Like any other day Robin shot an arrow through the trees so that it would bore into the biggest oaken beam of the camp as he and Little John returned from a trip to the villages.
“Master! Just in time for dinner”, Much exclaimed.
“Have I ever missed it?” Robin asked. He jumped up the stairs and collected his arrow. Kate was sitting next to the stove, reluctantly doing woman’s work. She had wanted to come along with Robin and as much as he appreciated her enthusiasm… soon it would be winter and they would need blankets and cloaks to keep warm. A fire was nice but they needed something to wear on their give-out trips.
That’s why he had ordered Kate, Will and Allan to knit. Djaq was their healer so she had other things to do, and Much was free of this work so he could hunt rabbits (or squirrels) and prepare food.
“You know, I think I’m getting really good with that”, Allan said as he laid his work aside.
“Yeah, then why don’t you do it all?” Kate said. She disrespectfully threw her wool on the ground.
“Hey, watch out for that. We’ll need it”, Robin said.
“I can do more if you let me come with you!”
Robin turned to Much and ignored her. She only was here since a few months, and she was so young. With time she would get more patient, a real forest man. Or woman, whatever.
Nancy knew the past would eventually catch up with her but she had to escape anyway. Douglas had thrown her out. Of course he didn’t have any right to do that; they were married and he was supposed to care for her. But after ten years of a childless marriage he also had the right to take on another woman (at least that’s what people said.) And he had done so.
Nancy had left York the same day she had found out about Mirabella. She didn’t know where she had taken the strength from. After all she had thought about leaving pretty much the whole marriage long and never done it. And for the last six months she had even been more weary and lonely than before, often finding herself thinking about death. What a relief it would be!
Walking down the main road for days on end wasn’t the relief she had desired but the more time past and the more air she breathed without smelling Douglas’ feet the gladder she got. He would never look for her. Her parents maybe would but they were old and too weak to travel. She was free, after all those years she was free!
It wasn’t that Much had forgotten about Eve. He hadn’t. But he knew she probably had forgotten about him, and what were the chances of meeting her again anyway? Was it wrong that he wanted somebody to hold and love right now? Hadn’t he served England, the king, his master, hadn’t he served them all well enough that he deserved someone who loved him back as strongly as he loved them?
Robin sure wouldn’t. They never talked anymore since they had come from the Holy Land. The first time, that was. The second time they had returned was even worse because Marian had died there and Robin seemed to lock his heart even more firmly than ever.
Life had been dull and exhausting… And then Kate had joined them.
It was like a message from God, telling him to relax and enjoy life at last. Really, the moment Much had set eyes on Kate he had felt it deep in his guts.
Yeah okay, he didn’t know what ‘it’ was but it was good. He liked her a lot. He had even asked Allan for advice with women so he could ask her out.
But Kate had uttered very harsh words, words that Much was undeserving of… right? Why was she like that? Like… everybody else? Someone, one person on this earth, should love him, shouldn’t they?
But no, of course Allan got the girl. Well, technically he hadn’t gotten her just yet but Much watched them with a hawk eye, waiting for the day to come.
Another month past. Every day two people went to the villages and drop-offs while the others knit. When he had nothing else to do Much joined forces with them. He still wondered… should he ask…? Yes, today he would do so.
“I will not judge you, no, I will not”, he started. He, Will, Allan and Little John were sitting in the camp, working on the most important task of all.
“Okay, maybe I will, just a bit”, Much said.
“What’s he talking about?” Allan asked, looking at John. John shrugged.
“You, I’m talking about you, Allan! You and Kate! I saw her first, my heart burnt with desire first, and now you have taken her away from me!”
“Woah, what?” Allan asked. “Mate, I haven’t done anything, I swear.”
“As if that means anything with you!” Much said.
“Hey, I said I’m sorry, alright?”
“Anyway.” Much took a deep breath. “Just tell me. Not knowing kills me. I know you like her, and she likes you, I mean, who else would she like? Will’s with Djaq, John’s too old and Robin’s forever grieving. That leaves you.”
“You’ve probably sneaking away in the night, getting some honey. Honey’s a euphemism of course.”
“A what?” Allan looked at Will, who didn’t seem to listen.
Much pointed with a knitting needle at Allan.
“Don’t deny it!”
“You’re even more off your rocker as usual.”
“Am not! No.” Much straightened his shoulders and shook his head. He knew he was right.
“Just tell me.”
“I am not loony!”
“You two, shut up”, John said. “I forgot how many stitches I picked up.”
“Alright, I’m taking a time-out.” Allan got up.
“Are you going to Gisborne to complain about how I found out about you and Kate?”
“Funny”, Allan gave back, before he vanished between the trees. For some time, it was silent in the camp apart from needles clacking. Then Much put his work down, still shaking his head.
“You two think the same, don’t you?” he asked. “Kate is totally…”
“I am what?”
Kate came in from the other side where Allan had left, closely followed by Robin.
“Nothing, I… nothing”, Much mumbled.
Three days ago Nancy had decided it was time to settle down. She had walked many weeks and was sure to be far away from York. Also her money was running low and she would need to earn more, or find another way to support herself.
Luckily her basket weaving skills were needed everywhere, so she wound up working for a woman with a little shop. No men in the house, too, something that Nancy appreciated very much. Seems like her luck had finally turned. Indeed, she actually enjoyed sitting at a table in front of the house, concentrating on her work while listening to the people around her, children playing and shepherds passing.
“I’m not even surprised, you know.”
Nancy looked up since the voice sounded very close. There was a man standing at the table. He took one of the done baskets and viewed it.
“This is for sale”, Nany said. “Do you want to buy it?”
“Nice artwork and so on but…” the man put the basket down and scratched his head. “How did you do it this time? Why are you sitting here, pretending like… I don’t know, you’re a basket seller woman? Have you seen Robin? Of course you haven’t, he’d not be able to keep his mouth shut about it.”
Nancy frowned. “I’m sorry, you must be confusing me with somebody else.”
“Funny. Hey, I take one of these, alright?”
The man took the basket again. Alerted, Nancy put away her work.
“You have to pay for that. It’s one shilling.”
If he didn’t pay she would have to. Theresa was a good woman but she also wasn’t the richest, and surely she wouldn’t let her new employee get away with one missing basket.
The man looked at her as if pondering whether he should pay. At least that’s what Nancy thought but when he put down the basket and put his hands on his belt he said: “Almighty, you really don’t recognise me, do ya?”
What Nancy should do was not listening to him and send him away. She hadn’t been in the sales business before but she knew that making conversation with potential thieves wasn’t really the thing to do.
“Returning from the dead – for the second time even – must have erased your brain or something.”
“Oh darn, Robin will be devastated…” The man scratched his head and looked around. Then he sighed.
“Look, do you want to come into the forest with me?”
“I have to ask you to leave now.”
“Alright, alright.” The man held up his hands. Then he took some coins out of bag he was carrying on his belt and laid it on the table.
“Five shillings?” Nancy said, surprised.
“I just got lucky in the tavern, if you know what I mean.” He took the basket he had been playing with, winked at her and left. Soon he wasn’t to be seen anymore and Nancy quickly took the money. What had that been for? First he wants to steal, then he pays too much?
When Theresa returned in the evening with more willow branches Nancy told her the weird happening.
“Oh, that’s nice”, Theresa said and carried on laying out the branches to dry on the living room’s floor.
“That’s nice? That’s weird!”
“It probably was one of Robin Hood’s men.”
“Well, he did mention one Robin once or twice, that’s true.”
“Aah.” Theresa got up and held a hand onto her back.
“I’m not getting younger”, she explained. She went to sit down on a chair and gestured Nancy to do the same.
“When I first saw you I realised that you look quite a lot like Maid Marian”, she explained to Nancy. “That what the man must have thought, too. Of course, the poor Lady died in the Holy Land, everybody knows her story.”
Nancy didn’t. But that was about to change now.
“Mates, I’m not being funny, it was Marian. I swear to God.”
“Do not do that”, Much said. “God is not to laugh about.”
“Alright, then I’m swearing on my life”, Allan said. “It was her, I know what I saw. Here.”
He held up a basket. Will inspected it, while Robin was leaning against a wooden pillar, arms crossed and face emotionless.
“We buried her”, he said. “You were there.”
“I know! But she somehow did it. Remember two years ago when she came back from the dead the first time? She must be some kind of sorcerer. Or a witch.”
“Marian isn’t a witch, and she’s not come back!” Robin said. “We all miss our dear friend, no doubt, but…”
“I wasn’t crying my eyes out about her or anything”, Allan said. “I just saw her. That’s it.”
“Where?” Much asked.
“We should check it out”, Will said. “It can be proven or disproven very quickly.”
So the next day they all went to Nettlestone. Robin wasn’t talking so Much and Allan talked all the more, leading the way. Kate and John quietly went next to Robin, while Will and Djaq fell a bit behind and had a conversation of their own.
The gang lined up at the edge of the forest, facing the house of Theresa, the woman who was known for selling baskets to the whole village. As always the tables were out and she was sitting behind one, working on some wood work. What was different now was that there was a second woman behind a table as well, working just as quickly as she. The new woman had dark hair, bound together, and when she looked up she actually had the same features of Robin’s beloved late wife Marian.
“Told ya”, Allan said.
“It’s not her”, Robin said. “It can’t be.”
“Twins”, Djaq said.
“That’s the only explanation”, Will said.
“Oh my. She’s going to get into trouble when Gisborne finds out about her”, Much said.
“What do we do?” John wanted to know.
“Nothing.” Robin turned around.
“Nothing? We can’t do nothing”, Much said. “Master, surely…”
“We do nothing!” Robin turned back again. “She’s not Marian, and I’m sure she only looks like her from a distance.”
“Nope, all the way”, Allan said. “You could go talk to her.”
“We have to protect her, Robin”, John too said. “Gisborne is even crueller than usual these days.”
“We do nothing.” With those firm words Robin went back to where they had come from, almost as if fleeing. Of course Much immediately followed him, leaving the others to exchange bewildered looks.
“Very cruel”, John said.
“I agree”, Djaq said. “But what can we do? Robin has made his decision.”
Kate was uncharacteristically quiet and still watched the woman. Her head told her that everything was fine and nothing would change the status quo. Which was the fact that she and Robin had kissed today for the first time, and the memory still glowed inside of her.
Her heart thought knew it was a lie. It cramped and hurt and made her squint her eyes at this basket woman. She had come from somewhere, so she could go back there, right?
“I agree, too. Let’s go and tell her in what kind of danger she is”, Kate said.
“Is that wise?” Allan asked Will.
“I’m not sure”, Will said.
“No, it’s plain stupid”, Djaq said. “You would scare the girl.”
“Well, good, because then she can protect herself” Kate said. With that, she too turned around and followed Much and Robin. That way she didn’t disobey Robin, while the other gang members probably would. And saving the woman meant sending her away, that was clear as day.
“We can’t do anything”, John stated at the same time. “Not without Robin’s consent. I go talk to him.”
“Great. Now they leave it to me and those two idiots”, Djaq mumbled. One of those two idiots was her boyfriend and not an idiot at all, but don’t mind her. After all, men will be men/idiots.
“So, what now?” Allan said. “Do something or do nothing?”
“John is right, it would be foolish to do something without Robin’s permission”, Djaq said, because it was a fact.
“If maybe one of us would go and discreetly talk to her, I’m sure that would at least be a good start”, Will said, looking at Allan.
“What? I’m done betraying Robin, don’t look at me.”
“Just talk to her”, Will said.
“No! You go talk to her! Djaq, you go, you are a woman too, after all.”
“Oh, thanks for noticing.”
“She already knows you”, Will stated.
“I didn’t tell you but it’s freaking me out to look at her. It’s like talking to a ghost”, Allan said.
“So I won’t.”
“Just close your eyes”, Djaq smirked.
Will sighed. “Well… we don’t really have an option. Let’s go back to the camp and see if Robin’s changed his mind.”
He wanted to turn around when something caught his eye. Something as a guard from the sheriff. Fully armoured he stepped to the table and addressed the poor girl that looked like Marian. Will tensed and his hand automatically went to his sword.
His two friends reacted the same way.
“That’s an emergency, right?” Allan asked.
“It is”, Will affirmed.
“Alright then. Watch my back.”
“What are you doing?” Djaq asked as Allan left their hiding place.
“Just talking, you know, and maybe fighting off this guard.”
“We will cut in if necessary”, Will nodded.
And just like that, Allan started to walk to Theresa’s house.
“Hey, mate”, Allan addressed the guard, cutting his words with full intent. “Those are nice baskets, aren’t they?”
He took up one of the baskets just like the day before, pretending to be occupied with it. But of course his mind was focused on his sword. When the guard would make one wrong move it would be out in no time.
“Keep on walking, this is official business”, the guard said.
“The sheriff has no right to!” Theresa said.
“Good ole Vaisey? What about him?” Allan asked, looking curiously at the guard.
“It has come to the ears of the sheriff that Maid Marian is in Nettlestone and he sent me to bring her to the castle of Nottingham. I’m just fulfilling my orders”, the guard said, pointing at the dark-haired girl.
“What?” Allan said in a high voice. “She doesn’t look an’thing like Maid Marian. At all.”
“Not your business”, the guard grumbled, his hand moving to his sword.
Allan lifted his hands and tried to sooth the guard while he glanced aside to give Will and Djaq a sign. But that wasn’t necessary, they already appeared behind the guard, their swords drawn out.
“Alright, I’m on my way”, Allan said, taking a step back. Will and Djaq were close enough to attack and one moment later Will spoke up to make the guard jerk around. Allan didn’t watch what happened then because he pulled back the table to make room for the girl to get out.
“Come on, you will not want to meet the sheriff, trust me”, he said.
“But…” She looked at Theresa, who was pale with shock.
“Yes, go”, the old woman said.
Finally she got up and left the working place. Allen put a hand on her back to lead her while looking over his shoulder. The guard was on his knees but still defending himself. Djaq hit her sword handle against the back of his head and he fell down into the dirt.
“Ha!” Allan cried and started to run. Victory was theirs once again! Sure, they had been three against one but… still!
“What is going on?” the basket girl asked as soon as they had entered the forest.
“Listen, uh, what’s your name?”
“Nancy. Look.” Allen waited until Will and Djaq joined them, which happened only one second later.
“What do we do now?” Djaq called.
“Go to the camp, of course”, Will said. “Robin will understand.”
“The sheriff is a bad, bad man”, Allan explained. “And his right hand man is even worse. I have to know, I once was the right hand man’s right hand.”
“Not helping!” Djaq said.
“Is it because I look quite like Maid Marian?” Nancy asked. “Theresa told me all about her.”
“It’s not that you look a bit like her”, Will said. “You look exactly like her. So everybody thinks she has survived and returned from the Holy Land.”
“But I am not her, I didn’t even know her!”
“We believe you, but they won’t hear it”, Djaq said. “Gisborne won’t hear it. And, I fear, Robin neither. He reacted very harshly earlier.”
“He has to”, Will said.
“Yeah, I mean, we can’t go anywhere else”, Allan said, shrugging and looking around as if he expected to find an abandoned house in the trees, just waiting for them.
Will started to walk. Djaq looked sympathetic at Nancy.
“You have to know, whatever Robin says, it’s not about you. He loved Maid Marian and is mourning her and then you come and…”
“Maybe that’s a good thing, oi?” Allan said. “I mean, maybe it’s destiny or something. They will fall in love and it’s like nothing has changed.”
“Oh, grow up”, Djaq said, then she followed her boyfriend.
“What?” Allan raised his hands in a questioning gesture.
“Do I really look like her?” Nancy asked and started to walk, too, even if hesitantly. She didn’t want to remember anyone of someone who had died.
“I swear, you do. I’m always waiting for you to hit me.”
“Was she that brutal?” Nancy pulled a face. Dry branches cracked under her shoes and she had to think of days long ago, childhood memories that were warm but always mixed with a weird feeling of loneliness. The branches had cracked under her shoes just like they did now, when she had walked through the back yard with her mother who had taught her about healing herbs.
“Can I heal my feelings to, mummy?” Nancy had asked.
Candida had laughed and struck over her head.
“I fear it needs more for that than herbs. But why do you need to heal your feelings? Aren’t you happy?”
“Sometimes I dream I have a sister and when I wake up I miss her”, Nancy admitted. She tapped on her heart. “It hurts here.”
Candida pressed her lips together.
“Can you give me a sister, mummy?”
“I fear not. Look, that’s iluna.” Candida picked up a yellow flower and gave it to Nancy. “Some people say this plant can help you find love. Soon you will be grown-up and marry a man, and then your heart won’t be hurting anymore.”
Naïve as Nancy had been she had believed her mother and kept an iluna flower under her pillow for many months. Until she actually had grown up and married, realising that superstitions like that were silly.
“…and this is why Marian hit me quite often”, Allan finished the story he had been telling.
Nancy nodded politely.
“Boy, she even knocked me unconscious once. Not for long, of course, no woman can do that to me.”
Nancy frowned and heard herself speaking before she knew what she would say.
“Well, Marian could.”
She had to defend every woman’s honour but apart from that she, secretly, thought that it wasn’t the weirdest thing to feel an urge to hit this man and make him shut up. Marian would have had her reasons for sure.
“Alright, almost there”, Allan said.
A few steps before them Will and Djaq had stopped and waited for them to catch up. Will wore the most serious face.
“I think it’s best when you wait here while we go and prepare Robin.”
“It can only take hours”, Djaq said, but she winked at Nancy who smiled back. At least the woman seemed nice and friendly.
While Nancy appreciated the ‘rescue’ she also wondered if it had been necessary. Surely the sheriff was only curious and wanted to greet the new peasant…?
“Where is your camp? Here’s nothing”, Nancy said as she sat down on a stone and watched Will and Djaq cross a clearing and go to the right.
She probably should be worried that strangers had taken her into a wild forest but the stories Theresa had told her about Robin Hood and his outlaws hadn’t sounded scary. On the contrary, these men seemed to be the kind that should be everywhere. But instead they got outlawed because they were too nice. In what kind of world was she living in?
“…and that’s how Will built the camp”, Allan finished. Damn, Nancy hadn’t listened to something important again. She needed to pay more attention.
“Uh, sounds great”, she said.
Meanwhile Will and Djaq arrived at the camp where Kate, Much and John were knitting as if nothing had ever disturbed their peace.
“Where’s Robin?” Will asked.
“What do you think? Cooling off by shooting arrows aimlessly through the forest”, Much said. “He didn’t like to see the Marian-double, oh no, he didn’t like it.”
“Too bad”, Djaq said. “Because we brought her here.”
“You what?” Much said.
“Are you out of your mind?” Kate said. “Robin has told you explicitly…”
“It was an emergency”, Will spoke up. “A sheriff’s guard wanted to take her to the castle of Nottingham.”
“We rescued her, and then we took her with us”, Djaq said matter-of-factly, shrugging. “Robin has to face her. She’s not a ghost, nor a demon. He knows about identical twins, doesn’t he? How they look completely alike although they are two different people.”
“Sounds like devil work to me”, Much said.
“It is not”, Djaq said.
“And where has she been until now, anyway? Weird stuff is going on…” Much mumbled.
“I think it’s a bad idea. You should just bring her back where she came from”, Kate said.
“We don’t send people back to danger”, John said. He got up and let his knuckles crackle. “I go find Robin.”
“Alright then.” Much put down his work, too, and rubbed his hands. “A new guest means I have to cook for one more person. Or… can she cook?”
“How should we know?” Will said.
“No problem, no problem. I can deal with it”, Much said. He got up and went to his stock. Only Kate still knitted with her lips pressed together firmly.
“This won’t lead to anything good”, she mumbled.
“Why not?” Djaq asked but Kate only shrugged. Djaq had the suspicion that Kate did like the attention of men way too much than share it with any other woman. The two of them hadn’t gotten along very well but as long as Kate left Will alone Djaq did the same favour to her.
Robin always said that everything was a choice, and he firmly believed in that, too. So naturally he now found himself thinking: how did that girl dare to look like Marian, exactly like her, as if she’d really come back? How did she dare!?
Then he took a deep breath and had to tell himself that no, this wasn’t her choice. If Marian had a lost twin sister… and Will was right, that was the only explanation… then… then it was just like that. It wasn’t Marian but it still hurt like hell just to look at her from ninety feet away.
But Allan was also right. Marian had once been dead, and had fought against it, because their love was so strong so… maybe she had done it again? Maybe she had crawled her way out of the sand and to the next village and…
“No! Listen to yourself!” Robin hit against a tree and didn’t care about the pain shooting through his hand. Marian had been wounded and wouldn’t have had the power to crawl anywhere. If there had been any chance of her to survive – and Robin was sure she had been dead! – then she would have died in her grave anyway.
This time she really was gone. Forever.
Robin jerked around and saw Little John trudging through the dry foliage towards him.
“How is this possible, John? How? Marian would have told me if she had a twin sister!”
“I don’t know.” John arrived and leaned against a small birch tree, crossing his arms. “Maybe she didn’t know herself.”
“Edward would have told me!”
“Have you ever asked him about Marian’s birth?”
“No. Of course not.” Robin hit the same tree again, and this time his hand twitched back achingly. He cursed.
“Something happened”, John said.
Robin looked at him, so John continued: “After we left, a guard came and wanted to take the girl to the sheriff. Will and Djaq fought him and saved the girl… brought her here.”
“Oh.” Robin rubbed his wrist, mostly to prevent his fist from bashing out again. Of course he would be haunted. How could it ever end differently?
“Well, that’s what we do, I can’t blame them, can I?”
“Let’s go.” Robin took up his bow and walked towards the camp. He was a professional, and that’s how he would handle the situation.
“Oi, what are they taking so long?” Allan put a hand on his forehead and blinked wildly. Still he couldn’t see around the corner to where the camp was. Did they have to persuade Robin? But their leader was more sensible than that, if he heard about the situation he sure would cooperate!
Allan jumped down from the rock he had been standing on and went to Nancy. She had thrown her arms around herself and stared at the ground. How very weird it was, seeing Marian sitting there, knowing it wasn’t Marian. And now Allan knew it wasn’t her because Marian wasn’t that quiet and would have never listened to him without any interruption.
“Don’t be sad”, Allan said. “I’m sure you are welcome in the camp.”
She looked up. “Exactly the same, as in, identical twins?”
“Yeah, mate, I told ya!”
Allan dropped down next to her and put his hands behind him on the cold stone. Nancy looked at the ground again. Why was she so sad?
“When I was a child I often dreamt I had a sister”, she said. “But my mother just laughed about it.”
“You mean, you…”
“And she said when I marry it would get better. But it didn’t.”
Oh. The interrupting-thing was back.
“You’re married? Don’t tell Robin.”
“I don’t care about Robin-whoever, don’t you get it?”
“Don’t tell him that either.”
Her cheeks were a bit redder now and she looked upset. Yeah, good old Marian.
Only that she wasn’t.
“Apparently, I had a twin sister, and I never got to know her! She’s dead!”
“Yeah, so what’s the difference to you? When you never…”
Allan couldn’t finish once again because she got up and stormed away.
Darn. He had never been good with crying girls. Or crying men. Crying at all. Real men didn’t cry, and when their wives cried they either hit them or ran away. Not that he would do that if he had a wife but that’s how he had seen many men handle the situation.
He threw a look to the direction of the camp. Djaq should come back. She was good with crying people. He knew because she had comforted him when he had cried about the death of his brother. His brother who had stolen from him, lied to him, betrayed him… yet when Allan saw Tom hanging there, his heart had been broken and it hadn’t healed completely. Losing a sibling wasn’t nice.
Djaq had told him she had had a twin brother. When he had died she had taken on his identity. Maybe with twins it actually was even worse than with usual siblings. How would Allan know? This was a task for Djaq, man, and even Will, what was the hold up?
Allan got up and went to Nancy, who leaned against a tree and looked dreamily into the grey sky.
“Look, uh… sorry, alright? Are we good?”
He held out his hand and waited for her to shake it as a sign of forgiveness. She looked at it confused, though.
“My brother died, too”, Allan explained. She opened her mouth to say something, but just then behind him footsteps came closer. Allan turned around and immediately was relieved to see Will. Smiling. Allan’s lips smiled back, not used to being serious that long.
“Come on”, Will nodded to the camp, and retreated already.
“See? Told ya”, Allan said.
Nancy wiped over her eyes. “How many people are in the camp?”
Allan pointed on his fingers. “Will, Djaq, John… Robin, obviously, Much… Kate… uh… six.”
Suddenly Nancy smiled, and weird enough, it made her look so different from Marian. Marian had never smiled, at least not at Allan, and anyway, this here was a totally different girl. Nancy.
“You forgot yourself, silly”, she said, amusement flickering in her eyes.
One blink of an eye later she was gone, following Will over the clearing.
“Hello, I’m Nancy.” She emphasized her name to make sure he knew she wasn’t Maid Marian. And she even would have behaved the least Marian-ish if she had known what that had looked like.
The outlaw leader Robin Hood wasn’t crying, though. He looked well held together and rational when he put a hand on her shoulder.
“Welcome to our camp, Nancy. I’m sure my men have told you why they did have to tear you away from Theresa?”
“Uh, something about the sheriff is bad?”
“Exactly.” Robin nodded and stroked over his beard.
“Though just how bad can he be? I’m sure he just wanted to take a look at me because he is mourning Maid Marian.”
Oops, was it okay to mention her name?
Much inhaled sharply. “What did she just say?”
“No.” Robin shook his head and started pacing the camp.
The camp was done very nicely and with love. Every beam was polished, every plank was clean. The roof consisted of branches and foliage, and served as a cover, too. They only had to pull a switch and it would come down to keep the camp hidden, Allan had explained when they had approached it. And big enough for the seven of them it was, too.
“…and that’s why the sheriff of Nottingham is a real bad, bad man that you should never approach without a plan to kill him”, Robin said, at last turning to Nancy again.
“Oh, uh, good to know.”
“Have you ever killed a man?”
Nancy shook her head.
“Would you be able to?” Robin wanted to know.
“What? Why should I do such a thing?”
Nancy frowned. First, she was a woman and not able to fight. Second, she didn’t want to kill anyone. Just imagine all that blood!
After a long moment of studying her face Robin turned away again, mumbling: “Right” and taking up his bow.
“Hey, that didn’t go too bad, did it?” Allan asked cheerfully.
“So, I passed the test?”
“When Robin’s occupying with his bow the conversation is over, yeah”, Will said. Everybody else turned to their particular work again, too, and Nancy breathed in with relieve. So at least she hadn’t made anyone cry. That blonde girl Kate gave her a weird look but that was all.
“Come on, I show you where you can sleep”, Djaq said.
They went a little aside but things like separate rooms didn’t seem to exist.
“So, uhm… how do you do it when someone has got to… use a bucket? And wash themselves?” Nancy wanted to know. Especially girls needed privacy for that!
“There’s a brook two miles to the east”, Djaq said. “We go to wash up once a week. When Kate wasn’t here I had to go alone there.”
She showed Nancy the niches where people could sleep in. They were smaller than any bed Nancy had ever seen, with the faint smell of a dead rabbit’s skin.
“You’re lucky one is left.” Djaq patted on of the upper niches.
“Who’s sleeping there?” Nancy wanted to know, gesturing to the niche under her’s.
“She’s the newest member”, Djaq explained.
“Were she and Maid Marin very close?”
“No, they didn’t know each other.”
“Oh.” Nancy was confused. Then why had Kate looked at her the way she had?
The next day, Nancy had to realise that almost everybody tried to tell her what to do. Will was the one who let her be so she liked him. Much was the one who followed her around and told her things she already knew.
“Meat mostly takes one hour and a half to be ready”, he lectured her while they were in the forest to gather dry branches.
“When you cook it with certain herbs it gets even tastier, such as…”
Nancy stopped scanning the ground and looked at Much.
“I know, Much, I’m a woman which means I can cook, sew, knit, know herbs and am good with children. I don’t think there’s anything you can teach me.”
“You… can cook?”
“That’s good, oh, that’s great! Praise the Lord! She can cook!” Much said, looking to the skies.
“Is that really such a miracle?” Nancy frowned and continued to look for wood.
“Yes, it is! Djaq and Kate both can’t and won’t even take over the simplest task from me. Rather, they prefer to make fun of me although I’m doing most of the work around here.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“No, it’s not! Oh, bless the Lord, really, for sending you to us!”
“Mh…” Nancy inspected a branch as big as her underarm and decided to take it. “I don’t want to believe it’s the Lord’s intention that I live in a forest. If I can’t live in Nettlestone then I will go to another village where there is no danger.”
“But you can’t!”
“Why not?” She took up another branch.
“Well, Robin…” Much interrupted himself and bent down. Nancy turned to face him.
“You do remember I’m not Marian, do you?”
“Sure, it’s just…” Much gave a heavy sigh as if he already regretted speaking but knew he couldn’t stop himself.
“Just think about it. You are in England all this time but are hidden wherever. And right after we return from the Holy Land where Marian has died, God sends you here, to us! I think that means something. You are meant to help Robin heal, or something the like, I’m sure of it!”
“But how could I? All I do is make him think of his loss.”
“I don’t know how. I don’t know. But God will help you.”
Nancy shrugged. Maybe Much was right, who knew? But it still didn’t mean she had to stay forever. Maybe for a few days and when Robin was healed she could go on. Further south because she sure wouldn’t go anywhere north.
Soon they returned to the camp. Much threw Allan a suspicious look, sitting there next to Kate and making his jokes. Who was he trying to deceive when he said he didn’t do anything? Oh no, Much knew this kind of men, and he knew Allan. It was only a matter of time until they would take trips into the forest together.
At least, his heart didn’t ache as bad anymore when he looked at Kate. Still it wasn’t easy to ignore all this giggling and flirting going on in the camp. Maybe that’s why he preferred to be in his cooking niche instead of knitting with the others.
Nancy helped him fill the wood stock and then examined the few cauldrons and other cooking devices Much had gathered together.
“It’s not much but it’s enough”, Much said.
“Where are your herbs?”
“I rarely find some.”
“Then how do you heal your friends if one gets sick?”
“That’s Djaq’s task.” Much scratched his head as he thought of what he should cook today. They couldn’t eat chicken every day… and he didn’t have any animal left anyway. He would have to go hunting.
“But you said she can’t cook.”
“So what?” Much looked at Nancy and a shiver went down his spine as always when he looked at her unprepared. How could one person look so much like another one; and how wasn’t this the devil’s work? Sure, he did think God had send her but… it just was too weird.
Nancy on the other hand frowned. “Sometimes a good meal can be a cure, and if only to mend a broken heart.”
Much shifted on his feet and threw an uneasy look around.
“You can’t just say things like that. It’s not true, either, it would be witchcraft.”
“As long as I’m here I’d like to grow some herbs close by. Is that alright with you?”
She looked at Much and actually waited for his permission. Much straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat.
“Why, of course it is but you are right conferring with me first. Always do that.”
As she rushed away Much cleared his throat again. He could live with being asked for his opinion, with being taken important, he really could. Maybe that’s why the Lord had sent Nancy, to show Much that not everybody was as respectless towards him as other people. Ha!
“Oi. Where’d she go?”
Much jerked around to find Allan standing there, looking to the back exit of the camp.
“Mh? Oh, something about looking for herbs.”
“You let her go into the woods on her own?”
Much pursed his lips. “Mmmh… I’m sure she can look out for herself.”
“A blockhead, that’s what you are.” Allan grasped the good knife that was lying on Much’s little wooden cooking table.
“Hey, give that back!”
Allan pointed with the knife at Much. “Let’s hope I won’t lose it.”
“Where are you going?”
But Allan just left the camp and started jogging.
“Bring me some rabbits, will you!?” Much shouted after him, then he turned to his kitchen and took a deep breath.
“Well. Time for some preparations. But I can’t prepare something I don’t have yet.” He looked to the backside of the camp where nothing was going on, then to the other side where some gang members were knitting. He looked back to where Allan had vanished again, and then a little smile appeared on his face.
“I might as well go and talk to… my friends”, Much mumbled, nodded to himself and then approached Kate and Little John.
Lately Robin didn’t like the days when he was on tour with Djaq because she sooner or later always found a way to talk about feelings. She was worse than Kate, who after all had romantic interest in him. Djaq only wanted his best, and that was so much worse.
“You have to feel something”, Djaq insisted.
“Look, there’s Nettlestone” Robin informed her.
They started their usual round and gave away the food they had brought. When they came to the end of it they heard galloping horses approaching and hid just in time to see Guy of Gisborne with some men riding along the road.
“What’s he…” Robin started. He didn’t continue because he immediately realised what Gisborne wanted here even before the man turned into the street where Theresa’s house was.
Robin turned around, jumped over some fences and ran past goats and pigs. Djaq sprinted beside of him.
“Out of the way!” Robin shouted to a shepherd. Fifty sheep or so were gathering on the road he had to cross and of course they didn’t think of giving way for him.
Robin cursed pretty bad as he made his way through them, shoving them aside and feeling as if it took him hours to get through. Then he ran again as fast as his feet would take him, rounded a house and finally jumped on some barrels facing Theresa’s house.
Of course, Gisborne was already here, shouting at Theresa while his men destroyed her baskets with unneeded violence. Other’s were carrying burning torches and Robin didn’t dare to wonder why.
“Don’t lie to me”, Gisborne cried. “Tell me where she is now and I’ll spare your house.”
Without even thinking about it, an arrow was between Robin’s fingers, ready to be shot.
“Call back your men, Gisborne, or you’re dead in a second. You know I’d do it”, Robin shouted. He had spared Gisborne’s life once because the tortures the man was going through were probably worse than whatever would await him in the afterlife. But if he had to kill him, he would. Gladly.
Naturally, first Gisborne had to cry out loud before he called back his men.
“Is it true, Hood? Marian is alive?” Gisborne asked in his usual hostile voice.
“Of course not! Do you believe everything they tell you?” Robin said, chuckling to make sure Gisborne knew how ridiculous it was.
Djaq appeared on the other side of Theresa’s house. She carefully went to the older woman, who cried over her destroyed work, and pulled her away without Gisborne noticing.
“Several men whose word I can trust swore to me they saw her”, Gisborne said.
“Maybe they saw her ghost”, Robin called. “Come to haunt you.”
“That’s not funny, Hood! I know you know something and I will find out what it is. Guards, imprison the old lady!” Gisborne pointed at the house and then looked around in confusion because the woman was gone. He gave a cry of frustration, always a sound that Robin loved to hear.
Robin snickered: “Too late as usual, Gisborne! Next time you want to know something, try asking nicely. I have heard that helps.”
While speaking he had jumped from the barrel and walked backwards, now je jumped behind the neighbour’s house and immediately started to run. The forest would have been the safest but Gisborne’s men blocked the way. Robin hadn’t seen where Djaq had brought Theresa but he suspected they had gone to the village’s pharmacist, a nice man who quite often donated some drinks to Robin and his men.
He reached the pharmacist’s house after a few minutes and right he had been; Djaq was lurking behind the front door, a small gap open just enough so she could look out. When Robin arrived she opened the door and one moment later it got shut again.
Robin leaned against it and turned to look out of the window, his breath going too fast to speak.
“What happened? Did he burn her house?” Djaq asked.
Robin couldn’t see any of Gisborne’s men, so none had followed him (or they had lost him). He turned around again and leaned his head against the door.
“No”, he gasped. “But I fear he might.”
“Oh shit!” Djaq cursed.
“My things! It’s all I have”, Theresa said, tears rolling down her cheeks. The owner of the house, Oswald, helplessly watched her.
Before Robin could say how sorry he was outside people started screaming. So it wasn’t over… why wasn’t it ever easy?
Since they couldn’t see anything through the window they went out again, and they immediately saw the smoke rising from not far away. Gisborne had actually set Theresa’s house on fire!
It was a matter of seconds until Robin and Djaq arrived at the barrels, this time hiding behind them. People were trying to get through and extinguish the fire but the guards were holding them back. Meanwhile Gisborne was steering his horse from left to right, shouting his melodramatic speech.
“…so go ahead and tell Robin Hood, midnight. One minute later and I will burn Nettlestone, and I will make sure not even the pigs can escape. You hear me, Hood? The lives of those people are on you! I await you and Marian at Midnight in Nottingham!”
He snorted (Robin had thought once or twice had maybe in a past life Gisborne had been a horse) and finally rode away. His men stayed to make sure the house could not be saved but it was too late anyway. Everything was black and crackling, and one second later the leftovers of the house collapsed.
Marian. A sister who looked like just her. If they had grown up together Nancy’s childhood would have been better, so much better, and less lonely. They would have been two just like they always were supposed to!
And now she was dead.
Nancy felt the need to mourn but at the same time she didn’t know how, she had never met Marian. She should have.
Nancy reminded herself that she had gone into the forest to look for herbs and scanned the ground. Sun spots were dancing on the brown foliage, it was a lovely autumn day. And there, something yellow reached out through the leaves!
“Iluna”, Nancy whispered as she carefully removed one flower from the plant. Oh, she hadn’t seen this one in forever. The last time she had, she had thrown it away like she had thrown away her hope of never getting the love she yearned for.
The yellow flower in her hand looked like peace; though Nancy didn’t feel it. She knew now what she had searched for all her life but she had lost it once again. Nancy closed the fingers around the flower. Her sister was dead.
“Oi! Found ya!”
Nancy jerked around, her free hand automatically grasping her chest, instantly thinking Douglas had come for her. But it was Allan who made his way through the trees.
“Did I frighten you?”
“Yes!” Nancy exclaimed. “Obviously.”
“Sorry, girl, but next time don’t rush into the forest all on your own. It’s dangerous.”
"Not as dangerous as from where I've come from."
"Yeah, and where's that?" Allan leaned against a tree and crossed his arms.
"It's..." Nancy sighed. "It's complicated."
Allan shrugged. "I got time."
Inconspicuously Nancy let the flower fall to the ground. What did it matter, anyway, when she was dead?
“I’m here now”, she said as if that would explain everything. She knew it didn’t but why should she talk about the past? She wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Wind was rustling through the tree tops and brought down some golden leaves. Once again Nancy remembered why she had come here and got down to push some foliage away from a trunk. No herbs here.
“’S weird how you come here right after Marian has died.”
“Much says it’s because God wants me to heal Robin.”
Nancy looked over her shoulder and Allan shrugged.
“Do you believe it, too?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” Nancy pursed her lips and went to another tree, doing the same procedure.
“It’d be unfair, though”, she heard herself saying. “I like to think God has plans for me for my own sake.”
“I mean… you know about your sister now, right? That’s good, ey?”
“Yeah… apart from that.”
Nancy sighed and got up. How was she supposed to find herbs if he kept talking about Marian?
“Look, ‘bout yesterday…” Allan rubbed his nose and glanced aside. “I didn’t mean it, alright? If I had a brother I didn’t know of, maybe I’d still miss him, you know? I don’t think… just please don’t cry or an’thing.”
Nancy wiped over her itching left eye. She felt like crying, that was right. Not just about Marian, about everything. She had left her home of almost thirty years. She had wanted to work peacefully and then had been kidnapped to the forest. How could she not be affected by all that?
“Oh great, now you’re crying.”
“Leave me alone then”, Nancy said, coarser than she had intended to. She turned away from Allan, laid her forehead against rough bark and let her tears flow. She was alone. What she had always felt was true now, her sister was dead. Oh, why couldn’t she have met her? Why, why? That was unfair, so unfair!
A hand or rather some fingertips touched her shoulder and Nancy startled, the image of Douglas coming up in her mind again. He hadn’t liked it when she had cried, not that she had done it often in front of him.
Allan took his hand back but hearing the word ‘sorry’ was enough to make Nancy feel secure and she threw herself into his arms.
“We need a plan!” Robin exclaimed, pacing the camp. “A very good plan.”
“He took my knife, just like that. Took it”, Much said to Little John although all of them knew the story of ‘How Allan stole Much’s good knife’ very well now.
“Listen to Robin!” Kate ordered Much, who crossed his arms and mumbled “can’t cook without it”.
“You and Nancy go and we follow”, Djaq said.
“And then what?” Robin asked. “He will think it’s her and keep her in the castle.”
“We explain”, Djaq said. “He has to listen to reason.”
“It’s Gisborne we’re talking about”, Robin reminded her.
“We just won’t let him take her”, Will suggested.
“Oh, so it’s that easy?” Robin asked.
With a heavy sigh Robin hit his bow against the camp ground and shook his head. When he looked up he asked: “Where is she, anyway?”
“Remember when I told you about Allan taking my knife?” Much said.
“Very well”, Robin said.
“That’s where she is.” Much nodded self-contently. “She went into the forest. Allan thought he had to show off what a hero he is by running after her with my knife.”
Robin squinted his eyes. “You let her go into the forest alone?”
Much seemed taken back only a bit. “Yeah, I mean, she’s always been good with taking care of herself…”
He stopped and bit his lip.
“Of course with that I mean Marian and Nancy isn’t Marian, is she?”
“Maybe next time, think of people before you think about your equipment”, Little John said.
“It’s not my fault, is it? She looks like… I mean it’s easy to forget the circumstances and act like always!”
“Not for me.” Robin took his bow and went to his niche. Kate jumped up and followed him, while Will, Djaq and Little John stayed where they are, sitting around and looking grumpily at each other. No knitting today.
Do we want to know what Kate needs to tell Robin so urgently? Yes, let’s listen in, shall we?
“This town is too dangerous for Nancy”, she said. “We should usher her back to wherever she came from.”
“And let Gisborne burn Nettlestone?”
“Of course not, I mean after we get through tonight.”
“Let’s first do that, then we can think about where she should live.”
Robin turned away and went to the armoury, or at least the place they called like that, to put away his bow and arrows. They had to think of a solution fast, very fast. Like, now.
“I just fear she will throw you back and block your grieving.” Kate had followed him.
“That’s not important right now.”
“Yes, it is! What if you can’t help but think it’s Marian? What if she…”
“What if she what?” Robin couldn’t think if Kate kept on talking like that. Really, they had other problems right now!
“What if she comes between us?”
“Us?” Robin turned around to her. “Nettlestone is about to be burnt down to the ground and you worry about us right now? It’s not the time!”
“It’s important, too!” Kate called after him as Robin went to the others to urge them to think faster. The sun was standing at the very Eastern point, and until midnight only five hours were left.
At the same time Allan was busy sweeping the foliage off the ground of, well, the forest. With his bare hands. He hadn’t realised what he had done when he had said “Sure I can help you with finding herbs. Just tell me what to do.”
One mile behind him big piles of red and yellow leaves piled up, and Nancy still hadn’t found what she was looking for.
“Look, maybe you take Much with you next time”, Allan said. “I mean, he’s good with herbs.”
“So am I.”
“He’s also good with everything whatever you want him to do.”
Nancy turned around from inspecting a bush and looked earnestly at him so that Allan immediately started to wonder what he had done wrong. Funny enough, all women had that kind of look. Nancy as well as Marian, as well as Kate as well as Djaq as well as any of those women he knew from various taverns. (And some of them, he knew, did like him.)
“I think you should appreciate Much’s work more.”
“Huh?” Allan lifted his eyebrows. “I do, I swear I do.”
“He told me you are making fun of him.”
“But that’s just that, fun! He knows it, he really does! It’s a joke between us, alright?”
“Maybe he doesn’t find it that drolly.”
Allan got up and rubbed his hands free from earth. “What do you want me to do, oi? Tell him how much I love him?”
“For starters, yeah.” Nancy shrugged and went to the next bush.
Allan frowned at her. Was she serious? Nah, probably just being funny with him. So he grinned.
“Alright, I’ll do. Should I give him a kiss as well?”
“Oh dear Lord!”
“What? I’m joking!”
“Come on, look at this!”
Allan threw a look back at his neat piles. The sun was standing very low already, they should make their way back soon.
He went to Nancy who was covering in front of a bush, holding back a branch. On the ground lay a shiny bracelet, simple and golden.
“It looks brand-new”, Allan said, reaching out for it. And not to mention expensive. What a lucky day!
“Someone must have lost it. But who would come here?” Nancy looked around.
“We could get a whole pig flock for that”, Allan said, mostly to himself. Should he give it to Robin or sell it in Nottingham? Legally it was his now, right?
Before he could decide Nancy took it from his hands and slipped it on her wrists. It sparkled like a star, reflecting the last sun beams.
“Looks lovely”, Allan said without thinking. He wanted to apologize immediately but Nancy hadn’t paid attention, her eyes were frozen on the bracelet and Allan saw a hint of upcoming tears.
Oh no, not again!
“I never had anything like that”, she whispered.
“Sure your husband…”
She shook her head, and there, a tear was rolling down. Allan sighed and laid his head in his neck to look at the pale blue sky. He had been outlawed for three years now and not been married before, due to his tendencies to spend a bit too much time in the taverns than actually talking to women. The ones he had met during his time in the forest had been strong and hadn’t needed protection; even if he had wanted to he hadn’t had the chance to develop somewhat of a caring side.
And now this one cried every five minutes.
Allan wasn’t really sure what to do. She seemed so spacey he didn’t want to frighten her again by touching her so he just looked at the bracelet.
“You should keep it”, he heard himself saying. “Robin doesn’t need to know we found it.”
“No, it’s alright, we’ve got plenty to give to the poor. Look.”
He carefully lifted his hand and pulled the sleeve of her simple dress over her wrist. It felt weird, too intimate, but when he lifted his eyes he was glad to see the tears were gone.
“Really?” she asked.
She squeezed his hand with her tiny ones.
She was the one who had found it but somehow he didn’t feel like reminding her.
“Something must have happened”, Much said.
Robin couldn’t sit still, he walked up and down the camp. The sun was setting, and they needed to march-off now if they wanted to be in Nottingham in time. Yet there was no trace of Nancy and Allan. This would end bad, very bad, Robin felt it in his bones and his bones never betrayed him.
“We go and search the forest, now”, John said and got up.
“The sun will be gone in ten minutes”, Robin said.
Will and Djaq had been to the nearest village, Knighton, and returned with as much horses as they could lead. They have been back for quite some time already, and Robin knew he would go. With or without Nancy.
“Alright, we can’t wait any longer. Will and Much, get the horses ready, everybody else, get your weapons!” Robin clapped his hands, relieved they finally got into action.
“Oi, what’s the rush?” Allan’s voice asked.
All of them stopped in their tracks and turned to their friend, stepping out of the twilight into the camp with Nancy following.
“Finally! Where have you been?” Much asked.
“No time for that now!” Robin said. He quickly stepped to Nancy and took her hands. This wasn’t Marian, it was Nancy. Nancy.
“I will ask you of something dangerous now; dangerous for you and me and my men. But if we don’t succeed a whole village will be burnt down to the ground. There is no time to explain because we need to act immediately. Are you ready to face danger to save hundreds of people?”
He knew she wasn’t battle experienced, probably had never hurt a creature bigger than a chicken. He had expected that she would hesitate and look quite unsure but he hadn’t expected her to glance at Allan. Robin followed the look and saw Allan slightly nodding, a movement that burnt Robin’s stomach and made him draw back his hands immediately.
Allan wasn’t a man women trusted or looked at for protection. He, Robin, was. Marian would never…
“Yes, I want to try”, Nancy said.
“Alright, everybody get going!” Robin shouted. He kept going, that was what he did.
“Can you ride a horse?” he asked Nancy. She shook her head.
“She can ride with…”
“No, I take her. We have to hurry!” Robin interrupted Allan without looking at him and guided Nancy towards the horses.
When they arrived in Nottingham it was pitch dark. Torches had been set up and gave a flickering light through that they rode towards the castle. Nancy had never quite liked the dark, too much bad stories were told about bad things happening in the night. And now she didn’t even know what was going on. Robin had just said they had to safe a town.
They bound their horses on a fence, then walked towards the castle gates.
“I have to warn you”, Robin said. “We are about to face Guy of Gisborne, Marian’s killer. He was obsessed with her, and I doubt he will easily believe that you are her formerly unknown twin sister.”
“Why did he kill her?” Nancy asked. Couldn’t Robin have told her earlier? She didn’t want to meet the guy who had murdered her sister. It was bad enough she could never meet her and now maybe she would get killed, too, because the murderer thought his attempt had failed.
“Because he couldn’t stand to bear the thought that she loved me, not him. He will insist on you staying at the castle with him and we…”
Robin abruptly stopped so that Much walked into him.
“That’s it!” Robin laughed. He turned around and grabbed Much by the shoulders.
“That’s it!” he repeated, turning to Nancy.
“I have an idea but it’s a tough one.”
“What is it?” Nancy asked. She stroked over her left wrist to make sure the bracelet was still hidden.
“If you pretend to be Marian, and order him to stay away from you, it could work.”
“I… Order him?” Nancy frowned. “But I don’t know what Marian was like. How she talked.”
“She just ordered everybody around”, Allan said. Robin ignored him and pleaded at Nancy.
“Do you think you could do that? For a few minutes? Let me do the talking and affirm my story?”
Nancy nodded hesitantly. She looked at Allan standing behind Robin, and at the others. They all were fight experienced; they would protect her. It couldn’t go wrong, could it?
“You have to tell him you love Robin”, Much said as they walked on.
“Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?” Djaq said.
“No, you’re not”, Kate mumbled.
“This is it, guys. The reason she was send here. I know it”, Much kept on talking, sounding very pleased.
“Don’t know ‘bout that.” Allan shrugged. “She’s so unlike Marian, and Guy’s not stupid, you know. He’ll realise something’s off.”
“It will work out, everything will work out”, Much said.
“Let’s wait and see”, Will said.
Nancy heard it all and wondered why they hadn’t protested earlier. Probably because there was no other way, no one had a better plan. And how hard could it be? Pretend to be her sister she never knew and then walk out of there, it sounded really easy.
Soon they arrived at the gates of the castle, which looked very threatening as it loomed up before Nancy. But nobody took out their weapons. Nancy threw a look over her shoulder, somehow she would have liked it more if Allan had stayed close to her instead of Robin. But she guessed that wasn’t very Marian-like.
There were some men on the top of the stairs leading to the castle. One bored looking old man sat on a thron like chair, while another one paced the floor. Peasants also were here, and they backed away to let the gang through. It was very weird.
“Gisborne!” Robin called. “We are here, so call your men back.”
The guy all in black turned his face and the light of the torches shone on him. He looked pretty grim and actually how Nancy would have imagined a killer to look. When he saw her he focused on her, and that wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all.
“So… you survived”, he said, coming down the stairs.
Nancy bit her lip.
“But… I don’t understand. I stabbed you. There is no way you could have survived that.”
Nancy tried to breath but she couldn’t. What was she supposed to say? Something…
“Yet she did”, Robin said.
Gisborne still didn’t pay him attention and came down the stairs. Nancy instinctively walked a few steps back as he approached her.
“I’m sorry, Marian, I didn’t mean to hurt you, you have to believe me! It was a knee jerk reaction that I have regretted every day and every moment from then on.”
He tried to take her hand but she flinched back again.
“Don’t”, she managed to say. There was some movement around her but she didn’t dare to take her eyes from the killer.
“Yadi, dadi, dah”, the old man said. “Did you really think she would forgive you, Gisborne? I’m wasting my time here.”
He got up but Gisborne didn’t pay attention to him either. His stare got creepier with every passing second.
“Please, Marian, you have to believe me”, he said.
“Uhm… no?” Nancy said.
Gisborne straightened his shoulders and his eyes got darker. Finally he looked at Robin.
“I don’t know how you did it, Locksley, but she’s actually yours.”
He sounded really bitter. Before Robin could answer, though, Nancy raised her voice.
“Nobody can make me love anyone, this is my choice alone”, she said. This Gisborne guy might’ve been a murderer but he wasn’t worse than Douglas. In the end, no one was. And Nancy had lived through so many dark days; it was enough now.
“Stay away from me, and don’t threaten to burn villages down just to get to me! Men are so stupid!” Nancy spit out. Then she turned around to go, mostly to hide that her whole body was trembling. She had never spoken to anyone like that in her life and now she commanded around a black dressed killer. Oh my God.
She didn’t dare to look back and started to run as soon as she had left the castle. She didn’t know where she was going but she knew that her way was leading her far, far away from this place.
“That was uncanny”, Much commented.
Robin could not think about how much Nancy had sounded like Marian because Guy of Gisborne and his men still stood there, ready to spring into action.
“John!” Robin called, knowing Little John would realise that Robin wanted him to go after Nancy and protect her. Then he held up his hands to Guy.
“Look, we came here to guide Marian to you, that’s what you wanted.”
“What I wanted is Marian’s forgiveness.”
“You killed her!” Robin cried. “There is no forgiveness for murderers.”
“How did I kill her, Locksley, when she’s still alive?”
Robin took a deep breath but the tension wouldn’t leave his body. After all, Marian was dead. And she would never come back, would never be able to tell Gisborne what her sister just told him.
He gulped down the lump in his throat.
“She wants nothing to do with you anymore, accept it.” With that, he turned around. He expected Gisborne to send his men after him but he still walked at normal pace, like a man who didn’t fear what was behind his back.
He only breathed in with relief, though, when he had passed the gates and vanished in the shadows of a small alley, his gang right behind him.
“He didn’t come after us!” Djaq exclaimed. “He must be really hurt.”
“Who cares!” Much said. “We did it!”
He and Kate high-fived, and Robin’s eyes fell on John, standing next to Will.
“John?” Robin pushed himself off the wall he had leaned against. “Why didn’t you go after Nancy?”
“Allan went”, John said. “So I stayed.”
“Allan?” Only now Robin looked for the mentioned man and indeed, he wasn’t here.
“Why on earth…? I didn’t tell him to, I didn’t…” Robin stopped talking as he saw Djaq’s questioning face. Right.
“I wonder what happened when they were in the woods”, Kate said with a smirk.
“And why they stayed so long!” Much said. “Oh my God!”
“Shut up and make yourself useful”, Robin said. “Let’s spread and search for them. We meet at the standing stones.”
“But... I don’t get it. Allan is after Kate. In fact, I think they secretly are a couple”, Much said as he and Robin went through the village.
Sometimes Much’s lack of concentration on the matter was annoying.
“Believe me, Kate isn’t interested in him”, Robin said, looking into one alley after the other.
“Oh, you wouldn’t know”, Much said. “You haven’t seen them running around, flirting and stuff.”
Robin frowned and looked at his best friend. “You’re right, I haven’t. I guess Kate was too busy kissing me.”
“What? But… What?” Much stopped right at the spot and Robin instantly regretted having opened his mouth. He hadn’t thought about it very much, thought about what it had meant for Kate, and now there was no chance he could ignore it any minute longer.
“But you’re mourning Marian!” Much pointed out.
“Indeed I am. And Kate tried to comfort me, is that so bad?”
“Yes, yes it is!”
“Because… because… It is, alright? I can’t believe it…”
Robin shook his head and went on.
“Did you know that I saw her first?”
“Much, shut up!”
“So you love her?”
Robin rolled his eyes and preferred not to answer.
Allan didn’t know what he was doing. He had promised to never betray the gang again and honestly, he regretted what he had done a year ago. (Apart from the fact that if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to save their butts when they had been trapped in the cottage, or save Marian when she had been about to get hanged. But did anybody ever thank him? No.)
However, was this actually betraying the gang? He was merely doing was he always did; working his way through the drunk tavern hoppers.
“Anybody want to try his luck? Come on, it’s easy!”
While he rattled the dice and clanked glasses he threw a look to the side where, at an offside table, Nancy sat in the shadows.
“Alright, let me try.”
“Of course, my lucky friend”, Allan said.
Sure enough, another fifteen minutes later he had earned a few more shillings. He was good at this, and he would be even better if he had more time to practise his skills.
“Hey, sweetie, haven’t seen you in a long time”, the waitress said as she put a mug of mead in front of Allan.
“Sorry, I’m here for business today”, Allan said, ignoring the mead as well as the girl.
“When aren’t you?”
“I’m serious, a’right? Take it back.”
Eventually, she did take the mug back and Allan decided to stop gambling before he would start losing. He went to sit in the booth where Nancy was and put the money on the table.
“Here, those will pay for shelter and food for two days. But I still think you should come back to the camp and let the others help.”
Nancy took the money and shook her head.
“How could they help? I just want to go and find a place where I can live in peace, without houses burnt down because of how I look.”
“Gisborne won’t do that, I’m sure. I mean, you were pretty convincing, almighty, I almost thought you were Marian.”
“No, I know that. So… what now?”
Allan leaned back and let his eyes wander through the tavern. All those filthy men, it wasn’t safe for a woman to stay at this place. Sure, she would get a key for her room but what then? Travelling the country alone?
“Where would you live? You don’t know anybody out there.”
Nancy shrugged. “That didn’t keep me from leaving home in the first place.”
Allan bit his lip while he stared at the innkeeper serving a meal. Then he took a deep breath and looked at Nancy.
“Sure, you were right about that. But the world is full of dangers and I’m sure Robin would give you food, a horse and weapons and…”
Allan shrugged. Someone to keep her save would be good, but would Robin accompany her? Or spare some of his men?
“Why do you even care?” Nancy mumbled.
“Because. That’s what I do. What we do, as a gang, you know?”
“Well… thanks”, she said. “For the money and all.”
Nancy got up, so Allan did, too. But before they could go anywhere, Allan’s ever awake senses spotted a known face in the crowd.
“Oi! How’d he find me?”
Allan nodded to Will, and entering the bar after him was Djaq.
Nancy stepped back to the booth and sat down to hide in the shadows. Allan quickly did, too, again on the bench opposite to hers, never taking his eyes from his friends who scanned the room. Unfortunately, they then talked to Sally, the waitress, who gestured to the table where he had run his gambling business.
“Oh, no, no.” Allan put up his hood and hit under it.
“It’s not like they can keep me from going anywhere”, Nancy said.
“No, but Robin will probably throw me out of the gang, seeing that this is not the first time I’m… ah, that’s a long story.”
“Hey Allan, Nancy.”
Allan jerked up. Will stood at the end of the table, arms crossed and eyebrows up high. So Allan waved him.
“Will! What a surprise!”
“We have to move, quick!” Djaq came to the table and grasped Will’s arm, gesturing to the entrance. Guards from the castle just pushed their way in.
Allan sighed. “You led them here, great, just great.”
“Less talking, more running!” Djaq said.
“I can stay, right, they won’t take me”, Nancy said while the others were already on their way to the backroom.
“Yeah, and Much is a good cook”, Allan said. He pulled her out of the booth and to the room. Will and Djaq had left through the open window and were still hovering outside.
“You really should stop talking down Much” Nancy said.
“We’ve got other problems now! Come on!”
Eventually Nancy stopped resisting and climbed through the window, supported by Will.
“We left the horses at the other side of the town”, he said when Allan was out, too.
“Let’s go to the stones”, Djaq suggested. “Through the forest.”
As they made their way through the darkness, Allan stay behind them to watch out that Nancy wouldn’t run away because he was sure she would do something stupid like that. In that case she wasn’t as different from Marian after all.
Luckily, all of the others already were at the stones and had brought their horses. Since it was dark Allan couldn’t see Robin’s face but he was pretty sure he didn’t like the fact that Nancy, without being asked, simply climbed the horse Allan sat on. And Allan knew that it started to look weird but what could he do? In the end it maybe was better that Nancy didn’t think of Robin as her best friend since that could’ve complicated things even more.
Yeah, Robin should actually be grateful.
At the camp John lit a fire and Much complained about that he had to go hunting and that dinner would take a while. Since Much complained a lot, every day, nobody really listened while they made themselves comfortable around the fire.
“I think you are right, Much”, Nancy suddenly said. “You do all the cooking already, why can’t one of you hunt?”
The last words she said to those you sat around the fire. Allan didn’t know about the others but he was pretty exhausted, fighting against sheriff guards and running through the woods and all so he really didn’t need to hunt rabbits now. Eat them, yes, eat and then go to sleep.
Much crossed his arms with a very pleased face.
“Yes, why can’t one of you go hunting?”
“Look”, Allan said. “Everybody has his or her tasks…”
“We had a pretty rough day”, Kate said.
“Exactly!” Allan nodded.
Nancy raised an eyebrow. And why was she looking at him, anyway? He hadn’t done anything wrong. Hell, he had even given her money. Why wasn’t anybody grateful these days?
Of course, he wasn’t very grateful, either, was he? After all, who would give them food if they hadn’t had Much?
“I don’t like to hunt. Those poor squirrels!” Djaq said and everybody laughed. Well, except Much and Nancy and suddenly Allan felt really bad. He didn’t know why, and he also didn’t plan it but then he heard himself speaking.
“A’right, a’right, I’ll help Much become a better hunter.”
He got up and went to Much, who stared at him with his jaw dropped. Allan laid a hand on his shoulder and basically had to pull him to the back of the camp until Much finally would move again.
Sadly, his mouth did too.
“What… how… am I dreaming? This has got to be it; I have to be dreaming.”
“What kind of weapons do you use?” Allan asked to forget the question about what he was doing and why.
He threw a look over his shoulder. In the gloomy light of the fire the gang talked and laughed. Robin joined them now and gave out mead, and Nancy took up a blanket to cover herself.
“I knew it, I knew it!” Much went on. “You like her, admit it! Oh my God, do you know what you’re doing to Robin? How could you!”
“Relax, man. I’m not doing anything. Here.”
Allan took a bow and pushed it into Much’s hand. He tightened a dagger to his belt, got a bow and arrows for himself and nodded at Much.
“Come on, then.”
They left the camp and walked into the forest. By the time Allan’s eyes had adjusted to the dark Much stopped and crossed his arms again.
“Come on!” Allan said.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Don’t you want me to help you?”
“That’s not answering the question.”
“Look.” Allan sighed. He couldn’t answer the question since he didn’t know the answer. In fact, this was stupid.
“Let’s just get this over with”, he instead said, and walked on.
“Do you want to get back at Robin because he’s with Kate now?”
Allan stopped again and turned around. Much obviously waited for an answer, and then after a few seconds, he put his hand in front of his mouth.
“Damn it, of course you didn’t know, me and my big mouth.”
“Robin and Kate? What?” Allan frowned. “That’s very hard to imagine.”
“So? Are you jealous?”
“Look”, Allan said. “I know you were interested in Kate but she obviously isn’t into you. It’s not my fault she flirted with me, a’right?”
Much shook his head but Allan still had a hard time to get over the new information.
“Are you sure? I mean… he’s grieving Marian”, he said.
“That’s what I’m saying!” Much shook his head. “It’s all so wrong. Crazy, I tell you!”
“Well, mate.” Allan put his hand on Much’s shoulder. “Robin always gets the girl, that’s some kind of cruel joke from God or something like that.”
Around the camp fire, Nancy finally got warm and felt the exhaustion of the day creeping up her limbs. She allowed herself to dose off for a while until she frightened up and scanned the environment with a heavy beating heart. It took her a second to realise where she was, and that she wasn’t in danger. What a weird feeling.
“You were really brave today”, Robin said.
“Oh, thank you.”
“I don’t know what came over me but suddenly I just couldn’t keep silent anymore.”
“I guess it was the spirit of Marian, then”, Robin chuckled.
“Yeah?” Nancy stared into the fire while her stomach grumbled. “What was she like? I can’t stop thinking about her since I know about her, which is strange since I have never met her.”
Without her permission tears crept up her eyes once again. Why did she feel that loss so strong?
Then she felt an arm around her shoulders and stiffened. Immediately Robin took his arm back.
“I’m sorry”, he said.
“No, I’m sorry, I mean…”
“I’m a stranger for you, I understand that.” Robin hugged his knees. “Marian was a good, kind person. The kindest in the world, actually. Lovely, brave, passionate…”
His eyes wandered off into the distance.
“Oh.” Nancy wiped her nose. That wasn’t what Allan had told her about Marian. But Robin had known her better and Nancy liked the thought that her goodhearted sister had had someone in her life to make her feel loved.
“I wish I had known her.”
“She cared about the villagers like she cared about her family.”
Family. Nancy closed her eyes. She once had hoped she could found a family and be happy, way back when she had been a young maiden. And now she didn’t even know whether her parents actually were her parents.
“Can you tell me more?” she asked. “I want to know everything.”
And Robin gladly did.
The next morning Much was very delighted about the fact that Nancy and Robin went for a walk. He had observed them talking the night before, realising that of course Nancy first had to make friends with other people before she and Robin could get closer. Allan was out of the picture now and soon everything would be back to normal.
Kate was unusually grumpy, though, and Much knew the reason for that, too.
But wait. When she and Allan weren’t a couple maybe Much still had chances? After her broken heart had healed, and maybe it even was meant to be that Much helped her get over Robin? Oh, how everything fitted together in the end, how wondrous!
“Do you want to go hunting with me?” he asked the blonde girl who was knitting with Will and Djaq. John and Allan were on a give-out walk.
“But hunting is good for the heart, well, I mean for everything so in case you have a headache or, say, hurt feelings, it would cure you, I’m sure.”
“Why would I have hurt feelings?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe Robin doesn’t like you anymore…”
“Much?” Djaq asked.
“Of course Robin still likes me!” Kate said.
“What is going on?” Djaq looked around and Will, too, had lain down his knitting.
“Nothing, nothing.” Much crossed his arms and wandered a few steps around. Don’t tell them, don’t tell them, don’t…
“Except that she and Robin have kissed!” He pointed at Kate with his most reproachful look. “I saw it with my own two eyes! Well, maybe not my own two eyes but I know it for sure as if I had!”
“How can you say something like that?” Djaq asked but in the same moment Kate said:
“So what? He is allowed to love again!”
“What?” Will said, looking as baffled at Kate as Djaq.
Pleased, Much nodded.
“Told you. Nothing good will come out of it. But I think we all agree that we’re glad that Robin and Marian – I mean Nancy – are back together now, I mean together for the first time, so yeah, that’s it.” Much took a deep breath. Oh, how good it felt when there were no secrets in the gang anymore. He hated secrets.
“Nancy is not Marian”, Kate said. “When will you learn that? And they are not together, either.”
“That is true”, Djaq said. She shook her head. “It’s very confusing for all of us that Marian’s twin is here but we should respect her for who she is.”
Will laid a hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder. “I am sure Robin does.”
“And respect her need to grieve”, Djaq said.
“Grieve! For who? She never met Marian”, Much exclaimed.
“They were twins”, Djaq said. “They met in the womb and that is enough to never forget.”
“What would you know about it?” Much shook his head. Such nonsense!
“I once had a twin brother myself”, Djaq said.
“Oh. Well….” Much searched for words. “That’s different.”
“I don’t know how but it is!”
Much retreated to the kitchen area, the place where nobody ever bothered him. Twins were uncanny, especially the ones who looked alike. No one could tell Much it wasn’t the same person in two bodies. And in case of Marian it was the greatest gift of God to have brought her back so that Robin could be happy again.
Meanwhile, Nancy had heard the whole story of how Robin and Marian had met, how he had left her to go for war and all the adventures they had been through together until the very end. The last words Marian had spoken were to get married to Robin, and it all sounded like the true love that Nancy had always hoped it really would exist.
“It’s touching”, she said after Robin had finished.
He didn’t answer, and they silently walked through the colourful forest. The wind was cold and Nancy was glad she whore the jacket they had given her, it was warmer than everything she had with her. Not that it was very much.
“Maybe I stay”, she thought loudly. “I wanted to flee this place because I remind everybody of her but where can I get to know her if not here?”
“I hope you donn't want to flee because of me”, Robin said. “I know I was repellent. I was shocked. Forgive me. Of course I know you are not Marian, and I should not be guarded because of your alikeness. You are welcome here as long as you want to stay. And when you want to leave, let me arrange save travel for you. Will you do this?”
“Yes. I will.” Nancy nodded, repressing upcoming tears of gratefulness. He wasn’t as bad as she had thought.
“Good. Hey.” Robin stopped and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it.
“When you want to talk about Marian you can always come to me.”
“Thank you.” Nancy nodded again and then, for the second time since she was here, threw herself into the arms of a stranger. And strange it was that those foreign men made her feel safer than she ever felt with her own husband. But then again, was it really strange?
“Douglas hit me so often”, she mumbled. “He wasn’t a good man.”
“No, doesn’t sound like it.”
Out of habit Robin stroked over her hair but when Nancy pressed her face against his chest and he leaned his head against hers the scent of her forced him back to reality once again. It wasn’t Marian, he knew it, but his heart didn’t always follow his reason.
Still, he meant everything he had said. He wouldn’t disregard the girl because she looked like Marian. After all, Nancy hadn’t chosen it and she missed her sister, too.
So in the next days Nancy learnt to live her life in the forest, according to the gang's flow. She joined the knitting club and taught them how to do it right so the clothes and covers wouldn't fall apart after a few uses. Also she made special warm closes for hands and feet, something nobody in the gang was able to. It was a great feeling to contribute something useful.
She often thought of the story how Marian had dressed up like a man to bring food to poor people. How brave she must have been! Nancy was nothing like that at all. She even needed a few days before she felt save to leave the camp for more than a few steps. She watched the dying plants and memorised the trees to always find the way back to it and soon she felt like the forest itself was protecting her.
On a day it rained all morning and the clouds wouldn't give way to the sun she watched Kate and Djaq dressing in long robes with hoods that hid their faces.
“The poor are hungry even when it rains”, Djaq explained when he saw her watching. She took up a sack.
“Can I come with you?”
“We will be in a hurry, not stopping for anything”, Kate said.
“I just thought with a coat like that nobody can see my face”, Nancy said. “And I want to take a look around. See something without villages being threatened to be burnt to the ground.”
Kate didn't listen to her anymore and rushed way. Djaq apologizing shook his shoulders and followed her.
“I get the feeling Kate doesn't like me”, Nancy said, taking up her knitting again.
“Well, she's jealous”, Much said.
“Much?” Robin said. He was sitting around the fire with them but was carving arrows.
“Oh, don't worry, everbody knows. No big deal.”
“Is it true?” Will asked.
“Is what true?” Robin looked at him, and at Much again.
“What? I can't keep a secret, you know that very well!”
Robin put a hand to his face and sighed. Then he looked up.
“I don't know what Much told you but there is nothing going on. Kate and I kissed once, that's all.”
“Woah, mate”, Allan said. “Are you sure she's seeing it the same way?”
“Cause, you know... She's a girl”, Allan said.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Robin asked.
Nancy looked down on her work, not stopping it for the sake of talk. She didn't like it when men talked about women. They never had nice things to say, even when one or more women were present.
“It means that you can't know about her feelings without her having told you.”
“And when did you get so clever about that?”
“I don't know, just saying.”
The cracking noise from the fire made Nancy think that it soon would be time to start cooking. She let her hands sink down and gazed at the closed camp door.
“It's true”, she heard herself saying then. “A kiss is never just a kiss for a woman. It's a promise of happiness, laughter and joyful days to come.”
“A vain promise”, Nancy mumbled to herself. Not that she had felt this hope very often. Just once, many years ago, and it had been destroyed very quickly.
“I'm sorry”, Robin said. “I should talk to her.”
But Marian had found it, her happiness, her true love. It was sad that she had to die so young but at least she seemed to have had a good life.
Robin got up and went to the armory.
“So... not very lucky in love, then?” Much asked. “It's the same for me. Every woman I like, well, she kind of leaves me. Every time.”
“It's not easy to meet women when you live in the forest”, Will said.
“Oh, what do you know? You have Djaq”, Much complained.
“I was just pointing it out.”
“I miss Alice”, John said.
“We all know that.” Much shook his head.
“It's your own fault”, Allan said. “You never join me on the trip to the tavern.”
“Because there are not the kind of women I want to meet. And it's not like it has brought you much luck.”
“How are you so sure?”
“Because you are not married, that's how.”
“Who says I would want to be married?”
“Everybody wants to”, Much said, straightening his shoulders.
“Oi, are you going to marry?” Allan asked Will.
“We are outlaws, living in the forest”, Will said.
“So? I'm sure Robin can marry you.”
“Robin's an outlaw, too.”
“Oh come on, you know what I mean. Would be nice, wouldn't it? A feast, some food and drinks...”
“Winter is coming”, Much reminded the gang. “Nobody marries in winter.”
Will just shook his head in amusement.
For a while Nancy listened to the fire noises and relished in the heat that it provided. She thought about last winter, when there had been much snow and despite a fire the house hadn't been able to warm her.
“Where are you going in winter?” she asked the men.
“Oh, during the winter months we make peace with the sheriff and go live in the castle”, Much said. “Not! We stay here, of course.”
“But isn't it freezing?”
“That's why we...” Much held up his work.
“We'll snuggle up in front of the fire and keep each other warm.” Allan winked.
Nancy sighed and watched the door again, the only source of natural light that was now cast out. She wouldn't stay in this camp for winter, this much was sure. But where could she go?
“Stop it”, Much said. “I hate it when people look sad.”
Surprised she looked at Much.
“Why do you care?”
“Why wouldn't I?”
Nancy laid down her work and kneaded her cold fingers.
“I just... Where I came from people don't care about that.”
“It's time to get to know other people, then”, Much said.
“I guess you're right.”
“Mates, I have a great idea”, Allan said, putting his needles down as well. “Why don't we all take the day off and go to the tavern?”
The result of his words were three men loudly complaining, Will even smacked Allan's neck. Nancy held her hand in front of her mouth and stiffened her giggle. It was weird but those strange, random guys did like each other despite their differences. It was a nice thing to watch.
“I don't know why you complain. It's warm, dry and there's meat that certainly isn't from squirrels”, Allan said.
“That is true”, John said.
“We could go to Joe and see if the furs he wants to give us are ready”, Will said.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Much put his hands in his waist. “What is going on? We don't do anything without Robin telling us to.”
No one had paid attention to Robin but now the turned around. He sat on his bed, still busy with carving arrows.
“But, Master... you have to eat, too”, Much said.
Robin put the arrow aside and jumped down.
“Who said I stay here? I think it's time we show Nancy the good side of Nettlestone, don't you think so?”
And all of a sudden Much thought a trip to the village was the best idea ever.