A/N : I have been very unwell these past two months and had a lot of family pressures, but I am glad that I am finally able to bring the story to a conclusion.
I have researched the effects of Monkshood to the best of my ability. There really was a priory called Domus Dei, in Portsmouth in the medieval times, but about 70 years after the characters would have been there. Artistic licence! LOL
Prisoners of Circumstance – Chapter 23
Robin was in a dark mood. Neither Allan nor Djaq dared make eye contact with him. Allan rubbed his sore head. Marian had a perfect aim and had drawn blood. He felt more than a little foolish for allowing himself to be so easily duped by her.
"I trusted you both! Marian has gone running off to save Gisborne, or just make things worse, and you let her go!"
"I didn't exactly have a choice in the matter." Allan snapped, sick of Robin's lecturing.
"Marian always acts first and thinks later. If she is harmed..."
Djaq was more remorseful about the situation. "I have done wrong, and if anything happens to Marian I will blame myself." She said quietly. Will was angry with her too, but she had let Marian appeal to her softer nature, she knew she would have done exactly the same if had been Will in trouble.
"What's done is done, all that matters now is we get to Portsmouth and help them. We should never have agreed to leave in the first place." Said Will.
"Christopher of Winchester said he had things in hand with his men stationed in the town. I saw no reason to stay; besides the king is not coming."
"Except that we do not leave a man behind." Said Little John.
"Guy is hardly one of us." Much snorted.
"There is no time for a plan; we are going to have to fight our way in." Robin said, grim faced at the idea. "If we are lucky, the sheriff will have only taken a few guards to the meeting with him. Alan, do you know where Bernard's house is?"
"Er, yeah I think I remember."
"Do you know where it is?" Robin shouted at Allan, losing his temper.
"Yes! I know where it is."
"Good, because there is no more room for errors!"
"Robin! Look, there is your horse!" Will pointed to the animal tethered to a post near some houses.
"Well, at least we know Marian has passed this way, whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen. Allan you enter the inn to see if you can find Marian or Gisborne."
Allan got down from his horse and disappeared inside the building. He was soon back and with the news that they had been gone for some time.
"Plenty enough time for Marian to get herself into danger. Did you find out how many men the sheriff took with him?" Grumbled Robin.
"I avoided the guards, I asked a serving maid. She said no more than ten men."
Much looked at him sceptically. "Let's hope your bit of skirt knows how to count then."
Much looked at him, too startled to speak.
"Shut it." Little John snapped.
"Thank you John." Robin replied. "Now maybe we can get back to the matter in hand. Allan, lead the way."
"This way then."
"Girl you are burning the soup!" screamed the cook. She snatched the ladle from Marian's hand.
Marian turned to see black smoke starting to rise from the cooking pot. "Sorry."
"Go and fetch some water from the well, at least you can't burn that. The bucket is over by the door."
Marian hurried across the room, glad to be away from the fire. The oppressive heat of the kitchen was making her feel lightheaded. She grabbed the bucket from its resting place, and looked around her before slipping from the room and into one of the hallways. She kept her head bowed as she walked past a guard. She was walking blind with no idea where to find her husband in the strange house. It didn't look like much from the outside, so how complicated could it be?
"You there, peasant." Sneered a rather familiar and unpleasant voice. "Any sign of our guests yet?"
Bernard! If he saw her face the game would be up. She carried on walking, hoping he was addressing someone else.
She froze at the sound of angry footsteps as Bernard roughly grabbed her by the arm and began to shake her. The bucket slipped from her grasp and clattered loudly to the floor. Her wimple fell off to reveal her dark brown curls. Bernard gasped unable to believe his eyes. He lifted her left hand to his gaze and seeing the moonstone ring resting on her finger as confirmation that this was no happenstance or that his eyes deceiving him.
"Lady Marian! What are you doing here? You are supposed to be unwell...so Guy has been telling us." He grabbed her arm tighter, bruising the tender flesh.
"Unhand me." She cried, twisting in his grasp, but she could not fight him, she had already risked her child enough for one day. She could do nothing but follow as he dragged her along the corridor.
"The sheriff will be very interested to hear why you have been skulking around and dressed as a peasant girl."
They turned the corner and stopped in front of a large oak door. Bernard had to loosen his grip for a moment to open it and Marian took the opportunity, got out her stolen dagger and pressed the point to Bernard's side.
"After you, pig filth." Marian looked at him smugly.
"You wouldn't know the first thing about using that."
"Wouldn't I?" asked Marian pressing the blade more forcefully into his side.
A fine sheen of sweat had broken out on Bernard's face; he was becoming tired of all the knife threats around here. He turned and opened the latch on the door.
In the great hall at the same time:
Guy took a steadying breath and put the two goblets on the tray. Poisoning the whole jug was the only way to hedge his bets. He was willing to forfeit his life if he had to, to safeguard the future of his wife and child. Guy could not see the sly grin on the sheriff's face as he approached him with the tray.
He put the tray down on the table, next to Vasey. "Your wine my lord." Guy urged him,
The sheriff waved it away in a vague manner. "Presently Gisborne. I have other more pressing matters weighing on my mind."
"Such as?" Guy enquired
"Your betrayal Gisborne."
"My betrayal, what do you mean my lord?" Guy faltered for a moment.
"I mean that viper of a wife of yours, meeting with outlaws in Winchester."
"Marian? I do not know what you are talking about!"
Vasey looked Guy up and down. He really did not know about the meeting at the Cathedral or the lost note. Some things did not change, including Marian's perfidy.
"You really don't know, do you Gisborne?" The sheriff smirked at his master at arms. "I wonder what else she has kept from you. Marian met one of Hood's men in the church the night she was attacked. Hood gave her a little love note. Well, not a love note per se, but he did warn her we were up to no good."
"And how do you know this my lord?" Asked Guy, a growing suspicion forming in his mind.
"Because I sent one of my men to follow her and the boy."
"You got one of your men to attack my wife?"
White hot rage flooded through Guy. He watched his every movement, his nerves as tense as a man waiting for a wolf to strike. His hand strayed to the hilt of his sword. The sheriff smiled at him malignantly.
"No, that was nothing to do with me. I was very angry with him, but he got the point." Grinned the sheriff as he unsheathed his dagger and laid it on the table. "Now what I want to know is, was it your plan to poison me with the monkshood or run me through with your broadsword before you were forced to kill the king? You should know by now Guy that I rarely trust anyone. I had your things searched after the note."
Guy smiled to himself, the sheriff still did not know as much as he thought he did.
Both heads turned as the door began to open slowly. Bernard entered the room, his eyes wide with fear and sweating profusely. There was a person at the rear him, but due to his size it was impossible to see who it was.
"Move." A muffled feminine voice sounded from behind him. Bernard shuffled forward a few more paces.
"Marian!" Guy paled as she stepped to the side of Bernard. "What are you doing here woman!"
"I came to rescue you."
Guy sighed in frustration. "I was doing fine Marian. Will you never learn the obey part of marriage?"
She smiled weakly at him. "Probably not."
"Bernard." Vasey rolled his eyes. "I always knew you were pathetic, but to be captured by a woman?" He glanced at Marian. "Here in time to join the sport I see Lady Gisborne. I was just filling your husband in about your rendezvous at Winchester."
"Good and I am here to help rid my husband of a parasite that should have died long ago. Guy knows about how you took his lands and his money."
"Ooh confession time, all we are missing is a priest." Laughed Vasey. "You were gullible Gisborne, what can I say?" The sheriff raised his hands in mock supplication. "Gullible Gisborne...it has a ring to it."
"My Lord?" Bernard reminded him.
"Stop whining Bernard." Snarled the sheriff, his pretence at indifference dissolving. He pushed the tray at Bernard. "Have a drink and calm down."
Guy's gaze narrowed on the sheriff. He opened his mouth, but closed it again. The sheriff smiled at Guy as Bernard took a goblet.
Marian pressed the dagger into Bernard's side. "Try anything and it will be your last drink."
"Sweet irony." Said the sheriff.
Guy's hand tightened on the hilt of his sword again, not trusting the sheriff for an instant. Bernard lifted the goblet to his lips with an unsteady hand. He gulped down the wine, several drops of the red liquid splashing to the floor. The sheriff was quick, moving with a dexterity that no one was expecting and locked an arm around Marian's neck, his dagger resting along the tender flesh of her throat.
Guy's eyes widened in horror as he looked to the surface of the table, in the confusion he had not noticed the sheriff reclaim his weapon.
"Let Bernard go." He whispered softly in Marian's ear. "Be a good girl."
"Marian, no! He is a dead man anyway!" Guy shouted across the room.
Marian feared for her child and she knew the sheriff rarely made idle threats, she threw the dagger to the floor and it skittered across the stones to some unknown corner of the room. Bernard moved away from her.
Bernard turned an ashen white. "What do you mean, a dead man?"
The sheriff chuckled. "I had a suspicion our boy Gisborne here had poisoned the wine. I guess we know the answer to that one now."
"And you let me drink it?" Screamed Bernard.
"Hush now, and take your medicine Bernard. You ceased to be of use to me long ago."
Bernard staggered over to a chair and sat down in it heavily. "I am dying."
"Stop being such an infant it takes a while to work." Snapped the sheriff.
"Let Marian go, you can kill me instead." Guy pleaded.
"Don't worry Gisborne, you will get yours too."
"Guy. I am sorry I only wanted to help." Marian said weakly.
The sheriff viciously dug the edge of the blade into Marian's throat as Guy made a move towards them.
"Come any closer to Marian and the final thing your wife will see is her blood soaking your face."
Guy knew the sheriff meant it, he would slit her throat like an animal to slaughter and care even less. If Vasey carried out his threat he would kill three people with his blade. If Marian died, then he would want to die as well.
"I can't feel my fingers." Moaned Bernard.
"Please, I will do anything." He begged.
"Anything Gisborne? What a broad term." Vasey glanced at the untouched goblet on the tray. "Drink that goblet down to the bottom and I will let Marian go."
Guy swallowed hard and looked at the cup. "Unharmed."
"Unharmed. I give you my word."
"Your word is meaningless." Guy spat at him.
"Of course you are right, but what choice do you have?"
Marian struggled against the sheriff's hold.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you missy." Vasey breathed in her ear.
"Guy, kill him, don't worry about me."
Guy walked towards the table. The sheriff backed up a bit with Marian. Guy removed his gloves and dropped them to the table and picked up the goblet from the tray.
"Don't you dare Guy!" She was almost screaming.
The sheriff pressed the blade harder against Marian's throat, drawing blood. Guy watched it well up run down her throat. He turned back to the cup, looking into its dark depths. He looked back to Marian, she was sobbing uncontrollably.
"I love you Marian."
She shook her head, the tears running down her face. "I love you, but please...Guy."
"It will be alright Marian, let me do this thing and maybe in God's eyes I can wash away some of the blood I spilt in the sheriff's name."
"Found God again Gisborne? How sweet." Mocked the Sheriff.
"Well, I have been working for the devil for the past twenty-four years. I thought it time for a change." Guy replied bitterly.
"Shut up and drink up! We haven't got all day."
Guy closed his eyes to the utter anguish on Marian's face, tilted the cup and pressed the cold pewter goblet to his lips.
"No." Marian whispered hoarsely.
This was all her fault; if she had stayed away he would not have been forced into this situation. Why did she never listen? The man she loved was going to die and he was doing it for her, and for their child and right before her eyes. Marian let up a silent prayer that somehow he would be spared, but she was filled with despair, there was no hope.
"Don't you think it touching Marian, Gisborne is willing to die for love?"
"I hate you!" She cried.
Guy took a breath and swallowed down a mouthful of wine. There was a rush of air and suddenly the cup was shot out of his hand, it clattered to the floor. An arrow lay on the ground next to it. Marian's tears of horror turned to tears of relief as she looked at the spilled goblet on the floor.
"Hood, always crashing the party!" The sheriff rolled his eyes.
He turned to see Robin and his followers, Robin's bow trained on him with deadly accuracy.
"My invite must have gotten lost somewhere. Let Marian go Sheriff."
The sheriff pretended to look like he was considering it for a moment. "Hmm I don't think so; we seemed to have reached an impasse."
Guy took out his broadsword. "It's over, you cannot kill everyone one in this room."
"No, but I can take some of you with me." His grip tightened on the knife at Marian's throat.
Allan crept in through a side door and stood behind the sheriff, unbeknown to him. He spotted his stolen dagger a few feet away from him, unarmed he was eager to retrieve it. He silently plucked it from the floor.
"Give it up Sheriff. There is no victory in this." Allan's voice sounded behind him.
"Ah, Allan the turncoat." Sneered the sheriff.
"I am still loyal to Sir Guy."
"I grow bored of this talk. I think it is time for actions."
"No!" Guy roared, his cry like an animal in pain.
Guy lunged forward, knowing he would never reach the sheriff before he carried out his threat. The sheriff's knife moved across Marian's throat, he got no further as the blade fell from his hand, to the floor. He reached behind his back as a flash of pain shot through him. His fingers encountered the hilt of a dagger, deeply embedded in his flesh.
"Never forget the outlaws... this is for my brother." Allan whispered in his ear, pushing the blade in deeper.
The sheriff staggered over to a chair and sat down, desperately clawing at his back to pull out the dagger, the blood running through his fingers, dripping onto the floor. He coughed, blood bubbling up to his lips.
"Looks like you will have to pay the devil too Vasey." Said Bernard feebly.
Bernard sat slumped in his chair, resigned to his fate, but watching the sheriff with a malevolent gleam in his eye.
"Shut up you idiot." Vasey was gasping for air, as his lifeblood drained away.
"Or what? You have already poisoned me, you can do no more. I am beyond you. See you in hell Vasey." Bernard smiled.
The sheriff was slowly turning blue. He looked at Guy and grinned one last spiteful grin. "See you very soon Gisborne, there is a seat reserved for you in hell, right next to Bernard and I." A gurgling laugh was wrenched from his throat. "You know what this means don't you Gisborne...all of Nottingham is dead." The sheriff's eyes glazed over and he let out a last rasping breath.
Guy and Marian looked at each other, not saying a word. Marian let out a long sigh, the sheriff could hurt them no more.
Guy closed the distance between them, holding Marian tightly in his arms as they were re-united. Marian leaned up on tip toe and kissed her husband as if she would never let him go. Guy held her in his arms as if she would break. They reluctantly parted for breath.
"Woman, what were you doing risking yourself and our babe?" He looked down at her with a look that would have once caused her to tremble with fear, but only made her feel guilty.
"Forgive me Guy. I almost cost you your life. I really will work on the obey part bit in future." She promised him tearfully.
Guy smiled down at her, he could no longer be angry. He was not ready to tell her he had drank some of the poison and there might not be much of a future left between them. He could already feel a numbness invading his limbs as he held her in his arms and his hands felt cold.
Allan sat down on one of the vacant chairs, shaking violently. Robin came over to him. He placed a hand on his onetime comrade's shoulder. "You did well today Allan A Dale. It is never easy killing a man in close contact."
"It felt good, I know it shouldn't but it did." Allan admitted. He glanced at Vasey's lifeless body. The eyes were still open and the face frozen in a horrific grin. He got up from his chair and walked over to him and pulled his dagger from his back, wiping it on the sheriff's tunic, before he closed his eyes.
"Guy, Maz, are you both alright?" Allan asked the couple.
"No thanks to you Allan A Dale, I give you one task to perform..."
"Don't blame Allan; I sort of knocked him out with an ale jug." Marian said sheepishly.
"Sir Guy." Guy turned around to face Djaq.
"What is it?" He asked slightly impatiently.
"I must have a word with you, in private." She said solemnly.
Marian was curious about what Djaq could have to say to her husband, but she nodded to him to go. She was left alone with Robin and Allan.
"So, Marian, what is this I hear you are going to be a mother?" Robin looked at her sternly.
Marian looked at Robin warily, steeling herself for another jealous outburst. He surprised her by grinning and putting his arms around her and embracing her.
"Be happy." He whispered against her hair.
Robin released her. Marian smiled at him her eyes filling with tears again. "Thank you." She was glad to see that Robin had finally matured and could wish her well. She held on to his hand, happy they had at least reconciled in some small way.
Guy returned to her side. She was too busy smiling at Robin, to notice the grim face of her husband's features before he finally schooled them into a wry smile. Djaq knew he had taken some of the poison, she had seen from her vantage point before Robin's arrow had struck. His mouth felt strange and it felt as if his tongue was on fire. It was already working its way through him.
Robin released her hand and walked back over to his men. Little John and Will and Djaq and Much all had matching bleak faces.
"What's with all the gloomy looks, we have reason to celebrate, the sheriff is dead, Marian is safe, what else is there?"
Djaq looked at him, her eyes troubled. "Robin, I think you should know, Gisborne might be dying. He drank some of the poison."
Robin looked back at Marian and Guy. "Does she know?" He asked quietly.
"Is there no hope?" Asked Robin.
"It is beyond my healing skills, is there anywhere you know of in the town?" asked Djaq.
Robin closed his eyes, deep in thought.
"Domus Dei!" Much piped up.
"What?" asked Will.
"Domus Dei! God's House!" Much looked at Robin. "Remember after we arrived here fresh from Acre and you had trouble with a wound that would not heal, we spent a couple of days at Domus Dei!" He said excitedly.
"You're right, the priory! However, we are going to have to handle this one carefully. Marian has had enough upset for one day. Any ideas?"
They thought for a moment.
"Bernard." Little John mumbled. "Did he not say the sheriff had poisoned him?"
The gang glanced at the sheriff's friend. He was still sensible, but twitchy.
"Yes, we can make it look as if we are taking Bernard for treatment and Guy is coming with us. It will hold her off for a while, but she will have to be told."
Marian and Guy walked over to the gathering. "It looks like a little conspiracy is going on here, what are you lot plotting?" asked Marian, playfully.
Robin smiled at Marian and looked meaningfully at Guy. "We think we may have found a way to save Bernard, Guy."
"Save Bernard, but why?" Marian asked confused. "He is dying. He will only be saved to be hung; surely it is a kindness to let nature take its course?"
"Guy, we need you to help us take him to the priory in the town. He might be treated there." Robin looked at Guy again.
"Why do you need Guy to go with you?" She asked.
Guy patted her arm. "Marian with the sheriff dead, I am the next in command here. It is only right that I accompany them to make sure he does not escape."
Marian glanced at the man, sitting in the chair. "I doubt that." She said quietly.
"Remember, you said you were going to work on the obey part?" Guy asked.
Marian nodded. "But do not ask me to leave you again." She pleaded.
Guy sighed heavily. "We will take the sheriff's carriage to the priory, he won't be needing it now, besides it must be growing close to the next chiming of the bell tower, the black knights will soon arrive, it would be better if we were not around."
"What of the black knights?" Asked Much.
"When they arrive to find the sheriff dead, most will scatter in fear of their lives. Christopher of Winchester, no doubt will round them up."
Guy took Marian's hand and led her from the hall, leaving the others to carry Bernard out to them. Little John, best suited to the task, picked the corpulent man up as if he were no more than a child. Marian saw men strewn about the hall floors, mostly unconscious, but a few who would never wake again. Robin and his men had been silent and efficient as any assassins.
They exited the house through the courtyard, few servants were to be seen as they were too busy preparing for the overdue guests and very few took note of them, knowing better than to question their betters they went on their way. The carriage was unmanned; the sheriff's guard were nowhere to be seen. Guy stumbled on the dirt road. His legs unsteady. Marian grabbed at him to try and steady him.
"What is it Guy?" She asked in concern.
"I tripped that is all." He reassured her.
Guy helped Marian into the coach, she sat down. Out of her sight, he leaned heavily against its side, getting his breath back. He looked deathly pale, sweat beaded on his forehead. Guy wiped as his face. Little John put Bernard into the carriage on the seat opposite to Marian. Guy got in and sat down next to Marian, Robin entered the carriage closing the door behind them.
Little John and Much got up on the seat and took charge of the reins. Will, Djaq and Allan followed on horseback. Marian laid her head on the strong, firm shoulder of her husband.
"When I saw you about to drink that poison to save me, all I could see were empty years stretching out ahead without you, and how I would wish my life away until I could join you again."
"No, my love, you would have lived for our child. You will be a good mother...Marian it is no good, I cannot lie to you anymore..."
Guy bowed his head and covered his face with his hands.
"What is it?"
He lifted his head to look at her, taking both of her tiny hands in his. "I must tell you the truth...Robin was too late, some of the poison passed my lips and I drank it."
Marian's eyes widened, she glanced at Bernard and back to her husband. "It was only a little surely...you have to be alright."
Guy shook his head. "I can feel it in my limbs. My mouth burns. We are going to the priory...to see if the monks there can save my life."
Marian grabbed one of his hands tightly. "Providence would not be so cruel to release you from the sheriff, to die now. No, we will put our faith in these monks." She glanced at Robin. "Can we not go any faster?"
"Marian. It is better for Guy if he is not agitated. It will hasten the poison. It is not far to Domus Dei."
Somehow, Marian found the strength to control her emotions on the journey. They had not been travelling long, when the coach came to a stop. The sound of footsteps on the gravel was followed by the door of the carriage swinging open. Much stood there, hand on hip.
"We're here, better get Bernard inside." Much announced. No one moved for a moment. He looked at the faces of the occupants of the carriage. "You know don't you?"
"Let's just get my husband inside." Marian said resolutely.
Guy got up to exit the carriage, but sat back down again as his legs crumpled beneath him.
"Little John!" A few moments later, the shaggy bearded man put his head around the door. "Would you carry him for me? I do not think he can walk." Marian asked.
A monk who had been tending the garden, walked over to the carriage. "How can I serve you?" He asked. A kindly smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
"It is my husband, he has been poisoned."
"Do you know what with?" The monk asked.
"Monkshood." Marian replied. She drew in a ragged breath as she saw the look that passed over the man's face. "You can do something for him, can't you?"
"Bring him inside, let me find a bed for him and make him comfortable." He glanced at the other man. Bernard had a trickle of saliva running down his chin, his symptoms much advanced. "And this man?"
"He took a great deal more poison." Guy replied.
"Bring them both in, we waste time in talk." Said the monk.
Little John reached in and picked Guy up in his arms and carried him through the gate. "Not so long ago, I would have left you to die like a dog on the street for what you did to my family, but a man can change if he wishes to."
He carried Guy through the cool dark corridors to a larger room, filled with patients suffering various complaints. The monk followed them close behind, Marian never leaving Guy's side. Little John looked around the room, unable to find an unoccupied pallet.
"No, not here, follow me." They waded through a narrow path of beds and through into a smaller room with only one bed. "This room we keep for our nobles."
It was a stark, white washed room, occupied by no more than a bed and two stools. A pot lay by the bed to take care of the patients other needs and that was it, but it afforded them privacy. A curtain covered the doorway, presently drawn back. Little John walked in the room and deposited Guy on the bed.
"Thank you." Marian whispered gratefully.
"I have a clean bed gown for your husband my lady. It would make him more at ease than these garments he wears. Would you like someone to help him undress?" Asked the monk.
"No thank you. I will do it myself."
Robin and his men and Allan crowded round the doorway.
"Please, give him his dignity, leave us. I will send word if I need you."
Robin was the last to leave, pulling the curtain across the doorway. "God be with you Marian."
Finally alone, Marian started to unfasten the plain leather coat he wore; glad there was no awkward clasps as she was not sure her shaking hands were up to the task. Guy took her hands in his and steadied them. He finished the job until he was bare-chested. She helped him up and removed his trousers. He sat on the bed naked, waiting for the monk to return with his bed shirt.
The curtain was pulled back; Marian concealed his nakedness against the trespasser, relieved to see that it was only the monk from earlier.
"Thank you," She took the proffered garment, slipping it over her husband's head and pulling his arms through the sleeves. "To who am I indebted?" Marian asked.
"Father Bartholomew." He smiled. "I have to consult with my brothers. I will return shortly. There is something that might be done, a chance. I have to be honest with you, the other man that came with you...he is beyond help. One of the brethren is with him now."
"Please do not leave us." Marian pleaded, placing a hand on his sleeve.
The man smiled kindly at her. "I will not be gone more than a few moments."
Guy lay down on the bed and Marian covered him with blankets. They had won one battle, but the real one was now beginning. She got on the narrow bed with him and put her arm around him.
"We will get through this, my heart."
Guy turned over and looked at her. He gently stroked her face. "I always knew if I was to die, I would want to die in your arms."
She placed a finger on his lips. "No more talk of death. We will not let the sheriff win; do you hear me Guy Crispin Gisborne?"
"Yes Lady Gisborne. I know when you use that tone with me it is best not to brook any argument." He smiled.
Father Bartholomew re-entered the room, followed by a new face. His companion, slight in build, with sandy blond hair, held a wooden casket in his hands, barely looking old enough to shave, let alone tend a patient. It did nothing to calm the creeping desperation that was building inside Marian.
"This is Father Conall. He is not much more than a lad, but he has a gift with healing."
The young monk gave them a shy smile as he came into the centre of the room and assessed the situation. Marian got up self consciously from the bed and walked forward to greet him.
She looked at both men. "You mentioned a possible cure for my husband. What is it?"
"Foxglove." Replied Father Conall.
Marian's heart sank at his words. "No, that is a poison too; do you wish to kill him? I will find another hospital."
Father Bartholomew put a restraining arm on her sleeve. "This is the only hospital. My lady, sometimes fighting poison with..."
Hope rose within her. "Poison...Joseph...Sarah's daughter! Of course! When Joseph, hired by the sheriff, had started killing off the peasants with poison, it was little John's idea to give them deadly nightshade!"
"I know not who this Joseph is that you speak of, but this little John seems to have the right idea. Tell me, what happened to the sick that were administered the deadly nightshade?"
"They all recovered with time." Marian's eyes brimmed with tears. She went back over to the bed and took Guy's hand in hers. "Do you hear that Guy? There is hope."
Father Conall put his casket down on the bed and lifted the lid. There was several corked bottles and scraps of cloth, inside. He took one from it and removed the stopper. He took a scrap of muslin from the box and dabbed a little on the cloth. He knelt down by the bed, bringing the cloth to Guy's lips.
Guy stayed his hand. "Wait, I have one more thing I would wish to do before we do this." He struggled to sit up in bed and reached for Marian and kissed her hard on the lips as if to leave an imprint upon them. Marian returned his kiss, letting him feel her love for him in her touch. They parted and Guy rested his forehead against hers for a brief moment.
"Ready?" She whispered.
Guy nodded and lay back down. Marian held his hand and the monk pressed the cloth to Guy's lips with the lightest of touches.
She looked expectantly at Guy and Father Conall. "When will we know?" She asked.
"If he lives out this night then he has a good chance."
"Wife, I am tired." Guy sighed.
Marian looked at the monk. He nodded at her unspoken question. The two monks exited the room to leave them alone. Marian got back on the bed with him and pulled the covers around them both. She stared into one of the whitewashed corners of the room, illuminated only by an oil lamp.
"Then sleep. I will stay awake."
Marian did not mean to, but she fell asleep. Her condition and the stresses of the day had exhausted her and she closed her eyes not long after her husband. She knew not how long she had slept, but she was gently awoken by a hand on her shoulder, to find Robin standing over her.
Marian glanced at Guy, he was paler than was usual, but looked no worse to her eyes.
"Marian, I would talk with you a moment."
She nodded and rose from the bed and followed him from the room. They stood outside it as she would go no further in case Guy needed her. Robin stared at her for a moment, not sure how to begin, finally he found his voice.
"Bernard is dead. Before he died he did one good thing. He had a document drawn up, confessing to the murder of the sheriff. Nottingham will be safe as it will be seen as nothing as a disagreement between two nobles. He said he would best Vasey yet. Bernard died smiling." Robin looked at her grim faced.
"Was he given foxglove?" Asked Marian, her thoughts only for her husband.
"But he took more of the poison; it does not mean that Guy will..." She could not say the words.
"You must brace yourself for it Marian."
"Marian!" A rasping voice that she recognised barely as her husband's called out to her.
"I must go to my husband!" she cried, angry at herself for leaving him for one moment. "Fetch the monks!"
Guy tried to move but could not, panic was in his eyes. His breathing was coming in short pants and his face had a greyish tinge to it as he fought for breath. Marian took his hand; his fingers were cold to the touch.
"I...saw my father."
"Do not speak, save your breath, the poison is making you delirious."
Guy's body was shaking uncontrollably. Marian placed a hand on his chest; his heartbeat felt thready and was beating rapidly beneath her fingers.
"I am so-sorry Marian, that I could not s-stay and...Love you..." Guy let out a long breath, like a hiss and then room was cloaked in silence.
"Guy?" The heartbeat beneath her hand had gone. It was still. "Guy!" she screamed at the top of her lungs.
Marian would have fallen to the floor if a strong pair of arms belonging to Father Conall, had not caught her. He passed her over to Robin while he tried to examine Guy. He turned to look at Marian and Robin and shook his head.
Robin held her close to him. "I am sorry Marian; I will take care of you. Do not fear."
Marian pulled away from Robin, and she slapped him hard across the face. "My husband lies in that bed and you talk of taking his place?"
Robin took her arms as she became more hysterical. "He isn't dead, he isn't dead. We have a life to live...together."
"He is gone." Robin said softly.
She pushed at Robin with all her might, and rushed back to her husband's side, flinging herself across Guy's chest in her grief. The force of her landing expelled the lingering breath from his lungs. Marian awkwardly twisted round, laying her head against him, her tears soaking his night shirt. Her head shot up as she heard the slow steady beat of a heart beneath her ear.
He opened his eyes. "Woman would you drown me?" Guy croaked, drawing a deep breath into his oxygen starved lungs and expelling it.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again. I thought you were dead."
Guy sucked another huge breath of air into his lungs and let it out slowly this time. "I think perhaps I was for a moment."
"But Father, he was dead." Robin exclaimed.
"Disappointed Hood?" Asked Guy, his breathing still unsteady.
"I have witnessed occurrences of this kind before. Many miracles have happened within these walls. It is not for us to question God's plans for us." He patted Robin on the shoulder and motioned for them to leave the husband and wife alone.
"Do not ever do that to me again or I will finish you off myself." Marian smiled at him through her tears.
"I am sick of lying in this bed." Guy mumbled.
"You are not going anywhere until you are well. So get used to it." She told him firmly.
Guy tried to rise from the pillows, finding he lacked the strength; he sank back down on the bed.
"Perhaps for once you have the right of it." He acceded.
Almost two weeks passed before Father Conall declared Guy well enough to take the journey home. Where was home now? It was an unspoken question that hung between Marian and Guy. Robin would have the right to return to Locksley and a pardon from the King was as good as given. Robin had been a favourite of the king's during his time in the crusades.
It was later discovered that Sir Christopher had not been far behind Robin and the others and had indeed rounded up most of the black knights and they had been taken to London for trial.
During his convalescence, Sir Christopher of Winchester had been a regular visitor to the priory; he had spoken to Guy on a few occasions, asking questions about Gisborough and his ancestral lands that had been stolen from him as a boy. He had been perfunctory, giving nothing away in his manner as to the nature of his inquiries.
Marian helped Guy to dress and they both sat on the bed together in silence.
Guy was the first to speak. "I have had little thought beyond what we shall do when we return to Nottingham. Sir Christopher will be taking the sheriff's place at the castle until a man of good character can be found to take the post. We are to all intense purposes, homeless my love."
"Something will come up; it always does in the end. We could have lived at Knighton hall," She smiled. "I have some very fond memories of the barn there, but I would not want to live in it."
A shadow passed over Guy's face and Marian felt guilty for reminding him of why there no longer stood a house on the Knighton lands.
"Have hope." Said a voice from the doorway. Marian and Guy looked up to see Sir Christopher framing the doorway. "You have done some good service for the king. I have sent a petition off to Prince John some days ago, but no more of that at this moment, except that he will wish to reward you or lose face in this recent plot. The carriage is about to depart. Your things have been collected from the Inn. I for one am anxious to get to Nottingham."
Marian looked at Guy. "I have no idea what that was all about, but time perhaps it shall reveal it's self."
They got up from the bed and followed after Sir Christopher. Guy paused and took one last look at the room before he drew the curtain across the doorway and they walked from the priory after thanking the monks and began their journey back to Nottingham.
The journey home took longer to take into account Marian's condition and Guy's returning health, but three weeks later the coach passed under the archway into Nottingham castle. In some ways it was as if they had never been gone. Everything looked the same. Word seemed to have spread this far north about the sheriff's demise, but the peasants looked no less fearful at the return of the sheriff's coach.
Marian had guards help Guy to his room they used when at the castle. The room was fresh and warmed with a fire. Snow had begun to fall when they had not been too many miles from the castle. It had made the roads harder to travel, but they had managed to get here before they became impassable. Candles lit the room, giving it a cosy feel. Marian felt a slight blush creep into her cheeks as she remembered the last night they had spent in this room.
Guy glanced at her, a slow smile on his face and she knew he was thinking of it too. He sat down in the chair by the fire and slapped his leather clad thigh.
"Come and sit here with me wife."
"Oh no, none of that. You are not yet sufficiently recovered."
Marian relented at the look in his eyes and walked across the room to sit on his lap.
"There are more places than the barn that hold pleasurable memories for me." He said huskily, kissing her fingers.
"Guy!" she said sternly as he kissed her neck. "You are tired."
"Let me show you just how much better I feel. I am sure I can rise to the occasion." He grinned at her.
Their stay at the castle turned into a week, and then into a month, and then three months. February had come and gone and heavy frosts still iced the ground. Robin was a welcome visitor to the castle and was re-instated back at Locksley manor. Allan still stayed on at the castle with them as Guy's right hand man. Much had been given his promised lands at Bonchurch, and Will and Djaq had married and Will had started up his own carpentry business. Only Little John had remained stubborn and returned to his old village, saying fine houses were not for him.
Marian was quite rounded with her child now. There was only four months until the child was to be born. She and Guy achieved a state of blissful happiness now the sheriff was gone, but some nights she would still awake to find Guy gone from their bed and staring out into the dark night through an open window. She could tell he was restless with things in the state they were, but was helpless to do anything. Sir Christopher kept him busy, helping to put the things to rights which the sheriff had caused, but it was not enough.
On another such night, Marian shivered as the cold wind blew in from the open window and it woke her. Guy was standing there wrapped in little more than a sheet and she rose from the bed to go to him.
"What are you thinking about?" She asked.
Marian sighed sympathetically.
"Robin has his back now, I know the Knighton lands are ours, but I once had this dream of taking you back to Gisborough, having our child born there. Who knows who holds the rights to it now. I must resign myself to the fact that they are lost to me forever, but I cannot." Guy said bitterly.
Marian kissed his shoulder. He turned round to face her and placed one of his large hands on her belly. It was not long before he was gratified with a gentle kick beneath his hand. His hand slid higher towards her breast, but she caught it and led him back to the bed.
"Come, let us rest, you have to be up early to ride out with Sir Christopher to Nettlestone."
"Spoilsport!" He smiled gently at her as they settled back into bed, his arm curved around her and their child.
When Marian awoke in the morning, Guy had already gone, his side of the bed quite cold. She dressed and walked down to the great hall where breakfast waited. She peeled an apple and buttered a slice of bread. Marian poured herself some milk and drank deeply from the cup, contemplating the flames in the huge fireplace. A breeze ran down the length of the hall as the doors opened to admit a stranger into the room. He seemed important, and was well dressed.
"Lady Marian of Gisborne?" He enquired.
"I am she." Marian replied. "State your business."
"I had hoped to find your husband, but I have been informed he is away with Sir Christopher and is not expected back for some time. I must hasten away to London again and cannot wait. I must leave these documents with you."
The man handed her a thick bundle of parchment sealed together with the seal of Prince John. Marian had seen it before on documents sent to her father when he was sheriff and she recognised it.
"Am I authorised to open its contents?" Marian asked.
"His highness Prince John said it was for Sir Guy and Lady Gisborne. I must take my leave." He gave her a dutiful bow and walked from the room.
With trembling hands, Marian broke the seal and took out the papers. Her fear at what it could be, soon turned to a cry of delight as tears ran down her face. This would mean everything to her husband. She bundled the papers back inside the folds and hurried from the room to call a servant and find Allan. There was much to be done.
That night over dinner, Marian knew little how she kept her countenance, but somehow she managed. She had got a chance to speak to Sir Christopher alone before retiring and thanking him for what he had done. He had brushed it aside casually with the remark, that any friend of Robins...
That night when preparing for bed, Marian had been the first to instigate their lovemaking, knowing this to be their last night in the castle, perhaps forever. Afterwards, as they lay together, slowly drifting off to sleep, Marian felt the joy of what the future would bring for them both.
Marian was awake and dressed before her husband for a change. Guy was surprised to find her fully clad and sitting by the fire as he awoke and got dressed himself. A knock sounded at the door and Marian bade the person enter. A team of servants came and started to remove their belongings and pack others.
"What on earth is going on here?" Guy demanded.
One of the servants looked at him nervously.
"Come have some breakfast and I will explain along the way." Marian smiled, leading him from their chamber.
"A home has been found for us?" Guy asked as Marian told him what she dared.
"Yes some miles from here, but I think it will be to your liking." She smiled knowingly to herself.
"And we are to leave this day."
"This very morning as soon as everything is packed. The Gisborne coach is being prepared as we speak and your men are ready to leave on our command."
"And where is this place?"
"You shall see when we get there."
"Marian." He growled.
"All shall be revealed soon enough." She reached up to kiss his lips before they entered the hall.
After a brief visit to the graves of her parents and a farewell to Robin they had set off, the destination known to one and a mystery to the other. Although after two days on the road, Guy's agitation increased and Marian started to wonder if he had guessed where they were headed. All the landscape that passed the window of the carriage was alien to her, but surely it was imprinted on his mind.
She had enquired the expected length of their journey at one of the first taverns they had rested at and knew it could not be much further. They passed a stone cross at a crossroads and Guy paled and sucked in a ragged breath. His hands curled tightly in his lap.
"What is it?" Marian asked.
"We are not three miles from Gisborough, Marian. Is this some new torture, to be granted a home so close to my old one?"
Marian took his hand. "I see I am going to have to be the brains of the operation." She teased. "Not a new home, a very old one, I have been told it has been in my husband's family for at least a century or two until it was wrested from him."
"Yes." She nodded. "Prince John has granted you your lands back again, and no one will ever take them from you again, while a Gisborne descendant lives."
Guy pulled her to him and held her tight. When they parted there were unshed tears in his eyes. "I know not by what grace I have been given this chance, but I shall use it to be the good man you deserve."
"I would not want you to be anything than what you are. Some of the wicked blended with the good has been enjoyable at times. But you are not the man you once were. I think your father would have much to be proud of now." She smiled.
They held hands in contented silence as later, the coach entered the gates of the town and made its way to Gisborough manor and after twenty-four long years the master of Gisborough returned home.
"Guy!" Marian leaned out of the carriage window to see villagers lined up to greet the coach that bore the Gisborne colours.
Some took off their hats in respect. "Welcome home my Lord." Some of the bolder ones called out.
Guy nodded, touched by their welcome. He looked at Marian. "How did they know we were coming?"
Marian gave him a saucy grin. "I might have sent Allan A Dale on ahead."
His face broke out into a brilliant smile. "Do you hear that, daughter? We are home." Guy touched the swell of their child. He leaned down to kiss it.
"You are still convinced it is a girl?" Marian looked at him archly.
"Yes I am." He told her confidently.
And it was. Their daughter was born healthily when the meadow grass was fragrant and long and the grounds around their home were carpeted with countless flowers. Their joy finally complete.