|Primary Characters:||Guy, The Sheriff
|Description:||A glimpse into Guy’s life with the Sheriff, in the early days.
The Sheriff of Nottingham drank from his goblet, smiling approvingly. A fine vintage. Excellent burgundy, straight from Abbot Hugo’s cellars. It was late, the Sheriff had already dined for more than an hour. He glanced unenthusiastically at the remains of his meal. Nothing applealed to him, at least none of the dishes. His eyes strayed to the only other person seated at his table that night. It was sir Guy of Gisburne or Gisburne as the Sheriff was wont to address him whenever he gave him his orders. The young man was tolerably pleasant of face and as was only fitting for a young knight, lithe and athletic. Again, the Sheriff’s lips were moved by a contented smile. He liked to surround himself with first class goods all round. After draining the goblet, the Sheriff pushed back his chair, dabbed perfunctorily at his mouth, then rose.
“Time to retire.”
Guy of Gisburne had been picking at a piece of bread, but dropped the morsel, when he heard himself addressed. He glanced hopefully at the Sheriff, but came to the realization that tonight was not a night on which the Sheriff sought solitude. The dainty dishes he’d consumed, settled like stones at the pit of his stomach. Knowing it was no use delaying his departure, he abruptly pushed his chair back and rose, studying the Sheriff furtively, from under half closed eyelids. Though he was well aware that his speculation was fruitless, he couldn’t help straining to gauge the Sheriff’s intentions.
The Sheriff’s lips curved in a smile. Gisburne had no taste for sharing his master’s bed. Insofar as the Sheriff held an opinion of his servants’ feelings towards him, he was inclined to be amused, but in reality, Gisburnes feelings mattered little to him.
Throat dry, and fists clenched, Gisburne followed his master to his bedchamber. There, he was called upon to undress the Sheriff. That was servants’ work, and to Gisburne’s knowledge no other knight was required to perform such menial tasks. However, given a choice, he would much rather bear the humilation of serving in such a capacity, should he be allowed to escape to his own quarters afterwards. All the while, he felt the Sheriff’s gaze follow his every move. It made him awkward, and sure enough, he dropped the Sheriff’s belt.
“Watch yourself, you clumsy fool.”
Gisburne bent over to pick the belt up, his left cheek burning where the Sheriff’s hand had made contact with it. Again, the Sheriff’s gaze raked him, but this time he was able to perform his duty to satisfaction. Once the Sheriff was stripped of his finery, wearing only his shift, he sat down on the side of his bed, then pulled the covers up against the chill of night.
“Get on with it, will you.”
Gisburne swallowed hard and began to disrobe himself. He placed his sword belt on the floor, then bent to pull off his boots, after which he lay out the tunic on a chair beside the bed.
“Are you going to take all night? I know no one who takes as long to disrobe. What an ass you are. Well? Coming?”
“My lord -”
The Sheriff held back the covers on the other side of the bed and waited. Gisburne sat down on the extreme edge of the bed, then gingerly pulled up his legs and finally stretched out on his back. The Sheriff only used the finest linens and furs and the mattress was always kept freshly stuffed with straw, but Gisburne would gladly have traded places with the lowliest serf from the stable or made do with the bare ground. Barely daring to breathe, he waited. If he was lucky, this was all that was required of him. There were nights when the Sheriff dozed off almost instantly, but he knew tonight was not such a night. Robert de Rainault seemed far too wakeful tonight.
Indeed, the Sheriff’s eyes were already eyeing Gisburnes shoulders and chest with an interest that boded ill for the rest of the night.
“Take those off.”
A dull, leaden feeling settled in Gisburnes belly. The Sheriff was indicating his hosiery. Any hope he had had of escaping his master’s attentions that night were gone. Teeth clenched, Gisburne applied himself to his charge. The tension made his lean, hard muscle play under the smooth skin, a fact which did not escape the Sheriff’s attention.
de Rainault let his fingers trail down Gisburnes right arm, enjoying the firm flesh. From there, he continued on across Gisburne’s chest, lingering here and there, taking pleasure in the smooth, hairless skin. Grimly, Gisburne determined that it would be long until he would be allowed to sleep. He wished the Sheriff would at least blow out the candle, but knew that the Sheriff wished to drink in the aspect of their coupling. Struggling to deaden his senses, Gisburne turned to face the Sheriff. With hands so tense as to be painful, he set to work. If he applied his skills to the full, perhaps – but again, his hopes were crushed. With an impatient gesture, the Sheriff beckoned him closer. Gisburne lowered his gaze, bent down and began anew. The inside of his eyelids burned, but he didn’t falter. Sooner or later, the Sheriff would be sated and at last he would be allowed to –
The Sheriff’s word startled him and he looked up, his vision blurred, but his attention focused on his master. He knew what this signified, but even so, he couldn’t help clinging to a desperate hope that somehow, the Sheriff had tired of him and would send him away. This time, the Sheriff wasted no words on him. de Rainault rose halfway out of bed, impatiently remaining on his knees, until Gisburne clumsily struggled to stand on all fours, stubbornly refusing to shed any tears or make a sound of complaint, knowing how little it would avail him.
He had been injured in battle, sustained many painful bruises and on occasion broken ribs and other bones. Once, he had suffered a dislocated shoulder. He considered himself immune to pain. Yet the aches and pains from battle, were as nothing, compared to the searing agony inflicted on him. He bit down hard and managed to smother any moans of pain, telling himself over and over again that it would soon be over. It. Would. Soon. Be. Over. At last, the Sheriff shuddered and went limp, leaning heavily on Gisburne. The seconds ticked away, while Gisburne’s instincts made him want to tear himself free and flee, but with patience born from long practice, he waited, until at length the Sheriff rolled off him, flat onto his back, pulling the covers up.
After listening attentively to the even sound of de Rainault’s breathing, Gisburne stealthily slid off the bed, careful not to add to the burning inside him.
“Where do you think you’re going? You are to attend me in the morning. Get back here, this instant.”
Again, he subdued his will to escape, to solitude, and once more stretched out on the edge of the bed. Sleep came slowly, in part due to the dull pain inside, but eventually he must have dozed off and awoke to the sound of pots being banged against others, and feet tapping on the floor. His eyes sprang open and he beheld two of the serving wenches standing above the bed, trying unsuccessfully to hide their knowing grins. They were only serfs, girls of the lowest of the commoners, but Gisburne felt his cheeks heat up uncomfortably. Hastily, he made a dive for his tunic and hosiery. Barely had he pulled the tunic on, when he heard his name being called, in an impatient tone.
“Well, get on with it.”
He dropped the hosiery, then turned to attend to de Rainault, filled with sudden anger towards the impudent wenches. Who were they to mock him? He kept his gaze carefully hidden under lowered eyelids, while performing his menial duties, then at last, after having gathered up his hosiery, boots and sword belt, fled to his own chamber, where he could at long last remove all traces of the Sheriff from his skin. Scrubbing furiously at himself, until his skin was raw, his mind was seething.
He left his chamber, intent on finding an outlet for his rage. An unfortunate kitchen boy was close to hand. After all but crashing into the knight, in a narrow passage, he felt the sting of Gisburne’s hand on his cheek. Striding as forcefully as he was able to, Gisburne made his way into the dining hall, where his master was already at table, breaking his fast.
“There you are. Sit. You have time for a quick breakfast. I want you to take some men and go to Wodehurst and bring me the taxes the villagers owe me.”
Gisburne merely bowed his head in acquiescence. The peasants were always trying to stow something away. His spirits began to lift somewhat, at the thought of finding a target for his anger. Those villagers would learn the consequences of trying to cheat the Sheriff out of his dues.
Half an hour later, he set out, at the head of half a dozen men-at-arms. They found the village a scene of activity, but on their arrival, all motion ceased. Staring resentfully at the Sheriff’s men, the villagers silently awaited their next move.
“You. Come here.”
Gisburne pointed at a man, whose rags appeared to be of a slightly higher quality than those of the others. The man, who appeared to be of about the same age as the Sheriff, unwillingly approached.
“You owe the Sheriff taxes. we have come to collect them. Hand them over now, and we will leave you in peace.”
“But my lord -”
“I’m not interested in your excuses. Have your people deliver the harvest, or we will take it anyway.”
Gisburne’s patience had been tried enough. Without waiting for the man’s reply, he gestured for his men to begin. Suddenly, they found themselves assailed from all sides. Clods of earth, stones and rotten cabbage flew through the air, landing at their horses’ hooves or on their armour. Gisburne gathered his horse’s reins in one hand, gripped his sword with the other and began the assault. He heard his men spur on their horses. The knights proceeded to wreak havoc in the sleepy village, riding down villagers or cutting into them with their swords. A well-aimed thick branch unhorsed Gisburne and he continued the assault on foot.
The clamour of battle filled his ears, and for a moment, the night’s degradation ceased to exist. Filled with a sort of wild elation he hacked right and left, oblivious to the outside world. He didn’t know what called him back to his senses, but when he came to, he was standing above a boy of no more than eight or nine, sword raised for the kill. The child lay immobile with fear, eyes wide, mouth agape. Gisburne shook himself out of his daze and instead of delivering the mortal blow, he ran his sword into the ground. The incident had cleared his head and as he gazed across the village common, he saw that the peasants had been routed. Two bodies lay where they had fallen, both villagers. Gisburne turned on his heel to find his horse and calm him.
“Take what you can find, then let’s go.”
Somewhat later, the knights returned to the Sheriff’s house, the booty hanging from their saddles. The incident with the child had turned Gisburne’s mood back to its original state. Morosely, he considered the chattel he had brought back to the Sheriff. Chattel. Like himself. Nothing of great value, merely to be used and tossed aside. As he drew up before the Sheriff’s house, he stopped and stared. The difference between it and the humble dwellings of the peasants struck him. Serving the Sheriff was loathsome, yet filled with promise. If he bided his time, surely he would prosper, perhaps one day taking the Sheriff’s place. He would persevere. It was his only choice. He had suffered for too long to give up. One day, it would have been worth all the sacrifices.
Grimly, he reported to the Sheriff, then sat down at his table to refresh himself with some chilled wine. There would be other nights, nights when the Sheriff was away, nights when he could please himself. He could bring a wench, any wench, from the town. Each time he bedded a woman, it was as if a little of the shame of being used by the Sheriff would be washed away. Gisburne retreated to his chamber to rinse the dust of the road from his face and hands. Blood stained his tunic so he doffed it, and found a fresh one in the chest at the foot of his bed. He remained in his chamber until supper was served.
Once more, he sat facing the Sheriff, trying to nurture an appetite he didn’t feel, not under the Sheriff’s intent gaze. Surely the old lecher could not require his service like last night, yet again? The few morsels he was able to force down, tasted like ashes in his mouth and he moved restlessly on his chair, until at last, the Sheriff pushed back his chair.
“Well? What are you waiting for?”
Even more gracelessly than was his wont in the Sheriff’s presence, Gisburne followed de Rainault to his bedchamber, dragging his feet. It wasn’t fair. Not so soon after the last time. Grinding his teeth, so he would not let any sound escape him, he watched the Sheriff, hoping to learn his intentions. He would not wail like a whipped dog, no matter what the old pervert asked of him. de Rainault seemed to study him intently. What conclusion he had arrived at, for the moment, he kept to himself.
When at last the Sheriff had disrobed and Gisburne, under his master’s watchful eye, de Rainault once again stretched out on his bed, then gestured for Gisburne to join him. This time, he impatiently grabbed the young man by the neck and pushed his face down to his groin. To Gisburne’s relief, no more was required of him. Once the Sheriff was sated, Gisburne turned a deaf ear to his master’s commands and fled into the passage outside, where he narrowly avoided crashing into a servant, carrying a chamber pot. The girl’s mocking grin followed him into the courtyard, where he was violently sick. His legs felt weak and unsteady and after kicking straw over the vomit, he sank down on his haunches, burying his face in his hands. Thus left alone, he could no longer keep the tears at bay, and he wept, wishing himself away, anywhere but here. He remained in place until the chill and damp drove him back to his own chamber. Curled up on his side, he lay sleepless until daybreak.