Life at Sherwood continued as before. The outlaws continued to collect the falsely acquired ransom monies destined for Prince John’s pockets, and redirected them to the collection truly destined for Austria and the freeing of King Richard. Thus occupied with their task, they also encountered some wagons that had been previously attacked by Master Ika and his men. They heard the stories contrived by the Mongolian that Robin had stolen the money for himself, and found that they had more work ahead - undoing Ika’s foul stories with the truth. With Robin and Marion wounded and away from camp, convincing the village folk of the real story was more difficult. They did not want anyone to know of the possible injuries, or their own uncertainty regarding the nature of their absence. And with both Robin and Marion gone, it looked a little suspicious...
Little John was increasingly uneasy with the situation. A few nights after their foiled attempt to gain entrance to Guy’s castle, he sat with Kemal. "I don’t like this waiting. Robin or Marion could be really badly hurt, and we aren’t doing anything to help them!"
Kemal looked with his liquid brown eyes at his tall friend and nodded his head once. "I am restless, too, my friend. The more time passes, and with no word from either Robin or Marion, I have a heavy heart."
Tuck joined the conversation as he carried his full plate to the table. "I agree. We have been more than patient. If Marion or Robin could have gotten word to us, they would have by now. We have to find a way into Guy’s castle!"
So the three friends set their minds to the task of formulating a plan for getting into Guy’s castle, unnoticed, so as to gain the information their hearts and minds craved. Once again, Brian Little listened surreptitiously from a nearby table. He leaned his head in the direction of the older outlaws, and was eventually noticed by his cousin. Little John, still suspicious of Brian’s intentions, made a mental note to question his young cousin after the meal. But he said nothing to Tuck or Kemal, and made no sign for Brian to remark his notice.
Days and nights bled into each other for Robin in the dank, dark room where Guy had placed him. Elsie made repeated attempts to feed him, but Robin refused all that she offered, claiming nausea. She suspected his knowledge of the poisoning plan, and met with Guy to tell him. She was rewarded for her loyalty, as always, but disappointed that her news was already known to him. He told her to shift her efforts at overhearing any conversations between Robin and any visitor, particularly Marion. But he made no effort to change Robin’s mind regarding the food.
If he wanted to starve himself, that made Guy’s job all the easier, and it was completely Robin’s responsibility. Guy was more than pleased to be able to truthfully tell Marion that Robin would not eat, and he was concerned for his health. He would look like a concerned friend yet again.
Unbeknownst to Guy, Will had contrived to get untainted food to his new friend. He carefully marked Elsie’s schedule, and then sent his own squire with provisions to Robin at those times. He often found ways to detain Elsie himself with false interest in her stories of Guy as a child, to enable his squire to carefully remove any trace of their provision to Robin.
He made several visits with the notorious outlaw himself, enlisting his squire when possible to do the detaining of the old crony. With Robin, he asked many questions, always careful to feign disgust or arrogance whenever Elsie was around. But when he and Robin were alone, his mask was off, and he sincerely wanted to know everything about Robin’s vision for the people of Sherwood. He was thirsty for the truth from the mouth of the very legend he had heard of for so many years. He wanted to understand what motivated a man like this to give up his rights to his land and his title in order to defend the poor against the tyranny of Prince John.
Robin, enlightened to Will’s guise around Elsie, played along and put on quite a show for her with Will. But, in his turn, when the two men were alone, he opened his heart to his new friend, and freely shared with him the travesties he had witnessed over and over again, by the hand of the greedy prince. He told of the true friends he had at Sherwood camp, and of the little victories that they had achieved over the years. He apprised Will of the history between himself and Guy, and the twists and turns of their relationship that dated from childhood.
He remained strangely silent about Marion, though, and Will was not yet sure how to open that topic. It seemed that both Marion and Robin were stubbornly secretive and protective of whatever their relationship was. And as Will continued to watch Marion around Guy, he felt she was a refugee between her thoughts and her feelings. He could not erase the look she had in her eyes in the cave when she watched Robin in pain, nor the look she had whenever she was with Guy. How very different her eyes appeared with those two men. It was a wonder that Guy did not perceive it!
Guy had used every waking opportunity to spend time with Marion. He had begun to teach her his favorite game of chess, and as he had thought, she was an excellent player. In her turn, she found the distraction of the game a welcome relief from the turmoil in her mind and heart. Her visits with Robin were always brief, and always monitored by Elsie. But it mattered little to her, as she had no intention of allowing Robin into her scheme. He would try to talk her out of it, she knew, and then they would be back at the same discord as before. She found Robin’s slowly increasing strength a good sign, but he seemed always irritable with her, his deep brown eyes penetrating into hers, always questioning her wordlessly. But she had resolved to save him in spite of his doubts that she could do it. And she willed herself to find anything positive in the castle that belonged to the man with whom she had now promised her future.
One day, Will chanced upon Guy and Marion during another heated chess game. Marion’s competitive spirit percolated through the calm surface of her face as she plotted to capture Guy’s queen. The tension in the room was suddenly broken when Henry entered. "Sir Guy, may I have a word?" He bowed to his superior and waited.
Guy frowned at Henry, sighed aloud, and pushed himself off his chair. "Marion, will you please excuse me?" Then he looked at Will, "Will, please see to my guest. And don’t give her any advice on her chess game! She is already a better foe than you have ever been!" He strode out of the room with Henry close behind.
Marion nodded absentmindedly as she studied the board, and then raised her head to look in the direction of the departing men. Peculiar for Henry to interrupt Guy this way. Her interest was piqued but she was pulled away from her reverie by Will, who eagerly took Guy’s seat and spoke to her almost as soon as the other men had disappeared.
"Lady Marion, I fear the time may be brief for us to talk now, so I will get right to the point. I understand that you have promised yourself in marriage to Guy."
Marion bristled at his insolence. "I fail to see how that is any of your business."
Will pressed on. "You do not love Guy."
"Now you are too bold, Sir William. I beg you to stop -"
Will interrupted her, mercilessly, "Forgive me, lady, but I need to know why you agreed to marry a man whom you do not love, and who is responsible for so much heartache in your life and the lives of so many of your friends?" He leaned forward over the table and peered into her luminous blue eyes, begging her to be honest with his gaze.
Marion was held by that gaze for a moment, and wondered at the emotion there. Up till now, she had not been impressed by this man. Everything she had heard from Guy and the servants she occasionally spoke with related stories of Will as a frivolous, selfish, rich young man who cared only about himself. Yet his current posture and the intensity of his interest belied these stories. She became confused and broke the gaze as she stood and walked to the fire. She put her hand on the cold stone mantle and fought with her thoughts. Should she be honest with this man? She was so weary of carrying this load all by herself. She longed for a confidante - one who would not dismiss her plan out-of-hand. But could she trust Will?
He had been Guy’s friend all his life. Maybe Guy was just testing her. Once again, she felt she could not take the chance. She steeled herself to do what she felt she must, stood taller and faced him. "How do you know what my friends have suffered?" She glared at him, warning him with fire in her eyes that she was not a woman easily swayed by bold words.
Will had been watching her intently. He knew that he was taking a huge risk by crossing the boundary of their usual conversation, but he felt compelled. As he contemplated Marion in her struggle, he suddenly became aware of his lack of credibility. In truth, though he had spent many hours with Robin Hood, and many more with himself and his memories of the teachings of his mother and the knights who had trained him, he had kept his newfound conscience hidden from everyone else. He wanted to stay in Guy’s castle as long as possible, to be near Robin while he was vulnerable, and to help both Robin and Marion if possible. He dared not give Guy any reason to suspect him of shifting priorities. No wonder Marion hesitated to trust him now. How could he find a way to convince her of his true friendship and intentions? He could think of none, except that Robin had begun to trust him. "Robin has told me."
Marion dropped her mouth open a bit, snapped it shut, and whirled around, facing the fireplace again. She collected her thoughts. How much did Robin tell Will? And why would Robin tell Will anything at all? What a fool he was to trust someone he didn’t even know! But then, she hadn’t given Robin much of a choice, had she, she thought with a pang of guilt. He must be desperate if he was talking to this worthless noble. Why was Will so interested in her motives? Was he just a voyeur, curious about her private thoughts? She avoided answering directly. "Robin must have been feverish to tell you anything."
Will struggled to change Marion’s heart towards him. "Lady, I tell you, he was in his right mind, and he betrayed no intimacies. He only told me of the people of Sherwood and their struggle against the tyranny of Prince John."
"Oh, prettily said, Sir William." She spun around and glared at him again. "And what would you care about the tyranny we suffer?"
Will stood up and took two strides closer to Marion. He stopped at a respectable distance and implored her, "Lady Marion, I know how this must look, but you must trust me. I only want to help you and Robin to get out of here safely."
Marion contemplated Will’s face and his demeanor. She found no guile or falsehood in his manner. Still she held back. It had been too long since she trusted anyone in this current state of affairs, and she doubted her own instincts. "I am quite capable of securing Robin’s safe release without your help! Thank you, Sir William. Now, if you will please excuse me -" She stepped boldly towards the door, but felt a strong grip on her arm as she tried to pass Will.
Will reached over and grabbed Marion’s upper arm as she passed him and stopped her in her tracks. Clarity regarding her purpose here with Guy struck him like a bolt of lightening. "So, it is about Robin’s safety, isn’t it? Do you think you can pick the lock of Robin’s prison with Guy’s wedding ring?"
Marion, appalled at Will’s presumption, and shaken by his insight, shook her arm loose and spit the words out at him, "Don’t ever touch me again, Sir William. Stay away from me!" With that, she ran from the room, leaving Will alone with his confused emotions. He castigated himself for making such a mess of things.
He never was any good at relating to women, in a conversational manner anyway. Indeed, at first he had been merely amused at the game he saw unfolding before him. He had never known Guy to be so smitten with anyone or anything, the way he was with Marion. It bordered on obsession, and as he had begun to know this woman, he worried for Marion’s safety should she ever disappoint Guy. And he became increasingly concerned for his new friend Robin as he caught occasional glimpses of Guy’s real plans for him. And as Will’s own newfound conscience blossomed, and his awareness of justice began to grow, his dormant knightly virtues became alive and vigorous. The teachings and life of his mother fell into place next to those knightly virtues. The sentiment of disgust at Guy’s cowardly act of poisoning an injured man grew into a pledge to see the man Robin Hood restored to his people in Sherwood, safe and healthy. And he vowed to get to the truth of Marion’s feelings and help her because he believed that she had blinded herself when she allied with Guy, to save Robin. Will was now a knight in the truest sense, willing to sacrifice his own comfortable life for what was true and right, and he stood taller than he had in his entire adult life.
Guy entered the room just as Marion was leaving. He looked at her and noted how upset she was, and then he glared at Will. He turned abruptly and called after her, "Marion?" She never paused in her flight. He thought better of chasing after her, so turned his fury on his friend. "What did you do to so offend Marion?"
Will closed his eyes and sighed as he dropped his head. He looked up at Guy from under half-closed lids and shook his head. "I have no idea," he lied.
Guy, fuming, marched towards Will. He clenched his jaws together and the muscles of his cheeks were clearly outlined as he menaced his friend. He circled around Will, his eyes roving up and down the soldier’s physique as he taunted him, "I thought you had turned a new leaf, Will. That your days of seducing women, particularly those already spoken for, were over? What would your mother say if she were alive? You seemed to care about that suddenly, once she was dead."
The words smote Will like a blow to his gut. His mother had been a quiet and unassuming lady who had never harmed anyone in her life. She was never bold in judgment of anyone, but her life and actions spoke volumes, as she made regular efforts to know the serfs on their manor, and their needs. She had tried to transmit her sense of justice and duty to him when he was younger. Sadly, he never took the time during her life to truly understand her or the truths she held onto with such humility and tenacity. The outpouring of love from the manor serfs at her funeral had been unprecedented, and the stories they told of her kindness, even at great cost to herself, made him proud of his mother, and ashamed at his own wasted life. For Guy to throw her name at him like this was abominable.
"Leave my mother out of this argument, Guy." He quickly fabricated another lie to placate his friend and learn more about Guy’s plans. "I was only trying to protect you."
Guy licked his lips and regarded Will with skepticism. "Oh? And how is that?"
Will walked with an intentional leisurely gait and flopped onto a chair. "I don’t trust that woman, that’s all. How do you know that she and her friend Robin are not plotting against you at this very moment?"
Guy smiled, relieved that his friend was sincere in his protection. "Oh, Will, you can rest easy on that score. Marion knows that my chess pieces are all set to place Robin at check mate if she does not comply fully with my desires."
Will watched as Guy sat opposite him. "Why would you want Marion - or any woman - on those terms? Wouldn’t you rather she come to you because she wants you?"
"But she does, my friend. She just doesn’t realize it yet." He smiled as his eyes looked into the distance and he imagined how it would be when Marion was finally free from Robin and wholly his own. "Once Robin is dead, she will be free to choose me."
Will, hiding his alarm at this last revelation, pressed on. "I thought Robin was going to be returned to Sherwood, the hour after you and Marion were married?"
Guy redirected his gaze to Will’s eyes. He narrowed his lids a bit, judging his childhood friend. He weighed his words as he spoke, "And so she thinks, Will. But as we speak, Henry is on his way to inform Prince John of my upcoming nuptials, and my guest list..." His meaning was clear.
Will tried to pry, "When do you expect to wed the Lady Marion, Guy? Will I be invited to this happy occasion?"
Guy stood up and approached Will, circling behind his chair and putting his hands on the broad shoulders. "Certainly, Will, all my true friends will be my guests. I hope to be a happy husband by the end of the week. I beg you, my friend, to leave my intended alone. Do not harass the Lady Marion any longer, or I will have to remove you from my list...Now, if you will excuse me, I have some business to attend to." And with that, Guy left the room.
Will remained in his seat until Guy was gone, then he burst out of the chair as if propelled. This news was more than alarming. He knew Guy too well to believe him less than confident of total success in this endeavor. Somehow, Will had to prevent the inevitable disaster he saw looming ahead for both Marion and Robin.
End of Part Twelve