|Primary Characters:||Guy, The Sheriff, Prince John, Robin, Marion, Gemma|
|Description:||Gemma is a young woman who lives in present day Nottinghamshire. She loves the tv series Robin of Sherwood. When she loses her job and her life takes a turn for the worse, she decides to cheer herself up by going on an outing to Sherwood forest. From then on, things become confusing, but also quite exciting.
As soon as she got a new job, she’d join the karate club again. In a pathetic attempt to stay in shape, she began to jog. As soon as Sam and Al had left for work, she’d put on her sweatsuit and go running. She had a couple of dumbbells and she used them too, though it wasn’t really doing much good, not like a real workout at the dojo. The flat was too small for her to practice her moves, so she would sometimes do it in the park. Early in the morning only some old men would be sitting on the benches in the sun, talking about old times. They soon grew used to her and stopped staring at her wonderingly.
In the meantime, despite the free rent, the bills piled up. She practically stopped buying anything, but unfortunately, she had already ordered things and even job applications cost money when you counted postage and envelopes and printing paper and ink for the printer – It felt rotten having to live off Sam’s food, but at the moment, she could hardly afford to buy herself a loaf of bread, let alone proper dinner. Sam kept reassuring her that it was alright. Al’s money helped too, but what really bothered her, was that he seemed to consider his contributions as an excuse to hit on her.
Seemingly without a trace of self-consciousness, he grinned and told her, as if in passing, that he believed in open relationships. No one could expect a bloke to stay faithful all the time. If they did, they almost deserved to be cheated. Gemma kept hoping he’d explode into laughter and at least have the decency to have been joking – not successfully – but at least trying to make a joke, but no – he appeared to be perfectly serious.
“Sorry. Don’t look at me. Celibacy is a requirement if you want to get a black belt. Can’t help you, I’m afraid.”
“My sensei is adamant. If I’m going to stand a chance of getting a black belt this year, I can’t have anything to do with men.”
He stared at her as if he couldn’t quite make up his mind if she was joking or not, then his face lit up.
“Right. No men – Listen – you and Sam are really good friends, aren’t you? I mean – really good friends?”
He actually winked at her, in a way that made Gemma want to kick his head off. Seriously. She could just snap it off his neck with one single kick. When the doorbell rang, she was considering doing that.
He was big, almost fat, and had a shaved head. Early twenties, was Gemma’s guess. She had a pretty good idea what he wanted so it didn’t come as a surprise when he told her he’d come about her debt to the phone company.
“I’m sorry. She’s not in at the moment.”
It was clear that he wasn’t fully convinced, but in the end, he left. She knew that was only a temporary reprieve and she began to calculate what she would get if she sold the telly and the dvd player, but came to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough. Not if you figured in her other debts. Perhaps it was time to move back in with her father, after all. He’d pay off her debts and offer her a home and maybe even a job. She sighed.
Al stared curiously at her.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
She went into her room and closed the door firmly behind her. To her relief, Al didn’t knock or try to get in. Stretched out on her bed, she took a good long look around her room. She’d liked it here. When it was just her and Sam it had been great, but – as it was, she knew it was over. Sadly, she picked up her Robin of Sherwood DVD:s and studied the covers. Her gaze travelled over the books on her book shelf. When she’d first fallen in love with the series, she’d taken to reading everything she could about the era, the area – after all, she lived only a short distance from Nottingham and the last traces of the real Sherwood forest. In fact, looking back, that might have been part of the appeal. Ever since her parents had taken her on picnics in what remained of the forest, she’d found it easy to imagine herself there. In the past, among the Merry Men. As a child, she’d usually been Maid Marian – or Marion as she was called in the series. Nowadays, she considered that position taken and hadn’t really imagined herself as anyone. She was just the audience, watching the adventures unfold.
Sherwood forest. Yes, why not? It was over anyway, so she might as well treat herself to a little trip down memory lane. She’d pack a lunchbox and take the bus out to the spot where her parents used to take her. Just her, no one else. She’d sit there and remember all the fun she’d had and imagine herself there, in the past, with Robin and Guy and Marion and the others.
The following morning, she waited until she’d heard Sam and Al leave, pretending to be asleep. She packed a few sandwiches and some fruit, then grabbed her shoulder bag. Out of habit, she checked that she had everything she needed. After a moment’s thought, she removed the mobile phone and put it on the bedside table. She hesitated a little, then left the keys as well. This was Sam’s place, not hers. It had been fun while it lasted, but it was time to go.
She opened her closet and pulled out a bigger bag and packed a few changes of clothes, just the basics, underwear, a couple of t-shirts, tights. Her shoulder bag was too small for all that, but at least the plastic bag with her lunch fit in there. Remembering the state of her father’s bathrooms, she packed her toothbrush, the toothpaste, her deodorant, a bar of soap, a towel and a couple of other necessities. She’d send for the rest of her things later.
There was a lump in her throat as she said goodbye to her room, but decided that the picnic would at least be some compensation. She’d call Sam from her father’s house in the evening. Saying goodbye in person would be too painful, and she wasn’t sure if Sam would understand. Her friend was fully capable of offering to pay her bills, just to be kind, and she couldn’t let her do that.
Trying her best to keep her spirits up, she closed the door behind her, keeping an eye out for anyone who might be after her money, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. To her surprise, she actually felt a little relieved. It would be fun to go out to Sherwood and see it for herself. It must have been at least eight or nine years since the last time. Why hadn’t she gone sooner? Since she’d discovered the series, she should have gone there every summer. At least she was going now.
She congratulated herself on remembering what bus to take after all that time, and as she got closer, her spirits really did rise considerably. The sense of expectation made her smile for the first time in weeks. Things were going to be alright, she could feel it.
Not until the last moment, was she sure she’d remember where to get off, but suddenly she was standing by the side of the road. A sign announced that she was standing on a public footpath. Further into the forest – wood seemed more apt – there would be other signs, reminding the tourists of the area’s glorious past, but Gemma didn’t need any reminders.
She found the spot she’d had in mind – what might be called a clearing, if it had been surrounded by trees on all sides, and a huge old oak tree, with enormous gnarled roots. It was exactly the sort of place you’d imagine being a little magic. Perhaps it was an old shrine. Gemma couldn’t guess how old it was. Could it have been there in the time of Robin Hood? Surely not. Even so, it must be several hundred years old. Impressive. She sat down, leaning her back against the trunk and tried to imagine what might have happened in the years of its existence.
After having her lunch, she made herself more comfortable, closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift lazily anywhere they chose. She must have fallen asleep. When she came to, with a start, she realized that she’d stayed for far too long. It was almost completely dark. She was beginning to regret not bringing her phone. When would the last bus be leaving? Was it too late already? Her eyes darted around the clearing, searching for the path out of there. An eerie sound cut through the silence and she froze. It took her a while to realize that it was just an owl. Did they come out this early?
A sudden movement caught her attention and this time, she opened her mouth to scream, but somehow, she found she couldn’t make a sound. A hazy figure was standing maybe ten feet away. What was it? Human? Some sort of animal? It had antlers on its head, but was standing up, like a man. This couldn’t be real. Any second now, she’d wake up and find that she was back home, in her bed, in Sam’s flat. It had to be a dream, because creatures like that didn’t exist, not in real life. But she had to admit that everything felt very real, from the chilly, damp ground to the rugged bark of the tree trunk she was leaning on. She tried to shrink back further and suddenly, the tree was gone and she was able to retreat, step by step. When she looked up again, the moon must have come out from behind the clouds because a sharp light was shining into her eyes. No, not the moon, the sun. What was going on?
She was standing in the middle of a clearing that looked familiar, yet different. There were more trees, and more grass. Everything was somehow greener and brighter than earlier that day. Earlier? The sun was high in the sky, indicating that it was still a few hours before noon. She glanced down at herself and found that at least she looked the same. Her shoulder bag and the sports bag were still there. She brushed at her tights and noticed that they were slightly damp. How long had she been sitting on the grass? Had she walked in her sleep and ended up – wherever she was. But if so, she must have slept the whole night through and well into the morning.
The sound of hoofbeats interrupted her in mid-thought. Hoofbeats? She tried to recall if there were fox hunts in the spring. Bloody, cruel things. Why hadn’t they been outlawed long ago? But the horses that trotted into the clearing were too few to belong to a fox hunt. She studied the men closely and suddenly felt dizzy. How was this possible? Her mind moved sluggishly, but in the end she decided that she’d run into a group of role-players. The relief lasted about thirty seconds, until she caught sight of the young man at the head of the group of riders. He was wearing some kind of helmet, but by now, he was close enough for her to see his face. Again, she felt dizzy. The young man had a light complexion and she thought she saw blue eyes glinting in the shade cast by the helmet. He reined in his horse and called to the other men to stop.
“Who are you?”
“I’m – Ge- Jem.”
She’d been about to say her name, but faltered as her gaze was held by the young man’s. He seemed to be studying her intently.
Why not? If they were role-playing, so could she. She moved her head slightly, indicating consent.
“Jem. Well, boy, what are you doing out here?”
“I – got lost.”
She had no idea what their game was or how their leader, if that was what he was, had come to be so much like the late actor Robert Addie, but she decided to play it safe. If she stayed in character, maybe they would leave her alone.
He dismounted and carelessly tossed the reins over the horse’s head. Apparently he had complete faith in it. He walked – like a god. She’d never seen a guy that sexy. Up close, she saw nothing to change her initial impression. His gaze raked her, until he appeared satisfied.
“Did you lose your horse, boy?”
“Y – es.”
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
“I’m sorry, my lord.”
“You’d better come with us. We can’t have you wandering around Sherwood. It’s not safe for the likes of you. There are outlaws and cutthroats infesting this forest. Come on.”
She couldn’t think of anything to say and decided to tag along for the time being. He grabbed her and tossed her up on his own horse, then elegantly mounted and took the reins.
He didn’t need to tell her that twice. The seconds his hands had touched her, she’d found it hard to breathe. She took care not to press too closely against his back. It seemed to her as if he’d feel her heart beating too fast. As it happened, she needn’t have worried. He was wearing some sort of chainmail. Very authentic. She was beginning to wonder if this might be some upperclass role-players and if she could be trespassing on their land. But if that was the case, she could always ask to use the phone. Her father would come and get her. Nothing to worry about.
“So, my lord -”
“My name is Guy. Guy of Gisburne.”
Right. This was it. No one knew she’d come out here. It couldn’t be someone’s idea of an elaborate joke. Either she was dreaming, in bed, or she was hallucinating. Maybe she was dead.
“Well, sir Guy, where are you taking me?”
“Back to Nottingham, of course. To the Sheriff. I’m his Steward. And you may call me Gisburne.”
“And you may call me Jem.”
“Very well. Jem. Have you lost your name too, as well as your way?”
“I’ll let the Sheriff deal with you, Jem. Perhaps you’ll remember your name and where you are from. Your father’s name, in case I didn’t make that clear.”
He was taking this game awfully far. Could he be – an escaped mental patient? But he seemed far too well equipped for your average escaped lunatic. She considered. What did she know about this era and this county? She could always tell him where she was from, but was there a lord or at least – someone of high enough rank to fit in with his little game? Despite all her studies, she failed to come up with any immediate answer to her question. Damn. All that reading and she still didn’t know enough. Oh, well, she’d just ask to use the phone and leave the boys to their role-playing.
They left the forest and continued onto the road. The first traces of doubts set in when she saw the road. When she’d arrived – yesterday morning? – it had been much wider and covered with asphalt. Now it was much narrower and covered with what could only be described as dirt. But it had been years since she was here before, clearly she wasn’t remembering the way correctly. This could be some back road, leading to wherever their role-play headquarters were.
They continued on the road for much longer than she’d expected, and she was beginning to consider getting off, despite the risk of hurting herself. What if she’d ended up with a gang who liked to abduct lone females? They approached what looked like a theme park. A mediaeval village theme park. There was something like that, but as far as she knew, they weren’t anywhere near it. And where were the parking lots? The ice cream sellers? The souvenir stands?
“We’re almost there.”
As they passed through the first decrepit cottages, she was struck by the smell. Weren’t they overdoing the manure smell? This place stank like an outdoor toilet. More buildings followed on the first, and before long they passed through a gate in a wall. Again, this didn’t seem right. Once inside the wall, the stench got worse and the buildings were standing closer. Gemma knew for a fact that there wasn’t anything of this size anywhere in Nottinghamshire. No theme park this extensive, anywhere in this part of the country, at least as far as she knew. Was it something completely new? Were these people amateur actors reenacting something? If so, why hadn’t she heard about it? She eagerly devoured anything remotedly connected to history, even later eras. There hadn’t been anything on the telly about an event of this magnitude.
Suddenly, she felt cold.
“Here we are. Nottingham Castle. You can get off now.”
When she didn’t move, the man who had introduced himself as Guy of Gisburne effortlessly jumped off his horse, then grabbed her, bags and all, and deposited her on the ground. He shouted for a stable boy and one looking very much the part hurried forward and took over the reins of the horse. More boys just like him followed and soon the horses were out of sight. Gemma remained standing in the spot ‘Gisburne’ had left her. She was feeling dizzy again.
“Hey, Gisburne. Your boy is fainting.”
“Oh, what the -”
He returned and put his arm around her, relatively gently and pushed her towards the front door. It was a massive, thick wooden door, with a big iron handle and an elaborate lock. Whoever was behind this setup must have been paying attention to details.
“Wench. Some cider for the boy.”
A woman of about her own age showed up and handed her a goblet with some cold beverage. Without thinking, she took a sip, then remembered her resolution to get out, and find her own way home. Too late now. The door had swung shut behind her.
“Better get him something to eat. A piece of bread or something.”
He’d removed the helmet now and it was clear that he wasn’t the young Robert Addie. Of course not. But whoever he was, he certainly looked exactly like Sir Guy of Gisburne. She was hallucinating. That had to be it.
“How long had you been wandering around the forest?”
“I don’t know.”
“Stay here. You may sit down in that chair over there. I’ll come and get you later.”
Wearily she sank down on the chair. What was wrong with her? She had to stay focused. It seemed best to stay in character until she’d figured out what was going on, but at the moment, she couldn’t think of anything plausible that could explain all this.
The ‘wench’ returned with a piece of bread, with some honey on it and pressed it into her hand. Gemma didn’t like honey, but absently took a bite of the bread. It was coarse and tasteless, but perhaps ‘Gisburne’ was right. She might need some nutrition. That reminded her of her picnic. If she remembered correctly, there was still an apple left, but for the time being, she decided to just stay put. Maybe the ‘Sheriff’ would let her use the phone.
A door on the other end of the hallway opened and two men were walking through it. One of them was ‘Gisburne’ and the other was a short man who seemed full of his own importance.
“Why are you bringing this – boy – to my house?”
“My lord, I found him wandering around Sherwood forest. I thought it best -”
“You thought – Haven’t I told you time and time again, not to try to think? Well, what was it you thought?”
“He’s clearly from a good family. Talks well. Well dressed. Someone must be missing their son. A reward -”
“Hm. Let me take a look at this boy.”
Gemma got up and faced them. The short man seemed to be about fifty and had a smug grin on his face. That grin deepened as his gaze travelled across her. She had to admit he, too, looked like you’d imagine the Sheriff of Nottingham. Remembering the famous bath tub scene, she couldn’t help remarking that they’d stayed in character for this role too. He’d be in for a surprise, if he kept up his ogling for much longer.
“Hello. This fool told me you were lost in the forest. Can’t have that, can we? Let’s see – You can stay here, with me, until we can find out where you’re from and who your family is. Isn’t that a splendid idea, my dear boy?”
“Yes, my lord. You’re very kind.”
He was positively beaming. Was he a mental patient too? This seemed far too complex for a reenactment or a role-playing game, but there had to be a phone somewhere and when she found it, she’d just call for help. In the meantime, she’d just agree to anything.
“Well? Where are you from? What’s your father’s name?”
She hesitated. What could she tell them? If this was a role-playing game, she could just make up anything that sounded mediaeval enough, but for a reenactment, she wanted something better, something historically correct. The trouble was, she didn’t know what the others were calling themselves and besides, she couldn’t think of anything.
“Are you soft in the head?”
“My lord -”
Before she could think of anything to say, ‘Gisburne’ grabbed her head and began to squeeze it here and there. His fingers explored her scalp, and came to rest on a spot about halfway down the back of her head.
“My lord – there’s a lump the size of a plum. A blow to the head can cause loss of memory -”
“I see. Well, let’s hope his memory returns soon. In the meantime, send out messengers to ask if anyone’s missing a son. He can’t be a novice, can he? No, of course not, not with all that lovely hair.”
The older man ruffled her hair, then went on to fondle her face, where his hands lingered a little too long. Gemma wanted to twist away and frankly, slap him, but restrained herself. She thought she detected signs of strain on ‘Gisburne’s face, but he didn’t say anything and eventually the ‘Sheriff’ removed his hand.
“We’d better get you a room and perhaps a bath?”
“Thank you, my lord. I don’t need a bath, but a room -”
“See to it, Gisburne. You’ve taken up far too much of my time already. Go on, off you go, both of you.”
The ‘Sheriff’ returned to wherever he’d come from. ‘Gisburne’ remained standing in the hallway calling for someone by the name of Kate. An older woman than the last one appeared and after listening to the orders, moved to carry them out. Gemma followed her upstairs. She felt uncomfortable, getting more involved in whatever this was, but couldn’t think of a way of refusing. After all, she didn’t even know where she was. If she found a phone anywhere upstairs she’d – On the way up, she noticed that there wasn’t anything resembling electric light or radiators. The feeling of unreality intensified. The room she was shown didn’t have any phone or a telly or anything else, she’d come to expect as part of normal everyday life. How had they been able to set this up?
“Dinner will be served directly.”
“Thank you – Kate?”
She bowed perfunctorily, clearly not feeling obliged to treat a visiting boy with much respect. Again, that seemed to be too much in character. If this was a role-play game wouldn’t she have spoken normally? There were just the two of them.
When the woman had left, Gemma began to explore the room. There was a window that she thought she just might be able to squeeze through, but it didn’t seem to open. It was glazed, but there were no hinges. That was a drawback. If she needed to get out she thought she’d be able to jump out into the yard, but would she be able to get out from there? Worse, she’d need to break the very pretty window pane. Must have been expensive. She decided to leave the escape attempts for later. So far, she hadn’t been treated badly. The situation didn’t feel threatening.
Just like the woman from the kitchen had said dinner was served, not directly, as Gemma had expected, but some time later, which apparently was what the word had once meant, in mediaeval times. At least she assumed as much.
In any case, dinner was a nightmare. Gemma was used to fast food and so on, but here they served venison, pheasant, oysters and a variety of dead animals, cooked whole, and carried into the grand dining room on silver plates, looking like victims of a fire in a wildlife preserve. She found that she could hardly eat a thing. To her surprise, ‘Gisburne’ didn’t seem to have much of an appetite either. He was moody and tense, and merely nibbled unenthusiastically at pieces of bread and cheese. This was washed down with quantities of beer, or ale as they referred to it. Gemma took a few cautious sips of the cider, which seemed to be the strong kind, not the sweet version she was used to. She stared at the food for so long, she was afraid someone would reproach her, but the ‘Sheriff’ hardly paid any attention to her and neither did ‘Gisburne’.
At length, she chose some grapes, amazed at their presence at the table. She wouldn’t have guessed them to be part of authentic mediaeval fare. Following ‘Gisburne’s example, she also ate some bread, but after a cautious sniff at the cheese, decided to leave that. It had an odd strong smell that made her slightly sick. She washed the bread down with a few more sips of the cider. No one seemed to be interested in what she chose to eat.
Once the ‘Sheriff’s’ meal was more or less finished, he began to take an interest in his guest. He squinted at her in a way that made her wonder if he saw through her ‘disguise’ or if on the contrary he bought it completely. Something about his behaviour hinted at the latter. She couldn’t help smiling at the absurdness of the situation. Wherever she’d ended up, clearly she was a great success – as a teenage boy. The ‘Sheriff’s’ attempts to entertain her were pitiful and she only managed to feign an interest because he was so amusing.
In the end, he pushed back his chair, actually belched, then smiled benevolently, if slightly overly intimately at her and dismissed her.
“Well, my dear James, I have business to attend to, but I hope I shall see you at supper?”
“Thank you, my lord.”
She was beginning to wonder when the reenactment would end. In fact, though she wasn’t familiar with events of this kind, she was wondering where the audience was. Were there hidden cameras that conveyed the scene to a television audience and if so – was she being mistaken for someone else? This boy they claimed not to have been expecting, but might really have been looking for in the first place?
She decided to take a chance and express an interest in the surroundings. If she was allowed to go for a walk, she was sure she’d find a telephone somewhere or possibly a bus station. Somehow, she would find her way home.
“My lord – I was thinking it’s a pleasant day for a walk. Would it be alright for me to explore the town – Nottingham?”
The ‘Sheriff’ glanced quickly at ‘Gisburne’. Gemma tensed up, waiting. If they didn’t want to let her go – what sort of plans did they have for her? She tried to assess their respective strength. ‘Gisburne’ was armed, and the ‘Sheriff’ wore a dagger dangling from his belt. It was hard to tell if it was real or merely ceremonial. Naturally, they wouldn’t be allowed to carry sharp weapons, or would they? The day had been bewildering enough so far, to make her doubt all her own assumptions.
“Very well, my boy. Gisburne, you will show our guest around.”
“But my lord, that won’t be necessary. I’m sure I can find my own way around.”
“Nonsense, my dear boy, Gisburne will be glad to show you around. Won’t you, Gisburne?”
The latter part of the sentence was fired off in an icy, contemptuous tone and ‘Gisburne’ reacted as if he’d been lashed.
“Certainly, my lord. Come on then, boy.”
He spoke gruffly, but Gemma had a hunch that he was actually relieved. So many different subtexts were present in their dialogue that she felt lost, trying to decipher them all. She didn’t know what to say, so she just made a little halfhearted bow and followed ‘Gisburne’ out of the room.
Once outside in the courtyard, the pervading stench hit her nostrils. ‘Gisburne’ didn’t seem to notice her reaction or the smell. He strode on ahead, looking as hot as ever, and Gemma had to lengthen her stride to keep up. There were piles of what smelled like genuine manure and outside the ‘Sheriff’s’ yard, the streets were filled with all kinds of foul-smelling refuse. Gemma wrinkled her nose. That really looked like human excrement and – she stopped in her tracks when she saw what looked very convincingly like a dead cat. How horrible. Barely had she seen the dead body, when she backed up again. Were those dead, skinned rabbits hanging from a line only inches from the street?
She had almost lost sight of ‘Gisburne’ in the throng of townspeople. They smelled of unwashed bodies and some of them had blackened teeth. She almost called out when she caught sight of what looked eerily like a real leper, seated in a courtyard only ten feet or so away. The old man seemed to be missing both hands and his nose. How on earth had they managed those special effects?
By now it seemed ‘Gisburne’ had noticed that she’d fallen behind.
“Not used to towns?”
Was he being ironic? What he’d just said could be interpreted as more or less ‘village idiot’ but he seemed to be perfectly serious, as if he believed completely in his role. Gemma was beginning to have second thoughts. These people seemed to be far too good to be amateur actors or role-players. What had she ended up in?
He nodded and continued on his way, this time slightly more slowly, she noted. There were children, who looked malnourished, with eyes crawling with flies, old people crippled with arthritis and a few gaudily dressed women looking like stage versions of prostitutes. Some of them were missing a few teeth, giving them either a slightly sinister look or a comical one. One of them smiled provocatively at ‘Gisburne’, swaying her hips and puffing up her chest, such as it was.
“Well, if it isn’t Sir Guy of Gisburne. How may I help you, good sir? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. What about your little friend? Are you looking for companionship, young squire?”
‘Gisburne’s’ reaction startled Gemma. He growled at the woman, but seemed to find very little to say to deflect her words, clearly meant to wound.
“No need to bite my head off. Enjoy your walk, young squire. I’m sure Sir Guy will take very good care of you.”
She even winked, in case the ‘young squire’ in question had missed what sort of care she was referring to. Amazing. With all the eye for detail, they laid it on so thickly. Even down to the sour stench emanating from the woman’s body. Gemma had to hurry to keep up with ‘Gisburne’, who seemed to have forgotten he was to be her guide. If she wasn’t very much mistaken, his cheeks were burning up. So he’d taken offense, or – he was staying in character, whatever that meant.
As the afternoon wore on, she again began to question her analysis of the situation. If she hadn’t been absolutely sure that time travel wasn’t possible, she would have begun to believe she had actually been transported to Nottingham in the days of Robin Hood. That led her to wonder if perhaps her first guess was the correct one. She was dreaming. Except she’d never experienced such a vivid, realistic dream. Was she unconscious, hallucinating, or – she gasped, as the idea occurred to her – was she dead and this was some kind of drawn out final vision? She pinched herself in the thigh. It hurt. That made it very hard to believe she was dead. Dreaming? Hallucinating? Anything was possible, but – what if – no, of course not.
While she had been debating with herself, they had come full circle and ended up back at the castle. Once again, she had the impression that ‘Gisburne’ was growing tense again. Walking around the town, he had seemed tense as well, but not like this. Clearly the ‘Sheriff’ made him nervous or was supposed to make him act as if he was. By now, Gemma’s head was swimming with conflicting ideas. Was she dreaming? Hallucinating? Drugged? Or –
She missed the first part of ‘Gisburne’s’ statement and had to ask for clarification.
“I said I shall have to leave you now, boy. You may wander around the yard or go to your room, but don’t disturb the Sheriff.”
Again, she merely bowed, and it seemed as if ‘Gisburne’ was taking her reply for granted. Remembering all the dead animals and shockingly thin children, not to mention the old and the infirm, Gemma decided that the room upstairs might be a safer place to be. Besides, she needed to make sure her belongings had been delivered to her. To her relief, her bags appeared to be undisturbed. Of course, for all she knew, someone might have searched them first. If so, she was wondering what they’d make of her mirror, her plastic hairbrush and MP3 player. That would be completely out of character and would that mean she’d be facing criticism for that? She had no idea. Compared to most of the others, possibly with the exception of the ‘Sheriff’ or ‘Gisburne’ she must seem modernly clean and nice-smelling. That would also be out of character.
But why was she worrying? She hadn’t asked to be drawn into their game, whatever it was. If they recruited her, for whatever reason, they would have to accept her the way she was. She absently brushed her hair, then began to look for the facilities. It took her quite a while to realize that there weren’t any. She ran into a girl of about fourteen or so, and asked her. The girl stared oddly at her.
“There’s a chamber pot in your room, sir. Or there’s the privy in the yard. The Sheriff and his – and Sir Guy like to use the chamber pots.”
To her surprise, the girl smiled briefly at her, as if a simple thank you had been a bit more than expected. She would never figure this game out. By now, she was beginning to consider more or less absurd ideas, such as something along the lines of The Truman Show or – more Dr Who – aliens setting up a reality series on Earth, for their own amusement, this time choosing to reenact the days of Robin Hood. That reminded her, she hadn’t seen or heard anything about a band of merry outlaws, but if the two people she had had most contact with were supposed to be the Sheriff and Guy of Gisburne, it stood to reason that there would be a Robin Hood and a Marion and all the rest of the Merries. She caught herself hoping it would be Huntingdon, not Loxley, even if she liked both Robins. If it was the second Robin, she would get to see first hand how the two blond young men handled the knowledge of their being brothers.
She found the chamber pot and was forced to use it. Ugh. If she hated outhouses, she really, really hated chamber pots. Afterwards, she looked around for water and to her relief, she found some in a pitcher. She poured it into the wash basin and using her own bar of soap – the one provided stank – she washed her hands. It felt good, especially after her walk through the town.
Later, the same girl who had told her about the chamber pot came to tell her supper was being served downstairs. Gemma was wondering if she would be expected to change into something finer, and decided to ask the girl. Again, she was treated to a puzzled stare.
“Well, the Sheriff sometimes changes if there’s a visitor of some rank and Sir Guy too, but on most evenings they just sit down as they are.”
Apparently, she wasn’t considered a guest of ‘some rank’. That was a relief. Again, she was wondering where they found these excellent actors. The girl had to be from some drama school. It was impossible to imagine her being just a talented amateur.
Again, she sat down at the ‘Sheriff’s’ table and again, she was shocked by the dishes served. She wasn’t feeling very hungry, so she just ate a few dried pieces of apple and some bread and butter. Her scant meal gave her plenty of time to observe her host and the handsome ‘Sir Guy’. The Sheriff was still being intolerably rude to ‘Gisburne’ and ‘Gisburne’ was still a bundle of nerves, dropping food on the floor, earning himself new taunts, which in turn made him even more jumpy. The ‘Sheriff’s’ behaviour towards her, was in startling contrast to the way he treated his ‘Steward’.
“I hear you and Gisburne went for a long walk earlier today.”
“Yes, my lord. It was interesting.”
Interesting? Was that the best she could do? But the ‘Sheriff’ didn’t even seem to be listening to what she was saying. Instead, his gaze wondered across her in a way that might have been intimidating in a man more imposing. As it was, she had to try hard not to laugh. He was so painfully obvious and that didn’t go very well with his excellent acting skills in other ways. That ham acting was just embarrassing. But at least the man contented himself with looking. If he became more physical, she would be forced to take action.
She was startled to realize that she hadn’t been able to find a telephone all day and certainly no bus station. Come to think of it, there were no satellite dishes, television aerials or advertisements anywhere. Now that she put her mind to it, she also recalled that all day she hadn’t heard the sound of motor traffic at all, or seen any aircraft. That was really odd. Had they been allowed to redirect air traffic? This was getting too farfetched. No, if anything out of the ordinary was going on, wasn’t it more likely that she was in a coma or something? Who knew what she’d been able to pick up from her studies? The town had looked relatively similar to the Nottingham from the Robin of Sherwood DVD:s, but also subtly different. Above all, in the eye for detail. Where had they found the old, the infirm, the undernourished children?
She was startled out of her thoughts, by a question by the ‘Sheriff.’
“Excuse me, my lord?”
“I said, have you managed to remember your name or where you are from?”
Damn. There was that again. Was it some sort of password? If so, would she be exposed if she just tried to think of any name at all? What would sound suitably mediaeval?
“I’m sorry, my lord.”
“Were you in an accident? Did someone rob you? Do you remember anything?”
“I was sitting in the forest, having a meal, then I came to, and saw your men riding into the clearing.”
“Hm. Gisburne? What did the scene look like?”
“The boy was just standing there, looking confused and dazed. I believe he must have hit his head or someone had hit him over the head. Perhaps he fell off his horse.”
“Did you come on a horse? Well, of course you must have.”
“I don’t remember, my lord.”
“Well. A good night’s sleep -”
He looked as if he wanted to suggest she get that in his bed, but appeared to think better of it.
“Ah, yes. Thank you, my lord. I believe I shall retire -”
“Very well. I shall see you at breakfast tomorrow then.”
She inclined her head and left the room. The last thing she saw was a glimpse of ‘Gisburne’s’ pale, tense face, staring straight ahead, not really seeing her. Odd. She still hadn’t been able to figure anything out. By now, she was too tired to even try. It would have to wait until the morning. Just in case, she would barricade the door to her room, so she would have some warning if someone – the ‘Sheriff? – tried to get in during the night.