Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chapter 25 Part 1

photo: Bridget Ruffing
Robin was sitting by the fire as it hissed and sputtered beneath the falling snowflakes. A red streak of blood ran from his nose, and one eye had already begun to swell as Tuck attempted to clean him up.

"You had it coming, Robin."

"I know it. But what has gotten into him?" He winced against the stinging of the cloth.

"The girl. A woman can turn your head like no other power on earth." Tuck pressed deeper into the cut with a smirk. He thought Robin was being melodramatic, again.

"Says the celibate friar." Robin received a shove for this bit of cheek. Looking up, they saw Alexis standing awkwardly at the edge of the clearing, and Will watching from a few feet behind her. Dropping her gaze when their eyes met, she turned to Will and gestured for him to stop hiding.

With a sigh, he advanced, taking her hand as he passed and leading her to sit on the log beside him, across the fire from Robin. "Alexis is staying here." He said flatly, trying not to think about how much he had hurt his cousin, trying not to look at the deep gash in his lip. Guilt was a terrible thing, weakening the strongest determinations in a matter of seconds.

"I thought we'd been over this." Robin raised a sarcastic eyebrow, noticing the boy's hand clutched tight around Alexis's. "Have you asked her what she thinks of all of this?" His gaze had shifted to where she sat, embarrassed and uncomfortable, battling the panic rising in her throat. A triumphant grin waiting at the corners of Robin's mouth.

"He has." Alexis answered quickly, feeling the heat rising to her face despite herself. "And I agreed. If I am welcome here, I would like to stay."

"Ah, well, that's another thing entirely, isn't it? But I guess it doesn't matter what I say in my own camp anymore, since Will obviously knows best." Robin ignored Tuck's condemning glare.

Alexis could feel Will tensing up beside her. "Don't." She whispered. But her face paled when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Adam watching from behind a tree, the rabbits he'd been out hunting lying killed and forgotten at his feet. Frantically, she tried to loose her hand from Will's grip, but he was too busy arguing with Robin to notice.

"She is staying, and that's final."



"Will, let go." She whispered harshly.


"Ugh." She groaned in defeat. "Can you please fix my shoulder now?"

"Oh, right." He released her and found a needle. By now, Robin had rolled his eyes and moved on, announcing that he was going into town.

Looking back to Adam's hiding place, Alexis saw that he was no longer there, and the rabbits were gone with him. Closing her eyes, she tried to focus on her breathing, and not the fact that she might have just made the worst mistake of her life.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chapter 24 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
 When Alexis looked up, she was struck by a tiny snowflake landing on her cheek. They'd stayed there— How long? It had felt like seconds, strung out like beautiful hours, neither daring to speak or move, knowing that if they did, this moment would have to end and they'd have to face all the problems and questions that could not be ignored.

She glanced at him, kneeling beside her, and sighed. They couldn't stay here much longer; it was snowing and would be night soon enough. "Come on." She whispered, struggling to her feet and offering a hand. She tried to ignore the increasingly painful throbbing in her shoulder.

"Thank you." He continued to hold her hand after he had stood. The tears were dried and the anger and sadness had faded; all he was left with was a breathless gratitude. She had agreed. She was staying. He wasn't losing her, and, somehow, this wasn't all a dream. She was standing here by his side, her hand in his, and, for once, she wasn't trying to pull away.

"Are you alright?" She asked, hoping he couldn't hear her heart pounding in her chest.

"I'm fine." He blushed and lowered his gaze as he replied.

"We should, um..."

"Yes, I suppose."

They trudged slowly down the hill, feeling the awkwardness between them creep back in. What had happened? Alexis trembled when she recalled how his soft hair had felt in her fingers. She had held him in her arms. She had agreed to stay, when just that morning she had wanted nothing more than to be rid of him and all the pain and embarrassment that came with the feelings he stirred up inside of her. How could she have done this?

Will shot nervous glances out of the corner of his eye at the girl walking beside him, and marveled that she was still there. He had been so angry before. Angry at her on top of everything else, so what had she done? She had made him, for a little while, forget all of it. How?

"Will?" Alexis hesitantly broke the stifling silence.


"Do you think you could do something about my shoulder?" She blushed deeper, holding the needle and thread still attached.

"Oh, right, sorry, yes!" Cursing his ignorance, he picked up the needle, sighed, and dropped it again. "You should probably sit down."

Alexis grimaced, recalling that this was going to hurt, and nodded, starting off in the direction of the camp. She stopped and turned, realizing that he wasn't following her. "Will, we can't hide from them forever."

He sighed, looking back to the tree they had sat under. "What if he doesn't let me back?"

"Will, I saw the look on his face. There's nothing you can do to make him stop caring about you. It was just an argument. They happen all the time. You scream, you fight and cry, and, if you plan it right, you go back to the way things were and forget about it." The words sparked on her tongue. Was this truth, or mere wishful thinking?

"And what if he doesn't let you back?" Will asked, in a tone more bitter than he had intended.

"What if he doesn't?" She stared at him, praying for and fearing his answer. This could be her last chance at freedom.

Will was silent, floundering in surprise when the question was flung back at him. He knew his answer, but was it too soon to give it? Could he trust her, trust himself?

Sighing, and unsure whether to be disappointed or grateful, Alexis waved for him to follow. "We'll never know if we don't try." She turned and continued up the hillside.

"Alexis." He raced to catch up, taking her hand back in his own. "If you can't come back, then—"

"Please. Don't make promises you can't keep." She stopped him with a look, her words whispered and gentle. This wasn't a reprimand, this wasn't meant to make him feel guilty. It was an honest plea. "Now, come on, let's just see what they have waiting for us."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chapter 24 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis struggled up the hill as Will yanked her behind him, his grip biting into her wrist, restricting circulation. She watched in silence as he helplessly flailed his arms in anger, wanting to strike at something, but, seeing his cousin's blood on his knuckles, realizing the horrible thing he'd done. Controlling himself, he turned back to where she stood breathless and worried. "Will..."

"I need to fix your arm. Let me finish." His voice creaked as he walked back to her, and she could see the tears falling fast and bright down his twisted face. Picking up the needle which dangled painfully from the string in her wound, he tried to continue what he had been doing, but his hand trembled visibly, shaking and crashing about despite all his efforts to control it. His breathing was haggard and choked by sobs.

"Will, stop!' She pulled away, feeling the anger boil beneath his skin. Her heart raced, and, for a brief instant, he saw the fear flash in her eyes.

"Let me help you!" He screamed, grabbing her arm. "Just let me help!" He ran a hand through his hair as the words tripped over sobs. "I-I'm so tired of people getting hurt for my benefit..." His voice faded and he dropped his hand. But it wasn't over yet.

He walked up to a tree and began beating it again and again and again, screaming, the tears falling faster, until the skin of his knuckles pulled back to the bone and he doubled over, falling to his knees in the snow, shutting his eyes as his anger began to melt and he could feel the cold snow sinking into his skin.

Alexis watched with wide eyes. What should she do? His broken cries made her heart quiver and ache. He was supposed to be the strong one. She was so weak; how could she possibly help? He lay motionless, exhausted and drained, tears slipping down the bridge of his nose.

His passion was gone, and all that was left was the throbbing pain, which, after reaching fever pitch, had receded back to its endless, dull ache. Alexis. Robin. His parents. Through the iciness chilling the hot trails of his tears, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a distant, gentle voice in his ear.

He had never seen such softness in her eyes. "You need to stop."

 His shoulders shook as he wiped his eyes and low, moaning cries filled the silent winter morning.

"Tell me about it." Alexis knelt beside him in the snow, slowly, hesitantly stroking his back, nervously twining her fingers in his hair, remembering how her mother used to sooth her own frequent fits of rage. "Tell me why you're angry."

"I am a terrible person." Will whispered, staring at the white blanket draped across his knees.

"No, you're not."

"I am. After all I did, to them, to you... All Robin ever did was try to help me, and now look what I've done."

"But that's not the reason." Why was she doing this? How was she doing this? Why was it permitted? He should hate her, should slap her away or beat her, not the tree. But he knelt there, accepting her presence, after all she'd done. This was what he'd wanted, she supposed. Here she was, staying by his side when she could have run, but why? Why did he want her when all she did was hurt him?

"No, it's not." He breathed, feeling her light touch on his cold skin. He wondered if this was a dream. "Alexis..." He turned to her, eyes shattered and pleading, his bloody hand resting on hers. "Please, stay. Please."

She felt his gaze in hers, his hand in hers, his heart in hers. Taking a shaky breath, she pushed aside all the voices crying inside her to not be a fool, telling her that this was the path to ruin. All the voices ceaselessly crying why, why, why? Because right now, it wasn't about her. Will was hurt and it was her fault, and she couldn't live with another weight on her conscience, certainly not one so unbearably heavy. This was his request, and, though she couldn't understand it, she had been the cause of enough disappointment. "Alright." Her lips trembled as she spoke. "Alright, I'll stay. For now, for as long as you need."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chapter 23 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Adam stumbled into the icy morning sunshine, blinking against the gleam of the snow. His head ached, partly from the still-tender bump growing on it, and partly because he hadn't slept well the night before. He'd squirmed in and out of the covers, too hot, too cold, too scared, too guilt-ridden.

Had he been right to leave Alexis alone in there with Will last night? Seeing her hurt had filled him with a wave of nausea. Her ragged face and empty eyes had held him back, even as they begged him to stay, staring into his soul, telling him that this was all his fault. And the worst part? The worst part was he knew that she didn't blame him.

Why was he doing this to himself? It wasn't his fault. He hadn't known. He'd spent all night trying to convince himself of this, but, no matter how he tried, his heart would not let him forget.

Now he found the fire blazing happily, a stark contrast to the sullen pair crouched on a log beside it. Alexis was huddled as far from Will as possible, biting her lip against the pain whilst he ran a thin, hot needle through her shoulder, stitching up the wound with a look of indifference clouding the hurt in his eyes.

Another stab of guilt. Smothering a groan and realizing it was too late to turn back and hide, since they had already seen him, Adam sidled up awkwardly and watched as Will worked. "Doesn't that hurt?"

"No." Alexis said quickly.

"Yes." Will replied simultaneously. They shared a brief glare and went back to sulking.

"Alright then..." He scratched his head and looked about, hoping desperately for the presence of another person to ease the palpable tension in the air. His wish was granted, in a fashion, when the icy crunching of footsteps brought into view a tired, dirty Robin. "Damn." Adam winced, seeing the annoyed look in the man's eye as he approached. "Morning." He ventured hesitantly. He should have stayed in bed.

Robin nodded a curt acknowledgement. His eyes were red and heavy, his lips twitched with agitation. "Ah. She's still here." He noted, glancing at Alexis.

"Is there a problem?" Will asked, an edge to his voice as he looked up.

"Evidently not." The answer was less than satisfactory.

"Good." With that said, Will turned back to his work, jabbing the needle too deep and making Alexis break her vow of silence. "Sorry."

"So, where's my breakfast then?" Robin asked, determined not to be ignored. "Surely she can cook, right?"

Will stiffened. Alexis drooped. "Excuse me?" He rose to his feet in an instant as she buried her face in her good hand.

"Everyone in this camp must earn their keep. We've been needing someone to do the woman's work around here. Surely she can handle that?" Robin watched with sick pleasure as his cousin's eyes brightened and his nostrils flared.

"She doesn't have to do a thing unless I say so!" Will pushed his cousin back with more force than he knew he possessed.

"Oh, really? I'm sorry, I didn't know you suddenly held so much control. Last I checked, I made the decisions around here. My mistake, your highness." Robin sneered this remark, dropping low in a mocking bow. His mistake indeed. In a second, he was on his back, nose broken and bleeding from the punch that Will had hurled.

"Stop!" Alexis rushed towards them, but Adam held her back. You'll only make things worse." He whispered, locking his arms tightly about her waist.

"I'm sick of it!" Will screamed, chest heaving. "I'm sick of everyone telling me what to do, of making my decisions for me. I'm sick of being told to step aside, to trust you, of being made to feel like a child! I'm not a child anymore." He yanked Robin by the collar till they were face to face. "You want to take all of it from me, to punish me and make me miserable, saying it's for my own good, but the truth is, you simply can't handle the fact that I am a free human being, not some slave you can order around, not some infant for you to protect."

Robin allowed himself to be punched again, feeling his head spin as he fell a second time, blood smeared across his whole face. The ground rolled beneath him, and his bottom lip was split deep to his chin. He could have had Will on the ground in his stead, beaten to a pulp, begging for mercy through a toothless mouth, but Robin simply lay there, flinching more at the words than the blows. "Are you through?" He asked, spitting out a mouthful of blood.

Will drew back his fist to attack again, but after a moment of deliberation, lowered it, all the while cursing his own weakness. Biting back a scream, he turned away and stormed off into the woods, grabbing Alexis's wrist and dragging her behind him.

"Hey—" Adam began to protest, but a look from Alexis silenced him.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chapter 23 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis awoke to a dull ache in her shoulder and the strange sensation of sleeping in a different place. "Oh, heavens, why?" She cursed herself, remembering all that had transpired the night before and realizing that sooner or later, she would have to go out there and face Will. He certainly hated her now, if he hadn't before. Once again, she felt the intense urge to run. And why not? She'd done it before. Maybe no one was awake yet. Perhaps she could just slip out again. After all, who would be surprised? Who would miss her? Nobody. She could be free again.

Standing up carefully, she stepped on something soft. Picking it up, she realized it was a thin cotton tunic, and beneath that a slim pair of wool trousers, enfolded in a heavy green cloak. "Oh, right." Alexis fondled the soft, clean fabric with longing, shivering involuntarily as a morning draft danced across her bare arm and she looked down at the last tattered shreds that made up her dress. She recalled the icy stroke of the knife all along her arm as it sliced the sleeve. He'd brought her these, she realized, pressing the warm new clothes to her face and breathing a silent thank you into them.

She undressed quickly, her dress falling to the floor in a dirty pile at her ankles. The cold air twined about her bare, white frame and her teeth chattered as she stepped into the leggings. She sighed audibly as they settled thick and warm about her legs. She took a few hesitant steps and laughed softly. Never had she felt so much freedom. This was true luxury.

Alexis nearly leapt out of her skin when the door opened behind her. Whipping about, she saw Will standing dumb-founded in the doorway. He  blushed bright red and lowered his eyes. She cowered before him and turned away, her hands clutching the still folded shirt across her chest. Her bony, porcelain back stretched before him, deformed by terrible scars and bruises. A canvas of blue, yellow and red. He glanced at it in spite of himself, and his heart ached to think of how much pain she must be in.

Alexis's mouth hung open, but, try as she might, no sound would come out. Furiously she tried to pull on the shirt, and biting a cry as she realized it was impossible to dress with her wounded arm.

"You were going to run again, weren't you?" The question burned like a hot coal in both their hearts. Will set his jaw as he firmly took the fabric from her hands and settled it about her, waiting to be answered.

Her mind raced as she realized how much worse she had just made matters. "Will—"

"After all of this. All I've done, I only wanted to help you. I wanted..." His voice faltered to a stop. "Why? Why do you do this?" He was desperate to know now, and, having adjusted the shirt over her neck, he whipped her about to face him, catching a glimpse of the terror in her eyes before it dissolved into anger.

"Who are you to control me? So, you saved my life. Well, I seem to recall a pack of well-armed soldiers that would have torn you to shreds if I hadn't been there. So we're even. You have no obligation towards me! Just let me leave." The words meant almost nothing to her now. She had no plan, no valid objection to doing as he asked, all that spurred her on was the only instinct she had left: retreat.

"Let me look at your arm."

"No! You've done enough, now let me go! I'm not going to be anyone's prisoner. Not again. Not ever again." The tears burned and slipped through her weakened defenses. She turned away, ashamed of them.

"I don't want you to be a prisoner. I'm not trying to control you; all I want is to help you! Why can't you accept that and let me?" He pulled her back to him and searched her tear-stained face.

She saw then. She saw now, in his frightened, worried, gentle gaze, that he didn't hate her. That try as he might, he never could. "Because I don't deserve your help."

He straightened and stepped back, releasing her. "What?" His voice quivered with pained fury, and she saw that she had hurt him in a way she never had before. "You have no idea— You have no right to decide what a person does and doesn't deserve."  The look in his eyes hardened from soft concern to tortured, raw heartache. "Please, I need to take care of your arm, or it will never heal properly." He voiced his request in a heartless, cold tone.

Speechless in the realization of her wrong, of how awful she had made things, all Alexis could do now was nod, eyes cast down, shoulders hunched in defeat. "What have I done?" She groaned inwardly.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chapter 22 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis watched Adam leave, confused and dismayed, faced with the idea of being alone with Will again. The silence in the room was oppressive, weighing on her chest till she could hardly breathe.

"Well, he's a supportive one." Will scoffed, resuming his bloody task.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Alexis asked, too quickly and too loudly. She knew exactly what he meant, but wasn't about to admit that she had been abandoned by the one person she'd expected to understand.

"Look, I'm in no position to judge whatever sort of a relationship you two have, but one would assume that he might be a little more concerned about your welfare than that." Will talked as he carefully cleaned the wound, feeling her muscles tense each time he touched her, knowing it was more a reaction of hostility than pain.

"He trusts you." She grimaced, bracing herself against the sting of the wet rag and the soft movements of his fingers.

"Oh, that's a good one." Will laughed unpleasantly. "He has no reason to trust me. Though, to be fair, he has even less reason to trust you." The last words were black with bitterness.

"What I said back there, before he woke up—" Alexis began, rising quickly to her defense.

"Was a mistake, right? You don't need to explain yourself." Will cut her off quickly, pressing the rag a little too deep into the gash and making her cry out.

"Fine then, I won't." She hissed, becoming increasingly annoyed with his attitude and the sharp pain now throbbing through her shoulder.

"The cut is infected and your arm is broken. I'll need to clean this again tomorrow, and then I'll sew it up. For now, do not sleep on this or attempt to move it in any way." He said curtly, wrapping the limb in a strip of white cloth and loosely tying it across her neck. "We're done here, yes?"

"Of course, if you're going to be such an ass about it!" Alexis spat at him. She was sick and tired of being made to feel guilty.

Will stopped in his tracks, straightening. The last straw snapped. "I'm... The ass?" He whipped about and advanced until his breath and the heat of his anger was all she could feel. But she refused to fear him. "I'm the ass?"

"Yes," She returned, meeting his burning glare and pushing aside the thick waves of pain spreading farther and farther across her body. "You're the one who couldn't leave me alone. You simply had to meddle. To bring me here and try to hold me against my will, to drag out secrets that were meant to stay in the past, and now you hate me for them. You hate me for things you had no right to know about me, things that I tried to protect you from, and still you brought me back. Why? Is this all really just a way to feed your ego? You want to chain me up here and pet me like some pathetic animal to make you feel good about yourself?" Her voice shook, spread thin to the breaking point, cracking into a spider web of glass.

The words fell on Will like an avalanche, but the cold didn't reach his heart before he declared, "Your safety became my business when I saved your life, and I was not the one who pulled your sins out into the light. You were the one who refused your only chance of survival, your last chance of being accepted and respected like a human being, and for what? So that you could run and hide, skulking in the dirt, alone with your lies. You made yourself into the animal, not me!" His eyes glistened in the last shreds of sunset peeking through the cracks in the wall, and his voice dropped, weighed down by the defeat in his words as he looked at his lost cause, seeing her shrink further inside herself even as he spoke. She would never allow herself to be loved; he saw that now. He backed off, blinking at the ground.

"If I am so despicable, so horrid and weak in your eyes, then why did you save me? Why couldn't you just let me die?" Her voice broke, the spider web shattering into a million fragments, but she furiously blinked back the tears she could not let him see, and held her ground even as she felt it crumbling beneath her feet.

"You don't get to ask that question." Will whispered, his anger gone. He backed off, feeling exhausted and hollow, letting her have her empty victory. "Get some sleep. Please, just stay here for tonight." He begged now as he made his way out, all the while wanting nothing more than to take her in his arms, to hold her close and whisper the answer to the question in her ear until it made its way into her heart, until she dreamt about it and accepted it as truth. Instead, he turned away and shut the door.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chapter 22 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"Come with me." Will wasted no time in taking Alexis roughly by the arm and leading her into a hut. "She's injured. Start boiling some water, and I'll need clean bandages." He threw the orders over his shoulder before ducking in after her.

"Let go of me." Alexis whispered, jerking away too quickly and crying out as she landed on her wounded shoulder.

Will knelt to help her up with a sigh. "I need to look at your arm."

She felt his grip around her, his warm breath on her skin, his cold blue eyes looking into her, knowing what never should, and yet, ignorant of so much. Her head swam and her legs wobbled. Everything came back to her. All that had occurred, whipping through her head and inflicting deep, searing cuts. She had confessed her feelings only hours before. The first true thing she'd ever said to him.

Now, with nothing but calculating coldness in his gaze, he reached out and began to tear the blood-stained dress from her shoulders.

"Hey!" Adam rushed in from where he'd been watching by the door. His nostrils flared as he charged Will and threw him against the wall with so much force that it shook and a shower of dirt fell from the roof. "Back away, mate."

"She's wounded and, besides Robin, I'm the only man in this camp with medical experience. But if you know how to clean, bind and set a broken arm, then by all means, be my guest." Will returned sharply, stepping aside with a sarcastic tilt of his head. His eyes were ice and his teeth were clenched. He was not going to take anything from anyone tonight.

Adam looked at the girl and gulped. "Please," She mouthed in desperation. His palms began to glisten with sweat. "You do it. But I'm watching." His voice shook as he took his place by the entrance.

He couldn't look at Alexis's disappointed, haggard face as she battled with the sharpening pain, the frayed emotions, and the subtle terror claiming her body.

"Thanks." Will rolled his eyes and continued his work. He gently tugged down on the sleeve, but stopped when he saw the thin drop of blood rolling down her chin as she bit her lip against the pain. "Adam, make yourself useful and bring me the water and bandages."

Waiting until they were alone, Will pulled a long, thin knife from the sheath on his belt. Alexis choked on a gasp and felt her eyes widen. "Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you." He explained, the same chilly irritation in his voice. Gently, he slipped the blade beneath her sleeve and quickly cut it away, till the whole bruised, scarred arm hung naked at her side.

"That's the only dress I have!" Alexis cried, blushing a she hurriedly pulled the fabric closer to her chest.

"Well, you'll have to find something else to wear." He replied brusquely, peeling away the stiff red bandage as she cringed. Beneath was a deep, throbbing, infected gash. He breathed in quickly through his teeth, feeling his face twist in sympathy. "You've lived alone all that time like this?"

"I tried to clean it once or twice, but I couldn't reach, and it hurt too much." Alexis explained, guessing by Will's tone that her condition was not ideal.

By now, Adam had returned, bearing the requested items. "Here." He murmured, pushing them into Will's hands and staring at the ground. "They, um, need me out there." And without another word, he turned and left, his face grown pale.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1