Authors: Kathryn Le Veque
Mostly, he was looking at Gisella. As one admires a great feat of perfection or beauty, he found himself staring at her for just that reason – she was quite beautiful and quite perfect. She was petite, no more than an inch or two over five feet, with glistening black hair, curled, all wound up in a silver cord in a hairstyle that suggested a Grecian goddess of old. She was wearing a long white tunic, and hose, and the tunic was tied about her tiny waist but there was no mistaking her rather lush and curvy figure beneath. It was, in fact, rather indecent. The eyes that gazed back at him were bright blue, much like her brother’s eye color, and she was looking at him most curiously. Unable to look away from her, Bastian cleared his throat softly.
“The Earl of Guildford,” he said, to both Gisella and Gannon. “I have seen the man before. He is quite wealthy and has supplied money to Bedford for the wars in France. We do not want to offend or harm the man, at least not yet. If he makes a move like that again, I may have to reconsider my stance.”
Gannon had heard the name of Guildford but he didn’t know the man personally. He knew he was a wealthy patron of the king. But he didn’t pursue the subject, mostly because Bastian was looking at Gisella and Gannon surmised this would be a perfect time for introductions, now in the midst of this gallant moment with Bastian defending and protecting Gisella. It was perfect, in fact. He didn’t hesitate.
“Then I am fortunate that you prevented me from breaking his neck, lest I find myself in a good deal of trouble,” he said. Then, he looked to his sister. “Gisella, may I introduce you to Sir Bastian de Russe, Baron Henlow. Sir Bastian, this is my sister, Lady Gisella Lorraine Esmerelda le Bec.”
Gisella gazed up at the biggest man she had ever seen. Her brother was considered quite tall at four inches over six feet, but the man before her was at least two or three inches taller than that. He was positively enormous, with big hands, a thick neck, a broad chest, and heavy, muscled legs. She could see it all beneath the armor he was wearing. He had very dark hair, like she did, and it had a wave to it as he slicked it back over his skull. It was longer, hanging just past his chin, which she thought was rather handsome. It wasn’t the typical razor-cut that most men wore, short and square. His square-jawed, straight-nosed features were also handsome, and the sky-blue eyes gazing back at her were quite intense. The man, overall, was quite pleasing to the eye.
Shocked at her reaction to his physical appearance, she could feel her cheeks growing hot. She wasn’t sure what to think about him, in any case, but she dipped into a smart curtsy because that was what protocol dictated.
“My lord,” she said politely. “I am honored to meet you.”
Bastian couldn’t take his eyes off her. Oddly enough, although he was diplomatic with men because that was the sex with which he mostly interacted, with women he tended to be more blunt and to the point. His gaze moved over Gisella and her odd dress.
“Your brother told me you were his prettiest sister,” he said. “I thought he told me that to make the betrothal more palatable but I see that he was correct. You are quite beautiful.”
Gisella looked at him with a somewhat guarded gaze. “Thank you, my lord.”
His attention continued to linger on her. “What were you doing hanging from the gallery? And what manner of dress is this?”
Gisella looked down at her state. “I am an angel blessing the battle of Richard the Lionheart as he defeated the infidels,” she said. “This is the angel’s costume.”
Bastian’s brow furrowed slightly. “It seems rather indecent.”
“I am completely covered up, my lord,” Gisella answered. Then, she lifted her eyebrows at him. “If I wore a dress whilst hanging from the harness, the skirt would fall down around my head and expose everything underneath. That
Bastian and Gannon looked at each other as if deciding whether or not they would accept Gisella’s explanation. “It makes sense,” Gannon finally said. “I told her I did not approve of what she is wearing and neither would our father.”
Bastian looked at Gisella again, who had a hint of a scowl as she looked at her brother. He decided to let her state of dress go, mostly because there was no point in arguing it. It was done. However, he would make his wishes known for the future.
“You will not wear this again,” he said, pointing at the tunic. “You will be correctly clothed at all times, as my wife. I will not be shamed by a woman bearing my name cavorting about in scant clothing.”
Gisella didn’t like being pushed around, especially by a man she had just met. Betrothed or not, there would be ground rules between them and there was no time like the present to establish them.
“I never have, at any time, shamed myself or my family with what I do here at court,” she said pointedly. “Lady Gloucester keeps a very watchful eye on me as well as all of her women, and she personally chose this costume for me to wear. If you have issue with it, then I suggest you speak with her and I should like to be present when you do. You insult both me and her by suggesting she would allow me to cavort shamefully in public. As for bearing your name, it would seem I have no choice in the matter but if I did, I can assure you this union would not take place. I have no more desire to marry you than I am sure you have to marry me.”
Gannon kept his mouth shut but he was very curious to see how Bastian would react. The man didn’t like insolence, especially from a woman. But Bastian’s expression remained surprisingly steady. He was still devouring her with his eyes. He had been doing that since the moment they had been introduced as if mesmerized by her beauty. But his near-catatonic state soon faded and, after a moment, he rubbed at his chin wearily.
“That is true,” he said. “I have no use for a wife and certainly not one with an impudent disposition. No matter how beautiful you are, that cannot make up for a rebellious nature. I will speak with Gloucester to reconsider this betrothal. I am sure I can convince him that a marriage between us would only lead to misery.”
With that, he abruptly turned on his heel and marched down the corridor, taking de Lara with him, who had been standing in the shadows during the entire exchange. Gannon and Gisella stood there, watching the man go, somewhat startled at his swift movement. Gannon opened his mouth to say something to his sister but she, too, abruptly turned on her heel and literally ran back into the hall. Gannon stood there, watching her run, before turning his attention to Bastian, who was nearly out of sight. He had no idea who to run after. He eventually chose Gisella.
The crowd in the hall had grown now, with guests arriving late, eating their food standing up as pages and servants wandered the hall, filling and refilling wine goblets. It was noisy, almost deafening, as Gannon searched for Gisella.
At the long feasting tables, the beautiful swans had been pulled apart by hungry diners and the castle-shaped subtleties were now destroyed by armies of knives and spoons. Smoke from the two massive fireplaces had somehow spilled into the hall and a layer of blue haze hung over everything, clouding up the gallery above. It mingled with the smoke from the torches that were now burning low. The entire hall was hazy, smoky, and cloyingly warm with all of the people in it. Gannon wanted to find his sister and then get out of the hall to fresher air and quieter surroundings. After the brief and unpleasant encounter with Bastian, he wanted to soothe whatever injured feelings she might have about it.
The mock battle in the middle of the room was still going on, the combatants sweating profusely from the stale warmth of the room and from the exertion. Gannon moved closer to the action, thinking Gisella might have gone back to resume her performance. As he searched the smoky room for his sister, a man on a bright white stallion entered the hall and pushed through the diners, making his way to the performance in the center.
Everyone began cheering for the man on the steed. He was dressed in some kind of flowing silver fabric with a massive, pristine broadsword in his right hand and a big golden crown on his head. The horse was gaily decorated with flowers in its hair and draped with the same silver fabric that its rider wore. The performers began cheering him as well as the man rode into their midst and they all fell to their knees, worshiping him as he pretended to kill the performers dressed in rags with soot rubbed on their faces to simulate darker skin. It was evident that King Richard had arrived to smite his foes but the impact of the event was diminished as the white stallion slid around on the smooth slate floor, skittish, and ended up nervously defecating on several of the performers standing close to the volatile rear end.
The diners, very drunk and very happy, exploded into laughter as horse shite ended up on the floor and the performers began slipping and falling in it. The horse slipped in it, too, kicking it up and hitting some unfortunate diners with it. The entire play was turning into a comedy of sorts now as people were slipping and shite was flying, and the guests at the elaborate feast were laughing heartily.
It was rather comical, and very chaotic, but Gannon paid little attention to the events going on. As he stood at the edge of the performance, out of the range of flying horse dung, the angel began to sing again high on the gallery above and his attention turned upwards. Gisella was on the gallery now, singing her haunting song as two servants lowered her on the silk cord once more. The cord was looped at the end and she had her right foot in it, holding on to the cord so they were able to lower her upright. The crowd, seeing the angel re-appear, cheered her happily as the King Richard character opened up his arms to her.
Gannon, his eyes on his sister, charged into the performance again with the intention of snatching his sister when she came within arm’s length. But he did not consider the fact that the horse shite had spread out all over the floor because he walked right into it. His eyes had been looking up at the gallery and not down on the messy floor. Gannon slipped on it, crashing forward into the white stallion just as the actor dressed as King Richard pulled Gisella off her silken cord. The horse reared, dumping both King Richard and the angel, with most of the weight coming down on the angel.
The horse, free of its rider, bolted off into the hall, dumping over one of the long feasting tables as food, and diners, went flying. The recent laughter of the guests turned into screams as the horse wreaked havoc in the hall as servants and other actors tried to corral it. But Gannon wasn’t paying attention to that. Regaining his footing, he hastened to his sister as King Richard pushed himself off of the fallen angel.
Frightened, concerned, Gannon yanked the dazed man away from his sister only to find Gisella crumpled and unconscious beneath him.