"I am going to marry Robin Hood. I love Robin Hood."
She said the words, and the world shrank in around her. Guy, the King and her predicament was forgotten as she realised, perhaps for the first time, the truth in what she had spoken. She laughed at herself.
"I love Robin Hood."
She loved him. Passionately, unconditionally – desperately. She no longer had any doubts.
At first she only felt a sharp pain, not realising what had happened until Guy pulled her into his arms, and she felt the cold steel of his sword tear through her.
She looked up at him, at first confused – because her mind had been so far away - and then triumphant, as she realised she had succeeded. In Guy's eyes she saw such pain – it was the look of a man breaking inside. He could not move on to kill the King – she had made sure of that. She had won.
Marian held his gaze until she could no longer keep her feet, and crumpled to the sand below.
It did not seem like a great deal less than six, but it felt it. Much was eager to leave the Holy Land as quickly as possible, and had been relieved to see the white sands disappear beyond the horizon as they began their journey back to England. But with the distance came the longing. Much missed Will and Djaq – he had even been sorry to leave Carter, still convalescing from his wounds, back in Acre. The four of them seemed a pitiful band, a sum of parts rather than a whole. A part of Much knew that they could never really be whole again, with the loss of Marian having a devastating impact on their morale.
Much was ready to intervene should anyone (in other words, Allan) try and throw Robin's earlier words back at him and say that Marian had died for England. But he didn't. If anything, Allan seemed just as upset as the rest of them.
But Much's focus remained on Robin, and did not intend to pry into whatever anguish Allan may have felt over Marian's death. Much could barely let himself feel his own grief, such was his concern over Robin's state of mind. His master didn't cry – didn't rage at the injustice of it all - and it was that lack of emotion that scared Much the most. He kept a constant watch on him, for the fear, however irrational, that Robin might do something to hurt himself. But he didn't do anything. He barely even spoke to any of them, and retreated behind a wall of cool indifference.
At night Much stayed awake to watch Robin sleep – just in case – and often found his mind wandering. He didn't want to consider what they would do once they got back to England. The journey had seemed so long, and they had lost so much. They had saved the King, but had they saved England?
So Much turned his mind to what should have been pleasanter thoughts, although somehow they seemed just as painful. He dreamed of honey-coloured hair and a sweet, lilting voice raised in song. He remembered his promise. When there is justice again, I will come find you.
But in a world where Marian could die, Much didn't quite believe there could ever be justice again.
The passage back to England was rough, but the Sheriff had made it clear he felt no desire to linger in Palestine, and so had forced them onto the first available boat. Guy had not had the strength to argue with him.
His mind kept going back to the crushing moment he realised his life for the past two years had been a lie.
I love Robin Hood.
Guy had poured his very essence into pursuing her, at first to catch her as a prize, to obtain the last thing Locksley held dear, but it had long since become more than a means of one-upmanship with the outlaw. He had fallen in love with her, and every time she disappointed him – leaving him at the altar, refusing his invitations of marriage, being discovered as the Nightwatchman – it had only made him want her more. To discover that she had loved and fought for him the entire time – it was more than Guy's heart could handle.
He had wanted to take her in his arms and shake her – shake every thought of Robin Hood out of her mind – make her see sense. But his sword had been there, in his hand, and once it had pierced her flesh, his anger had made it all too easy for him to force it through her completely. Only then, had he realised what he'd done. He had tightened his grip on Marian once too many, and in doing so she had slipped through his fingers again, this time for good.
And then there was Vaysey, whose brutal anger at their failure to kill the King was only tempered by his gloating over the means of Marian's death. But the Sheriff's pride in Guy's actions actually disgusted him. Finally, he had broken through and gained the Vaysey's trust, but the victory seemed hollow. Meaningless.
In his mind was a constant montage of all the moments Marian had deceived him. He saw with sickening clarity all the times he should have seen through her act and guessed her true allegiances. He remembered the time the Nightwatchman had distracted them as Hood had dangled over that snake pit – and therefore provided him a means of escape – or when Hood and his gang had come to the Nightwatchman's rescue in Locksley, or the countless other occasions she had proved to be in league with Hood. When he'd unmasked her, he should have remembered.
And when he had told her of Hood's birthday – he had known then, or at least suspected, the true nature of her feelings. Allan had all but confirmed it for him in the tavern on the way to Portsmouth. But he had chosen to look away – he had been foolish. He had built her up as his idol in silver and gold, and dazzled by the beauty of it, had refused to see her feet of clay.
It was a mistake he would pay for the rest of his life, because his prediction outside Nottingham gates had come true. His world was ash.
In Bassam's house, Djaq chose the brightest silks and cloths to wrap around her head, but what once had been a habit had become foreign to her. The last time she had covered her head in such a way, she had been Saffiya. But she did it without complaint, and did not ask her friend to call her Djaq. It was only how she thought of herself, and what Will called her, like it was a secret between the two of them, a private code. The thought made her smile.
Will had adapted to life in Acre far better than she had expected. He didn't seem to mind adhering to customs that were strange to him, or the suspicion that greeted him in the marketplace, or that he only found acceptance in Bassam's house. If it bothered him at all, he didn't show it – and Djaq had always been able to read him well, and did not believe he was putting on a front for her sake. His love for her was enough – nothing else seemed to matter to him, and although she was certain he missed their friends, he did not pine. But strangely enough, she did.
In Sherwood, Djaq had missed the hot, spiced air of her homeland, the vast expanse of sand and the camaraderie of her own people. But now that she had returned, ostensibly for good, she found herself missing Little John's silent solidarity, Much's warm affection, Robin's horrible jokes and Allan's...well, she missed almost everything about Allan. She regretted that they had not had the chance to speak properly before they left. It hadn't seemed like the right moment – and Djaq thought back to the long months of travel when she had avoided him, not wishing to dwell on old issues. The entire situation seemed unresolved.
But even more problematic, were those doubts that burned in the back of her mind – questioning the path her life had taken. In Nottingham she had felt a sense of purpose – she had been helping people. In Acre, there was much need, but no way for her to effect change. In the forest, her outlaws had seen her as an equal, in Acre she felt the sting of her expected place in society. She had to learn to live inside the law, and it was not a comfortable place.
Somehow, re-learning to live in her homeland seemed harder than adapting to live in England. She only hoped Will's eternal optimism would win out – and that their love would be enough. As a slave she had learnt hope was often a futile and meaningless thing. But perhaps Will had enough hope for both of them.
They were only a few weeks into their journey when the silence began to drive Allan mad. Robin walked around like a dead man, with Much flittering about him like a hummingbird, making sure he ate and didn't wander off alone. No one wanted to talk about Marian, except Allan. He needed to talk about her. He wanted to tell Robin about her life in the castle, the small details he had noticed, the conversations they'd had. He imagined such insights may bring the man some comfort, and Allan knew it would ease his own mind to speak of them. But Much watched him warily, as if expecting such an action, and seemed eternally prepared to ward him off.
There was only one other person left to talk to. So one night, Allan took a seat beside Little John. "Don't think we've ever really talked, you and me," he said to him, characteristic half-grin on his face.
Despite Will's harsh comments about blood money, Djaq's pitying stare and Robin's attempt on his life, somehow, it had been John's venomous accusation – traitor - that had hurt him the most. Perhaps because he had meant it so much more than the others. Will had felt betrayed, Djaq disappointed, Robin had demonstrated his usual self-righteous anger, and well, Much had never really liked him to begin with. But John had hated him. And while the others had been rather quick to accept him back into the fold, jokes and jibes at his expense aside, John had remained aloof.
"Then talk." John answered, and it was clear he had no intention of being a willing participant. It was not John's way. It was then that Allan found himself missed Will and Djaq the most.
But they were gone. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, Allan found himself thinking unkindly. Djaq had always been the clever one – had she seen the dullness in Robin's eyes and known that he may never be able to lead them again? He wondered what the point of him leaving Gisborne's employ had been – and then Allan remembered the emptiness he had felt in the castle. Guy may have come to respect him, but it had never been close to the companionship he had felt with the outlaws – how he had ever valued gold over that he didn't know. But there was no more laughter among them, no life.
But Allan had made his choice, and if that meant he drowned along with the rest of them, then so be it.
She did not remember who she was. At first, all she knew was darkness. She dwelled there, and wondered if it was purgatory. But there was no pain, no devil awaiting her, no judgement. There was nothing for a long time. But then – slowly - snatches of memory began to come back to her.
She remembered the soft hands of her mother – a faint scent of lavender, and whispered words telling her to always be strong, and to always stand tall.
She remembered being held in her father's arms after she'd been thrown from her horse – she remembered holding him in hers as he died.
She remembered a golden summer, and the boy from the neighbouring estate who brought her flowers and stole kisses from her in the moonlight.
She remembered locking herself in her room after he left and emerging three days later, eyes dry and heart hardened, vowing to never cry over him again.
She remembered trysts in the forest, hurried and urgent, because they could never fully isolate themselves from the world, and their responsibilities.
She remembered her confusion – the man who lingered on her periphery, showing a glint of humanity amidst the blackness of his soul that she wanted to save, and yet had exploited.
She didn't remember dying – but she remembered his face, the ring on her finger, her mouth speaking the vows. Then there had been nothing. Not even peace.
She spent what seemed like an age in the darkness, and then, finally, she heard voices, unfamiliar and intelligible, but gradually rousing her sleeping soul. She clung to them – clung to life, and clawed her way back, the gaps in her memory becoming clearer, the sounds louder and the feelings stronger. She felt pain – and then she remembered her name.
Marian Fitzwalter opened her eyes, and breathed.