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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.

SHERWOOD FOREST

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.

"Although what?"

"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…"

NOTTINGHAM CASTLE

"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"

"Yes"

"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. "

"Good"

"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.

CLUN VILLAGE

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?"

"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?"

"Yeah"

"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.

SHERWOOD FOREST

"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.

NOTTINGHAM CASTLE

"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?"

Marian nodded

" 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"

KIRKLEES INN

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 Text

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.

“Lucia”

"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”

“You did?”

“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”

"And…now?"

"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.

"What?"

"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 Text

 

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.

 

CLUN VILLAGE

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.

 

NOTTINGHAM CASTLE

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"

"Allan?"

"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.

"No, Lucia"

"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.

 

SHERWOOD FOREST

"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.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four:  This Is a Rescue!

 

SHERWOOD FOREST

 

The darkness of sleep was peeled away by a strange bitter smell. Robin shifted in his cot wanting to untangle himself from the thick webs of unconsciousness. If only he could slip back into those waves again he could finally recover all the time he had wasted on taking more turns on watch and planning and scheming to try and get around whatever next step the castle lot were planning. That ashy smell came again…swirling into his dreams and twisting them into nightmares until finally that tension peaked, and he snapped awake.

“Fire…” he breathed still in the mists of a daze. “Fire! Everyone up!” The curtain of haze was snatched away, and his heart leapt to his throat. The gang all fell from their bunks and scrambled for their weapons and Robin was half way out of the shelter before Will called him back.

“Wait, Robin. What about what Marian said?” The brunette boy’s eyes brushed over him worriedly as the gang gathered round and their leader stood with his head ready on the lever and his wide eyes searching the ground. They watched the possibilities turn his brain and the worries and stresses of the past few weeks begin to spread out from his shoulders to his whole frame as he stood there tensed and poised on the edge of change.

“We go anyway…Quick. Grab your things!” He demanded quickly snapping at Lucia when she reached for her bow. “Not you!” She froze with wide eyes fingers hovering over the smooth wood before slowly turning her eyes to him. “Sit. Stay. You’re not ready!” she whined and flopped back into the spare cot sinking into its warm familiar smell that soothed her back to sleep.

 

CLUN VILLAGE

Clun was ablaze. Villagers swirled and scattered in terror and guards swarmed and smashed and raided everything in sight. Temporary houses were mixed amongst the true ones and they were crackling in full flame as guards took their swords to the walls. Wood caved in and crashed, women bit back muffled scream as their pretend homes were ruined around them. They had all been paid off and their valuables were protected to keep their loyalty, but the chaos was truly convincing.

“Ah Gisborne!” Vasey breathed as they breached the crest of the hill to the smoke-filled houses “It’s perfect. The fake panic-”

“The panic is real, sire.” Guy cut in, monotone, his mind still set on the prize of capturing Hood. “We set fire to the church…”

“Clun has a church?” Vasey stopped his romanticizing for a brief moment before barrelling right on again “Imagine it…” he sighed with a wave of his hand, the dramatic one as always “the hero hurtling in to save the day and then bam stabbed in the back by his own people! Oh, this is going to be glorious!”

Guy tried his best to bite back a yawn at this early hour and keep his tone even and sure when the warmth of home was calling to him. “Some of my men will stay behind to keep the people moving and when Hood arrives it should all go to plan” He turned to leave, his mind already halfway up his stairs and into his nightclothes again, until the Sheriff turned to follow, and he just knew more orders were on their way.

“So, Gisborne have I told you about my friend Raleigh….”

The exhausted knight tried not to groan as the dull purple and orange sky started to glimmer in his heavy dark circled eyes.

 

 

“Lucia…Lucia….?” A voice echoed through her sleep and a smiling blue eyed boy floated through her dreams. He nudged her gently with his pointed nose and she awoke into the un-waking world sitting tightly against him wrapped warm in his arms in trickles of sunlight and the prickle of hay. It was a relief to be in that world again. To wonder at the drifting specks of dust playing through the air and to trace the hairs on his forearms. Simple things. Small things. There was nothing else that mattered in the world in that moment and no more strife to steal her sleep. She could rest in this place with him. This place where everything felt so simple and free. To felt safe and at peace and home once again after battling so long through her marriage. To have that one slither of a sanctuary left when all of Nottingham was destroyed.

“Lucia!” she was suddenly shaken awake by unfamiliar hands drawing a blade on the stranger as everyone else must have been Clun so there was no reason to-

She stared in awe as her mind tried to retrace the years lost and to place a name to those familiar eyes and then down to the hand clasped over mouth.

 

 

“What if we draw the guards away…then we can tend to the fire…” Will murmured as they huddled beneath the trees his fists clenching and unclenching as his eyes never left the array of homes going up in flames. Time could not be wasted with all this talk. People were dying. He could hear them!

“No there’s too many of them for half of us to take on alone. We’ll have to all go in…” Robin twisted a blade of grass between finger and thumb as his eyes scanned the forthcoming battlefield.

“Well what if use your arrows first Robin. Distract some of them while we knock out the others…” As much was speaking an arrow whistled past and struck a guard in the knee who doubled over in pain with a frightening cry.

“Robin!” Djaq chided from further ahead but his bow hung over his shoulder.

“Someone else here…” he murmured instantly on the defensive after being caught unawares.

“Marian?” John suggested as Robin’s mind was already working deciphering where the arrow must have come from by it’s trajectory.

 “No, she promised me Gisborne the Night-watchman was over…” he breathed distracted and taking careful lifted steps through the long glass as the others crept along behind him. When they finally weaved through the trees to where the person hide, Robin had his arrow drawn at the ready and rounded the final tree, shushing the others, only to find.

“Marian! What did you bring her here for?!” He whined as Lucia and the huddled behind the tree. “I told her to stay behind!”

“And I need to know where you’d gone…” she handed the bow back to a man who suddenly appeared from behind the neighbouring tree causing Robin to bite back a flinch and dig his heels into the grown. “Who is-…Latimer?! Georg? Wh-…” He hurried to embrace the pair before suddenly whirling around on Marian smile completely wiped away. “What did you do?” he demanded sternly and softly.

“I got help. You’re welcome. Now I’m going home before I’m seen…”

“”Home”…?” Djaq breathed to herself to which Will simply shrugged catching her words and the pair shared a look.

“Lady Marian had a message waiting for when we arrived at Hull. Anyone who had fought by your side and made it back home should join your cause” Latimer quickly explain tugging Robin away from the parting woman his Irish accent thicker and heavier than he remembered now that he was back on local shores. His finger hair ragged and his brown eyes weary as he guided Robin carefully back to the task at hand.

“You should not have come” Robin breathed to which Georg stepped forward with his olive skin glistening in the early sun and his brow certain and stern.

“Why not? Because there is danger? You know us better than that, old friend”

“I do not want you making it all the way home only to be killed for me. You have better things to do with your time…” He tried to wave them off and Much smiled softly to himself lost in a memory.

“We have surveyed the village, Robin, and you are outnumbered. Just this once and then I’m home to my wife. I promise. You need us” Much had forgotten how good Latimer was with Robin, he held his shoulders, he met his eyes, he kept the worried man calm and in check. It was almost a miracle. Then again Robin understood authority and this man had been his commander once. Robin’s training must still run so deep. Why was he surprised.

“Alright, but only once.” He scuffed both their heads and shoved them ahead of them up the hill as the gang all turned to leave.

“What about me?” Lucia stepped forward cautiously.

“You...ha” Robin scoffed a little amused at her boldness. “You I will deal with later…”

“Ah the infamous baby sister…”

“Not a word!” Robin turned on Georg in a flash but Lu couldn’t help but brush her eyes over him with a light happy sweep and a small playful smirk behind Robin’s back.  “We go now. Arrows first!”

 

They fell into their usual formation with the gang crouched in the grass ready for Robin’s signal and he and Will began to distract and maim the guards with whistling arrows. Lucia moved to join the others but Robin yanked her back between shots. “You stay by my side and shoot what you can. And when I head down you stay behind, understood?”

“Robin-“

“Is that understood?” she flinched at the tone she had not heard in years softly nodding and stringing an arrow.

Their shots slowly weeded out the more aggressive of the guards leaving those with their hands full restraining villagers and stomping burning rubble. Those would need more direct attention and Djaq and Much had already sprinted off for water. Once the chaos had cleared a little the signal was given, and Will gave a sigh of relief following Georg, Latimer and John down into the fray.

However, as they drew closer they realized the guards gave them little attention excepted when yanked back from their duties. The villagers too made no effort to beg for rescue. Instead their eyes would drift to the trees and then back to their hysteria. Then again. The same sweeping motion across the forest and hills with a gaze that was not hopeful or desperate but cold and direct.

Latimer too had started to notice the strange atmosphere to this place. People came In and out of the houses that were still standing with little fear that the flames would reach them. A guard would drag a thrashing peasant behind a barn but then the same man or woman would be seen moments later walking free…Something was wrong…This was a fabrication.

“Robin! Stay back!” Latimer ordered, and Robin felt his bones instinctively freeze at the snap he hadn’t heard since the Holy Land. Then Will eye’s fell on an elderly woman ducking out of her home with something shiny tucked behind her cloak and her gaze following Latimer’s up into the hills, solid and deadly in her determination.

“It’s a trap! They’re armed! Get out of here Robin!” Will quickly screamed before pouncing the woman and John leapt for another who had spotted Robin and knocked them out with a swift swing of his staff.  It was then that Djaq and Much arrived with the arms’ full to bursting with empty and full pales hurrying for the village well. Will felt his heart drop at the site. “Djaq!” he cried still struggling to pin the woman to the ground and beginning to choke on the swirling smoke.

Her blood ran cold at the intonation. The desperation the shaking shrill was nothing she had ever heard from the man before. When he ached he fell quiet? When he was frightened he got angry but this…this was pure terror? Her head whipped around to find the source of his voice but only found the thickening smoke blurring her gaze and stinging her eyes. “Will!?”

“Robin come on! You heard the man!” Lucia tugged on his shoulder, but his eyes were still searching the houses wildly. “Please!’ she begged beginning to shake in worry at the thought of him disappearing down into the smoke never to be seen again.

“They won’t put the fire out in time. All those people…” he breathed no longer worried for himself.

“Trust your men! Come with me! Now Please!” she yanked on him again grabbing him by both of the shoulders and holding him firm. “We have to leave. We-“Then a sickeningly whistling broke her thought patterns and sharp pain cut deep into her shoulder as she fell to her knees with a cry. Robin wasted no time in seeing the villager behind her and to raise his bow in threat. The man stared between Hood and the fallen cloaked figure catching the glimpse of a golden curl and realizing slowly and painfully that he had hurt an innocent figure. With tears brimming her fled and Robin could finally tend to his sister.

“Lucia? Lu?” My god! This was all his fault. His hands wandered over her desperately trying to keep her conscious and keep the dagger in place to not cause further damage. Hunched over on her knees the young woman whimpered raising tear-filled eyes to his and he realized she was biting hard into her bottom lip fighting back pain to not alert their position. “You’re so brave now come, I need you to stand. We can’t take it out just yet…” She stumbled at first and he caught her elbows supporting her forearms with his own. “Gently…That’s it…” slowly she was on her feet and they fled.

“Will!” Djaq finally found him knocking the woman unconscious with her pale and slipping the dagger from the hand Will had pinned. Then falling to her knees she untangled him from the woman and checked him over for injuries with shining brown eyes. “Are you-“

“No…” he spluttered covering the hand of his face with hers and knotting their fingers together.

“Here!” She offered him water and gently lifted the large, full bucket to help him sip.

“It’s a trap…” he rasped. “For Robin, he-…”

“Much!?” Djaq suddenly shouted making Will flinch but he was happy she called across the square to him instead of leaving this private smoke sheltered moment.

“Yes!”

“Is Robin gone?!”

“I’m not sure- I… Let me get closer… The-“ The manservant choked a little on his words. “The smoke. Yes he and Lucia just disappeared over the hill…”

“Then we put out the flames and get out of here! Find the others!”

“Yes ma’am!” Much’s laugh rattled through his words and the woman took charge and gently helped her love to his feet.

“Are you sure you’re well? You can go back with them instead of staying to help…” she fussed knowing it was a futile question. He would never give up an opportunity to help these people. Noble to the last. Will simply nodded and picked up her pale.

 

“Hold still!” Robin whined fiddling with cloak

“I’m trying! Just rip it!” Lucia sat on the edge of his bunk with him trying to untangle her clothes from the blade and it’s hilt into order to inspect the wound. He had seen such injuries before but with such a precious life in the balance here he was not going to risk this on his own spotty healing ability. He had to wait for Djaq.

“Here. Drink. It’ll tie you over” He slipped a pounch of wine out from under his bed sheets ignoring the look he received. “I don’t sleep. Now drink. She’ll back soon. I promise…”

Lucia flinched as she raised her arms to lift the liquid to her lips

“Careful!” Robin snapped finally managing to slip her cloak around the hilt.

“You said drink!”

“What happened?” Djaq set Will down on his bunk who had been leaning on her side and hurried over as Much tended to the Scarlet boy instead.

“A dagger to the back. It was meant for me.”

“And you didn’t pull it out?!” she chided shooing him as he scoffed, and she took his place, carefully examining the wound. “It looks as if they missed anything serious, but we’ll have to stop bleed. I need clean cloth. Now!” Robin’s pride had to be swallowed slowly as he slipped into the role of her errand boy in order to see Lucia through this.

CLUN VILLAGE

“What. Is. This?” Vasey took heavy measured steps to the guard resting against the side of a house with an arrow in his side. “Gisborne? An explanation?” The rhetorical mocking came again as he yanked the arrow from the guard’s flesh unceremoniously and whipped Guy across the face with it scaring his cheek and splattering blood. “He was here!? And they did nothing!?”

“Someone must’ve-…” Guy stammered shaken by the sudden onslaught and wiping off the blood.

“No! Gisborne! Enough bleating! Deal with the prisoners and clean this mess. I’m tired of speaking with you” Was all the acknowledgment he got before the Sheriff was lifted onto his horse and rode away his nose turned up in disgust.

Only then did Guy let outside. Thousands of plans, Thousands of schemes and traps, Hours upon hours wasted! And all to capture that fool Hood! He was reaching his wit’s end and if they didn’t find the man soon he was tempted to leave it all behind and search the woods twig by twig himself. “Get this mess cleaned up. I will see to the villagers. Keys please!” His lieutant tossed his the ring. “And be sure to confiscate all the daggers we don’t want a rebellion” he ordered before riding off to the cell relieved at the praise and thanks he received for setting them free despite the result. For a moment, It brought him peace to see such smiling faces and to be on the receiving end of such gratitude.

 

GREAT NORTH ROAD

“Thank you, my friend”  Robin pulled Latimer into a tight embrace and felt a rush relief flood his veins at the thought that his old general had made it home alive. Slowly pulling back he patted the irishmen’s shoulder. “You be sure to make it home safe. I know that voyage isn’t pleasant.”

“It will be worth it to see my Verity again” he blushed a little under his pale skin to which Robin scuffed is head and shoved him playfully over to tend to the horses before turning to Georg.

“Now you stay out of trouble.” He eyed him with a lifted finger to which the young man laughed “There’s consequences here… John and Vasey…There isn’t a group of friends around to shelter you.”

“I know Robin. From what I hear Shropshire is in no better state than here…Or did you mean with the women? What’s the worst that could happen?” a glint flickered through his eyes and for a moment Robin felt as if he was looking into his own past.

“They make you marry her” Robin slipped back into Georg’s old sensitive humour despite it’s insensitivities.

“Wouldn’t be so bad…” Georg’s eyes wandered over Robin’s shoulder. Robin turned to find Lucia holding a cloth to her shoulder and trudging up the hill in her dark emerald dress and her blonde curls a wild mess.

“What are you doing here!?” Or formality fell away as Robin chastised her right there in front of her friend letting down the veil into their private family business.

“I came to find you. I figured I should receive my scolding sooner rather than later. The wine is dulling the pain. I thought you’d pleased I was well!” She toyed back but her eyes soon slipped to Georg bright and playful and liqueur tinged. Robin groaned out a sigh.

“Go on get out a here!” he kicked leaves at the young man eying his sister but the Greek only brushed a kissed over Lucia’s knuckles to which she smirked, more amused by Robin’s reaction than any union between them.

“Robin, my lady” He bid them both farewell in turn before the pair departed.

 

“Why are you like this?!” Robin nudged her gently as they headed back down the hill.

“Did I not learn all this from you?” she beamed to which he rolled his eyes. “What? He has kind eyes!”

“He has charming eyes” He corrected. “If you learnt so much from me. You would learn much worse from him, Believe me”

“Ah I see…” Lucia bit back a childish giggle feeling a strange joy settling in her heart. To be here with her brother. To feel the rush of attraction after so many years without it. Perhaps she could be happy here.

“How long have you and your husband even been a part?”

“That is not the point.” The happiness was soon short lived at the mention of Radley and Robin’s implied judgement. “He had me declared a widow and sent away to free himself from me to be with another. I owe him not debt or loyalty. He showed little to me…” she slipped into a grumble.

“Listen, Lucia…” he brushed his fingers over her shoulders to stop her. “After today, I…”

“You’re sending me away…” she breathed, green eyes wide and searching his face for some rebuttal. “Aren’t you?”

“If you go to Scar-“

“No!” she wrenched herself away from his wounded gaze and gripping hands. “Did I not prove myself to you today? Have I not shown you that this fight is just as much mine as it is yours? That is my home out there too!”

“Yes but you- “

“What? I was wounded!? A necessary calculation I made. I knew the risk. I am good with a bow. I am clever with men. I know how they think. I could be a real asset to you but once again….” Her tone slipped to a quiet toxic disappointment and Robin could no longer meet her, stepping back to let her breathe. “Once again you will send me way to relieve your own worries and nothing actually to do with me! I- I cannot go around in the circles with you anymore. “ They were back in the camp and she was changing without caring who saw her. Djaq redressed her wound and she slipped into her best blue gown.

“Lucia? Where are you going?” Robin sighed noticing her hurry.

“Perhaps I will go after Georg just to spite you hm? That must be what you are thinking seeing me dress so fine? No…I need to breathe and I cannot be calm whilst still in that filthy green rag so I am changing before taking a walk. Is that reason enough for you? Or would you not like me out in the woods alone?”

“Surely that’s just common sense?” Much looked up from his cooking as the sunset after entertaining Georg and Latimer all day.

“Silence, Much!” The Locksley Siblings both snapped.

“You will not l-“but the young women was already brushing passed him and John clutched his shoulder as he went to speak again.

“Let her breathe…She’ll return. Now eat”

The gang settled down to dinner as it began to the camp began to tinkle and patter with the drizzle of rain.

 

“He’s safe…” Allan slipped into Marian’s chambers having nearly collided with an uncharacteristically withdrawn Sherriff in the hallway.

“Good” Marian looked up from mending her favourite green and orange dress.  “Was I missed?”

“No the castle was left pretty unguarded actually. Robin should’ve taken it.”

“Well he was busy…”

“Yeah…I followed Guy out earlier. Everyone was released, and the gang warned Robin in time. Noone was badly injured” A strange solemnity hung over Allan that made Marian’s brows furrow.

“What is it?”

“Nothing…” he breathed.

“Allan. It’s me…”

“Just strange to see his friends fight with him you know?”

“Like they’re replacing you…” She had felt it many times before when Robin would have a new woman flitting around him but she knew it was never anything of consequence. “I’m sure they are long gone by now”

“Yeah, suppose”

“Was anyone else with them?”

“Not that I saw” he shrugged still distracted by the strange well that had opened up inside him. It had been so long since he’d really thought about them and about what life had been like back…home.

“Alright then well go get some rest and food” Marian waved him off relieved Lucia had not been sighted. She was determined her old friend remained safe and anonymous in all of this.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Diverging Paths and Open Veins

The rain was a welcome comfort, it rolled down her skin and soaked her hair washing away all the dust and dirt and grime of the camp and soothing the heat in her bones. Her shoulder screamed she lifted her arms to spin in the shower, but her smile was wide and her eyes sparkling. For this moment, in the hazy dream of the wine and the freedom from Robin she found solace in nature. After all she had done, after all the months she had travelled to get here, Robin was not worth it. He had grown bitter and darker and vastly more protective. How was she going to survive in that place? Having traded one controlling male for yet another?

Lucia smiled walking across the bridge into Nottingham her eyes mixing reality and memory together through the stream of rain. How many times had she come to market here? How many beautiful moments had been made running through these straights and darting between stalls, toying with fabrics and rolling about with the lambs in the sheep pen? These familiar old stones were exactly the place to calm herself and manage her fears.  Her temper calmed, and the questions became free to swirl. Where to next? Would Robin simply send her away the minute she arrived, or would there be room to bargain? If he did would she obey? Where else could she turn? To Thornton? To Marian?

The thought of being in Nottinghamshire, at last, was enough for now to distract her twirling mind. She was back…That bright smile, those shining eyes, and that sense of hope was soon replaced with dread as she saw a man teetering on top of a structure. Rounding the corner quickly she found a new home being torn apart but the whistling wind and now pouring rain. The house was narrow and high and far from finished. The raindrops slipped in and amongst the mud, melting the foundations until there was little left to keep the wooden structure from toppling as the wind began to batter it. Her heart leapt as he stumbled and she sprang into action.

“That man I going to fall someone help me!” She shouted at the peasants who could only stare on in horror. “A hand! Please!” she called again feeling her heart rise into her throat but only one man stopped to help her leaping down from her horse and boosting her up to the roof. Years of climbing trees and navigating the lofts and beams of barns allowed her feet to be nimble enough to ascend to the man’s height with fewer scrapes and bruises than she had expected. The nobleman, she assumed he was with that horse and dressed in fine clothing, was gathering others around to pull a cart of hay to catch them.

“Give me your hand! You can walk across the beam here, please!” her voice was whipped away in the wind and the man only cowered from her stammering. “My- my daughter please!”

“You! Sir!” she whipped around to that same man again, down below. “There’s someone inside!”

“She’s pinned by a beam” her father instructed, and she relayed the information down through the cracks to the man inside. What if he too was injured?! “I was…I was trying to build a roof before the rain came and…”

Another piece of thatching fell…. “This is not your fault. This weather could not be predicted. Now come with me. My friend will help your daughter…You see!” The girl limped out leaning into the nobleman’s side “She’s safe. Now, this structure doesn’t have long we need to-”

But then a gust of wind sent them bothering tumbling right off the edge as the months and months of work crumbled beneath them with a thundering crash. The thatcher fell into a soft bed of hay but Lucia felt herself plummeting through nothing but air in the wrong direction. There was no way they were close enough together to catch them both at once, no way to change her course and the height was going to kill her surely. This was foolish. She should be at the camp apologizing to Robin not here! Not-

With eyes scrunched tightly closed suddenly everything stopped. For a moment she felt nothing but stillness and darkness. Had she died? Had she fallen unconscious? Why was there no-.

She winced in pain at the sudden agony rupturing from her shoulder and she lurched forward with eyes opening biting back a cry,

“Easy….”  She found herself nestled in someone’s arms tightly and his knees bent hard beneath her must have cushioned her fall. How had he…. “Let me set you down first. There you go…Are you hurt?” Gently fingers held her steady.

“I…” her hands rested on his shoulders for support as her mind still raced along with her blood and it all became a daze. “How did you…Your knees…” Surely he must have endangered himself by doing that?

“I saw you were going to fall so I positioned myself accordingly. It’s no miracle” He scoffed a little with a frighteningly bright smile.

For a moment Lucia stared up at those stormy blue eyes and chiselled chin in awe. He had leapt to her help without question or instruction. He had put off whatever business he had out of town to save another and even now wanted no gratitude. Where did men such as him hide?

“Thank you….” She murmured. “Did we…?” she still held to him for balance, strong and sturdy as the world began to swim and spin but she turned to find the father and the daughter huddled to together. “They’re alive…” she whispered.

“You did very well” a soft warmth brimmed in his voice, almost of pride, and somehow that was of particular value coming from him. He was proud of her

“Thank you!” she beamed again finally finding her strength and exuberance. She embraced him tightly, instinctively, without warning and felt him stiffen before gently holding her to him…but then his hands found her shoulder.

“You’re wounded…” Lucia froze at the mention of this morning’s events. Aiding Hood, knowing the position of their camp: that was all valuable information that could be tortured out of her if a connection was ever made. Let alone being a crime she could hang for. A stab wound in itself was a suspicious sight on a noblewoman.

“Oh! It is...” she stammered pulling back from the embrace to see the blood on his hand. Her eyes widened and the girl felt her heart leapt into her throat unable to find the words. “It is nothing. I…”

“Come. I will get you help…” Lucia breathed a private sigh of relief as he took her by the arm and carefully guided her towards the tavern out of concern rather than suspicion. She crumpled softly into his side after such a long day flinching as it stretched her shoulder.

He guided her down the street his hands never leaving her frame. "Come, we can dry off in here and tend to your wounds"

 

 

The dimly lit tavern snapped her awake. This was not exactly a quaint physician’s cottage or a neighbouring peasant’s home. It was dark, and busy, smelling of mead and sweat. Crackling drunken male laughter made her hair stand on end and his presence at her side suddenly felt all too close. As they passed through she saw a nod from him communicate some silent well-rehearsed order to the kitchen maid. The familiarity it betrayed and his hand on her back made Lucia tighten her grip that was already on her blade. When they were finally alone in an upstairs chamber, and he reached for her cloak she instinctively threatened. "I would proceed with caution, sir" Exhilaration became alert protection in an instant.

"You are soaked through? And your wound?" The genuine uncertainty to his voice without smug disdain caused her to turn and see the look in his eyes. Was he truly just trying to help? It should not come as a surprise given all she had just witnessed and yet being alone in the dark by the firefight brought an uncertainty to all that was said.

"Forgive me, my mind is still turning" she breathed ducking her head with a soft smile. It was indeed true. Both their muscles ached from the effort, but their blood sang with the excitement and hearts pounded in their ears. Such an experience bound them together in this common understanding of the bravery and rush.  There was no need to distrust him.

As he lit the fire it spluttered and sparked puffing the smell of smoke into the air and then finally roaring with a soothing warmth. That hint of ash still hung in the air drawing her mind back to this morning’s events but strangely heightening whatever was stirring inside. The tavern wench whisked in with dry clothes and out again now closing the door behind her. It felt different now. To be in such a small enclosed space with that drenched dark silhouette and the flickering of the firelight while her heart pounded in her chest. He seemed to command the entire room a stark contrast of black against brown, the click of a boot, the clang of a belt and the way the light fell on him was…

Distracting herself from taking those thoughts through to conclusion Lucia looked over the clothes. "It would appear you have done this before...I wonder what caused those other girls to need new clothes..." She genuinely teased now assured that she could handle any scheme. "Or was the building all a ruse?"

Yet when she turned his smirk faded and he crept closer so carefully. What had she said?

"I mean you no harm..." He reassured her unnecessarily as if to calm himself. Even if he had meant her harm she knew now how to hold her own. Why was it then that he seemed on the back foot? Doubting himself at every turn?

"Who did this to you...?" The thought slipped free through a quiet private voice creating a false intimacy. She saw it startled him saw him losing his footing for a moment then continue to draw near, waving the notion away.

"A woman of no consequence. The kind that toys with a man's emotions"

 "Ah..." her eyes fell with a smirk before turning to undress from these damp clothes and to check her wound somehow unbothered by his company. "I have been one such woman...."

"Have you?" The tension softened but the intimacy remained as he now was the one to tease.

"Marriage is the only means of survival for a woman we have to at least try to choose the best route for our happiness" she laughed softly slipping free of her cloak and undoing her hair. "Often that means biding our time until we have the best offer"

"Even if it is cruel...?" She bit back a gasp as she felt him now at her back, but she took his hands and placed them on the ties of her dress welcoming. That physical barrier was long since broken by the evening’s heroics. "Even then...without that control...we have nothing...."

“Then perhaps it is you who are committing the ruse…” She could feel the vibrations of his fingers echo against her skin as his brushed and swiped her backbone in his efforts to untangle her ties. The intermittent moments of skin to skin connection were taunting her nerves yet his words brought an ease to her mind. The tease brought a soft smile to her lips and a lilt to her voice as he brushed the long golden tresses of her damp her hair from obstructing his view.

“Perhaps…How could I have known you would be riding by at the precise time?” The fantasy began to swirl around them and for a moment she forgot exactly why he was undressing her.

“Every intelligent lady has her spies…Servings girls…Stable boys….”

“And I suppose every nobleman just happens to travel about as heavily armed as you?” For a moment the rhythmic flicking sound of straps stopped, and she felt him tense and look about the room. Her keen eye had spotted the sword, spiked gloves, dagger and more deposited on a chair beside the fire. “Perhaps you are not a simple lord at all but something far more cunning”

“Such as?” an almost impressed wave swept through his voice and the unknotting resumed. This whole encounter was so alarming at yet dulled by a strange safety. She had never felt such a fire before that was not born of love or hatred but instead pure physicality. The smell of soot and rain and sweat all twisted up together with the exhilaration of their achievement and the alluring wild curls of his hair all propelling her closer to a place she dares not go.

“Perhaps it is you who are the spy.  Here on business for the Prince. Or you simply enjoy seducing the wives of other men? Putting them up for ransom or ruin their reputation?” With the back wide open he now slipped her free of each sleeve taking his time almost as if he was savouring the excuse to brush her skin.

“Then why the weaponry?”

“You honestly think I would go so easy?” The story finally fractured as he let out a bright laugh.

“Based on how you rushed into the building. I am assuming you’re a stubborn one”

“Oh! increasingly so by the day…”

 When he had finished making light work of her dress and she turned she found His striking eyes were softer in the glow of the flames.

"Y-you should..." despite the way the rain slipped right off the smooth leather she felt the need to return the favour and help him from his clothes as her chemise clung to her small frame and her dressing wrapped around her right shoulder. "as well..."

Trembling fingers unhooked his outer layer assuming that was all he desired and so she turned, quickly fleeing his gaze, to lay out her clothes to dry. However, she soon glimpsed a black shirt being laid down amongst his things and found him sitting chest bare and boots struggling to come off.

 Despite her wisdom to the contrary she hurried to help him unable to resist the urge to be useful. Too long in such soaked clothes could bring on a chill and poor health. "Here, let me" She soon regretted the choice not only for the strange feeling of being knelt before his looming frame but for the memories it provoked of her husband. Those memories doused whatever spark that had been burning. Warming his boots by the fire had always been a sure sign of things to come. She should have known he would haunt any future endeavours she attempted.

"Is something wrong?" The man broke the long silence alerting her to the fact that she had stopped removing his boots. "Ah, your shoulder...Let me see" She was glad for the reprieve as he went to the door and had a maid fetch remedies. He lingered at the door as the order was fulfilled, so she cautiously rose to perch on the edge of the bed. Everything felt haunted by this undercurrent of intimacy and desire...a danger they both ignored.

Delicately and slowly he looked over her stitches and the retreated and redressed her wound. Rough weathered hands gentle and precise and his knees brushing her side from behind. She could feel his eyes intently focused on her skin.

“How did this happen?” It was strange to almost feel concern from the stranger.

“My husband was a violent man…” Creating a story was a welcome distraction as her eyes wandered the room that somehow felt smaller in the growing darkness.

“Was?” The man somehow didn’t miss a beat, his hands never ceasing their work despite the horror of her story. Was that born of coldness or civility?

“It is difficult to explain…” Somehow being wed or free felt increasingly important by the second.

“No need…” He patted her shoulder as if to say ‘done’ and so she turned around to thank him politely but instead she found him frighteningly close. His eyes were stormy and wondering and his hands lay dangerously close, almost within reach. She wondered how it might feel to return the favour, to wash some smudge of soot from his warm cheek or a speck of mud from his firm smooth skin. Would she stir the same reaction he had in her? Could she hide in that welcoming frame and give in to this force that was calling her closer?

"How clumsy I will look tomorrow with a gaping bandage showing through my collar" she feigned a laugh nervously to which he replied reassuringly.

"The stitches will heal. You may only need the dressings for a night" those words frightened her unearthing some hidden meaning in his eyes. How did she feel so enraptured so quickly with such a stranger? He had saved the people and herself. He had shown kindness and levity where she had seen only danger and doubt. Could some men be truly trusted?  Lucia banished the thought hurriedly. With a forced polite smile, she slipped away and hurried back to the fireplace.

"You were right. I /am/ soaked through " Soon he was at her side again in his undergarments no less, but his attention was taken by her dress rather than her and she bit back a large sigh of relief.

"Noblewoman like you seem rare..." His fingers brushed over the delicate detail of her muddied blue gown obviously noticing the wealth it required. "How did you learn such things...?"

An outlaw for a brother? Thieves for childhood friends? A rebellious young Marian? Take your pick. "A blessed childhood...Forests And lakes and hills...A young girl can't remain a delicate flower for long with such great adventures to be had and land to explore..." She chuckled wistfully and felt a soft laugh rise from him as well.

"I should like to have known you then...." there was a strange touch of solemnity to his amusement that at long last she turned to him and acknowledged their strange state.

 "You hardly know me now?" She regretted those words instantly, once they left her mouth, once the mounting ferocity was finally spoken, he was before her in an instant.

 "Does it matter?" His thumb brushed a smudge of soot from her cheek, oddly gazing at her as their voices dropped below a whisper.

"Shouldn't it?" She desperately tried to remain safe on her side of this dangerous moral line, but his soft eyes drank her in and he simply shook his head gently. His fingers snatched a wisp of straw from her hair and chased a drop of rain down her neck. She had never felt something so deep and rich and instantaneous. Her eyes fell closed as the world began to turn soaking in his touch openly now. Slowly she felt him inch toward her lips and she lost all sense of propriety until...

"I am-" her hand found his bare chest in the darkness.

The world was a haze of flame and smoke with cool slips of raindrops down their skin and the warm press of his hands to her face. He was so close she could barely breathe as his own shallow breaths brushed her lips.

"Wed?" He probed gently as she struggled to form the words simply shaking her head.

"A maiden?"

"No..." She huffed a laugh which he returned slipping his fingers through her hair.

 "Then...?"

 "I am trying to be wise...and well behaved"

He chuckled at first at the notion of misbehaviour before reassuring.  "As you said. You need to be able to marry. If this will-" both their eyes snuck open and her hand shot to his cheek reassuringly.

 "No, I am a widow...of sorts....”

“Of sorts?” he murmured with a baffled smile.

 “Yes but no matter. My point being… I have long been tainted" her fingers and eyes searched his skin for answers. My Lord, he was exquisite. How was she to resist such a creature? "But...I had hoped...The next time I lay with a man...it would be for love..." She shrugged away the childish notion, a heat coming to her cheeks. She had lost her body to her husband and hoped to reclaim it. To return to that girl revelling in first love.

"Love? darling girl" the stranger lifted her chin with a mirth in his eyes that sparked the depths of her sin. "We're much too clever for that" What a curious notion, for that to be a comfort rather than a danger. For her to know he had done this before and he would do it again and yet none of that mattered. She was sober and free to come and go as she pleased and yet she didn't. She stayed here still sailing on the high of all that they achieved and curious to know him better, drawing in once more.

“My injury…” she breathed as they both slipped closer arms wrapping around each other like snakes and heartbeats melding into one.

“I can be gentle…If that is what you wish…” his forehead brushed hers and his fingers played deliciously with her hair.

“I hardly know...” the words shuddered from her lips. It was as if she stood on the edge of unending darkness and yet his hand stretched out for hers open and enticing and temporary. This would not be a night of obligation or love or blackmail but unadulterated freedom.

"Have I done something to frighten you? Earlier you were…” His body lay still and stern against her trembling frame but where he assumed there was fear instead lay anticipation.

“No! I-…It has been so long” they both sighed a laugh once again  “and y-you…You are more than…Enough worry!”

As his eyes slipped closed Lucia wondered what this kiss would be? She imagined it would be just as dark and dangerous as he and yet cradled in this odd heavenly glow that surrounded them lulling them into a safety. His lips looked thin and hard, solid and heavy, much like those of a man she had known before. That same man brought a wicked familiar smirk to her face twisting that seemingly sweet face and charring her soft eyes. Not in years had she felt such power, such temptation? To toy and tame and lure in a man and to feel that pure autonomy so rarely gifted her. If she let him, if she closed that gap would those lips grip hers tight and push them hard, awakening her hunger and claiming his territory? Would their wet frames press tightly to one another with arms wound tight, stubble scratching, breathes hitching and fingers grasping? Would it all be pure hedonic bliss flooding the dry cracked earth of her veins with fresh hot blood?

 She imagined it would.

That he would ignite her back to life once more with the taste of salt and smoke and unearthed possibilities.

 But now was not that time.

Darkness was no friend of hers. Sweet darkness, no matter how charming, would only destroy her all the more, filling crevices with sweet unfulfilling intoxication. In the morning her wounds remain fresh and raw once more. For now, she must press on and shake the notion away.

“Ah…If a noblewoman who scales buildings is rare surely a man of your wealth wasting his time on peasants is even more so?” She finally breathed ducking away from the moment and back into the conversation that gotten so far out of hand. His head ducked for a moment with a sigh and she felt her body instinctively stiffen...Then he smiled.

“Well, you were rather demanding…”

“The man could’ve been killed….” Lucia tugged herself away anticipating a fight and mockery beneath that smile but he gently caught her again and she realized his eyes had never hardened. Old habits died hard and tense instincts rattled their cages as his fingers gently brushed over her hair and lifted her chin. Surely this was all some scheme or some chiding lesson she was about to receive on being so reckless in the town today or in being so bold to reject him.

“But he wasn’t…Thanks to you…” Something in this man understood her hesitancy to be so outspoken, her fear at defying the boundaries of her social standing. A lady shouldn’t lower herself to the worries of peasants or hitch up her fine skirts to climb a teetering dwelling…then again, a prim and proper young lady should not be alone in a tavern with such a man regardless. Her cheeks flushed at his deep sincerity and his unwavering warm gaze despite the spell of desire that had just been summoned and then snatched away so viciously.

“And yourself. Your help…meant a great deal” Her heavy eyes returned his shining gratitude and she allowed just one timid smile to slip through her defences. He was…astounding.

"But you would rather I leave you be?" he coyly teased, his voice still soft and yet she couldn’t help but stiffen at the coming reaction.

“It has been quite a day…” she breathed a laugh as her heart lurched at the risk of such a rejection. His eyes felt heavy on her as he searched her face before softly giving an understanding nod and then pulling back he hurriedly dressed.

" Here" he set down two coins on his way out and then was gone "For your service"

Lucia rolled her eyes with a breath of laugh as he bowed slightly and disappeared out of sight. Never to be seen again…just as it should be.

 

“Still no sign of her!” a drenched John puffed his way back into camp grateful for the large thick door that closed behind him. Rain still trickled down beams and tinkled in pots but what little shelter that had was a warm relief. Robin was pacing…already.

Lucia had only been gone a few hours and they had all their best sources in the shire on the lookout and yet the elder brother still worried. “She’ll turn up. Once she’s cooled off and found somewhere dry for the night. She’ll be back” The father tried to calm his friends seeing that same parental worry in him. “Get some rest.” The elder sighed softly but his leader had been up so late his eyes had grown weary and his mind erratic

“What if he’s taken her?” The pacing finally stopped

“Who?” John ducked his head and dropped his tone hoping not to wake the others.

“The Sherriff. Knowing her she’s swiped something, and she could be arrested by now” He waved his hands wildly, but John stepped forward and slowly stared him down.

“Robin…Marian would know. Now wake Will and go back to sleep” The outlaw held his leader’s eye strong and firm until the younger man relented and woke Will for Watch.

 

Lucia awoke with a smile, feeling more herself than she had in months. Sunlight poured through the window frames with glorious golden light and cast the room in a dusty haze. The flecks danced and swirled beneath its rays and she lay back entranced by them contently. She had saved a man and enticed another. She had stood her own against him and unravelled herself before him all at once, unable to stop and yet unwilling to turn back from her curiosities. That bravery in exploring his soul and defying his desires was startling to have found within her again. Such courage she thought had been stamped out of her long ago. The strength needed to charge into a battle or cross a country alone was nothing to that of vulnerability. She could risk her neck at any cost because she no longer cared for it. Her life could come and go in an instant and she would awake in heaven unafraid. That was…until Robin.

Where did that streak of darkness in retreat to now that she had someone else who counted on her life, who worried for her, who would miss her in the morning. So long she had lived for herself, for Radley and felt as if nothing she did made an impact on the world around her…except to cause harm. A sharp tongue, a bold word and a servant would be struck before her. In her numb state he had found other ways to reach her. With the eyes of the world on them, Radley’s scars could not be seen. Those instances were branded into her impossible to erase and difficult to unlearn.

This man…this saviour, he held an essence of Radley in so many ways, a dark unpredictability she had longed to embrace and yet…he had treated her with kindness and submitted to her every word? What on earth was he? Where was he?

Sitting up with a sigh, dry gold curls now flopped down off her shoulders and dangled against bare skin. Robin surely had such a kindness in him also, this man wasn’t some god amongst men he was the same as any one of Hood’s outlaws. So why did his chivalry startle her so? If she was willing to see all the value in him then why not her brother? It was cruel really. Returning would only send her to Scarborough she doubted he could be reasoned with, especially coming off the back of this adventurous night, out all alone. Pressing on would leave the world completely open to her. Open with almost too many possibilities.  A bottom lip jutted out and a hand pushed back her curls as she stared across at the two dresses laid out by the fire: one red, one blue.

 

“Get up!” Allan snapped up as Guy kicked him awake with a start, propelling forward he almost fell from the fireside chair before the world became clear again and he groaned. He had slipped away to Locksley once Vasey had lost control at dinner, both he and Guy had retreated from the castle through the rain late in the evening. While it was strange to be within Robin’s walls this old wooden house gave a much-needed break from the stress and calamity. Now it felt more like a blessing than a curse, his choked a little on the smell of soot and reached back to soothe his aching neck and back.  “Sherriff wants us in the Hall bright and early. Next time, take a bed”

“Someone’s feeling generous this morning?” he cocked his head sceptically at his friend whilst dusting himself off.

“Last time you were here, I believe you were trespassing….” Guy shot back with a smirk before turning on his heel and heading outside.

“Fair” Allan conceded before following along behind and out into the bright light of day.

 

What had felt like tranquil summer sunlight from inside the inn walls had turned to a glaring overcast sky that dulled her mood and strained her eye by the time she had eaten and changed. Grateful for dry clothes her hair was platted down one side as she trekked back through the woods.

The dress she had been gifted was tucked away in a satchel she had swiped a stall and left a coin in its place. Light fingers helped her avoid the scandalous chatter of a woman walking about in the earlier hours of Market Day with half her clothes in her hands and her hair with a few curls out of place. The sum she paid she should more than suffice and somehow, for some odd reason, she feared recognition.

Now with Robin, an outlaw and this Gisborne ruling in his place any affiliation with Locksley, even when her own hands were clean, felt dangerous. All it would take was a run in with an old friend or a glimpse of those same small eyes to have all hell break loose, so she had lifted her hood and hurried for the trees.

 

“I have had…a revelation!” Wide fingers splayed out from the Sherriff’s hands as he paused for dramatic effect and arched his hands down through the air. There he stood half dressed and servants swirled around undressing and redressing him for the day whilst Guy and Allan stood uneasily and tried to prevent their eyes from falling on...anything. “You see, Gisborne, we have a secret right here, you and I.” he glanced over to Allan with a little jut of the chin. “Your little boy…You see I happened to recall in the dead of night,  waking up from the most glorious dream, I might add, of a redhea-“ Guy cleared his throat and Allan desperately tried to fight back a groan. “Point being,” he was before Allan in an instant who couldn’t help but swallow hard at the words that came out of his reeking mouth. “You never actually succeeded In leading us to Hood’s camp did you, sunny boy hm? So...I sent guards to turn over stick and stone until it is found” Then he finally disappeared behind his changing screen and the men could breathe for a moment.

“Sir, the men have been out all day and night preparing for Clun-“

“Oh, not my men Gisborne, yours!” the silhouette declared gleefully through the frame taking Guy back for a second.

“Excuse me?”

“Well you were dead to the world and so had no used for them”

“I need my men rested, sir. If Hood were to-!”

“If Hood were to what!?” The joyful demeanour fell away in a vicious snap as Vasey stormed out fully clothed in black. “Hm? Raid your precious little garrison? Steal off with another little girl’s sweet little betrothal ring!?” Allan flinched as Vasey turned venomously on Guy in a way he very rarely let him see. “He doesn’t care about Locksley you blithering oaf! Not while he is an eensy-weensy sweet little home out there in the woods and I want It found. I want it found and raised to the ground so he’s cowering out there in the cold!”

 

“Miss? Miss!?” Lucia kept her head down and her eyes focused on the next patch of thick trees. If she could just disappear behind them she would be down into the crevice and in the camp before this man could even realize where she went. She would be safe and dry and…the camp!

The blonde froze. An acute responsibility at long last gripped her. These were Robin’s friends his family, this man could accidentally follow her footprints or see her blue cloth through the trees, she-…she had to stop, she had to lure him away, somewhere, anywhere!

 A well-rehearsed pleasant smile swept across her face as she took in the strange sight of a black and yellow guard against the lush forest green.  “Yes?”

“You cannot be here, there are dangerous men about…” the young man’s voice dropped to a private tone in an innocent concern.

“Such as yourself?” her chin rose proud and her hood fell back, letting her slip into that old stature of nobility, looking down on everything and everyone.

“Well, yes myself and a dozen other guards who might mistake you as an outlaw” His helmet came off betraying big wide eyes that suited his voice nicely. “Plus, the outlaws themselves, I guess”

“Outlaws?” She feigned a gasp with a press to her heart. “Here?” She cursed herself as she almost thought she heard the distant shuffle of the shelter door raising and did her best to distract the boy with a touch to his chest “Forgive me I am not from the parts.”

“Well then where are you headed?” his kindness finally slipped down into a confusion.

For a moment she stopped as the question took another trip through her head. Green eyes fell to the forest floor as plans were made, risks weighed, outcomes accepted, and sacrifices mourned. Then those eyes rose again with a soft gentle ache.

“Nowhere at all”

 

The warning bell clanged rudely awakening them all with a start and Will came hurtling down the hill into the camp with a stumble and his bow at the ready. “Gisborne’s men. Dozens of them. Stabbing at trees, kicking rocks, rummaging through leaves. Allan must have told them about the lever!”

“Easy Will” John clasped his shoulder. “Allan gave us his word. Looking for the camp is a routine for the Sherriff by now. We’ll draw them away”

“They’re spread out and moving in some kind of planned formation. It’s tactical and organized. They're scanning every inch of the forest, Robin. I only spotted one just now but who knows how long they’ve been doing this”

“William. Breathe!” Djaq snapped and he finally sank down onto a seat.

“Alright. We split up the wood by our usual drop point areas.” He yanked out the scrap of parchment they used to mark out those areas to try and job his tired mind into gear “Each of you will take a section and lead those men on a while goose chase. I’ll find their base and pray the Sheriff and Gisborne aren’t with them”

As the gang reached the crest of the hill, weapons at the ready, Lucia was instantly spotted.

“She came back…” Instinctively Robin lurched forward relief flooding through him, but Much grabbed him back in an instant.

“Master. Look again….” The manservant chided with his usual nervous warning and only then did the lord of Locksley look behind his sister to see the man behind her. 

He could only read one word from the soldier’s lips and that word sent a chill through him: Gisborne

Much had to restrain him again, always appearing at his side in the nick of time, as the guard guided her away by the shoulder as her head turned back to scan through the trees with worried precise green eyes. Was she looking for them? She knew… Slipping forward and low through the shrubbery he caught her eye and in that moment a dread haunted him. Slowly she was being pulled away from him, lead away through the forest by one of Gisborne’s men armed with only a dagger. While the boy seemed gentle he couldn’t help but fear whatever awaited her on the other side of these woods if she saw this through to conclusion. What had she promised him? What had she bargained and sacrificed to draw him away? Was he taking her to Gisborne? To Vasey? Or simply back to the Great North Road? A thousand possibilities of both innocent and indecent circled through his drained anxious mind. She had reappeared too recently in his life to be lost so quickly? Was It simply a short conversation or would there be ramifications for this encounter? Would that same guard recognize her later? Why did this image of her bring such a huge weight over him? Why did he feel as if this time she wouldn’t return?

 However, the worry left her eyes the moment she found him, a light shone from them for a brief moment of happiness and peace. Despite all her claims to the contrary the little runt did seem to care for his safety. She nodded softly and sternly, sure of her decision and happy to be of service. That image of her in the foggy green woods the stark grey sky and her head turned imprinted itself into his memory and then…she was gone.

 

Allan overturned a chair with a bit back infuriated cry. The clatter echoed in the stone walls and he kicked himself at the thought of it attracting a servant’s attention and exposing his vulnerable state. His mind was all places at once. Warning Marian, obeying Gisborne, protecting Robin, all viable options, all strings of loyalty that despite his usual appearances meant something. With a clenched jaw and balled fists, he paced the small length of his room with a huff. Tears of worry and frustration began to tease their way in with long forgotten emotions. Gripped by indecision and yet haunted by the steadily dropping amount of time he was unable to act, unable to think! What if he…

Leaping into action he scrambled across the room for his trunk and became pilling clothes out onto the floor, unpacking some politely while others were sent flinging and flying across the room until finally, he reached the bottom. Sharp blue eyes were fixed on the centre of that patch of wood as he reached down inside with a hitched breath and scooped something up with trembling hands: an old brown mask.

Perhaps it was simply the fear talking, the cowardly part of him that was already on edge by this whole situation, but the very thought of putting it on tied knots in his stomach. Standing to his feet that one single scrap of cloth stared right back at him begging the question: What was he to do? Act or Obey? Take a risk or stay silent? Both or Neither?

This was foolish! The turned suddenly to the fireplace. There were other ways to save Robin others measures, other safe calculated actions that could be taken if given the time…but it felt like there wasn’t any? He crushed the mask in a fist and fled out of the dismantled room.

 

“Wait here, miss” The guard, Thomas she had learned, gave her helping hand into the small carriage and she took her seat beneath the dark wood in that dim space. “We’ll be finished soon then you can eat and sleep” The dusty auburn brunette gave her a crooked smile before nearly turning back to his duties. Her heart scolded her for her silence.

“Thomas!” she called quickly, and he stopped suddenly. “I should like to not be alone?” she gently requested with an air of civility and almost arrogance as if it was a charming question that veiled an order and she saw that difference in class affect him.

She saw the ramifications of if a noblewoman arrived harmed to Nottingham swirl through his mind. She grimaced at how easy this came. She flinched at the skills she had stolen from suitors and husbands alike, mastering them until the ache in the back of her mind at hurting this boy was a distant worry when it should be a pressing concern. No poor creature should so twisted and turned to another’s will. It did work however and smiled, and he sat.

The walls felt too tall and the cart to thin, the bars on the windows seemed to stiffen the ear as he sat on the step and they waited. How long would Robin need? How long would he even last? What was going on out there between the trees?”

 

“Marian!” Allan caught her in the hall as Guy disappeared down the stairs and into the courtyard.

Scolding him with her eyes for his tone the noblewoman yanked him into a darker corridor. “Quiet! What is this about?!”

“He’s at it again…”

“Already!? But yesterday-“

“I’m tellin’ ya some twenty men out there scouring the woods as we speak…What did yer want to do?” Bright ice coloured eyes stared at her like some Messiah and for a moment Marian loathed that notion. Each time a new crisis arose it all fell on her and her alone.  Green eyes searched the battlements for answers, trying to shut out her own worry and doubt.

“We keep Guy and Vasey out of it. Guards can be subdued or bribed on how to answer certain questions. If they come back empty-handed Guy will write it off as another failed attempt and never realize how close they came”

“Alright,” His voice quivered a little which startled Marian. Since when did he care? “Who takes who?”

“I’ll take Guy to Locksley you keep Vasey here. Can you think of something?”

“I’ll try anything” he shrugged at a lost for now but hurried on his way.  

 

The gang all handled their portion of the squadron skillfully and silently, some guards lay unconscious, others maimed or paid. Robin breathed a sigh of relief when only Lucia and the young guard were all to be found. For a moment he wanted to bash the boy unconscious and drag her from the stifling cage but then another guard found him, and then another, and then Much needed rescuing a few trees away and again and again until he was far across the forest, helping each of his men in turn.

It was hours they made her wait. Nails raked across the window sill as the time ticked by and by. Thomas offered food and water, but her eyes were long lost to the woods. Resisting the urge to tap her foot her teeth instead gnawed away at her lip repeatedly until finally, a voice echoed out making her jump at the fright.

 “This is all I could find. Hood’s men are everywhere! Get a move on Martin! Let’s get out of here! Thomas! On your feet!” a rough haggard voice echoed through the trees and a thud came from the front of the carriage as a driver leapt back into place. “Who’s this?” The moustached man groaned at the sight of yet another lonely stray the boy had taken in when he had two injured men on each arm. He glared at the boy who shrank into his frame. Then scuffing his head, he threw the injured men at her feet. “Get in the lot of you!”

Lucia and Thomas helped the men to their feet and onto the chairs, blood staining her muddied cloak, smearing across her sullied blue dress from the night before, and staining her hands red: bright red.  Red from the work of Robin’s blade, or John’s or Djaq’s! My God…this destruction was by their hand? What…What hell was this?

 

 

“Marian…as I’ve told you once before. Your father never gave me your mother’s ring. I only had the one I gave you. You remember that” Guy could swear sometimes he loathed this persistent woman. The man walked through Locksley unable to shake the prattling woman from his heel.

“Yes but Robin did take it before he left for the Holy Land and if it was amongst his things…”

“You have been to my chambers. You would have-“

“One more look!” she put on her best and brightest smile, innocently swirling the edges of her favourite pale green dress, causing the older man to sigh and reach up to pinch his nose, yet again.

“Be my guest…” he waved her off “I have my own business to attend to in Sherwood…” he turned back towards the stables to go saddle his horse but before he could make any progress she called back from the stairs.

“And leave me unattended?”

“The issue being…?”

“You would trust me, knowing my reputation, knowing full well that I once tried to rob you-“

“We said we would never speak of that…” he slowly joined her up the stairs raising a warning brow.

“Knowing that I, the Nightwatchman, adore trinkets and purses of gold…and necklaces” she took a stab at an old wound hoping it would make contact. That something in this would provoke him to in the very least argue with her, if not stay and watch her like a hawk. 

The reference had its desired impact. It cut Guy too deeply to admit. Having her fling about their old memories so carelessly was… His head turned sharply at her for it. With a tight jaw he pushed down the snap of anger, and sting of regret that jibe stirred up and let a long breathe whistle out through his nose. Smirking softly after a moment, he played along. “Well the Nightwatchman is supposed to be over with?”

Marian beamed, thrilled at the unexpected track he took, this third option: this taunt and tease rather than anger or submission, was vastly more entertaining. “The Nightwatchman yes but I Marian of Knighton could simply rob you blind out here in the open for the sport of it?”

Slipping up a few steps he slipped into her game, a gleam in his eye and power behind the way in which he came just close enough to share a breath. “And what exactly would you be wanting from all this?” Marian bit back a grin glaring as he let the question hang and took the upper hand. She knew where she had lead his mind, it was all intentional, but this smug conceit was unexpected and spoiled her fun. “My attention?”

There was always something in him. Something malleable and wild that she could tease and play. Sometimes like a fiddle, other times just a touch would set him off and she would simply let things fall where they may. She knew now how to stop short of romance. How to keep it all at a comfortable distance but enjoy the taunt and the chase. The line between friendship and flirtation permanently blurred between them. For a moment she took him in, his closeness, his eagerness, his stature and his smirk. Then one of her own slowly curled on her lips. “What kind of prize would that be if this is how easily you give it away?” That smile reached her eyes and she turned and lead the way.

Hours of searching slipped into pleasant nostalgic conversation. The Sherriff’s scheme was a fool’s errand regardless and moments with her, like this, were precious being so few and far between. Ever since that day the mask had been ripped free she made all the more sense to him. Her defiance of order, her demands for justice, her stammer all those times he had almost uncovered the truth. He saw her now in a new full light. The betrayal still stung nonetheless, her deception still held his heart captive deep beneath heavy fortifications but ever since she had stayed, since she had accepted the request of him some new-found understanding lay between them. A new kind of intimacy and honesty seemed to be forming. Even now sitting amongst scattered chests in that dusty disheveled room he hoped, in the very least, to call this radiant, infuriating woman a friend.