The family sat down to dinner. Then a ear splitting shriek from Lady Clitheroe rang out. ' Iseult ! What are you doing with a frog at the table ?'
' Oh I'm sorry My Lady. How rude of me'. Iseult smiled guilelessly. 'I haven't introduced Lucinda's guest'.
All eyes turned enquiringly on Lucinda. ' Poor dear Iseult'. She answered with little girl sweetness. ' didn't I say all that reading was bad for you. I really don't know what she's talking about Father'.
Iseult told her Father and step mother what had happened beside the pond. But in the face of Lucinda's wide eyed semblance of 'baby angel innocence', she knew she'd lost. No one believed her.
' I won't have you thinking that non of this family know how to keep a promise Master Frog'. She told Guy quietly placing him by her plate. 'Please help yourself'.
Her father was incredulous. ' I fear that Lucinda is right Iseult. You are losing your mind. Why else is that frog eating from your plate ?'
'My mind is entirely sound Father'. Came the reply. ' I know you don't believe me about Lucinda and the book but it is true. She did make him a promise and someone has to keep it'.
Lord Clitheroe considered the matter. it was quite possible that things did happen as Iseult had said. He was mindful however that it might not look good for Lucinda's future prospects if she was known to play hostess to a frog.
Iseult, he was certain would be going into a nunnery in a few months time so for her it hardly mattered. He simply turned away and didn't look in her direction for the rest of the meal.
The 2 sisters went up the stairs to their beds. ' Congratulations Iseult.' Lucinda whispered. 'It seems you've found someone to share your bed at last'. She looked pointedly at Guy the frog in her sister's hand.
' Iseult was supremely disdainful. 'I at least regard a promise made as a promise kept.
Even if you don't............Goodnight Lucinda' and she closed her door in the younger woman's face.
Guy settled on Iseult's pillow and looked at his willing hostess appraisingly. Matilda hadn't said anything about his having to marry the woman who set him free did she ?
No. He was certain she hadn't. So he could let Iseult help him back to his human form. Then he was sure Lucinda would be much more amenable to his charms.
This happy thought gave him the best night's sleep he'd had for a while.
So for the next month as promised, Iseult played hostess to a frog. He shared her meals, slept on her pillow and even swam in her bath.
Every day she would take him to the pond where they had found him and let him do
While in his mind Guy watched freedom coming closer and closer.
He knew it had happened as he woke one morning. Even before he opened his eyes.
He felt his head on the pillow and the rest of his long body down the length of the bed. Down to his feet hanging over the edge.
He let his eyes open and lifted his hand. Just for the joy of seeing it wonderfully human rising out of his leather sleeve.
He sat up and looked at Iseult asleep beside him. Somehow the birth mark no longer seemed quite so prominent. Though she paled into insignificance beside her sister.
Aware that she might be alarmed at having a man suddenly in her bed he moved away to sit on a chair and waited for her to waken.
He saw her stirring. 'Good morning Iseult'. He greeted her. ' Don't open your eyes yet. Let me warn you first. Have you been wondering how a frog could talk and why it might want to spend time with a woman ?'
When Iseult answered 'Yes I have as a matter of fact......' He told her what had happened with Matilda and the bizarre 'cure' she'd prescribed.
'If you open your eyes you'll see it's worked'. He told her. Iseult did and saw a tall dark haired dazzlingly beautiful man dressed in black leather.
'Sir Guy of Gisborne at your service My lady'. He bowed to her smiling. Thanks to you.............I hope I can get to know you better now'.
Iseult could feel a blush rising up from her chest and her temperature was rising rapidly.
' I wonder if you could give me a few minutes to dress, Sir Guy. Then we can go to breakfast'. She managed to stammer. Though her mouth didn't seem to be working as well as normal in the unsettling presence of this highly charismatic man.
Guy stood in the corridor waiting for Iseult. A door further down opened and Lucinda came out. Guy felt his heart skip a beat as she walked towards him.
The effect he had was very gratifying. She stopped and let her dewy brown eyes roam over him slowly. 'Good morning Sir'. She greeted him, a small smile playing round her pink lips. 'Can I help you at all?'
' You can let me get to know you better. That will be very helpful'. He told her and introduced him self.
Lucinda's smile widened just a little though remaining enigmatic. ' Why don't you escort me to breakfast Sir Guy and we can become better acquainted in comfort.'
When Iseult emerged from her room she found the corridor deserted. In the dining hall she found Guy thoroughly hypnotised by her sister and he barely acknowledged her as she sat down consumed by disappointment.
For a moment she had allowed herself to hope that the handsome knight was going to propose to her. 'Silly woolly headed thinking'. She chided herself. 'You'll be hoping for a Fairy Godmother next. It's a nunnery for you
'Ahh' Lucinda said. Happy as a lark at how her day had begun. 'Sir Guy. Can I introduce my sister Iseult.
Iseult. I found this charming gentleman in the corridor near your room'.
'We have met already'. Iseult replied with cool politeness.
Lord Clitheroe had welcomed Guy to his home. Not surprised to hear that he was disenchanted with Sheriff Vasey he offered him a position in his household that Guy willingly accepted. He hoped he had found a future bride in Lucinda and a sister in Iseult.
So another 6 months passed. Guy and Lord Clitheroe worked well together.
Guy seeing for the first time that being ruthless and strict does not have to mean being cruel and heartless.
Where he was disappointed was in Lucinda. Waspish and bitchy she could also be incredibly childish and despite her beauty he began to find her seriously tiresome and downright nauseating.
He was more pleasantly surprised by Iseult. She was an excellent companion. Able to converse intelligently yet equally capable to have fun too. She had the sweetest of smiles. Lighting her face, making her blue eyes sparkle. She warmed his heart and it felt good.
Iseult noticed that the often forbidding, dour Knight became more relaxed and at ease when he was with her, smiling and even laughing with her.
She knew that she was in love with him. With no hope of it being requited. 'You're his sister....that;s all'. She told herself firmly whenever a romantic daydream washed over her.
Christmas came and went. Lucinda had been enjoying the attentions of several young men over the festive season.
Iseult was vexed and she had to admit not a little jealous. ' Lu.' She told the younger woman. 'I think it's time you were honest with Guy. You know how he feels about you. And your other suitors. Are you going to dangle them from a thread too ?'
Lucinda laughed. ' Guy ? Oh he's gorgeous but far too old. I rather think I favour Peter of Ribchester. And I'm sure he's about to propose'.
She was right. On Twelfth Night at the final Yule Tide festivities the handsome heir to Lord Ribchester asked for her hand and she accepted.
Guy offered his congratulations. Actually very relieved that she was no longer available. His body still told him she was beautiful but his heart and mind knew she'd be hell to live with.
By the end of April he found his thoughts frequently straying towards Iseult which disconcerted him. Even more so the fact that he caught himself watching her all the time.
The way her delightful curvy body swayed so gracefully when she walked. The way her strawberry blonde hair rippled in waves down her back. He began to long to touch her skin. It looked so soft and velvety. How would it feel beneath his fingers ?
And that birth mark ? He only thought about it now as part of the realisation that he no longer noticed it. It was part of her. Made her unique.
He contemplated the future and the marriage that he so longed for and the plain simple truth washed over him like a warm shower. Iseult. All these months of enjoying her company, her friendship..................
Lord Clitheroe had a job for Guy to do which meant that any romantic plans would need to be postponed for a while.
Far too much outlaw activity was going on throughout the Forest of Bowland and Guy was to lead the expedition to put them down.
No time to speak to Iseult before he left. He had to content himself with blowing her a kiss as she stood with her step mother at a castle window grinning at her befuddled pleasure.
Iseult's pleasure didn't last. As Guy disappeared from her sight she knew this was probably the last she'd see of him. They'd become such a good friend over the last few months.
If only he'd wanted to be her husband, but fierce Saxon pride would not allow her to speak her feelings to a man who did not return them.
The expedition would no doubt last for a few weeks maybe as long as a month and she had only 2 weeks until the year's grace she'd been given to find a husband was over and she would be sent to join the nuns at Kirklees.
Everyday Guy sent a report back to Lord Clitheroe on his progress. Things were progressing well but slowly they would be a few weeks yet.
Iseult climbed into the carriage that would take her just one way. Into Kirklees and out of the world. Before she left she took the only necklace she possessed and handed it to her step mother. 'When Guy returns will you give this to him for me ?' She asked trying to keep her voice steady. ' We were good friends and...........'. There was nothing more she could say here so she held her tongue. Looking out of the carriage window at her home vanishing out of sight for ever until it became blurred by her tears.
The work was over. Guy and his men headed back towards Clitheroe castle. It was too much to expect that the outlaws were finished for good but now they knew they were being challenged. Guy had put the frighteners on them in a big way.
Now every step of his horse took him closer to seeing Iseult again. He had missed her and the night before had slipped into a delightful and erotic dream about her.
On arrival he made his report to his Lord and went off to look for Iseult. He saw Lady Clitheroe who smiled at him. 'Ahh Sir Guy. Welcome home. Iseult asked me to give you something when she left.' She handed him the necklace.
'Left ?' Guy felt cold. 'Where to ? And why ?'
Lady Clitheroe explained about the ultimatum her stepdaughter had been given to find a husband or be sent to a nunnery. 'It was getting to be an embarrassment for My Lord'. She explained. 'A daughter over 21 and no sign of a suitor'.
Guy wasn't listening to her. So engrossed in his thoughts that he spoke them aloud.
'Why didn't she tell me ?' The Lady sniffed. 'Stubborn pride. Why would she want to tell such a thing to a man so clearly besotted by her sister ?'
Guy thought about this. Why indeed? All this time his feelings had been growing and Iseult had known nothing. Hadn't felt able to ask for his help.
He turned on his heel. Pausing only to ask. 'Which nuns is she with ?'
'Kirklees'. The lady answered. 'But why?.......................' Guy's long legs had taken him out of sight.
Kirlees Abbey loomed out of the trees ahead of him. A prison. He thought of it. Especially for a spirited lady like his Iseult. He tried not to dwell too much on whether she would want him too. Perhaps she was happy in the abbey. Though he doubted it.
Sister Doorkeeper was reluctant to let such a very charismatic man into the precinct.
A wolf amongst lambs indeed.
But Guy, trying to keep a civil tongue said he needed to speak to a new postulant they had. Iseult of Clitheroe.
Sister Door keeper was suddenly rather more helpful now. She didn't regard the young woman in question as the stuff that nuns are made of. That she was here under duress was abundantly clear.
The Abbess bade Guy wait in the visitor's room while she sent for Iseult. She did not regard talk with a man other than a priest or monk to be proper and Guy was entirely devoid of small talk so they sat in silence.
When Iseult arrived the Abbess was in no doubt that when this Postulant made her vows, it would not be as a Bride of Christ.
The sexual tension in the room was tangible as |seult's sad eyes lit up and the smouldering menacing knight softened like melting wax.
' I'll leave you alone'. The Abbess smiled at Iseult. ' Bless you child. Come and see me before you depart'.
The door closed behind her. ' Iseult', was all Guy could say. 'Guy'. was Iseult's only utterance.
Guy's arms slid round the soft warm body and held her close to still her trembling.
'I'm sorry I didn't tell you about this'. Iseult whispered into Guy's leather. ' I didn't want you to think I was.........trying to pressure you'.
Guy tipped her face up and let himself become submerged in her eyes. 'I'm sorry too. That I didn't realise how wonderful you are sooner. I could have spared you all this'.
Iseult shook her head. His words not yet registering. ' I don't want your pity Guy. I'd rather rot here than have a husband that despises and resents me.'
His arms tightened as he pressed her so close she could feel his heart. 'Haven't I made myself clear ? What about a husband who loves you ? One who feels more secure in your company than he's felt for a long time.'
Iseult could hardly believe what she was hearing. ' Love ?' Guy nodded 'Love............Will you marry me ?'..........................
The Abbess was highly gratified. 'This lady would have made a dreadful nun Sir Guy but I think she will be an excellent wife........God bless you both'.
Iseult's head rested against Guy's chest as they rode back towards Clitheroe.
' I ought to confess to you that I'm not my Father's heir. He knew I'd end up in a nunnery so Lucinda and Peter will inherit everything..........I'll try to understand if that means you don't want me now.........'
She gasped as she felt Guy's stubble tickling her neck and ear lobe and he kissed and nibbled gently.
' If I'd just wanted you for your inheritance, I could have asked for your hand months ago. I'm looking forward very much to proving that I really am in love with you.
Just the same. I've got no intention of seeing you go without an inheritance when Lucinda will be lady of the Manor at Ribchester'.
It was just as well that by this stage of the journey the horse knew the direction to take by himself. Guy was not even hold of the reins at present.
His arms were wrapped snugly around Iseult as he adoringly kissed her. Striving to show her the truth of his words.
Lord and Lady Clitheroe not having expected to see Iseult again were flabbergasted to see her returning very much with Sir Guy.
He tenderly helped her down from the saddle immediately sliding an arm around her shoulders. ' I wish to ask for your daughter's hand My Lord'. He announced without preamble.
' I shall also be wanting my inheritance back Father'. Iseult added calmly 'Now that I will have a husband to run it with me'
' You seem to be taking my blessing for granted Madame'. Her Father quipped in mock seriousness.
Smiling she clung firmly onto Guy. 'I'll be marrying My Lord with or without it'.
She announced. 'Though with will be better'.
'Then I'd better say Yes'. Lord Clitheroe answered. ' I must say it will be good to have Gisbornes in the county again'.