disclaimer in part 1
by: Rebecca Carefoot
Robert sat beside a small stream, idly staring at the clear water burbling over small rocks and pebbles. Behind him he could hear the faint clunk of Tuck and John's quarterstaffs, and the laughs and shouts of Much and Will as they urged the mock combat on. He shook pale gold strands of hair from his eyes and stood up, his body dragging as his spirit had since Marion had left.
The laughter stopped as he joined the others at the camp. Tuck and John stilled, their grips relaxing on their weapons. John studied his leader, his face suddenly serious, though he flashed a smile at Robin to hide the worry in his eyes, worry they all felt for the man they'd come to call Robin Hood.
The awkward pause was interrupted by the silent approach of Nasir. He emerged from the trees, and raised his hand in greeting to the others.
"What news from Wickham?" Robin asked.
"There is talk. They say Sir Richard is sick. That he will send for his daughter." The outlaws darted quick speculative glances at their leader, catching the quick contraction of his brows.
"He won't die, will he?" Much asked, concerned.
"There's none better than Marion to cure him," Robert said, and the air seemed less heavy in the clearing as if his saying her name banished some of the pain of the past. The others shifted, relieved that Robert had broached the subject.
"But will she come?" Will asked.
"She'll come," Tuck said with a nod. "He's the only family she has."
"Will she visit us?" Much asked, hope brightening his dirty face. He looked to Robin, and his face fell at the hard set of the older man's jaw. "We're family too, aren't we? Why doesn't she want to see us?" he asked, his voice growing plaintive.
"Because she has a new life now," Robert said. "It doesn't mean she doesn't care about you." Much nodded, casting his eyes at the ground.
"There is more," Nasir said softly. The others turned to the Saracen, and listened as he continued speaking in his slow, soft tones. "Edward thought the Sheriff was having the abbey watched."
"Is he sure?" Tuck asked.
"There were tracks at the abbey. Two horses. One on foot."
"Now that she's left the protection of the abbey, he may try to capture her," Robert said.
"But she is taking orders," Tuck said.
"I doubt the Church'd use its weight to save a former outlaw," John said. "Even if she is a nun."
"There a million lies he could tell to make it seem like she ran off from the convent or had a convenient accident," Will said, biting the side of thumb spitefully.
"We have to at least warn her," John said. Robert closed his eyes briefly, then briskly shook his head once.
"You're right. She may not want our help, but she must know of the threat if she is to decide."
"Should we all go then?" John asked. Will shook his head, looking away.
"No," Robin answered. He turned to Much. "You must take the message to her." The boy nodded, fear warring with an eagerness to see Marion again. "We'll camp near Leaford. You'll return to tell us what she says."
"Why're you sending Much?" Will asked. "You need someone to explain it right, so she knows there's real danger." Much glared at Will in annoyance.
"I can explain it all right!" he said.
"Much will be fine," Robin said, ending the dispute. "She'll be more likely to agree to see him. And he's less likely to be noticed."
"Right," Will snorted, but he quieted when Robin gave him a warning look. He shrugged. "We should be off then," he said. "If we want to get near Leaford by sunset." Much grinned.
"What if she agrees to let us help her?" John said. "What then?" Robin stared at the small fire in the center of camp. He shook his head, a hank of hair falling onto his conflicted face. He ran his hand absently through his hair, then he turned his gaze to John.
"Then we'll keep her safe," he said, his voice steady.
"That's not what I meant," John said.
"I know," Robin answered. A part of him hoped she would come to them; it whispered that if she just spent some time with them, remembering the forest, remembering how it felt to fight, she would stay. He couldn't believe she belonged in the convent, and part of him was certain that remembering would force her to admit she needed the freedom of the forest, she needed them as much as they needed her. And deep, deep down he hoped that she still loved him, that she was strong enough to be with him.
The other part of him whispered of broken hearts and dreams and reminded him how hard it had been to let her walk away the first time. How could he survive it a second time? How could he stand to be near her and feel the distance between them? If she left a second time it meant that small hope he hadn't had the heart to kill would be taken with her. What would he have left? Would it be enough for him to continue?
He looked at John thoughtfully. "We'll find out," he said. "And we'll have to respect her decision, whatever it is." John nodded, but his eyes were troubled. He turned them to the solid grey sky, and took a deep breath of the coming winter.
"I don't know what I feel," John said.
Tuck smiled. "You'll know when you see her," he said.
Robin scuffed his boot against the ground, sending a spray of dirt into the fire. He stamped the remaining flame out and smoothed more dirt over the charred remains. When he looked up, the others had gathered their things, and stood silently waiting.
"We should go," he said.
The Sheriff of Nottingham studied the gold braid on his new scarlet tunic. He frowned at it, running a critical finger over the material. He turned to the tailor.
"I don't like it," he said.
"But my lord," the tailor said. "It's what you asked for."
"I said, I don't like it," the Sheriff snapped, anger coloring his voice. "Try it in a darker red." A knock at the chamber door broke in on the last of his words. "Enter," he said.
A man entered the room, dressed in dirty rags, but he carried himself with a confidence bordering on arrogance. He bowed his head to the Sheriff and the Sheriff motioned vaguely at him before sitting behind his desk.
"You have something to report, Jeremy?" he asked.
"Yes, my lord," the man said. "The Lady Marion left Halstead today, traveling the Leaford road."
"Gone to see daddy, has she?" the Sheriff said snidely. He touched his chin thoughtfully. "Gisburne!" he yelled. He waited impatiently, his eyes on the door, then screamed his steward's name again. Sir Guy of Gisburne entered the room and inclined his head with a sullen look in his eyes.
"I want Marion caught," the Sheriff said. "No mistakes. Take your men to Leaford and bring her to me." He looked at Jeremy calculatingly. "You take four men and wait at the convent. Stop her from entering it if she returns."
"My lord," Gisburne protested. "That won't be necessary. She will not escape me."
"Of course not, Gisburne," the Sheriff said with smooth contempt. "I have every confidence in your ability to arrest one small woman." Gisburne reddened, clenching his hands against his sides. "What are you waiting for, man?" the Sheriff said. "Be off with you!" His jaw jumping, Gisburne turned and left the room. "So touchy," the Sheriff said with a shake of his head.
He motioned Jeremy away, and the man strolled out after Gisburne. "You too," he said to the tailor, who quickly gathered up the tunic and hurried away. The Sheriff tapped his fingers against the hard oak desk in front of him. He couldn't afford a mistake this time. It had taken all the money he had, and much more he'd had to borrow to keep from losing his head, much less his position when he'd lost Robin Hood the last time. His hand closed on a sheaf of parchment as he thought of the cart filled with clay. If he hadn't happened to look back and notice it before they got to the city... He shuddered at the possibility.
Marion herself would go a long way to getting back in the King's good graces, John was one to hold grudges and he wasn't likely to forget how she'd made a fool of him by playing on his lust. But the Sheriff had more ambitious hopes. With the right bait, perhaps he could finally catch a wolfshead.