From her seat before her untouched embroidery frame, Marian could hear Sarah the cook cheerfully singing as the servant prepared the midday meal. Every so often, Sarah interrupted her song to comment to her daughter Jess, who played about under her mother's watchful eye in Knighton Hall's cozy, warm kitchen.
Bored, unhappy, and lonely, Marian wished she could put aside her embroidery and step inside the kitchen to visit the pair. If Robin were here, he wouldn't hesitate to drop in and tease Sarah by snatching bites of food right off the platters. Jess, like every other child in the shire, adored Lord Locksley, and Marian could picture him now, making Jess squeal with delight as he lifted her high in the air above his head. But of course, visiting her own servants without Robin, just to talk, was out of the question.
Her father had taught her to always be kind and respectful to all people, but to maintain a proper distance from the lower classes, especially one's servants. It was right and proper, and only Robin, with his unusual ideas, treated all people the same, regardless of their station.
"It is only because both his parents died when he was so young," her father had explained to her, correcting her when he had caught her being pleasant with Much. "The boy had to depend on the affection of his people, who gave it to him readily, he was so winning. Robin gets away with it now, because he has a...a dignity about him, even when he's being cheeky."
"You did, didn't you?" Marian said softly now, sighing unhappily. "You were as natural in Dan Scarlet's company as you were in the King's, and just as respectful."
Gasping, Marian realized she was addressing Robin as though he were already dead!
"No," she whispered under her breath, "you're not going to die. You're too good a swordsman, and besides, you'll shoot any Saracen who threatens to get near you first!"
The sound of a horse cantering into her yard thankfully interrupted her nagging fear of Robin boldly taking unnecessary risks in battle. And although she did not feel up to receiving visitors, she welcomed the chance to escape from her thoughts.
"Thank you, Martha," she kindly told another servant, "but I'll answer the door myself."
Pulling open her front door to answer its knock, she barely mastered her outrage at seeing Henry of Lewis, the same beefy young man who had tried taking such liberties with her on Twelfth Night.
"I've just come from your lord father," Henry told her, shivering on her doorstep.
At that, Marian ushered him inside. "Has something happened?"
"Something wonderful. Your father has given me permission to pay court to you."
Marian froze, unable to believe what she'd heard. "Pardon?" she asked at last, her voice sounding weak in her ears. She'd only invited him over the threshold, forgetting her manners at the surprise of his unwelcome news.
"May we sit and talk by your fire?" Henry asked. "I'm nearly frozen from the cold. Mind you, I prefer it to summer. I nearly died once, from a bee sting."
Marian barely heard what he said. Her mind was still reeling from his other words. Still trying to make sense of them, she invited him to sit and thaw by her fire.
"I see you've been embroidering," Henry began, trying to be charming. "An excellent occupation for a woman."
He didn't really want to talk about embroidery. What he really wanted was to throw her on her back and climb on top of her. But that wasn't the way a gentleman won a lady, especially a lady whose virtue was still intact, as Lady Marian's was known to be. Still, didn't she look temptingly appetizing!
"Sir Henry, my father told you what?" she finally manged to ask.
"Your betrothal to Locksley's finished, yes?" he reminded her. "Leaving you free! I know we barely know one another, but I'm an ambitious young man, and I find you, Lady Marian, a gem among ladies! You draw me to you, with your beauty and accomplishments, such as your embroidery here, and so I ask you, is it any wonder I should seek to win you for my own?"
Marian, still surprised, found his suit not only insulting, but comical.
"And I ask you," she echoed, "was hiding in my coach, trying to molest me, your idea of winning me? May I remind you, Sir Henry, I pushed you into a snow bank!"
"I have not forgotten the unfortunate incident. Allow me to apologize for my rude behavior that night. What with having too much to drink, and confronted by your incredible loveliness, I fear I lost my head. And now, I've lost my heart! I ask for nothing but your pardon and your patience, so that you may begin to look upon me kindly."
Used to Robin's natural, undoubtable charm, Marian found Henry's pursuit of her pathetically annoying.
"I do not look unkindly at you," she told him. "I do not look at you at all! Aren't you planning to join the King in the Holy Land, when the weather thaws?"
"That was my plan, milady, but no longer. Something...someone...has captured me, and keeps me here, in this shire. I think you know who I mean."
Marian no longer found him amusing. His words only reminded her that Robin had not chosen to stay.
"I think you had better go," she told her hapless suitor.
"Go? But I've only just arrived!"
"No. I mean, Sir Henry, I think you had better go to the Holy Land, as you planned. There is nothing, under this roof, to keep you here, I assure you."
Sir Henry hid his anger and disappointment, knowing she was proud and wouldn't be easily won, but worth the prize, if he were successful. "Very well, I will leave you now, milady. But I will not leave the shire. I mean to woo you, Lady Marian, if you'll let yourself be wooed."
"I am sorry to disappoint you, Sir Henry, but I have no desire to be won. Goodbye."
When she shut the door behind him, she leaned back against it, dismayed by his visit. A dull ache began behind her temples, to match the ache in her heart.
Before the hour had passed, she was back in bed, her fever returned.