"Winifred! Winifred!"

Marion's heart sank when she realized the maid was already out of earshot. Sometimes she wished that young girl was not so spry. Someone had to help the weary man out of his mail. She knew no one else was around if Winifred had already returned to the stables to flirt with the stable boys. As improper as it was, Marion saw no other choice. She would have to be the one to assist the strange man.

Marion's senses were assaulted as soon as she approached him. The new comer stank of sweat, horse, and other smells she could not name. The man spoke no words, save to direct her hands, instructing her in which pieces of armor had to be removed first.

Marion bit her lip slightly, surpassing her tears as she worked on the warm, metal links of the man's coif and the contrastingly soft, leather laces of his jerkin. This was how she was supposed to treat her husband when he should arrive home. This was an action for a wife, not for a newly made widow.

Silently she wondered if this man had a wife who awaited him somewhere, and if so, Marion wondered if she would be pleased with her hospitality. Robin, she believed that was his name, was strong and handsome, for all that he was a commoner. He seemed to also be polite and gentle. Such a man surely deserved the comfort of a home and a family after such a lengthy time at war.

Her husband certainly deserved that comfort, but the time for comfort had passed for Sir Robert of Nottingham. There could be no soothing him now.

Marion could not help but tremble as she felt the smooth, hard muscles of the man's shoulders and back as she continued to help him undress. Her grief remained barely checked, hidden under her calm demeanor, but ever present in her heart.

She had not loved her husband. She knew that. Still, Robert had been a good man. Marion had dream of him often during the ten years of his absence, often imagining a homecoming similar to the scene she was now acting out with a man she had only recently met, a man who should have been her husband. She sighed softly, lamenting what could have been, wondering what would become of her now that she had no husband and no hope of retaining the home and life she had clung so desperately to these last, difficult years.

The man kept his eyes fastened on the floor when his gaze was not required on his garments. Marion could tell that he was attempting to make this less awkward and painful for her. She was grateful that he did not try to engage her in arbitrary small talk.

For ten years Marion had been a wife. She had had barely a week to act the part. She hoped she had done well with what little time she had with Robert. Perhaps her husband would look down on her from his place in Heaven and smile down upon her. If so, perhaps God would bless her with another opportunity in time. Maybe she could still learn what it truly meant to love and to be a wife.

Marion tugged hard on the end of the man's chain mail and worn cloth undershirt. Ungracefully, he shrugged his way out of his entrapments. He stood, now bare-chested, chest heaving ever so slightly at his efforts. He thanked her and made a move to retrieve his clothes from her, lest he sully her hands.

A chuckle escaped her. Marion could not help but find this amusing. Surely he knew his clothes were to be washed? She informed him of this and shooed him toward his bath, before taking her leave.

This strange and slightly comical character might not be the husband she had long awaited, but he was a welcome visitor nonetheless. Marion shut the door behind herself, attempting to shut it on her grief and worry as well. It wasn't every day that Nottingham had a visitor. Even Walter, for all his immense sadness, seemed to have his spirits lifted by news from the front. Perhaps she should be grateful for the man's presence as well and stop dwelling on the past.