Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chapter 19 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
Tramping through the sunrise-drenched forest was quiet and uncomfortable. Will refused to speak, Alexis could not, and Adam deemed it best not to.

All three nearly jumped out of their skin when Robin swung from above into their path. "I've been looking for you. Will, Adam, Alexis." As they caught their breaths, Robin wasted no time addressing them and assessing their condition, his eye settling on the girl with a condemning look, waiting for her reaction.

Alexis's lips clamped shut and her eyes widened. Everything in her body grew tense as she realized what Robin must know, and filled with an overwhelming urge to run away and not stop until all of this was behind her, but was hindered by Adam's strong arms wrapped about her. Also, she thought ruefully, she'd tried to do so before, and where had that gotten her?

She dropped her gaze, sensing the challenge in Robin's eyes and cowering. She was now entirely in their hands, and they could sway her fate whichever way they pleased with no obstacles. She felt sick.

"How did you know her name? I never told you this was her." Adam demanded in confusion.Why was Robin using the girl's name as a weapon? And, why, he wondered for the hundredth time, had Alexis kept her identity a secret?

"I know a lot of things about her now." To Alexis's astonishment, the malice drained from Robin's voice, and he only sounded weary, as if the knowledge of her past was a heavy, unnecessary burden. In that moment, Alexis saw that he understood. He knew exactly how she felt.

And yet, there remained something in his eye, in the powerful command of his personality, and the cunning, scheming nature of his mind, that filled her with more distrust than she had felt before. What had she gotten herself into?

"But we can talk about that later. The three of you have been very much missed back at the camp, and I'm glad to have found you. You must be cold and tired, and Alexis," The name tasted strange on his tongue, "I can only imagine your condition. Please, if you will, allow me to lead the way." Robin cast another glance at his cousin, who was staring back at him with the same anger as he had before, diluted only by a tinge of curiosity. Stifling a sigh, he led them on, retracing his steps back to the camp, trying to decide what to do, and if any of it could bring back the trust of the two people he loved most. Judging by the look on his cousin's face, it didn't seem likely.

"Alexis, what is going on?" Adam whispered earnestly into the girl's ear, looking about him suspiciously.

She could not reply. Her mind and heart were racing as she asked herself the same question. What was going on? And what would Robin do to her? How much did he know? And would he tell Adam? She felt guilty for keeping secrets even from him, and she thought she would tell him eventually, but he wasn't ready. What would happen when he found out, and from someone else?

She looked at Will, who kept his gaze locked straight ahead, trying to remove her from his vision and his heart, and she couldn't blame him. These people were the only ones still living that had ever cared for her in any way, and now even they would be taken from her by something that had happened long ago, something she had never been able to control. The winter air about them was bitterly cold, but she felt none of it, even as the icy wind bit and whipped her cheeks till they turned a bright scarlet.

Shutting her eyes against the torrents of panic and nausea that threatened to drown her, too scared and too hurt to cry, she considered once again if it would have been better if she'd stayed in that dungeon, if she'd gone to the scaffold.

Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chapter 19 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Robin revisited the argument a thousand times over, and then over again, as he trudged through the woods, noticing bent leaves and underbrush, wandering more aimlessly than he'd had cause to in a very long time. Had Marion been right?  Had he been so wrong to let the girl leave? Alexis. Her name is Alexis, he reminded himself again. It was a strange sensation, finally being able to put a name to the phantom-like creature that had drifted in and out of his life, leaving destruction and fear in her path. It made her more real, more terrifying.

And now, he knew why she had scared him. In all honesty, yes, he had suspicions regarding her true identity. Certain flickers in the girl's eyes, ways she spoke, the manner she held herself in, all echoed of that man who had once been his general back in the Holy Land. He'd been there, guarding the king's tent, that fateful night. He'd been asleep, Robin remembered with a curse, and he hadn't awoken until the man crept silently past, drawing a sword from it's sheath with a cold, metallic whisper.

Upon hearing that, he woke with a start, leaping to his feet and drawing his own weapon. He remembered afresh all that he had seen in the would-be assassin's eyes, sending chills down his spine. It was so strange, the man's countenance, that Robin spent many sleepless nights envisioning it again and again, for it would never fade from his memory. He still wondered if he had really seen it. Was it merely a product of the lingering wisps of dreams and the shadows of the night, of hastily-summoned adrenaline and fear?

When he shoved the man aside and out of the tent, holding the blade to his throat and alerting the surrounding soldiers, he saw the attacker's face in the moonlight. Terror and hatred was there, two things Robin expected, but also a trace of relief, as if he wanted to be caught. And, most shocking of all, was the man's very identity. General Blaxton was one of the king's most loyal companions and best leaders. All his troops looked up to the brilliant, magnificent, older man. He had been the only father figure Robin had in that place, and it pierced his heart to realize what the man had intended.

In the days after Blaxton's execution, which had been swift and without trial, Robin pushed away the pressing, overwhelming sense that the general wasn't guilty, that he would never do such a thing without a very important reason. Those thoughts were painful and hopeless, along with mournful musings over what might happen to the man's family. They would be shamed and outcast for their father's actions. Blaxton had told him about his wife, son and the daughter he now recognized as the one chased into his camp for stealing to keep herself alive. His predictions had been right, Robin thought grimly. But that was not his fault. What was the point in regretting a death that was come and gone, that could no longer be stopped?

But, in a way, it had been his fault. He could not deny this. He had taken her in needing and helpless and scared, and when she tried to leave, he let her, knowing full well what awaited her outside of the forest. And, once again, he'd been correct in seeing her future.

He looked up now through the softly drifting snow, lit up in pink and gold as the sun rose. He had been searching for Will and Adam for a day now, leaving soon after Marion, knowing he had to do it. He wasn't quite sure if finding them would get her back, but he felt guilty enough, and was beginning to worry about the two boys.

He and Will had had arguments before, but not like this. It had been a long time since Will's heart was this tangled up in anything. The last time, that thing was lost forever, Robin remembered with a grimace, blinking his heavy eyelids and trudging on. Will loved this girl so much, and if she made him happy, Robin knew he could love her too, but he also knew quite well that betrayal ran in her blood.

Amid his troubled thoughts, Robin heard the sound of footsteps, muffled in the deep snow, and that of a single horse's hooves plodding along patiently and slowly. Looking over his shoulder and ascertaining that the sound was approaching from the front, he took hold of a low tree branch and swung himself up into it's frosty boughs, hidden in the white-topped pines. Silently, he drew his bow and waited.

Eventually, the quiet company loomed into view, revealing a man leading the horse with a down-cast face, his dark hair speckled with the new flakes and damp with older, melted ones. Atop the animal sat a fairer-haired lad and a thin girl, sitting erect and rigid in the circle of his arms. Robin breathed a sigh of relief, clambering down from the tree and wondering where on earth they got the horse.

Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter 18 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Alexis turned away with a start, covering her mouth, a bright blush burning her cheeks. Will watched her, his gaze hardening, not moving from where he'd stood, so foolish, so naïve, expecting something that would never commit to being his.

"It... Was you? You were the one that tried to save me? You risked your life to save mine, after everything?" Adam advanced to wear Alexis stood, trembling, mumbling apologies and excuses. He heard none of it, but only wrapped an arm about her waist, pulling her to him and kissing her tenderly, lingeringly, on the lips, feeling her against him in a way so delightfully familiar, he finally realized how much he'd missed her.

Alexis pulled back in shock, but he held her tight and pulled her closer. She remembered this, the way his rested so close to hers, the warmth of his lips, the softness of his held breath. She relaxed, slowly, hesitatingly, eyes flickering shut for a moment as he pulled away and pressed his forehead against hers, smiling into her frightened, troubled face, burning now with guilt as well as embarrassment. "Thank you."

She was speechless. What on earth was she doing? She was just about to... She glanced at Will, who came up and clapped Adam on the back with a smile. "Adam! So glad you're awake. I take it you two know each other?" Alexis saw the pain in his eyes and hated herself.

"Ah, yes, Will, this is my long-lost lover Alexis, the one I've been telling you about." He continued to grasp her waist even as she tried to covertly free herself. "I had my suspicions that it might be you, but... Alexis, can we talk?" His voice softened, looking down at her in a way that would have made her weak in the knees not long ago. Even now she felt her heart stir and rustle.  She looked at Will, but he was now walking down to the creek, his head hanging low.

What had she done? Why had she told him how she felt? And what did this mean? Had he really felt the same way? She was such an idiot. She was supposed to be with Adam, if anyone. It had to be that way, and now she'd only gone and made it harder for both her and Will. "Wait." She pulled herself away and ran after him, calling his name.

He stiffened, visibly cringing, gritting his teeth as he turned to her. "I don't want to hear it. Go back and join your 'long-lost lover.' " He swallowed most of the venom, but some still leaked out into the cold night air.

Adam watched them for a few moments, then shrugged, deciding he owed his friend at lest a few moments of privacy, remembering how worked up about Alexis he'd been before. He wasn't happy with what Alexis had said, what he'd caught them on the verge of doing, but he didn't own her, he recalled as Robin's words echoed annoyingly through his head. But Robin had got Marion back in the end, and he would do the same.

"Will, I—" Alexis hated herself even more. Why had she said that thing? Why had she told him? The words had flown from her mouth carried by some force that was not her own. A spirit, powerful and terrible, had spoken from inside her.

"No. I've heard enough. Everything you say, everything you've told me, has been a lie. And for what? Even that... Reason you gave me was false. You couldn't think of a good one, so you made one up. All I wanted was the truth. It wouldn't have mattered why, I just wanted one true thing from you, and you couldn't even give me that."

"It was the truth. You have to believe me. Please." She pleaded, grabbing at his arm, but he still refused to face her.

"Is this a game to you? Am I no more than a ridiculous little toy that you enjoy dressing up and then tearing apart? Do you find my feelings a game?" He trembled, staring at the hurt, desperate girl in front of him, and despising himself for loving her. If he didn't, it would all be so much easier for the both of them.

"What? No! What I said back there was true. You're right, I've told you a lot of lies, too many, but that wasn't one." She shook her head, a tear trickling down her face as she backed away. "But you don't believe me, you won't. And that's for the best. I don't deserve to be believed, and I don't deserve you." She uttered the last words with a cold, calculated certainty, as if they were a matter of hard fact, unchangeable and awful.

Will felt his anger flicker, but as he turned to look her in the eyes, to try one last time to see if she was lying, she wasn't there, but was walking away, back to the shelter where Adam waited for her.

"Start packing, we're leaving before sunrise!" He called after her, stomping away to clear the camp, feeling burning inside him flare up stronger than before.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chapter 18 Part 1

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing

Alexis spent the better part of the evening inside the lean-to, taking care of Adam, wanting to be there if he woke up, trying to think of what to do next. The days were growing colder and harder to endure. The nights were worse, spent huddled by the fire, wrapped in her cloak and shivering from head to foot. And without Will, she wouldn't have any fire. She needed him.

But what would he do when Adam revealed what she was to him? Could she really get away with them being 'just friends'? And what would she do about Adam and his wishes? Would he still want to be with her, and could she ever be with him?

"I hate this." She moaned in the darkness, looking up at the chinked wooden roof, stroking Adam's hand. If Will knows, she mused, he'll know that I lied to him. And why would he help a liar? Why would he help someone he couldn't trust?

Although, she'd never actually lied before this, only kept silent. She hadn't said anything, true or false. "I don't know what to do..." She murmured, looking into the peaceful face of the man sleeping beside her, a face that she had once spent the days of her girlhood dreaming about and smiling at the sight of. A face that made her heart flutter and her world stop.

But now, when she looked at it, all she saw were memories. Memories of pain and loneliness and pointless longing, because through all those times she'd dreamed of him and wanted him, he was gone. He wasn't there when her mother was dying and she waited by her side all day, forced to look into the eyes of a woman who had seen so much, been so much, to so few, and would never be that again. He wasn't there when her brother was cut down in front of her, as she bit back screams, running at full speed, looking back and seeing her his blood pooling and spilling across the filthy ground. She didn't even know what they'd done with his body. She had no grave to visit and weep by, no funeral to say her goodbyes.

And now, despite everything, when she cried out at night, pulling herself from the engulfing, clutching nightmares, it was Will's name that waited on her lips, and the lingering whispers of the feel of his arms about her that gave her the strength to sleep again. It was his face, with those bright blue jay eyes, so soft and gentle, and his brave, strong countenance, promising that all would be well and that she was safe, that she saw in lonesome moments when her mind wandered and her thinking lapsed.

And now, he was there again, right outside the door, just like back at the camp, all those weeks ago. It felt like years. She looked down again, and saw that Adam was breathing peacefully, now only sleeping, and had no fever. She stood up and braced herself, believing that if she spent any longer hiding from him, Will would only grow more suspicious. She cleared her throat and concealed her trembling hands in the folds of her frayed skirt and exited.

He was sitting there on the ground, hands in his lap, staring into the blaze with a distant look on his face that she caught glimpses of in the orange flickers. Flashes of pain and sorrow. He didn't notice her as she looked about, noting the new shelter that had been erected and the newly-slain deer laying on the ground beside the fire, ready to be skinned. "Well, you've been busy." She remarked finally, breaking the silence, but not Will's reverie. He refused to look at her, even as she gingerly took a seat beside him, angry at herself for feeling so embarrassed. "Thank you." She whispered, looking at him, stammering only slightly on the words.

"I had to do it. I can't leave you alone like this, it would be wrong of me." He glared more determinedly at the crackling, licking flames.

"Oh." She breathed, swallowing at the burning that leapt to her throat and continued into her cheeks. What an idiot she was, thinking she could ever have anything with this man. He didn't love her, didn't even like her, and why should he? All he saw in her was a pitiable, helpless creature that served only to inconvenience him, but he continued to help, bound by a sense of honor and duty. Hadn't she known this? Why on earth did she keep fooling herself?

"Adam is feeling much better, and I think he will be well and conscious by morning." Her voice cracked only slightly as she made the remark, turning her attention to the fire as well. Adam had come back for her. Adam still loved her, and maybe, with time, she could rekindle what they once had.

"Good. Do you have anything here that you want to bring with you? We'll leave as soon as he's awake, so you ought to pack now."

"Leave?" She now whipped her head to look at him, incredulous.

"Don't start that argument again. I came here to find you and bring you back to the camp, and that's what I'm going to do. Whatever else happens will happen after that." He now met her gaze to enforce his words, but his eyes were not soft as they had once been, but hard with annoyance and anger, and they were red. He had been crying.

Rage and indignation had risen quickly to her mouth, but when she saw his face and the pain in it, her hot words faltered and slid back down her throat, and she sighed, lowering her own gaze, no longer able to stand the force of his. "Fine, for the time being, I will go with you."

He nodded slightly, quickly. "Let me look at your arm." He demanded.

Alexis glanced at the lifeless limb and pushed her cloak away from it. Will took it gently in his hands, laying it out across his lap as she grimaced and bit back a cry of pain. He looked at it, strangely bent, black and blue, running his fingers along it, pressing here, rubbing there, as she gasped and tears were jerked from her eyes. He worked faster, moving up the arm. Finally, he tore her sleeve off with a jerk, revealing the dirty, blood-drenched, tattered bandage around her throbbing shoulder.

"You idiot." He seethed, looking at her and dropping it unceremoniously, making her cry out as it swung back to her side. He stood up and walked away, running his hands through his hair and turning to look at her. He was more angry than before. His voice trembled and eyes watered. "Why did you do that? Why?"

"Do what?" Alexis asked over the black waves of pain swelling and crashing inside her, beating mercilessly against her head and through her arm. She clenched her teeth against them and struggled to stay awake.

"Why didn't I stop you?" His voice dropped to a whisper, his gaze fell to the ground. Alexis looked at him and saw the guilt and sorrow weighing down his shoulders, oppressing him and making it hard to breathe. It was something she recognized all too well. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a cracked, tainted sigh as the tears fell harder, no longer the result of physical pain. "Will..."

He whipped around again, passion rekindled. "Why did you leave? Why did you let him take you, do this to you? How could you?" He shouted at her, a tear slipping down his face. He wiped it away hastily with a shaking hand.

"I had to. I had to." She rose slowly to go to him, but he turned away from her, trying to regain control, of his emotions, his limbs, his heart. The things that woman did to him...

"Stop lying to me." He breathed, attempting to calm down. "You didn't think, you didn't care. You only thought about yourself.

"I thought about you! All of you, I did it for your protection." She yelled, but found that she was trying harder to convince herself of it than him. "I—I did it because..." She faltered, glancing at the ground and then back at him, feeling her world shake and tumble about her. She felt as though she were standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down, down, down, and could not turn back. The only options were to either fall, or fly. "Because I love you." Her feet left the edge, and she waited in the air, hanging on his words. "Because I love you, and I couldn't handle that. And you were learning. Learning about me, and if you know, then..." He took her hand, pulling her to him.

His lips moved towards hers, unfaltering, but stopped as a voice pierced the silence. "Alexis!" Adam stood, arms crossed across his chest, in the doorway.

Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1