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As You Wish
~~ SIX ~~
Rachel lay in bed, the tears she thought long ago finished, but still they fell. Her gaze was drawn to the big, bright moon outside the beveled glass window that looked out upon the gardens during the light of day. She felt empty and horribly betrayed.
A soft knock sounded on the doors of her outer chambers. She heard Tamara hurry to answer, soft talking, then booted footfalls enter her bedchamber. She turned to her back to see her father making his way towards her bed.
“Father,” she said softly in greeting. The King sat on the edge of her massive bed. “What brings you so late?”
“I’ve just finished speaking with Robert about the Conley matter,” he explained. “I was on my way to retire when I decided to see how you’re doing.” He rested a large hand on her shoulder. “I need to ask you something Rachel, and I need you to speak the truth.”
Rachel nodded her agreement and consent.
“Did he ever touch you as he did Allison?”
For a moment Rachel thought about lying and saying, yes. He had touched her exactly how he’d touched Allison, but knew it would be horribly wrong, and an awful lie. Not that Conley deserved her truth, but she owed it to herself. “No, father. There was never an unwanted touch.”
“You’re sure of this?” At his eldest’s nod, the King sighed, relaxing a bit. He was afraid the scoundrel would cost him the marriage of his first born, especially now that it would be impossible for Allison to marry.. “I must say, I am shocked at this news.” He sighed deeply, looking as though he’d aged over the past two hours. “I trusted him.”
“We all did, father,” Rachel said quietly, her betrayal a burden she must carry alone. “What shall happen to him?”
“He’s been imprisoned, which is where he’ll stay until his execution two days hence.”
“Must it be, father?” she asked, for a moment her heart speaking for her.
The King looked at her with hard eyes. “Not only has he stolen from your King, he’s given your sister a burden she must carry for life, Rachel. She’s lost all honor and possibility for a decent marriage match. She is not just marked for these months, she’ll be marked for life, all due to his violent desires.”
Conley could taste the blood in his mouth and tried to resist the urge to vomit. He sat on a bench, hands and feet shackled to iron rings bolted into the wood. The cell was no longer than the length of a man’s body and no wider than his reach. At one end was a wall with a small, barred window, the other the iron door.
“I said answer me!”
Another blow was delivered to the side of Conley’s head. He took it, his vision dancing before it settled again on Robert Wynton. He remained silent, as he had nothing to say.
Robert grinned, cradling his bloody hand against his body. “You’ve nothing to say for yourself, then?” he said, victory in his voice. He’d been beating the tar out of the stable boy for an hour, but he would say nothing.
“I have nothing to say that you don’t already know, M’lord,” Conley said, voice low and filled with hatred. He spit out a bloody tooth that had been knocked lose. “Other than perhaps you should be more careful where you park your carriage. The King may start to wonder why it’s owner is nowhere to be seen.” He gave the nobleman a knowing look. “Or perhaps he might check the stables.”
Conley’s ears were ringing, more blood trickling down the side of his face from Wynton’s ring. By time his vision cleared, Robert was gone.
Robert stormed out of the cell, watching as the guard locked the door. He then grabbed the poor man by the collar of his shirt and drug him away from the cell. “If that man escapes, it’s your head,” he growled. “I want to see his body wiggle under the blade of the axe man.”
“Aye,” the guard said, terrified by the hatred he saw in the other man’s eyes.
Robert slammed out of the jail and into the dark night where his carriage and driver waited.
Left alone finally, Conley spit out yet another tooth, blood dribbling down the side of his chin and cheek, where the ring had sliced the flesh. He was exhausted both of body and soul. Perhaps facing the executioner’s axe wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
He rested his head back against the stone wall behind him and allowed his eyes to close. He felt somewhat nauseous from his head injury sustained during the last attack on the princess, but he swallowed it down. Not like there was much in his belly to vomit, anyway. Once the room stopped spinning in his mind, he allowed his thoughts to venture outward.
Just a very few nights ago he’d been wondering what his destiny would be: true freedom or the life of servitude to others. Well, he got his answer, and oddly, it was neither. He could only hope that he’d see his father in Heaven, and not his mother in Hell. He’d tried to live a good life, honest and honorable, but in the end it had all backfired on him.
“I suppose you were right, Papa,” he whispered. “Good deeds to go punished.”
Rachel looked up at the imposing-looking stonework building. The night sky was filled with the lightning of a distant storm, gaining speed and strength. It was a cold night, the winds picking up and carrying the scent of rain to chill her fair skin.
“M’lady,” the guard said, already receiving advance word that the princess and her woman would be arriving. He quickly bowed in respect then led the way down the dark, dank corridor.
Rachel pulled her cloak tighter around her petit frame, frightened by the place as well as chilled by the negativity in the air. The guard led her past a row of closed iron doors, some with faces staring back at her, making her shiver. At the end of the hall the guard stopped, fishing a large key out of his heavy key ring and inserting it into the door.
“Here you are, M’lady,” he said, holding the cell door open for her. “Do be careful, M’lady. A dangerous one, that.”
Rachel smiled politely at him then turned her attention to what she was entering. The room was tiny and smelled of human sewage and filth. And blood. Shackled to a wooden bench was Conley. His eyes were closed, one bruised and swollen. Dried blood lined his cheek, caked to a reddish brown color. His lip was split open, and fresh bruises were littering his face.
As she looked on, the one good blue eye opened, then widened at the realization of who had entered the cell.
“M’lady,” Conley whispered, his voice rough and parched.
“Who did this to you?” Rachel asked, indicating the new injuries.
“It matters not,” Conley whispered, knowing that it would do no good to tell her that her soon-to-be husband had beaten him just shy of his life.
Rachel said nothing, a good idea of the culprit, though she did not voice her suspicions. She sat at the one wooden chair that was pushed in under a tiny wooden table. She looked around to see a wooden bucket tucked into the corner under the bench Conley sat in. The contents were putrid and nearly over-flowing.
“Why are you here, M’lady?” Conley asked quietly, interrupting her inspection of the cell. It hurt to look at the beautiful Rachel, and he’d just as soon forget her perfect face before he was to meet his maker.
“I’ve come for answers,” Rachel said, turning her attention back to Conley. “Will you speak openly and honestly?”
“Do I not always?”
“I know not.” Rachel’s back straightened as her hurt rose to anger. “I must admit, I’m not so sure.”
Conley sighed, already feeling this would be a victory he could not attain. “As you wish, M’lady. I’ll answer truthfully.”
Rachel could feel her heart pounding wildly in her chest. Seeing Conley in this state broke her heart and made her want to do nothing more than take him in her arms and ease his pain. Then she remembered Allison’s words and painful confession. Using that to strengthen her resolve, she cleared her throat.
“Is what Allison said true? Did you father the child she carried within her womb?”
Conley stared at her for a long moment, then sighed heavily. “Nay, M’lady. ‘Tis impossible for me to be the father of her child.”
For a moment Rachel’s world brightened. “Then they got it wrong?” She sat forward in her chair, ready to bound out in joy. “You did not have relations with Allison?”
Conley looked at her for a long, sad moment, his heart breaking. Yet again. “I promised you I would be truthful, so I shall be. Yes, Rachel, I had relations with Allison.” When Rachel jumped out of her seat and hurried the few steps towards the door, Conley felt a frantic need to explain. “I did not attack her, Rachel!” he called out, desperately needing her to hear and understand. “I had been at your father’s home less than a month when she came to my room!”
Rachel whirled on him, the guard opening the door at her back. “You spit lies like venom,” she hissed. “May you find your way to Hell, Sir Conley.” With those dagger-slash words, she was gone, leaving Conley to stew in his own Hell, the one he’d created for himself.
Rachel threw her cloak on her bed, the tears already flowing down her cheeks. She was angry and devastated. She had hoped and prayed that by talking to the source that Conley could set the record straight. She couldn’t believe he had attacked poor Allison as her sister had claimed. It seemed he had, and now he was scheduled for execution the following afternoon.
“How did it go, M’lady?” Tamara asked, rushing into the room at the sound of her mistress’ tears. She collected the cloak and hung it to dry, as the rain had begun to all as Rachel’s carriage had made it’s bumpy way back to the castle.
“He did it,” Rachel cried, trying to wipe at her eyes, but it did no good as more tears poured forth.
Tamara was taken aback, left speechless for a moment. “M’lady?” she asked, kneeling in front of Rachel to remove her sodden boots.
“Yes,” Rachel sobbed. “He did this thing they’ve accused him of.”
“So, the child is his?” Tamara asked, setting the boots aside and removing her lady’s stockings.
“That’s the strange part, Tamara. He says there is no way the child is his, but that he did have relations with Allison.”
Tamara chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, thinking of the best way to put her thoughts. She did not wish her lady to be angry with her. Rachel’s wrath could be heavy and hard if truly angered. “Lady Rachel, is it possible he speaks the truth? Could the child Allison carries truly belong to another?”
Rachel shook her head. “She said she was pure before Conley got hold of her.”
Tamara nearly burst into laughter at that. All the servants in the castle knew that was false. Likely Allison had seen more action than many of the King’s soldiers. “M’lady, if I may, I can dispute that claim.”
Rachel stared down at her lady-in-waiting, horrified by what she’d just heard. “Why do you say such?”
“Forgive me, Lady Rachel, but it’s been known for many months that Lady Allison is… friendly, with the male help around your father’s rooms. It’s a known fact, though a quiet one.”
Rachel was disgusted. “Why do you say such things?” She knew Tamara better than to think the servant was simply trying to besmirch her sister’s good name, or to spread horrible gossip.
“’Tis true, M’lady. I’ve heard it meself, and more than on one occasion.”
Rachel thought for a moment, disbelief and confusion warring in her mind. “But, he admitted to relations with her, Tamara.”
“And likely he had them, M’lady. It sounds to me like he told you truth.” Tamara stood, taking Rachel’s hand to pull her to her feet as well. “Come, Lady Rachel. Let’s get you out of this damp clothing.”
Rachel numbly followed Tamara to her wardrobe, her mind racing and stomach churning. She knew in her heart that her lady had a point, but even so, her heart was still broken. The thought of Conley bedding her sister made her want to scream.
No, it was over and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Even if Conley was pardoned tomorrow, he had betrayed her. Visions of him with Catherine of Goul popped into her mind’s eye. He was a ravenous sort, that was obvious. When was he bedding Allison? The same day he’d professed feeling for Rachel? Were they laughing at her as they grunted and wiggled like weasels?
Anger anew burning brightly in Rachel as she was undressed. Then she saw his face in her heart, the kindness and love in his blue eyes. She saw how hard he’d fought for her that long ago day, taking so many wounds to defend her life and honor. And what of the beating he took mere nights ago?
“Tamara?” she said, placing a hand on her lady’s arm to stop her. When she had the older woman’s attention she spoke. “I need you to do something for me.”
“I’m sorry, M’lady, but I cannot allow you in to see the prisoner. Lord Robert Wynton’s orders.”
“And what is this?” Tamara asked, her pinched face showing her disgust at the guard. She held a parchment with the King’s own insignia stamp upon it. “Me thinks angering the King would not be wise.”
Not able to read the words, all the guard had to see was the stamp. He bowed his acquiescence and unlocked the cell door.
Tamara set her basket of goods on the small table as she was locked in with Conley, who was asleep. She studied his face and clucked her tongue. What monster had done this?
Allowing him to continue his slumber, she unpacked her goods, laying out freshly-baked bread and still-warm stew in a wooden bowl, covered with cheesecloth. A skin of wine and supplies to clean up his face.
Conley slowly came to, wondering if he were still dreaming as the smells of food carried him to consciousness. He opened his eyes, the one still swollen and nearly glued shut with dried puss and blood.
“M’lady?” he croaked, throat raw and dry.
“Sir,” Tamara acknowledged, even as she continued to pour powder in a flask of water from the physician. “Drink this.” She pushed the acrid-smelling drink to his lips, making him drink it. “’Twill help with your pain.”
Conley drank. At this point he didn’t care what it was: it was liquid. He coughed on the foul tasting brew, but drank it all down as he was told. “Pardon my questions, M’lady, but where did all this come from?” He looked at the bounty spread out on the small table, eyes wide and mouth watering.
“This is courtesy of Lady Rachel.” Tamara walked over to the cell door, pounding on it with a heavy fist. “Ay!” she called out, a guard hurrying to see what she needed. “How is the lad s’posed to eat his final meal when he has no use of his hands?”
Conley glanced over the hunched guard’s shoulder at a smiling Tamara. He was confused, but not about to complain as his left hand was released from the shackle.
“Ye’ve got ten minutes,” the guard grumbled, heading out of the cell and once again locking the two inside.
Conley flexed his fingers and wrist, relieved at even the small amount of movement he’d been granted. “Thank you, M’lady,” he said softly. He was handed the soup and spoon, and quickly dug into the hearty meal. It took only moments before it was gone, followed by the bread and caboosed with the wine.
Tamara sat back and watched her offerings disappear in record time. She sent a silent thank you to whomever had given Rachel a moment of gracious forgiveness in allowing her to bring the condemned man a brief respite from his fate.
Satisfied and with a supremely happy stomach, Conley sat back on his bench, glancing over at the woman who’d always shown him kindness at the castle. “Why did she do this, M’lady?” he asked, voice stronger than it had been in days.
“First I ask you a question,” Tamara said, studying him with hard eyes.
“Aye,” he agreed, taking the final sip from the wine. He relieved at the warmth it spread throughout his body.
“What truly happened with Lady Allison?” Tamara made it clear by her expression that she wasn’t leaving until she got the full truth.
Conley sighed, running a hand through his greasy hair. What he wouldn’t do to be in his bathing tub in his rooms at that moment. “A month after I’d arrived at the castle I met both sisters in the stables. Allison made her flirtations clear, though I did not return them. Nights later she came to my room in the servants’ quarters wearing nay more than her skin and a cloak.”
Tamara listened to his simple story, and it rang true with her. “And you mounted her?”
Conley nodded. “Aye. Knew then ‘twas a mistake, but a mistake I made all the same.”
Tamara sighed with a nod. “I see. It’s said you’re claiming the child is not yours.” She forced him to meet her gaze with the intensity of her own. “That true?”
Conley again nodded. “Aye.”
“How do you know this?”
“’Tis not possible, M’lady. This I assure you.” He saw the look of doubt in her eyes. “M’lady, I’ve spoken truth about all else. I’m due to die in a matter of,” he glanced out the window in the wall behind him, straining his neck to see the position of the moon, “a matter of hours. Why should I lie of this?”
Tamara nodded. “This is true. You are not live, then?” she asked, referring to a man who cannot produce viable children.
Conley gave her a small smile, but only nodded. If you wish to put it that way. It saved him humiliation and explaining.
Tamara sighed and pushed off the hard chair with a groan of old bones. She began to pack everything back into the basket, dropping the linen napkin onto the floor, which was covered with soiled straw. She groaned again as she reached down to pick it up.
Conley watched her, and in that moment something told him to act. He saw the glint of a hairpin off the torch light, and shot his freed hand out to tug it free from Tamara’s graying locks. Many other hairpins held her style in place, and he hoped she would not notice one less.
Unaware of what had just happened, Tamara got to her feet and tossed the napkin into the basket. “I should take my leave,” she said, gathering all her belongings and donning her cloak. A piece of hair drifted down into her line of sight. With creased brow, she brushed it away, looking perplexed for a moment before she raised a brow in Conley’s direction. He remained stone, not giving anything away. A knowing smile and a bow, then Tamara was gone, alerting the guard she wanted out.
As Tamara was being let out, Conley quickly stuck the pin into his mouth, wincing as it stuck the inside of his cheek. The object settled, he stilled, waiting for his hand to be re-shackled.
Rachel sat on the verandah which overlooked the rose gardens her mother had planted so many years before. Miranda had been dead for more then twelve years, and Rachel’s memories of her were few. But she did remember the roses her mother loved so much.
The sun was dawning and spreading it’s fingers of color across the land. Rachel had been sitting watching it for some time, as sleep was scarce in coming. She had heard her father and Robert speaking of their outing later in the morning. They were off to see a beheading. Conley’s beheading.
Tamara had returned with Conley’s words of explanation as to what had happened with Allison. The lady-in-waiting was positive in his words, but Rachel was still unsure. She wanted nothing more than to believe it, but it almost hurt more to do so. If she were to believe what Conley said was true, he had not spoken but two words to him when he and Allison had been together.
She remembered that day fondly, the first which she’d met the quiet stable boy. As you wish, had been all he’d said to her. As you wish. “As you wish,” she whispered, watching as a lark bounced from tree to tree, trying to find the perfect spot to make it’s nest. “Indeed.”
She couldn’t make herself go to the “festivities” this day. Her heart was broken, and she felt her life was but a bleak reminder of what foolishness love could be. She supposed that marrying Robert would not be such. As far as she could see, he did not believe in love, and it would never be an issue between them. As far as she was concerned, she’d marry him because that was what she was told to do. She’d bare his children and make him a wife to be proud of in social circles. As for happiness, never to happen.
She reached up and wiped at a lazy tear that made it’s way down her cheek. She was surprised by it, as she hadn’t realized she had any tears remaining.
Voices erupted within the confines of the castle, alerting Rachel to trouble. She pushed up from her perch and hurried inside. A servant that she recognized as belonging to Lord Wynton rushed in, out of breath to meet the King.
“Sire, I have news!” he said, his voice shrill from his youth as well as the excitement of nearly running to tell the King.
“What is it, boy?” the King asked, concerned.
“The prisoner Conley has been killed in an attempt to escape!”
Rachel’s eyes widened, her heart stopping where it beat in her chest.
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