“Please don’t tell me Robin has been captured,” Marion said.
“No, little flower, but Herne wanted his son.” Tuck was, as always, slightly perturbed by the pagan spirit who protected their band. He would pray until supper time, and then eat with a will.
“Said he could be up to a week,” Little John added. “Meantime, it’s not like there’s naught to do ‘round here.”
“Too true,” Marion said.
Much and Will came from the east where they’d been watching the junction of the main south and east roads. “I thought you two would wait until later to come in.”
“It’s not like we’re expecting anything, is it?” Will said. “Prince John’s in London, praying the rumors about Richard’s death are true, and the Sheriff and Gisbourne are toadying to him down there. No chance for gold and no risk for us.”
Much nodded and smiled when Marion handed him an apple.
“The villagers were by earlier. The apples have done well this year, maybe enough for Friar Tuck to make cider, for medicinal purposes only, of course.” Her eyes danced and dour Will actually cracked a smile.
“I’ll sort ‘em,” Much said, “there’ll be some for eating, maybe.”
“Thank you, Much. Has anyone seen Nasir?”
“Ain’t he covering the west road?” Will asked.
“Yes, but if you two are back from the east and the south roads, and the others covered the north on their way back from Lincoln, I thought Nasir would be coming in as well.”
“Perhaps he heard it was boar for supper tonight. That’s summat he won’t eat,” Little John said.
“Yes, but I also snared a goose so that he can eat with us.”
“Did you let him know that?” Will asked.
“I think I’ll walk to the west road,” Marion said. She picked up a basket and placed two apples in it, “Just in case I see good greens or berries.”
She came upon him within half an hour and sat silently watching as he touched his head to the earth in prayer then stand gracefully before rinsing his hands in the nearby stream.
“I thought you only had to wash before prayer,” she said.
Nasir gave a half smile. “True, Lady Marion, but my hands got dirty.”
“I wanted to let you know, there will be goose for you tonight, since the rest of us are having boar.”
“That’s very kind. You’ve learned my customs.”
“We plan to sup early.”
“Ah, but not all of them. The holy month of Ramadan began two days ago. I must fast while it’s daylight.”
Marion said, “So you can have fish?”
“No, nothing during daylight. It’s easier in autumn and winter than summer.”
“Yes, it would be. I’m sorry I didn’t know, I guess you can’t eat the apples I brought you. But there will still be a goose for you, and we can wait our meal an extra hour or so.”
Nasir nodded absently. “Thank you, my lady.”
There was a long pause before Marion broke it with, “You’ve seemed distant recently. Sad. Is there anything…?”
Again, that half smile appeared on his face. “Nothing, Lady Marion. I must work this out for myself.”
“I’m a good listener. Perhaps talk will let you unravel the knot in your thoughts.”
There was another long pause, and Marion stood and made ready to leave. Nasir said, “Yes, talk, perhaps, can help me find the right end.”
She sank back on the stone and said, “Right end?”
“Your father is a crusader, yes?”
“Yes. I’ve often wondered if you met him in the Holy Land.”
“I would hope we did not meet,” Nasir said, “It was rare an enemy I faced left the field alive.”
“Oh. Somehow I forget…”
“That where the wars rage in my homelands, we’re on different sides.”
Marion nodded. “Yes.” She thought for a moment. “When I pictured you and my father meeting… it was never that I thought you’d fight on the same side, not really, it was more the hope that you could meet as friends.”
“Twenty years ago, thirty, that might have been possible. Saladin wanted Jerusalem, but we met as equals on the roads. Your King Baldwin understood our rules of hospitality and we could therefore extend it even to our enemies. Now there have been too many betrayals, on both sides, for that to be possible. I am in England because I was bewitched. My people won’t want me back after such shame, and yet I still adhere to Islam here in this country of cold and pork.”
“Sometimes I forget how much more you risk than we do. Robin and the rest risk hanging. That’s horrible, and I fear for my husband every day. I’m a lady. I might be granted my life, but as an anchorite or in a remote convent. Even if death is my sentence, I’m told the ax is easier than the rope.”
“There is no good way to die, unless it is in bed at a ripe age surrounded by your descendents.”
“And I pray every day that Richard will return to pardon us so perhaps we can live so long,” Marion said fervently. “Tuck is safe, he belongs to the church’s justice, not the King’s or Prince John’s. But you, at best you’ll hang beside us. At worst, drawing and quartering.”
“Yes, my lady. I think of that, but I believe my time here in forest, helping to ease the burdens on those less fortunate may help me when Allah’s judgment falls on us all.”
“Whatever the life beyond this one holds, I pray we’re judged on our intentions and the good we do for the townspeople and not by our adherence to the Sheriff’s or Prince John’s laws.”
“Are you well otherwise?”
Nasir said, “I admit to some jealousy of Robin -- not over you, my lady -- but for having a woman to warm him and ease his thoughts.”
“I’ve heard many girls in the village say how handsome you are. You could woo and win any of them.”
Nasir chuckled. “Could I? Would my children be allowed to know of Mohammad, blessed be his name? I don’t think even the tolerant Friar Tuck would think that possible.”
“No. But as much as you enjoy solitude, I think you’d like one person with whom you could share it.”
“I would, but I’m a Saracen in a Christian land. Perhaps…”
“Perhaps?” Marion said.
“When all is right, here, then I can go to Spain. I would have to find a secret way down to Al Andalus, as the north is Christian and even less kind to my people than the English would be, but that is my best dream of the future.”
“A chance to be among your people again.”
Nasir smiled more widely this time. “At least among others who pray five times a day and won’t try to serve me roast pork.”
She batted his shoulder. “I told you, I snared a goose for your supper and I suppose a breakfast before the sun rises.”
“Indeed, my lady, and I didn’t thank you for your thoughtfulness.” He pressed a hand over his heart and gave a slight bow. “My thanks for your kindness.”
Marion laughed. “You mustn’t play the courtier too much with me. I might fall back into bad habits and forget that I’m a lady wolf’s head.”
“You have the spirit of a wolf, that’s true. They, like us, stay in packs and hunt together. They are gentle with the pack and fierce with all that attack it. Yes, you are indeed a fine wolf, Lady Marion.”
“Is there any reason for you to stay watching this road?”
“No. With the courtiers all called to London, the roads are quiet.”
“Then come back to the encampment with me. I saw some ripe bramble berries to pick and chestnuts. They’ll go well with goose.”
“And pork, so I’m told,” Nasir added. “I shall happily return with you.” He stopped for a moment. “Lady Marion…”
“This was in confidence, Nasir. I’m sorry there’s no one else for you to talk with, not about this, but I promise it will go no further. Not even to Robin.”
“Thank you, Marion.” He held out his hand to help her to her feet. “May I carry your basket?”
She laughed and said, “You are truly too much the courtier, Nasir,” as they found the trail together.