His father was waiting for him outside her door.
‘Has she agreed to the terms yet?’ Hugh asked.
The old man shook his head and frowned. ‘I swear she’s as stubborn as her father but whereas he was admirable, it’s an evil trait in a woman.’
Hugh smirked. ‘Show me a woman who isn’t, at least in some measure.’
‘But she is unsufferable. All that time I’ve had to put up with her demands and her tempers and I have never shown any ill will. Never! God’s truth Hugh, she was sent to make me suffer.’
Hugh bit back a smile. ‘I’ll go and talk to her, father. You look tired; you should rest.’
‘Rest? Bah! I never got to this position in life by resting! You see what you can do – I’ve got some business to settle with one of my tenants. At least he should be easier to deal with.’
Watching his father stride away with the energy of a man half his age, Hugh finally allowed himself that smile. The old man was no match for anyone as a courtier but he had never learned to understand women – their weaknesses, their fears. He, at least, knew what it took to make even the most stubborn witch change her mind. He entered the room without knocking.
Elizabeth spun around from the window. Short and slight of figure, nevertheless she was no frail maiden. With her red hair, pale skin and a glare that would shame a gorgon, she managed to intimidate most who crossed her path, even, it seemed, his father.
‘Greetings, my Lady Elizabeth.’
‘What do you want? Oh, wait one moment, it’s not hard to guess: Goodrich and Painswick. The same thing, every time. Well, it’s the same answer too. I shall not sign over any of my lands, not while my body yet draws breath.’
Hugh smiled. ‘It is not wise to tempt fate by such statements, my lady. Often the devil hears instead of God.’
‘Do you threaten me, my Lord?’
Hugh shrugged. ‘Take it as you wish; you usually do.’
‘Did you come here just to insult me? If so, I have better things to do with my time than listen.’
‘Do you? I’m pleased to hear that you find so much to do in our custody. No, my lady, I did not come here to banter words. You were right the first time: I came to seek your submission of Painswick and Goodrich.’
‘Then Devil take you, Despenser. It is bad enough being kept on your father’s manors and denied a husband without being robbed of my inheritance too.’
‘Two properties is hardly being robbed, Elizabeth. I doubt you’d hardly notice their loss. As for being kept here, you know perfectly well you’re far too much an important commodity to be allowed at will for every jack man to try for your hand. Anyway, I offered you my son as a husband.’
‘Do you think I would let any blood of yours taint my line? Anyway, how do I know that as soon as I bore him an heir you wouldn’t have me conveniently disappear.’
Hugh smiled and shook his head. She truly believed that he might have her killed; maybe she had heard some of the common rumours of things he was supposed to have done – Lady Baret for example. Never mind, let her think that way; it might work in his favour.
‘What, no words, my Lord? Perhaps then you would care to leave me to looking at something more pleasing to my eyes.’
Hugh crossed the room to her in three huge strides and grabbed hold of her left arm, his fingers closing around it so hard he knew they would leave bruises. ‘Enough of your disrespect, Elizabeth. Would you rather be imprisoned in a castle tower instead of a comfortable manor? It could quite easily be arranged if the rumour of a plot to abduct you were to surface.’
He glared down into her face and noted, with satisfaction, her defiance had suddenly melted into fear – just as he had intended.
‘My lord… please… take your hand off me. You are hurting me.’
‘I have not even started yet. You disrepect my father, and my family. You refuse an offer of marriage to my son. And yet you take all the fine food, wine and servants that we have to offer. I call that ungrateful. Well, it is now time to pay up. You will give us Painswick and Goodrich, as agreed, and after that little display just now I suggest you offer the remedy of another manor too – just to soothe my father’s hurt feelings. How about Swanscombe?’
Despite being terrified, Elizabeth still managed some strength to shake herself free. ‘Not Swanscombe! You can have the other two, but leave Swanscombe alone – it was my mother’s favourite.’
Hugh smirked. ‘No deal. Painswick, Goodrich and Swanscombe or else you will find life will be a lot less bearable from today. I have a nice little room at Caerphilly which would suit you well. It’s basic and you’d only have two servants, but at least it would be dry – unless a gale is blowing from the west. I might visit you from time to time but otherwise I’m araid it’s the sort of place where you would be – after a while – forgotten. Last chance Elizabeth.’
She glared at him. No-one had ever dared to speak to her this way before and for once she could find no rejoinder, no way of verbalising her rising anger. Before she could stop herself her hand flew upwards and across his face, leaving an angry red mark. For a brief secong the shocked look on his face was gratifying, then he grasped her wrist and thrust her away from him.
‘Bitch! If that’s the way you want it then be prepared to leave at dawn tomorrow. You keep on about being held captive: maybe it’s time you discovered what that truly means.’
He started to turn away as she sank to her knees where she stood. ‘My lord, please. Please forgive me. You can have them – whatever you want, just don’t take away any more of my freedom.’
He turned back. ‘Painswick, Goodrich, Swanscombe. That’s all I want – oh, and a bit more respect towards my father. If you learn some better manners then you may have more chance of pleasing a husband – if you ever have one.’
Leaving her weeping on the floor, Hugh went to find his father. After telling him he’d secured the lands, he decided he would go riding in the woods. A good gallop would help to clear away the taint of what he had just done; only then would he be able to return to London and face Eleanor.
Draft 1 25/01/08