“I don’t like my bed at the castle,” he says, peeling off his shirt.
“You are not in it.”
Marian gives a small, husky, still sleep-blurred laugh and sweeps her hair away from her face, watching him as he strips naked, the stirrings of his arousal already evident. In a moment Guy is under the blanket with her, helping her out of her shift, his hands gliding over her skin. Her lips sweep gently over his, tugging lightly, then seek out a spot on his neck that is especially sensitive to kisses, and he groans and presses into her, rocking his hips. He would take his time, loving the feel of her against him, the brush of her breath on his skin, the way their limbs entwine. She is the one who seems more impatient tonight, her breaths growing quick and ragged, her hand sliding between their bodies and curling around his hardness. His own desire flares more urgently and he moves to press her down, but she whispers to him to lie back and he complies. She straddles him, letting him feel her smooth heat on his stomach, and finally takes him inside her, arching back so that he can palm her breasts; and for a while they are lost to everything but the rhythm of their bodies moving together, the places where they touch, the searing ache that rises and spreads and crests.
He is reluctant to let go, even after the last ripples of pleasure have faded; Marian is still wrapped around him, warm and boneless, and he holds on to her, his hands moving lazily over her hair, her shoulders, her back. After a while she raises her head and moves for another kiss, a soft and drowsy one, and then slides off him with an unintelligible mutter. They both turn and shift and settle on their side, Marian nestled in Guy’s arms with her back to him, and it is not long before they are both asleep.
He wakes up later on, reluctantly untangles himself from her still-sleeping form, and lies flat on his back staring into the canopy. The candle has burned out, and in the dark the thoughts that preoccupied him last night before he got home come creeping back, uninvited and insistent. He needs to talk to Marian, but he is loath to bring talk of politics into their bed.
After a while he realizes that she is awake. She turns and reaches to stroke his face.
“You are troubled.” He makes a grudging sound of assent. “Is it – John?”
Guy nods and sighs, sliding an arm around Marian’s shoulders. “A worse snake than Vaisey,” he says; the name draws from her a slight shudder. “You never know where you stand with him; he is the sort of man who’d invite you to sit at his right hand at a feast and smile at you all evening when he has already ordered your execution.”
Thankfully, Marian does not remind him of his own part in bringing John to the throne. Instead she mulls over his words and asks, “You think you have lost his favor?”
“No one truly has John’s favor except John himself,” he says with a snort. Then he can no longer contain his anxiety. “I am not sure what he may know. He asked about you.”
“What did he ask?”
“Why you were not there to meet him. I told him you weren’t well. He said he had looked forward to meeting you. He gave me this look – ” Guy tries for a way to describe it, then gives up and gives a frustrated headshake. “Perhaps it was nothing. He likes to unsettle people.”
“Perhaps he’s heard the rumors,” Marian says thoughtfully.
“That you have a wife who is mad. Or bewitched,” she adds after a pause, and then they are both briefly silent, Marian’s head resting on his chest.
“Sometimes, I think that at least one of us must be mad indeed,” he says in a low voice, brushing his fingers through her hair. “Don’t you?”
She lifts her head, peering at him through the dark. At last she says, with pretended lightness, “Perhaps I am mad and you are bewitched.”
Guy chuckles and pulls her in for a kiss. Her breasts are soft and full on his chest, and in another moment he is quite ready to show her just how bewitched he is; but they need to talk, and if this goes any further there will be no talking. He braces himself.
“The purpose of John’s visit to Nottingham is to inspect the castle’s defenses. In case there’s a siege.” Marian is still in his arms, waiting. “The barons are in open rebellion in Brittany,” he continues, and stops at her small intake of breath. “You knew.”
“Yes.” She exhales, inclines her head so that her forehead is touching his. “Guy, you yourself said it was safer for you if I told you nothing about the rebellion.”
“If I learn something that could be a direct threat to you, I promise I will tell you.”
“Marian…” He swallows. “What if there is a siege? What if I must lead the defense of the castle for King John?”
Marian pulls back. It is too dark for him to see her features but he thinks she is frowning. “Are you worried that I might open the gate during the night and let in the rebel armies, or spy and report to them on your defenses? You know I would not. You believe me, don’t you?”
“I believe you.” After a pause he asks, “What will you do?”
“I do not know. No one knows what may happen. Perhaps – my position could be to your advantage.”
He ponders that. He knows that sometimes, when lords and princes related by marriage have been openly at war, the woman – wife to one, sister or daughter or cousin to the other – has been key to ending the hostilities. But this is different.
“My advantage,” he repeats slowly. “You mean, you could help negotiate a surrender – arrange a deal so that your friends would leave me my life. And nothing else.” Bitterness simmers in his voice, and the warmth of her hand on his brow does not soothe it away entirely.
“It is much too early to speak of such things,” Marian says.
Guy drops his head back on the pillow and lets out a harsh breath, closing his eyes. “That is not an answer, Marian.”
“No matter what happens, you will always have me,” she says. “Is that an answer?”
“Of sorts,” he says. The truth is that while his old ambitions now seem hollow, like a faded passion, the thought of having everything taken from him – of having to rely on Marian for protection – stings badly. Still, he enfolds her in his embrace and presses his lips to her hair.
“Guy,” she starts, then stops.
“I could give it up,” she says in a small voice.
She would do that for him – for them. When this sinks in, Guy is stunned and grateful and yet at once uneasy. “If you do – will you be happy?”
Marian’s silence supplies the answer; but then she says, “I would not be your ruin.”
His thumb trails over her face. “And I would not be yours. I suppose that leaves us at an impasse.”
They are quiet for a moment, the only sound the patter of rain that has started outside. Holding her, Guy can feel the steady beats of her heart.
“Then we will see this through together,” she says. “No matter what happens.”
His answer is to roll her over and kiss her. Marian’s hands slide up, her fingers twining through the locks on the back of his neck.
The rain pelts harder at the roof and the window. In a few hours Guy is due back at the castle, for three more days of catering to King John’s whims and looking out for hidden traps. If the rain keeps up, today’s hunt will be canceled and he’ll have to think of other ways to keep the sovereign entertained.
But all of that comes later. Right now, all thoughts of the king and the rebellion dissipate; Marian is kissing him back, and then his mouth roams down her neck and to her breasts, and lower still, and she breathes faster in anticipation, her hands clutching at his hair, and his name on her lips is a half-whisper, half-moan – “Guy…”
Right now, it is not yet dawn, and Nottingham Castle will wait, for its lord still has the rest of the night to spend in bed with his wife.
NOTES: While this story presents an alternate version of history in which Richard is killed in the Holy Land in 1193, rather than in France in 1199, some aspects of it do have a historical foundation. King Richard did in fact originally designate Arthur of Brittany rather than John Lackland as his heir, and the early years of King John's reign were marked by rebellion in support of Arthur (who mysteriously vanished in 1203 and is believed to have been killed by men loyal to John).