Chapter 1: Consolation
She strode from the church right out into the rain. Her best red dress, soon sullied, her perfect blonde hair clinging to her skin within moments yet her eyes were unwavering, fixed on her horse: her escape.
The pain shifted to the back of her mind as quickly made plans consumed the foreground. These plans, of course, were not perfect in design, they never were, but with her life now upturned she could afford to think one day at a time.
Swinging up onto her chestnut her fingers quickly brushed over her portmanteau running through the list in her mind: she had little but enough. Enough to leave at last. Enough to go home. Finally.
Not back to her once husband's estate, who would be married to his mistress in mere moments, nor to her uncle's to be ward and whored for the next greatest offer, not even to that soft private corner of the stables where the sun warmed the hay and where you could just glimpse that line where the trees met the sky through the window. That small spot of sanctuary had offered everything from heartbreak to solace in her formative years and yet now it too had faded to nothing but a distant memory.
No she had to reach further back into the dark recesses of her mind for her next venture. Back to a little girl scraping and clawing at a carriage door that had taken her away. To the tears that had lasted for days as the reason for her leaving had become blurred in blame and unreliable memories. Reaching all the way back to that face which she couldn't quite forget nor perfect through the haze of time. She was going home. Truly home. After nearly ten long years she was, at last, free to do so.
Robin simply knew by the shift in the air the Sheriff had something new in the works and yet for the life of him, he could not pinpoint a viable theory. The gang too were stumped for ideas and it sent their little camp into a tense uncomfortable silence of frustration as thoughts swirled around their heads.
Finally, finally!, someone spoke. Will shrugged stammering a little at the mention of their traitor "Djaq overheard Allan talking to a blacksmith in Clun today? Maybe that could tell us something? The floppy-haired boy turned to the dark beauty for support who nodded softly chipping in, feeling his tension.
'Well…Allan purchased some oils, flint, wood...no real connection…but they were all for the castle, not Locksley or the guards' chambers. The main entrance….Although…."Much seemed hooked on Djaq's every syllable, his cooking quite forgotten, anxious as to the next horrid adventure he was about to be dragged on.
"When he reached the carpenters, he asked for a structure to be constructed. No details but simply for the man to be prepared to build when he came to deliver the supplies"
"What if he's trying to quarantine an area again? Fake an outbreak… John?" Robin turned to the elder man who up till now had sat silently with an aura of worry. "What do you think?"
"I'm not sure but if you're right, I'm worried for those people"
"So am I…"
"Prepared?" Guy asked Allan
"I guess" Allan shrugged half asleep as per usual. His chambers were far too close to the kitchen he should really mention it Guy and actually get some rest for once in his damn life. Then again all those months at the camp should have been training enough
"Allan, you have to be completely on board or else you'll be no use to us?" Guy's head cocked in his usual judgy and impatient tilt that made Allan try his best to straighten up
"Yeah! Course, how hard can it be?"
"Right prepare the horses, I'll inform the Sheriff we're leaving."
"The… Hoods go marching two by two. Hurrah Hurrah!' The Sheriff sang to himself in a surprisingly chipper mood for so early in the morning. In fact, in stark contrast Guy and Allan were both in solemn female induced pity parties given current events. Usually, Vasey had no qualms in pouncing on the delicate subject and tormenting them a little with it at the mere sight of their sullen faces but today he was quite distracted. "The Hoods go marching two by two Hurrah Hurrah!. Then Gisborne hits one over the head and I shoot one with and arrow straight dead, And there's no more Robin Hood's cause they're all dead!" He chuckled happily brushing his fingers over his average but obvious sketching.
"There's no way you're getting out of this one, pretty boy….Ah! Gisborne have you convinced our little ex-spy to play his part in our plan"
"And does he know anything about Robin Hood's little role?
Guy smirked enjoying his superiority over the boy that had been faltering at late given Vasey's poor treatment of them both in equal measure. "All he knows are the materials he was sent to collect and that we're headed off today. He knows nothing, my lord. "
"So why don't you tell me what YOU know of my little plan?"
The Sheriff said gesturing to the map of Nottinghamshire laid out on the table as Guy circled it with measured steps and a thoughtful gaze.
"Well," He began " In three days' time My men will stage a raid. The rising smoke will alert Hood to the people's distress and he will have no choice but to come and face us head-on in order to put out the flames and save the peoples' precious belongings that we steal...but we won't be there."
"And, just for memory's sake…remind me of my favourite part again…just once…just a teensy little reminder of my genius?" As always Vasey made it a point to infiltrate Gisborne's personal space causing a soft sigh to pass from his lips in defeat.
"Today Allan will build the jail cell. Then tomorrow I will arrest half the village for that cell. Then we arm Clun to kill Hood's men for their people's freedom"
"And if they don't?"
"I'm not sure…We'll see what motivates them more swiftly…the fire may even take the prisoner's out before can do a thing"
"Yes…." Sheriff said "Well hop to then"
"Marian?!" The Sheriff called catching sight of her just so coincidentally passing the door as Gisborne passed out of it to get on with his day. Slipping inside the young spy attempted to appear delayed from important engagements despite her lingering outside for some time. "Yes Sheriff?"
"Sir Guy, Allan and I will be away today so I will be assigning… Gerald" He chose a guard at random despite that not even being the guard's name. "To be your guard for the day"
"Can't I come with you?... I should like to help" she recovered her sentence.
"No" Vaysey cut her off then smiled on his way passed ' Big boys' games"
When the Sherriff released Marian made quick work of catching up to Guy in the corridor, demanding his attention
"Guy. What's going on? What's with all this secrecy? Are you closing in on the outlaws?"
He could never un-see that mask around her eyes and it now tainted the hints of blue in her grey eyes and coloured every mention of the outlaws she would make from this day forward, firmly placing every protection he had ever had against her, back in its rightful place.
"The Sheriff seems to think so, but that's all I can say. Now, if you don't mind I have work to do" and he left before Marian could get another word in
Distracting Gerald with little Mary took no time at all and Marian was soon off in hunt of Allan hoping he would squeal more easily than Gisborne.
The gang were making their usual check of Clun when they saw one of the Sheriff's carts coming loaded to the brim with supplies
They quickly ducked behind a wall as the carriage drew closer.
Soft brown eyes narrowed with remnants of pain she could never quite shake as Djaq's eyes fell on Allan instructing the other passengers.
"That's the carpenter from Nottingham" Djaq said
"And the blacksmith" Will noted
"Come on," Robin said gesturing for them to quietly follow the carriage.
They followed the cart several miles out of Clun until the guards began to unload the gear as Allan and the two workers looked over sheets of parchment.
"Someone needs to go find out what's going on," Robin said
"Who would Allan even talk to after everything?" Will questioned
They all thought for a second...before, unsurprisingly turning to a baffled and irritated Djaq.
"What?" she glared at their presumptuousness.
"Well at least it's not me for once" Much said relieved causing an untimely chuckle to bubble through the group despite all that stood ahead of them
"Come on Djaq he doesn't hate you as much as the rest of us" Robin looked at her
"Because I'm a woman?' she defended sarcastically
"Because you're his friend. But you know… you could try and charm him?" He joked than laughed embarrassed." That is…If that's the tactic you prefer… It works wonders for me"
"Oh I know it does…you use it far too readily for a betrothed man…" Djaq held her own with him with a soft smile that slowly faded to a serious nod. " I will go" she rose "But" she turned back, and only John noticed the quick glance between the woman and Will. "I will not be charming Allan, or anyone"
"Hey, Thanks mate. This helps a lot"
Allan patted the blacksmith on the back before noticing the gesture was unwelcome to the burly bloke and let him get to work
Sure Guy was his boss and he had to do what he was told but something didn't feel right about this. A jail cell? In the middle of nowhere? And out in the open no less…Madness!
The trickster took a second to breathe the weight of the decision he made all those months ago returning to his shoulders once more for the first time this week. It had been a while.
He'd almost forgotten what he'd done. And as if on cue, there to dredge up all those dead thoughts once more and remind him of all that he'd loss, Djaq came wandering, rather conspicuously, towards him. Yet, he couldn't help but grin.
"What's a lovely lady like you doing all the way out here?" he felt the old banter return.
"Oh, the boys are off on some 'secret' mission" she joked feeling a pang at his laugh.
"Yeah, well they can be like that"
"So" Djaq asked her eyes darting around for anyone watching them and thankfully finding no one of importance. "What are all these men doing?'
"Another one of the Sheriff's errands' He explained as they stood and watched "He wants me to build a cell as an example"
"And where's the Sheriff?"
Allan flicked her a questioning brow.
"Well, if the Sheriff's up to something Robin needs to be prepared!' she defended
"Yeah, I know. I know…Look, I'm just as outa the loop as everyone else. I'm just a lackey …I know as much as you, maybe less"
"But…something does feel weird"
"And that's the truth? I mean no harm, but you know how slippery your tongue can be"
"Yeah course I'm not lying" A soft now foreign smile warmed his lips before the blacksmith interrupted them.
"Well gotta go. you should probably change direction too"
"True" they went to leave
"I believe you're a good man Allan-A-Dale" her own old words stopped her tracks
She turned back "Allan?"
"We miss you, well some of the time"
He simply let his lip quirk into that old sheepish smirk and Djaq nodded softly feeling the separation begin to seep in between them once more…Duty calls.
"He said the cell is a warning but that even he was suspicious" Djaq reported as they headed back to camp
"And that's all he told you?' Robin asked
"Yes. It seems to be quite the secret"
"That's what I'm worried about" Much muttered with a soft groan causing Will's head to snap in his direction.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, usually when no one knows what's going on that's when something awful happens"
"Not good…" John's eyes fell away distressed finally sinking down into his bunk.
"Well if there is something big coming than we could use all the rest we can get before that cell is finished. In the meantime, I'll see what Marian can find out" The soft sunset shifting in through the trees and bathing the camp in warm shafts of amber and rose and the thought of Robin's ever so innocent excuse to see Marian managed to lifted the gang's spirits just a little.
"Allan!" Marian whispered from behind a pillar the instant she caught sight of him. "Look, I just got back can you not blast me with questions" Allan whined
"But that's all I want to ask you about: Where you've been. Come, it won't take long, walk with me"
Allan moaned but obliged
"At your service, milady" He scoffed under the heavy haze of exhaustion
" Gisborne mentioned being close to capturing Robin." Marian's worry was almost tangible but Allan still had to question.
"Look, I'm not bein' funny but can you really trust what Guy says? He's a good guy and all but…he knows now. Do you really think he's going to tell you anything?"
Marian's eye fell to her feet as the past few months since her exposure as the Nightwatchman repeated behind her eyes.
"Well, that's why I've come to ask you what you know." she asked stopping around the corner to turn to him.
"Not much, really. I was just sent me to build a jail cell in the middle of the countryside hardly riveting stuff?"
"Well what's your theory?"
'I don't really know…." He trailed off backing away as her usual intensity made him uncomfortable.
"Allan!" Marian said staring him down. "What do you know?"
"Well, I can't really tell you can I? I was spying, and we could get in trouble for that"
"Allan!" she repeated pushing him up against the wall
"I need to know! Robin could be in danger!"
"Alright, alright" He took a breath. "The other day I came into the hall after Guy and the Sheriff had met, right?"
" I saw a map and overheard them talkin' "
"And?!" Marian forced
"O-K!. I think they're doing something to Clun to trap Robin"
"We have to get word to him! Quickly!" She was almost off like a startled rabbit instantly but he had to grab her and haul her back. She really was the most insufferable woman, impulsive…passionate…Alright he had known a few women like that but her impulses always lead to trouble.
"Shouldn't we wait till we know more" He was now the one that had her between himself and the wall and his voice dropped to a tone of intimacy and secrecy as distant boots were heard.
"No Robin-" She tried to flee again but she stepped in front of her reaching out a cautious comforting hand to her shoulder and trying his best to steady her wild gaze with his own.
"Hey…Easy…It'll be fine…" He managed to coax her into a contemplative silence for a moment as finally the tension lifted and she calmed down.
"Alright, see what else we can do"
The traveller sat on the edge of her bed slipping on her shoes in a small weathered inn room. It was far from the luxuries she was used but those riches came with constant attention and pressure. This small life, these months travelling had given her a peace and a privacy she had not felt in years. A freedom she had sacrificed much to gain. She smoothed her golden curls and wiped sleep from her eyes as the candlelight flickered in their shades of green. While others loathed such early departures, she enjoyed the peace that came with the darkness. There was a safety to it, an emptiness and privacy. So, she collected her belongings and pressed on with her journey despite the rumours circling and the fear a woman was probably supposed to feel alone at night. She was armed after all. What was the worst that could happen? A lone drunken depraved man? She had had her fair share and knew how to ward them off. No…the worst that could happen was well…outlaws.
There was something so soothing in a cool night wind. The way it soothed her tear stained cheeks and awakened her weary eyes. The closer she got to Nottingham the more she regretted coming. Chatter was heard in tavern corners and whispered in market stalls. How Nottingham had fallen into decay and ruin corrupted by a wicked Sheriff and manned by a vicious henchman who had plundered villages claiming their wealth as his own. Good men sent fleeing into hiding and deception whilst good women were trapped in stifling inability to help, to change this world that the saw crumbling around them. Her home. Her very life's blood was being torn apart and yet all England could do was mutter and gossip as this was simply the way of the world. The way of Prince John's reign. And at the centre of all this, the thought that haunted her the most, was Hood. A myth. A nameless nobleman who had fallen so low. No not fallen…He had been tossed from parapet flailing and burning his good name down with him. While there was a good few that honoured his work most nobles scoffed at his name whilst clutching their purses close to their chest. What had the world come to?
As she entered those infamous woods in the dead of night, against all warnings, the noblewoman wasn't sure if she should fear or welcome an encounter with the outlaw? Was he a vicious barbarian that stripped young woman of all valuables and abandoned them to the wolves or was his hatred of the Sherriff born out of a sense of a kind-heartedness that would spare her? And what was Robin's role in all this? Was he still in the Holy Land without a care for his home or had he returned only to let this treachery continue? How could he simply stand by? How could he do such a thing? What kind of Locksley would she be returning to?
THE OUTLAW'S CAMP
Robin had been kept awake half the night with the thought of Clun. Hadn't that poor village suffered enough at the hands of Gisborne? Why now was it being made an example of? And was that simply in the name of fear and order was something bigger at play? A message meant for him? A small victory to hold over him? A gesture to make him feel helpless? What?
His circling thoughts were thankfully relieved by the distressed cry of a horse and a yelp of what he assumed was a thrown rider. Had his worries truly consumed him so deeply he had not heard them approaching till now? Apparently. But now…no now he was going to have a little fun with this one.
Only Marian would come this late in the night, having memorised their watch system line by line and knowing it was the rare night he would be free all evening…then again if it was not Marian that too could be doubly interesting. Someone ambitious enough to enter his territory as this hour must be a person of a value. An arrogant noble who refused to live in fear. That was just the kind he liked.
"Robin?" Will, this evening's watchman, was by his side in an instant, a clear distress in his tired eyes, but the outlaw gestured him down.
"Return to your post. I will go"
Chapter 2: Trepidation
I didn't realise there were Chapter Summaries this is fun. This chapter is mainly focused on Robin and the newcomer so apologies for the Quiet Moment I promise we'll get back to the action soon. To be honest I love long deep conversations that pour out everything so you have been warned :) Thank you for reading
As I said this is a long time project of mine. It's my baby. But if you have any thoughts or requests seriously just fire away. I enjoy slow burns and long intertwined plots so I apologise for the pace but there will be a lot of small road bumps along the way to the bigger plot points. A big reveal is coming in this very chapter! :D
Chapter Two: Trepidation
Robin spotted the girl cowered behind her horse and the image brought a smile to his lips. A sweet little thing that paled behind that beast of a stallion. It was brave almost to have her bow drawn readily yet shelter herself timidly. What a contradiction. What was she? Friend or foe? Feeble child or Fierce warrior? He could enjoy a fight on his hands, in all honesty, if it were the latter. If it was the former, then well…he almost felt bad for the girl but her belongings and dress indicated such wealth that he couldn’t let the opportunity pass by.
“Well, well, well…” he descended the hill in confident strides his hood raised simply for the fun of intimidation. “What have we here?”
It made no difference to her in the dim flicker of his torch but he grinned wildly in anticipation of it all.
“What do you want?” She still faltered in her confidence lingering behind her horse instead of facing him out in the open. “Clear the road. Let me pass. I have business in Lockesly”
“Ah so you recognize my handiwork. Well I’m flattered. “
“So you /are/ Hood? I assumed as much…”
“You do not sound pleased? I’m hurt, my lady…” he chuckled stepping closer.
“/Don’t/ move” That was when she changed and he felt it. Her bow tightened her step came forth and her stance hardened. She knew what she was doing…for one so young.
“I mean you no harm, I have simply come to relieve you of your valuables”
“And I refuse your gallant offer. Now help me move this log”
“What? this? All on your own? Go on…try…” He chuckled but she set ahead anyway angrily tossing her bow and arrow to the ground and trying to shift the large tree alone and struggling in the dark.
He annoyingly brought his torch closer to give her light, laughing at the growl it produced.
“Do you enjoy standing by as young women struggle?”
“Well if said young woman is foolish enough to enter /outlaw/ infested forests at this hour I should say she had it coming. On that note….”
The girl only turned to look for him when she felt the heat of his torch disappear preventing her from moving the tree. “Where did- “She gasped in surprise when he was suddenly before her again and handing her bow with a strange soft glint to his eye. Robin had decided the pity route better suited her and his voice was almost warm with wisdom. “Never set down your weapon.”
As she accepted his offer their hands touched and something in it felt...calm…This raggedy rough outlaw who could have killed her in an instant suddenly felt…familiar and welcoming…as if there was…something between them…yet as she tried to look to his eyes shadows still cast across his face as the sun slowly began to rise.
“Come, you must be hungry, you seem to have travelled far” He began untying his neck chief causing her to retreat startled.
“I mean you no harm, I am Hood yes?”
She nodded softly.
“So I cannot have you giving away my secret camp can I?” He saw the idea of trusting him work its way through her mind. The girl, wisely, tightened her grip on her bow but let him tie the cloth to her eyes.
“Where did a young English woman get a recurve bow? It is quite impressive. “ He made small conversation as he took her horse’s reins in one hand and her shoulder in the other.
“It was a gift from a crusader.”
“I bet a handsome one that”
“Partially, I suppose…”
THE OUTLAW’S CAMP
"I thank you for the food and shelter but I heard you were ruthless barbarians? Now you take in your victims? I must have been misinformed...Unless you do want something?" The breakfast had been wonderful after the suspicious sleepy glances had eventually faded from his companions. Now in the soft blue light of early morning Hood’s face only added to the strange familiarity. When he had removed his hood, it had been nothing of consequence but as the light slowly grew it began to gnaw at her. Why did his features entrance her so?
"Anyone who wants to speak to the Lord of Locksley goes through me" Hood spoke finally taking his own serving last and taking a seat on the bunk across from her as the others hovered.
"To what end? I could hardly see the Sheriff's future son in law to be consorting with outlaws" How had Edward grown so corrupt? Was his mind plagued with illness or had Lady Knighton’s death altered him that greatly?
"They are not betrothed anymore" The one in the hat remarked staying close to Hood’s side. His right hand then. The young pair among them seemed to be lovers staying close while the older man sat alone.
"Why ever not? They were happy!" Marian and Robin? Apart? The thought was disorientating almost unfathomable?
"Hardly" The male half of the pair seemed to have a darkness to him at the mention of Robin? What had he done to provoke such loathing?
"A detail.” She waved off the news to be dealt with later. The matter at hand was whether she was welcome here or a prisoner? “Why are you keeping me here?"
"In my experience,” The outlaw leant forward hands knotted together in concern as his voice took on a serious authoritative tone “Anyone who has business with Gisborne ends up having to deal with me. I'm just saving you the trouble?" Yet he balanced his threatening gaze with a gleeful humour. What a strange man. Wait…did he say-
"Who Is this Gisborne? How did he come to possess Locksley?" The girl looked about for answers. This was all too much.
"Since Robin was outlawed!?" – Much interjected baffled and offended at her ignorance as he continued to rummage throw her belongings extracting valuables. Suddenly something stopped him.
“Much?” Djaq caught on but the others continued.
"Not a very quick one are you?" John chuckled softly finding no threat to come from her unlike his companion.
"Travel tires-....” Soft green eyes fell to the forest floor widening in surprise as his right hand’s words circled in her mind. It couldn’t be? “Robin? Of Locksley?"
“Much….” The Saracen tried again managing to shake the once servant from his daze but he simply turned to Robin lost for words.
"At your service, m'la-" Robin shrugged enjoying the shock and what he assumed was the awe his name. Will noticed this particular change was not so positive. He heard the stammer to her voice and read the pain in the eyes he now recognized.
"Why is she so concerned with that difference? Between Hood and Robin?" Djaq nudged him softly noticing his unwavering gaze.
“Robin…” Much finally found his voice placing something into Robin’s hand that tore his gaze away from the young girl at such a crucial moment.
"Because she's his sister...." The soft surprise to Will’s voice shook her as her eyes finally fell on her old friend now fully grown.
The cloak broach Much had placed in Robin’s palm…bore his crest. He couldn’t lift his eyes from it.
“Will?! My God! It is you!" Tears sprang into her eyes as she rushed to him and threw her arms around him, much to Djaq’s surprise.
"Hi, Luce" He smiled softly brushing a tear from her face as he nodded for her to turn to Robin and she shook her head stubbornly.
Behind her Robin was now on his feet quite transfixed by her. Eyes brimming with tears and almost lost in a daze at the sight of her.
"Lu...." His voice shook with emotion at first and Will saw her flinch but hold back the words he wanted to hear. So Robin tried again recognizing the need for a stern demand for her attention.
“It’s good to see you too, Much” she brushed right over his presence, determined to only greet those who she could handle and adore. He-…He should not be here.
"No…I will not have this conversation with you…." Without turning to see him, to see that face again, she refused his command and pushed out of the camp and into the sunrise soaked forest.
Robin hurried after his young sister wanting to calm her fears and relieve her anger but instead he felt the full brunt of it come hurtling at him. After all these years this was not the happy reunion he had anticipated.
“ What are you going to say? Do you even know why I'm upset?" She was determined to charge on despite the dim light but she couldn’t help but turn on him at the question with expectant angry brows raised.
"How could I? I barely know you" They had been so young when they parted and kept apart for so long after that she was almost a stranger to him but the pain in her eyes…that was very much real and deep as the betrayal of family should be.
"Oh and I wonder why?" She scoffed and turned back to hurry onwards.
"I was young. The crops were dying, the private guard wrote me every day and you...You were of age and receiving very little education. You had no life here ,no purpose. Why shouldn't I give you a better chance?"
"Because I didn’t want it!” She turned around once more instantly regretting it as she saw the nonchalantly stance he bore. He truly didn’t understand the result of his actions, did he? How careless he had been “ I had a life here. A home and a f-... I understand the traditions, I do, A girl must learn to be a lady… but you-…You could have sent me to Lady Kate, Bonchurch,...I could have stayed close to you"
"I held them off as long as I could. Mother wanted-"
"Don’t you dar- Don’t you dare speak of her. All that man shared with our mother was blood...Aunt Gertrude was cold and passed on and Uncle was no better, brother... in fact he was worse much worse and he was our blood! I had a fortune but no future. Once Aunt and the Abbey finished their tutelage I was simply his peddling tool as he tried to climb and , heavens, did he bleed me dry. And now I have been left with nothing!”
She saw the pain in her voice and the harsh anger shake him. Some kind of feeling finally reached his eyes. Yet she pressed on bitterly. “Which you would know if you ever wrote me or called in or did anything more than one measly gift from Acre...." She tossed her bow to the ground once more as if it disgusted her no longer heading his warning. “ I want nothing to do with you….I thought I did….I thought I would be welcomed home with open arms and we could be happy again…That was foolish…I should have known this was all that would happen”
“Lu please…” he came close to hold her shoulders and steady her and watched as she wanted to pull away but fought the urge listening quietly “It was a mistake but I truly believed I was doing what was best for you” And for a moment he thought he had convinced her but now her eyes fell away in quiet grief rather than raging anger.
"It is too late, R-Robin…Look at us…It has been more than a decade…And Now we stand here irreconcilable because the choice you made for my life. And What? Why? It was all simply to avoid choosing my betrothed? I needed you Robin and you fed me to the wolves.” She pulled away once again quieter now in her solemn pain but still unable to quite meet his eyes “So no I will not come inside with you and your friends and smile politely. I am happy I found you and that is all. " She turned to leave but was soon caught again causing her to fight tears now whimpering at the confusion of it all.
“Stop this! Where will you go?”
“To Nottingham. Edward will have me”
“Lu,” he breathed a sigh looking away trying to form the words carefully but he could only muster an aching glance.
“No….” she gasped sensing his meaning but then reeling at the consequences “What?” she pulled herself free staring at him bewildered as her hope for the future and for her return home unravelled even further “What are you talking about? They said the Sheriff of Nottingham had grown cold. That he pillaged villages?”
“I think there’s something you need to see”
And as he led her through the woods he explained what had occurred. How there had been a new Sheriff these past four years. How he had taken up arms against him. How Gisborne had courted Marian and stolen his estate and finally…He showed her what their precious home had now become. He saw it wash over her, the suffering of her people, the sun slowly rising over the sight of tents and lit torches and makeshift armoires, the swirling dust kicked up by the morning drills of the army caught in the sunlight billowing in a golden cloud and yet the beautiful image brought nothing but misery.
"What has he done?" She whispered and It was almost a comfort to see and feel how much this broke her, to hear the haunted anguish in her voice. To have another that felt that responsibility and affinity with Locksley beyond Much’s homesickness and Will’s rage. It was now a weight he wouldn’t have to bare alone.
"This is the Nottingham you are returning to. Mercenaries are given shelter in the homes of our friends and they in turn go hungry. I fear it will not be the easy retreat you desire" He gently patted her shoulder uncertain of what physical boundaries lay between them now as brother and sister.
"That is true...” she shook off the tears but her eyes were still lost in the cottages almost like a dream ‘I came because...married life, nobility, the corruption of it all...did not agree with me. I always wanted to come home and now... this. The destruction just follows me…” Finally she tore her eyes away her eyes catching their mother’s grave for a moment but steadying on his face.
"You were wed?" She sighed softly at the slight tinge of joy beneath his confusion
"These past five years to Radley of Keynedon in Devonshire" Lucia tried her best to keep irritation from her tone and explain the situation rationally.
“And you did not care for him”
“What did you expect? That I would fall for a handsome wealthy nobleman and all would be well? No…. I set my eyes far too low”
“And he left me. I had love. He was poor and foolish but I have known love if that is what concerns you…It just wasn’t with my husband”
"Radley found a new wife and disposed of me" She shrugged softly with a solemn forced quirk of her lip.
"And that is why you have nothing left...” He nodded softly, understanding her distress from earlier, a woman cast aside would struggle to ever marry again, tainted and dejected …still “Lucia, You should return to Devon. Continue your schooling. Find a new suitor. There is only danger for you here" He nearly begged, terrified of another woman in his life being torn apart by this life.
"I am tired of being a pawn in everyone else's schemes. Dowries and batted eyelashes. I won't go back" Her stiff upper lip that would once provoke a laugh now only angered him. That wilfulness would only bring her harm. She did not understand the risk she ran by staying here.
"You will. Because I say so"
"Look at me, Robin. I am not a child. I will come and go as I please" She held her ground firmly expecting resistance but instead a strange mirth brushed over his face that made her uncomfortable.
"Well, aren't you stubborn? " He laughed finally relieving her concern letting her shrug softly and return to their playful pretend from before as if they had always been like this.
"Well I had a good teacher"
Robin couldn’t help but beam and step back to let her decide, rather dramatically, as always was his way. "Well then, Lady Keynedon, what'll it be?"
She searched his eyes for a moment, wondering if he would be worth it all. This chance to know him. There would be no hope to return to Locksley so if she stayed it would be for him alone…and his cause. “I will stay”
“Good,” he was back close again leaning down to her eyes, smiling warmly. She wasn’t sure how exactly to respond to it all after loathing him for so long “because I should like to know you better…”
“Robin…” she sighed fighting a smile.
“But only on one condition….”
“You and your rules…Name it”
“Stay safe” Lucia’s brows furrowed at his deep concern that had crept up on them so quickly before her eyes fell away with a gentle nod.
“I’ll do my best….”
Chapter 3: Escalation
Hey update guys! I was wrong. It was the Forestwife Trilogy by Theresa Tomlinson that inspired this OC so go check that out but the Hood, Scarlet, Tuck books are also really great too. Ok so full honesty, since I've matured Lucia has matured along with me so my slow pace here is down to me fleshing her out a little more, toning her down a bit and plotting out the other two fics so that it all fits together nicely. Sorry for the delay. There are three installments now and each lines up with her connection to a particular character, place, and theme. So enjoy! I promise the romance will pick up soon I just have to get everything in the right place.
Allan stumbled trying his best to keep pace with the Sherriff's surprisingly quick steps and Guy's long strides. This job was such a pain in the ass, at least the pay was good.
"Right, Gisborne. Are you just about ready to head off?"
"Yes, we just need our box of…" Guy glanced to Allan for a brief moment making the blond frown before shrugging it off and realizing this was actually the norm so why bother? " 'tools' "
A box of daggers and other weapons would be given out through Clun as added motivation to capture Hood. Without them, excuses could be made and reasons were given as to why they couldn't participate. This way it would be all hands on deck. The only question was how to get the weapons back again once Hood was captured to stop the people turning them on each other or worse…them.
"Well, what am I supposed to do all day then?"
"Ah muck out the stalls, sharpen the swords. I really don't care" Sheriff waved his usual dismissive hand "Just run along"
"Right…" He let them disappear around the corner before hightailing to Marian's quarters. As he slipped inside unannounced, knowing she would murder him for it, he noticed her sealing a letter.
"What's that about?" the words tumbled out without thinking before a quill suddenly sharply greeted his face. Right, Marian's temper.
"Allan! You can't sneak up on people?!" the woman took a moment to catch a breath but that would have to wait.
"Yeah, no time, Guy's leaving" he quickly knelt by the desk to rest his feet and give an added level of secrecy as their voices dropped.
"Right take this and deliver it for me with your best man no one who will report back to Guy. The Nightwatchman will follow the others" She quickly started getting ready frustrated at his lingering.
"Wait but which man should I trust? Guy keeps killing them all"
"Just go to my cousin David and be done with it Allan! Robin is in danger I don't have time for this" she had no qualms with changing in front of him but as she opened her trunk his head jerked in confusion.
"Wait, you're supposed to be done with the Nightwatchman. I have your stuff and everything?" His thumb point over his shoulder as a dread come over him knowing Guy would kill him for this.
"You honestly thought I didn't keep a spare?" She brought out the cloak and mask on display too which he groaned pacing away.
"Marian…" he sighed softly. Why was he always getting into these situations?
"I won't engage, just spy, Guy won't be any the wiser" and that fitting smirk returned to his lips and the gleam in her and he knew there would be no convincing her.
A dozen guards followed Guy into Clun as he barked at the Lord to call the town together. "Everybody out now!" Those that resisted the Lord's command were dragged out by force. Marian watched on from the shrubbery as the village all stood before a pacing Guy on his stallion. Then with a flick of his hand, half the townsfolk were gathered up to the horror of the rest.
"Right, The Sheriff has a proposition for you. Half your town will be locked up, as you see here. The rest of you will stay behind and wait for Hood. Yes, Robin Hood will be gracing you with his presence and when he does you will kill or capture him with the weapons provided or else we will not return the people to you. It's that simple. We have something you want, you give us something we want. No questions asked. He trusts you, admires you, fights for you so what better way to catch him than by the people themselves. "
"You can take it from here" He nodded to the Lord of the manor not even bothering to descend his horse to assist at all and instead rode away with the captives in tow.
Allan had confirmed his meeting with David of Knighton last night and the letter was safely on its way. However, Marian still couldn't help but worry for Robin. No matter how prepared they were they had no idea exactly when the Sherriff would strike. Her request for reinforcements would most likely fall on deaf ears or arrive too late as disillusioned soldiers returned from The Holy Land unwilling to fight. She had hoped some member of the Private Guard might remember Robin and send aid but that too now felt hopeless.
The villagers chattered and played about in the street as the sun shone and a breeze swept through the streets and yet she could not share in their peace. Having Robin gave them comfort but giving Robin up them caused her distress. The man of the hour, himself, appeared suddenly at her side with a hand over her mouth to block the yelp he knew was coming. "Good morning my love, something troubling you?" He teased with a wicked beam for settling in beside her against the sill.
Jokes aside, his brow did furrow as her eyes wandered back to the peasants below with little joy at the sight of him. However, her words calmed that fear with a gentle tease. "I believe you mean afternoon, what can I do for you?"
"Do I need a reason to visit my betrothed?" The outlaw feigned offense and risked stealing a quick kiss before receiving a hard whack to his shoulder.
"Tell me!" She protested through a laugh as he played with the soft red fabric of her dress mindlessly.
"I need information on why Gisborne is floating around Clun?"
"I've already got Allan on it"
"Yes, he's proven quite useful since our little escapade."
"You mean when you were nearly captured, Marian" he sighed in aggravation. "You should've told me!"
"I did try to tell you and you were nowhere to be found. And as for Allan, I am telling you now. We are a team" she snapped back holding his eye strong and firm until he admitted defeat.
"Alright," the sat against the sill and he pulled her to his side. Brushing his lips over her hair she nuzzled tightly against him for this brief moment of silence. "What does he know?"
"There is a box of tools, most likely weapons being sent out to the buildings I'm sure you've seen. It all feels like preparation so it must be soon and they are very careful to keep Allan busy and out of the loop so It must be important." She rambled off all she had known reporting it in dutiful assured fashion until a sigh washed over her and her eyes slipped closed to rest in his warmth for a moment. "Please be careful…"
"I will…" Robin's eyes wandered the floor, distracted by swirling thoughts and half-baked plans. It frustrated him to put her in this position and to also be so much on the back foot regardless. "Have you spoken to Gisborne?" his voice was now soft and gentle, no business to discuss if she wished just to rest here together.
"He's barely talking to anyone but there seems to be some kind of negotiation going on or else why is he and the Lord Conroy both needed. I think they wanted the villagers to find you for them. He left with boxes this morning and now…nothing. So bribes perhaps? I am not sure.."
"Alright…Great work…" he smiled softly and drew her for a soft warm kiss feeling her exhaustion and so holding back any tease or scheme and holding her tight. "I'll be alright…"
"You'd better" she shoved him lightly before noticing his mind had wandered again. "What happened?"
"She's here…" there was no joy at first. Only a distracted concern.
"Elinor?" Marian suddenly perked up at the thought of the Queen Mother returning.
"Lucia, My God!" Her wide eyes fell away before a contagious bright smile broke through. "How wonderful!?" she cupped his cheek beaming into a kiss that he resisted. "What is it? Has there been some accident? Lord Radley…"
Robin noticed her knowledge of his sister's husband but did not question it. Surely there had been some correspondence between them as girls as old friends.
"Cast her out…" he breathed as his eyes grew stormy uncertain what direction to take her.
"No…the poor girl…" The weight of all sunk in for Marian as the joy was stripped away. She would be ruined. "So she came to you for shelter?"
"Yes, but how can I protect her here?"
"Robin, any sister of yours is sure to be skilled enough to keep herself safe. As girls, we would race and fight. She will be fine" She tugged his forlorn face back to meet hers. "This is a happy moment. Enjoy it. Get to know her a little."
Robin shrugged off the bothersome thoughts to savor a final kiss with her and slip back out of sight.
"How late does he normally come?" Lucia breathed as her feet turned endless circles on the forest floor nearly digging a ditch with the force at which she paced. Being here alone with these almost strangers and to have Robin out there, possibly in danger was not a welcome feeling. Here she was deciding to stay was best, that fighting at his side would be full of passion and enjoyment and instead of all she felt was worry. Robin himself was no more than a stranger to her but to be ripped away from him so soon after so little time reunited would be a crime.
"Not this late but he could just be with Marian" Much shared her stress busying himself with taking the pot to the stream to fill and boil.
"That would not surprise me" Little John muttered as he set down his empty bags from a day's deliveries and collapsed on his bunk a dusty hairy mess.
"I'm sure. He'll be fine" Will encouraged trying to distract them all with a game or conversation but it had been a long busy day. Well for the rest of them, Lucia had been ordered to stay put unless she gets lost. Lost? In her childhood trees? Honestly!
Djaq was winding leaves together into crowns and formations silently sitting her on feelings whilst Much returned from the stream before Robin had even arrived. "I knew he shouldn't have gone. I knew it! Gisborne has been floating too closely around us lately and If he is to be caught in Marian's chambers I-"
"It isn't even dark yet. You cannot panic every time he leaves" Djaq finally chimed in.
"But it will be and I do not panic every time…just the important ones…" Much trailed off embarrassed and peeved.
Lucia tossed a rock into the fire startling the others. "If he has done something foolish I swear I will-"
"Is who's done what?" a twig snapped and voiced teased joyfully as if everyone else also had no care in the world. Robin
"Someone's late" Lucia glared a little quick to avoid attention "Much here, was starting to get worried"
"Good to see you care, sis" he ruffled her hair on his way passed.
"Yes, I was thinking you might forget it was your turn to prepare dinner and since you two are so eager to get reacquainted" Much dumped the sack of vegetables into her lap "You can help him"
"Careful…Careful…" Robin fussed over her technique with the blade as the peeled potatoes which, will endearing, did little to shake her annoyance.
"I can do it…I can do it!" she jabbed him with her elbow as he hovered and guided her fingers too closely.
"Alright, alright! Sorry…"
"I am not completely useless"
"I know you're not."
"Do you? You seem awfully protective"
"Well, it's my duty Innit?" He started picking herbs from Much's collection and cutting carrots smiling smugly across at her.
"How was Marian today?" She perched a mischievous brow eager to one up him and for a moment she succeeded. Robin's eyes fell away with a blush and a beam to which a freshly peeled vegetable came flying in his direction. "I knew it! You've been off gallivanting and charming your way back into her good graces, haven't you?"
"Oh more than that! Please! You wound me!"
"Oh so what else?"
"She spies for me in the castle, she's a little too good at her job actually" They both chuckled before he drew quiet and soft once more. "And…we are betrothed again"
"I am so happy for you" Lucia smiled warmly eyes shining in a strange love that slowly was finding its way back into her despite years of neglect. However, she noticed her brothers face slowly grew serious once more the flustered sweet boy fading and the protective brother taking its place once more.
"She mentioned Radley today…I wasn't aware that she knew?"
"I wanted her at my wedding…" he caught the shake in her voice worrying him further. "But she could not come in time. "
"Was he really so cruel?"
"Another time…" she breathed and disappeared with the vegetables back inside.