See Part 1 for disclaimers and acknowledgments.
~ x ~ x ~ x
It turns out that Annie has brought back more food from the manor – smoked beef, bread, cheese, some pies, fruit, a flagon of wine, a veritable feast compared to what he’s had the last few days. Guy asks her to eat with him, but she grabs only an apple and excuses herself for another run to the mistress’s house, first making him promise not to leave before she’s back. Much as he relishes the food and drink, the girl’s comings and goings still nudge awake a lingering unease. He isn’t sure what frightens him more, her apparent devotion or the not-quite-forgotten risk of betrayal.
When he hears her step and the creaking of the front door, he suddenly knows exactly why she went out, and punches his palm in exasperation. And sure enough, when she pushes open the door into his room, she is carrying in her arms a small dark-haired child in a blue shirt.
“This is Seth.” She smiles timidly. “Don’t be angry. I know what you said. I just didn’t think it was right, for you to leave like that without – ”
“It’s all right.”
She comes closer and sits on the chair, holding the boy in her lap. He stirs and rubs his eyes with balled-up little fists. “He was napping,” Annie explains, “tired from running around with the other kids in the yard at the manor all day.” She strokes the boy’s curly hair, bends down to kiss his forehead. “Come on, Seth. Say hello.”
The boy turns and looks at him with big grave eyes; blue, she said, though they look gray in the falling dusk. Guy tries to feel something; under the circumstances, feeling something is probably not a good idea, but still, he tries. There is nothing. My son, he says in his head, repeats it twice more. Nothing.
The boy cocks his head curiously and says, “Daddy?”
Now he feels something; he feels as if he’s been punched very hard in the stomach, then dumped into an ice-cold bath followed by a blast from a furnace. As he tries to recover his breath, the girl stammers, “Oh, Lord Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I should have – ” she rubs her face and shakes her head in what looks like sincere dismay. “He’s said that to other men too, thinking they might be his daddy.”
Luckily, Guy’s state of speechless shock gives him enough time to bite back the first words that spring to his mind: You mean, other men he finds on his mother’s bed. There really isn’t any reason he should care, and yet, foolishly, he wants to believe that what happened between them here is not something she does with any man who’ll bother to tumble her. Perhaps guessing his thoughts, Annie gives him a blushing look. “He said it to a peddler that was passing through last week, and before that to the physician Lady Glasson sent over when he took ill.” Then, to the boy, “This is a friend.”
The boy mutters a hello, and something that sounds like “pleasant”; Annie taps him on the wrist with her finger. “He didn’t bring you a present, you naughty boy; you know it isn’t nice to ask.” To Guy, she says uncertainly, “Would you like to hold him?”
No, he wouldn’t like to hold him at all, but it won’t do to say no, and so the child is transferred to Guy’s lap and he gingerly puts his hands on the small body, as if holding something either very fragile or very dangerous. Maybe “dangerous” is right, because at once he is ducking a finger about to jab him in the eye, and then two little hands clutch at his hair and yank hard enough to make him draw in a sharp breath. He still feels nothing, other than the sting in his scalp and irritation at being so manhandled, and the aftershock of the child’s first salutation.
“Be nice,” Annie says, and the boy settles down and directs his attention to the collar of Guy’s shirt, wriggling his fingers through the buttonholes. Guy wonders how much longer he’ll have to submit to this. Then, the child looks up and gives him a big grin; and, at that angle and in that fading light, something about that smile, those eyes, that face makes him see his sister as she was about that age. Blast it all to hell, thoughts of Isabella in any shape or form should be the last thing to make him feel sentimental right now. And yet – and yet, his heart is beating faster and the breath catches in his throat.
“Come on,” Annie says, lightly poking the boy in the side, “give our friend a kiss.” The child stands up, still clutching at Guy’s collar, leans forward awkwardly and smacks his mouth a hair’s breadth away from Guy’s cheek, then bumps his puckered lips against the stubbly skin. Annie laughs and pats his back. “’That’s how he does it; he hasn’t learned to kiss properly yet.”
Guy makes an inarticulate sound of assent; at last, he works up the courage to wind an arm around the child and draw him close. With his free hand he strokes the dark curly head. Then he presses his lips to the boy’s forehead, with such trepidation as if it might sprout a pair of horns at his touch. He glances at Annie; she is smiling, and he tries to smile back.
The boy burbles something Guy can’t quite make out. “He asks if you’ll play with him,” Annie explains. “No, he cannot play with you” – she picks up the boy and rises from the chair with an “oof” of exertion – “he must leave and you must sleep. You’re played out enough for today. Say goodnight. I’ll just put him down on the cot in the other room and be back.”
The boy waves his hand with a mumbled “’night,” and Annie walks off, leaving Guy to deal with the jumble that is his mind. He rises from the bed; his instinct is to pace, but there is no room for that here, and all he can do is rub the bridge of his nose as if it will help sort things out inside his head. The idea of his son suddenly feels more real, though he still hasn’t the foggiest notion of what to do with this idea.
The girl returns carrying something long wrapped in burlap cloth, and when she unwraps it Guy gets his second shock of the evening. It’s a sword, with a sheath and a strap; not a particularly elegant one, more something that a common soldier would carry, but a sword nonetheless.
He grabs her arm so roughly that she squeaks. “Goddamn it, do not tell me you stole this for me!”
“I didn’t want you going out there unarmed,” she says in a bright half-whisper. “I didn’t steal it. Remember my friend – Ben Walston, the old steward? Well, he went to war with the late master years ago, and this used to be his – ”
“And you expect me to believe he simply gave it to you.”
“I told him I’ve got a cousin who wants to go to war in the Holy Land and hasn’t got the money for a sword,” she says matter-of-factly.
“Annie!” Guy clenches his fists and groans. “Are you trying to get yourself hanged?”
“You shouldn’t worry so much,” the girl says. “Ben wouldn’t give me away even if he knew. I told you, I’m like a daughter to that man. And besides,” she adds, “when he heard of what you did in the church, he said it was a pity you didn’t have better aim.”
“There is nothing wrong with my aim!” Guy says hotly. “If my sister and Hood had not gotten in the way – ”
He sees amusement in her eyes at his affronted look and stops, feeling foolish. Then he takes the sword from her with a curt murmur of thanks. Anything that raises his odds of survival has to be a good thing.
~ x ~ x ~ x
When night has blanketed the village, Annie shows Guy out of the house. The sword is at his side, and she has pressed into his hands a small satchel with food. Already at the door, he pauses to glance at the sleeping form of the boy who lies curled up on a tiny cot by the wall.
In the weak light of a clouded half-moon, they soon reach the path that brought them here. Annie has already explained the best way to get to Sherwood Forest; she repeats it again in an agitated whisper.
Guy stops by the edge of some trees and puts his hands on Annie’s arms. “You must go back.” She nods silently, and he adds, “I can never thank you enough.” It is usually an empty phrase, but never truer than now.
“Just be careful.” After a pause, she asks, her voice suddenly ringing with emotion, “What will you do?”
“I don’t know yet.” Then he says, more emphatically, “Annie, do not ever try to find out anything about me. You have not seen me or talked to me since you left Nottingham Castle two years ago. Remember.”
“I know.” Her voice quavers with tears.
“Take good care of – Seth.”
They kiss good-bye. The girl’s face is damp and her lips have a salty taste. A part of him wonders if she’ll weep for him when he is dead, not so much a thought as a flicker somewhere on the edge of awareness.
“May God and his angels watch over you,” she says.
Guy is fairly convinced that God and his angels have better things to do, but he says only, “Thank you,” and, touching his lips to hers one last time, turns and starts to walk away.
He has walked no more than fifty paces when something stops him in his tracks. He spins around, peering into the night; but the moon is almost gone, and he cannot tell whether she is still under the trees or not.
“Annie!” he shouts at the top of his voice. He is walking back, then running and nearly falling as he trips on a large pebble. “Annie!”
She steps out of the deep shadows and he barely avoids crashing into her.
“What’s the matter?” She sounds worried but, perhaps, also a little glad. He clutches her shoulders, breathing hard.
“Annie – listen to me – ”
“Yes?” He can only see the contours of her face in the darkness, and the faint glimmer of her eyes.
“If I am somehow able to set this right – I mean that if I get out of it alive, and clear my name – there isn’t much hope of that, but if it should happen – I promise I will do it.”
“Do what?” she asks, puzzled; in his agitation, he has left out the most important part.
“I will acknowledge Seth,” Guy blurts out, and then adds, “as my son,” as though there were other options. “And I’ll provide for him. For you – for both of you. It isn’t much of a chance, Annie. But it is a promise.”
Annie nods. “You are very kind.”
She holds his hands between hers for a moment, then lets go; and this time, when Guy walks away toward Sherwood Forest, he does not look back.
Notes: I was inspired to write this story after watching Episode 4 of Season 1, “Parent Hood,” which features the incident with Annie and the baby. By then I had already seen most of Season 3 and Guy of Gisborne’s redemption arc, and I thought it would be interesting to fit Annie and Guy’s son into that. My curiosity was piqued, in particular, by the fact that while Guy is not a nice person at all in 1 x 04, Annie does say that “he has a different side” – in fact, she is the first person to mention this fact. I also found it hard to believe that Guy actually knowingly left the baby in the woods to die; while Guy does some pretty cruel things over the course of the show, this just doesn’t seem like him. From all these reflections, “A Different Side” was born.