|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