Disclaimer: I don't own it. Everything you recognise belongs to Sir Walter Scott and A&E. No infringement is intended and I'm certainly not making any money from this story.
Summary: What if Rebecca of York had not refused to leave when Brian de Bois-Guilbert arranged for their escape from Templestowe?
Author's note: Never happened. Never could have happened. But I always thought Rebecca should have fallen in love with Bois-Guilbert instead of Ivanhoe and after seeing Ciaran Hinds playing the part of Brian de Bois-Guilbert in the "Ivanhoe" TV mini-series, I felt compelled to write an alternate ending to their story. The portrayal of the characters follow mini-series canon. 'Deus vult' means 'God wills it' and was a Crusader battle cry.
In the darkest depths and shadows of this cell, she had both felt closer to and farther from God than she had ever had. Her life had passed before her eyes, during the lonely hours of her vigil, each and every memory returning with the kind of clarity that was reserved for the dying.
Rebecca of York rose and began pacing back and forth between the stone walls of her prison. She had wept, only once, but she often thought of her father. And of Ivanhoe. And, God help her, God preserve and protect her, she thought of Brian de Bois-Guilbert.
Rebecca sighed, shaking her head. They were evenly matched, she and him, if not in bodily strength, then in wit, for his was like the edge of a blade, when he chose to reveal it, when he did not let his anger rule him.
And she, who had travelled so far by her father's side and seen so much, had never hoped to meet a man who was her equal in this regard. To find it, here, in him, was like finding truth in the words of the Devil. And it frightened her. More so, now, than her death, because that death was not yet real, she did not, in truth, believe it, however much she knew that it would come.
Rebecca stopped, halting in mid-movement, as she reached the far end of the cell and she frowned, deeply troubled. Not all the memories, those clear, sharp memories, were of the distant past.
Tell me I do not excite you.
She had not answered him, because there was only one answer that she could give and it would have been a lie. But these stones, this solitary confinement that she had been forced to accept, allowed no mercy or escape and she had, long since, admitted to herself, if not to him, that it was so. He did. Not like Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who touched her heart, but rather like a puzzle, a riddle she needed to solve or a difficult illness whose cause and cure she had to find.
He had not let her win at chess. Even her father did that, at times, though he knew full well how much it vexed her. But he, he had railed and cursed when she had beaten him, but he had not let her win. And such was her predicament. She hated him, most certainly. Hated his cruelty and his violence and the way he stood his ground, like a conqueror, never bending and never relenting.
Yet, against her will and better judgement, she found she wanted to know the workings of his mind and all the labyrinthine paths that had led to this moment, this castle and this fate. And she wanted to know about the woman whose worth was so great and whose value was so high that he had grieved for twenty years.
It was not cold or detached, this desire, as it could have been, considering its nature. It burned, in his presence, like tinder and she knew not how he failed to see it, but his ignorance was a blessing.
Rebecca shivered, wishing she had a mantle or a blanket, or both. But the Templars had not deigned to give her either of these things, perhaps because they believed she had no need of them. She was a witch, after all. A witch, a woman and a Jewess and thus, in every way condemned.
Panic gripped her at the thought, wave upon wave that left her weak and drained and she leaned her forehead and her palms against the surface of the stones. They were slightly damp and chilly,but they were solid, she did not fall. And she began to pray.
When the door slammed open, Rebecca flinched. She turned, heart in her mouth and saw Bois-Guilbert in the doorway.
"Rebecca, there are two men in the courtyard, that is all."
"No," she answered, without thinking, steadfast in her resistance, even now. "I will not go with you."
"Then go on your own. Just go."
She did not breathe. She did not move. It had, indeed, been long in coming and it was late in coming. So very, very late. "They will find me."
He cursed. "No punishment could be worse than this! Christ's wounds, woman, are you so eager to die? Will you not try to save yourself?"
"God will save me," she replied.
His mouth twisted. "What God?" he sneered and the blasphemy made her gasp. "There was no God in Palestine, when the children died. When their mothers were raped and their fathers were beaten and tortured. All of them were innocent, Rebecca. And none of them were saved." He clenched his fists. "Do you want me to beg? To see me humbled? I have done worse, for much less noble causes."
And he fell to his knees, in front of her, on the floor of the cell.
"No." She took a step forward. One single step and no more.
"Then what? What would you have me do?"
Rebecca opened her mouth, then closed it again, gaze never leaving him, hands clasped together to keep them from trembling. She did not want to see that look on his face, ever again, for as long as she lived. And she wanted to live. "Do you think I could pass, or would they notice?"
His eyes shuttered, in relief, and if the darkness did not entirely leave him, at least it eased. "No, not if you are careful." He hesitated, then said: "I will take you as far as Rotherwood, if you let me."
Pride nearly made her refuse, but she was not, in spite of everything, quite that foolish. "Yes."
"Wait!" Rebecca stumbled on the grassy slope, nearly losing her balance. "I cannot run so fast in these skirts."
He slowed, but he did not turn. "It is not far."
The forest began beyond the edge of the slope and only when they entered it, did Rebecca release the breath she had been holding. She tried not to worry about what would happen if the guards realised that they were missing, but the image stayed with her, nonetheless, like a thorn or a splinter that she could not remove.
"I am coming." She heard the horses before she saw them, the restless trampling of hooves behind a curtain of leaves, and she lengthened her stride.
The young man watching the animals lifted his head as they burst into the clearing, hand on the hilt of his sword. He relaxed, visibly, when he recognised them. "My lord," he said, bowing low.
"Were you followed?"
"Good." Bois-Guilbert untied the reins, then cast a glance at Rebecca. "How well can you ride?"
"Well enough, if my life depends on it."
His lips curved, slightly, and he held out his hand. She quailed at the thought of touching him and it must have shown, he must have noticed, for he scowled and moved aside.
"Gilles!" he barked and the young man jumped forward.
"Help her up!" Stiff, unyielding back turned towards her, Bois-Guilbert walked over to the other horse and mounted, in a flurry of white cloth and clinking metal.
But she was glad of it. Glad it was not he. Because the hands of this boy, these blunt and callused hands, were of no consequence, they had no power over her, mind, body or soul.
"My lord," Gilles ventured, "should I come with you?"
"No," the other man replied and Gilles seemed about to protest, but Bois-Guilbert continued before he had time to speak: "Beaumanoir will blame anyone he can and it would be poor payment, in return for the aid you have given us tonight." Bois-Guilbert looked at Rebecca. "Are you ready?"
She nodded and, as if he had expected no other answer, he took off, grey horse crashing through the undergrowth.
Rebecca, for her part, did not follow at once, though the horse was eager to go and chafed at the bit. "Thank you," she said, addressing the boy.
Gilles inclined his head. "If Brian de Bois-Guilbert does not believe you are a witch, my lady, then neither do I."
It surprised her and she would have asked, if there had been time, how it was that the judgement of such a man could be trusted so implicitly. But she could not stay. Not now. Not long enough to hear the answer. So, instead, she urged the horse into a trot and steered him towards the road.
The horses tired, eventually, and would not run, and though they both knew they had precious little time to spare, they had to stop and rest.
Rebecca, so tense that she jumped at every sound; be it the breaking of a twig or the hooting of an owl, looked towards the east and the dawning sky with a heavy heart. "It will not be long, till they come for me. And then they will know."
"They would need horses with wings to catch us now," Bois-Guilbert answered, as he walked towards her. "Will you accept my help, this time?" There was only a moment's hesitation, but it was enough. "God's death," he snapped, angrily. "You shun my touch like you would that of a leper!"
It bothered her, those words, as did her cowardice. So she braced herself and dismounted. He caught her, though unprepared, and he did not release her, not even when her feet had reached the ground.
"Rebecca," he said, voice low and deep, mouth so close that if she moved, his lips would graze her temple.
"Is there nothing you would not do, for hate of him?" She broke free, the accusation raised between them like a shield.
"Wilfred of Ivanhoe."
Bois-Guilbert grabbed her arm, twisting her around to face him. "Nothing I have done, since the day you spoke to me of souls, have been because of him, or for his sake!"
She swallowed, pulse racing. "You cannot love me," she said.
He raised his eyebrows. "Why? Because my heart is dead? I assure you it is not. Nor is any other part of me."
Her breath caught and her eyes widened, more from surprise at his audacity and the response it sparked in her, than anything else. But he thought it was fear and he let her go.
"I am not Front de Boeuf."
"Not even in Palestine?"
He stiffened. "There were plenty of women who were willing."
Bois-Guilbert laughed, but there was no joy in it, only pain. "I cannot change the past," he said, "nor what it has made of me." He shoved his fingers through his hair. "When I said I would have your soul, lady, I did not intend to give you mine."
"I never wanted that," Rebecca replied and then, finally: "You should not have taken me."
"No," he agreed. "Had I known, I would have left you on that road. You and your father."
She did not know what to say to him, after that, and he, tending to the horses, made every effort to ignore her. Rebecca, watching him, wished for truce and a laying down of arms, but she could not bring herself to ask. It was he, in the end, who did.
"My sins are not as black, perhaps, as Front de Boeuf's," Bois-Guilbert said, awkwardly, coming over to where she sat and bending his large frame so that their eyes were on the same level, "but even so, they are a heavy burden." He shook his head. "I have never grieved for what I have lost, of innocence and youth, or of honour, until now."
The lines in his face deepened and if it was weariness or pain, she did not know. But Rebecca frowned, when she noticed. "All this anger and this hatred, it will consume you, if you let it," she said. "Like the monsters in the lake, that swallowed cattle whole. You must learn to forgive yourself, my lord, or you will never find peace."
"Then teach me," he answered. "Stay, and teach me."
Her resolve was weakening, she could feel it crumble, like sand, the grains slipping through her fingers, one by one. Yet she could not speak.
Bois-Guilbert sighed, after a while. "He is fortunate, indeed, to have your love," he said, then he turned away, as if it was over and he had given up, at last.
And she had wanted that, for so long, she had prayed for it to happen. But victory was, in the end, a hollow thing, hollow as a reed and dry as bone.
When they continued, they skirted the road, if possible, choosing instead some narrow forest path that wound its way back and forth between the tall trees and bushes. Then, suddenly, behind a rocky outcrop, the path divided; one branch of it led out of the forest and down towards a large building. Rebecca's horse sidestepped, snorting, scenting the open air.
"Journey's end," Bois-Guilbert said. "That should be Rotherwood."
Rebecca stared out across the field, dew glistening on the grass, thin veils of mist rising as the sun warmed the ground. And she thought; I will not see him again. The years will pass and I will grow old, but I will not see him again. And it seemed to her that if time stopped, at this moment, and never moved again, she would not mind. "And you? Where will you go?"
He shrugged, as if it did not matter. "France."
She could not read his face in the dim, dappled light; it was closed and set as if he was preparing for battle. But the wind, coming from the north, had cleared her head and she knew what she needed to say. "My father's brother," she began, "has an estate in Spain. In Cordova."
He turned, abruptly; eyes piercing her with such force that it might as well have been his sword. For the space of a heartbeat, there was no other sound than the creaking of leather. His voice, when he finally used it, was harsh and as brittle as glass. "Would a traveller, weary from the road, be welcome in that house?"
"He loves Rowena," she replied. "More, I think, than he knows."
Bois-Guilbert scoffed. "Well, he would, would he not? He has always been a fool." His jaw tightened. "And if he was free?"
"How could I answer that? He is not." Rebecca glanced at him, considering. "Do you want me to compare you and find him wanting? I cannot. There is no comparison."
"Then, in God's name, why?"
"Because I am too curious," she said, remembering their argument on the tower roof. "Because you told me that you would buy me books, when any other man would have offered gold and jewels. Because you never let me win at chess."
Bois-Guilbert winced. "Nothing more?"
"Nothing less," Rebecca countered. "You once professed you knew me better than I knew myself. But if you truly believe I would think so little of these things, my lord, then you do not know me at all."
He flushed, cursing under his breath. "I have known warriors on the battlefield who showed more mercy," he said. "You wield that tongue of yours with the skill of a swordsman."
Her temper flared. "If my tongue offends you so much, my lord, then you should be glad to see me gone!"
Bois-Guilbert threw up his hands. "Peace, lady! Not everything I say is a call for battle."
"I am not--" she broke off, shaking her head. "I do not want to fight you."
"Nor I you," he answered, more serious, now, than she had ever seen him. "Rebecca, did you mean it?"
He drew back, as if in pain. "And you tell me now? When I can do nothing."
"You can let me go," Rebecca said, gently. "For my father's sake and for mine. And for yours."
She touched his hand, shorn of leather and armour, because she could do nothing else and still breathe. Bois-Guilbert, with a muffled groan, dipped his head, kissing her knuckles and as he straightened, she met him halfway, fingers tangling in his hair, mouth against his mouth.
The horses separated them, when nothing else could, the grey one baring his teeth and nipping the other, who shied away, ears laid flat. Rebecca, struggling to calm her mount, felt Bois-Guilbert's eyes on her and her heart wrenched. But it was far too late to regret any decisions she had made, or had had to make. And the reasons were the same; they had not changed.
"I must go," she said and it was a terrible, terrible achievement, but her voice did not waver. "God keep you, my lord."
She did not look back, after she had left him, not once, as she approached the gates.
"Who goes there?"
"I am Rebecca of York," she said and she meant to say more, she had thought to plead her case, but the guard blinked, as stunned as if he knew the name.
"By God," he exclaimed. "I will fetch my lord Ivanhoe at once." He paused, then added: "And lady, your father is here."
All strength left her then and she leaned heavily against the horse, which shifted its weight but did not protest. Before long, she heard voices and the courtyard filled with people, among them Isaac of York, who started to run, screaming her name.
At that moment, Rebecca turned her head. She would not have seen him if she had not known where to look, but she knew and she almost wept, for so many reasons.
Bois-Guilbert, as if he had waited only to make certain that she was welcomed, raised his arm, in a final greeting. Then, as the horse moved, there was a shimmer of white against the dark green of the forest.
And he was gone.