"Son, please sit," Locksley said, motioning for Robin to have the seat next to him. He had wanted to speak to the boy alone, knowing as he did that his son still grieved his mother's loss deeply. He would need to help Robin understand the decision he'd made.
"What is it, Father?"
"I have wanted to tell you for some time of my current happiness," Locksley went on, not sure how else to describe Anne. She was a beautiful young woman, that was for sure, though he had never noticed her before his wife's passing. He had been devoted to her, and he thought he would die when she did, as profoundly as he felt her loss.
"It is a thing I thought I should never feel again," Locksley admitted. "Your mother was the love of my life, and I had always thought I should not deserve her. She was everything of grace and good, as you well know. I admired her from the beginning, and that only grew as I knew her and loved her."
"Then how can you be happy now?" Robin demanded. "We're not happy. She's dead. We can never be happy again."
"That is not true, son," Locksley told him. "One day you will find someone you love far more than your mother, one you love more than me, and I hope to see that day. My father did not live to meet mine, nor my own mother, but that I should someday see you so, that is one of my dearest hopes."
Robin shook his head. "No. You're lying. You don't care what I think. You don't care how I feel. You say you're happy. You can't be happy. It's wrong. You're wrong."
Locksley reached out to touch his son's hand. "There is a part of me that would have died with your mother. I did not, and I cannot. I have other obligations to consider, and those include you, my son. I thought I would not be able to live up to them, but then I met someone, and she has helped me find a way to continue. At first I thought it was only a physical thing, but her comfort comes in many ways, and I owe what I have done in these past months to her."
"You found another woman?" Robin asked, looking horrified. "How could you?"
Locksley thought of the innocent conversation that had started it all. He had meant to ask the local woman for nothing more than the location of an errant servant, but he'd found himself in conversation with her for hours afterward, laughing for the first time since his wife's death.
"It was not something I intended, but I do not regret it. I have found many hours in her company where the pain is lessened and my grief abates enough to allow me to continue doing as I must for the good of all. I have a responsibility toward these people, this land, and to you as well—"
"You don't care what I think," Robin said. "If you did, you wouldn't be with some harlot when my mother is dead."
"I care very much what you think," Locksley said. "That is why I want to tell you I intend to marry her within the month. She is a fine woman, and you will like her. She would be an excellent mother—I've seen her care for her younger siblings and her brother's children with great care and affection."
"You're marrying this harlot?" Robin pulled away from him. "How could you? First you lie with one and now you would wed her? You have forgotten my mother already, disgraced her memory."
"That is not so," Locksley said, though he did think he should have introduced his son to Anne sooner, that he might meet her and like her. He also should not have been so weak to the flesh, but he had only wanted to forget, and what Anne had offered in her innocence had been too much for the heartbroken man he had become after his wife's death.
"It is so."
"Robin, you are only twelve years old. You do not understand."
"No, I do. It's you that doesn't. You think you can tell me you'll marry this woman and it will all be well, but you know what you've done, what you've betrayed, and I hate you for it. She was my mother. You... you didn't even wait for her to be dead, did you?"
"That is not true."
"I hate you," Robin said, running from the room.
Locksley sat back and sighed. He had to believe that Robin would come to understand, in time. He needed Anne, and it was past time to make his liaisons with her completely honest.
"Anne, I must speak with you," Locksley began, and she looked up at him with her wondrous smile, happy to see him. He hated seeing her so, since he knew the news that he was to deliver would crush her spirits. She would not understand.
"I am glad you've come," Anne told him. "I have something to tell you as well."
She went to embrace him, but he stopped her. She frowned at him. He hated the idea of hurting her, but he could see no other way of regaining his son's favor. He could not allow Robin to go on hating him.
"My dear, we cannot go forward with the wedding."
She stared at him. "What?"
"It is Robin," Locksley said. He sighed. "I have tried to explain, to reason with him, but he is not ready to accept anyone coming into what he sees as his mother's place. I hope, with time, he will be less angry, but he's young and hurting, and he does not see this love of ours as anything but a betrayal of all he has ever known."
Anne shook her head. "You said he would, were he given time, and I have tried to be patient, but I am almost certain we have no more to give him."
Locksley reached for her, putting a hand on her cheek. "I will always care for you, but I must do what is right for my son. Our time together has ended, in that you are correct. I am sorry, but I cannot see you again."
"No, that is not what I meant," Anne said, pulling away from him. "I... I think I am pregnant. I will have your child. You cannot leave me now."
Locksley shook his head. Aside from Robin, he'd had no children. He had managed it only the once, and his physician said he thought it was a result of an illness he'd had when he was younger. "You are mistaken, and I will not marry you because of some pretext."
"You would have married me before," Anne said, looking confused. "I don't understand why you would think it right to not do so when I have your child within me."
"I have been told such a thing cannot happen for me again," Locksley told her bluntly. "If you do carry a child, it cannot be mine. It is also why I must see to the one I have. Robin needs me, and he won't accept this. We are done."
Anne looked at him with tears in her eyes. "How can you say that to me? You know what I was before you came to me and my bed. You know I did not do this with another man. And why should I lie about your child? You are the one who is acting dishonorably, and I never thought you would. Not you. You were different from your fellow noblemen. Kind. Generous. Now I see you have been none of those things. I thought you loved me."
"I do," Locksley whispered, pained. He had to believe she was wrong about the child. "Yet I cannot see you again. Please understand that."
"Oh, I'll help you with that," Anne said in anger, reaching for something to throw at him. One metal cup flew at his head, and then another one. "Go. Get out. Shame me no further, you bastard."
Then she collapsed into bitter weeping, and Locksley forced himself to leave, knowing he could not stay or his weakness would have him taking her back, bringing her home to marry her, even if she was lying about his child.
And if he were to break his promise to Robin, he would lose his son forever.
Anne gathered her things with reluctance. Though she had tried more than once to see Locksley since her condition grew more apparent, he'd refused, always insisting that his son was of more importance to him. She had done all she could to persuade him not only to see her but to acknowledge his other child, and he kept telling her she was mistaken.
She put her hand on her stomach. She was not mistaken, and he would see that if he would even put eyes on her, but since he would not, she had little choice now. If she stayed in this village, she would be forever branded as a harlot and her son would be a bastard.
She would not let that happen. She would go from this place, settle far enough away to where no one knew her. She would call herself a widow, and while it was a lie, it was the best for her son. She knew what it would mean if everyone knew he was born out of wedlock, and while it would still have been known if Locksley married her, it would still be better than no father at all.
She would give her child the best life she could, and that meant leaving now.
When William was born, Anne sought out someone who could write, and she had a message composed to inform Locksley that she had borne him a second son. He could continue to deny her if he liked, but should he ever wish to see his son—one she could recognize his own features in already, as much as they all told her her boy looked much like her—he would know where to find him.
She sent it with some vague hope that Locksley would change his mind, and in the months that followed, when no response came, her heart became embittered toward him. He said he did this all for the love of his son, but that had to be a lie. He did not want her, must intend to wed some other noblewoman, one he would not be ashamed of, and have other children he would love as much as he claimed to love Robin.
Still, she kept the truth from her own boy and her new neighbors, most of whom believed she was a young widow. No one need ever know the truth of Will's father or how he'd abandoned them.
The rumors started when Will was barely two years old. Anne didn't know who started them, only that the ugly words she'd tried so hard to spare her son from had come to his innocent ears anyway. He had only just started walking when others started to say he was a bastard.
Anne did not understand. No one should know the truth, as she'd gone far enough from Locksley land and her own family and had seen no one pass through this village that she'd known in the past. Still, the rumors lingered, growing worse and worse.
They named her as a prostitute though she'd never taken money for what she'd done, not then and not now. She earned an honest if meager wage by doing everything she could—sewing, laundry, cooking. Sometimes she went without so that she could give Will more.
She never took money for sex, but she was treated as if she had, and her customers became fewer than before, to where she got almost no money at all.
Anne made the difficult journey to a new village with Will just before the winter came, knowing as she did that if she could not make a living, she could not feed her son. She gave them the same lie, that her son's father had died when he was still a babe inside her, and she tried to make a life for them once again.
They barely made it through the winter, the cold months harsh with inadequate shelter, and Will grew deeply ill. She grew desperate, and she had someone write to Locksley, telling him of their boy's poor state and asking for a bit of assistance.
It seemed his lordship wished for the boy to die, though, as once again, she did not hear from him. Will was all she had, and she could not lose him, so she resorted to the thing she swore she'd never do just to afford the medicine he so desperately needed.
She saved her son, and in turn sold her soul.
She sometimes looked at him and wondered if she'd done the right thing, if it would have been kinder if she had let him die in peace before he learned the truth of it all.
Watching his headstrong son ride off to the crusades, Locksley's heart grew heavy. Robin was in many ways still a child, and he should not go at all, not to someone else's war to die for folly. He wished that he could have regained his son's love and trust, that he would have listened to him, but even letting Anne go had not mended the rift between them.
He sometimes wondered if it would have been better to have gone ahead with the marriage. Yes, Robin would have hated it, but perhaps Anne could have shown him all the qualities that Locksley had loved in her.
Perhaps she would have truly had the other child, as she claimed, and Robin's fondness for his sibling could have been enough to end the anger consuming the boy's heart. Maybe then he would not have thought the crusades the way to defy his father once again.
Locksley turned from the window. He should have learned where Anne had gone. He should have made sure there was no child to care for, for in all these years, she'd never contacted him. He knew she knew little of writing, having been given no education in that manner, but that had never bothered him until he did not know her fate.
Was she alive? Was there a child?
Locksley feared he would never know the truth of that. Robin's anger and his own foolishness, his stubborn belief that Anne must be lying, had cost him one child. The crusades would cost him the other. He was sure of it now.