|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.
This time, it was much harder to set out on their own. When they had first entered the forest, it had seemed to be something of a holiday, at least to Gemma. A chance to be alone together, at last after all the frustrating days and nights under the Sheriff’s roof.
Marion had recommended a path that would lead them to a safe place, where they would be able to make camp. She advised them to lie low and not make any fire, despite the chill that crept up on them when darkness fell, a little earlier each night. Gemma had a feeling that before long, she would live to appreciate the flea-riddled blankets. If the Prince’s men left them in peace for that long.
Gemma wanted to ask Guy about what chance they had of remaining undetected by the knights, but she didn’t dare. Suddenly, her adventure had taken a darker turn and she found herself longing to be back in her own time, where (or when) she might be chased by creditors, but not armed men who wanted to do her physical harm. It was the first time since she’d arrived in this Sherwood forest, however that had happened, that she was missing her own home, even her father’s house. In fact, by now, her mother’s home was beginning to seem far less daunting than it used to be.
When they lay down to sleep that night, Gemma cuddled closer to Guy, who wrapped his mantle around them, then held on to her as if he never wanted to let her go. Gemma found it hard to go to sleep as she considered what might be their fate, perhaps even the next day.
“Can you forgive me for bringing you all this trouble?”
“Sh. Whatever happens, I will never be sorry. You have made me happier than I have ever been. No, meeting you has made me happy for the first time in my life.”
In the morning, they considered moving on, but remembering Marion’s advise, they decided to stay under cover of the low-hanging branches. If they were lucky, the knights wouldn’t even notice their hiding place. When the sun had climbed as high in the sky as it did, this late in the season, the sound of a bird cawing, made them start. The seconds ticked by, while they lay still, not daring to move. Straining their ears, they stared in the direction the bird’s cry had come from. Maybe it was just a passing wildcat or fox –
By the time they had concluded that it was a false alarm, the sounds of hoofbeats dispelled the feeling of relative security. The sounds became louder, then came the clink of armour. Gemma could see Guy grimly clutching his sword. She put her hand over his. It would be no use. If she was any braver she would have asked him to use the sword on her, then – like a samurai – he could end his own life, rather than falling into John’s hands. But she didn’t say anything. The knights might still pass them by. There was no reason to think they would spot them. Holding her breath, she waited. A chill wind made her hair stand on end and she shuddered. Suddenly she became aware that the birds had stopped singing. It was as if the forest was holding its breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion of violence.
One of the knights screamed and her heart took a painful leap in her chest. But he wasn’t giving the order to attack, he had cried out in fear. To her amazement, the knights reined in their horses, making them rear in panic. What was causing their reaction? She glanced wildly around her, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Then suddenly, a strange creature came into sight. He had horns on his head and with him a sense of wonder descended on the people present. Herne? Gemma’s eyes shied away from the hazy apparition. Paralyzed with fear, Guy dropped the sword.
The scene before them dissolved into chaos, as knights and horses waved arms and legs in the air, howling and whinnying in terror. Within seconds, the men were gone. The creature took a few steps after them. Suddenly, Gemma regained the power of movement. She grabbed Guy’s hand and pulled him along. He didn’t resist her, but she felt his muscles tauten and sensed that he was as struck with terror as the other knights.
The creature raised his hand, pointing at a barely discernible path leading in another direction than the knights had taken. Remembering Marion’s last words to her, Gemma decided to put her trust in the horned creature. Was he a god or a pagan priest? Whatever he was, he seemed to be their only chance, so she would do as he told her.
She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make Guy move, but in the end, he followed unresistingly. They walked ten minutes, thirty minutes, she didn’t know. It might have been an hour. The trees were thinning out and it began to seem to her that she recognized the clearing. There – wasn’t that the tree by which she’d first found herself in this forest, not the smaller one she was most familiar with? An idea was stirring at the back of her mind. What if –
She glanced over her shoulder and saw the creature following them. It was hard to breathe and even harder to make a sound, but she couldn’t do this to Guy without a few words of warning. He deserved to know what he was getting into. If she was right. She reminded herself that she didn’t know anything. It was just – an idea.
“Please, you have to trust me now. I swear to you that I won’t let any harm come to you. I don’t think we can stay here. We have to find a safe place and if this is -”
Suddenly, he exploded into action. He tore his hand free of hers and he stared at her, as if he didn’t know her.
“Are you a witch? A fairy? Have you come to steal my soul?”
“Guy, please. I love you. I will never hurt you. Here. Take my hand.”
She held out her hand, acutely aware of his strength and his knowledge of how to cause a man – or a woman – pain. His ability to kill with his bare hands, if necessary. She remembered his speech about what a man might be forced to do in battle. If he was too terrified, he might kill her. For a second, she wasn’t sure about her idea, after all. She might be wrong. Even if it was possible, was she right to tear a man away from his accustomed time and place and take him into a world that would be more alien to him than his world was to her? But if she left him, the Prince’s men would find him and she couldn’t bear to think of what they would do to him.
Guy seemed to hesitate, then just when she had made up her mind that she had lost him, he took her hand and held it.
“Feel it. I’m flesh and blood just like you. Please, trust me. I won’t let you come to any harm. You know we can’t stay here. Let me take you to my home.”
The look in his eyes softened.
“You’re right. I have nothing to lose. If your home is -”
“I swear you will be safe there. We will both be safe. I love you, Guy. Trust me.”
“I love you too, Gemma and I do trust you. Take me anywhere you will and I will follow.”
She began to pull him towards the oak tree, her back to it, facing the horned creature that was now standing so still it might have been a cardboard figure. What if she was hallucinating? If this was just an ad for some Robin Hood event? Guy’s gaze locked onto hers and she knew he was placing himself in her care. She could do this. Herne had led them here, there had to be a reason for that. All she had to do was trust. She fumbled with her left hand behind her, and not meeting any resistance, she kept going. Blinking, she realized that it was suddenly much darker than before. A moment ago it had been noon, on an autumn day. Now it was warmer, but darker, as on a summer evening. Was she there yet? She barely had time to finish the thought, when she tripped over something and fell backwards, taking Guy with her. He landed on top of her and the spell was broken. The eerie feeling in Herne’s presence was gone and she knew he was gone too. She became aware of a dull pain in the back of her head. Had she hit her head on a rock? A branch?
Guy managed to get to his feet, for once quite a bit less graceful than usual. He took her hand and helped her up. She felt dizzy and for a second, she blacked out. When she came to, she felt Guy’s arms holding her up.
“Gemma? Are you hurt?”
“My head hurts. I think I hit it on something.”
“Where are we?”
“In Sherwood forest.”
“Oh. I thought -”
She pressed a hand to the back of her head and felt a lump the size of a plum. It hurt, but not too badly. Her eyes had grown used to the semidarkness. The clearing they were standing in was much more open, than the one of a moment ago. Here the trees were fewer and looked somehow older and more frail.
“My Sherwood. Another Sherwood. At least I think so. Come. I think we should go that way.”
She pointed at the path she remembered following all those weeks ago, or was it only this morning? Guy held on to her, supporting her as they made their way out of the forest, or rather the woods. They came out onto the road, the broad road she was used to. She wondered what time it might be. Was it too late to catch a bus? She became aware that her bag was hanging over her shoulder, but she had lost the sports bag. Did she have enough money for the return ticket? This time, she would need two. She caught sight of the bus stop.
“Here. Let’s wait here.”
“Wait? For what?”
Yes, how did she explain to a man from mediaeval times what a bus was? Maybe this had been a stupid idea. What would she do if he panicked and ran away from her? If he ran straight into the path of oncoming traffic? She had sworn to keep him safe.
“Guy, you will have to trust me again. Something you will find frightening might come by. Something like a big cart, but not drawn by horses. It’s nothing to fear, but it will be unlike anything you have seen before. We need to get on it and it will take us back to my town, where I live.”
“A cart, not drawn by any horses? Witchery.”
“No. Please. It’s just something you don’t understand. Yet. I will try to tell you how it works, but my head hurts and I can’t think of a good way to make you see how it works. Just trust me.”
He nodded, but seemed to find her words confusing. Despite the pounding headache, Gemma felt her heart go out to him.
“My poor Guy. I never meant to do this to you. It will be strange and it could be frightening, but you will not come to any harm if you do as I tell you. Can you do that?”
“Yes. I trust you.”
To her relief, the bus did come by, only about ten minutes or so later. She could tell that Guy was terrified, but he held on to her hand so hard it hurt, and he stood his ground. After rummaging around in her bag, she found her return ticket and some change. She thought it would be enough for Guy’s fare too, but her mind was working sluggishly and she wasn’t sure. The bus driver stared at Guy’s clothes and possibly – her hair and face. After the time in the forest, she might look a little worse for wear especially her hair.
They sank down in their seats and leaning her head against his shoulder, she dozed off. She came awake with a start, worried that she’d let Guy down and that they’d missed her stop, but to her relief, they were just coming into town. Her head still hurt a bit and she felt a little dizzy, but she hoped the fresh air would do her good. They stood watching the bus drive away. At this time in the evening, the traffic wasn’t too bad, but there were enough cars to make Guy’s eyes widen in astonishment.
“This way. I live a few streets from here. Oh, just one thing. You see those smaller carts? They’re called cars. It’s nothing to be afraid of, but you mustn’t get in their way when they’re moving. You must have seen men ridden down. In battle. You’ve probably done it yourself. Remember how badly hurt they were? If you get hit by one of those cars, it will be worse. Do you understand?”
He swallowed and nodded.
“Where are we?”
“Mansfield? But that’s just – You mean in England? In Nottinghamshire?”
“Yes. Guy – I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I’m telling you the truth. Yes, this is England, but it’s a different England than you know. What year was it when we left the Sheriff?”
“It was – 1197 or 98. I don’t remember.”
“And this – is 2009.”
“Of course it is.”
Judging by the look on his face, he didn’t believe her, just as she had feared. But how could she blame him?
“It is. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I think Herne might be something to do with it.”
“Herne? Their priest? With the horns on his head?”
“Their god. Yes. I think so, but of course I don’t know. Guy, I’m not a witch or a fairy.”
He blushed slightly, remembering the accusations he’d thrown in her face, not so long ago.
“No. I know that. I’m sorry.”
While they were talking, they had turned the corner into the next street and kept on walking. Guy stared wide-eyed at the people walking past him. She felt his hand shaking slightly, but other than that, he seemed to have decided to trust her and leave the questions for later. The streetlights came on. They passed a dance club, and the music blasting through the open door, made Guy cower back for a second. The two doormen, one of them black, laughed at his reaction. Gemma was willing Guy to ignore the provocation. She had her wish, but after a moment’s consideration he turned to her.
“Yes, but we don’t call them that. A black man. A West Indian or African. Never mind. That was a sort of – tavern. Where people go to dance and drink and -”
She decided not to explain about what else went on in those bars.
“Oh. And the noise?”
“It’s a sort of music. I don’t like it either.”
At last they were standing outside Sam’s flat. Gemma was wondering how much time had passed since she’d stepped through to the other Sherwood. Judging by the warmth in the air, not long. Maybe she would still be welcome, at least overnight. In the morning, she’d call her father and ask him to come and get her and Guy. She just needed to sleep. The thought of her own bed made her feel a lot more cheerful than a moment ago.
To her relief, the code was unchanged, so she just punched in the numbers, then waited. The door opened and they stepped inside. She was wondering if Sam would be in, or if that creep Al would be. If he was still interested in threesomes, she’d see what he thought of Guy. Of course, she had a feeling Guy wouldn’t have hesitated to teach that scum a lesson.
She remembered that she’d left her key and her face fell. Her mind began to race, working on solutions. If she rang Mrs Drummond’s doorbell, she might let her use the phone – But the door wasn’t locked. She pressed the handle and it swung open. She knew she hadn’t left the door unlocked when she left. Maybe Sam or Al had returned after she’d gone and forgotten to lock it. That would be Al, she decided. It would be just like him.
Guy looked much calmer inside the flat, with the door closed behind them.
“Is this where you live?”
“Yes. Well, I was about to move back to my father, but – I can’t deal with that tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll -”
She broke off before she had to explain what a telephone was. Right now, that was more than she could handle.
“Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
“If I could just have some water -”
She realized that she was thirsty too, but also slightly sick. She needed to lie down. The kitchen caused Guy’s eyes to widen again. In fact, his face had settled into a permanent look of confusion. She grabbed a glass from the counter and filled it up under the tap, after letting the water flow for a while.
“Here. Something to eat?”
She didn’t wait for a reply. There was some pizza left over. It didn’t look very appetizing, but she wasn’t up to cooking tonight. Not that she was ever very domestic.
“Try this. If you don’t like it -”
Guy chewed on the piece of pizza she’d handed him and since he didn’t spit it out, she assumed he found its taste tolerable. He finished the piece but didn’t seem to want the rest. Suddenly, the room starting spinning around her. Before she had time to say anything, Guy’s arms were around her, holding her up.
“Where is your room?”
She directed him there and he helped her stretch out on the bed. Two seconds later, she was asleep.
When she woke up, she had a feeling she’d been asleep for a long time. Her mouth felt dry and a slight headache made her vision just a little askew. She tried not to move, hoping she’d feel better in a minute. As she lay there, the memories came flooding back. Sherwood. Nottingham. The Sheriff. Guy. The outlaws. She couldn’t help smiling. What a vivid, realistic dream. If Sam knew, she’d never let her hear the end of it. If only – but who was she kidding? Things like that didn’t happen in real life. What did she think this was anyway? Dr Who? This was her life and in her life, nothing exciting ever happened.
A familiar voice called her name, then without waiting for a reply, Sam opened the door and peered inside.
“There you are. I was wondering where you were.”
“Oh. I -”
Without waiting for her to finish, Sam went on, lowering her voice slightly.
“And who’s that blond hottie out there on the sofa? Where did you dig him up? Yummy. Is he some kind of role-player?”
Gemma fell back against the pillows. A blond hottie? A role-player? Surely, it couldn’t all be true, could it? She had to see him. With some effort she got up, waited until the room stopped moving around her, then walked the few paces to the doorway, where Sam was standing, a worried look on her face.
“Gemma – are you alright?”
She didn’t reply. When she caught sight of the blond young man lying stretched out on the sofa, covered by a woolen mantle, she couldn’t help grinning stupidly. The headache was forgotten and the last traces of dizziness gone. It was true. There he was, her Guy. She really had found a real life knight in shining armour and brought him back with her from the past.
As if he’d sensed the close scrutiny Guy woke up. His eyes fluttered open and he smiled in recognition.
“Come on, my Guy. Get up.”
He sat up, still sleepy, but smiling contentedly at her. She held out her hand and he took it.
“We’ll be out in a moment. I just need to talk to Guy.”
Sam rolled her eyes, shrugging. Gemma could almost hear her say I’ll bet you do.
Gemma closed the door behind them, taking a good look at Guy, trying to see him with Sam’s eyes, with any modern person’s eyes.
Guy met her gaze, not quite sure what her intention was.
“Was that your sister?”
“A friend. So you’re really here? I thought, I was beginning to think that it was just a dream.”
“So did I. You weren’t lying when you told me your world would be strange to me.”
“You don’t know how strange, but don’t be afraid. I will teach you all you need to know.”
His smile widened and something about in his gaze, told her he’d liked her choice of word.
“Yes, teach you.”
“Go on then, teach me all you want, my gem.”
“Was that a play on words?”
Judging by the look on his face, he’d surprised himself.
“Well, you have to admit you are my only treasure, my gem. All I have.”
“Don’t you forget that.”
“Never fear. I won’t.”
Again, Gemma let her gaze trail down his body.
“Hm. First we need to get rid of those clothes.”
“What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“Here men don’t wear hose. Take those off and the tunic too. Take it all off.”
The look in his eyes almost made Gemma forget what she was doing.
“Is that an order, my lady?”
Slowly, holding her gaze, he obeyed. He spoiled the effect slightly by glancing around for a chair to place the garments on, very neatly. She hadn’t imagined he’d be that tidy, but perhaps a knight had to learn to be neat and orderly. When he was standing before her, stark naked, she couldn’t resist pulling him into her arms, kissing him. He returned the kiss, holding on to her. For a second or two, she allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of security and contentment, then with a sigh, she pushed him away. Sam was waiting outside. Time for breakfast.
“Be patient, my Guy. Just a little longer.”
He groaned, but didn’t insist.
Gemma opened the door and went off in search of her friend.
“Sam? Oh, there you are. Do you think we could borrow some of Al’s clothes? By the way, where is Al?”
Sam made a face.
“Don’t mention his name to me. We went down to the pub last night and I’m not lying, ten minutes after we got there, he was making out with a blonde I haven’t seen before. I think he knew her though. I’m going to throw his things out so take what you want.”
“I’m sorry. I – have to admit I never really liked him.”
“Did he come on to you too?”
“Sort of. Never mind. You know I’d never -”
“I can’t believe it. What did the wanker do to you?”
“What do you think? When I told him my sensei recommended celibacy, he didn’t seem to get it, so I told him no men. He thought about that for a while, then he got this grin on his face – you know what he looked like – and suggested the three of us get together for a little threesome.”
“Thanks for not killing him. We don’t want the coppers here. Oh, what am I saying? Why didn’t you kill him?”
“Like you said, we don’t want any coppers here. Come on, let’s see what we can dig up.”
“You know his jeans won’t fit your guy very well. Not with that beer belly he has. What’s your guy’s name anyway?”
“Really? Like your knight on the telly?”
Silently, Gemma willed Sam not to start anything.
They began to rummage around in Al’s drawers and found shorts, socks, jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of trainers. There was also a grey hoodie. Most of the garments would be a very loose fit, but she thought they would at least stay up and as soon as she was settled in at her dad’s place, she’d get Guy his own clothes. She was actually looking forward to taking him shopping.
When she returned, she found him sitting on the side of her bed, his mantle wrapped around him, looking dazed and frozen.
“Here. Do you think you can put these on?”
He got up, standing rather oddly, leaning to one side. At first she thought he was merely shy about being naked, but then it hit her.
“Oh. Do you need the privy?”
“Is it far? Or do you have a -”
She hastily led him into the bathroom, where she found herself having to explain how the wc worked.
“Try not to hit the floor. It should all go into that bowl.”
The flush made him jump back, muttering under his breath, even making an odd gesture. So he still feared witchcraft.
“It’s not witchery, Guy. It’s -”
“Just something I don’t understand. Right. I see.”
“It’s just water. See. You press that.”
She demonstrated the facilities, until Guy seemed comfortable with them. Once back in her room, she kneeled before him and began the arduous task of putting the shorts on him the right way. She made him sit down on the bed for the rest. The socks were easy, but the jeans were a bit of a challenge. He didn’t understand the zipper, but since the jeans were quite a loose fit, it wasn’t hard to pull it up.
“Now raise your arms over your head. That’s it.”
She pulled the t-shirt on, then threaded his arms into the sleeves of the hoodie.
“There. Just follow my lead and try not to look as if you’re wondering about anything. We’ll just have breakfast, then I’ll – let my father know we’re coming.”
Guy stopped staring at his new clothes and gazed at her, slightly pale.
“Yes, my father. Don’t you remember me telling you about him? I have to go and live with him.”
“But won’t he – I mean – will he mind about me?”
“Oh. No, not at all. Things are not the same here. He will not come after you with a sword. Oh, by the way, people don’t use swords much anymore. You will find many things changed.”
Breakfast, by comparison, went smoothly. Sam told her about how she’d run into her old boyfriend Nigel at the pub and wasn’t it an odd coincidence, right after that creep Al getting caught with his pants down? To Gemma’s relief, Sam didn’t seem to notice anything odd about her ‘role-player’.
After breakfast, Gemma took Guy into her room, sat him down on her bed and began to pack. She left him there to call her father at work. He was, not surprisingly, delighted at her change of heart. Taking advantage of that, Gemma brought up the topic of the boyfriend.
“Dad – I’ve met someone. I was wondering if he could come and stay with you too. You did say I could have the entire third floor, didn’t you?”
“Yes, of course, but – this new fellow – is it someone you met very recently?”
“Well, sort of. We’ve known each other for a couple of months, but he doesn’t have anyplace to stay and I was hoping -”
“Of course. Then I’ll come by and pick you up in a couple of hours, shall I? I’ll just ring Fiona and tell her the good news. The boys will be ecstatic.”
Gemma doubted that. Those two boys didn’t care much for anything outside of their computer games, but she was sure Fiona would be as thrilled as her husband. Why wouldn’t she be? A free live-in babysitter. That reminded her.
“Oh, dad. Do you think I could get some kind of allowance while I’m staying with you? And I have some unpaid bills -”
“I should think so. Don’t worry about it, my dear. I’ll see you in a litle while.”
She returned to her room. Guy was still sitting on her bed, looking as if he was still processing everything new he’d seen. His face lit up when he saw her enter the room.
“My father will come by a little later and pick us up. In one of those horse-less carts. Try not to let him see you staring at it, alright? If he asks, just say you think it’s nice.”
“It doesn’t mean the same it used to, but trust me, it’s the right word. Beautiful is another word you could use.”
She hastily put some jumpers on top of the DVD:s. Right now, on top of everything else, she didn’t feel up to explaining any similarities Guy might notice between the photos on the covers and the reality he was used to.
Sam and Guy helped carry her things down to the car. Guy really did his best to hide his amazement at seeing a car up close. When the last of the things Gemma would be taking had been packed into the trunk of the car, she made sure Guy got in safely, then sat down next to him and slammed the door shut.
Her father put the car in gear and steered it into the afternoon traffic. They barely had time to leave her street before she saw his eyes in the rearview mirror. No. Not now. Her father was scrutinizing Guy and sure enough, half a minute later, he asked the first question.
“I didn’t catch your name -”
Gemma elbowed Guy in the side.
To her relief, he caught on.
“My name is Guy, sir.”
Gemma rolled her eyes. She had been hoping her father wouldn’t ask for Guy’s last name. If she told him it was Gisburne, not only would Guy most likely protest, now that he knew he was a Huntingdon, but also, her father might wonder. He was well aware of her Robin of Sherwood addiction. If he got it into his head that she was making fun of him, she might end up having to go to her mother’s house after all and she really didn’t want that. She wondered if she might call him Knight, but Guy Knight didn’t have a very nice ring to it, somehow. Guy Ryder? No. Guy would probably react and her dad couldn’t fail to miss it. Then a memory from French classes almost ten years earlier occurred to her. That would do nicely. If only Guy didn’t spoil it.
“It’s Chevalier, dad. Guy Chevalier.”
“Are you French?”
She saw Guy draw in breath to reply, heaven knew what, and hastily cut him off.
“No, dad. His ancestors came from France many years ago.”
“Oh. Right. Of course. Whereabouts in France?”
Gemma sighed with relief. At least that fit in.
“Normandy? Ah. I have friends who own a house there. And my father was in the war, of course. What do you do, Guy? What line of business are you in?”
“Dad, will you stop all these questions? Guy will think you don’t like him. And it’s horses, alright? Guy’s business is horses.”
“Horses? I see. I’m sorry, love, but you know it’s a father’s job to interrogate new boyfriends. I’m sure Guy doesn’t mind.”
Guy smiled, a look of utter confusion on his face, but to Gemma’s relief, her father didn’t notice, being too busy negotiating the traffic on the motorway. When they pulled up in the driveway outside her father’s rambling Victorian house, it occurred to Gemma that while the architecture would be alien to Guy, who was used to Gothic buildings, the semi-rural setting would at least be less alarming to him than the centre of Mansfield.
Fortunately, her father dropped the inquisition and turned on the charm. Though she sensed that Guy was still reluctant to trust him, at least there were no more questions. Her father helped carry her things up to the third floor, and even showed her where his wife kept the linens. There were two rooms, each with a bed, and Gemma could tell that her father was hoping she and Guy would be sleeping in separate rooms, but she refused to comment and pretended she didn’t notice. After a few more jokes, her father disappeared downstairs. Fiona wasn’t in, and Gemma was relieved not to have to introduce Guy to her. She was far more observant than her husband.
As he descended the stairs, her father called up a final admonition.
“We’ll expect you for dinner at eight, but the boys will love to see you before that, and Fiona too, naturally. I suppose there will be tea and so on in a little while. Fiona has gone shopping with her friend Beth.”
Gemma closed the door, effectively shutting out all sounds from downstairs, then turned to face Guy, who looked overwhelmed and drained.
“Come on. We’ll unpack later. I suppose I’ll make the beds too. We don’t have any servants. I suppose that would be me. If you didn’t get that, I’m here to look after my younger half-brothers.”
“Oh. Are you sure your father doesn’t mind? About me staying here with you?”
“No. It’s fine. Don’t be afraid. He wouldn’t have said yes if he wasn’t going to let you stay. You look tired. Are you hungry too? I could go downstairs and bring something up from the kitchen.”
“No, I’m fine. But it’s all been very strange.”
“I know. I’m sorry about that. Sit down. Or lie down if you want. At least this place isn’t so bad, is it? More like what you’re used to, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Fewer people and houses and more gardens and so on. But it’s so clean. It doesn’t smell.”
“Don’t let Fiona hear you mention smell. Our houses don’t smell. You saw the – indoor privy. We also have built-in bathtubs and something called a shower. People wash more often and clean their houses.”
“Yes. I’m sorry dad asked you all those questions.”
“It’s fine. At least he didn’t have me dragged outside into the street and beaten for bedding his daughter.”
“He doesn’t know that. Besides, we haven’t really done anything yet. But we will.”
She thought that would set him off, but he seemed preoccupied with something else.
“And my name -”
“Well, you have to admit it’s just right.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Guy Knight doesn’t sound as good. I mean, I thought you might not want to use the name Gisburne anymore.”
“You’re right. I’ve had enough of that name to last a lifetime.”
“And Huntingdon – well, let’s just say that it’s better if you don’t use that. That name is known for something different than your brother’s earldom.”
“I don’t have the right to use it anyway. The Earl never acknowledged me as his son. No, Chevalier is fine. I worked hard for nine years to earn the right to be a knight.”
“My father knows people. If you want, he might ask someone with a stable if they have work for you.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
“In the meantime, I got my father to promise to pay me some money for looking after those two brats. My brothers.”
“So until I can find work in a stable, you will keep me?”
Gemma knew he was joking. The look in his eyes gave him away. So that was his game. She smiled smugly.
“Well, you have to admit that when you find such a handsome young man, you’ll want to keep him to yourself and not let anyone else have him.”
“That’s fine with me.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. Now, we should do something about clothes. I just borrowed these from Sam’s friend Al. Former friend.”
“Does that mean lover?”
“Yes. I told you it’s not what you’re used to. A woman can have lovers and not be seen as a whore. It’s the same for women now, as it was for men.”
“I understand. But people marry anyway?”
“Yes. Eventually. Most people do. I mean, not people like the Sheriff. Well, actually, they do.”
“To beget heirs?”
“No, they can more or less marry other men. Never mind. There’s too much to tell you. I think we should go downstairs and have some tea now. I just have to warn you. My father’s wife, Fiona, is – very annoying. She will harry us and – pay her no mind. We just have to take it. In the daytime, she will be gone, most of the time. She goes shopping – she buys things like clothes and – to have a good time. And she meets friends and they will have tea – oh, tea, right. It’s something you don’t know. We drink it. A hot drink. It takes some getting used to. Just have a little and pretend you don’t mind. The boys will drink something sweet – I suppose I could tell them you want one of those – My head is spinning now. Too much to tell you and – Just do what I do and pretend you’re used to it all, and I think we’ll be fine.”
“I will do my best not to shame you.”
“No, that’s not it. I just don’t want Fiona to start wondering about you. You’re doing fine, for someone who’s travelled seven hundred years.”
“Stop. You’re making my head ache.”
“At least there are some things I do understand.”
“It will begin to seem less strange when you get used to it. I’ll try to clarify as much as I can.”
“Just – your father mentioned a war. Is there a war going on now?”
“No. There have been many wars since – the Sheriff’s time and Prince John’s time – he became king soon after we left, by the way – too many for me to tell you about them all, but not now. We’re at peace. Mostly, it’s safe to walk in the street at any time, especially for men. I told you people don’t use swords. Only criminals – those who break the law – carry weapons, and – people like you. There are people who work as – they make sure people follow the law. Like the Sheriff and like you did once. They are called police. And there are warriors too, soldiers, to protect us from other countries, but our enemies are far away today. Not in France or Spain or – Scotland. Very far away. So we don’t need to fear them here.”
“I see. Prince John became a king, you say. So King Richard dies – Well, it had to come.”
“They called him John Lackland and the barons made him sign a charter, giving them a say in how England was governed.”
“John Lackland. Very good. I’m glad to know he was humbled.”
“Yes, it serves him right. I mean, served him right. But enough history. That was Fiona. We’d better go downstairs and see her and the boys. Just be courteous. Don’t call her my lady, she will think you are jesting. Joking. Oh, never mind. You can call her ma’am and she’ll ask you to call her Fiona and you will. Say how do you do, or hello and my name is Guy. You know. Just be courteous.”
“I will do my best.”
The meeting with Fiona was only slightly less terrifying than a visit to the dentist, but all in all, Gemma thought it had turned out as well as could be expected. After the first few days, she settled into a sort of routine. The boys were in school during the day, but in the afternoons, and sometimes in the weekends, she had to keep an eye on them. In all fairness, that wasn’t too difficult, since they spent most of their spare time in their rooms, playing computer games and watching tv. Sometimes they went outside to play, but mostly they stayed in.
Gemma’s father really was grateful to her for agreeing to help out with the boys and over the course of the first few weeks, paid off her debts and also bought her a new tv set and DVD player. It wasn’t too hard to convince Guy that they were not the work of the devil and though he found it hard to keep up an interest in the little figures moving about on the screen, he soon lost his fear of it. Once he figured out the CD player and the MP3 players – Gemma was able to buy a new one, after the old one had been left to rust in Sherwood forest – he began to enjoy listening to music. She gave up on trying to explain how you managed to get real music played on real instruments to move inside tiny metal boxes, but he wasn’t even very curious. It became routine for him to repeat, with a touch of irony, not witchery, just something I don’t understand.
Gemma still kept her Robin of Sherwood DVD:s carefully hidden, but one evening there was a documentary about the series and she couldn’t resist watching it. Anything remotely related to it attracted her interest. As usual, Guy would sit on the sofa, leaning his head on her shoulder and sometimes slyly letting his hands explore her body. If he got too amourous, she would remove his hands, but usually she enjoyed feeling his arms around her.
This time, she was far too intent on what was going on on screen, to pay attention to him. She listened to the series’ creator Richard Carpenter talking about the background of the series. The image changed to a scene of action from the series, then Richard Carpenter was back.
“I know that man.”
Gemma tore her gaze away from the screen.
Guy was staring at the screen, a puzzled look on his face.
“No, it’s true. I’ve seen him. In the castle. He was travelling with Prince John.”
Gemma frowned. Guy seemed awfully sure of himself. But he couldn’t possibly have met Richard Carpenter in 12 century Nottingham, could he? On the other hand, why not? If she had gone there, why shouldn’t he? And she had to admit that in an odd way, it made sense. She had been wondering how the tv series and the reality could be so startlingly similar. If someone had been there and returned with his knowledge, wouldn’t that explain it all?
The scene switched to the famous, or infamous bathtub scene. Guy’s face darkened.
“How did he know about – that?”
Recalling the scene she herself had witnessed, Gemma had an explanation.
“The servants, of course. They were everywhere.”
“Oh, of course.”
It was plain that he felt outraged, most likely violated, by having his personal ordeal made into entertainment. He followed the rest of the documentary closely. The mud wrestling scene made him wince, then he shrugged and let it go. What really bothered him was the way the outlaws were portrayed.
“He made me look like a fool while he glorified those outlaws.”
“I’m sorry. You see, Robin Hood has become something of a legend. We hold them in high regard. In our time, we love those who take from the rich and give to the poor. I mean, not in reality, just in romances. But would you like it better if he had glorified the Sheriff? Or Prince John? You don’t know what a bad reputation he has.”
“I suppose you’re right. And Robert – Robin – is my brother. At least one of us has a good reputation.”
“So do you. How do you think I – Never mind.”
For once, she was the one to blush. Guy studied her face, looking amused. It struck her that she hardly ever got to see the bewitching pout anymore.
“You fell in love with me before you even met me?”
“Then I suppose I owe that man thanks.”
“On the other hand, he has made his fortune on that romance, so I think that’s enough. I’m just happy I was able to get you away from the Sheriff and that time – even if the forest was more beautiful back then.”
There was a touch of horror in Guy’s voice.
“I like it better the way it is now. Smaller, safer. Though it seems their god is still there. Let’s not go there again.”
“I don’t know. You don’t think we should go and get your brother and Marion and the others? We need someone to take from the rich and give to the poor, now more than ever.”
“That’s a thought. Let’s ponder it some more before we make up our minds.”
“Is that an excuse to get me to go to bed early?”
“Is it working?”
“What do you think?”
Gemma made a lunge at Guy, taking him by surprise, pinning him to the sofa. She tickled him mercilessly, while positioning herself on top of him, effectively holding him down, then using her advantage to cover him with kisses. He didn’t resist her. A few minutes later, they tiptoed into her room, closing the door behind them. Guy had been right. He had managed to distract her from dwelling on the past. Perhaps it was better this way. Guy had managed to adapt surprisingly well to the 21 century. They had safely escaped danger once. Who knew if they’d succeed a second time?
That night, Gemma had a vivid dream. The outlaws were sitting around the fire, eating, drinking, talking, playing music. Robert’s arm was around Marion. Her head rested on his shoulder. A few yards away, Much and Tillie were sitting, their hands touching. The girl’s gaze was fixed on Much, an adoring look on her face. He returned it every bit as devotedly.
When Gemma woke up in the morning, she meant to tell Guy about her dream, but he beat her to it.
“I had a dream last night. About my brother and Marion and the others. They were in the forest, sitting around the fire. You don’t think -”
“That it was a message from Herne?”
“I had a dream too. One that was oddly similar to yours. Much and -”
“That servant girl, Tillie, was there. In mine too.”
“Yes, I think they’re fine. The Prince’s men didn’t find them. Fine. You win. We’ll stay away from the forest.”
“Thank you, my gem. I like your time much better than mine.”
“You’re welcome, my Guy. And it’s your time too now.”
“Who would have thought I would ever offer thanks to Herne? But I am thankful to him for sending you to me. And to you for saving my life.”
“You saved mine. More than once. But who’s keeping count?”
She kissed him again, then dragged him along to the tiny kitchen she’d had her father get her upstairs. Facing Fiona across the breakfast table was not something she was willing to put up with anymore. One day soon she’d find a job and then she and Guy would move out of her father’s house. It was time they had a place of their own. His work in the stable didn’t pay much, but at least it made him happy. And he made her happy. She didn’t think she’d ever feel the need to escape to Sherwood again, but if the worst came to the worst – she remembered the way.