FIFTEEN

William took great pleasure storming into the rooms Ferdinand had gained through his questionable means and searching under every bed, moving chairs and ordering servants out of his way. 'Twas not a difficult task as most of the furnishings had been sold. He went into the solar and opened large trunks should she be stuffed somewhere. She was not.

Ferdinand watched him with great dislike as he searched through the compartments in his writing table. He stopped suddenly, pulling out a smooth wooden sculpture with a sharp point at the tip that resembled a phallus too much for William's liking. He never saw anything like it in his life.

The two men with him eyed the thing with horrified fascination.

"I doubt very much that she is in there, milord." Ferdinand seethed when William lifted an eye at him.

"Aye," William took the wooden object and threw it into the fire as he left the solar. He knew it would not stop Ferdinand from making another one, but was satisfied with knowing that the horrible thing would never be used to harm another woman again.

While he drew pleasure by going through Ferdinand's things, 'twas soon lost on him when it became obvious that Marianne indeed was not there.

Fear wrapped around him like a snake.

Bryce and Nicholas returned from searching the kitchens and servants quarters while Hugh and the knight with him came from the stables. All found nothing.

"Shall we search the woods surrounding the house?" Hugh asked.

William nodded, banishing the snake. He would not give up. "Aye."

Ferdinand followed them to the door. "My apologies that your lady is missing, milord, I can only wish there was something I might do to assist your search."

William heard the false sympathy in his voice. It enraged him.

Without thinking he spun around and grabbed the man's neck, shoving him to the wall. Ferdinand clasped his hand with more strength than he was known to let on having.

Swords were drawn by William's and Ferdinand's men. They touched the flesh of his neck but William paid them no mind.

"I know you have her, and when I find her you best pray she still lives and is unharmed." William hissed, ignoring Hugh's and Nicholas's hands on his shoulders. They might be fooled into believing Ferdinand's performance of frailty but he was not.

Ferdinand looked him in the eye and wheezed. "I swear on my honor, I have not had her brought here."

Bryce's gruff voice snapped him from his murderous thoughts. "Milord, we will search the forest then return here a second time. There is naught we can do now."

Realizing where his hand was, William released the aging man. Ferdinand coughed, a wasted hand clasping his chest for breath.

William looked at him, and with no word of apology, turned to open the doors.

He saw Marianne running down the hill in the distance and stopped. Her hand clasped in her father's.

His eyes met hers. She dropped Holton's hand and ran faster than a deer. She called his name, her voice held only terror.

"William!"

He ducked and rolled as the hand holding the blade came down on him. William drew his sword but Bryce already grabbed Ferdinand's arms. The older man shrieked and dropped the dagger under Bryce's falcon grip.

Another man came at him and William was ready. He blocked the sword coming down on him with a clang from his own blade and kicked the man's knee, listening to his screech as it shattered backwards. He too fell, clutching his twisted leg and rolling, weeping and sobbing.

James jumped from his horse, he rushed and stole the man's sword while one of William's knights held him down with no struggle.

'Twas all the incentive the army outside needed before charging into the house with their weapons drawn.

Outnumbered and listening to the hysterical cries of the man with the destroyed leg, Ferdinand's men dropped their weapons and surrendered on their knees.

"Filthy cowards!" Ferdinand screamed behind him. "Pick up your weapons! Defend me!"

"You are the coward here!" William seethed. "Bringing pain to helpless women while hiding behind your lies and men."

"The way you hid in your castle all these years, correct milord?"

William wanted to kick his teeth in for the comment. The man in front of him made him sick, but Marianne called his name again and his attention went to his wife.

000

Marianne had not a rational thought in her when she leaped into William's arms. He grabbed the back of her head and crushed her lips to his.

She quickly pulled away from him, struggling to be set back on the ground. "Let me see you! If he cut you—!"

He took her searching hands, laughter in his eyes. "I am well," Then he found the dried blood on her swollen neck, and they darkened. "Who did this?"

Marianne touched his fingers that stroked her bruise. "Robert, when he took me from the stables."

"I will kill him!"

"He is already dead, and your grip on my arms is becoming painful." She had a smile on her face when she told him, so that he would know he was not truly hurting her.

Even still, William's eyes widened and he loosened his hands. Only one answer came to mind at the mention of Robert's death. "Ferdinand?"

Marianne nodded. "Aye. He killed Robert so that he would not have to pay the reward for bringing me here. I know not of what he did with the body. 'Tis his blood you see on my neck."

She saw Blaise over William's shoulder. He did not look shaken by her declaration as she had expected of him. His eyes were hard and uncaring at the news, and Marianne knew she need not pity him.

Whatever hold Robert had on Blaise ended while Marianne was gone. Blaise did not regret Robert's death.

William briefly glanced at Ferdinand before giving her his attention again, smoothing her frayed, rose red hair. "I suppose the man has done me a service after all. Has Ferdinand harmed you?"

Marianne leaned into his touch, and when shook her head he asked quietly, "Did he touch you?"

Again, she shook her head, and William pulled her close to him, whispering words of thanks into her hair when he saw sir Holton standing only a few feet away.

He pulled Marianne behind him but did not lift his weapon to the man as he appeared to be no threat. Holton had a sheepish look about his face and his clothes were filthy and loose about his shoulders.

Marianne held William's arm. "He rescued me from the house, right out from under Ferdinand's nose."

Ferdinand shrieked and struggled while Bryce held him with little effort. "I put two men at the door! How did you get out!"

Holton gave him a cold stare. "Just because I sold you my house does not mean I was willing to divulge to you its secrets."

"It shall be your house again," said William, sheathing his sword as there no longer was a need for it. "I will see to it. The serfs as well, though there is naught I can do about the ones Ferdinand sold."

Holton's eyes widened, his mouth falling at the gift. "Thank you, milord."

William's eyes hardened. "Should I discover you have been gambling again—"

"You shan't hear it!" Holton said quickly, his hands quivering with his good news. His eyes found Marianne's. "I have been troubled for many a year, and I am sorry that it has ever caused you any pain. I shall never touch the dice again, and this property will flourish."

"'Tis mine now! He has no right to it!"

William ignored Ferdinand and nodded to Holton, satisfied with their deal. Marianne glowed with the good news he was giving to her father.

She had not expected him to do this for him, had not expected him to come for her so quickly, yet he did. He always surprised her.

Pleased with him and everything around her, Marianne tightened her grip on him before forcefully turning his head for a kiss.

000

Ferdinand did not struggle. He knew the large man holding him would only tighten his grip on his shoulders if he did.

He would not have it. He would not have that red headed whore leave him a ruined man while her husband executed him for a crime that idiot serf committed by bringing her to him.

She lavished her husband with her lips, unashamed of the spectacle she made of herself and her lord. Had she been wed to him there would have been none of that. She would have known her place.

Holton would not remove that hideous smile from his face while he openly made plans to buy back as many of the serfs and sheep as possible.

Ferdinand seethed. 'Twas his property he spoke so casually of! Holton lost it to him because of his foolishness and his inability to control his daughter, who remained close to lord Gray long after she finished her performance. Had it not been for her, she would be his wife and he would not be in this position.

He felt the large man's brute fingers slack. He waited seconds more until seeing that lord Gray was about to take the little whore away.

Ferdinand reached out. His fingers found a dagger at the man's belt and lifted it from its sheath. He ducked under the large man's hands before he could be grabbed again and ran for her.

000

William heard his name screamed again, and he turned to see Ferdinand flying towards Marianne with crazed look in his eyes and a blade in his hand. William yanked Marianne behind him and pulled out his own sword.

Blaise dashed forth and kicked Ferdinand's feet out from under him, the man howled and fell on the dagger he intended to stab Marianne with.

Marianne shrieked and looked away from the blood spurting from Ferdinand's neck, the same way it had from Robert's neck. William held her tightly while she hid her face in his shoulder.

Ferdinand twitched once, twice, and died. His eyes remained wide open in eternal shock that he could accidentally kill himself.

William stared with just as much shock. That could have been Marianne he watched bleed to death just now.

He clutched her tighter and glared at Bryce. "I thought you had him!"

Bryce stared at him helplessly before mumbling. "I thought I did."

William saw Blaise standing above Ferdinand's body, and he gave it a small kick with his boot to confirm the death.

William reached out and grasped his son's shoulder. Blaise looked up at him.

"Thank you," William said.

Blaise stared him in the eye. "I will always defend my father. And my step-mother."

William's smile could not have been brighter, and he clapped his son on the back when Blaise grinned back.

William looked down at Marianne as she hid her face, her hands over her eyes to ensure that she could not see another dead body.

He could hardly blame her. Two men in less than a day was much for any woman to see.

He raised his head to Holton. "I hope you have room for my men. I do not believe we will be at liberty to leave until the sky clears."

Holton's voice boomed with happiness. "Milord, there should be more than enough room as Ferdinand did not keep many servants. And you shall have my best room to rest yourselves. Stay as long as you like!"

William felt the tension in Marianne's body relax itself away. He thought her trembling was due to the cold and wished to bring her near to a fire as quickly as possible, but he looked down and saw tears in her eyes.

000

When out of the cold Marianne felt herself being handed over to James while William addressed the serfs and men of the house. He ordered all serfs to obey the new master and any men-at-arms who did not wish to have a new master were to leave now that their old one was dead.

She watched as they all looked at each other and stayed where they were. No one would leave with the wind picking up and air thickening with snow outside.

No one seemed particularly displeased that Ferdinand was dead either. The men he had hired would not even defend him when attacked, which led Marianne to believe they were either poorly paid, poorly treated, or possibly both since the idea that Sir Ferdinand would surround himself with cowards did not ring true to her.

Her mind was in a haze and she could barely give her attention to any one person before it was lost on something else.

William came to her again and she was reminded of her father's promise of the best chamber. Ferdinand's chamber, the one she had escaped from earlier.

All became clear to her and she stopped. "Nay, please, I cannot spend the night in there."

It had seemed so horrible when she was locked inside, the scent of Ferdinand in the air, surrounding her, suffocating her. Not even William could drive that away.

Without saying anything, William looked at her and understood. "Perhaps we could take the second best chamber for our use."

Holton agreed whole heartedly and gleefully led them in another direction. Marianne knew where the good rooms were, but allowed herself to be led quietly since her father was far too pleased to be in control of himself and his home again.

The room certainly was large, but bare of most furnishings save for the bed, a worn stool and small table with an empty basin, the fire had been quickly lit by a maid before Holton left them to themselves, promising a hot meal to be delivered promptly.

Her flesh heated when William snaked his arms around her from behind and pulled her to his chest. She lifted her cold hands to hold his colder ones. "You smell like the snow outside."

She felt him drop a kiss in her hair. "I was unaware snow had a scent. Did you know you smell like the autumn leaves?"

She smiled. "I hope 'tis a pleasant scent."

He pushed her hair away from her neck and placed his lips there, his voice dropping. "I worried I would not be in time."

The confession in her ear brought a shiver.

"Are you cold?"

He made to move to the fireplace but she held tightly to him.

"Nay, 'tis not that."

He looked at her, waiting for an explanation.

She did not know how to explain to him that his fear for her was a comfort. Perhaps he could not love her like he did Alice, but he cared enough for her to fear for her and send a small army of men to her rescue.

She looked into his eyes and spoke the truth. "I knew you would come for me. I had absolute faith in you."

A laugh caught in his throat as he covered her mouth with his.

Marianne clutched his shoulders. His large fingers slid across her cheek and into her hair while the other slipped beneath the tight bodice of her gown and cupped her breast. He squeezed.

Marianne gasped sharply. He used the act to his advantage and slid his tongue into her mouth.

Abruptly she pulled away and began fumbling with his breastplate and then his under tunic while he struggled with the strings of her gown and bodice.

"I wish you could rip the retched thing off."

"Aye, but 'tis impossibly strong."

Finally, he untied it and pulled it from her body. She was left standing in her chemise and Marianne took a breath and relished in the freedom.

She touched him. Stroked his face, his chest, kissed his lips while his hands remained on her breasts and pressing between her legs through the fabric of her chemise. His hands were everywhere yet they touched not enough of her.

She wished to touch more of him but what she was doing was not enough either and it frustrated her. She wanted him inside of her, his bare chest on top of hers, heating her in a way the fire behind her never could while she wrapped her legs around his lower back.

She could stand his teasing caresses no longer. "Take me to bed, this instant."

"Eager." His pleased smirk spoke many promises to her. William bent at the knees, wrapped his arms under her bottom and lifted her in the air. He took two steps and dropped her on the bed before he settled between her legs.

She did not mind and sighed throatily as he lifted her chemise, adjusted his hose and slipped inside her without removing them nor his boots.

Marianne wrapped her legs about his hips eagerly, like she had wanted. Her sighs turned into moans as he moved in a repetitive motion in and out of her, holding her tightly to him as he did and speeding his movements as she tightened her thighs around him.

He kissed her shoulder, her neck and her lips while she threaded her fingers into his hair, and she felt truly loved. She wished it would never end but the building sensation in her belly came too quickly and she threw her head back, closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and released the wail that built itself within her, letting his silky voice take her the rest of the way.

He breathed hard against her shoulder and she smiled. Stroking his hair and kissing him again.

He tried to roll away from her but her legs held firm.

"Stay."

She knew she could spend years admiring his lazy smile. "As you wish, my dear. But this position will not be comfortable for long."

She barely heard his words. Her eyes were closing with sleep. "I doubt that very much."

He chuckled, trailing his lips down her cheek, across her jaw, and resting on her lips as he slowly felt her legs release their grip on him with her oncoming sleep.

When he pulled away to lay beside her, her eyes came open again.

"I'm cold." She said.

Neither were willing to get up, so William pulled the half of the blanket they were not laying on and covered them with it. She snuggled into his heat and he wished they would never have to leave.

"William?"

He looked down, her voice thick and her eyes half open. He brushed the curls of red from her face. "Aye?"

"Ye should know, today, before something else happens," She searched for his hand under the blankets and brought it to her belly, still bare as he had not lowered her chemise.

Logic told him what she was about to say before she said it. He found his voice unexpectedly thick while his heart raced around the forest. "You are with child."

She smiled and nodded, her eyes slipping shut. "Aye. 'Tis yours."

A bark of laughter erupted from his throat, his eyes stinging with emotion as he kissed her again and again. "You need not tell me 'tis mine for me to know it, you imp. I love you."

She smiled sleepily at his words before her breathing lightened and she succumbed to sleep.

William could not sleep at all. He lay awake for hours holding his wife with visions of a child in his mind.

To Be Continued …

A.N: Well, there is only one chapter left, I'm eager for tomorrow now just to know what everyone thinks of the story. There is still one thing left unresolved, can anyone guess what it is?

Grumpirah: Yeah, Blaise still has some problems. I think he's redeemable only because I was the one who thought up all the reasons why he would separate himself from his father and look to Robert for guidance, I guess that just makes me sympathize with him a bit more. As for your response on William, that is amazing. I didn't think anyone would like him so much since I was worried that I made him too much of a push over, a few people, off of this website, told me that too, but your response to him is great. Thanks for sharing.

Anon: There's one more thing coming up in the resolution chapter, hope you like it :)

His Feisty Beauty: Here's your next chapter, hope you liked it

Forever imaginative: Thank you so much, that's a great compliment for me to hear since I tend to have trouble getting readers into the story. I tend to muck it up with Author intrusion and whatnot. There's probably still tons of that left in the story, but I'm still glad you were able to see through it and enjoy.

Smartass Joker: Here's your update, sorry it took so long. Hope you like it.