Title: Wooing Kate

Chapter: Twenty-three

Author: Kasey

Email: kasey8473yahoo.com

Summary: Adhemar seduces a drunken Kate. She flees.

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: 'A Knight's Tale' is the property of Columbia Pictures. I make no money from this work of fan fiction.

Feedback: Questions? Comments? Colorful metaphors?

Notes: 'Churching' was a ceremony where a woman was prepared to return to church after giving birth. Directly after having a baby, a woman was considered unclean and not fit to have contact with holy water.

Well, what a long road you - faithful readers - and I have traveled together. I thank all who have given reviews and who may review in the future. This story has been fun to write, and I hope, fun to read. -- Kasey

She was asleep on her side, facing away from him, tucked under a heavy layer of blankets. Alain crossed to her. She had a pillow laid out beside her, her arm thrown across it. It was the same position she took in bed with him, her head on his shoulder and arm across his chest. He began to unbutton his jacket, pausing when he heard Christiana's voice. Upon seeing Kate, he'd promptly forgotten the maid was still in the doorway.

"Would you like a bath, my lord? She'll sleep awhile. She takes a long nap every afternoon about this time."

"No. Later." Idly, he wondered if there was a tub in this household large enough to hold both he and Kate together. It had been a long while since he'd coaxed her into a bath with him.

When Christiana had gone, he placed the bar on the door and returned to the bed. Now there'd be no interruptions; no one bursting through the door and startling this reunion. He stripped, studying Kate as he did so. The long journey to London and then to here had undoubtedly left her exhausted, yet her beauty was not diminished in the slightest. She was still absolutely lovely in his eyes.

Carefully, so as not to disturb her, he peeled back the covers from her, gaze falling to her belly. A tiny satisfied smile quirked his lips. She was rounding nicely, in both belly and breast. Her curves pressed tight to the shift his mother had embroidered. It amazed him that Kate could still squeeze into it. Then again, she was not large with the child at all. He decided she'd have to put the shift away soon though, or risk splitting the seams.

Alain re-covered her and went around to the other side of the bed, sliding under the covers. He drew Kate against him and laid there for a long moment, still and silent, drinking in the peace that came over him in her presence. For all of her independence, she had a curious calming effect upon him. The daily banter they had shared served to relax him until he found that he was no longer bothered by things that had once irked him to a great degree.

The hurt and resentment he'd felt upon hearing she'd left had slipped away when Fawkes informed him of the people who'd taunted her. He'd been forced to admit how stupidly he'd behaved in one moment of anger with his mother. In retrospect, he should have dragged Kate along with him to see Charles. Then, she'd not have been subjected to the vipers he now knew to reside in his house. There'd be a cleansing upon their return, of that he was certain.

Why had she not come to him about it back when the first sly dig landed upon her? Why had she remained silent? Alain turned his face into Kate's hair and breathed in. Someone in the house also favored the scent of lavender, for she had the scent of it along her skin and hair, fresh and clean. Only Kate and God knew the workings of Kate's mind. Alain very much doubted that if a score or two of years -- or more -- went by, he'd learn all there was to know of her. He still knew little more than when he'd spirited her away to his home. He did not have her figured out, though he'd once smugly thought he did.

And he liked it that way.

He liked the mystery of her. He enjoyed waiting for the time when she'd reveal just a little more of herself to him. Alain even enjoyed her defiance of him. She challenged him on so many levels that he'd be hard pressed to find another woman who would tickle his mind nearly as much.

He was not angry with her. Not this time. Alain could acknowledge that he was largely at fault for her flight. She should not have gone, true, yet he could understand why she had. However, he wasn't about to admit it out loud.

Her skin was silky smooth beneath his palm and he gave Kate's shoulder a shake. "It's time to wake, Kate. Wake up, sweet."

It was lovely to wake with a warm presence along her back. Kate had grown used to waking with Alain pressed to her. She blinked, then stiffened. What the --

"It's only me." Alain was beside her, partially raised on one arm, staring calmly at her. "Nothing to worry about."

Kate shifted onto her back to look up at him. Somehow, she'd not expected him to catch up with her so quickly. She didn't know what to say, so she merely watched him. There was no anger in his eyes, no annoyance on his face. She had no idea what he was feeling or thinking.

"I chased you across two countries." A wry grin quirked his lips. "Twice now, if we count your flight from me in London months ago." One hand twitched the covers from her, then slid slowly along her stomach. "I've gone to a king about you and even braved coming to your friend Thatcher's home."

Kate licked her lips and still could find no words to say.

"There shall be no more repeats of this. If you choose to run again, I will not follow you unless you take our child with you. If you choose to leave against my wishes, I will let you go. Not the child, but you." Hazel eyes met hers. "I don't want you unwilling, Kate, and if you're unwilling, then...."

As quickly as she could, Kate eased herself into a sitting position and kissed him. She placed a hand along the back of his neck to keep him from yanking away, putting all of the feeling she had for him into that kiss and when she leaned back, he followed.

A long while later, Alain rested his cheek against her bare belly as they talked, his arm protectively about her hips and free hand holding hers.

"I was going back," she murmured. "They all refused to allow me to travel again until I'd rested. Wat stationed himself in the stables and Roland and Christiana follow me about from dawn until dusk. Then, Will and Jocelyn take over watching me." Reaching out, Kate snagged a pillow from the other side of the bed and shoved it under her head. "I had Christiana write a letter to you, explaining all and it went out a few days ago."

"We'll go home together."

There was a tickling sensation in her belly and Alain sat up quickly, putting his hand to the spot where he'd just had his cheek. The baby pushed against his palm. The expression on his face was one of such wonder that Kate laughed. "Look at you. A body would think you've no children at all."

He glanced at her. "I never said I was home those months they were pregnant. I've been at war often over the years. My mother kept me appraised of the two she knew about, but I've never....I've never had occasion to feel my own child move like that. My sister Fleur's babies, yes. She has another child every other year or so and visits as often as she can. The odds are always good that she'd be pregnant to some degree."

"I see. Well, feel your fill, if you must."

Bending, he placed a kiss to the spot. "I must," he replied.

It was amusing to Will to watch Adhemar and Kate together. He'd not ever thought to see the man behave in such a human fashion towards a peasant. There he was though. Kate was treated like the highest born of ladies and Will could not help but move closer across the small hall towards them. He could not believe his eyes.

"Is something wrong, Will," Kate asked.

He gave a half laugh, casting a wary glance at Adhemar. "You have to ask?"

Kate considered his answer, then shook her head. "No. I can guess."

Adhemar's stare was directed towards him, one of those patented appraising glances that the man specialized in. It was almost a shock to hear a courteous question come from his lips. "How did you come to help Kit Guin save both my sister and my neck?" He blinked. "Kate told me the story, but didn't know the beginning, only how it ended."

It was not an unfriendly query and Will could see no reason not to explain. He gave the abbreviated version, thinking all the while that he'd be glad when the man was no longer under his roof. He kept having the urge to glance about him in case there was an assassin present. Adhemar appeared satisfied by the response.

"Times are changing, I suppose," Adhemar remarked, taking Kate's hand in his. He leaned forward in his chair. "I won't...fight...correspondence between this household and mine. You're all dear friends to Kate and I will not begrudge her the relationship."

Will sat back, stunned. Adhemar giving in on a point? Surely the world was ending. Unconsciously, he glanced towards the windows, fully expecting to see a fiery chariot in the sky. But no, the world was not ending and Adhemar seemed rather uncomfortable for having giving his word on the matter. "We thank you."

"Kate wishes to keep contact between you. I assure you, I could care less if I ever hear any of your names again."

For Kate. Of course. "And I assure you, I understand. I too would not care to ever hear your name again."

To his surprise, Adhemar laughed, a chuckle of good humor. "You're changing as well, William. Learning battle techniques, making politically connected allies. I may not like you for many reasons, but if we ever are at war together...." He stood, helped Kate from her chair, then glanced over his shoulder at Will. "I'll guard your back. I don't forget debts I owe."

"There's no debt. I'd have done the same for any --"

"Close your mouth, Thatcher. Stop speaking. I pray Lady Jocelyn will teach you when to keep your mouth shut. There is a debt because I say there is one and some day, I'll repay it."

Will didn't want to have Adhemar owing him a debt, but supposed it was better than the reverse. He massaged his neck with one hand. Kate and Adhemar were leaving in the morning. The man had sent Fawkes to buy a wagon and something to cushion the bed of it with. He planned to put Kate in the back and take her to his home that way, not allowing her to ride. By the glint in her eye, Will suspected Kate would have something to say about it once they got down the road apace.

He didn't want her to go. It was her choice however, and he couldn't tell her how to live her life. If she really wanted to go back there, then he could not stop her.

She'd spent much of her time here patching her relationships with all. She'd had time to learn that Germaine had not wanted to leave her in the road and to accept his actions since as his apology for doing so. She'd told Roland that since it had all worked out, she could forgive his advice, but he should pardon her if she did not come to him for more counsel in the future. Kate had spoken with Wat about the fight they'd had that ended with her going with Adhemar in the first place. And lastly, she'd explained to them all that she loved them as family, yet like family, they should know when to step back and let her go about her own life.

Will had to respect her for smoothing over the troubled waters with ease. Not one feeling had been hurt during or after the talks she'd had with them all and their friendships were intact. He got up, intending to find Jocelyn, when he noticed Roland and Christiana in one darkened corner of the hall.

They sat together with the length of a bench separating them. By the turn of their heads, Will knew they were talking. As he watched, Christiana slid several inches towards Roland. Then Roland moved towards her. If heated words were passing their lips, there was no outward indication of temper in either. Will didn't think they were upset with each other. Indeed, he thought they were finally making up.

The two clasped hands. Slowly, as though afraid the other would move away, they leaned their heads close and kissed.

Will left them to the relative privacy of the corner they'd ensconced themselves in, a small smile on his lips.

If Will had known how right he was about Kate's plan for the wagon, he would have laughed out loud, for Kate did not even wait until they were five miles down the road before demanding she be allowed to ride.

"Just because I was sick of riding when I got here, doesn't mean I'm still sick of it."

Alain crossed his arms, fixing her with a disapproving stare. "No. I'll not have you riding the whole way and further endangering this child."

"I'm perfectly healthy," she argued.

Fawkes remained silent and Alain noticed a tiny, barely there quirk to the man's lips. "What are you smiling about?"

"Nothing at all, my lord." Fawkes still smiled however.

"Ride ahead of us. Your smiling at nothing is irking me." He waited until Fawkes had gone before returning his gaze to the defiant Kate. "Just because I was not angry with you for leaving does not mean you can prick my temper now."

"When can I prick your temper, then? Pray tell, is there a set time when I may do so?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Kate." She was enjoying this, he realized. The minx was enjoying their spat over the wagon.

"What?" Her expression was all innocence. Fake innocence.

Going to her, he grasped her arms, chafed the backs with his fingers. "As much as I enjoy our explosive chats, I'd rather not meet up with any thieves with you in this condition. You can argue with me as long as you like once we're home, hmm?"

Kate jerked her arms free and took her time returning to the wagon. Once there, she wiggled around and gave him an expectant glance. As he climbed up to take the reins, she remarked, "Well, what took you so long? I've been sitting here for ages waiting for you."

Turning, he grasped her neck and leaned down, planting a quick kiss to her lips. In minutes, they were following the path Fawkes had taken.

The journey was uneventful and by the time they reached home, Kate's enthusiasm for arguing over the wagon had long since dwindled. She was aching and bruised. It seemed that every bump they went over only added to her pains until she was no longer sure she had any spot on her body that did not ache in some way. Alain had done his best to keep her comfortable, telling her stories of the time he'd escorted his sister Fleur -- pregnant as usual -- to her home and had to find a midwife en route when she went into labor halfway there. He'd given the story a humorous edge, making his altercations with the midwife sound comical.

Fawkes was charged with their comfort along the road. He made certain they had meals and lodgings, though Kate and Alain often slept in the back of the wagon and Fawkes on the ground. They made decent time and were lucky not to be caught in bad weather.

Lady Isobelle greeted them, ignoring Alain and moving straight to Kate. Her now strong arms about Kate's body, she led Kate to the master's chambers. The midwife was brought and announced that she did not think Kate had much longer. She then made a disgusted noise about men insisting on moving women when the women should be in bed. Alain reminded her he could have her whipped for insolence and she quieted right down.

Kate was kept in bed, not that she minded. After all the traveling she'd done, she decided it would be a cold day in hell before she let herself be pushed in any way towards another journey in the near future. Her worries of people coming to her with the same digs they'd given before was in vain. Fawkes guarded the door and when Lady Isobelle was not with her, Alain was.

Lady Isobelle was full of news. The manor had been an exciting place since their return. The priest had been sent away and a new one, younger and in full awe of Count Adhemar, had been sent in his place.

"Just what we need," Isobelle remarked. "A priest with no backbone. Still," she amended, "He is a nice man and is not as rigid in his thinking as older clergy. He's settling in nicely and I believe he'll be in to see you this afternoon."

Kate shifted, trying to ignore the growing ache in her lower back. It seemed that every day her back would ache just below her waist. "How are Olivia, Lisette and Mary?"

"Incorrigible. Like Alain was as a child. They get away with more than I'd let them get away with." Isobelle plumped a large pillow and eased it behind Kate's back. "They're all excited about the baby, like all of us." She sat on the edge of the bed, studying Kate with concerned eyes. "Are you feeling well? You look...pained."

"My back is hurting, like it usually is anymore."

"I'll send for Cinda. It could be nothing, but better safe than sorry where childbirth is concerned."

It was not nothing. When Cinda was finally able to make her way to the manor, Kate was in labor.

Waiting was the worst thing Alain had experienced in a long time. He didn't like having to wait for anything and this was no exception. What he wanted was for the baby to slide right out and be there, but of course it did not happen that way. He spent long hours pacing the Great Hall and peering anxiously up the staircase whenever Kate screamed -- which was often as the hours of labor progressed.

The rest of the household went about business as usual, working around him. It was early in the morning of the next day when his mother appeared at the top of the stairs, a tiny squirming bundle in her arms. Alain took the steps two at a time.

"Kate," he asked.

"Fine." She set the bundle in his arms. "You've a boy, Alain."

"A boy," he repeated, elation soaring through him. Kate had given him a boy and both she and the babe were fine. Brushing by his mother, he entered the chamber.

Cinda was finishing with Kate. He waited while servants helped Kate from the bed and the sheets were changed. His mother's new maid, a girl whose name he hadn't bothered to learn yet, quickly sponged the sweat and fluids from Kate's body and helped her into a loose shift. It took an interminable amount of time in his mind before Kate was back in bed and the two of them were left alone with their son.

"Shall we name him?" He went to the side of the bed, turning the boy so that the tiny sweet face was facing her. There'd be time later for the boy to be properly swaddled. Right now, Alain wanted time with the two of them.

Kate held out her arms. Alain did not hesitate to put the babe in them. The sight she made brought a hitch to his breath. Beautiful. "He's so small." She ran a slim finger over the tiny features.

"Small?" Alain sat on the bed beside her, moving so that he could put one arm behind her. "He's the largest newborn I've seen in a long while."

"He still looks small to me."

The boy was chubby, with a tuft of black hair on his head and the redness of his skin that newborns often held. Alain could not help smiling. The features were Kate's, delicate yet strong. "Have you a name you favor?"

"James," came her quick reply. "I'd like to name him James. It was my father's name, God rest him."

Alain had no objection to the name. The name James was also in his family. "James it is." He pressed a kiss to her temple. "He'll be baptized at mass this morning and then after you're churched, we'll settle a few things in this household."

Alain had not wasted his words. As soon as Kate was churched, he gathered the household in the Great Hall and led Kate to the center of the room. He turned her about so all could see her, then put an arm about her slender shoulders. His gaze fell upon those he knew had made her hours without him here a hell. Punishment for their crime had been put off until Kate could witness that they were not going to be allowed to keep treating her in such a manner. When he spoke, he did so in a loud voice deliberately laced with arrogance.

"This woman is mine. As far as I'm concerned, she is the lady of this household. It has been brought to my attention that there are those who would push her away if they can. Any such actions towards her are punishable by the lash. She is the mother of my son and I demand the respect due that station be given to her. Come to Kate with your ills and concerns. She'll see I'm made aware of them if she cannot ease them herself."

Kate turned her body to him, whispering for him to stop and say no more.

He glanced at her, noting the flush spreading across her pale cheeks. Leaning his head down, he said in a low voice, "I won't stop. I should have done this before riding off to see Charles. This is truth Kate. I've become accustomed to you. I can no longer imagine another woman here with me."

"I'm a peasant Alain. You can't do this. You can't set me above --"

"With you, Kate, class is not everything; not the sum of who you are. With many it is, but not you. You are a...unique woman and I do not care to keep searching about for a suitable woman when I have one already beside me, peasant or no." He'd once told Thatcher that there were few exceptions in the classification of women as lower than horses or trophies. He still felt that way. As a whole, few women were worth genuine consideration. "Now be quite, woman."

Kate was an exception to the rule. She was peasant, yes and unapologetically so, but she surpassed most of that class in intelligence and beauty. A worthy companion he'd decided as time had passed.

He again raised his voice for all to hear. "I commit myself to this woman for the rest of my life." He took a strange satisfaction in the gasps of many gathered there. "To Kate I will remain faithful. I consider us wed, though the church and society will not grant us the pleasure at present. Are there any objections?"

A few hands raised and he gave a malicious little grin. "A few I spy. Out into the courtyard with your objections then. We'll see if ten lashes changes them any."

The hands fell quickly at the mention of punishment.

"Oh, no objections then? Just stretching were you? Into the courtyard anyway. Five lashes for daring to begin with."

Kate put a hand on his chest. "No. No whippings, please. They voiced an opinion, 'tis all."

Would she really show mercy to those who begrudged them happiness together? Yes, she would. Without hesitation. "Mercy is a weakness. I cannot be weak or I lose control over my household."

"Mercy," she countered, "is a gift. Give mercy once, then punish if the offense is repeated, depending upon the severity of the crime. Voicing an opinion is no real crime, Alain and you know it."

He took her hands, gently kissed her knuckles. "These people who've objected hurt you Kate. They ran you away. I can't have them thinking they can repeat the offense at all."

"So send them away. Dismiss them, but please don't hurt them over me."

Alain thought a moment, then nodded. "For you, Kate. This once." He looked at the people who'd protested. "You're all dismissed, those of you who spilled your hatred of Kate recently. Fawkes will escort you, one by one, outside the manor walls. From there, I do not care where you go, only that you do not return here. I will not be lenient to any in the future who slander Kate or make her feel less than what she is in my eyes."

Slowly, the household was allowed to return to every day duties.

Kate sat before the fire, holding her son and watching Alain.

He did not say he loved her, yet his actions made his feelings plain. He committed himself to her publicly, defying both church and society. What else would she have expected from him? It fit the pattern of him that she knew. He did as he pleased, everyone else be damned, and it pleased him to declare himself hers.

She'd once thought him too rigid in what society demanded, the sort of man who followed the societal rules to the exact letter. Not so. He'd disregarded the statute of honor in the tournament. He'd used societal whim to further himself. He firmly believed in class distinction, yet tossed it away when it got in the way of what he wanted. This man made his own rules and followed the rules of others only when he was benefited by doing so.

No, he did not say he loved her, nor did she think she'd hear that proclamation from his lips for a long while yet. He defied all for her though. He'd chased her all over two countries.

Love. Plain and simple, whether he could admit it with words or not.

Satisfaction turned Kate's lips.

It all works out in the end and this, she decided, had worked out quite well. Quite well indeed.

The End