A Marriage Of Custom Chapter One

by Lara Wilson

Standing in the courtyard, the odor of burnt wood in his nose, Guy pondered his next move. A week had passed since his aborted wedding. Half a day since he'd avenged his honor and burned Knighton Hall. Sir Edward and Marian had moved to the castle, nominal guests of the Sheriff.

Guy had no illusions that Sir Edward could protect Marian. The Sheriff's charity was calculated. At first appearance, it was good will--offer shelter to the local knight and his only child, give the people of Knighton an image of the Sheriff as a good person--but Guy knew better.

Vasey believed that with Marian in his control, he'd have Guy more under his thumb. That threatening her, even subtly, would ensure his continued loyalty. Sir Edward's health was frail and an accident could be easily arranged. Vasey would have no problem gaining guardianship over Marian and, more importantly, Knighton Hall and the surrounding village and prosperous fields.

At the end of his wedding day, on his humiliating return to the castle without his wife, Guy had realized Vasey was thinking only in modern terms. Coming from London, he believed in a custom that hadn't quite reached the provincial countryside.

Turning from the burnt semi-ruin, Guy reached into his jerkin and drew forth a scroll of parchment. As he headed for his horse, he read the words, the promises made, and, most importantly the two witnessed signatures.

Vasey would not be pleased but he'd have no legal reason for contesting the contents of the document and what it meant. He wasn't the problem. Guy needed to get Sir Edward to accept the reality and he believed he could convince the older man that Guy was the much lesser of two evils. After all, he had originally agreed.

Marian's thoughts on the matter meant nothing at all.

Tucking away the scroll, Guy mounted his horse and headed back to the castle.

*****

Marian paced the small tower room she'd been given, moving between window and door and around the bed. A small fire burned on the hearth, doing nothing to take away the chill of the unshuttered window. It was open because she had hopes...

Shaking her head at her own foolish thoughts, she continued to walk. She had access to most of the castle and the courtyard, but after receiving disturbing looks from the Sheriff at the noon meal, she'd decided to stay in her room when not required to leave it.

Her father was in a room in another part of the castle, more suited to his station. The pasty look of his skin and his lack of appetite worried Marian and she'd gotten his promise to rest for the afternoon. She knew he was more concerned about her--a father's duty to a daughter--but they both knew she could take care of herself. She also knew that he was frustrated by his inability to care for her and for the ruin of their home which had forced them to take refuge here. Her father refused to accept her guilt in this matter, but Marian knew she was at fault. She could have rejected Guy less publically.

She could have refused his offer in the first place.

Sighing softly, Marian sank down onto the end of the bed and buried her face in her hands.

*****

Removing a glove and knocking forcefully on the door, Guy waited with unusual patience. Finally the door was opened and Sir Edward stood there, hunched slightly, a beaten man.

At the sight of him, Guy almost regretted what he'd done, but the former sheriff had not enforced the contract, had sided with his faithless daughter. In the end, he'd brought this suffering on himself. Or, more correctly, had allowed Marian to bring it on them both.

"Sir Guy."

"Sir Edward."

When Sir Edward opened the door wider, Guy entered and moved to the small table and two chairs near the fire. He allowed the older man to have the chair nearest the warmth, waiting for him to be seated before removing his other glove and laying them both down, then sitting with calculated casualness.

Slowly, his eyes never leaving Sir Edward's pale face and shifting eyes, Guy drew out the scroll and unrolled it on the table. Next to it he set a ring.

Sir Edward paled and his hands trembled in his lap.

When Guy spoke, his voice was low, even. "I know that it's becoming custom to see these only as a preliminary function and not binding. If you were to ask the lords of France, of London, they would agree, but Nottinghamshire is neither. Here, this remains a legal contract."

"You would hold her to it?"

"I will. I don't need your compliance, Sir Edward, but you're not a stupid man. Your place here, more importantly, Marian's place here is precarious. Knighton remains yours until your death, but you don't have the funds to repair your hall. You live here at the Sheriff's charity. It's not unconditional."

Sir Edward sat up a bit taller, but Guy could see the effort it caused him. "Marian allowed you to bring us here, but nothing demands that we remain. Our people will take us in."

"And you'd live like peasants?" Guy scoffed. "Marian might believe she can live like an outlaw in the forest, but you both are used to your creature comforts and your health would not hold up to a winter in a hovel." He tapped the scroll and a cold smile crossed his face. "But, it wouldn't be your hovel or your people. The Sheriff, as judge, will declare you in breach of contract and Knighton will be mine."

The older man's shoulders slumped again and he was unable to hold Guy's gaze. "My daughter rejected you. Why do you want her?"

"Because she's mine." He relaxed back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. "Don't fear that I'll harm her, Sir Edward. Her spirit is one of the things that drew my attention. I won't allow her outright defiance but I'll grant her some leeway in our private life. She will be cared for and kept in comfort and wealth."

"Wealth means nothing to her," replied Sir Edward, weakly.

"It's better than poverty." He shrugged. "I don't need her compliance, either, but I would like yours. By the end of the day Marian will be my wife in reality, regardless of your protests. If you accept this, I'll see that Knighton is rebuilt and you can live out your days in comfort. As the betrothal document states, it will then be held in trust as a dowery for our eldest daughter or given to a younger son if there is no girl child. If there are no children at all, and I die first, it will pass back to Marian. I won't leave it in ruin, but I won't repair it until after your death unless you accept our marriage as fact."

Sir Edward tried to protest. "The ceremony..."

"Means nothing legally. Not here in the countryside. The custom for the wedding to take precedence over the betrothal may well become law soon, but not yet." He had done research on this, speaking with the local priest and reviewing the law, and was confident in his belief.

"Marian despises you, especially after last night."

"I don't care. My wounded pride let her leave me at the altar, but my desire for her is greater than that. She's mine."

"She'll run."

Guy felt a bitterness fill him, but he forced himself not to react with anger. "That would be very foolish of both of you. I'll only find her, punish her, and you'll be left to the Sheriff's questionable mercy."

His eyes still on his lap, Sir Edward fell silent, and Guy watched him, feeling a curl of frustration join the bitterness that, in reality, had resided in him since Marian had left him at their wedding.

Finally, Sir Edward lifted sorrowful eyes and nodded. "I should never have agreed to this in the first place, but I wanted my daughter's future secure. She believes I will live forever, but I know my days on this Earth are numbered. Which are you, Sir Guy? The rock or the hard place?"

Guy could see the reluctant acceptance in the man sitting across from him. He'd allow him these token protests. "Both."

"Would you allow me to speak to her first?"

It wouldn't do any good. Marian would deny him past the point of reason. But Guy would be benevolent. He nodded and reached for the bottle of wine and two glasses sitting on the table. "I suggest you fortify yourself, first." He poured.

Sir Edward drank half his glass and nodded again. "She will fight this, regardless of my wishes and my arguments."

"She wouldn't be Marian if she didn't." Guy raised his glass in a small toast, letting satisfaction finally seep in and push aside the bitterness.

*****

Marian guided her father to the one chair in her room, then closed the shutters and lit the candle on the small table. Sitting on the bed just a few feet from him she frowned at how pale he was, even in the dim light. "You should be resting," she chided softly.

"I can rest soon enough." Sir Edward swallowed convulsively and gripped his hands together in his lap. "Sir Guy came to see me."

A flare of anger went through her and her back stiffened. "I hope he came with an apology."

"Oh, Marian," he sighed softly. "You are so stubborn and I have indulged you, given you too much freedom."

"I don't see that as a problem, father."

"I only ever wanted the best for you, you know that, right?"

"Of course."

"You accepted Gisbourne's offer. I thought you were content with that choice."

"Until I found out about his lies."

"That did not negate the betrothal, Marian. He was never bound to be truthful."

"Well, he should have been," she protested, heat rising in her cheeks and her fingers clenching in her skirts. "His offer was false."

"It wasn't. You know that. You chose to believe him and accept him."

As her father pressed this issue of the betrothal, Marian grew concerned. "Father, what is all this about? The wedding didn't take place."

"The law doesn't require a wedding ceremony."

"What are you saying?"

"The betrothal is all that is required. The document was witnessed and signed."

She froze, then shook her head as she finally saw where this was leading. "No."

"You are the man's wife," Sir Edward stressed, his voice strained with emotion.

"No," Marian yelled, jumping to her feet. "I'm not. I won't be. I refuse."

"You cannot. If you break the contract we lose everything. He will impoverish us. No man will have a faithless woman and there is no gold for you to enter a convent. If you deny Sir Guy, that leaves us at Vasey's mercy, and he has none."

"Robin..."

Her father swiftly cut her off. "You might survive in the forest as his leman but I don't believe Sir Guy will allow you to escape. If you break the betrothal, he will simply take you anyway. If you escape him, he will find you."

Marian felt herself paling and her heart beat quickly in her chest. Robin would accept her, even ruined, but where would that leave her father? He wouldn't say anything on his own behalf, but she knew the Sheriff wouldn't let him stay here. His health was already weakened. He'd never survive the forest. Never survive on the run from Guy.

She couldn't be his death.

Fear flooded her and the image of Guy rose in her mind. Tall, dark, powerful, stern.

But...

She had seen a softness at times. A caring. It was what had led her to agree in the first place. Surely her actions hadn't destroyed that.

But even if they had and he wanted her only to punish her. Even if he made her life a misery...Her father would survive.

"Where will you live?" she numbly asked, unable to look in his eyes, but she saw the relief cross his face.

"Sir Guy will rebuild Knighton. The roof and furnishings will need replacing but the stone stands. It shouldn't take long."

"You can come stay at Locksley until then?" She could hear herself pleading, but couldn't stop.

"I doubt your husband will allow that, but I should be safe enough here for a month or so. I don't believe he will harm or allow me to be harmed."

Husband.

The thought sent fear shrieking through her. On her wedding day she'd felt only anger. Before that, before she'd learned the truth, she'd felt fears but also a vague hope, and she'd assumed her feelings were normal for an inexperience bride.

Now she felt only that fear, much stronger than before, and mingled with a loss that made her heart ache, because if she accepted this, accepted him, there was no future with Robin, and the last week had given her such hopes in that direction. Hopes that hadn't existed since he'd left for the Crusades.

Childish, girlish, first love hopes.

Not reality.

Slowly Marian lifted her eyes to her father and tried not to flinch from the needy sorrow she saw in his. Heart now pounding dully in her chest, she nodded, jaw tight, lips compressed. "All right, father. I'll accept him."

Sir Edward smiled weakly. "I hope you are happy, daughter," he said softly as he rose to leave.

Happy?

Marian wasn't sure she'd ever feel that again.

End Chapter 1

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