Gisborne . . .
‘Vasey and Gisborne arrived in Nottingham together, with papers from Prince John purportedly in the name of King Richard.
It was never a harmonious relationship, ever.’
I care not for their harmony, Reverend Mother. You say purportedly. Surely you speak treason! We walked across the Abbey’s carefully tended potager where the lay women dug and weeded. We headed toward the dulcet quiet of the hedged Infirmary garden, where weeds had outstripped the medicinal plants that should have been thriving.
‘You see it needs some work. But Sister Cecile is frantic with the villagers and can’t spare the time. We haven’t enough lay workers and I worry that our medicine supply will suffer.’
‘Can you not ask Vasey or Gisborne for a woman from the outlying villages?’
‘I could, but I choose not to. I wouldn’t trust Vasey not to place a spy in our midst. It’s not for him to know what is behind our walls.’
I digested this. What had the Reverend Mother to hide?
‘From the outset,’ she continued, her hands folded neatly into her capacious dark cuffs, ‘Vasey set out to line his pockets. With Prince John’s signature at the bottom of everything. He taxed the Nottingham demesnes into the ground. He took coin. If there was no coin, he took grain. No grain, he took the pig, no pig and he turned the villagers out and burned their homes. You must surely have seen many folk on the roads or living wild in the forests.’
‘Indeed, I have but . . .’
‘His orders, Reverend Mother, but surely Gisborne’s doing.’ They were a pretty matched pair I thought.
She twitched her shoulder as if she cast my comment aside. ‘They don’t get on. They tolerate each other because Vasey needs Guy and Guy needs . . .’
Beatrice sighed and I suspect she thought me uncharitable. But I had observed much and drawn my own opinion. What would she know ensconced in the calm and comfortable Abbey environs?
‘Guy is not what he seems, Prue. Vasey on other hand, is. Since he arrived he has smoothed his way with God. He orders Gisborne to deliver regular wagonloads of grain, but unbeknowns to the Sheriff, Guy will alter the loading. Instead of ten bags there will be twelve. Instead on one sheep or pig there will be two and so on.’
‘He greased his own way,’ I scoffed.
‘Not at all. He has asked that we find a way to feed those who starve, help those who hurt. Now you can see why I want no one of the Sheriff’s choosing to work within the Abbey precinct. There is much at stake.’
The wind had been knocked from me, and around my heart, traitorous thing, was a feeling of the slightest warmth, as if a winter thaw began. But then I remembered Owen Millington, the reason that I had sought the Abbey’s confines in the first place. The thaw halted. ‘What about the imprisonments, the hangings?’
‘Sir Guy has hung no one. He makes arrests and arranges surreptitious escapes. He orders hangings for the times when Vasey is away in Yorkminster or Ely or some such place. Guy has never allowed a public exhibition of the hangings and he has accomplices of great trust amongst the soldiers who have no reason to love Vasey. When the execution is over, it is actually an empty coffin that leaves Nottingham.’
‘And those that were to hang?’
‘Sent through a passage to the Abbey and then away.’
‘How does he get away with it? Vasey is not so stupid.’
‘Ah, but he is really. He has a singular mindset. The wealth and status you mentioned. Guy is a master manipulator.’
‘Reverend Mother, this is unbelievable.’ I swept loose curls away from my face. ‘Why does not word spread?’
She gave a tiny chuckle, ‘ It does. Have you never heard of Robin Hood?’
‘Of course I have but it’s Robin of Locksley. Everyone for miles knows this.’
‘It’s not Robin. Robin was killed in the Holy Land. He deflected an arrow meant for the king. Right through the heart. He is buried near Jerusalem.’
‘Indeed.’ She responded with wry humour at my outburst. ‘Guy is Robin Hood, Prue. Everything he does, he does in disguise and in Robin’s name. Those that think they have some outlaw saviour are not far wrong. He is even called the Nightwatchman because so much of his work is carried out in the dark hours.’
‘This is unbelievable.’ The thaw had begun again. I could see his face, snarling at some unfortunate, and found it hard to reconcile my newfound knowledge with my observations.
I subsided onto a stone bench under the boughs of an early blossoming almond. Mother Beatrice reposed beside me. ‘Why do you tell me all this?’ I asked.
‘Because you dislike him beyond measure. He doesn’t match what you remember of the past.’
I sat up straight.
‘You knew him once, did you not?’ The question was posed softly, but it none the less skewered me like a dagger.
Of course I knew him, but how could I tell this woman of God that I had caused great hurt to Guy of Gisborne once? That I had been the reason for him beginning a terrible journey?
‘I did, Reverend Mother . . . ‘ my hands twisted.
She lay her own over them and said gently. ‘I can be your confessor, Prudence. It will go no further and you may find a burden lifts.’
Two tears drifted down my cheeks as I began. In a moment I was in my home of yore, surrounded by all that I loved and on the brink of a tempestuous affair from which I don’t believe I, nor one other, ever really recovered . . .