|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
"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