Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chapter 7 Part 2

Photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The comfortless, distant, indifferent light of the rising sun grew stronger and stronger, reaching it's strangling fingers through the bars of the cell window and telling Alexis that her time on this earth was depleting. With every new ray crossing the jagged, blood-stained floor the reality of the pain she was about to endure once revealed itself to her once again and she was terrified.

Every strike and screaming yell from the previous day crashed in Alexis's ears like a tidal wave, crushing her body before receding again, leaving her breathless and shivering. She had felt pain before, she had gotten through, but this was different. It's hard to be strong, impossible to be brave, when you no longer have anything to live for. She had seen a lot of suffering, had borne most of it, but now she faltered, she collapsed.

She was afraid.

The minutes fell like bricks upon her as she waited, knowing that each passing second brought her closer to even more brutal beatings and questionings from the sheriff, terrible looks from Guy and the merciless guilt that plagued her soul. After pacing back and forth for what seemed like hours, clutching at her head and screaming at herself, worrying herself sick, she finally clasped her hands and fell to her knees without thinking about it.

After Alexis's mother had died, God had become nothing more than a cruel tyrant who had taken away the only person she couldn't live without. She avoided church, and tried to pretend that God didn't exist, but she had always felt a chilling sensation that He was watching her, that He saw all, and now she realized He knew the pain she was going through. She was alone in the world, and in desperate terror she cried out,"Oh, God, help me. God, help me, I'll do anything, but get me out of this. I don't want to die..." She whispered now, shocked at her own words.

But it was true, she realized. As rotten as it was, she liked living too much to accept death and she had nothing left to do but fight. She wasn't going to let Gisborne kill her. He wasn't going to win. She'd cheated him before, she could do it again. She sat up, wiped her eyes, and began to make a plan.

The sun was now just breaking free from the horizon and the only people awake in the castle were the guards and servants in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. With soldiers keeping watch there was no way she could sneak out, so she'd have to make them want to throw her out. But that wasn't the immediate complication. The problem at hand was finding a way out of her handcuffs and cell.

At that moment, she heard the chinking of keys against the prison warden's hip as he stumbled back and forth, making his rounds while warbling a slurred tune about a lusty wench from York. Every few steps he would lift a half-empty bottle of rum to his unshaven mouth. "Oh, God, why me?" Alexis asked, gritting her teeth and searching in vain for another option.

She let out a sigh and whispered, "This had better work." As quietly as possible, she brushed her face with the sleeve of her dress and combed her hair with her fingers. Clearing her throat and clutching a large, broken-off piece of brick gingerly in her hand and hiding it in the folds of her skirt, she got to her feet and crept up behind him.

"Hello there," She whispered slowly in his ear, laying her voice on thick and sweet like honey. He turned clumsily to meet her with a smirk.

"Well, ain't you the ugliest little cur the sheriff's dragged in." He muttered. His breath landed warm and rank on her face, and she resisted the urge to gag.

"Perhaps I am, but you are certainly the handsomest fellow I've ever laid eyes on." She cooed, rubbing her hand up and down his arm and leaning in closer. Her voice sunk low and her eyes challenged him. "It must be so hard watching us prisoners day and night. Surely such a valiant, noble man like you deserves a gift for his faithful service to the king."

He laughed again and was all too eager to comply to her unspoken request. In a moment, her lips were against his and he was lost in her spell. The next moment, she had clubbed him over the head with the brick. Down he went, rolling in a dirt heap on the floor. His keys were ready for the taking as they hung in his belt loop.

"Thank you very much, my friend." She grinned as she unlocked the chains on her wrists and turned the key in the door. Stepping over his unconscious form, she was out of the cell. Carefully, she lifted the jailer's cloak from it's peg on the wall, and crept towards the door, shielding her face in the hood. She slipped past the guards with some forced tears and a story about being a prisoner's sister.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chapter 7 Part 1

Photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

"Well, since you have proven so uncooperative, I will be back tomorrow to ask you again. If your tongue is not ready to waggle by then, well, you can just say goodbye to one of those pretty little fingers of yours." The sheriff leaned in and whispered, taking Alexis's small finger in his long, bony ones and bending it back until it almost reached the breaking point. She stifled the scream that rose to her lips as the pain jarred the hazy stupor she was in, and she looked at him through sunken, bloodshot eyes. A look emanating nothing but defiance.

The sheriff slapped her smartly across the cheek before turning on his heel and strutting out of the room followed by Gisborne. Alexis watched them go, and as soon as she assured herself they weren't coming back, she slumped to the ground, lying in a tired heap, in too much pain to even cry. Everything in her throbbed and ached until it all came together in her mind as one endless haze that surrounded her, filling her lungs and strangling her until she could hardly breathe. She heard low, slurred moans in her ears, but it took a long time to realize that they were coming from her. They seemed to originate somewhere far away, dark, hopeless and terrible.

Her skin crawled with scars and bruises as a result of the sheriff's berating. Upon acquaintance, he was staggeringly more ruthless and cruel than Gisborne when he didn't get what he wanted.  He thought she knew where the camp was and all of Robin's secret plans. It almost amused her to think that he believed Robin trusted her with anything, or that she had trusted him.

The hours had passed lower than ever for her, drowning in pain, hunger and fear, at times struggling for consciousness as the dark, looming prison walls seemed to close in on her and another strike from the Sheriff sent her reeling in the abyss. And all the while Gisborne stood in the doorway, arms folded, jaw set, eyes revealing nothing, watching her suffer. His gaze was more torturous than any beating. It burned at her pride to know he was there, that he was the reason for this pain, and now he watched her slowly dying, a mere spectator. Why didn't he do anything? She had stolen one of his most precious heirlooms, why wasn't he beating her with his master? She would have endured that without complaint if it meant being spared his condescending, inhuman glower.

She sat now on the cold floor wet with what she realized was her own blood, dripping carelessly from her shoulder, her dress covered in scum and all but ripped to shreds. The darkness and the overpowering smell of death made her head swim and stomach lurch, but all she could see was his eyes. They haunted her, staring into her soul, turning her into an animal, being beaten and pulled apart out of a sick sense of curiosity. How could he do that? As he watched, she became no more than a thing in his eyes. She knew he had seen so much human suffering that for him it ceased to be human. Where did he get the power to take away someone's soul?

She bled and bit back tears as she thought of the days to come, of the endless hours of torture and sleepless nights drenched in agony. "You fool. Why did you leave? You could be safe there now, you might even have a chance with Will had you just listened." But she knew why. Every minute she spent with them, every secret about her that they uncovered was putting them in more and more danger. If they became associated with her... She didn't want to think about the consequences.

And Adam. He had finally come back after all those years. If she ever saw him again, he would most likely try and get back what they'd had before, but he was stubborn idiot when it came to love. He'd try and be brave for her, tempt her with all sorts of valiant speeches about starting a life together, protecting her, clearing her name. But no man could do that, it would take an act of God.

It had been so long, surely he knew nothing of her situation. When he left, she didn't know about it herself, but there was no doubt he would try and win her over again. And she would have to say no. She would have to look him in the eye and break his heart, holding it in her hands and crushing it, when she wanted nothing more than to give it back to him whole and unstained, and hers right beside it.

A sob rose in her throat. She wanted to love him again, to be with him forever and to know the warm, passionate, burning feeling that filled her heart whenever they were together. But now it was too late, and the only thing she could do was protect him. Her heart quaked when she realized the one way the safety of him and everyone she loved could be ensured: by dying. Dying and letting her secrets and her sins follow her to the grave, where they would never hurt anyone again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chapter 6 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

"What's his problem?" Will asked, stepping quickly out of the way as Adam swept icily past and slammed the door to his hut.

"It's none of your business."  Robin replied sulkily, looking into the blaze. Will rolled his eyes and took up Adam's vacant seat.

"Come on, what did he say?" He crooned. He was one of the few people in the world who could get Robin, Lord of Loxley, Merry and Avenging Outlaw Vigilante, to talk about his feelings.

"I simply brought to light the idea that his lover might not be very happy with him for leaving so long, and consenting to die here in England without even attempting to send her word of it." Robin stated, his voice low and annoyed.

Will sighed and looked his cousin in the face. "This is about Marion, isn't it?" Receiving no reply, he guessed that he was correct and continued with a mischievous glint in his eye, "I see no reason why you don't just go to her and apologize. It's obvious she still loves you, or she would be married by now. You know a woman like that has no shortage of suitors, so why wouldn't she pick one of them? The only logical explanation is that she's still holding out for you to come and make things right again."

Robin knew Will was right, a situation that occurred more often than he would ever point out. But what if he apologized wrong somehow? What if she never took him back? "It's more... complicated than that. Besides Will, even if she did accept me, what do I have to offer her? A stolen plot of trees surrounded by strange men that lies farther from civilization than she would ever agree to live."

Will groaned. How many times would they have to go over this? "Well, you made her wait four years, what's a couple more? When the king returns he will overthrow Prince John, fire the sheriff and absolve you from your crimes. You'll get your land back and you can be married. "

"And what if the king is killed in combat and doesn't return? What if he doesn't take away the consequences of the things I've done?" Robin asked. "And I still don't think she will even forgive me if I do say sorry. You know what happened last time. I came back from the Holy Land, I told her we could get married, she slammed a door in my face and threw a bucket of water over my head." Robin winced, recalling how cold that particular morning was and how icy the surface of the water.

"After she told you she was upset and for good reason, considering you told her you would be gone six months at the latest, and after you called her a melodramatic, spoiled brat." Will reminded him, coolly finishing off his stew. Robin covered his head in his hands and tried to ignore him. "Robin, I hate to say this, but you are being childish. Either go and apologize or forget her and move on."

For a long time Robin sat in the same state while Will stared expectantly at him. "Fine." He said at last, gazing glumly into the fire. "When we go to Loxley tomorrow I will visit Marion. There, are you happy now?" Robin groaned, rubbing his temples and knowing he would regret his decision later.

"More or less, but there's still one thing that's been bothering me."

"The girl? Will, we talked about this."

"But why would she run away? We were the only protection she had." Will replied with ill-supressed passion, the pain of seeing her leave without even saying goodbye still fresh in his heart. "I still don't see why we can't go after her. Who knows what could have happened to her by now? What if she got arrested?"

"She made her choice. We offered her our services and she decided she didn't want them. I would bet money that she knows we suspect her and her guilty conscience couldn't take it." Robin answered flatly. He too was concerned for the girl, but he suspected there was a good reason she left. Obviously, her secrets were the most important things she possessed and would do anything to protect them. Robin took one look at Will's face and knew this answer was not going to satisfy him, so reluctantly he added, "We will ask around tomorrow if anyone's seen her, alright?"

"Thank you." Will said, standing up with a wide grin on his face.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Chapter 6 Part 1

Photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Adam sat before the fire rubbing his rope-burned wrists and thinking about Alexis. He could barely wait to see her again, it had been so long, longer than he'd realized. When he left, one thing just led to another and time flew past. He became swept up in his wanderings and all but forgot the poor young woman waiting for him in Loxley. But now he was back, and this Robin Hood was offering him the only chance he would ever get to have the life with her he'd dreamed of. But that didn't mean he trusted his rescuers.

He was nervous as he warmed himself, constantly throwing leery glances over his shoulder, eyeing the men suspiciously as they went about unloading that day's plunder and preparing dinner. The scent of beef and vegetable stew wafted through the chilly night air to his nose, making his mouth water. He recalled that it had been days since his last decent meal. Grubby bread and dirty water from the dungeon hardly counted as edible, not to mention filling.

Before he could even raise his voice to ask, a trencher was put into his hands and Robin sat down beside him. "Thanks." Adam muttered before attacking the stew, gobbling it furiously, not even feeling the heat, just the smooth liquid and filling chunks of meat as they slid down his throat. In a twinkling the bowl was emptied and Adam let out a long sigh of relief, reclining with his head on his hands. "Mate, you have no idea how long it's been since I've had food this good."

Robin eyed him in amusement as he blew on his spoon and carefully began his meal. "Well, glad we could be of service. So, you've been away from home for awhile, you said?"

"Well, yes, I have, not that it's any of your business." Adam replied quickly. His hunger may have lost its edge, but his suspicion remained sharp as a knife.

"Really? I think that it is my business, considering I'm the only reason you are still alive. You owe me at least a back story." Robin grinned genially as he said this, but his eyes said clearly that he would take no nonsense.

Adam saw this and considered his circumstances for a moment before continuing, in a defeated tone, "Fine. Where do you want me to start?"

"As early as you can." Robin made himself comfortable and waited expectantly. Though he didn't show it, he was genuinely concerned for this young man, and was afraid that his situation might be worse than the lad realized.

"I grew up in Loxley with my father, Charley, as you know, and my mother. Mum died when I was young, and I never had, let's say, a good relationship with my dad." He stopped, drawing in a breath and trying not to let Robin see the glistening half-tear in the corner of his eye. "There's a lot of evil that can be hidden by a bright smile and a firm handshake. My father was not exactly the kind-hearted man everyone thought him to be.

'But, that's beside the point. I did what he told me, I took his beatings, and when I turned twelve, I got tired of it. I took some of his meat that he was preparing for a very wealthy, important customer, and through it in the woods as a sort of revenge. Well, my father found out and reported it to the sheriff. I had mere hours before they would arrive to take me away at sunrise, so I said goodbye to Alexis, told her I would be back soon and left that night. I hitched a few rides to the harbor, traded my services to a captain for food and safe passage, and in a few weeks found myself in France. I stayed there for two years, may or may not have been convicted of theft, and then meandered over to Scotland. I moved around there a lot, no need to ask why, and after another four years, I was able to stow away on a ship back to England. And here I am." Adam ended with a grand flourish of his hands before flopping them down to his side again and sitting up, looking at Robin.

"Nice story, but it does throw a problem into our plan." Robin commented, musing over what he had just heard.

"And what is that?"

"Alexis. What on earth makes you think she'll agree to run away and marry you after you left her alone for so long?" Robin's face was entirely serious.

"Because she loves me!" Adam cried, taken aback. The thought that his being away for so long may affect her feelings had never even crossed his mind.

"Look, I'll do my best to make you two happy together, but I know too well how much it hurts when lovers are separated. You made a promise to her that you would return, and that you would be back soon. A lot can change in six unplanned years of absence, Adam." Robin's voice sank to a whisper at these last words, and he stared at the ground, his mind wandering far off, thinking back to a painful time that still held a dull ache for him.

"What are you saying? I love her, and she loves me! Nothing will change that. We will be together. And what do you know about love anyway, all alone, hiding out here in the woods? While I was gone I was scraping together a living, trying to build a life to give to Alexis when I got back. I worked for her so that I didn't come home empty-handed. I worked and I left and I stayed away because I love her." Adam seethed, getting up and stalking angrily to the hut that had been prepared for him earlier.

Robin tried to stop him, but deemed it wiser to let himself cool off. The lad's angry words had hurt him more than he had expected, and if he tried to talk now, he would surely say something he would regret.