Whispers in the Storm
AN: This takes place during 1x09 - after the famous hug. This is already long-published under my other penname - 'Gnimaerd', but I thought it was worth boosting the RH section on this site, so it's going up here, too.
When she comes back to him that night, there are tears in her voice.
"How are you feeling, father?"
No better, of course – but that will worry her, and she has enough to worry about, "a little better, I think, my dear," he sits up, manages a weak smile.
She sighs, reaching for the bowl and rag that sits by his bedside so that she can cool his fever, "you are lying to me." But there's no anger in the statement, only a resigned exhaustion. She is so tired – he cannot remember when he has seen her so weary. Such shadows under those red-rimmed eyes, the whites filmy and pink, bruised with tears. She has been crying – hard. Sobbing, somewhere quiet where she wouldn't have been overheard. He knows his Marian; just like him; just like her mother. They are a family of stubbornly strong people.
"What has happened today, Marian?" He asks, knowing she wont tell him all of it.
"Guy is – " she swallows hard, shakes her head and smiles bitterly, putting the rag to his forehead.
"What has he done?" He feels a well of concern, and a deep, helpless anger. His daughter, tied to such a cruel, manipulative man, and he, her father, can do nothing! Not a thing to protect his own flesh and blood from that creature's lecherous fingers! If he has touched her, molested – he begins to cough, his chest tightening.
"Father," Marian hastily helps him to sit further forward, rubbing his back, "you mustn't get worked up, it isn't good for you."
"What has he done, Marian?" he demands, drawing a quick, ragged breath, knowing that now she certainly will not tell him.
"Nothing," she soothes, soft and warm, "nothing, father. He was only – being as he always is. Everything is – it will be fine, father. Lie back."
He does not tell her that he knows she is lying. Accusations will get them nowhere, and she clearly needs what meagre comfort he can offer her now.
He lies back against his pillows, and she fusses over him, adjusting his covers and fetching him water, combing his hair, mopping his brow. The activity is soothing her, he can see. She is distracting herself, throwing herself into the task of his care until all else ceases to matter.
"Have you…" he hesitates, wondering if he should – well, she'll only lie to him. "…seen Robin, of late?"
She glances up, sharply, then down again, not meeting his gaze, "not today, father."
Another lie, but he lets it slide away, wondering when this game of bluff and double bluff became such a natural part of their relationship, "I should… like to speak to him, at some point, Marian. There are… some things… about the court, and the sheriff, he needs to know."
"I think Robin knows quite enough about the sheriff already, father," the barest spark of amusement – the thought of Robin, even here, makes her eyes lighten for a moment.
"There are some affairs I would… like him to know of," he insists, firmly, "so if you…" he coughs again, "if you do encounter him during your travels in the next few days, Marian – if you could direct him to us, sometime after midnight."
"Yes, father," she agrees, fidgeting with his blankets again. "are you comfortable?"
"Quite comfortable, my dear," he nods, "go to bed. You seem so tired."
"I'm quite well, father," she tells him, that kindly, innocent face coming so easily to her expression – though it doesn't reach her eyes. She kisses his cheek, and she smells of lavender, blood, sweat and the shuddering exhaustions of a terrible day, murmurs, "I love you," as she gets up.
He smiles as best he can, "I love you too, my dear."
Another smile as she leaves, but he can still feel her tears on his cheek.
Neither does she go to bed, of course. Edward listens intently, and, after a few moments of stillness, hears her footsteps, light and hurried, heading back down the stairs into the main hall – Mother Mary, where is she off to now? Has the girl no sense whatsoever? She can't possibly be going out giving food to the poor again, not in her state, and she's surely not stupid enough to wonder off into the night alone in these terrible times –
What little power is left to him as Marian's father, is going to be put into making sure she gets a good night's sleep.
It's not easy, getting out of bed. His old body is not working the way it should, and every muscle groans in protest at the movement – he steadies himself against a wall until his head stops swimming. Then, fists clenched with determination, he limps towards his bedroom door.
The stairs are a challenge, but, somehow, he manages them, gripping the handrail and firmly seeking out every foot hold on the way down. Then across the hall – no, not out of the front door, she will have gone through the kitchen, around the back, towards the stables – he shuffles over the blissfully even flagstones of the floor, pausing only once to catch his breath, leaning against the table, and then on, stopping again in the entrance to the kitchen, holding his ever-tightening chest. It feels as if his lungs have been somehow transformed into a pair of old, ill-repaired bellows, creaking and ripping with every puff.
The back door is standing ajar, which is unusual, and a testament to how tired Marian must be. She is never one to make such careless mistakes.
The night is dark and starless, a thick blanket of smoky blue clouds obliterating any light to be had – it must be past midnight by now. There's a single lamp, burning in the stables across the courtyard – thank goodness, he's caught her before she's had chance to make off.
He hobbles over the yard, then pauses to lean against the well, stifling a cough, and suddenly catches the unmistakable sound of human voices coming from the stables. He's too far away, and his ears are too old, to quite catch what is being said or who is involved in their exchange, but it's definitely a man and a woman – the woman must be Marian.
A kind of fatalistic curiosity taking over him, he begins to limp forward again, until he has reached the stable door, and leans against one wall, out of sight of the building's inhabitants. That is definitely Marian's voice, low and tired – and those are a pair of very familiar boots, swinging in and out of sight, their owner perched on one of the stall gates just inside the door.
"What are you doing here anyway, Robin?" Marian, impatience and a desperate kind of strain in her voice.
And yes, that is Robin of Locksley, bold as brass, answering with a smile in his tone, "I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"I'm fine," a thud and dragging sounds – Marian must be moving some of the tack for the horses about.
"Of course you are," there is a resignation in Locksley's voice that makes Edward want to actually see what they are doing. As much as the guilt of spying on his daughter will gnaw at him, he is also fully aware that he is unlikely ever to know the true nature of Marian's relationship with the boy if he doesn't. And he needs to know – how else can he at least try to make provision for her? Lay down some plans for after he has gone?
The old man edges closer to the door and sinks to a sitting position – he is afforded an almost unrestricted view of the interior of the stables through the gap where one of the wooden slats of the front wall has warped away from its neighbour.
Yes, there is Robin, perched on a stall gate, swinging his feet, nonchalant and unaffected as ever. And Marian, combing out of the main of her bay mare, with brisk, business-like strokes. She's distracting herself again, deliberately ignoring the outlaw sitting not two feet from her.
"Marian," Robin leans back, holding onto a post to keep his balance, trying to meat her gaze, "Marian, would you look at me?"
She rolls her eyes, sighs and turns to meet his gaze, one hand on her hip, "what?"
"Look me in the eye and tell me that you are emotionally well," Robin demands, and his tone is not one that Edward has ever heard anyone use on Marian – fierce and firm and concerned, stubborn.
Marian answers by hurling her brush aside and looking away from him.
Robin sighs, tries another tack, "how is your father?"
Marian shakes her head, firmly, clamping one hand over her mouth. Robin, sensing a struck nerve, hops nimbly from the gate and goes to her, and suddenly his expression is tender enough that Edward wants to weep for both of them – such concern from this otherwise seemingly unfeeling boy. Robin stands before her, quirks his head, trying to meet her gaze once more, finally puts a hand on her shoulder and almost bends double, "Marian – Marian, I cannot help you if you do not talk at me."
"You cannot help me," and Edward feels his heart skip a beat as he hears the sob in his daughter's voice, harsh and forceful.
"I can… be kind to you, saying soothing things," Robin offers, smiling sweetly at her. She laughs, shortly, and shakes her head.
"I hear nothing but soothing things all day, Robin," she pushes past him, "I just find it more difficult to believe them these days. That's part of the problem, I suppose." She pauses, frowning, then covers her face with her hands and begins to cry, hastily turning away from Robin, as if she can somehow stop him from noticing.
Edward bights back every impulse to go to his emotionally shattered daughter and gather her to him, as he watches Robin sigh, and reach for her, and pull her into an earnest embrace. "Hush," he murmurs, laying his cheek against the top of her head, "hush."
For a few, sickening seconds, all that can be heard are the sounds of Marian's sobs, muffled against Robin's chest. He rocks her tenderly, kisses the top of her head – and she doesn't protest. Edward feels himself itching to intervene – what if he tries to take advantage? – but stops himself. The fact is that even in the dim, flickering light of that single, burning lamp, Robin looks as distressed as Marian does, his face drained, his eyelids heavy, his face pale.
Marian's next words are almost inaudible through her tears, and it takes Edward a split second to comprehend them, although Robin appears to understand instantly.
"He is going to die, Robin," her voice is thick, the words barked out between a volley of sobs, "he is going to die and there is nothing I can do."
"Marian…" Robin smoothes her hair.
"I can't," never has Edward heard his daughter this distraught – not since the tantrums of her childhood, or the day that Robin announced that he was leaving for the holy land, "I can't do this on my own, Robin, I need him. I just can't – " her last words are drowned beneath more tears, her knuckles whitening on his shirt.
"Marian, you will never be alone," Robin breathes it into her hair like a promise, "not as long as I have air in my lungs will you be without a friend, do you understand?"
Marian gasps and shudders, closing her eyes tight, "he can't die, Robin," she tells him, "he can't."
"Parents die, Marian," Robin answers, softly, "we both know that. They die and they leave us alone in this world, all the time. Everyday. They can't help it any more than we can. We can only keep on living – it's the only way to honour the dead." He pauses, allowing his words to sink in, before continuing, in a more gently jovial tone, "And your father is not dead – you know, this panic attack of yours feels a little premature."
Marian thumps him, beginning to laugh through her tears.
"Ow!" Robin smiles, still holding her tight, "you see – there's the woman I know and love."
"Shut up, Robin," Marian hisses, her smile tremulous against his chest. Robin tips her head back, boldly resting his hands either side of her face, wiping away tears with his thumbs, inspecting her critically. "This is the second time in a day I have seen you cry, Marian – and I must say I don't like it."
Marian laughs, shortly, scrubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, "I'm tired, Robin. That is all."
"Of course it is," Robin shakes his head, and Edward realises that perhaps his is not the only relationship with Marian that is fraught with half-believed deception – they do not lie, precisely, so much as they seem to be keeping certain truths from one another. Such affection mixed with such hesitancy. Old, untold hurts.
Robin frowns at Marian, still stroking her cheeks with his thumbs, "what is it about Gisborne's betrayal that frightens you so, Marian?"
Even Edward recognises that that is a mistake – he knows full well how his daughter hates to be questioned over Gisborne – and what is this betrayal?
Marian withdraws from Robin instantly, pushing him away and going to stand further back in the stables. Robin is, however, unperturbed, apparently having decided that, now he has started, he might as well continue this line of questioning. "You know the man has no conscience, Marian."
"No human being on this planet is born without a conscience, Robin," Marian snaps back, coldly.
"Maybe so," Robin replies, "but that doesn't mean everybody keeps theirs."
"Gisborne has a conscience."
"People do not change, Marian!" Robin's exasperation is suddenly tangible, "Gisborne will not change – he has proven that!"
"You changed," Marian's retort is swift, "you have, Robin. Not everything – not what is most obvious. But you have, in places that you guard, you have changed. I see it, Much sees it – perhaps because he is changed with you. But you have changed – surely that is proof enough of the ability."
"The world has changed, Marian," Robin's voice is quiet, weary, suddenly, "I have not. I have only adapted – survived as best I could. Like you. Like all of us. That is what war does to people – hardship, conflict."
"Gisborne has been in the Holy Lands too," Marian's voice is forceful, "if that makes such good men could it not plant some seeds of enlightenment in him?"
Robin laughs, the sound bitterly twisted in his mouth, "Marian, the crusades will do one of two things to a person – they will make him the best of himself, or they will make him the worst. And sometimes I do not know which they did to me, but I know they did nothing to enlighten Gisborne – and part of me does not blame him for it. The sights – Marian, do you know what we saw, out there?"
"You've never once seen fit to enlighten me," Marian is still cold.
Robin shakes his head, knits his fingers behind his neck, then grins, fierce and haunted looking in the gloom of the stables – he's wreathed in shadow, eyes glittering. "Once, there was a battle, lasted… perhaps three nights solid – not a break. Not once. We fought in shifts. I didn't sleep for a day and a night and nearly another day, until eventually I fell into the sand, unable to move, and I slept there, under the sun, not caring whether I lived or died. I slept through the night and was awoken the next morning as the sun began to blaze again, by the smell, Marian – the most fowl thing you will ever come into contact with – the air was so heavy with it I could hardly breathe. If I'd had anything in my stomach I would have been sick. When I got to my feet, and looked out over our camp, over the desert, I thought I must still be asleep – must be walking inside a nightmare – because it was unreal, what I could see.
"The sand was red. Scarlet. Patches were brown. Others were bright crimson – pools, glistening, everywhere, crimson pools and red sand. And the smell was blood – the sand had been soaked through for as far as the eye could see with the blood. And the bodies, because everywhere, Marian, there were bodies. In all directions, red sand and rotting flesh and that was it. Our camp was… perhaps a mile from the Saracen one, and you could see straight towards it, and the sand that separated us was red, and you couldn't tell which bodies were ours or theirs and the fact was that it did not matter, Marian. Not a bit. Because after a man is dead they are only flesh, soaking the sand red.
"And that is what I saw, Marian – that is what we all saw. Not for the first time, or the last. It happened to the point where I lost count, and where the smell no longer made me want to wretch. It's so strange, what a person can tolerate if he's around it enough."
Marian has turned away, her eyes, pools of icy white in the gloom, wide with horror.
"And when you see that enough, Marian, there's one of two things can happen," Robin continued, softly, "you become allergic, or you become addicted."
"I cannot believe that Gisborne is just some less than human savage beast, Robin," Marian crosses her arms, swallowing her repulsion at the image Robin has laid down before her, her tone forcing Robin to take a step back and taking Edward by surprise. Why is she defending someone he knows for a fact that she hates with every fibre of her being? "He is human. He is cruel, and he is manipulative and he broods and he schemes, but he is, under all that, a human being, with thoughts, and with complex emotions. At some point, there was a decent man where Gisborne is now – and a part of that man is still fighting for survival."
"Do you honestly believe that?" Robin's expression is somewhere between absolute incredulity and total disgust at the idea, "for God's sake, Marian, you have more sense – "
"I have to believe that!" Marian cries, clearly on the verge of losing her temper, "you are not the one who has to marry the man, Robin! You can condemn him all you want – you will never have to share his bed!"
Edward flinches, feeling his heart clench, his chest tighten – the terrible predicament his daughter is in has suddenly become crystal clear.
"And that is what frightens you?" Robin suddenly showing more insight than Edward had credited him for, "that you will have to marry a man you are finding it increasingly difficult to believe has even a single spark of decency in him?"
"I am not afraid," Marian folds her arms, "there is no point in being afraid. It is going to happen – I can only… prepare."
Robin is shaking his head, "it is not going to happen, Marian. I am not going to let it happen."
Marian snorts, inelegantly, "and what, exactly, do you plan on doing, Robin? Are you going to ride in as the vows are being said? Carry me from the alter, sling me over your shoulder and ride off into the sunset?"
Robin grins, the image apparently appealing to him, "well, now you mention it – I mean, I might have to employ a few of my outlaws to cover the crowd. But I'm sure we could manage something along those lines."
"Robin!" Marian is appalled, "if you so much as – "
Robin tips his head back and laughs, delighted to have provoked her, and she gives him a shove as she passes him, pacing to the other end of the stables again, "grow up!"
"Oh, now, come – that would be fun," Robin is still mightily amused, "can you imagine, the look on Gisborne's face if I were to – I'd have to do something dramatic, you know, like come in on a horse – maybe put an arrow into the alter – and then I say something suitably flippant maybe, ah!" He leaps atop another stable gate, gripping the post and hanging backwards, apparently imagining himself to have just swung through a window, "Not too late for cake, am I?" He puffs out his chest, then changes his mind, "no – that's stupid – Marian, help me, what should I interrupt your wedding with?"
Marian is leaning against a stable gate opposite him, arms folded, cynical amusement in her eyes. "I am not going to help you with this."
"Oh, come on! This is your event as much as mine – what should I say?" Robin waves a hand, "take your hands off my wife! – no, that's a little premature – drop the ring and step away from the bride!"
Marian picks up a handful of grit from the floor, and flicks some of it at him, "Robin, stop it."
"Sorry, wrong church?" Robin suggests, neatly ducking more grit, "I couldn't find the door?" he begins to jump from gate to gate, hastily dodging Marian's grit-assault, "She'll only break your heart!" Another jump, beginning to laugh now, "She's got a sword and she knows how to use it! She's the Nightwatchman! She's a man!" the last one merits an outraged shriek from Marian, who promptly catches at his feet as he jumps nimbly past her, sending him with a thud into one of the empty stalls, and out of Edward's eyesight. "You can't marry her!" Robin finishes, sounding a little more muffled, "you can't marry her because I – " he coughs, laughing again, sounding a little winded. Marian also disappears from sight, apparently going to make sure he hasn't cracked his head open on the stall floor.
"Fool," she groans from just beyond Edward's eyesight, "honestly, Robin, are you trying to kill myself?"
"Because I love her," Robin finishes, his voice still slightly muffled. He half laughs again and there is a rustling of clothes and scraping, "because I love her."
He sounds a little unsteady, as if he really has hit his head – or perhaps is only hesitating as he realises the implications of his own foolhardy declaration.
"Sit up," Marian sighs, softly, and there is more rustling, and a soft gasp of in-drawn breath – though from which of them is difficult to tell. And then silence, permeated only by that slight scraping sound; somebody shifting a little; folds of cloth on cloth; and there, the unmistakable, soft, wet sound of lips come away from lips in the gloom.
Suddenly, Edward feels as if he is intruding upon something entirely too private – two people, huddled together in the storm of a chaotic world, fumbling for comfort in the dark.
"I will never let him touch you," Robin's voice is hushed – Marian must be close to him, perhaps in his arms; perhaps leaning on his shoulder; or perhaps he is leaning on hers. His voice, however, is still near the ground – they are sitting. "Not if you don't want it – never."
Marian's answer is a sharp, bitter laugh, "I will never let him touch me, Robin."
"No, you wont," he agrees, a smile colouring the words, "you are so beautiful, Marian."
"Your charms again, Robin," there is something in Marian's voice which Edward does not recognise – there is barely a trace of his delicate, precious little daughter there; that is the voice of a woman, knowledgeable about all sorts of things that his little girl should not be knowledgeable about.
"They ceased to work on you at least five years ago," Robin speaks with soft amusement, "I know – but I am telling you the truth."
Another silence and rustling clothes. A long, exhalation of breath – Marian? That sounds like her sigh.
"You promised me, that I would never be alone," She begins, her voice barely above a whisper.
"You have my word," he breathes it out.
"You have made that promise before," and that hurt is there, trembling just beneath the surface of the words. "I was alone for five years, Robin."
Another long pause, shaky and cool.
"I wish," Robin's voice is suddenly clear, though it is still low, intimate, "I wish that I hadn't left, Marian. Every night – there is not one goes by when I don't wish…"
"Is it true – about the blood, and the sand?"
"I wish it weren't."
Another pause, clothes shifting, "I am sorry you witnessed such things, Robin."
A short, bitter laugh, "so am I. If I had stayed, perhaps I could have… I could have stopped the Sheriff becoming so powerful in the first place, perhaps – "
She hushes him, gently, "Robin, you would have been… twenty – twenty one years of age, if that, when the new Sheriff arrived. Barely into your second year as an Earl, running your estate – and… and… you would still have been as you are. You would have done exactly what you did when you returned, and gotten yourself outlawed – probably hanged, by now. And then where would any of us be?"
More rustling – does she put her arms about him, or does he stroke her hair?
"How can you swear to me that you will never leave me alone, after all that has happened, Robin?"
"I can give you my word," he takes a breath, "and it is a better word than it was five years ago. A word from blood soaked sands. I would never be stupid enough to leave you again, Marian."
"Then that will have to do," she sighs, and Edward hears again the pair of them fumbling in the dark – he thinks of hands in hair and curled bodies about each other, and he realises that he can no longer bear this.
His feet do not find him easily, but he manages, clinging silently to the stable wall for support. He holds himself in the dark, sees his daughter in the entrance of the stables, not a foot away from him, and oblivious as she kisses Robin of Locksley goodnight. The shadows clinging to them do not quite disguise the ghostly pale flesh of their faces and hands. Marian's hair is loose now, about her shoulders, and Robin is toying with it like he doesn't know how it came to it's current length. Their foreheads resting together, and there are soft words of warmth and sweet sincerity. He kisses her hand and she fidgets, pushing his hair back from his face, straightening his collar. Then she steps away from him, with only a trace of reluctance making her drag her fingers from his, and she hurries away, without looking back, towards the main house.
Hood lingers for a moment, leaning against the stable doors. The young man's spirit seems to shimmer between blissful contentment in the wake of his beloved and old, desperate concern. Those eternal horrors, the worries of the day, still sit heavily on his shoulders. The mantel of a leader, still doubtful of his role. Once Marian has closed the back door behind her, he begins to walk across the yard, to where he has presumably left his horse, in some inconspicuous shadow.
Edward thinks only a moment before calling after him.
Robin jumps, startled, spinning round – it takes him a moment to make out the figure, in the shadows of the stables. "Sir Edward?" Incredulity seeping into his voice as steadily as ink across a wet page.
"Come here, boy."
"Sir Edward, you should not be out here," Robin obeys, coming back to the stable doors, "you are ill – you should be in bed."
"You sound like my daughter," Edward chastises, turning a cough into a low, tired chuckle.
Robin shakes his head, "she will throw a fit if she finds you out here, sir."
"Then she had better not discover my whereabouts," Edward answers, pointedly.
Robin quirks his head in acknowledgement, "how long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to reassure myself that my daughter had not taken it into that foolish head of hers to go for a midnight stroll," Edward replies, and really has to cough this time, his chest constricting painfully about his ribs.
"Sir Edward, you are not well," Robin hastens forward in alarm, catching the elderly man's arm, "you must go back inside – let me help you to the door, at least."
Edward considers refusing the offer – then resigns himself. The courtyard is looking very wide under his increasingly unsteady feat, and he knows that getting back inside unaided will be painful. "Hold onto my arm then, young man. These legs are not what they used to be."
"You seem strong enough," Robin lies, supporting his companion as they set off across the courtyard.
Edward laughs – is deception all these children know? All they have been taught? He thinks of the fool-hardy, fair haired little boy who tried to make his solemn little Marian laugh. Tickling her cheeks and making a dice disappear then reappear behind her ear, baffling his logical four year, and delighting her all the same. It had been the moment he had known, with a great wash of relief, that the unofficial agreement he had with the Locksley's to have their firstborn betrothed to his only heir was not going to need to be retracted.
Marian disappearing in the middle of a court session – a frantic search turning her up in the bottom of a stairwell, using her sleeve to stem the flow of blood from Robin's nose. Marian proudly showing him how she had learned how to turn onto her hands from the Locksley boy, and boasting of how she knew her Latin verbs better than he did.
Marian wretched with sobs and inconsolable in her room the day news reached them of Robin's departure for the Holy Land.
They have reached the back door, and Robin holds it open for him.
"You are a good man, Robin," Edward sighs, shuffling inside.
"I try, sir," Robin answers him, humbly enough.
Edward knows he must say what he feels is necessary or risk never encountering such an opportune moment again, "you must take care of Marian, Robin. When I am gone."
Robin shakes his head, "she can take care of herself, sir."
"Of that I have little doubt," Edward agrees, "I have seen her wield a sword – but that is not what I meant. She needs you, Robin. You will never hear it from her, but she does."
"Not half as much as I need her," Robin speaks it quietly, but the words are sincere.
"That may be so," Edward admits, "but there are certain things I spent her childhood protecting her from that I can no longer… this marriage, to Gisborne – I can do nothing, Robin, do you understand? I… I do not know if I will even be there for the event… But you – whether or not I am there, you will be able to do something. You must not let it happen, Robin. My daughter will not marry that creature for my sake, or for the sake of lands, or politics."
"I have no intention of letting it happen, Edward," Robin tells him.
"Whatever you can do," Edward nods, "I mean – you have my permission to… to… carry her from the alter, if that is what it takes."
Robin grins, "you have my word, sir – though, with a little luck, it wont come to that."
"We can only hope," Edward sighs, "alright, Robin – alright. I have no doubt you have… affairs to attend to. And I must return to my room, before Marian realises I am missing."
"That would likely be a good idea," Robin agrees, "good night, sir."
"Good night, Robin," Edward nodding, stepping inside the kitchen.
He watches as Robin turns and strides away into the dark, then closes the back door, and blows out the lamp, before the candle can flicker away of its own accord.