We entered the Lord’s halls but he was not there. The vast space was mostly empty and dark. This was not a good sign.
“Does Lord Percival insult us by not greeting his guests?” I said loudly in a masculine voice.
It would have been noticed if I did not remark on this and express my indignation. It would draw more attention and more speculation than the breath of relief that I wanted to sigh.
“Please, Lord Maine do not take offense,” Percy tried to hide his smile as the men in the hall turned to see the exchange, “My Father is a recluse. He rarely leaves his chambers.”
“We have travelled to see him, I demand an audience,” I growled in my most warrior-like voice.
“Very well, Lord Maine,” he nodded, “But it is late. I will speak to him and arrange for him to see you, but not tonight. He is more hospitable in the morning. Please forgive me, I dare not disturb his sleep. We get so few visitors to our halls so please accept our apologies and join us for the meal.”
“Very well,” I turned and nodded to Douglas who smiled back at me.
The men relaxed and sat at the trestle benches while Brother Jonathan and I took our seats at the head table. I also made sure I caught Thomas’ attention and nodded to him as he took his place with the men. I knew he was feeling alone and isolated away from his family and friends. I did not want him to think that I was abandoning him.
“Lord Maine, we receive so few travellers to our halls and the men are sick of my voice. Please regale us with your tales. We crave news from the Kingdom,” I caught his mischievous smile, “Brother Jonathan, will you not tell of the political and spiritual goings-on in the King’s Court?”
“Percy, you make my ribs ache!” I interrupted and laughed with a bellow, “Brother Jonathan would know no stories that your men would enjoy! Hell, let him tell the womenfolk of his prayers for good crops and fine weather. No, what your men need are tales of war and lust, of bloody battle and buxom maidens ripe for the picking.”
The men in the hall laughed and cheered raising their goblets in approval. Jonathan turned to me, and I could tell he was trying to control his expression of bemusement.
Percy’s grin split his face, “Oh, how I have missed your company, Lord Maine. Wine?”
“Now Percy you know that the twelve do not participate in the drink, we drink deeply on a more intoxicating nectar than your wine!” I laughed generously and watched the Twelve look at each other with skeptical expressions.
Douglas was quick to slap backs and laughed while encouraging at them to follow suit. Our eyes met and he nodded. At least he understood and was aiding me in selling this to the audience. Brother Johnathan still looked like he’d bitten into a sour fruit, but there was not much I could do about that.
I began my tale. I had heard enough of similar adventures, from the winter nights in the halls of my husband, to know what they desired to hear and what details were called for. I also relaxed. Lord Maine represented my years of freedom and happiness. Percy and I had spent many nights in taverns and tents listening to and telling similar tales. It was not long before Percy and I were reminiscing together with embellished but true stories of our adventures together.
As the night wore on, I noticed that one face remained dark and downturned. His eyes were hard and on the rare occasion, they lifted in my direction he could not hold my gaze. Thomas was less than impressed with my boasting persona.
The local men were drunk and either passed out or staggering home when I saw Thomas heading from the hall. I avoided Jonathan’s eyes as I left the table to follow him.
“Thomas?” It was dark and the courtyard was deserted. Thomas stopped in the middle with his back to me and the moonlight in his hair. “What is your issue, Thomas?”
“You.” He said turning. “How can you speak of such things?”
“Thomas, I am Lord Maine and I told you that my life was complicated. I am not the simple person you knew in the forest. I must now be Lord Maine.”
“I know. I understand why you must do this but,” he looked away, “I miss Blossom.”
“Blossom is dead. You must accept that.”
“No. Blossom still lives. She is afraid and hides from all but I have seen her, and she cannot hide from me.” Even in the darkness I felt the weight of his stare.
“You are mistaken, Thomas. Blossom was a dream.”
“Really? It seems that your life is just a series of nightmares. Which one is true and which one is false is a closely guarded secret. Maybe in the forest you found no need for the masks. Tell me, Lord Maine, can you tell the difference between dream and reality?” As he spoke he took measured steps so that he stood directly in front of me. “Do you know who you are? Maeb? Maine? Blossom? Abused Wife? Exploited Lover? Fugitive Queen?”
“That’s enough, Thomas!”
I looked into his face and felt the wounds all open. Shaking with emotion, all I could do was turn and walked away from him.
He might be right but that didn’t matter. At this moment in time, I was Lord Maine I could not risk being caught with my face wet with tears.
Only when I stood alone in my chambers did I allow my body the luxury of breaking. The pregnancy was playing with my emotions. Thomas’ words should not hurt me, worse insults had been said to me. And yet I could not control the sorrow that coursed through me. I sobbed like a small child.
I did not hear the door open. Only when the warm strong hands wrapped around me did I know he was there. I cried into his chest as he kissed my hair. He held me as I held him in the darkness.
I did nothing as he loosened my clothing and wordlessly undressed me. Only when we were both naked did he gently lay me on the bed and cradle me. His erection pressed hot against me. Our bodies together, skin against skin, I fought the urge to push him deep inside me and take his pleasure.
“I can’t,” I whispered to him but my voice wavered.
“I know,” he whispered back to me, “Just let me hold you. Just know that I am here.”
“But I can’t.”
“You don’t understand, I can’t choose. I tried to escape him, but I failed. I can’t take a lover. I am found, I can no longer pretend.”
“I know your fears. Just let me hold you.” He kissed me, “I cannot prevent my manhood craving to be wrapped deep within you but trust that I will not act on it. You are everything to me.”
I fell into his arms and his allowed him to hold me to his smooth warm skin. I fell asleep knowing he loved me, knowing they both loved me.
My dreams were nightmares. The truth was always more frightening than fantasy. I woke to his soft hands, gentle kisses, and whispered declarations. Both of our arms wrapped around my swollen abdomen as I shook in fear. My child was still with me, still safe. I wept as I tried to clear the fresh images of my newly born child being dragged from my arms as the sword flashed before my eyes spraying blood and bringing darkness.
“We are all dead. He will kill us all,” I sobbed as he turned me in his arms.
“He will try.”
It was comforting that he did not lie to me. He held me close and kissed me.
“I need to save you. I can’t let you die too,” I begged as I cried, “Please leave, you are free. He thinks that you are dead. You can find yourself a wife and start again. You can have a life. You don’t need to die with me.”
“I love you. To leave you would kill me as surely as any sword would. If it comes to it then I will die with you but in the meantime let us live.”
“But you,” I tried again.
“Shh, know that I am here.” His hands caressed me, and I relaxed knowing only that he was there.
In the morning I woke up alone. A flower lay on the pillow next to me. I smiled as I fingered the petals. Every morning, since we had left on this journey, I woke to a flower. Not the same bloom but one that grew near to where I rested or one which grew alongside the road.
I dressed and spent a few minutes finding Lord Maine and pushing away the fragile woman that the night knew. If these men were going to die for me, then the least I could do was to help them find the truth about the past and clear their family name. I held almost no hope that Torc’s plan for saving me would work. But I owed them and would do what I could for them.
Like every morning, I considered the possibility of running, of returning to the King. I ran my hands over my belly as the child moved within it. As much as I wanted to save my lovers and would sacrifice myself for their continued existence, I could not easily hand my child to that fate. I had to attempt to save my child from that man even at the cost of all of our lives.
I placed the petals of today’s flower against my skin as I bound my breast to make them less obvious. I wasn’t sure for how long I could maintain this disguise. We had so little time.
The sun warmed the courtyard as I joined the men for the morning exercises. I could not participate fully but did as much as I could. Thomas went on to work with the men as they refined his sword work. Jonathan did his exercises in private. As a man of the cloth, he could not demonstrate his strength or his skill in a place where he could be seen.
“How goes the itch?” I murmured to Jonathan as he joined us.
His eyes came up to mine in with a suggestive smile, “Are you offering to apply the ointment to soothe it?”
I shook my head and laughed gaining a glare from Thomas.
“Lord Maine, I did not know that your soul was in so much jeopardy that you required the guiding hands of a monk?” Percy’s voice was heavily laden with alternate meanings and the twelve worked hard to hide their smiles.
“Percy, after so many years of being your friend, my soul needs as much help as I can give it. I am sure that Brother Jonathan could guide your soul to its rightful place – if that is what you desire,” I smirked at him as did Jonathan.
“I might not be a learned man but I thought I could count at least to twelve. Or is it a baker’s dozen?” Percy countered, changing the subject as he looked at Thomas training with the men.
I laughed, “Percy it is good to see that your wit remains as sharp as your sword.”
I could hear Jonathan trying not to laugh, he now knew as well as I did that Percy’s sword was as sharp as a butter knife.
“So,” I looked around as I rubbed my hands together, “Percy, will your father see us now?”
“Yes, Lord Maine follow me,” he said softly.
Jonathan and I followed him but I noticed that his shoulders were tight and his walk was forced.
“My father is not a well man,” Percy spoke softly but his voice held an edge, “but given his personality, he does not wish the leeches to know.”
I huffed a short laugh of contempt. I knew Percy’s father well. He had a foul temper and did not suffer fools or gentlefolk. He was not shy at calling anyone who offered pity or well wishes a leech. He had many names for most people of society which was why he was a recluse.
“It has been many years since you last saw him, and those years have not been kind on him. Prepare yourself,” Percy added quietly.
The warning in his words confused me. His father was a strong proud man who disliked company but was never in poor health. He seemed to be frozen in time by the strength of his temperament. I was sure that his scorn preserved him and prevented any sickness from taking root in his black blood.
Percy grew up with me. My father took him in and he trained with our squires. I was of the understanding that Percy’s father refused to teach him so instead entrusted his training with my father. Percy was reluctant to journey home when the opportunity rose. He preferred to spend the time with my family. I met his father only a couple of times but that was enough for me to understand Percy’s fear of him. I never knew what happened to Percy’s mother, she was never mentioned
The room we were shown into was dark and the odour of decay hung heavy in the air. I could see the outline of the chair he was sitting in but not the man. I looked towards the heavy drapes to pull them and let in the light, but Percy shook his head. With no candles in the room, it seemed that sitting in the dark was the only way this was going to proceed.
“Father, Lord Maine is here,” Percy mumbled as he did in his father’s presence.
“Maine, are you still beating the crap out of my son?” the laughter turned to a hacking cough. “It make me sick to know that this piss-ant is the only legacy I have left to this world. My title should die with me.”
“Percival, stop feeling sorry for yourself,” I growled back. I had found that Percival respected the strong and this conversation would be short if I did not argue with him, “You know that Percy bests me as often as I do him. Look at his face, I have yet to break his nose even after all these years of trying.”
“Yes, but you are a girl,” he coughed a laugh, “The useless prick should manage to beat a girl holding a sword.”
I laughed. Percival saw through my disguise the moment he saw me when I was first Lord Maine. He kept my secret all these years.
“You’d be surprised how few men can beat me when I’m holding a sword,” I said, “Maybe if you knew you wouldn’t be so hard on him.”
“I’m hard on him because he is a useless prick not because you beat him,” he scoffed, “What the hell happened to you? Did you get fat?”
“Always the charmer,” I shook my head.
“Please tell me that it was my son who has put that child in you? Now that would make my fucking day.” This time the laugh was a cough from the start, “So, who has had their dick in you, Maeb?”
“You doubt my husband Percival?”
“No, I have no disillusions about Edward, which is why I ask.”
“Edward’s liking for the backside is not new. He married you because you looked like a boy.” He sniffed a laugh, “I missed the wedding, thank heavens, but even when you were flat as a board, I doubt you could have excited his cock.”
“Did my father know?”
“We all knew. You’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to know,” Lord Percival just hacked out another laugh. “Which brings me back to the question. Who have you been fucking, you naughty little girl?”
“If I am honest with you Percival, will you be honest with me?”
“I am a dying man Maeb. My skin is melting off my flesh. I will not have you look on me, for you do not need the nightmares.”
“How long do you have?” I asked glancing at Percy.
“Too long,” the man laughed, “But I am glad to have you here in my final days. I have always loved you like the daughter I never had. You have spirit, my girl. And if my son had half a dick then maybe he would have had the guts to marry you and save you from the life you now lead. But that was not to be. I have always been honest with you Maeb.”
“Yes, that is true. Sometimes too honest and definitely too opinionated,” I smiled as he laughed at my honesty, “My child’s father is the Lord of Hithwood Hall.”
“Lord Maine was the last of that line Maeb. He died many years ago. You cannot impregnate yourself with your false persona. Rubbing might excite but does not spill seed. Maybe your mother did not tell you what happens when the man pushes his cock inside you?”
“Percival, I carry this man’s child,” as I spoke I got up and I pulled the curtain aside just enough so the light fell on Jonathan. “Percival let me introduce the rightful Lord of Hithwood Hall.”
Jonathan carefully and slowly removed his hood to show his face in the light.
“No! That line was lost! No!”
In the half light, I could see Percival cowering in his chair. He was right. His skin was red and had formed large weeping scabs on his face. The rest of him was covered in bandages and poultices. With effort, I controlled my desire to part with the contents of my stomach.
“Percival, you are a dying man. Tell us what happened the day that Charles died. Tell us what happened to make you all betray Torcall?”
“I... I..” for the first time in my life I watched Lord Percival lost for words. “I have lived with this guilt for a quarter of a century. I have hated myself for that day. I never forgave myself. Torcall, forgive me. Torcall, I did not know.”
I met with Jonathan’s eyes and we both seemed to understand at once. Lord Percival believed him to be Torcall. Grace had said that he resembled his father closely.
“I have come to take your burden Percival,” Jonathan spoke slowly and carefully. If in his diseased eyes Percival believed Jonathan to be Torcall and implied that he held guilt well maybe we could work with this.
“I didn’t know. They told me that Charles was dead. They knew about you and Grace. They told me to warn you, to tell you to take shelter with your father. They said I had to do this. I didn’t tell them about your affair. They didn’t find out from me.”
“Who killed really killed Charles?”
“I don’t know. I never found out.”
“What happened afterwards Percival?” I asked now curiosity had replaced the revulsion I held for his appearance.
“They were furious with me. You were supposed to go back to Lord Maine. They thought I had delivered the message incorrectly. They blamed me for everything. I blamed myself for not telling you and Grace the truth about them.”
“Them? Who do you refer to?”
“Robert and Edward. They put me up to this. I betrayed you. If I had told you the truth about them you might still be alive.”
I looked at Jonathan as he looked at me, my father and my husband.
“What happened to me Percival?” Jonathan asked in a quiet controlled voice.
“I am sorry. I loved Grace too. You should have gone to your father. They said you would have been safe there.”
“Tell me what happened,” he said in a harsher voice.
“They found you both in the forest. They told me that it was my fault. You killed yourselves rather than face your guilt. They said if I’d delivered my warning correctly that this would not have happened. If I had been gentler in my delivery, if I had been able to convince you of the plan, you would have been saved. I am sorry Torcall.”
“I did not die that day Percival. Ten years ago I returned to Hithwood Hall to the death bed of my father. What became of me?”
“No,” he seemed genuinely scared, “I saw the bodies. We buried you.”
“They lied Percival. Grace and I did not die that day. What happened when Lord Maine died?”
“I don’t know. I could not face the shame. I came home after they buried Grace and you in paupers graves and I have rarely left these halls. I heard that Lord Maine passed and that his lands were returned to the crown, but this only confirmed my guilt. If you had done as I had said you would be alive today Torcall. Please forgive me.” He slumped lower in his chair as his body convulsed with his coughs.
“Enough Maeb,” Percy said quietly, “Torc forgive him so he can die in peace. I knew something ate him. He had lived with this for long enough.”
“It was not your fault Percival. Robert and Edward deceived you. You were not to blame for what happened that day. I forgive you.”
I watched as Percival relaxed and a small smile shifted his exhausted lips.
“Percival what happened then. What did my Father and Edward do?”
“Edward was never the same.” Percival’s voice was very soft. “We were friends. The best of friends. Edward changed. So cold. He was happy before. He changed that day. Cold.”
Lord Percival’s eyes closed and he dropped back into the chair. Percy opened the door and called to someone. An old woman appeared and was quickly at the Lord’s side. She signed deeply and frowned at Percy.
“He sleeps, he has very little life left in him.”
I turned to Percy. His jaw flinched. I knew that despite everything he loved his father and more than anything he desired his father’s approval. I reached out my hand and took his. Wordlessly he nodded at me.
We left him to watch over his dying father.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, CompulsiveWriterWrite a Review