|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.
The days alone with Guy went by like a dream. When darkness fell, they made love and when the sun came up, they wandered around looking for berries. Guy had suggested hunting for food, but Gemma couldn’t bear the thought of skinning and gutting animals, and in the end, he agreed to wait.
In any case, they had only been in the forest for what she guessed was a little less than three weeks, when they woke up to find themselves surrounded by a band of men in motley clothes. Worse, the men were armed. Gemma had already seen the knights under Guy’s command, so she knew this couldn’t be the Sheriff’s or Prince John’s men. Could it be the infamous outlaws of Sherwood? For all she knew there might be more than one band of them. When someone called Guy’s name, she realized that these were the ones she’d heard about.
“Gisburne. Who would have thought to find you here? Stand up and show us your hands. Don’t try to reach for your sword. As you see we have you surrounded. You and your little friend.”
The voice held a note of searing contempt and rancour, which led Gemma to believe this man had a long history with Guy. Just their luck. She felt Guy’s body quiver with repressed tension. Squeezing his hand, she tried make him see that throwing his life away wouldn’t help. He got up, then pulled her to her feet and remained standing immobile.
“Scarlet. My friend hasn’t done anything to you. Let him go.”
“Oh, but you don’t want your little friend to leave you, do you? Anyone can see that the two of you are very close.”
Scarlet? Will Scarlet? If Gemma hadn’t been so concerned about Guy, she would have begun wondering again, how the tv series and this reality could be so similar. As it was, she could only stand as close to Guy as possible, hoping the outlaws wouldn’t shoot an unarmed boy, or indirectly the man standing behind him.
She stared wildly around, studying the men aiming arrows at them. One of them definitely wasn’t a man, she noticed. A young woman with red hair flowing down her back was holding a bow, just like the others. Beside her, a blond really cute young man was standing, also aiming his arrow straight at her and Guy. Could that be – despite the gravity of their situation, she couldn’t help marvelling at the thought that she was facing the real Robin Hood. If the series was anything to go by, Robert of Huntingdon, Guy’s half-brother. A few paces away from the redhead was a fat man in a friar’s robe. Gemma also glimpsed a redheaded young man, a huge man, a man who might have been Nasir and several others. She wasn’t quite sure which one was Will Scarlet. There were at least five others, apart from the ones she thought she recognized.
She was hoping she wouldn’t make things worse, but she couldn’t stand by while these people killed Guy, so she decided to try talking to them.
“Please don’t hurt us. We come in peace, escaping from the Sheriff and Prince John.”
The redheaded woman stepped closer and stared with more interest at Gemma.
“What does Prince John want with you?”
“I wish I knew. He wants to know what I know, but I’m sure I can’t tell him anything. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But your friend has. He’s been chasing us for years.”
“I know. But – he only came to save my life. Please don’t harm him.”
The woman – Marion? – stepped back and began to confer in whispers with her blond companion. He walked round the perimeter speaking softly with each of his men, but neither of them took their eyes off her and Guy. Now the blond young man spoke for the first time. He sounded very young, probably a couple of years younger than her and Guy, she guessed.
“You will come with us. Put down your sword, Gisburne. If you’re armed, young squire, lay down your weapons.”
“I have no weapons.”
One of the men moved forward and snatched Guy’s sword away, then roughly began to search him. Doing so, he shoved Gemma away. The young redhaired man began to search her, more gently. To her relief, he politely left her more intimate parts alone.
“It’s true. He’s unarmed.”
“Tie Gisburne up and bring their things. And the horses.”
“Hey. Don’t hurt him.”
The one she suspected was Will Scarlet stared aggressively at her, looking as if he was considering hurting her too, then burst out laughing.
“Isn’t that sweet? What a faithful little friend you are. Where did you find him, Gisburne? And how does the Sheriff feel about your friendship?”
Guy didn’t reply, but Gemma could tell that he was itching to break free and attack his antagonist.
Scarlet never stopped his taunts and whenever he could, he shoved Guy in the back or grabbed his arms so hard Gemma feared his hands would leave bruises. Guy barely responded to his jeers. Once, he stumbled and fell forward. Gemma, who hadn’t been tied up, rushed to help him up, but Scarlet – she was sure that was his name now – shoved her away and she had to fight to stay on her own feet. Instead, to her surprise, Robin – Robert – helped his brother to his feet again. Guy didn’t acknowledge him in any way, but from then on, Marion and Robert walked close to the prisoners and Scarlet managed to restrain himself.
The outlaws herded them, along with their horses in what Gemma guessed was an easterly direction. They kept them walking at a brisk pace for at least two hours, then stopped in a clearing where someone had made a more permanent camp. There were even primitive huts and a sort of fireplace, made by stones placed in a circle.
Once they had arrived, Scarlet dragged Guy away to tie him to a tree. Gemma had a bad feeling about that, so she couldn’t help trying to interfere again.
She was addressing Scarlet, but facing Robert and Marion. They studied her curiously, but seemed inclined to let her speak.
“If I defeat one of you in a fight, will you let Guy go free? We haven’t come to do you any harm, so why can’t you leave us in peace? Let bygones be bygones? He’s not working for the Sheriff anymore. We just want to be left alone.”
Scarlet burst out laughing again. It was a raucous sound that could easily begin to get on Gemma’s nerves.
“You? Defeat one of us? Who would that be? Marion? Much? Who would you like to fight?”
“Any one of you, but not with any weapons. I’m unarmed. Whoever fights me will have to lay down his arms.”
While Scarlet was busy taunting her and Guy, Gemma could see that Robin and Marion were looking pensive, as if they were considering her suggestion. They didn’t seem to be taking her seriously, but if they let her try, she’d definitely show them. She could see Robin smiling a little, then bending to whisper something in Marion’s ear. She nodded, looking amused, but not, Gemma thought, sadistic, as Scarlet.
“Little John. Will you fight our young visitor?”
“With pleasure. I promise I won’t hurt you too much, lad.”
“You can call me Jem.”
“Jem it is. Well, shall we? See, I’m laying down my staff.”
“Do you have anything else? A dagger?”
“I’m laying it down too. Look. Happy now, lad?”
“Yes, I’m happy.”
Gemma took a closer look at her opponent. It was clear that they had chosen him as a sort of joke. They were going to have their little fun with her, and then? Kill Guy? Kill her too? If Scarlet found out she was female, what would he do to her then? Would Marion let him? Would she prefer to kill her herself? Not that she would be defeated. ‘Little’ John – what a funny joke – would find that the bigger they were, the harder they fell.
She knew she couldn’t afford to let him close, so she kept her distance, knowing they all found her amusing. That was fine. The joke would be at their expense, they just didn’t know it yet. He was quicker than she’d imagined. After a sudden lunge, she barely managed to elude his arms. She’d have to do better than that, if she wanted to save Guy’s life. Her own too, maybe. Time to finish it off. The next time Little John lunged, her arms and legs moved almost of their own accord. Ten seconds later, the big man lay flat on his back, staring up at her, a baffled expression on his face.
Gemma faced Robin, then turned to Marion, sensing that the redhead might be their unofficial leader, if the tv series was anything to go by.
Before they had time to reply, an outraged yell from Scarlet made her whirl around just in time to see him launching himself through the air.
“Oh, no, you don’t, you little freak.”
She didn’t have time to prepare herself, and intimidated by the man’s obvious hatred of Guy, and by association, anyone connected to him, she used the same blow she’d used on the Sheriff. Scarlet dropped at her feet and didn’t move again.
Marion ran to his side and pressed her ear to his chest.
“What did you do?”
“He attacked me. What was I supposed to do? I’ve knocked him out, that’s all.”
After examining her man, she calmed down.
“Yes, you’re right. He’s alive. I must ask your pardon – Jem? – on Scarlet’s behalf. You did defeat Little John in a fair fight. You and your – companion – are free to go. That is, if you like – you’re welcome to stay. I would hear more about your quarrel with the Sheriff. What say you, Robin?”
“As you say, Marion, our guest beat little John in a fair fight. Nasir, would you untie Gisburne’s bonds?”
Gemma bowed politely to her hosts, then returned to Guy to make sure he was alright too. Though he didn’t look exactly happy, he didn’t seem to be injured. After untying Guy’s bond, the Saracen – if the tv series was anything to go by – bowed to his old enemy. Gemma couldn’t tell if he was being ironic or serious. His face was inscrutable.
It occurred to her that Guy might not feel too happy about being rescued by his girlfriend, so after making sure they were out of earshot of the outlaws, she began to talk to him in whispers.
“I didn’t mean to shame you in front of your old enemies. I just feared for your life so I – ”
“I know. Thank you.”
“Are you hurt?”
“It’s nothing. Let’s go and see to the horses.”
It turned out the young man called Much had looked after the horses quite well and to Gemma’s surprise, Guy acknowledged that.
“They’re fine horses.”
Guy stared at the serf – at least she assumed Much was a serf – then appeared to make an effort to be civil to his former enemy.
“I’m glad you think so. Do you like horses?”
“Yes, I do.”
Guy nodded, suddenly looking a little less haughty. Gemma was hoping this could be the beginning of a sort of truce between him and his old enemies.
Again, supper had its pitfalls, but no one seemed to be paying much attention to what Gemma was eating, and though the ale served with the meal was stronger than what Gemma was used to, there was water in a stream nearby and she and Guy still had supplies from the Sheriff’s kitchen. She didn’t think she would starve just yet.
Will Scarlet’s angry face stood out among the men seated around the fire, but it seemed Robert and Marion had been able to reason with him and at least for the duration of the meal, he refrained from insulting Guy. From time to time, he stared as if in disbelief at Gemma, but again, said nothing. Little John seemed to take his defeat in good cheer, and even pounded Gemma on the back, in a hearty gesture that almost made her cough up what she’d just eaten. Gemma could see Robert glancing at Guy, when he thought the knight wasn’t watching, but if Guy had noticed, he gave no sign of it. He appeared to be able to hide his fear of the forest and any lingering resentment towards the outlaws and Gemma thought he was enjoying his meal.
After supper, one of the men, who hadn’t been introduced, tuned some sort of instrument that reminded Gemma of a lyre, then began to sing in quite a good baritone. The song was plaintive, but beautiful and Gemma found that she liked it very much. Another man picked up what looked like a fiddle, though much simpler than Gemma had seen before – mainly on tv – and began to play a much livelier tune. Some of the men, including Little John, began to perform a sort of dance, which included much stamping of the feet and even hand clapping. The others clapped their hands or stamped their feet in time with the music.
When the man stopped playing he immediately picked up another tune, one even more suited for dancing. Gemma was astonished to see Marion get up and approach her. It took her a while to realize that Marion wanted to dance with her.
“No, please. I can’t -”
“Come on, young squire. It’s simple. I’ll show you.”
Self-consciously, Gemma stood up and faced Marion. Apparently they would just be moving to the music and not actually touching, but just when she thought she had understood the steps, Marion grabbed her hands and pulled her along. They whirled around quite quickly and Gemma was getting a headache. To her astonishment most of the men were now standing up and dancing around in twos and threes. Only Guy and Will Scarlet and Robert remained seated. Even the friar was performing some sort of comical jig, which had most of the other in stitches.
Marion began to move more slowly, and glancing around surreptitiously, she faced Gemma.
“Does he know?”
“I’m not sure -”
“Does Gisburne know you’re not a boy?”
Gemma took a wrong step and almost stumbled. Marion grabbed her hand and steadied her.
Marion nodded, seemingly with a great deal of satisfaction.
“I thought so.”
“May I ask how you know?”
She shrugged, clearly proud of her conclusion.
“A woman just knows. He might have hated me, but I know that look.”
“I see. I don’t think you need to fear that look again, Marion.”
For a second, Marion looked taken aback, then she threw back her head and laughed, in a very feminine way, Gemma thought bitterly. Nothing boyish about this girl.
“No, now that he’s met you, I’m sure I shan’t. Of course, everyone is aware of his reputation, but I knew he wasn’t a boy lover. Then here he is with you.”
“As you say. Do you think your men will have guessed?”
“No, I’m sure they have not. You heard Will Scarlet. I have to beg your pardon for that too.”
“Well, as long as he doesn’t harm Guy, I don’t mind.”
“We have given our word. Your Guy is safe here. Now perhaps we should return to the fire, lest the men wonder what is taking us so long.”
“We wouldn’t want Robin to get jealous.”
Again Marion burst out laughing, then shook her head.
“You don’t need to worry on that account. My Robin would not seek a fight. He trusts me and does not watch every step I take. Though now that you make mention of the matter, I don’t think you need worry in any case. I’m curious, how did you defeat Little John and Will?”
Gemma considered. The outlaws had bid her and Guy welcome. Perhaps it was time she offered something in return.
“It’s a way of fighting that I have learned, mainly as defence. If you wish, I will teach you. I imagine it will be useful for a woman living this life.”
“I think it would and I thank you – I don’t know your name -”
“It’s Gemma, but please, call me Jem, lest you give me away.”
“Jem it is. I thank you for your offer and I gladly accept it.”
“If you wish, we can begin in the morning.”
They returned to the fire and sat down again. Guy relaxed, as if he’d been prepared to go and look for her. She smiled reassuringly and he nodded, almost imperceptibly. Clearly he didn’t want to give Will Scarlet any more reason to mock him. Again, Gemma noticed how Robert was studying Guy out of the corner of his eye, as if he was considering something, but could not quite make up his mind about it.
Some of the men were still dancing, others were talking. As night fell, the group of outlaws continued their merrymaking. Gemma was beginning to relax. The outlaws were a lot more fun than the people at the Sheriff’s house. One thing that immediately struck Gemma was the lack of formality. Marion and Robert belonged to the highest echelons of society, Tuck was a man of the church, although she suspected, not necessarily highly educated, and most of the others were serfs. One of them was even a foreigner. Yet they all lived together in apparent harmony.
All, with the possible exception of Will Scarlet. Though perhaps she was judging him too harshly. Guy might not have been acting on his own, but he had been pursuing these people for years, trying his best to put a stop to them using any means at his disposal. Will Scarlet might feel he had a legitimate reason for his anger. On the other hand, Gemma couldn’t help but feel it was petty of him to use Guy’s reputation against him. If Marion could tell Guy wasn’t gay, surely the men could as well. Of course Will Scarlet might not even care, his purpose was most likely simply to taunt his old enemy. But try as she might, Gemma couldn’t help disliking the aggressive man and she didn’t think it was just because she was partial when it came to Guy.
In the end, it seemed Robert had finished his reflections and come to some conclusion. He got up and walked the few steps that separated him from Guy and bent down to speak to him. Gemma was sitting so close by she overheard the whispered conversation.
“Could I speak to you, Gisburne? About a personal matter?”
Guy cast him a puzzled stare, but seemed so taken aback by the request he didn’t refuse. He got up and followed Robert some distance away from the fire. Gemma hesitated. She was hoping Marion had been telling the truth when she repeated her reassurances that they were safe here. Just in case, she kept a close eye on the other men. She didn’t think Robert would be a match for Guy in a fight, and the rest of the men, as far as she could tell, were still seated around the fire, drinking and laughing and occasionally singing a song. Some of the songs were decidedly rude, even dirty, and she was surprised Marion didn’t react, but perhaps she had learned to turn a deaf ear to them.
Guy wasn’t gone for very long. He walked back rather hastily, looking as if he’d had a shock. When Robert returned, he looked sombre and, it seemed to Gemma, even concerned. He kept glancing at Guy as if he truly cared about his reaction. Gemma wondered if he’d mentioned to Guy that they were brothers. That was, assuming the tv series had been right about this too. She had to admit that the two young men did look rather alike, perhaps even more so than the two actors in the series.
Guy refilled his goblet and finished it in one draught. After a while, he seemed to have regained some of his control. Gemma leaned closer and dared to hastily touch his hand. He met her gaze and seemed to relax a little.
She said the first thing that came into her mind.
“I think we should probably go and see to the horses, don’t you?”
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
They walked slowly in the direction they’d last seen the horses and sure enough, they were still there. Gemma didn’t really think they had come to any harm, it was just a pretext to get Guy alone. To her relief, none of the outlaws seemed to be following.
“How are you?”
“I’m – Robin told me something astounding – I still can’t – ”
“Was it bad – tidings?”
“Bad? I’m not sure. Do you remember what I told you about my mother and – her husband?”
“It seems – if Robin was telling me the truth – that – his father is also my father. This – outlaw – is in truth my brother. I can scarcely believe it.”
“How do you feel about it?”
“I can’t tell you. I’ve hated this man. He and his men – in all fairness mostly his men – have made a fool of me and – had the Sheriff punishing me for all my failings. Yet – if this is the truth – I have tried to kill my own brother.”
Guy shook his head in disbelief.
“But you didn’t.”
“You didn’t kill him. You have this chance to get to know him. And he is the Sheriff’s enemy -”
Guy nodded slowly.
“There is that, of course. The outlaws are no longer my charge.”
As he spoke, he let his hands move along the flanks of first one stallion, then the other and finally the chubby mare, who pressed her muzzle into his hand, eagerly searching for something to eat.
“I can’t believe your father would leave you to be treated that way by your mother’s husband.”
“While Gisburne was still alive, there was nothing he could have done.”
“Later – I suppose he might have, but he didn’t.”
“And now his heir is an outlaw and he still didn’t come for you. I find that I don’t care so much for this father of yours. Perhaps there is a reason why Robin is here.”
“My father must know about my reputation. Of course he wouldn’t come for me.”
“It’s his loss.”
At first, Guy didn’t appear to have heard her, then suddenly, without even glancing around, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. When he let go, he appeared to have regained some of his calm.
“I have kept myself alive without his help for twenty-four years, and have no need of a father now.”
“What about a brother?”
“You know, it’s strange, but as a child, I often wished I had a brother.”
“I’m glad you have had this chance to get to know him.”
“We shall see. Tonight, I could not even bring myself to speak to him.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand. He must have known for some time and you have only just learned the truth about your background.”
Guy nodded, but said no more on the topic that night. It was clear that his mind was still occupied with what he’d just learned. They moved closer to the fire and lay down, close, but not touching. Will Scarlet was nowhere to be seen, but Much lay only a few yards away, curled up with one arm over his ear, as if trying to shut out the sounds of the night and a little further off, barely visible in the light from the dying fire, Marion and Robert lay. Tuck lay flat on his back, hands on his ample belly. They couldn’t see Little John and Nasir anywhere nearby.
Gemma and Guy woke up around dawn to find that Robert and Marion were up too, but most of the other outlaws were still fast asleep. They had been drinking and talking until late at night. After breakfast and a quick splash in the stream, Gemma approached Marion and asked her if this was a good time for her first lesson.
“Thank you. Yes, it’s a very good time. Robin – Jem has kindly offered to teach me his way of fighting.”
Clearly Robin didn’t know about her, or Marion thought it best not to risk any of the other men finding out. Gemma appreciated that, though being a boy out here presented her with a new set of problems. Using the latrine for instance. She’d noticed that the men only wandered some distance away from the fire to relieve themselves, but there was a properly dug latrine too. Perhaps Marion could offer a suggestion how she might manage that delicate problem.
They walked some distance away from the main camp, to a piece of flat ground.
“Will this do?”
“Yes, it’s fine.”
Gemma considered a moment, then began to give Marion her instructions. They kept up their practice session for about an hour, and to Gemma’s relief, Marion was a quick learner. At the end of their session, Marion stretched and smiled.
“It keeps the body supple and once you’ve gained full mastery of the skill, you will be able to use a much stronger enemy’s strength against him.”
When they returned to the center of the camp, most of the men were still asleep, or just having breakfast. Gemma couldn’t see Guy or Robin anywhere, and to her alarm neither could she see Will Scarlet. She began to wander around, searching for Guy, or at the very least Scarlet, but didn’t have any luck. Marion’s gaze followed her.
“I can’t see Guy anywhere.”
Gemma had the impression Marion found her reaction amusing.
“You don’t need to fear for Guy. We gave our word. Robert wanted to speak to him about a personal matter.”
“I think I can guess what that is. But what worries me is Will Scarlet. He hates Guy -”
“Can you blame him? After all the times Guy tried to catch us and sometimes very nearly succeeded -”
“I know. He swore an oath, but he’s no longer the Sheriff’s man.”
“And Will knows that. He will not defy Robin.”
“If you knew how the Sheriff was treating Guy -”
“I do know, and as it seems you know about Guy’s past, I can tell you that I also know how Gisburne treated him, but – we have been enemies for a long time. Old habits die hard.”
“And I understand you. You love him. It’s a marvel to see Gisburne – Guy – so changed. And when Robin has made his peace with Guy, we will welcome him among us. Give Will and the others a little time.”
“I thank you for your kindness.”
Marion acknowledged her gratitude with a nod and a smile, but her mind seemed intent on something else.
“I’m curious – you speak strangely. Are you not from Nottinghamshire?”
“I am, but – it’s hard to -”
Marion’s gaze travelled across Gemma’s face, unnverving her.
“You seem to be quite a riddle.”
“You’re right. But know this – I am not your enemy. I have heard of you and Robin and your men, and I think highly of you and what you do.”
“I’m glad. Well, know this – I don’t fear you or Guy. The fact that you are here, in Sherwood, with us, means Herne has led you here and I accept his wisdom, even if I don’t understand his reasons.”
Gemma started at the mention of the god’s name. Suddenly, she recalled the odd creature that had appeared just before she found herself in the other Sherwood. Her reaction wasn’t lost on Marion.
“I see his name is familiar to you. You have met him.”
It was not a question, it was a statement and Gemma didn’t know what to reply, so she said nothing.
“Then all is well. Do not fear. You and Guy will be safe here. And look – there is your Guy and Robin, back safely from their walk.”
Gemma smiled and nodded, and Marion turned away from her to join her lover. Guy looked pensive, but not as shocked as he had been the night before. He was beginning to accept the news about his father and brother.
It seemed the outlaws didn’t have any immediate plans, and the men came and went as they pleased. Gemma was hoping they would avoid attacking the Sheriff and Prince John, so they wouldn’t draw attention to the forest. That led her to thinking about the Sheriff and more specifically of what he might be doing. What schemes was he making to catch Guy and her and bring them back to Nottingham? With Prince John behind him, he might be more desperate and certainly, he would have more resources at his disposal. But the outlaws had remained at large for years, harassing him and helping the poor, so perhaps finding someone in Sherwood wouldn’t be so easy.
In the evening, everyone gathered around the fire, to share a meal and, Gemma assumed, to drink and sing and dance and talk. She recalled that some of the men would have wives or girlfriends and families in villages somewhere within walking distance, or at least riding distance, though they didn’t seem to have any horses. At least she assumed as much from watching the tv series. That part might or might not be true, but it was clear that most of the men would leave during the day and return towards evening. They hadn’t brought any spoils, so she didn’t think they’d been attacking the Sheriff today.
Once everyone had been served, Robin called his men’s attention.
“I have something to tell you all. As you know, we have two visitors. You all saw Jem defeat Little John in a fair fight. We have already welcomed them here. Remember, they are now our guests, and you will treat them accordingly. No matter what happened in the past, Gisburne is no longer our enemy. Is that clear? What I have to say is to do with him. You will find this hard to believe, but it is the truth. Guy is my brother. We have the same father.”
His announcement was greeted by complete silence. Then, when his men realized that he wasn’t joking, they began to talk among themselves, staring in confusion at Robin and Guy. Guy looked almost as stunned. Robin got up and sat down beside Guy and waited while the talk died down. It looked as if Robin was going to say something else, but he was interrupted by a voice filled with anger. She should have known Will Scarlet wasn’t going to react well to the news.
“You can’t be serious, Robin.”
“But I am. Guy is my brother and I want you all to know it. It is the truth. He has come here to seek a safe haven, away from the Sheriff and Prince John and he was right to come. Remember that he is no longer the Sheriff’s man.”
“Just because your father might have bedded his mother, doesn’t make him your brother. Are we to accept any Huntingdon bastard that shows his face here?”
“Will. Be quiet. I say he is welcome here. That should be enough for you.”
Gemma was impressed. Robin spoke with far more authority than she had expected. She could tell that most of the men were willing to accept his word as law. The question was, would Scarlet?
When he heard his leader’s words, he spat on the ground, then got up and left the circle around the fire. Gemma was hoping he wouldn’t be angry enough to bring back the Sheriff’s men, just to get to Guy. But Robin and Marion and the others didn’t appear to be concerned and she was hoping they had reason to trust Scarlet.
Robin looked expectantly at Guy and after a while, the latter took a deep breath and faced the outlaws.
“I will not beg your pardon for what I have done in the past. The Sheriff was my liege lord. You all know what that means. I was bound by my oath to do his bidding. Now – I am no longer the Sheriff’s man and from now on you have my word that I will not work against you in any way. All I want – all we want – is to be left alone.”
Again, excited talk broke out among the men, then Little John shuffled over and held out his hand to Guy. With a stunned look on his face, Guy took the big man’s hand. Much was next. He smiled and shook Guy’s hand, and Guy, who was regaining control over himself, shook it back. Tuck was next, then Nasir. The rest followed. Only Will Scarlet remained absent. To Gemma’s surprise, Robert put his arms around Guy and hugged him. She could tell Guy wasn’t happy about that, but he didn’t spoil the moment by shoving his brother away. He looked embarrassed, but also, Gemma imagined, pleased. Marion was the last to offer her hand. At this, Guy blushed slightly, but he accepted it. Apparently, that was enough. She was amazed that the outlaws could put aside all the years of resentment and welcome Guy among them. Perhaps their hatred had always been directed more at the Sheriff and Prince John than Guy. She hoped so.
They saw no more of Will Scarlet for the rest of the evening, but the next day he was back, and though he didn’t take Guy’s hand to show his acceptance of him he also didn’t speak as harshly to him as he used to. He didn’t say anything. From time to time, Gemma saw him staring at Guy, as if in disbelief, but it seemed the worst of his anger had spent itself for the time being. She was hoping he’d direct his rancour at the Sheriff and Prince John and not Guy, but she could tell that Scarlet’s reaction didn’t bother Guy and she had to content herself with that.
Gemma went on teaching Marion karate, and in general, she enjoyed life with the outlaws. The sanitary conditions were appalling, but something, perhaps her meager diet, had made her period stop, so at least she didn’t have to worry on that account. She learned to sneak off on her own to relieve herself and no one seemed to be paying attention, so it seemed her secret was still safe.
To her relief, the men were beginning to get used to Guy’s presence among them and a few of them, especially Much, actually seemed to like him. Little John turned out to be a very laidback man and didn’t seem to be one to waste time on old resentments. Tuck and Nasir didn’t seem to find Guy’s presence objectionable either, so at least as far as she could tell, all seemed well.
Guy let Much help him with the horses and the young man appeared to appreciate that. Gemma loved seeing Guy like this, so relaxed and at ease. In all the time she’d known him, he’d never been so happy. She could tell that Robin and Marion were noticing the change in him too. Marion had even said as much, the first day. It warmed Gemma’s heart to see the two brothers getting to know each other, and though Guy was still touchy and sensitive about the past, he did seem to appreciate having a brother.
She recalled his words about how he’d always wanted one. Strangely enough, only a day or so after his public acceptance of Guy, Robin said the same thing. Marion was combing her hair. Her graceful movements made Gemma feel like a scruffy old tramp. The men were drinking and singing, as they always did in the evenings. Gemma just sat there, warming her hands at the fire, listening to Guy and Robin talking.
“My mother died young and my father was away most of the time, so I always wished that I’d had a brother. Someone to keep me company.”
To Gemma’s surprise, Guy actually smiled.
“I wanted a brother too, but it wouldn’t have been much of a life for him. Gisburne – he was a cruel, unforgiving man. As long as he was alive, my mother never ceased to pay for her trespass against him.”
Robin cast a gaze filled with sympathy at Guy.
“I’m sorry. Was he very cruel to you too?”
Guy shrugged, clearly not wanting to discuss the matter further. In the end, he merely muttered a few words.
“As you can see, he didn’t kill me.”
Again, Gemma was surprised to hear Marion speak up.
“Everyone was talking about Gisburne and the way he treated his wife and son. My father always said it was unseemly to treat a woman that way, or a child – Gisburne didn’t have many friends among the other nobles, I can tell you that.”
“We certainly didn’t have many visitors. I can only imagine what they would have thought of him treating his wife as a serving wench.”
He seemed relieved when the talk turned to other topics, but Gemma knew Guy was upset about having his past brought up. She was hoping Robin wouldn’t try to speak of it again. When they went to lie down that night, she anxiously watched him for signs of a reaction to the conversation. Sure enough, he still looked tense and there was a haunted look in his eyes.
“Guy – please. I’m sure he didn’t mean -”
“I know he didn’t. How could he know what it was like? He means well. I – quite like him. I would never have guessed as much. Of course, it never crossed my mind.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?”
He shrugged. They remained seated, some distance from the fire, looking into the dying flames. After a while, Gemma discreetly took his hand. He didn’t pull away. Sensing that he needed silence, she said nothing, just held his hand and kept looking into the remains of the fire. It was actually quite relaxing. A little later, she turned to look at Guy’s face and was stunned to see that he was crying.
He turned away, furiously rubbing at his face. When he looked back, his eyes looked swollen, but the tears were gone and he swore under his breath.
“Forgive me. You must think me -”
“No, I don’t. Think nothing of it.”
“He would ravish her. Beat her like a serf caught stealing. I thought he would kill her. And when he caught sight of me – the look in his eyes was filled with such hatred – I think my mother tried to keep me safe, or he would surely have beaten me more than he did. Perhaps he feared what others would say if he killed me.”
Gemma was horrified. She had had no idea his childhood had been that bad. Now it was her turn to rub away the tears that threatened to overflow. She didn’t want to cause him more distress. Glancing around, she determined that the others were falling asleep. Hastily, she got up, then pulled him to his feet.
“Why don’t we – see to the horses?”
Puzzled, he followed her to the thicket where Much had made the horses comfortable. Naturally, they were fine. They had settled down for the night, but Guy couldn’t resist stroking their muzzles, before facing her, a question in his eyes.
After making sure they were alone, Gemma pulled him into her arms, kissing him. She could tell he loved feeling her tongue in his mouth. Clearly, the art of French kissing hadn’t been discovered yet, or the women Guy had been with hadn’t known about it. She tried not to dwell on that, or his dealings with the Sheriff. If he was in the mood, she would definitely do her part to cheer him up. Hopefully the outlaws wouldn’t come blundering in and surprise them. She dragged him into the deep shade cast by a conveniently growing tree, then did her best to make him forget what his mother’s husband had put him through.
Afterwards, Guy studied her face, a mix of disbelief and love on his face.
“What have I done to deserve you? I was never a good man. If you ask my brother or Marion or one of the others, they will tell you -”
“Sh. That was the Sheriff’s doing, not yours. You were just obeying his orders. Robin and the others have welcomed you. Forget the past, or at least try. It’s over. Your life is here now.”
“Yes, I know. Gemma, I love you so much it hurts. I couldn’t stand to lose you. Whatever happens, I will always be with you, as long as you will have me.”
“I love you too, Guy. You don’t know how much. I will never leave you.”
He kissed her again. Gemma smiled inwardly at what a quick study he was, when it came to certain things. A little later, they stealthily returned to the fire and lay down, the tips of their fingers touching. No one would be able to see that in the dark.
They woke up to hear the outlaws calling to each other, and the sounds of weapons clanging. Gemma felt Guy’s muscles tauten. Within seconds he was on his feet. She followed his example. The outlaws held their bows at the ready. Gemma listened, but at first could hear nothing. Then there were faint sounds of someone coming through the woods. One person, not a very heavy one. The sun was already up, barely, and the trees cast long shadows, but when the short figure came into view, there was something familiar about it. She could hear the bowstrings stretch, as the archers took aim. The girl was staring anxiously ahead. Suddenly, Gemma knew who it was.
“No. Don’t shoot. I know who it is. She’s not a threat.”
Robin gestured to the bowmen to wait.
The girl stumbled and fell forward, and didn’t move. Gemma stared around the clearing, but as far as she could see, neither of the archers had let their arrow fly. Without waiting for permission, she ran to take a look at the girl. To her surprise, Marion matched her stride and when they reached the girl, she was the one to turn her over. Gemma had been right. It was Tillie, the Sheriff’s servant.
“She’s not wounded. I can see nothing wrong with her.”
Gemma put her hand on Tillie’s shoulder and shook her lightly.
Marion put her hands on the girl’s cheeks and examined her again.
“I think she’s just weary. Who is she?”
“One of the Sheriff’s servants.”
“I see. Let’s make her more comfortable. Much? Can you get us some water?”
The young man hurried off and returned with a water skin. Marion poured a few drops on the girl’s lips, then some more on her face. She patted the girl’s cheeks lightly.
“Wake up. Come on, child, wake up.”
Eventually, Tillie’s eyes fluttered open, but it was a while until she could focus properly. By then, Robin, Much, Tuck and to Gemma’s surprise, Guy, had gathered around them.
“Oh, there you are, Jem. I came to warn you. The Sheriff and the Prince are sending men into the forest to hunt you down. You must flee.”
Gemma suddenly felt faint and she gazed up at Guy, whose face tensed up. He began to glance around the clearing, as if he was already expecting the Sheriff’s and Prince John’s men to come riding through the trees.
Robin bent over the girl and quite gently began to question her.
“Are they coming already?”
“I heard they were going to send out men searching for Jem and him – sir Guy.”
“Did anyone follow you?”
“I don’t think so. I left when the others went to bed and ran all night.”
“You did well. Tuck? Would you feed the child?”
Gemma’s mind raced from one issue to another. She and Guy had to get away. The outlaws would have to leave. Tillie – Tillie would have no job to return to and if the Sheriff’s men found her now –
“Much – do you think you could look after Tillie? I think it might be best to cut her hair and dress her as a boy. Can you do that? Let her be your cousin – Tom? From some village further away?”
“I will do as you say. Come on, Tillie. I’ll help you.”
The young man bent over Tillie and helped her up. He supported her with an arm around her shoulders and led her away. When Tuck had returned, someone pointed him in the right direction. In the meantime, Robin, Marion, Little John, Nasir, Will Scarlet and the other men gathered in a circle. Gemma was surprised to notice that Robin made room for Guy and her right next to him and Marion. Clearly they were invited to participate in their council.
They discussed the matter at length. It soon dawned on Gemma that while the outlaws didn’t take the warning lightly, apparently they weren’t exactly in a panic either. The general idea was that Sherwood was huge, the Sheriff’s men easily got lost and in either case, it would take them long to search the entire forest. Even so, some of the men, most notably Will Scarlet, were suspicious of the newcomers and though they didn’t blame them outright, it seemed they would prefer to see the last of them. Others, mainly Robin, Marion and their closest friends, wanted to include them, especially Guy, in their decisions.
Gemma could see Guy fumbling at his side, as if he’d forgotten his sword was no longer there. When the outlaws had stopped speaking, Guy addressed his brother.
“If you trust me, I will help you in any way I can. If not – I will leave you in peace. I did not come to peril you.”
Robin didn’t even hesitate.
“Nasir, will you bring him his sword?”
That brought on another explosion from Scarlet.
“You can’t be serious. Will you let this – knave – attack us in our sleep?”
“You forget yourself, Will. Do you not remember that Guy is my brother? He is one of us now and if he wants to fight side by side with us, it’s his right.”
“One of us? The Sheriff’s whore? Never.”
Robin rose in one fluid movement. It was the first time Gemma noticed that he moved with the same effortless grace as his brother. He walked up to Will Scarlet and stared into his face and in the end, it was Scarlet who looked away.
Nasir returned and bowing politely, handed over Guy’s sword. It might have been Gemma’s imagination, but it seemed Guy stood a little straighter, with his sword in hand.
Gemma couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
“Are you sure it’s safe to remain here? Shouldn’t we – at least Guy and I – leave the area?”
Robin turned and faced her.
“We will leave. There are places in this forest most of the Sheriff’s men fear to go and other places they will never be able to find. We always move about.”
“But – if they put their minds to it – surely they will find us in the end?”
Robin smiled reassuringly at her.
“They haven’t found us yet. Not here in Sherwood. Herne keeps his hand over us and now you too. Do not fear.”
But Gemma was afraid. She knew that if the Sheriff caught them, they couldn’t expect any mercy. On the other hand, she didn’t want to leave the outlaws. They were good people, much better than the Sheriff, Prince John and servants like Kate. Among them, with the possible exception of Will Scarlet, there were no mean, petty people like Kate. She wished with all her heart she could stay with Robin and Marion and the others, though she feared winter in the forest.
Her mind was called back to the present by Robin putting his hand on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled. If Marion hadn’t told him about her, he would still believe her a young boy. It was kind of him to try to reassure him/her.
Much returned, leading a Tillie, changed almost beyond recognition. She smiled uncertainly. Gemma was amazed at her transformation. Her hair was hacked off in irregular tufts and she was wearing a tunic and tights. Gemma caught herself hoping that no one would spot the similarities between her and the new ‘boy’. She couldn’t help smiling when she noticed that Tillie was casting admiring gazes on Much. If she wasn’t very much mistaken, the girl had a crush on him. Unless Much had a girl in a village somewhere, this had every chance of working out. Tillie’s colour was much better now. It seemed Marion had been right in her assessment of the girl’s condition.
Most of the men dispersed, but Gemma, Guy, Marion and Robin remained. When the others had gone, Marion began to speak.
“I think Jem is right. We should take this threat seriously. It wouldn’t do any harm if we moved away, quite far away. We can’t risk being caught and we can’t place Guy and Jem at risk either.”
“But would Herne want us to hide like rabbits in a hole?”
“Herne wouldn’t want us to perish either. We have had to stay out of sight before.”
Gemma’s throat suddenly felt dry. They couldn’t be responsible for the outlaws getting caught. It was better if they split up. She had been happy here. In the short time she’d spent in the forest, the outlaws had become her friends, but that was exactly why she couldn’t place them at risk.
“We can’t place you at risk. It’s better that we go our different ways. What you do is too important to jeopardize.”
Suddenly she felt Guy’s arm around her, reassuring her.
“Jem is right. We should go. Robin – I’m happy we were able to get to know each other, but we will only place you at risk. The Sheriff – he will stop at nothing.”
“Don’t go, Guy. We are safer together. You know the Sheriff’s ways and the Prince’s. You can help us. At least don’t make up your mind just yet. We will pack up and leave. Come with us. You know how difficult it is to bring horses and men into the forest.”
Guy nodded. It was clear that he wanted to stay with his brother and the other outlaws, strange as it might seem. Gemma did too. She began to reason with herself. Robin was right. They could stay for a while longer, but it was no use deluding themselves. Sooner or later they would have to leave their new friends. If only she knew her history better. When did King Richard return? What else happened in this era? Would the Sheriff and Prince John be kept busy elsewhere? But she didn’t have the answers to any of those questions and in the end, she and Guy packed up their things and followed the others deeper into the forest.
On the third day, Much took Tillie and the horses to a village where he had distant kin. He left them there, but promised he would return for them later when it was safe. Guy solemnly said goodbye to his horses and Gemma came along to see them off. Tillie smiled and waved, but seemed quite cheerful at the thought of leaving with Much.
Though it might have been otherwise, they moved much faster on foot than on horseback. Gemma was fascinated to enter the depths of the forest. She’d never been so far inside a forest of this size. The trunks of the trees were growing closer together and the sunlight only filtered through in patches. They walked through the semidarkness. Even the air felt different in here. Guy’s face was tense and white but he did his best not to reveal his fears to his new companions.
It was hard to tell when evening fell, but the outlaws seemed to know. Each evening, they made camp, but they no longer played music or sang and danced. They didn’t even light a fire, but they did sit in a circle, murmuring softly to each other. It seemed to Gemma that they were all quite cheerful. She did her best to distract Guy, and he did his best to act carefree, but somehow, the merry mood from their first days with the outlaws was gone. Instead, there was a sense of anticipation. Gemma couldn’t tell of what. All she knew was that her life had changed again and she wasn’t sure in which direction it was taking her now. Something occurred to her and she turned to face Guy.
“How far into the forest did you ever take the knights?”
“Not this far, I think. Each time I tried, something would make us turn back.”
“Then we should be safe, shouldn’t we?”
“I don’t know. With Prince John behind them – I don’t know. It would depend on how much they want to catch us.”
“Do you know why the Prince is so eager to find me?”
“You know the Sheriff never told me anything, except to give me orders, but I did hear him talk. I don’t know what the Prince might be up to, but if he thought you were somehow allied with his enemies – ”
“If, if, if – well, it seems it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
They followed the outlaws, not sure if they were right to do so, but at the moment, they didn’t know what else to do. Gemma had a feeling that seeing the last of the horses had been hard on Guy, but he seemed to take his situation with equanimity, all the same. His temper actually seemed to have improved since he left the Sheriff. She was hoping she wouldn’t cost him more than she already had.
The outlaws had a specific goal in mind, and slowly but surely they continued in the same direction. At least Gemma assumed that was what they were doing. She couldn’t even tell in which compass point they were heading. When she discussed the matter with Guy, he admitted that he wasn’t much better at it than she was.
“I think we’re heading northeast, but I can’t be sure. Hopefully some of the others will know.”
On the fourth day since their departure, the outlaws received word, how, Gemma never learned, that the Sheriff’s and Prince John’s men were persistently searching the forest, even setting up camp, rather than returning to Nottingham in the evenings.
When she heard the news, Gemma knew they would have to make a decision. If the knights were after her and Guy, they had no choice but to leave the outlaws. She gazed at Guy’s face, wondering if she might ask the outlaws if their informants had heard anything about what reason Prince John had to pursue them. If Guy had no idea, would anyone outside the castle?
In the end, it was Guy who asked the question. He looked different somehow, more determined, and, Gemma imagined, rather more like the aggressive warrior he had been at the beginning of their acquaintance. It occurred to her that he was preparing to die fighting the Prince’s men. This was all wrong. She hadn’t come here to hurt him. In fact, she’d made a promise she would never let him come to any harm. She didn’t think he’d taken her vow seriously, most likely he had seen it as no more than pillow talk, but she had meant every word. Now it seemed she had only brought him trouble.
“Do you know who they’re searching for? Jem and myself or the rest of you?”
“No. All we know is that he’s more intent than ever.”
“Right. Jem and I will leave you now. I am sure you know of good hiding places. If – if I may advise you – don’t pick a fight with Prince John. This isn’t the time to go up against him.”
Robert glanced around his men before replying.
“Come with us. For all you know, this might be about us, not you. If you remember, we did annoy the Sheriff more than usual, just before your flight.”
“That may be, but we can’t peril you any more than we already have. If I could, I would ask you to take Jem with you, but I fear that Jem is the one Prince John is after, so it wouldn’t be any use.”
“I will not add to your peril. Guy and I will take our leave of you. I am grateful I had this chance to get to know you. All of you. May you continue your fight against the Sheriff and all corruption among his people. Please. I wish to know that you are safe.”
She could see Robert and Marion studying her closely, no doubt wondering about her vehemence. But it was true. They and their struggle were what she’d come for, them and Guy. The knowledge that they would still be carrying on their fight would help her find the strength to continue on her own. Guy’s reaction had confirmed what she already suspected. They could not afford to be taken alive. She didn’t know if she would have the strength to end her life, but the thought of dungeons and torture chambers frightened her badly, far more so than the Sheriff’s intentions towards her ever had.
When it became clear that they would not be swayed, the outlaws began to take their leave of them. To her surprise, Much and Guy appeared to have become close in the short time they’d spent together, most likely bonding over the horses and their care. The young redhaired man seemed genuinely moved by the thought of parting from his new friend. Little John came to shake their hands and pound their backs in his typical good natured way. Tuck too, bid them farewell. To her surprise, Will Scarlet even nodded briefly at Guy. The scalding look he cast in her direction, left her in no doubt about his feelings towards her. He would never forgive her for knocking him out.
Finally, it was Robert’s turn to say goodbye to his brother. His reaction touched Gemma. He embraced Guy warmly.
“I’m sorry we have to part so soon. I wish we’d had time to get to know each other better.”
Guy too, seemed touched by his brother’s sentiments.
“So do I. I’m sorry we had to meet as enemies, before we finally got to know each other. If I may give you a word of warning, you must not misjudge the Sheriff. He is a worse threat than you might know.”
“Perhaps, but it is our charge to fight him. May Herne keep you safe.”
At the mention of the horned god, Guy”s features tautened but he accepted his brother’s well-wishes with good grace.
“Thank you, Robert.”
Marion, too, took Guy’s hand and held it for a while.
“Go in peace.”
Robert shook Gemma’s hand too, and so did Marion. She studied Gemma closely.
“Trust in Herne. He will not lead you astray.”