Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chapter 9 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The sun had reached it's journey's peak, shining high above England as Alexis made her way deep into the forest, urging the horse on as fast as possible the entire way. Finally she stopped, letting it catch it's breath. She slid down and looked about. She had no idea where she was, and it pleased her. If she was lost, then that meant the guards following her were too.

She had no idea how they had found out about her escape and organized a tracking team so quickly, but they lost in stealth what they made up for in speed. Before she was even beyond the city limits she recognized them behind her. It was a pointless effort really; she had no intention of going back to Robin's camp. But she wasn't about to risk being ambushed and re-captured, so she took as many roundabout, steep ways as she could find, doubling back and hiding in crevices. She had lost them hours before, but preferred to keep going just to be safe.

Now she reined in her flight in the center of a large, relatively flat clearing. Sliding off the horse's back, she flopped down on a dense patch of moss and opened up the bag of food. Most of it was crushed from the jarring ride, but that didn't matter. She'd downed half of it in a matter of moments, and took a good deal of willpower not to give the second part the same treatment. Leaning back with a contented sigh, she breathed in the smell of the forest once again, not realizing how much she'd missed it. Moss and dirt and trees and bright, wide open sky, limitless and spattered with only a few clouds. There was no roof in this place, no bars to hold her in, no one to remind her of all the hurt she was responsible for. 

There was possibility here, danger and excitement. She knew she'd run away, but never guessed how far. She realized now that she could leave it all behind, leave her past and dwell wherever her heart wished. 

But that was the problem, wasn't it? Her heart still held within it the feel of Will's arms around her and his breath in her hair. It guarded barely-whispered hopes that Adam would return to her, and the soaring elation of realizing he had. Hidden away in it's corners were tear-tinged memories of her brother's laughter and her mother's smile. She could choose to be free, but that would mean forgetting everything that brought pain, even if it had once held joy.

With a groan, she shut her eyes and tried also to shut out these thoughts. Why did everything she did have to hurt? Would it ever stop? She clumsily tied up the horse to a tree using her good arm and thumped back down again, dropping into a hazy sleep tainted with nightmares.

When she awoke she realized it had grown late. The purplish, gold-spattered veil of dusk had begun to wrap itself around the world and brought with it chilling breezes that bit through her dress that was now falling to pieces and could hardly be considered a decent covering. Taking up the cloak that she had cast off in her sleep, she bundled up and trudged from the clearing, driven on by unbearable thirst. The cook had been kind to provide food, but a flask of water would have also been greatly appreciated. 

"Well, there's no point in wandering off with no clue where I'm going..." She muttered, glancing distrustfully at the stolen mare. "Please." She whispered after a few minutes of deliberation. Carefully she picked herself up with a groan, the ache in her limbs flaring up with a new found vengeance. Biting her lips and thinking she was going to regret this decision, she climbed atop the horse and untied it.

There was a good chance, she thought, that the horse would simply gallop off back to it's master, either taking her back to Nottingham, where by now she was an escaped convict, or leaving her stranded in the woods alone. But she harbored a faint hope that it was as parched as she and would lead her to water.

Swaying uncertainly astride her steed, she watched anxiously as it turned about carefully, and finally chose it's path, leaving the clearing, and going in the opposite of whence they'd come. Alexis watched the hooves plod along beneath her, the soft floor of dying leaves stretched out before them in a patchwork of brown, yellow and red as she tried to ignore both the pain that possessed her from head to foot and the toxic guilt and sorrow biting at her heart.

A half an hour passed until the horse finally stopped and bowed it's head. Alexis opened her eyes that she'd closed in an effort to keep her supper down. She had soon realized that horse riding was a potentially nauseating activity if you had just eaten your first meal in days. Blinking, hoping she saw correctly, she tilted her head back and laughed, giddy and overjoyed. It was the first time in months.

Directly below her was a great rushing spring, the horse bending it's head to drink, indifferent to the emotions of it's rider. She toppled onto the bank, paying no heed to caution, and plunged her head in the water, it filled her ears, gurgling and pounding. She drank it in and watched her hair levitate around her head, the sweat, dirt and blood, so many reminders of her imprisonment, being washed away. She stared at the clouds of grime as they faded into the swelling, watery mirror around her. Through it's glass she could see fractured interpretations of the stars appearing overhead, the water dyed the same dark shade as the night sky where they dwelt.

Finally, she pulled herself back out with a huge, gasping breath, feeling life rush back into her numb face. She was drenched and shivering uncontrollably, but she smiled, her eyes shining and her pain forgotten.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chapter 9 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis flew up the stairs quieter than a playful gust of wind, her bare, bloody feet gently padding the cold stone steps. The musty air was slowly becoming clearer as she ascended, and when she reached the top, she was able to breathe fully again, leaving the stench of rats and blood and tears behind. All except for that which still clung to her, anyways. "As soon as I get out of here, I am taking a bath." She muttered, sniffing her blood-soaked rags.

Quieter still, though her heart pounded with unspoken, half-acknowledged fears, she slipped through corridors until her nose led her to the kitchen, where the tantalizing scent of baking bread, pastries, meat pies and beef made her stomach and heart ache. The moldy, grubby bread and dirty water they'd given her in the dungeon was inedible in her eyes, and until now she hadn't even realized how hungry she was. The pain of her beatings was enough to distract her from everything else. 

Looking over her shoulder and scuttling behind a huge barrel of flour, she reached up to the counter above her head and plucked from it a raspberry tart, still warm in her frigid hands. "Here it comes." She whispered to herself, pulling her cloak closer and closing her eyes as a scream rang through the room.

"Get out here, you thief!" A large, white-haired woman dragged her out with as much force as a man. "What on earth do you think you're doing, stealing from the sheriff's table?" She demanded in a gruff, no-nonsense voice, her hands jabbing into her rotund hips. 

"Please, m-m'am, I-I'm so s-sorry." Alexis blubbered, her frightened eyes flashing, her death-white lips trembling. "My f-family is s-s-starving, I've been—"  It wasn't hard to call tears to her eyes after all she'd been through, and perhaps that made her performance all the more convincing, for the large lady's flour-covered face softened as she interrupted her. 

"Enough. I understand. Here," And, lifting the cowering Alexis to her feet, she proceeded to bustle about the room, piling tarts, pies and loafs of bread into a brown sack. Finally, she handed it to the fugitive. "Here, hide this under your hood and don't let anyone see it." She whispered, before making Alexis jump out of her skin by shrieking at the top of her lungs and running to the door. "Help, guards, help! Oh, help, help, help! There's a thief in my kitchen! Get her out!" 

"She certainly has an impressive set of lungs." Alexis thought as four armed and rather frantic looking soldiers rushed into the room and laid hands on her. It took all her will power not to cry out as one of them fiercely grabbed her bad arm. If she did, they might put two and two together and discover who she was. 

"Has this rat taken anything?" A soldier demanded, looking at her with disgust. 

"No, I got it back. Just get her out before the sheriff finds out I allowed this to happen. Surely he'll have my head if you don't get rid of her." The cook cried from the corner where she had drawn in mock terror, waving a wooden spoon before her as if a talisman to ward off evil spirits, or, in this case, Alexis. 

"Yes m'am." The soldier complied, and, with a curt nod, he watched as his soldiers dragged the prisoner from the room. He did not see, however, that she grinned with obvious satisfaction as they brought her to the front entrance. With a forceful, swinging heave, they threw her out into Nottingham square with one warning: Don't come back.

"I won't," She muttered through clenched teeth as she picked herself up from the ground, all her bones aching afresh and her lip cut on the pavement. The salty, cold blood ran down her chin and splattered on the cobblestones. She stood there for a few moments, dazed, watching the crimson rivulets intertwine with the dust of the street, her body shaking, her lungs hesitant to believe she was breathing free air again. A chilling fall breeze that tasted faintly of winter rattled her dress and cooled her face, and she slowly began to remember what life was like outside the dungeon. She shivered again, and drew the cloak about her shoulders from where it had been knocked away by her fall. Her feet found themselves in a pile of wet, rain-washed leaves, brilliant orange and red, the only thing she had seen in the past few days more colorful than her own blood. 

She took in deep, believing breaths now, eyes closed, as the dark, early-morning air wrapped her up and filled her with hope. And then, taking one last look, she ran. Her aching feet pounded the pavement, driven on by fear alone. She would not be captured again, she would never go back to that awful place. She made herself that promise as she flew through town, her matted, dirty hair dancing behind her, her last ounces of energy giving all they had.

She ran until she came to a home with three horses tied loosely outside of it. "Sorry mate, but I need this more than you do." She whispered breathlessly to the sleeping occupants of the house as she climbed atop the steed. It was frightened, and, truth be told, so was she, not having ridden a horse in years, but this was no time for worry. Gripping the horse as tightly as she could, she said a prayer and spurred it on. 

The world flew past in a blur of dirty houses and bright trees, thumping up and down to the rhythm of the horse. "Come on, faster!" She kicked the animal's sides, urging it through the town gates and into the forest. All around her, Nottingham was showing it's first signs of waking up as the creeping fingers of dawn climbed over the horizon. Candles were lit inside previously darkened homes, animals trembled in excitement, knowing that their breakfast was on it's way. 

Back at the castle, A frantic soldier rushed into the sheriff's room, awakening him from his deep, satisfied slumber. "My lord, wake up, my lord! It's the girl, she's gone, just like you said. She left the castle not long ago."

The sheriff sat up in bed and grinned as he heard this. "Excellent. Now, go saddle up five of our best trackers and follow her. In a few hours, we will know exactly where Robin Hood hides away in that little forest of his."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chapter 8 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

"Marion?" Gisborne poked his head around the door. As usual, he had neglected to knock. But there stood his lady, a wide smile across her face, her gown looking like it was made of spun garnets. One of his many gifts to her. He liked to call on her at unexpected times to see if she wore it even when he wasn't about.

"Guy, I regret to inform you that my father is not here. You can find him at the castle, though, surely." Marion knew that he was well aware of her father's location, but she had to at least try to get him away before Robin was caught, or worse, before he started jumping to conclusions. That would ruin everything.

"Actually, it was you I came to see, and am not entirely displeased to find you alone." Gisborne strode forward to kiss his lady's hand with a grin of confidence turning the corner of his mouth. He was in an especially amiable mood that day. "I have good news."

"Oh, really? Well, please, go on then." Smiled Marion, hoping the fact that she was rushing him didn't appear obvious.

"Well, do you remember the peasant girl I told you about before? The one who broke into my home?"

"You mean the disappearing corpse?" Marion held back a shudder. She was sitting inches away from a man heartless enough to shoot down a defenseless, starving child.

"Yes. Well, it turns out that due to my men's incompetency!" Here he raised his voice so that his entourage of guards waiting outside for him might hear, "She has survived."

"And that's good news?"

"Yes, actually. We have reason to believe that after being shot, she received care at the hands of Robin Hood." Something like a muffled gasp and a kick came from behind the curtain, which caused Marion's heart to beat all the more rapidly, but Guy took no notice, continuing, "We haven't confirmed this of course, but we have her in the dungeon, and the sheriff's methods are sure to break her any day now." Gisborne smirked with his triumph, and he awaited Marion's awestruck praise.

"She hasn't told you anything?" The lady asked, silently blessing the girl's willpower.

"No, but she'll soon see reason, and once she does, it's the gallows for her. No more mistakes and walking corpses. I'll make sure she stays dead."

The curtains rustled again, and this time Guy turned to look, but Marion quickly grasped his leather-gloved hand, and, feigning excitement, asked, "How on earth did you catch her?"

"Well, she decided to interfere with one of our hangings not long ago. Can't imagine what she was thinking, she climbed up the platform expecting to take on the entire guard! I arrested her after she fell back into the crowd. No one even noticed due to some... Other occurrences."

"Do you mean when the prisoner was rescued by Robin and his men?" Marion asked innocently, a humorous twinkle in her eye.

"You seem as if you like the idea of a dangerous criminal escaping the fate he deserved!" Gisborne's spitfire temper flared, and he drew back with a look of pain. "I think it is high time I took my leave. Thank you for your hospitality. May I hope to see you again soon?" Gisborne's voice cooled to a biting iciness that rivaled even Marion's at times.

"Oh, come now, Guy." Marion laughed, following him to the door. He pecked her hand and rode off without a word, nursing his wounded pride. Marion closed the door and fell against it with a sigh of relief. "Thank the Lord."

Will tumbled out of the curtain first, followed closely by Robin. "Did you hear that? He has the girl! And he's tortured her. Robin, we have to get her out!" Will seethed to his cousin, but Robin wasn't paying any attention.

"What was that?" he demanded of Marion, who simply rolled her eyes.

"Oh, Robin, stop being so childish. He visits quite often and there's nothing I can do about it. He enjoys having someone to pet his ego, that's all."

"You mean this happens regularly?" Robin was speechless. All this time he thought Marion had been sitting alone all her days, waiting for him to apologize, not flirting with Guy of Gisborne.

"I told you before, there's nothing I can do about it. And besides, it beats sitting around all by myself, like I spent years doing for somebody else I know." Her voice rang with spite and she looked accusingly at him.

"Oh, so now this is my fault?"

"Robin, they have the girl!" Will tried again, but was only brushed away as Marion stepped closer to Robin, hands on her hips.

"Since when was I not free to entertain whom I liked? You do not own me, Robin of Loxley. You lost that privilege years ago." Her voice was rising almost to a scream, her cheeks burning crimson with rage.

"But why him, of all devils? The Marion I knew before I left England had a lot more sense than that." Robin stepped forward, throwing his shoulders back in defiance.

"Robin, the girl!" Will cried in exasperation.

Marion was so close to Robin now that she could feel his heavy breathing, and her nose scraped against his. "Well, at least Guy pays attention to me, unlike some people who hide in the woods instead of dealing with their problems." She was on the verge of tears, knowing that this would end the same way all their meetings had, with him storming off and her left alone with the idea that he would never come back, and that she had ruined her chances with him forever.

Robin searched desperately for a comeback, but he knew she was right. She was so close to him now that their foreheads pressed together, and he had to look down to keep eye contact. She was so beautiful, her scarlet lips quivering with anger and that marvelous color in her cheeks made her eyes blaze beneath their curtain of lashes.

He laughed at himself. He was still foolish enough to be hopelessly in love with her, and he knew that if he left now, she would never leave his thoughts. Without warning, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed his lips to hers.

Her eyes flashed open in shock, and she raised a hand to slap him, but let it lower,closing her eyes and realizing how right it felt to be in his arms again at last. Who was she kidding? That crazy man still had her heart, and she was foolish enough to give it to him. And she didn't care one jot.

Will, complaining to an engrossed Adam, stopped his ranting when he saw them. "Oh, come on!"

"We should really go finish this discussion outside." Adam whispered, shoving a raging, cursing Will out the door.