...the guards muttered to each other. "Robin Hood has taken all of this collection for the ransom!"
The early afternoon sun’s rays penetrated the dusty air and illuminated the large, cold main room of Guy’s castle. Reeds strewn along the floor were fresh, and a fire blazed cheerfully in the stone fireplace at the end of the hall. Marion, utterly exhausted after the inadequate night’s rest in the cave with Robin, and emotionally spent from pursuing the façade with Guy, sat heavily in a large chair. She noted with some irony that she had not sat in a chair with cushions since the last time that she had been here. The whole situation felt like a dream - no, a nightmare – from which she could not waken. Earlier, as she had stood by Robin’s bed watching the ministrations for his injuries, she knew that Guy was watching her with equal intensity. She knew that she had to be convincing in her shift of affections from Robin to Guy. And with all the tension that she and Robin had been experiencing of late, that didn’t seem too difficult a task. For, in truth, though she did love Robin more than her own life, she found herself doubting his love in return.
The night he had reappeared in her window after the blast at the tavern, and quoted to her the poem she had written for him so many years ago, she was so sure of his love for her. He had almost kissed her that night.... But ever since then, he had distanced himself, and even reprimanded her for her extra precautions to watch over him. The tension had become an almost palpable presence between them. Perhaps she had been mistaken. Robin did love her, but not in the way she thought. Maybe it was just the relief at surviving that night that made him say what he did. He certainly wasn’t saying anything like it since then. She felt like a fool.
And yet, she could not deny what she felt for him. There was no explaining away the love within her heart for Robin. And there was no escaping the fact that this very love was slowly killing her. The constant drain from worry over his safety, and the lack of reciprocal concern on his part for her, or even gratitude for her concern, were all taking their toll. She felt she was on the edge of a precipice, looking down at her own fate. If she continued to pursue Robin and hover over him despite his obvious lack of interest in this pursuit, she had nowhere to go but down. Still, she believed in Robin Hood, the leader, and wanted him to be well so that he could continue his work with the company at Sherwood. And if she was irritating him, or worse, was in his way because of her foolish fancies, it was better that she get out of the way. She reasoned with herself that if she worked the situation right, she would have Guy eating out of her hand. He would give her anything she wanted, as long as she gave him what he wanted. She really had no choice but to promise herself to Guy in order to spare Robin’s life and liberty. Guy would never dare hurt Robin, so long as Marion made it clear that Robin’s safe return to Sherwood would secure for Guy what he wanted.
Unlike Robin, Guy had been bold and clear about his feelings for Marion, and the forthrightness was actually refreshing, even if it was from Guy of Gisbourne. So, seated in the comfortable chair, warmed by the fire, Marion formulated her plan and firmed her resolve. Robin would live, would heal, would be free. And she would free herself from the impossible love of him by allying herself with Guy. She might even be able to change Guy, and help him to become the kind of man that, if not of the same mind as Robin, would at least not interfere with Robin’s work. Her time in Sherwood was over, and she felt both sorrow and relief as she imagined life here in Guy’s castle.
After learning from Brian of the imminent arrival of Robin and Marion’s friends, Guy alerted the head of his castle guard. Henry was a good man, loyal to Guy, and effective at his job. He would secure the areas that Kemal had been aware of from the past. The three friends of Robin would find no entrance to Guy’s castle on this day, or in the future. Not until Guy was ready for them...
Pleased with his preparedness, Guy strode into the hall and found Marion nearly asleep in the chair before the fire. He stopped and stared at her, a million thoughts firing through his mind. She was so beautiful! And she would be his. Had she not said she had feelings for him, right in front of Robin? Ah, the decimation on Robin’s face when she had spoken those words! It was the victory he had longed for over countless years. And though he knew that Marion was only saying what he wanted to hear, in order to get Robin into a safe place while he was so vulnerable, he also sensed that Marion was not entirely fabricating her story. There were distant tremblings within that woman that he knew he had set in motion, and he resolved to stir them up to obliterate whatever it was she felt for Robin.
He approached her and gently spoke her name. She opened her eyes and looked up at Guy. The love and desire for her that were unspoken in his eyes penetrated into her lonely and frustrated heart. "God forgive me," she thought to herself. "I know what this man is and what he is capable of... but I feel somehow safe here with him." She raised her voice and asked, "Where have you been, Guy? I have been waiting for you."
"Just tending to the business of the castle, my dear. Now we really should get you up to your room. I have had one of the maids reassigned to wait upon you and she has located another gown for you to wear. Now that you have seen that Robin has been adequately cared for, you can see to yourself. You should change and freshen up. Rest until you feel better, then we will eat."
Marion found herself thinking about the luxury of a feather bed, and warm blankets, and decent food, and was instantly ashamed at her weakness. But she did not disagree with him. "All right, Guy, I’ll go. But can we talk tonight?"
Guy took her hand and raised her from her chair. He looked into her blue eyes and smiled. Then he kissed the back of her hand and replied, "I look forward to it, Marion. Rest well."
Outside the castle, Kemal approached the last of the entrances that he thought would be unsecured. He pulled back silently as he saw the unexpected guard round the corner, and then he heard several more men close behind the leader. He murmured under his breath at this turn of events. He retreated to Little John and Tuck and reported to them.
"Guy must have heard we were coming, or assumed we would come. He has every entrance secured. There is no way else to get in that I know of. We’ll have to go back to Sherwood and think this through."
"But what about Robin and Marion?" Little John interjected, concern for his friends etched across his face.
Tuck looked at Kemal, then at Little John. "If Marion is hurt, you know that Guy would do anything to help her. He still loves her, beyond reason. And if Robin is hurt, and Marion is with him, then Guy would never hurt Robin for fear of further alienating Marion. I think Kemal is right. Time is on our side here, so let’s go back to camp and make a better plan."
Little John sighed audibly and nodded his head reluctantly. "If you two think this is the best plan, I’ll have to go along with you. But I will say that I don’t like it, not a bit!’
The three outlaws disappeared into the woods, and made their way back to Sherwood Forest silently. Tracking them at a distance was Brian, careful to maintain his anonymity. His pockets were full of the coin Guy had just given him, so he walked carefully, lest he jingle and give himself away.
Robin lay on the bed, his head was throbbing and his right leg was set and bound. His right arm was dressed but still burned, and his tongue felt thick and dry. As he looked about the room with his good eye, everything was blurred, no matter how many times he blinked. He willed himself to awaken more fully and to think clearly, but it was a struggle. He tried to prop himself up with his left hand, and slowly, he succeeded. His last memory was staring into the eyes of one of his arch enemies, Guy of Gisbourne. And Marion had been there, but he couldn’t remember her eyes... He only remembered feeling a sense of eparation from her, and felling that dread descend upon him again.
He fought dizziness, and the room began to spin. He laid himself back down and regrouped. Who did he know in Guy’s castle, for that was surely where they must have brought him? His thoughts were interrupted by a strange voice of a servant he did not know.
Guy had been careful to put a time-honored, faithful servant in the room, to keep an eye on Robin at all times, and to report any conversation between Robin and Marion. Her name was Elizabeth, but everyone called her Elsie. She had served Guy for years, and his father before him. She was older than anyone knew, but hale and healthy. She had few teeth, but all her wits, and very little escaped her attention. And Guy had been like a son to her. She watched Robin rouse himself, then drop back onto the bed. She felt no love for this man, as he had prevented her Guy from achieving his goal of marrying the Maid Marion. So, she had no qualms following the orders given to her to feed him the doctor’s "tea" four times a day, and she knew full well what was in that tea. Well, it was only what he deserved, she reasoned.
"Master Robin, are you awake? Sir Guy has put me in charge of your care, and I have some tea for you to drink."
Robin looked in the direction of the voice. He saw the old woman sitting on a stool in the corner, near the fireplace. She stood and approached him with a cup of tea in her hand, and pulled her stool up to his bed. "I’ll help you drink this. It should help you feel better."
Robin was feeling rather queasy from his headache and pain, but was afraid to turn the old woman down. She looked rather stern, and he didn’t want to fight is nursemaid. He propped himself up again and agreed. "Thank you." He took a sip, and then paused. "That is good. Say, what is your name? I see you already know mine."
"They call me Elsie here. It would suit me for you to do the same. Now, drink your tea, or I shall report to the doctor that you are not obeying his orders." As she began to serve him the cup again, Marion entered the room.
She was dressed in a long gown of the color of spruce. Her hair had been brushed and put up by the maid Guy had given her. She looked a little more rested than earlier, and in Robin’s opinion, she had never looked lovelier. He noted a flash of longing in her eyes before she spoke. Her words belied that look, "Robin, I hope you are being cooperative with Elsie. I don’t want you to give her any trouble. You need to get well, so you can go back to Sherwood."
"Marion, why did you do this?" He quickly looked over at Elsie and begged her, "Can we speak privately, Elsie?"
Elsie nodded her head once, and her hips creaked as she raised herself from the chair. She lumbered out of the room, but stayed by the door so as to overhear any conversation.
Marion’s eyes flashed as she marched over to Robin’s bed. "You have no right to question me, Robin! You were hardly in a position to turn away help, no matter what form that help comes in. I did the only thing I could have done, given the circumstances. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut for once, and cooperate. There is a chance you will get out of this alive, if you do!"
Robin hardly recognized Marion as she railed at him. In his wildest imagination, he would never have thought her capable of this kind of foolhardy trust in Guy. And her anger at Robin himself carried more force than he had ever yet would have experienced from her. He knew in in instant that he was largely responsible for provoking that anger over the past few weeks, but he, in turn, was angry with her for her over-protectiveness. And her lack of confidence in him had been even harder to bear. She just did not understand him, or his needs. So he glared back at her. "If we are going to get out of this mess, we have to work together, Marion. Talk to me, now, and we’ll work out our differences later, all right?"
As Marion searched Robin’s bruised face, she found no evidence of the love she had longed to find there - love she was sure had been there at one time. Her resolve to continue her plan strengthened, she turned away and ran out of the room. She turned into the hall and raised her hand to her face, the tears beginning to well up and course down her cheeks. Every time she was with Robin, it seemed she expected it to be like the old times, comfortable and confident in their relationship - whatever that had been. But instead, it was only painful and full of strife. Why did she set herself up for a fall again and again? As she stifled a sob, she ran full force into Will.
Will, for his part, had been slowly walking down the hall, aiming for the hall and possibly a continuation of the latest chess game with Guy. He had seen Marion blindly running down the hallway, and was ready when she plowed into him. He steadied her with his firm grip and gently looked at her face. "Lady Marion, please excuse me. I am afraid I have stumbled into you quite unannounced."
Marion rapidly pulled herself together, though she could not hide the telltale sign of tears already fallen. "No, Sir William. I fear the fault is mine. I was not looking where I was going. Please excuse me." And with that, she pulled herself away and ran to her room.
Will watched her go, and then went to the room where Robin lay. He encountered Elsie as she was once again attempting to spoon- feed Robin the tea, and Will realized that the poisoning had already begun. He also reasoned that Marion’s tears were not over Robin’s failing health, as, though he did look flushed with fever, he was fairly robust, and had been well tended by Guy’s doctor. No, these two were more than comrades in arms. There was something in her eyes, both in the cave and here, after being with Robin , that spoke of a deep love. He wanted to understand it. And he wanted to spare this man’s life from the poisoning. But how?
"Elsie, it appears that our patient here has little appetite for that right now." It was the only thing he could think of, stalling for time and a better plan. Elsie rose again, sighing with the effort. "I’ll be leaving you two gentlemen, then. But I’ll be back with some fresh food and drink." She left them.
Robin looked up and saw the tall, blond man standing in the doorway. The trim beard and elegant clothing spoke of wealth and breeding. The sparkling hazel eyes and high brow indicated intelligence. The man had the build of a soldier, but the hands of a man not accustomed to any labor. Robin was intrigued by the figure.
"And who might you be, stranger?" Robin queried.
"I am a friend." He paused, for effect, it seemed. "Of Guy’s. And you,
I hear, are not."
Robin tried to discern from the spoken words what the man was really saying, but was unsure. "That is true. But that does not make you and I necessarily enemies."
Robin lowered himself back onto the bed, another wave of dizziness washing over him. He apologized to Will, "Forgive my position. As you can see, I am a bit indisposed."
Will nodded, then approached the bed. He extended his right hand to
Robin’s bandaged one. "My name is Will Scatlocke. I have heard of you,
Robin Hood. I will come back soon to talk to you again, when you are feeling
better." He began to leave, then turned back and quietly added, "And, if
I was you, I would not drink Elsie’s tea. She has never been very talented
with beverages." He was careful to make full eye contact with the wounded
outlaw, to convey the importance of his statement. Robin nodded once and
Will disappeared .
End of Part Nine