Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chapter 19 Part 2


photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Tramping through the sunrise-drenched forest was quiet and uncomfortable. Will refused to speak, Alexis could not, and Adam deemed it best not to.

All three nearly jumped out of their skin when Robin swung from above into their path. "I've been looking for you. Will, Adam, Alexis." As they caught their breaths, Robin wasted no time addressing them and assessing their condition, his eye settling on the girl with a condemning look, waiting for her reaction.

Alexis's lips clamped shut and her eyes widened. Everything in her body grew tense as she realized what Robin must know, and filled with an overwhelming urge to run away and not stop until all of this was behind her, but was hindered by Adam's strong arms wrapped about her. Also, she thought ruefully, she'd tried to do so before, and where had that gotten her?

She dropped her gaze, sensing the challenge in Robin's eyes and cowering. She was now entirely in their hands, and they could sway her fate whichever way they pleased with no obstacles. She felt sick.

"How did you know her name? I never told you this was her." Adam demanded in confusion.Why was Robin using the girl's name as a weapon? And, why, he wondered for the hundredth time, had Alexis kept her identity a secret?

"I know a lot of things about her now." To Alexis's astonishment, the malice drained from Robin's voice, and he only sounded weary, as if the knowledge of her past was a heavy, unnecessary burden. In that moment, Alexis saw that he understood. He knew exactly how she felt.

And yet, there remained something in his eye, in the powerful command of his personality, and the cunning, scheming nature of his mind, that filled her with more distrust than she had felt before. What had she gotten herself into?

"But we can talk about that later. The three of you have been very much missed back at the camp, and I'm glad to have found you. You must be cold and tired, and Alexis," The name tasted strange on his tongue, "I can only imagine your condition. Please, if you will, allow me to lead the way." Robin cast another glance at his cousin, who was staring back at him with the same anger as he had before, diluted only by a tinge of curiosity. Stifling a sigh, he led them on, retracing his steps back to the camp, trying to decide what to do, and if any of it could bring back the trust of the two people he loved most. Judging by the look on his cousin's face, it didn't seem likely.

"Alexis, what is going on?" Adam whispered earnestly into the girl's ear, looking about him suspiciously.

She could not reply. Her mind and heart were racing as she asked herself the same question. What was going on? And what would Robin do to her? How much did he know? And would he tell Adam? She felt guilty for keeping secrets even from him, and she thought she would tell him eventually, but he wasn't ready. What would happen when he found out, and from someone else?

She looked at Will, who kept his gaze locked straight ahead, trying to remove her from his vision and his heart, and she couldn't blame him. These people were the only ones still living that had ever cared for her in any way, and now even they would be taken from her by something that had happened long ago, something she had never been able to control. The winter air about them was bitterly cold, but she felt none of it, even as the icy wind bit and whipped her cheeks till they turned a bright scarlet.

Shutting her eyes against the torrents of panic and nausea that threatened to drown her, too scared and too hurt to cry, she considered once again if it would have been better if she'd stayed in that dungeon, if she'd gone to the scaffold.

Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chapter 19 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Robin revisited the argument a thousand times over, and then over again, as he trudged through the woods, noticing bent leaves and underbrush, wandering more aimlessly than he'd had cause to in a very long time. Had Marion been right?  Had he been so wrong to let the girl leave? Alexis. Her name is Alexis, he reminded himself again. It was a strange sensation, finally being able to put a name to the phantom-like creature that had drifted in and out of his life, leaving destruction and fear in her path. It made her more real, more terrifying.

And now, he knew why she had scared him. In all honesty, yes, he had suspicions regarding her true identity. Certain flickers in the girl's eyes, ways she spoke, the manner she held herself in, all echoed of that man who had once been his general back in the Holy Land. He'd been there, guarding the king's tent, that fateful night. He'd been asleep, Robin remembered with a curse, and he hadn't awoken until the man crept silently past, drawing a sword from it's sheath with a cold, metallic whisper.

Upon hearing that, he woke with a start, leaping to his feet and drawing his own weapon. He remembered afresh all that he had seen in the would-be assassin's eyes, sending chills down his spine. It was so strange, the man's countenance, that Robin spent many sleepless nights envisioning it again and again, for it would never fade from his memory. He still wondered if he had really seen it. Was it merely a product of the lingering wisps of dreams and the shadows of the night, of hastily-summoned adrenaline and fear?

When he shoved the man aside and out of the tent, holding the blade to his throat and alerting the surrounding soldiers, he saw the attacker's face in the moonlight. Terror and hatred was there, two things Robin expected, but also a trace of relief, as if he wanted to be caught. And, most shocking of all, was the man's very identity. General Blaxton was one of the king's most loyal companions and best leaders. All his troops looked up to the brilliant, magnificent, older man. He had been the only father figure Robin had in that place, and it pierced his heart to realize what the man had intended.

In the days after Blaxton's execution, which had been swift and without trial, Robin pushed away the pressing, overwhelming sense that the general wasn't guilty, that he would never do such a thing without a very important reason. Those thoughts were painful and hopeless, along with mournful musings over what might happen to the man's family. They would be shamed and outcast for their father's actions. Blaxton had told him about his wife, son and the daughter he now recognized as the one chased into his camp for stealing to keep herself alive. His predictions had been right, Robin thought grimly. But that was not his fault. What was the point in regretting a death that was come and gone, that could no longer be stopped?

But, in a way, it had been his fault. He could not deny this. He had taken her in needing and helpless and scared, and when she tried to leave, he let her, knowing full well what awaited her outside of the forest. And, once again, he'd been correct in seeing her future.

He looked up now through the softly drifting snow, lit up in pink and gold as the sun rose. He had been searching for Will and Adam for a day now, leaving soon after Marion, knowing he had to do it. He wasn't quite sure if finding them would get her back, but he felt guilty enough, and was beginning to worry about the two boys.

He and Will had had arguments before, but not like this. It had been a long time since Will's heart was this tangled up in anything. The last time, that thing was lost forever, Robin remembered with a grimace, blinking his heavy eyelids and trudging on. Will loved this girl so much, and if she made him happy, Robin knew he could love her too, but he also knew quite well that betrayal ran in her blood.

Amid his troubled thoughts, Robin heard the sound of footsteps, muffled in the deep snow, and that of a single horse's hooves plodding along patiently and slowly. Looking over his shoulder and ascertaining that the sound was approaching from the front, he took hold of a low tree branch and swung himself up into it's frosty boughs, hidden in the white-topped pines. Silently, he drew his bow and waited.

Eventually, the quiet company loomed into view, revealing a man leading the horse with a down-cast face, his dark hair speckled with the new flakes and damp with older, melted ones. Atop the animal sat a fairer-haired lad and a thin girl, sitting erect and rigid in the circle of his arms. Robin breathed a sigh of relief, clambering down from the tree and wondering where on earth they got the horse.

Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter 18 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Alexis turned away with a start, covering her mouth, a bright blush burning her cheeks. Will watched her, his gaze hardening, not moving from where he'd stood, so foolish, so naïve, expecting something that would never commit to being his.

"It... Was you? You were the one that tried to save me? You risked your life to save mine, after everything?" Adam advanced to wear Alexis stood, trembling, mumbling apologies and excuses. He heard none of it, but only wrapped an arm about her waist, pulling her to him and kissing her tenderly, lingeringly, on the lips, feeling her against him in a way so delightfully familiar, he finally realized how much he'd missed her.

Alexis pulled back in shock, but he held her tight and pulled her closer. She remembered this, the way his rested so close to hers, the warmth of his lips, the softness of his held breath. She relaxed, slowly, hesitatingly, eyes flickering shut for a moment as he pulled away and pressed his forehead against hers, smiling into her frightened, troubled face, burning now with guilt as well as embarrassment. "Thank you."

She was speechless. What on earth was she doing? She was just about to... She glanced at Will, who came up and clapped Adam on the back with a smile. "Adam! So glad you're awake. I take it you two know each other?" Alexis saw the pain in his eyes and hated herself.

"Ah, yes, Will, this is my long-lost lover Alexis, the one I've been telling you about." He continued to grasp her waist even as she tried to covertly free herself. "I had my suspicions that it might be you, but... Alexis, can we talk?" His voice softened, looking down at her in a way that would have made her weak in the knees not long ago. Even now she felt her heart stir and rustle.  She looked at Will, but he was now walking down to the creek, his head hanging low.

What had she done? Why had she told him how she felt? And what did this mean? Had he really felt the same way? She was such an idiot. She was supposed to be with Adam, if anyone. It had to be that way, and now she'd only gone and made it harder for both her and Will. "Wait." She pulled herself away and ran after him, calling his name.

He stiffened, visibly cringing, gritting his teeth as he turned to her. "I don't want to hear it. Go back and join your 'long-lost lover.' " He swallowed most of the venom, but some still leaked out into the cold night air.

Adam watched them for a few moments, then shrugged, deciding he owed his friend at lest a few moments of privacy, remembering how worked up about Alexis he'd been before. He wasn't happy with what Alexis had said, what he'd caught them on the verge of doing, but he didn't own her, he recalled as Robin's words echoed annoyingly through his head. But Robin had got Marion back in the end, and he would do the same.

"Will, I—" Alexis hated herself even more. Why had she said that thing? Why had she told him? The words had flown from her mouth carried by some force that was not her own. A spirit, powerful and terrible, had spoken from inside her.

"No. I've heard enough. Everything you say, everything you've told me, has been a lie. And for what? Even that... Reason you gave me was false. You couldn't think of a good one, so you made one up. All I wanted was the truth. It wouldn't have mattered why, I just wanted one true thing from you, and you couldn't even give me that."

"It was the truth. You have to believe me. Please." She pleaded, grabbing at his arm, but he still refused to face her.

"Is this a game to you? Am I no more than a ridiculous little toy that you enjoy dressing up and then tearing apart? Do you find my feelings a game?" He trembled, staring at the hurt, desperate girl in front of him, and despising himself for loving her. If he didn't, it would all be so much easier for the both of them.

"What? No! What I said back there was true. You're right, I've told you a lot of lies, too many, but that wasn't one." She shook her head, a tear trickling down her face as she backed away. "But you don't believe me, you won't. And that's for the best. I don't deserve to be believed, and I don't deserve you." She uttered the last words with a cold, calculated certainty, as if they were a matter of hard fact, unchangeable and awful.

Will felt his anger flicker, but as he turned to look her in the eyes, to try one last time to see if she was lying, she wasn't there, but was walking away, back to the shelter where Adam waited for her.

"Start packing, we're leaving before sunrise!" He called after her, stomping away to clear the camp, feeling burning inside him flare up stronger than before.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chapter 18 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Alexis spent the better part of the evening inside the lean-to, taking care of Adam, wanting to be there if he woke up, trying to think of what to do next. The days were growing colder and harder to endure. The nights were worse, spent huddled by the fire, wrapped in her cloak and shivering from head to foot. And without Will, she wouldn't have any fire. She needed him.

But what would he do when Adam revealed what she was to him? Could she really get away with them being 'just friends'? And what would she do about Adam and his wishes? Would he still want to be with her, and could she ever be with him?

"I hate this." She moaned in the darkness, looking up at the chinked wooden roof, stroking Adam's hand. If Will knows, she mused, he'll know that I lied to him. And why would he help a liar? Why would he help someone he couldn't trust?

Although, she'd never actually lied before this, only kept silent. She hadn't said anything, true or false. "I don't know what to do..." She murmured, looking into the peaceful face of the man sleeping beside her, a face that she had once spent the days of her girlhood dreaming about and smiling at the sight of. A face that made her heart flutter and her world stop.

But now, when she looked at it, all she saw were memories. Memories of pain and loneliness and pointless longing, because through all those times she'd dreamed of him and wanted him, he was gone. He wasn't there when her mother was dying and she waited by her side all day, forced to look into the eyes of a woman who had seen so much, been so much, to so few, and would never be that again. He wasn't there when her brother was cut down in front of her, as she bit back screams, running at full speed, looking back and seeing her his blood pooling and spilling across the filthy ground. She didn't even know what they'd done with his body. She had no grave to visit and weep by, no funeral to say her goodbyes.

And now, despite everything, when she cried out at night, pulling herself from the engulfing, clutching nightmares, it was Will's name that waited on her lips, and the lingering whispers of the feel of his arms about her that gave her the strength to sleep again. It was his face, with those bright blue jay eyes, so soft and gentle, and his brave, strong countenance, promising that all would be well and that she was safe, that she saw in lonesome moments when her mind wandered and her thinking lapsed.

And now, he was there again, right outside the door, just like back at the camp, all those weeks ago. It felt like years. She looked down again, and saw that Adam was breathing peacefully, now only sleeping, and had no fever. She stood up and braced herself, believing that if she spent any longer hiding from him, Will would only grow more suspicious. She cleared her throat and concealed her trembling hands in the folds of her frayed skirt and exited.

He was sitting there on the ground, hands in his lap, staring into the blaze with a distant look on his face that she caught glimpses of in the orange flickers. Flashes of pain and sorrow. He didn't notice her as she looked about, noting the new shelter that had been erected and the newly-slain deer laying on the ground beside the fire, ready to be skinned. "Well, you've been busy." She remarked finally, breaking the silence, but not Will's reverie. He refused to look at her, even as she gingerly took a seat beside him, angry at herself for feeling so embarrassed. "Thank you." She whispered, looking at him, stammering only slightly on the words.

"I had to do it. I can't leave you alone like this, it would be wrong of me." He glared more determinedly at the crackling, licking flames.

"Oh." She breathed, swallowing at the burning that leapt to her throat and continued into her cheeks. What an idiot she was, thinking she could ever have anything with this man. He didn't love her, didn't even like her, and why should he? All he saw in her was a pitiable, helpless creature that served only to inconvenience him, but he continued to help, bound by a sense of honor and duty. Hadn't she known this? Why on earth did she keep fooling herself?

"Adam is feeling much better, and I think he will be well and conscious by morning." Her voice cracked only slightly as she made the remark, turning her attention to the fire as well. Adam had come back for her. Adam still loved her, and maybe, with time, she could rekindle what they once had.

"Good. Do you have anything here that you want to bring with you? We'll leave as soon as he's awake, so you ought to pack now."

"Leave?" She now whipped her head to look at him, incredulous.

"Don't start that argument again. I came here to find you and bring you back to the camp, and that's what I'm going to do. Whatever else happens will happen after that." He now met her gaze to enforce his words, but his eyes were not soft as they had once been, but hard with annoyance and anger, and they were red. He had been crying.

Rage and indignation had risen quickly to her mouth, but when she saw his face and the pain in it, her hot words faltered and slid back down her throat, and she sighed, lowering her own gaze, no longer able to stand the force of his. "Fine, for the time being, I will go with you."

He nodded slightly, quickly. "Let me look at your arm." He demanded.

Alexis glanced at the lifeless limb and pushed her cloak away from it. Will took it gently in his hands, laying it out across his lap as she grimaced and bit back a cry of pain. He looked at it, strangely bent, black and blue, running his fingers along it, pressing here, rubbing there, as she gasped and tears were jerked from her eyes. He worked faster, moving up the arm. Finally, he tore her sleeve off with a jerk, revealing the dirty, blood-drenched, tattered bandage around her throbbing shoulder.

"You idiot." He seethed, looking at her and dropping it unceremoniously, making her cry out as it swung back to her side. He stood up and walked away, running his hands through his hair and turning to look at her. He was more angry than before. His voice trembled and eyes watered. "Why did you do that? Why?"

"Do what?" Alexis asked over the black waves of pain swelling and crashing inside her, beating mercilessly against her head and through her arm. She clenched her teeth against them and struggled to stay awake.

"Why didn't I stop you?" His voice dropped to a whisper, his gaze fell to the ground. Alexis looked at him and saw the guilt and sorrow weighing down his shoulders, oppressing him and making it hard to breathe. It was something she recognized all too well. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a cracked, tainted sigh as the tears fell harder, no longer the result of physical pain. "Will..."

He whipped around again, passion rekindled. "Why did you leave? Why did you let him take you, do this to you? How could you?" He shouted at her, a tear slipping down his face. He wiped it away hastily with a shaking hand.

"I had to. I had to." She rose slowly to go to him, but he turned away from her, trying to regain control, of his emotions, his limbs, his heart. The things that woman did to him...

"Stop lying to me." He breathed, attempting to calm down. "You didn't think, you didn't care. You only thought about yourself.

"I thought about you! All of you, I did it for your protection." She yelled, but found that she was trying harder to convince herself of it than him. "I—I did it because..." She faltered, glancing at the ground and then back at him, feeling her world shake and tumble about her. She felt as though she were standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down, down, down, and could not turn back. The only options were to either fall, or fly. "Because I love you." Her feet left the edge, and she waited in the air, hanging on his words. "Because I love you, and I couldn't handle that. And you were learning. Learning about me, and if you know, then..." He took her hand, pulling her to him.

His lips moved towards hers, unfaltering, but stopped as a voice pierced the silence. "Alexis!" Adam stood, arms crossed across his chest, in the doorway.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chapter 17 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"What are you talking about?" Robin drew back as he felt his pulse quickening.

"You knew that her father was a criminal." Marion's face was whiter than the snow, her eyes like two black beads of jet as they glared at him, sparkling with stinging tears.

"Maybe, maybe I had a suspicion as to who she was, but really—"

"Don't you dare lie to me! Not again."

"Why are you getting so worked up about this, Marion?" His voice softened, but he kept his distance, feeling his guilt settle in the pit of his stomach like a piece of lead.

"Why wouldn't I? You denied a person help when they needed it most because of something that wasn't even her fault, and then you lied about it. I can handle the fact that you lied to me, but Robin, you lied to everyone. To Will."  She stepped further back with each word, shaking her head, a tear rolling down her cheek.

"Marion..."

"I thought you were better than that. I wanted you to be better. I was so ready to forgive you, Robin. You have no idea how much I wanted you to change."

"Marion!"

"But you haven't. You haven't changed at all." She shuddered, backing into a tree and clinging to it, using all the willpower she had to not fall weeping at his feet. He didn't deserve to see her cry, to see how much pain he had caused.

"Marion, please," Robin begged, voice and body trembling, gaze cold and steady with desperation as he moved towards her."What is this about, exactly? You found out about her, right? What do you know?" He regained some footing, his voice shook less as it filled the air.

"Alexis, her name is Alexis and her father was hanged for an act of treason against the king. I don't know what it was. He served in the Holy Land  around the same time that you did." A thousand emotions rose inside Marion as the words fell from her mouth. She felt powerless and weak, confused and alone, so very alone. Robin said nothing in response, and the tiny sparks of hope inside her were extinguished in a second, as if cold water had been thrown upon them. "You knew this, didn't you?" The question was lifeless, her tone defeated. She had no interest in receiving an answer.

"I had suspicions, but I didn't know for sure until now, and even if I had known, it would have no affect on the way I treated her." Robin's words were soft at first, but as he began to fully grasp the situation, they turned hard. "I can't believe you think I could ever stoop so low. I'm many terrible things Marion, you of all people know that well enough, but not so blatant a hypocrite as that! I knew her father. I knew Badrick. He was my general, and a good friend, and no one was hurt more than I when his crimes were uncovered, but those things were his doing and no one else's, and no one should pay for them but him."

"But you let her go." She whispered the words, but left them untouched by feeling or pain. They held no venom, but revealed everything. She knew his soul, and now he thought he knew hers: She thought him a liar, and no matter how much she wished the contrary, she had no room for false hope.

"Marion..." He reached out to take her arm, to stop her, he knew it was useless. He let it fall to his side, and his words of explanation died on his lips, knowing they weren't enough, and never could be.

"Why? Why did you let her go? Why didn't you help her, especially if you knew her situation?" She waited,but he could not meet her eye, could not say anything he thought worth believing. She faltered a few moments, everything in her being wanting to forgive him, to forget it all and run into his arms. She waited one more moment, giving him one more chance, but nothing but half-words and silence met her.

Still angry, though more so with himself than Marion, "You wouldn't understand. You could never understand." Was all he could say.  In another moment, her red dress flashed one last time against the frosted landscape before it vanished beyond the top of the hill, leaving him with this goodbye: "I'm ready to believe you, Robin, but I need something to believe."

The men awaiting the couple's return at the camp moved hurriedly aside as Marion brushed past, staring straight ahead and charging through the snow. She had mounted her horse and disappeared through the forest before anyone had time or the frame of mind to ask what was wrong. They stood looking at each other, dumb-founded, unsure what to think. "D'you suppose they had another row?" Allan wondered aloud, plucking at the strings of his lute.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chapter 17 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The heavy snowflakes blew against Marion's face as she charged into the forest, mingling with her streaming hair and weighing it down till it hung in thick, clumped, icy strands against her scarlet cheeks. Carefully steering her horse through the white-topped underbrush, she tried to think of what she would say, but was unable to summon a single calm phrase. Her blood boiled.

She reigned in the animal at the crest of a hill, catching her breath and staring at the miniature encampment below. In a moment she had swung from her horse's back and was scrambling down the slope, too impatient to walk around. She landed with a muffled thump at the bottom, her dress a bit damp, but her anger unhampered. Collecting herself, she smoothed her cloak and her scowl till they were presentable. Walking among the huts, she looked for signs of habitation. "Robin?" She called out, her tone coated thickly with ice. She heard voices rising from the far edge of the clearing, and turned in that direction. Peeking around the corner of a hut, she saw Robin and his comrades standing around listening intently to another man who looked concerned, and strangely familiar.

Drawing back, she listened to his report, unseen. "I don't know why, but she was there, and was asking about a villager. More importantly, she was asking about you." Marion gasped, capping a hand to her mouth. The man was Much, the old woman's son she'd seen in Loxley only hours ago. What was he doing there? Recovering from the shock, she turned her ear back to the conversation.

"What villager?" Robin's voice sounded calm enough, but Marion recognized quite well that it was edged with displeasure. "Why did Marion want to know about something like that, and why would she come to you?"

"It was that girl who escaped from the dungeon recently, and I'm certainly not the person to ask why she was of such interest. I thought perhaps you might know."

"And what brought you to that conclusion?" Much hadn't posed his last statement as a threat, but Robin appeared to see it as such, stepping forward, his glare unwavering. Much shrank back.

"Nothing, it's just that it's rather common knowledge that you two have a history together, at least, and it seemed a reasonable explanation as to the question of her motives for inquiry. But, at the same time, it was possible that she was trying to gather knowledge for Gisborne, to aid in his attempt to capture both you and the girl."

Hearing this, Marion scoffed. How ignorant could he be to think that she would ever willingly help Guy of Gisborne with anything? She waited with an unconsciously smug grin to hear Robin rise to her defense. But the grin faded as nothing but silence served to retaliate at Much's painful slight. Robin said nothing on the subject, but only brushed past with a new question. "What did you tell her?"

"My mother answered all of Marion's questions. Things about the girl's past, things that haven't seen the light of day in a while, and for a good reason. I didn't know what to do, so I came here. I thought you at least deserved to know."

"Thank you Much, you've done well. Now, if you could—"

"Yes, Much, very well done indeed. Thank you, you've saved me ever so much time and explaining." Marion stepped out from behind the wall into their midst. At sight of her, Robin grit his teeth and Much's gaze dropped to the floor. "Now, shouldn't you be getting back to your mother?" She sent a withering glare to the surprised messenger, who mumbled his apologies and started back towards home.

"Come with me." Robin took one calculating look at the situation, grabbed the intruder by the arm, and dragged her into the forest till they were out of earshot, ignoring her outraged demands for release and the confused shouts of the gang. After a few moments, they stopped and he let go, sending her reeling into the snow, landing in a puff of white flakes. "What is wrong with you? Can't you leave anything alone?" He shouted, grimacing as he reached out a hand to help her up.

Marion slapped the offer away, straightened and set her brow. "Why didn't you ask? Obviously you have eyes and ears everywhere, so finding out anything would have taken you a matter of hours. Why didn't you want to know?" She glared at him, chest heaving with anger, aching with hurt. She dreaded his true answer.

"Because if she didn't want me to know, then I had no right to pry." He returned, staring back, shrugging off the pain at being so callously rejected.

"That is ridiculous, and you know it!" Her lips trembled, her voice rang out and was absorbed into the snow. "You help people by stealing from others, and I know for a fact that isn't the only instance where you would use bad means for a good end. You didn't ask because you didn't want to help her. You didn't ask because you already knew."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chapter 16 part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"Oh, yes, yes, your question. Well, what can I help you with?" The old woman shook herself, recalling the real reason she'd been blessed with the presence of such an important guest.

"I was wondering if anyone has recently gone missing from this area. A young girl, perhaps?" Marion posed the question with seeming nonchalance, trying to keep from sounding too interested.

"Why, yes, just a couple weeks ago, that girl got chased out of here by Gisborne and his men. Don't you remember, Much? Now, what was the young lady's name..."

"Alexis." The man muttered in reply, his sidelong stare growing with suspicion. "What do you want to know about her?" He took a step toward the visitor, staring her down, his voice low and hard.

Marion glared back, unabashed. "I want to know why the lord of your manor here is so interested in a simple peasant girl as to run her out of town."

The older lady gave her son another disapproving slap. "There's nothing wrong with a woman inquiring after things which involve her lover. Her name was Alexis, of course. Her mother was a good woman, kind, quiet, she kept to herself. Alexis had a brother as well; just like his mum, he was. She was the spitting image of her father. The two were always outspoken, longing for adventure, and, ultimately, always in over their heads with trouble." She whispered the last words with a sympathetic, knowing sigh.

"What do you mean by that?" Marion continued, intrigued. This was more information than she'd been bargaining for, and couldn't believe Robin hadn't thought to ask for it by now. Ah, but Robin  didn't want to know, she reminded herself bitterly.

"Well, I don't know the particulars, but the girl's father was serving time in the holy land, and he never came back." The door slammed loudly as Much stomped out, unable to listen anymore. In the snowy air, he cursed under his breath. What should he have done? Who could he trust?

Marion disregarded the dramatic exit as her brow wrinkled in confusion and disappointment. "That's it? He died serving his king?"

"That's not all. The thing is, he wasn't killed by the enemy. He was executed by order of the king. He died a criminal in the highest degree, accused of treason, or so said the men who served with him. After word got around, people started shunning the girl's family. Her brother lost his job and no one wants to hire the son of a traitor. Soon enough—"

"Wait! Her father was a criminal? And before that?"

"Before that, he was a general and one of the king's most trusted friends. He was very well-respected and wealthy around here. It really is a shame. That poor girl..."

"So what happened? What became of her family?" Marion's face had become white as her knuckles as she gripped the edge of the dilapidated table. The tea by her hand was cold and untouched, despite the sudden dryness of her throat. "Where was Robin throughout all of this? Did he help them?"

"He tried my dear, certainly, but the lad was a proud one, and the mother and sister were almost never at home after getting jobs as bar maids. They made enough to get by at first, but soon the mother got sick and died, God rest her soul."

Marion bit her lip. Her eyes stung.

The old woman reached out a gentle hand to comfort her, but it went unheeded. With a sigh, she continued, "I wanted to help, but what could I do? We have our own troubles, I'm afraid. After she died, Alexis's work wasn't enough to pay their taxes, and just last month, Gisborne's men came to arrest them, but things got ugly quickly. The boy resisted, and got a sword through the heart for it. His sister escaped, and for a long while, nothing was heard of her. A search or two was conducted, but it seemed the sheriff had bigger problems to deal with. But then, a few days later, she was seen again, being chased though here by Gisborne himself. She ran into the Sherwood and was reported dead. Poor, poor girl..."

A hundred questions died on Marion's lips as she tried to utter them. But what was the point? It seemed she had her answer. Hands trembling, she gathered up her cloak and the empty basket, bidding her hostess a good night. "Thank you, you've been very helpful. And, if it's not too much trouble, could you avoid telling Lord Gisborne I was here?" Her voice was like gravel.

"Of course. Thank you for all of this!" The woman's face creased with a thousand wrinkles as she smiled, gesturing to the bounty before her.

"Don't mention it." Was the whispered reply as Marion ducked out into the thick flakes that fell with increasing speed against a horizon that was fading from pink into dusky twilight. Gritting her teeth at the task at hand, she mounted her horse and rode off toward the Sherwood.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chapter 16 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The soles of Marion's leather boots crunched softly as they condensed the fresh snow with each step. She walked decisively towards the stables, her breath already swirling visibly from her mouth in short, angry bursts of steam. The sting of Robin's words, and, indeed, her own, was still sharp, though she tried to push her injuries aside and focus on the task at hand. Mounting her horse, a fine chestnut mare, strong, fast, sure-footed and, ironically, a birthday present from Gisborne, she pulled her cloak close about her as protection from the winter winds. "At least he gives things, instead of stealing all the time." She muttered before spurring the animal through the doors and down the path.

With a sarcastically appreciative nod to the languid guards as she passed, she made her way to Loxley. Reigning in before the public stables, she tied off her horse and strode towards the first person she saw: an elderly peasant woman, bundled in a knit shawl as she watched a young man gather and split firewood a few yards off. "Excuse me," Marion called out, a warm, kind smile spreading across her wind-bitten face.

The stranger turned with a start, but her shock did not end when she faced the person who had called her. "L-lady Marion!" She cried in dismay, falling on one knee. "How may I help you, m'am? Shall I call Lord Gisborne for you?" The last question she uttered hesitatingly, clearly hoping that was not the woman's wish. By now the man gathering wood had joined them, placing a protective arm about the old woman's shoulder, lifting her up, and looking at Marion with mingled curiosity and suspicion.

Marion laughed lightly, but it was tinted with sadness when she felt the woman's icy blue hands and saw how thin the knitted wrapping was. "No, no, I came to find answer to a question that's been troubling me, and was hoping you could help."

"Me? Really? How may I be of service?" The woman replied eagerly, cutting off the man's objections. "Oh, but first, let's get out of this awful snow. My house is just over there. It's not much, certainly not nice enough for a fine lady like yourself, but it will be warm. Will you pity an old crone enough to humor her wishes?"

"That sounds absolutely lovely, thank you." Marion smiled, following them.

"Though, I suppose even a rich lord or lady can get used to anything. Master Robin proved that quite well, going off and thriving in the Sherwood of all places, just like that!" The older one continued, chuckling softly to herself as she bustled about, preparing a kettle for tea and trying to find some form of food to serve her guest as the man, grumbling to himself, placed the wood in a tiny hearth and began to light it. Marion winced involuntarily at the mention of Robin's name, especially spoken in such admiring tones.

Brushing off her agitation, she placed her basket on a rickety table in the center of the tiny hovel and took out a loaf of bread, a meat pie that was still warm, and a large, hard block of cheese. "Here, I must repay you for your hospitality."

At sight of the food, the man sent off a flurry of sparks into the blaze, burning himself, and the woman dropped the kettle with a resounding crash. "Oh, oh, now..." She whispered, her old eyes staring longingly at the bread. "Thank—"

She was cut off as the man, standing up, looked at Marion with a hard, cold glare and said in a voice equally chilling, "We do not need your charity."

"What? Of course we do! Don't be such an ungrateful, proud idiot, refusing what you need most simply because it is offered out of the kindness of someone's heart." The old woman retaliated, smacking him upside the head with a wrinkled hand as Marion watched on, amused. "Please forgive my son, m'lady. He has his father's abominable pride and doesn't understand a blessing when he 's offered one. Thank you, very, very much. We've been needing it more than ever, since Lord Robin's not been by in nearly a fortnight. He usually comes by at least twice a week, bless his soul, but I've not seen him in so long. I suppose it's terribly spoiled and greedy of me to expect such things, but I've grown used it. I just hope he's alright."

Marion held back a groan. Obviously Robin was a subject of interest here. "Yes, well, he's been rather busy as of late." She muttered an excuse, turning to cut up the bread into slices for eating and wondering why, if he claimed to not care about the girl, he had not simply resumed his practice of treating the poor to his stolen goods.

The son turned sharply to his mother. "You can't just speak of that to anyone! He's a wanted thief, and this is a noble." He hissed, looking sideways at Marion as she stared at the loaf, and pretending not to hear.

"Don't worry yourself about it. I am well aware of the man's criminal exploits, and if I disapproved of his charitable, if unlawful, acts, do you think I would be here offering this to you?" She asked, placing her hands on her hips. "Now then, about my question."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chapter 15 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"She was with you for a good amount of time, yes?" Marion sighed, exasperated.

"Yes, but—"

"Then how is it possible that you didn't even think to ask her name?"

"I did. We all did, but she wouldn't tell, and it's not like I could use torture and make her. It wouldn't have worked anyway, would it?"

"What could she have to hide that even giving a name would put her in danger?" Marion considered, sitting on a chair and cupping her hand to her chin, the way she always did when thinking.

"I don't know, darling, but I trust she had a good reason for her silence. Don't you think it might be best not to get involved?" Robin rubbed her shoulders, staring into the blaze and trying to forget the chill that had remained in his heart since laying eyes on that girl.

"Like it or not, you're already involved and so am I. The girl needs our help Robin, even if she's not in a position to say so. I can't believe this..." Marion sat up with a jerk, glaring at Robin from her new post across the room. "How could you even consider turning away from someone in trouble?"

Taken aback, Robin's face hardened. "She turned away from me! Lest you forget, she's the one that ran off without warning. I offered her aid and she spit in my face."

"Did you even try to stop her?" Marion asked with only a glint of hope in her voice, hope that he would say yes, knowing she would much rather doubt this girl than her lover. But, looking at his down-turned face, she knew the answer. "Ha, of course not." She choked on a short, bitter-tasting laugh, rolling her eyes. "After so many, you still have no idea what women are like?"

These last words hit Robin full force in the gut. "Well, I'm not the one courting a man who stands for all that I hate in this world!" He retaliated, his hand gripping the back of the chair till his knuckles turned white.

"You leave Gisborne out of this!" Marion's voice was loud and spiteful at first, but her words lowered into an icy, hard monotone. "You know he means nothing to me."

"Oh, really? And yet you treat him with more respect and time than you even devote to thinking about me! What do I mean to you, then, less than nothing?" Robin knew he was being petty, but his pride had been struck and he wasn't about to let that go.

"I could ask the same of you! At least you spent time with those other women, instead of just running off to the war and then hiding away in that little forest. Is the only thing keeping me from being exactly the same as them the fact that I actually have standards? Because I would think twice before gallivanting off into Sherwood with you, leaving behind everything that I know and love? Everyone who needs me?"

"Needs you." Robin tasted the words with a bitter expression. "The only people that need you, the only people you do anything for, are your father and that sniveling Gisborne! You don't know the meaning of charity, of helping people!"

"I do more than you would think. Sometimes, helping others means not running away from the world and its problems. It means standing up everyday to injustice, facing it head on." She tossed her head proudly, trying to mask the hurt in her voice.

"Standing up to it? You call flirting with evil men, playing their games, doing everything they tell you out of fear of confrontation standing up to injustice? Who's the real coward in this room Marion? Honestly?" Robin quaked with anger. He clutched the chair back until he thought it would snap between his grip.

"Do you think I like feigning to love all the things I despise most? Do you think it's easy? I'd give anything to have the luxury of taking your approach out of it, but I cannot. If I make a stir, if I cause even the slightest amount of trouble and am caught, I bring everyone I tried to help down with me. The more the sheriff is flaunted, the more vicious he becomes. Why can't you realize that?" Her face had become a white sheet, black eyes bright and shining, all the color rushed to her cheeks till they were as deep a crimson as her dress.

"I am helping people, and I don't give a damn what the sheriff has to say about it!" Robin was shouting now, the words shaking the rafters.

"That's just it, isn't it?" Marion had dropped to soft whisper. "You don't care what anyone thinks, about anyone's feelings, just so long as you think you're doing the right thing, yes? But, and please, please answer me truthfully, did you think you were doing right by any of those other women?"

He stood frozen, his gaze boring holes into the floor, his jaw clamped shut.

"Five years, Robin. Five years, and did you really think you were doing the right thing all that time? King Richard, duty, honor, all that aside, did you really think those women were the right thing to do? How many of them were there?" Her chin wobbled as she spoke in desperation, wanting nothing more than the truth. Tears gathered in her eyes.

"Too many." He dropped the words like lead on the floor and left them there, stomping out the door and into the snow the next instant, slamming it shut behind him. He stood blinking and reeling in the snow, his chest heaving, swelled with a pain he thought he'd put behind him. That woman! Why did she have to be so enchanting? Everything would be so much easier if he could just forget her. But he'd tried that, three times, and had only made things worse, just like she said. If there was one thing he hated, it was being trapped, and this was worse than anything he'd experienced in the Holy Land. Muttering a slew of curses, he stomped through the village, paying no heed to the heads raised in curiosity as he swept past. Why did she always have to be right?

Inside, Marion was pacing furiously to and fro, her shadow cast long, dark and flighty against the wall, flickering in the firelight. "Really!" She sputtered, annoyed both with Robin and the hot, stinging tears that attempted to make a weeping fool out of her passion. But more than that, she was annoyed with herself. "That man. How dare he! How can he be so oblivious? So stubborn!" The pace quickened as her anger heated itself again. "And what am I? Can I possibly be so foolish as to love an idiotic, egotistic flirt like that?" With a long, exhausted groan, she sank to the floor, laying her head down on the hearth rug. "Why do I love him? Why does this have to be so hard?" She whispered, covering her face with her long, white hands. "I must truly be insane."

After another few moments of unrepentant wallowing, she sat up slowly, rubbing her stiff back as the anger receded slowly from her bloodstream. "Well," She continued, her forehead wrinkled in consideration, "If he's not going to do anything about the situation, someone has to." With those words, she set her brow in a determined line, snatched up a cloak, quickly threw together a basket of food, and set off into the world outside, as it rapidly turned white in the flurry of new fallen snow.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chapter 15 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Robin hummed to himself as he strolled through the hidden pathways of Sherwood that could not be seen by many, but that he could traverse with his eyes closed. Swinging absentmindedly at the snow-dusted underbrush with his sword, he tried to keep from worrying too much over Will's safety, but his mind kept wandering back to that night and how angry he had been.

Robin didn't blame his cousin; Will had every right to be angry about what he'd done, but it pained him to see the lad so caught up in a girl who would only bring heartbreak in the end. Not to mention the fact that she was now a fugitive and the sheriff's search parties had been tramping through the forest for her at all hours.

Robin laughed at their efforts, knowing that surely they would come to nothing, but if Will was angry and love-sick, (a deadly combination in Robin's experience), he couldn't be thinking straight and was apt to blunder. Thank goodness Adam had gone with him. 

Coming out of the woods, Robin grinned from beneath his deep hood at the quiet village before him. Only a few straggling men and women remained outside the comfort of their homes, feeding animals, gathering water from the frozen well and exchanging occasional remarks on how cold it was, or how, my, that snow did come fast!

Aside from these chilly few, the entire area was desolate. Even the sheriff's soldiers, normally watching over everyone like hawks, hungry for any hint of activity that could be considered even slightly illegal or displeasing to His Majesty, were huddled and grumbling around puny fires, drinking ale and dozing off, looking forward to the end of their shift.

Chuckling to himself, Robin crept up to the manor and knocked on the door. Putting his ear against it, he heard the light, graceful steps approaching and straightened, grinning. "Hello, darling." He whispered as Marion appeared, looking unimpressed when she recognized who was standing on the stoop. "Surprised to see me?" He continued, letting himself in.

"Not in the least. The smell of forest blows upwind of you every time you turn in my direction. I knew you were coming an hour ago. I'm just surprised Gisborne hasn't caught on to it yet. If he had, you'd have been arrested long ago." She rolled her eyes and shut the door, turning to see Robin lounging against a wall near the fire, staring at her with untainted admiration. In another instant, he saw her eyes on him and the look vanished, but it had been there, and Marion smiled softly to herself at the knowledge.

"If I didn't smell of forest, I would most certainly have been arrested. Sherwood is the only thing keeping me from such a fate, my clever but short-sighted lady." Robin reminded her with a triumphant smirk.

She looked at him for a moment, taking in his handsome features, his sparkling brown eyes and wry, bearded mouth that always seemed to find something to laugh or smile about. Rather amazing, those smiles, considering the life he led was certainly deserving of tears more than anything. "Robin..." She began again, clearing her throat and blushing as soon as she spoke his name, with a voice softer and more tender than she'd anticipated. "Robin, why are you here?"

"Does a man need a reason to call on the woman he loves?" He raised a cheeky eyebrow, but Marion understood that he meant what he said, and a thrill rushed through her body.

"What makes you so certain we're in love?" She returned, eyes twinkling as she took a step towards him.

"Well, I think my last visit here would testify to the truth of that statement."  He pushed himself away from the wall, and bit his lip, remembering how hers had felt there only the other day.

"Mmm, perhaps it would." She laughed slowly, taking another step.

"But, in all honesty, I came to see if Gisborne had made any progress in finding his runaway." Robin's face sobered a little and he felt the electric waves that had been coursing through him fall away.

"You mean you don't have her?" Marion backed off, her electricity cut off completely. Her thin, dark brows furrowed with surprise and worry as she waited for his answer.

"No..."

"I thought you were going to find her! Robin, what on earth have you been doing this whole time? Why are you wasting your time, her time, here with me?" Her voice drained of all the warmth that had been gushing from it only seconds before, replaced by stern disapproval.

"Marion, Sherwood is a big place, she could be anywhere. I have some of my men looking for her as we speak."

"Will?"

"Y-yes. How did you know that?"

She shot him a look. "It would take an idiot not to see that he is head-over-heels for this girl. It's almost as obvious as your infatuation with me."

"Excuse me?" Robin gasped, eyes wide with surprise.

"No, Gisborne has not found the girl, but evidently neither have you. We still have time. I could organize some people to keep an eye out for her, let me know if they hear anything. Who is this girl? What's her name, where is she from?"

"That's the thing: I have no idea."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chapter 14 part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"Well, seeing as I have answered one of your questions, it's my turn to ask you something." Alexis glanced at Will, wondering if he would consent to this. He had every right not to, considering the way she had treated him. But she knew she would never have any peace until she asked.

"You're still quite indebted to me when it comes to questioning, but alright." He smiled, absentmindedly rubbing the horse's neck as they walked along.

"Why did you two come looking for me? Where is Robin? And the rest?" She faked indifference, pretending the questions were posed out of nothing more than mere curiosity.

"That's more than one." He chuckled, not meeting her gaze. He thought it wouldn't be long before she asked, but he wanted to put off answering as long as possible.

"I know. I lied." She tried to pose the reply as a joke, but the fact of it wrenched her conscience. It wasn't the only thing she'd lied to him about.

"Robin is back at the camp. He wanted to wait and come up with a plan to find you, but Adam was impatient, and I came along to keep him safe, since I have a better knowledge of Sherwood." Will let out a deep breath, not daring to look at her, to witness the pain he must have inflicted.

"Ah." Alexis whispered. So, she had been right. Will didn't care about her more than he would anyone. She bit her lip forcefully to steady her wobbling chin. What had she expected? Certainly she deserved nothing more from him. Indeed, she was worthy of his full disdain. Hadn't she known this from the very first? So why did his words make her want to cry?

When they reached her camp, Alexis and Will lay Adam inside the lean-to, wrapping him up in his cloak. Turning, Alexis declared, "Well, thank you, I believe that's all. You an be going now."

"Excuse me? Going where?"

"Back to Robin, of course. I can take care of Adam, and I'm not about to let you freeze to death out here. Go back to your friends, where its safe and warm. No doubt they're worried about you in this weather." She gestured to the sky, which was now spitting out thick, heavy flurries of wet snow.

After taking a moment to come to terms with what she had just told him, Will shook out a nervous laugh. "Not a chance."

"You can take the horse, it will get you there in half the time." She explained quickly, not daring to look him in the eyes as she bustled about, packing up what food she could, lest she lose her resolve.

Will put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her and looking into her face. "What on earth makes you think I'm going anywhere?" His voice sounded worried, and, again, hurt.

She pulled away, putting on an annoyed expression to mask the shard of guilt inching its way through her heart. "What on earth makes you think you're not? Adam came out here to find me, and now he has. You've done your job, and he's safe with me. Go home."

"And where do you expect to sleep? With him?" He tried not to sound bitter, but his voice was colder and more brutally cutting than the frigid weather.

Alexis blushed and gasped, trying to look shocked by his insinuation, but she was more surprised to learn he had found her out. "Wh-what are you implying?"

"You expect me to believe you two are merely friends? A friend doesn't look at another the way you look at him."

"We are just friends! Honest!" Perhaps a few years ago, she would have considered this a blatant lie, but now, she discovered, it felt like the truest thing she had ever told him. "And how dare you? I would never—"

"Well, if you're not staying in there, then you need another shelter, not to mention a fire, and you aren't going to have much luck with either of those when you've got a broken arm." Will was confused by her reply. Of course, he'd expected her denial of such accusations. No, what surprised him was that she seemed to be telling the truth.

Alexis gasped, trying to hide her bad arm beneath her cloak. Had he seen through all her lies? "How did you..."

"Again, you never know when to admit that you're in trouble. Now, whether you like it or not, I'm helping you." His throat burned from all the words he swallowed down with his true feelings. "I'll get a fire going, and then set up some shelters. After that, we'll see about your arm." With one last stubborn glare, he turned and immediately began working on the fire, leaving Alexis floundering about, searching for an argument. But she could think of none. With an exasperated moan, she stomped off to huddle inside, checking on Adam and contemplating having to spend the next few days with both of them.

"Why me?" She whined, shaking her head.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Monday, September 15, 2014

Chapter 14 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
With a sigh, Will resignedly turned and knelt down by Adam, who was now dazedly blinking up at the bright midday sun. He tried sitting up, but the effort made his head throb and spin. "Hey, look who we found." Will covered up his bitterness in a grin, lifting up his friend gently and trying to hide his bitterness.

But Adam only mumbled some incoherent nothing under his breath and closed his eyes again, rolling over. Alexis remained where she was, watching them with a blank stare as she battled the overwhelming urge to run screaming into the woods again and never come back. She'd tried that, and no doubt if she repeated the attempt Will would only prevent her again. But this may be her last chance to put Adam behind her forever, to let him carry on his life without the added burden of her own. While she contemplated whether or not she could get to her horse and out of Nottinghamshire before anyone caught up with her, Will called out, shaking Adam furiously.

"Hey, he's not waking up! Adam, Adam!" He looked at Alexis with desperate eyes, evidently forgetting all that had passed between them only moments before. Swallowing her panic, she approached carefully, kneeling down to listen to Adam's heart and look in his eyes. They were more beautiful than she'd remembered. Deep chestnut brown with slivers of gold, soft and sharp, wise and ridiculous at the same time. Just like him.

"He's alive, but he's been hit very hard. He needs to rest, but I'm afraid that's all I can do for him." She whispered, stroking a wisp of hair out of Adam's face. "I'm not sure why you're asking me though, I know nothing of medicine."

Will looked at her incredulously. "Are you trying to tell me that someone who can wield a sword while riding a horse and take on twenty trained, armed men, doesn't know how to diagnose a blow to the head and treat it?"

"That was just... Luck." She faltered, looking at the ground. She had to be careful: display anymore unusual skills and they'd start asking more questions. "Anyhow, we need to keep him still and warm. My camp is just over that ridge, we can take him there until he gets better." Before Will had time to argue, she'd led the horse over and was slipping an arm under Adam's shoulder. "Help me get him on."

Doing as he was told, Will took notice of how one arm hung limp at her side, but said nothing about it. Instead, he asked with a mischievous lilt to his voice, "So, how do you two know each other?"

Taken aback, Alexis stuttered, "Wh-what makes you so sure I know him?"

"Somehow you don't strike me as the type who would interrupt a public hanging and risk getting killed herself for a total stranger." Beneath his sarcasm, Alexis thought she detected a hint of sadness.

Her heart sank. By whatever means, he had found out about that day in Nottingham. No doubt he was aware of what took place afterward. He hadn't come searching because he missed her, but out of some sense of honor and pity for a poor, helpless girl who had suffered in the torture chamber. What a fool she was being. He would do the same thing for any woman; she was nothing special.

"Yes, I know about the dungeons." Will said, understanding her silence. What had they done to her, and why did she pretend it was nothing? "What happened down there?" He saw now that she was trembling, and her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. There was nothing he wanted more in that moment than to hold her close, to give what little comfort he could offer.

But she only flashed a smile and turned away, leading the horse to her camp. "He was a friend of mine, long ago when we were children. Nothing more." Her voice was soft and low, tainted with memory. Inside, she hated herself for lying to him, knowing as soon as Adam regained his senses, the truth would come out.

Will accepted that she had no desire to talk about the past few days, and played along. "If you were friends, than surely you must know this lover of his, yes? A girl named Alexis? He wants to find her as soon as he can." He watched her reaction carefully, noting the look of surprise on her face, and the moment she took to calculate her answer.

"Alexis? No, I'm sorry. He never mentioned her." She replied nervously, speeding up her pace as they proceeding to climb the hill. Now she was really in for it when Adam woke up. She had to find a way to keep him quiet.

"You know something?"

"What?"

"I think that's the first time you've ever answered one of my questions. You really are different." Will chuckled, lengthening his strides to catch up with her.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chapter 13 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis's mind raced as she tried to form some semblance of a plan. In a moment of pure panic, she darted behind a tree, shutting her eyes and willing herself to be as silent as possible. Above, the voices continued. "Wait, there are tracks. Whoever is staying here went that way." Eager footsteps came rapidly towards her. Alexis's heart thudded as a cold sweat broke across her forehead. She looked down. The stream was only a few feet away, with its loud, churning, icy waters. Frantically searching the woods again, she realized there was no other option. She couldn't be found. Bracing herself, she hoped to jump into it without making enough noise to attract Will and Adam's attention.

As they grew nearer and she stuck out a foot to make her running dive, more voices and footsteps filled the air. "What is that?" Adam shouted above it all, and around the trunk, frozen in her place, Alexis saw Will grip his sword.

"Soldiers, the ones Gisborne sent. We arrived too late." Will's voice was low with agitation and disappointment. "Come on!" She heard them race away as twenty more men, heavily armored, followed close behind. Their thick boots crushed dead leaves and scattered the thin powdery snow. As they chased after her friends, Alexis heard twenty swords slowly being released from their sheaths, a sound that turned her blood cold. "Run, Will, run." She whispered desperately, sinking slowly to the ground as the last man passed.

Fear still held her against the tree while she heard the pounding come to a halt only yards away, and a soldier's voice rang out sharp and harsh and clear through the quiet forest, "Surrender, by order of the sheriff."

"Never." The condemning word fell, cold and determined as the steel, from Will's mouth. "Adam, get out of here."

"Not a chance, mate."

Alexis felt a tear slip down her face. She knew Adam had insisted on staying by Will's side with that big, stubborn, stupid grin of his.  "You big idiots." She murmured. They had no chance against so many, but worst of all, she knew she could not save them. She was only a weak, cold, lost little girl with only one working arm. And she knew that once the guards had finished them off, they'd come for her.

The horse returned from where it had bolted at Adam and Will's approach and nuzzled her shoulder. "They're on foot." She whispered, sudden realization coming upon her with painful force. "The soldiers are on foot, and I have a horse." She grinned, almost laughing. As far as she knew, it was still suicide, but if she was going to die, how better than to go down defending the two men she loved most in the world? "Oh, you beautiful animal!" she shouted, pulling herself up on its back and racing to her camp, stopping only to pick up her make-shift butcher's knife before charging to where the soldiers had drawn their weapons and were rapidly advancing on Will and Adam.

The two comrades stood back to back, fending off attacks as more and more men bore mercilessly down on them. Some didn't bother with weapons and preferred using their fists, and delivered forceful blows to Adam's head and Will's stomach. Soon, both had fallen to the ground, struggling back to their feet against the endless kicks they received. Neither saw the girl riding in at full gallop, her horse scattering the soldiers in a frenzy of terror.

She screamed at them, sending her knife into the neck of one and her foot into the face of another. Looking over the shoulder of the man he was dodging blows from, Will saw a hooded figure expertly handling a horse and fending off multiple soldiers as they crowded her horse, causing it to rear and cry out. Flinging the reins aside, the stranger jumped from its perch and took up Adam's sword, but it proved a more difficult task than she had expected. One arm hung useless at her side, and the weighty sword dragged in the snow. Turning, she summoned her strength as two soldiers rushed upon her. Quickly she leveraged the weapon with her body weight and drove it into one man's neck, between his armor and helmet. She then whipped around and struck the second's  unprotected thigh. Both fell back, clutching their wounds.

Adam lay curled up in the snow, blood running through his matted hair and down his face, dropping in crimson pools against the white snow. He blinked his eyes, barely conscious, watching as another soldier hit the ground before him with a thud. Struggling to his feet, he threw himself against a man approaching the cloaked figure from behind, and both fell to back to the ground in a kicking, biting heap.

Will had already retrieved his sword again and was flinging himself upon any man he could find, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He had guessed who his rescuer was, and whispered, "I have to protect her." Through clenched teeth, thrusting the blade into a man's knee. The leader of the soldiers screamed for retreat, and whatever uninjured there were left fled into the forest, hardly stopping to drag their wounded and dead behind them. Seeing this, the girl dropped her weapon and quickly made for her horse, but before she could climb up, Will had her by the wrist, and, with more strength than she'd thought him capable of, spun her to face him.

"You!" He breathed, his chest heaving and blue eyes blazing. A thin, red trail of blood ran down the side of his face as his grip on her arm increased. He pushed her hood back, revealing a scared, wide-eyed face with trembling lips. He was so close she could feel his steaming breath on her warm cheeks, and could count the shaking lashes in his burning stare. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, and she could barely hear her own words above it.

"Will, please—" She began, but something in his face made her stop. There was anger there, yes, and fear, but also one more thing that took her breath away. Tears had gathered in his eyes, and his shaking, red lips were creased with worry. He had feared for her. And he had known. He had known that whole time it was she saving his life.

She felt her fingers gently wrap themselves about his arm as he still held hers. He moved in closer as a tear slipped down his face. His breath had slowed as his lips approached hers, and her eyes flickered shut. She felt her legs shake and thought for a moment she would fall as she melted under the touch of his forehead against hers. Forcing his eyes open, Will drew back abruptly, ripping his hand from her now-tight grasp. "Where the hell were you?" His voice shook, but no one could mistake the bitterness in it.

"I think you know where." She gasped, releasing her held breath, blinking away the haze that had overcome her thoughts. She had to remember that this was her fault. She had to remember why she was going to run away again. She had hurt Will, and here she was standing like an idiot thinking, for a moment, that it didn't matter, waiting for a kiss like an idiot. Foolish girl!

"But why?" He shouted, turning again to face her. "Why did you leave?" His eyes stung with tears, but his hurt was still overcome by shaking, tight-lipped anger.

She couldn't meet his gaze. How could she ever explain why she had to run away? He waited expectantly for her answer, arms crossed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Adam stirring. "Your friend seems to be waking up." She announced, pointing and thanking the Lord for having saved her from having to answer.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chapter 13 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis spent the next day setting up more traps, and by noon she was able to lean back, let out a deep breath, and survey her work with a smile. This time she used big, flat rocks as it as too much work to make more baskets, and forwent the string, counting on the animal to nudge the stick and bring on its own doom.  She was rewarded later in the day by another rabbit and two squirrels.

While waiting for her traps to do their job, she began to consider the task of building a shelter. The nights were getting colder and more uncomfortable, and she feared, by the shadings of the sky, that snow was on its way. She had kept the hide from the previous night's rabbit, hoping to make some mitts out of it, and if her arm ever got better and she could wield a bow, some new deer-skin leggings. But in the meantime, it was necessary to have something to keep the elements at bay.

Alexis tried several different contraptions, but doing anything with one arm was difficult. She finally settled for a sort of lean-to involving a long tree branch and various dead sticks and twigs she'd scavenged. Stuffing the crevices with moss and gloppy, thick mud, she had a roof over her head by the time the sun had begun to kiss the earth goodnight with its last warm, pink rays.

Checking her traps and grinning ear-to-ear at discovering she would have dinner for the next three or four nights, she hurried quickly back to the fire, which she had fed well throughout the day to avoid having to light another one. Cleaning the animals, she watched the dancing, leaping sparks as they spun about in a newly-arrived, wintry breeze. All about her the trees rustled and leaves flew off, unable to cling to Autumn any longer. For the first time, she looked up and realized how beautiful the woods truly were.

She ate her dinner slowly, feeling the hot meat melt in her mouth and listening to the crickets and the bending, creaking trees as they sang her a lullaby. The cheery blaze warmed her hands and she thought of the winter nights spent with her family by the hearth when she was younger. Mama would sit by, sewing or knitting, as Alexis and her brother wrestled and fought on the sandy floor. She laughed, recalling how precariously close to the blaze she would toddle before her mother finally looked up to gasp in horror and rush to move her out of harms way.

Alexis never blamed her for being absentminded and more than a tad careless. Who could? Papa was rarely home, risking his neck everyday far out across the ocean, while she was left alone to tend to two reckless children, and though her brother had always been a kinder, gentler soul like his mum, Alexis was a wild imp with an insatiable curiosity and longing for adventure.

But mama always understood her restless ways and ideas, even if she did not share them. She would always be there to kiss a knee scraped when falling off a stile, to offer gentle advice when her nosiness landed her in trouble, and to calm down her fiery temper. She was always there, with a sympathetic smile and soft blue eyes, with her soft, silken voice and surprisingly proud, courageous spirit burning beneath it all. Until  one day, she wasn't.

A tear now twinkled unheeded for a moment in the corner of Alexis's eye. "I miss you." She whispered, her voice choked, into the lonely night air, but she received no answer. Only the distant stars winking coldly back at her, so high above her troubles and pain; so indifferent. Later, huddled beneath her cloak, feeling so small and alone, she fell asleep. The slips of moonlight that wove through the chinks in the roof reflected in the pale, wet streaks across her face, her mother's soft, bedtime lullaby played softly in her heart as hazy dreams of her brother's laugh and her father's embrace haunted her rest.

*****

In the morning she awoke with a dry throat and a headache, and the realization that it was cold. Very cold. Fumbling through the doorway, her fingers numb and slightly blue, she found her knees buried in a heavy, wet blanket of snow. Her breath swirled about in a visible ribbon of steam and the entire forest, which had chattered and sung with life the night before, now felt muffled and still. The pine branches seemed almost black as they contrasted with their toppings of frost, and Alexis saw, to her dismay, that the fire was grey, cold and lifeless. "Well then." She muttered, staggering to her feet and looking back at the white-peaked lean-to with a wry grin.

Making her way to the creek, she saw the horse meandering towards her, its rope, now frayed and incredibly dirty, dragging through the snow and wet ground behind it. "Ah, so you decided to come back then, eh? You rascal." She smiled, rubbing his velvety ears. "I don't have anything to give you, remember?" She had let him go after realizing she could hardly feed herself, never mind a full-grown horse, but evidently he enjoyed her company, and judging by his pleased condition, he hadn't starved during his absence.

She chuckled, looking over her shoulder at intervals and seeing him patiently following her to the water. "You're a stubborn thing, aren't you? You can stick around if you want, but don't expect any help from me." She continued, taking up a large rock and hacking at the layer of ice that now concealed the brutally cold, rushing stream. Bracing herself, she drank quickly, shoving her now-wet hands deep in the folds of her cloak afterwards and taking deep breaths, eyes wide and watery from the shocking cold.

"This.. Is... Ridiculous!" She sputtered, cringing as her bad arm began to ache more sharply than before. It disliked the cold as much as she did. Clutching at the offending appendage, she made her way back to camp, the unpleasant task of re-lighting the fire before her.

Halfway up the hill, she topped in her tracks, every muscle freezing, she held her breath. Beyond the ridge, near her camp, she heard the crackling of broken sticks and eager, loud voices calling out to each other. "Hey, where'd you go?"

"Will, I've found something, up here! Come on, it could be her!"

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chapter 12 Part 2

photo credit: Bridget Ruffing
"Do you think she went back to the camp?" Will asked as they tramped through the forest. His mind was a hodgepodge of worried thoughts, ideas and half-hopes. He was still a little stunned by the news of the girl's escape, and he walked about in a slight daze, tripping over roots and rocks on a path he had walked nearly half of his life.

"Well, if she did, that should be quite an interesting meeting." Robin mused with a smirk, but it soon faded from his face as he fell to wondering if all had gone well for Marion after he left. What if she had been caught down there? What kind of suspicions would that raise? Would there be consequences?

"That's for certain." Adam muttered, walking at the back of the group as distractedly as Will, trying to recall what Alexis had looked like last time they'd met. But that was five years ago, he remembered with a wince. Had it really been that long? It scared him that he didn't miss her as much as he felt he should. He could recall a time when a separation of only a few days weighed heavily upon his soul, and he would count the hours until they saw each other again. But now, he dreaded the meeting, and he found that even more terrifying. Had he grown cold and heartless in his years abroad?

As they neared the camp, Will hurried on, barely resisting the urge to break out into a full run, so great was his excitement at the thought of seeing Alexis again. His concern for her contributed to the urgency with which he pushed forward, trying to clear his thoughts and come up with some form of coherent, appropriate greeting. His heartbeat quickened, as did his pace, and he ran the last few yards to the camp.

The fallen leaves crunched beneath his pounding feet, and his breath came out in curling wisps of steam as he approached. Stopping in his tracks, he looked about the clearing. Nothing moved or showed any signs of life. The fire pit was cold, the huts grey, shapeless forms that blended into the cloudy, damp air. Panicking, he began ransacking them as a seed of panic began to sprout and grow in his chest. His initial thought was to call out her name, to send it as far as he could through the air till it reached her and she called back.

But he realized he couldn't. She was only a face, a ghost-like image of a girl that haunted his thoughts. She was real, he knew that, but she was so far away. He didn't know her name, he hadn't even that claim upon her. She was far away from him, she might even need him, but he had no way to find her, to call her to him. He had no hold on her.

Feeling the full force of this crash upon him, Will staggered back, leaning against a tree. He heard the approach of footsteps and voices. He blinked back tears, pushing himself up, trying to regulate his breathing and quell the tide of horror still crashing against him. "She's not here." He called out, annoyed at the tone of his choked, husky voice. "We need to find her, before Gisborne does." He stumbled out to meet them, steely determination already settled in his eyes.

"Maybe we should wait a minute and think things through. Come up with a plan, you know, that sort of a thing." Allan called over his shoulder, reaching the clearing first, pushing past and settling down to start a fire. He seemed infuriatingly unconcerned, and Will had to resist the urge to throttle him as he turned to Robin, who appeared next. "Robin." He was pleading.

He put a hand on his cousin's shoulder, "I know, Will, I know. But how are we going to find her? We don't even know where she's gone. She could be anywhere in this forest, or else in some town. Look, the point is, if she ran away, she doesn't want to be found, and if that girl is capable of breaking out of Nottingham's dungeon when both the sheriff and Gisborne are chomping at the bit to hang her, she won't be found unless she wants to be. We should regroup, gather information. We need to be patient."

Will jerked away, trying to hide the pain on his face. "While you're all sitting around being 'patient', she could be dying out there! Doing nothing is not going to help anyone."

"Will, I know you're frustrated, but what are you going to do without any idea of where she might be? Just wai—"

"I have to do something.  How can you all just do nothing when her life could be at stake? It's your fault she got arrested in the first place!" Will was screaming now, the full force of his anger leaping from his lips. He grabbed his cousin by the collar and raised his fist as if to strike. Robin only stared back at him, his eyes clouding with the painful realization that what what Will said was true.

Seeing the would-be attack about to unfold, Tuck and Little John rushed to pull Will away, sending him staggering back, his chest heaving with and eyes blazing. They had never seen gentle, kind Will Scarlet like this, and it scared them. Looking about, seeing the damage of his words, and the speechless hurt on his cousin's face, Will turned, grabbed his satchel and a sword, and stormed off through the forest.

"Where do you think you're going?" Robin called after him, regaining his words as he shoved away Tuck's attentions.

"To find her. Somebody has to take responsibility for their actions!" He replied without looking back.
"Robin, you can't just let him go like that!" Little John cried, as Will's silhouette shrunk further and further into the distance and Robin did nothing.

"Nothing I can say will bring him back. He needs to do this himself." With a bitter grin, he turned to Adam, who waited with a question on his lips. "Go ahead after him, I know you want to." Nodding a thank you, he ran off down the path, grabbing up a cloak and some food.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chapter 12 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Will followed closely behind his cousin, glancing nervously about from beneath the shadow of his hood. His companions were similarly attired, with their faces and identities well shielded as they maneuvered the busy, crowded, dirty streets of Nottingham. All about them people shouted and laughed and haggled over food hardly worth eating, nonetheless paying money for. Children chased each other, laughing and screaming, the more shabbily dressed ones surreptitiously pilfering apples and tarts from stalls, and the more prosperously clothed standing silently behind their parents, waiting to move on to the next shop. It was market day in Nottingham square, and all its poverty and corruption were on display.

The gang carefully avoided an alley where two men were drunkenly brawling and screaming various curses and uttering pieces of anecdotes that seemed to involve the same woman. "Isn't it marvelous how Gisborne believes he is upholding the law by shooting down and torturing a starving girl, and yet allows this sort of thing to happen everyday?" Little John muttered with a grimace as he veered a bit too close and had to duck in order to miss being hit upside his head by a stray punch.

"They're not entirely ignored..." Adam replied under his breath, shouldering past a large, and seemingly dazed man precariously wobbling by with a half empty bottle in his hand.

"What was that?"

"Oh, nothing. Nottingham's just very... Different from the way I remember it."

"Well, you'll find a lot more has changed about this place than just its crowds." Robin remarked with a look back that confused Adam as to its meaning.

As they neared the castle, their chatter slowed to a stop, and they stood looking up at its grey, formidable walls, looming over them and chilling their hearts. Will's breathing quickened, he felt his anger begin to heat, thinking of what could be happening to Alexis inside those walls at that very moment.

Adam swallowed nervously, his throat suddenly very, very dry, and his palms cold and sweaty. What if it was really her in there? He felt himself shrinking, cowering from the feelings of guilt accompanying that thought, and that would lay their icy hands on him if his fears were realized. He shifted his weight about restlessly, and briefly considered running, terrified that he might be right, but more terrified still by the thought of never knowing. "Well, let's get on with this then." He whispered, impatience coating his voice as his damp hand gripped the hilt of his borrowed sword.

"Robin?" Friar Tuck looked to their leader for instruction. "Wait, Marion hasn't seen us yet." Beneath his cloak, looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't garnering unwanted attention, Robin  ran a hand back and forth across the surface of a small shard of mirror. The light of the late morning sun reflected off it, aimed at the window to one of the castle's lower rooms. After a minute of flashing, the door beside the window opened a crack, and a black-haired, female face peeked out.

Marion's eye rested on the gang and she gestured hurriedly for them to enter. Closing the door as the last man stepped over the threshold, she grabbed Robin by the arms and, looking into his eyes, whispered, "Robin, she's not here! The girl, she escaped!" Her lips twitched, as if unsure whether to smile or crease into a worried frown. All the while her mind was a buzz with worries. What would happen if they were caught?

"What? Escaped? How?" Robin looked as if he was sure he had heard incorrectly, a confused look wrinkling his brow.

"I haven't the faintest idea! I only found out because I walked in on some of Gisborne's men explaining that they'd searched everywhere for her and hadn't found a trace."

"Well, how do you know it was the girl? They could have been talking about anyone." Robin stepped back, looking even more puzzled and hardly allowing himself to believe Marion was correct.

"Because Gisborne admitted it was her that escaped after he caught me snooping. He's not proud that he let her get away again, but he seems quite sure of his men's recovering her. Now, Robin, you have to get out of here! If they find you, it will only prove their suspicions that you were involved in the girl's disappearance, and after they kill you, they'll come down even harder on her!" Marion was desperate, fear shone plainly in her eyes and her face become pale with the very idea of his being captured.

Outside the inner door, they heard footsteps coming down the hall, and the low vibrations of Gisborne's voice echoed against the heavy stone walls. Instinctively, the men reached for their weapons, and drew back further into the shadows of the dimly-lit room, waiting as their leader contemplated the wisest course of action to take up next.

"Robin, if she's out there, we need to find her before they do and make sure she's safe!" Will had listened in rapt silence and no small amount of shock to Marion's information, but he now understood the importance of the situation, and tugged impatiently on his cousin's shoulder.

"You're right. Come on." Robin nodded, shoving his men out. "Quietly, don't let anyone see you. Look natural!" He whispered as glaring sunlight flooded through the open door. "Goodbye, darling." He stooped to deliver a brief kiss to Marion before rushing out to his gang with a cheeky grin on his face. Recovering as he pulled away from her, she rolled her eyes and shook her fist at him before closing the door with a secret, delighted stream of laughter.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1