In the morning, Guy awoke to daylight seeping through the drapes on the windows and the gauzy bed-curtains he had drawn the night before. He could not remember the last time he had felt such contentment. He turned to look at Marian. She lay on her side with her back to him, so that all he could see was the dark hair and the white of her shoulder, dull and grayish in the dim light. He suddenly wondered if what had happened the night before had been only a truce, to be followed by a new distance between them. No, this was real, had to be real; she was truly his wife from this day forward, the woman who would share not just his bed but his life.
Guy raised himself up and leaned over to kiss her shoulder, then rumbled in her ear, “Good morning, Lady Gisborne.”
Marian stirred and turned to him with an uncertain smile.
“Guy... Good morning.”
He drew his arms around her and pulled her close; as much as he wanted her again, right now it could be enough to simply hold her, to bask in her warmth, to breathe in the scent of her hair and her skin. He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, brushed his knuckles over her cheek. His wife. Marian.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
He flashed her a small grin. “I don’t think I have ever slept so well before. Did you?”
She nodded. “I did.”
He took her hand and brought it to his mouth, grazed her palm with his tongue. “So,” he said, putting a touch of seductive mischief in his voice. “Was it as good as you imagined?”
Marian flinched slightly and pulled away her hand.
“I, uh – ” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her eyes flickering anxiously. “Guy, I – I think we should get up.”
He tried to push back the sense of something being very wrong. “What? Marian – ”
She sat up, clutching the bedclothes to her chest. Guy stared at her numbly, a dull leaden ache growing in his heart even as his mind tried to tell him that she was tired, or sore from last night, or – that there had to be some kind of explanation that would not destroy everything.
“We have stayed in bed late enough,” she said almost primly, scrambling off the bed and past the bed-curtains. “The servants must be wondering when we will come down for breakfast.”
Bewildered, Guy watched Marian wriggle into her chemise and smooth it down with a nervous gesture. Muttering a curse, he groped around for his discarded braies, slipped them on and pulled the bed-curtains aside. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching her.
“Have I offended you somehow,” he said.
She turned briskly. “No, of course not. I just think – ” She looked around, picked up her dress from the floor and her hairpins from the bedside table. “I should go to my chamber and call Helen to help me dress.”
She walked toward the door but Guy stood in her way.
“So,” he said. “You are back to treating me as though I was – diseased.”
“I have never treated you that way!” she snapped, with a defiant upward tilt of her chin.
He scoffed. “Indeed. You act as if you were repulsed by my presence, let alone my touch.”
“That is not true,” she said emphatically. “It is not.”
His hands clenched roughly on her arms. “Why did you come to me last night?”
Marian’s gaze shifted downward. “Because I wanted to,” she said quietly.
Guy’s temples were throbbing, bile rising to his throat; he had not felt such rage at her since his discovery of the Nightwatchman. “Why? Were you eager to learn after all this time what it’s like to lie with a man? Perhaps I should be honored that you chose your husband and not some other man to gratify your curiosity.”
“Guy!” Marian’s eyes flashed back to him, bright with indignation.
He knew he was going too far, but hurt and anger spurred him on, word after vicious word rolling off his tongue. “God only knows, you are practiced enough in deceit,” he spat. “And I am besotted enough to – ”
“Guy, stop,” she said, pleading. “Stop.”
Guy released his grip on her arms and stepped back; he lowered his head and inhaled deeply, trying to keep himself in check.
“Or did you think,” he said, staring at the floor, “that I would be even easier to manipulate if you shared my bed?” Another suspicion burrowed through his mind, a suspicion that was too poisonous to acknowledge and yet refused to leave. He looked up slowly at Marian, and his expression must have shown something of the darkness of his thoughts, unnerving her for a moment. “Or perhaps…” He stopped and swallowed. “Perhaps you were thinking that unless we consummated our marriage, I could always have it annulled and then you could no longer use me in your schemes. Was that your reason?”
“How dare you,” she said. “How dare you accuse me of something so low.” Yet she sounded more anguished than outraged, and he saw that her eyes were brimming with tears.
“Blessed saints, Marian.” He shut his eyes for a moment and rubbed his forehead, taking another deep breath. “How dare I accuse you? How dare you treat me this way when for the past year I have done nothing but love you and care for you and give you everything you wanted, even against my own better judgment!”
She shook her head, eyes downcast. “You don’t understand anything.”
“What am I supposed to understand?” He seized her arms again, wanting to shake her until she gave him some answers; but when she raised her head there was such pain in her face that his anger was ebbing quickly.
“I did want to come to your bed,” she said. “And yes, it was – I had – ” she stumbled, looking for words – “it gave me great pleasure.”
“Then what – ”
She let out a choked sob. “Please, Guy. Please let me be. Just – for now.”
Bewildered and dreading whatever was to come next, Guy let go of her shoulders. She walked over to the bed and sat down. Then she blurted out, her voice heavy with tears, “We said our marriage vows.”
He stared at her in confusion; of course they had – it was what made them husband and wife. “What?”
“Robin and I – ”
And there it was, the truth crashing down upon him. He had been a fool not to see it before.
“ – when we were tied to those poles in the desert, we said our marriage vows. Before he – ” Her words dissolved into another sob.
Guy was not sure for how long he stared at her in silence. His own voice shocked him; it was a stranger’s voice, hollow, dead. “So,” he said. “The entire time you were – with me last night, you were thinking of him.”
“I wasn’t!” she cried, looking up at him. “That’s why – ” She broke off and turned away, brushing the hair off her face.
“You still love him.”
She did not answer that. When she spoke again, she sounded tired and defeated. “The man that I thought would take me to the marriage bed lies dead in the desert, in a faraway land – without so much as a Christian burial – ”
Guy’s mouth twisted in a sneer. “He got a better burial than an outlaw deserves. Better than he would have gotten had he died on the gallows here in Nottingham.”
Marian shuddered. After a moment she went on, her voice dropping to a near-whisper. “And yet here I am – in your house, in your bed – taking pleasure in the embrace of a man who – ” She trailed off again.
“Pray continue,” he said. His throat was very dry, and he no longer knew what, if anything, he was feeling. “A man whom you despise.”
“A man who was his enemy. A man who stands for everything that we were fighting against.”
“You and Hood.”
“And the other outlaws,” she said. “They were my friends. They were good people – people I cared about. And now, they are dead – with Robin – and I am … here. Because you saved me.”
She was no longer crying but gazing listlessly ahead, much as she had in the house in Acre after he’d brought her back from the healer’s. Guy slowly walked over to pick up his clothes from the floor and put them on. Then he strode toward the door. His hand already on the doorknob, he paused and turned to look at her. After a moment she turned her head; their eyes met.
“I leave you to your dead husband,” he said.
Coming down the stairs, he shouted for the steward. The man scurried to meet him with a hasty “Will you be taking breakfast with milady this morning, Sir?”; but Guy waved him aside.
“Have my horse saddled,” he said curtly. “No breakfast. Have one of the men bring up some clean clothes to the castle. I will be away – for a while.”
At the castle, the walls mocked him with their gloom. This was all he had now, Guy thought as he walked down the corridor to his official quarters. He settled behind his desk to hear his captain’s report on the day’s business, and told himself that it didn’t matter; this was all Vaisey had too and it never seemed to have troubled him. You’re not Vaisey, taunted a voice in his head that sounded sickeningly like Vaisey himself. You want it both ways, Gisborne; Vaisey never did. He shook it off and snapped his attention back to the captain before his distraction could be noticed.
The day dragged on, filled with interminable petty business. One matter weighed on his mind; there was a lad of eighteen, an apprentice blacksmith from Southwell with no prior crimes, who faced the loss of a hand for stealing and whose widowed mother had petitioned him for clemency. Marian had seen the mother and joined in her plea a few days earlier, and Guy had promised to look into it; but that was before, and surely he owed her nothing now. He brooded over the petition for a long time. Perhaps it made sense to give the lad a second chance to learn a useful trade and pay taxes into the treasury instead of warding off starvation with menial labor or begging. Perhaps he really was going soft. If Vaisey were here, he’d be entertaining himself with nasty little jokes about a mother’s loving heart. Wincing at the thought, Guy reached for the quill and wrote down an order to change the sentence to a whipping and a fine.
That night, under the heavy canopy of his bed at the castle, he dreamed of Acre. Marian was standing before him, next to Hood, holding Hood’s hand, and they were in love and laughing at him; Guy was holding a sword but could not move or make a sound, and then instead of Marian and Hood it was Vaisey, smirking. “Lepers, Gisborne. What did I tell you?” Guy woke up panting and bathed in sweat, and sat up for a while trying to steady his breath.
The night after that, it was Vaisey sitting on his bed, eyeing him with an amused expression. “Tell me, Guy” – he leaned in to stroke Guy’s cheek, making his skin crawl, and once again there was that horrifying inability to move a muscle – “is life as sweet as you thought it would be? No? I didn’t think so.” Jolted from his sleep by the sound of Vaisey’s laughter, Guy flailed at the sheets tangled around his body. He stayed awake until dawn, plagued by unwelcome memories of his night with Marian. It was her fault that he wasn’t happy, he told himself; he had, after all, everything else he had ever wanted. Oh, how Vaisey would have laughed at him if he could actually see him now. Really, Gisborne, what’s the point of having power if you don’t know how to enjoy it?
The Council of Nobles was held the next day. Presiding over it from the chair where Vaisey had once reigned, Guy looked at the conspirators present in the hall – Sir Geoffrey de Vere with his usual fastidious look, the haughty Lady de Caux in her best finery – and wondered if they were squirming just a little in their seats wondering how much he knew. Vaisey had made the nobles squirm for far lesser reasons, and without half trying.
As he had expected, Lady de Caux’s steward never showed up on Monday; on Tuesday one of the lady’s servants arrived to report that Walter of Laxton had disappeared, absconding with some of the lady’s jewelry and silver. Now was a perfect chance to go after the conspirators, uncover the steward’s murder and follow the trail to the plot against King John. And destroy Marian.
Guy pressed a hand to his forehead, pondering his options. There was also King John to consider. If the conspiracy flourished in Nottingham, he would eventually have to deal with the king’s wrath; he might have power and position now, but there was still a master whose displeasure he had to fear. Perhaps his power was as much of an illusion as his marriage. He clenched his jaw in frustration; why did everything have to come back to her?
He looked up at Lady de Caux’s servant. “I’ll have my men start a search for your thief.”
After the servant had left, Guy closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He could go to Locksley. Eventually, he would have to take care of the estate’s affairs. He didn’t even have to see her. Unbidden, his memory summoned an image of Marian the way he had seen her in the village; she had looked like an angel in the gentle sunlight, in her pale blue dress and cape. Guy remembered the way she had leaned into him when they rode back to the manor, the way her hand had rested on his arm. Would he never kiss her again? He forced himself to get up and walk out of the chamber, and ordered a guard to have his horse ready. No, he would not go to Locksley; not yet. A tour of the main Nottingham market with a retinue of guards would take his mind off other things.
Another day went by, and another night of troubling dreams. This time, he was in bed with Marian, lost in her warm nakedness, and then fists pounded on the door and Vaisey’s voice bellowed, “Gisborne!”; and later, he somehow came to be in the woods, riding around in a fog through which one could barely see the trees, knowing that Hood was lurking somewhere waiting to put an arrow in his heart.
Awake, Guy lay in his vast bed in the predawn quiet of the castle. A vivid memory of the happiness he had felt holding Marian in his arms after their union welled inside him. She had robbed him of that, he thought bitterly – and in the next instant he saw, with a brutal, final, terrifying clarity, that he had thrown it all away. Marian’s fault? Saint George’s bones, so what if she’d been skittish the morning after; of course she would be, considering the terms on which she’d agreed to marry him – terms he had offered her! So what if she and Hood had exchanged vows when dying in the desert; it’s not as if he hadn’t already known of her love for the outlaw, and besides, Hood was dead.
Guy bolted up and sat on the edge of the bed, cursing at himself. Marian had given him everything, and he had allowed his foolish jealousy of a dead man to ruin it with his anger and his ugly words.
In a few moments he was on his feet, dressed, and striding out into the hallway.
“You!” At his yell, the dozing guard jerked like a puppet whose strings had been tugged abruptly. “My coat and my horse. Now!”
“B–b-but my Lord Sheriff – it’s not even – ”
“I said now!”
He left the castle with no escort. The black of the sky was breaking up in patches of whitish gray; it was still almost dark, but his horse confidently followed the familiar road to Locksley. As Guy rode, a chilly wind lashed at his face, mocking him for his folly.
By the time he reached Locksley Manor – the sky now pale and daubed with pink, with only a few ragged patches of night left – he knew he would do anything for another chance. He pounded on the door, seized by sudden fear that she would not be there; she could be off on one of her missions, or … or she could have left never to come back. The door hatch opened and a sleepy servant peered out, his eyes blinking quickly into frightened alertness. The door creaked open and Guy stalked in, breathing hard, the knuckles of his clenched hand pressed hard to his mouth.
“My lord!” The steward stumbled out into the murky hallway in his nightclothes. “Is everything – ”
“Lady Gisborne,” Guy croaked, lowering his hand.
“Milord?” The steward’s bleary eyes squinted at him in bewilderment.
“Yes, milord – she’s - ”
Not listening, Guy raced upstairs to Marian’s bedchamber. He tried his best not to wake her too abruptly as he opened the door; but she still stirred awake at the sound and lifted her head with a groggy mumble, and then, seeing him in the murky half-light of the chamber where a single candle burned and dawn was seeping in through the curtains, quickly sat up. He thought he heard her gasp.
Everything he had thought of saying had been wiped from his mind, and the only thing he could manage was, “Marian.”
“Guy,” she breathed out. Perhaps it was his imagination, or the light, but her face seemed a bit thinner and paler. Her eyes were very wide yet he could not read their expression. Guy came closer and knelt down by the side of the bed, his heart hammering in his chest. For a long moment neither of them spoke. He lowered his head and closed his eyes and let out a long trembling breath; this was how one waited for a death blow. Then Marian’s fingers brushed hesitantly against his cheek, and when he dared to look at her she seemed anxious and moved, even shaken, but not angry or cold or scornful as he had feared. He clasped her shoulders, his gloved hands huge and black on the pale yellow silk of her nightdress.
“I have something for you,” he said hoarsely, and her eyebrows twitched in surprise. “Come with me.”
Marian gave him a bewildered look. “Where?”
“Just downstairs. Please, Marian.”
She eyed him warily, then gave a small nod. “I’ll come.”
Guy rose to his feet and waited while she got out of bed and slipped into her dressing gown. All he could do was fervently hope that this would work. He could think of no other gift to give her; clothes and trinkets meant nothing, and she already had a horse.
Marian followed him down the stairs and into his study, the same one where he’d first told her of the nobles’ plot. Guy lit the candles and closed the door; then, discarding his gloves, opened the desk, pulled out one of the ledgers and put it down before her.
“These are the accounts for the Knighton estate.” He saw Marian flinch slightly; she looked down, and her loose hair and the shadows of the room hid her face from him. “From now on, they are completely in your hands.”
Marian slowly came up to the desk and opened the ledger, her slender fingers lingering on the pages before turning them. Her shoulder brushed against Guy’s arm.
“I’ll give orders for all the revenues from Knighton to be handed directly to you,” he said. “That way, your property is under your control and – you need never ask me for anything.”
She turned toward him, so close he could have kissed her if he leaned forward. He saw warmth in her eyes, but a touch of wariness was still there.
“You know that I can use this money for more than dresses and horses – and food for the hungry,” she said carefully.
Guy took her hand between his palms, raised it to his mouth and pressed his lips to her fingers, never taking his eyes off hers. “Oh, I know.”
“You know that I can use it to support things – of which you would not approve.”
“I know that you will use it to support things that could make my life very difficult,” he said. “And possibly quite short.”
She jerked her head slightly, as if to say no; but her eyes were fearless. “And yet – you choose this.”
“I choose you.” He drew her close, gathering her into his arms, and shut his eyes at the unbearable sweetness of holding her. “I should have always chosen you,” he murmured, his lips grazing her hair.
He heard Marian sigh, felt her body relax against him. Too quickly, she pulled away; but now the wariness was gone from her eyes and her mouth had softened into a small smile.
“Are you sure?“ she asked – perhaps meaning his last words, or his offer, or both.
“I have never been so sure of anything,” he said. Suddenly grave, she studied his face, and he continued, “You have your own choices to make. I will not question you or thwart you.” His hands on the back of her head, Guy stroked her hair, leaning close so that his forehead was almost touching hers. “The less I know about it, the safer we both will be.”
His whisper lingered between them, until she gave a small nod and said, “Thank you”; and, tilting up her head to close the space between his mouth and hers, kissed him.
Guy would have deepened the kiss and backed toward the chair, taking Marian with him; but she broke away and held her fingers to his lips.
“Thank you,” she said again. “I…” She paused, her eyebrows creased in a small thoughtful frown. “Guy … I have something for you as well.”
“Will you ride with me into the forest?”
Guy had expected anything but that. “Why?”
“Trust me,” she said, her hands on his shoulders. “Please. It’s something I must do. For you – for us.”
“For us,” he repeated, as if getting used to the sound of it; knowing that, for these words, he’d follow her to far worse places than the woods.
They left after a hasty breakfast. Hardly any words were spoken between them as they rode through the forest, where a thin mist clung to the molting trees. There was a lot of past in this place. Guy shifted his eyes to the woman at his side; she looked almost austere with her hair pulled back and her head held high, in the gold-threaded light brown cape that had been one of his wedding gifts to her. She glanced back at him, her face pensive, inscrutable.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“You’ll see,” she said. “We’re almost there.”
They neared a hill and rode around it; and there, huddled against its steep side, was a wooden structure, not quite a shack but something clearly meant for human habitation. Weather-battered, it showed signs of wear and neglect; yet it was still solid. Next to it, he saw six crosses in the ground, and a heap of what looked like decayed flowers.
“The outlaw camp,” he said quietly.
Marian dismounted and he followed suit, his heart beating anxiously.
“This is where you have been going on your rides in the woods.”
“Sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes, I simply ride. Sometimes, I bring flowers, to remember them.” She gestured at the crosses. “It was the best I could do. I cannot honor them where they are buried, so I do it here where they lived.” She paused and added, as though talking to herself, “I do not know if it was right to put up a cross for Djaq, as she was not of our faith. But I don’t think her God would mind that.”
He could have laughed at the irony, being led to this place he had looked for in vain for such a long time. But right now, there was only the painful jealousy of what this place meant to Marian, struggling against the warmth of knowing that she had shared with him the secret of her mourning.
“No more secrets, then,” he said, his voice tight.
“No more secrets,” she said. “That’s why I brought you to this place. I want to tell you the truth about the past. I owe you that.”
“You mean, about – ” the next word stuck in his throat – “about Robin Hood.”
And she began to speak. Some of it he already knew or guessed; but there was more, so much more. She told him that, from the start, she was the one giving Hood the information she got through him; that she had, as he’d suspected, given to Hood the necklace he had given her after taking it from a Locksley village girl as a marriage fee; that Hood had been at her side after Guy had unknowingly wounded her in her Nightwatchman disguise, the night before she and Guy were to marry; that her visit to Locksley with an offer of friendship had been a pretext for a pass to leave the castle, so that she could get the Sheriff’s seal on it and forge it on another paper for Hood’s purposes; that after her father’s death, she had not gone to a convent but to the outlaw camp; that when he thought he was rescuing her from captivity by Hood, she and the outlaw had just pledged themselves to each other…
At last she stopped. Without realizing it, Guy had backed away to lean against a tree. It was as if he’d spent these last minutes being kicked and pummeled, hogtied and helpless to defend himself. His face was very hot, and there was not enough air; he jerked at the clasps on his coat. He wanted to walk back to his horse but his legs had turned to lead, just like in his dreams. He gulped for breath, sweat pouring down his face and neck, and when he tried to speak his throat was too tight.
“Guy.” Marian looked worried; right now, her concern felt like damnable mockery.
“Good God, Marian… You would spare me nothing. This is the truth you owed me? That everything between us is lies?”
“No,“ she said. “No. That’s not – ”
The anguished tenderness in her face shattered the tenuous grip he’d managed to regain on his emotions. With every breath he took, he was afraid he would come undone and start crying.
“The rest of it is still true.”
“The rest of what?”
“That I care for you! That I see what is good in you! That I am…” she paused, looking for words, and he noticed that she was blushing. “That I am drawn to you. It is true now and it was true then. The night I came to see you at Locksley, it was an excuse … but I meant the things I said.”
He remembered that night too well; she had come into his room when he was half-dressed after being fitted for his armor, and even as he tried to tell her – and himself – that he had no feelings left for her, he had been so mesmerized by her presence, by her nearness that he’d made no move to put on his shirt.
“The truth is that even when I told myself I was only staying at the castle because it was useful to the outlaws’ cause, I … there was a part of me that liked being near you.” She took his hand. “It was not all lies.”
He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to ride away as fast as he could and leave her forever before she killed him with any more betrayals, or fall at her feet and swear eternal love; or take her in his arms and kiss her again and again until it made everything all right.
“Tell me one thing,” he said, already hating himself for clutching at straws. “The day Prince John’s army was coming to raze Nottingham – you said you were choosing to stay with me – ”
Her fingers trembled slightly but she never looked away. “That was true,” she said in a hushed voice.
“The way you looked at me when I came back…”
“Guy, when you came back I was proud and happy to stand at your side. None of that was a lie. I was never prouder of you then I was at that moment.”
He closed his eyes and let out a long ragged breath, only now realizing how much he had dreaded her answer. If this was clutching at straws, so be it.
“You cared for me,” he said.
“And now … I’m here with you.”
Because it’s useful to her cause, whispered that sneering voice inside his head; and, as if in response, Marian said vehemently, “It’s not because I want to use you to spy for the rebels. I do care for you, Guy. I do.”
“You told me once I was dead to you.”
“I meant it then. Guy… back in Acre, so many terrible things happened, and I hated you for all of it. I believed that the good I had seen in you was gone, or perhaps had never existed at all except in my own illusions. And then…” She shook her head. “I still hate the things you have done. But I know that what I see in you now is real.”
She raised her hand to touch his face, but Guy caught her wrist, holding her at bay.
“You love him still.”
“Always,” she said simply. “And it still breaks my heart to think of how – he died.” Her voice cracked and she lowered her head. “And the others … you won’t understand this, Guy, but in a way they were my family.”
“Perhaps I do understand,” he said. After all, in a way Vaisey had been his family, and he could not exactly judge her for choosing a bunch of scruffy outlaws as hers.
Marian looked up. “But a part of my heart belongs to you. I think it always did.” She struggled with her next words. “Guy, that morning, when I pushed you away… the truth is that the night before that, I gave you all of myself. And that frightened me because it felt like I had betrayed – everything. But now, I can accept it. I have accepted it – accepted you.”
Guy leaned against the grizzled trunk of the tree and inhaled deeply, his head thrown back, his eyes shut. When he looked at Marian again, her gaze was still on him, her lips creased slightly as if she were about to either smile or cry.
“So – what happens now?” he asked.
“Now, I want to be a real wife to you.”
He still didn’t quite dare to believe this. Marian, my wife: The last time he had let himself think it, his dream-world had crashed quickly and brutally. And yet his foolish heart was light with joy and hope. The truth was that he would always love her as long as there was a chance; and even if there was not.
He took his gloves off, gently peeled off her soft kidskin glove and clasped her hand, her palm hot against his, their fingers laced.
“A real wife,” he said. “What do you mean by that?”
“I want to be by your side. To be the mistress of your manor and estate, to share your bed – to bear your children. To be your companion in everything.”
“In everything,” he repeated. “You know that by rights, my wife should also be the lady of Nottingham Castle.”
“No,” she said, sudden steel in her voice. “I will not be a dutiful wife to the Sheriff of Nottingham under King John. I will be a good wife to Guy of Gisborne.”
“And the rebellion?” he said, knowing what her answer would be.
“I still want to help them. But I promise I will do nothing that could put you in danger.”
She had put him in danger already, of course; was she truly naïve enough not to see that? But they could deal with it later. Right now … right now, he pulled her against him and into a hard, demanding, breathtaking kiss.
“We’re going home,” he said.
(Continued in Part 5)