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Through the Waters of Purgatory

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Through the Waters of Purgatory

The Castle of Nottingham, the training room

Leaning against the stone wall, his arms crossed over his broad chest, Guy watched his guards practice swordplay as he had ordered them an hour ago. His mind, however, was far away from the training of his men: it was focused on the events that were going to happen today – the arrival of the Black Knights and the signing of the Pact of Nottingham which would bring him close to power after they finally managed to topple the absentee king.

Power and wealth! These words were like a symphony that his tortured heart was singing for years as he continuously traveled through a maze of misery and crimes. But they were not a breath of fresh air, and when he pronounced them, he felt as if he were suffocating, like his lungs were collapsing within his chest. Guy whispered these two words to himself, and the echo of them repeated itself in his inner consciousness, filling every fibre of his being with anguish. He suddenly felt that his body was hurting, as if he were being flogged with atrocious cruelty. Guy shook his head desperately, telling himself that he was imagining things.

The sound of clashing swords and shields was a distracting music to Guy’s ears as it pulled him out of his pained reverie. I should not think about misery and despair. I’m on the threshold of greatness as the Pact of Nottingham will make Vaisey more powerful, and, thus, I will be closer to having power beyond measure. I’ll also find and destroy Robin Hood, and then I’ll wed Marian. Guy’s heart pounded harder as his mind conjured pictures of his own triumph over Robin, his childhood nemesis who so far managed to outsmart Vaisey; but the pact would weaken the position of the invincible outlaw, and that caused the sheriff’s henchman to feel euphoric, like a small child getting a sweet cake.

One of the soldiers cried out in pain as another guard scratched his arm in their training fight. The clanging of swords was the only thing that could be heard throughout the entire room, and it penetrated Guy’s mind like a sharp, jagged knife. Not paying any attention to his men, Guy was staring into space, and a wild thought occurred to him that every blow, every clang of sword was also a good omen of his ultimate victory over Robin Hood.

Just then, Guy shuddered inwardly as a superstitious feeling connected with some vague properties of that clang stole over him. It was a still and hazy but terrible stirring of some bad and horrible torments of his soul – future torments, he thought. The inner voice whispered to him that maybe it would be God’s special punishment for him for the hatred he was feeling towards the hero of the poor and downtrodden lest he somehow harmed Robin.

Visceral fear of Robin Hood and of a divine punishment…  Guy cursed in his mind and spat on the floor. He was again showing his weakness – something that he had no right to feel and allow others to see in him.  Again… Vaisey would sneer at him if he knew what his henchman was thinking about. The sheriff would say that it was a chronic weakness, independent of his judgment, of his reason, and of his experience; his weaknesses were inherited from his leper father, Vaisey would add. Again, the sheriff would mock him.

One of the soldiers suddenly approached Guy to ask a question, but he shrank away from his captain after encountering a straight, fulminating glance of Guy’s eyes which was so much like the sheriff’s diabolic glare. Gisborne shook his head as if to clear his vision, not understanding why the young man had recoiled from him. For a brief moment, their gazes were locked, and it was when Guy realized that the man saw a similar darkness in both Vaisey and him. Guy barked to continue the training, and the guard hurriedly stepped aside.

Despite his cold façade, Guy couldn’t deny that the aversion of others, all the more his men, evoked an acerbic feeling in him. It hurt him as deeply as his dagger hurt the sheriff’s prisoners whom he tortured in the dungeons. His service to Vaisey was the way to darkness as he was moving along the stormy road of his life; the road deprived of all charm, joy, and happiness, a life and death struggle in the body of a damned man.

He was a man lost in the immensity of night without end and beginning. Yet, part of him hated the darkness which had settled permanently in his blood and bones. At night, his sense of loneliness sharpened against the idyllic moods of nature – the silvery moon in the sky, the trees trembling in the wind, and the tuneful song of nightingales. It was when his old dream of building a home and marrying a good woman emerged from some obscure part of his mind that automatically floated to Marian – a name that still meant hope for him.

Guy slowly turned his head from side to side, feeling his neck ache from the position he was in. What would Marian think about our plans to overthrow and kill King Richard if she learned about the Black Knights? What would she think of me if she knew about my voyage to the Holy Land, where I failed to kill King Richard? He tried to calm himself with the groundless reassurance that Marian would comprehend that England would be better without Richard the Lionheart, and that she herself would benefit from his treachery.

Yet, under a load of doubt and uneasiness, his shoulders sank slightly, and his body tensed. Guy inhaled and exhaled sharply in an attempt to regain control over his emotions. With effort, he shook off his weakness of doubt and fear, as if it were only passing, not permanent. He would have his reward – power and wealth. Marian’s love and purity would be a fine addition to what he would achieve soon, and his fantasy of making her his wife overcame all his inner fears of the unknown future waiting for him in the darkness of his world.

He would visit Marian and talk to her now, Guy mused. He stepped towards the door with long strides, but his mind was uneasy. But, surely, it was an absurd doubt that she would not wish to wed a man of power and station, he persuaded himself. His belief in Marian’s approval of his actions crystallized into confidence as he left the training room. 

________________________________________

The Castle of Nottingham, Marian’s bedchamber

An inwardly distressed, yet outwardly composed, Marian heaved a sigh as her eyes took in several gowns laid out on the table before her. Her heart dropped like a stone as she flicked her gaze to Guy, while his heart was probably going like a hammer, she thought. In the past few weeks, since her and her father’s imprisonment at the castle had begun, the sheriff’s henchman often came to her bedroom, bringing expensive and lovely gowns and jewelry that all ladies wore and were always happy to receive from a man of high station like him.

But Marian of Knighton was not like all other noblewomen, and, sometimes, she regretted that Guy had no clue as to where her true allegiances lay. She sighed morbidly at the thought that he was so convinced that he could win her heart by giving her all these meaningless gifts.

It is so strange that Guy doesn’t understand that love cannot be bought and sold. It does not exist in a single day, and it doesn't need a sparkle – it just fills you and your life when you meet your soulmate. All of one's wealth will be not enough to purchase a genuine love.  A true love is unquenchable and cannot die, like my love for Robin. At the thought of Robin, Marian’s heart hammered faster and faster. Robin was her charming, generous, independent, and infuriating creature who brought light into a pitch-black world and easily melted her stoic reserve into a dazzling smile.

Part of Marian suspected and hoped that Guy’s unexpected generosity was caused by his guilt over razing Knighton Hall to the ground, where all her things had perished. For the space of a heartbeat, Marian kept staring into Guy’s arctic eyes which softened a bit. She discerned a flash of emotion that she was surprised to recognize as possession, and that sent a wave of anger through her, which washed away a trifle of her positive feelings towards Guy. She swiftly shifted her gaze from him, preferring to look at the dresses.

Having chosen to wear her hair pinned up today, Marian was now picking through them while Gisborne kept watching her closely; his expression was inscrutable, his eyes cold.

Unable to tolerate the tension building between them, Marian decided that it was high time to speak. She asked in a formal voice, “What are these in aid of, Sir Guy?”

Gisborne eyed her from top to toe, and his eyes warmed slightly as he declared, “A bit of color, for you. I was wondering if you’d accompany me to the celebrations today.” As he was hoping to marry her eventually, he thought that they needed to spend some time together.

She didn’t like the news at all. “What are we celebrating?”

“The king’s birthday,” he answered calmly. However, his emotions were churning and bubbling inside him as memories of the earlier king’s birthday assaulted him like an invading army in a besieged town. Last year, Guy had spent most of the day in Sherwood, tied to a tree and then having a fight with Robin Hood. He trusted that this day would be better for him, which was fully expected in the light of the ongoing events in the inner sanctum of traitors.

Marian spun around, holding a dress limply in her hands and frowning at him. Her initial confusion and concern quickly gave way to a rush of curiosity. Her shrewd mind was already ticking away to make the best of the whole situation and ferret out more useful information for Robin. “What are we really celebrating?”

Guy scowled. “Does it matter?”

She raised her eyebrows and nodded. As usual, in such moments when she was trying to manipulate Guy’s affections to serve the cause, only one idea remained clear and definite in her clever head – to help Robin and protect the king. Her overriding duty to England, Robin, and the people compelled her and her beloved to wait until the monarch’s return to be happy together, to marry and live in Locksley. And so, the whole universe might be shaken and some frightful catastrophe might follow if her reconnaissance was ineffective.

But even England was less important to Marian than Robin. She was staying at the castle to collect intelligence for him, for if she failed to protect her beloved and he died at the hands of Vaisey or Guy who both hated him fiercely, her whole world would be snatched away from her. Robin was all in all to Marian: he was her love, her life, her world, and her everything. Yet, her love for and duty to Robin didn’t slacken the sense of duty she had to the people. And for them, as well as for her father and for her own future with Robin, Marian felt obliged to sometimes deceive Guy in spite of her heart prickling with guilt for misleading him.

Folding his arms over his chest, Guy averred, “It’s the signing of an important document.”

“Something tells me it is a document which I won’t approve of,” stated Marian cautiously.

Stepping towards her, he told her with undisguised eagerness, “Well, Marian, you should approve, because this document brings me closer to real power.”

All of a sudden, Marian swung around, facing the table again and cringing in abhorrence before her expression regained its neutrality. How Guy loved power and how devoted he was to his quest for wealth! The very sound of the word ‘power’ disgusted her as much as nothing else in the world. A tide of fury passed through her from head to toe, almost swaying her body with the force of momentum, and Marian sighed inwardly at another reminder of the latent misery of Guy’s whole nature. Gisborne repelled her as much as only the sheriff did, and she spontaneously wished to put distance between her and him as quickly as she could.

But that was not meant to happen as she heard Guy’s heavy, no doubt angry, breathing. With great effort, she managed to ward off the urge to flee the room and her loathing for Guy, focusing on her sense of duty to England, King Richard, and Robin. I will cope with this; I have to cope because it is my duty to stay at the castle. Misleading Guy has become a handmaid of my duty to protect my country and my beloved. I have to choose between doing morally questionable things and keeping them safe, and I have chosen the latter.

As Marian turned her guarded face to Guy, he took a step to her. His eyes were grave, his expression resolute, but it broke into a short smile as he met her gaze. She looked away from him, fearing that she would be unable to hide her revulsion.

As if he sought to reassure her and himself that his treason was not an awful thing to do, Guy continued, “And that, in turn, benefits you.” He paused, awaiting her reaction – a nod or a word of understanding. Marian turned her head a bit towards him, but she didn’t say anything, her countenance stony. He made an attempt at explaining his position again. “Could benefit you... in time.” He then swiveled and ambled back to the middle of the room. He added, “Meanwhile, there’s a pretty dress in it for you.” He released a sigh.

Marian couldn’t repress a scoff. “Am I so easily won?”

Gisborne visibly bristled but contained himself. He responded in a voice tinged with irritation, “You must be the least easily won woman in England.”

At this, she couldn’t help but feel a rush of personal satisfaction, although a knot of her intensely negative feelings towards Guy was merged with her core. Marian liked to think that Guy considered her the most unattainable woman in England, and she also relished the thought that Robin viewed her in the same light. But even if Guy showered her with more gifts, she would reject all of them. She was not a woman who could be bought, and although Guy’s gifts and unwavering admiration stoked her ego and filled her with an overweening female confidence, the acceptance of them was contrary to her nature. Moreover, Robin wouldn’t have approved of her taking anything from Gisborne.

Schooling her features into feigned brightness, Marian purred demurely, “Well, if that’s my reputation, then perhaps nobody will mind if I do not attend the cel–”

Guy interrupted her wrathfully as he walked past her to the exit. “Choose a dress!” he commanded in a voice that brooked no argument. He opened the door and left the room.

“Guy!” she called to him. But he didn’t hear her as he slammed the door behind him. She stared after him for a split second, and then glanced down at the dress in her hands.

Just then, Robin jumped from the ceiling to the floor behind her, as swift as a flash of light darting in her direction. Marian gasped in surprise, but her features brightened, and a lustrous smile curved her lips. Robin’s mischievous smile made her breath catch in her throat, and her world was shimmering in a delicious haze as she looked into the eyes of her hero. Their visages were imbued with love and complete trust, as if the air were radiant with sunbeams, and the world ceased to exist for them both for a brief moment.

________________________________________

One hour later, Marian’s bedchamber

An overjoyed Marian was sitting at the table with her hands folded on her lap, a contented smile hovering over her lips. Robin and she had just seen each other only moments ago, but she was already missing him more than she would ever admit to him. Robin’s easy, boyish smile warmed her heart and painted her world with beauty and delightful pleasure, and when she imagined his impish smile and his sparkling eyes, a series of visions always flashed in her mind: the wealth of green, infinite woods, and the endless, cerulean summer sky.

She and her Robin would be so happy when the king returned to England. She belonged to her hero of the woods! She was frustrated when her musings about her love were interrupted by the sound of hastily approaching footsteps in the corridor, and then Gisborne burst in.

Marian put on a mask of calmness and addressed the unwelcome intruder, “Guy?” She hastily put her note in the box. Anger simmered in her blood, and she forcefully reined in her emotions. “At least do me the courtesy of knocking–”

Guy cut her off sharply. “Get your possessions. You’re leaving.”

“What?” she inquired, barely holding onto her temper.

“Now,” he blurted out as he entered and checked the room to his right.

She raised a puzzled brow. “Why?”

After a moment’s pause, Gisborne articulated, “Winchester’s made a deal with the sheriff.” As he walked behind Marian, he felt so overwhelmed with guilt that he was fearful of looking at her, knowing beforehand what her next words would be like.

“You’ve become part of a negotiation,” presumed a disappointed Marian.

He pretended that he hadn’t understood her; it was not a suitable time for arguments. “Pardon?” Leaning over her, he emphasized, “Winchester wants you.”

At last, she spun in her chair to face him. Mustering the courage and confidence, she responded in a calm, measured voice, “Tell him he can’t have me.”

Guy was already furious when he had walked in the room, but now his temper ratcheted up another notch. He didn't like being questioned, especially not by a woman and definitely not by Marian whom he had come to save from another lewd man. It was a difficult decision and a novelty for Guy to try to covertly defy the sheriff, and his whole body was rigid with the dread of the gallows and the fear of death at Vaisey’s barbaric hands.

But he could not allow anyone to enslave Marian and treat her not like a high-bred lady but like a village girl from one of the hamlets in the shire. Guy could not abide the thought that hands of another man would touch her intimately, would besmirch her virtue and her good name. Only the immaculate purity of Marian’s heart and body could save him, and Guy hoped – and needed – to keep her for himself.

The last shred of honor Guy still possessed, or maybe a natural instinct of kindness and compassion, our perhaps his guilt over destroying Knighton, induced Guy to nod his feigned assent to Vaisey, and then to hasten to Marian’s chamber.

And Marian dared dictate to him what to do! He was skilled at controlling his emotions, but her order to him was sorely tempting that control. Spurred by his growing ire and possessed by a devil of contrariness, Guy dashed to the door but paused for a moment. Looking back at her, he warned her, “The sheriff has agreed. I cannot protect you.”

Guy wanted to act on impulse: to leave the room of a woman who defied him at every turn. But another fleeting memory of his sweet mother, Ghislaine, of her loving smile, and her imaginary nod of approval, urged him to stay. He shut the door properly, and then turned around to face Marian. My mother cannot be proud of me, for I have become an embarrassment to her gentle and honest name, but she would want me to save Marian. In the solitude of this chamber, Guy felt lonely despite Marian’s presence, feeling like an anchoret. He was scared of the repercussions from the sheriff, but he pushed his fears away.

Gisborne gazed into Marian’s eyes, and at the sight of the fright in them, fear again coursed through his veins. His lips trembled for some time before he spoke in a strangled voice. “I am doing my work better than you’re doing yours.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Marian, listen to me. You have to run, now.”

As she rose to her feet, Marian answered plaintively, “I can’t. My father.”

“I will take care of your father,” promised Guy in a sudden burst of sympathy.

However, she was unrelenting, and she didn’t trust him. “I cannot leave him.”

Frustratedly, struggling to keep his voice clear of ire, he burst out, “Marian, why do you always resist me? I’m attempting to help you!” He picked up her portmanteau from under the bed, hoping that that would goad her into action.

Marian cleared the table, and Guy put the bag there. She entered the conversation. “I know. I can see that, and I’m grateful.” Maybe there was some good in him, she thought.

“If the sheriff knew I was doing this, my own life would be in danger,” he enlightened her as he grabbed some of the gowns he had brought earlier off the bed.

“Why do you work for him?” she wanted to know.

Guy paused abruptly, and a gown slipped from his hand. A sense of sinister loneliness enveloped him. “I have nobody,” he confessed finally as he tossed the clothes into the bag.

“So you choose him?” she asked in a pressing manner while taking out the clothes.

His throat was very dry, and there was a sordid taste in his mouth, and the charm of power was suddenly not as fascinating as it had been a few moments ago. “So I choose power.” He trailed off as he put more clothes into the bag. “He is my route to position and standing.”

“He is mad, you know that,” spelled out Marian with certitude.

In a voice fraught with unease, he parried, “No, he is single-minded. He does not allow... distractions to divert him from his course.”

Marian scoffed as he once again rebuked her attempt at setting him on the right path. “Distractions? Like a little humanity?”

Guy’s thought rested on the word ‘power’ before passing to another word – ‘humanity’, as his mind meandered over the days long-gone but not forgotten when he had just started serving Vaisey. Now he was so enmeshed in a world of villainies that darkness had become an integral part of his personality, his stepping-stone to the realization of his dream of having a glut of wealth and the reinstatement of the Gisborne proud heritage. Guy was sure that he deserved to be a man of great wealth and influence.

“Humanity is a weakness,” he said automatically, repeating one of the sheriff’s teachings.

Letting out a sigh, an odd mixture of frustration and resignation, Gisborne turned to the door, but Marian suddenly grabbed his arm, preventing him from quitting.

Staring into his eyes, she uttered, “You don’t believe that.”

Guy insisted again, “You must leave this place.”

She shook her head in disapproval, looking at him with sympathy. The hollowness in his eyes resulted in her understanding of Guy and his motives, which was as palatable as that of a skilled craftsman in the preparation for building a new edifice. If only I could reach out to Guy’s heart and wake up the sleeping goodness and humanity in him, then I would be able to save his lost soul.  He is not a man of virtuous habits and noble life, like my Robin, and he cannot support and fortify those in need, like we are doing. But Guy may become his own man, free from darkness, evil, and fiends, like Vaisey.

In a rush of pity to his misery, Marian resolved that she would try to help save Guy’s sinful soul, and the desire to do that reached the point of a bizarre longing for his friendship in spite of the danger he posed to her, her father, and Robin. Marian was a provident woman and realized that he could say nothing else to her now, because he was tied to Vaisey like a nanny to a child all one’s life so they are not lonely. Indeed, Guy was like a child cowered in a dark corner, scared, wretched, and miserable, yet still trying to arrange her escape from the Earl of Winchester, while he himself couldn’t find a haven of consoling peace.

Guy’s voice startled her out of her short-lived reverie. “This money,” he began and paused for a moment as he put a purse in her hand, “will secure your passage, and I’ve instructed a man on the west gate to let you out.” He lapsed into silence, and in a moment, murmured her name with yearning, “Marian...” He tenderly caressed her hair and touched her cheek, feeling his heart leap with joy at the realization that she didn’t tense as it happened usually.

Marian stilled in amazement as Gisborne then kissed her other cheek.  Although she was an only child, the gentle affection expressed in that heartfelt gesture was evocative of a fraternal tenderness, not the sensual ardor of an aspiring lover.

In truth, Guy’s passion for Marian had morphed from a boiling cauldron into a simmering brew of fear and worry.  The moment Vaisey had revealed his diabolical plan to sell Marian to Winchester as a bargaining maneuver to gain a greater voice in their treacherous affairs and to wheedle the earl into signing the pact, Guy’s only thoughts had been to rescue her from such a fate.  For once, he was not thinking of his own needs and desires, only of her safety. 

“Good luck,” he wished, stepping back to the door. “Go!” he prompted.

A feeling of exorbitant gratitude inundated Marian, but she didn’t have enough time to express it to Guy. She looked at him with a special sense of sisterly devotion; something she could have imagined developing for him, if she had known him as a child. In the next moment, Marian panicked, and her lips trembled like leaves on the trees in the wind, for she was hesitating to obey him.

Gisborne opened the door and backed into the doorway. “Now!” he urged her.

________________________________________

The corridor, near Marian’s bedroom

Gisborne closed the door and was about to stalk away when he discovered Vaisey standing right behind him. “Excellent,” the sheriff drawled in a voice colored with sinister satisfaction, and the sound of this voice made Guy’s skin crawl with imaginary lice.

Guy stopped in his tracks, forcing himself to maintain a blank façade as he slowly turned to face the sheriff. In the first moment of his reaction to his master’s appearance, the sunshine seemed to waver before his eyes as a surge of dread petrified him. The first pricklings of unease slid down his spine, and he felt like a fugitive in fear for his life. Guy found himself ashamed of the fear that the unforeseen encounter with Vaisey hit all his senses so hard; he was really afraid of the consequences.

When Vaisey spoke, at first, Guy listened to his master’s words without comprehending their meaning. Taking a step towards Gisborne, Vaisey’s acerbated voice resonated. “Taking the lady to see her new lord.” He sneered at Guy, his venomous expression telling his henchman that Guy’s noble plan of Marian’s rescue had been derailed by his shrewd master.

By a strong effort of will, Guy regained the possession of his senses. “My lord, I...” But his voice halted as a knot of terror jammed in his chest.

Vaisey smirked evilly. “As my lieutenant, Gisborne, you sit at the right hand of the father.” He was pleased to see a guilty look cross the features of his master-at-arms. “You will share in the fruits of our labor.” He trailed off again, savoring the moment of Guy’s fear and choosing his words carefully for his plan to make Guy do his bidding without any questions, cusswords.

Gisborne frowned slightly, and the sheriff put his hand around the back of Gisborne’ neck. Vaisey spoke the sacred words Guy coveted to hear in an attempt to sober him up and to reinforce the bond of a criminal and his pupil which they had formed. “You will be a god amongst men.” His voice became almost a whisper. “As long as I can trust you,” he added emphatically. Glaring into Guy’s eyes, he ordered, “Take Lady Marian to Winchester.”

Guilt and shame paralyzed Guy. His voice cracking, he muttered, “Mm-hm.”

“Mm-hm,” mimicked an animated Vaisey, grinning noxiously. He wiped a tear that was falling from Guy’s eye with his thumb, which Guy wasn’t aware was trickling.

________________________________________

A few moments later, Marian’s bedchamber

Meanwhile, in her bedroom, Marian had already changed into her riding gown and was now finishing the packing of her belongings into her portmanteau, including her clothes, her jewelry, and her dagger. She opened the box on the table and pulled out a curved, jeweled, round-bladed knife, an effective weapon against the many guards whom she had frightened with it during her escapades as the Nightwatchman. She pushed it into the knot of her hair, and felt her heart beat faster at the thought that soon she would see her Robin in the woods.

As she opened the door, holding the bag over her shoulder, Gisborne intercepted her and forced her to take a small step back, her expression torn between astonishment and alarm.

“Guy,” pronounced Marian in a shaking voice layered with both fear and puzzlement.

A mixed look of distress and misery manifested itself on Guy’s countenance. “Marian,” he said, but his voice sounded faraway, as if he were in a void of emptiness, not in this room. Her expectant look instigated him to mutter an apology, “I’m sorry.”

A frown marred her forehead, and Marian felt her chest heave with a blend of abashment and fear. Her confusion crystallized into comprehension as she observed Guy nod to his men.

Marian shifted her gaze to the guards and heard Guy’s voice announce, “The sheriff’s instructions.” When the men grabbed her and shackled her, she snapped, “What? Get off me.”

Guy deliberately averted his eyes, for he couldn’t watch the shifting emotions across her face. He had surrendered to the sheriff out of fear of getting murdered and of losing his chance to earn power and wealth. He instinctively felt the ignominious inferiority of his existence to Marian’s life full of compassion, kindness, grace, and mercy, and that sensation was accentuated by her supremely righteous bearing in spite of her precarious circumstances.

“Guy!” she called to him in a desperate voice. As the men began to lead her away from the chamber, she yelled, “Get off me! Get off me!” Marian veered her gaze to him. “Guy!” An avalanche of fury swept over her. The disappointment at Guy’s betrayal was plainly written across her features, and a pang of sadness struck her, but she brushed it away.

Despite her pleas, Guy didn’t react; his shame and guilt obliterated his capacity to engage in any contact with Marian. He saw it clearly and believed Marian was a strong woman, and the comprehension that he was weaker than this captive lady rendered him speechless and numb. Living in a kingdom of self-loathing and worthlessness which were hidden under a mask of brutality, Guy still prided himself on his stamina and his unflinching firmness. Yet, he was weaker than her as he didn’t have the mettle to stand in direct opposition to Vaisey. 

Guy wouldn’t go out and see as the Earl of Winchester took away the woman of his dreams. He couldn’t look into twin pools of blue flame – Marian’s blazing eyes that would burn him in a penal purgatory for all his sins and especially for the betrayal of his own promise to save her. The enunciation of his guilt would be a totally unintelligible thing to do because Marian would only throw at him words of anger, of retribution, of outraged betrayal. She would never forgive him for his treachery that deprived him of his hopes for a splendid future.

Marian, I will not be able to wed you because now you belong to Lord Winchester. The sheriff needed him to sign the pact, and the earl wanted you. Vaisey would go to any lengths to accumulate and secure power; he would be capable of killing even his own mother if she were still alive and stood on his path to perverted greatness. I’m so sorry, Marian, as I was unable to stop him or make him change his mind. Guy’s heart clenched in his chest at the thought that he had failed to rescue the woman whom he wanted to marry, and now she would share Winchester’s bed against her will.

Guy envisaged Ghislaine’s disappointed visage, her expression sad and condemning him for what he had done; he heard her release a grievous exhale. He then closed his eyes tightly to try and make his memory disappear, to shut out a sense of stinking shame. This time, Robin Hood didn’t take Marian away from him: it was his and Vaisey’s fault that he would never wed this virtuous and headstrong woman whose purity could cleanse his black soul.

Again VaiseyI will never be free from the sheriff, and it is only my fault. Guy’s villainous master was piloting a ship through the waters of purgatory with hell being their final destination. With every day passing, there were fewer and fewer chances that Guy would disembark this vessel, and the distant shores of an unknown land were taking shape and smelled of the burning flesh of sinners. There was nothing good ahead for Guy: no stars, no sun, no universe – nothing but his own charred flesh as his hand would touch the devil’s. Guy suddenly had a disturbing vision of darkness, full of wild eyes of demons whom he would surely see in hell, and an overpowering terror filled his entire being.