|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