Title: A Place to Call Home, Epilogue (15/15)
Summary: "I do not love you," she cried in frustration. "Why do you want me?"
Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of the BBC. All rights reserved. No copyright infringement intended and no profit is made by the author.
A/N: I've set this story immediately after the events of the first season finale. However, I have included information derived from subsequent episodes, in particular from season three's "Bad Blood" used here for my purposes as source material and plot motives for the characters.
****Additional note: As it is a rare (and practically unheard of) thing for me to post two chapters in close succession, I would like to take a moment here to direct anyone who may have missed it that the preceding chapter thirteen (part 14 of 15) was posted on January 22, 2012. If you have not yet read that chapter, you should do so before continuing on to the epilogue.
A sound from across the chamber drew Marian's attention. Setting aside her sewing, she rose and crossed the room. Perched on the edge of the mattress, she smiled down into the blue eyes which were trained intently on hers.
A joyful smile broke over her face. "Did you sleep well, my darling?"
She reached out with eager hands and lifted her son from the nest of pillows which had kept him from rolling off the bed while sleeping. Cradled in his mother's arms, the baby instinctively turned his head toward her breast and let out a whimper.
"Are you hungry, Henry?" she cooed as she returned to her chair. Sinking down, she cradled the babe in one arm, and expertly loosened the laces of her bodice with the other hand. As soon as her breast was bared, the babe eagerly began rooting. He latched hungrily onto her nipple and was soon nursing so greedily, milk dribbled from the corner of his mouth to slide down his neck.
"Slowly, love," she laughed as she used a soft cloth to wipe away the trail of milk. Leaning into the cushioned back of her chair, Marian relaxed and smiled down into her baby's face. Though she knew many other women of her rank made use of a wet nurse, Marian enjoyed this quiet time with her child. The babe suckled contentedly, making humming noises in his throat as his tiny fingers kneaded the plump softness of her breast in rhythm with the tugging of his mouth.
Marian ran a finger over the satin of his cheek and traced the dark wing of his brow before swirling her fingers into the wispy curls of hair atop his head. Her lips quirked upward in an adoring smile and she marveled that the dangerous path she had begun to follow so long ago had led her to this place of peace and contentment.
Upon Vaisey's death, arrangements had been made to have Edward reinstated to his former position as Sheriff until a permanent replacement could be appointed. During the time he was back in office, he had moved swiftly to undo the damage wrought at the hand of his predecessor. And at long last, Richard had ended his campaign in the Holy Land. Though Robin continued to hold out hope, Marian now knew that Guy was correct in his assessment of the British monarch. The King would never settle in England. Held hostage for two years, first by the Duke of Austria and then the Holy Roman Emperor, a ransom had been raised to free the monarch – again on the backs of the English people. Upon gaining his freedom, Richard did not take up his place at court but instead was once again waging war – this time to reclaim the lands of his duchy in Normandy lost to the French king during his captivity.
The high regard Marian had once held for her king had been destroyed, but she was grateful that he had not forgotten those who had remained loyal. Under Richard's order, the taint of outlaw had been lifted from Robin and his gang and he had returned in triumph to his position as the Lord of Locksley.
As the Earl of Huntington, Robin was in a position to keep a wary eye on John – though it seemed the King's younger brother had deemed Nottingham and its people too troublesome with which to bother. They were thankfully left to their own endeavors and free, finally, of the machinations and intrigue of the court.
His belly full, Henry was now more interested in playing than in taking sustenance. He tangled tiny fingers in his mother's hair and let out a gurgling laugh as she freed her hair from his playful grasp. Marian bent low to press her lips against his forehead and giggled when he blew out a milky bubble.
"Finished my little lord?"
Henry reached out to tap his hand playfully against her nose and offered her a gummy grin in response.
"Indeed you are." She tugged her bodice back into place and rose. Lifting the baby to her shoulder, she began to pace the room. She rubbed and patted his back and at length was rewarded with the sound of an expulsion of air from his tiny frame.
"Very good," she murmured against his ear and felt a rush of love sweep over her as the baby nestled his face into the crook of her neck. She closed her eyes and cuddled him closer as she enjoyed the feel of each little puff of breath against her skin.
A squealing sound from outside drew her attention and Marian wandered toward the window where she was greeted with the sight of her nearly three year old daughter lugging a protesting kitten from the barn. Even from this distance, Marian could hear its plaintive mewls for freedom.
"Papa!" The little girl hurried across the field to the place where her father stood currying his horse. Climbing over the rail that separated the tiny girl and the huge war horse, Guy set aside the curry brush and crouched down to rescue the kitten from his daughter's desperate embrace.
"Gently, Amelia," he admonished.
Marian smiled as father and daughter bent their heads over the kitten, identical hanks of glossy black hair swinging forward to obscure their faces. Cradling the frightened creature in one hand, Guy ran a single finger over its fur. Marian watched as the kitten's back arched in response and it butted its head against Guy's cheek and she felt an answering tug deep within her, for she knew well the pleasure to be found beneath her husband's touch.
As if he felt her gaze upon him, Guy glanced up and a quick grin slashed over his face. Squinting against the sun, he murmured something to their daughter and pointed toward the window.
Amelia let out a shriek of happy laughter. "Come see my kitten, Mama!" She reached out with pudgy hands for the kitten she was determined to make into a pet and the skittish animal bolted up Guy's chest. It perched on his shoulder and Guy grimaced as tiny needle-sharp claws dug into his skin. The little girl squealed and flung herself toward the kitten as it scurried down his back and raced away with an indignant squawk toward the relative safety of the barn. Guy reached out with one hand and snagged his daughter by the hem of her dress. Shrugging off the abandonment of her erstwhile pet, Amelia launched herself against her father's back and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
Guy let out an exaggerated choking noise and staggered to his feet. Amelia clung to him like a burr and her shrieks of laughter elicited a pained wince from her father.
"Will you not come down and rescue me, my lady?" he called out with a glance back up at the window.
Marian grinned and pressed a kiss against the top of Henry's head. "Shall we save Papa from your sister?" Settling the baby against her hip, she made her way down the steps. She stopped for only a moment when she encountered her father sleeping in his favorite chair. She reached out with her free hand to adjust the lightweight blanket draped over his legs and felt a pang of sorrow penetrate her mood as she took note of shadows under his eyes and the increasing fragility of the skin stretched over the bones of his face and hands. Age, it seemed, was catching up with her father and once again he had relinquished his position as Sheriff to another man. At least this time his successor – while unlikely ever to be revered in the way Edward had been – seemed to be a fair-minded man thanks to Robin's interference when it came time to appoint her father's replacement.
Shaking off the morose thoughts, she traced a loving finger over her father's hand before continuing on toward the door. She stepped across the threshold and paused for a moment to lift her face toward the warmth of the spring sun.
"Mama! Look at me!"
Marian opened her eyes to the sight of her daughter pinned between the upper rails of the fence and Guy's broad chest. Currying brush in hand, she was awkwardly grooming Guy's horse. Marian's breath caught in her throat at the sight of the tiny hands so close to the huge beast. But she was aware of Guy's strong arm wrapped tightly around their daughter, while the other hand kept a firm hold on the horse's bridle. And the stallion, showing a long-suffering patience, stood quietly beneath the young child's clumsy ministrations.
"I brushing my horse, Mama," Amelia announced as her mother approached.
"So I see," Marian said. "But it is Papa's horse, is it not?"
"No!" The little girl dropped the brush and leaned precariously forward in an attempt to fling her arms possessively around the stallion's neck. "Amelia's horse!"
Guy let go of the bridle to wrap both arms firmly around his squirming daughter and the horse, having had enough of her attention, sidled away from the fence and out of reach.
"Come back!" Amelia's fingers opened and closed rapidly and she stamped an indignant foot against the rail upon which she stood.
"Amelia," Marian admonished quietly. "Behave."
Amelia turned up a face with a mutinous expression so similar to the one he often saw his wife wear, that Guy was hard pressed not to laugh. Instead, he cleared his throat and schooled his features.
Taking heed of the displeasure evident in her father's low- voiced warning, the little girl subsided. Turning awkwardly on the rails of the fence, she leaned toward him and pressed her forehead against his.
"Sorry," she said as she offered her sunniest smile to her father.
Marian rolled her eyes at her daughter's flirtatious behavior.
"Take him my love," she said to Guy as she jostled the baby on her hip and reached for their daughter with the other hand.
They made the exchange with practiced ease. Guy dipped his head toward her and with their children sandwiched between them, gave her a lingering kiss. She smiled and rubbed her cheek contentedly against the bristled roughness of his jaw much as the kitten had, then lowered Amelia to the ground and led her by the hand across the grass. He turned his attention to his son who was staring at him with serious intent. The baby thrust three fingers into his mouth, furiously working his gums against his knuckles. He looked at his father with wide-eyed solemnity for a long moment and then his eyes suddenly crinkled with glee and he laughed out loud as if amused by some private joke.
"Da!" he exclaimed as he patted slimy fingers against his father's cheek. "Da! Da! Da!" He proudly chanted one of the few words that made up his limited vocabulary.
Guy settled the baby more comfortably against his chest and took a look around. The early afternoon sun slanted over the fields where tenant farmers worked, cultivating the tender shoots just emerging from the ground. Birds chattered in the trees overhead and he was dimly aware of the tinkling sounds of the shared laughter of his wife and daughter. In his arms, his son babbled away nonsensically, endlessly amused by the sound of his own voice.
"This is not the life I thought I would ever have, Henry," Guy confided in a whisper against his son's temple.
Upon his reinstatement as the Earl of Huntingdon, Hood had offered the Gisborne lands to Guy. An attempt, he said, to right a long-ago wrong. A gift, Robin had then insisted, when Guy refused the offer, to commemorate the birth of Marian's first child. A legacy to be handed down to the son they would one day have. Despite Marian's urging, Guy refused to accept, standing fast to his decision even in the face of his wife's confused displeasure.
"This is what you have always wanted, Guy," she had reminded him. "You are allowing your pride to stand in the way. I thought you had moved beyond your hatred of Robin."
But it was neither pride nor hatred of the other man which prevented Guy from accepting the offer. Indeed, a truce of sorts had sprung up between the two men and while he knew they would never consider the other a friend, they had developed a cautious and grudging tolerance of one another.
No, his reasons for turning down the offer were inexplicable even to himself. He could not find words to make sense of it but was plagued by the feeling that happiness could not be found in a place where so much tragedy had occurred.
Edward's failing health provided the answer of where they would live and they had settled into Marian's childhood home. Though he would never himself bear the title of Lord of Knighton, and though he sometimes still struggled with the transition from his life as a soldier to the life he was now living, he had pledged to protect the land and serve as its caretaker. He would manage the estate and its finances until the day when his son would claim his inheritance.
And if the time came that he had to whisk his family to the safety of the property he had purchased in France, then Guy had made arrangements with Hood to safeguard Knighton until such time as it was safe for Henry to return to England and reclaim the estate.
Life was not perfect, but he knew himself to be graced with so much more than he deserved, for his crimes while serving Vaisey had been many. The people of the shire had long memories and the tenants of Knighton were justly cautious in their dealings with Guy. But their beloved lady's open affection for her husband did not go unnoticed and his love for Marian and the patient humor he displayed with his high-spirited daughter and tiny son were remarked on by many.
Guy's gaze tracked over the rolling green hills and golden fields of Knighton and he watched idly as smoke curled lazily from the kitchen chimney of the manor house into a stunningly blue sky. He felt the sweet weight of his son in his arms as the baby plopped his head comfortably on his father's shoulder and plugged a thumb into his mouth. His gaze settled on his wife, skirts billowing around her as she sat on the grass listening to their daughter's cheerful chatter while the little girl tucked spring blossoms into her mother's dark curls. And with a moment's sudden clarity, Guy realized that though this life may not have been the one he had long believed he would have, it was a life for which he was profoundly grateful.
For he understood now that it was not power and wealth which he had been seeking during all of those wretched years, but rather, he had been looking for a place for himself.
A place which could not be measured by the accumulation of gold or the boundaries of an estate, but one which was found in the sound of his children's happy laughter and in the warmth of Marian's love.
A place to call home.
A/N: I cannot believe how long it took me to complete this story as I had three-quarters of it loosely plotted in my head way back when I started. Life, of course, has a way of interfering, but I think also that I was having too much fun letting Guy and Marian live in my head and was somewhat reluctant to wrap up their story by committing it to the written word.
Though I tend not to respond to reviews while I am writing a story, please know that I have read (and re-read) and appreciated every comment, and I am profoundly grateful for each of you who took the time to read my story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.