Chapter 11 - "To Know What Willing Ransom"
"She is within those crumbled walls of Harfleur, John," Bois D'Astier said under his breath as he stood beside his seneschal, looking at the siege-torn town in the distance. A column of dark smoke curled into the lead-colored sky.
"I think that you wish it so, my lord," John replied.
"I can feel her there, John. I can feel her breath as if it were my own. And did you not hear what that Englishman said?"
"The words of a dying man, saying anything to save his wretched life, my lord," John shook his graying head, "I think your sword wants a shroud of blood. I urge you, my lord, the English rule these vasty fields in which we creep like wintering mice. We are here by stealth and cunning and we will remain breathing if we continue thusly."
"My Father wants Catherine," Bois said simply.
"Does he want to consign you to a cold marble vault for the sake of a daughter?"
"You speak too plainly at times, John."
John looked at his lord with gray eyes as sharp as arrows, "I speak plainly because I need to, my lord."
Bois continued to stare out at the broken walls of Harfleur. In the distance, they looked like gravestones in the mist. A dark column of smoke was testament that not all of Harfleur was English. From what his men could descry from the babble of folks that once inhabited that noble port, two towers had refused to bend to King Henry's pennant.
"Patience, my lord. The English are not leaving this prize and if your fair Catherine is within those walls, she will not be leaving her native soil soon."
In the distance, an English patrol on horseback was riding in their direction.
"We must go, my lord."
Bois nodded. But he would return. . .soon.
Edward looked upon his nude ransom, Catherine D'Astier, with a slow-boiling anger. Her heated words had lit a fire within Edward that he had nearly forgotten about while enjoying the pleasures of her fair gifts. Now, the memory of his dead son swept like a whirlwind through him. . .all the pain and fiery thoughts of revenge. Edward De Valence was not here just to fight for King Henry the V's just crown of France. He was here to kill Phillip D'Astier and avenge his son's murder.
He needed his ransom, Catherine, to do it.
"You are right," Edward said coldly, "You ARE my ransom. I must remember that. Where is your father so that I might write him to fill my coffers . . or at least a groat or two."
"He is in Paris the last I heard, m' lord," Catherine replied.
Catherine did not like this sudden coldness from Edward. She did not know what her words did to her captor, but it did not have the effect that Catherine was hoping for. She wanted to be with this Englishman and did not want to be sent back to her life as bait to add to her father's treasury of power. She would be married off to someone with wealth and station and she would have little to say about it. Her beauty and grace would assure this as well as her father's full coin box.
". . .but I believe he was headed to Rouen on a matter of some importance" Catherine lied.
"Rouen? I will send my demands to Rouen as well as to Paris. It will find his ears soon enough."
Catherine knew this to be true. Her father's reach was far and such news as her ransom would race to wherever he was. A cold fear started to form in the pit of her stomach. Catherine felt as if she was about to be sentenced to a pyre.
"M'lord. . ." Catherine almost whispered.
"Yes," the English knight replied curtly.
The silence between them was as cold as a tombstone. Catherine desperately wanted to say how much she cared for Edward but the words were caught in the same chill pit as her fear. She could not say the words.
"Yes?" He said again.
"Nothing, m'lord Knight. . ." she trailed off.
Edward reached down and grabbed at the red garment that Margaret had been working on, a simple gown with knotted sleeves. However, it clinked when he threw it onto the bed.
"I can not have a ransom of mine as unclothed as Eve. . ."
Catherine lifted the dress. There were chains sewn within and manacles in the sleeves.
"Put it on." Edward said evenly.
Catherine lifted the houppelande over her head and tried to struggle to get her arms into the sleeves. After a few moments, it was obvious to Edward he would have to help his young ransom in her raiment. It was difficult, but at last Catherine was wearing clothes for the first time since Edward had rescued her from the fire.
A chain encircled her just under her breasts, blending in with the houppelandes' waist. Edward locked it into place with a padlock as well as locking the manacles around her wrists within the sleeves. The manacles had a short chain that lead from them to the chain around her waist, keeping her from reaching out further than a hand spread. It also kept them close together in front of her. Her bindings were all but invisible to anyone she might pass by.
"Not quite finished, my prize," Edward said with a slight, wicked smile.
Edward reached under her dress.
Catherine felt a piece of soft cloth being pulled up between her legs and threaded through the chain embracing her waist. The English knight tightened the strap until it was tautly wedged between her nether lips, rubbing not too unpleasantly against her pearl.
While still under her dress, Edward then shackled her ankles together. Tying the span of loose chain up with the end of the strap. Catherine took several tentative steps. She found if she took too big of steps, the cloth would tighten within her quim. She could see that wearing this could be a torture of a sort that no inquisitor would have thought to include in his arsenal.
Edward finished lacing up her dress in back. Catherine always found having a man do this was slightly erotic, having memories of several men doing the same after coupling. It was usually a chore for one of the ladies of the household and men's fingers were rough and clumsy. . .except for this man. Edward's fingers seemed adept at the lacings, tightening them firmly as he went, ensuring the gown did not bunch up in the back.
"You seem at ease, m'lord, with a lady's garment," Catherine said, "It seems you have had practice."
Edward smiled a bit, "I enjoyed dressing my wife in the early morning hours when the world was still ghosts and shadows in gray."
Edward could still picture brushing Eleanor's long, dark hair aside and seeing the soft curves of his wife's back revealed in the open lacings of the dress. He would plant tender kisses there as he slowly laced up her gown, causing her to laugh her small, musical giggles. The early, early mornings were their only time alone, when they could drink in each other's company without the obligations or duties of the castle. They were a man and a woman; husband and wife; a love that came to flower through arrangements of lands and titles. Edward had always counted himself blessed by fortune's wheel to have had a wife that he cared for and could count upon to give him good counsel Edward lived for those mornings.
"She must have been a wonderful lady, m'lord," Catherine spoke.
"Eleanor was," Edward said softly.
Edward picked up a headdress and carefully tucked Catherine's raven tresses into it. Again, Catherine felt his gentleness while he did this task. Edward had thought he had found another love unexpectedly in his ransom captive. Here was a lady not unlike his Eleanor, dark-haired and with the grace and stature of a hind; and just as wild. And, for just a few hours, Edward thought this daughter of D'Astier felt the same way about him. But her insistent words about being 'his ransom' and responsibility clearly showed to Edward that that is the only way she pictured herself with the knight.
"What are thinking, m'lord?" Catherine asked.
"I wish you were more than ransom," Edward said and almost immediately regretted it.
There was a long, empty silence between to two as Edward finished fitting Catherine's headdress on. It was Catherine who finally broke the silence.
"What do you mean, m'lord?"
"You are . . ." Edward tried to search for less direct words, "You are more than a mere ransom to me, Catherine."
Catherine turned around and tried to look into Edward's downcast, dark hazel eyes.
"My English knight, I can be what you want me to be. If I must be a ransom and wear these chains, I would do so as long as I can to be with you for even a few moments more. In my mind, I should hate you; I should tear at your throat with my bare teeth and rip the lifeblood from you; but my heart cannot let me for I care for you, my dear English knight, more than you could possibly know. I feel safe within your arms or ropes, a feeling I would have never pondered m'lord, if you had not taken me so. You have opened my golden-caged life and offered me a glimpse into what love might be."
"You are my ransom," Edward said, "How could you lay at my side as wife when I need you as ransom?"
Edward paused. "You do not want to know."
The knight could not tell Catherine about his plans to ultimately reap his revenge. He had sown his plan carefully once he had heard that the soil of France would soon be planted with the English banners of war. The murderer of his son would pay and pay and pay again in his own blood.
"M'lord, please. . ."
"No, Catherine," he said sternly. Catherine could hear the coldness edging back into his voice.
Catherine knew then that it was not mere ransom that her English knight sought. The purpose of her capture ran colder and deeper than just mere coins in a purse. The raven-haired captive recognized that pressing on about that murky purpose would also drive Edward away.
"Yes, m'lord," she acquiesced quietly.
"I do not want you to speak of this again, my Catherine," Edward said.
"Now, Catherine, I need to see to a few tasks," Edward said, "You can go about the town if you wish, but I am afraid it is not the town you knew and it is still dangerous. These chains will keep you close by."
"I do not need chains to keep me by your side, m'lord."
Edward saw that look in her dark eyes that he had seen before in his Eleanor's eyes. It was the look that told him that she would indeed be at his side and that the chains that bound her were not nearly as strong as those forged out of the coals of her love.
As Richard Corfe unknotted the thong from around Margaret's wrists and ankles, she sensed he was almost embarrassed about what had just happened. It was not the coupling part of it, she assumed, rather the fact that Richard had tied her up.
"What is th' matter, pray tell, my dear Richard?"
"I am indeed sorry, Margery. I did not mean to do. . ." the soldier's words trailed off.
The redhead leaned against Richard, her fingers combing through his hay blonde hair, "Y' pleasured me wonderfully, my Richard."
"The siege has put lead on my brow, I fear, and has made me do things I do not care to do."
"If'n y' mean the rope, dear Richard, pay it no mind. It has been done to me before, even by th' likes of your lord De Valence. . ."
"I am not him!" Richard spat.
Margery was taken aback, "I know y' not him. I never said that y' were, my Richard."
Richard and Margery sat in silence for a bit. The redhead continued to stroke her fingers through Richard's hair.
"She is a sorceress, Margery," Richard Corfe said quietly, "She is like a vine that enwraps around My Lord De Valence and entraps him in her coils, slowly engulfing him, squeezing his sense out of him."
"She is 'is ransom," Margery said, "Her life is'n 'is hands."
"That woman may be De Valence's ransom, but I think Edward is her captive."
Another awkward silence fell between the two before Margery spoke, "'Tis been a long time, dear Richard, since m'lord 'as had a lady. Since m'Lady Eleanor died, 'is soul was ripp'd from 'im. This woman, this ransom of 'is has given him some of 'is soul back and 'e wants to keep it. She is good thing for 'im, dear Richard. For nows, anyway."
"That woman clouds his mind," Richard said quietly.
"Notn' as much as you think, my dear Richard," she spoke softly and pulled him toward her, "Now rest."
Richard closed his eyes.
Catherine felt strange about having clothes on for she had not had any on for several days now, since the English took over Harfleur. She had wanted to die that first night, amongst the burning ruins of her home. However, like waking up into a world filled with elves and nymphs, she was in a different world. Catherine was in a world that she enjoyed very much, enclosed by the four walls of the room she was in.
Just thinking about being here and the things that her English knight did to her flooded her insides with a warm, lascivious feeling that Catherine was finding harder and harder to resist. She was still bound, captive now of chains sewn into her dress, but much more free to indulge herself.
She lay back down onto the bed that had been her world for what seemed to be a lifetime and began to hike up her dress. With some difficulty, she found the cloth strap that was wedged within the folds of her quim. She grabbed it with both hands and tugged, bringing up her open legs and also rubbing against her pearl, sending a tiny flood of pleasure through her. She thrust her hips, chains jingling and the cloth burrowing into her more, burnishing her bliss more and more.
Kicking her legs in the confines of her irons and bucking against the cloth strap, she began to feel a fiery rush of passion burning through her, engulfing her bit by bit as if to swallow her slowly. She found herself whispering Edwards name, herself begging the knight to make her feel the pure bliss he had done so to her before. Her struggles became more frantic as she neared her quest. Her orgasm was so close yet as much as she bucked and squirmed and imagined Edward's swollen sword thrusting into her, she could not push herself over the chasm.
Catherine found herself nearly crying, wanting herself to be pleasured so much. She continued her struggles, weeping and struggling and rubbing herself against the cloth. . .the fiery finger of pleasure slowly licking over her body. . .so wonderful and yet wicked enough not to embrace her fully.
Then it came. A fire of pure bliss whirled through her like a storm of flame Catherine writhed and fought against her chains until she was thoroughly as used up as the ashes in a fireplace. She lay there limp, her dark hair a tangle about her and the smell of herself filling the room. There was a warmth in her womb that sated her, like embers of a fire on a cold winter's night She did not think she would venture out just yet.
Edward De Valence first felt the sun peeking out from behind its dirty gray mask of clouds and mist like a woman behind a veil. It felt like God had tapped on Edward's shoulder and given him a small blessing. The English knight stood there for a few moments, staring up at the sun, enjoying its meager warmth touch on his face.
The thundering roar of a cannon interrupted his brief revelry. There was still a soldier's work to be done against the second tower, his destination. To some, sleep had become part of the past. The bellowing of the cannon and the moans of the dying and the curses of the living all made sleeping as far away a dream as their beds at home in England. The taking of Harfleur elevated the men out of their miasma. Supplies were coming in and the sick being taken back to England or billeted under village roofs.
The column of blackened smoke looked like the remains of a long dead tree reaching up into the sky. As Edward drew closer, he could inhale the foul-smell of the burning wet hay and oil. There were no arrows coming from the windows of the tower now and the men besieging the tower seemed more at ease knowing that soon this evil work would be done shortly.
"Do you think that there is anyone alive inside, My Lord?" Talbot asked as he came up beside Edward, his tired eyes half covered by his wide-brimmed steel helm.
Another cannonball shook the ground on which they stood as it cracked against the tower.
"How long since the last stirring from inside, Talbot?"
"Not since the church bells tolled Vespers yesterday, My Lord," the man-at-arms replied.
Edward nodded. It was time to end this.
"Give orders to silence the guns, Talbot, and clear away the burning hay by throwing it into the river. After this is done, we will batter down the door and see if those stubborn souls are still drawing breath."
"I also want you to find Corfe and invite him to join us here. His presence is sorely needed."
Again the stout man-at-arms nodded and hurriedly went upon his duties.
"Soon," Edward said to himself while looking up at the scarred stonework of the tower, "So very soon we will be out of this vipers pit and in open country again. I pray to God this is so."
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10.11.06 to be continued...