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.


"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."


"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?"


"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