Friday, December 20, 2013

Chapter 4 Part 1

"Stupid girl!" Alexis muttered to herself when she was alone. She sank down to the mattress, her head in her hands. "Now what?" She had given herself away. If they hadn't figured it out already, it wouldn't be long. With a sigh, she resigned. Lying down, she thought up a plan, all the while wishing there was an alternative. But it had to be done. She looked up at the thatched roof, blinking back the tears gathering on the ends of her eyelashes. Her thoughts wandered back to Will. She would miss him, against all reason, all odds, she would love him and miss him, and he would never know.

When she heard the last man go to sleep, leaving Allan to keep the first watch, Alexis slipped out from the mattress onto the rough ground. Gathering up the blankets (she had nothing else to keep her warm), she tiptoed through the door, and stood under the clear, silvery moonlight that turned the night into a world of dancing shadows. Allan's back was turned from her and he was lost in thoughts of him and Ellen.

Quietly as possible, Alexis entered Robin's hut, but he wasn't there. Not sure if this was a good thing or not, but in too much of a hurry to care, she swiftly located the leather case of knives and stuffed it into her dress. She turned to go, but something in the corner glinted, catching her eye. It was a bag of gold coffers lying unprotected within her grasp. Her hands twitched to snatch it, her heart raced. That could feed her for a year, it could maybe even buy her freedom. No one would notice...

No. She had already taken too much, and Robin, trustworthy or not, had helped her when she needed it most. She had lost a lot of things in her life, but not her pride. When someone helped you, you didn't stab them in the back. Holding this thought firmly in her mind,she slipped out into the shadows of the forest. 
With one last, lingering look, she swallowed the burning in her throat and faded into the wilderness, the word "Goodbye" left dead and cold on her lips.

In his hut, Will saw her through a crack in the door as she walked past, and he made a move to stop her, but Robin grabbed his sleeve and held him back. After the sound of the girl's footsteps died away, Robin went back to his hut without a word, leaving his cousin to stare at the ground, his heart clouding with anger and pain.

"He was right," He whispered to himself, trying not to think of the way her soft, delicate fame felt in his arms, and how her eyes sparkled when she laughed. "She never loved you, you idiot. It was all a con, just like Robin said." With a bitter sigh, he wiped away an unmanly, stray tear and flung himself onto the mattress.

How was it possible for a girl to win his heart so quickly? And what a girl she was. He mused morosely and sleeplessly over the fact that he might never see her again. He tried to tell himself that she had betrayed him, that she didn't deserve love, but he worried about her despite all this. What if she got hurt out there, or arrested? She was so fragile and young; alone, with no one to protect her. 

Alexis awoke to a curtain of blinding sunlight thrown over her face and the sensation of something digging into her backside. Sitting up and blinking, she turned to glare ruefully at the knotted root that had nestled in between her vertebra all night. For a moment, she didn't know where she was, but looking about her, she remembered. 

After leaving the camp, she had wandered up and down the dark, shadowy paths of Sherwood until exhaustion overtook her and she all but collapsed into the damp, hollow cavity of a tree to sleep. Her dress now smelled of mold and was covered in mulch, but that wasn't the worst of her problems. She was starving again.

After spending so long in the comfortable camp with actual food and regular meals, she had forgotten what it was like to be hungry constantly. "Well, that decides it." She grumbled to herself, moaning in pain as she stood and stretched. "First order of business: food." Picking up the knives, she made her way into the dense foliage, hoping to catch something before the hunger set in too deeply and drained what little energy she had left.

The sun was high in the sky before she found anything edible. With a gasp of delight, she saw just over the ridge where she was waiting, a fat, jumpy rabbit. "Oh, thank you, Lord," she prayed gratefully, drawing the knife back with her good arm and whispering under her breath.

"Wait... Wait... Now!" She released her grip on the blade and it went spinning though the air towards the unsuspecting creature. But, just before the blade struck its target, a clear, shrill blast of a trumpet rang though the air, startling the animal and sending it scurrying away unscathed. Alexis jumped into the underbrush, her hands on her ears. The knife dug into ground as a large, loud hunting party raced by not twenty feet from where Alexis had hidden herself, trembling and frightened.

"You've got to be kidding me," Alexis muttered, picking up her skirts and cleaning off the knife when the riders had passed without noticing her presence at all. "This is pointless." She finally decided. "I'm already a criminal, what have I got to lose but my life? Even that's pretty worthless." Wiping the mud from her face, she marched off in frustration towards Nottingham, too angry and too hungry to worry about the risk.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chapter 3 Part 2

Sitting by the fire, Allan recounted to Alexis for the fourth time his tale of lost love, but she didn't hear a word of it. She stared into the heart of the blaze, her eyes glazed over in a mist of thought. A certain young man was forefront in her mind, and she considered the way his face lit up when he smiled, how he pushed his dark hair out of his eyes, and how he looked at her, showing genuine concern, like he cared. His blue eyes captivated her; his kind and gentle way delighted her. He was so kind, and no one had ever been kind to her before. She always told people she hated love stories and thought it foolish to be in love, but she could not help entertaining thoughts of Will. 

What could be done? In her weakened state, she had been forced to adjust to current circumstances. Actually, she did more than adjust. She embraced and loved the camp and its busy way of life. She admired the men's jolly outlook and adventurous spirit, loved the freedom of living so far from laws and death and taxes, here under the beautiful trees and among the wild animals. She felt, for the first time in her life, that she belonged. This place was made for her.

And so, it seemed, was Will. Could he possibly feel the same way? There were lots of pretty girls all over Nottinghamshire. Why shouldn't he be in love with one of them? And they had only known each other for five days. Surely she was being a fool. She wanted to believe she was something special. Maybe, just maybe, she was enough for him, but what had she to offer? No money. She couldn't cook a meal to save her life. In the eyes of all the village women, she was a failure. Who wanted an awkward, gruff girl whose only talent was fighting? And now she couldn't even do that. If it weren't for Will, she would be dead, and she hated to a burden. She was probably nothing but a helpless child in his eyes. She didn't even want to think about what he'd do if he learned about her past.

But her heart didn't listen. It kept revisiting the feel of Will's arms, strong and protecting as he carried her. When she was too weak to walk, the sound of his steady heartbeat filled her ears as her head rested against his chest. She was in love, and reason had nothing to do with it.

Just as Alexis was picturing Will pushing a lock of hair out of her face and leaning in, closer, so close, his lips coming to meet hers, she looked up and there he was standing above her, two bowls of stew in his hand. She started and blushed, feeling the full weight of her reflections, embarrassed that their object was now looking at her. Would he ever know?

"Hello? You awake? What's so fascinating about the fire that you'll let me stand here with my arms getting tired? Here, take this." Will placed the meal in her hands and threw her a sidelong glance as he took his seat beside her, stretching out and warming his hands. The weather was getting colder, and the snappy chill in the wind told forebodingly of winter's approach. He had replaced his scarlet kerchief with an equally red scarf bundled snugly about his neck.

Alexis picked up her spoon and was flustered enough to take a mouthful of the steaming stew, burning the inside of her mouth and nearly choking on the hot meat and broth. Will clapped her on the back and asked, "Are you alright? I guess I should have warned you that it's hot. Here, drink this." And he handed her some water.

She took it gratefully, and once she had regained her composure, said, "What 'rich tyrant did you teach a lesson, and what poor, wronged peasant did you avenge,' as you so colorfully put it?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, though, she wondered if she should have let on that she had overheard Will and Robin's conversation.

Will's reply seemed to indicate that she had nothing to fear. He said, "None, really. Gisborne decided to rip apart half of the homes and shops in Loxley, and we helped the people rebuild once the scoundrel left for the castle."

"Gisborne? Why would he do something like that?" But Alexis had to turn away as she said this. She just couldn't meet his eyes.

"He was looking for something stolen from him, but they didn't know exactly what. The thief wasn't found. And one man was cut down where he stood." Robin had answered for Will, as he sat across from them and fixed his piercing gaze on Alexis. She would have had to be deaf or daft to miss the tone of suspicion in his voice.

Alexis choked again, shocked by this bit of news and terrified by the look Robin shot at her. It wouldn't be long before one of them made the connection and realized she was the thief, and now she was responsible for the death of an innocent man. This was never what she had wanted.

"Are you alright?" Will looked worried as Alexis coughed and sputtered. "Something wrong with your throat?"

"Umm, I'm just tired. I've just been out in the cold too long. I think I'll go get some sleep now. Good night," Alexis muttered, springing to her feet and retreating into her hut.

Robin looked at his cousin, raising his eyebrows. Will lowered his gaze and fell to poking the fire.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chapter 3 Part 1

photo by Cheryl Ruffing

Guy tossed and turned, trying to sleep, but how could he? One of his most prized possessions had been stolen by some dirty brat who had managed to get past his idiotic soldiers. Now the body was nowhere to be found and neither were the knives. It hadn't helped that the sheriff was in a less-than-amiable-mood, and had Guy running about all day, so that by the time he could bring some men to search for the knives, it was dark and the corpse was long gone. His irritation slowly gave way to worry.

What if he never got those knives back? And what had happened to the body? Obviously it couldn't just get up and walk away. Had a scavenger of an outlaw taken it? Or worse, had he, with some delusion of being noble — the dirty showoff — made off with it? Robin. Curse him! Guy had hated him since childhood.

Gisborne's mind wandered back to the knives and the memories they held. They had been a gift from his father, a souvenir of happier times. No! He would not think of that. Never look back. That was his motto; and it had served him well for years. Time to focus on the present. In the morning he would get a warrant to search the surrounding villages for the knives. Of course, he would not find them, but no one must know that he had been successfully robbed by a girl. Plus, terrorizing the villagers might be enough to draw that reclusive Robin out of his hideaway in the forest.


Days passed and, while Alexis began to regain the meager strength she had had before, Robin and Will again and again pestered her with questions about who she was, what had happened, where she lived. She stubbornly answered none of these. She kept her mouth shut but her eyes open. She was now well enough to come out of her hut and sit around the fire, watching the men go about their daily life — if one could call it that —  underneath the Sherwood. She saw them come back to the camp with armloads of treasures and food and drink and other comforts, and news of the sheriff's latest wrongdoings. Whenever there was such news, a group of them, always led by Robin, would leave the camp with their stolen goods, and many weapons, and some hazy idea of a plan.

Sometimes Will would stay to keep her company, when he and his lithe body and dead aim were not needed. Other times she was left in the care of Allan, a man strong enough in body, but rather light-headed and forgetful, he could never focus on the task at hand. Alexis soon found the reason for this: he had a sweetheart. How many nights had he bored her to death with confusing and unrealistic descriptions of his paramour's perfection? Her eyes: they were like stars! Her mouth, a red ripe apple, crisp and sweet at the same time. Her laugh sounded like it was that of a fairy. The only thing more ridiculous to Alexis's ears than these fantasies was the their object's name. Ellen. The idea of Ellen and Allan was so perfectly sappy that she actually groaned the first time time she heard it.

And each night, Allan's voice would crack as he told once again how cruelly they had been separated by her unjust father, who would never allow his daughter to marry a fanciful musician with naught but a lute to his name. Again and again he mourned his having to be apart from her for even a moment, and it seemed like an eternity since he had last seen her. He recounted with much embellishment his being framed for wooing another man's bride.  Him, love anyone else! Could Alexis believe that? No, she would obligingly shake her head. No, she could not. He had been accused of making love to some Earl or other's fiancĂ©. The inhumanity of it all! Allan had been forced to seek refuge in the woods to avoid hanging, and had found his place among Robin Hood's men as a minstrel. He believed that he and Ellen were somehow destined to live happily ever after, but Alexis couldn't see it happening.

Alexis had no need for romance. She knew it was the stuff of fairy tales, nothing but goodwill and unrealistic dreams. Life was hard enough on one person — why support another person's sorrows as well?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chapter 2 Part 2

Alexis breathed sharply and quickly through her nose, hating Will and his friends more and more with each crunching step that approached the hut. What could she do now? She was defenseless, weakened. Bracing herself, she turned to face the door as it opened slowly, and a man stepped into the hut, firelight pouring in through the doorway behind him, outlining his tall, chiseled silhouette, and concealing his face in blackness. Alexis was prepared for some malicious deceit, or even just a sword through her heart, but was startled when he spoke with a voice that was kind and gentle.

"Don't let him fool you. He's just like Will, trying to calm you down so you won't struggle," Alexis told herself. He came and knelt by the bedside, and she saw a darkly handsome man, maybe in his twenties, with hair a bit longer than Will's, and a well-trimmed beard covered the lower part of his face. His voice was low and strong, his eyes twinkled with a look of merriment.

"Hello," he whispered, placing his hand lightly on her chin and turning her face toward the light. "You had quite a fall earlier, so it appeared. Have you been well cared for in my absence? Will likes to pretend he knows what he's doing, but... "

Alexis said nothing, but looked at him through anger-filled eyes. If he made any sudden movements, she would spring, refusing to go down without a fight.

The stranger sensed her hostility and withdrew his hand. "Well, not much of a talker I see. How did you end up with that arrow in your back? A little run-in with the sheriff?" He continued, staring back. But what a stare! He seemed to look into her very soul, as if he knew already what she had done. His gaze was not cruel, but sharp, and it weighed upon her like a rock.

Alexis looked at the floor, and stammered, "I'm f-fine." She took a deep breath, regained her courage, and defiantly pronounced, "I don't have to tell you anything."

"No, you don't, but then I can't help you."

"Help me? You want to kill me. You're no better than that sheriff. You'll steal from me, then kill me. I know who you are — thieves, murderers. How will you help me? Will you ease my suffering, then help yourselves to anything I've left behind?"

"You think we want to kill you? I am Robin Hood! I don't kill anyone but in self-defense. And steal from you? What have you got that I could possibly want?"

"If you are Robin Hood, I want proof. For all I know, you could be some band of impersonating vagabonds."

"I'll prove it, but not until you can leave this hut, and I will not kill you." Robin reached out to touch her gently, but pulled his hand back, knowing she'd recoil. In a soothing, tender tone — so unfamiliar to Alexis's ears, Robin said, "Trust me, please. And get some rest. I'll make sure my men stay away. If you need anything, just call for me or Will." Robin turned to go, but not before taking a peek at the girl's wound. Assured that she was alright, he left the hut, knowing that what she needed most was time to rest and time to trust.

Alexis watched him leave the hut, glaring the whole time. Once his dying footfalls convinced her that he had left her alone (at least for the time being), she let out a long, deep sigh, and settled back down as best she could, trying to blink back the tears that sprang to her eyes. Haunted by thoughts of what her captors might do to her, she found it hard to sleep.

Outside, the men all paused in their work to look up as Robin emerged. "She will stay with us until she is well again. Then we will find her a new life. She's no different than the others we've helped." These were his words, but in his heart, he knew they weren't true. He had never known a female to be shot without a trial, and he had never seen anyone so young punished in such a way. What had she done to warrant this? She did not look like a criminal. She was scared, and it was all too evident that she had been tossed around by life pretty badly. He'd had no reports of murder, no stories of any great heists. The girl was a waif, most likely a thief, but if she had stolen money, where was it? Why hadn't she just been turned over to the sheriff? What had she done?

"Cousin?" Robin was awakened from his musings by the touch of Will's hand on his shoulder. "Can I talk to you in private?" He looked troubled.

"Of course." Robin replied, leading him up a hill at the far end of the clearing. They were about halfway to the top when Robin turned to Will. "I was just about to ask you a few questions myself," he said.

"It's about the girl."

"Go on."

"When I was dressing her wound, I... found this. It fell out of her dress." Will handed the pouch to Robin, and as he opened it, the light of the torch Will carried shone upon the crest. Robin shared a substantial look with his young cousin and let out a long, low whistle. It was one thing to steal a loaf of bread, but a person had to be incredibly bold or incredibly foolish to steal from a man as ruthless as Guy of Gisborne.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chapter 2 Part 1

Alexis felt  herself blink her eyes, but still she saw nothing. Her senses, at first hazy, were slowly beginning to return to their natural sharpness. She noticed a dim light somewhere not too far from her, and she also realized she was lying in a bed, not in the bottom of a ravine, and — this realization the most amazing of all — that she was not dead. Awaking in a strange place, especially since she had expected never to wake again in this world, her first instinct was to fight. Her numb and feeble fingers reached for the knives that should have been where she had tucked them into her dress. Finding them gone, she became increasingly alarmed, and bolted upright.

This was not a very good idea. A surge of unbearable pain set her shoulder on fire, and she shrieked. It was a breathless, hoarse and feeble shriek, but it did not escape the ears of Will Scarlet. Alexis forced herself to lie down again, panting heavily and clutching her shoulder. Her head throbbed, she felt faint and dizzy, and she would have been sick if there had been anything in her stomach. But she had not eaten for three days, and it was taking a toll on her already over-worked body. She closed her eyes, genuinely terrified, for she knew she might have to defend herself and that she was not physically capable of doing so in any way.

The surf of an imaginary ocean pounding in her head, drowned out the footsteps of Will, as he quickly strode to her side. His appearance beside her justified another, startled scream when she opened her eyes. "Don't be frightened," he said, "I won't hurt you. Just try to relax."  His voice was soft and gentle and his blue eyes radiated sympathy. "I'm afraid that shoulder will trouble you for awhile, but just try to ignore it."

Alexis took in his handsome, clean-shaven face, topped with short, black hair, as he smiled reassuringly at her. She stole a glance at his trim but muscular frame, liked what she saw, but was not ready to trust him — or anyone else, for that matter — just yet.

"I'm not afraid." Was her short and cold reply. Her eyes searched his for some trace of deception or evil intent, but she found none. All she could see was concern.  But why did he care about her? No one ever had before, maybe with the exception of her family.

"Of course."

"Who are you and where am I?"

"Later, later. You've had quite a day. Get some rest. There will be plenty of time to talk when the gang gets back."

"No, I want answers. I'm fine," Alexis argued, struggling through a wave of dizziness. She could not sit, could not even move her head, the pain was so great. But she would never rest easy until she knew where she was, who he was, and why she was here.

Will sighed in submission. "Well, my name is Will, Will Gamwell. But my friends call me Will Scarlet, because of this thing." He tugged on the crimson kerchief tied loosely around his neck. He had hoped to amuse his questioner with this small fact, but she did not laugh. "You are an honored guest," continued Scarlet, shrugging off the insult of not being found funny, "in the camp of none other than the infamous Robin Hood Himself." He gestured grandly to the space around them, but all Alexis could see from her bed were the dark inner walls of the hut and a small gleam of firelight showing through the doorway.

"Right, and the Loxely butchery is actually Camelot," was her sarcastic reply.

"Look, you asked for answers and I gave them to you. Whether you believe them or not is your problem," Will said, but then, softening his voice at seeing the pain in her eyes, asked if she would like anything to eat. He very gently and slowly helped her into a sitting position, as she held back the cries which leaped to her throat, for she would rather die than appear weak. She simply nodded her head, hoping he did not detect the desperation brought on by her hunger. Perhaps while she ate, she'd even be able to get some answers out of him.

Alexis refused to let Will feed her, choosing — instead — to eat his proffered bowl of soup with one hand, balancing it in her lap, her back leaning against the wall of the hut. With the first sip, Alexis's mind cleared a bit, and she was ready with more questions. But before she could ask any, the sound of laughter and heavy feet crunching on the autumn leaves filled the clearing. Meeting his gaze with terror in her own, Alexis opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a sound, Will was turning away, with a quiet, "It's OK. I'll be right back."

From outside the hut, she heard more laughter and more than one deep voice addressing the man who thus far (she had to admit), had been most kind to her.


"There y'are, lad!"

"Come, give us a hand!"

"That merchant had a lot of gold on 'im."

"Aye, it was a rum good catch, it was."

"What's for dinner? Smells good."

"Where's Robin? He back yet? And why are you here, instead of in Loxley with him and the rest?"

"Robbers!" thought Alexis, "probably cutthroats. They must've taken the knife pouch. Now they'll kill me for sure!" She looked around in a panic, knowing full well she was trapped. But the sound of Will's voice, low and whispering, calmed her. She couldn't make out what he was saying. His words, though, seemed to have a similar effect on the men outside. All their voices became hushed. "He must be telling them about me," she thought.

A moment later, their whispering was abandoned when someone else barreled into the camp with a boisterous, "Hello, blokes."

Shouts of "Hey!" and "Here he is now!" and "Robin!" filled in the air in reply.

Alexis tensed, pulling her fingers into fists, ready to fight to the end. She knew she wouldn't last long. What could one weak, defenseless girl do against a whole gang of dangerous full-grown men? She breathed deeply, trying to calm herself, but when she heard the shuffling of feet outside her door, she panicked. "Cruel," she thought, "Cruel of Will to trick me like that. Cruel to play with my mind, to almost make me trust him, just so he and his stupid friends can turn around and murder me. Or worse."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chapter 1 Part 2

photo by Cheryl Ruffing

A group of five men, each bearing food, blankets and money, made their way down the path to Loxley, as Sherwood became immersed in the shadow and mystery of twilight. The sun had all but disappeared upon the horizon, and the first stars were beginning to light the pink sky, which was slowly mixing with the deep purple of night. But as it went down, the sun cast a small beam of light on the bottom of the ravine opposite the men, illuminating the gaunt figure of a girl, curled up piteously, and so covered with the lately-fallen autumn leaves, that she was easy to miss, and it was by pure chance that the leader of the group, a man well known throughout Nottinghamshire as Robin Hood, happened to look down as the sun shone on her frail body.

"Look!" he shouted, pointing to where she lay. "What is that?"

"Looks like a body."

"Has that blasted Gisborne killed another one?"

"I think it's a woman!"

These were just a few of the men's conjectures as they looked down the path's slope. "Well come on then, let's find out,” said Robin, as he laid down the goods he carried and began sliding down the path's side. His men, ever faithful, soon followed.

"She's just a girl!" cried Will Scarlet, Robin's cousin, as he leaned down to brush the long, snarled, mud-caked hair out of her face.

Robin felt her pulse and put his ear to her chest, and, to his amazement, heard a faint beat. "She's alive!" he cried. "Barely, but alive just the same."

"We have to get her back to the camp," replied Will. He gently picked her up, revealing a large pool of blood and a sharp stone where her head had been. An arrow jutted out of her shoulder, and she weighed almost nothing in his arms.

"But what about the villagers? We can't let all them people starve on account of one girl who may or may not last the night. It'll be completely dark by the time we get her to the camp and come back here. Gisborne and his guards will be back and we'll have no chance to get this food passed out," argued another man, this one abnormally tall, and very strong, clutching a heavy wooden cudgel. His name, a misnomer given him by his companions because it struck them as terribly funny, was Little John.

"How about you lot go ahead to Loxley, and I'll bring her back to the camp. I'll get her cleaned up and start supper," replied Will.

The men agreed to this, and, with Robin in front, as always, scrambled back up to the path and continued on their way to the village, while Will turned and walked back in the direction whence they came.

As he walked, Will became more and more troubled over what had happened to the girl lying limp in his arms. The arrow was clearly one of Gisborne's, and she had obviously been left for dead. But what had she done to warrant such a terrible punishment? Gisborne and the sheriff were anything but fair — this he knew from experience — but killing a woman, and a very young one at that (for Will guessed her to be at least two years younger than himself, who had just turned seventeen) was even more wretchedly cruel than normal. And she was so thin, nearly starved. Poor child, she must have had a rough time of it.

While lost in these troubling thoughts, Will made good progress, and soon arrived at the camp where he and the rest of the men lived. It was hidden deep in a wide clearing in the forest, surrounded so thickly by trees and so far off the Main Forest Road, that nobody but its inhabitants and a few others knew its exact location. In this clearing was a firepit and many cooking utensils, and a great bunch of rudimentary huts where the men slept. There were a couple of unoccupied ones, so in one of these Will carefully set his load down on the bed made of pine needles and covered her with a thin wool blanket.

But as he did this, a bundle tumbled out of the folds of her dress, landing with a soft thud on the hut's floor. It was a satchel. Will, throwing a questioning glance at the unconscious figure beside him, picked it up and took it out to the pit, where he started a fire to warm up some water for cleaning her wounds. While it heated, he opened the satchel and looked at its contents in the light of the fire, as the sun had, by then, gone down long ago. What he discovered made him catch his breath. A set of silver throwing-knives, the golden handles of which were encrusted with jewels and bearing the crest of Gisborne, glinted at him in the light. "Oh, you naughty girl, you have done something," he whispered, turning his gaze in admiration towards the hut.

The water now heated, Will got some linen and started cleaning the blood from the small gash on the back of her head, propping her up with his strong arm. When he had finished this, he wrapped a bandage around the wound, then gently turning her onto her back, he began to strip the blood-soaked cloth of her brown dress away from her shoulder. She breathed in sharply, and turned her head at this action, but did not wake. After this, he cleaned the blood off, and began, with some trepidation, to pull the arrow from where it was embedded. He was amazed that the pain he must be inflicting did not wake her. She stirred, but her eyes stayed fast shut. Then, applying pressure to stop the bleeding, he bandaged the girl's arm.

This done, Will laid her carefully back down, wrapped her up in another blanket, then went to fix supper for his sure-to-be hungry campmates and ponder how and why this pitiable creature had gotten her hands on those knives, which must be worth a fortune. Who could she be?

As he contemplated, Alexis started to wake up.

Chapter 1 part 1

photo by Cheryl Ruffing

The various peasants and bystanders of Loxley Village paused in their work to watch a spectacle that was, while rare, not altogether unheard of. The object of their gaze was another peasant, this one a thin, grubby girl, maybe in her early teens, running through the village with a pack of the Sheriff's guards on her heels. None of the onlookers tried to stop her; they knew what her fate would be and pitied her. Better not to get involved. They were not likely to be rewarded for turning her in, and besides, she was not the first one to be seen chased by guards. The poverty of the land in which they lived had caused many an honest man, woman or child to turn to some crime or other simply out of necessity, and sometimes there were arrests where there was no crime at all. Just someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. The girl, an orphan by the name of Alexis, though hampered by the long skirts of her ragged dress, was outrunning her pursuers, for her legs were long and she was not weighed down with the heavy armor and weapons that were a necessary part of a guard's uniform. She was running out of breath, but so were the guards. She had already made it far down the narrow path through Sherwood Forest, and its long, sloping sides made it difficult for the large collection of men on her tail. The waif turned to mock them, seeing her near triumph, knowing that soon she could lose them in the dense trees and underbrush of the forest. But the laughter died on her lips at the sight of who had joined the chase. It was Guy of Gisborne, the Lord of Loxley, with an arrow fitted to the bow in his hands, and he was on horseback.

Everyone feared and hated Gisborne, for he watched over his lands with an eagle's piercing gaze, and lorded over the peasants who worked there with an iron grip. What was worse, he was the sheriff's right-hand man, and the tax collector for the whole of Nottinghamshire. If a citizen couldn't pay his taxes, he was turned out of his home or thrown in jail. The former had been Alexis' misfortune. A week ago, she and her brother had been thrown out of their tiny hut, and because he tried to resist, Alexis' sibling had gone to meet his Maker at Gisborne's hand. Alexis had escaped, but after wandering for days without food, she stole a crust of bread. But that wasn't what she was being chased for.

After taking the bread and getting away with it, she felt strangely empowered by the small theft. She got cocky, and started to entertain the idea of revenge on Gisborne for killing the only family she had left. So one day, whilst the evil lord was out doing the sheriff's vile work, Alexis had climbed in to his room through the back window of Loxley Manor, and looked around for something to steal. Money? No, he had plenty of that. She would steal something important to him, something he cared about, and make him know the pain of losing something he held dear. But then, he was a man without a heart. It would be impossible for him to love anything. As she scanned the room her eye fell upon a brown leather satchel, made specifically to hold a pack of gilded throwing-knives, bearing his family crest. Well, they might mean something to him, they had his crest on them, and they might be of use to her, for weapons and cooking and such. Well, just as she had snatched up the knives, a heavy and quick footstep sounded in the hall outside the door.

Alexis jumped behind a tapestry next to the open window just as Gisborne himself appeared upon the threshold. Alexis held her breath, hoping he would soon go away. But no, he looked up and saw the empty peg. He immediately began searching frantically. In his desperation, he pulled back the tapestry, and was completely taken aback at the sight of the little thief. He stood speechless, but Alexis wasted no time. She pushed him aside and dashed out the window. Gisborne regained his balance and shouted to the guards, who were always on the lookout in front of the manor. They started in hot pursuit after the girl, who was by then already in the village.

Now, as she gasped at the sight of the Lord of Loxley riding at full gallop, with his bow drawn and an arrow aimed at her, she stumbled on an unseen tree root, and the arrow was loosed. Alexis felt a horrible, searing pain rip through her shoulder. It took her breath away. She staggered and fell from the path, rolling down its steep sides, the scream of pain that had sprung from her lips as the arrow dug into her left shoulder faded into the dank forest air. She rolled over and over, down, down, down to the bottom of a ravine, where she hit her head on a stone. The world swam before her eyes for a few seconds, then slowly darkened into black nothingness.

Gisborne reined in his horse, and told the guards to see if she still lived. Two of them, an especially fat, lazy and ignorant pair, strode down to where the girl had fallen, looked down to the bottom of the ravine where she lay, stared a few seconds, then turned and said, "She ain't movin' sir. It'd take an act of God to live through a fall or a shot like that, sir." Gisborne rolled his eyes, but turned around and headed back to the manor, to find some smarter, more capable men to search the thief's body for his missing knives.