"I've packed a bag for your men...salt for Much and bandages for Djaq, leather to patch John's boots and tools for Will... Is there anything you need?"
"I need you."
Alone with Robin in her castle bedchamber, Marian was desperately trying to act as if nothing had changed between them. But Robin's smiling, loving gaze of adoration, wouldn't let her.
Nothing would ever be the same again, she had seen to that when she offered him her body and her maidenhead. And he had taken her with so much love, so much joy, so much concern for her, and such intensity, she grew convinced that archery was only the second best thing he excelled at.
Her emotions were such a complicated jumble, she didn't know how to feel...she, who usually liked to make a decision, and stick with it. But this was different.
She'd been raised to firmly believe that sexual intimacy between a man and a woman should be reserved solely for the marriage bed. Virtue was important, despite the way so many threw theirs away. Her father, were he still alive, would be disappointed, even heartbroken, if he knew what she'd done. She and Robin were engaged, but not yet married. Yet she was also singing inside, soaring, lifted up and transported by her love for this man who also loved her, and by the bonds that united them.
"Come here," Robin softly invited her now, sensing her wavering confusion.
Being held again in his arms, all her doubts and regrets disappeared. They loved one another...that was enough. She'd told him she wanted him, and she did. They faced death so often, he as an outlaw, she as the Nightwatchman, but never so strongly as they'd faced it today, with the sheriff missing and Prince John's army threatening to burn Nottingham to the ground. And then there was the matter of Gisbourne.
Guy had begged her, on his knees, to marry him, not once today, but three times. He'd returned to face death with her, when he could have ridden away. His bravery and humility had surprised her, touched her even, even while his offer of marriage had repulsed her.
"I would rather die than marry you, Guy of Gisbourne," she had wanted to tell him. "I love Robin Hood. If we survive, I'm going to marry Robin Hood."
Guy's need for her, so uninvited, had made her want to bind herself even more closely to the man she loved. And so she had.
"Are you alright?" Robin was asking her now, tenderly brushing her hair back from her cheek, his voice as warm and caressing as his touch. "You're not sorry, are you? I love you, Marian. I'll find a priest to marry us."
She looked so beautiful in her flowing white nightdress, though not half as beautiful as she'd looked without it. Robin felt conflicted, too, indescribably, ecstatically happy, relaxed, and fulfilled, yet deeply concerned for her feelings, and somewhat guilty, remembering his promise to her father to protect and look after her.
"I'm fine...I'm wonderful," she answered him.
"Yes, you are."
"No. I only meant-"
"I know what you meant. I'm wonderful, too."
"You really are."
They kissed, feeling surprisingly shy with one another. And yet a new fire kindled and flared the moment their lips touched, again surprising them.
"I don't want to go," Robin told her, breathing deeply and holding her even more tightly.
"You must. Go now, while there's still confusion. The sheriff will soon restore order, and besides, Much will come looking for you, if you don't return."
Robin broke into a grin. "It's a miracle he didn't come charging in here, just as we were about to...Sorry!"
She was smiling, too, though her cheeks were burning. "Go. I love you."
"I love you, too."
One final kiss, achingly sweet, and then he was gone. Part of her felt she had been rent in two, but most of her rejoiced in their mutual love.
Feeling she'd never be able to sleep tonight, Marian dropped to her knees by her bedside, her prayer a glorious mass of feelings rather than one of words.
A knock on her door surprised her, interrupting her prayer.
"Marian," a deep, breathy voice pleaded. "Let me in."
Rising and almost flying to the door, Marian grasped the iron handle firmly, locking Gisbourne out.
He mustn't see the rumpled bed, with its small telltale bloodstain. He mustn't see her, lest he somehow guess what she had done. She felt as if Robin were still in her room, and she needed to protect him.
"Guy, it's late. What do you want?"
"I want...I want an answer, Marian," he spoke through her door, his voice urgently pleading.
"An answer?" she repeated, not comprehending. "An answer to what?"
"Marian, I need to know, tonight. Will you marry me?"