Author's Note: I made a slight alteration to the previous chapter, in which I stated that Briewere was The Sheriff of Nottingham. In that installment, he was actually supposed to be the Master At Arms. In this new installment, he has reached the position of Sheriff, so I've made the change accordingly. Sorry for the confusion!
Thanks for reading!
More to come soon...
Guy’s hand paused as he reached for a piece of bread. Seated at the table for supper, he reacted in surprise to the words he had just heard.
He stared at his father, who was hastily gobbling up his supper. In the years that had passed since his mother’s death, he had grown accustomed to long passages of time without seeing Hadrian. During his absences, there had been little in the way of communication through letters. In truth, he not expected any, and so he had never been truly disappointed. On the rare occasion of his return to Nottingham, which was scarcely more than twice a year, his reasons for coming were not of a social nature. He came home to see about his property and tenants, and when he business was settled, he would be off.
But this visit was accompanied by important news.
“Yes, boy. Your bride,” said Hadrian, shoveling another heap of pottage into his mouth. He took a gulp of wine. Swallowing it, and then taking a breath, he spoke in his hasty way. “Her name is Marian of Leaford. Her father is a merchant and the overlord of a small estate in Pembroke. The fortune she is to give her husband is not as large as some, but it will do for you.”
Guy felt no excitement at the prospect of marriage. What joy was there in it? His mother, God rest her soul, had known no real happiness in her union. And besides – what was a wife except a bearer of children? Another mouth to feed, another drain on his funds. A woman was nothing more than that. Still, it was his duty to marry and produce the next line of Gisbornes. He sighed, taking a sip of his wine.
“When will she arrive?”
Hadrian finished his meal and rose to his feet. “On the morrow. Make yourself presentable, if such a thing is possible.”
Such a comment was not hurtful. Scornful remarks were something he had grown accustomed to over the years. Briwere made them. His father too, of course. And then there were the whispers of servants and others. They often talked of his harsh features and bitter disposition – his inability to smile. But what in hell’s hump was there to smile about? His life consisted of routine, and that routine was not particularly pleasant.
He needed air.
The sights and scents of autumn were all around. But other than the comfort of the cool breeze on his face, he took no pleasure in his surroundings. His mind was too occupied with other things.
What would this Marian of Leaford look like? What would her demeanor be? His father had given her age as sixteen, and that made him wonder if she was flawed in some way. Most women were already well into motherhood by such an age. Why was this one not taken already? It would be just like his father to see that the woman he chose for his youngest son was of menial quality. Guy frowned, trying to remind himself that being a husband was merely another task he was required to perform. What did it matter what his wife looked like, so long as she did her duty by him?
At the lake, he knelt down at the edge, intending to take a drink. But he became still as he looked at his own reflection, and he stared at himself. His frown deepened, his soul troubled by what he saw.
He was a survivor of the battle of Acre. With the death of the old Sheriff, and Briwere’s appointment to the position, Guy had become a Master-At-Arms, and such a position should have commanded respect. And yet, he knew that no one in Nottingham thought highly of him. They feared him. And they ridiculed him. The mockery was done behind his back, of course, for they would not dare to insult him to his face. But they did it just the same, whispering harsh words about his looks and his mannerisms.
He is as monstrous as he father, they said.
Perhaps it was true. His position demanded that he be fierce, even merciless at times. And each time he captured a criminal and saw him punished, he felt justified in his actions, for the remembrance of his mother's death had never faded from his memory. He felt no pity for each criminal he prosecuted. None deserved his mercy, for what mercy had they shown Elizabeth Gisborne? Even after so many years, the injustice of her murder remained with him, and even more painful to him was the knowledge that the killer had never been found. He took in a deep breath, making an oft repeated vow to himself that one day, he would find justice for her. One day, her soul would at last be at peace.
He was cruel, as necessity dictated. But the thought that he was reviled as a monster - Hadrian of Gisborne, born all over again - was more than he could bear. Striking at his reflection, he was glad to see it disappear as ripples formed, and cupping his hands together, he scooped up a drink. As he brought the cool water to his lips, he heard the sudden snort of a horse and the jingling of reins. Then, the sound of a voice fell on his ear. A voice he would not soon forget.
“Good sir, are you a resident of these parts?”
Turning his head to look, he froze instantly. God in heaven, he thought.
He rose to his feet, slowly - his actions slowed by the daze that had seemed to come over him. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he tried to speak, but found he could utter no words.
“Sir,” she asked again. “Are you a resident here? I have lost my way, and I must be in Nottingham as soon as possible.”
Somehow, he managed to mumble a response. “I am Sir Guy of Gisborne. Nottingham is north, my lady.”
“You are Sir Guy?”
Such a question was rather unexpected. “I am,” he replied.
He watched as she righted herself in the saddle, her posture perfect. She lifted her chin proudly.
“I am your intended, my lord. I am Marian of Leaford.”
Impossible, he thought. This woman, this beautiful lady, could not be meant for him. Her shining brown hair hung down in a thick braid that fell over her shoulder. She was pale and slender, but curved in the most sensual way. It was difficult to tell from where he stood, but it seemed to him that her eyes were a bright shade of green, and her face was round, though not overly so. It was soft looking and womanly, with high cheekbones – and her lips were a luscious shade of coral.
He gave his head a slight shake, trying to come to his senses.
“It will be my pleasure to escort you, my lady. Sherwood Forest is not a safe place, especially for a woman.” As he reached his horse, lifting himself into the saddle, he again heard that voice of hers. What a soft, sweet sound it was. And yet, the sweetness was melded with an air of strength.
“Do not fear, my lord Gisborne. I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”
Guy felt an unusual sensation tugging at the corner of his mouth. When was the last time he had found amusement in anything, let alone felt the sensation of a smile?
My lady is spirited, he said to himself, the thought of it arousing his interest. Most women he knew were so mousy - so submissive. Even women of ill reputation submitted to the whims of men, if only to satisfy their own needs. How interesting it was to meet a woman such as this.
Silently, he chastised himself. Regain your senses, Gisborne. Do not be a fool. Learn more of her before you rush headlong into the wild. She may yet turn out to be no more than a pretty face.