Alexis clutched the dirty, mud-soaked fabric of her dress until her already pale hands turned whiter than the snow which drifted lazily and slowly down around her. Why had she agreed to come back? She could have run, if not for the one thing who's ceaseless tugging on her heartstrings was able to make her pause, to turn around when she had a clear shot. She looked at him now, standing at the edge of the clearing, watching it all with an unreadable expression, but she saw the pain and anger he held glitter in his eyes. Will had made her stay, had done so many terrible, confusing things to her torn heart, and now they were both hurt and alone.
The more Alexis considered her situation, the angrier she became.she could no longer hide from the fact that this was unfair in the extreme. All that had happened before, that she could justify: the torture and imprisonment, the poverty and starvation. She had stolen and had thwarted the law, and she had been punished. She could live with that.
But this? She was now being reprimanded and cast off yet again for something she had not done. This was happening to her despite the fact that it was the very thing she'd tried to avoid. Yes, she had lied, but to avoid this, to avoid taking further unfair treatment for a crime that was not her own.
Her breathing quickened, she felt her chest rising and falling, burning with sudden, terrible, powerful rage.
"General Blaxton—" Robin was about to continue, pushing aside all the nagging doubts and whispers of conscience which stirred in his chest when he looked at the subject of his speech, but before he could, Alexis's voice rang out clear, unmistakable, hurt, but endlessly brave, cutting him to the quick.
"Why am I here?" The question shot through the air, aimed at Robin. It hit its target and cause him to falter, if only for an instant. She saw this and regained a portion of her confidence.
"I beg your pardon?" Robin tried to summon a tone of authority, to show that he was above her, and was by no means obliged to answer her.
"Why am I here, if you despise me so much?" She rose to the challenge, feeling the embarrassed color in her face turn to hot anger. "You hate me, do you not? For what my father did? I don't blame you." Her voice stopped its quavering and she spoke with only one thought: attack. "You think me a vile creature, not worth your time or help, so why bring me here? Why waste your breath in showing me for who I really am when you could have left me alone, let me die or else live my meaningless life far away, never to bother you again? Because, I can assure you, that was my full intention."
Robin swallowed and his penetrating, terrible glare flickered, along with his resolve.
Alexis saw she now had the advantage, and did not let it slip. "You cannot possibly have so much concern for the truth, because if you had, you, with all the resources and opportunities available to you, would have taken at least a fleeting interest into whether or not my father was guilty of his crimes, something I would have done with a hundred times more resolve, had I your position. So you do not care about making my past known for the sake of truth, then." She began counting the options out on her pale, bony fingers.
"And, try hard as I might, I simply cannot believe you retrieved me because you cared about me or my safety. I was safe, you were all safe, before you decided to dig up things that had been buried for a reason, and I think you know that." She stared him down now, with her haunting green eyes, which were so much like her father's, and once again he felt his own gaze fall.
This was not supposed to happen, Robin thought, his mind racing. What now?
"So, for aught I see, this leaves us with two possible explanations, the first being this: You were forced to bring me back because you were afraid that I would reveal the location of your precious little camp, that I might show to the world a secret that should be kept hidden." Her peridot eyes bore into his very soul as she laid her words thick with meaning. "The second possible reason for my being here is one that I do not want to believe, but that must be brought to light: You truly hate me, and wish nothing less than to see me brought low in the eyes of everyone that ever thought well of me or desired my presence. You despise me for something my father did to the point where only seeing me finally and completely humiliated will bring you contentment, and you risked the lives of two of your friends, one a member of your own family, for this soul purpose."
Robin felt the sentences wrap around him and stab and tear at him with sharp claws. This girl, this destitute, helpless thing had brought him down in the eyes of all the people he loved most. This child whom he had barely known and hardly talked to, who had walked in and out of his life in a matter of days, now held him in the palm of her hand, fingers poised to crush him. And, he realized with a shock of terror, he deserved it. He tried to speak, but words failed him as she continued, plunging her final dagger into him, pinning him down.
"So, before you proceed and ruin me forever in the eyes of the last people I am likely to know that could ever care for me in any way, putting yourself in more danger than you could possibly comprehend, answer me this one question: Why am I here?"
Robin floundered helplessly, and he knew it. He hated feeling like this: trapped, with no way out. He looked at the men staring at him, confused, waiting, angry. He had been a fool, and she was showing it to them. But Robin, Lord of Loxley was not a person to go down without a fight, even in a losing battle. He could not step down and let her humiliate him. But, still, how could he answer her question? Could he win anything by telling her that she was there to win back his favor in the eyes of Marion and Will?
"Because I wanted you here." Will stepped forward, speaking the words as if stating a fact, like saying it had snowed earlier. Alexis whipped around to look at him, eyes wide, mouth agape. He was looking back at her, but in the same distant, cold way that he had all day. Whatever his reasons had been in wanting her presence before, they must now be superfluous. Hope died in her chest, and she dropped her gaze.
"Like I said earlier: even if you managed to get out of the dungeon, few people can survive winter in the Sherwood alone. I was concerned for your safety, just as I would be for anyone else." He appeared calm, hiding his shaking hands behind his back and swallowing the lump in his throat, trying to convince himself that he was angry with her, that Robin was not to blame here.
Adam had watched the conversation breathlessly, each moment remembering why he loved this girl so much, and each moment growing more desperate to know just what she had done, and debating who to punch first: Robin, or, now, Will. But when he saw whatever feelings there had been in his friend had now thoroughly cooled, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Alexis bit her lip and pushed back the disappointment he inflicted upon her, and brought her mind back to the task at hand. "So, that's all?" She asked, her resolve failing. "Well, then, tell them. Everything you know, go ahead. I have your reason. But remember, if this knowledge spreads beyond the camp, if it reaches the sheriff's ears, and it will, prepare yourselves." She hung her head, battling tears, wondering again why his indifference hurt her so much.
Robin staggered, taken aback by this sudden surrender. Marveling how someone could gather so much courage one minute and let it fleet to air the next, he cleared his throat, and told what he knew.
Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
Alexis stared intently at her white, cold hands in her lap as they entered the ring of trees, hoping that no one would notice she was shaking. She could feel them staring, starting, wondering. Allan started to say something, but it died in the cold, still air when he saw the stubborn, fearless girl slumped in defeat, and the icy, pained visages of their leader and his cousin.
With a quick, covert glance, Alexis saw Robin whisper something in Little John's ear. "Lord, help me." She begged noiselessly. Groping about, she found Adam's hand and clutched it desperately. Will reached up to help her to the ground, but Robin halted him. "What are you doing?"
Alexis swallowed as she felt Will's grip tighten on one arm and Adam's on the other. "She's tired and wounded and needs treatment." Was the cold, unfeeling answer. He did not once look at her.
"She has survived this long; I do not think a few moments more will hurt." Robin replied with equal chill, taking two long strides to push him away, and, before Alexis knew it, she'd been pulled down and into the center of the clearing by his strong, impatient grasp. Will knew enough to step away, but kept his jaw and fists clenched.
Her head swam and the snowy ground beneath her feet offered no relief from the numbness that engulfed her. A gently twirling flake settled lightly upon her scarlet cheek before melting away on the burning skin. She could not breathe, could not look into the faces of the men who would hate her in a matter of seconds, could not feel the cold air about her. She could only taste the dryness of her throat, and had no choice but to hear the words she had fled from for so long.
"Well, lads, I think it must have occurred to you that our guest has returned." Robin began with bravado, but the mirth was gone from his eyes as he retreated, leaving her defenseless and alone amid these people she had once hoped to call friends.
"Robin, what's going on?" She heard Friar Tuck whisper. The urge to retreat grew with every passing minute, but she could not move. She didn't deserve to avoid this, to escape. "No man can run forever," she remembered her father telling her, so long ago. Swallowing the lump in her throat, hiding her trembling hands in her skirt and keeping her head down, she braced for what was to come.
"Before you stands a girl that, until now, we knew nothing about. Another helpless victim of the sheriff's cruelty, we presumed her. A poor girl that no person could refuse in good conscience, yes?" Robin continued, throwing aside his humorous guise, leaving nothing but cold, concise loathing. She saw now that he hated her. "What is your name?" He turned to her now, making her heart skip a beat with the audacity of the question.
"Alexis, daughter of General Blaxton of Loxley." She answered clearly, even as her cheeks glowed still brighter, knowing that if she didn't tell, he would. There could be no more running now, no more lies. Her answer was met by puzzled silence as the men stared at her and waited for explanation.
She dared one more look at Will, and now he stared back, waiting, wondering how her existence could possibly bring him anymore pain. His grip now rested tightly on Adam's wrist, staying his hand from withdrawing the sword it held, white-knuckled and ready.
Robin nodded. "General Blaxton was my commander during the first two years I served in the Holy War." He glanced at Alexis and saw the surprise light up her face for an instant. "He was a good man when I knew him."
Alexis swallowed and sensed the earth wobbling beneath her feet. Her stomach was a hard, tight knot, and she felt like she was going to be sick.
"I was much mistaken, it turns out. I didn't know him at all, much in the same way I knew nothing about his daughter." Robin's gaze now rested permanently on her.
Start at the Beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1