Monday, October 27, 2014

Chapter 17 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"What are you talking about?" Robin drew back as he felt his pulse quickening.

"You knew that her father was a criminal." Marion's face was whiter than the snow, her eyes like two black beads of jet as they glared at him, sparkling with stinging tears.

"Maybe, maybe I had a suspicion as to who she was, but really—"

"Don't you dare lie to me! Not again."

"Why are you getting so worked up about this, Marion?" His voice softened, but he kept his distance, feeling his guilt settle in the pit of his stomach like a piece of lead.

"Why wouldn't I? You denied a person help when they needed it most because of something that wasn't even her fault, and then you lied about it. I can handle the fact that you lied to me, but Robin, you lied to everyone. To Will."  She stepped further back with each word, shaking her head, a tear rolling down her cheek.


"I thought you were better than that. I wanted you to be better. I was so ready to forgive you, Robin. You have no idea how much I wanted you to change."


"But you haven't. You haven't changed at all." She shuddered, backing into a tree and clinging to it, using all the willpower she had to not fall weeping at his feet. He didn't deserve to see her cry, to see how much pain he had caused.

"Marion, please," Robin begged, voice and body trembling, gaze cold and steady with desperation as he moved towards her."What is this about, exactly? You found out about her, right? What do you know?" He regained some footing, his voice shook less as it filled the air.

"Alexis, her name is Alexis and her father was hanged for an act of treason against the king. I don't know what it was. He served in the Holy Land  around the same time that you did." A thousand emotions rose inside Marion as the words fell from her mouth. She felt powerless and weak, confused and alone, so very alone. Robin said nothing in response, and the tiny sparks of hope inside her were extinguished in a second, as if cold water had been thrown upon them. "You knew this, didn't you?" The question was lifeless, her tone defeated. She had no interest in receiving an answer.

"I had suspicions, but I didn't know for sure until now, and even if I had known, it would have no affect on the way I treated her." Robin's words were soft at first, but as he began to fully grasp the situation, they turned hard. "I can't believe you think I could ever stoop so low. I'm many terrible things Marion, you of all people know that well enough, but not so blatant a hypocrite as that! I knew her father. I knew Badrick. He was my general, and a good friend, and no one was hurt more than I when his crimes were uncovered, but those things were his doing and no one else's, and no one should pay for them but him."

"But you let her go." She whispered the words, but left them untouched by feeling or pain. They held no venom, but revealed everything. She knew his soul, and now he thought he knew hers: She thought him a liar, and no matter how much she wished the contrary, she had no room for false hope.

"Marion..." He reached out to take her arm, to stop her, he knew it was useless. He let it fall to his side, and his words of explanation died on his lips, knowing they weren't enough, and never could be.

"Why? Why did you let her go? Why didn't you help her, especially if you knew her situation?" She waited,but he could not meet her eye, could not say anything he thought worth believing. She faltered a few moments, everything in her being wanting to forgive him, to forget it all and run into his arms. She waited one more moment, giving him one more chance, but nothing but half-words and silence met her.

Still angry, though more so with himself than Marion, "You wouldn't understand. You could never understand." Was all he could say.  In another moment, her red dress flashed one last time against the frosted landscape before it vanished beyond the top of the hill, leaving him with this goodbye: "I'm ready to believe you, Robin, but I need something to believe."

The men awaiting the couple's return at the camp moved hurriedly aside as Marion brushed past, staring straight ahead and charging through the snow. She had mounted her horse and disappeared through the forest before anyone had time or the frame of mind to ask what was wrong. They stood looking at each other, dumb-founded, unsure what to think. "D'you suppose they had another row?" Allan wondered aloud, plucking at the strings of his lute.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chapter 17 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The heavy snowflakes blew against Marion's face as she charged into the forest, mingling with her streaming hair and weighing it down till it hung in thick, clumped, icy strands against her scarlet cheeks. Carefully steering her horse through the white-topped underbrush, she tried to think of what she would say, but was unable to summon a single calm phrase. Her blood boiled.

She reigned in the animal at the crest of a hill, catching her breath and staring at the miniature encampment below. In a moment she had swung from her horse's back and was scrambling down the slope, too impatient to walk around. She landed with a muffled thump at the bottom, her dress a bit damp, but her anger unhampered. Collecting herself, she smoothed her cloak and her scowl till they were presentable. Walking among the huts, she looked for signs of habitation. "Robin?" She called out, her tone coated thickly with ice. She heard voices rising from the far edge of the clearing, and turned in that direction. Peeking around the corner of a hut, she saw Robin and his comrades standing around listening intently to another man who looked concerned, and strangely familiar.

Drawing back, she listened to his report, unseen. "I don't know why, but she was there, and was asking about a villager. More importantly, she was asking about you." Marion gasped, capping a hand to her mouth. The man was Much, the old woman's son she'd seen in Loxley only hours ago. What was he doing there? Recovering from the shock, she turned her ear back to the conversation.

"What villager?" Robin's voice sounded calm enough, but Marion recognized quite well that it was edged with displeasure. "Why did Marion want to know about something like that, and why would she come to you?"

"It was that girl who escaped from the dungeon recently, and I'm certainly not the person to ask why she was of such interest. I thought perhaps you might know."

"And what brought you to that conclusion?" Much hadn't posed his last statement as a threat, but Robin appeared to see it as such, stepping forward, his glare unwavering. Much shrank back.

"Nothing, it's just that it's rather common knowledge that you two have a history together, at least, and it seemed a reasonable explanation as to the question of her motives for inquiry. But, at the same time, it was possible that she was trying to gather knowledge for Gisborne, to aid in his attempt to capture both you and the girl."

Hearing this, Marion scoffed. How ignorant could he be to think that she would ever willingly help Guy of Gisborne with anything? She waited with an unconsciously smug grin to hear Robin rise to her defense. But the grin faded as nothing but silence served to retaliate at Much's painful slight. Robin said nothing on the subject, but only brushed past with a new question. "What did you tell her?"

"My mother answered all of Marion's questions. Things about the girl's past, things that haven't seen the light of day in a while, and for a good reason. I didn't know what to do, so I came here. I thought you at least deserved to know."

"Thank you Much, you've done well. Now, if you could—"

"Yes, Much, very well done indeed. Thank you, you've saved me ever so much time and explaining." Marion stepped out from behind the wall into their midst. At sight of her, Robin grit his teeth and Much's gaze dropped to the floor. "Now, shouldn't you be getting back to your mother?" She sent a withering glare to the surprised messenger, who mumbled his apologies and started back towards home.

"Come with me." Robin took one calculating look at the situation, grabbed the intruder by the arm, and dragged her into the forest till they were out of earshot, ignoring her outraged demands for release and the confused shouts of the gang. After a few moments, they stopped and he let go, sending her reeling into the snow, landing in a puff of white flakes. "What is wrong with you? Can't you leave anything alone?" He shouted, grimacing as he reached out a hand to help her up.

Marion slapped the offer away, straightened and set her brow. "Why didn't you ask? Obviously you have eyes and ears everywhere, so finding out anything would have taken you a matter of hours. Why didn't you want to know?" She glared at him, chest heaving with anger, aching with hurt. She dreaded his true answer.

"Because if she didn't want me to know, then I had no right to pry." He returned, staring back, shrugging off the pain at being so callously rejected.

"That is ridiculous, and you know it!" Her lips trembled, her voice rang out and was absorbed into the snow. "You help people by stealing from others, and I know for a fact that isn't the only instance where you would use bad means for a good end. You didn't ask because you didn't want to help her. You didn't ask because you already knew."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chapter 16 part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"Oh, yes, yes, your question. Well, what can I help you with?" The old woman shook herself, recalling the real reason she'd been blessed with the presence of such an important guest.

"I was wondering if anyone has recently gone missing from this area. A young girl, perhaps?" Marion posed the question with seeming nonchalance, trying to keep from sounding too interested.

"Why, yes, just a couple weeks ago, that girl got chased out of here by Gisborne and his men. Don't you remember, Much? Now, what was the young lady's name..."

"Alexis." The man muttered in reply, his sidelong stare growing with suspicion. "What do you want to know about her?" He took a step toward the visitor, staring her down, his voice low and hard.

Marion glared back, unabashed. "I want to know why the lord of your manor here is so interested in a simple peasant girl as to run her out of town."

The older lady gave her son another disapproving slap. "There's nothing wrong with a woman inquiring after things which involve her lover. Her name was Alexis, of course. Her mother was a good woman, kind, quiet, she kept to herself. Alexis had a brother as well; just like his mum, he was. She was the spitting image of her father. The two were always outspoken, longing for adventure, and, ultimately, always in over their heads with trouble." She whispered the last words with a sympathetic, knowing sigh.

"What do you mean by that?" Marion continued, intrigued. This was more information than she'd been bargaining for, and couldn't believe Robin hadn't thought to ask for it by now. Ah, but Robin  didn't want to know, she reminded herself bitterly.

"Well, I don't know the particulars, but the girl's father was serving time in the holy land, and he never came back." The door slammed loudly as Much stomped out, unable to listen anymore. In the snowy air, he cursed under his breath. What should he have done? Who could he trust?

Marion disregarded the dramatic exit as her brow wrinkled in confusion and disappointment. "That's it? He died serving his king?"

"That's not all. The thing is, he wasn't killed by the enemy. He was executed by order of the king. He died a criminal in the highest degree, accused of treason, or so said the men who served with him. After word got around, people started shunning the girl's family. Her brother lost his job and no one wants to hire the son of a traitor. Soon enough—"

"Wait! Her father was a criminal? And before that?"

"Before that, he was a general and one of the king's most trusted friends. He was very well-respected and wealthy around here. It really is a shame. That poor girl..."

"So what happened? What became of her family?" Marion's face had become white as her knuckles as she gripped the edge of the dilapidated table. The tea by her hand was cold and untouched, despite the sudden dryness of her throat. "Where was Robin throughout all of this? Did he help them?"

"He tried my dear, certainly, but the lad was a proud one, and the mother and sister were almost never at home after getting jobs as bar maids. They made enough to get by at first, but soon the mother got sick and died, God rest her soul."

Marion bit her lip. Her eyes stung.

The old woman reached out a gentle hand to comfort her, but it went unheeded. With a sigh, she continued, "I wanted to help, but what could I do? We have our own troubles, I'm afraid. After she died, Alexis's work wasn't enough to pay their taxes, and just last month, Gisborne's men came to arrest them, but things got ugly quickly. The boy resisted, and got a sword through the heart for it. His sister escaped, and for a long while, nothing was heard of her. A search or two was conducted, but it seemed the sheriff had bigger problems to deal with. But then, a few days later, she was seen again, being chased though here by Gisborne himself. She ran into the Sherwood and was reported dead. Poor, poor girl..."

A hundred questions died on Marion's lips as she tried to utter them. But what was the point? It seemed she had her answer. Hands trembling, she gathered up her cloak and the empty basket, bidding her hostess a good night. "Thank you, you've been very helpful. And, if it's not too much trouble, could you avoid telling Lord Gisborne I was here?" Her voice was like gravel.

"Of course. Thank you for all of this!" The woman's face creased with a thousand wrinkles as she smiled, gesturing to the bounty before her.

"Don't mention it." Was the whispered reply as Marion ducked out into the thick flakes that fell with increasing speed against a horizon that was fading from pink into dusky twilight. Gritting her teeth at the task at hand, she mounted her horse and rode off toward the Sherwood.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chapter 16 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The soles of Marion's leather boots crunched softly as they condensed the fresh snow with each step. She walked decisively towards the stables, her breath already swirling visibly from her mouth in short, angry bursts of steam. The sting of Robin's words, and, indeed, her own, was still sharp, though she tried to push her injuries aside and focus on the task at hand. Mounting her horse, a fine chestnut mare, strong, fast, sure-footed and, ironically, a birthday present from Gisborne, she pulled her cloak close about her as protection from the winter winds. "At least he gives things, instead of stealing all the time." She muttered before spurring the animal through the doors and down the path.

With a sarcastically appreciative nod to the languid guards as she passed, she made her way to Loxley. Reigning in before the public stables, she tied off her horse and strode towards the first person she saw: an elderly peasant woman, bundled in a knit shawl as she watched a young man gather and split firewood a few yards off. "Excuse me," Marion called out, a warm, kind smile spreading across her wind-bitten face.

The stranger turned with a start, but her shock did not end when she faced the person who had called her. "L-lady Marion!" She cried in dismay, falling on one knee. "How may I help you, m'am? Shall I call Lord Gisborne for you?" The last question she uttered hesitatingly, clearly hoping that was not the woman's wish. By now the man gathering wood had joined them, placing a protective arm about the old woman's shoulder, lifting her up, and looking at Marion with mingled curiosity and suspicion.

Marion laughed lightly, but it was tinted with sadness when she felt the woman's icy blue hands and saw how thin the knitted wrapping was. "No, no, I came to find answer to a question that's been troubling me, and was hoping you could help."

"Me? Really? How may I be of service?" The woman replied eagerly, cutting off the man's objections. "Oh, but first, let's get out of this awful snow. My house is just over there. It's not much, certainly not nice enough for a fine lady like yourself, but it will be warm. Will you pity an old crone enough to humor her wishes?"

"That sounds absolutely lovely, thank you." Marion smiled, following them.

"Though, I suppose even a rich lord or lady can get used to anything. Master Robin proved that quite well, going off and thriving in the Sherwood of all places, just like that!" The older one continued, chuckling softly to herself as she bustled about, preparing a kettle for tea and trying to find some form of food to serve her guest as the man, grumbling to himself, placed the wood in a tiny hearth and began to light it. Marion winced involuntarily at the mention of Robin's name, especially spoken in such admiring tones.

Brushing off her agitation, she placed her basket on a rickety table in the center of the tiny hovel and took out a loaf of bread, a meat pie that was still warm, and a large, hard block of cheese. "Here, I must repay you for your hospitality."

At sight of the food, the man sent off a flurry of sparks into the blaze, burning himself, and the woman dropped the kettle with a resounding crash. "Oh, oh, now..." She whispered, her old eyes staring longingly at the bread. "Thank—"

She was cut off as the man, standing up, looked at Marion with a hard, cold glare and said in a voice equally chilling, "We do not need your charity."

"What? Of course we do! Don't be such an ungrateful, proud idiot, refusing what you need most simply because it is offered out of the kindness of someone's heart." The old woman retaliated, smacking him upside the head with a wrinkled hand as Marion watched on, amused. "Please forgive my son, m'lady. He has his father's abominable pride and doesn't understand a blessing when he 's offered one. Thank you, very, very much. We've been needing it more than ever, since Lord Robin's not been by in nearly a fortnight. He usually comes by at least twice a week, bless his soul, but I've not seen him in so long. I suppose it's terribly spoiled and greedy of me to expect such things, but I've grown used it. I just hope he's alright."

Marion held back a groan. Obviously Robin was a subject of interest here. "Yes, well, he's been rather busy as of late." She muttered an excuse, turning to cut up the bread into slices for eating and wondering why, if he claimed to not care about the girl, he had not simply resumed his practice of treating the poor to his stolen goods.

The son turned sharply to his mother. "You can't just speak of that to anyone! He's a wanted thief, and this is a noble." He hissed, looking sideways at Marion as she stared at the loaf, and pretending not to hear.

"Don't worry yourself about it. I am well aware of the man's criminal exploits, and if I disapproved of his charitable, if unlawful, acts, do you think I would be here offering this to you?" She asked, placing her hands on her hips. "Now then, about my question."

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chapter 15 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
"She was with you for a good amount of time, yes?" Marion sighed, exasperated.

"Yes, but—"

"Then how is it possible that you didn't even think to ask her name?"

"I did. We all did, but she wouldn't tell, and it's not like I could use torture and make her. It wouldn't have worked anyway, would it?"

"What could she have to hide that even giving a name would put her in danger?" Marion considered, sitting on a chair and cupping her hand to her chin, the way she always did when thinking.

"I don't know, darling, but I trust she had a good reason for her silence. Don't you think it might be best not to get involved?" Robin rubbed her shoulders, staring into the blaze and trying to forget the chill that had remained in his heart since laying eyes on that girl.

"Like it or not, you're already involved and so am I. The girl needs our help Robin, even if she's not in a position to say so. I can't believe this..." Marion sat up with a jerk, glaring at Robin from her new post across the room. "How could you even consider turning away from someone in trouble?"

Taken aback, Robin's face hardened. "She turned away from me! Lest you forget, she's the one that ran off without warning. I offered her aid and she spit in my face."

"Did you even try to stop her?" Marion asked with only a glint of hope in her voice, hope that he would say yes, knowing she would much rather doubt this girl than her lover. But, looking at his down-turned face, she knew the answer. "Ha, of course not." She choked on a short, bitter-tasting laugh, rolling her eyes. "After so many, you still have no idea what women are like?"

These last words hit Robin full force in the gut. "Well, I'm not the one courting a man who stands for all that I hate in this world!" He retaliated, his hand gripping the back of the chair till his knuckles turned white.

"You leave Gisborne out of this!" Marion's voice was loud and spiteful at first, but her words lowered into an icy, hard monotone. "You know he means nothing to me."

"Oh, really? And yet you treat him with more respect and time than you even devote to thinking about me! What do I mean to you, then, less than nothing?" Robin knew he was being petty, but his pride had been struck and he wasn't about to let that go.

"I could ask the same of you! At least you spent time with those other women, instead of just running off to the war and then hiding away in that little forest. Is the only thing keeping me from being exactly the same as them the fact that I actually have standards? Because I would think twice before gallivanting off into Sherwood with you, leaving behind everything that I know and love? Everyone who needs me?"

"Needs you." Robin tasted the words with a bitter expression. "The only people that need you, the only people you do anything for, are your father and that sniveling Gisborne! You don't know the meaning of charity, of helping people!"

"I do more than you would think. Sometimes, helping others means not running away from the world and its problems. It means standing up everyday to injustice, facing it head on." She tossed her head proudly, trying to mask the hurt in her voice.

"Standing up to it? You call flirting with evil men, playing their games, doing everything they tell you out of fear of confrontation standing up to injustice? Who's the real coward in this room Marion? Honestly?" Robin quaked with anger. He clutched the chair back until he thought it would snap between his grip.

"Do you think I like feigning to love all the things I despise most? Do you think it's easy? I'd give anything to have the luxury of taking your approach out of it, but I cannot. If I make a stir, if I cause even the slightest amount of trouble and am caught, I bring everyone I tried to help down with me. The more the sheriff is flaunted, the more vicious he becomes. Why can't you realize that?" Her face had become a white sheet, black eyes bright and shining, all the color rushed to her cheeks till they were as deep a crimson as her dress.

"I am helping people, and I don't give a damn what the sheriff has to say about it!" Robin was shouting now, the words shaking the rafters.

"That's just it, isn't it?" Marion had dropped to soft whisper. "You don't care what anyone thinks, about anyone's feelings, just so long as you think you're doing the right thing, yes? But, and please, please answer me truthfully, did you think you were doing right by any of those other women?"

He stood frozen, his gaze boring holes into the floor, his jaw clamped shut.

"Five years, Robin. Five years, and did you really think you were doing the right thing all that time? King Richard, duty, honor, all that aside, did you really think those women were the right thing to do? How many of them were there?" Her chin wobbled as she spoke in desperation, wanting nothing more than the truth. Tears gathered in her eyes.

"Too many." He dropped the words like lead on the floor and left them there, stomping out the door and into the snow the next instant, slamming it shut behind him. He stood blinking and reeling in the snow, his chest heaving, swelled with a pain he thought he'd put behind him. That woman! Why did she have to be so enchanting? Everything would be so much easier if he could just forget her. But he'd tried that, three times, and had only made things worse, just like she said. If there was one thing he hated, it was being trapped, and this was worse than anything he'd experienced in the Holy Land. Muttering a slew of curses, he stomped through the village, paying no heed to the heads raised in curiosity as he swept past. Why did she always have to be right?

Inside, Marion was pacing furiously to and fro, her shadow cast long, dark and flighty against the wall, flickering in the firelight. "Really!" She sputtered, annoyed both with Robin and the hot, stinging tears that attempted to make a weeping fool out of her passion. But more than that, she was annoyed with herself. "That man. How dare he! How can he be so oblivious? So stubborn!" The pace quickened as her anger heated itself again. "And what am I? Can I possibly be so foolish as to love an idiotic, egotistic flirt like that?" With a long, exhausted groan, she sank to the floor, laying her head down on the hearth rug. "Why do I love him? Why does this have to be so hard?" She whispered, covering her face with her long, white hands. "I must truly be insane."

After another few moments of unrepentant wallowing, she sat up slowly, rubbing her stiff back as the anger receded slowly from her bloodstream. "Well," She continued, her forehead wrinkled in consideration, "If he's not going to do anything about the situation, someone has to." With those words, she set her brow in a determined line, snatched up a cloak, quickly threw together a basket of food, and set off into the world outside, as it rapidly turned white in the flurry of new fallen snow.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1