A DIFFERENT SIDE
All of the characters in this story belong to BBC/Tiger Aspect and have appeared on the show Robin Hood (2006-2009). I do not own any of them.
The story takes place in Season 3, between Episode 9 (“A Dangerous Deal”, which ends with Meg dying in Guy’s arms) and Episode 10 (“Bad Blood”, which opens with Guy alone in the woods, hunting). It also develops a minor storyline from Season 1; I will not reference the specific episode at this point because I want the identity of the second character in the story to be as much a surprise to the reader as it is to Guy. This is not an original character but someone who actually appeared in an episode of the show. For more, see the notes at the end of the story.
My deep gratitude to tangofiction for the beta (and for getting me hooked on Robin Hood). Also, many thanks to aoxelfrieda for the feedback and the encouragement. And, of course, to the creators of the show and to Richard Armitage for his amazing portrayal of Guy of Gisborne.
The first thing he feels as he returns to the world is that his body is stiff and aching all over.He is lying on the grass, on his stomach, his head at an angle that makes his neck hurt when he tries to move. His hair and clothes are damp, and he remembers that he took a long dip in the river, after –
After he’d finished burying the girl.
Now, the other kind of pain comes, and this one is much, much worse.
The girl … Meg. The silly, stubborn, brave, innocent girl who, for some unfathomable reason, had cared about him, and died for it. Not like Marian – no, never like Marian – but just as dead, and because of him. He closes his eyes and, in his mind, sees his hands covered with dirt and blood.
Something else nags briefly at his consciousness: the vague feeling that he’s been roused from his stupor by a voice calling his name. But it couldn’t be; he must have imagined it, or dreamed it.
With a groan, Guy starts to lift himself up. His aching muscles and tendons demand attention again, and added to all that is a gnawing hunger in the pit of his stomach. He cannot recall when he last ate. He makes an effort to focus, to appraise his situation. An outlaw, alone in the forest, without weapon or food, with plenty of people who want him dead – Isabella, Prince John, Hood and his gang – and not one who’d have any interest in keeping him alive. Except for himself, and that too is debatable.
There is no mistake this time. He sits up with a gasp, and sees –
A cloaked figure, face concealed by a hood, bathed in a strange golden glow that is clearly not of this world.
All the other sensations are forgotten for now because every inch of his skin tingles with terror and his heart seems to crash into his chest with every beat.
His mind reels. He’s dreaming. Any moment now she will throw the cloak aside and reveal the dead rotting flesh where her pure loveliness once was; he’s had this nightmare before. Or maybe she’s a ghost come to haunt him at last. Or maybe he’s dying and –
The woman steps forward, and he realizes that the glow he saw was merely the refracted light of the setting sun, shining through the trees. Her face remains hidden.
She speaks again. “Are you all right?”
Guy can breathe again, though the blood is still pounding hard in his ears. It’s nothing like her, this voice with the unmistakable accent of the common folk, though there is a faint echo of familiarity in it. It also does not seem like something a ghost would say. He makes a sound that is meant to be a laugh but comes out as more of a snarl. Good God, he’s not all right in so many ways it’s not even funny.
“No.” The hoarse, thuggish croak of his own voice startles him.
“You’re wounded?” She takes a step closer, then stops, to his relief.
“I’m not.” He pauses, trying to collect his thoughts. “Who are you?”
“Someone who wants to help.”
This time, he actually does laugh. “Who’d want to do that?” The last one who did lies a few feet away, under a fresh mound of earth and a small makeshift cross, two sticks tied together with a strip of fabric torn off his sleeve. Better not think of that right now.
“I do,” the woman says.
He looks up at her with a sneer. “So. What is the price on my head? I’m sure my dear sister would be more than generous.”
An impatient head-shake. “I promise I will not turn you in!” She probably senses he’s not convinced, and adds, “May Saint Mary the Holy Mother of God be my witness.”
She walks toward him; he swallows hard and fights the urge to back away, still perhaps not entirely assured of her corporeal nature. She extends a hand and says simply, “Get up.”
Whoever she is, he can’t let her see how frightened he is. He takes her hand; it is very much alive, warm, slender but with a surprisingly strong grip as she pulls him to his feet. There is a half-formed thought that it feels strange to be touched by someone who does not – maybe does not want to either use him or kill him. But who the hell is she? He glimpses a lock of ash-blond hair under the hood; then she pulls her hand away and turns abruptly.
“Show me your face,” he says.
There is a harsh note in her voice. “Not yet.”
“Do I know you, then?”
A brief hesitation. “Perhaps you do.”
He tenses. “Are you one of Hood’s people?”
Again, she seems to ponder her answer. “I’m not. Though – I have met him.”
She speaks in riddles and it unnerves him. Still stiff and hurting, Guy stretches his limbs, flexes his muscles, gingerly rubs his neck; the motion reminds him of his close encounter with the headsman, and he fights back a surge of sickness.
“Come with me,” says the stranger, her back still turned to him.
“Does it matter? I can give you food and shelter for the night.”
“You think I’m that stupid,” he says. “You think I’d follow a stranger to God knows where – ”
She snorts. “Fine. Stay here and starve then, unless the beasts get to you first, or the Sheriff’s men. Be that stupid, Guy of Gisborne.”
She stalks away – not toward Nottingham, which is a good start. His stomach clenches with hunger. He casts another glance at poor Meg’s final resting place, and then strides after the girl. Catching up with her, he grabs her arm but she shakes him off and walks on.
“Listen to me! If you really are helping me – you know what’ll happen to you if you get caught, don’t you?”
“I’ll take my chances,” she says curtly.
“That’s my business,” is all she says, without slowing down. “Stop asking so many questions.”
He curses under his breath. “What do you expect?”
She snaps her head toward him, face still unseen. “I expect you to keep quiet for a while.”
He has very limited choices; and so he bites his tongue and follows.
~ x ~ x ~ x
By the time they emerge from the woods and onto a small winding country road, darkness has fallen. The girl seems unfazed by the long walk; not so Guy, who is dizzy from hunger, his mouth parched, his legs shaky. After a while it feels like every breath is ripping into his throat and lungs. A couple of times, the dark sky and the trees start to spin before his eyes and it’s the girl who keeps him from falling. He grits his teeth, still aware enough for his pride to sting.
After a while, when he has long lost track of time and place, they enter a village. A short distance away, his eyes detect the hulking shape of a manor, with some of the windows lit. His companion steers him to a small cottage near the edge of the village, pushes the door open. Inside, he leans against the wall, fists clenched against the pain that he knows is about to flood his body now that he’s actually made it and no further effort is required.
His rescuer, or whatever she is, lights a candle and says, “Come on,” and Guy staggers after her to a room in the back, so tiny there’s barely enough space to turn, with no furniture but a bed and a chair. She tells him to lie down, but by the time the words are out he’s already collapsed on the bed. It’s lumpy, and barely large enough for his frame, but at the moment it’s more desirable than the most luxurious bed in a palace. The last thing he hears through the thick fog of drowsiness is her voice saying, “I’ll be back with the food.”
The creak of the door wakes him. Cautiously lifting an eyelid, he sees the mystery woman come in, still cloaked and hooded, carrying a bowl and a mug which she sets down on the chair. The smell of hot food makes his mouth water and his stomach spasm, but every ounce of willpower he has goes into staying focused on something else. He has to know who she is.
“Wake up,” the girl says, coming near the bed. She leans forward, and there’s his chance. Somehow, Guy musters enough energy to lunge and grab her wrist, and with his other hand to pull the hood off her head.
“Get your hands off me!” she hisses, quite needlessly because when he sees her face in the flickering reddish candlelight – her hair wild, her eyes blazing with anger – he jerks his hands back as if he’s seized a deadly snake.
Finally regaining his voice, he rasps, “Sweet Jesus.”
She stands up, tugs at the fastenings of the cloak. It drops to her feet, revealing a simple blouse and skirt underneath, and she kicks it aside.
“I wasn’t sure you’d remember,” she says viciously, looking past him, “what with all the other girls you must’ve bedded.”
Oh, he remembers. Actually, he hasn’t bedded that many; certainly none others who have held a knife to his neck before a crowd of onlookers. Or borne his child.
“Annie,” he chokes out.
She spins around, nailing him with her too-intense stare. “You remember my name too. I should be flattered.”
Guy manages to sit up and rubs his temples, fighting to hold on to what strength he has left, trying feverishly to think. Of course, it doesn’t take much thinking to know that this is bad. The list of people who want him dead just got longer by one – one who, right now, has pretty much got him in her power.
“Eat your food,” she says, her voice softening a bit. He shoots her a disbelieving look.
“Do you think me a fool or a madman? I’ll starve before I eat whatever you put in that.”
“You are a fool,” she says scornfully. “You think I’d poison you in my own house?”
He’s not sure about that, having never given much thought to the etiquette of poisonings. He has, however, seen a few of Vasey’s victims die that way, and while he is profoundly convinced that he deserves the worst torments known to man, he is not volunteering for this one.
Annie sighs and shakes her head, then picks up the bowl and slowly, deliberately eats a spoonful; she takes a bite out of the bread-loaf, too, and a sip of the drink.
“There,” she says. “Eat.”
He grabs the bowl from her with an almost convulsive movement, his hands shaking. At this point, as long as it’s not poison, it doesn’t matter what he’s eating; it doesn’t even matter that the kitchen maid is watching him scrape the last bits of lentil stew off the sides of the wooden bowl like a starving beggar, or that when she offers more he gasps an undignified “Please.”
When Guy is done with his second helping of stew, bread and ale, exhaustion begins to set in again. All of him, body and mind, yearns for sleep; yet he struggles to keep it at bay a while longer.
As the girl takes the dishes, he brings himself to look up at her. She avoids his eyes.
“Why are you doing this?”
“We have some unfinished business between us,” she says, still looking away. Considering what their last encounter was like, that does not sound good.
“You mean, you never finished carving me up.”
With an exasperated little huff, Annie turns and glares at him. “If I’d wanted to carve you up, Sir Guy” – she makes the words drip with mockery – “I’d have done so already. You had no more strength than a half-drowned cat when I found you back there in the woods.”
This logic is not entirely reassuring, but it’ll have to do. He is too tired to bristle at the wench’s insolence, and in no position to object anyway.
“I just meant that we’ve got things to talk about,” she says. He waits for more, but she shakes her head. “Tomorrow. Go to sleep.”
Weariness gets the better of him; his eyes won’t stay open, and his limbs feel so heavy that it takes an effort even to kick off his boots. He stretches out on the bed, still not too certain in what condition he’ll wake up, and mutters a groggy “Thank you.” For now, he has no choice but to trust her.
~ x ~ x ~ x
When he opens his eyes and blinks at the daylight coming in through the tiny window, it is a few moments before he remembers where he is and what happened. The wench has neither taken a knife to him nor tied him up; so far, so good. Guy isn’t sure how long he has slept. He stands up and stretches, as much as he can in this tiny room where his head almost touches the ceiling. A trace of yesterday’s aches and pains still lingers in his joints and muscles, but he feels strong again.
Cautiously, he pushes the door open into the main room of the cottage. The girl – Annie – is fussing at the stove; she glances toward him and says, “Good morning,” her tone neither friendly nor hostile, which is unsettling because he has no idea what to expect.
“Don’t stay out here too long,” she says. “It’s safer for you in the back. I’ll bring your food. You can wash up here – ” she nods toward a pitcher and a basin on a washstand, then adds briskly, “The privy’s behind the house; just make sure no one sees you.”
Back in the bedroom, if it can be called that, Guy sits down and tries to think. He has to get out of here, of course; but what for? What has he to accomplish by surviving, save for revenge which at the moment seems ridiculously unattainable? Is there a reason he has been given another chance to live the other day when he was resigned to dying? His mouth twists in a sneer; he of all people should know that things do not happen for a reason.
The girl comes in with his breakfast – porridge and cider – and makes to taste it again but he shakes his head no. She says nothing, just sets the bowl and the mug down on the chair and stands back leaning against the wall, arms folded on her chest. He can feel her staring at him while he eats, and wishes she wouldn’t.
He finishes the food and raises his head to thank her – and then her eyes are boring into his and her voice is like a lash on his face.
“Why did you do it?”
His heart drops and his shirt is instantly soaked in a cold sweat. It is a moment, a very long and hideous moment, before his mind registers that she isn’t asking about that.
“Annie – ” he stammers hoarsely.
She lurches toward him. “I thought you were different! I thought I’d seen a side of you that was – kind and gentle and caring – and good – and – ” Her voice trembles on the edge of hysteria.
“Annie,” he says again.
“ – and you left my baby – our baby – in the woods to die!” Her eyes sparkle with angry tears. “I want you to look at me and tell me why!”
“I did not.”
“Liar!” She slaps him hard across the mouth. “Robin Hood – ”
In the next instant Guy is on his feet, towering over her. The taste of blood on his lip, and the mention of Robin Hood, looses something dark and savage inside him. His hands clench on the girl’s arms and he pushes her against the wall, bellowing, “Do not speak to me of Hood!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” she shouts, too furious to be frightened of him. “He saved my child! An innocent baby who almost died because of you!” With that, she spits in his face. “Murderer!”
Murderer. Drained, he lets go of her and slumps on the bed, dropping his head into his hands. When he finally speaks, his voice is low and hollow.
“I didn’t leave it,” he says.
“Do you expect me – ”
“Let me finish. I gave the child to one of my men. I told him to take it to Kirklees Abbey.” He looks up at her. “The next thing I knew, the outlaws had it. That’s all. I swear it’s the truth.”
Of course, he knows that it isn’t quite the whole truth. He hasn’t, for instance, told the girl that when he saw the infant in Hood’s arms, he did not order his men to halt the attack – indeed, gladly took advantage of the fact that the outlaws’ find would slow them down. Wisely, he also does not tell her that he was eager to wash his hands of the matter because, obsessed as he was with the honor of the Gisborne name, he did not like to think of himself as the sort of man who fathers bastards off kitchen maids. Still, what he has told her is true as far as it goes.
“You think I’m going to believe that?” Annie snaps, but he can tell she’s starting to waver. “That one of your men would dare do that to your own child?”
He sighs. “I didn’t tell him that – I had anything to do with it.”
The girl gives him a cutting look. “Why? You were ashamed?”
She looks at him, hesitating, her hands nervously twisting the front of her skirt. “Swear to me,” she says at last, gravely. “Swear that what you’ve told me is the truth, Sir Guy. By the salvation of your immortal soul.”
He laughs, startling her. “I could hardly swear more worthless an oath,” he says, and on impulse adds, “Annie – I swear it is true, on my mother’s memory.” At once he is taken aback by his own words; it is not a false oath, but somehow it still feels like he’s sullying the memory of his mother by bringing her into this sordid business. Yet, evidently, it does appease the girl, who nods slowly and lets out a long breath. Without another word, she goes out of the room and comes back with a piece of cloth soaked in some sort of liquid.
“Here,” she says, tossing it to him. “Put that on your lip.”
The all-too-fresh memory of Isabella’s damnable trick makes him flinch; Annie notices and shakes her head in reproach.
“Do you still think I’d poison you?”
“No,” he says. He brings the cloth to his face – it’s vinegar – and presses it to his split lip, wincing at the sting.
Annie sits down on the chair next to the bed. When he turns and their eyes meet, her face lights up with a small smile.
“Thank you,” she says.
Puzzled, he asks, “What for?”
“Giving me a chance to stop hating you… Two years was enough. For two years, I told myself the goodness I thought I’d seen in you was all a lie. I wanted – ” she falters, averts her eyes, then looks at him again and blurts out, “I wanted to watch you die. I heard they were going to cut your head off, for trying to kill Prince John and the new Sheriff. So I asked for leave from my job and went to Nottingham. I thought I’d see you get what was coming to you and that would make it all better.” She shivers and hugs her shoulders. “Then I saw you on the block, pleading for that poor girl’s life and not for yourself. So I thought that maybe I hadn’t been wrong to see good in you. Maybe I didn’t know who you really were. And I had to know. That’s why…” She trails off. After a brief silence she adds, “It was still wrong, what you did then. But – you’re not a monster.”
He knows better than that, but he lets it pass. There is something more important; her mention of Meg has reminded him that women who see goodness in him have a way of meeting a very bad end. He won’t let it happen again.
“Annie, I can’t stay here,” he says brusquely. “I won’t have you hang for me. God knows I have enough on my conscience.”
She gives him a worried look. He wonders if, until now, she has been so preoccupied with their unfinished business that she hasn’t given proper thought to the consequences of aiding him.
“You can leave after sundown,” she says, and he nods.
They sit together in a tense silence. Finally Guy asks, awkwardly, “So … you’ve been well?”
“Oh yes. I work in the kitchens at the manor. I lived in the servants’ quarter the first year. Then old Ben Walston, the steward, let me have this house after his wife died – he didn’t want to stay here alone and went to live at the manor. He lost his only daughter years ago and he says Seth and I are like grandchild and daughter to him. And Lady Glasson’s a kind mistress.”
He’s glad she’s mentioned the child’s name; he couldn’t have remembered it to save his life. After another silence he manages a strained, “And how is – the boy?”
Annie beams. “He’s truly my pride and joy. You know I wasn’t so keen on raising him myself when I had him. But now…” She shakes her head. “I can’t imagine living without him. He’s at the manor right now, I left him with one of the girls when I went off to Nottingham...” Then, struck by a new thought, she gives Guy a wide-eyed, rather shy look; it reminds him of the way she used to look at him long ago, when he first took her to his bed. “You want to see him?”
Dear God, no. He groans inwardly. Not a father-child reunion; not with this child for whom he has not spared one thought until today – not when the idea that this is his child has no reality for him whatsoever. It occurs to him that perhaps, considering his rather woeful odds of survival, he should feel some satisfaction at the thought of leaving behind a child of his own flesh and blood, legitimate or not – but he feels none. What legacy has he to pass on to any offspring except misery and shame?
He shakes his head and speaks as gently as he can. “Annie, you know I cannot be a father to your child…” (even if I wanted to be, he adds in his head). “I am an outlaw, a dead man; far worse than no father at all. ‘Tis better if I don’t.”
The girl nods and quirks her lips, looking for a moment as though she were about to cry. Maybe she thinks he doesn’t want to see the boy because, if he did, it would hurt too much to leave. He’s not going to disabuse her of that.
“He looks just like you, too,” Annie says. “He’s got your hair, and beautiful blue eyes – ” She laughs but there’s a catch in her voice, and her eyes are bright with tears. “It’s a terrible thing, to hate someone who looks so much like the one thing you love most in all the world.”
He has no idea what to say to that; he knows only that the girl is starting to give him rather warm looks, much to his alarm.
“Annie,” he says, his voice harsh. “Do not deceive yourself about me. I am not a good man.”
“You’re not an evil one!” she exclaims. “These last years, I hated you so much I was willing to believe the most horrible rumors, the worst things I heard – ”
“Then you were right.”
“No,” she says. “No, you don’t know what wicked tales people tell. Why, they even had me believing you murdered – ”
He knows exactly what’s coming, but it still slices into his gut; and the words “the Lady Marian” die on the girl’s lips, because his face tells her everything. She gasps and clamps a hand over her mouth.
Guy leans against the wall, shuts his eyes, and settles back into his private hell.
The girl is crying. “It was the Lady Marian who got me this job,” she says, between sobs. “She was an angel.”
From hell, he hears the sound of his own dead voice. “She was.”
The crying stops. “Why?” she asks. “Why did you do it?”
“I…” He swallows. “There is no why. I make no excuses.”
The silence between them is now heavy with the enormity of what he has done. Into this silence, he says, “I loved her as much as a man can love…”
The silence taunts him, makes his words empty and worthless. He tries, “I’d gladly give my life …” and trails off.
He has almost forgotten about the girl’s presence when she whispers, “God help you.”
Guy chuckles bitterly. “He won’t.”
She sniffles again; then he hears her rise, push the chair aside, and leave the room. Maybe, now that she knows what he is, she’ll turn him over to the law and to the tender mercies of Isabella. So be it.
After a while Annie pushes the door open and says, “Sir Guy,” in that same flat, neutral tone in which she spoke to him earlier. He sits up on the bed; she is, once again, avoiding his eyes as she continues, “I’ve got to go for a while. I’m due at the manor by noon. I’ll try to be back soon.”
He nods and grunts assent. After she leaves the house, Guy weighs his options. He has no cause to believe she’s gone to turn him in, but if she has… He could make a run for it while she’s out. Except that, in the daylight, he’d be liable to get caught – and she would most likely share his fate. Like Meg.
He comes out into the main room and looks around until his eyes fall on a small axe propped up by the wall. He picks it up, runs a finger along the blade; it’s sharp enough to draw blood. Cradling it in his hands, he goes back to the small room and stretches out on the bed, leaving the axe on the floor where he can reach it at once. If they do come, he won’t be taken alive this time.
Continued in A Different Side (part 2)