Authors: Kathryn Le Veque
Gisella sighed faintly, knowing she had little choice but to tell him everything. She knew this moment would come and she had been anticipating it, but now she found that she was reluctant to tell him. He was a strong, virtuous knight and did not deserve the gossip thrown at him, especially by foolish young nobles. She sighed heavily.
“He said you are called Beast because you are evil and wicked,” she said quietly. “He said that you deflowered the Maid. So I slapped him.”
Bastian had suspected what de la Pole had said, or at least alluded to, so he wasn’t surprised. He could see that Gisella was upset by all of it, and rightly so. Rumors that he had never particularly cared about before were starting to get under his skin because they were affecting Gisella. He didn’t want her to be distressed by foolish whisperings simply because he didn’t like to see her sad. He was indifferent enough to ride out the rumors, she was not.
Reaching out, he took her by the elbow and sat her down on the bed before collecting one of the chairs near the hearth and pulling it up alongside her. When he sat down, it was facing her, both of their expressions quite serious. Bastian spoke softly.
“I am called Beast because I am a beast of a warrior,” he said. “It was a name that started very early in my life when I was a squire. I have the blood of seven legendary knights flowing through my veins, ancestors whom I honor – Bhrodi de Shera, William de Wolfe, Brandt de Russe, and Braxton de Nerra on my father’s side and Christopher de Lohr, Ajax de Velt, and Sean de Lara on my mother’s side. I am the result of generations of refined breeding, the perfect knight if you will, and that is why I am called Beast. There is no other like me in England. I am not called Beast because I am wicked. As for deflowering the Maid, I told you before that I was her jailor and nothing more. I never touched the woman in a manner that ran contrary to my duties or my authority.”
Gisella nodded solemnly. “I believe you,” she said. “But I could not let Sir Thomas shout such terrible things about you. The king was there - he heard everything and I’m sure many other people did as well. Bastian, I know I should not have struck Sir Thomas but he infuriated me. I could not let him say such things about a man who does not deserve it.”
A smile spread across his lips as he gazed into her lovely face. “I have never had someone defend me so staunchly before,” he said. “You cannot know how deeply your concern touches me.”
She smiled in spite of herself, because he was. It was hard not to look into that handsome face and not smile in return.
“I have spent the past two years in Lady Gloucester’s court,” she said. “I have seen gossip ruin men’s lives. I do not wish to see that happen to you.”
He reached out and took her soft hand in his, her delicate white fingers dwarfed by his big ones. “And it shall not with you as my protector,” he said. “You have my thanks.”
Gisella could feel the warmth from his hand, traveling up her arm, filling her body with fluid delight. She looked at his hand as it held hers, watching as he gently caressed her fingers.
“May… may I ask you a question?” she asked.
“You may always ask me any question you wish. I will answer you truthfully.”
She was having a difficult time concentrating with his fingers fondling her hand so sweetly. “Will you please tell me what the Maid was like?” she asked. “We have all heard so much about her and how she was a madwoman who professed that God spoke to her. But she was just a girl, wasn’t she? What was she like?”
Bastian pondered her question for a moment. “Aye, she was a girl, like any other,” he said. “But I have never seen one so young be so passionate about something. She was deeply passionate about her people. And she was quite intelligent given the fact that she had never had any education. There was also a wisdom about her that was difficult to describe.”
Gisella listened attentively. “Do you believe that God spoke to her?”
He smiled, ironically. “Henry asked me nearly the same thing,” he said. “Do I believe that God spoke to the Maid? If He did not, then she accomplished some fairly amazing feats on her own. I never saw Him speak to her so I cannot say for certain, but I believe her faith was stronger than any I have ever seen. If that means that God spoke to her, then mayhap He did.”
Gisella thought of the young woman who had moved an entire country. “She was young, wasn’t she?”
He nodded. “Around nineteen years of age.”
Gisella lifted her eyebrows in realization. “She was a year older than I am,” she said. “That seems strange to have done so much with her life in so short a span.”
“Indeed,” Bastian agreed. “She was quite driven.”
Gisella mulled over the young woman and the saints who propelled her. But she was also thinking about Thomas de la Pole and his slander against Bastian regarding the Maid. Bastian was still playing with the fingers of her right hand and she slipped her left hand in as well, squeezing his big fingers.
“What are you going to do about Sir Thomas?” she asked softly. “I cannot imagine his actions will go unpunished. Is that what you went to speak with your knights about? Punishing him?”
Bastian looked at her, the way the firelight played off her lovely features. She was such a gorgeous creature and he could see that the red welt on her jaw was turning blue as a bruise began to form. The fury in his heart resumed with a vengeance.
“Aye,” he said honestly. “If Suffolk does not turn the man over to me for punishment, then I will take him by force.”
Gisella’s features tightened with fear. “What does that mean?”
Bastian met her gaze steadily. “It means I will hunt the man down and when I find him, I will do whatever is necessary to extract him and take him into my custody,” he said. “We think he might be at Wallingford Castle. Gloucester said he would mediate the situation with Suffolk but I will not wait, at least not overly. Every second I delay is a second that might provide de la Pole with the opportunity to flee the country.”
Gisella felt rather sickened by all of it. “You would go to war with Suffolk?”
Bastian kissed her hand and released it, standing up from the chair. “I would do what is necessary to punish de la Pole for striking you.”
Gisella sighed miserably. “But I struck him first.”
Bastian moved the chair back to its position next to the hearth. “Even so, that gave him no right to strike you in return,” he said. “The man struck my wife and he will pay.”
Gisella didn’t know what to say to all of that. Bastian came over to where she sat on the bed, taking the garments she was still holding off of her lap and laying them across the eating table.
“Come along,” he said. “I have not slept on a decent bed in months and wish to go to bed now. You will come, too.”
Gisella obediently stood up from the bed and went to the capcase that held her finer shifts and sleeping things, all the while her mind lingering on the war that was about to take place because of her. She thought perhaps to write her father so that he could intervene, but she discounted that idea because she knew her father would approve of what Bastian was doing. Moreover, he might even want to ride to battle with him and at her father’s age, the thought was terrifying. A sixty-nine-year-old man in battle was not something she wanted to see and she hoped that Gannon hadn’t been foolish enough to send word to her father of the situation, either. The mere idea was horrifying.
Digging through her capcase, she came across her sleeping shift and she silently moved into the dressing room where a servant had placed a bowl of warmed water some time ago. The water was cooling but she brought forth her lemon-scented soap and scrubbed her face and hands before putting on her sleeping shift. She also combed her hair with her big bone comb and braided it, tying a sleeping cap on her head to keep her hair from becoming too mussed in her sleep.
Emerging into the bedchamber, which was darker now because the tapers had been extinguished, she noticed that Bastian was already in bed and as she began to pull the curtains around the bed closed, her gaze happened to fall on him and she realized that he had no clothes on. Or, at least, he had no tunic on because he was lying in bed with the covers to his waist and his torso was naked. She could only assume the rest of him was, too. Her cheeks instantly flamed.
Nervously, she finished closing up the curtains and crawled into bed beside him on the rather large bed. Bastian was laying down, his head resting on the arm bent behind his head, and it was all Gisella could do not to stare at the man. His arms were enormous and his chest muscular and broad with a soft matting of dark hair. She knew what the man was expecting from her. Dear God, she knew it, and as she opened her mouth to say something to him, he reached up and pulled the ties loose on her sleeping cap.
“You do not need this,” he murmured, tossing the cap to the floor. “I want to see your glorious hair.”
Gisella swallowed hard as she watched the cap fall away. Her heart was beating furiously and her palms were beginning to sweat, anticipating the terror and excitement of a most intimate act between a husband and wife. She wasn’t sure she was ready for such a thing but she knew she had no choice. She could not fight it. Truth was, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to.
Carefully, she eased down in the bed next to him, pulling the covers up to her neck and laying there, staring up at the ceiling. She heard Bastian laugh softly.
“You look absolutely terrified,” he said softly. “Am I that frightening?”
She dared to look at him. “Nay,” she said hesitantly. “That is… I suppose it is foolish, but the only person I have ever slept in the same bed with is Sparrow or with my sister. This is… rather new to me.”
Bastian rolled over on his side, propping his head up on his hand as he gazed down at her. “I am glad it is rather new to you,” he said. “If you were not nervous, I would be concerned. But I swear to you that there is nothing to fear. You may even like it.”
Gisella looked up at him. Then, she started to giggle. “Do you realize that my friends and I do not even really speak of this?” she whispered. “I was raised to believe that intimacy between a husband and wife is something very mysterious, and then Silly Lily began experimenting with one of Lady Gloucester’s knights and….”
He cut her off. “Silly Lily?” he repeated, grinning. “I am not entirely sure I want to know why you call her Silly Lily.”
Gisella’s laughter grew. “Because she is so ridiculous!” she insisted softly. “She seduced one of Lady Gloucester’s knights and told us about it. She told us all sorts of terrible things.”
He smiled at her, rather seductively. “Like what?”
Gisella couldn’t help but notice he was moving closer to her. He was so enormous that he was filling up nearly her entire field of vision. “Well,” she said thoughtfully, trying not to shy away when he lifted a hand and began to carefully pull the covers away from her neck. “She said that men smelled like goats and that their genitals were slimy, like a fish.”
Bastian burst into soft laughter, leaning forward to kiss her on the forehead. “Charming,” he said sarcastically. “What else did she say?”
The kiss on her forehead sent chills throughout her body. “She said that it hurt when the knight took her innocence,” she said, her breathing starting to come in ragged little gasps as he managed to pull the covers away from her neck. His fingers were lingering there now. “And… and he was very messy.”
Bastian was looking at her neck, feeling the silken texture of her skin beneath his touch. “Messy?” he repeated. “What did she mean by that?”
Gisella’s cheeks resumed their hot red flush. “Because…,” she said, embarrassed. “I suppose because he exploded on her.”
Bastian looked at her, realizing what she meant. And he couldn’t miss her very pink cheeks. He laughed softly. “Tell me no more,” he said. “I am embarrassed simply hearing of it.”
Gisella sighed gratefully. “You
He nodded. “I know,” he said. “From experience, and given the fact that I am a man, she is wrong on several accounts.”
Gisella was curious. “What are those?”
He managed to peel back the top of her shift, exposing a portion of her soft, white flesh. It was too good to pass up and he dipped his head down, kissing her skin gently.
“While I will agree some men smell like goats, their genitals, as a rule, are not slimy as a fish,” he said, kissing her flesh again and feeling her quiver every time he did it. “Also, men are not messy if that sort of thing is done correctly. You realize that it is a man’s seed and it is meant to be deposited into a woman’s body so that she may bear his child.”
Gisella was looking him in the eye, not realizing that he was unlacing the top of her shift. It was coming loose and she was hardly paying attention.
“I know,” she said. “My mother told me about such things.”
“Are you afraid?”
He smiled faintly, cupping her face with a big hand. “I will be as gentle as possible, I swear it.”
“You have done this before?”
He cleared his throat softly, perhaps even nervously. “Does it matter?”
She shrugged vaguely. “I have saved myself for my husband,” she said. “I suppose no wife likes the thought that another woman has touched her husband before she has.”