|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
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