Yvonne, Lady of Cassio
Yvonne, Lady of Cassio
Simon sat by the hearth in his great hall waiting for news of Alice, his par amour's delivery. With surprise, he realized that every day during the last three years, whenever he thought of a woman, fair Alice crept into his mind; and when he thought of home, he pictured her standing at the door ready to welcome him. He grinned. Despite her low birth, her beauty enthralled him, and her charm rivalled that of any sumptuously gowned lady at court.
He admired his ambitious young par amour for exercising her right to claim an assart, which bordered the forest on the outskirts of Lovage Village. She had marked out an area large enough to support two cows, a few pigs and some chickens, and with her family's help had tilled her plot.
His thoughts wandered to Alice's thatched roofed outhouses leaning against the side of the slate-roofed cottage. He felt more at ease in her home, built at his command, than here in his great hall with walls painted dull yellow, on which hung shields, tapestries and painted cloths in bright hues.
Simon frowned. By now, the babe should have entered the world. He glanced around, aware of several of his hearth knights, whose glowering faces questioned him. Simon scowled. He knew his family and knights referred to his sweet Alice as the earl's strumpet. God rot their souls in hell.
He beckoned to a squire. "Send for news to Alice's cottage."
"At once, my lord."
Simon's expression softened. How did Alice hold him in her thrall? Why did the best days of his life begin when she woke up beside him?
Minstrels sang of knights seeking the love of highborn maidens and virtuous ladies. He snorted at the thought. Those romantic ballads lied. A man like him did not expect to find love in marriage. Noblemen wed for heirs, land, and prestige. He groaned. God forgive him for his aversion to his milk and water wife and his delight in red-blooded Alice. She pleased him so well that since he took her as his mistress, the only other woman he had bedded was his wife, with the hope of fathering another legitimate son.
He hoped Alice would bear a male, someone he could advance in the world. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. A man could hasten death with sword, lance or mace, but birth-the sole province of women-came in its own due time. He watched the fire die down to ash, grateful because his own lusty fire still burned bright.
Gytha crossed the inner bailey. She pulled the edge of her wimple over her mouth, then tugged her hood further down over her forehead . The frigid air froze her breath when she exhaled, but, relieved to be free of Lady Matilda's oppressive bedchamber, she did not mind.
She pitied new-born Yvonne. Some eighteen years ago, to celebrate the birth of his only son, John, the earl had held a sumptuous feast to which beggars from several counties came to receive alms and leftover food. Gytha tutted. The earl would not celebrate Yvonne's birth. Indignation quickening her breathing, she hurried past the stone bake-house, armoury, stables, and other buildings-all of them a great improvement on the warren of wooden structures gutted by fire twelve years ago.
She sighed. The earl would not reward her for delivering another daughter, and possibly saving the life of his wife, whose faith in her healing skills increased year by year. Gytha's resentment increased and kept pace with her quick footsteps. She scowled. Curse the earl for his meanness. If he could afford to renovate Cassio Castle and build a new manor, which rumour claimed surpassed any other in the realm, he could afford to be generous. After all, he must be one of the richest, if not the richest, magnate in the kingdom.
If she had delivered a boy, she might ha