Lord Tristram’s Love Match by R.R. Vane

Chapter 5

Tristram’s temples were pounding hard this morning, although, in truth, he’d drunk no more than half a cup of wine last night. It seemed though as if he was recovering from a heavy bout of drinking. He swore under his breath. Certainly, he’d been drunk on his wife’s charms, although he’d promised himself to be distant and cold. His friend, Bertran FitzRolf cast him a searching glance as they were lightly sparring with staves, as was their usual practice in the morning.

“All’s well?” FitzRolf asked, and Tristram contented himself to shrug as he glimpsed his cousin approaching them with a pinched look on his gaunt face. Isidore didn’t bid them a good morrow.

“I saw your wife walking about this morn, guiding the servants and seeing to her people. I told her to wear a modest headdress!” he called out with a scowl.

Tristram raised his eyebrows, setting his staff aside. Judith had covered her hair as of this morning, as was required of all married women. So why was Isidore scoffing?

“That thing! That vile thing they call a barbette!” Isidore ranted. “Just as that lewd Eleanor used to wear at Court. That’s not headcover! It’s a disgrace!”

Judith had now indeed covered her hair, but like most noble married women of Tristram’s acquaintance, it was not her habit to wear a heavy wimple which covered her neck and hid all her glorious hair. Tristram recalled that in the first days of their marriage she’d worn a filet and a dainty embroidered veil, and upon this morning she’d had upon her that item they called a barbette, which Queen Eleanor had brought with her from the South of France. It had a band under the chin, but was designed in such a way as to leave part of the crown of a woman’s hair uncovered. Tristram recalled prelates had chided the Queen over this, but many women at Court had adopted the fashion. He did not particularly care for this item, or for any kind of headdress, because he loved to see Judith’s black hair uncovered. Nevertheless it was not what custom decreed, and Isidore was here, watching like a hawk over them.

“My lady has indeed covered her hair, just as you asked, hasn’t she?” Tristram said, attempting to sound unconcerned.

A younger son, destined from infancy for the Church, Tristram’s cousin Isidore spent most of his time in prayer and fasting, and mortifying his flesh. Isidore de Brunne was thought a pious man, even more pious than Thomas Becket, people whispered. And Henry seemed to hold him in as much esteem as he’d held Becket once. Unlike Becket however, Isidore was no commoner. Their family was of high birth. And Tristram knew his cousin would use that to his advantage and secure a high rank for himself in the Church.

“Your woman does not look at all humbled, though you vowed to make her repent,” his cousin said pointedly, and Tristram stifled a sigh.

“She is my wife, and I mean to see to her chastisement,” he countered, casting a hard stare at Isidore whose scowl deepened.

“You made a vow. It seems though she has you ensorcelled. A haughty woman, this wife of yours. Although I recall you once claimed her ways were mild and shy.”

“I’ve already chastened her this morning. And I plan to chasten her again, just as I vowed. And you shall soon see she will learn true repentance for her deeds,” Tristram said wearily.

“Aye, repentance not only for her defiance of her liege lord and of her lord husband, but also for the insult she’s brought upon our noble house!”

Tristram’s cousin still chafed upon the way in which Judith had sought to annul her marriage to a De Brunne, and thought it his duty to avenge their family’s honour.

“I’ve punished her and will not tarry to do so again. I am upholding my oath. What more do you want of me?” Tristram called out sharply.

His cousin shook his head in full bitterness.

“I see only too well the way you look at her. She already has you twisted around her little finger. Do you think me blind? And she deserves far more punishment for what she did. True punishment! You know it as well as I.”

“She has been punished. And she’ll be further punished, never fear,” Tristram countered.

“Or so you say,” his cousin retorted drily, before heading to the chapel for his long prayers of the morning.

Tristram felt thankful at least that his cousin had not attempted to replace the castle’s chaplain for the time he was residing at Redmore. Father Thomas was, as he recalled from his earlier days at Redmore, a kindly man and far less austere than his cousin. Tristram hoped Isidore would not seek to oversee the spiritual welfare of Redmore in Father Thomas’ stead. He wished to avoid that at all costs.

“He has a cruel streak in him, your cousin, like many churchmen,” FitzRolf muttered with a shake of his head, as they watched upon Isidore’s gaunt form heading towards the chapel.

Tristram nodded with a frown. If it had been entirely up to his cousin and the Church, Judith was to have received a flogging and had her hair shorn as a mark of her shame. And if it had been entirely up to the Church and to his family, Tristram was supposed to have sent his wife to spend the rest of her life locked in a convent. Yet Henry truly ruled over the Church in this land, ever since Thomas Becket had been killed, and Tristram had pleaded with Henry. He’d taken it upon himself to formally bestow a punishment on his miscreant wife. A punishment harsh enough to satisfy those called to witness it. And he supposed he’d failed in that task. Isidore was to report to Henry and to the Church, and Isidore wasn’t happy, thinking the discipline Tristram had bestowed upon his lady had been too mild.

“You did what you could. I do not think I could have done any better in your stead,” FitzRolf said with a sigh, obviously guessing Tristram’s thoughts.

Tristram conjured up the punishment he’d delivered. It had been good he was angry with Judith. His anger had helped him harden his heart against her when he’d used the belt. Even in his anger, he’d not been able to bring himself to give her anything other than a good spanking. Isidore had wanted a harsh beating. And that Tristram had been unable to provide.

“I hope we’ll soon see the back of him,” Tristram muttered grimly, knowing, however, his overly zealous, austere cousin would not be so easy to dismiss.

His cousin took his ecclesiastical duties far too seriously, just as Thomas Becket had. Tristram supposed it was blasphemous of him to think it, but he fully agreed with King Henry that Becket’s extreme fervour had been a menace to their land.

“When he is finally persuaded you’re able to keep your wife subdued and well chastened, I suppose he will at last go back to London. And I with him,” FitzRolf said rather wistfully.

Tristram cast his friend a sympathetic look. It had been many months since Bertran FitzRolf had glanced upon his own wife, and FitzRolf loved that wife of his quite dearly. Tristram couldn’t help but picture a world where he himself had a wife he loved dearly, and who loved him dearly in return. It was what he had wished for when he’d wed Judith. Yet things hadn’t turned out to be the way he’d wished them. And now, due to the course of the war which had torn their country, both Judith and he had to suffer each other for the rest of their lives. Still… he recalled the lust they’d shared and the heated abandon with which his wife had given herself to him. It was strange. Now he’d decided he would have no love between them, and that he would be harsh to her rather than gentle, things seemed to have settled far more easily. Perhaps he had been wrong those years ago, and there was no true place for love or gentleness in this marriage. Lust and heat and harshness were perchance the only way in which he could deal with his wife.

“How fares the lady Judith?” FitzRolf asked, astute as always when his friend’s thoughts were concerned.

“Her bottom’s still sore, but other than that she fares quite well,” Tristram muttered, unable to shed from his mind the plans of heated discipline he had in store for his wife.

“She’s different than you described her to me,” FitzRolf suddenly said, and this made Tristram frown.

“How so?” he queried.

“The woman you talked to me about was shy and withdrawn and skittish. Uncertain of herself at times. But it is not how I perceived your wife. She seems self-assured and more than capable in caring for her people. And she bore the surrender of her home and the punishment far better than I thought she would.”

When his friend went to oversee their men’s training, Tristram had occasion to muse upon what had been said. Perhaps Bertran had the right of it. Tristram himself had noticed a change in Judith. She was far bolder and more decisive than she’d been years ago. And the passionate manner in which she’d responded to his lovemaking had nothing to do with the timid maiden she’d been when they’d first wed. But perhaps this was no change at all. Judith herself had told him last night she had been lying to him. The way she’d acted then had surely been part of her treachery and deceit. But why had Judith wanted to wreck their marriage? It was a question he’d often thought upon during the time they’d been apart. And there was no clear answer he could conjure up. He’d treated his lady graciously and had sought to earn her love. And for a while he’d thought she could easily grow to love him. But then she’d spurned and betrayed him.

He raked a hand through his hair, knowing that what he’d resolved upon could not be undone. More than a year ago Henry had prevailed upon the Church not to grant the annulment of Tristram’s marriage. Redmore was one of the few stone castles in England, and Henry would have only someone loyal to him oversee it. The king had known too well that while Judith’s father had been alive, he’d had Redmore’s allegiance. After Sir Edward’s passing, it had however become plain Judith and her Occitan mother were loyal to Queen Eleanor’s cause. And Henry was shrewd enough not to sever the bond between the heir of Redmore and a De Brunne. The De Brunnes had always been loyal to their king. So it was convenient for Henry that the De Brunnes should keep their ties to Redmore.

Tristram’s marriage to Judith had been convenient for Henry as long as Eleanor was still a threat. Now Eleanor lay vanquished, and Judith was no longer a valuable pawn in Henry’s game. When it had become clear Redmore could be easily taken, the King had advised Tristram to cast Judith aside as soon as the castle was captured. The Church and Tristram’s family had urged that the miscreant wife be harshly chastised, and then forced to take the veil. But Tristram had not wanted it so. He’d sought to be magnanimous to Judith even if she’d betrayed him, and had meant to let her seek her sanctum in the South of France with her lady mother. He had not truly expected her to comply with his haughty terms of letting her stay on at Redmore as his wife, because he’d come to understand she despised him. Nevertheless, he should have guessed Judith would, after all, want to stay, in spite of her disgust with him. She loved her home and her people far too much to go.

Tristram heaved a deep sigh. He’d made an oath to chastise his wife for her misdeeds and have her repent, because they’d all demanded it of him. Henry, his family, the Church… As long as he decided not to cast her away, he was forever bound to ensure her obedience. Last night he hadn’t meant to claim Judith. He still resented her, and he supposed it had been petty of him to want to taunt her for what she’d done to him. He’d meant to humiliate her just as she’d humiliated him, expecting she would never be able to bring herself to touch him. Yet Judith had touched him. She had done much more than touch him. And then he’d found himself unable to rein in his lust for her. Now it was done. She was in truth his wife. His wife – the wife he still lusted after and who, as it turned out, lusted after him in spite of herself. Tristram smiled bitterly. Lust for her he may, but he no longer sought to love her – heneverwould. A loveless marriage – he’d doomed himself to it by allowing Judith to stay, and there was no undoing it now.

Four years ago, 1170

The bedding ceremonywas an ordeal to Judith, because she’d always been shy, and now she had to display her naked body in front of her new husband and strangers. She and Tristram were forced to stand naked facing each other, in order for the wedding attendants to confirm both the bride and groom were hale and fit for marriage. At last, the door closed behind the last of the wedding attendants, and Judith tried to avert her eyes from Tristram’s beautiful form, knowing she found even his manhood beautiful. It now stood unashamedly erect in front of her. She tried to tell herself she should be very afraid of it, just as her aunt Edith had cautioned her, when she’d readied her for the bedding.

“Men of Sir Tristram’s ilk have their urges. It will hurt mightily when his rod tears through your maidenhead,” her aunt Edith had told her with a sad shake of her head as she was combing Judith’s long luscious hair, in preparation for her wedding night.

Judith had said nothing, recalling her mother had also told her most men had brutish urges, which were a trial to their God-fearing wives. Yet Tristram de Brunne had always been gracious to her, and she had a hard time reconciling the fluid, elegant manner in which he always carried himself with the savage ways of a brutish beast.

“You’ll have to suffer him, because this is Eve’s lot. Have a care though not to succumb to his sinful ways,” Aunt Edith had cautioned her, handling the brush somewhat forcefully on Judith’s mass of midnight dark hair, which made Judith wince.

“Sinful ways…” Judith had muttered, not fully understanding.

She’d often heard priests speak of the sins of the flesh, but she’d mostly turned a deaf ear on what they had to say, because the ways of the flesh hadn’t been her concern at all. But now she would be a married woman.

“You will know what they are, because they’re plainly sinful!” her aunt Edith had scoffed, but hadn’t enlightened her in any way.

Sinful? Judith now mused, trying to hide her blush. Would Tristram kissing her ardently count as sinful? Would Tristram’s long-fingered hands caressing her naked breasts count as sinful? Would her brushing her lips against those impossibly thick dark lashes of his beautiful eyes count as sinful? Would… There were so many things she pictured in her mind she could share with Tristram.

And now, as the wedding attendants had blissfully left, she was alone with Tristram, and they were both naked. She blushed fiercely, knowing full well he was utterly beautiful and she was only plain, and he must have certainly already perceived that. Frantically, she searched for the shift her attendants had removed during the bedding ceremony. She spotted it at last. It had been discarded on the floor, and now it lay at Tristram’s feet. And Tristram simply bent to pick it up and handed it wordlessly to her. Judith hastily slipped into it, knowing he needn’t have her fully naked in order to do the deed he had to do tonight. And perhaps Tristram didn’t care to see her naked. He’d been, she was certain, already used to bedding women who must have been far more comely than she was.

Tristram picked up his own discarded fur-lined robe and put it on, which caused her to suppress a sigh of sheer regret.

“Some wine, my lady?” he asked courteously, going to fetch the pitcher and goblets the wedding attendants had brought for them.

Judith nodded in some relief. She didn’t know what to do with herself, so drinking wine would keep her busy for a while.

“Perchance our wedding was too sudden,” Tristram said abruptly as he took a sip from his own goblet of wine. “I wished for a long betrothal, but your father prevailed upon me for an early wedding, telling me you were not adverse to it.”

Judith widened her eyes. She’d had a chance to glance upon Tristram in the two weeks which had led to the wedding. But during those occasions she’d had the opportunity to be with him, she’d been hardly able to open her mouth, because his presence nearly always reduced her to a loss of words. Judith was shy, but she’d never been this tongue-tied. Whenever Tristram had spoken to her, she’d nodded eagerly to whatever he’d been saying, unable to refrain from staring at him with wide eyes and a tremulous smile, which must have made her look like a lovesick simpleton. Was it love, this childish fancy she felt whenever she glanced upon Tristram de Brunne? Was it plain, sinful lust? Both at the same time?

Tristram sighed.

“It all has been too hasty, hasn’t it? You see, I…”

He paused, as if at a loss for words, which was strange, because she’d never known Tristram de Brunne to lack for words. He was the best-spoken lord she’d ever met, and one of those men who never talked down to women. She’d been aware of that as soon as she’d met him. Unlike her father or other lords and knights of her acquaintance, it seemed he had the patience to listen closely whenever women spoke. It was a rare virtue for a man to have.

Tristram suddenly smiled.

“Yet you so eagerly said aye when I asked you plainly if you would have me!”

Judith frowned, striving to recall him ever having asked the question, and simply failing. It must have been that first day when he’d come to call upon her after her father had told her of his plans. She’d been in such turmoil that she’d been able to focus just on the music of his voice as he’d spoken, eagerly agreeing from time to time to whatever he had to say. She had been loath to betray she was unable to even make sense of what he’d been saying. He’d tried to coax her to talk to him, but all she’d managed had been acquiescent responses to all his attempts to engage her in conversation.

Tristram must have noted the dismay in her eyes, because he hurried to say, “Nevertheless, things have been far too hasty. And you need more time to get accustomed to me. Rest assured, my lady, I will not press upon you to surrender your maidenhead tonight. We’ll take things slowly. There’s time enough to learn each other’s ways and bodies.”

Judith felt deep relief mixed with strange disappointment. Yet it was best this way. Her new lord had given her a reprieve, and that was certainly gracious of him.

“Aye, husband,” she muttered dumbly, as always not knowing what to say in his presence.

“I like the way the word husband sounds upon your lips,” he told her, and his warm smile reached his sinfully dark eyes, as he gently took her hand in his.

Judith’s heart started thumping wildly. Why was it that it was to this very man, the only one who made her heart race like mad, that she’d gotten married? He unsettled her far too much.

“And will you now call me by my name?” Tristram asked in that voice of his which had sweet music in it.

“What? Tristram?” she whispered.

“Mm,” he acquiesced, as his hand slowly began to caress her palm and fingers.

Judith had never known that such a simple, seemingly innocent caress could feel so hot, and she bit her lip in sheer surprise. And Tristram mistook her surprise for shock, because he swiftly withdrew his hand.

“Let us just talk tonight,” he said with a soothing smile. “I like to hear your voice.”

As always, Judith had agreed to what he said, and they had started talking. He’d asked her more of her home and had told her of his in exchange, and Judith had gradually begun to feel less tongue-tied in his presence. And she’d told him of Redmore, and of how much she cared for her home and for her people and for the hills and moorland she loved to roam, coming to understand Tristram was indeed one of those rare men who knew how to listen, not only how to talk.