|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.
In the morning, she was woken shortly after dawn by the sound of pots and pans and people speaking in muffled voices. Was that the servants? If so, would they try to get inside her room? She decided she might as well get dressed, before any prying eyes could catch sight of her. With her tunic and tights on, she washed as best she could, then removed the stool she’d used to barricade the door. She was just in time. Another servant girl brought hot water, clearly meant for washing, so Gemma began again. Once the girl had left, she hastily applied a little deodorant and went on to brush her teeth. So far, she was managing alright. She tried not to think about what would happen if her soap and toothpaste would run out (but why would it?).
Remembering the Sheriff’s words last night, she stuck her head out into the corridor and managed to find the same servant girl from last night.
“When is breakfast being served?”
“Oh, not for at least an hour. The Sheriff will still be in his room.”
“I see. Thank you.”
The girl hurried off to join the other servants. Gemma saw firewood being lugged about. They still managed to do everything by the book. Impressive, but by now, also a little scary. She was beginning to realize that she was not in the middle of a role-playing game or a historical reenactment. The truth had to be something more frightening.
Just outside her room, two female voices were whispering and Gemma strained her ears to catch what they were saying. Fortunately, she’d always had exceptionally good hearing.
“…the boy … just like…”
“Of course. You think the Sheriff is keeping him here just out of the kindness of his heart?”
The other female laughed. It was a cutting, cruel sound, as if she was enjoying a joke at someone’s expense.
“… wonder what his boy whore thinks of this new boy?”
The first female joined in the laughter. Both sounded spiteful and thoroughly unpleasant. Gemma was wondering if one of them could be the fourteen-year-old from earlier, or if this was some other, perhaps older woman.
She guessed that the ‘new boy’ referred to her. If so, she had been right about the ‘Sheriff’s’ intentions. But who was the other boy? The boy whore? For a second, she wondered if the ‘Sheriff’ kept at least one real boy prisoner here, abusing him sexually, then it occurred to her that the women must have been talking about Gisburne. But would they have referred to him as a boy? She had assumed that he was about her own age. Early to mid-twenties. Perhaps they used the term loosely, as a sign of disrespect.
Interesting. This certainly matched her own guesses about the tv series, but she had never imagined that it was based on true events. How could it be, after so many years? Very little was known about that time, and certainly not about the Sheriff of Nottingham during whatever years he was supposed to have served. She had read that the tv series had been set in the late 12th century, but some scholars placed the ‘real’ Robin Hood, if he had ever existed, in other centuries, mainly the 14th. Her own knowledge of history wasn’t detailed enough to be able to tell what time this was supposed to be. She was wondering if she might ask about who was king, but decided that people would be expected to know who was their king. For the same reason, she couldn’t very well ask them which year this was supposed to be, or rather which year it was. Again, she was careful not to drop out of character, at least not any more than she already had.
Later at breakfast, she found the ‘Sheriff’ little changed. ‘Gisburne’, if anything, was more moody, irritable and clumsy. Naturally, the ‘Sheriff’ taunted him which made the problem worse. She noted that the ‘Sheriff’ was finding her presence annoying, but he kept himself in check, either in the hopes of securing a reward for ‘the boy’s’ return, or – that he would get a chance to seduce ‘him’. At the moment, Gemma found this not menacing at all, but merely amusing. If the old fool tried, he’d get the surprise of his life. She decided to ask permission to go for a walk around the town again, hoping to find some means of contacting her father or simply getting away. No matter how fascinating the setup was, she knew she was on thin ice. Any false move and she might end up in trouble. She didn’t like to imagine what a bunch of knights might do to a female masquerading as a boy.
Once the ‘Sheriff’ had finished his meal, Gemma seized the opportunity to ask his permission for another ramble. This time he just nodded curtly to ‘Gisburne’ to escort her. She was wondering how ‘Gisburne’ felt, or was trying to make it seem as if he felt, about babysitting a teenager. It was hard to read him, and she hadn’t expected that. He certainly sulked and spoke curtly, but so far she hadn’t seen any display of bad temper, so clearly he was or was acting as if he was in awe of the ‘Sheriff’, perhaps to the extent that he didn’t dare – Gemma was getting tired of qualifying each guess and decided to stop. For the time being, for the sake of clarity, she’d just assume that everything was as it seemed, if for no other reason than to spare herself the bother of thinking in at least three layers at once.
As soon as they were outside the Sheriff’s house, Gemma tried innocently sounding Gisburne out.
He appeared to be deep in thought.
“I was just thinking, if you have other things to do, I could find my own way around. No need to hold my hand. I’m a big – boy – and can look after myself.”
“No, I’ll see you safely back. It’s the Sheriff’s orders and -”
“Oh. Of course. Well, if you’re busy, I could just stay around the house.”
For the first time, Gisburne appeared to really look at her. To her dismay, she felt her cheeks heating up, turning the ridiculous shade of pink she’d always detested.
“No, no. It’s fine. Think nothing of it. When we get back, we might go to the stable and see the new foal and there might be puppies somewhere.”
He sounded almost friendly, and that too, surprised her. In fact, it looked as if perhaps he’d surprised himself. He was making an effort to be kind to her. She was trying hard not to make anything of it, but already, she knew she was attracted to him. Stupid of her. She didn’t even know where she was and what she was getting herself into and here she was falling for a total stranger. One she didn’t know anything about, except for the fact that he had a volatile temper. Smart. Really clever, Gemma, she told herself. It occurred to her that Gisburne might not be used to anyone showing him consideration.
Today, she was more used to the sights she would be facing, but they still bothered her as much. There were dead animals everywhere and people who shouldn’t have been walking around, let alone working as hard as they were; excrements and other refuse littering the street, making it hard to walk without risking your boots, The smell didn’t get any easier to bear either. She couldn’t help noticing that Gisburne smelled mostly clean, except for a strong horsey odour, and a very faint hint of sweat. It was actually quite hot. Again, she felt herself blushing, but this time, Gisburne wasn’t facing her, so it didn’t matter.
After their walk, Gisburne did take her into the stable. She wrinkled her nose against the smell, but realized he was trying to be nice and tried her best to act unperturbed. The stable was probably supposed to be spacious and well-supplied, but to her it looked dark, cramped and extremely unhygienic. Gisburne took her to a stall where a foal was lying. Gemma was no expert on horses, but that little creature seemed to be relatively newborn. It seemed Gisburne had been thinking along the same lines.
“He was born only two nights ago. Just before you arrived.”
“Oh. He’s pretty.”
Gisburne didn’t reply, but the tense lines around his mouth had vanished and his posture seemed a little less strained. Clearly, he had a love for horses. That impression was reinforced a moment later, when he bent over the side of the stall and held out his fingers for the foal to sniff on. The mare whinnied and moved about restlessly, but didn’t interfere. Suddenly, the foal began to suckle Gisburne’s fingers. It looked really cute and Gemma couldn’t help making a faint noise. She saw Gisburne’s other hand move to a pocket she hadn’t realized his tunic held and pulled out a piece of dry bread, which he offered to the mare. The big animal sniffed it cautiously, then grabbed it and began to chew on it. Gisburne gently stroked her neck, while she finished the piece of bread. This was so different from anything she had expected of him, and she couldn’t help staring at the scene.
“That’s it, girl. Good girl. What a fine foal you just had. And what a pretty lad you are. A good strong lad.”
His face was completely transformed, making him look rather like an angel and utterly unlike the sulking, moody face he normally presented to the world. Gemma couldn’t help smiling too.
Gisburne turned to her and actually smiled, making her go weak all over.
“If you take care not to make any sudden moves, you can touch him if you want.”
Slowly and cautiously, she held out her hand and tried to stroke the little head, but the foal pulled away. Obviously he wasn’t used to her scent. The mare responded instantly and Gisburne was forced to pull his fingers out of the foal’s muzzle and turn his attention towards her instead. Gemma watched as he gently stroked her neck, speaking softly to her in words seemingly only meant for a horse’s ears. It was so sweet Gemma couldn’t stop herself from smiling again.
Eventually, Gisburne straightened out and turned to face her. She tried to hide her smile, but it was too late.
“There. If you like, I’ll ask the groom if there are any puppies.”
Gemma considered his offer. If she guessed correctly, some of those puppies might be drowned or even skinned, so she wasn’t sure she wanted to see any up close, but Gisburne seemed to take her reply for granted and strode off in that sexy walk that made her feel strange all over again. She hurried after him, hoping she wouldn’t be forced to witness anything else that might upset her.
While Gisburne spoke to the groom a bit further off, she looked around, still half hoping she might spot something that would reassure her she was still in her own normal world. An electric cord, some modern material, any indication that the creators of this perfect scenery had screwed up, but by now she wasn’t expecting anything like that. Momentarily, she recalled the tv series Life on Mars. If she was dead – A voice, by now familiar to her, broke into her morbid thoughts, disctracting her.
“I’m sorry. There aren’t any puppies right now and none are expected within the fortnight.”
“Oh. Well, I truly appreciate you taking the time to show me the foal and -”
Gisburne shrugged, seemingly a little ill at ease. At a guess, he wasn’t used to being spoken to in such a kind and civil tone. Her heart went out to him, but she forced herself not to overreact. She didn’t know anything, about him or this place, wherever it was. The last thing she needed was to fall in love with what might simply be a figment of her own imagination. Another thought struck her. Out here, he was happy. He could he happy, among the horses and dogs, and people who treated him with respect, at least to his face. She remembered the servants that morning. The way they had spoken about him had made her angry on his behalf, but again, she cautioned herself. She couldn’t let her emotions run away with her.
“Better get back inside.”
At the thought of the castle and its master, Gisburne’s face clouded over and the pout that made Gemma’s heart beat faster was back, so she hastily turned to follow him.
The day unfolded just like the day before and though Gemma did her best to snoop around the house, getting in the servants’ way, rather like a teenage boy might have, she found no anomalies and she was beginning to see that she wouldn’t. Her first guess, about role-players or a historical reenactment seemed to be completely wrong. The alternatives were all so frightening, that she decided not to pursue the ideas. For now, she’d just accept that she was here, wherever that was, lie low and – if she dared – enjoy herself. She’d come into Sherwood forest, what was left of it, to have a good time, one last time before becoming her father’s and stepmother’s free live-in babysitter, and this was even better than a picnic. As long as she seemed to be in no danger, she’d just stick around and see what happened.
She tried hard to deny to herself that Gisburne was an important reason for her acceptance of the situation. No matter what, she knew that the mere sight of him set off delicious sensations throughout her body. The unwelcome thought that she’d never felt exactly this way about any man before, kept intruding, but she repressed it. He was hot, who wouldn’t want to be around him? There was absolutely no need to analyse further.
It was easy to fall into a routine and once in a while, Gemma realized with a start, that she was getting used to being where she was. The food situation wasn’t getting any easier, but food wasn’t her first priority anyway, so she made do, though she noticed that some of the servants were dropping snide remarks about her being picky and she thought she detected a general concensus that because she was the Sheriff’s new boy, she was allowed to turn her nose up at good solid food. Gemma was beginning to thoroughly dislike those female servants. There were times when she was honest enough to admit to herself that another reason was jealousy.
She had come to the realization that Gisburne, just like the other knights, had a habit of ‘befriending’ certain of the female servants and to put it bluntly, have sex with them. In a way, she could understand. They were young, years away from being able to afford to marry and the girls were in no way hard to get. She had a vague idea that the youngest servant girl, the fourteen-year-old, if she had guessed correctly, was trying to make a good impression on her, in the belief that she was a boy only a year or so older than she was. Gemma took care not to encourage the girl and soon the interest seemed to die away, but the girl still seemed to like her. That was most likely because she didn’t snap at her as the Sheriff and most of the knights did.
But the girl’s attentions were nothing she couldn’t handle. What did bother her was seeing Gisburne with the female servants. She knew she had absolutely no reason to expect him to abstain for her sake, when he didn’t even know she was a grown woman in disguise, and secondly, even if he had, he had never given her any indication he might return her feelings. Bearing in mind her mother’s comments about her appearance, Gemma knew that anyone but the Sheriff might find a boyish girl unattractive. She tried hard not to let anyone know her reaction, especially not Gisburne himself.
In any case, her walks with him became a fixture in her day, which could otherwise have become dull and monotone. She had dared to ask if the Sheriff had any books, but the question had been greeted with a mixture of suspicion and amused disdain. The smug old man seemed to think his young guest more or less illiterate. While the assumption stung, she didn’t dare to insist. The Sheriff’s reaction to her was beginning to seriously annoy her. He ogled her, but couldn’t speak to her like a human being. Clearly he had no experience with conversation with younger people. She hated to think what he usually did, but so far, whatever that was, the expectation of a reward held him back. In case the ‘boy’s’ father turned out to be someone important, she guessed it wouldn’t do to return the son to his father, after just being seduced by the Sheriff of Nottingham. From her point of view that was a relief, but she worried about any other boys that might find their way into the castle.
From time to time, guests arrived and on those occasions ‘Jem’ found herself sent up to her room, to dine by herself. She had assumed she’d be taking her meals in the kitchen, but after she’d been found there, snooping around a few times, the cook and the sour-faced Kate had banned her from the kitchen and she didn’t mind. It was greasy and sooty and smelled alarmingly like a slaughterhouse. Gemma was even beginning to have second thoughts about the bread, but realized she couldn’t fast all the time, which was the excuse she gave for her spartan eating habits.
One day, she happened to witness the arrival of two guests. From listening to the servants’ gossip, she had learned that one of them was the Sheriff’s brother, Abbot Hugo. She had ceased to wonder at the similarities with the tv series. Whatever the reason for that, she didn’t want to dwell on the implications. The other man, too, seemed to be a member of the church and someone important. His name – Jérome de Villers – didn’t tell her much, but there was something about the servants’ reactions that led her to believe there was something out of the ordinary about him. They unsuccessfully tried to hide knowing grins and there were whispered hints that left Gemma mystified.
By chance, she heard the Sheriff refer to the man as the Bishop’s secretary, and that seemed to explain his position of importance. His appearance, as seen from afar, didn’t tell her anything more. She wasn’t surprised when the Sheriff sent orders that she dine alone in her room. In fact, she preferred it that way, because she had grown tired of watching the Sheriff tormenting Gisburne and his squinting at her legs was rapidly growing old as well, but she couldn’t help being curious and decided she would listen extra carefully to the servants’ talk. They didn’t seem to watch what they did in front of her, a mere boy, in their eyes, so they were less careful in their speech than before the Sheriff or even Gisburne.
Though the walk she’d come to count on and look forward to, was called off, she saw enough of Gisburne to notice that the general excitement concerning the visitors had infected him. He was paler than usual and if possible, even more tense and clumsy. It was hardly surprising that he appeared to forget all about ‘Jem’. She didn’t insist, and kept her distance, observing rather than getting in the way. Earlier than usual, she was sent up to her room and told to stay there. It might have been Gemma’s imagination, but the spite in Kate’s eyes as she delivered the message from the Sheriff appeared to have grown. Gemma was beginning to long for an excuse to wipe that grin off Kate’s face. Any excuse she had – Somehow, she didn’t think that the Sheriff would mind if his guest got into a little scrap with one of the servants. On the other hand, since Kate was responsible for her meals, it might be imprudent to antagonize the woman.
She was considering sneaking out – after all, she was a teenage boy, wasn’t she? – but somehow didn’t dare to displease the Sheriff. Instead, she waited, correctly assuming that the servants would gossip about anything going on around the castle. She woke up to the usual din in the passageway outside and as had become her habit, she strained her ears to catch any unguarded talk.
By now, she recognized Kate’s voice and the young woman who was her best friend – Meg – and she wasn’t surprised when she heard the two women chatting, quite unashamedly right outside her door. They probably expected her to be asleep, just like the Sheriff. Only Tillie, the younger girl would be considered unimportant enough to tend to the boy’s needs.
“Of course. I saw it myself. Didn’t even have the decency to wait until later. Hands all over the boy.”
Meg’s voice rose half an octave.
“Told you, didn’t I?”
Kate sounded as smug as ever.
“But what about the Sheriff? And Abbot Hugo?”
“Those two? They’re the ones who set it up. Don’t you see? They know about his tastes and – well, can’t say he isn’t pretty, our fair-haired boy, can you?”
“‘course he is. And you’d know, wouldn’t you? Well, go on then. What happened?”
“Made a face as usual, did Gisburne, but he knows his duties and he didn’t fight him off, that cleric fellow. Now, guess who’s going to have trouble sitting his horse today?”
The women laughed maliciously, but to Gemma’s dismay they soon moved out of earshot. Gemma forced herself to calm down. What she really wanted was to catch up with those two and wipe the grins off their faces, but with an effort she controlled herself. She also wanted to teach both Sheriff and Abbot a lesson they’d never forget, but she knew that wasn’t an option, at least not at the moment. In the end, all she did was wash and get dressed, before one of the servants looked in and caught her out, then demurely wait for her breakfast. She didn’t know how long the distinguished guests would be staying, but she assumed she’d be called down to the Sheriff’s table when things returned to normal.
After breakfast, the general uproar around the castle told Gemma the guests were leaving. Good riddance. She had only seen the two of them as the arrived, and from a distance, but she already disliked Hugo as much as his brother. Those odious old bastards. No matter what she told herself, she couldn’t quite repress the anger that was bubbling up inside her. In the end, she fell back on her karate. She couldn’t count the times her sensei had told her to calm down, to take a deep breath, to mentally take a step back. Drawing on that experience, at last she could breathe normally again. She thought she would be able to face the Sheriff without losing her temper.
In any case, he didn’t make an appearance all day, and she dined alone, despite the fact that the guests had departed long before noon. She remained in her room, waiting for someone to send for her and towards nightfall, Tillie arrived slightly breathlessly, looking tired and strained.
“Supper is being served. The Sheriff was asking for you.”
“Thank you, Tillie. Will – will Gisburne be there?”
“I don’t know. Sorry. I have to go. Kate will have my head if I linger.”
“Oh. Of course. Go on. I’ll be right down.”
She came down the stairs, and found the hallways largely empty. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself to face the Sheriff without revealing her feelings towards him. There was no denying she was still angry. Since the hallway was empty, she decided to take a few moments to steady herself. Muttering under her breath, she cursed her host, rather impolitely, but at least it made her feel a little better.
“I don’t believe this. The old creep doesn’t just use him himself, he pimps him out to anyone else who wants him. I could just -”
A slight noise made her look up and she found herself staring straight into Gisburne’s face. Any hope she might have had of his not hearing what she had said, or – at least – failed to understand her – the word pimp struck her as sounding quite modern – died, the moment she saw his cheeks turn a vivid, deep red. He turned on his heel and returned the way he had come. Gemma knew it was stupid of her, and worse, useless, but she couldn’t help hurrying after him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – Please – I -”
But he left her behind and she didn’t dare keep the Sheriff waiting any longer. In the end, she had to give up, and return to the dining hall. Her confusion at least served to dampen her anger, and though the Sheriff doubtless found his guest strangely quiet, he didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary in the ‘boy’s’ behaviour.
She didn’t see Gisburne at all that night, and though she heard the Sheriff angrily shouting his name a few times, she couldn’t think of any excuse to stay on, and risk tempting the Sheriff to examine his young guest more closely. That night, she slept badly and couldn’t wait to see Guy the following day. He didn’t offer to take her on their usual walk, so she could only assume that he was still offended by her tactless remark. She kept telling herself over and over what an idiot she was. They were getting to know each other and now she’d made him keep his distance.
She did see him once, that day, halfway between dinner and supper. He was in the yard, just outside the kitchen and she didn’t think he’d seen her. In fact, she was sure of it. He had caught Kate and was pinning her up against the wall, his hands busily groping inside her bodice. Kate’s behaviour was markedly different when she was facing her lover. Now she was all smiles and dimples and loud giggles. She was squirming as if trying to get away from him, but only managed to rub herself all over him. Gemma silently turned to leave, her face and earlobes burning. She clenched her fists, allowing herself the luxury of imagining a confrontation between herself and Kate. Her fingers were twitching in anticipation. Some day –