It had started to snow. Marian’s fingers haltered their fluttering over the keys as she looked away from the glare of her computer screen to the window, where a white flurry broke up the darkening sky. Leaning back in her chair Marian decided it was a good time to take a break, although when she reached for her cup of tea it was regrettably stone cold.
The Chambers were empty, her high heels clacking against the floorboards as Marian made her way down the corridor to the staff kitchen. She hummed to herself as she put the kettle on, checking the fridge for milk and having to settle for semi-skimmed since someone had finished the last of the full cream and not thought to replace it. Given that the Chambers were technically closed for Christmas Marian couldn’t hold it against them.
She turned on the small television while waiting for the kettle to boil, a young blonde woman behind the news desk appearing on the screen.
“This is BBC news,” she announced, as the picture cut to images of riot police. “Protesters clashed with police on the streets of London today following the government's announcement of further funding cuts to the NHS and public housing. They gathered around Downing Street demanding justice from politicians they claim have abandoned the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. They accused Prime Minister John Prince’s government as a step towards fascism, called for an end to austerity and prosecution of those MPs implicated in the recent banking scandal.”
Marian’s heart caught in her throat at the footage of a protester leading the crowd in a chant and pumping his fist in the air. To anyone else he would be unrecognisable, with his green hood pulled up over his head and black scarf covering his nose and mouth, but she would know him anywhere. The kettle sung, but Marian barely heard it as she watched images of protesters being forced to the ground and handcuffed, tear gas released into the crowd and general pandominum. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and typed a quick message.
r u ok?
She watched the screen anxiously for a minute or so, even when those three dots appeared indicating someone was typing a message in response.
of course :)
Marian exhaled with irritation. I’ve seen the news.
The dots appeared again, and then vanished indicating he’d deleted his first response. Marian shifted from one foot to the other, her fear quickly turning to irritation. The dots appeared again, followed by his reply.
I love you.
Marian shook her head, but couldn’t help but smile a little, typing out a final message.
You’re a fool.
Phone back in her pocket, Marian switched off the television and carried her cup of tea back to her office. She watched the snow again as she drank, at peace for a short while until she heard the chime of her phone indicating another message. All it contained was a penguin emoji, and Marian rolled her eyes but crossed the room to where her black barrister robes and white bands were hung in the closet. The pockets were empty, and for a moment she thought she had misunderstood the message. But then she checked underneath the white wig atop the shelf and found a small note clipped to a flyer announcing the Winter Wonderland which had been set up in the city centre.
The note only had a time, 6 p.m, signed with the letter R and a small drawing of a heart pierced by an arrow. This made Marian smile, and she pressed the note to her lips, momentarily forgetting how angry she was with him. He must be on the train back up north by now, she reasoned, and briefly contemplated texting him again but was interrupted by a voice calling her name from the hallway. She quickly stowed the note away in her pocket and returned to her desk.
“In here Edward,” she called in response, and after a few moments he appeared at her doorway dressed in slacks and a winter coat. It was strange to see him out of a suit or silk robes but with silver hair and weathered face he was distinguished nonetheless.
“It’s Christmas Eve Marian,” he scolded her. “You work too hard.”
“No such thing,” she said brightly, “isn’t that what you’re always saying?”
Edward Knighton was Queen’s Counsel and Marian’s mentor, dedicated above all to the practice of law. She herself was a junior barrister who had only recently completed her pupillage, but Edward had shown faith in her and allowed her to assist him on high profile cases. He expected much from her, but his stern look made it clear he thought that if he was taking the day off, there was no reason why she should be working.
“Looking for the precedent for the fraud case?” he asked. “We don’t go back before the judge until February.”
“No, I’m...working on a brief.” Marian glanced towards the document she had open; she hadn’t wanted to mention it to him until it was finished.
“It’s not your job to write briefs.” Edward narrowed his eyes at her. “Who’s the instructing solicitor?”
Marian shrunk a little in her seat - she’d been caught. “There isn’t one,” she admitted, unable to meet his stare. “It’s a...referral.”
“I see,” Edward’s voice was even. “Another pro-bono case from our philanthropic friend.”
“It really is a terrible situation,” Marian told him. “A corrupt landlord taking advantage of recent migrants, but he has half of the police force on the take so no one will lodge a formal complaint. We’ve been gathering statements, convincing people to trust us-”
“Alright, alright.” Edward held up his hand. “I’ll look at it after Christmas. I just needed to get some files from my office and then I’m going home - and I suggest you do the same.”
“I will,” she promised as he turned to leave.
“And Marian?” He paused in the doorway and gave her a rare smile. “Merry Christmas - to both you.”
It was dark when Marian left chambers, the footpaths white with fallen snow as she made her way towards the city centre. She could see the lights of the Winter Wonderland from streets away, the giant Christmas tree in Old Market Square visible above the rooftops. There was carolers in Victorian garb singing at the entrance, and lines of market stalls selling crafts, sweets, hot food and drinks. Coloured lights were strung on between the lampposts, twinkling in the night sky, and Council House was illuminated by an LED light show.
She stopped at the ice rink set up in the square, and Marian watched the skaters while she waited; small children gripping the sides as they grew in confidence, parents hovering nearby, teenagers speeding past one another and showing off, couples holding hands as they ambled around the ice.
Her heart leaped at the sound of his voice, and there he was crossing the square, hands in the pockets of his dark winter coat, snow dusting his hair and a smile on his face.
“Robin.” She held out her arms and he embraced her tightly. For a moment Marian held him close, unwilling to let go as if she feared he would fade the moment she did. Eventually she pulled back but did not break the embrace, gazing up at him with love and relief, anger shelved momentarily.
There was a bruise already forming on his cheek, and she reached up to touch it lightly with gloved fingers.
“You disapprove.” He gave her a crooked smile that seemed like half regret, half challenge.
“For speaking out?” She shook her head. “Of course not. But your methods…”
“It started out as a peaceful protest,” he insisted.
“Yes but it never ends that way does it.” She turned away, disappointed. “What if you’d been arrested?”
His arms circled her from behind and he nuzzled his nose against her hair. “Then I’d have the best defence counsel in England.”
“Flattery is cheap,” she scolded him, but leaned back into his embrace.
“It is,” he agreed. “But I’m broke, so it’s all I can afford.”
Marian laughed, never able to stay mad at him for very long. “You should have told me,” she said, trying to retain at least some of her ire.
“Would you have let me go?”
She turned back to face him with a wry smile. “How could I have stopped you?”
“I know not to underestimate you Marian,” he grinned. “I’d wake up chained to the bed or something...although I’m not necessarily opposed to that…”
She punched him lightly in the arm and laughed. “Come on, make it up to me,” she said, nodding towards the ice rink.
The first time they’d gone skating together had been years ago, when they’d still been teenagers trying to navigate the transformation from childhood friendship to adulthood, and all the complications that went along with it. There had been fraught times since then, breakups and separations followed by inevitable reconciliations, and it seemed that no matter what briefly kept them apart, they would always end up back together, ice skating at Christmas time.
Robin was a show-off of course; skating backwards, egging on children to race around the rink, making Marian laugh as he let them all win and took pratfalls. But then he joined her in a glide, their fingers interlacing as he took her hand and favoured her with a smile so warm she barely noticed the cold air whipping around them.
They took their time exploring the markets, stopping by the Ice Bar for a shot of vodka and to appreciate the ice sculptures, examining the crafts and local produce on offer at the various stalls before treating themselves to jacket potatoes and hot chocolate. It was the happiest Marian had been for some time, a chance to forget about the stresses of her caseload for a few hours and simply be with Robin - it had been too long since they’d spent so much time together.
“Ah, there’s the stall,” Robin said, leading her towards a table underneath a banner reading Locksley House. Located a few miles from Nottingham, Robin’s ancestral estate served as a community centre with half a dozen functions - halfway house, homeless shelter, food bank, drug rehabilitation clinic - he had poured every penny of his inheritance into the place to ensure that anyone who needed help of any kind would be able to find it at Locksley. Of course, behind it’s official role as charitable institution it also served as headquarters for Robin’s less than scrupulous and often seditious activities.
Manning the stall was their friend Allan Dale, working his magic on a patron by convincing them to make a donation.
“Thanks mate!” Allan called after the gentleman as he put the £50 note in the lockbox. “You’ve changed a life tonight, I promise.”
“Another kind soul,” Marian said as they approached. “Whether they like it or not.”
“What can I say Marian,” Allan winked at her. “I bring out the best in people.”
“Or they donate just to shut you up,” Marian teased.
“Hey, whatever works!” Allan laughed the turned to Robin. “Good to see you mate, how was the...er...business meeting?”
“It’s alright,” Robin assured him, placing a light hand on Marian’s back. “She knows.”
“And you’re still standing!” Allan out his hand to his chest as if in shock. “Must be the Christmas spirit Marian.”
“Something like that,” she smiled. “He didn’t get into too much trouble, so I suppose I can be forgiving.”
“Huh, wait until you hear our plans for New Year,” Allan leaned over the table. “I was talking to the lads today-”
“Don’t tell me,” she said, holding up her hand. “I’m still an officer of the court, so if whatever you’re planning is illegal...”
“Ah but that’s it,” Robin said, “if not to act is immoral, does it really matter if it’s illegal?”
It was the core difference in their philosophy, and therefore the greatest source of conflict between them - Marian pursued justice as far as the law would allow, and Robin by any means necessary.
“Please, please,” Allan put both of his hands up in defeat. “Not another ethics debate you two, it’s Christmas!”
“Exactly,” Robin nudged her with a smile. “What would Jesus do?”
Knowing she couldn’t win that argument, Marian offered to take over the stall for a while so Allan could take a break. He accepted gratefully, scurrying off towards the helter skelter ride and leaving Robin and Marian to solicit donations from those who passed by. Luckily Robin was well known and liked in the community, so most people stopped to chat and he could often talk them into giving if he knew they could afford it. For her part Marian targeted those she knew in the legal profession - often the most likely to be able to give but unfortunately the least likely to actually do so. She wasn’t above using guilt, particularly when she knew most spent more on a bottle of wine than it would cost Locksley to feed a dozen people.
“I told Edward about the landlord case,” she mentioned to Robin when there was a lull in the crowd. “I think he’ll take it.”
“He’s probably the only one brave enough to,” Robin looked pleased. “Although be careful, Marian, this is going to make you both a lot of enemies, the Lord Mayor at the top of the list.”
“I can’t say Vaisey’s my biggest fan already,” Marian countered. “Not only am I tainted by association with you,” she poked him lightly in the belly, “but I helped put away his campaign manager for taking bribes.”
“Another scandal that he walked away from squeaky clean.” Robin grimaced.
“I’m more worried about you,” she added seriously. “Whatever you’re planning, don’t go to far, you know Gisborne’s just been promoted to Chief Constable, and he’ll be looking for any excuse.”
“If only they both were getting visits from spirits tonight,” Robin mused, and then chuckled as he stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea, I should get the lads to dress up - Much would make a great Ghost of Christmas Past - he never forgets anything!”
”I’m sure John would look appropriately ghoulish in a black robe,” Marian counted, and they had fun speculating as to the proposed caper until Allan returned to help them pack up as the night drew to a close and with a promise to see them both the following day for the Christmas dinner they were hosting at Locksley House.
As they carried the trestle table and banners to Allan’s truck Marian heard static strains of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from the nearby loudspeakers. She hummed to herself, the words of particular resonance this year.
Someday soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow...
There was one final Christmas Eve tradition as they drove the short distance to the village of Edwinstowe, where Marian had grown up. St Mary’s Church was white with snow, but the lanterns flickered brighty in the darkness, beckoning them in for Midnight Mass. Father Tuck was at the door to greet them; he liked to watch his parishioners arrive so he could shake their hands and draw them in out of the cold.
“Ah, Robin, Marian,” he greeted them both warmly “I’m so happy to see you both and I must say...” he gave Robin a stern look. “Rather relieved.”
Marian pursed her lips as her anger flashed anew - had she been the only one out of the loop? Tuck’s philosophy closely aligned with Robin’s, as he considered his self bound to the laws of God first and man second, and although he had literally put his body on the line in non-violent protest more than once, even he was have disapproved of the civil disobedience Robin had engaged in that day.
“Don’t worry Father,” Robin placed a light hand on Marian’s back as they passed the threshold. “I’ve heard the sermon already.”
”Please heed it,” Tuck called after them, but gave another indulgent smile.
The church was warm and glowing by candlelight, and they took a seat in their usual pew and listened to the choir. There was such joy in those angelic voices raised in song and the call to worship - although Robin was more religious than she, Marian had to admit that she felt her faith keenly in such moments.
Christmas was the birth of hope, of a light in the darkness to lead the way, to set an example still so resonant. She reached for Robin’s hand as they raised their voices to join in with the choir, knowing that for all their disagreements, for his recklessness against her caution, for his disrespect for authority against her adherence to it, there would always be a middle ground of respect, devotion and love.
It was Christmas, and for one night at least, they would sing in harmony.