Auribus teneo lupum, she whispers into the crease of his jaw, runs her fingers along the shell of his ear down to the corner of his lip. The nail leaves a white line. He laughs deep in his throat, catches her fingers in his mouth and only bites a bit.
He watched her when he first came to Nottingham. He thought he saw a goodness there, a whiteness behind her eyes like a veil drawn over diamonds. And so the first time she looked at him, really looked at him, he thought he felt his heart stop, because it wasn’t a goodness there at all. It was something much better.
He gave her a single rose (not sure what he was hoping for — perhaps a last-ditch attempt to save his own soul with that unseen maybe-innocence). She smiled, her eyes trailing up, calculating, hard, blazing.
They kill the Sheriff together. She watches the life leave Vaisey’s eyes, and Guy watches her. She’s a goddess and there’s blood on her dress, and now it is on his lips too as she bites and grasps at him (later, of course, after the formalities and the cleaning and the sad little expressions they make into a game — who can look more troubled, more sincere?).
“Never cut your hair,” she says as she pulls his head back by the loose tendrils, reaches up from beneath him to trail a line of red marks over his taut neck.
“Why not,” he breathes against her ear, hands on skin now, matching her fingermark for fingermark. He pulls her hair, too, until her hand snaps to his wrist, pushes him and bends his arm backwards before he can even cry out. He stares up at her from the flat of his back, up into those blazing eyes and bloody red lips.
“I have to heel my wolf somehow,” she murmurs, and there are knives in her fingertips when she touches him, and she’s right, he never cuts it again.
“The Night Watchman’s been out again.”
She’s at the window in the passageway, all dark hair and pale green dress and wind-pink cheeks. She watches the men and horses down in the courtyard and he watches her.
“He beat three guards to a pulp. I was wondering,” he says, advancing, “if you knew anything about it.”
She only looks at him, cold and bright.
“I am loyal to you and the Sheriff,” she says. “You must not have learned much in your year here if you do not know that.”
“I don’t know what I’ve learned,” he says, trying to look at her the way he looks at the peasants, and realizing he’s failing utterly.
“No, you really don’t, do you?” she says, then sweeps down the passage and doesn’t look back.
“Your men said you would be thinking of Robin Hood on your marriage bed,” she says. “Are you thinking of him now?”
He doesn’t remember his men telling her anything before, but he can’t really think clearly at the moment.
“No,” he gasps into the darkness of her neck. “How could I?”
In the purple evening Marian stands at the window outside his door, says, “I could get drunk off this sight. All the little ants in their armour ready to cut off their own little heads,” and she slides her palms along the sill, breathes in the dust-and-shit smell of it all.
“They could cut off your head, too,” Guy murmurs. He’s leaning against the wall behind her, arms crossed. He sees her silhouette tilt its head.
“And someday I might tell them to,” she says, quiet, sharp. Her lips are cold when steps forward and kisses her. She twists in his arms and he loses her for a moment, then hears her voice down the hall. “It might even be tonight,” she calls, and he doesn’t answer, knows she can hear his exhale in response.
He understands when he sees the wound, red and puckered and barely healed. He stares, transfixed with horror, as it all comes crashing into place.
“But…why?” is all he can choke out, and she tips her head back. Her eyes catch the torchlight and burn blue.
“Because while you and your master run around trying to cow the populace into submission — unsuccessfully, I might add — I gain their trust. They depend on me. They are children and I am the wet nurse. And then,” she whispers, “I come here. And I push them to the brink, without them ever knowing it.” Her voice is a soft, melodiously obscene hiss in his ear now. “That’s what real power is, my love.”
“Pulling all the strings,” he says, unfocussed eyes fixed on the blaze of the torch, the scent of her hair caught in his lungs. “Arcana imperii.”
“Finally you’re catching up,” she purrs.
Nottingham is theirs. It is theirs even before the wedding, before they kill Vaisey. It was theirs from the moment she caught up to him in the corridor and said, “I have an idea you might find appealing,” and even if he didn’t know it then, he’d already won. They drive the peasants like the animals they are, they whisper in Vaisey’s ear and Robin Hood’s men fall one by one, and Marian smiles and helps the children on the street and then after, in the sweat-soaked dark, they lie there and think of new ways you can gut a man, ways to strike terror into hearts, ways to take the hope away from an entire village with just one decree.
“Tell them they must bring us their children if they do not pay their taxes,” he offers.
She breathes out slowly and evenly. He can see a cloud rise up in the cold room. “Tell them a shadow will come and slit their children’s throats if they do not pay,” she says. “Far more elegant.”
“And are you that shadow?”
“I am the flame that casts it.”
He runs his hands over her. “I think you are brighter than any flame.”
“Then I am the sun,” she says and bites his lip. He bites back and tastes blood. He doesn’t know whose it is. “And I will burn you to a cinder.”
She’s got blood on her shoes, poison in her purse, and one of his daggers as a hairpin. She whispers into Robin Hood’s ear as Guy watches from afar, then turns and gives him a wide smile. She looks warm and cherry-cheeked as she squints into the sun. He grins back from the window. She kisses the Saracen girl behind a tavern (she doesn’t let Guy watch) and brings back information and wood smoke in her clothes. She immobilizes whole troupes of guards in a mask and cloak, gives food and medicine to dirty children and layabout fathers, then watches Vaisey ration and confiscate the same goods the next day with the smallest of smiles. When she returns, Guy sits on the bed and takes off the pieces of her costume reverently, slowly, kissing each part of her that he successively exposes. She stands still, a pale idol in the cool night with eyes burning like small suns.
They sleep fitfully. He dreams of fire and arrows. He doesn’t know what she dreams about, but when he starts awake in the small hours of the morning, she is lying on her back staring up into the rafters.
They’re running from a band of outlaws and she’s laughing and he can’t laugh and run at the same time, so he just throws his head back and coughs as she suddenly spins around beside him. One of their pursuers barrels into her and Guy yells. The man grunts, stills and falls down. There’s a dark stain on her bodice. Guy grins and coughs again and takes her hand, leaves the dagger in the body.
“Everyone knows you did it,” Robin Hood glowers.
“I think that was the point.” Guy doesn’t even look up from his parchment.
“What happened to Prince John’s promise? That the town would be destroyed if anyone touched Vaisey?” Hood’s mouth is thin, his knuckles white on his bow.
Guy raises his eyebrows. “Well, the town still stands, as you can see,” he says, unable to resist giving a sneer. “So use your best judgment.”
“You’ve got the Prince on your side, then.”
“And Marian?” Robin’s face is hard.
Guy looks up. “What about her?” he says cooly.
“If you hurt her — “
He only smiles.
“But I stabbed you,” he says, swallows hard.
“Yes. And I shall never forgive you,” she says, and he knows it’s the truth. “But you’re too beautiful not to keep.”
“We have so much work to do,” he whispers into her hair.
“I know.” She smoothes the fringe from his forehead. “Won’t it be such fun.”