Locksley Manor, Locksley, Nottinghamshire
"So, Guy. I was wondering - has Sir William been taking lessons from you on how to cope with being jilted?" Lady Marian of Knighton's tone was scathing as she stood before Sir Guy of Gisborne with her hands on her hips. Her blue eyes flashed with anger and her dark hair fell in waves around her shoulders. She was lovely in her fury, there was no denying it, but Guy didn't feel the same pang inside.
Marrying her - nay, possessing her - had once been his greatest desire, but not any more. Her words, designed to hit him where it hurt, would previously have riled him into a fit of pique, but they no longer held the same power. In fact, now that his feelings for her had dwindled and his passion had dimmed, he could easily accept that what she said was a valid point.
"Marian, I will forever regret setting light to Knighton Hall and leaving you and your father homeless," he told her, his voice deep and sincere. "I realise now that I was hurt and angry, and should never have followed the Sheriff's orders. This is why I have given you Locksley, albeit temporarily. As a way of showing how sorry I am."
"Locksley is not yours to give," Marian snapped, hotly, then drew back, looking contrite. "But my father is grateful to you, of course. But that is not the point. Guy, you are accompanying William to Yorkshire to burn down Filey Manor, and all because Roana turned him down." She approached him and touched his arm lightly, aware that she no longer had the right to manipulate him, but hoping to make a difference. "It isn't fair. A family will lose their home, and all because Roana does not want to marry a drunk and a rapist."
Roana of Locksley had been Marian's favourite childhood friend, up until she had been sent to live in Filey with her aunt and uncle following the death of her mother. She had reappeared in Nottingham earlier that year, on the arm of Sir William of Bridlington, the Sheriff of Nottingham's cousin. Upon discovering that her long-lost brother, Robin, had been outlawed, Roana had broken off her betrothal to William and escaped from Nottingham Castle, taking up with Robin and his gang in Sherwood Forest.
That Robin Hood was Marian's beloved was neither here nor there. Roana was her friend, and Marian would fight tooth-and-nail for the people close to her. If that meant cosying up to Guy of Gisborne, then so be it.
Guy glanced down at her hand, graceful against his black leather, and his mind instantly thought of another's hand, and the way it felt when it touched him. His former feelings for Marian were nothing compared to the love he had now. He glanced at Marian, sharply, and she moved her hand immediately, reading the rebuff in his eyes.
"Guy," she implored, trying one last time. "Please rethink your actions. I can't imagine Alice would want to see her home burnt the ground."
Guy looked chagrined for a moment as he thought of Alice. Marian was right, again. His beloved Alice was not happy about Bridlington's plans, and had begged Guy to change his mind. But Bridlington was nothing if not determined and vengeful in equal measures, and he had the Sheriff of Nottingham's full backing. Guy didn't have a say in the matter.
"Marian, there is nothing I can do or say to change Bridlington's mind, and believe me, I've tried," Guy told her, his tone grim.
"Try again, once you are on the road. For Alice's sake." Marian left it there, knowing the impact it would have on him. For a while, she and Guy had been close, and she felt that she could read him quite well. Although her feelings for him had differed greatly to the depth of emotion he had held for her, she had nevertheless cared for him in a small, hidden way. Anybody could see that he was desperate to be loved. He had never quite recovered from the death of his parents all those years ago, and had been looking for somewhere to belong ever since. He had made a number of bad decisions along the way, and had gained himself a reputation for being ferocious and evil, but Marian had begun to see a softening in him since he had met Alice. The odd little maid, former assistant to Roana, had made quite an impression on him, and Marian knew that mentioning her name would break down his defences.
He glowered at her, aware that she was exploiting his emotions. He could read Marian a lot better now than he had ever been able to during his monumental crush. He understood why she was doing it though, and he relented slightly, sending her a faint, lop-sided grin.
"I can't promise anything. But I'll see what I can do."
Marian beamed at him, and he noted her beauty once again, but merely as an appreciation.
"Thank you, Guy," she said, sounding grateful. "And now, what can I help you with?"
Guy had been paying a final visit to Locksley before he left for Filey later that morning. He was leaving the estate in Sir Edward, Marian's father's, safe hands. After Guy had burned down Knighton Hall under the Sheriff's orders, Marian and Sir Edward had been inprisoned in Nottingham Castle, where Edward's health had deteriorated quickly. Filled with hurt and anger at Marian's rejection, Guy had taken a certain despicable pleasure in seeing the once-formidable ex-Sheriff dwindle into a shadow of his former self, and witnessing Marian's distress at his illness. However, Alice had shown him the error of his ways, and he had moved the elderly baron and his daughter to Locksley Manor, ostentatiously to improve Sir Edward's health, but also to remove Marian from temptations way so he could concentrate on wooing Alice. It hadn't felt right at the time, carrying on with Alice while Marian was still in the castle. Part of him had felt a degree of guilt, almost as if he had been betraying her. But, as his feelings for Alice developed, his obsession with Marian began to fade, until it was a distant, and not entirely pleasant, memory. He was aware that he had acted foolishly, and destructively, in his past, and taken a lot of his anger out on Marian. He wasn't proud of the man he had become as the Sheriff of Nottingham's Master-at-Arms. But maybe there was still time to redeem himself in the eyes of the people he cared about the most.
As it transpired, Sir Edward had recovered admirably in the less austere environment of Lockskey Manor, and was now thriving. Once a respected Sheriff, Guy knew that he could trust Edward to oversee Locksley in his absence, and it would hopefully help to build bridges that he had endeavoured to destroy previously.
"Is Sir Edward available?"
Marian inclined her head, graciously, her cheeks dimpled as she continued to smile, safe in the knowledge that she had Guy onside. "I will fetch him for you."
Leaving Guy waiting in the main hall, Marian hurried through to the kitchens in search of her father. Edward was settling into his role as temporary lord of the manor with ease, and was in the midst of his daily walk around the estate with the steward, Thornton. They tended to gravitate towards the kitchens at this time of the day as the cook removed her biscuits from the ovens to cool.
"Ah, Marian, my dear," Edward said in delight as Marian entered the kitchen to find, as expected, her father and Thornton sampling the sweets. "Come and taste this delicious baking. The best in Nottingham."
Daisy, the cook, blushed and laughed, modestly, flapping a floury cloth at him.
"Father, Guy is here to see you," Marian said, eyeing the tray of cooking biscuits with interest. "He's waiting in the Great Hall."
"Is he now? Excuse me for a moment, Thornton," Edward said, hurrying out of the room.
As soon as he had disappeared, Marian moved closer to Thornton, lowering her voice, conspiratorially. "Thornton, I need your help. I intend to leave for Filey as soon as possible, so I can catch up with Robin. Please can you arrange a horse for me, and a companion."
Thornton looked alarmed. "But, my lady.."
"No questions, please, Thornton," Marian interrupted, firmly. "I have to go. My friends need me, and I cannot rely on Guy to stop what is about to happen. I will inform my father myself before I leave. Can I trust you to help me?"
Thornton regarded her with trepidation, his lips pressed together into a thin line, before he nodded once, worry in his eyes. "Yes, my lady."
"Thank you." Marian turned to leave. "I aim to depart within the hour."
Avoiding the Great Hall, Marian hurried up the stairs and into her room, where her maid, Eve, was cleaning. Marian paused, looking at her, and Eve became flustered.
"I'm sorry, my lady." She began to collect together her things, hurriedly, and moved towards the door.
"Wait," Marian said. "I may need you."
Eve slowly put down her cloth and bucket, watching Marian, carefully. Since she began working at Locksley Manor a few days previously, Eve had noticed a slight hostility in Marian's attitude towards her, and guessed it was related to the fact that she, Eve, had once been a spy for the Sheriff. But those days were behind her, and she longed to move on from who she had once been.
"How may I help you, my lady?"
Marian moved to the chest under the window and began to rummage through the clothes within. "I'm going away for a short while. I need to prepare to leave shortly."
"Where are you going, my lady?" Eve was mildly surprised as Marian pulled out trousers, a tunic, and a cloak, and turned to the maid.
"Help me out of this dress," she ordered, her manner brusque yet preoccupied. "I have to find Robin in Yorkshire and help him to prevent Bridlington from burning Filey Manor."
Eve had no idea who Bridlington was, or why he was planning to burn down a manor house, but she moved to assist Marian, quickly, realising the importance of her journey. Marian wasn't like any noblewoman Eve had met before, and, for that, she earned Eve's grudging respect.
"You're going alone, my lady?"
Marian pulled the tunic over her head and paused to regard Eve, thoughtfully. "Thornton is finding me a companion. But maybe I need an assistant too."
Eve glanced at her then lowered her head, concentrating on tidying Marian's hair up. "An assistant, my lady?"
"Yes. Can you ride?"
Startled, Eve considered the question. "Yes. Yes, I can, my lady."
"Then prepare yourself for journey," Marian told her, firmly. "We will be on the road for at least two days. Wear clothes suitable for spending long hours in the saddle."
"Yes, my lady." Eve curtsied and collected her things, leaving the room hurriedly. She wasn't convinced that Sir Edward would allow her to leave her post, but Marian was a force to be reckoned with, and it wasn't Eve's place to decline orders from the lady of the house. She made her way to the laundry room to deposit her bucket and cloth and then went to her sleeping quarters, a small feeling of excitement beginning to build in the pit of her stomach. It wasn't often that she had the chance to embark on an adventure.
Upstairs, Marian finished dressing and collected her bow and quiver of arrows before descending to the Great Hall, where her father was perusing important documentation left by Guy. He glanced up at Marian with a smile, then did a double-take as he clocked her outfit.
"Marian, what are you doing?" His tone contained a note of warning. The last time he had seen his daughter dressed in such an outfit, she had been masquerading as the Night Watchman, the name the inhabitants of the villages surrounding Nottingham town had given to the masked rider who delivered them food and supplies by night, disregarding the Sheriff's strict rules. Discovering that Marian was the Night Watchman had been a huge shock to Edward, who feared for her safety in the face of the Sheriff's continued attempts to apprehend the masked outlaw. But trying to prevent Marian from doing anything was an exercise in futility, a fact Edward had ascertained to his dismay.
"I am going to Filey, Father." She held up her hand, pertinently, when he started to speak, and continued in one breath. "I cannot allow Roana and Robin to deal with this while I am stuck here. I have to do something to help them."
Edward, who had been expecting as such from his wilful daughter, sighed. "Very well, Marian. When are you going and who are you travelling with? Because you cannot go alone."
Shocked into silence, Marian regarded him. She had expected more of a fight, and had been prepared to argue her case vehemently. But it had been easier than expected, and for that, she was grateful. Robin and the gang had left the previous day, so she would need to depart soon and ride hard if she had a hope of catching up with them before Filey. But Marian was nothing if not determined, and, now that she had Edward's backing, there wasn't anything to stop her.