Title: A Place to Call Home, Chapter Nine (10/?)
Summary: “I do not love you,” she cried in frustration. “Why do you want me?”
Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of the BBC. All rights reserved. No copyright infringement intended and no profit is made by the author.
A/N: I’ve set this story immediately after the events of the first season finale. However, I have included information derived from subsequent episodes, in particular from season three’s “Bad Blood” used here for my purposes as source material and plot motives for the characters.
As a further note, I personally found the character of Isabella to be a tired and terrible plot contrivance, so for my purposes, she never existed. Guy was raised an only child.
(This chapter is long on exposition. Necessary, I believe to the story and hopefully done in an interesting and entertaining way)
They spent the next day apart. Guy did his best to avoid the Sheriff, instead toiling for hours on the training field with his own men. Sweating, despite the chill of the crisp autumn day, he welcomed the mindless rote of performing the same drills over and over again and took relief in the stretch and burn of muscles as he pushed himself to his physical limits and used the punishing exercises to wipe his mind clear of the unpleasant memories dredged up the prior day.
For her part, Marian used the routine of her day to ponder the things she had learned about her husband’s early life and wondered about the rest of his story. What had happened to him next? And how had he come to return to the place from which he had been cast out?
Evening had fallen and the manor house was quiet as all its occupants had retired to their chambers. Seated at the small table near the window, Guy reviewed his steward’s monthly report. Repeatedly dipping a quill into an inkwell, he scratched notations along the edges of the pages. Though intent on his labors, he was nonetheless aware of his wife’s presence as she sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed, brushing her hair. He shifted, settling more comfortably in his chair, pleased by the peaceful domesticity of the scene. For – despite the constant turmoil in which he lived his life – he was a man who, at times, longed for quiet.
He watched from the corner of his eye as Marian rhythmically pulled the brush through the dark waves of her hair and stared hypnotically into the flames flickering in the hearth. He was wholly unaware that – despite her seemingly dreamy absentmindedness – her attention was focused squarely on him and so was startled when she spoke.
“Will you tell me the rest?”
He raised his eyes from his work and blinked in confusion. “The rest of what?” he asked.
“Will you not tell me what happened to you after you left here all those years ago?”
His fingers tightened around the quill, crushing the feathers until they were limp and flattened from the heat and force of his punishing grip.
“I did not leave,” he corrected in a flat voice. “I was banished.”
She lowered the brush to her lap. “Yes.”
“It is an old story and not particularly pretty.” He dismissed her request and pretended to return his attention to his work. He felt her staring at his back and hunched his shoulders briefly in defense.
“Please,” she asked quietly. “I wish to know.”
Guy lay down the quill and turned in his chair. “It is long in the past and means nothing now.”
“You do not believe that any more than I,” she protested. “Please.”
She held out a hand and crooked her fingers toward him. Unable to resist the unusual lore of his wife beckoning him to her side, he rose from his seat and settled stiffly on the bed.
“What is it you wish to know?” His voice was gruff with trepidation.
“Everything,” she murmured. “Where you went. What you did. How you lived.”
“It has been many years,” he protested. “Much time has passed.”
“And I am sure you recall practically every moment of each one of those early days,” she countered. “Please. I would like to know.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and rubbed suddenly damp hands on his sleeves.
“I… I stayed in the area for a little while,” he began tentatively. “I thought that if I could remain nearby – find work and a place to live – I could eventually reclaim the Gisborne land.” He closed his eyes. “But no one would hire me.” He opened his eyes and glanced at her. “It seems that there were many who were more than happy to spread the news of my parents’ deaths far and wide and none who cared to employ the son of a leper and a French whore.”
“Do not!” she exclaimed. “Do not speak of them with such vile words.”
He barked out a disbelieving laugh. “I warned you that the story was often unpleasant,” he reminded her. “And I have only just begun to tell it. Would you rather I stop now?”
“No. But neither would I have you use such foul words. They may not have been free of faults,” she stressed, “but they were your parents and worthy of your respect!”
“These are not my words,” he pointed out. “But rather, they are those of the good people of this shire.”
And with that, so many things clicked into place in Marian’s mind. Guy’s disregard for the people of Nottingham and the surrounding villages, the cold satisfaction he took in their misery – all could be traced back to that time, that turning point in his life. The grudge he held against the very people she fought so hard to protect was one he had held for more than half his life. It was easy for her to imagine him tending it as one would a dying flame – nursing and feeding the embers of his hatred to keep it alive and growing.
She felt despair well up within her and wondered how she could ever hope to turn him from this path he had trod for so long. She swallowed past the lump in her throat and gestured for him to continue.
“In the end, I abandoned the idea of finding a way to stay nearby.”
“Where did you go?”
“I – I just started to walk. I did not have a destination in mind. I took odd jobs where and when I could.”
“And when you could not? What did you do then?”
“I took what I needed,” he confessed. “Vegetables from a field or a loaf of bread from a market stall. Clothing drying on a line. I left here with naught but the clothes on my back – every possession I had once owned was destroyed in the fire.”
Marian’s face was soft with compassion and embarrassed, he looked away.
“How long did you wander?”
“A year,” he shrugged. “Maybe more. I had no way of tracking the days. And then one morning, before the sun arose, I crept up to a chicken coop, hoping to steal some eggs before anyone came out to collect them for the day. But I was caught and dragged off to face the master of the house.”
Guy stretched out on his back and draped one arm over his eyes.
“What happened?” she prodded.
His chest rose and fell on a deep sigh. “He asked me a dozen questions. Who my family was. Where I was from. When had I last eaten.”
“He was kind to you.”
Guy lowered his arm and looked up to see a hopeful smile curving her lips.
“He had me stripped and flogged until I lost consciousness,” he corrected in a voice flat and devoid of emotion. “You are doomed to disappointment if you are looking for a happy ending, Marian.”
He looked away.
“It was late afternoon when I awoke chained to a wall in the stables.” He took up the story again. “When someone realized I was awake, I was taken back up to the house. I was made to stand silently in the center of the room while the master and one of his men circled about me, pushing me to check my balance, peering into my mouth to study my teeth as one would a horse, feinting at me to check my reflexes.” He slicked his tongue around a mouth made suddenly dry by memories of those fear-filled moments. “He offered me a choice. I could take my chances with the local magistrate or, as I had a young, strong back, I could work off my crime in his service.”
“So you stayed.”
“So I stayed.”
“This man,” she asked apprehensively. “He was Vaisey, was he not?”
“No. That part comes later.” He stared toward the ceiling.
“I was put to work in the stables. Currying the horses, cleaning the tack. And doing my best to stay out of the way and beneath the notice of the master and his men.”
He glanced up and saw the concerned look on her face.
“It was not terrible,” he assured her. “For the first time in over a year, I had food in my belly on a daily basis, clean, warm hay in which to make my bed and a roof over my head.” He lay quietly for a long moment, remembering.
“After a short time – with the regular meals and the physical labor – I began to fill out. I reached my full height that year. The master took notice and decided to train me.”
“He and his men were soldiers for hire. From them I learned the art of war – how to wield a sword and accurately shoot a bow. How to launch an attack and when to retreat and regroup.”
“And for whom did you fight?” she asked with a pained grimace.
“Whoever was willing to pay the price. We added our numbers to assist lords fighting border skirmishes with neighboring properties, helped to fight off the Scots when they encroached on English soil and bolstered the King’s numbers in the Holy Land.”
“You sound as though you enjoyed it,” she reproved.
He craned his head back to meet her disapproving gaze.
“I learned that power and wealth are truly the most vital weapons a man can wield. Both can be attained through hard work or right of birth… or at the point of a sword. But it is by the sword that one retains them – and nothing is more important than that.”
“I disagree,” she frowned. “Nothing is more important that doing the right thing. Being a good man. It is the duty of those with power and wealth to protect and provide for those who cannot do so for themselves. That is what is most important.”
“And what reward comes from being a good man?” he scoffed. “Your father is a good man, is he not?”
“The very best.”
“And yet look at him – stripped of his position and power and forced into retirement. By your definition I was a good man,” he spat. “All of my life I had been an obedient son to my parents. I worked hard to learn how to be a fair and just lord to our tenants when I inherited my father’s land.”
He sucked in a deep breath. “My parents were good people. And what did all of that goodness bring to us? Nothing but pain and death!”
“Guy –” she protested.
“No!” He made a slicing motion with his hand. “Tell me – what was my mother’s reward for the nights she spent tending the sick and hungry among our people? What was my father’s reward for his heroics on behalf of an English king?” he snarled. “I already told you how it ended. He – shamed and separated from those he loved and who loved him in return; she – abandoned and disgraced and both burned alive with no one to help them.”
His fists clenched with remembered rage. “I made a mistake which ultimately cost them their lives – but those people of whom you speak – the people my parents protected and provided for – they deliberately fed the fire and sealed my parents’ fate. And when my father and mother were gone, there were none who would stand up on my behalf. And what was rightfully mine was stripped from me and handed on a platter to another and I was forced into exile.”
He looked up at her with eyes burning with remembered hatred and she knew it unlikely that he would ever find compassion for the people of the shire.
“Do not speak to me of duty and honor and of what is right and good.”
He wiped a shaking hand over his mouth and subsided, the fury passing and leaving naught but weariness in its wake. He rolled onto his side.
“And what of you?” He ghosted his fingers over the embroidered hem of her chemise. “Who is a better person than you? And what has it gotten you? Marriage to a man you hate.”
Marian slid down until she was facing him across the pillow. Following instinct, she reached out and touched her fingers to his face.
“I do not hate you,” she whispered.
Guy turned his head and pressed his lips to the center of her palm and with the gentle caress, she felt an answering tug of awareness deep within.
“Wha… what happened next?” She cleared her throat but did not move away.
He blew out a long sigh, exhausted by the emotions churned up by this recitation of his past. He longed to stop but knowing his wife’s stubbornness, realized she would not yield until she had dragged it all from him.
“Our company was hired by a nobleman who had a small property but great political aspirations.”
“Vaisey.” Her hand slid away from his face.
“Vaisey,” he confirmed.
“If he was such a small landowner, why did he require the help of a group of mercenary soldiers?”
“He was seeking to curry favor with another nobleman – one who owned a great deal of property and, more importantly, one who had many contacts at court. This gentleman was embroiled in a dispute with a neighboring landowner and was seeking to bolster the number of men at his disposal. Vaisey hired us and loaned out our services.”
“And you had no objections to be used thusly?”
He shrugged. “It was not up to me to decide but for the master of our company.”
“And how did you come to stay with Vaisey all these long years?”
Guy traced a finger over the back of her hand where it lay loosely fisted on the pillow between their faces.
“As he was climbing the ranks of power, Vaisey was amassing not only a fortune, but also a number of enemies.”
Marian let out an unladylike snort. “I can well imagine.”
He arched a brow and the corner of his lips twitched upward in a crooked smile.
“Yes, well, he concluded that he needed a personal guard. Though I always suspected it had as much to do with his ego as it did his protection.”
“And so you…?”
“I was more educated than most of the men in my company – which appealed to his vanity. And so, he paid my master a goodly sum and –”
She blinked. “He bought you. As one would purchase a horse?”
“Not exactly,” he corrected. “He paid my master for the loss of my services but –”
“How could you let such a thing happen?” Shock colored her voice. “Why would you even consider working for such a… such a…” She spluttered for words. “Such an evil troll!” She punched his shoulder for emphasis.
“Marian, you must understand.” He wrapped his hand around her wrist to stay any further blows. “He was not then as he is now. Conniving, yes. Greedy, certainly. But the madness… that was not in evidence then as it is now. But most importantly, he was offering what I considered a fair wage.”
“Of course,” she hissed and tried to tug her arm free of his grasp. “How could I forget your love for money.”
He bound her close with an arm slung around her waist.
“I did not seek a fortune for fortune’s sake, but because I believed I could amass enough wealth to regain my family’s land,” he reminded her.
She subsided under his fierce glower. In truth, she could not accuse him of flaunting his riches, for he was frugal and careful with his wealth. His wardrobe consisted of a few simple, well made – and well worn – articles of clothing and he seemed in possession of little else beyond the tools of his trade – his stallion, weapons and a few other basic necessities. Indeed, the greatest extravagances she had known him to purchase had been intended for her. The horse he had gifted her with. Her wedding ring.
“That explains why you entered his service,” she said quietly. “But I do not understand why you remain. Guy, he is insane.”
He let out a frustrated sigh.
“I do not know what you want to hear. I was privy to every meeting he held and every word he expressed. Within a few years I began to serve as counsel to him.”
“Then you should counsel him to give up his persecution of the people of this shire!” she interrupted tartly.
“As I said before,” he continued as if she had not spoken. “Back then his madness was not as evident. I stood in the back of rooms in which he met with men of great authority. All that was required of me was to stand as a silent sentry. But in doing so, I was privy to all of their plans and conversations. When Vaisey realized that I was taking in everything that was being said, he looked at me in a different light and began to ask questions of me after a meeting’s end. He wanted to know what I had heard and what I thought it meant. And though I did not open my mouth or contribute in any way to the meetings, I was expected to absorb what was being said and give him my assessment after.”
He gazed at her steadily. “Do you understand what that meant to me? After falling so low, it was gratifying and I wanted nothing more than to please him.”
Marian could easily see it all in her mind’s eye for he was describing what she had witnessed on many an occasion. The sight of Guy looming silently behind his master’s chair, eyes alert and a menacing glower affixed to his face – always a quietly threatening presence – was sadly familiar to her.
“As Vaisey climbed the rungs of power, I advanced with him. Then he came into the favor of Prince John and it was then that I noticed the first cracks.”
“He became more secretive. Consolidating and condensing his power. Calling in markers. Making plots and plans that seemed increasingly less rational.”
“Including plots against King Richard?”
He jerked his chin in affirmation.
“And you did nothing to stop him.” Her face was a picture of disapproval.
“I do not share your sense of loyalty and love for Richard,” he reminded her.
“He is your king and thus deserving of your respect!”
“We have already had this conversation, have we not?” he asked. “And while I am happy to debate with you the king’s merits, or lack thereof, I will merely say again that in John we found a more direct path to power.” He brushed off her concerns and she grumbled quietly for a moment before nodding at him to continue.
“I confess that I was becoming a little alarmed by Vaisey’s increasing unpredictability and began to consider ways to separate myself from him. Though I was far from having enough funds to reach my goal of reclaiming my family’s land, I began to look for an opportunity to take my leave.”
“But here you remain,” she noted.
“Prince John awarded Vaisey the post as Nottingham’s sheriff and I learned that Vaisey should not be underestimated. He may not be sane, but he is shrewd. I realized that he knew all along of my plans to leave, as well as my history with this place and he dangled the new position before me as bait. I had long hoped to return one day and repurchase the Gisborne lands. But never in my wildest dreams could I imagine returning with so much power and authority. Suddenly, I was in a position to come back not only as the master-at-arms for the Sheriff of Nottingham but also as his closest aide and counsel. And the opportunity was there to reclaim those lands lost to me and to seek retribution by snatching up Locksley as well. I could return and hold authority over those who had refused me support and cast me out so many years prior.”
His teeth flashed in a cutting smile.
“It was more than I had ever imagined and there was no force on this earth that could make me turn from him and the lure of power he offered.”
Marian felt a chill race down her spine.
“But now...” He rubbed weary hand over his jaw. “I believe coming here was a mistake. He has lost his grip on sanity. He was often erratic but now he rarely has a lucid thought. This place has made him paranoid. He is suspect of the loyalty the people still display for your father. Enraged by the outright defiance shown by Robin Hood and even more furious with the people’s willingness to hide and support Hood’s antics. Something within him has snapped. He is increasingly unstable and suspicious of everyone around him.”
“Especially me. I have no love for the people of Nottingham. But even I find that I have no stomach for pointless hangings or the torment of children for the sake of a madman’s entertainment. It makes no sense. When the opportunity presents itself I try to distract him or divert his attention, but he is a sadist and enjoys the misery of others too much to stop.”
He smiled weakly. “And I find that I am tired. Tired of the intrigue and tired of dancing attendance upon a maniac.”
“Then leave him!” she cried. “Do not lift your hand again in his service.”
Frustrated, she sat up and drew her knees to her chest.
“Why not?” She spoke rapidly as a plan formed in her head. “I know you have your reasons for hating Robin, but if you were to switch allegiances –”
“No!” he snarled. “I will not.”
“Then if nothing else, will you not consider separating yourself from the Sheriff? At the very least, without his wolf to guard him, it may help to weaken his position in Nottingham.”
Guy pushed himself up beside her. “You are the only good thing that has ever happened to me here.” He toyed with her hand, rubbing his thumb over her wedding ring and stroking her fingers. “There are times when all that I want is to grab you by the hand and take my leave of this shire forever.”
He closed his eyes. “But it is impossible.”
“It is not,” she argued. “Let us do that. We will pack a few belongings and just go.” She would do whatever it took separate Vaisey from his master-at-arms, even if it meant leaving all that she knew and loved behind.
“He will hunt us.”
“Perhaps for a short time,” she said. “But we can hide and after a while, Vaisey will grow bored.”
“And what of your father?”
“We can take him with…” Her voice trailed off. “We will find a way.”
“Oh, Marian. You must understand. There is no way. There is no place I can go – no length of time I can stay away that is safe. He will never stop looking for me.”
“I know he is vindictive but surely –”
He shook his head violently. “I have spent years as the silent watchdog over his shoulder,” he reminded her. “I know too much – for I know everything. He will not risk his secrets. If I were to sever my allegiance to him, he would stop at nothing to see me dead.”
“There is no way out for me but death,” he told her. “And from the moment I showed interest in you, there has been no way out for you either.”
“I am sorry.” He brushed his lips across the backs of her hands. “I was stupid. In my arrogance I thought I had control of the situation – control of him – and that I could do as I pleased. Have what I wanted. I did not think it through. I never considered the consequences.”
His fingers tightened around hers. “He knows that he has only to threaten you and I will do anything he asks. By loving you, I have made you a target. I do not deserve your absolution though in my selfishness I crave it.”
He raised his eyes to meet her gaze. “Can you forgive me?”
Marian saw the despair etched on his face. Shifting closer, she pressed her forehead to his.
“No one should have to apologize for loving another,” she whispered in a tear-clogged voice.
They remained thus, foreheads pressed together and only the ragged sound of their breaths disturbed the quiet intimacy of the moment. Marian edged even closer, surprising them both when she sought his lips with her own. Her kiss was tentative at first, a dry grazing of her mouth over his. A startled murmur of sound slipped from him and sighed over her lips and she was emboldened. Threading her fingers through his hair, she opened her mouth to his.
So startled was he by her kiss, Guy found himself frozen for a moment in time. But the warm, wet invasion of her tongue into his mouth spurred him into motion and he wound his arms around her, toppling her back onto the mattress. Stretching out over her, his body settled naturally into the welcoming cradle of her hips and he tore his mouth from hers to scatter kisses over her cheeks and forehead. Gently biting the lobe of her ear and scraping his teeth along the arched column of her neck, he buried his lips in the notch at the base of her throat.
Marian tugged on his hair, pulling his mouth back to hers and her hips eagerly arched upward to meet the press of his as he ground his body against hers. Hampered by the restrictions imposed by the chemise wound around her legs, a moan of frustration escaped her.
“Wait,” she gasped as she pressed her hands against his shoulders, pushing him away.
Misunderstanding her intent, Guy instantly sat up and swung his feet to the floor.
He raked his fingers through his hair and pressed a fist against his mouth.
“I am sorry.”
Confused, Marian stared at his back.
“Did I… did I do something wrong?”
“Of course not.” He turned and lifted one of her hands with his. Bending low, he pressed his lips to the bruises visible on her wrist.
“You did nothing,” he told her. “As always, it is I who am in the wrong.”
“I do not understand. Why have you turned away?”
He stroked his thumb over the black and blue spot on her wrist. “I promised myself yesterday that I would never hurt you again. And yet here I am today, falling on you like an animal.”
“Is that why you ran off yesterday?” she asked. “Because you thought you had injured me?”
He released her. Grinding the heels of his own hands against his eyes until he saw colored swirls of light against his tightly closed lids, he nodded. Taking a deep breath, he craned his head over his shoulder to meet her gaze with his own.
“I know that I have given you little reason to believe me, but you do not need to fear me,” he told her. “I promise you that I will not force my attentions on you ever again.”
Marian huffed out a disbelieving laugh and sat back on her heels. Now, when she finally wanted him to touch her, he was taking an oath to keep his distance.
“You are my husband,” she told him. “It is your right.”
“I do not want you to accept me merely because it is your duty, Marian,” he ground out. “I want you willing. I want you to come to me.”
“I…” She closed her eyes, unable to believe this turn of events. “I thought that was what I just did.” Bewilderment colored her voice. “Are you… are you rejecting me?”
“No!” He instinctively grabbed for her hands and then immediately withdrew. He crossed his arms over his chest and tucked his fingers against his sides.
“I am not rejecting you,” he told her. “But neither do I want you to come to me because you pity me.”
Marian licked her lips and searched for the right thing to say.
“I do not pity you.” She rose up on her knees behind him and rested her chin against his shoulder. “But rather, for the first time, I feel as though I know you – as though I am coming to understand you.”
He turned toward her and pressed his lips to her temple and a peaceful quiet fell over them. At last, she moved. Sliding her hand over his arm, she tangled her fingers with his.
“Come,” she murmured softly. As she gently tugged his arm, Guy followed her command and swung his legs onto the bed, resting his back on the pillows mounded against the headboard. They stared at one another for a long moment and Marian’s mind was a jumbled whirl of thoughts as she found herself in the curious position of being the pursuer in the face of Guy’s uncharacteristic hesitance.
A furious blush heated her cheeks and drawing in a fortifying breath, she edged closer and pressed her mouth to his in a hard, smacking kiss. When his lips curved against hers, she smiled back and with the breaking of the tension between them, their lips met again and again in a warm, wet, endless exploration of mouths.
Gasping for breath, they tore apart. Impatiently tugging at the hem of her chemise to allow her more freedom of movement, she swung one leg over his and sank down onto his lap.
“Is this alright?” she whispered. She shifted, enjoying the delicious friction of his leather clad legs against the delicate skin of her thighs and his hands clenched convulsively on her hips. She felt a heady surge of triumph and gave into the desire to test her newfound power and though he met her eagerly – kiss for kiss – he made no attempt to wrest control from her.
He groaned deeply when she tangled her fingers in his hair and tugged his head back to bury her mouth against his neck and she chased the vibration along the length of his throat before gently closing her teeth over the tendon standing out in sharp relief as he arched his neck. Her tongue darted out to soothe the small sting and his hips bucked in response, his hands pushing the fine linen of her chemise upwards.
She did not know why the sight of his hands – large and heavily veined – resting against the smooth skin of her thighs should arouse her so, but in that moment she knew that she had never wanted anything as badly as she did him and she wriggled closer, grinding her hips against his in an effort to assuage the building ache.
“Marian,” he rasped and raising one hand, he pushed a tangled fall of hair away from her face.
And then her hands were between them, fumbling with the leather laces of his trousers and tugging his shirt free. Pushing the soft linen up his chest, she twisted and bent low to press a kiss against his torso and felt his stomach muscles quiver beneath her wandering mouth.
“Marian.” Again her name spilled from his lips and in that one word she heard pain and pleading.
“Now,” she whispered. Laying her hands over his where they rested on her thighs, she threaded their fingers together and joined her body to his. They moved as one, straining toward completion and with wide-open eyes and a smile on her lips, she leaned forward to kiss him.
I’m thinking one, maybe two chapters to go before it ends.