wife was a different matter and she was the reason why he was ill at ease. Richard, his personal knight and servant assured him all was well when he and the others – twelve in all – left just two days hence to meet him on the road. William had a niggling feeling, something that turned his gut sour, that all was not well.

The turrets of the castle come into view, over the trees of Nottingham Forest. Locksley had been added to, the original manse now a minor, inner part of the castle. The bailey was huge. If anyone tried to starve them out, it would be a long, long, long undertaking. A secret passageway had been built in the tunnel, exiting in – of all places – the church graveyard, within feet of the forest. William's ancestors had learned from The Black Knight in the Crypt.

The town was quiet, bleak, most unusual and it gave William's knights pause and William's soul to turn to utter darkness. Hearing the horses come across the drawbridge, William and his retinue was met by the steward's wife, Margaret, the only person not terrified of Lord William. She'd been around since he was a suckling babe, in fact, had been his wet nurse. She had sat and held his hand when word came his parents were dead and he allowed her to.

She was wringing her apron and sobbing. It looked as if she had been weeping for a long time.

Margaret never cried. Not even when his parents died. Or her own husband.

“My Lord, I'm sorry I'm sorry, I didn't think-”

In an instant, he was dismounted and had her by the shoulders. “Margaret? What is wrong? What has happened?”

“Lady Mellisande-”

“Wot of her?”

Finally, the woman looked up, fresh tears flowing. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”

He shook her once. “Wot happened?”

Margaret swallowed once. “She's killed the baby. Blessed God on his throne, my lord, that witch murdered Cecilia.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 4B

Black as your Soul

“WOT?” William shoved the woman aside, stormed his hall, bringing the thunder with him. “She-”

“-smothered the baby.” Margaret ran after him, FitzGisborne knights jumping from their mounts and tossing reins to waiting pages.

“WHEN? Where are the boys? Where-” he turned on his chatelaine, “is the bitch?”

“Yesterday, before sunset. We found her in the chapel, the baby on the altar.”

William stopped dead in his tracks. “She committed murder on holy ground?” Unbelievably, his countenance turned blacker. “Where is she?”

“She's in the tower, m'lord. It seemed it would be easier to contain her there.”

He turned and headed towards the stairs. The servants stepped back into the shadows, desiring to stay out of their master's wrath. “And my sons? They are-”

“They are at Kirkley's, m'lord.” Margaret was trying valiantly to keep up with the long, angry strides of the man quietly known as The Midnight Wolf. “Sir Simon took them to his home until Father Bartholomew could take them to Abbot Gervasius.” Simon ette Forde was a good and just man. His wife passed in childbirth three years previously, and he was struggling to raise his only child.

“They are safe?”

“Aye.”

William reached and began to mount the stairs. “She won't be.” He took the stairs three at a time, leaving Margaret and his knights in his wake. As a result, he didn't see or hear his chatelaine order a lesser knight to retrieve Father Bartholomew.

The tower room, unlike the rest of the manse, was sparsely furnished. It was a dark and cold room, with no fireplace, and rarely used. He could hear Margaret huffing and calling behind him; he heard the word 'ill' and scoffed at the whisper of 'mercy'. As he stepped onto the top landing, he grabbed the key from the small table, where one of his young, newly spurred knights sat with a loaf of warm bread. Clumsily, the barely-bearded lad jumped up, knocking over the chair he was sitting in. “My Lord-”

William shoved the key in the lock. “Send for the priest.” He threw the door open and slammed it shut behind him.

~~~...~~~

Mellisande picked herself slowly from the floor, marveling to herself how solid the mortar wall she had just been thrown against was. “You have an interesting way of greeting your beloved wife, husband.” She rolled her shoulder. It took the brunt of the blow when William threw her against the wall.

“Wife? WIFE?” From the haze of pain, she watched helplessly as William reached out and grabbed her by the hair of her head, lifting her to her toes. “You know not the meaning of the word.” He ignored her screams of pain, instead yelling over her. “Just as you know not the meaning of the word 'mother'!”

Again, Mellisande found herself grabbed, thrown hard, and sliding down the wall. This time, she was certain she heard – and felt – a crack in that shoulder. Stars exploded behind her eyelids. “A baby, you cunt! An innocent baby!”

With a grunt, she rolled away, trying to stay out of The Wolf's reach. “NOT INNOCENT!” she hissed. She held her shoulder as she pulled herself to her feet. “A demon! Like her sire!” She spat it derisively. “Just like her sire!” She staggered about the room, trying to stay out of his reach. The pain went deep, deep into her stomach and had she had anything in her stomach, she would have heaved. “I saw it in her eyes when she suckled!” She continued to move, stagger. She clutched her injured arm, which was hanging weirdly and at an odd angle, close to her body. “England is dying. People are starving.” She circled behind the man now, who watched her with furious intent. “Why aren't ours?”

William was not about to tell the woman he knew what was coming, that he had spiritual warning. “You question my care? I have taken care of ours! Provided for-”

“Because you-” she stabbed at him with her good hand, crying out and almost falling from the pain caused by her broken shoulder, “are in league with Satan! You made a deal with the devil himself! I sacrificed her-”

“WOT? You wot? Sacrificed our daughter-”

“Sacrificed!” Mellisande drew herself up as tall as she could stand. The bed was between them and she felt it gave her a small bit of protection. “On the altar of God, to placate Him for your wickedness!”

William's speed was demonic. He flew across the bed, before she could move and seized her by the throat. This time when he pressed her to the wall, he held her there, high above the floor, feet dangling. Mellisande clawed at his hands, desperately trying to gain breath. “You bitch! You blame me? 'Tis Edward's fault!”

“And... you... are... Edward's... lackey!”

He pressed her tighter, pinned her with his body. Lackey. A name no one called him since his time as Guy of Gisborne. “I kept ours fed! I kept you in velvets! You wanted for nothing! Our children wanted for nothing!”

She struggled, kicking feebly, getting weaker.

'Gui! Non!'

William looked up, over his wife's dislocated shoulder and through the glass window. Douma, the Angel of Death floated, black wings out-stretched, her eyes a deep shade of blue, a sure sign of her sorrow.

“I'm going to kill her.”

'Non, elle est à vous de ne pas tuer. Elle est à moi et il est pas son temps.'

“Give her to me!”

Somehow, Mellisande began to laugh, an evil, croaking thing. “I'm not the only one who hears the voices.”

'Non, Gui.'

Arms, strong earthly hands, grabbed his, forcing him to turn loose of the woman William called wife. She fell to the floor, crying out as she hit the flagstone on her injured shoulder, the pain causing her to finally vomit.

“My Lord. Please.” Father Bartholomew's voice was quiet, pleading, always a steady, wise beacon in the midst of the storm. “She is ill.”

William tugged, more hands restraining him. In his peripheral vision, he was now seeing Douma in far recesses up in the conical ceiling. Valouel had joined her. “She is not ill. She is damned!”

“My Lord. Sir William, please.” The priest's voice was cajoling. “She is sick in the mind. She doesn't know what she does.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Twice, she has called out, begging for the baby. At times, she doesn't remember what heinous sin she has committed. Please, my lord. I beg you to grant mercy.”

“'Tis not your place to met judgment.” William turned to this voice. Simon ette Forde held him on his left side. “She is...” he shook his head, “not right in her mind.” There were few men William trusted. All three were in the room with him at that moment.

“M'lord William,” the other man he depended on, Richard de Glasson, was on his right. “You are grieving. We grieve with you. Leave her to the sheriff. He'll met punishment.”

William shook both men off. The priest fell to his knees on the floor next to Mellisande, administering prayer and aid. Bile and puke frothed from her mouth and down her dress. He looked up at the Black Knight. “She needs a physician, my lord.”

William sneered. “No. Let her suffer as my daughter suffered at her hands.” He turned and stormed out of the room, the young knight backed against the wall, appalled at the violence that had taken place on the other side of the wall. “Stale bread and rank water for her. I'll not worry that she is fed.”

His footsteps echoed down the stairs.

~~~...~~~

To the world, his people, William Edward FitzGisborne, The Midnight Wolf of Gisborne, the Black Knight of Locksley, was not a righteous man. He was generous to Ripley's and Kirkley's, the family priest, also served the community. He gave alms, showed up for most of the services, but he was not considered very pious.

Little did they know.

To the world, he was a stoic, unemotional creature.

Little did they know.

He threw the doors open to the private, family chapel. There were tiny candles all around the bier, casting an eerie glow about the sanctuary. William stood and stared for a long time, before reaching out and picking up the wee body. He sat down in the pew, cradling a life snuffed too soon to him, tucked her beneath his chin and began to keen lowly.

Several times, his head knight and personal servant, Richard de Glasson started to step in, only to be pulled out by Simon. “Leave him be.” The man's eyes blinked rapidly. “I know how he feels. 'Tis wretched. He has lost child and wife in one heinous act. 'Tis a horrid feeling.” They closed the doors, shutting William and little Cecilia away from the world.

For a long time, William held the cold, lifeless body. He remembered Roland's – his – and Alise's babies, who had not survived; Robert, who lived three days and Blanche, who lived three months. He strained, desperate to remember their faces, only to recall haze. Robert was sickly, refused to nurse, while Blanche had been healthy, a happy babe, only to get sick and pass in a single night. He then attempted to recall his children who survived, only to only remember their adult features. Bits and pieces, snatches of childhood remained. Alise, as well.

At some point, William realized he was wrapped in wings, held close, a sense of peace surrounding him. “'Tis getting difficult,” he whispered, “to remember them. Will it always be this way?”

“The less you think on them, the further from you they become, the harder it is to recall.” There was a gentle stroking at his ear. “Remember the good memories. Cherish them.”

William pulled away from the angel. “You knew. You knew she would do this.” Angry, tearful eyes stared into the orbs of Valoel. “You could have warned me, prevented this!” To his right, he saw Douma, hovering just slightly above the ground. Both angels shook their head no. Angrily, he glared at the austere angel. “You knew! You knew she would do this!”

Douma continued to shake her head. “No, we did not know. I did not know.”

William slumped into the angel holding him, still clutching the lifeless body. “You could not have shielded her if you did know.”

Douma leaned forward, seeming to take the babe from his arms. “There are times, death is a gift, a joy.” The spirit of the baby came to life in her arms. “This is not one.” The angel began to shimmer. For a brief minute, William watched as the intimidating angel cooed, a tiny hand gripping her finger. It crushed William to watch Douma and his daughter fade away.

“Why?” It was a pained, hoarse whisper. “Why does an innocent die, while my wife lives?”

“Mellisande's death will not bring Cecilia back.”

“But it would be justice!” William threw himself away from the angelic being, continuing to clutch the baby to him. “Her very breath is an abomination! Why does she breathe, yet my daughter does not? That is not just!”

Val sighed heavily. How does one explain... “She will die, Guy. She will live her life unable to exist at peace in her mind. And she will stand before The Almighty and answer for her crimes.”

“As will I.” He turned from her and placed the corpse back on the bier. “I cannot remember the face of Robert nor Blanche.” He propped his chin on his elbows, staring down at the lifeless body “Is this how my lives will be? Children dying, unable to recall faces of my little ones?”

Val stood behind him, the desire to hold him again, almost over-whelming. “Think hard on your Aunt Galienne.”

William began to chuckle. “Galienne was my granddaughter. Always up in a tree.”

Val smiled at his face. “She was also your Great-Aunt.”

William gazed at the babe. “Aye. She favors Galienne.” There was a small, side smile. “She resembles Alise.”

“When Hugh is deep in thought, when Fulks is angry, you will see your children, lurking in the shadows of yourself and those you love.”

William did not turn, simply continued to memorize, burn the baby's features into his memory. She had his black hair and her great-aunt's Eleanor's softness. For a moment, the memory of that child from so long ago, Roland and Alise's first born, sprang to life. Renewed fury asserted itself. “Mellisande should die! She should die at my hand! 'Tis my right!”

“Fulks,” Val whispered, “will need to see his mother's illness, experience it first hand. Hugh knows. Fulks need to see for himself. She will die, but not by your hand.”

It was quiet, William gazing at his daughter, Valoel looking on. After a long time, William opened the chapel doors, to see his knights and his chatelaine waiting expectantly. “I go to Ripley's. I will bury Cecilia tomorrow with the Old Man in the crypt. She will be watched there.” He stopped, stumbled, almost telling them Robert and Blanche were there as well. “Then I will go to Kirkley's, see my sons, make sure they are well.” He turned to the knights. “de Glasson, you will come with me.” Richard nodded. He expected this. “Simon, go the sheriff in Nottingham. Tell him to come and wait here for me.” He realized it was getting quite late. “Hurry. The sun will be down soon. Your daughter will worry.”

“Vivienne is used to me coming and going at all hours. Her mother's sister is there and will stay until I arrive.”

~~~...~~~

Hugh was upset but stoic. Almost age eight, he was learning quickly who he was and what was his worth. It was a great deal of responsibility, but William felt the child would bear it well once he became of age.

Fulks, on the other hand, was a petulant child, much like his mother. He wanted to come home, did not like going to mass, eating with the monks. He didn't understand why he was in this place, sleeping in a strange bed.

“Your mother is ill. You are here safe.”

“Why isn't the baby here?” Fulks had shown very little interest in his sister. She was, after all, just a girl. “Did mother give the sickness to her?”

Perhaps, this way would be easier for now. “Aye. She has died from your mother's sickness.”

Hugh was sad.

Fulks could care less.

And so it was.

~~~...~~~

Adamus de Boneventure shook his head. This job... this position... was at times a loathsome thing. Never more loathsome than at this moment. He'd known William since they were children, grew up with him. Adamus's father was a landed knight, not a huge estate, really more of a moderate sized farm, but it was an estate, nonetheless. It was Adamus's now, the home loved and lavished over by his wife, a housekeeper and caretaker. He could afford the two servants only because Sir William personally appointed him sheriff of Nottingham, an appointment and responsibility he was usually grateful for.

Not today.

He listened to his friend rail, grieve. He spoke to the servants, their testimonies. Lady FitzGisborne was drugged and sleeping when he got there. He went to the tower room anyway; it stank of vomit and William's wife was almost unrecognizable, battered and bruised. Against their lord's orders, Mellisande's arm was set, painkillers given. Adamus had known William for a long time. He was known to disappear for long periods of time and Adamus didn't want to know why. He knew the man was a fierce and blood-thirsty warrior, but he'd never seen or heard of him raising an abusive hand to a woman, regardless of how much she needed the slap.

And when he finished listening and questioning, and he stood in the chapel, staring down at the baby whose joyous christening and baptism he'd attended just a few, scant weeks previous, he turned to Sir William. “Leave me for a few minutes. I need to think.”

“Think?” William was furious. “What is there to think about?”

Adamus turned his back on his overlord. “Much.” He put his hands behind his back and wandered the chapel. If he was aware of William watching him in stony silence, he said nothing, nor acknowledged the fact. Several times, he stopped and stared at the stained-glass, the tapestries. More than once, he stopped before the window depicting the Virgin Mary with the Holy Babe.

William said nothing.

Finally, he turned scowling and stood before the Lord of the Manor. “My Lord, I would ask you would hear me out.”

“All I wish to hear is the date you are to hang her.”

“I'm not going to hang her.” William's fist tightened. “Sir William... William... Will...” he beseeched, the old nickname calling to a part of William's soul that stopped him from laying out his friend, “listen to me. Aye, she is guilty and your child is dead because of her, but she is insane and we both know it. Your servants know it. Father Bartholomew stated quite emphatically that she is ill in the mind. I know it well, as do you.”

“Regardless, she murdered-”

“Will. Why did you recommend and appoint me for this post?”

The question caught the man off guard and it took him a moment to get his wits about him. “Because you are level-headed and thorough.” His finger came out, pointing at the man. “Because you are just.”

“That's right. I am just. But I am also your man. You are my liege lord. You placed me in this office with your own hand. Your wife is nobility and if I execute her, just as it is, it will be whispered by your detractors that I did your bidding. That you used my hand to set your wife aside.” He turned his back, again staring at the glass. “And that is a rumor and whisper that will follow both of us to the end of our days.” His voice dropped to a bare whisper. “And it could be our undoing.”

“Adamus-”

“Will,” his old friend whispered, “The Despensers will use any excuse, any rumor, to obtain what is yours. You know this to be true” Adamus did not have to add that they would after his estate, meager as it was, as well. “Go to the king. Let him sentence her.” Adamus looked over his shoulder, eyes down. “Let this death be on his head.”

~~~...~~~

“All this fuss over a girl-child?”

“Sire?”

Edward with his back to William, poured himself a glass of wine. He did not offer William a glass, a fact William was quite aware of. “Your lady is a proven breeder. Two boys out of three tries. Surely, you can forgive her this.”

“Surely, I cannot.”

The man took a deep drink and sighed. “On second thought, girls do have their uses. Depending on who they marry.” He raised his goblet as he turned. “If I recall my history, much of your property was acquired through marriage, both past and present.”

William was silent.

Edward drained the glass and set it down. “Can you not forgive this tragedy and move on?”

“No, sire, I cannot.”

A royal shoulder lifted in a negligent shrug. “She cannot deny you your rights in the marriage bed.”

“I am not returning to her bed!” William could see where the man was going. “My sons currently reside at Kirkley's! Any child she bears would be in danger! I will not have my children raised in a monastery or convent!”

The king made a moue. “Damned inconvenient, that.” Again, he shrugged and waved his hand. “Go ahead, behead or hang the chit, as you are so sorely grieved.” William bowed and turned to leave. “I'll send my own executioner, if you like. Of course, there will be repercussions.”

This gave William pause. “Repercussions?”

“For starters,” there was an underlying mocking tone in the king's voice, “you will have to forfeit your lady's lands and manse.”

“Wot?”

“I know and after you've worked so hard to aid those poor peasants.” The sigh accompanying this statement was almost comical. “Rebuild it.”

“Sire,” William's voice was muted, “those lands are destined for my second son, Fulks-”

“Her cousin, Sir Royce Harridston, feels the estate is not faring well under your hand. In addition, Hugh Despenser, stated the quality of the fare in the hall was lacking, when he visited. Therefore, we have decided that if you chose to justifiably execute your murderous wife, it would be best if her lands and titles were to revert back to Sir Royce.”

“Sire,” William hissed, “those lands were in dire straits because of Sir Royce's handling. I have worked hard to-”

“He has married now,” Edward smiled. “and his wife has her hands firmly on his purse strings. Or perhaps, it would be better said her father has his hands firmly on the purse strings. I do believe Sir Royce would like some income at his disposal that does not have to be approved by his father-in-law.” There was a snide smile. “He has been a faithful servant.”

William could tell by the way the king was standing, the tilt of his head, there was more.

“Hugh Despenser has petitioned to be named as your sons foster.”

Please tell me-

“You turned them down.”

Edward continued on. “They are, as Sir Royce, faithful and loyal servants and deserve their rewards.”

They desire their greedy gains and you kiss their arses!

“Sire,” William forced his voice to that of a servant, “I have been your faithful and loyal servant for many years. I have asked for nothing.”

“True, that you have.” The man poured yet another goblet of wine. “You gained much when you married the bitch. There are those who would say you married her for your wealth-” William's laugh was a croak, and it crossed his mind to remind the king the reason why he married her was at his own command, “-and now that you have your two sons, you would do away with her and I would not like that said about you, my well-favored assassin. You have been a faithful wolf, and loyal dog. Continue to be so. I would hate to have you put down.” The threat was there and William clearly heard it. “If her breath irritates you so much, retire her to a convent, but I would be most distressed if she dies an unnatural death. We would have no choice but to acquiesces to her cousin's and the Despensers requests.”

And with that, the king turned his back to William, clearly dismissing him.

~~~...~~~

Non, elle est à vous de ne pas tuer. Elle est à moi et il est pas son temps. - No. She is not yours to kill. She is mine and it is not her time.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 4C

I'd rather die



England 1321

 

The Despensers were over-thrown, banished and packed off to Cardiff, while Edward II was reined in by his barons, most notably, his cousin, the Earl of Leicester.

Edward II fretted.

England's barons tightened the leash.

Queen Isabella birthed her fourth and final child, her second daughter.

The Despensers, both Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger, coveted, even in banishment. Plotted behind the walls of their Welsh keep.

William Edward FitzGisborne watched. He silently did Edward's bidding and protected his own.

And England breathed.

Barely.

~~~...~~~



Ripley's

“The boys are growing. Soon, they will be men.” Mellisande was experiencing a rare lucid day. Those times were becoming rarer and further apart. “Is it me or is Fulks becoming moodier?” The two were in the gazebo in Ripley's gardens, the sound of the boys playing just outside of the structure, carrying in the wind. Hugh was now eleven, Fulks would soon be nine. William stood in the entrance, one eye on his wife, the other, on his sons. Mellisande's maid servant and nurse stood close to the entrance of the garden, close enough to watch over the boys, and far enough to give William and Mellisande a small bit of privacy.

You've cursed at him the last three times we've visited. Told him he was a demon, a bastard. Hugh could care less, Fulks, you've wounded with your words. Of our two sons, he needed your love the most.

“Growing up.” William leaned against the arbor door, trying to ignore the woman speaking to him. One foot was propped against a post, and his arms were crossed. “Feeling the pain of being the second son.” This same gazebo held bittersweet memories for William, Genevieve sat in that same spot how long ago, William... Guy... kneeling in front of her....

'Do you still wish to marry me?'

“I wish for my estate to go to him. Tell him so. I pray it will make up for my deficiencies as a mother.”

William scoffed. Her estate would go where he chose for it to go. So what if he had already mandated the little estate would go to Fulks? Truth be, it should have been Cecilia's dower house and William would have found something for Fulks. But Cecilia was dead, no thanks to her faithless, murdering mother.

Four years. One would think the pain and anger would fade after four years.

“How is Nottingham? How do we fare?”

William jerked from his musings at her question. “Why would you care?”

“William.” Mellisande stood up and made her way around the gazebo. “I know you'd rather not be here; you wish I were dead.”

William wasn't looking at her. He did everything to keep from looking at her. “You know why you are not.”

The woman sighed. “Yes, I know. Edward threatened to give my estate to my cousin. If it makes you feel any better, I hate days like this.”

Now, he looked at her. “Really.”

“Yes, really! I remember when we were young, when you looked at me with gentleness, with kindness. I remember... there was one night you looked at me with such... need in your eyes and I wanted you to look at me like that forever. Now, you look at me with such hate. You are so cold.”

William rolled his eyes. “You murdered our daughter, Mellisande. What do you expect me to feel?”

“I don't remember doing it!” It was quiet for a moment. “If it makes you feel any better, I wish I were dead.”

“Wishing and being so are two different things.”

The edges of the woman's vision was beginning to haze, the headache she feared was beginning. She knew what that meant. She reached for the drugged wine. “At times like this, I cannot forgive myself.”

William's head jerked, taking in the woman for the first time in years. She was frailer, older, oh how she had aged. For the first time, it dawned on him that what he felt towards her... this was how Robin hated Guy, hated him for killing Marian.

But killing Marian had been an accident. A blood-lust uncontrollable rage...

This is how Robin felt...

And Mellisande was sick, sick in the head. Chances are before the day was out, she would return to cursing him, the land, the children. She would melt down into a screaming banshee that breathed.

Somewhere deep within, William tried hard to find an acorn of compassion for this woman who barely had a grasp on reality.

This is how Robin felt...

And couldn't find it.

This is how Robin felt...

Even if he couldn't find compassion, he could at least pretend or offer a modicum of comfort. “Do you need anything?”

Mellisande shook her head. “Yarn. Wool to spin, when I'm allowed to.” She smoothed her skirt. “My dress is getting thin. Winter will be here soon and the home you built for me is a bit drafty.”

More yarn, more wool, several sturdy dresses, wood. A small price to pay...

“I'll send a carpenter and plenty of wood and wool.”

Mellisande rose, noticing no hand was offered to help her rise. “My mind is slipping. You should take the boys and leave.” She looked up at William and for a moment, he saw the woman he met at the altar. “I know you have no love for me, but I do love my sons, when I remember to. Despite all, you've seen to my comfort, best as possible.” She was quiet, while William motioned for the maid. “Thank you for loving them, when I've been unable. I do care for you, you know.” The maid arrived and much as she would a child, led Mellisande back to the cottage built in the far back of the garden of Ripley's.

Leaving William with much to ponder.

~~~...~~~

“My Lord?”

William looked up from his desk. His mood, look was dark, as it usually was after visiting Mellisande. If were up to him, he wouldn't bother with the bitch. But The Angel insisted, especially if she was in her right mind. She insisted the boys needed it, needed to know her.

But it upset William to see her in her many minds. One moment, she was tolerable, decent. The next she could be wild, blasphemous...

A murderess.

“Margaret. You've brought the wine.” He held his hand out. “You need not serve-”

“- your own stupid drunkenness.”

William's smile dropped. Not many would dare speak to him thus. Every one, except the king, feared him. This woman, servant she may be, was family to him. “You have something on your mind?”

Margaret's shoulders dropped. Watching her hand caress the back of the chair across from him, he gestured to it. “'Tis late. You are exhausted. Sit and talk with me.”

“Sir William-”

“If it will help you say what you wish to say,” he spat tersely, “please sit now!”

The woman angrily pulled the chair out and plopped herself in it. She slammed the bottle to the table, making William's teeth shake and for him to fear for the bottom of the jug. “You do not need this!”

He leered at the bottle, before snatching it and inspecting the crude label. “Oh, I believe it is a beautiful year.” His eyes rose to meet hers and the darkness in them made her shiver. He set the bottle back down. “What do I need?”

“You need a woman!” Before William could retort, Margaret continued. “To the best of my knowledge, you have not taken another woman to your bed since you married Lady Mellisande!”

“You do not know that,” he shrugged. “I have been gone much.” He motioned for the wine. “The wenches in London are divine. Even the Queen has thrown herself at me.”

At least that wasn't a lie.

“They must not be much pleasure as you come back more frustrated and pent!” She started to hold the wine from him, but he glared at her and she handed it over. “Sir William. There is no shame in taking a mistress.”

William grabbed the bottle and poured some into the goblet sitting empty before him. “You know why I do not.”

Margaret's voice dropped to a hiss. “Aye, she is your wife!”

Margaret knew him. Knew him well. Her daughter had been his wet nurse and William suspected that Margaret herself had warmed his father's bed after their respected spouses had passed. “I am burdened with enough sin.” He began to drink.

“Truly my lord, what is one more sin?” It was quiet while William drank from the cup. “She has not been a true wife to you in many years.”

“Who would want to couple with the likes of me?” His voice echoed eerily from the below the brim.

“You would be shocked how many willing servants would warm your bed this very eve if you simply crooked your finger! And a fair amount of virgins, at that!”

William pondered her words before waving her off. “I am in no need of a woman and I am done with virgins. Begone. To your own bed, wench!” He filled the goblet again.

He was quite aware of her slamming the door behind her.

~~~...~~~

Two months later

“My Lord. There is a messenger.”

William looked up from his cups. It was late, rainy. “Has my wife finally killed herself?” Word from the Abbess was not good. Mellisande had not had a lucid day since their visit two moons before. She was becoming more difficult and was refusing the drugged wine, which kept her calm. Her knitting needles and spinning wheel had been removed from the cottage as she attempted to stab her maid with them some weeks back.

“No, my lord.”

“Pity.” William looked blearily up to the speaker. “Simon. You should be home with your daughter.”

“My mother moved in. The messenger, my lord?”

The Lord of Locksley returned to the wine in front of him. Edward had him running all over England. William had sunk his dirk between too many ribs the past four moons, eavesdropped on too many conversations he'd repeated back to his king and even more he had not. For years, he'd promised he would take time, go to France with his sons to oversee the vineyards in Aigues-Mortes, strengthen that tie, the link. The next five to six years would be brutal for the English, The Angel told him that much, but not much more. William wanted his sons to have no part of it. Hugh would have no problems moving to the Continent for some time. Fulks, on the other hand, would be difficult. He'd been a difficult baby, he was proving to be a more difficult child. He didn't move well, didn't like change. William could not stay in France indefinitely, however his sons could. Question was, would the current Duke welcome the elongated stay of two rapscallion and active boys?

On second thought, maybe that was not a good idea. What did running teach his heir and the child who would be Hugh's right hand? Doing the king's dirty work would fall on Fulk's shoulders in years to come. Truth be, he was suited to it. Even William could see that at this young age.

“My lord?” Simon interrupted his thoughts. “The messenger.”

“Give him food and a bed. I'll deal with him in the morning.”

Simon reached around and took the bottle from the table. “My lord, I do not think that is wise.”

Seeing how his knight was taking wine from him...

“That important?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“That dire?”

William turned on the man, who, believe it or not, did not flinch. That was something William liked about him. His home was furthest from the castle and despite his daughter being of an age with Fulks, he'd never laid eyes on the chit. Sometimes, in passing joke, he made half-hearted comments at marrying her off to Hugh or Fulks, when the time became right. Simon would gently side-step, reminding William that the FitzGisborne's were members of the nobility, while he and his daughter Vivienne, were commoners.

“Yer a knight,” William would drunkenly remind him. “That kin be fixed.”

“And you're drunk.”

William was drunk now, but not so drunk that he couldn't stand or greet a late messenger that was 'dire'. He motioned for the man was ushered in with as much importance as could be garnered at such a late hour. “That dire?” he repeated.

“'Tis Thomas, sir. Thomas de Glasson.”

Thomas was Richard de Glasson's youngest brother. The family was loyal to William to a fault. He was also William's personal and private ears and eyes at the king's residence. He was a servant in the dark, the slithering shadow no one saw, he heard much. When there was dirty work to be done, Thomas was the one who came with him.

And he was here, late at night... aye. Dire, indeed.

“Send him in.”

Simon stood outside the door, waiting for William to call him back.

There was a roar. “Damn that idiot!” Simon stood aside just in time to miss the large doors being thrown open and hitting him. William spied the knight standing to the side. “Rouse my knights! Rouse the sheriff! We leave for Aigues-Mortes at first light!”

“My lord?”

William showed no signs of drunkenness or being incapacitated by the wine. He grabbed Simon by the collar. “Edward has captured and executed his cousin, the Earl of Leicester and recalled the Despensers.” He slung the knight from him in fury. “England's barons are in disarray.” His final growl was not missed by his knight. “All hell is breaking loose.”

~~~...~~~




England, 1322

William returned from France to an England in disarray, steeped in chaos, nobles scrambling for their lives and livelihood.

Once Edward executed his cousin, the Earl of Lancaster, the Despensers returned with a vengeance. Anything they desired, especially Hugh, the Younger, they got. William wondered how many more Despencer spies he'd have to kill. Two bodies were hidden in Ripley's crypt. There was a hidden entry William knew well and both now slept with nuns who had been dead for so long, the two were unlikely to be visited by the breathing occupants of the convent. Another was buried in the woods of Sherwood. William had a feeling the bastard was laid close to Robin's final resting place.

Edward was becoming more and more vengeful. Barons who stood against him, against Piers, and instrumental in banishing the Despensers the first time, found their lands, estates, confiscated and given to both Hughs. Hugh, the Younger, was unchecked and his cruelty was boundless. Theft, torture, male or female, there was no depravity the younger Despenser was not a stranger to. Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March, a powerful Marcher Lord who stood against the Despensers, had his lands confiscated and given to Hugh the Younger, causing undue hardship to his wife and twelve children. He was jailed, stewing in The Tower. Edward thought him out of his hair.

Edward was wrong.

~~~...~~~

“We did not give you leave to go to France.”

To the king, it appeared that William had his back to him, but he could see the knight's face in the mirror.

Meaning William could see him as well.

William, schooling his face,pulled a plain, earthen jug from one of the satchels he carried. He set it on the sidebar and took two goblets from another. “It has been some time since I paid my cousin a visit.”

“England is in chaos and you chose to visit a relative you have little ties too!”

William smiled grimly. Breaking the seal at the mouth of the bottle, he poured two glasses of a deep burgundy liquid. He made sure he stayed to the side, so the king could watch his hands. “There are strong ties to the French de Gisbournes, sire.” Turning, he handed a glass to his liege. “As the current Duke only has one daughter and she seems to be inclined to the cloister, it is prudent to keep and maintain them. Keep them fresh. Try the wine.” William changed the subject swiftly, in order to keep other man off guard. “I think you'll find it bold and full-flavored.” It occurred to him to tell the man not to waste it in one gulp, but thought better of it. First, Edward was his king, no matter how pitiful and wretched a ruler the man may be. Second, if William could get him drunk, this interview would be over soon, with William still attached to his head and Edward no wiser.

Edward swirled the liquid in the goblet. “She is young?”

“Marriageable. Intelligent and fair of features.”

Edward snorted and took a tentative sip, before smiling and taking a mouthful. “She is still young and her father should force his will upon her.”

William sank his nose in his goblet, seeming to concentrate on it, rather than the man he called 'king'. “She is biddable. If she were younger, I would consider her for Hugh or Fulks.”

“Or yourself,” Edward mumbled. “You have ever been the opportunist.”

William shook his head, not rising to the bait. “I am married.”

“Still?”

“Still.”

Edward drained his goblet and motioned for a refill. “You are correct. This wine is glorious. It is from your cousin's vineyard?” William nodded. “Then aye, you should keep those family ties fresh! Speaking of wife, how fares Mellisande?”

The question irritated William. “She breathes. Still.”

“Pity for you.”

It took all William's self-control to keep from throttling the man. “I stay busy.”

“Aye, that you do.” Edward set the goblet down carefully. “There is reason to believe you will continue to be quite busy.” There was a pause, William waiting for the king to continue. “Many of my barons have been judged unworthy.”

William scoffed inwardly. Judged and found lacking by whom? Certainly not by any legal court or the Parliament.

“I fear they may be plotting against us.”

You can best be assured they are.

“You will rout them out, kill them, won't you?”

“Of course, sire.” William nodded. “My desire is to do your bidding.”

“I hope it is.” Edward waved, dismissing him. “I hope it is.”

~~~...~~~

William made his way down darkened halls, raking his brain. He had a spy in practically every major household in England, including every residence the king had, as well as several in Wales. To the best of his knowledge, both Hughs were completely infiltrated. Monks, servants, horse masters...Much, the Miller's son would roll in his grave if he knew how many of his off-spring pledged their lives and livelihood to Guy of Gisborne. They were loyal. Very loyal.

Not to mention, Edward seem preoccupied, upset. He had been too easy to maneuver. His mind was elsewhere. So deep in thought, he rounded the corner and almost ran over Hugh the Younger.

“Lord William.” Even the man's voice made William's hackles rise. “You've been out of the country.”

William shrugged. The less this pompous arse knew, the better. Hugh had a way of digging for things. Guessing and making you think he wasn't.

He was fond of torture.

“His Majesty was very upset one of his favorites disappeared for some months without giving him notice.”

“He and I have already discussed it. It is none of your concern.” He made to go around the man. “It is late, I have had little rest.”

Not to mention I suffer from seasickness and I am still trying to find my land legs.

Hugh grabbed him by the arm. “Not so fast. I have a concern to put to you.”

William raised a brow and stared at his arm where Hugh had grabbed him.

If anything, Hugh tightened his grip. “I have had several messengers disappear as of late.”

“You should take better care of your servants. They are not my concern.”

Hugh smiled and it was an evil thing. “It concerns you.”

William smiled back, equally unpleasant. “I repeat. Your servants do not concern me.”

“They should concern you. They all disappeared in Nottinghamshire.”

William pretended to ponder. “Sherwood is not safe. Rumor has it the ghost of Robin Hood roams the woods. Personally, I think it is a very industrious thief.” He clapped Hugh firmly on the shoulder. “I will notify the Sheriff when I return home. Now, if you do not mind.” He pulled Hugh's hand from his arm and made his way around the man.

“Four servants. That is more than a mere coincidence!”

William continued on, the corner of the corridor getting closer.

“FitzRoy was killed in battle while you were gone.” William stopped in his tracks. “The king is most aggrieved.”

Adam FitzRoy was Edward's illegitimate son. No one knew who the boy's mother was and Edward was very fond of him.

“I imagine he is.” William's voice was a strained whisper.

Suddenly, Hugh was at his ear. William stood several inches over the man, so he had to rise on his toes. “Do not for a moment think you are above the rest of us. I can have you brought down,” he snapped his fingers, “this quickly.”

William slowly turned to look him in the eye. “You continue to think that, if it makes you feel better.” And with that, he stalked down the corridor and headed to his assigned room.

~~~...~~~



Locksley 1323

“My lord, there is a messenger.”

William was beginning to hate messengers and servants who told him there were messengers. They interrupted beautiful, intimate evenings with full-flavored wine. They seemed to come in the night, when everyone else was abed, save he, who was attempting to enjoy beautiful, intimate evenings with the full-flavored wine. He was now naming the bottles. This one was Beatrice, named after the girl who took his virginity and had such a delightful mouth. He had been fifteen and she, seventeen. Last he heard, she was past plump, married and had birthed nine children. As the first one came a year after the last time he'd lain with her, he had no reason to believe the child was his.

“And of course this messenger cannot wait until morning, at a decent hour, like most normal, well-bred persons.”

“Of course not, my lord.”

William nodded and took another drink from his goblet. He propped his feet up on the table. There was whispering, mumbling...

“Do not talk behind my back! Come around so I can see you!”

The messenger, no more than a teenager, came around and stood between William and the fireplace, giving the young man an eerie glow. William squinted in the bright light. “You have the look of a de Glasson.”

“Aye,” he whispered, obviously in awe. “My father is Thomas. I'm his second son, m'lord.” He was wringing his hat. “Adam. I'm called Adam. My... my mother was a Miller.”

Just the way the boy stood in front of him, rambled, the earl could tell he was obviously upset. William put his feet on the floor. “Your father serves in King Edward's household.”

“Aye, m'lord.”

“And?” William twirled his finger.

The young man went down on one knee. “First, he told me to pledge loyalty to you, my lord. To you first and swear to die before betraying you.”

William nodded. “Your father is a good man. I accept your loyalty and oath. I will do my damnedest to keep you alive, lest your formidable grandmother kill me or your very noble ancestor haunt me to my days end. Now, why has he sent you?”

Adam swallowed before looking around to make sure no one else was in the room. “The king tried to force the queen to swear loyalty to the Despensers. She refused. Hugh the Younger has been following her, harassing her. She went to the king and rather than reprimand Hugh, he tried to force her to swear loyalty to them.”

William slid back in his seat, his finger stroking the philtrum of his upper lip. “Did she swear loyalty to Hugh?”

“No.” William waited a moment before spinning his finger again. “Rather, the king removed her from making any government decisions. She no longer holds any sway or hold at the court.”

William exhaled heavily. This was bad news indeed, when one's queen no longer has a voice in any of the decisions in ruling a country. A woman brought compassion to a court, a much needed softness, as well as a level head.

“There is more, Sir William.”

Showing no emotion, he leaned forward. “Tell me.”

Again, Adam looked about the room, making sure he and William were alone. “My father was in the bathing chamber, filling the king's bath and he overheard them. The King and Hugh. Hugh wants the queen demoralized, pay for insulting him in public. He thinks she should be stripped of her castles, her lands here in England. That would force her to rely on whoever the king puts in charge of her. He thinks if her children were taken from her, she would be more amenable.”

“Amenable to what?”

Adam was shaking his head. “I don't know. Father doesn't know. But whatever it is, Hugh wants it.”

If Edward listens to that pompous arse, he will court more than war with France. The French King won't sit for this insult to his sister.

“It's never enough, is it?”

Adam was shaking his head. “No. The servants hide from Hugh. He's cruel. Rumor has it he wanted a baron's jewels and his widow wouldn't give them to him, so he broke her arms and legs.”

And probably enjoyed it. William had heard that rumor as well. For the not the first time, he was thankful his two sons were in Aigues-Mortes. He missed them, missed them sorely, but they were safer where they were. He leaned forward and patted Adam on the shoulder. “You've done well. Have you eaten?” Adam shook his head. “Go to the kitchen and stuff yourself. We had a fine hog roasted on a spit for dinner. There is plenty left. When you've finished, there is an empty messenger's quarters down the hall from the kitchen. You may rest there. When you awake in the morning, I'll have instructions for you for your return tomorrow.”

“My lord, there is more.”

Somehow, I feel you've saved the best for last. William poured himself yet another drink. “And that would be?”

“Hugh has his eye on Harridston. He wants Fulks.”

William's blood froze. “And the king said?”

Again, Adam swallowed hard. “The king said you are to be left alone. You would kill him and there was nothing the king could do to stop it.”

He waited for the boy to bow and leave.

William stared into the fire for the better part of two hours, his untouched cup, dangling from his fingers, before rising from his chair. There would be much to do on the morning and many messages to be sent. Best to get a few hours sleep. It was time to remove the Despensers from power, and time to dethrone Edward. It would take time, time to gather the barons, time to do what needed to be done. The barons were terrified, had no one to unify them. They wouldn't trust Edward's Wolf. It was going to be a long, dismal two years.

tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



Chapter 4D



Than give you control

Tower of London, 1323

For many years, William casually watched the comings and goings of the jailer and other staff in the Tower. There was a never-changing pattern, one of comfort, routine, laziness, and not much intelligence, which infuriated the man on one hand...

...and pleased him on the other. Such ineptness played directly into William's plans. Made things much easier.

The little servant girl from the kitchen was infatuated with one of William's younger servants. The teen was young, came from a large family, one of Much's many progeny and he enjoyed the attention of the girl who was just about his age. It wasn't difficult to exchange the watered, pathetic excuse of ale for a bottle of potent and drugged wine from Aigues-Mortes, while Gyllie was distracted for a few minutes. 

Truthfully, William didn't think it needed to be drugged. Chances were likely, the guard, too old for such mindless duty, never imbibed anything as expensive as what William was putting on the tray with the man's supper. By the time young Aegus took Gyllie around the corner, kissed her soundly and promised more when she came back, William had the bottles exchanged, pulled his hood up, sunk back into the shadows and simply waited. 

Twenty minutes later, he heard the tell-tale thunk as the guard's head hit the table. Quietly, William crept up the stairs, peering around the corner. Sure enough, old Jonas was snoring quietly, less than half of the bottle of wine, gone. William took the bottle from the man's limp grasp and after corking it, set it aside and replaced it with the actual jug of ale.

Priorities, William. Priorities.

Reaching over the prone body of the guard, William lifted the jailer's keys from the peg and quietly moved down the corridor. “Roger!” he hissed. “Roger Mortimer.” He blew out the torches as he went.

Hands came to the barred windows, hissing, whispering, “Me! Me!” 

“Oh, I rather think not.” William passed up three jailed men, before reaching the door he knew housed the Earl of March. Roger stood back, with his arms crossed, starring out into the darkened hallway. 

“Who are you?” 

William inserted the key in the lock and turned it, opening the door. “A friend.” He stepped backwards and gestured. “C'mon.” His voice was lowered, gravelly, rough. The Lord of Locksley adopted a lower-class London accent. 

Roger stuck his head out, looking both ways and saw the jailer passed out at the table. “What happened to him and why are you doing this?” 

“England needs you, Roger Mortimer.” There was one torch left on the wall and William grabbed it, making sure he held it away from his body, keeping his hooded face in the shadows.

“England needing me got me jailed!” 

William smirked. “And England needing you got you out. There is a boat waiting at the edge of the Thames. It will take you to the shores and offer safe passage to France. Hie to King Charles' court and let him know his sister is in need. Her husband's advisers seek to remove her from power and confiscate her properties.” 

Roger was thinking fast. “Charles should move to retaliate-”

“And you should move quickly to remind him of that.” William was moving further down the darkened hallway.

“Where are you going? This is not the way out!” 

William continued down the hall. “The other way is riddled with guards, servants who would turn in their own mother if it meant food for the table tonight. Or-” he stopped in front of the narrow passage.” 

“The privy shoot? Are you insane?” 

William shrugged. “The choice is yours. Guards with sharp, pointy things or...” he nodded at the escape route, “a straight shot to the Thames and a boat with clean clothing and several men to row you down the river to the coast.” 

Roger grimaced. “'Tis not much of a choice.” He climbed up, putting both legs in the shoot.  “Who are you and why are you doing this? Why should I trust you?” 

William took a breath, inventory, before he responded. “The Despensers are raping this country and will own more of it than the king does before they are through if no one stops them. They have taken you and your lands. Who will stop them from taking your wife's? What will happen to your children?” He tipped his head to the left. “I am offering you escape. How can you live with yourself if you do not take it?” 

Roger's retort was fast. “And if it's a trap?” 

Williams shrugged. “If Edward or Hugh wished you dead, they would make a public spectacle of it. Your head would be a trophy to hang on Hugh's wall. Why leave you locked up for so long and then have you escape through the privy shoot?” 

That seemed to appease the Earl. “What do I do when I reach the bottom?” 

William grinned, Roger only seeing a ghost of a smile and it caused him to shiver. “There is a boat waiting for you. They will get you to a larger barge and clean clothing. Stay low and speak not. There is a ship waiting for your arrival on the coast and it will take you to France. It is up to you to find the queen's brother and bend his ear. You will find courtiers there who are will lend a hand. The queen is living in appalling conditions.” 

Roger gripped the edge of the wall. “Why do I get the strange feeling, you will not be following me down?” 

William sneered. “I am not an escaped prisoner.” 

Roger gripped tighter, needing to continue the argument. “What you are suggesting will take money.” 

“And it will be waiting for you as well. Now go.” And with that, William shoved the Earl of March, sending him on long trip down a shite-coated, slick slide to the breeks. Waiting a moment, he pulled the cork from the wine and poured it down the shoot, before rolling the now empty jug after. He grimaced when he heard the echo of the bottle break and the sound of the shards continuing on. At least, the evidence was destroyed. He then relit the torches and returned the way he came, staying in the shadows and slipped out unseen through a quiet, seldom-used side gate. 

It was time to begin uniting England's barons. The Wolf's hour was coming.

~~~...~~~

Nottingham 1324

“My lord?” 

“Let me guess, Timothy,” William removed his boots from the table and sat up, making sure not to turn loose of his wine glass, as well as to not disturb the bottle. 

He'd named this one Aedyth; well-seasoned, full-bodied, and a deep, rich bouquet...

“There is a messenger.” 

“Yes, well... no. Yes.” 

William looked over his shoulder. “Make up your mind. It is stormy. The puddles have puddles. It is close to midnight. No one in their right mind would be out in this, save a messenger.” He lifted the goblet.

“Or a woman in trouble.” 

William's hand stopped in mid-air. “A woman? Are you sure?” 

“My lord, there is a woman and several of her servants in your entrance. And she is definitely in trouble.” 

This was disconcerting. “Who is it?” 

“I do not know, my lord.” 

“You've allowed a strange woman and her entourage into my home without so much as asking her name?” He turned on the servant. “Do you even know if this person is a woman?” 

“Go look for yourself.” 

William stood. “The vestibule?” 

“Yes, my lord.” 

William strode from the room, grabbing a small lamp on his way out before making his way to a hidden stairway in the hall.

Roland FitzGisborne had been a sneaky bastard, one who trusted few people and he passed his distrust down among his progeny. As a result, homes were built with hidden crannies, hiding places, passages to tunnels, to other rooms, the stables. He was aware there were times, one wanted to look or watch visitors.

This particular staircase led to a balcony of sorts; a balcony disguised as gallery in which weapons and tapestries were on display. Leaving his lamp on a small shelf inside the hidden passageway, he stepped out onto the gallery, making sure he stayed in the shadows. 

Ah yes. There was a woman...

William narrowed his eyes, peering into the darkness, taking stock and watching her servants. Their cloaks were sodden and muddy. They all looked exhausted. The group were murmuring, their French accents obvious. The woman turned and for a brief second, her profile was illuminated by the lone torch lit in the hall. 

William took a quick step back into the hidden ingress. He slid the panel shut, before grabbing the lamp and returning to the chamber where he was drinking, where Timothy awaited. “Prepare my study to receive visitors. Do not light the fireplace, only two lamps. Rouse Margaret and tell her to prepare Lady FitzGisborne's chambers for a guest and her maid servant and to make sure there is room in the servant's guest wing for the outriders. They will need food, drink, and I suspect the lady would appreciate a bath. Stay at the door for further instructions.” He grabbed the man's arm as he strode past. “Be prepared. There will be little to no sleep tonight.” 

“My lord,” Timothy whispered. “Is it who I think it is?” 

“Aye. And I wish to ensure that no one else knows.” 

~~~..~~~

“Is your hall truly so poor as to not light the fire?” 

William stood in the shadows, his back to Edward's queen. One of her servants was her personal maid, and she followed Margaret to Lady FitzGisborne's chambers to aid in the preparation for her mistress. Despite their protestations, the others were taken to the kitchen, to be fed. 

“My lady, I am yours to command. What is your wish?” A goblet made its way into her frozen hands. “Drink. It will warm you and not harm you.” 

“How do I know you will not harm me?” 

“You are here.” It was whispered in her ear. “You have come to me for a reason and you obviously trust me enough. Why?” 

She took a small sip before squaring her shoulders. “I have come to ask your for your aid.” 

“Why have you come to me?”

Isabella stood slowly. William now realized she wasn't moving slowly because of exhaustion, but...

She set her goblet down and dropped her cloak. “Because Hugh is frightened of you and Edward refuses to force you to bow to him.” She turned to face him. “Edward demands I pledge loyalty and bow down to the Despensers, but does not make you! Who are you to instill such fear in the king?” She took a deep breath and wailed, “Edward has taken my children and given them to Hugh. He's arrested and jailed all of my staff who came with me from France, taken my castles, my property, even those my brother gave me. He has stripped me of everything. He says I have served my purpose, that he no longer has any use for me and gave me to that monster. Hugh said I would bow to him willingly or he would force me to bow.” As she raised her head, William bit back a gasp. It was involuntary and he worked hard not to show it. 

She was bruised and beaten down the left side of her face, the contusion continuing across her neck and shoulder. She dropped her head in shame. “I did not bow.” She shook her head and whispered, “He has my babies. I cannot protect them.”

William stepped forward from the shadows, allowing her to see him full face. She gasped as he raised his hand, his fingertips gently grazing her battered face. “Who did this to you?” 

“I...I...” 

“Who did this to you, majesty?” 

It took a moment. “Hugh. Hugh the Younger.” 

“Hugh or a servant?”

“Hugh. Hugh did.” 

William leaned forward, his breath like butterfly wings on her ear. “Rest assured, he is a dead man walking.” 

“I know you. I am so ashamed.” 

William shrugged elegantly. “You should be, however I suspect you were lonely and your husband tends to spend his attentions elsewhere. I imagine you wished to prove you were still attractive to men.”

“I... oui.” 

William was still whispering in her ear. “You are, but your wiles are wasted on me. Understand, I do not like you,” she became wooden at the cruel admission and he grabbed her by the upper arms, not turning loose when she stiffened in pain, “but I dislike the Despensers more.” He turned her loose and went to the door, calling for Margaret and sending Timothy to bring Sir Simon and Sir Richard. He now returned to the fireplace and began to stir the embers into a warm fire. “Does anyone know you are here?” 

“No. We have stayed away from the main roads. My servants are loyal to me, not Edward, not Hugh.” 

“You have stayed hidden?” 

“My servants have done everything.  We have taken back roads, slept in hovels.” 

She needs to scratch and is too lady-like to do so in front of anyone.

“My lord?” Margaret stood in the door. “You need me?” 

William motioned her to his side. “This is Bella.” The servant immediately sank into a curtsy. “She is a distant relative from France and will be staying at Locksley for a few days.” As Margaret stood back up, she saw the bruising on the woman's face. “She fell from her horse earlier. I'm sure she would appreciate your healing herbs and a hot bath.” He tapped his servant on the shoulder. “I would appreciate that few know she or her servants are visiting.”

Margaret's eyebrows rose. She knew who this person was, but if Sir William was going to claim the queen as a relative, then who was she to correct him? “I suppose she is hiding from a thief or man of ill repute.” 

“And a vindictive one, at that.” William nodded. “She will stay to her rooms while my knights and I make arrangements and plans for her.”

“I understand.” 

“She is not a prisoner. If she decides to leave, allow her to go. I don't think she will.” He stepped back and addressed the queen. “I will make plans for you and you will trust me and follow them.” He turned back to his chatelaine. “I leave her in your care.” 

Margaret now bowed again to the queen. “My lady, if you will follow me?” She shook her head in sadness. “I know that must pain you. We'll get you into a hot bath and cold compresses. Make some tea with comfrey...” Margaret's voice faded away as the two women went through the door and headed down the hallway.

William stepped forward, his back to the woman and stirred the embers in the fireplace, working it into a warm, heated roar. He listened to the silence, the groaning of the stones, the crackle in the fire. He waited the long while before Simon and Richard came to him. Richard arrived first, quietly standing behind his lord before Simon arrived. When both finally stood there in the quiet, he motioned one to shut the door before turning, an evil grin on his face.

“Richard, send your fastest spy to France and have him seek an audience with the French King. Have him tell Charles his sister's English properties have been confiscated by the Despensers with the blessing of her husband and her two youngest children have been given to Hugh the Younger. Simon, you do the same. I am sending Aegus as well. Once they've told the French King, find Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March and make sure he knows what is happening. I will then send Aegus to my cousin in Aigues-Mortes to request his aid in financing a mercenary army.”

“Will he aid you?” 

William shrugged. “He loves the fight.” The Lord of Gisborne returned his attention to the fire. “I also need to get word to my spies in all of the Despenser and the king's households. Hugh the Younger holds the youngest of Edward and Isabella's children and she is terrified for them.”

“What of us, my lord?” 

“I have orders for the two of you! It is time to begin to rally England's barons. Lupus est scriptor hora enim prope est.” 

Both knights grinned back. “It's about damn time!”

~~~...~~~

The man had been sitting in the back of the pub for a long time, steadily drinking, getting more and more lethargic. The bartender watched closely; he wasn't causing trouble, just getting drunk. The barmaid heard him murmur about an unfaithful wife who had run off with a knight from a far off castle. Obviously he was here drowning his sorrows.

But it was time to close and those who worked wanted to clean up and go home. 

“I'll get him. He has rooms upstairs?” Gilbert was a giant of a man, a blacksmith for the Despensers. His wife worked in the main house. The bartender thought anyone who worked for the Despensers were either crazy or gluttons for punishment. However, Gilbert had been around a long time; he was an excellent smith, knew his horses, quiet, and seemed to be friendly enough. The huge man went to the back and slid his arm around the waist of the drunken man. “Let's get you to yer room. Yer traveling? I don't seem to remember yer face.” He hauled him up and began to almost carry him to the stairs. “Which room?” 

“All the way in the back on the left. He's paid for the night.” 

Gilbert nodded and began the long trek up the stairs. “Where's yer key, my friend.” 

“Around my neck, next to my wolf head.”

Gilbert almost stopped, but didn't. The response had been whispered, no one overheard. They went to the end of the hall, Gilbert looking to make sure no one was watching. He kept an eye on the not really very much drunkard, as he inserted his key and opened the door. He followed him in and kicked the door shut behind him. 

“Do you need help? I'm afraid I didn't-”

“Lupus tempus venit,” Simon ette Forde turned and faced the giant behind him. “You know what that means.” 

Gilbert immediately went to one knee. “I have kept an eye as Lord William bid me do, as has my wife, Sir Simon.” 

“What does your wife do in the castle?” 

“She's been named a nursemaid to the princesses. She says they are frightened, cry for their mother, their elder brother.” 

“Has Hugh-”

“He does not visit them, leaves them alone. I do not think my wife would just stand by if he were cruel to them.” 

“Good.” It was good that Gilbert's wife was in the castle. It was better that she had such close proximity to the king's daughters. “Very good.” 

“What would you have us do?” 

Simon began to remove his shoes. “Keep watch, have a care and a plan. If Hugh moves to abuse the princesses, kill him. Kill him and run to Sir William with the girls. He will keep you and them safe.” He removed a pouch from a hidden pocket deep inside his worn surcoat and handed it to the blacksmith. “Keep this hidden and use it if you need it. Stay away from Despenser Estates if you're forced to travel.” 

Simon was gone before the sun rose.

~~~...~~~

“Where have you been?” Hugh the Younger was frothing at the mouth. “I sent word to you, weeks ago, to attend to me in London and yet, here you sit in your hall, drinking wine and groping your maids!” 

William continued to sit, his feet on the table. “Groping what maids?” He looked up at the angry earl. “And what right do you have, walking into my home to order me about?” 

Hugh grabbed him by the elbow and attempted to pull William from the chair. “I sent two messengers, to whom you gave no succor and sent them back empty-handed!” 

“I answered those messages and you best unhand me.” 

“Urinating on them is not answering them!” 

William removed Hugh's hand from his elbow, putting the man's finger in a grip that brought the younger Despenser to his knees. “I believe it was a rather clear answer and I told you to let me go.” He stood up, towering over the favored earl. “Ah. You look good in the floor.” He turned the man's finger loose, reached behind him to pick up his goblet and turned away to refill his drink. “What do you want?” 

“You didn't answer my summons!” 

“I,” he filled the chalice and turned back around, grinning sardonically, “do not answer to pigs!” 

Hugh scrambled from the floor! “You will not speak to me like that! I am-”

“Yes, I know; the king's favored earl. You are not the only one.”

Hugh rubbed his injured digit, trying hard to disguise his jealousy and not doing a good job. “Edward needs you.”

“Then why doesn't he send for me?” 

“Because he doesn't realize he needs you!” 

William took a long drink from the cup. “Trust me. Edward knows how to reach me when he wants me.” His voice echoes within the deep recess. 

Hugh attempted to get the upper hand. “How long will it take you to ready your horse. We need to leave-”

“I am not going anywhere with you.”

The wine goblet went flying as Hugh slapped it from William's hand. “How long will it take for you to ready your horse?” 

There was ice in William's eyes and his look caused Hugh to shiver. “You have a death wish, friend.”

“Charles of France has confiscated Edward's French holdings and is amassing an army for an invasion!” 

Edward shouldn't have taken his wife's properties. That was stupid.

“Is this fact or is it-”

“The Queen is missing!” 

There was a painful silence, no sound, save the fireplace. 

“Has she been kidnapped? Is there a ransom?”

“No. She... left with several servants and has disappeared.”

Now William was smiling and it wasn't a nice one. “Are you suggesting that Edward has misplaced his wife?” He scratched his jaw thoughtfully. “I wonder if he can misplace mine?”  

“Listen, you ragged bastard-”

Hugh found himself grasped around the neck and lifted from the floor. “No. You listen to me.” William threw the man across the floor, Hugh landing in an inelegant heap. “Do not come into my hall and order me about. In fact, you do not order me about, anywhere. I take orders from one man and God and you are neither. You do not outrank me. Ever. No matter who you think you are.” William strode to the door and opened it. “Leave. I will consider your request.” 

Hugh stood, dusting himself off. “This isn't over,” he hissed. “You will regret this insult!” He stormed from the room, heading towards the door. 

“I am sure you will,” William mumbled back. He watched as the man and his two outriders joined him, screaming for their horses. “Despenser! Wait there a moment.” Hugh and his two body servants stopped in the doorway. “Sir Richard?” 

“I am here, m'lord.”

William grinned and it wasn't a nice one. “Take several knights and make sure Huuugh-” he dragged his name out as if he were smelling a rotten piece of meat, “makes it safely out of Nottinghamshire. He has raised concerns in the past of the safety of our lands and I wish to ensure his health!” He turned on his heel, yelling over his shoulder. “And make sure he does not abuse any those who live on these lands under my grace.” 

Richard was smiling, heading towards the door. “And what if he attempts to do so?” 

“Secure him as painfully as possible and send for me.” The Black Knight headed up the stairs. “I will kill him.” 

~~~...~~~

London – 1324

Edward pinched his nose in ire. He was aware of William setting a goblet down in front of him.  “You drink it first.” William shrugged and downed the contents in the goblet, before taking another and pouring again. “I cannot believe my two favorites are squabbling like children.”

“He threatened me, sire! ME!” Hugh the Younger was frothing at the mouth. “Told his men to kill me if I as much as touched any of the inhabitants of Nottinghamshire!”

“He lies, sire.” William was as calm as Hugh was infuriated. “I told my man to detain him so I could kill him.”

Hugh was now hissing in the king's ear. “I want re-compensation!” William moved away, but was still close enough to hear. To the few in the room, Edward's Wolf was about as uninterested in the conversation as he was at the goings on in Rome. “I want charge of his brats! I want Harridston and Locksley! Force him-” By God, the man was frothing like a rabid thing, “to have his sons sent back to England! How dare he remove them without my-”

Edward's eyebrows rose.

“-permission!”

“So comfortable with our friendship, you dare speak for me?” 

Hugh was stubborn, but he dropped his head. 

Edward turned, the goblet in his hand. “More, please,” he gestured. “William, would you consider bringing your sons home?” 

“No.” 

Edward shrugged. “That's what I thought.” He took a drink. “I suspect you have contracted or are hoping to contract marriages for them in France and plan to strengthen your ties with your cousin and your strongholds there in France. That's what I would do.”

“Your majesty is wise.”

“And your advice is sound. Tell me,” again, Edward gestured with the goblet, “if you were in my position, what would you do? It is rumored, according to Hugh, that Charles is amassing an army to invade England. He has taken my French properties. What would you do?” 

William took a moment, as if to think, while at the same time, listening to Hugh's protestations. The man went on like an angered fishwife! “My lord, how is one expected to think when your servant is caterwauling like an old woman?” 

Edward was in a good mood, for which William was glad. This conversation could go so differently. Truth was, Edward was in a difficult place and William was the only one of the two Earls, who thought with a level head. 

“Hugh.” Edward was feeling the affects of the wine, although he didn't appear to be the least bit inebriated. “There are reasons Lord William is one of my favorites. He does my bidding without question. He solves problems for me. He asks for no favors, demands no one hand their children over to him, does not demand money or lands or titles. He pays his taxes, without question, with no regrets. All he asks is for he and his to be left alone and I have agreed to that. William asks for nothing. Aye, I love you greatly, but William knows who butters his bread. Perhaps, you should remember that as well.”

This set Hugh off. “My King... sire... have I not loved you?” 

Edward set his goblet down and turned his back on his favorite. “William. What say you?” 

William took a deep breath. So much depended on Edward agreeing with him and ignoring Hugh. “By all reports, Charles is amassing an army, set to invade England.” 

“We should gather our army!” Hugh interjected. He would be damned if this simple country squire would usurp his place! “March to the coast-”

“My liege, with all apologies,” William continued, so bored, the swirls in his wine chalice more interesting than the conversation he was engaged in, “your army couldn't subdue the Scots. It's damned embarrassing.” He strolled around Hugh and picked up Edward's goblet, refilling it. “The barons will not stand by you, nor join your and Hugh's combined army. I will not send my knights for such a cause.”

Hugh was screaming. His hand went to his sword.

“Hugh. Stop.”

“But, my lord,” 

“He will kill you and I can do nothing to stop him. Aye, I could punish him, but you would still be dead.” That silenced the man. “Your advice is always sound, William. What do you suggest?” 

William took a deep breath. This would have be done delicately. “You and your queen have had a marital dispute. Negotiate with her. She is reasonable. Send her to her brother, so he can see for himself, that she is alive and well. Promise to release her properties, her household servants, at least allow her to see her children.”

“But Isabella has disappeared!” Hugh was back to screaming. “She disappeared weeks ago. My men have found no sign of her or her entourage since we discovered she was gone! We have searched! We are still searching!” 

“Will she do it?” Edward was ignoring Hugh. This was good.

William shrugged. “Promise to negotiate with her. Just the two of you. She has given you beautiful children, an heir. Surely, she deserves a bit more respect from your favorites. If you promise to return what is hers, allow her access to her babies, I believe she would.” 

“EDWARD!” Hugh was now trying to insert himself between the king and the black knight. “This man lives in the country! He knows nothing of court intrigue! Isabella-”

“This simple country knight knows more of England than you,” Edward whispered, smiling. “He has done what you have failed to do.” 

“My lord, what could he possibly have done?” 

“He did what you could not.” Edward nodded to William. William grinned. 

“I have Isabella. I found her. She is currently resting in her chambers. Bring her children. She will negotiate peace with her brother.” 

tbc

Lupus est scriptor Hora enim prope est – The Wolf's Hour is nigh

The Wolf's time has come. Lupus tempus venit

Chapter Text

Aside From Heaven



Chapter 4E



You're going to get what you deserve


France, 1325

“How much further to Paris?”

Isabella's borrowed coach broke down several times. Every time it broke down, her retinue was attacked by thugs. After the third attack, William came to the conclusion someone – most likely Hugh the Younger – had hired mercenaries to raid the royal entourage. Despenser could care less about Edward's French holdings. Truth be told, William could care less about England's French holdings. Those were well on the way of being a lost cause. The only French Holdings he cared about were the FitzGisborne Holdings on the Great Sea. Those, he needed.

At some point, after fighting off the robbers a fourth time, they abandoned the carriage, doubled up on horses and rode hard to the nearest large holding. William paid the local marquis an exorbitant sum of money to keep the majority of Isabella's luggage for a few weeks, until he could at least get her settled in at her brother's court. Luckily, the man and his wife were elderly, well past court intrigue and happy for the money to sustain their – in their eyes – meager household.

Needless to say, it was with great relief when they arrived at King Charles home.

Strangely enough, Roger Mortimer was there. The moment William made sure the two were aware of each other, he quietly disappeared, along with his personal knights.

~~~...~~~


London, 1326

“What do you mean, my wife is invading me?” Edward spun around in a fury. “She can't invade me! She is my wife!”

“I told you, you should have put her in chains when you had the chance!” Hugh the Younger was frothing at the mouth. “Had you given her to me-”

“I did give her to you,” Edward hissed, backing his loyal lackey down. “You mistreated her and she escaped and ran to my most faithful servant.”

Hugh immediately bowed up. “Sire, I am your most faithful-”

Edward snarled and cut him off. “You are my most loved! Even I know, you are faithful to only yourself!”

There was noise coming from the hall outside the king's personal chambers. Both men turned as a familiar voice yelled at the guards. “Get out of my way!”

“Let him in!”

The doors to the room flew open as William Edward, Lord of Locksley and Gisborne, strode angrily into the room. “Sire. I came as quickly as I could.”

Edward rushed to face the man. “How bad? How bad is it? Has she changed her mind?”

William shrugged. “Roger Mortimer has joined with her. Between her brother's army, hired mercenaries-”

Before he could finish, Hugh elbowed his way around the king. “Easy for you. This is your fault!”

William turned all of his dark anger on the king's favorite. “How is this my fault?”

Hugh's finger was thrust in his face. “Don't think I haven't noticed. Isabella ran away, she came to you. You talked the king into allowing her to go to her brother's to negotiate a peace treaty! You then introduced her to Roger, who is as married as she is, and you left her there when she refused to come home!”

One inky eyebrow lifted. “The Queen ran away because you abused her. She has more political acumen than you or the king put together and His Majesty knows that. She has negotiated peace treaties in her husband's stead in the past. She has cleaned up his messes and messes you have created. You talked the king into confiscating her estates because she refused to acknowledge that you are greater than she, which you are not. You have arrested her French staff and made her someone to be pitied!”

“Sire!” Hugh was livid. “Are you going to allow him to talk to me... to us this way?”

Edward sent a withering look towards his favorite and then asked again. “How bad is it?”

William turned his back on Hugh. “Your Queen has declared herself a widow, dressed in widow's rags and is heading up her brother's armies. The French army is frightening enough, however mercenaries have joined with Roger Mortimer, and both have crossed the English Channel. She intends to put your heir on the throne.”

Edward began to think out loud. “Hugh! Gather your knights. Someone send for your father. Have his knights and armies join ours-”

“Sire,” William drawled, “England's knights and armies will not gather under your banner. Their hate for the Despensers, who you have allowed to run rampant through this country unchecked, is greater than their love for you, which is fair none. The French Army will not be stopped. They will roll over England like a great flood. Your barons will answer the Earl of March's call and gather their knights and armies behind his banner. I will not call up my knights to fight against them.”

“You coward! Treaso-”

crack

William's fist met that sweet spot on Hugh's chin, crumbling him to the ground. He rubbed his knuckles and looked at the king. “My apologies, sire. I know you love him greatly, but I have none for him.”

Edward's gulp was audible. “How badly do they hate Hugh?”

Williams grin was evil. “More than they hated Piers.”

“They killed Piers,” the king whispered. The room was silent.

“Piers was greedy. At least he worked with Isabella, did not usurp her position nor abuse her. Hugh here is not only greedy and stupid, he is cruel, evil. You've allowed him to run amuck and have been blind to his sadistic tendencies. He has publicly embarrassed your strongest and most influential ally; your Queen. He has cost you dearly. Because of him, your armies will not stand with you, they will not stand against France's army. Your barons and nobility will join with your wife, are joining her as we speak. They would prefer to see your too young son on the throne, guided by your French wife and the Earl of March. They will kill both Hughs if they get their hands on them. Sire, I fear for your life. Your countrymen have turned on you.”

This speech was delivered as if it were well rehearsed, which it was, but Edward was too terrified to consider this. “William... what do you suggest?”

William pretended to ponder the question for a minute. When he looked up, into the king's eyes, it turned Edward's blood to ice.

“Run. Gather what you need. You should not tarry.”

~~~...~~~

Isabella and Roger entered London without a fight. Leaving France with 1500 mercenaries, they were quickly joined by many of England's barons and countrymen. They were met at the Tower by William Edward FitzGisborne.

“Do I know you?” Roger asked as he helped Isabella dismount. That they were lovers, there was no doubt and William snarled inwardly at their open affection.

“Why should you?”

“Where is Edward?” Isabella was all business, pulling off her riding gloves.

“Your husband or your son?”

“My husband is dead to me.”

William ignored her snittishness. “We need to talk.”

Isabella stopped and pasted on a fake smile. “We thank you for your aid and help. Your job is done-”

“Fine,” William intoned softly. “Go down in history as a whore and your son, a usurper.” He turned to leave. He found himself caught in a vice-grip.

“You will explain yourself!” Roger Mortimer's voice was tight.

William's smile was faker and tighter. “As I said, we need to talk.”

~~~...~~~

Isabella swept into her chambers, maids opening the curtains and windows, allowing the sun in. Dust motes rose in the air. William stood to the side, watching them. This room should have been aired, cleaned the minute Edward left and ran. He was aware of Roger in the opposing corner, watching him closely. William knew before he left, the man would figure out who he was.

That was fine. His days of subterfuge and death for hire was over. The Angel of Death promised him that much. He had other things on his mind at this time. After a short time, the maids left the room, wine and cheese left on a sideboard. Isabella made herself at home.

“You seem to want much to say. Where is my son? Speak and quickly. My time,” she smiled softly at Roger, “is limited. I have much to do.”

William wasted no time. “Your son is here. Your husband, as much as you wish it were so, is not dead, but on the run with the Despensers. They have taken as much of the royal coffers as they can pack, so they will be moving slowly.” She glowered at him and moved closer to Roger. “It would behoove you to capture your husband and have him relinquish the throne before you crown your son. If you crown young Edward without that public and legal abdication, it will sully his name before he steps to the throne and will follow him all of his days and long after his death.”

“And me?”

William shrugged. “You are consorting with a very married man.” He now addressed Roger. “When was the last time you saw your own wife? Your children?” He inspected the calloused pads of his fingertips. “You have how many? Ten? A dozen? One hopes you're taking precautions.”

Roger flew across the room, attempting to go nose to nose with the Black Knight. “I am making England a better place for my wife and family! For all! They know that!”

William's eyes roamed towards the Queen before returning to the earl in front of him. “I'm sure they do.”

“You have room to talk!” Roger took a step back. “William Edward FitzGiborne, Lord of Locksley and Gisborne. Lord of Harridston. When was the last time you saw your children? You sent them to the far side of France, how many years ago? Have you seen them? You put your wife in a convent and took all that was hers. Quite the valiant father and husband you are, to have need to school the likes of me,” he sneered

“Have you met my wife?”

“No! But I pity her!”

“You should not.” William stood perfectly still, his face unchanging. Truthfully, he wished to kill the man, his hands ached to feel Roger's pulse flutter and die beneath his fingers. But his death, while coming soon enough, was not his to mete out. “I have rebuilt a dying, wasted estate, made it sustainable for those who live there. During the famine, while England starved, my villeins and my wife's, had food. I kept her wastrel of a cousin, who supported your husband, my queen, from taking it all and turning it into a whore house. My wife is ill in the mind and murdered our youngest baby, claiming she was a demon and sacrificed her to end the famine that ravaged this country.” Both Isabella and Roger gasped. “Your husband would not allow me to kill her, which was my right.”

“Not so,” Roger hissed. “He would have allowed it-”

“At the cost of my wife's estate, yes. Harridston would revert back into the hands of her cousin. Have you met her cousin, Royce?”

Isabella flitted to Roger's side, taking his hand. “I have. He is a deplorable man. No woman would fare well under his hand,” she whispered. “Hugh the Younger wanted Lord William's sons and his wife's estate. Edward's Wolf did the only thing he could to keep them safe. Think what you will of this man. He gave me succor and hid me when no one else would. He aided me and took me personally to my brother's side.” She turned loose and stepped away from her lover. “I agree with you, Lord William. My husband should abdicate before we crown my son. You should be here to witness it.”

William thought for a moment. “You will need to capture Edward first and soon.” He pushed off from the wall and headed towards the door. “I have needs to go back to France. The sooner the better.” As he placed his hand on the door knob, he looked over his shoulder. “My best trackers are with me. I will send them and several knights in search of the king.”

“My son-”

“Is in his chambers, waiting for you.” William thrust his chin at Roger. “Don't take him. He will bear as much love for your lover, as he does for Hugh. Which is none.”

The door whispered shut behind him.

~~~...~~~

The Despensers separated soon after their departure from London. In October, Hugh the Elder was caught In Bristol. Isabella pleaded for his life; he was greedy, yes, but not the cruel monster his son was. Nevertheless, Henry, the Earl of Lancaster, accused the man of extortion, among other things, and along with Roger Mortimer, demanded his death.

Hugh the Elder was hung on October 27th, wearing his armor. Upon his death, his body was quartered and fed to the dogs, while his head was sent for display in Winchester. It was rumored there was not enough parchment to write pardons for those the man accused of corruption and wrongdoing over the years.

William stood to the side, watching the execution, waiting word from Timon de Glasson, Robert's son. He had become an excellent and valuable scout. He was not surprised when the young man arrived in the night, exhausted, but hyperactive and thirsty.

Very thirsty

He thanked his lord for the goblet of wine and began to down it quickly, as only the young could. “The king has led us on a merry chase, m'lord, but he and Hugh the Younger have settled in at Neath.”

But, of course! Glamorgan was Hugh's, thanks to his advantageous marriage to Eleanor de Clare, may her great-grandfather, the noble Gilbert de Clare roll over in his grave and rest in peace. Proof that no matter how many children a man sired, sometimes, the most important pieces of property still fell into the hands of unscrupulous men, hell-bent on marrying a lone wealthy daughter to add to personal coffers.

Just as he had. Twice.

On second thought, perhaps it be best to simply not go into debt with large sums of money to ruthless and corrupt men. Eleanor was granddaughter to Edward I and Edward owed Hugh the Elder a large sum of money. Her hand to Hugh the Younger was considered equal repayment. William wondered how many times Eleanor regretted being a royal and gritted her teeth every time she had to bed Young Hugh.

“How many men?”

“Not as many as he thinks.” He motioned with his now empty goblet for more, which William gladly gave him. “Several in Hugh's and the king's entourage are really yours.” He reached inside his vest and pulled out a roll of hide. “Ransomme Miller sneaked out and gave me a rough outline of the holding, with the weaker points marked. If you move quickly, Edward and Hugh will be captured quite easily.” He swapped the weathered scroll for the refilled chalice.

William unrolled the large scrap of leather and perused it. He shook his head. “They are stupid.”

“They are frightened out of their skulls,” Timon whispered. “Ransomme fears they will not stay there long, however the entourage is tired, as are the horses.”

“A few days then.”

“Aye, and not many of them.” He followed William to a table and putting his almost empty cup on one corner, held down the other. He pointed to several places on the outline. “This gate is rarely used and hard to find, probably forgotten about. It's not well guarded. The privies are close by and that corner stinks.”

The Midnight Wolf snarled. “Much over-growth?”

“Somewhat. 'Twill be easy to breach.”

William's smile was grim. “Well noted.” Taking up the scrap, he rolled it up and placed beneath his tunic. “Get some sleep. We leave early.”

~~~...~~~

Edward and Hugh were captured in November, the castle stormed and over-taken. Edward seemed to know this was the end of his reign as king and immediately asked to see his wife.

Hugh refused food.

Throughout the journey to Hereford for the trial, Hugh refused to eat, refused to drink. It was obvious he knew his execution would be a painful, drawn out, raucous affair. Perhaps, if his body was weakened, his death would not be prolonged or as painful. Perhaps, he would die en route. He hoped.

The night before his trial, he had an unexpected visitor.

~~~...~~~

“Come to gloat?”

William stayed in the shadows, back against the door. “No. But I will.”

Hugh smiled an unhappy grin. “You are truly the last person I expected to visit me in my last hours.” He motioned to the table, where his meal lay, untouched. “Would you have it? I'm not hungry.”

“Now, you are a gracious host. What a turn-a-round.” He shook his head and declined the meal.

Hugh turned his back to the man and strode to the small window in his cell. “What are they charging me with? No one will say. My jailers will not speak to me.”

William thought for a moment. “Theft from Relatives, for seizing the lands of your brothers-in-law and cheating Elizabeth out of Gower and Usk.”

Hugh shrugged. Elizabeth was his sister-in-law. “The land stayed in the family.”

“No, the land came to you. It will now be returned to the family. Shall I continue?” He did so anyway. “Theft, starting with forcing Alice de Lacy, the Countess of Lincoln to give up her lands, Torture when you had Lady Baret's arms and legs broken until she went insane from pain. Piracy-”

“I was exiled. I had children and a wife to feed and clothe-”

“There was the murder of Llewellyn Bren-”

“He was awaiting trial. I saved England the cost.”

“False imprisonment, death threats-”

“Funny how much a man will pay to save his own life.”

“How much will you pay me to save your life?

Hugh became very quiet. He turned from the windows and took several steps towards The Black Knight. “Can you? I can pay.”

“You don't have enough money for me to save your worthless neck.” He continued before Hugh could interject. “I would save England the cost of your trial, but I wouldn't deny the Queen her revenge. Jesu, man, you didn't just assault her, you raped her!”

Hugh shrugged. “Edward gave her to me-”

“Not to swive!”

“Roger is welcome to her. She was rather... unenthusiastic.”

Hugh didn't see the left hook coming. When he picked himself off the floor, he rubbed his jaw. “I deserved that.”

“You deserve what you will get.”

“Surely, you didn't come just to punch me.”

William brought himself to his full height. “That was an added bonus. Truthfully, I have a message for you from Edward.”

“And that would be?”

William paused before reciting. “He is sorry he met you, or your father. He is sorry he allowed you so much power. If he could go back, he would not have allowed you near him.”

“Sorry I brought him to this, eh?”

“No. Sorry he brought you to this,” William answered softly. “Had he not befriended you, granted you or your father power, loved you as he did, you would have stayed on your lands with your wife and children and lived. That is what he regrets; that you will not live.” With his message given, William turned to leave.

Hugh grabbed him by the elbow. “William. Please. I know who you are, what you are. Edward told me just before we were caught. He said you were the most dangerous man in all of England and he made you what you are. Please kill me. Make it swift. Stab me, poison me, give me a toxin, so I might take my own life. What they will do to me-”

“Will be what you deserve. Nothing more, nothing less.” With that, he turned and knocked on the door, letting the jailer know he was ready to leave.

“So, this is it. I will die and will be forgotten by all.”

William turned back around. “Oh no. Not hardly. Your name will go down as the most evil Englishman that ever lived for over a millennium, longer perhaps. I should tell you about your horrid death, but I will save that as a surprise. Your widow will never receive all of your remains to bury. A few pieces here and there. You will be scattered and will not allowed to rest. Your coat of arms will be turned and displayed upside-down, a show of your wretchedness and disgrace. You will be remembered for many centuries. It will be a hard row for your descendants to live down. But they will manage. Two of your progeny will become Queen of England, in their own right. One will be a great religious reformer, two will become renowned statesmen in their own lands. They will become great, despite your wickedness.”

They could hear the jailer shuffling up the hallway. “How do you know this?”

The key was in the lock, the metal grating. William leaned over and whispered in Hugh's ear.

“Edward is not my master. One who is greater, is.”

The door opened and William swept out, leaving Hugh dumb-founded.

~~~...~~~

Hugh le Despenser was brought to trial on November 24, 1326, before Roger Mortimer and Isabella, Queen of England. Upon being found guilty, he was firmly tied to a ladder and in full view of the crowd, which included William Edward FitzGisborne, had his genitals cut from his body and burned in front of him. He was still conscious. He then had his entrails slowly pulled from his body and finally his heart was cut out and thrown into the fire. While this ensued, Roger and Isabella dined in the front of the crowd, as if at a great dinner party.

Hugh's last conscious vision was that William Edward's face, sardonically grinning through the smoke.

***
Tbc
***

 

Historical notes:

Hugh the Younger's body was beheaded and cut into four pieces. His head was mounted on the gates of London. As the story states, Mortimer and Isabella dined with their main supporters as they watched the execution.

In December of 1330, three years after Hugh's execution, his widow, Eleanor de Clare was given permission to gather and bury his remains at the family's Gloucestershire estate, however, only the head, a thigh bone and a few small bones were returned to her.

It seems however, in February of 2008, what may have been the rest of his remains were found at the former site of Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. The remains, which were originally uncovered in during archaeological work in the 1970's appeared to have been drawn and quartered and were missing the pieces given to Hugh's widow. Carbon dating places the age of the body between 1050 and 1385 and suggest that it is a man over 34. Hugh was 40 at the time of his execution. In addition, the Abbey is located on lands that belonged to Hugh Audley, Despenser's brother-in-law.

Hugh's descendants did manage to make better lives for themselves. Anne Neville, queen of Richard III of England and Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII were both descended through Hugh's grandson, Edward le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer. In addition, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, the New England Protestant reformer, as well as Franklin D Roosevelt and George W. Bush are also descended from Hugh.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



Chapter 4F



Bow down before the one you serve

January, 1327

“Lord William?” A middling teen came around the corner, looking behind him, as if to watch to see if anyone was near. “Lord William? A word, if you please.”

William stopped in his tracks and turned. Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, rushed to the Black Knight's side. “A word in private?”

William looked around and seeing a door, opened it and peered inside. Discovering the room was empty, he nodded his head, following the young man, and shut the door behind him.

“They will not let me see Father,” Edward spun out breathlessly. “He will not abdicate and I fear That Man will kill him just to have it over with!”

William knew who 'That Man' was. “Mortimer and your mother have reason to dislike your father-”

“Aye, but he is still my father, regardless of what he did!” Edward spat. “He is a weak man, but he is still my father.” The man-child swallowed once. “He has always been good to me.”

William stared at him, as if he'd grown a second head. He was blinking tears. “Please.”

Against his better judgment, he bid the future monarch to follow him to his own chambers. There, he put the boy in FitzGisborne servants clothing and telling him to keep his hood low over his eyes and tug on it anytime anyone came by and not speak, handed him a tray of food to carry and proceeded down the halls to king's quarters.

Only these weren't the king's quarters. Isabella had moved young Edward into them. They weren't as large or spacious, or opulently furnished. There were guards at the door and they stepped back when they saw Sir William with a servant in tow with food, they immediately stood to the side, making way.

Edward watched as William and his servant came into the room. “Unless there is wine on that tray,” he snipped as the boy set the tray gingerly on the table, “I'm not interested.” The teenager was shaking and nearly dropped the salver, knocking the glass over. “Dear God, is this what I've been brought to? Servants who can't do their job?”

Young Edward threw his hood back. “Father!”

It was a tearful reunion, one that William felt he shouldn't witness. He slid back towards the door, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. “My lord, sire, we do not have much time.”

“No, no we do not.” The king took a step back, drinking in his son and heir. “Let me look at you. You've grown so much these past few months.” He shook his head. “You are becoming a man too quickly. I fear I will not see you grown.”

There was whispering between the two for some minutes before William heard the teen's plea. “Father, please sign the papers. As king, I can keep you protected.”

Edward shook his head. “William, my son is a good lad, but does he not know the truth? The moment I abdicate, Isabella and Roger will no longer have use for me. My fate will be the same as Hugh's.”

“NO! I will not allow it!” The younger turned to William. “I will be king! I forbid it! Promise me! Promise me they will not kill him!”

William shut his eyes tight, something the king did not miss. This was a promise he didn't know if he could keep. He did the only thing he could, the thing he did not want to do. He went between the two and knelt before the younger. “My lord. I was your father's man and I pledge myself to do your bidding. I will do everything in my power to keep him alive.” There was a gentle hand on his head.

“My son, that is a better oath than any I could ever hope to receive. If Lord William says he'll do everything in his power, he will. Rise, my friend.”

As William stepped aside, the king took his son by the shoulder. “Now you listen to me. I don't know if I'll be allowed to see you, much less your siblings ever again, but listen. Be a good king. Do not make my mistakes. Do not love anyone more than you love this country and her people. Lord William for all of his darkness, is a good man, a loyal subject. He is England's Black Knight, and my Dark Wolf. Keep him close. Now you must leave before the guards come in and catch you. Leave the food.”

As they gathered up their things and William helped young Edward get his hood situated, the king spoke softly.

“Send for Isabella. I will relinquish. Watch over my son.”

~~~...~~~

On January 27th, 1327, Edward II relinquished his crown to his son, Edward III, who was 15. Immediately, the Queen and her lover, The Earl of March, set themselves up as council to guide the young king. In fact, they set themselves up as rulers behind one they thought was too young to rule.

They were wrong.

The Lord of FitzGisborne was not asked for his aid or advice, which was fine with him. He was homesick and chaffing to bring his own sons home, but the powers that were not of this world informed him that he needed to linger. His part in this farce was not yet complete. William managed to have his servants attached to not only Isabella's staff, but to the Earl of March's, as well as both Edwards. The young maid in Isabella's entourage had a French mother, loaned from his cousin's household. She understood much of what most of the English servants did not. In addition, William had taken to establishing a rather monotonous, but easily obvious routine. It included meals at a specific time, long walks in the gardens with very few of his knights. Many times, he sent his knights away. It left him quiet time to muse and converse with what appeared to be himself, but wasn't.

By spring, Edward II was in the custody of Thomas de Berkeley and his brother-in-law, John Maltravers and was held at de Berkeley's castle in Gloucestershire. The Berkeleys had no love for the former king, as his favorite, Hugh the Younger, ransacked the castle the year before. Some of his supporters attempted to rescue him from Berkeley. It almost worked. As a result, the man was moved often over the summer, from castle to castle; each one draftier than the last. It worried his son and terrified the man before being returned to Berkeley in September.

Needless to say, William was not surprised when one chilly fall morning, while walking in the gardens, he was joined by the king.

“Lord William, fancy running into you here.” The boy was breathless, obviously walked hard to catch up with the Lord of Gisborne. He turned to the guard shadowing him. “I am thirsty and I am sure Lord William is as well. Please hie to the kitchens and return with a goblet of warmed cider for both of us.”

“But Sire-”

“Tell you what,” Edward's smile became larger, “grab a goblet for yourself as well. I am safe with Lord William.” The guard took a long, unsavory look at The Black Knight, before nodding and turning back to the castle. Once he was out of earshot, Edward grimaced. “That man is particularly dense and suspicious.”

“That is what he is paid and charged to do, sire.” William clasped both hands behind his back. “I suspect your guard will send someone out to cover for him or better yet, send a servant in his stead to retrieve our cider, thank you, it is cold out. What is on your mind? Hurry before he returns.”

Edward looked over his should. “I overheard That Man and Mother speaking.”

Joy. Love talk this man-child did not need to overhear...

“They were talking about putting things in Father's food to weaken him. I fear they plan to have him killed before winter.”

William stopped in this tracks, staring straight ahead. “How urgent did they sound?”

Edward shook his head. “Planning. I do not think...”

Hmmm. Thomas owes me a favor. Now might be the time to call it in.

“Sir William? Did you hear me?” The young king was tugging at William's tunic. “I said I do not think they will wait long.”

William turned to face the young king and saw the guard heading quickly back to the twosome, a steaming goblet in each hand.

“You promised, Sir William! You promised to do my bidding!”

“That I did, Sire.” One side of the man's mouth quirked. “Your guard is returning. Settle yourself.” This was whispered between clenched teeth. “Berkeley Castle? Trust me.” He allowed himself to look at the king. “I will do my best, sire. I will do my best not to allow your father to die. Say nothing, until you hear from me... ah,” his voice raised, “you are correct! The garden does seem to be in the throes of early fall colors. His Majesty's reign will be blessed indeed.”

~~~...~~~

Late in the evening, the young maid assigned to Isabella's staff, sneaked into William's bedchambers and rousted him awake.

“Jesu, Natalie!” William's French was just as good as his cousin's and he scrambled to pull his quilts over his waist. “I am a debauched old lecher! You shouldn't be here!”

“If you are a lecher, I am a whore!” The girl hissed in a whispered voice. “And I am no whore!” She reached behind her to the chair, pulled William's leggings from the arm and threw them on the bed. She turned her back to him and continued. “I overheard the Earl of March. I do not know if the Queen has a hand in it-”

William was struggling into his breeches. “Hand in wot?”

“They are going to kill the king - the king's father. Edward II.”

“Yes, I know.” William tied the laces and stood up. “Turn around! Light a lamp!”

Natalie did as she was bid and looked the earl in the eye. “They are moving the King's father to a drafty prison cell in the bowels of Berkeley castle. They've told the king his father is unwell and they hope the air will help him.” The lamp blazed to life.

This was happening faster than William or the king expected. “Shite! The cellars will only make him sicker!”

“Berkeley will kill him, sir.”

“As we know, that is the plan!” William began to tap his lip. “Let me think.” Clicking his tongue behind his teeth, he whispered to the girl, “Find Timon de Glasson and have him wake my two main knights, Richard de Glasson and Simon ette Forde. Send them to me and then hie back to your cot.” He watched as the girl left.

Within ten minutes, all three men were in his rooms, dressed, unshaved. None of them got any more sleep.

~~~...~~~

The next morning, Roger Mortimer, sidled up to William. “Walk with me in the gardens as soon as you've broken your fast.”

It was an order, if William ever heard one and it irritated him. Roger might be the Earl of March and the queen's lover, but he did not outrank the Earl of Locksley and Gisborne. Still, he smiled falsely and a quarter of an hour later, went to the gardens to walk.

“You saved me from the dungeon.”

William shrugged.

“I have a hunch you were Edward's personal knight.”

“Your hunch is a drunk.”

Roger continued on as if William had said nothing. “I have a job for you. Edward is currently incarcerated at Berkeley. You are to go there and kill him.”

William stopped in his tracks. “I do not answer to you.”

Roger turned with a sickening smile. “I wonder how many men you've killed for Edward? Hmmm? I'm sure if word got out that many of England's loved ones weren't killed in fights or unfortunate accidents, but instead were killed by Edward's Black Knight, you would be as beloved as Hugh the Younger.” He leaned over into William's face. “Kill him. The Queen would be pleased if he were physically tortured in some way.”

“She would or you would?”

Roger returned to his leisurely stroll. “Does it matter?”

William never moved, stayed put where he stood. “And what proof do I have that if I do this foul deed, you won't tell anyone of your vile suspicions?”

An evil laugh rose from the man as he walked away. “You have none. You'll just have to trust me.”

~~~...~~~

“M'Lord, that man stinks to high heaven.”

William stared straight ahead. “I know. Keep moving forward.”

The horses moved forward, all sniffing the air as if something unpleasant followed them, which it did,.

William and his entourage had been on the road several days, trying hard to get to Berkeley Castle. William informed court that he was going home for a few weeks and then heading to France to retrieve his sons. Isabella and Roger Mortimer were happy to send him on his way. Young Edward, on the other hand, was suspicious and William quietly told him to not worry about anything until he heard from him, personally.

He also told him to watch his back around the Earl of March.

“He has threatened you, has he not?”

William was stoic. “Do not trust anyone, sire.”

“I am King,” the boy stated emphatically. “I will put a stop to this-”

“Sire, that man is your mother's lover and you are not of age. They are surrounded by those who support their leadership in your stead. You must bide your time. You have no idea who is loyal to you and who is not.”

“You are loyal to me. You swore to me!”

“And I am leaving to take your father to a safe place. Heed my words. Do not believe anything you hear, until you have heard from me!”

The conversation still rang in his ears, along with the King's facial expression.

“I know why he is with us, but damn, I wish you would have bathed him first!”

“Do you wish to bathe him?”

Timon snarled. “Fek no! But I have first watch with him tonight!”

The party moved on. Soon, they arrived at a clearing close to Berkeley. As his men dismounted, William stayed on his horse.

“I am going to the castle. Stay here until I come for you. Make sure,” he pointed to their prisoner, “that one stays drunk and does not get away.”

At the mention of his presence, the man in the long, filthy cloak threw his head up. “I-um ah verrrrrrrrrrry im-portant person!” An accusatory finger was thrown up. “Aye nooooooooe tuh king, even!”

William sniffed, held his breath. “Yes, I am sure you do!” He turned to Timon. “Build the fire high and bright. Let no one sneak close,” he nodded to his prisoner, “or too far.”

~~~...~~~


September 15

The fire was blazing high in the fireplace of small study Thomas, Lord of Berkeley and William, Lord of Gisborne sat in front of, both enjoying the heat. Thomas watched as William poured wine from a bottle he brought with him and waited until both goblets were dispensed. It wasn't until William took a long drag from the chalice and sighed in contentment before Thomas would relax to enjoy his.

“You are not paying me a social visit, William.”

William's shoulders slumped in mock dejection. “You wound me, Thomas. We are old friends.”

“Old friends, indeed!” Thomas said with a smile. “I still limp from the beating you gave me on Lord Lindley's practice field when we were boys.”

William's eyes never left the depths of his goblet. “Old friends, aye. I could have killed you.”

Thomas erupted in a roar of laughter. “Yes, we are old friends,” Thomas saluted him with his goblet. “And I know you. You wish a favor.”

William's eyebrows quirked up. “I wish for you to take your family and closest retainers to neighboring Lindley for the weekend.” He buried his nose in the chalice, his voice now echoing eerily from the depths. “It's just a small thing, really.”

“I have a royal guest,” Thomas hissed softly. “I cannot leave him.”

“I will watch him. You need not worry.”

Thomas rose from his seat. “Dammit man! He's escaped once! I-”

“You owe me a favor. I am calling it in.”

Thomas fell back with a very audible plop. “This is bigger than any favor I owe you!”

William's nose was still in his drink. “I warned you when Edward wished your son dead due to insults to Piers. How is he, by the way?” Thomas said nothing and William continued. “I also warned you before Hugh the Younger came, looking for anything. I covered for you and gave you an alibi when you caused a small disturbance at that inn north of London.” William's eyes rose darkly over the chalice. “I know you were not bedding a wench, as you and I claimed.”

“Damn your eyes!”

“Oh, more of me is damned than just my eyes.” William's voice was almost drowned out by the fires. “I loaned you a large sum of money to repair what Hugh damaged-”

“I thought we'd discussed my granddaughter's hand to your youngest to repay that debt!”

William's grin was mirthless. “Ask Hugh the Younger's widow how it feels to be bartered in such a way.”

It was quiet for a time, William refilling both goblets twice more.

“Please promise me you will not put him back on the throne.”

“There are barons who wish him dead. Safe to say, everyone in England wishes him dead. His son, the king, does not. Trust my word, he is going far overseas and will ne'er be heard from again.”

“There has to be a body, William.”

“There will be a body.” The silence again was prolonged.

“Well?”

William sighed. “I have in my possession, a drunkard who is a vile criminal, a pedophile and murderer of very young girls, who bears more than a passing resemblance to our former monarch.” He took another drink. “Although, it would behoove us if he probably lay dead a few days before you realize he's deceased.”

Thomas cringed. “I suppose you have guards who will ensure this exchange will happen quietly?” William nodded into his goblet. “You know, if I'm here when you do this... thing, people are more likely to believe it and not ask questions.”

William's smile was positively evil. “I was so very much hoping you would not only come to that conclusion, but suggest it.”

~~~...~~~

James FitzRonan had never eaten this well in his life. He was in a castle; he knew that much, saw it even late in the evening just as the sun set on the horizon. He was brought to a warm room, food the amounts he'd never seen already piled high on a platter. He'd stuffed himself, no need for a knife or manners. He didn't see the looks of disgust on the faces of the men guarding him. They simply refilled his platter, his mug.

Speaking of his mug, while the thing was made of clay, the wine they put in was the finest he'd ever drank. Why, he didn't think the king drank as fine a vintage!

For not the first time, he ran greasy hands down the front of his robe. It was velvet, cleaner than anything he recalled wearing, although truth be told, it wasn't as clean as it had been when it was first given to him.

James bore a serious resemblance to the former King Edward, something he'd used to his advantage for some years. He also had a disgusting weakness for young flesh.

Horribly young flesh.

For years, he had used this to his advantage. It never occurred to the poor to ask why the king was dressed as shabbily as he was and why he was so interested in their young children. He made sure to hie as far from town as he could when his fun was done.

Life was good.

Until he passed out drunk before he could finish off the little whore he'd found playing by the side of the road. Somehow, she managed to get into town and tell her father what the mean man had done to her.

And her father was the town blacksmith.

He considered himself lucky that the man only beat him senseless. He considered himself lucky that the shire sheriff was a man of law and insisted he be taken to London for trial. He'd hoped he'd be forgotten in the jail until he could come up with a plan to get out. His money was hidden, he'd figure a way to sneak back to the hamlet in the dead of night to retrieve it and figure out a way to make that blacksmith and his whore daughter pay for what they had done.

It didn't matter the girl was five. They're all whores.

It seemed his plan had bore fruit! At some point while waiting in jail, the old king had been deposed. No one came looking for James until three days before, when a well-dressed dark knight plucked him from the bowels of the Tower and told him his fine was paid and he had a job for him that would pay much gold!

James hoped it was enough for him to go north or better yet, over the channel. Start fresh. France and the Holy Roman Empire were so much bigger than England, or so he'd heard.

He was given a jug of high spirits and put on a horse. The rest was vague until one of the knights dunked him in a cold stream and threw him a bar of soap, with gruff orders to clean up.

So after a cold bath, new clothes and a hair and beard trimming, James was helped back on his horse and taken into a rather large castle, where strangely enough, no one seemed to be standing guard, or passing through the halls. There was no noise, save the creaking of the gates.

But it didn't matter, because he was soon set at a fine table, with food and wine the likes he'd never eaten and drunk. The knight who'd bailed him out of the London jail stood over him, all in black, the shadow obscuring his face. Another man, dressed in fine clothes stood next to him, treating the knight as if he was an equal.

“By my breath, William, you might pull this off. He's a bit fleshy, but aye-”

James belched loudly and motioned with his earthern goblet. “Wot'sa job ye've got fer me?”

The knight smiled and had James been sober or watching closely, he'd have seen the smile did not reach the man's eyes. William reached for the goblet and refilled it. “Oh, have another glass and we'll discuss the job.”

James grabbed the goblet, sloshing wine over the cuff of his tunic. “Jist s'long asyew pa-ay-ay-”

His eyes rolled in the back of his head and his head hit the table.

William now rolled his eyes. Grabbing the man by the head of the hair, he yanked his head back and slapped him a few times. James didn't budge. “Jesu, I thought he'd never pass out.”

Thomas kept his distance, arms crossed. “Must the wine go to waste?”

“Trust me, you do not wish to drink it.” William stooped down and slinging contents of the mug into the fire, he then picked up the bottle. Making a moue, he poured the contents in the fire as well, causing the flames to hiss and dance.

“How bad is this going to be?” Thomas whispered. “I'd rather not witness it-”

“Growing soft?” William shook his head sorrowfully. “No, I wish to ensure your silence. Grab his other arm.”

Thomas was at William's side in a flash. “Trust me, I would never wish to tell anyone, on the pain of death, that I aided you in helping Edward escape.”

“Hopefully, it won't come to that. Grab his other arm. Simon, go and tell Edward to stay quiet and prepare to leave.” Nodding his acceptance, the knight headed down the stairs.

James was heavier than he looked and it took several minutes to drag him to the top of the rock stairs that led down into the dungeon.

“Now what?”

William shook his head. Surely, the man was not this stupid. “Heave!” And with that, he shoved the dead weight of James down the stairs. The sound of his head could be heard echoing as it bounced against the rock several times, before Simon called up that he'd reached the bottom. “Is he dead?”

There was the sound of shuffling. “No.”

William grabbed another bottle of wine – this one apparently not drugged. He uncorked it and took a swig from the bottle, as he marched down the stairs. “Come, Thomas! Help me lug this poor excuse for a human back up the stairs.”

“No need!” By the time William and Thomas reached the bottom, Simon was down on bended knee next to the criminal, his fingers on his throat. “He's dead now.”

With his free hand, William grabbed the poker from the fire in the brazier in the middle of the room. Putting the pointed end into the coals, he waited until it turned flame-hot. Pulling it from the fire, he nudged the dead man with the toe of his boot, before poking him about his face with the poker, burning the skin and singeing his hair. With a nodded order to his knight, Simon lifted the now filthy and ruined robe, exposing pasty, flabby flesh. Quickly putting the poker back in the fire to reheat it, he then prodded him about his abdomen. “Damn, I wish he were alive for this.”

“He would deserve it, my lord.” Simon was matter-of-fact. “I would have done wot they did to Hugh the Younger, had he tried his ways with my daughter.”

William continued to prod now about the buttocks of the dead man, using as much of the heat as possible and ignoring the stench of singed flesh. “How is your daughter?” He decided the body had withstood enough violence and set the poker back in its place in the rack.

“An inquisitive, independent miss.” Simon pulled the robe down over the singed and ruined flesh. “I have not the heart to beat it out of her.”

William made a comical snarl and shook his head. “I would not. Some men enjoy that in a female.”

Genevieve, how I miss you.

“William! William!” Edward could be heard through the locked cell door. “Is that you?”

Simon stood and raised an eyebrow. William motioned to the man's sword and nodded his head. It took a moment to unlock and open the door.

“William? Will-wot? Who are you? Why do you... William!” Edward was backed out of the cell, hands up.

“Against the wall, Edward,” William murmured. “Simon, keep him there. Thomas, help me.”

Between the two lords, they managed to get the dead weight of James up on the cot and turned away from the door. William grimaced at the filth in the chamber, the obvious rat droppings and the thread-bare blanket on the mildew-infested cot. “Really, Thomas. The man was a king. Was this the best you could do for him? No wonder the man escaped once. Even I would have aided him.”

“You are aiding him now.”

“No, we are following the orders of the king.” With that retort, he flung the blanket over the body. “You will want him to rest here a few days, maybe even a week, if you can stand the stench, before you discover him and put him in a coffin.”

“I am thinking I'll put him in a coffin the moment one is built, nail it shut and not tell anyone for week!”

“Or two.” The two men turned to leave the cell. “Put a leech or two in with him, or better yet, a rat. The harder he will be to identify, the better.” Finally, he stood before the former king. Strangely, it was not difficult to refer to the man as 'sire' or 'my lord'. “Edward.”

“You did it! You have come to rescue me, I knew you would! I knew my wolf would come!” Edward clasped the much taller man by the arms like a long, lost comrade. “And Thomas is in on it as well. He could have fooled me-”

“I need your signet, Edward.”

“I have it,” Thomas interjected.

“Go put it on the body.” William nodded over his shoulder. If anyone thinks to look, hopefully, he'll be far gone and the ring will be enough.” He felt himself being shaken. Edward looked none to pleased to be ignored.

“My signet? It is my royal seal. Surely you mean to-”

“You will shut it.”

Edward's jaw flapped twice before continuing. “You did not speak to me, your king, in tha-”

“You are not my king and I do not come to rescue you out of any loyalty to you.”

“Then... who?”

Plain traveling clothes were shoved in Edward's hands. “I am the king's man.”

Edward held on to the clothing without looking at them. “Yes, you are my-”

“You are not listening. I am the king's man. Edward III, your son, bid me to ensure your life as many wish to end it. Both Hughs' deaths did not appease them long. Roger Mortimer wants you dead, as do many nobles, and your wife wishes your heart on a platter. They are calling her The She-Wolf of France. Your life is forfeit here and it seems the only person on English soil who wishes you long life, is your son, the king, who has very little sway at this time.” William stopped, waiting for that speech to sink in to the former sovereign's mind. “Believe me, if you attempt to escape during our long journey, I will kill you myself. I will throw you over the bow of the ship and the only body that will be found is the one of that pustule currently wearing your clothes. As far as England is concerned, you are dead. You live on the graces of your son and on the four,” he nodded to his companions, “of us. Do not make the mistake of thinking you have friends. You do not. They are all dead.”

Edward began to shake. “Where are you taking me?”

William grinned. “Oh, brighten up, Ned. I'm going to France to retrieve my sons and bring them home. I suggest if you behave well, my cousin, who is elderly and lonely, will be happy to make you his companion.” With that William turned away from the former monarch. “You will love my little island.” His smile grew larger. “We have one stop to make before we take you to the coast and begin our journey.”

That stop was Nottingham, where the young king waited at Kirksley.

~~~...~~~

Some weeks later, a ship arrived at Aigues-Mortes, where William disembarked, along with several of his retainers and a hooded monk. He was met on the dock by his cousin, Guillaume de FitzGisbourne, Duke of Aigues-Mortes, who didn't look near as old or decrepit as William told his guest.

“Guillaume!” William embraced his shorter but more powerfully built cousin warmly. “Where are my sons? Have they been horrid?”

“They have been FitzGisbornes!” Guillaume pounded William on the back. “They are boys, something I have never had! Into everything, pestering my staff, especially the cook, and young Giselle.” He leaned over to whisper in William's ear. “I like to pester young Giselle, as well!” he chortled. The man turned and greeted William's retainers, who he obviously knew. He then took in the hooded monk. “Who have we here?” He dropped his voice. “You have need to travel with clergy?” William was silent. “I have no need of any member of the church in my household.”

“Trust me, he is not a member of the clergy. I have a favor to ask.”

At that moment, Hugh and Fulks FitzGisborne tore from the house, their father in their sights.

~~~...~~~

“Your sons have been a joy and I did not mind keeping them safe from harm for these past years, but by Mon Dieu, William, you try a man's patience.” Guillaume raised his chalice and stared into the depths. It was going on midnight, the chateau was quiet. The servants and William's boys were abed, as well as William's knights and Edward.

“I know I am asking a great deal, but my only alternative is to dress him as a nun and hide him in a nunnery. Truth is, I fear for the nuns!”

“Surely,” Guillaume mumbled, “there are other alternatives.”

“Kill him.” William raised his own goblet and drank.

“If the rumors I've heard are true, he deserves to die.” He shook his head and sighed loudly. “I don't know, William. It is a tight-rope I'm walking with the King of France and the Catholic Church looking over my shoulder. They cast covetous eyes on what is England's.”

“Which is why you've become Frenchified?” William drained his chalice and refilled it, offering the bottle to his cousin, which the man took gratefully. Guillaume looked more like William's brother than several times removed cousin, the family resemblance strong in the man's features.

“If they forget that I am of English stock and think I am French to the bone,” the man shuddered, “then the better for me and mine.”

“Speaking of, how is your daughter?” William was staring into the fire.

“Married and pregnant, thank the Lord, may she have a healthy boy and a safe delivery.” Guillaume toasted the ceiling. “The man is a baron, well-seated with deep French roots, in good standing with the French Crown and Catholic Church, and no family. We are blessed.”

William toasted their happiness with him, making a mental note to send one his spies on a fact-finding mission about his cousin's husband's material wealth.

“William,” Guillaume's voice pierced the silence, “I do not know if I can do this.”

“He's a distant relative, half mad from the senseless killing in the Holy Land.”

A chuckle rose in the smokey room. “You have this all figured out.”

“The current King of England is of an age with Fulks. Think on that for just a moment.” William waited a moment before continuing on. “He is my liege lord and my king. I made him a promise, a promise that I would ensure that idiot dressed in a monk's robes would live.”

William could sense the man shaking his head and squeezing his eyes. “How much of a fight did he put up when you shaved his head into a tonsure?”

William drained his goblet. “No fight at all. He was passed out drunk. Speaking of passed out drunk,” he set the chalice down on the table and stood up, “I will be, if I drink much more and I would like to have all of my facilities when I go fishing with my sons tomorrow.”

Guillaume finished his own drink. “The sun will be quite bright. It always is.” He got up and stretched. “I should go find Giselle, but I warrant she is warming Hugh's bed.” He shrugged. “I do not blame her. He has more stamina than I do and she will be back in my bed when you leave with your boys. You are,” his voice hardened just a bit, “taking them with you, are you not?”

“The Despsenser's are dead. There is no reason for me to keep them hidden and safe.” If the knowledge that William's eldest was engaging in carnal pursuits bothered the Lord of FitzGisborne, he didn't show it. “I hope you can tolerate all of us for a week or two.”

His host clapped him on the back as he walked by. “I can more than tolerate family. Your Ned, on the other hand...” his voice died down as he went through the door, “you will owe me much for this.”

~~~...~~~

Two weeks later, trunks, items that were collected during their stay, were loaded onto the hardy sailing vessel. William was looking at the ship in distaste, while his sons said goodbye to friends made in France.

“You are leaving me here?”

“Yes, Ned.”

“My name is Edward.”

“If you wish to live,” William never took his eyes off the boat, “You will answer to Ned, unless you have come up with a more religious name. I would suggest you stick to 'Ned'.”

William could feel the ire rolling from his former king. “I should not have to play along with this.” The man drew up, his voice, imperious. “When you leave-”

William stopped him before he could get wound up. “All of the servants and villeins have been told you are half mad and have delusions that you are other people. If you claim you are king, you will get nothing more than looks of pity and if you are truly obnoxious, my cousin will kill you.” He turned and faced the man. “It is your choice. The wine is superb and weather is divine. There are nubile women who will cater to you, or strapping young men, if that is what you prefer. You will eat well and Guillaume's library is extensive. The fishing is heavenly. Or you can be stupid, make the same mistakes that got at least three of your favorites killed and painfully at that, and you will share their fate.” He pointed down the river. “Not far from here, is the Great Sea. Trust me, if you are thrown into it in a weighted sack, no one will ever know.”

Edward was finally quiet.

“You will watch over my son?”

William inwardly groaned. They had gone over this. “Aye. As best I can. If you have a missive-”

A rolled piece of hide found its way into his hand. “Always. My other children-”

“Should never know. Not unless Edward tells them. That will be his choice.” William took hold of the scroll and tucked it into his vest. Somewhere on this voyage, it would have to find a safer place. One of the trunks in his cabin had a false bottom. Sometime tonight, it would find its way into it.

Edward sighed. “There was a time you did my bidding and served me.”

William's laugh was rusty and crass. “I never did your bidding.” He turned and looked at the man for the final time. “My Lord is much higher placed.”

Edward drew up in horror. “There is only one who is higher than the King.”

“That is correct. You best remember that.” And with those final words, William stepped away from the former king of England and stepped on the gangplank, to board the ship home.

Tbc

A/N – It is stated that on September 23rd, Edward III was informed his father died the evening of September 21st. Most historians believe that Edward was murdered on the orders of Roger Mortimer. It should be noted that Thomas Berkeley is the brother-in-law of Roger Mortimer. His body was seen by several local leaders and embalmed at Berkeley. There seems to have been an issue with his burial; basically other abbeys refused or had been forbidden to take his body. Three months after his death, he was buried by the high altar at Gloucester, which was close to Berkeley.

By the 1330's, rumors surrounding the former king's death began to circulate. One of the more popular rumors was that he had been killed via insertion of a red-hot poker into his anus.

Another set of theories speculate that he did not die in 1327. According to the Fischi Letter, sent to Edward III, there was a claim that Edward escaped Berkeley Castle with the help of a servant and retired to become a hermit in the Holy Roman Empire. This letter has been linked to an account of Edward III meeting William the Welshman who claimed to be Edward II.

Interestingly enough, some parts of the letter's content are considered accurate by historians. Whether it is or isn't, I wouldn't know. I'm just a music teacher.

Chapter Text

Aside From Heaven



Chapter 4G



Got money, I'll do anything for you


London 1329

“Sire.”

Edward III turned. He had grown several inches since assuming the throne and was starting to fill out into the man he would someday be. He was sprouting a beard. “Sir William. What news of the north?”

William went to one knee. “Not good. Robert I of Scotland has died.”

“That makes his son David king.”

“And your sister Joan, Queen of Scotland.” Edward openly shuddered as his mother's lover, Roger Mortimer walked into the room, unannounced and unwelcome. “This is good news, not bad.” He stood over a still kneeling William.

“Joan is only eight,” Edward reminded him.

“And like you,” Roger reminded the king snidely, “she and David have excellent advisers. Something,” he whacked William in the back of the head with the flat of his hand, “this lowly servant should remember.” He turned away from them, not seeing William jump up.

Edward stepped back, giving William room to stand. “Sir William serves me. It would go well for you to remember that.”

Roger turned, to find his throat in a vice grip that Hugh the Younger would have been familiar with. “It would also go well for you,” William whispered, “to remember that I am not beneath you.”

Roger was on his tiptoes. “Once a dog, always a dog.” He pulled himself from William's grip and yanked his tunic down. “Sire, you should be careful who you associate with.”

“So should my mother.”

The retort was unexpected and Roger drew up in surprise. Bowing, he headed towards the door. Edward followed him and motioned to his guard. “From now on, that man is not allowed access to my rooms or my person.” He waited for the man to acknowledge the command and shut the door before turning back to his guest. “How much longer must I put up with him? My mother is out of control and he openly rules in my stead as if he were king!”

“Patience, sire. While he is greedy, he is not as cruel as Hugh the Younger. Returning the barons stolen lands was a wise move on his part, but your nobles will tire of him and his ways soon enough, as will you.”

“I am already tired of him!”

Edward found a goblet pressed into his hands. “Drink. It will soothe you.” William waited until his young king drained the chalice – not too quickly.

“Joan is too young to be queen.”

William shrugged. “And unbeknownst to Roger, David's two most able lieutenants are ill. They will not survive long. Certainly not long enough until David reaches his majority.”

This was a surprise to Edward. “The Black Douglas? The Earl of Moray? Mortally ill? Both?”

“Aye. Scotland is in disarray.” Nitpicking thoughts were hard to plant and The Black Knight was getting ready to plant one. “I am equally concerned with the displaced Englishmen who lost property in the south of Scotland when the treaty with France was signed in your name.”

“I am left in the dark in regards of the running of my kingdom.” Edward was staring into his cup. “Would you be so kind to look into that for me?”

“Certainly sire. Your wish is my duty. Many would like to take back what is England's.” He suddenly changed the subject. “Speaking of young queens,” this was said with a smile. “How is married life?”

Ah, now Edward lit up. “I am most pleased! You know,” he whispered, although no one would hear anyway, “court loves Phillipa as much as I. She has chosen her ladies from the higher families from England. She brought none with her. If you had a daughter, no doubt, she would be here in Phillipa's entourage!”

He didn't notice William's face growing dark. “Yes, I am sure.”

Edward was continuing on, a slightly surly note creeping into his tone. “I would like to schedule her coronation as queen, but mother does not wish to give up her title.”

“It will come soon, I promise. By your leave,” William turned to head to the door.

“Sir William?”

William well knew this tone of voice from his young king. “Remind me why France forced England to give land to the Scots.”

William scrunched his nose. “Scotland and France are allies and England was forced to revert to old borders established during Alexander's reign almost 75 years ago. They have an old alliance.”

Edward was thinking. William knew that Edward and his younger brother John loved the warring game. “Ah. The Auld Alliance. Neither are our friend, regardless of who their king is married to and who their sister is.” Edward was openly referring to the fact his sister was now Queen of Scotland and his mother's brother was King of France. Despite two advantageous marriages, England was still in a precarious position.

“I would suspect, my lord, that right this moment, Scotland's king has as much power as England's.”

“Which is none.” The young man turned his back on his favorite earl and leisurely strolled away, hands behind his back. “I must prioritize certain things.” He turned with a finger up. “Rally the barons to me. Soon, I have need to oust Roger and set my mother down.”

“You would do her a kindness and simply retire her to one of her castles.” William exhaled. “Sire, she simply wanted to be lov-”

“She will not go quietly,” Edward interrupted. It was obvious that his mind was elsewhere and not listening to his most loyal adviser. “Until Roger is silenced for good.”

“True.” William kicked himself. Edward might be compassionate; then again, he might not be.

It was quiet for a few more minutes. “This... issue... with Scotland worries me.”

William nodded. His little bug planted well. “Once you have secured the throne, your majesty can focus on that problem.”

“You will have the information I need?”

“Of course, sire.”

With that, Edward waved the Wolf of Gisborne away, leaving the man to do what he did best.

~~~...~~~

Edward and Phillipa's first child was born in June of 1330. The queen was nine days shy of her 16th birthday. The king was not yet 18. England rejoiced as the line of the monarchy was secure. They named their first son Edward and in later years, he became known as The Black Prince.

Four months later, while Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France visited Nottingham Castle, Edward summoned Parliament to Nottingham. They seized both Roger and Isabella, sending the Earl of March to the Tower and Isabella to Berkhamsted.

 photo Munro-Essay-1200_zps5frvu9jn.jpg

Munro Essay

~~~...~~~

November, 1330

“This cell looks familiar.”

“It should. I made sure you got the same one.”

Roger looked around, with a sneer on his face. “If you're going to aid me in escaping this time, can you please find something other way than the privy chute?” He shuddered. “I can still smell the shite in my nightmares.”

“No. I am here to inform you of your sentence.”

Roger watched as William glided through the shadows, much like a ghost. “Sentence,” he scoffed. “There has been no trial.”

“There won't be one,” William whispered. “The King has passed judgment and your sentence pronounced. Don't,” he raised a finger to keep Roger from interrupting, “think the barons or I will lift a finger to save you. Edward is king. His word is law and the barons no longer see you or Isabella as Regent.” It was silent as William watched as slow realization stole across the other man's features. “The king has declared you guilty of assuming royal power and unlawfully acting as England's de facto ruler. Your titles and lands are forfeit-”

“NO! My wife and childre-”

“You should have thought of them before you took up with the Queen,” William glared. “Your titles and lands are forfeit. You are to be executed forthright in Tyburn.”

“Tyburn,” the man whispered. “A traitor's death.” Roger inhaled. “What of Isabella?”

William smiled. “Edward loves his mother.” Like he loves his father. “She is to be retired to Castle Rising in Norfolk, to live out her days.”

“So,” Roger turned and wandered to a corner. “This is it. What did I do to anger Edward so badly?”

William rolled his eyes. “For starters, you are as ambitious as Hugh the Elder, greedy as fek, and acted as if you were king. It was one thing to restore what was stolen by the Despensers and Edward II, but executing Edmund of Woodstock-”

“He conspired against the king!”

“No, he conspired against you!” William pushed himself from the wall and stepped into the low light. “For God's sake, Edmund, while unpopular, was the king's uncle! It was one thing to jail him for conspiring to unseat you, but you pardoned a murderer in exchange for him to behead the man! Royalty, Roger! A lowly murderer was paid and pardoned in exchange to execute royalty whose only so-called crime was to attempt to replace you! Did you not think Edward would take revenge? He hates you! Has always hated you! How long did you think he would allow you to rule from his mother's bed?” William waited while this sank in. “Do you wish to send any message to your wife or your children? Any final words?” A scroll of paper, quill, and a small clay jar of ink materialized on the loan table in the room. “I will wait.”

Roger sat at the table, suddenly a very small, frail man, one who knew death waited for him. In fact, Douma stood by the window, her wings twitching and her eyes ever rolling. Stars, comets shot through the dark blue irises, much like a child's kaleidoscope and unseen by Roger. For some time the only sound was the scratching of the quill against the parchment. William worked hard to look anywhere except the condemned man or the angel. The angel was having no part of it.

Gui! Lui dire! Apaiser son esprit!

William rolled his eyes yet again, much to the disgust of the Angel of Death.

Si votre pain vos yeux plus loin en arrière, vous trouverez sans doute votre cerveau!

This caused William to bark in laughter, much to the disgust of the prisoner seated before him.

“Easy for you to laugh.”

“Trust me, I am not laughing at you.” Douma's eyes were turning orange, sparks flying about. He snarled at her like a small, errant child. “Roger, I assure you your children and wife will be fine. I promise. At some point, when Edward has calmed down and settled, he will restore your titles and land to your heirs. He will forgive them and not blame them for your transgressions.”

Roger blew on the parchment, ensuring the ink was dry. He rolled it before touching it to his forehead. “Promise me Edward will not go after Joan or the children. They are innocent.”

William inhaled.

“Promise me they won't starve. Promise me they won't be left as poor relations.” With this plea, Roger stood and faced William nose to nose. “I know you. I know who you are. I know what you are. Your word is your bond. You have more influence over Edward than anyone. Promise me my family will survive this, that they will be educated as they deserve, that they will marry well, and will take their rightful place in the realm. Promise me no one will take what is Joan's or what rightfully belongs to my heirs!”

William's eyes narrowed. Telling the man that one day his heirs would retain what was stripped from the now former Earl of March was one thing. Promising to care for them was another. Twelve children! Feeding a brood that size would break half of England combined! That would be tantamount to taking responsibility for another estate! Harridston had been a struggle, still was a struggle...

Roger now grabbed him by his tunic. “Promise me! I cannot die peacefully-”

“Alright, alright!” William began to pry the man off of him. “I will do my best-”

“You will do it! Promise!”

William exhaled with disgust. “Yes. I will do it.”

~~~...~~~

“Why would she force me to promise that man I would care for his children?” William poured wine from the bottle into the chalice in the privacy of his apartment. “As if I have time-”

“It eased his mind.” Valoel seemed to glide as if on ice, which for all all William knew, she did. “He will go to his death at ease and it is true. Joan and the children will be fine. Give Edward time. He will see the pettiness of taking his ire of Roger out on his wife and children, who were innocent in this. 'Tis not their fault that Isabella truly loved a man who was not hers.”

William rolled his eyes at the mention of the Queen Dowager. Valoel threw her hands up. “Why do you do that? I swear, you are worse than a child!”

William sank his nose into his goblet. “You are an angel. Swearing should be beneath you.” He toasted her. “If it makes you feel better, Douma said if I rolled them far enough back, I would be able to find my brain!” He drained his goblet. “God's Truth, I simply wish to go home and have a quiet life from here on out.”

Valoel narrowed her eyes. Many times, she could see why Genevieve loved this man, understand it. Now was not one of those times. She leaned over him. “Give up that fantasy, Guy of Gisborne!” William's hand froze, realizing how angry he had made the angels that protected him. “Stay very still. Edward and his brother love warfare and England is getting ready to give them an abundance of it!”

~~~...~~~

In late November of 1330, Roger Mortimer was taken to Tyburn Field and hung for treason. In an act of leniency, Roger was not quartered or disemboweled. His body was left hanging in public for two days, a warning to all who would desire to usurp the king's rightful place.

Isabella, Dowager Queen of England was initially sent to Berkhamsted Castle and then held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until 1332, before being allowed to return to Castle Rising. She claimed Roger's body and had him interred at Greyfair's Church in Leicester. During this time, Isabella suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of her lover. Although required to surrender the majority of her lands, she retained several castles and her son, the king, allotted her a generous allowance. Although she was considered very wealthy, she quickly became deep in debt to local merchants.

Edward did not wish war with Scotland, as Scotland was friends with France. Angering one would have war on both sides of England and many feared England would squashed between the two. This delicate balancing act was destroyed in 1332, when Englishmen who lost land in a peace accord signed in Edward's name attacked Scotland in the Battle of Dupplin Moor and attempted to put Edward Balliol on the Throne of Scotland. While this battle failed, Edward rose up and with his sixteen year old brother John of Altham leading England's army, laid siege to Berwick. William Edward and his knights led the left flank, keeping the Scots on a narrow path and in the way of young John, who was proving to be a brilliant commander despite his youth. England defeated the Scots at the Battle of Hallidon Hill, and successfully installed Balliol as King of Scotland.

William sat his horse on a victorious battlefield.

And for the first time in many years, England roared.

~~~...~~~

Late Fall, 1333

When it was over, William would blame himself.

Had he been paying attention, alert. He wasn't doing either. He was exhausted. He was 41 years and God's truth, he hadn't felt this old when he died as Roland! Spying wore him out, Douma informed him his days as an assassin were not over. The king had asked for nothing of that sort and he hoped his father never said anything. The Wolf of Gisborne had delivered several missives to the king from his father and he prayed the young man burned them after reading them. Or hide them where they would never be found.

Like beneath the privy.

Queen Dowager Isabella's fits of extreme grief were becoming fewer and fewer. Her heartache for the loss of her lover had been unprecedented. For a time, William considered suggesting the king send his mother to Ripley's. Isabella and Mellisande could stay in the same cottage and perhaps gouge each other's eyes out, putting both women out of their misery. Valoel smacked him in the head for that and it wasn't a nice, friendly smack. So he kept his mouth shut.

William and several of his men were returning from the coast. Edward commanded that William spend several days shadowing David and Joan of Scotland. They were being sent to France for safe-keeping, the nobility of Scotland hoping for a better time to put their own back on the throne and Edward insisted they make it to France without incident. Even in their youth, William could tell the two did not get along very well. One of William's men had actually infiltrated the guards, making it easier to keep an eye on the couple. He reported the twosome hissed and snapped at each other like cats and he was glad to see them get on the boat, bound for France.

They were close to Locksley, had just entered Nottinghamshire, the woods and trees a welcome signpost that home was just a few hours away. The company was relaxed, chattering, not paying attention. William wasn't really paying attention. His mind was on the home he was building in Gisborne – on the land Guy's home was on when it was burnt to the ground. His eldest Hugh, was marrying finally to an Eastbrooke and Fulks now resided at his mother's estate, running it. Soon, William would need to find a wife for him, an heiress, one with no brothers. He was considering spending more time at the new Gisborne manse, allow his eldest and heir a bit of autonomy. It was close to being completed. Simon ette Forde, one of William's lead knights and spies, was complaining about his daughter; she was almost eighteen, still unmarried, absolutely refused to give it a second thought. William's sons considered her as a sister, although William have never seen the chit. According to Simon, the girl was comely-

“All fathers think their daughters are beautiful,” Richard de Glasson snorted. “Mine are all fairer than the fairest and are fabulous cooks!”

“Have you seen the girth of your eldest's husband?” William chimed in. “I would quite agree with your statement that she can cook. He can't sit a horse!”

There was good-natured laughter.

“Aye, Vivienne is comely and virtuous, but she is headstrong and independent! Every time I bring up marriage, she starts asking who will take care of me, who will cook and clean for me, who will manage my gar-”

There was a thwack, the sound of a loosed arrow and it embedded itself in Simon's throat, knocking him from his horse. Screams rang from the trees, the forest, and immediately, the path was impassable, both front and behind. The ambush infuriated William. He turned his warhorse and unsheathing his broadsword, began to hack at the thugs in the road. They were untrained, unkempt, and too soon in complete disarray. With their element of surprise gone, and the ambushers inept weapons skills obvious, they scattered, most of them fallen, dead beneath the skills of a trained army. As soon as the noise quietened, William was off his horse and kneeling next to Simon. The knight's breathing was labored; he tried to speak.

“Shhh. We need to find you a healer.”

“Noo. Too... too late.”

There was a flicker at the edge of William's vision. He looked up to see Douma standing by the trees. Her eyes were a sorrowful shade of deep brown, the irises rolling like mud.

“No. I forbid your death.”

Simon actually managed to smile. “My... daughter.” Somewhere, he found and gathered his last bit of strength, grasping William at the wrist. “Take care of her, my... my... lord. A good ma...”

“No!”

My lord.

William looked up. Simon's spirit stood next to Douma. He looked younger, at peace. My daughter. Vivienne. I name you guardian. I know you see me. Take care of her. She needs a good, firm, loving man. With that, Douma took him by the hand, turned, and the two faded in the mist.

William had seen death many times, more than his men knew, but this one was hard. Simon was like kin to him, although he only met the man's wife once – at his wedding – and never his daughter. Simon kept her sheltered, away from William's court, in one of the more secluded towns in William's shire. Clun, Several times, William joked of marrying the girl to his youngest son, but Simon always managed to side-step the suggestion.

A long wagon was found in the next town and Simon was laid on straw, his horse tied to the back. The rest of the journey was silent, painfully silent. None of his entourage headed to their own homes as they closed in on Simon's abode. At William's nod, Richard split off, heading to the small church in the dale, to retrieve the priest. A old woman saw the group as they trod slowly by. “Which way to Simon ette Forde's home?”

“Oh no oh no Vivienne will be-” In the midst of her wailings, she pointed to a moderately well-appointed home, the garden and grounds well tended.

“Gather the women. Any she will need.”

The lump in William's throat became larger. It was his duty to notify families of their loved ones deaths. It was not an easy task, he had done it, but never had he felt this horrid. Even his destrier's hooves seemed heavy as their neared the home. Simon wasn't just anyone, he was William's friend and William counted few as his friend. As they reached the edge of the property, the door flew open. The woman was young, petite and drying a plate with a cloth. “What? What is all the wailing? Who di-” As the word left her lips, she realized her father's horse was tied to the back of the wagon. “No!” She dropped the plate and the cloth, gathering her skirts and taking off in a run that would beat most young boys. She cut through the yard screaming. Climbing up into the back of the wagon, William was hit with a painful memory, a wretched sense of deja vu.

Her screaming reminded him of Marian, when her father died, was horribly murdered.

“Who did this? What happened?” She fell across the body, screaming and crying in a way that only women could. Finally she sat up on her knees and pushed her hair back. For the first time, William got a good look at her. His heart sank and he had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming out her name.

Genevieve!

~~~...~~~

Vivienne's entire world came to a complete stop for twenty two seconds when the wagon carrying her father's dead body pulled in front of their home.

On the twenty third second, her world unraveled, realization that her entire life was getting ready to change radically unless she did something drastic and soon.

On the twenty fifth second, she turned, ready to pay vengeance on the person who caused her beloved Papa's death. She lifted from her father's body, pushed her hair from her face, and with furious eyes began searching for someone who looked guilty. She found that man quickly enough.

He was tall and dark, clothed in black. He had a silver streak at his left temple and sat imperious on his horse, a huge evil ebony beast that looked as if it ate small children for breakfast. For a moment, something... fear?... horror?... flickered over his features. The only thing not dark about the man were his eyes. They were light, a shade of blue that reminded Vivienne of the stained glass in the chapel of Nottingham. With a blink, his face reverted to a schooled, cold mask. As he dismounted he began to speak.

“Vivienne ette Ford-”

She launched from the back of the wagon with a primeval scream only heard before in hell, shocking everyone, but mostly the man she rammed. He saw the attack coming and braced himself on his back foot. For one so petite, she rocked him as she struck, fists beating into his chest.

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“YOU! YOU! You did this! It's your fault, your fault, damn you, damn your eyes, he did everything you asked, never questioned, he... he... he...”

The priest arrived and moved to take her. William shook his head and enveloped her, pulling her into him, relishing the contact, the jolt of electricity he knew she had to feel. Her fists continued to hammer his chest, although not as sharply.

“My lady, mon petite, I am sorry, so sorry. Your father was brave, a brave man,” he whispered. “Now you need to be just as brave.”

“Tell me who did this! Tell me he lives so I may cut his wretched head from body!” This was muffled in William's chest, so he was the only one who heard it.

Truthfully, William didn't know who murdered her father. The band was rag-tag and unskilled. Only one escaped and a Gisborne tracker was following him, along with a knight. William pulled her closer, feeling her heat, her anger, her grief. “He is dead.”

“It was a painful death?”

William sagged. “Aye,” he whispered, “Most painful.”

Her crying continued for some time. William held her closer.

“My Lord,” the priest was standing next to him now. “What would you have us do?”

William's mind flew. “If their table will hold Sir Simon's body, make sure it is clear. Take his body there. Have the women sit with Lady Vivienne. As soon as I stable my horse and inform my household, I will return with my senior knights. We'll wash and dress the body. She should not-”

The priest was shaking his head.

“Hire gravediggers and a stonemason. I will pay.”

Vivienne slumped, William catching her. Much like a child, he lifted her and carried her into the home. Women were already there, heating water, lighting the fireplaces. One showed him to Vivienne's chambers and watched as he laid her on the bed. It was a cluttered room, many plants hanging from the rafters, flowers... colorful pieces of hanging glass... As soon as she was settled, he turned on his heel, stormed down the stairs. He passed Richard de Glasson on his way out. “Be here in two hours to bathe and dress him. We will arrange his burial and sit with his daughter.”

“And after that my lord?”

William turned into a growing storm. “Then I have to find her a husband.”

~~~...~~~

William did not return to Locksley. Rather, he tore down an old and now rarely used path, looking for an ancient, notched tree. He notched that tree every couple of years, making sure it was visible to him, even after a century. Notching it when Roland was young had been important to him as a youngster. He continued the tradition every few years. Finding it, he looked both ways and making sure he was not being followed, headed into the brush. He followed a trail only he could see, winding his way deeper in the forest. After a short time, he entered a bosky dell, complete with a small pond and waterfall. This was his place, had been his place since he was a Gisborne.

Since he was Guy.

He jumped from his horse, threw his cloak over the saddle and began to dig through his garments gathered around his throat. Finally, he found the chain, delicate silver, and as he yanked it from beneath his linen undertunic, he found the charm, the small crucifix tucked away and hidden.

“ANGEL! VALOEL! SHOW YOURSELF!”

Nothing.

“DAMN YOU! VALOEL!! SHOW YOURSELF!”

There was a mist, a rising inches from him. If the being breathed, he would have felt it on his cheek.

Douma, The Thousand Eyed Angel of Death, stood before him, close enough to take his life. There were few things on this earth that Lord William Edward FitzGisborne – formerly Sir Guy of Gisborne – was truly frightened of. Vivienne ette Ford was one. Douma was the other. In fury, he collapsed on the earth, his hands covering his head. “You worm. You dare challenge me, demand my presence to attend you like one of your churls?”

William's anger reasserted itself. “I did not call you!” He crawled backwards and jumped up, eyes blazing. “What a great joke you have played on me all of these years!”

“I find nothing funny, least of all, your spite.”

“My spite?” He thrust a finger towards Clun. “How long have the angels known that Genevieve sat beneath my nose for close to two decades? Did the Almighty plant her there a-purpose?” Douma opened her mouth to respond, but William interjected. “Her father, my friend, bid me to be her guardian and to find her a husband! I cannot! I love her and she knows it not! She doesn't know who I am! Who we are!”

“Douma, please. Allow me.” William felt an immediate sense of calm, despite the chaos in his heart and mind. “He is confused and hurt, as well he should be.”

Douma stepped forward, fury written on her angelic features. “Concrescat ut ante aedis illo pro tribunali et feres super mimo praeter Anael esset vastati!”

“If memory serves me correctly,” Val was calm in the eye of this storm, “this was your idea.”

“Who is Anael?”

Douma jerked her head sharply, eyes red with fire. “Men!” She turned on her heel and dissipated into mist over the pond.

“Who is Anael?”

Val relaxed a touch and smiled. “I forget you understand.”

William jerked away, walked towards the pond, where the last of angelic mist rose in the air. He stared into it. “I read and write Latin, remember? I speak it rather well. As I recall, she made the offer long ago in this very field. She asked me, I jumped.” He took a deep breath. “Valoel. Genevieve. She is here.”

“I know. I am sorry.”

“You are sorry. A sorry lot of angels, just my luck.” He jerked his hand, gesturing towards the now no longer existing angel dust. “I kill for her, you would think she would be a bit more grateful!”

“That arrangement was made so Edward and the Despensers would leave you and yours alone.” Valoel was calmness at its finest. William was anything but.

“And I still had to send my sons away! Edward owed me. He always owed me. I killed no one without Douma's say-so.”

“You saved many others. There are members of nobility who now owe you. Thomas of Berkley owed you.”

“And now a king who should be dead, lives on my crown.” Again, the feeling of peace and calm overtook the knight. He forced himself to stay rooted in the spot, facing away from his Guardian Angel. “Who is Anael?”

Persistent. Always persistent. “The Angel of Passionate Love. You and Genevieve are a pet project of hers.” Hands rested upon his shoulders. “Douma will get over her anger. She is not angry with you. She is angry for you.”

“You lie.”

Valoel was not upset with William's ire. “I am an angel, Guy of Gisborne. I cannot lie. She is angry for you.” She moved away, leaving William feeling suddenly cold and bereft. “We do not know where the souls are sent, where they arrive, when they arrive. When we discovered Genevieve was so close, we did everything to keep the two of you apart.” She turned and stepped away, looking into the changing trees. “Her father should have married her far away long ago. We have presented him with many opportunities. He took none.”

“And now, I must do it. I must give the woman I love, waiting lifetimes for, away to someone else! How many times must I cut my heart out in this life?” Obviously there was something interesting in the trees as now he was focusing on one ahead of him. “I cannot divorce or serve justice to Mellisande, so I can marry Vivienne myself. Besides, I am old and Mellisande would not understand why.”

“It would not be justice.”

“Not now.” The last few missives he had received from the Mother Superior had not been good. The boys had not visited their mother save once since their return from Aigues-Mortes. She had been wild, didn't know them. She called William a demon, Satan's Spawn. According to the Abbess, the woman William called 'wife' had not been lucid in some years. Over the years, William's hate for the woman had faded, changing into intense pity. “I could plead with Edward, the Church, to set her aside, but I will not give her cousin a foothold on any of Harridston. No excuse.”

“Fulks is doing well.”

William nodded. “He loves the place. It is his and his alone.”

Val continued to look about the autumn colors of the glade. “This is a special place for you. It has changed.”

“Aye.” William was drawing inward, his thoughts, conscience, churning. “I brought Genevieve here. She was the only one I brought here. I didn't even bring Alise here. I truly loved Alise.”

“Yes, you did. She softened many of your sharper edges.” William looked over his shoulder and glared. “She softened some of your sharper edges,” she amended.

William was back to staring down the trees. “I have never taken a mistress. I have remained true to my vows. Always.”

“That is commendable.”

“When Genevieve was taken from me, I did not lay with another woman. When I married Alise, I was faithful. I wouldn't consider another wife after her death. I have been faithful to Mellisande. No matter I have been told by my men and a chatelaine to take a mistress. I have not. Not even a wench for the night.”

Had he been looking, the pain on the angel's face would have been evident. “Guy, had you executed Mellisande, her death would have negatively impacted your sons. Fulks would never had seen his mother as she is; ill in the head and unstable. He would have come to the conclusion that you killed her simply to get rid of her, so you could have her lands, so you could marry someone else. You would have married someone else and your sons and eventually you would have hated her. He would have resented you. Edward would have given Mellisande's cousin Harridston and he would have taken the property, blighted the land and populace within a few years. Keeping her alive was a kindness for others, not for herself and certainly not meant to anger you or place you in harm's way. I am sorry. You must do what you must and I can give you no advice.”

The sense of peace ebbed away, leaving William alone in a sleeping grotto.

tbc

Gui! Lui dire! Apaiser son esprit! - Guy! Tell him! Ease his mind!

Si votre pain vos yeux plus loin en arrière, vous trouverez sans doute votre cerveau! - If your roll your eyes any further back, no doubt you will find your brain!

Concrescat ut ante aedis illo pro tribunali et feres super mimo praeter Anael esset vastati! - I would drop him on the Judgment Seat before God this minute and allow this farce to be over, save Anael would be devastated!

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



4H



Got money just tell me what you want me to

Vivienne shot up, gasping for air and hearing her own breath.

It's a nightmare. It has to be a nightmare.

Putting her hands to her side, she heard and felt the crunching of leaves, confirming she wasn't in her bed. The very air was dank, the smell of the earth, wet and biting. She was watching her own breath when something caught her eye. Slowly, she looked to her left to see the body of her father lying peacefully dead on the ground.

She was living her nightmare.

One minute, she was sitting in the dirt on the forest floor, looking at the ridiculously pale body of her father; the next she was up, stepping backwards, moving away. She heard voices, angry voices, and she knew they were hunting her. Quickly, she turned, running, her nightgown tripping her, getting in her way. Her anger at the restrictiveness of her garment was obvious and with her next step, her clothing changed to unfamiliar trousers made of a rough blue material and a loose tunic. She was no longer barefoot, but wearing comfortable leather shoes with strange ties and padded insoles. The forest was dark, barely enough light to see and the branches switched and whipped her face and arms as she raced past.

She realized she had company, something keeping up and running alongside of her. Swerving around a large tree, she took a quick glance. There, some feet to her right, was Her Wolf. She called him hers as she had had this dream many times since she was a young child. She would go months, a year or two without having it and then, all of a sudden, the dreams came back, along with the wolf.

Initially, she had been terrified of him. He was huge, large, stayed in the shadows, but as time went, she grew less and less afraid, considered him a bystander or a guardian of sorts. He always kept his distance and when he ran with her, whatever chased her, faded away swiftly.

Abruptly, there was silence. The voices, the crowd, was gone. It was just her.

And the wolf.

In the filtered moonlight, she stopped and turned, looked at him for the first time, still panting from exertion. 'Who are you?'

Silence.

'Who are you?'

The wolf stepped from the edge of the mist and cocked his head. For the first time, he was not just shadow, he had form. He was large, even for a wolf, with a long, pointed snout. His coat was an inky black, with a grey streak along one ear. Something about him was familiar. She shook her head.

'Who are you? What do you want with me?'

The wolf sat down, eyes tightly shut and still shaking his head.

Finally, she took in her, their surroundings, gazing at this strange glade she was unfamiliar with. It was beautiful, peacefully quiet and while she had never seen this place, she felt she knew it, knew the pond, the stream. She had been here before. She refocused her attention on the wolf in front of her, waiting for her.

'Do you bite?' In the echo of the silence, she heard... snickering? Why would a wolf laugh at her?


Do you bite photo Do you bite 2_zps3s0pzdch.jpg

She felt no fear of this beast, regardless of the danger he presented to anyone else. Slowly, she stepped forward, hand out-stretched, fingers searching. 'You won't bite me, will you? Do you have a name, big guy?'

She reached for him. The wolf stood fast, watching her, oh so very much watching her. Paying no heed to his mouth, she dropped to her knees and touched the side of his head, cupping him beneath the ear, and sinking her fingers into his fur. In that moment, he leaned into her, her hand, cherishing her touch, relishing her nearness. As he relaxed, she saw his face, saw him. He opened his eyes.

They were blue. Blue as glass...

~~~...~~~

“Who won't bite?”

Vivienne's eyes flew open. She sat up, disoriented, eyes searching. Finally, she focused on the speaker. “Hugh?”

Hugh FitzGisborne sat next to her on her bed. He greatly favored his father, save that he smiled more than the austere brute she screamed at. “I came the moment I heard. I am so sorry about your father. I had much respect for Simon. I know the two of you were close.” He inspected his hands, not the smooth things of a courtier, but calloused and rough from wielding a sword. “I've sent a messenger to Fulks. I suspect he'll be here by tomorrow evening at the soonest.” He reached for her and pulled her into a friendly and comforting embrace.

“You didn't have to do that.”

“Yes, I did. You are like a sister to us.” Hugh squeezed her once before turning her loose and grasping her by the shoulders to look at her. “He would be most upset if I had not.”

Vivienne began to cry. “The two of you hated me growing up.”

“You were a pest, just like a sister would be a pest,” he responded with a laugh. “Now, who will not bite?” Dawning overcame him as he took in her ashamed look. “You have been having dreams again.”

“Please, do not speak of it. People will think I am strange.”

“You are strange,” Hugh took her back into a protective embrace, cradling her head to his shoulder. “I cannot wait for you to meet Ellienna. She has been very closeted and will need a friend. You will like her.”

“Is there something I should know about?”

Vivienne attempted to pull back, but Hugh held her fast. “She had a bad dream, father.”

William walked into the room. “A dream?”

“'Tis nothing. I am fine.” Vivienne moved to untangle herself from her friend's embrace. For some odd reason, the Lord of Locksley made her hot and uncomfortable. It was if the room was charged with thunder and lightening. “Just a dream.” She straightened her dress. “I should see to my father's body.”

“No need.” William's voice was like rock on granite. “It has been taken care of.”

“But I should go down-”

“No you should not. There is no need,” he reiterated tersely. “It was an honor to have Simon as part of my entourage. I considered him a close friend and I cannot replace him. I am sitting with him, along with several of my senior knights. I have made the arrangements for his burial. You should rest.” He then addressed his eldest. “I have received word Fulks is on his way. He will be here tomorrow afternoon.” He stepped further into the room. “Your father left instructions for you, for your welfare. We will discuss them later.” He then nodded to his son. “Stay with Ge-... with Vivienne.”

As he turned to leave, Vivienne noticed his eyes and profile were those of her wolf.

~~~...~~~

The following weeks were a haze to Vivienne. Her father's wake, mass was sung for him at the chapel in Nottingham. She had to argue to have him buried next to his wife; it appeared some felt he should be buried with honor at Kirkley's.

Fulks arrived from Harridston – and stayed. When they were younger, he had been a dark, sullen child, looking like his mother – or so people said – but since his return from France, he was relaxed, happier. He spent much time with Vivienne at the creek, fishing and laughing, before his father sent him to Harridston to take control of his mother's estate the previous year. He took up much space and time at her table, which she was grateful for, especially those first few weeks. She liked to cook and he liked to eat.

“Did your father's men ever find the one villain in the gang that got away?” She was talking about the group that attacked Lord William's entourage.

“Yes. They killed him in their pursuit of him, so we do not know who set them on my father's knights. 'Tis strange.” It was a painful subject; Vivienne was still grieving, so he changed it abruptly, not realizing this new topic was equally sore to her. “You know, your father left guardianship to my father when he passed.” He lifted the pheasant bone he was gnawing on. “This is good. You will make someone a good wife. Father will chose well for you. I will make sure of it.”

“I do not desire to be anyone's wife. I have lived here all of my life and I do not wish to leave.”

“That might be true,” he returned his attention to the plate in front of him, “and you had your father wrapped around your finger, but my father will not be so easily swayed. Ah, now here is an idea!” He dropped the bone to the plate, causing it to rattle and echo throughout the home. “You can marry me! You can plant your healer herbs, keep my peasants healthy and feed me! I shall be a happy lord of a lovely, if humble manse and you will be my lady!”

“Fulks,” Vivienne began to pick up the plates from the table. “We are no longer children.”

“Thank Jesu!”

“And you are like a brother to me. You and Hugh.”

“True again, but-”

“And I am not noble born. Your father will want someone besides a lowly knight's daughter for you to wive.”

“Damnation. I completely forgot!” Fulks' dejection was humorous. “That is true as well.” He leaned back in his chair. “Father will find me a nice heiress with no male relatives. Her wealth and property will become mine and my income will grow.” He smiled joyously and toasted her with his mead. “'Tis the FitzGisborne way!”

“Exactly.” Fulks watched as her hips swayed to the sideboard. When had scrawny, gangling Vivienne grown up? And into such a beauty?

An unholy thought occurred to him. “You know, if Father was so inclined, I would suggest you become his mistress.”

There was a crash as Vivienne dropped the plates. “Wot?”

“However,” he merrily rambled on, without taking breath, “he has never taken a mistress, much less any servant girl to his bed, since he married.” He rose from the table and retrieved the broom from the corner. “So I would not worry of such, if I were you.”

As of late, Vivienne's dreams had been filled with her wolf and the Lord of Locksley, all of them heated and filled with desire. They bothered her, left her with unspoken yearnings. Shaking off this uncomfortable feeling, she held the dustpan out for Fulks, taking the broom from him. As she began to sweep, she muttered, “Why on earth would you suggest such a thing?”

“Because you are a woman and you cannot stay here alone.” He bent down as she swept the shards of pottery into the pan. “And do not tell me that you can. You are alone and vulnerable. And truth be told, I would rather see you with a man who would take good care of you, than married to an old man away from here.”

“And you think your father would be good to me?” Vivienne smirked. “Would be perfect for me in every way, save he is married.”

Fulks became strangely quiet and soft spoken. “My mother calls my father a demon. Satan's Spawn. I have heard rumors that he is a wicked, evil man and that Death answers to him. None of this is true. My father is a good man. I have heard stories from the servants in his manse of how he took in Queen Isabella when old Edward was still alive and had his steward's wife care for her injuries she received at the hands of the Despensers. How he kept her hid. I have watched how he treats his servants, how he cares and loves Hugh and myself. During the famine, none of us starved or went hungry. The man may be many things, but he is not evil or wicked.” Suddenly, Fulks was standing over her, the heat of him over-powering. “He would the most powerful protector you could possibly wish for. No one would accost you for fear of angering him. You would want for nothing.” He stepped away and looked at the modest home, suddenly aware of the class and monetary differences between him and his friend. “I am sorry you broke your plates. I will replace them.” Moving towards the coat rack, he pulled his great woolen cloak from the peg and began to button it around him. “It will be dark soon and it is cold. I should be going. I will be back tomorrow.”

“There is no need, Fulks. I can go to the market.”

“Then I will go to market with you. I want chicken tomorrow for dinner and I wish to make sure you get a plump, fat hen and not a scrawny rooster.”

Vivienne smiled and shook her head. “You are incorrigible.” A thought occurred to her. “Fulks?”

“Aye?”

“You seem much... happier than you did in years past. What happened? Have you fallen in love?”

He stared at her, took her in, before his smile fell. “Something did happen.”

“What was that? We are friends. You can tell me.”

In an instant, he became the sullen child he had been before Sir William sent him to France. “My mother. I stopped caring about my mother.”

And with that, he opened the door and stepped into the sunset.

~~~...~~~

She was standing in front of two ornate doors and dressed strangely in an opulent red gown. She realized her hands were full of fall roses.

Be happy, Genevieve. He loves you so.

Vivienne jerked to look at the voice. The woman was of an age, blonde and beautiful in her maturity.

No, my name is Vivienne.

She faded away.

Be happy, Genevieve...

The doors opened.

It was a chapel and her wolf stood with the priest, waiting.

She was at the last pew, a sanctuary full of nuns,

Lord William... no, he was dressed... wrong...

She was moving in fast forwarded jerks.

The wolf.

Forward

Lord... William?

Genevieve Faith Robinson, do you take Guy Crispin Gisborn to be your lawfully wedded husband...

Spinning....

Be happy, Genevieve...

~~~...~~~

It was the most opulent, extravagant dinner Vivienne had ever sat down to. It made her damned uncomfortable.

A week after Fulks told her he no longer cared for his mother or what the woman thought, he informed her over yet another meal that he bought and she prepared, his father desired her presence at the next evening's dinner. While Vivienne acted to the world as if she could care less about what Lord William wanted with her, she spent time on her attire and hair. The last thing she wanted was for Lord Spike-up-his-Butt to think she was poor, weak, and unable to care for herself. She saddled and mounted the heavy destrier war beast her father owned and rode him proudly to Gisborne Manor.

Her dreams had become erotic and the Lord of Locksley played heavily in them.

Hugh and Fulks were in attendance and they dined at the new Gisborne Hall. It was smaller than Locksley, more of a hunting lodge, or so Fulks whispered, and it seemed that Lord William preferred the closeness of it to Locksley these days. He claimed the preparations and noise for Hugh's marriage kept him awake and irritable and Gisborne Hall was quiet and what his old soul desired. For the FitzGisborne's, Gisborne Hall was intimate, perfect for small gatherings such as this.

There was no high table, simply one table, long and ancient, and when he thought no one watched, Lord William caressed the old wood seemingly lost in memory.

“'Tis quite odd, he loves this table as much as the old bed in his bed chambers,” Hugh whispered.

“One would think he has...” Fulks' voice faded off, realizing what he was about to say and who he was about to say it to.

Vivienne knew where the youngest FitzGisborne was leading. “You are most disgusting.”

Fulks shrugged.

William was no longer lost in thought, instead, watching his sons interact with Simon's daughter, trying to discern their relationship. Their comfort and ease with each other was familial and yet again, William felt a pang for the loss of his daughter. What would Cecile have looked like? Would she have been a beauty? Stubborn? Easy going? And what of Vivienne? What would his sons think when he finally revealed his plans for Vivienne to them? He shook his head. It didn't matter. The table had been cleared by the servants, nothing left but the wine. He listened closer to the young people's chatter, waiting for a break to join in and redirect the conversation.

“My Lady, you are... doing well?”

Vivienne had the good sense to blush. “My Lord, please. I am a common knight's-”

“I wish you would stop saying that!” Fulks interjected angrily. “Your father was not common!”

“Indeed not.” William was quick to take the mantle of the dominate voice in the conversation. “Your father was a good man, high in his rank. Many times, he was offered position in higher courts. He refused them. He has titles you are not aware of. Which is what I need to talk to you about.”

“Titles?” Vivienne was confused. “My father had no titles.”

“Your father was raised and granted the title of Baronet by me. The entirety of Clun would have been his to oversee.” William looked up to see three jaws hanging agape around the table. “Your father was a great man, a humble one, and much of what was accomplished here and throughout England in the last decade would not have come about without his help. I planned to inform him and hold a celebration upon our return from the north, however...” his head wobbled, not wishing to state the obvious. “I received word yesterday from the king, accepting your father's promotion to his title. As his only heir, you are now a baronetess. You have a title, land, income and a dowry.”

“My father left me a dowry?” It was a squeak.

I have left you a dowry,” he corrected, “and as your guardian, I will oversee your income for now. Until you are married, of course.”

Her attitude immediately changed. “That is what this is about. Who you are going to marry me off to!” Her eyes narrowed. “To whom it would befit you best to marry me to!”

Both boys sat up, eyes large. No one dared take that tone with Lord William Edward FitzGisborne.

William, for his part, did not appear to be insulted, but continued on. “As your guardian, anyone who offers for you, must have my permission to court you and ask for your hand. Of course, if you would prefer the cloister, that can be arranged as well.” He sat at the head of the table, calm, collected, hands folded on the table, his eyes focused on his goblet.

“CLOISTER?” Vivienne shot up from her chair. “I do not wish to be a nun! And I most certainly do not need a husband!”

William's eye rolled up to stare. “You most certainly do need a man to take you in hand. Your father was lenient.”

“My father knew my worth!” Vivienne was still standing. She turned to the terrified servant standing behind her chair. “Tell the cook she is most excellent and if I were able, I would steal her from this... this... noble person! If you would retrieve my cloak and my horse, I will leave now!”

William was smiling slightly. “I will arrange an escort.”

“I do not need one!”

“Aye, but you do. Word will be out shortly and soon, would-be suitors and other undesirable men will be hounding your doorframe, pestering your ladyship. They will know your worth, as well. You will be accosted in the square, possibly kidnapped, dragged to an altar. It would be too easy for a unscrupulous man to take what you have by force. I am willing to protect for you for a time, but until you are married, you are vulnerable. We will need to find you a husband or protector soon.”

The air become hot and closed as Vivienne stared her guardian down. She was close to crying and the men in the room could see it. It was an ugly comeuppance. Finally, she turned and grabbing her skirts, ran from the room.

William stood, along with his sons. Fulks made to go after her, but William waved him off. “Both of you sit. We have much to discuss.” He made towards the door as well, taking Vivienne's cloak from the servant. It was not lost on him that it was rich fur-trimmed cream and the broach at the collar was ornate. “Send Timon and Alfred to the stables to attend Lady Vivienne to her home.” The girl curtsied and hurried off.

As William went through the doors into the large entryway, he noticed Vivienne standing in front of a wall of artwork. Although he was far, he knew what she stared at. Signaling again for his sons to stay put, he closed the door and went to stand behind Vivienne. “My lady... Vivienne...”

“Who is that?” It was a pained, strained whisper. She nodded to the framed portrait in front of her. “Who is that?”

When Roland FitzGisborne went through the scrolls hidden in the catacombs of Ripleys next to Guy's coffin, he found several things he did not expect to find. He expected the copy of the contract Genevieve pained over to make heads or tails of, but he did not expect to find a copy of Genevieve's sketchbook. Her dream home among them, along with the sketch of Guy she'd drawn in the gazebo of Ripleys on their wedding day. Roland didn't know how it got there or how long the Guy's in the family would be allowed to keep it. Alise was a competent artist and she'd copied both during her first confinement. He had never shown her – or anyone – the contract. It, along with the original pieces of art, remained in the protective scroll casing at Ripleys.

And the copied drawing of Guy was what Vivienne was staring at.

 photo drawmegingerhaole_zpsefbe4b58.jpg

“Please. My Lord. Who is that?”

William cleared his throat. “That is my ancestor, Sir Guy of Gisborne. He was the Master-At-Arms at Nottingham Castle in the late 1190's. He resided, grew up here, where this manse now sits, the only son of a honored and titled knight. His father died before he reached his adulthood and the bailiff stole the home from him. It was later stolen from the bailiff by Robin Hood.”

“Robin Hood?” Vivienne muttered under her breath. “I thought he was a myth.”

Both were now staring at the charcoal drawing. “No. He lived and robbed like a good thief. Sir Guy fought to become a knight, earned not only his stolen home back, but Robin's as well. He died at Nottingham during a siege. His grandson, Roland FitzGisborne was awarded the property and title back for deeds for the crown of King Henry II and has grown the endowment. Roland was my great-grandfather.”

Vivienne was still staring at the portrait. “'Tis said he breathed life into you.”

“Aye.”

Her attention returned to the portrait. “I know this man.” It was a whisper.

“'Tis said I resemble him. That is not me.”

“I know this man.”

“Vivienne, he has been dead for over a century.

She was shaking her head. “He dances in my dreams and begrudges my slumber. His bedevilment is never ending. I would not care if he slept next to me, if he would simply allow me to sleep.”

With that, she took her cloak from his arm and slinging it on over her shoulders, walked through the front door to her waiting horse and escort.

William waited for several moments, listening to her mount up and leave.

“Father?”

William was not surprised to see both sons standing next to him. Hugh handed him his goblet of wine. “When did Simon become a baronet?”

William was still staring at the door. “It was to be a surprise.” He nodded up the stairs. “You will find the king's signed decree on my desk in my room.” He wandered into the seating room on the other side of the entry way. The fire was stocked and William sank into a chair, propping his booted feet on a short table. He sank his nose into the chalice, waiting for his sons to join him.

“Simon was to be given – was given – Clun and the armory.” Clun had grown since Sir Guy's time. It was now walled and boasted of an armory, as well as was considered and utilized as an outer-lying guarded outpost for Nottingham Castle. “His allegiance would be to me. I would be his overlord, but the barony would bring a nice income to him and to his daughter. He would have been able to dower her well.”

Hugh sat down across from his father, Fulks choosing to stand. “This barony did not come from-”

“It is part of Gisborne, which still belongs to me, whelp.” William drained his goblet and reached for the jug. Refiling his drink, he continued. “I realize I could have said nothing and simply absorbed it back into Gisborne, but as her guardian, I am compelled to my best by her.”

Fulks was staring into his goblet. He resembled his mother, but he was built like his father, tall and lanky. “I will marry her.”

Hugh was shocked.

“Do you love her?”

“No, she is like a sister to me. But she would be miserable with someone she did not know and I would hate to see her with someone who did not care for her.” He shrugged. “I figure Harridston is big enough. She can live on one side and I will live on the other. And when I die, Harridston would come back to the FitzGisborne Estate.”

Guy sighed with relief. If Fulks fancied himself in love with Vivienne, it would make what he planned to do harder. Bad enough he had argued with the angel over the last few evenings over this decision. “I am glad to hear that, however, I have someone in mind for you. I expect to have negotiations in hand by summer.”

“You have said nothing to me about this?”

Hugh waved his brother off. “What plans do you have for Vivienne?”

“What plans do you have for me?”

William was enjoying this. “For you, an heiress of sizable fortune and a wonderful vineyard.”

Fulks planted both fists on his hips. “Have we not had enough French women in this country?”

Hugh barked with laughter at his brother's whine. William joined him.

“She comes with a substantial yearly endowment, which will be handed to you, and you will put into your estate. When her father dies, and he is elderly, so I would expect him not to linger, the vineyard will go to our cousin Guilliame. He has done me a great favor for some years and this gift will please him. You will continue to draw her endowment, as well as a percentage of the profit from the sale of the wine made from the estate.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Fulks nodded. “If she is pretty, I will be happy. If she is not, I will put a sack over her head and make sure the candles are dampened at night.”

“She is not ugly. I have met her. You did as well, when you were at Aigues-Mortes. Her name is Henriette and she is the only daughter of the Duke of Le Grui-du-Roi. She is quite beautiful, as well as accomplished and educated well.”

“And rich!” Hugh finished. “Oh, the wine, my brother. Oh, the wine!”

Fulks satisfied with his father's choice of bride, refocused his attention for his childhood friend. “What are your plans for Vivienne?”

William propped his right foot over the left. Martha would be furious to find dirt on the table, but William came to the conclusion a long time ago that she loved to fuss. “She does not desire a husband and in this, I am willing to not force one on her, however, she needs a protector, as she is not safe. She will fight this decision, for her father allowed her to have her way since she was born. We will need to convince her of her need.”

Fulks was thinking. He was the more devious of the two and had a better eye. Since their return from Aigues-Mortes, William had quietly groomed him as a spy. Sooner than he would like, Edward would need someone to infiltrate and watch over his kingdom. While William wasn't old, his time with Edward II wore him down. He was looking forward to retirement and now with the opportunity presented to him, the desire to become a quiet, country lord was pressing and urgent.

“The best way to make her see that is not safe for her to abide alone is to convince her she is not safe alone.”

“Are you saying we rob her?”

Fulks began to smile and it was an evil smile. “No. I believe he is saying that she is simply to be frightened and one of us should be there to rescue her.”

“No.” Now William interrupted. “I will be the one to rescue her. Again and again. Until she realizes what she needs.”

Dawning crossed Hugh's features. “Father, if you continually rescue her, she will lean on you. Perhaps, the man you desire for her to marry should do the rescuing and wooing?”

William was beginning to chuckle as was Fulks. “Father has no one in mind for her to marry, Hugh.”

“But-”

“He said protector. Not husband.”

William nodded.

“But who? Why a protector?”

Fulks pointed at William. “Protector.”

William gently set his goblet on the table and put his feet on the floor. “Fulks, there are several things you and your brother need to understand. While I no longer hate your mother for killing your sister and desire her death, she is not right in the mind and is no wife to me, nor is she mistress of my estate and my home desperately needs a woman. Not a chatelaine, but a mistress. A lady. Mellisande becomes more and more violent with each passing day. She is locked in her cottage and drugged senseless most times. Edward would allow me to divorce her, as would the Church, however I will not give her cousin a foothold on Harridston. He is a drunkard and half mad with the pox, but I will give him nothing. When I married Mellisande, I did not promise to love or cling to her, much less be faithful. I tried. I honestly tried. I have not neglected her or abandoned her. Neither one of them can live forever and I would like someone in my life to love before I am old and crippled.

“At the same flip of the coin, I will not give Simon's title and land to anyone. There is no one I know that I like well enough to give it and Vivienne to. Truth is, I have no intentions of giving it up. It needs to come back to me. There is only one way to do that and that is to woo and bind Vivienne to me.”

Hugh was now scratching his lip, lost in thought. “She is my friend, father. We played together as children. She bound and cleaned my scrapes and bruises. And you are-”

“If you say 'old', I will send your bride-to-be back to her father and send you to Kirkley's Monastery to be ordained and tonsured.”

“-austere.”

It was silent for a few moments. Finally, Fulks spoke up. “Promise me, when you tire of her, you will not just set her aside. That she will be cared for always. That there will be a place for her. A home, income. Always. For if you do not provide it, I will.”

William rose, feeling tired and rejuvenated at the same time. It was an odd, heady, feeling. “She will never want for anything. I will not set her aside. Ever.”

Hugh paled, full understanding what Fulks and his father were plotting. “Father. The staff has said you have never taken a mistress, never taken anyone to your bed. Why Vivienne? Why now? You do not know her!”

William smiled, thinking back on a time when he was an angry man and called 'Sir Guy'. He remembered Genevieve, in Clun, angry and riding away from him. He remembered her calming influence. The world just seemed... right. “She reminds me of someone I loved many years ago. Before I was contracted to marry your mother.”

“Papa,” Hugh used that old old beloved name that melted William every time. “She is not that girl. That woman.”

“She has her spirit.” William grinned and Hugh realized that in the past hour, his father looked younger than he could ever remember him looking. “I promise I will not force her to my bed, that she will want to come to it and stay. I will cherish her and I ask that the two of you respect her regardless of her decision and that you respect the relationship we create.” He headed towards the door.

“And what if she says no. What then?”

William stopped at the door. “She will not say no.” And with that, he left the room and headed up the stairs to bed.

tbc

The sketch of Sir Guy was done by Lily Fox. She gave me permission to use it for Manna from Heaven and I consider this an extension of the story.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven

Chapter 4i

Not looking for the cure

Vivienne opened her door the next morning to a girl, not much younger than herself. She was taller than Vivienne – as most of the citizens of Clun were – and sturdily built. She bobbed once.

“Good morrow, m'lady. I've come as requested.”

“Requested?” Vivienne's mouth lifted on one side. “At whose request?”

The look on the girl's face was incredulous. “Why, m'lord, Lord William, o'course!”

Vivienne allowed the girl to continue to stand on her front door step. “And why would he request you come here?”

The girl's smile fell. “Why, as ye need a lady's maid an' a cook, an'-”

“Good morning, Eleanor. How do you fare?” William's voice was of dark silk as he rode up in front of the home.

Eleanor turned and curtsied to the dark knight dismounting from his horse. “Very well, sir.”

“Go on in with you, while I talk with your new mistress.” William's smile was a sinful thing, something born of velvet and French wine. Eleanor made her way around Vivienne and proceeded to stoke the fire. “It is quite cold out here, m'lady. Might I come in?”

Vivienne stepped aside, allowing the tall knight access to her home. Before she could ask, much less do it herself, Eleanor stepped up and took Lord William's great cloak. Hanging it reverently, close to the fire, the girl then bobbed again, before going into the kitchen.

“My lord,” Vivienne began, “I am not in need of a maid or cook or-”

“Aye, you do.”

Vivienne's smile was pained. “My lord, I appreciate the offer-”

“I will be blunt,” he interrupted. “Your life has changed-”

“Really? Do tell!”

A cold gaze settled on her. “Do not get snarky with me.”

“Snarky? What kind of a word is that?”

William took several breaths. Ah yes, this woman was Genevieve, even if she didn't know she was Genevieve.

“As a member of the nobility, there are expectations in how you conduct yourself.”

“I do not need a maid or a cook!”

“You may not live alone.”

Vivienne's jaw dropped. “You mean she's moving in?”

“I take up very little room, ma'am.” Both Vivienne and William turned to the sound of Eleanor's voice. “Just a pallet on the floor in front of the fire, is all.”

“A pallet...dear God, child, where did you live before?”

Eleanor shrugged. “At home with me family. Thirteen of us. One room.” With this, she smiled. “Oh, a guaranteed place by the fire would be so lovely.” With that, she returned to the kitchen.

“Dirt floor.” Vivienne jerked up, eyes wide. William continued. “She's a good girl, slightly bright, at least, moreso than the rest of her siblings, and is well liked by the staff.”

“You...” Vivienne hissed, “you manipulative little...”

William's eyebrow rose. “Little?”

“You did this on purpose!” Vivienne clenched her fists and pointed towards the kitchen. “How on earth can I possibly send her home now?”

William's grin was sardonic. “My lady. It is unseemly that you should reside alone-”

“I've been residing alone for the majority of the last four years!”

William started to retort, however there was a knock at the door. Vivienne growled, before heading towards the entryway.

“Wait!” Eleanor flew from the kitchen. “That's me job, ma'am!” She threw the door open to a rather bedraggled young man whose eyes immediately flew past the rather plain Eleanor, to Vivienne.

“Ah! My Lady Dionisia!” He stepped in uninvited and swept his ratty, feathered cap from his head and shoved it into William's hands. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Osbert Eustace, fourth son of Lord Baldwin of Dovershire,” he announced with much pomp. With this he grabbed Vivienne's hand and began to smother it with sloppy, wet kisses. “I am here to accept your hand in marriage.”

“Really?”

Moments later, Sir Osbert found himself sitting in the dirt outside of Vivienne's home, with his cap slung after him.

“Furthermore,” William stepped from the home, “not only should your father contact the lady's guardian, which would be me, before you come to call, you should bathe, come in clean clothes, in order to present yourself in a decent manner, and at the very least, learn her name properly. 'Tis Vivienne!”

“But-”

“Good. Day.” William then shut the door with such force, the snow that had fallen the previous night, fell from the roof, drenching the unfortunate suitor. He turned to his ward.

She was completely unimpressed. She stood with her arms crossed, one hip cocked. “Really, my lord. That was quite over-handed.”

“It proves my point,” he retorted. “Many will consider you fair game, especially third and fourth sons who have nothing to recommend them. We must make sure that you are not taken advantage of.”

“I could simply continue like I have been.”

“That will not be allowed.” William smirked. “You need a husband. Until I find a suitable husband for you, you will need someone living with you or as my ward, you should move in with me. Eleanor, my cloak, please.” He opened the door to see Osbert struggling to mount his horse. “Vivienne, I expect you for dinner this evening. I will send Fulks and the carriage. Good day.”

William made sure to Osbert a good whack across the arse as he walked by.

~~~...~~~

Over the next few weeks, Vivienne had more knocks on her door at all hours, found herself accosted, bumped, jostled, or inappropriately nudged, and in one instance, groped, in the marketplace. More than once, some stranger, usually as young as she, came out of nowhere to declare their undying devotion. They were always the third or fourth son, and they were always deep in debt.

And each time, Sir William was there to rescue, move, or push someone along.

It was disconcerting, to say the least. It reached a point where Vivienne would automatically look for the Great Wolf of Gisborne when she went to the marketplace.

Fulks returned to his estate several days after Eleanor came to live with Vivienne. As had become his habit, he was at her home, supposedly to eat, when they weren't at his father's. He looked worried and preoccupied and Vivienne questioned him about it.

“'Tis nothing you should fret over.” Fulks was helping her cook dinner. At least, he said he was helping her cook dinner. In truth, he was looking over her shoulder, making comments that made her laugh and being a pest. Eleanor was out back, taking down the wash, so Fulks and Vivienne had the room to themselves.

“I am not fretting! I am simply stating... oh goodness Fulks, you are in the way! Here!” She handed him a wooden spoon. “Take this and stir that pot!” Vivienne pointed to the madly, boiling kettle over the fireplace. “I should replace it. The damn thing sticks!”

Fulks inhaled sharply. “You swore!” He stuck the spoon in the pot and began to swish back and forth.

“Aye, but tell no one.” She paused for a moment, tossing a bit of flour on the wooden board and began to roll out the bread dough. “Especially, your father,” she whispered.

“Wot was that?” Fulks continued to absentmindedly stir the pot.

“I said what is it that has you worried?”

Fulks sighed. “There have been some problems at Harridston in the past few weeks.”

“What sort of problems?” Vivienne was engrossed in her shaping of the dough ball.

“Apparently, three servant girls have disappeared, only to be found days later,” he stopped and swallowed, “dead.”

Vivienne stopped what she was doing. “Fulks! That's horrible!”

“Which is why,” and with this he leaned over her, so closely, she could feel the heat from his body, “I want you to keep Eleanor with you at all times. That you allow no one you do not know close to you without escort. If you fear anyone, go to Father. Personally, I would prefer you move into Gisborne or Locksley Hall-”

“Your brother is to be newly married and he and his bride will not wish for company! As for your father,” she now returned to her dough, placing the round ball on a stone wedge, “'twould be unseemly. He has better things to do than worry about me.” She shoved the wedge into the oven.

“He would worry,” Fulks smirked, “and no, he does not have better things to do!”

And with that pronouncement, the young man promptly changed the subject.

~~~...~~~

With Fulks returning to his estate, things grew quiet and settled down. Vivienne missed her father and would wake up at all hours. Most nights, it was due to her dreams, dreams that involved Lord William and left her throbbing and in a sweat. Her protective wolf turned into a man, a manipulative leather-clad knight who used her needs and private, wanton thoughts and never-admitted dreams against her. She dreamed of being tied to a bedpost, wearing an outlandish, skimpy outfit, being tied spread-eagle to the table Lord William was so fond of. There was a shady dell, with a stream and a waterfall and blue butterflies.

His kisses were of honeysuckle.

And she could still taste him when she woke.

It occurred to her once that she should go to confession and beg forgiveness for her sinful dreams, but truth was, she enjoyed them and did not feel she had done anything to ask forgiveness for. One can't help what one dreams about, can they?

Lord William collected her for dinner several nights a week, as well as escorted her to Sunday morning Mass. He was quite insistent she sit with him in his family box, much to the twittering of a certain small portion of the population. Certain gossipy souls in Clun had much to say about it and none of it was nice. The one thing Vivienne did not want was a confrontation with the old women. She had seen others tangle with old Maud, and no matter how wrong the woman was, she always seemed to win. It wasn't a pretty or nice thing and Vivienne didn't want to be one of their victims.

Whispers, trails of news trickled from London and down from Scotland. Political unrest – war – raged with Scotland and for the second time, the king placed Edward Balliol on the vacated Scottish throne.

“Why did Edward put Balliol on the throne when he knows it belongs to his sister and brother-in-law?” Vivienne was toying with her food. Her menses was beginning and her back hurt.

William was well aware why Vivienne did not feel well and for not the first time, it occurred to him to offer what he knew would help her: hot compresses and a back rub. However, they were still tiptoeing around each other, participating in that delicate dance and her walls were just beginning to come down. He concentrated on his lamb. “It has nothing to do with the fact the Queen of Scotland is his sister,” he began. “When France negotiated England and Scotland's treaty, part of the settlement was giving English land to the Scots, specifically, an area known as 'Lothian'+. Many Englishmen were displaced.”

Vivienne snarled and pushed her food to the side. “So our English king is putting someone on the Scottish throne who will see to England's needs, rather than Scotland's.”

“Aye.” He stuffed a forkful of lamb in his mouth. “Please eat.”

She speared a tiny bite and perused it. “Politics should not get between family members.”

“That is why there is marriage.” William looked at her intently. “Put it in your mouth.”

Vivienne took another look at her food and set it down. “How long before the Scots remove him?”

William scowled. “A few months, at best.”

“Then why did the king put him on the throne? When the Scots remove him, they'll take the lands back!” She pushed her plate back. “Apologize to the cook. I am not feeling very well.”

William opened his mouth, in an attempt to mollify her, but there was a sudden commotion in his front entryway. Two knights that Vivienne vaguely recognized made their way into the dining hall, despite Margaret's attempt to keep them out.

Robert de Glasson bowed quickly, before pulling out the chair next to William. The man looked as if he'd ridden hard for too long and was covered with dust. Whispering, Vivienne bid a serving girl to take Sir Robert and his companion's traveling cloaks and to bring food and wine for the men. It didn't dawn on her or the girl that she wasn't the mistress of Sir William's home, but nonetheless, her wishes were obeyed immediately and while his attention was occupied with the news his knight brought, William was very aware of this.

“WOT?” William was facing his man, face darkening in fury. “He did WOT?”

Robert didn't seem to be aware that Sir William had a dinner guest, much less a lady, Sir Simon's daughter. “The king's brother, John, burned down Lesmahagow Abbey. It was filled with refugees, people who sought sanctuary from England's army.”

Many times Simon ette Forde had laughed, cried, lamented, bragged of his daughter's independence and intelligence. This moment, he rolled in his grave.

“He should burn in hell!” Vivienne blurted. Suddenly, every male eye was on her, two pairs shocked they hadn't noticed her before. “The Abbey is a holy place! Anyone who enters is granted sanctuary!” She quickly found William's long fingers spread over her mouth, wrapping her from one ear to the other.

“Shhh.” The finger from his other hand wagged in front of her face. “Speak not, for there is much to hear.” Leaving his hand over Vivienne's mouth, he turned back to Robert and shook his head.

“I'll not say a word,” Robert whispered. “I loved Simon as well.”

“Vivienne?” The other knight finally spoke up. “Have you not married the chit off?” The man found himself kicked under the table and realized both William and Vivienne were glaring at him, unbeknownst to anyone, for different reasons.

William grimaced and continued as if the small interruption were nothing. “Does the king know?”

“We came directly from Edward's court,” the second knight responded. “We heard it from the herald who brought word. Edward is furious.”

“I have never seen him so angry.”

The room fell silent, save for the crackling of the fire.

“You know, the king has put Edward Balliol back on the Scottish throne,” William began. It was obvious he was thinking out loud.

“How quickly will he cede Lothian back to England?”

“Most likely, already done, the ink not even dry.” William was still staring into the fire. “I would pay good English crowns to see him run half-naked from Scotland, again.”

For a few moments, there was male laughter ringing from the rafters, none of the men realizing that the lone woman in the room was watching them dispassionately.

Finally, William stood and strode to the fireplace. “I am expecting some wine, among other things from my cousin in France in the next few days. I think I will send a crate or two to the king as a gift.” He turned and smiled at Vivienne. “'Tis getting late, m'lady. I fear the conversation does not suit a lady's ears. I will take you home and come by in the morning to see if you fare better.”

It was not lost on a soul that Sir William was treating Lady Vivienne as a woman of more importance than a ward.

~~~...~~~

Vivienne found herself entertaining Lord William more often than not, now that Fulks was gone. He was a bigger pest than his youngest son, and she told him so, in no uncertain terms. He simply smiled and continued on, as if she hadn't said a word.

And if he wasn't underfoot, one of his knights were.

There was a wedding, a joyous affair, between Sir Hugh, Lord William's eldest and Lady Ellienna, principal heir and the heiress of the Eastbrook. It was obvious Hugh and his bride were besotted with each other and bets were placed that they would make Sir William a grandfather within ten moons. She had two younger sisters, as blonde and dimpled as she and it was expected that with Lord William's nod, they would marry well.

Vivienne found herself fending off many lordlets and old barons with sweaty palms and bad breath. One attempted to coerce her into the garden and another tried to grope her in the shadows. He wore her hand print across his face for some time. Needless to say, she was relieved when William rescued her and as the night wore on and the wine addled her mind, she sought out William's side, much to his quiet amusement.

Fulks was in attendance with Henriette, his future bride and while her native tongue made her difficult to understand, she was very outgoing and didn't let the language barrier slow her down. She had a rapier wit and kept up with Fulks! She was residing at Locksley and Vivienne whispered coyly that perhaps William should put a guard on her door, to make sure Fulks didn't attempt to consummate a union that had yet to be blessed.

Slyly, William tucked her hand in his elbow. It felt... right... and for a split second, there was a memory, an old memory, of Genevieve, clothed in purple, with her hand tucked in the leather-clad elbow of Sir Guy of Gisborne...

William blinked and shook his head. “Banns have been called and I will be forced to shell out many crowns for a similar party in two months.” He nodded to the woman standing behind Henriette's chair, cutting off Vivienne's reply. “Besides, I don't need to hire a guard. That woman,” he pointed with a jutted chin, “is Henriette's maiden aunt and chaperon.” He shuddered. “She is an old battle ax of a woman and can curse in five languages, three of them antiquated and spoken by no one alive. Personally, I believe she makes sounds up and claims they are words.” He gathered Vivienne in closer, as if there was a sudden chill to the room. “I don't even think she is French. Most likely of one of the Germanic tribes. Brutal people.” He nodded, eyebrows raised, “Bad breath.” He inhaled and smiled. “By the way, Lord Bryston has asked for permission to court you. He is well off. A good match.”

“Lord Bryston?” William pointed to the elderly man who had groped her earlier. “My lord, please. He's old enough to be your grandfather, has sweaty hands and yellow teeth.”

“But he has no heirs and is quite wealthy.”

The look she gave the man, would have withered a lesser mortal. “Do. Not. Dare.”

For some odd reason, William's smirk was becoming familiar. “Oh, I would dare much,” he whispered. His chin jutted in another direction. “Of course, if you prefer youth, young Lord Thomas is looking for a wife. Or,” William shrugged, “I should say his father is looking for a wife for him. Third son, noble family, if a tad shabby. He is good friends with Hugh. I understand he will inherit his grandmother's dower house.” He made a mock snarl. “One hears it's rather run-down, but I'm sure you would have it cleaned up in no time. I recall there is a small village or two, so there would be an income of some sort.”

Vivienne sighed. “My lord, he has tried to coerce me into the gardens several times this eve.”

“And for good reason too, I'll vow.” He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “All young men try to coerce beautiful young women into the gardens. Do not judge us harshly.” He returned to his full height, his hand covering hers possessively. “Tell me, Vivienne, have you been kissed yet?”

Vivienne turned red as a beet, something that amused the man. “Uhm... well... no.”

William's eyes roamed his Great Hall. Hugh and his bride were dancing towards the stairs. The Lord of Locksley noticed that several of his own senior knights were moving in that direction as well. When Hugh's friends realized the bride and groom had made way to their bridal chamber, the cacophony would be horrendous. They would find disrupting Hugh's evening impossible if Locksley knights were guarding the pair. At least Ellienna would not have to endure the embarrassment of being disrobed for every male in attendance, as his Alise had. Luckily, Henry's wife, Eleanor, and the other ladies had seen to it that she was tucked in bed quickly and most of the men were too inebriated to remember seeing much of her. “Oh,” he pondered aloud, the majority of his attention on the stairwell, where Hugh and Ellienna were now heading up, “I imagine a young maid such as yourself has had a few stolen kisses.”

“Fulks tried many years ago.”

“Did he?” Ah and there was Fulks at the top of the stairs. The rowdier guests would find the youngest FitzGisborne to be a formidable opponent. The killings at Haridston had stopped... or stalled. It was quiet for now or William's youngest would not have returned, not even for his brother's nuptials.

Vivienne wasn't aware that her protector's attention wasn't focused on her. “Yes, he did. He was five and I smacked him soundly!”

“Did he try again?” Ah, the bride was around the landing and down the hall.

“No, he did not!”

And Hugh was now right behind his bride.

Their absence was noticed.

And the cry went up.

William pried himself away from the delightful company of his beloved. He wasn't going to be able to wait much longer. Perhaps, tonight... or when Fulks... “I'll have a chat with him.”

Unaware of why the Lord of Locksley was leaving her side, Vivienne suddenly felt exposed and alone. “My lord, it's been more than a decade. There is no need to chastise him now!”

William turned back with a grin, but continued on his way through the crowd. “He should have tried again!” It was at this point that Vivienne realized that Hugh and his bride had retreated to his rooms and Lord William was joining his youngest and his knights to ensure the pair was not disturbed.

“They love each other very much, no?” Henriette, the Duchess of Le Grui-du-Roi stood next to Vivienne. She was young, fifteen, slightly plump, with inky black curls. A circlette encrusted with sapphires held her sheer veil in place.

“They've grown up together,” Vivienne responded in French, immediately setting the girl at ease. “They've known each other since they were quite small.”

“I think Fulks is very handsome,” she admitted shyly. “I would like for him to look at me that way, but we do not know each other.”

Vivienne was watching the melee going on near the top of the stairs. Everything was good-natured but she could see Lord William was reaching a point where he wanted the drunks to head back to the main hall. “I suspect Fulks will court you properly.”

“If Matilde will allow it,” she groused. “She will not allow us to dance, much less converse.” Henriette now crossed her arms churlishly. “She says we can talk all we wish, once we are married.” She now looked up at Vivienne. “You should speak with Lord William.”

“Me? What can I do?” Vivienne continued to watch the commotion at the top of the stairs. It was starting to settle down and most were heading back down the stone steps.

“Why, you are his... paramour, no?”

“What?” Vivienne jerked her head towards the young woman. “No! I am his ward!” She realized her voice was raised and some close by were turning to stare. She quickly lowered her voice. “What gave the idea that we were... that he and I... his paramour?”

Henriette smiled, dimples very evident. “Ah, but you wish you were? Lord William rarely leaves your side and when he is not, the two of you search for each other.” The girl slid very close and whispered, “Wards wed their guardians quite often. I think the two of you would like that, no?”

Vivienne formed the word on her lips, but 'no' wouldn't issue from them. Truth was, she lived for her strange dreams as of late, of the knight in leather who looked so much like Lord William. She knew his smile, his touch, his-

“Lady Vivienne? My lady?”

Vivienne was jolted from her thoughts. “Fulks? Oh! Everything is fine.”

“Fulks, go dance with your betrothed. Quickly, before the battle-ax gets across the room.” William stood next to the couple as well as Vivienne. “Please stay here, m'lady. I need to occupy That Woman, so my son can get to know his bride.” And William made his way across the room, intercepting the chaperon and whisking her on to the dance floor, much to her embarrassment.

And off he went, weaving through the crowd, leaving Vivienne alone to fend for herself. Lord Thomas made his way to her, coercing her on to the dance floor, where he tried to pull her a bit too closely to him.

Vivienne looked up at him with an evil smile. “If you move your hand any closer to my derriere, I will take my dainty foot and stomp on your toes, put my knee in your crotch so harshly, your voice will sound like a young boy's and it will be questioned if you will ever sire children.”

The young man stepped back quickly, definitely in shock. “My lady, I didn't-”

“Yes, you did.” William stepped between them. “Go have another drink, Thomas.” He turned to Vivienne and extended his hand. “Shall we?” Before she could accept or decline, she found herself pulled onto the floor, dancing with a man who confused her, addled her mind, and made her feel many strange things.

“Vivienne?” Snapping fingers redirected her attention. Much to her chagrin, Vivienne found herself in front of a table. Chilled wine was pressed into her hands. “'Tis late, m'lady.” Vivienne looked around the large hall, seeing most of the guests were staggering off to other parts of the manse. Young Thomas was sitting in a chair in the corner, looking as if he could fall over at any moment.

“My lord, Thomas-”

“One of the servants will deal with him shortly.” He was leading her towards the stairwell to the second floor.

“My lord, if someone will retrieve my cloak, I would appreciate an escort home.”

Again, her hand was tucked in William's protective elbow. “'Tis after midnight, m'lady. I fear regardless of the escort, you would be accosted. Stay the night.” He looked up towards the long gangway towards the suite of rooms still reserved for him and him alone. He leaned further in as if to whisper a secret. “Eleanor packed a case for you. I dare say you are not expected home this eve.”

Realizing she was being herded towards the stairs, she attempted to slow the man down. “My lord, Locksley must be quite full with the wedding guests.”

“There is room for you and you would not have to share.”

The headiness of the wine began to dull her senses and loosened her tongue. Bracing herself between the large, formidable man and the wall, she slowly began to climb the stairs. “I fear the gossip will be rife if I stay.”

“Many are staying, Vivienne. Why would there be gossip?”

“I do not have my maid with me.” He quirked an eyebrow and she signed. “I was told the most humorous thing tonight. By Fulks' betrothed, of all people.”

“Really?” They were getting closer to the top.

“Aye. She seemed to think that we were lovers and that I could coerce you to force her chaperon to allow her to dance with Fulks!” Vivienne began to giggle at such a thought. “Is that not the silliest thing?”

William stopped close to the top, holding on to Vivienne. “Truth be, it is a thought.” He thought he heard a gasp, or perhaps it was a slightly inebriated hiccup. He then continued, mounting the landing and aware that while Vivienne followed, her feet were dragging. He headed to the hallway that led to his personal suite of rooms. “It would solve many problems for both of us. You do not wish a husband, but you need a protector. You and your property would be safe and watched over and I would take very good care of you. You would want for nothing. My home needs a lady, a mistress. I have a housekeeper, of course, but my lady would have much say and power. There is no shame in such a relationship and I would pray you do not wish to become a bitter old woman, like Henriette's aunt.” They stopped in front of a door. Taking a torch from the wall, William opened the door behind her. He stepped in, leading her and was pleased to see the fireplace already lit, along with several lamps. “Ah, look. Your valise is on the bed and it looks as if one of my servants has already laid out your clothes for tomorrow and put your dresses on the peg. You have no need of your maid, after all. Is Eleanor expecting you tonight?”

Vivienne was taking in the luxury of the room. It was beyond her wildest imagination. That this man... lived like this... that she herself... “No, my lord. Tomorrow is the Sabbath and she typically spends it with her family.”

“Ah, then she is most likely with them and enjoying the festivities of Hugh's wedding in the village. You would be alone, regardless.” He pointed to a door in the far corner. “That doorway leads to my room. If you need anything, let me know.” He leaned over and Vivienne felt the barest of a touch his lips to her forehead. “Think upon our discussion.”

And then he was gone.

She stood in the middle of the floor for a moment, forever, tilting, before righting herself. Part of her wished to call him back. The other...

Think on our discussion.

Discussion? What discussion? It sounded as if her were trying to persuade her. Fulks said the man had never taken a mistress, but it sounded as if to her, he wanted to, or at least he wanted to take her as one. Why her? Surely, he would prefer someone... older, closer to his age, perhaps a bit more...

worldly?

The scent of ancient leather, permeated the air. She shook her head. The wine was obviously getting to her and the bed looked comfortable. Quickly, she dug out her nightdress. Undoing the ties took little effort, much to the chagrin of Eleanor, who seemed to think Vivienne shouldn't be able to move a chair, much less dress, undress and bathe herself. At times, Vivienne thought the girl was bored, being in the service of someone who was used to and liked doing things for herself. It was going to be nice having someone to help her lay out the kitchen and herb garden in the early spring. All of Clun and many from the surrounding towns, including Castle Nottingham, came to her for healing herbs and poultices. She was garnering a reputation for being a healer and had aided the elderly midwife many times this past year. Vivienne figured when the old woman passed, she would become the midwife for Nottingham, not that she wanted to, but the need was there. No one else seemed to be inclined to take on such a task. Perhaps, Eleanor could be trained to help her in that regard as well.

She pulled the nightgown over her head and drew the covers back on the bed. The room had a warm glow and as she climbed it, the mattress remained firm. Oh, she was going to sleep late in the morning and she would growl at anyone who disturbed her. Who knew when or if she would ever get to sleep in a bed this nice ever again?

No sooner than her head hit the pillow, when there was a knock at the door. It is incessant and nonstop, forcing Vivienne to groan and climb from her cocoon. Picking up a small lamp and lighting it, she made her way to the door. “Who is it?”

“It is I! Henrietta! Let me in!” Vivienne was nearly run over, as the teen burst into the room as soon as she opened the door. “Ah! Oui! What a big bed you have! Enough room for both of us!” The girl threw off her robe and jumped onto the bed, turning to face Vivienne. “Ah, we will be sisters, you and I! I will marry Fulks and you will love his father and we will sit up all night and talk and giggle! It will be like my cousins, who I miss so very much!” She patted the side of the bed. “Come! Come! Come talk to me! Wasn't Ellienna a beautiful bride? Blue is a good color for her, no?” She folded her hands in her lap and sighed into the bed curtains. “I am wearing green, for it will compliment my complexion, or so the seamstress claims. She says I am to have a long train.” Slowly, she lay backwards, staring into the canopy of the bed. “Ah, my cousin told me her husband fixed a mirror in the canopy of their bed so they could watch either other. She says it is very erotic. I should like to have a mirror too! Do you think Fulks would like such?” Suddenly, she shot back up to a sitting position. “Ah, I am too excited to sleep!” She bounced off the bed and came to standing in front of Vivienne. “What about you?” Her hand flew to her mouth. “How silly of me! This door,” she pointed to the door that Lord William had pointed out less than fifteen minutes before, “goes to Lord William's chambers!” She lowered her head to whisper. “Are you expecting him? A lovers tryst?”

“NO!” Vivienne was aghast. “We are not lovers! I am his ward!”

“But you are in love with him! And he loves you!” She grabbed Vivienne's hand and dragged her towards the bed.

“I am not in love with him! He is my guardian and I do not wish to be married!”

“Ah, oui! Because you love him! We must get the two of you over this mess! Come!” She patted the bed. “Sit with me! We will figure out a way! It is not so bad, to be a noble man's mistress, no?”

Vivienne rolled her eyes and moved towards the bed. She would be lucky if she got any sleep this night.

~~~...~~~

William pressed his head against the door. That chit his youngest son was marrying would be the death of both of them.

'Ah no?'

No. I do not think you know the meaning of that word!

He turned and drained the wine goblet in his left hand, before looking at the one in his right and drained it as well.

“Did someone disrupt your well-laid plans?”

William moved to the side table, setting both empty goblets not-so-gently on the wood. “The mademoiselle my youngest is to marry is worse than a puppy!” He placed one hand on his hip, before picking up the wine bottle and refilling his glass. “I should warn him. I would send her back, however my French cousin is frothing at the mouth over the vineyards he will receive when her grandfather dies.” He picked up the chalice and faced the angel. “Please have a chat with Douma before morning and tell her to make it soon!”

Valoel stood before him in her court finery. One would never guess she had a halo and wings. “You are incorrigible.”

“So my mother said.” He took a drink. “All of them!”

“She-” Val threw her hand out in the direction of Vivienne's bedroom, “is innocent!”

“I will be first.” He suddenly brightened. “She's never been kissed!” He toasted the air. “I shall be first in that regards, as well!”

“Do the right thing! Find her a husband.”

He drained the glass and looked longingly at the bottle. “You should have done the right thing and birthed her far from me.”

“Gui! C'est un péché!”

“Murder is a sin, but you've pushed me to that end!” he hissed, aware that raised voices would be heard in the next room. “And rejoiced in it, I might add!” He sat the goblet down and lifted the bottle, his intent clear. “I do not 'get' you angels. You are happy when I take a life, but you are upset when I love someone.” He waved a hand at her and lifted the bottle to his lips. “Begone.”

One moment, the angel was on the far side of the room. The next, she was beside him, whispering in his ear. “Death comes to Nottingham. Evil will darken your door and Vivienne's. Be prepared.”

And she was gone.

William rolled his eyes and drank deeply from the bottle. “Such hysterics over a thwarted tryst.”

~~~...~~~

The entire chapel was filled with bleary-eyed, hung-over parishioners. Under normal circumstances, the priest would fill the sanctuary with his loud, booming voice and preach the evils of wine and debauched behavior, however he himself was feeling the effects of the night's previous revelry. Hugh and his bride took breakfast in their rooms and were not seen until after morning mass. Ellienna's blush was never ending, but the two looked very happy and very tired indeed. There was not a lot of teasing when the two left to take a nap after luncheon.

Many guests chose to leave Monday morning and as Eleanor was not expected back until Monday morning as well, Vivienne decided to return to Gisborne with Lord William for the evening.

Truth was, Henriette decided for her. Not intentionally, of course. She mentioned she was looking forward to yet another girl's night, as the one the previous evening was such a success. Much to the amusement of Lord William, Vivienne explained that Lord William was returning to his manse and she was going with him.

“Have you thought much on our discussion, then, m'lady?” Lord William was riding in the coach with Vivienne, bored amusement in his bearing. It was snowing and the two were wrapped in a large fur.

“Discussion? You mean-”

“Becoming my mistress.”

Vivienne took a deep breath. Truth was, she had thought of little else, tantalized on one hand to having an intimate relationship with someone who was invading her dreams in the most wonderful way, only to be horrified that she was considering such a wretched proposition.

“My lord, truth is I thought you spoke in jest. You were quite inebriated last night.”

“I was not that inebriated!” One inky eyebrow rose. “Yet, you are coming to my home openly-”

“My lord, I fear if I stayed, the girl your son is marrying would keep me up all night again. I need to sleep.” Her heavy sigh was not comical in the least. “I am exhausted.”

So much for seduction.

Despite his ire at having his plans for the evening laid aside again, it was clear to William that Vivienne was indeed, exhausted. She toyed with the refreshments waiting for them upon their arrival and yawned through dinner. Rather than attempt to coerce her into his bed, William had his housekeeper escort her to the chamber next to his. When he checked on her an hour later, she was sound asleep. For not the first time, he considered sending Henriette back to her grandfather, but Fulks was already enamored with her and he supposed when they married, Fulks would take her to Harridston and therefore, he wouldn't have to worry about the young woman keeping everyone save Fulks up with her shenanigans.

And perhaps marriage would settle her down. If Fulks did his duty and kept her with child, then she wouldn't be able to keep the household in an uproar.

Vivienne was much refreshed when she rose the next morning. She offered to aid the housekeeper and the cook to lay out the kitchen and herb garden, this being the first one for the manse. She told William that she had heard rumor of a greenhouse Lord Roland's French wife had built in Locksley that was now fallen in disrepair and ruin. Such an addition to Gisborne...

her voice trailed off.

And William knew she was contemplating their conversation.

As the morning sun wore the early fog from the leaves, he escorted her to her home. Their chatter was filler, dancing from the subject at hand. They arrived to no greeting, no one in the home.

Eleanor had not returned to Vivienne's home or come to work.

tbc

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



Chapter 4j



Not concerned about the sick

It was early afternoon when Eleanor, accompanied by Gilbert, apprentice to the blacksmith, came strolling up the back path to Vivienne's home. Both had their heads together and were unaware that many members of the village and the manse were hunting for them. Fulks had begun combing the woods, Hugh as well. Eleanor's family was going village to village, looking for their daughter, everyone worried.

Vivienne saw the pair first. Denied to aid in the search, she worked feverishly in her home, hoeing her already winterized garden, cleaning and rearranging cupboards that didn't need to be rearranged. William stayed with her, making sure she stayed put. She was checking the bedding of the perennial seedlings, when she heard familiar voices. Jerking her head up, she saw the young, oblivious couple, making their way through a seldom used path, normally hidden by honeysuckle.

“Eleanor!” Vivienne dropped her rake and ran from the garden. “Eleanor! Where have you been?”

William was leaning against the door, more asleep than not. Vivienne's shout woke him from his stupor and pushing off from the post, caught up with her by the time she reached the teens.

Eleanor looked from Vivienne to Lord William, not realizing that her beau was shrinking in his boots. Gilbert was not as tall, but hulking, his build befitting the craft he was learning. He was quiet and honest, hard-working.

“We've been to Nottingham.” Eleanor's eyes continued to dart back and forth. “There's been a fair and celebration...” her voice trailed off.

“Did you think to tell someone?” William cut in, stepping up and towering over the pair. “Your family, your village,” he thrust a hand towards Vivienne, “your mistress has been extremely worried!”

Eleanor began to pale and shrink, along with Gilbert. “Lady Vivienne said I could go-”

Vivienne shook her head. “That's right. I did. I forgot. There were celebrations all over the shire for Hugh's wedding.”

“Still-”

“Eleanor! You're safe!” Fulks rode up on his horse, Hugh and a DeGlasson knight behind him. “Where were you?”

“I've been to Nottingham-”

“I forgot. I told her she could go.”

“And you were with her?” Fulks swung off his horse, leaping down in front of Gilbert. “Who are you?”

“I'm... Gilbert, apprentice to Rulf, the Blacksmith-”

“Fulks!” Vivienne stepped between the two young men. “Stop it! I've known Gilbert since he was a wee lad. Rulf, as well.” She looked up at her friend and hissed. “Stop glaring! He's shy!”

Fulks was growling. So was William, come to think of it.

“I should go,” Gilbert tugged at his forelock. He touched Eleanor's fingers. “I should see you at mass Sunday?”

“I'll save you a place in the pew.” Much to Vivienne and William's amusement, both Gilbert and Eleanor were blushing and Fulks-

Vivienne kicked him.

“HEY!”

While Fulks was now glaring at Vivienne and rubbing his shin, Gilbert took the opportunity to nod to William before scurrying off. The small group watched as he sped through the high grass to the trees, before turning their attention to the young woman.

“Is that a new ribbon, Eleanor?”

The girl put her hand self-consciously to her hair. “Yes. Gilbert bought it.” She ducked her head. “He thought it looked pretty.”

William snorted and immediately found Vivienne's elbow in his side. “He is right. It is very pretty.” Vivienne put on her brightest smile. “Why don't you go down into the cellar and bring up a duck. We can roast it with some autumn vegetables and you and I will sit together and chat.” She frowned at William, who was smirking. “Just us girls. If my lady's maid is going to be courted by the blacksmith's apprentice, well we might want to talk about a new dress or two!”

Eleanor smiled wanly and moved towards the house. Vivienne and the FitzGisborne men watched.

“I think I'll follow Gilbert and have a chat with him.” Fulks nodded to the knight riding with him to stable his horse.

“You will NOT!” Vivienne immediately jumped to her maid's beau's defense. “He's a nice young man! He's brought me injured puppies and cats.”

Fulks stared at her hard. This was not the playful friend of recent years. This was the angry being from her youth, who she feared he would become. “You misunderstand.” He turned to William. “Father, if you will explain to her the problem.” With that he turned on his heel and followed Gilbert's footsteps. “Gilbert! Wait up!”

“Hugh,” William reached out and held Vivienne by the elbow while he addressed his eldest over his shoulder. “Return to Locksley and tell Eleanor's family she has been found safe and sound. We have called off the search.” He waited while Hugh mounted up and with the attending knight following, turned his attention to the very furious young woman he held. “A word. Please.”

“But Gilbert-”

“Gilbert will be fine. Fulks will not harm him. You do not understand-”

“NO! I don't understand! I don't understa-” Vivienne found a large hand across her mouth.

“Five young servant girls about the same age as Eleanor on Fulks' estate were found raped and strangled last month. They had been-” William stopped, trying to find gentle words and not finding them, “physically abused. Tortured.”

Vivienne's jaw dropped in horror. “I had heard there was ugliness but-”

“This person has moved to Nottinghamshire. A scullery maid and a girl from the laundry have been murdered under the same circumstances.” William leaned down into Vivienne's face. “We are trying to keep you safe. Fulks will simply warn Gilbert to watch out for strangers in our shire. If he is courting our Eleanor, he will want to keep a closer eye on her.” He turned loose of the girl. “I want you to think seriously on my request to move into Gisborne Hall. Bring Eleanor. If there is another incident, I will not give you a choice.”

And with that, he pivoted on his heel and strode into Vivienne's home, inviting himself to dinner.

~~~...~~~

It was the coldest winter William could remember – and that included his life as Sir Guy and as Sir Roland. Everyone was staying inside with the warmth and that included whoever was murdering young servant girls. Vivienne and Eleanor stayed cozy, firewood finding it's way to Vivienne's woodpile and Vivienne teaching Eleanor about herb lore.

Sir William insisted that Vivienne dress according to her station, which meant clothing Vivienne didn't think she needed. Eleanor answered the door one cold morning to find both Hugh's bride, Ellienna, Fulks' fiancee, and a woman with a cart full of velvets and furs standing outside.

“Who is paying for all of this?” Vivienne stood on a stool, arms out, heavy wool and such draped over her limbs. “I don't need it!”

“Lord William.” Henriette held up a a vibrant red swatch of wool. “I told you he has amour for you! No?” She held the material against Vivienne's face. “Ah, oui! A beautiful color for you!”

“I don't think-”

“It is the color of passion!” Henrietta stated emphatically. “Lord William would keep a smile on your face!” She turned to Hugh's wife. “Am I correct, Ellienna?”

Ellienna looked up from her cup, her face, very pale. “My father-in-law is quite taken with his ward, this is true. Hugh says we are to leave them alone and wish them happy.” She lifted her cup. “Do you have more of this? It is very settling.”

“Why is everyone interested in mine and Lord William's... friendship?” Both of the women snorted. “Eleanor, fetch Lady Ellienna another cup of tea.” She then addressed the seamstress. “Pay them no heed. I have never lain with that man! Any man!”

The woman raised her eyebrows and said nothing as her mouth was full of pins. Her family had dressed the ladies of Gisborne since her French ancestor came from Aquitaine in the late 1100's. Rumor had it she had dressed Guy of Gisborne's lady, even though most people said he didn't have one.

Vivienne snarled and turned her attention back to Ellienna. “My lady, Are you with child?”

“Yes and do not tell.”

This took the women in the room aback. “But, why not? Does your husband know?”

The noise in the room came to a standstill. “Yes, he does, but we've told no one. Not until we tell Lord William.”

“And that will be?”

“After Sunday Mass.” She put a hand on her stomach. “I am sick, standing over the chamber pot all day and I sit on it all night.” Eleanor returned with a fresh, steaming cup, handing it to the young woman. “Thank you. Might I have some of this to take home? Actually, a lot of this to take home?”

Vivienne nodded to Eleanor and then jumped when the seamstress pricked her. “Can you not just use the first dress for measurement?”

“Sorry my lady. The dresses are cut different.”

Vivienne was shaking her head, her arms drooping from the weight of the various materials. “Why so much... red?”

“My lord requested the color for you. He thinks it would suit.”

Vivienne was exasperated. “He did? Why would he think that?” She was shaking her head. “'Tis much too bold.”

“Regardless of how bold you think it is, he likes it, and it does suit your coloring quite well,” the seamstress stated.

“And as he's paying you, that's, that.”

The seamstress nodded and added more pins to hold in her mouth.

“'Tis his favorite color, m'lady.” Eleanor stood in the corner, trying to stay out of everyone's way. She blushed when every head turned to her. “So the housekeeper says,” she mumbled.

Ellienna turned a sickly shade of green. “Where is the chamber pot?” Vivienne gestured in the general direction and Eleanor took her by the arm and led her into the side room, where retching could soon be heard.

“You are a herbalist, no?” Henrietta sidled up to Vivienne.

“Aye. I am.” She leaned over to the seamstress. “I have several dresses with deep hems. I would like to refit them for Eleanor. I will have no need for so many and she is being courted.” She turned back to Henriette. “Why do you ask?”

Henriette was shaking her head. “I do not wish to go through this.” She nodded towards the chamber room, where Ellienna was still retching. “I would like to take something tha-”

“Why?” Vivienne was shaking her head. “Your fear is understandable, but you need to discuss this with Fulks. Not everyone has such a hard time of it.”

Henriette was wringing her dress in her hands. She was obviously distressed, a worked up state Vivienne was certain was unusual for the young woman. “Maman died in childbirth with my brother. Papa was never the same.”

“Oh,” Vivienne inhaled in understanding. “Don't worry. We'll figure this out!”

“No?”

“Aye.”

And with that, the dressmaker stuck Vivienne with a pin, making her yelp. “Sowwy.”

~~~...~~~

Fulks and Henriette married during Yule at Harridston. The home had been refurbished and scrubbed since Hugh the Younger visited. New tapestries were hung and fresh herbs were tucked in many places.

William stood in the corner, watching everything and everyone. Mellisande would not recognize her ancestral and childhood home.

William scowled to himself. Mellisande would not recognize her home, her children, or much of anything. Save himself, who she still screamed was a demon. The last time Valoel came to chide him for his pursuit and courting of Vivienne, he asked her how much longer the heavens would leave his wife on this earth, miserable and unaware of the world surrounding her.

Valoel shook her head. “Douma does not confide such in me.”

“Well, she should!” William was quietly preparing the bedchamber connected to his for when Vivienne finally moved in.

Spring. By spring... Early spring!

“I will not smother her or set her aside, for that would be a cruelty,” he took a sip of his wine. “however I intend on making Vivienne my Lady and I will not wait to make her my bride with or without the church's blessing.”

“Have you spoken to Edward about this?” Valoel's voice was coy.

“Why would I speak to Edward?” He strode around the bed, looking at the upholstery swatches. “Do you think she would prefer the light blue or the green?” He threw his hands up. “Bah! This is worse than clothes shopping! I hate clothes shopping!”

“That is why most of what you own is in black.”

William wasn't listening. “Sometimes understanding what a woman wants is very difficult. It's like trying to figure out what color the letter seven smells like.” His snarl deepened. “I like red, but my housekeeper said it would not do!”

The angel sighed. This evening, she wore a celestial blue garment, one that draped and trailed behind her. “Pick the green. As you are a high-ranking lord, the king will want to approve your marriage, should it come to pass that yo-”

“Come to pass?” He picked up the blue piece and tossed it away. “Edward would not deny me.” He turned to leave. “The green will do nicely.”

So the chamber was being decked in a forest green, the room taking a feminine turn, one he prayed Vivienne would appreciate and feel at home in. In the meantime, he watched the dancing, watched Fulks and Henriette sit with their heads together.

Watched Vivienne, decked out in a deep red gown, with white fur trim.

The wedding was not as hugely attended as Hugh's, but according to the bride and groom, that was fine with them. It was cold out, there was snow on the ground. Their friends were there. It had taken a week for the staff and manse to recuperate from Hugh's wedding.

An arm threaded through his. “Ellienna looks very tired.”

William smiled as his hand covered Vivienne's. His hard work was paying off. She was no longer skittish around him. She no longer fussed – much – when he showed up unannounced for dinner.

Or lunch.

Or to take her to Nottingham to shop.

“Ellienna is expecting a child.” Vivienne grinned at the Black Knight's announcement and William realized that she was privileged to this information before he, himself. “You will be, of course, present for the lying in.”

“Would not miss it for the world.” Her grin, if anything, became bigger. “You, of course, will demand she have a boy.”

William was watching the proceedings with amusement. Fulks and his bride were dancing, trying to maneuver close to the stairwell. “I think this time around that Hugh and Ellienna's progeny will be a girl.” He turned and whispered in her ear. “I will not be disappointed. I will spoil her rotten.”

Vivienne turned him in shock. “Men want sons!”

“Hugh and Ellienna will have boys. But this child she carries, is a girl.” He put his arm around her and drew her closer. If there was any doubt in anyone's mind that Vivienne ette Forde, Baronnette of Clun, was beloved and cherished by the Earl of Nottingham and Lord and Black Knight of Gisborne, whatever skepticism was quickly erased. “Fulks and Henriette will have a difficult time of it, but eventually...” His voice trailed off and his attention wandered. His entire body stiffened and his posture changed. A shout had gone up as Fulks and Henriette charged up the stairs, the couple quickly guarded by Hugh and Fulks' knights. As with Hugh's wedding, there was good-natured calling, but it was short lived when it was loudly announced more wine was being served and the musicians began playing a lively jig. The spirits flowed and the room became hot. Hugh and Ellienna retired to what had been Mellisande's childhood bedchamber, it like the others, refurbished, rearranged.

Nothing of any Harridston remained.

The hour was late, and Vivienne's eyes grew heavy. She wondered aloud if there was room in Fulks' much smaller manse. The ride back to her home was quite a distance.

“No, there is not.” William was wrapping her in her cloak. “I have made reservations at the inn at the hamlet half an hour from here.” He was steering her towards the front door, nodding to the servants. “In the morning, we will return to Gisborne.”

“But I-”

“I have a gift for you.” He tucked her in the carriage. “It is at Gisborne.”

Vivienne's smile was tired. “My Lord, you have given me too much.”

He pulled her closer to him, as they left through the doors. The Gisborne Coach was waiting in the front. He opened the door and helped her up. “I recall you were born before Yule. Consider this a birthday and Yule gift wrapped into one.” He pulled into the coach, closing the door and rapped on the ceiling, signaling the driver to leave. He pulled a heated blanket from the opposing bench and covered the two of them. “I would love to give you more.”

Vivienne stifled a yawn. “My Lord, are you trying to ply me with gifts?”

“Perish the thought.” He cuddled her in closer, feeling her relax against him.

The inn was small and cozy and used to high ranking company coming and going at odd hours. They were also blissfully silent when certain company came and disappeared. The Lord of Locksley paid them well for their inability to remember things. Vivienne was more asleep than awake when they arrived and she never remembered the young servant girl who was tipped well to help her disrobe and put her into bed.

All she remembered was Lord William tucking her in.

~~~...~~~

January of the Year of our Lord 1334 was particularly frigid in an already cold winter. Vivienne found herself in many homes, tending to the sick at all hours, much to William's ire. She was wearing herself down, making her susceptible to the very disease she was trying to cure. Pleas, demands, and threats fell on deaf ears. William no longer wondered who was more stubborn. It was definitely she.

And insubordinate and defiant.

So obviously, Genevieve!

As had become his habit, William invited himself to dinner, showing up with a bottle of wine. Eleanor did not greet him with her usual smile and simply pointed to a door that led to a room behind the kitchen. William had assumed it was a pantry of sorts, which it was, however Vivienne was clinking bottles and vials, digging through crates and muttering to herself.

And her language was most... colorful.

“My lady, is something amiss?”

She didn't look up, simply kept looking, moving her lamp to peer into crevices. “Everyone is sick! Everyone! Agatha's granddaughter especially so! She's run a fever for three days and her lungs are congested! I've tried everything and I've run out of sweating herbs. I've used them up! It does not help that this past growing season was abysmal!”

He thought of Alise's greenhouse, the one Roland built for her, glass brought from Yorkshire. It was over-grown, untended for years, things growing wild... there were many herbs, trees bearing fruit that no one on this island had heard of. He turned to Eleanor.

“Go to the barn and have someone saddle your lady's mare – the one I recently gifted her with – and have her brought to the front of the house.” He then returned to the pantry, not giving Vivienne much time to fuss. “Please go upstairs and change and find your cloak and gloves. We are going to the main estate.”

Vivienne had a crate out and was taking things out. “I need to find yarrow or some.. aha!” She held up a bottle and uncorked it. Peering in, she scowled and recorked it, setting it back. “Damnation! Nothing but dust!”

“Vivienne.” He took her by the elbow. “Please change. I am taking you to Locksley.”

“But-”

“Old Lord Roland's-” gag “- wife was from South France. She was an herbalist and he built her a glass solarium, where she grew all sorts of herbs. The garden is over-grown, however you might find something.” Vivienne stood straight up and pinned him with a glare. “I desire to build something similar, if but smaller, if you wish. I'll allow you to set it up in the way you-”

“A greenhouse?” Her eyes were wide and William basked in the tiny moment she was quiet before she inhaled. “There is a greenhouse?”

“Aye,” Ah Jesu, if she looks at me in that way for the rest of my life, “full of wondrous and mysterious things. You may rummage and dig and take to your heart's content and I will allow you to take charge of my kitchen garden and will build you a greenhouse of your own at Gisborne-”

“Or here in Clun?”

Ah, she was going to be difficult. I should step up this seduction more than a bit!

“Glass is not cheap, Vivienne and Gisborne is not that far. Come,” he stepped out of the doorway. “please change into something suitable and quickly. If you have a satchel-”

She bumped into him as she flew past. “I have a satchel on the hook, if you will put the bottles and...” her voice trailed off, becoming muffled as she went up the stairs, William standing below, appreciating the gentle sway of her hips.

“My Lord?”

“Yes, Eleanor?” William's eyes were still on the stairwell.

Her foot was tapping in ire. “If I may be so bold, you are as obvious as the day is long.”

William turned slowly, the smile on his face mocking and joyous at the same time. “Is that a bad thing?”

“She is good to me, my lord. I not only have a bed, but a room of my own with a fireplace and she asks me to sit at her table with her to sup!” The girl's eyes welled. “She is teaching me to read and about the healing herbs. I have clothes, more clothes than I thought I would ever have and a warm cloak and-”

“What if I told you I love her and would allow no harm to come to her or her favored servant, whom I placed with her?”

Eleanor's mouth clapped shut.

“Believe it or not,” William's voice was low, one ear tuned upstairs, listening for Vivienne, “your mistress's very finger is on the well-being of my people. This endears her more to me and I would have her well-stocked and provided in what she needs.”

Eleanor's head bowed, obviously upset that she might draw the Lord of Gisborne's displeasure. “Yes, my lord. I am... I am sorry, my lord, to question you.”

If coddling the servant helped him in his quest, then he would coddle the servant. “You are protective of your mistress, which pleases me.” Eleanor beamed. “I have nothing but respect for her.” The upstairs was growing quiet. William handed the satchel to Eleanor. “You will know what bottles she needs. If you would, please?”

The girl dipped a quick curtsy. “Yes, my lord.”

William watched as she scurried off. The servant was definitely more easily persuaded than her mistress. But he knew patience.

He knew patience very well.

~~~...~~~

The minute Vivienne stepped into the greenhouse, William knew, he knew, she was his. Even Eleanor would have bowed to his carnal desires had he been so inclined. But he wasn't, and his entire focus was on Vivienne.

“Oooooh.” It came out as a gasp, an exhalation of breath. For some time, Vivienne strolled down the paths, plucking weeds, fingering containers of dried herbs and plants. Many she brought to her nose, relishing the scent.

Some she pulled, scowled and crushed in her hands. “Good for seed. Useless as fodder.”

Too old.

Too dry.

On more than one occasion, she turned to William, finger raised, anger on her face as if to scold him, but she would stop her outburst and turn back, continuing on her way.

“Is something amiss, my lady?”

“No! Yes! Why do you a- EUCALYPTUS!!! You have Eucalyptus! Oh, sweet Mother Mary of God!”

William smiled. “Is something amiss?”

It came out in a rush. “I cannot believe this wonderful garden has been left to ruin! How could you? How...how... you said you would build another one in Clun?”

Oh, you little mischievous, manipulative... you're good, but I am better!

“I said I would build one in Gisborne. For a boon.”

Vivienne stopped in mid-stride. “Boon? You said nothing about a boon!”

“I am now.” It was not lost on William that Eleanor turned beet red and whisked around the path, out of sight. He came in close, pinning Vivienne to a strange tree, invading her personal space.

Definitely taking her out of her comfort zone.

“We will talk about that in a few minutes. Come. I have something I want to show you.” He breezed by her, leaving the young woman, gasping for air. “Come quickly. I don't want you to get lost.”

Vivienne was over-whelmed by the scent of leather and it caused confusion. For some reason, the scent was familiar to her, an old, ancient memory, from a dream, the vision of a large bed, a shadowed man in black lea-

“Vivienne? Are you lost?”

Vivienne shook herself from her reverie. She followed quickly in the direction the man had gone. “Lost? I would love to wander this place for...” she stopped in front of the small tree William stood before. “What is this? What color is that? I've never seen the like.”

William reached up and pulled the orange from the branch. “It is out of season, however, because of the warm temperature kept in this greenhouse, there are three that produce fruit over the year.” With the orange in his hand, he motioned to the other two. “My great-grandmother was from the South of France, near Providence. 'Tis said my great-grandfather Roland, loved her very much and brought many herbs, spices, flowers and plants from there, so she would not become homesick.”

“Roland FitzGisborne breathed life into you.”

William rolled his eyes. He was so tired of hearing the very story of his existence. “This fruit has something in it that has kept the FitzGisborne's healthy for some generations.” His voice dropped to an inaudible whisper. “She swore by it.” Turning the orange to the stem, he began to peel. “During the winter, my cook uses a preserve made from this on the morning bread.” The thick, calloused skin of the fruit was pulled back, the scent exploding in the corner of the greenhouse. Vivienne leaned forward, trying to look, trying to smell...

William pulled the fruit apart and took a section from it. “Try it.” He dangled it above her head.

It was obvious the man intended to feed her and while the thought mildly irked her, she wanted to taste this sweet pome.

It took every ounce of William's self control, not to take her to the floor the moment her lips wrapped around his fingers.

The aroma was simply a tease, the tang exploding on her tongue. She reached for the remainder of the fruit.

William held it back. “We have a boon to discuss.”

Her hand stopped in mid-air. “Yes?”

“A kiss.”

She squinted at him in exasperation. “A kiss? A single kiss?”

William continued to hold the fruit above his head. The juices were dripping between his long fingers. “Any time I wish one.”

“Lord William-”

He was shaking his head. “No. William. Just William.” He saw her protest coming and cut it off. “You should try one.”

“My Lo-”

“William.”

The sigh was exasperated. “William, I fear you will be kissing me in all places public. My reputation-”

“Will not suffer. I promise not to embarrass you.” The grin was snarky and evil. “Try one.”

Vivienne was deep into dangerous territory. This man invaded her dreams, kept her in a sweat, a sense of sexual urgency. Her confessions bothered the village priest, the fact she even entertained him for meals, for anything. Fulks and Hugh assured her endlessly, their mother was no mother to them, no wife to the Lord of Locksley, not for many years. Their wives couldn't understand why she wasn't already in his bed. The marriage bed was such a joy!

'Aye! You have a marriage! I would not!'

'You will! Why wait?'

'You know you want to.'

“You know you want to.”

Vivienne jerked from her thoughts. “What?”

William rolled his eyes, laid the remains of the orange on the shelf, and pulled her to him. Not waiting for her to look up, he gently tucked his finger under her chin and lifted her face.

His mouth descended.

And in that moment, Vivienne ette Forde, knew what it meant to have one's breath stolen away.

~~~...~~~

William was quite pleased with himself. Vivienne had pulled him to her several times before turning him loose and looking quite irked with herself. She then stepped back and went about the business of not only finishing the orange, but gathering several for her satchel.

“What is this called?” She held up a freshly picked fruit.

“It is called 'Auranja' in the old Provencal. According to the old shipping logs, an ancestor of Alise d'Aigues-Mortes brought several saplings from Sicily and planted them in the garden there. Cuttings were brought here for her pleasure and these trees are considered quite rare. I believe they are the only ones in England.”

Much to William's delight, Vivienne was not so gracefully cramming the remainder of the orange in her mouth, before moving on and pointing to the tree. “You say there is healing properties?”

“My sons and I eat the fruit from this tree regularly. We have never grown ill with colds or such.”

“OH! You have a lemon tree!” She disappeared around the corner.

“I see I will be kissing you often,” he murmured to himself.

“This garden is in terrible need of pruning and weeding!” Vivienne came back around the corner, each hand cupping several lemons. “'Tis horribly over-grown. The weeds are choking the herbs and ginger root! Eleanor!” The servant came running around the corner. “Get my satchel and remove the jars.” She dumped the lemons into the bag and pulled an orange from the tree. “Eat this. It is very good.”

“I will see to it that you have a jar of the preserves for your pantry and a jar for medicinal purposes.”

“Thank you.” The jars were labeled and she grabbed several. “Thyme, thyme... you said you would build me such a greenhouse in Clun.”

Stubborn, stubborn woman...

“I said I would build such a greenhouse in Gisborne that you could use. The kitchen garden has not been set up and if it pleases you, I would allow you to set charge of that as well.”

Vivienne was yet again around the corner. “William, the kitchen garden is the responsibility of the cook or the mistress of the house!”

“Yes.”

“Your cook-”

“My chatelaine is my cook and Margaret would like to retire!” He was staring into the rafters of the greenhouse, enthralled by the growing vines and roses. “As for the mistress of the house, we have danced around this subject for some weeks.”

“William-”

“As mistress of my manse and my mistress, you would be in charge of hiring a cook, have charge of our home, given a generous allotment for clothing, among other things. You would have the same duties and responsibilities and reputation as my lady wife in Gisborne and have access to this greenhouse, as well as the garden in Gisborne. My only request is-”

“Kisses.” She came back around the corner, several thyme twigs and eucalyptus branches in hand. “You wish unlimited kisses.”

“For starters.”

The look she gave him would wither a lesser man. “I should give you my father's bed warmer.” She turned and continued down the stone walk.

He chased her down the path. “Ah, but you are a much prettier than that old beat up, dented thing.”

She stopped and glared at him. “How would you know?”

“I gave it to him.”

She rolled her eyes and continued on her way. “If someone would retrieve the jars of preserves for me, I must get to Agatha's granddaughter. She can hardly breath and I would put her in a hot bath of eucalyptus and thyme, as well as make a tea with lemon and ginger.”

“Vivienne, it is after dark and you and Eleanor will spend the night here.”

“William-”

“I will send my man to Agatha tonight with tea for the child. We will leave early in the morning.”

Things began to go into the rucksack. “I will be back after I've checked on the child to begin cleaning this... this...mess and prepare seeds for the greenhouse you will build in Gisborne. The sooner it is up, the sooner I can plant.” Her rucksack filled, she stood up and headed towards the door. “Kisses, my lord. Simply kisses.”

He made sure she had several more before she reached the house.

Tbc


About oranges: They were cultivated in China around 2500 BC. Citrus fruits came to Sicily around the 9th century and they were introduced by the Moors to Spain – Al-Andalus in the 10th century. The Sweet Orange unknown until the late 15th century when the Italian and Portuguese merchants brought them into the Mediterranean area. Eventually, they made their way to England. They were exotic and only for the wealthy. They were grown in orangaries. Word came from the Old Provencal – Auranja or une norenge.

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



Chapter 4K



Among the Pure

After Sunday Mass, Vivienne stood before the church doors, searching the open area in front. The child she was looking for soon came running by.

“'Lo, Lay-dee Viv'ene!” The little blonde looked up and grinned.

“Hello, Annora! Are you feeling better?”

A salve-coated arm came out from under the child's cloak and raked itself across her nose. “M' nose is still a little drippy, but better!” Her smile dropped a bit. “D''you have more of the Ah...ah...ah run jah jam?” Now her voice dropped. “Malle got into it.”

Vivienne smiled. “I'll see what I can do. Are you drinking the tea?”

“Bleh!”

“Well, drink it anyway! I'll see you tomorrow. Now, go on with you.” Vivienne waved her by. “Your mother is waiting.”

Annora waved and ran to her family.

“Ahem!”

Vivienne's smile became fixed before she turned around. “Good day, Maud. 'Tis good to see that Annora is much improved!”

“Aye, thanks to your strange witchcraft!”

Vivienne held on to her expression, not wanting the woman to realize that she rankled her. “Maud, you know I use no witchcraft.”

“Herbs that are out of season, a bad season that no one has done well with, least of all, you! A strange fruit, no one has seen or heard of before, I call it witchcraft.”

Vivienne shrugged. “The tree grows in Lord William's greenhouse. He- what?”

Maud stepped up against her and glared down at her. “Aye, yes, Lord William.” It was a hiss, a conversation between the two women and no one else. People stepped wide around them, giving them privacy. Maud was a mean woman and no one wished to be on the lash side of her tongue. None of the parishioners would come to Vivienne's rescue, for fear the old woman would turn her spite on them. “We notice you sit with him in his family pew as if you are a FitzGisborne! In his wife's spot! All knows that the black beast you now ride, came from his stable, sired by his demon steed! What favors do you do for him, a married man, a wicked man, to receive such gifts?”

Vivienne turned red, angry, and opened her mouth to respond, however she felt a sudden warmth at her back, and a heavy hand on her shoulder, her body pinned between two dark forces. “My lady, is all aright?”

Vivienne felt an immediate peace, comfort. “Yes, my lord. We were discussing Agatha's granddaughter. The one that has been so ill.”

“She is better?” William stepped closer, the heat from his body and cloak heating Vivienne to an extreme.

“Yes. She was the little girl I was speaking with. She is much better, thanks to your generosity.”

“Maud?” He addressed the elderly woman. “Isn't it wonderful Agatha's granddaughter is on the mend?”

The woman's tone was surly. “Aye.”

“Good.” He smiled at the woman, a smile that didn't reach his eyes and it made the old woman shrink back. “I am glad Lady Vivienne felt comfortable enough to come to me to plead for aid. She confided to me some time back, that the growing season was less than adequate and she was concerned for the villages during the winter. My Locksley estate has a greenhouse, over-run with weeds and growth, but Lady Vivienne found what she needed, praise Jesu. The lady has convinced me to build a second one on my own, smaller estate, in order to have better access to her healing herbs closer to where she resides.” He leaned over Vivienne's shoulder and whispered. “Have you seen the beast she was riding? I was terrified, her riding her father's old war destrier all over Nottinghamshire. According to her father's dying wishes, I was obliged to find her safer, swifter transportation to see to her patients, my people.”

“Her... father?” Maud visibly deflated.

“Yes. He bid me to watch and care for her...” William let the thought wander off. “The FitzGisbornes consider her family.”

Maud drew herself up. “I see.”

“I'm glad you do.” He squeezed Vivienne's shoulders. “Come, Lady Vivienne. My cook says we have too much pheasant and it must be consumed today, or it will spoil. I love my hounds, but not so much to give them all of the pheasant.” He took Vivienne's hand and tucked it into his elbow. “Porcpoilue eats too fast and will choke on the bones.” He turned and moved away Vivienne away from the old woman, whose jaw was hanging like an unhinged door.

“I cannot believe you call that sweet, lovable dog 'Hairy Pig!”

“I could call him Chattepoilue!”

A knight was holding the reins of both William's and Vivienne's horses. Vivienne pulled up her hood and drew on her gloves. “That's horrid.”

William cupped his hands to give Vivienne a leg up. “He is useless on the hunt and has been known to allow the house mice to hide under him so the cats will not feed on them. I do not know why I keep him!”

Vivienne put her foot in the man's hands and lifted up, throwing a leg over and resettling her skirts once her feet were firmly in the stirrups. “Because he is loyal to you and you alone and he's obvious in his singular affection.”

William snorted, before nodding to the knight, who handed Vivienne her reins. After tucking her red velvet cape around her and her stirrups, William rose up on his charger and pulled up next to the young woman. “There are those who are loyal to you and are obvious in their own singular affection.” With that, he winked at her and moved forward, nudging her own horse at the shoulder. “I am not talking just about me.”

Vivienne photo bd04b6a4080f5f2e7bfa67db3630a575_zpstcbjikmy.jpg



~~~...~~~

With the thawing of winter and the coming of spring, Hugh's wife began to show and the shire rejoiced with the coming of a new FitzGisborne. If anyone watched and listened for signs of a second pregnancy from the younger FitzGisborne's household, they were disappointed and were wise enough to say nothing. While still cold, it wasn't as cold and the gentle promise of thaw was praised.

But with the arrival of early spring, an unwelcome guest returned.

One of the kitchen maids from Locksley disappeared and was found a week later in the rubbish pile. She might had been found sooner, however, there was a late snow and she was found as it melted several days later.

She had been strangled with a thin garrote and her clothing ripped, her body beaten and bruised. There was torn flesh caused by bites around her breasts, buttocks, and ears. The snow had kept the bruising fresh.

Her father stared into space, furious in his grief. “She were a good girl, my Gwen.”

Her mother sobbed and Vivienne sent heavily drugged teas to sedate the woman.

The Lord of FitzGisborne, his heir, and the Lord of Harridston sat in a tight circle in front of William's fire, alone save for the family hounds.

“I thought he had moved on, gone to terrorize someone else.” Hugh's half-filled goblet dangled precariously from his fingertips. He cradled his forehead between his thumb and index finger in the other hand. “I had prayed it.”

“No female moves from the manse in Harridston without an escort.” Fulks was staring into the fire, a scowl on his young face. His drink was tightly gripped in his fist, the other hand, slowly stroking the head of a large dog sitting next to him. He tipped his head and squinted. “So far, we have boasted of five marriages.”

This statement caused Hugh to jolt and William to bark. It was a rusty sound, something he did not do often. When he settled back down, Hugh made his way to leave. All this ugliness and his wife was so very emotional right now. Like his younger brother, he had doubled the number of guards keeping watch. No woman went anywhere without an armed escort. Fulks waited until Hugh had left.

“I do not like Vivienne being alone.”

“Neither do I.” William rose to stir the fire. He thought to refill his glass, but decided not to. He needed a clear head; he needed to talk to his youngest son. “She is stubborn and I would prefer to woo her gently; however I might soon not have much choice.” For some minutes, the two men listened to the popping within the fireplace.

“I have spoken to the sheriff.” William spoke of Adamus de Boneventure, a man who had been William's friend since they were children, a descendant of Much, the Miller's son. The family had long been servants, if not to the crown, then to Guy's descendants. Long ago, Much had been granted a small estate with a ridiculously minute pension and his heir and heirs kept a firm grip on it, caring for it as if it were a palace, which it was not. William's mother made the mistake of mocking the family one time in front of William's father, and learned quickly that insulting the Boneventure's would gain her animosity and a smaller allowance. They were good people, good friends and knew what loyalty meant. William very much appreciated his friendship and his ties to not only the de Boneventures, but the de Millers, as well.

“What does he think?”

William steepled his fingers beneath his chin, staring deeply into the fire. “He is watching for a stranger; a stranger with an overbite and bad teeth.”

“And what do you think?”

With this, William smiled and not kindly. “I think this is personal, not some random brute who likes to bite.” Fulks nodded in agreement. “This is someone with a vendetta against the FitzGisborne's. He wants my attention. He has it.”

William's youngest began to chuckle and it sounded eerily of Guy of Gisborne. “Do you have a plan?”

“Oh, aye, I have spoken to Adamus. If he finds the villain, then he will try him as the King's law states.”

“And if you find him, first?”

William continued to stare into the fire. After a minute, he leaned back and grabbing the bottle of wine on the table next to him, he filled his goblet and began to drink. “Pray the sheriff finds him first.”

William's youngest was leaning so far over the arm of the chair, William feared he would tip it over. “Please, I beg you, if you capture him, you will allow me to aid you in his killing. He started with me and mine. It would be a privilege to remove his tongue.”

William's nose did not leave his chalice. “I was hoping you would ask.”

“Why? So you could tell me 'no'?”

“No, so I could say 'aye'. His death will be a loathsome thing, something your brother could not stomach.”

Fulks scooted his chair next to his father's so he was whispering in his ear. “Father, I heard a rumor when I was young.”

William's nose did not rise from the goblet. “What rumor was that?” His voice echoed in the chamber of the chalice.

“That you hid old Edward at Aigues-Mortes as a favor to the king.”

William never batted an eye. “And who told you this rumor?”

“From your own lips, when you argued with Uncle Gui when you brought that mad old monk with you when you picked up me and Hugh.”

For the first time in his life, Fulks felt the need to shrink back when his father looked at him. “Don't you ever repeat that. It would break my heart to kill you.”

“Would you?”

“No.” William returned to his drink. “I would kill myself first.” It was silent for a long time, nothing but the sound of the fire between the two men. “Sometimes,” William finally spoke, “your mother told you the truth.”

“That I was spawned by a demon?”

“No. I sired you and I am no demon, but I have done horrible, horrible things to keep you and your brother safe.”

Fulks settled back in his seat, tucking his feet under him, much as he had as a small child. “Ah, so you are an evil man.” He toasted his father with his goblet. “I'm proud of you, just so you know!”

William almost smiled.

“And you were Edward's assassin.”

Fulks' goblet was knocked from his hand, the metal thudding across the carpet. “S'lud! Do not ever repeat that aloud! Love you, I do, but I will beat you until you are unconscious if you repeat it!” The air was strained, electrified between them, father standing over son. “I killed no one without Douma's permission! And I would kill more if necessary to keep the likes of the Despencers out of your lives!”

“That's why you sent us to Uncle Gui.”

“Aye. That is why.” William relaxed and sat back down. “Hugh was terrified of me. He had nothing to hold over me; my loyalty was always to the king and Edward allowed my family safety in return for my favor. Deadly favor.

“But there came a time when Edward no longer used common sense and the Despencers were denied nothing. It sickened me to send you and your brother away. I would have gladly given them your mother.

“Edward gave his daughters to that monster. He allowed Hugh the Younger to rape his own wife.” William started to empty the rest of the wine into his goblet, but thought better of it, drinking directly from the bottle. “This is a good year. I will have to ask Gui for more and remember not to send any to the king. The best decision I ever made was making sure you and Hugh were with the French de Gisbornes. God knows, he demanded your guardianship enough.” He upended the bottle, now feeling the lovely fuzziness of his nerves and around his vision. “Edward would have given in, eventually. He was completely in Hugh's thrall.”

Fulks got up and retrieved his discarded goblet,. “Why did you save the man at all?” He inspected the bowl of the cup, and finding a few precious drops still within, turned it up to finish the last dregs. “As usual, you are correct. This is an excellent vintage.” He set it down next to his father's. “Why did-”

“I save Edward? The king asked me to.”

“But-”

“The king asked me too. “

And Douma said to save him. It was not his time. There is something yet...

“The king would not have known had you thrown him over the railing, into The Great Sea.”

William's grin was sour. “No, he wouldn't have. I could have told him Edward passed on the voyage, that he was weak. But I didn't.” He turned to his youngest. “And now, the King of England owes me, owes the FitzGisbournes, a great favor. One I will wait to call in.” He turned back to the fireplace. “To have a king in your hand is a powerful thing. 'Tis not something to waste.”

Fulks stood and went to the wine rack, perusing the bottles before selecting one. He twisted the wax seal, cracking it, before pulling the cork from the bottle. He poured himself a glass and reached for his father's chalice.

“I think perhaps I have had enough.”

“I think perhaps, you have a right to drink your fill this eve.” He filled it and set it next to his sire, before settling heavily into his own chair. “Jesu knows when you finally bring Vivienne into your home, you will have no desire to drink of wine, but will be drunk on the wine of love.”

William reached for the goblet. “Dear God, that sounds something like Henriette would say.”

“Aye, she has. We wish to see you happy, and we fear for her safety while this monster runs loose.”

William took too large a gulp, choosing to hold it in his mouth, while trying to swallow smaller portions of it. “She is a stubborn wench.”

Fulks was studying the depths of his goblet. “Perhaps, if we talked her to going to Hugh's or living with us for a time?”

“She would never leave and I would die old and alone in a cold bed.” This caused Fulks to bark with laughter. “There is a faire next week in Nottingham. If she is not in my home by then, I will make her come and reside with me.”

“Still-”

“There are guards watching her home and her at all hours. She does not know it, but they are there at this very moment.”

This seem to placate the young man and for a time, the two men spoke of mundane things. They spoke of Cecilia, a babe Fulks did not remember, simply remembered talk of her and was not disturbed by his father's maudlin memories. It became obvious to Fulks that even two decades after her death, his father still grieved this little baby girl.

Eventually, Fulks decided he had had too much wine and his wife was more than likely asleep or worse, awake and waiting in their chambers here at Locksley, naked, expecting satisfaction. He shakily stood up, patting William on the knee. “Tell you what. When you finally get Vivienne in your bed, sire all the daughters you wish. But no sons.”

“No sons?”

“No. No sons!” He wagged his finger. “Hugh has Locksley, I have Harridston. Daughters can have old Gisborne and your mother's dower house, which quite honestly Father, is in dire need of repair. I would not have a younger brother jealous of either Hugh or myself.”

William scowled. Rising, he drunkenly made his way to the fireplace, grabbing a poker to pester it. Fulks was correct. The old Torksey manse was derelict and ramshackle. He hadn't thought about it in years and it irked him that as greedy as he was, he had neglected a prime piece of property. Perhaps, when this awfulness was over, he would go with several knights and an architect and see what needed to be done to put the place to rights.

“Father, who is 'Douma'?” His youngest son shattered William's inner thoughts.

It was quiet for a long time, so long Fulks thought William either hadn't heard, or decided not to answer. He set his goblet down and was heading out the door when his father's voice whispered to the dying fire.

“One I hope you do not meet until you are old and ready to leave this earthly plain.”

There was silence, a silence so long and so old, it settled comfortably on William's shoulders.

“I know this demon.”

Yes, you do.

One side of William's mouth lifted. “I will kill him when I find him, whether you say it is his time or no.”

Yes, you will.

“Why do you not do it?” William spat over his shoulder. “Why do you allow him to feast on the innocents?”

Because, it would be too easy a passing for justice to be served.

This caused William to laugh. “I forget. It is your job to simply take the soul, not to cleave and rip it from the body.”

The air became frigid and William dug his fingers into the mantle, white knuckled digits clinging to the wood. Grant him such agony, agony you are a master of. Drag his death out. Prolong it. I grant you this boon for suffering Melissande and Edward to live.

The promise hung in the air like icicles and William wrapped himself in it like polar fur. The question came, digging itself from the drunken frost slowing his mind. “Will he come for Vivienne?”

But by then, Douma was gone.

 

tbc

Fulks photo Fulks_zpsuled9i9k.jpg

Fulks

Chatte Poilue – Hairy Pussy

Chapter Text

Aside from Heaven



Chapter 4L



Let's go Dancing

“My lord, I don't understand. This is completely unnecessary!”

William patted his mouth with a napkin and laid it gently next to his platter. “Eleanor. Please sit. That way, I will not have to repeat myself.” He waited until the serving girl awkwardly took a place at the table between him and her mistress. His smile was humorless. “There have been too many deaths of young women across Harridston, and the entirety of Nottinghamshire. This killer is becoming more brazen and demented. He is proving to have heinous, perverted tendencies and I am uncomfortable having the two of you here alone.” He drew a heavy, theatrical sigh. “No woman walks alone at Harridston, and the same is now for Nottingham, as well as Locksley. The women here are well watched, with the exception of you and Eleanor.”

Vivienne leaned back and crossed her arms. “Let me guess. There is no man in this household.”

William grinned. “I'm so pleased you understand.” He nodded to Eleanor. “You will help your mistress pack the things she will need and want and ready to move come Saturday.” He saw a similarity between the servant and the mistress's mulish expressions. “Yours as well. You will have your own room. Larger than the one here.” For a moment, the girl's eyes lit up, but she quickly schooled her features. “Several of my lower knights and household staff will be here that morning to move your belongings to Gisborne.”

“My lord, there is a spring faire in Nottingham Castle this Saturday. Surely, you have given your servants and knights the day to enjoy it.”

“Surely I have, the moment they finish moving your household.” He nodded to Eleanor. “If you prefer, I can send them Friday afternoon to begin. There is no need to bring the main furniture, unless there is a chair or clothes cupboard you're fond of. I can assure you, the chamber pots are new and unused.” He gave the two women what he hoped was his winningest smile. “Eleanor, why don't you go upstairs and get started with the packing. I'm sure Lady Vivienne would like to yell at me in private.” The two watched as the girl headed up the stairs and out of sight. He turned back to his plate and picked up his fork. “This tart is delicious. Who made it? You or Eleanor?”

“Agatha. Her son had her make it in thanks for taking such good care of his children when they were ill.” Vivienne rose from her chair and went to the cupboard. “The local townspeople have been gifting us with much.” She slung the doors open, revealing rows of jars and jars of preserved fruits and vegetables. “Tomorrow's chicken is in the cellar, along with several other hens, almost a dozen pheasants, a sow, and a young doe.”

William's fork stopped in front of his mouth. “Someone has been hunting in the king's forest?”

“Goodness, no.” Vivienne shut the doors and began to clear off the table. “That would be illegal; hunting the king's deer that he has no clue as to how many are in the forest and wouldn't miss one anyway.”

William smiled and rose from the table. He began to pick up the dirty dishes. “So where did the young doe come from?”

“I don't ask. I just thank the giver. I-” she raised a finger to ward him off, “can't remember for the life of me who gave it to us.”

William placed the dishes in the bucket on the counter and spoke softly in her ear. “If the kings men came through and found it, you would be considered just as guilty as the thief.” If he knew what his breath blowing across the back of her neck did to her, he acted as if he did not.

Vivienne steeled herself. “And you would tell me if the kings men were to come, would you not?”

William turned back to the main room, taking the poker from the hearth and began to rouse the fire. Despite the early spring, it was still chilly in the evenings. “I will not have to worry about it when you and Eleanor move to Gisborne. Here,” he set the poker aside and beckoned her to join him in front of the fire. “Should I tell you a secret?” He pulled her into his arms, a child-like grin on his face.

“I think you simply wish to kiss me.” Truth was, Vivienne enjoyed and looked forward to his kisses. He heated her in a way a fire never could and she refused to confess that at night, when she explored herself beneath her quilts, she imagined it was his hands, rather than hers.

“Ah, you are correct there.” He proceeded to do just that.

At some point, they both came up for air. “So, what is your secret?”

He started to tell her that during the Great Famine, he and his knights, including her father, freely poached in the king's forest, carefully to not gut the herd, in order to keep the area in food. However, as he opened his mouth, something different, if no less true, fell from his lips. “I cannot wait for you to come to my home.”

The fire sparkled and reflected in her eyes. “You want me in your bed.”

William pulled her closer, enveloping her in his arms and tucking her beneath his chin. “I believe we have discussed this. Your father charged me with your welfare and well-being. It is not unusual for one's ward to live with their guardian,” he ignored Vivienne's rolling eyes. “You will be mistress of my household and manse, I will build you a garden house with a garden for your healing herbs and you will have run of Locksley's garden house as well. He squeezed her. “There is a solar on the top floor. No one has been in it. You can decorate and furnish it as you please.”

He felt her sigh. “I know but-”

He pulled away, holding her at arm's length, while he searched her face. “Is the thought of my bed so frightening?”

It took a moment for her to answer. “Nay. Simply put, it is a sin.”

William smirked. They had danced around this topic for weeks. “I will love you and keep you. You will enjoy rights as my wife until I can make you my wife.” She looked up to interject, but he laid a single finger over her lips. “And I will make you my wife. Mellisande is ill and has been no wife to me for some years. She does not know her own sons and mistakes me for a demon. It would be a cruelty to set her aside.” With the next admission, he lowered his eyes. “I am told her health is declining rapidly.” He didn't mention that Old Edward had threatened to take Harridston from him if he did set her aside. Edward III had enough problems to worry about and Mellisande's cousin would be another problem. Not to mention, Fulks was in love with the manse and property and taking it from him would be an equal cruelty. At times, he considered just doing it and giving his youngest his grand-mother's property, as he originally planned, but as discussed a few nights back, the manse and property were run-down, in disrepair and would not be habitable for some time. William was of the conclusion that the first thing he would have to do was evict the vagabonds that were most likely sheltered there, along with an unknown number of feral animals. The assumed promise of children with Vivienne made the need to make his mother's dower house habitable a necessity.

“Who is standing guard outside my home tonight?” The question came from nowhere and startled the dark knight. “Come now, my lord. Someone has been standing watch across the way for some weeks.”

“Surely, I have n-”

“William!” Vivienne stepped back and put her hands on her hips. “I have fed your men every night, taking hot tea, mulled wine, and blankets to them. Do not say you did not authorize it.”

If she were feeding them, then... “I will not deny it. Harold will be out tonight and he is bringing several of the hounds with him.”

Vivienne brightened. “Porcpoilue?”

William smothered a smile. Despite what he'd told Vivienne about the dog's apparent laziness, he was very loyal to his master. If William told him to protect, he would protect with his life. “Yes. Porcpoilue will be very happy situated in front of your fireplace.” He shrugged. “Of course, if anyone manages to get past the guard outside, the hound will tell the intruder where your good silver and jewelry is hidden. Wot?”

As quickly as she perked, Vivienne's face fell. “It angers me that I have to be protected at all.” She turned away from him and stared into the fire. “Women. We are weaker, so you say. We go from being our father's daughters to being married to our husbands or the church, to our children's mother. We aren't allowed to be... just ourselves.”

A sudden memory of Genevieve flashed through William's mind – Clun, Timmy, Genevieve, jerking away from him, a knight and riding away...

Genevieve was – or would be - an independent, intelligent woman and as Vivienne was Genevieve, it stood to be that she would be as well.

Ah, Simon, why didn't you marry her off and away? I would have never known...

William stepped up behind her and cupped her elbows. “I promise to give you as much freedom as I can. I will not deny you the freedom to move about Nottinghamshire as you will. The gardens at Locksley are in need of attention; the gardens at Gisborne need to be laid out and planted, I have hired a contractor to build a greenhouse at Gisborn for you. You may plant as you will – you would have plenty of what you would ever need. My housekeeper would like to stop taking care of my house. I will need-”

“Someone to run your household.” William shrugged. “Sounds to me as if you wish to keep me busy.” She suddenly spun around, an accusatory finger pressing against his sternum. “Do not speak to me of a woman's lot in life!”

In the six weeks he had with Genevieve, he learned a lot regarding independent women. In his life with Alise, that education had been refined, honed. “I do not believe in a woman's lot, Vivienne,” he hoarsely whispered. “I would allow much freedom, but right this moment, I need to protect you.”

She cocked her head saucily. “And you need someone to plant your garden.”

The man immediately brightened. “And your garden and Locksley's garden! Oh! And my mother's dower house.” There was barking outside and William turned her loose to go to the door. “My mother's dower house has been in a state of dishabille for over a decade. I wish to correct that and it needs a woman's touch, as well as my own home.”

“And will my home become inhabitable when I am relocated to your manse?”

It occurred to William to tell her this home would become her dower home and it, as well as his mother's dower house and properties would go to their children as income, as well as barter to garner excellent marriages for them. “No. I suspect you will be here often, as you will have your garden and the local population to keep healthy.” He threw the door open. “Porcpoilue! Come! Lady Vivienne has scraps for you!”

“I do not.”

“Better find some!” And with that, the large bloodhound ran over over his master to get to the promised scraps.

~~~...~~~

Saturday dawned bright and crisp, sunlight streaming through a bare window. Vivienne blinked and squinted. Normally, hung glass and streamers from the rafters filtered the light, sent colored sunrays dancing across the wall, but these things had been taken down, packed, sent to the solarium set aside for her at Lord William's home. He'd taken great pains to make her feel welcome, that this would be home for her and Eleanor.

True to his promise, Eleanor's room, attached to the lady's bedchamber, was larger than the one she had here. It had a grand window with glass and a hearth, with a shelf and three pegs for clothes. “It's much to grand for me,” her maid whispered. “M'parents will think I've stolen it from someone.”

Vivienne said nothing, simply nodded. Her own chambers were more than her wildest fantasies and she wondered at the expense Lord William paid, seeing as he was insistent she would share his bed.

And the solarium... she and Eleanor would spend weeks decorating, with Hugh and Fulks' wives. A carpenter was already fashioning a cradle for William's soon-to-be born grandchild and even though Vivienne was taking women's herbs to keep from conceiving, she knew, sometime soon, she would want that cradle for herself.

With the exception of the furniture, everything at Vivienne's childhood home was gone. Clothes, soaps, her hanging glass sculptures. Her precious herb stores were packed, bottled, taken to Gisborne Hall. The only clothing left was the dress she was wearing to the day's faire and the night shift she was wearing; something she had a feeling she wouldn't be wearing much after this past night. In recent weeks, her future sisters warned her of the earthiness of FitzGisborne men. The thought excited her.

'Tis a sin!

So be it. Lord William was a quiet, broody sort, but she knew that he took care of those and that which he loved. And if he said he loved her, then she choose to believe it. She didn't fear him, she simply feared the unknown.

She and Eleanor were just finishing the breakfast dishes when a shout came from her small courtyard and a banging on her door she recognized. She opened the door, to find her horse already saddled, her Dark Knight holding the bridle.

For a swift moment, with his side smirk and his head cocked to the side, he reminded her of her wolf, the one who frolicked in her dreams. In recent nights however, he had been frantic, circling her, staying against her legs, making it impossible for her to roam the night. For not the first time, she considered telling William about it, her dream wolf, but yet again, chose to keep it to herself. How did one explain a nightmare beast who became a friend and companion to a protector?

Dream Wolf photo 1584151-bigthumbnail_zps5j87sux0.jpg

Although she knew she would be back, she took one, long, last look at her childhood home, before grabbing her shawl, shutting the door behind her and locking it.

~~~...~~~

It was clear and obvious to one and all that Vivienne ette Ford, was more than a simple ward to the Lord of Locksley. And strangely enough, no one appeared to be bothered or offended by this. William told her to purchase to her heart's content, no matter how frivolous. Eleanor told her to take advantage of the earl's generosity. Who knew how long it would last. Fulks whispered she should buy gems and rings and necklaces, just in case, for then she would have something to sell, if necessary. Before Vivienne could gasp in horror, he winked at her, before grinning and turned to go off and find his wife.

She was informed that while Sir William had purchased clothing for her over the winter, as his... erm... ward... she was expected to purchase new spring clothing, as well. Bolt after bolt of spring pastels and embroidered silks, were laid before her for her perusal. It made her eyes cross, the sheer largess of it. For someone who was taught not to waste or overindulge, all of a sudden, money was no object and things she considered a luxury were now necessities.

It made her head spin.

Porcpoilue exhausted her, as well as his master. So many smells, cooking meats...

Late in the afternoon, just before sundown, Vivienne found the small staged area for the children's puppets. It was the last show and Vivienne laughed along with the children at the silly antics of little wooden animals on strings. It was over too soon and parents gathered their young ones and began to move towards the castle gate, heading home to tuck exhausted and over-stimulated children to bed.

“Tired?” The bench Vivienne was sitting on sagged as William sat down next to her. He reached up and cupped her cheek in his palm.

“It's been a long day,” she admitted.

He leaned over to kiss her, uncaring of who saw or watched. It held a promise, and he tasted of the honey mead he'd had earlier. As he pressed his forehead to hers and broke the kiss, he whispered in her mouth, “I cannot wait for tonight.”

Her returning smile was wan.

Worry lines creased his forehead. “Wot?” He pulled back, second thoughts – those rare and irritating things – ran through his mind. “Are you having second thoughts? If so-”

“If so, what?” Vivienne was exhausted. “You'll take me to Ripley's and I will take vows or you will find me a husband, not of my choosing. I cannot go home; everything I own is at your manse. I would prefer to choose my lover and I freely choose you.” That admission made William relax. “I am simply tired. Between packing and the faire...”

“Where is Eleanor?”

Vivienne inhaled. “I have given her the day off. Last I saw, she was with her beau, most likely buying ribbons. I would expect to see her in your kitchen later this evening.” William looked around the bailey. Merchants were harking the last of their wares before packing up. “Do you know what I would like?” She was leaning against him, head on his shoulder. “I would like some of those cinnamon walnuts that are just around the corner.”

Again, honeyed lips found her forehead. “Stay here. I will buy them all.” With that William rose and moved quickly around the corner, followed by his faithful hound.

He bought every single cinnamon walnut the vendor had as well as a large ham bone to keep Porcpoilue occupied for the evening. Handing the majority of the purchases (including the bone) to the young squire shadowing him, he took one bag of nuts and headed back to his lady. He came around the building, and stepped behind the small performing area.

Vivienne was gone.

~~~...~~~

William took a quick look around, not wanting to wander, but breathing faster, much like a parent with an errant child. He pointed to the squire. “Check the privies.” William went to the closest vendor. “Did you see Lady Vivienne?”

The woman squinted. “Short?”

“Very.”

Again, the vendor thought hard. “I saw such a woman wearing red, leave with the rubbish man. Roy. I think he said his name was Roy.”

Roy. So close to Royce...

“You do not know him?” The squire returned from the privies, shaking his head.

“No, m'lord,” she responded quietly. “To be truthful, it looked as if the lady was ill or very tired. She could hardly hold on to her drink.” With this admission, William's heart seized. “He had her by the hand-”

William was now terrified. “Which way?” The woman pointed towards a back exit. He turned to his squire, James. “Find my sons and my knights. Have them meet me at the back exit. Then saddle my horse.”

For some odd reason, it seemed to take forever to get to the back exit. It hadn't taken this long before: William knew it well; had used it many times for clandestine purposes. No one used it but for taking offal out, and for sneaking about. Vivienne wasn't ill, and he didn't think she was so tired she needed help. Nor did she have a drink. This bit of information frightened him the most.

Finally, he and Porcpoilue reached the back gate. The guard was one of the least trained. After all, who needed special training to guard junk removal? “Did you see anyone leave in the last ten minutes?”

“Aye, my lord.” The guard's face was covered in pimples, a testament of his youth. “Just the rubbish man and his wagon.”

“Was a woman with him?” William went to the gate and looked out. There was no one in sight.”

“No, m'lord. Just a pile of waste.” He shuddered. “Smelly.”

Porcpoilue was growling. Just before the gate, was a discarded mug. William picked it up and pointed it to the dog. The growling turned to angry barking.

“You are sure no one was with him?”

The guard began to quake. Obviously, he missed something. “M'lord, the trash was piled high into the cart.”

“Enough to cover someone.”

It took a moment for it to sink in. William stepped outside the gateway, the hound following. To the side, over the small bridge, was a small pile of dropped debris. The dog immediately went to rooting in it, before coming up with a swatch of material.

Vivienne's shawl.

By now, Hugh and Fulks, along with William's senior knights were there, knowing something was wrong, but not what. Young James was leading his horse. “That monster has Vivienne.” He handed the mug to Fulks. “He has drugged her and hidden her beneath the garbage. He can't have gotten far.” Taking the shawl from Porcpoilue, he held it to his nose. “Quiet. Find the lady.”

The dog took off and William, now mounted up, was right behind him.

Tbc