Screams echoed in her ears. The crying of women and children had her heart racing in her chest. Frantic hoof beats shook the ground beneath her feet as she ran for safety. The heat of the explosion, the smell of the smoke, and all of events leading up to the moment of the destruction of Nottingham Castle, played out so clearly in the dreamscape behind Meg Bennett’s eyes that cold dread consumed her.
The dream started with her being thrown in the dungeons and meeting Guy of Gisborne and journeyed until Robin Hood died in Sherwood Forest. Every detail was vividly real; from the damp of the underground tunnels to breathing the dusty air as she ran away from the city. There was so much death and despair.
As the scene faded, Meg saw herself standing in the middle of Sherwood Forest. A beautiful woman with dark hair and pale eyes stood before her. Though Meg didn’t know this woman, she reached out toward the stranger’s form in hopes of gaining some kind of explanation.
Without warning, all the images repeated in her mind with such speed, Meg could hardly make sense out of them. However, the image of the explosion in the castle became the most prevalent. The sounds and the aromas were once more attacking her consciousness. Along with these images came the knowledge that Guy lie dead inside those stone walls.
Unaware of her surroundings, Meg tossed and turned in her cell. The dreams making her cry out as cold sweat bathed her brow.
The voice was familiar, but too far away. Meg could not escape the fire, the death, or the knowledge.
Worried, Guy of Gisborne’s hands latched on to the iron bars linking their cells together. Meg was thrown in here with him for being a companion to his sister, Isabella. Meg swept in with her head high and didn’t hesitate to argue with him, talk to him, and somehow along the way, awaken something deep inside him that he wasn’t even sure existed.
When Meg first fell asleep, Guy couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her. Why should he if he was soon to die? Death would be a relief. He told Meg the truth when he said he was already in hell. Guy did some awful things in his life, but the one thing he never meant to do, the one thing he would sell his soul to take back, was killing the woman he loved.
Just when he thought all was lost, in swept a headstrong, lovely, loudmouthed girl. She washed over him like a warm summer breeze, spreading her kind spirit, strength, kindness and love over him until he felt a sense of hope. As much as he came to admire Meg during the short hours they spent together, Guy knew he should be cautious.
Forming a foolish attachment to a girl he barely knew was a mistake he dared not repeat. Especially not with his date with the executioner so near. Just when Guy resolved to put Meg from his mind, he heard her breathing grow frantic. Her head tossed from side-to-side and her face scrunched as if disgusted by images behind her eyes.
Knowing the feeling all too well having nightmares about killing Marian, Guy tried to reach through the bars, but Meg rested out of his reach. He couldn’t physically wake her, so he tried calling out her name. She didn’t respond, so he tried again.
“Meg,” he shouted.
Sudden noise from the doorway distracted him. Looking up, he saw guards enter the dungeon, then Isabella. His little sister cast him a scathing look before turning her attention to Meg’s cell.
“Release her,” Isabella ordered the guards.
As the guards moved to open the cell, Meg’s distress became obvious. Isabella rushed to her friend’s side. Trying to rouse Meg didn’t appear to be working. As a result, she cast an accusing look toward her brother.
“What did you do to her?!”
“Nothing!” Guy was deeply offended that even Isabella would think such a thing of him, even if his history did give her a reason. “She’s having a nightmare.”
At that moment, Meg woke with a gasp. Shooting up to a sitting position, a cry leaving her throat, Meg didn’t know what was happening. Isabella took Meg in her arms and uttered reassurances. “There now,” she crooned. “You are safe. It’s over.”
Trying to catch her breath, Meg took in her surroundings. No, this couldn’t be right. She was dead. She saw it. She felt it!
The images of the dream were still as vivid as ever in her mind. So much so in fact that Meg shivered. How could any of this be real? She remembered dying in Guy’s arms and knew she desperately did not want to be parted from him. As if from afar, yet a part of it all, Meg saw events unfold all the way up to the final fight with the former sheriff at the castle.
Remembering the way Guy died; Meg sobbed and looked over at him. He was here and he was alive! Meg wanted to hug him and touch him and make sure he was real, but Isabella still grasped her shoulders and whispered reassurances. Pushing free, Meg moved to the bars to face Guy. Reaching out, her fingers grabbed his sleeve. Her eyes were full of fright.
“I’ve seen our deaths,” she whispered.
Shocked, Guy could only blink as Isabella pulled Meg away from him and to her feet.
“Pull it together,” Isabella ordered.
Though her knees felt weak, Meg did manage to compose herself enough to focus on her friend. “You’re back.”
“Yes.” Flashing a smile, Isabella visibly relaxed. “I’m here to free you.”
Isabella started to lead Meg out of the cell, but Meg hesitated. “Won’t you free Guy too?”
“What? He’s our enemy.”
Feeling uncertain, Meg realized her mistake when she saw hate flicker in Isabella’s eyes. “But I-”
“Ah, you see? Do you see how they manipulate us? A few hours in a cell with a cold hearted killer and even you lose your wits. That’s the poison of men, Meg. None of them can be trusted. My brother will get exactly when he deserves. Now come on.”
As Isabella pulled her away, Meg couldn’t resist looking back at Guy. When he was out of sight, she couldn’t seem to get his face out of her mind. All Meg could think about was Guy and her dream. Only when they were out of the dungeons did she get a sense of déjà vu.
The words Isabella said just a few moments ago were the same exact ones from the dream. Meg wondered if she was going mad. Was she somehow being punished for her strong will and defying her father?
How could she regret opposing the matches her father chose for her? All those men were selfish and unbearable. She couldn’t respect a single one, let alone consent to a marriage. To her, marriage needed respect and love. She despised all men for the strings they held over women’s heads, but was she so bad that she deserved to feel so…wretched?
Since her mother died when she was just a child, Meg grew up to be independent and intelligent. Educated, she hoped to have a say in her own life. It came as a shock when she was of age to learn her father only wanted her to learn so he could match her to a nobleman of his choosing. Most of her childhood, Meg’s father ignored her. As a girl, she was of little consequence. As a grown woman, she could fetch a good price. The more Meg rebelled in an effort to be heard by her father, the more demanding the man became until finally bringing her before the court for judgment.
When Lord Bennett demanded she be arrested for her actions, Meg knew the truth. Her father did not love her. As a nobleman, all he cared about was his land, his title, and his coffers.
Thank god for Isabella. Meg owed the woman a great debt. As sheriff, Isabella was able to set her free from an unwanted marriage and a life of servitude.
So why did Meg now feel torn? She never met a man she felt was worth his salt. Then she was thrown into that dungeon with Guy of Gisborne of all people. How could he have gotten under her skin?
Remembering the time she saw him riding his impressive black stallion through her father’s lands, Meg felt a blush creep up her cheeks. Yes, she knew of Guys reputation even then. At the time, he was the new enforcer to the former sheriff and working up quite a nasty reputation. Yet, Meg still thought him one of the handsomest men she ever set eyes on. Of course, she heard about all of his misdeeds since.
Meg heard him very clearly when she was in the dungeons. Guy admitted to doing all the wrongs he was accused of. At the same time, she saw remorse in his eyes. Guy was a strong, proud man that trusted the wrong people. He was not given the opportunity to do good deeds. Still, that was no excuse.
Guy was a murderer and a bully. Yet, Meg couldn’t forget the way he helped her when she was thirsty and hungry. If he was an evil demon without a heart, he never would have helped her. Guy didn’t have to be honest with her. Meg couldn’t help but see the good in Guy of Gisborne.
Suddenly, it felt unfair that Guy should be executed. Shouldn’t he have a second chance? Overwhelmed with the need to set eyes on his face again, she tried to think of a way to sneak down to the dungeons. It would be nice if she got the chance to talk to him one more time.
Startled, Meg blinked out of her thoughts and turned to see Isabella smiling at her.
“You did well telling Thornton about that gold. How did you know?”
Shrugging, Meg moved to sit, hoping the action would calm her nerves. “It seemed common knowledge, but no one touched the treasure because of the curse.”
“Well,” Isabella smiled. “I owe you a debt of thanks. If not for you, Thornton would have gotten to me. “
“You saved me from my father’s plans, so I guess we’re even,” she said returning the lady sheriff’s smile.
Moving forward to touch the girl’s shoulders, Isabella couldn’t remember the last time things were going so well for her. “I know a woman’s plight in this world. I was sold to Thornton as a child. Women are forced to be dependent on men. All of us should have the right to choose our own destiny.”
The words sounded true and just, yet they didn’t sit well with Meg. Not all men were bad. Some were honorable like Robin Hood. And Guy, she thought. He wasn’t as bad as people claimed. Meg knew the truth in her heart. A heart that was breaking with the knowledge that he was going to die come sunrise.
“We found the gold,” Isabella continued with excitement. “Now our coffers are full and we can continue to do good deeds for Nottingham!”
Blinking, Meg looked over at the chests being stacked in the corner of the room. “You aren’t afraid of the curse?”
Laughing, Isabella shook her head. “I am an educated woman, Meg. Most take for granted that a woman doesn’t have a brain in her head, but I know exactly what I am going to do next. Stick with me and we will go places. You’ll see.”
Forcing a smile, Meg watched as Isabella went over to inspect the treasures. Torn, she wasn’t sure what to do next. She owned her freedom to Isabella, but she just did not have it in her to sit back and do nothing while Guy was executed. She truly believed Guy could be redeemed.
What should she do?
What was wrong with her? Meg did hate all men until Guy touched something deep inside her heart. Meg was unable to put her finger on it, but she knew she couldn’t deny her feelings.
“Prince John will be very impressed,” Isabella called from across the room. “He will not regret making me sheriff.”
Meg’s eyes snapped to attention. “Prince John?”
“Of course,” Isabella grinned, showing a hint of her deviousness. “He is the next in line to the throne. With King Richard gone, he is our leader.”
True, but Meg personally disagreed with the prince’s attempts to steal the crown. If Isabella was loyal to Prince John, did that also mean she would help him overthrow King Richard?
In her dream, Meg recalled Isabella working to prove her loyalty by killing Robin Hood. The plan backfired, of course, but the price paid for that victory was very severe. Shivering at the memory of Guy dying in Robin’s arms, Meg tried to focus on the here and now.
“I have meetings,” Isabella announced. “Make yourself at home, Meg.”
Offering a smile of thanks, she watched the sheriff leave the room with her long skirts whisking behind her. All Meg could think about right now was seeing Guy. There had to be a way to save him. There just had to be.