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Fuel for the Fire

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Nottingham Castle

Guy leaned against a stone wall as he took another long drink while ignoring the trickle of ale that rolled down his chin. He briefly wondered why there were no benches in the sheriff’s map room. If he kept drinking like this, he would need to sit down soon, or else he might end up passed out on the floor. Again. Vaisey would probably complain about his consumption of all the ale that had been left in the room, but Guy was really beyond caring. His bleary eyes surveyed the circular tower room with its abundance of torches, a blazing hearth, and most prominently, a large table holding a sculpted map of England. But no benches. Or chairs. Odd.

He released a long exhalation and briskly rubbed his face in an attempt to stay alert as he awaited the sheriff’s arrival. Although strong ale usually numbed his pain, the only true relief he had found during the last few days was in dreamless, alcohol-induced unconsciousness. When he was awake, the strong ale merged with his strong emotions to create a wretched brew that was poisoning his spirit and extinguishing any hope that he might have had for the future.

He reluctantly acknowledged that his happy future with Marian would remain an unreachable dream – like a rainbow whose vibrancy was only visible at a distance.

Guy thought back to those interminable council meetings where he had stood silently behind Vaisey’s throne while observing the beautiful daughter of the former sheriff. In the beginning, Marian had been just another high-born lady who most likely considered him beneath her notice. He was just a knight. His father had been a knight. And his father’s father had been a knight. At least his father had managed to secure a small holding as part of his vassalage to Sir Malcolm, but that land was long gone, and although everyone called him ‘Sir Guy of Gisborne,’ it was no secret that Gisborne only existed as a faded notation on old, outdated maps.

It soon became apparent that Marian was unlike any other woman he had ever met. Although Marian had a beautiful face and an enticing, voluptuous form, it was her distinctive purity of heart that had completely captivated him. It was a quality that went beyond physical innocence, for certainly as the sheltered, unmarried daughter of Sir Edward, Marian was a virgin. It was a purity of spirit that was evident in her virtuous concern for undeserving peasants, her willingness to speak out in defense of her naïve ideals, and her fearlessness in openly arguing with Vaisey. Guy found it difficult to agree with her unrealistic moral standards, but he could not help but admire her for having them.

He recognized that such values and beliefs hindered a man who was laboring to elevate his position in society. Just like Hood, Marian was already of the nobility, and they could afford to espouse such high principles. In contrast, Guy was ready, willing, and able to do anything to join the ranks of the landed nobility. He had worked tirelessly to establish himself as Lord of Locksley while also serving the sheriff. Even though the peasants and servants were frequently a source of frustration, being Lord of Locksley brought Guy a sense of satisfaction. Such feelings were enhanced by the knowledge that he had taken this estate from Robin, just as Gisborne had been taken from him.

Regardless of his successes, a lingering disquiet seemed to plague Guy. Perhaps it was guilt for the accident that had led to the death of his parents and Sir Malcolm. Memories of that tragic fire, especially the fateful moment when he dropped that torch, were always hovering near the forefront of his mind. Torches, blazing hearths, campfires, and even small candles, were always surrounding him. Fire illuminated the world in which he lived while igniting waking nightmares in his mind. He hated himself for flinching every time he grabbed a torch, and for the way his heart became fearful whenever he was near a roaring hearth. Fire was such an integral part of everyday life – yet fire tortured his mind. There was no escaping it.

But whenever he looked at Marian, those fiery thoughts seemed to be extinguished by her purity. He vaguely remembered long-ago days when his heart held a similar innocence. But the fire, followed by years of poverty, and ending with his virtual enslavement to the will of the sheriff, had sullied his soul until it closely resembled the smoky, blackened shell of Gisborne Manor.

Guy had believed that he would never be worthy of Lady Marian, but then an unexpected thought entered his mind. That voice in his head – a voice that usually castigated him for his mistakes, shortcomings, and many sins – whispered to him that there was hope for a better, happier future, and this hope had a name: Marian. A name that sounded like a hymn of hope and a remedy for the dark firestorms of hatred that sustained his days.

His nascent hope had been kindled when he noticed that Marian seemed indifferent to the return of Robin. After Robin had retreated into the forest as an outlaw, Guy made his first admittedly tongue-tied attempts to gain her notice. To his great amazement, she did not immediately send him away. And so began a courtship that had ended with Marian’s declaration that she despised Robin Hood and her acceptance of Guy’s proposal. He could scarce believe it: this angel of perfection had consented to marry him.

You gave her no real choice …

Guy took another long swig of ale and cursed his inner voice and its rude reminder of the reality of his betrothal to Marian.

You misled her, and she ran away. To Robin …

“No!” he muttered out loud, although he was still alone in the room. He became indignant, especially when he realized that the ale was gone. But it was not the empty ewer that enraged him.

Marian.

Robin had already abandoned her twice: first, to go to war in the Holy Land, and then again when he became an outlaw. Marian, although beautiful, was now past the age when most girls married, and she was facing a life of loneliness as either a spinster or a nun. Guy’s offer of marriage would have saved her from such an unhappy fate. They could have had a family together and been content.

But most importantly, Marian would have saved him. Her virtuous heart would have purified his blackened heart. By joining in matrimony, both their bodies and their souls would have become one, and that was how Marian’s purity would become his purity. He longed to return to his youth, when he was untarnished by the cruelties of the world. The long-suppressed innocence and joy of his heart would have been resurrected, and Marian would have been his new beginning.

Beg her to reconsider. Tell her that you need her …

A stunned Guy dropped the empty ewer, which exploded on the stone floor sending damp potsherds flying in all directions. The sound seemed to resonate inside his head, echoing the collapse of his mind’s fortified walls. How could such a thought breach his carefully crafted defenses? He stumbled to the map table, leaning over it and bracing himself with both hands.

His head swam, nausea seized his belly, and he took several deep, calming breaths. In that moment, he hated himself with such ferocity that he briefly considered smashing his head against the table in order to purge such weak, pathetic thoughts from his mind.

Beg her to choose you and not Robin …

“No!” he roared to the empty room. That voice in his head was robbing him of his dignity and his manhood. The fact that the voice was a reflection of his innermost thoughts and feelings only made him loathe himself more. What kind of man was he? How could he even consider begging that woman to give him another chance – begging her to love him?

She should be begging him!

Guy harrumphed in disgust. Marian clearly considered herself above him; he wasn’t the celebrated Robin Hood, Earl of Huntingdon; he was just a landless knight. She probably condemned him for every little thing he had ever done to control the unruly peasants. Like Robin Hood, Marian loved dirty, ignorant peasants who had been born to serve the nobility and knights such as himself!

At that moment, he resolved to demonstrate to her, to everyone, just how strong he really was. He didn’t need her, and he would make her regret crushing his hopes for the future. He would make her suffer for destroying his dreams and hopes!

Just like Father destroyed my dream of a happy family by leaving us for years and only returning when he was near death from disease.

Guy closed his eyes and listened to the cruel voice in his head as it tormented him.

Just like Mother destroyed my hopes for the future by refusing to take the family to France after Father’s banishment.

An unwelcome image rose in his mind, based on reports from his soldiers, of a happy Marian riding away from the Locksley church on a horse with Robin.

Just like Mother chose Sir Malcolm over me.

Guy seethed as he considered how his parents had turned their backs on him over and over again. Sir Roger had chosen glory on the battlefield over fatherhood. Lady Ghislaine had chosen Sir Malcolm, with his wealth and titles, over Guy. And then they had died and burdened him with not only the responsibility of his young sister but also the paralyzing guilt that gripped his heart day after day, year after year.

He was so tired of the flaming memories that scorched his mind. He was so exhausted by the incessant, futile dreams of what might have been. Regret and guilt had eaten away at him until his heart, once burning with sorrow, became frozen with hate. Why should he suffer such endless guilt? Why should he be so miserable? For parents who did not choose him when he needed them most?

Just like Marian did not choose me.

Guy was tired of being buffeted by a cycle of regret, guilt, self-loathing, and anger. These wretched emotions were destroying him, and he felt like a battered ship on a tempest-tossed sea. Suddenly, a sense of resolve settled upon him. He would fight back. The ghosts of the past were not going to drown him in a sea of sorrow. This woman would not destroy him. Marian had stolen his hope for a better future. She had denied him the chance to join with her pure heart and become a better man. Instead of washing away his sins, Marian was allowing him to sink into the inky depths of the ocean of his crimes. Well, she wasn’t going to win. He was going to fight back.

He was finally going to fight back against all these ghosts haunting him, and all these regrets engulfing him. This time, he would be in control. He was tired of mourning parents who had turned their backs on him. A white-hot hatred seized him; he already knew that he hated Vaisey and Robin Hood, but now he realized that he hated his long-dead parents too.

He would show everyone that the past was not his master; he would take control of his destiny. And if Marian was going to steal his hope for the future, then he would steal her past! She would experience the loss of her childhood home just as he had! His ale-soaked mind cheered at the thought of such a sweetly ironic punishment for Marian.

“Tell me you would rather have a woman, Gisborne.”

Guy nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of the sheriff’s hushed voice. He straightened and hummed, “Pardon?”

Vaisey continued to speak in a soft, reverent manner as he elaborated. “Tell me you would rather have a woman than all this. Power! We are so close.”

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Glancing down at the table with its map of England, Guy realized that Vaisey must have assumed that he had been studying it because of the way he had been leaning over the table, lost in his thoughts. Guy mumbled, “Indeed.”

“Talking of our Lady Leper friend, it’s time to go get the pretty one,” with those words, the sheriff jabbed his finger into Guy’s upper arm, “and her daddy.”

“Edward and Marian? If they resist, shall I use force?” Guy’s thoughts began to swirl as Vaisey’s words and his own dark ideas coalesced into an evil plan.

The sheriff grinned malevolently. “Get up to speed, Gisborne. Use force anyway.”

With those ominous words echoing in his mind, Guy took his leave of Vaisey and went to gather his soldiers.

________________________________________

Knighton Hall

Sir Edward of Knighton stood in the middle of the great hall, the guard’s sword at his throat. At first, the old man was in a bit of a pained daze, his mind reeling and his blood chilled by a feeling of mortal dread. As he listened to Guy’s screams and watched the tall knight and his soldiers rush into his manor, he wanted to believe that it was the illusion of a nightmare.

“Marian!” Guy of Gisborne’s furious voice boomed through the manor.

Guy’s roar roused Edward out of his stupor. As the despicable man who had failed to force his dear daughter into marriage continued to yell for her to come down the stairs, the harsh reality of the evening finally came crashing down upon Edward. The former sheriff had probably never known such fear. But this fear wasn't as strong as his need to protect his beloved daughter and their home. Bravery and boldness were working towards his consciousness and mind in earnest.

Edward’s heart trembled in fright once more, but then his determination prevailed. The old man assumed an uncharacteristic role for himself – he followed in Robin’s footsteps and resolved to oppose Gisborne. Ignoring the sword at his throat, an angry Edward declared, “I will not allow this!”

Guy regarded Edward with disdain but did not respond. As Guy continued to stare at Edward, he bellowed again, “Marian!”

In a few moments, Marian came hurtling down the stairs, her face impassive but pale. “Father!” she called out as she reached the bottom of the stairs and saw Gisborne looming menacingly over the frail, older man.

“You come when I say!” Guy hissed between gritted teeth, glancing away from Edward without looking directly at the woman who had humiliated him at the altar and stolen his hope for the future.

Gazing over Guy’s broad shoulders and into the anxious eyes of her father, a distressed Marian cried, “Father!” when she saw the sharp blade pressed against Sir Edward’s neck.

“I am unhurt,” Edward assured her.

Marian took a deep, calming breath, her eyes darting between Edward and Guy, who stood with his back to her. Her fearless nature was her most powerful weapon in such troubling circumstances, and she impulsively grabbed Guy’s arm and pulled on it in an attempt to move him away from her father, while she irritably demanded, “What do you want?”

Guy began shuddering in vehement rage at the sound of Marian’s proud, sharp voice. Obviously, she did not feel regret for her actions in the church, and she clearly did not fear him.

Guy could not quite bring himself to look into Marian’s face. He feared that his icy resolve to punish Marian might melt if he looked into her eyes, and he was determined to be strong and remain in control. He took a step away from Edward, still looking into the old man’s eyes while announcing, “You’re coming to the castle.” Guy slowly began to circle away from Marian, his gaze veering to the nearby stairway as he continued, “The sheriff wants you where he can see you.”

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Shaking her head resolutely, an incensed Marian asserted, “No, we’re not. My father is frail. Release him!”

Her haughty commands reminded Guy of her elevated rank and position in society. His resolve hardened; he was not going to bow to her demands! Marian’s defiance was the perfect fuel for the fire ablaze in Guy’s heart. He finally faced her as he spit out his words in a crescendo of ferocity, “You do not … tell me … what to do!”

Marian felt her blood run cold as she gazed into Guy’s pitiless eyes, and she almost shrank away from him. His eyes were fire and ice – flames of rage blazing across a merciless arctic blue glare. Then Marian noticed the strong odor of ale on his breath, and her heart was seized with terror.

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Looking at the man whom she had abandoned at the altar a few days ago, Marian felt as if she were facing a vulture that was flying in circles before descending to consume its prey – her. A thought formed in Marian’s head: a ravenous and wicked vulture has come to her house for revenge! She stilled as her mind raced to find a way to placate this predator. She had long known that Guy of Gisborne was capable of brutal, vicious acts, but she had never imagined that she would be on the receiving end of his heartlessness. She glanced at her father and saw that he shared the same horror that she was feeling.

Guy felt a sense of triumph when he saw the terror in Marian’s eyes. This was the moment when he was going to fight back against the ghosts of his past and reduce them to ash. He was clearly in command now. He pointed to the guard who was holding the torch. “Burn the house,” he ordered hoarsely.

“Guy, no!” entreated a horrified Marian as she grabbed Gisborne’s arm.

Guy unceremoniously threw off her hands, fearing that her touch would weaken his resolve.

Marian took a step back and implored him once more, “Please, Sir Guy!”

Guy paused as he realized that the perfect, pure Lady Marian was begging him! His heart leapt with a cruel satisfaction. He would always remember and savor this moment. He steadily gazed into her tearful eyes while acknowledging her plea. “Better.”

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The guard with the torch called to the master-at-arms, unsure of what to do next. “Sir Guy...?”

For a moment shorter than a breath, Guy hesitated and considered whether to issue a countermand. In his mind, ominous memories circled like a vulture hovering over a carcass rotting along the road: the careless drop of a torch, the blackened bodies of his parents, and grinding poverty in France until his meeting with Vaisey. His return to Nottingham and his first taste of real power. The voyage to the Holy Land and the Saracen attack – his complete failure and his encounter with his archenemy. The Earl of Huntingdon’s return to England despite Guy’s belief that the wound he had inflicted on Robin was fatal. The endless pursuit of Robin Hood. Robin threatening him with a heated blade. The outlaw winning their battles over and over again. Guy’s pain-filled heart decomposing in the sun’s sweltering heat and chilling in the dead of the night. Guy was lost in the maze of his crimes, loneliness, and self-loathing. The circle of a vulture’s life: doomed to feast on the death and destruction of others.

And it was Marian’s fault that he had no hope for a better future.

Guy barked spitefully to Marian, “Beg.”

Marian stared at him in abhorrence. Guy carried out the sheriff’s orders without a word of objection, but she had never imagined that he would commit such a shocking act of violence against her of his own volition. Yet, the lethal glow in his eyes revealed his evil intent.

She swept her eyes over Guy’s leather-clad frame. She had never seen Vaisey’s henchman so angry; even a downpour of cold rain was unlikely to extinguish his rampage. Guy was tall and well-formed, but he repelled Marian because her heart belonged to Robin Hood, and the two men could not have been more different. When Marian gazed into Robin’s eyes, she experienced the light and warmth of a welcoming hearth in winter. Looking into Guy’s eyes, she saw the voracious devastation of wildfires that consumed drought-stricken forests while destroying the weak and the vulnerable.

Robin Hood was the love of her life and her childhood friend, and she could never love a man like Guy. Guy was the antithesis to not only Robin but to all their shared ideals and beliefs. She and Robin didn’t oppress the poor and the downtrodden, and they didn’t trample the hearts of the people by confiscating their food and firewood or by taking away their last coins to fill the sheriff’s coffers. She and Robin wanted justice for every man, woman, and child.

Despite his dark and dangerous handsomeness, Guy didn’t attract her like Robin did. She had heard stories about his cruelty – reports of peasants losing their tongues and their hands, and she easily believed the truth of these tales. She could never love a man who could perform such heartless deeds. And yet, when she witnessed the sheriff humiliating Guy in the castle, she could see pain and vulnerability lurking in the blue depths of his eyes. Marian didn’t understand Guy of Gisborne.

The lady veered her gaze to her father who looked older than she had ever seen him. Then she turned to Guy, her heart full of disgust and fear. “Sir Guy, please, I beg you,” she said slowly.

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Guy stared impassively into her eyes for the space of a heartbeat, still relishing the sweetness of his victory. He decided to taunt her with false hope as he evenly replied, “Much better.” He approached the guard holding the torch and took it, ignoring the slight tremor of disquiet that he always felt when handling a lit torch. Then he stood there, looking at Marian and letting her hopes build before he crushed them just like she had crushed his dreams at the altar of the Locksley church. “But still not good enough,” he coldly announced.

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Guy lit the curtains and a tapestry with the torch. At that moment, Guy found himself back in Gisborne Manor watching the pitiless flames as they danced up the curtains, hissing and spreading quickly.

“No! No! Don’t burn my house!” Marian beseeched Guy in a broken voice. Oblivious to her cries, Guy lit a table, and her heart sank into her stomach. “No! Don’t light my–”

But instead of feeling strong and in control, Guy immediately felt engulfed in fear and regret. What was he doing? The fire was burning so hot and fast that his heart was seized with fear for Marian’s safety, and he ran back to her, tossing the vile torch across the room and roaring, “Get out!” as he pushed Marian out the door and away from the growing inferno.

Having ordered the guards to watch Marian and her father, Guy mounted without a backward glance at the burning manor. He couldn’t look at the evidence of his own wickedness because now his self-loathing was at its greatest. Deities of remorse would torment him later in the night.

Guy could hear the roar of the fire and the shouts of his soldiers.

“Guards, to the castle! Move it!”

“Come on, you vegetables! Get moving! Come on!”

“Move out!”

Peering into the darkness, Marian noticed Robin hiding in the fenced-off vegetable garden. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight of her beloved’s distressed face, the beauty of which was distorted by a flash of hatred in the next moment. When Robin aimed an arrow at Guy, Marian intercepted Robin’s glance and shook her head, signaling her disagreement with his course of action. She was glowering at him until Robin grimaced and reluctantly lowered his bow.

Robin disappeared into the darkness, and Marian and Edward were led away to Nottingham. Knighton Hall was burning, a sinister echo to the conflagration at Gisborne Manor all those years ago. As Guy rode away, everything around him seemed to be illuminated with an eerie orange glow, and he closed his eyes, wishing to disappear into a dark hiding place where he could pretend that he had not just done such a wicked thing. The alcoholic fog from earlier had dissipated, and Guy was bewildered by the sequence of thoughts that had taken him from a tragic victim of a childhood accident to an arsonist who had purposefully destroyed the home of the woman he loved.

________________________________________

Nottingham Castle, the next day

Guy stood on the balcony overlooking the bailey and was thankful to be in the shade, away from the brightness of the morning sun. His head was pounding, his mouth felt thick and dry, and his chest was tight with grief and regret.

Oh, God! What have I done!

He silently watched a group of soldiers moving along the fortified walls of the castle until they passed by the blacksmith’s work area, and Guy caught sight of the forge. Inexplicably, he took a step forward, as if the flames licking the interior of the kiln were calling to him.

The fire was taunting him; it was laughing at him. The dancing flames cheerfully told him that he was a fool to think he could ever be in control. The scorching fires of sorrow, guilt, and self-loathing would always rule his life.

Guy briskly rubbed his face and finally managed to look away and break the enchantment that had briefly ensnared him. He had not felt so lost and defeated in a long time.

Perhaps there had been something wrong with the ale, and that is why he did such a terrible thing.

It was really Vaisey’s fault for sending him there when he was drunk and not thinking straight. It was Vaisey’s idea to use force; he clearly remembered the sheriff’s words.

And it was Robin Hood’s fault. Robin was the bane of his existence, and so many of his problems could be linked to the arrogant outlaw. If Robin had not taken Marian away from the church, maybe she would have come to her senses and returned to him.

Sir Edward was to blame as well. He should have been in the church and ensured that Marian kept her promise to marry him.

Marian. She needed to take some responsibility for what happened too. Why couldn’t she have shown just a little regret for what she had done to him? Why did she have to start giving him orders like he was her servant? Her sharp words echoed in his mind: What do you want? No, we’re not! My father is frail; release him!

No sooner had the sound of those words faded when another memory tormented him: Sir Guy, please, I beg you … He could see her beautiful, luminous eyes beseeching him for mercy. Now, instead of the satisfaction that he had felt the night before, he felt a tightening in his chest. He absent-mindedly reached up and began rubbing his chest as he closed his eyes.

He hadn’t slept at all the night before, and his mind was becoming fogged and confused. His exhaustion allowed the unwelcome voice of his conscience to once again breach the fortified walls of his heart.

It rebuked him harshly. This is all your fault. You were the one holding the torch. This was no accident. Marian will hate you forever, and you are doomed to be forever alone and unloved. You deserve to be alone and miserable!

He growled in displeasure, disgusted again by his own weakness. He needed to fight these sentimental ideas and soft yearnings. It was time to forget Marian and focus on Vaisey’s promises of wealth and power. Marian would never belong to him, and she deserved to suffer for the way she had treated him!

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Shouts and the rumbling of the portcullis startled him out of his distracted musings. He opened his eyes and saw several Black Knights entering the castle’s courtyard. Guy’s long legs immediately started moving him towards the sheriff’s quarters. Vaisey would want to know that his eagerly awaited guests had arrived.

As Guy approached the sheriff’s rooms, Vaisey’s voice could be heard, and it was raised in anger.

“One more word out of you, Missy, and your father will never be unwell again!”

Guy’s step faltered. Marian. She was with Vaisey, and her father was most likely there too. He did not want to see her, and he resolved to deliver his message and escape as quickly as possible. He kept his eyes trained on Vaisey, who was at the doorway to his quarters. “My lord, another one of our friends has arrived.”

Vaisey’s demeanor immediately brightened. “Good!” The sheriff kept walking out of his room, and Guy began to follow his master.

“Guy!” A voice that he both longed to hear and loathed to hear called to him.

Guy reluctantly stopped and slowly turned back to Marian with a thunderous expression on his face. As he had suspected, both Marian and Sir Edward were there. Why was she calling to him? To remind him of his shameful deeds? To ensure that he was drowning in an ocean of remorse?

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Marian’s eyes searched his face as she begged, “Please … the castle is no place for an old man.”

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Guy stalked towards her, her contrite words fueling the fire of his resentment just as effectively as her haughty commands of the night before. Words began tumbling out of his mouth. “You think you can humiliate a man at the altar, a man like me, and get away with it?”

Marian looked down, but Guy was not sure if it was in fear or regret.

Bitterly, Guy finished, “You’re wrong.” He glanced briefly at Sir Edward before exiting the room as his feelings of remorse and wrath battled for supremacy.

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He had nearly caught up to Vaisey when an unexpected thought occurred to Guy, a promising development that he had not previously considered: Marian would now be at the castle with him and not with Robin Hood. Although he doubted that he would ever be able to win her heart, the thought of having her nearby was oddly comforting.