Groaning into her pillow, Marian closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep. She was sprawled face-down on her bed, in pretty much the same position she’d been in for days, and she hoped her ruse could earn her even a minute’s more peace. She had heard the commotion downstairs- had heard it every time it had occurred since Saturday- but she did not want to deal with it just yet. She could not.
“Marian...” Her father’s voice was growing closer, and she knew that soon enough she’d hear his quiet knock on her door. Her premonition was proved true only seconds later as Edward not only knocked, but entered her bedchamber. Marian concentrated on keeping her breathing deep and even, trying very hard to make him believe she was still asleep, but as she felt the mattress depress at her side, she knew he would not be fooled any longer- if he ever had been.
“I know you are not asleep, Marian,” Edward began softly but with an authority that made Marian sigh her acknowledgement at being caught but did not have the power to make her open her eyes. She knew what was coming next, and though she did not want to discuss the matter, she was quite sure her father would not let the issue rest any longer.
“Sir Guy was just here.” Marian reluctantly opened her eyes and sat up. Of course Guy had been there- just as he had every morning and several evenings since the interrupted wedding. Even the thought of him and all of his lies caused bile to rise up into her throat. Meeting her father’s eyes, she tried to remain civil. Somehow, the merest mention of Guy of Gisborne made acid drip from her every posture, expression, and word. “He wishes to speak to you.”
“How terribly unlucky for Sir Guy.”
“I’m sorry, father, but I have nothing to say to him.”
“Not even to thank him for saving your father’s life?” Marian was immediately sobered, and her eyes dropped, filling with tears. Of the many reasons she could not just yet reconcile herself to the terrible events of the past weekend, the most prevalent was the fact that, despite previously proving himself nothing more than a lying, deceitful jerk, Guy had indeed rushed to the castle to protect her father once he realized what would happen if the sheriff wasn’t stopped. Afterward, it had been easy enough to credit Robin Hood with the dramatic rescue, thus saving not only Guy’s job but also his neck. The thought of losing her father had been terrible enough to Marian, but knowing that it was the man who’d betrayed her who’d saved him was doing her head in. Part of her wanted to believe that Guy had actually done the right thing of his own accord- quite a big part, actually- but mostly, she felt it was just another one of his schemes to impress her. Just another feat of strength with no real meaning behind it, just another gift from him.
Heavy tears began to roll down her cheeks, and as Marian blinked them away, she looked back up into her father’s face. Edward was a good man, and he had always been a good judge of character, but she could not trust his judgement of Sir Guy of Gisborne. He of all people should have had reservations about the cocky Master at Arms. After all, Guy had quite violently attacked him and Marian only minutes before proposing. She knew that Edward would never try to marry her off just to have her gone, but a tiny part of her was beginning to wonder if maybe he felt that Guy was the best she could hope for at her age. And she could not be completely distrustful of her father. She herself had been fairly convinced of Guy’s genuineness only a few days ago, and the thought of that brought a fresh onslaught of tears.
Because that’s what hurt the most. She had trusted him. She had believed in him. Emotions had never been easy for Marian to express, especially where men were concerned (being the daughter of the sheriff did not encourage a great number of suitors), but in her heart, she could not deny that she had begun to have true feelings for Guy. He would never have been her first choice of a husband, but as long as she was promised to him, she had figured she should give him a chance. And the more time she’d spent with him, she’d begun to realize that a life spent with him might not be so bad. When he was alone with her, he was actually quite tender... sweet. When they were alone together, it was almost hard to believe that he was the same person who did the sheriff’s bidding. He wasn’t as hard or as tough or as... inhuman when he was with her. But in the long run, it had all been an act. He had tricked her into thinking he was a good man, just the same way he had tricked her into marrying him.
Marian felt hot tears splash onto her hands as she realized her fate could be entirely different today if it wasn’t for Much. For once the interference of Robin’s men had worked to her advantage, and though she was grateful not to be trapped in a marriage where she could not trust her husband, she vaguely wished for ignorance. If not for Much, she would be married to Guy. She would have been a bit sad that she and the whole of Nottingham had been fooled into thinking the king had really returned, a bit sullen that she really needn’t have been married, but she would have believed Guy when he denied knowledge of the plot. She would have trusted him, and that was the worst part. He would make her believe in him when he very clearly did not deserve her faith.
“Marian,” Edward began slowly, “I know that you are upset with him, and rightfully so, but you must think logically. Technically, you are still betrothed to him.”
“Betrothals can be terminated.”
“He is the only thing standing between you and the sheriff, Marian. I do not know what would happen to you if you rejected him now.”
“Guy is a lot of things, but I do not think he would ever see me harmed. Physically, at least.”
“Maybe so. But it is a steep price to pay if you are wrong. It would be the simplest thing in the world for him to turn you over to the sheriff. And not just for betraying him one time- for anything. He knows the bond you share with Robin. It would not be unthinkable for him to paint you with the same brush as the outlaws. Think, Marian. If it turns out that Sir Guy is a vengeful man, you will be punished. For one crime or another, you will hang.”
“Well, if I am to be an outlaw anyway, I may as well run off into the forest and join Robin’s crew.”
“And then I will hang. I was about to give testimony against the sheriff when he found me. There is nothing to stop him from revealing that little detail to the sheriff. Nothing at all to stop him from signing my death warrant.”
“Has he been threatening you? Is that why he’s been over here so often?”
“No. Despite what you may think of him, Sir Guy has made no request other than to speak to you. I know you will not believe me, but he seems different, subdued. You mean a great deal to him, Marian. Perhaps now that he knows how a life without you would feel he is ready to give up his strutting and actually show you how he feels.”
“I’m sure all he feels is in his pants, and there are plenty of kitchen girls at the castle who he has not yet managed to impregnate.”
“I am not asking you to marry him. I am only asking you to speak to him, if only to save both of our necks.”
“Fine. But I will not go to him. If he wishes to talk, he can come to me.”
“I am glad you have come to that decision.” With that, Edward stood, heading for the door, and Marian collapsed back into her bed, unwilling to face reality just yet. Stopping at the door, Edward turned back to his daughter. He smiled in a sad way and called her name again. When she glanced back up at him, he smiled as reassuringly as he could. “I am glad and proud that you are my daughter.”
Burying her face in her pillow, Marian felt a sobbing spell begin.
Much as she dreaded the imminent visit from Guy, Marian knew her father would not stand for her to avoid him any longer. She supposed that somewhere inside she’d known all along that she would have to talk to him, though the hurt in her had forced that knowledge far away in the back of her head- along with the niggling little thought that she may actually feel better- that she and Guy may actually come to some sort of resolution- when she finally had a conversation with him. Still, no matter her hopes, anxiety gnawed at her insides.
She sighed with a defeated air of finality as she gazed at the looking glass again. There were many reasons why Marian never cried, though the most vain one was the havoc tears wrought on her pale complexion. No matter how she rubbed, patted, or splashed water on her face, she simply could not completely erase the evidence of her emotion. Her eyes were puffy and felt too heavy to keep open, her cheeks were stained bright red with lighter tracks streaked sporadically, her lips were chapped, and no matter what she did, she could not help sniffling every so often. All in all it was not the image she wanted to portray to Guy. She had always been strong and confident and had never let someone else’s actions affect her, visibly at least. She cringed to think that Guy would have the satisfaction of knowing that he had brought her to tears. He would have to have been a simpleton to not realize that she had been hurt, but as long as that much was evident, she would prefer for him to think her angry rather than sad, moping, and weepy.
That was all so very... girly.
Taking a deep breath, Marian closed her eyes, trying to imagine how the encounter would go. Would Guy, she wondered, be angry and demanding? Or would he, as her father had suggested, be contrite, apologetic, and humbled? Trying hard to envision and anticipate his words and actions, Marian smiled. An apologetic Guy of Gisborne? She may as well start imagining that her horse was a rare hornless unicorn. There were just some things that did not exist in nature and certain things that did not coexist, and while she may have (at one time) been able to fantasize that her betrothed might show some emotion, the very thought of the words “I’m sorry,”coming from Guy’s mouth was so utterly ridiculous, she couldn’t help but let a tiny giggle slip through her lips.
“Now is that any way to greet a guest?”
Marian’s eyes snapped open at the all-too-familiar drawl. Turning toward her window, she knew exactly what she would see. There, lounging against her wall as casually as if he belonged there with his arms folded cockily across his chest, slouched Robin of Locksley, a self-satisfied smirk across his face. Marian had not seen him since the day of the disastrous wedding, and with her meeting with Guy coming up whenever he ended up stopping by, she found she did not have near enough energy to deal with Robin as well.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, sounding far harsher than she had originally intended, though she supposed after days of not speaking at all, and only making the tiny, strangled sounds that so often accompany sobbing, she might just have to learn to use her voice again. For his part, Robin only deepened his smirk, and stood up straight, moving toward her.
“Is that how you’re going to thank me for saving you from a cruel and loveless marriage?” He had moved to within mere inches of her, and with a very well practiced casualness, he made to wrap his arms around her waist. Marian, however, sidestepped his advance and turned her back on him, looking once more into the mirror.
“You did not save me,” she pointed out in a matter-of-fact tone that stopped just short of utter iciness. “Much was the one who interrupted the wedding, and if I remember correctly you and he were not on speaking terms at the time.”
“That is true enough. But I would have come eventually.” He had again moved close behind her, and as he spoke, he wrapped his arms around her waist, his mouth so close to her ear he had only to whisper the next. “And I do seem to remember a very gracious welcome when I did come to you.” His voice was smooth- his normal charming bit- and the complete arrogance that dripped from his every word and the connotation of each of them made Marian’s skin crawl. She pushed his hands away from her and turned once again to face him, anger flashing in her eyes.
“Do not flatter yourself,” she muttered before distancing herself further from him.
“Flatter myself? You kissed me, Marian! What else am I supposed to make of that?”
“I do not know,” growled Marian, suddenly furious, “Why do you not ask every girl you’ve ever kissed for no apparent reason?” Robin cocked his head to the side, his smile and swagger returning as he approached her again. He had the condescending look of an adult who had suddenly realized why a child was throwing a tantrum.
“Is that what this is about? Come now, Marian, you mustn’t be jealous. After all, I was not the one who almost married someone else.” Ready this time, Marian slapped his hands as they attempted to find purchase on her hips.
“Get over it, Robin! Until earlier this year I had not even heard a word from you for five years, and you just expect me to jump into your arms whenever you come calling!”
“I needn’t remind you that just last week it was you who kissed me!”
“Yes, I kissed you!” Marian cried, so loudly that even Robin held a finger up to his mouth and looked around the room cautiously. “I kissed you, and I’m sure it increased your manliness for about a moment, but it was an expression of relief- nothing else! Do not feel flattered, Robin! I would have kissed Much, had he been there instead- or Will or Allan or even Djaq! I would have kissed the bloody Sheriff if he’d been the one standing out there! It meant nothing, Robin, except for a seeking for comfort. That kiss had nothing to do with you!”
But Robin had not even heard half of what she had been trying to tell him. In the middle of her tirade, his eyes had widened suddenly and then narrowed into the slim squint of a hunter. Nervously, he prowled the perimeter of her bedchamber, listening (though not to her) and glancing covertly from her windows. His fingers itched for his bow.
“Are you even listening to me?” Marian asked, though she was answered immediately by Robin’s upraised palm.
“Someone is here,” he whispered, still trying to sneak looks from her windows without being seen himself. All of a sudden, his unexpected visit, his inescapable arrogance, and his unacceptable supposition that she would simply be waiting for him to just take her away were all together too much for Marian to handle civilly (if she had, in fact, been dealing civilly with him up until that moment). Crossing her arms over her chest and hardening her eyes, she spoke.
“That will be Sir Guy.” Robin’s eyes widened at once, anger twisting his normally jovial mouth.
“What do you mean, ‘That will be Sir Guy,’?” he whispered harshly, grabbing her wrists, pulling her arms from her chest to her side and forcing her to look at him in the process.
“I have arranged to talk to Sir Guy this evening.” Marian’s eyes did not waver from Robin’s, even as he crinkled his nose in disgust and glared at her intensely.
“Arranged to talk to him? To talk with the man who would have tricked you into becoming his wife?” All at once Marian found it difficult to breathe. Bad enough that she’d had those thoughts herself, but to have someone who was completely on the outside of the situation- and someone who would stand to benefit from any falling out that she had with Guy- echo them made those words sound offensive. It was one thing for Marian to feel betrayed by the man, and she would not stand for anyone else stating the obvious- acting as if she herself hadn’t realized the extent of Guy’s betrayal. Stung and wounded, Marian’s first response was to fight hurt with more hurt.
“Yes,” she spat at Robin, resentment gleaming in her eyes, “but at least when Guy proposed to me, he actually meant to marry me.” Robin took a step back from her, speechless. Neither of them spoke as he stealthily crawled out of her window.
Marian supposed it was strange that only days after what should have been her wedding to the man standing in front of her, she was now calling him by his proper title, and even stranger that he had initiated the formality. If she had been able to remember her manners, she should be offering him a place to sit and something to eat or drink. Instead, she stood unmoving in front of him, her eyes planted to the floor almost as thoroughly as her feet, her hands twitching and pulling at imaginary loose threads in her dress. She did not know what to expect of him. Her father had said he wanted to talk to her, though perhaps Marian had been silly to assume that Guy himself would be the one doing the talking. He was not, after all, noted for his eloquence. Or his emotion.
The silence hung heavy and thick over them for what seemed like an eternity, as Marian actually found a string to begin pulling on the hem of her sleeve. That was a problem with her, had been since she was a child, she was quite destructive when she was nervous. She also had a tendency to get sick, a tiny bundle of nerves twisting in the pit of her stomach until the entire thing was wound too tightly to function. If Sir Guy did not start talking soon, she was afraid of what his shoes might look like when she was done. Just as she thought she would be doomed to a spectacular display of digestive explosion, Guy spoke, immediately breaking her free from her inner anguish.
“How... how are you?” Guy’s voice was low and hesitant, a tone she very rarely heard, and one she’d only ever head him use when he was in danger of not getting his own way. She was immediately sickened as she remembered the last time she’d heard that very tone.
Will you marry me?
“I am well,” she lied, her teeth clenched. “Considerably better than I could be, given the events of the past week.” She had not meant to launch an attack against him, at least not so soon, but her frustration with Robin had added to her foul mood, and something inside of her had snapped. No matter how she had brushed off his visit in front of Robin, a conversation with Guy was not something Marian would have willingly initiated, but suddenly she had remembered exactly how Guy had hurt Marian and none of the politics, the fact that he was the only force between her and the sheriff, or even that he had saved her father mattered. How dare he ask her how she was? How was she expected to be?
She would never be the proper, silent lady she was meant to be, she knew that, but seeing the sudden clench of Guy’s jaw, the hardness of his eyes, at her statement, she wished that just once she had been able to keep her mouth shut. Marian knew that if Guy decided to be vindictive her life and the life of her father were both on the line, and she avoided his eyes as he walked to across the room and deposited himself in an armchair.
“I deserved that.”
Shocked, Marian raised her eyes to look at him. He sat with his hand covering his eyes, rubbing them tiredly. She took the rare opportunity to study him while he was not looking at her and was a bit unnerved by what she saw. He looked so much older, more tired, than he had even last Saturday. She wondered vaguely what the cause could be, but instead steeled herself for his gaze as he dropped his hand to the arm of the chair and looked to her again. He motioned to a chair near his, but Marian shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest.
“I prefer to stand, thank you.” That’s it, Marian, remember your manners. Maybe then he won’t have you hanged for betraying him.
“Fine.” It took much for Guy to speak. Many years had passed since he had needed to convey any sentiment other than dominance or power, and over the years spent close to the Sheriff, he’d learned quickly that a man of few words and effective action was much more useful to the shire. To be honest, he hadn’t needed to say anything until he’d begun to woo Marian. His feelings for her had hit him as surely as one of Cupid’s own arrows, and though it was ridiculous and silly for a man of his age, station, and power to be completely besotted by a woman, once he had realized his feelings for Marian, there had been no escaping them, try as he might.
She was everything he should not want, and everything that would be detrimental to him politically. He had no misconceptions that their union would somehow act as a magical muzzle- that she would stop voicing her opinion as soon as they were wed. She would make him the subject of much snickering and jesting, just as she did her father now. The other men, particularly Vaysey would never let him hear the end of it if- no, not if- when she sooner or later disagreed with some decision made by the government. There would even be rumblings that Gisborne could not be trusted to run an estate, seeing as he could not even control his woman.
And yet, he could not help wanting her anyway. Guy allowed his mind to return to the moments leading up to the disastrous wedding. Everything he’d told Thornton had been true. What Marian was, beside potentially politically damaging, was good and noble and sweet and loving, and if there was any chance she could ever come to love him, he knew that he could not be completely bad, as he feared so deeply he was becoming. His whole life he’d been commended for his ambition, and it was true that there was such a proud streak in him that would not rest until the name of Gisborne had been reestablished as a prominent and powerful force within the nation, but he had never intended to be cruel or apathetic or... evil. Marian was the only thing that could save him now, and though a great portion of his longing for her was purely physical, he was alarmed to recognize the urgency with which he yearned for her approval, the redemption that only she could offer.
Marian was his god, he reasoned in a burst of blasphemy, and what else did you do to God, but confess? So confess was what he would do, though it would be difficult and hurtful to both of them. It may take him an extraordinary amount of time, he may stammer and stutter, and he may say things he would later regret. But she deserved to know. More importantly, he needed to tell her. He knew that the whole truth was the only thing that could possibly persuade her to come back to him. Especially since, like a god, she always did seem to know when he was lying.
Guy’s eyes sought hers, so much less intense than she ever remembered seeing them before. His meekness was so out of the ordinary that it was intimidating her. She was nearly sure that his docile attitude was one of repentance and meant to help her trust him, but after all the things she’d believed of him, she was wary to believe that anything that came from him was genuine. “Marian,” his voice shook, “I am sorry.”
The apology took Marian aback- more so, she thought, than she would have been if he had produced a warrant for her arrest and death right then and there. She could not say anything but simply stood looking at him, an eyebrow raised and her mouth hanging open in a decidedly unladylike manner. It took her several moments to speak.
“I am sorry,” he stumbled over the words, never looking in her eyes and flushing slightly. They were not words he was accustomed to saying, even when they were warranted. “... for Saturday. I should have told you what I knew as soon as I found out what was going on.”
Marian’s eyes immediately narrowed and her mouth pursed angrily before she began questioning him. He was not making it easy for her to believe him. Though perhaps, a tiny voice whispered in her head, you only want to believe the worst of him...
“When you found out? You mean you weren’t in on the plot from the very beginning?”
“No. Originally, the only thing the sheriff told me was that...” He stammered and lowered his eyes further to the floor. When he recommenced, he was very quiet. “That I would be happy, that the king was returning... That I... that you and I could be married.”
“And you did not question him? Why would the king be making his way through Nottingham on the way to London?”
“I did. I asked him. He played it that Prince John had arranged the trip, to try and encourage the king to grant the sheriff some kind of promotion. He promised me that I would be considered for sheriff when he left. He also said that the king would want to visit Hood, given how faithfully he had served him in the Holy Land. He said that Locksley would be returned to Robin.”
Guy’s story did not ring true in her ears, for someone who had once declared his own ambitions far greater than Locksley, he seemed entirely too willing to give up that same land.
“And you were still excited about this? If the king came here, you would lose your land.”
“But by marrying you, I would eventually have Knighton.”
“So that is why you wanted to marry me so badly? Nothing to do with me, you just want Knighton as a back up plan in case by some miracle Robin recovers his lands!”
“No!” Guy leapt to his feet and began pacing. He desperately wanted to grab Marian’s wrists and force her to look at him, as if he somehow could convey his genuineness through eye contact, but he was also fairly sure she would not allow any contact between them at this point. “Marian, please... I already told you that Vaysey had nearly promised me the post of sheriff. I would not need Locksley or Knighton- I would have the whole of Nottinghamshire! But that is not the point; it is merely a side note. What I really wanted was to marry you.”
Marian’s only response was a pursing of her lips and her raised eyebrows. Warning bells rang in Guy’s head. He was losing her and he knew it.
“Marian, please, let me start again.”
“As you wish.”
Breathing deeply, Guy stopped his pacing to stand in front of Marian and look down into her eyes. Had he been only a bit more desperate, he would have fallen to his knees, though he could feel that very embarrassing desperation creeping up on him.
“I had no idea that it was a trap until the day I came to see you and you were ill. That was the reason, in fact, that I came to see you- to tell you.”
“So why did you not tell me?”
“You were barely conscious, for one!” God, but she was infuriating! Now she was simply being stubborn and hurt for hurt’s sake. Taking a breath to calm himself, he dropped his eyes and continued. “And, truthfully... your father spoke of your excitement over the wedding. I had never dreamed that you would willingly accept me, let alone think of our wedding with anticipation... I have never been able to conceal my feelings for you, Marian, and the thought that you perhaps reciprocated those feelings made me utterly unable to bring you any news that would have prevented our wedding. It was weak and stupid of me, and I will apologize until the day I die if you let me, but I simply could not force myself to do anything that would allow you a reason to back out of the wedding.”
“But even if we had not been married then I still would have been betrothed to you.”
“Until the real king returns, and God only knows when that will be.”
“So what you are telling me is that you withheld information from me simply to fit your own desires, and by doing so you not only tricked me, but quite possibly signed my father’s death sentence?”
“I... I never meant to hurt you, Marian, you have to believe me! And, perhaps I was foolish and too hopeful, but I had hoped that Sir Edward would have been at the church with you as opposed to rushing off to the castle.”
Marian’s heart dropped at his last statement, and she swallowed hard. Something in Guy’s voice was breaking her heart, and the painful memory that her father had not been at her wedding made a solid lump form in the back of her throat.
“I had rather hoped that, too...” For a second, Marian raised her eyes to search Guy’s. She knew that tears glittered in hers, but was completely stupefied to see that telltale glitter in his as well- not terribly prominent and not threatening to fall, but only just forming. He had betrayed her, deceived her, and lied to her, but if nothing else, Marian simply could not change her mind about the genuineness of his feelings for her. No matter what else he did, she just knew that he cared for her- more than any man had cared for her, and in more than the typical way. She was about to speak again when Guy beat her to it, his voice low, slow, and labored.
“What I did was wrong. I will never deny that fact. I will never justify my actions to you. All I can do is beg your forgiveness and your understanding.”
Head swimming, Marian let the tears fall from her eyes. This afternoon had held so many more surprises than she ever could have prepared for. She had never expected Guy to be as open and honest as he had been, and even when preparing for that possibility, she had never anticipated actually believing him. But that’s exactly the predicament she found herself in. She believed him- his words, his sincerity- and she could tell that, though self-inflicted, he was truly in as much pain as she was. Her mind screamed warnings and insults at her. She remembered all too well the pain he’d put her through and all the trouble believing in him had caused her in the past. She saw clearly a vision of Guy throttling her father, heard him calling her a traitor and lecturing her on loyalty. She would have to be a complete simpleton to take him back.
His nervous eyes lit on to hers as she stepped forward and took his hands in hers.
“I am not sure I can forgive you,” she whispered. “Not yet, at least. But if you let me, I would like to come to understand you.”
“Really?” The unexpectedly childish hope in Guy’s voice put Marian a bit on guard, but she continued, knowing full well that he deserved her honesty as much as she had ever deserved his.
“You are still my betrothed, Guy, and I suppose that you are being kinder to me now than a lot of men would be to a woman who jilted them at the altar. In fact, through our entire relationship you have been far kinder than you needed to be. You have never had any obligation to even ask my opinion, let alone accept my stipulations and ultimatums. A lesser man would have simply haggled with my father until he was offered a fair price. I cannot truthfully say I look forward to the day we will marry, but I do appreciate all that you have allowed me thus far.”
Had she not been looking down, trying to avoid his eyes as she spoke, she never would have believed the sight in front of her. In complete relief, Sir Guy of Gisborne had dropped to his knees, humbling himself before his betrothed. Like a contrite child, he cried out to her, his words bubbling through overexcited lips.
“Oh, Marian, I promise you that from this point forward, there will be no more lies. No more half-truths. I love you, honestly, and I will do everything in my power to make you look forward to the day when we will finally marry!” He stood quickly, still grasping her hands, and the quite uncharacteristic smile died on his lips as he saw her face, covered now with a mix of awe and fear. “What? What is wrong?”
Marian swallowed and offered him a weak but genuine smile in return.
“No man has ever said he loved me before.”
Alone in her bed chamber, Marian took a deep breath. She had no idea what to expect of the evening, though experience told her to anticipate the worst possible scenario. The weeks since her reconciliation with Guy had proved tense but pleasant- better, in fact, that their relationship had been previously. It was still strange to her, but now when there was a question, Guy asked instead of ordering, and when he had something to say, he said it. In the past weeks, Marian thought she’d heard him say more words than in the first five years she’d known him combined. She smiled and let out a little laugh as she thought of him. He was trying- really trying and not just pretending- and he was allowing her to see him as he really was now.
...To an extent.
There was so much more to the man than Marian ever would have guessed at, and though she by no means had learned everything there was to learn about Guy of Gisborne, she now knew that there actually was something underneath his gruff and prickly exterior. For such a strong man, there was such a sadness about him sometimes. He covered it up quickly and refused to acknowledge it, but Marian could see it sometimes wash across his face. It was a shame, Marian thought. Because his vulnerability was truly endearing and spoke more about what kind of a husband he would make than any gift he could ever give her. There were times when his simple requests of her left him stammering and fidgeting like a poorly-behaved boy who was asking for a sweet even though he knew he’d misbehaved.
”Marian, may I ask you for something?” The two had just arrived at Knighton Hall after a dinner at Locksley Manor, and though Marian stood in her doorway, chilled in the night air, Guy looked down at his gloved hands, twirling about each other lazily, the way they did when he wanted something.
“You may ask,” Marian answered honestly. She knew that where Guy was concerned, she could never guarantee the answer she gave was the one he wanted to hear. But as he continued to fidget, she narrowed her eyes. “Guy, what is it?”
Slowly, with none of his usual confidence and reminding her once again of that naughty little boy, he lifted his eyes.
“May I kiss you goodnight?” His voice was low, but his eyes shone with hope, and with no thought at all, Marian leaned up and kissed his cheek, cold in the crisp night. She smiled as she retreated.
Smiling again, Marian absentmindedly stroked the leather mask lying in her lap. Guy was a revelation, one she was wary of but happy for all at once. But if her relationship with Guy as of late had been nice... pleasant... enjoyable, even, her relationship with the Sheriff had become anything but. Immediately following the wedding he had treated her with the same mixture of outright contempt and utter avoidance as he always had, but as she and Guy grew closer and spent more time together, the Sheriff’s attitude toward her changed completely. Passive snickers turned into downright jibes and he no longer even bothered to wait until she or her father had left the room before he began gossiping about them. There were times when it got so bad, so hurtful, that she’d looked to Guy for defense, but had caught him only glancing determinedly at the floor. The lack of answer from Gisborne seemed to be the exact response the Sheriff had been looking for, and he always smiled cruelly at Marian then. Vaysey was being catty and manipulative, juvenile and malicious.
...He’s jealous, Marian realized with a slow smile. The Sheriff’s actions were a cross between those of a jilted lover and a toddler whose favorite toy had been taken away. She knew that Vaysey had never had much affection for Guy (though a disturbing notion she did not even want to address to herself had begun to manifest itself in her mind), but Gisborne had always been his right-hand man. Guy was the one who did the dirty work and was allowed in on the evil plots. She assumed that Guy was as close as the Sheriff had to a confidant, though she was sure that his desire for Gisborne’s presence was based solely on Guy’s ability to do things for him.
And the more time he was off holding Marian’s hand or planning a new way to woo her, the less time he had for fighting and killing and torturing. It had been bad enough for Guy when she had just been ambivalent toward him; then, the Sheriff had simply branded him as a “love-struck idiot.” If things continued to progress between the two of them, she shuddered to think of the tantrum Vaysey would throw. After all, Guy knew his duty, but she was quite sure he much preferred spending his time with her.
Her father urged her to ignore the Sheriff”s cruelty, and she tried valiantly, though with mixed results. She shook her head sadly as she thought of all the havoc her very being had wrought, or could stand to cause, just because of the Sheriff’s vengefulness. In the fight for her life, Marian had somehow first entangled her father, and now she knew she’d entangled Guy somehow too. One misstep from her and either of them could be in danger due to the Sheriff”s vindictiveness. Throw Robin on the heap, and it seemed that all the men in her life were in constant peril, and it was usually connected to her.
And they all wondered why little Marian couldn’t make even the tiniest decision without thinking long and hard about it. Guy wanted her to marry him. Robin wanted her to run away into the forest with him. Her father wanted her to be a proper lady (which, she thought, probably included marrying Guy). Not one of them understood-or could even know about- all the other influences she had to take into account on a daily basis. Say the wrong thing to Guy, and her father was in danger. Say the wrong thing to Robin, and Guy was in danger. Let Guy know that she’d said anything to Robin, and both she and Robin were in danger. The only one who would not initiate violence because of her was her father, though if she said the wrong thing to him she would have to deal with his disappointment, and she knew that that was far worse than almost anything else she could endure.
Everything is a choice. She had once said that to Robin, and she still believed it. But what Robin didn’t understand was that sometimes the choice you wanted to make and the choice you had to make- just because it was the right choice to make- were not always the same thing. Robin would never understand how she could be resigned to making the right choice even when it was not what she truly wanted.
...Or when it was a choice he himself did not personally agree with.
”You’re going where?” Robin’s voice was raised and disbelieving. He had thrown his hands in the air as he turned away from her in frustration. Marian could only look after him with a strange mix of pleading and annoyance.
“A ball. At the castle. With Guy.”
“A masked ball!”
“Yes.” Robin was pacing in front of her now. She had no idea why this news would upset him so much. Guy was her betrothed, after all. Chances were that eventually Robin would not only have to get over his anger at her new betrothal, but also with her new marriage. And he knew that she would have to play Gisborne’s game, to gain his acceptance again.
But maybe Robin realized more than she’d told him. Maybe he could see better than she could how her feelings were changing...
Robin had stopped his pacing and now stood in front of her, arms crossed over his chest.
“And what shall your costume be, then, Marian? The Nightwatchman perhaps? Why don’t you wear the costume with the giant section stabbed out of the gut?”
“Stop it! Just stop, Robin!”
“Marian, listen to me. He. Is. Your. Enemy. Guy of Gisborne does not love you!”
“And how would you know? You, who only venture out of the forest when it suits you? When is the last time you made any attempt to gain my affection other than supposing on a relationship that you broke off five years ago?”
“Fine. If that’s the way you feel, I have a perfect costume for you. Go to the ball as Lady Gisborne. Go pretending that you really care for him, because that’s what you’re really doing, Marian! You’re pretending that you love him and that you don’t love me just because it makes your life simpler! You-“
Robin did not have time to finish his rant. Marian graced him with the same right hook she’d once gifted Gisborne with. On the ground, Robin looked up at her, astonished. She pointed a warning finger at him.
“Do not ever presume to tell me about my own life.”
Marian sighed. More and more lately, she fought with Robin whenever they saw each other. Not the disagreements or spats that had occurred after his initial return from the Holy Land- real fights. And though the last one was the first time any physical violence had come to pass, the arguments had become increasingly heated ever since she’d reconciled with Guy. She tried to justify to herself that she did not know why, but the answer was clear even if she did not want to admit it. Robin was interested in a relationship that she herself was not sure she was still interested in.
Yes, she was still attracted to Robin, and yes, a part of her was still wildly in love with him, but those parts of her were fading away. It was strange that while he’d been away, he’d been all that she could think about- had never even considered another man, and then when he comes home, she realized that he wasn’t what she really wanted after all. Of course, it could be that his status as an outlaw was too much for her to deal with. Or she could just be growing up; she could just be realizing that it was time for the lonely fifteen-year-old to give up the ghost. She could very well just have realized that her feelings for Robin were never as strong as she’d remembered them being.
...Or it could be Guy.
Since she was betrothed to Guy, there really was no hope for her to be with Robin, so maybe her rational brain had finally convinced her heart to stop wanting what she could not have. Maybe... but Marian felt the bundle of nerves in her stomach start to bunch as she tried to stifle a thought that usually only came to her unbidden in day dreams or in her deepest, most honest contemplations. Perhaps she was resigned to her fate as the future Lady Gisborne.
And maybe she starting to anticipate it.
Standing, Marian moved in front of the mirror to regard her costume. Though he had meant it as an insult, for a while Marian had actually considered Robin’s suggestion to go as the Nightwatchman. She would not have worn the mask, of course, and the thought of Guy of Gisborne dancing with his mortal enemy had been nearly irresistible. But there had been several problems with the scenario. First and most importantly, she could not risk Guy discovering that she really was the Nightwatchman, but there was also Guy’s temperament to consider. If he was in a good mood, he would smirk at her and take it in stride. If he was in a bad mood, which was likely the case, he would be angry at her, and when he was angry, he would shut her out and brood. And that would probably not be the last of his reaction. If she showed up to the ball as the Nightwatchman and Guy was in a bad mood, he would, at the very least, make sure that she did not enjoy herself.
She ran her hands over the sleek leather she wore now and smirked. Robin would be truly insulted if he knew how he’d inspired this costume. Admittedly, she didn’t know how Guy would react to this costume, either, but her instincts had told her that his ego would react favorably.
She was dressed as him.
Smiling again, she reconsidered. Not quite him, but a female version. Robin had so helpfully suggested that she dress as Lady Gisborne, and though she was sure he had not been serious, the comment had sparked an idea in her head. She’d made the outfit herself, and it matched his regular clothing perfectly, the only exceptions being the decidedly feminine plunging neckline and the tight fit of the trousers and jacket. Marian had never been one for sewing (or most domestic things, actually), but she was proud of her creation. She could only hope that Guy would like her costume and not be offended by it.
The night would end in disaster if he disliked it.
She was still examining herself when the sound of hooves approaching filtered up through her window. Guy had sent a carriage for her father and herself. With one final smirk at herself (It must be the leather that brings out the smirk, she decided), Marian left her room and began to descend the stairs. In the main hall, she met her father, and taking his arm, she led him to the carriage. Once inside and on her way to the castle, she put on the heavily decorated black leather mask she’d crafted specially for this occasion. And if her stomach squirmed more in anticipation than dread, she would just ignore the fact until a more convenient time to contemplate such things. For tonight, she just wanted to have a good time, and as her father smiled at her, she settled back in her seat. Tonight she was Lady Gisborne, and for tonight, she felt as arrogantly calm as her husband-to-be.
A small gasp escaped Marian’s lips as the carriage arrived at the castle, and as she stepped inside the Great Hall, all of her former bravado was expelled with another dramatic exhalation. The room was full of lovely ladies in gorgeous dresses and graceful dancers in delicate yet extremely eye-catching masks. Never in her life had Marian wanted to fit in with a crowd.
Not until tonight.
She was filled with an instant dread, a sick intuition that Guy would not only hate her costume, she would anger him by it. The future Lady Gisborne dressed as a man, not in the frilly, frothy costume that the other ladies of the court were wearing. She would be an embarrassment to him once again.
And Guy of Gisborne did not stand for embarrassment.
It was not until her father gently pushed at her elbow that Marian realized she had stopped dead in the doorway and had not taken a breath since entering the hall. Moving forward, she was petrified, and if the glances and snickers she noticed as she and her father made their way through the crowd were real or imagined, she would never know.
About half way through the throng of party goers, Marian spotted Guy and smiled at once. No matter how unpredictable his reaction to her would be, he himself was nothing short of a sure thing. Standing on the balcony above, his back to the crowd, he was obviously brooding over something.
And he was wearing exactly the same thing he wore every day.
Stifling a giggle at his inability to have fun even at a costume party, Marian parted from her father, and made her way up the stairs to meet her moody husband-to-be. As she approached, she watched him sigh and turn to look over the balcony, leaning his forearms on it and slouching. She was somewhat surprised when she approached and he did not turn toward her. Normally, his senses were so over-sensitive that he would round on anyone who approached within a five foot radius. She was behind him before she spoke, and she relished the opportunity to take him by surprise for once. Leaning as close as propriety and modesty would allow, she whispered in the general direction of his ear.
“Nice costume,” was all she said, waiting for him to turn toward her. He turned slowly, and his unnatural stealth frightened her, not for the first time. That quiet, detached calm was never an indicator of a good mood- if there was such a thing when it came to Guy. He was acting as if he were angry, and she braced herself for whatever punishment he would be handing out. As he came full circle, he leaned against the balustrade and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes narrowed, though as he looked her over, none too furtively, they grew large, and after an extended glance at the large amount of cleavage afforded by the costume, a smirk crept to his lips.
“And you,” he replied, a playfully lecherous tone to his voice. His eyes told her that he had every inkling what she was conveying by her costume, but unable to pass up the chance to tease her, he questioned her. “What, exactly, are you supposed to be?” The smirk was still on his lips, and Marian noticed how it was gradually creeping up to his eyes. It was dangerously close to maturing into a full grown smile, and though she had been frightened by his apparent anger only seconds before, she found she was terrified beyond belief at the possibility of his happiness and the role she might play in that. For all of her bravery and adventures, she was still very much a lady where modesty was concerned, and though she was his betrothed, she instinctively blushed and withdrew slightly as she realized the ramifications of what it would mean to make Guy happy. And not only in the obvious physical ways she was not (as a lady) supposed to even know about- she worried sometimes that she lead him on too much. She knew his feelings for her were very real and very strong, and there were times, like now, that she worried she may very well hurt him without intending to do so.
But what worried her more was that she was beginning to fear that she wasn’t leading him on. In a brilliant and (thankfully) brief burst of clarity, Marian realized that no matter how she tried to deny it, she was in love with the man in front of her, no matter what logic told her. Her heart thumped in her chest, and with a deep breath, she stuffed the thoughts away for later inspection, though she couldn’t quite shake the utterly inconvenient and unavoidable free-falling thrill of courtship. Robin’s courting of her had consisted of negotiations between fathers and a casual proposal, followed by a waggle of the eyebrows. He had charmed her, and she had fallen under his spell, but looking now at Guy- so much more a man than Robin had been- maybe than Robin was now- she knew that the love she’d felt for Robin had been sweet, yes- but also simple, boring even. Somehow Marian knew that, though she may be angry with him, frustrated by him, and challenged by him, loving Robin would have been far easier than loving Guy may prove to be.
But loving Guy just might be far more rewarding.
She only realized how much time had passed since Guy’s inquiry about her outfit when she watched the smile slide from his lips and his eyes narrow. She dropped her own eyes modestly before returning them, lashes batting coquettishly, to his.
Marian smiled shyly at him, her timidity now as much an act as his ignorance, and pulled off the black leather mask.
“Can you not tell?” she asked, her voice soft, though not without a hint of teasing. Taking a step toward him, she answered loud enough only for him to hear. “Tonight, I am Lady Gisborne.” For a moment, she watched the parade of emotions flash through his eyes- hope, lust, pride, possession, victory- before his expression became one solely comprised of complete happiness. And then a strange thing happened. Guy of Gisborne smiled- a full, teeth-exposing grin which caught Marian off-guard. She felt herself flush bright red, hated the way the heat of her reaction raced up her body, as if a fever had suddenly broken all over her- particularly over her over-exposed breasts and her face. Once again, awareness flooded over her, on a level that she was unable to dismiss yet unable to fully grasp, that she was indeed in love with the man, and the enormity of the realization sobered her. She looked to the ground even though she could not stop smiling. As soon as the last of the wave of emotion had swept over her, she lifted her eyes to him, smiling shyly. She had never really had the desire to kiss him- not until that very moment when every bit of him, including his emotion, was genuine. The feeling was almost irresistible, and she suddenly longed to touch his face, his neck, the hold the back of his head while he bent to kiss her. She wanted to feel his lips on hers, now when he was so completely open and vulnerable, when he was happy. Unconsciously, she licked her lips as she mentally calmed herself. Unable to bring herself to be so forward as to kiss him, she gently slipped her hand into his instead and was instantly rewarded by his fingers entwining with hers, like he had done it a million times.
“You should smile more often,” Marian said, to break the silence as much as to convey her thoughts. “You are very handsome when you smile.”
For a moment, Guy considered her warily, as if the compliment was somehow sarcastic or some sort of veiled insult. But as Marian’s fingers gently rubbed his, he stepped closer to her and looked into her eyes. He squeezed her fingers reassuringly and rewarded her with another genuine, though slightly smaller, smile. Bending slightly toward her so that his low voice would not be lost in the din of party noises, he gently caressed her face before answering.
“Then I shall smile only for you.”
Again Marian’s eyes hit the floor. She was not used to being intimidated- not by him, not by any man- but she found that his flattery caused an instant, though not altogether unpleasant, bashfulness she was all in all completely unaccustomed to. His words bore none of the slick arrogance that oozed from Robin’s every charming word. Robin’s words were always accompanied by the smile that said he knew you wanted him. Guy’s, however, were simple, straight-forward, and honest. Whatever he might be when he was not wooing her, Guy of Gisborne was quite unexpectedly turning into a gentleman whenever in her presence.
He squeezed her fingers again, and as she turned her eyes to him again, he smiled slightly. Exhaling, Marian smiled at him and released his hand. Silently, though infinitely eloquently, he gestured for her to precede him through the crowd, his hand coming to rest on the small of her back, and Marian allowed herself to take in her surroundings for the first time.
She laughed at herself. How could she have been so blind? She had been so worried about Guy’s reaction to her costume that she’d managed to completely miss all of the costumes that were far more controversial than her own. Ladies of all stations were dressed so scantily Marian blushed simply looking at them, men- proud knights and humble servants- wore outfits garish and vibrantly colorful. Men dressed as royalty, ladies dressed as fairies. There were even more than a couple Robin Hoods- complete with bow and quiver. Slowly the Gisborne confidence began to creep back through her veins, and as she and Guy stopped to mingle with other guests, she once again slipped her hand into his.
“I shall never hear the end of it if the Sheriff catches me holding your hand,” he breathed against her ear as she led him through the hall. Stopping, Marian turned around to him and smirked playfully.
“Is that so?” she cooed, moving closer to him. Guy turned his head quickly, a gesture of restraint more than rejection. Marian was pleased to note that he did not let go of her hand. She realized that this was another way the two of them were fundamentally different. Guy could be completely confident in a dark corner where few sets of eyes and ears were likely to follow, but it was in the protective cacophony of a crowd that Marian felt most in control. She took another step toward him, their bodies practically touching. Looking up, she continued. “Well, if the Sheriff would be unhappy with you for holding my hand, imagine what he would do if he caught sight of you kissing me right in the middle of the great hall.”
Eyes snapping back to her face, Guy looked comically astonished. However, before either of them could make anything of Marian’s proposal, they were interrupted .
“There you are. I lost you the minute we entered the hall.”
Both Marian and Guy turned toward the elderly man at the sound of his voice. Marian beamed, though she was unsure as to whether he was simply being cordial or if, seeing her in this position with Guy, he expected her to need to be saved.
“I am sorry, father,” Marian replied. “I was simply anxious to begin the festivities.”
“Ah, though you were not as anxious as some, thankfully.” With a look of mixed disgust and amusement, Sir Edward nodded toward a group of revelers, clearly already much worse for the wear. The group looked as if it was comprised mostly of young and low-ranking nobility, including a very drunken Robin Hood impersonator who was trying very hard to do something the real Robin could have managed blindfolded and gagged. He was trying to impress a girl. Shaking his head and turning his gaze back to his daughter and her betrothed, Sir Edward spoke. “I trust that you will take care of my daughter, Sir Guy?”
“Of course.” Sir Edward smiled and took Guy’s offered hand, a sort of peace treaty between the two men. Marian knew that, while not the biggest supporter of Gisborne or his methods, her father considered Guy a worthy match for his daughter- though he was not stupid enough to simply hand her over without some kind of assurance that she would be well taken care of.
And that Sir Edward would be keeping a close eye on the situation.
After a moment, the group moved apart to go its separate ways, but as they did so, Marian felt a rush of air close to her cheek.
Sir Edward was still smiling as he fell backward to the cold stone floor, an arrow lodged impossibly in his chest. Before Marian could react, the drunken Robin Hood and his gang ran past her. Guy barked out orders, but she never heard him.
She was not aware that she had begun to scream until she heard her own voice- high, tight, and labored- echoing off the stone walls of the Great Hall. Even then, it was not a conscious action, merely the result (or cause, she would never know which) of the complete and utter compression of her chest, of the breath being ripped from her lungs in sharp, heaving bursts that left every inch of her torso burning and every one of her fingers tingling. Her knees throbbed where they had hit the cold flagstones of the floor, but she could not take time to notice. She held his hand, stroked his poor, weathered face. And she screamed. By the time Guy had reached her side on the floor, she was aware of it, was forming words. His name, over and over again... endless entreaties and heart-wrenching pleading. He wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be. He was stunned, shocked. He just needed to snap out of it.
His eyes were open, and even as his hand cooled in hers, she knew that if she just screamed loud enough- asked him, asked God prettily enough- he would wake up and everything would be fine. He had to wake up. He had to be all right- he had to be!
He was all she had.
When her shrill cries grew to be too much for him, the Sheriff rolled his eyes and ordered the guards to have her removed. She heard the order but only recognized it in a far away, superfluous kind of way. Out of the corner of her tear-drenched eye, she saw the guards begin to advance on her, and had she not been hysterical, her heart might have swelled at the display that followed. Eyes dark and piercing as a hawk’s, Guy’s head snapped up, and he glared at the approaching guards. He snarled like a feral animal protecting a wounded member of its pack. Standing slowly, he pulled Marian up with him, one hand around her shoulder and supporting her weight, the other raised threateningly at the now-terrified guards.
“You will not touch her.” The growl came low and menacing; Marian had never seen him in such a state- not even after being foiled by Robin or the Nightwatchman. The guards came to an immediate and terrified halt as Guy’s hand came to rest on the hilt of his sword. Gisborne stared them all down, challenging them.
Vain, over-confident, and condescending as he was, Vaysey was equally frightened by the look in Gisborne’s eyes. It was like a faithful guard dog turning on its master. Under normal circumstances, he simply would have ordered Gisborne’s removal as well, but none of the guards seemed willing to cross Gisborne. Under normal circumstances, Guy himself would have been physically removed from the hall.
And if he had resisted, his head would have been physically removed from his body.
It was a waste, Vaysey knew. Love. He’d been sick and tired of Guy’s constant attention to Marian for far too long already, but he’d never imagined that the Master at Arms would ever publicly and directly countermand an order. The girl had become a disease running through Gisborne’s veins. But still, he was very much like the Sheriff’s favorite puppy, and though he would have to be disciplined for this little act of disobedience, Vaysey knew that it would take a far greater act of defiance for him to let Gisborne’s annoyance outweigh his usefulness. He was a good guard dog, undoubtably, but even good dogs needed to be beaten when they snarled at their masters. Besides, Gisborne was a good and loyal servant.
It was the bitch that needed to be brought to heel.
All eyes in the hall flitted between three very different tableaux. First was the Sheriff and his guard, frozen almost comically in a strange half-way position that denoted how completely unintentional their current inactivity was. Second, the poor old man, sadly looking up at the ceiling and rapidly cooling on the floor, an arrow protruding from his chest and blood pooling around him from the underside. Last, Guy of Gisborne, still glaring at the guards, though now he held a sobbing and shaking Marian in both of his arms. Her head was turned into his shoulder, and though the position stifled much of the noise she still produced, it afforded a rather more macabre scene. One of Marian’s arms had twined around Guy’s back, and behind him, the crowd gasped to see her hand, dripping with her father’s blood.
The entire room seemed to be frozen except for Marian’s muffled sobs and her hand, which pumped open and closed desperately, as if grasping for something she’d never reach. The air, thick and heavy, was stagnant as every party goer held his or her breath. It was not, after all, terribly commonplace to have a violent death at a ball. Though it was perhaps even more distressing that the Sheriff had been publicly countermanded- and by his own leftenant, no less.
It was finally Vaysey who broke the silence, sighing loudly, rolling his eyes, and making a disgusted, defeated gesture in his usual, over-dramatic manner.
“Fine!,” he spat, crossing the distance between himself and Guy. “Let her stay as long as you can keep a leash on her, Gisborne, but somebody please get this bloody body out of here!”
The words had stirred Marian, and she looked up from Guy’s shoulder. Party goers all around her gasped as they caught sight of her. Strangely mimicking her future husband in dress, it now appeared as if she had channeled his entire spirit. Her eyes blazed beneath disheveled hair that had fallen across her face, and even with her face spattered with her father’s blood and her cheeks pink and puffy from crying, she was morbidly beautiful. Slowly, she turned away from Guy and toward Vaysey. She stared him down, for once not flinching from him, even as he glared menacingly.
“That is not a body,” she began calmly and with authority, yet as she continued her voice became thick and shaky with anger and tears, grief and contempt. “That is not a body. That is my father.”
Marian and the Sheriff continued to stare at each other in the dead silence, neither moving or backing down. It was becoming evident to Vaysey that Sir Edward had acted as Marian’s muzzle for far too long. He thought he might like this new, uninhibited Marian.
Loose tongues were so much easier to cut out.
Slowly, Vaysey smiled at the younger girl, moving sickeningly close to her as he did so. It was as if he was studying her, watching and remembering her every muscle’s movement as he delivered his next address.
“Yes, well, now he’s worm food, and I’d quite like him removed from my view.” The smirk still in place upon his visage, Vaysey turned away from her and made to leave the room. Marian, however, had different plans. She lunged forward, trying to grab at him, and was only stopped when Guy’s strong arms caught her around the waist, pulling her back. She began screaming again, though this time she was very much aware of herself, and very much aware of what she was saying.
“How dare you? You evil man! You horrible, evil man!” She would have charged at him then, and Guy had no doubt she would have killed Vaysey in that moment without so much as a backward glance had he not restrained her. Marian’s anger left her the minute she realized its futility, and she once again turned into Guy’s arms and collapsed against him, trying to find a patch of leather or skin to burrow into that was not already slick and sticky with her tears. She held on to him as if he could somehow save her, and even though she held him tight, she had never felt so alone in her entire life. But somehow, if she could only manage to hide here with him for a while, sooner or later she might wake up and everything might be all right again.
With her eyes shielded and her sobs resuming, Marian never saw the guards advance at Gisborne’s command, never heard Gisborne’s muttered words.
“Take the body to the church at Locksley,” he commanded softly. “We will hold his funeral there.”
Quietly, and with care, the body of the former sheriff was collected and removed from the Great Hall. Guy took the opportunity to usher Marian in the opposite direction and into a castle guest room. She had stopped crying by the time they arrived at the room, but afterwards, Guy would realize that he had liked the crying a whole lot more. As he bid her goodnight and assured her that he would wait outside the door all night in case she needed anything, she simply stared straight ahead, nodding mutely at appropriate times, and closing the door behind him as he left.
Sorrow, he could deal with. Pain, hate, anger... those were easy. But an emotionless, docile, unthinking Marian? That was something that honestly and totally terrified him.
There is something to be said for shock, Marian thought with amazing clarity, the warm water of the bath rocking softly around her every movement. Not that there was much movement. The shock, coupled with the heat of the water, had a curiously paralytic property- one that Marian found herself very grateful for. For the first time in hours, she was at rest and relatively peaceful. The entire night had been spent in alternating jags of sobbing and self-recrimination, and even though she had laid herself down, her racing thoughts had refused to slow enough to allow sleep. And her active mind had caused a restlessness in her body to match. Nothing was comfortable, nothing felt good.
It was only when the first streaks of sunlight had crossed the floor of her room that she had given up her fight for rest and decided to bathe; though it was now, after she had quit trying to sleep, that rest seemed to beckon her.
Physically, at least. True, her limbs were comfortably heavy, and her eyes drifted shut occasionally, but she knew that she would not sleep. Not while her brain refused to shut off. In her mind, pictures of years past swept through with heart-breaking effect, though she tried to contemplate her situation logically.
She was not altogether unfamiliar with death, yet she found that no amount of practice at grief could make it any easier. The previous night she had tried her hardest to banish her thoughts, but she knew it was hopeless. The macabre images had kept her awake all night, without so much as a nap, and if the physical need for sleep wasn’t enough to make her mind stop whirling, she knew her own feeble efforts would do no good. And so she lay there, hopelessly lost in thought.
The first death she had ever encountered had come when she was nine years of age. Her favorite horse, old and lame, was to be put down. Marian, feisty as she ever had been, had marched herself straight to her father and demanded that such a cruel and barbaric act not take place. He had tried to explain to her that the killing was merciful and really in the horse’s best interest, but no matter what he had said, Marian would never believe that dying was better than living- not for any reason. On the day it happened, she had stolen away and hidden in her bedchamber, knowing what would be going on outside. She had sobbed, her head swimming in grief and the tiny niggling thought that there may have been something else she could have done to save the horse. That was the worst part, she thought, having to deal with the grief she felt over her own part in the animal’s death. The crying got to be so bad that she ended up making herself sick, vomiting gracelessly all over her own bedding. She had never been able to bring herself to care about that, though it had been quite embarrassing. She had messed up her bed, but at least she was alive, which was more than she could say for her dear friend, the horse. Even as she lay in the bath, she could feel fresh tears prick at the corners of her eyes. She wasn’t sure she’d ever forgiven either of her parents after the death of the horse.
The second death she’d had to deal with had been her mother’s. She’d known it was coming for a while- her mother had been sick for such an awful time. It had been a whole summer, Marian remembered. An entire summer spent at her mother’s bedside, waiting for her to get better and instead only watching her waste away from the vicious, yet excrutiatingly slow-moving illness. Marian remembered that summer well, the constant vigils, the close calls and visits from the priest at Locksley, the smell of the disease that had somehow managed to sneak into the room while no one was paying attention and that had clung to her clothes even long after she’d left her mother’s room. She remembered her father’s sad strength, her own nights spent crying herself to sleep. But most of all, and worst of all, she remembered the end when she had begged God to just let her mother die. Afterward she would feel sick and guilty, but then she would look at her poor mother’s face once more- no longer alive but not truly dead- and know that her mother was never coming back. Her mother was never going to live again, so why couldn’t God just take her and end her suffering? She remembered those nights spent on her knees, half the time praying for her mother’s death and half the time begging God’s forgiveness for making such an evil and selfish request. She’d expected to feel relief when her mother finally died, but instead she’d only felt guilty, like all of her wishing had actually worked. Silly and illogical as it might have been, ever since that last night, Marian had always felt as responsible for her mother’s death as she had over her poor horse’s.
Yes, there was definitely something to be said for shock. Because even after all of her crying, her restlessness, and her grief, there was a kind of numbness around her, as if she had somehow been shielded against the force of the blow. She could think about things, but somehow the emotion that should have accompanied it simply didn’t exist. She wondered briefly if perhaps she was just too exhausted to care anymore, but couldn’t even hold on to the seriousness of the implication for long. Shock, hot water, exhaustion... any way, it was calming her for the first time in hours, and she was grateful. Sure, it would probably be worse once the shock wore off- she would probably end up feeling as sick with fear and guilt as she had as a child- but for now she was quite comfortable in the haze of not-quite-reality. In fact, if there had been any way to dam up her thoughts along with the grief, she would probably have been quite contented.
But it was those thoughts that kept her from truly being able to rest. And when she thought about it, she bore the blame for her father’s death as surely as she had the others’. She had insisted on attending the ball- had insisted on seeing Guy- and her father had escorted her as he always had. He would never had attended for his own sake, but he had been adamant that he would be there to watch over her. After all, she may be betrothed to Sir Guy, but they were not married yet, and Sir Edward had known all too well what Gisborne would likely be wanting from his only daughter. He had wanted to protect her. It was her fault that he was even at the castle. It was her fault he was dead now.
Exhaling dejectedly, Marian sought the welcoming warmth of the bath. Closing her eyes, she sank as low as she possibly could while still being able to breathe, her nose the only part of her body breaking the surface. As she relaxed, a small smile tugged at her mouth until she realized that she was in danger of smiling. And that was just not acceptable. Stilling herself, Marian relished the peace that came from having one’s head under water, with every sound muted, and every vibration felt. Had she been a bit braver, and had the water not already been full of soap, she would have opened her eyes. After all, seeing things in an altered state was just as freeing as hearing them.
But she’d never get the chance to open her eyes- not under the water at least. Above her, a piercing scream shattered Marian’s calm, and with a shot she was sitting up in the bathtub, completely unheeding of the water that splashed around her and the out of the tub. At the side of the tub a maid, a slightly dim-witted girl Marian had met only a handful of times during her stays at the castle, was shrieking, clutching the bath sheet intended for Marian close her chest, her face frozen in terror. Marian was instantly alert, and quickly scanned the room for whatever the girl could be frightened by but found nothing. Looking back to the maid, Marian realized she had bee screaming at her.
Stepping out of the tub and grabbing the sheet from the girl’s clenched fist, Marian covered herself hastily before turning toward the still petrified, though now silent, maid.
“What is it, girl?” she demanded, uncharacteristically brusque. She hated talking down to servants, but at the moment, she also hated being disturbed. At least so jarringly.
“I’m sorry, my lady,” the girl sputtered, her eyes filling with tears, her face searching Marian’s disbelievingly. “I just... I saw you there and you looked...”
Drying herself and beginning to look for her clothes, Marian’s patience wore thin.
“I looked what?”
“You looked dead! Dead! You looked dead! I thought that in your grief you had ...” The girl was honestly terror-stricken, but the tears welling in her eyes, big like a scared deer’s, coupled with the repetition of the word dead only served to anger Marian.
“You thought I had drowned myself.” At the maid’s nod, Marian became inexplicably enraged. What a stupid thought, and what a presumptuous cow to assume she had any idea of what Marian was feeling. “You silly, stupid girl,” spat Marian, still searching for her clean dress. The level of service at the castle had certainly slipped recently. “Do not ever presume to know me or what I am thinking! Now find my dress!”
Marian had never used her status to act like a proper diva, but if there was ever a time to pull rank and be a perfect little brat, Marian thought it was now. Even through grief, exhaustion, anger, and whatever else was going on in her head, she could rationalize her actions. Because even if she didn’t accept it as an answer, she knew that anyone else would simply write off her bad behavior as a reaction to her father’s death.
But her anger would be short-lived. Even as the terrified maid rummaged for Marian’s dress, the heavy wooden door of the chamber flew open, and in charged a distressed-looking Guy of Gisborne, his hand on his sword.
“Guy!” In her surprise, Marian’s hand had involuntarily clutched the bath sheet more closely around her naked body. A quick glance at Guy’s rapidly reddening face revealed the shock in his eyes before they fell, embarrassed, to the floor.
“Marian,” he grumbled, “forgive me. I thought I heard you shouting.” Marian smiled before replying. Whether she loved him or not, she had no doubt that Guy of Gisborne would protect her at any cost.
“I was shouting. There was a... disagreement.” The last was said with a sideways glance at the maid who had, thankfully, finally located a clean dress for Marian. “Thank you, Sir Guy, for your vigilance, but I am well.” She wished that he would look up at her; he looked so pitifully submissive there with his head bowed. And even though she was naked didn’t mean he could actually see anything. In fact, she’d be willing to bet that from the angle of his head he could still catch quite a glimpse of her bare legs, the only real bit of skin that was exposed beneath the towel.
“Very well,” he replied, straightening. Marian had to give him credit, his gaze seemed to seek out her eyes immediately rather than straying along her barely-covered curves, but when he spoke, even her slightest amusement was lost. “I shall wait for you outside. We have... much to discuss.”
Although she had taken as much time to dress as was humanly possible, Marian found herself looking up into Guy’s weary eyes entirely too soon for her liking. There had been something in his voice when he’s announced that they needed to talk that had made Marian’s numb nerves suddenly stand at attention. While she’d dressed, every awful thing she could imagine had flown through her head. When Guy had some new idea of what would be best for Marian it was bad enough, but there had been something about his demeanor when he’d spoken, a certain down-sweep of his eyes as they carefully avoided hers, which told Marian that whatever Guy wanted to discuss had been the brainchild of someone other than himself- probably the Sheriff. Now seated on the bed in her borrowed castle bed chamber, Marian swallowed hard and took a deep breath before gazing up at Guy who had taken the seat at the small writing table and turned the chair to face her. As she caught his eye, he began to speak.
“How... how are you?” Guy seemed to realize the inanity of his question the moment it left his mouth and grimaced. Marian tried to force a smile- and almost succeeded- a look of grateful understanding playing across her delicate features. Of all the people who had asked her that question over the past few days, Guy was, so far, the only one to realize stupidity of it.
“I am as well as can be expected,” she replied, not knowing exactly what she should be feeling or what was really expected. Guy returned her shaky smile but fidgeted slightly in his chair, the nervous movement serving as silent but stark reminder that there was something unsaid hanging in the air, something stagnant and very, very heavy.
“Guy-“ she began at the exact same time that Guy spoke her own name. Laughing nervously, Marian encouraged him to begin. “Guy, please. Say what you need to say.” He held her steady, level gaze for a moment as if deciding whether or not to actually tell her the truth. Or at least the whole truth.
“Marian, the fact is...” he stuttered, “since your father...”
“Guy, please, just tell me,” she urged, reaching out to take his hands, a tiny act of comfort that caused a wry smirk to twist the corners of his mouth. The irony was not lost on Guy; with what he had to tell her, it would not be him who needed comforting. But the fact that she had actually initiated physical contact with him was not lost on him, either, and slowly, he began to run his thumbs over the backs of her hands and took a deep, slow breath.
“The fact of the matter is... the Sheriff has awarded the entirety of the lands and properties of Knighton to me.” The words certainly did not match the grave tone in which they had been delivered, and Marian was about the remark that the news was not as bad as all the anticipation Guy had built up until a sick realization took her over, and for the thousandth time in the past two days she felt all of the blood drain from her face.
“And I am included as part of the property of Knighton.”
It was not a question, but a statement, and though she knew she didn’t need confirmation, she looked to Guy for it anyway. For once, Guy looked like he disagreed with the Sheriff’s edict and only nodded at Marian’s statement.
“As the Sheriff pointed out, as an unmarried woman, you are to be passed down to my care... ‘to do with as you please’ were his exact words, if I remember correctly.” Disgust wrinkled Guy’s nose and twisted his face at the words, but Marian was not so quick to believe his show. This was, after all, what he had wanted all along: she as his wife and more lands added to the Gisborne name. It could not be all that disagreeable to Guy to suddenly be handed everything he’d longed for for years. Trying to keep herself calm, Marian could only whisper.
“And what is it you please to do with me?”
And then the look Marian had been dreading appeared across Guy’s face. A self-satisfied, smug, and superior smirk manifested over his features, turning the man she had thought trust-worthy only minutes before into the hated enemy she had left at the altar. Frightened, Marian tried to pull her hands from his, but he only held on more tightly.
“What I please to do, Marian,” he purred sinisterly, his tone only adding to Marian’s terror, “is allow you to remain at Knighton Hall and for Knighton to become a protectorate of the Gisborne estates.” Unable to believe her ears, Marian stopped struggling against him long enough to consider him more closely. He was wearing his victory haughtily upon his visage, but with a gasp, Marian realized that it was not a victory against her or her freedom. For once, Guy of Gisborne had out-witted the Sheriff. He had beaten Vaysey at his own game. Her eyes lighted to his, suddenly and heartbreakingly full of hope.
“But... how did you manage?...” Marian let her voice trail away as she watched Guy shake his head, his eyes now glittering with an almost childlike pride.
“I do not know how long the situation will be allowed to continue, but at least for the time being, you are free to live your life at Knighton. The Sheriff is a vengeful man, and I do not doubt for a moment that he will find a way to end this arrangement, but for the time being just know that I will do everything in my power to keep you from enduring any more... distress.”
Marian knew his meaning immediately. A grieving girl could be left alone with her sorrow only so long before society and propriety began to indicate that it would only be right for a rapidly aging maiden to become a full-fledged lady. Sighing, she squeezed Guy’s hands, only half conscious she was doing it. Guy sat in silence, unsure how to proceed. He knew it was wrong, and the last thing Marian would want, for him to be slightly excited for the time when her being unmarried became a sticking point- she was his fiancée, after all- but try as he might, he could not keep the tiny voice in his mind from whispering.
She has to marry you now.
Marian, it seemed, had reached the same point of reasoning.
“But why? Why would you even try to give me my freedom when you wish me to be your wife? The Sheriff has just handed you everything you want on a silver platter and yet you refuse?” Marian’s reaction disconcerted him, though he could tell that she was not ungrateful but perhaps just as confused about his decision as he had been when he’d made it. Removing one of his hands from hers to run across his tired eyes, he smiled what he hoped she would recognize as a genuine smile. Genuineness and happiness seemed to be pulled from him at an increasingly and alarmingly high rate whenever she was concerned.
“If I had wanted an arranged marriage, Marian, it would have been done years ago. I told you once that I love you, and- to my utter astonishment- that seems to mean that I care more about what you want than what I do.” He was immediately aware that he had made himself extremely vulnerable to her, and the discomfort caused by that depth of feeling caused him to look away from her eyes. He was not used to being at anyone’s mercy (He could not count Vaysey since Vaysey, Guy knew, possessed no mercy), and Marian’s piercing blue gaze was far too much scrutiny for him to endure. With a forced laugh, he continued, hoping to lighten the somber mood. “Besides, I have seen the way you react to being tricked or forced into situations. I do not need another blackened eye.”
Marian did not respond, and time seemed to stand still for an eternity as Guy sat completely motionless, not looking at her. This was the very reason Guy refused to acknowledge his emotions; they made him weak, and tongue-tied, and foolish looking. He was paralyzed by his fear that Marian’s feelings for him would be changed by his moment of complete honesty. She would think him weak and incapable. He would never make an acceptable husband if he let her see what he was thinking or feeling. How could she ever believe him capable of making clear and level-headed decisions about running an estate if she knew he was really a sentimental fool?
Guy was shaken from his inner turmoil as he caught a flash of color out of the corner of his eye. Brought back to reality, he noticed that Marian’s hands were no longer enclosed in his own and wondered how long they’d been absent. Looking up, he realized the color he’d noticed was Marian’s dress. She now stood next to his chair, and as he looked up at her, she gently placed a hand along the side of his face, gently caressing first his face, then down to his neck. Her hand came to rest on his shoulder, and before he knew it, she had bent to his level, placing a small kiss against his cheek.
“Thank you,” she murmured against his ear before standing straight again. Guy rose with her, gently pulling her against himself. He held her for a moment, reveling in the weight of her body against his, the heat and solidity of her- the reality of her. In reality, she was so much different than anything Guy could ever even have imagined. She was warm and soft and... right. Again, Guy was frightened by the depth of emotion she inspired in him, and he pulled away slightly. Looking down at her, he brushed tears from the corners of her eyes with his thumbs. Slowly, he led her back to the bed and sat next to her, still holding her hands. Unfortunately, there were still more decisions to be made.
“Now,” he began, clearing his throat before continuing, “we must discuss funeral arrangements.”
She could feel it, blessed sleep, tugging at her from every angle, and finally she was ready to acquiesce to its demand. Lying in the borrowed castle bed for the second night, covers richer than anything she had at home pulled up to her chin, she closed her eyes and stretched her limbs in all directions, trying to find the best position for comfort. In the end, though, she hadn’t shifted far before the heaviness in her war torn body relented and simply quit functioning. That delicious pre-sleep haze stole over her body entirely, and the last thing Marian heard before drifting off was her own deep, contented sigh.
The first thing she heard upon waking seconds later was the incessant tap of pebbles hitting her window.
Marian had just enough time to open her eyes and just enough light cast by the dying fire to watch as Robin of Locksley invited himself into her room through the window. He spoke her name as he moved to her side, and though there was definitely concern across his face, Marian could only scowl as he settled himself next to her on the bed. Holding her finger to her lips, she warned him.
“Guy is outside!” At this, Robin’s face contorted unflatteringly, but he moved closer still to her so that soon his knee, curled underneath him, was touching Marian’s which was in a similar position underneath the blankets. Taking her hands, he gazed gently at her before whispering.
“I heard about Sir Edward,” stated Robin, without preamble or tact. “How are you?” Marian rolled her eyes, both sick of the question and annoyed by Robin’s presumptuous behavior.
“I am well.”
“And Gisborne is outside your door why?” The look of jealous possessiveness was all over Robin’s face once again, and Marian had to resist the urge to alert the man standing guard outside her door.
“Guy has been with me ever since my father died, going on three days now.” Her eyes told her that her statement had hit its intended mark. Robin may think himself her hero and her true love, but it had taken him this long to even contact her. He narrowed his eyes as if he couldn’t believe she had even made such an insinuation.
“In case you have forgotten, you have been staying in the castle which is run by the man who has sworn to destroy me!”
It was too much for Marian. She felt as if she’d had this very conversation with Robin a hundred times since his return from the Holy Land, and she was sick of explaining herself to him any more. He had been away for five years, and in that time she had grown so significantly. She had matured, and nothing between them would ever be as simple as it had once been.
And yet she felt like she had grown infinitely more since he had returned.
Robin, she feared, had not grown at all.
“If I were a bag of gold you could distribute among your people, you would not have hesitated to come to me.” The outlaw threw up his hands and gave an exhausted exhalation of breath.
“You are missing the point!” he hissed angrily. Marian rather thought that he was missing the point, but was too tired to argue any more. Sleep had finally come to her, and she was in no position to keep it waiting when it came to reclaim her.
“Robin, I do not want to fight. I am exhausted. Please, if you only came to check on me, be assured that I am fine. I will be back at Knighton after tomorrow, but for now, please let me get some sleep.” Marian was so thankful that Robin seemed to have accepted her conciliatory tone that she almost wept as he stood up from the bed. For his part, Robin’s face had softened, and he appeared to have actually realized that Marian may actually be anything other than fine. Releasing her hands, he stepped back to consider her for a long moment before stepping back toward the window.
“You are sure you are well?”
“Fine,” she promised, “just tired. Thank you for making sure I was all right.” Robin only nodded at her words, not entirely satisfied, but unwilling to instigate an argument at the moment.
“I am sorry for your loss, Marian,” he said as he prepared to exit through the window. “Sir Edward was a good man. He treated Much and me like sons, and I loved him.”
With that Robin made his escape and Marian was left more confused than she had been since she’d dressed for the masked ball what felt like an eternity ago. Angrily, Marian rolled to her stomach and punched a fist into a pile of pillows. Sleep also seemed to be a concept she’d left far, far in the past.
Marian rose with the sun, and though she could hardly call what she had been doing sleeping, the rest had given her a certain amount of relief and the warmth of the extravagant bed beckoned her the moment she moved even the slightest bit out of its comfort zone. She rose with a sense of duty, ignoring the nausea and pounding headache that seemed to be constantly keeping her company as of late. The illness was probably from not sleeping, or not eating, or something else she had forgotten to do since the night of her father’s death, and though she wasn’t sure how she knew, she was fairly sure that once all of this was over, she would be fine again.
And it was for that selfish reason, more so even than for the repose of her poor father’s soul, that she was looking forward to this morning’s funeral with a sort of grim eagerness. She was ready for it to be over; she needed so badly for everything to be finished. Life seemed to be telling her that she could only stay stalled in one place for so long- she needed to move on and live her own life- and she couldn’t do that until everything was over. But even as she hoped for it, she knew deep down that her expectations were unrealistic. It would never really be over. No matter what happened, what she did, or who she became, her father would never leave her completely. She knew it with a certainty born of years of guilt over her mother’s death. She could hope all she wanted, but in the end, she was afraid that all she could ever be now was an orphan.
Sighing, Marian wondered vaguely if she would have felt differently if she hadn’t been alone when he had died. Somehow she thought it would have been so much easier if she had been married already. In the past few sleepless nights, she had lain awake imagining how much more peaceful she would be, how much safer she would feel, if only she had someone to share her grief with. Inevitably, as the night grew darker, and the castle became that much sleepier, her thoughts would turn from the desire for simple comfort to the desire for... something else. A female friend would have been nice, Marian had decided, but in that deep darkness, all she really wanted was a husband. She could feel herself relaxing as she imagined strong arms around her, a soothing voice at her ear... gentle lips kissing away her tears.
And more than once she had shaken herself out of that same reverie as she suddenly realized that the arms she’d imagined had belong to a certain Master at Arms- the low rumbling voice she’d felt all the way through her back had belonged to her fiancé. The revelation had shocked her, and the proper lady breeding that had been driven into her nearly since her first breath had gasped at the sheer... impropriety of her thoughts. Her father lay cold at the church at Locksley, and she was thinking positively impure thoughts! Marian was fairly sure that thoughts like that should be the absolutely last thing on her mind.
But as she had settled herself, night after night, back against the soft, warm pillows, she realized she couldn’t bring herself to worry about what should or shouldn’t be happening to her. She was alone now, and if she desired comfort or companionship, who could blame her? Never in her life had she been completely alone. Never had she been without anyone. When her mother had died, she’d at least had her father and Robin. Still, she remembered Robin’s awkward (yet undeniably longed-for), childish arms wrapped around her as she sobbed. Her father had made a conscious attempt to spend more time with her. Her mother was gone, but somehow she’d always felt that she would always have both of them. And when Robin had gone away, she’d still had her father, and though she had been too proud to cry in front of him or talk to him about the betrayal she felt, his very presence comforted her. His support had never been in the overt fashion, but it had been real and strangely tangible. In the months after Robin’s hasty departure, her father’s love had been a solemn look, a proud nod, a calming hand on her shoulder when she felt herself becoming aggravated. Somehow he’d always known, and he’d always been able to make it better. There was not a time in her life when she could not remember her father being there for her, even when they were fighting, and she knew now, as she faced his funeral, that she’d never even noticed how much he truly loved her.
Marian swallowed hard over the lump that was forming in her throat, feeling the constrictive heat spread from the back of her tongue all the way down her airway. It was that overwhelming guilt over her own selfishness- her unnoticing ungratefulness- that quickly chipped away at her self-pity. She would never be able to tell him now, and what if he hadn’t known? What if he had never known how much he meant to her, how she had lived everyday for the sole reward of his being proud of her?
What if he had never really know how much she loved him?
A light knock sounded on her door, and Marian realized that she’d been sitting there thinking for an inordinate amount of time. Standing, she took a deep breath and straightened her dress. She walked slowly to the door, opening it to Guy’s silent stare. He seemed to be assessing her condition without asking the over-redundant “How are you?” Marian was glad for his sensitivity, though the silent sweetness of his gaze caused a completely uncalled for flipping motion in her stomach.
Guy offered her his arm, and she took it thankfully. For a girl who had never had a hard time keeping her head held high, she was sure that today would prove to be an unquestionable challenge.
“My carriage is waiting,” Guy said, the stark simplicity of his words and his tone matching the darkness of Marian’s thoughts. She had always explained away the constant longing for her mother’s return as a little girl’s desire to make things in her little girl’s life right again. But what if had been something deeper? She had wanted her mother back because at home at Knighton was where she belonged, but what if even then Marian had been wailing against being alone? She had always been so strong, but maybe that had all been a show. When it counted, when she was alone, she was no stronger than any other empty-headed girl whose only goal was a husband who could take care of her. Marian had never been alone before, and if she was so longing for companionship just because she was used to it, she reasoned, she must be very weak indeed.
The thought was somehow more depressing than anything else.
She had not noticed that the carriage had pulled up in front of the small church, had not noticed that she had spent the entire trip in silence without so much as a second glance at Guy. He was looking at her now, not with the concern that had wrinkled his brow so often as of late, but with a kind of...
Marian had no time to ponder Guy’s expression and could only take his outstretched hand as she descended the carriage. The last time she had been to the church had been her first attempt at a wedding, and for a moment she let her mind drift. Guy, pacing so anxiously in front, completely unaware of what he was to do at a wedding. She supposed it backed up his claims of not having family- any one else would have attended at least one wedding in his lifetime- and she remembered that at the time she had felt a stab of pity for him. No family and not even one friend to have ever invited him to a wedding. It had been one of the first times she had actually taken time to think about Guy’s state of mind instead of her own.
Taking a deep breath, Marian hoped to God that this day would go a lot more smoothly than that day had. She tightened her hold on Guy’s arm and looked up at him. His clear eyes met hers and she nodded slightly. As one, they walked to the door of the church. Marian was devastated but determined. Her father would be officially gone after this ceremony, but at least it would be over. With a final squeeze to Guy’s arm, Marian took the last step toward the closed wooden doors.
And moved out of the way just as the doors swung open and a very belligerent shout was raised from inside the building.
Guy’s hand was on his sword immediately, and though he warned Marian to stay behind him, she followed, heedless of his words. Inside the church, several of Guy’s guards were tussling with a very large, very hairy, very immovable man. A man who wore the tags of Robin Hood’s supporters. A man who was standing in front of the back pew, blocking the guards from attacking a rather harassed-looking group of outlaws.
“Marian, stay back!” Guy shouted, attempting to draw his sword. But Marian felt a calm she had forgotten it was possible to feel. The majority of the congregation at Locksley today were friends of her father, but these people, these outlaws... they were there for her. It was a striking visual reminder that, despite how angry she became at Robin, these people were her friends.
Marian’s hand came to rest on top of Guy’s, stopping him from removing his sword. He gazed at her questioningly, and even before she spoke, she could see him relenting at her very countenance, at her hand upon his.
“Call off your guards,” she implored quietly, her eyes never leaving his.
“I know. They are outlaws.” Without being given the order, the guards had frozen mid-attack, and it seemed that every eye and ear was now trained on the exchange between Guy and Marian. Slowly, Guy’s hand left his sword and enveloped hers. Marian gently tore her gaze away from Guy and turned to look at each of them. Calm but caring Will, Djaq, and Allan. Bleary-eyed Much, crying. Strong and proud Little John protecting them all. And Robin, whose eyes bore right back through hers.
“They are outlaws,” Marian repeated, with more conviction. “But they loved my father very much, and he loved them. If not for my father, Sir Guy, for me- please let them stay. After all, what kind of mayhem can they cause at a funeral?”
She thought she heard a muttered answer of “plenty” under Guy’s breath, but after a small pause, he lazily lifted his hand to give the order for his guards to retreat. Sullenly, the guards turned and took up their places at the back of the church. Robin and his gang sat peacefully (though not without some sneers and angry faces made at Guy), and Guy escorted Marian to the front of the church.
An hour. Just one hour, just one mass, and it would all be over. Marian felt the hot tears begin to stream from her eyes as she knelt and folded her hands.
After the service, a luncheon had been held at Locksley Manor for all of those who wished to convey their condolences to Marian. Well, all but the outlaws. Luckily, Robin and his crew had had the sense to stay away without causing another scene by asking to attend. At the manor, she stood there for what seemed like hours, enduring a seemingly endless cacophony of variations on a theme.
“We are so sorry.”
“He was such a good man.”
The statements danced around each other in her head like a song whose melody and counter-melody were battling for supremacy. She did not know most of the mourners, and the fact angered her. How many had truly known and loved her father, and how many were simply there for a free meal?
Not free, she reminded herself. Paid for by Guy. The arrangements for this gathering had been kept from her, though she doubted it was for any malicious reason. Perhaps the details had just slipped Guy’s mind or he had thought them superfluous to her in her grief. But Marian really suspected that he would instinctively shy away from being praised for doing something generous. Being kind to those less fortunate was nearly a punishable offense under Vaysey’s rule, so it did not surprise her that charity did not come easily to him. But she also suspected that if he had told Marian, she would have made some mad presumption about him.
Like that he actually cared about something.
By the time she could see the end of the macabre receiving line, she was yawning and her stomach was growling. Guy, who had been at her side since their arrival at the manor, noticed both.
“Are you well?” he whispered, ducking close to her ear.
“I am fine. It’s just... how long do you think this will go on?”
“You are exhausted.” It was not a question, and Marian turned to look at him. Guy seemed exhausted, too, with dark circles under his eyes, and she gasped. She had known he had been outside her door every night, but she had always assumed the act to be more symbolic than anything. It was not until that moment that she realized.
“You haven’t slept!” she exclaimed with a small smile as she recounted the sight of him outside her door. She hadn’t noticed before but there never had been a chair there. “You are just as exhausted as I am!” Seemingly flustered and embarrassed by being caught at his own game, Guy cleared his throat quickly and turned back to her.
“There are only a few more people. Greet them and then we shall eat. And after that, I will take you home.”
Guy’s words should have calmed her, but at his last sentence she could feel her heart drop through the bottom of her stomach. Suddenly she was not as hungry as she had been.
There had never been a time when she had not considered Knighton Hall her home, but faced with the prospect of returning, of seeing everything that had been his, she was made sick with an unease she never would have expected. Beside her, Guy had registered her sudden rigidity and had moved to stand behind her, his hands coming to rest upon her forearms as he placed a tiny kiss to the top of her head. She did her duty and greeted the few mourners who trickled in at the end of the line, glad for Guy’s solid heat behind her and consciously avoiding the stares and whispers of those in the manor who had noticed the closeness the two now shared. Suddenly and inexplicably defiant, Marian backed closer against him, resting her back against his chest, pulling his arms closer to her. They would think what they cared to think anyway; why not give them some fuel for the fire? When the last of the mourners had arrived, she turned her head so that her lips nearly brushed Guy’s neck as she spoke.
“I do not think I am hungry anymore. Please, can you just take me home?” With a terse nod, Guy acquiesced, and as he moved to give orders to members of his staff, Marian felt an almost physical pain at his absence.
You are just tired. That must be it...
And with a giant yawn, Marian felt another wave of exhaustion crash over her. Though she could still feel the nagging stress of hunger, it was definitely not the priority for her body. When Guy returned to her side, she took his arm gratefully. The faster she could get to a carriage, the faster she could get to a bed, and at the moment, nothing in the world sounded better to her.
Once at Knighton, Guy ushered her up to her bedchamber, more of a concerned brother than her betrothed. He turned his back as she changed and waited for her climb into bed before saying his goodnight and making to leave. It had been a long couple of days, he had said, and Marian should send word to Locksley when she felt well enough for company.
Until that moment, Marian had thought it impossible to feel any emptier, any more alone, anything more than completely lost. But as Guy moved to step away from her, a fresh stab of pain penetrated her battered heart. She had stayed alone in Knighton Hall many times; she shouldn’t be frightened. But this was different somehow, her mind whispered as her pulse began to thud in her throat. Tonight she would be alone not by choice, but because alone was all she could be. Fresh tears formed behind her eyes, watching Guy’s back as he made his way to the door. She couldn’t... He definitely would not allow such impropriety...
“Guy.” The tall man turned at the sound of his name, a look of concern on his already weary face as he heard the tears heavy in Marian’s shaking voice. He did not reply, but simply looked at her. He was, after all, nearly as exhausted as the grieving girl herself. Marian bit her lower lip as the tears slid down her cheeks and lowered her eyes before she spoke. Nervously, she twisted the sheets in her hands in front of her. With a quick sniffle, she looked up into his eyes. “Stay with me?”
Anyone but Marian would have read nothing in Guy’s expression other than quiet acceptance- almost a feeling of duty- but there was something in him that gave him away. Marian caught the look that flashed so quickly behind his eyes, and she knew that he would never admit the simple heartbreak there, the unabashed concern for her, the wild hope that she would ever one day truly accept him.
Liar, monster, bastard as he was, Marian would never be able to explain the soft spot she seemed to have formed for him in her heart. Underneath everything, Guy was a real man, with real feelings. It was simply a shame that he never acknowledged any of those feelings, let alone acted on them.
In a split second the look was gone, and Guy’s expression had returned to the mask of calm reserve and propriety he’d worn during the entire ordeal.
“Of course, Marian,” he answered, his voice low and slow. Removing his outer jacket, Guy moved to situate himself in the armchair several feet away from Marian’s bed, looking out one of her windows. It looked like it would be another sleepless night for Guy of Gisborne, but even as he resigned himself to the evening of discomfort, he knew that there was nothing in the world he would deny Marian if it was in his power to provide it for her. Hanging his long jacket on the back of the chair, he rounded and sat, looking out of the window distractedly.
“Guy?” Gisborne turned his gaze once more to his betrothed, who looked now even more wretchedly miserable than she had only seconds before. Guy opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong, but before he could, a tiny choked voice he barely recognized as hers creaked out. “Hold me?”
Such a simple request, really, but one that Marian had never thought she’d make. It was inappropriate, unthinkable, and to be honest, until a few days ago the thought would have made her, at the very least, make a very unbecoming face. But she needed him. She didn’t know why, but at that moment she knew that nothing in the world would ever be right again unless Guy of Gisborne held her through the night. For his part, Gisborne had flown to his feet the moment he heard the utter despair in her voice. All thoughts of propriety and modesty flew from him as he went to her, sitting next to her on the bed, and circling his arms around her. Marian began to sob the minute he touched her (an occurrence he’d prefer not to dwell on), and she turned slightly toward him to bury her head in his shoulder. She seemed to try and burrow as close as possible against him, as if there was something innately comforting about his very presence, and the closer she could be to him, the more of that comfort she’d somehow absorb. She cried against him until his neck ran with her tears, and all the while he stroked her hair, not knowing what to say or do. In reality he should be ecstatic that the woman he loved had finally not only allowed, but initiated, physical contact with him. He should be thanking the God he had never really believed in for the way she seemed to trust him, to want him to be close to her, to need him to protect her. He really should be extremely excited to be in Marian’s bed. But as he held her, he could not help but feel anything but her heartbreak. She was alone now, after all, a feeling he knew all too well, and if he could do anything to show her that she truly was loved, he would do it. His heart broke for her, and as he kissed the top of her head, there was not even one lustful thought in his head.
Pulling away from him slightly to look in his eyes (and perhaps catch her breath), Marian seemed to silently implore him. Gently, Guy cupped her face in one hand, wiping away what tears he could with his thumb. Her breath hitched, and a new sob threatened.
“Marian,” he began slowly, “you must get some sleep. It has been days.” Lowering her eyes, Marian nodded. Guy’s hand moved from her face to gently rub her neck. Marian shivered under his ministrations but tilted her head to allow him better access, his thumb rubbing small circles just in front of her ear. Looking at him once more with her nearly childlike, desperate expression, she managed to choke out a single sentence before the sobs resumed, and her head returned to its place on his shoulder.
“I just miss him so much.”
Guy was unaccustomed to many things. Love, compassion, charity... but there was one thing with which he was very familiar.
And though he had no idea how he possibly could help Marian as she snuggled against him, her tears staining his tunic, he had an overwhelming conviction that he could. He sat for a moment, unsure how to proceed any farther than stroking her hair, and when he began to speak, he surprised even himself.
“My mother died when I was eight years old,” he began, his voice almost mechanical. “She and I were very close. I was the only child in my family, and both my father and my mother were the only children in theirs. All of my grandparents had died before I was born. We were the only three Gisbornes in existence. Naturally, my father wanted more children to carry on the family name, but it was... not easy for my mother. Most of what I remember about her to this day is her pain. I was too young to understand what was happening, but as I think on it now, I know that she lost several children. In fact, that was how she died, in childbirth. I was so excited to finally have a little brother. But I had to stay away, with my father while he was being born. I remember jumping around the room, trying to sneak away and go see my mother. And then the screams started.
“There was something wrong with him- the baby- and she couldn’t cope. Somehow, her body just couldn’t take the birth. She bled to death, there in my home. The baby was stillborn.”
Guy’s voice broke off, and Marian raised her eyes to look at him. He would not turn to look at her, instead looking straight ahead of him as if watching a scene she could not see being played. Though she was sure he would never admit it, she was sure could see tears there. She whispered his name and tightened her grip on him, as much for his comfort as her own.
“My father, naturally, was devastated. But Gisbornes do not cry. He spent little time grieving, and even less time trying to help a little boy understand. All he would tell me was that God had taken them. That was the moment I began to hate God.”
Marian gasped at his blasphemy, disbelief and concern rushing through her eyes. It was disturbing her that he still stared blankly at the far wall of her bedchamber, and even though she had always assumed Guy had never been a religious man, to hear someone openly say he hated God... it was unthinkable. Marian herself had never been very religious, but at that moment, she offered up a silent prayer for him.
“We went on for years, just the two of us. My father remarried shortly after my mother’s death. Very shortly. I never accepted her, and I never forgave him. When she failed to conceive I laughed openly in her face. I was the only Gisborne there ever would be. If my mother could not have a family, that harlot never would. Then one day, when I was seventeen, I returned home to find both of them dead. My home had been ransacked, the lands overtaken by a neighboring, rival lord. I have been alone ever since.”
The story hung in the air between them, heavy and unavoidable. It was horrible, awful, unthinkable... and yet Marian couldn’t help the fact that it made her feel better. There was someone else who knew what she was going through.
It suddenly dawned on her that out of everyone she had spoken to since her father’s death, Guy was the only person who hadn’t said something asinine like “I’m sorry.” He knew that there was nothing he could say or do that would make it right. Marian felt a sudden and overwhelming surge of warmth and admiration for Guy.
Guy’s eyes were finally drawn toward her as she removed her arms from around him and moved to sit up on her knees, turned toward him. Placing her hands on his face, she stroked one down his cheek until it came to rest on his neck. Slowly, she leaned forward and kissed him.
There was nothing sexual about the kiss, no promises inferred, but it was not quite chaste, either. Guy pressed against her fervently, and Marian’s lips lingered longer than any friendly kiss had any right to. It was more than friendly, though not quite anything else.
It was a beginning.
Leaning back, Marian smiled as she gently brushed a solitary tear from Guy’s cheek. She had an almost undeniable urge to tell him she loved him, but while that may not have been quite a lie, she knew that it was not totally the truth. Instead, she settled herself back into his arms and fell asleep.
The night was muggy and still... heavy, and Guy could feel sweat gathering every place his body touched the bed. He was unbearably hot, but he would not move.
Because she was nestled against him, head against his shoulder, curved into his body. She wore a slight smile, and her rhythmic breathing was doing its best to mesmerize him into joining her in sleep. But he could not- would not. Not yet, at least. He needed to look at her, to lean closer and smell her hair, to study her and hope.
Marian now knew more about his past than any other living person, even Vaysey. When he’d opened his mouth, he’d had no intention of telling her any of his life story. He’d only meant to soothe her and say nonsense to comfort her. But for some reason he had told her. And even more astonishing to him, he’d been able to do so.
Everyone assumed that the Sheriff’s silent right-hand man was just, for the most part, a strong man. Of course he could give semi-rousing speeches on occasion, but that was usually only right before someone’s tongue got cut out or throat got slit. No one expected any more of Guy of Gisborne, and that suited him nicely. Because what no one- not even Marian- knew about Guy was that he had never been a good communicator. Some of his earliest memories were of frustrated grunts and gestures when he could not find the words to make someone understand what he was trying to say. He had never been unintelligent, but his mother had been the only one who could get him to slow down and express himself clearly. After her death, he had given up trying at all. If he could not make words work for him, he would simply do without. As he grew up and grew stronger, both physically and politically, he found that his eyebrows were much more eloquent anyhow.
Besides, as Vaysey had often pointed out, the less you talk, the less likely it is for you to give away any of your future plans.
But somehow Marian had made it alright for him to express himself again. He had no idea what about her made him so comfortable, and why on earth he put so much faith in her, but he knew that no matter what he tried, he could not help himself. Because even after she humiliated him at the altar, he still believed in his heart that Marian was the only one who could save him. No one would believe him if he’d told of all of his sleepless nights, haunted by nightmares of the ones he’d hurt and killed. He hid his feelings easily, and he supposed that his willingness to continue acting barbarically would have made any suggestion of repentance or guilt into a joke, but Guy had always been smart if nothing else. Alone- landless- he held no sway whatsoever in any political situation. Though he was of noble birth, without land he was nothing but a peasant. So when he’d met an up and coming ruthless dictator who’d offered him wealth and lands for only the smallest degree of devotion, Guy had jumped at the chance. He may not like doing the Sheriff’s dirty work, but if it meant that he could regain everything his stupid, simpering father had lost, he would do it.
Marian had the power to cleanse him. She was pure and good, and with her love, he would be able to rest. She could forgive him and make him whole again. She could give him what he wanted more than anything else in the world (though he would never admit it, neither to her or to himself), love and a family. She had the power to change his status- to make sure he was never alone again. To make sure he was never the only living Gisborne ever again.
Her breath hitched, and she snuggled closer to him. Tightening his arms around her, he silently vowed to protect her from every nightmare she would ever have from then on. At his side, Marian relaxed, the small smile returning to her lips. Somehow Guy could tell it was finally alright for him to fall asleep too.
...When he woke it was suddenly and with an strange and overwhelming sense of both drowning and dying of thirst, the former of which he quickly realized was due in large part to the fact that Marian had shifted in her sleep so that her back was to him and a massive tangle of her hair had found itself against his mouth and nose. After taking a moment to rearrange the offending hair, Guy considered the position he and his betrothed had subconsciously maneuvered themselves into. Marian’s body was molded so exquisitely against his that, even though he never would have acted on them (tonight), Guy’s head swam with fantasies. His right arm was still underneath her head (and was quite numb), and his left arm was slung possessively over her waist. From this position it would be easy to either reach up and cup her breasts or reach down and push her hips back, pulling her body completely flush against his. Or if he reached even lower still...
Guy shook his head as if he could physically chase the thoughts away, but as he did, he felt his lips brush the hot skin of her neck. In her sleep Marian sighed and wriggled backward, closer to him. Unable to resist the urge, Guy placed another kiss, this time intentional, on her neck. But the salty taste of her on his lips proved instantly to be a distraction Guy could not escape. Suddenly, violently, he was inundated with images that were suited to an entirely more alone kind of time.
Or, a helpful little voice in the back of his head volunteered, a more married kind of time.
With all the strength he could muster, Guy disentangled himself from Marian and made his way off the bed. It was time for him to analyze the second sense that had inundated him upon waking- a thirst so acute it made his throat ache, and luckily enough for Guy, that need was much less awkward to satisfy. Now standing above her, Guy looked down on Marian, unwilling to move from her side. It had not taken her long to adjust to his absence, and she had stretched over most of the bed. He smiled and bent to stroke her cheek before heading towards the door. If she in her sleep refused him reentry to the bed, he would oblige her. The poor girl needed all the sleep she could get and would do well without any distractions.
He headed down the stairs in a kind of half-sleep/half-daydream. He had never thought it possible to care for someone else so much that that tiny little girl upstairs could distract his thoughts even from the smallest actions like getting a drink, but once again, as was her custom, Marian had proved him wrong. Sleepily, Guy gave what would have been a full blown chuckle had he been fully awake as he stumbled from the bottom step and around the corner into the small kitchen. There was a jug of water on the table, and Guy took it greedily, gulping the lot of it. When he was done he sighed contentedly, feeling much more alert than only seconds before. And as his eyes began to focus, his ears began to work as well and a familiar, hated voice rang from the shadows.
“Taking advantage of a grieving girl. There really is no limit to how low you’ll stoop, is there, Gisborne?”
The form of Robin Hood began to solidify as pushed himself away from the banister he had been leaning on and moved toward Guy. When the two men were only inches from each other they stood looking at each other, staring each other down. Guy was much taller, much more muscular, and much more menacing than the outlaw, but any idiot could have seen that it would be dangerous to cross Hood that night. Anger seeped out of every pore, and a vicious snarl made Robin’s normally handsome face into something gross and wrong. He was like a feral dog.
...With a bow, arrows, and a sword.
Guy narrowed his eyes as he looked down at the smaller man. An idiot knew that angering Hood would be dangerous. But only a complete moron would accuse Guy of Gisborne of hurting Marian.
“I did not take advantage of her,” Guy hissed. In order to keep from expelling all of his anger on to the outlaw (and running the risk of upsetting Marian), he was taking great measures to control both his words and his voice. He would have dispatched Robin Hood in a heartbeat if would not have hurt Marian, and he racked his brain furiously for any way to possibly best Hood. Suddenly Guy’s eyes flashed with triumph. After all, the truth always hurt the worst.
“I did not take advantage of her,” he repeated, more calmly this time, and by the time he reached his next words, his speech had slowed to a drawl. “But then again, isn’t stalking the woman you abandoned entirely worse than giving her comfort in her grief?”
Guy’s words had hit their mark, and Robin’s sword was drawn in an instant. The mad dog moved stealthily in for the kill, pushing Guy roughly back against the wall, his sword hovering over Gisborne’s throat.
“You know nothing of her! Of me! You are nothing but a ruthless mercenary who would not know the value of a woman like Marian even if she did want you! You do not deserve her, you loathsome traitor! You do not love her! You could never love her like I do!”
Guy snarled at his captor.
“Oh, yes. You loved her so much you abandoned her to follow your pathetic king into battle. You left her. And while you were away she grew up. While you were away she changed her mind. While you were away, she grew to hate you.”
The mad dog had had too much discussion. Rearing back for a split second, Robin wound up and punched Gisborne across the face, still holding the sword with his left hand. Immediately blood welled from the cut Marian’s ring had made not so long ago, and Guy’s head ricocheted off the wall, leaving him blinded both by the flow of blood and by pain. Robin reared back again but stopped dead as he heard a sharp gasp from behind him.
In the midst of the fight, neither man had heard the shuffle of small, sleepy feet coming down the stairs.
Marian’s sleep-deprived mind flashed from one man to the other. Except for the telltale stinging behind her eyes and the blurriness of her vision, she would have believe herself to be dreaming. But it was real, the scene in front of her, and even though she knew that, she still could not believe it.
The scream had left her throat before she had time to even think, to consider which of the men might be at fault. But then again, it was Robin with a sword to Guy’s throat, it was Robin she had just witnessed punching Guy in the face. And, if she was honest, it was usually Robin’s hot head that started fights. At the sound of her voice both men’s eyes shot toward her, but as she descended the staircase she became more and more annoyed that Robin’s hand did not so much as twitch as she approached. From the second step she called out again, this time with a steady voice borne more out of exhaustion than calm.
“Robin, let him go.” She had seen that look in his eyes before, that irrational, burning hatred. The killing look. Robin’s eyes locked on to hers, but his hand remained unmoving. Silently, he shook his head. Marian sighed, aggravated, and strode down the last stair and across the short expanse to where Robin stood. She could feel her face twisting and her eyes narrowing as she approached. Without taking her eyes from Robin’s, she grabbed his wrist with one hand and snatched the sword away from him in one swift motion- a motion he himself had taught her. The blade nicked Guy’s throat as she retrieved it, but she barely noticed; she was locked in a silent showdown with Robin. Robin was the first to give, though by the time he did, his own face was twisted into a snarl. Before Marian could breathe a sigh of relief, he swung his right arm, narrowly missing Marian and connecting solidly with Guy’s face. There was a dull thud as Guy’s head bounced off the wall. The cut above his eye bled freely now, and Guy stumbled back against the wall, both shaken by the blow to the head and distracted by the blood trickling into his blinking eyes. Gasping involuntarily, Guy slid to the floor, and Marian ran to his side. As she put an arm around the dazed man, she looked up long enough to address his attacker.
“Robin of Locksley, what in the world is wrong with you?” She turned toward Guy again, cupping his face in her small hand and trying to wipe the blood from his eye. He shook his head slightly and with Marian’s help got back to his feet. Marian gave an internal sigh of relief that Robin was not rushing to attack now that Guy was vertical again. The two men only stared at each other, hate etched on every plane of their faces, but Marian was becoming impatient. “For God’s sake, Robin! Answer me! What are you doing here?”
“That man is taking advantage of you!” Robin’s voice shook as he snarled, pointing an enraged finger at Guy. The momentary lapse in tension caused my Marian’s entrance had completely ended, and Robin was once again eyeing his opponent with all the unshielded hatred of a dog.
But what Robin hadn’t thought to take into account was that by angering Marian, he had created an adversary much more frightening that the bleeding lieutenant.
“I know very well what Guy is doing here,” Marian responded coldly, her eyes narrowed, her words clipped and laboriously free of emphasis. “What I asked is what you were doing here.” Marian’s calm did nothing to pacify the outlaw, who would only spit out accusatory phrases, seemingly unaware that Marian had spoken at all.
“In your bed!”
The last was too much for Marian, and the anger that had been threatening finally shattered her reserve. What right did he have? What arrogance!
“So you came here to spy on me?”
“What?” The accusation caught Robin by surprise. He had been crawling into Marian’s window for as long as he could remember. Of course he hadn’t been spying on her; he’d simply been watching her while she didn’t know he was there. After all, it was for her own good. “No! Marian-“
“Listen to me, Robin of Locksley,” Marian interrupted, leaving Guy’s side and taking a predatory step toward Robin. She noted absentmindedly that she still held his sword and hoped the matter would not escalate to the point of its use. Turning to place the weapon on the kitchen table, she responded, suddenly and inexplicably sad that this conversation was taking place at all- that it seemed Robin would never simply be her friend. It was all or nothing with him, and though she did not love him as she once had, she still cared deeply for him. But with him there would never be a happy medium, and she chose her next words carefully, trying to express what she hoped she would not have to spell out for him. Much as it might hurt him, she had made her choice. “What I do in my own home with my betrothed is my business.”
“Your father-“ Robin choked, either indifferent to her words or just ignoring them like he normally did, and his continued opposition to the idea that Marian just might be capable of independent thought infuriated her. She had no doubt that he was genuinely concerned for her after her father’s death, but she also knew that this flippant, infrequent visitor had no right trying to advise her.
“My father is dead, Robin.” The words seemed cold, even to Marian’s own ears, but she was too angry to be diplomatic anymore. “And do you know who was there for me when I needed someone?”
“Just listen. For once, please just listen to me! Your hero act may work on the villagers, but when you really care for someone you can’t just leave them stranded until the timing is convenient for you!” Tears sprang up behind her eyes as she realized the truth of her words. What she wouldn’t have given for a visit from Robin that first night. How safe she would have felt crying on her oldest friend’s shoulder. But he hadn’t come until days later, a fact that still hurt Marian, like salt in a fresh wound. But then again, if there was ever a master of adding insult to injury, it was Robin of Locksley. She knew he never meant to be as hurtful as he was, but it was as if he couldn’t help it. She had always been his constant, and he’d never come to appreciate that- just rely on it.
“That’s not fair!” he cried, stung. “You haven’t been here for nearly a week ,and you know very well I can’t go traipsing through the castle any time I choose.”
“Really? Because I seem to see a fair bit of ‘traipsing’ when any of your men or any innocent villager is involved. Face it, Robin. You treat me as a foregone conclusion, like the moment you deign to be the right time I should just fall into your arms! It is time for you to grow up and learn something I had a hard enough time learning on my own-while you were gone: the world does not revolve around Robin of Locksley.”
“But your world should.” The words came softly, and now there was no mistaking the plain, unmasked hurt that infused every syllable. It had worked so many times for him, this wounded demeanor. It had worked every time to date since Marian was essentially a good woman, a kind and loving woman- a woman who could not bear to see anyone in pain- especially if she was the cause of it. Over the years, Robin had learned to manipulate her goodness even if he didn’t do it consciously. Under normal circumstances his pain would have been enough to win Marian to his side, but if Robin had considered these normal circumstances, he was dangerously wrong, a fact he quickly learned as Marian’s next words, still angry, cut into him.
“Why? Because you asked me to marry you five years ago? Because I said yes then?”
“Yes! Marian, can’t you see that I love you?” Robin sounded genuinely exasperated now, as if Marian were just too young to understand, and he really had no time or patience to explain. For a moment, Marian took another determined step toward him, her face as hard as stone. She wanted to stay angry at him, but she could see there was no way to win an argument with him. At once, every ounce of pain, exhaustion, grief, and loss that had plagued her since her father’s death flooded back to her again. She swayed slightly, realizing how very much she had needed her interrupted sleep, and instead of advancing on Robin, she returned to Guy’s side, sliding her hand around his forearm until their arms were entwined and her hand found his. Holding her betrothed’s hand tight, Marian spoke in a strained voice that betrayed her fatigue. No longer angry, now she was simply sad and tired.
“You left me, Robin,” she said, close to a whisper. “No matter what the circumstances, no matter how noble your reasons, you left me, and I spent years without word or news, foolishly anticipating your return with every oncoming horse. It took me years to realize that I would never be as important to you as you had been to me, and I would certainly never be as important to you as your ‘duty.’ You yourself were surprised to see me unmarried when you returned home, and just because I am not does not mean that I was waiting for you. You made your choice when you left me, Robin, and now I have made mine.”
Robin’s eyes flashed and his nostrils flared as he considered the couple.
“Marian, please. You cannot expect me to believe that will marry him. He is not good for you!” Next to her, Marian felt Guy start, but she only squeezed his fingers. She did not need anyone to fight her battles, let alone this battle. Robin had the unique ability to frustrate her more than any other living person, and when she spoke again, there was venom in her voice.
“I am so sick of you telling me what is best for me! I am so tired of you thinking you can tell me what to do! You barely know me anymore, Robin, and you surely do not know what is good for me! Whether you believe it or not, I am marrying him.” Guy, who had been silent since very nearly being knocked unconscious, released Marian’s hand and gently placed his arm around her shoulder, pulling her to him before speaking.
“You see, Hood? There is nothing here for you anymore. Take your leave, and say goodbye to the future Lady Gisborne.”
Barely contained fury roiled in Robin’s every movement, and he snarled at Gisborne for a moment before turning his gaze back to Marian.
“Fine,” he spat, glaring at Marian so intensely she wondered if he intended to change her mind by his very will. “You want me gone? Look me straight in the eye and tell me the truth. Tell me you do not love me.”
Marian’s breath caught in her throat, and she could feel the heat of both men’s eyes as she lowered her head. It would be a lie if she said it, she realized. She would always love Robin in some way. Robin, however, seemed incapable of accepting any sort of love from her other than the kind he expected. So it would be a lie, but if it would finally allow Robin to let her go, Marian would tell it.
“I do not love you, Robin.” She swallowed hard, not even realizing that she had barely breathed since he had put the question to her and silently acknowledging Guy’s sudden exhalation. Perhaps even he had not been sure of her answer until it had been spoken aloud. Robin, on the other hand, looked as if he had been forced to watch a puppy die. Maybe, Marian thought, everyone has always been more convinced of my love for Robin than I have.
“And... and you do...?” Robin sputtered, obviously reeling from her admission. Even from across the room, Marian could see the glitter of tears in his eyes as she answered the unfinished question.
“And I love Guy.”
Robin and Marian simply stood staring at each other for a few never-ending moments before a tearful Robin turned his back on her, retrieved his sword, and left Knighton Hall without so much as a word to his former love. Marian watched him go, almost surprised to feel the telltale wetness on her cheeks. Beside her, Guy was very still- as if he still was not convinced that what had just happened had happened at all. And if it had occurred, he was not entirely sure of its authenticity. He was stunned.
And quite possibly concussed, Marian realized with a start. Sniffling and shifting her focus back to Guy, she smiled sweetly, if in a forced kind of way. Taking his hand, she led him to the kitchen table and pulled out a chair, motioning for him to sit.
“Come on, Guy. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“And this was healing so nicely, too.”
Marian laughed nervously as she dabbed at the cut above Guy’s eye, well aware that she had been the original conveyor of the injury. Neither had spoken much since Robin’s departure, and Marian was entirely unsure of how to proceed after Guy’s injuries had been tended to. After all, she had basically just professed her love to the man who at this very moment was gazing at her intently, as if trying to determine the sincerity of that very declaration.
Which was funny, because that was the very thing Marian was trying to figure out too. Certainly, she cared for Guy. Definitely, she had agreed to be his wife... eventually. But love? The knot in her stomach that had seemed to go into hiding after her father’s death reappeared as if to remind her that only a few days ago she had been completely unconvinced of her feelings for Guy. There was so much about him that was wrong, bad. She knew things he had done, things he had ordered to be done. She never would have thought she could ever care for someone whose actions seemed so completely unethical and uncaring. But there was also so much good in Guy, whether most could see it or not- whether he could see it or not. It may have been a foolish, naive hope, but for some reason Marian held fast to a hope that she could somehow make him better, that maybe if she loved him he wouldn’t need to be so dependent on the Sheriff.
But it was better not to examine those thoughts too closely. That was dangerous territory, and Marian had had enough struggle in the past week to last her for quite some time. She had no idea how to proceed, and so she continued to examine and clean the cut even though the blood had congealed minutes ago. Sighing, she smiled shyly at her patient, whose gaze had not lost a bit of intensity, and made to begin dabbing at the cut once more. Before she could begin, Guy’s strong hand reached up and grabbed her wrist, guiding her hand down to her side. Though Guy was seated, Marian had been stooped close enough over him that now he could reach up and cup the side her face in one of his hands. Neither spoke, and neither so much as blinked as Guy gently pulled her face close to his. Marian’s eyes did not close until the moment his lips captured hers.
Though not greedy, Guy’s kiss was insistent, and soon Marian found herself melting to sit in his lap. Her knees did not appear to be working any longer. As she settled, Guy broke the kiss, silent and still searching her with his eyes. For a moment Marian was entranced by the slight flush that had found its way across his cheeks, the glittering moisture on his lips. She wondered vaguely if it was his or hers before realizing he was studying her even more acutely than she was watching him. He still looked as if he disbelieved what had just occurred between her and Robin, and more significantly between her and himself. Something more was needed to convince him of her affection. He needed more. He needed her.
Meeting his eyes, Marian gently twined her right hand around Guy’s neck, tangling it in his hair, while her left hand slowly lifted his face to meet hers. This time it was her lips upon his, hesitant at first but with a growing determination as he began to nuzzle back against her. Marian smiled as well as she could without losing that pleasurable contact with Guy and sighed contentedly. It was amazing how right this felt, how necessary. As it turned out, maybe neither of them was very good at eloquently expressing their emotions. Maybe all they needed to convince each other of their intentions was a kiss.
“Marian,” Guy breathed as he broke away from her, the name whispered with all the reverence of a prayer. His hands had found their way around her back, holding her close to him, and this time when he kissed her there was more to it than a simple need for validation or acceptance, though to his infinite surprise, it was Marian who parted her lips first, Marian who encouraged him to deepen the kiss. When her tongue tentatively entered his mouth, Guy was almost afraid to react, afraid to scare her with his need, but as soon as he began to return her attentions he was rewarded with an impossibly soft sigh from Marian.
Guy shifted under Marian’s weight, his lap starting to become rather uncomfortable. Marian was confused at first, worried that perhaps she was too heavy to take up such a position, but when her eyes caught sight of the offending body part she was at once both embarrassed and intrigued. She knew what was supposed to happen to a man when he was excited, she’d just never seen the physical evidence. The thought that she could do that to Guy gave her a rush of confidence that made her feel rather all-powerful.
It also made her giggle.
Which made Guy scowl.
Trying desperately to both stifle her childish laughter and to quash any flaring of his temper, Marian tried to speak.
“Oh, Guy, it’s not... I mean... I just haven’t...” Her giggles refused to leave her during her sputtered attempt at explanation until the moment her eyes met his. With a sharp but quiet gasp she was momentarily silenced. He glared at her, his eyes burning, though she could see that even if her involuntary reaction had offended him, he had much more pressing matters at hand. She sobered under his intense scrutiny and nervously licked her lips.
The action sent Guy over the edge, and he pulled her to him once more, kissing her passionately. Marian fell into the embrace readily, kissing back with all the unlearned enthusiasm she could exude. Suddenly sitting on top of Guy was not merely comfortable or even simply sensual. Every time she moved his breath seemed to hitch and when she moved just so...
Guy’s voice was gruff, almost labored, as he broke the kiss and motioned for her to stand. Alarmed that she had done something wrong, Marian rose quickly, embarrassed and looking down at her feet. She should have known better. A man such as Guy would have no patience with her silliness; he would expect more. She may still be a maid, but she was old enough to know a few things. It was just a pity that she had never taken the time to learn, really, how to be a girl. Archery? Yes. The art of feminine seduction? Boring. Lost in this mental recrimination, Marian hardly noticed when Guy stood as well.
Marian looked up at him, the distance between them so much more pronounced than it had just been, but Guy quickly rectified the situation. With a gentle hand at the small of her back, he pulled her close to him and into a kiss. Marian closed her eyes gratefully and melted against him, only slightly amused to feel his erection press into her belly. So much about intimacy had always seemed silly to her, just embarrassing and strange. What she had never taken into account was how incredibly strong the urge to be with someone could be. The desire to love someone could completely sweep all thoughts of how amazingly ugly and disgusting the entire process was- especially the body parts involved- from her head until the only thing she could think of was holding him, touching him, loving him. For the first time in her life Marian knew what it meant to want someone, a fire roiling in her stomach and then diffusing through her until her fingertips tingled, all the while spreading lower and lower.
She barely felt it as Guy lifted her, but as soon as her feet had left the floor, she was instantly nervous again. Cradling her in his arms, Guy gave her a brief kiss before starting toward the staircase. Marian nuzzled against his neck in a way she hoped would be acceptable to him but still hide her furiously blushing face behind the fall of her hair. He was taking her to her bedroom. What would happen then? Would he expect to take her? Would she want him to? What if she wasn’t any good at it? What if she just couldn’t? What would happen if they were ready to start and suddenly all she could think of was all of her recent turmoil and she just began to cry?
They reached the bedroom long before Marian had worked out any answers, and Guy laid her on the bed. As he moved away, she felt a temporary panic, as if she was on display. Suddenly she could remember that she was wearing the same old dress she’d worn to her father’s funeral only hours before. She imagined her hair being wildly untamed. She remembered how very, very tired she really was. Guy had turned his back to her as he unfastened and shed his shirt. As he turned and her gaze fell upon his bare chest, she drew a quick breath. He was truly beautiful and the heat burning through her would not let her forget just how powerfully attracted to him she was. She blushed furiously as he moved toward her, panic mixed with excitement. Yes, she wanted him, but was she really ready?
Her heart thumped so strongly against her breast that she was sure that he must be able to see it pushing the flesh outward, or at the very least, hear it. She lost her own sense of hearing as the rush of her own blood deafened her, and she closed her eyes as he approached her. She felt the bed depress under him, and she waited. Long seconds seemed to be hours as she fought her curiosity to keep her eyes tightly closed, but finally she heard his soft voice at the same moment as she felt the heat from his body come closer to her own.
“Marian, open your eyes.”
When she did, he was next to her, lying on his side, head propped on an elbow. With a surprising gentleness, he brushed a stray bunch of hair from her forehead and then let his hand trace the side of her face. Marian gazed at him not knowing what at all to expect, and it seemed that Guy knew her uneasiness.
“You still need your sleep. If you still... want... That is to say... if my presence...” Here Guy stopped speaking, seemingly as uncomfortable with their new-found intimacy as she was. After a deep breath he continued, speaking slowly as if choosing every word with extreme caution. “Earlier this evening, you requested that I stay with you. If you should still request my presence...”
She smiled at his shyness. It would seem that she was constantly underestimating this man. Surely neither of them could deny the sexual attraction they held for each other any longer after the events of the evening, but Guy of Gisborne was indeed a gentleman and would no more have thought to take her tonight than he would have proposed marriage to the Sheriff. Marian leaned up to place a small kiss on his neck, surprised at how quickly she had become accustomed to him lying there with her, the curve of his body next to hers.
“Stay. Please, Guy.” He smiled at her, his small, boyish smile, before placing a quick and chaste kiss against her upturned lips. Marian sighed contentedly as Guy lay down, cradling her head with the arm he’s been using as support as she turned her back to him and snuggled closer. She was almost asleep when she heard him whisper.
“Goodnight, my love.”