“Sir Guy’s Dilemma”, Ch. 21 (PG-13)–Betrothal Bridal Brinksmanship, Part 1, February 27, 2013 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #370 )
(All Rights Reserved; No copyright infringement intended)
[From time to time, I will illustrate my story with my dream cast of: Richard Armitage as Sir Guy, Clive Standen as Lord Archer, Emma Watson as Lady Rose, and James McAvoy as Lord George, etc.]
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Author’s Mature Content Note: “Sir Guy’s Dilemma” is a story of romance and intrigue set amidst Medieval times. As such there will be some passages in this story involving heartfelt love scenes (R rated) and some passages involving highly dramatic moments. I will label the maturity rating of those chapters accordingly. Otherwise, the general rating for this story is PG or PG-13 due to some mature situations and topics. If you are unable or unwilling to attend a movie with the ratings that I provide, then please do not read the chapters with those labels. This is my disclaimer.
Author’s Recap from the previous installment: Lord Archer and Sir Guy returned to Middleton Manor after only a week away at Nottingham. Sir Guy revealed the trying time that he had in Nottingham to his Lady Rose–who required and charged him to stop allowing people to almost kill him for his past wrongs because his family with her now takes precedence. There are also lingering tensions and unclear intent amongst the two betrothal couples–Lord Archer and Lady Mary and Lord George and Lady Saline–that neither set of bridal parents are fully aware of.
“Sir Guy’s Dilemma”, Ch. 21 (PG-13)–Betrothal Bridal Brinksmanship, Part 1
After most of the grooms had left with Althea the healer woman to help her unpack her belongings in her new cottage home on the estate, Lord George finds himself having to saddle his own horse for the ride to clear his head. But lifting a saddle with only one good arm is not possible. So Lord George gives up and walks toward the manor to have a lie down himself. Not wanting to actually sleep in bed–just wanting to rest his eyes in a quiet corner–Lord George walks into the large parlor salon that Rose typically uses. He is glad to see that it is vacant so he can just be alone with his thoughts.
The large double sized parlor room is filled with comfortable chairs and settes that ladies so like–and, it would seem, that men like, too. The pale pinks and creams of the furnishings are a bit feminine for Lord George’s taste, but he heads straight for the set of high backed deep plush burgundy settes that are back to back–separating the parlor into a ladies conversation grouping side and a men’s conversation group side facing hearths on opposing sides of the room.
Lord George: “Hhhhh! Alone at last!” He sighs gratefully as he lays his head back on a cushy pillow and he closes his eyes.
Having long since calmed herself down after her crying spell of a few minutes ago, Lady Mary sits up slowly on the companion sette on the other side of Lord George’s sette. Her hands grasp the high backed rim of the sette and she slowly pulls herself up to peer over the top to see who it could be–though her heart already recognized his voice. Seeing Lord George sleeping so peacefully, she does not wish to disturb him. So Lady Mary carefully and quietly stands up from the sette. She removes her slippers so she will not make a sound on the wooden floor and she starts to creep around the paired settes in her bare feet–having scandalously eschewed stockings on this warm day. The wooden floor is mostly covered with rugs, so she is not likely to get any splinters in her bare fee. Lady Mary has rather small feet and toes compared to her siblings, but their daintiness is in keeping with her person.
Just then, a maid begins to enter from the other side of the room–a servant’s door–but she stops upon seeing Lady Mary standing at the end of the couches with her slippers in one hand.
Maid Sally: In a small voice, the young girl says politely. “Beggin your pardon, my lady. I was sent to dust in here.” Lady Mary whips around to face the maid, startled to be without her slippers on in front of a house servant–as opposed to a ladies maid. “I did not realize the room was in use. I will come back later.” She bows quickly and exits the room before Lady Mary can reply. Lady Roseanna’s servants are well trained in the art of disappearing quickly so as not to intrude upon the family or their guests. Because apart from Middleton Manor being a great house with thirty servants inside and tending to the grounds, it is also a home.
Lady Mary: “Hhhhh!” She sighs. Then she cups her hand over mouth and widens her eyes. Might Lord George have heard them? Heard her? She waits and listens. All she hears is steady breathing. She takes a peek over her left shoulder to see that Lord George’s eyes are still shut. Satisfied, Lady Mary turns to her right and starts to slowly creep toward the parlor’s door to the Great Hall.
Lord George: “Going so soon, Mary?” He says with his eyes closed and lying on his back on the sette. A small smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.
Stunned again, Lady Mary winces–caught! She whirls around.
Lady Mary: “I thought you were asleep!”
Lord George: He opens his eyes and sits up. “Did you now? I know of soldiers whose head can hit the pillow and they fall instantly asleep. Sadly, I am not one of them. It sometimes takes hours for me to get to sleep.” He smiles and stands up and walks toward her. Looking down at her unshod feet, he remarks. “Hmmm. I have never seen a ladies toes looks so charming, my dear.” He grins.
Lady Mary: “Oh no!”
She tries to cover one of her feet’s toes with her other foot–succeeding only in putting herself off balance. As Lady Mary sways to one side–with no furniture to grab onto to stop her fall–Lord George lunges forward and catches her with his good arm before she falls down.
Lord George: “Steady there, Mary. You wouldn’t want to fall and break your arm. Then we would both be wearing slings.” He smiles while holding her in almost a dip.
Lady Mary: “I … Thank you George.” She pats his upper arm that holds her, his rather muscular upper arm on his good right side. Her hand lingers there.
Lord George gazes upon Lady Mary’s lovely countenance. He looks at her cherub lips. Then their eyes meet as he leans down and kisses her as before–delicately and with due reverence, for she is a maiden fair, not yet sixteen. Their eyes close. Their breathing is quick and heated–each feeling the other’s breath upon their skin as he reluctantly pulls away from their kiss, as he knows he must. And now he has stolen two kisses from her.
Lord George: “Did you mean what you said at my home, Lady Mary? Do you love me?”
Lady Mary: Her eyes flutter open. She searches his face for his answer to that question–about her. “I do, George.” She sighs breathily.
Lord George: “And I love you, Mary.” He declares without hesitation.
Lady Mary: She embraces him, clings to him. “George, what are we going to do?” She asks the one question that she has not even allowed herself to think about. Because in the asking of the question, there is the hope for a changed future.
Lord George: He hugs her back. “I do not know. But we have to do something, my love. I only want you as my wife.”
Lady Mary: “But what of the Lady Saline?” She bites her lower lip.
Lord George: Loathe to breach Lady Saline’s confidence about the state of her love life, he simply says. “I do not think she would mind.”
Lady Mary: Pulling back to look at him. “But why? Does she love another?” She asks incredulously.
Lord George: “That is for her to say.” He dissembles. “What about Lord Archer? Do you think he would stand in the way of your happiness?”
Lady Mary: “I do not know, George. I do not know him. But I know that my Papa very much likes that Lord Archer is an Earl and that I would be a Countess.”
Lord George: “I see.” His eyes narrow. “And you, Mary? Do you want to be a Countess?” He braces for her reply.
Lady Mary: She shakes her head no. “What care I for titles if their coming brings a chill to my heart and regret to all my days to come?”
Lord George: “Then you would be happy here with me at Middleton Hall as my wife?” He asks eagerly. She nods with a shy smile. Then he stiffens. “But Mary, you should know that my arm is not likely to heal and it will be crippled the rest of my days. I will be crippled.” He says somberly, wanting her to know the extent of his injury.
Lady Mary: Gently placing her hand inside his injured hand, she gazes lovingly into his eyes. “George, if you can hold but one thing at a time with your good arm, then let it be me–and in time, our children.”
She leans up on her tip toes and kisses him, even as her other arm goes around his shoulders. He clasps him to her tighter as their kisses deepen with their lips seeking to join together in eager trespass.
Lord George: “Mary, my love.” He groans.
Lord George returns to kissing Lady Mary’s sweet lips and cheek and neck and lips. Then he darts his tongue along her lower lip. She jolts at the tingling sensation and pulls back from him a bit. Her hand covers her mouth in innocent shock and wonder.
Lady Mary: “Oh!” Lady Mary has only been kissed once before–by Lord George. And being the eldest of her sisters, she has no one who might have shared with her such intimate details about kissing.
Lord George: “I am sorry, my lady. Perhaps it is too soon for such kisses between us. But your sweetness drives me mad with desire. With a desire that I have not felt since before I pledged myself to my holy mission in the crusades.” It is an admission of chosen abstinence and self denial that few men could boast in succeeding in. “I find it difficult to temper the expression of my regard for you.” His breathing is ragged and quick as he places his forehead against hers..
Lady Mary: “George, I will not lie with you before we are wed.” She says a bit primly, belying her own aroused desire. For she feels an unknown pull to kiss him back in that way. She lowers her eyes demurely as she tries to calm her own breathing–and to understand the feelings that he has aroused in her yet again.
Lord George: Standing up straight and releasing her, he says contritely. “Of course not, my Lady. I would never expect you to give up your maidenly virtues–until the proper time in our marriage bed, on our wedding night.” He takes a step back. “I have nothing but the most honorable intentions toward you, Mary. I want you for my wife.” He repeats. Then he makes a solemn promise. “But if I can not have you for my wife, I will have no other. You are my heart’s only love.”
But Lord George and Lady Mary are not completely in control of their own fates.
Lady Mary: “And I would rather go into a convent than have any other man than you as my husband.” She says soulfully. “But are we just torturing ourselves, George? However much we wish to be wed, we are pledged to others.” Tears are streaming down her face as she fears the futility of their love. “I should leave.” She starts to turn to go.
Lord George: His own tears are threatening to fall on his cheeks. He clasps her arm and she looks back at him. “Stay? Let us spend an hour in conversation with each other. For we know not if we will have a lifetime together, or only today. Let us at least have these stolen moments together, if memories are to be our only solace.”
Lady Mary: She nods. But she looks around the room for a safe place to converse that will not lead them into more kisses. Then she spies their salvation. “As you wish–but on one condition.”
Lord George: “Name it.” He stands ready to comply.
Lady Mary: “We need to keep a distance between us. So let us play chess.” [ (3)] She gestures to the table set up between two chairs in the corner.
Lord George: “You play?”
Lady Mary: “I do. And I even beat my Papa now and again.” She smiles pridefully.
Lord George: He smiles, eager to have her all to himself for just a while longer. “After you, my lady.”
Then they begin their chess play sitting opposite each other, smiling, and hoping they can figure out a way to change their fates.
Meanwhile, Lord Archer has finished his bath and dressed in fresh clothes before setting out to see who else might be about. He passes Seth’s bed chamber door and finds his nephew doing anything but napping. Seth and his dog Prince are rolling around on the floor of his bed chamber wrestling.
Lord Archer: “Seth! I thought you usually nap at this time of day?” He crosses his arms reprovingly, but softens it with a warm smile.
Seth: “Oh, I napped. But Prince wanted to play.” He smiles engagingly.
Lord Archer: “Indeed! And have you walked Prince since you woke up?” He asks worried about indoor messes.
Seth: “No, but I guess we should. Come with me?” He asks pleadingly.
Lord Archer: Tousling Seth’s hair he grins. “Of course. Let’s go!”
But as they walk past Lady Saline’s bed chamber, they find the door ajar and hear weeping within. Seth just walks right in to see what is wrong. However, Lord Archer, hangs back in the hallway–not wanting to intrude, however much hearing Lady Saline crying tugs at his heart.
Seth: “Aunt Saline?” Lady Saline turns a teary face to him, but she doesn’t see Lord Archer yet–because he remains in the hallway. Seth rushes to her and gives her a hug. Then repeats what others have said to him. “There there, it’s not so bad. What is wrong?”
Lady Saline: “Everything is a mess!”
Seth: He looks about her neat and tidy bed chamber with a quizzical expression. “Your room looks tidy to me.” Literality, being a failing that he and most five year olds have. “Did your Mama make you clean it up?”
Lady Saline: “Ha!” She hugs him back for his simplicity of viewing the word. “It’s not that kind of mess.” She dries her eyes.
Seth: “Don’t you want to marry Uncle Archer?”
Lady Saline: “Seth! What would make you say that?” She bites her lower lip and looks at him askance.
Seth: “Wellll, If Uncle George marries Aunt Mary, then you will have to marry Uncle Archer. That’s what I told Uncle George and Aunt Mary earlier before my nap.”
Lord Archer: He quickly walks into Lady Saline’s bed chamber and shuts the door. Lady Saline looks up at Lord Archer in shock–not the least of which is that he has entered a ladies bed chamber unbidden, her bed chamber. “Pardon me Lady Saline.” He waves at her offhandedly. Then he kneels down and clasps Seth around his shoulders. “But Seth, what did you say?” He asks Seth pointedly.
Seth: Seth leans back a bit from his uncle, never having seen him quite so forceful. “I just asked Uncle George if Aunt Mary married him if she would still be my aunt? He didn’t say no. So I said that Aunt Saline would have to marry you so she could still be my aunt.”
Lord Archer: “And what did your uncle George say to that?” Lord Archer asks interestedly, looking back and forth between Seth and Lady Saline.
Seth: “He didn’t say anything.” He looks at his uncle quizzically.
Lady Saline: “What did Lady Mary say?”
Seth: “She didn’t say anything either. And I brought Prince in for a nap. But then she ran past me into the manor crying.”
Lady Saline tilts her head in a knowing way as she rolls her eyes. Lord Archer looks at her questioningly.
Lord Archer: “A lot seems to have happened in my mere one week absence. Tell me Lady Saline, is what Seth says true?”
Lady Saline: She demures. “Which part?”
Lord Archer: “About Lord George and Lady Mary.” He clarifies in frustration.
Lady Saline: “Perhaps. Though I am sure that nothing untoward has happened between them. Frankly, I doubt that George has a romantic bone in his body.” Lady Saline says with a pinched look on her face as she remembers Lord Archer’s kisses.
Seth: “But Aunt Saline, Uncle George gave Aunt Mary a tour of his house–and she really liked it.” He nods his head smilingly.
Lord Archer: “Oh? And why do you say that?
Seth: “It took Aunt Saline and I forever to find them. There are so many bed chambers there.”
Lord Archer: Looking straight at Lady Saline, he asks. “And which bed chamber did you find them in?”
Lady Saline: She stands, annoyed and hurt with his obvious concern for Lady Mary–and not for her. “In the master suite, they were in the sitting room.” Lord Archer stares at her. “All I know is, when Seth burst into the room, they both seemed flushed, as if …” But she does not complete her thought.
Lord Archer: “I see.” He says resignedly.
Lady Saline: Wanting only to be out of Lord Archer’s presence now that she thinks he prefers his betrothed Lady Mary, Lady Saline entreats them. “If you both will excuse me, I will return to my embroidery.” She points to her hoop across the room.
Seth: “But you were crying when I came in. Why? Were you mad at Uncle George for wanting to marry Aunt Mary?”
Lord Archer: “Yes I would like to know your answer about that, too.” He narrows his eyes, trying to discern where her true preference lies–to him or to Lord George.
Lady Saline: “I am not mad at Lord George, Seth. Hhhhh! But the situation is impossible!” She throws up her hands. Archer catches one of her hands in his hand–then brings it to his lips and kisses it.
Lord Archer: “If it were not impossible? Would you seek a different outcome than what has been contracted for us?”
Lady Saline: She looks at Lord Archer for a long moment. “Yes.”
Lord Archer: Looking over his shoulder, he says. “Seth, I think you better take your dog for a walk before he makes a mess in Lady Saline’s bed chamber.” Then he returns his gaze to rest upon Lady Saline. “We will join you outside shortly.”
Seth: “Okay. I’ll see you outside.” Lord Archer nods, then Seth and the dog exit Lady Saline’s bedchamber, leaving the door open.
An open bed chamber door does not insure privacy, neither does it insure decorous behavior. Lady Saline and Lord Archer are betrothed to others–much to their mutual chagrin.
Lord Archer: “I missed you.” He says still holding Lady Saline’s hand.
Lady Saline: Remembering she was hurt by his going. She raises an eyebrow. “You have an odd way of showing it. You didn’t even say goodbye before you left.” The hurt in her voice is plain for him to hear.
Lord Archer: Taking a measured step closer to her he sighs. “I couldn’t trust myself to be able to leave if I had seen you once more.”
Lady Saline: “Pretty words now. Why should I believe you?” She so wants to trust him. But she has heard what Lady Rose has told her about Lord Archer’s past. And Lady Saline is circumspect about whether or not Lord Archer could ever be a faithful husband.
Lord Archer: “Because they come from my heart.” He clasps her other hand in his. “Hhhhhh! But I am not free to court you as I would wish. Nor are you free–as your father so pointedly reminded me–to receive my attentions.”
Lady Saline: “My father?”
Lord Archer: He nods his head. “After you left the garden that day we kissed, your father forbade me from being within five feet of you. He actually said that if he could, he would have had me thrown out of the house!” He winces. “That is why I left earlier than I had planned.”
Lady Saline: “Ha ha ha! Dear papa. His temper soon burst. He said nothing negative about you to me during your absence.” She rolls her eyes.
Lord Archer: “Oh? So I am not off limits to you?” He gives her a mischievous grin.
Lady Saline: “Not that I am aware of.” She grimaces at him slightly while trying to maintain an air of polite disdain. She thinks, how uncouth he is to think a lady would express her interest in a man without him first expressing his interest in her.
Lord Archer: “Ah! But I sense that I am no longer in your favor, My Lady.” He says resignedly. She does not say yea or nay. “So! I would not wish to impose myself on you further. I will leave you to your embroidery.” He turns to go.
Lady Saline: “Arrrrrgh!” She makes a most unladylike noise that stops Lord Archer in his tracks. “Yet again, Lord Archer, you can not wait to be out of my presence. Would that my family and I could quit this place this instant, then you would be free of me altogether–as you seem to wish.” She stomps her foot in frustration, feeling that he does not love her.
Lord Archer: With his straight back to her, he says forlornly, in a deep resonant voice. “My Lady, I will never be free of you and the memories of our times together–nor do I wish to be.”
Lady Saline: Defeated, she takes a step toward him and asks softly. “Well then?”
Lord Archer reaches his arm out toward the bed chamber door. He slowly pushes it shut and turns to face her. Her eyes widen.
Lord Archer: He gazes upon her with love and tenderness as he walks toward her. “I want you for my wife, Lady Saline. I love only you with all of my heart. You are feisty and beautiful and loving and kind.” He says thinking of her way with his niece, baby Lady Helen and his nephew Seth. “There is no woman to equal you. And I realize that my aspiring to be your husband might be considered laughable by some. Though I was born a noble, I had to scratch for my existence all of my life. Try as I might to behave appropriately befitting my currently elevated station, I am rough and untutored in the ways of being a gentleman. Noblesse oblige does not come naturally to me, as it does to you. You will find my manners wanting, but I shall never reprove you for any correction you might wish to make upon me. And I will love you and cherish you until my breath stills.”
Lord Archer stands directly in front of Lady Saline who has listened intently to his speech–without interrupting him, as is her usual way. They gaze at each other. The moments tick by. Lord Archer does not know if Lady Saline is weighing her options or merely trying to find a polite way to let him down easily.
Lady Saline: “Hhhhh!” Lady Saline lets out a sigh of relief for his expression of love. And she smiles.
And then, they fall into each others’ arms as they embrace and kiss each other. Lord Archer pulls Lady Saline to be flush against him as his arms wrap around her, caressing her adoringly. Their lips are a fusion of needful entreaties to love and be loved. He runs his fingers through the strands of her silken hair even as she twists his short curls at the nape of his neck. After a few moments, they find themselves sitting down on her bed,continuing their adoring kisses and caresses with loving abandon.
Lord Archer: “I want you so much, but I do not have the right.” He buries his face in her neck. Then finds that he needs to nibble its creamy swanlike expanse–and he playfully nips at her delicate throat. “You are so beautiful.” He lays her down on the bed.
Lady Saline: “I … I am a maid.” She breathes heavily, looking up at him uncertainly, her hands caressing both sides of his face. Will he understand her plaintive plea?
He could have her now with little trouble–so schooled in the art of love and wooing women is he. But Lord Archer knows that to make love with her now would not be right, for her. And his love for Lady Saline means that he honors and respects her, too. He lifts his head up and places his finger over her lips.
Lord Archer: “Shh my love Shh. I will not dishonor our love by taking you to my bed now. I can wait until we are wed. For I will have no other but you for my wife.” He caresses her cheek and smiles at her. Then he sits up and guides her to do so also.
Lady Saline: Biting her lip, she asks. “Archer, what are we going to do?”
Lord Archer: “I am not exactly sure. But we have to talk to Lord George and Lady Mary. If they have feelings for each other, then we might find a way to realign our betrothals along our hoped for couplings.”
Lady Saline: She shakes her head. “It won’t be easy. My Papa has wanted to combine Middelton and Talkington lands for more than the ten years of my betrothal to George.” She winces.
Lord Archer: “Then, we shall just have to find a way to make the new betrothals appealing to your father and to Lady Mary’s father.”
Lady Saline: “But what about Prince John?” She Grimaces. “He will not approve.”
Lord Archer: “Oh? I think he will. I have something he wants that might persuade him.” He smiles devilishly as he squeezes her hand. “Now let us quit this room before my previously wanton behavior overtakes my attempts at being honorable.” She nods.
They smile, stand, and head out of Lady Saline’s bed chamber–after her first peeking out the door to make sure no one is lurking in the hallway. Then they walk arm in arm as they go in search of Lord George and Lady Mary.
Sir Guy who had started to walk into the hallway to check on Seth, stops when he sees his brother Lord Archer and Lady Saline coming out of her closed bed chamber door. Worry and anger are etched upon Sir Guy’s face, but he decides to confront Lord Archer privately later. Sir Guy quietly closes his bed chamber door and looks back upon his sleeping wife, wondering what he should do about this turn of events as the senior member of their extended family.
At the bottom of the stairs, Lord Archer and Lady Saline see a maid hurrying to her duties.
Lady Saline: “Sally, have you seen Lady Mary? Or Lord George?”
Maid Sally: She curtsies. “Yes milady. Lady Mary is in the large parlor. But I have not seen Lord George.”
Lord Archer: He nods his head. “Thank you.” Thus dismissing the maid, and she leaves. Lord Archer smiles at Lady Saline and they walk across the great hall to the closed large parlor door.
As Lord Archer and Lady Saline walk into the large parlor expecting to find only Lady Mary, they also find Lord George–both of them engrossed in a competitive game of chess.
Lord George: “Blast! You got my bishop!” He smiles at her even as he grimaces–to let her know that he is not really upset.
Lady Mary: “Well. That will teach you to protect your position.” She says coquettishly.
Lord Archer: “Forgive us for interrupting.” His voice booms an echo about the room such that Lord George and Lady Mary turn their startled faces to him.
Lady Saline: “It’s just us, you two.” She smiles and hugs Lord Archer’s arm more closely as they walk over to the chess table.
Lord George: “Ah! You find me an almost beaten man.” Lord George says blithely, gesturing amusingly to the chess game even as he steals a glance at Lady Mary.
Lady Mary: “Uh huh.” Lady Mary smiles up at Lord Archer and Lady Saline not knowing what to say about them finding her playing chess with Lord George.
Lady Saline: “What is the matter Lady Mary. The cat got your tongue — as well as your slippers?” Lady Saline smiles wryly and gestures to Lady Mary’s bare feet.
Lady Mary instantly covers one foot over the other–trying to lessen the number of toes that might be seen.
Lady Mary: Turning crimson to be found in so unladylike a state, she winces and bites her lower lip looking over at her betrothed Lord Archer. “Well I … I … I play better without my slippers on.” She says cutely–thinks the men–nothing else having popped into her head to replace it.
Lord Archer and Lord George: They both burst out laughing. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Lady Mary pouts, to have the men laugh at her and her unladylike bare feet.
Lady Saline: “Gentleman, behave. You are making the poor girl blush.”
Lady Saline looks about the room and spies the slippers, Lady Saline retrieves them and hands them to Lady Mary. Lady Mary tries to slip the slippers on her feet under the table without being noticed. But she is trying to put them on the wrong feet, since she is not looking at what she is doing. Lord Archer bends down to help her.
Lord Archer: “Allow me, my lady.” He removes the slipper from the wrong foot and replaces it on the correct foot. Then he assists her by placing the other slipper on her other foot. He smiles. However Lord George raises a perturbed eyebrow. And Lady Saline is none too pleased either.
Lady Mary: Blushing very pink, she says with eyes lowered. “Thank you Lord Archer.”
Lord Archer: “You are welcome my lady. It seemed the least I could do as the last act as your fiancé.” Lord Archer states boldly as he stands, returning to place Lady Saline’s hand on his arm.
Lord George: He stands up. “Excuse me?”
Lady Saline: “It’s alright, George. He knows.” She offhandedly waves at him.
Lady Mary: “What does Lord Archer know?” She looks up into everyone’s faces with an innocent expression of wonderment about to peek out.
Lord Archer: “I know, my dear, that you are in love with Lord George and that he is in love with you.” He smiles.
Lord George: “Now see here! Lady Mary has done nothing wrong. She is an innocent, an angel whom none can besmirch.” He vouches passionately for her honor.
Lord Archer: “I did not say that she had.”
Lady Saline: “See what I mean? Besotted!” She smiles. Lord Archer smiles back at her and pats her hand on his arm.
Lady Mary: Lady Mary goes to stand by Lord George. “Lord Archer, Please do not challenge Lord George to a duel because of me.” She pleads. Lord George stands his ground and looks defiant.
Lord Archer: “I have no intention of doing that. So set your mind at ease, Lady Mary–and Lord George.” He states rather affably.
Lord George: “Really?” He asks incredulously at his luck in that regard.
Lady Mary: “I do not understand?” She looks at her betrothed questioningly.
Lady Saline: “It is quite simple really, Lady Mary. You marry George and I will marry Archer.”
Lord Archer: “Very succinct, my dear. Well done!” They smile at each other broadly, then turn to look at Lady Mary and Lord George.
Lady Mary: “But Lord Archer, Papa will never allow it! He wants me to be your Countess.”
Lord Archer: “Was that before or after Prince John told him that I am a bastard? My father Lord Malcom Locksley was never married to my mother Lady Ghislaine Gisborne.” He asks impishly.
Lady Mary: “Papa made no mention of that.” She shakes her head, not sure where to look with such an admission.
Lord George: “Hmmm. Maybe your Papa does not know, Mary. I wonder if that might make a difference in your Papa wanting you to marry Lord Archer?” He gets a twinkle in his eye.
Lord Archer: “Precisely, George. It is why I mentioned it.”
Lady Saline: “And Archer even thinks he has a way to get Prince John to agree.” She smiles hopefully.
The two couples–Lord Archer and Lady Saline, and Lord George and Lady Mary–embrace their hoped for intendeds. Of course, there are more than fathers and Prince John to worry about. There is Sir Guy as well.
The Gisborne, Talkington, and Havorford families gather on the terrace of Middleton Manor for a light early evening repast of braised chicken served with rice that Lord George brought back with him from the Holy Land. Lord George had a bit of a time convincing the Middleton Manor cooks to serve the rice–let alone how to cook it properly so that it tastes fluffy and not brittle. Some of the diners are not quite sure what to make of it. But each of them politely puts some of the rice [(3)] on their trenchers to try if not to eat.
It is early yet and the stars are not yet out–twilight. They sit around the table male, female–with no one sitting next to their spouse or betrothed. So Lord Archer and Lady Saline are once again sitting next to each other–as are Lord George and Lady Mary. Sir Guy, as of yet, has not had a chance to confront Lord Archer in private–and he is seething about witnessing Lord Archer exiting from Lady Saline’s bed chamber today, with her. It is an indiscretion under his roof that is unforgivable in his eyes. Of course, Sir Guy is jumping to conclusions based on what he knows of his brother’s past behavior.
But after the meal is served and people are mostly done eating, there is other startling and life changing news that will be related. Lady Roseanna leans forward and smiles encouragingly at Lady Eliza Talkington. Lady Eliza and her husband Lord Talkington seem even more agreeable than usual this evening.
Lady Roseanna: “What did you think of George’s rice, Lady Eliza?”
Lady ElizaT: “I fear that my appetite has not been good of late, as you know.” She smiles. “So I am not the best judge.”
Lord Talkington: “Yes, my dear perhaps you should limit yourself to the chicken.” He says solicitously. For the past few days on this visit, Lord Talkington has been most attentive to his wife–more so than usual. This worries their daughter, Lady Saline.
Lady Saline: “I’m sorry that you are still not feeling well, Mama. But you must try to eat a little to get your strength back.”
Lady ElizaT: “I am fine, dear daughter. Not to worry.” She smiles knowingly to Lady Roseanna.
Sir Guy wonders why the Talkingtons seem so happy. They surely would be the opposite were they to know of Lady Saline’s behavior with his brother Lord Archer. Although Sir Guy is sure that it is all Lord Archer’s fault. Sir Guy gazes at his wife Lady Roseanna at the opposite end of the table and gives her a quizzical look–seeking clarification.
Sir Guy: “How is the nuptial planning going?” He asks interestedly–worried about the state of Lord Archer’s affairs.
Lady Roseanna: “Planning is well in hand for the double wedding in four weeks time. Lady Talkington and Lady Havorford are a godsend with the planning!” She smiles at them genuinely and they smile back at her.
Lord Talkington: “Eliza dear, with Lady Roseanna and Sir Guy hosting the weddings, you should not do too much and rest more.”
Lady ElizaT: “Except for Saline’s wedding gown, her trousseau, and our list of wedding guests.” She rolls her eyes at her husband. “Saline is my only daughter and I want to see her wed properly.”
Lady Isabella Havorford: I can not imagine having to do this wedding planning two more times, but Mary has two more sisters.” Then she winks at Lady Eliza. “You are lucky in that you have only one daughter.”
Lady ElizaT: Not having intended to share her news, she can no longer keep silent. “We shall see.” She smiles cryptically at her husband.
Lady Talkington’s husband stands up from the table across from her. The other men stand as well out of courtesy. Then Lord Talkington walks around the table to his wife and takes her hand in his, lifts it to his lips, and kisses it. Everyone smiles politely at this uncharacteristic display of affection, not yet knowing the reason for it.
Lord Talkington: “My Lords and Ladies, I am pleased to announce that in six months time, my dear wife will present me with a wonderful gift. She is with child!” He beams.
The shock wave reverberating around the dining table stuns the other Lords and the young ladies. But then congratulations flow.
Lady Saline: Except from one worried quarter. “Mama? Are you not too old to bear a child?”
Lady ElizaT: “Obviously not.” She says wryly.
Lady Roseanna: “Lady Eliza and I are due to give birth about the same time. Our children will be playmates. Perhaps we might make another betrothal.” She jokes clapping her hands together with glee.
Lord George: But Lady Roseanna’s brother Lord George winces. “About that, Rose.” He has to choose his words carefully.
Lord Talkington: “Now Lord George, I know that the birth of our second child might change things a bit–delaying Saline’s dowry payment until we know if we have a girl or a boy.”
Lord Archer: “Why would that matter? Lady Saline is not being bought and sold. She deserves to find some happiness.”
Sir Guy: “Archer, you would do well to keep out of matters that do not concern you.” Sir Guy says forcefully under his breath.
Lord Talkington: “It is just that, if we have a son, then he inherits our estate–not Lady Saline. But she will still receive a handsome dowry.
Lord Havorford; “And if you have another girl?”
Lady ElizaT: “Then our two daughters would share our estate equally.” She smiles.
Lord Talkington: “Either way, Lord George, I hope this development will not cause you any regrets.” He regards Lord George closely.
Lord George: Helping Lady Mary to her feet, he nods at Lord Archer, who helps Lady Saline to her feet. “Not at all, Lord Talkington. For you see, the path of our happiness has switched directions.” Lord George wraps Lady Mary’s hand around his arm. Lord Archer does the same for Lady Saline.
Lord Havorford: “What are you saying?” He looks between his daughter Lady Mary and her betrothed Lord Archer.
Lord Archer: “My Lords and Ladies, we four have an announcement. Much to each of our chagrins we have belatedly–but happily–discovered that our feelings tended in another direction. We wish to set aside the original betrothal contracts in favor of new arrangements for Lord George and Lady Mary, and for Lady Saline and myself.”
No one speaks–least of all Sir Guy, who plops back down in his chair, dumbfounded at this turn of events. However, the bridal fathers are positiviely fuming.
Lord Talkington: “What you suggest is impossible! Lady Saline has been betrothed to Lord George since their childhood.”
Lord George: “But her future happiness does not lie with me–it lies with Lord Archer. And my happiness lies with Lady Mary. I prefer to believe that fate or divine providence brought us all together so that Lady Mary and I and Lord Archer and Lady Saline could find each other and fall in love.”
Lord Havorford: “But Mary, when you wed Lord Archer you will be a countess.” He looks at her plaintively.
Lady Mary: “No Papa. Lady Saline will be Lord Archer’s Countess. And I will be Lady Middleton. We are each love matches–as you all are. Do you not want us to be happy as you are?” She pleads.
Lord Talkington: “Happiness in marriage is something you make together. My Lady Eliza and I were an arranged marriage and we could not be happier.”
Lady Saline: “But Papa, you and Mama fell in love with each other. Mama said so. I have fallen in love with Lord Archer. I will have no other for my husband.” She smiles up at him and he smiles back.
Lady Havorford: “Well, the best laid plans, as they say”
Lady Mary: She scurries around the dining table to her Mama. “Thank you, mama. I love George very much!”
Having stayed out of the conversation–brooding as he gazes at his hands fisted together–Sir Guy enters the fray.
Sir Guy: “Lord George, Lord Archer, you are forgetting one salient point. Your betrothals are marriages of state. Prince John would have to agree to any changes. And with betrothal changes, come new dowry negotiations.
Lord Talkington: “Another reason to dislike this proposal. With Lady Saline and Lord George’s betrothal being set ten years ago, her dowry was beyond the reach of Prince John’s marriage tax.”
Lady Roseanna: “Gentleman, these are merely details. What we should focus on is that each of them has found their hearts true love and soul mate–as Guy and I are for each other.” The other wives nod in agreement. Then Lady Roseanna gazes across the table to her husband, Sir Guy–tilting her head at him pointedly. “Husband, we risked everything to be together–and we are very happy. Can you not recommend this happiness to others?” She asks him challengingly.
Sir Guy: “Hhhhhh!” He turns and stalks back into the manor toward his study where he can be alone with his thoughts.
Lord George: “Rose, what do you think our chances are with Prince John?” She smiles.
Lord Archer: “Well, we either find a way around him, or we out fox him.” He smiles gleefully.
To be continued with Chapter 22
(1) “Guy’s Dilemma” logo is a composite of three images:
a) Sir Guy (portrayed by Richard Armitage) in the BBC’s Robin Hood, Series 3, episode 13 (pix 64).and is found at http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/RobinHood/album/seasonthree/Episodethirteen/slides/13_064.html;
b) Image of Lord Archer (portrayed by Clive Standen) http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/RobinHood/album/seasonthree/episodetwelve/slides/12_093.html;
c) a sword hilt from MS Office Clip Art was found at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=sword&ex=1#ai:MP900432917|
2) Information about the game of chess is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess
3) Information about rice is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice
Previous chapter installments, Ch 20: