It was nearly dusk by now. Will was both famished and exhausted, having slept only for a few minutes intermittently on his horse during the prior night. But he knew he had to connect with Guy to assess the situation and insinuate himself again into Guy’s confidence. He escorted Chloe into his room, reminding her to lock the door and open it only for him. Then he set off to the dining hall, where he assumed he would find Marion and Guy seated at the table.
He was rewarded for his efforts. He entered the hall and found a roaring fire, and tens of candles lit on a beautifully set table. The food was plentiful and appetizing, and Will entered with a will and a desire to eat. He was brought up short when Guy assaulted him verbally, "Where have you been, my... friend?" His tone was suspicious.
Will stopped, faced Guy and smiled most ingratiatingly. He feigned satisfaction at his recent female conquest and boasted, "I have been to town and gotten me a bed mate. All this talk of weddings puts a man in a most lonely state of mind if the wedding is not to be his." Here he looked at Marion, nodded his head, and apologized, "Begging your forgiveness, Lady Marion."
Marion was picking at her food, and almost didn’t hear Will’s explanation. She slowly glanced upwards from her plate where the food remained largely untouched. "What?"
Guy reached over and patted her hand. He looked at Will and explained, "Marion has not been feeling well since the explosion last night. Were you here then, Will, or had you taken off for your dalliance yet?"
Will walked over to the tankard of ale and poured himself a glass. He had rehearsed his alibi many times in his head, and wanted to be convincing. He was almost sure that no one had seen him talking to Robin just before Ika had thrown the explosive device, and he knew there was no one present when he had saddled the horse, but he had decided to be mostly truthful about the time he had departed.
"Yes, I was here - I was saddling my horse to go into town when I heard it. I looked in the direction of the courtyard where I thought it had taken place, and I saw you and Marion there. You both looked well enough, and I was in a foul mood, so I decided to go to town and avail myself of one of the local wenches. I trust that I was not missed too much?" He sauntered to the table and sat opposite Marion, on Guy’s left. A servant brought an extra set of tableware and placed it before Will.
Guy removed his hand from Marion’s and partook of his dinner again. He was evidently satisfied with Will’s explanation. "I see that my old friend Will
Scatlocke has come back to his senses! Well!..." Guy put a mouthful of venison onto his waiting tongue and chewed thoughtfully. Will, relieved but careful to show no emotion, waited. Guy continued, after chewing vigorously, swallowing a gulp of ale, and wiping his mouth.
"You know, of course, that in two days I will be a married man, so I trust you are not counting on me to join in your irresponsible ways?" He raised an eyebrow and looked at Will as he sat back in his chair.
Will laughed aloud at the thought, knowing what a shock it would be to
Guy to know exactly what fun was in store for him at Will’s hands. "No, Guy, I wouldn’t think of distracting you at this most important time." Will reached over and grabbed a chunk of venison for himself. He glanced at Marion who seemed in a daze. The high-spirited woman that Will had come to admire seemed invisible, and he resolved to find a moment to speak with her privately, to give her hope. Her friends were near, ready to help. And Will himself would not stop until Robin Hood and Marion were safely out of this viper’s nest.
Shortly after Will had sat down, another servant entered the room and marched over to Guy, leaning over and speaking quietly into Guy’s ear. Will could not overhear the words, but was sure it had something to do with Guy’s plans for Robin. Guy placed his napkin onto the table, grasped Marion’s hand again and pulled her gaze to his with a squeeze of her hand.
"Please excuse me, my dear. Pressing business. I want to tie up all my loose ends so that after the wedding, we will have no distractions." He rose, nodded at Will with a warning in his look which Will read easily as "Do not upset my lady love, or else..." and glided out of the room, followed by the servant.
Encouraged by this fortunate timing, and finding himself alone with Marion, Will quickly put down his fork and looked straight at Marion. "Lady? May I be bold once again and speak with you?"
Marion forced herself to study Will’s face. The earnest concern adorning it was compelling. She had been longing to speak with someone who knew Robin and cared for him, but she knew that this was an impossible wish. Here in Guy’s castle, away from Sherwood, and in a self-imposed emotional exile from Robin, she was alone. Yet... here was a man who claimed to have won Robin’s confidence. And she was deeply troubled by the events of the last few days, especially events in the past twenty-four hours. She made a decision to stay and listen to what he had to say.
"Speak freely, Sir William - uh, Will - I am ready to listen."
Will stood and rounded the table. He bent down next to Marion’s chair and began. "I have just returned from Sherwood."
Marion gasped a protest, "But, the woman? I thought you’d been in town"
"A ruse. She is your friend Chloe, from Sherwood." Marion’s eyes grew wider. Surely, Chloe would not have agreed to come with this man without consulting with Tuck or Little John. Perhaps she herself could also trust this man Will Scatlocke Marion urged him to continue.
"I saw Robin last night before the explosion. I met him in the courtyard. He was desperate to find you, but was being chased by Master Ika. He pushed me into the shadows, so I would not be discovered, and then he was caught in the explosion. How is he today? Does he live?"
Marion, reeling from the importance of this disclosure, grabbed Will’s arm and launched into more questions instead of answering his. "You say he was looking for me? That Ika was inside the courtyard?"
"Yes, Marion. And after Robin fell to the ground, Guy caught up to him and spoke with Ika. They are partners in this detestable scheme!"
Marion looked away and anger stole over her face. "I should have known!" She castigated herself. She closed her eyes, and leaned her head back against the high back of the chair. "Oh, Robin, what have I done?"
Will saw that she was hanging on by a thread, and attempted to help her shore up her defenses.
"Marion, is Robin still alive?"
Marion looked back at Will, "Yes. But the explosion has set him back in his recovery." She became pensive, and paused before continuing. "He regained consciousness last night after you had gone. Guy was speaking to the doctor by the doorway, and I was standing by Robin’s bedside. He moaned and opened his eyes, and then he suddenly grabbed my arm and tried to pull himself up towards me. He was disoriented, and I was afraid.
He mumbled ‘Ika’ and ‘Guy’ and then he fell back onto the bed. I thought he was telling me that Ika was now after Guy as well as us. Robin kept looking at me, and I knew he wanted to say more. I leaned down and he whispered ‘trust Will’ - which I found curious as you were nowhere to be found - but then he lapsed into unconsciousness again. I could not piece together what he was talking about, and then Guy came over to the bed. He told me we needed to leave Robin alone with the doctor, so that he could tend to his new wounds. That was when we left." She stared at the table, but focused on nothing at all. "I haven’t seen him since."
Will, alarmed at this, asked, "Did Robin drink anything the doctor or
Elsie gave him?"
Marion sat up more uprightly in her chair, "Why? Are you saying that
Guy is having him poisoned?"
"He was trying, but I had warned Robin right from the start to avoid anything either one of them offered him. My squire has been supplying Robin with the food and drink he needs to get well all this time. I hope Robin was able to resist them again last night and today."
Marion replied, "I did see your squire enter his room today." Will looked worried. "Rest easy, Will. I was alone at the time and no one else was around - even Elsie had gone to the kitchen just then. Your squire was careful." Will sighed. Marion continued. "What are we going to do? A fine mess I’ve gotten us into. And this wedding is supposed to happen in just two days!"
"That is not the worst of it, I fear, Lady. Guy has invited Prince John, and has plans to turn Robin over to the prince during your wedding feast."
Marion fumed. "He is the most foul, false, despicable man I have ever known!" She bolted out of her chair, her former vigor and spirit restored. "To think that I actually believed that he would honor my only request - to have Robin safely brought back to Sherwood. I am such a fool!" She paced back and forth, inconsolable, fists and jaw clenched tightly.
Will rose and joined her. "I have more news. Little John, Friar Tuck and Kemal are waiting in the very cave where we found you and Robin. They will be attempting to enter the castle tomorrow, with my help. Can we go to Robin now and speak with him?"
Marion stopped and grasped Will’s forearms as her hands shook with intensity. "Yes. We must go to Robin. I have to beg his forgiveness, and we have to get him out of here. I fear he is too weak to be moved just yet, though."
Will thought a moment. "It may be for the best, Marion. Another day to put our plans into action will be helpful. Guy must not know that we have talked about this. You have to go on with this ruse - that you love him and plan to marry him, and that you fully expect him to release Robin as you have asked. Can you do this, Marion?"
She nodded her head. "It won’t be easy. I would rather draw my sword on him now, but I will do my best."
Thus charged with emotion, Marion and Will quickly and quietly made their way to Robin’s chamber. They found Elsie sitting by his bedside. Robin, when he caught sight of Marion, pushed himself up in his bed and groaned involuntarily. His eyes locked onto Marion’s and both were speechless. Will, sensing the awkward moment, walked up to Elsie and pompously ordered, "Elsie, I have a mind to badger this outlaw for awhile, and I have such a thirst! Would you be so good as to go to the kitchen and fetch me a tankard of ale?"
Elsie, always leery of anyone who gave her orders other than her precious Guy, agreed to this, but after exiting the room, she walked a bit down the hall, and then stayed nearby, in the shadows. Will followed her to the door, satisfied himself that she was gone, and closed the door over. It did not bolt shut, but remained ajar. Elsie silently neared the door and listened to the ensuing conversation.
At first, it was deathly quiet. Robin peered into Marion’s eyes, trying to see what she was feeling. He had never felt so distant from her in all their years together. Marion, for her part, was so chagrined at her naivete with Guy, that she did not know how to begin to explain her recent thoughts and actions. Will looked first at one of them, and then the other. Their bond was almost palpable, and their pain was evident. He knew someone had to break the ice, so he spoke first.
"Robin, I don’t know how much time we have, so I will get right to the point."
Robin never moved his eyes from Marion’s but nodded his head in agreement for Will to go on. Will continued. "Robin, I’ve been to Sherwood. Tuck, Little John and Kemal are nearby, in the cave Guy found you in last week. They are expecting to be let into the castle tomorrow, at a side entrance that I know is poorly guarded. Then we’ll get you out of here. Do you think you can move if we support your weight?"
Robin nodded his head once, and though he answered Will’s comments, he never took his eyes off of Marion. "That is good news. I will be able to walk with help, but I can’t run. Marion, are you coming with us tomorrow? Back to Sherwood?"
Marion nearly wept with frustration at herself, and the necessity for Robin to even ask the question. She felt ridiculous in the gown Guy had given her, and she felt awash in the emotions that got her to this point in the first place. Robin, battered and bruised, lay in a bed. His wounds pained her. The insistent desire of her heart had been never to have to face Robin’s wounds again, never to have to worry for his safety. But the trade-off had been never to see him again, and to spend her life instead with a man who thought nothing of double-crossing her, and playing her for a fool. She could not look into the eyes of her one love and comprehend her foolish trust in the faithless Guy of Gisborne. But she did not know how to explain to Robin all that she was thinking and feeling at that moment. So she answered simply,
"If you would have me to come with you, I will, Robin." Her eyes entreated him, needing an answer.
Robin smiled his half-smile and responded warmly, "There is no other place I’d have you be, Marion. I thought you knew that?"
Will, watching the interchange, sensed their need for privacy, and backed away. He entered the hallway moments after Elsie had left it. He never heard her as she scurried to find Guy and tell him her news. Will waited patiently in the hall as Marion and Robin tried to reconnect.
Robin tried to get to the edge of the bed, but was caught up in pain again. Marion, seeing his distress, hurried over to him and reached out to support him. She put her hands out to help him pull himself up to a sit on the side of the bed, and Robin managed to sit upright. As he caught his breath, Marion squatted in front of him, her hands still clasped inside his.
"Robin, can you forgive me?" Her voice was barely above a whisper. She dreaded the answer, but needed to know.
Robin dropped one of her hands and placed his palm on her cheek. A single tear had wended its way down and he lightly brushed it with his thumb.
"I can, and I do. But, Marion, I think it is I that should be apologizing. I have been very hard on you lately."
Marion felt his warm hand on her cheek, and lifted her own hand to caress his. She closed her eyes and lost herself in this moment. She recalled the poem she had written to Robin so many years before, the one he had kept close to his heart and recited to her not so very long ago in this same castle. How could she have forgotten her promise at the end of it - that they would never part? Her reverie was interrupted by Robin’s hushed voice as he spoke her name. "Marion?’
She opened her eyes, and saw forgiveness in his. He continued, "I need you to be with me. I can’t stand the thought of losing you." Especially to Guy, he thought to himself. He still feared that she might really hold some affection for Guy, and dreaded telling her of Guy’s association with Ika, and plans with Prince John. But he dreaded more the idea that Marion would have even considered marrying the man he reviled most.
Marion lifted her other hand and moved a few strands of Robin’s hair away from his eyes. "You will never lose me, Robin. I know that now. I thought I could free us from this bond we have, because it seemed to be causing us only pain. But I was wrong. There is more pain in the severing of it than in the living it out."
Robin wrinkled a brow, trying to grasp what she was saying. He wanted to kiss her, and leaned forward. Their lips gently met and clung for a second. They opened their eyes and looked fully into each other’s soul for that instant, and then kissed again, longer and harder.
Then Will cleared his throat in the hallway and the moment was over.
Marion looked back over her shoulder, and then again at Robin. "Someone may be coming, Robin. I had better go. Please don’t do anything rash! I will come and check on you later." She stroked his cheek once and then ran to the door, her skirts gathered in her hand to avoid tripping. Will peeked in the room and waved to Robin who was staring at the door where Marion had departed. "Till tomorrow, friend."
Robin answered, "Tomorrow." And then they were gone. Robin felt hope as he had not felt it in the many days and nights he had spent in Guy’s oppressive castle. And he felt sure that Marion was once again his own Marion. Guy had lost, again.
Marion and Will tried to walk hurriedly but surreptitiously down the hallway back to the place they had dined. Halfway there, they heard Guy calling them, and then he was upon them. With him stood Henry and three other armed men. Elsie brought up the rear, a triumphant look spread across her flushed face. Guy looked at Will and slowly shook his head.
"I should have trusted my instincts about you, Will. You are no friend of mine." He moved his head in the direction of the armed men, and two of them stepped forward and clasped Will by each of his arms. "Take him down to the prison," Guy commanded.
Marion, taking in the situation rapidly, uttered a protest. "No! Guy, you can’t do this!"
Guy swerved his dark, brilliant eyes onto hers. "Oh, can’t I? I think you are mistaken, my bride." He looked again at the guards and motioned to them to carry on. They dragged Will out of sight, as he pled with his eyes to Marion to stay strong.
Marion bristled at Guy’s audacity. "I am not your bride yet, Guy."
"Oh, but you will be, my dear, for if you don’t go on with our wedding as planned, I will have your new friend Will executed as an outlaw, aiding and abetting Robin Hood. And I will just have to kill Robin, too, instead of turning him over to Prince John..."
Marion approached Guy and nearly slapped him on the face, but he caught her moving arm in his hand, and his grip was fierce. She winced in pain. Guy threatened, "Do not put me to the test, my dear, for I am made of stronger stuff than you know." He pulled her and thrust her towards Henry, who, with the remaining guard, grabbed her by the arms.
Guy ordered them to take her to her room, and lock her in. They obeyed. Guy turned to Elsie and smiled. "I do love to get my way!" He laughed as he headed to the dining hall. Elsie turned and recovered her seat beside Robin, who was unaware of the capture of Will and Marion.
Hours later, Chloe, who had been alternately pacing the room and trying to rest in bed, made up her mind. She didn’t care what Will said, she was going to leave the room and try to find him, or Marion or Robin. She was tired of waiting! So she silently opened the door, and snuck down the cold stone passageways of this strange castle. She looked into many empty rooms, but eventually chanced upon Robin’s. Elsie had fallen asleep, and was snoring in the bed on the far wall. Robin heard Chloe’s entrance, and, because he was unable to see her at first, thought she was Marion.
"Marion?" he whispered.
Chloe tiptoed over to Robin, her index finger held up to her lips. She glanced over at Elsie and asked, "Can we trust that woman?"
Robin shook his head "No," and Chloe continued to whisper. "Have you seen Will yet?"
Robin nodded his head. "He and Marion were here a few hours ago. I know about Little John and the others in the cave. Why are you here, Chloe?"
"I was Will’s alibi - to get him back in without Guy suspecting anything. But I’m worried, Robin. Will has not returned to his room, and he and I were supposed to go over the plan for tomorrow. Did he say where he was going? -"
Elsie’s loud snore interrupted the inquiry as she snorted, licked her lips and rolled over. Robin alertly watched his captor and then, satisfied that she still slept, carried on, "I don’t like this. Will should have returned to you by now. You’ll need to find Marion’s room, Chloe, and see if she is missing, too."
Chloe nodded, and looked concerned, "I barely found you, Robin. Do you have any idea where Marion might be?"
Robin thought back to the time when he had scaled the wall to her bedroom here all those months age. He tried to explain to Chloe as best he could where he thought Marion might be. Chloe nodded in agreement, and stole out of the room.
She wended her way through the cold, dark hallways. Several times, she thought she heard someone following her, and she paused, hiding in a doorway or a crevice in the walls, but no one materialized. Eventually, she found her way to Marion’s room. The door was locked, so she called Marion’s name as loudly as she dared. Marion, inside the room, dashed to the door.
"Chloe, is that you?"
"Yes, Marion. Open the door!"
Marion sighed, "I can’t! Guy knows everything. He has locked me in, and put Will down in the prison. How did you find me?"
Chloe started to explain, "I found Robin, and told him Will was missing. He sent me to find you so I -"
A rough hand clasped over Chloe’s mouth and the owner of it finished her statement for her, "So she will just have to spend more time talking to you, Marion." Henry pulled a key out of his pocket and opened Marion’s door. He thrust the door open with his booted foot, knocking Marion onto her seat. She sat fuming as Henry threw Chloe into the room, smiled broadly, and closed the door over. He laughed aloud as he relocked the door. Then his loud footsteps rung in the hallways as he left.
Marion looked at Chloe as they picked themselves up off the floor. "Are you all right, Chloe?"
"Yes," Chloe frowned, "but a fine mess we have now. Robin has no idea that Guy has taken Will prisoner, or locked you here. And now none of us is free to let in Little John, Tuck and Kemal in the morning!" She sighed in frustration.
Marion looked alarmed, but her face suddenly brightened. "Will’s squire - did Guy take him?"
Chloe responded, "No, I don’t think so. But he doesn’t know anything about the plan, does he?"
Marion concentrated. "Maybe not, but he goes to Robin regularly, and
Robin is sure to figure out that there’s trouble if none of us returns to him."
Chloe agreed. The two women sat down on the large bed and there was a moment of frustrated silence. Chloe looked over at her friend and ventured a question.
"Marion, can I ask you something?"
Marion pulled herself out of her thwarted thoughts, and looked at Chloe. "Go ahead, Chloe."
Chloe waited a moment, then asked, "Were you really going to marry
Marion peered at Chloe and then stood up and paced the room. The answer to the query was obviously troublesome to Marion. "Yes, Chloe. I thought I could save Robin by marrying Guy."
Chloe was confused, "But Marion, Robin loves you. Everyone knows that. How could you possibly think of marrying the man Robin despises most in the world -"
Marion interrupted her. "I know. It seems crazy now, even to me. But you don’t know what it’s like to love a man who is always in danger, always getting hurt! And forever rejecting my attempts to protect him."
Chloe studied her friend’s face and felt pity for her situation. "No,
Marion, I don’t know about that, but I do know something about loving. And running away from it doesn’t change the feeling. Even if you had married Guy, you would still have loved Robin and worried for his safety. Didn’t you think about that?"
Marion, embarrassed at her evident lack of forethought, simply shook her head. "I was tired and alone, and Robin was really badly hurt. I ran into Guy, literally, as I was seeking help, and it just seemed like the only thing I could do at the time. I claim temporary insanity."
Chloe laughed. "Are you sane again?"
"Yes, I believe so. I did ask Robin to forgive my stupidity, and he did. I don’t have any hope that things will change as far as the danger and the pain, but I would rather live with that than without Robin."
Chloe and Marion were silent again, each lost in their thoughts.
Chloe found herself gravitating towards Will Scatlocke. She wanted to know more about him. There was a man worth finding out about. "Marion, tell me about Will. What is he like?"
Marion smiled a knowing smile and grasped Chloe’s hand. "A spark of interest, my dear?" She laughed aloud and felt happier than she had in weeks. Her newfound solutions were now grounded in reality instead of wishful thinking, and she felt free, despite the lock on the door. And so she told Chloe all that she could remember about Will from the past week of getting to know him, and the two women had an enjoyable conversation before they succumbed to sleep in the middle of the night.
End of part 15