My Foolish Boy
The silence that had settled over them was peaceful and warm. Thanks to the fire and the thick stone walls of the castle (not to mention the considerable amount of heat that their own bodies generated in such situations) they had no need to get beneath the blankets for a while, despite their general lack of attire and it being late January and freezing outside.
Robin was dosing – not quite completely unconscious, but neither really quite awake. He could feel Marian’s warm body pressed to his side, her bare skin slick with sweat against his own, her hair soft beneath his fingers. He could hear the echoes of the day still rattling in the back of his head: raised voices and the drone of the lords; Much arguing about the plough tax (again) and Thornton asking what was needed for dinner and how much he should be paying the rest of the household staff.
He found himself drifting between a deep pool of memory, and his awareness of the present. Every now and again, Marian would move and disturb him and he would stir – but the warmth and his own exhaustion soon made him dose again.
He finally awakened properly when Marian sat up, her sudden absence at his side startling him into consciousness. Blinking and rubbing his eyes, he yawned and stretched, absently seeking out Marian’s presence.
“Mari…?” He had meant to pronounce her full name, but his mouth felt full of fluff and it came out more as a drowsy mumble.
“Mm?” Marian re-entered his line of sight, pulling his shirt on over her head.
Robin pushed himself into a sitting position, yawning, “how long was I out of it?”
“Not long,” Marian clambered back across the bed to him and tucked her legs beneath her, sitting across from him, “half an hour, maybe.”
Robin nodded, still blinking as he struggled out of the last remnants of drowsiness, “we should probably get some proper sleep.”
“Yes,” Marian sighed, “we probably should. I should put the candles out.”
Robin shook his head, “leave them. I want to be able to see you.”
Marian smiled, and slid over to let him wrap his arms about her. Robin held her tightly for a moment, glad of her presence – so warm and real and…
“Why are you wearing my shirt?” He enquired, innocently, running his fingers over the familiar white linen.
Marian gave him a mischievous smile, “because my nightdress has ink on it.”
Robin laughed, softly, and lay down, pulling her with him. Marian knew very well that he had a certain weakness for her in men’s clothes, probably dating right back to that first night together when she had been wearing her Nightwatchman’s clothes. Wearing his clothes, in particular, had an odd feeling of sweetness to it – when she slept in one his shirts, he liked to wear it the next day, carrying her scent on him while he was without her.
God… the days he spent without her… suddenly the morning felt far too close for comfort.
“When did the nights become so short?” Marian asked, softly, seeming to read his thoughts precisely.
Robin kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes, “I can’t keep doing this.”
“Marian, it has been three weeks since I have seen you by anything but candlelight,” Robin opened his eyes to scrutinise her, “… not that you do not look wonderful by it.”
Marian smiled, wanly, stroking his jaw, “It is becoming ridiculous, isn’t it?”
“I was not meant to be Sheriff,” Robin sighed.
“You know that I was not,” Robin insisted, shaking his head, “The only reason I was appointed was because King Richard needed someone in charge who would appease the peasants and calm the land owners. There would have been a revolt…”
“There was a revolt,” Marian pointed out, smiling quietly, “we led it.”
“Yes,” Robin agreed. “But there would have been another if the King had tried to place anyone but me into the recently vacated position last held by our dear departed Vaysey. It is the only reason I hold power now – and it is a terrible reason for anyone to hold power, let alone me.”
“It prevented more bloodshed,” Marian told him, earnestly, “that is no bad thing.”
“Blood maybe,” Robin frowned, “but I cannot stop the people starving. You have seen Nottingham’s finances, Marian – we are running out of money.”
“The taxes are rising again,” Marian agreed, “I know.”
“I have been trying to shield the peasants from the worst of it by getting the Lords to pay out of pocket… they fear another rebellion if the taxes are raised, but…” Robin shook his head, “they will not tolerate it much longer – they are all running low on funds themselves. The Lord of Nettlestone has not a penny left that isn’t tied up in his land, and the land is all the old man has in order to provide a dowry for his daughters…”
“So we need to start looking elsewhere to provide the king his tithes,” Marian muttered, darkly.
Robin rubbed his eyes, chewing his lip unhappily, “how can I force taxes upon the people of this county, Marian? After so long suffering and slaving under Vaysey, they are finally afforded a year where the hardship has been eased – people are beginning to see prosperity again – and now I must… they look to me as their protector! I was Robin Hood, for God’s sake!”
“You are a good man, Robin,” Marian reminded him, gently, “nothing will change that.”
“It makes no difference how good or otherwise I am,” Robin shut his eyes, “if we do not find the money somewhere, it will have to come from the people, and if the people are taxed, they will starve, and when they starve their children die and hell comes back to Nottingham. I would refuse to pay at all, but if I do that our great and honourable king will send his great and honourable wolf packs down here to beat it out of the farmers and the hard working people – and I will not have more blood shed on English soil on account of Pope Gregory’s war.”
“Dear husband, if I didn’t know any better, I would swear that those words carried something distinctly treasonous in their tone,” Marian remarked, mildly. She was not entirely surprised that her one-time resolutely royalist husband was becoming increasingly republican in sentiment. But the bitterness of his tone worried her. The war had made Robin cynical; the position of sheriff had made him utterly disillusioned about their head of state. She wondered what had become of that grinning, fair-haired boy who had so willingly abandoned her to fight for his king on foreign soil.
“I am tired,” Robin sighed, “and I miss you. It is ridiculous. The position of sheriff belongs to someone with experience in politics – someone without a young wife whom he desires to see by daylight more than once a month. Your father made a far better sheriff than I – you would make a far better sheriff than I.”
Marian snorted, “try suggesting that to King Richard.”
Robin was toying with a strand of her long dark hair, apparently turning the idea over in his head, “it makes sense though, if a person considers it logically. Your father was an excellent sheriff – Nottingham prospered and there was peace and certainly no one starved…”
“It may have helped that there was no war draining the money from the land faster than water through a sieve,” Marian pointed out, practically.
“Your father still would have dealt with the situation better than Vaysey,”
Robin made a face, “he knows how to deal with people – with the Lords – how to negotiate and make things appeal to all sides. He knows about money – how it moves from person to person, and how to make it work. And you have learned all of that because he taught you it, maybe even without meaning to. I would not have been able to work the tax system out without your help – I would not be able to run Knighton and Locksley and here without you – I don’t run Knighton and Locksley, if it comes to it. You do. We both know that. And I probably would have bankrupted us all months ago if not for you keeping an eye on the books.”
“So I should be sheriff?” Marian lifted her eyebrows at him.
“It makes perfect sense,” Robin nodded.
“Well – it would certainly be interesting,” Marian remarked, “but, my dearest Robin, it would mean that I would be running Knighton, Locksley, the castle, the Lords and the rest of Nottingham and would probably only exacerbate the current problem – in that you would never see me. Ever.”
“That might be a slight draw back,” Robin agreed, “I’m sure we could work around it.”
Marian laughed and kissed his temple, “and what would you be doing whilst I was being sheriff, Robin? Swaning about using Vaysey’s grave as target practice? Spouting rebel-rousing speeches for the masses as you hand out stolen coinage? Would I be forced to outlaw my own husband?”
Robin grinned, “no. I would be at home. Taking care of the children, and ordering the kitchen staff about as they prepared your meals.”
Marian began to laugh at the mental image, “oh, mother Mary, Robin – you’re suggesting becoming my wife?”
“Why not?” Robin tapped her nose affectionately, “I’d make an excellent wife. Much has taught me everything he knows.”
Marian shook her head and kissed him tenderly, “I’m sure you’d be wonderful. Actually, I could probably use a wife as it is. You’d better watch out, or I’ll be marrying our housekeeper at Locksley. The woman is a life saver.”
Robin laughed, “I wonder what Anna would have to say on the matter?”
“I’m sure she’d be quite grateful, really,” Marian smiled, amused, “save her the fear of dying in childbirth, at least.”
“Well, I suppose one of the advantages of this situation would be that, at this rate, you have no reason to fear it either,” Robin stroked her hair.
“Mm,” Marian’s brow furrowed as she bit her lip.
“What?” Robin propped himself to look at her, caught by the troubled look clouding her features.
Marian sighed, “do you really think that that is the problem, Robin?”
“That what is the problem? With what?” Robin blinked at her.
Marian shook her head, “the reason we have not yet conceived – that the problem is us not spending enough time together? Because it should make no difference what we do with our days, surely – if we spend every night together?”
“Marian…” Robin sighed, as he realised that he had touched upon one of Marian’s (few) insecurities. “Marian it is not only that – the worry – the stress of the day and how busy we both are – it cannot be helping. If we can just be allowed to take the days slower…”
Marian met his gaze, “One year, Robin. More than that – going on sixteen months we have been married now. I have known women to be carrying a child within weeks of their marriages, and most, certainly, after a few months…”
“Most,” Robin told her, firmly, “Not all. Sometimes these things take time, that is all. Sometimes there is reasoning behind the timing of it – they say sometimes God – ”
Marian laughed, harshly, “you don’t believe in God anymore than I do, Robin, so don’t start. You stopped believing that prayers reach any higher being that cares the moment that you stepped back and saw the true nature of the destruction in the Holy Lands – you have said as much yourself.”
“Alright, alright,” Robin sighed, “I know. Sorry. Force of habit. I spend a lot of my time attempting to comfort distraught Lords over how unwashed their peasants are. Apparently, it comes with the job – not that Vaysey did much of that sort of thing.”
“Vaysey did very little of what would traditionally be considered part of his job as sheriff,” Marian pointed out, rubbing her eyes, “but honestly Robin – what are we going to do? We must have a child… you have heard what is being whispered about the castle already…”
Robin had heard, of course. It was difficult not to. Now that it had been a year since they were married and they had still failed to produce a baby, it seemed that their union had been thrown open to scrutiny from everybody else in Nottinghamshire. Rumours of everything from infidelity to a curse from the dead sheriff’s evil spirit were buzzing about the court like flies, and Robin was finding them increasingly irritating. He had stopped short at punching the man whom he had overheard calling Marian ‘a barren mare’, but it had taken every ounce of his self control at the time – and even then, he had had to storm off and take it out on Much (again) afterwards.
Robin personally felt no call to have children at all – similarly to Marian, in fact, he had spent a great deal of his time during their pre-marital relationship praying fervently (to the God he claimed not to believe in, no less) that Marian would not conceive – because such a situation would have been utterly disastrous for all involved. Once they were married it was less of a worry, but he still had to admit to feeling some relief that she had not yet fallen pregnant. Both he and Marian had lost their mothers to childbirth-related illnesses and complications. He had absolutely no wish to see his beloved wife go the same way, and if that meant remaining childless then he would be perfectly content to do so.
But of the very few things in the world that Marian feared, Robin knew not having a child to be third after losing her father and losing him. The gradual, gnawing anxiety about what was becoming an increasingly obvious lack of a child ate at her nerves, and he knew that the issue worried her. Not so much because of her maternal instincts (though she liked children well enough, Marian had never once expressed any interest in having a child before their marriage), but because none more than her was more aware of the need for an heir to their combined estates. She had gone through enough strife trying to preserve her father’s land and titles as his only surviving child – and a daughter, at that – to know that having a child was vital to continuing that legacy. To not give her father a grandchild – allow the old man to know that his lands truly were secure for future generations before he died – would break her heart.
“We will find an heir, Marian,” he wrapped his arms around her from behind, holding her close and feeling how she fitted against him so well, “I promise.”
“You cannot promise that,” Marian pointed out, softly.
“We shall be able to find somebody,” Robin insisted, with more confidence than he felt, “a cousin – a cousin’s cousin’s child, for God’s sake – there will be somebody who can inherit.”
“But I would rather it were our somebody,” Marian spoke softly, “than someone we had never met.”
“I know,” Robin told her, realising, with surprise, that he felt the same way. He allowed his thoughts to linger, for a moment, over the possibility of a child with Marian’s dark hair and his bow arm – a sturdy little lad with a cheeky grin and a perchance or trouble. But he brushed the idea away – the taste of something he, (like Marian), already feared, deep down, that he would never have, was dangerous.
With a sigh, he kissed her hair, resting his nose against the back of her neck, “We will have a child,” he promised her, softly, “the work of the court will lesson, and we will find some way of dissuading the king from upping the taxes again, and there will be a child – soon.”
“What if we can’t?” Marian demanded, knitting her fingers through his where the rested over her abdomen, “Robin – Djaq told me, after Gisborne stabbed me, when the knife did that damage internally – it might make it difficult… I didn’t think of it much before we were married but now it… if that man has taken one more thing from us…”
“He has not,” Robin told her, firmly, “he will not. I have told you – it is just taking some time.”
Marian closed her eyes, “I hope you are right.”
“I am always right,” Robin reminded her, cheekily, “remember?”
Softly, Marian laughed, “how could I forget?”