The Lady Katherine Chronicles Number 3
Lady Katherine And The French Ambassador
Disclaimer: 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 anyway, 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.
Codes: uber J/7
Time Period: This story is set in 12th Century England (though no claims are made about the historical accuracy of this story!)
Thanks: to Trek and Jay for beta reading this for me :)
Lady Katherine Johnson gripped the sword tightly in both hands as another blow flashed towards her from her opponent. Their weapons crashed together and she felt vibrations shoot all the way up her slender arms, resolutely maintaining her hold despite them. Untangling her sword she made her own dart at the other person, which they in turn parried. She was only wearing a thin top and breeches, but she could still feel herself starting to sweat from the exertion of the fight as the June sun beat down upon the duelling pair.
Dodging another swipe, she felt a slight twinge from her left leg and stumbled. It was just over a month since she had been shot in the thigh while fleeing outlaws in Sherwood Forest, but the injury still bothered her occasionally. Trying to take advantage of her momentary lapse, her opponent swung towards her and Katherine had to quickly make a one-handed attempt to stop the inbound sword. She succeeded in deflecting it, but the power of the blow sent her even more off-balance. Suddenly she found her legs swiped from beneath her and she crashed to the ground, landing heavily on her back.
Before she could get up, a sword tip appeared at her throat, pinning her in place as she lay on the grass, panting. She looked up along the sword, to the ice-blue eyes of its wielder.
“Do you concede?” asked Anne as she gazed down at Katherine.
“It doesn’t look like I have much choice, does it?” sighed Katherine.
Anne withdrew the sword and sheathed it in the scabbard she wore at her side. She extended a long arm to help Katherine up, which was gratefully accepted. As Katherine rose, she took a moment to surreptitiously study the young woman. Anne was wearing a sleeveless top in her customary black. It showed off her muscled arms, which were now lightly tanned from the summer sun. The month of June had been a warm one so far this year and her face also displayed the effects of the sun. Katherine thought that the slight colouration to her classic features made her look even more beautiful, if that were possible. Her golden hair was tied back from her face in a simple ponytail and Katherine was satisfied to see that she had at least made Anne break sweat.
“Am I getting any better at this?” asked Katherine ruefully.
Anne laughed at the other woman’s consternation.
“Don’t lose heart, Katherine,” she said, “Don’t forget I’ve been using a sword since I was eleven.”
“That is true, you do have fifteen years more experience than me,” agreed Katherine.
“Maybe I could fight with a handicap, one arm tied behind my back perhaps,” teased Anne.
Katherine resisted the urge to stick her tongue out. At thirty-eight, she thought perhaps she was just a little too old for that, though it was seriously tempting. Anne had been giving her lessons in sword fighting for the last few weeks, ever since Katherine had returned to Markham Manor after her injury, but it had been tough going. She wanted to learn how to defend herself better after her recent experiences in the forest. Tobias had previously given her some rudimentary instruction, but she didn’t want to impose on his time further, especially now he had his own student in the form of the page Isaac.
She supposed she was improving slightly; it was hard to judge when comparing herself to Anne who was an expert with the sword. They had periodically met at this clearing in the forest, close to Anne’s favourite lakeside spot, to practice. Katherine had been no weakling before, since she took quite good care of herself and rode regularly, but she had noticed that she was actually starting to develop distinct muscles in her biceps. Her arms glistened with sweat now as the suns rays caught her exposed flesh. She undid her auburn hair and pushed back the few loose strands that had dislodged themselves during the fight before re-affixing her ponytail.
“Perhaps we should give something else a try for once?” offered Katherine.
“What would you suggest?” asked Anne.
Katherine glanced around and caught sight of Anne’s bow lying on the ground nearby with a full quiver of arrows next to it.
“How about a bit of archery?” she answered.
Anne looked at her sceptically.
“Archery is quite difficult, you realise,” she said, “Perhaps even more so than sword fighting. It requires great skill and precision.”
“Well, I can’t be much worse than I am at swordplay, surely,” remarked Katherine.
“You are not that bad, Katherine. You are at a natural disadvantage anyway, because of your stature,” said the younger woman.
“Is that your tactful way of trying to tell me I’m short?” laughed Katherine.
“Well…,” began Anne smiling with her.
“Why don’t you just shut up and show me how to fire the damn thing?” said Katherine pouting.
Anne laughed again and picked up the bow.
“We’ll aim for the tree over there,” she said indicating a large trunk about a hundred feet away.
“That seems quite a long way,” said Katherine tentatively.
“If you’re not sure…?” offered Anne.
“No, no, go on,” said Katherine with a wave of the hand.
Anne turned to face the tree and placed an arrow in position on her bow. Katherine watched the muscles in her arms tense as she drew back the string before loosing it. The arrow soared out across the clearing and embedded itself in the middle of the thick trunk. It had all seemed so effortless.
“Hmm, perhaps you can give me a few tips?” said Katherine.
Anne handed her the bow and then came up behind Katherine so she could place the older woman’s arms in the correct positions. Katherine leaned back slightly, rubbing against the svelte body behind her.
“Are you sure you want a lesson in archery?” asked Anne with a hint of sarcasm.
“Oh, sorry, was I distracting you?” responded Katherine innocently, “Please, carry on.”
She smiled to herself as she felt the breath from Anne’s mildly exasperated sigh caress the back of her neck. She just knew that the young woman was rolling her eyes too.
“Right, so you place your left arm here,” indicated Anne, “and then draw the string back, sighting along the arrow before you let go.”
“All right,” noted Katherine, “I’ll give it a go then.”
Anne stepped to the side a couple of paces to give her room.
“Just don’t expect miracles the first time, you’ll probably be lucky to even reach the tree, let alone hit it,” she advised.
Katherine gave her a small smile and then pulled the bow taut. She carefully took aim and let the arrow fly. It sailed through the air towards its target and lodged itself with a satisfying thud in the centre of the tree, splitting Anne’s arrow straight down the middle.
Anne slowly turned from staring at the tree to regard Katherine with a look of utter amazement on her face. While Katherine just smiled smugly back, Anne’s expression gradually changed to one of suspicion.
“You’ve done this before,” she surmised, raising her left eyebrow, crinkling the small scar above it.
“Once or twice,” admitted Katherine.
“I suspect that is a slight understatement,” alleged Anne, glancing again at the split arrow, “However, even with years of practice, that shot was near impossible.”
"Maybe,“ said Katherine with a shrug, “I suppose it could just be my awareness of all the variables that allowed me to pull it off.”
Anne regarded her inquisitively, waiting for an explanation. Katherine smiled and continued, enjoying teasing the young woman.
“At some level, conscious or otherwise, I was aware of several factors,” she claimed, with hand gestures to emphasise the points she was making, “The speed and direction of the wind, the composition of my arrow and the angle of your arrow in the tree."
"Intriguing, but implausible," replied Anne, unconvinced by Katherine’s theory.
“I made it, didn’t I?” laughed Katherine, poking her playfully in the stomach with the bow.
Anne grabbed the bow and yanked Katherine towards her so that her body came up against Anne’s. Discarding the bow, she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman.
“Perhaps you can teach me how to read those factors some time?” she said in a low voice.
“Oh, I’m sure there are some more interesting things we could be studying,” replied Katherine suggestively.
“Indeed,” agreed Anne, before bending her head to cover Katherine’s lips in a passionate kiss.
Katherine’s hands came round to embrace the body that she had grown accustomed to over the past few weeks. She slid her hands up the taut muscles of Anne’s back before raking them back down again and eliciting a groan of pleasure from the young woman. They finally came to rest on her pert bottom, which Katherine squeezed, drawing their hips closer. She felt the desire rising up within her and her mind rallied to tell her she’d have to stop now if she didn’t want to get completely swept away with it. She tried to ignore its nagging as Anne’s hands nestled sensuously in the hair at the back of her head, but reluctantly she finally broke the kiss.
“Damn it,” she sighed huskily, “I have to get back and I know that if we go any further I won’t make it to the manor before dusk.”
“Do we not even time for a little bit of…fun…?” asked Anne playfully, reaching down and pinching Katherine’s own bottom.
“Temptress!” cried Katherine with a smile.
She caressed Anne’s cheek with her hand, gazing up into the dazzling blue eyes of the young woman.
“Unfortunately I really have to go,” she explained ruefully, “The French Ambassador arrives tomorrow and there’s a million and one things to finalise before he gets here.”
“You are evil!” exclaimed Katherine, “Trying to get to me with that face.”
“Is it working?” asked Anne, her mouth desperately trying to resist the urge to break into smile.
“You don’t know how nearly,” admitted Katherine.
“I suppose I had better let you go then,” conceded Anne, “Can I still come to see you tomorrow, though?”
“Of course,” agreed Katherine readily, “The usual time and place?”
“I’ll be there,” confirmed Anne.
They stood for a moment just looking at one another, studying each minute detail of the others face, neither really wanting to release their embrace. Eventually, with a sigh, Anne removed her arms from around the slender frame.
“Go on, go! Before I tie you up and keep you here for good!” she laughed.
“Hmm, sounds interesting…maybe another time?” added Katherine with a small wink.
“Now who’s the temptress,” replied Anne, going over and untying Katherine’s horse, Delta, from a nearby tree where he was waiting patiently for his mistress.
Handing the reins to Katherine she captured the older woman’s hand and bought it to her full, red lips to kiss it softly.
“Until tomorrow,” whispered Anne.
Katherine smiled back at her and then clambered onto the young colt’s back. As she galloped back to Markham she felt like her heart was soaring miles above the fields.
Katherine sat at her solid oak dressing table, putting the finishing touches to her hair. She had been at it for a good half hour, putting it up and pinning it in place while leaving a few wisps to trail down her face, but finally she slid the last clip into place amongst the auburn tresses and stood, smoothing down her dress as she did.
“You look lovely, m’lady,” sighed Beatrice, standing admiring her from her position by the door.
“Thank you, Beatrice,” Katherine replied, smiling warmly at the young maid.
“And that dress is just beautiful too,” gushed Beatrice.
“Well, you did have a hand in helping me pick it,” laughed Katherine, recalling their trip to Nottingham a couple of weeks previously where Beatrice had insisted they call on what had seemed like every single merchant at the fair.
Traipsing round had been made even more gruelling by Katherine’s injured left leg. She’d had to pass it off as a riding mishap on her initial return to Markham from the outlaw camp. Fortunately Beatrice was the only other person who ever actually got to see the flesh of her left thigh in order to see that the scar she bore there was highly unlikely to be anything other than an arrow wound. She’d seen the surprised look on Beatrice’s face the first time she had seen it and Katherine had been forced to give her a partial explanation. She had omitted the exact details, just admitting that it was an arrow wound and that Beatrice must not mention it to anyone. She knew Beatrice had a bit of a reputation for gossip, but thought she could trust her in this instance - the young maid actually seemed quite pleased by the idea of being taken into the lady of the manor’s confidence.
Despite her general grumbling most of the way round the traders market, Katherine had to concede that the end result of them procuring the dress she now wore had just about been worth the effort. The garment was predominantly made of a deep red cloth, which Beatrice had maintained brought out the colour of Katherine’s hair perfectly. It was adorned with intricate patterning in black around the hems, over the shoulders and down the arms, with a matching black sash around the waist. Katherine’s main objection had been to the neckline, which came rather low over her chest. She thought it was a bit risqué, but Beatrice had suggested that it might not do any harm to turn the ambassador’s eye a little. Katherine pitied poor Thomas, the maid’s young man – Beatrice was obviously well versed in the ways of using her feminine wiles to get what she wanted. The dress was also quite form-fitting over the top half of her body, lifting her chest slightly to further emphasise the low cut in that area, while having a full flowing skirt. Around her neck she wore a gold necklace with a pendant that consisted of a brilliant blue sapphire set in gold, with the Johnson crest cut into it in gold leaf.
“Right,” said Katherine, “Let’s go and greet our guest.”
She briskly exited the room, followed by Beatrice, and descended the stairs to the great hall. The large room was cleaner and tidier than Katherine had ever seen it. Usually there were items strewn all over the place, including a few slumbering peasants. Today it had been meticulously scrubbed and polished and was empty of people, save a couple of her guards standing by the huge main door. They looked like they had been polished and scrubbed along with the room, wearing their best armour and standing proudly to attention. Outside in the courtyard she was greeted by a similar sight, her troops all lined up in their matching armour and blue tabards, with Tobias on the end nearest her. She offered him a quick smile, he merely nodding in acknowledgement as was his way. Everyone knew how important it was to make a good impression – the Ambassador was a powerful man and could aid Markham in making prosperous overseas and local trading links if he was so inclined. It was up to Katherine to make sure that was the case.
Fortunately, they did not have long to wait in the warm June sun as the gates to the manor swung open and a procession of men, horses and carriages proceeded to file into the grassy expanse of the courtyard. Katherine wondered if the stream of people was ever going to end; the ambassador obviously didn’t believe in travelling lightly. She hoped that they would have enough room to accommodate all the various men, though no doubt some of the knights in the party would actually pitch camp just outside the manor walls later on. Finally the cavalcade ended and a carriage drew up in front of her. A knight hopped down and opened the door, allowing the ambassador to step out.
Katherine had never met him before and took a quick moment to assess him as he stepped down, before making her greeting. He was roughly Katherine’s age, maybe a few years older, pushing into his forties. Fairly unusually, he was clean-shaven, though Katherine could understand why he would want to show off his face, since he had classically defined features and high cheekbones. He also had a pair of quite startlingly green eyes and a head of well-coiffured black hair. She acknowledged that he would be regarded as a rather handsome man, his position of power no doubt only adding to his attraction to women. Of course, that didn’t really interest her, since her affections already lay elsewhere. As he came towards her a smile played across his face and she could see that he was also assessing her.
“Bonjour, Monsieur Ambassadeur. Bienvenue à Markham,” * she said in a perfect French accent. She was glad her time spent studying the language had finally been put to some use.
His smile broadened at her words – she didn’t suppose he came across many other nobles who were capable of speaking his native tongue in England. Reaching out and taking her hand, he kissed the back of it with a flourish before returning her greeting.
“Bonjour, Dame Johnson, c'est un honneur pour être l'invité d'une si belle femme,” ** he declared.
“Merci, nous sommes heureux que vous pourriez trouver l'heure de nous rendrevisite,” *** she replied.
“I have been looking forward to meeting you,” he confessed, switching to fluent English, though it was heavily accented.
“And I, you,” she said, returning his smile, “Shall we head inside?”
“Of course,” he agreed, following Katherine as she turned and lead him through the oak door into the manor house.
<< Pardon my French! Here’s a translation of those lines…>>
* “Hello, Mr Ambassador, welcome to Markham.”
** “Hello, Lady Johnson, it is an honour to be the guest of such a beautiful woman”
*** “Thank you, we are pleased that you could find the time to visit us”
Several hours later Katherine ascended the stone staircase from the great hall to her chambers on the upper floor of Markham Manor. She thought the afternoon and evening had gone well. The ambassador had been most charming and seemed genuinely interested in her initial suggestions on trading and agreements. It had not been all business, though, and over a sumptuous dinner they had discussed many topics. The Ambassador, or Pierre, as he had instructed her to call him, was an intelligent and entertaining conversationalist. She wondered if he had been sceptical of dealing with a woman to begin with, since she was probably the first he had encountered in such a position on his trip; all other manors and estates that she knew of were governed by a lord. However, she believed she had managed to win him over and that he now regarded her as an equal whose opinions and ideas were as important as any man’s.
She pondered that it would be an interesting week ahead. It was only Friday now and Pierre was due to stay until a week Sunday. He would then head on to Gainsborough, to the north of Markham, for talks with the lord there. She had organised a tournament and fair for the following Saturday, the day before his departure. It would be a chance for all the people of the estate to enjoy a day out and, hopefully, celebrate their new French links. She had been a little surprised when Pierre had expressed his intentions to compete in the tournament himself. Though these affairs were not intended to be dangerous, supposedly just being a chance for the knights to show off their skills, accidents had been known to happen. It was unusual for a nobleman to actually take part, but Pierre had claimed that he liked to test himself from time to time.
She entered her quarters, which were dimly lit with a few candles flickering at various points round the room. Locking the door, she made her way over to her large, four-poster bed, undoing her necklace as she did. Before she reached the bed, a long pair of arms suddenly enveloped her from behind. She felt hot breath on the back of her neck as lips kissed gently down her skin, nibbling at her partly exposed shoulder blade.
“Hello, darling,” said Katherine without turning round, her voice a husky whisper.
“Good evening, Katherine,” replied Anne from behind her, her breath tickling across Katherine’s flesh.
Katherine felt an anticipatory shiver pass through her body at the teasing caress of the breath and allowed herself a small smile. This had become quite a regular occurrence, Anne sneaking into her quarters at night. She thought they both found the whole secret nature of their involvement a bit of a thrill, though it might not be quite as thrilling if they were ever actually caught. That was unlikely, though, as Anne was always careful, accessing Katherine’s chambers by the back window, coming up over the kitchen roof at the rear of the house.
Anne’s warm body pressed provocatively up against Katherine’s back as her hands slid up the front of Katherine’s dress, cupping her breasts. Anne continued to lavish attention on Katherine’s neck with her lips, causing Katherine to tip her head back slightly and let out a small sigh of pleasure. Anne’s tongue trailed back down her neck and she nipped lightly at Katherine’s collarbone, leaning over the smaller woman’s shoulder. Katherine’s necklace clattered to the ground and her hand came up to glide through Anne’s long, golden hair, which tumbled freely over her shoulders.
As Anne squeezed her breasts Katherine could stand the teasing sensations no longer and whirled round to lock her lips on the other woman’s. They shared a long, lingering kiss as they stood in the centre of the room, Anne’s hands coming up to release the pins in Katherine’s hair and allow it to fall loose. Katherine felt her desire for the young woman bubbling up, threatening to completely consume her as their tongues duelled wantonly. Anne was obviously also finding it hard to resist the fever that was gripping them both as she began rapidly undoing the fastenings down the back of Katherine’s dress. The garment slid down her body to puddle at her feet on the floor, leaving her naked in the warm night air. Katherine frantically pulled at Anne’s own top, whipping the tunic off over her head before pressing her lips to the soft, luscious ones of the young woman once more. She grasped at the strings on Anne’s breeches, almost ripping them in her frenzied attempt to undo them. Finally she succeeded and pushed the trousers off over Anne’s hips to allow them to fall to the floor to join Katherine’s dress.
Still maintaining their embrace, Anne took a few steps, guiding Katherine back towards the bed onto which they tumbled. Katherine wiggled up the blankets as Anne came crawling enticingly up her body, planting kisses all over Katherine’s naked flesh as she did. Katherine clasped at Anne’s head as she reached her chest and pulled her up to devour her lips. Their heated forms pressed together, sweat-slickened bodies sliding against one another, fuelled by the hot, sticky atmosphere of the summer’s night and their own fiery passion.
Anne’s hand stroked down Katherine’s torso as she moved her head to cover one of Katherine’s breasts with her hot mouth, eliciting a low moan from the older woman. Strands of Anne’s hair trailed across Katherine’s chest as she alternately flicked, licked and sucked at Katherine’s nipple with her tongue and mouth, each small nip drawing a fresh groan from above. Her hand continued its downward journey, caressing Katherine’s thigh and pushing it aside slightly to allow Anne access to the pulsating heat of Katherine’s sex. Her fingers crept down the inside of the thigh and slid easily into the wetness below. She drew them out again before slipping them in once more, repeating this action with slow deliberateness to build Katherine’s arousal.
Katherine felt that arousal overwhelming her and it became increasingly hard to resist the urge to thrust her hips faster against Anne’s hand. She tried to keep a slow rhythm and prolong the heavenly feel of Anne’s long fingers exploring her. She could not contain her fervour long, though, groaning loudly with desire. Sensing Katherine’s need, Anne began to slide her fingers in and out with more speed, Katherine’s copious juices coating her digits. Katherine tipped her head back and clutched Anne’s head to her chest as her panting intensified. She let out one last, incoherent wail at the orgasm that rushed through her.
Shaking from the after-effects she slowly released her tight grip of the young woman’s head. Anne slipped her fingers out of Katherine and raised herself up over the older woman, gazing down at her, her eyes a deep blue as the candlelight flickered over them. Katherine let out a long sigh.
“Sorry for trying to suffocate you there,” she laughed throatily.
“I can think of few better ways to die than crushed in your bosom,” replied Anne with a smile.
“Speaking of bosoms…” said Katherine, eyeing the alluring sight of Anne’s own breasts dangling above her.
She reached out a hand, having to take a few deep breaths to calm herself and steady it before she touched the soft flesh. Anne gasped instantly at the contact and Katherine knew the young woman was imminently ready. She moved her other hand to Anne’s thigh, which was trembling as she knelt on all fours over Katherine. The moisture dripping down its inside confirmed Katherine’s initial assessment. She gently slipped one finger inside Anne and quickly joined it with another, causing Anne to close her eyes and emit a low moan. She twisted and flexed her fingers within the young woman, stroking against her slick walls. Anne dipped her head to bite on Katherine’s shoulder. Katherine gasped slightly at the sensation of the teeth in her flesh, finding it erotically stimulating. Anne moved her head over to cover Katherine’s lips instead in a lustful kiss while Katherine continued to thrust up into her. Anne tried to keep kissing her as Katherine slipped her fingers in and out, but she had to break off repeatedly to let out fevered pants and groans. Keeping her fingers deep within the young woman, Katherine moved her thumb to glide across her clit. Anne arched up over her and Katherine marvelled at the sight above her, watching the young woman in the throes of passion. Suddenly Katherine could see Anne’s whole body tensing and she let out a long groan before coming crashing back down onto the older woman, spent and gasping.
Katherine withdrew from her and tenderly stroked the smooth skin of the young woman’s back as her head rested on Katherine’s shoulder, her hair tickling Katherine’s face. Katherine didn’t say anything, just content to hold the other woman while she composed herself. After a few moments, Anne slid to Katherine’s side and propped herself up on one elbow, Katherine shifting slightly to face her. Anne softly trailed her fingers across Katherine’s abdomen while gazing into her eyes.
“I love you, Katherine,” she said quietly.
Katherine smiled and reached up to brush the back of her fingers over Anne’s cheek.
“And I love you too,” she concurred huskily.
Anne rested her head back down onto Katherine’s shoulder, draping her arm across the older woman’s chest as she lay by her side. Katherine lightly stroked Anne’s golden hair and closed her eyes to revel in the blissful feel of Anne’s body pressed up against her as they basked in the afterglow of their lovemaking. After some time just delighting in embrace, she cleared her throat to speak.
“Were there lots of men camped outside the walls?” she enquired.
“Yes, there were quite a few tents pitched out there,” noted Anne, not raising her head, her breath whispering out over Katherine’s skin. “It was certainly harder than normal to get in here undetected.”
“Hmm,” pondered Katherine.
“What is it?” asked Anne, propping herself up once more so she could look at the older woman.
“I think we should be careful while the ambassador is here. I didn’t realise that he would bring quite so many men with him.” She admitted.
“What are you suggesting?” asked Anne warily.
“As much as it pains me to consider it, I think that maybe you should stay away from Markham, just for this week,” proposed Katherine.
Anne looked at her with hurt eyes and Katherine thought she could see moisture starting to brim in them before Anne glanced away. Katherine reached out to turn the young woman’s face back to her.
“It’s you I’m thinking about,” she explained, gazing intently at Anne, “I know it’s always dangerous for you to sneak in here, but at least I have the knowledge that if you were to get caught, it would be my guards doing the catching. In which case, I may just be able to explain it away somehow. If any of those French guards caught you…well…there would be nothing I could do.”
“I suppose you are right,” sighed Anne, still unhappy at the prospect of being without Katherine for any period of time.
“It’s only until next Sunday, and then they’ll be gone,” said Katherine.
“All right,” said Anne offering her a small smile, “Though you do realise that after a week apart, I will have to ravish you for hours when I next see you.”
“Oh my,” laughed Katherine, “Maybe I should suggest some time apart more often.”
“Do not even think it,” said Anne in mock sternness.
Katherine pulled the young woman back down into her arms and cradled her lovingly once more.
“You know,” began Katherine, deciding to change the subject to a more light-hearted topic, “I still haven’t managed to guess why your outlaw name is Seven…”
“You’re not still trying are you?” asked Anne, “You’re never going to get it, you know.”
“Now, that’s a challenge if ever I heard one!” said Katherine.
“And you never could resist one of those, right?” said Anne, smiling to herself.
“You know me too well,” conceded Katherine with a small laugh, “All right…let’s see…hmm…is it…is it the most orgasms you’ve ever had in one night?”
Anne snorted a laugh.
“Certainly not!” she answered.
“You’ve never had that many in one night then?” probed Katherine.
“No…,” replied Anne slowly.
“Would you like to?” asked Katherine.
Anne raised her head up off Katherine’s chest to smile at the older woman. “Absolutely,” she said.
“Well, let’s give it a go then,” said Katherine, with a seductive smirk, “Though I can’t promise to stop at seven…”
Charles Kirby glanced around nervously as he made his way across the courtyard of Markham Manor. He could feel himself sweating slightly under his light chain mail, but wasn’t sure if that was due to the warm June sun or his anxiety. He knew that Katherine and the French Ambassador were out riding, along with a contingent of their respective guards, but couldn’t help worrying that he would be observed on the way to his clandestine meeting. He had been invited to join the riding party and it had pained him to have to decline, especially since he had seen how the ambassador had been looking at Katherine since his arrival the day before. He wondered how he might put the other man off before the end of the week – if anyone was going to have the lady of the manor it would be him! There was no way he was letting some bloody frog pull one over on him.
While Mark had been alive, Kirby had no chance of pursuing the object of his affections, so had contented himself with admiring her from afar. But now Mark had been stupid enough to get himself killed on the Crusades, the way was clear for him to step into the breach. Even better was the fact that if he could make Katherine his, then he would also become lord of the manor, since a woman had no real power once wed. Mark had allowed Katherine more liberty than most husbands, and Kirby knew part of the attraction of Katherine was her independence and strong will. However, he thought he would have to temper those aspects of her personality somewhat if she was going to be his wife. He couldn’t have her running things, after all, which sometimes seemed the case when she was with Mark.
Entering the manor’s grain store, he checked that there was no one else present. There shouldn’t have been at this time of year, since harvest was still a couple of months off, but he knew that you could never tell with those blasted peasants - they seemed to get everywhere. That was another thing that would change when he was lord of the manor he decided – the peasants would learn to know their place once again. That place was cowed well and truly under the lord’s boot as far as he was concerned. Katherine was far too kind to them; she obviously didn’t realise that nobles like she and Kirby were better than that riff-raff and that the peasants were there to be used by and serve them.
Determining that he was alone he made a small cooing noise and watched as he was joined in the dull interior by a short, stocky man.
“Monsieur Kirby, I presume?” enquired the man in heavily accented English.
“That’s right, and you are Leon Le Espion?” replied Kirby.
“Oui, though you may just call me Leon, it does not do to advertise ones occupation quite so,” said the small man.
“Well, Leon,” said Kirby, emphasising the name, “I presume you received my communications.”
“Oui,” acknowledged the other man simply.
“And I presume you have already met the lady of the manor?” probed Kirby further.
“Oui,” agreed Leon once more, “A most charming woman.”
Kirby rolled his eyes, scrunching the tattoo above his left eye as he did – those bloody French men just couldn’t stop themselves where a beautiful woman was concerned.
“Anyway,” continued the tall man, “A few things have happened recently that have aroused my suspicion that she’s up to something.”
“Up to something?” enquired Leon, not quite understanding the meaning.
“Yes, doing something she shouldn’t be, something she wants kept secret,” clarified Kirby.
“And you want me to discover what that secret is,” concluded Leon.
“Precisely,” confirmed Kirby, “I do have some of my own sources within the manor house, but none of them seem to know anything. It’s hard for me to directly probe further, which is why I thought it might be easier to get some outside help – less chance of her getting wind of anything.”
“A wise precaution,” agreed Leon.
“So you can help me out?” asked Kirby.
“Oui, monsieur, it should be no problem, as long as you have my fee?” stated Leon.
“Of course,” replied Kirby, “I don’t care how you go about things, just as long as Katherine is unaware of it and nothing is traceable back to me.”
“Do not worry, I have ways and means of discovering what I want to know,” declared Leon.
“I’m sure you do,” said Kirby, “There will be no problem with you staying around after the ambassador has moved on will there?”
“Not at all,” stated Leon.
“Good,” noted Kirby, “Well, when you have any news, you can report to me at my house at Ollerton.”
The other man merely nodded. Kirby guessed he was a man of few words - one of these secretive types. He certainly gave off an air of sly cunning that Kirby was quite sure was going to be well worth his investment.
“And one more thing,” added Kirby, “If you’re discovered in anyway, you don’t know me and we never had this conversation.”
“Of course not, monsieur,” said Leon, before turning and leaving the store.
Katherine stood in Markham Church as the rest of the congregation filed out. She had been impressed by the turnout for their guest. There had been so many people present that she wondered if every peasant in Markham and the surrounding villages had made a point of turning up. She was gratified that they were supporting her efforts to create friendly ties with the French party. Coming to church on a Sunday was always important in the lives of the people, but there had been so many at the service today that they couldn’t all fit into the small stone building, some spilling out onto the grass outside and listening to the friar’s sermon through the open doors. They probably didn’t mind too much, getting to sit out in the June sun or under the shade of the yew trees that dotted the churchyard.
It had been a fairly relaxing weekend so far since she had been mainly trying to show Pierre a bit of Markham and its people. The real negotiations and work would start tomorrow and go on for the rest of the week, when hopefully they would be able to hammer out an accord. She was getting an increasingly confident feeling that they would, as her and Pierre seemed to be getting on exceedingly well and they had enjoyed a pleasant days riding round the manor lands the day before. Just as Katherine was about to join Pierre on his way out the door she noticed the friar gesturing to her. She wasn’t sure what he wanted, but decided she could afford to spare him a moment of her time.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said to Pierre, “I just have to have a word with the friar. I’ll join you back at the house shortly.”
“Of course,” replied Pierre, “And please thank the friar for his…interesting sermon.”
“I will,” she said with a small smile, noting the touch of sarcasm in the frenchman’s voice, “I know he’ll be more than happy to hear your compliment.”
Pierre smiled back at her before nodding and exiting via the front doors, leaving just Katherine and the friar remaining in the building.
“What is it, friar?” asked Katherine, going over to join the wiry, balding man.
“I have a special ‘guest’ for you,” he explained cryptically.
Katherine looked at him quizzically as he just gestured for her to go into the ante-chamber at the back of the church. Entering the small room she didn’t see anyone else in there immediately. She had even less chance of seeing anyone when a pair of hands covered her eyes.
“Guess who?” came a voice from behind her.
“Hmm, let me see,” she pondered, reaching up to stroke her fingers over the hands, “Long graceful fingers…,” she reached back to touch the face behind her, “smooth skin, full lips…,” she reached round to squeeze their bottom, “perfectly formed bottom…is it…Tobias?”
Anne couldn’t help laughing at that and dropped her hands, spinning Katherine round.
“I hope you don’t make a habit of fondling Tobias’ bottom,” said Anne with a smile.
“Only when he’s been very good,” said Katherine, winking.
Anne laughed again, a sound Katherine would never grow tired of hearing. She reached up and pulled Anne towards her for a slow, exploring kiss.
“Well this is a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect to see you until next Sunday,” said Katherine, after long moments enjoying the softness of Anne’s lips.
“I got here earlier,” explained Anne, “Well before any guards, in case you were worried. I managed to persuade the friar to let me stay back here during the service.”
“So it’s turned out to be quite useful, having the friar privy to our secret,” mused Katherine.
“And you know that he can always get a message to me, if you need to contact me for any reason,” added Anne.
“There is that to,” agreed Katherine, “So you were subjected to his service along with the rest of us then?”
“I didn’t listen actually,” confessed Anne, “I try to steer clear of religion in general.”
“You don’t go to church at all?” asked Katherine with genuine surprise.
“No,” replied Anne.
Katherine could sense that there was something more that Anne wasn’t admitting to. The young woman’s mood had changed subtly, becoming more closed off, her body language much stiffer than moments before.
“Do you even believe in god?” probed Katherine.
Anne seemed uncomfortable but Katherine was interested in what was behind her behaviour. They had talked much over the past few weeks, though there were certain areas and topics that Anne usually became defensive over, particularly to do with her childhood and family. Katherine hadn’t really pressed the young woman for details yet, but she was keen to know everything about her and her background.
“No, I don’t, as a matter of fact,” Anne replied.
Katherine wondered if she should drop it. Anne certainly wasn’t going to volunteer anything, but her stubborn streak prevailed and she pressed on.
“Do you believe in something else then?” enquired Katherine.
Anne pondered for a moment. Katherine wondered if the young woman just wasn’t going to respond at all. Finally Anne made an exasperated sigh before speaking.
“If you must know,” she replied with a distinct tone of annoyance in her voice, “I was brought up as a pagan.”
“Really?” said Katherine with interest, “I have to say, I don’t really know much about paganism. Of course, there are all those rumours that you hear about rituals and witchcraft and things like that.”
“Yes, though those are just rumours - there’s much more to it than that.” said Anne, “Those sorts of accusations have sprung up from the Christian church - they don’t understand something so they demonise it. Anyway, it’s all right, you don’t need to worry that I might perform some pagan ritual on you, I don’t believe in that anymore either.”
Katherine wondered why that was, and was going to press for more information but Anne had obviously decided she didn’t want to answer any more questions on the subject and pre-empted Katherine by speaking again herself.
“So how are things going with you and the ambassador?” asked Anne.
“Very well, actually,” replied Katherine, rather stunned by the quick switch in conversational topic.
“The two of you are getting quite friendly then?” enquired Anne.
Katherine was starting to get a strange uneasy feeling, prompted by the edge she had detected in Anne’s tone.
“Yes,” she said warily, “I’ve been showing him around Markham, he’s a very interesting man.”
“And quite handsome too,” added Anne.
“Well, I suppose…” began Katherine, before stopping herself, “Hang on, how do you know what he looks like? Have you been…following me?”
Anne glanced away from Katherine’s suspicious stare, answering the question without words.
“You have, haven’t you?” demanded Katherine with a frown furrowing her brow.
“Yes, yes I have!” stated Anne looking back at Katherine her eyes flashing with anger, “And I’m glad I did! Else I wouldn’t have seen you throwing yourself at him!”
“What?!” cried Katherine incredulously, “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve seen you, smiling and laughing and joking with him. Patting his arm, giving him those little looks of yours,” said Anne angrily.
Katherine initially let out a small snort of derision, before contemplating her response.
“Maybe, just maybe, I have been flirting with him a bit…” she admitted.
“A bit?!” exclaimed Anne, interrupting her.
“Yes, a bit,” said Katherine in a steely voice that brooked no argument, “But I’m not interested in him that way. It’s just a means to an end, to win him over and get him to sign the agreements.”
“Ha! I’d say you were going well above and beyond the call of duty,” sneered Anne.
“What’s behind this insecurity?” asked Katherine fuming, “Is this something to do with your parents, about losing someone you love?”
“Don’t bring them into this!” spat Anne shooting Katherine a furious glance, “You know nothing about them!”
“That’s right,” cried Katherine, “Because you won’t tell me!”
“But you just have to keep pushing don’t you!” exclaimed Anne.
They stood in silence for a moment, each woman staring angrily at the other; the tension in the small room was palpable. Anne’s icy blue eyes remained locked challengingly on Katherine’s, daring her to try and probe further and see what reaction she got. Katherine took a few calming breaths and decided she had to quash her normal persistence if she wanted to resolve this. Anne was already angered by her irrational jealousy so now was not really the time for a heart-to-heart about the young woman’s parents. Katherine resolved to try and bring it up again in a more relaxed moment. She moved closer to Anne and gazed up into her eyes, allowing her expression to soften. Anne glanced away and Katherine could see that she was still seething, a muscle twitching in her cheek where she was grinding her teeth together.
“Anne,” Katherine said reaching out for the young woman’s hands, her voice now dropping to its lowest husky register, “You need to trust me. Yes, Pierre may be an attractive man, but I love you.”
Anne flicked her a brief glance.
“Please,” added Katherine, gently rubbing her thumbs over the backs of Anne’s hands, “Trust me?”
She saw Anne’s posture finally soften from the tension that had been holding her rigid and a small sigh escaped from the young woman’s lips. Her eyes came back up and Katherine saw that the anger seemed to have dissipated at last.
“All right,” agreed Anne, “I will try.”
“Thank you,” smiled Katherine, “You really have nothing to worry about, you don’t need to follow me around.”
Anne returned her smile with her own faltering one and Katherine brought Anne’s hands up to kiss them.
“I’m sorry, Katherine,” said Anne quietly, now embarrassed by her earlier outbursts.
Katherine wrapped her arms around the young woman and drew her into a warm embrace, holding her tightly to try and impart how much she loved her just by touch. They stood there for long moments, luxuriating in the feel of their bodies pressed together, Katherine closing her eyes and inhaling Anne’s scent. She pulled away slightly, so she could regard the taller woman.
“Now, go on, get back to the forest, before any French guards happen to come by this way,” said Katherine gently.
“All right,” agreed Anne, still with a hint of reticence, “I will see you next Sunday.”
She gave Katherine a soft kiss goodbye before departing from the rear door.
Leaving the small room at the back of the church, Katherine was about to head straight back to the manor house to catch up with her guest, when she noticed the friar was still busying himself around the main room of the stone building. Still curious from her conversation with Anne, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to see if he could shed some light on the young woman’s background. It may give Katherine an insight that would allow her to broach the subject in a less antagonistic way, she reasoned to herself.
“Friar, I was wondering if I might have a word,” she asked, approaching him.
“Of course, Katherine, I always have time for you,” he replied amiably.
He was one of the few people who ever addressed Katherine by just her first name, rather than her title, having known her since she first came to Markham as a newly-wed seventeen years ago. He stopped his tidying and turned his full attention on her. Or as full as he could, since the friar had a slightly lazy eye that Katherine often had trouble trying to ignore when speaking to him.
“I know you are well versed in all kinds of religion, not just Christianity, and I was wondering what you knew of paganism?” she enquired.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain young woman would it?” he probed with a wry smile.
Katherine just about managed to control the blush that was attempting to creep up her face. Though it was useful having the friar know about her secret liaison with Anne, she could do without his teasing – he seemed to enjoy it far too much. She didn’t answer, just fixing him with one of her milder disapproving stares.
“All right,” he laughed, “No need to give me ‘The Glare’. Yes, I do know a bit about paganism. What were you interested in particularly?”
“Anything you can tell me really, I’m afraid my knowledge is rather limited,” she confessed.
“Well my knowledge isn’t extensive by any means, since paganism is generally frowned upon by the church. Personally I like to be open to all forms of worship, but some of my superiors hold slightly different views to say the least. They’re pretty much trying to eradicate paganism, enlisting the help of local lords to wipe out those who practice it.”
“Really?” said Katherine raising her eyebrows. She was glad she had not been approached to assist in such a manner. There was no way she would aid in the persecution of a group of people for their beliefs, even if it was on the church’s say-so. Fortunately she hadn’t had the difficult task of trying to refuse tactfully. The church was perhaps more powerful in England than the lords themselves and it did not do to cross it.
“Yes, a most unfortunate situation, since paganism is generally all about peace and embracing the world around us. It’s an earth-based religion, emphasising the worship of all aspects of nature. It’s been around for centuries, the Greeks and Romans were pagans of sorts,” explained the friar.
“Pagans believe that there are gods for various aspects of life,” he continued, “And great emphasis is placed on placating and celebrating them through worship and ritual. And before your mind starts running away with ideas of people running around naked, sacrificing live animals, it’s nothing like that,” he added quickly.
“I told you, I have few preconceptions,” said Katherine, “Please, go on.”
“Right, well, they have gods and goddesses for all sorts of things – the forest, the sea, the land. You’ve come across Gaia, the earth mother already, I understand?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, guessing that Robin must have mentioned something to him, since the friar associated with the outlaw and his band, “I was taken to see a shrine of hers and then helped retrieve the stone that had been stolen from it.”
“Indeed,” he noted, “And that stone was most important to those people. Without it they felt that Gaia was offended, that she had spurned them and allowed their land to become infertile.”
“And do you believe that’s true?” she asked.
“Maybe,” he mused, “Belief and faith can be a powerful thing and sometimes they can be self-fulfilling.”
“You’re saying that because they believed it would come true, it did?” she prompted.
“I’m not saying that was the case here, just that it can happen,” suggested the friar.
“Right, and what about that whole mystical element to it, this idea of witchcraft?” she asked.
“Mmm, I wondered when you might get around to that,” he replied.
“Oh yes?” she asked inquisitively, raising one eyebrow and folding her arms.
He stopped for a moment and looked around, as if checking that there was no one else in the room, despite the fact that they had been alone since they began their conversation. When he resumed his tone was more hushed, as if what he was imparting to her was of great secrecy.
“What I am going to tell you must go no further, do you understand?” he declared.
“Yes,” she responded, giving him a quizzical look.
“I’m only telling you, because I think it may help you understand some things,” he added.
“Right,” she said. She wished he would get on with it; she was anxious to find out what it was that was so secret now.
“There is a…mystical side to paganism,” he began slowly, “Which is perhaps one of the reasons the church isn’t too keen on it. Amongst those who practice it there are the regular everyday worshippers and there are also the druids, responsible for organising worship, maintaining the various shrines, that kind of thing - like those responsible for guarding the Stone Of Gaia.”
“Mm-hmm,” said Katherine to indicate she was listening and understood.
“And then there are those who have special…mystical abilities, those who we might term witches, though I believe that isn’t really the correct terminology for them.” He explained.
“What sort of special abilities?” asked Katherine.
“Well, I don’t really know the full extent of it,” he admitted, “But it’s something to do with some innate ability to tap into the power of the earth, to harness it and use it.”
“An innate ability?” prompted Katherine.
“Yes, not just anyone can decide they fancy the idea of being one of these mystics. Those with the natural ability are few and far between and seen as blessed by the gods. Some of those use that blessing, others have been known to abuse it,” he paused at this moment to emphasise his final point, “And some try and ignore it, to pretend they don’t have it.”
Katherine stared at him for a moment, trying to work out what he was implying since he had stopped and was just regarding her thoughtfully.
“Anne?” she finally asked tentatively, as realisation dawned.
He simply nodded.
“I don’t know what she’s told you?” he enquired.
“Not much, she always seems to avoid anything to do with her past when I bring it up,” admitted Katherine.
“Yes, she does seem reluctant to delve into it,” he agreed, “The fact is that Anne was brought up as a pagan and that she had the potential to become a powerful mystic, maybe even one of the most powerful there’s been. By all accounts, her natural talent was remarkable.”
“But she told me earlier that she doesn’t believe in paganism any more,” added Katherine with confusion, “Why would someone with such a talent not pursue it?”
The friar pursed his lips, considering that for a moment.
“I don’t think that is for me to say,” he finally said, “I think I’ve told you enough for now. You should try and discuss it further with Anne herself. Only be careful, Katherine, it’s a very sensitive topic for her. I wanted to make you aware of that before you pushed too hard as is your wont.”
Katherine bit back a cutting response – she knew he was right, which was why it galled her so much. She did have a tendency to pursue things rather forcefully on occasion. When she was faced with questions she was determined to get answers. She knew she would have to try and curb her natural stubborn inquisitiveness in this instance.
“Thank you, Edward,” she said, “I’ll try and give her time, until she feels she can confide in me herself.”
Patting his arm once as an indication of her gratitude at his candour, she turned for the door and left the church. As she made her way the short distance through the village to the manor house her mind was wracked with questions and she did not notice the short, stocky man stealthily following her.
Four days later those same questions still played on Katherine’s mind as she rode Delta over the Markham estate. She and the ambassador had come out on a hunting trip with a few of their troops in a break from negotiations. Katherine had been concentrating hard on those talks, so she hadn’t had much time to ponder Anne and what the friar had told her since last Sunday in the church. Now, however, she let her mind wander, deliberating over what it was that had made Anne turn her back on her pagan past and why she was so evasive about it. She wondered whether there might be some sort of link to the young woman’s parents, since that was another subject Katherine found it hard to get any information on. She presumed they must have been pagans too, if Anne was brought up that way, but the only other thing she knew about them was that they were killed when Anne was eleven. It was probably a good thing that she hadn’t had the opportunity to speak with Anne yet since it would allow her to formulate her approach rather than rushing in, in her eagerness to get answers.
At that moment, she realised that the rest of the party had come to a halt and drew up alongside the ambassador.
“Is everything all right?” he asked her quietly, out of earshot of the other men.
“Pardon?” she replied.
“You seemed distracted, as if you were contemplating a problem,” he remarked.
“No, no,” she quickly explained, “I was just thinking about the negotiations that’s all.”
“Come now, Katherine,” he said with a smile, “We are meant to be getting away from those for the afternoon and enjoying ourselves. I know I am - it is a lovely day, the sun is shining and I have a beautiful woman by my side.”
“You are incorrigible,” she laughed.
“Can you blame me?” he said, with a small wink.
She returned his smile as Tobias trotted up to them on his horse.
“We’re going to head up to the forest at Drayton,” he informed them, “Apparently a group of stags have been spotted there.”
“Thank you Tobias,” said Katherine, “Lead on.”
Tobias turned his horse and headed to the front of the party. He started to lead them off when Pierre grabbed Katherine’s arm.
“Wait!” he whispered.
“What is it?” she enquired.
Pierre was staring off into the ferns at the side of the road and Katherine followed his gaze. She couldn’t immediately see anything and watched as the warm summer breeze rippled over the greenery. The other riders in the party had not noticed them hanging back and had continued down the track. Katherine was about to suggest they catch up with them, when she spotted a pair of antlers brushing through the leaves.
“There! Do you see?” cried Pierre.
Suddenly he wrenched the reins of his horse round and plunged into the undergrowth in pursuit of the animal.
“Pierre! Wait!” exclaimed Katherine to no avail.
Sighing, she turned Delta and set off after him – she could hardly allow her guest to roam her lands on his own.
Delta’s hooves crashed through the tall ferns as he galloped after the ambassador’s steed, spurred on by Katherine. She clung on tightly, strands of her auburn hair coming loose and whipping about her face as they sped over the overgrown terrain. The ambassador was perhaps a hundred yards ahead of her, in hot pursuit of the stag. Katherine cursed his impetuousness – they were meant to be hunting with the rest of their party, but Pierre had taken it upon himself to dash off on his own and she’d had little choice but to follow him. She hardly wanted him getting lost on her estate and she certainly didn’t want him encountering any outlaws or anything else untoward that would reflect badly on Markham and hinder their trade negotiations.
Despite Delta’s speed and her prowess as a rider, she was having trouble keeping up and she hoped Pierre would either catch the stag or give up his chase soon. She saw the ambassador’s dark head disappear over a small rise ahead and she encouraged Delta on, not wanting to lose sight of her guest for long. However, as she came to the crest of the ridge herself she couldn’t immediately see him in the landscape stretching out below. She pulled Delta up for a moment and glanced anxiously around. It was then that she spotted the ambassador’s mount, near a small group of trees at the base of the fern-covered slope. The animal was nibbling at some grass, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it no longer had a rider.
She urged Delta carefully on down the slope, not wanting to come to any grief herself. Halfway down she noticed a section of the ferns off to the left that were flattened and leapt down from Delta to investigate, wincing slightly as she jarred her left leg. The undergrowth came up to her chest and she struggled through the ferns to the cleared spot. Pushing the last frond aside, she saw Pierre lying prone on his back, where he had obviously fallen from his horse, his eyes closed.
“Pierre!” she cried, crouching down at his side.
There was no response to her call and she felt at his neck, scared what she may discover there – killing their ambassador while out hunting was certainly no way to encourage relations with France. Not to mention the fact that she actually liked the man and would hate for anything to have happened to him. Just as her fingers reached the skin his eyes flew open.
“Boo!” he exclaimed.
Katherine fell backwards in surprise, landing on her backside on the flattened ferns.
“You…you….,” she spluttered, in between breaths, clasping a hand to her chest to try and calm herself.
“I’m sorry, Katherine, I couldn’t resist,” he said apologetically with a half-smile, sitting up.
She frowned at him, but she couldn’t seem to find it in her heart to stay angry with him for long, not when he was so resolutely smiling away at her.
“Are you actually injured?” she asked with a sigh.
“Just my pride,” he replied, “I had a fairly soft landing on the ferns.”
“Lucky for you,” she remarked, “Maybe next time you’ll think twice about dashing off like that.”
“I consider myself duly admonished,” he commented seriously, though she picked up the tinge of humour in his voice.
“Why don’t you just help me up?” she added, shooting him another frown, trying desperately to stop herself from breaking into a smile too. His good spirits seemed to be infectious.
“Of course, m’lady,” he replied.
He leapt to his feet and extended her his hand with a deliberately comical flourish. Taking it, Katherine allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. Only the ambassador pulled her more than she was expecting and she found herself pressed up against his chest, looking up into his remarkable green eyes. She stared at him for a moment, feeling her heart still beating rapidly in her chest, her breath slightly quicker than normal. Then, suddenly, he was bending his head and covering her lips in a kiss.
For a brief moment she was too stunned to process what was happening and allowed the kiss to continue. Then her mind rallied and she shoved him away.
“What are you doing?!” she exclaimed.
“I…I’m sorry…I…I thought…,” he began in confusion, honestly surprised at her reaction.
Quickly she realised that she was going to have to be careful not to offend him. The last thing she needed was their negotiations going pear-shaped because of some romantic misunderstanding. She knew she had been flirting with him to some extent, though she had never expected him to act on it in quite such a way. Now she was going to need some clever thinking to extract herself from the situation.
“No, I’m the one who should be sorry,” she replied, “I probably gave you the wrong impression.”
“I feel like a fool,” he said, regretfully, “Please accept my sincere apologies.”
“It’s all right, Pierre, honestly,” she replied, extending her hand to squeeze his arm, “I do like you, it’s just…” she paused to formulate her excuse, “…I just can’t give my heart to anyone at the moment.”
“Oh? It seems a shame that such a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman as you is without love,” he remarked, “You can tell me to mind my own business, but do you mind me asking why?”
‘Because I’m in love with someone else!’ her mind cried out to her internally, though she knew she certainly couldn’t tell him that. She had to come up with a much more acceptable explanation, even if it wasn’t the truth.
“The fact of the matter is that I’m still in mourning for my husband,” she lied.
“Oh, now I feel even more terrible,” he responded, “How insensitive of me.”
“I told you it’s all right, really,” she said softly, stroking his arm, “I know I should really have gotten over his death by now, but we were very much in love.”
“Of course, I understand,” he said sincerely, “Can you forgive my crass overtures?”
She felt guilty for having to lie and make him feel so bad, but it was better than telling him the truth. Confessing to him that she was in love with an outlaw who was also a woman was a sure way to see those trade agreements sailing right back over the channel to France and probably her being cast out of Markham Manor too.
“Let’s just forget this ever happened shall we?” she suggested, “I hope we can still be friends?”
“But, of course,” he agreed, “Now maybe we should try and find the rest of our party.”
“Good idea,” she concurred, grabbing Delta’s reins and heading down the slope to fetch the ambassador’s horse, thanking her lucky stars that she seemed to have worked her way out of the tricky situation without too much damage to their relationship.
Two days later their trade negotiations were finally over. A number of agreements beneficial to the both of them had been reached and Katherine was pleased with her week’s work. The incident during their hunting trip had not been remarked upon again and had not seemed to affect their discussions. If anything, the ambassador was even more accommodating, perhaps trying to make up for his perceived faux pas.
Now it was time for celebration with everyone in Markham looking forward to the tournament and fair that had been set up on the land around the manor house. People had come from the villages all over the estate to enjoy a day of partying and entertainment.
Personally Katherine was looking forward to the following day more, when the ambassador and his party would leave and she would finally get to see Anne again. The week had certainly seemed to drag since she had seen the young woman the previous Sunday and she smiled as she thought of all the ways they would make up for lost time. There was also the matter of discussing what the friar had revealed to her, though she thought she might leave that for another time. Despite the fact that she was missing Anne terribly, she was determined to try and have a good time that day and see the ambassador on his way in style. Hopefully they would be able to leave a good lasting impression of Markham in his mind.
They had been blessed with another gorgeous day for it she mused, as she came out of the manor house into the warm June sunshine. She wore a light summer dress, short-sleeved and low-necked with a flowing skirt. Tobias and his new squire Isaac joined her as she walked and they made their way out to the tournament showground. Tobias was wearing his riding armour, as he would be competing in the jousting tournament later on, while Isaac dutifully carried an armful of Tobias’ equipment and weapons; part of his responsibilities as the knight’s squire.
The land just outside the manor walls was fairly flat and open, making it an ideal location to host the tournament. The soft summer breeze fluttered at the various flags that flew from the tents arranged over the grass, the banners displaying the myriad colours and symbols of the knights to whom they belonged. They had managed to attract quite a gathering, including some knights from as far away as Peterborough and Derby. There would certainly be plenty of jousting, archery and sword fighting for the peasants to watch Katherine mused.
Allied to the knights’ tents, were the stalls belonging to the traders and entertainers. Even now, as they approached, she could hear the sounds of frantic bartering going on, as the best prices were haggled over. She was pleased to see the smiles on the faces of her people as they enjoyed the sideshows and produce of the food and drink stalls, their good cheer no doubt enhanced by the free-flowing ale. She knew that people had been worried over the fate of Markham when word had come of Mark’s death and she was gratified that the manor seemed to be prospering despite it.
“Katherine, there you are at last,” came a call from behind her.
She turned to see the Sheriff of Nottingham striding up to greet her. Tobias and Isaac continued on their way as the tall, dark man took her hand to give her his customary kiss. She could smell that he had been enjoying the ale along with the peasants.
“Sheriff,” she acknowledged with a small nod, retracting her hand once he had finished slobbering over it.
“Well, I have to say this is some show you’ve put on here, Katherine, absolutely first class,” he enthused.
“Thank you, we try our best. Though perhaps we are not quite up to Nottingham’s standards,” she remarked, causing him to smile at her compliment.
“Let’s just hope you don’t have the same trouble we had at our last tournament,” he commented, “That unfortunate business with Robin Hood.”
“Ah yes,” she replied, remembering the tournament in question, where she had encountered Anne for the second time, “Let’s hope not. How is it going in your quest to find the outlaws, by the way?”
“Not too well, unfortunately,” he answered grimly, “They always seem to disappear into that blasted forest and the rest of the peasants are no use, even hiding the outlaws on occasion. They seem to think Robin Hood is like some great saviour. Honestly, can’t they see that it is I who am their saviour, I who have control over their lives.”
“Indeed,” she said, pitying the people of Nottingham, “How ungrateful of them.”
“Absolutely,” he slurred, “Now, if you’ll excuse me I have some business to attend to.”
“Of course,” she replied, nodding again, thinking that his ‘business’ most likely involved a large flagon of ale.
She watched him stagger off in the direction of the ale tent, bumping into a peasant woman on the way. The Sheriff started drunkenly pawing at her and Katherine guessed from the set of his face that he was making some lewd remarks about the woman’s ample chest. Katherine could just about hear the woman’s raspy voice informing the Sheriff what he could do with his offer in most colourful and descriptive language before she kneed him resoundingly in the groin. Katherine tried hard to resist the urge to burst out laughing and just about managed to stifle it into a little snort. As she was composing herself, she was accosted by an equally unwanted conversational partner.
“Enjoying your day?” asked Charles Kirby as he came to stand by her.
“Yes, thank you, Charles. And you? Will you be competing later?” she enquired with all the charm she could muster, wondering if she could get the raspy-voiced woman to come and ‘talk’ to Charles for her.
“Indeed I will. I thought I’d try my hand in the jousting contest,” he replied with a smile.
She thought that he seemed unusually cheerful, knowing that he normally had the reputation for being a bit dour, dull and inexpressive. Though she probably wasn’t meant to know it, she had even heard that some of the other knights had given him the nickname “Chuckles” for his vaunted lack of humour. She wondered what was the cause of his good mood. Maybe he had received some good news, she pondered.
“Well, good luck,” she remarked, patting him on the arm in an attempt at sincerity.
“Actually, I was wondering…” he began, before being cut off by the appearance of another at their side.
“Good afternoon, Katherine,” greeted Pierre.
Katherine sighed internally with relief. Thank goodness, someone to save me from Kirby!
“Pierre!” she cried with rather over the top enthusiasm, “How good to see you.”
“I was wondering if you’d like to come and watch the sword fighting with me?” he asked, “I will be taking part too.”
“I’d love to,” she gushed, grabbing his arm and quickly leading him away from Kirby.
“Thanks for rescuing me,” she whispered as they hurried off.
“You’re welcome,” he laughed, “I could see you getting increasingly uncomfortable there.”
“You have no idea,” she noted with a wry laugh of her own.
“I think we may just be in time for the first fight,” he remarked as they made their way through the crowds that were gathering around the sword-fighting arena.
The sword fights were intended to show off a knight’s skills, rather than be a serious fight. In fact the knights were not really meant to cut each other in any way, points being awarded for their style and ability to actively avoid harming their opponent. Pierre nudged some peasants out of the way, the men and women acceding happily when they spotted that it was the lady of the manor who wished to get past. Finally they made it to the front so that they had a view of the whole arena. Katherine could feel her mouthing dropping open in surprise as she spotted the all too familiar figure in black standing with sword at the ready at one end.
Katherine just stared mutely at the black-clad figure at the far end of the arena. Their face was obscured by a hood and scarf but Katherine recognised her young lover immediately.
What the hell is she doing here? Katherine thought to herself in confusion.
The last time they had spoken they had agreed to see each other again the following day, on the Sunday. Yet here was Anne, now, about to take part in a sword fight at Katherine’s tournament. She continued gazing at the young woman, hoping that she may look her way so that she could catch her eye, but if Anne spotted Katherine she gave no outward indication.
“Are you all right, Katherine?” asked Pierre from by her side, “You look rather pale.”
“I’m fine,” she lied.
In reality her stomach was churning with anxiety; not only was Anne about to take part in a potentially dangerous fight, but there were guards and troops everywhere who would be more than happy to arrest her if they found out who she really was. Katherine just couldn’t fathom what would possess Anne to act so recklessly as to make an appearance here. She wondered if it was just so she could have the opportunity to see Katherine. However, the older woman didn’t think her attraction was that great that Anne couldn’t have waited one more day after already having waited a week.
“They don’t actually injure each other, you know,” added Pierre, breaking her musings.
“What?” she replied distractedly, not taking her eyes off Anne.
“The combatants, they aren’t meant to actually cut each other. I thought perhaps you were a little overcome by the prospect of seeing blood spilled,” he explained.
“Ah,” was all she could manage. He was partly right, but she was only really worried about Anne’s blood being spilled, she couldn’t have cared less about any of the other men.
At that moment a trumpeter in the centre of the arena gave a quick blast on his instrument to mark the start of the contest. Katherine glanced at Anne’s opponent. He was a tall stocky knight, wearing a crest that she did not recognise – obviously one of the knights who had made the extended trip to join in the competition. He looked a menacing sight in his armour and the match appeared an uneven one with Anne opposite him in just her plain clothes, seeming slight in comparison, though she was almost the same height. Katherine seriously thought about dashing out into the arena and stopping the contest before it began, but as she mulled it over the fighters suddenly leapt at one another.
The clash of their swords rang out over the ground as they duelled in the centre of the grassy arena. Anne looked her usual combination of graceful, yet deadly. She skilfully thrust at the knight and parried the blows he returned. Katherine wasn’t entirely familiar with the scoring system of the match, but it looked to her like Anne was winning. Several times the young woman had the man at her mercy and was instructed by the judges to back off to let the fight resume. Katherine could feel her heart hammering in her chest as she nervously watched the contest, trying to hold back the gasps that threatened to spill from her lips whenever the knight looked to have Anne at a disadvantage.
Finally the trumpeter let out another blast to signal the match was over. One of the judges stepped down and clasped Anne’s hand to raise it in the air in an indication she had won. The crowd roared their approval and Katherine breathed a huge sigh of relief as Anne went back over to the far side of the arena where the next combatant was waiting for their contest.
If Anne’s intention in being here was to see Katherine, it was not immediately obvious. The young woman was making no sign of coming over and, if anything, seemed to be actively avoiding looking in Katherine’s direction. Katherine wondered if she should make her way around there, but the dense crowd that had gathered would make that difficult and they would be unlikely to be able to get any privacy to talk on the bustling showground anyway. That again made Katherine wonder why Anne was there at all.
“Well, that was certainly a good fight,” commented Pierre, “The fighter in black was most skilled, belying his stature. Though, looks can be deceiving, often it is the most innocuous looking ones that are the deadliest.”
The trumpet sounded out again across the arena, marking the start of the next match.
“Anyway, I must go and get ready, I am fighting after this match,” he said as the fight began in front of them, “Will you be all right here?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine, I’ll stay here and watch,” she informed him.
He nodded and left her at the front of the crowd in her central position. She again gazed over in Anne’s direction. The young woman had her back to her, talking to one of the other fighters. Katherine continued to study her as Anne turned to glance at the ongoing contest. As her head made its way round Anne’s eyes briefly locked on Katherine’s. At that moment it seemed like the clamour of the cheering crowd around Katherine faded away as she was caught in the piercing gaze of the young woman whose eyes peaked out from under her hood. Yet there was something untoward in Anne’s eyes that Katherine couldn’t quite place. They seemed cold, hard, unfeeling, not the usual warm loving gaze Katherine was used to. It was almost if Anne was staring straight through her, rather than sharing an exchanged look. Then Anne looked away and the noise of the crowd rushed back in on an unnerved Katherine, the people around her cheering wildly as another contest was won.
“Enjoying the show, m’lady?” asked a voice beside her, causing Katherine to jump.
She turned to regard her maid Beatrice, who had joined her at the front of the crowd.
“Are you all right, m’lady?” asked the dark-haired young woman, noticing Katherine’s agitated demeanour.
“Sorry, Beatrice, you just startled me,” explained Katherine, trying to get a grip of herself.
“Are you here to watch the ambassador?” asked Beatrice.
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Katherine, injecting some of her normal composure back into her tone, “He’s on next I believe.”
“He is, indeed - Thomas is his opponent,” Beatrice informed her.
“Really?” remarked Katherine amiably, trying to get her mind off Anne, “Then I shall not know who to cheer for.”
“Well, I shall be hoping Thomas wins, of course,” declared Beatrice.
Katherine allowed herself to let out a small laugh, partly to try and relieve some of the tension that held her in its thrall.
“I didn’t doubt for a second that you would be,” she said to the young woman, giving her a knowing smile.
Katherine tried to watch attentively as Pierre and Thomas took to the arena and started their contest, but she just couldn’t seem to stop her mind wandering to Anne and the look they had shared. Why had Anne looked so distant? Was she just in her ‘fighting mode’, like that time in the forest when she saved Katherine? Then, though, Anne had displayed anger and fury. What Katherine had just seen was something altogether different, almost devoid of emotion. Luckily Beatrice was too caught up in the fight to notice Katherine’s distraction, whooping and hollering at Thomas to do various things to the ambassador. Without having actually watched much of the fight at all, a final groan from beside her indicated to Katherine who the victor was.
The young maid made her excuses and went to console her lover, leaving Katherine alone with her thoughts once more. As the competition progressed, Anne was called to the arena two more times, defeating her opponents easily on both occasions. At no point in either match did she look at Katherine again and the older woman was beginning to wonder whether Anne had actually seen her at all. Finally the competition was whittled down to the last two fighters who would contest the title. Katherine hadn’t really been paying attention, apart from when Anne was fighting, and was slightly surprised when she saw Pierre stepping out into the arena at the opposite end to the young woman.
The trumpet sounded out for the final time and a hush descended over the crowd, the people sensing that this was going to be a tight contest. The two fighters circled round, sizing each other up. Katherine had to remind herself to breathe when she found she was holding her breath, waiting for one of them to make a move. Her heart was hammering once again and she clasped her hands together nervously.
Pierre made the first move, a swinging blow that Anne met with her sword. They stood for a moment, swords together between them, staring at one another before they both pushed away again and resumed the battle. Anne slashed at the ambassador, but he managed to dodge the blow, sending her past him. She quickly whirled round as he swung at her back, his sword clattering into hers.
Katherine noticed that Anne’s style seemed to be somewhat different from her earlier contests. In those she had been composed, calm and calculating. Now, her thrusts and swipes seemed to have an extra venomous edge. Some of the swinging blows were wild and it was almost as if she was having trouble controlling herself. Katherine managed to catch a brief glimpse of Anne’s eyes and she swallowed as she saw that same anger from the forest in them. On that occasion she had killed two men, and Katherine was starting to become worried for the ambassador’s safety.
Anne and Pierre were at close quarters once more, swords tangling. Suddenly Anne took one hand off her sword and smashed it into Pierre’s face, sending him sprawling onto the grass with a bloodied nose. The crowd gasped and one of the judges raised a flag to indicate that Anne’s move had been an illegal one. This was meant to be a sword contest, not a fist fight, and Katherine was sure Anne knew that.
The ambassador clambered to his feet, shooting Anne a confused look. He gripped his sword in front of him and prepared to continue. Anne flashed another blow at him and, as they duelled they moved closer to Katherine’s side of the arena. Their swords were now clanging together just a few feet in front of her. They fought for a few moments, neither of them seeming to be able to get the upper hand. Suddenly, Anne ducked under another of the ambassador’s lunges and, while in a crouched position, brought her leg round to swipe the ambassador’s feet from beneath him. As he plunged to the ground on his back, Anne quickly leapt up and brought her sword to his throat.
One of the judges called for Anne to fall back since she had won a point, but the young woman did not move, keeping her sword pointing at Pierre’s jugular. Her eyes flicked up to meet Katherine’s and Katherine was shocked to see the fury that burned within them. At the same time Anne’s sword arm was actually shaking from the barely suppressed rage. Anne turned her vicious look back on Pierre and Katherine noted the worry that was etched on his features. He obviously sensed that something was not quite right here too as sweat beaded on his brow.
Then Anne’s arm was swinging backwards in readiness to rein a blow down upon the prone man. Katherine quickly leapt from the crowd and interposed herself between them, standing over the ambassador, facing Anne. The crowd collectively gasped at the sight of the lady of the manor intervening in the contest.
“Stop!” ordered Katherine.
Anne looked at her with her furious eyes, sword still poised at the ready. Katherine returned the gaze with her own intense, steely one. Katherine didn’t know what had gotten into Anne, but she made sure that her total displeasure at the young woman’s behaviour was showing in her fierce expression. Her eyes were hard, boring into Anne as she kept her jaw clamped firmly shut, her mouth pursed in a thin line. The moment seemed to stretch on, neither of them moving or looking away as the palpable tension in the air simmered between them.
“Back…away,” Katherine instructed slowly in tones that could cut the air itself.
Anne still did not move and Katherine actually wondered if Anne was considering running her through too, in her determination to get at the ambassador.
“I ordered you to back away,” repeated Katherine icily, keeping her eyes firmly locked on the young woman.
After challenging Katherine’s harsh gaze for a few more seconds, Anne finally lowered her sword and took a pace backwards.
“Are you all right?” Katherine asked, turning to the ambassador.
“Yes…yes…I am fine,” he stammered, shocked at his brush with death.
Katherine turned back to look at Anne, only to find that the young woman had disappeared into the crowd. At the same time, a group of Katherine’s guards were charging across the arena in an attempt to arrest the young woman for threatening the lady of the manor. A commotion broke out as they plunged into the crowd in search of Anne. Katherine knew they would be unlikely to find the young woman with her knack for evasion. Helping the ambassador up, Katherine was still seething from the encounter with Anne. She didn’t know about her guards, but when Katherine got hold of the young woman, she was in big trouble.
Katherine climbed the steps to her chambers, rubbing her temple in tiredness. It had been a long week, but finally the ambassador and his party had departed. She’d had to apologise profusely for the incident at the tournament the day before. Luckily the ambassador had taken it in good grace, saying that it was just one of the risks of competing in such a contest. Katherine was not quite so forgiving herself. She was still at a loss to know what had prompted Anne’s actions, but was furious with the young woman for jeopardising her efforts with the ambassador. The fact that Pierre was still happy with their original agreements did not lessen Katherine anger and she could feel it welling up within in her again now as she took the last few steps and opened her door. Sighing, she made her way over to the window and rested her hand on the frame to stare distractedly out over the courtyard. The last few rays of the afternoon sun flickered across the rooftops of the various outbuildings below.
A small creak behind her caused her to swing sharply round. Anne was standing across the room. She made no move to approach or speak, just staring at Katherine, her eyes a piercing blue in the dimness of the room. Seeing her here, Katherine found that she could no longer contain the ire she had been holding back since the day before.
“What the hell did you think you were doing yesterday?!” she demanded crossly placing her hands firmly on her hips and glaring at Anne.
“Me?!” spat back Anne, “What about you, flinging yourself in to protect him!”
“You were going to kill him!” cried Katherine incredulously.
“So?” replied Anne, with no remorse whatsoever.
Katherine stared at her in disbelief for a moment. She wondered if she had got Anne completely wrong, perhaps she didn’t really know the young woman at all.
“Why did you want to harm him?” asked Katherine, managing to calm herself for a moment to try and understand what was causing Anne’s bloodthirsty behaviour.
“As if you don’t know!” scoffed Anne, her own antagonism not abating
“Honestly, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Katherine shaking her head in confusion.
Anne let out an incredulous sigh and rolled her eyes.
“I saw you,” she said in a low, menacing voice, locking her eyes back on Katherine in an ice-cold stare.
“Saw me doing what?” Katherine was still bemused and getting exasperated by the conversation. As far as she was concerned Anne was in the wrong here, so why did she find herself the one on the defensive?
“You and him, the other day, I saw you two….kissing,” stated Anne, spitting out the final word as if it was the most distasteful thing that had ever passed her lips.
“Oh,” remarked Katherine, taken aback for a moment by the realisation of the cause of Anne’s mood. She didn’t know if it was her imagination or not, but the air seemed to have suddenly taken on a decidedly icy chill.
“Right! ‘Oh’, indeed! Well, I hope you two are very happy together!” snarled Anne, pure hatred in her eyes as she looked disdainfully at Katherine.
“Anne…,” began Katherine.
“I should have known not to trust you!” continued Anne furiously, ignoring Katherine’s attempted interjection, “First man that comes along, and you’re all over him…”
“Anne!” yelled Katherine to get the young woman’s attention.
Anne stopped her tirade and looked balefully at Katherine who returned the look in equal measure.
“Will you keep your voice down!” ordered Katherine in quiet yet authoritative tones, “Unless you want my guards to charge in here and haul you away?”
“That’s what you’d like though, isn’t it?” replied Anne sarcastically.
Katherine did not deign to reply to that, instead fixing Anne with an intense, no-nonsense look once more.
“Yes, the ambassador did kiss me. He…kissed…me,” she spelt out slowly, “Not the other way around.”
“And you looked like you were really hating it too!” snapped Anne.
“And did you stay long enough to see me pushing him off?” asked Katherine, her own voice rising in anger once more.
Anne seemed momentarily stymied, though her face did not soften from its hard look.
“I thought not,” said Katherine, “ I pushed him off and told him there couldn’t be anything between us. I told you that you could trust me and you can.”
Anne still didn’t respond so Katherine tentatively took a few steps closer to the young woman. Anne stood stiffly her shoulders tense as the older woman approached. She was now avoiding looking directly at Katherine, staring resolutely at the floor instead.
“Anne, please, try to calm down for a minute,” said Katherine softly, reaching out to touch her on the arm. However, before she could make contact, the young woman jerked it away.
“No! I can’t trust you! Not when I come second best your blasted manor. For all I know you’d do anything for your precious trade agreements,” exclaimed Anne.
“That’s rubbish and you know it!” cried Katherine.
“Do I?! You’ve been flirting with him all week,” said Anne bitterly, “Well, congratulations, you finally got your man!”
Katherine tried hard to bite back her anger. Anne certainly had a way of bringing out her own temper. She took a few deep, calming breaths and tried to approach the conversation reasonably, though her patience was starting to wear thin.
“Anne, you’re right that the manor is important to me,” she admitted, “But you of all people should understand why that is. I’m trying to make sure that the people of Markham are looked after, that they’re safe to live their lives. Would you rather I abandoned them, left them at the mercy of someone like Kirby or the Sheriff?”
Anne remained quiet. Katherine hoped that was because she was considering her words and not planning her next outburst.
“But just because the manor is important to me, don’t think that you aren’t important to me too,” added Katherine sincerely, her voice becoming more husky, “Or have you forgotten what I’ve done for you already? I risked my neck for you at Nottingham Castle for goodness sake.”
“So, maybe you were confused then,” hissed Anne.
Katherine realised that her words didn’t seem to be having any effect; Anne had come in here intent on having a fight and she was not deviating from that mission.
“The flash of a smile from some guy and you forgot all about me,” continued Anne with contempt, “You couldn’t wait to get rid of me for the week so you could have your bit of fun with him.”
“That is such a load of horse manure!” cried Katherine disbelievingly, her patience in its final throes. There was only so much she was willing to put up with and Anne was fast approaching the line, “Anyway, I can’t believe you were still following me! I told you that you didn’t need to, but, oh no, you were still sneaking around after me, spying on me.”
“Ha! With good reason!” said Anne scornfully.
“I don’t know how many more times or ways I have to tell you this,” said Katherine, in one last attempt at reason, her voice carrying a dangerous edge to it, indicating Anne better be careful how much more she pushed it, “And I don’t know why I have to keep justifying myself anyway. But, once again, nothing happened between the ambassador and me. He kissed me. I told him he’d been mistaken to think there was anything between us in that way. He accepted that and actually apologised for doing it and then we forgot all about it. End of story.”
“Right!” cried Anne derisively.
“Yes, right!” snapped back Katherine, “For god’s sake, Anne, just stop and think for a minute. I’m not interested in him - I love you! Though, at this moment, I’m beginning to wonder why.”
“Well, don’t bother yourself too much,” spat Anne, “I’m sure you can get the ambassador to come back and share a few more cosy moments like you did in the ferns.”
Katherine just glared at the younger woman since she didn’t know if she could trust herself to speak anymore without losing control. It seemed to be futile trying to say anything to Anne at this point anyway.
“Will told me that I couldn’t trust a noble and it looks like he was right,” said Anne scathingly, “You couldn’t wait to get back to your own kind after your bit of rough!”
Katherine felt her anger brimming closer to the surface with the mention of Will Scarlet. Though she had tried to pretend it didn’t matter, the fact that he had once shared a relationship with Anne still bothered her. Until now she had managed to stop it affecting her own relationship with the young woman. However, with their heated words flying between them like arrows, intending to hurt each other, she found that her jealousy was not so easy to hold back.
“Oh, you’ve been getting counsel from Will have you?” she remarked bitingly.
“Well, at least he’s obvious about his duplicity,” Anne noted with a sneer, “With you it’s hidden away beneath a veneer of respectability. Scratch the surface, though, and you’re no better than he is.”
“How dare you compare me to that man!” roared Katherine. She knew that the conversation had slipped beyond her grasp, but she didn’t seem to be able to do anything to pull it back into safe waters. It seemed they had reached the stage of flinging insults at each other, to see who could do the most damage.
“And why not?!” spat Anne venomously, “You’re very much alike as far as I can see, both of you cruel manipulators!”
Despite the fact that they were in a room with closed doors and windows, Katherine could actually felt the air shifting, swirling round the room and flicking at the loose strands of Anne’s hair. It was also becoming distinctly hotter; it was almost as if the air itself was reflecting Anne’s fiery mood.
“Anyway, you’re obviously still hung up on men,” Anne said, carrying on her angry diatribe, “In fact, I bet you’re still in love with your bloody husband. All that crap you told me about forgetting him for me. I bet all the times we were together you just wished it was him fucking you instead!”
Silence crashed like a lead weight over the room as Anne’s last accusation hung in the suddenly still air between them. Katherine’s eyes shot daggers at Anne and the older woman was almost shaking from rage, balling her fists to prevent herself from actually striking Anne.
“I think you should leave,” said Katherine in a low, dangerous voice.
Anne seemed taken aback for the first time, Katherine’s menacing tone perhaps making her realise she had gone too far.
“Katherine, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that…” she began apologetically.
Katherine turned away so that her back was to Anne. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the young woman at this moment.
“Just…go,” she rasped, not looking back.
“Katherine, please…” appealed Anne from behind her.
“I said…go!” ordered Katherine harshly.
Katherine stood seething, listening only to the sounds of her own angry breathing as silence once more enveloped her bedroom. She didn’t hear any movement from behind her and guessed that Anne wasn’t making any move to leave as she had been instructed. Katherine wondered if she would have to attempt to physically throw her out.
“Katherine, please, do not turn me away, “ came a small voice.
Katherine didn’t look round, still smarting from Anne’s hurtful remarks. She clamped her jaw firmly shut as her rage burned within her.
“I don’t think I could bear to lose you…,” said Anne, her voice now thick with emotion.
She paused for a moment, as if composing herself to continue.
“You…you were right…,” said the young woman quietly, almost inaudibly.
Katherine still refused to look, though the change in tone in Anne’s voice had piqued her interest.
“You were right, last Sunday, in the church,” clarified Anne, speaking to Katherine’s back, “When you said I was insecure because of my parents…”
There was another pause, as Anne’s voice broke on the last word. Katherine heard her take a deep breath.
“…I lost them…I’m scared of losing someone else that…that I love…”
Anne stopped again as her voice wavered. Katherine could hear a few more ragged intakes of breath.
“And I do love you, Katherine. I’m so sorry, for what I did, for what I said. Do not send me away…please,” beseeched Anne.
Katherine sighed and slowly turned round. She was met by the sight of Anne, standing there with tears sliding down her cheeks and an anguished look on her face. In that moment, seeing this normally cool, composed woman with her heart and soul laid bare, Katherine forgot all the harsh words that had been exchanged between them and quickly closed the space to her, wrapping her arms around Anne. Katherine held her tightly as she felt a damp patch pool on her shoulder where Anne was resting her head. Finally Anne composed herself and pulled back slightly to look at Katherine with her tear-stained face. Katherine reached up and gently brushed the remainder of the tears away with her thumb, leaving her hand to caress the soft cheek.
“Shhh, it’s all right, I won’t send you away,” said Katherine huskily.
“I’m so sorry, really,” said Anne, speaking haltingly as she continued on, “I was just so scared of losing you…and I saw you and him…and I got so jealous and angry…I just wanted to hurt him, hurt you both…can…can you forgive me?”
“Of course I can,” sighed Katherine, pulling Anne into her embrace again.
“I’m sorry too,” admitted Katherine, leaning on Anne’s chest, “For not anticipating the signs a bit earlier and making the situation clear to him before it got to that stage. But, you really do have to learn to trust me,” she added, tilting her head back to look up seriously at Anne.
“I know,” said Anne earnestly, closing her eyes and nuzzling Katherine’s auburn hair.
“God, you really do know how to rile me up, though,” said Katherine ruefully.
“Sorry,” whispered Anne, her breath brushing across Katherine’s ear.
“Hmm, well, just don’t do it again, all right,” suggested Katherine, stroking her hand up Anne’s back.
“Understood,” said Anne, “I do not wish a repeat of this evening.”
They stood just holding each other contentedly for long moments, Katherine luxuriating in the warmth of the embrace, the wonderful feel of Anne’s body pressed against hers as if this was where they were always meant to be.
“There is one good thing about arguing though,” she noted after a while.
“Yes?” prompted Anne, pulling back and quirking her left eyebrow.
“The making up afterwards…” smiled Katherine.
Katherine looked up at Anne seductively with half-lidded eyes. She thought she actually saw Anne gulp as she was caught in the predatory stare. Katherine reached up both her hands to cup Anne’s cheeks, gazing up at her for a few moments before pulling the young woman into a sensuous kiss. Katherine felt all the earlier anxiety and tension flow from her as she was consumed by the wonderful feeling of their lips moulded together, their tongues gently sliding against one another. A groan of intense desire welled up from deep within her as she closed her eyes and drifted off on the blissful sensations coursing through her body.
Katherine was distracted when she felt something wet trickling across her fingers and pulled back for a moment to see a few more teardrops slipping from Anne’s eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked gently with concern.
“Nothing,” replied Anne, “I’m just happy I guess,” she added, the corners of her lips forming a tentative smile.
“Me too,” agreed Katherine, “Now, it’s been a long week, so, before I explode, will you just shut up and kiss me?!”
Anne laughed and readily acceded to the request, sweeping Katherine up in her arms and pressing her soft lips to the older woman’s. The kiss quickly deepened as their frustration at being apart for a week enflamed their passion. They stumbled haphazardly across the room towards the bed, neither of them really paying attention to where they were going as they remained intent on keeping their bodies and lips pressed together.
Suddenly Katherine found herself up against the far wall, having missed the bed altogether. Katherine wasn’t complaining though, as Anne rubbed her body tantalisingly up against her. Katherine groaned as Anne’s leg slipped between her own and her head dipped to kiss Katherine’s collarbone. Katherine stroked her fingers down Anne back while a fresh wave of desire coursed through her with press of Anne’s thigh. Katherine slipped her hands under the hem of Anne’s top so she could trail her fingers over the young woman’s bare skin, sliding them up her spine before once more raking them downwards, digging her fingernails in just enough to cause the other woman to let out a moan of pleasure without actually breaking the skin.
Anne placed both her hands on the wall behind Katherine’s head to brace herself as she gyrated arousingly against the older woman. Katherine groaned once more and Anne brought her head back up to capture the lips that the guttural cry had issued from. Anne squeezed one hand down between Katherine’s back and the wall, working loose the fastenings on her dress. She then slipped her fingers under the edges and pushed it slowly off her shoulders, brushing Katherine’s skin lightly as she did. Katherine made an involuntary shudder at the feel of the fingers grazing her bare flesh. Continuing to push the dress down with one hand, Anne nibbled at Katherine’s now exposed collarbone, before trailing her tongue lower to flicker across Katherine’s nipple. She swirled her tongue slowly round, teasing Katherine’s nipple as the older woman let out soft moans above her. Katherine ran her fingers through Anne’s golden hair, biting her lip as Anne sucked on her nipple, allowing her teeth to drag gently up it. As Anne continued her provocative ministrations, Katherine felt her desire growing even more intense, the increasing damp feeling between her legs a testament to her arousal.
Then Anne was sliding further down Katherine’s body, as she remained pressed against the wall, until she was kneeling in front of the older woman. Katherine could feel Anne’s hot breath fluttering across her thigh before the young woman’s luscious lips contacted the naked limb. Anne placed her hands on Katherine’s hips, to steady herself as much as the older woman, as she began slowly, teasingly kissing across the thigh towards Katherine’s sex. Katherine subconsciously parted her legs slightly to allow Anne access to her most intimate areas, desperately needing the young woman to touch her there.
Katherine trembled with anticipation as Anne stopped just before reaching Katherine’s most sensitive regions. Anne remained there for what seemed like an eternity to Katherine, though it was probably only a matter of seconds, just allowing her heated breath to softly caress the flesh. Then her tongue flicked out to taste Katherine and the older woman let out a gasping cry as she felt Anne’s tongue sliding between her folds and pushing inside of her. Katherine tipped her head back, moaning as waves of pleasure washed over her with each small thrust and stroke. Katherine’s fingers still tangled wantonly in the young woman’s hair as her head bobbed in between Katherine’s legs.
After long, luscious moments of consuming Katherine, Anne slowly slipped her tongue through the floods of moisture to dance around her clitoris. The instant Anne flicked across it, Katherine shuddered, gripping Anne’s head more tightly to steady herself against the intense sensations the merest of contacts had sent cascading through her. Katherine was thankful for the wall she lent against, else she may have collapsed to the ground there and then.
Katherine groaned and her breath started coming in shuddering pants as Anne mercilessly played her tongue across the hard nodule with increasing speed and intensity. As the feelings of ecstasy reached their peak, Katherine held onto Anne’s head for dear life.
“Ohhhh, God!” she cried as the orgasm ripped through her, leaving her legs trembling and her whole body shaking against the stone wall.
Sensing the older woman was having trouble holding herself upright, Anne came up from the floor to wrap her arms around her and hold her tightly. Katherine nuzzled up against Anne’s body as the shudders subsided.
“Are you all right, Katherine?” asked Anne softly.
“Oh, yes,” replied Katherine, her voice a husky purr, “I am most definitely all right.”
“Good,” said Anne simply, stroking Katherine’s hair gently.
Katherine let out a throaty laugh and looked up to regard Anne with her soft blue-grey eyes.
“And now,” she said, a wicked glint creeping into those eyes, “I think it’s time to make sure you are ‘all right’ too.”
And with that she flung Anne back onto the bed and pounced on top of her.
Will Scarlet brushed a branch aside and continued on his way through Sherwood Forest. Making his way into an area that few people ever visited, he felt himself shivering as if there was a sudden chill in the air, despite the fact that it was an otherwise warm summer’s evening. He wondered if it was just this place and his imagination playing tricks on him. The trees here were denser than the rest of the wood and little daylight managed to poke its way through to the forest floor below. The dimness of the light just added to the eeriness of the surroundings and he realised that he couldn’t hear any of the normal sounds of the wood either. There were no calls or noises from birds or other animals; it was almost as if this place had sucked all life from the forest.
There were all sorts of ridiculous tales about this area - about people coming here and never returning or coming back with their mind warped or their senses destroyed. He had never really believed any of them before, but now he could actually feel fear starting to prickle up his spine. He was beginning to wonder if it had been wise to agree to the meeting he was heading for. He took a few breaths to try and calm himself, and forced himself on, spotting the standing stones that marked his destination.
There were four large stones, standing about 10 feet tall, arranged in a square in a small clearing. Though the clearing contained no trees, it was still dark like the rest of the forest in the vicinity. He made his way into the centre of the cube made by the stones and glanced around, but there didn’t seem to be anyone else present.
“Glad you could make it,” came a sibilant voice from behind him.
Jumping with surprise, he whirled round to face the speaker. It was a woman, a few years older than Will himself. She had a pale face and long, straight, jet-black hair. She possessed a pair of piercing green eyes that almost seemed to glow in the surrounding gloom. She appeared outwardly beautiful, but something in her eyes spoke of a deeper malevolence.
“Where the hell did you come from?” he demanded.
“That is not important,” she commented in an even voice.
“Hmmph,” he grunted, “Well, you shouldn’t go sneaking up on people like that.”
His outward show of bravado was intended to disguise the fact that inwardly he was shaking like a leaf. The woman hadn’t removed her eyes from him since she appeared and he was feeling distinctly unnerved by her intense stare.
“Now, now, Will,” she said, “We’re all friends here, aren’t we?”
She moved closer to him and ran the fingers of her right hand seductively across his shoulder before stroking them down his cheek. Normally, he would be delighted to be getting this sort of attention from a woman, but, coming from this particular one, he found that it was hard not to shudder at the touch.
“I suppose so,” he replied, trying to keep the tremble from his voice.
“Good,” she stated, “Because I think we can be of great help to one another.”
She smiled at him, the expression devoid of warmth, before continuing on.
“Now, tell me all about Anne…”