Some of this you will know from the "Origins" story, but there's more new material as well. Let me know what you think! Happy reading! :)
A blazing spew of ash and smoke – the fire of a volcano all around. The flames of hell, spewing up from the earth. The black fumes stealing her breath, and then, silent blackness all around. But only for a moment, for it seemed than in an instant, she was shivering on the side of a snowy mountain, the cold biting at her flesh and freezing her tears. Then, suddenly, all was sunshine and warmth…and someone was calling for her, the voice soft and familiar…
She blinked, waking to the sound of Lucinda’s voice.
“Wake up, child. You are safe now.”
Cassia rubbed her eyes, trying to gain an understanding of where she was and what had happened. A small but pleasant fire was burning in a nearby hearth. She was lying on a cot with a blanket covering her. Her grandmother's voice was comforting.
“Do not fear, my love. We are with Matilda. All is well.”
Looking at the face of the woman sitting by Lucinda’s side, Cassia recognized her great aunt – Lucinda’s younger sister, who shared a striking resemblance to her. Matilda held out a bowl and cup to her.
“Sit up, dearest. You should eat now.”
Her mind was still foggy. What had happened? Why were they here, in Matilda’s little cottage? She looked around, seeing the many faces that were staring at them. Her father, and Stephen, among others. They were safe, thank heaven. But why did they look so concerned? She saw the face of her Great Uncle Garrett – a burly, gruff man of the woods now, but once a blacksmith in the village. He and Matilda, along with their three sons, had long ago removed themselves from the dangers of Nottingham by fleeing to Sherwood Forest. Their home, made of heavy timbers and stone, was hidden deep in the woods, and they lived a peaceful life in it.
But why were they all here, together?
“Lucinda, why are we not at home?”
The reply, given after a hesitant moment, was straight-forward. The truth was not softened.
“The home you knew – the life you knew, is gone. It was all consumed by fire.”
Gone, she thought. Tears filled her eyes. How can it be gone? Why is it gone?
From nearby, Stephen came forward. For the first time, Cassia heard her brother speaking in a kind, gentle tone. She could not remember his voice ever sounding so tender.
“All will be well, dear sister. Father and I, and Uncle Garrett and the boys, we will make a fine new house, right here in Sherwood Forest. There is a pretty spot in a meadow not far from here, one that is only a stone’s throw from a sparkling lake.”
Lucinda rose up suddenly. A look of rage crossed her features, and there came the abrupt sound of a slap. Stephen staggered back a pace, shocked by the strike.
“A pretty picture you paint, you stupid, arrogant fool! Do not attempt to bestow such a comfort on her when it was YOU who nearly killed her!”
She lunged forward again, clearly intent on making another strike, but Robert held her back as the voices in the room rose all at once. They spoke of Robin of Locksley – the one face who was absent. They spoke of the Sheriff of Nottingham. And Guy of Gisborne.
Cassia put her bowl and cup aside. She was tired – the effects of the fire and the entire day itself pressing down upon her. As she put her head down, settling beneath the coverlet, she listened to the back and forth argument.
Guy of Gisborne saved our lives!
One good deed does not make him a hero! It was his hand that lit the fire!
Had he not intervened, your sister and I would have burned to death!
Cassia’s mind drifted away. She thought of the tall, broad-shouldered lieutenant. Sir Guy, with his dark looks and his penchant for dark clothes. She had always been frightened by the sight of him, as so many others were. But now, she thought of him differently – saw him in an entirely new light. Vaguely, she recalled the feeling of being carried from burning heat into icy air. That iciness, the biting cold of the winter air, had probably been the instrument of her salvation. A gift from God.
Sir Guy was our salvation, she thought to herself. And I shall remember it. Always.
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, Guy had grown accustomed to long passages of time without seeing Hadrian. During his father's 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 Hadrian's 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. He was a Master-At-Arms, and such accomplishments 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 his father, they said.
The thought of such an atrocity – of being as cruel, as heartless, and as dreadful looking as his father – 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 become separated from my party, 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.