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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Chapter 11 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Alexis stifled a yawn for the umpteenth time, blinking in a desperate attempt to keep awake as the hazy film of exhaustion descended over her eyes. Her position, crouching behind a thorny, dense shrub, was not conductive to comfort or focus, she discovered, but it was crucial to keep still if she wanted to catch anything. The fingers of her right arm were cramped from clutching a make-shift string she'd made from braided strands of her dress, and her stomach moaned and grumbled from want of food. It had been hours and still nothing had dared approach her trap.

She looked up, and, seeing the red tinges of sunset begin to light up the sky, bringing with it an ever-increasing evening chill, she began to grow more nervous. It would be dark soon, and she still had not attempted to make a fire. As her mind became clouded with doubts and fears, making her question if all this was simply a waste of time, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.

Holding her breath, she watched, as an unassuming rabbit bounded nonchalantly into view, not waiting a moment to consider, and began to contentedly nibble on the small crust of bread placed beneath a rickety cage woven out of flexible, green branches. Not wasting a second, Alexis pulled the string, sending the stick it was tied to skittering away from beneath its make-shift basket, leaving the hungry cony captured. Breathing a shocked, overjoyed prayer of gratitude, she scampered down from her hiding spot and placed a foot firmly on the cage as its catch tried to escape.

Killing it hadn't fazed her in the slightest, having been taught well in the required suspension of sympathy when it came to hunting. Actually skinning and cleaning the rabbit was an entirely different ordeal. She'd done it before, had been taught by her brother, and the creature's insides did not make her so much as flinch.
Nevertheless, her skills were rusty, as was the blade she had snatched up from a blacksmith's rubbish pile on her way out of Nottingham. Her useless left arm only made matters worse, and it took twice the proper amount of time to prepare the animal, her having devised several schemes for keeping it still with a rock, or held between her knees, as she carved out its organs.

Now she had to cook it. The pies and bread would keep for a bit longer, but the fresh meat would soon spoil if not eaten quickly. Glaring at the pile of dry leaves and twigs she had gathered throughout the day, Alexis wondered exactly how she was going to set it ablaze. She had no flint and steel with her, or anything at all besides a horse, a knife, a cloak, some food, and the ragged, tattered dress on her back.
Shivering beneath her hood, she tried to remember how she'd been taught to make a blaze long ago, when she was just a small child. Closing her eyes, Alexis felt her father's rough, large hands gently grip hers, moving them back and forth, and his warm, soft breath while he whispered, "There you go, just like that." Once again she saw the entranced face of her brother with his big, big brown eyes, the shower of sparks she made illuminating his face for a brief instant.

Opening her eyes, she shook off these visions, knowing that any memories of her family hurt too much, and that is was no time for tears. After a few minutes of searching, she found what she needed and carried them back to the clearing. Sitting down, she laid out before her a large, somewhat flat stick, and a sharp rock. Gripping the stick between her feet, she picked up the rock and began rubbing, pushing it back and forth.
In a few hours, she had gathered quite a pile of shavings, and finally one of the thousands of sparks that had resulted from the friction, landed in the pile and caught. Blowing it ever so carefully, she watched it grow, consuming the shavings in a twinkling, and she gently added more tinder, watching the dry leaves catch, and when the blaze was big enough, she gingerly placed a couple twigs in its heart. "Yes, yes!" she breathed, watching them go up as well.

With the moon high in its course, Alexis roasted the chunks of meat she had gathered from her kill, stretching out her right arm, which now ached all over from the incessant rubbing. As the orange and golden tongues of flame licked the blackened sky, her mind was brought back to the last time she had looked into the light of a similar blaze. She had felt so afraid, so worried, and for what? She realized now that Robin had probably never meant to hurt her, had never once lied to her. But how had she responded? What had she done ever since meeting him? Lied.
That was what haunted her most of all. Revenge? That was something she felt herself capable of justifying, but hurting the people who only wanted to help? Her eyes and throat began to sting whenever she thought of it.

No. She had to stop dwelling on them. What was done was done, and she could do nothing to change it. Right now, it was important to focus on how she was going to protect herself when the heavy, chilling snows of winter began to roll in, which, judging by the snapping cold in the weather, could be any day now.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part1