AN: I had bit of a job getting into the mind of a child for the first part of this chapter; I went on the fact that kids have the most amazing imaginations and some horribly infallible logic at times. Catherine isn't anyone in particular, just a random person I made up. She was originally going to be Maggie, Kate's little sister, but due to the logistics of things I'd already mentioned, she couldn't, so she's just a randomner.
It was the middle of the night, a full moon hanging low in the sky and illuminating the village of Locksley almost as clearly as the sun could. Catherine crept out of bed, being careful to avoid treading on the creaky boards and waking her brothers, and climbed up to the window. Earlier in the day, when Robin and the outlaws had been dispensing food and silver, a thought had struck Catherine. Everyone knew who Robin was, everyone thanked him for the work he was doing, but no one knew who the Nightwatchman was. At that moment, Catherine had taken it upon herself to unmask the Nightwatchman so that he could receive a share of the gratitude that was dispensed so readily to his daytime accomplices (Catherine had always believed that the Nightwatchman was in charge and simply sent Robin and the outlaws to deliver things in the day because it just wouldn't make sense for someone who only came out at night to be seen in the day; it defeated the entire object). She sat in the window frame, keeping watch, and she was on the verge of falling back to sleep again when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. The Nightwatchman was standing at the end of the street, pausing in contemplation of the Manor. Perhaps he was going to rob it and kidnap Lady Gisborne... Catherine's imagination had thought of at least ten different scenarios of varying horror before she reminded herself firmly that the Nightwatchman was the good guy, and Gisborne was the bad guy, so if he stole Gisborne's money then it was no real loss and good guys didn't kidnap people because it wasn't nice. Unless, of course, they were kidnapping back someone who had been kidnapped in the first place, but Catherine was fairly sure that Lady Gisborne was there of her own free will – she'd been to the wedding after all. These thoughts didn't trouble her for long, however. The Nightwatchman broke off his close contemplation of the Manor and started to make his way down the street, darting from one house to the next, leaving small bags of coins, sometimes medicines, sometimes a leg of lamb. Catherine wondered what he would bring to their house. She knew that her mother had been worrying that they couldn't afford any of the meat that the butchers in Nottingham offered any more and before long they'd have to resort to scrounging the leftovers from the farmers on the outskirts of the villages. Catherine knew that leftover meat meant the nasty bits that came out of the middle of pigs, and she really didn't like the idea of eating the squishy bits from the inside. Hopefully the Nightwatchman would bring a chicken, or some salted pork. She watched and waited until he was beneath the window, and then leaned out to see what he was leaving on their doorstep. It was better than she'd hoped for – a basket of ham hocks. Just then she lost her balance on the sill and nearly fell out of the window, managing to grab hold of the frame just in time, but the Nightwatchman had heard her movement and looked up, straight at her. His face was covered as usual, but Catherine could just make out his eyes through the holes in the mask in the stark moonlight. They were bright blue, and might have been familiar, but Catherine couldn't place them without the rest of the face. He raised a finger to his lips and held her gaze for a few seconds before deftly disappearing into the shadows. Catherine waited for him to reappear, but he seemed to have vanished for good. With a sigh, she clambered off the windowsill and got back into bed. She hadn't succeeded in finding out the identity of the Nightwatchman, but at least she knew that she wasn't going to be eating piggy insides for a few weeks to come.
If Catherine had glanced out of the window again, she would have seen the Nightwatchman slink out of his hiding place, where he had been waiting for her to move before he could return home. She would have seen him run down the street and vault up the side of the Manor, swinging himself gracefully from beam to sill until he clambered in through an upstairs window. She may even have seen his miraculous transformation, as he removed his mask and scarf to change into a woman. Marian risked a glance back down the street to check that Catherine had not resumed her vigil before closing the shutters and padding through the house to check on Rose in the dark. She had taken advantage of the fact that Guy had been summoned to an urgent meeting with the Sheriff in order to deliver some much needed supplies to the villagers, but he would be back soon and she couldn't waste time going downstairs to fetch a splint to light the candles in her room, which had long since blown out in the breeze from the open window. She only just had enough time to change into her nightdress and stow her makeshift costume beneath the floorboards before she heard the main door open and her husband's familiar tread on the stairs. She dived under the covers and tried to breathe normally; she was nearly panting from her exertions.
Guy didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. After an overly long evening in the company of the Sheriff he rarely noticed anything except his headache. He was muttering to himself as he pulled off his leathers and Marian smiled unseen at the stream of insults that he was throwing at the absent Sheriff. Some of them were quite inventive; indeed there were certainly some she had never heard before. Finally he collapsed into bed and Marian addressed him for the first time since his entrance, hoping that the feigned drowsiness in her voice would send her off to sleep.
"What did the Sheriff want?" she asked. "Live leopards for entertainment at his next party? Sexual favours? Robin Hood's head on a spike?"
"Is that what they're calling him now?" Guy sighed. For the past few weeks, Robin's exploits had made him particularly popular among the villagers and as a result extremely unpopular with the Sheriff, and, as was usual when the Sheriff was irritated with anyone, Guy bore the brunt of his annoyance. "He wants the Nightwatchman caught and hung before he steals from the castle kitchens again. Apparently a rather appetising basket of ham hocks went missing earlier."
"Have you any ideas who it might be?" Marian asked. She felt duty-bound to ask, although it caused her heart to beat hard in her mouth to anticipate the answer.
The answer was short and the silence that followed was all encompassing. Their conversation was closed, over almost before it had begun, but Marian still felt something was missing. She waited a few moments before speaking again.
"Don't I get a kiss goodnight then?"
No reply was forthcoming, and Marian sneaked a quick glance over her shoulder to see that Guy was lying perfectly still with his eyes closed. There was no way we could have fallen asleep so quickly. She prodded him a couple of times.
"Guy!" she hissed. "I know you aren't asleep!"
There was still no reply so she gave him an extra sharp jab with her index finger before turning over again. A sleepy voice spoke through clenched teeth.
"Keep that up and there won't be any kisses for a week."
Marian smiled unseen as she felt movement beside her. Presently Guy spooned her in his arms and brought her left hand up to his lips, kissing the glittering ring before shifting into a comfortable position for sleeping.
Marian stayed looking at their entwined fingers for a long time, her mind drifting back to the very first days of their courtship...
It was a few days after the King's birthday. Marian was back at Knighton Hall and some of the arrangements were perturbing her slightly.
"Father," she said, "why are three places set for dinner?"
"We're expecting a visitor," her father replied. "I may as well tell you this now rather than later, Marian. Sir Guy has asked for my permission to court you. I have given it. He is to dine with us tonight."
"To court me? But I am already betrothed! To Robin!"
"Robin gave up your hand in marriage when he went to fight in the Crusades, Marian. That was nearly nine months ago. You do not have an obligation to honour to him. He may never return, and the longer the King stays in the Holy Land, the more likely it is that he will be killed in action. In the meantime, it makes sense for you to consider other potential suitors."
"So you simply want me to marry and be done with it?" Marian's chin was raised in defiance. Her father sighed.
"Marian, do not be difficult. I am not asking you to marry this man, I am simply asking you to consider his attentions ahead of those of a man whom you have not seen for nigh on a year!"
"No buts, Marian! I am only thinking of your future! I am not well, and I am not destined to last much longer in this world. I want to see that you are provided for, safe and happy after I am gone."
"By marrying me off to a man I do not love?"
"Well the man you do love has hardly done a good job of returning the affection, has he?" It was the first time that Robin's departure had been really mentioned between the two of them, much less used in an argument. "Running away to play at war two months after you were betrothed!"
The reality hit Marian harder than she was expecting. The simple truth in her father's words was biting but undeniable.
"Robin loves me," she said, annoyed at how small her voice was sounding.
"I'm sure he does, my dear." Her father's tone had softened, the dispute having tired him out. "But he loves his King and country more. I am not asking you to love Sir Guy, nor to marry him against your wishes. For now I am simply asking you to be civil to him when he arrives, and to give him a chance. Who knows? You may change your opinions of him once you get to know him..."
As the evening progressed, Marian was surprised at the truth in her father's words. She could not say that she liked Guy as such – she still found him coarse in manners and unrefined when compared to Robin – but he was courteous enough and her father seemed satisfied with him. Presently he left them alone in the hall, claiming an appointment with the cook. Marian cursed inwardly. This was the very situation that she had not been looking forward to. In her father's presence, she could wear any mask, do anything in her power to present him with the picture that he wanted to see. Alone, she could not vouch for her level of self-control.
"I'm glad I have the opportunity of speaking to you alone," said Guy. He moved closer to Marian's position, stood at the window, and she took an unconscious step back. Like at the party, his height and presence overwhelmed her, but Marian found that it was not a threatening sensation. She felt more stifled than anything else, as if he had displaced all the air in the room. As he moved nearer she realised that she could back up no further, and she settled for gripping the windowsill behind her, although she mentally scolded herself for giving such an obvious impression of her discomfort at his proximity. She wasn't scared of him, so why was she acting like a rabbit cornered by a fox in front of him?
"I have something I wish to give you," Guy continued, seemingly oblivious to her tense stance, but Marian could tell that he had noticed it from the way he took an unconscious step back, as if to give her room to breathe. He withdrew a small wooden box from the depths of his coat and opened it for her inspection. It was a bracelet in delicate silver chain, breathtakingly beautiful. She had not expected such taste from him, and she reached out to touch it without thinking.
"May I?" He took the chain and fastened it around her wrist, turning her hand to admire it, perhaps holding on a little longer than strictly appropriate. He brought her knuckles to his lips, and she would have let him fulfil his intention had it not been for the image of Robin's face that flashed before her eyes as he did so. She pulled her hand away as if she had been stung, and Guy jumped back likewise.
"Do you not feel that a little inappropriate considering the brevity of our acquaintance, Sir Guy?" she asked haughtily.
"Yes, I suppose it was. I apologise, this is somewhat new to me."
This time he was the one backing up, looking around him like a captured deer, a once proud stag now feeling vulnerable in his surroundings. Their goodbyes were clipped and courteous, and Marian retreated to her room as soon as possible. Her father put it down to suppressed ill-temper following their earlier argument, or perhaps she was missing Robin. Whatever her feelings, he knew better than to disturb her.
Marian was glad of the solitude. It allowed her to reflect on the exchange that had concluded so suddenly. Surprisingly, she was not feeling anger at the affront that had taken place, nor relief that the discourse was over. She was feeling regretful, wishing that she could have turned back time and said something different in the circumstances. She was horribly conscious of how much disdain her voice had held. That had not been her intention. But why should it worry her, she asked herself. What was Sir Guy of Gisborne to her? Why should she care for his opinion? She had Robin. She didn't need the attentions of any other man.
Therein, thought Marian, lay the problem. She was anxious for Guy to form a good opinion of her, she was conscious of a desire to earn his praise and his compliments, and she didn't know why.
"For goodness' sakes!" she said aloud. "You have Robin!"
Her father's earlier words floated back to her, and she sank back down onto her bed with a groan. In hindsight, she realised why she had spoken in such a manner. Not only was she trying to convince herself that she could not and did not feel anything akin to the feelings she had for Robin towards this man, she was trying to mask her own confusion. Now, she reflected, it had not worked. She did have some feelings for Guy, and she was more confused than ever...
Marian could just make out her open jewel casket in the moonlight that filtered through the gaps in the shutters, and she fancied that she could see the bracelet that had begun it all nestled in pride of position on the top. She looked down at Guy's hand, enclosed around hers, and bent her head to kiss it before nestling back against him, unable to sleep in the wake of the confusion that had surfaced once more after almost six long years.
To Be Continued!
Coming up we have:
Allan's strange new phobia