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

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