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.“Indeed we shall,” Marian replied, but Will remained silent.He was still the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, and he could not leave the county for any extended time.He would be attached to John through the king, and because of John’s own hold over Ludlow, Will could never expect to be free of the younger Angevin.He must serve John until he died, or unless the king released him from his position as sheriff.But then what? What would he have to offer Marian?Unlike Robin, who’d been Lord of Locksley until the prince claimed his lands, Will had naught but his honor—which had been severely tried as of late—and many years of service to Richard.That amounted to little when it came to settling a bride-price.A crust of discontent settled in his belly.He was not wealthy, nor did he own anything larger than a small manor house, seated in the county.She was Lady of Morlaix and far above him in station.He’d known this all along, and even from his days at Mead’s Vale he’d known she was a baron’s daughter.and he’d reminded himself of this when she arrived here at Ludlow.But then the battle of wills with the prince had arisen, and Will had taken the opportunity to have what he believed he’d never touch.Bitterness soured his happiness, and he felt a wave of self-revulsion.Clearly he’d not spent enough time on his knees in the chapel.“Will?” Marian was looking at him, and he gave himself a bit of a shake.“You must go with him,” he said, easing away from her.Chill settled over his skin when they broke apart.“John will have recovered from his sickness, and he will be more determined than ever to entertain you.There is little I can do to stop him, save violence.”She was shaking her head.“I’ll not leave you, Will,” she said again.“He will not dare to truly harm me.He dares not leave lasting hurts on a noblewoman; he merely wishes to play.And it is not as if I’ve not had to suffer his hands on me before.’Tis no pleasure, but there could be worse things—such as being called out for treason.”He realized dimly that Locksley had left the chamber, but it was not too late to send her after him.“Marian, you needn’t take that chance.I’ll not have him put his hands on you again.Do not ask it of me.I could hardly bear it before, but now.”She was watching him so closely, he swore she could read his inner thoughts.“Will, I cannot leave you.I won’t.Do not try and force me.”“But I have forced you into all of this, have I not?” he asked, suddenly blackly furious with himself and John, and with Locksley, the king’s rapacious war.with it all.“You’ve forced me into nothing.The queen sent me here, knowing that John would want me,” Marian told him.Whether by accident or design, the furs had slipped from her hand and now she sat bare to the waist, her lovely hair tangling about her.As tantalizing as the sight was, he could not allow it to distract him.“The queen sent you to be John’s leman?”Marian reached for him, her fingers on his arm.“Not to be his leman, although ’tis certain she suspected it would happen.She set me to spy upon John, for she suspects his plotting against Richard.”Will looked at her, unsure whether to believe her words.They were shocking, but certainly rang true from what he knew of Eleanor.And he had seen Marian looking through John’s papers.“She will protect you, you are certain?”Marian nodded.“I am certain of it.I have long been one of her favorites, and I’ve done what she wished.And I suspect that when she learns how you’ve acted to protect the people of Nottinghamshire in the face of John’s greed, she’ll have much to say to the king.He loves her above all people, you know.And she loves England too.More so than the king himself.”“I know that.” Then he looked at her.“You believe I’ve protected the people? Only two days ago you accused me of senseless cruelty and dark deeds.”“But is that not what you wanted me—and all—to think? How was I to know that you and Robin worked together? Once I realized that, I understood most of it.But why did you burn the houses? That I cannot comprehend.I do not believe you did it out of cruelty.But why?”He could not help it [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]