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Second Chances

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Screams echoed in her ears. The crying of women and children had her heart racing in her chest. Frantic hoof beats shook the ground beneath her feet as she ran for safety. The heat of the explosion, the smell of the smoke, and all of events leading up to the moment of the destruction of Nottingham Castle, played out so clearly in the dreamscape behind Meg Bennett’s eyes that cold dread consumed her.

The dream started with her being thrown in the dungeons and meeting Guy of Gisborne and journeyed until Robin Hood died in Sherwood Forest. Every detail was vividly real; from the damp of the underground tunnels to breathing the dusty air as she ran away from the city. There was so much death and despair.

As the scene faded, Meg saw herself standing in the middle of Sherwood Forest. A beautiful woman with dark hair and pale eyes stood before her. Though Meg didn’t know this woman, she reached out toward the stranger’s form in hopes of gaining some kind of explanation.

Without warning, all the images repeated in her mind with such speed, Meg could hardly make sense out of them. However, the image of the explosion in the castle became the most prevalent. The sounds and the aromas were once more attacking her consciousness. Along with these images came the knowledge that Guy lie dead inside those stone walls.

Unaware of her surroundings, Meg tossed and turned in her cell. The dreams making her cry out as cold sweat bathed her brow.

“Meg?”

The voice was familiar, but too far away. Meg could not escape the fire, the death, or the knowledge.

“Meg? Meg!”

Worried, Guy of Gisborne’s hands latched on to the iron bars linking their cells together. Meg was thrown in here with him for being a companion to his sister, Isabella. Meg swept in with her head high and didn’t hesitate to argue with him, talk to him, and somehow along the way, awaken something deep inside him that he wasn’t even sure existed.

When Meg first fell asleep, Guy couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her. Why should he if he was soon to die? Death would be a relief. He told Meg the truth when he said he was already in hell. Guy did some awful things in his life, but the one thing he never meant to do, the one thing he would sell his soul to take back, was killing the woman he loved.

Marian.

Just when he thought all was lost, in swept a headstrong, lovely, loudmouthed girl. She washed over him like a warm summer breeze, spreading her kind spirit, strength, kindness and love over him until he felt a sense of hope. As much as he came to admire Meg during the short hours they spent together, Guy knew he should be cautious.

Forming a foolish attachment to a girl he barely knew was a mistake he dared not repeat. Especially not with his date with the executioner so near. Just when Guy resolved to put Meg from his mind, he heard her breathing grow frantic. Her head tossed from side-to-side and her face scrunched as if disgusted by images behind her eyes.

Knowing the feeling all too well having nightmares about killing Marian, Guy tried to reach through the bars, but Meg rested out of his reach. He couldn’t physically wake her, so he tried calling out her name. She didn’t respond, so he tried again.

“Meg,” he shouted.

Sudden noise from the doorway distracted him. Looking up, he saw guards enter the dungeon, then Isabella. His little sister cast him a scathing look before turning her attention to Meg’s cell.

“Release her,” Isabella ordered the guards.

As the guards moved to open the cell, Meg’s distress became obvious. Isabella rushed to her friend’s side. Trying to rouse Meg didn’t appear to be working. As a result, she cast an accusing look toward her brother.

“What did you do to her?!”

“Nothing!” Guy was deeply offended that even Isabella would think such a thing of him, even if his history did give her a reason. “She’s having a nightmare.”

At that moment, Meg woke with a gasp. Shooting up to a sitting position, a cry leaving her throat, Meg didn’t know what was happening. Isabella took Meg in her arms and uttered reassurances. “There now,” she crooned. “You are safe. It’s over.”

Trying to catch her breath, Meg took in her surroundings. No, this couldn’t be right. She was dead. She saw it. She felt it!

The images of the dream were still as vivid as ever in her mind. So much so in fact that Meg shivered. How could any of this be real? She remembered dying in Guy’s arms and knew she desperately did not want to be parted from him. As if from afar, yet a part of it all, Meg saw events unfold all the way up to the final fight with the former sheriff at the castle.

Remembering the way Guy died; Meg sobbed and looked over at him. He was here and he was alive! Meg wanted to hug him and touch him and make sure he was real, but Isabella still grasped her shoulders and whispered reassurances. Pushing free, Meg moved to the bars to face Guy. Reaching out, her fingers grabbed his sleeve. Her eyes were full of fright.

“I’ve seen our deaths,” she whispered.

Shocked, Guy could only blink as Isabella pulled Meg away from him and to her feet.

“Pull it together,” Isabella ordered.

Though her knees felt weak, Meg did manage to compose herself enough to focus on her friend. “You’re back.”

“Yes.” Flashing a smile, Isabella visibly relaxed. “I’m here to free you.”

Isabella started to lead Meg out of the cell, but Meg hesitated. “Won’t you free Guy too?”

“What? He’s our enemy.”

Feeling uncertain, Meg realized her mistake when she saw hate flicker in Isabella’s eyes. “But I-”

“Ah, you see? Do you see how they manipulate us? A few hours in a cell with a cold hearted killer and even you lose your wits. That’s the poison of men, Meg. None of them can be trusted. My brother will get exactly when he deserves. Now come on.”

As Isabella pulled her away, Meg couldn’t resist looking back at Guy. When he was out of sight, she couldn’t seem to get his face out of her mind. All Meg could think about was Guy and her dream. Only when they were out of the dungeons did she get a sense of déjà vu.

The words Isabella said just a few moments ago were the same exact ones from the dream. Meg wondered if she was going mad. Was she somehow being punished for her strong will and defying her father?

How could she regret opposing the matches her father chose for her? All those men were selfish and unbearable. She couldn’t respect a single one, let alone consent to a marriage. To her, marriage needed respect and love. She despised all men for the strings they held over women’s heads, but was she so bad that she deserved to feel so…wretched?

Since her mother died when she was just a child, Meg grew up to be independent and intelligent. Educated, she hoped to have a say in her own life. It came as a shock when she was of age to learn her father only wanted her to learn so he could match her to a nobleman of his choosing. Most of her childhood, Meg’s father ignored her. As a girl, she was of little consequence. As a grown woman, she could fetch a good price. The more Meg rebelled in an effort to be heard by her father, the more demanding the man became until finally bringing her before the court for judgment.

When Lord Bennett demanded she be arrested for her actions, Meg knew the truth. Her father did not love her. As a nobleman, all he cared about was his land, his title, and his coffers.

Thank god for Isabella. Meg owed the woman a great debt. As sheriff, Isabella was able to set her free from an unwanted marriage and a life of servitude.

So why did Meg now feel torn? She never met a man she felt was worth his salt. Then she was thrown into that dungeon with Guy of Gisborne of all people. How could he have gotten under her skin?

Remembering the time she saw him riding his impressive black stallion through her father’s lands, Meg felt a blush creep up her cheeks. Yes, she knew of Guys reputation even then. At the time, he was the new enforcer to the former sheriff and working up quite a nasty reputation. Yet, Meg still thought him one of the handsomest men she ever set eyes on. Of course, she heard about all of his misdeeds since.

Meg heard him very clearly when she was in the dungeons. Guy admitted to doing all the wrongs he was accused of. At the same time, she saw remorse in his eyes. Guy was a strong, proud man that trusted the wrong people. He was not given the opportunity to do good deeds. Still, that was no excuse.

Guy was a murderer and a bully. Yet, Meg couldn’t forget the way he helped her when she was thirsty and hungry. If he was an evil demon without a heart, he never would have helped her. Guy didn’t have to be honest with her. Meg couldn’t help but see the good in Guy of Gisborne.

Suddenly, it felt unfair that Guy should be executed. Shouldn’t he have a second chance? Overwhelmed with the need to set eyes on his face again, she tried to think of a way to sneak down to the dungeons. It would be nice if she got the chance to talk to him one more time.

“Meg.”

Startled, Meg blinked out of her thoughts and turned to see Isabella smiling at her.

“You did well telling Thornton about that gold. How did you know?”

Shrugging, Meg moved to sit, hoping the action would calm her nerves. “It seemed common knowledge, but no one touched the treasure because of the curse.”

“Well,” Isabella smiled. “I owe you a debt of thanks. If not for you, Thornton would have gotten to me. “

“You saved me from my father’s plans, so I guess we’re even,” she said returning the lady sheriff’s smile.

Moving forward to touch the girl’s shoulders, Isabella couldn’t remember the last time things were going so well for her. “I know a woman’s plight in this world. I was sold to Thornton as a child. Women are forced to be dependent on men. All of us should have the right to choose our own destiny.”

The words sounded true and just, yet they didn’t sit well with Meg. Not all men were bad. Some were honorable like Robin Hood. And Guy, she thought. He wasn’t as bad as people claimed. Meg knew the truth in her heart. A heart that was breaking with the knowledge that he was going to die come sunrise.

“We found the gold,” Isabella continued with excitement. “Now our coffers are full and we can continue to do good deeds for Nottingham!”

Blinking, Meg looked over at the chests being stacked in the corner of the room. “You aren’t afraid of the curse?”

Laughing, Isabella shook her head. “I am an educated woman, Meg. Most take for granted that a woman doesn’t have a brain in her head, but I know exactly what I am going to do next. Stick with me and we will go places. You’ll see.”

Forcing a smile, Meg watched as Isabella went over to inspect the treasures. Torn, she wasn’t sure what to do next. She owned her freedom to Isabella, but she just did not have it in her to sit back and do nothing while Guy was executed. She truly believed Guy could be redeemed.

What should she do?

What was wrong with her? Meg did hate all men until Guy touched something deep inside her heart. Meg was unable to put her finger on it, but she knew she couldn’t deny her feelings.

“Prince John will be very impressed,” Isabella called from across the room. “He will not regret making me sheriff.”

Meg’s eyes snapped to attention. “Prince John?”

“Of course,” Isabella grinned, showing a hint of her deviousness. “He is the next in line to the throne. With King Richard gone, he is our leader.”

True, but Meg personally disagreed with the prince’s attempts to steal the crown. If Isabella was loyal to Prince John, did that also mean she would help him overthrow King Richard?

In her dream, Meg recalled Isabella working to prove her loyalty by killing Robin Hood. The plan backfired, of course, but the price paid for that victory was very severe. Shivering at the memory of Guy dying in Robin’s arms, Meg tried to focus on the here and now.

“I have meetings,” Isabella announced. “Make yourself at home, Meg.”

Offering a smile of thanks, she watched the sheriff leave the room with her long skirts whisking behind her. All Meg could think about right now was seeing Guy. There had to be a way to save him. There just had to be.

Chapter Text

Before Meg‘s appearance in the dungeons, Guy’s only thoughts were of how Isabella betrayed him and how he would get even. In Meg’s wake, all he could think about was Marian. Falling in love with her, Guy realized far too late the identity of the man who truly captured Marian’s heart.

That day in the Holy Land, Marian threw the truth in his face. She knew exactly how to hurt him. After all, Marian got to know him pretty well while she prayed on his emotions to get information to pass back to Robin Hood. Marian knew exactly how to make her words cut through his chest.

Even now, thinking about the things she said still made his heart ache. Yet, what Guy was coming to realize was he could blame everyone else for leading him down the path of destruction, but in the end, he was the one who commanded the sword that killed Marian.

In that one moment of learning the truth, he realized the woman he loved – the woman he risked his life to save – had only used him. All the times he failed in his plans to catch Robin Hood was actually due to Marian’s backstabbing rather than his own incompetence. He should have felt some level of relief, but devastation seeped into his black heart instead. Guy wanted to love Marian. He wanted to take care of her. All she ever wanted out of him was information.

Every time Robin did the unimaginable and escaped, the people of Nottingham rallied around the outlaw, while condemning the nobles. Guy was often left wondering how he could have failed so miserably to catch one man. Little did he know, all the while, Marian the reason for those failures.

Blaming Robin for being an outlaw was easy enough. Blaming the former sheriff was easy as well. Vaisey took Guy under his wing, but he was also corrupt. How was Guy to know any better when his teacher was so flawed? Embracing any and all instruction Vaisey bestowed upon him, made him into the man he was. Guy used to think Marian’s death was everyone else’s fault. They all made him do it, therefore he wasn’t as bad as the world wanted to think him. So why did demons still haunt his dreams?

Guy was coming to accept that he was the sole reason Marian was dead. He destroyed her in a moment of anger. There was no justification for the action and no forgiveness. He realized that now.

Rotting in this cell, letting his hatred fester, Guy couldn’t believe he was betrayed yet again by another woman. When his sister came suddenly back into his life, Guy was not pleased to learn she fled her husband and her marriage. However, he did try to do the right thing and offer her protection.

True, he did not know the true nature of Thornton when he signed the wedding contract. The reality was simply that women were to marry to make their way in the world. Isabella would have a home, shelter, and wealth. She would be taken care of. It was better for her to have a husband then to continue living in the streets. Guy would use the money to go back to England and make a name for himself. The goal was to reclaim his family lands.

For a while, Guy succeeded. When Isabella came to him for help, confessing her misery, he did feel guilt, but his pride refused to allow him to acknowledge it. He did what he thought was right at the time. Time and again he forgave her when she said she would remain loyal to him and broke her word. Look where trying to do a good deed by Isabella got him.

There must be some way to gain redemption before he died. At the same time, Guy knew he deserved to burn in hell for all eternity. He certainly wasn’t worthy of love. He wasn’t worthy of Marian – or Meg.

Meg. Sweet Meg.

What did she mean when she said she saw their deaths? Poor girl had a nightmare and looked scared out of her mind. Was she well now? Knowing Isabella as he did, Guy wasn’t confident that she was safe with his sister. Isabella would turn on anyone.

Sudden helpless anger filled his chest. What help could be possible by to Meg down here? Besides, unless he came up with a plan, he would be executed in the morning.

Hopefully, Meg would be safe with Isabella. Hopefully, she would find a way to live the independent life she wanted. With all his heart, Guy did want Meg to be happy.

****

Going down to the kitchens, Meg was able to get some bread, cheese, and a cup of water. No one really blinked twice when she asked for a plate of food. Perhaps they thought she was fetching the items for Isabella. Well, either way, she was grateful that no one stopped her. Plate in hand, she headed down to the dungeons. The guards didn’t try to stop her, but Meg’s eyes glanced at them nonetheless. They were the same men that threw her behind those bars.

Straightening her spine, Meg struggled to put the guards out of her mind as she descended the stairs. With each step, the knowledge that Guy was to be killed in the morning weighed heavily on her heart. Yes, Guy made plenty of mistakes, but she didn’t think his punishment should be death. At the same time, Meg had no idea how to help him. She was only one girl in a castle full of guards. Feeling helpless, she swallowed the threatening tears and forced her feet all the way down the rest of the stone steps.

The sight of Guy behind the bars tore at her conscience. Licking her dry lips, Meg moved forward with her offering. Seeing the utterly defeated look on his face, she felt even more helpless. Kneeling down, she set the plate of food and the cup of water inside the bars of his cell. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t quite hold back her tears.

Guy looked down at the food, then up at her face. “Thank you, but no.”

“You must eat,” she said. “For me. It’s the least I can do.”

“You’ve done more than enough.”

Throat closing, eyes filling with moisture, Meg hated that she was free while Guy was still condemned. “I haven’t done anything,” she managed through the lump in her throat.

“You have,” Guy said softly. “You made me think.”

“About what?”

Eyes lifting, Guy couldn’t keep eye contact and felt compelled to glance down at his hands. He didn’t feel worthy of looking at that perfect face. She was sweet and innocent and deserved so much better.

“About someone I used to know,” he answered honestly. “She saw good where there was none. She made me a better man.”

She? Another tear slid down Meg’s cheek. Yes, she remembered now that Guy used to be engaged. Yet, no one knew the rest of the story. At least not that she heard.

“What happened?”

Guy looked up expecting to see judgment on her face, but all he saw was empathy and kindness. There was no point in lying to her now, or to himself. When he spoke, he was still struggling to keep her gaze.

“I destroyed her.”

A sob escaped her lips despite her efforts to keep it all inside. Guy was in pain and as much as she wanted to comfort him, Meg knew he was a man with too much pride to allow it.

“I destroyed everything.”

Another sob left her throat, more tears slid down her cheeks, but Meg had no idea what to do next, or what to say to him

“G-go on,” he urged.

The last thing she wanted to do now was leave him. At a loss, she didn’t want to cry more tears in front of him. If he wanted his solitude, then who was she to deny him? Rising to her feet, she left the dungeons.

Not wanting to watch her leave again, Guy bit his tongue to keep from calling her back. Long after the sound of her retreating steps faded, he still couldn’t get Meg’s face out of his mind. Now, he finally realized what he felt for Marian was not love at all. He made far too many mistakes.

There was no time to correct them. There was no time left to make amends, or even try and transform into a worthy kind of man.

A man worthy of Meg.

Perhaps that regret would be his greatest one of all.

****

The words were the same. The feeling and sensations were a bit more intense, but Meg knew her dream resembled her life in this moment much too closely for comfort. Wiping furiously at her tears, Meg went to the chamber Isabella assigned her.

Throwing her body onto the bed, she buried her face in the pillow and let the tears fall freely.

What was she to do?

Guy didn’t deserve death. Yet, if she tried to free him, she knew full well that she would die making the attempt. Any doubts she harbored about the dream faded when events in the present started to run parallel to her dream. Meg was not dreaming now. She even pinched her arm several times to make sure of the fact.

There must be a way to break the pattern and save Guy’s life. Even if Meg couldn’t save her own life, her dream proved to her Guy was capable of redemption, so it would be worth the sacrifice. In her heart, even if she never had the dream, Meg knew she would believe in Guy.

Perhaps her fate was sealed. Of course, the idea of dying in Guy’s arms was bittersweet. She wanted to try and change events. If she could save Guy, then maybe there was a chance she could also save Robin Hood from his fate as well.

A choice needed to be made and quickly. Meg supposed her fate was already sealed the moment she met Guy. There was no going back.

Gathering her courage, Meg rose from the bed to walk to the basin of water resting on the table. Splashing cold water on her face helped ease the sting from her crying. Moving to look into the mirror, she smoothed her hands through her wild hair. Mind made up, Meg left the room in search of Isabella.

Entering the study, Meg felt the heat from the fire burning in the large hearth as she made her way through the space pretending to be curious about the contents of the chests. Seeing Isabella at her desk, Meg approached. Isabella tapped her quill and started composing a letter. Looking up and catching sight of Meg, Isabella smiled. Meg returned the gesture before letting her eyes drop to the desk. A moment later she saw the keys.

In her dream, Meg took the keys when the sheriff wasn’t looking, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, she knew she would be caught if she acted too quickly. Barely resisting the urge to grab the keys and run anyway, Meg started a conversation with the sheriff.

“Counting the treasure, I see.”

Pausing with her letter, Isabella shrugged. “I am preparing to use it as bait.”

“Bait?”

Waving Meg away, Isabella didn’t have the patience to explain it all. “The less you know about the particulars the better. I hope to get my plan carried out tomorrow morning before the execution.”

“You’re really going through with it,” Meg asked unable to disguise her disappointment.

Isabella’s smile faded. “I thought we discussed this?”

“We did,” Meg said quickly. “I don’t disagree. It’s just-”

Lifting a brow, Isabella’s expression softened ever so slightly. “What?”

“He’s still you brother.”

Scoffing, Isabella looked back down at her letter. “He never acted like one. He sold me when I was a child! He gave me to a man who still haunts my nightmares. You have not idea how Thornton would beat me! He would lock me away in dark places and Guy is partly responsible!”

Shocked and not knowing what to say, Meg swallowed. “I-”

“No.” The sharp tone coming from the sheriff’s mouth was cutting. “Your father may try to marry you off, but he doesn’t beat you. Not regularly, so you don’t really know what I went through, do you?”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize,” Meg whispered.

“Hmm, maybe.” Turning away from Meg, Isabella once more dipped her quill and ink and concentrated on her letter.

Stunned, Meg wasn’t sure what to think. First meeting Isabella, she thought the woman kind and just. Seeing all her anger and resentment, Meg’s mind was changing drastically. The sheriff was vengeful and stubborn beneath all her declarations and good intentions.

“There will be no more sentimentality,” Isabella declared. “Guy may be my brother, but he will be executed tomorrow. The people will love me for not only getting rid of Guy, but also for ridding Nottingham of Hood.”

Looking once more at the keys, Meg wondered is she should try to take them now and risk trying to free her friend. Ideally, she should wait until the sheriff left the castle tomorrow morning. That way, she may be able to give Guy enough of a head start for him to leave Nottingham. The only reason she hesitated to take that course of action was due to the keys. She had no idea of knowing where Isabella would keep them. Odds were she could take them with her tomorrow morning when she left the castle to trap Robin Hood, then where would Meg be?

The best course of action would be to take the keys now and hope she gained enough of a head start to free Guy before Isabella noticed.

“Of course,” Meg said. Agreeing with Isabella seemed like the best things to do right now. Getting the sheriff angry wouldn’t bode well.

A wide grin came to Isabella’s face knowing she was getting her way. “Once this is all behind us, we’ll have a huge celebration,” she promised.

Forcing a smile, Meg glanced once more at the keys. “How big of a celebration?”

Laughing, Isabella felt her mood brightening. “The biggest Nottingham has ever seen!”

Patiently, Meg waited until Isabella was again bent over her letter to Prince John. As stealthily as possible, she reached out and curled her fingers around the iron keys. Squeezing tight so they wouldn’t rattle, she lifted them off the desk and quickly hid them in the folds of her skirts.

Heart pounding in her ears, Meg rushed down to the dungeons. The sooner she freed Guy and smuggled him out of the castle, the better. She wanted to return the keys before Isabella missed them. Dodging the guards to descend the stairs, Meg said silent prayers.

Several more minutes passed before Isabella lifted her head to realize Meg was no where in sight. Her friend left without a word? Frowning at the strangeness of it all, Isabella wondered why Meg would suddenly leave.

By chance, her eyes fell to the corner of the desk and noticed her keys were missing. Gritting her teeth to keep her scream of outrage inside her throat, Isabella snapped to her feet. Calling for the guards, she rushed down to the dungeons. Temper bubbling over; she swore to make that little betrayer pay dearly!

Chapter Text

Feeling numb, Guy was silently hoping for some sort of forgiveness when he met his maker tomorrow. The mistakes he made in life seemed so huge that – his thoughts scattered at the sound of footsteps and his head rose in surprise. Who was going down here at this hour?

Meg’s form rushed forward in the dim light and Guy dared not believe his eyes. Why was she here? What could she possible be up to?

The keys jingled as Meg opened the cell door.

“Meg?” Guy could only stare at her in fascination.

Unable to keep the smile off her face, Meg rushed through the open door and handed Guy the other set of keys so he could free his hands. His eyes where full of disbelief and astonishment, which caused Meg’s stomach to flip over with excitement. She wanted Guy to see and admire her bravery. Seeing the questions in his eyes, she worked quickly. There wasn’t a lot of time to see him free, so she shook her head in way of an explanation.

“What are you doing,” Guy asked.

“I can’t let her kill you. I just can’t.”

Hardly daring to hope, or believe his eyes, Guy watched the shackles fall off his wrists. Gratitude swelled in his chest along with joy, hope, and a deeper emotion he could not find the proper word to define. “You do this for me?”

Instead of responding, she widened her smile and reached out to help Guy to his feet. Standing on the threshold of the cell, Guy looked down at Meg’s beautiful, smiling face and could not resist the urge to touch her. Cupping the soft skin of her cheek in his palm, he felt an answering smile tug at his lips.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Wrapped up in each other, neither noticed they were no longer alone. Isabella quietly crept down the dungeon steps to see her treacherous brother touching Meg with affection . Hate for the pair crawled under her skin. Isabella couldn’t believe Meg, who claimed to hate all men, was allowing her mind to be led astray by the most conniving one of all!

Slowly approaching, she knew neither one of them would get away with trying to fool her!

“Well,” Isabella said with a calm tone she didn’t fully feel. “This is touching.”

Breaking apart, the startled couple looked over at Isabella at the same time. She would have laughed at the expressions of their faces if her body wasn’t already seething with anger.

“Go,” Guy shouted as he pushed Meg away hoping she would run while he took care of the guards in their path. The couple made a dash for the stairs, but getting by Isabella wasn’t happening without a fight. The guards made quick work of an unarmed Guy, while Isabella roughly grabbed Meg.

Struggling against the sword at this throat, Guy’s only thought was for Meg. “She didn’t know what she was doing!”

Isabella didn’t believe him for a second. “Oh, yes she did,” Isabella sneered. Focusing her eyes on Meg, Isabella searched the girl’s face for some sign of remorse. Ah, there was plenty of fear and determination, but no regret.

“How could you,” Isabella demanded as she gave Meg’s shoulders a violent shake. “I set you free and this is how you repay me?!”

Ever spirited, Meg refused to back down from the show of the sheriff’s anger. Instead, she confronted it. “We’re not the same! I try to do things out of love! You’re doing this out of hate!”

Shaking the girl even harder, Isabella couldn’t contain her fury. “How dare you!”

Guy wanted to help Meg, but knew his words could only make the situation worse. There wasn’t much he could do for Meg with a sword pressing against his throat. Feeling helpless, he watched the scene unfold.

“I suppose I should be grateful,” Isabella continued as her rage lowered in its boil. “Now I know that only person I can trust is myself. I’m on my own!”

With those final words in the air, she shoved Mega away from her and into the hold of the guards.

“You put yourself there, Isabella,” Meg snapped.

“I could say the same for you,” the sheriff shot back. Knowing she had the upper hand, she let a devilishly triumphant smile creep over her lips. “And if you two love birds want to be together, that’s fine. You shall.” Her eyes locked with Meg’s. “You’ll both die.”

Shock and disbelief had the air whooshing out of Meg’s lungs. Gasping, her knees went weak and wobbled beneath her. Meg would have collapsed on the cold floor if the guard’s hold had not kept her upright.

“Put them back in their cells,” Isabella ordered before ascending the stairs. Seconds later, Guy and Meg were locked up tight and right back where they started.

Sinking down to the floor of her cell, Meg rested her head against the cold bars. Trying to be strong was fruitless. Isabella’s words echoed in her mind. She was going to die. Her dream would become an awful reality.

Worse, Guy and Robin would suffer a similar fate. The thought had the tears leaking out of Meg’s eyes and down her cheeks. Trying to change things only landed her in trouble. How could she not feel sorry for herself?

The sight of Meg’s defeated look, the sound of her tears, had Guy gritting his teeth in an effort to keep from shouting his sister’s name at the top of his lungs! She would pay for this! He deserved to die, but not Meg! Once again, he was the cause of the death of a woman he…cared about. The knowledge had his temper cooling.

“I’m so sorry, Meg,” he said softly through the bars. His fingers itched to reach out and touch her, but she as too far away.

Wiping at the tears on her cheeks, Meg couldn’t meet his eyes. She felt ashamed for failing. “It’s not your fault,” she managed.

“Isabella never would have acted so cruelly toward you if it was someone else you were trying to help.”

Wanting to laugh, but unable to summon the energy, Meg settled for inhaling a deep breath. “I think we both know how Isabella is when she doesn’t get her own way.”

“You do not deserve to die for it,” he insisted.

Seeing the way his fingers clenched the bars. Meg managed to smile through her tears at the irony if it all. “I would do it again, you know,” she confessed.

Touched, Guy reached out a hand to her and was grateful beyond words when Meg moved closer to grasp her fingers in his own. “You are a remarkable woman.”

The compliment swelled her heart and cast aside some of her fears. If she was going to die, Meg was glad it would be with this man. At the same time, she felt unworthy of his company. She made the mistake the dream predicted she would and now they were both going to pay the price.

“Why, Meg,” he couldn’t help but ask. “You were free. Why did you risk that freedom to come back for me?”

Squeezing his fingers, she hesitated. Should she tell him the whole truth? Would he even believe her? Choosing her words carefully, she lifted her eyes to meet his. “You are not the monster everyone paints you to be.”

A faint smile came to his face, but quickly vanished. “The whole of Nottingham would disagree with you.”

Shaking her head, Meg held fast to his hand. “You have done terrible things, but you admit them. I see remorse for it in your eyes. That is what makes you human, Guy. The last sheriff did terrible things, but without hesitation or remorse. He didn’t care. I know you wanted strength and power so no one would ever hurt you. That’s probably why you listened to the former sheriff in the first place. He never had a conscience, but I see that you do. You care, Guy, even if you won’t always admit it.”

How could she have come to know him so well in so short a time? Was he so easy to read? Drawing back his hand, he looked away from her. “Too late,” he said.

Bereft at the loss of his touch, Meg blinked back the fresh tears gathering in her eyes. She did feel they ran out of time, but in her dream Robin did come to save them at the last moment. Dare she hope for a reprieve tomorrow? Was there still a way for her to change the course of fate? Hope lifted her heart, giving Meg the strength to bear her incarceration.

“There is still hope, Guy. There is always a chance.”

He let out a bitter laugh. “We will be executed tomorrow! I don’t think there will be any more chances.”

Realizing how harsh the words sounded, Guy let out a sigh as he gave Meg an apologetic look. “I am responsible for putting you here. I am truly sorry, Meg.”

Blinking, she moved closer to get his attention. Reaching through the bars, she wanted to take his hand in hers, but he flinched away from her touch. “Guy, listen to me,” she pleaded. Waiting until her looked up at her, Meg continued. “It was Thornton that threw me in this cell the first time. No one told me to try and free you. I wanted to. I made the choice. I do not blame you for my being here now. I never blamed you before. It’s not your fault. Isabella was the one to assign me this death sentence.”

She was so insistent and strong in her convictions. How could he not admire her for it? Her words were a balm over his sore heart. Relenting, he closed some of the distance between them to touch one of her light brown curls. “I’m grateful,” he said as he stroked the lock of hair. “I owe you a great debt, Meg.”

Heart beating a mile a minute, her body craving more of his touch, Meg struggled to focus her thoughts. She didn’t feel he owed her any obligation. “There is no debt,” she whispered.

Her eyes were unable to tear away from the sight of his fingers teasing her hair. Heat coiled in her lower belly. Desire had her craving a more intimate touch and her imagination wondered what it would be like if Guy used his fingers to touch other parts of her body.

He refused to allow Meg to absolve him. She was the one person in his life that saw all sides to him and still cared. Marian certainly never looked at his darkness and tried to see beyond. What he felt for Meg was vastly different from what he harbored for Marian. Yet, at the same time, Guy could not put a name to those feelings. Right now, he didn’t see the point in even trying. All he wanted was simply to enjoy the short amount of time they had left together on this earth. He wanted to talk to her and know her better.

“The dream you had earlier,” he began, “it frightened you.”

Mention of the dream roused Meg from her wild thoughts. She wasn’t ready for this conversation, so she pulled away from him. Guy let her go, his hand dropping to his side. Once more, she wondered if she should confide in him. What if he dismissed her concerns? Or worse, thought her a witch?

“It was just a dream,” she said dismissively.

“No.” Guy wasn’t about to let her get off that easily. “I saw your face, Meg. You said you saw our deaths. Is this what you meant?”

Now Meg was the one to utter a harsh, humorless laugh. “I doubt I could have expected this.” The words were out of her mouth before she could think better of them.

“I suppose not,” he agreed.

“It was just a nightmare,’ Meg insisted. “The details have faded. I’m not sure why it scared me so.”

Seeing that Guy seemed to believe her explanation, Meg relaxed by leaning her back against the wall. As much as she wanted to confide all of her thoughts and theories and fears to Guy, she knew to do so would be foolish. It wasn’t that she didn’t think she could trust him, but rather the notion in her gut said it was her mission alone to try and save Guy and Robin from what the dream showed her would happen. How she was supposed to accomplish such a thing locked behind these bars was a mystery at the moment. Tomorrow, Meg would be put upon to chopping block. Guy might be saved, but if she was to die, then tonight would be the only chance she would have to be with the man slowly consuming her heart. Why waste the time talking about dreams and uncertainties?

Chancing a glance over at Guy’s face, she felt her heart pound in her chest as her blood warmed in her veins. He was darkly handsome. Staring at his features made her crave things she ought not. Trying to shake off the sensations burning deep within her, Meg struggled to think of something the fill the void.

“I wonder if my father will show up for the execution,” she wondered aloud.

“Your father,” Guy frowned as he asked the question.

Nodding, Meg shifted her knees up under her to sit more comfortably. “He tried to marry me off, but I thwarted all his attempts. That’s how I was brought before the court. After Isabella set me free, he never bothered to speak to me. I wonder if he is still resentful.”

Guy snorted. “If he is, then he’s a fool.”

His words gave her a small amount of comfort. “Perhaps he never did care for me. I was just another possession he could sell off like his cattle or his sheep.”

Such was a woman’s lot in life. As a youth, Guy never questioned the understanding of a woman’s status. Now, confronted with Isabella’s plight and Meg’s situation, Guy was starting to understand a small inkling of how a woman must feel in this world. Though he knew it wasn’t any of his business, Guy started to ask the questions on his mind. “What was wrong with the men he found for you?”

Tilting her head, she regarded him for a long moment before deciding to answer. “They were all little boys – not men. They were used to having everything they ever wanted with a snap of their fingers. Not one of them cared about me or who I was. They would look at me and see the money and land and status they would gain by marrying me. All of them expected me to bow and scrape and obey their every word all while ignoring the fact that I have a mind of my own.”

A hint of amusement glittered in Guy’s gaze. “As a result, you despise all men based on a select few?”

His teasing tone had her smirking and rising to the bait. “Those few represent the majority of men in England,” she argued. “You are perhaps the only man I’ve ever met that didn’t just expect things to fall into his lap.”

Hearing the statement caused memories of his past to rush to the forefront of his mind. “I’ve made my share of bad choices.”

“But you aren’t blaming others for them anymore. You own up to them.. That is what makes you a man, Guy of Gisborne. It is what makes you worthy of a second chance. You care enough to take responsibility for your actions and have admitted your regrets.” Humor reflected in her eyes. “Plus, I doubt you would squeal for your mother if I accidentally tripped you down the stairs.”

The last bit had him laughing. The notion of Meg tripping a would-be suitor to humiliate him was something he could easily see his spirited Meg doing. All too soon, he sobered. “Don’t make me into a saint, Meg,” he gently warned. “You will be disappointed.”

Smiling, she shook her head. “None of the things I have said about you have been saintly. They have all spoken of human characteristics.”

“I still do not deserve it. If you knew the whole truth about me-”

Throat closing, he couldn’t say more, so he shook his head. Suddenly, he did not want Meg to know the specifics of his misdeeds. Seeing the approval and affection in her eyes turning to disdain would hurt him too deeply. Meg was his only friend and he did not want to lose her.

Guy was silent so long, she was beginning to wonder if he would speak again. Instead, she watched him heave a sigh and close his eyes as if remembering something painful. Moving forward again, she reached an arm though the bars and clutched his sleeve. Waiting until he opened his eyes, she offered him one of her smiles.

“Do not despair, Guy. I think you are a good man, capable of good deeds if given the proper chance. I have faith in you. Have faith in yourself.”

Coming from her lips, Guy could almost believe the words. He desperately wanted to believe because he wanted to make her proud of him. Covering her hand with his own, Guy didn’t want to let her go. Meg was the first person to ever have faith in him and he wanted to hold on to the feeling for as long as he could.

Chapter Text

Returning from the forest, Isabella was fuming. Robin Hood pulled the wool over her eyes – again! Now she was beginning to understand why her predecessors were having such a difficult time dispatching the outlaw to hell!

Yes, the dark underworld was exactly where Robin Hood deserved to rot for all eternity! He rescued her, led her on, and then dashed all her hopes and dreams! She risked everything to help him and what did he do? He chose his band of outlaws and his political morals over a life with her! Well, his sense of obligation to the people would be his undoing!

In her bad mood, Isabella was glad there was an execution to look forward to in the next few hours. She needed an outlet for her frustrations and seeing her brother’s head roll was exactly what she needed. At least she would have her revenge against one man that crossed her.

Heading to her chambers to prepare for the public spectacle, Isabella paused at the mirror. Staring long and hard at her reflection, she realized all her life she was never given a choice. Well, now she was taking full control. Very soon, all of Britain would know she was a force to be reckoned with. Seeing Guy die would bring her some closure. As for Meg, well, Isabella did feel some guilt over having to make an example out of her. Meg had great potential.

Then again, the girl did allow her common sense to be hypnotized by one of the worst men in Nottingham. Meg was weak. End of story, Isabella refused to think any more on the matter. What was done was done and she would not take back her declaration. Proceedings would move forward as planned.

Shaking off the last of any residual guilt, Isabella did one more turn before the reflective glass to make sure she looked presentable. It was nearly time. A smile curved her lips because she knew this was one execution that would go off without a hitch.

****

The time finally arrived. In chains, Meg was escorted out of the dungeons behind Guy. The men were not gentle about pushing her forward and roughly grabbing her arms to make her stand still. Funny she should care when she knew what was ahead. The door to the courtyard opened emitting bright light, forcing Meg to squint until her eyes adjusted. Being pushed forward into the courtyard, hearing the jeers of the crowd, Meg thought surely her knees would give out beneath her.

Rotten vegetables started flying through the air. Most were aimed at Guy, but none hit Meg, for which she was grateful. Pausing next to Guy, Meg wanted to be brave and face her death with dignity, but when she looked over at him, she felt an ocean of regret crash down on her shoulders. Regret and fear weighed down her spirit.

“I’m scared,” she confessed.

Wanting to put her mind at ease, Guy struggled to find the right words, but what was the right thing to say at such a time? Death was coming for them. Is this the end she saw in her dream?

Meg was far too beautiful and innocent to die, but he knew better than to say those words to her. “When it comes, it will be very quick.”

Those words were the best he could do even though he knew they were all wrong. He wanted to say more, to tell Meg how much she did for him and how grateful he was to have known her, but the guards pushed them forward before he could say any more. Second later, he was standing on the scaffold, the wood chopping block before him, and Mega this side.

Glancing over at her and seeing the slight tremble of her shoulders, Guy wished he could save her. He would gladly give his life for hers. Seeing Isabella, Guy realized he may get an opening to do just that.

Standing, Isabella faced the crowd looking regal and in command. “As you all know from bitter experience,” she started. “Guy of Gisborne is an enemy of the people. He must pay the ultimate penalty.”

Eyes shifting slightly, Isabella pointed and accusing finger at Meg. “This woman tried to help him escape justice, so she must share his fate!”

The lady sheriff looked out into the crowd. “In future, if anyone challenges my authority, they shall suffer the same punishment!”

Letting the words sink in for a moment, Isabella sat down and tried to suppress a smile as satisfaction rushed through her veins. Now she would have her revenge!

“Have the condemned any last words,” she asked with the slightest hint of amusement.

Guy seized the only opportunity he knew he would ever have to try and spare Meg. Forgetting his pride, he turned his head to look at his sister. There as a stubborn set to her chin, but Guy hoped to appeal to her heart. Despite her faults, Isabella did have a
softer side. She must.

“Very well, Isabella,” he started. “You win. Kill me if you must, but not her. I’ll do whatever you want, but don’t take her life.”

The plea was genuine. Heartfelt. Knowing her brother, Isabella never knew him to be so self-sacrificing. As amazed as she was, she was also jealous. He chose this moment to grow a conscience for a girl he barely knew?! Oh, she knew it wasn’t fear of death that had him asking for such a favor. No, it was an emotion far deeper and much more pure. An emotion he never felt for her! Where was this conscience when she needed it?! Any sympathy left in her heart for her brother vanished in that moment.

It only took seconds for Isabella to make up her mind. “Proceed with the execution!”

Standing frozen of the scaffold, looking down at the chopping block, Meg was intensely aware of every smell, every color, and detail of the world around her. Perhaps her senses were heightened because she knew the end was near. Strange still were the thoughts that raced through her head. For instance, she guessed the chopping block was new since it was not yet stained.

Frightened, she looked over at Guy, but pain tore slices through her heart every moment she kept her gaze on him. As it was, she kept her head down hoping Guy was right and the end would come quickly. Gathering enough courage to look at the crowd, Meg did not see her father. The knowledge that his concern for her was so little even at the end broke another hole in her already bleeding heart.

Suddenly, Guy was speaking up for her. He was willing to plead and sacrifice his pride to save her! For the briefest of moments, Meg was filled with hope. The hope was dashed when Isabella refused to show mercy. Meg couldn’t hold back the small sob that escaped her mouth when the final order was given.

“She’s just and innocent girl,” Guy roared.

Struggling was fruitless. Bound as he was Guy could do little when he was forced down to his knees before the wooden block. There was no time to make Isabella see reason. As his head was forced forward to rest on the rough etch, Guy wished with all his soul to see Meg free.

Sobbing as her head was forced down to the wood, Meg swore to control her emotions. She would die with dignity. Even using all her willpower, several moments passed before she was able to quiet her suffering. Everything around her vision seemed to slow as she waited for the axe to fall.

Only able to look downward, Meg was aware of the shouting around her, but didn’t know the source. She didn’t see Robin Hood fire the arrow that killed the executioner, or the next arrow that tilted the already airborne axe off course. Guy couldn’t see much of what was happening either, but his head jerked when the axe landed in the wood mere centimeters from his head.

“Hood!” Isabella was furious to see the outlaw here ruining her victory! Even worse, he freed her brother! “Get him,” she screamed at the guards.

Getting to his feet, Guy saw he and Meg were alone on the scaffold. Rushing to her aid, he made quick work of the rope around her wrists. Helping her to her feet, Guy gripped her hand as he moved to the edge of the platform. Waiting for and opening in the erupting chaos, he quickly descended the stairs before turning to reach out to assist Meg.

Shedding the last of the ropes from her hands, Meg couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she followed Guy to the edge of the scaffold. By some miracle they were free!

The elation had Meg forgetting all else as she looked down at Guy’s handsome face. Grasping his hands, a rush of adrenaline and heat spread over her being. Quickly descending the stairs with his assistance, the sensations were interrupted when Meg saw something charge toward them.

Realizing the mass was an armed guard, Meg’s dream flashed in her mind with perfect clarity a second before her body sprang into action. Vision narrowing, Meg moved forward and pushed Guy away from the danger even as she shouted a warning.

“Look out, Guy! Guy, no!”

Pushing Guy, Meg twisted her own body in an effort to avoid the deadly blow she knew was coming. Even moving as quickly as she could, Meg did not move fast enough. The sting of the blade cutting through her flesh took her breath away. Putting her hand over the wound, she watched – seeming from afar – as Guy pivoted around, punched the guard out of the way, and turned his attention to her.

“Are you alright?"

Meg opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out. Glancing down, she removed her hand from the wound and gasped at the sight of blood coating her palm. Dizzy, she staggered. Only vaguely aware of Guy lifting her body up in his arms, Meg’s eyes lifted to look at the sky. Strange that the blue was so deep and the clouds so puffy for a day set aside for administering death.

What was the purpose of that dream if it came true? Was this her destiny all along? More importantly, would Guy be alright after she was gone?

Running as fast as he was able, Guy never thought he would be able to use the confusion of running people and fighting guards and outlaws to his advantage. He needed to get Meg to safety, but staying within the castle was not an option. They would be caught by Isabella’s men if they dared to seek shelter within these stone walls, so Guy made his way toward the forest. Briefly, he considered seeking shelter in one of the closer villages, but he was not a popular man and knew most would give him up to the sheriff in a heartbeat. Thanks to Isabella, the people now knew Meg tried to help him; therefore, they could hate her as well. Guy refused to risk exposure if he could help it.

Making it through the front gate, his eyes focused on the road ahead. Meg needed a healer and one that would not be able to turn them in without risk to themselves. As much as Guy hated the notion, he knew he only had one option.

Heading for the cover of the tree line Guy dared not stop or slow his pace. Robin Hood had a healer among his men. As deeply as Guy despised the outlaw, he wasn’t beyond begging if Meg would live. Right now, his pride meant nothing.

Running through the brush, Guy knew the one problem before him was that he didn’t have a clue where Hood’s hideout was within the forest. Hopefully, the two rivals would run into one another just as they did on occasion.

Aware there was plenty of holes in his plan; Guy moved in the direction he thought would most likely house the outlaw camp. When he was sure they weren’t being followed, he paused to catch his breath and check on Meg.

“You should put me down,” she whispered.

Panting, Guy shook his head. “You’re injured.”

“I can manage,’ she insisted.

Wearing a doubtful look, Guy let Meg have her way and set her on her feet, but kept an arm around her waist in case she needed support.

The world blurred and spun a bit, but soon righted on its axis. Meg realized she wasn’t fully capable of standing on her own, so she did clutch on to Guy’s arm. Being close to him was a comfort and helped her think beyond the burning pain.

“What do we do now?”

“We’re as good as outlaws,” Guy said. “Isabella will no doubt want us back on the block. It’s not safe to seek refuge in a village. What about your father?”

Her father? Considering the possibility for a moment, she shook her head. “He’s always been a lawful man. He didn’t get along with the last sheriff, but he would never go against him, or the law. I doubt he would give us shelter, let alone safe haven.”

Glancing at the trees, Meg felt her stomach lurch. The forest was where she died. Her wound chose that moment to sting, causing her to wince. No questions asked, Guy lifter her back up into his arms and continued on his way.

“We need to see to your wound. Let’s find a spot.”

Moving forward, Guy wasn’t certain of his direction. Hearing the sound of flowing water, he soon found the river and decided here would be the best place to stop. Meg kept insisting she was fine and asking him not to fuss, but she was still bleeding and Guy wasn’t about to ignore it. Night already fell around them by the time Guy set Meg down gently to rest her back against a tree trunk.

“Here we go,” he said as he gently positioned her body. “Let’s just rest here for a while.”

Back against the rough bark, still wrapped in Guy’s arms, Meg thought the night was rather peaceful. Her eyes went to his face and she saw his brows knit together as he checked her wound.

“The cut is deep, but not fatal.”

Surprised, Meg blinked rapidly as her soft smile vanished. “Are you sure?”

“Most of the bleeding has stopped.” Guy couldn’t keep the relief from his voice. “But you will need stitches. Soon.”

“Do you know how?”

Guy shook his head. For a moment, Meg thought she was spared. Maybe she was not meant to have a second chance?

Guy untangled his arms from around her body, causing Meg to give a small sound of protest. Her skin was cold without his touch. Her impulses urged her to reach out to him, but before she could take action, she saw Guy tearing at his own shirt. Her eyes followed him as he walked down to the river and soaked the torn strips. Understanding dawned when he returned to her side and started cleaning her wound.

“This may sting a little,” he warned before pressing the wet cloth to her skin.

Biting her lower lip, Meg kept her cry of discomfort in her throat. The cool cloth did sting at first, but the pain was fleeting. Soon enough, the cool touch felt almost soothing.

“Will I die,” she asked.

A look of pure determination lit Guy’s blue gaze. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Chapter Text

Meg dreamt again of the beautiful woman with dark hair and pale eyes. She was smiling at Meg as if the two of them were good friends. The woman was beckoning Meg forward, deeper into the forest. Just as she moved to follow, the images blurred before shattering.

Waking with a start, Meg felt the warmth of the sun on her face. This couldn’t be right. Could it?

Looking around to take in her surroundings, she recognized the forest where she and Guy stopped the night before to rest. A few feet away she saw Guy asleep in the dirt. Was she alive or dreaming?

Reaching to her wound, she felt the makeshift bandage Guy made out of a piece of his shirt. Pressing a bit harder, she hissed out a breath as pain shot into her stomach. Blood soaked through the bandage, but the flow was mild. Relaxing a bit, she guessed she was alive if she was bleeding. The question was whether she supposed to be? The dream showed her dying in Guy’s arms. Did her being alive mean things were changing?

At the sound of her small cry of pain, Guy jerked awake. Assuming there was danger, he looked frantically around until he saw Meg. Sensing no immediate threats, he got to his feet. Making his way to her side, he didn’t like the paleness of her skin.

“Are you alright?”

Nodding, she put a hand over the bandage. “Very surprised to be alive,” she confessed.

Kneeling down before her, Guy checked her wound. “You still need care,” he concluded. “I don’t want it to fester.”

“Where will we go to get it? We can’t be seen or we’ll be caught.”

“We have to find Robin Hood.”

Meg’s brow lifted. “Robin Hood? But I thought you were enemies.”

“He has a monk among his men. A healer. He’ll help you.”

“But I thought you hated Robin Hood.”

Guy gave a stiff nod. “I do, but our difference will have to be put aside. I need you to get well.”

Heart warming at his words, Meg tried to move, but pain once more shot through her side. “I’m not sure I can travel,” she hissed through her teeth.

“I’ll carry you.”

Eyes snapping to Guy’s face, Meg felt taken aback by his determined tone. She didn’t mean to, but she knew her expression was one of doubt. “Do you know where to find Robin?”

“These are his woods,” Guy said. “We’ll come across one of his men eventually if we don’t encounter the man himself.”

She knew he wasn’t certain, but refrained from saying as much. Being alive, even if it was only for a little while longer, was something she didn’t want to waste arguing with him. Especially since she now had the chance to spend more time with Guy.

“Come on,” he urged as he helped Meg to her feet. “We should get a move on.”

Leaning against his frame, inhaling his unique scent of leather and sweat, Meg wanted to meld into his warmth and forget the rest of the world. Unfortunately, she needed to keep her wits about her. When Guy tried to hoist her up into his arms, she stiffened.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“I can walk,” she said. “I should walk.”

Guy wasn’t buying it for a second. “You can barely stand on you own. It would be slow going and time is of the essence.”

“What about a weapon,” Meg asked. “We shouldn’t be without protection. You can’t fight if you’re carrying me.”

Under normal circumstances, Guy would have crept into one of the villages under the cover of night and stolen an extra sword before going back into hiding, but he had Meg to care for, so he would have to make do. Leaving her alone was not an option. All her talk of death, then they nearly did die and now she was hurt, so he was not taking any chances.

Holding her close, he was more relieved than he could put into words that she was still alive. She was his friend. The only one in this world he gave the title to and therefore he considered Meg one of his own. Her soft touch and pleading eyes tugged at heartstrings he doubted even existed up until now. Pushing down those softer feelings, he knew now was not the time to indulge in tenderness.

“We’ll be fine,” he reasoned. “This is Sherwood. Robin won’t harm us. Come on.”

As Guy lifted her into his arms, Meg wondered if he was right about Robin. Winding an arm around his neck and resting her head against his shoulder, she tried to recall the details of her dream. Being so close to Guy was distracting her though. As much as she wanted to snuggle close and close her eyes and imagine this man was hers, Meg dared not indulge in such fantasies.

The picture of her dream was so vivid in her mind leading up to her execution, but now those details were fading. What did she remember were images of Guy and Robin sitting by a fire with a cloaked figure. She didn’t know the significance any longer, but she did know that the two former enemies would unite for a journey to find someone. Who exactly, Meg could no longer recall.

Why was she forgetting something so important? Worried, she held on tighter to Guy hoping he would anchor her. No matter what happened, Meg needed to keep in mind that Guy was not out of danger.

Silently vowing to get Meg help before it was too late; Guy made his way through the forest making sure he stayed clear of the roads, but tried to keep to the paths he suspected Hood frequented. Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Not one to ignore instinct, Guy looked around at the foliage. Not seeing a single soul, he still felt eyes upon him. Moving faster, he kept a sharp eye out and his guard up as he rushed through the woods.

“What’s wrong,” Meg asked.

Shaking his head, Guy didn’t say a word. The last thing he wanted was to frighten her. Where was Hood?

Hurrying along, Guy kept looking over his shoulder. The feeling of being watched did not abate. Finally, Guy heard a familiar voice shout to him from across a distance.

“You realizing how difficult life can be in the forest?”

Robin. Good. Stopping, Guy spotted the outlaw standing with his arrow pointed in their direction from the trees a few paces away. Gently, he set Meg on her feet by the closest tree so she would have something to lean on before turning his attention back to his nemesis.

“Guy?”

Instead of giving Meg assurances for her fears, he continued to stare at Robin as he drew his sword. “How long have you and your men been following me?”

“You’re jumpy,” Robin observed.

“Answer me!”

Rolling his eyes, Robin relaxed his weapon. “Gisborne, I have better things to do with my day.” He shrugged. “I’m alone.”

Just then a twig snapped causing Robin’s senses to go on alert. Before he could investigate, Guy distracted him. Had Meg not been there to care for, Guy knew with certainty he would have seized the opportunity to fight Robin. Settling some old scores would be very welcome after everything that happened with Isabella.

“Very well,” Guy said as he let his sword fall.

Robin moved closer, naturally suspicious. “You don’t look good.”

“I don’t need food or sleep to drive me,” Guy said bitterly. Robin had no idea of what he just endured. Having the outlaw pick at him was intolerable.

“Then what do you need?”

“Revenge,” Guy spat.

“On who? Prince John?”

“Prince John will keep,” Guy snapped. “Isabella will not. You will have to, unfortunately.”

“Really?” Robin blinked with disbelief. “Why?”

Turning around to look at Meg, he felt that same quickening in his chest. A sensation that was becoming a regular occurrence when he set eyes on her, as was the need to protect her. Guy wasn’t sure what drove his feelings for Meg. Perhaps he simply wanted to save her to prove he wouldn’t repeat the mistakes he did with Marion. Pushing aside these strange sensations was becoming more difficult, but Guy managed as he returned his gaze to Robin. He was about to explain the whole situation, but out of the corner of his eye saw Meg fall to the ground.

“No!”

Eyes wide, Guy move to rush toward her fallen body. No sooner did he take a single step, a sting pierced his neck. Vision blurring, Guy struggled to lift his sword and fight this unseen enemy. A few seconds later the world went black as he fell to the ground a few feet away from Meg.

Watching the seen unfold, Robin’s head whipped around in all directions hoping to see what was happening. Raising his bow, he moved toward his fallen enemy. “Gisborne?”

Having no idea what was going on or why, Robin looked down at Gisborne, then the fallen woman. Something sharp penetrated his neck making his head feel light. Drugged, Robin was unable to keep his balance and was soon on his knees. Knowing he was losing consciousness, he fought to keep his eyes open. Looking up, Robin saw a cloaked figure emerge into the small clearing. The figure walked like a man, but Robin couldn’t be sure with whatever potion was invading his senses. Every instinct said to fight, but his body had other ideas. Soon, Robin fell to the forest floor unconscious next to Guy and Meg.

****

It was nightfall by the time the two men came around. A fire burned a few feet away. The heat and light from the flames illuminated their faces. A wolf howled in the distance as both Robin and Guy struggled to sit up.

Realizing they were tied, the men looked around for some clue to explain how they came to be in the middle of the woods tied up and apparently captive.

“What is this,” Robin asked.

Guy was just as confused. “Who’s done this? Hood?”

“No,” Robin struggled with his own bonds. Their feet her tied as well as their hands. The men exchanged troubled looks. Obviously, someone did this to them, but why?

“Where are you,” Robin shouted into the darkness. “You’re a coward to take us like this!”

“Show yourself,” Guy demanded.

The men looked around, staying alert. Guy’s heart pounded frantically when he didn’t see Meg. Where was she? Was she safe? Hurt?

Hearing approaching footsteps, Robin turned to look behind him. “Gisborne,” he said.

The cloaked figure boldly walked between the two men and turned to face them. The man sat in front of the fire, hood covering most of his face and waited. Naturally, Robin and Guy wanted answers. Fast.

“Who sent you,” Guy asked. “Prince John?”

“No,” Robin said eying his enemy. “This is one of your sister’s tricks. What would Isabella want with us?”

The cloaked man finally spoke with a husky voice that sounded damaged instead of simply worn with age. “I want you to listen and understand. Someone’s life depends upon it.”

Someone’s life? A sudden panic filled Guy’s chest as his head whipped around searching for assign of a woman who wasn’t there.

“Where’s Meg,” he demanded. “What have you done with her?”

“Who’s Meg,” Robin asked.

“The girl is safe,” the stranger responded. “She is far enough away that she will not interfere.”

“She’s injured!” Guy did not want to be here tied like an animal and at someone else’s mercy; least of all when Meg needed his help. “She needs a healer or she’ll die!”

“I’ve stitched her wound,” the stranger said. “I assure you she’s resting comfortably. There are more pressing matters that need your attention. After I tell my tale, I will tell you where to find the girl. It’s imperative you both understand.”

Guy was not at all pleased with the arrangement. “I find it hard to understand when my friend is your hostage and my hands are tied!” Glaring at the stranger, Guy made clear his anger. “Now free me!”

“I will free you,” the stranger said calmly. “Free you from the bad blood that shackles you to each other.”

Guy glared in Robin’s direction. “Well, maybe there are good reasons for that bad blood.”

Robin looked at Guy as if agreeing with the assessment. Guy looked over at their captor. “What do you know about our lives anyway?”

“More than you do.”

The cryptic answer was not what the two rivals expected to hear.

“I know the truth,” the man claimed.

Frowning in confusion, Robin hardly knew what to make out of the situation. “The truth about what?”

“About how your parents really died.”

The two men fell silent as memories of the past rushed to the surface of their minds. From there, the two of them argued and debated about the past as their captor informed them of the love affair between Robin’s father and Guy’s mother. They learned about a child that was produced from that union. A child that was now lost.

Naturally, the men were shocked and dismayed to learn they had a brother. A brother that was now in a York prison awaiting execution. The biggest shock was to know the man beneath the cloak was a man long thought dead. The man confessed to killing Guy’s mother.

Enraged, Guy went for the man’s throat, but Robin intervened and threw Guy away from his father. After he confessed he was dying, the former Earl of Locksley begged the two to forgive each other and save Archer: their brother.

It was dawn by the time the whole truth was told, yet no one really seemed to take note of the passing of time. Tempers were running too high.

“Both of your lives could have been so different,” Malcolm said. “Were it not for the mistakes your parents made.”

“We can’t change that,” Robin said bitterly. “And I can never forgive Guy.”

“Why not,” Malcolm asked.

“Because he showed no remorse for what he did to Marian!”

“You know nothing.” The words were surprisingly calm considering all the resentment boiling beneath the surface and in his blood. The hatred he and Robin felt for one another was thick in the air.

“You worked and killed for the sheriff for years,” Robin shouted.

“And you’d still be living under his power were it not for me!”

“What do you mean ‘for you’?”

Finally turning to face Robin, Guy looked the man directly in the eye. The message was clear. At first, Robin as disbelieving, but finally he nodded. “You killed the sheriff.”

Giving a slight nod, Guy wasn’t about to deny it now. “And I intend to kill the new one too.”

“First, you must join and save your brother,” Malcolm insisted. He told the men to go to York and tell their brother the truth about his origins. Stressing they had to work together, Malcolm got Robin to promise to see the task was done properly before shooting him with the sleeping drug. Malcolm then told Guy where to find Meg before shooting him as well.

Hours later, the men woke to discover it was nearly midday. Robin sat up as Guy got to his feet.

“Gisborne…”

“Enough,” Guy said. “No more talk.”

“What do you think we should…?”

“To York.”

Guy offered Robin a helping hand. Accepting the help, Robin got to his feet. Heading off into the forest together, a common goal now linked them. Whether or not they could work together remained to be seen. For now, they had a few things to see to before their journey.

Chapter Text

Much to his relief, Guy found Meg exactly where Malcolm said she would be. Asleep on a bed of leaves under a nearby tree, Guy never saw a more beautiful sight as her sleeping face. Kneeling down beside her to check and make sure she was well, he cautioned his mind to resist having impure thoughts about this woman. He did not want her to share Marian’s fate.

Seeing her chest rise and fall with her every breath, Guy visibly relaxed. A new, clean bandage covered her wound. A quick inspection assured him that she was stitched up properly. She would have to take care the wound didn’t become infected, but Guy was able to breathe much easier knowing all should be well.

“Well,” Robin’s tone dripped with sarcasm. “I never thought I’d see the day you put someone else ahead of yourself.”

Lifting Meg into his arms, Guy glared at the other man. “You know nothing. Meg tried to save my life. She did save my life. I owe her a debt.”

Realizing Guy had a code of honor after all, Robin nodded. “We should find some horses for our journey. Then we need to get to the camp.”

“Camp?” Lifting a brow, Guy didn’t bother to hide his surprise. “You trust me enough to take me there?”

Staring at Guy for a long moment, Robin smiled, but without humor reaching his eyes. “Trust? No. But the way I see it, you’re an outlaw like me now. So is she,” he gestured to Meg. “We’re on the same boat. Besides, if you really do mean to keep the girl safe, then you won’t betray us. Now, come on.”

Robin was able to snag a few horses on the outskirts of a nearby village. Most people were happy to help the local hero. While Robin saw to the task, Guy lingered behind to care for Meg. She slowly came around. Smiling up at Guy’s face, she reached up to touch his face. Covering her hand with his own, Guy gave her fingers a little squeeze of reassurance as a small smile came to his lips.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “You are safe now.” Giving her the news had his heart quickening. Seeing the hope in Meg’s eyes had his throat closing. The emotions churning within him were confusing and warring with his common sense. Guy knew the noble course of action would be to help Meg return to her father and forget her. He would only bring misery to her life. Swallowing hard, Guy helped Meg stand on her own two feet.

Feeling a bit unsteady, but blaming her injury, Meg blinked rapidly to regain her equilibrium. Her dizziness was probably due to the wound and not the touch of Guy’s hand on her own. An injury that seemed to now be stitched and on the way to fully mending. A frown of confusion wrinkled her brow. “What happened?”

“It’s a long story,” Guy said.

“Yes,” Robin added as he joined them with the horses in tow. Giving Meg is most charming smile, Robin held out a hand in greeting. “I’m Robin Hood.”

Returning the smile and the handshake, Meg nodded. “Meg Bennett.”

Robin blinked. “Lord Joseph Bennett’s daughter?”

“Yes.” There was no point in denying the truth.

“I did not know he came to Nottingham.”

“Within the last year, “she said. “He inherited lands, which divided his attention from York.”

Nodding, Robin let his easy smile fall back into place. “Ah well. Welcome, Meg. I only have two horses, so-”

“She’ll ride with me,” Guy interrupted in a rush. The idea of Robin sweeping Meg off her feet to ride with him set Guy’s teeth on edge.

Backing off, Robin couldn’t quite conceal a smile. “Very well.”

Secretly, Meg was thrilled Guy insisted she ride with him. Touching his hand as he helped her to mount the steed, Meg felt the familiar heat and tingle of skin against skin. Guy’s touch never failed to thrill her. At the same time, Meg did her best to hide her smile of delight and not allow her expectations to rise too high. Easier said than done when her arms were wrapped around his waist and her body was against his as they made their way deeper into the forest. Resisting the urge to rest her cheek against the back of his shoulder, Meg tried to distract her mind and body from the reactions Guy roused in her by paying attention to their surroundings. Guy was a complicated man and though she liked to think they were friends, she did not want to push him away by wanting more than he could give.

At this moment, Meg was filled with happiness because she was alive and with Guy. Yet, in the back of her mind, there were several unanswered questions. As they rode deeper into the forest, those questions became more urgent.

Who cared for her? Why were Guy and Robin seemingly on the same side when both acknowledged the other as an enemy? And where were they going?

Reaching a crest of a hill, Robin came to a stop and looked over at Guy. “I need to know I can trust you. The others are not going to like seeing you.”

“We went over this,” Guy said, glancing at Meg. “You can trust me.”

Looking straight ahead, Guy felt the bitterness rising in his chest. He shouldn’t breach the subject, but the words started pouring out of his mouth and there was no stopping them.

“Just don’t ask me to forgive your father!”

Lips thinning, Robin was trying to hold on to the threads on his own temper. “Now, you listen to me, Gisborne, if we’re going to work together, then we have to leave that behind.”

Shaking his head, Guy was not ready to let the matter rest. “That’s easy for you to say.” His bitterness rose just thinking about all that happened. “You’re father seduced my mother!”

Robin gave up trying to be the bigger person. “Well, it didn’t take much effort, did it?!”

Listening to the heated exchange, Meg was shocked. She wanted to ask want they were talking about, but the pair forgot her presence all together as they shouted at one another. Before she could do, or say, anything, Guy was leaping off his horse to attack Robin.

Both men fell to the ground, rolling down hill, and exchanging blows before they reached the bottom. Getting off the horse with a wince of pain, Meg tied both animals to the closest branch so they wouldn’t wander off before making her way carefully down the hill to try and make the men stop brawling. Her side was burning and she felt a bit light-headed, but Guy was her main concern at the moment.

“Guy! Stop!”

Ignoring Meg, the two continued to fight and shout insults. On the other side of the hill, Allan saw Robin and Guy going at it and quickly turned about to run and get the others. He went to the camp to fetch John, Kate, Much, and Tuck.

“Hey! Robin’s in trouble! He’s fighting Gisborne over the hill! I don’t know who else is there! Come on! Come on!”

Throwing Guy to the ground, Robin didn’t feel the rush of satisfaction he expected. Panting, He glared at his enemy. “You kill my wife and you expect forgiveness?!”

Hearing the enraged words, Meg froze in place. Her eyes went to Guy hoping to hear some sort of denial fall from his lips, but instead Guy kept silent. He looked at Robin and struggled to his feet, forgetting Meg’s presence. “I loved her as you loved her,” he shouted as he charged. More fists met bone. In one smooth motion, Guy forced Robin’s arm behind his back, holding the outlaw still and immobile. “I’ll never ask for your forgiveness,” he said into Robin’s ear.

Maneuvering forward, Robin threw Guy over his back and heard a thud as the man landed on the ground. Standing over him, Robin grabbed Guy by the front of his shirt to haul him to his feet. Guy didn’t look the least bit afraid as he spoke.

“I can’t forgive myself!”

Robin blinked. “What?”

Guy and Robin were out of breath, but still facing off as the other outlaws reached the top of the hill. Much fired an arrow at Guy, but Robin saw the attack and ran forward to push Guy out of the way. As the men twisted away from the charging arrow, the others watched with shocked expressions. Did Robin really just save Guy of Gisborne?

Meg was having a tough time shaking off the shock from hearing Guy confess his love for another woman. Knowing about Marian was one thing, but hearing the depth of Guy’s emotions from his own lips was enough to crush her heart. Seeing the arrow fly, she managed to recover enough to move to Guy’s side to help him to his feet as the rest of the band of outlaws came to Robin’s aid.

Kate, anger written all over her face, ran toward Guy with her sword raised and ready to deal a deathly blow. Guy moved instinctively in front of Meg, shielding her as Robin dove forward to grab Kate’s arm.

“No!” Robin pulled Kate to a halt.

Eyes snapping to Robin, Kate was furious. “He killed my brother!”

“He’s one of us!”

John, like the others, looked dumbfounded. “What?”

“I said he’s one of us!”

Kate lowered her sword and backed down, but not without shouting her frustrations. The others simply looked confused, while Little John was ready to deal out his own brand of justice. The silence grew and dragged on for what felt like hours.

Moving around Guy, Meg looked at the people assembled. Hearing tales of Robin Hood and his men, Meg could guess their identities, but she was surprised to see a woman among their ranks. The blonde tried to kill Guy, so Meg took an instant dislike to the other female.

Yes, she heard about two people Guy murdered in less than two minutes, but Meg was already aware of the type of man Guy was and she knew he was changing. The past was in the past and she would not hold it against him. Guy was no longer the same man who committed those crimes.

“Guy doesn’t mean any of you harm,” Meg insisted.

All eyes turned toward her.

“And who are you,” John demanded.

Tilting her chin up a notch, she met the gaze of the grizzly looking man. “I am Meg,” she answered with conviction.

For a moment, the giant of a man appeared impressed, but Kate swiftly moved in to add fuel to the fire. “The girl is Isabella’s friend,” she snapped. Looking over at Robin, Kate shook her head. “Wonderful.”

“The Sheriff’s brother and friend both in the forest,” Much spoke while shaking his head. He didn’t trust Gisborne as far as he could throw him and if the girl was with him, she was also an enemy.

“Isabella tried to kill me,” Meg let out the anger she was keeping bottled inside. These people needed to know she was not a spy for the sheriff and that she meant them no harm. “She’s hardly my friend!”

No one knew what to say to that, so Robin gave the order to head back to the camp. The others did not look pleased, but they were loyal to Robin and followed his lead. As they walked behind the others, Guy gave Meg a grateful look for standing by him.

Most would have denounced him to save themselves, but Meg was loyal. She had no idea how much it meant to him. Seeing her face, he didn’t like the pale shade of her skin. On impulse, he took Meg’s hand and kept her close as they made their way to the camp. Thankfully they didn’t have to go far.

The encampment was quaint, but charming in a way. Uncertainty filled Meg as she looked at the handcrafted woodwork shelter. The outlaws assembled the tools and weapons necessary for their survival, but there were also a few luxuries such as blankets and cooking pots, which were probably given to them from the people of the villages.

Staying close to Guy, Meg wasn’t so certain about these people. They were loyal to Robin Hood and his cause but would they accept Guy based solely on Robin’s word? Meg shuffled on her feet, suddenly nervous for the both of them. Worse, she felt feverish and dizzy. Blinking, Meg focused on the matter at hand and tried to will away her symptoms.

The silence seemed to drag on forever until John broke the stalemate with bitter and loathsome words. “So that’s where you’ve been then? With him?”

Robin met John’s furious gaze unflinching. “I’ve been with my father.”

Much frowned. “I thought your father was dead.”

“So did I.”

Shaking his head, John was having trouble grasping what was going on, so was growing more frustrated by the second. “He’s not one of us, Robin! And he never will be!”

“Gisborne has chosen to join our struggle, John,” Robin spoke calmly and evenly hoping to cool some of the flaring tempers.

“You can’t trust him!”

“He killed the sheriff,” Robin supplied.

Those words took the rest of the outlaws by surprise. Meg included. Glancing at Guy, she saw he was looking at Robin and not at the others. Not at her. Meg knew the man killed a lot of people in his time, but hearing about them all was harder to handle than she expected.

“And we’re almost family,” Guy sneered. “Aren’t we Robin?”

Now everyone’s shock grew tenfold.

“We have a brother,” Guy stated.

Much laughed with disbelief. “What? A brother?” He looked from Guy to his best friend for confirmation. As did everyone. Nodding, Robin looked from his oldest friend to his oldest enemy.

“Both of you,” Much asked.

“My father, his mother,” Robin supplied. “Our brother is in jail in York awaiting execution, and I promised my dying father – and I intend to honor it. Me and Gisborne will go to York and bring him back. If it were any of you, you know I’d do the same.”

Kate, full of anger and resentment, turned to face Robin. “And who’ll bring my brother back to me, Robin? There was no one to stop his execution!”

“Wait,” Meg interrupted, feeling surprised by all that was transpiring. “I thought you said Guy killed him.”

Kate whirled around to unleash her fury on Meg. “He did!”

“Guy was not the executioner!”

“Her brother was one of many villagers herded as recruits for an army the old sheriff wanted to use to make an alliance,” Guy explained to Meg, but kept his eyes on Kate. “He came at me with a sword. I defended myself.”

“He came at you because you held me captive,” Kate cried.

“And were you not so rash, you wouldn’t have gotten caught in the first place!” Guy was sick and tired of making excuses and taking the blame for the hotheaded actions of Robin’s girlfriend. Yes, he did kill the man, but Kate was not entirely blameless. A fact she knew, which was why she was so determined to blame everyone else.

Hatred filled Kate’s eyes. Guy was right about her own behavior and guilt, but that didn’t mean she loathed him any less.

“Look,” Guy said sternly, hoping to move past the old grudges. “Like it or not, we share a common goal: to destroy Isabella. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. You don’t have to like me. I don’t like you. But you need me.”

“We don’t need you,” Much said begrudgingly.

Allan disagreed. “If he can help rid us of Isabella-”

“He’s pure evil,” Kate interrupted. “Robin?!”

“He’s not pure evil,” Meg shouted back at the blonde. Moving forward, she put her body between Guy and Kate. Looking the other woman in the eye, Meg refused to back down.

“You call Guy a killer, yet all of you have killed guards and soldiers to further your own cause.”

“Only when we had no other choice,” Kate shouted. Eyes narrowing, she knew she was in the right and would scream it until the sun set if she had to. “Gisborne can hardly make the same claim!”

“He could have let me rot in jail when Thornton threw me down there,” Meg argued. “Instead, he helped me. I was injured and he could have left me behind in the forest to die, but he didn’t. No one disputes he did wrong in the past, least of all him. He isn’t lying to you right now. He came here to help!”

Silence fell over the camp at Meg’s words. Feeling his heart swell with pride for the way she defended him, Guy moved forward to stand by her side. He didn’t deserve her loyalty and he knew one day she might look at him with the hatred the other outlaws did now, but he tried to push aside such thoughts and get back on track.

“We need to find our brother in York to defeat Isabella,” Guy said matter-of-factly.

“Who is this brother, Robin,” Tuck asked.

“His name is Archer. We’ve never met. All I know is he’s traveled far and wide and has a knowledge of exotic weapons he’s brought back from the East.”

“Isabella’s forces are far greater than ours,” Guy added. “Archer’s weapons will give us an advantage.”

“We all go,” Much said.

“And who will protect the people from Isabella,” Robin asked.

Much sighed. “Well, who's going to protect you?”

“Much, I’ll be safe. No one is going to recognize me and Gisborne in York. I’ll be back soon.”

Kate turned to Meg, yanking on the girl’s arm until she was away from Guy’s side. “And as long as we have your friend, you won’t hurt Robin.”

Anger rose up in his chest, nearly boiling over through his eyes. How dare they try to hold her hostage! “Meg is not a part of this! Let her go!”

Kate refused. “She came with you into the forest. Obviously, she means something to you.”

Yes, Meg meant a great deal to him, but he would be damned if he was going to admit as much and allow Kate to gain leverage over his head. “Meg is an innocent girl, who is ill! Leave her out of it!”

“Kate,” Robin commanded. “Let her go.”

As much as Meg wanted to argue on her own behalf and make her own stand, her head seemed to grow lighter by the second. Kate’s fingers were pressing too tightly into the flesh of her arm, but Meg didn’t have the energy to fight back. Pain was burning in her side. Clutching her wound, Meg looked to Guy just before the ground rushed up to meet her and she knew no more.

Chapter Text

“The wound is infected,” Tuck declared after examining Meg.

The girl was now resting on a makeshift bed inside the encampment, but still looked far too pale for Guy’s liking. “What can be done?”

“I have to re-open the wound,” Tuck said gravely. “Flush out the poison, then stitch it up again.”

“Will she live?”

“Hard to say.” Putting a hand on Meg’s brow, Tuck felt the sweat and heat on her skin. “She already has a fever, but I need to act soon.”

Guy could only nod in understanding because he was incapable of forming words. The lump in his throat would not abate and his heart ached for Meg. The idea of losing her filled him with such fear, he could barely stand it. Moving to take Meg’s soft hand in his own, he stroked her skin with the pad of his thumb. The others didn’t notice the subtle gesture, but Robin did. Frowning in thought, Robin gave Tuck room to work and went to find Kate.

She was just outside pacing and looking lost. His heart went out to her. Robin knew all too well the grief of losing someone by Guy’s sword. Approaching, he caught her attention. “Kate,” he said as he framed her face in his hands. “You know I would give anything to have your brother back.”

“Don’t trust them, Robin,” she pleaded.

“I have to. And you have to trust me that I’m doing the right thing.”

There was no arguing with him when his mind was made up. That much she learned a while ago. Kate swallowed the urge to argue and forced a smile. “Come back safely.”

“I will,” Robin promised.

The last thing Guy wanted to do was leave Meg’s side, but he knew she was in good hands. Tuck would see to her care. If the monk did hurt Meg, Guy would no longer care about redemption. The monk would pay dearly. Whispering to her that he would be back soon, Guy quickly kissed the back of her hand before rising to his feet. On impulse, he bent to press another kiss to her brow before looking over at Tuck.

“Take good care of her.”

Nodding his promise, Tuck watched the two former enemies depart before returning his attention to his patient. The moment Robin was out of sight, Kate cried out in frustration for all the camp to hear.

“If Guy hurts Robin, then he’ll pay!” Her eyes moved to look at Meg.

Noticing Kate’s intent, Allan frowned. “Hey, now! The girl didn’t do anything!”

“I don’t care what she claims,” Kate glared at Allan. “She’s Isabella’s friend! She came here with Guy! She isn’t blameless!”

“Yeah, but she said Isabella tried to kill her,” Allan argued. “Obviously she doesn’t like the new sheriff any more than we do!”

“Like it or not, she’s the best leverage we have over Gisborne’s head,” she insisted.

“She’s an injured girl,” Tuck said forcefully. He could no longer hear the exchange without adding his opinion. Things were escalating too quickly. “Her life hangs in the balance! Whether Gisborne cares for her or not, she will not be used to keep anyone in line!”

Tuck’s words would broke no argument. Frustrated, Kate grabbed her sword and stomped out of the camp. Allan and Much exchanged looks before Much went to follow Kate. Moving to assist Tuck, Allan helped grind together powders while John paced over the drying leaves lining the ground. No one liked the current situation with Gisborne. It was only natural for everyone to find ways of letting out their feelings to try and cope.

“Kate,” Much shouted as he ran after the girl.

Swinging blindly at the shrubs, Kate refused to slow down or even turn back at the sound of Much’s voice. The last thing she wanted was to talk about her feelings, least of all to Much. Making swift turns, she thought she lost him before stopping to catch her breath. The moment she felt better, she lifted her sword and began to angrily cut away at the surrounding foliage.

Staying out of sight, Much watched Kate release her rage. He still thought she was an incredible woman, but as usual, she wanted Robin. They all wanted Robin. Much was just the servant.

When Kate’s anger was spent, Much stepped out of the cover of the leaves and made his presence known. “Are you alright?”

Letting out an exasperated breath, Kate put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at Much. “I told you, I wanted to be left alone!”

“You didn’t answer the question.” Inching closer Much was careful to stay out of reach of her sword.

“I’m afraid Robin won’t come back. I’m afraid Gisborne will kill him.”

“We all have reason to hate Gisborne. Robin more than the rest of us.”

Kate’s face fell. “Marian.”

Much nodded. “They never really had a chance to get the life they wanted. Yet, after all the heartache I saw him endure, if Robin can find it in his heart to work with Gisborne, then I say we trust Robin.”

All because of Marian? Kate knew Robin cared for her, but at the same time, she as living with the shadow of Robin’s lost love over her head. Yes, she understood Much’s point, but she didn’t want to see the situation in that particular light.

“And Meg shouldn’t be used as leverage.”

Kate scoffed. “Why not? You like her, Much?”

“I don’t even know her,” he said.

The smile on Kate’s face gained a cruel glint. “She’s the next woman to venture into the camp. Why not?”

Growing angry, Much wasn’t about to let Kate continue with this vile behavior. “You’ve lost a brother. All of us have lost someone, but we endure. We keep our eyes focused on the cause. That’s exactly what Robin is doing. We also have to be careful that we don’t become what we hate. It will destroy you.”

With those words hanging in the air, Much turned on his heel and headed back to the camp. Watching his retreating back, Kate once more lifted her sword. Attacking the branches and leaves seemed like the best way to let out all of her warring emotions. She needed time.

When Much made his way back to the others, Tuck had re-stitched Meg’s wound and was mixing an ointment to help with the healing process. Even from a distance, Much could see the girl’s face was bathed in sweat. “She doesn’t look good,” he observed.

Tuck paused the mixing and looked up at Much. “She’s strong. The wound was deeper than I thought. Any deeper and it would have been fatal. Luck was on her side. Hopefully it stays with her so she can make it through the fever.”

Frowning in thought Much didn’t bother to conceal his frown. “Gisborne did seem rather attached to her, don’t you think? I’ve never known him to be kind toward anyone, yet he helped her.”

“Gisborne is a man,” Tuck said offhandedly. “Nothing more, nothing less. He has made wrong choices and he alone has to live with the consequences. Perhaps we are building him up too much in our minds as something more than a man on the wrong path.”

Catching the end of the conversation, Allan inched closer. “Everyone knows Gisborne killed on the old sheriff’s orders for years. He terrorized the villagers.”

Raising a brow, Tuck thought a moment. “And you worked alongside him, did you not? Surely, you got to know him a little better?”

“Well, he did what the sheriff asked. The man threatened all of us. Look, I’m not making excuses for Gisborne, but the sheriff took him in before they even came to Nottingham. People can change. It seems Gisborne has.”

“I don’t believe it,” Kate spat. “He’s a monster!”

Tuck, Much, and Alan all exchanged looks. They did not hear her come back.

“Hey,” Allan said. “I changed. I made mistakes and you all took me back.”

“Because you proved yourself,” Much argued.

“And we should give Gisborne the same chance,” Allan said. “Robin is more than capable of taking care of himself.”

“And he did help the girl,” Tuck pointed out.

Allan and Much exchanged looks as if considering the words, but Kate shook her head in denial and disbelief. She didn’t have as much experience dealing with Guy as all the others did, but the loss of her brother was still too fresh. Yes, she knew she was rash and therefore partially to blame, but that didn’t change the fact that her brother was gone.

Glancing over at the sleeping girl, Kate just couldn’t swallow and forget her resentment. This girl must be a simpleton is she followed Guy of Gisborne around Sherwood Forest, Kate thought. Then again, she might not have had much choice given the injury inflicted upon her. Still, Kate doubted she would get along with Meg because the other girl was so defensive of Gisborne.

“I need more herbs,” Tuck said, breaking the silence, “The girl will rest a while. Let’s all take a walk and speak.”

The group nodded and followed the monk out of the camp. John, who remained silent throughout the whole conversation, found he could no longer keep his opinion to himself as they walked.

“The people of Locksley hate Gisborne,” he argued. “The people of Nottingham hate him.”

“Everyone hates him,” Kate agreed.

“Robin working with Gisborne increases the power of Robin Hood’s message,” Tuck insisted.

“Robin doesn’t seem to care about the crimes that Gisborne has committed,” John argued.

“He’s bringing us Gisborne,” Tuck continued. “And he’s bringing us his brother to fight alongside. We are striving not just to protect Nottingham, but England – not to settle old scores, John.”

“It’s not about settling scores, Tuck. It’s about justice!”

“If Robin feels he can work with Gisborne-”

“Then Robin is wrong!” Stopping to face the monk, John didn’t bother to conceal his anger. “We fight to protect the people from animals like Gisborne! Kate’s brother was murdered by Gisborne and he hasn’t been punished!”

“And I’m prepared to trust Robin,” Kate shouted.

“What?!” John shook his head, his eyes full of disbelief at Kate’s sudden change of heart. “If Robin can bring Gisborne into our forest and call him one of us…” Shaking his head, John dropped his stick to the ground and walked away without looking back.

The others did not know what to feel or how to react. Allan volunteered to go after him. He was trying to convince John to allow more room for their cause in his morals when they heard riders approaching. As bad luck would have it, they ended up running into Isabella, and a few of her men, who captured John before letting it slip they knew Robin and Gisborne were in York. Isabella was determined to find the two men. Naturally, once Allan helped to free John, they went to get the others and formulate a plan.

“We need to stop her before she gets to York,” Much said.

“We’ll have to cut across the forest,” Allan supplied.

“Well, let’s go,” Kate urged.

“There’s just one problem,” Tuck interrupted. All eyes turned to him and he gestured to a still sleeping Meg. “Someone needs to stay with her.”

“Surely you can,” Much said. “The rest of us can handle Isabella.”

Tuck was not happy with the notion. “And if you need reinforcements?”

“We can handle ourselves,” Allan insisted.

“Give her a strong sleeping draft,” Kate suggested. “Keep her under for the next few hours while we deal with the sheriff.”

Giving the matter some thought, Tuck nodded. After making sure Meg was comfortable and would sleep for a long while, he looked to John. “Let’s go.”

“He’s family.” John was willing to put aside his disdain of Gisborne and focus on his loyalty to Robin.

“I’m glad you came back, John.”

Making good time across the forest, the band of outlaws were able to intercept Isabella and her guards on the road to York. Of course the situation was a bit more complicated than any of them realized. Isabella didn’t know about Archer, but they couldn’t afford to have her learning the truth. Neither could they allow her emissary to capture or kill Robin or Gisborne. Now it was no longer an issue of stopping Isabella from going to York, but an issue of getting to York before her to warn Robin and Guy of the danger.

“We have to get Gisborne and Robin away from York before she returns,” Tuck declared. “Let’s go.”

John grabbed hold of the other man’s arms. “Are you forgetting something?”

“What?”

“The girl, Meg. We can’t leave her alone for that long.”

Looking at the others, his eyes fell on Much. “Much, surely you can keep an eye on the girl for us.”

“No,” he said sternly. “Robin is my best friend. I’m not about to abandon him.”

“Then Kate should stay,” Tuck said. “Another woman would be the best choice.”

Scoffing, Kate shook her head. “You’re crazy if you think I’m staying behind while the rest of you help Robin! I’m no nursemaid. Besides, I don’t even like the girl.”

“We can’t leave her alone,” Tuck said.

John and Allan exchanged looks and shook their heads. “Don’t look at me,” Allan put up his hands and spoke to Tuck. “Besides, you’re the healer.”

Since he didn’t have a satisfactory argument for the logic, Tuck gritted his teeth. Meg would be awake soon and would need care while they were in York. Apparently, he was the one selected to stay behind. Allan patted the monk’s shoulders as they headed down the road.

“Sorry mate,” he said in parting.

Lingering until they were out of sight, Tuck let out a heavy sigh before returning to the camp. Meg was still asleep. Checking her bandages, Tuck was satisfied that she was doing as well as could be expected. There wasn’t more for him to do for her at the moment, so he busied his hands by making some stew.

About an hour later, the aroma of cooking meat and herbs woke Meg. Blinking the fog away from her vision, her eyes darted around the camp. At first, she was startled because she didn’t know where she was, but a few seconds later her memories came flooding back. She was in Robin Hood’s camp with Guy. Turning her head, Meg’s gaze searched for her friend, but she didn’t see another person. Just then, Tuck came into view.

“Where’s Guy,” she asked with a scratchy voice.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Tuck smiled warmly and moved to place a hand on her forehead. “You’re still warm. The best thing for you now is to keep up your strength. I’ve made stew.”

Frowning, Meg wanted answers, not food, but the smell of the cooking stew had her stomach rumbling. Embarrassed, she looked away as her cheeks heated. “Where did everyone go?”

“To York to help Guy and Robin.”

Help them do what? There were so many things she was missing and she didn’t like feeling left out of the loop. “When will they be back?”

“Soon,” Tuck promised. Moving to Meg’s side, he helped her sit up so she could eat some of the stew. “You’ll see. All will be well.”

She certainly hoped so. Things weren’t turning out the way she expected at all. In her dreams, she still saw the same woman with pale eyes, but didn’t have a clue if there was supposed to be some sort of significance to the image. The woman’s face amidst all the other scenes of war and death was now confusing her to the point Meg didn’t understand what she should do next.

Chapter Text

During the journey to York, Guy knew he should stay fully focused on their mission. However, all he could think about was Meg. Did her fever break? Was she getting worse? What if she needed him and he wasn’t there? Tuck was capable, but Guy couldn’t help but worry.

Thankfully, he and Robin didn’t make a lot of conversation on the road. They probably both knew the less said the more likely they would resist getting into an argument. Fighting would only slow them down. Finding Archer was key to making sure they could defeat Isabella.

Part of Guy did regret how things turned out between the two of them. There was a time when they did get along, but that was before their parents died in a fire and they were forced to make their own ways in the world. He knew now Isabella suffered because of the decisions he made, but he did offer her protection when she asked. Protection she constantly craved then rejected or pushed to the limits without regard for the consequences.

Guy was incapable of turning back time and changing what happened. Isabella wanted him to say he was profoundly sorry for marrying her off to Thornton. Guy knew he gave her the best chance at a better life, but what he did not know what kind of man Thornton was at the time of the marriage. If he had, Guy would have tried to find an alternative. He never intentionally set out to make Isabella’s life miserable.

Crying over spilled milk was pointless, but every time he turned around, Isabella wanted him to grovel for one mistake. Guy preferred to look to the future instead of constantly making amends for the past and as a result, he and his sister were now bitter enemies.

Worse, for the offenses to Meg, Guy wanted his sister to suffer tenfold. Meg was innocent and pure. She was a good woman who could still very well die because Isabella refused to show mercy and spare her life!

Thankfully, before he could dwell too long over that unhappy knowledge, they arrived in York. The castle was larger than the one in Nottingham and probably more secure. Upon arrival, Guy and Robin checked out every possible angle on how to get in and out of the castle. The place was a virtual fortress.

“Looks like the only way in is to be invited,” Robin commented.

Glancing at the multitude of guards, Guy had no choice but to agree with Robin’s assessment. Getting to Archer was not going to be easy. “Even if we are invited, how do we get to the dungeons?”

Robin shook his head. “Hmmm…” He needed to think. “Let’s go get something to eat.”

Frowning, Guy followed Robin to the closest tavern. They were seated quickly in a corner by the fire, which suited them just fine. It didn’t escape either man’s notice that there were guards in the tavern as well. Turning to gaze into the flames, Guy wondered if they would be successful in finding their brother. The odds were against them, but if anyone could come up with a scheme, it was Robin.

His thoughts once more wandered back to Meg; as they seemed to whenever he let his guard down. Guy hoped with every fiber of his being she was well. He didn’t want to think she was beyond help. The idea of her dying caused an uncomfortable lump forming in his throat. Lord knows she deserved a better protector, but Guy was well aware Meg had no one else. Whatever else he did in this world – good or bad – Guy knew he would do anything necessary to keep Meg safe. Pushing the last images he had in his mind of her cold, pale body out of his mind, Guy focused on the present.

“Thinking of your friend,” Robin asked after asking one of the wenches for some bread and ale.

Icy blue eyes snapping to Robin, Guy was not in the mood to answer questions about Meg. Hell, he wasn’t sure he would know half of the answers at this point. What he did know was Meg was a private matter. “We’ll not talk of her.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” ‘Guy snapped.

Smirking, Robin still liked nettling his enemy. “The two of you must have grown rather close in Nottingham’s dungeons.”

Gritting his teeth, Guy tried to keep his temper in check by looking back at the flames and shaking off the frustration. “There wasn’t much else to do,” he said quietly.

“And she defends you quite fervently,” Robin teased.

Suppressing a sigh, he lifted his head to look once more at Robin. “Meaning?”

“Meaning,” he stressed, “she’s either crazy or a simpleton. Or she has a very good reason to trust you.”

“Meg sees the good in people. She has a generous heart. Perhaps too generous. Now we will talk no more of it.”

More curious than ever, Robin ignored Guy’s grumpy tone while being unable to keep the smile off his face. He never would have thought he would see the day Guy of Gisborne would defend someone else so loyally. Even with Marian, Guy’s loyalty to the sheriff won out over his supposed love for her. Yet, here the man was, refusing to discuss Meg and their shared connection in an effort to keep the matter private. If he didn’t know Gisborne as well as he did, Robin would guess the man was smitten as well as protective. Maybe Gisborne was changing after all.

As much as Robin wanted to twist the knife about Meg just to see how Guy would react, he knew it would only lead to a quarrel. At this moment, they needed to focus on finding a way into the castle. When their food arrived, Robin nodded his thanks and looked over at Gisborne. The man was still brooding, but at least they were working together.

“So,” Robin started. “What do you think? Any ideas?”

Looking down at his food, he gathered his thoughts before he formed words. “We’ve got two fairly difficult problems. One, we don’t know what he looks like.”

Drinking the ale and eating some fresh bread, Robin listened carefully. “We’ll recognize him by his birthmark.”

Chewing his own bread, Guy looked doubtful. Noticing, Robin shook his head. “Don’t worry. We’ll find him when we get there.”

“Which brings us to problem two.”

A man in the background started shouting at another. A second later, a chair same flying at their table, crashing into the hearth, which had both Robin and Guy shouting back at the man before returning to their own conversation. At least they tried to get back to the matter at hand before a full on brawl broke out. Robin and Guy got to their feet as their table was overturned. They got involved only to help the guards round up the instigators before setting the table to rights, reclaiming their seats, and returning their full attention to formulating their next move.

“I have a plan,” Robin announced.

“I’m listening,” Guy said.

“You, er…get arrested, get taken to the dungeons, find Archer, and then I’ll bribe the guards. I’ll come and see you.”

“And then what?”

“Then we escape,” Robin said as if it was obvious.

“How,” Guy pressed.

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t figured that part out yet, have I?”

“Forget it,” Guy shook his head. “It’ll never work.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not getting myself arrested.” He had enough of bars and dungeons.

“Why not,” Robin asked looking offended.

Giving him a look, Guy couldn’t believe Robin didn’t get his point. “Because you’ll leave me in the dungeon!”

“I will not leave you in the dungeons,” the outlaw vowed. “My word.”

Naturally, Guy didn’t believe him. “You see? That’s where this falls down.”

“Well, alright. Well, I’ll get arrested, then.”

Guy nodded. “Well, that sounds like a better plan.”

“And you’ll come get me out.”

As if finally catching up to Guy’s logic, Robin smiled and chuckled.

“See? Suddenly it’s not such a good idea, is it?”

“You know, I’m not sure I trust you yet,” Robin admitted. “But we’re about to find out.”

Before Guy could ask what he was about, Robin picked up a loaf of bread a hurled it as hard as he could across the room at one of the guards. The man cried out and turned his attention on the outlaws. Amused, Guy laughed and patted Robin on the shoulder and the guard started walking over. “Good Luck.”

Still smiling, Guy moved toward the door, but the tables were turned when the guard mistakenly thought it was Guy who threw the loaf and not Robin. Needless to say, Robin was very amused by the sight of Guy getting carted out of the tavern toward the prison. Of course Robin intended to be the one taken to the dungeons and have Guy free him, but now he would stick with his original idea. Hopefully, Gisborne kept up is end of the bargain. Maybe they could learn to trust each other after all.

****

Thrown into the dungeons, Guy was not amused. He had to endure same of the shenanigans of the prisoners, but he was finally able to find Archer. The birthmark was as described.

Waiting for Robin turned out to be the worst part. Guy started pacing the cell as one hour turned into two. Would his old enemy come through? They both wanted to find Archer, so why wouldn’t he? At the same time, old habits died hard. Maybe Robin decided to cut his losses. Maybe Robin would find a way to help Archer escape, but leave him here to rot.

Being told he had a visitor, Guy supposed Robin kept his word after all. Strange, Guy’s first thought was not that he would be free, but rather that he would get to see Meg again once he was free. The notion helped keep him focused as he and Robin staged a prison break. What neither of them counted on was Archer’s rash behavior. As a result, they were caught and cornered.

Archer tried to betray them to save his own skin, but only ended up getting the three of them into worse trouble. Hating Archer, the Sheriff of York was only too eager to order their execution. Almost in the blink of an eye, Guy seated atop a horse, with a noose around his neck.

Gritting his teeth, he was too angry to say anything to Robin or his brother. He wouldn’t get to see Meg again after all. His only comfort was that Meg was safe back at the camp. She would be able to go on without him. Hopefully, the others would take care of her. If not, Guy liked to think she had enough spirit to make her own way in the world. Thinking of her temperament when he first met her, Guy managed a small smile. Meg was a fighter. He only wished they had more time to spend together.

“Well,” Guy finally managed to speak passed his own grief and anger with unencumbered sarcasm. “I’m certainly glad I came to rescue my brother. Aren’t you?” He looked to Robin.

“It’s not my fault,” Archer said.

“No?” Guy was not amused. “Whose fault is it then?”

“I didn’t ask you to come,” Archer snapped.

The trumpets and drums sounded and the proceedings were soon underway. Thankfully, the rest of the outlaws arrived to help. Simultaneously, the sheriff’s wife, who was fond of Archer, helped create a diversion.

“The drums aren’t generally thought to be a good thing,” Archer mused aloud.

Afterwards, all hell broke loose. Archer and Robin were freed and both fired arrows to save Guy’s life. Robin was astonished to see an example of Archer’s abilities. Apparently, his little brother’s skill rivaled that of the great Robin Hood.

During the fighting, Guy saw John about to fall under a sword and rushed in to help. Hopefully, now John would ease up a bit where Guy was concerned. In all the confusion, Robin and Guy lost sight of Archer because he was trying to make his own escape, but was unsuccessful when Isabella’s emissary charged Archer, nearly killing him. Luckily, Robin and the others happened upon him in time. When the dust settled, Robin made quick introductions between his brother and his men. Everyone was curious to get a look at Archer.

“Look,” Guy started. “We need your help. We know you have weapons and we need them.”

“My weapons are for sale,” Archer insisted. “Do you have money?” Little did the outlaws know Archer had plans of his own. Learning he had a sister with a title and wealth at her disposal, Archer wanted to make her acquaintance.

“We just risked our lives for you and you betrayed us,” Guy said angrily. “You owe us!”

“Archer,” Robin cut in. “I want you to join us. I want you to join us in our fight against Prince John.”

Archer smiled. “I’m flattered. But I have my own plans. And they don’t include anyone else.”

With that, Archer ran toward a horse and rode way, leaving the others staring after him in shock. Guy was especially disturbed.

“He stole my horse.”

****

Early the next morning, Meg was feeling much better. Able to move about on her own with little pain, she still felt weak, but was tired of resting on a makeshift bed. Tuck urged her to not over exert her body, but Meg wasn’t up to staring at the ceiling of the shelter for another minute. Learning all the others went to York to help Robin and Guy, Meg couldn’t stop from fretting over their safety. Well, one person’s safety in particular.

Of course, she couldn’t be certain Guy felt the same. He confessed to loving Robin’s wife Marian. He confessed as much in her dream as well when his dying thoughts were of Marian. The image had her heart squeezing painfully in her chest. Guy called Marian the love of his life.

If Marian held such a hold over Guy’s emotions, what was left for her? Meg knew her feelings for Guy were much more than just a passing fancy. She saved his life, followed him into the woods because she wanted to protect him, and now she felt she had no choice but to see this course through.

“You should not be one your feet, Meg,” Tuck said. “I’m sure the others will be back by nightfall.”

“That is hours away," she said sadly.

“The journey is a long one,” Tuck admitted. “Especially without horses, but we are not without our resources. And do not worry about Guy of Gisborne. He has survived a lot in his life.”

Meg supposed there was wisdom in Tuck’s words. She just wished her stomach would stop churning at the idea of Guy in trouble. He was a man of the world, after all. He could take care of himself.

Needing space and air, Meg managed to convince Tuck to let her have some exercise and went out in search of some berries. Tuck gave her a basket, but warned her not to go too far. Making the promise, she headed off toward an area that appeared promising.

Her mind was only half focused on berry picking. She thought of her dream. Over and over, she recalled the image of Guy’s death. Stabbed by his own sister and the former sheriff, he died with Robin by his side. Having the dream again in the throes of a fever, Meg once more wondered if the images could be trusted. How could her dream be right when she knew the old sheriff was dead. Guy admitted to killing the man and there was no reason to doubt him.

Maybe her dream was just that: a dream. So why did a heavy chill just rush down her spine? Her dream wouldn’t leave her alone, and felt so real; Meg didn’t think she could live with her conscience if she didn’t try to prevent the tragedies the dream predicted.

Glancing around the dense trees of the forest, Meg swallowed and wondered if she was being watched. Frowning, she continued on her path. Absently picking berries, she pondered the images from her dream and the repercussions that played out before her. All too soon, she was lost. Struggling not to panic, she turned around to head back the way she came. Soon, Meg realized she was even more lost than she was before.

Basket in hand, Meg eventually found the right path back to the main road. Which way now? Hearing voices in the distance; Meg rushed out of sight to hide behind a bush to wait for the strangers on the road to pass. She could not afford to be seen by the wrong people and be dragged back to Nottingham and given to Isabella.

As the voices drew closer, Meg stiffened and held her body very still in hopes she would not be spotted. Was she imagining it, or did one of those voices belong to Guy? Peeking through the leaves, she saw him with Robin Hood. Overjoyed, she didn’t stop to think, she just reacted. Running out from behind the bush, Meg ran back to the road.

“Guy! You’re back!”

Turning at the sound of his name, Guy was more relieved than words could describe to see Meg on her own two feet and running toward him. Given the memory of her condition before he left was of a girl on her deathbed, Guy‘s hands itched to hold Meg close and make sure she was real. Glancing at Robin, he gave the outlaw a look. A knowing smile curved Robin’s lips before he continued down the path alone. The couple would have some moments of privacy before Robin took them back to camp.

“Did you find your brother,” Meg asked when Robin was out of earshot. Standing before Guy, the smile of joy wouldn’t leave her face. As much as she wanted to reach out to him, she sensed he was holding back.

Sighing, Guy wasn’t sure what to tell Meg about Archer. He wanted to confess everything, but previous experience warned against it. In the end, Guy saw Meg as a friend who already proved her loyalty, so the story came spilling out. “Yes and no. He betrayed us and ran off.”

Inching closer, Meg gave him a sympathetic look. “He’ll come around. I’m sure of it.”

Raising a skeptical brow, a hint of a smile played at the corner of his lips. “How do you know?”

“Let’s just say I had a dream about it,” she teased.

“Well, for all our sakes, I hope you’re right.”

Seeing the worry on his face, Meg couldn’t resist reaching out to take his hand in her own. Squeezing his fingers, she felt the familiar heat rush up her arm at the contact. Meg couldn’t quite look at his face when she felt such sensations. “It will all come out right,” she said shyly. “You’ll see.”

Pulling her closer, Guy held her tightly against him. Her cheek moved to rest on his shoulder as his hand cupped the back of her head to hold her in place. Feelings her arms wrap around his waist and hold him close, Guy closed his eyes and bent to kiss the crown of her head before letting his cheek rest on her soft hair. Guy allowed himself to indulge in the feel of her for several moments before his hand moved to stroke her long hair.

“I’m glad you’re well, Meg. Very glad,” he whispered hoarsely.

Smiling against his chest, she buried her face against his tunic. Feeling his body pressing against her own only served to intensify the heat and desire burning her blood. Inhaling the scent of leather and road and male that was Guy, Meg wanted to stay wrapped in his arms forever. Closing her eyes, she wished the rest of the world away. In this moment, she really did believe there was a chance for all of them.

****

Tuck’s head rose when he heard Robin return to the camp. Having already welcomed the others, he heard bits of the story of the journey to York. Unfortunately, they were not successful on securing Archer’s help. Kate was ever more vehement about the failure than the rest. Naturally, she blamed Guy.

“But he could fire an arrow just as well as Robin,” Allan said.

Tuck was interested in the tales, but honestly his mind was preoccupied with thoughts of Meg. While she was in the midst of her fever, she kept whimpering about Guy’s death. Clearly, she was having a bad dream, but it also became clear to Tuck how much Meg cared for the man. Personally, Tuck was glad a man such as Guy had a woman to care so much for him. Guy needed someone to stand by his side, to be loyal to him, and to care for him unconditionally. In the end, Tuck was convinced it would be Guy’s salvation.

What did concern him, was Meg’s ramblings about Robin’s death. Many times, he heard of people who predicted such doom, which eventually came to pass. These people were most often declared witches and executed. The last thing Tuck wanted to do was think Meg a witch. He leaned more toward logic and science; however, the girl’s ravings sent a chill down his spine.

When Robin returned to camp – alone - Tuck had the opening he needed. Moving toward their leader, Tuck requested a private word. The two stepped aside and spoke in hushed tones.

“Tuck? Is everything alight?”

The monk gave a slight nod. “Where is Guy?”

“Down the path speaking to Meg,” Robin smiled because he just couldn’t help it.

Giving a nod, Tuck grinned as well. “You see the connection as well?”

“It’s hard not to.” He shook his head. “Part of me hates Gisborne. He doesn’t deserve happiness.”

“But,” Tuck prompted.

“But,” Robin acknowledged, "I don’t think Guy has really been dealt a fair hand.”

“Then I think there is something you should know.”

Chapter Text

Holding Meg in his arms Guy felt…content. A dangerous thing to feel when he knew Meg was a brave, courageous, beautiful woman who had no business being around a man like him. Meg accepted him for who he really was and Guy was having a difficult time pushing that unconditional appetence away. How could he indulge in the cravings he had for Meg when he was still grieving?

Marian was the one woman that intrigued him. Guy bent over backwards to try and please her. He thought he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Marian by his side. Of course, life didn’t work out the way he envisioned.

Guy spent his whole life trying to prove his own worth, first to the sheriff, then to Marian, but he still ended up with nothing. The sting of betrayal gripped his chest when Marian callously told him of her true feelings for Robin Hood. He will never forget the look on Marian’s face when he reacted in his anger by lashing out at her. The memory still made him crazy with grief. Guy killed Marian in a fit of rage and knew he would never forgive himself for it.

Was there such a thing as redemption? Guy no longer felt he was worthy of anything in this life. Banding together with Robin Hood, Guy hoped to finally do the right thing. Learning they had a brother in common helped ease the bad blood between them

Meg’s presence in his life was unexpected, yet wonderful in ways he could not describe. He wanted to have Meg in his life forever, but at the same time feared the emotions she roused in him. Meg would be better off away from him before he hurt her the same way he did Marian. Thought her friendship was important to him, Guy knew his feelings for Meg were becoming more complicated and didn’t want to look too closely at the transformation.

Pulling away ever-so-slightly, Guy reached down and cupped her cheek. Meg’s smile was sweet and innocent. Separating himself from her was not going to be easy.

Face buried against Guy’s chest, Meg wished with all her heart that circumstances were different. In the back of her mind, she knew Guy’s feelings for Marian. She saw how much he cared for the woman. Yes, she knew he killed her, but Meg saw his remorse, his guilt, and his torment. She wanted to ease all of it away and heal his broken heart.

Was it wrong to hope for things between them to change? Was it wrong to think Guy could see her in the same light he once saw Marian? When he pulled away and touched her face, Meg felt the connection surge between them. They were connected and she knew as she gazed into his eyes, that Guy felt what she was feeling. Even as hope rose in her heart, it was quickly ripped away when Guy let his hand drop to his side and took several steps back.

“We need to get back to the camp,” he said as his expression turned from warm to neutral.

Meg did her best to mask her disappointment. Guy stepped aside and walked beside her as they made their way down the path. The silence between them was slightly uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure what to say.

Thinking of the outlaws, Meg wasn’t sure if she could trust them or not. She knew she didn’t like Kate. Tuck was nice enough and he did help save her life, but Meg’s opinion of Robin and Little John was that they were men with immaculate morals, which was to be admired, she supposed. Allan and Much were endearing in their own ways.

None of them were accepting of Guy. Well, Robin was willing to overlook the past, but not the others. Meg knew she was the only person who truly cared about Guy.

Unable to take the slice any longer, she cleared her throat. “Doesn’t it make you feel anxious,” she asked.

Guy glanced at her. “Anxious?”

“Being in the company of lions.”

A hint of a smile came to his face. “Since the fall-out with Isabella, there are not many options for me.”

“You still hope to regain favor with Prince John?”

Guy shrugged. “My only focus is making Isabella pay for her betrayal.”

Meg knew she should be trying to talk Guy out of his revenge, but Isabella wasn’t the person she claimed to be. Meg may not believe the woman should die, but she did understand Guy’s reasons for hating his sister. “She hurt you.”

Stopping abruptly, Guy looked over at Meg. “For hurting you, I hate her even more,” he confessed.

Heat rushed to Meg’s cheeks at the bold confession, but before she could think of a comment, Guy was once more walking down the path ahead of her. Blinking to clear her head, Meg had little choice but to follow. The journey ahead was going to be rough. She knew the images of her dreams were not going to be forgotten any time soon.

“What will you do now,” she asked as a way to distract her mind. “Using Archer is no longer an option.”

“We’ll think of something,” he assured her. “I’m sure Robin will come up with a plan. He’s full of impulsive ideas.”

“You know Isabella best,” Meg pointed out. “Maybe you should come up with a few ideas of your own,” she suggested.

“She is not the child I knew,” Guy felt a pang of regret, but pushed it aside. There was no room for sentimentality in this war. And yes, for better or for worse, he was at war with Isabella.

“Isabella wasn’t the friend I thought she was either,” Meg said sadly. Isabella was kind to those who saw the world the way she did. The moment someone had a difference of opinion, Isabella abused her power and acted the tyrant! Nottingham was no better off with her as sheriff then it was when Vaisey held the reigns. It was all too clear to Meg that the woman would have let her die, despite the earlier overtures of friendship between them.

“Yet…” Meg trailed off with a shake of her head.

Frowning, Guy saw the doubt in her expression and knew exactly what she was thinking. “You would have spared her,” he said gently. “If the situation was reversed, you would have set her free.”

“Not exactly,” Meg sighed. “Isabella does deserve to be taken down a peg or two. I wouldn’t kill her, but I wouldn’t let her be free.”

Guy couldn’t help but be amused. “Yet, you want us to show her some sense of mercy that she would never show us in return. That’s what makes you a kind person, Meg. Someone that deserves more than the lot she’s stuck with.”

Pausing, Meg blinked up at him. “My lot?”

“You know you can’t return to your old life,” he said gently. “You are stuck in these woods with these outlaws. With me.”

Meg smiled. “I don’t mind.”

“You should be living with a husband in a nice home. Living the life of a proper lady instead of in the woods with outlaws.”

A laugh started to bubble up in her throat, but she managed to swallow the sensation. “I didn’t want to be married, remember? I thwarted my father at every turn, which is what brought me before Isabella’s court to begin with.”

“Why did you resist the marriages your father arranged?’

Meg avoided looking at his face. She wanted to be honest, but she wasn’t sure of his reaction. “I want to be loved and valued. I have opinions and a mind of my own. I do not want to be some man’s possession. All the men my father found were people who wanted my dowry, but they didn’t want me.”

The pain in Meg’s voice gave Guy pause. It was the way of the world for a woman to marry, have children, and keep a household. He always saw a woman’s place as such. He tried to give Isabella the best chance he could in this world through her marriage. Now, he saw how she suffered for it. She let her bitterness turn her into an unforgiving, harsh woman. He did not want the same for Meg.

At the same time, Guy did not want her to lose her status as a lord’s daughter. Meg deserved more than a life in the middle of the woods with a price on her head. Guy wanted to be the one to give her a better life.

As quickly as the idea flooded his senses, Guy pushed it aside. He was in no position to offer Meg the life she deserved. He realized he made a real mess of things. Aligning himself with the former sheriff seemed like a good move at the time. He did gain status and wealth as well as a thirst for political intrigue. There were a lot of tasks he needed to perform in his service to the sheriff that plagued his conscience. Hopefully, helping Robin would help clear the stain on his soul. Marian believed in redemption. She thought he was a man capable of great things. Perhaps now he had the chance to make those expectations into a reality.

As the silence dragged on, Meg felt incredibly nervous. Did she say too much? Could he guess how she really felt about him? Meg knew from her dream that Guy still thought of Marian as the love of his life. Yet, here she was hoping things would change. After all, in her dream Guy did kiss her. True, she was dying when she asked it of him, but as of yet, Guy’s lips did not make contact with her own. Nothing was etched in stone. Right?

“Did I say something wrong,” she finally asked.

Before Guy could answer one way or the other, the camp came into view. Kate came out and started to walk toward them, but she scowled the second she saw Guy. “What kept you two,” she demanded. “Plotting a betrayal?”

Meg returned the other girl’s scowl with one of her own. “We’re on your side,” she snapped in return.

“I don’t trust you,” Kate said bluntly. “Either of you.” Lifting her chin, Kate marched off.

Meg glared after the other woman for a few seconds before Guy urged her toward the camp. They entered and saw John, Allan, and Much performing general tasks. As the two entered, John put down his stick and walked out. No word, he just left. Looking awkward, Allan mumbled something about keeping an eye on John before he too left the shelter. Much cast Guy a hostile look and managed to endure their company for a few more minutes before he said he had to hunt for their supper.

Raising a brow, Meg couldn’t help but feel resentful of their actions. “That was subtle,” she said sarcastically.

“It will be like this for a while,” Guy admitted. “I have given them all plenty of reasons not to trust me. I do not blame them for despising me. Earning respect and trust will take some time.”

“There is goodness in you, Guy,” she insisted. “I’ve seen it and I know you are trying. If they would just open up their minds, they would see it too!”

“Like I said, it all may take some time.”

More time than any of them expected if none of them let him forget the past. Crossing her arms over her chest, Meg’s eyes narrowed as she looked around the camp before they settled back on Guy. “They think too much of themselves to give you a chance.”

Guy shrugged. “They have their reasons.”

Shaking her head, Meg moved closer. “There is good in you for giving them the benefit of the doubt. Not many people in this world have the courage to change! You are earning a second chance! There should be some recognition of that!”

“Very true.”

Both turned at the sound of the new voice. Tuck gave the couple a smile as he entered the camp. Briefly, the monk looked back and forth between the pair. “Robin is prepared to trust you Guy. As am I. The others will come around. Eventually.”

“I am here to help,” Guy repeated. “Many things have changed.”

Tuck gave a nod of acknowledgment. “And even more will change as time goes on. Life and change go hand in hand.”

“What do you do know,” Meg asked. “Archer hasn’t come around yet, which means we are not a match for Isabella’s forces on our own.”

Tuck’s dark eyes focused on Meg. “Robin will think of something. In the meantime, you should rest.”

“I feel fine,” she protested.

“You are still recovering from a serious injury and a fever. I do not want you to overtax yourself.”

“I am perfectly well,” she argued.

“Meg,” Guy said. “You should do what Tucks says.”

Casting him a glare, Meg gritted her teeth, but walked over the makeshift palate in the corner she was using and laid down. Giving Guy a dark look, she couldn’t believe he had the nerve to smile at her! Opening her mouth, Meg wanted to snap a retort, but in that moment Robin came back into the shelter.

“Gisborne,” he said without preamble. “Nice to see you made it back.”

Seeing the grin on Robin’s face, Guy knew what the outlaw was thinking. Moving forward, Guy spoke to his nemesis in hushed tones. “Do not bring Meg into this.”

Knowing Meg was near, and had a soft spot for Gisborne, Robin kept his own voice down. “She’s already in it, Gisborne, whether you like it or not. We will all do our best to keep her safe, but remember that she came here with you.”

“She helped save my life,” he hissed. “I owe it to her to help keep her safe from Isabella!”

Giving a nod, Robin couldn’t find fault with the logic. “Know how lucky you are, Gisborne.”

Frowning Guy wasn’t sure what Robin meant, but before he could ask Robin quickly changed the subject.

“Speaking of Isabella, we need a plan. Fast.”

Chapter Text

Waking with a gasp, Meg felt her heart pounding wildly in her chest. The pain of it made her short of breath. After several moments, she was able to control her breathing as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Judging by the snores and heavy breathing around her, everyone else was sound asleep.

What she should do is lay back down, close her eyes and try to go forget. Unfortunately, the dream still felt too real. Meg saw her own death play out once more in Guy’s arms. She saw the path he journeyed to find Archer, join Robin, and fight Isabella. Again, she also saw the old sheriff alive and well, which confused her to no end. Guy swore he killed Vaisey and Meg knew he wouldn’t lie about such a thing.

Why was she dreaming all of this?

What did it all mean?

Raking a hand through her hair, Meg settled back down on her straw bedding but couldn’t close her eyes. Slumber was elusive because her mind was alive with questions. Her heart was still beating, so why was she having the same dream over and over? Why did it feel so real? Was she even supposed to be alive?

Forcing her eyes to close, Meg remembered the scene where Guy was injured and the life flowed out of his eyes as a shudder rushed through her blood. The dreams were repetitive and showing her all of her worst fears as if to make sure she wouldn’t forget a single detail.

Unable to settle down, she opened her eyes, kept down a sigh, and quietly got to her feet to tip-toe out of the camp. Folding her arms across her chest, Meg looked up at the night sky. All those beautiful stars made her feel so small and insignificant by comparison. She wished the stars could give her answers to all her questions.

Meg thought she had the dream in the first place to try and save Guy’s life. Robin’s death was also an event she did not want to see become a reality. Preventing her death felt like a bonus. Or was it? Maybe she was given a reprieve. Maybe she was destined to die, but only after she saved Guy.

Waking with a start, Guy held in a gasp. The remains of his dream were fading, which made it difficult to recall the details, but what he did know was Meg was the center of the dream. She was in danger, crying his name, and he was unable to help her. Suppressing a curse, Guy rose to his feet. Raking a hand through his hair, he knew he wouldn’t be getting back to sleep.

Glancing over at Meg’s bed, his heart gave a jerk seeing the empty space. Rushing out of the camp, Guy nearly called out her name, but managed to bite his tongue. Waking the forest was not the goal. Forcing down his panic, he headed in the most likely direction to begin his search.

Seeing a figure in the distance, Guy let out the breath he was holding. The brown curls were visible in the moonlight. Approaching slowly so as not to startle her, Guy softly uttered her name. “Meg.”

Turning, Meg blinked several times when she saw Guy, hoping his image was real and not a figment of her imagination. “What are you doing here?”

“I was restless,” he said casually as he drew closer. “You?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she confessed.

“Dreams again?”

Shrugging, she managed a small smile. “Something like that.”

Inching even closer, Guy hoped to catch her eye and see the truth for himself, but she stubbornly avoided his gaze. “The same dream,” he asked.

Shrugging, she looked off into the distance. “Does it matter?”

Guy considered a moment, and then said what was on his mind. “You said you saw our deaths. What did you mean?”

It wasn’t the first time he asked her, but she still didn’t know how to explain her words to him back then. “You don’t want to know,” she said as she looked back up at the stars.

“I do want to know,” he urged.

A little laugh escaped her throat. “Why?”

“I’m not sure,” he said honestly. “Curiosity, I suppose. I can’t help but wonder how I will die.”

Gathering her courage, Meg turned to look at his expression. Studying his features, as if she wanted to burn the sight into her memory, Meg shook her head. “It’s all probably just nonsense.”

He smirked in his handsome, unique way. “I still want to know.”

Hesitating, Meg bit her bottom lip. Should she tell him? Would he believe her, or just laugh at her and say she was superstitious? Meg doubted she could withstand his laughter. Worse, she didn’t want him to take her words the opposite way. Though she was tempted to confess her theories to Guy, the fear of his rejection kept her silent.

“What if I said you died a hero?”

A warm chuckle bubbled up out of his throat before he could think better of it. “A hero, huh? With a sword in hand?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “Defending Robin and your brother from the sheriff.”

Pausing to take in the statement, Guy regarded Meg carefully. “It’s a good way to go as any.”

“Guy,” Shaking her head, Meg fought to keep her voice steady. “It’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair,” he said with a nonchalance he didn’t fully feel. “It wasn’t fair when it gave my father leprosy. It wasn’t fair when it killed my parents in a fire, or when the woman I loved betrayed me in favor of another man. All I hope before I leave his world is that I can make amends for all my wrongs.”

“And that is all very noble, Guy, but what about the friends you will leave behind?” She couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice. Did he not care how leaving her behind would make her feel? Didn’t he see she would be lost?

“I have no friends,” Guy stated with a shake of his head. “Save you.”

The acknowledgement had her heart soaring with hope. “I am your friend, Guy, which is why I want you to live! I want you to have a long, happy life.”

No one, except his mother, looked at him with such concern and devotion. The already complicated emotions Guy felt for this woman became even more knotted in that moment. Moving closer, Guy’s hands clutched her shoulders and brought her closer to his body so he could stare into her eyes.

All Guy wanted was to taste this sweet girl before him. He wanted to lose himself in the feel of her. Meg. His Meg.

No, he couldn’t think this way. What about Marian? He couldn’t allow Meg to die like Marian. No, the last thing he deserved was love. Besides, having Meg would betray Marian’s memory. Barely gaining control, Guy managed to loosen his fingers from her shoulders and lower them to his sides. Seeing the disappointment on her face tore at his heart, but Guy knew he was doing the right thing.

Cleaning his throat, Guy looked away. There were no words or reassurances. Meg was simply out of his reach.

Heart cracking, Meg swallowed in an effort to dispel the lump suddenly in her throat. For a second there, she dared to hope Guy might…oh, she didn’t know! Was it too much to ask for a bit of affection? Probably. Meg knew his heart belonged to Marian. Guy’s dying words form her dream came to the forefront of her mind as if to mock her.

Looking up at the twinkling lights in the sky, she secretly made a wish. A wish that Guy could come to love her as much as she did him. Was it wrong to imagine a life with this man? To want a home, a brood of children with his features, a comfortable familiarity with Guy where she could kiss his cheek or run her fingers through his hair whenever she wanted? Her heart craved his love and acceptance, but her mind cautioned her to not give in too easily to her yearnings.

Meg heard him voice his love for the dead Marian more than once. Undoubtedly, Guy would reject her if he knew of the love she locked away deep in her heart. She was already picking up on the small signs that Guy wasn’t fully ready to love her in return; at least not the way she wanted. A few times this evening, when their eyes met, Meg thought the barriers between them were gone and maybe Guy would kiss her or hold her, but he always drew back at the last moment.

She must be content with his friendship. Until they were all rid of Isabella and Meg knew he was safe, she would keep her own feelings and hopes secret. Inhaling a deep breath, Meg pushed down her down disappointment and focused on the present. The dreams came to her for a reason. She knew she needed to save Guy’s life. Even if the price was her own.

“Did you see your own death?”

The question caught her off guard. Blinking at Guy, she once more bit her bottom lip. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me,” he snapped. Seeing Meg flinch, Guy silently cursed. “I’m sorry. I just-” He inhaled a deep breath and tried again. “In the dungeons, you said you saw our deaths, which implies you saw your own was well.”

“I did, but it doesn’t matter anymore. At least, I don’t think it does.” Why wasn’t he letting this matter go? Guy was silent so long, Meg wasn’t sure if he would say another word at all or if she wanted to tell Guy about her own death in the dream. It was too…personal. Besides, she didn’t want, or need, his pity.

“Let a woman have her secrets,” she whispered.

“Very well.” He didn’t like her answer, but if Meg did not feel ready to share the information, then so be it.

Standing in the woods at night suddenly felt foolish to her. Yet, the night air was warm and the scents on the wind pleasant. Besides, she liked being alone with Guy. The silence dragged on, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It was…comfortable.

“Are you tired,” he asked.

“No,” Meg answered.

“Afraid to sleep?”

Thinking for a moment, she shook her head again. “Not really. I’m just not drowsy at the moment,” she joked.

Tempted to take Meg on a walk with him, Guy realized how such a request would appear to her. No, he needed to keep his distance for propriety’s sake. Keeping up a few barriers would be best for both of them.

“Have you and Robin decided what to do now? Now that Archer betrayed you?”

“One thing I do know is that Robin always has something up his sleeve.”

“To put Isabella in her place?”

Guy smirked. “Perhaps.”

He didn’t fool her for a moment. Meg saw the anger flash in his eyes. Guy did want his sister’s blood. She could see both sides of the debate, but Isabella did allow power to corrupt her. “I know you want to kill Isabella,” she said softly.

Glancing at Meg, he tilted his head to the side. “I didn’t think you disapproved.”

“I don’t. Not really. Isabella wouldn’t hesitate to kill us if the situations were reversed.”

Nodding, a hint of a smile actually reached his eyes. “Yet, you don’t like me seeking my revenge?”

“Guy,” she sighed. “I know you are a man of honor. You’ve done bad deeds, but now you want to make amends. Isabella wronged both of us. She has lied, stolen, and cheated the people of Nottingham.”

“But,” he prompted when she fell silent.

“I saw goodness in her once,” Meg said gently. “It’s a shame, I guess.”

“And you hope somehow, someway, Isabella will see the error of her ways and seek redemption as well.”

Glancing up at him, Meg smiled at his teasing expression. “That would certainly solve a whole lot of problems, wouldn’t it?” Laughing, Meg shook her head. “Isabella won’t change.”

One of Guy’s brows rose. “You sound so certain.”

Turning to look at his pale blue eyes. “I am.” Glancing up at the stars, Meg made her wish again.

Folding his arms over his chest, Guy regarded Meg for a few moments before he too looked up at the stars. He liked that Meg knew how hopeless the situation was, yet she still held out hope. Of course, that was part of the problem. Guy saw too many admirable qualities in Meg. Loving her would be so easy. Guy knew he was too tainted, too soiled to deserve Meg. Besides, there was no guarantee she felt the same for him as he did her. Even were she to profess love for him, how could he ever trust her? How, after all he learned about Marian and her true feelings?

Also, Guy feared what he would so to Meg should she ever hurt him as Marian did. Killing one person he cared for was tearing up his soul. Hurting Meg was unimaginable. A few years ago, the idea of hurting Marian was just as equally foreign to him. Living with the weight of his sin was making him see life with new eyes. No, keeping his distance as the only option. Common sense will out, yet the knowledge tore at his heart. Meg did deserve a happy life, but he was jealous as hell that she couldn’t have that life with him. Hopefully, one day, she would find a man who could make her happy.

Hopefully, he would not be around to witness such an event.

Losing someone else he cared for would be devastating. Too devastating. He knew he would not stick around to see Meg drift away from him.

Hearing Meg yawn, he smiled. “The fatigue returns,” he teased her.

Opening her mouth to deny his words, Meg instead yawned again and quickly covered her mouth. “Maybe I’m tired after all,” she admitted.

“Come,” he held out his arm. “I’ll walk you back.”

Accepting his arm, she allowed him to lead her back to the camp, but not before one last look up at the night sky.

Chapter Text

“We should have invited Guy to come along with us,” Tuck ventured.

John grunted his disapproval, while Robin glanced at the monk. Allan remained silent. The three outlaws carried sacks of food and supplies for the villagers in Locksley. They left Kate behind to sharpen swords and to keep an eye on a sleeping Meg, while Much and Gisborne went hunting. Kate did not like being left behind, but eventually relented. Robin suspected she wanted a private word or two with Gisborne.

A small smile came to Robin’s face at the thought. Kate had a short temper and Gisborne was not someone who tolerated outbursts. Still, he knew Kate could hold her own. However, he knew Meg wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for Guy, which would create a wholly different dynamic. Hopefully, he wouldn’t return to Sherwood to find a brawl on his hands.

“The people hate Gisborne,” John spat. “They’re afraid of him and with good reason. They wouldn’t trust us if they saw him in our ranks.”

“The people trust Robin,” Tuck insisted. “If we show how old enemies have found a way to work together to gain an advantage over the sheriff, it will help our cause. We will convince even more of the righteous on our mission to free England from Prince John’s grasp.”

“The people will need a very good reason to trust a criminal like Gisborne,” John argued. “I’m not even sure why I am trusting him after all he’s done.”

“He’s one of us,” Robin reminded as he turned to John. “He proved it in York. Didn’t he save your life John?”

The big man just grumbled.

“Besides,” Robin continued. “He wants Isabella gone as much as we do. He’s our ally.”

“And when Isabella is disposed of,” John asked.

“We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

“He’ll want power for himself,” John warned in a harsh tone.

Tuck cut into the conversation. “We are working closely with Gisborne,” he reminded. “If he presents a problem in the future, we know of his wickedness. We will know what to do with him then.”

However true the statement; it did little to settle the concerns in the other outlaws. Robin wasn’t as certain about his old enemy as he was after they spoke to his father. Marian always defended Guy because she felt sorry for him. Understanding the man and his motives a bit better, Robin could see the reasons Guy made most of his misguided choices in life. He saw the genuine remorse Guy felt over killing Marian. At the same time, Robin knew he could never fully forgive the man for that sin. Intentional or no, Marian was still gone. He would leave the ultimate judgment in God’s hands because he knew his own limitations.

Thankfully, they were all distracted by the task of giving out food in the village. Many people were pleased to see them, as always, but there was uneasiness in the air. A sense that Robin couldn’t quite define or shake off his shoulders.

All he did know was circumstances with Isabella were about to come to a head soon. She has more men and resources, but Robin wasn’t willing to give up. He would find a way to defeat her.

Making their way back to Sherwood, all of the outlaws remained alert. The last thing they needed was to have a confrontation with the sheriff’s men. Only when they returned safely to the deep forest did they relax. “Think Much found any good game,” Allan asked.

Tuck chuckled, Robin smiled, but John’s expression remained stony. “With Gisborne along,” he grumbled, “we should check the food for poisons.”

Robin stopped in front of John with a look of displeasure covering his features. “We’ve been over and over this John! How much more will it take?”

Un-intimidated, John met his leader’s gaze. “You can’t force me to trust him!”

“Well, you’re in this gang and you know the rules! I can’t have disagreements. If we want to win this war, then we all need to stick together! I can’t have you doubting Gisborne in the middle of a plan and going off on your own and compromising the rest of us!”

John’s eyes narrowed. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Good.” Robin held the man’s gaze to see the truth of the words. Satisfied, Robin relaxed his stance. “Gisborne stays. Like it or not, we need him.”

Moving ahead of the group, Robin walked on alone. His grip on his bow tightened until his knuckles turned white. He needed all of them on the same side. Dissention in the ranks would be disastrous for them all.

***

Waking late in the morning to bright light and loud, scrapping noises, Meg sat up and rubbed her eyes. A few seconds later, she was able to see the camp around her. Just beyond the open door she saw Kate bent over a stone wheel, sword in her hands, working at sharpening the blade. Getting out of bed, Meg’s gaze automatically searched for Guy, but her heart sank when she saw no sign of him. As soon as she felt the sinking sensation, she silently scolded her silly emotions. Common sense told her that Guy wouldn’t care for her nearly as much as she did for him. Marian would always be first in the man’s heart, so she better learn to get over her disappointments.

Busying her hands by washing her face, Meg thought about her dream, what it could mean, and what she should do about it. She worried Guy already thought her a bit of a witch, so telling the others wasn’t an option. Sure, Robin and his gang seemed open-minded, but Meg wasn’t going to risk being burned at the stake.

Combing her fingers through her hair, she tried to catch a decent glimpse of her own reflection in the bucket of water. Giving up when the water didn’t settle, she sighed. There wasn’t a looking glass here. Yes, she knew it was silly, but she still wanted to look her best in case she crossed paths with Guy. Shaking her head and calling herself a fool, Meg wished she could banish Guy from her thoughts.

Last night, Meg wanted to think her bond with Guy grew stronger, however, she knew that getting her hopes up would only lead to more emotional devastation and embarrassment. Guy did not love her.

“Up at last, I see.”

Hearing the snippy voice, Meg turned to see Kate putting the swords back in their proper place. Clearly, the two of them weren’t going to get along, but Meg guessed she should be civil.

“The laundry needs to be done,” Kate continued before Meg could speak. “The lake isn’t too far. There is plenty of soap rock there too.”

Uncertain, Meg stood in place and watched Kate as she pulled out a large leather sack. Setting the bundle at Meg’s feet, the blonde smirked. “Have fun.”

“Wait.” Meg held up a hand. “You expect me to do this?”

“What?” Kate didn’t bother to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “You expect to stay here without pulling your own weight? Well, forget it! We all do our parts! Your part is now the laundry.”

Tilting out her chin, Meg refused to be intimidated. “Just because I’m a woman, you make me do the laundry?”

“What else can you do? Polish weapons? Make arrows? Cook?”

Being of noble birth, Meg wasn’t taught any of those skills and Kate knew it. Still, Meg refused to back down. “I can sew,” she said.

Kate scoffed. “All of us can do that. What’s the matter? You’ve never done laundry before? Born too high and mighty?”

Meg never had a reason to because she was raised around servants that saw to the day-to-day tasks. Saying as much out loud would make her look a fool and she already resented the gleam of triumph in Kate’s eyes. She was raised as a gentlewoman and refused to apologize for it! Kate would not think of her as incapable and weak! Meg remembered watching how the servants worked. How difficult could doing the laundry be?

Picking up the sack, Meg was a bit taken aback by the hefty weight, but swung the sack over her shoulder nonetheless. Walking out of the camp with her head held high, Meg made sure she was out of sight before she put down the sack and caught her breath. The lake was rather far and Meg had to keep stopping to rest. The pain in her side nagged at her, but the stitches were holding. By the time the bank came into view, Meg was struggling to drag the sack along behind her. Sweat dripped down her brow as she sank to her knees on the edge of the lake. Scooping up some fresh water in her hands, she drank her fill.

Feeling better, she lifted her head and took in her surroundings. The lake was in the middle of a small clearing of tress, and therefore not easily accessible. Hopefully, she would be able to work in peace. Along the bank were rows of pink, blue, and purple wildflowers and she caught glimpses of some butterflies jumping from blossom to blossom. The sun in the sky wasn’t too blistering with the canopy of the tress to provide shade. The water was a clear blue, but Meg couldn’t see down to the bottom. Surely fish and other creatures resided below, but she wouldn’t worry about that now.

Several tree branches dipped low enough for her to drape clothes to allow them to dry. Rolling up her sleeves, Meg searched for some soap rock. Finding what she needed, she dragged the sack over to the water. Emptying out the articles of clothing, she dipped them in the water then draped the wet clothing over a nearby rock to do a thorough scrubbing with the soap stone before rinsing the cloth. Draping the clothes over the branches, she hoped they wouldn’t take too long to dry.

At first, the process was easy enough. Wringing out the clothes and moving to hang them also seemed rather simple. Yet, by the time Meg finished with all the shirts, breaches, and socks, her arm, neck, and back muscles ached down to the bone. Moving on to tackle the blankets for the straw matrasses didn’t help her condition. Hours later, Meg’s brow was soaked in sweat and she felt her clothes sticking uncomfortably to her skin. The sun was high, which only served to keep the flush on her skin. When she inhaled her own odor, she knew something needed to be done.

Thankfully, only a few more garments remained to be washed. Finishing the task, she moved to remove her shoes. Looking around the clearing, she made sure she was alone before she stripped off her own gown and shift and walked to the water’s edge. Scrubbing her gown and shift as quickly as she could, Meg set the garments aside to dry before her eyes went back to the gleaming water. The idea of sinking under the surface was too tempting to resist. Dipping in her toes, Meg closed her eyes and sighed as the cool water covered her skin. Moving farther into the lake, she dove under the surface and rose again with a smile on her face. Reaching for the soap stone, she started to wash her pink skin.

Submerged to her waist, Meg inhaled a deep breath and smiled up at the sky. Diving under once more, she opened her eyes to take in the sight of fish and plants around her. Swimming until she needed air, Meg rushed to the surface with a splash. Flipping her hair out of her eyes, she laughed because she truly felt alive! For the first time since her father forced her before the sheriff, Meg felt free!

Moving to the deeper part of the lake, she indulged in the joy of swimming and feeling refreshed. Losing track of time, she wasn’t sure how long she lingered before noticing the wrinkled state of her fingertips. Moving back to the shallow part of the lake, she didn’t hear the sound of approaching footsteps. Indeed, she never felt a pair of eyes on her. She didn’t even know she was no longer alone until she heard the voice.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Gasping in fright, Meg’s head snapped up and her arms wrapped around her nude body. Seeing the face of her intruder, her heart pounded in her chest with embarrassment and fear. Water droplets clung to her eyelashes as she blinked frantically hoping the image before her would vanish. When it didn’t, she stood frozen with the water to her shoulders not knowing what to do or say next.

Chapter Text

Waking before first light, Guy glanced over at Meg to see she was sleeping soundly. Sneaking out of the camp, Guy found a high point on a hill, sat down on a large rock to watch the sun rise. After the night he had, Guy needed some time alone to think.

After escorting Meg back to the camp, he was able to get some rest, but he dreamed again. He dreamed of Marian smiling at him. She smiled at him so sweetly before the images shifted and she was looking at him with an expression of twisted pain as he drove his sword through her body. Her face suddenly shifted to be replaced with Meg’s.

Terrified, Guy snapped awake, more convinced than ever his actions where Meg were concerned were for the best. The simple fact that he cared for her, Guy was putting her in danger. He was now glad he resisted his urges last night.

Losing track of how long he lingered staring up at the tree canopy and sky, he was roused from his thoughts at the sound of footsteps. Glancing over his shoulder, Guy raised a brow at seeing Much.

“What are you doing here?”

“Making sure you’re not up to mischief,” Much said defensively.

Smiling, Guy got to his feet and spread out his arms. “I am plotting out here in the middle of a clearing with nothing? Not even my sword?”

Much glanced at Guy’s belt and saw the man was unarmed and relaxed his own stance. “Very well.”

Letting his arms drop to his sides, Guy wasn’t sure why Much was bothering his solitude. “Do you always follow people into the woods?”

“You know very well why none of us trust you, Gisborne.”

Guy nodded slightly. “Yet, Robin trusts me.”

“Sometimes he makes mistakes.”

“And you are always around to have your old master’s back?”

Straightening his spine Much looked down his former enemy. “You’ve just jealous because no one has ever felt that kind of loyalty toward you.”

The comment stung because Guy knew Much was right. “I’ve known for a long time that the only person I could really depend on is myself.”

Until Meg, of course, but Guy refused to utter the words.

“You should make yourself useful,” Much said. “I am going hunting. You might as well help.”

“How?”

Much pulled out a spare bow and handed Guy some arrows. Taking the weapons, Guy arched another brow. “You actually brought a spare?”

Much shrugged.

“And you trust me with it,” Guy asked.

“I have to supply the food for the camp. When Kate came along, I thought she would want to cook, but her stews fell flat,” he chuckled.

When Guy’s expression remained blank, Much’s smile faded. “Point is, I’m still in charge of feeding us all. You should help.”

“We both know you want me along just so you can keep an eye on me.”

“Naturally,” Much admitted. “Now come on.”

Having nothing else to do, Guy followed. Hunting would provide a distraction at least. Maybe he would be able to get his own troubles off his mind. Of course, Much refused to have lengthy conversations and the forest was strangely devoid of game.

Managing to snag a few rabbits, Guy wasn’t sure if he felt better or not. Much shot a quail. The man secured their catches in silence. “We should gather some berries and greens as well,” Much finally said. “Round out the meal. Do you think Meg will cook?”

Shrugging, the last subject Guy wanted to talk about was Meg. “She’s a lady. I’m not sure if she knows how to prepare game.”

Much tried to conceal his disappointment, but didn’t quite manage. “I get tired of cooking. I have other uses.”

“You want to make sure Robin doesn’t do anything foolish.”

“He’s always taking risks,” Much complained. “He won’t rest until King Richard returns.”

Guy scoffed at the statement. “We both know King Richard will not set foot in England. He would rather wage war in a foreign country than govern his own people.”

Looking sideways at his former enemy, Much was inclined to agree, but knew the argument really didn’t matter. “Robin knows the throne belongs to Richard. As long as the king lives, he won’t stop fighting.”

“Prince John is the heir,” Guy stated. “Unless the king has a son, all Robin is doing is prolonging the inevitable.”

“So, you would follow Prince John? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No.” Guy paused and looked at Much. “I am just looking at the bigger picture.”

“Why are you here, Gisborne?”

“To atone,” he said without hesitation. Realizing Much was staring at him, Guy frowned. “What? Not a good enough reason?”

“Hard to believe you have a heart or conscience, is all.”

“Look, I know you are loyal to Robin. I do not expect, or need, any of you to accept me. I wanted to make the right choice for once. I wanted to find my brother. I wanted to protect-”

Before he said her name, Guy promptly stopped. Turning, Guy shook his head and moved forward in search of more game. Lagging behind, Much wondered if he was about to mention Meg.

Clearly, the two were friends, but was there more to the story? Much knew Robin deeply loved Marian. He honestly thought, had she lived, Marian would have kept his friend happy. At the same time, Robin was always a lady’s man. A few short months after Marian’s death, he was with Kate. Robin may not be eager to settle down with another woman, but he wasn’t sacrificing female companionship all together.

Having a soft spot for Kate, Much hated Robin for taking her way from him. He hated Kate for preferring his best friend. At the same time, he wanted both of them to be happy. Gisborne, for all his faults, genuinely mourned Marian. The man changed since returning from the Holy Land. The big question was whether or not they could truly rely on Guy to fight with them. Time would tell. The problem was that Much wasn’t so sure time was on their side. He worried that Robin would spend the rest of his life as an outlaw, or die young defending the throne for an uninterested king.

Naturally, Much couldn’t voice any of his concerns. No one seemed to listen anyway. After all, he was more of a servant in the eyes of his friends.

“We all want to protect those we care about,” Much said to fill the silence.

Guy nodded. “On that we agree.”

Catching a few more birds, the two made their way back to the camp. Seeing Kate alone, Much grew curious. “The others aren’t back from the village?”

“Not yet,” Kate shook her head. Glancing at the catches, she gave a nod of approval. “We will eat well for the next few days.”

“Where is Meg,” Guy asked.

Glaring at him, Kate straightened her spine. “She’s at the lake doing laundry.”

Frowning, Guy took a step toward the insufferable girl. “She’s been injured! What if she pulls her stitches?”

“Many of us have been wounded here,” Kate shouted back at him. “We’ve had to grit out teeth and keep this camp going! What makes Meg so special? If she wants to stay here, then she needs to do her fair share! Same as you!”

“Last I checked,” Guy bit out, “You weren’t in charge of this camp!”

“Well, Robin trusts me and my judgment!”

Scoffing, Guy shook his head. “You are rash. I doubt you’ve ever thought anything through! Putting so much faith in you and your judgment would be foolish!”

Lips thinning, Kate wanted to spit in his face! He was everything that was wrong with their world and she was forced to put up with him! “Robin cares for me! We’re together and he trusts me!”

Guy’s scowl deepened and his eyes narrowed. A glance at Much confirmed Kate’s claims. Rage boiled in his veins. Robin vowed to love Marian forever! What folly! No sooner did he return from the Holy Land, Robin Hood found another woman to fill Marian’s shoes! If she had lived, would Robin’s eyes still have wondered so easily? Disgusted, Guy dropped his catches and left them there for Much to take care of as he turned on his heel to leave in search of Meg.

Stomping through the shrubs toward the lake, Guy could barely contain his anger. All this time, he was torn up over losing Marian, then finding Meg. Apparently, when faced with the same dilemma, Robin didn’t even hesitate to move forward.

As wrong as the situation looked, Guy got the sickening feeling that Marian would still defend Robin. She would still love him. Reaching the lake, Guy paused when he saw the clothing hanging on the branches. Most of it was still damp. Hearing splashing, he moved forward hoping to find Meg well. Instead, he stopped dead in his tacks.

Swimming in the water was a beautiful siren with brown curls and pale skin. Though he couldn’t see the details of her body beneath the water, Guy was still moved by the sight. Meg stole his breath. Clenching his fists at his sides, he fought his body’s reaction as he watched her smile as she swam in the water. Try as he might, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

Wild scenarios started to take over his mind. Guy imagined stripping off his own clothing, going into the water, taking Meg roughly against his body, and kissing her senseless. He imagined caressing her naked skin, smoothing his hands and lips down her neck to her breasts. He would kiss her nipples until they hardened against his tongue before moving on to new territory. Pressing her closer, his fingers would move between her legs to caress her secret folds until she whimpered his name and surrendered against him. He would lift her in his arms, secure her legs around his waist before gently gliding his cock into her, feeling her body shudder against him as her cries of passion sounded in his ears as he brought them both pleasure.

The desire for Meg was so strong, Guy had to battle is baser urges for several minutes. When his body and mind was once more under his own control, he knew he needed to do all he could to be immune to her. Finally, Guy was able to look back at Meg and knew he needed to let his presence be known. Taking a few steps forward when her back was to him, Guy spoke.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Chapter Text

Those blue eyes held her captive. Heart pounding in her ears, Meg struggled to breathe. Feeling the heat rising in her cheeks, her tongue refused to work and her mind went blank. Guy looked so imposing, handsome, and uneasy all at once standing there on the bank. A shiver raced down Meg’s spine at the thought of him joining her. Such a thing would be completely improper, so why did she suddenly crave Guy swimming against her in the water?

Sinking farther down below the surface in an effort to shield her body from his gaze, Meg remembered her feelings were one-sided. Though Marian was dead, Guy still felt love for the woman. Licking her lips, Meg couldn’t help but feel vulnerable with Guy continuing to stare at her.

“I…” Swallowing hard, Meg hated how her voice cracked and her nerves attacked her at every moment she spent under his attention. “The sun was hot and I- well, the laundry needed doing. It’s all done as you can see. I felt in need of some refreshing-” Realizing she was rambling; Meg bit her bottom lip and felt her blush intensify. Closing her eyes, she gave a shake of her head. “Never mind.”

His first instinct was to reach out and comfort Meg. The last thing he meant to do was cause her to feel uncomfortable around him, but by letting her know of his presence, he had done just that.

“Forgive me,” he said. “My intention was not to disturb you.”

Meg opened her mouth to respond, but Guy was already walking away from her. He picked up a blanket off one of the branches and dropped it over a rock before turning around to give her some privacy. Inhaling a deep breath, she emerged from the water. Reaching for the blanket, she quickly dried her skin, reached for her shift and gown, and dressed as quickly as her shaking fingers would allow. Putting the blanket over her shoulders, she moved toward Guy’s back.

“Are you well,” he asked.

She nodded before she recalled he wouldn’t see her. “Yes,” she answered.

Daring a glance over his shoulder, Guy was relieved to see she was clothed and presentable. The sight of Meg dressed and wrapped in a blanket was suddenly just as alluring as the sight of her nude in the lake. Pushing back the urge to move closer, or think about how he wanted to snuggle beneath the blanket with her, he tried to remember why he came looking for her in the first place.

“How is your wound?”

Now that he mentioned it, her side did ache, but not to the point of being overly uncomfortable. Biting her lower lip, Meg wasn’t sure what to say. Would Guy think her weak if she admitted to the pain.

“It’s fine,” she answered.

Meg wasn’t a very good liar. Guy knew she probably pulled at the stitches too much while doing the laundry Kate thrust upon her, but saying as much would ruin her pride. Instead, Guy moved to the branches and started removing and folding the dry clothes.

Taking advantage of the opening, Meg moved to help Guy. Wordlessly, Meg packed the items into the leather sack. She didn’t protest when he took the full sack and carried back to camp for her. Instead, Meg doubted she could say a word to him.

Did he see anything? Mug’s cheeks flamed anew at the very idea of Guy seeing her naked body. Now, she wouldn’t mind seeing Guy nude in the lake, but the idea of him seeing her was quite different. Feeling more foolish by the moment, Meg looked at everything around her except her companion. Though she certainly never intended to do it, Meg felt like every time she turned around, she was doing something embarrassing in front of Guy. Meg wanted to be graceful and alluring, not sickly and wounded or nude in a lake! How was she going to recover?

The silence was poignant. The last thing Guy wanted was an awkwardness to rise up between them. She was the one person in this forsaken world he cared about on any level. She was his only friend.

“I did not…see you in the lake,” he ventured. “Not the way you think.”

“Oh,” as all she could manage in response.

Stopping suddenly, Guy reached out and took her hand. She gasped at the sudden contact and reacted by finally looking up at him. Cheeks still flaming, Meg tried to pull free.

“Guy-”

“Listen, Meg, please,” he begged. “I do not want things to change between us. I do not want you to be angry with me. I did not intend to catch you...in the lake. That is why I called out to you, but

I never meant to frighten you. You do not hate me, do you?”

Meg swallowed and shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “I don’t hate you.”

Her words satisfied him a little, but not enough to convince him all was well. “But you are uncomfortable?”

Straightening, Meg forced her eyes to meet his gaze. “As you said, it was an accident. And you did not see anything. I am embarrassed, but it will pass.”

Before she could say something else to make the situation worse, Meg turned and continued walking up the path. Guy let her walk ahead knowing she needed her space. He did not want to think the friendship between them would never be the same. If it wasn’t, he knew he should be pleased on some level. Meg should be wary of him and keep him at a distance. At the same time, Guy did not want to let her go. Meg lingered in his mind and in his blood and there was nothing he could do about it.

Hurrying to the camp, Meg felt waves of relief at knowing she wouldn’t have to be alone with Guy anymore. Her relief was short-lived the moment she saw Kate. The blonde was walking toward her with a scowl and a sword.

“Where is the laundry,” she demanded.

“Oh! Um, Guy is carrying it back for me.”

Kate lifted a brow. “Really? And where is the noble Guy of Gisborne?”

Meg looked over her shoulder to see Guy enter the camp with the sack. He set it down in front of Kate before turning on his heel and marching away. Meg felt a pang of hurt as she watched him retreat. She didn’t notice Kate bending to inspect her work. “You did a fair job,” Kate said begrudgingly. “The blankets have some leaves caught in them.”

Hearing the nasty tone, Meg wanted to snap at Kate, but didn’t quite have the energy. Besides, Much came back and offered her a smile and a kind word. His smile deepened when he saw Kate.

“Ladies,” he greeted with a bow.

“Laundry is done,” Kate said without preamble.

“Oh,” Much looked at Meg. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Returning Much’s smile, she was pleased that someone around here was being kind to her.

“Do you cook,” Much asked.

“I-well…”

“Meg is a lady,” Kate interjected sarcastically. “I doubt she can cook, Much.”

Sick of Kate answering for her as if she knew her, Meg moved to stand in front of Much. “Actually, I do a little.”

Much’s expression brightened. “Really? Ever make stew?”

Meg nodded. “On occasion. I watched our cook do a stew a few times.”

“Would you care to help me, then? Between the two of us we should be able to put together a fine meal.”

Well, if the task got her away from Kate, then Meg was more than willing. Besides, Much seemed kind enough. He didn’t take an instant dislike to her simply because she defended Guy.

Letting out a noise of disgust, Kate left them alone. Hours later, the stew was cooking and Meg was preparing the greens and berries in a bowl. Preparing the animals to be cooked was a chore she would rather leave in Much’s capable hands. She did help slice the meat and stir the stew over the fire. Feeling accomplished, Meg could easily ignore the nagging pain in her side.

Hearing voices, she looked up to see the other outlaws retuning to camp. She couldn’t help but feel disappointment noting Guy was not among them. Returning her attention to the chopping of greens, she couldn’t help but hear the conversation around her. Listening halfheartedly, she tried to be invisible. Robin first spoke about the villagers and how they appreciated the food, but then he spoke about Isabella’s next move. They all knew the sheriff would have something tricky up her sleeve and they wanted to be prepared.

“Any word on Archer,” Much asked Robin.

“No,” he shook his head. “I’m not sure what he’s up to. He was interested in Isabella though.”

“Isabella,” Much frowned. “Why?”

“He grew up poor. She’s is half-sister and she’s in a position of power. Isabella is also wealthy. It’s really not a surprise what Archer would want to be connected to her rather than to us.”

“So he cares nothing about the cause? Or King Richard?”

Robin smiled at Much’s question. “Some men only care about ambition.”

“I don’t understand how you can defend him!”

“He’s my brother, Much.”

“Yes, well, perhaps he inherited more Gisborne blood than Locksley blood.”

Meg gritted her teeth at hearing the comment. Guy was not a monster! Why was she the only one who took the time to see it? She was of a mind to say something, but Robin gave Much a stern look before moving away to speak to Tuck. Stealing a glance at Much, Meg saw the man looked very uncomfortable. Those two were very close friends who seemed to be disagreeing more than normal lately.

Part of Meg felt for Much. He was loyal to Robin to a fault, but never received credit for being so. Anyone could see it. Yet, Robin seemed to take the friendship for granted. Meg also saw how Much looked at Kate. Obviously, Much cared for the blonde, but Robin was the one to win Kate’s heart. Was it a sore spot between the two, she wondered.

Suddenly, Meg realized she and Much did have a lot in common. Deep down, Meg knew the odds of Guy returning her feeling were slim, but she still held out hope. Part of her hated that Guy pined away for a woman that betrayed him with another man, but at the same time she understood since she pined away for him.

When supper was served, Meg sat and ate quietly apart from the others. The outlaws talked and joked around the fire, but she could not find the energy to attempt to join the conversation. Her eyes kept looking to the edge of the camp hoping to see Guy walk to her at any moment.

He never came. The meal was over and Guy never came back to the camp. To battle the heavy weight of hurt pushing down on her heart, Meg took it upon herself to clean up after the meal. No one noticed or even bothered to thank her.

When the mess was clean, she left the camp in search of some fresh air. As hard as she tried, Meg couldn’t shake the feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty. Did she chase Guy away after what happened this afternoon? Should she try to find him and put his mind at ease?

Noticing the sunlight was quickly fading, she knew it would be unwise to journey far from the camp at night. She did not need to fall prey to some sort of mishap. Besides, Guy was a grown man.

He could handle himself. Hopefully. With a sigh and a heart full of worry, Meg went back to the camp silently saying a prayer.

Chapter Text

Walking in the woods alone, Guy tried to purge the demons out of his mind but all he could think about was Marian. Why couldn’t he get her out of his head? Why couldn’t he stop remembering the time he spent with her and comparing her to Meg? Why couldn’t he control his feelings for Meg? He should be focusing on Archer and getting his revenge on Isabella! Instead, all he could do was dwell on the mistakes of his past and try to continue to convince his conscience that staying away from the woman he now craved was a good idea.

One benefit of having Marian constantly on is mind was that Guy was now able to list all of Marian’s faults. He thought her a paragon once – a saint – but Marian was just a woman. A woman that used his softer feelings for her to her own advantage in order to help the man she did care for. Despite all her sins, Guy knew all too well that Marian did not deserve her fate. The guilt of his actions would forever plague his soul.

The guilt is harbored was the stone wall between him and Meg. Guy realized it wasn’t so much his unresolved feelings for Marian keeping him away from Meg as much as it was his own need to punish himself for Marian’s death. What better way to suffer then to deny himself happiness?

Getting the sneaking suspicion he would be forever torn on the subject, Guy rubbed his hands over his face. Yes, he wanted Meg. He wanted her with a passion he couldn’t define or fully understand, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it. Once their conflict with Isabella was finished, Guy vowed to do what he could to make sure Meg was once more back in her own home among her own ilk. She would have a second chance. He owed her as much.

“You were not at dinner.”

Guy refused to turn at the sound of the voice. “I was not hungry.”

“And how do you expect to fight without sustenance?”

“I did well enough in York.”

Moving to stand beside him, Robin looked up at the sky. A few of the stars were already visible. The Northern Star shined the brightest at this hour.

“Things in Nottingham have been quiet lately, but that’s unlikely to last. Isabella will make a move soon.”

Guy glanced at robin. “Any ideas?”

“She’s your sister. What do you think?”

Shaking his head, Guy was at a loss for words. He considered a moment before answering. “She may be my sister, but I don’t know her well. Her marriage changed her.”

“Some would say that was your fault.”

“Enough,” Guy snapped. “We both know the way of the world. We were in France, penniless, with no prospects. I did what I thought was best. I did not know the kind of man Thornton was. Had I known, I would have married her to someone else, yet married off she would have been. It was her only chance for a decent life. Since there is no undoing the past, I suggest that we stop dwelling on it and start thinking of solutions.”

Robin nodded. “I agree. What do you suspect Isabella will do next?”

“After her defeat in York, she’ll be plotting,” Guy decided. “She won’t be planning an outright attack. I suspect she’ll do something a bit more covert.”

“Makes sense,” Robin admitted. “However, until we have an idea of what she’s planning, we can’t really counter it.”

“We keep our eyes and ears open,” Guy sad.

“For now.”

Robin turned to leave, but then thought better of it and turned back around to Guy. “Do you think Archer is gone?”

Suddenly remembering what Meg told him about her dream, Guy shook his head. “I have a feeling Archer will turn up in Nottingham.”

“Really?” The outlaw’s brows rose in surprise. “Why?”

“He is attracted to wealth and power. At the moment, Isabella possesses both.”

“I was thinking the same,” Robin admitted. “So, he will be our enemy?”

“I’m not sure,” Guy confessed. “Isabella isn’t known for keeping friends. We may win him over yet.”

“We have more obstacles than solutions.”

There was no denying that the road ahead would be rough. Guy was all too aware that he might not make it to the other end. The knowledge caused him to remain silent.

“There is something I’ve wanted to ask you,” Robin ventured after several moments of silence.

“What,” Guy asked.

“It’s about Marian.”

“No.” Guy turned away. “I will not speak of her.”

“Just tell me one thing,” Robin said. “Did you intend to kill her? Did you want revenge?”

The question was not what he expected and Guy turned around to meet Robin’s gaze. Briefly, he considered not answering, but decided against it.

“No,” he stated. “I never intended to kill her. It… happened so quickly.”

“How did it come to happen at all?”

Without another word, Guy turned and walked away; leaving Robin standing alone in the clearing.

****

Waking with a gasp, Meg’s hand flew to her throat. The same dream was still haunting her. The vivid details had her heart pounding even as they started to fade with the light of day. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up and noticed she was alone. She slept in – again.

Running her fingers through her hair, she got to her feet, and then began to dress. Seeing a plate of food set aside with a cloth draped over it, Meg reached out to peek underneath.

“Snacking are we?”

Startled, Meg couldn’t quite hold in a gasp and whirled around to see Kate smirking at her. She wasn’t surprised. Kate seemed to make it her personal mission to antagonize Meg.

“I was just looking for some food,” Meg said making sure to meet Kate’s gaze.

Kate’s smirk started to take on a smug appearance. “Guy made it a point to set aside some of his portion for you. Clearly, the two of you are close.”

The way Kate stressed the last word had Meg’s blood up. “We were imprisoned and nearly killed together.” Meg knew she sounded defensive but didn’t care. “We became friends.”

“Friends?” Kate scoffed at the word. “Gisborne has a lot to learn about the concept.”

“Didn’t you promise Robin you would accept him?”

Kate’s gaze flashed a glimpse of her fury before she masked it under the guise of scorn. “I put up with Gisborne because Robin thinks it best. You really aren’t part of the deal.”

“So, you think you can bully me?”

The scowl on Kate’s face deepened to a snarl. “Just don’t get in the way,” she warned before storming out of the camp and into the forest.

Staring after the woman, Meg fisted her hands at her sides as she tried to reel in her temper. Clearly, the two of them were not going to get along. Yet, the last thing Meg needed was another conflict on her hands. Her mind needed to stay focused on what was going on around her, especially with regards to Isabella.

Meg had a strong feeling Archer would come to Nottingham and try to make an alliance with Isabella. Eventually, Archer would see the light, but Meg wasn’t exactly sure how. Most who dealt with Isabella ended up regretting it. Maybe this was where she was supposed to help events along?

“Ah, you’re awake.”

Glancing behind her to see Tuck, Meg managed to give the man a smile of greeting. “Yes.”

“And how is your injury?”

“Fine.”

“Would you care to come with us to the village to hand out some food? We could always use and extra hand.” Meg’s face brightened, but she remembered her dilemma and her smile fell. “I would love to help, but I can’t take the chance on being recognized.”

“If you are one of Robin’s gang, they wouldn’t betray you,” Tuck quickly reminded.

“I’m sure my father has offered a reward for my return. I would rather help out here at the camp.”

Tuck nodded in understanding. “As you wish.”

Left alone in the shelter of the camp, Meg quietly ate her food as she looked around for a task to busy her hands. Mending torn clothing seemed like a good way as any to keep her mind occupied as well as her fingers. Though she was sure all the men knew how to do their own sewing, they weren’t here and she wanted to be helpful.

During the course of the day, several of them and came and went, especially Much, but no one disturbed her. A few hours later, Meg no sooner finished the mending and she heard her name. Looking up, she was surprised to see Robin beckoning for her to join him. Getting her feet, Meg moved to follow. She noticed the outlaw seemed nervous, but she wasn’t sure why he would be.

“Meg, there is something I want to ask you,” Robin started. “You seem to be the only person I know to get through to Guy. I was wondering just how much he has confided in you.”

Suspicions rising, Meg wasn’t sure what Robin was asking of her, but she was instantly cautious. “Guy keeps things close to the chest,” she said.

“I know, but I was wondering if he ever mentioned a woman by the name of Marian to you.”

Meg nodded, knowing that Marian wasn’t exactly a secret. “He has. I know they were engaged at one time, but I do not know details.”

Robin’s eyes took on an urgency Meg couldn’t define. He moved closer as if he was about to tell her a secret and spoke in a softer tone. “Has he ever told you how she died?”

Looking down at her hands, Meg felt very uncomfortable. How could she answer Robin without betraying Guy’s trust? Forcing her eyes back up to look at Robin, she knew she would tell the truth, but she wouldn’t tolerate Robin coming to her when he didn’t want to deal directly with Guy.

“He told me he destroyed her, but he never elaborated. I assume he killed her.”

Robin nodded, but continued to press the matter. “Did he ever say exactly how it happened?”

“No,” Meg said slowly. “Why not ask him?”

“I have. He refuses to speak of it.”

“No doubt the memories are painful for him. He is overcome with grief.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Robin let his anger and frustration show. “I married Marian as she lay dying in my arms! Our future was stolen from us because of Gisborne! At the very least, I deserve to know what was said and done!”

Refusing to be intimidated by Robin’s outburst, Meg stood as tall as she could manage. “Guy has not confided those details to me. Even if he did, I would not betray his trust in me. I am not a way to him.”

Staring at Meg for several long moments, Robin finally nodded. Oddly enough, he respected Meg’s position. “He is lucky to have a friend in you.”

Meg nodded. “Thank you.”

With a nod of his own, Robin headed off down a hill toward the thicker brush of the forest. Letting out a long breath, Meg couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever be rid of the shadow Marian was casting over her life. She wasn’t sure how Marian became such a saint in the eyes of the men around her, but Meg knew Marian wouldn’t be soon forgotten.

Chapter Text

Kate swatted her sword at the shrubbery imagining it was Guy’s face she was slicing. So intent on her activity, she didn’t notice Much as he approached. Turning and seeing him, Kate gasped and drew her sword up at the last minute.

“Damn it, Much!” Seething, she shook her head. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to make sure you were alright. You seem a bit…on edge lately.”

Surely he wasn’t the only one to have noticed. Then again, Robin was more focused on anticipating Isabella’s next moved to notice her moods. “I’m fine,” she lied.

“Don’t do that,” Much pleaded. “I’m your friend, Kate. Having Guy here among us is eating away at you.”

“Robin trusts him,” she argued. “That’s all I need to know.”

“But you don’t trust him.”

“And I never will,” she insisted. “I can’t forget about my brother.”

Moving forward, Much wanted to reach out and out a comforting hand on her shoulder, but knew there was really no way to get through to Kate when she was in this sort of mood. “That’s part of the problem isn’t it,” he asked. “Guy’s presence makes you remember what happened with your brother and how he died. More than that, it makes you remember what you did wrong. You question the outcome. If only you did one thing differently maybe he would still be alive.”

How dare he know so much! Swallowing hard, Kate fought back tears. “It was still Gisborne’s sword that cut him down! He showed no mercy! No remorse! Just like Marian!”

Cautiously, Much moved closer. “But part of you knows that your brother did attack Gisborne first. Yes, Guy was on the other side, but he did what anyone would have done. He did what we have done before – defend ourselves. Had he been more skilled, maybe your brother might not have died. Unfortunately, he’s gone. There is nothing more to be done. It hurts and makes you feel helpless.”

Whipping around, Kate wiped angrily at the tears coming down her cheeks. “How do you know all that?”

Much shrugged. “I’ve been to war. I’ve seen men die. Good men that made the wrong choice. They turned left instead of right. They attacked when they should have blocked. Seconds exist to make a choice. Seconds to live or die.”

“And did you ever have the enemy in your camp claiming to suddenly be on your side?”

“We worked with some of the natives,” he admitted. “The sad reality is that no one is fully good or fully evil in war. We all have layers, Kate.”

She avoided looking at him as tears slide down her cheeks. “You are kind, Much, but you won’t make me think well of Gisborne.”

“That’s not my intention,” he stated. “I just want you to know that I understand.”

“Thanks,” she said with sincerity.

The truth was that Kate did feel better. She would never like Gisborne, but suddenly working with the man around didn’t feel like such a burden. Seeing Much’s expression, Kate couldn’t help but return his smile. “Have you seen Robin,” she asked.

Much’s smile faltered. Always Robin. “I think he and Tuck went out to the clearing with Allan to train.”

“I should get over there then.”

Watching Kate take her sword and hurry off, Much knew that he really didn’t get through to her at all. She preferred Robin. Such an unfortunate truth wasn’t going to change. Much did the best he could to live with it. Still, seeing Kate rush off to find his best friend ate at him.

With each day, Much hoped that his feelings for Kate would somehow go away. Yet, every time he saw her smile, Much felt that same aching pang in his gut. The truth was he would never be the man for Kate. The only course he could see was to just endure.

Heading back to the camp, he came up short when he realized he wasn’t alone. “How long have you been there?”

“Not long,” Guy shrugged.

“Well, you shouldn’t be lurking about! Were you spying?”

Rolling his eyes, Guy moved to walk next to Much on the path. “I was just out for a walk to clear my head. I saw the two of you and intended to walk away until I heard my name.”

There was a long pause.

“I must say,” Guy continued. “I’m surprised you defended me.”

“I wasn’t defending you! I was trying to help Kate.”

Guy nodded. “You care for her.”

It wasn’t a question. Much simply raised his brows and shifted on his feet. “It doesn’t matter.”

Though he smiled, Guy did not feel the humor. “You stand aside and let another man have her. A man who claims to feel undying love for his lost wife.”

Out of habit, Much felt the need to defend his friend. “What Robin has with Kate is completely different from what he had with Marian!”

“Really,” Guy asked with sarcastic disbelief.

“Yes!” Much’s eyes narrowed. “And you’re one to talk!”

“Meaning what?”

Much should back down while he had the chance, but he wasn’t about to let a man like Gisborne get the better of him. The words poured out of his mouth before he could think better of it.

“Meaning that you claimed to love Marian as well, and I see the way you look at Meg!”

The words caught Guy off guard. Were his feelings so obvious? “Meg and I are friends,” he growled.

“Just like Kate and I are friends?” Much wasn’t letting the subject go.

Knowing what the other man was getting at, Guy clenched his fists at his sides and struggled to control his temper. Giving Much a cold stare, he saw Much gather is courage and refuse to back down.

“I see the way you look at her,” Much repeated.

In this moment, Guy wanted to punch the peasant’s face until he drew blood. Instead, he gritted his teeth and bit out an argument. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. I owe Meg a debt. That’s all.”

“So, instead of being with someone you care about, you’ll keep pining away after a woman who loved someone else?”

“I am atoning for my sins,” Guy roared. “You rather have me behave like Marian’s widower? Robin is with another woman!”

“But he hasn’t forgotten Marian,” Much argued. “He never will. She was the only one he would ever consider settling down with. His life has now become the cause.”

Guy didn’t believe a word of it. “And Kate? How does she fit into the cause?”

Shuffling his feet, Much avoided Guy’s gaze. The truth was harsh. “As long as they live the life of outlaws, then I’m sure all will be well. Kate fights at his side. One day she may want more, but Robin won’t be capable of giving it to her.”

And that was Robin’s excuse? As far as Guy was concerned, Robin’s choice to be with Kate erased any sympathy he deserved where Marian was concerned.

“And you will give her a secure future,” Guy asked.

Sighing, Much, shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t leave as long as Robin needs my help.”

“An impossible situation then,” he concluded. “Yet, you would have me seeking happiness despite the face you know of my past?”

“It’s the unworthy that need it the most.”

Though the words gave Guy pause, he still shook his head. The last thing he should be doing was losing his focus. Meg touched him deep in his ruined soul, but a ruined soul it still was. There was no getting around the fact. Political matters took precedent at the moment. Besides, if her drams were to be believed, then Guy didn’t have much time left on this earth. He secretly believed there may be some truth to Meg’s dreams.

Watching Much walk away, Guy wondered what would have happened to the lot of them if Marion had lived. Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer. She would have chosen Robin. She did choose him. The knowledge tore at his heart because this was the first time Guy was admitting the truth. As hard as he tried to win Marian over, she wanted another.

Until he could redeem his soul, Guy wondered if he could ever be worthy of another love. Would he ever be worthy of Meg? How could he even expect her to be with the man he was now? Meg may see good in him, but all Guy saw in his heart was darkness.

****

Coming to the clearing, Kate smiled when she saw Robin teaching Tuck some moves in basic swordplay. Approaching the men, her smile deepened with genuine amusement. “Need any help?”

All of them paused to look up at her. Breathing heavily, Robin laughed. “We are fine. I have it well in hand.”

“Then may I watch?”

Allan chuckled as Kate sat down to observe. “Now you’re going to show off,” he told Robin.

Ignoring Allan, but not losing his good humor, Robin gestured to Tuck to continue. At first, the monk looked skeptical, but then lifted his sword and rushed at his opponent. Almost effortlessly, Robin was able to dodge the blow, whirl on his feet, and send Tuck flying down into a pile of leaves. Laughing at the display, Kate clapped her hands as her eyes gave Robin an appreciative look. Allan was up next, but he gave Robin a fight. In the end, Robin did manage to best Allan, but only just. As the men dispersed, Kate got to her feet and brushed the leaves and twigs from her skirts. Rushing to keep up with Robin, she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.

“I was thinking we could have supper by ourselves tonight.”

Robin gave her a playful look. “Oh?”

His hesitation caused her to falter in her flirting but she kept her smile in place. She thought Robin would be pleased by the plan. “Well, the camp does feel a bit more crowded with two other people taking up space. It has been a while since we’ve spent time together.”

“I know it has,” he gave her an apologetic look. “I am sorry for it, but we need to be on our guard. Isabella could make a move at any moment. We need to be ready for her."

Unable to help it, Kate frowned at the mention of the sheriff. “Always Isabella,” she grumbled. “Maybe you should think of your friends, Robin.”

“I am thinking of everyone, Kate. Do not make this into more than it is.”

How could she not? Not liking the slight warning she heard in his tone, she felt her temper rise. Before she could lose her composure, Kate walked ahead, leaving Robin to watch her back as she retreated. Shaking his head, Robin knew Kate was disappointed, but he had to think of the cause. He would make it up to her.

Chapter Text

One thing Meg could say for being forced to do all the dishes and laundry for the past few days was that she was getting to know her way around the forest pretty well. Coming back from the lake carrying a sack of fresh clothes, Meg felt almost happy. Of course, the second the thought entered her mind a sharp pain tugged at her side. The stitches were causing her skin to itch. The red rash around the thread hinted at the scar that would be left behind.

Another sharp pain jolted through her causing her to gasp and drop the sack as she doubled over with a hand to her side. Reaching out with her other hand to brace her fingers against a tree trunk for balance, she closed her eyes and inhaled steady breaths waiting for the pain to pass. For a few moments, she felt dizzy, but the sensation soon eased. Several more seconds went by before the pain started to ebb. Opening her eyes, she looked down at her side. Thankfully, there was no blood seeping through the fabric of her gown, but the pain still lingered.

After a few more moments, Meg reached down to grip the sack. Lifting the weight caused the pain in her side to intensify. Gasping again, she dropped the sack and leaned more heavily against the tree. Sliding down to sit at the base of the trunk, Meg guessed she should wait until the pain fully went away before attempting any movement.

No one would miss her for a while yet, so she would have some privacy. Hopefully, she would make it back to the camp before the next meal. Envisioning Much’s face when he couldn’t find the dishes she stored away made her smile. In such a short time, Meg realized she was fond of the others. Allan could always make her laugh. Tuck was kind and patient.

Well, she and Kate quarreled, but Meg did genuinely like the others. The small amount of contentment she found evaporated when she realized she could very well be running out of time. In her dream, even poor Allan was killed by enemy arrows.

Briefly, Meg wondered if she should confide in someone. The first person she thought of was Guy, but he held little influence over the others. She could talk to Robin, but would he believe her? Meg hardly believed the images in her dreams half the time and was always second-guessing what she saw, so how was she supposed to convince Robin to listen?

One element Meg could not shake was how she kept seeing the face of the old sheriff. She knew it was Vaisey because the man visited her father on occasion. He loved to prance around announcing his title as sheriff when he first managed to snag it from his predecessor. The man’s gold-toothed grin always sent a chill through her blood. Guy swore the man was dead, but maybe that is what the old sheriff wanted. Perhaps, letting everyone think he was dead is what enabled him to raise the army she saw in the dream? The army gathered in Prince John’s name to take back Nottingham?

Unfortunately, little was clear to Meg. The dreams came with more regularity, but she was left alone to try and puzzle out the details and the meanings. As a result, she was left with more questions than answers. The most prevalent had to do with whether or not she could do anything to save Guy’s life. More than ever, Meg felt confused by the dreams and wondered why she was being plagued with them in the first place.

The first time she had the dream while she was imprisoned, the details were so clear and vivid. He knew what she had to do, but the more time she sent in the forest, the more time she was alive, Meg became uncertain. Was it wrong for her to want to have her own life? More specifically, a life with Guy?

All Meg’s wishes would have to be put on hold. Nothing in life was guaranteed, but she knew she was having the dreams for a reason. She didn’t die in the woods for a reason. If she was alive, then she held out hope for Guy and the others as well. All she had to do was get them through the final battle she knew was on the horizon.

But how?

“Meg?”

Startled, she looked up and saw the devil she was just thinking of. “Guy!”

“Are you hurt?” He moved closer, a look of concern on his face at seeing her sitting by the tree.

For a moment, seeing his expression, Meg felt her heart hammer in her chest, but she regained her common sense quickly enough. The awkwardness and unease they felt around one another recently vanished as he drew closer. Remembering why she was sitting on the ground, she nodded to Guy.

“I am well. I just paused for a rest.”

Glancing at the sack, Guy gave a nod of understanding, but he wasn’t convinced Meg was as well as she claimed. Her skin was pale again. He knew he shouldn’t be spending time with Meg or seeking her out, but his own desires were at war with the duty and debt her owed her. Being too near would trigger feelings he was trying hard to suppress. At the same time, looking at her now, she was Meg. She was the woman that listened to him in the dungeons. She was the one to bring him out of the darkness. How could he simply walk away from her?

Moving to sit down beside her, he let the quiet chirping of the birds and noises of the forest surround them. Finally, turning to look at Meg, Guy found his voice. “How long have you felt the pain?”

Blinking rapidly, Meg couldn’t conceal her surprise. At first, she tried to deny it, but Guy had a way of looking at her that told her all her protests were useless. Sighing, she shook her head. “Not long,” she confessed. “Just this morning coming back from the lake.”

“You need to tell Tuck.”

Managing a smile, she shook her head. “I just needed some rest. I’m sure it will ease soon.”

“I do not want you to hurt yourself further,” he said with a stern tone.

Meg nearly smiled at his lecturing but looked down at her hands instead. “But if I do not get the laundry done, Kate might get upset,” she teased. “Then where would be all be?”

Guy did not smile. “Kate dislikes you because of me,” he said in all seriousness. “I wish I could make it better, but-”

”It’s not your fault,” Meg assured him. “I wonder if we would get along if we didn’t have you to argue over. Something tells me that Kate is too rash to keep friends that don’t agree with her every word.”

Guy grunted. “She manages here well enough.”

Meg’s smile returned. “Among men, she fairs well. In a circle of women, she might encounter a few obstacles.”

Guy chuckled at the scene Meg described, but all too soon his expression soon sobered. “Meg?”

“Yes?”

Guy’s face took on even more seriousness, if such was even possible. “Do you hate living here? In the woods? Do you miss your home?”

The questions caught her off-guard. What was he asking her? Using caution, Meg reached out to grasped his hand and give his fingers a reassuring squeeze. She knew he would only have the truth from her, so she gave it. “Parts I miss, but I do not mind being here. I most certainly do not blame you for how events played out. I even think you saved my life.”

What she could not say was that she hoped to save his in return.

“There is a lot that I have to make up for in my life.” Guy couldn’t keep Meg’s gaze as he spoke, but his eyes did fall to look at their joined hands. At times like these, Guy could swear Meg could see down into his very soul. There was a connection between them he could feel every moment they touched. A connection that reached down to his bones; a sensation that felt forbidden and too good to be true all at once. He should pull away, but in this moment he didn’t want to give up the sensations. Just a little more, a little longer.

Guy cleared his throat before continuing. “I want you to know that I will do all I can to make sure you status is returned once Isabella is dealt with.”

Meg tied to catch is gaze. “That’s really not necessary, Guy. Please, do not go to so much trouble for me.”

“If I am to die, as you say, then-”

“No!” Meg’s fingers tightened around his. Her eyes pleaded, but he refused to look at her. “Guy, listen! Those dreams are only one outcome! We can change things!”

“Meg,” he said thickly. “What if it is already fated? You must prepare for that.”

“No,” she nearly shouted. Shaking her head in denial, Meg refused to think of Guy dying. She didn’t mean to say as much as she did about the dreams, but now she felt the need to clarify it all to him and make him understand that he should not give up.

“The dreams come to me for a reason!”

Looking skeptical, Guy brought their joined hands to his lips and gave her knuckles a soft kiss. “You are in pain. Let’s get you back to the camp so Tuck can help you.”

“Guy – no! I’m fine!” Her protests and struggles were useless against him. Guy lifted her up in his arms as if she weighed little more than a twig. For a moment, the contact with his warmth stole away her breath. Oh, how she wished Guy handled her thus for reasons other then methodical.

Swallowing down her sorrow, she closed her eyes and tried to gather her thoughts. The heat and awareness of Guy’s body would soon be turning her mind to mush. She held on to Guy as he picked up the sack of laundry and began walking to the camp.

“I know there is a way to save us all,” she said with her cheek pressed against his shoulder. She was too afraid to look up at his face and see his doubt. “I will find it.”

Not wanting to argue with her, Guy gave a nod. “Then we will find a way.”

Hearing the words, Meg tried to twist around to see his face, but the pain suddenly shot through her side, burning fire, and caused a cry to leave her lips. Alarmed, Guy ran for the camp. When he was close, he shouted for Tuck. The monk seemed to take forever to appear.

By that time, Meg’s face was flushed and she was nearly listless. Guy said a silent prayer as he lay her down on the straw. Tuck demanded to know what happened and Guy told him what he knew, but his eyes never wavered from Meg’s face. If there was a merciful God that would listen to any of his prayers, Guy prayed for Meg’s life to be speared.

****

There is was again. The castle at Nottingham. Beneath the fortress as a secret tunnel leading up to the main hall. This tunnel was where two brave men would suffer mortal blows. Meg watched from a distance as Guy battled the old sheriff. He tried to save Robin and was slain. Crying out, Meg rushed forward. All she could think of was getting to him and helping him. Just as she gained some ground, the scene shifted and started to fade.

“No!”

The sound of her own voice echoed around her. Tears streaked down her cheeks. Lost in a swirl of whitish gray mist, she lifted her face to try and see the sky above her. “Why?” She screamed the word over and over, but received no answer.

“Why won’t you let me help him?!”

Unable to stop the sobbing, Meg felt helpless and sank down to her knees. The mist whirled around her before taking on a solid form. Blinking, Meg wondered if she should believe what her eyes were seeing.

A beautiful woman stood before her with dark hair and pale eyes. The same woman Meg saw in her dreams. The woman smiled, which caused Meg to frown in further confusion.

“Who are you?”

“An ally,” the brunette said.

Even more confused, Meg didn’t bother to hide her disbelief. “How can you help me?”

“I helped spare your life. In turn, I need your help making amends.”

“Amends? For what?”

The woman’s smile faded. “I was not blameless.”

“For what?”

Slowly, the woman shook her head and started to fade. Meg reached out, but only grasped air.

“No,” she screamed into the mist. “Wait, please! I don’t know what to do!”

“Save Guy,” the mist whispered. “Hold close the dream!”

The dream? Pain seized ahold of Meg’s sense, rousing her from her sleep with a cry. Eyes wide, she saw faces all around her. Expressions of concern surrounded her, but her gaze searched for one familiar pair of blue eyes.

“Guy,” she gasped. “Where’s Guy?”

Arms surrounded her, holding her close. Meg felt instantly warm and safe. The pain still made her skin burn, but she wasn’t shaking as much with these strong arms around her.

“I am here,” a deep voice said into her ear, causing her to relax in his hold. “You’re safe.”

Eyelids feeling heavy, Meg couldn’t manage to keep her eyes open. Guy was here and she did feel safe. The knowledge allowed her to drift back to sleep. This time there was no dream.

Chapter Text

By the time Meg regained consciousness, the stars were bright in the night sky. Blinking the fog from her vision, Meg frowned as she put a hand to her aching forehead. She tried to sit up, but pain once more laced through her side.

“Don’t try to move.”

Glancing in the direction of the voice, she saw Guy sitting by her side, fully awake, and watching over her. Strange. She didn’t feel his presence upon waking. “What happened,” she whispered.

“Your wound was infected again.” A hint of disapproval filled his tone. “Tuck was able to clean out the poison, but you need to stay off your feet for the next few days at the very least.”

Shaking her head, Meg knew such a thing wasn’t possible. “I have to contribute,” she said weakly as she struggled to keep her eyes open.

“Stubborn to the end,” he said with a hint of genuine amusement. “I will take care of things. Do not worry.”

“Guy-”

“You should go back to sleep.”

Meg’s frown deepened. The last thing she wanted was to sleep. There was so much to be done; so much she didn’t understand. And that woman – what did she mean about making amends and saving Guy? Who was she? Did she somehow know Guy or was she just a figment of Meg’s own imagination?

“Where are the others,” she asked.

“The others are sleeping,” he answered. “Robin and Much went to the town to see if they could hear any gossip about Isabella. They should be back by morning.”

“Any word on Archer?”

“Not that I’ve heard,” Guy said.

What made her think of his brother? Guy felt a pang of jealousy, but pushed it aside. He had no claim on Meg and therefore no right to such feelings.

“I do not know what to do.” Meg’s voice sounded fatigued.

“You need to sleep,” Guy said gently.

Her eyes met his. “What about you?”

“I will be fine, love. Just close your eyes.”

She did feel tired. Closing her eyes, she couldn’t hold back the barest hint of a contented smile as she remembered he called her “love” and was soon fast asleep.

Unable to take his eyes off Meg as he watched her chest rise and fall with her breathing, he wondered what was to become of them all. Meg kept asking about Archer. Finally, Guy suspected his little brother was up to no good. Perhaps, he was even plotting to align with Isabella. If so, then the odds would be greatly stretched against them.

The more Guy thought of the future, the more he tried to resign his mind to the fact that he just might not see the next season. Part of him accepted he notion, but the other part roared in protest. When he saw the future, Guy wanted a home and hearth. He wanted Meg by his side and he wanted a few children at their feet. Such notions were foolish ones, so why could he not get the idea of Meg and a family out of his head?

****

“I still think we should make ourselves scarce,” Allan argued to John and Tuck. “I mean, that whole plan with Archer failed. No one knows what’s become of him. Isabella always has some scheme up her sleeve.”

“And Robin always has a plan,” John argued.

“I’ve heard rumors,” Allan continued.

“From where,” John scoffed. “The pubs?”

“Hey, that’s where people’s tongues are the most loose!”

Scoffing again, John rolled his eyes but got a stern look from Tuck. “What are they saying, Allan,” the monk asked.

“That Prince John will stop at nothing to be king. He is seeking out King Richard’s supporters and intends to wipe them out! There is even talk of us!”

“Rubbish,” John said. “Where would Prince John ever find an army? Enough nobles aren’t loyal to him.”

Tuck shook his head. “Nobles usually aren’t the ones with men to spare. They tend to hold the lands. The sheriff and Generals and law enforcers are the ones that carry the influence over men. Those are the types of people Prince John aligns himself with.”

Allan looked smug, while John was uncertain.

“Isabella owes her position to Prince John,” Tuck continued. “No doubt she will do whatever it takes to stay in a position of power.”

“We’ll stop her,” John said with conviction. “We always have before.”

Though everyone seemed certain, Tuck wasn’t convinced. A big battle was coming. He could feel it in the wind. The outcome could very well change the course of history. More than one life could be called home to God.

Remembering Meg, Tuck’s mind went in several different directions at once. He heard her and Guy whispering about a dream. She often called out in her sleep when she suffered with those fevers. Since Meg came to the camp, she only seemed to have one repetitive dream.

Normally, the church would call Meg a witch and try to purge her soul of evil. However, Tuck was a man of logic and sense. There were many things in this world that could not be easily explained. He truly felt as if Meg’s reoccurring dream fell into the latter category.

Leaving the others to their tasks, Tuck went in search of Meg. When he returned to Sherwood he found her trying to get out of bed and stand on her own two feet. She wobbled and Tuck rushed to her aid.

“I am well,” Meg assured him. As if to prove her words, she stood steadily on her own two feet. Meg convinced Guy to go in search of some food and promised to rest, but she really wanted time on her own so she could get out of bed and push the limits of her strength. “I feel much better.”

The fever still flushed her cheeks, but her mind was clear. Tuck saw a woman with fierce determination standing before him and knew better than to argue. “I want to talk to you, Meg,” he started. “About your dream.”

Trying in vain to hide her shock, Meg shook her head as she stood a bit taller. “I do not know what you mean.”

“Oh, I think you do,” Tuck said as he moved closer. “If you want to save lives, than you must tell me what you see.”

Biting her lower lip, Meg questioned if she should risk trusting him. A monk of all people to confide in, but at the same time he did save her life. By the look he was giving her now, Meg was getting the impression she didn’t have a choice.

Chapter Text

A few days later, wandering through the woods at a loss as to what to do, one thing was for certain: Meg needed to learn how to fight. The events of her dream would be unfolding soon. At least, that is what the woman in the mist indicated. If Meg had any hope of helping Guy, she would need to integrate into the gang, which meant learning how to wield a sword.

Mind wandering back to her conversation with Tuck, she shivered. Confiding in Tuck about her dreams was not something Meg wanted to do. Yes, she as tempted, especially when Tuck confessed to viewing her dreams as real and normal. However, she wasn’t very comfortable around Tuck to the point where she fully trusted him. Meg swore she had no idea what he was talking about and refused to change her story.

Needing air, Meg continued to debate her decision as she delved deeper into the forest. Her side wasn’t bothering her anymore. Instead, her mind was alive with questions that had no answers.
Tiring, she paused and leaned against a tree. Raking a hand through her hair, Meg wished she knew what to do next. When she escaped execution with Guy, everything seemed so clear. Yet, in such a short time, Meg seemed more confused than ever.

“Meg?”

Startled, she gasped, whirled and saw Guy. Putting a hand over her heart, she tried to steady her breathing. “Guy! You scared me!”

“My apologies.” He moved a few inches closer, concern flooding his system. Meg still looked pale. How many times did she come down with a fever because she refused to rest and heal? She was giving him grey hairs. “You shouldn’t be walking in the forest in your condition.”

Snorting, Meg pushed away from the tree. “I am not an invalid,’ she stubbornly insisted. “Besides, I feel better.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I just needed to clear my head.”

“Oh?”

Nervous, Meg’s teeth tugged at her lower lip wondering if she should mention what was on her mind. “Robin was asking me some questions about you.”

Not liking the sound of that, Guy instinctively straightened his stance. “That sounds ominous.”

“He knows we are friends,” Meg supplied. “He thought you confided in me about Marian.”

Knowing exactly what was going on, Guy’s eyes darkened. Marian would always be a sensitive subject. “And what did you tell him?”

“I said he was mistaken to think I knew anything.”

Studying her expression for several long moments, Guy was satisfied she was telling the truth. In the short time he knew Meg he could tell she was a terrible liar. “What did he want to know?”

Meg hesitated, but then she found her voice. “He wanted to know why you killed her.”

Inhaling a sharp breath, Guy looked away. He hated that Meg knew this terrible truth about him. “I would give my soul to change things.”

Meg was suddenly by his side; reaching out to squeeze his forearm in a comforting gesture. “I know,” she said softly. “I know with every fiber of my being that you are a good man. A worthy man.”

A little, humorless laugh escaped his throat. “You’re wrong.”

Moving around to face him, Meg cupped his face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “You saved me, Guy! You could have let me rot in that dungeon, but instead you helped me. You didn’t have to be kind, but you were! And when we found ourselves free from the executioner, you could have easily left me behind to save your own skin. I was hurt and a burden. It would have been the easiest thing for you to do, but instead of abandoning me, you helped me. A truly evil man – a man without worth – never would have bothered.”

More than anything he wanted to take Meg’s words to heart. He wanted to think there was a bit of decency in him, but after all those years helping Vaisey – after killing an innocent woman – how could he dare?

“Meg,” he said hoarsely, “I am grateful to have you as a friend. Truly.” He pried her fingers off his cheeks, but held them firmly in his own grasp. “But I do not want you to make me out to be what I am not.”

Meg’s confidence never wavered. “If you are not a man of honor, then what are you doing in this forest with Robin Hood? If you are so beyond saving, why are you even bothering with redemption?”

“Meg.” At a loss, Guy shook his head. “I am unworthy of your praise.”

“Then tell me why.”

His eyes shot to her face. Tell her? About Marian? No. It was out of the question.

More than anything, Meg wanted to know what happened in the Holy Land. Of course, she knew she couldn’t force him to confide in her. The silence between them seemed to drag on for an eternity. Meg held her breath and waited all too aware of her heart racing in her chest.

Unburdening his conscious on Meg meant risking losing the one friend he had in the world. Guy would be cutting his heart bare and letting her see his ultimate shame. How could he do as she asked?

Before Guy knew he wanted Meg on so many levels, he had no idea that wanting turned to needing, but he doubted it mattered. What he realized as he looked into her eyes was that Meg was as essential to him as breath. If he told her the truth…

He shook his head. “You will hate me,” he said roughly.

“No.” Meg shook her head as she freed her hands from his grip. “I owe you my life. Besides, I would think you would know me better.”

Guy was unable to speak past the lump in his throat, even when he saw the tears gather in her eyes. Meg was disappointed, but she wouldn’t force him, he knew. Helplessness surged in his veins as he watched her turn and start to walk away.

Without warning, without planning, the words burst from his mouth.

“We were alone.”

Stopping, Meg turned to look at him over her shoulder. Her heart broke for him. Guy’s face was full of the anguish of pain and regret.

“We, the old sheriff and I, were in the Holy Land trying to find the king to kill him for Prince John. Richard was down and I moved in for the kill. She was just there.”

Swallowing hard, Guy closed his eyes as the memories assaulted him. “She ran toward me. Standing between me and the king. I told her to move, but she refused. That was when she confessed the whole truth to me.”

The whole story poured out of him. How Marian blatantly told him of her love for another man. How the look of delight on her face when she spoke Robin’s name tore his heart in two. When he worked tirelessly to earn her affection, suffering the sheriff’s wrath time and again, she used him to help his enemy. And she was happy about it!

The betrayal already cut him to the core, but knowing he was just a means to an end sent him into a rage. To make matters worse, Marian gleefully told him how she would marry Robin. She spat at him that she would rather die than marry him.

Just when Guy thought the pain couldn’t get any worse, she started to triumph over him. Laughing at him – thinking him a fool and his feelings for her nothing. Nothing!

He wasn’t aware of his feet moving closer. Guy knew his hands gripped the sword with iron-clad determination, but he wasn’t aware of lifting the weapon. What he intended to do was pull Marian to him.

That was it. Guy wanted to hold her close – shake her silly – get her to admit that it was all a lie. Yet, deep down, he knew every word was true. The woman he risked all his ambition for considered him the worst of leeches. Every smile she ever bestowed upon him, every kind word, was all a means to an end.

In that instant, a part of Guy died.

Then the sword pierced Marian’s flesh. Only vaguely aware of what he was doing, Guy pulled Marian to his chest even as she cried out from the pain of being run through. As if waking from a dream, Guy realized what just happened. Shocked, he released Marian.

As her body crumpled down onto the sand, he heard shouting. Robin was coming. Panic and instinct took over. Seeing Vaisey, he seized the opportunity to escape. Racing out of the Holy Land, Guy never looked back, but he knew guilt would forever follow and gnaw at him.

On the journey back to England, Guy tried to justify his actions. Marian was a traitor. She conspired with outlaws. When justification proved impossible, he blamed everyone else. If not for Robin, or the sheriff, or Prince John and his cause, Guy never would have killed the woman he loved.

Guy spent months drowning in his own puddle of denial and continued to spiral downward until he was Isabella’s prisoner. Then the guards placed a young, beautiful girl in the cell next to his own. Without warning or explanation, the torn parts of Guy’s soul started to slowly sew back together. For the first time in his life the path was clear.

Blinking, Guy once more focused on Meg. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he didn’t care. For a moment, Guy thought he would be torn asunder once again. To his amazement, Meg didn’t run away from him. She didn’t laugh or mock him. Instead, she came forward and wrapped her arms around him.

Exhaling a relieved breath, Guy let his own arms come up to hold her close. Resting his chin atop her head, he silently thanked fate for letting him keep her. Inhaling her floral scent, his need for her smothered all his other senses.

The kiss was sudden and urgent, but Meg didn’t push him away. She didn’t want to. Curling her fingers in Guy’s hair, Meg returned his passion with her own. In answer, Guy deepened the kiss, pressing closer as if he couldn’t get enough of her touch.

The skies opened up and rain started pouring down upon them. The droplets doused the haze that overwhelmed Guy. Pulling back, he struggled to catch his breath. Looking at Meg’s bruised lips and glazed eyes, he wanted nothing more than to fully possess her, but knew such a thing was impossible. Meg reached for him again, uncaring of the rain, but he pulled back as if she stung him.

“No,” he said gruffly. “We cannot.”

Smile fading, Meg swallowed hard as disbelief washed over her features. She thought that finally – but no. Guy was determined to hang on to the memory of a dead woman and it infuriated her!

“Why,” she demanded. “You care for me. I know you do!”

What was the point of denying it?

“It doesn’t matter,” he argued. “Don’t you see, Meg? I do not deserve love and happiness! I have too many sins on my shoulders.”

“I don’t care about any of that!”

“You should! Look what I did to Marian! And I loved her! I can’t risk doing that same to you! I can’t!”

“I know you would never hurt me, Guy! Know how I know it? Because I actually return your feelings! What you did was awful, but you aren’t entirely to blame!”

“Don’t make excuses for me, Meg,” he warned. “I am tired of excuses.”

“Fine,” she stated. “You did a cruel thing! No one denies it, but Marian wasn’t blameless either.”

As she said the words, an image of the woman from her dream popped into Meg’s mind. Was the woman from her dream Marian?

“Marian used you,” Meg continued. “She knew the kind of man you were. I think she saw the good in you and used it to her own advantage. She made sure your love for her worked in with her own plans. What did she think would happen when she threw it all in your face?”

“As trues as that all is,” he spoke calmly. “I won’t risk hurting you. Please, do not ask it of me.”

More tears slid down her cheeks despite all her efforts to hold them back, but she did keep her posture poised. “You are a coward, Guy of Gisborne.”

Turning on her heel, Meg started to walk away only to be yanked back around a second later to see the dark mood seep into Guy’s face. His lips fused to her mouth with undeniable hunger. Backing her up against the tree trunk to plunder her mouth as the rain fell in harder waves down upon them.

Call him a coward, will she? Well, he would make sure Meg knew what was truly in his heart. She could take it, or leave it, as she wished, but she would know.

His tongue invaded and caressed hers until she was kissing him back. Reacting on instinct, Meg followed his lead, moaning when her body warmed and melted against his. Her skin tingled with want and she felt a heat starting to become noticeable between her legs. A heat that wanted to be closer to Guy’s body.

She was intoxicating. Meg tasted of sweet rain and she felt so soft in his arms. When she returned the kiss, he struggled to maintain control and not push her too hard, too fast. Feeling her body press against his own, the rain causing their clothes to stick to their skin making a sweet friction, he wanted nothing more than to show her all of the passion he held in check for far too long.

Hands wrapped around each other, the couple sank down to the ground. In the back of his mind a voice was screaming for him to stop. He had to push her away! Guy knew he couldn’t have Meg. Not now. Maybe now ever, but the last thing he ever wanted to do was let her go.

As strongly as one loved the other, such matters would have to be put on hold. Coming up for air, Guy managed to pull away from the temptation of her body. Helping her to her feet, he escorted her back to the camp as quickly as possible in the showering rain. Neither of them said a word.

Chapter Text

Meg wasn’t sure exactly what kind of resolve she expected from Guy. The kiss they shared was a moment of pure passion. It was as if their souls recognized each other. Yet, the moment they were back at the camp, he acted as if nothing happened. Men.

Doing her best not to let her confusion and disappointment show, she went about doing her chores as if nothing was amiss. Now she understood better about the pain Guy carried with him. Yes, he was guilty. He murdered Marian in the heat of the moment, but Marian wasn’t as innocent as people portrayed her. She poked at the snake and wondered why she was bitten.

More than ever, Marian believed that the woman in her dream was Marian, but how could she be sure? Running into Allan, she pulled him aside. “Did you know Marian?”

He blinked at her. “Yeah. Why?”

“What did she look like?”

“Why?”

Stomping her foot, Meg jutted her hips in annoyance. “Allan!”

“Alright!” As he described Marian, Meg felt her stomach clench. Yes, now she did believe Marian was the same woman she saw in her dream. Marian was showing her a possible future in hopes that things could be changed? Well, she was still alive, so that was a change that did occur, right? Or was she reading too much into matters?

Allan gave her a puzzled look, which snapped Meg out of her own thoughts. Thanking him, she moved off to finish her chores. During the rest of the day, she moved around as if in a haze. All she could think about were the details of her dream and that kiss she shared with Guy.

Did Guy care for her despite all that happened between him and Marian? Could Guy find it in his heart to love her? Even if he didn’t, Meg felt she was already doomed because she was already in love with Guy of Gisborne. There really was no other choice for her. She had to save him.

Robin rushed into the camp, breaking Meg out of her daydreams. “A rider is coming! A messenger from the sheriff! Kate, Tuck, Guy – with me!”

As feet scrambled to run after Robin, Meg was left alone wondering if she should follow. They would come back and she had a very sneaking suspicion they would have news about Isabella wanting to send men to Prince John. If so, then she knew it was officially beginning.

****

Waiting on the road, Guy couldn’t focus long enough to stop thinking about Meg, that kiss, and Marian. He realized he and Marian may never have had a happy ending if she had lived. Could he dare to hope that he could be happy with Meg?

She was the one person who believed in him. She listened to him and told him the truth even if he didn’t want to hear it. Meg was his true friend. She was beautiful, loyal, and courageous. Guy did not deserve her. At all.

The signal came, Robin fired the arrow, and they all rushed out to overpower the rider. The man’s horse reared, causing him to fall to the ground. Guy put his sword to the man and reached for the rolled up parchment in the man’s belt.

“I’ll take that.” He handed the message to Tuck.

“Tie him up then,” Robin ordered.

Guy and Allan worked on tying the messenger as Tuck unrolled the parchment and started to read it aloud. Robin and Kate drew closer to hear every word.

“It’s from Isabella to Prince John.” Tuck squinted as he made out the hurried handwriting.

“’My Prince',” Tuck read. “’I understand the urgency of your request. Richard returns from the Crusades within the month. Troops loyal to him await him in Loughbourgh. We must be ready’.”

“Richard,” Allan asked. “King Richard?”

Kate gave a small smile. “The king’s coming home.”

Instead of being pleased by the news, Robin frowned. Something more was afoot. Nodding to Tuck, he stepped forward. “Read the rest.”

Tuck complied. “’You asked for 300 men, food, and supplies. I will dispatch them at sunset to join with your northern forces in Dancaster’.”

Puzzled, Robin shook his head. “So where has Isabella got 300 men from?”

“’England will soon be yours’,” Tuck finished reading.

Robin glanced at the messenger, now tied and sitting backwards upon his horse. “You give the sheriff this message.”

Allan smacked the horse’s flank. “Go on.”

“England will never be a slave to Prince John,” Robin shouted as the horse galloped away. “Not while Robin Hood fights for King Richard!”

Just then John’s voice cried out calling for his leader. “Robin! They’ve taken them!”

Running in the direction of the call, Robin and the rest got to the crest of the hill and looked down to where John stood.

“They took them,” the big man repeated.

“Took who,” Robin asked.

“I was in Clun! The sheriff’s soldiers! They’ve taken all the men!”

“How many,” Guy asked.

“I don’t know! At least a hundred!”

Much ran up over the opposite side of the hill. “Robin! Same in Nettlestone! The sheriff’s guard came and just carted them off! Crops and livestock too!”

The picture was all too clear. Tuck looked to Robin. “A hundred from Clun, an hundred from Nettlestone.”

The truth dawned. “They’ll go the Locksley next," Robin said. Looking at his gang, he shouted, “Get to Locksley!”

****

The outlaws dashed to Locksley to already find Isabella’s guards rounding up every able-bodied man. Robin reached for his arrows and ordered the attack. They charged into the village and easily took control of the situation. Isabella’s leading man was able to get away with the supplies, but Robin and the gang did manage to prevent them from taking the male villagers into enslavement.

“Let’s get these men to Sherwood!”

****

Unbeknownst to any of the outlaws, Archer was making his way through the town of Nottingham. He was determined to see his half-sister and gain her allegiance. Hopefully, he would gain some status and a level of protection as well. He was working out what he was going to say when he saw a man riding his horse backwards with his hands tied behind him. As silly as the sight was, it made Archer curious. What sort of place was this Nottingham? Well, he was about to find out.

****

Having just heard from her messenger, Isabella was livid. Pacing around the main hall, she could feel her blood boiling in her veins. Sighing heavily, she shook her head.

“You are an imbecile!” Sighing again, she walked forward until she was nose-to-nose with the man. “Failure!”

Slapping the man hard across the face, she heard his grunt of pain, but it did little to ease her anger. Hearing footsteps from above, she looked up and let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, Blamire. Tell me, are the men of Locksley secured?”

Her head soldier’s expression was grim. “We had a situation – some unforeseen difficulties.”

Isabella knew exactly what that statement meant. “Robin Hood.”

“There’s a man here to see you,” Blamire said as he descended the stairs.

“A man,” Isabella asked over her shoulder.

“Apparently, he has a proposition for you.”

She laughed. “Really?” How many times a day did she hear that?

Hearing more footsteps the sheriff looked up to see a young man dressed in peasant clothing, with dark hair and a knowing smile walk onto the balcony and lean over the railing.

“The name’s Archer,” he said.

“Hmmm,” Isabella wasn’t sure she was impressed.

“Archer,” Blamire asked. “Archer what?”

“Just Archer,” he said as he came down the stairs and approached his sister. She was pretty and very regal in appearance. Her confidence showed as well, but in a smug way. Maybe they could get along well enough.

“Archer…” The man sounded very familiar to Blamire’s ears. “Weren’t you due to hang in York?”

Archer feigned stupidity. “Me? Hang? York? Don’t know anything about it.”

Blamire was not duped. “That’s right.” He turned to look at Isabella. “He’s the one Hood and Gisborne broke out of prison. Many of my men were injured.”

Caught, Archer tried another angle. “I never asked them to do that. They just turned up.”

Isabella didn’t hesitate. “Arrest him.”

Panicked, Archer kept at Isabella, playing every card he had up his sleeve. “Robin Hood’s a nut! He feels compelled to go about saving people.” The guards seized hold of him and Archer struggled.

Moving to sit on her seat of power atop the dais, she couldn’t say she thought much of this peasant. “Even so, do you really think I would fraternize with such a low-life as you?”

“You would if you knew the truth,” Archer said as the men dragged him away.

“Wait.” Isabella’s curiosity was peeked. “The truth?”

Wrenching free of the guards, Archer approached his sister. “You and I …we’re brother and sister.”

The notion was so ridiculous that Isabella laughed. “I’m sorry?”

Bracing his hands on the arms of her chair, Archer leaned forward and spoke in hushed tones so that only she could hear. “Gislaine is my mother too.”

“Impossible,” she half spat, half whispered.

“She had me out of wedlock and sent me away.”

Eyes flashing anger, Isabella’s temper once more rose to the surface. “How dare you stand there and tell me such evil lies?!”

“Is it a lie that she died in a house fire? Or that she was married to a leper? Your father. Is that a lie? See, I’ve travelled far and wide. I know the most exotic ways to kill a man. That’s why Robin and Gisborne saved me. They wanted to use me.”

Blamire, who was standing close the whole time, knew when enough was enough. “Take him away,” the soldier ordered.

“If we join forces – think about it-” Archer urged as he was being taken away a second time. “Your power, my skill. We can be unstoppable!”

“What I need,” Isabella said as she leaned forward until they were nose-to-nose. “Are men that can offer me loyalty and protection. Arrest him,” she shouted.

Archer looked crushed. “Sister, don’t forsake me.”

Isabella just chuckled. “Lock him up.”

Archer had the last laugh however. He picked the key off his sister’s belt. As he was being taken down to the dungeons he unlocked the shackles and took the men by surprise. Getting out of the castle was easy enough, but he wasn’t about to leave town. Not yet. He wasn’t giving up on is plan. Not exactly.

****

Shouldn’t they all be back by now? Meg was starting to get anxious. What could be going on?

In her gut, she knew Isabella was gathering forces. Prince John was making a play for the crown. Loyal to King Richard, Robin would fight her every step of the way. A big fight was coming.

Meg wasn’t sure how she was going to fix things but she knew she had to try. Oh, she wished she knew what was going on. “Oh, Marian,” she murmured to herself, “I hope all those dreams weren’t for nothing.”

Chapter Text

The outlaws guided the men from Locksley deep into the forest to hide. The question was: would it be enough? As long as Isabella didn’t have numbers, then they stood a chance of besting her.

“We have to get the rest of our supplies to Locksley,” Robin stated. “That’ll keep the women and children alive until we return their crops and livestock.”

“Robin?” Tuck followed close behind their leader. A pressing matter was on his mind. “What about the men?”

“What about them?”

“Well, when are they going to fight?”

“Tuck, these men are farmers. They’re not warriors.”

“The Lord helps those who help themselves,” he quoted. “Robin, your protection weakens them. We are failing in our mission. We’re supposed to be inspiring these men to stand up and fight for themselves, giving them real hope!”

Robin shook his head. “These men are terrified for their lives. They’ve forgotten how to hope!”

“Then, my friend, it’s time we lit the flame in them again!”

Unsure what to think, Robin decided that there were more pressing matters that required his attention. Prince John was making a play for the crown. Robin wasn’t about to stand back and let the corrupt prince win the day.

****

In Nottingham Castle, Isabella was far from satisfied. Speaking to Blamire, and thinking of all her troubles, the sheriff was easily agitated. “If I disappoint the Prince,” she told her top man, “I hang like every other noble who’s ever failed him.”

Sighing heavily, Isabella started to pace. “Blamire, I need those men.”

“Tricky,” he said. “Hood’s protecting them in the forest.”

“Then it’s Hood I need to destroy,” she said with certainty. “I need to get to his weakness, exploit his vulnerabilities.”

“Which are,” Blamire asked.

Thinking a moment, the solution suddenly came to her. “His friends. That odious little gang. The idiot cares about them. That’s his weakness.”

An idea suddenly came into her head, making her smile. “Blamire, bring me Kate’s mother from Locksley.”

Bowing his head, the soldier left the hall to comply. Satisfied, Isabella could almost feel the success. Robin was nothing without his band of miscreants. She was about to prove it.

Retrieving one of her most treasured possessions, Isabella felt a pang in her heart, but quickly brushed it aside. This task needed to be done. Sitting in her seat of power, mere hours later, she fingered her mother’s locket as Rebecca was brought into the hall to stand before her. The woman looked frightened, which gave Isabella a dose of amusement before she got down to business.

“Good.” Isabella twisted the locket to and fro. “Go, please, Blamire. This is delicate.”

The man left without question, which made the mother all the more nervous. Approaching the woman, Isabella was at her most callous. She held the locket up for Kate’s mother to see.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” She sighed. “You know, sometimes the prettiest things are the most fragile. Your daughter is an outlaw.”

As the sheriff circled her, Kate’s mother tried to rally. “My daughter is dead to me.”

Isabella was having none of that. “There’s no point in denying her. Trust me on that.” Moving to face the woman once more, the sheriff smiled, but there was coldness in her eyes.

“What do you want with me,” the older woman asked.

“I want to help you,” Isabella answered.

“Help me?”

“Yes. Safe passage to Dancaster for you and your family. It must be awful for you having a child living out there in the wild with those…savages.”

“Robin wouldn’t hurt her,” the mother insisted.

“Wouldn’t he?”

Dropping the locket suddenly to the floor, Isabella stomped on the precious piece until it broke in two halves. Picking up the pieces, she returned her eyes to the woman.

“He still loves me!”

“She’ll never leave him. She believes in him too much.”

Isabella scoffed. “Ok, then, we must shake her belief to the core. “ She held out one piece of the locket. “Plant this on Robin,” she dropped it into the woman’s hand. “Then persuade Kate that he still loves me, his one true Isabella. Then give her this.”

Dropping the other half of the locket, Isabella felt almost giddy. “When she finds the other half on him, her faith will be shaken and she’ll realize that a candle still burns deeply in his heart for me.”

Inhaling a breath, Rebecca straightened her shoulders. “I can’t,” she said.

Those words enraged the sheriff. “Can’t? I don’t think you understand, you ignorant crone! Every last morsel of food, every animal, every grain of barley within a fifty mile radius is locked up in my courtyard, ready for transportation to the North. Hell is coming, Rebecca.” At the idea of it all, Isabella laughed. “I think you should save your family whilst you still can.”

****

Back in Locksley, Rebecca pondered her choice. Yes, the sheriff was breathing down her neck, but at the root of it all, she did want Kate to be back with the family. She wanted her eldest daughter to be safe. Though it did pain her, Rebecca did what Isabella wanted. She gave Kate half of the locket and said what Isabella told her about Robin having the other half.

Kate didn’t believe it, of course, but Rebecca planted to seed of doubt, and then planted the other half of the locket on the outlaw. Watching the gang leave Locksley after dropping off supplies, all she could do was pray that the plan worked. Kate would come back and they would have safe passage out of harm’s way.

****

Back at the camp, Kate was so busy dismissing her mother’s words and glaring at Meg, that she didn’t realize she dropped her half of the locket. Mind awhirl, she was unable to concentrate. Needing air, Kate wandered away from the camp to get her thoughts in order.

Continuing to load supplies, Robin and Tuck, Guy and Much were all working hard. Catching a glittering flash out of the corner of his eye, Tuck looked down at the ground and saw the piece of locket Kate disposed of in her anger.

“What’s that?” Bending, Tuck picked up the piece.

Seeing it, and recognizing it, Guy walked over and took the locket from Tuck. “It’s Isabella’s.” Frowning, he held it up to the light. “Our mother gave it to her when she was a child. She worshipped her and she cherished this.”

Coming to attention at the mention of Isabella, Robin moved over to the pair. Hearing Guy’s words, he reached for the locket. Sighing, he gave a shake of his head.

“Well, she wouldn’t give this to just anyone, now, would she?”

Tuck and Robin both glared at Guy, who immediately went on the defensive.

“So, what’ it doing here,” Robin asked.

“You think this is mine,” Guy growled.

“Well, she’s your sister, Guy.”

“Yeah, a sister that’s betrayed me many times and tried to kill me!”

“If there’s any doubt about your loyalty,” Tuck started.

“Well, there isn’t,” Guy snapped. “Would I have told you it was Isabella’s if there was?”

“Well, if it’s not yours,” Robin said. “Then who’s is it?”

Uninterested in arguing over the matter, Guy turned away. Robin and Tuck exchanged glances. The matter seemed closed. For the moment, but they wouldn’t let it go for long.

****

Down, but far from out, Archer refused to give up on an alliance with Isabella. She needed to realize his value. He needed something to trade. Knowledge was power, or so they say. He knew exactly where to go to get it.

Heading to the Trip Inn, Archer moved through the pub and found what he was looking for. An elderly man with rotting teeth and stinking of ale sat in a darkened corner. He was the man who knew everything and anything. For a price.

Smiling, Archer approached and caught the man’s eye. “You haven’t moved from that spot in ten years,” he said with a light air.

The man grunted. “They let you out?”

“Not exactly.”

Moving to sit in front of his source, Archer knew he couldn’t come off too desperate right out of the gate. However, his situation was what it was.

“Need a drink,” the man asked.

“I need money. Fast.” Archer looked around, and then leaned in closer to speak in hushed tones. “I’m a wanted man. I need safe passage out of England. I need information I can sell.”

The man frowned. “What sort of information?”

“I need to prove my loyalty to the sheriff, show that I can protect her.” Archer grew more insistent. “If I can penetrate the castle, I open her eyes to what I am capable of achieving.”

“But the castle, it’s bursting with men, crops, livestock,” the man argued. “It’s defended by an army of guards.”

“I’m tired of looking over my shoulder,” Archer said. “I need enough so I can leave England. Forever.”

The man smiled, actually seeming amused. A glint came into his eyes. Archer wasn’t sure if his fortune was about to be made or if he just made a huge mistake.

“Well,” the man said. “There is one way in.”

Archer felt his heart leap. “What way?”

“A tunnel,” the man answered.

“Who dug this tunnel?”

“Their rotting bodies were found underground. Gisborne locked them in. The whole force. Secrecy was vital.”

Archer lifted a brow. “And you know?”

The man shrugged. “There were whispers.”

Holding out his hand, the man grinned. Taking out his pouch with the very last of his coins, Archer put them into the man’s palm. Suddenly, the man got a firm grip, digging his nails into Archer’s wrist and yanking forward.

“Now, that’s everything I have,” Archer said evenly.

Seeming satisfied, the man eased his grip and spoke calmly. “The opening is in a derelict churchyard, under the grave with the fallen cross.”

Released, Archer left the inn. There was a slim chance the man was lying about the tunnel. Still, verifying the account wouldn’t be too difficult. However, getting his money back would be a lot of trouble. Seeing no other way, Archer made his way to the churchyard. On the journey, he planned out what he would say to his dear sister. He also worked out exactly what kind of trap he could rig that would be fast and easy to get together, but also deadly.

Archer did feel a small pang of guilt about killing a so-called brother he barely knew, but Archer brushed the sensation aside. All his life, he survived by putting his own needs first. This situation was no different.

Chapter Text

Meg saw Kate rushing off down one of the paths and wondered if she should follow. The two of them may never be friends, but Meg could clearly see Kate was distressed. Taking a step forward, Meg hesitated. Kate was very stubborn. She probably wouldn’t welcome her concern.

Soon Kate was out of sight and Meg was once more alone. Sitting on a large rock, she raked a hand through her hair. All day, Meg tried to come to some sort of decision about her fate and decide what to do about Guy.

The memory of that passionate kiss still heated her blood. Every time she thought of being in Guy’s arms, she wanted to be with him again. At the same time, she knew Guy would keep his distance because of what happened with Marian. Part of Meg was touched by his concern. His pain and remorse was all too real. Meg wanted to show him true love, returned love, could be worth…everything.

Part of Meg resented Guy’s decision to mourn a woman that never really loved him back. Perhaps it didn’t matter that Marian never loved him because he obviously loved her. Guy had to deal with the pain of dashed hopes and betrayal, and he wouldn’t heal overnight. In time, maybe he would be ready to give his heart to her.

Could she wait for him?

Yes.

Meg knew she would remain by Guy’s side as long as he would have her. Unfortunately, there was more to consider. The dreams would not leave her mind alone. If Meg didn’t find out a way to prevent the foretold deaths, then she wouldn’t have a chance to be with Guy. Instead, she would be mourning him, or she may even die as well.

Feeling tears sting the corners of her eyes, she blinked them back. Crying wouldn’t do any good. What she needed to do was act. If she let events unfold, and if she paid attention, then she may be able to change the vital parts and save the heroes of England.

“Meg?”

Startled, she looked up and saw Guy and wondered how she never heard him approaching. He always had to ability to sneak up on her. Heart pounding in her chest, she tried desperately to get a hold on her composure. “Hello, Guy.”

“You’re here alone?”

Giving a nod, Meg calmed a bit. “I needed a quiet moment to think.”

Giving her a nod, Guy wasn’t sure what to say. A million things came to mind, but they all became lodged in his throat. His feelings for Meg were wonderful and confusing. He wanted her desperately, but knew his soul was tainted. He was unworthy no matter how many times she insisted he was not. How could she truly ever care for him knowing what he did?

Instead of saying all he wanted to Guy managed a bit of small talk. “I believe it will start to rain again soon. We should get you back to the shelter.”

The camp? No, Meg was not ready to go back there yet. “It’s peaceful here,” she said as her eyes lifted to the sky. “The rain will hold off a while longer.”

Moving to her side, Guy sat beside her on the rock. For a few moments, neither of them said a word, but they both felt content just being in each other’s company.

“I hear that you intercepted one of Isabella’s massagers,” she finally said.

“Yes,” Guy confirmed. “A lot of trouble is brewing. Isabella is trying to recruit men for Prince John. He is going to make a move for the crown.”

“And Robin is determined to stop her, I take it?”

“Naturally,” Guy said. “Word also came that King Richard is on his way back from the Crusades.”

Meg smiled at the news. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

Shrugging, Guy wasn’t sure. “He’s not back yet. Anything can happen between now and when he finally returns.”

Placing a hand on his arm, Meg gave him a reassuring squeeze. “All that matters is that you take Isabella from her seat of power.”

“Easier said than done. She is mischievous.”

Meg couldn’t disagree. “She’ll turn the tables.” Remembering her own fall from Isabella’s favor, Meg shivered.

“We’ll be ready.”

Guy knew he sounded confident, but he also knew his path was chosen. Isabella let hatred and greed transform her. He was guilty of doing the same, but he was reforming. Isabella had several chances to do the right thing and still she refused.

“I’m sure you will.”

Seeing Meg’s eyes looking at him with trust and adoration, Guy wished he was worthy of it all. Solemnly, he shook his head. “I am not a saint, Meg. Far from it.”

“Saints aren’t always saints,” she said with a soft smile.

The gesture was infectious and soon Guy’s lips lifted. Wonder filled his eyes as he looked upon her face. “What would I do without you?”

“You would probably still be rotting in jail,” she joked.

Guy’s face was suddenly serious. No, if not for Meg, he would be dead. He knew that for certain. Also because of her courage, he found himself on this path. The right path.

Cupping her face in his hands, Guy looked into her deep grey eyes and felt his heart quickening. With every fiber of his being, Guy wanted Meg for his own, but dared not claim her. Everything he touched turned to ashes.

Yet, Guy was unable to pull away from her. Leaning forward, he knew a kiss to her lips would be his undoing, yet he could not pull away. In compromise, Guy pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.

Closing her eyes, Meg inhaled a deep breath to help stay the tears of disappointment clogging her throat. Instead, she inhaled Guy’s sage and leather scent into her lungs. Wrapping her hands around his forearms, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to pull him closer or push him away.

Tears filled her eyes as Guy pulled back. Looking into his face, she saw the emotions churning in his blue eyes. Never before did she feel so connected to someone, but at the same time it felt as if a chasm stood between them.

Silence dragged on between them as they gazed into each other’s eyes. There was so much they wanted to say, but no words were significant enough to express their feelings. Meg wanted a future with Guy and he with her, but it seemed too many obstacles stood in their way.

Hearing the crunch of leaves, the couple broke eye contact to see Tuck walking toward them. He looked sorry for interrupting, but there was urgency in his mannerisms.

“Robin has called a meeting,” he explained. “It seems he has devised a plan to stop Isabella and by extension, Prince John.”

Nodding to the monk, Guy got to his feet. “We’ll be right there.”

Tuck turned to head back to the camp while Guy helped Meg off the rock and to her feet. “What do you think the plan is,” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”

Just then a harder, spitting rain started to fall. Guy pulled Meg close to shield her from the falling droplets. “Let’s see what Robin has up his sleeve.”

As they walked in unison to the camp, Meg had the awful feeling she already knew what Robin was going to suggest. The act would cost them many lives, including those of Robin and Guy. Meg had no idea what she should do. She prayed Robin came up with a different plan, but then the outlaw said the words she dreaded.

“We take the castle.”

Robin said the words so matter-of-factly that no one dared argue. Meg felt her own protests rise up in her throat but forced the words back down.

“We claim it under King Richard,” Robin continued. “We put Isabella under house arrest. We release the supplies. We release the men. And we hold that castle until King Richard returns.”

Meg opened her mouth unable to remain silent any longer, but surprisingly enough, it was Much who stepped forward. “We can’t take the castle.”

“We can if we go down the tunnel,” Guy said.

Meg looked sharply at him, but he didn’t notice. His full focus was on Robin. Everyone’s eyes were on Guy, so he elaborated.

“When the old sheriff returned from his failed mission in the Holy Land, he became paranoid about repercussions, so he built himself an escape route.” Unsheathing his sword, Guy used the weapon to draw in the moist dirt ad leaves. “A tunnel. The diggers were silenced. I made sure of that.” Guy refused to look at Meg as he continued to draw a rough diagram in the ground. “So, no one else knows about the tunnel. Especially not Isabella. It starts here, in a derelict churchyard outside the west gate and leads directly into the heart of the castle.”

Guy stabbed his sword into the ground to illiterate his point before looking up at the others. “I say we go down the tunnel, we seize Isabella, and we force her to dismiss her guards. We take Isabella, we take the castle.”

“There has to be an easier way,” Meg finally protested. “Too many things could go wrong.”

Guy turned to Meg and spoke gently. “It’s the best chance we have. We will never be able to take the castle in a siege.”

Meg wanted to say more, but she couldn’t find a valid argument. Feeling Tuck’s eyes on her, Meg bit her lower lip and felt her cheeks go red. She knew why this plan wasn’t the best idea, but there was no way she could fully explain how she knew.

How was she supposed to save the lives of these men if she couldn’t convince them that this plan was a bad idea? There had to be another way to stop Isabella and Prince John. There just had to be!

“If we time the break-in to coincide with the supply train leaving,” Robin reasoned, “most of the guards will be busy with the convoy anyway?”

A few of the men nodded, but Kate shook her head. “Count me out.”

Robin’s eyes glanced sharply at her. The look seemed to fuel Kate’s temper. “I don’t trust him!”

“How do we know this isn’t a trap,” John asked.

“Because we both want the same thing.” Yanking his sword out of the ground, Guy sheathed the blade.

Kate didn’t bother to hide the glare she aimed at Guy. “Since when have you cared about our people?”

“I don’t,” he snapped. “I just want Isabella. She betrayed me to Prince John. She nearly killed Meg. I intend to make her pay.”

Kate leapt forward and would have struck Guy if not for Tuck’s restraining arm. “Now that sounds like the Gisborne we all know and loathe!”

Guy glared at Kate, but Meg pushed her body in front of him and gave Kate a nasty look.

“Stuff it, Kate,” Meg spat. “We all know how you feel about Guy, but what is happening in Nottingham is not about you! It’s about Isabella, Prince John, and the future of England! Stop being so selfish!”

Kate struggled harder to break free of Tuck’s hold as her temper flamed. “It figures you would defend him! You follow him around like a dog! You’re pathetic!”

“Watch your mouth,” Guy shouted as he moved to shield Meg. “You forget Meg is just as much a victim of Isabella as the rest of you!”

“Well,” Kate sneered. “I think you both are despicable!”

“That’s enough!” Robin shouted and Kate looked down at the ground. Who was the dog now, Meg thought.

“We go through the tunnel,” Robin declared. “That’s my final word! Gisborne is one of us now, our fate is his. Tuck, John, get some forging tools to make weapons. The rest of you, get whatever money we have and melt it down to make arrowheads.”

The band dispersed until finally Robin and Kate were alone. They had unresolved issues to discuss.

Chapter Text

Meg didn’t wander far. How could she? As the men set about working on the tasks Robin gave them, Meg wondered what she was going to do. Thus far, she managed to change nothing. Events were unfolding exactly as they did in her dream and she had no idea how to stop the tragedy her gut was telling her was coming.

Hearing Kate and Robin speaking, Meg knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. She heard Kate pleading with Robin, asking him to say that he needed her. All Robin said in return was that he had to prepare for the raid. Meg was grateful Robin didn’t see her as he left the camp.

The sound of Kate’s tears came to Meg’s ears. Feeling guilty, she finally moved away. The pain of unrequited love was all too familiar. Perhaps she and Kate weren’t all that different after all.

Heart heavy, she went in search of Guy. He knew of her dreams. Maybe if she told him everything…but she decided against it at the last second. Guy listened to her because they were friends, but he was a practical man. What Meg knew she would be able to survive would be the look of condemnation on Guy’s face if he thought her a witch, or worse.

Harboring her own doubts and fears on that score, Meg knew there had to be some way she could sabotage this plan. There must be one thing she could so that would help them succeed. But what?

Needing to find Guy, Meg wandered away from the camp. She didn’t know Kate found the locket. No one saw Kate cry. No one witnessed her gather up her things and leave the camp.

Finding Guy carrying money out of one of the hiding places alongside Allan and Much, Meg gathered her nerve and approached. “Guy, may I speak to you?”

“We’re a bit busy, Meg,” Allan said. “We have a deadline.”

“I know, but-”

Guy handed his bag to Allan with a sharp look. The others backed down. Much and Allan exchanged glances before moving on. Meg waited until they moved out of earshot before speaking.

“I know I’m right about the castle,” Meg started. “Archer has betrayed you. Undoubtedly, he’s with the sheriff. I fear you are walking into a trap.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Guy refused to back down. “Meg, we’ve already been over this. Taking the castle is the only way to stop Isabella.”

“Guy, please,” she whispered.

Relaxing a bit, Guy let his arms drop. “Meg,” he said in a soft tone. “I know what you fear. The risk is great for is all. Still, it must be done.”

“Be weary of Isabella,” she warned. “She’s slippery. She will set you up.”

“I can handle Isabella,” he assured her.

“Guy, I fear for your safety.”

Putting his hands on her shoulders, Guy gave them a small squeeze and let his lips curl into a smile. “You will be my guardian angel, will you?”

“Guy-” Meg broke off when she felt a lump growing in her throat.

“I know your dreams concern you, but they are just dreams. Everything will be fine.”

Swallowing hard, she wasn’t sure why she was bothered by Guy knowing her so well. Maybe she disliked how easy he just pushed aside her concerns when he saw how seriously she felt about events. Reaching up, her fingers played with the fastenings on his tunic. When she was ready to speak again, she looked up at his face. A face that could make her heart flutter.

“Do you remember our conversation in the dungeon?”

His expression softened as he nodded. “I do.”

“I’m begging you to trust me.”

Pulling her close, Guy held Meg and kissed the top of her head. “I will keep you away from all of this. You won’t see any of the bloodshed.”

No, that wouldn’t do. Meg needed to be close to Guy in order to…well, she wasn’t sure what she would do, but she couldn’t be left on the sidelines!

Pulling back sharply, she shook her head. “Guy! I want to help fight! If you won’t find another plan, then I insist on joining you!”

Eyes sharpening, he didn’t like what he was hearing. “Absolutely not,” he said icily.

“But-”

“No!”

The shout caused the birds in the trees to quiet. In this moment, Meg knew why so many people feared this man. Nevertheless, she refused to back down and met his gaze fiercely.

With a sigh, his expression softened. He couldn’t stay angry with her for long apparently. “Meg, you are…dear to me. I have no wish to see you harmed.”

“It’s my life, Guy,” she said with conviction. “Why may I not join the cause?”

Cupping her face firmly in his hands, Guy’s gaze lacked with her own. “I will not see you harmed! Understand? Out of all of us, you have to be kept safe.” His eyes softened ever-so-slightly. “You’re all I have.”

His words touched her, but she wasn’t about to back down. “I need you to live, Guy,” she said passionately. “Can’t you understand that?”

“Things will be happening quickly now, Meg. There won’t be time to correct a wrong move, or to change your mind. I want you to stay here.”

The whole point of her going along was to correct the wrong moves she knew Guy would make. She wanted to help Robin as well, if she could. Meg would be following them. One way or another.

“You need to come back,” she said sternly. “If you leave me behind, then you need to come back. Don’t take unnecessary risks to get to Isabella.”

How could he not? Isabella needed to be dealt with. He would be the one to do it. At the same time, he had absolutely no desire to leave Meg alone. His feelings for her, confusing as they were, would not allow him to abandon her. He refused to see her put herself in the middle of the danger.

“You know I can make no promises,” he said solemnly. “Life does what it will.”

Tears flooding her eyes, she shook her head in denial. “You make your own decisions, Guy. You chose to follow the old sheriff. You are now choosing to redeem your mistakes. You can choose to let Isabella go if it means coming back safely.”

Meg did have a point, and Guy wished he could be that sort of man, but he wasn’t. “I can make no promises.”

Drawing back, Meg didn’t disguise her sadness and regret. “Then neither can I.”

Needing to escape him before she cried, Meg turned and walked away as quickly as her feet would carry her. Starting at her retreating form, all Guy wanted to do was call her back to his side, but the words lodged in his throat. As much as he wanted for her not to feel sad or angry about what was happening, he knew he was unworthy of her. She deserved so much better.

Cursing under his breath, Guy knew that if he succeeded in stopping Isabella and Prince John, then there could be a chance for them, but not before. All he could so was hope and pray that God and Fate smiled upon him and aided his cause to victory. Perhaps then he would be worthy of Meg and a future.

****

Navigating the tunnel was easy enough. Archer quickly found his way through the maze and emerged into the great hall of Nottingham Castle. Just as he stepped out of the shadows he heard Isabella speaking to her number one, Blamire.

“Now, I want you to issue this proclamation and I want you to make sure it is spoken about in every corner of Nottingham. That due to his duties and loyalties to the sheriff, the outlaw Allan A Dale is pardoned for all his wrongdoings.”

Moving to stand behind Isabella’s throne, Archer got a glimpse of Blamire’s shocked expression.

“Allan A Dale has...”

“Shhh,” Isabella snapped. “Just do it.”

Blamire lowered is head and took the proclamation before leaving the hall. Very well pleased, Isabella murmured “trust me” as Blamire’s figure disappeared from her view. Moving to sit on her throne, she was unable to keep from smirking. Things were finally going according to plan. Laughter burst out of her mouth. Archer decided to make his move while she was in a buoyant mood.

“Something funny, sis?” Archer walked out from behind her chair wearing a confident smile.

Isabella was not impressed. “How on earth did you get in here?!”

“Call the guards and you’ll never find out,” he warned.

Considering a moment, Isabella calmed. “Speak,” she commanded.

“The tunnel. It was an escape route for the old sheriff. But what’s far more interesting is this.” He moved closer to her. “It was supervised by one Sir Guy of Gisborne. He and Hood are together now, and with all that stuff locked up in your courtyard, just waiting to be stolen, how long do you think it’ll take before they come in the same way I did?”

Listening intently at this point, Isabella was already forming a plan. “I’ll get the guards and wait. I could ambush them as soon as they emerge.”

She was ready to spring into action, but Archer shook his head. “Guards are useless. I’ve seen what they do to guards. You need something a little more sophisticated than guards. Something they’re not expecting.”

“Keep talking,” she said.

“Well,” Archer did make an effort to not look too pleased with the way things were going. “For a few pennies, I can trap the tunnel. It does happen to be one of my specialties.”

Isabella’s eyes danced at the possibilities. “If you can make sure that they both die a low and very painful death, I’ll give you more than just pennies…brother.”

Accepting the offer, Archer turned away to start making the necessary preparations. Watching him go, Isabella’s expression was one of pure satisfaction. Everything was going better than she ever expected. Even now, Blamire was making his proclamation in the town. It wouldn’t be long before Robin’s gang would hear the news and they would be so busy arguing amongst themselves that she would have the upper hand.

Oh yes, she was going to win.

As predicted, Tuck and John heard of Allan’s pardon. Angry, the two rushed back to Sherwood to confront the supposed traitor in their midst, unknowing of how Isabella was gloating.

Chapter Text

Robin, Allan, Much, and Guy were in the camp dividing up supplies when Meg entered, but she kept to the back near Guy. The fact was that she knew most of them thought she was loyal only to Guy, but in reality she wanted to help all of them.

Carrying a few sacks of coins, Robin looked to the others. “This needs to be made into arrowheads.”

Meg, who was helping Guy and Allan make arrows, looked up feeling a sense of déjà vu.

“Robin,” Much asked.

“We’re running out of time.”

“Robin?”

“Where’s John and Tuck with those tools?”

“She’s gone,” Much shouted. “Kate!”

Robin picked up the sacks of coins and looked away. “You say something,” Much asked of Allan.

“Why is it always my fault?”

“I’m going to find her,” Much declared.

“Much,” Robin said. “Kate can look after herself. She’s got a family to protect; we’ve got a castle to take.”

“I know.” But Much didn’t get a chance to make another argument because John rushed in, nearly knocking Much over as he charged toward Allan and seized the man by his throat.

“Traitor!”

“What,” Allan struggled.

“Traitor,” John shouted again. “What have you told them? Judas!”

“It’s all over Nottingham,” Tuck said as he hurried into the camp. “Allan’s been pardoned by the sheriff for services rendered.”

“What?!” Alan still struggled to free his throat from John’s grip.

“John,” Robin ordered. “Let him go!”

Reluctantly, John released Allan, but he didn’t look pleased.

“Let me speak,” Allan pleaded.

“Oh, yeah,” John said with undisguised sarcasm. “You’re good at that, aren’t you? Speaking and lying! Twisting us around your little finger!”

“John! John!”

“Liar!”

“I haven’t done anything,” Allan argued. “I swear! I haven’t betrayed you!” He looked around for a sympathetic face.

“Much!”

Silence.

“You believe me, Guy.”

A casual shrug.

“Tuck?”

A sad frown.

Allan’s eyes finally looked to their leader. “Robin?”

An angry stare.

Unable to take it, Meg stepped forward. “I believe him.”

Much groaned and John started to yell. “You don’t know him! He’s betrayed us before!”

“But Isabella is tricky,” Meg argued right back. “She knows about Allan’s past! She could be trying to create a rift!”

Silence fell over the camp. Everyone but Meg looked at anything but at Allan. “So you think I’m a coward,” Allan asked them. “That I’ve sold you out to save myself somehow, yeah?”

Much spoke up. “Like John said, you’ve done that before!”

“I know! And every day I wish I could take that back! You know that!”

More silence and doubt thickened in the air.

“It’s Isabella,” Meg pressed more aggressively, but no one seemed to pay her any mind.

Allan looked at his friends. “None of you? None of you believe me? Only Meg?”

“Because she doesn’t know you,” John mumbled.

“I’ll be off then,” Allan declared. Why stay where he wasn’t wanted?

“No,” Much said. “Did you tell her about the tunnel?”

“I told you, I haven’t said-”

“Tie him up,” Robin shouted.

“What?!” Alan couldn’t believe his ears.

Meg stepped forward to stand in front of Allan. “No-” Guy pulled her back, shaking his head. She watched, feeling helpless, as John tied Allan’s hands behind his back.

“No, no, no.” Allan started at them all with disbelief that they were treating him so harshly and at the fact he was even in this situation.

“No, please,” she pleaded. “Listen!”

Robin and the others ignored her because they thought they knew Allan better than she did.

“I can’t take the risk,” Robin said. Pointing a finger at Allan, he tried to be diplomatic over his own churning emotions. “Once we’ve taken the castle, then we’ll come back and we will sort this out.”

Having said his peace, Robin turned away.

“John,” Allan begged. “Don’t do this.”

“Get it done,” came their leader’s order.

“Don’t even look at me,” John spit through gritted teeth.

Robin walked away unable to make sense of the situation. Much and John followed close behind, leaving Tuck and Guy to follow, but Tuck’s eyes went to Meg and he paused.

“She’ll have to come with us.”

Guy shook his head. “Meg is not to be harmed.”

“We can’t leave her with Allan,” Tuck said. “For obvious reasons.”

Guy couldn’t argue the fact, but he didn’t want her with them at the castle. “Then take her to another safe place in the forest.”

Tuck nodded. “No,” Meg protested. “If I go anywhere, I go with you,” she told Guy.

He shook his head, letting her see his firm resolve. “Too dangerous.”

“Some of the villagers can keep an eye on her.”

Guy looked uncertain at Tuck’s suggestion, but nodded. Realizing she was fighting a losing battle, Meg ran up to Allan and quickly whispered in his ear.

“Don’t leave the camp,” she warned. “No matter what you do. Please-”

Tuck yanked her way and Meg struggled, but eventually went along with Tuck. She watched Guy move to follow Much and Robin. At least Meg knew she would be able to get into the castle if she followed Tuck and John. All she had to do was get inside and prevent Isabella from fatally stabbing Guy and Robin to death. Giving Allan one last pleading look over her shoulder, she hoped he heeded her advice. The last thing Meg wanted was for Robin and Much to suffer his loss. The coming losses were going to be hard enough to swallow.

****

Listening to Tuck try to give the peasant men of Locksley an inspirational speech, Meg stayed off to the side and watched Tuck and John argue the fine points of politics. If her dream was correct, Tuck would get through to these men. They would go to Nottingham to stand up for themselves. Many of them would end up dying.

Closing her eyes, Meg tried not to think about death. She would try to help save as many as she could, but people would need to listen to her first. Tuck was suddenly reluctant to listen to her when he knew she would contradict the course of action he wanted to take. Her mind wandered back to Allan and she hoped he would remain safe. If not, he would be the first of the outlaws to die for their cause.

Finally, Tuck gave up on is efforts and he and John decided to head toward the castle to stop the supplies from leaving to meet with Prince John’s envoy.

“You should head back to the camp,” John said to Meg. “It won’t be safe to come with us.”

Meg stood a bit straighter. “I can fight.”

“No,” he sternly replied. “You’re a woman.”

“So is Kate,” Meg argued. “I can handle a sword.”

“Kate is different,” John snapped.

“How?”

Meg’s challenge silenced the giant. Tuck considered for a moment before handing her a sword. “I think we shall want your presence.”

“Tuck?” John frowned, but received no explanation. Instead, the three headed toward the main road and out of the woods. She tried to persuade them to go back for Allan, but when they continued to ignore her, Meg decided she should be grateful Tuck wasn’t abandoning her in a village and that she was going where she knew she was needed. Nevertheless, the knot in her gut was not going to go away any time soon.

****

Meanwhile, Archer was hard at work building his fancy trap in the tunnel beneath the castle. Sweat dripped off his brow as he heaved his ax. Sensing movement out of the corner of his eyes, Archer looked up to see his powerful sister descending the stairs toward him. He was beginning to think Isabella would not be the ally he first anticipated. Isabella was ruthless. He could not afford to get on her bad side.

“Specialist you say,” she commented, folding her arms across her chest. “For your sake, you’d better be.”

“You’ll get your money’s worth, sister,” Archer assured her. “As long as I get mine.”

“You’ll get paid on one condition – that this trap kills Hood.”

Archer nodded. “You’re the boss.”

****

Much, Robin, and Guy made their way toward the churchyard, while Tuck, John, and Meg headed toward the front gate. All the while, back at the camp, Allan was working his way free of his bonds. Once he was free, he left the camp. Meg’s warning was forgotten as he raged about the injustice his friends placed on him. Distracted, Allan came across a convoy of men cutting through Sherwood.

Attacked, Allan knew he needed to warn Robin. Racing to the closest shortcut, Allan was all too aware of his pursuers. Too late, he remembered Meg’s warning. Even as arrows pierced his flesh, Allan kept running. He had to get to his friends.

Falling to his knees, he knew he failed and his heart was heavy with the knowledge. Looking up, he saw the face of his murderer and the one leading this ambush.

“You.”

His nemesis smiled. Seconds later, Allan saw no more.

****

Entering the churchyard, Guy found the derelict grave. Together, the three men were able to lift up the weighed down door and one-by-one enter the tunnel. Hopefully, they would have the element of surprise.

Walking down into the damp darkness, Guy hoped that for once Meg was staying put and doing as she was told. Then again, maybe he was foolish to hope she suddenly changed. An image of Meg fainting from her wounds came to mind and his worry grew. Going into battle, Guy knew as well as many others that this mission could very well be his last. If so, he owed it to Robin and Marian to get things right. He owed it to himself as well.

Hand tightening around the hilt of his sword, Guy hoped he could meet death honorably. For better, or worse, he followed Robin into the depths of the tunnel. So be it.

Chapter Text

Sitting by the window as Blamire entered the hall to bring news to Isabella; Archer’s mind was preoccupied with thoughts of making that trap and was unable to rest easy. Not yet, anyway. Not until that money was in his hand and he was out of England.

“Hood and his men have entered the tunnel,” Blamire informed his mistress, handing her a sack of gold.

Grinning, Isabella looked well pleased. “Good. Thank you.”

Blamire returned to his other duties as Isabella approached her brother. She despised the sight of this man. She had half a mind to kill him, but since Hood was as good as dead, she was feeling a bit generous. He tossed the bag of coins to Archer, who caught it out of the air.

“This should buy your disappearance.”

“Is this everything I asked for?”

“Count it,” she challenged.

Archer grinned. “I believe you.”

“Good. Then you can believe this.” A sneer came to Isabella’s face as she looked her bastard brother in the eye. “If I ever smell your feted odor anywhere near Nottingham again, I will have you dipped in blood and torn apart by starving dogs.” She said the threat in a soft tone, which made it sound all the more menacing. “My mother was a saint! The fact that she had a child out of wedlock is bad enough, but some nasty little hustler like you…be assured; I will kill a thousand times to keep my mother’s sacred memory pure!”

Archer fully grasped the enormity of Isabella’s disdain for him during her little speech. Part of him was hurt, but he pushed aside the rejection because he got what he came here for.

“Don’t worry,” he said casually. “I’ve got plans far away from here.” Grabbing his things, Archer met Isabella’s gaze. “You’ll never see me again.”

****

Navigating the tunnel was easier once Robin had a lit touch in hand. They walked steadily along, tying to remain alert and ready.

“We’re under the castle,” Much whispered.

“Much, keep moving,” Robin ordered. “Come on.”

The next step Guy took sank into the ground. The gears of Archer’s trap started to turn. Before the three knew what was happening, gates fell, blocking off the rest of the tunnel and successfully trapping them.

“Oh no!”

Looking up, Robin saw the drain and tried to think of a plan of escape.

“I knew it would be a trap,” Much cried.

Robin held up a hand. “Much…let me think.”

There had to be a way out of here. After all, there was always a way out. Hadn’t he proven that over these last three years?

“So Allan told her,” Much deduced. “Or him,” he pointed a finger at Guy. “I know we shouldn’t have trusted you!”

Angry, Guy grabbed the front of Much’s shirt. “If I knew this was a trap, do you think I’d be stuck in here as well?”

“That’s enough,” Robin shouted. “Both of you!”

Rumbling suddenly sounded from above them. Out of no where, limestone started to rain down upon them. It really appeared as if there was no way out of this mess.

“What is that,” Robin asked.

The three watched as the stones flooded the room.

“There is no way out,” Much whispered.

“There’s always a way out,” Robin countered.

“So this is how it ends,” Much continued as if he didn’t hear Robin. “This is how we die. Buried in limestone. Hardly fair, is it?”

Robin pointed above them. “If one of us can reach the top, we can hold out longer. Much, come here. Gisborne, get on our shoulders.”

“No,” Much snapped. “It’s got to be you, Robin! You’re the one that has to live! It has to be you!”

“All right, come on. Let’s do this.”

As Robin hoisted his body up on Guy’s shoulders, the once right hand man of the former sheriff didn’t think about his impending death. Instead, Guy closed his eyes and thought of the one thing that meant anything to him in this wretched life.

Meg.

In his mind, she was smiling at him as he held her in his arms.

****

She wasn’t paying attention to John going on about hunting a stag. Standing on the drawbridge to the castle, Meg wondered if Guy was beyond those walls and if she would see him again. The details of her dream were getting harder to recall, but she knew she needed to get inside and help Guy.

Hearing a commotion behind him, Meg turned to see the village farmers of Locksley heading toward the castle. A glance at Tuck and Meg could see he was amazed. The men were finally going to stand up for themselves. This was exactly what Tuck envisioned. Honestly, Meg was a little amazed as well.

Tuck explained what they were going to do and Meg saw a lot of skeptical faces. Sit? On the bridge? That was it?

As Tuck continued, Meg started to understand his thinking. He meant to appeal to the soldiers as men instead of fighters. A bold move, but one she wasn’t sure would work. Still, they didn’t have many options.

Behind them, Meg heard the gates start to open. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the supplies being escorted out of the castle by the soldiers. Isabella’s right hand man was leading them, while Isabella watched from the parapet above. Facing the men, Tuck sat down in their path. John and Meg followed suit and the rest of the men started to sit down in rows behind them. As the commotion started, Archer, who was making his way through the town, paused to witness the latest turn of events. Nottingham certainly wasn’t a boring town.

Blamire walked toward the protesters. “You there, move out of the way!”

He was met with silence.

“Move out of the road, I said, or prepare to die where you sit!”

Still silence. No one moved to get up.

“Men,” Blamire ordered. “Draw your swords!”

The soldiers hesitated.

“I said, draw your swords! Now!”

The men eventually drew their weapons, but they hesitated to use them. Blamire lifted his own weapon, preparing to cut down the obstacle, but he too found himself hesitating. Isabella now armed with a crossbow, seemed to have no such qualms.

“Get out of the way,” she shouted down to the crowd.

When no one moved, she fired an arrow right at Tuck. The arrow pierced his shoulder, causing the monk to grunt. Meg gasped, but Tuck refused to move.

“Cut them down,” Isabella ordered.

The men just stared at each other wondering who would follow the order first. The silence was deafening until one woman shouted. “Start with me then!”

Kate. Meg had to hold in a groan as the girl walked forward and stood in front of Tuck. Kate was far too excitable.

Watching Kate’s progress, Isabella actually grinned. Kate went right up to one of the soldiers and presented him with her own sword. “Go on,” she urged. “Be a man! Start with me!”

“Do it or die,” Isabella shouted down to the man.

The soldier, appearing to have little choice was unsure what to do. Kill a woman?

“And kill an innocent girl,” Kate chided the soldier.

Finally, to save his own skin, the man raised the sword above his head. Archer, deciding that enough was enough, drew a switchblade out of his belt and hurled it at the soldier’s back. He saved Kate’s life, but soon all hell broke loose.

The peasants, both inside the castle and out, started to rebel against the soldiers. Meg fought by Tuck’s side and as the soldiers fled; she caught up to Kate who was with Archer. Seeing the face of Guy’s brother triggered a memory from her dream.

“Guy,” she said. “We have to save, Guy!”

“What,” Kate asked with confusion.

“And Robin,” Archer confirmed. “Let’s go.”

The three rushed down to the tunnel and forced open the solid oak gate blocking the path. Meg started reaching for the rope that would lift the blockage, but she couldn’t quite grab the end. Archer lifted Meg up so she could snag the rope. Kate helped her pull until the gate lifted.

Limestone cascaded out of the opening. Heart pounding with trepidation, Meg saw a mass of black hair. “Guy!”

Rushing forward, she started to dig through the limestone. Kate found Robin and started to try to get him to come around and regain consciousness. Meg did the same for Guy. Archer found Much and was able to rouse him.

“Guy!” Patting his cheeks and pressing his chest, Meg did her best to remain calm. “Open your eyes,” she commanded him. “Come on! Open your eyes!”

After what felt like an eternity, she saw his eyelashes flutter. Slowly, those familiar pale blue eyes were revealed. Meg helped Guy sit up as he coughed.

“Meg?” Guy focused on her face. Seeing her smile, he reached out a hand to touch her skin and make sure she was real. However, before he could make contact, he heard Kate say something about Isabella.

“Well, that means Allan is innocent,” Robin responded.

“Allan,” Kate asked.

Moving to stand, Robin hated how he was tricked. “She’s been playing with us all along.” Coughing, Robin drew in more air. “We need to find Isabella! Now!”

“The entrance to the castle’s blocked,” Archer said. “Follow me.”

The five of them followed Archer and along the way Robin formulated a plan of action. Meg stayed by Guy’s side, but noticed her hand was firmly in his own. The touch of his fingers around her own made her feel safe despite the circumstances surrounding them.

All too soon the smile faded as Meg remembered most of what she assumed was still ahead of them. They might have the castle, but a new fight was coming. Soon.

Meg knew she would need to be clever and quick. Events were already unfolding faster than she could recognize. If she didn’t get a grasp on things soon, then there would be nothing left worth saving.

Chapter Text

Hearing the shouting of the peasants, Isabella rushed through the halls of the castle in hopes of reaching escape. She needed to get out of here! She needed to run before those…farmers got passed the guards!

Isabella turned a corner hoping to find someone to aid her. Then, like a prayer answered, she found Blamire. A sigh of relief left her lips. She was saved!

“The peasants are trying to get into the castle,” she told him. “You have to protect me!”

“Can’t help,” Blamire said flatly. “Sorry.”

Disbelieving, Isabella rushed forward. “They’re going to tear me to pieces!”

“Not my problem. I’ve got to be somewhere else.”

Her eyes widened in shock. He never spoke to her that way before! “I just gave you an order!”

Blamire chuckled. “You have no idea what’s happening here, do you?”

“What?” Isabella felt desperation clawing at her insides. “You can’t just leave me here to be massacred by this rabble!”

Blamire considered a moment, but walked around Isabella. Her arm shot out and grabbed him. “Please! For pity’s sake, help me.”

“If you want to save yourself, hear this,” he said. “Deliver Gisborne to the tunnel.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” She argued. “Gisborne is dead.”

Glancing out the window, Blamire knew it was time to make is own escape. “Goodbye Sherriff and good luck.”

“Blamire!” Isabella felt the panic rise in her throat, but the man was already gone. Staring down at the courtyard from the window, she knew her time was running out. Turning to find her own escape she came face-to-face with the one girl she hated above all others.

“You forced my mother to lie to me,” Kate said. “You tried to poison me against Robin.”

“So what of it,” Isabella asked as if her actions were nothing. “You don’t belong together. An ill-raised peasant? Hardly a worthy companion or a man of noble birth.”

Isabella tried to move by her, but Kate attacked. The two women struggled and clawed at each other. Slaps and screams were exchanged in a flood of fury. Isabella wanted Kate’s blood and was determined to get it. The blonde got in a few good kicks, but so did Isabella. Just when the sheriff thought she had the upper hand, Kate managed to rush her and pin Isabella against the cold stone wall. A few moments later, Robin and company appeared. Nearing the sheriff, Robin held the locket up to her eyes.

“I believe this is yours. It’s over, Isabella.”

The men were more than happy to place shackles on the sheriff’s wrists. Guy took over the duty of guarding his sister. Meg stayed by his side while everyone else made sure the peasants had full access to the castle.

“Well, well,” Isabella grinned as she looked through narrowed eyes at Meg. “I had quite forgotten you existed.”

“Pity,” Meg let sarcasm drip from her tongue. “You’re the one that’s going to rot in prison now.”

Isabella let out a scoff and tilted her chin up a notch. “This isn’t over yet.”

“Oh, yes it is,” Guy said. “Come on.” He pushed Isabella out to the courtyard where Robin was waiting.

Poised on a remaining scaffold, the famous outlaw addressed the gathering crowd. “In the name of King Richard, I charge Isabella of Gisborne with high treason and crimes against the people of Nottingham! The castle and everything in it belongs to the people!”

Cheers rose up in celebration of the announcement. While everyone else raised their hands in celebration, Much noticed movement outside of the front gate. Something was out there. Calling Robin, he motioned to the rest of the gang. Guy forced Isabella to move ahead of him. Meg followed behind with a horrible feeling in her stomach. Please don’t let them find what she thought they would find.

Unrolling the thick wool blanket, Robin was shocked to see Allan. Lifeless. Pale. Eyes open.

Shocked and moved to tears, the gang was distracted by what else was happening on the horizon. Guy, however, looked out into the distance and saw a very disturbing sight.

“Close the gate,” he said as he drew his sword. No one sprang into action, so he raised his voice. “Man the battlements!”

Finally, the gang saw an army of at least a hundred men riding straight for the castle!

“Move,” Guy ordered.

Slowly, people complied, but Robin was still staring at the horizon with utter disbelief. Dragging along Isabella, Guy looked to Meg.

“Get inside!”

Meg swallowed her tears and followed Guy. Hoisting Allan’s dead body over his shoulders, he moved by Robin towards the castle, but not before seeing what Robin saw.

“Come on,” Guy shouted again.

Up on the hill, as Robin Hood watched, Blamire rode to the side of his true master. The old sheriff, Vaisey, grinned at the sight of his old domain.

“My lord,” Blamire said.

“Blamire, you old tomcat,” he responded pleasantly. “How the devil are you?”

“The plan is in place.”

“Good.”

Vaisey laughed and touched the hilt of his sword as if relishing the bloodshed he would soon inflict with the weapon. “Oh, this will be so much fun,” he grinned.

Breathing heavily, realizing the situation just became a thousand times worse; Robin moved into the castle and helped close the main gates behind him. They set a barricade in place, but there was no telling how long it would hold. A large battle was coming. Larger and more meaningful that anyone anticipated.

****

“Bring forward the trebuchet,” Blamire ordered. They were preparing the lay siege to the castle. Soon all those within would be begging for mercy.

“Load and make ready!” Blamire pointed to the men. “Unfurl the flag of truce!”

Vaisey approached his expression hopeful. “This is my destiny, Blamire. This time is almost upon us. Welcome to hell, Robin Hood.”

****

Inside the castle, the gang laid out Allan’s body. Meg bit her bottom lip and tried to remain strong. Isabella was placed in the dungeons, but so far no one knew what to do about the army. Then Robin spotted the flag of truce and made the decision to ride out and talk to the enemy.

“What have we done,” Much asked as he looked down at his fallen friend. “We doubted him, John.” Breathing heavily, Much pointed toward the battlements. “He did this! He killed him!”

“Much,” Robin said. “Much! You’ll have time for that.”

Kate interrupted with a report. “There are soldiers at every wall. Hundreds of them. The whole town’s surrounded.”

Worse and worse. Meg saw Guy astride his horse, ready to ride out with Robin, and knew she would have to remain alert of her surroundings. She failed Allan. She could no fail the rest of them.

“I put a dagger in him,” Guy said. “I saw him die.”

“Well, that ghost has raised an army,” Robin snapped.

Riding out, the two outlaws didn’t hesitate as they approached the army. The sheriff and Blamire rode forward to meet them part of the way. Setting his eye on Guy, Vaisey smirked.

“Surprise,” he said with his usual sarcastic wit. “You thought I was dead. But you didn’t check, did you? Very nasty wound.” He pointed to the spot where he still had the scar. “Gisborne, we will have our reckoning. Right now, I want my town back!”

“Never,” Robin swore. “You’re finished, Vaisey. You’re weapons are no match for the hatred these men have for you.”

Vaisey wasn’t at all intimidated. “You tell your peasant army anybody who resists me will die. Poor Allan. He squealed like a stuck pig when he died.”

Robin’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “And you’ll pay for that.”

“Robin,” Guy said in warning. It was best to be in control around Vaisey. Robin didn’t heed the words.

“You murdering swine!”

Vaisey shrugged. “Sticks and stones, Hood.” He waited for Robin to back down a bit before grinning again. “Give them a demonstration, Blamire,” the sheriff said almost pleasantly.

“Loose,” came the order.

A huge fire ball was hurled with amazing force toward the castle. One impact there was a load explosion. People ran screaming from the flames.

“You have until dawn,” Vaisey said. “Give me Gisborne, release Isabella, then return Nottingham to myself and Prince John. Otherwise, you and your friends, well, they’ll be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Both parties turned and rode away. Robin and Gsiborne didn’t say a word on the way back to the castle. Both knew they were in trouble. The old sheriff did indeed have weapons that would wipe them out.

“I need to see what that was,” Robin said once they entered the gate. With a nod, Guy followed. They found Archer, Tuck, and Kate bent over and examining part of the stone that crashed through the walls. The stone was covered in a substance Archer called Byzantine fire.

“Put look-outs on every wall,” Robin ordered. “Scour the town. Tuck, I want every able-bodied man armed and ready. We hold Nottingham for the king! We know the king’s coming! He has loyal troops waiting for him at Loughborough. If we can get word to them-”

“Robin,” Guy interrupted. “You could end this all now by giving me up to the sheriff. You could have done it back there. Why didn’t you?”

“Because this is bigger than you, Gisborne. It always has been. We are fighting for the future of England. You have Isabella behind bars. That’s what you wanted. This isn’t your fight unless you choose it to be.”

Guy didn’t need to consider. “While the sheriff lives, this all our fight. I’m with you.”

Approaching, Meg caught the tail end of the discussion and she was proud of Guy. Very proud, but also very scared.

“Get it done,” Robin told the others.

“There’s something we have to do first,” Much said as he helped guide the cart with Allan’s body. The time to mourn was now.

Chapter Text

As she watched the flames consume Allan’s body, Meg couldn’t quite hold back her tears. Needing comfort, she wanted to reach out to Guy and have him hold her. Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure if he would accept her. Despite all the words exchanged between them, and all the heated kisses, Meg knew guy never said he felt affection for her beyond friendship.

Yes, he claimed to want her, but there are far too many obstacles stood in the way. The largest one was not the impending battle, or danger being threatened from outside the walls. No, the largest barrier was the ghost of Marian.

Meg ached for Guy and the burden he carried. He was wrong to kill, but Marian was not blameless. She poked at a coiled snake, and then was shocked when the poison raced through her veins. Perhaps Meg’s recurring dreams were a gift from the great beyond to help Marian make up for her mistakes. Meg knew she could hypothesize, but she would never know for sure. What she did know was that time was running out.

Unable to help it, Meg slipped her hand into Guy’s. To her surprise, he squeezed her fingers reassuringly before pulling her against his side and wrapping and arm around her shoulders. Accepting the gesture, Meg rested her cheek against his tunic.

“It’s awful what happened,” she whispered.

“You did warn him,” Guy said softly.

“And he did not listen to me.” More tears leaked out of her eyes

Guy turned to face Meg and hated seeing her so upset. It was as if a part of him was being torn in two. Reaching out, he gently wiped her tears from her cheeks with the pads of his thumbs. “Was this in your dream?”

Disheartened, she nodded as more tears streamed from her eyes. “I saw it and I still could not prevent it.”

Seeing how upset she felt, Guy gently guided her away from the others. “It was not your fault, Meg,” he said in a soft tone. “You must believe that.”

“But I should have done more,” she cried. “If I told Allan about the dreams-”

“He would have likely dismissed it as nonsense,” Guy interrupted. “Worse, he may have thought you crazy. In the end, he still would have made his own choice.”

Nodding, Meg didn’t feel any better, but she understood the logic of his words. “Guy, you must promise me to be careful. Don’t challenge Isabella.”

At the mention of his sister, Guy gritted his teeth. “I will deal with Isabella in my own way. You must not worry over it.”

“But I do worry, Guy! Especially when the fates of so many are hanging in the balance.”

“Isabella is a bargaining chip, Meg,” he argued. “She’s also betrayed me. I can’t let that pass.”

“Guy,” she pleaded. “I’m begging you to leave Isabella alone. She will suffer her fate. Don’t antagonize the situation.”

Eyes narrowing, he wasn’t sure if her grief was making her say such things. “You say this because of that dream?”

“It is coming true, Guy!”

He looked skeptical. “How do you know?”

“It’s happening as I’ve dreamt it!”

“Except events are not the same,” Guy said gently in an effort to calm her. “You are alive, are you not?”

Looking sad, Meg shook her head. “I may be on borrowed time,” she admitted.

The very idea of Meg dying sent a chill through Guy’s blood. He could not lose her. The last thing he could endure was the loss of another woman he…loved.

Grasping Meg’s shoulders, Guy leaned closer. He was not certain of his intentions. Before he realized what he was doing, his lips were touching hers. Tentitively. Tenderly.

Before the kiss could deepen, Guy drew back. His control was hanging by a thread. As much as he wanted Meg, he knew that now was not the right time, nor the right place.

“Guy?” Meg blinked up at him with flushed cheeks. Confusion shined through her eyes and all she wanted to do was pull him back into her arms. If his posture wasn’t so stiff, Meg might actually have tried.

“Meg, I-” He shook his head. “We should not do this.”

“Because of Marian?”

His eyes sharpened. “I have blood on my hands, Meg. How is it fair if I smear my sins on you?”

“Having someone share your burdens isn’t-”

“It’s unfair,” he insisted.

“I disagree. There is a bond between us! Guy, I know you are fighting it-”

“Because I must! Don’t you see? I will not have you share Marian’s fate!”

Meg straightened. “I will not.”

Hearing her say those words with so much certainty, Guy nearly believed her. Meg was not Marian. He knew it, but he did not fully trust his own actions. He did not have the same faith in himself as Meg did.

“When this is over, we will talk,” he promised. Reluctantly, he released his hold on her and immediately felt bereft.

“There is something I must see to.”

Knowing exactly where he was going, Meg knew arguing would do no good. Instead, she chose to follow Guy at a discreet distance and he headed down to the dungeons. She would stop Isabella from harming Guy and Robin.

Chapter Text

Wanting answers, Guy rushed down to the dungeons. He was not aware of Meg following stealthily behind him. Guy’s sole focus was seeing his treacherous sister and finally getting some closure. If she had a hand in this latest scheme, then Guy would not show her an ounce of mercy. Blood or no blood, Guy would make Isabella pay dearly.

Rage boiled in his veins as he neared her cell. Isabella claimed she had mercy in her heart, but she was just as corrupt as he was. Isabella craved power and she didn’t care who she had to hurt to get it. In many ways, Guy could sympathize with her; however, she went too far.

Betraying him was bad enough, but now she threw her lot in with Vaisey. Guy thought he killed the man and exorcized one of his demons in doing so, but now the old sheriff was alive and the entire game changed. By God, Isabella would help them get the advantage or he would put a dagger in her heart!

Stomping into the dungeons, he didn’t bother to keep his arrival a secret. Seeing Isabella in the distance, Guy felt his temper rise to new heights. With pure determination, he reached forward.

Watching him from the shadows, Meg wanted to stop Guy from confronting his sister. Unfortunately, when Guy got that look in his eye, she knew there was no way to talk him down. Knowing this confrontation could set off a string of events, Meg lingered in the darkness hoping she would get an opportunity to set things on a different path.

As Guy approached, Isabella’s jailer opened the cell door. Guy didn’t pause or hesitate. He marched into the cell and slapped his sister across her cheek. In his opinion, it was the least she deserved, but there wasn’t time to deal out more.

“Did you know the sheriff was still alive,” he demanded. Pulling Isabella close, Guy held her face roughly in his hands and looked into her eyes as she answered. He wanted to be able to see if she was lying.

Though she loathed her brother more than ever, Isabella spoke calmly. “I knew nothing of this.”

It was true. She didn’t. The only reason Isabella even spoke the truth now was because she was imprisoned and helpless. If any of Robin’s men thought she knew a thing about this coming army, her life would be forfeit. At least down here she could plan an escape. Up there, she would be killed.

Seeing the truth in her eyes, Guy released his grip in her and took a few steps back. Regret formed in his eyes, but the emotion was quickly blinked away. This confrontation was a long time in coming.

Turning, Guy spoke to the guard. “Leave us.”

Meg held very still as the guard passed her by on his way to the stairs. Thankfully, she wasn’t discovered. Looking back at Guy and Isabella, Meg inched closer.

Facing Isabella, Guy was a bit surprised to see her smiling. He would have expected her to be terrified and begging him for protection and mercy as she did when he first saw her again in the forest. Then again, she did have the ability to surprise him after all these years.

“You so want to kill me, don’t you,” she said with that smile. “What’s stopping you, Guy? Not the fact that I’m a woman, surly. You’re so good at killing defenseless females.”

Having her throw Marian in his face did sting, but Guy was coming to terms with his past. Before, he would have eagerly strangled her for the insinuation. Now, he admitted to the wrongdoing.

“You’re right,” he acknowledged. “There is too much blood on my hands already. Isabella, you’ll find no mercy amongst the outlaws now. So, when the time is right…”

Guy pulled a vial out of his belt. The glass bottle was filled only a third of the way, but the contents were very potent. Guy placed the bottle in his sister’s palm.

“You might want to use this.”

“Poison.” Isabella frowned when she wanted to laugh. She should have known. Guy was poisoning her almost all her life. Why should her death be any different?

“A single drop will act slowly and painfully,” Guy continued. “For it to be quick, you must take it all.”

“This is your idea of mercy?” Isabella couldn’t help but feel bitter. Did Guy think she was like Aristotle? So noble and self-sacrificing?

A scoff came out of her throat. “You last brotherly gesture? For whose sake, Guy? Mine or yours?”

Isabella rushed for the door, but Guy grabbed her and held her close. Breathing hard, Isabella felt consumed with the need to flee. The door was only inches away, but Guy was stronger than her. His hand actually stoked her hair.

“I do this for our mother’s sake,” he whispered hoarsely to her. “Although there is precious little of her goodness left in either of us.”

Pushing Isabella back into her cell, Guy walked out the door and slammed it shut, securing the lock. Turning on his heel, he walked out of the dungeons without looking back. He came and did what he intended to do. He did not hear Isabella’s plea from her cell.

“Guy!”

But he was gone. Isabella was alone. How foolish of her to think that after all that happened, Guy would finally step up and be the brother she always dreamed he would be. Guy never protected her from the world. He threw her into it and then left her to fend off the wolves alone.

Alone.

Isabella knew she would have to rely on her own devices to get out of here.

Realizing she didn’t have much time, Meg stepped out of the shadows and approached Isabella’s cell. An odd sense of satisfaction filled her veins when she saw Isabella locked in the same place where Meg was once condemned. What goes around came around. When the woman looked up and saw her, Meg nearly lost her nerve. Even behind bars, Isabella looked as fierce and intimidating as ever. Stiffening her spine, Meg knew what she had to do and knew she needed to find her strength to do it.

Seeing Meg, Isabella smirked. “Well, well. I never thought I would see you again. Weren’t you injured at your execution?”

“No thanks to you,” Meg snapped.

Isabella wasn’t impressed and shrugged as if the incident meant nothing to her. Meg knew there was no reaching the conscience of this woman. “Give me the poison,” Meg demanded as she stood on the other side of the bars.

“What?” Grasping the vile a bit more tightly in her palm, Isabella’s eyes flashed to Meg. “Why do you want it? I doubt you want it to use against Guy.”

“I don’t want you using it.” Meg held out her hand hoping Isabella would pass the vile through the bars. Instead, the former sheriff eased back to lean against the wall and regarded Meg with a thoughtful smile.

“Maybe I need the poison,” she said playfully. “Taking my life on my own terms is appealing.”

Seeing through the sarcasm, Meg wasn’t impressed. “Give it to me, Isabella.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to hurt anyone. Not even yourself.”

Scoffing, Isabella shook her head. “You care? That’s why you betrayed me?”

“I did the right thing,” Meg insisted.

“Guy is a monster! You are naïve if you think otherwise!”

“I know exactly what kind of man Guy is,” Meg stated.

“Ah.” Pushing away from the wall, Isabella moved closer to the bars to study her former friend. Staring at her face, Isabella broke out laughing. “You are a fool, Meg Bennett!” More laughter bubbled out of her throat. “You actually let yourself fall in love with him!”

“I wouldn’t say I had much of a choice in the matter,” Meg said before she realized the words slipped out of her mouth.

“I would advise you to remember about what he did to Marian.”

“I know more about that then you think.” Meg’s eyes narrowed at her former friend. She would not let Isabella get under her skin. She held out her hand once more. “The poison.”

Isabella was insulted by the very idea of the poison. The gesture only solidified her disdain for Guy. However, she had to wonder why Meg was so desperate to get the poison back.

“We could have been such friends, Meg,” she said. “We were friends once.”

“Until my opinion differed from yours and you sentenced me to death for it.”

“Helping a criminal escape is a crime,” Isabella said unapologetically. “You are not above the law!”

Shaking her head, Meg wasn’t about to let this woman hide behind technicalities. “You blame Guy for ruining your life when the truth is that all he did was try to give you the best life he was able.”

“You saw Thornton for yourself,” Isabella raged. “How can you say he was doing what was best for me?!”

“Because Guy didn’t know about Thornton when he arranged the marriage!”

“And when he found out,” Isabella challenged. “When I came to him months ago, he had no remorse or sympathy!”

Meg wasn’t buying it. “He did give you protection. All you had to do was stay away from Robin Hood, but you couldn’t, could you? The fact is that you only cared about having your own way. You blame Guy for lacking loyalty, but you never showed any to him from the beginning, did you?”

Having the truth thrown in her face only made Isabella even more determined to destroy all of them. How dare Meg say she was the one to blame! Didn’t they know how much she suffered?!

Eyes narrowing, Isabella glared at Meg. “At least I forged out a position for myself. What have you done, Meg, but attach yourself to a man who is still hopelessly in love with a dead memory. A woman he murdered,” she stressed.

“I know Guy’s faults.” Meg flashed Isabella a small smile. “I know of yours, too. You may have forged a position of power here, but you only succeeded in destroying yourself. You didn’t get exactly what you wanted out of Robin, so you decided to destroy him. Whatever you thought you felt, it wasn’t love. If you were really in love, then you wouldn’t want to hurt those you claim to care about.”

Disgusted, Isabella turned her back on Meg. Wasn’t it bad enough that she was condemned, but she had to listen to Meg’s drivel too? She may be imprisoned, but Isabella wasn’t without resources. She knew she had to pick her moments. Taking her dagger out of her sleeve, she palmed the vial of poison. Dipping the tip of the dagger in the poison before setting it aside to dry, she recapped the vial and turned back around to face Meg. They were all going to get what they deserved.

“I’ll give you the poison if you stop trying to get through to me,” she snapped for emphasis.

Frowning, Meg looked at the vial Isabella pushed out thought the bars at her. There was no way to make Isabella see the error of her ways. Taking the poison, Meg got the feeling that Isabella gave up a bit too easily. Still, she hoped she avoided one disaster by getting the poison out of Isabella’s hands.

“I feel sorry for you,” Meg said before she rushed toward the stairs.

Watching Meg leave, Isabella grinned. Oh no, they were going to be the ones to pay the ultimate price. She would get out of there and they would all die!

Chapter Text

Guy made his way up to the main hall from the dungeons feeling a bit worse for wear. Walking in to a meeting already in session, he noted how everyone seemed on edge.

“What happened,” Guy asked.

“It’s Kate,” Robin answered. “Kate’s taken it into her head to go to Loughborough for the troops.”

“She knows what she’s doing,” John said in her defense. “You taught her well.”

Robin was not appeased. In fact, his temper was on a thin edge. “The sheriff is playing with us! He knows he’s got the advantage! We have to hold this castle until the troops arrive.”

“Can we,” Much asked. “I mean, how long under bombardment of Byzantine fire?”

“He’s got plenty of it,” Archer added.

“How do you know,” Robin asked.

Archer was honest. “I sold it to him.”

The others were outraged.

“For a profit,” Much asked. He rushed forward and grabbed Archer’s collar. “You sold it to the man that killed my friend!”

“Well, now your trade has caught up with you,” Robin shouted as he pointed an accusing finger at his brother. “And you’re going to be bombarded by your own weapons!”

“I’ve done you a favor by sticking ‘round here,” Archer said. “I saved your ungrateful lives!”

Guy chimed in at this point. “Our lives wouldn’t have needed saving if you hadn’t trapped the tunnel in the first place!”

“We lock him up,” Much said. “We can’t trust him.”

Having heard enough, Archer marched to the door only to be stopped by Robins continued accusations. “Well, what’s the matter? A guilty conscience? And what about all those people that are going to die because of your greed?”

Pausing, Archer turned to throw accusations of his own. “And what about all those who have died because they listened to Robin Hood? A few untrained, underequipped peasants against that machine!”

Archer moved forward until he was in his brother’s face. “So you think about what you got them into before you ever try to judge me.”
With those final words, Archer separated from the group. During the argument, Meg silently slipped into the hall. She poured the poison out onto the stones of the courtyard before looking for the others. Hearing the fighting, she kept to the shadows.

Glancing at Guy, Meg could tell he was torn between wanting to defend Archer and following Robin. There was not much more that could be done. They were equipped to hold the castle, but fear crept up her throat. Biting her bottom lip to try and stay focused, Meg knew there was more ahead of her.

“We have to take the trebuchets,” Robin stated. “A small unit. Tonight.” Otherwise, they didn’t have a prayer. “Are you with me?”

They agreed. “I’ll see you all at the battlements.”

Guy followed Robin out of the hall and Meg quickly followed them. “Guy,” she called.

Pausing, Guy looked over his shoulder to see Meg. His heart skipped with trepidation. Suddenly, it dawned on him that Meg would die unless he was able to help Robin defeat the sheriff and keep the castle. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I wanted to see you,” she said.

“Don’t try to talk me out of going with Robin,” he said. “We need to stop the sheriff, which means we need to sabotage his weapons.”

“No, I understand,” she reached out to touch his arm. “I just want you to be careful. Promise me.”

On impulse, Guy pulled Meg into his arms and held her tight. Kissing the top of her head, Guy wanted to tell Meg how much she meant to him, but couldn’t seem to find the words. Clinging to Guy, Meg knew she needed to let him go, but by God she wanted to keep him alive and by her side! The only reason she could eventually untangle her fingers from his tunic was because she knew from her dream that Guy would come back from the enemy camp.

Guy gave her a small smile before walking away and Meg didn’t let out her breath until he was out of sight. Heading back to the main hall, she figured she would help with that she could until the men returned.

****

On the battlements, the outlaws were preparing to scale down that wall. “There are pockets of men around the walls,” Much repeated. “Regular patrols.”

“You all know what we’re doing,” Robin said. “We go up along the dry moat, then we head for that cart and then the tent. That’ll give us cover until we make our way to the trebuchets. Much, you’re in charge.”

Stilling, Robin deliberated a moment before looking back at his best friend. “If we don’t come back,” he continued. “You fight until the end.”

“I’m coming too, aren’t I?”

“No, no, you’re not. I need a cool head here, not a hot one out there.”

“What?”

“Listen to me, Much. You’ll get your revenge for Allan. I promise.”

With that there was no more arguing. Much was to stay behind and keep the castle, while Robin, Guy, John, and Tuck ventured to the enemy camp. The men made it down the wall without incident. Indeed, they made it into the camp without detection.

The men soon discovered that sabotaging the weapons was easy enough. However the escape wouldn’t be so easy. The sheriff and Blamire had no intention of waiting until dawn the attack the castle. When they tried to fire the trebuchet, the weapon backfired.

“Robin Hood,” Vaisey shouted.

The sheriff’s men were quick to act and soon the outlaws were surrounded. At the last moment, Archer rode in and saved them all from being cut down. Much ordered the gates to be opened. His friends were being chased down by the enemy, so swift action was needed.

The men ran inside the castle and Much closed the gates. They secured the doors and managed to hold back the army, but dawn was approaching and the sheriff wanted a battle. Vaisey was never going to walk away from his revenge.

“You see,” Robin said over the wall. “Now you know!”

Much wasn’t placated. “That’s for Allan,” he shouted down to the soldiers below.

Turning to Archer, Robin was surprised. “I thought you’d run out on us.”

“Thought you needed a hand,” Archer said. “By the way,” he grabbed a canteen off his saddle and handed it to Tuck. “I got you a little present, courtesy of the sheriff.”

“What’s that,” Robin asked.

Tuck sniffed the contents. “It’s Byzantine fire! If I can make out its base contents, I can make some more of this!”

Robin’s face grew eager. “So we can fight the sheriff? Do it.”

Outside the gates, the sheriff and Blamire issued orders for the attack. Inside the hall, Meg was helping tend to the injured. Word came that Robin and the others were back, but the good news was soured by the sounds of battle from outside the walls. Meg’s heart pounded with the knowledge that time was running out.

****

In the dungeons, Isabella was already formulating a plot to get free. Her guard was a man, so she knew the right way to manipulate him. Once the sounds of the battle could be heard, she made her move.

“Well, well, well,” she said in a sultry tone as she moved to the bars. “You are a big boy, aren’t you?”

The guard made no reply, but Isabella really didn’t need him to respond. Instead, she chuckled. “Oh, come on now,” she playfully chided. “Don’t be shy. It’s just you and me waiting for the end. I mean, Robin Hood can’t win. You saw the sheriff’s army. So, I guess we’re in the same position. Condemned.”

Isabella sighed dramatically. “Such a waste.”

Moving back toward the wall of her cell, she waited until the guard looked over his shoulder at her. “Isn’t it traditional to offer the condemned on last request?”

The man’s eyes stared at her as she smiled.

“You open the door and I’ll give you exactly what you want,” she purred.

Smiling, the guard couldn’t get the door open fast enough. Still wearing her alluring smile, Isabella moved up to him and when she was close enough, she took out her dagger and stabbed the man in the stomach. She felt nothing as she watched the light leave his eyes and his knees collapse to the floor as he bled out. As far as she was concerned, that lusty pig got exactly what he deserved.

“Men are so easy,” she said as she stepped over his cooling body and walked out of the dungeons.. Knowing there was still poison on the dagger Isabella resisted the urge to wipe the blade clean. Instead, she focused her attention on finding the others. She would fulfill her vow and see Robin and Guy dead. Well, if they weren’t dead already.

Chaos reigned as she emerged from the dungeons to one of the main corridors of the castle. Dead bodies lined the courtyards as the sound of weapons clanging echoed in the distance. No one seemed to notice Isabella as she made her way through the castle she once called her own.

Suddenly, she knew exactly where to hide. She knew just how to lure the men to their deaths. The tunnel. It was perfect.

Making her way through the halls, she caught sight of Meg tending the injured. Who did that little shrew think she was? A saint? Clutching her dagger tighter, Isabella would have loved to cut Meg down, but forced her legs to move forward. Meg would suffer once Guy lay dead by her hand. Oh, yes, that was a much better plan.

Chapter Text

The attack upon Nottingham Castle was fierce. Archers on the battlements did their best to fend off the enemy, but as the sun rose higher in the sky, the efforts to hold the strong forces at bay were becoming more and more tedious. Robin, Guy, and the others scrambled to get the men to safety as they fought the sheriff’s men.

“Robin,” Much called. “We need the kings’ troops fast.”

“Kate won’t let us down,” he said as he joined Much on the battlements. Looking over the wall, they saw the army running at the gate with a battering ram.

Hearing the first smash of the ram’s impact on the wood, Guy looked for help. Shouting, he hoped to spring robin and the others into action. “The gates won’t hold against a battering ram and we don’t have the men to take them on!”

Arrows volleyed over the walls and into the courtyard as the ram continued to slam into the reinforced gate. Though the men following Robin fought bravely, they were sorely outmatched.

“Take cover,” Robin ordered. “Pull everyone back into the castle courtyard! We defend from there until the king’s troops arrive!”

Scrambling to follow Robin’s orders, the men ran for the inner courtyard. Robin told Much to assemble a team of archers and hold the enemy off as long as possible. They tipped over carts and anything else they could find to make cover against the enemy arrows still showering down on them.

“Abandon the town,” Much eventually ordered.

Everyone grouped behind the cover in the outer courtyard and waited until the battering ram broke through the gate before Much gave the order to fire.

“Loose!”

When the first set of men were down, Much signaled for his men to run to the next point of cover where another group of archers waited to fire volleys and cover the other men as they ran for safety. They managed to hold the enemy off and make it into the heart of the castle, closing the heavy gates behind them.

Of course, the sheriff’s men were many and they would keep coming. Seeing the closed gate, Vaisey was not at all pleased. “Bring the battering ram! Smash those gates! And bring me the prisoner you captured!”

“My lord,” Blamire bowed to the sheriff before turning to carry out the orders and shouting at the men. “Battering ram! Now!”

Looking though the breaking the gate, John saw the sheriff’s approach and called up to the others. “Portcullis!”

The iron gate came down in front of the secured oak doors of the gate to the inner courtyard. Everyone was so busy with the battle that no one saw Isabella pass them by. They positioned themselves behind the portorellis, arrows at the ready. When the sheriff did burst through the gates, they were prepared to fire, but Robin called out for them to wait.

“I’m sorry Robin!”

Kate was being held captive by the sheriff, and Vaisey was grinning like a cat with a bowl full of cream.

“Not as sorry as she’s going to be.” Chuckling in delight, the sheriff came into full view. “She was on her way back from Loughborough with this.” Vaisey held up a note.

“Expecting reinforcements? Not coming,” he said with relish as he tossed aside the note. “Don’t believe me? Tell him,” he snapped at Kate.

Blamire painfully nudged Kate when she hesitated. Resisting the pain, Kate refused to speak. Meanwhile, Robin silently communicated a plan to Much.

“King Richard isn’t coming either,” Vaisey said when Kate resisted too long. “He was on his way, but he was captured by Leopold of Austria.”

Disbelieving, Robin moved to the iron gates to face of his nemesis. “You’re lying,” Robin accused.

“It’s true,” Kate finally spoke up. “He’s being held to ransom.”

“Two hundred, fifty thousand crowns,” Vaisey said with an ecstatic smile. “Enough to bankrupt a nation!” Kate interrupted. “The troops at Loughborough won’t fight unless Richard leads them."

“So, what is it to be, Hood?” Vaisey’s eyes narrowed in on the outlaw he despised for so long. “Surrender or slaughter?”

“Neither,” Robin answered. “You see, I don’t trust you…Vaisey. You said you’d take no prisoners.”

“Oh yes. Yes, I did say that. Well, that was rather hasty of me. I mean, who’s going to pay taxes if the villagers are all dead?”

Robin scoffed. “So what…you’re going to release that people now only to make slaves of them later?”

“Why?”

Robin scoffed once more. “You don’t give me much of a choice, do you?”

Vaisey laughed heartily. “What, have you got some little trick tucked up your sleeve, have you hmmm? Humiliate me and rescue the girl? You’re so predictable, Hood. Bored with that game. Kill her,” he ordered.

Robin and the others sprang into action as he shouted out in warning to her. “Kate! Above you! Lower the rope!”

Much came down from above, Kate fended off Blamire to latch on to Much, as the others pulled the rope and yanked the couple out of the sheriff’s clutches. The men opened fire and pushed back the sheriff’s men.

“That’s the last time Robin Hood makes a fool out of me!” Making the vow, the sheriff changed strategies. “To the tunnel!”

Seeing the enemy retreating, Much called down from the wall. “It’s working! They’re falling back!”

“They’re regrouping,” Robin clarified. “Barricade the portcullis!”

After reuniting with Kate, they all headed into the main hall. Guy knew it was just a matter of time before the sheriff won, as did the others. Tuck encouraged Robin to speak to the downtrodden men. He spoke honestly, but with determination. He spoke of defending freedom and England. He got the men rallied enough to defend the castle for England for a little longer.

When the sheriff’s men attacked, they all rallied and managed to hold their current position. Little did they know the sheriff was making his way to the secret tunnel.

Vaisey grinned. “Robin Hood won’t know what hit him.”

A moment later, the sheriff’s smile disappeared when he saw the wall in their path.

“Blocked,” Blamire said. “Isabella’s trap. We’ll never get through there, my lord.”

Vaisey smirked. “Well, we’ll see about that. Back,” he shouted over his shoulder. “Back! Bring down the Byzantine fire!”

****

The fighting was not going well. Robin rushed into the hall hoping there was something Tuck could do to aid them. They needed to keep this battle on the right track.

“Tuck! I need that fire! We can’t hold out much longer!”

“Robin! Robin!” Tuck held up a hand to get his attention. Holding up a mug to show him, Tuck motioned for Robin to have a look. “Not oil. The sheriff had gallons of it in the cellar.”

“Boiling oil,” Robin guessed. “We can use it.”

“No, no, no, no, no," Tuck argued. “I can do better than that! Watch!”

Tuck put a candle flame to the small concoction he managed to mix. “The nut oil is a base compound. Come on!”

A moment later an explosion lit up the space in front of Tuck. Then the smoke cleared, he gave Robin a wide grin. “That, my friend is Byzantine fire!”

Robin’s eyes widened. “How much do we have?”

“Gallons and gallons,” Tuck said still wearing his huge grin.

“Get it done.”

Suddenly, Kate burst into the room with news that gate was breached. She and Robin raced away while Tuck set to work. Meg pushed back her fear by helping the wounded, but there wasn’t too much she could do without supplies. Keeping an eye out for Guy, she knew the confrontation she was dreading was nearly upon them.

The men abandoned the battlements and fell back into the main hall. As men raced to barricade the doors, Meg caught sight of Guy and Archer entering and made her way over to them. She didn’t hear or see Isabella, but Guy did. Knowing she caught her brother’s eye, Isabella remembered Blamire’s cryptic words and knew she needed to lure her brother to his doom if she wanted to get out of here alive. As predicted, Guy started after her as she disappeared into the tunnel. Archer moved to follow his brother.

“It’s the entrance to the tunnel.” Guy moved to the threshold, cold intent filling his blood.

“Why has she gone in there,” Archer asked. “She knows it’s blocked. I’m going to get Robin.”

“No,” Guy said, drawing his sword. “She’s mine.”

Archer didn’t know Isabella for very long, but he did know she wasn’t someone he wanted to handle alone. As Guy entered the tunnel, Archer followed. Seeing them disappear, Meg ran to get Robin. He, of course, told her to stay put, but Mg refused. They needed her help, so she bravely followed Robin down into the dark tunnel, doing her best to ignore the pounding of her heart.

Entering the damp darkness, Guy let his eyes adjust as he searched the shadows for his sister. Sword at the ready, he should have known better than to reason with her. Isabella obviously refused his offering of a quick death. Well, she didn’t leave him with much choice, did she?

Archer saw a small window and space coved with an iron grate and bent down to have a look, but rattled the bars he found in frustration. “Where does that lead,” he asked.

“It leads into the cellar and back to the castle,” Guy answered.

An escape route, Archer noted. Suddenly, an explosion rattled the foundation around them. “Byzantine fire,” Archer said.

“So that’s why Isabella came down here,” Guy reasoned. “She’s trying to blast her way out of the tunnel.”

“Might be a way out for all of us,” Archer observed.

“Go tell Robin,” Guy said. “I’ll deal with Isabella.”

Archer made his way back through the dark corridors as Guy moved forward. It wasn’t long before Archer ran into his brother. Neither one noticed Meg following behind as they made their way back to Guy.

A few minutes later, Gisborne met up with Isabella. He heard her footsteps and called out. “Isabella, where are you?”

“Come get me,” she challenged.

Guy found her behind a pillar and put a sword to her neck. Isabella chuckled and looked amused at her impending death.

“That explosion,” he said.

“The tunnel should be clear now,” Isabella confirmed. “I’ll say there’s a way out if you want it.”

Confused, Guy started to lower his sword. “Look at you, Guy,” she continued. “Perhaps you should have taken the poison yourself. After all, you’ve destroyed anyone you’ve ever held dear to you. You know, brother, you loved me once.”

“And me too,” came a voice from behind them.

Turning, Guy saw the old sheriff and knew he was set up. Raising his sword, Guy prepared to fight.

Chapter Text

Looking back and forth between the two, Guy gave his sister an accusing look. “You planned this,” he hissed.

Her only response was to laugh. Guy circled as Vaisey came closer.

“Isabella,” Vaisey addressed the somewhat current sheriff. “You will, of course, relinquish your claim to my title. If you wish to join me.”

In response, Isabella let her heavy cloak fall to the damp floor as she moved to stand by Vaisey’s side. Looking at Guy, the old sheriff grinned, showing his teeth. “I didn’t want anyone else to have the pleasure of killing you, so I set up this little trap.”

As he said the words, Blamire and some other men came out of the shadows. “Stay back,” Vaisey ordered. “He’s mine.”

Isabella drew her dagger and moved toward Blamire to allow the sheriff to get closer to Guy.

“The man who tried to kill me,” Vaisey drew his sword. “I made you,” he shouted as he charged.

Guy dodged the thrust of the blade and punched the sheriff in the jaw. “I won’t make the same mistake twice!”

As the men fought, Isabella circled her way around the pillar waiting for an opening. She was finally going to see Guy pay for all his sins against her!

Guy and Vaisey were both skilled soldiers, but it was Guy who had youth and strength on his side. It wasn’t long before he had the former sheriff down on his knees trying to fend off Guy’s killing blow. In that moment, Isabella saw an open opportunity and started forward, her dagger aimed at Guy’s back.

At the last moment, Robin dashed forward, blocking the blow, and pushed Isabella back against the pillar by her neck. Guy and Vaisey continued their face-off as Robin leaned in to Isabella’s face.

“Still as treacherous as ever.”

Grunting Isabella kicked out, pushing Robin back and gaining her freedom. Robin joined the fray. Guy was nearly taken off guard by Vaisey, but Archer was there at the last second to cover his brother’s back.

“Gisborne!”

As the three brothers fought, Meg watched from the shadows. This was the moment her dream was preparing her for. Memories flooded her mind, seemingly blending in with the present. Watching the swords slash and the punches fly, Meg waited and prepared to take action.

The fight broke off. Robin, Guy, and Archer retreated to one side, weapons drawn, while Blamire, Isabella, and Vaisey stood on the other with their weapons also raised in anticipation of attack.

“How appropriate,” Vaisey said. “A battle so huge should come down to the important few.” His eyes settled on Archer. “A new one,” he pointed with his sword. “Don’t know you, do I?”

“He’s my mother’s foolish mistake,” Isabella supplied. “Look at us. The whole sorry family.”

Robin looked to Archer. “Together.”

Archer agreed. “Brothers in arms.”

The attacked resumed. Vaisey went straight for Robin, while Archer engaged Isabella and Guy fought Blamire. Meg still waited in the wings, every nerve on alert.
Archer fell, lost his sword, but flipped back to his feet.

“Archer!” Guy tossed his brother his own sword.

Robin managed to get Vaisey on the ground, weaponless. “This is for all the lives you ruined, all the people you’ve killed!”

“Now, Hood,” Vaisey shouted.

Robin started to raise his sword to deliver the death blow, but Isabella ran for his back; dagger raised. Seeing his sister’s intent, Guy ran to intercept her.

“Robin!”

Guy managed to push Isabella away, but not before her dagger sliced the skin at Robin’s neck. Simultaneously, as Guy ran for his sister, Meg ran from her hiding place. Her whole focus was on the old sheriff. Having Guy in his sights, Vaisey reached for a weapon. Sword in hand, he saw Guy start to turn. Meg shouted and moved as fast as her feet could carry her. Kicking the sword out of Vaisey’s hands, she tackled Guy’s would-be murderer.

Seeing another opportunity to get at her brother, Isabella ran for Guy’s back, but he was able to see her out of the corner of his eye. Lifting an arm to deflect the blow, Isabella’s dagger didn’t break through the fabric of his tunic. Guy pushed her aside with force and would have pursued her had he not heard Meg’s cry coming from behind him.

Vaisey roughly pushed Meg off him, causing her to fall at Guy’s feet. Quickly, Guy grabbed Meg and protectively pulled her to her side. How did she get here?! He didn’t have time to make sense of her appearance, but he never felt so scared or confused in all his life. A second later, his determination and protectiveness kicked in. Nothing was going to happen to Meg!

Robin recovered from Isabella’s blow to put his sword between Guy and Meg and the enemy. Having recovered two discarded swords, Archer moved to brother’s side. Now there was to be another standoff.

“This ends,” Robin shouted. “Here!”

Isabella laughed; the evil sound echoing off the walls. “How right you are, Robin Hood.” She gestured to the cut she made on his neck.

“It’s a scratch,” Robin shouted. “It’s nothing!”

Clinging desperately to Guy, Meg felt hot tears slip down her cheeks. “No,” she whimpered as he heart filled with a throbbing despair. She failed. She failed to save Robin.

“No, no, no,” Isabella’s tone was thick with sarcasm. “You should be careful. I mean this blade; it could be rusty or…or worse.”

“What have you done,” Guy asked, his hold on Meg getting instinctively tighter.

Isabella never took her eyes away from Robin. The man she was willing to give her heart to, the man that threw all her dreams for a happy future back in her face, was now going to pay! She delighted in her next words.

“I used your poison on the blade,” she answered as she smiled. “A few drops flowing through your bloodstream,” she told Robin. “I’d say you’ll be dead by sundown.”

Disbelieving, Robin lowered his sword and glanced at Guy. “Is it true?”

Guy nodded. One arm still wrapped around a silently weeping Meg, he knew there were plenty of times over the years he would have delighted over this man’s death. Now, Guy thought the event too unfair.

“Oh, this is too good to be true!” Vaisey crooned with pure euphoric triumph at the news. Pleasure, pure and wild, lit up his features. Vaisey tugged at Isabella’s sleeve. “You’ve killed Robin Hood! Oh, we’ll be back! To finish the rest of you off with an army! Please, wait for me,” he told Robin. “I don’t want to miss the big moment.”

Vaisey and Isabella retreated with their men. Robin and Archer looked to Guy, but it was Meg who stepped forward.

“I am so sorry. I failed you,” she said through her tears.

“No,” Robin shook his head and placed a hand on her shoulder. “None of this is your fault. You helped us, Meg. You saved Guy. Now we need to focus on the matter at hand,” Robin knew they needed to focus on the lives that were depending on them. Thinking of the people in the castle was preferable than thinking about what Isabella just did to him.

“We can get the people out though the cellar,” Guy said, “back into this tunnel. The sheriff will take his men the easy route through the great hall.”

Archer nodded in agreement. “Do we hide our people in that tunnel until he moves his men through? And then lead ours out?” He looked to Robin for approval.

The legendary outlaw nodded. “We’ll get word to Tuck. Let’s go.”

The four made their way back through the tunnel to the great hall. There wasn’t a lot of time before the sheriff brought his men through, so they needed to hide as quickly as possible. The sooner everyone got to the cellar, the better.

Much was having trouble keeping the sheriff’s army at bay. He looked over his shoulder at the monk. “Tuck! Get up here! We can’t hold them!”

“Just little bit longer,” the monk shouted back. He was nearly finished fitting the barrels of nut oil with the right components to make it into Byzantine fire.

“Come on,” Kate urged.

Archer rushed into the room, shouting orders. “Leave the door! Everyone is to follow me! Robin’s orders.” He pushed people toward the tunnel. “With me! To the cellar!”

Guy and Meg waited at the entryway to help guide the peasants down to the cellars and get them into the hiding place. Archer and Kate ushered more people through as Robin went to speak to Tuck.

“Are we ready,” he asked.

Tuck smiled. “Yeah, we’re done, we’re done.”

Giving the monk a look of understanding, Robin looked to the peasants. “Get these people out!”

Much and John pushed the last of the people into the tunnel. They all huddled together, quiet as they could be, and waited for the sheriff and his army to pass through. Once the coast was clear, John moved to the front of the cellar to detach the iron grate from the small opening that separated the cellar from the secret tunnel. Robin and the others started to usher the people into the tunnel.

Robin fought off a lingering guard, but he felt his muscles weakening. Kate noticed and tried to help him, but Robin urged her to continue forward saying he would meet her at the other side. Seeing Archer pass, knowing he heard Kate, Robin clutched his brother’s sleeve.

“Archer, she mustn’t know, all right?”

Archer nodded before moving on to help others. Hearing Robin’s words, Tuck paused.

“Know what,” he asked. “What’s happened?”

Robin sighed. “There’s something you need to know.”

After a brief explanation, Robin continued to help the people to safety. He was the last to emerge into the graveyard. He was pleased to see John and Archer awaiting him.

“John, get them all to the forest,” he said. “Tuck, you set everything up?”

“Yes.”

“Archer, you come with me. Come on.”

Archer looked at Tuck before moving to follow his brother. The other outlaws made sure all the peasants were beyond the castle walls and out of harm’s way. Robin knew the end was near. Perhaps it was wrong of him, but he would make sure the sheriff went with him.

For Richard. For England. For Freedom.

Chapter Text

Entering the main hall of his castle, Vaisey walked tall and proud. After all, he won the day. Except there was just one small problem.

“They have all escaped,” Isabella said as she entered the main hall and aw only barrels of what she presumed were supplies. “How could that happen,” she asked.

Vaisey wanted to the answer to that question as well. He was very much looking forward to seeing Robin Hood take his last breath! Now, he had to figure out exactly what was going on here.

****

Outside the main hall, in the courtyard, Robin and Archer came to a halt with the open door to the hall within their view. The plan was set. All that was left to be down was to fire a flaming arrow into one of the barrels in the hall.

Panting, Robin had his bow and arrow at the ready and tipped the head into the flames of a stray fire. Raising the bow, he prepared to fire, but grunted in pain. The poison was doing its work.

“Can you do this,” Archer asked.

Gritting his teeth with determination, Robin felt a surge of strength in his veins. “Of course I can. I am Robin Hood.”

Lifting the bow, Robin took aim and fired the arrow. Once it was out of sight, he turned to Archer. “Come on! Let’s go!”

Archer and Robin ran for the gates. Inside, Vaisey and Isabella ducked as the arrow made contact with one of the barrels. They were startled at first, but realizing threw as no coming onslaught, they smiled with relief.

The castle was theirs. They seemed to have won the day. Ideally, Vaisey picked up an object that had a funny, yet familiar odor to it. He sniffed the piece closely.

“Byzantine fire.”

The words came out if his mouth as matter-of-fact. Then his eyes fell to the barrels, then the flaming arrow. Too late, his brain was making the connection.

Isabella realized the danger a few seconds before the sheriff. Those few seconds gave her a running start toward the tunnel’s entrance as the barrels exploded. A resounding boom filled the county as stone splintered from the force of the explosion. The castle burst, then collapsed in on itself.

Robin and Archer came running out of the front gate just as the last tower of rock and mortar came crumbling down to dust. Watching from the surrounding fields, the outlaws and peasants cheered and celebrated. The army was defeated and the threat was gone. The old sheriff that terrorized them all was dead. They were free!

Much ran to Robin and embraced his friend. “You did it! You did it!”

Caught up in the moment, Meg laughed and threw her arms around Guy. She cried out with surprise when he lifted her up off her feet and twirled her around in a circle. The celebrating continued until people noticed that Robin was not lingering to join in the merriment. Instead, he was walking away toward the forest.

“Where’s Robin,” Much asked. “He should be here to celebrate”

Tuck gently tugged Much’s sleeve. “Listen to me. There was a fight in the tunnel. Isabella cut Robin with a dagger. The blade was poisoned.”

Blinking, Much hardly knew how to take the words. “What?”

“He’s dying, Much. And quickly. It’s time to say goodbye.”

John and Much’s faces filled with grief and despair. Kate looked as if her heart was breaking, but she was trying to hold her emotions together. She pushed away John’s comforting hand. Seeing Kate’s pain, Meg truly felt for the other girl. She couldn’t imagine losing Guy. The fact that they were both still alive was a miracle to her.

Taking off in a run, Much wanted to catch up to his friend. They survived the Holy Land together. They came home and survived as outlaws together. How could this be the end?

They followed Robin back to the forest. Meg wanted to more apologies to Robin, but held back with Guy. They would let those closest to Robin make their final goodbyes.

Resting against a rock, Robin looked up at the sky. Everything seemed so beautiful and new. “I’d forgotten how beautiful sunsets here can be,” he said as he heard his friends come closer. “Sherwood. This is home.”

Turning, Robin faced his friends. Seeing Guy and Meg, he gave them a nod before his eyes turned to Much. His best friend in the world was fighting back tears.

“Is it true?”

Robin nodded. There was no use denying it. “The final battle.”

“No,” Much sobbed, unable to believe it. “No, this can’t happen. There’s a cure.”

Robin shook his head. “Much, we have cheated death so many times.”

“What am I going to do without you?” Much’s face was full of loss and his eyes shimmered with tears.

Robin clasped his friend’s face in his hands and looked him in the eye. ”You are already more of a man that I will ever be, Much. And you are my best friend.”

The two embraced.

Robin broke off and looked to John. The giant shook his head. “This isn’t fair.”

“Oh, come on, John! Today is a good day to die!”

Quoting the giant’s favorite line only caused the big man to nearly choke on his emotion, but the men hugged and laughed at the memory.

Robin turned to his brother. A groan escaped his lips as the pain made itself known. Archer caught his brother in a strong hold. He hated that they had so little time together.

“And you,” Robin said. “You make sure this doesn’t finish here. Because this…this is where you belong.”

Archer shook his head in confusion. “Without you?”

“These men are your brothers now.”

Moving to stand on his own two feet, Robin looked to one of the newest members of his gang. “Our work isn’t finished yet, Tuck. You found me again and you saved me. And you’ll find another leader. I know you will.”

Tuck gave Robin a grateful smile as he pulled the dying legend in for a hug. Finally, Robin turned to face Kate. He always liked her, but her could never be what she needed or deserved. Saying all of that now didn’t seem fair to her. Instead, he cupped her cheek.

“Kate. Brave, Kate.”

They embraced as Kate tried to hold back her tears, but she ended up burying her face in his tunic.

“I’m sorry I have to leave you,” he said, then looked over his shoulder. “All of you.”

Letting go of Kate, Robin tried pushing back his own emotions. “But I have to do this alone.”

Robin walked into the forest and his friends watched him go. Finding a spot by a tree, Robin felt his strength seep out of him. Suddenly, he saw a woman walking amongst the leaves. She was a vision in blue and he knew her instantly.

“Marian,” he breathed, hardly able to believe his eyes.

Smiling, Marian moved closer. “I have waited for you.”

Robin felt so happy that he couldn’t keep the smile from his face. “I knew I would find you again.”

“It’s time.” Marian held out a hand to him. Robin reached out and clasped her fingers in his own.

“The greatest adventure is yet to come.”

Standing before her, Robin was overjoyed to be reunited with the woman he loved with every fiber of his being. She was his soul mate and he was hers.

“My wife,” he said as he held her closer.

“Now and forever, my love.”

Kissing, embracing, and laughing, Robin picked Marian up to twirl her around in a circle. The happy couple couldn’t wait to start their next adventure. As the sun shined down on them through the trees, their spirits took flight.

****

A while later, the gang found Robin’s body. Setting him on a prior, they placed flowers in his hands. Around his body, they all vowed to keep the legend alive. Robin Hood would not die. They would continue the fight against injustice.

Archer agreed to stay for the time being. His brother was right: this was where he belonged.

Tuck even welcomed Guy and Meg into the fold. To the couple’s surprise, none of the others protested. He still felt there was a lot he needed to make up for, but now Guy had the chance to lead a better life.

As they entombed Robins’ body, Guy pulled Meg aside. As much as he wanted to keep Meg with him, Guy knew it was selfish to do so.

“Meg,” he said softly. “Sherwood is no place for you.”

Frowning, she wasn’t sure what he was saying. “What do you mean?”

“Meg, this is not the life you should be living.”

“I have nowhere to go, Guy.”

“Your father-”

“He wants nothing to do with me if he can’t marry me off,” she argued. Weren’t they over this subject already?

“Meg, you deserve better.”

She didn’t want his version of better. Frankly, she was sick and tired of hearing him tell her what she deserved. All she wanted was to be with him! He agreed to stay with the outlaws; therefore she wanted to stay here as well.

“Guy, there are going to be a lot of changes in Nottingham. The castle was destroyed, so there is no seat of power. Chaos could ensue. Theses next few weeks will be difficult.”

He nodded. “I know.” There would be a power struggle. Though they claimed Nottingham in King Richard’s name, that didn’t mean Prince John couldn’t take it back. “All the more reason for you to go home,” he argued.

“I think you’ll need all the help you can get,” Meg said stubbornly.

A smile of amusement came to Guy’s face. “And you can help fight?”

Folding her arms across her chest, she titled her chin and tried to look serious and imposing, but a smirk played at the corners of her lips. “I did pretty well in the tunnels.”

His expression turned serious. “Yes, you did. I owe you my life.”

“Then you should let me stay.”

Guy looked down. She won this battle, but only for now. “Very well,” he conceded.

Smiling, Meg perched on tip-toes to kiss his cheek.

Watching her walk back to the others, Guy couldn’t help but wonder what would become of them all.

Chapter Text

Over the next month, the outlaws did all they could to help keep the chaos at bay. Many of the lords and nobles of Nottingham tried to rise up and claim the county since both the old sheriff and Robin Hood were dead. However, since the castle no longer existed in all its glory, and the center of town was still being cleaned up, there wasn’t much for an ambitious noble to hold on to.

Prince John did send one of his own men to try and claim Nottingham, but the outlaws ran him out of the county and back to London. For the most part, the peasants listened to the authority of the gang Robin left behind. Tuck was worried that they would all lose some of their focus with the added responsibility. Like it or not, Nottingham did need a leader. Preferably a leader with their vision.

Most looked to Archer as their new leader. As Robin’s brother, Archer was seen as the new heir and leader of the outlaws and of Nottingham. Everyone assumed Archer was now the new Earl of Huntingdon now that is brother was dead. Tuck saw that Archer liked the power and the attention. At times, Tuck worried that Archer would forget their moral message as well as the sacrifice of his brother.

Slowly, the villagers were coming to accept that Guy of Gisborne was a changed man. The gang still included him, as did Archer, and therefore he was tolerated. Trust would come in time. Guy seemed to be accepting of his new lot in life.

Meg knew better. Guy was always a man of ambition. He came back to England in order to make his fortune. Taking up with Vaisey, which lead to his downward spiral, was his way of trying to reclaim his birthright. Now he was an outlaw with no property, no money, and no noble status.

He would accept his slot as part of his redemption, but Meg could tell Guy was getting restless. He continued to do the work of the outlaws because he was determined to walk to right path. She did try to comfort and support him, but Guy kept her at a distance. After Robin’s death, Guy was very kind in trying to convince Meg that she didn’t fail Robin. Isabella was the one that killed him. What he didn’t understand was that she was given that dream for a reason.

Guy was supportive, but he made sure there as a wall between them. No matter how many times Meg tried to get close to him, he was always busy or made an excuse to make a hasty exit. How did things between them get to be so painful? Remembering all the tender and passionate kisses they shared, Meg wondered why they weren’t growing closer. They were both alive, which was a relief, so why weren’t they together?

As painful as it was to admit, Meg realized just because she saved Guy’s life didn’t automatically mean they would have a happily ever after. He kept saying he cared for her and that they were friends, but he never told her he loved her, which was tearing away at Meg’s heart.

To distract her mind from Guy, Meg cooked and helped keep up the camp. The men purposely kept her away from the fighting and the rioting. Honestly, Meg felt lost and adrift. She still carried guilt over Allan and Robin and there wasn’t much she could do to ease the pain. Keeping busy helped, but Meg also wondered why her father didn’t try to find her. In the end, Meg knew she was better off if her sire thought her dead. Her life suddenly felt very lonely.

Hearing a ruckus, she looked up and saw Kate running toward the camp. Over the last month, the two of them came to a silent understanding. Kate didn’t openly attack Guy, or his efforts, and they, in turn, kept to themselves. Seeing the urgent look on the other girl’s face, Meg grew worried.

“What happened,” she asked as she went to Kate.

“We captured a huge party on the road to Nottingham! Archer thinks they have information about King Richard.” Kate paused to catch her breath before continuing. “Their leader, a Lord Melbourne, wants to speak with all of us.”

Meg frowned. “All?”

Kate nodded. “Archer and the others are bringing him back now. Blindfolded, of course. Still, I want to make sure all the money and food is secure and the weapons are within reach.”

The plan seemed logical. King Richard was still being held for ransom, so Prince John pretty much ran the country and they couldn’t be too careful. It was said that Queen Eleanor tried to keep the court under a semblance of control, but her influence wasn’t what it used to be.

Nearly an hour later, John, Much, Tuck, Archer, and Guy returned with a blindfolded man Meg assumed was Lord Melbourne. He has pale hair was greying at the temples, but he appeared fit in body. Meg saw he had a kind face once the blindfold was removed. The laugh lines around his eyes and mouth indicated he was a man who laughed easily. Indeed, once he focused on those around him, he grinned with pleasure.

“Ah, Robin Hood’s trusted men.” His eyes fell to Meg and he offered a hand. Meg accepted with a curtsy.

“This is Lady Meg Bennett,” Guy supplied.

“Charmed,” Melbourne said. Looking around, and after being introduced to the rest of the gang, he accepted the seat Tuck offered. “Shall I get to business?”

“Please,” Archer said. “We are curious about what brings a man of the king to Sherwood.”

“Robin Hood brings me here,” he answered.

Everyone exchanged confused looks.

“My brother is dead,” Archer stated.

“Yes and the king was most grieved to hear the news. Robin was one of his favorites.” Melbourne quickly got into why he travelled all the way from Austria and back to England.

“Robin managed to send the king a message before the final confrontation in Nottingham. The king knows of Prince John’s attempt to usurp the crown.”

“Then Prince John will be punished,” Tuck asked; a bit of hope in his voice.

Melbourne’s face turned guarded. “King Richard has chosen to forgive his brother.”

Shocked expression filled the camp.

“What,” Tuck was disbelieving. He would have debated the matter, but fell silent when Archer put a hand on his own.

“Why did King Richard send you here,” Archer asked once more.

“To make amends to England as best he can from where he is. The king wants nobles in place that are loyal to him, but who can also handle his brother.”

“What do you mean,” Archer asked, confused.

“The king wants men in seats of power in Nottingham that he knows Prince John cannot bully or bribe,” Tuck reasoned. “Men who will stand up to him and his politics.”

Melbourne nodded. “Exactly.” He turned to Much. “Isn’t it true that the former sheriff made you the Earl of Bonchurch?”

Much, surprised, nodded. “But it was all part of a ploy to get Robin.”

“Well, it was legal and binding,” Melbourne said. “You are still the Earl of Bonchurch. The king wishes for you to take your rightful place as such.”

Stunned, Much blinked. Bonchurch? He only dreamed of it since he left England for the Holy Lands with his best friend all those years ago. However, those lands held bittersweet memories. When he was made into a titled noble he met Eve.

“I’m not sure if I want the land or the title,” Much said with honesty.

The face of the king’s man grew stern. “King Richard commands it. Are you refusing him?”

Well, when put that way, Much knew he couldn’t refuse. Melbourne turned his attention next to Archer.

“In his letter to the king, Robin praised you, Archer. Since you are a son of Malcolm of Locksley, the late Earl of Huntingdon, the king commands that you take over the lands of Locksley. He also requests that you hold noble council with Lord Much and the new sheriff.”

Archer never thought to have such a prize. Honestly, he searched all his life for the easy path to riches. Now, after travelling this hard road with his brother and his men, riches were being handed to him. Archer was not the type to look a gifted horse in the mouth. Though he knew little of ruling lands, or of what it meant to be a noble, but he was eager to claim both.

“Who will be the new sheriff,” John asked. “Someone loyal to the king?”

Melbourne nodded. “Someone who has proven his loyalty, yes. He is also a man that Prince John is familiar with. King Richard hopes that man he has in mind will be loyal to him, but know how to handle Prince John.”

“Who,” Tuck asked.

“First,” Melbourne looked to John and Tuck. “King Richard wants the two of you to serve as advisors to the new sheriff. You, John, as steward of Nottingham, and Tuck as head of the clergy.”

John and Tuck exchanged glances. The positions were lofty indeed, but they were principled men. There were some things they could not accept.

“We would be pleased to help King Richard,” Tuck said. “But we need to know who it is we would be answering to.”

With a nod, Melbourne turned around and looked at Guy. Surprised, Gisborne stood up straighter. He was sure he was misunderstanding the intent on Melbourne’s face.

“Me?”

“Gisborne,” John spat. “He caused half of the problems in Nottingham!”

“Unbelievable,” Kate finally jumped into the conversation. “Does King Richard know it was Gisborne that tried to kill him?!”

Melbourne gave Kate a sharp look. “King Richard knows all of the history of Guy of Gisborne,” he assured them. “He also knows of his new loyalties.”

Melbourne looked once more at Guy. “The king is prepared to offer you Nottingham, and the now vacant lands of Knighton, to do with as you please. What he asks for in return is your continued loyalty.”

Guy was being offered everything he ever dreamed of, but how could he accept? He hands were stained. And to accept the lands that were once Marian’s? No, he couldn’t. It wasn’t right.

“Tell the king I am deeply humbled and honored by is generosity and faith in me, but that I can’t accept his offer.”

Chapter Text

John and Kate seemed to breathe sighs of relief at hearing Guy’s words. Tuck frowned, and Archer looked angry. For her part, Meg was worried. Melbourne’s face was a mask of stone.

“Guy,” Meg said softly. “Are you sure?”

“I have committed too many sins,” he answered. “The people will not like to see me, of all men, became their new sheriff.”

“You have led men in battle,” Melbourne said. “You are a leader. You have done penance with the people of this county, or so Robin said in his message. With these allies as you advisors,” Melbourne gestured to the rest of the gang, “the people will see that you are not trying to steal power for yourself. Also we need a man that can handle Prince John. As far as I know, there is no other man capable in Nottingham.”

“He was loyal to Prince John once,” Kate snapped. “He could change allegiances!”

Archer stood, folding his hands over his chest. “Melbourne is right.” Ignoring the shocked looks and gasps, he continued. “Guy is a good choice for sheriff.”

“What?” Kate blinked at him with undisguised shock. “How can you say that?”

“Because I’m judging him on his actions since he joined us,” Archer stated. “Not on the past.”

Kate had the good sense to blush.

“Besides,” Much added. “He knows we’ll all be watching him.”

Narrowing his eyes at Much, Guy was about to tell him exactly how he would protest being observed if he had agreed to the post, but before Guy could say a word, Kate chimed into the debate once more.

“If Gisborne becomes sheriff, then all the good Robin did would be undone! He would have died for nothing!”

“Now, Kate,” Tuck said. “We all know that Guy has changed. He is not that same person he was when he was Vaisey’s man.”

“Which is exactly why King Richard wants Guy to be the new sheriff,” Melbourne said.

Exasperated, Kate looked to John for some back-up. “Help me,” she asked.

Looking from Melbourne to Archer, John finally let out a sigh. He remembered how Guy saved his life in York and how he stayed with the gang even after Robin died. Gisborne was given the chance to change and he took it. Sure, the man had some pretty heavy burdens in his shoulders, but that was between Guy and the Lord.

“I think Gisborne would make a decent sheriff,” he finally said.

Kate was so shocked her mouth fell open and her eyes darted around at the others hoping for some kind of support. When she saw Meg’s smug smile, she clenched her fists and stomped off.

“You’ll all be sorry,” Kate shouted over her shoulder.

Melbourne’s brows rose at her behavior. “Is she always so…opinionated?”

“Please excuse Kate,” Much said. “She hasn’t been herself lately.”

Much noticed how Kate wasn’t her old self since they laid Robin to rest. He though it was just grief, but he was beginning to suspect something more was going on with her.

“If we accept these new posts,” Much said. “Then there will be no more gang.”

“But you will no longer be outlaws,” Melbourne pointed out. “You won’t have to attack caravans or interrupt messages. You will have the power to make the decisions. You will have influence.”

“Power tends to corrupt,” John grumbled.

“Which is why the king is promoting all of you instead of other nobles,” Melbourne stressed. “Construction on rebuilding the castle has already been commissioned. If you accept the king’s proposals, then there will be formal announcements. The people of Nottingham will know once and for all who is in charge. Frankly, it is something they need. Order needs to be re-established.”

The gang exchanged more looks. None of them were going to give up on the opportunity to make a real difference. They needed to be able to work within the system rather then attacking it from without.

“I accept,” Archer was the first to step forward. He and Melbourne shook hands.

“We do as well,” Tuck said for himself and for John.

Much was the next to come forward. “I do too.”

All eyes fell on Guy. As shocked as Kate was to hear John’s endorsement of him as sheriff, Guy was even more so. Could he do the job being asked of him without becoming the man he once was? Feeling a hand on his arm, Guy looked down to see Meg giving him a sweet and encouraging smile. She always had faith in him. His blue eyes looked at her questioningly and Meg gave him a nod of approval. Meg felt her heart leap when Guy moved forward to shake Melbourne’s hand and accept the post as Sherriff of Nottingham. Meg also felt tears sting the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them back. She was happy for Guy because he was finally getting all he ever wanted. Hopefully, now they would all find a sense of renewed purpose.

The bargain was struck. The gang escorted Melbourne back to his entourage. While the king’s men went to town to make all the formal announcements, the gang went back to the camp. Saying goodbye was surprisingly difficult. Each packed their belongings and took souvenirs of their time in Sherwood. They paused to take in the smells and impressions of the forest around them one last time. After all, this wasn’t really goodbye, just farewell for now.

“Would Robin approve,” John wondered aloud.

“I think so,” Tuck said. “The king loved Robin. He would have wanted to please our leader. I also think Robin would want all of us to live comfortable, but meaningful, lives doing his work.”

Kate wasn’t as easy to convince, but she agreed that having the gang in power was better than having strangers coming to corrupt everything. Much offered to find a place for Kate at Bonchurch, but she said she wanted to return to her family in Locksley. Archer asked Meg if she also wanted to live in Locksley. Honestly, Meg wasn’t sure where she would go or what she would do. Since Guy wasn’t exactly offering her a position in Nottingham or Knighton, Meg told Archer she would think about moving to Locksley.

Giving a lopsided grin, Archer wandered off to find his brother. Guy was in a corner of the shelter polishing daggers of all things. Sitting down next to him, Archer folded his arms over his chest and grinned until he got Guy’s attention.

“Meg is quite a woman,” Archer started. “Brave and beautiful. Now that I am a noble, I have to start thinking of practical matters. Lands, responsibility, and family. I’ll need a wife and heirs. Eventually. Meg is of noble blood. She would make a good wife.”

Clenching his teeth, Guy tried to curb his rising temper and not punch is brother in the jaw as he raised his eyes to the man’s face. “Leave Meg alone,” he warned. “She does not want to marry.”

Archer held up a finger. “Ah, Meg doesn’t want to be forced to marry. I would never do such a thing. Romancing her would be much better. Not many women can resist me.”

Guy didn’t think, he just reacted. One moment he was polishing steel and the next he was grabbing Archer by the neck and squeezing. “Meg is not a game,” he said through clenched teeth. “Keep your hands off her!”

Coughing when Guy released his grip, Archer felt his own temper rising. “I was only joking!”

“You have no idea how much she’s been through! She deserves better than you, Archer, and we both know it.”

“Then why don’t you invite her to Knighton?”

Deflecting, Guy shook his head and bent to pick up his daggers. Why didn’t he invite Meg to his new home? Too many reasons to count. The most obvious was that he did not deserve Meg any more than Archer did.

When Guy remained silent on the matter, Archer nodded with understanding. “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

Guy shook h'is head. “It doesn’t matter."

Grabbing his brother’s arm, Archer looked at Guy’s face. For the first time, Archer saw just how burdened Guy must feel. “It matters, Guy,” he insisted. “If you love her, then you should tell her. Pursue her!"

“No,” Guy said gruffly. “I destroy all I love! I will not do that to Meg.”

Letting his hand drop, Archer frowned, but knew there would be no persuading his brother right now. He knew about Marian and could see why his brother was hesitating to offer himself to another woman. “Your past is in the past,” he said.

"You don’t understand,” Guy argued.

“I know that Meg is a good woman,” Archer continued. “She stood by you, Guy. Any man would be grateful.”

“And I am grateful,” he snapped. “Meg is the only friend I’ve ever had. I value her, which is why I keep my distance. I won’t let her fall prey to my temper."

“Perhaps the old Guy, the person you used to be, would be capable of hurting Meg, but you are not the same man. I’ve seen how you are with Meg. You’re always looking out for her and keeping tabs on her. You’ve done nothing but protect her.”

“And I will continue to do so. Once I’m sheriff, I’ll make sure Meg is taken care of.”

"And in the meantime?”

“I trust you will make sure she is safe and unharmed in Locksley.”

A look of understanding passed between the brothers.

“You have my word,” Archer said.

Guy nodded. “Good.”

As the silence continued between them, Archer hoped his brother would come to his senses eventually. “For your sake, brother, I hope someone doesn’t come along and sweep her off her feet when you’re not looking.”

Watching Archer walk away, Guy was surprised to feel his heart pound with dread at the possibility of Meg belonging to another man. He would always think of her as his. Guy knew he should give Meg freedom, and he would, but there was a part of him that hoped, once he was well established, that he would finally be able to offer Meg the life she was born to live. He learned a long time ago, however, that to hope was to be disappointed.

Chapter Text

Several weeks later, construction on the castle was coming along nicely, but the people were still getting used to the idea of Guy of Gisborne as the new sheriff. Of course, knowing the rest of Robin Hood’s men were also appointed to high positions kept most of the rabble from revolting. Most of the gang were getting used to their new roles in the hierarchy.

Meg settled into life in Locksley fairly well. Not seeing Guy every day was taxing, but she finally told her mind not to dwell on such things. Guy knew where to find her if he wished to. Keeping busy seemed to be the best way to distract her imagination from wondering about Guy.

Before leaving her father’s house, Meg was taught how to sew and weave. She was a noblewoman, and therefore, didn’t have many skills surrounding physical labor or farming, but she did find work doing mending and sewing for people in the village. The work seemed to be never-ending at times, but she was grateful for the ability to survive on her own.

Locksley was at ease with Archer as the new lord. Archer was already popular with the masses; the women all took a particular shine to his charm. Even more admired the way he helped his brother dispatch the old sheriff. Archer fell into the role of a noble very well. The steward of Locksley manner helped the new master hear grievances and make rulings.

Being a noble did come with plenty of responsibility. When Archer pictured a life of leisure in a manor, he never expected to have to consider harvests and market prices and rents. Learning was slow going, but he managed. This was his legacy after all. Like it or not, he was an earl.

Walking through the village, Archer nodded to the familiar faces. He liked the idea of staying in once place and putting down roots. The people were starting to recover from the grief of losing

Robin and anted to embrace the future. For once, the future did seem bright.

After making a delivery, Meg paused on the path when she heard someone call her name. Seeing Archer, she smiled in greeting. “My lord,” she said playfully before curtsying.

Grinning, Archer bowed. “My lady. How are you on this beautiful day?”

“I am well,” she said. “And you?”

“Especially well.”

They laughed and Archer offered Meg his arm, which she was happy to take. Together, they walked through the village. A lot of people looked in their direction. By tomorrow, rumors would be spreading. Archer did spend a lot of time with Meg, but mostly because he promised Guy to keep an eye on her. To others, Archer was an available man and Meg was a noblewoman by birth.

“How would you like to join me for dinner this evening at the manor?”

Pausing, Meg blinked up at him. “Dinner? I’m not sure I should.” What would people think then?

Archer’s smile widened as if reading her mind. “We won’t be alone, Meg. The esteemed Earl of Bonchurch has accepted my invitation. And Kate has agreed to attend as well.”

Relieved, Meg was happy to consider the invitation. She did like Archer, just not in the way most expected. Part of her did hope Guy might also have been invited, but didn’t dare ask Archer for confirmation. It was already obvious to him and the others who knew her that she was in love with Guy.

“Good,” Archer said. “I know Much will probably fawn all over Kate. Since Robin’s death, she has tried too hard to get Kate to come around and join him at his estate.”

“She did take Robin’s death very hard.” Meg did sympathize. She could only imagine how Kate was able to wake up every morning.

“I suspect it’s more than just losing Robin,” Archer mused.

Frowning, Meg looked at his face and saw actual seriousness in her eyes. “What do you mean?”

Looking around to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard, Archer spoke in hushed tones. “Kate has lost her sense of purpose. She fought with Robin for a cause. Now that he’s gone and all of us are now living different lives, she is back to living in Locksley making pottery with her mother and sister.”

“I became a seamstress,” Meg offered, not fully understanding Archer’s point.

“But you aren’t living under the thumb of your father. You are living the life you want to live.”

Meg supposed that was true, but Kate was fine with her life before joining Robin. Wasn’t she? At the same time, Meg knew is she was forced back to the life she lived before meeting Guy, she would feel resentment. Could Kate be feeling such discontentment?

“Would a meal with Much really help?”

Archer shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I am hoping that Tuck and John will accept my invitation as well. A few of the other nobles have accepted and I am hoping to get an inkling of where the others stand as far as politics. Knowing who is for Prince John will be an advantage.”

Giving a nod of understanding, Meg knew not all of the nobles will be pleased that known supporters of King Richard now ruled in Nottingham. Guy was a wild card. He was known to support both sides. Perhaps more than one faction would try to win him over.

“I know you and Kate don’t always get along,” Archer continued. “But I hope you don’t start in on her.”

Meg’s jaw dropped. “Me? When have I ever started in on her?”

“I know she attacks you first, but I am asking you not to bite back.”

Studying him for a moment, Meg eventually nodded. “You really are worried about her, aren’t you?”

Archer looked a bit sheepish. “Honestly?”

Meg gave him a look that urged him to continue. Archer leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “I want Kate and Much to get together.”

She couldn’t conceal her surprise. “Really?”

“Yes.” Archer spoke sincerely. “He loves her and he would be able to give her a good life now that he has Bonchurch.”

As true as the logic may be, Meg wasn’t convinced putting Much and Kate together was a good idea. She knew Kate gave Robin her whole heart. Meg also knew though Robin cared for Kate, he didn’t love her as deeply in return. Now he was gone and Kate was having a difficult time coming to terms with his loss. Forcing her toward the arms of another man was not the best course of action.

“Archer,” Meg spoke gently. “Sometimes people we love just aren’t capable of loving us back.”

The earl’s brows rose at the comment. “Are we still talking about Kate and Much?”

Feeling her cheeks heat, Meg avoided his eyes. “I am suggesting that Kate may not ever love Much back. It may be crueler to Much to push them into living together.”

“Maybe,” Archer admitted. “I know that Guy does care for you, Meg.”

Though a smile came to her face, Meg shook her head in denial. “And that’s why he stays in Nottingham town and never visits Locksley?”

“He’ll come around,” Archer insisted. “Once the castle is rebuilt-”

“Which will not be until the end of the year, at least!”

“More men are coming from London to hurry the process. It seems Prince John wants Nottingham returned to its former glory as much as King Richard. The castle should be finished before winter if we are lucky.”

The information didn’t comfort Meg. “Guy is too busy to even visit me, Archer,” she repeated. “I can’t hold out hope that he cares for me as you say.”

“He does,” Archer swore. “Meg, he’s afraid.”

She gave a laugh of disbelief. “Guy? Afraid?”

“He thinks he will hurt you like he did Marian.”

Meg stilled, her smile vanishing. She knew as much, but she wasn’t aware Archer knew such a detail. “I am not Marian,” she snapped. “I would never use Guy like she did! Nor would I throw his love for me back in his face is if I was lucky enough to have it! Besides, Guy is not that man anymore.”

“You and I know that, but Guy needs to be convinced of it.”

Since she didn’t have a clue how to show Guy that the love they felt for one another would pass the test of time and tragedy, Meg wasn’t sure what to do next. By all accounts, her new life in Locksley would have to sustain her.

Finally, Archer sighed. Apparently, it was going to be up to him to do all the matchmaking around here. In the end, he hoped his friends and brother appreciated all his efforts.

“Come to dinner tonight,” Archer said. “We will have a warm meal and enjoy ourselves. The rest will fall into place.”

“Alright,” she agreed.

Smiling, Archer gave a satisfied nod. “Good.”

This evening would be entertaining on so many levels.

Chapter Text

He was late. Riding back into Locksley felt awkward, but he did give his word. Besides, he did need to know which nobles he could count as allies and which to handle with care. As the new sheriff, Guy intended to keep his seat.

King Richard trusted him with Nottingham shire, which was an unexpected boon. Despite all that happened, Guy was not about to disappoint the king. Walking up to Locksley manor, Guy paused as memories flooded to the surface. He remembered celebrating in this house and having Marian by his side.

Back then, he never would have guessed she was trying to purposely deceive him. Before more memories could come forth and choke him, Guy walked into the manor. Stopping dead in his tracks, he felt the air catch in his throat.

Everyone was already assembled and dining on a feast Archer put before them. Nearly a dozen people gathered at the table, all laughing and enjoying the moment. However, Guy’s gaze went straight to Meg.

Dressed in a richly green gown, her hair tied back away from her face, a smile on her lips, Meg was so unexpectedly beautiful she stole his breath and his wits. His body was swiftly reacting to the sight of her.

Meg was everything he ever wanted and the embodiment of what he did not dare take for himself. Suddenly, her dark eyes looked up and spotted him. Guy froze as he watched the smile spread across her face. Heart pounding, Guy somehow managed to make his body obey his commands and take a step into the room.

One by one, the guests noticed the now Duke Gisborne, Sheriff of Nottingham, and fell silent. Meg struggled to maintain her composer as Guy drew closer. He was dressed in his traditional black with his hair unbound around his shoulders. Feeling heated, her eyes fell down to look at her food and she hoped her cheeks didn’t look too flushed. Hearing the other nobles greet their sheriff, Meg inhaled several deep breaths. Just when she felt composed enough to raise her face, Meg noticed Kate was giving her a knowing look.

Archer greeted his brother and made sure that Guy sat across the table from Meg. Seating them next to each other would be too obvious. However, Guy would be looking at Meg throughout the evening, which may drive them both crazy. Archer hoped his sibling would come to his senses by the end of the night and realize he needed Meg in his life.

As the meal continued, the conversation focused on current politics, but steered clear of heavy discussions. No one wanted to step on toes by bringing up the king and prince – yet. For his part, Guy forced all his attention on the other guests. Yet, no matter how much he concentrated, every now and then, he couldn’t help but glance at Meg.

She was a noblewoman through and through and managed to hold her own during the conversation. What Guy did not like was that an older noble, Earl Hartwood, who oversaw the property and village of Nettlestone, kept looking at Meg with a sly smile on his face. Like a huntsman sizing up the fox.

Clenching his fists under the table, Guy wanted to punch the smile off the man’s face, but knew he must be civil. Meg was not for him. Still, the Earl of Hartwood already survived two wives. Worse, he was old enough to be Meg’s father. Jealousy gripped Guy’s throat and refused to let go.

The evening couldn’t end fast enough. Tuck spent most of the night speaking of philosophy, but John remained silent. After the other nobles left, the old gang lingered. Sensing that the men wanted to speak alone, Meg invited Kate outside for some fresh air. Surprisingly enough, Kate agreed.

The moment they were out of doors and out of sight, Kate inhaled a deep breath. “It was so stuffy in there,” she commented.

“And hot,” Meg agreed. “But the food was very good.”

Putting hand over her stomach, Kate gave an absent nod and moved forward. “Everyone seems to be adjusting well.”

“How are you feeling,” Meg cautiously asked. She wanted to help Kate, but she didn’t want to overstep and start a fight either.

Stopping abruptly, Kate looked directly at Meg. The other girl could see the agony in her eyes. “I miss Robin so much it feels like I can’t breathe.” Tears flooded her eyes, but she shied away from Meg’s comforting hand.

“I hate him,” she raged. “I hate Robin for leaving me! For leaving all of us! He should be the new sheriff and governing Nottingham! He should be the one to protect us from Prince John!”

Having no idea what to say, Meg stood by and let Kate vent her emotions. A few moments later, Kate was sobbing, but sill refused to accept Meg’s assistance. A few minutes later, Kate was ill in the bushes. All the contents of her supper were brought back up again. Bending with a hand over her stomach, Kate looked utterly miserable.

“Shall I fetch help,” Meg offered.

Shaking her head, Kate straightened. Her eyes met Meg’s. “I already know what’s wrong and there is nothing to be done about it.”

Meg blinked, not fully understanding. Kate smiled a smile full of an equal amount of joy and sadness. “I’m carrying Robin’s child.”

Chapter Text

The secret was a shock, but one Meg Bennett vowed to keep safe. She and Kate rarely got along, but Meg knew the other woman confided in her by accident. Despite their differences, Meg promised to keep Kate’s confidence and she was a woman of her word.

Going back to the dinner gathering, she tried to smile and make lively conversation, but she was fearful of what the future would bring to all of them. Since Robin Hood’s death, they all tried to pick up the pieces and carry on the legacy.

With King Richard being held hostage, the band hardly knew what rested on the horizon. Archer liked the wealth and luxury that came with his title, but Meg knew he was struggling with the everyday tasks lords were asked to perform. With Tuck, Much and Guy all keeping a close eye on things, Archer didn’t have a chance to misbehave. Meg could tell Archer felt restless. He was young and still had fire in his blood. He wanted to enjoy the privileges his new life gave him instead of always seeing to his duties.

John and Tuck took the care and overseeing of Nottingham very seriously. John kept a suspicious eye in Guy, while Tuck finally believed Guy could be redeemed. As the new sheriff, Guy knew what he was doing, but he also indulged in John’s ideas and Tuck’s outlines and plans. Maintaining a balance was part of Guy’s duties and he was performing them rather well.

Out of all of them, Meg felt she was the only one that really knew Guy of Gisborne. She was the only one that saw the sorrow he tried to hide in his eyes. As much as she wanted to support him and help heal his spirit, there was only so much she could do when Guy kept her at a distance.

In fact, she was beyond hurt when Guy left the dinner early and never bothered to say a word to her all evening. Did she do something wrong? Perhaps he just wanted to get on the road back to Nottingham? Meg swallowed her disappointment, said her goodbyes, and headed back to her small hut. She worked tirelessly to make her simple green dress. The material was richly woven and cost her most of her month’s earnings. Did he even notice? As she tried to settle down to sleep, she couldn’t get the man out of her head.

Yes, Guy sinned in his life, but he was making atonements. Unfortunately, Meg knew it could take many long years before the fools around here to take notice of all his good works. He walked around this Earth with great weight on his shoulders. Hopefully, in time, some of those burdens may be lifted.

For her part, she was doing well in Locksley. Well, she wasn’t living in a comfortable home with her titled father, but she was free. Even if it meant having several cold nights without a fire, Meg wouldn’t trade it.

A few days later, still trying to push thoughts of Guy out of her mind, while simultaneously trying to come up with ways to run into him, Meg overhead some passing conversation in the village square and got an idea. Market day in Nottingham town was usually a time for everyone from the surrounding villages to come together and socialize while purchasing goods and wares. The nobles made sure they were seen among the people.

She would be attending market in hopes of catching a glimpse of Guy, but he kept mostly to Knighton or Nottingham town. People didn’t quite trust him yet, so he didn’t linger in places he wasn’t needed. What Meg truly needed was an excuse to travel to Nottingham.

Weaving her way through the crowd, she saw John. Walking up to him, she offered a happy greeting. Though he was polite, Meg got the impression John did not really want to speak to her. The man favored Kate and Robin. He would likely never trust Guy and as a result, he was weary of her. Still, she wasn’t going to be stopped.

“I heard part of the new castle is finished,” she ventured.

John nodded. “The first three levels and the grand hall. We will be able to see to the business of the shire in right fashion now, but we’ll be lucky if the rest is finished in a decade.”

“Are they making the castle bigger this time?”

“A bit,” John said. “There is a lot to consider.”

“When will the first day of hearings be?”

“The sheriff is in charge of that,” John said with an edge of resentment in his voice. “We’ll see how our new sheriff delves out justice.”

Watching John walk away, Meg felt a little stunned. She never thought of the hearings as a test in leadership, but John was right about Guy having to prove himself. Her mind went back to the day of her own hearing. Isabella freed her only to condemn her later.

First impressions could be deceiving. Meg thought Isabella was her friend, but it turned out she had a very vengeful heart. The memory reminded Meg to be cautious when making judgments. It also reminded her how much she missed having a friend.

The night she spend talking to Guy in the dungeons…well, she bonded with him. Guy was the only friend she felt was left to her in this world. As it was, he was keeping his distance from her and Meg wasn’t sure what to do. She knew she wasn’t mistaken in his feelings for her. She just had no idea how to go about bringing them closer together.

****

Waking up with an ache in the back of his neck, the vivid images of his dream fading, Guy knew the day ahead would be a busy one. He welcomed the distractions. Seeing Meg the other night at Archer’s brought back so many memories he knew he should forget. Because of Meg, he was able to confront the demons haunting him. He took responsibility for Marian on his soul, as well as the responsibility of the blood of the others he sent from this world.

Walking the road of redemption would not be easy, but he would do so far Meg’s sake. She saved his life in so many ways and he owed her a debt he felt he could never repay. Dreaming of her again last night did not help matters.

Meg was beautiful, but she was also young. She should have a life in the fullest sense of the word and take her proper place as part of the nobility. She belonged at court, wearing the finest gowns and dining in the finest halls instead of toiling away her days in Locksley.

In the back of his mind, Guy knew he could provide her with such a life. Not only was he sheriff, but he was a duke. The lands at Knighton were plentiful and prosperous. He could afford to build a bigger home and give Meg a comfortable future.

As much as Guy craved such a future, he knew he could never have her. There was a time when he craved Marian almost just as desperately. In his obsession, he killed her. Guy could not risk doing the same to Meg. Never did he want to see her blood on his sword, on his hands, or staining his clothes. He did not want to see the light leave her eyes.

The memories had him moving that much quicker through his morning routine. He bathed and dressed and went down to meet with the nobles. Either Tuck or John or both always joined him because Guy did want the people to know he was going to do what was right for the shire, so he wanted them to see him keeping company with Robin’s men. He wanted to be sheriff for the power, but now he wanted to do the right thing. He knew all too well he would not have the seat at all if not for King Richard’s insistence.

Thinking of the king and the man’s predicament, Guy knew time was running out for the Lionheart. Prince John would soon be king and there was not much anyone could do about it. Guy knew he needed to find a way to get back in Prince John’s good graces. The task would be easier said than done considering that Vaisey and Isabella were dead. Still, he could argue that Robin Hood was as well. Even if he was to get his foot through the door, Guy would have to be able to maintain a careful balance with the royal between friendship and politics.

On a good day Prince John was impulsive. Guy knew if he wanted to protect Nottingham from the future king’s greed, then he would have to walk a very fine line. The fact was yet another reason to keep Meg at arm’s length. He could not let the prince know he possessed any vulnerabilities and Meg was most assuredly a vulnerability.

Dressed in his traditional black, Guy headed down to the stables to ready his horse. He needed to oversee the progress of the construction before visiting the local villages. Tuck said the more people saw of him and saw the change he was making; the more they would learn to trust him. Guy doubted he had any other choice.

The ride to the city was uneventful. He did receive some odd stares and briefly considered giving up the black clothes and black horse, but he supposed old habits die hard.

John was waiting for him at the gate. “We have a situation,” he said without preamble.

“What sort of situation?”

“In the main hall.”

Nodding, Guy urged his horse forward. Lately, there were a lot of representatives from Court coming to assess the situation. Guy knew they came partly because Prince John was curious for news and partly to search for weaknesses in those ruling Nottingham. Greedy eyes saw the territory up for grabs, but Guy was not about to lose his position.

Riding into the castle square, he dismounted and handed the reins over to a guard before walking toward the main hall. Guy was not surprised to see Tuck, but the sight of Much and Archer had him raising a brow. The last man was a stranger to him.

Clearly, judging by the clothes, the stranger was a member of the peerage. He was slightly overweight with greying hair, and an ordinary face. His expression and angry eyes clearly displayed his displeasure.

“Sheriff,” Tuck said. “We have a guest who came here today especially to see you.”

“Oh?”

“My name is Joseph Bennett,” he said with angry impatience. “I’m aware that you are acquainted with my daughter.”

Hiding his shock, Guy nodded. “Meg. Yes, I am.”

“I want her to come home.”

Straightening his posture, Guy used his height to his advantage. “As far as I know, she is home. In Locksley.”

“She doesn’t belong in Locksley,” Joseph spat. “She’s of noble blood! The idea of her living as a serf is repellant!”

“Yet, it is the life she has chosen.”

“Your sister freed her from my custody! I’m holding you responsible for the fact that she is not with me and I demand to be reimbursed for the money lost due to her absence!”

The situation was getting heated, so Guy walked over to the long table and sat down at the head of it. Gesturing for the others to do the same, he met Joseph Bennett’s eye. “Let us talk as civilized men. I have no reason to quarrel.”

Nodding, the earl took a seat. “Meg is my only child,” he started. “I will use her to make an advantageous alliance for the Bennett family.”

“I know of how she thwarted your previous attempts,” Guy stated.

Joseph frowned. “Four,” he grunted. “Four very good matches, which was why I dragged her before the sheriff’s court in the first place. I wanted her humbled.”

“Isabella did have her thrown in jail and nearly executed,” Guy reminded. “I think she learned plenty of lessons there.”

Archer snickered at the comment.

“Then she took up with Robin Hood!” The earl’s face was starting to turn red. “Her reputation could very well be ruined!”

Guy held up a hand. “Meg was always protected. I give you my word on it.”

“Your word doesn’t change the fact that I’ll have to increase her dowry.”

“Meg had no wishes to marry,” Guy stated.

Joseph’s frown deepened. “She doesn’t have a choice,” he snapped. “She is mine and I’ll be damned if I just hand her dowry over to a nunnery! No, I’m going to make a proper alliance with her. That is why I’ve asked you all here.” The earl cleared his throat and explained his logic. “Not only are the three of you the highest titled men in the county, you are all set up to take a wife. Also, you were all part of Robin Hood’s band. One of you taking Meg to wife will solve a handful of problems on one blow.”

Archer’s laughter echoed off the walls. “You can’t be serious! Meg was never harmed. She wanted to help us!”

Joseph’s eyes flashed red at the Earl of Huntingdon. “The fact remains that it’ll be much harder for me to find a decent match for her! You are all honor bound-”

“Oh, please,” Archer interrupted, ignoring the warning looks Tuck tried to send his way. “You are grasping at straws!”

“I demand satisfaction!” Joseph turned to glare at Guy. “You are the sheriff! I want this matter set right!”

Guy glanced at the others and chose his words carefully. “Meg is not in danger,” Guy said. “She is respected by us all. She also has the respect of the people of Nottingham.”

“I want one of you to make an offer or return her to my custody so I can take her to Court. One way or another I’ll get what I am owed! I’ll give you a day to think it over. If I do not like your answer, I’ll rally the other nobles.” Joseph’s eyes narrowed at Guy. “You’ll be usurped of power! I’ll make sure of it!”

After the earl stormed out of the hall, the four men exchanged glances. “He does have a great deal of influence,” Tuck said.

“So, you just want us to give in to his demands,” Much asked. “Shouldn’t Meg have a say?”

“The solution is simple,” Archer stated. “She’s in love with Guy. Let him marry her.”

Guy’s eyes snapped to his brother, his temper nearly boiling. “Meg helped all of us,” he responded roughly. “She made sure our attack on the castle was successful.”

“I think you give her too much credit,” Tuck said.

“My point is that Meg wants to live a solitary life.”

Tuck and Archer exchanged looks, but Guy was determined to ignore them.

“The earl can make problems for us,” Tuck reminded. “He is usually contented to stay out of politics, but he never had a reason to get involved before now. There are many who would support him in a rebellion.”

“It’s nothing we can’t handle,” Much said. “We dealt with the last sheriff together and we will deal with this together.”

“Then why don’t’ you marry her, Much,” Archer asked sarcastically. “You are talking about settling down.”

“Maybe when I learn to properly run Bonchurch-”

“You’re holding out for Kate,” Archer said with a roll of his eyes. “We all know it!”

“Hey! That is none of your business!”

“Enough,” Guy shouted.

They quieted and looked at him.

“I will talk with Meg and see what she wants to do.”

Tuck shook his head. “She may not have the luxury of choice,” he said gravely. “This is a man’s world, Guy. The earl is her father. Meg was given a reprieve last time because of your sister, but she may not get the same consideration this time around.”

“I’ll persuade one of them,” he assured the monk. Though how exactly he was going to do such a thing was beyond him at the moment.

Chapter Text

Market day was always busy and Meg felt a bit on edge being boxed in by so many people. The aroma of smoked meat and spices mingled in the air along with the scents of horses and straw.

Everywhere people pushed and shouted to either sell their wares, haggle over price, or to push through the crowd of bodies. Every time Meg turned around hoping to see a hint of Guy, she ended up bumping into Kate instead. Meg did not plan it that way, but she could tell Kate was getting annoyed. Kate really needn’t have worried. Meg wasn’t going to spill her secret.

Selling her own wares was hard work, but at the end of the day she felt a sense of accomplishment at earning her own money on her own terms. Part of her did miss her old life in her father’s home because she missed a few comforts. Remembering her childhood also made her a bit nostalgic. Meg was active as a young girl and loved running in the fields collecting wild flowers. After her mother died, Meg was forced to practice her needlepoint indoors and learn all sorts of manners to become a proper young lady.

When her father announced he wanted her to wed a man of his choosing, she rebelled and pushed all the men away. Things got even worse when her father moved them to Nottingham and proceeded to start the matchmaking process all over again. None of the men possessed any of the qualities Meg valued in a husband. Successful in her plotting, she thought for sure her father would give up, but he only grew more determined. It was after she tried to run away that he brought her before the sheriff.

Perhaps all of those hardships happened for a reason. She hardly would have met Guy otherwise.

Guy.

She came all the way to town to sell her handmade handkerchiefs and shirts for the chance of glimpsing him but was leaving disappointed. Giving up, she started packing up, but was given a reprieve of sorts when she heard rumors Guy was making the rounds to the villages to spread news of the county and of the new castle. He would be coming to Locksley soon.

“Why are you following me?”

Turning to see Kate blocking her path, Meg straightened. “I’m not following you.” In truth, she was so deep in her own thoughts she never even noticed Kate was near.

“Then why do I keep seeing your face?”

Not liking Kate’s snappish tone, Meg titled her chin up a few notches. “It’s market day,” she said with impatience.

“You are there every time I look up,” Kate argued. “Have you told anyone about-”

“No!” Meg was insulted she would ever suggest such a thing!

Kate didn’t look convinced. “I will decide who I tell and when I tell them,” she insisted.

“Fine,” Meg shrugged. “It’s none of my business.”

“Good.” Kate gave a nod before turning on her heel to walk back to her mother.

Sighing, Meg gathered up her basket and headed back to the village. Secretly, she hoped Kate would tell Much about the baby first. The man may now have a title and lands, but he was still in love with a simple serf girl. Much would marry Kate in a heartbeat and Give Robin’s child a happy home.

Of course, it would be another matter entirely if Archer were to recognize the child as his brother’s. Locksley did belong to Robin’s family. If the baby was a boy, the baby would be an heir to the title. Then again, would Archer recognize the claim and ruin any chance of his own future offspring inheriting?

Meg was raised to think about such things because it was a woman’s duty to provide male heirs for her husband. Unfortunately, she could not offer advice to either man because of her vow. Well, she could try talking to Kate, but the other woman needed some space at the moment.

All of Meg’s thoughts scattered when the village came into view. In the distance, her heart gave a leap at seeing the familiar black horse. Hurrying her steps, she hoped to see and talk to Guy.

Walking by the manor, Meg spotted Guy through the window. He was looking very serious as he spoke to Archer. Feeling her heart quicken, she quickly looked away. The last thing Meg wanted was for anyone to think she was desperate for Guy’s attention. Part of her was over eager, but she didn’t want it to show.

Dropping her basket off at her hut, she wasn’t sure what to do. When she heard people gathering in the square, she emerged and shimmied the edges of the crowd to watch Guy step on a makeshift pedestal with Archer at his side. Hearing about the repairs on the castle, Meg wasn’t surprised. She knew about the progress. What did catch her attention was the news about Prince John trying to raise taxes for the whole shire.

The people booed and coursed in outrage. Guy lifted his arms and waited for silence. When the crowd settled down he spoke.

“I’m going to London to appeal to Prince John personally. I will do what I can to persuade him to leave the taxes as they are.”

“And if you fail,” one shouted.

“Then we will weather the storm together,” Guy promised. “As sheriff, I swear to make sure Nottingham prospers and that all of you are taken care of.”

“Likely story,” someone else shouted. “You’ve never cared about us!”

“Yeah!”

“You’ve only cared about yourself!”

“You threatened us!”

Archer stepped forward and raised his hands trying to calm the crown and called for silence. “Let my brother finish! He has done wrong in the past, but so have many of us! I have made horrible mistakes! I’ve killed as well, but when I met my brother, I started down a new road. Guy of Gisborne has changed. Give him a chance to prove it.”

The crowd quieted and looked from Archer to Guy with uncertainty. Meg listened avidly as Guy promised he would intervene with the prince. Reluctantly, the people took Guy at his word and eventually everyone dispersed. Meg knew he just put himself between a rock and a hard place. If Prince John didn’t agree to leave the taxes alone, Guy just jeopardized his position as sheriff and his title as a duke.

She should go, but Meg realized her feet were rooted to the ground as her eyes followed Guy’s movements. His eyes lifted and found her almost immediately. Breath catching, she looked into his pale blue eyes and felt the familiar connection they shared down to her bones. Watching him walk toward her, she couldn’t help but yearn for what she knew she may never have.
Guy stopped a few feet away from Meg and asked to speak to her. She started to smile, but then she saw the worry on his face the smile slipped away.

“What is it?”

“Let’s go back to the manor.”

Seeing him hold out a hand, Meg took it without hesitation and let him lead the way, but the sense of trepidation lingered in her stomach. Awareness of being close to him should have put her at ease, but something was making her uncomfortable. He heart sank a little when they reached the manor and Archer followed them inside. There seemed to be a matter for all of them to discuss.

“What is wrong,” she asked again.

Guy exchanged a glance with Archer who nodded. Turning to look at Meg, Guy knew he needed to handle this matter as quickly as possible. “It’s your father,” he stated.

Blinking with surprise, Meg shook her head. “What about him?”

“He wants you back in his household,” Archer supplied. “Or he’s threatening to lead a revolt of the nobles.”

Turning to look at the earl, her eyes widened with disbelief. She couldn’t have heard him correctly. “What?”

“Tis’ true,” Guy added.

The world was being torn out from under her feet and Meg was struggling to find purchase. She should have realized her father wouldn’t leave well enough alone forever. He was bound to make trouble for her at some point; she just never expected that trouble to come so soon.

Finding her voice, Meg tried to steady her nerves and appear as if her fear wasn’t gripping her by the throat and squeezing her chest. “What does he want?”

“For you to marry,” Archer spoke gently seeing the distress in Meg’s eyes. He didn’t understand the history between her and her father, but going by all he witnessed so far, he could sympathize with Meg.

Pushing down her fear, Meg refused to budge. “I like my life the way it is now.”

“We related as much to him.” Guy knew this choice would not be an easy one, but she had a right to know everything that was happening. “But your father has plenty of supporters. The people of Nottingham do not fully trust me yet. We need stability, especially among the nobles.”

“And I am to be the sacrifice?”

He hated seeing the defeat in her eyes and rushed to reassure her. “It’s not like that,” Guy said gently. “We’ll make sure it is a good match.”

The only match she would be satisfied with was one with him, but she didn’t dare say as much in front of Archer. Meg could not hide her sorrow as she looked at the man she loved. “I do not want to go back to him.”

“He has offered to take you to London to find a suitable match,” Guy explained.

What that fact supposed to make her feel better? Did he think she would find someone else in London? Is that what he wanted? Unable to hold back a stale laugh, she shook her head. “Because Court is full of decent man,” she said letting her sarcasm have free reign. Giving the men her back, she moved to the window and stared out at the village. She needed time to process this news and come to terms with what was going on.

Going back to her father was not an option. He would marry her to anyone with deep pockets and political connections. Meg knew it was the way of the world to trade women for money and position, but she wanted more from life. She was not a pawn to be played with as if she didn’t have any feelings. Was it too much to ask to live her own life? Why couldn’t’ she marry for love?

“We will try to work out an agreement,” Guy continued. “But it may require you to make some compromises.”

Looking over her shoulder, she raised a brow. “Compromises?”

He gave a single nod. “Moving to Nottingham,” he clarified. “Your father wants you to live the life you were born into and show society you are still a noblewoman.”

“But that’s not what I want!”

“Meg,” Archer interjected. “Your father doesn’t want you living here in the village. If you moved into the finished part of the castle and lived among the other nobles, it will help ease negotiations and we’ll have influence with the earl.”

Glancing at Guy, she saw he remained expressionless. What they were saying made sense, but she hated that she was the one that had to change her life on the whim of a man! “The castle isn’t finished,” she said lamely, knowing she wasn’t winning the debate.

“Part of it is,” Archer insisted. “There are comfortable guest quarters and a few nobles already have set up residence in the town. Tuck and John live there as well.”

As if those facts were supposed to comfort her? “So, I am supposed to pick up and move to Nottingham? And then what? Let my father rule over me again?”

“We want to show him you are living what he sees as a proper life.” Guy was trying to get through to her that this move was just a first step. He wasn’t going to let her walk into the lion’s den alone. There was still hope. “He wants one of the nobles of Nottingham to offer their hand or he’ll take you to London. The only way to get him to back off of his declaration is for you to move to Nottingham so we can continue negotiations and find another solution.”

“Which nobles does he think will offer for me?” Meg couldn’t help but ask the question.

Guy answered her simply. “Much, Archer, or myself.”

Would she want Guy if her father forced his hand? Meg did love him, but she wanted him to love her in return. If they were forced to wed, Guy could come to resent her.

“There are no other options?”

“Meg,” Guy shook his head and moved closer to her. “Your father is in a position to cause turmoil. All we want is to be able to put him at ease. Until we can find a way to take some of his power out of his hands, or find a new solution, we need to appease him.”

She knew her sire better than these men ever could. “He will never let me have my own life! He’ll do all he can to force my hand!”

“And we will do all we can to protect you!” Guy was slightly hurt by her lack of faith on that score. After all this time, did she doubt his word too? “We just need you to work with us instead of against us.”

Could she trust his word? Meg knew her father would make trouble. She knew he would use all the influence his could to get his own way. Once he found a weakness and would exploit the advantage to the fullest. Standing up to him alone was an impossibility. If Guy and Archer were willing to help her fend off her father’s demands, then she needed to be more accommodating. Moving to Nottingham would put her closer to Guy, but would it be worth all the trouble? Hope was what made up her mind. Meg still held out hope that if she and Guy were to spend more time together he would come to care more for her.

“Very well,” she nodded. “I will gather my things.”

“I’ll help you move everything to Nottingham,” Archer offered.

“Thank you.” She managed to give him a grateful smile.

Returning her grin, Archer moved to follow her. “Of course.”

Walking out into the bright afternoon was a shock. Covering her eyes, she walked back to her hut in a daze.

How did her life change so drastically in so short a time? One moment she was feeling safe and happy with her situation and then she was moving to Nottingham to appease a father who would have stood aside and allowed her to be executed! There wasn’t much to pack, but she was still angry. Meg did have a mind to visit her father the second she reached town and give him a piece of her mind. Unfortunately she knew the man would refuse to listen.

By the time the sun set, Meg was escorted to a finished room in the completed part of the new castle. Sitting by the window, she looked up at the sky as twilight loomed over the horizon. For better or for worse, she was here now. She had to trust Guy and the others would help her instead of abandoning her to her father’s whims.

Meg thought of Guy as her friend, but that didn’t mean he would let her have her way. Weariness tightened in her stomach, causing her to get up to pace the length of the room. She couldn’t eat. All she could do as wish upon the emerging stars and pray for the best.

Chapter Text

All the taxes currently being collected were going to rebuild the castle, pay the guard, and make repairs to other parts of the city. If Prince John increased the amount, Nottingham would not prosper. Guy knew he could argue the facts with the prince, but depending on the royal’s mood, the argument could go either way.

Prince John could be sympathetic, or he could shrug and say that the problem was the sheriff’s to figure out. If the worst happened, Guy was trying to find a way the people wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the cost. They could make cuts where the building was concerned, but that meant the castle would take that much longer to be completed.

None of the nobles wanted to have to pay more to the crown. All the years they had to pay more and more to the previous sheriffs already had them hoarding money away expecting the worst.

Guy knew they would not support his endeavors. Joseph Bennett could be an ally or an enemy depending on which way the situation with Meg went. Guy needed the earl as an ally to encourage the other nobles to embrace the repairs to Nottingham. At the same time he could not turn away from Meg.

Remembering the way she befriended him, Guy could not abandon her. She knew all of his dark secrets and still she spoke to him. She treated him like a man and remained his friend.

Once he was given word Meg was settled in the castle, he sent a message to Joseph Bennett. He then turned his attention to the accounts and composed another message to Prince John. Guy was on his way to the armory when he was told he had a guest. Changing direction, Guy entered the main hall to find Joseph Bennett waiting for him.

“Sheriff,” the man greeted.

“My Lord,” Guy returned. “To what do I owe the honor?”

“What else? I want to see my daughter.”

Nodding, Guy sent one of the servants to have Meg brought to the hall.

Joseph smiled cunningly. “I looked into your family history.”

“Did you?” Guy’s voice was steady and he didn’t let his annoyance show. Everyone knew his history, but Guy didn’t like having that history wielded against him like a mace.

“I also hear from my contacts at Court that King Richard himself appointed you sheriff and gave you lands.”

Guy wasn’t sure why the man was reiterating what was public knowledge. “Yes, he did.”

“And yet, Prince John calls you a friend.”

“Then he must have been in a good mood.”

Laughing at the dry joke, Joseph shook his head in good humor. “You know the man after all.” He tilted his head in thought. “You come from noble blood and you’ve worked hard to build up your worth again when your family lost everything. I admire that.”

“I’ve done things I am not proud of.”

Joseph shrugged. “Haven’t we all?”

Frowning, Guy knew Joseph was getting at something and he wished the man would make his point already. “What is it you want, Bennett?”

Joseph leaned closer and spoke in a softer tone. “I would approve a union between you and my daughter.”

Keeping silent, Guy wrecked his brain for a polite answer. Thankfully, the door opened, distracting both of them from the conversation as Meg entered the hall. Guy could tell by the rose of her cheeks she rushed to get here. She wore her favorite bluish grey gown that brought out her eyes.

Meg looked beautiful and for a moment Guy wondered why he couldn’t have her for his own. They would make a good match. The spell was broken when he saw the fear in her eyes. Meg looked at her father with the same fear Guy remembered flushing across Marian’s face the moment before he realized he killed her. Tearing his eyes away from Meg, Guy felt a chill in his blood.

He wanted Meg, but he could not allow his passion to rule his head. Never did he want to see her sweet face looking at him the way she was looking at her father.

“There’s my girl!” Joseph walked up to his daughter and put his arms around her shoulders. “I’m glad to see you are safe! You had me worried!”

Bracing her shoulders and spine, Meg stood as straight as possible and forced her gaze to meet her father’s. She dreaded this moment since her return to Nottingham. She walked down to the main hall vowing to get the answers she wanted and stand up to the man once and for all. “Is that why you didn’t look for me after Isabella nearly had me killed?”

Hearing her condescending tone, Joseph’s smile faded. “You have the same stubborn streak as always.”

“Why are you here?”

“To remind you where your place is.” Joseph knew his daughter all too well. She was scheming, but he would make sure none of her antics cost him ever again.

“I’m not going home with you,” she insisted.

Joseph turned to Guy. “Do you see what I’ve had to put up with?”

Guy didn’t comment, but he did glance at Meg. Clearly, she wanted to leave the hall. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of business to discuss.

“It’s about time you were married,” Joseph continued. “I’m tired of waiting to make the most of you.”

Before she could think, words poured out of her mouth. “I have my own mind! I’m not a piece of chattel!”

“You are my daughter,” Joseph shouted back. “I will do with you as I please! The law supports me in this!”

Furious, Meg looked to Guy for assistance. Before she could speak, Guy stepped between them facing the earl.

“Meg is now living here in the castle was we discussed. We can make it known she is available and see who comes courting.”

“Bah! She’ll just chase them all away as she did before!”

“I can keep an eye on her.”

“Really?” Joseph did not look convinced. “Do you know my daughter at all?”

“I do.”

The certainly with which he spoke had Joseph raising a thoughtful brow. “Much of Bonchurch and Archer of Locksley would make satisfactory suitors. Meg is already acquainted with them. Maybe she won’t be so…unpleasant in their company.”

“But we are just friends,” Meg cried. “I could never marry either of them!”

“Meg,” Guy said sharply. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give Much and Archer a chance.”

Eyes widening, Meg couldn’t conceal her disbelief. Was he serious? He wanted her to be put on display in such a barbaric ritual? Her heart was heavy with betrayal until her father spoke again in the authoritative tone she loathed.

“You will stay at the castle and be courted by Much, Archer, and Guy and you will choose one of them or I will take you to London and give you away to the first noble that catches my eye! Do you understand?!”

Looking from her father to Guy and back again, Meg hardly knew how to respond. Why wasn’t Guy defending her? So this was to be the deal? She could stay in the castle and be somewhat independent as long as she played along with being courted? Feeling outmatched, and yes, a little betrayed by Guy’s lack of defense, Meg felt she had no other choice.

“I understand,” she managed.

Joseph nodded. “Good.” He moved forward and placed a kiss of Meg’s forehead. If he noticed her cringe he gave no sign. “I’ll be back often to check in on you. In the meantime, I know you’ll be properly chaperoned.”

His words hung like a warning between them. The earl moved over to Guy. “Remember what I said.”

Taking his leave, Joseph left Meg and Guy alone in the hall. Clenching her fists at her sides, she couldn’t resist glaring at Guy. “Was that the deal? I marry one of the richest men in the county and he leaves the other nobles alone?”

Her anger was understandable and Guy wished he could have spared her, but his hands were tied. “As long as he sees you are cooperating, he’ll be satisfied.”

“What happens when I don’t wed?”

“Meg,” Guy said gently as he tried to appeal to her common sense. “This strategy gives us all time.”

“Archer and Much have agreed to this?”

Nodding, Guy didn’t want to think too much about exactly how much of a show his brother would put on for Meg’s benefit. ‘In the meantime, we’ll come up with another way of neutralizing your father’s threats.”

He sounded sincere, but Meg knew she shouldn’t believe him. Inching closer to him, she felt her own desperation clawing at her insides. Reaching out to grasp his hand, she knew she needed to have faith. “I’m trusting you, Guy.”

The familiar fire rose between them, fueling the fierce attraction. Guy fought the urge to pull her closer and inhale her scent. Where Meg was concerned, he was very possessive. The last thing he wanted to see was Much and Archer paying her attentions, even if it was all for show. However, there was no alternative and Meg was better off without him. Managing to pull his hand free of her fingers, Guy put some distance between them. “Do you know anything that will help us against your father?”

Hating his withdrawal, Meg swallowed hard. “My father never involved me in his affairs,” she said regretfully.

“And you never overheard anything? Never saw anything of significance.”

“I don’t remember.”

“If you do think of something, you’ll let me know?”

She nodded. “I will.”

“Good.”

The matter was close, but Meg lingered for a few moments not sure what to do with all the emotions screaming for her to tell Guy of her feelings. She wanted him to say more to her, but as the silence continued, she knew she was being dismissed and moved to the door.

“Meg,” Guy called.

Pausing at the top of the stairs, she looked over the railing at him. “Yes?”

“I will protect you. I promise.”

Managing a smile, she walked out of the door. Heading back to her room, she knew Guy’s word should make her feel better, but the truth was she felt more anxious than she did before he offered all his reassurances. Closing her chamber door, she moved to look out of the closest window.

Archer, Much and Guy could pretend to court her, but what will they do when her father demanded a wedding? Meg would be forced to go to London and she would be thrown away to the first man her father approved of, which would tear her soul to dust. In her mind, she knew she needed to resign to the knowledge that her life was no longer her own. She was at the mercy of men.

Her heart did harbor some hope. If Guy pretended to court her, maybe he would stop keeping his walls up between them and maybe he would fall in love with her in return. Of course, Meg knew not to expect such an outcome.

Needing air, she left her chambers to take a walk around the courtyard. She needed to think and to prepare for the worst. No one would magically come along to save her. Meg would have to have a plan just in case all else failed.

Now that she lived in the castle, she would be able to get her hands on supplies readily enough. There were other places to hide and other identities she could assume. As long as no one knew of her plans or know where she was going, Meg felt certain she could make a clean getaway from Nottingham if and when the time came.

****

Seeing the house in the distance, Kate was impressed. Much did well for himself. She knew he fought with Robin for a chance to have his own lands. He wanted to be a farmer, but now he was a noble. He would make a good one, she knew.

Kate did feel friendship for Much, but she did not see them having any sort of romantic future. So why was she here? Why did she feel such a desperate need to talk to him?

The first person she should be talking to was Archer. Kate knew Much a little bit better and she hoped he would be able to offer her some understanding.

“Kate!”

Seeing her arrive, Much couldn’t conceal his grin of delight. Returning the smile, Kate accepted is hug and his hospitality. They sat down at his table and drank cider and talked about the current gossip of the shire. It as Kate who brought up Meg.

“She moved into Nottingham Castle. Maybe she’ll convince Guy to make her an offer.”

Much’s smile faded. “Maybe not.”

“What do you mean,” Kate frowned. “That little tart has been in love with Guy since they met! Though, I don’t see how she could possibly love a murderer! In the end, she’ll get what she deserves.”

Much straightened at her nasty tone. “Robin and I were murderers, Kate,” he said simply. “We killed our fair share in the Holy Land.”

“But that was war, Much! And Robin came back determined to make a difference! Gisborne tried to kill King Richard! He killed my brother and Marian! Wasn’t she your friend?”

“Aye.” Much wasn’t sure what to make of Kate or her visit. Without Robin, she seemed lost and alone and…bitter.

“We’ve all changed, Kate,” he continued. “We’ve all had to move on and live new lives.”

“I can’t move on, Much,” she confessed.

“Why not?”

The words just poured out of her because her anger was getting the better of her. Maybe it was because she was sick and tired of everyone telling her to move on and forget Robin was even a part of her life. Whatever the reason, her temper once more got the better of her.

“Because I’m carrying Robin’s child!”

Silence filled the room as Much stared at her. Shifting in her seat, Kate knew he would judge her, but it couldn’t be helped. As the silence lingered, she grew impatient.

“Well, say something!”

“What do you want me to say?” He sounded unnaturally calm.

“Something along the lines of ‘congratulations’ would be nice,” she said weakly.

“Kate,” Much shook his head. “You and Robin were never married.”

“Are you calling my child a bastard?” This conversation was not going at all the way she envisioned.

“No!” Much’s eyes widened with shock. “I’m saying that this will not be an easy road.”

“I love my baby,” Kate argued. “Just as I loved Robin! A piece of him will live on and that is all that matters!”

“Even if your reputation is shredded to rags?”

Kate stiffened. “I can handle it.”

Seeing her fierce determination, Much couldn’t keep back his smile. “I know you will. You are a brave woman, Kate.”

Calming, Kate reached out to take his hand. “Do I have your support?”

“Always,” he promised.

“Good because I have a favor to ask.”

Chapter Text

Most of his money was tied up in the repairs to Nottingham. He may be sheriff, but Guy wanted to own the castle. Remorseful of his past, but still ambitious, having Knighton was well and good, but Guy wanted more lands and property.

Walking through the door of the house where Marian grew up, Guy did not feel her ghost. He knew she was happy with Robin in the afterlife. This world and the next did not seem to hold much promise for him, so why not live in as much luxury as possible?

All the furnishings and draperies and tapestries were sold once the deeds to the property were in his hands. Guy wanted nothing to remind him of Marian. He took the money from the sales and bought new furnishings. Nevertheless, crossing the threshold made him uncomfortable. Sitting by the fire, staring into the flames, his thoughts were all for Marian, Isabella, and Meg. He could have been spared all sorts of trouble if he just killed Isabella the first time she betrayed him. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t bring himself to take another woman’s life after Marian.

In the end, Guy supposed Isabella did get what she deserved. Was he truly to blame for Isabella’s misery? They were starving and Thornton offered to take care of her. Guy saw it as an answer to his prayers. Isabella would have a home and a protector, while he used the money to earn back the family lands.

When Isabella came to him, he offered her protection. He was willing to make things right, even if he didn’t show a lot of compassion to her. Isabella chose to go behind his back with Robin Hood.

She made her own bed and wanted to blame him when things went wrong. So why did he still feel remorse for her passing?

Part of him was sorry she was dead. Meg would say there was still plenty of human left in him. Beautiful Meg.

Thinking of her was painful. Guy thought if he met Meg before he did Marian, his life would have turned out very differently. Her spirit was…lively. A smile covered his lips just thinking about her.

He would do all he could to make sure she was safe. However, knowing she was now living in his castle made it difficult for him to be there. Knowing Meg was so close caused his mind to…wander to places it should not. The other day, he watched her walk the courtyard for hours. The urge to go to her was too strong. Even if he just walked beside her and spoke to her a little, Guy knew he would find some sense of satisfaction, but he would crave more until he was beyond control. Wanting Meg in his arms and in his bed, he could so easily forget his past. Refusing to dishonor her name, keeping the distance between them was vital.

In the end, Guy saddled his horse and rode to Knighton. As long as his heart craved Meg he couldn’t allow his heart to rule his head. Loving Meg could curse her. She would not suffer.

What was he going to do about Joseph? Guy knew Much would not wed Meg. Archer did not want a wife. Not seriously at any rate. Still, the idea of her wed to another filled him with rage. Meg was his. She belonged to him.

As a duke, he would own Nottingham castle and eventually the lands would be his as well. He wouldn’t just be the caretaker. The answer was clear. He could marry Meg, keep the union in name only, while giving her the life she deserved so her father would be satisfied. Everything would be resolved quite nicely. Except Guy knew his own nature. He feared one day Meg would pay the price for his mistakes. He also knew he would not be able to keep his hands off of Meg for very long.

How could he live with himself if anything happened to her? Yet, seeing her so unhappy at the castle tore at him. The situation was getting more and more tangled with each passing day. Guy needed to convince Meg to go along with appearances until he could find a way to convince Joseph to let matters lie. How could he convince Meg to be courted when the very idea of her being around other men set his teeth on edge?

Lord, he couldn’t stop thinking about what a life with Meg would be like. They would rule over Nottingham justly and earn respect and good will. They would have plenty of children and be devoted to each other.

Such a future was out of reach and it was foolish of him to keep imagining it! Closing his eyes, he remembered the look on her face when he told her of his plans regarding her father. Her expression filled with sadness and doubt. She would be confused and scared, but he could not go to her and comfort her or give her the reassurances he wanted.

There were other matters he needed to see to. Guy had many responsibilities and he was neglecting them long enough. Feeling the fatigue in his bones, Guy got to his feet and sought his bed. He needed rest. Hopefully, his dreams would spare him tonight. If he slept here instead of at Nottingham castle, he hoped the distance would help purge Meg from his dreamscape.

****

Yearning to escape, Meg stood up in church and recited her prayers with the rest of the crowd. She noticed both Archer and Much were among the noble ranks. Seeing her father put her nerves on edge.

He was watching her like a hawk watches a mouse. Meg’s eyes searched the crowd for Guy, but he was not here and she tried not to feel so downtrodden by the circumstance.

After the mass, Meg headed for the doors as fast as her feet could carry her. All she wanted was to seek the privacy of her own chamber. Escape was within sight, but Archer was suddenly in her path.

“Lady Meg,” he greeted with a glint of humor in his eye. “Shall we walk?”

Looking over her shoulder, she spotted her father still following her movements. Turning back at Archer, she nodded. “That would be lovely.”

They walked in silence until they reached the courtyard. Glancing at Archer, Meg saw he was making sure they were alone before speaking. “I spoke to Guy,” Archer chuckled.

“You are doing this for show,” she accused. Seeing him grin, she sighed. “Do you have any idea how to deal with my father?”

“As long as he sees you being courted, his threats are neutralized. Hence, I am courting you.”

Archer’s humor was lost on her. “But if I do not-”

Archer took her hand and kissed her knuckles. Feeling her stiffen and try to tug her hand away, he openly laughed. “My brother is a lucky man.”

Inhaling a quick breath, Meg shook her head, feigning confusion. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Laughing harder, Archer wasn’t letting her get away with her denial. “Everyone sees how you two are together.”

Meg wanted the ground to open up and swallow her to spare her this humiliation. Everyone knew? The idea was horrifying and embarrassing. “We are friends, Archer,” she insisted with more zeal than necessary. “Just as you and I are friends.”

“We are that, but I have been thinking.”

“Oh?” Meg was eager to change the subject.

“Your family is of noble blood. You have lands and a great deal of wealth.”

Stopping, she stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

Archer shrugged. “I have the taint of illegitimacy hanging around my neck,” he said with more seriousness than was in his nature. “Marriage to a respectable noblewoman, a noblewoman with wealth and position, will go a long way in removing that taint.”

How could she not smile at him? “Archer,” she laughed. “I’m not the woman for you.”

“Why not? Am I not handsome?”

Laughing at the return of his usual teasing, Meg shook her head. “You are too charming for your own good.”

“Ah, so you prefer the brooding sort?”

“We would not suit well.”

Archer shrugged. “People marry for other reasons all the time.”

“I’m not that kind of woman,” she said gently.

“You should still think about it. If you refuse me, I’ll have to go to London to find someone there.”

Meg rolled her eyes. “Heaven forbid,” she joked.

“Yes, indeed,” he playfully chided back. “You should take pity on my, my lady. How will a genuine man such as myself survive in a sea of sharks?”

“I’m sure your charm will win over a lucky lady,” she smiled.

“I think you should consider my offer,” he repeated.

“It’s not a serious one,” Meg commented.

Archer shrugged. “It could be.” He gave her a wink. “Just keep your options open.”

Meg wasn’t sure what to think when Archer kissed her hand once more before taking his leave. As much a she wanted to believe Archer was simply playing a role, she sensed he wouldn’t mind being her husband to get his hand on the money. Archer had good intentions, but he also had a few greedy bones in his body.

Such greed was what Meg was trying to avoid in the first place when her father starting arranging marriages. Archer could not truly love her and love was all she ever wanted. They might get along, but he would never see her as a true partner. Archer would be the lord and master and she would be expected to serve him. No, she would not entertain the idea of marriage to him.

Entering the castle, Meg walked through the finished hall and even ventured to the area under construction. Feeling restless, she wasn’t sure what was to be done with her life. Time was running out and there was nothing she could do about it.

****

“They are getting along well.”

Watching Meg and Archer circling the courtyard and laughing, Guy felt as if a knife was being twisted in his gut. He knew Archer and Meg were friends, but he didn’t realize how well they got along until witnessing this display. Archer made her laugh and he suddenly wanted to strangle his brother.

Hearing Joseph Bennett’s voice, Guy turned and faced the man. “You wish to have Archer as a son-in-law?”

Joseph shrugged. “He rules Locksley. He is your brother, so he possesses connections.” Joseph nodded. “If he went to Court, I’m sure he would be a success.”

“Is that your plan if Meg accepts him?”

“Probably,” Joseph shrugged. “I haven’t made my mind up yet. I’m just weighing the possibilities.”

Guy did not like how this man was seeking to further his own ends and only thinking of himself. The earl did not give a single thought to his daughter or her feelings. For that reason alone, Guy despised Joseph Bennett.

“I’m curious to see what the Earl of Bonchurch brings to the table,” Joseph continued. “And you, of course.”

Straightening, Guy as about to tell Joseph he would not be involved, but the man turned and walked away before Guy could utter a single syllable. The point was moot, so Guy could not court Meg no matter what her pompous father had to say about it.

Heading down to the main hall, he caught up with Much to talk about his role their plans for Meg. “Have you given any thought to what you’ll do to show you are courting Meg?”

Much shook his head. “I haven’t.”

“Why not?”

“I need to talk to you about something else.”

“Which is?”

“Kate,” Much stated. “I want to marry her.”

Sighing, Guy moved to walk to the other side of the table. “Does Kate want to marry you?”

“Not exactly,” Much confessed.

Guy frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t actually asked her yet.”

Guy didn’t understand why Much was coming to him then. “You think your peers won’t approve? You and Kate were equals before you had your title.”

“I don’t care what the other nobles think,” Much said. “I’m trying to protect Kate.”

“From what?”

“I want you to give me permission.”

His frown deepened. The words did not sound like something Much would say at all. “I don’t think it would matter if I gave my permission,” Guy reasoned. “We are talking about Kate. She’ll rebel if anyone is forcing her to marry anyone.”

“I know that,” he said desperately,” but you don’t know the whole story.”

“Then tell me.”

Shaking his head, Much ran a hand through his hair. “I promised her I would keep her secret.”

Growing frustrated, Guy wasn’t sure what he could do. “But you want me to-what? Sign a contract giving you the right to marry her?”

“Yes!”

“Much, I would, but we both know Kate is her own person. If she agreed to marry you, then you wouldn’t be here talking to me.”

“True, but these are special circumstances!”

Nodding, Guy wasn’t sure what to say. “Have you asked Kate to marry you?”

“Not yet,” he confessed. “Wanted it all to be arranged, so we would have a quick ceremony.”

“Why the rush?”

“Because!”

Much didn’t elaborate. Getting the hint, Guy stopped pressing the issue. “I’ll think about it, but I can’t make any promises.”

Much wanted to push the issue, but he knew it wouldn’t work. Instead, he nodded and left the hall. Pacing the floor, Guy did not liking the feeling that his plans were falling apart. If Much married Kate, there would be more pressure for Archer to make Meg an offer.

Unless he decided to intervene. What he needed was more time. Guy had to find a way to get Joseph Bennett to back off of his plans for his daughter. Until he had a solution, Guy would have to keep the farce going. If Much wasn’t going to tell him what was going on with Kate, then he would have to figure it out on his own. Heading out to the stables, he saddled his horse and headed to Locksley.

Chapter Text

Tuck spent most of his day with the poor and the ill. By the time he returned to Nottingham, his feet were aching and he craved his bed. All he wanted was to sit in front of a warm fire with some stew and a good book. In the main hall, he actually got his wish.

The moment of solace did not last long since John entered looking as grave as ever. He sat down across from Tuck, brooding as he stared into the flames.

“You look like you’ve had a full day,” Tuck observed.

John looked at him with weary eyes. “Do you think we’re making a difference?”

“What do you mean?”

“When Robin was alive, he made sure the people were fed. We battled an unfair regime. Now, we are the regime and it seems that things should be easier, but …there is more to do than ever. I don’t feel like we are able to keep up with all the demands.”

Tuck gave a nod of understanding. “We have more responsibilities now. We can take from the coffers and feed the people but we also need funds to repair the castle and see to the defenses of the whole city and county. We now collect the taxes and have to see they are spent responsibility. If we fail, we can’t go out and steal from a noble on the road to fix our problems. When we were with Robin, it was easy to steal a cart of coins and give it to whomever we wished. Now, we know if those coins were meant for repairs, we have to find a way to put it all back.”

John grunted. “And we can’t steal from Prince John’s nobles anymore.”

Tuck smirked. “They know to stay clear of Nottingham. I thank our lucky stars for Gisborne”

John’s brows shot up his forehead. “What? How can you say such a thing?”

“He has taken nearly all of the taxes and profits from his lands at Knighton and put the money back into repairing the castle. Without his money we would never be able to continue building.”

“You know what he’s doing, don’t you? He’s making sure he’ll own the castle when it’s finished!”

Tuck nodded in understanding. “He still has ambition, but he is making it possible for us to continue to hold this city. If we can’t rebuild and prove we can protect the people, then Prince John will put someone else in charge. He won’t care about his brother’s decree. We won’t have a say anymore.”

Unconvinced, John frowned. “And if Guy does become duke over the whole county?”

“We will be here to keep him in check.”

“Unless he boots us out once he has what he wants,” John grumbled. Tuck may think the best of Gisborne, but he knew better.

Tuck shook his head. “I don’t think he will,” he said with conviction.

“With all due respect,” John argued, “you ever saw the ruthless side to Gisborne. You never saw him kill and murder on the old sheriff’s orders. He made all our lives miserable for the sake of his own advancement! He was a monster.”

“He who is without sin cast the first stone,” Tuck quoted. “I know people can change. We have both seen Guy fight for us. He shows true remorse for his past. I know you’ve done things you are not proud of and you do this work as a way to make up for them. Why do you begrudge Guy the same opportunity?”

John was honest in his answer. “Because he can change back at any moment!”

“Perhaps,” Tuck chuckled. “Power corrupts, but we are all equally susceptible to its lure. Don’t forget, John.”

“Why are you amused,” John demanded. “It is entirely possible Guy will turn on us!”

“Before,” Tuck said with calm certainty. “Guy did not have love or friendship in his life.” Shaking his head, Tuck looked back into the flames before turning back to John. “Now that he does, he will not so readily risk losing them.”

“I do not consider Guy of Gisborne my friend,” John growled.

“Did he not save your life once in York?”

“He was only trying to get on Robin’s good side.”

“But he didn’t have to save you,” Tuck argued. “He still chose to help you.”

“It doesn’t make up for the others he killed!”

“Only God can make that determination. Guy has chosen the path of redemption and it will not be an easy one to take. Thus far, he has stuck to the road and we are here to help make sure he does not stray.”

“And how do we make sure Guy stays on this path of yours?”

Tuck smiled at his friend. “Arrange it so he marries the woman who truly loves him.”

Skeptical, John’s eyes narrowed. Tuck had something up his sleeve. “Oh, and that will make it all better, will it?”

“I think Guy will find the acceptance and fulfillment he has been looking for all this time if he has a happy family life.”

“And who is the unlucky lady you have in mind?”

Tucks mischievous smile deepened. “Don’t you already know?”

Thinking for a moment, John started to shake his head, but then his eyes widened as realization hit. “You can’t mean Meg!”

“Why not?”

“She’s too young, idealistic, and has no idea what kind of man Gisborne really is!”

“I disagree. I think she knows exactly who his is and what he has done. She saw his faults and loves him still. Guy needs a love like hers.”

“And what of Meg,” John pressed. “Doesn’t she deserve the same?”

“I think Guy loves her very deeply. He just refuses to acknowledge it.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” John grumbled. “Besides, rumor has it Meg and Archer are hitting it off.”

Now Tuck was the one to frown. “Archer has a lot to learn. He thinks all of his dreams have come true by claiming his birthright. He has yet to take stock of what it means to be responsible for so many lives. He also lacks diplomacy.”

“Meg could calm him,” John offered. “She’s a noblewoman. She can guide him to make the right decisions.”

“You think she would be better suited to guide Archer rather than Guy?” Tuck shook his head. “Archer would not trust Meg as he should.”

“He is Robin’s brother,” John snapped. “He may not have the exact same values as Robin but he is a hell of a lot better than Gisborne.”

“You are letting your biased show, John. Archer is not above Guy simply because of who his brother was.” Tuck sighed. “In the end, I think Meg will make the final decision.”

“I would caution you against pushing Guy and Meg together, Tuck. The results could be disastrous.”

Tuck nodded respectfully at John’s concerns. He would not wish harm to befall any of the people they discussed. What he wanted was to see peace and harmony come to Nottingham. He wanted Robin’s legacy fulfilled.

****

Archer considered Meg during his ride back to Locksley. She was a lovely girl, but he knew he wouldn’t have spared her a second glance if she did not possess wealth and noble blood. As a child, he was left to fend for himself and, as a result, he did what he needed to in order to get what he wanted.

Meg would not have a bad life with him. He would treat her with respect and she would be Lady Locksley. What more did a woman want? Archer suspected he knew the answer. Meg always defended Guy. She followed him around like a lost puppy. Obviously, she was holding out hopes for him. Sadly, Guy seemed aloof where Meg was concerned. Guy would protect the girl, but he never displayed more than friendship toward her. Guy did love Meg, of that Archer was certain. He was just very good at hiding the fact.

For his part, Archer knew how stinging love could be. A woman broke his heart once so he learned to break hearts and leave them in his own wake. Archer did not believe in love. He and Meg were a good match despite the lack of emotion. Expanding his land holdings to include Bennett’s property would give him more money and more power.

Archer would be the wealthiest noble in the county, second only to Guy.

Since he saw Nottingham, Archer heard a lot of talk about Guy of Gisborne. Sure, he was aware of the rivalry that existed between his brothers, but Archer just thought it was of a sibling sort.

Turns out, Robin and Guy clashed not only ideologically, but also in matters of the heart.

Lady Marian of Knighton was still remembered fondly by the villagers. They claim she and Robin Hood were kindred spirits destined to be together. Guy came to Nottingham with the new sheriff and loved her from afar. He tried to win her favor, but Marian never cared for him. The stories of Marian cozying up to Guy to help Robin were probably all true.

In the end, it was no secret Guy killed Lady Marian in the Holy Land. After hearing the story, Archer found it amazing how Robin and Guy came to terms at all in the end.

Tuck claimed Guy was sorry for all the pain his caused and was on the right path these days. Archer never doubted his brother’s intentions, but he did think it a little too fortuitous how Guy’s return from Sherwood came with a dukedom, lands, and a job as sheriff.

Well, one thing Archer knew for certain was that things in this world could always change. He was once a beggar without a penny to his name and now he was an earl. What was wrong with wanting more?

Entering the manor, he stilled. Eyes were watching him. He could feel it.

“Come out,” he called to the intruder. “I know you’re there.”

Much came out into the light. Archer breathed a sigh of relief. “What are you doing here?”

“I have official business,” Much stated.

Raising a brow, Archer moved his hand away from the hilt of his sword. “My brother sent you?”

“No.”

“How did you get in here?”

“I grew up in this household with Robin,” Much said. “I know all the secrets.”

“Obviously,” Archer said dryly as he moved into the light the fire in the hearth provided. “Still, having you sneak up on me like that is rather annoying.”

“I need to talk to you.”

Nodding, Archer gestured for Much to sit at his table. “Have a seat.”

Giving his thanks, Much sat and waited for Archer to do the same.

“I would offer some ale,” Archer began, “but I do not know where my man servant has got to. I’ll have to look into hiring a new one.”

“He has been here a long time,” Much argued. “He’s loyal and capable.”

Archer smiled as he leaned back in his chair. “Did you grow up around him, too?”

“He taught me what I needed to know to help Robin on the crusades.”

Impatient to get to the point, Archer waved a hand. “So, why did you come all this way to Locksley to see me?”

“To talk about Kate.”

“What about her?”

“I want to marry her.”

Archer blinked in astonishment. “You asked her? And she agreed?”

“Well, not exactly,” Much confessed.

“I don’t understand.”

“You are the Earl of Huntingdon now and you rule over the village. Kate is a part of the village and therefore under your protection. You will have to give permission for her to wed.”

“I had not thought of that,” Archer muttered. There were still so many rules he did not yet know. Looking at Much, Archer could tell he wasn’t getting the whole story. As a conman, Archer learned quickly how to read people and Much was definitely holding something back.

“If Kate agreed to your proposal, you know I won’t stand in your way.”

“I wanted to come to you first.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want there to be delays once I do ask.”

“What if she refuses,” Archer speculated.

“She won’t,” Much said with conviction he didn’t quite feel.

“What’s going on,” Archer asked.

“You are saying the same thing Gisborne did! I think it’s because you are both afraid of Kate! Women are bound to men by contract every day! I have means now, so I don’t see why I can’t do the same with Kate!”

“Because we all know Kate would resist being bought,” Archer argued. “And trying to force Kate to your will is not like you, Much.”

“I’m not buying her! She knows I love her!”

“But she loved Robin,” Archer stated.

“And Robin his dead!”

The outburst caught them both off guard. Sighing, Much shook his head, not sure what else he could say.

“I just didn’t want to give her a reason to refused me,” he whispered.

“Much,” Archer said gently, “you don’t have to get married right away. Here are plenty of women out there. You could meet someone you like more than Kate.”

A humorless laugh left his throat to fill the room. Much shook his head in defeat. “What I feel for Kate isn’t going away.”

“And do you want to be married to a woman who may never love you in return? Trust me, Much, that would be a special kind of hell.”

One Archer narrowly escaped.

“It will be worth it in the end,” Much insisted.

Archer looked at him with disbelief. “Why?”

Chapter Text

Of all the people she expected to see on her doorstep, Guy certainly wasn’t one of them. Yet, there he was, plain as day. Giving him a long look, Kate couldn’t keep the frown off her face. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to speak with you.” Guy was in no mood for nonsense.

“About what?”

“May we speak in private?”

Glancing over her shoulder at her mother sitting at the pottery wheel, Kate sighed. Stepping out of the cottage, she moved down the lane a little to make sure they would be out of earshot. Guy fell into step beside her and Kate tried not to push him away. She didn’t like him being so close.

“Much came to visit me.”

The news was a surprise. “About what?”

“He wanted me to give him permission to marry you.”

“What?!” Stopping dead in her tracks, Kate stared at Guy with disbelief.

Noting her reaction, Guy raised a brow. “I take it you didn’t know?”

“Of course not! Marry Much?!”

“He wouldn’t tell me why he was in such a hurry.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Kate said hurriedly. “He won’t bother you again.”

“Kate, I came to ask you if you did want to marry him before I grant him permission.”

“I’m glad to did but I’m not going to marry him!”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Guy gave her a long look. “Why not?”

Suppressing the urge to laugh, Kate shook her head unable to believe she was having such a discussion with a man she despised. “I do not like him that way.”

“He’s not Robin,” Guy admitted. “But he is an honorable man. He has lands and titles. You will not have to toil here in Locksley.”

“And what if I want to toil,” Kate challenged.

Sighing, Guy should have known better than to have an honest conversation with this woman. “It would be your choice, of course, but anyone can see Much is devoted to you.”

She didn’t want to hear this. Turning away, Kate closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath before returning her attention to Nottingham’s current sheriff. “That doesn’t make a marriage,” she argued. “Much deserves better.”

“Do you know why he was so anxious to ask for your hand now?”

Kate did know but she wasn’t about to tell Guy of all people! “No idea,” she lied.

“Just consider him,” he urged. “Give the matter some thought.”

“Why do you care about any of this?”

He shrugged. “I know what it feels like to love a woman who was devoted to Robin Hood. I sympathize with Much.”

Kate’s eyes narrowed accusingly at him. “We can’t force love.”

“I know,” he responded gently. Guy knew such a lesson all too well.

“I would feel like I was betraying Robin,” Kate confessed.

“There are other forms of love, Kate.”

A bitter laugh bubbled out of her throat. “This advice coming from you? Of all men?”

He came all the way to Locksley to try and do Kate a good turn and she stood there and mocked him? Reeling in his temper, Guy shook his head. “I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I am hoping you can do the same.”

Resenting his implication, Kate wanted to get even. “Is that why you keep Meg as far away from you as possible? Because you have embraced another form of love? Or is it because you can’t betray Marian’s memory?”

Seeing his expression darkening, Kate shook her head and actually felt remorse. Kate forced the rest of her words out of her mouth. “I didn’t mean any offense. It’s just obvious she cares for you and you care for her.”

“I stay away because I am not interested in her.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “You want me to think you aren’t interested? You came here to ask me about what I wanted for my future, which is something the old Guy would never do. You simply would have seen an opportunity to please a noble and never asked my opinion. You are starting to care more about those around you and Meg is no exception.”

Oh, and Kate was suddenly and authority on his personality? Yes, he was once callous, but hearing it confirmed from someone else was disturbing. “You do not know me,” he growled.

No, she didn’t. Not really, and she didn’t want to, but could it be she was starting to feel something besides hatred for this man? If so, why wasn’t she feeling guilty about it?

Taking her silence as a hint, Guy gave Kate a nod. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

“Really?”

Guy blinked. “What?”

“I never thought I would see the day when Guy of Gisborne developed manners.”

Shrugging, Guy wasn’t sure if seeing the humor in Kate’s eyes was a good sign or not. “I suppose the demons of hell received some water today,” he said dryly as he walked away.

Laughing to herself, Kate watched Guy mount his horse and ride out of the village. Walking back to the cottage, she knew what she needed to do about the baby. She first needed to confess the truth to her mother and then she would have to go and talk to Much.

Kate knew what he would think, but she wasn’t so afraid of the world that she would marry Much to avoid judgment. Walking into her house, Kate inhaled a bracing breath and spoke to her mother. The reaction was not at all what she expected.

****

“There you are!”

Startled, Meg looked over her shoulder to see none other than Lord Bennett coming toward her. Meg’s eyes darted about for a means of escape, but she was too far into the courtyard. The stairwells and door were on the other side, so there was no easy way to slip out of sight. She would have to tolerate her father’s company.

Curtsying low, she rose and gave her father a defying grin. He seemed amused by her, which took away some of her confidence.

“Still as headstrong as ever,” he commented.

“It’s kept me alive.”

Joseph’s face soured. “I still can’t believe you took up with Robin Hood’s band of merry men! You are of noble blood!”

“Were Robin still alive, I would still be helping him,” she said unapologetically.

The earl glared at his only child. Why did the universe not see fit to send him a son? Well, at least he could choose his own son-in-law.

“I saw you the other day with the Earl of Huntingdon,” Joseph stated. “He would make a good match.”

Did he really come all this way to tell her his opinion on the matter? She didn’t want to hear it. Shaking her head, Meg refused to hear his words. “Archer and I are just friends.”

“You would be lucky to be married to a friend,” Joseph leered. “Marriages are made with far less in common.”

Stifling a sigh, Meg pushed down her impatience. “What do you want?”

“To make sure you are open to all your options in this regard.” Looking his daughter up and down, he decided she would look more presentable with a finer wardrobe. “I want assurances you are not up to your old tricks.”

“Or what? You’ll take me to Court?”

“Exactly,” Joseph nodded even as his eyes narrowed suspiciously at her. “Prince John may not be so lenient with you He loathed Robin Hood and all associated with him.”

The threat was clear. Meg flinched. “But he never met me,” she argued.

“Doesn’t matter,” Joseph shrugged. “The prince will make sure you are wed and settled within a week. Plus, the prince considers himself a lady’s man. He might consider you worth perusing if you keep demanding his… attention.”

Swallowing, Meg was well aware of what her father was insinuating. Royals could not be refused their demands. One would have to be really clever to avoid such trappings. Meg wasn’t confident she could be clever enough to sidestep such a fate if Prince John noticed her as her father suggested. She was no match for the pitfalls of the royal court and they both knew it.

“Just be cordial and polite to the noble men of Nottingham,” Joseph commanded his daughter. “Do not give me and excuse to make an example of you.”

Before Meg could utter a rebuttal, her father was already walking away. Feeling cold, she put her arms around her waist and tried not to think about Prince John and his indecent habits. The prince was a spoiled pariah and everyone in England knew it!

Despising her father didn’t make him any less correct about what would happen at Court. Meg may want adventure and freedom, but the royal court was not a place she wished to venture without allies. She did not like intrigue or games.

Briefly, she wondered if she should tell Guy of her encounter wither father. It would be an excuse to see him, but Meg doubted Guy would have much to say on the matter. What could he truly do to help her? He would tell he to stick to the plan and trust him.

Meg did trust Guy, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t impatient to have them silence her father’s demands so she could go back to living he own life. At the same times, she wanted Guy to court her.

Even if it was all play acting, Meg wanted to be in his company. She wanted to speak to him and find a way to crawl inside the armor he built up where she was concerned.

“Meg?”

Hearing an unexpected voice, she gasped and whirled around to see Tuck approaching. Putting a hand over her pounding heart, she shook her head at him. “You scared me!”

“My apologies.” Tuck came to stand beside her. “Are you here all alone?”

“You just missed my father,” she supplied.

“Ah.” Tuck gave her a look of sympathy. “Are you well?”

Nodding, she visibly relaxed. “I suppose. I do wish he would stop threatening me with a visit to Court and handing me over to Prince John for his pleasure.”

“The man is more silly than frightening,” Tuck said with a smile.

Meg blinked, surprised. “You’ve met him?”

“Not formally, but we’ve crossed paths.”

“He will be king on day, Tuck. What will England do then?”

“Endure, I suppose,” Tuck said gravely. “What other choice do we have?”

“I feel like I have no choice at all.” Meg knew she shouldn’t feel sorry for herself when the world had so many other problems, but all she could see right now was her own situation.

Tuck reached out to pat her hand. “You mustn’t fret. Our sheriff is doing all her can to handle your father. He won’t abandon you.”

Tuck’s assurance were comforting, but Meg wasn’t confident she could be saved. Nevertheless, she gave Tuck a smile. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because he told me so.”

“He did?” Meg wasn’t sure she liked the idea of being a topic of conversation between Tuck and Guy.

“You mean a great deal to him, Meg.”

Smile fading, she looked down at her feet, then up at Tuck’s face once more. “He doesn’t really show his affections.”

“Give him time. I’m sure he will.”

Time? Wait? Was that the only advice she was ever going to hear on the subject? All she ever did these days was wait around hoping something would happen! Her own fate was stolen out of her hands and she loathed of feeling of being dependent on others.

Suppressing her temper, Meg forced another smile, giving Tuck a nod. “Thank you.”

Seeing her distress, he wanted to help. “Why don’t you dine with us in the hall this evening,” he suggested.

“Oh, I don’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense! We could use a woman for company to help take our minds off of taxes and accounts.”

“You would rather talk of dressmaking and child-rearing,” she teased.

“Somehow, I doubt those will be the topics we’ll end up discussing.” With a wink, Tuck bowed and took his leave.

Making her way to her room, Meg started to sort through her gowns before realizing what she was doing. Yes, she wanted to look nice for Guy, but he already saw her in all of her gowns. Maybe there was some other way of dressing up for the evening?

Moving to her jewelry box, Meg found a hair pin her mother used to wear. She always cherished the items in this box and thought it lost to her after all that happened. She was shocked and delighted when her father sent it to her when she moved into the castle. Of course, he wasn’t doing so to be kind. No, Lord Bennett wanted his daughter to look like a noblewoman, which meant he wanted her to have the proper tools. Still, Meg was glad to have the items once more in her possession. Perhaps looking like a true lady for one night wouldn’t hurt.

Normally, Meg didn’t really bother with her thick curls. Washing them was usually enough, but tonight she wanted to put her hair into a fashionable style. Grunting and groaning with the effort, she just could not get the mass of tangles to cooperate. On the verge of tears, she gave up.

Hearing a knock on her door, she called for the person to enter without turning away from her mirror. A maid carried a bucket of wood over to the hearth. Asking the girl to send her a servant to help her dress, Meg hoped her situation could be remedied.

An hour later, a new lady’s maid named Anne who was combing out her tangles and pulling the curls back into a fashionable headdress.

“Is there a special man you are trying to impress,” the girl asked with a teasing smirk.

Meg stiffened, not sure what to say. Servants gossiped as fervently as courtiers. “No,” she said evenly. “The sheriff and his men have simply extended me an invitation to supper. I do not want to disappoint them.”

“That’s an honor,” the maid gushed. “What are you going to wear?”

Meg’s eyes fell on her familiar blue-grey gown. “That,” she said gesturing to the garment.

Anne shook her head. “But that is so ordinary.”

“My other gowns are no better,” she said on a sigh.

Looking in the armoire, Anne saw the truth of the words. “I know where there are gowns in storage in the castle. They should fit. I remember a green one that would flatter your eyes.”

Meg blinked in confusion. “How is such a thing possible after the castle was destroyed?”

Anne shrugged. “Some parts of the foundation were not turned to dust. A lot of different items were kept in storage on the lower levels.”

“Really?”

Anne nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

Ten minutes later, Anne returned with several gowns, some more beautiful than the next. Meg loved the color of the green one and the fit was just right. To her delight, Meg glanced in the mirror to see that her eyes did have a new glow to them. Hearing the chimes, Meg turned to Anne. “Who did these gowns belong to?”

“A noblewoman that died several years ago.” Anne frowned in thought. “I think her name was Lady Marion.”

Chapter Text

Staring at Much with disbelief, he hardly knew what to think. Kate was having his brother’s child? If the babe was a boy, he would be a contender to inherit the land and titles of Locksley. True, the child wouldn’t be legitimate, but then again, Archer was a bastard and he now held the title.

If Much married Kate and claimed the child, all of Archer’s problems would be solved. Knowing Kate and her stubborn nature, he doubted this matter would be taken care of so easily. It would be in his best interests to have Kate marry Much.

“I can talk to her,” Archer offered.

“No,” Much said quickly. “I don’t want to upset her. She’ll be livid if she knows I told you.”

“You were right to tell me, Much.” He smiled reassuringly. “I’m going to be an uncle.”

Relief washed over Much. He thought Archer would not take the news well. “What do you want to do? You know Kate won’t think twice about letting people know who the father of the child is.”

“I know.” Archer knew Kate’s habits.

“What should I do?”

“I can take care of the child and claim it as my ward,” Archer offered.

Much nodded, but secretly didn’t like the idea. “That is an option.”

Seeing the furrow on Much’s brow, Archer let out a sigh. “You really want to marry Kate, don’t you? Even if it means raising another man’s child?”

“Robin was my best friend,” Much said with conviction. “It wouldn’t be a burden! Besides, I’ve loved her since I first laid eyes on her! I have a way to give her a good life and I just want to be there for her.”

“That’s understandable and I want to help.”

Much blinked. “You do?”

“Of course.” Archer patted Much on the back of the shoulder. “Kate just needs to see you in a new light.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, she knows you as the cook for a band of outlaws, but she doesn’t see you as a nobleman. She needs to see the serious man you have become.”

“I was always serious,” he grumbled. Archer gave him a look and he relented with a helpless sigh. “And how do I do that?”

“We’ll have a party,” Archer announced.

“A party?”

“Yes. A big one with a formal dinner and dancing.”

Much looked horrified. “What good will that do?”

“It will kill two birds with one stone,” Archer said as if it was obvious. “You’ll be dressed in all your noble finery and looking distinguished and dance with all the eligible noblewomen in attendance. I’m sure we can recruit Meg to play a part. You can give the appearance of courting her and keep up our façade for Joseph Bennett and show Kate you’re in demand. She’ll see how you have changed and the sort of life you can offer a wife. Kate will be jealous and start to see you in a different context.”

Considering for a moment, Much did think the idea a good one only because he couldn’t think of any other plan. “We’ll have to host it at the castle,” he said lamely.

“Guy will not object,” Archer said with confidence.

“I hope you’re right about this.”

Archer gave Much another rough smack on the back. “Trust me. I’ve romanced a fair amount of women in my time. I know what I’m doing.”

“And you’ll keep the secret? About Kate, I mean.”

Archer nodded. “Eventually, it will be told for her, but I’m not going to say a word.”

They shook hands on the bargain.

Much left the manor and Archer’s smile faded. The people here admired Robin Hood. There was little he could do to gain their love and respect the way his brother had. He doubted the people would ostracize Kate for carrying a piece of a local hero they all adored, bastard or no. They might even demand the bastard child be installed as his heir to Locksley.

Archer liked his life at the moment. He always felt as if he was given the short end of the stick, but now he was living in privilege as he should have from the beginning. The best for all involved would be if Kate fell for Much and married him before anyone else could guess at her condition. Hopefully, Archer could make it all happen.

****

Meg felt beautiful in the gown, but as she entered the hall a sense of unease washed over her. The gown Anne found for her once belonged to the woman Guy loved. Would he recognize it? Worse, would he hate her for wearing it?

Inhaling a deep breath, she descended the stairs and felt all eyes look over at her. Tuck met her at the base of the steps and offered her a hand to escort her to the table. Accepting, she allowed him to walk her to her place at the dais. As Tuck pulled out the chair for her, Meg noted she was sitting to the right of Guy’s position at the head of the table.

Sitting with her shaking hands in her lap, Meg wasn’t sure what so say or do. Tuck and John spoke and the servants started to present the meal. Meg chanced a glance at Guy. He was watching his wine being poured into his goblet. She waited, but he did not look in her direction.

Looking down at her hands, she took in another calming breath. Where was her spirit? If Guy wanted to ignore her, then she could certainly ignore him!

Meg joined the conversation by asking Tuck and John about the construction and plans for the new castle. She learned a few things in the process of keeping the conversation alive. When she and Tuck laughed at one of his jokes, she casually look over at the sheriff. Meg could tell he was affected by her. Maybe now would be the perfect time to ask him a question and engage him in the discussion.

Their eyes met and held. Guy felt time slow around him as he continued to look into her dark depths. The moment he first saw Meg enter the hall, he struggled to keep his own emotions in check.

She was stunning in that gown. He had visions of pulling Meg aside to a dark corner and kissing her senseless. He wanted to push his hand down the front of her bodice and cup one of her soft breasts in his palm, stoking her nipple until she moaned into his mouth. He imagined lifting her up against the wall, deepening the kiss as he pressed his thigh between her legs. Meg would go wild as he touched that secret spot holding the key to her pleasure.

Would she welcome him? Or would she turn him away like Marian? Guy wasn’t sure he could handle Meg’s rejection. Every fiber of his being urged him to act out his fantasy and take what he wanted, but he kept a firm lid on his control. Meg could not be forcibly won. He knew the truth of it since he first met her in those dungeons.

Seeing her laugh gave her a more beautiful glow in his eyes. Meg was intelligent and engaging. She would make a good noble wife. More than anything Guy wanted her to be by his side when he visited Court and had to deal with Prince John. Meg would be a great ally.

Before Guy knew what was happening, he was lost in the moment as their gazes continued to hold. His throat went dry and his heart pounded heavily in his chest. All he could see was Meg and all he could feel was the deep desire to crush his mouth over hers.

He might have done just that had the hall door not burst open causing him to jump to his feet. “What is the meaning of this!”

“Fear not, Sheriff!” Joseph Bennett smiled good naturedly. “I heard you were at your supper and knew you would welcome me and my friend Earl Hartwood of Nettlestone as guests.”

Seeing the white bearded, pot-bellied noble next to Joseph, Guy felt a surge of anger. He never liked Hartwood. Still, he could not refuse to offer his hospitality. Bennett was as much as shouting he had yet another noble in his pocket.

“Of course not,” Guy answered. “Make yourselves comfortable.”

Guy was once more biting back his anger when Hartwood blatantly sat next to Meg. The way the old man’s eyes moved over her form made Guy want to beat the man to a bloody pulp.

“You are looking well, Lady Meg,” Hartwood said as he sat.

The Earl of Hartwood gave her spine cold shivers, but she forced a smile and remembered her manners. “Thank you.”

The man’s smile suddenly turned into a harsh scowl. “My lord,” he stressed to her.

Meg blinked. “Pardon?”

“You should have said ‘thank you, my lord’,” he lectured. “Go on, say it properly.”

Who was he to correct her! Meg’s mouth opened in shock, but seeing the hard look on her father’s face silently communicating for her to do as she was told, Meg gritted her teeth. Repeating the words to keep the peace felt degrading on so many levels. A foul lump formed in the bottom of her stomach. Did no one else see how rudely this man treated her? How could none of these men defend her? Ah, yes, they all feared her father’s wrath.

“You are doing good things with Nottingham, Gisborne,” Hartwood commented.

Gritting his teeth, Guy struggled not to reach across the table and punch Hartwood in the jaw. He needed to maintain control and show them that he was in charge here and not the other way around. Unfortunately, being sheriff meant picking his battles. “Thank you,” Guy managed.

“We are all eager to support you.”

Unwilling to give this man an inch, Guy was determined to make them understand that he ruled them. “King Richard himself supported my post. As Lord Bennett knows, I also have the ear of Prince John.”

“Prince John’s favor changes like the direction of the wind,” Joseph pointed out. “He may not like how you joined Robin Hood.”

“One could argue I did so only to make sure the outlaw was neutralized.”

At his words, John and Tuck stiffened, but if Guy noticed, he gave no indication. He was fully focused on his verbal debate with Bennett.

“Then why would his allies now be yours,” Joseph asked.

Guy met the man’s eyes unflinchingly. “We are all working towards a common goal, which is a untied Nottingham.” The words were poignant and directed right at Bennett. “For us to survive and prosper, we all need to focus on the greater good.”

“I heard rumors you sent a message to Prince John about the taxes in the shire,” Hartwood said.

“I have written, but I have yet to receive a response from Court.”

“And you think Prince John will listen to you?”

“I think I’ll have to catch him in the right mood.”

Joseph and Hartwood laughed. John and Tuck exchanged uncertain looks. These men were trouble for them all. Guy needed to watch his back.

Meg stiffened as she heard Hartwood’s laughter sounding too closely to her ear. The man may be a noble and dressed in finery, but he was crass and vulgar. Trying to focus on her food, she leaned away every time Hartwood moved close to say something to her. He was acting much too familiar, which caused Meg to fear her father may have worked out a deal with the man. Her stomach rebelled at the idea. Sitting down her fork, she could no longer eat.

Noticing her distress, Guy leaned over to speak to her in hushed tones. “Are you well?”

Nodding, she answered truthfully. “I will be once this farce is over.”

Returning her nod, Guy looked to the servants and signaled for the table to be cleared and the last course to be served. Meg gave him a grateful look and he didn’t notice Joseph’s frown or Hartwood’s glare.

After the meal concluded, Guy escorted Meg out of the hall and back to her chamber. He didn’t want to engage Bennett or Hartwood anymore this evening and knew Meg felt the same. Playing the role of a gentleman saved them both some aggravation.

“Thank you,” she said once they cleared the hall. “I did not want to spend more time in Lord Hartwood’s company.”

“He is plotting with your father,” Guy commented.

“To do what?”

“Any number of things. Hartwood could want more lands or more power. Being sheriff means watching for schemes and betrayals.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Just continue with our plan,” he said. “I’ll know more once I see the prince.”

Meg blinked in surprise. “You’re leaving then?”

“I need to go to Court eventually.”

“You shouldn’t go alone.”

Seeing her concern made him smile. “You are worried for me?”

She met his gaze. “You know I am. I’m your friend, Guy. You know that.”

Squeezing her hand, he nodded. “I am grateful, Meg.”

Returning his assuring squeeze with one of her own, she looked into his face. He was so handsome he stole her breath. “Guy, I-”

As if sensing her upcoming words, he pulled back, causing Meg to lose her concentration. Seeing him shake his head, she felt her heart sink. He was pulling away from their connection. Again.

“Promise me you’ll be careful at Court,” she said by way of alleviating the tension.

“It will be a short visit,” he said as they continued walking.

“So, you have given up your plans for revenge where Prince John is concerned?”

“It’s complicated,” Guy confessed.

“People are saying King Richard will never make it back to England. Prince John will be king and people are worried”

“Now that I’m sheriff, I’ll have to stay on the prince’s good side,” he affirmed. “Old injustices will have to be forgotten. For now.”

Meg bit her bottom lip considering, before looking to him again. “I know you, Guy. I know you think I don’t, but I do. The prince still makes you angry since he chose Isabella over you, but-”

“Isabella is dead and I am sheriff after all, so I’ll have to be generous,” he interrupted.

They arrived at her door and paused. Meg was looking up at him with huge, hope-filled eyes. In that moment, all he wanted to do was pull her warm body against them and taste her full lips. As it was, her floral scent teased his senses.

Gritting his teeth against temptation, he used all of his willpower to step back and walk away. Opening the door to her chambers, Meg quickly closed it and leaned back against the wood as she fought to catch her breath as disappointment spread in her veins. The chill in her bones twisted at Guy’s absence.

Closing her eyes, Meg tried to push down the rising sadness. She would not give up on Guy. When he returned from London, she would be waiting.

Chapter Text

From her window, Meg watched Guy ride with his guards out of the courtyard toward the front gates. Her eyes followed his form until he was out of sight. As much as she wanted to be down there to give him a proper goodbye, after last night, she did not want to be a nuisance.

Catching a glimpse of her father and Lord Hartwood watching from another balcony, she frowned. With Guy gone, she did not have much protection from them. Yes, Tuck and John were still here, but they were more concerned with the business of caring for the people.

Meg decided then and there not to leave her chamber without a dagger on her person. Lord Hartwood was just as greedy as her father. Her only absolution from already being betrothed to the oaf was he did not have connections at Court. Knowing her father, he would wait for reports on how Guy was received by the prince before pushing Hartwood at her.

Bored and feeling more than a little lonely with her friend gone, Meg sat down by the opposite window and started work on her new gown. As lovely as Marian’s old clothes were, she wanted to have her own. Anne helped her get the fabrics and cut out the patterns.

Liking green, but gravitating toward blue, Meg wondered if she should select more variety. A new pale green gown with sky blue trimming would look beautiful when it was finished. Hopefully, there would be a special occasion when Guy returned so she could show off her handiwork. Sewing would keep her mind off worrying about her father and her uncertain future.

****

Her mother still refused to speak to her. Kate knew Rebecca never wanted her to take up with Robin’s gang , but what was done was done. Hopefully, she would come around. If not, well, she would find a way to manage. Much wouldn’t refuse her a place on his land.

Thinking of Much, Kate felt her anger rise. He had a nerve going to Guy and asking permission to marry her! He should have asked her first! She was not a cow or a chicken to be bought or sold at market!

Much was a good man, but he was not…what she wanted. Robin was everything she hoped to have in her future, but now he was gone. If he was alive, she was sure they would be planning their wedding or maybe they would already be wed. How could she move on when she felt cheated of the life she should have had?

Kate knew Much and Allan both liked her. She liked watching them spar over her even as she told her conscience there was no harm because they really weren’t serious. Kate only wanted to be with Robin.

Robin was dead. Allan was dead. Did Much think she was his by default?

“Kate!”

Hearing her name, she turned to look over her shoulders to see Archer running toward her. Remembering her manners, she curtsied when he approached. “My lord.”

“Come, none of that,” he said good naturedly. “We are friends after all.”

Kate looked skeptical. “Friends?”

“Why not? We’ve faced death together. I would think that makes us comrades.”

She smiled. “Then I’ll call you by your Christian name even in public.”

He shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

“Is there a reason you chased me down?”

Archer nodded. “I’ve been talking with the others and it seems that the shire needs a celebration.”

Kate blinked at him. “A celebration?”

“A ball at the castle,” he clarified. “I was hoping you could help with the arrangements.”

“A ball for the nobles?”

“Well, we could have an outdoor event for the villagers as well.”

“And will taxes be raised to pay for it?”

Archer laughed at her quip. “You don’t beat around the bush, do you?”

“Why waste the time?”

“All the nobles will contribute to the cost of the ball. We ask he villagers who want to attend bring food or decorations to the event.”

“And Guy approved this…ball?”

Archer hesitated. “Well, not really.”

“No?” Kate lifted a brow.

“He’s travelling to London. I was hoping to get it all organized to celebrate his return.”

Kate was surprised. “You want to do that much for him?”

Archer shifted on his feet. “It’s not just for Guy, it’s for everyone. Making it at the same time of Guy’s return will help ensure he's not too angry.”

Kate couldn’t help but laugh at the point. “That seems like a safe move.”

“I’m on my way to Nottingham to pitch the idea to John and Tuck. I could use your help.”

“Me?”

“I was hoping you’ll tell them you were helping with the organizing.”

Kate’s eyes widened. “I have a lot of work to do here.”

“It’s a huge undertaking if we are to include all the surrounding villages,” he reminded. “We need all the help we can get.”

Archer pouted a bit, giving her a sad look. For a moment, Kate saw a bit of Robin’s features in Archer’s expression. How could she resist? Nodding, she allowed him to walk her back to his wagon. They headed for the city and Kate was glad for the reprieve. If she was going to help Archer, then she wouldn’t have to dwell on Much’s intrusion or her own predicament.

****

Joseph was not against Hartwood’s company. They were friends after all, but he grew tired of hearing the stories of his time at the Crusades and how much he wanted Meg for his young wife. Honestly, Hartwood was a last resort.

The man governed over Nettlestone, but he had little influence over anything else. Joseph couldn’t gain connections with important people with Hartwood for a son-in-law.

Guy of Gisborne was in London. If he managed to carry favor, then Joseph would push him closer to Meg. He wanted Meg to marry influence.

Managing to escape Hartwood’s company, Joseph headed to his daughter’s chambers. Knocking on the door, he smiled when he saw the rebellious look on her face. “Is that any way to greet your father?”

Meg was not amused or fooled. “What do you want?”

“To speak with you.”

“I’m busy.” Meg tried to close the door, but Joseph pushed his way inside.

“Don’t make me angry, Meg,” he threatened.

Seeing the flare in his eyes, she tried not to be afraid. The only reason she felt better about him being inside her chamber was the dagger strapped to her thigh. Closing the door, she moved back to the window and picked up her sewing.

“At least you have not given up all your feminine talents,” Joseph grumbled.

Trying not to take offense, she forced the needle and thread to make the necessary stitches. “Are you here to push more suitors at me?”

“I’m here to ask you about Guy of Gisborne.”

Meg stiffened as her senses went on full alert. “What about him?”

“I hear you first met him in the dungeons.”

“What of it,” she asked without looking up from her work.

“What did you learn of him?”

“What do you mean?”

“Tell me of his character.”

“Like what?”

Marching over to the table, grabbed one of the candlesticks, and threw it against the wall in his rage. Seeing his daughter’s head snap up, he moved closer to look down at her. “Dammit girl! Just answer me!”

Heart racing in her chest, she forced her eyes back down to her needlework. “Guy is what you have seen of him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Joseph scoffed. “He’s a killer. No one disputes it. He has also led men into battle, which is also to his credit.”

“Sounds like you already have the answers to your questions then.”

The sharp look her father cast down at her made the hairs on the back of her neck rise in warning. Clearing her throat, she tried gain to defuse the situation. “What qualities do you want him to have?”

“Being talented in politics is always a virtue.”

“I think the church would disagree,” she said dryly.

Fuming, Joseph inched closer to his daughter. “I need to know if he has weaknesses.”

Looking up at his face, Meg knew they would never get along. All the man cared about was strategies, position, and reputation. He would use any weakness he saw in Guy to his own advantage. Meg did not want to see such a thing happen. Guy was her friend. Besides, he was doing a good job of governing Nottingham. Her father would be as bad as the old sheriff if he was allowed any power over the county.

“Guy doesn’t have weaknesses,” she stated.

Staring at her for along moment, Joseph burst out laughing at his daughter naiveté. “Every man has a weakness. I want you to find his.”

Was he giving her orders now? “I’m loyal to Guy,” she insisted. “I will not betray him. Least of all to you!”

“You always did have too much spirit,” Joseph shook his head. “I should have beat it out of you when you were a child.”

And she wished she had to good sense to run away as a child! Temper flaring, she knew she should keep her mouth shut and not provoke the man, but her impulses were getting the better of her. Straightening her spine, Meg looked up at her father. “I don’t regret chasing away all those suitors! They deserved what they got!”

Joseph’s face turned red. “And I regret Isabella didn’t kill you when she had the chance!”

A flash of her dream raced to the forefront of her memory. Remembering the images of dying in Guy’s arms only served to fuel her anger.

“Would you have mourned me at all?” Meg asked the question before she could think better of it.

Joseph’s eyes narrowed at her. “I would have missed the money.”

Expecting the answer, hearing the words still stung. Guy was a murdering blackheart when she met him in those dungeons, yet, he treated her better than her own father ever did during the course of her whole life! She would never tell her father information that could hurt Guy. Ever.

“If you do have a friendship with the sheriff, I may need you to use it,” Joseph demanded.

“Guy will see through whatever scheme you have concocted,” Meg sneered.

“Not if you are the messenger.”

She shook her head, hardly able to believe he was talking this way to her. “You mistake the level of his affection for me.”

Joseph doubted it. He saw the look on the man’s face when he put Hartwood next to Meg. His daughter was just being as stubborn as usual.

“Archer of Locksley seems taken with you,” he commented.

Meg shrugged. “We are all friends, which you know.”

“I think it’s more than that,” he chuckled. “Your connections tempt him.”

“My connections to you, you mean?”

“He could go far at Court. I think you should be…kind to him.”

Getting really tired of her father’s hints and veiled threats, she tried again to prove she would not cooperate. “You do not rule me,” she snapped.

He moved so quickly, she was barely aware of the air shifting around her until he was so close their noses were nearly touching. “I am your father and therefore, in the eyes of the law, I do rule over you! Until I betroth you to your future husband, I am allowed to tell you where to do, who to talk to, and how to act! Are we clear?”

Her gaze was as defiant as ever. “I will not marry on your whims!”

The words earned her a rough slap across the cheek. Crying out as her face snapped to the side, she struggled not to let her distress show as tears welled in her eyes. Meg gave him he coldest look she could manage.

Unaffected, the earl straightened. “I will look forward to your insights once the sheriff returns.”

Watching her father leave, slamming the door behind him, Meg put a hand to her cheek. He could hit her all her wanted, but she would not break that easily.

Bending to pick up the cloth from the floor, she tried to continue working, but her hands were shaking too much and the stitches refused to form properly. Setting the dress aside, she looked out the window at the comings and goings below while trying to think about what she was going to do about her father. There was no easy solution and she feared things would get worse before they got better.

Chapter Text

“Gisborne!”

Prince John spread his arms wide in welcome and grinned as if he was looking upon the return of a long lost brother. Surprised and puzzled by the greeting, Guy kept his expression neutral and did not resist the embrace. Patting Guy on the back, Prince John appeared genuinely glad to see him.

“I’m glad you’ve come to Court,” the prince said for all to hear. “I need good men around me!”

“Certainly, Sire.” Guy bowed in respect as he said the words, which caused the prince’s smile to deepen.

“Let me take this moment to convey my sympathies over the death of your poor sister. Isabella was quite a treasure.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

“Though,” Prince John leaned close to whisper in Guy’s ear. “I heard it was she that finally killed Robin Hood. A poisoned dagger, no less! Quite fitting!”

“I did supply her with the poison,” Guy stated. A fact that was true after all.

“Delightful! Come, Gisborne. We have much to discuss.” He looked around at the rest of the expectant faces and frowned. “Alone,” he stressed. Leading Guy to a private parlor off the main throne room, the prince dropped his jubilant expression the second the door closed. He turned to Guy. “It appears you do not love me, after all.”

Guy’s eyes widened in shock. “Of course I do, Sire!”

“Yet, it was my brother who gave you Nottingham.” The prince pouted like an infant denied sweets.

Guy shrugged. “He was probably just trying to do so before you did so yourself.”

“True.” Prince John sat and snapped his fingers for some wine. The moment the goblet was in his hand, he dismissed the lingering servants. He wanted privacy for this conversation.

“I trust your loyalties have not shifted.”

Guy answered honestly. “No, they haven’t , Sire.” He would be loyal to his own interests and his path of redemption.

“Good. So, you will tell me why you sent me this tax proposal.”

“Your Majesty, you have to understand the state of affairs in Nottingham.”

“If I make an exception for you, then I have to do so for all the shires! “

Guy refused to lose ground. Thinking quickly, he met the prince’s gaze. “With all due respect, you don’t. You are regent in the king’s absence and you have the authority to grant this leniency.”

“Hmm,” Prince John tapped his chin. “Perhaps you do have a point, Gisborne.” The smile returned to his face. “A reward for killing Robin Hood.”

“I thank you, Your Highness.”

Prince John laughed. “You love me, don’t you?”

“I always have,” Guy nodded.

“Then tell me, Gisborne, about Robin Hood’s brother. Tell me about this…Archer.”

“What do you wish to know?”

Gesturing for his guest to sit, the prince waited until Guy was to his right before continuing. “Well, is he Robin’s brother, or is it simply a rumor?”

“Yes, he is Robin’s half-brother.”

“And will he be a problem?”

“Doubtful.” Guy waved away the prince’s offer of wine. He needed to have all his wits about him while dealing with this royal. “He is the Earl of Huntingdon now that Robin is dead and he likes the lifestyle. The outlaws will no longer be making trouble.”

“Because they now have seats of power?”

“Presumably, yes.”

Prince John thought a moment. “So, Archer takes after is other brother then?”

Guy shouldn’t be surprised Prince John knew the details of Archer’s origins. After Robin’s death, they never tried to keep any of it a secret. “Yes, Sire.”

“Perfect.” Grinning widely, the prince’s good humor fully returned. “I like what you have done in Nottingham, Gisborne. I would have liked it better if there had not been so much damage.”

“It was unavoidable.”

“Yes.” Brushing his fingers over his whiskers, the prince looked down into his goblet of wine. “Have you given much thought to your future? You are a duke now.”

“I need to get the castle rebuilt and the city back to its former glory.”

The prince’s eyes widened in shock. “That could take years! Decades even! What will you do for heirs in the meantime?”

Shifting in his seat, Guy wasn’t sure how to handle the question. “I am not looking for a wife at the moment.”

“Then I’ll do the looking for you! I need all my nobles to breed offspring who are loyal to my reign and not Richard’s! The current generation seems torn at best.”

Drinking down his wine, the prince let out a heavy sigh. “They will all love me once Richard is dead.”

Raising his brows at the comment, Guy chose his words carefully. “I have my doubts about King Richard ever returning to England.”

Prince John’s face brightened at the thought. “That’s the Gisborne I know and love!”

Guy returned the prince’s good humor as best he could. Remembering he was playing a role, he forced his lips into a grin. “And you will be king.”

Laughing, the prince patted Gisborne on the back, so Guy continued. “The people will have no choice but to respect you.”

“Hmm.” Smile fading, the prince titled his head in thought. “I will give you leeway on the taxes, but I want to be assured of your loyalty.”

“You have it, Sire,” he was quick to reply.

Prince John raised a skeptical brow. “Do I?”

“Absolutely.”

“Then prove it. Marry, Gisborne. Marry and have heirs who will be loyal to me.”

The declaration may seem simple for a prince to declare, but Guy knew he could do no such thing. Hoping to persuade the prince to change his mind, Guy cleared his throat before starting to explain. “I am loyal, Your Highness, but I swore an oath not to marry.”

The prince face scrunched with disdain as if smelling something foul. “Why ever would you go and do something like that?”

“Because of my past.”

Blinking, the prince was not amused. “Get over it. You said you loved me,” he whined, “and that you are loyal to me. Marriage seems like such a small thing to ask of a loyal subject.”

“I would, humbly, ask you to honor my vows.”

“If you take your vows so seriously, Gisborne, join the clergy and forfeit Nottingham. I’m sure I can find other men willing to do as I ask. Maybe your brother Archer would be willing to take your place.”

Gritting his teeth against is rising temper, Guy wasn’t sure how to remedy the situation.

“I think I want to meet him,” the prince said excitedly.

“Who?”

“Your brother, of course,” Prince John laughed.

Guy blinked in confusion. “You want to meet Archer?”

The prince’s eyes rolled. “Isn’t that what I just said?”

More than a little shocked at the prince’s eagerness, Guy wondered why the man would want to make the acquaintance of a noble of Archer’s standing. Archer was connected to Robin Hood, so perhaps the prince’s obsession with the deceased outlaw was his motivation.

“It’s decided,” Prince John declared. “I’m coming with you back to Nottingham. We’ll see this Archer for ourselves and tour the city we so loved.”

“As you wish.” Guy wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but his hands were tied. Standing to take his leave, he could only hope the prince was distracted enough by Archer that he would forget about forcing marriage down his throat.

If he was forced into the situation, Guy would choose only Meg. At the same time, he wondered if it would not be better to be bound to a perfect stranger. One that did not know of his past. The idea filled him with bitterness. Meg knew all his faults and still stood by his side. She was a true friend. Guy’s feelings on the subject were so torn he had no idea what he truly wanted. Walking to his guest chambers, Guy couldn’t purge Meg from his thoughts. He did love her, but marrying her would be a risk. Yes, he was well aware his obligation to Prince John would be fulfilled, while satisfying her father at the same time. Meg would also have his protection and a proper life befitting her station. The solution was perfect, except for the fact Guy knew he could so easily do her harm.

His guilt over Marian was never going away. If there ever came a time where Meg stood before him and declared she never loved him, that she married another and wished him to hell, Guy knew the pain Meg would inflict would be a hundred times more cutting than Marian’s could ever be. Loving Meg with all that was left of his heart and all of his damned soul, Guy doubted he would ever be enough. Time would tell if he could truly be redeemed. Perhaps than he could allow Meg to be his partner through life.

One thing was certain: he would never be able to endure the loss of her friendship. One day Meg may no longer be able to love his darkness and leave, which would be devastating. The last thing he would ever want is her soul in his hands.

The best way to ensure her safety was to stay away. If she lived her own life, and he lived his, they could hopefully retain their friendship. Meg marrying another man would leave him heartbroken, but better he suffer the burden than her.

Strange, but he wondered what sort of advice his mother would give him right now. If she were alive, Guy probably never would have made half of the mistakes he did. Gislaine followed her heart, even when it led into danger. She would probably tell him being with Meg was the right choice. She would say he was worthy of love.

Moving to look out of the window at the horizon, Guy wasn’t sure what the future held. What he did know was he made a promise to protect Meg and he would keep his word, no matter the sacrifice.

****

Tuck and John liked Archer’s idea for the ball. Nearly all of the nobles were willing to bear part of the expense. Joseph Bennett and Edward Hartwood were the only holdouts. John and Tuck would budget the money without their portion. Of course, Kate would need help with the planning. They asked Meg to help and she gladly took on a few tasks.

Since Guy left three days ago, Meg was so wrapped up in her own thoughts, she feared she needed a distraction. Right about now, Guy would be entering London. Even if his business with Prince John was handled quickly, it could be another week before she laid eyes on him again. Staying busy was one way to not think about him and worry over his return.

Kate, of course, was very bossy about the entire matter. She also cared more about the decorations and arrangements for the villagers than she did those of the nobles. The great hall had to look fit for a king. The nobles of this county would be offended if the villagers had a more impressive celebration. They would also look down on Guy, John, and Tuck as leaders if they didn’t have a good time.

Meg helped as much as Kate would allow, but it was left to her to deal with the plans for the great hall and the aristocracy. Since the castle wasn’t finished, there would hardly be enough room for those invited – in the hall or for guests to stay overnight in the castle. Meg didn’t mind giving up her chambers for an evening, but she had no idea where she would go.

Luckily, Anne was willing to help her with arranging rooms, planning the menu, hiring musicians, and making decorations. Now, Meg had to make sure the great hall was cleaned, polished, and looking festive. Every servant was working on cleaning the hall and scrubbing out all the cobwebs. Meg rolled up her sleeves and worked alongside Anne and the others. Even John and Tuck grabbed a bucket and rag.

The people were coming to admire Meg. She was kind and did not act as if her status at birth made her better than the rest of them. Naturally, when Kate heard all the praise, the jealousy threatened to choke her.

As part of Robin’s gang, she was used to the people admiring her brave acts on their behalf. What was Meg doing but scrubbing and dusting? She was on Robin’s side, so she felt she deserved praise when it was bestowed upon her. But Meg? Didn’t they all know she sided with Gisborne at every turn?

When a few of the villagers came to her and started talking of Meg, Kate was all too eager to set the record straight and explain all about Meg and Guy and how Robin was the real hero for saving them from the executioner in the first place. Kate also stressed Meg’s loyalty would always belong to Guy. Guy of Gisborne was the same man who tortured and killed the peasants for years! He was the same man who robbed them blind!

To her shock, Kate saw doubt on many faces. Guy’s sins were plenty, but people couldn’t seem to remember them. He was accepted by Robin and then by King Richard. So far, he was keeping his word by going to appeal to Prince John about the taxes. Since he was installed as sheriff, Guy of Gisborne didn’t harm any of them. In fact, he was trying to improve their lives. Didn’t the priests all talk about forgiveness?

Having no idea how to respond to such arguments, Kate huffed off to continue her work. Seeing people admiring Meg and defending Gisborne was leaving a sour lump in her stomach. She couldn’t care less about the celebration now! She didn’t want to help any of these people!

Leaving the others, Kate ran into the city to look for John. If anyone could sympathize with her plight, it was him. They both knew exactly what Guy was capable of and they would never let down their guard. Kate was sure John would listen.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing?”

Meg was on her way to the kitchens for more water when she heard the voice coming from the shadows. Turning to see her father, Meg set down her bucket of dirty water. She really didn’t have time to deal with him.

“I am helping prepare for the ball,” she answered calmly, despite her inner turmoil.

“Then you do so as if you are the lady of the castle, not the head housemaid!”

“I am earning the respect of the servants, which is always good course for a lady,” she argued.

“Don’t get smart with me,” Joseph ordered. “Lord Hartwood is not pleased.”

Meg scoffed. “But Lord Huntingdon is very appreciative and admiring of my work.”

The words gave the earl pause. “Archer is approving of your toiling?”

Meg nodded. “The ball was his idea, after all. As you know, his background is not as…refined.”

Chuckling at that, Joseph grunted. “We’ll see.”

As he walked away, Meg picked up her bucket and continued on her way. The kitchens were busy and active. Meg poured out the dirty water and went to fetch more. The Great Hall was only half scrubbed and they needed more ladders and bodies to reach the rafters.

She managed to get all the way back to the hall before another obstacle came into her path. Of all the people she hoped to avoid, Hartwood made it a point to dog her steps.

“Lady Meg,” he said as he blocked her path. “You have made great headway here.”

“Thank you, my lord.” Meg tried to walk around him, but he blocked her again. Hartwood’s smile deepened. “Ladies should not get their hands so dirty,” he said. “Leave all of this work to the servants. Come and dine with me.”

“Lord Hartwood, I am…thankful for the invitation, but I have a lot of work to do before the ball. Perhaps you would like to lend a hand? We would welcome more help.”

The earl’s smile turned in the other direction. He looked as if he was just invited to swim in pig dung.

“I have pressing matters of business, Lady Meg. Do excuse me.”

As Hartwood rushed out of the hall, Meg couldn’t hold back her own grin. A man of Hartwood’s…stature would loathe any sort of labor. As she went back to work, she heard a few of the other servants’ snickers.

“You did well with him,” Tuck commented.

Seeing him for the first time, Meg felt her cheeks redden. “You saw that?”

Tuck nodded. “I take it Lord Hartwood does not care for balls. He refuses his help and his money.”

Laughing, Meg dropped her brush in the soapy water. “Undoubtedly, he’ll invite himself to the festivities.”

“If only for the food,” Tuck chuckled in agreement.

Meg nodded. “I’ll have to make sure we have an extra plate.”

Scrubbing the floor near the hearth, Meg did not notice the thoughtful look n Tuck’s face.

“Hartwood has his eye on you,” Tuck warned.

“I’ll never marry him,” Meg swore with conviction.

Tuck nodded. “You have someone else in mind, have you?”

“No,” she said quietly. “I just-I don’t want to marry.”

“Ah, you wish to take the veil?”

“Well, not exactly,” she sighed. “Maybe.” If Guy didn’t want her, if he married someone else, she would consider a convent.

“You’re young,” Tuck continued. “There is plenty of time.”

Giving the monk a smile, Meg went back to her scrubbing. Hours later, by the time all the soot was removed, her fingernails were broken and filthy. Not to mention how all of her bones ached, especially her knees.

Returning her materials to the kitchen, Meg couldn't believe another day was gone and quickly made her way up to her warm bed. Fatigue plagued her, but she was jolted alert when someone blocked her path.

The torches burning along the wall enabled her to make out the face in the dim light. “Lord Hartwood,” she gasped. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same. A lady should never be walking alone after dark.” He inched closer. “One would think she had…certain urges.”

Noticing the disheveled state of his clothing and catching a whiff of his scent on the air, she felt a chill race down her neck. Forcing her expression to stay neutral, she started to move around the man. “Then I will bid you goodnight.”

His arm shot out, blocking her escape route. The smirk creeping across his face gave her a very, very bad feeling.

“You don’t have to go just yet. You and I could get to know one another better.”

Seeing he was about to close in, Meg acted on impulse and dove under his arm. Breaking out into a full run, she ignored him when he called for her to come back. Meg heard him give chase, but luckily he gave up quickly.

The moment she was in her room, she locked her door and leaned back against the surface to catch her breath. When her heart calmed, she pushed away from the door and approached the fire in the hearth. Warming her hands, she hoped she would never encounter that man in a darkened hallway again. From now on, Meg would try to take a different path to her chambers.

Feeling the cold in her fingers dissipate, she walked through the small archway into her bed chamber. Quickly changing into a nightgown, Meg settled under the covers and stared up at the ceiling. Tonight, like all other nights, her thoughts lingered on Guy.

Meg remembered their first exchanges in the dungeons and all of the times she felt him getting closer, but then pulling away. She remembered the times they nearly kissed and the moments when they did. The memory of Guy's face gently lulled her to sleep.

****

The day of the ball was the day Guy returned to Nottingham with Prince John. Seeing all the decorations, the prince was surprised. Guy wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew the city wasn’t celebrating due to the prince’s arrival since he didn’t have the time to send word ahead of him.

Horns sounded announcing the arrival of the sheriff and his entourage. The crowds gathered and waved. Naturally, Prince John soaked up the attention. As they rose through the gate into the main courtyard, more horns sounded. On the front steps leading up to the castle doors, Tuck, Little John, Archer, and Much were all on hand for the homecoming.

Dismounting, Guy announced the prince. As the people gathered and cheered with excitement, Guy moved to stand next to Tuck. Archer moved to his other side.

“You just had to bring him back, didn’t you,” Archer hissed to his brother.

Guy grunted. “The prince came here to see you.”

Archer blinked. “Me?”

“If things go wrong, I’ll place the blame on your shoulders.”

“Figures,” Archer mumbled.

The prince ascended the stairs and grinned at the former outlaws. “Well, I am pleased to see you made preparations for my entertainment this time around,” he said pleasantly.

“We have a ball planned in your honor, Sire,” Tuck said.

“Good,” Prince John grinned. “I hope it’s festive. Gisborne, show me to my chambers. I wish to wash off the road.”

With a parting look to Tuck and Archer, Guy followed the prince.

“Why did you tell him that,” Little John demanded of the monk. “This celebration wasn’t for him!”

“You know why, John,” Tuck answered. “We need to flatter the prince as much as we can. We are no longer outlaws.”

“Meg and Kate worked hard making preparations,” he argued.

“And I’m sure Prince John will be very appreciative.”

Archer cut in over John’s scoff of disbelief. “Guy said the prince came here to see me.”

“I’m sure we’ll get a full report,” Tuck said. “In the meantime, we should finish the final preparations.”

Archer moved over to talk to Much, who didn’t say a word during the whole exchange. “You look as if a wagon is chasing you down.”

Blinking, Much shook his head. “I just don’t know if we should go through with our plans.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think I can do it with the prince looking.”

Archer frowned “It’s just a dance or two with Lady Meg. How hard can that be?”

Much groaned. “I’m not a good dancer to begin with, so if I make a wrong move, I’ll be a laughing stock!”

“And you really care about what Prince John thinks of your dancing?”

“It’s more than that and you know it!”

“The man won’t send you to the stocks!”

“Every fiber of my being rebels against everything Prince John stands for! I fought against his tyranny and now I have to be proper and formal? It was all so much easier when I was an outlaw! And Kate! She won’t be impressed with me! She’ll despise me too!”

Sighing, Archer shook his head. “We all have to deal with the prince. Trust me, Kate will realize you are the one for her. Just do as I say.”

Much looked skeptical. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Kate will be so jealous, she’ll want you all to herself!”

Much was still skeptical. “I guess we’ll see.”

Watching Much head for the hall, Archer signaled for his horse and rode back to Locksley. He had to convince Kate to attend the actual ball as a noble’s guest. Such a task was easier said than done. Luckily, he had something to help tempt her.

****

Word about the prince’s visit spread around the city and the surrounding villages like wild fire. Clearly, the prince favored Guy of Gisborne, but it was unclear if the prince would agree where the taxes were concerned or if the two leaders were up to no good. Hearing the news, Joseph Bennett rushed to the castle.

Originally, he planned to stay at his own home and stay away from the ball. Now that Prince John was in the county, he couldn’t stay away. He was going to take full advantage of the opportunity. Joseph was going to make sure Meg did as well.

Arriving late in the afternoon. The serfs were already starting to gather for the celebration. Joseph was more than a little shocked to be turned away.

“That castle is full, my lord,” a guard informed him.

“But I am a guest!”

“You’re not on the list.”

Livid, he made several threats. Luckily, the guard valued his head and his job so he opened the gate. Once inside the castle, he immediately sought out his daughter. Joseph did not like finding her in the kitchens. His temper nearly exploded until he saw she was speaking to the cook about the final menu. When she turned around and saw him, he was calm enough no to hit her.

“You should be getting ready,” he lectured.

Meg frowned. “I have plenty of time. Besides, I do not recall you being invited.”

“I invited myself.”

Walking by him, Meg headed to the main hall. To her chagrin, her father followed. “I have a lot of matters to see to before this evening,” she said over her shoulder. “Now with the prince here, we need to make an extra effort.”

“I’m very glad to see you have all of this in hand,” Joseph said. “The prince will be as well.”

“The prince doesn’t need to know,” she countered.

“Oh, I disagree. He needs to be made aware of you. When we go the Court, he will already know of your praises. We’ll be welcomed.”

Pausing, Meg turned to face her father. “You have plans to go to Court?”

“If all goes well here,” Joseph answered.

“You said I could choose-”

“Why settle for Nottingham if I can carry favor with the future king?”

Hearing enough Meg turned on her heel to return to her rooms. Joseph didn’t follow. He didn’t have to because Meg knew her father just expected her cooperation. Tonight, Meg prayed she would be able to maintain her composure.

Chapter Text

The gown actually fit. The midnight blue was a nice compliment to her skin. Arriving in the great hall on Archer’s arm, Kate nearly lost her breath. The hall was beautiful. White and red banners carrying the royal house’s colors crisscrossed the buttresses. The tapestries on the walls were light and festive, and here were fresh flowers everywhere.

Lively music played as Kate made her way up to the dais. Candles and torches illuminated the room to perfection. As much as she hated to admit it, Meg Bennett did a good job.

Seated between John and Archer, Kate tried to ignore the fact Meg sat on the other side of John smiling and talking to Much. Poor man. Though he did seem to be enjoying the attention.

Meg wore a pale peach gown with pale pink trim, which made her lips and cheeks appear rosier. Kate couldn’t help by feel like she as second best standing in Meg’s shadow.

Next to Much was Tuck and next to Tuck was the highest chair which belonged to Prince John. On the other side of the prince was Gisborne, then Joseph Bennett and Edward Hartwood. Nearly all the nobles were accounted for at the surrounding tables. There were a few more seats at the end of the last few rows were Little John placed his own men.

Kate noticed the smile on the prince’s face and wished she could wipe it off. Oh, how she despised that man! If King Richard did not return soon, they would all be stuck with him. Kate was one of the few who chose to believe King Richard could still make it home and father an heir. She could not give up hope.

The food being served smelled delicious. Kate had trouble keeping things down lately, but suddenly she felt ravenous. No sooner was the meat served with some ale and the sound of feminine laughter filled her ears. Looking over at Meg, she saw the woman laughing at something Much said to her. Kate wasn’t the only one to notice the display. She caught sight of Guy glancing at the pair with a scowl on his face. Kate knew they were both probably wondering what was so funny to have Meg and Much in hysterics.

“What do you think is so funny,” Archer asked her. Kate looked from the couple to Archer and shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Much isn’t the same man I met in Sherwood,” Archer continued.

The statement put a frown on Kate’s face. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Archer started. “Much was brave like the rest of us, but I felt he was a little too attached to Robin. I suppose it was because he was raised as a servant. Now, he has his own lands and his own income. He is becoming more of a leader than a follower.”

“Sometimes people don’t always change for the better,” Kate grumbled.

Archer couldn’t hold back his smile. “Sounds like you don’t want him to move on.”

“What?” Kate blinked and shook her head. “Don’t be silly.”

“Is it?” Archer’s smile deepened. “You liked having Much under your thumb willing to do anything or you. Now that he may move on with Meg, you’re jealous.”

“Jealous,” Kate scoffed. “Of Much and Meg?”

“Why not? They both look like they’re getting along. Her father wants her to wed a noble and Much can provide her a good life. He’s a kind man.”

Kate shook her head in denial. “Meg is…she’s not right for Much. Besides, she thinks too much of herself and she has eyes only for Gisborne.”

“Really?” Archer gestured to the dance floor where Much was pulling Meg into a reel. “I think the tides may be turning.”

Watching the couple laugh as they danced in a circle, Kate felt a pit open in the bottom of her stomach. Much was always…Much. She thought less of him because he acted as if Robin was his brother instead of his master. She looked down on him instead of admiring his loyalty. He would be loyal to Meg if she was his wife. He wouldn’t misuse her. Still, Kate just could not see those together! Such a thing was just wrong, but she couldn’t pinpoint why she felt so strongly on the subject.

“I think I’ll go join in the fun,” Archer said before getting to his feet. Kate watched him walk down to the dance floor and cut in with Meg. He laughed with the couple as Much retreated and came back to the dais as Archer whirled Meg around into another circle.

Kate thought those two were suited to one another. At least Archer and Meg made more sense in her mind.

“You should be smiling.”

Looking over at Much, Kate only managed a shrug. “It’s been a long day.”

Sitting in Archer’s abandoned seat, he looked at Kate with concern. “Are you well?” When Kate nodded, he glanced back at Meg before commenting. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?”

“What? Meg?”

Much nodded. “She’s smart and funny and pretty. The people love her. She put most of this ball together and dirtied her hands doing so. She’s not afraid of hard work like most nobles.”

“What don’t you marry her then,” Kate snapped.

Much just continued to smile, ignoring her outburst. “How about a dance, Kate? That’ll cheer you up.”

Folding her arms across her chest, she narrowed her eyes at Much. “I do not want to dance.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” Much gave her a smile before moving back to his own seat. Kate watched Much watch Meg and felt her own anger grow. She glanced at Guy and saw he was equally displeased. Then again, Guy always seemed to be in a bad mood.

How could these people love Meg? She wasn’t one of them from the beginning. She followed Robin only because she wanted to be around Gisborne. Meg didn’t believe in the cause and now she threw a ball for Prince John and the people loved her for it?

To be fair, no one knew Prince John was coming to Nottingham, but Kate still didn’t like any of it. She was the only woman outlaw. She should be the one praised and admired – not Meg! Not only was Meg stealing her place in the eyes of the people, but now Meg was stealing all her friends!

Kate excused herself and left the hall, Much noticed immediately and followed. The dance ended and Archer escorted Meg back to her seat. Catching his brother’s eyes, Archer gave Guy a smile and a wink before retreating back to his own place.

Gritting his teeth, Guy used all of his willpower not to punch his brother’s eyes out in that moment. He did not like the way Archer perused Meg. They were putting on a show for Joseph’s benefit, but Guy remembered how Archer was interested in Meg before her father’s ultimatum. Guy warned Archer then and he would warn him again if need be.

“I sense a love triangle,” Prince John murmured to Guy with a smirk. Apparently, watching Meg with Archer and Much amused him.

“Sire?”

“She’s beautiful,” the prince continued as he looked sideways at Meg. “Who is she?”

“Lady Meg Bennett,” Guy answered. “She is the daughter of Joseph Bennett.”

“The Earl?”

Guy nodded. “You know of him?”

“Of him, yes.” The prince looked again at Meg who was talking with Tuck. “She is unmarried?”

“Yes, which is why the nobles are flattering her. The Earl wants her wed.”

“If I didn’t know any better, Gisborne, I would say you are jealous.”

“Jealous?” Guy scoffed and sipped his wine.

The prince was unconvinced. He noticed the way Guy’s gaze followed the woman. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of Meg Bennett being Lady Gisborne. The two made a very attractive pair.

Then again, maybe it would be fun to play with Guy a bit. He could always promise Meg to another, which would force Guy to admit his feelings. The notion did fill him with amusement. Why shouldn’t he have some fun at the man’s expense? It wasn’t that long ago that Guy had an arrow pointed at his head after all.

Standing, Prince John raised his hands, calling for silence. As the hall quieted, he smiled. “People of Nottingham,” he started. “We are touched and pleased by the welcome you have given us. We have seen how much you all have struggled under past tyrannies and how hard you have all worked to restore the city to its former glory. Therefore, we have decided not to levy more taxes on you good people-”

A loud cheer sounded through the hall. Those on the dais smiled and applauded as the prince gushed under the attention.

“Until,” Prince John said over the crowd. “Until Nottingham is fully restored, you all will be supported. Our good sheriff, Guy of Gisborne,” he gestured to Guy, who bowed his head in acknowledgment, “has done a fine job in caring for a city we hold dear. Together we shall all see Nottingham thrive!”

As more cheers and applause filled the hall, the prince reclaimed his seat as those gathered raised their glasses and hailed “Long Live Prince John”. Afterwards, there was more music and dining and dancing. The prince even asked Meg to dance.

Butterflies burst in Meg’s stomach as the prince escorted her to the floor. She knew all eyes would be on her. Keeping the smile on her face, she imagined it was really Guy next to her and began to lose her focus in the steps.

“Tell me,” Prince John said when he pulled her close. “Who owns your heart?”

“Sire?” She blinked, wondering why the man was asking such questions.

Meg twirled away for a few more spins before she ended up facing the prince again. The same smile adorned his face.

“Who would you marry if you could choose?”

The question shocked her. Was the prince now giving to dictate who she should wed? The very idea offended her, but she could not say as much to the prince of she valued her own life. She was not a simpleton.

Yet, she could not nothing but tell the honest truth. “Guy,” she answered softly.

His name came off her tongue before she could think better of it. The prince did not look at all surprised by her answer. Instead, he smiled as if he knew all along.

“He has a dark past.” Prince John warned playfully. “Does that thrill you?”

“No.” Meg shook her head before the dance moved her away to do more spins. Should she even be confiding in Prince John of her feelings? He did not seem like the kind of man who could keep a confidence.

“Then why choose him,” the prince asked when they came back around to one another.

“Because I still love him despite his faults.”

The prince’s smiled faded. Meg couldn’t read his expression, so she wasn’t sure if he was pleased by her answer or not. The dance ended and Prince John kissed her hand before escorting her back to the dais.

Meg was afraid the prince would say something about her comments to the rest of them, but he laughed and spoke of other things as he asked for more wine.

“You look worried,” Tuck commented gently. “Did the prince say something to upset you?”

“No,” Meg shook her head.

Tuck didn’t look convinced, but he went back to his food. Meg knew he would try to talk to her later when the prince wasn’t so close. Feeling eyes on her, Meg looked to her right. Lord Hartwood was staring at her with those beady eyes. Quickly looking away, she tried not to let her revulsion show on her face.

Seeing an opportunity, she asked the prince and Guy for permission to retire. When they nodded, she asked Tuck to escort her to her rooms. He willingly left the hall by her side. Once they were up the first staircase, Tuck spoke in hushed tones.

“What concerns you, Meg?”

“Lord Hartwood.”

“Why?”

“The way he looked at me.” She shook her head. “It was much too possessive. It was almost as if…he had something sinister up his sleeve.”

“Be on your guard,” Tuck warned. “He probably thinks your father will betroth you to him.”

Meg shook her head and shivered with disgust. “Even if he did, I wouldn’t allow it. I would find a way to get out of it.”

“And we would all help you,” Tuck answered her.

“Thank you,” Meg said on a grateful sigh.

Tuck saw Meg safely to her chambers and waited until she was inside before making his way back to the festivities. There were plots brewing and soon they would all come to a boil.

Chapter Text

“Kate! Kate!”

Much ran after her and managed to catch up with her when she paused in the courtyard to catch her breath. “Why did you leave,” he asked.

“Because!” Looking up at the stars, she inhaled a bracing breath before looking over at Much. “I don’t understand how you could like Meg!”

Could it be? Did Archer’s plan work? Much’s heart quickened with the possibility.

“Meg is a friend,” he argued. “We are all trying to help her avoid an arranged marriage.”

“Well, you don’t have to act like you like her!”

“I do like her!”

Kate lashed out and slapped him across the face. They stared at each other in the aftermath as the silence stretched around the two of them. Much was the one to finally speak first.

“Meg’s not your enemy, Kate,” Much said quietly. “She did nothing to you.”

“She sided with Gisborne at every turn!”

Much simply shrugged. “We can’t help who we love.”

“What are you saying?”

He might as well come out and confess his feelings. “I’m saying that I love you, Kate. I always have.”

Shaking her head, she turned away. “No, you don’t.”

“I do, but I saw how you looked at Robin. As much as I hated it, I stood aside and let you two be together. Now that he’s gone-”

Kate turned around and let Much see the tears on her cheeks. “No.”

Much shook his head. “What?”

“No, I can’t marry you.”

“I never even asked you yet!”

“But you were going to!”

“Well, it would solve a lot of problems.”

“My baby is not a problem!”

“I never said it was!” Much looked at her with disappointment and disbelief. “How could you think that of me?”

“I-”

“I loved Robin,” Much insisted. “He was my only family and I’ll always be there for his child.”

Kate sighed, feeling her temper cool, but her emotions were still running high. “I know you will, Much,” she said passed the lump in her throat. “I just don’t see us as husband and wife! We’re friends!”

“Maybe you can’t see it now, but you will be able to when we are living together for a time.”

Kate felt another tear slide down her cheek. “No, I won’t.”

Much stared at Kate and saw the truth of her words. She was rejecting him before he even had time to ask her the question. Numb, Much backed away from her. When she reached out to him, he yanked away shaking his head.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Much, I’m so sorry! Please, don’t let this came between us.”

“How can it not?” Swallowing, he turned his back on her and left Kate standing alone in the courtyard.

Stomping her foot, Kate wiped angrily at the tears streaming down her face. She did not want to lose Much as a friend. How could she marry him though? How could she deprive him of any chance of real happiness? Kate knew she would never love him the way he deserved. She just didn’t want to see him with Meg!

Heading back inside toward the hall, she hoped to find Archer and beg for an escort home. The hour was late, but she didn’t want to spend the night in the castle. Gathering her composure, she hoped it wasn’t too obvious she was crying.

****

“You throw quite a party, Gisborne,” Prince John pleasantly as he entered the largest room in the castle. Of course, Guy, as sheriff, would have normal use of the space, but now he was giving way to the prince.

Sitting before the roaring fire, the prince put his feet up and motioned for Guy to sit.

“I’m pleased you enjoyed yourself, Sire.”

“And that Lady Meg! She is a treasure!”

Guy couldn’t conceal his surprise. Prince John danced with her once, but obviously Meg made an impression. The question was, what sort of impression.

“Why the long look, Gisborne? You don’t agree?”

“I agree,” he said. “Meg has a very kind heart.”

“She is also very beautiful,” Prince John mused.

Guy nodded again. “She is.”

“Why don’t you marry her?”

Lord knows, he thought about it. Guy did not like the spectacle of Much dancing with Meg this evening. Worse yet was the sight of her with Archer. He aimed to have another chat with his brother, but in the meantime, he had to make sure the prince didn’t become attached to Meg.

“Sire?”

“Meg Bennett,” Prince John repeated. “She is of noble blood. She would assist you quite well. Of course, her strong spirit would need to be tamed a little. I’m sure you can handle it though.”

“Sire, with all due respect, I know I should not marry.”

“Well, I think Meg deserves a proper home,” he argued. “I could have her marry that Archer. They looked well together.”

Guy resisted the urge to smash his fist against the table. “Archer would not treat her well.”

The prince chuckled. “You will say such of your own brother?”

“He is too new to his status and responsibilities.”

“All the more reason for him to have a noble wife.”

Biting his tongue to keep from snapping out a nasty retort, Guy remembered he could not argue with Prince John about Meg. Having her marry another would tear him apart, but at least she would have a chance to be loved as she deserved.

Watching Gisborne carefully, Prince John was genuinely amused. The man wanted to strangle someone at the very idea of Meg and Archer together. Delightful! He was starting to remember all the reasons he warmed up to Gisborne in the first place.

“I’ve also been approached by Edward Hartwood,” the prince said in a casual tone. “What can you tell me about him?”

“Hartwood? He rules over Nettlestone. Has for a few decades now.” Guy shifted in his chair. “He’s not overly harsh, but he does enjoy his pomp and circumstance.”

“Oh, who doesn’t,” the prince laughed.

“Well, he doesn’t seem to care overmuch about anything except his clothes and his food.”

The prince’s laughter echoes of the walls. “You are wicked! Yet, I did see him looking at Lady Meg a great deal this evening. I think you can count lust among his vices.”

Guy did not like hearing his suspicions affirmed. Hartwood could be a problem, so he would have to tread carefully.

“I’m pleased with your service, but I think I’ll extend my stay. London reminds me too much of Richard.”

Guy nodded. “Of course, Sire. You are always welcome.”

Guy sounded accommodating, but the truth was he knew the prince was lingering just to cause mischief. He would have to grow an eye in the back of his head until the prince did retreat back to London.

“Think about what I said, Gisborne. I doubt a woman like Meg Bennett will stay available for long.”

Dismissed, Guy got to his feet and made a formal bow before heading to the door. Restless, he ventured up to the parapets to look up at the night sky. Prince John as going to push him toward Meg and there may be nothing he could do to stop him.

Would he feel less guilty if Meg was forced on him rather than him making a conscious choice? Either way, Guy did not want Prince John lingering in Nottingham. What he needed was to find a way to prevent most of the damage while simultaneously making sure the prince remained happy so he would not revoke his declaration about the taxes. Being sheriff was more involved than he originally anticipated.

“Wakeful?”

Hearing he voice, Guy turned to see Tuck moving out of the shadows. Night was the perfect camouflage for him. Guy shrugged as the monk moved to his side. “I just have a lot on my mind.”

“How is the prince,” Tuck asked.

“So pleased with Nottingham he is extending his stay.”

“Really?” Tuck frowned. “For how long?”

“He didn’t say.” Guy shook his head. “One assumes it will be until he decides he is bored.”

“Did he mention King Richard or the ransom?”

“No. I doubt he will.”

“Yes, the prince would be happy to let his brother live out the rest of his days on exile.”

“I’m sure the king is being kept appraised of events.”

Tuck feared Prince John’s hold on London and the nobles was getting stronger. The people were tired of an absent king, but he preferred an honorable absent king to a selfish prince. If the prince did ascend the throne, then he would only think of himself and the people be damned. England could not afford to be vulnerable to his enemies.

“Did the prince speak of anything else?”

Suppressing a sigh, he looked sideways at the monk. “I doubt he will withdrawal his pledge on the taxes. We are financially sound. For now. We will need to collect more, gradually, if we hope to keep up, however.”

“If it’s a little at a time, the people may not mind as much.”

“The castle will be an ongoing expense.”

“What if we asked the crown for the funds?”

Guy scoffed at the suggestion. “I doubt the prince will be that generous with us.”

“I mean King Richard,” Tuck clarified. “He may be willing to help us.”

“He doesn’t even have the funds on hand to pay own ransom!” Guy pinched the bridge of his nose.

“But he may have enough for a castle,” Tuck countered.

“And why would he help us?”

“He loved Robin,” Tuck reasoned. “He must appreciate his sacrifice.”

Shaking his head, Guy wasn’t sure how to get Tuck off this subject. “King Richard already showed us appreciation when he promoted the lot of us. As far as he is concerned, the matter is closed.”

Tuck stubbornly shook his head. “I refuse to believe it.”

As much as he wanted to laugh of Tuck’s naiveté, Guy knew he couldn’t afford to make hard feelings at this point. Tuck would soon learn the truth of the situation.

“I’ll write to him anyway,” Tuck stated. “He may come through yet.”

“In the meantime, we need to have an alternate plan,” Guy sighed. “The money needs to come from somewhere.”

“Like the people?”

Guy shook his head. “We need everyone to pitch in and help rebuild the castle. I know there is more money out there then we are led to believe.”

Tuck stared at him for a long moment. “What makes you say that?”

“If Robin did give away everything he stole, then that money is out there.”

“So your solution is to take it back?”

“Not by force,” Guy clarified. “And not all at once. Prince John granted us a reprieve, but we need to think long term if we are to remain solvent. We can’t expect charity forever.”

Opening his mouth, Tuck wanted to argue the point, but he soon realized the wisdom of Guy’s words. However, there was one angle he was not seeing clearly.

“Guy, the people don’t know how to be fugal with what Robin gave them. They would spend it on food and clothing. They always assumed Robin would be around to give them more.”

“Not all of them were even that responsible,” Guy argued. “A lot of them would spend the money on frivolous things. An extra piece of jewelry or a new dagger.”

“True,” Tuck admitted. “You would take their possessions?”

Shaking his head, Guy let out a long breath. “No. I would look at the merchants making the profits and see if we could find a way to get a cut.”

Sighing, Tuck looked up at the moon. They were caught between a rock and a hard place. The castle must be finished as a matter of defense. The money needed to come from one source or another. If King Richard didn’t support them, Tuck was afraid they would have to start making some tough decisions. Guy, despite all his faults, was willing to see the truth of the situation.

“I will write to the king,” Tuck said before taking his leave.

Let him try, Guy thought. He still needed to find alternate ways to get the coins for the construction. He was sheriff, so the matter fell on his shoulders.

Chapter Text

Meg woke up feeling warm and safe. The reason she felt so well was because she dreamt of Guy. Meg saw them entwined in a lover’s embrace. Guy held her and made her feel loved and cherished.

She didn’t want to wake, but the crow of the rooster would not be denied. Anne soon came in to help her dress, so she really had no excuses. Selecting a dark brown dress, Meg was not planning on doing anything fancy today. She had to work to make sure meals and entertainment of the highest order was supplied for the prince. She did not want to ruin a nice gown when she got her hands dirty.

Yawning, she walked over to the window and looked at the guards and servants wandering about doing their duties. Not a noble in sight, she mused. Suddenly, a familiar face caught her eyes. Meg’s breath caught in her throat as she watched the sheriff talking to the guards.

As usual, he wore all black. His dark hair was loose around his shoulders, but those pale blue eyes made a handsome contrast. Riveted, Meg couldn’t tear her gaze away from him. Yearning filled her breast despite her best efforts to remember Guy was stubbornly keeping her at a distance.

Moments later, Guy looked up and spotted her. Their gazes held as Meg felt her breath hitch. Managing to give him a smile, she started to hope…

Guy bowed toward her before turning and walking out of the courtyard. Heart sinking, Meg reasoned Guy was busy and couldn’t spare her much time. The best way to battle her disappointment was to keep busy as well.

The cook had a temper this morning. The castle stores were low, so they could not afford to prepare lavish meals for the prince every day. Meg knew they didn’t have much choice. Giving the cook what money she possessed, she told him to buy more food. She exchanged a look with Anne before moving to inspect the food stores with her own eyes.

To her dismay, the cook was right about the supply. Still, she made a record of all the food in the pantry. Accompanying the cook to market, Meg hoped to get an idea of prices so she could estimate what would be affordable and manageable for the castle household to bear. Meg knew people were restless with the prince in residence, but she still needed to make sure no one took advantage of the situation.

There were also a lot of people in this castle who were weary of Guy. Some still hated him. They wouldn’t think twice about cheating him and claiming it as their due. She was getting the impression the cook was one of the latter based on his conversation while they moved from stall to stall.

On the way back to the kitchens, Meg discovered the reason the cook hated Guy.

“You should not get close to the sheriff,” the man warned.

Meg kept her expression neutral. “Why not?”

“He’s a cad,” the cook spat.

“Guy isn’t the same man he used to be,” Meg stated gently. “The good Lord talks about redemption and forgiveness.”

Cook laughed bitterly. “You call him by his Christian name! You sound like her!”

Meg blinked in confusion. “Her?”

“One of my kitchen maids from a few years back. She said the same things. She fell for the devil’s sweet words and insisted there was another side to Gisborne. Foolish girl.”

Guy and a kitchen maid? Meg’s heart pounded hard in her chest. She knew about his love for Marian. Everyone knew about Marian. Meg wasn’t so naïve as to think dalliances between nobles and servants never happened, but did Guy feel any true affection for this kitchen maid?

As much as her heart sank at the possibility, Meg’s curiosity was still badgering her to get more details. In the end, she just couldn’t leave well enough alone

“Why was she foolish?”

The cook scoffed. “She believed his lies. He said he would marry her, so she would lay with him. He never did keep his word. Not even after she bore his child. I bet he was hoping they would both die in the birthing bed and his problem would be solved.”

The pure hatred and bitterness in the man’s voice was understandable. There were men out there in the world who did such horrible things all the time, but Guy? Meg knew he did some very awful things before she met him. She knew and she thought she accepted that part of him, but this story was shocking.

“Did they die,” she managed to ask.

“No,” he answered. “They were both well. Needless to say, Gisborne didn’t want his bastard child around as a reminder of his sins. He said he would take the child to a neighboring abbey where he could be looked after and given a good life.”

“Well, that was generous of him,” Meg defended. “A lot of men don’t do so much.”

Scoffing, the cook gave her a harsh stare. “Only Gisborne never took the child to the abbey! He left it out to in the woods to die! The baby certainly would have if Robin Hood had not found him. Hood was the one to reunite mother and son and take them to a new estate here they could have a decent life. Lady Marian’s influence made it possible. At least it was always my guess.”

Meg felt suddenly lightheaded. “Lady Marian knew of it?”

“Yes,” the cook nodded. “She helped Robin with the whole thing.”

“Guy really left his own child to die?” Meg couldn’t fathom him doing something so…cruel.

“That’s the sort of man we have as out new sheriff now,” Cook spat.

Meg stubbornly refused to think Guy was so horrible. Cook must be mistaken about some part of the tale. “You don’t think he has changed,” she dared ask. “I mean, Robin Hood did accept him.”

“Do devils become angels, Lady Meg? They are damned.”

“Don’t you believe in redemption?”

“For Guy of Gisborne? I’ll believe it when I see a pig fly! Right now, all I can tell is he is entertaining Prince John! And we have to bow and scrape and make fine food while we are wondering where our next meal will come from! Robin Hood would be rolling over in his grave!”

Stunned, Meg paused at the threshold to watch the servants take the freshly purchased food to the stores. Her mind kept wandering back to the story of the kitchen maid and she couldn’t help but wonder if the old Guy was capable of doing something so heinous. Could he really have been so cold that he did not feel anything for his own child? Was he so heartless he could just have let the baby die?

“Lady Meg!”

The call of one of the maids distracted her from her thoughts. Moving forward to catalog the supplies, she was able to put all of her confusion in the back of her mind and focus on her work. Meg wanted to help scrub the floors and prepare daily menus and hang laundry. Working kept her from worrying about Guy or her father or her future.

When they first met, she saw a glimpse of good in him. When they fought Isabella and the old sheriff, she saw his nobility. Meg knew Guy was trying to make up for his past. Forgiving him meant forgiving all his faults. Guy may have done awful things, but killing Marian opened his eyes. What truly mattered now was he was on the right path. Wasn’t it?

Rounding a corner, she nearly collided with someone and gasped. Recognizing her father, her words of apology died on her lips. Meg tried to move around him, but Joseph refused to let her pass. In fact, the man looked down his nose at his daughter. “You look filthy.”

“I have work to do,” she said.

Joseph grabbed her arm in an iron grip. “You will go to your chambers and you will change and wash. I have arranged a luncheon with Lord Hartwood and the sheriff. I’ll not have you looking like a common serf! I want you in the hall in an hour looking like the noble lady you are!”

Anger fused her throat closed, but her eyes properly communicated her disdain. Ignoring her temper, Joseph walked away without a backwards glance. How dare he order her about as if she didn’t have her own mind!

Furious, Meg marched to her chambers, slamming the door. Tears threatened, but she refused to shed them. Even after all she learned today, Meg still wanted to look beautiful for the sheriff. Part of her was still applauded by what she learned, but the other part of her was guilty for not having more faith in his ability to truly change. How many times did she swear – to him and to herself – that she was his friend? How much of a friend would she be if she was so easily raddled by his past?

Opening her wardrobe, Meg’s eyes searched the contents. Pulling out all of her dresses, she wasn’t satisfied with a single one. Sighing, she raked a hand through her hair and tried to stay calm. Pleasing Hartwood was the last thing she wanted. Selecting a drab grey dress, she decided to look presentable, but not extraordinary. Meg did not want to give Hartwood any indication that she favored him in any way.

Heading for the main hall, she entered to see only her father and Lord Hartwood. She very nearly bolted, but her father said Guy was running late. Taking her seat, Meg felt uncomfortable being alone with these two and having Hartwood seated directly across from her at the table. He didn’t even try to hide the fact he was openly staring at her bosom!

As the meal was served, Meg found it difficult to keep up the conversation as she picked at her food and continuously glanced at the door hoping Guy would appear. Listening to Hartwood go on and on about how the prince favored Nottingham was giving her a headache. All she could think about was Guy and the story of his baby.

“You are awfully quiet, Lady Meg,” Hartwood said.

“Don’t you prefer women to be such?” The question was meant to be sarcastic, but Hartwood chuckled as if she made a jest.

“Come now, we do not bite.”

Judging by the look in his eyes, Meg was sure he was lying. Hartwood was a predator and he wouldn’t hesitate to use his teeth.

“What do you think of the prince,” he asked as he cut his meat. “He danced very well with you last evening.”

Knowing she needed to be diplomatic, Meg kept her tone neutral, knowing she could never share her true opinions at this table. “The prince is a good dancer.”

At least that much was true. Any words she said here could very well be used against her later. Hearing the door open, Meg’s eyes quickly moved to see who joined them. The sight of Guy sent waves of relief rushing down her spine.

“I apologize for my lateness,” Guy said as he entered the hall. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Not at all,” Joseph said. Walking to the head of the table, Guy saw the angry look on Hartwood’s face and the relived one on Meg’s. Clearly, he arrived at just the right time. Taking his seat, he waited until after the servants filled his plate to speak.

“Did I interrupt lively conversation?”

“We were just discussing Prince John,” Joseph stated. “We hear rumors he is extending his visit.”

Guy gave a slight nod. “His Majesty wishes to see the plans for the castle.”

“They are just that, aren’t they, Gisborne,” Hartwood prodded. “The truth is that you are running out of funds.”

Meeting Hartwood’s gaze head on, Guy refused to be intimidated. “We will find the money,” he stated with confidence.

“How?”

A dark smile curved Guy’s lips as he studied Hartwood. “I’ll levy a new tax on the nobility if I have to.”

“How dare you,” Hartwood spurted. “Prince John spared us the taxes! Then here you come wanting to take our money anyway! Devil!”

Guy didn’t let the outburst get to him. “I’ve been called worse. The fact of the matter is that the city needs a fortress for security and protection. Rebuilding it is the responsibility of all who live here. If you prefer not to have a castle, Lord Hartwood, that is fine. Just do not expect my protection when there is trouble.”

“I will not pay you more taxes!”

“Suit yourself,” Guy shrugged.

Throwing down his napkin, Hartwood got to his feet. His cheeks turned a deep shade of crimson as he roared at the sheriff. “I refuse to listen to this nonsense!”

Joseph looked to Guy to see what he was going to do. Meg was just glad someone was standing up to Hartwood. When Guy continued to stare the man down, Hartwood stomped his foot and marched out of the hall. Silence swarmed in the man’s wake. Joseph wasn’t as comfortable as Guy and Meg, so he cleared his throat to speak.

“Does Prince John know of your taxation plan?”

“I’m not sure they’ll be a tax,” Guy said casually. “I was just testing his loyalty. As you say, I have favor with the prince.”

In that moment, Joseph Bennett realized just how dangerous Guy of Gisborne could be if forced. The warning in his eyes was also abundantly clear. Guy would crush his enemies without a second thought. Those who thought he was weaker because he walked a path of redemption were clearly mistaken.

In Joseph’s eyes, having Guy for an ally would be to his benefit. Hartwood was easily disposable. The sheriff was not.

Looking to his daughter, he studied the way she looked at Gisborne. There was possibility there. A very strong possibility.

Chapter Text

For the second night in a row, the same people gathered in the main hall to dine with the heir to the throne of England. Thankfully, Prince John was having a good time judging by his laughter after the juggling performance. This time around, those seated at the dais were not as cheerful.

Kate looked pale and uncertain. Much just looked depressed. Archer scowled in anger and Little John was upset to be in the middle of it all. For her part, Meg hated see Much so miserable.

“What’s wrong,” she asked him.

“Nothing,” Much said too quickly. Reaching for his goblet of wine, he downed the contents with a grimace.

“Much,” she said gently. “I know something is wrong. I am your friend. Maybe I can help.”

“Can you make Kate fall in love with me? Because that’s the only thing that will help.”

Ah, so that was the way the wind blew. Meg knew how it felt to care for someone who didn’t care back. “I cannot,” she said softly. “No one can force love.”

“I know she may not love me now,” he continued. “But I think if we spent time together maybe something deeper could form.”

“She’s lucky to have you as a protector, Much,” Meg assured him.

“Kate thinks I fell for her because of Robin,” he said as he signaled for more wine. “It’s not true. And I have had my share of heartaches.”

Waiting until the wine was poured, Meg caught his eye. “You are a kind man, Much. You have so many people depending on you now that you are an earl and you are doing a wonderful job. A woman would be lucky to have you.”

Managed a small smile for her benefit, Much took another sip of wine. “You are kind, Meg. If I didn’t already know how you felt about Guy, I might be persuaded to pursue you.”

Now she was the one to smile. “The right woman is out there. Don’t give up hope.”

“I thought I met the right one once. Her name was Eve. Oh, she was lovely. She worked for the old sheriff, though. When she helped me, he had her killed. I couldn’t save her.”

Gasping at the story, Meg reached out to put her hand over his. “I’m so sorry.”

“I didn’t think there would be another like her,” Much continued.

“Then I met Kate. She’s brave and vivacious. I couldn’t help but fall in love.”

Looking down at his plate, he sighed. “Robin was always the lady’s man. He could always win them over and charm them with fancy words. Even Marian who despised him ended up falling in love with him.”

Meg sympathized. “It’s natural to be jealous.”

“No,” Much shook his head. “I never was. I laughed him off. His ways never bothered me. Not until Kate.”

Wishing there was a way to help Much, Meg knew there were no magic words to make his pain go away. Time may be the only thing that could heal his wound. Time or another woman.

Seeing Archer rise from his seat to exit the hall caused Meg to frown. “Why is he so angry?”

“Because he pushed me toward Kate, and she toward me, and it didn’t work.”

Nodding, Meg fully understood. Archer wanted Kate married and her child out of the way so his own holdings would not be threatened. Remembering the story of another baby, Meg gave Much a forceful look.

“You don’t think Archer will do anything drastic, do you?”

“Why should he?”

“He likes being an earl.”

“I don’t think Archer is capable of foul deeds. Lying and scheming, yes, but nothing worse.”

“Those tricks can do the same amount of damage sometimes,” she said.

Much shrugged. “So far, he has only meddled and unsuccessfully.”

“Much,” Meg asked nervously, her mouth going dry. Licking her lips, she found the courage to force out the words. “Did Guy have a son?”

His brows rose at the question. “Who told you that?”

“The cook.”

“What did he say about it?”

“That Guy tried to kill his child, but Robin saved him.” Looking around the hall nervously Much wasn’t sure what to say. He knew how Meg felt about Guy, and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but at the same time, he knew she should know the truth. “Now is not the time to discuss it.”

Blinking is disbelief, she stared at Much. “Will you tell me anything?”

“Tomorrow,” he whispered. “I’ll call on you.”

Nodding, she watched Much get to his feet. Like Archer, he left the hall looking less than happy. Feeling awkward, Meg picked at her food and drank her wine.

An odd sensation crept down her spine, causing her to look over and see her father, and then she noticed Hartwood looking at her. One gave her a look of disapproval while the other a look of lust. Needing air and some peace, Meg wanted nothing more than to leave the hall. Unfortunately, before she could make an escape, Prince John came over and demanded a dance. Unable to refuse, she accepted his hand and went down to the center of the room to where other couples were moved to the music.

The moment Prince John started spinning her, she felt awfully dizzy. When the dance ended, she made her low curtsey and swiftly made her way out of the hall. Feeling the cool night air on her cheeks was euphoric. Moving farther into the moonlight, she looked up at the stars and almost felt like her old self.

“How fortunate that we are out here together.”

Gasping at the first sound of his voice, Meg whirled around to see Lord Hartwood blocking the path back into the castle. Trying to remain calm, Meg kept the distance between them measureable.

“My lord, I was just overheated. I’m sure the prince will be missing me.”

“Ah, yes.” Hartwood’s eyes narrowed accusingly at her. “You are quite a flirt.”

Blinking in confusion, she shook her head wondering why this man would say such things. “Pardon?”

Hartwood leered as he stepped closer. “Spinning around with Prince John and letting us all see your body move.” Hartwood looked Meg up and down, letting his eyes linger on her bosom as he licked his lips. “You are playing with our hearts.”

A cold chill of trepidation slid down her back. Meg wanted to get away from him. Now. “I was doing no such thing,” Meg insisted as her eyes darted around seeking an escape. “I could not refuse the prince!”

“You are here to taunt me!”

Shaking her head, Meg’s fear rose in her chest at an alarming rate. The only way back into the hall was through the archway Hartwood was currently blocking. She was trapped. “I have done nothing to you!”

Hartwood’s sneer deepened as he drew closer. “You tease me with your body and your laughter!”

Charging forward, Hartwood meant to grab Meg, but she was able to dodge his seeking hands. The chase only made him laugh. As hard as she tried, Hartwood kept blocking her escape and Meg got the impression he was toying with her. His smile turned sinister.

“You see?”

Eyes widening, Meg dashed away trying to make her way to the door. Hartwood knew where she wanted to go, so he manipulated her movements. Meg evaded him again and again but she was tiring and he knew it. Just as he managed to snag the sleeve of her gown, Meg realized he liked this game of cat and mouse. As his hands got a good grip in her arm, she felt panic flush her blood. Kicking out at his knee, Hartwood yelped and Meg pulled away. Hearing the sound of tearing fabric, she was happy to sacrifice her sleeve if it meant staying away from him.

Her fear doubled when she realized she was still confined. Hoping she could outrun him, Meg was not prepared when Hartwood ran forward with a burst of energy that belied his heavy panting. Charging, Hartwood knew what he was doing. Meg struggled to be free of his grip, but he used the full force of his weight to knock her to the ground. Crying out from the pain of the impact, Meg struggled to get up, but something was holding her down. No, it was Hartwood who was on top of her!

He was pressing heavily down on her body, trying to secure her flailing arms. Instinct took over and Meg screamed at the top of her lungs as she continued to fight for her freedom. Hartwood slapped her hard across the cheek, looming over her, allowing her to see his intent. Meg screamed harder, despite the additional slaps.

Kicking out, she managed to land a few blows, but he was overpowering her efforts. His fist made contact with her cheek, making pain explode behind her eyes. Suddenly, his weight was gone. Blinking, Meg’s breathing was rapid and unsteady as she looked up to see Hartwood being beaten to the ground by a tall shadow.

“She wanted it,” Hartwood cried. “She was begging me!”

“You’re a pig! Don’t you dare touch her again! Ever!”

Rising on shaking legs, Meg recognized that deep baritone. She would know it anywhere. Relief flooded her veins when Hartwood cowered on the ground under Guy’s boot. Spitting in the man’s face, Guy turned to look at Meg. An instant later he was by her side.

“Did he hurt you?”

“I’m fine,” she managed to say passed the lump in her throat. Struggling to hold back tears, she wanted to fall into Guy’s arms and have him hold her tight until all her fear evaporated.

Seeing the red marks on her face, knowing there would be bruising, he knew she was lying. Meg’s body was shaking like a leaf in the wind. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he guided Meg back into the castle. Feeling her grip his arms tightly to keep her balance, he looked down to see her shiver, but determination shined in her eyes.

For her fear alone, Guy could kill Hartwood! Guy knew he did some horrible things in his life, but he never forced himself on a woman. As far as he was concerned, Hartwood could burn at the stake!

Helping Meg back to her chambers and to a chair before the fire, he saw the wet tears she was trying to hold back silently stream down her cheeks. Holding her close, he knelt before her chair to better rock her as his fingers smoothed through her hair.

“You’re safe now, Meg,” he whispered.

Holding him tight, Meg closed her eyes and let her tears come. “He followed me,” she whispered shakily.

“I know,” Guy said softly. “But you are safe now.”

“Thank you,” she trembled. Pulling back, she met his gaze. “Guy, I’m-”

“Shh,” he put a finger to her lips. “I will always protect you, Meg. Always.”

Hugging him again, Meg wanted to feel warm and comforted and right now Guy was the only person who could sooth her fear. She did feel protected. As long as she was with Guy, Meg knew she would always be safe.

When he started to pull away, she held on tighter. “No,” she murmured.

“I have to get back to the prince,” he gently whispered as he untangled from her arms.

Guy wanted to get lost in her touch and scent and flesh, but knew now was not the time. Besides, once he fell, there would be no going back. After what she just endured, Meg did not need his attentions.

“Rest,” he urged. “I’ll have a guard outside your door.”

Wrapping her arms around his waist for another hug, Meg knew she couldn’t make him stay. She could beg, but he would leave her, so she took a few more moments to gather her composure before walking him to the door.

Returning to her chair to stare at the flames, Meg let all of the tears fall. Guy saved her, but she had a feeling Hartwood would not let her be. Remembering the look in his eyes sent a fresh wave of fear down between her shoulder blades. No matter how close she moved to the fire, she still felt cold. Somehow, Meg changed for bed and snuggled beneath the covers hoping to rid her mind of the memories. Unfortunately, the night was not kind.

****

Learning from the guards Lord Hartwood fled the castle tonight, heading for his estate; Guy was very tempted to give chase. Unfortunately, he could not leave the castle and risk Prince John’s wrath. Hartwood would feel more of his retribution, but not tonight.

Heading back to the hall, he reclaimed his seat and watched the rest of the festivities.

“Was there trouble, Gisborne?”

Turning to look at the prince, he shook his head. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

Amused, the prince laughed. “I was wrong to underestimate you. I would have guessed Isabella would have been the one creative enough to protect her position. All this time, it was you who came out on top. You beat them all. Isabella, Vaisey, Robin Hood! He always thought he had the upper hand, didn’t he, Gisborne?”

“He usually did,” Guy grumbled.

Prince John scoffed. “Don’t look so crestfallen,” he commanded. “We should be celebrating! You have triumphed! We have triumphed!”

Guy didn’t feel like he was a champion of anything. When he saw Isabella married all those years ago, he used the money to return to England and he did feel accomplished the moment he was back in Nottingham. Becoming a squire made him feel like he was on the right path. Meeting Vaisey, the man seemed larger than life. Guy absorbed he man’s every word. He never wanted to be taken advantage of again. Guy would not be homeless or go hungry.

By the time Vaisey took over Nottingham, Guy was used to stepping on others to get what he wanted. He finally became Lord of Locksley, which was a perfect revenge for what happened to his family. Then Robin returned and everything was ruined.

Too late, Guy learned so many truths. Every day he woke up and mourned Marian. Making up for her death would be nearly impossible, but he was willing to try. There was a lot he had to atone for and Gut knew being sheriff would give him the opportunity to improve the lives of the people in the county.

Eventually, the celebration ended and Guy sought his own makeshift bed. Unable to sleep, he thought of his mother and how unfair her death was for all of them. He thought of Isabella and wished he wasn’t blinded by the money Thornton offered. Guy thought of Marian. Fool that he was, Guy wished he would have been smart enough to see through her deceptions sooner. Finally, his thoughts turned to Meg. She was everything he ever wanted. Fate would be so cruel to put Meg in his path at a time when he knew he couldn’t have her.

Remembering the moment the guards threw her into the cell next to him, he didn’t realize his life was forever changed. Meg was feisty and beautiful. She annoyed the hell out of him, but by the time the night was over, they developed an unbreakable connection.

For Meg, he wanted to be a better man. He wanted to be worthy of her even if he could never have her. Meg was the only one in this world who was loyal to him. In turn, he would forever be loyal to her. The cost may be heavy, but he would pay it.

Chapter Text

“You’re being a fool!”

“I don’t need to hear that from you!”

Archer crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his brother. “The last thing we need is to have a vendetta on our hands on top of everything else!”

“Hartwood tried to hurt Meg! What would you do?”

“I would wait.”

Scoffing, Guy couldn’t believe what he was hearing! Was Archer really so heartless? Gritting his teeth, he was not the type of man to back down. Remembering the fear in Meg’s eyes, Guy did not want to let Hartwood think he could get away with such a crime.

“We need to see if Prince John will give us any funds for the castle,” Archer continued.

“Damn the castle!” Guy did not want to think about politics right now! “If we ask the prince for funds after he granted a reprieve on the taxes he’ll think we can be bought! No! We’ll find another way!”

“The people are not going to like paying more taxes,” Archer warned.

“Tough! People never like taxes, but they are a way of life!” Guy was not in the mood to hold anyone’s hand on the subject. “We need the castle! The people need the castle! It’s not as if we will use the money to buy wine and fancy clothes!”

“Yet we have done just that with the Prince!”

“And the money is coming out of my pocket!”

Archer shook his head. Being a noble and a brother was all new to him, but he thought Guy was being selfish where Hartwood was concerned. They did to need any more trouble while Prince John was in residence.

“And what happens after you kill Hartwood?”

Guy met his brother’s gaze with a ruthless gleam sparkling in his eyes. “I have no intention of killing him.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

A laugh erupted out of his throat. “If you keep secrets from me, how can I help you?”

“I don’t need help,” Guy insisted.

“Whoa,” Archer snapped. “We’re in this together! Didn’t we say that when we agreed to accept King Richard’s offer? You can’t go and do something that will jeopardize all our hard work!”

Our hard work?” Guy blinked before his eyes narrowed. “What have you done except enjoy the benefits of being Earl of Huntingdon and dining in the Great Hall?!”

Archer didn’t hesitate to get in his brother’s face. “Don’t tell me I haven’t down anything! I’ve defended you to all of these people!”

“I never asked you to do that!”

“I’ve been loyal to you!”

He did not want to fight with Archer, but Guy was not going to listen to reason about Hartwood. “Hartwood needs to be punished,” he said through clenched teeth.

“And I’ll help you,” Archer argued. “After Prince John goes back to London!”

As much as Guy heated to admit it, Archer did have a point. He did not want to risk Hartwood running to the prince with his grievances, even if Hartwood was as guilty as sin. Guy did not want to have to make any explanations. Reluctantly, he gave his brother a nod.

Satisfied, Archer released a breath. “Did the prince mention how long he was going to stay?”

“I’m not sure,” Guy confessed. “I’m beginning to grow weary of him.”

“And of spending money, no doubt.”

Not commenting, Guy moved to the door. “I’m going to check on Meg.”

“She’s at Bonchurch.”

Guy stopped dead in his tracks. “What?” He stared at his brother. “Much has Meg?”

Archer sighed. He shouldn’t have said anything, but the words just slipped out. “He invited her to his home for dinner. Tuck and John went with her.”

“Good.” Guy wasn’t happy of her absence, but at least he knew she would be protected. “Why didn’t you join them?”

Laughing without humor, Archer wasn’t sure what to say. “Much and I are fighting.”

“About what?”

“Kate,” he sighed.

Guy should have known. “What happened?”

“I made some suggestions about how he could woo her. They didn’t work. He pushed her too fast and Kate rejected him.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised to hear it. Kate is still mourning Robin. She won’t move on so quickly.”

Should he tell Guy the whole truth? As sheriff, he already agreed to Much’s request for a marriage contract. Would he be an ally to his own cause or would his brother choose Much’s side?

“There is another consideration,” Archer confessed.

Guy lifted a brow. “Which is?”

“Kate is pregnant with Robin’s child.”

The news was surprising. Guy had no idea what to say. The pieces were staring to fit together. Giving his brother a harsh stare, Guy had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“If the child is a boy, then he would inherit Locksley,” Guy stated.

“The child is a bastard,” Archer argued.

“So are you,” Guy pointed out.

“Thanks for that.”

“If Kate peruses the issue-”

“I know,” Archer snapped.

“There is a solution,” Guy said.

Archer gave his brother a sarcastic look. “Oh, really?”

“Invite Kate to live with you and claim the baby as your ward.”

“I don’t want Kate!”

Guy blinked at the outburst. “Who said anything about having her?”

“How could I explain her presence in my house?”

“Housemaid,” Guy shrugged. “If Kate has a comfortable home, knows her child will be cared for, she’ll see you as an ally instead of competition for a title. If the child is a girl, then you’ll be safe. You may have to pay her dowry when she is of age, but that shouldn’t be a burden.”

There was merit in the idea. Archer has to give his brother that much credit. A lop-sided grin came to his face. “You do have a way with people. Maybe you are good with politics after all.”

Laughing, Guy shook his head. “I’m good at scheming.”

“Same difference,” Archer shrugged. "Much has the sympathy of everyone else because he is in love with Kate. They’ll all see me as the villain if Kate accepts the offer.”

“It’s not up to everyone else.” Shaking his head, Guy didn’t understand why is brother wanted to please so many at once. “If Kate doesn’t love Much, then she doesn’t. No one can force a woman to love them back.”

Archer wasn’t sure which his brother was talking about: Marian or Meg. He wanted to ask, but followed his gut and kept silent. Prying wasn’t going to help matters.

“Much is angry with me and nursing a broken heart,” Archer continued. “The downfall will be a big mess.”

“Much will live,” Guy snapped. “He’ll find someone else.”

Even as he said the words, Guy wasn’t sure they were true. Sometimes there was no way a man could get a woman out of his veins no matter how hard he tried to purge her from his heart. Part of him would always have affection for Marian. Guy doubted that fact would ever change. At the same time, Meg was slowly filling the void left in his soul. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to deal with her yet, but the truth wouldn’t be ignored forever.

“Do you really think Kate will want to be my maid,” Archer asked.

“You can ask,” Guy shrugged.

“I’ll do that.” Archer didn’t have anything to lose at this point.

In Archer’s wake, Guy moved to the window and looked out at the pile of stones waiting to be built into the castle. The workers weren’t there. Guy needed to find the money to pay them. Marrying Meg could provide a good deal of money.

Lately, he was finding it difficult to think of reasons not to marry her. He would have funds for the castle, Prince John would be satisfied, and Joseph Bennett’s threats would be neutralized. Fear was the only thing holding him in check. Guy was trying to walk the noble path. Meg deserved better. So much better.

****

Much was laughing with his friends and trying to forget all about Kate and Archer. After Kate’s rejection, Much fought with Archer and they actually came to blows. Being with Tuck, John, and Meg, he was hoping to forget all about his disappointments.

“I have plans to expand the house,” Much said. “Bonchurch will one day be a grand estate.”

“Grand,” Tuck laughed. “How long will this vision take?”

“Probably several years, but I need to stay occupied.”

“Because of Kate,” John asked.

Much’s smile faded a bit. “Because I take pride in my new position.”

“I’m sure you will do very well,” Meg added.

“Thank you.” Much smiled again and raided his cup in a toast. “To true friends.”

They echoed the sentiment and clicked their goblets together. Meg was amazed to be enjoying her time with Much. Being around all three of them made her feel better about life. Lord Hartwood haunted her dreams last night. She saw his face and smelled his stink and woke up shaking, her skin bathed in a cold sweat.

The last thing Meg wanted was to face Guy, or her father, or glimpse Hartwood among the nobles courting Prince John’s attention. Her shame and embarrassment had her accepting Much’s invitation. Instead of wallowing in the castle, she was laughing with friends and remembering what it felt like not to be scared.

In the back of her mind, Meg knew that she would have to face what happened, but in this moment, she just wanted to forget.

After the meal, she went out into the sunshine and tried to soak in the beautiful day. Much came out to meet her. Meg realized he saw a lot more than she gave him credit for.

“Something scared you,” he said.

Meg blinked in surprise. “What?”

“I saw it in your eyes this morning. I just want to tell you I am here for you. As a friend.”

“Much," she smiled. “You are a good man.”

“Just tell me it has nothing to do with Gisborne because if he hurt you, I’ll make him pay.”

Meg shook her head, resting her palm on his arm. “Guy actually…helped me.”

Much didn’t know what her words meant, but he accepted them. “You will always have a safe place here.”

“Thank you, Much,” Meg fought back tears. “Your friendship means a lot to me.”

He nodded. “I wish it did to others as well.”

Meg had a feeling she knew who he was referring to. “Kate,” she asked.

Much swallowed and nodded. “She refused me before I could even ask her,” he said with frustration.

“Maybe she just needs time. Losing Robin is still a fresh wound.”

“It is for all of us!” Much wasn’t sure where the outburst came from and raked his hand through his hair as he took in a calming breath. “I miss him too, but she needs protection before-” Much cut off and shook his head. He shouldn’t say another word.

“I know about the baby,” Meg said gently.

Shock splashed over Much’s expression. “You do? How?”

“I came across her that night we all dined at Archer’s. She swore me to secrecy, but you know too.”

“She’s a very stubborn woman,” Much sighed. “She told me, but I don’t want to force her into marriage. I wouldn’t force her at all, but maybe in time we could come to love one another.”

The hope in Much’s voice broke her heart. “I know you have the best of intentions, Much,” Meg started. “Kate is stubborn, so maybe she doesn’t want to marry at all, or maybe she needs more time to consider her situation. Whatever her reasons, you can’t do a lot to help her. I know how it feels to have someone you love push you away.”

A look of apology entered his eyes. “Guy of Gisborne doesn’t deserve you.”

“But I can’t just forget my feelings.”

Nodding, Much looked off into the distance. Biting her lower lip, Meg wondered if she should ask him about what was on her mind. Before she lost her courage, she asked about Guy and the baby. “Is the story true?”

Much wanted to lie to her. Of all people, Meg should be protected. At the same time, she needed to know the truth about the man she loved.

“Yes, it’s true.”

Chapter Text

Holding audiences, Prince John was eager to make friends with the nobles of Nottingham. The more loyal to him, all the better. When he took the throne, he did not want to feel like no one liked him. No, he would know who was truly in his corner and who wasn’t.

Joseph Bennett was eager to win favor. At first, Prince John was flattered and amused by the man. He loved being loved. At the same time, he could tell when nobles were trying to elevate their favor through flattery.

The man held a decent amount of land and he did have a considerable amount of wealth. In the end, what kept the prince’s interest was the fact Joseph was Meg’s father.

“Your daughter is lovely,” he complimented.

Joseph beamed. “Thank you, Sire.”

“She has plenty of beauty and spirit.”

“Yes, she does.”

“And yet you brought her before the last sheriff to try and force her to marry?”

Joseph’s smile faltered. “She found ways to sabotage all the matches I made for her.”

Prince John laughed with amusement. “Sabotaged, did she?”

“The girl is my only surviving offspring. She is a bit spoiled.”

“Do you have a husband in mind for her?”

“I am accepting of any who want to court her.”

The prince laughed once more. “Even a stable hand?” Seeing the man blink, the prince waved away the comment. “I’ve seen the Earls of both Bonchurch and Huntingdon pay her attentions.”

“They are…” Joseph struggled to find the right words.

Prince John chuckled. “Former outlaws?”

“Exactly,” Joseph nodded. “I want better for my daughter. I was thinking of taking her to London. Your Majesty’s Court is sure to be a welcoming place.”

“My, you do love to flatter, Bennett! I like it, to be sure, but let’s not over do it.”

“Sire?”

“Gisborne is a former outlaw,” the prince continued, ignoring Joseph’s expression. “But he wasn’t always. He did bring down Robin Hood, for which I am grateful. I want him settled. I want to be sure the next generation is loyal to me and not my brother. You understand, Bennett?”

“I think so, Highness.”

“Guy needs to wed. I think Meg would be a perfect match for him.”

Short of making announcements at Court, Joseph couldn’t have been more pleased by the prince’s words. “The match sounds like a good one.”

“However,” Prince John frowned. “Guy seems opposed to the idea.”

“Meg is a fine woman from a noble family,” Joseph argued.

“And you are aware that Gisborne has a violent past? You are not concerned for your daughter?”

Joseph’s chin lifted a notch. “She can take care of herself,” he insisted. “Besides, they were both outlaws together.”

Prince John’s laughter echoed off the rafters. “Ah, yes! I forgot that very special detail! Makes you a little hypocritical, doesn’t it, Bennett?”

Joseph knew he needed to clarify if he wanted the prince’s favor. “With all due respect, Meg was injured and close to death. She did not have a choice in the matter.”

Considering a moment, Prince John knew he could draw up a marriage contract and make the decree before he left Nottingham. Looking at Joseph, the prince was greatly considering prolonging his fun. Having watched Guy and Meg closely for the past several days, the prince was certain there was a deep attraction between the couple.

Guy resisted and Meg yearned. Well, she did until recently. Was she losing interest? No, the prince was more inclined to believe the couple simply had a disagreement of sorts.

“I will give the matter a great deal of thought,” he said.

Joseph wanted more of a commitment from the prince, but clearly this answer was the best he was going to get. Bowing low, he paid his respects and left the hall. In his mind, he envisioned the encounter going much better.

It did not escape Joseph’s notice that Hartwood was no where to be found this morning. Neither was his daughter or half of the outlaws. Joseph very much doubted that Meg was with Hartwood. Nonetheless, he made inquiries.

Learning Hartwood went back to his estate was surprising. Joseph was certain the man would not have given up so easily. What could have made him depart the town?

“Looking for someone?”

Turning around to face the sheriff, Joseph was not afraid as much as he was intimidated. “Yes,” he nodded. “Lord Hartwood.”

Guy stared down the earl. “Lord Hartwood is no longer your concern,” he said in a steady tone. “Forget him.” The last words were ones of warning.

Joseph blinked. “Is that a threat?”

“It’s a fact.”

Joseph knew Gisborne’s dark mood meant business, but lately he was coming to understand how Guy came by his reputation. There was the look of murder in the man’s eyes. However, Joseph was almost certain the look wasn’t meant for him.

“What has Hartwood done to earn your anger?”

Guy’s eyes narrowed. He would gladly kill Bennett if it turned out that man knowingly put Meg in harm’s way. “Did you know of his…tastes when you aligned with him? Did you still promise him your daughter?”

The edge in the sheriff’s voice as unmistakable, but Joseph still refused to back down. “I heard rumors, but he made a good offer.”

Joseph should have been prepared for the blow. The fist to his jaw caught him off guard and he went stumbling. Tasting blood in his mouth, Joseph felt his own temper rise. “You’ll pay for that!”

Guy lashed out again with another punch to Bennett’s gut. “Hartwood nearly hurt her! He attacked her in the dark! He was only sniffing around her in the first place because of you!”

Eyes widening in the face of Guy’s rage and accusation, Joseph shook his head. “Hartwood and I had an agreement!”

Disgusted, Guy wanted nothing more than to strangle the life out of this man. “Well, he didn’t abide by it,” Guy spat. “I’m going to make sure Hartwood pays for the harm he did to Meg. I’ll do the same to you of you interfere!”

There wasn’t a doubt in Joseph’s mind Guy would follow through on his words. Nodding, the earl admitted defeat. “I’ll not stand in your way.”

“Good.”

Having endured enough of this man’s company, Guy turned on his heel and marched down the corridor. The moment Prince John was out of the county, he was going to make sure Hartwood wished he never laid eyes on Meg let alone raised hand to her. Guy did not want to have to deal with Joseph as well.

Behind closed doors, Guy let out a long breath. Being in charge of a whole shire was a lot more complicated than he originally thought. Moving to the fire, he stared into the flames and though about his next move. A few seconds later, Guy realized Joseph Bennett was not as surprised as he should have been when he was told about his daughter’s attack. In fact, Joseph didn’t even ask a single question about his daughter’s welfare.

Either Joseph truly did not care one bit about his only child, or he already knew what Hartwood attempted to do. If it was the latter, Guy knew Joseph Bennett to be a coward. What father doesn’t defend his own child? Joseph should be demanding Hartwood’s head on a silver platter with even more determination than Guy was!

Poor Meg. Feeling for her plight and her situation, Guy wondered what could be done to cheer her spirits. She did leave the castle to join the Earl of Bonchurch and the rest of the gang. Fine. He did not care if she was gone.

The flames in the hearth seemed to laugh at him and call him a liar. Guy felt Meg’s absence deeply in his veins. He felt jealousy where he had no reason. Much and Meg were friends. They would never be a couple.

So, why then did the images taunt him? Meg didn’t feel affection for Much anymore than he did for her, yet Guy kept putting the pair together in his mind, which set his teeth on edge. Meg was his. Dare he claim her?

Just when Guy was starting to imagine a life with Meg, the memory of Marian intruded to torture him. Closing his eyes, he could still see the shock in Marian’s eyes as he killed her. He tried to take it back, but the wound was a mortal one. There was nothing to be done.

Guy fled, wishing all the while he stayed by Marian’s side to face his punishment. Robin would have killed him and he would have deserved it. Instead, he ran back to England to face Robin Hood on home soil.

Now look where he was? Sheriff of Nottingham after all and Robin Hood dead in the ground. How many times did he imagine such a scenario? He would have claimed Marian for his bride in all those fantasies. She wouldn’t’ have fled from him and they would have been happy.

Guy was so desperate to make those dreams a reality he destroyed what he claimed to love and cherish above all else. Worse was the realization that what he felt for Marian wasn’t love at all. If he truly loved her, he would have released her to be free.

Love was not possessive or dominant, but kind and sacrificing. Guy never thought he would be able to give up what he craved most, yet he was willing to stand aside and let Meg lead her own life instead of forcing her to bend to his will, even if his intentions were to keep her safe.

If Prince John ordered him to marry Meg, would he be able to control his temper? Odds were he would make mistakes. He just prayed Meg would stand by him. She did thus far, but he feared things in his life could tear her away from him.

Without realizing it, Guy move out of doors to pace the battlements, waiting for Meg’s return. Seeing the wagon in the distance, he ran down the stairs. Keeping to the shadows, he watched Meg get out of the wagon and walk into the main part of the castle.

She looked happy. She must have enjoyed her time at Bonchurch. Guy felt the jealousy rise within him, but struggled to keep his temper under control. Following, he cut Meg off down the hall from her chamber door, he was the first thing she saw when she climbed the stairs. Seeing her smile when she noticed him, eased Guy’s misgivings.

“Guy,” she breathed. “You are up late.”

“So are you.” He did not mean to sound so forceful, so he cleared his throat.

“We stopped at a few villages on the way back from Bonchurch,” she clarified. “John wanted to make sure the people were content.”

Nodding, he was afraid to ask about Little John’s assessment of the attitudes of the people. In fact, looking at Meg, Guy was suddenly tongue-tied.

“How was your day?”

“Fine.” He cleared his throat again. “You’ll be happy to know Lord Hartwood has left the town and returned to Nettlestone. I do not expect him back any time soon.”

At the mention of Hartwood, her smile faded. The last thing she wanted to do was think about that horrible man or remember what he tried to do to her.

“You will not…” Meg shook her head. “I want him to be punished, but I don’t want everyone to know what he did.”

Giving her a look of understanding, he nodded. “I will take care of it.”

She knew that look in his eyes all too well. Moving closer, she put a hand on his arm. As always, the familiar connection she felt luring her to him pulled at her blood, but she strived to focus on the matter at hand.

“Don’t kill him, Guy.”

Brows rising in surprise, Guy never imagined she would ask for mercy for such a worthless creature as Hartwood. “You would beg for Hartwood’s life?”

“I would ask that you take care of your own soul.”

His eyes locked with hers. “So, you are thinking of me?”

Inching closer, Meg licked her dry lips. “Guy, I do not want you to have Hartwood as another burden. He’s not worth it. There are other punishments.”

Inhaling her floral scent, Guy fell under her spell – as always. The urge to pull her against his body was so strong, he nearly could not resist. Still, resist her, he must.

“I’ll walk you to your chamber.”

Meg’s heart fell, but she walked beside him down the long corridor. Realizing she missed talking to him, Meg wished they were back in Sherwood just sitting and talking by the fire. Now that he was sheriff, he seemed split between all of his responsibilities.

All too soon, they reached her door. Meg thanked him, daring to push up on her tip-toes to kiss his cheek. Seeing the amazement in his eyes, Meg smiled. Suddenly, his warm hands cupped her face.

“Meg,” he whispered.

The air shifted and desire rushed through his veins. Meg wanted saw his struggle and wanted Guy to give in and kiss her. She wanted to feel his touch. His face inched closer to hers and she thought she was just about to get her wish.

Chapter Text

She couldn’t sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, that face appeared. What would he say if he was her with her now?

Kate wanted to remember Robin as the brave man with the high ideals. What she did not want to admit, even to herself, were his flaws. Robin did keep her at arm’s length. He never fully let her in – not the way he did Marian.

If Robin was alive, Kate knew he would once more be Earl of Huntingdon. He would be sheriff instead of Gisborne. Once he learned about the baby, he would have married her. Kate would be a proper lady if Robin had lived. How could she not feel cheated?

What’s worse was hearing how her mother cursed Robin’s name and memory. The truth was that she pursued Robin. How many times did he refuse her until she finally wore him down? Dozens? Hundreds? Robin kept telling her she didn’t know what she wanted out of life. Before the big invasion of the castle, they all knew they could die and she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Now, here she was; alone and pregnant and on the verge of utter disgrace. Kate refused to regret her actions, however. Her love for Robin created a piece of life that would live on and carry on his father’s bloodline.

Putting a hand over her stomach, Kate felt where there was a slight swell. The idea of a child growing inside of her was overwhelming, frightening, and exciting all at the same time. Yet, she knew what people would say and how they would react. Her own mother was starting to shun her.

Kate would see this through as she always did. She wasn’t about to be ashamed of her time with Robin Hood. Yes, she could have to dig deep for her courage in the days ahead, especially when she knew she wouldn’t be able to disguise her condition much longer.

Waking with the dawn, Kate started her chores and hoped she wouldn’t be receiving the cold shoulder for the rest of her life. Kate was arranging the goods for market day when Archer approached.

“Good morning,” he greeted cheerfully.

Smiling, Kate gave him a curtsey. “Good morning, my lord.”

Archer waved off the formality. “How are you, Kate?”

“Well. You?”

Archer bit his lip, but pushed forward with what he wanted to say. He needed to look out for his title and his own interests. Like it or not, Kate was in the way and their interests did not align.

“I’ve come her with a proposal,” he started.

Kate’s smile faded. “Not you too,” she said gravely.

Archer frowned. “I know about the baby,” he said gently. “And I want to help.”

“I don’t need help,” she insisted.

“I want you to come and live at the manor,” Archer pressed on. “I want to take care of the child as my ward.”

Blinking with disbelief, Kate hardly knew what to say. “You do?”

Archer nodded. “You are carrying my niece or nephew,” he said with an earnest he prayed she viewed as sincere. “Family has come to mean a lot to me recently. I never really got to know Robin. I want to make up for it. Besides, my protection will help shield you form some of the more vicious gossip.”

Touched by the offer, Kate knew living at the manor would be easier. Knowing her child would be provided for made all the difference.

“May I think about it,” she asked.

Archer nodded. “Of course.”

Kate watched him walk away and wondered at her luck. Archer was willing to offer her and her unborn baby a home and protection, but without asking for anything in return. Remembering Much’s proposal, Kate felt sourness in her stomach. Pushing the awkward memory aside, she knew if she had the earl in her corner, then she could be sheltered from the repercussions for unwed mothers. Well, like Archer said, to a certain degree.

Why was she hesitating? Kate knew if she accepted Archer’s offer, Much would be severely hurt. As much as Kate did not want to see her friend brought so low, she knew she could never be a wife to him. Such a thing would be unfair to them both, not to mention the baby.

Walking through Sherwood, Kate wasn’t aware of her direction, but her feet brought her back to the old camp. The place was overgrown now, barely salvageable. There were so many happy memories of this place, so many memories of Robin! Kate knew she could survive out here again if need be. At the same time, the idea of raising a babe in the wilderness didn’t hold such romantic appeal. She wanted the best for her child.

Closing her eyes, Kate hoped she would see an image of Robin come to her and comfort her and tell her what to do. Instead, she just heard the usual birds and animals moving about through the trees. Forlorn, Kate headed back to the village. As she passed through the main path, she noticed several faces giving her looks, then whispering behind hands.

Circling her arms protectively around her middle, Kate kept her head held high. None of these people should be condemning her after all she did for them! She was part of Robin’s gang! Decision made, she went home to pack her belongings.

“What are you doing?”

Seeing her mother in the doorway, Kate shrugged. “I’m leaving.”

“Leaving? To go where,” Rebecca demanded to know.

“Archer’s. He’s offered to take me in.” Kate hesitated a moment before adding, “and the baby.”

Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “At what cost?”

“It’s not like that!” Shaking her head, Kate wondered why she bothered even trying to explain things to her mother. The woman was determined to misunderstand. “He wants to provide for his niece or nephew. He offered me a good position as housekeeper.”

“And you’re taking it?”

Kate nodded, avoiding looking at her mother’s face. “It’s the best thing for all of us.”

“Kate, the next several months are going to be hard. You are going to need help.”

“I have my friends,” she argued. “And I’m sure the midwife will help me with what I need to know.”

Rebecca looked at her daughter not knowing what to say. “If you need me, I’ll come. You know that.”

Kate shrugged, not able to see past her own anger. “I suppose.”

“Robin should have trusted you to my care,” Rebecca insisted. “However, what’s done is done. You still have my first grandchild there.”

Smiling, Kate gave her mother a nod. She was glad they weren’t parting on bad terms. Hopefully, others would come to accept her decision as well.

****

“Have you given any thought to my proposal?”

Guy turned to look at the prince. “Which proposal, Your Majesty?”

“The one about your marriage, of course,” the man laughed with amusement.

Guy dared to shrug. “I wonder why such a subject is taking up so of much Your Majesty’s time and energy.”

Prince John gave Gisborne a steady look, bordering on impatience. “Because I want the people of England to be loyal to me!”

“They are loyal,” Guy stated.

“Not while my brother lives,” the prince said bitterly. “As long as Richard breaths, there will always be those who will take his side,” Prince John whined. “I deserve my time, Gisborne!”

“Your time will be soon,” Guy assured the insecure royal. “Nottingham is loyal to you. As long as I am in charge, you need never fear on that score.”

Prince John nodded. “That is reassuring. As long as you are sheriff, I shall not worry.”

“I should hope not.”

“Still,” Prince John chuckled, his mood suddenly shifting. “It would amuse me. A wedding that is. Seeing a man so determined as you are to play the martyr should get a chance. I was thinking of marrying Meg Bennett to the Earl of Bonchurch.”

Guy could not hide his reaction. The shock on his face was not missed by the prince, who burst out laughing. “Gisborne! Your face!” The prince doubled over in his chair, clutching his stomach.

“Ah, I would pay money to see it again!”

Gritting his teeth, Guy barely held in his temper. If he lashed out and punched the heir to the throne, there would be no going back. “I’m glad I amuse you, Sire,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

The smiled instantly faded from the royal’s face. “If you want her, then just take her and be done before someone else snatches her up.”

Resisting the urge to sigh, the sheriff simply shrugged his shoulders. “Meg does not want to marry.”

Prince John blinked in confusion. “What? She wants to be a nun then?”

“She wants to live a life of solace.”

Rolling his eyes, the prince gulped down some wine. “Well, she can’t have it both ways,” he grumbled. “She needs to choose a life of servitude to God or a domestic life filled with children.”

Guy picked at the meat on his plate. “Can’t there be some middle ground?”

Prince John gave Gisborne a sharp look. “Is there a reason you are so willing to defend her?”

Guy met the man’s eyes. “She is my friend.”

Shaking his head, the prince snorted. “And I thought Isabella was mine and look how that turned out,” he grumbled.

“Meg is worth twenty of my sister,” Guy snapped.

Luckily, the prince wasn’t offended. “Yes, well then, if this woman is such a saint, you should take her before God’s veil has a chance.”

Was there anything he could say, or do, that would make Prince John change the subject?

“Did you see the plans for the new tower,” Guy casually asked.

“Yes, yes,” the prince waved off the comment. “And don’t try to distract me, Gisborne.”

The two men stared at each other, neither wanting to give way. Finally, the prince’s smile returned with a flourish and a chuckle erupted from his throat.

“There is a great deal different about you, Gisborne,” he said, sipping more wine. “I admire how you strive to protect Lady Meg. You want to save her and by so doing, make up for your past with another lady.”

Guy could not deny the truth of the words, but he was starting to resent having Marian thrown in his face. The prince was not going to let the matter drop, obviously. At the same time, Guy knew he could not give in to the demands. Meg deserved better than what they both could give her.

“I will give you time to get used to the idea,” Prince John said with a diplomatic tone. “The loss of one’s bachelorhood is devastating, yet inevitable. I will have to eventually marry for heirs, you know, but it will be a sacrifice I make for my country. I ask no less of you, Gisborne.”

Guy felt a sudden panic in his heart. “Sire, I do respect-”

Waving a dismissive hand through the air, calling for silence, the prince made clear he would not argue over his words. “I’ve made up my mind. I have to return to London soon. Damn politics never end,” he complained before drinking more wine.

“Seems they can do nothing without me,” he sighed before looking back to his sheriff. “In the meantime, I’ll give you two months to get used to the idea of marriage. At the end of those months, I shall return to Nottingham for your wedding. I hope you’ll come to your senses and marry Lady Meg, but if not, let it be another woman of noble blood,” Prince John ordered.

Guy felt as if the world was collapsing beneath his feet. The prince was giving him an impossible task, forcing him to make a choice. How could he curse Meg to a life of his presence? How could be think about cursing another innocent woman in her place?

“Is there nothing I can do, or say, that will make Your Majesty suspend such a decree?”

For a moment, the prince looked at Guy with something akin to sympathy, but the moment was gone almost as quickly as it came.

“Gisborne, we all need to look to the future. One day, I will be king and I need to think of England. I need to have the people at home to be loyal subjects so I can focus on expanding our influence in the world. I admire your forbearance, but I must ask this of you.”

Guy wanted to snap in the man’s face and demand how many other nobles he was forcing to walk down the aisle, but he managed to bite his tongue. If Guy played his cards right, he could make the prince forget the order or accept another wedding in his stead. Right now was not the time to push the issue.

Backing off, Guy felt waves of relief when he was excused from the prince’s company. Walking back toward his own makeshift rooms, he looked down from one of the open arches to see Meg walking across the courtyard below. She appeared to be on some sort of errand.

In that moment, Guy realized he never thanked her for all her help during Prince John’s visit. The people admire her leadership and the prince received worthy hospitality. Meg would make a good duchess and a good wife.

His body certainly craved hers, but how could he just take what he wanted? There was enough guilt streaming through his veins from last night when he kissed her. Closing his eyes at the memory, Guy loved how her softness yielded into his frame, of how she kissed him back and clung to his shoulders. But he went too far when he tried deepening the kiss. Meg panicked and struggled to be free of him. Obviously her encounter with Hartwood still plagued her.

Dismissing her apologies, hearing her claim to still love him, Guy couldn’t stand to be in her presence another minute. Making sure she was safely in her chambers, he made a swift escape. Meg might be willing at first, but she didn’t have a clue what she was really going to have to endure as his bride. She didn’t know all of his sins.

Guy feared if Meg did know, he would lose her forever. Being wed to Meg, knowing she could not stand the sight of him, would be hell on Earth. There must be another way.

Chapter Text

When the news spread of Prince John’s impending departure, Meg was overjoyed. She would no longer have to arrange and organize meals and entertainment night after night. The castle could go back to running normally and she could fall back into her old routine. There were several unfinished gowns she wanted to complete.

She did have a lot of time to think these last few days about Guy and all the stories she was hearing about his past. The man the people were describing was drastically different from the man she knew now. Meg was having trouble reconciling the two.

Guy saved her life. He took care of her in the woods and listened to her worries and fears. Meg was confident in his protection. At the same time, she knew he nearly killed his own child. Guy was not mislead or guilty of making a mistake. He knew exactly what he was doing at the time.

Much was reluctant to talk about the incident since he knew how she felt about Guy, but he did eventually give her the details. Now, Meg was left wondering if Guy was capable of such acts or if he really did change. As much as she wanted to have faith in the man she loved, she could not fend off her doubts.

The Church taught about redemption and forgiveness. Meg knew Guy was truly sorry for his past and was doing everything in his power to make up for it. Most of all, he was sorry for Marian. Did he ever think about his son? Was he sorry for abandoning a helpless infant in the woods?

To find closure on the matter, Meg knew she needed to either ask Guy directly, or put the whole matter out of her mind. Meg, despite hearing the news, just couldn’t turn off her love for the man. When he kissed her the other night, she wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms and let her love wash away the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as the passion rose, so did her memories of Hartwood. Now, Meg wished she could take the moment back, but there was nothing to be done. Guy did change. The man she knew today would never forsake a child.

Resolved, she felt lighter as she watched Prince John wave to the crowd as his carriage took him out of the castle gates and to the edge of the city. The royal’s departure was full of pomp and circumstance as was his due. Meg was already hearing positive whispers about how Guy managed to get the taxes lifted and keep Prince John from burning more churches.

Glancing at their sheriff, Meg saw the fatigue in his eyes. Guy looked strong and capable on the outside, but she could tell something was weighing heavily on his mind. Meg was about to approach him, but Tuck caught her attention.

“We were granted a reprieve,” he said with a smile. “It must be God’s good work.”

Meg smiled at the monk. “You don’t think the prince can be kind of his own accord?”

Tuck laughed richly. “He has his own motives, but I doubt he suspended our taxes out of generosity.”

Meg wondered, “Is he not capable of redemption?”

The monk’s smile vanished. “I believe his is – if he wants it. What I’ve seen of the prince is how greedy his personality. If he chooses to improve, than he will. Until then, we should all be weary.”

Meg watched Tuck move off into the crowd. Her eyes once more sought Guy, but he was now gone. Pushing down her disappointment, Meg made her way toward her chambers. She did have her own work to see to.

Sitting by the window and picking up her needle, Meg found it difficult to focus on her sewing. All she could see in her mind’s eyes was Guy’s face. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt worried and anxious.

Trying to push her feelings aside, Meg looked at the material in her hands, trying to envision the design of the gown once completed. Would Guy think her beautiful in this color? Sighing, she knew she needed to decide how much she should ask about his past or if she should bring up the subject at all. Some questions were better off unasked.

****

Hartwood was expecting him judging by the amount of personal guards surrounding the property. Guy came here with a few of his own men to bear witness to his words and actions, but he didn’t care if he was outnumbered.

“Hartwood,” he shouted toward the house. “Come out and face me like a man!”

The guards refused to give way and let Guy and his entourage pass down the lane, so Guy remained on his horse, waiting. He would deal with the mercenaries later. Right now, his blood boiled with the need to cut Hartwood down to size. Literally.

“You won’t face the Sheriff of Nottingham,” he called again. “Am I to tell the entire shire you are a coward?”

Those words had the desired effect, resulting in the earl opening the door. He walked out to meet Guy, but kept his men in front of him for protection.

“I have no quarrel with you, Gisborne,” Hartwood started, wiping the sweat off his brow. “Leave Nettlestone peacefully and I will forget your callous words.”

Guy wasn’t about to budge an inch. “I am here as sheriff to administer justice,” he growled.

Hartwood shook his head. “I have broken no laws!”

“You assaulted a woman in my castle! I have a quarrel with you! Either come willingly to the dungeons, or I’ll challenge you here in open combat.”

The earl laughed with disbelief. “You would duel me here? On my own property?”

“The challenge had been made,” Guy stated for all to hear. “There are plenty of witnesses. You have a choice.”

Hartwood glanced around the yard at his men and at Gisborne’s. Clearly, he wanted to avoid a fight, but his choices were limited. “I see now why they call you a wicked man, Gisborne! You have no honor!”

“Yet, I’m the one issuing a fair challenge,” he countered. “You are the coward trying to dodge his crimes!”

Glancing around again, Hartwood saw the looks written on the faces of the soldiers present, then noticed several nearby villagers were stopping to see what was happening. They all seemed to be on the sheriff’s side. They looked at him with open disgust. In their eyes, he was a coward, unless he met Gisborne’s challenge and proved otherwise. Gritting his teeth, Hartwood called for his sword, his eyes meeting Gisborne’s as the sheriff dismounted his black horse.

There was no way Hartwood could win fairly and he knew it. Guy was young, able, and furious. Still, Hartwood had a few tricks up his sleeves.

Drawing his sword, Guy faced off the fat earl. He was going to take his time and enjoy every moment. Smiling, he beckoned Hartwood.

Growling, the earl charged. Guy easily dodged and moved out of the way. Some of the witnesses chuckled at the man’s red face, but they watched as he turned and charged the sheriff again. This time, Gisborne easily blocked the blow.

Outlasting Hartwood shouldn’t be a problem, seeing as how winded the man appeared already. Hartwood was breathing heavily and perspiring to a very noticeable degree. Guy almost felt guilty about toying with him, but then he remembered Meg’s face in the dark and all the old rage flooded his veins tenfold.

“You don’t need to show off,” Hartwood panted as he held his sword at the ready. His hand trembled with the effort. “What do you hope to gain?”

Guy wasn’t falling for the ploy. He wasn’t about to give Hartwood a chance to get a second wind. He thrust, but his opponent was fast enough to block the sword and push back, using his full weight to his advantage. As a result, Guy was forced to take several steps back.

“You know why I am doing this!”

“For a little chit? She was asking for my attentions!”

Guy laughed bitterly. “I was there! I stopped you in time, which is the only reason you are even alive!”

Hartwood grinned with devilish satisfaction. “You are a fool. Gisborne! Fooled by a pretty face! They are all whores!”

“I wasn’t fooled by my own eyes!”

Having had enough talk, Guy charged. Hartwood dodged, but wasn’t fast on his feet. Gisborne’s blade broke skin, causing Hartwood to cry out and fell to the ground. He shouted in pain and waited for Guy to approach before he tried to run him through. Luckily, Guy saw the move coming and was able to jump out of the path of the blade.

“Cheat!”

Hartwood laughed as he regained his footing. “And you expect me to believe you’ve never cheated in a fight?”

The men glared at each other once again. Somehow, Hartwood managed to grow bold and confident in his movements. He put his weight behind the thrusts, which had Guy struggling to keep up the pace. For a moment, Hartwood actually thought he would get the better of the sheriff. He saw an opening and seized the opportunity.

Guy twisted but wasn’t fast enough to avoid Hartwood’s blade. The sword cut the skin on the side of his rib cage. Shouting in pain, his focus narrowed. The earl looked proud at being able to draw blood, but Guy knew the time had come to end this fight. Seeing Hartwood was close enough and vulnerable, Guy continued his turn, falling to one knee, slashing his sword upwards to administer the final blow.

Hartwood’s cry of agony and anguish echoed across the shire. All eyes watching cringed, but they saw the sheriff acting within the confines of the duel. Regaining his footing, Guy stood over the fat man. Any other time, the sight of Hartwood on his back, hands cupping his bleeding privates, would have amused him, but in this moment, Guy scowled with disgust as he caught Hartwood’s eye.

“Touch another woman again, and I’ll cut off the rest,” he warned. “Be thankful I didn’t take your life.”

“I’ll kill you for this Gisborne! I swear it!”

Signaling his men forward, the sheriff ignored the bellows of the defeated noble. “You’ll rot in the dungeons while the healer looks at your wounds,” Guy commanded. “From this moment on, you are stripped of your titles and lands.”

“You don’t have the authority to do that,” Hartwood raged.

“I am the sheriff,” Guy corrected with an icy calm that sent shivers down Hartwood’s spine. “I can do as I please.”

“And give my property away to one of those outlaw friends of yours?! I’ll see you in hell, Gisborne! I’ll cut out your heart!”

Watching as the former noble was dragged to a wagon by the soldiers and thrown onto a bed of hay, still spewing curses, Guy ignored the threats of revenge. He really didn’t think Hartwood had the means any longer to follow through on a single word. The man was now a eunuch who hurt his last woman. Maybe one day, Guy would let the man out of the dungeons, but that day would be a cold one in hell.

Following the wagon back to the town, he was glad Hartwood’s mercenaries didn’t put up a fight. Perhaps they valued their manly parts and did not want to risk an altercation. They probably knew it would be wise to look the other way.

A huge commotion ensued as the party entered the gates, but Guy kept his attention focused ahead. No doubt word of the duel was spreading throughout the whole shire of Nottingham. Guy could only hope people realized Hartwood got what he deserved.

Seeing Hartwood finally locked in the dungeons, Guy ascended the stairs demanding to see Joseph Bennett. Making his way to his private study, Guy did not want the matter discussed too publically.

Hearing the door burst open, Guy looked up to see someone he was not expecting. The expression in the monk’s face was one of shock and disbelief. The sight struck Guy as amusing.

“Tell me it’s not true,” Tuck demanded.

“Is that what you want to hear,” Guy responded calmly.

“Do you know what the consequence will be for having Hartwood imprisoned?”

“Spare me,” Guy spat. “He’s lucky I let him live! The man is a pig and a coward! He deserved much worse!”

“You are not the judge!”

“I am sheriff! And you are despicable if you defend him!”

“There will be an outcry,” Tuck argued.

Scoffing, Guy shook his head. “I doubt it. The people will not object to a lord that doesn’t abuse them.”

“And you have someone in mind?”

“I do.”

Tuck’s eyes narrowed. “Will nothing I say get through to you?”

“You are mistaken if you think I will show mercy to Hartwood.”

“The bible tells us-”

“Enough!” Guy looked daggers at his comrade. “I spared his life. That is mercy enough. When he is healed, he will be banished from Nottingham. Not only will he be without title or wealth, but the world will know of his crimes. What more would you have me do?”

Tuck shrugged, at a loss. The matter seemed settled. Considering the man’s crimes, Tuck supposed Guy as already bending as far as he was willing to go.

“Who will get Nettlestone?”

Looking over Tucks shoulder, Guy nodded to the man in the doorway. “Bennett.”

Chapter Text

Several problems seemed to be solved in the wake of Hartwood’s disgrace. Guy had to admit to being a little disappointed to hear the former earl would survive his wounds. The important thing was that the man was neutralized as a threat and wouldn’t be causing any more damage.

Joseph Bennett was also out of his hair. Although, Guy knew having more lands and another title would only satisfy the man for so long. At the moment, Bennett wasn’t pushing his will onto Meg’s shoulders, which was a relief for all involved. Much and Archer would get a break from having to perform courting duties.

One problem that wasn’t magically cast away was the prince’s ultimatum. Guy would have to give the royal a wedding. If he wanted to remain in favor, Gut knew he should be the groom. At the same time, he wondered if Prince John would truly care as long as he was entertained.

For now, the people were content. Guy knew the serenity would only last so long. He needed to meet with Tuck and Little John to discuss a new merchant tax. Robin Hood’s antics truly benefited trade for the shopkeepers, so some tough decisions needed to be made. The castle was still in the construction stages and they were running out of options.

Finalizing the accounts, Guy rubbed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. The aroma of cooked meat caught his nose, and his eyes snapped open to see a tray of food on his table. Meg was smiling knowingly down at him.

“I thought you would be hungry,” she said softly.

Nodding his thanks, Guy reached for the loaf of bread. “Thank you.”

Biting her lip, Meg wondered what to say. Clearly, she wanted to ask him something, but was hesitant.

“Go on,” Guy urged.

Clasping her hands before her, Meg moved to sit down and inhaled a deep breath. “Is it true? Did you mean to maim Lord Hartwood that way?”

Straightening, Guy didn’t want to lie to Meg, but at the same time, he craved her approval. Even more so than he was willing to admit, even to himself. “What if I did?”

“It seems cruel,” she said with her eyes downcast.

“Not when he hurts innocent women,” Guy countered gently. “I couldn’t kill him. At least, this way, there is some justice.” He waited until her eyes lifted and met her gaze. “I would do it again.”

Meg nodded in understanding. “Part of me is relived,” she admitted. “At the same time, I feel guilty.”

Guy’s brows shot up. “Guilty?”

“That there was more I could have done to prevent the-”

“No,” Guy interrupted. “Meg, I will not have you blaming yourself. Hartwood was a pig. He would have gone after someone else just like he went after others before you. There was nothing you could have done.”

Expression softening, she gave Guy a small smile. “You’re a good man, Guy of Gisborne.”

Relaxing, he shook his head. “There are several who would disagree,” he admitted as he offered her half of the bread.

Accepting, Meg’s gaze shined on him. “I know your heart, Guy. You don’t let many see it, but I do. You’re not so terrible.”

Even as he took comfort in her words, Guy knew he should be discouraging her from favoring him. One day he would do something to cause her pain and the last thing he wanted was to break her heart. At the same time, he knew the bond they shared would not be easily banished. Part of him hoped what they had would be worth the pain, but he still struggled to keep Meg at a distance.

Guy was about to voice his thoughts when Meg got to her feet. “Thank you for the bread.”

Watching her walk out the door, Guy wanted to call her back, but didn’t have any idea what to say to her if she did return. All the same, the moment was gone in a flash and he was once more alone with a plate of food. As he ate, Guy felt torn. There was no easy solution, yet he did need to resolve the matter before Prince John’s return, which meant he had less than two months to make a decision.

****

Back in her room, Meg ran her fingers over the new dress she completed. Thinking about Guy, she wished she had the courage to ask about his child, but in the end she couldn’t form the words. Besides, she made up her mind that he was a changed man.

How he dealt with Hartwood was shocking, but the old Guy would have killed the man without hesitation. The man he was today spared Hartwood’s life because she requested it of him. Guy would not abandon another innocent child. She was certain of it.

Prince John was gone, so her father was contented, especially with his new position, titles, and lands. Meg wondered what her role in the castle would now become. Was she just to stay in her rooms and sew all day? Even walking the open courtyards or wondering the town would still feel confining.

Part of her longed to go back to Locksley, but she knew there wasn’t a place for her there anymore. Kate was now in the manor under Archer’s protection. The rumors were circulating that Kate did indeed carry Robin Hood’s child. If the father was anyone else, Kate would be shunned and ridiculed. Instead, the people were accepting of her and her plight. Meg knew Kate would still have a bumpy road ahead of her, but things could be much worse.

Even as Meg marveled at the occurrence, she knew Much was heartbroken and wished there was some way to help him. The only thing that would really ease the pain was time. Time was all that could help either of them now.

****

Praying most of the day, Tuck finally left the chapel, feeling weary in bone and in spirit. The odds of King Richard returning to England were not looking well. The reign of King John was creeping upon them.

There was no alternative. King Richard did not have legitimate heirs, so the throne would pass to his brother. Undoubtedly, Prince John was already planning the coronation. There had to be a way to save England from the prince’s greed and corruption.

Receiving correspondence from allies, Tuck learned of a rumored son in France. This child was not created in wedlock, but King Richard’s supporters needed an icon to hold up to the people. This son, Phillip, could be what England needed.

Tuck was torn between being loyal to the bloodline and securing a king on the throne who would care for the people instead of thinking only of himself. As long as King Richard’s blood was in the boy’s veins, Tuck would not think of himself as being a traitor.

The danger would be great and Prince John would not back down without a fight. Still, he had to try. He could not live with his conscience if he sat around Nottingham and did nothing.

Being a contact in Nottingham, Tuck would need his own network of allies. Seeking out Little John, he felt the man out and asked several questions about Prince John.

“It will be a dark day in England’s history when he takes the throne,” Little John grumbled.

“What if I were to tell you there was another way?”

John frowned. “What are you saying?”

“That we may not have to tolerate a selfish and greedy king for a generation.”

John raised a brow. “You do know you are talking treason?”

“Not if the man we put on the throne is of King Richard’s issue.”

Shaking his head, John refused to listen. “King Richard doesn’t have any legitimate heirs. Legitimate is what counts.”

“What is our alternative,” Tuck argued. “To see England fall?”

“The people of England will more readily support Prince John than an unknown bastard and you know it.”

John didn’t like the situation, but he couldn’t just ignore plain truths.

“Will you are least think about it,” Tuck urged. “What we do for our country is going to be greater than ourselves.”

“I’ll think about it,” John promised. “Have you told Guy?”

Tuck hesitated. “Involving him will be too complicated.”

A knowing smile spread across Little John’s face. “Because you know he can’t be trusted.”

Tuck sighed, wondering if John would truly understand. “He needs to be left ignorant so he can carry favor with the prince.”

“Why,” John frowned.

“So Nottingham won’t bear the prince’s wrath if we are unsuccessful.”

Little John didn’t like a single word of what he was hearing. Taking a risk and living an outlaw life was something he knew how to do, but Tuck wasn’t just talking about taking a stand against corruption. The monk was suggesting outright treason and John wasn’t sure he was ready to sign up for such a thing. He became an outlaw in Robin’s gang to prevent treason against King Richard who was the rightful ruler. Now, the situation was more complicated. Prince John would be the legitimate heir if King Richard died. Could he commit treason against the rightful heir when before he was defending the rights of the hierarchy of the throne?

“Has there been any word from King Richard,” he asked.

Tuck shook his head. “Whispers from that front are scarce.”

“I understand your anxiety, but it would be wise to hold back and wait.”

“What if it becomes too late?”

John shook his head. He couldn’t speak for Tuck or tell him what to do. All John did know was that his gut was telling him this whole situation was not going to end well.

****

Having extra money in his coffers made him smile. Joseph Bennett was pleased with the bargain he stuck with the sheriff. At the same time, he wanted more.

Joseph kept recalling his conversation with Prince John and what the man said about Guy. Having a duke for a son-in-law with the ear of the future king would give him a great deal of influence. With Meg attacked to Guy, and Guy attached to the Prince, Joseph was sure to become influential at Court.

Power was more valuable than money. Power and information are the two things that really made men rise up in the world. He was determined to take his proper place. In order to do so, Joseph knew he would have to find a way to get Meg and Guy to the alter.

There must be a bargain to strike. Every man wanted something. Guy of Gisborne was no exception. Joseph just needed to find Guy’s weakness and exploit it.

Hartwood was good at discovering secrets, but now that man was maimed and disgraced, Joseph doubted he could trust Hartwood anyway. Still, there had to be a way. He wasn’t going to give up so easily.

****

Gasping awake, Meg struggled to gain her bearings. Seeing the surroundings of her own room around her, she visibly relaxed. She was safe.

Throwing aside the covers, she tried to grasp the memory of her dream, but the details were already fading. Why was it that some dreams carried vivid detail and refused to relent and others vanished in a puff of smoke?

Feeling restless, she put on her robe and her shoes and moved to light a candle. Wandering out into the hall, Meg wasn’t sure where she was going or what exactly she was doing. All she did know was she needed air. A few minutes later, Meg was on the battlements, staring up at the stars.

Sensing another presence, she turned and smiled at the shadows. “You’re awake.”

Stepping into the moonlight, Guy nodded. “You should be in bed.”

“I was wakeful.”

“Bad dreams?”

Meg nodded. “But I can’t recall the details. “

Guy’s body itched to pull Meg into his arms and offer her warmth and comfort. He craved kissing her soft cheeks and lips and telling her over and over again he would always protect her. Of course, Guy knew all the reasons he must resist such impulses.

“It will come to you if it is meant to,” was all he could offer.

“I suppose,” she shrugged.

Silence stretched on between them for a time.

“Hartwood is gone,” Guy ventured. “He won’t be back.”

Meg shivered hearing the name, instinctively moving closer to Guy. “I’m afraid he won’t stay gone.”

“He will,” Guy insisted. “You have nothing to fear from him any longer.”

If only life as so easy. “And my father,” she dared to inquire.

“He seems content with Nettlestone.”

“For now,” Meg warned. “He is ambitious.”

“I’ll handle him.”

Guy sounded confident, but she harbored doubts. “How?”

“Let me worry about it.”

“Guy,” she said. “I don’t think you should risk handling everything and everyone yourself.”

“It’s my duty,” he argued. “Besides, I will protect you. I will hold to my promise.”

Meg offered a sweet smile. “I never doubted your word.”

Guy chanced a look at her face. Even in the night air, she looked like an angel. He needed to remember to keep his distance and stay rational.

“I don’t want to fail,” he confessed as he unconsciously inched closer to Meg’s warmth. “I want to be sheriff. I thought I could go back to a simple life, but now-”

“I know, Guy,” she assured him when he trailed off.

Shaking his head, his gaze lifted to the heavens. “I should be humble, but I understand the craving for a better life.” He paused before chancing a glance at her face. “The lure of power.”

“You have a better life, Guy,” Meg said softly. “You can resist temptation. You just need to remember the sacrifices that led you here.”

Guy’s expression saddened with regret. Meg would have to be the latest of those sacrifices. As she moved closer, Guy tried to resist the softness of her hand on his cheek, the floral scent of her skin, and the beauty of her face, knowing he was overwhelmed.

“Guy,” she whispered.

Unable to resist, Guy yanked her against his body. Kissing her with abandon, he was soon lost in her taste and touch. Sensing her surrender, hearing her moan, feeling her return his kiss with passion, Guy held her tighter, wanting more. Meg felt so good! So soft! Wanting to possess her, he couldn’t let her go. He didn’t want to. Meg was his and he was finally ready to accept the truth.

Chapter Text

He couldn’t stop. He didn’t want to stop. After all this time living through fantasies, or the memories of their few passionate embraces, Guy held Meg in his arms, tasting her sweet lips, knowing he’d be damned if he let her go.

Surprised when Guy’s mouth crashed down on hers, Meg hardly knew how to react to the sudden kiss. Seldom did Guy lose control, but she never saw him quite so frantic. Instead of being frightened, intrigue fuelled her curiosity.

Arms automatically going around his neck, Meg surrendered to his touch. Melding against his frame, a moaned passed her lips as her body awoke to new sensations flowing through her blood. Returning the kiss with equal passion, Meg’s heart soared knowing Guy truly did care for her.

Hearing her moan of submission unleashed his primal instincts, demanding he take Meg any way he could. Pushing her against the stone battlements, Guy grasped her hips to lift her up so her face was level with his. Deepening the kiss, he wanted to memorize the taste of her sweetness. Feeling her fingers lace through his hair, a guttural growl vibrated in his throat at he pressed more firmly against her yielding softness.

Needing more, Guy moved his thigh between her legs, pressing into her skirts. Gasping, Meg broke away from his lips to stare into his face, the question and confusion burning in her eyes. Meeting her gaze unflinchingly, Guy’s hands tightened around her hips. Meg should feel the pleasure a man could give a woman, but she would know bliss by only his hands. Moving ever-so-gently, Guy’s gaze remained locked with hers, watching her reaction closely as he started rubbing gently into her body.

Shocked by how Guy touched her so intimately, Meg knew they crossed a line but couldn’t form the words to tell him to cease. Breathing heavily, she didn’t want the sweet ache between her thighs to stop. Hardly knowing what was happening; Meg craved his touch and clung to his shoulders wanting more. What existed between them felt beautiful, powerful, and alive! Meg didn’t see how either of them could deny their feelings a second longer.

“Oh!” Arching when Guy urged her hips to move to his rhythm, Meg swallowed her cries as the pleasure between her legs intensified, catching her off guard. Closing her eyes, her head fell back as her lower body continued moving slowly against the man she loved.

“Meg,” he growled hoarsely as he bent to taste her throat. The bliss of having Meg in his arms was more than he ever imagined! Feeling her hips moving against him, Guy knew he should put an end to this dalliance while still possessing an ounce of self-control. Instead, he cupped a soft breast through her bodice. Giving her flesh a slight squeeze, Guy bent to press hot kisses to her throat. Hearing Meg give anther moan, all rational thought flew out of his head.

Capturing her lips once more, Guy became lost in her scent, her softness, and her touch. Meg’s arms held him close, telling him how desperate she felt to keep him with her. In this moment, for the first time in his life, Guy truly felt truly wanted. Continuing to kiss Meg passionately, Guy knew he wouldn’t yield until she shattered in his arms. However, his consciousness perked at the echo of approaching footsteps. Breaking away from the sweetness of her mouth, rushing to put their clothing to rights, Guy managed to put a dignified amount of space between them but wasn’t quite fast enough.

“What’s this?”

Gasping at the sound of the familiar timber, Meg turned to see her father’s face illuminated in the torchlight. Heart racing in her chest, short of breath, she stood a little straighter hoping the cover of night would disguise her recent activity. Unfortunately, given the look on her father’s face, Joseph knew exactly what they were doing moments before his arrival. Gathering her dignity, knees trembling from aftershocks of pleasure, Meg was thankful when Guy wrapped an arm around her waist in a gesture of support. He wouldn’t abandon her to her father’s wrath. Without him, Meg felt certain she would have collapsed in a puddle on the stone floor.

Straightening to his full height, Guy moved ever-so-slightly to shield Meg from Joseph’s view. “Meg was wakeful,” he said casually. “We were talking of recent events.”

A knowing smile curved the earl’s lips. “Talking? Then why are my daughter’s cheeks flushed on such a cool night?”

They both knew what Joseph hinted at and could hardly deny the truth without alerting the guards to their presence. Guy felt partly relieved because now the matter was out of his hands, but even as his heart lifted, his guilt squeezed at his heart. None of this was fair to Meg, but that couldn’t be helped.

“Would the guards standing watch confirm your story, Sheriff?” Joseph stepped closer, looking smugger by the second. “Or will the gossip be all over the town by morning?”

Gritting his teeth, Guy loathed the fact this man attempted to lord power over his head. Yes, his actions just now were foolish, but Guy refused to give Bennett the satisfaction of rubbing his nose in the mess. Stepping forward, Guy spoke quietly, but clearly as he steadily met Joseph’s gaze. “My men are loyal to me, Bennett. Be careful where you step.”

Glaring at the warning, Joseph wasn’t intimidated. “And allow you to dishonor my family name?”

“No such thing happened,” Guy stated.

“How do I know you haven’t spoiled her already,” he challenged. “It certainly wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done such!”

Eyes burning with rage, Guy fisted his hands, barely resisting the urge to bruise Bennett’s jaw. “I would never dishonor Meg,” he swore.

Sneering, Joseph refused to let this opportunity pass by. “You already have,” he spat. Turning on his heel, he marched back into the castle.

Rubbing a hand over his whiskered cheeks, Guy knew he there was only one way to fix this mess. Squaring his shoulders, he gathered his courage to face Meg. Afraid of what he might see in her eyes, Guy prepared for the worst. Seeing her fear, his heart sank down to his knees. “Meg,” he choked as he moved closer. “I’m sorry.”

Noticing her eyes weren’t focused on him, but rather on the space where her father disappeared from sight, Guy pushed aside her turbulent emotions to focus on the matter at hand. When she did shift to look at him, Guy nearly forgot to breathe at the sight of those bright eyes reflecting trust mixed with confusion. Meg wasn’t scared of him, but rather of what gossip her father would spread around the castle. All thoughts of Bennett fled as the knowledge Meg wasn’t pushing him away like Marian sunk deep into his chest.

“He’s going to make trouble, Guy,” Meg groaned. “For both of us.”

Feeling Meg’s hand on his sleeve, astonished she reached out to him for comfort, Guy couldn’t believe she didn’t condemn him. After all, he did initiate the kiss. Needing physical contact, Guy pulled Meg closer into his embrace before pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

“I can handle your father,” he assured her. “Don’t worry.”

“But, Guy-”

“Come,” he interjected. “Let’s get you back to your chambers. The night has chilled.”

Walking in a daze through the corridors, questions raced through her mind as her heart refused to calm. The only thing grounding her was the solid feel of Guy’s hand cradling hers.

“Rest,” he urged when they stood in front of her door. “We will talk in the morning.”

Squeezing his hand, Meg knew she wouldn’t sleep a wink. Needing assurances, she didn’t want Guy to blame her for their discovery.

“Guy,” she whispered.

Sensing her intention, he shook his head as he squeezed her shoulders. Their gazes met and he made a solemn vow. “Don’t fret, Meg. I’ll find a solution. I promise.”

Overwhelmed, but placing all her faith in him, she nodded. Opening her door, Meg crossed the threshold wishing she didn’t feel so helpless. Her eyes held his until the door closed. Securing the lock, Meg listened to Guy’s retreating footsteps until they faded before walking to her bedchamber. Disrobing before the glow of the low burning fire, humiliation took hold. Did she really allow Guy to…touch her so intimately? Quickly slipping beneath the covers, Meg bit her bottom lip remembering the way Guy kissed her.

Something awakened within her veins, something she couldn’t fully describe, but Meg knew she wanted more of what Guy roused. She wanted to feel that pleasure again, but only in Guy’s arms.

As expected, Meg tossed and turned all night. Frustrated, hardly knowing why, her mind raced with possibilities of what she would have to face come the dawn. Her reputation could be ruined! Surely her own father wouldn’t tarnish her name? Then again, Joseph never ceased scheming. Meg couldn’t trust her own father to keep her safe simply because they were related by blood. The idea of all Nottingham knowing about her private moment with Guy caused mortification to flood her being. Burying her head in her pillow, whispering prayers for mercy, Meg knew her life was about to change forever.

****

Pacing his chamber, Guy wanted to punch the wall! Handling Joseph Bennett wasn’t the cause for his temper. No, what made Guy gritting his teeth was the knowledge that no matter how he dealt with the situation, Meg would suffer one way or another. He wanted to spare her pain, but knew there would be no getting around it. Blaming his lack of control, Guy abandoned his chamber to stalk the halls of the castle, wandering to the hollowed out areas, unaware of the bite of the cold winds. Raking a hand through his hair, that kiss refused to leave his mind. Meg melted so sweetly against him and they fit together perfectly. Remembering the way her moans filled his ears as the moved against his body, Guy gritted his teeth against the rising desires. Every fiber of his being may want to go back to Meg’s chambers, lock the door, and finished what they started on the battlements, but he respected her more than to treat her like a common whore.

Unaware of how much time passed before he finally quit his pacing to return to his rooms, Guy splashed cold water on his face, but the shock did nothing to diminish the pulsing below his waist. Cock hard and throbbing from thoughts of Meg in his arms and in his bed, Guy strived to ignore the cravings as he moved to stand in front of the fireplace. Staring at the glowing ashes, he needed a plan. The easiest solution was simple, but could he follow through? Could he force the issue knowing Meg may not be happy?

They certainly cared deeply for one another, and their kiss…Guy still felt vibrations humming through his blood, but what if the physical allure faded? Could he make Meg happy for the rest of her life?

Lord, he was a fool! Kissing her against that wall made him feel like a green lad with his first wench! Meg was the only woman he desired - could see himself desiring - for the rest of his days, but she deserved better than to be tied forever to a man like him.

Unable to shake Meg from his thoughts, no longer able to resist the burning desire in his blood, Guy unlaced his brais and took his manhood in hand. Stroking his hard flesh, eyes closing, Guy’s head fell back as he envisioned his love’s face and the look in her eyes when she first discovered pleasure. Holding the image, thrills raced through his system until Guy broke apart, shuddering as he spent into his palm, whispering her name. Only when his breathing returned to normal did he find the strength to seek his bed. Come morning, there as going to be a lot to deal with and he wanted to make sure to do right by the woman he loved.

****

Sun streamed through the window, taunting Meg until she opened her eyes. The day dawned without concern for those dreading its arrival, which only served to make Meg grumpy and afraid to face the morning, so she lingered in bed until Anne forced her from her safe cocoon. Come what may, there was no going back, so Meg allowed Anne to help dress her. Thus far, the maid didn’t comment, which Meg took as a good sign. Still, she didn’t want to leave her room and was too scared to ask what the servants could be saying. Instead, Meg decided to forgo her usual duties in favor of sewing by the window. Several more dresses needed to be made before her wardrobe was complete.

Looking out at the world beyond seeing people in the courtyard going about their usual business and the guards standing watch in the normal rotation soothed some of her fears. In fact, nothing seemed out of place today, which should put her at ease. Instead, Meg shifted in her chair as the memory of her time in the dungeons rose to the surface. That night, she wasn’t frightened of her pending execution, but she also had Guy and strange dreams to distract her from her fate. This time, there would be no avoiding the consequences. Nearly jumping out of her skin hearing the knock, Meg put aside her sewing to see who wanted entrance. Silently praying she wouldn’t see her father, Meg released her breath when Guy entered her room. Dismissing Anne, she stepped forward to courtesy.

“Your Grace,” she greeted.

“Please, Meg,” he said thickly. “None of that.”

Grasping her hand, he studied her delicate fingers, pushing aside his lusty thoughts to get to the point. “I’ve spoken to your father and we’ve come to an understanding.”
Blinking in surprise, Meg’s throat went dry.

“My men are loyal to me,” Guy continued. “No one will say a word against you. If your father dares smear your good name to force a marriage, then his own honor will suffer. The choice is now in your hands, Meg. I can force the silence and allow you your freedom.”

Shocked, Meg hardly knew what to think. Not many would be so generous, but why did it sound like Guy was trying to find any way he could to get out of marrying her?

“You heard my father,” she finally managed to whisper. “He thinks me damaged goods. He will marry me off as quickly as possible now.”

Guy’s head shook vehemently. “I won’t let that hap-”

“You will not have a say in the matter,” she snapped. “Nor will I!”

“Meg,” Guy said gently squeezing her fingers, his eyes meeting hers. “Tell me what you want.”

Managing a smile, she looked into those beautiful blue eyes. “I would want you to choose to marry me, but not out of a sense of honor or obligation.”

With a sigh and a shake of her head, Meg turned to the window, her hand slipping from his hold. “I don’t think I could bear that.”

Remorse threatened to choke him, but Guy didn’t know what would make the predicament bearable. Silently moving to stand by her side, he cupped her face in his hands. The pads of his thumbs caressed her cheeks as he gazed into those moist depths.

“How about love,” he asked thickly. “Would that be reason enough to entice you into marriage? Because, heaven help me, Meg, I do love you.”

Gasping, eyes wide, Meg could only stare at him, wondering if she heard correctly. Searching his eyes for sincerity, she struggled to breathe. How many times did she dream of Guy making such a confession? Now, here he stood, actually saying the words!

Before Meg could gather her wits, Guy knelt before her, grasping her hands as he smiled. “Meg Bennett, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wedded wife?”

Chapter Text

Forgetting to breathe, Meg stared at Guy as her heart clogged her throat. She dreamed of this moment for so long and now she was tongue-tied in the face of giving an answer! Since the night in the dungeons, Meg prayed Guy could come to love her as deeply as she loved him. She spent almost every night dreaming about their private moments together from the time by the lake, to their passionate kiss in the rain, to the heated glances they shared over dining tables these last few months. How many times did she sob into her pillow thinking Guy would never return her feelings? Now he kneeled before her asking for her hand in marriage.

An eternity seemed to pass before this moment, yet his words felt awfully sudden. Guy swore to love her, but could Meg put her faith in his claim? Did he really feel love, or did he merely say so to save her reputation?

“Guy,” she managed in a gentle tone. “I don’t know what to say.”

Rising to his feet, he cupped Meg’s face in his hands. Cradling her cheeks, he saw her inward debate play out in her eyes. Knowing how she felt, he assumed proposing would be an easy task, never expected Meg to be torn on the subject.

“Just say ‘yes’,” he softly urged.

‘Because it would be easier if you just suddenly loved me?”

“There is nothing sudden about it,” he swore.

Letting her gaze fall, Meg shook her head, easing away from the warmth of his touch which currently clouded her thinking. In the end, Meg would rather be tied to Guy than a stranger, but was that enough reason to accept him? Was she being a silly girl for wanting to marry for love instead of logic or desperation or…convenience?

“I don’t want you to regret marrying me years down the line,” she stated as she turned to stare out of the window. “I don’t think I could bear it.”

Moving to stand behind her, Guy wrapped his arms around her waist, drawing her back against his body. Resting his chin on the top of her head, he gazed at the view. “That is my fear as well,” he confessed.

“Guy-”

“I fear hurting you like I did Marian,” he continued. “You know all of that. I’ve denied my feelings for so long because I don’t want you to ever suffer for being near me. Heaven help me, I tried staying away and giving you the freedom I know you wanted, especially after Hardwood-”

Breaking off, swallowing hard, Guy forced the anger down and out of his voice before continuing. “I realized how much I care about you, Meg. Your father wants this match and there are a dozen reasons why we should wed, but the only reason relevant to me is the love I have for you.”

Closing her eyes, Meg melted into his hold. Hearing his declaration scared away most of her doubts.

“If you don’t feel the same, tell me now and I will make sure no one breaths a word about what happened on the battlements.”

Turning to face him, Meg wound her arms around his waist, gazing up into his beautiful blue eyes. “You know I love you,” she said with a growing smile. “There is nothing I want more than to be yours.”

Relieved, he exhaled as he pulled her closer. “Is that a ‘yes’ then?”

Nodding, Meg’s smile widened. “Yes.”

Taking her lips, Guy intended for the kiss to be tender in celebration of their betrothal, but the passion they both denied for too long rose quickly. Devouring her mouth, Guy held Meg close, savoring how her body molded to his frame. Hearing her little moans of pleasure, he craved more of her taste. Meg would finally his and Guy wanted more intimacy. Hand moving to her bodice, Guy eagerly cupped her bosom, loving the way Meg sighed into his mouth, arching into his palm. He would have happily continued this exploration but the sound of approaching footsteps broke the spell.

Breaking apart as Meg’s lady’s maid entered the room, Guy took his betrothed’s hand, bowing low. “My Lady,’ he formally addressed before taking his leave.

Watching him retreat, knees weak, Meg sank into the closet chair. She could feel Anne’s eyes on her, but didn’t want to dole out explanations. Instead, her fingertips lightly touched her bruised lips as a smile curled over her face.

She and Guy of Gisborne were engaged! They were to be married! Best of all, he loved her! He loved her just as surely as she loved him and nothing could intrude on this perfect bliss!

****

Going over some business after sending a message to Joseph Bennett, Guy knew the earl would think he got his own way hearing news of the betrothal. Guy supposed the assumption couldn’t be helped, but there may be a way to work the situation to his advantage. Double checking the accounts, he knew the funds for the castle were running dangerously low. Meg’s bride price would help make up the difference, but it wouldn’t fix the full problem.

Taking some fresh parchment, he started fashioning a letter to Prince John, but paused halfway through. Should he wait to inform the prince of his betrothal until they set date? The banns needed to be read and preparations should be made, but the royal did give him a deadline. Not wanting to think about the prince’s ultimatum, Guy left the letter as he rose to his feet.

Feeling restless, Guy headed to the stables. Riding to Kirkleys, he spoke to the priest and made arrangements. He wanted to make Meg his wife before any obstacle crept up to prevent the union. The sun nearly set by the time he returned to Nottingham town. Entering the castle, he paused seeing Tuck and Little John waiting.

“We need to speak to you,” Tuck stated.

Nodding, Guy gestured for them to follow him to his study. Once the door closed, he folded his arms over his chest looking at the men expectantly. “Well,” Guy asked. “What is so urgent?”

“We heard of your engagement to Lady Meg,” Tuck smiled. “Congratulations.”

News certainly travelled fast, but he supposed that was Bennett’s doing. “Thank you.”

“I hope you’re marrying her for the right reasons,” Little John grumbled.

Eyes narrowing, Guy met the man’s gaze. “I didn’t think you were so protective of her.”

“I always thought she was misguided liking you, but I still don’t want to see her trapped in a life of misery.”

Straightening to full height, Guy looked down his nose at John. “She will be a duchess. Her Grace, Lady Gisborne. She will lack nothing.”

“Just because she’ll have a higher title doesn’t mean she’ll be happy!”

“Enough,” Tuck interrupted before Guy could take the argument up a notch. “We have business to discuss.”

Nodding, Guy moved to sit behind his desk. “Very well.”

“First,” Tuck continued as he moved to sit. “Lord Hartwood has disappeared.”

Guy frowned. “What do you mean?”

“He’s gone,” Tuck reiterated. “No one knows where.”

“He abandoned his lands? The village of Nettlestone?”

“Aye,” John said. “Like a thief in the night.”

“Where would he go?”

Tuck shrugged. “He doesn’t have many connections outside the shire.”

“We need to find him,” Guy insisted. Fisting a hand, Guy didn’t want a man like Hartwood on the loose. Undoubtedly, Hartwood would seek revenge, so the best course would be finding him before he could do irreparable damage.

“Why,” John challenged. “He can’t show his face among decent society anymore. Let him run away like the coward he is.”

“He might try to exact revenge,” Guy clarified. “As the protector of this town, we need to make sure the people are safe.” When he said “people” the only person he thought of was Meg. Remembering how Hartwood hurt her, Guy silently vowed to seize Hartwood before he got a chance to hurt her a second time.

Little John scoffed. “Not surprising that you made the man your enemy. It doesn’t take you very long, does it?”

Guy met John’s gaze unflinchingly. “Would you rather have a man like Hartwood as your friend, John?”

Realizing how his words sounded, the steward had the good sense to look a tad guilty. “Better to keep him close,” he grumbled.

“Your punishment was…severe,” Tuck added.

Guy’s brows shot up his forehead. “I disagree.”

“What he did to Meg was-”

“Inexcusable,” Guy snapped. “He’s lucky he has his life!”

Tuck met the sheriff’s eyes without fear. “Did you go after him as the sheriff or as a man looking for revenge?”

Jaw clenching, Guy refused to justify his actions to the monk. “Hartwood is a pig,” he said with conviction. “I acted to protect the people, including Meg. His attack on her could not go unpunished. I know you advocate peace, but the demons of this world want no such thing. I dealt with him and spared his life. If he chooses to throw away that life I spared, instead of living in disgrace, then he will bear the full consequences.”

“That mercy may come back around to bite us,” John pointed out. “Hartwood may stay hidden forever, but we will always be looking over our shoulders.”

“And if I would have killed him, you would be the first one trying to have me replaced,” Guy snapped. “I’ll never please you, John, but I won’t apologize for what I did. Hartwood was punished justly for his crimes. If he wants to seek revenge on me, so be it. I will do my duty to Nottingham and I will stand by my decisions. If you want to be the advocate of such filth, then be my guest.”

Eyes narrowing, John bit the inside of his cheek. Guy of Gisborne always rubbed him the wrong way, but seeing the former lackey actually taking a stand and holding true to his actions made Little John give him a begrudging but of respect. Nevertheless, if Hartwood became a problem, the fault rested at Guy’s feet.

“It’s another mess we have to clean up,” John argued.

Ignoring the jab, Guy turned his attention to Tuck. “We need to install someone to watch over Nettlestone. The people there need to be taken care of.”

“Only the king can strip the man of his title,” Tuck reminded.

“I’ll send a message to King Richard, but in the meantime we will appoint a steward to guard the property and earnings.”

“But who,” the monk asked.

Guy turned to Little John. The steward of Nottingham blinked. “I don’t know anyone,” he snapped.

“But you are steward,” Guy stressed. “Seeing to Nettlestone as well as Nottingham shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment.”

“I’m no noble,” John spat as he rose to his feet and walked to the door. Having endured enough of Gisborne for one day, he wanted his rest. “Find someone else.”

Little John didn’t hesitate to slam the door behind him. Sighing, Tuck never expected to run into so many complications so fast. Looking to Guy, he wondered what they were going to do now.

****

Her happiness shattered in an instant. Walking the courtyard, Meg basked in the joy of her engagement, thinking of the future with excitement. She could envision living a fulfilling life by Guy’s side, hopefully surrounded by children.

So lost in her thoughts, Meg didn’t sense the person approaching until they were upon her. One moment she fantasied about little boys looking just like their father as a soothing breeze caressed her cheek and the next, an all too familiar voice shattered the vision.

“I’ve heard the good news.”

Stiffening, Meg stubbornly refused looking at her father, knowing he wanted to gloat.

“I’m glad you stopped dragging your feet on the matter.”

Meg wasn’t foolish enough to think Joseph cared about her happiness. No, he wanted to be close to power and with his daughter wed to the sheriff, raised to a duchess, Joseph would be within reach of royalty. If Joseph thought Guy would help him with his ambitions, the man was sorely mistaken.

“You now have the sheriff’s ear,” Joseph continued. “I expect you to use your influence.”

Disgusted, Meg shook her head. “You are mistaken if you think I will help you hurt Guy,” she hissed.

“Who said anything about hurting him?” Smirking, Joseph’s eyes twinkled with anticipation. “Guy of Gisborne has the ear of both Prince John and King Richard. He is clever and makes a formidable enemy. No, Meg, you’re going to help me into his good graces.”

Blinking, she finally turned to look at her sire. Joseph couldn’t be trusted in the slightest. He followed the thrashing waves of power and didn’t care who was swept away in the chaos of the storm. Even his daughter wouldn’t be too much of a sacrifice if it meant gaining a high-ranking position at Court. Yet, knowing his tricks didn’t insure she would avoid all his traps.

“Guy and I are not even married yet.”

“But you will be,” Joseph pointed out. “The first banns will be read in a few days. I doubt the engagement will be a long one.”

Bewildered, and yes, a little frightened, she gripped her skirts to keep her shaking hands hidden. “What do you want from me?”

Joseph’s smile deepened. “I’ll let you know.”

Heart pounding, Meg watched her father walk away feeling as if a ghost just walked over her grave.

Chapter Text

The banns were read in church, so now everyone in town knew of the sheriff’s engagement. In a few months’ time, Meg would be a duchess, which meant she could do more for the poor, but would also have more responsibilities. Too many social engagements and formalities required her attention already and that number would increase dramatically once she wed. Though such things were more casual in Nottingham, Meg would have to mentally prepare for Court. Since Guy and Prince John were on good terms, the odds of the prince calling Guy to his court were great, so Meg needed to be prepared to swim in deeper waters. She would be the only duchess in the shire, but Court bragged plenty.

Worse, her father often plagued her already numerous worries. Yes, the man was pleased by her match, but that didn’t mean she could let her guard down for a single instant in his company. Walking through town, Meg noticed how more people stopped to stare or pay her reverence. By winning her favor, they hoped to win over the sheriff.

Naturally, Meg wanted to see the good in others, but she wasn’t so naïve as to trust every kind word. All the suitors her father thrust under her nose taught her that lesson the hard way. They would flatter and flirt, then blatantly tell her a list of responsibilities she would endure as a wife and not one included being her own person. Dealing with Isabella solidified the teaching in her mind. However, Meg knew her faith in men wasn’t entirely misplaced. Falling in love with Guy was the best thing to happen to her.

Making her purchases at market, she returned to the castle, knowing appointments with seamstresses awaited. Getting fitted for her wedding clothes would take most of the afternoon. The celebration was going to a grand occasion, so Meg knew she would need help with the sewing. Bolts of fine fabric were displayed before her for approval. Yards of color and designs; as well as threads, trimmings, and pieces of headdress decorations laid out in vivid rows.

Growing up as an earl’s daughter, Meg wasn’t a stranger to some of the finer things in life, but this level of luxury and pampering made her heart slam with trepidation at the gravity of her new position. The power and responsibility were burdens she would have to carry with grace as the wife of not only a duke, but also the sheriff.

Intrigue would always surround Guy, and as a result, Meg would be tangled in the web by association. There was no away she would be immune to the scheming going on around her and worried about recognizing pitfalls before being clever enough to aid her husband should he need assistance.

Meg never dreamed of a life at Court, and the reality of this moment only reaffirmed her concerns. Nottingham wasn’t London, by any means, but Meg would have to develop her skills nonetheless. Already knowing her father was sniffing around for the scent of weakness didn’t sit well. Joseph wanted to use his daughter’s soon-to-be status to gain recognition at Court. To what end, Meg remained uncertain, but she would have to make clear to her father, and those close to Guy, that she didn’t automatically align with Joseph Bennett.

“My lady,” one of the servants called, gesturing for Meg to look over the offerings of silks and linens. Sewing her gown would take time, so Meg to make a final decision about colors and patterns and get to work. Her eyes paused over various pink, gold, and red shades, but her fingers unconsciously stoked the pale blue and green fabrics. The deep sky blue would bring out her eyes. A gown of blue, trimmed in gold around the hem of the skirt and sleeves appealed to her mind’s eye. Beautiful enough for a duchess? Perhaps she should add lace?

At times like these, she could use more guidance and missed her mother fervently, despite knowing the woman’s spirit watched over her even now. Asking Kate for help didn’t sit well considering they weren’t really friends as much as tolerant of one another. Meg would have to make several decisions on her own, so she better get used to the idea.

Remembering the shade of Guy’s eyes, Meg selected the blue and stood on a stool to be measured. Just when her legs started aching, they finished, allowing Meg to select the threads. Hours later, needing fresh air, she walked up to the battlements for a glimpse of the horizon. Plenty of work awaited her, but a few minutes of solitude to gather her thoughts wouldn’t be remiss.

Spending most of the day coped up in his study drawing up tax decrees with Tuck and Little John, Guy felt he beginnings of a headache behind his eyes. The merchants wouldn’t be pleased, and probably raise prices as a result, which will anger the people, but Guy hoped Tuck, John, and the gang still possessed enough sway with the villagers to make them understand this sacrifice necessary for all.

The castle needed to be restored to its former glory so he could properly protect Nottingham. The people should comprehend the full situation, yet Guy knew Robin Hood’s ideals spoiled them all. The villagers expected goods and services for free. Well, everything in this world came at a price.

Satisfied the decree was as fair as possible to all involved; Guy left the room in search of some peace. The moment he saw Meg on the battlements the weight of his burdens rolled off his shoulders. Grinning from ear-to-ear, feeling a familiar thrill rush through his blood when Meg bestowed her kind gaze upon him, Guy didn’t feel so crushed by the obligations of his office.

Wrapping an arm around her waist, he immediately drew her into his frame, hugging her close to inhale her floral scent. “I missed you,” he whispered.

“You weren’t in church this morning," Meg commented as she drew back enough to smile up at him.

“I had business with Tuck and John.”

“Nothing too serious?”

“A new tax,” he sighed.

Worry marred her features, but Guy cupped her face, his thumbs caressing her cheeks as he kissed her brow to ease her tension. Lord knows, he loved being able to have even these simple, yet imitate, moments with his betrothed. Knowing Meg returned his feelings made all the difference and gave Guy the confidence to carry on as sheriff when his guilt clawed at his conscious.

Soaking in the sensation of his touch, Meg shivered with delight. Oh, how she craved more from him, but until they were officially wed, they must be careful. Reputations were important among the nobles.

“Do you fear how the villagers will react,” she asked as a way of distracting her mind from her warming blood.

Letting his hands fall to his sides, Guy didn’t want to frighten her, but Meg was the one person he didn’t want to lie to. “There will be commotion, no doubt, but the people of this shire will get used to the changes in time.”

“I hope so.” If there was an uprising against Guy’s leadership, then Meg feared the worst.

Sensing her apprehension, Guy cupped her cheek once more, forcing her gaze to meet his. “There is nothing to fear, Meg.”

“But everyone heard Prince John’s announcement about the taxes! They hale you as a hero, but they may turn against you if they think you’re taking money from them anyway!”

“It won’t be like that. I swear it. Tuck is spreading the word even as we speak about a meeting in Nottingham town for the formal announcement. This is a tax on the merchants for doing business.”

“Which will affect everyone else,” she warned. “They won’t like it.”

“And I will explain the necessity,” Guy insisted. “Tuck and John will be there to answer questions and lend their support, which should help convince Robin’s admirers. We are responsible for this shire, Meg. We need to see it thrive economically, which means we have to make these decisions.”

“And if the people throw rotten cabbage at you?”

Chuckling, Guy pulled her closer. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Remembering the crowd throwing rotting vegetables at her and Guy the morning they were marched out of the dungeons for their execution, Meg shivered.

As if sensing the same memory, Guy ran a comforting hand up and down her back. “Everything will be fine,” he assured her. “You’ll see.”

Hugging him close, resting her cheek on his tunic, Meg listened to the thump of his strong heartbeat. She should have more faith in him, but this world wasn’t always kind and just. What happened to Robin was a perfect example. He lived a noble life and died young for a cause.

Selfishly, Meg wanted the man she loved to stay by her side as they grew old. She wanted him to live long enough to see his grandchildren. Having their lives torn apart before they could wed would be a tragedy.

Easing back, managing to push aside her worry, Meg allowed Guy to lace his arm through hers and escort her down through the courtyards. The sun wasn’t too blinding today, so she didn’t need a veil.

“How are the wedding plans coming along,” he asked.

Smiling at the question, Meg gave a nonchalant shrug. “As best as can be expected.”

“We will need plenty of rich foods and lively entertainment.”

Laughing at the notion, Meg shook her head. “Surely we don’t need so much!”

Pausing, Guy gave her a serious look. “Prince John will be attending the nuptials.”

Unable to conceal her surprise, a gasp left her throat. “But, he just left Nottingham!”

“He’s eager to see my wedding. Undoubtedly, he looks forward to my heirs being more loyal to him than King Richard.”

“Will they be,” Mg dared to ask. Knowing Guy was obligated to both the king and the prince, and felt torn about such entanglements; Meg wanted to know what Guy thought on the subject of their future.

Studying his love for a long moment, Guy felt a little hurt she didn’t have more faith. “I owe my position to King Richard,” Guy confessed in a low voice only she could hear, “and I will keep my word to watch his brother and keep the prince in check.”

“But,” Meg prompted, knowing there was more.

Glancing around the courtyard to make sure they were alone, Guy chose his words very carefully. “Unless the king is released, and soon, we may have to settle for Prince John.”

Shaking her head in denial, Meg didn’t want to think about such a horrible outcome. Surely King Richard would return! England needed him!

“And if Prince John does become king?”

Guy sighed. “Then it will behoove us to remain in his good graces. Having him attend our wedding is part of that.”

“I’m uncertain if my father will pay-”

“He will once he knows the prince will be one of the main guests,” Guy insisted. “Besides, such spending should ease the news of the new tax.”

“My father will demand something in return,” she reminded.

Hearing the words, Guy scoffed. “He will have the opportunity to make friends with the prince at our wedding, while gaining a duke and sheriff for a son-in-law. With such connections, and the promise of an invitation to Court, he will hardly be in a position to make more demands.”

“I’m simply warning you,” Meg said.

“I can handle him.”

Hearing the confidence in his tone eased her mind, but Meg still resented her father’s behavior. “I want to be a good wife for you,” she confessed. “Not one who brings more burdens into the marriage.”

Pulling her into the shadows of an archway, Guy grasped Meg's shoulders, pressing her back into the cod stone wall. Those blue eyes burned with fierce intensity as they locked with hers. “The only thing I want from this marriage is you, Meg. To finally be able to make you my own.”

Unable to hold back a smile, she reached up to tuck his dark hair away from his face before letting her nails stroke his stubbled chin. “I love you, Guy.”

Feeling unworthy hearing her words, Guy wanted to chase away his doubts by losing himself in the one woman who saw his demons and didn’t run away. Only Meg‘s devotion made him worthy of love. With her, he had the strength to face his past and overcome his fears. Inhaling a sharp breath, he couldn’t resist the temptation her lips presented. Thankfully, Meg didn’t struggle when he bent to taste her sweetness. Her moan of surprise as his tongue swept into her mouth sent thrills through his blood, causing his manhood to awaken with need. Lord, he never tired of tasting her, of feeling her softness press into his body!

Urging her to kiss him back, Guy wasn’t disappointed when she wrapped her arms around his neck, melting into his frame, and returned the kiss with undisguised passion. They both wanted more, but knew they must stop before they were discovered.

Regretfully, Guy came up for air, panting as he took in the sight of Meg’s swollen lips and glazed eyes. He couldn’t wait until their wedding night. “Meg,” he rasped.

“I know,” she panted. Licking her lips, Meg let her arms slip off his shoulders and fall back to her sides. Watching Guy step back, the aftershocks of the kiss left her needing to take a moment to gather her composure.

Squeezing her hand, Guy waited until Meg smoothed her skirts and settled her breathing before escorting her back into the finished area of the castle. As they passed the main hall, someone called Guy’s name. Seeing Tuck waving, parchment in hand, Guy apologized, giving Meg a formal bow.

A look of promise passed between the couple before Guy turned to walk down the hall to meet Tuck. Admiring his frame as he moved away, Meg bit her bottom lip before remembering her composure and quickly turned to make her way to her chambers. Several tasks awaited, guaranteeing she day would be fill of activity, but despite all the work and preparations, that kiss was never far from her thoughts.

Chapter Text

Her condition started showing, but Kate didn’t see the need to conceal her secret any longer. She thought she could endure the comments and stares. In Locksley, where people knew Robin well, she was treated with courtesy, but a few looks of disappointment were cast in her direction; mostly from her mother.

Nottingham Town was a different story entirely. Kate journeyed to the market to buy supplies for Archer’s household and wanted to visit Little John. Yet, every time a glimpse of her belly protruded through her cloak, Kate endured dirty sneers and sounds of disgust from those around her. Confused, Kate didn’t fully understand because despite everyone knowing she and Robin weren’t married when he died, they all admired his gang for being the heroes who helped them. However, since Kate wasn’t wed, she couldn’t claim a widow’s rights.

One woman called her a harlot right to her face before spitting on Kate’s shoes! Shocked, Kate said a few choice words back and received a slap across her cheek for her trouble. Witnesses defended her attacker, causing Kate’s world to spin. As strangers threw accusations about her faulting character, she ran for cover.

Ungrateful ragamuffins! Did they not know who she was?! Did they not remember all she and Robin sacrificed for them?!

“Robin Hood is dead,” one merchant commented after the ruckus died down and noticed Kate’s dazed expression. “He left you behind to deal with the consequences, I’m afraid.”

Hating the sight of the pity in the man’s eyes, Kate squared her shoulders. “But this is a hero’s child!”

“He’s not a hero anymore,” the merchant said sadly before turning away.

How could these people say such things? Did they blame Robin for dying and leaving them at Prince John’s mercy? Hearing comments praising Guy of Gisborne’s efforts as sheriff, the old resentment choked Kate’s throat. So much changed and she didn’t even realize.

Robin was dead and her child would be born a bastard.

The implication hung in the air and followed Kate through the rest of her day. The only reason she was given any service and not shunned by many in town was her status as Archer’s servant. As long as she had the Earl’s protection, she would be shielded from the brunt of the hostilities. Clearly, no one wished to anger the new Earl of Huntingdon.

Walking home in a daze, Kate could hardly believe what happened. Yes, she knew the rules of society, but she thought since she carried Robin Hood’s baby, she would be the exception to the rules – that the villagers would hold her child in high esteem as they did his father. If Robin lived, she would be his Countess. Instead, she was considered by everyone in the shire as his last whore.

Shame squeezed her heart, but when the tears fell, she angrily brushed them away. Kate wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself! As a woman who took action, who lived by her own rules, she refused to let the vicious words get under her skin. Let them whisper! Kate loved her child and would make sure her baby grew up proud of his heritage!

Yet, finally reaching the main house, Kate headed straight for her room and collapsed on her bed with exhaustion. Burying her face in the covers, she cried until her tears were spent. Her headstrong nature was a trait she credited with giving her courage. In retrospect, the quality turned her foolhardy. Her baby shouldn’t have to suffer her mistakes, yet, her child would be branded a bastard from his first breath and never have a chance of inheriting his birthright.

Resentment for her lover filled her chest. How could Robin die and leave them? Kate knew the blame rested at Isabella’s feet, and she hoped the woman’s soul was rotting in Hell! The Gisbornes took so much from her! First her brother, then Robin, and now her good name!

Well, the latter was her own fault, she supposed, Kate did push the issue and on the eve of the siege, she guessed Robin simply didn’t have enough willpower to resister her charms. After all she endured today; Kate would still cherish that memory. How could she regret making her child?

Growing up as Archer’s ward, her baby would have the advantages of an education and the protection of the Huntingdon name. Plus, given the nature of Archer’s own birth, hopefully, he will feel a kinship with his coming niece or nephew. They could be a family.

Once her tears dried, Kate put a hand over the small swell. Her baby will be loved and protected. The thought comforted her as she got back to work.

****

As expected, Guy’s announcement met with an initial outcry, but he behaved every inch the proud leader and stated under no uncertain terms that the tax was a necessity, and not given lightly. Guy didn’t flinch or back down as livid townsfolk called him a traitor. Instead, he outlined all the reasons the castle needed to be repaired and told the people to choose which they would prefer– no tax, or no protection. In the end, the crowd calmed and listened to his authority, even before Tuck and Little John spoke up in the tax’s defense.

Proud as she watched events unfold, Meg thought Guy the best sheriff Nottingham ever had and felt the people were starting to see his worth. As the crowd dispersed, a few still grumbling about the money, Meg rose to her feet intending to congratulate her betrothed. Instead, Tuck whisked Guy away on a matter of business. Hurt Guy didn’t look in her direction once, Meg almost gave chase, but her father suddenly blocked her path.

Over the last several days, Meg managed to avoid a confrontation while making wedding arrangements, but apparently, she miscalculated his intention to attend the announcement this afternoon.

“He’s a clever man,” Joseph commented. “Our sheriff will have Nottingham set to rights in no time.”

Remaining silent, Meg hoped her father would get the hint and leave her in peace.

Ignoring his child’s raised brow, the earl continued. “I hear Prince John intends to attend your wedding. It seems the duke is making friends with the prince and sacrificing his loyalty to King Richard. Probably for the best. I hear rumors the king isn’t well. Prince John may become our next monarch before the year is out.”

Narrowing her gaze, Meg didn’t want to have this conversation. “Excuse me, Father,” she said as politely as she could manage. “I have duties to attend to.”

Instead of allowing Meg to pass, Joseph followed close on her heels, determined to say what was on his mind.

“This wedding can’t come fast enough. With the news about that Kate woman, people are looking at you and speculating.”

Gasping in shock, Meg stopped dead to stare at her father. What was he implying? Oh, Lord, did he mean-

“You were the only other woman amongst a band of outlaws living in Sherwood,” Joseph stated, eyeing hid daughter with a slightly curled lip. “Most considered Robin Hood a man of honor, but now his mistress is with child, which brings all of his past deeds into question. The news of your betrothal to Guy had the nobles suspicious.”

The insult couldn’t be clearer, and Meg lifted her chin a notch in silent protest. “Guy is an honorable man-”

“You are a noblewoman,” the earl snapped, “who was alone in Sherwood Forest with outlaws for months! The only reason your character hasn’t suffered is because those outlaws rose to positions of power since the siege. Guy of Gisborne most of all. He vouched for you and is now taking you to wife. As long as you have children within the appropriate timeframe after the wedding, all shall be overlooked, and our family name will remain intact.”

Outrage boiled in her veins! Her word wasn’t good enough?! Meg wanted to scream, but losing her temper would only give Joseph more excuses to mistreat her. The rules were different for women, a fact he loved reminding her of often enough.

“I am not Kate,” she stated through clenched teeth.

Joseph gave a nod of approval. “Good. Let’s hope the bedding ceremony proves it.”

The color drained from Meg’s face, but Joseph pretended not to notice as a crafty smile curved his lips. Promising to see her soon, the earl continued on his way. Placing a hand over her quivering stomach, Meg closed her eyes and pushed aside her initial fear. The idea of men, even if they were priests, watching over her marriage bed to make certain the vows were consummated horrified her. Normally, the linens were displayed the morning after as proof of the bride’s virtue and purity, but in some cases, witnesses were preferred so they could be called forth to vouch for the legitimacy of a union if it was ever called into question.

Surely Guy would never allow such a humiliation! Meg wasn’t Kate, so there was no need to prove her innocence! Was there? Meg may be stubborn and outspoken at times, but she wasn’t as reckless with her virtue as the blond! How could her father think such things? Did he not know her at all? Or perhaps he wanted to fill her mind with fear to better control her. Joseph hoped Meg’s connection to Guy would further his own ambitions, so if he controlled his daughter, he would have the ear of an influential duke. Naturally, Meg rebelled against the notion, so Joseph probably resorted to using his mind tricks thinking she would be easier to manipulate.

Meg agreed to Guy’s proposal because she loved him with all her heart and soul. If possible, Meg wanted to help him rule Nottingham with a fair hand while giving him heirs to carry on his legacy. What did she care for the politics of it all? Guy wanted to bring honor back to the House of Gisborne, and Meg didn’t want to risk being a hindrance to those plans, so if her father’s veiled insults about her character did indeed loom over the noble ranks, perhaps there was reason for caution.

Hopefully, her father was bluffing. After all, if her reputation did fall as low as Kate’s, Joseph Bennett wouldn’t be able to see his star rise at Court. Deciding to put her father’s words from her mind, Meg continued forward.

No sooner did she take three steps and a stranger in a hooded cloak blocked the archway. Face encased in shadow, the stranger stepped forward. Fear stiffened her spine as every instinct told Meg to run. Just as she turned to do just that, the man rushed forward, pulling a dagger from him belt. As he lunged, Meg dodged the blade, pivoting on her ankle, screaming for help, and searching for an escape. Desperate, the stranger grabbed a fistful of her lose hair, dragging her backward against his chest and covering her mouth with his gloved hand before whispering in her ear.

“Hartwood sends his regards.”

Hartwood’s name ignited enough fear to knock the fight out of her. As Meg’s struggles weakened, the arms holding her tightened like a vice. Wide-eyed, she watched the man’s arm rise, intending to stab the blade deep in her chest. At the last second, the arm fell, the dagger clattering to the ground as his grip went slack and a gurgling sound passed his lips. Meg didn’t understand what happened until the blood poured from his mouth.

Jumping back with a cry, she heard the man cough, spraying blood across the bodice of her gown seconds before he collapsed to his knees. His eyes met hers for a brief moment before he fell face-first onto the stones – dead. Shivering, Meg’s gaze lifted to see Little John standing over the would-be-murderer with a bloodied sword in his hand. As screams of onlookers filled the air, Meg couldn’t fully comprehend events, her knees quivering and her pulse racing as a result of the rising shock. Blood running cold, a damp sweat coated her palms as Meg fought the light-headedness to maintain her composure.

Little John just saved her life. Her first thought was to thank him, but she forgot how to form the words on her tongue. A moment later, a pair of arms pulled her into a wall of warmth. Remaining stiff until she noticed the black tunic, Meg sank into Guy’s hold as she breathed in the scent of leather and musk and him that always brought comfort. Nodding when he asked if she was alright, her gaze followed Little John’s movements as he rolled the dead man over and jerked down the cloak to fully reveal the villain’s face.

No one recognized him.

“He’s not from this shire,” John informed Guy.

Giving his steward a nod, Guy’s eyes drifted to Meg. Ashen, shaking, and distraught, she looked ready to faint. Rubbing her shoulders until he saw her eyes close, he cupped her cheeks gently in his palms, forcing her gaze to his.

“Meg,” he stated soothingly, but with assertion. “What happened?”

Making an effort to think logically and push away her fear, Meg swallowed several times before attempting to use her voice. In the end, she only managed one word. “Hartwood.”

Blue eyes turning cold as ice as he exchanged a look with Little John, Guy watched as the steward searched the man’s clothes for clues, finding the Hartwood family crest embroidered into the cloak and tunic. Holding Meg closer under his shrug, Guy instinctively protected his betrothed from potential threats as his eyes scanned the courtyard. No one was going to hurt her! Not while there was breath left in his body!

Snapping orders to the guards to clear the body and lower the gates, he then carried Meg inside the safety of the castle, leaving John to follow. Once in the main hall, he paused for a word. “Ask around town and make sure he came alone.”

Giving a nod and slight bow, John disappeared from sight. Escorting Meg to her chambers, Guy guided her to a chair before the fire. His silence felt jarring, but Meg doubted she would feel comforted by words right now anyway.

“I want you to stay here and lock the door,” he ordered.

“F-for how long,” she managed.

“Until I know it’s safe.”

As he turned to leave, she snatched his hand, her eyes pleading. “I don’t-”

Lump rising in her throat, she swallowed and tried again. Selfishly, she wanted Guy to stay and hold her until her fears passed, but he must see to his duties. Instead of begging him to stay, she asked a different question.

“What about the wedding preparations? I can’t see to everything from here.”

Studying her a long moment, Guy chose his words carefully. “I would prefer you be alive for our wedding, Meg. Stay put and don’t do anything rash.”

Opening her mouth to argue, she nearly called his name, but Guy was already halfway out the door. Hearing the oak slam, she inhaled several breaths before rising on unsteady feet to cross the room and bolt the door. Luckily, she made her way back to the chair before her knees gave out. Remembering every detail of the attack, the cold panic returned. Wasn’t it enough Hartwood nearly ruined her? He now wanted his revenge with her blood? Closing her eyes, despite her best efforts, the tears slid down her cheeks.

Chapter Text

The men came together in the main hall an hour after dusk to discuss their findings. Hartwood’s assassin appeared to have arrived in Nottingham Town alone, but details remained vague. Hearing the news, Guy cast both Tuck and Little John poignant looks.

“Are you sorry now I sent men after Hartwood?”

“That could be the very reason he sent someone after Meg,” John snapped back. He would be damned if he let Gisborne lay the blame at their feet!

“Perhaps he heard the news of your impending nuptials,” Tuck suggested.

“Perhaps,” Guy admitted. Inwardly, he cringed at the idea. Having already caused one woman’s death, Guy wouldn’t bring the same fate down upon Meg’s shoulders.

“He could send more assassins,” John pointed out. “He’ll know this one failed.”

“I will put more guards around the gates and have a few follow Meg.” Guy would feel better knowing she was well looked after until the wedding ceremony.

“I will send a complaint to London,” Tuck stated. “Given the situation, Prince John should be informed of events.”

Hearing mention of the royal’s name, Little John scoffed, while Guy arched a questioning brow before turning to stare into the flames burning in the hearth. Hartwood would want to make Meg pay for the punishment Guy inflicted. With her death, Hartwood knew he would render Guy emotionally impotent. Hartwood would probably get a kick out of the irony if the coward never came out of the shadows long enough for a real rematch. There was no one but Meg to safeguard his soul and make him feel human, so if he lost her, Guy knew his life would be forfeit. Living as a priest the rest of his days may be extreme, but Guy doubted he could go on as sheriff if anything happened to the one person he needed more than air.

“The Prince will be in Nottingham for the wedding,” Guy informed the men as he faced them once again.

Little John cursed under his breath. He really hated hearing an utterance about the greedy royal.

“Hartwood won’t dare another attempt on Meg’s life with so many guards lining the city walls,” Guy continued.

“He could come after Meg when the prince departs,” Tuck pointed out. “I still say we inform Prince John and let him deal with Hartwood.”

“We have to find Hartwood first,” Guy spat, his fists clenched. When Hartwood first disappeared, he sent a search party, but it was as if the former noble vanished in a puff of smoke. He was either dead in a ditch or being protected by someone with influence. Finding Hartwood and dragging him before the prince would make a public spectacle and Meg’s name would be the center of attention. Even if they were wed when the allegations were brought, she would still have to endure the public humiliation of the whole Court learning of the attack.

No. Guy refused to force her to live through such. Is this what came from showing mercy? He inflicted a fitting punishment by allowing Hartwood to live, but the man refused to let the matter lie. By sending someone to kill Meg, Hartwood just dug his own grave.

There was no other option. As Lady Bennett, or Her Grace Lady Gisborne, Meg shouldn’t have to endure the public disgrace of a trial. The prince and King Richard will be informed of Hartwood’s crimes and should they pass judgment on Guy for killing the man, then so be it.

Recognizing the hard glint in the sheriff’s eyes, Tuck stepped forward, hoping words of reason would penetrate his harsh demeanor. “Hartwood’s death will change nothing, Guy,” he stated. “You risk your eternal soul.”

“The world will be a much safer place without him,” the sheriff spat.

Tuck’s gaze never wavered. “It will still be murder.”

He wanted to roar in outrage, but merely clenched his fists as he glared at the monk. “And you would have such a dangerous man alive to murder innocents like Meg instead?”

“I understand why you’re upset-”

“No!” Guy’s grip on his temper fumbled, but right now he didn’t care. “I will not lose her! Not after everything!”

“I have to agree with Guy,” John stated to Tuck. “Hartwood lacks morals. We need to stop such injustice-”

“That was not Robin Hood’s message!” Tuck looked each man in the eye, but failed to recognize the faces of the men he once knew. “We would never kill as a first option! Capture Hartwood, then we will administer true justice!”

Would punching a monk’s jaw send him to hell? Guy nearly risked it. Tuck could play the role of philosopher all he wanted, but the man wasn’t in love and Guy couldn’t bear it if anything happened to Meg because he refused to take action. Disgusted with the conversation, he stormed from the hall, leaving John and Tuck to exchange glances. For his part, Tuck didn’t bother concealing his disapproval.

“Have you forgotten what we stand for,” Tuck lectured.

“No.” Little John’s eyes narrowed, clearly conveying his displeasure. “I was Robin’s man long before you,” he reminded. “Hartwood is a coward and worse! What he tried to do to Meg, what he probably did to others-”

“Only God can judge,” Tuck argued. “Guy already administered justice under the banner of sheriff! He’s walking a fine line! King Richard appointed us to help Gisborne be a fair leader. We can’t allow him to murder nobles-”

“Hartwood was stripped of his titles,” Little John barked. “He’s disgraced and if he ends up dead when the dust settles, then Guy will be right about the world being the better for it!”

Disbelief flooded Tuck’s expression watching John march from the hall. In no way did Tuck condone Hartwood’s actions, but he didn’t want to see either of his friends take the wrong path. The devil corrupted in many forms, so Tuck will have to keep a close eye on them and make sure they don’t stray from the righteous path.

****

Pacing the floors waiting for news, Meg resisted the urge to disobey Guy and see for herself what was going on. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her arms around her stomach, reliving the fear of having a stranger try to kill her. Why didn’t she do more to stop him? The helplessness threatened to choke her as the memory tore fresh tears from her eyes.

Swallowing hard, she refused to cry. Meg had enough of that these last few hours. Just when Meg thought she couldn’t take another moment, she heard a knock at the door. Rushing forward, she paused at the last second, a shaking hand poised over the latch. Asking who was the on the other side and hearing Guy’s deep voice, Meg whimpered in relief as she flung open the door. Seeing those beautiful blue eyes, Meg threw her body into his arms, clutching him around the neck and burying her face in his chest.

Loving the feel of Meg in his hold, Guy scooped her up, carrying her over the threshold and kicking the door shut behind him. Walking to the closest chair, he cradled his beloved in his lap, rocking her gently. Burying his face in her hair, Guy truly wished to spare her pain.

“You’re safe,” he whispered in her ear. “I promise.”

Squeezing him tight, Meg wanted to take comfort in his touch, soak in his warmth, and never let go. Inhaling a shaking breath, she pulled back to take in his expression. Seeing the stubble on his chin, her lips curved slightly. Running her fingertips over his whiskers, Meg found her voice.

“Did you find Hartwood?”

“Not yet,” Guy confessed. “But I won’t let any harm come to you.”

“I can’t stay locked in these chambers, Guy.”

“I wouldn’t ask that of you.” Cupping her cheek, Guy studied the fire in her eyes. His sweet Meg was so brave. And stubborn. “I will have a guard watch over you.”

She arched a brow at the idea. “You mean following me? I’m not the criminal!”

“No one is saying you are, but until we deal with Hartwood, I will not risk you being vulnerable to another attack.”

Easing off his lap and rising to her feet, Meg walked to the window. The sun already started its decent, making her feel melancholy at the loss of another day. Glancing over her shoulder, seeing Guy still sitting by the hearth, she wasn’t sure what to say.

“Will it be like this after we’re married?”

“Hopefully we will find Hartwood before we say our vows.”

“And if you don’t?”

Watching Guy rise, Meg was reminded of the elegant, fluid movements of a black cat just before pouncing on the little mouse. Guy was lethal, only the hunger in those eyes wasn’t for food. Recognizing his lust, Meg felt an answering call throb through her blood. Throat going dry, she swallowed hard as his large, sculpted hands clasped her shoulders. As warmth seeped into her skin, she couldn’t tear her gaze from the storm burning in those blue pools.

The kiss, however, felt surprisingly gentle and tender. Nibbling her bottom lip softly, Guy eagerly consumed Meg’s sigh of surrender before urging her lips open. Tasting her tentatively, Guy let his arms wrap around her, pulling her against his chest, deepening the kiss.

Lord, how he wanted her! The bed wasn’t far. He could push her back against the mattress; lift her skirts, and satisfy the burning need for her that taunted him nearly from the beginning. There would be no harm. Not really. They were going to be married soon enough, so why not take what he wanted? Coming up for air, feeling Meg’s panted breath on his cheeks, Guy’s heart slammed in his chest. Hard and needy, he wanted her now!

As if reading his swirling emotions, Meg took a step back, shaking her head. “Not yet,” she said shakenly.

Meg apparently possessed more self-control than he did in this moment. Gritting his teeth, Guy kept his hands at his sides, resisting the urge to pull her to him again. The small flash of fear in her gaze when she read his intent didn’t sit well with him. Meg shouldn’t be afraid of his touch.

“I will find Hartwood,” he promised.

Though she trusted Guy’s abilities, Meg had to wonder if Hartwood’s need for revenge pushed him to extremes. As a nobleman, he possessed power and wealth enough to go about his depraved business and stay ahead of the law. Now that he lost his title and lands, after enduring a humiliating maiming, he lived as an outcast. Guy acted as protector of the shire by administering justice, but Hartwood viewed Guy as the enemy, refusing to see his own guilt.

Meg fought the monster when he attacked her, and now he set out to destroy her life. If anything happened to Guy, Meg wouldn’t forgive herself. “Be careful,” she told him.

Expression softening, Guy engulfed Meg in his arms. Holding her tight, he bent to kiss the top of her head. “Don’t fret,” he whispered. “I’ve dealt with worse men. Besides, I have Robin’s band on my side, and they always did win the day.”

Smiling, Meg leaned back to look up at him. Guy’s handsomeness never ceased to make her weak in the knees. Loving him so deeply, she never wanted to live without him. Their wedding swiftly approached and Meg wanted Guy standing by her side at the altar, not risking his life to hunt an outlaw.

“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Meg implored.

Nodding, he pressed another kiss to her forehead, closing his eyes as he cherished the moment. Meg understood him like no one else. She owned his heart and was more precious than all the gold in the king’s coffers. He would do what was necessary to make sure Hartwood never laid a hand on her again.

“Come,” Guy urged. “Let’s head to the Great Hall for supper.”

Nodding, Meg allowed Guy to link his arm through hers. Having a meal with him sounded like a nice distraction. As they descended the stairs, Meg became fully aware of the guards following their progress. Part of her knew she should be grateful for the protection, but the other part resented needing the guards at all! Why couldn’t Hartwood simply leave her in peace?

Yet, her stubborn streak refused to stop planning the wedding. She and Guy would marry on schedule and Hartwood wouldn’t have any power over them. Having faith in Guy’s abilities and pushing aside her fears, Meg became determined to go about her life and not give Hartwood another thought.

Chapter Text

Over the next several days, Meg pretended nothing was amiss as she continued planning her wedding. Yet, every time she stepped out of her chambers, a guard trailed behind, following her on errands and around the castle. Guy and Little John stayed closer than normal, while Tuck cast her weary looks. At least the guards kept her father at bay. Of course, there wasn’t a single doubt in Meg’s mind her father was up to his old tricks.

Naturally, Joseph Bennett didn’t ask after his daughter’s welfare, or seemed affected in the slightest hearing news of the attack on her life. He didn’t care as long as she remained alive to say her vows and cement her marriage to a duke. Attending mass, Meg prayed for guidance. Lately, she felt as if her world flipped upside down, her worries plaguing her every step, the very air threatening to choke her life away. Each night she dreamt of Hartwood sneaking into the castle to finish what he started and the images were so vivid, they lingered come morning, always nagging the back of her mind. Wanting Hartwood found and punished, but worried for Guy’s soul should he be the one to find him, Meg wasn’t sure who to confide in or how to ease the situation.

Leaving the chapel, Meg noticed her father trying to get her attention and quickly dashed into the crowd, moving in the opposite direction hoping to avoid another confrontation. In her haste, she nearly collided with Tuck. Offering apologies, she breathed a sigh of relief seeing Tuck wave away her words.

“Lady Meg, may I have a brief word?”

Nodding, she accompanied the monk to the balcony overlooking the gardens, gesturing for the guard to hang back and give them some privacy. “Is this about the wedding,” she asked.

“In a way,” Tuck confessed. “I’m worried about the sheriff.”

Brows rising, she shook her head. “Why? Did he say something?”

“No but he continues to hunt for Hartwood.”

Meg frowned in confusion. “Hartwood is a threat to us all.”

“True, but the sheriff is making it personal,” Tuck stressed. “I fear he will enact revenge instead of inflicting justice.”

Spine straightening, Meg could guess what Tuck hinted at and she thoroughly resented the assumption. “And how many chances should the former earl be given?”

“The Bible says to forgive our enemies,” Tuck reminded. “Jesus urged us all to grant that forgiveness seven times seven if need be.”

“And while we keep forgiving Hartwood’s evil, how many more people will he hurt?” Meg spoke dryly because she was the last person on earth Tuck could convince to show that vile man an ounce of sympathy. “We should forgive,” she continued making sure her voice never wavered. “But we should never turn a blind eye to sin. You know what kind of man Hartwood is-”

“Then let him stand trial! Let the people see justice being done!”

Suppressing a sigh, Meg wasn’t sure why the matter meant so much to the monk. “Hartwood will be executed anyway,” she stated. “Why are you so determined to save his life, only to have someone else end it?”

“Not end it.” Tuck shook his head. “Hartwood can spend the rest of his life rotting in a dungeon. We do not need to kill.”

“And if he escapes?”

“We put him back.”

Nearly laughing aloud, Meg couldn’t believe such logic passed the lips of an educated man. “Hartwood’s heart is pure evil,” she stated. “The devil took him long ago and I’ve looked into his eyes and seen proof.”

To his credit, Tuck looked ashamed, backing down a bit as a result, but he still maintained his position. “I beg your pardon, my lady. My intention isn’t to make light of your suffering, but to beseech your mercy in this matter. Guy listens to you.”

Tuck so easily made Meg feel guilty for wishing the worst upon her enemy. Of course, she wanted to be a good woman with a clean soul, but she couldn’t give Tuck the assurances he craved. Remembering the night in the courtyard, the look in Hartwood’s eyes as he assaulted her, she knew the man would have taken what he wanted without showing her on ounce of the compassion Tuck held so dear. Perhaps he was a better man than most, which was why he became a man of the cloth, but Meg harbored too much anger to follow his lead.

“Are you asking me to convince Guy to spare Hartwood long enough to bring him to trial?”

“Yes,” Tuck stated. “Let Prince John be the one to hand down the sentence.”

Raising a brow, Meg couldn’t help but point out the fault in his logic. “You claim Prince John spoiled and corrupt, so how can you be certain the prince will properly punish Hartwood?”

“Because the prince is honor bound to uphold the law, and there is so much evidence-”

“But he is King Richard’s brother,” Meg argued. “He will most likely be king one day, whether we like it or not. A man like Hartwood wouldn’t have trouble telling Prince John what he wants to hear and wiggling free of all blame.”

Face falling; the monk regarded Meg with undisguised disappointment. “I honestly thought better of you, my lady.”

Pride squaring her shoulders, Meg pushed aside her guilt. “Before you take up the mantle of Hartwood’s savior, I suggest you speak to the women he victimized over the years. Look at the innocent lives he destroyed, Tuck. Really look and then tell me if you still think him worthy of clemency. The man is not hiding away in an abbey trying to redeem for his past! No, he’s sending men to kill me in a fit of jealous rage!”

“Lady Meg, I see where you’re upset and I don’t disagree.” Tuck met her gaze unflinchingly. “I simply ask that you consider my words.”

With a final bow, Tuck took his leave. Exhaling a long breath, Meg swallowed hard as remorse twisted her stomach. Forgiveness was all well and good, but men like Hartwood didn’t change! There was evil in this world and no amount of forgiveness dispelled its presence.

Walking back into the corridor, Meg’s guard instantly came to her side. There were lists of tasks before her and not enough time to get them all accomplished. Leaving the church, Meg’s thoughts scattered hearing angry shouting and turned to see several women throwing insults and rotten food at a cloaked figure trying to pass through their throng.

“Harlot! You should feel ashamed!”

“Don’t show your face here!”

“This is a house of God, you filth!”

Despite the aggression, the figure didn’t cower in the face of the insults. Instead, she turned to face her accusers and give them a piece of her mind. Recognizing Kate, Meg rushed forward.

Naturally, the blonde shouted her own insults, calling them ungrateful, unchristian people who didn’t deserve Robin’s heroism and all the help she provided. The other women laughed in the face of Kate’s diatribe, saying Robin wasn’t a saint and Kate no angel. In fact, they only came down harder on Kate for her so-called fall from grace. Before the scuffle could get violent, Meg interceded. Recognizing the soon-to-be-duchess, the women quieted, but still cast hostile looks in Kate’s direction.

“Robin Hood was an honorable man,” Meg stated as she smiled at Kate. "Were he alive, he would have done the honorable thing. You’re a friend to us, Kate of Locksley.”

Though her eyes screamed resentment at needing Meg to defuse the situation, Kate learned a few lessons about biting her tongue these less last several weeks. Swallowing her retort, she curtsied low to Meg. “Thank you, my lady.”

If Kate possessed good favor with the future Lady Gisborne, then she could no longer be food for fodder, so the women dispersed, taking their insults with them. Once the women were out of earshot, Kate leveled Meg with an impatient stare. “I could have handled it.”

“And risk your child?” Meg couldn’t believe how stubborn the blonde could be!

“I know how to handle myself,” Kate insisted. “Excuse me, my lady, but I need to purchase food for Archer’s household.”

Well, so much for doing a good deed. Meg figured Kate’s pride couldn’t handle issuing sincere gratitude. They would never be friends, but Meg didn’t wish Kate harm. The only sin Kate committed was falling in love, and yet society passed harsh judgments. Remembering her father’s words about the same possibility coming down on her head, Meg felt grateful her wedding was coming together quickly. Of course, she knew she had nothing to be ashamed of, she hoped the faster their wedding night proved her virtue, the better.

Being so close to the market caused Meg’s footing to hesitate. Fear gripped her heart even as her logical mind reasoned away the notion. Refusing to hide like a scared little rabbit, Meg managed to put one foot in front of the other and continued toward her destination. Guy wasn’t in church and she longed to see him. Making her way back into the main area of the castle, carefully avoiding the area where she was attacked, Meg entered the main hall and nearly grasped out loud.

Stopping dead in her tracks at the sight of her father and Guy engaged in a secretive conversation, Meg’s mind jumped to all sorts of conclusions before she remembered her manners. Begging their pardon, she curtsied low.

“I think I’ve said all I need to,” Joseph announced before bowing to Guy. “Good day, Gisborne.”

Letting the slip pass, Guy watched Joseph leave the hall before taking Meg’s hand.

“What was that all about,” she asked.

Smiling as he kissed the back of his betrothed’s delicate fingers, Guy considered telling Meg not to worry, but she wouldn’t be satisfied with such an answer. Lacing their fingers together, Guy indulged in the sensation of her warmth spreading though his skin. A bond like theirs was certainly unique and Guy aimed to appreciate every moment.

“Guy,” Meg pressed, speaking past the tingling heat racing through her blood. Guy loomed over her; the familiar sight of passion visible in his eyes, twisting her insides into knots as cravings rose, urging her to close the small distance between them and indulge in a soft kiss. Biting her lower lip, Meg dare not moved for fear of giving in to the whispers of temptation. As much as her body desired Guy’s touch, they must be patient.

“Your father came to negotiate a bride price.”

Hearing the words, Meg frowned. “I thought all of that was taken care of.”

Chuckling, Guy wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her closer so he could kiss the tip of her nose. “He used the subject as a pretense. What he really wants is for me to be his ally in Prince John’s court and help him earn favor.”

Eyes wide, Meg shook her head. “I hope you refused!”

When Guy hesitated, Meg’s jaw dropped. “Guy-”

“I didn’t immediately refuse because he has a scheme up his sleeve and he’ll be more likely to confide in me if he thinks I’m on his side.”

“Or he could be playing you all along,” she argued. “He’s very clever and sly and you need to be careful-”

Cutting off her words with a gentle kiss, Guy smirked. “Yes,” he softly agreed. “I need to be very careful around a certain lady’s charms. Her wiles will have me losing my honor.”

Unable to resist, Meg smiled at the joke even as she fought to keep her countenance. “Guy, this is a serious matter.”

“Hmmm,” he agreed, taking another taste of her lips. Before he was tempted to deepen the touch, Guy eased back but retained his grip on her hand. “What brings you here?”

“I missed you in church.”

Good humor fading, Guy’s hold loosened and his hand fell back to his side. “Oher matters required my attention.”

“You can’t avoid it forever,” she gently reminded.

No, he couldn’t. She was right, as usual. Guy didn’t want to face his Lord and maker. Dealing with Tuck was one thing, but every time he crossed the threshold into a sanctuary, Guy‘s many sins rose to the forefront of his mind. He begged God’s forgiveness, but he couldn’t seem to forgive himself. The burden of his mortal sin still rested heavily on his shoulders. Working day and night to restore Nottingham served as his atonement, but eventually, Guy would have to face his demons.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said by way of changing the subject.

Though she saw through his efforts, Meg decided to indulge Guy because she knew how his struggle tore at his conscience. “Oh,” she smirked. “What sort of surprise?”

“Meet me at the stables at dawn and I’ll show you.”

That smile of his so easily made her weak in the knees. “Guy, there is so much left to plan-”

“Leave it,” he urged, taking her hand again. “Surely you can leave the work to the servants for one day.”

Well, when he put it that way, how could she refuse? Accepting the invitation, then his warm kiss, Meg didn’t want to let Guy go. Unfortunately, his duties soon called him away. Spending most of the afternoon in her chambers sewing her wedding gown, Meg was able to push most of her troubles from her mind. Only as vespers arrived did the memory of Tuck’s lecture surface. Hartwood was pure evil, so why did her conscious gnaw at her?

Chapter Text

Entering the pub, Archer’s eyes scanned the crowd. Spotting his friend, he moved through the throng of bodies to sit at the bar. Signaling for a pint of ale, Archer looked to his left. “Drowning your sorrows?”

Much avoided looking at Archer as he finished his drink. “Go away,” he muttered.

“You’re only hurting yourself.”

“You, of all people, are lecturing me,” Much snapped.

“You hate me, don’t you?”

Remaining silent, Much’s eyes darted around the tavern at the maids wondering why none held any appeal. Would he ever get over Kate? He caught a glimpse of her the other day. Kate starting showing, which hit him hard. Kate loved Robin; so much so that she surrendered her virtue to him. Robin, his best friend, fell back into his womanizing ways after Marion’s death.

Part of Much felt overjoyed knowing a part of Robin would live on, but his heart remained bruised by betrayal. If Kate agreed to be his wife, then perhaps he would be handling the situation better, but instead he was here drowning his sorrows because Kate would rather work for Archer than make a life with him.

“It was Kate’s choice,” Archer stated. “No one forced her hand.”

“I know that!” Tired of the subject, Much gulped more ale.

“Why are you here?”

Scoffing, Much shook his head. How could Archer possibly understand? He didn’t go home to an empty manor. He could talk to Kate whenever he wished. Archer knew nothing of loneliness.

“Companionship comes in many forms,” Much shrugged. “So, why don’t you leave me be?”

“There is a woman out there for you, Much,” Archer assured him.. “All you have to do is be open to the idea of new love.”

“Oh, I am,” Much smiled as he eyed a bar wench. “I won’t be alone tonight.”

“I’d watch my purse if I were you,” Archer muttered.

“I’m an earl now,” he said sarcastically. “I can afford it.”

“Until you can’t.”

Eyes narrowing, Much regarded Archer with undisguised anger. “Why do you even care?”

“I’m your friend,” Archer insisted. “I know you love Kate, but she doesn’t feel the same. You deserve someone who does.”

“Robin was my best friend,” Much choked. “My best friend and he is gone, but instead of being able to help, I’m shut out.”

“No, you’re not.” Looking Much in the eye, Archer refused to back down. “I won’t keep you from the child and neither will Kate because we’re all still friends.”

“I don’t know if I can ever look at her now,” Much sighed through swelling tears. “I hate them both and I hate their child.”

“That’s just the ale talking,” Archer said. “I think you’ve had enough.”

Ignoring his friend, Much downed another pint. He wanted to drink until he didn’t remember anything at all. Getting lost in a cloud of amber fuzz so he forgot Kate’s name seemed as good a plan as any. When Archer grabbed his arm, Much shrugged him off. He didn’t want to leave so when Archer made another attempt to separate him from the stool, Much responded by shoving him hard. Stumbling back into a bulky man with black teeth who immediately started swinging, Archer ducked before landing his own punch. As the brawl ensued, Much laughed as the ale went to his head.

What felt like an instant later, he woke up with the taste of straw in his mouth. Gagging and spitting, Much’s eyes slowly opened as the world around him came into full focus. Why did he have straw in his mouth? Did he pass out in a barn? Rolling onto his side, Much’s gaze focused on iron bars and laughter bubbled out of his throat.

“Knock it off,” a grough voice shouted.

Much couldn’t stop if he wanted to because for a split second he was back in Nottingham’s dungeons with Robin fighting the good fight. Despite the shouting, Much’s laughter died when full memories returned, reminding him he remained alone. Groaning as his temples pounded, Much stared at the ceiling. He didn’t know how much time passed, but he didn’t look away from the cobwebs as footsteps paused before his cell.

“I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

A sarcastic laugh barked from Much’s throat. “That’s ironic coming from you , Gisborne.”

“Archer got beaten pretty badly defending you.”

“No one asked him to interfere.”

“The barkeep is charging you for damages.”

“So what?” Much shrugged, still stubbornly refusing to look at the man who was once his mortal enemy. “I’m a nobleman now with plenty of money.”

“Which you’re supposed to use to safeguard your lands and protect your people,” Guy argued. “Not waste on frivolous-”

Hearing enough, Much’s head snapped around, his eyes glaring at the current sheriff. “Listen to yourself! Since when did you ever care about the people?! You always stole from them, squandering the profits of Locksley-”

“That was another man in another life,” Guy bit out.

“Still the same life,” Much insisted.

“At least I turned mine around,” Guy said through the bars. “You’re letting yours slip through your fingers.”

“There’s nothing to live for.”

Hearing the note of despair in the other man’s voice, Guy tried a different approach.

“I thought the same,” he said softly. Crouching on his hunches, Guy made eye contact with the former outlaw “When Marion died.”

“It’s hardly the same thing,” Much snapped. “Marion didn’t just die.”

“My point is that I’m walking a road of redemption,” Guy said to smooth over the awkward moment of accusation. “All is not lost to you, Much.”

“No,” he debated. “It’s worse.” Closing his eyes, Much shook his head, holding back tears. “I have to see Kate all the time, growing bigger every day with Robin’s child, knowing she would rather face a lifetime of scorn then be with me.”

“There’s someone out there for you, Much,” Guy insisted. “Someone who will love and accept you far more than Kate ever could.”

Much, not wanting to hear a word, scoffed, refusing to look at Guy. “Just because you found Meg to love your black soul doesn’t mean my love for Kate will die so easily!”

Lord preserve him from drunken fools on a rant, Guy thought. Much didn’t want to listen, so Guy would save his breath. “I’ve sent Little John to speak to your steward about the funds owed. Once he returns from Bonchurch with the silver, you’ll be free to go home.”

“I don’t care if I rot down here,” Much said bitterly. After all, life was only full of misery and despair.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Guy turned on his heel and ascended the stone steps out of the dungeons. Blinking rapidly at the sight of Meg’s approach, Guy’s heart nearly fell to his knees. The sight of her never failed to make his body hum with awareness and this moment was no exception. The soft green and golden gown flowed elegantly around her frame, which made the corners of Guy’s lips curve slightly. Noticing the tray in her hands, he lifted a brow as he moved to intercept.

“Is that for Much?”

Smiling, Meg nodded. “Just some water with bread and cheese.”

Shaking his head, Guy spoke softly. “Perhaps some other time. Much isn’t in the best of moods this morning.”

Disappointed, Meg glanced at the dungeon door. “Maybe he’ll improve if he had something in his stomach.”

Meg's nurturing nature was one of the many reasons Guy loved her so deeply, but the last thing he wanted was for Much to hurt her feelings, or throw her kindness back in her face. She didn’t deserve a whipping from Much’s sharp tongue as payment for a good deed. “I would leave it for a bit,” he advised.

Face falling, Meg nodded. Guy wouldn’t warn her away without good cause. Leaving the tray with the guard to take to Much once his appetite returned, Meg gladly accepted Guy’s arm. As they took a turn around the closest courtyard they spoke of wedding plans. Preparations were right on schedule, but Meg had to admit knowing Prince John would be in attendance frayed her nerves.

“He most likely just wants the free wine and cake,” Guy commented. Running his thumb absently over Meg’s hand, he secretly counted the days until she would be his wife. Part of him felt elated knowing only a fortnight separated them from the final sacrament, but his instincts urged him to hurry and make Meg his bride before she changed her mind or some other circumstance prevented them from saying their vows.

Every time something good came into his life, he lost it through folly. Meg held his heart in her hands, so should anything happen to her, or should she reject him, Guy would be utterly lost.

“Well, goodness knows my father will try getting his attention,” Meg sighed.

“Whose,” Guy blinked, coming back to attention after being lost in his own thoughts.

Casting him a strange look, Meg continued. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?”

“Of course I have,” Guy insisted.

Shaking her head, but clearly amused, Meg clarified. “Prince John.”

“Ah,” Guy nodded. Bringing her hand to his lips, Guy pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles as they paused beneath an alcove. “For one day, I would like to be spared from Court intrigue.”

“The Court isn’t here,” she commented.

“No,” he admitted. “But politics are all around and eyes are forever watching and waiting for me to slip.”

“Guy-”

“Never mind,” he said quickly. “I have no wish to upset you, especially since you were generous enough to forgive me for postponing our outing this morning.”

“Part of being the sheriff,” Meg smirked.

“Well, it doesn’t look good when my own brother is mixed up in tavern brawls,” he grumbled.

Inching closer, Guy wrapped his arm around her waist, drawing her into his embrace. Resting his forehead to hers, inhaling her feminine scent, Guy wished to finally be free to kiss Meg properly, but until they were wed, he must be careful. All it took was one pair of eyes to see them, draw the wrong conclusion, and start rumors. Meg didn’t deserve to have her good name besmirched due to his lack of restraint. Lightly stroking her hair, Guy reluctantly drew back, smiling as he took in the sight of her features.

“We can still ride out if you want,” he offered. “The surprise still awaits.”

Laughing in delight, Meg hugged her betrothed, loving the feel of his strong arms around her shoulders. The intense heat simmered through her blood, but Meg knew giving into such whisperings before the wedding would be a grave sin. Today, she didn’t want to deal with the details or worry about her father. All she wanted was to spend time with the man she loved.

“Let me find my veil,” she said.

Nodding, Guy released her, promising to meet her at the stables. The sun shined bright in the sky, keeping all the clouds at bay. The ride from the castle to the countryside was uneventful, though Guy did have a few guards along just in case, with Meg’s maid acting as a chaperone.

The manor house was set up to receive guests; a picnic lunch spread in the back clearing. Delighted by the table of food, Meg hugged Guy tight before rushing to sample the fresh fruits and meats. Guy also surprised her with a new bracelet made of gold and sapphires along with a few feet of lace for the new gowns she would require as a duchess.

“You spoil me,” she said shyly. “You know I didn’t require such baubles.”

“As a duchess, you’ll need them,” Guy said as he twirled on of her curls around his finger. “Besides, I enjoy spoiling you.”

As their gazes locked, Meg’s breath hitched seeing the intensity reflecting in those blue depths. Her heart raced as cravings rose. As their mouths drew closer and closer until only a breath separated them, a sudden commotion startled the couple into breaking away, the moment shattering when their guards came under attack.

Chapter Text

Instantly on his feet with his sword in hand, Guy stood in front of Meg as he ascertained the situation. The guards disarmed a man with a single dagger, twisting his arms around his back before dragging him across the grass to face their sheriff. Glaring at the stranger, dressed as a peasant, Guy pressed the tip of his blade under the man’s chin, forcing him to look into his eyes.

“Who are you,” Guy demanded. “Why are you attacking us?”

Quivering, the frightened soul licked his dry lips as his fear-filled eyes darted from Guy to Meg and back again. Tears spilled down his cheeks and his body trembled as he begged for mercy.

“I didn’t want to! Please! Lord Hartwood made me!”

Growling, Guy grabbed the man’s neck, making sure this stranger saw the wrath in his eyes. “Tell me where he is!”

“I don’t know,” the peasant sobbed.

“Tell me! Confess or I’ll slice your throat open!”

“Please,” the man begged. “He’ll hurt my family!”

“I’ll be the one to hurt your family if you don’t tell me what you know of Hartwood!”

“Guy!”

Remembering Meg’s presence, Guy glanced over his shoulder, noticed her terrified expression and paused. Refusing to release the prisoner, Guy hated seeing the fear on her face, never wanted her to witness such violence, but refused to stand by and allow attempts on her life. Returning his attention to the peasant, Guy forced down the bulk of his anger and spoke more calmly.

“Why did you attack us?”

“Hartwood,” the man gasped.

Feeling a tender touch on his wrist, Guy looked over to see Meg silently urging him to release the man and show mercy. How could he resist her? Relenting, Guy let his hand fall to his side, but didn’t lower his sword. Pulling Meg into his embrace for protection, he held her against his hip, his gaze never wavering from another would-be assassin. Thankfully, Meg didn’t fight his hold, but her full focus leveled on the poor, sobbing man.

“It’s alright," she gently crooned. Offering the man a kind smile, she knelt before him so they could see each other better. “Can you tell me what happened?”

After several moments, the man composed himself enough to speak. “He threatened my family, my lady,” the man trembled, glancing nervously at the sheriff who held his sword next to his betrothed in case the man made a sudden move. “He swore he would kill them if I didn’t kill you. When I refused, he cut me!” Showing Meg the nasty laceration on his arm, he swallowed hard and forced out the rest of his tale. “He promised a slow death, my lady! He said I’d get a reward once you were dead, but I didn’t care about gold! I want my family safe, but either way we are all dead!”

When the man’s sobbing started anew, Meg rose to face Guy and they stepped aside to speak privately. “You have to help him,” Meg whispered.

“How,” Guy argued. “He tried to kill you! I’m not inclined to reward him for it!”

“He was coerced,” she insisted. “The man isn’t a killer! Look at him! And he hardly got close to us. Send him to Tuck. The man knows something about Hartwood and Tuck may be able to heal his wound and get answers we can’t.”

“Unless he can tell me where Hartwood is-”

Guy’s words abruptly cut off when Meg’s soft hand cupped his cheek. Those dancing grey pools nearly unmanned him. Nuzzling into her touch, Guy closed his eyes as a heavy sigh passed his lips. “Very well,” he conceded.

Kissing her palm before moving back to the peasant, Guy spoke clearly, but with authority. “Tell me where your family is and I will protect them as best I can – as long as you don’t lie.”

“I-I don’t know,” the man cried. “He came to Nettlestone by night and threatened us, then disappeared!”

“I need Hartwood,” Guy insisted.

“Please, my lord Sheriff,” the man begged. “Show mercy!”

Mercy was the last blessing he wanted to bestow up on this cowering excuse for a man, but beating answers from him would be a waste of precious time. With Meg watching his every move, Guy truly wanted to be a better man in her eyes, but felt torn about being viewed as a weak leader. In the end, he offered a compromise.

“I will go with you to Nettlestone,” Guy declared. “A few of my men will help search the village and question your family. We will protect the villagers in exchange for any information leading to Hartwood’s capture.” Glancing toward his beloved, his tone softened. “The rest of the guard will accompany Lady Meg back to the castle.”

Thankfully, Meg didn’t argue and Guy gestured for the guards to take the peasant away. Turning to speak to his betrothed again, Guy bent to kiss her hands. “I’d hoped to give you a tour of the manor.”

“Guy,” she smiled, touched by his gesture. “There will be plenty of time for us to visit our future home, but right now an innocent needs your help.”

Nodding, he swallowed hard. “Don’t stop riding until you reach the castle walls,” he said thickly. “Find Tuck and send him to Nettlestone. We’ll do all we can.”

“Very well.”

He started turning away but at the last moment took Meg’s mouth in a soft kiss. Some of the guards whistled, but Guy ignored them as he escorted Meg to her horse. “Guard her with your lives,” he warned his men. “Or you’ll answer to me!”

Watching Meg until she rode out of sight, he focused his attention to the peasant and the remaining guards. “Let’s find Hartwood,” he declared as he marched to his black steed.

Riding toward Nettlestone, determination flooded his veins. Guy would deal with Hartwood once and for all, then he would marry Meg. After all the pain he endured, and the path of redemption he struggled to keep walking, Guy finally felt worthy of Meg’s affections. He would kiss Prince John’s feet before he let Hartwood take way he one person in this world who mattered to him.

****

Unable to focus on wedding preparations, Meg paced he floors waiting for word. Guy should have returned hours ago! Refusing to allow her maid to drag her off to bed, she took up a vigil in the main hall to wait for the sheriff’s return. After lighting a few more candles, Meg sat on the dais, bowing her head in silent prayer.

Little John was still at Bonchurch gathering the coin for Much’s release, Archer went home to Lockley, Tuck presumably made it to Nettlestone, so she was alone in the castle. Losing track of how long she sat, Meg considered venturing to the chapel to light a few candles, but she didn’t want to be across the castle when word arrived. Consumed by her thoughts, Meg didn’t initially hear the approaching footsteps until they were nearly upon her. Head snapping up, Meg nearly groaned aloud at the sight of her father.

“You should be in bed, “ Joseph barked with disapproval.

“I’m a grown woman, Father,” she corrected. "I‘ll do as I please. And why are you here in Nottingham instead of Nettlestone?”

“I had business with several merchants today,” he explained. “Many of which are most displeased with Guy’s new taxes.”

With Guy out there searching for a criminal, her father wanted to stand here and debate taxes and politics? Blinking at him, Meg struggled to push aside her anger and find the right words. “The merchants benefit greatly from a secure castle, as you well know.”

Joseph didn’t relent. “The tax seems unfair.”

Lifting a brow, Meg stared at her father for several heartbeats before responding. “The merchants can afford the slight increase. Or do you prefer Guy take more from the landowners?”

“The merchants are raising prices to compensate,” he argued. “We’re paying either way!”

“Such is the nature of economics,” she countered. Frustrations near boiling, Meg wanted to retreat to her chambers, but didn’t want to give her father the satisfaction of having the last word. Her marriage to Guy should be enough to satisfy him, but until the vows were said before God, Meg feared Joseph would continue playing her at every opportunity.

“Our sheriff is making many people unhappy," the earl warned.

“I’m sure everyone will be more displeased without a proper castle to defend them. Guy rules well, but many covert Nottingham. Would you rather take your chances? Expenses of this shire are far less than others, even with-”

“Bah,” Joseph snapped. “Why do I bother talking about such matters with a woman?”

Lifting a brow at the outburst, Meg hoped her father would finally leave, but no such luck. Instead, the earl sat beside her on the dais. For several moments the silence lingered as Joseph’s gaze surveyed the hall with a greedy glint.

“Your betrothed stands to become a very influential man if he plays his cards right. Your wedding needs to be memorable and enthusiastic for our prince.”

“I already know that,” Meg stated.

“You need to do more,” he snapped. “Nothing can be left to chance.”

“What makes you think Guy’s connection to Prince John can elevate you?”

Chuckling, Joseph shook his head at his only surviving child. “If I win the king’s favor, I may yet earn an appointment at Court. Lands and coin are all very well and good, but power is the stuff that will make my legacy.”

Hearing his words, Meg didn’t know how she couldn’t have noticed the depth of his blind ambitions before now. “Only King Richard has ultimate power,” she argued.

“Ah, but Prince John will soon be king and a king needs chancellors.”

So that was his game? To earn favor and a seat of power, then flatter himself that he is truly making all the decisions because he had the king’s ear? If Joseph thought he would be untouchable, then he was a fool.

“The prince has a fickle temperament,” Meg argued. “One day you’ll be his best friend, but the next he’ll be ordering your execution.”

“The man loves flattery,” Joseph scoffed. “Easy enough to stay in his good graces.”

Skeptical, Meg wondered who the simpleton was now. Having dealt with the prince before, she knew for all of his vanity, there were more layers to the man, and her father was being truly naïve if he thought the prince would be an easy king to handle. In fact, she nearly opened her mouth to say as much, but heard a commotion outside the door.

Jumping to her feet, Meg rushed outside, hearing the guards shouting above the clamor of hoof beats, then Tuck’s deep voice shouted over the chaos. Meg struggled to spot him in the crowd. Seeing him driving a cart up to the steps, Meg’s eyes adjusted as flaming torches carried across her vision.

“We need help,” Tuck shouted. “And a physician!”

Running forward, Meg almost asked what happened, but a gasp escaped her mouth seeing inside the cart. Little John leaned over Guy, applying pressure to a bleeding wound just below his ribcage

“Guy!”

“He’s alive,” Little John assured her as she rushed to his side. “We need to get him inside and get the wound stitched.”

Events unfolded so quickly, Meg’s head spun as guards carried Guy’s barely conscious body up to the solar where Tuck tore his black shirt and attempted to clean the wound Meg issued orders, waiting to assist Tuck with anything he needed. Sweat coated Guy’s face and he looked far too pale. Worry clenched her heart as she convinced her fear that Guy was strong and viral. He survived much worse and lived to tell the tale and he would live now.

Seeing Guy writhe, silently bearing the pain, the old scar on her side ached as Meg remembered saving Guy’s life. The burn from that wound must be similar to what Guy now endured and fear clogged her throat. Were they on borrowed time all along? Squeezing her eyes shut, Meg refused to cry. Tears wouldn’t help the man she loved and worrying about the implications of the dream wouldn’t ease her fears.

When the physician finally arrived, he swore cauterizing the wound was the only way to stop the bleeding. Sitting on the other edge of the bed, Meg held Guy’s hand, whispering words of comfort as the physician heated a blade. As Guy’s shout tore through the night, Meg winced as his grip nearly broke her fingers, but refused to let go. Guy never left her, so she wouldn’t leave him now.

Chapter Text

Nettlestone turned out to be an ambush. Guy’s instincts screamed a warning before they were surrounded. Hartwood hired mercenaries who fought ruthlessly, but Guy managed to hold fast until one of the cowards tried stabbing him in the back. Turning at the last moment, the blade sliced the flesh below his ribs instead of running through his back, but Guy’s sword arm was crippled nonetheless. Tuck’s sudden arrival saved his life.

Bleeding profusely, Guy fell to his knees, unable to keep his balance, leaving his men to drag him to a spare cart and take him back to the castle. Seething from pain and struggling to maintain consciousness, Guy took comfort in the fact Hartwood’s men were all dead, but if he succumbed to his injuries, then who would protect Meg?

During his life, Guy suffered many wounds, so he knew he could survive this one, only this time he wasn’t fully prepared for the pain and the numbing cold. Vaguely aware of the world around him, he knew all too well the obstacles ahead. If they stitched the wound, he prayed infection wouldn’t cause a fever, but if the wound festered, he may not be able to walk down the aisle after all.

Being moved to his room, Guy’s head pounded, but he swore he heard Meg’s voice. Did she grasp his hand? He thought he felt her gentle, familiar touch just before the burning blade seared his flesh. Screaming, his world went black. For what felt like an eternity, Guy became lost in white fog, calling for Meg, and praying she was safe. If Hartwood got to her, he would never forgive himself.

“Don’t worry,” came a familiar voice through the clouded air. “Meg is safe. You really lucked out there, mate.”

Whirling around, Guy blinked in disbelief at the sight before him. “This can’t be real,” he breathed. “You’re dead.”

Chuckling, Allan nodded. “Guilty as charged.”

“Then how are you standing here?”

“I’m helping you find your way,” Allan smiled. “Seems you got into a pickle, but you were always good at that.”

“Hartwood led me into a trap,” Guy bitterly explained.

“Yeah,” Allan nodded. “He’s a slippery one. Not as clever as Vaisey, though, but much more ruthless. Meg is your soft spot, and he exploited it.” Moving closer, Allan’s face broke into a huge grin. “Congratulations on the wedding, by the way.”

Guy’s lips parted as his eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How did you know?”

“I have my ways.” Allan chuckled touching his index finger to the side of his nose. “The question is whether or not you want to go back to Meg and be her husband.”

“Of course I do!” Why would Allan think otherwise?

Tsking, the former outlaw looked the sheriff in the eye. “If that’s true, you wouldn’t be here.”

Frowning, Guy glanced at his surroundings, still seeing nothing but fog. “Where is here?”

“Limbo,” Allan supplied with a shrug.

“Purgatory?”

“Not exactly.” Waving a hand through the fog, Allan’s smile never faltered. “We’re between purgatory and reality.”

“I’m dead?” Guy’s heart fell to his knees at the notion because he didn’t have enough time to right all his wrongs.

“Not yet.” Giving his friend a long look, Allan didn’t beat around the bush. “You need to figure out if you really want to go back, or move forward into the afterlife awaiting you.”

“Of course I want to go back! I’m not done yet! Besides, I have no idea what fate awaits me and Robin’s work-”

“This isn’t about Robin.” Eyes narrowing to convey his annoyance, Allan started again. “You’re stuck here because of the fear in your heart.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Guy snapped, his impatience breaking his temper.

Raising a mocking brow, Allan silently dared Guy to contradict him. A few moments later, Guy’s shoulders sagged as a heavy sigh escaped his lips. Raking a hand through his hair, he couldn’t fathom standing in the middle of a void arguing with a dead man. “I obviously don’t want to go to Hell,” he stated.

“You probably deserve to burn there.”

Nodding, Guy didn’t refute the allegation. “For what I did to Marian.”

“She’s happy, by the way,” Allan winked. “She and Robin are enjoying their afterlife.”

Strange, but hearing such confirmation didn’t ignite Guy’s jealousy. In the past, hearing Marian’s name in the same sentence with Robin’s sent him into a rage, but now, oddly enough, he felt nothing. His supposed love for Marian wasn’t as deep or devoted as he first imagined; especially when held up against his feelings for Meg.

“I’m happy for her,” Guy said softly.

“You mean it?”

“I do,” Guy swore. “I hope…I hope wherever she is that she can forgive me.”

“Can you forgive yourself?”

“Not yet,” Guy honestly answered. “Maybe once I restore Nottingham-”

“Guy,” Allan interrupted. “There will always be some other task waiting, some other town to fix, or enemy to fight. You’ve seem the truth about Marion and you claim to love Meg, so why are you still here?”

“I do love Meg,” Guy snapped. He didn’t appreciate Allan questioning his devotion to the one person in this world who truly knew him. Meg saw all of his sins and loved him anyway, which was such a precious gift Guy never wanted to take for granted. Meg was brave, spirited, courageous, beautiful, generous, and loyal. Despite her tendency to chatter at times, Guys heart rested in her hands. He would gladly give his life for hers.

“She’s the only one who bothered to really see me,” he continued. “She gazes into my black soul and finds me worthy. Do you have any idea how much I-” Shaking his head, Guy’s throat closed. Regaining his composure, he started again. “I never thought I would love again, especially not after Marion, but Meg stumbled into my life and now I can’t imagine it without her.”

“And her love for you runs just as deep,” Allan confirmed. “Do you fear it doesn’t?”

“No.” When Allan gave him a look, Guy shook his head. “I may have wealth, lands, and a title now, but I still don’t feel worthy of her. I fear…”

Swallowing hard, Guy struggled to find the words. “I can’t live without her,” he repeated. “She touches the ugliest parts of me and helps them heal. I know I’m a lucky man, but I something could go wrong and rip her from me. Hartwood is trying to do that right now! I need to get back and protect her!”

“It’s not really Hartwood,” Allan said cryptically.

“That disgusting pig tried to force himself on her and now he’s trying to kill her!”

“But he’s not the real reason you fear losing her.”

Shaking his head as frustration gnawed through his veins, Guy growled, wanting the babbling nonsense to cease!

“Tell me what you truly fear, Guy.”

“Allan, I swear-”

“Why do you think you’ll lose Meg?”

“Allan!”

“Why!”

“Because!”

“Why?!”

“Because I killed Marian!”

The words tore from his throat before he even comprehended the meaning. Blinking, Guy inhaled a deep breath. “I killed Marioan," he repeated. “I ran her through in a fit of rage, and I fear deep down Meg hasn’t forgiven me that sin. I fear one day, I could do the same to her because my feelings run so much deeper where she’s concerned. I have nightmares about being back in the Holy Land, but it’s Meg’s face, not Marian’s that looks at me as the sword cuts deep.”

Throat closing, Guy turned away, unable to take the scrutiny of the phantom of his friend. All burdens her carried, Guy knew he deserved the punishments God saw fit to inflict, but Meg should never have to suffer for his turbulent nature. He loved her so much, but what if love wasn’t enough? What if he did end up hurting her? His soul would be truly lost.

As the silence stretched, Guy fought his tears, finally gathering the courage to glance at Allan. There wasn’t any judgement on his face, but rather a look of gentle understanding.

“Meg’s ability to see the good in people is a special gift,” Allan said, once more breaking into a smile. “She wanted so desperately to save your life and change your fate that she was granted a reprieve that consisted of visions to guide her path. Meg succeeded in her task, earning a full life. This life she chose to spend with you. Trust her, Guy. Always.”

Frowning, not fully comprehending Allan’s meaning, Guy opened his mouth to ask questions, but the fog lifted and Allan’s form faded. “Wait,” he called.

“You’re made your choice,” Allan’s voice echoes. “Name one after me.”

Hand darting out to grasp the fading form, Guy’s fingers sliced through vapor, causing him to stumble. In that moment the void opened, sucking him within. Seconds later, the pain and agony of the real world seized his senses. Eyes snapping open as a gasp passed his lips; Guy recognized the ceiling of his solar. How did he get here?

Slowly, the memories returned as his awareness became acute. Pain burned through his side. Glancing down, Guy wasn’t shocked by the sight of the red, seared flesh. Chest bare, covered in sweat, the fever grasped his head and fell back against the pillows. Forcing his eyes to stay open, he glimpsed the presence sitting by his bedside.

Smile curving his lips, Guy watched Meg as she slept in the chair. Sweet, beautiful Meg never left his side. When Guy attempted to reach for her, pain sliced through his ribcage, pulling a hiss from his throat. The sound was slight, but enough to cause Meg’s eyes to snap open. Looking to Guy, a sob of relief poured forth seeing him awake.

“Guy,” she whispered as she rose to lean over the bed. Taking his hand, she pressed soft kisses to his fingers. “How are you feeling?”

“Water,” he rasped.

Moving to a table, she poured water into a goblet, holding the edge to his lips as she cradled his head. Drinking his fill, Guy eased back against the pillows, watching as Meg put the goblet aside in favor of a wet cloth. Cleaning his brow, she didn’t like how his fever lingered.

“Meg,” Guy managed, grasping her hand despite the pain surging through his veins. “Meg," he repeated with wonder as he brought her hand to his cheek.

Running her other hand through his thick hair, Meg smiled tenderly as she leaned forward to kiss his brow. “You’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Back on your feet in no time.”

“You shouldn’t be here,”’ he whispered. Though Guy said the words for fear of her reputation, his grip tightened.

“There are guards outside the door,” she smiled. “But I’m sure everyone will agree you’re in no condition to ravish my virtue.”

Chuckling as best he could through the pain, Guy’s blue gaze danced with amusement. “I wouldn’t…do such a thing to you.” His look turned intense. “I love you, Meg.”

Touched, she pressed another kiss to his forehead, then his warm cheek. “Rest,” she urged. “There will be plenty of time for that when you’re well.”

“I failed,” he said regretfully. “It was a trap-”

“Hush,” she whispered. “The guards are here and I’m safe. We’re safe. Rest. We’ll talk later.”

Fatigue tore at his muscles, but Guy managed to retain his hold on his woman, meeting her eyes one more time. “Will you stay?”

“Of course,” she smiled. “I haven’t left your side.”

Comforted, Guy allowed his eyes to drift closed. Moments later, slumber swept him away. Watching the rise and fall of his chest, Meg blushed. Such things should be saved for her wedding night, but as Guy’s fever raged, she needed to cool his skin. Now, with the fever under control, she hoped to break it before dawn. Tucking the covers under his chin, she reclaimed her chair.

Unable to tear her eyes away from him, she studied the contours of his face, wondering what it would feel like to be held naked in his arms as they lay in bed. What would being loved by him fell like? Meg heard several different accounts from different women about wedding nights. Some claimed the act to be painful, while others swore consummation of vows to be pure bliss. Loving Guy, Meg knew he would never intentionally harm her. Growing bold, she moved to lie beside him on the bed, curling into his warmth. No, she wouldn’t live in fear of becoming his wife. All the kisses they shared thrilled her blood and curled her toes. Surely, their wedding night would be more of the same intense connection as their kisses. Snuggling closer to her betrothed, Meg dreamed of possibilities.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you should be on your feet?”

Glancing over his shoulder, Guy scoffed at his brother. “I’ve had worse,” he said dryly.

Moving farther into the room, wearing his usual easy-going smirk, Archer had to admit Guy didn’t look any worse for wear after his recent brush with death. He naturally bore more scars, but such things were a badge of honor for men like them.

“I would have expected you to take a few more days to recover,” Archer continued. “At least until the wedding.”

“There's work to be done.” Pulling his black shirt over his head, Guy reached for his matching tunic. Thankfully, Tuck and Little John were able to see to the day-to-day affairs of running the shire while he recovered, but Guy needed to show the nobles and villagers he remained a strong leader; especially with opportunists like Joseph Bennett nipping his heels. Meg informed him of their conversation in the main hall that night, so naturally Guy would watch his future father-in-law like a hawk.

“You won’t be doing anyone any favors if you don’t take proper time to heal.”

Snorting, Guy’s lips curled into a mocking smirk. “You sound like a simpering woman.”

Archer flashed his signature grin. “I’m quoting Kate. She’s been nagging me about walking around my own manor while still showing a few bruises. I’m passing on her advice.”

Well, Guy didn’t have time for his brother’s antics. “I’m surprised you managed to last that long,” he commented. “Have you seen Much since the brawl?”

Shaking his head, Archer moved to sit on one of the cushioned chairs by the fire. “He’s locked himself away at Bonchurch, refusing to see a soul.”

“Much always did have a flare for the dramatic,” Guy agreed.

Raising an inquisitive brow, Archer chuckled. “And you don’t? You’ve reacted badly to a broken heart.”

Guy didn’t need Archer to remind him of the fact. Fixing his belt around his waist, he planned to make the rounds today and show the people he recovered and was as strong as ever. With Prince John returning to Nottingham at the end of the week, Guy didn’t want whispers reaching the royal’s ears about any supposed weakness. His side still ached like the devil, but he could manage the pain.

“Do you think I should check on him?”

“Who,” Guy asked.

“Much,” Archer clarified. “Who else?”

“Give him a few days to lick his wounds. His turn in the dungeons probably hurt his pride more than he wants to admit.”

“Why?” Archer couldn’t comprehend his brother’s theory. “He spent plenty of time there as an outlaw.”

“As a member of Robin’s band,” Guy pointed out. “Being in jail fighting for a cause is very different than being a drunken nobleman arrested for disturbing the peace.”

Shrugging, Archer rose to his feet seeing his brother dressed and ready to face the day. “When do we leave?”

We aren’t,” Guy stated as he marched from the room. If he expected to have the last world on the subject, he was sourly mistaken because Archer followed on his heels.

“Meg will have my head if anything happens to you.”

“I don’t need a sitter,” Guy snapped over his shoulder as he descended the stairs leading to the main area of the castle. A long list of tasks awaited him, so the sooner he got started, the better. He wanted to be back before the sun set.

Riding to Nettlestone was his first order of business. Guy couldn’t threaten Archer away, however, so he did his best to ignore his sibling while making sure Joseph Bennett’s new position suited him. The villagers seemed a bit placated to have Bennett for their lord and master, but Guy supposed any man would be an improvement over Hartwood. In the end, Archer helped serve a purpose when Guy went door-to-door speaking to the villagers, asking for any information on Hartwood’s whereabouts and helping him appear less intimidating. Many still looked upon him with fear, which rubbed him the wrong way, but Guy knew earning trust and loyalty took time. Several men looked as if they wanted to punch him in the face, but stayed their hands knowing of his elevated rank. Guy didn’t want to fight or punish, but he couldn’t allow insults to pass if he expected to be treated as the rightful leader of Nottingham.

In the end, Meg’s reputation among the peasants is what gave him a clue. Because these people loved her, they were willing to put their faith in her future husband. One woman whispered her brother left the village a few days after Hartwood’s banishment. Several other men followed suit and no one heard from them since.

“Any idea where they were headed?”

The girl shook her head. “I heard whispers of London and York. Both are large enough to hide in a crowd.”

Guy thanked the woman, giving her a pence for her trouble before having a private word with his brother. Hartwood would flee to where he had friends. Though Guy had the ear of the Prince and the favor of the king, he did not, as yet, have connections with many noble houses. Bennett, on the other hand, may have contacts, but Guy hesitated to broach the matter. He didn’t trust Bennett at this juncture. Then again, they were to be family soon, so perhaps they should start somewhere?

“You don’t need noble connections,” Archer scoffed as they travelled the road to Locksley. “Hartwood’s disgrace is well known, so even if he had friends in high places, no noble would stick their necks out by offering him shelter under their on roof. He will be hiding in plain sight, probably a respectable tavern, so having a few street rats in your pocket will be more useful. They know every inch of the city and can keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut.”

Casting a sideways glance at his brother, Guy wondered why he didn’t think of that solution. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

Shrugging, Archer smiled up at the sunlight peeking through the tree branches. “I did a lot of things to make money.”

“So, you know people who can search London and York for Hartwood?”

“London,” Archer nodded. “But not York. I’ve burned too many bridges there.”

Remembering how he, Robin, and the gang rescued Archer from a hanging, Guy wondered if the sheriff would be open to any overtures of friendship and cooperation. Those fences would have to be mended, but there was time. Hartwood probably fled to London given there would be more resources for a man of his…appetites.

Walking through Locksley, the pain in his side started burning. The stitches didn’t pull free, but they might if he didn’t rest. Archer invited him to the manor, where Kate gave him a rather cold shoulder. Seeing her showing condition, he didn’t see how she was in a position to judge, but her child wasn’t his concern. After an hour, he and Archer rode to the other villages, asking discreet questions while making sure all knew Guy of Gisborne was alive and well. By the time he returned to Nottingham his feet ached and his stomach growled, so Guy went immediately to the Great Hall. Thankfully, neither Tuck nor Little John were lying in wait to ambush him with manners of state.

Taking up a seat before the roaring fire, he and Archer theorized about Hartwood’s next move. The moment he heard both Guy and Meg were alive, Hartwood may try again to take revenge.
“Perhaps you should postpone the wedding,” Archer suggested. “With the crowds, it will be rather easy for one of Hartwood’s men-”

“No,” Guy asserted. “The wedding will go on as planned.”

Shaking his head, Archer thought his brother foolish.

“I’m sure Meg will understand, but the prince will not,” Guy continued.

“What do you mean?”

Biting his lip, Guy realized he said too much and instead called for food to be brought. Some minutes later, two maids rushed forward carrying trays of roasted meat, potatoes, and jugs of ale. The men at heartedly, reminiscing about the meals they shared in Sherwood. Eventually, Archer took his leave, allowing Guy to stare into the flames at the hearth contemplating his next move. Losing track of time, he didn’t hear the approaching footsteps, only shifting his gaze when a shadow fell across the floor.

A smile curved his lips as he reached out a hand to his beloved fiancée. Grasping his fingers, drawing reassurance from their strength and warmth, Meg pressed a soft kiss to his knuckles before moving to kneel by his chair. Detangling their fingers to cup her soft cheek, Guy couldn’t hold back a chuckle.

“I see the fire in those eyes,” he teased. “You wish to give me a scolding.”

“You deserve a harsh one,” Meg acknowledged. “I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard you visited the villages! At least Archer went with you, but-”

“I’m well, Meg,” he cut in. “The people needed to see their sheriff is alive and strong.”

Tsking at his stubbornness, she felt his forehead. The warmth if his skin heated her far more than the fire in the hearth. “We should clean your wound,” she said softly. “Change your bandages.”

“Have you eaten, Meg?” Catching the weariness in her expression, Guy could tell he wasn’t the source of all her anxiety.

“I had stew while I helped tend a birthing.”

Guy’s brows rose. “How did it go?”

Meg wished to forget the woman’s screams, the sight of blood, and the stench of sweat in the air, but the experience felt forever branded on her memory. Such a fate would surely be in her future once she married Guy. Would she be able to survive such an ordeal? Forcing a smile, Meg rose to her feet.

“I learned a lot about childbearing, I suppose. The woman is still weak, but alive thinks to Tuck, and she has a new son to comfort her.”

“Did the birth frighten you?”

Shrugging, Meg didn’t feel comfortable dwelling on the subject. “Such things always appear frightening, but it’s you that needs tending, so don’t try to change the subject.”

Knowing arguing with Meg was pointless, Guy stood, not fully able to suppress a wince as burning pain jolted through his side. By his side a moment later, Meg caught Guy’s arm, drawing his limb over her shoulders, offering him support. To push her away would be insulting, but Guy managed to carry most of his own weight on the way to his chambers. Meg’s warm body pressing close, her intoxicating scent teasing his nostrils, ignited waves of awareness through his blood. He ached to kiss her, but just when Guy saw an open opportunity, Meg called for the servants. One of the older wrinkled nursemaids made sure Meg was out of the room when Guy disposed of his shirt.

Lying on the bed, he would have preferred Meg’s soft touch to the calloused scrape of the nursemaid’s fingers as she cleaned his wound. Just as Guy dawned a fresh tunic, Meg returned, her eyes asking a silent question.

“No infection,” he said gruffly.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, uncaring of the lingering nurse, Meg grasped his hand, kissing his palm. “You must be careful, Your Grace. I don’t want any harm to befall you.”

“I’m well, Meg,” he huskily assured her as his blood thundered through his veins. The candle glow across Meg’s features made it difficult for him to breathe. Were the confounded nursemaid gone, Guy wouldn’t hesitate to push Meg against the pillows and savor the taste of her mouth. Imagining her all day, there was nothing Guy wanted more in this world than the feel of his betrothed in his arms.

Acutely aware of her chaperone, Meg decided to give them both a bit of relief. Being so close to Guy made her imagination run wild, which would only complicate matters. Meg craved an unbridled, passionate kiss like the one they shared in the woods in the middle of the rainstorm, but now wasn’t the time. Besides, they would be married soon enough.

“Then I bid you goodnight, Your Grace.”

Squeezing her hand, holding her gaze an extra moment, Guy reluctantly released his hold, watching Meg rush from his chamber. Falling back against the pillows, gritting his teeth against his obvious arousal, Guy’s gaze fixed on the ceiling. His wedding couldn’t came soon enough.

Chapter Text

Keeping her attention on the wedding preparations helped distract Meg from her worries and fears. Yes, she was anxious about Guy, but as the day of the wedding drew closer, her stomach twisted into knots thinking about all the ways her life would change. Her heart belonged to Guy, so she didn’t fear being with him in the large ways. Instead, the small changes made her heart flutter with apprehension.

To this point, Meg’s actions affected her reputation alone. Yes, as a noblewoman she knew how to behave, but her reputation as a duchess and the wife of the sheriff would incur increased attention by tenfold. Her rebellious nature would have to be kept in check. While Meg knew Guy valued her opinion and trusted her instincts, she wouldn’t be able to make public stands the way she did in front of Isabella’s court, or run off to Sherwood Forest with outlaws. Perhaps her loss of independence is what Meg dreaded more than anything else.

Guy would be with her at night, and while some aspects of the knowledge thrilled her, Meg knew they would need time to grow accustomed to one another’s habits and idiosyncrasies. Yet, the idea of being free to hug Guy as she pleased, to hold him close and indulge in tender caresses, always put a smile on her face. Even today when she stood on a stool, her legs and arms going stiff as seamstresses circled her to put the finishing touches on her gown, Meg smiled at the notion of soon being married to the man she adored.

As the women giggled over innuendos about the wedding night, Meg tried in vain to hide her flushed cheeks. She may not have a mother but she wasn’t ignorant of such things. Witnessing that birth the other day shed even more light on her future role. Many women whispered wifely duties could d be pleasurable if a woman’s husband was kind. Judging by the way Guy’s kisses heated her blood and made her burn, Meg already felt pleasure in her future husband’s arms.

The noble wives did offer advice to the future duchess, but Meg’s embarrassment prevented her from asking questions even as her imagination pictured Guys male form. Though she saw his bare chest, felt his muscles when in his arms, Meg was at a loss to envision Guy’s specific…shape. Plenty of drinking and celebrating would occur at the wedding, but would Guy be able to be kind to her if inebriated? Would his touch be tender? Painful? These women gossiped about wifely duties improving with time and even becoming gratifying as long as Meg relaxed. Not fully understanding their meaning, she resisted the urge to snap at them when the conversation turned to speculation about Guy’s manhood. However, when they laughed over the supposed size of his “sword”, Meg dismissed them.

Jumping off the stool, her skirts flowing behind her, Meg moved to the window and heaved a heavy sigh. Gazing at the view of the courtyard while inhaling calming breaths, she admired the bloom of the trees, knowing all too soon the cold weather would be upon them. In the distance, the stone masons tirelessly worked on the towers to ensure Nottingham Castle returned to its former glory. Would the castle be completed in her lifetime? Guy seemed to think the building wouldn’t take as long as expected, especially since Prince John wanted Nottingham restored.

Turning away from the window and smoothing her hands down her skirts, a smile crept across of her face. The pale blue fabric lightened the shade of her eyes, while the lace cuffs, hem, and veil added to the beauty of the gown. Her matching pale blue slippers had a slight heel, though Guy would still tower over her at the altar. Just envisioning her wedding sent nervous thrills flipping through her stomach. Remaining calm only seemed possible when dwelling on other duties. Speaking of which, there were tasks to see to, so she changed out of her wedding clothes and back into her simple grey gown before heading to the kitchens to go over the menu for the feast.

Scouring the cupboards to take inventory, she gave instructions to the servants, assigning tasks, and managing the household with a firmer hand than usual, stressing the importance of Prince John’s return. The rushes in the main hall needed to be replaced. In fact, the whole room could use a thorough scrubbing. As the future lady of the castle, overseeing such details fell on her shoulders, but Meg strived to make sure she and Little John were on the same page. As steward, his responsibilities would overlap with hers and they didn’t need any awkwardness.

“Once you’re Duchess of Nottingham, you shouldn’t bother with such minor chores,” Little John commented as they walked through one courtyard with arched balconies on either side of the corridor as they made their way to the main hall for the midday meal.

“Just because I’ll be a married woman doesn’t mean I’ve changed,” she insisted.

“Your status will signify that,” John gently argued. “You’ll be a duchess, with all the privileges the station offers. The time for associating with servants will be at an end.”

“I’ll still be me,” Meg stubbornly stated.

Little John chuckled in the face of her obstinacy. “You’ll be you, but a title will hang around your neck.”

“When did you become such an expert?”

“Around the time I agreed to be a steward,” he grumbled.

Casting him a sideways glance, Meg wondered if the former outlaw felt content with his new life. “You do your job very well,” she complimented.

“And you should appoint a head maid to oversee the upkeep of the castle.”

“Answerable to you, of course,” Meg smiled.

“Naturally,” John nodded.

Laughing at his serious expression, she felt almost carefree, all her uncertainties suddenly expelled for the moment. “I will think on it.”

“There must be someone you can trust with the duty.”

Ah, therein lay the conundrum. Could Meg trust anyone outside their circle? Guy knew how to play the game, but Meg tended to believe people at their word. She must learn to keep her guard up around strangers. In that moment, Meg felt eyes upon her, raising the hairs on the back of her neck, and turned to see her father standing on one of the balconies, staring harshly at her from over the railing. Frowning, she kept moving in the opposite direction, hoping Little John’s presence would deter Joseph from approaching. Couldn’t he be satisfied with Nettlestone and his other lands and leave her in peace? Assuming she would be the key to influencing Guy and gaining attention at Court could very well be the earl’s undoing.

To Meg’s dismay, Joseph descended the stairs, following her progress. Sitting on the dais, she hoped her father would let her be, but he made a move to sit next to her, all the while brandishing an arrogant smirk that set her teeth on edge.

“I’m troubled seeing you fraternizing with servants.”

Raising a brow at the statement, Meg kept her expression carefully neutral. “I’m making sure they are properly preparing for the wedding.”

“You give orders and they are expected to obey,” Joseph spat. “You don’t do the work by their side!”

“Watch how you speak to my betrothed, Bennett!”

Ascending the dais, Guy glared at his future father-in-law in warning. Biting his tongue, the earl knew making his point, no matter how logical, would fall on deaf ears and cause a possible rift between him and the duke. Since Joseph needed to remain in Guy’s good graces, he swallowed his pride.

“Your Grace,” Joseph stood and bowed in respect. “My daughter and I were having a discussion-”

“I don’t enjoy finding my intended bride looking distressed,” Guy stated as he walked around Bennett to take Meg’s hand. Seeing her relived smile, something eased in his chest. Meg looked at him with adoration, as if he was her hero, and such acceptance in those bright eyes made him want to be worthy of her affections.

Arguing the point was tempting, but Bennett sensed Guy wasn’t in the mood. Instead, he switched tactics. “Soon we will be family, Sherriff,” he reminded.

Sitting beside his betrothed, Guy gestured for the food to be served before glancing at the Earl of Nettlestone. “And,” he prompted.

“I want to host a celebration in your honor.”

“Perhaps after the nuptials,” Guy stated. “I’ll have pressing matters of business to attend to after the honeymoon.”

“I hope such duties will not allow you to neglect your new bride.” Bennett met the sheriff’s gaze blatantly.

“I wasn’t aware you cared so much about Meg’s welfare, Bennett.”

“She is my only child.”

Though her father sounded wounded by Guy’s implication, Meg saw through the farce and shifted uncomfortably in her chair. How could she change the subject without causing a scene or disgracing Guy? Placing a gentle hand over his, feeling the familiar heat of their connection race through her blood; Meg cast Guy a pleading look.

“And Meg will soon be my wedded wife,” Guy acknowledged.

“The beginning of a new family,” Bennett smiled before making another bow and stepping down from the dais to be on his way.

“My apologies,” Meg whispered in his ear. “I had no idea he would intrude.”

Squeezing her fingers reassuringly, Guy caught her gaze. “I can handle him, Meg. Never fear.”

As the food was placed before them, Meg’s fears did ease as Guy cast a rare public smile. “How are the preparations coming?”

“Well,” she smiled back. “The prince will be the honored guest.”

Expression sobering, the sheriff kissed her knuckles. “I want you to have the day of your dreams.”

“As long as I have you, I will be happy.”

How did he ever deserve her? The light of his life sat beside him and he hardly knew how fate could be so kind. “I’m not…” Swallowing hard, Guy looked at their joined hands. “I have many sins in my past,” he said thickly. “Terrible sins, Meg.”

“But you’re not that man anymore,” she told him. “I see your heart beneath your grief and I love you even when you don’t love yourself.”

“And you own my heart,” he confessed.

Touched, she squeezed his fingers in return, bestowing a bright smile upon him. As they fell into silence and turned their attention to the meal, Meg kept glancing at his profile, wondering if she should take this opportunity to bring up a subject which remained in the back of her mind. She ignored the stories about Guy, the kitchen maid Annie, and their son, but the closer they came to the wedding, the more her thoughts turned in that direction. The man beside her now would never abandon a helpless infant in the woods, so why did she hesitate to ask for details?

Curiosity kept gnawing at her, but just when Meg gathered the courage to speak, Tuck entered the hall, bowing and requesting Guy’s presence on an important matter. Disappointed at his departure, but putting on a brave face, Meg finished her meal before making her way back to her chambers. Pacing the floors, she couldn’t shake restlessness plaguing her bones. Arms folding across her chest, she mentally went over the list of preparations, hoping she didn’t miss a vital detail. Prince John would arrive shortly and all must be perfect. The knowledge served to remind Meg of all the responsibilities and politics that would follow her from the alter as a new duchess. Due to Guy’s closeness to the prince, even more attention and scheming could surround them. Undoubtedly her father would attempt to manipulate her connection to the sheriff for his own ends. Though she would fully defend Guy any way possible, she wondered if she would be up to the task of deceit.

Needing air, she snatched her cloak and headed to the battlements. Somehow, she wasn’t the least bit surprised to see her fiancé standing with the wind at his back looking up at the same sky. Approaching, she didn’t resist when Guy pulled her in front of him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, and resting his chin atop her head. Inhaling his scent and leather, Meg let her arms fall over his as they swayed slightly.

“You shouldn’t linger long,” Guy whispered in her ear.

Shivering at the deep tone, she nodded. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”

Lifting a hand to stroke her hair, he kissed her temple. “What’s bothering you, love?”

Glancing over her shoulder, Meg studied his expression. “What makes you think I am troubled?”

Chuckling, he kissed the tip of her nose. “I know you well and you come here when you need to clear your mind.” Cupping her cheeks, he stroked her skin as a soft, loving look filled his eyes. “Tell me what’s in your thoughts.”

Shivering at the intensity of his stare, she rested her palms on his chest, her heart settling as calmness streamed through her veins. “I know you very well,” she began. “I see that heart of yours and I love you with everything in my soul.”

“The only reason I even have a soul is because of you,” he said thickly. “I know I will never deserve the gift of your love, but I swear to be a good husband.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Yet, you come here with worries. What is it?”

After taking in a deep breath, Meg found her voice. “Seth.”

Going stiff, Guy’s smile faded. “How do you know about him?”

Chapter Text

The cold air blowing against her cheeks didn’t compare to the coolness in Guy’s blue gaze. As those eyes bore into her, silently demanding answers, Meg felt his grip tighten on her shoulders and licked her dry lips. She wasn’t afraid because she knew his grip wouldn’t get too biting, but didn’t want an argument on her hands. Struggling to push aside her panic, Meg found her voice.

“The cook in the kitchens told me,” she confessed.

“When?”

Feeling Guy drawing back and growing aloof, Meg clutched his tunic in an effort to hold on to his warmth, while silently urging him not to get upset. “Several weeks ago,” she said softly.

Eyes widening, Guy’s suspicions rose. Meg knew about Annie and Seth and she didn’t run? She still looked at him with steadfast love? Or did she? How genuine could Meg’s affections be if she kept this from him? Did Meg keep her own counsel out of fear he wouldn’t allow her out of their engagement, or did Joseph pressure her to go through with the wedding?

“And…” Swallowing hard, he couldn’t bear to look into her eyes and see any harsh judgment.

“Guy!” Cupping his face, Meg wanted him to focus on her rather than his inner turmoil, but the man stubbornly refused to meet her eyes. A moment later, his anger surged, causing him to finch away from her touch as if burned.

“You despise me!”

“I don’t,” she insisted. “I know you’re sorry for your past.”

Her forgiveness seemed too good to be true, and as a result, Guy couldn’t help testing the threads of their bond. “I didn’t at the time,” he blatantly stated. “I’m of noble blood and the child was a bastard. A worthless burden I wanted to be rid of.”

Cringing at his sharp words, Meg’s heart constricted but she refused to see the ugliness he threw in her face. Honor earned from bitter life experience shimmered beneath the surface of his gaze and she couldn’t condemn him outright. “The man standing before me now isn’t the same one who would have let a child die.”

Twisting away, bracing his hands on the cold stone, Guy lifted his gaze to the moon. “Annie was comely enough,” he said into the wind. “But she was still a servant. I told her what she wanted to hear because I wanted her in my bed. When the child came along-”

Meg’s hand squeezed his arm, and Guy couldn’t believe she stayed by his side instead of cursing his name and running into the castle to escape his wretched company. Perhaps her curiosity won out, but once she learned the full truth, Guy feared he would lose her forever. The temptation to lie to keep her rose on instinct, but in the end, he owed her absolute honesty.

“Lying to Annie and leaving the child in the woods killed two birds with one stone,” he gruffly continued. “As long as Annie had the child, she would nag me for marriage. If the child lived, he would serve as evidence of my dalliance, which would hinder my chances for advancement. Robin saved my son, and I know Annie is raising him, but if left to me, the worst would have happened. My actions were cowardly and despicable. I send them money when I can, but Annie refuses my messages, which is just as well, I suppose. There is no apology that will make up for what I did.”

Studying his profile, seeing his genuine regret, Meg inhaled a shaking breath. Guy’s sincerity warmed her heart and she valued him all the more for trusting her with his side of the story. “If you were faced with the same situation now, I know you would make the honorable choice.”

Daring to face her, inhaling a breath of disbelief escaped him seeing the acceptance and faith in written in her smile, Guy blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. Heart leaping to his throat, he felt her warmth comfort his fears and shook his head at a loss. “How can you have such faith in me?”

“Because I know you’ve changed,” she stated with conviction. “I love you, Guy. Even your darkness. We’re all sinners and none of us perfect, but we try. We learn from our mistakes and I see all your hard work. Walking your path isn’t easy, but you haven’t given up, which makes you an honorable man. You’re a man Robin would be proud to call his brother and one I will be honored to call my husband.”

A sob of relief escaped his throat as he pulled Meg into his arms. “You are an angel,” he rasped.

Hugging him tight, Meg’s fingers weaved through his long hair. “I love you, Guy.”

“And I swear to protect and honor you, Meg. To give you the life you deserve.”

“I know,” she whispered as she smiled into his shoulder.

“Any children the Lord wishes to bless upon us will want for nothing.”

Laughing, she pulled back, her eyes dancing with mirth. “Don’t go spoiling them before they’re even born.”

Sharing her laughter as a tear slid down his cheek, Guy couldn’t believe Meg didn’t spurn him. Instead, she rose on her tip-toes and kissed the bead of moisture from his skin. Lust rising, he couldn’t resist seizing her mouth, holding her firmly to his chest to feel her softness melt against him. The kiss went on and on, neither wanting to let go, but the echo of approaching footsteps alerted the couple to the changing of the guard.

Breaking apart, Guy swiftly escorted his betrothed into the shadows. For the first time in his life, he allowed his hopes to soar. Meg loved him despite his worst sins, so surely they could find happiness? Kissing her knuckles, he waited until the coast was clear before escorting her back to her chambers. The only reason he could even part her company was the knowledge that soon they would be man and wife and never have to sneak about the corridors again.

In the wake of Guy’s confession, all Meg’s doubts vanished. His honesty told her she was right to put her faith in him and knew if they were blessed with children, Guy would make a wonderful, devoted father. When they finally parted ways, Meg quickly took off her cloak and changed into her chemise before crawling beneath the covers. Too happy to sleep, however, she grinning at the ceiling until dawn. Her maid woke her a few hours later; telling her the sheriff retreated to his estate in Knighton.

Tradition dictated the groom shouldn’t lay eyes upon the bride the day before the wedding, but her heart sank all the same knowing they wouldn’t indulge in their daily walks or share the midday meal. Thankfully, Meg’s attention didn’t have time to linger on her betrothed because the arrival of Prince John captured her full focus. As expected, the royal arrived in grand fashion and the key nobles within the castle lined the main courtyard to greet him.

“Well, well, well,” Prince John exclaimed as he disembarked his embellished carriage with the assistance of his footmen. Watching his subjects bow and curtsey in his wake, the prince’s smile deepened. Recognizing Meg, he went straight toward her, gesturing for her to straighten from her curtsey so he could kiss her soft hand.

“Lady Meg,” he pleasantly greeted. “Where is our dear Sherriff? Why is he not here to greet me?”

“Begging your pardon, Your Highness,” Meg curtsied. “His Grace is presently in Knighton awaiting the nuptials.”

The prince’s grin returned full force. “Ah, yes, of course!”

Eyeing Tuck, then Little John, the royal didn’t disguise his mild sneer. “Will you show me to my chambers, Lady Meg? It will give us a chance to catch up.”

“If I may be so bold,” Joseph Bennett cut in, moving to stand next to his daughter. “The bride has several details to see to before the ceremony tomorrow, but I would be happy to be of service.”

Raising a brow, Prince John considered the man before him a moment, brushing his hand over his slight beard. “Ah, yes, you are the new Earl of Nettlestone.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Joseph Bennett, at your service.”

Ignoring the slight impropriety of manners, the prince pouted slightly. “Shame about Hartwood. He seemed like such a loyal subject, but these vile crimes he’s accused of are most unsavory. We trust you’re made of more honorable stuff, Bennett.”

“Indeed, Sire,” the earl eagerly swore.

“Very well.” Prince John snapped his fingers. “We accept your offer. Lead on.”

Naturally, Tuck and Little John followed the entourage, daring not to leave the future king alone with Meg’s opportunistic father. Released from her obligations for the time being, the bride kept busy with final preparations. The distractions worked until the afternoon while adding the final touches to her wedding gown.

“You look beautiful,” Anne complemented as Meg stood before the looking glass. “His Grace won’t be able to tear his eyes away.”

She certainly hoped so because Meg wanted to look beautiful for Guy tomorrow. Memories of their kisses rose to the surface, causing her cheeks to blush, so she quickly changed the subject. “How is the prince settling in?”

“Last I heard, he wanted a tour of the construction. Our masons apparently work faster than those in London.”

Nodding, Meg supposed the prince would stay out of trouble. “Is Little John conducting the tour?”

The maid nodded. “And Lord Bennett.”

Sighing at the news, Meg hoped Prince John had better sense than to believe her father a friend. Then again, the royal loved flattery. She would get a better lay of the land tonight at the evening meal. Choosing her gown carefully, wearing silver silks and satins with a silver necklace, Meg looked every inch a future duchess. Impressed, Prince John made a special effort of escorting her to her seat, then gesturing for wine and calling for lively music.

“A shame you’re spoken for,” he smirked at the meat was placed before him. “Gisborne is a lucky man.”

Knowing there was deeper meaning in the prince’s guttural laugh, Meg held her head high. The specifics of the marriage bed were not lost on her, since she was educated as a young girl about her duties, but the jokes about bedding ceremonies and knives cutting pain were lost on her. Pushing aside the pangs of uncertainty, Meg remembered Guy’s heated kisses and gentle embrace and knew he wouldn’t hurt her when the time came.

Blinking to attention hearing her father capture the prince’s attention, Meg sipped her wine, smiling at the dancers, pretending to be preoccupied while soaking every word the pair exchanged.

“I know Your Majesty’s Court is one of the most benevolent of the times,” Bennett flattered.

“Well,” Prince John sighed. “We must not get too carried away. My poor brother is still a prisoner, after all.”

“My heart goes out to King Richard,” Joseph said solemnly. “But all of England is fortunate indeed to have your to watch over us in his stead, Sire.”

Laughing, Prince John gave Bennett a long look. “Your skills at flattery are robust! Is that why my dear friend Gisborne gave you the fiefdom of Nettlestone?”

“My house is a pure one, Sire,” Joseph smiled. “My noble bloodline and skills as a leader made me a perfect fit.”

“Ah!” Glancing from Joseph to his daughter, the prince leaned to whisper in Bennett’s ear. “A shame you do not have a proper heir.”

“Perhaps I can still remedy that situation.” Seeing the opening, Joseph didn’t hesitate. “I hear Your Highness’s Court if full of eligible noblewomen who would welcome an Earl for a suitor.”

Chuckling, the prince nodded. “Indeed, Bennett. We are certain there are plenty of deals to be made. Though, with one child grown, you may have to be suave and elegant as well as charming.”

“I assure you, I’m up to the task, Your Majesty.”

“Hmmm.” Stroking his chin, the would-be-king loved loyal subjects, but he wasn’t as daft as some believed and would speak to Gisborne before making any final decisions. In the meantime, he greatly enjoyed the food, dancing, and hospitality of Nottingham. The town may be in the midst of recovery, but thus far, Gisborne led a productive shire. It seems, he was wrong to listen to the whispers of that cunning serpent Isabella.

Shame about her, really. Prince John did enjoy her antics. Well, what would cheer him now was a dance with the bride-to-be. Meg smiled prettily as he swirled her around the dancefloor, but clearly only had eyes for Gisborne. Lucky man. Though royal privilege dictated John could demand a night in Meg’s bed, then declaring her pure for her wedding, the prince refrained from the temptation – barely. He preferred willing company. Besides, he would hate to have to appoint a new sheriff when the current one was working out so well. If he lay a finger on Meg, Guy would challenge him in open combat, royalty or not, and Prince John didn’t want to have to kill one of his favorites.

When the dance ended, the prince escorted Meg back to her place on the dais. Tonight, he could certainly find other company. Making several toasts, Prince John quickly fell deep into his cups, leaving Tuck and Little John to carry him to the solar for the night. Grumbling the entire way, Little John dumped the royal unceremoniously on the bed, wishing him a hangover throughout the long wedding.

Chapter Text

Waking with the dawn, nervous excitement surging through his veins, Guy quickly dressed. The manor was cleaned rafters to rushes so he and Meg would have some privacy for their short honeymoon. Guy couldn’t fully abandon Nottingham with all of his duties, so spending a few days in Knighton was a compromise. Standing before the mirror as he fastened his sword belt around his waist, Guy paused hearing the approach of galloping hooves. Going to the window to see the adorned carriage, Guy muttered a curse and hurried down the stairs.

Emerging, Guy waited for the prince’s carriage to draw closer before bowing low. Servants immediately hurried forward to secure the horses as the prince’s men ran around to open the door. Dressed in scarlet and vivid gold satins and velvets, the prince spread his arms wide a he descended to the ground.

“Gisborne!” A huge grin covered Prince John’s face as he stretched his arms wide in greeting of his favorite sheriff. “I’m glad you took my wishes to heart!”

Kissing the offered ring, Guy rose when the monarch moved to enter Knighton Manor. Calling for wine and refreshments, Guy offered the future king a tour, but Prince John waved a dismissive hand. Curling his lip at the small rooms, the prince moved to sit on the high back chair by the hearth.

“I order you to wed and you choose the lovely Lady Megan Bennett,” he chuckled.

Keeping his expression neutral, Guy met the prince’s gaze. “She was the most eligible.”

Barking a laugh, Prince John shook his head. “Falling from the bachelor ranks, huh, Gisborne? Hopefully I have a few more years, but I trust you and the future duchess breed plenty of loyal children.”

“We will do our duty, Sire.”

“Glad to hear it.” The prince’s eyes darted around the house. “This little home looks cozy enough, but I hope you don’t plan to linger here too long. Nottingham Castle is so much more suitable.”

“The castle will be my primary residence,” Guy confirmed.

“Good.”

The silence gathered weight as the two men stared at one another. Finally, the prince spoke. “Do you love me, Gisborne?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“Then tell me about Lord Bennett.”

Surprised by the question, Guy chose his words carefully since he didn’t know specifics about any encounters the prince had with Bennett. “What do you wish to know?”

“Why did you give him Nettlestone after Hartwood’s disgrace?”

“To keep an eye on him.”

Now the prince was the one taken aback. “That bad?”

“He’s ambitious and cunning,” Guy clarified.

“So are many others,” the royal sighed. “Are you marrying his daughter to keep an eye on him as well?”

“Meg saved my life,” he answered. “Her title and dowry will serve me well and I didn’t see any reason not to wed her, especially after Your Majesty’s urging.”

“I give you my blessing, Gisborne,” Prince John announced. “In fact, I came here to escort you to the abbey in style.”

The amusement on his face refused any arguments, so Guy graciously accepted the offer. “That is most generous, Sire.”

“Nonsense! Today is a day of celebration!” Rising to his feet, the prince slapped his friend on the back. “Come! Let’s get you dressed.”

“I am dressed, Your Highness.”

Sneering at the duke’s garb, he wasn’t amused. “Oh, surely not!”

“I do not require-”

“You need a cape, at least! I’m sure I have one that will do.” Summoning his servants to fetch his trunk, Prince John ordered them to sift through the contents and find a cape to match Guy’s wedding clothes. The formal black doublet and tunic, new black brais and shining black leather boots were befitting a noble wedding, but not a noble wedding where the heir to the throne was in attendance! By the time the prince finished with him, Guy wore a new black tunic with silver undertones and a matching silver cape.

“We must get to the abbey,” the prince announced. “Or the future Duchess of Nottingham will have my head!”

Not given much choice, Guy rode with the prince, finding an opening to ask after Bennett. “Have you invited him to Court?”

“Not formally,” Prince John shrugged. “I’m still debating. He claims to want a new wife, yet I get the impression he is after favor…”

“Keep a close eye on him,” Guy advised.

Sobering, Prince John wasn’t amused. “You would rather have him in this shire?”

“I can better contain him here.”

Scoffing, the prince rolled his eyes. “You’re not better than your prince at such tasks!”

“My humblest apologies, Sire.”

Pouting, the royal looked out the window, but his mood shifted once again as they passed the serfs lining the road to the abbey, waving and cheering as they threw flowers.

“Look how they love me,” Prince John beamed.

Entering the impressive stone abbey, Guy bowed low for a blessing from the Cardinal before moving forward to take his place a the alter. The chapel already filled to the brim with guests and hopefuls looking for a glimpse of the prince. Archer stood beside him, patting his brother’s shoulder in greeting.

“Ready?”

Inhaling a deep breath, Guy nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

In the front pews, all the nobles of the county gathered along with Kate, Tuck, and Little John. Much sat apart from the others, but he presence served to support Meg and no one else. The Cardinal gestured for silence before signaling to begin. Music started paying and Guy turned to look down the aisle as the back doors opened. At first, all he could see was the bright light streaming through the surrounding windows, but then two figures emerged and Guy’s breath left his lungs in a whoosh.

Never in all his life did he gaze upon a more beautiful vision. Dressed in a gorgeous shade of pale blue silk and satin gown trimmed with white lace and a wearing a matching white veil, her long, light brown hair cascading down around her shoulders and a shining silver crown around her head, Meg walked forward on her father’s arm through a falling rain of white rose petals being poured from the balcony above. Through the lace, Guy glimpsed Meg’s happy smile and his heart slammed in his chest. He wasn’t nervous until this very moment and shifted on his feet, palms moist.

The closer Meg drew to his side, the more difficult it became to breathe. Guy wasn’t dreaming, yet he could hardly believe this could be real. The woman he loved came forward with a smile, ready to make vows before God consenting to be his forever. Remembering the last time he stood before an alter hoping for the same, the ceremony ending with Marion giving him a solid punch to the jaw and running away with Robin, Guy suppressed the rising panic. Despite knowing no such outcome would occur this time around, a little voice in the back of his mind warned the disaster could still befall all his hopes.

Inhaling a sharp breath when Meg finished her walk, Guy stood frozen as the Cardinal asked Bennett for his permission to give away his daughter. Hearing the affirmative, Guy visibly relaxed. Taking Meg’s hands in his, Guy stood proudly as the ceremony started. Watching carefully, he noticed Meg’s smile remain as she repeated her vows, never wavering.

Nervous to walk into an abbey filled with such important guests, Meg paced as she waited for her father to escort her down the aisle. Though she loved Guy with all her heart, she knew her whole life was about to change. Not only would she become a duchess, but she would be cleaved to Guy for the rest of her days. Half of her wanted to laugh with joy, while the other half wanted to run straight to Sherwood Forest and hide.

The moment she walked into the chapel and saw Guy standing at the altar dressed in his signature black with his hair around his shoulders, looking at her with awe, Meg’s fear evaporated. Seeing his nervous determination transform into such awed admiration, Meg couldn’t be happier knowing she was making the right choice. She didn’t even notice the guests as she clasped his hands. Every fiber of her being knew this was the man she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with.

Speaking her vows clearly, her blood hummed with awareness as Guy’s blue eyes studied her intently as if memorizing every moment. The love she saw burning there made her shiver in anticipation, but the moment she heard him say “I do”, Meg could barely contain her joy. The second the Cardinal pronounced them husband and wife, Guy stepped forward to gently lift her veil over her head. Lacing his arm through hers, they turned as one to face the congregation as cheers erupted from the crowd. Applause rose as they stepped down from the alter to walk down the aisle arm-in-arm.

Squeezing Meg’s hand, Guy could hadn’t believe the wedding was over and done. Meg was now his wife! Feeling her gaze upon him, Guy glanced sideways, relief flooding his system seeing her undisguised happiness. The plan was to take a private carriage back to the castle for the reception, but Prince John met them at the entryway, congratulating them, but making sure to hug Meg, kissing both her cheeks before taking her arm to escort her to his carriage instead. Gritting his teeth, Guy didn’t like the imposing way the prince took change, demanding to escort the couple back to Nottingham Castle. Naturally, the prince sat next to the bride, letting his hand rest on her arm, grinning from ear-to-ear as he praised the ceremony. For her part, Meg cast Guy pleading looks, making clear the familiarity Prince John forced on her unwelcome, but they both knew their hands were tied. He prince would have his way.

Nearing the town, the streets lined with residents waving and cheering. The wedding of the Sheriff of Nottingham was a day of rest and celebration. As the carriage came to a stop in the main courtyard, Guy stepped out first, but held out his hand to his bride, then stepped aside to allow the Prince to lead the way and have his moment in front of the people. At the top of the stairs, he addressed the crowd.

“Good people of Nottingham,” he said over the cheers. “Do you love me?”

Delighting by the roaring response, Prince John opened his arms wide to bask in the glory.

“He’s certainly enjoying himself,” Guy grumbled softly in her ear. “Acting as if it’s his wedding.”

“Hush,” Meg playfully scolded. “He’ll be back in London soon.”

Bringing her hand to his lips, Guy kissed her knuckles. “You’re a saint.”

Laughing, her loving gaze raked over his face. “I would have to be to marry you.”

Circling an arm around her waist, he intended to steal a kiss, but Prince John called for the married couple to follow him to the Great Hall. Ascending the stairs, Guy took comfort in knowing Meg would be by his side this evening.

“You look breathtaking, Meg,” he said in her ear once they were away from the prying eyes of the crowd.

Looking at him, Meg wanted to return the compliment, but was pulled away when the prince suddenly appeared to take her hand and escort her through the hall doors. Holding out a chair for her on the dais, Meg noticed the prince would sit between her and Guy during the feast. The only saving grace was seeing her father placed at the far end of the table. Archer sat beside Guy and Much sat on Meg’s other side.

“Thank you for coming,” she said to the earl as the food was placed before them.

Nodding absently, Much’s gaze searched the crowd. Kate sat among the commoners, but the Earl of Bonchurch couldn’t tear his eyes away, even though Kate’s belly wasn’t easily hidden by her gown.

“Your day will come, Much,” Meg promised.

“Perhaps.” Though he forced a smile, the emotion never filled his eyes.

Tapping his glass, Prince John led the toasts, then called for dancing, taking Meg’s hand and twirling her around the floor. Sipping his wine while watching the display, Guy quietly imagined how many ways he would like to kill the royal for touching his bride. Strangling the man with his own entrails was most tempting.

“Easy,” Archer said. “Don’t spoil the reception with a brawl.”

Frustrated, Guy turned to his sibling. “Do you see how he’s taken over everything?”

“He’s the prince,” Archer sternly reminded. “This was bound to happen.”

“Yes.” Setting down his goblet, Guy rose to his feet. “And it’s about time I remedied the situation.”

Descending the dais, Guy claimed a dance with his wife. The couple exchanged wide smiles as they twirled, unnoticing as the prince pouted on the way back to his chair.

Chapter Text

Dismissing her ladies-in-waiting, Meg couldn’t shake her nerves as she crawled between the covers of Guy’s bed. In the distance the music continued playing and sounds of revelry reached her ears. Laughter echoed up from the continuing reception, which would probably continue into the early hours of the morning, but Meg ignored the merrymaking in favor of preparing for her wedding night. Guy should arrive shortly and they would…become one.

Thankfully, when Prince John announced the bedding ceremony, Guy quickly put an end to the notion. The old tradition was still practiced, but Meg knew she would never survive the humiliation. If the prince had his way, she could be carried to the solar by a group of drunk, rowdy noblemen accompanied by the groom, and undoubtedly the prince, to be stripped, ogled, then thrown between the sheets. The men would most likely cheer as they watched Guy take her maidenhead. Such a private moment witnessed by others…Meg shivered in fear before dismissing the thoughts.

Guy persuaded the prince to allow Meg’s ladies to help her prepare in private, so there was no need to fear. Hopefully, when her husband did join her, he wouldn’t have company. With a fire roaring in the hearth, Meg settled against the pillows wondering what to expect. Gossiping women often have very different accounts of wedding nights, so she hardly knew what to believe.

Eventually, the minutes ticked by and Meg’s eyelids grew heavy. She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew heavy footsteps approached the door. By now the fire burned low and the night air quieted. Hearing the latch give and the door creek on its hinges, Meg watched Guy enter the bedchamber. Disheveled, his tunic falling open and his hair mussed, she wondered what he was doing these last few hours.

Glancing at his bride, looking lovely and tempting and innocent tucked into bed, Guy marched to the table to pour another goblet of wine. He kept his wits throughout the reception, but faced with the knowledge of bedding Meg, well, he wasn’t sure if he would be better off drunk. The bedding alone didn’t make him nervous. After all, Guy had his share of women, but they were all dalliances. They didn’t mean anything to him, but Meg held his heart in her hands. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her in anyway.

Finishing the first glass, he poured another. His head felt light, but not light enough. Waiting until the prince retired for the evening took too long. Plus, Guy couldn’t talk the man out of the ritual of proof come morning, no matter how much Guy hinted such display could embarrass the new duchess. Since Guy dismissed the bedding ceremony, Prince John insisted examining the sheets would be the only way to ensure the marriage properly commutated. As if Guy wouldn’t perform his duty! Then again, leaving Meg untouched and unharmed held appeal as well. What if he hurt her and she despised him for it? What if she never looked at him the same way again?

“Guy?”

Closing his eyes against her sweet voice, he knew he couldn’t allow anyone to doubt their union. He couldn’t risk Meg being taken from him for any reason. Tonight, he would make sure she was prepared and satisfied. Turning to look upon her beautiful face, the air rushed from his lungs.

“Won’t you come to bed?”

Wine forgotten, Guy walked a bit unsteadily to her side of the bed. The longer he stared, the more sober he felt. Seeing her confusion and worry, he took her hand and kissed her knuckles before moving to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Meg,” he swallowed hard. “Do you know what happens between a man and a wife?”

Smiling, she her soft fingertips stroked his cheek. “I know, Guy.”

Blinking rapidly, he nodded. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said thickly.

“The women say only the first time is painful, but not so much if the man helps her…relax.”

Closing his eyes against the imaginings, Guy grit his teeth as his manhood thickened.

“I trust you to show me pleasure,” she whispered.

Squeezing her hand, Guy shook his head. “The first time-”

“I trust you.”

Hearing those words, he forced his gaze to hers, relieved by the steadfast determination and love he saw within those depths. There was also a glimmer of curiosity he could nurture. Nodding, Guy removed his boots, then stood to let his tunic and shirt fall to the floor. Watching Meg’s eyes widen, then fill with appreciation as she looked her fill, he drew closer.

The sight of his naked chest made her mouth go dry. As her stomach flipped with butterflies, Meg’s heart lurched when her husband gripped the covers and climbed into bed side her. Instantly, he cradled her in his arms, looking at her as if she was the most precious thing in the world before bending to kiss her deeply. As the familiar heat of passion rose, Meg’s fingers weaved through his hair to hold him close as they tasted one another.

Tonight, they need not guard their passion. Tonight all the fantasies Meg envisioned of belonging to this man could come true. Melting into his touch, she sighed as her chest pressed into his, flattening her aching breasts, making her flesh pucker for attention. Whispering her name, Guy pressed kisses along her jawline and neck before moving to suckle her earlobe. Shivering with delight as her body warmed, Meg’s hands eagerly roamed over his bare back, learning his contour and shape.

When Meg’s soft palms smoothed down his chest, her fingertips circling his nipples, a heavy groan vibrated in Guy’s throat as his cock pulsed. Forcing his movements to remain slowly measured, he nibbled a path across her collarbone, relishing the sound of her every sigh. Pushing open the front of her chemise, he paused but Meg didn’t object, so he bent to kiss her soft skin, daring to lick between the valley of her pert breasts.

Heat thumping through her blood, Meg’s hand itched to explore her husband more thoroughly. Trying not to over think the moment, she let her hands wander, trusting Guy to guide her. When she squeezed his backside, Guy gave another groan before his mouth closed over one of her breasts, sucking her nipple through the thin fabric. Shocked, Meg cried out, but soon the pleasure made her eyes flutter closed. As her hands weaved through his dark locks to hold his head to her body, her legs fell open. A moment later, her husband settled his weight in the cradle of her thighs, his hard stomach pressing intimately.

As the new sensation made her writhe, Meg whimpered his name. There was no sweeter sound in the world. Wanting to see all of her, Guy’s hands dove beneath the linen, inching the fabric higher and higher, smoothing his large palms over her soft skin. Understanding his intention, Meg stiffened, but surrendered when Guy pulled her chemise over her head. Naked beneath him, she licked her dry lips as she forced her gaze to his face. Would he like what he saw? Those blue orbs held a storm of passion, barely contained. Shivering, Meg couldn’t find her voice, but reached for him needing reassurance.

“You’re so beautiful,” he rasped before capturing her mouth.

The kiss was surprisingly tender, growing desperate as they clung to one another. Guy rocked his lower body against her, urging Meg to respond in kind, and when she obeyed, a cry tore from her throat as pleasure throbbed through her being. Moving gently, Guy swallowed her every moan, revealing in the moment. As their tongues melded and tasted, he ran his hand over her smooth stomach up to her breasts. Molding her sweet flesh, Guy loved how her mounds fit perfectly into his palms. Her nipples puckered in reaction to his touch, begging to be savored.

What was happening to her? Arching when Guy’s mouth closed over her breast, Meg felt hot and needy. The air felt thick and her head light. Closing her eyes, she instinctively moved against him, feeling her body working to attain something she couldn’t define. Was this the pleasure the women whispered about? Between her legs, she felt the throbbing bliss, but wasn’t sure what exactly came next. She knew Guy would join with her there, but didn’t know he would want to touch her in such a way.

Wanting to pleasure him as well, her lips pressed to his throat, licking his skin the way he did hers, and was rewarded when his mouth fused over her once more. Dizzy from the kiss, Meg wasn’t fully aware of Guy’s hands moving between their bodies until his fingers stroked her nether curls. Gasping into his mouth she stilled, but her husband soothed with soft words.

“You’re so beautiful, Meg,” he groaned against her mouth as his fingers delved deeper. “Let me feel you, touch you, love you.”

“Guy,” she gasped as the sensations spiked. “What’s happening?”

Instead of answering, his fingers pressed gently into her nub, rubbing slowly until she cried out before capturing her mouth to plunge his tongue deep. Clutching his shoulders, Meg enthusiastically returned his kiss as she moved against Guy’s exploring hand. He didn’t stop until he knew all of her, spreading her cream, and returning the sweet pressure to her nub. The bliss overruled all her senses. Desperate, Meg sobbed his name as the pleasure peaked, washing over her in a bursting explosion of stars.

Watching Meg experience release, Guy gritted his teeth to keep from spilling too soon. Lord, she was gorgeous. Drawing the last ounce of pleasure from her flesh, he eased back to removed his brais. Through hooded eyes, Meg wanted to see Guy in all his naked glory, but he moved too quickly for her to see details. Curious, she reached for him as he settled over her again, touching all she could reach before gathering the courage to indulge her curiosity.

Shouting when her hands glided over his shaft, he said her name in a desperate prayer, barely resisting the urge to sink deep and slack his lusts. Taking her hands, he pinned them above her head as he fought to catch his breath.

Lord, his handsomeness stole her breath. Looking at his lips, craving another kiss as her heart pounded in her chest, fear coiled in her throat as the intensity of the moment swirled. His manhood felt large in her hands a moment ago. Smooth, yet hard. Part of her wanted to know more, but the other part was keenly aware of how that root could hurt. How could something so big fit inside her small opening? Realizing now the reason for the stories of pain, Meg felt the warmth of passion seep from her limbs.

Sensing her withdrawal, Guy kissed her deeply, settling his chest over her, letting their body heat surround them. Feeling her slowly respond, he eased a hand between them once more to tease beneath her curls. Breath going ragged, she struggled to take air into her lungs as his clever fingers roused the same sweet delight even as his roughly spoken encouragement sent thrill over her skin. Feeling his hardness grind into her belly, she wanted more.

Breaking away from her mouth to taste her neck, Guy’s thumb continued rubbing her nub, then gently eased a finger inside her moist core. Finding the right spot, he smiled when Meg screamed in wondrous enjoyment, arching and riding his hand. Quickening his strokes, he knew Meg teetered on the edge.

“This is where my cock will enter you,” he said huskily in her ear. “I don’t want you to be afraid.”

How could she possibly be afraid of something that felt so good? When the explosion of sensation came a second time, Meg heard Guy’s praise as if coming from a distance. Desperate, she writhed as wave after wave of pleasure filled her senses. Only when she started coming down from the high did she feel the tip of is cock pressing sweetly. Reaching for his shoulders, she pulled Guy down for another kiss. Unable to resist a moment longer, Guy flexed his hips; thrusting deep into Meg’s yielding warmth.

His wife! Oh, Lord, she clutched him so tight! Swallowing her cry, he realized she stiffened in his arms, and once fully sheathed, remained still. Panting, he rained kisses over her face, whispering words of love as his fingers pressed again into her nub to coax her into relaxing.

Clinging to her husband, blinking back tears, Meg wasn’t ready for the moment Guy pushed deep. Her maidenhead stretched until the flesh tore to make way for him, burning intensely, but thankfully the pain came and went swiftly. Now the burning ache accompanied a foreign sensation of a man inside her which gave her pause. The little whispers of pleasure his finger created slowly built until her instincts urged her to move. Experimentally rolling her hips, Meg’s reward was a hoarse shout from her husband. Guy’s face blatantly displayed his pleasure, giving her the courage to do the move again. This time, Guy moved with her.

“Oh, Meg,” he growled in her ear. “Oh, that’s it!”

Patiently, slowly, Guy taught her how to move in time with his thrusts, so together they could climb to their climax. Her sweet softness surrounded him, clutched and milked him, bringing him home. Looking into her eyes, Guy knew he wasn’t worthy of her love, but vowed to commit fully to her knowing he would never be complete without her again. Kissing her hard, Guy would cherish and protect her for the rest of his days.

Wanting Meg to find release first, he angled his body so he touched her just right with every thrust. Meg went wild beneath him, writhing unabashedly as she called his name as the pleasure poured over her. Not far behind, Guy threw his head back, shouting to the ceiling as his seed rushed into her womb. Pumping over and over, he finally collapsed into Meg’s welcoming arms. Spent, he held her close as his limbs grew heavy. They would rest and catch their breath but then he wanted her again. He wanted forever.

Chapter Text

“Meg. Meg, wake up, love.”

Groaning, she wanted the voice to go away. Cuddled warmly in bed, entwined in her husband’s embrace, the last thing she wanted was to wake and face the world. Nevertheless, Guy’s urging cut thorough her blissful haze, forcing her eyes open.

“What is it,” she asked groggily.

“They come.”

Hearing approaching footsteps, Meg’s eyes widened as she grasped his meaning. Guy already wrapped her tight, concealing her nudity from view, but he didn’t seem concerned about the uninvited guests seeing his naked chest. Seconds later, without knocking, Prince John entered the bedchamber, naturally wearing his best velvets and a wide grin.

“Rise and shine, Gisborne!”

Several clergymen entered the room behind the prince, properly averting their gazes from the couple in bed.

“Time to see the sheets!” Gesturing for the clergymen to do their work, Prince John’s smile never faltered as he watched Guy climb out of bed, carrying a properly wrapped Meg in his arms. Seeing the state of Meg’s messed hair and flushed skin, a knowing gleam shimmered in acknowledgement.

“Lady Gisborne,” he greeted.

“Sire,” she managed. With her dignity hanging by a thread and her cheeks burning, she wanted to hide behind her husband and dispense with formalities. Luckily, Guy held her close, offering comfort as he faced the royal.

“I trust Your Majesty forgives us if we don’t stand on formality.”

The prince opened his mouth to speak, but became distracted when the priests yanked the sheets free, holding the fabric up to check for a stain. Sure enough, a red blotch rested in the middle of the wet spot, satisfying the requirements of consummation.

“Well done, Gisborne,” Prince John laughed as he slapped the sheriff on his bare back.

Waving away the priests, who carried the stained sheet with them to put on display, the future king inhaled a deep breath as if satisfied with a job well done.

“I expect you to join me in the main hall to break my fast, Gisborne,” the prince commanded. “For now, I shall take pity on you and your bride.”

Only when the door closed behind the monarch did Meg remember to breathe as Guy set her on her feet. Blushing prettily, clutching Guy’s hand in an iron grip, she couldn’t believe all of Nottingham would see and know what happened last night. Such things were not secrets, but they should be private. All of this to make sure she was a maiden!

“Are you well?”

Swallowing hard, Meg rested her cheek against Guy’s chest, wrapping her arms around his waist. “I’m glad they’re gone,” she whispered.

Combing his fingers through her hair, kissing the top of her head, Guy would have spared her if he could, but displaying a sheet was the lesser evil. Rubbing her back, Guy knew he shouldn’t keep the prince waiting, but wanted to linger with his wife.

“I love you, Meg.”

Hearing those soft words eased her worry. Smiling up at him, she stood on tip-toe to kiss his chin. “I love you, too.”

Chuckling, he bent to take her lips. “How does it feel to be a duchess?”

“No different at the moment, but I’m sure that’ll change once I leave the room.”

“Come to me if you need anything.”

“I intend to,” she grinned.

The next kiss lingered, growing heated as it deepened. As the couple tumbled backwards on the bed, Guy swore this indulgence would be tender and brief. Meg was still a little sore from last night, but he knew how to touch her to make her body sing. Just as her blood warmed and her body arched, Guy pulled back, leaving her wanting.

“Guy-”

“There is plenty of time for us to be together,” he said softly as he nibbled her neck. “I’ll summon a bath for you. Take your time and I’ll amuse the prince.”

As much as she wanted to cling to his shoulders, Meg reluctantly released her grip on her husband. She wanted him to stay, but he chose to go, and she didn’t know how to properly communicate her desires. “Guy?”

Giving her one final kiss, he forced his body to straighten. With a sheet wrapped around his waist, he gathered up his clothes and left Meg gather her thoughts.

Lingering in her warm bath in the awake of Guy’s absence, her fingertips traced her swollen lips as she recalled her wedding night. The pleasure was much more than she imagined, but this morning she did ache in private places. The steaming water went a long way in helping her feel like her old self, however. When her maids arrived to help her dress, they didn’t hold back their giggles or their whispers, but thankfully didn’t plague her for intimate details. They saw she was well, which seemed to be enough for the moment. Having her hair pulled back into a veiled headdress felt uncomfortable, but these changes came with being a married woman. Barely recognizing her reflection, she slipped new velvet slippers on her feet before gathering her courage to face the world.

“You’re the Duchess of Nottingham,” Anne said. “Don’t let them see you frown, Your Grace. They’re happy for you, so don’t allow anyone under your skin.”

“I’ll try not to,” Meg sighed as she folded her hands over the embroidered bodice of the pale lavender gown. “The prince is what worries me.”

Inhaling another bracing breath, Meg left her chambers and descended the winding stairs to face the heir to the throne of England. The main hall was alive with music and laughter upon her arrival, even if a tad more subdued since many were still recovering from the festivities.

“There you are,” Prince John exclaimed seeing Meg’s approach. “Come, Your Grace!”

Holding her head high, Meg moved forward, grateful when Guy held out a hand to help her climb to the dais. Squeezing his fingers, she took her place next to her husband.

“You look ravishing as a duchess,” the prince chuckled.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Meg smiled.

“Yes,” he snickered as he reached for his goblet. “I’m well pleased, Gisborne. I also want to be invited to the christening of your heir.”

“I would be honored, Your Majesty.” Guy smiled and gave the royal his due, but secretly counted the hours to the prince’s departure. Guy certainly didn’t want to be on Prince John’s bad side, but he wanted his castle back.

“This is a lot to do back in London,” the prince continued. “My brother’s ransom went well, though I feel the loss of the gold most acutely.”

“Ah,” Guy nodded. “Is King Richard due to return to England?”

Prince John snorted. “He’s leading a new campaign to Normandy. His ambitions of ruling the world fill his wild spirit.”

Exchanging a look, Guy and Meg weren’t sure of how to take the news. Prince John put on a brave face, but his displeasure bubbled beneath the surface at having to discuss his sibling.

“I’m sure England will prosper under your care,” Guy said carefully.

Smiling, the prince ate his meat without acknowledging the comment, and then abruptly turned to Guy a few minutes later. “I want the people to love me, Gisborne. Richard is so – preposterous!”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, the royal heaved a heavy sigh. “He only journeys on these campaigns to play the hero and get our mother’s approval. He’s such a…peacock!”

“Sire,” Guy said evenly. “The people here need a leader. Be that proper leader and their thoughts will only be of you and not your brother.”

“Yes.” Tilting his head in thought, Prince John slowly smiled. “I always knew I could count on you, Gisborne.”

Back in good humor, the prince made jokes and praised the hospitality of Nottingham. After the meal, he sat down with the sheriff to discuss business while his carriage and belongings were prepared for his expedition back to London. Meg accompanied her husband to the outer courtyard for the parting pleasantries. Guy stepped away to help a few of the other nobles, leaving Meg alone on the steps when the prince moved to kiss her hand.

“I must say, I’m very pleased Guy chose you for his bride.”

Meg beamed under the praise. “I am as well, Sire.”

Chuckling, Prince John’s grin deepened. “When I commanded him to find a wife within two months, I hoped he would pick you and I‘m glad at the result. Give him plenty of sons,” the prince urged. “I want Nottingham ruled by Gisborne’s line for generations to come!”

Though her smile remained intact, Meg’s stomach fell to her feet. Guy was ordered by royal decree to marry? So everything he said about love, about wanting a future together, was all a lie? Well aware of being in public, Meg waved as the embellished carriage head out the gates, but the second the entourage was out of sight, she turned on her heel and raced for her chambers.

“Meg,” Guy called after her.

Hearing his thundering footsteps giving chase, Meg ran faster. Air burning her lungs, she fought tears, thinking herself a fool for believing such pretty words! Slamming the door behind her, she ran to the window, inhaling gulps of fresh air in an effort to regain her equilibrium. She couldn’t bear to turn around when Guy stormed into the room.

“Meg,” he said with concern. “What’s wrong?” Heart pounding with dread, Guy moved to her side and attempted to take her hand, confused when she pulled back. “Was it the prince? Did he say something to upset you?”

Furious, she whirled to face him. “He told me the truth!”

At a loss, Guy shook his head, reaching for her shoulder only to have Meg back out of reach with a glare. Swallowing hard as tears threatened, she looked at the man she loved, but instead of seeing the misunderstood man who made the wrong choices when the world was against him, Meg saw someone who would bend over backwards for the sake of his own ambition. As much as she strived to stand strong in the face of this truth, Meg couldn’t prevent the sorrow from forcing the tears down her cheeks and squeezing her heart.

“You married me because Prince John ordered you to find a wife!” Flinging the accusation at his feet, she silently dared him to refute the claim and offer her the reassurances her heart desperately craved.

Eye widening, Guy could strangle the prince for telling Meg those details! “Meg,” he started hoarsely, “let me explain.”

Angrily wiping at her cheeks, she shook her head, backing away when he stepped forward. “I don’t want to hear a single world you have to say! Everything you’ve told me – every word that’s rolled off your tongue - has been a lie!”

“No,” he growled in denial as he seized her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “Meg, I love you!”

“Unhand me!”

“Calm down!”

Struggling to break free of his hold as more tears fell, Meg pounded at his chest until he forced her into a stiff hug. Heaven help her, she wanted to hate him but the second she inhaled his unique scent, that blend of sandalwood and leather, Meg’s fingers curled into his tunic. How could she wake up this morning basking in pure happiness to have her joy snatched away within hours?

“I do love you,” Guy said gruffly in her ear. Convincing her may take time, but he couldn’t lose her now! He refused to allow a rift between them because the prince opened his big mouth. Didn’t Meg realize how much he needed her? “I’ve loved you from the beginning. Practically since that night we first met in the dungeons,” he continued still holding her tight against him. “I would have asked you to be my wife no matter what.”

Leaning back, Meg searched his face for sincerity. “Prince John-”

“He wants his nobles to marry because he’s paranoid about rebellions and challenges to his rule,” Guy explained.

“And he gave you two months to find a bride! I was merely convenient,” she accused.

“No,” he swore gently as he cupped her cheek. “You’re the only woman I want by my side.”

Eye burning with anger, she refused to believe him. “Would you have proposed if the prince didn’t give you an ultimatum?”

“Listen, Meg,” he stated, maintaining steady eye contact. “All the prince did was make me realize how much I need you in my life. The depth of my feelings couldn’t be repressed.”

“And what if I refused you,” she challenged. “Who would you have taken instead?”

“No one,” he said without hesitation.

Blinking in disbelief, she stared at him, her heart slamming against her ribs as hope rose in her chest. “But-”

“I would have suffered his wrath.”

Searching his face, Meg’s heart clung to his words, but doubts swam through her mind. “I thought you truly wanted me.”

“I do.”

“No,” she said, pushing at his chest. “Turn me loose!”

“We remain husband and wife,” Guy insisted, refusing to relinquish his hold. “I love you and I’m taking you to Knighton as planned.”

“But-”

“My intention was never to hurt you, but we’re wed now and the prince’s command won’t come between us.”

Remaining immobile and unresponsive when Guy kissed her, Meg could have sworn she saw hurt in the depths of his blue eyes before he masked the vulnerability and finally let his arms fall to his sides. Marching from the room, Guy didn’t look back. Fumbling with her handkerchief, Meg collapsed on the bed unable to hold in her tears.

Chapter Text

During the carriage ride to Knighton, Meg couldn’t get the prince’s words out of her head. If Guy didn’t propose to her, he said he would suffer the wrath of the crown, but what would Prince John’s punishment have been? To command Guy wed a woman of his choosing? True, Guy could have refused and appealed to King Richard, but he would risk losing Prince John’s trust in the bargain.

So, instead of encouraging a fight, Guy did as commended and wed within the time frame. What Meg couldn’t reconcile was whether Guy proposed as a political move to appease the prince, or because he truly loved her. Worse, she hated doubting a man she was so sure of only a week ago. Despite all of Guy’s past sins, Meg saw into his heart and knew his vulnerabilities. Yes, his politically sly, ambitious side cast his past in an unflattering light, but would she allow those demons to persuade her his good side no longer existed?

Every time they touched, every time they exchanged stolen moments across a room, Meg felt his love and devotion. When they first met, Meg harbored no illusions. She knew exactly what kind of man Guy was, but he showed her kindness when he didn’t have to, and even appealed to Isabella to spare her life. That compassionate man remained very much alive inside Guy, but sometimes the responsibilities of his titles overwhelmed the person she knew he could be. By the time they reached the manor, Meg’s attitude softened toward her husband. Perhaps she shouldn’t be upset since the prince’s decree brought them together and be happy for the life she now lived.

Meg’s silence tore at his heart. She gazed out the window, her brow wrinkled in deep thought, and Guy debated on whether or not to start a conversation. He desperately wanted to explain how the prince’s command forced him out of his stubborn stance on penance to realize how much he wanted a second chance at love and marriage and a family.

Coercing Marian to the alter ended in disaster and humiliation, but standing before God and nearly all of Nottingham watching Meg walked down the aisle healed all those old wounds. The light shined on her like a halo as his love swelled in his chest. Guy knew he wasn’t worthy of her in the least, but if Meg would accept and forgive him, perhaps one day he could learn to forgive himself.

Yet, his luck didn’t seem to change at all. Guy enjoyed one day of bliss. One day of thinking he was worthy of love and acceptance before the illusion shattered. He foolishly thought Meg could accept all of him, but in the end, her rejection stung the most. So where did that leave their marriage? Why couldn’t Meg understand he wanted her instead of some wealthy noble’s daughter, or widow, the prince would have forced upon him?

Coming to a stop on front of the manor, servants emerged to see to the carriage and horses. Stepping to the ground first, Guy turned to offer Meg a helping hand. When she grasped his fingers, Guy felt the familiar rush of heat and looked at her face to see if she sensed the same, but Meg avoided his gaze. Heart constricting, he escorted her inside hoping she would approve of the changes he made.

“There are three bedchambers,” he said to fill the silence. “I have plans to build on more, but want to wait for some of the construction to the castle to be completed.”

Walking over to the hearth, Meg rested a hand on the mantle.

“We need not stay here often if you prefer the castle,” Guy continued nervously. He hardly knew what to make of her reaction. Couldn’t she see he was tying? “There is a dining area and plenty of light coming in from the windows for sewing.”

Turning around, tears swimming in her eyes, Meg finally looked at his face. “You did all of this for me?”

Gaze falling to his feet, Guy shook his head. “I wanted to get rid of every reminder of Marian. I never expected to live here, and somehow it still feels wrong.”

Stepping forward, she grasped his hand, noticing the way his body jerked in surprise as he lifted his head.

“Guy,” she said gently. “Had Marian lived, she would be living in Locksley with Robin. Knighton would still have reverted back to the throne without a male heir, and could still have passed to you, or anyone else the king saw fit to reward.”

Hearing her words of understanding filled him with hope. “Meg-”

Pulling her hand free, unprepared to fight the surge of softer emotions, she went to explore the rest of the house. A sigh passed his lips as Guy followed, keeping a reasonable distance. The servants carried in their trunks and placed them in the master chamber and Meg entered the room as one maid put the items away in a hand carved dresser. Walking toward the four poster, she pulled back the heavy curtains to reveal the fully made bed. The luxury of the home nearly equaled the castle, which made her wonder if she would be more at home here with fewer eyes watching her every move.

“We should visit the village,” Guy said, waving away the maid before approaching his wife. “I’m eager for them to meet their new mistress.”

Feeling Guy standing just behind her, Meg inhaled a bracing breath. Turning to face him, she didn’t expect to be overcome with the urge to grab his tunic and be engulfed in his arms. “Guy-”

Before she could utter another syllable, his mouth descended. The kiss was needy, desperate, but Guy’s hands only cupped her face, keeping space between them.

“Kiss me,” he begged against her lips when she didn’t respond. “I can’t lose you, Meg. Not now.”

The shaking pain in his voice made her want to cry. Gasping for air, she pulled away just far enough to speak. “You haven’t lost me,” she whispered. “I just need some time.”

Shaking his head, Guy didn’t want to hear her words. “Because of what the prince said? You know all of me, and yet you claimed to love me anyway, but you let this come between us?”

“Because I don’t want to be a means to an end,” she insisted.

Wrapping an arm around her waist, Guy drew Meg against his body, his blue gaze burning as he leaned forward until their lips were a breath apart. “I married you because I love you. As I said before, I would have endured the prince’s wrath because if I couldn’t wed you, then I would have lived a life of celibate penance.”

“But Prince John could have matched you with another,” she said in a rush as her heart pounded in her ears. Guy’s gaze swirled like a wild storm and her body reacted by warming with awareness. After everything, she craved this man like no other and didn’t know how to control her urges.

“I resisted telling you of my true feelings out of guilt,” he confessed. “All of the sins I carry, I wanted to spare you, but the second Prince John issued his ultimatum I had a profound realization.”

Breathless, Meg could only stare as she clutched his shoulders to help her balance when her knees wobbled. “W-what?”

“That if I didn’t stop dragging my feet and make my feelings known, you would be taken from me. Joseph would have forced you to wed another and that I couldn’t bear.”

“He couldn’t make me before-”

“And you were lucky Isabella sympathized with you, or a betrothal would have been drawn up then and there,” he growled.

A soft smile curved her lips. “Then we never would have met.”

“I couldn’t take the risk,” he confessed. “We belong together; decree or no. All the prince did was help me realize how much I do care for you – how vital you are to my existence. Meg, you’re mine. My tattered soul is yours, for better or worse.”

Resting her forehead against his, she swallowed her tears. “You’re not tattered,” she whispered. “You’re mine and I love you the way you are.”

“Meg,” he said with a quivering tone as he buried his face in her neck. Holding her tight, Guy breathed in her scent as relief filled his being. Smoothing her hands through his hair, Meg whispered words of love as Guy held her tight.

The kiss started tender, but Meg could tell Guy held back. The moment she opened to him, returning his touch, she trembled and deepened the kiss. Head spinning, toes curling, Meg clutched her husband as his tongue danced with hers, awakening her desires. Guy’s hands smoothed over her frame, molding her ribs, hips, and then cupping her backside.

Coming up for air with a cry, Meg shook her head. “The servants are here.”

“I’ll send them away,” he growled before seizing her lips again.

Getting swept away by his touch would be all too easy since her weak knees forced her to melt into his frame. Using the last once of willpower she could muster, Meg broke away. Seeing the desire in those blue depths, she nearly relented, but her stomach gave a loud growl. As a blush stained her cheeks, Guy chuckled. Taking pity on her, he stepped back.

“Why don’t we get something to eat before we visit the village?”

“I’d like that.”

Fresh bread, cheese, fruits, and nuts were presented to the couple. The steward of the house assured them there would be a feast for the duke with all the trimmings for supper. Looking around the dining room, Meg noticed most of the furnishings were new.

“You can change whatever you wish,” Guy said. “This is your home and I want you to be able to see the manor as such.”

“It’s beautiful,” she smiled. “I’m sure I’ll come to love it here.”

Nodding, he finished the bread. Once they finished eating, he showed Meg the stables where he presented her with another wedding gift. A pure white, thoroughbred mare.

“Guy,” Meg exclaimed as she rushed forward to pet the horse’s nose. “She’s beautiful!”

Signaling for the stable hand to take the mare out of the stall and get a saddle, Guy’s eyes followed Meg as she walked around the creature, smoothing her hands over the pure white coat. Her smile was reward enough. Once the saddle adorned the horse, Guy helped Meg to her perch. Sitting side-saddle, Meg watched Guy as he mounted his black stallion. The two horses started moving toward one another, falling into gallop side-by-side as if they belonged together. Riding to the village, Meg smiled at her husband. “Perhaps we should breed these two,” she suggested.

“We don’t have room to breed many,” he replied.

“Sure we do,” Meg insisted. “If we expand the manor, we can expand the stables.”

Laughing, Guy held up a hand. “One ambition at a time, my love.”

“Ah, yes,” she teased. “Duty to Nottingham, first.”

“We will have plenty of time to see all of your dreams come true.”

Yes, they did, didn’t they? Years stretched out before then and Meg could see happiness, prosperity, and children. Unable to resist a glance at Guy’s profile, Meg’s body craved as her heart thudded. Having his children would make their lives complete. She could see a son, the mirror image of his father, growing into a strong man and inheriting these lands.

As they entered the village, several people came out of their huts to look at the duke and his bride as they dismounted to speak to a few of the farmers. Many were apprehensive if Guy of Gisborne, but the man who made a reputation as Vaisey’s right hand now seemed virtually unrecognizable while walking with the duchess on his arm, smiling as he greeted them.

Lady Gisborne’s reputation embodied the exact opposite of her husband and word of her benevolence quickly spread throughout the shire. As a result, many willingly approached to warmly greet their new lady. A few of the older serfs felt sorry for the woman, assuming her light would fade the longer she remained married to the black demon lord.

Despite the judgements and first impressions, Meg’s visit was well received. The people seemed taken with her, but were weary of Guy. Until he could prove his capabilities as sheriff, over the long run, Guy expected such a reception. Checking in with the farmers and getting estimates of the progress of the crops, Guy felt they could properly prepare for the winter.

Hours later, Guy tore his wife from her admirers. The older women and children reluctantly let their lady go, but clapped approvingly when Meg promised to visit again. They returned to the manor just as the sun set, and as promised, a fine feast awaited.

“How did you like Knighton,” Guy asked as they settled in to eat.

“I think I’m going to like it here.”

“I’m glad.”

Toasting with goblets of wine, the couple exchanged smoldering smiles before cutting their meat. Tonight should prove to be just as eventful as the day.

Chapter Text

Humming a little tune as she picked fresh berries, Meg enjoyed the warm weather. Waking this morning, still getting used to the sight of Guy beside her, she decided to explore the estate while her husband saw to some practical matters with the servants and villagers. Wandering into the wooded area with her basket, she intended to search for roots and herbs to plant a garden closer to the house, but stumbled upon the berry bushes and couldn’t resist. Perhaps she could persuade their cook to bake a pie?

Picking three, then testing the flavor of one, a smile spread across her face as the taste burst over her tongue. Such wildly fresh fruit was tough to come by, even when she was an outlaw in Sherwood. Memories of that time surfaced, and Meg’s smile faltered as she said a silent prayer for Robin and Allan. Confident the heroes would be pleased by Guy’s efforts on Nottingham’s behalf, Meg prayed their souls found rest and happiness in the next life.

Hearing a stick break in the brush, her head snapped to attention, but seeing nothing, she continued on her way. Her basket was nearly full, so she contemplated returning to the manor. Another echoing crack had her whirling around, but only foliage greeted her, so Meg tentatively reached to pick the next berry. Gasping in fright seeing the mass of black roaming through the brush, she jumped back several feet only to gasp in shock at the sight of her husband’s face peering at her from beneath the hedgerow.

“Guy! You scared me out of my wits!”

A deep baritone chuckle sounded, awakening Meg’s blood as the sound streamed through thrills her system. Shaking her head, she continued on her way, but Guy playfully followed her every step from the other side of the hedge, continuing to flash her that beguiling smirk.

“I thought you had business in the village,” she finally remarked.

“I did, but then I came to find you.”

Rarely seeing him so playful, she paused to set down her basket before returning his grin. “I think I’ve gathered enough for a pie.”

Amused, Guy stretched a hand to his beautiful wife. “I want to show you something.”

“But what about-”

“They’ll keep,” he said. “Come.”

Unable to resist, Meg trustingly placed her hand in his. Guy’s warm, strong grip made her feel so safe. Helping her through the brush and down the hill, he guided her through the woods toward the river.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

As they neared the water, Guy paused to give Meg a deep, impulsive kiss. Wrapping her arms around his neck, breathing him in, pure happiness surged through her veins. Coming up for air, she clung to his frame. “What was that for?”

Nuzzling her cheek, Guy held her in a tight embrace. Exhaling a long breath, Guy smoothed his hands down her back, relishing the feel of the warmth radiating from her skin, the sensation of the soft fabric tracing over his fingertips, the gentle scent of flowers wafting from her hair. His beautiful, perfect Meg. Squeezing his eyes shut, he absorbed the texture of her softens pressed against him and wanted more.

“I thank God for you, Meg,” he whispered as he fumbled with the netted headdress holding her curls upswept from her shoulders. “Every day.”

“Guy,” she breathed. His words gripped her heart, causing tears to prickle the corners of her eyes. Smiling, she cupped his cheek, and ran her thumb over the stubble. “You’re worthy of love.”

Shaking his head, Guy’s gaze fell briefly to the ground before once more taking in the sight of her beauty. “Perhaps on day I will be worthy of all this happiness.”

Meg wanted to assure him he already was worthy, but before she could voice the sentiments, he tugged her along to a secluded area and pulled her through a thicket despite her protests.

Emerging into a gorgeous clearing, a broad smile covered her face at the sight of the pond surrounded by green grass and thick trees to shade them from the rest of the world. Only the birds and a few other scattering squirrels scattered in and out of the clearing. The sanctuary resembled a fairy land nature kept secret just for the two of them.

“Its’ beautiful,” Meg laughed.

“I found this during one of my first visits,” Guy explained as he urged her toward the patch of grass leading up to the water’s edge. “It reminds me of the oasis we found in Sherwood.”

Nodding in remembrance, she moved to the edge to peer into the ripples. Seeing the rocks below and a few fish, her smile deepened. Looking over to her husband, all her thoughts instantly vanished watching him toss his black tunic to the ground. Mouth going dry as a shiver of appreciation raced down her spine, Meg felt her cheeks warm as her gaze followed Guy’s hands as he unlaced his brais.

Men always gave her such grief and she never saw anything special about the species, but from the moment she met Guy, Meg couldn’t break the habit of stealing glances of his form. Clothed all in black, or naked as he was now, her appreciation grew as her eyes lingered over his length, admiring his muscled thighs and chest, strong shoulders, and long hair. Her blush deepened as she stole another peek at his intimate parts, curious about his form and shape. They made love a few times now – twice on their wedding night and once since arriving at Knighton, but she had yet to truly take in that part of his body. Was it sinful to want to touch him there? To caress and feel his texture as he did with her?

Flashing her a smile, Guy then turned his back to walk to the water’s edge, and in that moment, all the air rushed out of her lungs. Admiring his firm backside as he waded into the water, desire for this man heated her blood and caused her imagination to run wild with possibilities. Could she and Guy…have relations in the pond?

Diving under the surface, then emerging with a deep laugh, all of Guy’s cares flew away with the scattering birds erupting from the trees. Standing on the bank, Meg couldn’t remember ever seeing Guy so unguarded; the weight of his office and sins forgotten as happiness reflected through his eyes. His entire face light up with joy as he smiled at the sky, wading through the water, comfortable with his nakedness and his soul. When that blue gaze locked with hers, something powerful passed between them; an unexplainable connection that tightened the bond they already shared.

Smile deepening, Guy studied his wife, raking his gaze from her headdress to her feet. “Is my duchess shy?”

Cheeks afire, Meg shook her head. “Turn around!”

Guy’s only response was echoing laughter. The challenge was set and Meg felt every second of his eyes taking in her movements as she let down her hair and slipped the gown off her shoulders. Clad only in her shift, she took a step toward the water, but Guy vocalized his disapproval.

“All of it, Your Grace!”

The teasing glint covering his face filled Meg with such joy realizing that here, alone in this private paradise, Guy could fully let the weights of his responsibilities fade, showing her his true self. Wanting to please him, Meg’s shaking fingers unlaced the ribbons of her last garment. Covering her intimate parts as best she could with her hands, she dipped a toe in the pond, yelping in shock at the cold and jumping back several steps.

“It’s freezing!”

Wading to the shore, Guy held out a hand. “Let me help.”

Clutching his fingers tight, Meg assumed her husband would ease her into the cool ripples, but instead another cry of surprise tore from her throat as she suddenly sailed through the air as Guy scooped her off her feet and into his arms. Wrapping an arm around his broad shoulders, she met his gaze as he walked back into the depths. Feeling him caressing her bare bottom, she wriggled with uncertainty.

Without warning, his lips captured hers, sending delights throughout her blood and causing her toes to curl. Coming up for air, she breathed his name. Guy’s devilish grin should have been her first warning, but Meg wasn’t prepared when he commanded her to hold her breath and a split second later sank beneath the surface.

Water burning through her nose, she sputtered and struggled, but Guy held her fast as the shock of the cold gripped her flesh. Moments later, they surfaced, but the damage was done. Coughing and heaving in an effort to catch her breath, Guy’s laughter wasn’t amusing to her in the slightest.

“It doesn’t feel so cold now, does it?”

In her anger, Meg splashed water in his face. Feet finding purchase on the pebbled undertow, she heard Guy’s laughter cut off as he cast her a long look before splashing back. Gasping, Meg returned fire and soon the couple chased one another around the pond trying to tag the other with the largest wave. Laughing, Meg dove under the surface to avoid Guy’s arm and swam to the deeper end. Little did she knew, Guy gave chase, and when she surfaced to see no sign of him, her heart thudded with dread. A second later, a hand yanked her ankle, throwing her off balance, but a pair of strong arms caught her before she fell beneath the water. Cradled against his chest, her breath hitched seeing the passion in his gaze. “Guy,” she swallowed.

“I love you, Meg,” he rasped before bending to take her moist breast in his mouth.

His clever tongue swirled around her nipple before sucking her flesh, causing sensations to jolt straight to her loins, rousing a moan from her lips. Moving closer, fingers weaving through his thick hair to hold him to her, another gasp came feeling his hardness press into her belly. Head spinning from pleasure, Meg wasn’t sure if she should indulge her curiosity. When Guy’s mouth moved to her other breast, her hand moved of its own accord to his belly, then lower. His flesh felt soft, yet hard to her touch and she explored his shape as his worked her nipples to peak.

Unable to take the sweet torture, Guy released her breast with a strangled cry. Gritting his teeth against Meg’s innocent exploration, he fought for control. Indulging Meg without spilling his seed would require finesse, but he wasn’t a green lad – no matter how being with this gorgeous woman could render him thus.

Catching Guy’s expression, Meg tore her hand away, mumbling apologies. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you! I-”

“You didn’t,” he growled.

“But-”

Seizing her wrist, Guy guided her fingers back to his cock, wrapping them around his shaft and showing her how to stroke him. Yanking her close, he rested his brow against hers as the bliss raced through his system, causing his whole body to shudder.

“I get so hard for you, Meg,” he rasped.

Understanding widened her eyes. “This happens when you desire…a woman?”

Shaking his head, Guy held her closer until her breast crushed against his chest. “Not just any woman. You, Meg. You do this to me. Can you feel it?”

Nodding, she licked her lips as she continued following his lead. His thrusting into her palm only spiked her curiosity. “I want to know more,” she confessed.

A smug smirk covered his face. “I know.”

“H-how?”

Meg moaned half in shock, half in delight when his hand shot between her legs and his fingers delved between her folds.

“You’re slick,” he croaked. “Wet. This is how your body prepares for a man.”

As purely raw sensation hummed through her body, Meg struggled to maintain her balance and her wits. Forcing her eyes to his, she gathered her courage as her hands continued stroking him beneath the surface. “Do you want me now?”

Beyond words, he could only nod. Lifting her up, Guy urged her to wrap her legs around his waist. Length pressing into her belly, Guy kissed her long and deep. Savoring her taste, he wanted to sink into her welcoming warmth and be one with the single person in the world who loved him, but remembering how new Meg was to such activities, he prolonged the kiss, drawing out the sensations. Teasing her with his tongue and hands, he moved one hand back between their bodies to caress her folds until she gasped his name. When she writhed, Guy adjusted her in his hold so they could more easily become one.

Locking her ankles around his waist, Meg gasped at the feeling of his hardness teasing her opening. This time, when Guy sank deep, there wasn’t any pain, but rather an exquisite fullness. He stretched her, and in so doing, pressed against a sweet spot within her flesh. Mixed with the pressure radiating every time he bucked against her body, Meg sobbed her ecstasy as they started moving together.

Thrusting deep, holding Meg firmly in his embrace, Guy kissed her hard, his tongue mimicking the movements of his cock. Loving how Meg pulsed all around him, milking with every roll of her hips. Seeing stars, he couldn’t believe such bliss existed.

“So good,” he panted into her mouth.

Close, Guy wanted her to come with him, so he pressed harder into her nub. As a result, Meg screamed as she peaked. A moment later, Guy joined her in euphoria.

Chapter Text

Returning to earth, Meg didn’t want to relinquish her hold on her husband. The sight of his smile filled her heart to bursting. Lightly tracing her fingertip over his lips, a girlish giggle bubbled from her throat. “You’re so handsome.”

Shifting Meg in his arms, Guy carried her to the bank. No sooner did he set foot on the grass, several squirrels darted from a bush while birds took to the sky, cawing loudly. Guy went on alert, setting Meg on her feet and surveying the clearing. Skin prickling in warning, Guy didn’t see anything out of place or hear unusual sounds. Eyes falling to his wife and seeing her shiver, he grabbed her shift off the ground and pulled the fabric of her head before rubbing her shoulders.

“Better?”

“Yes.” Stepping back, she bent to retrieve her gown, but couldn’t resist a sideways glance at her husband. On impulse, she smoothed her hands over his firm buttocks, appreciating the muscled shape. A second later, Guy twisted and fused his mouth to hers. Sinking to the ground, rolling on the grass, Meg eagerly accepted his weight above her. Kissing him fervently, loving the sensation of him pushing her shift to her hips, she let her legs fall open in welcome.

Kissing her, grunting as Meg moved beneath him the way he taught her, Guy’s cock pulsed to become one with her again. Her slickness lingered on her folds and he sank easily into her body. They cried out in unison as bliss swirled. Needing Meg like he needed his next breath, Guy’s thrusts quickened; the force growing powerful. At first, he thought he hurt her, but Meg clutched him tight and smiled into his eyes before the pleasure overwhelmed her senses. Speechless, he pounded harder within her, desperate to be fully one, making sure the angle guaranteed her pleasure. All that mattered was this moment, being buried deep in his woman.

From a distance, a pair of eyes watched the couple as they mated like rabbits. Striving to be quiet, concealing their heavy panting, the intruder cursed the boulder blocking part of his view. Glimpsing the couple emerging from the pond, the serenity nearly shattered due to on misstep. Luckily, Guy didn’t suspect and continued floundering. Unfortunately, the details were blocked, but seeing them kissing roused the thirst for vengeance. Listening to them shout their pleasure to the sky as they came to peak, the spy stifled a string of curses.

They would both pay. Soon. The Gisbornes would know pain like never before!

Dressed, Guy glanced at Meg, who struggled to stuff her curls back into her headdress. Taking the netting from her hands, he offered a small smile. “I like it down.”

“It’s no longer proper,” she laughed. “We’re married.”

“But you can wear it this way around me.”

Yes, she supposed she could. Nodding, Meg stood on her tip-toes to kiss his cheeks. Hearing Guy’s rumbling chuckle, she wound her arms around his waist and held him close. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

Kissing the top of her head, Guy savored the feel of her in his arms. All his life, he fought tooth and nail for something better, but happiness always slipped through his fingers. Now, he possessed all he could possibly want: wealth, land, and titles, but would sacrifice it all in a heartbeat to have this woman. Even if they lived as paupers in Locksley, Guy would be content waking up to her smile every morning.

However, the nagging voice of doubt continued plaguing him. With all the sins he carried, how could he ever hope to deserve a happy life with the woman he loved? The old customs often called for a life for a life. He murdered Marian in a fit of rage, fully aware, but ready to lay the blame at someone else’s feet. Having owned his actions and accepted the weight of the burden, he feared taking responsibility and atoning for the past may not be enough. Loving Meg with all his heart and soul, the idea of losing her devastated him to his very core. Fully realizing the depth of what he took from Robin, Guy feared the Almighty wouldn’t be satisfied until the same was done to him. An eye for an eye.

Saying a silent prayer, begging for the price never to be Meg, Guy laced his fingers through hers as he guided her through the thick foliage. Once they were back at the manor, he planned to spoil her with rich foods and gifts.

As they cleared the brush, Meg’s heart fell noticing the light leave her husband’s eyes and the dullness of responsibility consume his posture. They would have to return to this oasis on occasion so he could forget the duties of being a duke and sheriff and simply feel carefree. Loving him as deeply as she did, Meg couldn’t help wanting to see Guy break free of his walls. Goodness knows her father and the prince gave him no peace, and the guilt felt like a chain around her ankle.

Almost ten paces away from the clearing, Meg abruptly stopped when she felt something sting her neck. Frowning, thinking a bug bit her, she put a hand to the side of her neck, blinking rapidly.

“Meg?”

Recognizing Guy’s concern as she stumbled, Meg opened her mouth, but couldn’t summon her voice. World going dark, she fell forward. Catching his wife, panic squeezed Guy’s heart. What happened?! Was she hurt? He didn’t see blood, so what hap-

Feeling the sting on his shoulder, Guy’s gaze darted around the woods. The last time he was knocked out in this fashion, Robin’s father Malcolm ended up being the culprit, but the man was dead. Wasn’t he?

Fighting to keep his eyes open and senses alert, he heard a stick crack behind him. Muscles burning with fatigue, he whipped his head around to see who approached, but a second later a fist made contact with his face, knocking him out cold. The duke and duchess fell in a heap in the dirt having no idea what lay ahead.

****

Pain radiated through his skin, chattering his teeth and gripping his skull. Hearing noises, Guy struggled to lift his eyelids. What happened? The last thing he remembered was Meg fainting in his arms. Heart slamming against his ribs, Guy needed to know what happened to this love, so he summoned all his willpower and opened his eyes.

The light stung and the images blurred, so he shook his head as a shadow knelt in front of him. As the world sharpened into focus, Guy held in a gasp of shock and instead gritted his teeth against the anger boiling in his veins. Moving to strangle the man, the bite of metal cut into his skin, making him realize his wrists were bound in irons and his feet tied with rope. Struggling against the bonds, Guy didn’t hold back curses.

“I’ll see you hanged for this!”

Laughing at the empty threat, Hartwood gestured to the chains. “You and what army, Gisborne? There’s no one here to help you.”

“They’ll come looking for us if we don’t return,” he sneered.

Shrugging, Hartwood got to his feet. “Let them. You’ll already be dead.”

Struggling against the bonds, Guy surveyed his enemy. Hartwood’s appearance was haggard, his build a bit leaner, but Guy expected that came from being on the run. Hartwood would be no more skilled with a sword, which was probably the reason the coward knocked him out and chained him like a dog. Taking in his surroundings, Guy realized they were back inside the clearing, not far from the pond. The disgraced outlaw must have dragged them back here, but why?

As if reading the question in Guy’s expression, Hartwood chuckled. “I’m going to exact my revenge today, Gisborne.”

Brandishing a dagger from his belt, he smirked as he watched his prisoner struggle. “I thought long and hard about how I would hurt you,” he taunted. “All the endless pain I suffered after you mangled my cock; I swore I’d do the same to you.”

Thrusting the blade between Gisborne’s legs, stopping just short of cutting the fabric, Hartwood’s eyes gleamed seeing the mighty sheriff flinch. Inching closer, he paused inches from Guy’s face. “Death was always too good for you. Instead, I imagined all the ways I would make you suffer eternal torment for disfiguring me!”

Nearly gagging at Hartwood’s putrid breath, Guy gritted his teeth, refusing to cower. “You deserved your fate,” he spat. “You raping pig!”

Pressing the blade more firmly against Guy’s family jewels, Hartwood could barely hold his restraint. “You should have hanged me when you had the chance!”

“I spared your life,” Guy snapped. “You should have been grateful!”

“Grateful?” Hartwood spat in the duke’s face. “Grateful! To live in disgrace as half a man? A running joke amongst my peers? Forced to become an outlaw? No, Gisborne, you showed me no mercy and I’ll repay the disservice tenfold!”

Pushing to his feet, Hartwood moved his girth aside to reveal a mound fabric lying no more than ten feet away. Yanking back the coarse shroud, Hartwood smiled devilishly as he watched the recognition play over Guy’s features. Knowing those curls anywhere, Guy’s heart thudded in fear.

“Meg,” he called. “Meg!”

“Shhh!” Putting a finger to his lips, Hartwood once more blocked the duchess from view. “Let’s not wake her yet, shall we? You and I have a few points to make clear.”

Glancing at the sun, Guy deduced there were several more hours until dusk. Even so, those at Knighton may not send a search party until morning, which could already be too late. He must find a way free from these chains! Trying to stay calm and keep a level head, he knew Archer had a trick for escaping irons – if he could just remember…

“I’m glad she survived,” Hartwood continued. “I wanted to take her from you and have you experience total loss. After all, Meg was the only person you showed any compassion.”

“I’ve had plenty of loss in my life,” Guy hissed. “But the sins I carry are nothing compared to yours!”

Tsking, Hartwood shook his head. “You know nothing of real ruin! You stole my very manhood! I’ll see you suffer unimaginable pain in return!”

“You didn’t deserve to live,” Guy shouted, still struggling against his bonds. “I showed you mercy!”

“I’d rather be dead,” Hartwood roared. “I’m nothing more than a pathetic eunuch and I’ll see you burn in hell for doing this to me!”

Guy looked Hartwood dead in the eye. “And you’ll be burning right behind me.”

Opening his mouth to respond, the former earl became distracted when Meg moaned behind him. A broad grin spreading across his face, Hartwood turned to glace at Gisborne’s bride. “She looks like an angel, doesn’t she?”

“Stay away from her,” Guy growled.

“Oh, no,” the villain smirked. “”You see, I’ve planned the perfect revenge. First, I thought Meg’s death would be enough, but now I realize I have a second chance to do what I wanted to begin with. A shame she’s no longer a virgin, but having you watching, helpless to stop me, will haunt you the rest of your days.”

Fear sliced through his gut, and Guy renewed his efforts to break free. Amused by the display, Hartwood chuckled as he turned his attention to Meg. Kneeling beside her prone form, Hartwood watched her open her eyes, his smile deepening as the recognition and fear came into those bright eyes. She tried screaming, but the gag in her mouth prevented her from calling for help.

“Meg!”

Hearing Guy, Meg’s eyes darted round trying to find her husband. Instead, Hartwood leaned closer, his fowl breath filling her nostrils as he spoke.

“Your Grace,” he sneered. “I’m glad to see you’re awake.”

Recoiling as Hartwood brushed one of her curls behind her ear, Meg struggled to move, only to realize her hands and feet were bound. Panic seized her heart as her worst fear loomed closer.

“You and I have unfinished business.”

Frowning, Meg shook her head. This man would have stolen her virtue, then he hired mercenaries to kill her! Guy showed him mercy and Hartwood took that gift for granted and returned to terrorize them! How dare he! She wouldn’t let him get away with this! She would fight him with every fiber of her being!

“Ah, there it is,” Hartwood chuckled. “The fire I so admire in you!”

Meg’s words were muffled by the gag, so Hartwood took pity on her and removed the cloth from her mouth. “Speak you mind, my dear.”

“You won’t get way with this! You’ll be hanged!”

Rolling his eyes, Hartwood backhanded her hard enough to make her head spin. Ignoring the sheriff’s cry of outrage, the outlaw waited until Meg’s eyes focused once more before moving aside so she could see her husband tied and just as helpless.

“Your husband will not be rescuing you.” He didn’t bother to disguise his amusement. “In fact, he’ll be watching every second of me defiling you.”

“No!” Meg renewed her struggles, but Hartwood beat her again and again to subdue her. Guy voiced his rage, but Hartwood ignored the threats as he left Meg bleeding in favor of recovering a very special weapon for his retribution. Today, all his dreams would be realized.

Chapter Text

Blinking rapidly in an effort to clear the stars from her vision, Meg’s heart slammed against her ribs, her cheek stinging from the blows, and her wrists scraped raw from struggling against the ropes rendering her helpless. Shifting her weight in an attempt to roll closer to Guy, she wracked her brain for an escape plan. If she could just get her hands free –

A boot slammed down mere inches from her face, causing her body to jerk in surprise. Hartwood sneered as he drew close, pausing a breath away from her nose. Meg attempted rolling away, but Hartwood quickly straddled her waist, his weight pressing into her torso and ribs until she whimpered.

“Get off her!”

Ignoring Gisborne, Hartwood grasped Meg’s face, squeezing her cheeks and aggravating the swelling bruises as he forced her gaze to his. “Do you know what your husband did to me, Duchess,” he hissed.

Meg opened her mouth to answer, but could only murmurer incoherently since Hartwood still clutched her jaw in an iron grip. Seeing his hand go to his belt, her eyes widened in panic as she renewed her struggles, but of course, she was no match for his bulk and brute force.

“You filthy pig,” Guy shouted. “Leave her alone!”

Gritting his teeth, Hartwood released Meg’s face long enough to pull his dagger from his boot and press the point against her soft throat.

“One more word from you, Gisborne, and I’ll slice her open and let her bleed at your feet!”

Eyes burrowing into his nemesis with murderous rage, Guy silently swore to make him pay. Gaze falling to his beloved, he silently communicated reassurance and a promise to save her as he continued working the irons; almost sure he remembered Archer’s method.

Satisfied Guy wouldn’t cause more problems, Hartwood eased the pressure of the blade. Considering Meg a moment, he released her mouth. “I want to hear your screams,” he taunted. “I want to hear you beg for mercy.”

Anger flooding her chest, Meg glared at the man who plagued her nightmares. “You deserved what Guy did to you! All those innocent women-”

“You think I deserved this,” he roared. Fumbling with his tunic and brais, Hartwood exposed his gnarled manhood. Watching her complexion pale, then take on a greenish tint, he angled his ruined parts in her face. “Do you see what he did?! Look! Look at it! Disgusting and flaccid! Useless!”

Unable to look away, and hearing Guy shouting curses, Meg had no choice but to see the scarred, deformed flesh. Half cleaved off, his shaft hung limply above ragged scars where is sac used to be. The sight ignited her gag reflex and Meg swallowed the bile as Hartwood shoved his privates against her cheek.

“I wanted you dead for this,” he growled. “To take away the one thing Gisborne cherished, but now I know what would make him suffer a thousand more horrors.” Removing his manhood in favor of sneering in her face, the fallen nobleman once again forced Meg’s eyes to his. “I’m going to violate his precious bride before his very eyes! I’m going to make you scream and bleed while he is helpless to stop me!”

As Meg recoiled in revulsion, Hartwood laughed as he turned to Gisborne. “He’s enraged,” he taunted Meg without breaking eye contact with Guy. “Like a caged animal! Oh, he’ll try to save you, but in the end, I’ll still know your body.”

To emphasize his point, he let his hand roam down her neck and over her bosom. “And relish your shrieks.”

His perverted words, mixed with his foul breath, caused her head to spin and her stomach to twist. As Hartwood jumped back, barley avoiding the bile, he resisted the urge to kick her side as he moved to his satchel, leaving Meg to cough and sputter into the grass.

“You can’t hurt her,” Guy snarled.

“Oh, but you’re wrong.” Grinning from ear-to-ear, Hartwood revealed a wooden object. Polished and carved into the shape of a thick phallus, the evil nobleman proudly shoved his toy under his enemy’s nose. “You may have taken my manhood, but I can still tear her apart with this.”

Gritting his teeth, Guy fought for calm as rage surged through his blood. Keeping Hartwood distracted kept him away from Meg and bought time to escape. With one hand nearly free, he wanted to keep Hartwood talking until he could strangle him with his bare hands.

“If you dare-”

“Spare me your righteous indignation, Gisborne! Your worst mistake was not killing me when you had the chance! Now I’m going to learn every curve of your bride. I’m going to wear this as I fuck her!”

Crudely pumping the makeshift manhood, Hartwood practically panted with anticipation. “And you’ll see every moment! Oh, I may not be able to find physical release anymore, but I will still have my way with her flesh while you watch every second!”

Shivers of terror raced down Meg’s spine listening to that monster’s depraved ravings, but before panic froze her entirely, she tore at her bonds. Wiggling her bound wrists down her back and over her legs, she felt less helpless once her hands were in front of her. Fingers going to the ropes at her ankles, Meg desperately tugged at the knots, hoping to break free and run for help.

Unfortunately, Hartwood blindsided her with a punch to the side of her head, knocking her over and causing the air to rush from her lungs. As her world spun, Hartwood’s beefy hands ripped her gown. Gasping as her sleeve tore, she renewed her efforts to dislodge his weight, but her attempts proved fruitless.

“No! Get off me!”

Laughing at her protests as he grabbed her shoulders and forced her onto her back, an evil grin consumed his features. Pawing her breasts through her bodice, his mouth watered for a taste. Meg’s pain ignited his excitement and he squeezed her flesh until she cried out.

“Just wait until I stick my little toy inside you,” he sneered. “Imagine the burning pain, the knowledge of having something precious stolen from you, never to be the same again – just like your husband did to me!”

“No!” Wrists pinned between their bodies, Meg pushed at him with all her might as he continued tearing her clothing. Frightened, she called Guy’s name, and through he shouted hers in return, Hartwood continued terrorizing her with taunts about all the ways he would make her bleed. Meg’s nausea rose the moment he tore her bodice, exposing a breast to his gaze. This time, the villain wasn’t quick enough to dodge the result and cursed in outrage and disgust at the dripping stain covering his tunic.

“You’ll pay for that!”

As Hartwood flung Meg aside, searching for a way to clean himself, Guy managed to free one wrist. Watching the woman he loved being battered and bruised further fueled his fury, and as Hartwood wandered to the pond to wash, Guy broke free and crawled to his bride. Lifting Meg, he wanted to tell her to run, but realized she fainted. Removing the ropes from her ankles and wrists, his gaze darted between watching Hartwood and searching for a weapon. Hartwood disarmed him while unconscious, so Guy didn’t have a clue where his sword ended up, but luckily a glimmering in the grass caught his attention. Hartwood’s discarded dagger!

Seizing the blade, Guy quickly rose and stealthy approached Hartwood’s back. Letting the man live the first time was a mercy, but he refused to make the same mistake twice. If the act kept Meg safe, Guy would accept another taint of murder on his soul. Poised to pounce, Guy’s blow went wide when Hartwood sensed movement and lurched to the side.

Roaring, Hartwood charged, grabbing Guy’s wrist to wrestle the dagger away. The other man’s weight shifted Guy’s balance, causing him to stumble backwards. Going down, the men rolled in the grass, exchanging blows to gain the upper hand. Proving he didn’t have anything to lose, Hartwood fought dirty, scratching Guy’s arms and shoulders. Dislodging his enemy’s weight proved a challenge, but Guy rolled once more until he straddled the former earl.

“Yield,” Guy shouted as he wrapped his other hand around Hartwood’s neck.

Not out of tricks, Hartwood slammed Guy’s other hand into a rock, making him drop the dagger. During the tussle, they rolled a few more times, coming dangerously close to the water’s edge. Guy’s goal was to get his nemesis away from the blade, but seeing and opening, Hartwood pushed Guy’s face toward the water. Drowning him wasn’t the plan, but Hartwood figured Gisborne could watch the rest of the show from Hell.

Pushing at Hartwood’s face, Guy growled as his muscles burned in protest. Well aware of his predicament, he kicked up with his knee, landing a solid blow to Hartwood’s gut. Grunting, Hartwood’s grip loosened just long enough for Guy to gain some leverage, kicking backward with all the force he could muster and sending Hartwood flying. Breathing heavily as he got to his feet, Guy glared at the pathetic man. Stomping on Hartwood’s gut, he wanted to beat the man to within an inch of his life, but needed to secure the dagger. The time had come to finally rid the world of Hartwood’s evil.

Locating the weapon, Guy bent to grasp the hilt and that’s when Hartwood charged, knocking Guy to the ground. Attaching his back with a furious growl, Hartwood gripped a handful of black hair and smacked Gisborne’s face repeatedly into the dirt.

“You think killing me would be that easy?! You won’t get away with what you’ve done! I’ll feast on your entrails after I fuck your bride-”

Twisting, and landing a solid punch to Hartwood’s jaw, Guy felt a fleeting moment of satisfaction, but then Hartwood’s hands snared his neck, cutting off his air supply. Despite his best efforts, Guy saw the darkness edging across his vision. Soon, he would lose consciousness and all would be lost. Saying a silent prayer begging God to protect Meg, Guy felt the strength seeping from his limbs.

A split second before he was dragged into oblivion, the pressure suddenly eased. Hartwood grunted and fell away as Guy gulped lungfuls of fresh air. Blinking rapidly, he gasped seeing Meg looming above him holding a tree branch in her hand. Lower lip trembling, the makeshift weapon slid from her fingers and landed with a thud. The breeze blew her disheveled curls away from her face, giving Guy a clearer view of her bruises and tear-streaked cheeks. Red-eyed from crying and clutching the remains of her bodice together, Meg looked utterly vulnerable.

Sitting up just as Meg’s knees collapsed beneath her, Guy drew Meg to his chest, rocking her as she sobbed. “It’s alright now,” he choked.

Throat raw, Guy knew he would have a few bruises of his own from this ordeal, but as long as Meg was spared, he would gladly suffer worse. Holding his beloved tighter, Guy closed his eyes in a prayer of thanks.

“I think I-I k-killed him,” she sobbed.

Pulling back enough to take in her expression, he gently cupped her uninjured cheek before glancing at Hartwood’s still body. If she did kill Hartwood, then Meg did the world a service, but Guy would still spare her conscience. Such ugliness should never touch her.

“Let me check,” he whispered as best he could manage. “Wait here.”

Nodding, Meg wiped her tears, barely feeling the painful bruises as she watched Guy approach the body. Hand hovering over the tree branch just in case, she held her breath. Coming awake to the sounds brawling, Meg fought against the pain seizing her body and struggled to her feet. The sight of Hartwood murdering her husband sent her into a defensive frenzy. Grabbing the first thing she could think of, she rushed into the fray, hitting that demon with all her might. Only when he collapsed and didn’t so much as twitch a muscle did she fear the worst.

Murder was one of the unforgiveable sins. Would she go to Hell for saving Guy? Surely, God wasn’t so cruel. Hartwood was an evil man, so the Lord must understand?

“He’s alive.”

Heaving a sigh of relief at Guy’s announcement, Meg inched closer to the pair. “Thank the Lord.”

“He’s breathing, but I’m not sure how long he’ll be unconscious.” Rising and retrieving the iron shackles, Guy secured Hartwood’s wrists behind his back. What he should do is slice the bastard’s throat, but Meg looked traumatized enough. He needed to get her back to Knighton where she could be properly tended.

Grabbing the ropes, Guy dragged Hartwood to the tree and bound him before stuffing the gag in his mouth. “Hopefully he’ll keep until I can return and arrest him.”

“But is it wise to leave him alone?”

“I can’t carry him back and it’s best I have a few soldiers at my back when dealing with him again.”

Dagger in hand, and Hartwood’s sack of toys in his possession, Guy’s attention fell to his wife. “I want to get you home and warm.”

“But-”

Before she could finish the sentence, Guy scooped her up in his arms, cradling her gently, but securely, as he made his way from the clearing and through the woods back to the manor. By the time they arrived, darkness fell. Through badly hurt, Guy barely grunted as he carried Meg up the stairs and into their bedchamber.

A roaring fire already burned in the hearth, but Guy woke the servants and demanded a hot bath for Meg. He then called for half a dozen men to accompany him to bring Hartwood to justice. This time that scoundrel would go before Prince John and face true torture before his execution. Guy didn’t care if he ended up owing the royal a favor; he would see that coward’s head on a spike!

Chapter Text

The bruises rose through her skin in a variety of purple hues. The shapes were less definitive, but Meg could make out the exaggerated forms of fingers that gripped her tight only hours ago. Shivering despite the steaming water, the images of Hartwood’s attack were too fresh to be dismissed. Memories of the depravity in his eyes, the pain of the blows, and the humiliation of his cruel touch instantly overwhelmed Meg’s senses and fresh tears slid down her cheeks. That man would have violated her so brutally, she may never have recovered. As much as Meg knew the ordeal was over and Hartwood would be brought to justice, her fears overruled her logic on the matter.

Scrubbing her skin raw, wincing when she pressed the lacerations and bruises, Meg wanted to get the scent of that monster off her. The stench of his breath still filled her nostrils and, try as she might, she couldn’t shake the trauma. Eyes red from sobbing, she continued washing, wishing to purge the experience in any way she could.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs, she drew her knees under her chin and wrapped her arms around her body before sinking farther beneath the water. Guy knocked, asking permission to enter. Briefly, Meg considered sending him away because she felt too ashamed and vulnerable to face him, but she also craved news of Hartwood, so she found her voice and called to him.

Walking carefully through the door, Guy couldn’t look at his wife for fear he would see blame in her eyes. He should have protected her, but instead she fell prey to their enemy. Guy couldn’t look at his own reflection right now, and didn’t know if he could survive her condemnation. Glimpsing her curled up in the tub, he moved to the window, despite the closed shutters, and gathered his thoughts. Turning to face the back of her head, he gave her news.

“We captured Hartwood. He’s tied up in the stables under heavy guard. We’ll leave at first light to London to take him before the prince.”

Meg didn’t stir at the words, and some of the hope in Guy’s chest died. Swallowing hard, he inhaled a deep breath and revealed the rest. “I’ve sent a message to King Richard informing him of events, but whether or not he receives it will be hard to tell considering his situation.”

The silence stretched on for a bit, each second tearing at Guy’s heart. He needed Meg’s forgiveness this instant even though common sense dictated she may need time to come to grips with what occurred. Stepping closer to the tub, Guy wished to conquer his cowardice and face Meg, but if she loathed him, his heart would break.

“I’m so sorry,” he said brokenly. “I swore to protect you and I failed.” Blinking back tears, he moved toward the door. “I shall leave you in peace.”

Hearing the pain in his tone, a sorrow that echoed hers, Meg hated what Hartwood did to them. They were happy, but in one stroke that monster snatched their bliss. She may be beaten and scarred, but her heart still needed the man she loved. As he moved past, her hand shot out to grab his. Startled, Guy paused, but refused to look at her. Tugging him forward, Meg silently urged him to kneel at the side of the tub, but he continued staring at the floor. Gently cupping his cheeks, she forced his eyes to hers.

“You saved me, Guy. You stopped him.”

Exhaling a shuddering breath, tears welling, he hugged Meg tight, careful not to aggravate her injuries. “It’s my fault,” he said hoarsely.

“No.” Wrapping her damp arm around his shoulders, Meg relished the feel of Guy in her hold. The scent of leather and sandalwood chased away Hartwood’s stench, leaving her feeling safe.

“You saved me,” she repeated. “Hartwood would have…thank you.”

“I love you, Meg,” he said thickly. “I should have been more vigilant. All I wanted was to surprise you.”

“And you did,” she whispered. “It was lovely.”

“Until it was tarnished.”

Drawing out of the hug, Meg tucked Guy’s dark hair behind his ears as a small smile brightened her features. “The memories of what came before can never be tarnished. He can’t take that away from us. Never.”

Curling a tendril of her hair around his finger, Guy dared to hope his marriage wasn’t fully ruined. “Can you forgive me?”

“Guy," she breathed. “None of this was your doing.”

“I failed to find him,” Guy snapped. “If I had, he never would have attacked you.”

Shaking her head, she didn’t buy into his reasoning for a second. “You have him now and you will bring him to justice. It’s over.”

Tracing his thumb down her soft cheek, he couldn’t believe his good fortune in having her in his life. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Nonsense,” she said.

Leaning forward, Guy wanted to take her lips, but shied away at the last second. Frowning at his gesture, Meg searched his expression, but Guy once more avoided her gaze.

“Hartwood horrified both of us,” she said gently. “He hurt me, frightened me, and would have done worse, but you saved me, Guy. You’re my hero.”

Daring a glance at her face, the breath left his lungs in a whoosh. No judgement swirled in her grey gaze. Relieved beyond measure, Guy rested his brow to hers as his fingers tenderly traced the bruises on her cheek and shoulders.

“I should have spared you this.”

Combing her fingers through his hair, Meg held him as he bent to bury his face in her neck. Holding one another, rocking gently, the couple basked in the comfort of physical touch knowing they survived Hartwood’s vengeance and were the stronger for it. Guy was her heart and soul and she felt his pain as acutely as her own. Needing the comfort of his strength, the safely of his arms, and sensing he needed the softness of her touch as well, Meg eased back to untie the laces of his tunic. Guy inhaled a sharp breath, but didn’t move to stop her. Only after she lifted his black shirt over his head did Guy grasp her hands, a question in his eyes.

“The water is still warm,” she explained. Seeing him start to shake his head, she squeezed his neck, stopping his withdrawal and forcing his gaze to hers. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Several heartbeats later, Guy nodded and stood to remove his boot and brais. As much as he feared causing Meg more harm, he needed the comfort of her closeness as well. All too aware of her eyes taking in the sight of his naked form, Guy kept his movements measured as not to startle her. Stepping into the warm water, finding a way to fit his larger body into the tub was tricky, but he managed to get situated on the opposite end.

Legs tangled together, Meg decided she liked the sight of his tanned skin next to her paleness. Well aware of his blushing cheeks, she reached for the soap and cloth. Her intentions were to wash her husband, but she hesitated when her eyes fell to the root between his legs. When he undressed, Meg’s curiosity got the better of her and she peeked. On their wedding night she felt him, yes, but she didn’t see him, which was probably for the best because right now, even flaccid, she wondered how he ever fit inside her body. Remember feeling him in the pond, she knew he felt good to her touch, felt good inside her body, and she still wanted to explore him up close, but now those memories seemed tainted by Hartwood’s assault.

The toy Hartwood brandished in her face did resemble Guy’s parts in a rudimentary way, she supposed, but the specifics of his anatomy and desires remained a mystery to her despite her loss of virtue. Meg would normally ask the question on her mind, but given all that transpired; her initial reaction was fear. In an effort to remedy the situation, and assure herself Guy would never hurt her, Meg worked up a lather and rose up on her knees.

“You don’t have to,” Guy said huskily when Meg began washing his chest.

Swallowing hard, Meg looked at his shoulders, then muscled arms. For all the similarities between them, Guy’s form held so many differences. “Will you let me touch you,” she shyly asked. “I need to know your form won’t hurt.”

“Meg,” he rasped. “You know I wouldn’t ever-”

“I know,” she said gently. “But my fears aren’t reconciling with my logic right now. Can I please wash you without you touching me? Can I learn your shape to get…him out of my head?”

Nodding, Guy hated how Hartwood hurt his wife both physically and emotionally and while he couldn’t change the past, he could give her this request if it would help her reconcile events.

His eyes followed her hands as she ran the cloth over his arms and down his chest. Pausing at his nipples, Meg gently swirled her fingernail around the areola until his flesh puckered. The gesture wasn’t erotic, but rather one made out of curiosity. In fact, Guy was grateful for her rational, detached, and calculated approach. After all that occurred, he didn’t want to accidentally grow hard and frighten her, or give her the wrong impression. Guy wouldn’t touch Meg until she was ready and tonight she needed time to heal.

Mindful of only looking at her hands, Guy watched her smooth the cloth over his thighs, then calves, before bypassing his middle to urge him to lean forward. Reaching around to scrub his back entailed Meg standing, but thanks to the heat emanating from the hearth, the cold air didn’t shock her. Finished with his skin, she asked if she could wash his hair. Indulging his wife, Guy’s heart clenched at her kindness and gentleness. Surely, any other woman would be raging at him, saying he was to blame in one way or another.

Marian may have forgiven him in time, but not before making him listen to several lectures. Isabella wouldn’t have stopped berating him if she were Hartwood’s target and he failed to protect her. Hell, knowing his sister, she might have just turned around and formed an alliance with the man to get back at him. Meg, on the other hand, didn’t blame him for Hartwood’s actions. She didn’t need to because he blamed himself enough already.

Rinsing his hair, Meg pressed a soft kiss to his cheek before stepping out of the tub and reaching for her robe. Watching Meg dry her hair by the fire, Guy climbed out of the bath to quickly dry and dress. Approaching Meg, he paused until she looked at him.

“I’m going to make the rounds,” he said. “Try to rest.”

Nodding, she knew his true intention, and though she knew it was wrong, she couldn’t quite summon the energy to sway her husband’s intention. Part of her wanted Hartwood to hurt and bleed. This vindictive side wanted to see him torn limb from limb, and her conscience was drowned out by the pain. As a result, Meg watched Guy leave their bedchamber without speaking up as an advocate for mercy. Lord forgive her, but she didn’t think a man like Hartwood worthy of any.

****

Entering the stables, seeing Hartwood still chained to the post, Guy folded his arms across his chest and waited. The man’s left eye was swollen shut thanks to the beating Guy served him the second he went back to the clearing. Hartwood’s lip still bled and he undoubtedly suffered at least one broken rib judging by his crumpled posture and labored breathing. Yet, despite the pain, when Hartwood’s head lifted to take in the sight of his captor, he laughed.

“How is the duchess,” he hissed. “Did you comfort her, Gisborne? Sooth her aches by giving her a good thrust?”

Backhanding the man so hard his teeth rattled, Guy grabbed Hartwood’s throat and applied pressure until his face turned red. “You dare speak of my wife,” he spat. “Do so again and I’ll removed your gnarled shaft and leave you only a nub to piss out of!”

Chocking when Guy released his neck, Hartwood scowled with his good eye. “As long as I’m alive, I’ll see to it I hurt your house in any way that I can.”

There wasn’t a sliver of doubt in Guy’s bones that Hartwood meant every word. “You prey on the weak and helpless,” he said with disgust. “You think your title protected you, but I outrank you, and I will make sure Prince John is made aware of your crimes! You are not fit to draw breath, but as much as I want to kill you with my bare hands, I’ll not risk my eternal soul for the likes of you! I’ll leave your punishment to other authorities higher than myself.”

Chuckling at the speech, Hartwood’s laughing scoffs turned into a coughing fit before he spat blood at Gisborne’s feet. “You’re wrong about one thing,” he growled. “You are weak! Love and compassion and all those sensitive emotions you have toward that wife of yours makes you vulnerable. Everyone knows if they want to get to you, all they have to do is go after Meg. She’s your Achilles heel, Gisborne!”

Calmly, Guy contemplated the beaten man before him without blinking. “You shall be my example, then, Hartwood. Everyone in England and beyond will know of your fate. Your death will send a clear message to anyone else who thinks to harm my family. I daresay when I carry your severed head back as a trophy, and mount it on a spike before Nottingham Castle, that no one will ever cross me again.”

To his satisfaction, Hartwood visible paled at the imagery. Unfortunately, Guy knew all too well how desperate a caged animal could get, so he gestured for his men to give Hartwood another beating. Watching the firsts fly and the blood flow, he stopped the men once Hartwood lost consciousness.

“Tie his feet,” Guy ordered. “Don’t let him loose for any reason. I want him soiling himself before allowing him any liberties, understand?”

The men nodded and reclaimed their posts. Satisfied, Guy headed back into the manor. Sitting before the fire in the main room, he stared into the flames as he struggled with his conscience. Evil begets evil, but in the moment, Guy didn’t care. Remembering Hartwood’s crimes, not just against Meg, Guy’s pity vanished. Others faceless women, probably maids and servants, and possibly low standing noblewomen, were victims as well, but too afraid or ashamed to come forward. Hopefully, when Hartwood was brought to justice, the news would offer some solace to those in the dark.

Heading to his chamber, Guy changed and crawled beneath the covers thinking all the while Meg had fallen asleep. Hearing her muffled sobs once he settled, Guy wordlessly pulled her into his arms and crooned in her ear.

“It’s alright,” he said gently as he combed his fingers through her hair. “You’re safe. Everything will be alright.”

Burying her face in Guy’s chest, Meg clutched him as she spent her tears. The sound of his whispers lulled her to sleep a while later, but Guy remained awake. Cradling Meg, he knew he wouldn’t rest easy until he got his prisoner to London.

Chapter Text

Awakening with a groan of denial, Meg rolled over hoping to curl against her husband, but her eyes snapped open realizing the bed was empty. Sitting up and scanning the room, her frown deepened.

“Guy?”

Climbing out of bed, she dawned her robe and walked throughout the chamber, but there wasn’t a hint of Guy. However, she found a rolled piece of parchment on the table. Reading the message, a smile splayed across her face. Guy started for London at first light, promising to return within a fortnight. In the meantime, he left guards to escort her back to Nottingham Castle.

A servant came to help her dress and Meg explored the manor one last time before breaking her fast as the horses were prepped for the journey. With Hartwood in custody, Meg could smile again knowing he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. A huge relief poured through her being at the knowledge she could roam Nottingham without fear. Tuck wanted for her at the gate, asking after Guy.

“His Grace had business in London,” Meg explained. “He should be back within a fortnight.”

Shocked by the unexpected news, Tuck wouldn’t let the matter drop. “I wasn’t informed of this.”

“It was a last minute decision.”

“Why does our sheriff need to visit London? He was just married. Surely, such aa trip can wait, especially with pressing matters of business awaiting him here.”

“What pressing matters,” she asked.

Hesitating, Tuck didn’t want to share the issues with the duchess. Understanding the reason for his hesitance, Meg stiffened. “I see to the running of this castle,” she plainly stated. “I have the respect of the people and I understand their needs.”

“This concerns accounting issues,” Tuck said carefully.

“I am an educated woman.”

“I’m sure the matter will keep until His Grace’s return.”

Watching the monk bow and continue on his way made Meg feel equal parts rejected and angry. She may be a woman, but she was capable of performing all the necessary duties of Guy’s position as well as he could! Hurt by the unfair treatment, she made her way to her chambers, relaxing slightly when she glimpsed Anne unpacking her trunks. Moving to the window, Meg felt bad their time at Knighton was cut short, but hopefully Hartwood would be properly dealt with once and for all.

Restless, Meg walked to her desk to unroll a fresh piece of parchment to write her husband a letter. Her heart missed him already, but having correspondence would help. As much as she wanted to pour her emotions onto the page, Meg managed restraint knowing of the possibility of others at Court reading her words. Sealing the scroll with wax, she asked Anne to deliver the parchment to the messengers. Afterwards, she saw to her usual duties. Thinking of other matters would distract her from worrying about her husband.

****

Stumbling, Kate muttered curses, unable to believe how easily she lost her balance these days. The bigger she grew with child, the more awkward her movements. In exchange, Kate did get to feel the baby kicking within her, which never failed to bring a smile to her face. The child would be a boy, she decided. A strong boy just like his father. Kate would call him Robin.

Heading to market, she could ignore the looks sent her way by focusing on the joy of finally having her baby in her arms. The miracle of life couldn’t be wrong no matter what the priests said. She and Robin conceived this child in love, and Kate would make sure he was surrounded by love every day.

“Still thinks she’s so high and mighty,” one merchant said as Kate passed his stall.

Locksley filled with merchants selling their foods and goods, which encouraged socialization. Kate remembered selling pottery with her mother when they first came to this village. Now, her mother wouldn’t even speak to her. Perhaps Rebecca’s opinion would change once her grandchild came into the world, but currently, the woman’s position remained steadfast. Her eldest daughter committed a grave sin.

Hearing yet another remark against her, Kate whirled on the merchant, letting her sharp tongue fly. “Be careful how you speak to me,” she snapped. “I have Lord Huntingdon’s ear and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll apologize, or I’ll make sure you and your goods are banned from Locksley!”

The merchant, and those within earshot, openly laughed at the blonde’s temper. “An earl defending a whore? I’ve never seen the like!”

Faced reddening, Kate’s spin stiffened. “If you recall, Archer was born a bastard, so he’ll not take kindly to your insults!”

The reminder gave the man pause, but while he shut his mouth, his eyes conveyed disgust that cut Kate to the quick. Turning on her heel, she continued on her way, vowing never to buy a single thing from the man again. After her outburst, many gave her a wide birth, but didn’t throw insults her way. Kate’s basket soon grew heavy, so she headed back to the manor but stumbled across a familiar face.

“Little John,” she said happily. “What brings you here?”

“I came to check up on you.”

“And Guy won’t mind you’re neglecting your duties?”

“He’s in London on business with the prince,” he supplied. “Besides, I have some matters to bring to Archer’s attention.”

“I’ll walk you back.”

Nodding his thanks, Little John took her basket and followed Kate back to the manor. Archer just returned from hunting for game and the three of them sat before the fire to discuss current events.

“I can’t believe so many have forgotten all the evil deeds Gisborne has committed against the people,” Kate exclaimed. “His ambition was always to be sheriff!”

“But he’s doing a good job,” Archer argued. “The books are balanced, even with the construction. The people are protected and fed. He commands strength, which people respect.”

“You only say that because you didn’t know him before,” she said begrudgingly, looking to John for assistance. “Tell him.”

“He was a mongrel,” Little John agreed. “But I’ve seen the change in him. So do the people.”

Kate’s eyes