The Lady Katherine Chronicles, Number 5
Lady Katherine And The Errant Knight
August 1191, Nottinghamshire, England
to Trek and Jay for beta reading this for me :)
This is a work of fan fiction but uses characters that bear a striking resemblance to those that are copyright of Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their copyright is intended by the author in any way, shape or form - this is just a bit of fun. This story includes an all female relationship, so if you don’t like that then look away now.
Lady Katherine Johnson smiled to herself as she gripped the reins of her horse tighter and spurred him into a fast gallop, hunkering down close to his chestnut neck as she did. Her forward movement caused her riding companion to follow suit and she felt the arms around her waist grip just that little bit tighter as a warm body pressed up against her back. She was only wearing a light shirt and she could feel two soft mounds rubbing against her spine sending strange flutters through her stomach and lower down her body.
“Not too fast for you?” She asked, craning her head round slightly to regard her passenger.
“No, no, but I think you should watch where we’re going,” replied Anne nervously.
Katherine laughed at the look of worry in the younger woman’s blue eyes as she hung onto Katherine for dear life, the wind whipping at her blond hair and dislodging a few strands from the ponytail that it was tied back in.
“Don’t you trust me?” asked Katherine, her brow crinkling into a mock frown.
“Yes,” said Anne anxiously, “But can you please turn round!”
Relenting from her teasing, Katherine turned her face back to the path they were cutting across the fields of the Markham estate. It had looked like it was going to be a gorgeous summer’s day when Katherine had picked up Anne from the arranged meeting spot earlier, and they had set off on their ride, with no particular destination in mind. It was reaching the hottest time of the year in England, with it being early August, and the sun beat down upon them as they rode with carefree abandon across the land. The grass of the fields was starting to take on a yellowish tinge after the prolonged dry spell of recent weeks and Delta’s hooves caused great puffs of dust to billow up from the parched ground as he sped along. Katherine briefly cast her eyes up to the sky and noticed the clouds bubbling up on the horizon – it didn’t look like it would be much longer before that dry spell was broken, she noted to herself.
Katherine allowed her thoughts to drift back to the woman behind her, grateful for the amount of time they had been able to spend together recently - ever since the dark witch, Bronwyn, had nearly killed Katherine and made them both realise how precious their time together was. That had been nearly three weeks ago and, luckily for Katherine, things had been quiet at the manor since, allowing her to devote much more time and attention to Anne. She knew that with the harvest due later that month she would once again be busy with various manor duties and responsibilities soon.
Sometimes she just wished she could leave Markham and run off with Anne, somewhere where they could be together all the time, instead of having to catch whatever moments they could. However, deep down she knew that Markham was her home and her sense of duty was too great for her ever to abandon the people there.
That didn’t stop Katherine’s thoughts inevitably drifting to ones of the young woman who had captured her heart, mind and soul whenever they were apart. When they weren’t together, it was almost as if a part of her were missing. Before meeting Anne she would have dismissed the notion of needing someone else so much to feel complete, yet with Anne that was exactly how she felt. She would find herself constantly wondering what Anne was doing, though that also brought her a fair amount of worry since Anne was an outlaw and led an inherently dangerous life. Katherine found herself overtaken by an irrational urge to try and protect Anne, though she knew that was futile. The only way to truly achieve that would be if Anne could somehow receive a pardon for her crimes against the state and live a life in regular society once again. Since King Richard was currently away on the crusades and had left his treacherous brother, John, in charge of the country, the chances of receiving any such pardon, even if it were forthcoming, was unlikely.
For the time being, she just hoped that she could continue to successfully juggle her life as lady of the manor and her one with Anne. Though how long she could maintain the balance between the two conflicting demands, she didn’t know.
She considered that things had been somewhat easier since she had taken her maid, Beatrice, into her confidence. The young woman had got over her shock at finding out the identity of Katherine’s secret lover surprisingly quickly. Beatrice’s face had certainly been a picture when Katherine had first told her by bringing out Anne and informing the maid that the blonde woman was the lover Beatrice had been speculating about. It had taken a good few seconds for Beatrice to recover the powers of speech, which Katherine thought must have been a record period of silence for her.
When she did find her voice, Katherine and Anne had been met with a barrage of questions as Beatrice wanted the details, and that included all the details. Anne had seemed more than happy to answer the interrogation, perhaps pleased to be included in a part of Katherine’s life. Katherine had actually had to stop her when it seemed she was willing to answer even the most risqué of Beatrice’s enquiries. Katherine thought Beatrice found it all rather exciting and romantic, including the whole need for subterfuge. Katherine had been forced to stress the need for discretion to the young maid – forbidding her to tell anyone, including her own sweetheart, Thomas. As far as she knew Beatrice had kept her word, and the only other people who knew of her secret affair were the captain of her guard, Tobias, and the priest at Markham Church, Friar Tuck.
However, she was starting to get an uneasy feeling that one of her knights also knew something about it. Charles Kirby had been acting strangely over the past month or so, in fact ever since the French Ambassador had come to visit back in June. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he just seemed a bit too…cheerful. The burly knight was renowned for his dourness, so such happiness was certainly out of character. He also seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time lingering around the manor house at Markham when there was no real need. He ran the lands around the village of Ollerton as one of her vassals, making him responsible for governing that particular part of the estate and had no real business in Markham itself, apart from when summoned by Katherine.
Her sense of uneasiness had been enough for her to speak to Tobias about it and she was starting to try and think of ways that she could perhaps remove Kirby from his current position. Ever since Mark had left for the Crusades the year before, Kirby had been striving to increase his power base in the estate. Though Katherine was the head of the manor, by virtue of being Mark’s widow, she knew that the fact that she was a woman would always count against her. She couldn’t allow one knight to become too strong in case he decided to somehow try and usurp her.
A few warm drops of rain suddenly splashed on Katherine’s face, disturbing her thoughts, and she realised that in her deliberation she had failed to notice the clouds closing in quicker than she had anticipated. The skies were now dark and it looked like they were in for quite a downpour. She pulled Delta up as she felt a tap on her shoulder.
“There’s a small wood if you follow the wall in that direction,” said Anne indicating to where she was referring.
Katherine nodded and turned Delta, geeing him into motion once more. Anne had obviously also realised that there was no way they would make it back to either Markham Manor or Sherwood Forest before they got drenched and was directing them to some nearby cover instead.
Just as the rain was starting to turn into a more concerted shower they came to the edge of a small copse of trees. They both leapt down from the horse and Katherine led him under the protective leaves, tying him to one of the trunks. They had just made it in time, she considered, as she could now hear the rain splashing intently on the leaves above, a few odd droplets finding their way through to impact on the woodland ground.
“Couldn’t you do something about this?” asked Katherine turning to Anne.
“Sorry?” queried Anne in confusion.
“The rain,” clarified Katherine, “Perhaps you could have a word with nature and get it to stop?”
Anne rolled her eyes and then suddenly leapt at Katherine, who collapsed to the ground in a fit of giggles under the relentless tickling she was receiving. When Anne finally gave her some respite from her remorseless attack, Katherine sat up and studied the young woman who had joined her on the ground. She was glad they had now got to the stage where they could even joke about Anne’s pagan heritage and her mystic abilities.
They had talked much over the past few weeks since Anne had rescued Katherine from Bronwyn’s clutches. Learning from her past abortive attempts, Katherine had made sure they had taken things slowly, never pushing Anne to reveal anything she was uncomfortable discussing. However, Anne was gradually opening up more and more to Katherine about her past, recognising herself the need to discuss it, and it pleased Katherine that she could be the one to help Anne, even if all that meant was being there to listen.
Anne was still somewhat reticent on the subject of her parents and Katherine guessed it would be a while before those deep wounds were healed. Anne still harboured much resentment towards them, blaming them for getting themselves killed.
Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Anne was not actively pursuing learning more about her mystic abilities for the time being, though they had talked about it. Katherine certainly wasn’t going to force her into anything – she knew it wasn’t an easy thing to embrace both in terms of the actual study involved to achieve anything and the personal ramifications for Anne.
However, she hoped that Anne would one day investigate it further – even if that just meant reading a bit more about it without necessarily utilising her powers. It seemed a shame to Katherine to be blessed with such a gift and ignore it. She knew that the past held a great deal of pain for Anne, but thought that once she had started to come to terms with that she may also embrace the reality of who she was.
It was certainly a useful gift to have and Katherine knew she would probably not be alive today without it. What Anne had accomplished that day when Katherine had been fatally wounded had been truly remarkable – using the power of nature to heal her. Katherine had been even more astounded when she had later learnt how truly difficult, and indeed dangerous to Anne, that had been. That was another one of the reasons Katherine was keen for Anne to learn more about her powers, so she could avoid any potential dangers.
Anne had told her about what Bronwyn had said, about how one way to access her powers was by using raw emotion. This is what Anne had done, both in the spirit realm and to heal Katherine. However, such use was fraught with danger and the possibility that the wielder would be consumed by the power they were attempting to harness, leading to madness and maybe even death. The alternative was intense and prolonged study to master the ability to achieve the right state of mind to become one with nature instead and access its many powers. Katherine was unsure what all of these powers were, and didn’t think Anne herself knew that much about it. No doubt they would learn together when the time came and Anne decided she did want to know more.
Until then Katherine was content to allow Anne to put such thoughts to the back of her mind, though every now and then hints at Anne’s innate mystical abilities would inadvertently be shown. Because of the link to emotions, there were occasions when the environment around her would respond to Anne’s moods, particularly when those moods were strong. Katherine recalled the argument they’d had about Pierre, when Anne had thought Katherine was having an affair with the French Ambassador. Katherine had not realised it at the time, but it was not her imagination, the room they were in actually had gotten hotter in response to Anne’s fiery mood. She guessed she would just have to be careful about angering the young woman again, at least in an enclosed space.
“I don’t think I will have that ‘word with nature’,” commented Anne in response to Katherine’s initial remark, breaking Katherine’s contemplative thoughts.
“Oh?” said Katherine, lifting her eyebrows in question.
“Yes, I think you need some of that rain to cool you off. We nearly crashed into obstacles at least five times on that ride thanks to your reckless riding,” said Anne with a sigh.
Katherine burst out laughing as the young woman regarded her seriously.
“You did look rather scared on the back of the horse, I have to say,” remarked Katherine, having composed herself.
“I was not scared,” said Anne indignantly, “Merely…concerned.”
“Whatever you say, darling,” said Katherine winking at Anne and patting her on the arm.
“Are you accusing me of lying?” asked Anne, raising her scarred left eyebrow in inquisition.
“Nooo,” replied Katherine, holding up her hands, “Heaven forbid, I must have been mistaken, you looked the epitome of cool naturally.”
“I’ll show you cool,” said Anne under her breath, getting up.
“Now, now, no need to…” began Katherine before she was suddenly hefted off the ground and straight over Anne’s shoulder so that her head was dangling over the young woman’s back.
“Anne!” cried Katherine, “Put me down!”
“Sorry, what was that, I didn’t quite catch it,” said Anne as she walked out from under the cover of the tress and into the torrential rain.
“I said put me down!” repeated Katherine, “This is most undignified and I’m getting soaked!”
“Ah, of course,” said Anne, “Right away, m’lady.”
Anne unceremoniously dumped Katherine off her shoulder and into a shallow puddle that had quickly formed in the steady rain.
“Oops,” said Anne, standing over Katherine with her hands on her hips and a smile on her face, “Looks like you got soaked anyway.”
Katherine slowly removed a sodden clump of auburn hair from her face and glared up at Anne who just sniggered at her expression as the warm rain lashed down on the pair of them.
“Oh, you’re going to pay for that,” said Katherine finally.
“Uh oh, now I am scared,” replied Anne, putting her hands to her face in an expression of mock fright.
“You should be!” said Katherine, launching herself from her soggy position and tackling Anne to the ground.
They rolled around on the slick grass as each struggled for the upper hand, Katherine momentarily finding herself on top of the young woman, pinning her hands to the ground.
“Looks like you have me where you want me,” remarked Anne, smiling up at Katherine as rivulets of rain trickled down her face.
“It does doesn’t it,” said Katherine huskily before dipping her head to capture Anne’s lips with her own.
Anne barely noticed the inclement weather swirling around them as Katherine’s warm body slid tantalisingly against her, the older woman’s lips pressed delicately to her own, her tongue performing a sensuous dance around her mouth. She made a token effort to move her arms from the other woman’s grip, knowing that she could easily break free at any time if she really wanted, but enjoying the game of being dominated. She groaned as Katherine slipped her thigh between Anne’s legs in response, pushing down against Anne’s feigned resistance.
Katherine kissed along Anne’s chin, moving with deliberate slowness to tease the young woman beneath her. As she finally reached Anne’s ear and sent a hot gust of breath fluttering across it, Anne arched up against the slender body above her, writhing against Katherine’s thigh as desire coursed through her.
Suddenly, in one swift movement, Anne slipped her hands free and wrapped her arms around Katherine before standing up, carrying the smaller woman with her. Katherine gasped at the sudden motion, but overcame her initial surprise and instinctively wrapped her legs around Anne’s waist, as she was held firmly off the ground in Anne’s strong arms. Anne pressed her lips eagerly to Katherine’s once more and easily bore her back towards the trees and the cover they provided. As much fun as it was rolling around on the grass in the rain, it was just a bit too stormy and muddy. Anyway, the wood had it’s own opportunities for fun, she thought to herself before the feel of Katherine’s fingers raking seductively down her back disrupted her conscious thoughts.
Anne eventually reached her destination, despite the difficulty of navigating the trees whilst her body was being filled with the most intense feelings of arousal. She pushed Katherine’s back up against the trunk of a sturdy tree and loosened her hold so the other woman dropped her feet to the forest floor. Odd droplets of rain still trickled down her face as she gazed down at Katherine admiring the way the drops splashed onto her classic features and tracked the fine contours of it. Katherine looked back up at her with a look of such wanton lust that Anne immediately captured her lips in a feverish kiss.
Anne slid her hands downwards, tracing the curves of Katherine’s body as she went. She slipped them under Katherine’s sopping top to caress the warm skin underneath, sparking a soft moan of approval from the older woman. Her fingers continued their upward exploration, her thumb and forefinger settling on one of Katherine’s nipples and gently squeezing it. The moan against her lips was slightly louder and more ragged this time, inflaming Anne’s own passion further.
There was something intoxicating about being out in the open air while the storm raged above them, the rawness of the weather somehow heightening the intensity of their emotions. Anne found she could control her naked desire no longer, so great was her need to touch Katherine. She undid the strings that held up Katherine’s trousers, which fell to the floor once freed from their bindings.
Anne herself groaned involuntarily as Katherine’s fingers reached up to loosen and tangle in her blonde hair and pull her close keeping their lips locked together. Anne revelled in the delightful sensation of each slender digit stroking softly through her hair while at the same time Katherine’s tongue probed her mouth.
With her passion raging hot within her, Anne slipped her hand between Katherine’s legs where they were immediately bathed in copious amounts of moisture. Anne felt a responding surge of wetness between her own legs as she eased her fingers between Katherine’s folds and inside the invitingly warm flesh beyond. Katherine moaned wantonly against Anne’s lips, inflaming Anne’s ardour even further and she hotly pressed them harder against Katherine mouth, needing a stronger connection, needing to almost consume the other woman. At the same time her fingers reached deep inside Katherine, twisting slowly within the slick walls.
Anne became lost in blissful ecstasy with the dual sensations of Katherine sensuous tongue invading her mouth and her pulsating sex enfolding her fingers driving her to distraction. It just felt so wonderful to explore Katherine like this and she could tell Katherine was obviously enjoying herself too if the amount of noise she was making was anything to go by. Her continued pants, gasps and groans at Anne’s intimate probing sent Anne wild with desire.
Anne started to build the speed of her inner fondling, flexing and stroking her fingers against Katherine as she felt the other woman’s body quivering against the tree trunk. She slipped her free hand around Katherine to help support her while she continued her thrusting with the other. The trembling sweeping Katherine’s body increased in intensity until she was shuddering uncontrollably under Anne’s touch and screaming out unbidden to the leaden skies above.
Then, like a fast moving summer storm, it was over and Katherine was leaning heavily against Anne, her breath coming hard and fast as the young woman held her tightly. Anne guided Katherine down to the ground, still holding onto her and stroking her auburn hair softly as she sat down, leaning back against the tree and resting Katherine’s head on her bosom.
It wasn’t long before the blue-grey eyes flicked up to regard her though, lust still evident in them.
“I hope you’re not trying to put me to sleep there,” said Katherine, “Not when there’s something I would much rather be doing.”
“And what might that be?” asked Anne innocently.
“Oh, I think you know damn well,” replied Katherine, shifting so that she was on her knees, her face level with Anne’s.
Anne just about had time to gulp nervously at the look of naked desire displayed on Katherine’s face before Katherine pushed her to the ground to give her a full demonstration of exactly what it was she would be rather be doing.
Later they lay contentedly in each other’s arms under the natural umbrella of the leaves high above, just listening to the sound of the drops splashing on the greenery. Anne actually found herself drifting off with the calming influences of the soothing sound and the warmth of the body next to her. She awoke with a slight jolt after an undetermined amount of time to find Katherine delicately brushing her fingers through the loose strands of hair that framed the young woman’s face. Katherine smiled down at her as she realised Anne was awake and Anne returned it readily. She didn’t know if there could be a more perfect moment than awaking to look into the eyes of the woman she adored beyond measure staring down at her with so much love in them.
“I wanted to thank you again,” said Anne, smiling as Katherine continued to gently stroke her cheek.
“What for?” asked Katherine distractedly, too taken with what she was doing to pay much attention at first.
“For putting up with me,” replied Anne with a sigh.
Katherine let out a small laugh, before her blue-grey settled warmly back on Anne’s own.
“Seriously,” continued Anne, “I know I’m not always the easiest person to get along with - my temper can get a bit out of control sometimes.”
“Well, that’s true,” agreed Katherine, her voice still tinged with humour
Anne flicked her eyes up to Katherine and crinkled her brow into a slight frown, though she knew that Katherine was just teasing her to try and make her feel better about her confession.
“Oh, darling, that’s all part of who you are,” said Katherine softly, cupping Anne’s cheek, “You wouldn’t be this intensely passionate person without a little bit of that darker side too. I guess you’re lucky I love you so much that I can take the rough with the smooth,” she added with a wink.
“And you know I love you too, with all my heart,” insisted Anne, gazing up at Katherine to try and impart how much she meant that from her look, “I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why I was so horrible to you a few weeks ago when you were just trying to help me. I think I was scared by how much I love you, scared of allowing myself to love someone that much and then getting hurt again. So I reacted by pushing you away to protect myself.”
“I can understand that,” nodded Katherine, “Though I hope you realise by now that I’m not that easy to get rid of.”
“Indeed, you are perhaps the most stubborn person I’ve ever met,” noted Anne playfully.
Katherine smiled again and Anne marvelled at how that smile never failed to send a warm tingle through her entire body. The tingles intensified at that moment, as Katherine pressed her lips to Anne’s and the young woman closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift off on the bliss that the tender caress invoked.
“Well, I guess we should be getting off,” commented Anne regretfully once Katherine had pulled away, not really wishing to leave, but knowing they must, especially now it seemed the rain had ceased.
“I suppose so,” said Katherine reluctantly, once again stroking her hand down Anne’s cheek and showing no real inclination to move.
“At least we only have to wait until tomorrow to see each other again,” Anne reminded her, “You are sure it is all right for me to come early?”
“Yes, as long as you manage to sneak in before the early patrol you should be fine to stay the whole day,” replied Katherine, “That is if you want to?”
“Oh, believe me, I want to,” said Anne emphatically.
“Then I shall see you tomorrow morning,” said Katherine with a small smile before she kissed Anne one last time in goodbye.
Charles Kirby gazed out the window of his house at Ollerton, noting that the sudden summer downpour had finally ceased and that the sun was re-emerging from the dark clouds overhead. He was glad – he didn’t want the work-shy peasants to have any reasons for neglecting their duties on the lands for any length of time, especially with the harvest due soon. He wanted to make sure that everything on his section of the Markham estate ran smoothly and efficiently, even if that meant he had to literally whip the peasants into shape every now and then. Not that he was particularly bothered about such aspects of his responsibility as the knight overseeing Ollerton, in fact he rather enjoyed lording it over the serfs and was nurturing ambitions to increase the number of people under his control.
Continuing to stare out the window, he pondered his plan to become the lord of the whole of the Markham estate. The only person standing in his way was Katherine and things were going well in respect of his finding a way to discredit her and undermine her position as head of the manor. His French spy had continued to provide him with useful information on a regular basis and he thought the time was fast approaching when he would make his move.
However, he was starting to get somewhat worried that Katherine suspected something. He had a few people who were loyal to him at Markham Manor, and he was hearing troublesome rumblings from them about Katherine asking questions regarding her vassal at Ollerton. Katherine was still the lady of the manor, and it would be possible for her to at least arrange a transfer for him to another manor, if not something much worse.
He knew he couldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t let all his hard work go to waste and have Katherine beat him to the punch, not when he had gotten so close to that which he had wanted for so long. He had always harboured a secret desire to be rule the manor when Mark had been lord, but his friend had been too powerful and respected amongst his peers for Kirby to have any hope of usurping him. And there was the fact that they had been friends, or at least the closest thing Kirby had had to someone whom he would regard as a friend.
He had actually been sad when news of his friend’s death had finally reached England back in January, though not for long when he realised the opportunity it gave him at Markham. He had initially thought it would be easy - presuming there was no way a woman could cope with running the manor. He had assumed Katherine would soon be begging for his help. Only she had confounded him, and a great many others, and actually turned out to be better at it than Mark had ever been. The Markham estate was more prosperous now than at any time he could remember.
Luckily for him, though, it had turned out that Katherine did make some errors in judgement and her association with the outlaw woman would turn out to be a fatal one if he had his way. A knock at the door disturbed his thoughts and he swung round to face the room’s entrance.
“Come in,” he instructed.
The door opened to reveal the squat form of his spy, Leon, who slinked into the room in his typically furtive way.
“Good afternoon, monsieur,” he said in a thick French accent.
“Good afternoon,” replied Kirby, going to sit at his desk, “So what’s the latest on our two love birds?”
“They continue to meet on a regular basis at a number of locations which I have catalogued for you,” replied Leon, handing Kirby a piece of parchment.
Kirby perused the list for a moment, nodding to himself in quiet contemplation.
“Good, good,” mumbled Kirby to himself, stroking his chin.
Leon remained standing before him, waiting patiently for his instructions.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Kirby after a few moments, glancing up at the other man, “I may have to act a little sooner than I might have wished. I have a few concerns about our good lady and may have to pre-empt any action she might be about to take against me.”
“Indeed,” commented Leon, his dark eyes revealing little.
“I presume I can count on you,” said Kirby, “Should I need your services in other ways?”
“Of course, monsieur, I am completely at your disposal,” replied Leon.
“Good,” said Kirby, an evil smile touching his lips, “In which case I think it’s time I took a trip to Markham, I believe I have some urgent business there.”
Katherine crossed the courtyard of Markham Manor heading towards the guardhouse as the morning sun poked out from behind one of the few clouds that dotted the sky above. Glancing up, she noted that it didn’t look like there would be a repeat of the rainstorm of the day before. However, she couldn’t guarantee that there would not be a repeat of other things that occurred yesterday, especially as Anne had already joined her at the house as they had arranged. Walking across the grass, a smile played across her face as she remembered her encounter with Anne in the woods, pleasant thoughts of strong hands playing across her fevered body swimming to mind. She had to mentally shake herself as she spotted her target near the guardhouse door.
“Tobias,” she called as she approached the captain of her guard who was in discussion with a couple of his men.
He gave them a few last instructions and sent them on their way, both of them making a small bow to Katherine as they passed her.
“All set for your trip?” she asked, as she came up alongside the tall knight.
“I believe so,” he confirmed, “The men have their instructions for their duties during my absence.”
“Good,” she noted, staring off absent-mindedly at the two departed soldiers.
“Is there something amiss, m’lady?” asked Tobias.
“Hmmm, not exactly,” she replied, turning back to face him, “It’s just our ‘friend’ Kirby again. I’ve been thinking more about his recent behaviour and what I know of his ambitions. I just have this feeling of unease,” she tried to explain, “It’s nothing tangible, just a sense that he’s up to no good.”
“Intuition?” enquired Tobias with a hint of scepticism, raising one eyebrow.
She made a small laugh, “You think I’m being paranoid?”
“I wouldn’t discount anything when it comes to Mr Kirby,” commented Tobias, “Do you wish me to cancel my trip to investigate further?”
Katherine considered this proposition for a moment - she could ask him to stay and send one of the other knights in his place. However, the harvest was of vital importance to the estate and the people on it and she didn’t want anything going wrong with procuring the necessary equipment. Which meant she needed to send someone she could trust and rely on absolutely and that someone was Tobias.
“No,” she finally said, “It’s important that you get the supplies from Cambridge now, in time for the harvest. I’m sure Kirby can wait until you get back.”
“If you are sure?” said Tobias.
“Yes,” she said, patting his arm in confirmation, “Go to Cambridge, we can work out what we are going to do about our errant knight when you return.”
He merely nodded to indicate that he would follow her instruction without question as he always did
“How long do you think you will be?” she asked.
“The round trip should take 9 or 10 days,” he informed her, “Depending on conditions and whether we get delayed in any way on the journey.”
“So hopefully you should be back by next Saturday,” she commented doing a quick mental calculation.
“Indeed,” he confirmed.
“Well, good luck,” she said, smiling up at him, “And all things being well, I shall see you at the end of next week.”
As he turned to go she had to shake off the sense of unease that still played across her thoughts regarding Kirby. She was sure she could cope with the man until Tobias returned and then they could set about finding some way to ease the knight off the Markham estate for good.
Katherine climbed the steps to her quarters, which lay on the upper floor of the manor house, trying to dismiss any residual thoughts about Kirby and concentrate instead on more pleasant things, like the fact that she would have Anne sequestered in her quarters for the whole day. As she reached the top steps she could hear two feminine voices coming from inside, recognising them immediately as those of Anne and Katherine’s maid, Beatrice. From their tones it seemed they were in a heated discussion on some subject and Katherine slipped quietly into the room, positioning herself behind a wardrobe so she could observe them unnoticed, curious to find out what it was that had sparked such debate.
“I am not putting that garment on,” said Anne with an edge of exasperation, folding her arms across her chest and staring obstinately at the smaller woman.
“Oh, go on,” pleaded Beatrice, holding up a pale blue dress, “I think you’d look lovely in it. And I’m sure Katherine would agree,” she added with a conspiratorial wink.
“I do not wear dresses,” insisted Anne steadfastly.
“But why ever not?” cried Beatrice in consternation, “I mean look at you, if anyone has the figure for it, it’s you! Those great long legs, that ample bosom.”
Katherine quickly put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle as she noticed Anne blushing at the last comment.
“When the sheriff’s men are chasing you through Sherwood Forest,” explained Anne tetchily, “It is hardly practical to be worried about snagging your skirt.”
“Don’t you ever dress up?” asked Beatrice.
Katherine had to admire Beatrice’s dogged determination in trying to persuade Anne to do something she obviously didn’t want to do. She was interested to see what the outcome would be and who would win the battle of wills.
“Who for?” remarked Anne, “The other outlaws? I doubt they’d notice if I was wearing a sack or a skirt. Believe me, fashion is hardly foremost on their minds.”
“Ah, but you do have someone to dress up for now, don’t you,” said Beatrice, sensing an opening.
“I suppose so,” said Anne slowly
Katherine smiled to herself as Anne began to falter under Beatrice’s persistent enthusiasm – it seemed she was no match for the wilful little maid when it came to matters of sartorial elegance. She guessed she could save Anne from the badgering, but she was having too fun watching the unfolding tableau to interrupt it just yet. Anyway, she thought that Anne secretly liked the dark-haired maid and actually rather relished their lively discussions. They were of a similar age and background and Katherine often caught them having such conversations when she left them alone for any length of time. She also knew that Beatrice definitely liked Anne, since she didn’t mind expressing her opinions and had told Katherine on several occasions how lovely and great for Katherine she thought Anne was, even if Anne did always try to put on that hard front of hers. Beatrice had informed her that she could see right through that and knew Anne had a sensitive heart underneath that cold exterior, as if Katherine needed to be told that. Katherine knew full well what an intense and passionate woman Anne really was without Beatrice having to point it out.
“So you’ll try it then,” said Beatrice, attempting to push the dress into Anne’s hands.
“I don’t know,” said Anne nervously, her resistance crumbling fast, “I don’t know if it’s my colour,” she quickly added, perhaps trying to appeal to Beatrice’s sensitivities to extricate herself.
“Not your colour?” said Beatrice, rolling her eyes, “But you always wear black!”
“I like black!” said Anne indignantly.
Katherine couldn’t help herself at that moment and a laugh erupted from her lips, causing the other two women to swing their heads in the direction of her hiding place. Caught out, she stepped out into the room and made her way over to them.
“Katherine,” said Anne with no small degree of relief, “Quick, save me from your maid.”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Katherine, taking the cloth of the dress in one hand to peruse it, “I think Beatrice may have a point - you would look rather stunning.”
As she turned to smile at the young woman she could see her blue eyes shifting back and forth apprehensively between the other two women.
“Hey, that’s not fair, two against one,” said Anne, holding her hands up as if to ward off an attack.
“It’ll only take a minute,” said Katherine stepping towards her with pretend menace, “It’ll be quite painless.”
Anne backed up a couple of steps and bumped into a small table, glancing round nervously as she realised she had nowhere to go.
“Shall I get the arms while you grab the legs,” said Katherine to Beatrice in a loud whisper that was clearly audible to everyone in the room.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” agreed Beatrice conspiratorially.
Before Anne had the chance to assess whether they were joking or not, Katherine and her maid leapt on her in their two pronged attack. Surprising Anne by the suddenness of it, they managed to wrestle her to the floor. Despite Anne’s continued protestations and a determined struggle they rose to their feet a few seconds later to survey their handiwork. Anne slowly clambered up off the floor, shooting them both a baleful glance as they sniggered under their breath.
“See, I told you I would look stupid,” she said with annoyance, looking down at herself.
“Oh, darling, I’m sorry,” said Katherine, between giggles, “We’re not laughing at how you look, but at the look of utter disgust on your face.”
Anne merely made a harrumphing sound and crossed her arms firmly, which caused Katherine and Beatrice to break out in fresh howls of laughter. Katherine finally managed to compose herself enough to speak properly, wiping away a few tears from the edge of her eyes.
“You actually look lovely, really,” she insisted sincerely, “Absolutely gorgeous, doesn’t she Beatrice?”
“Oh yes,” agreed Beatrice wholeheartedly, “Wonderful.”
Anne still resolutely refused to concede that they might have a point and maintained her glare, though it appeared to be weakening in its intensity.
“Well, I shall leave you two alone,” said Beatrice, heading towards the door, “Let me know if you need anything else.”
“Thank you, Beatrice,” said Katherine as the maid exited, closing the door behind her.
“Do you really think I look lovely?” asked Anne uncertainly now the other woman had gone, looking down at the garment she had been forced into as if it were something she’d find lining a privy.
“Most definitely,” confirmed Katherine, her voice dropping to a husky timbre as she surveyed the way the dress clung to the young woman’s nubile body.
Anne glanced up, no doubt catching the suggestiveness in Katherine’s tone and Katherine stepped closer, allowing her to reach out and stroke one hand down the soft material at Anne’s side.
“It feels rather delightful too,” commented Katherine, sliding her fingers back up the fabric towards Anne’s chest, “Especially here” she remarked gently squeezing Anne’s breast.
Anne let out a small gasp, “That is rather…pleasant,” she affirmed.
Katherine brought her other hand up to join the first one on the dress, cupping both Anne’s breasts and rubbing her thumbs across the material where her nipples pushed against it.
“Though there is something that I think would set it off just perfectly,” noted Katherine, dropping her hands for a moment and looking up into Anne’s eyes.
Anne regarded Katherine inquisitively as she made her way over to her dresser and sought out the item she wanted. Having found it, she crossed back over to Anne with her hands behind her back. The young woman still looked somewhat bemused, or perhaps she was just perturbed that Katherine had stopped her admiration of her ‘dress’ so suddenly.
“Why don’t you turn around,” suggested Katherine, smiling reassuringly.
Anne gave Katherine one more questioning look but silently did as instructed. Katherine reached her hands up to the smooth skin of Anne’s neck and draped a gold-chained necklace around it, the brilliant blue sapphire of the pendant sitting just above Anne’s cleavage. After Katherine had fastened the clasp, Anne slowly turned back round, looking down at the jewellery, her hand coming up to play across the gemstone as it rested against her tanned skin.
“It’s beautiful,” remarked Anne with notable awe in her tone, still studying the gem.
“I want you to have it,” said Katherine.
Anne’s eyes shot up to regard her, “Really?”
“Yes, really,” replied Katherine, smiling at Anne’s obvious surprise, “I’ve wanted to give it to you for a while actually, and today seemed like an appropriate moment, since you looked so breathtakingly gorgeous in that dress.”
Anne blushed slightly and looked down at the necklace again, as if she was mesmerised by its beauty.
“I don’t know what to say, no one has ever given me anything like this before,” she said quietly, “I don’t have anything to give you in return,” she added with a tinge of regret in her voice.
“I already have everything I want,” declared Katherine, “I have you.”
That comment received a warm smile in return and Katherine was even gladder she had given the necklace to Anne.
“I just wanted you to have something of mine, that you could keep with you when we’re apart,” explained Katherine softly, reaching up to twin her fingers with Anne’s as they brushed over the pendant, “It belonged to my mother, and her mother before that I believe. In fact, I’m not even sure how long it’s been in my family.”
“Thank you, Katherine, it’s the best gift I have ever received,” said Anne, her eyes soft as she fixed them on Katherine, “Especially knowing its significance to you. I shall treasure it.”
Katherine had to swallow the lump in her throat and blink a few times to stop the tears that were forming in her eyes at the sudden swell of emotion that had almost overcome her. She had never felt this way giving someone a gift before, so inordinately pleased and warmed by their reaction, though she supposed she had never been this much in love with someone before. Her emotions almost went into total meltdown at that point as Anne bent to place her lips softly against Katherine’s and she closed her eyes to revel in the sensation, her hand still resting against Anne’s chest where she could feel the pounding of the young woman’s heart.
Anne wrapped her free hand around Katherine to draw her closer, but kept the caress of her lips teasingly delicate. Katherine was content to be held in Anne’s warm embrace though she could feel her desire rising within her now she was pressed up the young woman’s warm body. She slipped her hand free of Anne’s so she could roam her fingers across the silken fabric of the dress once more, down Anne’s sides, over her hips and then round to fondle her bottom. The gentle squeezing elicited a small moan from Anne, which finally sent Katherine over the edge. She had been trying to control herself since she had first seen Anne in the dress but she could hold back her wanton lust no longer.
She quickly moved her hands up the back of Anne’s dress and expertly undid the series of clasps before slipping the garment off Anne’s shoulders. Anne obligingly slipped her arms out of the sleeves so Katherine could push the dress over her hips and onto the floor, leaving Anne gloriously naked in front of her.
“Katherine,” remarked Anne to the older woman who was rather distracted by the vision in front of her, “It seems rather pointless that you dressed me in that garment in the first place, if you were going to remove it so soon.”
Katherine’s eyes flicked up from their intense study of Anne’s body, “You’re just lucky I didn’t rip it off you, you looked so damn sexy in it.”
Katherine then pushed Anne back onto the bed and joined her, slinking up the lithe body like a predator intent on its prey.
Some time later both the predator and its prey lay exhausted on the bed, Katherine’s head nuzzled against Anne’s as the young woman brushed her fingers tenderly though Katherine’s loose auburn hair. Her other hand came back to distractedly touch the necklace which she still wore.
“Do you ever see your family?” asked Anne with genuine interest.
“There isn’t really anyone left to see,” remarked Katherine, not lifting her head from its warm home, “Apart from my sister and she’s off happily married to a nobleman in Yorkshire. My parents died a few years ago now.”
“I’m sorry,” said Anne, “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” insisted Katherine, raising herself slightly and propping her head on her hand so she could look at Anne, “I like sharing things with you. Not that there’s much to tell, they just died of old age about 5 years ago.”
Anne looked like she was considering Katherine’s words for a moment, as if she wanted to ask something else but either didn’t know how to or was unsure how it would be received.
“What is it?” asked Katherine softly.
“Can I ask you something?” said Anne tentatively.
“Of course, anything,” declared Katherine earnestly.
“I just wondered if you’d ever thought about having a family of your own…with Mark,” asked Anne.
Katherine didn’t reply for a moment, she hadn’t quite expected the line of questioning that Anne had chosen. She had said that Anne could ask her anything, though, and she considered that she owed the young woman the truth, since she would expect no less from her.
“Yes, we did want a family,” she replied, “All nobles want someone to inherit their title and lands and we did try, but…,” Katherine paused again - she hadn’t realised she still had trouble with this subject until Anne had brought it up. She hadn’t thought about it for quite some time, not really since Mark had left on his fatal journey the previous July, “…well, it just never happened,” she finally added.
“I’m sorry,” said Anne gently, no doubt sensing Katherine’s unease. She took Katherine’s hand where it lay on Anne’s stomach and joined their fingers, brushing her thumb across the back of Katherine’s hand, “It sounds like you really wanted children.”
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t,” conceded Katherine, looking down at their twinned hands, “But I guess it was just never meant to be.”
“There’s still time,” noted Anne.
Katherine gave a rueful laugh. “I don’t think it’s likely in my present situation now is it?” she suggested looking back up at Anne.
She immediately regretted her rather rash statement as she saw the look of hurt that passed across Anne’s face before she quickly disguised it.
“Anne,” said Katherine reaching up to caress her cheek while keeping her eyes fixed on the young woman, “It’s true I did want children and I guess a small part of me would still like to be a mother, but don’t think for a second that I would ever give you up to achieve that. I love you and my life would be nothing without you in it.”
Anne smiled back at her, the smile that never failed to melt Katherine’s heart, “And you are my life too,” she declared, “I never knew what love was until I met you.”
Katherine found herself grinning rather inanely at the simple words, so honestly spoken and she leant back down against Anne, snuggling into her embrace as they lay contentedly together.
Katherine watched from her back window as Anne slipped out into the warm night air, agilely crossing the kitchen roof and dropping to the ground at the back of the house. They had shared a lovely day together, just relaxing and talking and doing lots of other pleasurable things. As Anne crossed the short grassy expanse to the wall she cast one last look up at Katherine and made a small wave, the older woman returning it with a broad smile on her face.
“Saying a fond goodbye?” came a voice from behind her suddenly.
Katherine spun round to see Charles Kirby standing just inside the door, on the far side of the room, the candlelight flickering across his dark features.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” demanded Katherine crossly, “Get out!”
She subconsciously closed the gap in her robe just a bit more, feeling somewhat exposed just standing there in the thin garment in his presence.
“I only wanted a little chat with you,” he said, his voice soft and ingratiating.
“Didn’t you hear me – I said get out!” cried Katherine indignantly, striding over to where he was standing and fixing him with a deathly stare, “How dare you come into my room unannounced…”
She trailed off and looked at her door as something struck her. “In fact how did you get in here? The door was locked….”
“Did you break in?!” she said angrily, as realisation dawned, “I’ll have your knighthood for this!”
“You might want to wait a minute before you go screaming for the guards,” he said, interposing his bulky frame between Katherine and the door as she made to leave the room, “At least to give your ‘friend’ time to be clear of the house.”
Katherine stopped in her tracks and slowly looked back up at him, schooling her features into passive expression.
“What are you talking about?” she said icily.
“Don’t play coy with me, Katherine,” he said obsequiously, “I know all about it.”
“All about what?” asked Katherine, trying to feign innocence.
“You want me to spell it out to you?” he replied, “Fine. I know all about your sordid little affair with that outlaw woman, Anne. I have to say I was rather shocked when I found out - here I was thinking you were a good, respectable, god-fearing woman and yet I find out you’re having an illicit affair with some petty thief. Not only that but you’re risking eternal damnation by engaging in unnatural activities with another woman.”
Katherine just stared up at him, trying not to let the shock she was feeling register on her face. So it seemed she had been right to suspect Kirby, though she had never dreamed he knew so much. She berated herself for having been so careless as to allow this unctuous man to gain such knowledge about her.
“What do you want, Charles?” she said evenly, defensively crossing her arms across her chest.
“Ah, now you’re willing to listen to me,” he crowed, a nasty smile creeping across his face and crinkling the ugly tattoo above his left eye, “I have an offer for you, one that you should seriously consider.”
“Go on,” she prompted shortly.
“Well,” he began, “The crux of it is that either you agree to marry me, so that I become lord of the manor, or I’ll tell everyone all about your dirty little secret.”
Katherine immediately let out an incredulous laugh, “That’s preposterous, me…marry you…never in a million years!”
“You don’t think I would tell all the other nobles in the region about it?” enquired Kirby smarmily, “I have quite detailed accounts of all you’ve been up to you know, it makes very interesting reading.”
He quickly produced a set of papers from a small satchel he had slung across his shoulder and offered them to Katherine. Taking the parchment, she opened it to find a list of various dates, times and places detailing her and Anne’s meetings over the past two weeks.
“And that is just a small sample of my information,” he continued as she stared numbly at the writing, “How do you think your reputation would stand up to something like this being revealed? You’re on shaky ground as it is being a woman in your position. I think if this became public it would finish you off.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Katherine, trying to stall for time, pretending she was in deep contemplation of the text.
She quickly tried to consider her options. First of all there was the possibility she could agree to what he was suggesting which was utterly ridiculous. Not only did she loath Kirby and was unable to think of anything much worse than becoming his wife, but she was in love with Anne and would never give herself to someone else. That just left the choice of allowing him to tell everyone about what she had been doing with Anne. That could have two outcomes that she could see. Either the other nobles and knights would believe Kirby and she would be disgraced and lose her position, or they wouldn’t and Kirby would look a fool. However, she knew he held one great advantage – he was a man, as were all the other people of power apart from her. That meant he would most likely be believed over her, especially if his evidence included any kind of witnesses. So discounting the marriage option she was left with almost certain disgrace.
As she mulled that thought over, she suddenly realised that, despite the fact that she would be deeply aggrieved to lose everything she had worked for and dedicated herself to all her life, that was nothing compared to how she would feel if she lost Anne.
“You know what,” she said finally, looking up at him defiantly, “You can take you grubby attempt at blackmail and shove it!”
She thrust his papers back at him and noted with some satisfaction that he looked rather taken aback. She decided to try and play on his obvious surprise.
“Why don’t you tell everyone and see how far you get,” she suggested, “It’s just your word against mine. Who do you think the other knights and lords will believe, me - a respectable lady of this manor for 17 years who’s done nothing but bring wealth and prosperity to Markham, or you - a knight of dubious pedigree?”
“You’re bluffing, you wouldn’t risk it,” he said, though she could detect the uncertainty in his voice.
“Wouldn’t I?” she said, continuing to stare at him with stubborn determination in her eyes.
“You would really risk everything for that woman?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes,” she replied simply.
She could see him considering for a moment and she wondered if she could sneak past him and get out of the room while he was lost in thought.
“In that case,” he said, before she had any chance to move, “You’re forcing me to resort to my only other course of action.”
“And what might that be?” she asked, “Please tell me it’s that you leave Markham and I never have to see your face again.”
“No,” he replied, a sinister look now crossing his features, “Either you do what I want or I’ll have Anne killed.”
Katherine felt a cold chill sweep through her, penetrating her to the very core.
“The way I see it,” he continued, no doubt able to tell he had shocked her by her silence and the look of horror she had been unable to keep from her face, “I’d be doing society a favour anyway, disposing of a dangerous criminal like that.”
“Now you’re the one bluffing,” she managed to say with some semblance of calmness despite the fact she felt anything but, “Even if you wanted to, I doubt you could carry out such a threat.”
“Really?” he said, smiling wickedly down at her, “How do you think I came by all this information on you? I’ve had you followed for weeks now; I’ve got people loyal to me everywhere. I can even recite you details of the conversations the two of you have had if you like.”
Katherine desperately tried to organise her thoughts, but all she could think of was the prospect of Kirby killing Anne and that just made her sick inside. She didn’t really know how capable he was of doing it, but realised she couldn’t really take the chance that he could.
“You took a big risk, Katherine,” added Kirby, gloating now, “And now you’ve been caught out – it’s time to face the consequences.”
“The main consequence being that I surrender the manor to you,” she remarked, trying to take some deep breaths and fight down her anxiety.
“And yourself,” he said, “I would expect you to be a dutiful wife and lady of the manor.”
“You’d really want a wife that actively despised you?” she said shaking her head in disgust.
“If that’s the only way I can have you, then yes,” he replied, “Though I’m sure after some time with me, you’ll find I’m not such an ogre. And if not, well, I’m sure there are ways I can make you see.”
Kirby slowly reached out his hand and trailed his fingers down Katherine’s cheek. She found herself unable to keep from shuddering at the touch.
“You can’t expect me to agree to such an offer,” she said in revulsion.
“It’s up to you,” he said with a shrug, removing his hand, “But either you do or your young lover dies, it’s quite simple.”
“You’re a bastard, Kirby, you know that,” she spat, her eyes flashing angrily at him, “I knew you were up to no good. I should have listened to my instincts and booted you off the manor the first chance I got. You were always after Mark’s position, even when he was alive. I don’t know what he ever saw in you in order to let you run Ollerton. How long after his death did it take you to come up with your little scheme to wed me and take control of the manor? Christ, we only heard that he died, what was it, seven months ago now? Yet here you are, ready to fill his shoes!”
“That’s harsh, Katherine,” said Kirby as if she had wounded his pride though she seriously doubted he had any, “And anyway, you’re a fine one to talk. How long did you wait before you started up your association with that woman? God knows how long it had already been going on before I found out! You know I was loyal to Mark. But I have always admired you from afar, and I wish I could have made you mine under better circumstances. But as I said, if this is the way it has to be, then that’s better than nothing. Anyway, you have only yourself to blame - before you started up your foolish dalliance my ambitions were merely a dream. By consorting with that woman, you played right into my hands.”
Katherine felt trapped – what could she do? And why couldn’t she think straight? If only she could get rid of Kirby somehow, put him off, she might have time to come up with an alternative. Only she didn’t think he was going to leave until he got his answer. Maybe she could give him one and then contact Anne in some way, let her know what he was up to, tell her to go somewhere safe.
“Oh,” he said, interrupting her thoughts, as if he could sense what she was thinking, “And don’t even think about trying to warn your outlaw friend in any way, remember I have eyes and ears everywhere.”
“And how do I know I can trust you?” she asked, “What’s to stop you killing Anne anyway, even if I do agree?”
“You have my word,” he insisted, “As long as you do what I say, she will be safe.”
“And I’m expected to go on your word?” she scoffed.
“That’s all you have, I’m afraid,” he replied.
She stared balefully up at him, knowing there was little else she could do for now, with no one to turn to for backup at the manor in Tobias’ absence. If there was any chance that Kirby could make good on his threat then the only real option was to play along with him and hope against hope she could find some way out of her predicament.
“So what is it you want me to do?” she asked with a resigned sigh.
“I knew you’d see sense,” he remarked, smiling down at her.
“I don’t know if I’d call it that,” she said obstinately, “But it seems you leave me no option but to agree to your terms.”
“Good,” he said with satisfaction, “Well, first we need to make sure your little friend knows things are over between the two of you, we don’t really want her popping by all the time. So I think you should pay her a visit where you can explain to her how it was all a big mistake and you never want to see her again. And just in case you get any ideas about warning her in anyway or telling her of my involvement in this, my men and I will be watching.”
“She won’t believe me, you realise,” noted Katherine.
“Well, you had better make her believe you somehow,” he said, moving his face closer to hers menacingly, “Because if she comes near you again it will be the last thing she does. We certainly wouldn’t want her turning up on our wedding day and ruining things now would we? I would hate to have to have someone executed at what should be a celebration.”
“You’re all heart,” she said sarcastically.
“In fact,” he said drawing back again having made his point, “I think we should get married as soon as possible, just to make sure you don’t try to wriggle your way out of our agreement.”
“As long as you keep up your end of the bargain and don’t harm Anne, then I’ll marry you,” she reassured him.
“Nevertheless, I think I would still feel more comfortable once I am the official lord of the manor – how does next Saturday sound to you?” he suggested.
“Next Saturday?” she cried disbelievingly, “Don’t you think that’s a bit soon?”
“No, I don’t think so,” he answered, “And it also means your little puppet Tobias won’t be back in time either, just in case you were getting any ideas that he might be able to save you. I think it’s perfect.”
Kirby reached down and took Katherine’s hand, bringing it to his lips to plant a kiss on her knuckles.
“Just think,” he said with an evil grin, “In a little over a week’s time you will be the new Lady Kirby.”
Katherine paced nervously back and forth across the grass of the small clearing in Sherwood Forest where she now awaited the arrival of Anne. She knew what she had to do was ultimately for Anne’s benefit, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach. In fact her stomach was protesting most urgently as her anxiety built with each passing second.
She wished they had been more careful about their relationship - that somehow they had kept it from everyone. Sighing too herself, she realised it was too late for regrets now - they had been caught out and now they had to pay the price. She tried to reason to herself that at least Anne would be free to continue with her life, whereas Katherine would be trapped in a loveless marriage to Kirby. However, she knew she couldn’t really pretend that what she was about to do wouldn’t profoundly affect Anne. In all likelihood it would completely devastate the young woman and Katherine just prayed that she would be able to recover.
Though Katherine had resigned herself to her fate back at the manor house, now she was here waiting, she wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. She didn’t know if she was capable of doing this - of betraying the love they shared. Anne had given Katherine her heart, trusted her to take care of it and now Katherine was about to destroy it. It was tearing Katherine apart inside, slowly eating away at her like some insidious disease. On the one hand she knew that what she was doing was to protect Anne, but at the same time knowing she had to hurt her to accomplish that was almost too much to bear.
She glanced at the trees and could just make out where Kirby was hiding, bringing his threat to have Anne killed starkly into focus. That gave her the necessary resolve to continue - if the only way to make sure Anne could go on living was to push her away, then that was what Katherine would have to do. She would bottle up all her own emotion – her pain, her despair – and she would do it for Anne’s sake.
There was a nagging doubt in her mind that there must be some alternative to this, if only she could just stop and think for a minute, but her mind didn’t seem to be functioning properly. Kirby’s revelation that he knew all about Anne had blind-sided her and she was still reeling from that, unable to think logically, her worry for Anne’s welfare clouding her thoughts. It hadn’t helped that Kirby had been watching her like a hawk since the night before. She hadn’t even been able to speak to Beatrice let alone entertain any grander plans such as contacting Friar Tuck at the church in order to get word to Anne.
She didn’t know if Kirby could make good on his threat or not or how many men he had in his employ, spying on her. For all she knew, his men could be surrounding her right now, all with their bows trained on where Anne would be standing in a few moments. She wished that Tobias were here - he would help her order her thoughts and think things through properly. Only he wasn’t, and there was no hope that he would be back any time soon. It was up to her to make the decision on her own, and all she could see was the option Kirby was presenting her.
Katherine’s stomach complained once again at the amount of nervous strain being inflicted upon it and she suddenly felt the bile creeping up her throat. Dashing to the side of the clearing she retched into the bushes, her body continuing to heave in great spasms long after anything solid had passed her lips. She leaned heavily against a tree for a moment, trying to compose herself as a cold sweat broke out on her forehead, despite the fact that it was a warm summer’s day.
She took a few shuddering breaths to try and calm herself, knowing she had to collect herself enough to present a convincing argument to Anne. The young woman was hardly likely to believe Katherine’s abrupt change of heart if she detected anything untoward. And Katherine knew that it was imperative that Anne did believe her, her very life was at stake. With that reminder, she reaffixed her ponytail and smoothed down her hair, gathering herself as she walked back out into the middle of the clearing.
Thankfully she didn’t have to wait much longer as she spotted the familiar black-clad figure emerging from the forest in front of her. Katherine’s heart made a small flip as it always did when she caught sight of the young woman, but she forced down those feelings – she had to remain hard, stay focused on her unpleasant task.
Smiling as she approached, Anne went to kiss Katherine, but the older woman turned her head away causing Anne to pull up short and regard her quizzically.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” asked Anne, genuine concern in her voice.
If only she knew, cried Katherine to herself, she wouldn’t be asking.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she lied, avoiding Anne’s eyes, “I just have something to tell you.”
“That sounds serious,” commented Anne, slight worry now creeping into her tone, no doubt brought on by Katherine’s demeanour.
“It is serious….” said Katherine slowly, gathering all her courage to continue down the path she knew she must follow despite the fact that it was like walking over hot coals, “It’s over, Anne.”
“What? What’s over?” asked Anne in confusion.
“Us, we can’t go on like this,” clarified Katherine harshly, “It’s finished between us.”
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Anne staring at her in bewilderment trying to form some sort of response and Katherine felt her heart clutching painfully in her chest.
“No…you…you can’t mean that,” stammered Anne, “I…I don’t understand.”
“It’s simple,” said Katherine, making herself turn to face Anne to emphasise her severe words, “I don’t want to see you anymore and please don’t try to come and see me or I will be forced to have you arrested.”
“What?!” cried Anne, her brow crinkling as she struggled to grasp what it was Katherine was telling her. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she studied Katherine’s face, the older woman hoping she was managing to keep her features suitably impassive despite her inner turmoil.
“No, this isn’t right,” said Anne shaking her head, “What’s really going on? The other day you were telling me how much you loved me and now you suddenly don’t want to see me anymore – it doesn’t make sense.”
“Look,” said Katherine, trying desperately to feign exasperation, “I’ve actually been thinking about this for a while. I’ve known for some time that there could be no future in this but didn’t really know how to bring it up.”
“I suppose I was also enjoying myself a bit too much to make any real effort to end it, so I just played along. However, things have been getting too serious for what is just some stupid fling. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was exciting for a while, running around behind everyone’s back, having a secret affair.”
“And maybe I needed something like that after the shock of losing Mark so suddenly. There was a space in my heart and you were a convenient, temporary stop gap for that.”
Katherine was amazed that she was able to utter such blatant lies with any semblance of sincerity. She was steadfastly keeping from looking Anne directly in the eye, maintaining a gaze somewhere just about her forehead instead. She knew that she could well come undone if she looked into those azure pools and saw the pain in them.
“But it’s over now, “ added Katherine, “I’ve had my bit of fun and now I have to get back to my real life, my life at the manor, my life as lady of the manor. I don’t have time to engage in silly little associations like this any more.”
“I mean, honestly, did you really think there could ever be anything real between us?” said Katherine incredulously, throwing her hands up and turning away from Anne again since it was getting too hard to continue while facing her, “You’re an outlaw and I’m a respectable member of the nobility – it’s ridiculous!”
“No! I don’t believe you - I can’t believe you! Something else is going on!” insisted Anne, grabbing Katherine’s forearms and spinning her back round to face her. “Tell me the truth!” she demanded.
As Katherine stared at the ground she realised with a horrible gut-wrenching feeling that she was going to be forced to say the words she never thought would ever pass her lips. But how could she? How could she do that to Anne? And yet she knew she must, for Anne’s sake – it may hurt the young woman now, but it was the only way for Katherine to protect her in the long run.
Katherine took a few deep breaths as she steeled herself to utter the unspeakable, to push the words out, even though they went against the very core of her being and would tear her heart asunder. She knew she had to make it convincing, say what she had to say as if she really meant it, though inside she would be screaming. She tried to console herself that it would be just a few moments and then this arduous ordeal would be over. Though she knew that then the real agony would begin – a life without Anne. That prospect did little to ease the path of the words from her mouth.
She tried to draw an image to mind that would help her speak the devastating untruth and she settled on Kirby – thinking of him sent an icy chill through her body and pitched her mood just about right.
Katherine balled her hands into fists, feeling the nervous sweat on her palms, and finally drew her head up to look Anne directly in the eye, keeping the picture of Kirby in her thoughts and trying to ignore the imploring look on Anne’s face. With all her strength of will she kept her face schooled in its impassive mask, her eyes cold, as her mouth opened to deal the fatal blow.
“The truth is…I don’t love you.”
At that moment, Katherine wondered if it was possible to die from a broken heart - the trauma of seeing the look of absolute shock and dismay on Anne’s face as Katherine’s words registered was surely enough to accomplish such a task. She forced herself to keep her eyes fixed on Anne, knowing she couldn’t waver now, that this was the crucial point in making Anne believe her. Their gazes remained locked for what seemed like an excruciating eternity and Katherine could feel her resolve beginning to falter as a million tiny daggers stabbed at her heart. She was barely breathing due to the tension that gripped her body. Her mouth was dry and she didn’t know if she could even speak again such was her silent anguish at seeing Anne in pain like this and knowing she was the one who had caused it.
Please, Anne, just go! Don’t make me hurt you anymore! pleaded Katherine internally as she kept her jaw clamped tightly shut.
“No…no….,” said Anne, her voice small, uncertain.
She dropped her hands from Katherine’s arms and took a couple of faltering steps backwards, but still remained looking at Katherine, a beseeching longing in her eyes. She searched Katherine’s face for some sort of confirmation of what she had just heard as if it was too unfathomable to believe.
Oh god, thought Katherine in dismay, I’m going to have to say it again – is there no end to this torment!
“I’m afraid it’s true,” said Katherine, somehow managing to keep her voice even and emotionless, “It was a silly infatuation, but it’s over now. I don’t love you, Anne, I never have and I never will.”
Total devastation finally washed over Anne’s face, as she at last comprehended what the older woman had told her. Katherine felt like her very soul had been ripped from her body and shredded into a million pieces as she noticed a few tears starting to well up in the corners of Anne’s blue eyes. Then suddenly the young woman whirled round and ran into the forest, leaving Katherine as a lone, forlorn figure on the grass.
Katherine bowed her head and sank to the ground, allowing her own tears free rein to slide down her face. Her heart felt like it had shrivelled up and died in her chest, to be replaced by a cold, icy lump. Consumed by her misery, she failed to notice that she had a new companion until a voice came from above her.
“Well, who would have known you were such a great actress,” remarked Kirby, a hint of triumph in his tone.
Katherine tried to ignore his words - she just wanted to go somewhere, curl up and die right now.
“It’s for the best anyway,” continued the odious man, “She was never right for you, you need a real man to look after you.”
Katherine could take no more of his taunting and leapt up suddenly, swinging her arm round, meaning to smack him across the face. Only he caught her wrist before her hand impacted on its intended target and he gripped her arm firmly. He sneered down at her and she thought he was actually trying to hurt her, so tight was his grasp. She resolutely refused to let anything show in her face as she felt his fingers digging painfully into her slender wrist. Instead she maintained a steely glare, allowing her anger at him to take over from the wretchedness she felt at what she’d had to do to Anne.
“Now, now, Katherine, is that any way to treat your future husband?” He said mockingly.
“It is if he’s a total bastard,” she spat.
Kirby tipped his head back and laughed before his face came back to regard her with a more menacing look on his features. His hand darted out to grab her free wrist so he could haul her closer. His eyes were dark as he brought his face close to hers, his breath hissing out warm across her cheeks.
“Don’t forget,” he said, his voice low and threatening, “You belong to me now…and forever.”
“You may have my body, but you will never have my heart or my soul,” replied Katherine stubbornly.
“What, because they belong to that woman?” crowed Kirby, tilting his head towards where Anne had departed, “Well I don’t think she is going to be wanting to see you again any time soon, I think you did a great job of breaking her little heart. So I would start getting used to your new life, your life with me.”
As Kirby roughly dragged her away, Katherine pondered that her life may as well be over, it would probably be more merciful than one spent with the brutish Kirby. Stumbling though the forest back towards Markham, she found it hard not to let her sorrow overwhelm her as she left what remained of her battered heart behind in the clearing.
Anne sat dejectedly on her own at the edge of outlaw camp as the rest of the band busied themselves with their daily tasks. She had been sitting there for some time, with her shoulders hunched and her head bowed and the men seemed to have realised she didn’t want to be bothered as they were giving her a wide berth. She was glad, because she really didn’t want to speak to any of them right now. She felt like someone had hollowed out her insides with a blunt instrument and left a gaping, festering wound there instead.
No matter how many times she thought about it, she still couldn’t quite believe what had happened the day before when she had gone to meet Katherine. She had just assumed that it would be like any of their other meetings and had been totally unprepared for her whole world to be shattered as Katherine told her that she never wanted to see her again.
Anne looked numbly down at the necklace she held in her hand, the one Katherine had given her only two days ago. She distractedly rubbed her thumb over the smooth surface of the blue gem and failed to stop the tears that started to well in her eyes once more as anguish enveloped her. She couldn’t really be bothered to try and stop them anyway – it felt good to cry in some strange way – and she allowed them to tumble unbidden down her cheeks, as they had done for most of the previous night.
She had dazedly stumbled back to the camp yesterday and quickly sequestered herself away in her hut to avoid the other outlaws. Once alone her mind had gone over and over what Katherine had said to her, with one anguished question rattling around in her brain, dominating her thoughts – why, why, why? The repetition had done little to help her understand what had prompted the other woman’s harsh words. Each one of those words had been like a dagger being stabbed into Anne’s heart and she was amazed she had managed to find her way back to the camp at all in her distress.
During the night, she had gone through stages of steadfastly refusing to believe Katherine’s words, through to total and utter despair as her possible life without Katherine stretched out gloomily before her.
Even now, she was none the wiser – had Katherine really meant what she had said? She had seemed so convincing when she had uttered those shocking words, telling Anne that she didn’t love her, that she never even had. Anne felt the sickness in her stomach all over again, as she thought of those words, of the coldness in Katherine’s eyes as she had said them.
Anne’s heartache and misery threatened to consume her as she pondered over how she could have been so wrong. She had thought Katherine loved her, just as Anne herself loved the older woman. Or maybe that was the problem. Maybe she had wanted to believe it so much, wanted Katherine to love her in the same way that she had ignored the fact that she might not.
She tried desperately to think of any signs that would have indicated that Katherine’s feelings had not been genuine, but she drew a blank. No, it just didn’t make sense, she told herself. Only two days ago Katherine had presented her with the necklace that had belonged to her mother and they had never seemed closer or happier. And then the very next day Katherine had had a complete change of heart and called the whole thing off. Having mulled it over Anne was sure that, despite Katherine’s protestations to the contrary, there was something more to her strange behaviour. Though Anne could not imagine what that might be to cause Katherine to act so hurtfully.
If she hadn’t been so overwhelmed by pain when they had spoken, she might have pressed Katherine on it then, but all she could think about at the time was getting away, away from the torment of having to hear any more of those agonising words. But now she considered it more she just refused to believe that their relationship had only been some “bit of fun” for Katherine, a temporary distraction that didn’t really mean anything. She thought she knew Katherine well enough by now, and something told Anne that the older woman was lying, which brought her back to that same question again - why?
She thought she might go mad considering it – every second, every minute, all her mind seemed to want to think about was Katherine. Why wouldn’t she just leave her alone?! Why did she consume her mind, even now?
Anne couldn’t help the few nagging doubts that had also crept into her tormented mind – the idea that perhaps she was just an extremely poor judge of character and Katherine really had been telling the truth. It wouldn’t be the first time that she had been fooled when it came to matters of the heart, she thought, recalling her disastrous relationship with the devious Will.
As her mind circled round and round in confusion she noticed that one of the others had decided to approach her, a pair of boots looming into view in front of her as she continued to play absent-mindedly with the necklace. Brushing away her tears as best she could she glanced up into the concerned face of Nicholas.
“Er…you can tell me to mind my own business if you like, but I just wanted to see if you were all right,” he began nervously.
“That is…obviously you’re not all right,” he added hastily, as she remained silent, “What I guess I really meant is if you wanted to talk about it at all…well, I’m quite a good listener.”
Anne managed a tiny faltering smile at the offer. Nicholas was a good man and she knew he genuinely wanted to help, she just didn’t know if he could.
“Thank you,” she replied, her voice coming out raggedly, “But I don’t think there’s much you can do.”
“Why don’t you try me anyway,” he suggested, sitting down next to her, “I promise not to tell any of the others anything about it, in case you were worried.”
“I know you wouldn’t, Nicholas,” she insisted.
“I’ve noticed that you tend to keep things to yourself,” he remarked, “And I can kind of understand that round here, since you’re never quite sure whom you can trust. I just want you to know that if you ever need anyone else to talk to, especially if Robin isn’t around, then I’m here. Even if you just want to blow off steam. When you’re angry, come see me. Call me names; insult me; question my parentage. I won’t take it personally, and you won’t need to keep things bottled up inside anymore.”
“That’s very kind of you, Nicholas,” said Anne, patting his leg.
“So…er…I couldn’t help noticing how you dashed straight to your hut when you got back yesterday,” he said delicately, “You’d been to see Katherine hadn’t you…?”
“Yes,” confirmed Anne, unsure whether to elaborate further. She supposed Nicholas might be able to offer her some insight she had missed since she had gone over it so many times as to be thoroughly sick and tired of deliberating it further.
“You had an argument?” offered Nicholas while Anne still pondered.
“Of sorts,” she replied.
“It’s all right, if you really don’t want to talk about it, I’ll leave you alone,” he said kindly, picking up on her reluctance to delve into it.
“No, wait,” said Anne reaching out to stall him as he made to go.
Nicholas sat back down on, “It’s all right, take you time,” he suggested noting that Anne still looked troubled.
“We did have a…conversation yesterday,” said Anne, barely managing to keep her voice steady, “Katherine told me…told me…”
Nicholas placed a comforting hand on Anne’s back as she struggled to continue, her voice catching. She took a moment to try and compose herself.
“Go on,” prompted Nicholas softly.
Anne swallowed nervously, “She told me that it was over between us,” she finished quickly.
“No!” said Nicholas in obvious surprise.
“Yes,” replied Anne, flicking her teary eyes to Nicholas, “Only I don’t understand why,” she added despairingly.
“She must have said something, by means of an explanation,” he queried.
“Nothing that made sense,” bemoaned Anne, “Something about it not having been serious, that it was just a bit of fun, but now she had to get back to the business of running her manor and didn’t have time for me any more.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like her,” offered Nicholas sagely, “Not that I know her very well, but she didn’t strike me as such a callous type, to use someone so.”
“I didn’t think so either,” agreed Anne, “But maybe I was wrong, maybe I got it all wrong! You probably realise I don’t trust people easily, don’t give my heart to just anyone, but now I wonder if I made a huge mistake.”
“I don’t know, maybe you should still listen to your heart,” said Nicholas after a moment’s contemplation.
“What do you mean?” enquired Anne.
“What is you heart telling you, deep down,” he asked.
“That she wasn’t telling me the whole truth” she remarked, trying to mentally put her finger on exactly what it was that made her think that, “That there was more to it than she was letting on.”
“Then I would suggest you go with that,” he ventured, “Go and see her, talk to her.”
“I don’t know…,” said Anne hesitantly, reluctant to put herself in the line to be hurt further.
“It’s the only way you’re going to get any answers,” he explained, “And you’re just tearing yourself up now, going over and over it.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she noted, still somewhat hesitantly.
“Remember,” he added, stroking her back, “Whatever happens, I’ll still be here if you need someone.”
Anne smiled weakly at him and only hoped that once she had been to see Katherine she wouldn’t need his shoulder to cry on again.
Katherine sat at the small oak desk in her quarters at Markham Manor, her chin resting on her hand as she stared mournfully out at the afternoon sunshine. She felt totally drained and empty, as she had done since the day before when she had seen Anne and told her she didn’t love her. The look on Anne’s face before she had turned and fled was etched indelibly on Katherine’s mind, causing fresh pangs of sorrow every time it swam into focus.
She was a virtual prisoner at the manor house at the moment, Kirby keeping a close watch on her at all hours, either himself or indirectly with one of his own men who seemed to suddenly be in evidence at the house. She could only assume that he had already informed everyone else of their impending nuptials, which was why no one thought anything of his close attention to her.
She hadn’t even had the chance to speak to Beatrice, though there seemed little point in taking the young maid into her confidence now. The damage was already done – she had hurt Anne, perhaps irredeemably so.
A knock at the door disturbed Katherine’s contemplative thoughts and she dropped her hand to the desk as she turned to answer.
“Come in,” she called flatly.
The door was opened by one of Kirby’s guards who was stationed there to both stop her leaving and prevent anyone not approved by Kirby from entering. Katherine saw her maid Beatrice bustling past him, shooting him an annoyed look as she did. She hurried over to where Katherine was sitting as the guard closed the door behind her.
“M’lady, are you all right?” asked Beatrice in concern.
“Yes, Beatrice, I’m fine,” sighed Katherine.
“I haven’t been able to get in to see you all day,” said Beatrice, her words coming out in a frantic rush, “And there are these ridiculous rumours flying round the house that you and Charles Kirby are getting married.”
Katherine averted her eyes from the intense regard of Beatrice’s dark ones.
“Oh my god, it’s not true is it?” asked Beatrice disbelievingly.
“Yes, it’s true,” admitted Katherine, keeping her eyes cast down at the desk, finding the patterns in the wood suddenly appealing.
“What the hell’s going on? You can’t stand Kirby!” cried Beatrice in amazement, “And now you’re getting married to him? Why? Is it to do with securing your position? A marriage of convenience or something?”
“I really don’t have to explain myself to you,” replied Katherine testily, turning her face up to fix Beatrice with a steely gaze, “Especially not when it comes to my personal life.”
“But you love Anne, I know you do,” exclaimed Beatrice, seemingly unperturbed by the look she was receiving from Katherine, “I’ve seen you two together, don’t try and pretend to me you don’t.”
“That’s a bit presumptuous isn’t it,” said Katherine, raising one of her eyebrows and still maintaining her fierce glare, “Thinking you know me and how I feel.”
“So you’re denying that you do then?” asked Beatrice, putting her hand on her hips and matching the gaze.
Katherine tellingly paused before answering, which she realised was a fatal mistake when dealing with Beatrice. The woman was an astute observer of human nature.
“Have you even told her about this?” asked Beatrice before Katherine had the chance to correct her error.
“Not exactly,” said Katherine, resting her forehead back on her hand and sighing as she closed her eyes.
“I can’t believe you!” cried Beatrice, “What are you playing at, or don’t you care?”
Katherine banged her fist down on the table - she had finally had enough of this badgering. It was hard enough trying to justify it to herself, what she had been forced to do, let alone have to explain it to Beatrice. Her chair scraped harshly across the floorboards as she rose in order to look the other woman directly in the eye. Beatrice actually leaned back warily as Katherine invaded her personal space.
“Look, Beatrice,” said Katherine in deathly tones, “I am the lady of the manor and you are my maid, I would thank you to remember that and stop prying into matters that do not concern you.”
“I thought we were something akin to friends too,” replied Beatrice, starting to lose her nerve somewhat in the face of Katherine’s menacing mood, “But I guess not. I’ll leave you alone then, shall I?”
“If you would,” confirmed Katherine shortly with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“Fine,” said Beatrice, taking a few steps towards the door, “M’lady,” she added sarcastically, making a half-hearted curtsey as she did.
Just before she went to leave the room, Beatrice looked over her shoulder at Katherine, who stood with her arms resolutely crossed, watching her.
“Maybe Anne is better off without you anyway,” remarked Beatrice, “If you’d choose an idiot like Kirby over her.”
And with that Beatrice flounced out the door before Katherine could reply. Katherine collapsed back onto the chair and sighed once more. She hadn’t meant to be quite so cross and tetchy with Beatrice but this whole situation was starting to get to her, making her irrational and short-tempered.
If she’d any thoughts about somehow getting Beatrice to contact Anne for her that was unlikely now, though she doubted she could get a message to her without Kirby knowing anyway. If there was any chance he would find out then the risk was unacceptable. She had to face the fact that there was just no way they could be together without danger to Anne so it was just better this way - apart.
At least, that’s what Katherine kept trying to tell herself as she sat at the desk long into the evening, watching the sun set slowly over the manor walls. If she repeated it to herself enough times she could almost believe it.
Katherine entered her quarters and swiftly closed the door behind her, almost smashing the guard who had been following her all morning in the face. She was damned if she was going to let him follow her into her bed chamber as well since it seemed that was the only place she was allowed to go alone anymore. Kirby had her under such tight observation that she could barely relieve herself without one of his men wanting to watch. The guard outside had stayed with her the whole time as she had gone to the regular Sunday service at the church that morning, meaning even if she’d wanted to, she’d had no chance to speak to the friar alone.
She was amazed at how quickly Kirby seemed to have insinuated himself into the manor life. She supposed most of the servants and peasants were hardly going to question the orders of one of her knights, especially when there was no one telling them anything to the contrary. Since he was now the lord-elect, by virtue of his impending wedding to Katherine, they had already started doing as he commanded. She knew she could try to countermand his instructions, since she was still officially the head of the estate, but there was little point really. She was resigned to her fate and couldn’t really risk upsetting Kirby.
She wasn’t even sure how successful she might be in getting anyone to back her if she did try. Not only was she a woman and, therefore, inherently seen as weaker than Kirby regardless of the reality of the situation, but it was unlikely the peasants would be willing to offend their new master for her benefit either. It wasn’t that they were disloyal, that was just the way things were – the peasants obeyed whoever the lord of the manor was, unless they wanted to lose their livelihood, freedom or maybe even their lives.
Plus there was the fact that Kirby had many of his own men stationed at the manor house at the moment and had dispatched anyone he suspected of being even vaguely supportive of Katherine to patrol remote parts of the estate. Her most ardent supporter, and perhaps the only person at the house who may have been able to help her make a stand against Kirby, was Tobias and he was on a mission for her and wouldn’t be back until after the wedding the coming Saturday.
She couldn’t help the shudders that cascaded through her body when thinking about that wedding in a week’s time. She had so far managed to keep Kirby at arm’s length, but once they were wed she had little doubt that he would want everything that a married man could expect from his wife. The thought of having to give herself to Kirby was totally abhorrent, and she tried to reiterate to herself that it would just be her body. She would never surrender her mind or her heart to him. Not that there was much left to surrender in terms of her heart since her talk with Anne two days ago. She had felt little but hollow and numb ever since, finding herself breaking into random bouts of tears when the despair got too much for her. It didn’t help that she was on her own most of the time, left with nothing but her own thoughts and demons to reflect upon. She wished she hadn’t been so rude to Beatrice the day before now, at least her presence may have helped distract her from her agonising loneliness without Anne.
She could feel the misery building within her once more and she crossed to her desk to try and find something, anything, to try and focus her mind on instead to stop her from sinking into a pit of depression. She was just starting to leaf through some of the manor documents when a sound over by the window caught her attention.
She gasped in astonishment as she swivelled round to see Anne standing just inside the window. Katherine couldn’t help how her heart leapt at the sight of the young woman and she had to resolutely remind herself that she was meant to be pushing her way. Anne herself didn’t move but just stared silently at Katherine.
“You have to leave,” said Katherine suddenly, gathering her wits and crossing the room towards the young woman. She placed her hand on Anne’s arm to try and usher her towards the window, trying to ignore the urge to caress the limb. She was scared for Anne - it was the middle of the day and anyone could easily have seen her entering or may yet come into her quarters and catch the young woman there since she didn’t enjoy the same sort of privacy she once had.
“Don’t you even want to know why I’m here?” asked Anne with an edge of disappointment to her tone.
“Please, you have to go,” pleaded Katherine, glancing anxiously at her door. She wasn’t even sure whether the guard would be able to hear that there were now two people talking in the room. She guessed not, since he hadn’t immediately come bursting in, but that could change if their voices got any louder.
“Expecting someone else?” asked Anne, making no move to depart despite Katherine’s hand on her bicep.
“No, but you must leave,” said Katherine agitatedly, turning back to face her.
“I just wanted to speak to you,” said Anne imploringly, “But It seems you can’t even be bothered to extend me that courtesy,” she added dejectedly.
Katherine’s eyes flicked up to Anne’s. She so desperately wanted to talk to her to try and explain things, but she knew she couldn’t. Her heart spasmed in her chest as she looked into Anne’s eyes to see them searching her own for the answers she craved but that Katherine could not give.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Katherine, glancing away again.
“I’m not leaving until you speak to me, unless you want to throw me out the window or call the guards,” insisted Anne. “I just don’t understand what you said two days ago,” she added quietly, surprising Katherine with the lack of anger in her tone, her voice more despairing than anything, “I want you to explain it to me, how things could have changed so suddenly,” begged Anne.
“I thought I did explain it,” said Katherine feebly. How was she going to get out of this? Was she going to have to get angry with Anne, was that the only way to drive her away for good?
“You told me something, but I don’t think it was the truth,” declared Anne, “I know you - there’s something else, something you’re not telling me.”
Katherine turned away from Anne so her back was to the younger woman. This was just pure and utter torture. She hadn’t expected Anne to come and see her again - she had assumed that her crushing words of two days ago would be enough. But it seemed Anne was more resilient than that, or at least her love for Katherine was stronger than that. If their current situation weren’t so dire, that thought would warm Katherine’s heart no end; the possibility that Anne was still willing to give her a second chance, or at least a chance to explain her behaviour, despite everything she had said. However, in the present situation, the fact that Anne wasn’t just going to accept that it was over based on Katherine’s dubious reasons only made things harder.
“Katherine, tell me the truth - the real truth…,” beseeched Anne, “…please.”
Katherine could bear it no more – that final word spoken with such raw pleading broke down the last of her resistance. The obvious pain in Anne’s words due to her hurt and confusion was too much for Katherine and she was unable to force herself to continue this charade any longer. She decided she would tell Anne the truth and then maybe they could work something out together. She just hoped that she wouldn’t live to regret her decision or, more importantly, that Anne wouldn’t die because of it.
She slowly turned to face Anne again, nodding her head and allowing her eyes to soften as they settled on Anne’s. Just as she made to speak a knock on the door resounded around the room.
“Oh god, quick, you have to get out of here,” cried Katherine, any thoughts of explaining things to Anne dying on her lips at the impending danger.
“No,” stated Anne firmly, “Can’t you just get rid of them?”
“No, it’s difficult…,” replied Katherine.
“Then I’ll wait,” said Anne adamantly, “I’ll hide until they’ve gone.”
Anne quickly scrabbled under Katherine’s bed, hidden from view by the blankets that dipped over the edge. Another knock sounded more urgently at the door, leaving Katherine little option than to allow Anne to remain concealed and answer it.
“Come in,” she called.
The door opened to admit Charles Kirby, the tattooed knight offering Katherine a smile as he crossed the room to her.
“Trying to keep me waiting were you?” he asked, “Building the anticipation?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” replied Katherine distractedly, trying to stop her eyes from drifting nervously to the bed behind her. Her mind suddenly went back to another time when she’d had to hide Anne in that location to avoid Kirby while staying at Nottingham Castle. She doubted today’s encounter would have quite such a happy resolution as that one.
“Building the anticipation until Saturday of course,” he explained, “I know I can hardly wait.”
Kirby made to wrap his arm around Katherine’s waist and draw her into an embrace, but she quickly dodged out of the way.
“Now, now, you know you have to,” said Katherine, frantically looking at bed. She didn’t like where this conversation was going – in all likelihood Kirby was going to mention the wedding before Katherine had the chance to say anything to Anne.
“What is it you wanted anyway?” she asked quickly, trying to change tack.
“Just think of it,” he said ignoring her last question as he was lost in his thoughts, pacing the room, “Next weekend you will finally have the honour of becoming my wife and then our wonderful new life together can really begin.”
Katherine groaned inwardly, knowing that there was no way Anne would have missed his words.
“Anyway, enough of that daydreaming, though it is most pleasant to think of what we’ll be doing in this very room come next Saturday,” he said suggestively, perching himself on the edge of the bed. Katherine wondered if what he was saying could get much worse from Anne’s point of view. God knew what the young woman was thinking right now, though Katherine doubted it was kindly thoughts for either her or Kirby. She was faintly surprised that the young woman hadn’t leapt from her hiding place and tried to throttle Kirby.
“I was actually hoping you might join me for a ride, since it seems to be such a beautiful afternoon,” he suggested.
“Yes, yes, all right,” she agreed, just wanting to get rid of him now, “Why don’t you go down to the stables and I’ll join you there shortly.”
“Very well,” he said, taking her hand to give it his customary kiss goodbye, “I’ll see you in a few moments, my sweet.”
As the door closed after the departed knight, Katherine let out a deep sigh, bringing up her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose to try and relieve some of the pressure building against her eyes. Behind her she could hear the sounds of Anne scrabbling out from underneath the bed, but she didn’t immediately turn round – she wasn’t sure she wanted to see Anne’s reaction to what she had just overheard.
“I…I can’t believe it,” stammered the young woman without waiting for Katherine to turn, “You’re getting married…to him?!” she added in total incredulity.
Katherine bowed her head slightly, “Yes,” she whispered.
“Is this why you were so odd and evasive the other day? Because you didn’t want to tell me about this?!” cried Anne.
Katherine could hear the hurt, tinged with disgust, in Anne’s voice without having to look and see the evidence of it in her face.
“Turn round and look at me will you!” demanded Anne angrily.
Silence stretched out for long moments while Katherine stayed with her back to the other woman, summoning the courage to do as requested. She could literally feel Anne’s fury simmering off her as the temperature of the room went up a couple of notches in response to her mood. That very fact told Katherine that Anne was so angry that she couldn’t control the subconscious part of her innate mystical power, or didn’t want to. If Katherine had harboured any thoughts of trying to explain things to Anne, it was too late now. There was no choice but to go along with Kirby’s dastardly wishes as she had originally resolved to. It was safest for Anne that way anyway, she grimly told herself.
Finally she steeled herself to face what she knew was the impending ire of the young woman, slowly turning to see the unbelieving look etched on Anne’s face. Her mouth was slightly open as if she was trying to search for something to say, to try and comprehend the horror of what she had discovered. Her pale blue eyes regarded Katherine with a mix of despair and what Katherine thought was even a touch of revulsion. Katherine couldn’t really blame her - first she had told Anne that she had basically used her and now the young woman had found out that Katherine was going to marry someone else.
“I…I can’t believe I ever trusted you,” said Anne shaking her head, “Was anything you ever told me the truth? I gave you everything, but what was I to you, some plaything, before you got the man you wanted?”
“No,” replied Katherine lamely, looking away from the intense regard of those eyes that had once shown such love for her.
“I can’t believe I came here today with any sort of hope in my heart - what an idiot I am,” continued Anne bitterly, tears pricking at her eyes which she quickly blinked away, “I honestly thought that it was all some stupid mistake, what you had said two days ago. That there was something else you weren’t telling me, couldn’t tell me. Well, I guess I was right on that account, wasn’t I!”
“Anne, I’m sorry,” said Katherine quietly. She supposed that, now she had achieved her aim of pushing Anne away, it wouldn’t matter if she were at least vaguely apologetic. Maybe it would give Anne some shred of comfort.
“Oh really?! I just bet you are!” cried Anne, throwing her hands up in the air in disgust, “Or maybe you’re just sorry I found out, or that I won’t leave you alone, eh?”
Katherine really didn’t know what else to say - what could she say? There was no way she could make this better, this was just something she had to do no matter how agonisingly painful it might be.
“Well, you needn’t worry on that account anymore,” spat Anne furiously, “Because I won’t be coming here again…ever!”
Anne swung round to leave, but stopped suddenly in her tracks halfway to the window, as if she had forgotten something. Katherine glanced up with some sort of ridiculous forlorn hope creeping into her heart. Only her eyes were met by the sight of the young woman swivelling back round and ripping the necklace from around her neck, sending pieces of the delicate chain skittering across the wooden floor as she did.
“And you can have this damn thing back!” said Anne scathingly, flinging what was left of it down to clatter at Katherine’s feet.
“Maybe you can give it to your new husband,” she added bitingly, casting one last disgusted look at Katherine before she turned and left via the window.
Slowly, Katherine knelt to retrieve the discarded jewellery from the floor. As her fingers closed over the necklace, she could feel the residual warmth still radiating off the pendant from where it had been sitting against Anne’s skin only moments before. She sagged onto the floor, bringing the gemstone up to her mouth. She brushed it softly against her lips as one last reminder of Anne, while tears tracked silently down her cheeks.
Anne trudged back to the outlaw camp equally furious and distraught after her encounter with Katherine. She would never have believed it if she hadn’t heard it with her own ears - she could hardly believe it now that she had. Yet it was true, Katherine was marrying Kirby. So that was what Katherine had been hiding from her before, how stupid of her to think it might have been something else, to dare to hope that Katherine still actually had feelings for her.
Any hopes she might have entertained had been crushed while hiding under Katherine’s bed and listening to that smug git wittering on about how wonderful his wedding to Katherine was going to be. It had taken all her strength not to fly out and strike him then and there, but that would have achieved little, save perhaps getting her arrested. Though she had to admit to that it would certainly have been satisfying to see his face contorted in pain.
And as for Katherine, she could hardly put into words the contempt she felt for the other woman now. How easily she had managed to lie to Anne, to string her along. Anne wondered how long it had been going on with Kirby, how long she had been made a fool of. She should have known that it couldn’t be real between her and Katherine due to the class divide. Nobles and ordinary people just didn’t mix, not to mention nobles and outlaws. That was just the way things were and if you tried to go against it you were bound to get burnt, as she had discovered to her cost.
Maybe Katherine had really been pining for a man all along and had now decided to go back to them after her little dalliance with women. Anne recalled how, only a few days ago, Katherine had admitted that she still harboured hopes of having a child. That was something Anne could never give her, but Kirby could.
Anne realised she had been an idiot to let herself be sucked in, to actually believe in love again. She wished she had never met Katherine, that she had never surrendered her heart to her so she could be so cruelly rejected. She resolved that love was for the weak and she was never going to be weak again.
She came into the clearing where the camp was located and shot a thunderous look at anyone who dared to cast their eyes her way. She was crossing towards her hut when she found herself accosted.
“Uh oh, looks like all’s not well in the land of true love,” remarked Will Scarlet sarcastically as he blocked her path.
“Get out of my way, Will,” replied Anne in a low voice, through clenched teeth, her eyes fixing menacingly on the seedy outlaw.
“Ooo, it must be bad,” crowed Will loudly so anyone else in the vicinity could hear, “Come on, you can tell us all about it,” he suggested.
“You are the last person I would speak to,” she replied, “Now stand aside!” she demanded angrily attempting to step round him.
“Oh, come on, Anne, we’re all friends here,” he said smarmily, dodging to continue to bar her way, “We’re you’re people, remember, unlike those hoity-toity nobles. So what has she done this time then?”
“It’s none of your god-damn business,” seethed Anne, “And don’t use my real name, you don’t have the right.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, come on, spit it out,” said Will placing his arm around Anne’s shoulders.
“Get off me!” she exclaimed, forcibly shrugging herself free of his embrace
“If you must know,” She spat, turning on him and fixing him with a ferocious glare, “She’s getting married to someone else! All right! Happy now are you?! Now just leave me the fuck alone!”
She shoved past him, but had only managed a few more steps before he spoke up again.
“Oh dear. Well, I always said it couldn’t last,” he commented in his oily tones, “But you only have yourself to blame, I knew she was only using you, anyone with half a brain could see she was a total bitch.”
Will didn’t even have time to react before he found himself floored by a swift uppercut to the chin. As he sprawled on the ground, he just managed to bring his hand up to rub his sore jaw before Anne flung herself on top of him, reining down furious blows as she did.
He frantically brought up his hands to try and protect himself from the vicious attack, grabbing at Anne’s wrists and wrestling with her as they rolled around in the dirt of the woodland floor. The other outlaws were quick to respond to the skirmish that had erupted amongst them and Anne found herself unceremoniously hauled off Will, still trying to punch and kick out at him as she was dragged back.
“Let go of me!” shouted Anne, trying to wrest herself free from Nicholas and Henry who were struggling to hold her back from her intended target.
“Seven, please,” said Nicholas, “He’s not worth it.”
“You’re bloody crazy,” exclaimed Will, looking up at the enraged woman who was still desperately trying to get at him. He remained on the ground nursing his bloodied face.
“Let go,” snarled Anne, casting her eyes back at Nicholas, “Don’t worry I’m not going to hit him again.”
Reluctantly the two men released their grip and she shook herself free of them, re-arranging her clothes that had become disarrayed in the fight.
“Just stay away from me,” she ordered, stepping away from them, “All of you!”
As she stomped off, she just caught Will making some remark about “bloody women” that received a few assenting mumbles.
Katherine felt the air being forcibly squeezed from her as another tie was drawn in on the dress she was currently wearing.
“There,” commented the woman who was binding her into it, “Much better.”
She stepped back to survey Katherine as she stood in the centre of her bedroom, wearing what was to be her wedding dress. The woman smiled at the finished product of all her alterations of the white garment. Katherine didn’t join her in her appreciation of it, she didn’t really see what there was to be happy about regarding the prospect of being wed to Charles Kirby the following day.
“Well,” muttered the other woman, picking up on Katherine’s less than enthusiastic demeanour, “I’ll leave you to it, I’m sure your maid can help you get out of the dress.”
The woman scurried from the room without so much as a thank you from Katherine. She supposed she should have been more civil, it wasn’t really the woman’s fault, after all, she was just doing her job. However, Katherine found it hard to lift herself out of her gloomy mood. The week had gone painfully slowly in the run up to the wedding, with Katherine spending much of her time alone in her room with nothing but her dismal thoughts for company. She wondered what Anne had been doing this week, if she was all right. She suspected that that was highly unlikely and a fresh wave of guilt and recrimination swept over her.
Beatrice moved over to wordlessly start undoing the fastenings of the dress, having been left alone with Katherine after the departure of the other woman.
“Beatrice,” began Katherine somewhat hesitantly, “About last Saturday, I’m sorry for what I said to you.”
Beatrice didn’t respond, just continuing with her work, though Katherine guessed she deserved the silent treatment after her rude behaviour towards the young woman.
“And I do think of you as more than just my maid,” continued Katherine apologetically, “I like to think that we are friends, at least I hope we can still be, if you can forgive me.”
Beatrice made a small harrumphing sound behind Katherine, “So are you going to tell me what’s really going on then? And don’t tell me that you really want to get married to Kirby because I can just tell that’s not true.”
“You’re right,” agreed Katherine, “I’m not exactly over the moon about it, but I have to do it.”
“Why though?” asked Beatrice incredulously.
“I wish I could tell you, Beatrice,” said Katherine, “But it’s really better that you don’t know. You’ll just have to trust me that this is the only option. I desperately wish it wasn’t, but it is and I just have to grit my teeth and get on with it.”
“And push all your true feelings aside?” asked Beatrice.
“Yes, I must,” declared Katherine with more determination than she felt, “You were right in what you said the other day, I do love Anne, more than anything, and it’s been so lonely this past week, but this is how it has to be.”
“I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on,” commented Beatrice, “But if you say you have to do this then I’ll stand by you.”
“Thank you, Beatrice,” said Katherine, turning to offer her a small smile, “That means a lot to me right now.”
The faint light from the candles adorning the small room where she sat flickered across Anne’s face as remained deep in thought. The cavern was refreshingly cool, compared to the blazing heat of the summer’s day outside, but this was still probably the last place she would ever have dreamed of coming to be alone with her thoughts. Yet somehow this is where she had ended up. She realised this was the first time she had been here on her own since…since…Even now she found it difficult to articulate those events in her thoughts.
She rose from the floor and made her way to the stone altar at the far end of the room, reaching out to gently caress the green gem that now sat there once again – the Stone of Gaia. She guessed it was some measure of how far she had come these past few weeks in dealing with what had happened here, that she was able to enter this place alone without being assaulted by visions of soldiers, swords and dead bodies lying on the stone floor.
“Thinking about the past?” asked a voice from the entrance behind her.
Anne turned to regard the speaker, “Robin,” she noted, “How did you know I was here?”
“Just a hunch I guess,” replied the leader of the band of outlaws, crossing the small distance to join her at the altar, “Good to see it back in its rightful place,” he remarked, looking down at the stone.
Both of them stood for a moment, just staring down at the green gem watching the way the colours of it reflected in the dim light.
“Am I a fool, Robin?” asked Anne eventually, still keeping her eyes on the gemstone.
“Sorry?” said Robin from beside her, not quite understanding the question.
“Only I can only assume I must be,” remarked Anne ruefully, “To have the wool pulled so completely over my eyes.”
“You’re talking about Katherine,” deduced Robin.
“Of course,” she confirmed quietly, pausing once again to gather her thoughts, “I thought I knew her, Robin,” she continued, turning her eyes to him, a beseeching look in them, “But now, having been going over and over it in my mind constantly the past week, I really don’t know. I don’t know what to believe anymore, who to believe.”
Robin contemplated her words, but didn’t offer anything out loud in response, leaving her time to continue down the track her thoughts were taking her.
“You know,” added Anne, filling the space Robin had left in the conversation, “She told me at the time that the reason she helped us get the stone back was for me. Now I don’t know if that was true or all part of some sick game she was playing to win me over before dumping me. Maybe that’s just something that nobles like to do, play with the feelings of the little people.”
“I would have done anything for her, you know,” continued Anne, her voice ragged and a little lost. Robin just listened attentively, nodding and making understanding noises at various points. “Sure we had our disagreements, but that was all part of the attraction, or so I thought, the fieriness and passion between us. I trusted her, told her things that I’ve never told anyone, but now I’m left feeling humiliated and betrayed.”
“And yet,” she said, looking nervously down at her hands for a moment, “A small part of me can’t seem to give up hope that it was real, that there could still be something there. Even now I just can’t stop thinking about her, wondering what’s she’s doing, how she is. I miss her so much it hurts, Robin,” she revealed, flicking her eyes up to his handsome face once more. She let out a rueful laugh, “I must sound totally crazy, or delusional.”
“Being in love can make us seem like that sometimes,” conceded Robin softly.
“Indeed,” noted Anne, “Thanks for your understanding,” she added sarcastically.
“I’m not mocking you, Anne,” insisted the tall man, “Yes, love can make us crazy, but it’s also the strongest and most powerful of human emotions. Don’t ever be ashamed to be in love or scared to admit to someone that you love them. I know you’ve been hurt in the past with everything that happened here and I know the effort it took you to place your trust in someone else again to allow yourself to feel something for someone else. But unfortunately the chance of getting hurt is also the risk we take with love.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to take the risk anymore,” said Anne dejectedly.
“But if we don’t take that risk we can’t benefit from all the wonderful things that love has to offer,” stated Robin, “Don’t tell me that being with Katherine didn’t make you ecstatically happy, because I know it did. You’ve been so different these past few months, much more open, not so cold and angry at everything. I would hate to see you lose all that and go to back to how you were before – the hard, tough outlaw Seven, focused solely on our mission.”
“Maybe I was better off that way though,” suggested Anne, “At least then I was protected from getting hurt.”
“Protected possibly, but also shut off from life,” ventured Robin, “Sure Seven was tough, but Anne is also strong too, and in so many different ways. You still have that strength you always had, but now it’s also tempered with compassion and love. I personally like Anne a whole of a lot more.”
“You may not think it now,” added Robin before she could counter him, “But your love for Katherine has made you a better person and unconditional love is also greatest gift we can give to someone else.”
“But what if that love is unreturned, or rejected,” asked Anne despairingly.
“Then the person doing the rejecting is all the poorer for it,” claimed Robin.
“It doesn’t seem that way round to me at the moment,” remarked Anne.
“But are you really sure that it isn’t returned?” enquired Robin, “You don’t seem convinced to me, or you wouldn’t still have that small hope.”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Anne in exasperation, “Maybe it’s just complete wishful thinking. Maybe I just can’t accept that I would give my heart to someone only for them to discard it so easily. She is marrying someone else, don’t forget. I think that’s a pretty fair indication that she doesn’t want to be with me.”
“Not necessarily,” noted Robin cryptically.
“Why else would she be doing it?” asked Anne, genuinely wanting to be told something that might give her just the faintest glimmer of hope.
“I don’t know,” disclosed Robin with a shrug, “But I’ve been an outlaw long enough to know not to take anything at face value.”
“You know I desperately wish that there was some other reason behind it,” insisted Anne, “Other than that she wants to and I do have this nagging doubt eating away at me that I’m missing something vital.”
“Then maybe you should go and see her one more time, before it’s too late” suggested Robin.
“Oh no,” said Anne quickly, “I don’t know if I could do that, I don’t know if I could take it if I get rejected all over again. Isn’t two times enough for someone to get their heart trampled?”
“But won’t you always regret it if you don’t at least try?” asked Robin staring intently at her.
Anne looked up into his dark features for a moment, searching his eyes as if she would find the answer to her quandary of how to proceed there.
“Do you really think she would marry someone like him?” asked Robin, pressing home his point.
“The Katherine I know wouldn’t,” sighed Anne, “But now I don’t know if that’s the real Katherine or not. I’m so bloody confused!”
“All right, I have one last question for you” said Robin, putting his hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture and looking her directly in the eye, “Do you still love her?”
Anne met his stare for a moment, but knew she couldn’t hide the truth from this man who had cared for her for so long, had been there for her more times than she could count.
“Yes,” she admitted, bowing her head.
“Well, there’s only one way to allieviate your confusion…” ventured Robin.
“Go and see her,” Anne finished for him, glancing back up again.
Robin simply nodded in confirmation and squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.
“For all I know, she could already be married,” remarked Anne, “The wedding was meant to be today.”
“She isn’t,” stated Robin.
“Oh?” queried Anne.
“The ceremony is at two o’clock,” he revealed.
Anne looked quizzically at the older outlaw, “You knew I would want to go,” she noted with faint surprise.
“No,” he offered, “But I thought it best to be prepared, just in case.”
“All right,” sighed Anne, “I’ll go and give her one last chance, I just hope I don’t regret it.”
“You’d better hurry then,” remarked Robin as she already turned to go, “And good luck, Anne.”
She merely nodded back at him and quickly departed from the shrine, knowing that she had a frantic dash in front of her if she was going to make it in time.
Katherine felt fresh waves of nausea threaten her control, forcing her to lean heavily against the table that sat in the corner of the small room where she stood. In roughly two hours time the service to wed her to Charles Kirby would begin and it was taking all her willpower to remain standing, let alone respond in any coherent fashion as the friar went over the order of service with her in the church’s back room.
“Are you all right?” he asked, noticing her sudden deathly pallor.
“Yes, go on,” she said, dismissing his concerns with a wave of the hand.
He looked sceptically at her for a moment but then continued on anyway, while she thought to herself how she was far from all right. She had been unable to sleep at all the previous night and felt incredibly tired and wrung out, as she had for most of the week. This morning, even the thought of food had been enough to turn her stomach leading her to refuse everything that had been offered by her servants. As she’d made her way down to the church from the manor house the warmth and sunshine of the day had seemed to mock her dire predicament. The short trip had felt more like the final walk to her execution, rather than to a wedding, each step another agonising nail in her coffin.
“Are you sure nothing’s wrong?” queried the bald man once more.
“What?” asked Katherine, snapping out of her reverie and regarding him quizzically.
“Only I stopped talking about 5 minutes ago and you’ve been staring off into space looking like you’re waiting for your own funeral,” He remarked, “I have to say you really haven’t seemed yourself today and the news of this wedding was certainly…surprising. You do want to go through with it don’t you?”
“Not really,” she admitted, before wishing she hadn’t let that slip out.
“Then why?” he asked in confusion.
“I just have to,” she sighed, “I can’t tell you why, you’re just going to have to trust me.”
“Well, I know you and Anne had argued,” he confessed, “But I had never imagined you would go off and get married to someone else so quickly. Especially not Charles Kirby.”
“You’ve seen Anne?” asked Katherine, suddenly more animated and interested in his words.
“No,” he admitted, “I’ve been at the outlaw camp a couple of times this week but didn’t see her. Apparently she’s been keeping to herself, hardly speaking to anyone. All I found out was that she came back to the camp last Sunday extremely upset and distraught, blurting out something about you getting married before promptly attacking Will.”
“Was she all right?” asked Katherine, unable to keep the worry for the young woman from her voice.
“From what I could ascertain she was fine,” he told her, “ At least physically, though Will still had some nice bruises when I saw him.”
“Good, I’m glad she was all right,” remarked Katherine, barely able to keep the tremble from her voice as she thought of the young woman. The familiar pain in the pit of her stomach was agonisingly present again, as it had been whenever thoughts of Anne sprang to mind, which was often.
“Physically maybe, but mentally and emotionally is a whole different matter,” noted the friar with a slight accusation in his tone.
“I do know that, friar,” she assured him, “Believe me, I know how badly I’ve hurt her and I bitterly regret having to do it.”
“So why do it?” he asked again, still bemused by her attitude.
“I’m sorry, friar,” she said, “You’re just going to have to take my word on this one, this is better for Anne in the long run, though it may not seem like it right now.”
“I suppose that’s all I’m going to get out of you then is it?” he asked exasperatedly, “I can see that determined look in your eye that tells me to stop right there.”
“Yes, that’s all I can tell you” she said, with weary resignation in her voice, “Now, please continue…”
Anne came careening frantically out of the bushes at the edge of Sherwood Forest and tripped over some loose roots that poked from the dry earth at her feet. Pitching head over heels, she tumbled down the small grassy bank in front of her and finally came to rest flat on her back on the ground, blinking up into the dazzling sunlight above. Sitting up she brought her hand to her eyes to shield them from the harsh glare as she tried to judge the time. She guessed that it must be roughly noon, which gave her less than two hours to get to Markham church before two.
Clambering to her feet and dusting off her black trousers and top she glanced around to check she had been unobserved in her rather reckless exit from the trees. She noted that she was just south of the village of Bilsthorpe as she had planned. Knowing there was no way she would reach Markham on foot in time, she had decided that she would need to “borrow” a horse. Strolling nonchalantly up to the village she nodded at a couple of peasant women as they passed her on the track. Anne wasn’t sure if they thought nothing of her presence or if they knew exactly who she was. She didn’t really care either way at this moment - she wasn’t going to be in the village long enough if it was the latter and they felt like summoning some troops. Luckily most of the other inhabitants were busy out on the land and it was pretty deserted in the settlement itself, save for a few younger children chasing each other round the villager’s huts as part of a game.
Wandering up the single track through the centre of the village, she searched around for any signs of a horse. Just when she was beginning to despair of anyone in the village actually owning one, she came across a rather shabby specimen tethered to a fence. She guessed that beggars couldn’t be choosers and, taking another furtive glance around, she quickly undid the reins and led the animal away from the village before hopping onto its bare back.
Under her instruction the beast trotted on, but seemed rather resistant to break into anything faster. He certainly was no Delta, she mused to herself. Thinking of Katherine’s horse focused her mind back to why she was there, not that those thoughts had ever been far away. She felt the fear and anxiety creeping back over her as she thought of the older woman. Was she making a huge mistake going to the church? Was she setting herself up to be hurt again? Mentally shaking herself, she refused to believe that Katherine could have stopped loving her so suddenly, or that she had never loved her at all. That thought was just too distressing to contemplate and she tried to push it to the far recesses of her mind, though it kept niggling away at her. No, she told herself resolutely, there was something more to Katherine’s behaviour. There had to be, else Anne had been completely fooled and given her heart away for naught.
Determinedly, she gripped the reins and kicked the horse hard to spur it on, not relenting until it finally broke into a gallop along the road to Markham.
Katherine didn’t have much time to mull over her fate after the friar had finished speaking with her, as he was soon replaced by Charles Kirby who had obviously been waiting outside for his chance to come and torment her some more before the service began. As he entered she noted a couple of Kirby’s men also lingering around just outside the door, hands on their swords. Trust Kirby to flout convention, she sighed to herself, and allow weapons to be brought into a place of worship - the man had no respect for anything.
Kirby was odious at the best of times, but the past week he had been near insufferable, now it appeared he had won. He seemed to take a perverse delight in repeatedly coming to see her and rub her nose in that fact. Katherine turned away as he approached, preferring to stare out the one small window at the back of the room rather than having to regard the smug look that had been permanently etched on his features recently.
“Still pining for your little friend?” he asked.
She hated the way he always referred to Anne like that – the condescension in his voice made her want to take his words and ram them back down his throat. She resolutely ignored him – she might be getting married to him, but that didn’t mean she had to speak with him.
“It would never have lasted anyway, you know” he noted, “She’s an outlaw for goodness sake and at her core she’ll always be a criminal. Those sorts of people can’t be trusted. In the end, you’ll see that I’ve actually saved you from making a big mistake.”
“You don’t know her at all,” replied Katherine in low but slightly menacing tones, “Don’t pretend that you do.”
“Oh really?” he scoffed, “Then why don’t you enlighten me?”
Katherine whirled round to fix him with an intense stare, “She’s a better person than you’ll ever be. She’s kind, compassionate, caring, loving – all things you’ll never be. You may be a noble, but that does not make you noble.”
Kirby stepped forward and for a moment Katherine thought he was actually going to strike her such was the thunderous look that had settled on his features.
“You really need to start showing me some respect,” he hissed.
“Not when you don’t deserve it,” she replied, staring up at him defiantly.
“You will respect me!” he snapped, grabbing her arm and pulling her close.
“Or what,” she asked disdainfully, “You’ll hit me, beat me into submission. Well, go ahead, show me what a big man you are.”
He paused for a moment and she wondered if he really was considering that option. Finally however, he let go of her arm and took a couple of steps back.
“Don’t push me, Katherine,” he said, pointing an accusatory finger at her, “Or you really might see my less pleasant side.”
As he left the room, slamming the solid door behind him, she finally let out the breath that she hadn’t realised she had been holding. So was this how things were going to be, a constant battle between them? She didn’t know how long she could keep fighting, though, since it was obvious she was on the losing side. Sighing she sat down at the friar’s desk and put her head in her hands, closing her eyes to try and think of happier times.
The sound of a door opening disturbed her brief contemplation and Katherine sighed again, steeling herself for the next round of the fight.
“Back to gloat a bit more, are we?” she asked turning in her seat.
Upon seeing who had entered she was glad she was sitting, because she was hit by such a wave of shock that she was sure her legs would have given way beneath her. She was so surprised to see Anne standing in the room that she was momentarily at a loss for words, just staring at the young woman, drinking in the sight of her, in case this was her last chance to do so. She felt a pang of guilt as she saw that Anne looked tired with her normally brilliant blue eyes sunken and her face notably drawn.
The young woman was also breathing heavily, as if she had been running, and she didn’t speak, meeting Katherine’s gaze and studying her intently in return. Katherine could feel her heart thumping in her chest and she was sure her ragged breathing was audible in the silent room. She couldn’t believe Anne was here - she had been convinced that the night when Anne had hurled the necklace at her in disgust had been her final chance. Though, she realised she didn’t actually know why Anne was here now, perhaps she had come to give Katherine some more grief too. Though she didn’t think so - there was an almost plaintive look in those eyes, like she had come to make one last plea to Katherine before…
Katherine suddenly came to her senses, leaping from her chair and rushing over to the young woman.
“You have to go, quick, there’s guards everywhere,” she said hastily, looking at the church door, “In fact I can’t believe you made it in here.”
“I have my ways,” replied Anne, making no move to leave, “I only want to speak to you, then I’ll leave, if that’s what you want.”
If that’s what I want? cried Katherine internally, Of course it’s not what I want!
“No, no, you have to go,” beseeched Katherine, ignoring her inner thoughts, “Someone could come back in at any moment.”
“Are you really so keen to marry this man that you can’t even spare me a minute?” asked Anne in frustration.
“Anne, please, just go…” entreated Katherine, trying to usher her towards the back door.
“No!” cried Anne, brushing off Katherine’s hand and taking hold of it instead, though her grip was gentle
“I want you to tell me that it’s really over, that there is no hope, because I don’t believe it!” said Anne, fixing Katherine with her piercing eyes.
“Anne, please, keep your voice down,” pleaded Katherine, glancing frantically at the door that led into the church again.
“I don’t care who finds me,” insisted Anne, reaching out her other hand to turn Katherine’s face to her. Katherine felt warmth suffusing her body at the touch of the fingertips on her cheek and she had to consciously stop herself from closing her eyes and leaning into the soft hand.
“I love you, Katherine, with all my heart,” said Anne her voice a soft whisper, her eyes fixed on Katherine who was forced to look down to escape the emotions that were warring within her and threatening to spill out, “And I will always love you, no matter what. But if you really no longer love me then, however hard it may be for me, I will accept that. Though it will never diminish how I feel for you. So look at me now and tell me truthfully, do you still love me?”
Katherine met her eyes and knew in her heart that she couldn’t lie, not again. She was tired of all the lies, all the pain. She couldn’t continue to do this to the woman she loved and who loved her in return with such devotion that she had come here today in spite of everything Katherine had done and said. She exhaled slowly and opened her mouth to speak just as the door swung open.
“Well, well, well,” said Kirby, taking in the sight of the two women in such close proximity, Anne’s hand still on Katherine’s face, “What’s going on here?”
“It’s not what it looks like,” said Katherine quickly, moving away from Anne to place herself protectively between the knight and the young woman, “I didn’t invite her, she just turned up.”
“Really,” said Kirby doubtfully, “From where I’m standing it looks like you broke our agreement. I told you what would happen if she ever came near you again.”
Kirby made to go round Katherine, but she stepped across, blocking him and raising her hands to place them on his chest.
“Please,” she said trying to keep her voice calm and reasonable, “She’s just leaving.”
Katherine looked back at Anne, trying to signal to her to go out the back door, but the young woman’s eyes were fixed on Kirby, a look of utter contempt and loathing on her face.
“What the hell’s going on?” she asked, narrowing her eyes in confusion.
“It’s nothing that concerns a piece of scum like you,” said Kirby, sneering at her.
Suddenly Anne rushed past a stunned Katherine and punched Kirby squarely in the face. Katherine was secretly impressed to see the blow was strong enough to send the burly knight crashing to the floor. He quickly recovered, though, and leapt to his feet, dodging Anne’s next intended blow and catching her with a glancing one to the temple instead. She staggered slightly, but maintained her feet, whirling back round to face him again. Katherine quickly interposed herself between them.
“Please, stop!” she cried, worried that Kirby would hurt Anne. She was sure Anne could take care of herself in a fight, but Kirby was much larger than her.
Whether her words would have had any effect went untested, as at that moment the two guards from outside barged in and grabbed Anne before she could inflict any more damage on Kirby. They each held one of her arms firmly, despite her struggles to free herself. Kirby wiped a trickle of blood from his mouth and started advancing on the captive woman but Katherine once again blocked his way.
“I won’t go through with this sham of a marriage if you do anything to her,” she informed him resolutely, though inside her emotions were practically out of control. The threat to Anne’s life was now frighteningly real, making it hard for her to think, let alone speak calmly.
Kirby glanced between her and Anne several times as if trying to make up his mind. In her peripheral vision Katherine could see that Anne was still shooting Kirby a filthy look, which certainly wasn’t helping matters.
“I suppose I can be magnanimous on my big day,” he finally said, causing Katherine to let out a small sigh of relief.
“You’re lucky I’m feeling generous, Anne,” he remarked, casting a smarmy look at the young woman.
“How do you know my name?” she asked in bemusement, “What’s going on here?”
Her confused eyes met Katherine’s as the older woman turned to regard her and Katherine had to glance away from the enquiring look.
“Wait,” said Anne as some sort of realisation finally dawned on her, “Is he blackmailing you in some way?”
Katherine didn’t answer, keeping her eyes on the floor, too ashamed to speak or look at her.
“That’s it isn’t it, he found out about us!” cried Anne. She turned her attention to Kirby, “What did you do?” she demanded angrily, “Say you’d expose Katherine’s affair if she didn’t marry you?”
“Well deduced my dear,” he acknowledged with a patronising nod of the head, “She’s not all that stupid then,” he commented to Katherine as an aside.
“Indeed I did make such an offer to Katherine,” he continued in explanation, moving closer to the young woman and speaking directly to her, “Imagine my surprise when she turned it down.”
“What? I don’t understand, if she turned it down…” said a puzzled Anne, her eyes flicking from Kirby to Katherine once again. Katherine could feel the intense gaze piercing into her, but could not bring herself to meet it.
“Indeed, I found it hard to comprehend too,” he admitted, “Though I was never entirely sure if you were bluffing or not,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Katherine.
“Anyway,” he continued, turning back to Anne, “It transpired that she didn’t seem to care what I might say and was willing to sacrifice her manor and her good name…”
Anne regarded the knight whose imposing bulk was right in front of her now. He was only marginally taller than her but was much larger in other respects. She looked at him quizzically, not really understanding what point he was trying to make.
“…for you, my dear,” he clarified, “She was willing to give it all up for you, though god knows why. She turned me down flat, I believe her words were ‘you can shove it’, very colourful.”
This time Katherine did raise her head when Anne looked at her. The young woman’s face displayed obvious astonishment as their eyes met and Katherine found her breath catching in her throat as she stared across the short space between them.
“You were willing to give up the manor…everything…for me?” asked Anne, her pale blue eyes softening as she realised what Katherine had been prepared to do for her.
Katherine found herself unable to reply, unable to force out any words beyond the large lump that seemed stuck in her throat. Anne was only a few tantalising feet from her and she desperately wanted to take the other woman in her arms right now and show her that she had never stopped loving her, that none of those other words mattered now. But the space between them may as well have been a yawning chasm with Kirby and his guards in the room preventing them from bridging it.
“Ah, isn’t true love grand,” noted Kirby sarcastically, moving away from Anne and clapping Katherine resoundingly on the shoulder.
“Unfortunately, it also makes us vulnerable,” he added with a hint of menace, “Doesn’t it, Katherine?”
She flicked her eyes up to his evilly grinning face, shooting him a look of pure hatred.
“Armed with what I had discovered,” he continued, removing his hand and wandering around the room as he expounded on his great plan, “I could utilise her one true weakness…” he noted coming back to stand in front of Anne, “…her love for you.”
“All it took was a little threat to have you killed and suddenly she was very amenable to my plans,” he outlined, with a wicked smile.
“You bastard!” spat Anne, straining against the hands on her arms in an attempt to get Kirby as he stood mere inches from her.
“You two really are more alike than you’d think aren’t you,” crowed Kirby, “I believe that’s exactly what Katherine called me too.”
“Katherine, you can’t go through with this,” implored Anne turning to the other woman, her voice breaking as she spoke.
“How can I not?” replied Katherine in anguish, “If it’s the only way to protect you.”
“You don’t have to do this,” insisted Anne her eyes unwavering from their regard of Katherine. Katherine could see the desperation in them, the silent plea that they were making of her
“I can protect myself, please,” entreated Anne.
“Now that seems a bit of an overstatement in your present situation doesn’t it,” interjected Kirby.
The two women ignored him, their eyes still fixed on one another as if he wasn’t there, as if nothing else in the world was there. Katherine felt they could almost disappear into each other’s eyes and leave this room behind such was the power and intensity of the silent communication they were sharing, filled with unspoken words of love and devotion. And yet the harsh reality was they couldn’t. Katherine felt relief that Anne finally knew what was going on, but this was tempered by the sheer agony of knowing that there was still little either of them could do about it.
“So, are we ready then, my darling wife to be?” enquired Kirby, breaking the moment.
“You give me your word that no harm will come to Anne?” asked Katherine, reluctantly tearing her eyes away from Anne to look at him.
“Yes, as soon as the ceremony is over she is free to go,” he agreed, “Though I’d better not see her round here again…ever. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” nodded Katherine grimly, “But know that if anything does happen to Anne,” she added fixing him with a fierce gaze, “I’ll kill you myself.”
Kirby barked an incredulous laugh, and glanced over at Anne, “What did you do to inspire such devotion, hmm?”
“Oh well,” he added crossing to Katherine and briefly stroking his fingers down her cheek while leering suggestively at her, “I’m sure I can give it a go myself.”
Katherine was busy showing Kirby exactly what she thought of that proposition by staring at him with utter revulsion on her face, when she realised the temperature in the room had suddenly shot up. Next thing she knew she caught sight of Anne, out of the corner of her eye, somehow wresting herself free of the guards and leaping at Kirby. He was too surprised to protect himself as she swiftly kneed him in the groin. He collapsed onto his knees, his hands instinctively going to the damaged region. Anne was drawing back her leg to kick him again when the guards overcame their momentary shock. One of them lunged at the young woman and clobbered her over the back of the head with the hilt of his sword, sending her tumbling to the floor next to Kirby. Kirby staggered to his feet as Anne knelt groggily on the stone floor. He made to kick out at her, but Katherine quickly grabbed his arm to stall his action.
“Stop, don’t!” she cried frantically, “Remember our agreement, no harm is to come to her.”
“Fine!” he answered, looking down disdainfully at Anne, “Come on, let’s go,” he added, grabbing Katherine’s hand and dragging her towards the door that led out into the church.
Katherine had the chance to cast one last longing look back at Anne, who was being hauled to her feet by the guards, still looking somewhat shaken, before Kirby slammed the door to the small room behind them.
Making their way out into the main part of the church, Katherine noted that there was quite a large congregation, given that Kirby had organised the ceremony at such short notice. However, she recognised few of the faces and wondered if Kirby had actually paid random people to come and fill the church. She certainly had no one that she would consider friends or family present – there had not even been time to invite her sister, such was the haste with which it had been arranged. Not that she would really want her sister to witness this sham of a wedding.
As they approached the front, Katherine glanced up at the friar and could see the pity in his eyes as he reluctantly began reading out the words of the ceremony in an even monotone. She felt sick to her stomach and the friar’s voice just washed over her, barely registering in her mind, so consumed was she by feelings of dread. It was almost as if this was happening so someone else, so unreal was the situation. Yet, it seemed like there really was no way out of it, not now she was here at the altar. As if she needed a reminder of her dire predicament, Kirby chose that moment to take her hand in his sweaty paw and give it a small squeeze. She looked down at their entwined hands and it was all she could do not to retch right there in front of everyone.
Taking a few deep breaths, she fixed her eyes firmly on the wall in front of her - she didn’t want to give Kirby the satisfaction of seeing her anxiety. She just hoped that after all this, Kirby would keep his word and release Anne. Though whether she would go quietly was another matter. Now she knew the real reason why Katherine was going through with this farce, Katherine could hardly see the headstrong young woman meekly departing. Though she desperately wanted Anne to stay and rescue her from her impending life of servitude to Kirby, she also knew that Kirby had his men all around the church and wouldn’t hesitate to make good on his initial threat to kill Anne.
From what she could remember of her first wedding some seventeen years ago, she knew there was a point coming up soon where someone from the congregation could object to the proceedings and halt the ceremony. She wondered how hard she would have to pray to make that happen now, how many sins she might have to repent. The fact that the friar had stopped speaking for a moment penetrated her dazed thoughts and she realised they must have got there already.
She glanced back up at the balding man, to see him surveying the gathered throng at length - perhaps he was secretly praying for someone to intercede too. As his eyes came back to the front, he shared a brief look of understanding at the hopeless situation with her, before he turned once more to the book on the lectern.
Katherine heard the collective intake of breath from everyone in the small church and the sound of the rest of the congregation swivelling in unison to see who had spoken up. As a deathly hush descended over the church, she stood frozen to the spot for a moment, still staring blankly in front of her, wondering if her prayers really had been answered. She vowed to thank god when she got the chance.
Her eyes flicked to Kirby who was staring dumbstruck in the direction of the door at the back of the church, where the call had come from, and she allowed herself a momentary feeling of satisfaction at the stupefied look on this face. Slowly she followed his gaze to the lone figure in the doorway, who held the rest of the congregation transfixed by their presence.
The sunlight shone in from behind them, but as her eyes came upon their face there was no mistaking their identity.
Katherine gasped and barely managed to maintain her feet as she was pole-axed by total and utter shock.
There, standing alive and well in Markham church, was her husband, Mark.
J/7 Fanfic Home