RATING: PG-13/R. For violence and adult themes.
SUMMARY: When Sir Richard falls ill, Marion leaves the abbey for the first time in months. Will she find it harder to return to her old life or her new one?
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters. Richard Carpenter does. Along with some people like HTV and Goldcrest.


by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part One

Marion knelt below the cross in the chapel. The hard stone of the floor pressed painfully against her knees, and the chill of the rock had crept into her bones, but she continued to kneel. Her fingers played restlessly over the beads of her rosary, the smooth spheres warmed by her hand. She lifted her eyes to the cross, their green dark. Her mouth tightened, and she lowered her gaze, frowning at the ground. She was not sure how long she'd been kneeling this way, but the candle flames burned much lower than they had when she entered the room. She knew if would soon be time for the evening mass. The chapel would fill with the nuns who lived here in the abbey.

The routine was familiar, and somehow comforting. It dulled her edges, edges that had become too painful in the months before she'd come here. Sometimes when she knelt alone she wondered what she'd lost, how much of herself she'd lost when she'd made her decision to come here. The initial relief, the peace, that had come with the decision to become a nun faded at times. When she was completely honest with herself, she knew it had been a decision to give up. Give up responsibility, to give up struggling, to give up choice. The decision to leave Sherwood, the others, Robin, was the last decision she'd had to make. Now it was all routine. Mindless. Painless.

She winced and rose slowly to her feet. Painless it was not. But less painful. It was easier to remember the others and miss them, miss her old life than to live her old life. At times she doubted herself, wondered if she was a coward for giving up the way she had. She sighed softly and straightened her robe. At times she felt guilt that she had not been able to stay for them, for him. For both her Robins. She had never thought of herself as a coward until she'd come to the abbey. She'd never thought of herself as weak until she'd been broken. She'd found her strength was wanting. She shook her head and walked on quiet feet toward the chapel door. The doubts came, perhaps they would always come, but each time they did she comforted herself with the thought of routine, of peace. She reminded herself that the pain was less.

She looked up, startled, as a man hurried into the chapel, nearly running into her. He looked exhausted, disheveled, sweat glistening on his brow though she knew the cold of winter's beginning gripped the outside world he'd come from. For a moment she felt fear, fear she hadn't been able to shake no matter how many times she told herself she was safe here. Every new visitor brough a jolt, the pervasive idea that the Sheriff had found a way to deny her sanctuary, perhaps to trick her. Then her fears subsided as she recognized the visitor as Thomas, her father's steward.

"My lady," he gasped, short of breath.

"That life is over," she said with a gentle smile. "I am Sister Marion now." The man bobbed his head uncomfortably. "Now, what is it?"

"Your father, my la--" Thomas stopped himself. "Sir Richard has sent for you."

"He knows my decision," she said firmly. "I told him if he wishes to see me, he must see me here."

"I know," Thomas said. "But he's ill, my lady. The doctors think he may be near death." This time Marion did not correct his use of her title. She stood woodenly, her limbs suddenly frozen, her breath caught in her throat. Her stomach twisted with fear, and she forced herself to focus on the man who was speaking again. "Will you come?" he asked.

"Yes," she said without hesitation.

"I am afraid haste is necessary," the man told her.

"We shall leave immediately," she agreed. "I must tell the mother superior where I'm going and get my cloak."

"I've brought you a horse," Thomas said.

"Good. You prepare the horses. I'll meet you at the gate." The steward bowed slightly and hurried away, leaving Marion alone again in the chapel, what little peace she'd found in her musings shattered. She looked around the room in confusion, then began the walk to the garden where she knew the mother superior worked until twilight. Her feet traced the familiar path, but her thoughts still lay in pieces, broken, sharp edges exposed. She had been in the abbey three months. It had seemed a lifetime the day before, but now it was far too little time. Leaving the abbey would be a test, both to the fragile peace she'd found, and to her resolve that becoming a nun was the right thing for her. She wasn't sure she was ready for this test. Perhaps after a year, even six months, she would be entrenched enough in the routine to feel secure in leaving it. But now that she was forcibly reminded of the outside world, she found it was all too close. The past loomed before her, harsh and real, too real. She scrubbed at her face and entered the garden. There was no help for it. It was her father, she couldn't not go.

* * * * * * *

Reluctant permission from the mother superior gained, Marion rode toward Leaford Grange with Thomas by her side. The chill wind picked at her habit, sending it fluttering out behind her, distracting her slightly from her inner turmoil. She took a deep breath of outside air, her first since she'd entered Halstead three months ago. For some reason the air tasted different outside the abbey's walls. She took another breath, expanding her lungs to their fullest capacity, and allowed her eyes to roam briefly over the trees they rode through. Only a few leaves, still bright glolden, orange and red, were left clinging to the skeletal branches that rose above their heads against the overcast sky.

She returned her gaze to the pommel of her saddle, and kept it there. They were only trees, trees like any other, but they reminded her of too much. She closed her eyes and ears as much as possible, trying to close herself off from the memories. "But nothing is forgotten," she heard herself mutter.

"My lady," Thomas said. She only shook her head, and tried once more to forget everything but the movement of the horse under her.

Her eyes closed, her mind on her father, she did not see the man dressed to blend with the browns and blacks of the ground who had followed them silently as they exited the abbey, and now slid past the trees beside them until he saw which road they took. She did not see him turn away, heading toward Nottingham.