Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
The abbess must have left the abbey as soon as she received William’s message telling her of Catherine’s return. She arrived
just as they were sitting down to the midday meal.
“You are with child!” Abbess Talcott said as Catherine rose from the table to embrace her. “What a happy surprise. William
did not tell me you were blessed.”
“He did not know of it,” Catherine said. “I discovered I was with child after my capture.”
William caught the unease in Catherine’s voice and wondered if she spoke the truth. Had she known she carried his child before
she left and not told him?
The abbess sat next to Catherine and squeezed her hand. “It was a charity William did not know. The poor man would have only
“I see William has won you over as well,” Catherine teased. “Even Alys adores him now. I swear, the woman goes on about poor
William turning away his favorite foods. Forget that I was in the wilds of Wales, sleeping on the hard ground and growing
a babe on food prepared by a rebel who could not cook!”
Catherine meant to make a joke of it, but the abbess gripped Catherine’s hand and asked, “Was it as bad as that? We were so
very worried about you.”
“Nay, ’twas not,” Catherine assured her friend. “The travel was a bit hard, for we covered long distances over rough roads.
So long as I was with Glyndwr, though, I always slept in houses. It was only later, when I traveled alone with Maredudd Tudor,
that we slept outside—and I had to eat his dreadful cooking!”
William listened intently; this was the first he had heard in detail of the rough travel his wife had endured. Her attempt
to make light of it did not deceive him.
“Maredudd dragged me all over western Wales before taking me to his home,” she said with a slight smile and shook her head.
“When we finally headed toward Anglesey, we traveled on back trails through the Snowdon Mountains.”
“Oh, dear,” the abbess said, patting her arm, “that must have been terrible.”
“Though I would have bargained with the devil for a bath and a clean gown,” Catherine said, her voice losing its light tone,
“I never felt afraid with Maredudd.”
The pulse at William’s temples throbbed as the darkness of his guilt engulfed him. Somehow, he had never let himself think
of her as being truly in fear of her captors.
Catherine had gone white. Belatedly, the abbess saw that her questions were causing Catherine distress and changed the subject.
“Now that you are safely back,” she said, “perhaps we can devote our attention to the question of Stephen’s betrothal.”
One look at Stephen’s scarlet face, and Catherine was on her feet. “Shall we go to the solar, Lady Abbess? It is pleasant
there when the sun is out, as it is today.”
As the ladies left the room, the abbess’s voice carried back to the men at the table. “I’ve made a list of all the heiresses
of an appropriate age in the Marches. I assume you do want him nearby.…”
Stephen sent William a terrified look.
“Don’t worry, little brother,” William said with more confidence than he felt. “I will have the final say.”
William was on edge. In spite of having every reason to be happy, things between him and Catherine had gone horribly wrong.
Their time at Beaumaris had been everything he had hoped for. And more. Somehow, he lost it all with a single question.
Catherine did not even want to sleep with him on her first night at home. At least she did not kick him out when he slipped
in beside her during the night. He wanted to believe it was a sign she was warming to him, but he suspected she had been just
too tired to argue.
He hoped to talk with her after the abbess left, but there seemed no opportunity. The servants hung about, waiting on her
hand and foot, and he could hardly send Stephen and Jamie away. He understood too well that they needed the reassurance of
having her near.
Even if he got Catherine alone, what would he say to her?
As he went into supper that evening, Stephen sidled up to him. “What have you done?” Stephen hissed in his ear.
“Now that you are all of thirteen,” William said, “you believe you can counsel me?”
“No one has thrown a cup of mead in my face.”
If this young brother of his did not learn to watch his tongue, it would be the death of him.
“How did you hear of that?” he demanded.
Stephen shrugged. The boy seemed to hear everything, but he never revealed his sources.
“I would hate to have Lady Catherine cross with me,” Stephen said. “If I were you, I would do whatever she wants to make amends.”
“So, you advise complete capitulation in dealing with women?”
“ ’Tis what Mother taught me,” Stephen replied with a grin. “But Lady Catherine is so much nicer, I would think you would
want to make her happy.”
“It is all I want,” William said, his eyes on Catherine, who was entering the hall. “All I want in this world.”
After supper, Catherine turned to him and said in a low voice, “I cannot bear having the servants smother me again tonight.
I am taking Jamie up to the solar.”
She did not invite him, but neither did she ask him not to come. He followed her up, with Stephen on his heels. No doubt Stephen
was coming along to whisper more helpful guidance in his ear, should he need it.
The four of them spent a pleasant hour together, and William began to relax. Then Catherine announced she was going upstairs
with the boys to put Jamie to bed.
Would she return, or would she sleep in Jamie’s bed again?
His shoulders sagged with relief when he heard her light steps coming down the stairs. Watching her hesitate at the doorway,
he knew the decision to return had not been easy for her.
He hurried across the room to her, intent on making sure she did not regret her decision, and took her hand.
“Thank you,” he said as he raised it to his lips.
Keeping his eyes on hers, he turned her hand and kissed her palm. When she did not pull back, he told himself it was going
to be all right.
With his tongue, he lightly circled her palm. He felt the pulse at her wrist quicken. In bed, at least, he could make her
happy. From the way she was looking at him, he suspected she was going to let him take her there.
She did. He was so intoxicated by the feel of her skin against his, the way her body responded to his every touch, the sound
of her crying his name as he moved inside her, that he did not notice. Or did not let himself notice.
But after it was over, he knew. He felt so suffused with love for her that he fought against the dawning recognition. But
as he clasped her to him, both of them still breathing hard, he knew. Something had changed since the last time they made
love. Something was different.
For those two days at Beaumaris, she gave herself to him wholly, holding nothing back. He felt as if he held her heart in
his hands. As she held his. If not for Beaumaris, he might not know she withheld a part of herself from him now.
In the nights that followed, he made love to her again and again, trying to break down her barriers. Unable to find words
that might bring her back to him, he used the strength of his love and desire to draw her. But no matter how deep their passion,
there was a part of her he could not reach. A wall he could not climb. A place she guarded from him.
He satisfied her body, even pleased her. He knew he did. But when he told her he loved her, she became upset. So upset, he
stopped saying it.
Except sometimes, when he was deep inside her, he could not hold back the words.
I love you, I love you, I love you
She did not say them back.
atherine, you must help me understand the rebel leaders so that I can end this rebellion more quickly,�� Prince Harry said.
“This conflict with our Welsh brothers only weakens us for the war we must inevitably wage with France.”
At William’s request, the prince had given Catherine a week to recover before coming to Ross Castle to question her.
“Glyndwr is a good man,” Catherine told him. “He wants what is best for his people.”
“What he has brought them is razed villages and ruined crops!” the prince said with irritation. “That is all this rebellion
will ever bring them. They cannot prevail, so their suffering is for naught.”
“Glyndwr believes God supports him, just as you do,” she said in a reasonable voice. “He will not give up easily.”
William listened as Prince Harry pressed Catherine for every bit of information she had gleaned during her capture. He asked
her everything from the character of the rebel leaders to Glyndwr’s intentions regarding the French pope to the number of
armed men defending Aberystwyth and Harlech. The two discussed the Tudors at length.
Observing their interaction, William was struck by the prince’s obvious faith in the accuracy of her reports. It was easy
to believe he had drawn up battle plans based on information she provided.
“What can you tell me about Rhys Gethin?” Prince Harry asked.
William sat forward and watched his wife closely. He’d been afraid to ask about this rebel—or any of her experiences with
the rebels—since their disastrous conversation on the way home from Beaumaris.
“I know Rhys Gethin is a fearless and skilled commander,” the prince continued, “but what is he like as a man?”
For the first time, Catherine seemed reluctant to answer.
“Gethin is a rougher man than Glyndwr or the Tudors,” she finally said, looking away from the prince as she spoke. She paused,
then said, “I thought him the most dangerous of all.”
Keeping her eyes focused on some distant point, she said, “Glyndwr threatened to have my marriage annulled by the false pope
so he could wed me to Rhys Gethin.”
So Gethin was “The Fierce One.” The blood pounded in William’s head at the thought of her being treated like chattel and traded
“Glyndwr let Maredudd Tudor take me from Harlech to remove me from Gethin’s sight,” she said. “He feared Gethin might carry
me off to be ‘married’ by a village priest with a knife pricking his back.”
“So Glyndwr wanted to protect you from Gethin?” the prince asked.
“It was more that Glyndwr would not permit Gethin to force his hand,” she said with a rueful smile. “You see, Glyndwr had
not yet decided what to do with me.”
A chill went up William’s spine as he thought of how close he had come to losing her. Catherine’s pale, pinched face told
him the discussion of Rhys Gethin had distressed her as well.
“My wife is tired,” he said before Prince Harry could press her with more questions.
“Forgive me, Kate,” the prince said, hopping to his feet. He dropped his gaze to her belly for the briefest moment and blushed
faintly. “I did not realize how long I droned on.”
The prince was a leader of armies, a battle-hardened commander. It was easy to forget he was also a young man of eighteen,
inexperienced in other ways.
Catherine touched his arm and smiled up at him. “I am not ill, Harry, only with child.”
“You feel well, then?” he asked in an uncertain tone.
“In sooth, I feel extremely well these days,” she said, her smile broadening. “So much better than the first weeks, when I
was nauseous and bone-tired.”
From the look on the prince’s face, this was more than he wanted to hear. He bid Catherine a quick good night and excused
himself to speak to his men.
William’s stomach clenched as he thought of Catherine, ill with her pregnancy, traveling hundreds of miles over rough roads.
Sleeping out of doors in the rain and mud, for God’s sake. As long as he lived, he would never forgive himself.
Stifling an urge to carry her, he helped her to her feet and escorted her up the stairs. Once he had her in their bedchamber,
he resolutely ignored her protests and tucked her into bed.
He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his knuckles against her cheek. “I am sorry I was not there to protect you or ease
“I do not blame you,” she assured him, but he could not accept her absolution for his gross failure.
“I also apologize for suggesting you could have helped bring about your capture.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, weighing the sincerity of his words. After a long moment, she said, “I want to know who gave
me up, William. Someone did. Someone told the rebels I was going to the abbey that day.”
She could not absolve him, but perhaps she had given him a means to partially redeem himself.
“I will do my best to find the man who betrayed you.”
And make him pay dearly for her suffering.
“I’ll question everyone in the castle and the village again.”
“Ask about the tenant Tyler,” she said. “I always suspected he carried messages to the rebels for Rayburn.”
If Tyler had a hand in this, he will not see another sunset
William kissed her forehead and left her to rest.
Back in the hall, he and Prince Harry talked by the hearth until late, going over the information Catherine had shared.