Sir Guy of Gisbourne sat haphazardly on his chair, his right leg stretched out before him and his left hand stroking his chin. He studied the chessboard and contemplated his next move. The man opposite him studied his friend. They had known each other for most of their lives and were obviously comfortable around each other. He would not hurry Guy along, risking the sharp tongue and wrath of Guy. No, he knew enough to sit patiently and wait for his turn. Guy always beat him, anyway, so what was the point of rushing the game? He would just savor the luxury of being away from his own manor, where he was increasingly uncomfortable.
His eyes glazed as he withdrew into memories of recent events at his home. His mother, the sainted woman, had died less than a twelvemonth ago, but he missed her sweet nature more instead of less as time went on. And his father retreated in his mourning, and had few words for anyone, and those he did share were sharp. His younger sister had been married off to the wealthy and portly Lord Brisbane, a Norman with an affinity for wine and conversation, but no wit or sense. He irritated all who spent more than five minutes with him, including Will. And now that his father was so remote, the reeve and steward approached Will with all the concerns of the land, peasants, and livestock.
He was exhausted, and unprepared for the task of running the manor. If his older brother hadn’t gone off to fight in the blasted Crusades, and foolishly gotten himself killed, Will could have continued life as he liked – free of the burdens of responsibility, and full of frivolous pursuits. Thank God Guy was still alive after his short tenure in the Holy Land. At least he could relax here in Guy’s castle and enjoy the former freedom that they had known as youths.
"Knight takes pawn," Guy stated, with a sly smile creeping across his dark face. His eyes were alight with pleasure in his game-plan. It was obvious that he had the next six moves, through to check-mate, already planned. Much like his life, he thought, except for the arena of love. There, his well-laid plans had been overthrown by Robin Hood. The very thought of the villain brought bile into his throat. Marion was almost his own, until Robin Hood managed to escape the trap he and Ika had set for him. Confound the man - he had more lives than the proverbial cat!
But he was human, and there must be some way to both rid the world of Robin and secure Marion for himself. Guy clenched his teeth and tensed the muscles in his jaws at the thought. He would never admit defeat, especially at the hands of Robin Hood. Not while there was breath in his body. And he would never give up hope that Marion could one day be his. She had returned his kiss right here in his garden; he had felt her emotion then, and he would make it surface again.
He looked at his friend Will’s face and urged him on with a wave of his hand, betraying nothing more with his words.
Will acknowledged his opponent’s move, and after a brief consideration, lightly moved his queen.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Guy asked, before Will had taken his hand off the queen. Will looked again at the board, and while studying it, a servant entered.
"What is it?" Guy glowered at the servant. "This had better be worth the interruption."
The servant bit his lower lip, bowed slightly, and announced a messenger from Prince John.
Guy sat up straight in his chair and looked at Will. "This could be interesting." He raised an incredulous eyebrow at his friend. Will turned his attention toward the door, and a soldier marched into the room.
"Sir Guy?" the soldier bowed briefly, and looked quizzically at the two men, unsure which one was Guy.
Guy spoke up, "Yes?"
"I have a message from Prince John to all his loyal subjects, on behalf of King Richard."
Will piped in to his friend, "Whose loyal subjects? John’s or Richard’s?"
Guy smurked a half-smile in response, then looked back at the messenger. "Indeed. Go on."
"Yes, sir. My lord, King Richard has been taken prisoner by the King of Austria, and Prince John has levied triple the tax, in order to ransom him. He asks for your cooperation in helping him to collect the tax in your region."
Guy stroked his chin again, then pushed himself up, out of the chair, and paced. "I see..." His mind raced with the possibilities. As in a chess game, he saw all the moves and their effects as they raced through his mind. He knew Prince John would tenaciously collect the taxes, but he knew equally well that the Prince had no intention of ever releasing the money for its intended purpose. And he knew as well that this would flush Robin out of his dreaded Sherwood forest, where he was, so far, successfully hidden from both Guy and Prince John.
Perhaps there could be much to gain by assisting the prince in his collections. "I want you to return to the Prince, and give him this message. I will help him collect this tax, for this very worthy cause. I expect no more return for my efforts than what the Prince himself gains. Do you understand?" He glared at the soldier, who nodded curtly and left the room.
Will had been listening carefully to the interchange. He scrutinized his friend, and understood his full meaning in a moment. "You have no intention of sending the monies you collect to Austria, do you, Guy?"
Guy strode across the room to the large fire place and stoked the fire.
"Why, Will. Do you doubt my integrity?" He smiled at his friend, and laughed aloud. "Of course, I will need to recuperate the financial losses from such a venture, and I will need to compensate my men, and myself for taking the risk in the first place. And," here he set the tongs against the wall and stood up to his full height, "Prince John will need to be compensated as well. And I have to account for the losses that I will undoubtedly suffer at the hands of that notorious thief, Robin Hood." Here, he smiled mysteriously, and returned to his chair.
Will had heard of the former Robert of Locksley being forced off his land, and knew of Prince John’s involvement. He had known that because his own mother had been a Norman, his Saxon father had been spared the same fate as Robert’s had suffered. He was wary of all politics, as it had no place in the life of one dedicated to pleasure and frivolity, so he had remained aloof to the machinations of the Prince and his minions, up until now. But as he had become more involved in the daily life and decision processes of the manor, he had found himself drawn in, unwillingly, to the web of politics and, necessarily, deceit and betrayal. It was not to his liking.
Gaming was one thing, and lying to pretty wenches was, in his estimation,
a challenge. But playing with other people’s allegiances was dangerous. He also did not like the murderous intent written across Guy’s face whenever he mentionned Robin Hood. He wanted to dismiss this conversation and return to the chess game.
"Guy, I know you as well as I knew my brother. And I know there is no love lost between you and Robin Hood. But the man has lost everything. Can’t you let it go? And I prefer not to get mixed up in your plans for this ransom money and your dealings with Prince John, so can we just get on with the chess game?"
Guy smouldered and leaned forward across the table. His arm inadvertantly knocked over several chess pieces as he spat out, "Robin Hood has the most precious thing in England - he has Marion Fitzwalter by his side. I would trade all that I have to have the loyalty and respect of that woman, not to mention her love. And I would have it, but for Robin’s interference! He is a marked man, Will. If you will not help me, stay out of my way."
Will knew he had crossed the line, and backed off. "Guy, I never interfere in another man’s quarrels. Marion must have grown up to be quite a woman to get you this incensed. Do as you please, with Robin, and with the blasted ransom money." He looked down at the chess board. "Looks like the game is over. How about dinner?"
Guy sat back and refocused on the board. He cursed at himself for knocking over the pieces. He dearly loved to savor victory. "We’ll start a new game afterwards," he announced, and rose from his seat. Will nodded his head, relieved to be released from the wrath of Guy.
End of Part Three