Her voice was gentle as it broke through the night, through the heavy summer air. It had been a tough day, and it felt as though the tension had weaved its way into the evening atmosphere, making it even denser and more oppressive than it was usually in the height of the Hungarian summer.
The tables outside the hotel where he was staying were mostly empty: most people who had been drinking there earlier had moved on to livelier spots for the rest of the evening. The noise from several bars on the same road still drifted, even though it was well past midnight. Not for nothing was Budapest known as the stag night capital of Europe these days. The beer was cheap, the locals welcoming and the weather, like tonight, was more than temperate. Certainly, the beds had a tendency to be a tad unyielding and board like, but after a sixteen hour day even the most unforgiving of mattresses usually felt like luxury. Usually. Not tonight though. And, if he was being honest, not since that script had arrived.
They all knew what was coming; of course they did. The major players had had the plot outline, if not the script, in their hands for weeks. There had been discussions, revisions, in some cases vehement expressions of opinion, but the fact remained that it was going to happen no matter what. Now it was just a case of going through the motions…or so he thought.
Richard raised his head slightly, a smile lifting the corners of his mouth as he caught sight of who was hailing him. He had recognised the voice immediately; of course he had, but it was still a surprise to see her standing there.
“I thought you were still out on the town with Joe, Harry and the boys,” he replied. “Didn’t expect you back until sunrise.”
Lucy shrugged. “They wanted a farewell party more than I did. Besides, Keith’s got so much energy, they’ll be lucky to get back for make up in the morning!” Gesturing to the empty wicker chair at Richard’s table, she said “May I?”
Richard kept smiling. Her manners, as always, were impeccable. However much she was required to assert herself on set as Marian, once she was out of role again she seemed to lose the feistiness immediately and return to being a rather quiet, shy, middle class girl.
“Of course. Would you like a drink?” Taking a last gulp of the local lager, he gestured at his glass.
“Thanks,” Lucy replied. “Whatever you’re getting is fine.” She watched as Richard stood up and wandered back inside towards the bar, but before he got through the door, a hovering waiter had pre-empted him and went to get two fresh glasses. With the apologetic ambling grace of an Irish wolfhound, he walked back to the table and sat down once again, leaning back in the cane chair and stretching his long, jeans clad legs in front of him.
They sat in companionable silence while the waiter served the drinks. When he’d retreated back inside, Lucy took a sip from the glass. It had been a long day, and she was glad to relax.
“It’s so warm, even this late,” she said. “They say it’s going to be 35 degrees tomorrow.”
Richard said nothing. He didn’t want to think about the day ahead. Reaching for his newly replenished glass, he drank again. Eventually he replied. “At least it’ll look good on camera.”
Lucy liked the fact that when Richard wasn’t in character, he was quietly spoken, thoughtful. Sometimes she even thought he was shy. It was as if, when he wasn’t being someone else, he wasn’t entirely sure who he actually was. Of course, she’d never have told him that – he’d have been mortified.
“Are you…I mean, have you thought about…I mean, of course you’ve thought about it…” Stammering slightly, she blushed. “Tomorrow, I mean.”
Richard was silent for a moment. Staring down into his glass, he watched the bubbles rise to the surface, wondering what to say to this most hesitant, but entirely reasonable, enquiry.
“Have you?” He replied eventually, still keeping his eyes on the glass.
“That’s not what I asked,” Lucy said gently, wryly. She was used to him turning things around, redirecting attention from himself. For an actor, he was the least ‘look at me’ person she’d ever met. She often wondered why he’d gone into the business when he so clearly felt uncomfortable as the centre of attention. It was another thing she’d never have said to him, but it was there, all the same.
It was a very long time before he responded. If she’d been aware of it, Lucy would have heard her watch tick-ticking the seconds away, filling the silence between them. She was aware of Richard’s left hand clutching his glass of lager, and his right hand, his sword hand, spread flat on the top of the table, long fingers splayed across the slatted wooden top.
“Yes,” he responded, eventually. “I’ve looked at that bloody script so many times, I can see it in front of my eyes even when I’m asleep.”
Looking up from her lager, Lucy chanced a look in his direction. Suddenly she noticed the circles around his eyes, the weariness that wasn’t just the result of a sixteen-hour shift on set.
“It’s really bothering you, isn’t it?” She said. “I mean, more than anything we’ve had to do before.”
Richard smiled ruefully. “I don’t know why…I mean, we’ve kicked each other virtually to death on camera so many times before…”
Lucy grinned “Yeah. I’ve still got the scars to prove it from the Great Unveiling of the Nightwatchman scene, and I was only in it for the close ups!”
“You’re not the only one!” Richard grinned back. “I don’t think I’ll ever recover.”
Lucy sipped her lager again, realising that Richard’s lovely, face-splitting smile had faded as fast as it came. “But this is different, isn’t it? This time it’s…final.”
“Yes,” Richard replied softly. “And…I don’t know…it just feels…wrong.”
Cautiously, unsure of how he’d take the contact, Lucy slid a hand across the table towards Richard’s splayed fingers. “It’ll be alright, Richard,” she said softly. “If Dom and Foz didn’t think it would…we wouldn’t be doing it.”
Richard could feel her fingers, cold from touching her glass of lager, as her hand brushed his. For a couple who’d had so much contact onscreen, the gesture felt a little odd, but comforting all the same. He knew that Lucy was quite a physically expressive person with those she knew well; he’d often seen her arm in arm with Sam or Anjali, but she’d never really extended that to him, despite their frequent scenes together. He’d always figured it was the age difference that set him slightly apart; she was still barely twenty one, which put her closer to the rest of the cast than he was, bar a couple.
“Aren’t you angry about it, though?” He asked her. “I mean, killing off Marian is just so…final.”
Lucy shrugged. “I was pretty upset when I first found out, but it has to end sometime. I feel lucky I made it this far, given what happened at the end of the first series!”
Richard smiled ruefully. “Sometimes I think they just want to push us…they want to see how far we’ll go before we break completely.” He shook his head. “I’ve obviously been thinking far too much about this…projecting, sort of, thinking it’s more than it is.”
“Do you think he’d do it? Guy, I mean?”
A long pause. A great cheer erupted from the bar further down the street. In the distance they could hear a pop song, the current number one in Hungary, pouring forth from a nightclub.
It was a long time before he answered. “I don’t know…I just wear the eyeliner, remember?”
Lucy laughed, gently, shyly. “I’m serious…do you think Guy would really kill Marian, the woman he loves?”
Richard let the silence between them develop for a long moment before he responded. He liked the earnest look on Lucy’s face when she asked a serious question about their work. It was endearing, sweet even. She was young; she should have had much to learn about their shared craft, but in actuality she was incredibly gifted. What she lacked in experience she made up for in sheer willpower and determination to learn the profession. He’d always respected that about her.
“If I’m being honest,” he finally said, “No…I don’t think he would. He loves her more than anything…more than his own life. More than all the power, the money…he’d take his own life before he’d take hers.”
“What do you think he’d say to her, if he could?” Lucy asked. “I mean, I’ve been trying to get it all straight in my own head, but it’s really difficult to sort out.”
Richard shook his head. “It feels like Dom and Foz deliberately didn’t write it,” he said. “There’s so much he’d want to say to her, but then she drops this bombshell and…well, you know.”
“So you don’t think he intends to kill her?”
Richard took his time to try to formulate an answer. He’d learnt the hard way to think before he spoke, and he didn’t want to rush it.
‘I think…I think…if he’d had the chance, in a calmer moment, he’d tell her he loves her. He’d give it one last try. Even if he knows deep down it’s hopeless. I can imagine him on his knees, begging her to come away with him, putting aside everything he’d wanted up until then to be with her. I just can’t see him killing her.”
“You’ve really been thinking about this, haven’t you?” Lucy said. “I mean…not that you don’t do that to do your job anyway, but…”
Richard smiled ruefully. “This one just keeps creeping up on me.”
“So, you don’t think he’d do it? Even when she tells him she loves someone else?”
“He loves her.” He said softly. “All the anger in the world, all the hurt, all the pain…nothing can take that away from him. Even when she’s taken away all of his hope, he still has to hold on to the fact that he loves her. How can he kill her with all of that inside him? She’s the one, the perfect love that he would do anything to protect.” In his intensity, Richard hadn’t realised that his fingers had entangled with Lucy’s on the table. He pulled away, embarrassed at the tone he could hear in his own voice. It was one thing to grab each other on set, but again, this felt different. He knew he was often guilty of not being able to switch off from the roles he had; he could feel Gisborne simmering under his skin once again as he searched his thoughts for an answer.
Sensing Richard’s embarrassment, again marvelling at his shyness after such an admission, Lucy sought to break the moment. “It’s never been just about the costume with you, has it?” She’d been surprised by Richard’s sudden, frank admission. He was always pleasant, always kind and calm, always the consummate professional, but he was never that forthcoming about his thoughts and opinions. It was nice, refreshing. She decided that she liked that side of him, very much, and she again felt sad that she was only just discovering it now, at the end.
Richard ran the hand that had been holding Lucy’s through his hair, self conscious and slightly unnerved. “What do you mean?” Her comment was perceptive; he’d give her that, even for someone who he’d locked lips with on camera so many times.
“You live parts, don’t you? You become them.”
“Christ, I hope not!” Richard responded. “I really don’t want to kill you properly tomorrow.”
Lucy smiled. “For what it’s worth, I don’t want you to kill me either.”
“I wish I didn’t have to.” Richard spoke so quietly, Lucy had to strain to catch the words. “There’s so much more important stuff going on in the world, and I’m worrying about pretending to kill a character from English folklore in an anachronistic TV show somewhere in Eastern Europe that pretends to be the Holy Land. What am I on?” He shook his head in exasperation, frustrated by his own inability to put it all aside.
Lucy smiled. “It gets like that, though, doesn’t it? You get so caught up in the world we create, it’s like everything else doesn’t exist.” Taking a sip of her lager, she raised her eyes to meet his again. “It always takes me a while to get back to reality after we finish filming; like I forget who I really am, what my life is like when I’m not a part of this whole thing.”
Richard felt surprised by Lucy’s admission. He’d just assumed that she had this amazingly busy life to go back to when she wasn’t running around in a Hungarian forest pretending to be someone else.
“You’re not the only one,” he conceded. “I suppose that’s why this script has got me thinking so much. It’s like something’s really going to end tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Lucy snorted. “My contract!” But she grinned shortly afterwards. “But it wasn’t like I didn’t see it coming.”
“Really?” Richard replied. “Did you think they were going to kill you-Marian-off then?”
“Well let’s face it,” Lucy said, “there’s only so long Guy, Robin and Maz can sidle round each other without something kicking off.”
“Shame,” Richard said. “I always thought the power struggle between Robin and I needed you to keep it in balance. I definitely didn’t see this one coming until Dom dropped the bombshell.”
Lucy smiled to herself. It seemed she’d been right about Richard living the character – he hadn’t even realised the name slip. Jonas would have loved that. Even though the two men had got on well during the filming, Jonas had always felt the urge to compete with Richard on some level. Whether it was stunts, swordplay or horse riding, Jonas had always seemed to want to best his colleague. It certainly leant an added frisson to their interplay onscreen. Whether Richard was oblivious of this or chose to ignore it, Lucy was never sure, but he’d certainly never responded.
“I’ll miss all the snogging, though!” Lucy said to break the moment. “You were always much easier to kiss than Jonas – too much stubble!”
Richard laughed in the quiet, self-deprecating way she’d got to know so well. “Don’t let him hear you say that!” Richard replied. “There are quite a few girls on the crew who’d love to be in your position…with Jonas, I mean!’
And quite a few who wouldn’t mind snogging you, either, Lucy thought, remembering the envious looks of some of the female techs and runners when Guy and Marian had had their infamous doorway grope. She’d never admit to anyone, least of all Richard, but she was hugely glad they’d not over rehearsed that one; everything that happened in that few seconds of film had been, if not spontaneous, then to a certain extent improvised. She could still remember Richard’s sharp intake of breath as she’d grabbed him and…well…just gone for it. The sound engineers had had a field day with that one.
She knew the results looked good; Richard had recovered his equilibrium and taken her in his arms like something out of a Barbara Cartland novel, but they’d both been teased to within an inch of their lives afterwards. Jonas, especially, had made slurping noises for days in between takes when either of them had been around, and Anjali, who had become a bit of a mate during the filming, had even taken to singing the chorus of The Shoop Shoop Song until Lucy had thrown things at her in exasperation.
They sat for a while in companionable silence, sipping their drinks and listening to the city’s noise. Lucy noticed the five o’clock shadow on Richard’s face – mostly dark but flecked here and there with grey. She realised with a jolt that he’d not been grey when they started this whole Robin Hood adventure. Time had passed, and now a phase in her life was ending. She didn’t want it to.
Taking a large gulp of her lager, Lucy had an idea.
‘Look. I know Dom and Foz are probably going to make us do it ad nauseum tomorrow, but how do you feel about going through the scene now? Just us two?”
Richard looked up, surprised and suddenly apologetic. ‘It’s alright, Lucy, you don’t have to offer just to humour me. I’ve offloaded on you enough tonight.’
‘No, really, I’d like to,’ she replied. ‘It’ll make me feel better.’
Her expression was so sincere, her eyes shining with a combination of enthusiasm and perhaps a little too much alcohol that Richard couldn’t, in all truthfulness, refuse. He shook his head; he wasn’t sure how anyone could refuse her anything.
‘Well, perhaps we could have a quick go,’ he conceded. ‘I think the courtyard out the back of this place is pretty quiet.’
Lucy grinned. ‘And given the amount of booze we’ve been drinking, it’s probably a good idea to run it through without the sword, too!’ Draining the last of her lager, she stood up. ‘Are you game, Rrrr-arrmitage?’
In spite of himself, Richard grinned. ‘I don’t know what the punters in this place will think, but go on, then. If you promise never to call me that again.’
Lucy grinned back. ‘Can’t promise that, but I’ll do my best.’ She put her own glass back on the table as Richard stood up. ‘Ready when you are, my lord.’
Shaking his head, Richard followed her back through the bar and out to the back of the hotel.
The courtyard, as Richard had predicted, was empty. There were so few people left in the hotel bar that neither of them was concerned about being watched. A tired looking barman wandered around inside collecting up glasses, but for the most part they had the area to themselves.
“Let’s take it from my run across the sand,” Lucy replied. “But I don’t think I’ll run, if that’s all the same with you!” She waggled a sandal-clad foot.
“Fair enough. Well assume that door over there,” Richard pointed to the other door from the courtyard that went directly to the rooms “is my entry point.”
They both took their marks for the beginning of the scene.
“Are you ready?” Lucy asked.
Richard drew a deep breath. “Go for it.”
Her voice rang clear in the evening air, cutting through the warmth like a scimitar.
For a moment, Richard froze, but then it came back to him: lines on a grubby, coffee stained script that he’d looked at too many times, thought about too many times. He looked up at her, and her face was all Marian; there was no Lucy there for a moment. The lines came, the movements, closing the gap between them until they were standing, facing each other, ready.
“It’s over, Guy,” she spoke again, stepping towards him. “I’m going to marry Robin Hood…I love Robin Hood.”
The tension struck him between the shoulder blades, pulling them back; Gisborne was now onstage.
And again. “I love Robin Hood.”
That was it. Step, draw, reach, clutch and suddenly…
Marian was in his arms, he was pulling her towards him, on his mark, the sword absent but the feeling of it so very much there. And she was arching back, half crushed against him, head back and hair streaming behind her, caught in a deathly embrace.
Can’t you see…can’t you feel what you’re doing to me?
Time seemed to stand still as they held each other in a ghastly parody of a love now lost. All of his pain, every last ounce of his feeling for her registered in his haunted face, eyes staring in disbelief at the woman he loved…the woman who was now dying at his hand.
Oh Christ, oh Marian! What have I done? I’m sorry…
He could feel her hand grasping his forearm, trying everything to keep herself upright as the wound cut deep, but it was no good, her life was ebbing away.
I didn’t mean it…I love you…please…
And then she fell, half pulling away until she went limp. Stunned and horrified, he let her go, moving away, turning in on himself, face crumpling in the moonlight as she fell backward onto the paving. It was so real, so intense, so vividly felt in that vital moment. It was all, finally ending. Gisborne had killed his love; her blood was tainting his soul.
The moment began to fade. Gisborne and Marian receded into the distance as Lucy and Richard returned once more. Lucy was sprawled somewhat ungraciously on the floor of the patio area. Richard was bent at the waist, straightening self-consciously as reality reasserted itself.
“Lucy, are you OK?” he asked as she sat back up from her reclined position.
Lucy smiled. “I’m fine. Look, no blood!” With Richard’s help she stood up, stumbling slightly on her heels and the uneven paving.
Richard placed a hand on her waist to steady her, and as he did so, she looked up at him from under her lashes.
“I don’t want to die,” she said softly. “It’s been too much fun, being here, with everyone. I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go either,” Richard murmured. “I’ll never keep Keith under control without you!”
The morning comes too quickly as far as Richard is concerned. Even the makeup girl jokes that she doesn’t need to do too much to make him look tired; the circles under his eyes speak for themselves. A little shading here and there is all that is required to make Richard into Gisborne.
The waiting, and the heat, are interminable. As predicted, it’s hit thirty five degrees and climbing. He hasn’t seen Lucy yet; she’s needed elsewhere for a couple of small scenes and a cover shot. He doesn’t engage with the banter of the crew and the rest of the cast, and when Keith makes an erudite joke about ‘one who loved not wisely but too well,’ all he can do is smile weakly. Courteous as always, but too strung up to reply, he nods and walks away.
Just before noon, when the sun is at its highest, it’s time. He sees Lucy across the courtyard chatting to Jonas and Sam. They’ve done Lucy’s short run across the sand, and Richard’s drawn his sword a couple of times for the opposing shot. There’s no getting away from it now.
A strange tension fills the set as Richard takes his mark. He has to will his right hand not to shake. They do a couple of walk throughs, during which time Foz makes a few suggestions and Lucy uses some different intonations on her lines. Several times Foz glances at Richard, sensing, perhaps, that it would be a good idea not to make him repeat this scene too often.
Eventually they call for a take.
“Quiet please…” There must be more than twenty people on the periphery, but you can hear a pin drop. Richard takes a breath.
“You’ll have to kill me first!” Lucy’s line is pitch perfect; she is every inch Marian in this scene.
Richard freezes. It won’t come. He shakes his head. “Sorry, everyone. Can we go again?”
As he goes back to his mark, Lucy catches his eye and smiles gently. In that moment, something passes between them; unspoken, but unquestionably there.
“OK…scene 113 take 2.”
The scripted words are spoken, and the movement, fluid, graceful, this time includes the swordplay. Although Richard knows it’s a bluff, that his sword is costume armour and won’t go anywhere near Lucy anyway, for a moment he hesitates; he still doesn’t want to do it. Then, Lucy’s left hand, out of sight of the camera, gives Richard’s right forearm the faintest of squeezes, as if to say it’s alright, I trust you.
He thrusts, she falls against him, they both crumple. It’s over.
“And CUT!” Foz shouts.
For a moment there’s silence on set. Everyone knows good work was just done. Richard exhales deeply and places the sword down on the ground beside him. He looks over to Lucy, who is lying down, still, in momentary imitation of Marian’s fate.
“You can get up now, Luce!” Sam calls jovially from his mark.
Lucy rolls onto her side, and Richard closes the gap between them, offering her his hand as she gets up, which she gratefully takes. As she clambers to her feet, she wraps her arms around him in a tight embrace, shocked to feel that he is trembling. Instinctively, she pulls him closer, knowing how completely he has just lived what they’ve done. Although the heat is almost unbearable, she leans into him, feeling the press of his leather jacket against her cheek.
“It’s over, Richard,” she says softly, so only they can hear.
Silently he draws her to him and she rests in his arms. This isn’t like the intense embrace of before, when they were Guy and Marian; this is just Richard and Lucy, saying goodbye to a friendship that had become essential to create such a powerful onscreen partnership.
He nods. “We did it,” he replies, burying his face in her sand flecked hair. She smells of summer and shampoo, and he finds it, just for a moment, incredibly comforting.
From his position by the steps, Jonas clocks this embrace and turns to Harry. “Gisborne just doesn’t give up, does he?” he says fondly. “Even when she’s the walking bloody dead!”