“Is such cruelty necessary?”
Guy looked at Marian, who stood beside him on a balcony that overlooked the square below. He saw the pained look she wore, and it made him feel a moment of guilt. But when he looked back to the crowd, he felt only a satisfaction in knowing that justice was being served. A woman and a man, suspected of conspiring with outlaws, were being led through the crowd that had gathered. The crowd screamed and jeered. They pelted the couple with garbage and spat on them. Seeing such a sight, he felt no remorse.
They conspire with Robin of Locksley, he thought. May they rot in the depths of hell for it.
His reply to Marian was flat and emotionless. “They have broken the law. They must be punished accordingly.”
Watching the action below, he never flinched. His gaze never moved as the couple was led to the gallows – the nooses put around their necks. A roar came from the crowd as the stools were kicked out from under the accused. As the figures struggled in the throes of impending death, Guy glanced at Marian and saw that her face had gone white.
“Forgive me, my lord,” she said in a whisper, her voice cracking slightly. “I must seek counsel in prayer.”
She was upset. He had never seen her disturbed by anything. She was always so calm, so collected and proper. But this reaction was unusual for her, and it bothered him to see it. She walked away in a hurried fashion, and he followed a few paces behind. Slowing his steps as he entered the chapel, he knelt beside her at the altar. Crossing himself, he allowed a few moments of silence to pass before he spoke softly.
“Apologies, Marian, if I have caused you offense. But it is my duty to enforce the law.”
Her reply hit him sharply. “It is barbaric to treat human beings in such a manner.”
The boldness of her tone shocked him. He had known her to be spirited at times, but this was different. Was there contempt in her voice? For a moment, he was troubled by the thought that she would think so ill of him. But the thought of Robin Hood – of the many who followed him with such devotion – brought a darkness to his mood that he could not disguise.
“Associates of Robin Hood will know no mercy from me.”
Turning his head to her, examining her face, he saw a look that confounded him. Her eyes seemed to blaze with an inner fire. Was it fury that he saw there? Before he could examine her expression further, a guard came bursting in.
“My lord, the Sheriff summons you.”
The interruption angered him. But if Briwere called, it was his obligation – however unpleasant – to answer. Rising to his feet, he looked down at Marian. As his intended, it was her duty to follow him in a devoted manner, taking her place at his side or at least, being in the room with him when it was appropriate. But in this instance, it seemed that she was intent on remaining where she was. Though she was silent, he could sense her displeasure. It was evident to him that her manner of protest was to form herself into stone – silent and unmoving. There was something about that coldness that irked him. But he had no time to ponder it. He left her then, hurrying towards the Sheriff’s quarters.
When he arrived, Briwere was sitting behind his desk, a quill in his hand as he wrote. He glanced up only for a moment as Guy entered.
“Ah, Gisborne,” he said. “Do sit. A message has come and it is most unpleasant.”
A deep feeling of anxiety gripped him as took the chair in front of the desk. Briwere held out a rolled parchment, and as Guy reached for it, he heard the sound of the door opening behind them. Marian was there. He could feel her presence. And he could feel her eyes upon him, curious to know what the Sheriff’s summons had been about. Guy scanned the letter – and with each word he read, he felt a strange stinging in his eyes.
His father and his brothers. All were dead, killed by the plague.
He could not speak. His mind was numb – his voice incapable of making a sound. Briwere spoke in his cool way. No words of comfort or sympathy were given in regards to the news that had come. His reply was business-like in its tone.
“Take two days to mourn, Gisborne. And then return to your duties. The loss of family is inevitable, and it is a fact we must all accept.”
As he walked away, leaving the room, Guy felt Marian’s approach. She came to stand before his chair, and slowly, he raised his eyes to look at her. She spoke softly.
“I am sorry for your loss, my lord.”
The news of it had been so unexpected, so sudden, that it had briefly taken his breath from his body. He raised his head, looking into Marian’s eyes. Her eyes were so beautiful, and yet, always so cold and distant. He longed for a sign of feeling, and for a moment, he thought he saw a glimmer of pity. For one moment, there was a slight change in her expression – one that made him certain that she intended to show tenderness and sympathy for his plight. She was always so cool to him, so reserved in her manner and sheltered with her feelings. But this once, could it be possible that she would open her heart to him? He was ashamed to admit his weakness, but he so badly wanted someone to offer him a kind word and a soothing touch. Almost of its own will, his hand reached out to clasp hers.
“I am the last of the Gisbornes, Marian. I have no family left. How am I to endure such a loss?”
In his mind, he silently pleaded with her to give him hope – to tell him that she would be his family. That the children they would have, the life they would share, would one day heal the wounds that had so often crippled him.
“Trust in God,” she replied at last. “He will guide and comfort you.”
Such a composed, dignified reply. Nothing feminine or warm in it – nothing to soothe. Just another of her dispassionate answers. And he felt his anger rising. He thrust her hand away.
“Do not speak to me of God! God knows only how to torment and punish me! If you cannot speak to me with some measure of thoughtfulness and womanly understanding, then do not speak at all!”
In less than a moment he regretted his harsh words. He tried to hold on to her hand, but she pulled it away. She took a step back. She would run, he realized – driven away by his cruelty. Before she could flee, he rose up quickly, pulling her into his arms.
“Forgive me, Marian. Twas’ not my intention to hurt you.”
For a moment, she was still and quiet, allowing his embrace. She felt so good in his arms. So warm, so soft. It was the first time he had been this close to her. Never had they gone beyond the brief touching of hands, even though he had often imagined holding her this way. Lord in heaven, he wanted more of her. She was so unlike the women he had known before. So innocent, so pure and untainted. One day soon, she would be his devoted wife. What harm was there in expressing his feelings for her?
He leaned his head closer to her, taking in the sweetness of her scent. Brushing back her hair, he lightly touched his lips to her neck – and in an instant, the jarring sensation of her rebuff struck him. She pushed at him, her intent to escape more than clear.
“Marian, do not go,” he pleaded with her. But she shook her head wildly.
“You are too bold, Sir Guy! I will not allow such behavior from a man not yet my husband!”
He tried to hold to her, but she flew from the room as if she intended to escape the very devil himself. And as he watched her go, Guy slowly sank into his chair.
I am the very devil, he said to himself. And I shall be forever cursed with darkness.