An unusual quiet filled the air of Sherwood Forest as the heavily armed band of travelers made their way through the woods. Watchful Knights scanned the treetops; ever alert for signs of the dreaded outlaws that inhabited these groves. This band was but the latest gathered by the Lord High Sheriff to deliver the tax revenues to Nottingham Castle. A task made near impossible by the advent of the outlaw, Robin Hood.
No one had ever personally seen Robin Hood, or was even sure who he really was. It was rumored that he was Robert of Locksley, returned in secret from the Crusades in the Holy Land. All anyone was really sure of was that he had rallied the men of Sherwood around him and had thrice taken Prince John’s gold.
“I hope those outlaws do try to challenge us,” the heavily armored Knight who was clearly in charge of the assemblage thundered. “I look forward to giving them a taste of my steel.”
“Well said, Sir Guy,” the Lord High Sheriff of Nottingham agreed. “But against a force this size, I doubt those Saxon Dogs would dare show themselves. They are after all, mostly cowards.”
“You are probably right, my Lord Sheriff. It is one thing for them to harass these local bumpkins, but these are Prince John’s finest that surround us. I fear my sword shall not taste outlaw blood this day.” he replied as he stroked his rich dark beard.
“Death, ... bloodshed, is that all you men ever think of?” said a soft feminine voice from behind the two. “Isn’t it enough that you take the very soul from these poor people. Must you take what little life they have as well.”
Both of them turned to view the speaker. The Lady Marian Fitzswalter was a young woman of 17 years. The ward of good King Richard, the brunette had been promised in marriage to Sir Guy of Gisbourne. A joining that was to take place at the end of their journey. It was a union that she did not look forward to with much pleasure.
“I think the Lady Marian has too much in the way of sympathies for these Saxon scum.” the Sheriff remarked with a sneer. “She would do better to remember her Norman heritage.”
“Not to worry, my Lord Sheriff. Her tune will change after I have taken her to the marriage bed and she learns where her true duty lies.” Gisbourne said, a measure of both anger and lust in his voice.
The image of the marriage bed of which Gisbourne spoke sent a cold chill through Marian’s body. She pulled her blue wrap tighter in an attempt to erase the thought. A part of her wished the outlaws would attack their band. Better the cold of the grave then that of Gisbourne’s bed. No man had ever touched her, and if a merciful God had any pity, none ever would.
Holding tight the reins of her horse, Marian dropped back among the other women of their party. It was easier to endure their mindless chatter than the proud boasting of Gisbourne and his cohorts. It was a small temporary refuge.
“Sir Guy!” called out a soldier coming toward them at a gallop. “Sir Guy!”
Such was the apprehension in the rider’s voice that every man within earshot reached for their weapon. In seconds he’d pulled up in front of Gisbourne and the Sheriff.
“Speak man!” Sir Guy thundered. “And mind that you have reason for charging into our number in such a manner.”
“The outlaws, Milord,” he said in half gasps. “The outlaws wait in ambush for us, not a half hours ride before us. I have seen them.”
“You have seen them?” the Sheriff asked. “I’ve not heard of any man who has seen them when they do not wish to be seen.”
“You give these rabble too much credit, my Lord Sheriff.” Sir Guy interrupted. “They have been lucky so far, nothing more. Now that luck has turned against them. We have more than enough men to see the last of their annoyance.”
“But the women in our charge,” the Sheriff reminded him. “To say nothing of Prince John’s gold. It will mean our heads if we were to fail to deliver it.”
Sir Guy paused before responding. If nothing else, the Sheriff of Nottingham always saw the practical side. Putting an end to the outlaws would indeed be quite a feather in Gisbourne’s cap, perhaps enough to win him a more influential seat on the High Council. Yet at the same time, the loss of the year’s taxes could indeed lead to the executioner’s block. Such was the fate of the leader of the last two expeditions.
“Loathe as I am to admit it,” Gisbourne finally said. “You may be right, my Lord Sheriff. We dare not risk the gold. Still it boils my blood to give up a chance to run through these Saxon brigands.”
“Perhaps there is a way to accomplish both tasks.” a soft-spoken voice said from behind them.
Both men turned at the realization that the Lady Marian had returned to their company. Sir Guy seemed annoyed at her presence, but the Sheriff seemed interested in what she might have to say.
“Would it not be possible,” she began, ignoring the look of displeasure on her betrothed’s face. “To send a force of soldiers ahead to meet the outlaws, springing our own ambush if you may. While at the same time, have the rest of our party proceed along a different path. I once traveled this road with my father and as I remember, the road forks but a short distance ahead.”
“A capital idea!” the Sheriff exclaimed. “Capital indeed. You are a lucky man, Sir Guy, to be gaining a wife who is as intelligent as she is beautiful.”
“There is such a thing as too much intelligence.” Gisbourne remarked under his breath. “Especially in a woman.”
“What say you, Sir Guy,” the Sheriff continued. “Shall we take the advice of our most gracious lady. I believe it to be a sound plan.”
“I had been considering something quite similar myself when the Lady did interrupt our discussion. “ Gisbourne said in an attempt to save face.
“Then all the more reason to try it.” the Sheriff added.
“If I might make an added suggestion?” Marian inquired.
“Of course.” the Sheriff said, cutting off whatever comments Sir Guy was about to make.
“These outlaws would no doubt be suspicious and alarmed if they were but to see only armed troops in the band that followed this road.” she said. “I think perhaps we might have one or two of our wagons go with the troop.”
“Yes, of course, another excellent idea.” the Sheriff beamed.
“I would also like to suggest that I go with them as well.” she added. “How much more lulled into complacency might they be if they saw a lady of the court riding near the head of the column as I have done so far on this journey.”
“It would be a sound strategy,” the Sheriff said. “Quite sound indeed. But I’m afraid it would be far too dangerous for you Milady. Far too dangerous indeed. Wouldn’t you say so, Sir Guy?”
Gisbourne looked hard at Marian’s face. He could guess why she’d made the suggestion. It was no secret to him that she might prefer the cold of the grave to what she imagined would be the cold of his bed. It was a preference he was not about to offer her the opportunity to express.
“It is a good idea,” he said, playing for the moment the affectionate groom to be. “But the Sheriff is quite right when he says that it is far too hazardous an undertaking for Milady. I would suggest instead that we have one of the servants, perhaps that girl Jane since she most resembles Marian, wear one of her dresses and ride with the column.”
Marian found it surprising that Gisbourne would pick Jane for the risky undertaking. It was no secret, to those who cared to know, that he had been taking her to his bed these past few months. Marian wondered if he bedded her because of Jane’s resemblance to her. Or because, as she’d heard some of the other girls discussing, Jane was in the habit of performing various heathen sexual acts. Including, they’d whispered, copulating with a man using her mouth. Then again, Gisbourne believed he was about to possess the real thing. What need would he have with a substitute now.
“It’s settled then.” the Sheriff said as he slapped a gloved hand against his leg. “I will of course remain with the gold as it is my duty. Of course I do envy you Sir Guy, for having the opportunity to test your steel against the Saxons.”
Gisbourne again looked into Marian’s face, seeing the brief glimmer of renewed hope that appeared there. If he were to fall in combat, always a possibility, she would be free of him.
“As much as my heart yearns to lead my troops in battle,” Sir Guy said as he watched Marian’s brief hope fade from her face. “I fear my first duty lies at the side of Milady, insuring her safety. We have an appointment with the Bishop of the Black Canon on the morrow, an engagement that I’m sure the Lady Marian would be heartbroken were we to miss it. No, my Captain of Arms will lead our troops. He is more than capable of dealing with these rabid dogs.”
As Sir Guy and the Sheriff selected the men for each group and supervised the transfer of gold from some of the wagons, Marian retired to her wagon with Jane to select an outfit. The young servant, only a year younger than Marian, pulled off her simple dress with abandon, revealing the supple nude form beneath it. The older girl couldn’t help but look with curiosity at the naked girl. To see just how much she did resemble her. Jane’s breasts were a little smaller than hers, Marian decided, but capped with much larger nipples. The younger girl was also much hairier around her sex than Marian, and of a darker shade as well.
.... There is more of this story ...